From one generation to another
From one generation to another

A Greek and a Lebanese Building Cultural Bridges

In collaboration with Hostwriter, we have asked the Tandem community to share their stories. Journalist Vasso Angeletou dove into the story of Konstantina Angeletou (Skopelos, Greece) and Nelly Abboud (Byblos, Lebanon). Read the interview and watch the video.

Culture is like the sea, opening pathways between different people that share common experiences, concerns and dreams – especially when this sea is the Mediterranean.

This is the story of two Mediterranean women, one from Greece and one from Lebanon, sharing the same passion for culture. They met a few months ago in Tunis and together they launched the oral history programme SIRAJ: Spinning Tales across the Great Blue. Their goal is to build bridges between the European and Arab world and between the younger and older generations.

Konstantina Angeletou from Skopelos, and Nelly Abboud from Byblos, share many things: they love the history and traditions of their homelands, and their work on a daily basis is aimed towards culture becoming a springboard for a better future, with fewer prejudices and more sensitivity. The only thing separating them is the Mediterranean – or is it perhaps what brings them together? Skopelos is surrounded by the same sea that reaches the coast of Byblos. One speaks Greek and the other Arabic, but they both dance the ‘tsifteteli’ and enjoy the Mediterranean cuisine.

We met with each of them in their respective homeland, we learned how they interact with the local community, and how this collaboration changed them forever.

An idea is born

Nelly and Konstantina met in Tunis and became a “pair”, or in other words: a “tandem”, by joining the Tandem Shaml programme that encourages intercultural collaborations with the support of European and Arab organisations.

Nelly, as an archaeologist, was the founder of MuseoLab, and NGO that promotes knowledge and education through museums, and marries culture with tradition. “From the first minute I met Konstantina, I felt that we had the same connection, and that we can work very well together, from one end of the Mediterranean to the other”, confessed Nelly when we met her in MACAM, the modern art museum of Byblos, her birthplace, 30 km from Beirut.

Konstantina grew up in Skopelos, and studied Performing Arts Management in Madrid. In recent years, she has been based in Athens, running Plegma, a civil non-profit organisation, and has been organising festivals, theatre plays, workshops and cultural seminars. “We cooperated very well with Nelly, we communicated from the start and there is a continuity in our thinking by which we complement each other”, she enthusiastically tells us, under the shadow of the Acropolis.

Generations in conversation

What brought them together is the oral history programme “From one generation to the next”, which Plegma has already been implementing in a number of Greek islands, like Andros, Skopelos and Syros. Nelly found this an exceptional idea, and without any hesitation agreed to apply it in Lebanon. “At MuseoLab we always worked on tangible cultural heritage, but one of our objectives was to also work on intangible heritage. I found Konstantina’s idea extremely interesting”.

The idea involves Kindergarten children asking the elderly about their past, when they were children themselves. Did their parents let them play with the tablet, did they have Barbie dolls, what they ate, how they cooked – these are only some of the incredible questions the children asked. “The older generation has many things to say, as long as they are asked and the children learn to come closer to the elderly”, Konstantina elaborates. “The children return to the classroom and make a drawing of what has impressed them the most. We collected these drawings in an album which I showed Nelly when I met her”.

Well-rooted stereotypes are overturned

Along with our culture and tradition, we also carry a number of stereotypes. This is particularly true when different religions, histories and political systems are involved, making these stereotypes stronger and more difficult to uproot. “A stereotype that was overturned with Tandem was that I believed that my collaboration with Arab managers would be especially difficult due to the different mentality. I realised that this is not true and that any kind of collaboration is a matter of personality and professional skills”, explains the cultural manager from Skopelos.

In addition to shared codes in the way they work, the nine Tandem pairs have also developed common ways of entertainment. As Konstantina informs us “after every meeting of the programme, whether in Sweden, or Tunis, or Jordan, after the end of the work and the workshops, we danced the ‘tsifteteli’ with our Arab counterparts until dawn”. They often, in fact, start their day with a bit of belly dancing, to wake up and warm up before they take on their projects. “What I came to realise with Tandem is that culture is fun. We, as managers, should not get hung up on the details, culture should not be boring. This is the message we want to get through to the students through MuseoLab”, adds the Lebanese manager.

This collaboration did not only change Nelly at a professional level, but it also helped her change the way in which she viewed her own country – a country with a troubled history still bearing fresh the signs of civil war. “When I was accepted at Tandem Shaml – which I thought impossible – I was going through a difficult time personally. I was not feeling happy with the situation in Lebanon, I was not happy to be living here and I wanted to leave the country”. However, when she got a positive reply from the programme she had to stay to implement it. “Through this process, I learned to love my country from the start, I got reacquainted with its rich cultural heritage”, she shares with us, obviously moved.