Not the center of My world

After completing the tour of the Alfama neighborhood, in Lisbon (Portugal), I asked my tour guide if he could tell me more about Portugal’s history, culture and literature.  We walked on the street that goes uphill from Arc Di Augusta. We talked about: the Muslim rule of Portugal, the Reconquista, the Great Lisbon Earthquake, the second Republic etc.

During our conversation he pointed out how every civilization sees itself at the center of the world at some point in history. For the Arabs this time can be the time of Caliph Umer, for the Turks it might be the era of Suleiman the Magnificent, for the Greeks it might be the era of Alexander the Great, for Sikhs it might be the reign of Ranjit Singh and the list goes on. This self-proclaimed greatness is evident form the world map that our children study in school books. Every country shows itself at the center of the world. He told me that it’s very likely that the map I saw in my school books showed Pakistan at the center of the world  ,highlighting Pakistan’s great geostrategic location. On the other hand, his school books showed Portugal at the center of the world and emphasized on Portugal’s great strategic location.

Maps don’t always tell the truth. They are often as subjective as any fragment of prose. European names for large swathes of Africa show how cartography can be a discourse of power. Mercator projections tend to show Europe larger than it really is. Maps can be dangerous tools. And yet they are crucial to any understanding of world politics. A lot of unnecessary conflict could have been avoided if we just realized that ‘you are not the center of my world’. I am the center of my world; you are the center of yours, and there are hundreds of similar worlds around us, each one of them is extremely important, yet extremely insignificant.

It had gotten dark and I had to catch an overnight bus that would take me to the Spanish city of Seville – some six hours away. Suddenly the drizzle changed into a heavy shower, with this exchange we greeted goodbyes and parted ways.

lisbon guide
My Portuguese guide


** For more travel reflections/stories visit Travel stories

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