Friday, 6 May 2016

Intrepid Women of Kenya

In 2013 I spent four months living in Kenya conducting research on the role women play in community healing and peacebuilding. During that time I ran arts-infused workshops in Kibera and Haruma, two of Nairobi's largest slums. These workshops were conducted with women from eight different tribes, to explore their concept of peace, how they played a role in promoting peace in their communities as the general election neared . . . but that story is for another time.

During my four months in Kenya, I was lucky enough to connect with three women's only villages: one located in the Massai Mara and two in Samburu dsitrict. The latter two had been created out of necessity: by women who had been victims of rape by members of local detachment of the British Military and who had been ostracized by their husbands and family. There is great shame attached to rape in Kenya, and therefore women rarely speak of it.

Another women's only village, the Village of Senchen is another example of a Samburu group of women who created a village in response to the violence they had undergone.  They are surviving by helping one another. It is through creating community that women support one another.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Did you forget to take your camera?

Sometimes travelling alone opens up opportunities to return to places. A few years ago I spent some time in Kenya.  In fact, for four months I navigated the country on my own with the help of strangers. It was wonderful, and at times overwhelming. The other day, I was reminded that one of the great things about travelling on your own is the ability to return to a place over and over again. Sometimes just to take a photograph.

It is beautiful in Kenya: sunny and warm, bougainvillea of every colour, jacaranda trees and a sea of never ending traffic and people. Quick smiles greeted me where ever I went. I had been in Nairobi for four days and have almost adjusted to normal sleeping hours. Each morning I am awakened by the Imam call to prayer - a haunting sound that draws me in to listen more intently to the sounds. Then the birds began their announcements, competing with one another to give their morning news.

My first morning I went to the David Sheldrick Elephant orphanage but forgot to take my camera!! It was sweet as some of the elephants (6 months to 3 years) were cooling themselves but using their tusks to dust red earth along their backs. Baboons lined the road as we headed  along side the road - actually baboons I think, I'll have to check "the book". Then to a sanctuary to feed Rothchild's giraffes - although somewhat touristy it was interesting. Warthogs gobbled up what remained from the pellets that dropped on the ground from people too scared to allow the giraffe's tongue to touch them.

When I came back to my room and washed my face it was covered in red dust from the elephants! The elephants haunted me and I was so upset that I didn't have an image of them I knew I had to return.

Whenever I travel alone and come across a taxi driver that I feel is trustworthy and helpful, I take their card. This has served me well when I am in a small city and need to get around. In this instance, I had taken the card of my taxi driver, Peter. It turned out that all my taxi drivers called themselves "Peter".  When I asked him that every taxi driver I had in Nairobi was called "Peter", and that perhaps he should come up with a different name to help identify himself to tourists, he explains that his Kukuyu name would be too difficult for tourists.

And so, we returned to David Sheldrick so I could photograph the LF-ants

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Make the most of being lost . . . In Istanbul

So often when I travel, I ask for directions. When I was in Ireland I was frequently given directions by pub "Do you know Davitt's Pub? Well turn left there and go straight on". Well, I didn't know Davitt's Pub, but by asking, I found it. Or . . . "Could you tell me the way to . . ", I might ask. "Now, I wouldn't start from here", would be the response. "Could you tell me then, how might I get to where I should begin"? "Do you know Davitt's Pub" . . and on it goes.

Today was somewhat similar, although in a language I did't understand, and in a city that was overcrowded with people holidaying. It was the beginning of Bayram - a festival marking the end of the Ramadan fast. It is a joyous family time and everyone was out taking advantage of their beautiful city.

As I wasn't able to do as I had originally planned, I was advised to walk along the Bosphorus: the remarkable body of water that connects the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea and forms part of the boundary between Asia and Europe. Heavenly! And, I should begin my journey in Ortaköy! It sounds simple . . .

The first challenge was getting onto the bus. I couldn't get a bus ticket as all the shops that sold the necessary transit pass, were closed. When I tried to explain this to the bus driver, offering to pay him cash, he would not allow it . . enter a lovely man who, upon hearing my plight, paid my fare (1 Turkish Lire). I asked the bus driver, in simple English, if he could please let me know when we arrived at Ortaköy. He forgot.  I discovered this when every other bus passenger got off. . . And so, being the intrepid woman, my long walk along the Bosphorus took me back to Ortaköy.

On my journey I passed fishermen, swimmers, families sharing a picnic and not a single (other) tourist!

Once I had reached the place from where I should have begun my journey, I sat and recovered with a glass of wine and freshly caught fish, while watching tourist boats come and go.

So, the moral of the story is, if you find yourself lost, ask a stranger for help and find a lovely place to treat yourself. It can be discouraging when plans don't work out as expected, but the intrepid woman, seizes each opportunity and creates a new adventure!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Have you found yourself in Marrakech during Ramadan?

Marrakech is beautiful. Each morning I awaken to the sound of the call to prayer, and last night, someone was signing prayers outside Dar Attajmil, where I am staying, in the heart of the medina. Lucrezia, who owns the riad, and her staff and great at making solo female travellers feel welcome and safe. The souks are nearby and as it is low season, there are fewer tourists.

However, the temperature at this time of year is extreme - 42 degrees celsius and humid. It also happens to be Ramadan which means that a) some places are closed; b) it's best to shop and do deals in the mornings when the temperatures are cooler and the storekeepers not exhausted. I must say, going without food or drink (not even water) from sunrise to sunset, in 40+ degree heat would make this intrepid woman somewhat grumpy, but the Moroccans remain good humoured. It just means things move a bit more slowly.

My experience in all of Morocco has been great. As long as you dress discretely you will not be bothered. Perhaps save the shorts, low cut t-shirts or short skirts for another place (all of which, in fact, would not be good in the heat).

On my first jet lagged day I went to Jardin Marjorelle and listened to song birds and say beneath the trees for a cool quiet time away from the busy souks. The garden is also home to a terrific Berber Museum to get you better acquainted with some of the cultural traditions of this place, and a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent.

Geuliz, part of the modern city, has great design shops and contemporary hang outs. It's a good way to begin the journey.

The following morning I had found my feet and was ready for the good natured bartering with souk merchants. Enjoy the experience as you will not insult them if you offer 1/2 what they say the price is. Then you have tea, be dramatic and play along until you get a price you are both comfortable with. The only warning I would have is do not begin bargaining if you really have no intention of buying. If you do not come to an agreed price, you can walk away without any insult.

OH . .and if you are Celiac, Vegan, Vegetarian, Omnivore . . .Marrakech cuisine is for you! Vegetable, meat, vegan tagines! Heavenly

Monday, 2 February 2015

Does the early bird really catch the worm?

The early bird really does catch the worm and when travelling solo, you have no reason endure crowds unnecessarily: you are travelling on your own time, at your own pace. Fabulous! That being said, there have been many times in my travels when I have decided to lounge and savour the stillness of the mornings - although the birds can cause a real racket. Sometimes however, it is best to get out early to avoid the line-ups and crowds.

When I was in Nairobi I had heard about the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust . I had been told that it was something not to be missed and that the public are welcomed for only one hour a day so it was important to get there early. I had been told that the crowds would arrive about 30 minutes beforehand so I took a taxi to arrive in good time and had ample room to observe feeding and watering of the elephants.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What about transportation?

When traveling alone I have taken Metro in Montreal, a train in Toronto, a streetcar in San Francisco, a bus in Barcelona, a camel in the Sahara, a matatu in Nairobi, a boda boda in Uganda. There are so many ways to get around.

I find the best thing to do when I am travelling in a new country is to ask at the hotel for advice. There are times when taking a taxi is better than taking a bus from one city to another. If the cabbie is a learned, he (most often) or she can act as interpreter, guide and offer a glimpse into the lives of the locals. The trick is to not be too concerned about deadlines and be open to where you might be taken.

I once had only 6 hours in Athens and hired a taxi with a driver who was fluent in English, to tour me around the city. I wouldn't have seen the city if it hadn't been for him and, although I didn't have time to wander at will, I did get a sense of the city and had lunch at a lovely place run by local people.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Flights and fashion: How to get upgraded on the plane

We all love to be comfortable when we travel and thanks to new fabrics we can while still looking fabulous. I wonder how many of us have sat in the waiting area of an airport and watched people - it's one of my favourite pastimes. I love to see well-dressed men and women as they settle into wait and then head off to board. What I don't like is: to see people in their exercise gear or sweat pants; irate travellers yelling at the airline staff; people putting their feet up of chairs or leaving their suitcases on furniture so others can't sit;  fellow travellers remaining oblivious to the needs of others, pretending not to notice other travellers look for a seat in the waiting room, by keeping their focus on their mobile electronics.

My experience has been that if you take a bit more time getting yourself looking good and treat the airline staff with courtesy, you may just get upgraded. It's happened to me several times.

Here is what I've done:

  • I wear a long dress (jersey is great and very comfortable). In case it is cold on the flight, I pack a pair of fluffy socks and leggings that I can slip under the dress.
  • I put on make-up. If it is a long flight, I'll take it off once we are airborne and put on creams as flying dehydrates skin.
  • I chat about my seat with the airline representative as I am being checked in. There have been several occasions when I have been upgraded (without paying) then.
  • I am the last to board the plane and bring treats for the flight attendants. I make sure I let them know I appreciate the work they do.

What this accomplishes:

  • I feel good as I've made personal contact with people who will be taking care of me for hours.
  • I have expressed my appreciation - flight attendants aren't tipped yet they cater to our whim for hours.
  • I feel good about how I am presenting myself .
  • If I am not upgraded, I am treated better than anyone else in economy class!
Try it next time you're flying. I'd love to hear your stories.