Imported Blog A Blog en-us Mon, 17 Jun 2019 01:25:49 +0000 Sett RSS Generator The New Constantinople After four tireless, sometimes unbearable years of journalism school, I didn’t think I would be the millennial who couldn’t find work. The current unemployment rate in the United States is roughly seven percent, 14% for young people.

I’m an impatient girl. It’s natural for me to lose sleep or disregard advice from elders when I feel that I’m deserving of merit. This summer wasn’t easy, particularly. I left my comfortable three-bedroom apartment in New York City for the spellbinding lifestyle of a foreign correspondent in Istanbul, the cultural capital of Turkey. My arrival came at a turning point for the inhabitants of Turkey. On May 31st, a civil revolt ensued.

Three weeks prior to the protests across Turkey’s largest cities, the government signed a bill to allow the demolition of nearly 600 trees and installation of 19th century army barracks at Gezi Park – the hub of Taksim Square. The square (no relation to Times Square) was a two-bus ride away from my dormitory. But the pressure from polis to allay foot traffic at Taksim made the commute a nightmare. My translator and I would board a bus that drove past the construction site of Istanbul’s Besiktas futbol stadium and footed the remaining dusty, crooked sidewalk.

Feeling like I was melting each time, there was a subtle right turn that signified I arrived. Standing across the street from Gezi Park and ogling at the draping of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – leader of the Turkish War of Independence who modernized several reforms for the nation including women’s suffrage – this would be home for the next month.

My place of solace was in Besiktas – a young area with Western undertones. Before I give you the skinny, here’s a briefing of how I got there. I first learned of the internship abroad program in a mass e-mail sent by the internship coordinator at Stony Brook’s School of Journalism in Long Island, NY. I forwarded the message to my father (essentially, giving him a nudge) and promised myself that I would end up in one of the program’s following destinations.

Now, Besiktas looks like any urban area – my former neighborhood in the Bronx; the Lower East Side of Manhattan; Astoria, Queens. There were enough eateries and shops to lure anyone into launching a business. If you wanted to sell calling cards, you could. If you wanted to swindle travelers into buying your posters, you could.

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I felt most accepted in Besiktas because the people didn’t seem fixated on my outer. In fact, it is almost as if I studying university, which I sorta had been, because why else would I have been there?

The most fraught reason for any foreigner, outside of lodging, is navigating a new place for the first time. The small things you normally take for granted like ordering lunch or hailing a cab to get from point A to B could be the scariest moment of your day. (Revisiting the idea, even, is causing anxiety.) Not to mention the horror stories you hear about women disappearing, like the Staten Island mother of two who was killed while vacationing in January.) There’s the feeling of being bamboozled into giving money, or worse, getting pick pocketed and losing your passport. Fortunately, none happened.

Hours settling into Istanbul, I become conscious of my table etiquette. I was obviously American: summertime brown-skinned, 3B curls in a pulled back ponytail, a septum illusion piercing and a smile like I hadn’t shown in months.

There wasn’t a plan to show up and eat immediately. I and three housemates spotted an outdoor seating table. A middle-aged waiter greeted us with menus and helplessly inquired about our countries of origin. There was a freckled White face with beach hair, a soft-spoken Indian accent, a man-boy with dark curls and a round nose, and myself. How could you ignore our group’s dynamic? The man’s English was the first sign of how advanced (and accustomed) were in communicating with tourists. This was a great sign, as I am language-challenged. Everyone ordered their Mediterranean dishes. When it had arrived, I thought ‘why does this look so familiar’ disappointed by foods that I would see in the states. I was phased out of my choices and opted to sample the national drink called “Ayran.” Turks consume yogurt in their meats, vegetable dishes – often adding salt to the mix.

An easier thing to digest was the people. I was awe-struck at the street style of many Istanbulites – men donned in white robes; out-of-town Muslimahs in their abaya; women in matching hijabs and skirts; and the locals who played backgammon throughout the day. I noticed everyone and there wasn’t a person who hadn’t noticed me. “[They] don’t see your race; only color,” said Dr. Ahmet Kaza, a family doctor and Gay activist who I interviewed for my story.

For a country that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia), heterogeneous is plain as day. Turks, Kurds, Greeks, Arabs, Gypsies, Syrians, the Christian minorities, sometimes blend so fluidly that even the smartest traveler could be fooled they’re all the same. Being in Istanbul for a short time, meant that color wasn’t anything to be up in arms about. I even gave it special mention on Facebook: “Whenever I see black people in Istanbul, I get reallyyyyyy happy.” Hashtag black people rule the world.

My colleague, Alex Estrada, a California native and fearless photographer wanted to speak with refugees in Tarlabasi (“front field” in English), a heartfelt community where plights of African and Syrian refugees, gypsies and street walkers lived. Alex wanted to gather reactions from refugees facing expulsion in this part of town. His idea came too late in the program and cut across spotty communication lines with the news agency where we sent stories too. But the thought of helping him communicate with some of the refugees made me realize my own language insecurities. From a distance, I noticed the wave of Black Muslims – normally in pairs (husband and wife) carrying on in transit and at markets. Frankly, I felt like the one thing that I had missed in Istanbul was connecting with its black faction – the very thing I’m accustomed to doing in the states.

Between sight-seeing and reporting, I spent a lot of time in tourist-central Sultanahmet, where every businessman has two agendas: selling you something, and then selling you something else. (Even, vying food vendors in 30 degree weather aren’t as pushy as the sellers at Grand Bazaar.)

My mind was fertile in purchasing gifts and since I had never been to the area, I didn’t know what was appropriate to buy. I had minimal knowledge about sports in Turkey; however, quickly caught on to its presence. The Besiktas Soccer Club has wide popularity among Turks and even rose to prominence during the Occupy Gezi uprising. Members of the fan club reportedly distributed gas masks and delivered aid to injured protestors. Besiktas [futbol team] stood in arms with fellow teams, Fenerbache and Galatasaray as “Istanbul United. Since 31 May 2013.”

But the reason why I choose to return home with a futbol jersey had little to do with this. Futbol hit Africa during European imperialism in the 17th century and influenced the faces you see in EU teams today. In 2010, African history professor Peter Alegi stated that more than 80 percent of Africa’s world cup players are based in Europe. Also my father played soccer in the late 70s, so it was an automatic acquire.

Before a line of jerseys reflecting emblems of Brazil, Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates, I singled out a navy blue and yellow-stripped FIFA shirt. Normally, I don’t negotiate items – I either pay or don’t. He said 25 lira. I unknowingly had 20 in my pocket. He settled. Deal.

Some days I slept in past noon. I wasn’t of the bunch that had to show up for Turkish language instruction, but I felt compelled to at least pick up some colloquial language. Also the paranormal view of the second Bosphorus Bridge from the district of Bahcesehir leaving around 8: 30 a.m. was alluring. Because I had creative control of my assignments, I often burned time skirting the scene in between classes while waiting for my advisor to help with edits.

Many afternoons I sampled a rich pilaf drenched in a soft zucchini stew and egg yolk in the cafeteria – either alone or with house mates.

One afternoon, eating the same meal, I made contact with a beautiful boy.

He was lithe and had razor-sharp cheek bones. “Where are you from,” I said, feeling my voice crack in anticipation of his answer. “Sudan,” he replied and continued to head in his direction. It was a short lived moment, but one that would linger for days.

Other days I didn’t feel so alone. My translator, a bilingual university student, had taken on the tasks of dealing with two [pushy] interns. Like other translators in the program, she had to coordinate with my schedule and remain hers open for possibility of double-booking.

Upon a mild-hot day from Europe to Asia, we set off via the 5:45 p.m. boat to attend a women’s rights meeting at Yogurtcu Parki, a space known for hipping people to the latest changes in awake of social and political upheaval, such as the Occupy Gezi riots.

Since I missed a lot of the action at Taksim Square, weeks prior to arriving, this marked a turning point in my reporting chronicles. Nearly a hundred attendees showed to air their grievances during the protests. So here I am, language-illiterate and walking past tie-dyed shirts and children swinging on a seesaw pendulum, eager to take [physical and mental] note of ramblings at this good ol’ park showdown.

Attendees cited would-have-been legislation to ban dresses in public and red lipstick for flight attendants in the airport as evidence of polarizing women in Turkey. Others chose to focus on the positives: homage to the LGBT community and women who were on the frontlines of protests and solidarity for all of Turkey.

If I may add, I was waist deep into this assignment so I didn’t stop there. Later that evening, I waited by the bus stop in Besiktas and approached different women about their sexual freedom, specifically how they use oral contraception.

You want to know the most spellbinding aspect of being a foreign correspondent in Istanbul?

The small acts of kindness.

Humbled folks including the first woman I approached about contraception, who basically said “My English isn’t perfect, but I want to help you”; the stranger who invited me to learn about “Why they became Muslim” in the form of a paperback edition at the Sultan Ahmet Cami ; the children of Balat who sang American classics like “If you’re happy and you know it” dubbed in Turkish for me and my visiting friend; the concerned patron who cautioned me about traveling with my bookbag open on the tram; Saniye, the cook, who wouldn’t stop feeding me feta cheese and olives for my last Sunday feast; the Enrique Inglesias look-alike hair dresser who told me that my hair was ‘rough’ and proceeded to handle it with diligence and complimented it profusely after; the random people who snapped a photo of me while they thought I wasn’t looking; that moment I shared with the masseuse who blew air bubbles the size of pillows down my breasts and vagina at my first-ever Turkish bath; the stick poster I was given at Istanbul’s largest PRIDE parade saying “We are lesbian”; the invitation to meet other travelers on scholarship at the Turkish Coalition of America office. And it continues.

These small acts of kindness dispelled my qualms of traveling alone and left me with nostomania – the obsession with returning.

Months later, I’m neither unemployed nor underemployed – I’m distressed.

With trial and error, chronic afternoon naps that cut into non-journalism class time, abysmal news quiz scores, production run through for a school play, sushi for breakfast, lugging 25lb camera equipment, excruciating weekend commutes home, all-nighters in the newsroom, and a few “My Life As” segments that j-school professors mandate for extra credit and the ‘knowledge’ that I adapted the role of the backpack journalism in today’s changing media landscape has me in distress about fighting to keep the good fight.

Youngsters in Europe are facing unprecedented levels of youth unemployment. It is as high as 56 percent in Spain and more than 17 percent in Turkey. The crisis is global, and I could imagine how my contemporaries are handling the murky situation. The same dilemma that I’m facing at home is the sole reason why I’m working to document that of others overseas. Through faith and the warmth of family, I’m writing down a new reason to remain hopeful each day.

Pope Francis said it best: “A whole generation of young people does not have the dignity that is brought by work.”

Hearing that and cycling is the solace that fuels me to continue.

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Thu, 05 Dec 2013 16:21:41 +0000
Finding the Perfect Hotel I will admit that I am not just a traveler who enjoys traveling, I'm also the kind that can bury myself in every aspect of the planning process. I remember in my teens and throughout my college years, it didn’t matter if it was an overly crowded hostel, a couch or even a friends floor, as long as there was space to dump my cargo and a tiny space for my head, all was well.

Nowadays, while there are still some fun family gatherings and other crazy occasions that might call for an all out slumber fest/couchsurfing experience, it's also nice to be able to find a space that's just as exciting as your destination. Now, let’s not confuse things, I am not advocating overspending or spending when you shouldn't. Quite the contrary, I am a big believer in not blowing your entire trip budget on just your lodging. So I start my searching and planning very early, spending tons of hours looking for the best options for the least amount of $$.

A few tips that have worked for me and I hope work for you:

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1. The power of Reviews: I can't tell you how many times I've had friends tell me they ended up staying in a crappy hotel. There's some tricks to avoid this. The first and most important thing to do is to look for reviews. TripAdvisor is by far the best for this but by no means the only one. is another great option as they provide professional reviews and up close pictures of every aspect and every angle of hotels and hotel rooms. Another favorite especially for anyone who uses vacation rentals is slowtrav. Prior to the now popular AirBnb, they were the best option for vacation rental information and reviews.

2. Be careful with flashsite deals: So, you check your email and there’s what appears to be an amazing flash site deal for 5 nights in a 4 star hotel (more on the 4 star later). If the hotels name is given, proceed to number 1: look for real reviews and real photographs. Real photos are extremely important because the ones posted by the hotel are usually taken from the best angles, or wide angles to make everything look bigger and better. In addition, most of the pictures released by hotels are taken right around the hotel opening. Little do you know as you are checking out the pictures, that it’s now 10 years later and that fancy shiny room isn’t so shiny anymore. Flash sites are great and I have found great deals on them, but it's best to still do a little homework.

3. Beware Bundled deals/the all inclusive trip: You might also encounter these on those same flash sites or with tour operators that offer all inclusive trips. The reason they are able to offer such a great deal is because they partner with cheap hotels that have trouble filling their rooms. Again, if you see an all inclusive deal, try to find the name of the hotel and do some additional research before signing up.

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4. Don’t judge a Hotel by its stars: 4 star/5 star hotel tells you very little. One of the nicest hotels I have ever stayed in was a 2 star hotel. The official stars a hotel gets relates to what services they offer and has little to do with how cleans the rooms are, how recently renovated or what kind of service you’ll get. So while a 5 star means that you’ll get certain amenities and services like valet, doorman, mini fridge, pool, room service etc., you could still end up in a room with crappy 1980's decor, floral sheets (sorry I hate all floral bedding), tube TV, rude service, hasn’t been updated in years and at least now you’ll know why that happened. Yup, the 2 star hotel may not have a pool, but they could offer you so much more at a great price. While there might be some not so nice 2 star hotels, I'm simply saying you shouldn't assume that they are ALL bad.

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5. Don't forget the other options: Hotels are but one of your accommodation options. There's everything from apartment rentals and swaps, bed and breakfasts, inns & hostels to name a few. I've been so impressed in the past few years with the improvements in amenities and design of hostels. They have definitely come a long way from when I was in college and my next stay might actually include a hostel stopover.

Images via, and

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Wed, 04 Dec 2013 16:00:20 +0000
5 Reasons You Should Volunteer Abroad Here’s the truth- if you’re a black traveler, you are rare. You probably have a passion for seeing new places, meeting new people and learning new things. That passion probably connects you to social networks filled with people who also share your wanderlust. Your experiences are probably awe-inspiring and many times, your non-traveling friends wonder how you do what you do, and how (or if) they can do it too. Eyes are constantly on you and people watch you in admiration trying to understand how you move about the world.

So, I have a question for you- while they're watching you, why not use your travels for good?

Here's what I mean:

I’ve spent the past two summers volunteering abroad. In 2012, I volunteered in Cabarete, Dominican Republic for a children’s education organization called The DREAM Project. In 2013, I volunteered in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for a local organization that served children and families in a remote town located about 40 minutes outside of the city. Being a teacher allows me to spend weeks in the summertime volunteering abroad. Believe it or not, I know that those few weeks left an impact on the communities that I served - even if it just simply offered a new perspective on the perception of a Black traveler.

5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

1. Make real connections

Relationships rule the world, and meeting new people is one of the biggest perks of traveling abroad. Whether you’re traveling solo, with your boo or in a group, volunteering abroad can lead to genuine connections with local residents as well as other travelers. The simple act of spending time with people while giving back usually always fosters new relationships. Not only will you make friends with other volunteers, donating some of your time abroad can help you expand your professional network. My time volunteering in the Dominican Republic helped me create both professional and philanthropic relationships with organizations that I continue to work with and support today.

2. Go green

Who wouldn’t want to help the environment while seeing the world? Eco-friendly travel is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry. Defined as a responsible travel that conserves the environment, volunteering in eco-tourism has created a buzz among travelers across the globe. Travel companies like Hands Up Holidays are now beginning to emerge, offering luxury vacation packages that promise to enrich your travel experience while you help the environment during tours of exotic places like Ecuador, Bali and Malawi. Who knows what new skills you’ll learn when you go green abroad.

3. Unexpected experiences

I’m going to tell you a real-life love story: When I volunteered in the Dominican Republic I met a young woman named Sara. She was an English teacher from Colorado who, like me, had the summer off and decided to spend it volunteering in Cabarete. Sara had signed up as an art teacher at one of the program sites that the organization ran. When we met, Sara and I hit it off immediately and became instant friends. Over the weeks, we had a lot of fun working with our Haitian and Dominican students, drinking Presidente’s on the beach, dancing bachata in the nightclubs and spending time with our new friends. One day, Sara met Rafael, the brother of one of the local volunteers and a semi-professional soccer player. The two started dating and Sara decided to extend her trip a few extra weeks longer in order to spend more time with Rafael. A year and a half later, I found out that Sara and Rafael had gotten married and started their lives together in Colorado.

Now picture yourself. Just imagine the unexpected experiences that may be in store for you when you decide to volunteer on your next trip abroad.

4. Learn something new

In general, we always learn something new when we travel. Whether we are honing our language skills, driving on the opposite side of the road or simply navigating a new city- traveling always allows us to gain new knowledge. Volunteering abroad also gives you an opportunity to acquire new skills. You can easily find your inner artist by helping to paint commissioned street art, or you can learn how to talk like a local by acquiring the colloquial language. You can even bring home some DIY skills by helping to fix homes that may have been affected by a recent natural disaster. In short, volunteering abroad doesn’t just help the community that you’re helping in, it also helps you by adding to your toolbox of skills that you will be able to use wherever your journeys take you.

5. Give back and keep on giving

When you travel abroad, you become a citizen of the world; when you volunteer abroad, you join the movement to build a better world. Years from now, that modest home that you helped build during your trip to the Philippines may be one family’s reliable shelter during a typhoon. Maybe you will form your own organization to support local soccer leagues in the favela where you volunteered on your trip to Brazil. You can use social media to promote your experiences and perhaps this in turn, motivate someone else to volunteer abroad. Volunteering is the real gift that keeps on giving. By combining it with a passion to travel, it’s not just a gift to give yourself but also a gift to give the world.

No time to spend volunteering? You can still give back…

You may be wondering how you can travel for good if you only have a few days to spend on a trip. The fact is, every traveler can travel for good by offering just a few hours of their time or seeking out opportunities to give back to the communities that their traveling to.

5 Ways you can give back abroad

1. Donate

Books, clothes, school supplies, toys- give whatever you can! Before your trip, find an organization that is supporting a local community and ask what their needs are. Leave a little extra space in your luggage for your donations when you’re packing and after you give the items away, you’ll have room to pack your souvenirs. It’s a win-win!

2. Support a free trade program

Free trade programs help local artists sell their products to global markets. If you are traveling to a developing region, many times you can find a free trade program that sells traditional handmade items. Donate a few dollars and ask the artists to teach you how to make your own or painting, jewelry, textiles or baskets. One of the best experiences of my life was learning traditional Mayan backstitch weaving and making my own textile at a free trade organization in Guatemala.

3. Find the Red Cross

Often times, rebuilding efforts take longer to complete in developing areas of the world. The Red Cross works to provide humanitarian support in many countries after natural disasters. When I visited Sri Lanka in 2012, I attended a traditional dance performance that was given by the local Red Cross to help raise money for the reconstruction efforts from the 2004 tsunami. The performance drew tourists who gave donations and bought local jewelry and clothing from local vendors.

4. Paint a mural, plant a tree

Even if you’re not an artist, you can help paint a mural. Public art spaces not only beautify our world, they also tend to bring awareness or represent a cultural message about something that is important to the community they’re in. Local schools are often good places to paint murals. Gardens and green spaces are also popping up in communities all over the world. Tree planting, while dirty work, is one of the best ways to give back to a community while leaving your ecological footprint. There’s nothing like saying, “I was here” by planting a tree to prove it.

5. Go local

Shop local, stay local, eat local, spend local, hire local – just go local! Support the local economy by patronizing locally owned tour companies, drivers, restaurants and businesses. There’s no better way to learn about the city you’re in than talking a local resident who knows the in’s-and-out’s of their own community. While it may feel safer to hire guides from international tour companies, stay in an international hotel chain or eat at Mickey D’s, you often for-go the chance to experience the real buzz of the city.

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Tue, 03 Dec 2013 16:49:36 +0000
Traveling with a Toddler After travels this year with my four-year old, it's safe to say that I learned a few things. For some of you hoping to travel abroad with your baby, toddler or bigger kids, rest assured; it can be done. My daughter and I traveled to four countries in less than a month and she was more upbeat than I was the entire time. I learned a few tricks along the way, and I hope I can help you learn a few here too.


1. Create an Itinerary - I cannot over-emphasize the importance of planning ahead of time. Mapping out locations, activities, and tours ahead of time helped me avoid chaos down the road. Once you get on the plane with a toddler, there is no turning back. My daughter is energetic, loves to be occupied, so I planned outdoor activities that would dissipate that energy on the road. My spreadsheet included activities by area, ratings and reviews. We didn't get to do every activity, but we did the most important ones, for example, in Paris, visiting the Eiffel Tower was a no-brainer. Remember to be flexible. Your kid may get sleepy, tired or anxious due to the new environment. Look for cues that they need their rest, and return to hotel for a short nap.


2. Schedule for Sleep, Nap and Jet-Lag: Plan your travel times to co-incide with a day-time arrival. Don't make the mistake of putting them to bed as soon as you get to your destination. My daughter had no issues with jetlag. We booked a late night flight out of the U.S to France. I kept her up halfway, and she slept halfway. Upon arrival in the morning, we had brunch and went touring the Eiffel tower, she later fell asleep and we went back to the hotel at 6pm. I woke her up to eat dinner, and she went back to sleep at 7pm. She was fine the rest of the week and adjusted to not only Europe, but Morocco and Nigeria time-zones since the time zones were so close. Kids actually fare better when it comes to distance travel and overcoming jetlag. Keep your child up if it's not bed time at your travel destination.


3. Location is Key: Because you have a toddler, it's important to stay close to an area where there are tons of activities within walking distance. We stayed at La Defense in Paris which had shopping malls, playgrounds, restaurants, carousels, picnic area, coffee shops, and plenty other things to do. If you decide to stay in a remote location that requires travel, your daily commute may put a strain on your child. We practically rolled out of bed to eat at our favorite brunch restaurant, tour the Grand Arch, shop at the mall and visit a nearby park where my daughter played with other kids. We did this in every country we visited this year.


4. Travel Light: We had to pack heavy because we were stopping to visit family but we left most of our heavy luggage in Paris with a friend while we visited some parts of Europe and Morocco. Less is more when it comes to travelling. She successfully wore one pair of black ballet flats for the entire month. We wore this same dresses in Paris, Morocco and Nigeria. There are washing machines in most hotels and while in Nigeria, I handwashed everything. It helped reduce the amount of time we would have spent deciding on what to wear. My rule of thumb is to bring half of what you think you need, and only pack things you can't find elsewhere.


5. Just Do It: There are other things to consider when traveling with a toddler: potty-training, keeping them occupied on the plane so they don't freak out other passengers, worrying about their eating habits, bringing their favorite pet (we have a teddy bear that traveled far and wide this year), the list goes on. My advice is to just do it. You will never regret taking your child on a journey across the world. My daughter learned to speak French, Arabic and Yoruba this summer, a few words here and there, but she held conversations with friends she met in those places and even taught some of the Arab friends English.

Yes, you can't have the type of vacation or experience you will have with friends, a partner or traveling solo, but you will make amazing memories with your children and they will learn so much more about themselves. You'll look back and cherish every bit of it.

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Tue, 03 Dec 2013 05:43:10 +0000
Bangkok Is More Than Pad Thai Forget New York, Bangkok is the city that truly never sleeps. Each time I visit, I rarely get any sleep - maybe an hour at most. There is ALWAYS something to do or somewhere to go in this humid, crowded, tropical city. I've wandered through Khao San Road alone at night, been harassed at the floating markets, caressed by tigers at the temple and showered by elephants in the jungle. My most memorable experience, however, has to be a cooking class I took one faithful day following a sleepless night of partying.

As a foodie and lover of Thai food, I was curious about having an authentic hands-on experience with the vibrant cuisine. A colleague of mine recommended Sompong Thai Cooking School.

Booking the class was easy. I called the evening before and spoke to the owner in regards to arranging a pick-up from my hotel the next morning. The class lasted four hours and was a reasonable 1000 baht/30 USD. They practically meet you anywhere. Located in the Silom area of Bangkok, it is near the BTS/Skytrain line and the school happily picks you up you from there. The only hindrance is finding your own way back, however that isn't worth stressing over if your trip is planned correctly.

The school was located off a main street and down a dodgy alley. Upon arrival, I was immediately relieved to see a comfortable and welcoming establishment. Koy (the owner) and her staff were very friendly and the environment felt more like home than a place of business. Even her grandmother was roaming around sorting things out. Not long after receiving a welcome drink and a brief review for the day's course, we were off to the local market on foot with bamboo basket in tow to secure ingredients for our menu - Masamam curry, tom yum soup, prawn fried rice and bananas in pandan coconut milk.

At the market we were privileged to get a detailed lesson about a variety of Thai ingredients and how to use them in cooking. There was such an abundance of fresh produce and spices I wanted to buy it all. We then had the opportunity to shop for local ingredients to take back to our own kitchens. After the visit to the market, we headed back to the open kitchen and began our course.

Most of the ingredients were already prepped by the diligent staff, but believe me, the brunt of the hard (yet rewarding) work came from the students (including yours truly). Koy guided us through it every step of the process. She gave the do's and don't's for making a proper curry, how to vary the spiciness and informed us the order to cook ingredients as to reduce unpleasant smells. We even made a rose shaped garnish out of a tomato.

The experience proved to be a networking opportunity as well. While grinding out spices, chatting and mingling with other travelers kept the environment festive and light as we were able to learn about each other's cultures. After all of the food had been prepared, we made our way to the beautiful dining area where we gladly relaxed to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The class was loads of fun and I truly recommend it if you're ever in Bangkok.

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Mon, 02 Dec 2013 16:00:01 +0000
You Should Travel Solo While traveling alone can be challenging and daunting, personal growth often happens in solitude. It can be invigorating, inspiring and just plain refreshing—so refreshing that we think everyone should do it at least once. Here are our top five reasons you should travel solo followed by some tips to get started.

  1. Do what you want, when you want. You get to do exactly what you’ve set out to do. No negotiations or comprises. You have the right to live on your own terms because no one knows who you are, expects anything from you nor cares what you've done. The gift that keeps on giving, traveling solo grants the permission to create your own agenda.
  2. Follow your instincts. You'll practice listening to your inner voice and exploring what it has to say. Have you wanted to spend a few months as a yoga instructor, an artist-in-residence or a musician? Now is the time to act on those instincts & live without fear of reprimand. Go ahead, no one is watching.
  3. Enjoy solitude. When you're alone, you get the chance to learn more about who you are & how you face adversity and stress. Often times, without travel companions, you tend to deal with problems differently than you would if you had your cadre of close friends nearby. During your moments of solitude, you can begin to plan for your future or choose to focus on the present.
  4. Reset. If you're looking to get your creative juices flowing or are on the hunt for inspiration, traveling solo is exactly what you need. You begin to see things through the perspective of others which in turn, leaves room for new and fresh ideas. These observations can serve as catalysts for solving problems that may have stumped you while at home.
  5. You get to reflect. Perhaps one of travel's greatest gifts. On buses, in trains, on planes and the like, you get to really soak in what travelers often talk about with immense nostalgia. The feeling of being lost, yet found.

To start planning a solo trip, think about why you'd like to travel alone. Do you want a change of scenery? Get started by taking a train ride to a nearby city and exploring for a day. Do you need some alone time? Get a head start by heading to a museum, booking a tour or extending your current trip by a few days to continue exploring areas of interest.

If you're afraid that you'll be lonely while traveling, test the waters a bit. Everyone reacts to solitude differently. Head to a movie by yourself or eat at a nearby restaurant. If you're worried that you'll get lost or won't be able to meet people, make sure you bring a map & research areas before hand. Meeting people is all about timing. Try using Meetup to meet with locals who share the same interest.

A joint piece curated by Joke Karibo & Zim Ugochukwu.

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Thu, 28 Nov 2013 07:37:23 +0000
The Best Subjects: People Being a black traveler means that most times, people are staring at you. Some people might hate that, and on occasion, so do I. However, there are times where it has allowed me to capture some amazing photographs. My name is Afiya and I’m a professional people watcher.

Every time I return home from a trip, the first thing I do after taking a hot shower is upload the photos from my camera to my laptop. I usually return with over 1,000 pictures and at least two hours of video but I started noticing an interesting trend: the subject of most of my pictures were people. Whenever I’m planning my itinerary, I always aim to discover all aspects of what makes the country I’m visiting unique; food, eco-tourism, architecture, fashion etc. But I always add a park or a nice street cafe to the list so that I can take time out to de-stress from the hustle and bustle and of course people watch.

People watching isn’t about being nosey. It’s simply allowing yourself to be engulfed in the energy of the people and capturing it if you can. It is observing the group of Buddhist monks in Thailand chatting as they cross the street, or watching a young Thai boy sit between his parents on a motorbike whizzing through traffic. It can even be watching a group of mature Indian women sit and chat with each other or a young Japanese couple indulge in each other in a photo booth in Tokyo. But the most interesting thing to notice is how they notice you. I sometimes snap without even looking at my camera or in the direction it’s facing. Since I’m working with a point and shoot camera, I’m very unassuming. It’s always interesting to see the pictures that I’ve taken because I’m always surprised to notice that most times my subject is looking at me. Smiles, expressions of confusion, curiosity and disgust, are usually the expressions that I see in the photos that I’ve taken.

People are beautiful creatures. We express ourselves freely without even knowing. Our body language and facial expressions can express a plethora of emotions. Our culture shines through us in how we greet others, celebrate, mourn and go about our daily activities. On your next trip, take some time to sit down and people watch. Take in the noise, the emotion, and facial expressions. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about a location by means of its people in just a few minutes.

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Tue, 26 Nov 2013 21:04:26 +0000
The Ethiopian Spirit

"I chase my aspirations, in an attempt to quench my thirst for exploration.

Suddenly, God reveals the peace to be found in contentment."

Last year I embarked on a life-changing mission trip of giving in Ethiopia with a group of truly inspirational and visionary individuals. We set out to explore the beautiful city and people of Addis Abba. Upon arrival at our guesthouse, we were warmly greeted with open arms and loving spirits by the owner and staff. Full of character and charm, the Toronto Guest House was exactly the modest type of lodging we desired. There were no elevators to reach the top of its three floors with our luggage. Wifi was only accessible in the common area. Meanwhile, the dining area is where most of our bonding occurred during the trip, and a patio was available to take in and observe the the daily tasks of the locals. Once unpacked and settled, we reconvened in the lobby and set out to hit the streets. We came across an open meat shop with a butcher wielding two very large knives eager to give us a photo-op. Shortly after, we encountered a group of beautiful, young and gleeful Ethiopian princesses. To our surprise, the young ladies surrounded us and began to perform a cheerful Amharic song, clapping and dancing through their performance.


This was my first clue into the the insurmountable joy and culture these people possessed. A day later, as we made our way through the capital, our van continuously thrusted itself into busy streets crowded with cars, people, cattle and chickens among other things. It was truly a sight to see! As we waved and snapped pictures, people responded with big smiles and embraced our curiosity of their daily happenings. A specific nuance I noticed that day was the high volume of hair salons on nearly every block. If there is anything commonly known about Ethiopian women, it is the beauty and vivaciousness of their hair stands as their trademark. Every style was on display - top knots, flowing roller-sets and stunning traditional braided styles resembling crowns adorning their head. Unfortunately, time wouldn't permit us to experience our own first-hand experience in an Ethiopian salon.


Exploring the landmarks also proved to be an unforgettable highlight. First on our list was the Lion Zoo. However, don't get your hopes up on visiting the zoo because it's a small-scale facility with minimal animals. Personally, I've never been a fan of zoos. This is due to the fact that I don't like seeing things caged up, including animals. I'd much rather see them in their own habitat. Thankfully, our visit was short and we were off to the next destination in less than 20 minutes. Our informative local guide, a lawyer/pastor, patiently explained every aspect of the city. We visited the Addis Ababa University and were led through the campus to the Ethnographic Museum, the old Imperial Palace of Haile Selassie. Here, tourists can visit the emperor's bed chamber and take in other interesting intricacies and artifacts. We also passed the Lion of Judah Monument, an Imperial symbol of Ethiopia.


Our visit to Ethiopia fell during Enkutatash, Ethiopian New Year in Amharic. They follow the Ge'ez calendar and the new year usually starts on September 11; only this year was leap year meaning New Year's fell on September 12. Interestingly enough, for the visitors on the trip, we knew the year as 2012. However, for the Ethiopians, they were ringing in the year 2005. We jokingly considered coming back in December for refuge as we approached our impending demise given all the hoopla surrounding the "end of the world" talk! In all seriousness, the city was filled with excitement on New Year's Eve, including the staff at our guesthouse who dressed in beautiful garbs.

The visitors and I enjoyed a national dish called Wat, a spicy stew served with injera (a pale spongy bread). This dish is consumed with your fingers. While it was very different from what I was expecting, I fell in love with this dish and its flavor. We also participated in a coffee ceremony, which has a very important and unique way of preparing and serving bunna (coffee). After the ceremony, the women broke out into a dance prompting us all to dance along. At one point, my friend Juliette joined in their circle of celebration after she had caught on to the movements!


Later, we visited Meskel Square which had a huge banner across the entrance acknowledging the new year. As we embarked inside, we were approached by people trying to sell us different trinkets while some simply asked for money. We offered smiles and moved on toward the entrance. There was a small fee to gain access to the markets and all of the venues were stationed in close proximity of one another. The indoor market vendors sold everything from spices to knockoff Nike sneakers. Despite being overcrowded with patrons bargaining with eager merchants, I purchased pieces of beaded and gold jewelry to give as gifts. At a different shopping complex in Addis, we found a market with only female merchants. We were immediately drawn in by vibrant colors of the hundreds of traditional dresses and scarves.

All of the garments were embellished and adorned with intricate embroidery. The counters were overflowing with jewelry and leather accessories and the women tempted us with their finest merchandise. Going from vendor to vendor, I immediately turned for the exit, not to get away from the temptation. Instead, I needed to find an ATM! They called after me, fearing they would lose a sale. I promised to return and went in search of securing more funds. When I returned, I visited practically every counter, purchasing at least one item. (They were all gifts of course, I promise!) My favorite piece was a traditional tan dress with gold fibers weaved throughout and heavily embroidered with bronze designs. I've yet to wear it, but I left the market with a satisfied shoppers high!


Vastly more important than shopping or food, however, the purpose of our trip was to visit the Raey Foundation Academy. To get there, we took a very scenic route to Yerer in the eastern part of the city. What seemed to be the residential part of the city was crammed front-to-back with tin sided houses and men and women lining the streets selling vegetables, spices and other essentials. When we finally exited the vehicle, we were greeted by the owners, a husband and wife who commit their lives to aiding impoverished children and families. They provide schooling, nurturing and support. Shortly after our arrival, we were taken around the compound that was under renovation to provide an even better environment for the children. Slowly, the children and mothers started to fill the courtyard and I was overtaken with emotion. Although they were dealing with extreme poverty they showed genuine smiles and a peaceful disposition. These were some of the most innocent and beautiful children I've ever seen.


We spent time ministering to them and providing small gifts. By the end of our stay, it was painful to part ways with them because we all wanted nothing more than to take them with us. As we headed back to the van, our disposition was reflective and humbling. For me, it was a reality check: Appreciate the gifts we have in life instead of complaining about what isn't in our possession. People make more with explicitly less everyday and never underestimate how life always manages to put our lives in perspective by mingling with others.


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Tue, 26 Nov 2013 04:00:56 +0000
Eclectic Buenos Aries South American culture is extremely rich and fascinating. During my travels in Argentina, I noticed that there weren't very many Afro-Argentines, upholding the stereotype that Argentina is the "whitest county in South America." Depending on who you ask, Afro-Argentines either died fighting the 1865 war against Paraguay, while the remaining fled to Brazil or that President Domingo Fasustion Sameiento attempted to kill all remaining slaves and/or non-European natives. Regardless of what really happened, Afro-Argentines heavily influenced country culture and cuisine. Most unknown? Tango, originally known as Creole Tango.

Argentine culture is most pervasive in Buenos Aires. This city is known as the Paris of South America due to the European architectural influence on buildings and roads. As in most major cities, Buenos Aires has very eclectic boroughs. If you want to see live tango, La Boca is the place for you, although because this is a high crime area, I advise you take heed. If you're feelin' a nice cafe and some shopping, Palermo, Soho and Belgrano have extremely trendy vibes. Interested in seeing a traditional South American grave yard combined with the most amazing outside market? Check out Recoleta. Not the city type? Hop on a train to Le Tigre, a town on the river with a local amusement park overlooking the water. On your way back to town, stop by the Posh borough of San Isidro. Beverly Hills 2.0!

Despite Argentina's unfriendly past, you will find that the locals are quite friendly. I can still remember the man at a local bakery calling out "Nagrita," a term of endearment meaning little black girl. The people of Argentina, with their complex tapestry, appear to have moved on from past beliefs, learning to embrace difficult cultures. Go and see for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

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Sun, 24 Nov 2013 18:00:32 +0000
Clothed in Culture I felt like what I assume every bride feels like on her wedding day: elegant, excited and fortunate. It was always a dream of mine to do a photoshoot wearing a kimono and I was finally getting the opportunity to do so. The embroidered silk fabric would adorn my skin the same way it did the Geishas that I saw in the National Geographic documentaries I watched as a child. I didn’t want the porcelain Geisha style makeup, nor did I want the Geisha styled wig. I wanted to remain true to myself, yet create and document my memory of Japan in a unique way.

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Wearing a kimono isn’t as easy as it looks. If you thought putting on and wearing a sari was troublesome, think again. It takes a true professional to do it right. Keida sensei is a traditional Kimono master from Nagasaki Japan. She is one of the few internationally recognized Kimono masters in Japan and was absolutely thrilled when I asked her to clothe me in one of her Kimonos.

Japanese people are serious about presentation and no exception is made when it comes to their traditional wear. To make the kimono look sleek against my body, pieces of white gauze had to be placed across my chest and back. No lumps or bumps, curves or swerves were allowed to this party! After the placing of the gauze I had to be wrapped in another piece of cloth in order for the loose pieces to stay in place. At this point, the idea of going to the bathroom seemed impossible.

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Ready and stiff as ever, I placed my arms through the kimono. It felt amazing on my skin. Initially I was to wear a purple Kimono but my eye caught the gold kimono on a mannequin (blame the Slick Rick and Trinidad James in me). After some additional tucking and pulling, Keida sensei tied my Obi (sash). She carried me to a mirror, I gasped then we both laughed. She signaled towards my hair “Can I?” All I could do was smile. She carefully placed two handmade chopsticks into my hair.

I was ready for my close up.


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Fri, 22 Nov 2013 16:22:50 +0000