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Welcome to Wales “Croeso i Gymru” Richard said as he met us at the train station in Newport – “that’s Welsh for welcome to Wales!” We had just dragged our luggage off the train from London and we must have looked weary. But he and his wife Linda greeted us, put our luggage in the boot of their car, and drove us to their cute little stone house in the town of Monmouth. We settled in, met their part-time cat, Gizzy, (who belongs to a neighbor, but hangs out at their house) and toasted each other with a drink. How was London, they asked? Our answer was effusive: London is a marvelous place to spend a few days, and we had made good use of our time. Seeing a play, touring Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria and Albert Museum, riding the “tube,” eating fish and chips and Indian food,…
Nestled between two unkempt ‘rusticas” down a narrow lane that cuts through the rock-faced hills lined with weather–beaten cottages and stray cats, she resembles a well preserved but rejected woman with low self-esteem. In passing, the public perceives her freshly painted white washed walls and yellow window frames, putting on a brave face albeit a little tired. Step over her threshold and behold one little-used and unloved ‘pequena casita’; one is immediately confronted with the ‘parede privado’ a privacy wall blocking view into the living room from the lane outside, a case of “speak to the hand – this house is tired”. Built atop and carved out of the edges of an elevated sandstone rock, a sturdy foundation supports walls 60cm thick that keep out the heat of the sun and maintains the much-needed coolness. This room, measuring 8m² was once four tiny quartos comprising minuscule kitchen, living room and…
Monday, 31 August 2015

Little Man: Essaouira, Morocco

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I can't go anywhere around here without intruding on a soccer game. (An American that calls it football is almost certainly battling a current of pretentiousness – watch for them to blink.) All the little alleyways that sprout off the main arteries crisscrossing the medina have an active game in progress, day and night. Often, these are the really young kids, the under-ten set. I imagine mama has set their boundaries: full freedom in the twisting veins, out-of-bounds at the main thoroughfares where the flow gets heavy with chaos and potential trouble. There is no choice but to interrupt the game - shit is narrow. First priority is protecting Josie’s pregnant belly as the game stops for nothing, no injury stoppage, no extra time. She's been clipped before, so have I. I don't blame them, if they stopped for every passerby it wouldn't be much of a game. I think…
I am writing this on a beautifully tiled veranda overlooking a spine of green mountains like the back of some monstrous dinosaur, its plates jutting boldly into the sky. It’s dusk. The sun is just beginning to set, spilling those last few rays of golden light upon the world, covering everything in a soft, warm glow. Below foothills inhabit the space between my lodge and the mountains. The hills are mottled with small, white buildings, like freckles on the backs of green whales. I’m staying at the Kabula Lodge, a small inviting warren of buildings and greenery built into one of the hillsides. In addition to the spectacular view, well-manicured, terraced gardens reside just below me which one can wander at one’s leisure. As I compose, the warbling of exotic birds fill my ears, dragon flies flit along the trees and vegetation, and on occasion green lizards with bright blue…
Thursday, 30 April 2015

When the Desert Calls

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I was only nine months old when the plane touched down. Cradled in the arms of my mother, welcoming myself to arguably the most conservative country in the world. A place where women cannot leave their house without Burqas*, shops have to close five times during the day for prayer, and unrelated men and women can’t hold hands in public. Can a thing as freedom exist in a place like that? I had yet to find out. Having lived in the blistering heat of Saudi Arabia all your life, as a human being, it is still biologically impossible to adapt to the heat that takes over the country in summer. I, a student at a British school, often sought refuge from the sun. Oh, the sun – a great cause of annoyance, smelly sweat, and the frequent fly. Avoid the sun whenever possible. I was only twelve. Oh, how ignorant…
Friday, 31 October 2014

Living in Edinburgh

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Cities have the potential to crush you or lift you without the intervention of another being. Having lived in Edinburgh for almost two years, my feelings for the city were those of a schizophrenic lover. My affinity with the place was as conflated as the bittersweet smell of malt from the brewery, blown in by the wind. Depending on my mercurial mood, that smell would be comforting one day, and nauseating the next. Like any city, there are different angles and edges to “Auld Reekie.” After cursing the constant cloudbursts for months, I eventually became accustomed to them. Other than Edinburgh, there are very few cities in the world where the rain exalts the atmosphere. In the dampness, you can imagine rugged clansmen, ascending the mound to the forbidding castle. On a jagged volcanic rock, it still stands in formidable splendor. The castle, which now boasts the possession of the…
Although the actual product might seem delicate, elegant and sweet, behind the scenes, the process of it sure is bitter, sweaty, rigorous and almost unfathomable–kind of like the day after drinking it. Filled with Châteaux and vineyards surrounding the city’s borders, wine has become dirt cheap in Bordeaux; since it’s one of France’s number 1 exports, picking grapes–similar to picking olives in the Mediterranean, argon oil in the Middle East or marijuana in the good ol’ US of A–was just another culturally grandiose idea for me. Visions of a Vineyard The current love of my life confirmed the idea after having heard whispers of “farming” and “picking” during my travels through Spain. He needed to make extra cash-money to come back home with me to America, and the best option was working on vineyard. I was all for it, excited even, but he constantly reassured me it wasn’t going to…
Monday, 30 June 2014

Self-Discovery in Beijing

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The lights of the approaching subway grow brighter as it nears the platform. X is wearing his favorite T-shirt: a bust of Bruce Springsteen performing on stage with his name printed across the front, and a pair of Blue jeans. The doors open slowly, and he enters the subway car, immediately spotting an open seat and sitting down. It’s a bit of a ride to the office, so X decides to use his commute to get some work done. X has only been in this town for a few months, a foreign land with a foreign people and culture. Where he comes from, kids wear diapers and play with Legos. In this land, kids lack siblings and mostly play with their grandparents. X pulls out a sheet of paper. On it is a written language that is one of many spoken here. It’s a strange language, one with little images…
Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Village Life in Romania

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It’s late November and mornings are cold in Transylvania. The heat of last night’s wood fire has faded, and though the sun glints off fresh snow on the mountaintops it hasn’t yet reached the floor of the valley. I pull on a wool hat, force myself out of bed and dash across the courtyard and into the farmhouse kitchen. A wood fire hums in the tiled oven and the radio plays traditional Romanian, all dulcimers and violins. My host, Eugen, steps in from the cowshed with a pail of fresh milk and sets it on the stove to warm. More family members join us with a greeting and soon I’m warming my hands on a cup of thick Turkish-style coffee. My visit to tiny Sinca Noua was arranged through Village Life, a Bucharest-based NGO. Run by Alexandra Vasiliu, a Romanian with a Canadian connection, Village Life helps rural communities develop…
Out of my window, in the close distance, the hill-top town of Civita di Bagnoregio floats on a soft sea of mist, as if cast off from the valley below. Umbria the green heart of Italy lies to the north and Rome and the Lazio to the south. This town of Civita, in front of me, is something of an enigma as it sails away from its past and into its uncertain future. It is called The Dying City as it is gradually shedding parts of itself into the valley “Beware of these mists!” my neighbor, a Lubriano villager, warns me as an aside. These mists do clear usually by noon and reveal an astonishing sight: A valley more steeped in mystery than the ancient hill-top town of Civita di Bagnoregio itself. Civita is a town that the odd tourist will stop by to see on their way from Rome…

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