Santorini + Athens, Greece
Los Angeles, California
Santorini + Athens, Greece
Los Angeles, California
Eight years ago, I started this blog to record my thoughts through all of my travels. Lately, I haven’t really recorded my thoughts as much as I should. I’ll get back on that. I do tweet a lot, which has become the nature of the game when you work in a social media platform.
I will keep this short- my tops of 2015:
There is a theme of food on this post- expect it to seep into Lyrics this year. San Francisco and Anthony Bourdaine does something to you.
Open only for three hours during the day, the Massai Market is an open air market that takes place in different parts of the city in Nairobi, rotating depending on the date. The open air market includes artisans who come and lay their things on the floor, while you bargain away and try not to buy everything. The Masaai Market is a bit different in the sense that the items reflect almost exclusively to the culture of the Massai tribe in Kenya. Thus, the items, such as the patterns on the khangas to beaded necklaces are distinct from other products in the region, given the unique tribal traditions.
The Masaai Market was also established as a venue for women to sell their products and handmade crafts, to help their livelihood. It used to be exclusive for women, but with no ban on commercial sellers, you can see men more and more, which has garnered some controversy in terms of whether the market is serving its purposes anymore to empower female entrepreneurs.
The Massai Market reflects the celebration of color in East Africa. At first it is explosive, and as someone who loves patterns and bright color combinations, it was hard not to buy everything. You will also see women sitting around actually creating the necklaces, earrings, to sandals and bags and polishing wood carvings as you walk around to eye the items and try not to spend everything you have (sadly, or not so sadly, I destroyed by budget). Artisans use beautiful beads to make colorful items that speak to the Massai culture and traditions, neatly creating designs practiced for years. Here are some photos that I took after shopping around.
There are only a few hundred Rothschild’s giraffe left around the world in the wild, and they are only found in East Africa, which today only includes Kenya and Uganda. In the outskirts of Nairobi in Langata, the Giraffe Center houses some of these endangered species who roam around in the large protected park. We visited the center a little after noon, which apparently was when the giraffes we saw in the distance were already full. Of course, that was not going to stop us. The center is simple, and there is a raised platform made just for people to climb to be head-level with the giraffes and feed them.
Rothschild’s giraffe is named after Lionel Walter Rothschild, the Second Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild. He was a famed zoologist, who was also a politician and a banker. He found them after an expedition to East Africa in the early 1900s. Rothschild’s giraffe look a bit different from the more common Masaai giraffes in Kenya, with a more creamy colored background to the shapely spots, and most importantly, just plain cream color below the knees.
The keepers at the Giraffe Center tried to get the giraffes to come towards us by calling their name. Kelly, the oldest giraffe there at fourteen years of age was the first to approach us. As the keepers called out “Kelly! Kelly!” the giraffe finally came and we were able to feed her small palettes one at a time. Visitors are only given two handfuls (I managed to get three, ignoring the sign that light heartedly asked us to not to that for concern of their diet) and we feed them one at a time. The giraffe will come up to you and take it from your palm with their tongue and it is seriously, one of the coolest things I have ever done. This is why I selfishly went and got another handful, because watching them pick a palette at a time from my palm was fascinating. They are beautiful, with big eyes, long face, and a unique patterned skin from other, more common types of giraffes, and so gentle. Kelly, having been around for a while, was equal opportunity, going around the raised platform to eat out of every visitor. Visitors were going crazy (as I was), both with watching them lick palettes off their palms and taking photos, of course.
Another giraffe came along, named Ibrahim, affectionately called Ibra. Ibra is much younger and way more friendly; he is the one that stuck his head close to us and would lick your face if you got really close (aka, the kiss). Needless to say, adorable.
The Giraffe Centre was founded by a Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, Jock Leslie-Melville. The center was founded as a way to preserve the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, by breeding and raising them in Langata.
While I will observe wild elephants in my safari next week, a trip was made to see the much talked about elephant orphanage in outskirts of Nairobi. To check out what was actually happening at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you have to plan—they are open everyday but only from 11-12 pm, and it is about a thirty minute drive from the Westlands area of Nairobi, which with traffic can be challenging. The drive alone is beautiful, as you pass the city and gorgeous landscape, and also get a view of post-colonial architecture (i.e. massive bungalows representing unprecedented wealth during the British rule). The nursery of the Trust is one of few around the world and the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center (National Geographic).
The fee is a donation of 500 shillings per person, which is not much considering how it can cost over $900 per elephant per year to raise and nurture them. Elephants are brought in two rounds for viewing, from the very young ones at first, followed by two to three year olds, some of whom can already feed themselves while others are still dependent on the keepers for milk.
It is a wonderfully organized center, where a local keeper will describe the elephants, where they were rescued from, their names, and what is being done at the center. The baby elephants are so cute. Bev and I were gushing at the orphan elephants, which are victims of poaching and brought to the center from all over Kenya. Many were also abandoned by their mothers if they were too slow to begin moving about, which left them orphaned. During the one-hour viewing, they play around with mud and water or their favorite acacias trees, and are also fed milk from giant bottles, which is just adorable on its own. The milk is in fact now cows milk because it has too much fat, but a mix of soy, coconut, and proteins made at the center to replace a mother’s milk.
Once the elephants are not dependent on milk anymore, they are moved hundreds of miles away to Tsavo National Park. However, because elephants have extremely good memory and are sensitive to changes in environments or noise, it can take from five to ten years to just be able to transition into the wild from the holding centers at Tsavo. Charles Siebert notes, “the program is a cutting-edge experiment in cross-species empathy that only the worst extremes of human insensitivity could have necessitated.”
Before visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, I was not the biggest animal enthusiast. I never grew up with pets and have been scared of them most of my life. It was just last year that I got comfortable with a dog around me (no joke). I don’t like zoos, and not amused by animal tricks at the circus. It was from when I started studying abroad that I began to be interested in larger animals, especially camels in the Middle East. The two times I engaged with an elephant was in Jairpur, India in 2008 where I have a photo with one, horrified, and in Thailand in 2011, where me and my friend Katie rode elephants in the outskirts of Bangkok.
In Nairobi, there is no such thing as riding elephants. Rather, you come here and you are humbled to learn about these perilous animals that were once abundant throughout the world. Elephants are more known for being poached and killed for their tusks or bush meat, and human-led violence is actually increasing. Yet it is up to the humans to help rescue them and bring their numbers back, as Daphne, a fourth-generation Kenya-born woman of British origin started with the establishment of the center in 1987 with her husband David Sheldrick, a famous naturalist.
There is a lot of politics around the elephants, from local Masaai beliefs about their natural habitat and place in their culture, to increased demand of elephant tusks in global trade, and to the discussion of who bears responsibility to nurture, raise, and educate the masses about them. While most travelers are weary of visiting animals in captivity, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a must see for anyone in Nairobi, as it will show you the depth of human activity and its effect on the world we live in in just a short period of time.
My flight to Nairobi was something on its own to note because, well, it’s just surprising. People on your flight: American missionaries, American college kids doing research on AIDS/HIV or education (or the typical developing-world-issues, you pick one), nuns, families going on safaris, and ‘volun-tourists,’ or a type of tourism where you also ‘volunteer’ to make yourself feel better, and lots of Europeans who are going on similar purposes. The flight from Brussels included an American priest who decided it was his job to loudly recite prayers before takeoff and during landing. The general voice level is excitement, of ‘going to Africa’ and ‘saving the world.’ From my other posts on this blog it should be clear that I have an issue with this whole ‘saving the world’ mantra that travelers from the West has continued to feel obliged to do, especially those who can also afford to go to this very, very large continent.
The passengers on religious missions was a bit surprising because I did not know that still took place so actively. The volunteer tourism is a bit more problematic. While the purpose of it has been marketed to promote responsible visitors and allow people to engage in sustainable tourism, it is still tourism in which people, mostly affluent families from the US, are enforced the feeling of 1) false superiority, direct of indirect, 2) the assumption that the location of their volunteer tourism is in a dire state, 3) still expect to be treated as a superior and have all the amenities of a vacation, and especially nice things since it is a developing country. All of this might sound extreme but I feel that this new volun-tourism is just perpetuating socioeconomic divides, and more controversially, racial divides (I use the word controversial because people still feel queasy pointing to the elephant in the room, but yes, this is a racial issue).
Such volun-tourism is more about boosting the ego of the tourists who are landing at the airport and being escorted by nice cars to their nice hotels (all of which are not only expected from the tourists but also surprises them because they thought they were coming to a developing country and people are supposed to be poor, an obvious double standard). Also, not all locals want to be reminded that they need help, or asked for help, or even actually need help in the first place (living standards and what is deemed as ‘approprate’ and not are objective, after all).
Of course this is not to push down intentions or to say all volunteer tourists are ignorant, but an element of ignorance is there. Bangladesh has recently started to jump on this whole volunteer tourism thing, where marketing companies are hired by travel agency to make fancy websites and charge unbelievable amounts for packages to do things that locals usually laugh at, and locals are always better at. I remember talking to someone who worked at such travel agency and he told me how it’s usually something like letting the tourist teach a class at a school, clean fish freshly caught from pollutants, and other tasks that are not dangerous (because if something happens to the tourist, well, that would ruin the whole purpose, and this also assures that the demands of safety are met by these tourists), meager, and, just funny and costs next to nothing for the agency to arrange. What does help is that the amounts paid by these tourists to do what locals would deem as odd activities to actually help trigger employment in the area.
Lets not forget that these tourists are not going to be given some cultural background or education on the way people usually live in the area so again, they are coming in with the idea that their society and living standards is automatically better than the host country.
I am not sure that there is a solution other than asking people to go read some books. Tourism is a great cash cow and a way to boost a region’s economy, and even help local employment and small businesses to an extent. Exploitation of perception, and increased conviction of ‘developing world poverty’ after such visits are a social issue, which goes beyond reading books.
The plan to return to this platform has been one of those things that’s been nagging me– it’s like returning your aunt’s phone call who lives an ocean away (literally)– you promise to yourself that you will get to it and other things come up and you keep forgetting but you do mean well and it’s not that you don’t like her or anything…
The blog started in 2009 as a way for me to log my traveling experiences, starting with Egypt where I studied abroad. I think it is fitting that on that theme I get back to this blog. I am currently writing from Nairobi, Kenya, a country in a region that I have been thinking of traveling to forever but didn’t realize it could happen. When the opportunity came, I took it in a heartbeat. But before getting to Kenya, it is only fair to give a little update.
Since March, my last post, I have completed my MPA at Cornell, graduated, enjoyed the warm weather in upstate New York, packed up, and traveled around the East Coast, including a week back in my favorite city, Boston. I got a tan, I have eaten a lot of roasted corn, and also managed a few weeks in Arizona with my family. That is probably the shortest summary I can give for the purpose of this blog and what it symbolizes– this is not a personal diary.
Returning to Kenya: I came here on June 2, so it has been a few days. It was the longest journey I have ever taken (and I have taken a lot of long flights). It went from Phoenix to 5 hour layover in Chicago, to 8 hours flight to Brussels (all made painful by the fact that I had to fly United, internationally…), and then an 11 hour flight from Brussels to Nairobi, with a one hour stop in Kigali, Rwanda in between. Needless to say, I spent the next day passed out in a very comfortable bed at my friend Bev’s apartment. Which brings me to purpose– it just so happened that one of my best, closest friends, Bev, was in Nairobi finishing her Princeton in Africa fellowship so I jumped at the opportunity. We went to college together and have a history of traveling, with our friendship beginning in Morocco of all places back in 2008 on a Wellesley wintersession trip.
So in the next two weeks or so, I will try my best to post on Nairobi like my travel posts in the past. It will not be frequent, but hopefully, relative. Seeing as upon my return to the US this blog might turn more America centric, or rather, California centric, I hope the summer can bring me back to my hobby of writing and embarking in uncomfortable spaces.
We still have snow.
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
On Sunday March 2, Ellen DeGeneres’ celebrity-filled selfie at the Oscars generated almost 3 million retweets on Twitter, breaking the previous record held by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2012, by millions. The tweeted photo, along with online conversations of the Oscars on Twitter was of such volume that the platform actually crashed for some time. It was one of the most active nights of social media use. The tweet was groundbreaking not because it was a rare moment of celebrity crowding, with some of the biggest stars of our time coming together impromptu to take a in-the-moment photo, on live television. It was groundbreaking because the sudden scatter of celebrities was not DeGeneres’ point. Her goal was to set a retweet record.
DeGeneres’ purpose was to make a point that purely dealt with communication in the newly evolving digital media, completely dependent on users who must find an element of authenticity and interest to interact with the tweet. This fact has created much anxiety among marketing experts and policy makers alike. It was a homage to viewers, apty done in a fashion that combined what seems like a fad, and a bit silly. It however speaks volumes to where social media networks have come to be in our society. DeGeneres, her PR crew, as well as Samsung, the phone used to take the selfie all realized what academics have long argued– digital media is not only commonplace but pervasive. We are in an era where generations have, and are growing up with digital media embedding in their social fabric.
Twitter in particular has been imaging increasingly as a news outlet, becoming the headrunner in this new age of digital media. It is a platform where special niches gain a voice and make splash in the ocean of information providers just but creating an organic comment that sometimes needs just a bit of attention, often randomly. The shared online presence thus becomes quite the playground for products, where gaining visibility is dependent on general consumers. It provides new challenges that come with creating something that would amplify discussions in a customized language of 140 characters.
DeGeneres’ selfie on Sunday also attests to the fact that social media services have become a playing ground for companies and their advertising teams, revolutionizing the way not just products but campaigns, people, and ideas are promoted. Samsung executive spent a few days prior to the Oscars to train DeGeneres on how to take a selfie with their smartphone, an intended plug that was part of a $20 million advertising campaign. Twitter in particular proved to be the ideal social media service of choice, as the platform has increasingly become a common tool for real time discussion on televised programs.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter are not longer one of the viable areas for products to tap into for advertising. They are becoming an advertising standard. Twitter itself has piggybacked on the already diverse range of online conversations taking place to partner with ABC, CBS, Fox, to ESPN and major sports organizations in recent years. This is a good news for such services of course, as their main source of revenues are heavily (and dangerously) dependent on advertisements. Social media services have positive network effects– they are only valuable to a user if there are other users. Likewise, Twitter is only valuable to Samsung or Apple if there are large number of users.
As the weekend revealed, it is not just the number of users, however. The photo that DeGeneres posted generated much media attention that also cited Samsung (and also the iPhone indirectly, the preferred cell phone of the Oscar hostess). The brand marketing went far because in this new digital media technology, ownership is not central, and power belongs to the masses.
The selfie that DeGeneres’ prompted also included celebrities from different generations and caliber, from Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, to Jennifer Lawrence. The idea of a “selfie” itself is a new fad that has sparked much discussion online on its narcissistic traits and wide use by the youth. While social media has been largely attributed to those in media and tech savvy younger generation of internet users by researchers since early 2000, the conversation has been shifting as people from all generations and demographics have taken up the popular tool. This is due to the increasing use of smartphones and greater access to internet, both led by government policies and competitive markets alike. Therefore, the common inference of technology, i.e. social media sites driving a social change (especially by those that fear the increasingly invasive nature of social media on privacy or individuality) is challenged.
DeGeneres’ explicit purpose– to get the most retweets– speaks volume to social media networks’ place in how we communicate, even if one does not have a Twitter account. The selfie itself demands attention and everyone is forced to pay attention. However, such a notion is not new– US President Barack Obama was one of the pioneers to taking advantage of the power that social media may have during the 2012 election. We have entered a social media-driven business model, where user connections and interactions is directly linked to technology. The co-founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman expressed it well when he noted that the way we use social media as users and by governments and corporations will be the most transformative uses of the internet.
We are part of a greater social change in which communication between one another from varied demographics is changing many landscapes, including politics. Social media is just one of the driving forces. While DeGeneres’ selfie seems like just a publicity stunt, it reminds us that more often than not, new technology is merely part of a broader social and/or historical development that is already taking place.
I know this is a bit “dorky” but google search of ‘Bangladesh’ today shows my article that was published in The Diplomat today! Specifically, under “news.” Also know as, google Bangladesh today in Google News!
Anyways, to read the article titled “Authorities Make Arrests in Bangladesh Garments Factory Fire,” click here.
My article on the recent arrest of the owners of the Tazreen Fashions factory in Bangladesh has been published in The Diplomat. This is in response to the factory fire that killed more than 1,000 people in April 2012. I focus on the police force and the lack of justice served in Bangladesh, and what this much-talked about disaster could mean for the system. To read, click here.
Their track record is not promising, but will the authorities finally deliver justice?
By Olinda Hassan
On February 8, the owners of the garments factory in Bangladesh that burned and killed more than a hundred people in April 2012 finally surrendered to the police. Delwar Hossain and his wife, Mahmuda Akter, along with eleven associates are charged with homicide for the fire, which prompted an international debate on corporate responsibility in developing countries.
The charges are significant because it is the first time that Bangladesh has sought accountability from leading players in the lucrative garments industry, a powerful political and economic player. It is a test of Bangladesh’s police force and the legal system, at a time when they are coming under increasing public scrutiny for what is perceived as their laissez-faire attitude towards the rich and powerful.
At around $20 billion, the garments industry in Bangladesh accounts for a significant portion of the country’s export industry, with shipments mainly going to the U.S. and Europe. A poster child for development economic research and nonprofit work, the industry has been hailed by academics for increasing the role of the private sector in what is a late bloomer emerging market. With women accounting for the majority of workers, researchers and international development bodies alike have credited garments manufacturing for increasing employment opportunities for women and helping to bridge the rural-urban divide in Bangladesh, praising the industry for its indirect facilitation of gender advancement in Bangladesh socially and economically.
Following the fire in April 2012, along with several other deadly fires in the following months, this praise has been overtaken by stories of harsh working conditions and poor pay, attracting attention from human rights organizations, mainly from the West. While authorities and global clothing companies have vowed to improve safety standards, it is often forgotten that the issue goes beyond the rights of workers, to the very nature of the country’s police enforcement and legal system. The arrests of Hossain, Akter and their associates has shone a light onto an uncomfortable arena: the power of the police, one of the most mistrusted agencies in Bangladesh.
The power and fragmented nature of Bangladesh’s police force is an uncomfortable discussion. Following the fire in the Tazreen Fashions factory, local police cited insufficient evidence to bring a case against the owners. However, further investigation found that some managers had in fact closed the gates that would have allowed workers to escape the fire, and even told workers that it was a regular drill. The building had no emergency exits or a proper monitoring system. Even getting this far in the investigation was a power struggle; everyone knows that there is something profoundly wrong with the way that these factories are run, but no one does anything about it because of their lack of faith in the police.
In incidents involving garment factory fires, factory owners are rarely charged or held responsible. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, a quasi-governmental body that is supposed to regulate export relationships, rarely faces charges, such is the influence of its leaders. Look no further than its glittering headquarters in Dhaka, which the Bangladesh High Court ruled sits on illegally obtained land. Despite a court order for it to be demolished more than two years ago, no action has been taken.
Yet the Tazreen fire was the deadliest factory fire in the history of garments manufacturing worldwide. The EU and the U.S. have placed and continuing to threaten Bangladesh with trade sanctions. In the meantime, stories were heard of protests abroad, from people far removed from the Bangladesh experience, against companies like Wal-Mart.
Whether this sustained international pressure was what finally motivated the police to file charges against the owners of the Tazreen factory a full year and a half after the fire will remain a point of contention. The police in Bangladesh are seen as both powerful and indifferent to the public they serve. It will be interesting to see if in this tragic case authorities can successfully separate justice from political power.
I just wrote a guest article for the Cornell Policy Review, titled “Germany Online: The road to modernizing privacy policies in a digitalized world.” I was inspired by recent events in US relations with key allies, as well as my general interest in technology and user interface. Germany is especially fascinating since it has a high penetration of social media networks and also has some of the strictest privacy laws in the world. Click here to read.
Germany Online: The road to modernizing privacy policies in a digitalized world
Germany has been leading the European Union (EU) in reforming their data protection laws, with the aim of strengthening personal rights in the face of a digitalized economy and growing online penetration of social media networks. Germany’s push for new measures, including greater protection from foreign intelligence should not come as a surprise, especially following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying of foreign governments. Just last year, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the NSA of tapping her phone which sparked a very public exchange between her and the White House, with President Obama assuring her that she was under no such watch. Recently, it was revealed that the NSA had monitored Gerhard Schröder, the Chancellor back in 2002, following his aversion to military intervention in Iraq. While Germany has been historically able to push for rampant reforms to privacy and data collection laws, current technologies’ reach, combined with increased diplomatic implications poses new challenges.
The historical experience with spying is a well-known narrative in the study of why Germany came to have some of the strictest privacy and data protection laws in the world. The country’s preoccupation with privacy is a product of citizens’ experience with oppressive governments, from the Nazi era to the massive surveillance conducted by the Stasi in former East Germany, where knowledge of individual lives served as an instrument for state control and power. Fear of invasion of personal privacy, whether form the government or private entities is an experience that many living citizens have gone through, including Merkel who grew up in East Germany.
Today, information sharing takes place on a global scale and involves a significant amount of data being transferred between individuals and entities. German officials have not shied away from pressing (repeated) charges against companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple for violating citizens’ privacy through their popular Internet services. The present problem is that Germans are actually increasingly using internet-based services such as social media networks, with most of the new users coming from a younger generation who have not experienced oppressive governments as prior generations have. This is juxtaposed with the fact that most of these services are provided by foreign private entities, namely American corporations. With European bases usually set in Ireland, these corporations readily use arguments of differing jurisdictions and laws, posing new difficulties for German authorities and courts. Therefore, modernizing privacy laws seem necessary for Germany, but this is also seemingly difficult for policy makers as private, multinational corporations further enters the lives of German citizens and attitudes towards such services differ among generations.
Reforming data protection and privacy laws also has diplomatic implications, as observed by the NSA controversy that has hurt US relations with Germany and other important allies. For Germany, the NSA spying also revealed that even after decades of military cooperation with the US, they still have a more limited access to NSA intelligence than do Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. EU members have been debating points of reform of their data protection laws for over two years, with concerns also anchoring on Europe’s dwindling telecom sector in an increasingly digitalized economy. During the 2013 federal election, German socialist parties have gone so far as to suggest that foreign companies be banned from operating in Germany if they failed to comply with EU data protection laws. This raised concerns among American as well as German companies operating in a country that also happens to have a robust tech hub (“Silicon Allee”) . The United Kingdom is urging for greater consideration to the importance of digital economy, as the British have historically placed more priority to business concerns over one’s right to protective measures online. This is vastly different from Germany where individual rights to privacy have been a cornerstone in their human rights and electronic commerce measures.
Spying, whether between governments or otherwise, is one of the oldest professions in global history, and it will not end anytime soon. The Internet was not fashioned to understand national boundaries. Germany, along with other European governments, are seeking ways to create their own channel in what is seen as a US-controlled digital landscape. While German policy makers pride on having the strictest privacy laws in the world, they have not stopped Germans from crowding to a social networking site or downloading smartphone applications. While modernizing privacy and data protection laws are important to match current trends, as observed, German policy makers will have to balance their practice of employing stringent laws with the interest of EU members, taking into account politics, cultural attitudes, economic incentives, and foreign relations.