Photo
The Duke of Norfolk has just released his first full-length album. Stream it for free and consider purchasing it! http://thndr.it/1gdYUrK

The Duke of Norfolk has just released his first full-length album. Stream it for free and consider purchasing it! http://thndr.it/1gdYUrK

Text

My Favorite Travel Gems

For better or for worse, I’ve never been one to collect souvenirs. I don’t know how it’s possible to go to China and not find a single thing worth buying, but apparently it’s possible, because I did it.  My minimalist habits come back to haunt me when I have nothing to show for my travels.

Occasionally, though, I do pick up a treasure or two. Here are some of my favorites.

 



I picked up this bag while in the Sacred Valley of the Incas - in an old Inca town called Ollantaytambo to be exact, which is the starting point of the Inca Trail leading up to Machu Picchu. Many of the towns in the Urubamba Valley almost seem frozen in time when navigating the narrow, Inca-built cobblestone streets alongside Quechua-speaking women wearing the bright prints (like the pattern on my bag) characteristic of indigenous civilization. I use this bag for everything - short trips, gym clothes, beach bag, etc.




This elephant I picked up in Tanzania is important to me because I spent some time with the woodcarvers who made it in Dar Es Salaam and got to know a little bit more about the work that goes into creating these pieces. The stunning material is called ebony wood and is native to Tanzania. While there, I helped a woodcarver named Tony buy a power saw to help him more efficiently carve his intricate tables, the sales of which provide for his wife and the education of his two children.



I got these harem pants (I suppose that’s what you call them) in Morocco. In a country like Morocco where it’s safest and most respectful to keep covered, the light fabric of these pants keeps one cool during hot summers. Protip.



The colorful necklace above came from a small shop in Granada, Spain, with a whole host of handmade things. I forget what it was called, but I could find it for you if you buy me a ticket to meet you there.




Every Sunday afternoon in Buenos Aires, Argentina, there’s an amazing market in a neighborhood called San Telmo full of antique gems and bohemian creations. I love the structure and subtlety of this ring I chose one Sunday from a dreadlock-tressed man selling jewelry on a blanket. 



The belt above that I got in Morocco is stunningly and intricately adorned with thousands of shells and beads. I got this piece in a little desert village called Merzouga for the equivalent of $8 USD. Unfortunately it doesn’t go with many of my outfits, and when I try to pair with certain things, others say, “Yeah… I would go without the belt if I were you,” but I still try. Maybe one day I’ll find the perfect outfit. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous.



This last one isn’t a piece I “found” so much as I had it made. When I was living in Dubai, I noticed several women had these necklaces with their names. I found they all had them made at this jeweler in Dubai’s Gold and Diamond Park. I sent them mine and my sister’s names, and they created this beauty for me, and I gave my sister one for her 20th birthday. Ana Looreen al Arabi.

Text

Refugees within the US

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know a lot about refugees living in the United States - where they’re from, how they got here, etc. I started to learn a lot more about the process when I began working with refugees at a refugee services agency.

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but I’ve really enjoyed learning about the refugee process, and I thought others may find it interesting as well.  

To begin with, here are some of the cuties that I get to hang out with:

 



This is the group I volunteered with last semester: 



They’re a lot of fun and they write me darling things when I’m away like: 



This semester I’m working with a different group of kids (of whom I don’t have any photos yet). The new group with whom I’m working with is composed of the Rohingyas from Burma. The Rohingyas are the persecuted Muslim minority of Burma who have been forced out in what Human Rights Watch has called ethnic cleansing and what others in tune with the issue have gone as far as to deem genocide. 

 (to learn more about the Rohingya, here are a couple sites: Human Rights Watch and Al Jazeera)

Texas (and Houston especially) has one of the largest refugee populations in the United States. Here are the numbers for refugee admission to the top five states accepting refugees for 2012: 



But the opportunity to resettle in the United States is a very rare one for refugees. According the the UNHCR, less than 1 percent  of all refugees get to settle in a new country. The rest are relegated to remain in refugee camps, denied the rights of citizenship, movement and economic dependence, often living with an entire family in a tent without access to sanitation, like in the photo to the right. (That’s Breidjing refugee camp in Chad, host to refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan)

 



I personally volunteer with a refugee services agency helping teach English, doing enrichment activities, and (as of this semester) tutoring math. I’ve visited some of the refugees’ apartments to deliver food, and seeing their crowded conditions in run-down, crime-ridden apartment complexes, it’s poignant to remember these are the fortunate ones. These are the lucky 1 percent.

In one family’s apartment, the only piece of furniture in the room was a single folding chair. No couch, no television, no table, just a folding chair. Some refugees struggle to master English, and I’ve noticed that some kids seem to wear the same outfit or two over and over again. Once again, though, they’re the lucky ones. They’re alive, they have their family, a roof over their heads, and a fresh start - a fresh start I hope to help with.

How does one come to the United States as a refugee?

To be registered as a legal refugee, which is the first step in the refugee process, one must prove to the UNHCR that he or she left their home country as a result of persecution surrounding one’s race, religion, nationality, social group affiliation or political opinion.

These people may have been well respected doctors, engineers, business owners or teachers in their community, but because of severe violence or ethnic cleansing against their people, they’re forced to uproot their families and flee the country, many times without any belongings or documents. Leaving may be their only chance for survival.

The UNHCR then selects a handful of refugees eligible for resettlement in a third country. These refugees are referred to the U.S. Resettlement Program, overseen by a bureau of the State Department. The State Department then determines a limit for the number of refugees accepted, criteria for refugee selection, and then sends a list of eligible cases to the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services for approval.

Here’s how the number of refugees admitted to the United States has changed over the years:

 



A representative from the USCIS will then travel to meet the refugee family, ensure they have help filling out the proper forms and ensure they meet the United States’ criteria for being a refugee.

Below are the countries of origin for refugees admitted to the United States in 2012:



Refugees must pass medical and security clearances, then they receive a loan of sorts to purchase a plane ticket to the United States, which they must later repay. They are then matched with a resettlement organization in the United States, which can help the refugees get on their feet in their new country.

Once in the United States, resettlement agencies assist them with finding employment, finding apartments, learning English, adjusting to the culture, getting through trauma, etc.

Another visualization of U.S.-dwelling refugees’ countries of origin (2012 figures):



I hope this nugget of information was somewhat informative. If working with something like this interests you, there are loads of refugee resettlement agencies and refugee service agencies throughout the United States that are always keen to accept donations and volunteers. 

Sources for the data I used to make my lil’ graphs and maps: 

U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees

U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement

 U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

 

Text

Dream Scenes

More imagery than plot, these scenes from my last few months have captured and spurred my imagination. I hope you enjoy them as much.










Text

How I Travel So Much

Pretty often I’m asked how I manage to travel so much. I’m quite young in the working world, and no one is helping me pay for my trips, so I’ve had to be quite strategic about traveling. I think traveling, especially solo traveling, is one of the most maturing, beneficial things one can do during one’s youth, so I want to give a few of my tips in hopes others can get a chance to travel as much as I have.

To me, traveling is a 50/50 mix of 50% planning/hard work and 50% spontaneity. Serious travel requires prioritization long in advance, but when it comes down to the actual trip, successful travel requires a plunge into the unknown.

I’ll have some cost-cutting tips at the end, but I first want to outline how I’ve afforded my trips on a low income.

It began in high school at age 16. A few of my teachers alit a spark in me to travel, and it became an early priority.

In high school, I kept up with my work, participated in class, studied a lot, and graduated with high marks that could merit admission to a host of schools around the country, however I chose my state’s university. Why? Only because I was offered great scholarships there - scholarships that would allow me to afford study abroad. I wouldn’t have been able to start my travels had I not made this decision more than half a decade ago.


It was three years after I decided to prioritize travel in my life before I even took my first trip.

During university, I used my scholarships to study abroad in four countries - Morocco, Spain, Argentina, and Peru.



After those trips, I plotted my next big trip. Again, a lot of effort went into my travels. Finishing up my senior year of college, I worked two jobs and an internship, all the while living in a 900 sq ft apartment with five other girls to keep costs down. I spent frugally, if at all, and by the time the year was over, I had some money saved up that I had set aside for solo travel.

I secured a job with a delayed start date, then I set off to China, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, Germany, the former Yugoslavia, and the edge of the Middle East before coming back home.

Since then, I’ve continued the cycle of prioritizing, saving a lot, then going.

Some in-general lessons I’ve learned: 

  • It takes a lot of work to save up. You cannot be short-sighted in actions if traveling is something you want to be a part of your future. You do not need that new shirt or that new piece of furniture. I promise it will only make your small apartment look more cluttered. Embrace frugality if setting off on an adventure is something important to you. Your new shoes will not last a decade. Your memories and experiences will. 
  • After the hard work is over, you must be willing to leave your comfort zone. Yes, that $800 ticket price to Southeast Asia - even though you know it’s the cheapest rate - is going to look terrifying. It will never look less terrifying. You have to press the “book now” button.
  • Take your vacation days at work. Your development as a human is much more important than getting those extra two projects done. It’s our American cultural habit to overwork ourselves and not give ourselves a break, but doing so makes us mentally unhealthy.

Here are some practical tips for when you’re getting ready to travel. 

  • Guidebooks are very, very helpful, but, at close to $30 each, can break the bank. If you’re going to one country, great. Buy one. If you’re going to five countries, however, you can’t afford to pay $150 on books and lug those 10 extra pounds around. Bring a notebook to a bookstore before your trip, grab a guidebook, and take down notes from the guidebook. If there’s a specific page you think you’ll need, take a photo with your cell phone.
  • Before you go to a city, save city map screenshots on your phone. When you’re exploring on foot, you’re bound to need it, and this way you will just appear as if you are checking a text message rather than unfolding a massive map and thus loudly exclaiming to everyone around you, “I am a tourist. And I am lost.”
  • Guard passports and credit cards like a maniac. Always make sure they’re locked up safely at your hostel/hotel or secured to your body in a way that someone cannot grab them off of you. Also, if you need to bring a credit card with you on an outing, I suggest leaving another locked up at your hotel/hostel. If one gets stolen, you’ll have the other, and you won’t be stranded alone without money in a random place.
  • That being said, I’ve been to a lot of random places, and I’ve never been robbed/pickpocketed/whatever. Just don’t walk down streets alone, keep your eyes on your stuff, carry your bag in front of you, and stay inside after dark if you’re in a seedy place. The world’s not that dangerous if you’re wise and vigilant.
  • Be flexible with your route for cheapest flights. Many of my trips I’ve chosen simply because the flight was the cheapest. This especially applies to Europe. Flight prices to different destinations in Europe can differ greatly, so choose one of the cheapest options, then use trains and Ryainair or Easyjet to zip around. You’ll save.
  • Stay at hostels. They’re not scary, and you make good friends.  The $2 ones in Morocco may give you bed bugs, but whatever.
  • To get to know locals, find the Couchsurfing group of a given city, and see what the group’s plan is for the night. Many groups meet for a weekly dinner or weekly drinks or weekly coffee. Join in.
  • Some people take “backpacking” to mean that they **must** wear a backpack to be authentic. Meh. Sometimes it’s easier to use a small carry on. It doesn’t hurt your back as much, is easier to access your clothes, and fits more easily on planes and trains. I personally prefer it.
  • Especially if you’re going to multiple destinations, pack extremely lightly. Packing a few staple comfortable, convertible pieces will save you from the experience of awkwardly lugging massive suitcases up hills and in tiny cobblestone streets.
  • Don’t check baggage unless you must. It stinks to lose bags. 
  • Join airlines’ mileage programs. Also join their email lists to keep apprised of deals to certain destinations.
  • If you’re like me and enjoy capturing your surroundings in photos, carry your SLR camera in a regular purse or satchel, not a camera bag. A camera bag says, “Hey, I’m a tourist!” People may guess you are, but you don’t want to confirm it so readily.

Those the the tips I can think of. Again, it took me three years after I decided to emphasize travel in my life before I really set out on the road, and every trip since then has required a deal of strategic saving. I don’t have many secret tips. Just think long-term, work hard, and travel on a budget.

Text

Dubai Graffiti

Of the cities in which I’ve lived or visited, Dubai likely has the least graffiti/street art of them all. The combination of Dubai’s strict laws and newness leaves the city largely graffiti-less, for better or for worse. One can go days without seeing as much as a mark on a wall.

Lately, though, there has been a character playing with words in my neighborhood, and the sentiments this person has expressed do a good job of evoking the dystopian feel of a city like Dubai.

I found a certain dark beauty in this person’s words (and it’s important to note that he/she didn’t seem to deface any buildings, only impermanent construction structures). I thought it would be interesting to illustrate his/her quickly scrawled words in a more elegant medium that juxtaposes the words’ message with the imagery about which they comment.



This first one was painted on the wall of a sandlot outside my neighborhood Carrefour. The image I created is from a shot I took at the Burj Al-Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel. 




This other one was scribbled outside some apartments near my place. The photo I used as the background is from a shot I took of the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.




The below photo is from a high-end designer shop in Emirates Mall. While Emirates Mall isn’t the largest mall in Dubai (that title is reserved for Dubai Mall - the largest mall in the world), it’s the mall known for its indoor ski slope.




While Dubai is the paragon of luxury for many, others in the city aren’t as fortunate. The city was built on the labor of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, generally hailing from South Asia, trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty - often having had passports confiscated upon arrival. You see these guys everywhere. I took this photo on a cooler day, but they work long days even in the 120-degree heat.




The photo below features the Dubai Marina, an upscale area about 20 min away from downtown that serves as a popular place to live for expats.




Below is the side view of the Millennium Tower in downtown Dubai.




This is the upward-looking view of the atrium of the grand Burj Al-Arab, again “the world’s only seven-star hotel.” This is also the world’s tallest atrium, to add to Dubai’s ever-growing list of superlatives. 


Text

Dubai Graffiti

via laurenleatherby.com

Of the cities in which I’ve lived or visited, Dubai likely has the least graffiti/street art of them all. The combination of Dubai’s strict laws and newness leaves the city largely graffiti-less, for better or for worse. One can go days without seeing as much as a mark on a wall.

Lately, though, there has been a character playing with words in my neighborhood, and the sentiments this person has expressed do a good job of evoking the dystopian feel of a city like Dubai.

I found a certain dark beauty in this person’s words (and it’s important to note that he/she didn’t seem to deface any buildings, only impermanent construction structures). I thought it would be interesting to illustrate his/her quickly scrawled words in a more elegant medium that juxtaposes the words’ message with the imagery about which they comment.


image

This first one was painted on the wall of a sandlot outside my neighborhood Carrefour. The image I created is from a shot I took at the Burj Al-Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel. 


image
image

This other one was scribbled outside some apartments near my place. The photo I used as the background is from a shot I took of the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.


image
image

The below photo is from a high-end designer shop in Emirates Mall. While Emirates Mall isn’t the largest mall in Dubai (that title is reserved for Dubai Mall - the largest mall in the world), it’s the mall known for its indoor ski slope.


image
image

While Dubai is the paragon of luxury for many, others in the city aren’t as fortunate. The city was built on the labor of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, generally hailing from South Asia, trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty - often having had passports confiscated upon arrival. You see these guys everywhere. I took this photo on a cooler day, but they work long days even in the 120-degree heat.


image
image

The photo below features the Dubai Marina, an upscale area about 20 min away from downtown that serves as a popular place to live for expats.


image
image

Below is the side view of the Millennium Tower in downtown Dubai.


image
image

This is the upward-looking view of the atrium of the grand Burj Al-Arab, again “the world’s only seven-star hotel.” This is also the world’s tallest atrium, to add to Dubai’s ever-growing list of superlatives. 


image

Photo
Photo
The urban ocean of Mexico City.

The urban ocean of Mexico City.

Photo
loveyourchaos:

(by Naaman Horn)