Saturday, December 28, 2013

Response to those who are concerned about my travel habits. (AKA traveling to the Middle East)


I know that based on what you see and read in the news, the idea of your loved one traveling to the Middle East may be scary, especially if you have never spent any time in the region or any time around Muslims and/or Arabs.

Please don't treat me like I'm making bad decisions. I have no more desire to be around violence than you do. I know a safe situation from an unsafe one. I am not about to go putting myself into scenarios that are overly risky. I know how to stay away from riots, protests, and war zones.  I know how to trust my intuition about the safety of a certain part of town or a sleazy cab driver.

As an adult, I am more than capable of making my own decisions about my life. I will take this opportunity to remind you that I was one of the few international students who stayed in Egypt during the 2011 revolution despite tremendous pressure from family, school, government, and other students to leave, and I have been back safely several times since! I am very stubborn and as much as I love and respect my friends and family, I'm sorry but it is highly unlikely that I will change my plans or opinions based on your worries. I know your worries come from a place of love, but please take a few minutes to read what I have written below, because it is very likely that you are misinformed and culturally biased.


Let me start by talking specifically about Egypt, since I travel there the most:

I have many dear friends in Egypt, some of whom have connections that could be used to get out of a tight situation in the extremely unlikely event that it would be necessary. I love them, we take care of each other, we have a wonderful time exploring and spending time together. My friends are the number one reason that I travel to Egypt and will continue to do so.
Cairo is a big city and it is extremely easy to stay away from troublesome parts and protests. It is also actually a very safe city as cities go! Crime and danger exist everywhere, I feel much more unsafe in many places in Europe and the US (Paris, Naples Italy, LA, NYC, ....... even Denver, a half hour from my own home!!) than I ever have in Egypt.

- Kidnapping is not a common issue where I like to travel, and there are precautions one can take to avoid such things (using the buddy system, for example).
The worst issues in Cairo are sexual harassment (mostly just catcalls on the street and occasionally groping), which are not difficult to deal with and are not threatening at all if you're with a group of people which I almost always am, and petty theft (which is still actually pretty rare). Reports of sexual assault occur primarily AT protests/large gatherings of people, which I'm not planning on participating in.

Honestly I'm much more likely to die tragically driving my car on a daily basis than for anything bad to happen to me in Cairo.

Now to address what I think is the real issue here: Ignorance and racism

The media is full of hype and islamophobia, so don't take it too seriously. They don't show 99% of the realities of life, which usually happens to be the peaceful, kind, stable, unscary part (or the part that doesn't agree with that media source's specific political agenda). But.... thanks to the current political opinions of our government and society, anywhere where there are Muslims (*Gasp*) becomes ohhhh so dangerous in everybody's mind. The vast majority of Muslims are very ANTI-violence. They disagree strongly with people who commit acts of terrorism in the name of their religion, which urges its followers to be peaceful and kind to fellow human beings (and animals too :D) - See Quran 5:32 for example. Idiots and criminals commit crimes in the name of every religion imaginable in every part of the world.

I know that there is tension regarding people's opinions of American politics. Most people I've met however know the difference between a country's government/politics and an individual person. I am sometimes asked about my opinions on certain political issues, and from there we move on and talk about other things. It isn't as big of a deal as you may think. Not to mention the fact that for some reason, most people who meet me think that I am either British or German... :P

I also oftentimes have people tell me that I should stay away from the region because "it's unsafe for women." I don't really want to go on my huge rant about this in this post because it would take days to put all on paper and I'm sure that's not what you came here to read about... But here's the short version: Like it or not, women face unsafe situations all over the world and sexism is very much alive and kicking. Yes there are many disgusting chauvinistic men in the middle east who I would very much like to personally castrate. I have met just as many of these unsavory characters in America, Europe, and Asia. Sexism and abuse of women is not unique to any culture, skin color, religion, and so on. If I, as a woman, choose to cower in fear and never leave my house, hometown, or country just because I am afraid of a little bit of sexism, that sexism would be winning! I refuse to exclude myself from the beautiful adventures of life just because I am a woman, so don't even go there with me.

Finally, I like to remind people that you can't just generalize about "the middle east" (or any area of the world or group of people for that matter). Each country and area faces its own issues and just because something is happening somewhere in the region doesn't mean it is at all applicable to a specific situation.

Hope that helps clear things up for you. Lots of love!!

(Photo taken by me, view from Azhar Park in Cairo. Jan, 2012)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dancing with my Dark Reflection

In a state of freedance, I looked in the mirror in the dark, and met the dark magic, powerful goddess who lives in my reflection. 
She scares me, but I can’t live without her. She is part of me and must be heard. 
What does she want? 
I can’t see her face clearly – it is blurry and so dark, she just looks at me, and it seems at any moment that she will morph into the powerful darkness. 
I just have to keep dancing. 
Who is she? I want to know her.
She has always been there, since I was a little girl, I have been running from her. She scares me with her power. 

But she is me.

Written and photographed while living in Cairo, Spring 2011

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How to dress when travelling in the Middle East: Hijab Fashion

Hijab fashion is a wonderful resource for everyone, not just hijabis!

A hijab (hee-jab) is the headscarf worn by many Muslim women. Women who choose to wear the scarf are often called hijabis (hee-jab-ees). In general, when one wears hijab, the only parts of the bodies that are exposed are faces, hands, and sometimes feet. There are many wonderful bloggers and designers who have devoted a large amount of time and energy to creating fashionable looks for hijabis.

As a woman who does not wear hijab, most outfits that are hijabi-appropriate are still super cute without the headscarf. Thus looking at these fashion-conscious and modest ladies can be very helpful when trying to find cute but conservative looks.

This picture is borrowed from one of my favorite hijabi fashionistas, Amena (AKA Amenakin on YouTube). She lives in the UK and runs a very popular small business called Pearl Daisy. I adore her thoughtful words and her super cute full-coverage outfit ideas! (Link to her blog, store, and YouTube channel can be found at the end of this post)

Below, I have included a list of links to good modest fashion and hijabi fashion blogs that you will hopefully find useful!

Blogs, stores, and references for modest fashion:

Amena, a hijabi fashion youtuber/blogger:
YouTube Channel

Alia, hijabi fashion blogger/youtuber from Great Britain

Disarae and Melody, modest fashion bloggers

Elaine, modest fashion blogger

Nur, hijabi fashion blogger from Singapore

Many examples of cute hijabi outfits

Fashion of Tehran, Iran

Winnie, Egyptian-American modest fashion blogger

Online store with modest clothes for women

Random pics of Dina Toki-o, a well known hijabi fashion blogger

Dina Toki-o’s instagram

Ascia, a Kuwait-American hijabi fashion blogger

A selection of fashionable hijabi outfits

Abaya Addict, a store that sells beautiful modest clothing

Sunday, February 10, 2013

How to dress when travelling in the Middle East: Intro and FAQs

Why I'm writing this post

The first time I ever spent a significant amount of time as an adult in a foreign country was when I was studying at the University of Colorado and did a semester abroad in Cairo. I remember knowing that I would need to dress modestly but really had no idea what that involved! I tried doing some research but didn't know where to start. Before I left, I was not familiar in the least with Islam or Egyptian culture and honestly felt pretty uncomfortable and unsure about the idea of dressing conservatively.

The questions running through my head included such things as "how loose does my clothing need to be," "do I need to cover my hair," "what will happen to me if people think that I'm not dressed conservatively enough," and so on... Like I said, total travel and Middle East noooobie!
What I ended up doing was buying approximately three sweaters and three wide leg pairs of pants and leaving it up to myself to buy more wardrobe items upon arrival. Let's just say that these clothes were pretty much the *opposite* of cute, and looked like what my friends and I fondly refer to as the "bag lady look." Not attractive. :P

Anyways... The point of all of this is that I know how many ladies are feeling when embarking on their first trips to a culture quite different from their own! In the time since my first trip to Egypt, I have traveled extensively in Egypt and Morocco and also done a lot of research into modest fashion. I'd like to share what I've learned! I hope that I can provide some guidance and cultural understanding about what to wear when traveling to countries where more modest dress is advisable.

This will be a series of blog posts! (If I ever get around to writing them....) This post includes FAQ's (feel free to comment with more questions and I'll respond). Other upcoming posts will likely include:

~ Hijab fashion: a wonderful resource for not just hijabis!
~ Scarves are magical!
~ A few of my favorite modest fashion wardrobe essentials
~ Specific outfit examples


Frequently asked questions

1. Do I have to cover up my hair??
If you do not wear hijab (the headscarf that Muslim women wear), it is silly to pretend to be someone who you are not when it is not necessary (just my opinion). In most larger cities or touristy areas, I have never felt it necessary to cover my hair under most circumstances. However, it is polite to do so when visiting mosques, or when traveling to more remote areas. Don't be fooled into thinking that covering your hair will lessen sexual harassment though - from personal experience, I can tell you that women in all levels of modest dress experience harassment (not just referring to the Middle East here either... this applies all over the world).

2. What about the heat?!?!
If traveling to a place like Egypt in the summertime, the heat can become very difficult to deal with at times. However, it is COMPLETELY possible to still dress modestly in the heat! In fact, I usually find it much more comfortable in the heat to wear loose fitting clothes that cover more skin (and plus, it protects you from the sun).

3. How loose does my clothing need to be?
Again, this depends on where you are. Big cities or areas with a lot of tourism are places where you can get away with dressing less modestly. In the well traveled areas of Cairo, I often wore skinny jeans and a t-shirt and felt for the most part comfortable. Nowadays I would probably at least wear a looser shirt than that, but that is really due to changes in how I personally want to dress, rather than what you can "get away with" in the streets of Cairo.
Anyways, in general, I would really recommend wearing decently loose shirts that don't show off your curves too much or at all. The more "flowy" the better... but remember you can always belt at the waist to give yourself some shape if you feel self conscious about that!
Pants can be tighter, however I would recommend wearing a tunic or some sort of long cardigan to cover up your butt if possible.

4. What about women with big breasts? It's harder to dress modestly on the top half for us!
Yes, I completely know where people are coming from with this question. Some tricks that I can recommend are:
  • Buy a light-weight neck scarf and wear it in a fluffy way around your neck to cover up any cleavage that is determined to escape!
  • Find loose-fitting high necked tunic-type shirts that are quite wide, then belt loosely at the waist to create shape.
  • Wear a flowy jacket or cardigan over your shirt for added modesty
  • Wear a full-coverage bra that helps keep the ladies under control! ;)
  • Avoid things like boat-neck tops, v-necks, scoop-necks. Aim for shirts that reach up to your collar bones (this applies to ladies of all shapes and sizes actually).

5. What if I don't dress modestly enough?? Are people going to attack me or yell at me or something horrible??
In my experience, no.... People are usually polite enough to say nothing, although you may experience more sexual harassment/cat calls. However, it is pretty rude to dress inappropriately, and it makes others feel uncomfortable so try your best to be polite! Imagine if you were in a public place and someone was walking around in a thong, high heels, and a bikini top... You'd probably be like "wtf, put that away!!" So please, just try to be respectful. Chances are, if you are covering from below your knees to your collar bones and shoulders, you're probably fine in a touristy area. In more conservative areas, you probably want to cover up more than that.

Overall, the best piece of advice I can give is to stay aware of your surroundings! Bring layering options (again I recommend a lightweight but large scarf) with you so that you can increase the modesty of your outfit if necessary. Pay attention to what other travelers and locals around you are wearing, learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Trust your gut feeling.

If I think of more FAQs, or if anybody comments with helpful ones, I will add them to this list, or to another post in this series. Please comment if you have any questions.

Disclaimer: If anything in this post is offensive or incorrect, I sincerely apologize. I try to be as accurate as possible from my own experience, but obviously that is only the experience of one young woman who, like all people, is still learning. :)

Coping with being in a place of uncertainty

There are times in life where it feels as if one is adrift in a wild raging river, clinging for life to a lone floating branch... This is an exercise in holding tight and letting the river take you where it will.

Change can be terrifying and even depressing. Without a doubt being in a place of uncertainty and/or transition is one of the most uncomfortable places to be. However, these in-between times cannot be discounted, for they are also the birth of new parts of your life. Although difficult, we must come to terms with these times of our lives and use them to learn as much as possible about ourselves. Self-exploration is important and uncertainty brings out parts of ourselves that we don't usually have to face.

This usually happens to me when I don't have a very busy schedule and am trying to figure out the next step in my career/education/life. One of the best "coping mechanisms" that I have found is to create a semi-strict schedule for myself. This eliminates at least the day-to-day uncertainty and gives me enough structure in my life for me to feel almost-normal. From there I am better able to do the soul-searching that is needed to get through the time of transition. Physical activity during these times is very important, because it helps my outlook stay positive and my body feel healthy. I also find that it really helps to talk to someone with neutral opinions (like a therapist, or a close friend or family member who stays as neutral as possible) and process through my thoughts and ideas with them. Speaking out loud about my thoughts has a way of helping me see them from different perspectives.

Eventually, looking back, these times will seem like a blessing, and I will be grateful that I took the time to allow myself to wander thoughtfully through this place of uncertainty.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Essence of Exploration

My essence is a shapeshifter.

My soul likes to experiment with confusion.

My body dances into different shapes through brilliantly colored tutus. Sometimes I wear all black.

I am an explorer.

I enjoy joyfully expanding into a new persona, exploring new ways of thinking, looking in new directions.

I flourish between the sacred privacy of being covered with sumptuous fabrics to celebrations of bare feminine sensuality.

No facade of drug-induced false realities will ever appeal to me. There are too many places, thoughts, too much true sparkle to need a diversion.

Exploration does not only come in the form of traveling to far away places. It means becoming familiar with the unknown inside yourself. It means letting yourself be pulled in unexpected directions by the flow of the universe.

Never stop learning, be a student of this existence.

(street art, photo taken in Asilah, Morocco by moi, Sept. 2012)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Falafel Recipe

Today I attempted to make falafel for the first time, and I'd say it was decently successful (my boyfriend, who is a somewhat of a falafel connoisseur, gave his approval).

Here is the recipe, partly taken from this blog, partly improvised myself:

Prep time: 20-30 minutes

cook time: 15-30 minutes

Yield: abut 15 small pieces of falafel (enough to feed 2 people with a few leftovers)

1 15oz can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (washed after taking out of can)
crumbs from one hot dog bun or piece of white bread
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 small yellow onion
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1tablespoon red chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
flour to thicken (if needed)

1. Blend the chickpeas, garlic, onions, parsley, cilantro, cumin, paprika, chili powder, salt, and pepper in a food processor to a rough moist texture.

2. Stir in the crumbs and sesame seeds and let the mixture sit for about half an hour.

3. Add the baking soda and stir together.

4. Form into small spheres with a diameter of 1.5-2 inches. Make sure you knead them a little and press the dough together firmly so that they do not fall apart when cooked. If they are not sticking together well, add 2-3 tablespoons of flour.

5. Heat oil about 2 inches deep on medium heat. You can tell that the oil is hot enough to start frying the falafel by putting a small piece of dough into the oil. The oil should bubble quickly around the piece of dough and the piece should float on the surface.

6. When oil is hot enough, put first falafel piece in to cook. Use the first piece as a test run to see how long you need to cook the rest. Take out when the surface is a rich dark brown and place on a plate covered with paper towels to soak up the oil. After it cools slightly, break it open to see if it has cooked all the way through. Adjust heat and cooking time accordingly.

How to serve:
I recommend serving the falafel with a "build your own pita wrap" set up. I included:
- whole wheat pita bread
- Tahini sauce
- A salad of diced tomatoes, cucumbers, & onions topped with lime juice, salt, and pepper
- chopped lettuce
- small cubed fried potatoes
- hot sauce or any other condiments that anyone eating requests