Wednesday, December 22, 2010

U-G-G Boots in China

They are called U-G-G not UGG in China. They are fake UGG Boots and can be found in the five story shopping centers called Silk Markets. Stall after stall packs the hallways making it hard to move through without getting asked to buy something at a "good deal" or the "best price in the store." These women know what is in style and the latest brands. One stall has the newest style of UGG boots while the next has the latest Longchamp bag colors.

Traditional chinese shoes:

Other shoes I found in China:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shopping for Shoes in Viet Nam

Sorry for all of the posts being out of order, but I guess it’s a side effect of traveling — unreliable internet. Currently I am in Viet Nam in Rex Hotel enjoying the Wi-Fi. Ashley and I spent the day climbing through the Cu Chi tunnels created by the Vietcong in the Vietnam War or American War, as they refer to it. A war tactic that helped them win the war against the Americans.

Viet Nam is a lively place. I have never seen so many motorcycles on the road or cars in general. The streets are jam packed and crossing it on foot is a sport. As the cars, motorcycles and bicycles speed by we have to walk directly into traffic at a turtle's pace. This speed is apparently easier for to see us and avoid us. It surprisingly works really well despite the heart attack halfway through.

The first day in Saigon a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City we traveled to the Ben Thanh market. It is a large complex jam packed with thousands of vendors. The alleyways to walk through is almost as tiny as the Cu Chi tunnels, which we had to crawl through. They are selling North Face everything, designer handbags, and much more at a heavily discounted price. For instance, a Prada handbag that looks and feels real is $30. All the Semester at Sea students were buying up the back packs and getting dresses made.

And the shoes, well they are a completely different thing. There are mountains of them, stacks upon stacks, rows, bins, drawers, boxes and are even hanging. It is a site to be had for a shoe lover. It could take someone a day just to go through one alleyway of shoes. They are selling designer ones to traditional.

On my adventure in the market a stall with intricate designed sandals caught my eye. As I picked up a white beaded pair the woman grabbed it and asked the other woman behind the tiny counter to get me my size. The woman promptly disappeared, where I have no idea because the space we were standing in was smaller than a closet. I sat down and tried to squeeze my swollen sweaty foot, from the sticky humidity, into the shoe. The woman smiled and said “No good!” She grabbed the next size and again “No good! Big feet.” We both laughed as a said “Yes” shamefully. The next size up was their largest and it fit. The Vietnamese people in general are very tiny, slender and short. The shoe seller, when she stood upright, came only to my shoulder. The rest of the day shopping for clothes went the same way.

Spain and Our Cabin

Our Cabin on Board Ship

Video diary in Spain

Shoes from India

While there are many beautiful and hand made shoes in India, I got to wear bright red elastic hold ones. They are actually the shoe covers for those who don’t want to take off their shoes to go inside the Taj Mahal.

The traditional shoes worn with sarees and other traditional wear were sold in the open-air markets. The sparkles and beautiful vibrant colors had faded with the dust and pollution off the busy streets. Apparently they sit for a while on the shelves, not many women wear traditional clothing like sarees anymore in large cities of India. More women were sandals and high heel sandals. The traditional shoes are slippers with a pointed or rounded top. They are made out of strung beads and colorful backgrounds.


Images from India

Guards in Jaipur


Women working

The Taj Mahal

With an elephant at Amber Fort

Amber Fort

Faces from Africa




South Africa

South Africa

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saree Shopping

India is a complex chaotic place consumed by traditions and religious conviction. Our tour guide said the secret to driving through the madness of the streets is to have “a good horn, good brakes, and above all good luck.”

Choosing a saree — the traditional Indian dress for women — is not an easy process and I was ready to jump into it with the two hours I had left in Mumbai, India. Earlier in the day I flew with Ashley and my friends who are on Semester at Sea, but live in Mumbai, India, Anjali and Aman, to Mumbai. I had four hours till my return flight to Chennai, India and I wanted to utilize every minute of it.

After visiting Anjali’s house, meeting her family and eating homemade, traditional Indian cuisine we went down the street to Brahma Sarees to buy a saree. To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The store was filled from the bottom up with stacks of fabric. They had every color and then some. Sales women and men lined the counter vying for each customer’s attention. It was 6:00 p.m. and we needed to leave Anjali’s house at 7 p.m. Anjali, Ashley and I sat down and the event began. Anjali asked me the color I wanted, the price range, and the fabric and then translated to the sales people. It was great to have a native speaker with us. It made the process that much easier and faster.

Choosing a saree can be an all day process that involves choosing the right colors for the saree piece or what is basically a long piece of fabric about 6 yards. Then having to find a tailor to make an undershirt, a small shirt that exposes the belly, and buying the underskirt. For a more modernized urban inhabitants like Anjali and her mother they would only wear a saree to very formal events like a wedding. Not even Anjali’s sister Radhika, who was getting ready for her 16th birthday party that night was going to wear a saree. She had chosen a tight fitting dress that fell above the knee for her party. But in more rural areas sarees are all they wear.

In the store yards and yards of fabric was yanked from their homes on the shelves and placed in front of me. They were all so beautiful which made the selection even harder. It wasn’t like I was buying a dress or something I was familiar too. This was a garment I had never even worn. There were light purple ones, dark purple ones, pink, red, and every other color in the purple red spectrum. I was looking for purple one. The clock was ticking 6:20p.m. I needed to make a decision and find someone to sew the shirt. The temperature was rising and my throat was getting dry. It is so hard to tell what will look best when you have been immersed in the culture less than three hours. It came down to a vote and the deep purple/pink with the green trim won. I purchased the saree and they cut off a yard at the bottom for the top. Running out of the store we all were looking for the tailors hoping they had not already closed. I thought we were looking for a store, but as we turned the corner there were men with their sewing machines on the sides of alleyways sewing away.

“Huh … could this really be legitimate?”

But Anjali knew what she was doing and I trust her. She was talking in Hindi with the tailors. The first one shook his head and pointed further down the street. The next one said yes, took the material and took my measurements. It was 6:40 p.m. I wasn’t going to get the shirt in 20 minutes so Anjali said she would bring it to Chennai later. With the remaining time we bought some bangles to go with the saree and chips for the plane ride. I still can’t believe we made it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to put on the flippers

Snorkeling in Mauritius

10 Things to bring on an SAS field program:

1. Water

2. Money in a messenger bag (has strap that goes over your head) or money belt. At every port at least one person has been pick-pocketed so be clever in concealing your valuables.

3. A camera

4. Comfortable clothes – you WILL fall asleep on the bus rides.

5. An iPod for the long bus trips and days on the beach.

6. Presents for the people you run into along the way – the children love stickers and lollipops. If you are doing a township home stay, bring a gift for the family so they can have something to remember you by. I suggest something from your hometown.

7. Your laptop on overnight trips – internet access becomes a special treat and most hotels have WI-FI so take advantage because who knows when the next time you can check Facebook will be.

8. A soccer ball – everyone loves soccer and it is a great way to make new friends in a short amount of time.

9. Pen and paper – to write down not only interesting facts, but also names and numbers of the people you meet along the way, cool places you hear about and want to discover, and information you need to gather for your classes.

10. Be ready for anything – NOTHING goes as you planned so be “flexible” is the SAS motto.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

South Africa - Stepping back in time

The cables are the first things that appears over the wooden fences as I ride in a taxi to the wine lands. Then it’s the metal sheet roofs and then the people’s faces. Telephone polls are scattered between the few openings of the shacks. They are everywhere and each shack has their own cable coming from a poll. It looks like the May Day pole, but these are not bright colorful ribbons and the people are not celebrating. It is their daily struggle to get the essentials that come standard in our lives: running water, electricity, flooring, a toilet and shoes to walk to school.

Before arriving to South Africa Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave us a lesson on his home country telling us about the apartheid and the impact is had and still has on the country.

The apartheid ended in 1994, but from being there only six days it was clear there still was a sense of separation among the South Africans. The ship docked at a newly built port, which included a mall, five star hotel, and elegant restaurants along the pier. Student who did not adventure out of the port area would not of suspected anything.

The city itself looks like it could be a city in the US. It has the high-rise buildings, easy transportation, nightlife, and businessmen and women walking with their cell phones glued to their ears. But, the real disparity is seen within the “towns” that are on the outskirts of the city. These places are the townships. The government has created some, but most are informal settlements taken over by squatters. The one township I visited, Monwabisi Park in Khaylitsha Township, is actually part of a nature preserve, but 20,000 squatters had made it their home.

Along the coast are mansions and driving by it feels like Malibu. Some times I forgot I was in Africa. Even in the kinds of shoes they wore there was this disparity. In the townships children wore flip-flops like in Ghana and in the center of Cape Town women and men wore nice sneakers and sandals like in the US.

One of the life long learners on Semester at Sea said “it is like I have stepped back in time to the US in the 70s. We all might be equal now legally, but their isn’t respect for the other race.”
The city is still dressed up for the World Cup with soccer ball sculptures in the fountains, World Cup advertisements, and banners saying, “Cape Town welcomes the world.” The city is still hyped up on the influx of tourism and spike in their economy. What will happen when that money runs out?

Right now, in the city, no one respects each other no matter if they are white, colored or black the only color they respect is green. Money it is what they want and it is what they need. You can see it in the overprice cab fares and the cost of clothes in the mall. You can see it in the townships with children lining up to get food, 50 percent of the population out of work, and diseases such as HIV and AIDS the highest in the world.

“The system of apartheid is so ingrained that it is going to take ages to turn it around,” Tutu said.

Nothing happens over night, but there are people who are trying to make it happen. On my visit to Khaylitsha Township a group of SAS students and I learned about the Indlovu Project. This ecovillage consists of hand built structures made by the locals with sandbags and Ecobeams. Their mission is “to create an innovative, simple and sustainable way to improve the physical, emotional and economic health of the community.” The founder, Di Womersley, has created this place that includes a health clinic, community center, volunteer housing, a day-care center, and movie house for the whole community to enjoy. She said she can see the depressed state of community and wants to bring purpose to their lives, get children off the streets, and help mothers stop drinking. Ultimately, she wants each family to have their own sustainable home.

There is a saying painted on the wall in the main guest house which reads “sisonke singenza umahluko” meaning “together we can make a difference” and I know this is possible from seeing the success this one women has so far had with her project in bringing the community one step closer together.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Delivering shoes in Ghana

At the center of the world I found myself at Egyam Children’s Foundation of Hope. This is just outside Takoradi, Ghana, which is the largest city closest to where the equator and the prime meridian intersect.

The three-year-old facility is located down a long muddy unpaved road and houses 55-orphaned children from the ages of 2-18. They also take care of 20 children from the surrounding villages.

On our second day in Ghana we brought the children about 80 pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, dental floss, and toothpaste we had collected from the shipboard community. The shoes we brought consisted of mostly sneakers, flats, and some flip-flops.
Without shoes the children can’t walk to school. Some children walk 3 km to school everyday. Fortunately the orphanage is located down the street from the school, but the roads are bad especially in the rainy season.

In Ghana, most of the people wear flip-flops. They are cheap, easy to wear, and breathable.

In the streets of Ghana men, women, and children carry everything from small vending machines to bowls full of rice on their heads. Carrying around all of that weight and trying to balance it on top of their heads is hard enough, but doing it with unstable shoes is where the challenge lies. But the country has so much poverty that flip-flops are the only kind of shoes a family can afford. Most of the shoes are worn out and covered in the red dirt that covers the roads in Ghana.

Ghana was the first country that the Fall 2010 Semester at Sea students were confronted with poverty at every turn. The shoes we delivered were only “a drop in the bucket.” There is a lot of work that needs to be done to help clean up the streets and promote prosperity, peace and preservation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dinner with a Moroccan

Semester at Sea blog post

The bus pulled up. The street was crowded with Moroccans shopping, selling, on their way to dinner or meeting up with friends. It was nighttime and the city of Casablanca had transformed. There wasn’t a tourist in sight and 18 Semester at Sea students and staff stepped out of our safe confides of the George Washington Academy bus and into the scene. Fatima, our host for the night, led us to her apartment across the street, up two floors, and welcomed us into her home for the evening.

Fifty-seven students were place into small groups and invited to join eight families for an “Evening with a Moroccan Family,” a semester at sea organized field program. This included being invited to the family’s home, conversation and dinner.

“It is a glimpse that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise,” SAS Professor Linda Kobert said.

Kobert and eight other SAS voyagers spent an evening with two families in one house.

“We had great conversations,” Kobert said. “We talked about everything from arranged marriages, the school where this guy teaches, children and how they were behaving.”

In Fatima’s house SAS voyagers crowded into her one bedroom apartment and enjoyed a traditional Moroccan dinner, which consisted of a few courses: a salad course, a meat dish, desert and traditional Moroccan mint tea.

For some students, this was their first opportunity to interact with a Moroccan one-on-one.

“The other trips show the touristy part of Morocco and I think this trip was one of the few trips that allows you to go one-on-one personally with a person from another country and ask them what their life is like in the country and you probably cant do that in a Market place or a restaurant,” Howard Li, SAS student, said.

Krystal Everett, SAS student, said there is a strong contrast from walking around tourist sites and observing places to participating in the culture.

“They are letting their guard down, being hospitably, feeding you and I felt like that is more of a personal experience than other trips offer,” Everett said.

During the trip many students learned Moroccan woman aren’t allowed to be addressed or have their photos taken without their husband’s or a man’s consent. Kobert said for her the trip provided an opportunity to learn what it is like to be a Moroccan woman.

“The wife of the host didn’t even join us for dinner,” Kobert said. “It gave me the chance to see the dynamics between men and women, between the father and the little girl and the kids.”

Kobert said this intimate experience created an atmosphere of trust and friendship.
“By the end of the night, we were doing three kisses, which means very good friends,” Kobert said. “Something happened there.”

Friday, September 17, 2010

“Morocco Loves Hip-Hop”

In the Marrakesh market place vendors hassle tourists to buy their mass-produced souvenirs. “Come look at the beautiful crafts. They match your beautiful eyes,” the vendors told me. But, I didn’t want their dinky camel statues or Moroccan hats — I was looking for a Moroccan Hip-Hop CD.

This kind of music goes against their way of life — their traditions, religion and laws (No one is allowed to speak ill of the King of Morocco or criticize the government).

Hip-hop in the United States is about relationships, love, sex, and drugs. We all dance, sing and listen, but for Moroccan rappers music is their freedom of speech.

My quest to find Moroccan hip-hop began with a documentary in Video Journalism class. The film talked about artists such as Fnaire and H-Kayne working together in 2005 to put together Morocco’s first hip-hop concert “Morocco Loves Hip-Hop.” They not only struggled with getting sponsors, but with their family's blessing. Their songs speak about Moroccan politics, important historical events, and change.

I was worried about finding the CDs in Morocco because I didn’t know the language and knew the music was offensive to the majority of the population.

The first day, I got the courage to ask my waiter about Moroccan hip-hop, but he immediately said it didn’t exist. Then a few days later while I was on my Semester at Sea trip to Marrakesh I asked my guide, Miriam. She looked at me for a while and finally said she knew where to find them in the market.

There was a small stand pushed between a restaurant and convenience store. At first glance I could only see the typical “sounds of Morocco” CDs, but after asking the man and reassuring him that I really did want hip-hop music he pulled out a small box from under the counter. The CD covers were cracked, they weren’t covered in plastic wrap and the artwork looked like it was made on a home computer. I found the artists I knew and paid the man the equivalent of 5 dollars for each one.

Back at the hotel I was sitting down by the pool in my blue Moroccan dress with my friend. A hotel employee was passing by and complimented us on our dresses. After talking for a little bit and learning that his name was Aman, I asked him about the CDs I had in my hand.

Immediately he got excited and began talking about the different artists, where they came from, and how important the messages of their songs were. He made me promise that I would translate the songs, analyze the lyrics and learn from them.

I knew at that moment I held something important to the future of their culture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Hammam Experience

I stood naked in Morocco.

Despite spending the past six days in Morocco visiting a Children’s Village, ridding Camels through the palm groves of Marrakesh and exploring the interior of the third largest mosque in the world I didn’t understand the culture until I bathed among the women of Morocco.

The Moroccan bathhouse or Hammam was situated down an alleyway far from any average tourist destination. This was my first independent trip in Morocco and I was skeptical when the cab driver dropped me off near Hammam Ziani on a street populated with only men.

Inside the Hamman a man appeared and asked me if I spoke French. I told him no only English and a little Italian. He shook his head at both, but pointed to a menu with a British flag placed on it. I choose the most expensive package. He handed me the printed receipt and sent me up a flight of stairs. At the top a woman took the receipt and I paid her 300 dirham. She handed me a basket of soap, a wrap, and pointed to a changing room while telling me to take off all of my clothes but my underpants. I finished tightly tying the wrap around me and opened the curtain of the dressing room. Standing just outside I saw two Moroccan women pulling off all of their robes.

Out in the streets of Morocco the only interactions I had were with men trying to get me to buy things in their store or in the taxi’s. This place was only for women. It was their place.

The spa worker led me down some stairs into a small steam room with marble bowls, chairs and faucets. She took my wrap and instructed me to wash myself with black goo. I sat at on a stool in front of a bowl with my arms wrapped around my chest. I had no idea how I was going to wash myself and stay as modest as I could. The bowl didn’t have drain so the water spilled over the sides. The steam was like a sheet and covered the room. Several minutes of uncertainty and rewashing occurred until a different spa worker came in and lead me to a bigger room with marble slabs in the center surrounded by more drain-less bowls and stools. I laid down on what seemed like a butchers block and she proceeded to scrub me so hard that it felt like I was being tenderized for a meal.

The next step, after being skinned alive, is to marinate for about 30 minutes. I was first covered in a grainy brown substance and wrapped in plastic. During that time two Moroccan women had walked in and began washing each other at one of the bowls. They were talking together in Arabic, laughing, and what seemed to be joking around with the spa workers.

The women were wearing thongs and black lacy underwear. Underneath all of those robes they aren’t that different from me.

I got up and looked around sure that the Moroccan women would be staring at me analyzing all of my flaws like at spas in the United States. But they didn’t and I realized they weren’t judging each other or me. I felt comfortable and almost accepted into their lives because I was taking part in this tradition.

Ablution in the Islamic society is apart of their daily lives. They have to clean themselves before being in Gods presence. Some of these women come once or twice a week to the Hammam.

It was empowering to be among these woman who completely mask their identity to society, but come together in a secure place, reveled their bodies and gossip about their lives.

After rinsing off and redressing in my skirt and black shirt I walked outside feeling welcomed into their lives because I had been apart of such an intimate part of their lives. I saw them without their robes on and heard them speaking to one another without asking their husband’s permission.

On the street, however, I was again confronted with the men staring as I walked with my hair uncovered. As I quickened my walk I passed by a woman and her children. I gave her a friendly smile, but I didn’t receive one in return. At the most basic level we are both woman, but there are many different customs that divide us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moroccan shoes

The Moroccan streets are filled with bicycles, motorcycles, people walking and cars rushing by. Along each of these streets there are small vendors selling metal goods such as lamps and jewelry, clothing and/or spices piled high.

And as you strolling through the Moroccan market streets the aroma of the saffron, curry, Argan nut oil and cumin is overwhelming. Of course, there is a lot of pollution in Morocco and garbage that lines the roads. People love to j-walk and driving is a sport in Morocco. The only rule here in Morocco, according to my observation, is not to hit each other and every other driving maneuver is fair game.

Everywhere there are tourists, Moroccans, and stray animals congesting the roads, alleyways and stores. It is interesting to see the mix of dress. The Moroccan women dress can range from being American/European style to being completely covered so their feet and hands are hidden. For example, some dress in pants and a t-shirt, but wear a headscarf. Men dress in jeans and a nice shirt or wear long shirt-dresses or a loose fitting shirt and pants.

But everyone, men and women and children, wear slipper-like shoes. They are sold everywhere and come in every color. They are usually made out of leather and have a pointed toe.

The Moroccan lifestyle is about tradition, family and religion. When you walk into a person’s home you take off your shoes. Before you enter a religious place like a Mosque you remove your shoes.

For meal time a family gathers around a table usually on pillows on the floor or sometimes in a chair and shares a meal from one giant bowl. This meal is a time to enjoy each other’s company and celebrate family. During Ramadan the family shares three meals after sunset and before sunrise so there is a lot of time to relax and wait for the next meal. This culture is always removing their shoes and slippers are perfect for this kind of lifestyle.

Camel Trek in Marrakesh

The Children's Village

On my first day in Morocco I traveled to the SOS Children’s Village in Casablanca. There are 99-orphaned children living there. Each one lives with six to seven other children, ranging from 0 months to 17 years old, in one house. There are 11 homes. Each home has one mother and there is one father for the entire village.

It was surprising to learn that none of the children get adopted. Apparently the Islam culture does not believe that an adopted child could truly be apart of the family.

I met some amazing children. Some spoke several languages and others loved to play tennis or basketball. But, most of all, they loved to play with my camera and did a pretty good job taking photos.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Photo diary of Spain

In Cadiz, Spain

Flamenco dance

La Playa de la Caleta

Hike at Grazalema National Park

Croquettes ... filled with Cheese, Tuna or meat