this week’s UN update…

Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General o the United Nations, this week gave an update to the Council on Foreign Relations. He touches on Lebanon, Syria, Myanmar and the Millenium Development Goals. I thought I’d post the link here as it makes for some interesting reading/watching:

http://www.un.org/sg/dsg/statements/index.asp?nid=460

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tourism in Egypt

Sitting in the lunch room today, some colleagues and I casually grabbed the local paper. On the front page was a piece on Egypt talking about how the country had descended into “chaos and anarchy” and the government had told everyone to leave the country, paired of course with massive pictures of people holding knives and other weapons. Now, I work for a company that is very heavily involved in Egypt and as you can imagine, this week has been crazy dealing with people who are worried about their future travel to this country.

What frustrates me, first and foremost, is the lack of facts portrayed in such articles. Yes, there is tension. Yes, there have been some violent incidents. Yes, Egypt has been going through some turmoil and isn’t out of the woods just yet. But rather than jumping up and down raving like lunatics, we all need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Would anything that has happened in the last week or so happened if no-one wanted it to? No. You don’t overthrow an elected President just because you have nothing better to do. The articles I saw today focused on the violence yet where were all the photos of hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrating the change? In the corner of the page, barely visible.
I do feel like the country in a way has set a worrying precedent, in that their president was elected yet the army still ousted him. That said, however, I don’t live in Egypt so it’s all very well for me to form these opinions from my sofa, but I have no idea what it’s been like to live in Cairo since the revolution (nor indeed before it). And at the end of the day my industry is not foreign affairs, it’s tourism. And tourism is an industry Egypt relies on.
Since the revolution (and before this latest bout of unrest), travellers to Egypt were finding there was no better time to go. The crowds post-revolution are smaller and as such visitors were experiencing all the best Middle Eastern hospitality has to offer.
The revolution, while necessary, really hurt Egypt’s economy. To have come through the other side of the revolution the way it has is a courageous effort, yet the country still faces massive problems in shortages of fuel, electricity and other basic necessities. The newly elected government certainly didn’t help and all this country wants to do is get back on its feet.
After the revolution, it took about a month or so for tours to start running again. Since then there have been no tourism-related issues until now (contrary to popular belief).  And I really think we will see the same again this time. Some operators have cancelled tours but most haven’t as yet, because rather than just jump on the cancellation train, we need to accurately assess the situation at ground level. It isn’t fair to all those people who have booked the trip of a lifetime to cancel their plans on a whim when it isn’t necessary. In most cases, it won’t be. I have clients leaving nearly every week from the end of the month until February and I remain just as excited for them now as I did before this latest issue. Of course, if my clients felt uncomfortable and wanted to cancel I would support their decision 100% – I just hate the idea of them missing out.
I just wish more photos like this had been shown – photo c/o AFP / Khaled Desouki

perspective



Does anyone remember Couchsurfing? For those who don’t, it’s a website where you can meet other backpackers and the basic concept is that anywhere in the world you have a couch to crash on. It’s a great way of seeing the world for those on a budget, and offers the chance to hang out with locals in each place you visit. For more insight read Brian Thacker’s Sleeping Around; it’s great.

The reason I bring it up is because once, a long time ago, a young guy wrote to me from Aleppo, Syria, via the site. He was the “Ambassador” for Aleppo, which basically meant he had hosted a lot of couch surfers in his time, had a really good rating, and his passion was to show tourists around his hometown. Being 19 or however old I was, Syria wasn’t really on my to-do list yet, but I was really interested in what he had to say and I was fascinated and inspired by the passion he had for his home.

Of course, I can’t turn on the television, radio or internet now without hearing about the violence currently occurring in Syria and more recently Aleppo in particular. It always saddens me when these things go on, as they always do, and I have followed news on the Arab Spring closely (I’ve had to anyway because of my job). However, I think it’s so easy for us to be vaguely saddened by what’s happening but then to be able to ignore it because we have more important things to deal with right here.

I find myself thinking about this young man, so ecstatic about the city he was lucky enough to call home, and wondering where he is now and what he’s doing. I can only hope and pray he’s okay, and that he’s either fighting the good fight if that’s what he feels is right, or he’s in a much safer place. Either way, I hope he’s still teaching people about his country and reminding them of its place in the world.

He gave me a different perspective on a part of the world that was unknown to me, and for that I will be forever grateful. I hope thousands more are lucky enough to be given the same opportunity.

photo courtesy of Reuters

devouring one country at a time



I’ve had cabin fever for the past few days. I’m sure it’s as a result of the constant bed-work-dinner-bed-work routine I’ve had going on all week and last night I couldn’t hold it in any more.

I can’t say I’ve been up to anything exciting but I did go out to dinner both nights and had some amazing meals: Indian last night and Chinese tonight. Chinese for me is always a bit hit and miss but we managed to find a fantastic, authentic little place which on our side of town is incredibly rare and had the most delicious duck ever.

The combination of cabin fever and an empty stomach got me thinking about the best and worst meals I’ve had while travelling. Everywhere I’ve been had amazing meals and not so great ones, but lets face it I love my food and it’s my number 1 priority when I’m overseas (my waistline will agree!)

Of course, Asian countries will always take the cake, especially SE Asian cuisine! If you ask Boyfriend, the ultimate Japanlover, he will say the land of the rising sun has no competition, but for me it’s all about chilli and fresh flavours and amazing street food. Excepting the time in Vietnam when I accidentally ate dog…

I was geared up for delicious Middle Eastern flavours when I headed to Dubai: shwarmas and meats and pork-free bacon. It didn’t really deliver. A lot of the food was dry and a bit tasteless, but who knows, maybe it was dumbed down for a bunch of westerners. In terms of bacon, I expected good old-fashioned turkey-bacon, but it was veal-bacon that was served. Interesting…

Seafood, seafood, seafood! As a lobster fiend, Fijireally is my paradise. I was once served a lobster-themed meal: lobster bisque to start, lobster with garlic butter for main course and lobster-shaped cake for dessert!

Yes, France screws with my body clock (sweets for breakfast, heavy food for lunch, ploughman’s dinner, cheese for dessert). But the flavours! And I really have no idea why “French women don’t get fat” because I sure as hell did!

Italy  was okay. I’m sure I’ll be reprimanded a lot for tis, but nothing particularly blew my mind here…

…But Croatia was a different story! Fantastic fish dishes, cured meats and the best gelati I’ve ever tasted (better than Italy, no joke).

And I could keep going on and on, but that might take precious time away from eating my way around the world!


a first time for everything

The first time I remember seeing snow, I was in the middle of the desert.

For a girl who spent so much time in the desert growing up, that seems quite strange. But I can also say that the first time I remember seeing snow, I was also in the middle of an enormous shopping mall.

It’s true, Dubai has it all. You can ski with penguins once you’ve bought out the Louboutin store next door; you can stand at the top of the world’s tallest building then go hang out in the old-fashioned souks; you can lie by the pool or skydive over the Palm… whatever you want, Dubai’s got it.

The thing I liked most is that it’s got soul.

I didn’t expect this given what I’d heard about the place. I expected to fly there, gawk at massive buildings, party, spend too much money and go home. I didn’t expect to learn so much about the culture of the region and to gain such a respect for some of it’s inhabitants.


I got to chat to some awesome people who gave me a genuine insight into what life is like in the Gulf. True: a man can have up to four wives. True: the average citizen has little to no say in who runs their country. True: there are currently countless petitions to make people cover up more in public. What I love about Dubai is that whatever you’ve heard is most likely true, yet no mater how you judge the place from home, when you get there you just want to delve in and figure out what it’s all about.

And it’s experiences like this that keep me going, and will keep me going until I’ve reached everywhere.

arabian sleepless nights

It’s happened again. The day before I’m set to head off on a mind-blowing trip I have a feeling that I shouldn’t go, like something bad will happen while I’m away. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason why I feel this way which kind of makes it worse. 

It’s Mothers Day tomorrow and I feel like I should be spending time with Mum, which is definitely needed because I really don’t spend enough time with her these days. I’ve also been going through quite a bit of upheaval at work, so I can’t stand the idea of not being in the office next week because there’s so much to do and I feel like I have a point to prove. I also feel a bit guilty for travelling so much while Boyfriend stays at home; it’s all very well to be galavanting around the world but if I had a different job, these trips might equate to extra money in my pocket – which could go towards a house deposit or some other big item or event.

Lately I’ve also noticed that these trips make me incredibly nervous. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really know many people going, or because the destination is so unlike anywhere I’ve been before that I don’t know what to expect, or maybe I’m worried that I’ll do something stupid and embarrass myself or get in strife. Overall though, it seems to me that I’ve lost a certain sense of “whatever, let’s jump off the deep end” that I used to have. Call it wisdom or call it anxiety, I have no idea.I wish I could get it back somehow, but maybe it’s just part of growing up.

I am, contrary to what you might think by reading this, extremely grateful for the travel opportunities I’ve been given in the past 12 months. I am starting to realise, however, that travel isn’t just about the stamps in your passport or the number of countries you can tick off the list, but about the journey, the experience, the knowledge you gain and the memories you take home. I am definitely aware that this time of my life is the perfect time to be doing as much travel as I have been, and once I settle down with a mortgage and kids it will be so much harder, but I think I just realise that it’s the people who make the memories, not the places.

Everyone knows that deep down I’m a hopeless romantic, and one day I want to be able to tell my grand-kids about the feeling I had watching Grandpa feed an elephant or something, and how happy I was in that moment because I could see how happy he was, too.

In 24 hours I will be flying out to Dubai, a place I’ve dreamed of for years. I can’t even comprehend what this place has in store for me and I know it will be one hell of an adventure. It’s also teaching me, though, what’s important in life and I think after this one I will sit down and re-focus, reconsider my priorities and start to make a life that includes a special someone else, not just myself.