Book review: Say You’re One of Them

My love to African kids attracted me to this book at first. Beside the fact that it’s a good book, i believe that i got attached to the stories in it because of how much i adore and feel bad for those kids and what they have to go through everyday.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwmen Akpan was published in 2008 and it was Oprah’s Book Club 2009 selection. It consists of five short stories, each story takes place in a different African country and takes you in a journey to witness life in Africa through the eyes of a child.

My favourite story was Fattening for Gabon (Benin). I got intrigued and i couldn’t stop wondering what will happen next to the kids. It was very heartbreaking, just like the other four stories. But the one that really gave me a heartache was My Parents’ Bedroom (Rwanda). After reading it, my dream of adopting an African kid felt more like a duty or something that i have to do. The only story that i felt a bit bored while reading was Luxurious Hearses (Nigeria). It took place in a bus and it was the longest story in the book. I felt like i was suffocating at some point.

What i loved the most about this book is that although it speaks about African countries that we barely know anything about, i still related a lot to the stories. The religious and cultural conflicts between people of the same country is everywhere. And just when i thought that things where i live can’t get any worse, i discovered that it’s much worse in other parts of the world.

The stories in this book create a beautiful mixture of different issues: Poverty, religion, child abuse, politics, etc. I’d love to see it on the screen someday.

تشكيل وزاري 2032

تشكيل وزاري 2032

لدينا في البحرين نخبة من الشباب المبدع والمثقف والمكافح، أجمل مافيه انه لا ييأس ويسعى للتغيير والإصلاح مهما كانت الظروف والعوائق من حوله. فهو يدرس ويدعم هواياته ومواهبه بنفسه دون التفكير في استغلالها ماديا، بل رغبة في الإنجاز ورفع اسم البلد.
هذا الجيل اليوم سيكبر غدا وسيكون في يده تنمية وتطوير البلد في مجالات عديدة. مثلما نرى اليوم آبائنا في مناصب مختلفة، معظمهم درسوا في نفس المدارس وذهبوا لنفس النوادي ويعرفون بعضهم البعض جيدا. جيل واحد، منهم من أصبح وزيرا وسفيرا ونائبا. البعض يستحق، والبعض لا.
شباب اليوم بنى نفسه بنفسه، كون شخصيته واتبع ميوله وطورها ولو كان لديه الوقت والدعم لفعل أكثر وقدم أكثر. أرى اليوم بيني وزراء الغد ونواب الغد. نساء ورجال الغد الذين لا يريدون سوى تعيين الكفاءة في مكانها الصحيح. وأن يصلون الى منصب يستحقونه بعد ان قضوا شبابهم يجتهدون في مجال معين غير وظيفتهم الأساسية في معظم الأحيان.
اليوم تخيلنا أنفسنا وأين سنكون بعد 20 عاما. كلاً منا يعرف ميول الآخر وأين يستحق أن يكون. أنت وزير الإعلام وأنا وزيرة التنمية. هو عضو في مجلس الشورى وهي مديرة مدرسة. غداً سنكون مثل آبائنا اليوم، درسوا معاً وكبروا معاً. بعضهم وصل وبعضهم لم يحالفه الحظ. بعضهم قدّم للبلد بكل هدوء وبعضهم استغل منصبه ولم ينجز شيء.
غداً نريد أن نصل، لكن ليس حباً في المناصب. بل لشعورنا بالمسؤولية تجاه هذا البلد. وأول خطوات الإصلاح هي تعيين المواطن الكفء في المنصب المناسب. فهل سنعيش هذا الحلم؟ وأين سنكون في 2032؟

نازلي توفيقي
يونيو 2012

Travel Journal: Sri Lanka.. Connecting with Nature..

This trip came in a time when i really needed to disconnect from everything around me. Starting from the political situation in Bahrain to the small daily details like the annoying Blackberry chats. We were a group of seven girls in our late 20’s. Some of us were mums, married, and single. It was a beautiful combination other than the fact that we’re old best friends. Some of them wanted to go to London, but i said my usual sentence to them: “If you have the chance to travel to a new place, why waste your money in London?”. The other option was Thailand. And as much as i wanted to go to Thailand, i felt that it was a good chance to go to Sri Lanka. And so it was. Sri Lanka travel research was not so easy. I went through many websites and reviews but it was still hard to tell where to stay. Their tourism agencies and hotels were not online-friendly and very confusing. We contacted a travel agent here and he dealt with all the details.

And it was finally time to get away. Feb 4th 2012. As expected, the gate was full of cute housemaids who were going back home!

It was a smooth 5 hours Gulf Air direct flight to Colombo. It passed quickly as we had dinner, watched a movie and slept. My movie choice was bad. McDreamy fooled me to watch one of his silly movies: “Flypaper”

I make sure to request a Low-calorie meal before every flight. To my shock, the low-calorie meal i got on this flight in business class was the same meal that i got on a flight to Istanbul in economy class. The only difference is that it was served with an inedible salad!

We arrived to Colombo at dawn. It was funny to see electronic shops all over the airport selling fridges, airfans, ovens, ACs and all kinds of electronics just like being in Souq al Manama.

It was still dark when we left the airport gate and met our tour guide who was going to accompany us during the whole trip. We got into the private mini bus and started our journey to Kandy. A three hours drive on crazy bumpy roads. It was funny at first, especially that the driver had a TV screen in the bus and played an Indian concert for us. But we all got car sick as time passed. I had to switch my seat with one of the girls as i was sitting in the back seat and jumping up and down with every bump. I get motion sickness easily.

When we finally arrived to the hotel the sun was already up. Earl’s Regency hotel was on top of a mountain and it stood out between all the greenery. We were too exhausted to look around after the long road trip and our rooms were not ready. We decided to have breakfast till then.

We had no idea how the country was generally like. Whether it’s clean or dirty or the people were rude or sweet. The style of the hotel gave us a safari impression since it was wooden brown. The flies flying all around our breakfast plates & the dirty Sprite bottle my friend got gave us a dirty impression about the country!

The rooms were not ready YET. And we had few hours to rest before we start our Day 1 tour. Three of us decided to walk around and discover the hotel.

After a long long wait, and after falling asleep in the lobby, the rooms got finally ready one by one. All i remember is throwing myself on bed.

We only had a 2 or 3 hours energy nap. We started our tour in excitment and almost forgot how tired we were. I put on my first boho outfit as all i packed for this trip was bohemnian style clothes. It was literally all i packed. I switched off my mobile and left it at the safe in the hotel room. It was a great chance to detach and free the mind.

We asked the tour guide to take us to the cleanest restaurant in Kandy for lunch. Everyone warned us about how awful the food in Sri Lanka was but we had to have a full Sri Lankan experience and try it. Not realizing that in Kandy only Sri Lankan food was available. The only franchise we came across during our stay was one branch of KFC & we didn’t try it.

A couple of us went down to inspect the restaurant. The tour guide said that it was one of the fanciest restaurants there. It was more like a 2 starts restaurant in Bahrain. But it looked clean and so we approved it!

The view was beautiful.

This bread was so delicious that we ordered more of it. Maybe because it was the only delicious thing on the table.

Sri Lankan Biryani. Awful.

A sort of Chicken Makani that was not so good but we ate it anyway.

Our second stop was a beautiful garden called Royal Botanic Gardens. It was so clean and refreshing that we couldn’t believe that we were in Sri Lanka. It felt like Europe.

It started to rain as we walked around breathing all that fresh air and it was an amazing feeling.

This cute dog was following us as we walked around the garden like a bodyguard.

The dog part was normal. But what was not normal were the monkeys running all around us. They didn’t attack anyone and there were groups of them.

The traditional show that was next on the schedule turned out to be too silly that we left half way through. It was a typical tourist attraction.

We were supposed to visit a famous temple in Kandy next (Temple of the Tooth Relic). It got dark and rain got heavier. The security guards didn’t allow some of my friends to enter the temple because they were covering their heads. And they asked us to take our shoes off and walk on the wet ground to the temple. As long as we saw the outside of the temple and heard the story behind it, we decided not to risk walking barefoot on the wet ground and went back to the hotel.

The day in Sri Lanka was short as the site seeing and activities were planned during the day but there was nothing to do at night. I loved the idea of going to bed super early and waking up with dawn. We ordered room service and went to bed.

We agreed with the tour guide that we’ll be ready at 7am. We were going to the Spice Garden and it was a three hours drive so we had to move early. I woke up at 5am and it was still dark.

The drive to the Spice Garden was bumpy as usual yet beautiful. It was raining and everything around us was green. The roads were narrow and simple homes and shops were on the sides of the roads. It was then when we got to feel the city and see how life was like there. People were very poor and they spent their day selling bananas, taking care of animals and farming.

Everything was colorful;  the houses, the clothes people were wearing, the umbrellas they all were carrying. Comparing their umbrellas to the umbrellas you often see people carrying in London was interesting. It’s all black in London when it’s all the colors of the world here.

I also loved how they were dedicated to their jobs and did their work with passion. I noticed that in every person i interacted with; the traffic police, the money exchange cashier, the driver etc. Their jobs were simple but they worked from the bottom of their hearts.

We noticed that all the ladies who walked around the roads were wearing short sleeve shirts and medium length skirts. All of them. It was like a uniform or an official costume!

Our tour guide, Asanka, was funny and very friendly. Our long conversations with him made all the long road trips easier to take.

We reached the Spice Garden after 3 hours and it was still raining.

We were impressed of how organized the Spice Garden was. There were titles and products next to each plant and a guide who explained everything.

They served us tea with milk. It tasted special and different since they added some of their herbs to it.

There was a shop selling all the herbs and products of the garden. Perfect gifts for friends and family in Bahrain.

We then headed to Dambulla city were the ancient rock Sigiriya was.

We went on an elephant ride before climbing the rock. All seven of us sat on one elephant while feeling so sorry for him. We fed him bananas as he wandered around and we sang a Sri Lankan song that the man guiding the elephant taught us.

On top of the poor elephant.

Walking through Sigiriya felt royal. Water, greenery and endless steps. We climbed 1200 steps till the very top of the ancient rock. Three of the girls gave up and stopped before reaching half way. But the rest of us decided to keep climbing. It was sunny and hot but very enjoyable. There were different types of steps along the way which made it harder. But it was worth it.

And then we had to go all the way down! Our legs were already shaking.

The drive to lunch was different. It felt like being in a jungle. Driving on sand and rocks between cows that blocked the way for a while.

The tour guide told us that he’s taking us to a hotel for lunch. And this turned out to be the hotel:

We had Sri Lankan food again and it was bad.

A safari car was waiting for us outside the restaurant. It took us to the Safari where we were expecting to see many wild animals but ended up seeing few elephants only!

I loved this train that crossed the road!

The Safari ride was very hectic as the driver went around for a couple of hours looking for animals. They were hiding for some reason! And of course, it was even more bumpy than the main roads but it was fun being in it.

The drive back to Kandy was too long especially that we were too tired after climbing the rock. It got dark while we still were in Dambulla so there wasn’t any nature to look at on the way back. But Asanka was there to the rescue again and we laughed a lot with him. Our names were very hard for him so he came up with a nick name for each of us. Mine was Monalisa.

I woke up the next day at 4am feeling nauseous and couldn’t go back to sleep. But i got myself together and got ready for our tour. We stopped by a wood carving factory/shop on our way to the Tea Factory.

The roads to the Tea Factory only made my condition worse. We kept going upwards over the mountains and it was a very long drive as usual. When we finally reached the Tea Factory and started our tour inside, the awful smell didn’t make it any easier. They explained the traditional way and the modern way of processing tea leaves from A to Z. The bad smell was disappointing to all of us since we all were tea lovers.

Tea shopping was the best part after that factory tour. A walk under the rain between all the greenery was refreshing and i started feeling better.

Then we headed to this beautiful waterfall. We had to walk down some steps (STEPS AGAIN) to get close to it and take pictures but we weren’t allowed to step inside. We had lunch in a restaurant overlooking the waterfall but we were fed up with Sri Lankan food by then so each one of us ordered a plate of french fries!

There was another way to climb down and swim under the waterfall. Five of us went for it and it was the best experience in this trip. We didn’t actually swim but walked over the wet slippery rocks, put our legs in the cold water and walked through it. It was very refreshing.

On our way back to the hotel we got to know a very touching story about our tour guide Asanka. He was speaking on the phone in English saying: “Mama, are you in Paris? Where is Papa? In London?”. We were all thinking that he was joking as usual but then he told us the whole story. Asanka lost his home in the Tsunami as he was living in Galle by the sea. One of the people who came to help afterwards was an old British man who got to be friends with Asanka. He bought a land for him and helped him build a new home. A while later he came to visit Asanka with his wife and stayed with him in his new home. He said that he started calling them Mama & Papa since then. His sad story doesn’t end here. He lost his wife five years ago in a car accident and now he’s taking care of his 7 years old daughter. Asanka is a very sensative man and you can see the sadness and pain in his eyes. He beleives that he’s a bad person and that’s why God punished him with all that. He was open minded when it came to religion disussions which was very imformative for him and us.

Since we reached the hotel before sun set i asked the girls to have tea/coffee in our balcony. It was such a waste that we never used it. We squeezed in the balcony, some of us having tea and some having coffee (Nescafe & coffee mate was something else there!! Too good), watching the sun set and discussing hair loss, a typical topic discussed by girls in their late 20’s/30. It got dark, we went inside the room and ordered room service. It was a perfect closure to our stay in Kandy.

Some pictures of the hotel room. It was more like a resort with outdoor rooms. My favourite part was the balcony.

Woke up the next day at dawn as usual. I had to take a picture this time. We packed our bags, had the last breakfast in Kandy and headed to the Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela.

After the usual long drive we reached the orphanage. It was owned by the government so it was very organized and well planned for tourists. Once you walk in after buying the tickets you get to see this gorgoeus scene infront of you:

In this orphanage they provide care to elephants found in the jungle without their mothers. It became a tourists attraction later on and there are specific timings to feed them and watch them shower.

This was a blind elephant. They make him cut woods.

Time for a shower:

Then it was time to head to the capital city Colombo. Traffic was insane in Colombo but there were proper roads and franchises! It was a normal city and totally different from Kandy.

We stopped in a place called Boulivard. A small dining area with restaurant stalls serounding it. We were happy to see normal food but we were concerned about the cleanliness of the place. We ordered sandwiches. Mine was TOO spicey that i was certain that my tummy will suffer the next day.

There was a cute ice-cream shop behind. They had NUTELLA ice-cream.

Next to the ice-cream shop there was an amazing store called Odel. It was the perfect place to buy souvenirs as it was modern and not expensive.

We toured around Colombo by car. Look at how beautiful this stadium is.

The hotel was extremely nice. Grand and breath taking. Huge lobby with many luxurious restaurants. The rooms were just perfect. Lovely gadren view and the bed was extremely comfortable. We were sad that we were only going to stay in it for a night and a half! It was called Cinnamon Grand.

We spent the rest of the day discovering the beautiful hotel.

Had dinner in an Indian restaurant in the hotel called Chatni. The food was good but different than the Indian we know. Each page of the menu was titled with an Indian city with dishes from that city listed in the page.

I was right about the spicy sandwich i had for lunch. I got a stomach ache and was stuck in the hotel the next day. Half of the girls went to Galle where they met Asanka’s daughter and went on a boat ride in the river. The other half went to Bentota for the beach. Luckily the hotel was beautiful so i had a relaxing day reading by the pool and watching a TV series that i got addicted to called The Big C.

When the girls who went to the beach returned, we went for a walk around Colombo. I love walking around cities to feel them. It started raining, we ran into a shop and asked for umbrellas and bought these colorful ones that reminded us that we were still in Sri Lanka.

We found a sari shop in the middle of no where that sold beautiful and expensive saris. We bought some for our mothers.

On our way back to the hotel i suggested taking a toc toc. How can we be in Sri Lanka and not experience a toc toc ride? It was a crazy, fun ride.

We had our last dinner in an Italian restaurant in the hotel called Echo. I’m crazy about Italian food and this was one of the most delicious Italian restaurants i’ve ever tried.

Loved the design of the menu.

And that was it. We napped till it was 2am and headed to the airport. We were sad that we were seeing Asanka for the last time and he was extremely sad too.

The airport was a total mess. Possibly the worst airport i’ve ever been to. But after a wonderful, relaxing and active trip, it didn’t matter. We were all happy and i slept all the way back home..

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Gudaibiya Road & the Lost Glory

Driving through Gudaibiya road today I got flashes of how this road
used to be back in the 80’s and 90’s. It was, and still is, one of the
liveliest roads in Bahrain. Always busy with people running their
lives and endless low-end shops & restaurants with bright signage that
blinds the eyes.

 Al-Hadi Mall (Dasman/Daiso now) was located in the very beginning of
this road back in the 80’s. It was one of the few malls in Bahrain
other than Sheraton and Yateem Center. It was the place to be. With a
small restaurant in the middle that served the best Club Sandwich ever
and Al Ahram music shop in one of the corners where I got my first
Fairouz tape from. We used to run around from a boutique to the other
and all around the fountain while our mothers shopped. I will never
forget the low ceiling part with a sign saying: “watch your head”.

Between the mid and late 90’s my memory goes back to two houses where
I spent a lot of my time with my friends. The Saffy residence and the
Bastaki residence. My best friend used to spend her Thursdays in her
grandfather’s house, Ishaq Saffy, which was located right in the
middle of that road. It’s where we used to meet and then walk around
the fabric shops, the tailor (Methaleya), and a small shop that sells
buttons and linings (Tarrada). The road was busy with expats, but
there were some Bahrains too. Nowadays you hardly see any.

Two of my friends used to live in Al Bastaki residence. It was located
in an alley off the main road. This house witnessed a lot of our
gatherings, parties and sleepovers. Sadly, the Bastakis moved out, the
tailor shifted to Bu Ghazal, and the Saffy residence was demolished.

Guadaibiya Road is now officially a zone that is occupied by expats.
Many old shops are still standing and being run by Asians. All of them
are low-end shops that are boutiques, restaurants, cold stores,
studios, florists, fabric shops, fruit stalls, salons etc. Ramada
Palace hotel was recently built there and it is adding a new vibe to
the road. Mostafa bin Abdul Latif’s office is also still located there
and I really hope that it doesn’t shift. It is giving the road an identity of
what it once was.

Before the 80’s this road was a local residential area. With time,
Bahrainis moved out to other quiet areas, other cities, and Gudaibiya
was history. I love how it’s still vibrant with the same old touches,
the same parking problems and bikes parked randomly on the pavement.
The chaos makes living there very tiring and stressful. But it is nice
to pass by from time to time and remember the old days. The glory days of
Gudaibiya.

I am proud and I love the fact that my first home was there. An
apartment that I can still smell, in Gudaibiya..

Jan 2012