Zanzibar

It might take me a couple of months but in the end I do get around to making these videos and I love making them almost as much as I love watching them. So many good memories.
As I’ve said before, my weekend in Zanzibar was magical. It was filled with so many good things it’s hard to pick just one. Here’s a tiny glimpse of what we did and how it looked like.

I’m neither a professional filmer, not editer of clips, so excuse the amateur quality. I hope you still have fun watching this :)

In case you didn’t know, I also made videos of my Safari trip and of my time in Thailand. Go have a look? :)

Istanbul

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”
Alphonse de Lamartine

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Over the past few days one question kept popping into my head: “Why is it so hard for me to write about my short trip to Istanbul?”
I guess the answer to this is easier than I thought; because it was just that: a short trip.

I’ve tried writing about this countless times and I have a couple of unfinished drafts saved. I had some ideas on how to approach this trip but in the end I found that nothing felt right.
I might go back to those posts later but for now, here’s a short glimpse into two days in Istanbul (not Constantinople).

While I’ve been able to see most of the major sights and get a great first impression of the cities atmosphere, I feel like I couldn’t quite get the essence of this city.
Did we try to do too much in a short time? Maybe. However, we also managed to sit for a while and drink tea while overlooking the Bosphorus. We ate mussels with rice from a street vendor, we had baklava and a lot of other typically turkish, or eastern european dishes. It’s been an absolute pleasure and I cannot recommend Istanbul for a city trip enough.
It’s a pleasant and fascinating mix of Asian chaos and European structure.
We’ve been ripped off, but we’ve also experienced immense kindness by the locals. We ate great traditional food as well as things we didn’t quite enjoy. We sipped on tea, coffee and freshly pressed juice. We sat in the sun and we got rained on. It’s amazing how much you can do, how much can happen in just two short days!

One of the main things that stood out for me on this trip was that I entered it with an incredibly open attitude towards food. I said “YES!” to everything.
This lead to so many fun situations – and while some of the things might not have been something I’d have ordered at home, or even in Istanbul had I gone there with a different mentality, I ended up enjoying it a lot. Sometimes because it was truly spectacular but sometimes just because the act of trying something new, of tasting something different was just so much fun!
I have yet to find the time to sort through the pictures I took with my Canon, until then, I’ll leave these here.
If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen them all before, I apologise.

(I also apologise in advance for my tile obsession. Istanbul’s tile game is strong and I cannot get enough of them!)

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Way of life

A lot of time here has been spent thinking about life, mentality, motivation and cultural differences here. These are the topics which we discuss without fail every day. Heated and passionate.

Us Europeans, are used to everyone minding their own business. We walk along the streets and don’t look at people, people don’t look at (never mind talk to) us and if they would we’d ask them “What are you staring at, huh?”
Here, everyone talks to you. No matter if it’s just a quick “Hello, my friend” or “Mambo!” on the streets, or a full on demand to get on this taxi or in this shop. People to me seem loud, direct, and very… how do I put it? In your face? Maybe.
I’m used to the European way of life, maybe even the Asian as well. And while many things in Africa are so very similar to how they are in Asia, the approach in Asia seems generally a bit gentler. Not as rough, not as demanding.
To me, if a person talks to me in a way that I think is rude, I will just close myself off.

I’m starting to learn that a lot of the things I see as rude, aren’t meant that way at all though.
Granted, I’m still having difficulties with shouts of “Mzungu!” (“white person”) because that is just so weird. I don’t want to be singled out because of my skin colour. Locals here have told me time and time again that it’s not a bad thing, but actually a good thing but to me it still feels like reverse racism. I don’t want anyone to be nicer or less nice to me only because of the colour of my skin.
The same goes for bargaining. Of course I don’t want to pay the full tourist price, but I also don’t want to go to the lowest price possible, because let’s face it: if it’s 20 cents more or less, it doesn’t really hurt me at all, but makes a huge difference for the people here.
For now I have found a way to bargain which I’m really comfortable with. I usually try to cut the price in half (which is generally recommended, also by locals) but before I start bargaining, I try to calculate and make up my mind about which price I’d be willing to pay. What price would be ok for me? This way I might not get the best bargaining deals, but I feel more comfortable and at ease with this.

Talks to local people have taught me about a usual income per month and year. It’s not a lot. And prices can be quite high. Supermarkets offer some western products – but don’t be fooled, they charge western prices as well. Sometimes even double (cereal, for example, is crazily expensive!).

Another really good question I’ve been asked (and keep asking myself now) was “Would you be able to live here for the rest of your life?”
I’d have to say no. I might be just a tad too European for this. I’d miss my clean city, the courteous, if not distant and rude people. I’d miss being able to go out by myself without being scared that I’d get harassed or robbed. I’d miss not having an elbow rammed into my back when boarding a bus. I’d miss the food (CHEESE!), the smell, the weather. I’d miss a lot. For now I’m happy, and I could imagine living here for even longer than I’m here for now, but for the rest of my life? I don’t think so.

We will continue having heated discussions and while I’m not closer to truly understanding their reasoning, I’m trying my best to adapt. It’s going well so far. I feel more at ease and so very blessed that I’m surrounded by local people who are more than willing to answer every possible question I have.

Every few days we throw some highly philosophical questions in the mix as well (“What makes you happy and how is it connected with your travels here?”). I enjoy these conversations so much. They make me so happy. I’m so content and my heart feels so full that I have to put down my cup of chai, calm my shaking hands and take a deep breath, before launching into the next discussion again.

Prejudices

The one quote that comes to my mind most these days is this one from Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I grew up with travels to Asia, and while the behaviour there might be similar in some aspects, Africa is a whole different thing. I’m still not 100% sure what to make of the people, and I still catch myself making hasty judgments and quick decisions on the character of some people. Then I get surprised. I get surprised by the woman who, even after I paid and was about to leave the store called me back to tell me that she made a mistake and I still get some money back.
I get taken aback by the guy who, after we thought he’d just disappear with our money, came back to give us the exact change, he just didn’t have it on him and had to change money himself.
I’m surprised by the woman who refused to sell us a product she saw was damaged and offered us a different one instead.

I keep my eyes, ears and mind open and I’m constantly surprised by all this kindness. Kindness, I did – in my own narrow-mindedness didn’t expect. It makes me feel so guilty that I catch myself being surprised by this kindness and honesty. Working on this is an ongoing process.

Now you know why this quote holds so much truth.

New lands, new times, new adventures

Writing this is harder than I thought it would be. I’m equal parts excited and terrified. Leaving for Africa for 7 weeks will do that to you, but I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping for a mindblowing experience. I’m hoping to meet great people, eat delicious food and see incredible things.
I’m hoping it will be as much fun as Thailand was, and as challenging (ok, maybe a bit less challenging) as Togo was.
I will miss my friends, my cats and my family but I will be back in 7 weeks with stories to tell, pictures to show and memories that will stay with me forever, I’m sure.

I will try to update this blog as much as I can and give you a glimpse into this new adventure I’m embarking on, so stay tuned :)

 

411 Kopie IMG_1536 Kopie
/ Togo 2012
/ Thailand 2010