Photos / Massai Market, Nairobi

Open only for three hours during the day, the Massai Market is an open air market that takes place in different parts of the city in Nairobi, rotating depending on the date. The open air market includes artisans who come and lay their things on the floor, while you bargain away and try not to buy everything. The Masaai Market is a bit different in the sense that the items reflect almost exclusively to the culture of the Massai tribe in Kenya. Thus, the items, such as the patterns on the khangas to beaded necklaces are distinct from other products in the region, given the unique tribal traditions.

The Masaai Market was also established as a venue for women to sell their products and handmade crafts, to help their livelihood. It used to be exclusive for women, but with no ban on commercial sellers, you can see men more and more, which has garnered some controversy in terms of whether the market is serving its purposes anymore to empower female entrepreneurs.

The Massai Market reflects the celebration of color in East Africa. At first it is explosive, and as someone who loves patterns and bright color combinations, it was hard not to buy everything. You will also see women sitting around actually creating the necklaces, earrings, to sandals and bags and polishing wood carvings as you walk around to eye the items and try not to spend everything you have (sadly, or not so sadly, I destroyed by budget). Artisans use beautiful beads to make colorful items that speak to the Massai culture and traditions, neatly creating designs practiced for years.  Here are some photos that I took after shopping around.

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Feeding Rothschild’s giraffes in Langata, Kenya

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There are only a few hundred Rothschild’s giraffe left around the world in the wild, and they are only found in East Africa, which today only includes Kenya and Uganda. In the outskirts of Nairobi in Langata, the Giraffe Center houses some of these endangered species who roam around in the large protected park. We visited the center a little after noon, which apparently was when the  giraffes we saw in the distance were already full. Of course, that was not going to stop us. The center is simple, and there is a raised platform made just for people to climb to be head-level with the giraffes and feed them.

Rothschild’s giraffe is named after Lionel Walter Rothschild, the Second Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild. He was a famed zoologist, who was also a politician and a banker. He found them after an expedition to East Africa in the early 1900s. Rothschild’s giraffe look a bit different from the more common Masaai giraffes in Kenya, with a more creamy colored background to the shapely spots, and most importantly, just plain cream color below the knees.

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The keepers at the Giraffe Center tried to get the giraffes to come towards us by calling their name. Kelly, the oldest giraffe there at fourteen years of age was the first to approach us. As the keepers called out “Kelly! Kelly!” the giraffe finally came and we were able to feed her small palettes one at a time. Visitors are only given two handfuls (I managed to get three, ignoring the sign that light heartedly asked us to not to that for concern of their diet) and we feed them one at a time. The giraffe will come up to you and take it from your palm with their tongue and it is seriously, one of the coolest things I have ever done. This is why I selfishly went and got another handful, because watching them pick a palette at a time from my palm was fascinating. They are beautiful, with big eyes, long face, and a unique patterned skin from other, more common types of giraffes, and so gentle. Kelly, having been around for a while, was equal opportunity, going around the raised platform to eat out of every visitor. Visitors were going crazy (as I was), both with watching them lick palettes off their palms and taking photos, of course.

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Another giraffe came along, named Ibrahim, affectionately called Ibra. Ibra is much younger and way more friendly; he is the one that stuck his head close to us and would lick your face if you got really close (aka, the kiss). Needless to say, adorable.

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The Giraffe Centre was founded by a Kenyan grandson of a Scottish Earl, Jock Leslie-Melville. The center was founded as a way to preserve the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe, by breeding and raising them in Langata.

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Baby elephants at the Elephant Orphanage, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Nairobi, Kenya

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While I will observe wild elephants in my safari next week, a trip was made to see the much talked about elephant orphanage in outskirts of Nairobi. To check out what was actually happening at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you have to plan—they are open everyday but only from 11-12 pm, and it is about a thirty minute drive from the Westlands area of Nairobi, which with traffic can be challenging. The drive alone is beautiful, as you pass the city and gorgeous landscape, and also get a view of post-colonial architecture (i.e. massive bungalows representing unprecedented wealth during the British rule). The nursery of the Trust is one of few around the world and the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation center (National Geographic).

The fee is a donation of 500 shillings per person, which is not much considering how it can cost over $900 per elephant per year to raise and nurture them. Elephants are brought in two rounds for viewing, from the very young ones at first, followed by two to three year olds, some of whom can already feed themselves while others are still dependent on the keepers for milk.

It is a wonderfully organized center, where a local keeper will describe the elephants, where they were rescued from, their names, and what is being done at the center. The baby elephants are so cute. Bev and I were gushing at the orphan elephants, which are victims of poaching and brought to the center from all over Kenya. Many were also abandoned by their mothers if they were too slow to begin moving about, which left them orphaned. During the one-hour viewing, they play around with mud and water or their favorite acacias trees, and are also fed milk from giant bottles, which is just adorable on its own. The milk is in fact now cows milk because it has too much fat, but a mix of soy, coconut, and proteins made at the center to replace a mother’s milk.

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Once the elephants are not dependent on milk anymore, they are moved hundreds of miles away to Tsavo National Park. However, because elephants have extremely good memory and are sensitive to changes in environments or noise, it can take from five to ten years to just be able to transition into the wild from the holding centers at Tsavo. Charles Siebert  notes, “the program is a cutting-edge experiment in cross-species empathy that only the worst extremes of human insensitivity could have necessitated.”

Before visiting the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, I was not the biggest animal enthusiast. I never grew up with pets and have been scared of them most of my life. It was just last year that I got comfortable with a dog around me (no joke). I don’t like zoos, and not amused by animal tricks at the circus. It was from when I started studying abroad that I began to be interested in larger animals, especially camels in the Middle East. The two times I engaged with an elephant was in Jairpur, India in 2008 where I have a photo with one, horrified, and in Thailand in 2011, where me and my friend Katie rode elephants in the outskirts of Bangkok.

In Nairobi, there is no such thing as riding elephants. Rather, you come here and you are humbled to learn about these perilous animals that were once abundant throughout the world. Elephants are more known for being poached and killed for their tusks or bush meat, and human-led violence is actually increasing. Yet it is up to the humans to help rescue them and bring their numbers back, as Daphne, a fourth-generation Kenya-born woman of British origin started with the establishment of the center in 1987 with her husband David Sheldrick, a famous naturalist.

There is a lot of politics around the elephants, from local Masaai beliefs about their natural habitat and place in their culture, to increased demand of elephant tusks in global trade, and to the discussion of who bears responsibility to nurture, raise, and educate the masses about them. While most travelers are weary of visiting animals in captivity, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a must see for anyone in Nairobi, as it will show you the depth of human activity and its effect on the world we live in in just a short period of time.

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Photos: Pop colors

On my recent trip to my mom’s hometown, Narsingdi, I found these pieces of net in the brightest colors, to be used later for mosquito nets. The bright purple, neon pink, orange, and lavender are my favorites. They were stacked in a small corner shop outside, across a sweet meat shop. It was a muddy alleyway, full of the smell of melted sugar and raw beef mixed together. Lovely. It was a nice change to see these bright, pop colors on my walk.

It’s Raining ya’ll: Dhaka

View from my patio window last time it rained and I was home, few days ago.
View from my patio window last time it rained and I was home, few days ago.

I used to think rain was crazy in Arizona. The desert state’s monsoon season was nothing to joke about- it was severe and the nightly news was all about which car got stuck, which dry river beds filled up, and what to expect next. People got very, very excited.

The rain in Bangladesh is kind of crazier, especially because unlike Tucson, there’s people everywhere. As I write it is raining absolutely deliriously outside—in my room, even thought my bathroom door is locked, the wind has managed to rattle it. I can feel the wind through the thin cracks of my patio doors. The noise outside is that of the wind that you only read about in books, combined with the shouts of people who don’t have a covered home to go to and line up under the stores. Unlike the U.S., the store keepers here don’t mind that you enter to escape the rain. They get it. They know. The temperature is cooler, which is saying something for this tropical country of sweat and sun. The lightning’s glow is felt in my room, literally (A bright crackling noise, like in the fireplace once in a while, back when I was at Wellesley, studying in the LuLu).  Noise of car honks get louder—as if that solves anything. The crowded city of Dhaka gets a breather and pockets of random people form.

There is a lot of romance around rain in Bangladesh’s culture. Lots of poems and writings that I can barely translate, let alone read. Just Google “Bangladesh rain” and see for yourself. But I see what they mean, after having been caught in the moment now, thrice (the first time while I was on a CNG on my way home, the plastic rolled up covers doing little to help). Last time it was at BICC on my way to events coverage for the Daily Star. This time it was to my home where the desperation was different. A great excuse to stay inside. Not so much for the many who will stress about the leaks in their homes, the roofs of makeshift homes being blown away, what it means for their meals and the night’s sleep for their children. Very, very real problems most of us will never phantom to imagine.

I just got home from getting caught in the rain, again. This time, I had to run through the overpass in Shymoli to get to the other side. Two women in front of me yelled at each other as they ran. And then I had to get a rickshaw which was a battle since no one would go. I am already drenched at this moment (and wearing white of course). I paid 2.5 times the fare to my apartment building. My rickshawallah took a chance on me because he knew that he would earn double tonight with the rain, even if he might be in bed, sick the next morning. Money is now. Money has to be earned fast.

Currently, the prayer’s call is going off, mixed with the noise of the rain, though the voice of my nearest mosque is even more powerful. Nothing wrong with the microphones there. Mosques will be crowded, mostly by people who look on to shelter rather than prayer. Life goes on.

My tailor in Banani Bazaar, Anwar Bhai

This is my tailor, Anwar bhai. He has a shop in Banani Bazaar in the second floor in a tiny shop where  with his apprentices, they stitch hundreds of dresses for customers a week. I was introduced to Anward bhai by my friend Rifaiyat’s mother when I first came to Bangladesh. Rifaiyat is currently a senior at Wellesley College, and when she had first heard that I was going to Dhaka on a Fulbright, she insisted that I call aunty who ‘loves to be able to help and asked for help’. Aunty has always worn something new every time I saw her. She also has two tailors and has been my go-to person in Dhaka. The natural pick to ask about a tailor recommendation- the very first step to creating a long lasting relationship.

In this country, clothes are made my tailors. They are the people you go to to make the perfect kameez, tunics, pants, and saree blouses for you. The tailor, usually a male, will know your body size probably better than your significant other or your mother who fusses over your clothes.

Also in Bangladesh, you don’t just go walk into any tailors. You usually come with a recommendentation from someone close to you. On the floor of Anwar bhai’s shop, Satata, there are probably at least fifty more tailors, side by side. Thus, word of mouth is how they run their business. Naturally, I asked aunty for the recommendation since you can’t just trust anyone to make clothes to fit your body like a glove. All of the stores are bustling with women, in and out. Banani Bazaar from the outside looks like a very old, dirty, and abandoned building. But on the second floor are some of the best designer stores, tailors, and also customers ranging from political wives, models, to students and expats. It is a magical space in a country that loves exclusivity.

Anward bhai has been working with me for the past one year, creating amazing dresses for my everyday wear to evening kameezes. The thing I love the most about him is his supreme confidence when he measures me and makes designs (often overriding my ideas and forcing his ideas which often turns out to be better anyway). Unlike many tailors I have encountered, I never feel uncomfortable when he measures my waits, arms, thighs and shoulders. He does everything swiftly and needs very little direction. He also rarely smiles or gets angry, even when I have to scold him for giving me something two weeks late or putting a particular lace in the wrong side. I am surprised he even smiled for me in this second photo. He argues with me with the same monotone voice when I think that he charges too much. Despite our few problems, I keep returning to anward bhai because he is simply too good (most times). And he knows that I know that, too.

A version of the Christmas Tree

Over the weekend, I attended a party hosted by the lovely Monica Chowdhury and Akku Chowdhury at their beautiful home in Old DOHS. The party was in honor of Bangladesh’s 40 years of independence. It was a really nice gathering and as always, their house was warm and lovely, all of their art work and antique collections to be viewed with curiosity. In particular, their Christmas tree was especially, well, cool. Akku Sir has had the tree for years which his son  would decorate when he visited Bangladesh.

Published in Hollaback! today: Playing Word Games- “Eve Teasing” in Bangladesh

I just had a piece I wrote for Hollaback! published in their blog today. I discussed Eve Teasing and what the phrase actually means and plays in a society that has recently focused a lot on sexual harassment against women, both in the courts and  media. This is a follow up to the article I wrote on street harassment in Bangladesh for the Daily Star this month.

To read, click here where you will be directed to their front page. Or see below where I have pasted the article.

Playing Word Games- “Eve Teasing” in Bangladesh

BY OLINDA HASSAN

“Eve teasing”, or sexual harassment is problematic in Bangladesh, especially when we want to talk openly about the aggression South Asian women face day to day on the streets. The phrase has a biblical link- it refers to Eve, the tempting, beautiful woman who inevitably attracts attention from men. So, while “eve teasing” in South Asia refers to the day to day sexual harassment that women face, whether it’s an unwanted touch from a passerby or a cat call from the boys in the corner, the phrase itself blames women, she is tempting, men can’t help it.

Bangladesh’s high courts recently stated that the term “eve teasing” downplays the serious nature of the harassment that women in the country face in their day to day movement. I have seen and experienced my share of eve teasing. I have watched a store clerk eye a girl half his age’s chest and ask her to bring her assets to the store as her mother walked right beside her. This is not something to be ignored, neither should we blame the girl, who could not have been more than 13 years old. The high courts have made this clear, let’s not call this “eve teasing”, let’s use the correct term, sexual harassment.

So how important are words when we talk about these kinds of crimes? When I interviewed several male students at Dhaka University for an opinion-project last year, I was surprised to hear a few of them say that girls are asking for it, even at a time when sexual harassment has been making headlines in Bangladeshi media. Alam, a 20-year old History student said, “What am I supposed to do, when the girl is wearing such a tightly fitted kameez [the traditional dress worn in Bangladesh]? She is at a University, she should be dressing appropriately. I can’t help but look and tell my friends, and try to get her attention when I am bored.” He went on to tell me how girls know that they are going to get attention, so they should protect themselves by dressing accordingly, rather than “complaining” about getting harassed.

In an increasingly globalized world, I particularly enjoy watching girls in Bangladesh dress the way they want and not follow social norms in their clothing. I think that fashion holds a unique story telling power. So why should women have to dress in a way that makes them less vulnerable? Is she taking on the role of Eve when she wears clothes that could, potentially, tempt men? Or is she simply exerting her independence and her right to be who she wants to be on the streets?

Women don’t get harassed on the streets just because of what they wear in Dhaka. Men in Dhaka have basically been allowed to harass women because they were never caught and punished, until now that specific laws have made it a crime. Dhaka’s streets, once dominated by men, are beginning to change as more women are taking on professional roles. Women are increasingly getting educated at one of the highest rates for a developing country. Bangladesh has several female political heads, including its Prime Minister. It is one of the most liberal Muslim-dominated countries in the world. Nevertheless, a patriarchal culture still exists.

Referring back to the notion of words, how important is it to make sure that we use the right words when we talk about violence against women? I followed up with Alam and asked what he thought about sexual harassment against his female peers that take place regularly in Dhaka University. Alam hesitated and said that what his friends did, the cat calling, and sometimes following women was not sexual, or harassment. Then, I asked what he thought about “eve teasing”, to which he responded that it was all innocent and fun.

Calling sexual harassment “eve teasing” makes the aggravation seem harmless and amusing against victims who are purposefully tempting. How do you make a society start saying “sexual harassment” where the culture never really talks about sex and sexual behavior openly? And an even bigger question is, how do you convince a society that victims are not purposefully tempting perpetrators, that men don’t harass women because they are asking for it? Although it may seem like a mountain to climb, there is an answer – education as education fosters change. Both men and women need to be educated about exactly what constitutes sexual harassment, the impact of it, what is acceptable and what is not, only then can we move forward.