Berihun: A 60 word story

Let him be our gate, our guidance

6 eggs cradled in grass in his backpack

Horses wild

He reached out his hand at the river crossing

An underestimated cook

I will ride ahead.

A blue scarf wrapped around his head for warmth

Popcorn

Red-hot pokers burn amidst Lobelias

Whips crack on animal backs

We will find a goat for you.

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Portraits from Nepal

In 2010, I took an unforgettable trip to Nepal.

It made me question everything.

Why I hadn’t been to the Himalayas before.

Why I was not writing my PhD on this place.

Why I had to leave so soon.

And one thing that struck me the most was the people.

Their warmth and openness.

All of these people were asked permission to be photographed.

And yet, I always wonder about the ethics of capturing people – and perhaps a part of their soul.

These are a few portraits of the people

Who I met along the way

I think of them, particularly in light of the tough year Nepal has had.

All photos are copyright rinamala.

West coast is the best coast

One day before Canadians across the country took to the polls to elect a new government, time was spent hiking and rock climbing in the beautiful backyard of Squamish, British Columbia. The cross-section of fighting for politics that we believe in while also reflecting on how federal policies affect our daily lives, our hikes in nature and our freedom to enjoy the spaces in which we live is sometimes more direct that we would like to admit.

The previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper was consistently criticised for implementing policies, laws and commissions which always trumped economy over the environment.

For example, Harper’s decision to support open net-cage fish farms off the BC coast which were in the path of wild salmon migrations; thus contributing to endangering sockeye salmon. When it came to oil pipelines, the government did not only back pipelines in general, but became their “chief advocate and cheerleader”. Further, while Canada continues to be known for its beautiful, pristine extensive forests, it has now surpassed other countries such as Indonesia and Brazil and become the leading country on the planet in the degradation of untouched forests. This is due to the logging industry as well as forest fires that are caused by climate change, and an ongoing lack of political will and interest at the federal and provincial level to protect primary forests in the country.

With the subsequent election of a Liberal government and new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, there is both hope as well as wonder of what is coming next. What will change with this new government and how will our nature, environment and precious natural resources be protected?

People in the province of British Columbia continue to be blessed with amazing access to raw, real nature that is not manicured or mowed down.While embracing nature is part of the West Coast mentality, there is also a humility amongst the communities here. That we need to support it, respect it and enjoy it as it will always surpass our imagination.

However, we must not take it for granted. While the time for change is now, we must continue to be wary of how our nature is often directly targeted and affected by attempts to further the national economy at all costs.

Venice: Beyond the postcard

Believe the hype. Venice is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible cities in the world. It is ridiculously beautiful, picturesque, photogenic.

There is pure fascination surrounding how the foundation of the city was built on wooden stilts, joining 118 islands through bridges and canals. But also how all of the houses, churches, palaces, monuments that were erected hundreds of years ago continue to stand after all this time.

With tourists literally pouring in: tumbling out of the train station onto its streets, lining up for (steeply priced) gondola rides, filling the terraces and piazzas and creating pedestrian traffic jams over archway bridges, there are moments when it feels like Disneyland. Like everyone there is a tourist, coming to be wowed, entertained and ‘serviced’.

Except, Venice is still a city with around 60,000 people living in the historical part. White collars carry their briefcases to work. University students eat packed lunches on benches. Teenagers hang out and tag walls. Children are walked to school. Grocery shoppers traverse bridges with food trolleys. Transporters deliver equipment and machinery by boat.

In a quest to find a restaurant ‘with some locals’ I crossed two office workers on their lunch break who rang an unmarked, unassuming doorbell. When they were buzzed open, my mouth gasped to view a huge, bustling, full restaurant within. The suit-clad gentleman looked at me and closed the door behind him.

Of course, Venetians, and others who live in Venice need, let me repeat, need, to create spaces for themselves that are free of peering tourists with cameras in hand, looking for that perfect capture. An opportunity to live a relatively normal daily life in a city which is a live, walking museum 365 days of the year. There is the facade that you see. But there is more to it. You find windows, entrances, doorways, gardens protected with fences and bars. Spaces are created within spaces that are hidden from the roaming wanderer.

Thus, we need to acknowledge that there is a sad reality as well. It is difficult to live in Venice. The prices of apartments are soaring, thus many migrate to other places. Further, the buildings are incredibly difficult to maintain, restore and inhabit – leaving many run down or abandoned. Although establishments receive tourist dollars through the services they provide, competition is steep and there remain limited job opportunities for other sectors. While large development projects such as the MOSE are trying to combat the city’s sinking, they come with their own challenges.

Walking the streets of Venice makes one reflect on the past. One witnesses history, archaeology, architecture and art through the city structure itself. All embedded in a certain culture and tradition which is difficult to imagine let alone replicate. Amidst this preservation of the past, it becomes all the more interesting to observe other, more contemporary forms of creative expression within the city such as graffiti, street art and political banners.

For the perfect, picturesque photos of the city and its monuments (which are truly impressive!), google Venice and check out galleries or buy a postcard. The photos are true to form. It is that beautiful.

However, this post represents a small attempt to capture some of that ‘ordinary daily life’. Things that are perhaps a bit ‘less pretty’ but no less beautiful, real and relevant.

Baku: Architecture, diversity and conversation

Prior to travelling to Baku, Azerbaijan, I reached out to (relatively well-travelled) colleagues and friends as well as online networks to scope out people who had been to the place, who could offer reflections on it and suggestions of how to explore it. I was rather surprised to find very few.

After returning and telling people that I just came back from a trip to Baku, I was amazed at how many took a moment to tilt their head before asking where it exactly was. So as people asked about my impressions, I thought about how best to describe a place that until that moment had not been on their radar. A city of contrasts. Sounds cliché, I know. But here’s a small glimpse of a few of those contrasts, particularly evident (to me) through the architecture, diversity (particularly of women and their dress) and forms of conversation.

Old historic buildings come face to face with expansive, artistic, modern forms of architecture.

Old city and new flames

Old city and new flames

Sometimes the architecture is such a blend of eras, generations and styles that one type of architecture is literally built ‘on top’ of another.

I was fascinated by the diversity of the women, and the particular contrasts in the way they dressed and how this is linked to culture, religion and beliefs but also cosmopolitan fashion trends and styles.

A woman watches over her children

A woman watches over her children

Conference garb

Conference garb

Portrait of the next generation

Portrait of the next generation

The use of green, public spaces throughout the city. Where people came to meet friends and family to have a conversation. Where couples sat on benches and reflected on the future. And where families came to play.

However, sometimes in very vibrant social spaces, we also witness the ‘death of conversation’ as we become reliable on smartphones as ‘friends’ or ‘companions’ – enabling people to have conversations with themselves, or with others through a virtual space.

The death of conversation

The death of conversation

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Every single person is on the phone in this kitchen

A park bench phone call

Have you ever been to Baku? I would love to hear your thoughts on the place if you have.

Bliss, solitude and mountain adventures

The desire to be in the outdoors, in nature, is linked to ideas of conscious travel. Ethical travel. Environmental awareness. And our positive and negative impact on our world around us. But how do we create a balance with the desire to be outside, to use our natural environment, to explore it, to tread on it (sometimes heavily and sometimes with a light footprint) and the desire to be wary of how we tread on it?

Recent travels have taken me to Chamonix, France. This year, Chamonix celebrates 150 years since the Golden Age of mountaineering, a period where French, British and others were exploring the alps in a new way, setting the bar in a lot of instances, pretty high, for alpinists even today. La conquête des Alpes, the conquest of the alps. While inspiring, it also raises questions on who the alps are here for. Are they merely another part of land for us to ‘take over’? What is nature for (wo)man and what is nature for Mother Nature? These are questions which remain and will continue to be posed, sometimes ignored, and other times addressed.

For the moment, a small tribute to the beauty and (even now) wildness of the nature of the Chamonix Mont Blanc valley. And how it represents many things. Bliss, solitude, friendship, exploration, alpinism and mountain adventure. But also the (often complex) relationship between wo(man) and nature.

Helpful hint: Click on the image to view in slideshow.