Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Villa De Leyva Kite Festival

This weekend I went to a kite festival in the beautiful Villa de Leyva and have developed a huge admiration for anyone who can fly a kite. I also had two realizations over the weekend:

1. Flying a kite is actually quite hard, after trying and failing several times I had to give up and just blame the wind. My ambition for the next month is to go a park and get my kite up in the air.

2. Synchronized kite flying is really really cool. They had this display where the kites 'danced' around the plaza to classical music- I never knew kites could move so well.

One of the highlights of the trip was getting to visit the amazing English tearoom in Villa de Leyva and gorging on scones and a fry up- for anyone interested the place is called La Taza de Te and has moved to Calle Caliente. I wrote about this magical pg tips filled place in an earlier post here.

Overall it was a great weekend. Whilst you might expect a kite festival to be very family-orientated at night the plaza overflows with drinking, music, and generally good vibes. If anyone is planning to come to Colombia in the last two weeks of August the kite festival is definitely worth a visit.

Monday, 24 June 2013

'Lamplight' by May Wedderburn Cannan

Written in 1916 this is one of my favourite poems in the world. Beautiful.

We planned to shake the world together, you and I. 
Being young, and very wise; 
Now in the light of the green shaded lamp 
Almost I see your eyes 
Light with the old gay laughter; you and I 
Dreamed greatly of an Empire in those days, 
Setting our feet upon laborious ways, 
And all you asked of fame 
Was crossed swords in the Army List; 
My Dear, against your name. 

We planned a great Empire together, you and I, 
Bound only by the sea; 
Now in the quiet of a chill Winter's night 
Your voice comes hushed to me 
Full of forgotten memories: you and I 
Dreamed great dreams of our future in those days, 
Setting our feet on undiscovered ways, 
And all I asked of fame 
A scarlet cross on my breast, my Dear, 
For the swords by your name. 

We shall never shake the world together, you and I, 
For you gave your life away; 
And I think my heart was broken by war, 
Since on a summer day 
You took the road we never spoke of; you and I 
Dreamed greatly of an Empire in those days; 
You set your feet upon the Western ways 
And have no need of fame - 
There's a scarlet cross on my breast, my Dear, 
And a torn cross with your name.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bogotá Transport Woes

1. Getting the Transmilenio at rush hour is like a Friday night out in Essex. It's so packed and bumpy that you just end up bumpin' and grindin' up against strangers for an hour.

2. When crossing the street in Bogota the green man does not signal safety, just that if you cross at that moment you have a slightly lesser chance of getting run over. 

3. How many people can you fit onto a buseta (mini bus)? Until its so packed you're face is wedged into to someone's armit and you are effectively dry humping a load of strangers, the answer is always more.

4. Queuing for the Transmilenio just doesn't happen. It's each man for himself at rush hour so throw away your manners, grit your teeth and do as the locals do by forcibly pushing and wedging yourself onto the bus. 

5. Every time you get in a taxi you will feel like you are going to die. It's like wacky races in high speed. Just sit back and appreciate the fact that at least you will probably get to your destination on time.

6. Taxi fittings. No seatbelts, no windscreen wipers. To the taxi driver who forgot to inform me that his windscreen wipers didn't work as I got in his cab in a storm. you are crazy. Leaning out of the window every 2 minutes and dabbing your windscreen with a cloth in super heavy rain is NOT a substitute for windscreen wipers.

7. Nothing in more depressing that sitting on the Germania bus at rush hour and it moving so slowly that you get overtaken by an elderly woman plodding along the pavement. 

8. Bus vendors singers, musicians, comedians and preachers. They grow on you. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Colpatria: Bogotá From Above

The other day I went up the Colpatria skyscraper, the tallest building in Colombia. The views were amazing and you feel like James Bond because to enter the building you have to use a fingerprint and have your photo taken on a mini camera, all very exciting! To anyone planning on going up the building it costs 5000cop and remember to bring photo ID, you won't be allowed up without it. Here are a few photos from the top: 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A Few Favourite Quotes

“In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving … the two halves of an apparently perfect whole did not confront each other at the perfect moment; part and counterpart wandered independently  about the earth in the stupidest manner for a while, till the late time came. out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes— and what was called a strange destiny". 

-Thomas Hardy (Tess of the d'urbervilles)

"You shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young, whatever life you wear
It will become you; and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become"

-E.E. Cummings

"I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, [...] and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together"

-Marilyn Monroe

Monday, 22 April 2013

Femen: Offending those they sought to 'liberate'

*This article is also published online here with the international political forum*

This week Ukrainian feminist protest group FEMEN once again sparked international debate for their controversial protest, ‘topless Jihad day’ in solidarity with Amina Tyler, a young Tunisian woman who posted a nude photograph of herself on the group’s facebook page. Tyler posted the photo of herself with ‘fuck your morals’ written on her body  as an act of female liberation and in response received death threats from Islamic extremists, beatings from her own family, and a forced virginity test.

Whilst Femen’s support of Tyler is admirable, their choice to stage topless protests in support of Islamic female liberation was damaging, humiliating and offensive to the Muslim female community. Femen’s protests, which took place outside mosques, involved topless women with anti-Islamic slogans scrawled across their chests, and the burning of a flag bearing the Muslim profession of faith in Paris. The protests initiated an overwhelming response protest via social media from Muslim women all over globe as Femen’s action brought to light the question ‘do western feminists have any right to speak out for the Muslim female community?’

The anger felt by the Muslim community towards Femen’s protest centres on the fact that the group hijacked Islamic voices.  The response protest and facebook group ‘Muslim Women Against Femen’ involved women of the Islamic faith holding signs with statements such as ‘I speak for myself’, ‘I don’t need to be saved, I'm already free’ and ‘Amineh does not represent Muslim women across the globe’. Although the statements differ, in each there is a clear message that Femens act has been perceived as derogatory as it sends the negative message that Muslim women are victims of their own culture who need to be rescued by Western feminists.

Jonathon Jones of the Guardian seems to revere the extreme group’s acts as ‘gloriously crude’. Jones argues that the group defiantly, courageously and provocatively sought to challenge perceived Islamic patriarchy with no regard for political correctness or fear of offending. Whilst it is true that the group’s support of Tyler is commendable, the problem lies in their method, which rhetorically was damaging and humiliating to the very women Femen sought to support. If Femen want to support Islamic female liberation, great; but Breast baring is not going to liberate Muslim females experiencing oppression because whilst nudity may be empowering to some women, feminist demonstrations need to support the beliefs of those they are fighting for.

These women are outraged that what is considered best for them is being dictated by Western feminists. In response to the images posted online the leader of Femen’s German branch issued the controversial and infuriating statement in an interview with The Huffington Post ‘They say they are against Femen,..They write on their posters that they don't need liberation but in their eyes it's written 'help me'’. Uneducated preconceptions really do seem to form the basis of Femen’s views of Islamic female experience, with Femen’s founder stating in an interview for theatlantic.com ‘As a society we haven't been able to eradicate our Arab mentality towards women.’

In 2007 Muslim writer Fatemeh Fakhraie wrote an eye-opening piece examining gender issue within the Islamic population entitled ‘the dos and dont’s of defending Muslim women’. Referring to an earlier letter of hers titled ‘An Open Letter to White, Non-Muslim Feminists’ she states:
‘I notice a lot of condescension when you talk to us or about us. Let me be clear: you do not know more about us than we know about ourselves, our religion, our cultures, our families, or the forces that shape our lives. You do not know what’s best for us more than we do.’

This message reflects the general sentiment of those angered by Femen's protest and is one that Femen seem to have neither acknowledged nor understood. In trying to support Tyler’s plight Femen have in fact offended, embarrassed and taken action in a manner contrary to the religious beliefs of the community they aimed to ‘liberate’. Amina Tyler herself stated of the group’s actions they have insulted all Muslims everywhere and it’s not acceptable. Tyler is also considering fleeing her homeland for fears over her life, aggravated by Femen’s radical action. In their attempt to tackle oppressive Islamic traditions the group has paid no attention to the view of Muslim women themselves and this recent protest has merely served to demonstrate the ignorance of this radical feminist group.

Femen’s assertion that nudity must be an essential part of female liberation is bold, and draws attention, but cannot be used to support the plight of Muslim female independence. In fact it does the opposite. As Fakhraie continues in her open letter ‘speaking for me when I did not ask you to actually takes my voice away. It is oppression just the same when a feminists does it as when, for example, a man speaks for a woman without her consent.’ If Femen wanted to help the progression of Muslim female liberation, they need to consider the fact that religious dress is often a choice and a personal expression of faith, not simply an oppressive tool. As Mai Yamani has noted in her text Feminism and Islam the real issue is not the tradition of veiling itself but ‘the element of choice attached to the garment […] whether it is a woman's right to choose whether to veil or not’. A bunch of Ukrainian women getting topless in public and protesting the veil, as Femen did in France a few years ago, does not ‘liberate’ Muslim women or affect this choice, but does mock, offend and hijack a voice already battling western stereotypes.

Female emancipation from misogynistic tradition must come from inside the Muslim female community, where its messages, aims and actions are led with understanding of Islamic culture and the needs of the women themselves, rather than from a westernised  and distanced perspective. Protests such as ‘topless jihad day’ led by radical, western feminist groups only serve to offend, humiliate, and aggravate the view of Muslim women as victims, who need rescuing my progressive, nude western feminists. So well done FEMEN- your actions have offended the very woman you were trying to support and the Islamic female community. 

Considering their track record it seems unlikely that FEMEN will consider their actions more carefully in the future as  despite the backlash they have received for their recent antics they still view themselves as liberators of the Islamic female population. But hopefully their latest fail of a protest will bring attention to the ignorance, thoughtlessness and senseless of this somewhat irritating topless bunch.