Recycled Plastic Pot for Winter Greens

Two weeks ago, I bought some over-priced fresh herbs, from the token over-priced shop for foreigners in my neighbourhood. They’re sold in small plastic containers like this, and I always feel it’s such a waste to just put them in the recycling heap. I reuse the cling film they’re wrapped in, especially since they’re swaddled in layers of it. Buying herbs this way always makes me feel like my guacamole has come at a huge cost, though and I feel very guilty for the privilege.

But then it hit me – why not use them as planters, and move up my winter garden plants by a few months? I have rocket, pak choy and spinach leaves ready to plant, but wasn’t planning to start until the end of the month.

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Since the containers don’t have holes in them, the plants in them don’t need incessant watering, and thankfully rocket and spinach are quite resilient anyway.

I used a mixture of normal potting soil and used coffee grounds to line these containers about halfway, then sprinkled a good handful of seeds in, and covered them. I keep them damp, and on my window ledge where this little ‘recycled garden’ gets partial sunlight throughout the day. Since the containers are transparent I’ve been able to ensure the plants don’t get waterlogged. Two weeks later, the spinach has sprouted beautifully and I have to say, looks quite cute!

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I hope it grows steadily in the coming weeks and I can justify this use of plastic! What do you think?

 

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Travel Diary: Zanzibar Day 0 – Stone Town and First Impressions

So, here I am – the trip of a lifetime! I decided to grab life by the horns and take myself on an incredible holiday to Zanzibar, for just over a week. I’ll be travelling by myself, but am of course assuming I’ll meet fellow travellers on the way.

I’m typing up these blog posts at the end of my holiday, taking certain bits out of my travel journal. Of course, most of that is private but this is the best way for me to share my thoughts and experiences as they happened.

I normally wouldn’t blog about a trip, but I’ve already lined up some wonderful tours and experiences I know should be publicised, for the causes they support. A close friend from home has a good friend living in Dar Es Salaam, who has recommended some incredible activities and people to meet.

I’m ecstatic for the chance to discover a new country, a new continent – this will be my first trip to Sub-Saharan Africa – and a set of cultures unfamiliar to me. There are so many wonderful things for me to do here and I can’t wait to learn more.

Besides all of that, this will also be my first solo adventure. I’ve been travelling around Europe and the UK by myself of course, either for long weekends or adding a few days after a work trip – but I grew up here, so none of those count as an adventure. I’ve always wanted to, but never had the money, to leap on a plane and run away somewhere beautiful and exotic. This year, my Christmas bonus took me on an incredible journey rather than going straight into savings, for the first time ever.

I wonder what it will be like. This is the beginning of the tourist season in Tanzania, and I know there will be a lot of interesting travellers for me to befriend. But I’ve never spent so long in a brand new country, completely alone. As one of life’s natural extroverts and positive people, I know I will be fine and am highly unlikely to get lonely, but I’m intrigued about how solo travel will be in Africa.

I’ve read a lot of blogs and spoken to enough people that I feel prepared for it in terms of safety, cultural knowledge and all of those more practical matters – but I mean in terms of my spirituality. I hope I take to it, and enjoy the experience of solitude. I’m sure it will lead to a great deal of emotional and spiritual growth, and I look forward to learning more about myself through the process.

I had a very messy and complicated break-up last year, from a long-term relationship. I wasn’t treated properly at all, and had to deal with more negativity and heart-break than I thought humanly possible. It took its toll on me physically as well as mentally, and I hadn’t really had the chance to get away from it all – quite literally. I moved into my own flat, which has been wonderful – but I’m still in the same city as him, though it’s no longer associated with the relationship. This trip is, among many other things, my reward to myself for making it through this time so strong and intact, more self-assured and powerful, and more sure of who I am and what I want from life. I needed some space to mark this process, and some time to reflect on it and the next chapters of my life. And I promise, that’s as personal as I will get – but just to give you some idea of how much I wanted this break and how important it was for me!

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The flight from Doha stops at Kilimanjaro airport for an hour to refuel, and to my great annoyance, they won’t let us disembark to get photos of the breathtaking mountain. This is the best photo I could get, of the peak through the clouds. 

It’s quite a breathtaking sight, even though you can’t see much besides clouds. This is the tallest peak in Africa, and it’s quite a sight.

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I landed in Zanzibar in the afternoon, and it’s already 35 degrees. I could get used to this! Zanzibar airport is tiny, with a small terminal. There are about half a dozen forms to fill in, and you have to pay $50 for a visa. But it’s one of the quickest airport arrivals I’ve ever encountered, and I’m on Tanzanian soil half an hour after I land!

My first impression of Zanzibar is incredible – it feels very familiar, and it’s also like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s extraordinarily green and sunny – and hot! There are no pavements, but the roadside from the airport to Stone Town is full of fruit stalls, cafes and bars.

Twenty minutes later and I’m in Stone Town, at the House of Spices. 

Here’s another thing about Stone Town no one will tell you: none of the streets have names.

Initially I think this will be great fun, but I soon learn my lesson!

The hotel is incredible. It was built in the 18th century, and has three floors, built around a central courtyard. The rear of the House was the receiving point for deliveries as well as the production area, while the front of the house was for the day-to-day sales.

The second floor, where many of the rooms – including mine – are, also has two terraces (now converted to a bar and restaurant) which were used to dry and pack the spices.

All the rooms are air conditioned, with en suite bathrooms, and have their own spice name and ‘personality’. Mine was Ginger, and I got a ginger soap with it! Every room comes with original Zanzibari furniture, which is mostly hand-carved mahogany, in a setting of authentic Swahili architecture.

Cesare, an Italian immigrant, owns this gem of a place and his helpful staff are on hand to offer advice on where to eat and what to explore – but at this time of day there isn’t a great deal to do besides shop, so after exchanging some US dollars for Tanzanian shillings, I buy myself some flip flops and sunglasses from the market and go for a walk.

Something useful to remember – make sure you take US dollars in cash with you, since ATMs are few and far between (I heard there are less than half a dozen in Stone Town) and the commission is exorbitant.

The exchange rate to USD when I went was about 2,160 shillings, so exchanging even $100 makes you feel like a bit of a squillionnaire.

Stair landing

Courtesy House of Spices

My room is on the other side of those doors – how cute!

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courtyard

Courtesy House of Spices

stairs

Courtesy House of Spices

I forgot to take photos of my room, so here are some from the hotel’s website:

Ginger bedroom

The Ginger Room, courtesy House of Spices

Ginger bedroom

The Ginger Room, courtesy House of Spices

On my first night, I walk around Stone Town a little, down to the beach and along the coast. The air is humid and smells so fresh, and the breeze is more than welcome in this heat.

Stalls selling grilled seafood and kebabs are lined up on the beach, and I enjoy a nice fresh mango juice while walking. I could get used to this kind of serenity.

No one has heckled me so far, which I’d been warned about, and though the beach is studded with visitors, we’re able to enjoy this incredible atmosphere and view in our own little universe, with nothing but our thoughts to interrupt us.

Something to note, especially if travelling alone – electricity is scarce, so many streets are unlit. I wouldn’t recommend walking around by yourself unless you’re completely sure where you’re going. No one looks threatening though, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

So I return to the hotel for an incredible dinner of lobster in a gently-spiced sauce, after a refreshing walk along the beach. The hotel’s restaurant is on a terrace and though the air is hot and humid, the fans and the ice cold G&T help sort that out! I could get used to this…

 

Global Inequality in Photos – Action 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals

To coincide with this week’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York, where the Sustainable Development Goals will be finalised, an NGO-based movement called ‘Action 2015’ has gathered a collection of beautiful photographs demonstrating the vast gaps in equality that persist across the world. The aim is to draw attention to the universality of this problem, to caution against replicating the Millennium Development Goals (which many countries have fallen short on. Check out the rest of the project here, and don’t forget to add your name to the Action 2015 campaign, find an event near you and join their social media project#lighttheway!

 

Sebastião Salgado:

“My images of the Awá, a nomadic hunter-gatherer tribe of the north-eastern Brazilian Amazon, reveal the devastating consequences of deforestation and shed light on the lives of the Awá, who have become known as Earth’s most threatened tribe. Pictured: The tracks of the illegal loggers go deep into the forest – Awá territory. These tracks are then used by illegal farmers who transform the forest into pasture for the cattle ranching.”

 

The son of Piraima’a in his father’s arms. Awá fathers are very close to their children.

Tanya Habjouqa:

The images of occupation – such as the ubiquitous photographs of veiled women herded into checkpoints – have lost their visual impact and explain only so much. There is much more here to humanise. Pictured: Members of the Gaza Parkour free-running team practise in a cemetery on the outskirts of their refugee camp in Khan Younis, Gaza. The walls show damage from past Israeli incursions, but this doesn’t stop the team from training.

 

Teenage girls in Ramallah try on dresses for a dance. Since they were children, all they have known is occupation but, despite that, they are not defined by that and refuse to let it be so.

Mona Ennab, a ‘Speed Sister’ from Ramallah, trains with colleague Noor Daoud at the Qalandia checkpoint during Iftar in Ramadan. Open spaces for practising racing are limited in the West Bank.

 

 

Earth Day 2015

In honour of Earth Day, here’s a video showing the beauty in our natural world. Incredible!

Greenpeace released this important and moving video about what we truly ‘need’ – clean air, safe water, protected rainforests and biodiversity. Take a look:

This is also another important video from the Gaia Foundation, about how our modern consumption is taking a severe toll on the sustainability of this incredible planet.

Earth Day is a special occasion for us to stop and think about the beauty of the natural world, take it all in and to think long and hard about how we can preserve it for future generations. Small everyday acts of kindness towards our planet, each other and to the millions of species we co-exist with can help us preserve scenes like the ones we’ve just seen for generations to come. There are thousands of ways to take part in Earth Day and adopt new lifestyle practices. Have a look at the Earth Day Network’s page for some inspiration. Greenpeace is also a great resource. I’m going to enjoy the beautiful sunshine in Budapest today and take time to appreciate the natural beauty around me. Happy Earth Day!

I also came across this excellent article on HuffPost, about new ways to mitigate against climate change, and the new voices in the debate:

Training a Global Force of Climate Visionaries

Global climate disruption caused by human-generated carbon pollution is among the greatest challenge our species has ever faced, full stop. Now, more than ever, the global community is beginning to recognize the scope and scale of the climate crisis. And while the vastness of the problem can be daunting, the good news is that the solutions to solve it are right in front of us, in the form of the people we interact with every day.

To be clear, reaching a strong international emissions reductions agreement at COP21 in Paris at the end of the year is a critical step forward in halting global climate change. But the truth is that the power to act isn’t an exclusive right reserved by world leaders. People all over the world — in different countries, with different political ideologies and occupying different places in society — are realizing their power and taking action designed to change the politics of climate change and to support the transition to a clean-energy economy.

At the nonprofit Climate Reality Project, we seek to find these great leaders and make them exceptional, transforming them into agents of change with the knowledge, tools and drive to communicate effectively around climate-change impacts and solutions. Our Climate Reality Leaders range from teachers to businesspeople to pastors, but they share a common understanding of the urgency of climate action and a desire to become warriors on the front lines of the fight against climate change. Their work is evident everywhere, from family dinners to international summits.

The Climate Reality Leadership Corps — a dynamic group of thousands of world-changers shaping the climate conversation — began humbly: in 2006, former U.S. Vice President and Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore invited 50 people to join him in the Tennessee countryside to learn how best to explain global warming to their friends, colleagues, and peers. Since then, Climate Reality has honed and refined the model for larger international audiences; today, trainings are intensive two- or three-day programs all over the world that feature a blend of educational presentations, collaborative workshops, and ample networking time for attendees to get to know each other.

To date, Climate Reality has held 27 trainings around the world, training a global network of more than 7,500 activists from 125 countries. Each training focuses on the issues and solutions most relevant to the region: in Rio de Janeiro, indigenous leader Mayalú Kokometi Waurá Txucarramãe shared the devastating effects of deforestation, while in New Delhi, Sanjit Bunker Roy talked about his Barefoot College program, which trains illiterate rural grandmothers to install solar panels. At the upcoming training in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, speakers will delve into the impacts of climate change on the U.S. agricultural economy and the public-health implications of climate change, all in the context of the state’s significance in U.S. politics.

Climate Reality Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, with as many reasons for taking action. Former engineer Terry Gallagher — who will be a Climate Reality Mentor at our upcoming Iowa training — is now an ordained minister focused on faith-based social-justice action, advocacy and education, who uses his ministry as a forum for helping people engage in responding to climate change. Carol LeBlanc, an IT manager who works with the U.S. federal government, recognized the immediacy of climate change when her former Colorado Springs neighborhood was swallowed by wildfires in 2012.

Exactly because of their diversity of backgrounds, Climate Reality Leaders find the trainings to be highly personal experiences. This is reinforced in part because trainees work closely with Climate Reality Mentors throughout the process — people who have been through the trainings and use what they have learned to guide the next batch of Climate Reality Leaders.

Learning in this way — through intensive, hands-on experiences that can then be shared — not only encompasses the philosophy of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, it also offers a model for broad and systemic societal change, which is critical to solving the global climate crisis.

This post is part of a Huffington Post What’s Working series on the environment. The series is putting a spotlight on initiatives and solutions that are actually making a difference — whether in the battle against climate change, or tackling pollution or other environmental challenges. To see all the posts in the series, read here.

The Atlas of Beauty

I came across a wonderful photography project today – The Atlas of Beauty by Michaela Noroc.

Michaela is a Romanian photographer who has travelled around the world to capture the true faces of female beauty in all its forms. Through this, she aims to showcase the diversity of beauty in our world.

I see many young people trying to be somebody else, to copy global trends, instead of being themselves, keeping their unique genes and cultural background. There is a lot of pressure to look in a certain way, and my message is that an original is always better than a copy.

The inspiration for this came from a recent trip to Ethiopia.

I realised that beauty is about being different, yourself and keeping your cultural heritage.

In this album, I will regularly add interesting faces that I met by chance, on the street. Because The Atlas of Beauty means also images captured in few second with women from all around the world, in their everyday life.

So without further ado, here are the photos. Be sure to check out her wonderful Instagram and Facebook pages! All photos come from Michaela’s Facebook page.

The idea of The Atlas of Beauty was born two years ago. Then, in August 2013 I started a long trip with some savings gathered in a few years and my backpack.

I wanted to go round the world and capture natural and authentic feminine beauty.

Initially, the project was called Beauty Around the World, but then I changed it to The Atlas of Beauty, a name that expresses better the idea of doing for the first time ever, an encyclopedia of feminine faces and cultural diversity of the world.

In November 2014 I returned from my trip around the planet, after 15 months of searching, with a portfolio full of images, but with empty pockets. Now I am in Bucharest and I’m trying to raise funds to go on a new journey in the summer.

Each advice, suggestion, promotion, share can help me make new images.

Medellin, Colombia

Colca Valley, Peru

Los Angeles, US

Jakarta, Indonesia

Bagan, Burma

Ethiopia

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Singapore

Ecuador

Maramures, Romania

Mawlamyine, Burma

Havana, Cuba

We live in a diverse world and there’s beauty everywhere. A few months ago I entered in the amazonian jungle of Ecuador to capture images for The Atlas of Beauty. In a Kichwa tribe, with hundreds of years old rules, I found a very expressive young woman. She dressed in her wedding dress (yes, this is her marriage outfit) that she used when she was 15 years old (yes, people from this tribe may get married at that age) and let me take her some photos in her courtyard. Actually, in Amazonia all the jungle can be your courtyard.

Tibetan woman in Xiahe, China

I met Maria Jose last year in the driest place on earth: the Atacama Desert in Chile. She was traveling with a backpack, sleeping in a tent, making all kinds of ornaments of paper, which she was selling. In Latin America I met a lot of people who had this lifestyle for many years, not being part of the classical way of living in a society. Maria Jose is a student yet and enjoys the freedom of this independent journeys, only on vacations. She’s from Venezuela, but moved with her family since few years ago, in Chile. Maria Jose from Venezuela, in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

There is a place in Ecuador where most men have long hair to their waist and women wear traditional clothes with pleasure. Although it is a prosperous city with modern influences, in Otavalo the old habits haven’t died and the indigenous population has plenty of traditions to be proud with. In a world of globalisation, where more and more women tend to behave and dress the same, it’s nice to see that there is still diversity, that there are still young women who proudly assumes their origins and keep their traditions. I dream to discover in the future more places like this, with The Atlas of Beauty, and to show that diversity is a treasure that we mustn’t lose. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Diana in Otavalo, Ecuador

In Myanmar I met the most serene and generous people. Maybe it comes from buddhism or maybe it’s the peace that everyone enjoys after long years of dictatorship and violent conflicts. I tried to bring this gentle atmosphere in The Atlas of Beauty, photographing Yu Kyi in one of the most important Buddhist temples in the world. For The Atlas of Beauty any share is a chance to grow and continue. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Yu Kyi in Yangon, Myanmar

The Peruvian women from the Andes Mountains walk proud in their traditional clothes. I would have stayed for hours to admire the fine details of Calla’s dress, but I had to photograph her before the night would spread out over the beautiful landscapes at nearly 4,000 meters. The Atlas of Beauty by Mihaela Noroc/ Calla in Colca Valley, Peru

I think true feminine beauty means assuming your origins and enjoying elements from your culture, things that make you different. In other words, beauty is diversity.

Profile: Alexia Webster

Alexia Webster, a freelance photojournalist based in South Africa, spoke to the World Service this morning. She shared some fantastic stories about the work she has done, her motivation and what photojournalism means to her.

Check it out, I thoroughly enjoyed it (she starts speaking from 46:00 onwards) And have a look at her blog too.

Announced International Peace Day every year, the Artraker Award, for which Alexia is one of five nominees,

provides visibility and financial support to artists working on art and conflict. It recognizes new ways to raise awareness, communicate, stimulate debate and transform our understanding of war, violent conflict and social upheaval.

Alexia’s latest project explores issues of identity and belonging through family photographs

She’s been working on it for the past two years, and has worked on these portraits on street corners. She’s invited people to come in, have their photograph taken with family and gives them free prints. She does this because they wouldn’t normally have access to such resources and says the project has been really well-received.

It’s a luxury but it’s also something incredibly precious and something that people really respond to.

 

The BBC also made an important point – family portraits are one of those items that people protect and take with them, particularly if they are displaced, in a conflict zone or are forced out of their homes.

It gives you a sense of identity and a sense and hope for the future, a sense of connectivity to your ancestors.

 

She’s visited conflict zones, refugee camps and other areas of social conflict and has felt that after so many years of taking photographs and “taking from them”, she wanted to “give something back.”