Cuba, the country where time seems to have stopped – part 1

Standard

IMG_9324[1]

Cuba had always fascinated me due to its location, tropical climate, incredible architecture and my love of old vintage classic cars.

I read countless travel guides and websites in preparation for my visit, but nothing could have prepared me for the slow pace of life and no McDonald’s or Starbucks. It was a relief to witness a country that hadn’t been taken over by America and had something different to offer.

As soon as we landed and headed over to the immigration area the slowness kicked in. I had never queued for over two hours to just pass through immigration. I had never seen a queue move so slowly and everyone around me thinking it was normal. In London we speed through things and don’t spend hours queuing and our queues are, well straight.

Once out of the airport, I was keen to explore the country despite the five-hour time difference. We quickly got some money changed which took far too long and hopped in a cab which took us to our Casa Particular. I had never heard of the Casa Particular concept before visiting Cuba and was a bit apprehensive about staying in someone’s house. The concept is a bit like airbnb with a Cuban twist. We arrived at our Casa which looked like it was a room in a war-torn looking street in the old part of Havana. The bed had satin sheets and wasn’t quite to my taste, but hey once in Cuba, you have to embrace all things Cuban. I quickly learnt that you could haggle on the price for everything in Cuba. Being Asian haggling came natural to me.

Walking down the street towards the old part of Havana I noticed that people were staring at my companion and myself. I asked my Amiga if I had anything on my face and she said no. Me and my Amiga are both Muslim so we dressed slightly different to the rest of the Cubans. My amigo was a hijabi (wore a Muslim head-dress) and was worried how she would be received by the Cubans. But the Cubans were mesmerised by the two of us and the head scarf turned into a talking point. It also made us stick out like a sore thumb amongst the scantily clad babes and signalled to the Cubans that we were tourists.

One thing to note about Cuban men, they love women. It doesn’t matter if you are fat, thin, short or tall, Cuban men just love women and there will always be a dashing Cuban willing to teach you salsa or a few other things. I had a few gentlemen try to teach me salsa, but salsa is a very intimate dance and I wasn’t too partial to getting to up close and personal to the Cuban studs.

Havana is a chaotic city full of hustle and bustle and con artists looking to prey on the next tourist. But, if you overlook this you’ll find a city full of charm and character. Each street tells its own story and no two streets look the same. You can find run down and beautifully restored buildings all in same street. The street I fell in love with is Caix Havana which is a street filled with incredible cafes, art shops and houses.

My Amiga keen to smoke a Cuban cigar in Havana enlisted the help of a local Cuban to buy a cigar for the bargain price of 3CUC (£2) from a local cigar selling. The guide books all advise against this and I can see why. Not one to miss a bargain and an opportunity, we thought we had struck a great deal. We lit the cigar in the old square and puffed away only to start coughing and having a sore throat. I wasn’t a cigar smoker or even a smoker, but I struggled to smoke the very harsh cigar which tasted foul. We put it down to a cheap cigar, little did we know that the cigar was a fake and had banana leaves inside it. Note to self, don’t get conned and follow the guidebook tips.

I was horrified to discover that Havana had no WiFi. Yes, that is right no WiFi. They even have WiFi in rural villages in India and Pakistan. How were we going to survive 12 days without WiFi? My poor phone would be a neglected iPhone. There was light at the end of the tunnel and we quickly discovered that you could get WiFi at three hotels in Havana but it cost more than a three course lobster meal in a local restaurant. Therefore, we decided to forgo WiFi and instead resort to face to face communication. I have to say it was a delight to have real conversations with people without constantly checking my phone every five minutes to see if anyone still cares to see if I’m still alive.

We spent our first three nights in Havana and then continued to Vinnales and Las Terraz for one night for a spot of horse riding in the mountains and a visit to a cigar factory. We shared a taxi with a couple from Germany and went on our way in a car that could only be described as a shed. I expected to be escorted in a 1950s Cadillac. But, no we got an old banger that didn’t even have seat belts. Out taxi driver arranged by the nice Casa owners turned out to be a bit of a shifty geezer. He took us on a whirlwind tour of Las Terraz which lasted about 15 minutes before he whisked us of to his mate’s cigar factory.

At the cigar factory we discovered how cigars were made and sampled a few fine cigars. The cigars tasted so much better than the one we bought from the back streets of Havana. The cigar owner’s wife offered us lukewarm tasteless coffee. Cuba is not known for its coffee and I can see why. I decided to purchase two cigars, yes two cigars to the dismay of the cigar factory owner who said a few choice words in Spanish in disgust at our poor spending habits. His wife even wanted money for the coffee, even though it was vile. I am not tight, but I refuse to pay for something that looks like lukewarm piss and tastes shit.

We left the cigar factory and carried out to Vinnales with a pit stop at a scenic location which involved gentle persuasion by the taxi driver to eat at his mate’s restaurant. Note to self, Cuba is not known for its culinary delights. If you like rice and beans and fish, then it’s a gourmet paradise for you. If you like your food with a hint of flavour, then you’ll be very disappointed. The only western food I spotted was cheese and ham sandwiches on hard bread and undercooked pizza. One trick to learn whilst travelling in Cuba is to get some of your hard-earned cash changed into Cubano peso. That way you can buy an undercooked pizza from the local street stalls for a bargain price of 6 peso about 25p. For that price you can’t go wrong or complain and eat to your heart’s content.

Once at our Casa which was a dusty little room with satin sheets (what is the obsession with satin sheets?) we decided to go horse riding in the valley with the local cowboy. The valleys are breath taking and tranquil. Vinnales is so calm compared to Havana. We ventured to a little cave where we had to buy lights to enter the cave. We had to buy a light per person, even though we only needed one. The cave was very eerie and dark, but definitely worth a visit. Our cowboy showed us a few tricks on his horse and tried to teach us Salsa. But this girl has two left feet when it comes to Salsa and isn’t a fan of men who have rough hands, so the lesson was over very quickly. However, I did offer him some hand cream to smooth his hands.

We only spent one night in Vinnales and managed to arrange a shared taxi to Cienfuegos, the old port town the next day with a French couple.

Our taxi driver was late, but this is Cuba and people are never on time. We set of in a new car with seatbelts to Havana where we were going to swap cars. Once at Havana we were transported to a new car, well an old car with no seat belts and a new driver. The driver was a cracker and switched on his reggaton (Cuban hip hop) tracks and proceeded to tell me how he shaved all his body hair and didn’t need Viagra. It was more information than I needed to know and I felt like I knew him better than I needed to. I was also a little disturbed when he asked me to stroke his arm hair’s and lifted his top to show me his toned hair free torso. The guy was 50 and in good condition, but it was a little too much for a mid-afternoon drive along the highway.

On our journey to Cienfugos we broke down. This didn’t surprise me as the car was a shed, and as we had already paid the first driver we were stuck so had to stick with Mr smooth as satin. Our hairless Cuban driver decided to repair the car which only took him about an hour as we watched the cars and people go by. Not one person stopped to help us or see if we were well okay or needed some water given it was about 35 degrees and we had no shade. Finally after an hour we were on the road. Woohoo, we were meant to arrive in Cienfuegos at 1, but we arrived at 4. Note to self, nothing in Cuba happens on time.

Part two to come soon

Advertisements

Gaza

Standard

Every day is a struggle,

I wake up not knowing if I will live or die,

I live in fear that we I never see tomorrow,

I walk along the empty streets,

Searching for friends and neighbours,

I see my best friend running towards me,

I hear the rocket and watch as it pierces her heart and her body is flown into the air,

I cover my mouths, trying to conceal my scream,

Tears drip down my face I look at the dead corpse lying on the ground,

She was only six and dreamed of being a princess,

Her life taken by a bullet,

Her princess dress torn and covered in blood,

Her innocent face staring at me,

 

My body is numb from the shock,

Tears welling down my face clutching my little princess,

How many more dead bodies do I have to see?

How many mothers will lose their children, sons or husbands?

 

The sounds of rockets startle me and I run for cover,

I pray that no one I know has been killed,

Next time it could be me,

I pray this nightmare will end and I can play again on the streets of Gaza,

I hope I live until I am seven….

 

Denied boarding at JFK….why? I complained about the Muslim food option…

Standard

I counted down the days to my trip to South America. Each day, I ticked of another day and frantically checked the weather praying that it would be sunny and the rain would stop.

My journey to the Heathrow airport was dashed and hurried and I put it down to bad planning and poor time keeping. As I waited to board, I was told that I had randomly been picked for a security check. Lucky me. What had I done this to deserve this honour? I looked at the other two candidates a Jewish businessperson and a hippy with crazy hair and flip-flops. At least it looked like a fair selection and I was the only female Muslim on the plane, so I guess I had to be searched again. The security woman kindly asked me if I minded. If I said no, would she stop and not carry on with the search? No, she would not. So why ask me if I mind.

I ran into the American Airlines plane with little time to spare. As I made my way to my seat, I noticed how empty the plane was. Great I thought, as I was tired and looking to lie down. The air steward came round informing the passengers that the seats at the front were empty and that we could sit there. Given the choice of two or five seats to myself, I chose five and happily moved. Once I had comfortably sat down, I tried to inform the air flight attendant that I had moved seats so that she could serve me my Muslim meal, which I had ordered. I tried two to three times to inform the staff who dismissed me each time and told me they would deal with it later.

I sat down, stared at the pre-historic tiny screen in front of me, and desperately tried to find something to watch. I learnt that some movies I could not watch as the time has lapsed so I had to wait for the next showing. I also could not pause or forward the movie. This certainly was not what I expected from a leading airline, American Airlines and to one of the busiest airports in the world JFK.

During the flight, the airhostess handed out landing cards for the US. I did not have a pen so I could not fill in the form. I asked the airhostess if she had a pen, she replied back annoyed ‘no’. So I asked her, how I could fill it in with no pen, she told me to ask one of the passengers and again informed me she did not have a pen. I cheekily replied ‘great to see service with a smile hasn’t died’. She asked me what I said and I told her. She barked again, she did not have a pen and I said its fine. Later during the flight, she came back with a pen and I thanked her for it.

My first Muslim meal consisted of rice, chicken, and fruit for dessert. It was edible I guess, but certainly was not a gourmet meal. When asked if I would like a drink, I asked if they had fruit juice, I was told by the steward that fruit juice sounded like a great idea but they only had apple or orange juice. Surely, apple and orange juice was the same thing as a fruit juice. Maybe it was a language barrier and in the US it is referred to as something else. My second Muslim meal consisted of guess what ‘Chicken and rice’ again. Surely, Muslim people eat more than chicken and rice. I wasn’t too keen on the first meal and the thought of having to eat the same meal again made me feel sick. I kindly asked the flight attendant if they had an alternative meal or if I could have the veggie option. She told me, ‘no, we don’t have any spare and you will have to eat your own meal’. I told her that surely they should have one or two spares and that I didn’t want to eat the same food twice and I had connecting flight of 10 hours and didn’t fancy rice and chicken four times in one day. She told me ‘you can buy your own food on the plane and this is what we serve’. I told her I paid for a flight, which included food, handed her the food back, and carried on watching my movie. I didn’t hear from the flight attendant again.

Latter when I went to the toilet, one of the air flight attendant stood in my way for a little longer than needed. I heard her tell another steward that ‘I stood in her way as she is rude and I didn’t want to let her pass’ I asked the stewardess if she was talking about me. The other steward replied ‘no, of course not, she is talking about another passenger’. I ignored both and went back to my seat.

I landed at JFK with a three-hour wait for my connecting flight. I thought all was fine and had no idea the drama I would experience three hours later when I tried to board my flight.

I arrived at the gates and boarded the flight. Once on the flight I was informed that I had to go and speak to the manager and leave the aircraft. I was baffled and couldn’t understand why and the flight was due to take of shortly. What was going on?

Once I arrived at the managers desk she asked me what happened on my previous flight.  She informed me that the cabin crew had complained about me. I only encountered two members of the cabin crew, so surely this couldn’t be all the cabin crew. The manager asked me if I was violent or abusive towards the staff or I had thrown my food at the flight attendant. I told her I was an adult and not a child. Had I known my cheeky comment would have been taken as an abusive comment or that saying I didn’t like the food option wasn’t allowed I would have kept my mouth shut. I was told that I could not board the plane and I would have to catch the next flight to Rio. I was livid and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I had spent seven and a half hours on a flight and just waited over three hours at the airport to be told that I couldn’t board. I told the woman I wanted my suitcase and she said it was waiting for me downstairs. Why make me wait three hours for a connecting flight knowing that I will be denied boarding? This was both unfair and ridiculous.

I was forced to catch the next flight to Rio, which was at 7:10pm the next day. This meant I lost a whole day in Rio and my hotel in Rio. I was told that I wouldn’t be entitled to any compensation for the loss incurred to me. Surely, if I were threat as the captain pointed out, then wouldn’t I be a threat on any flight I took. What could I do on a flight? I wasn’t a bloody terrorist for god’s sake….

In conclusion, I wouldn’t travel on America Airlines again even if it was free. I would avoid the airline if you are prone to speaking or making an opinion. It appears that freedom of speech when complaining isn’t allowed in a nation that prides itself on allowing people to speak freely. Take me back on a one way ticket to the UK, where you are allowed to speak freely and an incident like this would never take place. American Airlines, you will never be my number one choice for an airline and thank you for making my journey a nightmare and wasting my time and money.

 

Photo: NYC greatest tourist attraction Statue of Liberty #statueofliberty #nyc #america #newyork #tourist #touristsights

dating a man who treats you wrongly

Standard

I sat down slowly in the fancy restaurant and soaked in the lavish surroundings. The whole place screamed glamour and plush. I couldn’t believe where I was. I observed as the waiters, chefs and restaurant owner knew my dates name and shook his hand. I felt like I was on a date with a celebrity, where everyone knew who he was except for me.

I should have been the happiest woman alive on a date with a supposedly millionaire and hotshot. But, why wasn’t I excited and taking it all in. I sat back and looked again at my surroundings and my date. He wasn’t bad looking, not my usual type but he seemed keen to take me out and dressed well.

I noticed he was constantly distracted and barely took note of what I said. Whatever I said was greeted with a negative and I don’t care attitude. His eyes constantly darted around the room and were never on me for more than 10 seconds. He seemed on edge and that made me feel nervous.

The conversation didn’t flow as freely as I would have liked it. I tried to lighten the situation a few times, but he just didn’t get my humour. Did rich men not have a sense of humour?

Shortly into the date the mood changed when I foolishly made the mistake of telling him I had been to the swanky place before. That’s when his attention rose and the questions came quick fire. Who took me there? Why did I go with another man? I had only met my date twice and he had transformed from a calm man to an impatient and jealous maniac. He asked how much money the man who had taken me out before earns. I didn’t know how to respond and felt on edge. No matter what answer I gave, I was greeted with a response. His mood changed more and more and he grew more impatient and swear words flew out of his mouth with ease. Surely this wasn’t how a second date should be? Surely, he should be trying to impress me with his charm and charisma? Should I be blown away by his 100k Hublot watch and his desire to buy an apartment in Knightsbridge? Did that excuse his behaviour and foul language? I stopped for a second and forwarded the situation to a further six months and it dawned on me that this was a man who wanted a mute woman who looked pretty on his arm and told him how great he was. There was no way on earth I could be that kind of woman not even for a millionaire.

His words got harsher and I took the step to leave and tell him I was going. That’s when he really started laying the insults and swearing at me. I didn’t retaliate back and just held my head up high and walked out of the place as fast as I could. My heart was pounding and I walked as quickly as I could along the busy street trying to get as far as possible from the restaurant. I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I looked back at the situation trying to figure out what I did wrong and how this man thought it was justified to swear and speak harshly to me. I thought back to other situations where men had spoken in an abrupt and rude manner towards me. Was I at fault? Was I doing something wrong? I could have stayed in his company and allowed him to speak rudely to me in the hope that he was having a bad day. I was lucky I figure out what he was like on the second date. Some women don’t know what a man is truly like before it’s too late and they have fallen for him.

Everyday a woman will be either physically or mentally abused by a man who tries to belittle her or make her feel worthless. It’s up to us as women to hold our heads up high and believe in our own self-worth. No one has the right to undermine anyone ever, but we can control how someone makes us feel and walk away from a situation before it gets out of hand. 

Going crazy for Korean fashion – Made in Korea

Standard

“When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.
(Confessions of a Shopaholic-the movie)”
― Sophie Kinsella

I like to think I am a fashionable woman and well-dressed majority of the time. I would describe my style as quirky mixed with a girly charm. I am not girly in manner, but I love shoes, handbags, make-up, jewellery, lots, and many clothes. What girl doesn’t love to look good or a shopping spree?

My friends refer to me as a shopaholic and having far too many clothes. However, a girl can never have too many things and there are days where I cannot find anything to wear.

My love of Korean fashion developed on a trip to Camden Market in London and Notting hill. I discovered a stall, which sold incredible girly dresses and quirky jackets and knitted cardigans. I was hooked on the clothes and every weekend I stayed in London, I made a quick stop to the different stalls. My favourite purchases are a blue three quarter sleeved long cardigan with army style buttons. It looks fab with a pair of jeans or teamed with a skirt and dress. I also bought an adorable yellow floral print dress, which reminds me of summer and lifts my mood whenever I wear it.

This year I decided to make a trip to one of the fashion capitals of the world Tokyo. The bright lights, Harujoko, and Lolita girl’s fashion had always fascinated me. I decided to make my journey more exciting and added in two-day stop to Seoul, the capital of Korea for some retail therapy.

I fell in love with Seoul as soon as i entered the airport. The airport was huge and it offered free Wi-Fi, free charging booths, free laptops to surf the net. I hopped onto a metro and headed to Itaewan the ex pat and tourist neighbourhood. I discovered countless boutiques selling all Korean made clothes, jewellery, and bargain prizes. I bought an incredible Channel inspired leather bag with a chunky chain and cute ballerina pumps.

“I love shopping. There is a little bit of magic found in buying something new. It is instant gratification, a quick fix.”
― Rebecca BloomGirl Anatomy: A Novel

What I noticed the most is that the Koreans have a natural effortless style. Both the men and women took pride in their appearance and they loved shopping almost as much as I did. For my second night, I stayed in Myeondong and walked around the market, which came to life at night with hundreds of stalls all selling Korean made products. I discovered that the Koreans love shopping so much that the shops and department stores in namdaemun are open until 4:30am. Yes, I did shop until the early hours of the morning and purchased a black wool coat with orange and red collars and a real fur collar. I could not get enough of the 1,000’s of stalls selling everything I could possible want and need. I only wished I had a bigger suitcase and more money. After my shopping spree, I headed to one of the many 24-hour coffee shops and ordered a chocolate soufflé and hazelnut latte. Shopping makes a girl hungry.

Armed with my suitcase full of Korean goodies I boarded my plane and bid farewell to the city of fashion that is true to its own people and style.

Commuters nightmare…

Standard

Muslim girl's life experiences

London is a commuter’s nightmare and getting from A to B, can sometimes take longer than travelling to another city.

You can catch the tube and be forced to get up close and personal with your fellow commuters. Eye contact is avoided on the tube as is making polite chitchat. So where do you look? At the countless Viagra, phone and insurance ads? Alternatively, do you look at the celling or at the floor? Most choose to look down. As you look down you notice people’s shoes. You see designer, sports, simple, crazy and Primark’s finest shoes on display. Some you will admire and think damn I want those shoes, whereas others you will think, did you leave the house without looking at the mirror this morning. Have you never heard of shoe polish? So, if you’re travelling by tube ensure your shoes are on trend and clean. There is…

View original post 415 more words

What is the true cost of beauty? Time or money?

Standard

vanityWe all want to be beautiful and desired. When we walk down the street, we secretly want people to admire the way we look. How often do you look in the mirror, smile at your reflection, and think yes, ‘I am hot stuff’?

Enter any supermarket, department store and chemist and you will see thousands of products all designed to enhance our appearance. We can make our teeth whiter, our eyes sparkle, our lips plumper and our face slimmer. We are spoilt for choice with expensive and cheap products all offering to make us look and feel like a million dollars. Beauty today can be bought to the highest bidder and comes with a hefty price tag and money back guarantee. For a few hundred pounds, you could have hair like Cheryl Cole and lips like Angelina Jolie.

The quest for perfection has never been greater. Every day we are surrounded by images of perfect women with amazing big bouncy hair, long luscious lashes, never ending legs and flawless skin. The pressure to look great all the time is high and we are tricked into thinking that a few magic creams will turn us into a supermodel.

How much do you spend on beauty products a month? Statistics show that the average woman will spend £18,000 on her face in a lifetime. For that amount of money you could buy a car, travel around the world first class, buy a new wardrobe or put a deposit on a house. Most women on average buy 38 products a year for their face. How many beauty products have you bought in the last month?

According to a survey by Marks and Spencer’s the average woman takes 21 minutes to get ready. Just how vain are we? Would you ever leave the house without make up on? Would you let someone see your face naked? Most women wear some form of make up every single day and won’t leave the house without mascara on. Max Factor claims to sell three of its best-selling False Lash Effect Mascara every minute across Britain and two Lancôme mascaras are sold every second worldwide. Women will resort to tinting their lashes, using several mascaras, applying fake lashes and individual lashes in the quest for long luscious lashes.

We all look better with a bit of slap on. However, does the desire to look good make us vain? Alternatively, are we afraid that if we go bare faced, we will frighten people or they will know what we really look like? Do we see make up as a comfort blanket and a mask which allows us to appear more confident and be whoever we want to be. One day we can look vampy, the next day we can look fresh or girly. Make up allows us to create a new look for ourselves and be someone else for a day.

What makes us vain and how do we define vanity? Are we vain if we constantly check ourselves out in the mirror and won’t go out au natural? What’s wrong with wanting to look good for ourselves and creating a new look. Surely, we are allowed to look and feel confident and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful.

But, do we have to spend a lot of money to look perfect? Or is it just a mind-set fuelled by the media’s obsession with airbrushed size zero models. Surely, we should be happy with what god gave us and realise that we are all beautiful in our own unique way. Who says we have to have legs like Naomi, hair like Beyoncé and a face like Gisele to look amazing. The question we need to ask ourselves is, how important is looking good to us? Is looking good, worth sacrificing hundreds of pounds or time?