Why do you instill fear
in my noble spirit
with your penetrative stare?
The glare, those piercing eyes of yours,
seem to read
the secrets of my soul.
I may never know what they mean
or what they mean to cause,
after I am left in a trance.
I cannot decide
If those eyes doom me
to a future I cannot escape from,
or, if they protect me
with the glory of an esoteric vision,
from the harm of the world.
This fear, anxiety, reverence
Coming from a mere memory,
As you remain far away.
Yet, those penetrating eyes of yours
Have never left
The vicinity of my soul
Wherever my super awesome fairy godmother shall fly,
I will gladly follow ….
There is a reason I find spiritual people to guide me,
hence need more time with them…
for wisdom to be exchanged.
Yet,there is no reason for love…
wherever the wonder woman shall fly,
I will gladly remain her shadow.
Bountiful Baku/ Samia Tamrin Ahmed
It was an amusing experience- being a traveler in my magenta kameez-being very out of place with my dark skin, my curious dress attracting strange glances from strangers, as I walked alone.
I was making my lonely walk to enter the walled city for the second time. I followed a street and after five minutes of walking uphill, met with the olden brick walls and eventually one of its gates. Cars were in a queue to enter and I walked right in. I was about to enter the walled enclosure created in the 12th century in Baku, Azarbaijan, the gem of the Caucasus. It is one of the most random places to have a vacation, but here I was. The opportunist in me stayed back an extra day after my event, to give ample traveling pleasure to my soul. I was in a plaza area which I recognized from the day before. There were vendors selling souvenirs such as the Russian dolls, carpets, key rings, fridge magnets and haggling is necessary. I followed the labyrinth of narrow streets-looking for where they end up. There were suspicious winding alleys with congested buildings all around and I felt like I would be lost. Then I reminded myself-“I am here to get lost-I have the whole day!” Travel is fun when these almost anxious moments lead on to hidden treasures in every nook and cranny of a strange city.
That is the interesting thing about Baku-the ancient treasures can be explored on foot in a short period of time. Most of it is clustered along the Caspian Sea side. And all roads seemed to lead to the Shirvanshah’s Palace built in atop a hill, built sometime in the fifteenth century. The ruling dynasty of the Shirvan, ie moden day Azarbaijan moved their capital from Shamakha in northern Azerbaijan to Baku in the twelfth century following an earthquake The complex contains the main building of the palace, the burial-vaults, the shah’s mosque with a minaret, Seyid Yahya Bakuvi’s (the dervish) mausoleum, a portal in the east – Murad’s gate, a reservoir and the remnants of the bath-house; the complex giving an enthralling view over the Caspian Sea. The complex was built over three levels. I think the hammam and its ancient walls on the lowest level captivated me most. I sat on the platform where the stairs begin- running into the underground chambers below-with two (men’s and women’s) sections with small square rooms organized around octagonal halls. I am glad I was embracing a UNESCO World Heritage site in this short visit.
The inner walled city of Baku is such a living, thriving place. There are buildings, offices alongside the ancient monuments, vendors, palace, mosques, etc. There are embassies situated inside, and I found homes of embassy attaches as I walked in the narrow, cobbled alleys. If only I was a diplomat in the midst of heritage like this!
Art in the form of sculptures and fountains adorn the historic roads of Baku. The huge bust of Aliaga Vahid, the Azeri poet is stunning with natural and human forms on the head and neck. There is the Seven Beauties- seven armudu tea glasses piled on top of each other. These traditional glasses are shaped in the way to keep the tea warm in the lower portion. Apparently a prospective groom who gets sugar in his tea in the armudu glasses has gained approval for marriage from the in laws. There is a sculpture of a girl with an umbrella with her cell phone on her ear-right in front of the McDonalds. In fact, young people love hanging out in the Fountain Square area and Torgovaya Street-lined with shops, eateries and whatnot, situated near the old city. Dozens of beautiful fountains are seen throughout the public square first constructed during Soviet rule of Azerbaijan. The Bulvar area is beautifully kept-a popular haunt for families to walk and picnic beside the blue waters of the Caspian.
Azarbaijan was such an important stopover in the silk route trade era. It was evident from the caravanserais we had seen inside the walled city, Iceri Seher being an important aspect in the olden days of trade and commerce. Funnily, the caravanserai for the Indian origin (Multani) traders faces the one meant for the Christians and Muslims (Bukhara). These were places of rest for the traders and their camels. The country is in a strategic position, with oil resources, providing one fifth of the oil used in the world. One can see many fine buildings from the 19th century “oil boom “period. The oil barons used their wealth to start institutions of academia, hospitals, etc. The Maiden Tower can be passed while riding on the main street-this is another icon of Baku-a tower built in 8-7 BC, adjacent to the walls. Baku has the world’s tallest flagpole-situated in the Boulevard beside the Caspian Sea, the blue-red and green colours flapping in the wind. Our guide during the city tour explained that red relates to the Turkish identity of the Azeri people, green for Islam as their religion and Blue for the European inclusiveness. It is one of the most liberal Muslim countries, with its Soviet past, Turkish brotherhood and thriving economic growth. Lucky for me, I knew some Turkish words, and I could communicate with strangers with the very few necessities I know.
I found the Azeri cuisine similar to the Turkish homes, especially in their consumption of the dolma-mince meat wrapped in grape leaves. I grew sleepy from the multiple courses we were fed in the conference, beginning with the bread, vegetables, salads, cheese, topped up by the cherry drink that is commonly drunk there. My favourite was a simple roll of kabab inside. There was the steamed dumpling type of food stuffed with greens. A different sort has meat as well. Their biryani has specks of meat and dried fruits, garnished with bread on the sides. I had to overfeed myself to take in all the culinary experience of the Caucasus.
The dances that we had seen, the cuisine, famous mugham music all reflect the colourful spirit of the Azeri people and culture. I may have underestimated the weather of Baku. Baku is known as the “Windy City and the winds did blow us away. It was nice weather at the end of April but the winds made us cover well to avoid the chills. Old and the new are in perfect harmony in this city. The western branded stores are all lined up on the road that leads to the medieval city. Emerging landmark constructions and historic buildings share the space. The beautiful flame towers is the icon of today’s Baku-the red colours look like shimmering fire in the night sky. At other times, the lights on those buildings show the Azarbaijani flag in its tri-colour glory. I was lucky to have ridden the Baku metro with its underground carriages, and had opened in the late 1950s. Getting to Azarbaijan from Bangladesh can be tricky-one has to either get visa from a country with their consulate, or get visa on arrival by coming on an official visit. My gratitude remains to the event organizers and the kindness of the immigrations officers at the entry port. There was intense drama at the Immigrations in Dhaka- I almost got offloaded- now that’s another story!
Stories, everybody’ve them, hidden, yet written on the face for all
Stories from images, sounds and senses are part of human
From the past, yesterday, today and tomorrow, emerge experiences
…experiences potent enough to make or break one
Before, the past generation shared openly, to learn and resolve
Through oral traditions and evening chats, granny mirthed
People shared together, openly. for the joy of the moment then
little known was the long years and harmony enhanced
With time, however, a dustbin was born in our minds
a dust bin with strong lids, dark, tightly closed,
only opened by choices we make every second of our lives
from where it emerged, the dust bin, I also wish to know
But I know how well and often we take experiences down that bin
1964, Maumau fighters in Kenya, disgruntled, dumped the feeling down that bin; closed
suddenly, an ancestral land disappeared, resentment dumped into the bin; closed
conflicts, anger, fear lost glory went down that bin; closed
no one shared, nobody talked, hushed silence bred filth in the bin!
Dirt, rotten from fear and emotions grew enormous
self esteem flew out of the window as stress levels hiked
a pill for HBP and suddenly am too tired to share with family
My child came to me, laughingly, but I wearily coil “a busy day son!”
Meanwhile, rot starts to smell heavily on mood and attitude
I know of a time in 2007 when the bin exploded in Kenya
when in 1994, bins exploded in Rwanda terribly ending lives
Not forgetting the young man in 2010 who could handle it no more
a life cut short too soon…
Just to mention but a few of the dangers of stories untold
Stories heal, stories console, stories reveal humanity in us
So powerful is its ability to create dialogue
Through stories, bridges for humanity emerge
Could Fear be Driving You?/ Dennis Odeny
Have you ever wondered why everyone is constantly on the move? Doing one thing or another if not lost in oblivion of drunkenness? Practically, everyone is on the move, constantly thinking of ways to make their lives better, more interesting or more stable. Everyone strives for more and more and if not striving, then stuck in a religious mantra of contentment if but to create a comfort zone of operation. Today, while someone is up and about trying to amass as much wealth as possible, another is holed up in a monastery, a church or a religious structure with every sort of spiritual connection available. Some, too timid to face the life, stick bottle after bottle between their lips in an attempt to drown their misery.
So, practically, money, religion, drugs, among other drives is definitive of humankind. Why would people be so obsessed with these things? Why would someone be so daringly religious that they can die for their belief? Why the monotonous routine to get a few dollars? Wondering? Well, here is what I think…
Many scholars believe that behind every human motive is a fear so great and immense. Forget the nonsense about passion or money here, the raw source of motivation of all humanity is fear.
We fear quite a lot of things in our lives. Right from birth, the child grows up to value and crave for the attention of the parents and fear when the mom walks out for the shopping center. The child would bawl for attention because of the fear of loneliness. Teens often have a lot going on in their time when they try all antics possible to get attention. The fear of sinking into oblivion drives many to have fancy dress codes and haircuts if only to be noticed and create a sensation. The fear of losing importance is so great that they will try so much to ape artists if only to turn a few heads their way. In fact the fear normally creates a sense of insecurity in many who end up doing things they would never have thought of doing, if only to identify with a sect or clique.
Others thought money was a great drive in life…are you one of these people? Think again. You see, an example if my hypothetical friend who gets just enough to maintain his lifestyle. However, he, like many, will forever be on the lookout for stability if only to be assured of the same income tomorrow.
So, the money factor changed to the question of stability. Am I going to afford this house tomorrow? Will I manage to pay my child’s school fees tomorrow? How will life look like tomorrow? The fear of tomorrow among the working class is actually so strong that it drives the economy of any country. The rich getting richer and would always want more while the poor getting poorer as they hop from job to job with the hope for a better and stable placement. Meanwhile, the escapist goes behind the altar and spends ages praying and hoping that the fear will go away; yet it looms behind the doors. So my friend would say “it’s all in God’s hands now…”
Well, we probably worked hard and managed to pay the fees after all and old age appears to be catching up with us. We may think that with all the successes we are lucky to have escaped it. Till the bug starts “what if my children never visit me? What if I do not have any friends? What if …” These questions roam about the aging mind and makes life unbearably lonely when you look back and all you can see is a stream of years with nothing to show for it. Fear emerges in all forms, “am I losing importance? “
And while we think its gone, it crawls back in and nags us to our grave; fearing what life will be when we finally pass out and stop our last breath. Fear, it is real, but, do we have to fear this much? Do we have to be driven by fear? Is fear entirely positive? What can we do to overcome some fears that derail our logic? Meet you in the next episode on dealing with human fear next week!
Temple Run in Bali/ Samia Tamrin Ahmed
It took me about 70 US cents to enter Bali by ferry and 50 USD to get out of it (plus some stupid departure tax!). I never in my life imagined going there till last October while making Java plans. I decided to bunk a few more days of work and add Bali to my trip just as well.
The conventional image of Bali is of a party island with unhindered beach time. Bali to me was nothing like that, but contained three days of temple run, monkey rendezvous and my first time diving.
Bali to me was the artsy, Sabai homestay that found us in Ubud, its balcony and the tea time I relished. Its temples in all directions we meticulously planned to see offered beauty- by the lakes, caves and cliffs. Having seen the scams first hand in a temple entrance, my advice would be to check reviews of every temple on Tripadvisor to be slightly more aware.
In the northeast coast a ship wreck lay waiting, for me to dive in and fall in awe all over again with God for some unreal colours painted on fishes. I cannot forget the curiosity of those fishes when they saw my orange-purple rubber band in my hands or the effect of light in a sea bed of volcanic sand.
Bali to me was witness to the countless sunsets and budget meals we chased… and me having to deal with moody silences of a travel buddy. Bali taught us to trust our decisions- the best one being based out of Ubud; the commercial Kuta flavour hardly matched our mood or spirit.
Bali to me was the culmination of stress and tiredness of a long adventure; could hardly keep my eyes open on that last day. On top of the attack by a naughty monkey at Uluwatu, my glasses were broken and somehow, blindly I found my way home after facing two flights, a night sleeping on the bench at an airport and the crazy Dhaka streets.
My Ijen Story/ Samia Tamrin Ahmed
I was trudging along with the group of people with a guide but was getting distracted by the stars up above. It is not every day that I am awake at 2-3 AM walking into a volcano with the open sky calling out to appreciate nature so vividly. My friend and I vacationed in Java, Indonesia last October and volcanoes were one of the off-the-track reasons we chose this island. On this very night we were walking into Mount Ijen to watch something called the ‘blue flames’- a rare phenomenon, seen only in Java and Iceland apparently. The sulphuric gases escaping from cracks ignite as they come in contact with the air, causing the blue fire, which now attracts tourists eager for the midnight hiking. When the gases cool down, they are eventually collected as solid sulphur in this mine which are transported in baskets by 200 miners, who we passed being busy on the job.
Coming back to the stars and the open skies, we were on the way to higher altitude to reach the peak of Kawah Ijen, and then to walk into the crater by steps cut out. Climbing up was tough for me, also because I was getting breathless. It felt lonely falling behind our group of travelers. I was panting like a dog, looking up to see the stars and trying to capture the beauty of the moment and also pushing my own mind to move ahead. I was layered up, but felt hot and cold at different moments. This discomfort felt strange.
With torches the guide led the group slowly down by the inside of the mountain. The steps were tiny, so it helped to place our foot parallel to them, climbing down with body kept sideways. I had worn my canvas shoe for this trip yet I never felt it would be a problem. Some hours back, few travelers who came in our car, themselves donned in boots had looked at me sideways asking if I was sure about my shoe. Can I make it inside the volcano in THAT? While following those steps, my belief was reinforced … that it is not about strength or the type of shoe even, but the technique one uses- to climb and to balance oneself. Afterall, the miners walking up and down several times a day hardly wore Adidas! I actually enjoyed this part, it was a fun challenge- watching my step, and calmly making steps grabbing the effective grips available.
Watching the blue flames was the objective but the overall experience is nothing short of memorable. In the darkness we reached the crater area and saw the smoke and blue fire. We observed from many angles… we were not too far from those cracks which were the source of the flames. People were warned about sulphur fumes hitting the nose, so everyone made it a point to buy thin gas masks of the types doctors wear for surgery. Somehow, my buddy and I kept putting off this purchase, being the budget travelers we were trying to be; later we realised it is actually not necessary. Only when the wind blows in your direction will the strong, pungent smell hit you. This is, of course the unforgettable smell of bad eggs! I had a scarf to shield my nose when the smell ‘attacked’. This happened more so at a particular section of the crater which was like a cave and there were flames inside.
Light was coming into the sky and I remembered something called morning was about to dawn in. I spent the night in the crater of a volcano – my journey to the center of the earth! The crater lake was now visible; its blue was a brilliant emerald colour, with its concentrated acid content. We followed a slope and came near this water; I took many photos with an enthusiastic group of Korean friends carrying selfie sticks. The same route was taken to return to the car park. Now the last treat was the spectacular mountainous landscape we saw on this stroll back. This was the path where I was panting last night in the dark and now the daylight, trees, grey sand, and the morning sky all felt like magic.
Most people know Bali when thinking of Indonesia. But Java has some amazing gems that called our adventurous spirit. From Yoguakarta these volcano tours can be booked and options are given for different prices. You can combine Mount Ijen and Mount Bromo tour, with or without the blue flame midnight hike. Tours start at Yogyakarta usually and can end at the ferry station at the end of Java. With less than a dollar and an hour later, you can land in Gilimanuk, in Bali. You may book with any agency but eventually all tours are handled by a monopoly system. The handlers are extremely commercial and have no time to be cordial. The travel infrastructure in Java is still underdeveloped and the attractions quite underrated. I am glad we took the midnight hike to experience the phenomenon that is Mount Ijen. On the downside, my clothes retained the sulphur smell for days!
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