Making a Statement Through Art- Halim Al Karim

Okay so many artists have stories behind them but this is one I particularly like and I’d love to invest in one of these pieces;

You could say that Iraqi artist Halim Al Karim is an interrupted being. You wouldn’t blame him, after all he was forced to spend three years living alone in a hole in the ground covered by rocks since he opposed Saddam’s regime during the Gulf war.

Throughout that time his only interaction with the outside world was through a Bedouin woman who brought him food and water on occasion and thus kept him alive.

Al-Karim has since emigrated to America and is currently living in Dubai, however, these events have had a profound effect on his life and form the basis for his art practice. He found in art the unconditional freedom to express himself.

He says; ‘My works dwell on the evolving mentality of urban society. I am concerned with ongoing and unresolved issues, especially as they relate to violence. I search through layers of collective memory and my personal experiences in that context. In this process the main challenge for me is to identify and stay clear of the historical and contemporary elements of brainwashing. Through these works I try to visualize an urban society free of violence. The out of focus images, imply an uncertainty of context, time and place. These techniques, which have become the hallmark of my work, are means to overcome the effects of politics of deception and, in turn, transform me and the camera into a single entity, seeking a greater truth.’

His work touches on the insecure state of many Iraqis living between the permanent and temporary; between reality and illusion. With over 30 years of dictatorship and  surrounded by violence the people don’t know where they stand, they don’t know what their situation will be tonight or tomorrow, even the ones that have fled outside Iraq envisage and hope for a peaceful homeland to return to but don’t  know if their vision is realistic.

“Being an Iraqi artist means being an artist of responsibility,” Al Karim said. “It requires vision, determination and patience to let others feel your own pain.. When I showcase my art it has to be inspired by my surroundings to mirror the situation I’m in.”

The photograph above is from his ‘urban witness’ series and relates to  children of war, the emphasis on the eyes most likely reflects the horrific images that these children or ‘victims’ have witnessed. The band on the mouth may represent oppression and the fact that these beings are unable to voice the violent reality of their lives.

Al Karim’s recent exhibition ‘Baghdad 1920’ at the XVA Dubai is a take on the occupation of Iraq and the fact that history is now repeating itself. He explains: “Each photo points to history. Baghdad screams, ‘Why me! ?Why do I have to live under occupation over and over again since 1920 until 2009?’  Such unfairness is totally rejected. And through an artistic dialogue I confront history. My lens holds the photographs -‘the proof’,  and ask for it to stop. My country cannot take it any more.”

“Baghdad 1920 consists of two main series — Liberators, which means the occupiers because they always invade countries under the umbrella of ‘liberation’, and Witnesses from Baghdad, which refers to my people. ”

Al Karim was born in 1963 and has been living in Dubai since 2005 and constantly visits the United States where his family lives.

He got his bachelor’s degree from the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts in Iraq. Then he joined the Gerrit Reitveld Academy in Amsterdam.

He has sold pieces of his work to the  Saatchi Gallery and more recently one of his works ‘Goddess of Beirut’ which shows veiled women exposing glamorous shoes under their cover is on sale at Christie’s for an estimate of $25,000-$30,000. (http://www.christies.com/Lotfinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=5305243)

As described in the lot notes ; ‘The two women’s elegance and femininity with their glamorous high heels are shadowed by the traditional black dress and their blank ghostly faces, which masks their true identity.’

Al Karim refers to women as goddesses in many of his works -a result of the impact of his harrowing experience during his youth and the woman that saved him.

Now 47, he has lost some members of his family in the war, however as he explains;

“Nobody in Iraq hasn’t lost somebody or at least part of their own character,”

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Attack of the Clones

It makes sense that most people need some kind of goal in life to keep them going, something to live for. But I can’t help but notice that for too many people the one thing all their energy is focused on is their looks or more specifically their weight and that sadly seems to be their only real ambition. Do people realize how much this issue takes over their lives? How much time and money they spend on this one thing?  I doubt they notice how often they talk about it, a few times per day. (How boring?) The worst thing is that firstly to be frank many of these victims will never be thin, so if you’re going to dream or set yourself a goal whatever it’s related to at least be a bit realistic or you’re just wasting your time which can be invested on much better things. This takes me to my next point which again may sound a bit mean but for many of these people I feel that their looks or weight is the least of their worries, it’s their lack of personality that concerns me the most, it’s like people have forgotten that a personality is actually a useful and attractive thing to have! And the other thing is that IF these people do reach their ‘goal’ be it by dieting, surgery, whatever, then what happens? Have they even thought about that? What if the media decides to change its mind and being thin goes out of fashion? Also will all their problems disappear? Will they suddenly become a happy person? I doubt it.. There will always be someone better looking or thinner, how far does it go?

If we’re talking about being healthier I’m all for that but no one seems to care about their health either. How about try accepting yourself and focusing on your personal strengths rather then doing what society tells you to do? That way not only is your life easier but you have something no-one can compete with- individuality.

You could argue that the fact that I’ve always been thin makes my point weaker but firstly this issue also effects girls smaller than me (ridiculous I know) and secondly I can say first hand that being thin is way overrated. There will still be certain clothes you won’t look good in, it actually makes it harder when it comes to relationships since you attract more of the pretentious types that simply want an ‘accessory’ round their arm, (quality matters more than quantity remember so it’s not about the amount of attention you get) and at the end of the day beauty is beauty no matter what the size of the person. Have you ever wondered why certain people who aren’t conventionally good looking happen to attract people around them all the time, how they manage to have people dropping at their feet? Do you wonder how they do it? It’s because they have their own personality which is refreshing. They are comfortable with themselves and that confidence and positive energy is what makes them attractive and they will get what they want in life. If you are happy enough to lead a fake life, focusing only on these fake things to impress fake people then I guarantee you’ll spend your whole life insecure. How sad? 

I’m sorry for ranting but I’m disheartened for there are too many clones around.

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Clowning Around with Cupcakes..

The bake-off was coming up at work and my manager was expecting big things from me. We talked about making Lady Gaga inspired cakes but the truth is I wasn’t in a glamorous nor particularly culinary mood. Saying that I don’t like doing things by halves so I wanted to do something different but was finding it hard to get inspiration.

It just happened that earlier that week I was at an event organized  by my friend Rosa for her charity Phunzira (which helps to give children in Malawi better access to education in case you’re interested) when I was greeted by a huge painting on the wall of the venue of ‘Benny’ the clown. He had me with the wink and I love the fact that the artist (Benny Woodvine) used pound notes as a medium to paint on. (You can see the queen’s head coming through the red nose!).

I’m already comfortable with individual cupcake designs and it’s so overdone these days that I thought I’d have a shot at painting on a mosaic of cupcakes and I chose Benny the clown since he was reflecting my rebellious mood! It was just a first experiment and I knew it could have turned out a disaster but I was pleased with the outcome and I know I can do so much better with this technique next time.  All about paintings on cupcakes now and I have loads of crazy ideas..  Just remember you saw it here first! 😉

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Make someone’s week in less than 5 minutes, for under £10..

You know a couple of months ago when I was on crutches due to a minor knee injury I received something in the post from a friend and I’ll NEVER forget it because I didn’t expect it. All it was was a simple ‘biscuit card’ from Biscuiteers  http://www.biscuiteers.com/cards.

They have different designs from flowers and butterflies to Converse sneakers and cars. The cookie comes boxed and with a personalized message all for £8 and it takes no more than a few minutes to order.

You know what I did as soon as I received it? I ordered a couple for some friends who I’d been thinking about but felt out of touch with and they were so moved by it.  All about spreading the love, and when you do  it certainly comes back to you. Life is too short to be stingy with both money and feelings.

Aarti my love this one’s for you 🙂

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Tights, Macarons, and Weirdos!

Okay so the thought of entering Primark gives me anxiety and heart palpitations but I won’t lie it has it’s perks. I heard a rumor that they restock on  Mondays so I popped in to get some plain cotton t-shirts  but got entirely distracted by their fantastic range of tights, I’m such a sucker for lace and prints and you’ve got to love a bargain, I really wonder and almost worry about how they make things so cheap,  sometimes ignorance is bliss though.

I end up with 6 pairs but realistically will only be left with 4 after my sisters rape my shopping bags at home. I’m already thinking about what outfits to wear them with and particularly with my brogues and patent chunky Dr. Martens my fave shoes at the moment. (heels are so Dubai..)

By this time I’ve already decided I’m going to wear the grey leopard print ones to work tomorrow together with my droopy black dress from Portobello market, my loose hanging delicate Ted Baker silver glittery shrug, some lanky necklaces, a light sweep of smoky eye-liner, pink blusher, nude lips, and of course my black shiny DM’s. It will look hot.

I get the plain cotton t-shirts I was originally after which by the way are so much better than any I’ve bought before from Topshop, Benetton, even Gap since they are stretchy and fit so well but also aren’t too flimsy and the white one’s aren’t see through! Only £2 each! I also pick up a lizard brooch which in the right setting would look much more expensive!

I leave ‘Primani’ feeling a bit peckish so I decide to go to one of my favorite places across the road, Selfridges Food Hall (I practically live in there) and I’m thinking ‘from Primark to Selfridges’ that’s just how I roll.  Before I enter I take some shots of the window displays. I know it might sound weird but I just love their current retro thing and I’d been meaning to take photos before they change it. As I’m doing this a cocky young man  in a suit with an annoying face (you know how some people just have an annoying face) stops me and says ‘why are you taking a photo do you think it looks THAT good?’  I turn to him and say ‘ I appreciate the style and old-school aspects of it’  but I cut it short by saying bluntly ‘it’s not for everyone though’ although what I meant to say was ‘I don’t give a..’ . (Put it this way, he was blatantly making fun of me) Despite me being cold he is adamant to keep talking and asks me if I’m an art student (he was almost  sure I was, not that there’s anything wrong with being an art student!) to which I replied ‘no, I graduated in mathematics’. I didn’t even look at him to see his reaction I just continued looking at the displays, he then says ‘ a maths degree, that’s really good’ I’m like ‘I KNOW’. He finally gets the hint.

I walk into the food hall and I know exactly what I want- a chicken tikka wrap from the Tiffin Bites counter with lime and mango chutney, lots of salad, bit of onion, and a drizzle of yoghurt and mint sauce mmmnn. I then go to the  Pierre Herme macaron counter (and by the way they all know me there) and I get my usual passion fruit and chocolate macaron. At £1.80 for a small piece it’s a bit steep but nothing beats perfection. It has just the right texture crispy on the outside, then a bit chewy before you hit the chunky chocolate centre.  Chocolate and passionfruit- 2 of my favorite things and the sweet and sour is so complementing. The simple pleasures.


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Food Is Fun!

Who knew that working for a couple of days at The Natural and Organic Show in London would turn out to be so much fun!?  The first thing I did when I arrived was have a browse around. Hadn’t had a decent breakfast either so was on a mission to munch.

One of the first things that caught my eye was the ‘Pussy’ stand, a carbonated natural energy drink made from grape juice, lime, lychee and 6 botanical herbs aimed at the clubbing scene. 

It tastes good and it’s about time someone commercialized a less artificial alternative to Red Bull. The funny thing is that I’d somehow come across their website the day before,  it states on there that ‘Pussy starts conversations’ and I can certainly belive that especially after I accidedntly spillt some er.. Pussy on me.  Whatever marketing they’re doing it seems to be working and with a name so ‘out there’ they’re destined for success..

Next up was the Montezuma chocolate stand. Now I’d been meaning to try this brand after seeing their chocolate in several  places around the city. I went straight for the ‘chilli and lime’ flavour  and as I was eating it one of the representatives said ‘now you’ll taste the lime… and now the chilli will start to kick in’ his timing was perfect as if by magic! It tasted PHENOMINAL

Speaking of magic, I was intregued by an 80 year old man selling ‘Magic Chocolate’ . He was alone at his stand and not making much effort to sell but I had to ask him why his chocolate was magic. He explained that he’s the only person who’s managed to come up with a formulae to make chocolate out of only two ingredients; cacao and agave syrup which is a natural alternative to sugar with a very low glycemic index (many have tried this but have only come up with a sludgy textured chocolate without the snap) . He went on to explain the science behind why chocolate really makes you put on weight and why his product is much better for you, but he had a very negative attitude which I found amusing and went on to say ‘not that you really care’  followed by saying ‘I’m just a crusty old man you don’t have to like me, not many people do’ to which I replied; ‘Who needs to be liked? What you want is to be remembered!’ then there was an instant smile on his face!! (satisfaction on my behalf heehee) I ended up having the most fascinating and surreal 2 hour convo with him after the show but that’s another story..  

At this point I was feeling a bit hyper after all the sugar, perfect for some more networking though! I made some friends at the Ecuador food stand and after trying all the differents products; things like chocolate covered guava, papaya and passion-fruit chutney and some ‘Jungle Chilli’ plantain chips that I became addicted to I decided that Ecuador is my new favorite place!

Now here’s a lady who was hard to get hold of since she was getting mobbed almost the whole time. Her name is Liliana and she was hired to represent ‘No Nuts just Coconuts’  a company selling iced coconut cream you can get her info here she covers various events. I also collected the business card of one of the senior people at No Nuts only to find his  title to be ‘cheif coconut’  I must admit I was a little jealous..

Food aside, it seems the natural and organic fans are a really lovely bunch, it was a great atmosphere. I met  an interesting couple with fantastic energy who hold group event’s now and again such as ‘A Yummy Afair’ with the pricipal behind it being surrounding yourself by positive people and promoting positive things, I wouldn’t normally go to these things but I am tempted partly because the couple running it seem like such nice people and also since it’s on Portobello road which is my kind of crowd!

                                                            

Now to end on an extra positive note I’d have to say;

‘ Don’t Be Glum.. Chew Glee Gum!’ 

This is the tagline behind the Glee chewing gum company and I love the style in which they’ve branded their products. They have gum in every colour under the sun and the best bit is that it’s 100% natural, no artificial coloring or flavours and no presevatives. Natural all the way is what I say!

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My first trip to Morocco Part 3/3 – Killing me with Kindness

(Please start with Part1 and Part2)

What a fantastic breakfast to wake up to, the table is full- freshly baked bread, cheese, glossy croissants and coconut macaroons, bowls of the most crisp almonds and walnuts that taste different to any I’ve tried before, fantastic dates.. Out come some Moroccan style eggs, you can smell the cumin immediately (I love cumin), olives, olive oil, grapefruit juice squeezed especially for us, and of course some fresh mint tea. I tell L how overwhelmed I am with how much food they offer us, she tells me they would happily give you everything they have, it’s just part of the culture.

The interesting thing is that the whole time Fatina-the mother of the house just sits back, you don’t find her eating since she’s too busy making sure her guests are okay and topping up the tea watching attentively. You can tell she really runs this house. She sees me enjoying the meal and tells me from now on this is my house and that I should call her mum and her husband Sharkawy dad.

Just as we leave to see what the day holds for us she informs us that she’s preparing couscous for lunch and that we shouldn’t be late. Again I can’t think about food right now.

The daughter Alham (21) joins us and Mustapha comes too despite his sisters pleading he should stay home. I don’t blame her for this but I’m secretly happy he’s joined, he’s clearly sharing the excitement of having guests around. The father Sharkawy drives one car and my dad the other. We spend the day exploring the town and its people. We meet a hard working artist who’s just had a baby, I ask if I can take a photo of her paintings and she politely says no since it’s original work, I’m thinking good for her, that way her talent is less likely to get exploited after all she’s just a small town hardworking woman. She’s clearly very passionate about her stuff, she explains that there is a story behind each of her pieces, many are about women. I spot a small painting I love and behind my back Alham buys it for me as a present. I am completely gob smacked, firstly I’d only met her the night before and we’d barely had a conversation and secondly the painting wasn’t cheap especially for someone from her humble background. Still a painting is one of the best gifts anyone can give me since I love art and it lasts forever. I wonder if she realizes how much her gesture meant to me.

As the day progresses I feel like I have my own personal photographer as they stop me at certain points in their town which they are proud of and insist on taking shots of me. At one point I get to talk to Mustapha who’s always very quiet, I find out he’s 16, I thought he was younger and I think about how dramatically different his lifestyle is compared to 16 year olds in the UK, he’s the same age as my sister.

Suddenly, besides a very silent market square, there is a rush of noise and all these children come running literally out of nowhere and start jumping on each other and cheering before quickly returning to their homes, their local team had just scored a goal in a football match, I felt like I just witnessed a fantastic moment, I love things like that.

We then visit the beach it’s not very busy but we meet two British surfers, the first British people I’d seen so far.

I learn that this town is famous for clay and sardines. A man is selling ‘sherbet’ on the street from one big pot and I feel obliged to try some, it’s a popular drink that sickly sweet. Shorty after Mustapha buys what looks like peas in a bunch of small pods from a scary old man, I worry that they aren’t clean and my dad doesn’t go near them but I still try some.

Back at the family house for a late lunch, out comes a tremendous dish of couscous that looks like it could feed 20 people. Everyone is sharing and eating with their hands. Extended family are constantly coming in and out of the house, including a stunning 10 year old girl that looks like Princess Jasmine. They keep telling me to eat the ‘good parts’ of the dish. They tell me I need fattening up and that I should spend a month with them in the summer and witness a Moroccan wedding. The whole while they show me family photos, everything in their life revolves around the family. Ahlam shows me photos of  her baby cousin, he’s the cutest thing and so I insist they take me to see him. The whole gang want to join this time including mama Fatima. My dad stays home since it’s late and he’s tired. We get into the car, there are 5 of them in the back including an auntie and children on laps yet they insist I sit alone in the front.

It’s a bit of a long journey, as we travel through shabby little streets and villages from the scenery I almost feel like I’m in the movie City of God. The car stops and I get out. I thought we’d arrived at our destination but as some wait in the car mama Fatina leads me into what looks like a tiny house but in reality it’s a confectioner, the finest in town. She shows me his designs of pretty pastries and sweet things and tells me to choose some stating that she’s placing an order for me to take home to the UK. I am completely surprised and again overwhelmed by this kindness. I tell her to choose insisting she knows best. I hear her pleading with him in Moroccan, from what I can make out she’s telling him they have to be ready by Monday morning since I will be leaving for Marrakesh and he’s complaining about how busy he is and that he has an order for a wedding but she wins in the end. I can’t say enough, I’m feeling overwhelmed.

We finally get to the house where I’m introduced to the infamous rosy cheeked baby Marwan. Everyone is making a fuss over him. We’re in the middle of nowhere on a narrow street made up of lines of houses. The small home is full of women, about 15 of them, I wonder where all the men are. Also, I can’t make out who Marwan’s mother is, it doesn’t look like she’s around, although it’s not uncommon in Morocoo for the kids to be brought up by someone in their extended family. Outside young children are playing football in the dark.

The next day we wake up early to make our way to another city-Essaouira. We’re in two cars both full with my father driving one. It’s a scenic route. We pass small villages on the way. We stop at one to buy some fruit and all get out . Sharkawy who’s driving the other car and is one of the best natured people you could meet shakes hands with many of the villagers, he seems to be well known here. My father tells me he’s a hardworking and humble man who somehow is very well respected all around Morocco, he’s even on good terms with the policemen, seems like a good guy to know..

Still outside we buy some yoghurt drinks and snacks from a tatty shop, I find out Mama Fatina is diabetic and feel bad that all this time we’ve been enjoying sugary snacks in front of her, I tell myself I have to bring her some diabetic chocolate from England next time.

I look for somewhere to throw my rubbish, she tells me to throw it on the ground. I tell her if we were in England that would lead to a fine. She tells me I can shit and pee on the floor if I like, she says you can do anything in Morocco, welcome to Morocco.

I spot the cutest kid standing alone outside a shop (I’m so biased when it comes to cute kids, can’t help it), I immediately run to my dad’s car to get him a bar of Twix, he’s shy, he takes the chocolate then hides away. As we drive off he emerges, he’s eating the bar and he waves me goodbye.  🙂

We pass meadows that look like endless patchwork quilts. I spot a baby donkey running in the wild, amazing. There is nothing but nature around. At one point we pass a man alone on a donkey, he is old with dark skin and a face all wrinkly like a prune, my dad say’s ‘look at this guy he knows nothing about internet and all that rubbish’ I reply ‘he looks like he doesn’t even know his name’.

When we finally get to Essaouira we meet with a very attractive Zimbabwean women called Sue . She stands out like a sore thumb with her blond hair and fantastic style. She tells me she’s lived in Morocco for more than 10 years and she owns her own guest house. She takes us to a bustling area full of markets, café’s and music. She tells me there is a great music festival here in June (and btw I’ve already booked my ticket). As we walk around everyone is greeting her, I spot her talking to a fragile old Moroccan lady who she then kisses on the cheek, I can see she’s such a people person. We walk to her guesthouse nearby which turns out to be the most charming place full of character, she takes us to the sea view on the roof.

We go back to the market and I fall in love with some colorful harem pants which I get at a good price thanks to my entourage. My dad says it makes me look like a hippy but I don’t care because I love them and so does Sue, she tells me she wants me to email her a photo of me wearing them.

On the 2 hour journey back to Asafi, I’m silent. L and Ahlam keeps asking me if I’m okay but the truth is I’m thinking. Thinking and reflecting on the events of the past few days, it’s a lot to take in.

When we get home, Ahlam gives me a CD, she said she bought it while we were in Essaouira as a gift for me so that I could take some Moroccan music back to England. What can I say..?

It’s late and I feel ready for bed, Ahlam wants to show me how to bellydance Moroccan style. I’m not in the mood at all but I can’t say no as she seems so excited about it. We leave my dad to sleep at his apartment and she takes me back to hers. She takes out some clothes from a suitcase in her parents room, they are special outfits normally only worn at Weddings, she picks an outfit to dress me in and puts some heavy special jewelry on me too. I feel like a doll being dressed up and I feel bad that I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the dancing at first with all the effort she made. We have a lot of fun messing about, she takes videos and photos. We talk, she tells me she has no real friends since she only knows her family and she looks forward to the next time I visit. At this point I don’t know what to think. I feel weird.

It’s my last day with the family before returning to Marrakesh. At the breakfast table they show me the pastries they had made to order for me. They are the most intricate beautiful creations and all hand made especially the flower shaped ones, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s in a massive box that I think is surely 2 weeks worth and I wonder if they’ve spent their entire months salary on me the past few days. They then go on to tell me that they are getting a Moroccan outfit custom made for me for the next time I come to Morocco and they make me choose a colour and style as well as taking my measurements.

They plead with my dad to allow them to take me to one last place before the long drive back to Marrakesh. They take me to a fish restaurant known only by locals. We get served a mountain of freshly caught seafood all fried in light batter and presented on paper, it’s similar in a way to our fish and chips. There is some homemade hot tomato sauce and we all drink Coca Cola, other than that freshly baked bread.  They pile all the calamari on my plate and I wonder why since I prefer fish, I realize later that they wanted me to have the ‘best’ bits. I try my best to pay for the meal but they won’t allow it  stating that it’s not every day I visit Morocco.

L, myself and my dad drive back to Marrakesh. Again I’m quiet, I have so much on my mind. I’m so overwhelmed I’m discontent. I want to give something back to these people but I don’t know what. I want to write everything down but I know I’ll have to wait, I wonder how I’ll remember everything that happened on this trip, I don’t want to forget a single detail.

My last night in Morocco and I return to the local bath with L. I’m more comfortable this time after everything I’d seen my trip, also it’s pretty much empty in there since it’s late. This time there was a different lady scrubbing me down and I’m ticklish as anything. She makes fun of me and tells me in Arabic I’m ‘like a spaghetti’ and laughs. I tell her she has nice eyes in Arabic.(which was true) She immediately gets up and starts singing a song repeating the phrase in Arabic ‘I have nice eyes’ and she starts dancing too. (Can I remind you we’re in a freakin’ bath!)  I’m thinking she’s a nutter but I love it, we both get up and shimmy and join her singing. (It’s been a long day) She then asks me who I’m visiting with, I say my dad, she asks me if he’s good looking and whether he’d like a massage later. I’m almost tempted to send her back with us to see the look on my dad’s face, she looks like she could eat him alive.

Few hours left of my trip and ‘the family’ drive the 3 hours from Asfi to see me off at Marrakesh airport! Also L insists I keep her handbag to which I reply she should expect something in the post from England very soon (and I know exactly what I’m going to send her). I check in before saying goodbye, it’s emotional. As soon as I’m on the plane I’m writing, writing everything in note form. It’s a three and a half hour journey yet I only managed to get through half my trip, in note form. There are a lot of stories I’ve left out believe it or not but I’ve tried my best not to bore you.

I still haven’t got over the genuine generosity and love that was shared with me, it makes me feel proud of my Middle Eastern roots. I came on this 5 day trip with no expectations and was gifted an experience that can only be described as PRICELESS.

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