personal, photography, travel

Wandering across Turkey

This is not a travel blog.

And yet, I would be remiss not to share some photographs of my recent travels throughout Turkey, an incredibly beautiful country.

We explored the country from distant Cappadocia – with its fairytale mountains and chimneys and ancient monasteries looking straight out of another planet – to Izmir, where we walked beside the coast and touched the Aegean Sea.  Izmir captured my heart and reminded me of California. The weather was warm, the food was delicious, and the views were incredible. Izmir is wine country, and filled with rolling hills, greenery and truly spectacular sunsets. We went to Selcuk, the small town of Sirince (known for its delicious fruit wines), and most incredibly the ancient ruins in Ephesus and Hierapolis. We also soaked in the mud baths of Pammukale and enjoyed the breathtaking views after climbing up the cold cold travertines. It was a challenge, no doubt, but absolutely worth it to feel truly on top of the world.

And finally – Istanbul. Filled with cats and delicious tea and nargile, this city by the water is incredibly beautiful, dotted with mosques especially in the sunset. The city (and country) has amazing mosques filled with intricate detail, and layers upon layers of history – from the Romans to the Greeks to the Ottoman empire. It is truly a magical meeting place where East collides with West. The sunset on the Istanbul skyline is truly incredible, the people are so hospitable and kind, the food and drinks are so tasty.

What an incredible place.

IMG_3784Incredible views of Cappadocia

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IMG_3846Views of Cappadocia from Goreme Open Air Museum

IMG_3918Many lanterns are made out of carving and decoration on gourds in Cappadocia.



IMG_4310You can’t beat the sunsets in Turkey, and this was no exception. Sunset over Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia.

IMG_4240Visiting Selime Monastery near Cappadocia was a surreal experience.  An ancient monastery nestled in such interesting rock formations and mountains. Can’t be beat.

IMG_4074Walking through an ancient city in the Ihlara Valley.

Lots of delicious food and drink in Turkey.  Some of my favorites: mezes (various appetizers), sahlep (a warm, creamy winter drink), moussaka, and of course – lots of Turkish apple tea (çay) and baklava.

IMG_4381Views of the Aegean Sea near Ephesus, Turkey. Simply stunning.

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There are so many cats everywhere around Turkey. Truly adorable and a joy for all cat lovers!

IMG_4585The ancient ruins of Ephesus. Simply amazing.



IMG_4753 1Views of Pammukale, hot springs and cold travertines. An amazing natural formation.

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IMG_4816 1A breathtaking view of the ancient city of Hierapolis – after you climb up high in Pammukale.

The very picturesque small town of Sirince – known for its excellent fruit wines. Blueberry, Blackberry, Strawberry – you name it. Quite refreshing and delicious.

IMG_4854View of city of Selcuk from atop Ayasuluk Castle.

IMG_4867St. John’s Basilica in Selcuk.

IMG_4878Ayasuluk Castle, Selcuk

And of course – the bustling, beautiful city of Istanbul, dotted with its mosques.

IMG_5444The fisherman on Galata bridge, at night.

Happy 2015 everyone!

personal, travel

Notes from Nairobi

This March, I had the incredible fortune of going to Kenya for a week, and had an absolutely wonderful time. The country is beautiful, picturesque and vibrant. Things are constantly changing and developing with the country’s new Constitution and decentralization process, and there is a sense of hope, possibility and optimism. It was an amazing time to visit the country. I wanted to share a few pictures!

2014-03-23 09.50.33-1Church in Nairobi on a Sunday.

2014-03-17 18.57.24A visit to the Supreme Court – a new and dynamic institution in itself.

2014-03-18 12.01.52Visits to iHub, an awesome space for tech startups and social enterprises to grow.

2014-03-19 15.02.14Public artwork in Nairobi; a city with many architectural and artistic gems.

2014-03-19 15.37.58Another view of the church in downtown Nairobi.

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2014-03-20 13.16.06Some enlightening conversations with non-profits providing access to legal services and medical services to survivors of rape and domestic violence in and around Kibera. Amazing work is being done expanding women’s access to justice in a critical time of need.

2014-03-20 13.47.04PAWA254: a space for artists and activists to gather, work & collaborate. Beautiful!

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2014-03-21 09.13.47Overlooking the Great Rift Valley on our way out of Nairobi. Such an amazing place.

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Kenya (March 2014)David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage!

2014-03-16 15.23.52Safari in Nairobi National Park!

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2014-03-21 15.11.43Waterfall in Lake Nakuru National Park

2014-03-21 17.57.09Ending with a surreal, ethereal sunset boat ride over Lake Naivasha.

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human rights, international development, travel

Salone Stories: a country of contradictions?

Anyone who visits Salone in the rainy season will inevitably remember the country’s color as green – a vivid, lush, and verdant landscape broken up by the contrasting deep reddish copper color of the dirt roads that wind through the most isolated villages, and by the dry yellow of huts built from sticks and thatch. My memories of the summer months will forever be imbued with the sound of rain pounding heavily on the zinc roof of my room, the taste of roasted corn and coconut water sold by roadside vendors, and the thrilling but absolutely terrifying okada [motorcycle] rides whizzing through the countryside. The way the weather cools off in the rain, leaving me almost chilly during my morning bucket baths of cold water. The beautiful ride over the breathtaking Sewa river that borders my village.

 I don’t intend to romanticize rural poverty. Certainly, those moments of beauty I observe and appreciate also inevitably contain moments of heartbreak and devastation for Sierra Leoneans. While rural poverty may not appear, on its face, as harsh as life in the urban slums – surrounded as the villagers are by greenery, light, and open spaces devoid of congestion, refuse, and pollution – life remains painful underneath. Life expectancy is only 47 years, under-5 mortality is one of the highest in the world, and 53% of the population lives below $1.25 a day. There is nothing remotely romantic about the hard statistics, which only underscore the reality: life is tough, incredibly tough, for the rural poor in Sierra Leone.

Yet, for a stranger like me, passing through Salone for a brief two months, its hard to ignore the beauty of life here – from the breathtaking natural endowments of the country to the way each individual feels supported, and never truly alone or abandoned, by virtue of the survival of the village community.

And yet, the natural beauty leads to abuses – Sierra Leone, rich in natural resources, perpetually has been exploited by foreign investors and speculators willing to use locals as a means to an end. The civil war, between 1996 and 2001, was fueled in part by warlords financed by diamonds mined in Sierra Leone. Today, mining companies coming into rural communities to access diamonds or iron pay men extremely minimal wages to do backbreaking and often highly dangerous work. How much of the profits from mining go to improve Sierra Leone — and how much instead goes into the coffers of corporations and complicit government officials?

Exploitation of labor, amidst the backdrop of a breathtaking landscape. Singing, dancing, laughing, smiling – joy, in a place of poverty and lack of healthcare. The strong ties of community that leaves none behind – and yet, pervasive customs that impede women’s rights, abuses by traditional authorities, and interpersonal conflict exacerbated by these very community bonds. These are some of the contradictions of Sierra Leone.

How does one resolve these seemingly irresolvable incongruities?

Perhaps we cannot – but simply recognize that there are contradictions in our own lives, as well. In America, perhaps the wealthiest nation in the world, we die (less so now, thankfully!) – for lack of healthcare. In America, where women are CEOs and politicians, one in three women experience gender-based violence. In America, we have every modern convenience – but we still have people homeless on our streets. In America, we have Facebook, Twitter, and super-speed internet, but high rates of depression because perhaps, we have never been so alone.

There are contradictions everywhere, you see. So perhaps we are all not as different as appears on first glance. And as does not need to be said, even in places where exists poverty and violence, one can find incredible joy in connection, in dancing, singing and wholeheartedly embracing life. And yet – in a big city like New York – one can have every facet of modernity at his disposal, and still find himself profoundly and resoundingly – alone.

IMG_8536_2Boys playing (rather, posing) in Gondama, Sierra Leone

IMG_8579_2Women welcoming us to their community for a community meeting and legal awareness session

IMG_8279_2Boats used for sand mining along the Sewa River

IMG_8031_2View from the ferry between Lungi international airport and downtown Freetown

IMG_8042_2View from a house in Murray Town, Freetown