Architectural Conservation in Dubai?

What do you do with a 5 hour layover in Dubai?  Whenever I fly with Emirates, I somehow find myself with a lengthy layover at the Dubai airport. The last time this happened I was lucky enough to have a friend in town to show me the infamous skyline by night. This time, however, my flight arrived in Dubai at about 6am. So after an hour or so nap on the fairly comfortable waiting lounge seat, I headed off to check out old town Dubai by Dubai Creek. The pink women and children-only taxi dropped me off in the Shindagha area, right beside the docking area for the abras, the commuter boats.  I walked along the quiet and pristine port towards a cluster of traditional-looking buildings.

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Low and behold, I stumbled upon a sign reading “Traditional Dubai House”. Continue reading

The Circle of Life

During my five day safari, I snapped over 1,600 photos. I became obsessive and treated each sighting like a magazine photo shoot. At every encounter, my right eye was glued behind my camera’s view finder. Nearing the end of my trip, I realized I needed to simply enjoy the view and action, not just capture the scene. But as the safari progressed, I became selfish; not only did I want to see the animals but I also wanted to see them in action. Fortunately, that’s what I got.

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In the middle of the day, you don’t really expect to see much predator wildlife since the weather is so hot; Continue reading

Meeting the Masai

Although the Kenyan destination tourism market has commercialized the Masai name, I was pleasantly surprised to find the traditions and heritage of the Masai people thriving and vibrant in the Masai Mara. In Nairobi, you will find merchants and craft markets collectively selling Masai blankets, beaded jewelry, artwork and more. I would contend the Masai name is an over-utilized marketing tool, a clear indication it’s moving dangerously close to holding a “tourist trap” reputation. Although my position on the matter remains unchanged, the innate beauty of the Masai culture should not be dismissed. The Masai Mara may be best recognized as Kenya’s wildlife mecca, but the region is also home to over fifty authentic Masai villages of tremendous character and unique local charms.

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After our concluding full day safari game drive, our guide gave us the option of visiting a Masai Village near our camp. Indicating that the venture would cost us an additional 15USD, I immediately believed yet another “tourist trap” pitstop was in store. Nevertheless, faced with the alternative option of sitting in my non-electrified tent, I succumbed to the sales proposal and scrambled together 1500 Kenyan Shillings to visit this so called “authentic village”. The entrance fee granted us a traditional Masai welcome dance, entry into the villagers’ homes, a guided tour of the community, and complimentary photo opportunities. With my skepticism still intact upon entering, I anticipated some sort of lazily executed, artificial village re-creation of primitive Masai Mara life, à la Plymoth Plantation or some cheesy Renaissance Fair. While the community has certainly optimized their culture’s tourism appeal, I was happily surprised to find that what we witnessed wasn’t just for show or to indulge us “muzungus” (foreigners); conversely, it demonstrated how the native Masai currently lived day-to-day.

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Tourism: A Potential Economic Pillar for South Sudan?

A few weeks ago, I attended a Rotary Club meeting on tourism development in South Sudan. Bishop Lanogwa and Mr. Olindo Perez of South Sudan’s Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism led an exciting conversation and inspired all of us in the room to think of South Sudan’s tourism potential. As a new nation reliant on oil as its main economic engine, the ministry believes tourism can be South Sudan’s second economic pillar. South Sudan boasts six national parks and thirteen reserves. The nation has arguably the largest wildlife migration in Africa. Although the second Civil War (which lasted over two decades) negatively affected wildlife, South Sudan is still home to large populations of beautiful kobs, giraffes, elephants, chimpanzees, and other wildlife.

Kob Migration in South Sudan

I believe tourism is a very powerful economic tool; however, its social and environmental consequences can be both negative and positive. Continue reading

A New Nation Rooted in Tradition

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I have lived in South Sudan now for over a month! Living and working in a developing country is definitely thrilling and challenging. Within a few moments of stepping off the plane in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, I had my first encounter with South Sudan’s interesting rules and regulations. The arrival terminal at the airport is modest and petite.

While I waited for my luggage to be scanned in the airport’s newly installed x-ray scanner, I found a dingy luggage cart with a sign stating “Welcome to London Heathrow Airport”.  How funny? I had to take a picture! Right after the flash went off, a security officer snatched the camera out of my hand and asked me to enter the security office. After a short interrogation, I pleaded for forgiveness, deleted the photo, and scurried out of the airport gate.

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A Model for Success: The Story of Amani Ya Juu

A friend of mine told me about a shop outside the center city of Nairobi that I had to check out. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a shop-a-holic, so I took a taxi over to Amani Ya Juu. To my delight, Amani Ya Juu is so much more than a store; it is a reconciliation project, a gathering center for marginalized woman, a place of hard work, and an entrepreneurial dream realized. Amani started in a garage with three eager refugee women, two from South Sudan and one from Mozambique. They used their stitching skills to develop a training program and a “fair trade” business. At Amani, fair trade means the women are paid not only a living wage, but enough to send their children to school, and provide for adequate housing and basic healthcare needs.  They also value local culture, traditions, and procure materials locally. Now fifteen years later, Amani Ya Juu exports to the US, staffs over seventy marginalized women, and  proves to be a self-sustaining and profitable project.

From the exterior, the shop looks like an adorable guest house with a quaint outdoor garden café to its right.  Upon stepping into the shop, I’m greeted by a woman in the back sewing a mushroom pattern on a canvas pillow. She welcomed me and asked if I’d like a tour of the production center. Continue reading

A Lesson on Conservation Tourism- the Case of Nairobi’s Animal Orphanages

Yesterday morning, I attempted to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, but thanks to Tripadvisor, my taxi driver couldn’t find the location of the elephant orphanage. Instead, I found myself at the Nairobi National Park’s animal orphanage. Surrounded by a swarm of Kenyan school children (who seemed to be more interested in me than in the wild monkeys), I observed the establishment with slight disappointment. The orphanage seemed more like a mediocre zoo than a safe haven for its animals. I was disappointed with the lack of educational materials, tour guides, or remotely enthusiastic staff. Even as I paid my $15 entry fee (which is quite expensive for Nairobi standards), the clerk was rude and could not provide me with any information; he just scurried me along so he could attract more tourists to the booth.

I proceeded and moseyed around, reading the “Educational” signs that hung on the cages and learning a bit more about some of the animals, like the zedonk (zebra/donkey hybrid) or the cheetah. I was curious as to why some of the animals had been there for so long and why they hadn’t been brought back to the wild. Although I know the Nairobi National Park’s Animal Orphanage must do a lot of good for wildlife rehabilitation, I had trouble seeing tangible evidence of it. Unfortunately, the profitability of tourism had clouded the conservation vision and potential education opportunities that Nairobi Animal Orphanage could offer. Sustainable and nature tourism should educate the tourists not hustle and ostracize them.

Laying aside my disappointment from yesterday, I was able to find the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust today! Since 1987, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has hand-reared more than 90 newborn elephants and released 150 elephants back into the wild at Tsavo National Park. The charity was founded by Continue reading

A Voice from Africa

Jambo! Greetings from Nairobi, Kenya. I am pleased to join the other Raxa Collective contributors and share some wonderful stories of entrepreneurial conservation from here in Eastern Africa! However, before I jump into it, you may be wondering how a little Asian-American girl from New Jersey ended up in Africa. I’ll tell you about myself before jumping into my first blog post!By way of background, I recently graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration with a minor in Urban and Regional Studies. I’ve spent most of my academic and professional career in the hospitality industry. However, during my junior year at Cornell, I embarked on an adventure that would find me exploring an atypical “Hotelie” path.
I spent the winter of 2009 externing at the Tribe Village Market Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where I was exposed to the dynamic Kenyan culture. Nairobi was my pit stop before studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain. I had always held a keen interest in sustainability, I took a Sustainable Tourism class at Ramon Llull University, Turismo Sant. Ignasi, which raised my interest in this sector. While abroad, I was fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling throughout Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, and Morocco. The travel bug led me to a summer that changed my life and perspective on the meaning of sustainability and conservation.

Last summer, I interned at Panigram Resort, a socially and environmentally responsible boutique resort located in south-western Bangladesh (currently under development). For 60 days, my fellow interns and I were immersed in the beauty of rural Bangladesh’s vibrant culture, community, and natural beauty. As the sustainable hospitality intern, I worked on a host of project during the summer. For example, I helped develop a local community’s recycling business, oversaw the construction of a bamboo mud visitor center, modeled a carbon footprint calculator, and taught English classes to Bangladeshi children. Continue reading