Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cap Engela: The Northernmost Tip of the African Continent is in Tunisia

Cap Engela

Bizerte or Bizerta is a city situated along the Mediterranean Sea in the northern part of Tunisia. It is the largest city of the Tunisian northern coast and is the northernmost city in Africa. This old city was founded by the Phoenicians and has a beautiful old town and old harbor that gives the city one of the most charming and picturesque sites in all of the North African coast.

Not too far from Bizerta, there is a place called Ras Angela, or Cap Engela which is the northernmost tip of the African continent. This unique place did not use to be given a lot of attention, until last November when a group of government representatives and ambassadors accompanied the Tunisian minister of Tourism Amel Karboul to Cap Engela to officially announce it the northernmost point of Africa and give it a silver metal statue of the African continent.

Africa and I

If you want to visit the northernmost tip of Africa, you will need to park your car in the town of Cap Engela and then have a 30-minute walk in a sandy hill with fir trees everywhere.  Standing near the Cap Engela statue gives a spectacular view on the Mediterranean Sea that cannot be found elsewhere in the country.

 Enjoying the Northern Wind

Small colorful rocks

Mediterranean Shore

Places like Cap Engela are considered a precious asset for Tunisia, not only for its symbolic representation, but also for its strategic location and natural resources that can be exploited for major projects and touristic attractions. The efforts that are being made by the Tunisian ministry of tourism bode well for the future of the underrepresented areas of Tunisia with breathtaking natural sites, just like the mysterious Cap Engela, the farthest African point from the South African Cape Agulhas and the northernmost tip of the continent.

A special thank you to my friend Jérôme Saulière who took me to Cap Engela and who accompanied me all the way.

Monday, November 3, 2014

About Cognizant Windy Lands: Identity is Everything

The average life expectancy at birth in Japan is 84.6 years. In Swaziland, it is 50 years. Difference is good, we should embrace it. Many people have said that, including myself. 

I stole a small yellow memo pad I had found on the old desk behind the bookcase and I was hoping no one would mind. All I wanted to do is to learn things and share them with others. I also wanted to challenge myself, cross as many borders as possible, pretend to be a fearless explorer and find satisfaction and love. I was always looking for more contentment. 

Barrow was not full of colors. I did not expect to find colorful scenery in the northernmost city in America anyway. It was not a place where newly married couples would spend their honey moon. Inspiration was strong in me. Sometimes I needed to stop and just think about that very exact moment and the reason why I came to the “top of the world” as I had read on the welcome sign in the city of Barrow. Alaska was of an astounding beauty. 

Where I was, what I was doing, what were my friends and my family possibly doing back home, what was happening in Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, and also Chile, Portugal, Estonia, Burundi and Mongolia. I was thinking about all these possible questions and I knew that the possibilities to find others were endless. But I did not want to lose my mind. It was dark. I looked up at the sky and saw green and red flames of light stretching across the horizon. I knew they were northern lights. It was then when I was involuntarily thinking about life expectancy in Japan and Swaziland, starvation in Somalia, crimes in Honduras, gender equality in God knows where, social justice, culture differences, weird traditions in Asia and sand storms, dead whales, dead bears and dead people, the Swazis and the Japanese, iPhones and wars, previous wars, current wars, art, and cliffs and fjords and romance languages and faded 15-year-old memories. 

“What could possibly define one’s identity?” I asked myself. I knew it was not the place where I was born, nor the passport I used to travel. I knew it was not the school I attended nor the things I was taught there. I knew it was not the traditional music of my hometown that I sometimes introduced to foreigners and tourists. And I also knew it was not the superego I developed, the dreams I had in mind, the goals I had set,  the aspirations that at some point I thought were the sources of my happiness. Then as I kept walking not too far from the city, I took the yellow memo pad that I had found, and started writing random things down that sometimes did not make any sense, at least for those who were not trying to get lost in Alaska. 

Many people can easily find a strong set of ideas and wise arguments on what defines their identities and what makes them unique. Those are lucky; they find answers easily and quickly. They can sit on their couches, watch some TV, drink a beer or two, or more, order food and make Hashtags like “Bring back our girls” and “ Save the whales” because it proves they are good people who care about the world. 

I thought the progress of Mankind is a long, endless and complicated process, just like defining identity, just like building it, or let me say, letting it be built. I do not want to define it by space and time and what we believe in and work on. I define it by everything else. And this is not a complicated version of an alternative definition for identity. Our definitions are different because we are different, and any other option would not be very valuable. 

It was getting colder so I rushed back to the city, but little did I know, I had already lost my way. 

Barrow, AK

Thursday, October 30, 2014

YaLa Academy and the New Media and Citizen Journalists Program

The MENA Region

Inspiration has been a strong and valuable asset that I always welcomed. It helps me remember how big the world is and how big my responsibilities are. And that I believe is very important to make my life of use. I found in YaLa Academy the possibility to serve the passions that I hold close to my heart, and most importantly the inspiration that I just mentioned in this lovely introduction.

I feel I have always been connected to the issues that my generation is facing especially in the Middle East and North Africa, and to the ways I could find to interact with people from there and find innovative solutions to the different challenges of this region. It is true that many organizations and institutions are now focusing on what has been going on in the MENA countries, trying to support them overcome their problems, conflicts, fulfil their needs and use their resources to the very best.

The YaLa Academy is one of these networks that aim to bring people together and promote peace-building and conflict resolution through a number of projects and events. One of its most recent programs is the YaLa New Media and Citizen Journalists Program in which I am taking part. This initiative was launched to train a group of young activists from the MENA region and provide with the necessary skills to interact with each other making themselves better writers, storytellers, bloggers and peace-builders. The project focuses on practical skills of journalism, new media and active participation.

We are now in the second month of the program, and we have been very lucky to be given lectures by inspiring leaders and professors who were also able to answer the questions and the comments of the group members. I have to say it is absolutely incredible how such a simple initiative that has been conducted online can help us come up with creative ideas, inspiring stories and most of all, give us the opportunity to positively interact with each other, give feedback and defend the values that each one of us believes in. I believe in the great importance of empowering people, and that is why I believe in YaLa Academy.

The second assignment that was suggested to us was to write a piece about one of these topics: Identity, Peace-building, Social justice, Gender Issues or Culture and Tradition. I chose to write about Identity, inspired by my trip to Alaska.


The YaLa Academy Logo

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Turismo y Desarrollo Comunitario

It is only when I started to travel and live beyond my home that I understood how viable Tourism is for local community development. Many people refer to Tourism as a frivolous asset of little economic value. But residents should educate themselves about the potential positive impact of tourism and the opportunities it can create to bring people together.

I have had the chance to experience two roles during my trips or whenever I stay in my home town: the tourist and the resident. In fact, every resident and every visitor are essentially complimentary partners in tourism planning and its impact on community development.

Five months ago, I decided to cross the borders of my country and of my mind by travelling to Alaska. The trip was undoubtedly unique, as was the fact of being in a place that was, to some extent, infamous. Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska, is a place that has benefitted from Tourism for years. Even during cold seasons, Anchorage still attracts tourists with a passion for winter sports, lofty mountain peaks, marine wildlife, ice-sculptured fjords and glacier cruises to see the massive tidewater glaciers of Alaska. Tourism supports about 40,000 jobs for Alaskans on an annual average basis. Many of these jobs are in restaurants, bars, hotels, lodges, sightseeing businesses and other establishments that provide services to tourists.

What I have learned while I was in Alaska is that every resident, not just tourism employees, has the capacity to affect a visitor’s perception of the place. Every resident in Alaska is a partner in customer service which is significant in tourism, because it thrives on word-of-mouth reports to friends and family, and now through social media, too. This means that the whole community takes part into the tourism development process, which will contribute to the community’s development afterwards and therefore make tourism a sustainable business. 

In my home town, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy something else. Having been the centre of the Carthaginian Empire and a Phoenician colony during the 1st millennium BC, Carthage has been an excellent historic site in the north of Tunisia, which is over 2800 years old. This city of 20,000 inhabitants attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world each year.

Carthage has grown rapidly during the last decade. We have been encouraging support for tourism by residents, as well as government and local businesses. Many hotels, resorts, museums, and the prestigious International Festival of Carthage have all been contributing to the development and the reputation of the city and the country as a whole.

I believe that residents and tourists are able to help communities discover their tourism potential and work on it. For many communities on earth, tourism has grown into a global economic power and savior in the developing world. However, tourism is also about endless possibilities of life in new places with different people. Because I believe that, to live means to travel in high-definition; any other life is black-and-white.

Ala Oueslati

Somewhere in Anchorage

Anchorage Trails

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Salt Lake City, Utah

Utah has its own magic. As soon as I landed in SLC Airport, I was amazed by the snowy mountains surrounding the city from all different sides. The weather was colder than in Portland, and the city seemed to be quieter. 

McKenzie, a close friend of mine who was interning with me in Switzerland in the summer of 2013, is from Salt Lake City. She was kind enough to not only be my guide in Utah, but also my host during the few days I stayed there. 

Salt Lake City was too gray. It was not too crowded or noisy. Snow was still covering the ground and the buildings and everything else just looked peaceful. I was carrying my back bag, my phone and my camera with me, making sure to capture any scene that I found beautiful and unusual. McKenzie was telling me fascinating stories about the city, its astonishing history and its founders, as I walked behind her, looking at every building, every street, listening to the sounds of the city and trying to feel what it was like to be in SLC on that day. 

Not too far from the city center, I could see the most valuable monument in the city: The Temple. The SLC Temple is located in an open area called Temple Square and is certainly the most shining and most prestigious building in the city. It is not only a religious monument, but also a unique symbol that represents the capital of the state of Utah. The Utah State Capitol is just as gorgeous as the Temple. I was not surprised when I met European tourists who were inside the Capitol. 

Provo is where I stayed during my journey in Utah. The city of Provo is not too far from SLC. We took a train to get to Provo where McKenzie’s father was waiting for us in his car. The next day was another great day. It was the day where I got to discover a big part of my McKenzie’s life. Provo is the second biggest city in Utah, and is an excellent area for people who have a strong passion for nature, just like myself. I often got the chance to see some wilderness in the streets, and I was fortunate to go on a road trip all the way to Midway, a place that reminded us of our days in Switzerland, another wonder of Utah. The last day of my stay in Provo, McKenzie and her mom took me to the airport, we hugged, we cried, and then I got on the plane that was flying to Denver, Colorado. 


McKenzie, Bri, and I, in front of the Temple

Salt Lake City seen from the top of The LDS church office building

Utah State Capitol

McKenzie and I driving in Provo

Monday, August 4, 2014

Nouakchott - Mauritania

A hotel in downtown Nouakchott

In Nouakchott life is different. I have been here for a few days now, and I am still learning about the Mauritanian society and culture. I am not the first person to move to Mauritania and certainly not the last one. However, I have been receiving worried phone calls and emails from friends and family, who, to some extent, were not welcoming the idea of working and living in Mauritania.
This country is in fact gorgeous. Just like any other country, it makes me think differently. It gives me new ideas and it makes me a more knowledgeable person. Life is relatively slow, simple and quiet. Mauritanians are hospitable people who have a strong desire to work and benefit their communities. It is true that working conditions are not very favourable; however, this is exactly what makes Mauritania unique, and my work challenging.

Working for the United Nations is just as special as working in Mauritania. Facing too many challenges and having access to limited resources makes my stay here a special experience that will certainly help me grow in character and in depth of understanding. Sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in a place that we usually do not hear of in the news, a place that people do not look forward to go to, a place that is waiting for new visitors.
Nouakchott is the beating heart of Mauritania. With less than a million people, it is the largest city in the country and one of the largest cities in the Sahara. It combines the magnificence of the Sahara with the greatness of the Atlantic Ocean. This scene is not very common, and it creates a new perspective of life.

Being one of the residents of Mauritania is something very special. It helps me understand how people lived here for years and how people deal with their struggles as I dealt with mine while I was in New York, except, our struggles are undoubtedly very, very different. The beauty of this country is found in the habits and traditions of the people who, very spontaneously, just want to carry on and keep doing what they have been doing for a long time. Despite the weather conditions, the limited resources and the high poverty rate, they have succeeded in being simple people, patient, persistent, who do not look up to commodities of life, and that is what makes them a great nation that happens to be infamous.  


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Travelling for Peace

Now I became aware of how this world functions, to some extent. I started to learn more about my life and understand how it is like to live beyond my own borders and have new people in my life. 

We are many, living on this earth, people of different countries, cultures, ethnicities, religions and traditions, but also, people of different ideas. This great diversity should serve nothing but peace. It is essential to open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to new perspectives and cooperate to find innovative solutions for global challenges that concern every single human on the planet. Because peace is our only option, and because building peace is the key to human advancement, we need to make our lives of use, to ourselves and to others and work on promoting a safe and peaceful future for the next generations. 

I like to associate the term "peace" to travelling because I believe knowing more about people and where they come from is a way to establishing relationships with them. Cooperation, comprehensiveness and mutual help are all great contributors to building peace and promoting intercultural dialogue. 


Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Last Frontier

He stole a small white memo pad from his host's house. He was hoping they would not mind. He just needed to write things down. He knew that by writing things down, he would avoid going crazy. That is what they said on the radio.

As soon as he found himself walking by the ocean shore, not very far from the city, he was thinking about the frozen salmon and his bleeding toes. His phone was not working. He hated having to use a pen with his gloves on, but he was delighted that he had the chance to record those meaningful extraordinary moments of the north.

As he saw the sign that said, "Barrow, top of the world", he understood that he is crazy, unstoppable and that he could not fully assimilate what happened. It felt peaceful and quiet. It felt white and pure. He knew everything was perfect; the heaven he had imagined, the extreme beauty of nature that he had been looking for, the unusual sensations of satisfaction. He was walking steadily, his face covered with a thick green scarf and his hands in his pockets, making sure to look everywhere, humming and singing to the Iñupiat Gods and the Eyak and the Yupik and even Apollo. Then, he paused for a second and looked at the sky. A grey fog covered all Barrow. He could see the slight glimmers of the few Alaskan houses. He then started a new reflection on how to confront the monsters if they come haunt him down. He knew it was just a legend, but the circumstances made it feel so real. He did not care and he said the things he always said: "you needn't worry, this is absolutely fine" 

He passed his hand carefully over his abdomen. He wanted food, but inspiration was strong in him. He knew everything around him was magical at that moment. The temperature was dropping and it was getting darker. He had a toughness and a philosophical attitude that was new to him.

He kept walking towards the horizon when he noticed that the ice under his feet was getting green. He paused. He smiled. He looked up at the sky and he saw his dream; green and red flames of light stretching across the sky, a surreal glowing curtain of light forms swirling above him and above Barrow. He understood that he had just witnessed the Aurora Borealis. For the first time he was not thinking about peace and war and crimes and inequality and starvation and also poverty and selfishness and greed and animal abuse. It was the first time he saw freedom. The temperature was still dropping, but he was absolutely fine. I, was absolutely fine.

Alaskan railroad, Girdwood, AK

Alaska airlines flight from Portland, OR to Anchorage, AK

A cold day in Anchorage 

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Portland is not like any American city. It is green, very green, alive and most of all full of secrets. The bus I had taken from Seattle to Portland last December also wasn't like any other bus. It was very slow, very quiet and very cold. The driver had to drive slowly since the road was very slippery, and most people in the bus were sleeping, or very sleepy. And the reason why I am using a lot the word "very" is because that part of the country succeeded in giving itself a unique image comparing to the rest of the States, an image of modernity, beauty, peculiarity and extreme love for nature.

Three hours were enough to enjoy the Washington-Oregon sights from the window. Arriving to Portland meant the beginning of an extraordinary journey in the beautiful State of Oregon. I managed to quickly find my hotel, check in and take my back bag to start wandering in the city's streets and be happy getting lost.

Like everything else, Portland's architecture is unique. So many colours, weird shapes, futuristic designs and historical statues in almost every park, made the city look like it was founded by aliens, wild animals and armies from a lost era. It was fascinating to be in such a vibrant city, a city that managed to maintain originality, beauty, sustainability and art to make life there a unique experience. The city has a lot to offer, not only for a curious tourist like myself, but also for people who have been living there for years and still can find pleasure and joy in being one of the inhabitants of Portland. 

Not too far from the city centre, I found beautiful Japanese miniature landscapes with Zen gardens around and small paths to follow. As I was strolling near the gardens, I discovered something else. It was grey, strange and a bit disturbing. A huge black wall was standing in the middle of the trees, with very small scriptures and random objects on the ground that looked like everyday items. As I was approaching the wall and as I started reading what was written, I realized that the wall was actually a memorial dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. The everyday items I saw on the ground were made of steel, they cannot be removed, they can only be seen or touched, and then remain on the ground, quietly telling the story that many survivors wanted to tell to the world. 

I paused for a moment. I realized that I was in the middle of a quiet green forest sitting in front of a violent and clamorous piece of history. I had many thoughts in mind. One of them was thinking of how fortunate I was to get to experience something like that in a city like Portland. The moment was strong, sincere and breathtaking. However, it was full of peace, love and hope. 

As I was getting ready to leave, and explore more wonders of Portland, I heard quick loud steps behind me. I saw a little child running towards me and a woman's voice suddenly said "honey wait, that is not a doll don't touch it".


That is not a doll, don't touch it

That is not a bag

These are not letters

This is not a violin

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Exceptions, peculiarities, curiousness and minorities, everywhere on the globe, are also determinants of social development. These essential elements contribute to the progress of Mankind and to the evolution of our understanding. For years, experts and academic professionals have been trying to integrate international concepts into schools, companies and communities in general. They introduced things such International Economy, World Geography, History of Southeast Asia and of course English. All these subjects have been integrated into the educational system in most of the countries with only one goal: disapproval of traditional geopolitical divisions.
What actually happened was a result of abstract concepts that only sounded promising on paper or during important speeches given by important people. The international dimensions that young people have been exposed to, proved one thing so far: most of the people accept to learn international matters because they expect that to enhance their chances of achieving their future careers in the fields they have chosen. In fact, in many cases, the knowledge they get to develop is not actually seen as a way to raise their sense of humanity, strengthen their global belonging or learn about other groups of people and all the characteristics that make them different, it is now becoming a tool to actually deal with the different types of relationships people create when they “interact” with other people who are different.
In such cases, people will find themselves able to identify how they need to adjust their behaviour to achieve the so called harmony and intercultural conversation with people from different backgrounds. This example shows that individuals learning about how to deal with each other rather than about each other fits what I have called International Dissonance, which means crossing one’s borders to discover the kind of border itself and not what exists in the other side. This misunderstanding now sets new meanings to concepts like Tolerance, Intercultural Exchange and Curiosity. These new rules are also determined by what we consider is a good culture, a beautiful language, a big country, a strong economy and even a good weather: We like to judge.
The process of reassessing all these unstable meanings is not that complicated. It needs willingness to cross borders just for the pure purpose of feeding one’s naive knowledge and curiosity that will not be used to set new imaginary intellectual borders, but to actually embrace the difference, as it is, raw, unrefined, let it be a part of one’s life, because every place is a good place. It has always been that way.