A celebration of full time motherhood: Running the house is rocking fun!

By Sikhonzile Ndlovu

Sikhonzile or Skhoe to family and friends found her bliss taking a break from humanitarian work to being a full-time mom and wife. There’s fun and joy doing it!

3 March 2017 saw me leave the house at 5 am and head to Target stores in Gaithersburg, Maryland to wait in the line for the new Nintendo Switch in sub-zero degree temperatures.

This was such a proud moment in my life because I have never been clearer on what makes me happy and my purpose in life. I was one of two women in the line.

The few men around me asked if I was a gamer. I told them I was buying it for my 15-year old son. One of the guys said ‘Wow! He must really be a good boy.’ I said my children are boss!

It has been a year since I took this giant leap of faith! May not sound so big to someone else but to me it certainly has been life changing. I resigned from my job after nine straight years as a women’s empowerment advocate, packed the family’s bags and got on a plane to start a new life in the so called ‘land of opportunities’ the USA. One thing I was certain about as I got on that plane was that I wanted to dedicate time to my family, rest, and just enjoy life whatever that means. I have not regretted this decision.

I remember telling a friend of mine that I was finally going to be a woman of leisure. She could not hide her shock! She said ‘Skhoe you are so young, you should find something to do’. I am just surprised that our society doesn’t seem to appreciate that one can be something without necessarily having a full-time job. Have we become a people that define people’s worth based on professional engagement? Just asking!

Isn’t it a joy raising future leaders of the world? Who can argue and win with Sikhonzile on this? Yes, it is!

Just the other day a fellow church mate asked me what I do and I proudly said ‘I work for my family. I am a wife and a mother’. I could see the baffled look on her face! I then explained that I support my family and cater for their every need. Then the next question was, ‘so what exactly do you do?’

I used to be of that mindset too in the past. I never understood the great role that mothers play in this modern capitalist world. I thought all they ever do is sit and tweak their fingers the whole day, eat, sleep and let their brains rot! I have always viewed high sounding job titles as a measure of self -actualization.  But my experiences in the past year, have changed my thinking. I feel that most of us mothers don’t realise how much we are contributing to this world by just being there for these future leaders.

When one moves to a new place there are obvious adjustments for the whole family. Imagine your children coming from school to an empty house, in a new city, with no friends or family around. Who do they share their fears, successes and everyday experiences with? With the neighbor who will need ten minutes to just understand what they are saying?

My family will never forget how our son missed the school bus on his first day of school. Initially we got out of the house ahead of schedule, then the driver told us she was going to drive around and come back. Being a mother I then told my son to go back into the house and have his breakfast. When we came out the bus was gone. I had to ‘make a plan’ of course. If I wasn’t there who was going to make the plan?

You still can find use of those rock-killer heels … and get a wow from your children.

A few days ago I drove to three shopping malls in different parts of Maryland just because my son wanted a particular brand of sneakers. When I eventually found them, you should have seen the happy look on his face. So tell me, do I need to find something to do?

And the occasional trips to meet the counselors and teachers to just try and understand the curriculum. And the awards ceremonies and talent shows of course. These are a highlight because I dress up with my rock killer heels. The look on my daughter’s face when I walked into a talent show rehearsal at her school was priceless. She was beaming from ear to ear! She thinks we are friends… (rolling my eyes).

And guess what! I have learnt to braid her hair. When I told one of my sisters, she said ‘since when Skhoe?’ I may sound like a cheap skate, but do you want me to pay $200 for her braids and miss out on a bonding moment? When I say, ‘a daughter is a baby who grows up to be a friend’ I mean it. In the past I was too busy and missed out on opportunities to talk, laugh and just let life be. I am however, often subjected to those stories about her ‘on, off, on, off and on again’ friends.

In her book, ‘Mom and Me and Mom’ Maya Angelou recalls how during a difficult time in her life she called on her mom to fly from San Francisco to Stockholm just to support her. She says, “This is the role of the mother. Not just because she feeds, loves and cuddles a child…but because in an interesting and eerie way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the known and the unknown.” Sounds familiar?

Being head of the Spousal Unit is mastering the job of a one-woman team. It’s a great skill to learn.

Besides being a mother, am also a wife! Just the other day I was telling my husband that I should add ‘Head of the Spousal Unit’ to my name. He asked how many people are in my unit. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that I am the head!

My job description includes being a ‘wardrobe consultant, psychologist, massage therapist, meal planner, sounding board and my favourite editor in chief’ among many others. I am also a partner when my husband needs to think things through or someone to give him perspective. And yes, I joyfully run to and from the dry cleaners every so often before and after major trips and engagements.

The other night I sat up past midnight because I had to prep my husband for a major US Congress testimony. After editing, I made the poor guy do the speech eight times. Literally! Call me queen of mean but when he came out of those Senate Chambers, he had a spring in his step! Keeps my brain active.

People who have worked in gender circles would ask why someone so committed to women’s empowerment would then leave their job and ‘give up their independence’. But nothing has been more fulfilling than hearing my children sing in the house, cheering them on, looking at their school reports, just sitting together every evening, telling jokes and laughing about everything and nothing.

The former FLOTUS Michelle Obama showed the world that playing that important role of mother and wife does not reduce one’s status in society.

Independence as a woman is enjoying the fulfillment in motherhood and in running a happy household. There are many ways to define it but for Sikhonzile, family comes first.

Sikhonzile is a gender, media and communications specialist, mother and wife. She is currently taking a break from full time work.

Defining women’s beauty in Bangladesh: How my short hair defied the norm

By Arpona Ghosh

2016. Arpona defied tradition and stood up to her choice.

Towards the end of my education in Dhaka University in Bangladesh and while preparing for my first job, I tried a new comfortable look. I cut my long, bouncy and silky hair short. It was sassy and manageable.

At that time, I was also seeking for a soul mate I can tie the forever knot with. In other countries, it was just a haircut. In Bangladesh, it is not.

That was 17 years ago and it was not welcome change for my parents. In fact, they got seriously worried I might not find the best groom in town because the men in my country would usually prefer their women with long hair and fair complexion. You can roll your eyes from where you are, but in my country, these are critical priorities for many prospective bridegrooms.

With the short hairstyle, I looked odd to many of my peers and people around me who did not lose time expressing their dislike to me frankly. I was determined to keep my short hair. I want to set my own description of beauty.

1992. Her moms and aunts found the time to nourish her hair to make it look nice to people.

In Bangladesh, just like many Asian countries I should say, long hair and fair complexion are two major indicators for beautiful women. In thousands of literary works poets, novelists and artists praise women by describing their long and black hair like clouds or fair complexion like milk white.

When it is time to choosing brides especially in arranged marriages (mostly decided by parents end elders), these two things automatically come in their checklist. The bridegroom’s status, whether he is a student, a professional or unemployed, often do not matter.

This practice is gradually changing in urban areas but still many people are not ready to accept or welcome women with short hair (if I may add, dark complexion).

Just like the millions of Bangladeshi girls, I grew up amidst these socio-cultural perceptions. In my childhood, I observed, my mother and aunts have very little time even to comb their knee-long hair properly since they were busy with their children, running around for household chores and their day jobs. Many of the women in my family are schoolteachers.

2002. Defying the norm. Cutting her hair short caused a lot of alarm and arguments in her family and even at work.

However, they would all take time to nourish my hair, keep it longer and silky. All it aims is to attract people’s attention. This alongside making sure I go to a good school for quality education.

Cutting my hair, therefore, is challenging an age-old tradition. I chose comfort than what is fashionably acceptable.

When I started working with this ‘unusual’ hairdo, many of my colleagues remarked negatively, some even regarded me indecently. To them, I was trying to be younger or I am hiding my real age. Yes, I get that with my hair short.

By just looking at me, some concluded I was a very rude, unfriendly and a cruel woman. In 2004, in one formal gender training session, one of my feminist friends wrote an appreciation note for me. She said, “She is a wonderful lady but she looks like a boy due to her short hair.”

Even today, when I am in public, I can sense there is still a raging debate around me speculating if I am a boy or a transgender. When I stand up to my decision or choice, I often heard, “Oh, she is behaving like this because she is a man.”

1996. In the country, a beautiful woman is defined as someone with long hair and fair-complexion.

Despite all the odds up against me, I kept my hairstyle because I believe it suits me well and shows my personality perfectly.

My story represents the challenge many women from different cultures are faced with – if we choose what we want that goes against common socio-cultural norms, we must be ready to stand up to it. In Bangladesh, pulling tussles of hair is a common form of violence against girls and women.

During the International Women’s Day celebration this year, one renowned local branded hair oil has advertised one woman who went to the parlor and had a short haircut to protect her from domestic violence.

However, cutting hair to prevent a form of violence might create hundreds of different forms of violence by the husbands, in-laws or other perpetrators. It is not a solution to the problem. This sort of advertisement also teaches women to adjust and to remain silent against violence committed often. This is also a provocation for continuing the culture of silence and accepting violence as normal.

Women need to be bold from our innermost hearts to respect ourselves and make a choice. We need to come together to stop violence against women. At the end of the day, it is our life and we must live it according to our own choice.

Arpona has stuck to her own decision; she is a mother of two boys and continues to advocate for the rights of women in Bangladesh.

Arpona Ghosh, a communications and media relations expert of Bangladesh works in a development organization. For more than 16 years, she promotes stories of successes and challenges in the communities focusing on women and children through NGOs and donor organizations. Apart from roof top gardening and reading, her great passion is to analyze electronic and print media advertisements and other media content. A mother of two growing sons, she also loves to listen and discuss issues on children.

From the Middle East to New Zealand: Traveling mom explores new horizon

By Manel Balbin-Marzan

Manel’s adventurous spirit took her to different countries and new cultures. Not all are beds of roses but she rose up stronger and tougher.

Going out of my comfort zone, leaving behind familiar faces and places has been my life after graduating from college. My first adventure was to build my nursing career in a very conservative country in the Middle East– Saudi Arabia.

I packed away everything including my sheltered life to learn what it is out there in the big world. I conquered the new city with unusual bravery, adjusting with the culture and religion that is totally different from my own.

I dealt with homesickness every single day, my eyes welling in tears until I sleep. Without even a month of hospital experience from the Philippines, I faced the competitive world of nursing abroad. I did not know how to operate the modern hospital beds and machines; did not know how to handle non-English speaking patients and worst, how to handle people with seniority complex.

I was a newbie finding out that the world out there is not at all that lovely. Some people can be cruel. Living through the newness, I managed to get by. I learned the country’s language, worked hard to be a better staff nurse, discovered new friends and lived life as happily as possible.

However, I cannot put aside my sense of adventure. I dreamt of going out of that country, work and explore another. With that in mind, I left my job and moved to Qatar working with Hamad Medical Corporation. I met Borgy, the love of my life, married him twice in a civil and church wedding, got pregnant with my son Red.

She found Borgy in Qatar and they got married twice in civil and church weddings.

Marriage and motherhood is not a walk in the park especially when you need to balance it with work on shifts and studies. At 30, I realized that my life was different: it was faster, harder yet fuller. I was living my dreams of having a family and my dream career was on track.

With my spirit firm, I knew that there are still dreams to pursue, places to see and people to meet. I looked back at the dreams I have listed when I was 23 and realized that my dreams are still alive.

Just when I thought I have settled in Qatar for good, my family and I decided to jump into a void. I took the risk to leave it all. With tears, we left our careers, our comfortable life and our friends who are already family.

Just when she though she has settled well in Qatar, Manel packed up for another adventure.

Almost a year later, I found myself in New Zealand, braving another chapter of my life pursuing further studies at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology taking Post Graduate in Management (Health).

My dream, in parallel with my husband is to move into a country where our child can grow up with quality education and healthcare. We wanted a simple, laidback life unstained by politics and discrimination.

I do not know yet what is in store. I do not know yet the human strategies to succeed through this new phase. I only know one thing—that I was a girl with big dreams, now a woman with great faith. I will never stop dreaming and believing.

My tips moving to a new workplace and environment:

Read a lot about the place. I always read about my country of destination. Adjustment is easier if you know what to expect. Travel guide books are worth the investment and I make sure I read the essentials about mode of transportation, fares and passes, rules of the road, emergency contact numbers, accommodations, communication, customs and duties, health insurance and safety.  I download maps and train/bus routes and timetable.

Be friendly. Expand your network. I believe in the saying that network is your “net worth.” I talk to anyone who gets in my 30 degrees angle. On my way to NZ, I talked to my seatmate on the plane and found out that he is going to the exact same town where I am going. He became my instant travel buddy for the entire 17 hours journey. He looked out for me and my luggage. I eventually met his wife who turns out to be my classmate and up to this day, they are my friends. You will never know if the people you talk to will be the friends who will become family.

Borgy, Manel and Red. Now she has her boys as travel buddies for life.

Stay positive. Along the way, you’ll meet people who has more experiences to share than you. Listen to them and pick out what best applies to you. At the same time, you will meet people whose life stories are depressing or sad. It will put you down or discourage you to continue your journey. Listen to them but never allow them to dishearten you. Always stay positive.

Pray. Going out of your comfort zone and your own country is not easy. Going to NZ a month before Borgy and Red, I immediately felt the loneliness especially when I am alone. Homesickness is real. But there is courage in crying.  Eventually, I realized I need to experience these moments because my little family needs a mother who is courageous. I will never know my strength and my character have I not experienced these things. And these are the times that you can experience how God works in your life and how His love never runs out.

I knew that there will still be a few more tears along the way. But with everything that I have now and with everything I was put through and managed to survive, I know that it is only by God’s grace. I am excited as I anticipate answers to all my prayers. My dreams and my heart are steady.

Traveling is meeting people, learning new things and skills. Traveling alone, Manel found refuge in people and prayers.

Manel is a Registered Nurse from the Philippines. She is a wife and a mommy. She is currently an international student in New Zealand taking up Post Graduate in Management (Health). Traveling, reading and learning a new language are her interests.

Taiwan Diaries: 6 baby-friendly travel days in amazing Taipei and other day trips

By Diane Laguardia-Paquingan

Taiwan’s sights are non-stop colorful visual and gastronomic experience. The place is also baby-friendly with facilities at your convenience.

Day One: Packed ahead of time

After a month of planning for our 6-day trip in Taipei, Taiwan, we again decided to bring Maddie, our 1-year old toddler. Just the three of us. Her first trip was in Japan with my in-laws and in Hong Kong with my sister Dyessa.

Two weeks ahead, I packed Maddie’s things not to miss anything. I ended up still missing my own things, my facial cleanser and my leg warmers. Boo! Pack your own stuff in advance too!

Having a toddler in this trip, we decided to have more time with nature and the wildlife. Maddie is beginning to appreciate flowers and colors. She even started imitating animal sounds. Her enjoyment became a priority. I was not able to find more information about Taipei in the internet especially for those visiting with babies or children. This blog will help moms with some tips travelling with their little ones.

What I love the most about this charming city is its convenient transport system. Everything is accessible by train and bus. Nappy breaks for your baby is almost never a problem. There are plenty of family rooms and diaper changing stations everywhere. They even have free baby wipes inside.

Taoyuan International Airport

We landed at Taoyuan International Airport at close to midnight. We went through the long immigration process but I requested us to get through first because I was carrying a sleeping baby. This is also one of the perks of travelling with a child. You get a priority pass!

The airport is located 45 min away from Taipei Main City where our Airbnb accommodation and most of the local attractions are located. I decided to book us a hotel room near the airport for us to settle right away after a long trip from Davao City.

I suggest, however, that you travel to the main city straight away, as there is not much to see in Taoyuan. You can also save time and money as you check out more attractions.

Day Two: Do not miss the Taipei Main Railway (MRT) Station food treats

Sharing a laugh with Maddie at the Taipei Main Train Station. She loves trains so much she can sleep soundly through the trips.

Checking out of our hotel in Taoyuan, we took a taxi back to the airport for the MRT transfer to the main city. It was spacious and high speed. We stopped by Taipei Main Station to grab a quick lunch. After a few MRT transfers, we headed to our Airbnb accommodation to leave our luggage. The food court in Taipei Main Station is worth stopping over. It has all my favorites from burgers, sushis, doughnuts and all the good eats!

First in our itinerary is the Yangmingshan National Park. It was a 45-min bus ride from Taipei Main Station. My only regret is not having enough time to roam around this beautiful Northern part of Taipei. Yangmingshan National Park is home to numerous small parks, hiking trails and interesting plants and wildlife.

The Yangmingshan National Park is located at the northern part of Taipei and a good 45-min bus ride. Maddie loved the park!

We also missed to locate the Visitor Center where you can hop around for a free shuttle bus to visit all other attractions in the national park. We were lucky enough though to spot a small park (I forgot the name) while walking not far away from the bus stop. We had our pictures taken under the cherry blossom trees and Maddie had a quick stroll with the ducks around the pond. Lovely!

It was so cold we stopped by and shared hot chocolate with Maddie in Starbucks.

Back in the city, we headed to Shilin Night Market to check out some tasty treats but I realized weekend was not the ideal time to explore. It was overcrowded! We put Maddie on a baby carrier and went along with the crowd anyway. We grabbed everything we wanted to taste and left. It was just too much too handle for our first day.

It is best to buy pasalubong (gifts and souvenirs) here but we never went back, too afraid it will still be crowded even on a weekday.

The Shilin Night Market is a haven for street foodies. Colorful, too!

How can you resist this? We did not and binged hard.

The crowd was just too much and we have a baby with us. We went with the flow and left in a huff.

The train ride to Houli Flower Farm.

Day Three: Flower picking day!

We went to the Houli Flower Farm with our Taipei-based Aunt Imelda. We took the train from Taipei Main Station to Tai’an Station, a good 1-hour trip but it took us longer because my husband left his phone on the train. Good thing we were able to locate it through the help of the information center in Hsinchu.

We ate lunch at the flower farm entrance – an unlimited Shabu-Shabu for Ntd350 (roughly around P590) and free flower farm entrance. Entrance alone to the flower farm is Ntd190.

The farm is a visual treat and perfect bonding place for families.

Fancy all these! I can sit all day and read a book.

The place did not disappoint. It was worth the long train ride.

It must be perfect living in a house like this.

Day Four: Wildlife, pandas and pork buns

Initially we wanted to go to the Taipei Zoo as early as we could but Maddie woke up late. She had it her way! It was drizzling and meant a little colder than yesterday’s weather but the little girl chose her own outfit with her pink cap. Yes, she has fashion sense now!

Animal time at the Taipei Zoo.

Taipei Zoo is easily accessible by the MRT through Taipei Zoo Station. With only Ntd60 (Php90) entrance fee, I never thought we were in for so much treat! It continued to drizzle until we got to the zoo so we decided to buy this stroller cover at the shop near the zoo entrance.

The shop attendant was kind enough to give us the stroller accessory I have been looking for to hang our diaper bag and other stuff. Yay!

Maddie slept during the drizzle. This plastic stroller accessory was helpful in keeping her dry along with our other things.

After visiting the Panda House, our little girl took her afternoon nap so my husband and I did a quick photo session. The zoo was one of the best I have been to, even better than the one in Singapore. Talk about value for money!

After a long day at the zoo, we checked out the famous Din Tai Fung Restaurant at a prime location in Taipei 101 Tower. We had Xiao long bao, pork buns and beef noodle soup! Just a tip, go here earlier than 6pm to get a table like we did. As we were leaving after our meal the queue was very long!

Couple-moment at the zoo.

Writing this was quite an experience!

Day Five: A mix of everything touching and nice

When you try to google all these locations, you will find out it is almost impossible to visit it all these places in a day. Thanks for my husband’s research skills and the Taiwan’s efficient train system, we did it!

Shifen is an hour of travel from Taipei Main City. We decided to go out early to maximize our day. When in Taiwan, do not miss to fly a colourful sky lantern at Pingxi District. You get to choose the color of the sky lantern according to your wishes. You also get to write your dreams and prayers before you release it to the sky. To get to the shop that sells these lanterns, you get to pass other shops that sell yummy treats.

Flying the lantern to the sky was even more memorable because we were with Maddie.

We missed visiting Shifen Waterfalls because it was raining. Instead, went to Jiufen Old St. It was another 30-min train ride back to Riufang Station and from there we decided to take a taxi up to Jiufen. It was worth it! I love how charming this old town is. I wish we booked an overnight stay here. There is so much to see including the Jiufen Night Market that we failed to check out since we need to get back to Taipei Main City.

The Jiufen view took our breath away.

The charming Jiufen Old Street was a buzzle of colors and merchandise.

The food treat does not stop. No diet in this trip.

Back in the city, we went to the National Taiwan University aka Ying de University. It is where parts of scenes of the International hit tv series Meteor Garden was shot.

The Taiwan National University made famous by the hit TV series Meteor Garden.

Just in time for dinner, we checked out Raohe Night Market where I got my third round of Bubble milk tea with pearls in just a day! We tasted everything from peppered pork buns, bite size sausages, egg tarts, cubed pork steak (locally called), fried taro, takoyaki.

The Raohe Night Market is a must visit if you love food!

A pork bun – yum!

Day Six: Old streets and food treats go together in Taipei

Aunt Imelda suggested we visit Tamsui District for cherry blossoms before we leave. I am glad we did! It is an hour away by MRT from our accommodation so we decided to leave early again. Luckily, Maddie woke up early. We visited the Fisherman’s Wharf first.

When we got out the train station, the bus stop to the wharf is conveniently few steps away. I suggest that you do not to spend too much time here if you are in Tamsui for a day trip. Go to the Tamsui Riverside quick!

Maddie enjoying the Tamsui River view and the cool weather.

A priceless mom and daughter bonding.

Next stop, the Tamsui Old Street. I found that if you are in Taiwan and it says old street you are in a for a street food adventure! Tamsui has a different charm compared to other places. It is very accessible for a day trip. We just strolled around the seaside district listening to some locals playing instruments along the street while eating local street food. The weather made it more special and romantic.

We were sad to leave Tamsui for Ximenting for our last minute shopping and pasalubong hunt. Before we reached Ximeting we stopped by Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Palace. Another must-visit attraction and most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan.

The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

We fell in love with the Old Street’s art and grafitti.

If Tokyo has Shibuya, Taipei has Ximenting. Usually crowded at night, this is the liveliest neighborhood and shopping center of Wanhua District. I checked out some beauty loots and bought items from H&M and Uniqlo. We went Japanese for our last Taiwan meal. Ramen forever!

Ximenting will give a run for Japan’s Shibuya.

Shop until you drop at Wanhua.

Changing diapers at the airport (and almost everywhere else during the trip were very easy with clean facilities.

Going home!

It was one of my most memorable trips. I love everything about Taiwan: the cold weather, the local street food and the friendly locals.

It is baby-friendly, too. Each elevator is easily accessible for strollers and luggage. People give way to those who need it most.

Based on the journey we enjoyed having Maddie, Taiwan is one of the best. Give it a try!

 

 

“Most people delay traveling with their kids until they have a full grasp of the experience. I would argue that travel when it is possible. Travel when your kid is still not busy growing up and with school activities. Go travel with your children!”

Traveling is a good family bonding experience. Do not underestimate your baby’s memory. Maddie will surely have all these tucked in her smart head.

Diane is a nurse by profession, an online fashion entrepreneur of Kanami Fashion Shop, a travel blogger and currently a full-time wife and mom.

Note: Date traveled March 10 to 16, 2017

Traveling solo in Bali: I realized happiness is made, not found

She admits it was daunting. But it also taught her a lesson on reaching out to others. She also proved many would be happy to help.

By Shintya Kurniawan

It was unplanned. It was fun and life changing. These are the four simple lines to sum-up my experience.

It started when a book-review competition rewarded me free plane tickets to Bali on 2013.

I can choose the dates, the sponsor reserved and paid for my tickets. I am grateful and excited. However, I have never bought tickets to travel alone. It was a first time for me.

When I go for trips, at least one friend joins me in the journey. Except having the free tickets, I have no particular reason to be in Bali. I have visited the island of gods multiple times. What would I do there alone?

Then, I remembered there was this annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival to tick off from my bucket list. So I requested to fly on the dates to attend the event on October 2013. The event, however, fell on weekdays. Everyone was working and nobody wants to go with me.

I guess not too many people would take a leave from work for a literature event. My excitement turned into a dilemma – should I cancel or reschedule the trip until we have a national holiday? Should I still go?

Thankfully, my traveling buddy, Mardea, decided to join me. But she could only do it on the last three days due to work. That, at least, relieved me. I have three days to enjoy my own company until she arrives. It should not be too hard.

Shintya’s first trip alone changed the way she looked at the world and people. It also opened doors for more adventures.

I decided to test my survival skills, packed my bags and just took on the challenge. I booked a motorbike and a hostel near the airport in Denpasar – Bali’s capital city. When I arrived, it was already dark and my GPS could not locate or direct me to the right hostel.

That night, I ended up sleeping at a different hostel – the nearest one I could find. The next morning, I decided to go to Ubud with the rented motorbike. I never drove a motorbike in Bali before. I vaguely remembered the road to get to Ubud from Denpasar. Normally I go by car with Mardea’s sister.

With the help of GPS, numerous wrong turns, countless stops and directions from friendly Balinese people, I arrived in Ubud in one piece. Finally! I did a daring 24 km drive by motorbike in an unknown route. Bucket list checked! The first day of the festival was a bit intimidating. I did not know anyone. Over time I learned how to start conversations and made new friends with interesting strangers.

My Bali experience opened my eyes to the world. After that, I have had the chance to travel alone to various places. During these times, I am bolder. These experiences shaped me to be more independent, raise self-awareness in many things in the world, as well as restore faith in humanity.

My prejudices on people got dramatically reduced as my sense of awareness towards new environments sharpened. I have met numerous angels (without wings) who helped me find direction, share travel tips (sometimes unsolicited) and clinch memorable experiences.

While in Frankfurt, Germany, a Spanish guy helped me buy the right ticket to Karlsruhe and even walked me to the right seat in the right coach at five in the morning. When I asked why he did it to me, he simply said that I looked confused and that I reminded him of himself when he first tried buying a train ticket in Germany. He got help from a stranger and he was happy to pay it forward. There is too much goodness in many people around us.

She met Tony Wheeler, the founder of Lonely Planet, at Ubud Writers event.

When I was in Probolinggo, East Java, Indonesia, the hostel owner asked me to help her interpret for expat guests who missed their train. She then insisted to drive me to my next destination at a neighboring city called Malang. She even insisted to pay for my lunch. In Nagarkot, Nepal, two tourists from Italy shared laughter and lessons with me about surviving scams while traveling.

These adventures blur all the labels and boxes that divide us. Although I still enjoy traveling with friends and family, I realized that it is healthy to take time embarking on a journey on your own. Traveling solo encouraged me to be comfortable with myself as company – making peace with myself.

I will most likely not bother to talk to other people no matter how interesting they are if I am with friends. Alone in trains taught me how to live without internet connection and try to communicate even in different language. It makes you creative and resourceful! It also trained my senses to be more alert of what is happening around me.

A female solo-traveler still raises eyebrows in Asia. The risks will certainly make our parents worry – but once you go home safe, it also strengthens trust for your next journey. In the end, traveling alone helped me to be brave and to say yes with many adventures ahead. Indeed, happiness is made not found. Most of it along the road.

Solo traveling can make a conservative Indonesian family concerned. But it also builds trust when you go back safe after a trip.

Shintya is a media and communications practitioner from Indonesia. She used to work as journalist and NGO worker. Currently, she is based in Poland to pursue her second Master’s Degree in Humanitarian Action. Photography, folding origami and collecting batik are some of her interests.

#ThrowbackFriday: Fascinating Old Dhaka

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The buzzling Sadar Ghat Terminal. I am amazed by the boats ferrying people and goods to the other side of the river.

“Old Dhaka is a term used to refer to the historic old city of Dhaka, the capital of modern Bangladesh. It was founded in 1608 as Jahangir Nagar, the capital of Mughal Bengal. It was one of the largest and most prosperous cities of the Indian subcontinent and the center of the worldwide muslin trade. The Nawab of Bengal shifted the capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad in the early-1700s. With the rise of British Calcutta, Dhaka began to stagnate and came to be known as the “City of Magnificent Ruins”. The British however began to develop the modern city from the mid-19th century.” – Wikipedia

There are sweet memories you cannot easily forget. This happened in 2012 but I still feel the joy that I said yes to the chance.

When our friend Desmond Lim, a walking tour advocate, convinced us to join him for a half-day tour in Old Dhaka, I raised my hands quickly. Three of us, one was Caroline, who was as excited as I am, got into the adventure.

Old Dhaka’s charm sticks inside you. It felt like going through a journey that takes you back in time – a walk with history, seeing what had been there hundreds of years ago is a privilege.

We saw the 85-year old Star Mosque, the 150-year old Manir building and the crumbling Barokata Towers with its amazing 22 chamber shops. One can wonder how doing business was during the ancient times. It must have been brisk.

My most unforgettable moment was meeting 91-year old Am Jahanjir born in 1922. His family served us with freshly-baked bread straight from the wood-fired oven. His son was so happy seeing me having worked in Makati, our business district in the Philippines for several years with an airline company.

The people’s friendliness touched us. It was a walking tour I won’t forget. I became an advocate just like Desmond after this, organizing friends whenever we are in another country.

As I walked out of Old Dhaka buoyed by the sumptuous and plateful biryani we cleaned up, I was reminded how old things and memories can be valuable in our lives. We should not take them for granted. They will be there for a time and will be gone forever – so much like the opportunities that pass through us in life.

“If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” – Pearl Buck

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On my right was 91-year old Am Jahanjir who welcomed us to the warmth of his old home right in the heart of Old Dhaka. It was a privilege! On my left was French artist Laurent Fournier who also joined us in the walking tour.

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The magnificence of the 85-year old Star Mosque inside Old Dhaka.