#MoroccoIsAmazing: Where getting lost is finding yourself … and what you really want

The Morrocans have a beautiful way of doing and selling things. Every product display is a work of art. It seemed like nothing was spared to make them appealing to the eyes.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, in dimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” ― Pico Iyer

As I packed a small suitcase for my Morocco trip, I resolved not to shop but to have more time to enjoy without thinking of things to carry. The cabin bag is perfect for moving at airports. Easy. No waiting time at the baggage carousel. Every time I travel, this is my goal – no checked-in bag! How wonderful to get out of the plane, queue at the immigration and out to the waiting car. I wish!

How do you say “no” to all these and just enjoy the feast? I did. What I am impressed of the shopkeepers here is they can urge you to buy but they aren’t offended when you don’t. I love that kind of respect. Not all, but most.

I met the same mom and daughter team from Argentina who were traveling from Buenos Aires to Barcelona to Cairo then Marrakesh for a month. One carry-on bag each, less hassle. “We washed and re-used and made sure we carried the lightest clothes we have”, Adriana said. Imagine if they traveled in 3 countries with a lot of heavy bags? That can be a nightmare!

On my first day getting into the souk in this small alley, I was already giddy with excitement on what will I find out. I was honestly not disappointed.

I learned well that the best way to travel in Europe is light and easy. Just lugging bags in the train’s overhead bin had been tough for me. Never again. If it is winter time, nobody will even appreciate (including yourself) what you are wearing. All you need is a comfortably warm jacket and a nice neck warmer. If you have other ideas to solve this, let me know.

Going through the shops are convenient, all of them competing not just with an array of things to sell but also on how they creatively display them.

Going through the labyrinth of souks (traditional markets) in Marrakesh was both fun and mind-boggling. The way between shops are small and often, you compete with a very languidly moving crowd, a motorbike doing deliveries and even horses in intersections. Watch your back! This did not faze me, however, as I found it so amusing in most times when a tourist shrieks and shouts after a close brush with a cart pushed by a harried worker.

I was brought to a carpet shop by my guide who insisted there is no pressure for me to buy. Of course I know they wanted me to. After a lot of explaining I don’t need one, we parted ways. Handwoven carpets can sell from US$500 and up. They’re the best buys when in Morocco. You can also arrange to have them shipped.

Most shops open between 9:00-10:00 in the morning and closes at around 6:00-7:00pm except on Fridays when most of the shop owners go for worship. There are few money changers in the big souk but one can always go to the Jemaa El-Afna Square where you can find Bureau de Change and even withdraw money from the ATM machine. I found it easier to do this in the morning when people are still few. It becomes busier by mid-day and all the way to sunset.

Too many choices! Traditional herbs, tea leaves and different kinds of oils are aplenty. Check out where to buy authentic ones before you decide. Your hotel staff can always help advise where to go.

Marrakesh is not a place for people in a hurry. It is best enjoyed slowly, taking time to look at every incredible doorway, a line of ceramic pots in a riot of colors, a rhapsody of tea leaves and oils. Morroco, in general, is best planned like you have all the time in the world to soak even in every small detail of life. Its history is rich and reading about it before you arrive adds to the excitement. It is like meeting a friend after a long time.

A friendly grandma showed us how they prepare and extract oils from the nuts. A painstaking process that Moroccans are happy to do making their oils, especially the argan oil, among the most-sought after.

“Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell not stuff to show.” – Anonymous

Exploring Marrakesh: Awesome airport, nice weather, fun flea markets and souks

If you want to soak in vibrant colors and hues, go to Marrakesh. Every plate, wall, sign – even horse carts – are magnet to the eyes.

Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Marrakesh (or Marrakech), a former imperial city in western Morocco, is a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces and gardens. The medina is a densely packed, walled medieval city dating to the Berber Empire, with mazelike alleys where thriving souks (marketplaces) sell traditional textiles, pottery and jewelry. A symbol of the city, and visible for miles, is the Moorish minaret of 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque. It is also the 4th largest city of Morocco after Casablanca, Fez and Tangier. *

As Royal Air Maroch taxied in the runway from Casablanca to Marrakesh, this scene bid us goodbye. Doesn’t this looked like a copy of a scene in Casablanca, the movie?

Going to Malaysia soon? Read Joanne’s blog.

Flying from Juba, South Sudan to Cairo, Egypt, I arrived in the morning in Casablanca, Morocco and has to wait for 5 more hours for my domestic flight to Marrakech. It was almost a 2-day flight but was made easier with the smooth flights via Egypt Air. The only ruffle was the long wait for the car to take us to our transit hotel in Cairo and the much longer wait for our passports at the Egypt Air office. Otherwise, the trip was hassle-free.

Photography book The Art of the New Airport has named Marrakesh Airport as one of the most beautiful in the world. Indeed, it is.

I was in awe of the Menara Airport. It is one of the most beautiful that I have landed into. It is said to have a capacity of accommodating 19 aircrafts and over four million passengers in a year. The immigration process was fast and in no time, I was out waiting for my taxi driver. I requested from the hotel and the cost was 200 Dirhams (USD20).

This profusion of lights greet the passengers warmly upon arrival and look even more fascinating at night.

Hotel Racine located in Gueliz did not disappoint. The room was spacious and clean with a small verandah that gave me a view of the sunset and the daily lives of the people. Breakfast was a wonderful treat – usually with fresh juices, an array of bread and fruits. There were choices of coffee and tea. The Moroccan tea is not to be missed! I agreed with one tourist who said she is a latte-person but in Morocco, she fell in love with their tea.

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Hotel Racine’s location was very strategic. It is also walking distance to many landmarks, shopping areas and event the Catholic Church.

The hotel lobby. It is fully booked most of the time so I got lucky to have reserved early. Staff are friendly and would patiently explain the direction where you want to go.

People, from hotel staff to drivers, would often laugh every time I ask if it is safe for me to walk alone. Indeed, I have never felt threatened while exploring on my own, even with or without a crowd. The Moroccan traders are among the friendliest! In some countries in Asia, shop owners will scold you taking pictures without buying anything. It is free advertising!

All things nice and beautiful – find them in Marrakesh’s souks (shops) – where every item draws the eyes. It was relaxing!

I learned one needs to bring a light coat or a jacket all the time when traveling on March. The mornings can be warm but the afternoons can be chilly. Depending on where you come from and your tolerance to cold weather, it is best to be prepared. I am glad I brought my thermal shirt with me, it was nicer to layer on top of it. You get the best of both on March and I was happy I came at the best of times.

I almost got tempted bring these plates home. It was too hard to refuse. I am glad my resolve did not break down. Next time, plates (when I have learned to cook)!

Few shops accept US dollars but currency exchange shops are in every corner. Even hotels would prefer the Moroccan Dirhams when you are settling your bill, or pay in credit card. It is also smart to have smaller bills. Taxi rides would often range from MAD 30-50 around the city. Most drivers’ shift ends at 7:00pm but they would gladly refer you to the next if you feel comfortable of the service. I prefer taxis recommended by the hotel but in some instances I just flagged on the road and agreed on the fare before I got in.

Carpet overload! Remember your flying carpet story? I got reminded. If you are into expensive handwoven carpets with amazing intricate Berber designs, they’re waiting for you.

If you are around on a Sunday, never ever miss the choir from the Church of Holy Martyrs at its 10:00am mass. They were amazing you would think you attended a concert with a variety of African instruments being played, including the drums, of course. A lot of tourists and visitors have been raving about this choir. The mass is in French but there are translated guides in a variety of languages from English, German, Italian, etc. I met few Filipinos on my way out of the church.

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The Church of the Holy Martyrs in Rue de Imam Ali in Gueliz. Conveniently a walking distance from the hotel. The church was said to have been built in 1928.

The beautiful mosque in Rue de Imam Ali facing the Catholic church.

They said the mosque and the church facing each other is a testament how the city and the country values diversity and respect of the people’s beliefs, traditions and faith. Morocco is said to have over 50,000 Catholics out of its 36 million population which is 99 percent Muslims.

Jemaa el-Fnaa is a square and market place in Marrakesh’s medina quarter. It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. It is also known as the big square and fills up in the afternoon with people. This is said to be one of the busiest in Africa.

Next blog: Getting lost in the labyrinth of the souks!

*From Google and Wikipedia

Fab at 63: Jo finds the fountain of youth via common sense and discipline

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.” – Mark Twain

There is no secret at all. The fountain of youth is right in our hands. 63-year old Jo proved it works with discipline.

Take a look again. Does she look like one? I mean, is she 63 years old and now is eligible for that senior citizen’s card plus benefits. No way, you’d see. Some will say, it is unfair or it is in her genes. Ok, we can list a lot of excuses and never ran out of them.

I have known Jocelyn Suelo, or Jo, to us her friends and her family, for probably over 20 years since our all-women Venture Club of Koronadal days. She is one of those friends who, when you need anything urgent, all you need is call. But I cannot for the life of me, imagine she past 60!

Then in our of our annual impromptu get-togethers, this time at our farm house, she shared her unforgettable climb at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Yes, all the glorious 3,500 steps on foot from 12 midnight to 7:30 in the morning.  That’s 7 and half hours of uphill walk. “I did it and was never tired at all when I reached the top. I even wanted to shout at the top of my lungs but I got concerned other people around might get annoyed at me”, Jo recalls.

“I wanted to shout but I might annoy tourists around us.” Scaling the 3,500 steps of Mt. Sinai was a major victory for her.

While the rest of the entourage was slumped with exhaustion and lack of sleep, Jo was almost starting her day and ready for more adventure. Any secret? She reveals, “During the steep climb that felt like an eternity, I was focused in praying. In every step after completing 15 Holy Rosary Mysteries, I prayed Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. It made me very strong and full of energy.”

Jo’s consistency in watching her diet and doing her daily physical exercise is paying off beautifully. Take that literally. Imagine how storekeepers’ eyes get wide with surprise at her when she hands over her senior citizen’s card like she was making a joke.

Jo did the incredible at her age together with friends Fr. Louie, Mary Ann and Susan.

“I maintained a healthy lifestyle from the very beginning. I seldom drink soda, hardly eat pork and beef. My food always consisted of veggies, fruits, fish, seafood and milk. I love sleeping and would always complete my 6-8 hours and still take a nap after lunch. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I drink 2 tall glasses of warm water. I don’t drink any cold water at all. Yes, I laugh and smile a lot”, she says smiling.

The eldest of 6 sibling, Jo is the only girl. When her father died, she was 26 years old and became the head of the family taking care of everyone including her youngest brother who was 5 years old at that time. “My father did not leave us anything like a farm to support all of us, not even a spoon of property”, she wryly recalls.

There is no secret. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, sleep for 6-8 hours, pray when you are troubled and smile a lot!

Jo became a working student at the South Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health Office since 1974 to sustain her education. She eventually was hired when she finished college and still works there until now. Despite the tough life she went through, Jo said she maintained a very positive outlook at life.

“Everyday I thank God for my blessings. If any problem comes, I resort to prayers and ask God for help and guidance. He has never failed me. God never ignored my prayers”, she says adding as a reminder, “Keep on smiling. There are so many reasons to smile.”

After standing by her 6 brothers, one of whom is now a ship captain, Jo lives her life to the full. Her daily routine? She shares what all of us can do daily, “I do zumba and always find an excuse to stand up and walk when at work. I love sweeping dried leaves in the backyard of our ancestral home that never failed to get my sweat pouring out.”

No rocket science involved here, right? Jo just exercised dear old common sense to practice and got very good at it through the years. Despite all the banquets, endless parties and celebrations she attended, she never went beyond her 50-53kg. weight.

Jo got us all thinking and it is not too late. If she can do it — then we too can!

Remember what Maya Angelou said? “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Sum them up simply as ageing gracefully. Yes, with a smile!

Surrounded by friends and her loving family, Jo lives a full life despite being single.

Bohol Adventure: Lamanok’s Mystical Island Tour & Tips

The small banca glides effortlessly in the island’s dockyard. It’s a marvelous feeling to have the island by yourself. No jostling crowd and noise.

Going to Lamanok? Prepare yourself for a trip back on ancient history. The mystical island is said to be Bohol’s “cradle of civilisation”.

It is located in Badiang, one of the 16 barangays (or villages) of Anda municipality in Bohol province. One can take a 30-minute pedicab ride from Anda town to Badiang. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the lush green environment and cool breeze from the ocean.

After the registration, we went few steps down and crossed a bamboo bridge to get to the hut where our small banca was waiting. We have heard of the mysterious stories in the island so we decided to be obedient and avoid getting into trouble.

A Filipino balikbayan was said to have visited and took a small twig from a tree without the guide knowing. He went back to the US and felt pain in his stomach. After several trips to the doctor, it was never diagnosed. They were told that nothing was wrong with him.

Helpless, he went back to Badiang and consulted a babaylan (traditional healer) who told him the twig he took could be a body part and he got cursed taking it away. We were warned: “Whatever you see in this island isn’t what you think. So be careful”.

Would you dare?

When visiting a local spot, it is best to respect local traditions and follow the rules. Better safe than sorry.

The walk in this bamboo bridge is a nice, refreshing experience.

The island’s mysterious stories makes it all the more inviting. It is an adventure to the unknown.

As Fortunato “Forting” Simbajon, 61 years old, steered the boat towards the island, he started telling us about his life and what his dreams are for the island. He had been the island’s caretaker for 14 years along with the members of Badiang Fishermen’s Association that also manages the tour activities.

Several organisations supported them in conservation work, including tour management. He said, “I did not finish high school. When they asked me to join the training for tour guides, I told them they better get those who have gone to school and can speak English. How can I explain all these spots in the island properly for tourists to understand me?”

But having seen his skills, the group insisted and eventually got recognised as one of the best tour guides in Bohol. He also learned English in the process. “When I went through the test, the trainer said I was ‘amazing’. I have to run to a teacher and ask in local dialect what that means”, he shared laughing.

You can never be too old to learn anything and be good at it. If you badly want something to happen in your life, you can do it.

61-year old Fortunato Simbahon has been taking care of the island and sharing its stories for 14 years.

He knows his craft by heart. Manong Forting proudly shares the island’s treasures.

Expertly, Manong Forting guides you through the island, identifying all the important sites, from the red limestones to centuries-old scripts written by ancestors and the different caves with strange rock formations.

He tried to convince us to get inside the cave where the babaylans burn their offerings but we were not too brave to step in. It looked dark and musty. Outside of the cave, one can still see traces of the burnt animal bones.

One cave was said to have housed a woman unfortunately accused as an aswang (witch) by villagers years back. She died in the cave where her bones were recovered by relatives after several years of search.

Her story has become a scary legend in the area but Manong Forting believes she was unjustly labeled as a witch and she hid away from the world’s cruelty.

Those who possess a “third-eye” should be careful. A woman who was said to have one allegedly saw a hand waving for her to come inside the cave. Troubled, she told the guide who advised her to politely ignore what she saw.

Have you been unfairly accused? Sometimes stories we do not verify as true spreads and destroys lives. Be careful sharing what you heard from others.

These pre-historic limestones offer us a glimpse of our ancestors lives and traditions.

The cave where the babaylans and shammans do their offerings.

What I love the most are dangling limestones and pre-historic graffiti. It reminds us how far we have gone and the lives of our ancestors of long ago. They are living proof that centuries ago, people lived way ahead of us.

The secluded white-sand beaches were very inviting. If you have time, you can take the swim and enjoy the cool waters and the view. A cool thatched-roof hut was also constructed in the island and visitors can request for food and spend time. But leftovers and trash are strictly prohibited.

Manong Forting’s hope is that the island will be preserved as it is for future generations to enjoy and learn from. For years, he was aware of many bounty hunters who tried prying into fortunes said to be buried in the island, even the famed ‘Yamashita treasures’.

Lamanok was historically said to have witnessed early ancestors battle against the entry of foreign invaders (probably the Spaniards) converting people to Christianity led by local warrior Kabel. Kabel was able to forestall the invasion for years until a much stronger force with ‘mysterious fighting gift’ defeated him.

Manong Forting believes Kabel and Dagohoy are one and the same person. Dagohoy led the longest rebellion against the Spanish colonial government from Bohol island.

Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (If you do not look back from where you came from, you can never reach wherever you want to go to).

The Badiang Fishermen’s Association takes care of the island and has also battled undue interests that endanger ecology and natural treasures.

The bamboo bridge and the hut where guests are picked up going to the island. A beautiful show of the Boholanos’ ingenuity.

Looking back at our past teaches us to be grateful what our ancestors (our grandparents or parents) did so we can enjoy what we have now. Our history draws us back where we came from. Often, we learn to understand ourselves and our family by our past.

When you visit Lamanok, enjoy the sights but most of all, learn from what the island stood for.

o0o

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The island is best visited with friends. We enjoyed the trek as well as burning calories for at least 2 hours.

A friendly reminder from the association. Most of these you can observe when visiting tour spots.

Getting around Berlin: Brace yourself for the walking frenzy!

The enchanting garden at Pergamon Museum and National Gallery.

It was autumn cold. The leaves were yellow and falling. How travel giddy can you get, you get that at autumn.

The excitement was on high pitch. Yes, Berlin!

Germany’s capital is home to the Berlin Wall that fell down on 1989, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Dom, Checkpoint Charlie, the Pergamon Museum and well, Homeland’s Season 5. You can think of an emoticon for the last one but I won’t budge as a forever fan.

Taking a train and arriving in a hauptbahnhof (train station) in Germany is an experience in itself. It opened on May 2006 and transports at least 300,000 passengers per day. I have been to the stations (which are conveniently shortened to HBFs) in Cologne, Frankfurt (and the one at the airport), Freiburg, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Munich. The lucky 8th is Berlin.

This city has too much history in just one place. Exploring it for 5 days isn’t enough. Well, holidays aren’t always enough, are they?

The climb at the Reichstag was dizzying but amazing especially at sunset.

Some of these tips you already know but it helps to be reminded one more time before you pack and go:

  • Choose a place close to a train station. All the walking is punishing. By the time I got home at night, even if I did few coffee shop breaks, I can’t hardly lift my legs. The apartment in Charlottenburg was perfect. The place was also teeming with Asian restaurants I felt at home. It was at least 5 stations away by train but all the stations have their own must-visit spots (such as Bellevue that gets my vote for the nicest train station).

 When you leave Berlin in a train for the next city, be early in your designated gleis (railway track). The trains stop quite quickly for few minutes and closes the door on time. You’ll have to wait for the next and if your ticket schedule is non-transferrable to the next train, then you’ll have to get another one.

  • Bring your most comfortable shoes. I wish you luck! I brought two – a pair of street boots and one rubber shoes that I have alternately used. The shoes worked but my legs failed me. By day 5 my knees hurt I can hardly climb stairs, I began to be grateful whoever invented escalators and elevators that are available in most of the train and tram stations. Their escalators go both ways so it can take you down after they have taken people up.

  • Wherever you come from and it’s your first time, go straight to the Information Centre right in front of the station. You cannot miss it. If you cannot speak in German then they’ll orient you properly. There’s also the Tourism Centre where you can get a week’s ticket that already covers train, tram and bus rides inside the city. You can also get your ticket for hop-on hop-off tour buses if you’re interested.

The Berlin Dom is a basilica popularly known as the Protestant St Peter’s dating from 1905.

  • Check for a free walking tour. There’s always one wherever you go. It’s a nice way to start the holiday. Sometimes you also get to help a group of students or volunteers who get by with the tips. I’ve always done this in countless cities I’ve been to from Africa to Europe. In Berlin, I once again found Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour and it was great I signed up for their other paid tours. Check them out as they are in 17 cities in Europe and in New York in the US.
  • Do your homework before the trip. Nowadays it is easier to plan ahead with a lot of travel sites and Google helping you where the famous sites are located. Doing your top 6-10 list will help you shorten your travel time. Getting lost is not an awful thing in Berlin as wherever you end is always something unexpectedly fantastic. But that’s if you have enough time to lose. When I got lost finding a nice restaurant, I ended up finding that incredible Bellevue Train Station. Don’t forget the list plus the addresses. See mine below.
    • Brandenburg Gate
    • The Reichstag
    • The Berlin Wall Memorial
    • The Charlottenburg Palace
    • Berlin Cathedral
    • Holocaust Memorial
    • Museum Island
    • The Sunday Flea Market at the Mauer Park
    • Checkpoint Charlie
    • The Tiergarten

The Berlin Wall was was a sobering experience. It’s a stark reminder that evil exists but will never prevail with humanity’s goodness.

Our trip to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was a sobering experience. Political prisoners were kept as slave labourers from 1936 to 1945. It was there that the first crematory was built in 1940. Our tour guide Rob from Sandeman’s facilitated an interesting discussion of the camp, its history and the turbulence brought by the Nazi empire.

One more thing, if you’re staying at hotels, don’t leave your rooms a mess. I realised many of the rooms are cleaned up by hardworking immigrants and friendly locals. You’ll make their lives easier by keeping your room clean and tidy. Our holidays do not have to be a burden to others.

I’d say, Berlin is a city on history-overload. But I also like the eclectic openness, the warmth of people and its ongoing quest to have its own place among the world’s famous cities, trying to be ahead but not yet there. Not quite but watch out London and New York.

You do not need another word to convince me to go back. I left my heart in Berlin.

If you have enough time, plan for a relaxing tour where you do not hurry and cram the day so you see everything. The truth is, you will never see all of them unless you live there for a year. Enjoy and savor each moment. Don’t get too caught up with photo opportunities that you end up visiting the place but not really enjoying it. I appreciated Berlin because I’ve read it in so many history books. It felt like I was visiting a place I knew for a long time. Read about the place before you go. Every trip is a chance to educate yourself more about our beautiful world.

Inside the Reichstag. Orderly, fascinating and a walk through German Empire’s power hall. It opened in 1894 and got burned down in 1933. Schedule your visit on weekdays at around 5pm to avoid too much crowd. You can get the ticket in a booth near the building across the street and it’s free!

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) is a hub for travelers complete with a wide array of shopping and eating choices.

The entrance and main watchtower of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Thousands of inmates line up for morning and afternoon rolls cals in its wide space below. At the iron gate the infamous slogan “arbeit macht frei (work makes you free)” is embedded in wrought iron.

-o00o-

Next week: Let’s go to Munich’s Oktoberfest!

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.