Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York City

Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, New York
http://www.fdrfourfreedomspark.org/

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“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world. The second is freedoms of every person to worship god in his own way – everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want – everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear – anywhere in the world. That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt, January 6, 1941

The Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park was dedicated almost three years ago – a stunning four acre park that memorialises those four freedoms. You can read more on the website, but their mission statement reads:
The Four Freedom Park Conservancy’s mission is to operate and maintain Four Freedoms Park, a public space dedicated to celebrating and honoring the life and legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt and the Four Freedoms through educational initiatives and public programming.

I’m not into politics, nor do I care for politicians. I know next to nothing about my own country’s political history (and not even sure it’s worth worrying about considering the iPhone wasn’t even around yet the last time we had a prime minister run a full term), much less about a country on the other side of the world, no matter how big a world power they may be. For the most part, I don’t care. But those words up there hit me hard when I visited the FDR Four Freedoms Park in January; I was reminded of the concept of freedom (more so freedom from ourselves) writing this post on Wednesday night, and reminded again more specifically of the words themselves last week while I was putting together this article for Outlet Magazine. 75 years ago, in the midst of yet another world war (the speech was meant to help rally the American public against the threat of the Axis powers), this man had the strength and courage to speak up about the freedom that should be afforded to EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD. And what really got me, still gets me, is how relevant those freedoms are, today maybe even more so than when they were first expressed.

Freedom of speech and expression: how many instances have we heard of in recent years where journalists have been made victims? Or even just regular every day people speaking out about their beliefs?

Freedom to worship god in your own way: how many people are persecuted and killed over religious differences, not just every day, but every hour?

Freedom from want: did you know that the 85 richest people in the world hold as much wealth as the 3.5 BILLION poorest?

Freedom from fear: imagine living on constant fear of bombings, rape, drive by shootings, poverty, homelessness, abuse…

 

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The park itself is beautiful; from the pictures I’ve seen, it’s bright and colourful in summer, but it was another level of stunning in winter. You can visit any day except Tuesdays, when it’s closed, and you can take the cable car over – it’s a gorgeous view looking over the city on your way across. Everything about the island was perfect, from the decrepit old smallpox hospital to the modern design of the island by Louis Kahn, it is magnificent. It doesn’t get the attention of Central Park or The Empire State Building, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a must visit in New York City. And while you’re there, take a moment of peace to appreciate how fortunate you are to have at least had the freedom to travel to such a beautiful place.

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Walking the streets of Cairo between riots, 2013

It’s hard to believe this was two years ago, almost to the day… Throwback Thursday it is, indeed.

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I’ve written a bit over the past year about the life changing time I spent in Egypt back in 2013, but haven’t really yet touched on the fact that we happened to visit in between flare ups of rioting and fighting. The trip had been booked and paid for well in advance, and we weren’t about to cancel it without an extremely good reason. The official travel advisories stated that in the week we were to be there, it would be sufficiently safe; that was good enough for us! We were only in Cairo for a few nights, anyhow, and didn’t think we’d be getting too close to the troubled areas of the city anyway.

Turned out we arrived a day before the rest of our tour companions did, and our brilliant guide Medo had an offer we couldn’t refuse – a private tour of the city. Absolutely; we figured it’d be our only real chance to see it safely. It was a confronting experience, but I’m glad we did it.

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The first thing that was blatantly obvious, was that I stood out like an elephant wearing a tutu. I felt like a zoo animal being walked around on a leash for the day. I was covered up, wearing pants, a long sleeved top, closed shoes. I left my hair out to cover my neck and partially hide my face. I wore sunglasses, and all of my tattoos were hidden. I wore no jewellery other than a simple black leather bracelet, a silver necklace chain and my wedding ring, turned around so that the diamonds were in my palm. I did my best to keep myself hidden in plain sight. But I couldn’t hide the fact that I was a lily white Western woman, with freckles and auburn red hair. That made me different enough for unending stares. The strange thing was, they weren’t rude stares; merely inquisitive. I didn’t feel like people were offended by my presence, I just felt like they were very curious about me. Medo put me at ease instantly, letting me know that I was as much a tourist attraction to them as the Nile was to me.

The second thing was the damage that had been caused as we reached Tahrir Square. Windows had been smashed. Buildings had been gutted by fires. Cars upturned. Store front boarded up and spray painted. It was exactly as it had been depicted in the media, yet I still wasn’t ready for it.

Again, Medo urged us not to worry; he explained that the locals understood very well that their livelihoods relied mostly on tourism, and as such, if any rioting was to break out, we could rest assured we’d be left completely untouched and unharmed. The riots were a hell of a lot more organised than we’d been led to believe from the media reporting, too; they were planned and announced, for the most part, in advance. That’s how the news reporters knew where and when to turn up. Hotels also let their guests know when to avoid the square for these pre-planned events. Real life on those streets was far less frightful than the news would have had us believe.

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We came from Melbourne to Cairo; “polar opposites” would be the phrase that first comes to mind. Coming from such a safe city, being afraid to leave my house for fear of fighting or rioting is not a notion I have ever had to entertain, not even in my most ridiculous dreams. I’ve never avoided an area in my city for fear of my personal safety. It’s second nature for me to walk around with whoever I want, wearing whatever I want, doing exactly as I please. I know that not everyone has that privileged, yet it’s not something I’ve ever considered myself lucky to have had. I’m glad we weren’t there on the day of a riot, because the aftermath was scary enough for me. But honestly, other than being the unwitting and uncomfortable centre of attention, I felt surprisingly comfortable in Cairo with Medo as our guide. The locals were as curious about me as I was about them, nothing was hidden, it was all put out there for the world to see. Somehow, that’s more comforting. It was an encounter I’ll always remember, and something I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience.

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“Shutdown Bangkok,” Thai politics & why you should still visit this city.

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I absolutely adore Bangkok. I think it’s an incredible city, and one of my favourites in the world. I visited Bangkok for the second time in January this year with my husband (his first time there), and as luck would have it, we arrived bang in the middle of the Shutdown Bangkok protests; it was a very different Bangkok to the one I saw a few years ago on my first visit.

The night before we were due to fly over from Koh Samui, we watched in shock from the safety of our hotel room as reports of an unarmed, civilian protestor being shot and killed flashed across the TV screen. Our panic was only momentary; we remembered our 2013 trip to Egypt and how ridiculously over-sensationalised the violence of those protest were by the media – even the locals laughed at how much it was blown out of proportion. We packed our bags as planned to continue on, however we did do some research online to find out exactly what we were heading head first into – after all, knowledge is power.

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The SHUTDOWN BANGKOK 2014 movement essentially involved shutting down the city centre with the bigger goal of shutting down the entire Thai capital and the ultimate goal of effecting political change. The sea of protestors that inhabited the streets of Bangkok wanted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out, accused of being an easily manipulated puppet at the mercy of her brother and former prime minister – he had been ousted in 2006 in a military coup. Long story short, by the time we got there in mid January 2014, an election had been called, however the Thai people wanted a major reform of the political system first.

The movement was dubbed the “people’s revolution” and once we were in the thick of it, it wasn’t difficult to see why. It didn’t require an advanced knowledge of politics to see that the people of Thailand were presenting a very strongly unified front. They have an unwavering belief that they needed better from their prime minister, and they were not backing down. Hailing from Australia, where we whinge about having to vote every four years and take the piss out of our politicians for everything from their hair colour to their choice of swimwear (seriously), this experience was foreign in absolutely every sense of the word.

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From the first few minutes after arrival, the far-reaching implications of the shutdown were blazingly evident. Every main road and square in the city had been completely shutdown and immobilised. There was no longer the bumper to bumper traffic, the blaring car horns, the people running across the road, dodging the speeding motorbikes and tuk tuks. They had really, truly shutdown the city, transforming the formerly packed streets into sort of street market-cum-temporary housing projects. People were so serious about this reform that they had relocated not only their businesses, but their families and homes as well to protest sites across the city; they really weren’t going anywhere until they got what they wanted.

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After hearing about the shooting and subsequent death prior to our arrival, we were initially a little hesitant about going out at night. Our first night there was an early one, back in our hotel by around 7pm, but we didn’t sleep because the protestors were partying like nobody’s business all around the city. The noise literally did not stop until around 4am, then started up again at around 7am. After that first night, we kinda just threw caution to the wind a little a decided to head out. We took the precautions of taking the quieter streets and avoiding the main streets and squares. The next night, we just threw ourselves right into the middle of it all, and had the best time

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These were no ordinary nasty, angry, violent protestors. They were parents with young children. Teenagers who should have been studying. Elderly residents getting around with walking sticks. They were regular people who were fighting for a fair go. Given that our hotel was right out the front of the start of the main protest zone, we decided one morning to just join the locals and walk straight through the main street, amongst the relocated street food vendors and the rest of the mayhem. We were waved through by a security guard, one of the many posted at the entrances to the gated protest zones, and greeted by smiles and waves by the citizens of Bangkok. We were welcomed with open arms, even approached by two older women who invited us back to the square for a “party” that night. I asked them how they felt the movement was going, if they felt any progress was being made, and what they were fighting for. “Fairness! That’s all we want! Basic right!” They went on the explain that they appreciated the gesture of the election being announced, but without a reform of the current policies, it’d essentially be the same problems with a new prime minister. That hit us hard and really got us thinking; how many people back home in Australia would be willing to give up their day-to-day lives for the foreseeable future, to relocate their businesses and kids, to potentially lose a lot of income, to forget about dinner with their friends and their favourite TV show for potentially weeks, just to fight for their political rights? We have freedom, fairness, equality, and we take it utterly for granted. How cruel the world can be.

We made sure we spent time each of the five days we were in Bangkok in the protest sites. It was a real experience. It was grass roots, it was organic, it was real. The impact on the economy was phenomenal – kids were out of school, people were either not working at all or taking time off their jobs to set up temporary stalls to sell paraphernalia. The rest of the city was a veritable ghost town at times – for example, when we visited Soi 38 for our street food fix one night, it was half the size it usually us, because so many of the street food vendors had relocated to the protest sites.

Photos below show the same area by day and by night; as you can see, there was no quiet period.

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Funnily enough, I’d started writing this post before the latest flare up started a few days ago, so it seems a lot more appropriate now. My heart goes out to the Thai people and their situation; they are genuinely some of the kindest, most generous, real people I’ve ever come across, and I hope things can get better for them. I won’t pretend to have an extensive knowledge on the political situation that is now plaguing the country, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about my observations from my last visit. And those observations are that the city is still incredible. It is beautiful, it is traditional and modern all at the same time, it is authentic, it is accepting of everyone, and it has real soul. I’d never advocate visiting a city under such political duress, but when the current political situation does settle down, I’d really encourage everyone who has wanderlust in their heart (and even those of you who don’t) to visit this city.

Don’t just go to catch a cab from MBK to Siam Discovery to the next air-conditioned shopping centre, stay in your hotel, lounging by the pool and only eat Maccas. Get out, walk the streets (they really aren’t so scary, not even at night), learn to say hello and thank you (I can’t even tell you how far those two words have gotten me over there!), eat the street food at the places the locals are eating it, and for God’s sake, TALK TO THEM!!!! Bangkok and it’s people are so real and everyone should experience a place like that once in their travels.

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Cruising the Nile on the Princess Sarah

We arrived into Cairo late at night after a very, very long journey.

An 8 hour flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur.
A 12 hour, action-packed (my own fault) lay over in KL.
Another 8 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi.
A 3 hour stop in Abu Dhabi.
Yet another 8 hour flight to Paris.
Another 4 hours waiting around
And finally, a 5 hour flight from Paris to Cairo.
Oh yeah, and I’m an insomniac who doesn’t sleep on planes. Factor in that our flight left Melbourne at 2:00am, we checked into the airport at 11:00pm the night before and we were up at 7:00am to work that day, and you can do the maths…

So, you can imagine the state we were in by the time we traversed customs, collected our bags, and checked into our hotel to find our tour leader smiling and ready to have a “quick” 30-45 minute de-brief about the trip we were about to embark on the following afternoon. He got about 5 minutes into the information overload, when our ears pricked up – we had a few overnight trains and a few overnight mini-bus trips to contend with, but, wait, what was that? We could ditch the mini bus and upgrade for a 5 star cruise ship instead? For only £80?! And all our meals on board are included?! WHAT?! Yes, dear God yes, we’ll take the upgrade!!

And that is how the Princess Sarah came to be our floating home for three glorious nights.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We went to bed on that first night, still completely disoriented and exhausted from the travel, and woke up in the morning both confused as to what we’d just done. Did we really sign up for the upgrade? Were we sure it was really that cheap?? Yeah, it was. There had to be a catch, there just had to… a shitty interior cabin with no windows, the expectation that we’d help with the dishes after dinner, there had to be something… we supposed we’d find out soon enough.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Turns out we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our cabin was magnificent, with a window that opened straight out onto the water. We had the most magnificent view as we calmly floated on down the Nile. The room itself was beautiful, too, far better than we could have possibly hoped for. The food was delicious, they pulled out all the stops, and we were waited on hand and foot. There were cocktails, floor shows of belly dancers, traditional music, the works. Oh, and there was the rooftop pool and bar, where the cocktails were delivered straight to your banana lounge! So, how the hell had all of that for three nights cost so damn little??!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

Our answer came as we returned to the ship after a big day of sight-seeing – we realised there were actually a truckload of other ships docked (we’d missed this earlier in the morning as we’d disembarked elsewhere), and we’d have to walk through 8 others to reach ours, which seemed to be half way across the Nile to the other side. We walked through 8 completely empty and horrifyingly dilapidated, ex-5 star cruise ships. They were dirty, run down… their chandeliers were coated in dust, their beautiful carved wooden balustrades haphazardly covered with old sheets, that musty smell emanating from every direction. To our complete shock, we spied a few mattresses and blankets in two of the ships; there appeared to be people squatting in these majestic foyers! We were speechless.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

When we finally made our way back to our ship and we found the voice to speak, we asked our ever-knowledgeable guide Medo what the hell had happened to those ships. Politics happened. He explained that with the civil unrest, the riots, the fighting, the issues with the government, the violence, and the volatile and unpredictable nature of the situation, there was no longer the tourism to warrant running these ships. They simply did not have the passengers to fill them anymore. That’s why we got such a cheap deal. As for the “residents” living in the foyers? They were the staff. Mostly men (but some women, too) had left their families and lives in other parts of Egypt to work on these ships, with the promise of wealthy tourists to pay the bills and provide a more comfortable life for their families back home. But now that the tourists had been scared away, a lot of them couldn’t afford to get back home, or were too ashamed to do so. So, they “lived” in the abandoned ships.  I’m not sure heart breaking really sums it up, to be honest.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

We had the most incredible experience in Egypt. We went in between flare ups of the violence, which was purely by luck – we’d booked the trip 9 months in advance, so anything could have happened. But we weren’t deterred by the events that had been unfolding, and neither were a handful of others, like us, still eager to see it all. I’m so glad we still went; the evidence of the violence was plain to see. We saw buildings that had been gutted by fires, smashed in windows that ran entire lengths of streets, a bombed police car still flipped on its side in the middle of the street (that’ll need it’s own post to explain), but truthfully, the people were kind. They were wary, and I don’t blame them, but they were kind. They were generous. They were accommodating. At the time, to start off with, I was so grateful for the lack of interest in Egypt at the time we visited, because we’d never have had the opportunity to jump onto a cruise ship, or see some of the wonders and temples in relative peace and quiet, without hoards of buses and tourists arriving at the same time as us. But walking through those cruise ships, I felt a little part of my heart breaking for those people. There are only such small areas affected by these riots and violence, as we saw first hand, and at no point did I ever feel unsafe. I’d really, strongly encourage those of you thinking of visiting but still worried to go because of the political situation to reconsider. Certainly do your homework and heed the warnings when they are put out there, but please don’t assume that it’s all doom and gloom over there. It’s still a beautiful country with beautiful people, and they need your help  : )