August 15, 2019 – Holy Ground (OOTD #548)

Thursday was my tourist day in Jerusalem.

0a3a45a0-11f7-4fea-9e55-e110143166ab

What, you thought I was going to go all the way to the Holy City without seeing the major tourist sites — the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa mosque, and of course, the University of Alabama gift shop?

IMG_5819

The place I stayed at, Abraham Hostels, also offered tours, and as a guest, I got a slight discount. I considered trying to visit some of the “holy sites” by myself, but after a few days in Israel-Palestine on own, I realized that it would be best to just go with a tour guide.

Could I have probably done the research and learned how to visit some of the “holiest” and most contested locations in the world? Sure — and lots of visitors do it perfectly safely every day. But after spending half of the week stressing out over how to travel from Israel to Palestine when it’s illegal for even locals to so (spoiler alert: I figured it out), I decided I wanted a break. Maybe I had been spoiled after my cruise in the Galápagos Islands, but it sure is nice to have someone take care of all of your travel arrangements for you.

IMG_5918

On my designated “tourist day,” I saw the Western Wall, the Al-Aqsa Mosque (and the Dome of the Rock), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (for the second time), the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Flagellation, and Jesus’s supposed handprint. Oh, and a Bama gift shop. That may have been my favorite.

img_5973

I’m just teasing —  I think my favorite may have actually been the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, just for the sheer beauty of the structure. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen a lot (seriously, so many) of places of worship in my travels.

This was actually one of the very first days that non-Muslim visitors were allowed to enter the premises of the Al-Aqsa Mosque for quite some time. During the whole month of Ramadan, it was closed, and it was closed again at the very beginning of my visit to Jerusalem for Eid ul-Adha.

IMG_5853

Because I was with a tour group, our time in the area was limited (only about 15 minutes, as we arrived just before it closed for mid-day prayer), but I had enough time to get some of my favorite photos from any travel experience ever. My photographer was a woman named Demi, whom I became friends with over the course of the tour. Honestly, I wish we’d met sooner — she made for a great photographer (and a nice companion, seeing as I’d spend pretty much all of the rest of my time in Israel-Palestine completely alone).

I always wonder what becomes of the people I meet briefly in random places when I travel around — I’ll likely never get to see them again, and even if I follow them on social media, we don’t exactly quality as “friends,” just acquaintances. What’s going on with Axel from France or Haya from Nepal or Bilal from Hungary or Nina from Croatia?

IMG_5941.jpg

I think the only way for me to get to see all of these people in once place again is either to get married or die — weddings and funerals, as they say. Honestly, one of those two options seems like the easier route to me, but I don’t know if I’m quite ready for it yet. Besides, I want to be still alive when all of my friends gather.

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to Israel-Palestine this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Skirt: Street vendor in New York

Sweater: Target

Camisole: H&M

Hat: Thrifted (a consignment shop in Jerusalem)

August 13, 2019 – Interlude (OOTD #546)

Here’s the thing about independent research trips: you don’t have to do research for the whole time.

 

Or maybe you do — I don’t know, I’ve never done one before. Maybe a good researcher would spend all of their time devoted to their work. Alternatively, maybe all research trips are fake and people just go on them to travel to exotic places on their university’s budget. What do I know?

IMG_5407.jpeg

Anyway, after a whole day devoted to working on my research project on the West Bank border graffiti, I decided I deserved a break. I knew I needed to go back to the border and have a closer look at some of the graffiti, but it’s not exactly an easy task. I needed another day or two to research how even I could get back to the area safely on my own, so in the meantime, I decided to do something a little more accessible to the average tourist.

What I ultimately decided to do was visit Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Museum.

IMG_5427.jpeg

What I show here are not photos of me at Yad Vashem for what I think should be an obvious reason — a memorial to genocide is not the place for fashion photography. Sure, I took pictures while I was there of the exhibits, but the focus was on the exhibit, not me. As much as I like to make things about me, the Holocaust is far beyond the scope of even my narcissism.IMG_5418.jpeg

I did like my outfit though, so instead, I got some pictures with a sculpture and a nice hill overlooking the city in a nearby park.

It was a great museum though, seriously. That’s coming from me — a person who normally finds museums (except for art museums) to be dull and slow. The best part — as is the best part with a lot of museums to tragic events, such as the 9/11 Museum — were the video testimonies from people who lived through it. Diary entries and photographs and personal belongings help embellish the narrative, of course, but only the people who lived the experience can tell the story.IMG_5372.jpeg

They also did a fair job, in my opinion, from keeping the museum historical, rather than making it into it about why Zionism and a national Jewish state need to exist (though they did touch on that in the last room or two). Having just come from Palestine the previous day, I appreciated the dominantly historical approach.

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to Israel-Palestine this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Coat: Forever21

Dress: Vintage (thrift, Brick Lane Market)

Blouse: ASOS

 

August 12, 2019 – The Writing on the Wall (OOTD #545)

Here we are: the actual reason for my trip to Israel-Palestine!

I didn’t really discuss this in my blogs from last spring, but I spent a sizable chunk of time before spring break writing a grant proposal to go to Jerusalem to do some research. It was a long shot — I never thought I’d actually get the money to go, and I mostly considered it an experiment with the grant-writing process (which I had only done once before, to go to Vichy for a week-long language intensive in French) that would be useful practice for later.

The plan to go to Israel-Palestine stemmed from the time I’ve spent over the last two years working with the Madrasa Discourses project, for the conciliation of traditional Islamic thought with modernity in India and Pakistan. The idea first came from a friend that I made while in Doha with an MD conference. She was the one who originally proposed turning our experiences with Madrasa Discourses and interreligious dialogue into an independent project, and so I owe it to her for inspiring me to actually go through with the whole undertaking.IMG_5062.jpeg

Though she ultimately couldn’t go, which was a huge factor in determining my level of comfort going to a politically tense area like Jerusalem, I still decided to do it. You don’t get a grant from your university to do research every day — especially when the research takes you to a country and a culture you’ve experienced been before.

There have been many famous walls throughout history – the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the of Northern Ireland Peace Lines – and now a new barrier wall has joined their ranks.

This barrier wall is the West Bank barrier, which separates the Muslim-dominant Palestine from the Jewish-dominant Israel. Described by Israelis as a “security fence” (geder-ha-hafrada) and by Palestinians as an “apartheid wall” (jidar al-fasl al-‘unsuri), the barrier has been a subject of controversy ever since its construction began in 2002. Out of controversy and political unrest, however, can spring one of the most passionate and creative forms of self-expression: art.

IMG_5070.jpeg

Much like what was seen in Berlin and Belfast, artists in Jerusalem have transformed the concrete that separates Israel and Palestine into a canvas for political discussion. On either side of these walls, activists, professional artists, and civilians have used graffiti as a way to express opinions about the situation in Israel-Palestine and the barrier’s existence.

During the course of my one-week journey to Israel-Palestine, I studied this political graffiti on the West Bank border wall, focusing specifically on the area around Bethlehem. My goal was to discover some of the artistic themes on the wall and how those reflected local sentiment about the ongoing Israel- Palestine conflict. More specifically, I wanted to study how the opposing narratives of the border wall as a “security fence,” as it is referred to by many Israelis, or as an “apartheid wall,” as it is referred to by many Palestinians, were evident in the wall’s artwork.

If you’re not familiar with the situation in Israel-Palestine surrounding the border wall, here’s a little context: the border was initially constructed by Israel to protect against extremist Palestinian bombings, and to many Israelis, it has done its job well. In 2004, approval of the wall for Jewish-Israelis was at 78%, with many arguing that it had caused the shift from nearly-weekly bombings in 2003 to only three attacks in 2004. IMG_5087.jpeg

However, though the barrier primarily follows the Green Line (a 1948 armistice border acknowledged by the UN), it swerves east several kilometers to incorporate certain Israeli settlements. To many Palestinians, this is nothing short of occupation and land grab. The wall cuts off many Palestinian citrus and olive farmers from their land, making it difficult or impossible for them to harvest their crops because of the new security checkpoints. Crossing the checkpoints from Palestine-controlled Bethlehem to get into Israel-controlled Jerusalem also poses many problems for Palestinians; people begin queuing hours in advance on weekday mornings so that they can get to their jobs in Jerusalem. Many simply bypass the checkpoints and cross the border illegally every morning instead — something Israeli employers easily take advantage of by refusing to pay “illegal” Palestinians for labor they have already completed.

With this background in mind, I began my preliminary research by taking a graffiti tour with a Palestinian guide. This initial tour was crucial, as he was able to point out key pieces of art (such as those by famous English graffiti artist Banksy) and direct me to other wall-related graffiti that was in the area but not necessarily on the wall itself. I came back at a later date to actually scrutinize individual pieces and photograph the wall itself; this first day was just to get my bearings with the help of a local. With this as my main goal for the day, I was able to relax a little and just enjoy learning.

IMG_5134.jpeg

Due to the constantly changing nature of graffiti, some of the pieces that I had seen online when I had been doing research for my grant proposal had been completely removed or covered by new pieces of graffiti. For example, one, which had previously depicted President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu in a kiss, had been altered to remove their embrace. It may be interesting to go again in a year or so to see how the visible graffiti has changed — which pieces have been scrubbed away, or covered up by other graffiti, or had their message altered.

My guide also took me into Bethlehem to see a Palestinian refugee camp, where I got to talk to some locals (including an elderly man who rememberd when the Palestinians were orignally evicted from their homes in 1948 during what is known to Israelis as their War of Independence and known to Palestinians as The Nakba, meaning “the Catastrophe” in Arabic). Seeing the lives of Palestinians as they went about their days was honestly just as impactful as the graffiti. At one point, we had to cross into a piece of territory that was technically under the control of Israel. We, as foreigners, were allowed in but our Palestinian guide was stopped by IDF soldiers before he even got to the checkpoint.

IMG_5230.jpeg

But it wasn’t all politics and gloom — we visited a part of Hebron, where we saw a glassblowing workshop. We also saw the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the (honestly, kind of tacky) Crusade-era church built to commemorate the supposed birthplace of Jesus. And we got lunch at a really lovely Palestinian cafe, which was still open despite the fact that it was a Muslim holiday and most places were closed.

IMG_5210.jpeg

When I originally wrote this grant proposal, I had hoped to learn about both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict through the artwork on the wall. As it turned out, there wasn’t much artwork on the Israeli side at all, nor was there much artwork on the Palestinian side that might be described as “pro-Israel.” I thought that this might be the case going in — graffiti often being used more as a vessel for protest rather than praise — so my trip helped to confirm my belief.

Because I actually visited Palestine/the West Bank, rather than just viewing images of the wall online, I actually got a sense of what life is like for the Palestinians who live behind the wall. Perhaps most apparent was the great wealth disparity that was immediately visible as soon as I crossed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. They feel like worlds apart — one is relatively safe, modern, and comfortable, and the other looks more like what you’d imagine a war zone in the Middle East to be. The massive concrete wall, guard towers, and IDF soldiers watching you from above doesn’t help.  

IMG_5132.jpeg  

Do I recommend that you go to the wall itself? Personally, I feel a little conflicted about the concept of political tourism, because actual people’s lives aren’t something to be gawked at and photographed like animals at a zoo — however, it’s critical to educate yourself about the history and political context of the places you go, and one of the best ways to do that is simply to pay a visit to a contested area. Each city has one– it’s Freedom Square in Budapest, it’s the Opéra in Vichy.

As the quote goes, travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Respect the people you encounter, don’t treat it like it’s another tourist destination for Instagram, and share what you see if it so moves you to consider a different perspective or narrative than you thought you knew.

If you ever get the chance to visit Israel-Palestine, I highly recommend popping over to the West Bank to get the Palestinian story. Whatever you decide, do as the graffiti says and don’t be a brick in this wall. IMG_5145

 

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to Israel-Palestine this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Top: Zara

Coat: Forever21

Trousers: Altar’d State

August 11, 2019 – The Promised Land (OOTD #544)

Here we are, the very last of my summer break 2019 travels!

I think the Galàpagos to Jerusalem flight sequence was one of the longest I’ve ever experienced. It went a little something like this:

  • Take a panga boat from the cruise ship in the Galàpagos to the shore, early morning August 9
    • Take a ferry to another part of the island
    • Take a bus to the tortoise reserve
    • Take a bus to the airport
    • Fly from the Galàpagos back to coastal city in mainland Ecuador, midday
    • Fly from the coastal city to Quito, afternoon
    • Fly from Quito to Atlanta, late night
  • Arrive in Atlanta, early morning August 10
    • Fly from Atlanta to New York JFK, morning
    • Fly from New York JFK to Tel-Aviv, late afternoon
  • Arrive in Tel-Aviv, early morning August 11
    • Take a shared cab from Tel-Aviv Airport to hostel in Jerusalem
    • Arrive at hostel in Jerusalem, late morning

By the time I made it to my hostel in Jerusalem, I was exhausted — but not super sleepy. I was tired from all of the traveling, from moving from boats to buses to ferries to airplanes to taxi cabs over the course of 48 hours, but I had actually managed to get a decent amount of sleep during the commute. It maybe wasn’t a great quality of sleep, but at least it was sleep.

Arriving on Israel on my own was rather scary. I mean, I’ve done it before — arriving in airports in new cities in new countries and having to make my way into the city — but Tel-Aviv was different. I’ve traveled on my own in Europe, but not before in the Middle East.

The remarkable thing about traveling and being nervous about doing new things is that, assuming you actually do the thing, your nervousness doesn’t matter much. Being afraid to try something new affects whether you’ll actually do the thing (say, try to find a sherut shared taxi from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem), but it doesn’t affect what happens after you’ve decided to do it. I was nervous to approach the cabbie and ask if he was going to Jerusalem, but that didn’t change whether or not I was going to have to do it or not. I had to make it from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, and that was that.

And I did make it. The cabbie wasn’t exactly a friendly guy, but thankfully, we didn’t have to talk long. A 45 minute drive later, he dropped me at my hostel, and I was on my way.

I was actually a little too early to check in to my room, and so I decided to go for a walk around the city to pass the time. The hostel had a place to store my bags, which was nice, and the concierge was able to point me in the direction of a free tour I could take later in the afternoon.

Before the tour began, I wandered around the area a little to see what there was. I had arrived during a holiday, which made it so that most of the shops and restaurants were closed. As it turned out, though, I didn’t mind — that also meant the streets were emptier, which made taking pictures like this, on a shopping street that might have normally been  busy, possible.

My free walking tour covered the four quarters of Old City Jerusalem — the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Christian Quarter. Since it was free, we didn’t actually go into any of the sites, like the Dome of the Rock or the Western Wall, but that was okay. I ended up seeing those later. Our guide took us to see a beautiful view of the city from a rooftop and to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (honestly, one of the least exciting “holy sites” I visited — and that’s the one that was supposed to be most important to my religion). For free, it was everything I needed.

The one thing I was hoping to do on my tour that I didn’t was make friends. I was supposed to go on this research trip with someone else from school, but she didn’t end up getting the grant to go. I wasn’t looking for like, a best buddy, but I was hoping to talk to some people and maybe get to know someone from my hostel whom I could travel a little with. But to no avail.

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to Israel-Palestine this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Top: Forever21

Jeans: Hollister

Sweat: The Middle Eastern sun

August 8, 2019 – Birb (OOTD #542)

On August 8, I saw a lot of birds.

img_4616-2

For a while there, birds were my favorite animals (but cats are more my taste now). There was no particular type of bird that was my favorite during my bird phase — just whatever had wings and could fly (sorry ostriches and penguins). I’m 100% a girl who would have gotten a tattoo of birds in flight on my collarbone back in 2013 or whenever that was trendy. Bonus points if it comes with an inspirational quote about wanderlust.

I’ve never had a flying dream in my life, though I’ve always wished I could have them. Flight as a concept is just so cool to me — like, you just flap your wings and away you go. Maybe that’s why I like traveling in airplanes so much.

The main feature of both islands I saw were the birds. There were some sea lions and cool rock formations too, but the birds were really the main attraction. They were literally everywhere — in trees, on the ground, in the air, in the water. I guess that shouldn’t shock me — of course birds are populous on a pair of uninhabited islands. There are no humans to bother them and few predators to hunt them.

Because of this, they’re not nearly as skittish as most birds and will let you walk right up to their nest if you don’t make any loud noises. I got more cool bird photos on this day than I think I’ve ever gotten in my life.

The babies were all so big and fluffy! I wouldn’t have been surprised if you’d told me that they were full-size, and the blue-footed booby babies just looked like giant cotton balls for their entire lives. They’re the sort of animal that you just want to reach out and pet — you can’t, obviously, or else you’d ruin the whole point of not disturbing them so that they don’t become skittish in the future. Still, they were so cute. I’m having a hard time deciding whether the bird babies or the sea lions were the cutest creatures I saw on my trip — and yes, that includes the giant tortoises, which I’ll write about in an upcoming post.

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to the Galápagos Islands this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Outfit 1:

Top: Zara

Coat: Forever21

Jeans: Hollister

Outfit 2:

Dress: Forever21

August 7, 2019 – Long Walks on the Beach (OOTD #541)

I’ve never really been a beach person.

And that’s that. The beaches of the Galápagos, though beautiful and pristine and quiet, didn’t necessarily change that. I thought they might — I thought that perhaps what was holding me back all these years, and that I just hadn’t, as the Corona ad puts it, “found my beach.”

View this post on Instagram

tag yourself, i’m the bird in pic 10

A post shared by Meilin Scanish (@meilin_scanish) on

And I guess I still haven’t. I’m beginning to wonder if there is a beach for me out there, or if I’m more of an Anakin Skywalker, doomed to hating sand forever.

img_4110

While I don’t love beaches, I still like them, every once in a while. The red sand beaches of Rábida Island just might be my favorite from this summer (they certainly beat the jellyfish-infested beach of Naples, Italy). For one, they made for some killer color-coordinated photographs when paired with my orange outfit.

Secondly, the island itself was just beautiful. I think what I appreciated most of everything I saw in the Galápagos was the physical form of the islands themselves. They were unlike anything I’d seen before — and they were so different from each other.

Take, for example, the difference between Rábida, which I visited in the morning, and Bartholomé, which I visited in the afternoon.

 

August 6, 2019 – The Suite Life on Deck (OOTD #540)

*blog post features no actual images of me on the cruise ship

I’ve never been on a cruise before.

This trip has been full of firsts — first time in South America, first time snorkeling, first time on a cruise. Unlike snorkeling, though, I’ve actually really enjoyed cruise ship life. Unlike South America, though, as much as I enjoyed it I wouldn’t necessarily go and do it again immediately.

I liked the cruise, and I would definitely do one again eventually if given the opportunity. I really appreciated how everything was taken care of for you — there was someone to pick you up at the airport and guide you to the boat, there was someone to carry your bags to your room as soon as you got on board, there was a chef and full kitchen staff so all you had to do was show up in the dining room at meal times. It’s what I imagine vacation for rich people is like.

But since everything is taken care of for you, there’s a lot less autonomy on your part in deciding what to do each day. The boat might offer a range of options — snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, etc. — but they’re still the boat’s options. There’s no such thing as deciding you don’t like any of their options and going off on your own.

There’s also a lot of just waiting on the boat as you travel from one island to another. In principle, I don’t like that — who wants to spend half of their day in transit? But in practice, it was actually kind-of nice to have a built-in rest period during the day. I took a lot of much-needed naps.

Gratefully, I didn’t have trouble at all with seasickness. I’ve been on boats before, but only for a few hours at a time — not for a whole week. I wasn’t sure how my body would react. Turns out, it didn’t really react at all. Sometimes, if I looked out at the window and saw the waves rushing by, I’d feel dizzy, but otherwise, I faired surprisingly well. Honestly, the worst was getting off the boat at the end of the week. I felt like everything was rocking back and forth for days afterwards.

That’s about it for today. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next one with more updates on my trip to the Galápagos Islands this summer. Don’t forget to check me out on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, BloglovinTwitter, and Tumblr! For business inquiries, shoot me an email at lensembledujour@gmail.com!


Top: Amazon

Shorts: H&M

Hat: Target

August 4, 2019 – Quitting for Quito (OOTD #538)

Oops, I guess I couldn’t stay in the US for too long.

That’s right, two weeks after I returned home from Italy/Denmark/Hungary/Croatia/England, I was back off again — this time, to an entirely different continent that I had never been to before.

In addition to being my first time in Quito and in Ecuador, this was also my first time in South America altogether. You’d think being the closest continent to my own (North America), I would have been there before, but it’s not a super common destination for American tourists. Maybe that’ll change in the future?

So why was I in Quito? It’s kind of a long story. The short answer: I won an essay contest.

The long answer: one day, I received a mysterious email from Notre Dame International inviting me (and the rest of the undergraduate student body) to apply for what could perhaps best be described as an “academic pilgrimage” to the Galápagos Islands be led by two professors from the Chemistry Department in the College of Science. The goal of the trip was described  broadly as to “trace the steps that Charles Darwin took on his path to discovery,” and in the process, perhaps gain a deeper appreciation for how discovery — in any field of study — occurs. That’s how I interpreted it in my application essay, at least.

I never thought I’d get in — I’m studying history and international relations, and I haven’t studied evolutionary biology since high school. I technically took some science classes my freshman year at Notre Dame, but they weren’t really that rigorous. I’m not even studying the history of science. I definitely haven’t studied anything chemistry-related that I could’ve used to impress the Chemistry professors leading the trip.

I guess my essay comparing the studies of human history and natural history impressed them though, because somehow, I got in. Or maybe it wasn’t the essay — maybe it was the outfit I wore to the interview. It was rather cute. You can actually check out the blog post from the day that I interviewed for the spot here.

Before heading to the Galápagos, our cohort of six stopped for a day in Quito, Ecuador.

 

July 15, 2019 – London Layover (OOTD #533)

Best. Layover. Ever.

Here it is — the last blog from my summer European adventure. And what an adventure it was. Fitting that it should end with one last big adventure, right?

Croatia was not actually the last country I visited on this trip — it was actually England. After departing the Zagreb airport at around 1pm in the afternoon (though I’ll mention I arrived at like 7am, on account of my friend’s flight departing earlier than mine), I made it to London Heathrow a little over an hour later.

And then I sat and waited.

My next flight, the one that would take me to Chicago, wasn’t going to leave until the following day at 7am. I had a 16-hour layover to wait out. Thankfully, if my traveling has taught me anything, it’s how to handle long layovers in the airport — and the best way to handle a long layover in the airport is to leave.