the BIGGER picture


Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

Revolutions Are Bittersweet: Travels From Yemen

With the recent developments in Northern Africa and the Middle East, I cannot but feel inspired by the unity and courage that the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain etc. are showing. However, I worry for those that will end up sacrificing their lives in the name of a revolution. Why must revolutions always come at the cost of so many lives? No one will ever know.

I visited Yemen in 2009 and for lack of a better excuse, at the time I was “too busy” to blog or share my images from my experiences with the country and its hospitable people.

So here are some memorable moments from one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, a UNESCO site – Sana’a (pre-demonstrations).

Food for thought: Yemen has been battling water shortages for years. Experts say the capital, Sana’a, could run dry in 14 years. Check out

Curious Yemeni boys come out to welcome me as I explore the narrow streets of Sana'a photographed by Susan Wong

My Yemeni friends and their families were so hospitable!  During their lunch breaks they’d meet me somewhere in the city to show me around!  Here are some curious boys that greeted me while we explored.
A man waits to be seated inside a restaurant during the busiest times of the day at the market in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

No one can turn down the fragrant smells of Yemeni spices during lunch time.  Here’s a man waiting to enter a crowded restaurant.
Yemeni wearing black robes, bourga’a and balto, while in pubic in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

Most Yemeni women wear black cloaks and veils, better known as balto and bourga’a.  I met some expats (women) working in the country and they told me that it was imperative to wear one in order to gain trust from colleagues etc.

Skyline view of old Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

The distinct skyline of Old Sana’a which is a UNESCO site and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world!

Merchant selling dates in Sana'a.  Dates are an integral part of the livelihoods of the Yemeni.  Photographed by Susan Wong

Dates are loved by everyone!  You can even have your fortune read through date pits.  So don’t just trash them.

Yemeni sweets photographed by Susan Wong

Yemeni sweets fresh out of the fryer!  I swear everyone had a sweet tooth to the Nth degree!  Dentists in the country must make a lot of money!

Kebabs are essential to the diet of the Yemeni photographed by Susan Wong

All sorts of kebabs and the seafood was sooooo fresh from the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea!

Once a moat surrounding the Old City of Sana'a, it is now a modern highway that divides the old from the new photographed by Susan Wong

What use to be a moat protecting the Old City now is a crowded essential highway for commuters.

Saturday morning market in Sana'a, Yemen photographed by Susan Wong

Busy market day on the weekends.  Yes, this picture only features men.

Have a great week!

P.S. Remember the wise words of MLK: “Injustice anywhere, is a risk for injustice everywhere!”


Filed under: Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, Yemen, , , , , , , , , ,

The Truth is Often Stranger Than Fiction

Recently I was informed that a good friend of mine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had been thrown in jail for a crime that he did not commit. Allegedly, my friend was charged with vehicular homicide of a street boy. If you are not familiar with the Ethiopian justice system or the jail accommodations, let’s just say they are the epitome of “unforgiving”. From what I have been told, my friend was at a bar watching a football game on the other side of town during the time of the accident. Witnesses also have said that the car that hit the boy was a white Jeep whereas my friend drove a black truck, which had no dents or damage. Out of the 4-5 million people in Addis Ababa, the police only knocked on my friend’s door. Fishy might you ask?! Sounds like someone influential wants him out of the way if you ask me!

On another note, my former roomie has dedicated her career to working with causes that fight injustice throughout the world. After her post in Ethiopia, she continued to challenge herself and took up another one in Darfur, Sudan. She has recently returned home to the US after being held captive for 105 days.

As for myself, I’ve had similar experiences while working in Africa. No, I have not been kidnapped nor slept in an Ethiopian jail cell; instead I was stuck in the middle of 2 battling influential businesspersons – corporate warfare is a bitch and way more volatile in a country such as Ethiopia where things can just “happen” or people just “disappear”. Think about China 25 years ago. I was lucky to be able to move on unscathed.

I think it’s easy for others to criticize the choices that my friends and I have made. Some would even accuse us of bringing it upon ourselves and sabotaging our careers. Friend #1 is a respectable entrepreneur and engineer who chose to leave his career in Europe to return back to his roots in hopes of giving back to his people – literally “building” a future for the community. Friend #2 is not crazy for going to Darfur. Yes, that region may be plagued with conflict and violence; but it is because of people like Friend #2 that those places and people have not been forgotten by you and I.

We are not stupid nor naïve for believing in opportunities in Africa. We may run into brick walls here and there. And yes, bureaucracy still hinders many businesses and development projects on the Continent. However, opportunities also exist and they are tangible. We can all do our part to contribute to Africa’s continuing prosperity. As the impressive lone female African head of state, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf likes to say, there are no poor countries, just rich countries that are poorly managed. Through ambition, hard work, determination, perseverance and sheer luck; it is possible for dreams to become reality.

Musician Judith Franklin reminded me of Shirley Horn’s “Here’s To Life” today. Shirley truly sang this song with every ounce of her soul and her lyrics…well, nothing less than inspiring. End result, absolutely stunning.

No complaints and no regrets.
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
But i have learned that all you give is all you get, so give it all you got.
I had my share, i drank my fill, and even though i’m satisfied i’m hungry still
To see what’s down another road, beyond a hill and do it all again.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life the dreamers and their dreams.
Funny how the time just flies.
How love can turn from warm hellos to sad goodbyes
And leave you with the memories you’ve memorized
To keep your winters warm.
There’s no yes in yesterday.
And who knows what tomorrow brings or takes away.
As long as i’m still in the game i want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.
So here’s to life and all the joy it brings.
Here’s to life, the dreamers and their dreams.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.
May all your storms be weathered,
And all that’s good get better.
Here’s to life, here’s to love, here’s to you.

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Life, Music, Photography, Sudan, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Re-Integrating at Home and Packing Tips for Expats

The Holiday season has officially wrapped up for me! Christmas, New Years and the month-long festivities of Chinese New Year have made my return to Canada from Ethiopia, bearable.

After more than 3 years of calling Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as my home, being back at “home” is definitely bittersweet. With the daily small successes, challenges and bureaucracy of working in Ethiopia in my memories, I’ve been indulging in the small luxuries of life that I had come to live without.

My sister, “Princess Master Packer”, was nice enough to come visit me in Ethiopia just before I left for good. Princess Master Packer, is a gifted packer and is spatial-visualization inclined. I’ll be the first to admit, without her supervision, skill and additional baggage allowance; I don’t know what I would have done! Packing up 3 years worth of memories, essentials and just stuff was intimidating and one of the hardest things I’ve done (made climbing Mt. Kenya 5008m look easy)!!!

Seeing Ethiopia through Princess Master Packer’s eyes was certainly entertaining. Things that I’ve come to embrace seemed completely foreign and outright absurd to her! I wonder if I was like her when I first stepped foot on to African soil 3 years ago…F.O.B. (fresh off the boat)

If you’re an Expat that has accumulated a lot of stuff like me…here are some packing tips:

1. How to embrace outdoor equipment when packing:
– Water bottles, Nalgeens and other hard plastic containers may seem like space wasters in your suitcase, but
they serve as perfect canisters to pack small items such as shavers, tampons, jewellery, medication, sunglasses etc.
– Rug sacks and mountaineering backpacks should be emptied and flattened to line the bottom of your large

2. Additional piece of luggage
If you know ultimately you won’t make the baggage allowance and your only option is to pay for an extra piece of
luggage, then invest in a good cardboard box and cling wrap at the airport. As an oversized cardboard box, you can
place all of your heaviest items in that carton. Airlines are generous with weight with extra pieces and if they’re in cartons since you’ve already paid extra.

3. Anything odd shaped or cardboard MUST be wrapped with cling wrap at the airport! Don’t be a cheapo and opt out
of the wrap thinking it won’t do much and is cheaper to buy wrap from Wal-mart to DIY. You’ll be surprised how well
the cling wrap at the airport is able to distribute stress away from the corners of a bashed up box and not to
mention keep things inside the box.

4. Always have extra USD enough to pay for extra/overweight luggage. USD is the only currency that no matter how
rural and off the map you are, people will accept. Don’t depend on credit cards because as I have experienced, the
only credit card machine at the airport might be broken. Or, you only have Euros but the staff insist on USD only
and the currency changers are all closed!

Remember to expect the unexpected!

Women of the Hamer Village in Omo Valley looking into the African sunset photographed by Susan Wong

The sun sets into a peaceful Hamer Village in Southern Ethiopia photographed by Susan Wong

Crossing the Omo River 20km from the Kenyan-Ethiopia border photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Through My Eyes


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