Meet The National Geographic Traveler Of The Year – Part III – Jordan

This will be my last post dedicated to Heather Finnecy‘s photography-rich trip to Middle East to document the lives of women in the region for her project From What I Can See.

If you are reading this for the first time, make sure to read my posts on Heather’s journey to Lebanon and Kuwait and then to Palestine.

Today we will see the women of Jordan!


Home Sweet Home

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Women’s Union

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College Girls – University of Jordan

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Dana, The Nutritionist

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For more on Jordan, be sure to visit Heather’s portfolio of pictures here.


Meet The National Geographic Traveler Of The Year – Part II – Palestine

Last week I attempted to introduce the works of Heather Finnecy, a photographer from San Francisco who set off on a quest to photograph women of Middle East. Heather was 2014’s National Geographic’s Traveler Of The Year. I had all intentions to continue sharing her work last week. What I didn’t anticipate is between Ramadan, work, play, volunteering, with bits of spiritual moments here and there, I wouldn’t be left with any time to dedicate to this blog.

So today I pick up where I left off.

Last week we peeked into the lives of women in Lebanon and Jordan. Today we embark on a journey to Palestine.

Make sure to visit her project site From What I Can See for a complete gallery showcasing her journey into the Middle East.


The Laisoon Sisters

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Ruba & Family

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Work-It Girl

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The Wall – West Bank

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Visit here for a deeper look into the restricted territories of Palestine!

Meet The National Geographic Traveler Of The Year – Part I

Heather Finnecy

Meet Heather Finnecy.

A photographer from San Francisco set out on a journey to photograph the women of Middle East, in territories many would steer clear of. “As an American, I found there was a hole in the imagery and information that I received about the daily lives of women in the world,” she says. “So I decided to set out and see for myself what it was like.” In her quest to find out what it is like for women in other cultures, she visited Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Kuwait, UAE and Afghanistan.

I want to share some of her work with you and I encourage you to visit her project site From What I Can See to view all photographs captured during her Middle East itinerary.

I’m grateful for people like Heather who’ve taken the initiative to walk into unpopular territories exposing a side of the Muslim world unbeknownst to many in the West. Contrary to images of fear, chaos and oppression propagated by Media in our daily lives, her photographs show a rather different perspective of the Middle East – a more modern side. It provides a lens into the lives of women who are striving for their aspirations and dreams just like us. “I believe that every time I go to a new country and I connect with a human there, I am making the world smaller,” Finnecy says. This is so true! The more I travel, the more I realize people essentially everywhere strive for similar things in life. We are more alike then we think we are in spite of our differences in race, religion, culture and traditions. Recognizing this “commonality” we share with people from other parts of the world helps create a bond. And once we establish a bond, we will learn to fear less and respect more. For we only fear what we don’t know.

There’s so much of her work I want to share but I want to leave plenty for you to view on her website.

Since there are a plethora of photographs, today’s post is dedicated to Heather’s journey to Lebanon and Kuwait.

Beirut, Lebanon

Shop Girls

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Streets of Beirut

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American University of Beirut

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On the Waterfront

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See more photographs of Lebanon here




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See more photographs of Kuwait here

Tomorrow we will take a peek into Heather’s journey to Palestine and Jordan.


Farewell to Makkah

Non-Muslims are not allowed in the holy city of Makkah (Mecca). And photography or video making is discouraged.

So sadly, outside of Muslims, no one gets to experience the beauty of Makkah. I wish there was a way around it but I understand and respect Saudi’s attempt to keep the site holy and restricted to pilgrims for one purpose only.

But, no worries, I managed to make a video of people walking around Kaaba which is the black structure you see in the middle. It is the sacred site for Muslims. As part of your Umraah (mini version of the holy pilgrimage), you are supposed to walk around the Kaaba 7 times.

I shot these two videos around 4 am in the morning. The crowd you observe here is ’bout 9 times less then what you typically see during the normal hours of the day.

And this one is the fast-forward GIF version:

With these, I bring my Jeddah diaries to an end. I bid thee farewell!!! And hope (again) whoever desires to, may they embark on their own spiritual journey one day when the time is right and the soul is prepared.



Al-Masjid an-Nabawi also called the Prophet’s Mosque is an absolute architectural marvel! In my travels to Europe, Middle East and Asia, I have not witnessed a structure as grand and beautiful as this! The minuscule details carved into stones and marbles throughout the mosque are breathtaking. The art speaks a thousand words. And only peace diffuses into the heart.

Photography is discouraged and in some places, strictly not allowed. Yet I couldn’t resist the urge to sneak out my iPhone to capture a few shots.

Unfortunately I barely covered the mosque indoors.

I didn’t want to be that tourist who has to walk the embarrassed path to security!






Colors of Jeddah

Malls are abundant. Fashion is…well…shocking!

On the streets, women are covered in black “abayas“, head to toe.

But fashion displayed on mannequins reveals an unexposed Saudi woman.

My experience roaming in the malls reminded me of the scene from Sex and the City 2 when a group of Arab women offer Samantha a place to hide from the angry, screaming men on the streets. Hidden behind their abayas was couture heaven!

Malls are indeed couture heaven!

However, what you see here are pictures from our visit to a souq which is a name for any open-air marketplace.



And here’s a selfie of me and my sister after a full day of shopping…(me on the left, my sister on the right)


Randomness continues in Jeddah

With only a few days in our schedule to venture out into the city and explore it’s “rawness”, I decided to click my camera as frequently as I could without a preordained thought. So I don’t miss any moment. Any memory.

These pictures were captured either roaming the city of Jeddah or en route to Makkah (Mecca) and Medina.


and last but certainly not the least, driving by, I caught a glimpse of Texas!!!!

Journey to Makkah (Mecca)

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

Whoever quoted this must have visited the city of Makkah. 

The holy city received over 6 million visitors last year during Umraah (mini holy pilgrimage) season and close to 20 million visitors in the holy month of Ramadan (which lasts for 30 days).

Can you imagine finding spirituality amidst millions? I can’t! But you may. In your own way. In your own time. 

I don’t believe God intended for me to find a solitude retreat at Makkah. That I can find in the corner of my bedroom on a prayer rug. He wanted me to know amidst the inevitable chaos we call life, I hold the power to find and create my own peace. For God is Everywhere you need Him to be. 

Pour your heart out

On the journey there…

Gate into the City of Makkah

Quran Gateway

More than a million cars were parked in designated parking slots last year during the month of Ramadan (source)

The Clock Tower



The City

Last year, the Makkah municipality received an average of 2,555 tons of waste mainly from the Haram and central Makkah region each day of the month of Ramadan (source)

The Holy Water

We stayed at Hotel Dar-al-Ghafran located in this tower – thumbs up!


and when the crowd takes over…

To Al Safa and Al Marwah

One last look…

These pictures were taken at the end of our Umraah. And Kaaba was photographed the day after a few hours before Fajr (dawn).

I hope any who wishes to, embarks on their own spiritual journey one day wherever it may take them and bring back with them a greater and renewed sense of responsibility to oneself and humanity. Spirituality is empty if it fails to teach you humility.

2015 Bucket List starts here

On our journey to Makkah (Mecca) for the first time!! Pray it all goes well!

On the way, made the best of our 6-hour layover at Dubai International Airport hoping to absorb some richness of this city on the journey back! This airport alone deserves a full day! I think I might need a suitcase just to accomodate the goodies from this airport.

Btw if you ever find yourself at this airport, grab the chicken sandwich from Wafi Gourmet in Terminal A. BEST chicken sandwich I’ve had in a long time!!

Between the parents, long journey, a great movie selection and lack of sleep, managed to stay awake to capture a few shots of our brief staycation at the airport:

This tower was built for my sister Sarah:

This lane is declared a no-entry zone for my niece and nephews:

Where shall I head to next:

I might grow a pair and give this a try on my way back:

And this is me, sleep deprived, washed face, an airplane meal survivor after a 14-hour plane ride followed by 4.25 hours of lounging around at an airport drooling on goodies my bod cannot afford to indulge in:

Oh man, I’m about to pray for a rich man…that first class ride on Emirates looked pimp! And I sure as hell can’t afford one in this lifetime unless I win the lotto…but I don’t even play the lotto…