Muslims Breaking Barriers


What do you know about Muslim women and the hijab? Do you understand what the hijab denotes or rather represents? Do you have misconceptions about it – and believe that it is rather a piece of fabric that takes away a woman’s confidence instead of enhancing it, or it is a symbol of culture? Many questions surround the hijab and the women around the world who either choose to or are forced to wear it.  It has become quite the hot topic in the western world where Muslim women – models, bloggers and entrepreneurs – are making a mark for themselves and changing the impression of what the headgear represents. It is about time we recognized a culture that has for many years been under-represented and misunderstood.

Firstly, the hijab is more than just sophisticated or a mere simple headwear; it is a symbol of modesty, and has religious and cultural significance in the Islamic world. Let’s be honest, the fashion and beauty industry have certainly not been known for modesty or diversity until quite recently. If you haven’t been a part of what’s going on in the western world at the moment, this article will give you a mini update.

Discussing diversity in the fashion and beauty industry was non existent, until a few years ago. Women of colour, age, race, ethnicity and even human preferences and behavior were not included in campaigns and even addressed in the least. Inclusivity certainly took its time to show up. But it here to stay and is now also enveloping women of Islamic, especially those who cover their heads.

The hijab appeared on the fashion runways for the very first time in the fall of 2018 (2017). Unfortunately however, the models were not Muslim themselves, which takes away from the honest representation of the culture. This brought upon little outrage but certainly made waves of attention and spiked the rise of Muslim models in the industry to take a stand for themselves. And a stand they certainly took. Halima Aiden is the first Muslim to have landed a Nike campaign. Kadija Diawara is a stunning model for many high end fashion brands. Mariah Idrissi was featured on the cover of Teen Vogue, Elle and Marie Clare. Ikram Abdi Omar walked the London Fashion Week runway.


In order to accept these diverse advances, it must be understood that beauty comes in all ages, sizes, skin tones, genders and religious preferences. Once that’s an accepted norm, the rest is pretty simple. Anyone from anywhere can personify beauty and fashion; and that is exactly how it should be. There’s no denying negativity that is encountered every today, but it is important to soldier on in this path in order to have a positive impact and make a change. Negativity and stereotypes exist because of lack of knowledge and understanding. Therefore it is vital to create awareness of the importance of inclusivity in all aspects of fashion and beauty.

Here also lies the opportunity to educate the world about what the hijab symbolizes. It isn’t an item to be sexualized. It is a part of the Muslim faith. The women who choose to wear it often feel strong, and beautiful and confident. They take pride in their sophisticated and stylish headwear, and instead of feeling demeaned, feel rather powerful.


Stand apart from the crowd

Aden once said that we are all born to stand out; that nobody is born to blend in at an interview and this certainly rings true. Her Nike campaign is set to hit shelves this year and has paved the way of other Muslim women who are in the modeling industry, to land great fashion and beauty campaigns. The world’s first Muslim modeling agency – Underwraps, was a recent addition amongst the thousands of others that do no represent women in hijab. For its founder, the journey hasn’t been easy but hard work definitely pays off. She understands that it is important to receive attention, dismiss and break barriers and any type or kind of negative association along with it.

Amena Khan was the first hijab wearing model to have been casted in a L’Oreal hair care campaign. Now, many might raise their eyebrows at this notion or even find it ridiculous but in interviews conducted with Khan, she admitted that even though she does cover her hair when outdoors, her hair is just as important to her as someone who does not. Like everyone else, she shampoos and conditions it, nourishes it with oils and hair masks and the campaign was meant to highlight diversity as well as inclusivity even if it were someone who covered her head in public. The campaign received plenty of attention and also got the ball rolling on other brands like CoverGirl, H&M, DKNY and Dolce & Gabbana giving women in hijab the opportunity to be featured and also creating collections meant for them.  


This goes to prove that there is a definite demand in terms of fashion and beauty for the Muslim fashionista. Collections by the mentioned designers and fashion labels above included modern looks with rules of modesty, and this is just the beginning. Hama Tajima is a British Japanese blogger and now fashion designer who is redefining the hijab with her workmanship. Her stylish lifestyle and take on modest fashion has thousands of others following in on her footsteps and recreating the same in their own way.

Question is, is it a passing trend or a powerful sense of style that is here to stay? Much like inclusivity in the makeup industry, this isn’t just a trend. This is a powerful representation that is becoming more and more recognized as we speak, and also proving to be an inspiration to others around the world, including Sri Lanka. The ideology is thought provoking and opens conversations about the stigma that surrounds the hijab and hopefully will break such misconceptions in time to come.

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Nomad

Nomadic, minimalistic vibes are the rave and yes, even in a tropical country like Sri Lanka, you’d find homes, hotels and even restaurants picking up on the trend and following the simplicity in their individual concepts.  Nomad is no different – well, maybe slightly. It’s a restaurant/cafe located on the surfer hotspot down south outskirts of Weligama. Even before it had properly opened doors, the food nook was creating great content on social media and attracting the attention of everyone in the southern coast all the way up to Hikkaduwa. Yep, that’s the power of social media and yep, their photos definitely hit the right spots.

Traveling down south on work or even for a mini weekend getaway means I also get to visit many of the new food spots that are popping up on the southern coast, including this one. Nomad opens doors every day from 8am to 3pm, except on Tuesday when the team takes a day off. It isn’t too hard to find either, and the place is a familiar sound on the tongues of the people in the area so you won’t have a tough time finding it.

Stepping inside is like walking into a homey and cozy atmosphere. The vibe, like their name, is minimalistic. There are no fancy tables and chairs, décor on the wall and expensive looking bits and bobs to decorate the space. Everything is kept in theme with the name.

There’s plenty of seating right at the front, which includes a small verandah as well, and further at the back garden. It’s a hot and sunny day so it’s the back garden with low crate tables, large flat cushions and a tent over our heads for my first visit. The prints on the cushions give off a moroccan vibe but it blends well with the basic beige and white cotton cloths over the head. Unfortunately there are a couple of flies that hover around, but one member of the team rushes over and lights a few incense sticks to ward them off. It doesn’t necessarily do the trick but I overlook it and give the menu a glance.

It’s a brunch menu that includes smoothie bowls, wholesome food and also teas, coffee and cakes. I wouldn’t call it a simple menu because the items on the pages are making my mouth water as I read. No complaints whatsoever though. As hungry as can be, my friend and I order our brunch beverages first. He picked out the Kickstarter which includes an espresso shot, cacao, dates, cashews, coconut milk, vanilla and cinnamon for Rs. 550 and I chose an iced tea with lemongrass and ginger for Rs. 450.

As our mains we decided to get items that could be shared, so he picked out the avocado on toast with two additional poached eggs for Rs. 1,250 and I opted for the shakshuka on toast for Rs. 1,000. The prices are non-inclusive of a 10% service charge; just to note. Personally, I’d have to admit the prices do seem quite steep.

The beverages arrived first, and unfortunately I did not like my iced tea very much. It lacked a bit of flavour in both parts of the lemongrass and ginger. The Kickstarter however was a surprising super hit. It was a somewhat thick blend, not too sweet and had excellent taste. I’m not quite sure how long the food took to be served, but it wasn’t too long for us to notice. Presentation is certainly on point – both brunch meals looks absolutely divine by appearance. There was a great deal of colour that was very appealing and I couldn’t wait to dig in after taking a couple of hurried photos.

I’m not sure how they got a hold of fresh avocado (because it was supposedly out of season) but it tasted yummy atop the toasted bread, together with the poached eggs (which were well done, runny in the centre) topped with cucumber, pickled onions, cilantro and pomegranate. The shakshuka did not disappoint either and was served quite differently; atop two slices of toast. I didn’t mind the change because every bite was full of flavour. As much as I’d have liked to try either the chia pudding or the zoodles (zucchini noodles), we were too full to even opt for a sweet treat. I’ve plenty of reasons to head back there for more.

PS – Nomad is run by two lovely ladies from Barcelona, Spain.

The café interior section is also home to a little boutique that houses artisan craft and clothing items.

An Idyllic Hideaway


It’s a personal observance when I say people tend to travel more to the south or to the east, than they do the west (more towards Negambo and Kalpitiya). It’s a shame though. Each and every part of our island is blessed with beauty. The bestie and I make plans to travel together every two-three months and on our last vacay of 2017, we decided to head to Jetwing Lagoon in Thalahena, Negambo. Somehow, we’d always pick a place that’s close to the ocean or water of some sort. It’s an island living thing I suppose.  As impromptu as the decision was to go to Negambo, I had made our booking from Friday till Sunday. As someone who works part-time, I suggested we leave around noon so that we’d get there just in time to check in. Of course, it’s hard to stick with time being Sri Lankans and with a few quick errands to run with an infant on board, we finally left Colombo around 3pm amidst a crazy traffic jam.

Feeling ever so grateful for the Katunayake Expressway, I missed the closer exit to the lagoon and instead wasted a further 20 minutes taking the longer route to the hotel. Google Maps to the rescue! We did stop by a grocery store to stock up on a few munchies – being typical locals here – and finally got to the hotel close to 5pm.


Historical significance

The Jetwing Lagoon is an Ayurvedic and spa resort and located just beside the lagoon. A newly acquired section of their pool and lounge area faces the deep blue Indian Ocean on the opposite side of the property. The design and architecture has great significance and are undeniably very striking. The resort is known to have been the first ever to have originally been built by the renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa in the year 1965.

If you happened to think the property has an aging look to it, think otherwise. As per other properties run by the famous hotel chain, this one is well maintained and up to standard.

The style and design of every space includes a great deal of white washed walls and textures of brown in the use of wood, wicker and even linen around the rooms and property. Lush foliage surrounding the rooms and also the dining areas add a look of serenity and simple wildness. One of the most prominent features is the pool, which happens to be the longest on the island – a whopping 1,100 meters in length!

It took a few minutes to get check-in and in the meantime, bestie and I had already racked up a couple of photos of our surrounding and also sneaked in a few selfies with the little one. And then it was a quick buggy ride to our Bawa room. We happened to pick one of the larger room purely because of her infant – we’d requested for a baby cot as well and didn’t want to crowd the room with additional furniture. The room was decorated quite aesthetically pleasing to the eye with simple yet polished furnishings, added amenities like mosquito repellants, an umbrella and notes on the brand’s belief in sustainability.

The bathroom was expansive to the say the least and open on one part to the foliage and sky. This unfortunately was a bit problematic as come evening, there were too many mosquitos to count and handle. The repellants did not do justice and the two of us went on a killing rampage for a good while. The resort is also home to plenty of other types of rooms including deluxe rooms, family rooms, and suites.

Without much of a meal for lunch, we decided to head over to the restaurant for an early dinner. Light rain was a bit of a struggle to get through with an infant on board but luckily, the umbrella came in handy and we picked a nice spot next to the gardena and lagoon. Our dinner was a set menu without a few selections of choices for an appetizer, main and dessert. This is something the resort offers when occupancy in somewhat low. The next night’s dinner was buffet style due to an increase in occupancy. The food is quite commendable although there were a few hits and misses during our two night stay. I have to admit, the crab curry was to die for and breakfast is a must have.


Plenty to offer

The town and city of Negambo has a long history of being a fishing hub and therefore a cultural beauty. There are a multitude of attractions in the area from cultural excursions to water sports to keep one entertained for a couple of days. The town is a mere 15 minutes away and there’s plenty of famous spots to explore, including the Dutch Colonial Fortress. The bestie and I did not venture out but I hear unfortunately that the fortress is not being protected and conserved well. Definitely something to look into. The fish market and little shopping areas by the beach are bursting with life and colour; something a lot of bloggers tend to highlight and photograph.

The second day of our stay was a pretty relaxed one. The thought of a dip in the pool was however interrupted by light rain and overcast skies throughout the day. Guests can spend a few hours in that case at the dedicated Ayurvedic spa on the property, located just beside the pool. The rates seemed pretty decent and the resort also offers a few package rates which includes a few hours of a massage and then an Ayurvedic lunch, as well as a tour relation to the work of Bawa.

We had a few issues with dealing with the mosquitos once again but unfortunately, it wasn’t completely addressed. The repellent wasn’t much help the first night and all three of us kept waking up multiple times to the annoying buzzing and biting. We decided to not open out the windows and always keep the bathroom door locked just to keep the insects out and this somewhat eased the annoyance on the second night.

If you’re someone who happens to be interested in the brand’s sustainability efforts, there’s information available in the form of a brochure as well as a video on the room television. From recycling rainwater to water their plants and lush garden to their reduce use of energy and growing their own produce, Jetwing certainly strikes me as a hotel chain that goes an extra mile to ensure their impact on the environment and wilderness is a positive one.

Come Sunday, it was breakfast, half an hour in the pool, a quick lunch and then check-out for us. The staff at the reception were extremely accommodating and a brief moment, I was truly sad to leave. But there’s always the promise of coming back in the air.

 

Tale of the bullock cart

Seated on a shady side of an open top bullock cart, my entire body sways side to side. The weather isn’t too warm but the occasional breeze makes up for the heaty afternoon. The bull in front has a calm and easy-going rhythm to the way he moves, pulling the cart along with him, munching on a bit of grass. The cart owner bites on a chunk of puwak as he hums a slow song to himself. It’s a bumpy, yet quiet experience, riding the bullock cart; a dying form of transportation unfortunately.

It’s hard to trace back as to when exactly they came into existence. Some argue that it was along the time the wheel was invented. Our people of the island walked everywhere; to fill their baskets with food, water, collect hay or lumber or they simply rode an animal and tied their belongings to it. However, it was apparent that the chosen farm animal, be it a horse or donkey, could not carry heavy loads by itself, and a more sustainable and feasible mode of transporting goods was required.

Structure and use of the cart

And so, the bullock cart was invented. Made of light wood, sometimes even bamboo, and tied together with strong rope, the cart was the sole mode of transportation for many years and was later used to transport items such as wood blocks, hay, barrels of kerosene and laundry over long distances that could not be made on foot. Gradually, large quantities of agrarian goods and even lumber were transported on certain occasions.

The bull became the most ideal animal to use to harness onto the cart and pull it along, as it was much stronger and agile than a horse or donkey, and was able to travel longer distances with larger loads. The bullock cart was typically two-wheeled and led by one or two bulls. The cart was sometimes hooded and sometimes not. I’m told that usually depended on the area the cart was made and what it carried. The style of the cart also differed depending on the area and culture of the people who rode it. However, the structure always remained the same.

The body of the cart was about 9ft long and 3ft wide. It had a flat frame and bottom, made of light and airy wood that wasn’t too heavy. The handles and hooded parts were made of bamboo which is also light wood. The wheels were made of wood too. At the front, the one or two bulls were harnessed to the cart with the use of wooden planks and thick rope. The space between the two wheels was for passengers to sit comfortably. In time to come, cushions and seat covers were also added.

Apart from being used to transport goods, when it came to the islanders using it as a mode of transportation, it was a symbol of social status; those of the higher echelons and status in society rode carts that were different to those ridden by the commoners.

They were a common sight in the city of Galle; this was because it was a trading hub and many goods needed to be transported to other parts of the island. The easiest and cheapest way to get them across was to hire a bullock cart although they tended to take a few days on the road.
A laid-back lifestyle

We stop by a small lake so that the bull can take a break and hydrate itself. I’d forgotten to bring along a bottle of water, so the cart owner walks towards a small shack and buys me one. He hands it over and then goes to sit by a shady tree, still munching on his puwak. There’s a paddy field just beside the lake so I hop off the cart and decide to take a walk around. The air feels fresh and clean here. There’s only the sound of the leaves being brushed by the wind and a far-off call of a bird. Apart from that, it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s clear that the life of those in the village and other rural areas has a way of calming you; unlike the busy, bustling city life filled with noise and congestion.

We spend a good half an hour this way; the bull lapping water and munching on grass, the cart owner humming to himself and I, just breathing in the fresh air. Back on the cart, there’s still plenty of ventilation and a good view of the surrounding as we ride past more paddy fields. The sky thankfully remains blue and dotted with a few fluffy white clouds. There’s the occasional shout from the cart owner to ensure the bull stays on course and does not deviate from the route. I may have nodded off a few times along the way.

Although it was a mode of transportation that barely cost much, and one that caused absolutely no pollution to the environment, the life of the cart owner was certainly not a fancy one. Caring for the bulls was also relatively quite easy, however the cart owners had to travel long distances by themselves and endure plenty of discomfort and hardship along the way. Problems that arose had to be dealt with singlehandedly. Loneliness was a common friend. To pass the time and lament their sorrows and worries, the men used to create kavi.

Source – Beyond Escape

Laments and a rare sight

Karaththa kavi were sung by the cart owner, transporting goods along rough and long distances, and empathised with the plights and difficulties faced. Some argue that the folk songs, a big part of Sri Lankan life for centuries, also empathised with the plight of the bull because those who were Buddhist were against animal cruelty. In one, the lyricist seems to regret his unkind and unjust treatment of the animal, as he had prodded it with the sharp end of a stick and smacked it. In another, there’s empathy towards both the bull and the man, as both are seen as victims of karma. There was certainly a great deal of depth in the composition of these kavi, and truth as well.

The slow and unsteady speed and ride of the bullock cart, and of course the rise of other modes of transportation gradually led to its rarity of use. As a dying mode in today’s day and age, it is a rare, yet exotic sight in the eyes of plenty. Unfortunately, it is hard to see bullock carts in use even to date in the rural parts of the island, although it is commonly used as an attraction amongst tourists in some hotels and during weddings when the couple leave the ceremony hall.

These bullock carts are sometimes decorated gaily and the bulls are also decked in the most colourful attire. I’m not keen on this idea although some don’t seem to mind. The one I’m just about to get off is as simple as it gets and I believe, that’s exactly how it should be. As I thank and bid adieu to the cart owner, I can see the underlying sadness in his eyes. This trade, or rather mode of earning a living, will probably die with him. There’s no saying it will continue to exist in the near future.

Of you 

I’m making my way towards home

I like walking if the weather is good

I avoid the puddles from last night’s rainfall

And the cracked bits of pavement

And I think of you….

I reach home and I head straight to my room

I undress and get under the sheets

Gathering all the pillows and the cushions

Making myself comfortable

And I think of you….

It’s late and night and my mind is wandering

And I think of the day’s events

I make lists for the next day

And as I drift off into slumber

I think of you… 

Lime & Co. 


I wake up to the sound of a train passing by. I’d forgotten how close I was to the rail track in my doped out sleepy state. No complaints though; I’m also able to hear the sound of the waves crashing in the near distance. It’s all good. 
The room I’m in is pretty sparse; there’s another twin bed, a cupboard, a small side table, a rack and me. It’s simplicity down to the tee but in the most appealing way. Lime and Co. is an eco chic accommodation property to say the least. I like describing it that way. Short and sweet but pretty much sums up what it stands for – budget accommodation on the southern coast of the island, just 30 minutes away from the Galle Fort, in an area known as Kabalana. 
I like it; I really do. It’s different to any other place I’ve stayed at (not been experimental with my choices of accommodation before but here’s a start) and I like that its simple, comfortable and very relaxing. There aren’t any fancy soaps or amenities in the bedroom, nor is there housekeeping. But, it works. The beds are neatly made and comfortable, the shower is amazing and the cement floor, open space and verandah along the entire property gives a very minimalistic chill vibe that is infectious and very likeable. 


It’s the little touches that get me; the worn out repurposed metal bowl converted into a sink, the wicker baskets used as lamp shades, the turquoise paint on the doors, the cushion covers made out of saris and shalwar fabric.  
There’s an open verandah concept throughout the entire property and there’s a total of six rooms – two double and four twin rooms. Guests can cool off in the plunge pool that’s in a secluded spot at the back. But then again, there’s also a large hammock at the front which is ideal to relax on, and I fully intend on reading a book in the evening on it. It’s a bit too warm right now though so I’ve picked a good spot right under a fan, opposite lush greenery and here I am, laying out my thoughts. 


I’ve been asked to head down for breakfast at 9am. For someone who loves her sleep, that sounds a bit torturous but who am I to complain. Reminder – NOT here on vacation; here on work. 9am it is. It isn’t part of the accommodation, as the Kanteen acts as a separate entity just so you know. My morning meal starts with a simple plate of fresh cut fruit; mango, papaw, banana, watermelon and pineapple, and a glass of fresh mixed fruit juice. You can also pick between having a cup of tea or coffee. You get to pick how you want your egg, so I decide to have mine scrambled, and it arrived atop a slice of toast, along with a basket of more toast, marmalade and butter. Lastly, a serving of banana maple pancakes. This is some breakfast. A good way to start the day. 


The weather doesn’t look too good to head down to the beach, which is just a mere metres away so I’ve decided to explore the Galle Fort instead. Like most locals, I’ve visited the fort plenty of times but there’s always something new to see and restaurant or café to try out. Poonie’s Kitchen seems to be a big hit as a hidden oasis that opens up to a large courtyard, bright colours and quirky décor. Their limited menu includes sandwiches, salads, a tea menu as well as yummy desserts. Other must visit places in the area include Calorie Counter on Lighthouse Street, Bubblement on Parawa Street, Kats Coffee and Bedspace Unawatuna. 
There’s no walking in the fort for me either as the weather continues to look drag, so its back to base. The gloom continues but I’m adamant to at least spend half an hour in the pool and get some reading done beside it afterwards. Like I’ve said before, it’s easy to feel relaxed. There are no disturbances by the staff nor by the other guests staying at the sam accommodation and this works for someone who likes their peace and quiet. Evening falls and the silence continues. It’s all good, except for the damn mosquitos that holler and hover inches from my ear and my legs. I’m bitten in seconds. This definitely needs to be fixed, and let the management know. I’ve been advised to shut my room windows tight and firm, use a mosquito coil at night and also the bed net. Aye aye! 


Have I forgotten to mention the meals? Apart from the continental breakfast, the menu is quite simple but all that is about to change with the newly hired chef who hails from Sydney, Australia. Not that the current menu has any qualms attached to it, but it’s a bit outdated I believe and needs some sprucing up. I’m served a mean plate of devilled prawns along with diced veggies and a good cup of rice that has been cooked and soaked in milk for my late lunch. I love the flavours mixed together and the fact that there’s plenty of prawns on my plate. They certainly aren’t stingy when it comes to quantity and that’s a huge plus point in my books. 
If you’re a surfer, or interested in getting in a couple of lessons, this is certainly the place to be. Kabalana is known for many break points and does attract surfers of all levels, from different parts of the world. Apart from immersing yourself in the waters atop a surfboard, there’s also yoga to try out, and boat safaris in the nearby areas. Stilt fishermen are a famous sight but don’t bother asking them to strike a pose for you, as they’d charge a hefty fee just to pretend to be fishing. 


I’ve picked hot butter cuttlefish for dinner and it arrives with a side salad. The two don’t necessarily go together, but I’m a bit too hungry to bother. The cuttlefish is done well and the salad adds a good crunchy mustard flavour to my palette. I down my meal with a chilled glass of fresh watermelon juice and retire a bit early so I can get back to my book. I’m currently reading ‘A Brief History of The Amazons’. For the most part, the net and col does keep the mosquitos at bay but I am disturbed once or twice at night. I make a mental note to mention this to the management in the morning. 
Overall, my stay at Lime & Co. was a worthy experience of opening up my mind to eco chic accommodation and their fresh take on value living. As I’ve never stayed in such a property before, this encounter was definitely a good one. I’d love revisit; go on a few excursions the area has to offer and also try out the new menu when it does become available. Definitely something to look forward to. 
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