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By Tamu Bakery, Oct 15 2016 05:53AM



"When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree" - Vietnamese proverb



I wasn't allowed to ask the girls any questions about their lives or the problems they faced. All I had was 2 hours a day to bake with them.


They were disturbed, emotionally all over the place, and very demanding at the start. They wanted to bake a chocolate gateaux cake, not just some cookies they told me on Monday. I was taking it all in, slowly, gently. We just baked, and I talked about different types of dough. On the second day I ran another baking session with the same girls, and at the end one of the girls came up to me and said "I am so happy!". She was holding a warm bread roll carefully wrapped in a napkin. Was she happy to take it home to her loved ones? Was she happy she learned how to bake a bread? Was she happy she was spending a few afternoons with her teachers learning a new skill?


On my way to the last baking session with the girls I was wondering why I had come to Vietnam, as clearly this "baking trip" was not working out as usual. My taxi was stuck in traffic, just like my thoughts which were gridlocked with the question "Why? Why? Why?"... While we were baking our last cake together, the girl opposite me shouted "Yana, smile! You look beautiful, when you do!". An ordinary phrase, but the girl who said it had been one of the most aggressive and emotionally unstable participants at the start... Another girl said "I am happy because you came here to teach us". The girls were laughing, cutting the cake and speaking Vietnamese. I wasn't sure what this time baking had helped me to achieve. To connect, to warm girls hearts, to make them smile and realise that they can be happy, just from the simple pleasure of cutting a durian cake...


With my packing all done, I was sitting on the doorstep of my small hotel, watching Hanoi's colourful street-life. The grandma from the house opposite was cutting lotus stems, getting them ready to be used in tea. Lotus - like the girls I had been working with - grow in muddy water and problems, but blososm and show the world their real beauty. I went across and bought a lotus tea to take home with me. So that in time of troubles I can make a strong cuppa and hear "I am soooo happy".... That was the reason to bake my durian cake in Hanoi.





By Tamu Bakery, Sep 18 2016 02:37PM


“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world” – Mahatma Gandi


It took a few months and around two assaults a day to write this blog.


Colombo in Sri Lanka is described as a safe city in all the promo materials for tourists. But try, like me, to simply walk your child to school and back in a busy, well-to-do district and you won’t feel comfortable in your skin. In the skin of a woman. “Hello, baby”, “Give me a kiss, darling”, “Let’s go for a ride with me”(sic) shout motorcyclists, guys on the passing bus, high school boys crossing the road next to me. Some trying to touch, some licking their lips, some blowing kisses and some … I can’t describe it here! My problem is not new-born – millions of women are subjected to street harassment on a daily basis. In some of the countries I worked in, women don’t go outside without taking a big stick with them, or else have to attend self-defence classes (if they lucky enough to have them where they live).


My fellow female expats are experiencing exactly the same thing! How are they dealing with the problem? Ignoring it seems to be the most popular method, followed by listening to music on headphones (if you don’t hear a thing, you won’t get upset!), driving a car or using a taxi incessantly (so you avoid problem altogether). But what to do when you have actually been assaulted?! Forget my Tamu work, I get so frustrated and appalled when these incidents occur, that more often than not I am speechless - too shocked to react at the time. Having had enough of that, I printed T-shirts with different messages about GBV on them and bought a pepper spray. I am actually walking with the spray everywhere, keeping my finger on the ‘trigger’. As if by magic the streets I walk on are practically empty as would be assailants dive for cover… But this is not the permanent solution…


I have read a lot of articles online, watched videos galore, even contacted pioneers in this field. The best advice out there? How about stopping offenders in their tracks by picking your nose or making a loud mooing sound like a cow? Or take their picture and send info about the incident to the relevant apps to map your area on the world street harassment map. But my favourite solution is from Mexico City, where a group of women activists fight street harassers with confetti guns and punk rock. “We must respond. Only with responding we can encourage more women to do the same”.


So if you hear in the news that by some mystery, all suppliers of confetti guns are sending their produce to the island of Sri Lanka, you will know that Tamu is leading a women’s rights revolution happening right here in the country! But until my shipment arrives for now I will have to make do with mooing on the streets of Colombo and taking pictures of the offenders with my spy camera glasses…



By Tamu Bakery, May 3 2016 12:15PM



"I won't give up, no I won't give in

Til I reach the end and then I'll start again"


Shakira, "Try everything"



I asked someone to be a volunteer to help me to shape cookies. On about the fiftieth cookie (as usually it happens) my companion started telling me about her life - that she would like to become a nurse (she finished primary school with great grades) and wants to help people in need. Instead she is making chappatis on a daily basis, cleans and practically looks after the household sharing responsibilities with her mother. Her brother is lucky enough to attend school and is protected from any housework. At the age of 14 her life has been decided by her grandparents, who see education as unimportant for a girl's life. Instead they are looking for a potential husband for their granddaughter. The only light at the end of the tunnel for her are the sewing classes run by a local NGO (who have seen a lot of girls like my volunteer over the years).


At my second baking session in a rural part of Jodhpur (in Rajasthan, India) I hear even more moving stories. Discussing recipes of local sweet desserts, and the role of the woman in their patriarchal society, a few ladies started shouting. They are angry. Because their husbands beat them and this is not punished in their community. Someone's husband drinks and uses drugs, brings home very little money. Others say they are scared to even walk outside their homes as women get harassed constantly. They are even more scared for the safety of their daughters - young men are the biggest threat. That's why my partner NGO, the Sambhali Trust, is running self-defence classes for vulnerable women. It seems to me that this kind of violence against women is a major factor in the practise of early arranged marriages which are common in the region.


My last session broke my heart into so many pieces again. A lady with big, deep, sad eyes was crying non-stop throughout our baking class. She was married at the age of 14 to a man she had never seen before. Soon after she gave birth to twins - a boy and a girl. Her husband left her for another woman, arguing that he had never really liked her. She can't get a divorce from him, and still lives in the hope that he will come back one day. She can't move out from her family, as straight away will become a target in her community. So no solution is in sight, leaving her to survive the daily abuse from her family, villagers and society. Without being a psychologist, I can see that she is on the verge of suicide, like many sisters around the world in similar situations. All I could do is to tell her about her rights and give her a long hug. I can still remember how she was trembling...


Since my return from India, I have been thinking about how to help so many women on our planet, how to set them free the inequality of conservative rules... Education and empowerment is the only key. Because, more likely than not, the hero of my last story will let her daughter (and equally her son) make their own choices as to what to study, who to marry, when and how many children to have. Because when a women knows her rights, when she has community advocates on her side, and when she can learn a new skill to earn an income - she is unstoppable. And no more can her relatives tell her "Don't give cuddles to your daughter, concentrate on your son. A girl is not worthy of love"!


"I won't give up, no I won't give in

Til I reach the end and then I'll start again"





Image courtesy of Jayati Saha www.jayatisaha.com



By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 05:12PM

"The ability to cook is actually built in our genes"


No matter of our gender, status, traditions or cultural norms.


The book Bringing Up A Boy has been on my shelf for years. I bought it some few years back when my son was newborn. "Around age two, children begin to reflect awareness of the gender distinctions - and stereotypes! - that the culture has been signaling since they were born. Only at a later stage of development can boys begin to understand that their first understanding of gender was superficial, confused, and rigid". For centuries we have been creating these models - 'boys should do this' and 'girls should do that'. In many societies if a boy or man admits to cooking or baking he is labelled as "gay". Cooking is a really interesting medium for considering gender roles (certainly for me anyway, being a foodie and founder of Tamu).


Whilst in my family all the women can compete for the badge of "best cook", one of my earliest memories is my step-granddad cooking most of the Summer evenings (because my granny was the head of a huge electronic department store and most of the time would come back late and shattered). I can't remember much of the taste of his cooking but I remember appreciating that cooking is just one of the jobs which men and women share equally. I remember my dad coming back from Central Asia placements as a young policeman and working in our kitchen on the "top secret" recipes he had been taught while abroad in our kitchen. There was something magical about watching dad cook whilst he told me stories about places and people he had met there. I remember the first lasagna my husband cooked for me and my sister 10 years ago. The bechemel and bolognese sauces had splashed all over the kitchen tiles, and it took ages to clean off, but he had managed to surprise me with a dish I never knew existed before. I remember my son's first salad he made for me last year - he was so proud of his beautifully cut cucumbers and tomatoes!


Men can cook and many enjoy cooking (not all, of course, like not all women). So let's not stereotype. Especially in the countries where it is seen as something abnormal! Last year, I was teaching basic baking skills to teenage boys in Tanzania. At first, they felt uncomfortable to even wear aprons and to whisk butter and sugar. But a few hours later after we had talked about gender roles and stereotypes, I could see the pure enjoyment on some of their faces, and the embarrased laughs had stopped completely. This was because we didn't just bake, we tried to break down those walls which separate the prescribed roles of mothers and fathers in their rural Tanzanian homes.


Recently I overheard a conversation between some mums here in Sri Lanka. For various reasons their sons didn't have a clue how to cook. So here's the deal, guys. I am putting together a session on how to bake a simple loaf of bread. You come and learn. And dedicate this learning to one woman in your life - be it mum, soulmate, sister or teacher. It will be fun, informative and with loads of cake (Tamu's cakes). Imagine her reaction when you bring back that loaf of bread, freshly made by you. The best gift ever. For her and you. The gift of equality.

By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 04:57PM

'When deeds speak, words are nothing' - P. J. Proudhon


I knocked on your door after your receptionist said you were free to meet me. You were reading the newspaper, and ignored me. After I made some polite noises you angrily listened to my pitch. You said you have helped a lot of women and they are all illiterate, and don't know their rights. Unlike you – a former lawyer! Before you started to blame women for all their own problems I made my excuses to leave, at the door came the question 'So, can we order from you cakes then?". A complete waste of time, I thought. A few weeks later I recognized you as one of the panelists at an anti-GBV event. After 10 minutes I had to leave, this time without any polite excuses. Walking back through the plush embassy surroundings I kept asking myself “How can this person represent ‘leading women's charity’ holding the view that when Sri Lankan women leave their homeland for the Middle East in search of work, and their kids become victims of rape or incest, then this is all due to their mum's uncaring attitudes?! Little did I know that this was not a one-off. Unfortunately, the majority of Sri Lankan NGOs fighting GBV behave this way.


When I knocked on your door, painted bright blue, with a shiny sign stating you were ‘part of an international organization’, I naively thought you would be more proactive and forward thinking. My dreams were crushed when your colleague announced you were eating your breakfast. After a month of unsuccessful email exchanges you wrote "please contact our country director in order to arrange your contribution to anti-GBV in Sri Lanka as I am resigning”. I thought your head office in the UK would be most impressed to hear about your efficient work. But instead I left. Efficiently. I don't eat breakfast.


I remember very well your big compound centre's doors. With a few bodyguards around each entrance. You checked my ID and showed me a lot of important strategic documents. The problem is you didn't understand yourself what the millennium goals mean for your fellow countrywomen. You promised a lot of about involvement. And then disappeared, as usual. Only to later pop up in my inbox with an invitation to attend an event to make up the numbers. I suggest you hire professional actors next time. I don’t need your finger buffet.


I knocked on many doors, nobody answered. Media, universities, politicians. All pretended they were deaf. Because it is easier to ignore the problems on your doorstep.


16 days of activism. The world is painted orange to highlight issues of GBV. I wish you all had your doors painted orange as a reminder all 365 days of the year. 16 days even in 16 years is nothing. To remind you that behind closed doors adolescent girls drop out of school due to menstruation (no easy system of hygiene and culture of shame). To remind you that women are sexually harassed on the buses. To remind you of the shockingly high rates of incest, rape and suicides among women. Behind your doors there a murky fog formed from a culture of silence, violence and censorship.


A few days ago Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced he is giving 99% of his fortune to charity, to make this world a better place for his new-born daughter. I only can hope that his money won't go to fund organizations like those behind all three of these doors. And me? For now I am off to build my own bright orange door, as the saying goes "if opportunity doesn't knock, build a door".

By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 04:55PM


"Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it, she stands up for all women" - M. Angelou


A Beyonce track blares out through the supermarket sound system "So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you are irreplaceable". Nobody seems to be taking any notice of the lyrics. Women in bright saris are busy choosing the specific type of rice required for dinner, schoolgirls are excitedly getting a few sweets, and young dads are looking confusedly at the rows and rows of milk powders. I have been in Sri Lanka for nearly for a month now, and my understanding of spices has improved more than my understanding of gender imbalances.


A busy zebra crossing. Men quite openly harassing women. So I open up my Mary Poppins umbrella, and walk with the ‘stale face’. Seems to work - nobody even dares to try to look at me inappropriately. But I can't go with an umbrella everywhere, can I?! Especially when I go running. In fact, you should of seen me venturing out for a run recently! It was more of a social experiment - dressed in long sleeve T-shirt, leggings and shorts - I pounded the streets in a sweltering 35 degrees heat - raising the eyebrows of more than a few members of public. Most worrying were the 14-years old boys who began pointing and laughing at me and calling me names. From my many years of work with youth and teaching them about safe relationships and respect towards women, I know that those views reflect the stereotypical views about gender at home... Worrying...


This worrying situation has indeed been confirmed by the many colleagues from women's NGOs I have visited in the country. It is not only the high incidence of domestic violence and rape, the socio-economic non-existence of women in society (no rights to property in case of divorce etc.), and the problems facing widows in the aftermath of a long war that creates such a problem... It is also the huge rate of incest and sexual violence which occurs within the walls of many family homes. Laws and policies do exist, but not every police officer applies them, often sending victims back home to the perpetrator. No safeguarding policies in the schools, no sex education. Even if the victim reveals that she has been raped by her father or grandfather, the mother won't necessarily take action against her husband as she is scared to end up destitute if her male relative gets locked up. There are a lot of women’s shelters in the country, but not many reintegration programmes. Where will those young women end up without any support and undoubtedly bearing the blame from their family? I have heard of some even taking their own lives.


I find myself staring at a newspaper article about a woman and her baby daughter who were pushed into the sea by the child’s father. The woman survived, but tragically the baby girl didn't. All three newspapers I ended up buying just wrote the minimal information, no analytical piece, no interviews, no portrait pieces, just the bare information with the main focus of the attention still on the man who had committed the crime, and about how he was arrested in front of his family. I talked to a professor of journalism, begging him to let me come to the university to give some lectures to the students. The answer was that they are busy with exams…


"So don't you ever for a second get to thinking you are irreplaceable". Women pass by in their colourful saris. No matter how tight they wrap themselves in those beautiful pieces of fabric, it won't protect them from the violence. Because only one thing will – the desire to change the situation in their own country, in their own homes. A little talk with their daughters and sons. A knowledge of their rights. A marriage out of love and not because of poverty.


But for now I am still opening my long umbrella and walking through the streets of Colombo, looking straight into the eyes of people passing by. I am standing up for myself and her. After only one month, some strangers have started smiling, and I gently raise my brolly, protecting myself from the harsh glare of the sun.

By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 04:51PM

"Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself..." - C.S.Lewis


Like most people I have had all sorts of friends - some who lasted 5 minutes and others who have lasted for many years, users and givers, younger and older than me, male and female, people from different parts of the world, representatives of different faiths and sexual orientation. But nearly all my friendships started from the principle "What! You too?". I have bonded with people over my love of Japanese literature, world cinema, sharing recipes and life stories, travels, a passion for fighting for women's rights... Birthdays, parties, celebrating successes - easy ways to gather your friends around you. Try to do so at times of need... If they come to your rescue, then they are your true friends.


My various friends have appeared at different times, and have supported me in their own unique ways. Some have helped me adapt to emigrating here, some have supported me through illness, some have enabled me to overcome my biggest fears, or assisted me in finding a new career, some have encouraged me to go forward when I wanted to hide from the world. And for God's gift of friendship I am so grateful.


I will never forget getting the message about the death of a friend. It was sudden and seemed so unfair. I remembered having visited him just a month before that, and he gave me a figure of an angel for no reason. I understood why he did so many years later. And only recently going through the cupboards in my mum's house was I able to unwrap it, fondly remembering the love and good times we shared.


Somebody once said "In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flames by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit". My dear friends, a piece of cake and a chat is always here for you...


Love you all, and hope to hear from you soon.


Tamu


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 04:48PM

"A bundle of belongings isn't the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. Einstein was a refugee".


The rise of the Nazi party and anti-Semitism made it increasingly difficult for Einstein to work and in 1932 he took up the offer of a post at Princeton, USA. He expressed mixed feelings about his life in exile. "In this small university town the chaotic voices of human strife barely penetrate. I am almost ashamed to be living in such peace while all the rest struggle and suffer".


After the breakthrough of the theory of relativity and 80 years later, we still live in the age of the refugee, the age of exile. The EU says that the world is facing its worst refugee crisis since WWII. I would say, the worst crisis of our era. Millions of men, women and children are living a life of misery - fleeing wars and totalitarian regimes in the Middle East and Africa. The estimated number of displaced people globally is above 50 million, yet the UK is home to less than 1% of the world's refugees. If the media hype were to be believed, this country apparently is overwhelmed with a flood of asylum seekers, who receive more benefits that the average pensioner. In fact, I can tell you a different story, the real one.


Like the daughter of a prominent doctor in Syria. She brought some samples of her savoury baking along to share at the group. Cumin, turmeric, cardamom filled the room with spicy aromas, while she told me about life before and after the war... People who have fled violence and death deserve our appreciation of their courage and strength. Not abuse, stereotyping, and a cold shoulder. Before we build new high walls, we should consider the morality of putting peaceful fellow humans in cages, so they can’t cross borders.

At every baking session with refugees I demonstrated my mother’s recipe for some biscuits called "roses under the snow" – a symbolic piece of baking as you never know when a rose will blossom, even winter time. Miracles have happened before.


A bundle of belongings isn't the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. Hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better life are all carefully packed too. Let’s not stand by and allow these to be crushed by the jackboot of history once again.


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 03:53PM

"You must not lose the faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty" - M. Gandhi.


Ouch! It was painful, when the heavy stick hit my leg. I looked around. About twenty other people's faces, mainly children's, expressed some pain too. The owner of the plantation, a man from the Netherlands, was proudly demonstrating to other ‘muzungus’ (Kiswahili description of "white" people on the African continent) his motorshow. All health and safety regulations were being flouted by the organisers of the show, and somehow to minimise the risk of a potential accident muzungus were hitting spectators with heavy sticks. All of this accompanied by loud shouting. Need I mention that all the foreigners were asked to move politely? And only people from the nearby village were subjected to this physical violence. I was speechless. Not in a million years could I have imagined that such discrimination still existed in Africa! But the truth is that racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and inequalities are still every day business around the world. In the USA black men are 10 times more likely to go to prison than white men. In 2004 one of the official British reports revealed that black and Asian British citizens do not experience equal treatment to white patients in the NHS.


Hysteria against refugees and asylum seekers has been going on for some time now too. The UK hosts around 1 percent of the world's refugees and they make up just 0.24 percent of the UK population. Asylum seekers are living in poverty and experience poor health and hunger. Many families are not able to pay for the basics and not allowed to work. That is why Tamu has decided to do a baking project with refugees in the South West. Thank you to our supporters for believing in my idea of justice.


We must not lose faith in humanity...


By Tamu Bakery, Jan 22 2016 03:43PM

"Anytime I feel lost, I pull out a map and stare. I stare until I have reminded myself that life is a giant adventure, so much to do, to see"

- Angelina Jolie


My mum says ever since I was born I just couldn't keep still. I didn't like sleeping either. Always on the go, always socialising with people. She says I have the genes of my grandmother, who like me likes to travel and needs to always be with people. Maybe that explains why at the age of six I left my grandma’s house on my own and made the journey across our large town to see my other granny. My little sister kept asking me along the way "What if we will get caught?” and “What if both grannies get scared we got lost?". My reply was firm "We are going to have an adventure. Don't worry. Besides, I have packed us some biscuits for a picnic". Do I need to spell out the kind of ‘shot of adrenaline’ I received when my father jumped on the first plane from Kiev (where he was training to become a police officer) to talk to me about the dismay I had caused in the community when we had been reported missing for a few hours?!


The desire to have big adventures continued during my school years. Organising trips to neighbouring Moldova to sell vegetables (which my grandma was growing simply for family use) or begging my dad (and once he gave in) to take me along to a police operation to catch contraband smugglers. As soon as I started university, I become a reporter at one of the local TV channels. Once I helped an elderly lady by taking the local council to task over her leaking roof. The following year I spent filming all sorts of social and community problems in the big city of Odessa. TV viewers even called me and my cameraman "Chip and Dale to the rescue"!


During the Orange Revolution in Ukraine I would spend seven days a week on the road filming political rallies, recording people's hopes and the birth of a new Ukraine. I remember the day when during one of the press conferences all the journalists were prohibited to leave for a day until the politicians had decided what we should say in our reports. And again the adventures that I got myself into by deciding not to follow that order!


Tamu has taken my adrenaline need to the whole new level. Kenya. My first ever experience of seeing soldiers with guns on the streets during an ordinary lunch break. My first ever experience of being the only "muzumbu" on the village street. The list goes on…


I have no idea how to explain to someone why I go to such ‘dangerous places’ on my own and work with vulnerable women, putting myself potentially at risk. I would be lying if I said I had never been scared. Then why? Because I believe in humanity, I believe that a shared problem is half a problem.


Someone recently told me that the area of Tanzania I am off to very soon is potentially a place of unrest. Maybe. But people live there too. Women bring up their children there. The sun is rising there too. And as usually happens, in the end all the places I visit end up taking a huge part of my heart because of the beauty of the people and their lands.


And Angelina is so right. When I feel lost, I stare at my map of the world and choose the next destination. There are so many places to see, so much to do to help others...