I have just come back from a wonderful week in London with my daughter Amina. She had gone at the invitation of the Stars Foundation to receive the With and For Girls Award won by our organization, Roots of Health/Ugat ng Kalusugan. This was an interesting, satisfying occasion, as twenty organizations, spanning the world, received awards meant for furthering their work of empowering girls. One young woman from Mongolia runs an organization against sexual violence; another group from Poland does Sexual Education, and a single mom from Burundi has founded an organization of single moms. There was a woman from Morocco who works on human rights for the disabled, and a woman from Israel running an organization that encourages Arab Women in Science and Engineering. What these groups share is their interest in empowering girls and their faith in girls to realize their own talents, run their own organizations, and make their own valuable contribution to society. There is always much to learn from people who have similar aims in dissimilar contexts, and of course, such people encourage and inspire each other.
And travel just about anywhere broadens our minds, gives us new ideas and things to think about. England is surprising on many levels, starting from that first shock of cold air that meets you immediately outside the airport entries.
People walk a lot in London, and take public transportation nearly everywhere. The tube is extremely well done – clean, comfortable (quite warm when you come in from the cold), convenient, and easy to navigate. All the stops on any one line, and the junctions with other lines, are well announced along the way. From some of the larger stations – Victoria, Waterloo – you can take trains to almost anywhere in England.
Walking on the streets has its own amazements: there are beautiful little parks and gardens – and spectacular old historic buildings: the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben. They are just there, part of the scenery, although I imagine when Londoners are out in the world, they come to mind often. Ami and I took the Harry Potter Walking Tour, more to see off-the-circuit areas of London than to relive Rawlings’ books. The Burough High Street Market next to London Bridge, the little jail called the Klink, down by the waterfront, Daigon Alley, now full of publishing houses and specialized bookstores. One such store, for instance, deals solely with books of magic spells.
Museums are generally free in London although there may be charges for special exhibits such as the large exhibit of Early Impressionists in England at the Tate Britain. Both the museum and the exhibit were crowded the day we were there. By the way, the Tate Britain is entirely different from the Tate Modern, and actually much more to my taste. But it is good to see people enjoying such cultural events. On the other hand, when I took a bus to the giant Foyles Bookstore, one young chap asked me whether I really like to read books, as if that was a very strange thing to do. I suppose it takes all kinds!
There is one more venerable British institution I would like to mention as being a particularly wonderful part of the culture, and that is the Pub! Pubs are everywhere in England, from the crowded streets of London to villages scattered over the countryside. This most democratic of institutions is a warm and welcoming home away from home, serving hearty food and good wine to the young and old, without dress codes, without bright lights, without superstars. The pub is just a place for everyone to relax – and it is a very well-used feature of the English landscape.