Dina El- Baradie is a 22 year old student at McGill university, majoring in International Management and minoring in Middle Eastern studies. I first met her in October 2014 during one of McGill’s student-run events and I was severely moved by her spoken poetry performance. That evening, I had worn heavy eye make up, and little did I know that it was going to run down my face only moments into her 'Are You Comfortable in Silence?' performance.
After the performance, I walked up to her and congratulated on her spectacular artistry - it not only moved me but inspired me to work and create art with her. As I walked up to her with excitement, telling her how fantastic she was, and how I would like to film her and work with her, she chuckled and almost brushed me off! She was probably thinking "who is this weird stranger and why is she talking to me?"
I wondered if she had her own YouTube channel but she quickly dismissed my presumptions by saying that she “only did this for fun,” and that she had no trace of her work online. I was so disappointed that the rest of the world couldn't have access to the feelings I felt during that performance, and I had this urge to share how she moved me and inspired me. Hence, this is why we finally collaborated, filmed multiple videos and this blogpost today!
A few months passed and Dina and I were both caught up with school, work, and other things things. Every time I met her and told her we need to meet up to film her performance, she wasn't quite comfortable about the idea. I sort of had to give her an hour-long speech along with a handwritten list of 'reason's why she's awesome' (which should be on her mirror somewhere) to finally convince her to perform on tape. I'm not going to lie, being on camera is not an easy task - I mean I take photos and I only have to deal with one angle. Being, on film is a whole other world and you're completely in 3-D form. However, when she gave in, and I was ready to roll ! *evil laugh*
During our process, Dina and I bonded over many things. One of the things I found was very similar to myself was our shared struggle to find and label a geographical entity that we can call "home." Dina, like many other students I've met at McGill University is a TCK - which is an acronym for THIRD CULTURE KID.
In an interview with me, she said:
"...but what really defines me is that I have Egyptian parents, a Canadian passport, and a Saudi residency. It’s that I am Third Culture. That I’ve been both blessed and cursed with moving around throughout my life, and that because I have no permanent place to call home, my loyalties lie scattered across the globe. That I cannot fully identify with the culture of my parents, nor the culture of the society I am a part of. Instead, my culture lies somewhere in the middle, and shared with other TCKs. That no matter where I go “home” to – Udhailiyah, Cairo, or Montreal – I’m always still missing home. And I wouldn’t trade this for the world."
It's absolutely hard to fit oneself into a category, but Dina found a niche where she can truly be herself. She continued, "that being said, I identify as Muslim and I am very in tune with my Arab identity. And for me that means being able to relate many different kinds of people and empathize with many struggles. I also identify as an activist, and I think all of these factors come into play in my writing."
We had some ups and downs to find the correct "mood" for her poems. It was my not-so-brilliant idea to film Dina outside in Montreal's -30 degree celsius weather. I was the self-proclaimed "creative genius" behind the planning, and the poor girl had to listen to me and perform poetry in the bristling cold. We both froze to hypothermia, while crying icicles down our cheeks; therefore, we decided to shoot the next morning before our classes start at 8:30 in the morning.
The next morning, on February 12th 2015, I woke up at 7:30 and expected Dina by 8:30. We both had class at 10:00 am we wanted to film this as soon as possible as I had set a deadline for publishing the video and the blogpost. I have to say, everything went according to plan and we frolicked our way to class by 9:30 am.
During the entire project, Dina and I spoke a lot and I asked her how she got into poetry in the first place. Her iris rolled to the top left corner of her eye as she started to think and remember. She said: "I started writing poetry in grade 7, after I discovered I was capable of using words to move people. It was an English assignment, and we had to read it to the class. Two classmates in tears and a backhanded compliment from a douchey boy was what I got out of it, and for me that was huge. I started experimenting (and still am experimenting) with spoken word, though, in my first year of university, after I was introduced to Suheir Hammad. I saw her stuff and was like: 'I want to do that'. She is still my favorite spoken word artist."
I personally admire Dina because she makes time for her art and she devotes time to improve her craft despite having a crazy packed schedule. I am not fond of people who constantly complain about how they don't have the "time" to do the things they love - if you don't have the time right now when you're a young unencumbered individual, when will you have the time? Years down the road when you are juggling a job, a family and a household - then, you certainly won't have the time!
I was curious how Dina related to poetry and how she used it as a tool in her daily life. She responded: "for me, poetry – like all other forms of art – serves two functions. One: it is medium for delivering messages. In this sense, it can serve as a form of activism. Two: it is a means of personal expression – a form of self-healing. Sometimes that’s airing out frustrations with the injustices of the world. Other times it’s ridding yourself of the words you wish you could say to someone, but for some reason can’t… or maybe just won’t. Or maybe you can, but telling them directly wouldn’t do the power of your emotions justice. This piece, 'Give Me Your Mind', was one of those pieces"
Please engross yourself in Dina El-Baradie's piece "Give Me Your Mind" embedded in a YouTube link below. Make sure you watch the video in HD 720p quality (quickly click the little gear on the left of the screen to change the quality option). We wanted to release this video right on Valentine's Day to fall under the theme of love. I must say it has been a beautiful creative process and I am just delighted that I was able to work with a young talented artist like her. I hope everyone watching this video is inspired by her the way I was moved by her upon hearing the piece way back in October.
It's been a pleasure working with you Dina, it really has!
Until next month folks ----
à tout à l'heure!
Mina: Hi Nada, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. Every time I see you and your photographs, I have this urge to share you with the rest of the world and tell all my friends about all the wild things you do. This is exactly why the first blog of 2015 is going to be all about you and how you can inspire others by “taking the leap” (literally)
Nada: * giggles *
Mina: Okay so moving right along, give us a brief introduction of yourself, how old you are, what you do etc.
Nada: I just turned 21 a few days ago and I am originally Egyptian but I have been living in Dubai since I was born. I have been representing Dubai and UAE in different sports like football and handball, now I represent the UAE as the first freestyle skydiving competitor and I am also on the first female formation skydiving team.
Mina: Okay so, this might be tangential, but if you jumped off the plane one day and landed on an island with no food whatsoever and the First Aid helicopters asked you “WHAT ONE TYPE OF MEAL WOULD YOU NOT MIND EATING EVERYDAY FOR SIX-MONTHS” – What would that be?
Nada: * makes awkward face at Mina’s random unnecessary question *
Uhmm…I think it would be pineapple or watermelon.
Mina: What were you like as a child? When were you finally able to realize that you “actually” like jumping off planes for fun (or even a potential life long career)?
Nada: I always wanted to move and play around. I realized I was into this sport after graduating from school, and when I wanted to do my first jump to be on the team they said I was underage. So, I had two options, either to wait until I was over 18 after a year, or to beg my father to go to court and sign a paper saying that he does not mind and gives me permission. After long discussions with my father we came up with a final agreement, that I should study engineering in order for me to be on the UAE team.
Mina: Everyone rushes to ask this one question every time I mention you: “WHAT DID HER PARENTS SAY WHEN SHE TOLD THEM SHE WANTS TO SKY DIVE PROFESSIONALLY?” Seriously, how did you convince them that their little baby was going to jump of a thousand feet of altitude every single day?
Nada: I think it was not hard to convince them that I wanted to join a professional team or that will travel a lot to compete - this is because my father had been in many athletic teams himself, and always wanted us to take sports seriously. The hard part was the actual sport itself - skydiving for them was a surprise and it took them a lot of time to start adapting to my new hobby. We arranged a lot of meetings with the instructors and coaches to help them understand the sport and see how safe it actually is.
Mina: What does a typical week look like for you? How early do you have to get up everyday?
Nada: As I haven't graduated from university yet, my week is full of training and studying. I try to manage my classes in way that I can jump in the morning and then attend my classes in the afternoon. It’s very hard though... because sometimes my day starts from 6 or even 5 in the morning and I come back home by 6 in the evening - only to remind myself that I have to study and prepare for the next long day.
Mina: How are you able to manage your training time, your academic and school obligations, sleep, family commitments and social life all in a tight schedule? How much coffee exists in your daily fuel?
Nada: A lot of coffee for sure, I drink coffee more than water to keep me awake and active. I try to manage everything by writing it down and calculating how much time I need to do everything and how long it takes me to reach places at the right time without missing out or being late. It is not perfect - a lot of times I miss classes when I am too tired or I am late for training.
Mina: I understand you travel a lot for different competitions, every one is always raving about traveling and jet setting across the globe; I know the excitement to it, but I am sure they come with certain downfalls. Tell me, according to you, what is the most challenging/inconvenient aspect about having to leave your hometown and family all the time?
Nada: After being on the team for 4 years now, I got used to the jet lag. We have been traveling long trips the past few years and even training the same day we arrive. For example in England, we had tunnel training at 2am after reaching the same night. Of course I miss my family every time but I always try to make the most out of everything. So I always keep myself busy with new friends or learn new things or walk around new places.
Mina: Do you have an incident where things didn’t go quite well for you? Any near death experiences?
Nada: Not death, but just a malfunction were I had to cut away my canopy and use the reserve to be able to land safely. It was because of a tension knot that made that parachute spiral down fast and break a lot of altitude.
Mina: As a Muslim hijabi, what kind of criticisms have you received from the naysayers about you pursuing professional skydiving? How do you respond to them?
Nada: A lot of people are very supportive to what I do and find that I am breaking barriers but at the same time showing the world that we as Arab Muslim women are fun, educated and sportive. But a few criticisms were about what I wear or that I do a lot of splits and gymnastics in the sky that might not be a good way to represent a young Muslim woman wearing the hijab. I understand the concept but I do not fully agree.. because I see that what I have achieved has helped me reach the hearts of people across the globe. My hijab has nothing to do with my sport. I believe that this is the best way to showcase some Muslim women to the world. I don't understand what the mainstream media thinks of us!
Mina: There seems to be a slight shift of people in our generation/culture pursuing career streams that do not necessarily adhere to the stereotypical “Doctor, Lawyer, Engineering” professions. I personally, am a strong advocate of this revolution towards
“doing what * you * [actually] love” (and not what your parent’s love or what your community wants) in the Middle East. What is your view on this?
Nada: I think that is very true, the new generations are thinking out of the box and are not being mainstream in their everyday life. I like it this way, but in reality I am doing both. I didn’t think I would say this one day, but it seems very important to have a strong degree to the side of an awesome hobby.
Mina: Interesting response, I guess it's always good to have that back up plan right?
Anyways, they say, with hard work, discipline and persistence, one can be ANYTHING they set their mind to be. How much do you think this is true? There are so many youths out there who might want to do what you do. How much do you think one’s situation and circumstance plays into this?
Nada: If you dream it, you can do it. Nothing is impossible unless you set your thoughts that it is. On the other hand opportunities plays a very important role in these situations, but you will never get the opportunity if you don’t believe in it and look for it. It will never look for you.
Mina: Wow, I'm so impressed by what you said, I'm actually going to write this down. You're so very right! If you "don't look for it," you might not even know it came knocking at your door! Fantastic way of putting Nada - I love it!
And what would you say to people who want to pursue your field of work?
Nada: Skydiving is a very expensive sport compared to others, so I would recommend them to have a stable job and skydive for fun on weekends. But if they want to pursue it professionally, I would say that you should work hard first, and then get the right people to sponsor you.
Mina: And what’s next for Nada Attia El Bayoumi? I know this sounds stressful, but what do you imagine your future to be ?
Nada: I wish I could accomplish more in this sport, because I did a lot to be were I am and to start and break all these barriers. So hopefully I will be a world champion before having real responsibilities like getting married, having children or working with my degree. I will try to keep jumping for fun even after all these responsibilities, but I don’t expect to keep competing and traveling for long.
Mina: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I know that I’ve asked you to do this a million times and life’s schedule always got the best of us. You know you make me proud. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors. Shine Bright!
Nada: Thank you for all the support Mina!
Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this month's blogpost - If you want to follow Nada on instagram click here . Also, I have some exciting things coming up for the month of February - so please do check back in. Until then --- à tout à l'heure!
Disculpe... ¿donde están los baños? - Excuse me, where are the bathrooms?
¿donde están los baños? - where are the bathrooms?
¿donde baños? - where bathrooms?
¿baños?? - BATHROOMS??
side note: baños is pronounced like banyos but I made it a joke and just called it Bani Yas.
I think I repeated that phrase over 100 times in that 1 week I was in Cuba. Personally, I think it is the most important phrase you need to have in your essential travel vocabulary anywhere in the world. Most people learn swear words first when learning a new language but I think being at ease is far more important than swearing at someone.
Cuba, or the República de Cuba, is the largest island of the Caribbean and one of the only five "socialist states" (communist countries) remaining in the world. Cuba has been under the communist regime from 1959 till today. Although this December, President Obama has talked about loosening up the trade sanctions, the embargo is still in place. Living in a developed country such as Canada where we live such privileged lives, I was very curious to find out what a communist country actually is. Therefore, visiting Cuba was the more viable option au lieu de North Korea!!
Where I stayed?
I had never been on a beach/swimming pool vacation in my life and I'm not going to lie,
I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone else was doing. All my friends would come back with Hollywood tans every Christmas and Spring break raving about their week "down south." So I asked my family to come and stay with me for seven days at a beach resort; however, only to realize why this was such a big mistake.
Why I'll never stay at a resort ever again!!
I absolutely hate the idea of staying at a resort. And I vow to never do such a thing ever again! A beach resort is designed for someone who wants to "relax" and truth be told, I do not know how to "relax." I don't understand the idea of sitting on a beach for seven entire days in an isolated resort far from the city and far from the local people. I think this notion is such an elitist idea - to go to a country, use their good weather, their good beaches, their services simply to "relax" with other middle or upper class tourists. I understand beach resorts are good for people who work in offices 9-5 every day and live a cubicle life, for families with little children and for people with hectic stressful lives. I, Mina Mohit, do not need to "relax" - I'm a university student with full course load, a part time job, and a website to manage. Yes, time to time, I may have to sacrifice my social life or sleep so that I can prep ingredients and cook for the upcoming week or do laundry since I'm running out of clean clothes but this is COMPLETELY NORMAL. There are people in worse situations, single-moms trying to get an education while working late shifts to pay the rent and put food on the table- they need to relax. Not me, I don't deserve a "relaxing" vacation. So maybe, in 10 years when I have married and birthed 4 sons that drive me insane, I will stay at a resort to "relax" but as for right now, I'm good.
What I ate ?
Nothing. I practically starved and lost 10 pounds while I was there. This is because little did I know that Cuba's main cuisine revolves around seafood and pork - two types of food that I personally find revolting. I am not nutritionally adventurous whatsoever (perhaps one of the reasons I'll never be a legit world traveller because I'm too much of a food-princess) - I can't stand the smell of seafood and the pinkish color of pork that reminds me of Babe (the movie). And because we were staying at a resort, you are confined to what the resort serves you and you cannot simply tell yourself, oh well, I-am-just-going-to-leave-and-get-myself-something-else. The resort is basically a 5-star prison i.e. you are confined to certain boundaries, you see the same people every day, you eat what they give you, and you eat in a bustling noisy communal area with everyone tapping and screeching their knives and forks against their plates - I dreaded going to the buffet every single day. Even on days when I went, I found bits and pieces of ham in everything. Arroz con Jamon (Rice with Ham -- "Jamon" is pronounced "H"amon). Huevos con Jamon (Eggs with ham). Pasta con Jamon (Pasta with ham). Sopa con Jamon (Soup with Ham). Queso con Jamon (Cheese with ham). WHY WAS EVERYTHING CON JAMON? So I asked my mother to sneak out some toast and boiled eggs out of the buffet when she went (because you were not allowed to take food outside) and that is what I nibbled on like a squirrel all day.
Side note: food is something personal and I do not intend to offend people who enjoy the Cuban cuisine, seafood and pork. I did not only eat toast and eggs, I also ate potatoes, bananas and fresh pineapples. My exaggerative tone is for satirical purposes and must not be taken seriously.
What made everything okay.
Leaving the resort and going into the cities and villages (the nearest city was miles and miles away), interacting with the locals and immersing myself in the real culture. With my chameleon personal appearance, I easily passed off as Latina-looking and did not attract much attention while walking in the streets. That was until I opened my mouth and spoke whatever I had learned in Spanish 101- well, that didn't go very well. I, immediately, then identified as a tourist; suddenly, the roles were reversed and they became interested in me and wanted to know who I was, where I was from, and all the nitty gritty details of my life. In the small towns, I observed the women's sense of fashion, the children's pastime activities, the cars on the streets, people's trades and their obsession with light green and mint blue in their architecture.
Outside the resort, I felt alive. I felt like I had been freed from prison and I can finally do all the things I wanted to do. Oh and yes, I did take a hell a lot of pictures.
The Spirit of Christmas and Gift Giving
Every year around Christmas time, people become a little kinder, a little more generous and a little more giving. Also, I remembered that during my high school years in Vancouver, every time the Social Studies class went on a school trip to Cuba, they asked for donations of any kind, whether it was notebooks, coloring pencils, hygienic products or anything at all. The sanctions placed on Cuba make access to simple things we take for granted very difficult. Most Cubans holding a Cuban passport can never leave the country and people make very low wages. For example, a cardiologist in Cuba earns on average around $100 a month. Now, I understand many people are against the idea of "gift-giving" in countries such as Cuba, and I am sure my friends in International Development Studies reading this right now will not condone my actions since they will argue that it will widen the gap between the rich and the poor. (this article here explains why gift-giving does damage if any one is curious).
Deep inside I had this guilt that I couldn't come into someone's country exploit their beautiful beaches and not give back to their country - I felt so bad! Plus, if I have the ability to make someone happy, then why not. Moreover, I had educated myself on Cuba's economic state and the ramifications of tipping abundantly so I stayed away from giving gifts to the cleaning ladies and the staff at the hotel, but instead bought whiteboards and educational materials for children in the villages (I strictly targeted the niños-babies- so that the items could not be resold to other people).
The children were smiling and laughing with such excitement when they received their little gifts. I have nieces and nephews in Canada who are never satisfied with anything you give them and nothing is ever enough for them. It was so relieving to see that you can finally put a smile on a child's face. I didn't simply want to "gift" and leave but I saw the gift as a means to break the ice, strike up a conversation, and practice my rusty Spanish. To speak and play in the children in the smaller towns, to me, was the most rewarding experience of my entire trip to Cuba.
Snapshots of my Angelina-Jolie-philanthropist-wannabe moments
This month's post has lots of photos so that you can really get a sense of my trip and a feel for the country. I've uploaded most of my random Iphone shots below in a little gallery if you wanted to virtually explore the country further. I wish all of you a very Happy New Year in advance and wait up for my post in January. Until then.. à tout à l'heure!
Human beings are the most fascinating to me. I think they are one of the best subjects of study. And the more you treat them as “projects of explorations” doing “ethnographic reports” on them in your mind and observing their qualities, their ethos, and their actions and their reaction - the more you learn about your own “self.”
Fascinating isn’t it?
LEARN BY OBSERVATION
Now, you need to know that I am a strong advocate of Observational Learning.
To me, the best way one can learn is through interacting with others.
Honestly, when I sit in a lecture with 300 people (I’m talking specifically about lower level courses) – I am fascinated that the entire auditorium is filled for yet another 90 minutes of learning (even though the slides are posted online and everyone can study the material on their own sweet time ).
Anyhow, the lecture material can be interesting but that’s not the only reason I go to class.
When I am sitting in that lecture, I look at the person in front of me, the person beside me, and I learn things from them. I observe the way he has color coded the different sections of the lectures in his Word Document, the girl 2 rows down uses EverNote but only types using two fingers.
The guy in front of me (who won’t stop touching his hair) uses a PDF reader to open the existing slideshows and adds sticky notes to areas where the professor nuances on certain points, and the girl sitting right next to me has a cool app that records and transcribes the professor’s talk into text.
And sometimes you might not learn enough just by observing, maybe your observations aren’t clear enough to deduce a clear judgment so you may need to “ask.” Asking might be frightening and the fear of being rejected or “too nosy” always restricts us from “knowing what we don’t know.” But if it’s something that isn’t crossing private/personal boundaries – why should it be a problem? By asking, you provide an opportunity for yourself to learn something new, and you provide the other person with an opportunity to feel knowledgeable and helpful.
Therefore, stop, turn to your right and tap her on the shoulder, open your mouth and verbalize your question: “hey, that looks really cool- what app is that?” to which she can break into a smile and say “omg, yes! My friend told me about it the other day it’s called XYZ – you can download it from the App Store” or she can continue looking at the professor and ignore your very existence (don’t you just love it when people ignore even hearing you?) The worst thing that can happen is that she can say, “I don’t know,” or “Sorry, I am not willing to disclose that information to you” – But that’s it – the world is still intact and we all continue to live. In other words, no big deal.
Learning from others need not be “LIFE’S GOLDEN SECRET”
Learning can be achieved from little things that we might sometimes unintentionally categorize as “pointless,” “ordinary” or even "banal." For example, my neighbor does her dishes right after eating. She has incorporated it into her entire cooking process –
1) prepare ingredients 2) cook food 3) wash dishes.
However, I usually complete the first two and ignore the latter, which in turn, results in a huge pile of dishes in my sink to which I am forced to meet with at the end of my day.
And of course, when it’s almost bedtime and I come back home and meet my dishes with revolt – I choose to sleep instead. Consequently, the dishes become a “balance carried forward” (thank you accounting for adding to my vocabulary despite making me feel stupid and miserable every day of the class) unto the next day and we enter a cycle, until I no longer have clean dishes.
But through observing her and noticing her spotless sink (at all times of the day) and the way it looks like a display sink at IKEA – I, too, decided that I would like to learn from her and appropriate her “philosophy of dishes” into my cooking scheme.
So you see, learning can be as simple as observing something "insignificantly significant"
- hah! There's your oxymoron of the day!
YOU CAN’T LEARN IF YOU’RE NOT PRESENT
If you’re going to class, if you’re going to meet a friend at a coffee shop, if you’re doing ANYTHING - either be goddamn present or don’t even bother at all! Listen to the conversation and avoid being distracted with your phone or social media.
We live in a day and age where we pseudo-study, we pseudo-listen and we pseudo-care. Break the pseudo-apathetic attitude and do things full-heartedly.
Be present, be mindful, and be conscious of your surroundings. Think of yourself as a pot of glue that inadvertently creates a sticky surface for all the information around you.
That way, you start to choose your surroundings better, you start to choose your friends and the people you associate with more consciously, you become better at categorizing “life’s happenings,” and how they add to your personal development.
You become skilled at processing information and you learn to react to your surroundings faster, and with better judgment. You might think of yourself – “gee, I’m not a computer, I can’t process information.” Yes, you can. You are already processing information right now as you’re reading this. And although you may not be a computer, remember this: humans, people, like you or me, were the ones who invented computers. So keep learning.
"Knowledge is power."
Once again, thank you for reading this month's blog post. Feedback and constructive criticism are always appreciated. If you're struggling through finals (just the way I am) --
I wish you all the best!
Until next month-- à tout à l'heure!
Hello everyone!! I know I haven't posted in a while, but hey, October isn't over yet and I want to have a blog post for you all every month. Some may be short, some may have more material; nevertheless, I am trying to promise myself some consistency .
So, I wanted to express some of my troubles regarding our food industry, how food is now treated as a luxury item, and a reflection of your certain social class; therefore, I went ahead and created the following world - also part of an anthropology mini assignment (using fiction to raise an ongoing issue in society). I hope you enjoy it!
THE MAKE-BELIEVE WORLD
Welcome to my world. This setting is not “other-worldly” or extra-terrestrial in any sort. People do not have alien heads nor do they have special spaceships for a weekend getaway. This part of the world is located within this era, within our own North American society, and bound by our very own cultural settings. The inhabitants of this world act just like us and look just like us, except that they have transparent torsos – just like newborn hamsters that wiggle around in their frail pink skin – these humans have their esophagus, their stomach, their lungs and everything in between or underneath completely visible to themselves and the public. Here, people do not wear clothes for aesthetical purposes but only for protection against the weather. However, even when clothed, the t-shirt, sweater or coat is designed in a way to frame the transparent region of their torso. People are not concerned whether they are wearing designer clothing, a fancy watch, or if they’re experiencing a “good hair day.”
All aspects of fashion are dismissed and rendered unimportant as the new way of impressing others is by showing off one’s “insides.” If someone has an important meeting, a romantic dinner-date or a presentation at university, they will try to eat expensive foods that are more “presentable” and liked by others. People no longer have nutritional privacy – everything they ingest is completely undisclosed to the public. Humankind’s end goal becomes making enough money to be able to afford high-priced organic luxury food items in order to maintain their social status. Naturally, this becomes an ongoing daily task, as the individual has to recreate his or her inner-aesthetics and social status every morning when he or she wakes up on an empty stomach.
MY RATIONALE FOR CREATING THIS WORLD
My imaginary world provokes us to think about our North American society and the way access to healthy food has become a fashionable lifestyle for the elite. The “healthy-vegan-organic-renaissance” is advertised to people of higher social status because, in truth, they are only ones who can afford it. Indeed, it has become a fashion accessory to carry and drink a certain coffee brand and shop from a certain grocery store.
If we had transparent torsos, we would be able to see the insides of disenfranchised people. If their stomachs were not completely empty, we would see the lack of nutritional value in their food intake simply because they cannot afford it. They say “seeing is believing” and if we were to see people’s insides, and what their chemically modified food is doing to them instantaneously; perhaps then, we could be empathetic and realize how food corporations are perpetuating the marginalization of the undernourished and disadvantaged.
Until next month, folks!
As you know, the first week of September is the most wonderful time of the year. Indeed, it is back to school and the most interesting observations are made during this time. This is because during this time, Montreal is still warm, people are still outside, and not hidden under their six-hundred-dollar parkas.
I've always observed people around me during my years of university but I could never fully simplify them into categories because I felt like I had more years to go and more to see. Finally, now that I am in my senior year, I feel like I've seen exactly the right amount of people to write this blog post. If I don't write this now, I will regret voicing myself as a student and this can't be done post-graduation. So here we go...
1. "The freshman” - He or she just moved to the city from another province/state/or country. This individual wants to make as many friends as possible. According to statistics, this individual’s gender is usually female. She will give you her iPhone so you can punch in your name, your phone number and your email so she can text you to save her a seat, get notes from you and ask you for “university tips.” She’ll ask you where you’re from, what Rez you lived in and advice on taking "bird courses." She’ll basically study you and admire you every class, and just when class is over and you’re walking out embracing the silence that you missed for the past hour, your phone will buzz and notify you that “the freshman” has found you and added you on Facebook. Eeek!
2. "The GANG of Freshies" - This party will walk together and take up an entire sidewalk leaving you squished amidst them with your six bags of groceries. They are often heard explaining and elaborating upon “SOME CRAZY SH*T THAT HAPPENED LAST NIGHT.” These specimens have probably just met last week at FROSH but will pretend like they've been best friends forever. They will wear their matching shirts and hats from FROSH WEEK and will continue to stick together all of first year. Right from the start of this organically formed group, there will be love triangles, inner-politics and lots of drama. Someone is always hitting on someone but she likes his friend but his friend likes her friend...and there’s always an annoying person who everyone wants to get rid of.
3. "The After-Class Smoochers" - These are often new students, probably in their first or second year. They will wait until the professor has finished his lecture, and will go to “introduce” themselves. They will compliment the prof on the “insightful and though-provoking” lecture that he or she provided and will continue the conversation by asking questions like… "where did you do fieldwork last summer?” or a random question like “so do we have to do the readings before we come to class” - Here, the questions are 100% insignificant - the student has a mission - and the mission is to make him or herself known and distinguished from the rest of the three hundred something students in the class. They will often nod their head and smile as the prof. addresses their question making sure they spend enough time for their face to be stored in the prof’s memory. They will slowly feel uncomfortable as they feel the number of people waiting behind them increase. They will say a sweet goodbye and tell the professor that they'll continue their conversation during “office hours.”
4. “That Funny Guy” - He is often found in upper-level classes where classes are smaller and his chances of being heard are higher. He is usually seen seated towards the front of the class, very close to the professor’s podium. When asked to introduce himself, he is ready promptly and does not pause or hesitate about what to say. He has probably practiced his “introduction speech” the whole last week of August, and is ready to present himself to the rest of his class as a bright, charming fellow. He will start by saying “Hi, my name is Cliff, and I’m an alcoholic." He will wait until he hears a few giggles from the girls and will continue with "haha just kidding." He will take up 10 minutes of class time explaining his major and his minor details and how he didn't actually plan on minoring in "Tibetan Scriptures" followed by lots and lots of unnecessary information in between. He ends up making fun of himself and the class moves on to the next person.
5. “That Annoying Girl” - She is usually well dressed, She will look like she just walked out of a hair salon and through various video footages from university CCTV’s, we have concluded that this female is by majority blonde or has blonde highlights or a fading ombré. Recently, our updates show that the “That Annoying Girl” comes in an Asian version as well. She likes to carry the navy blue Longchamp bag she bought last Spring Break from Paris and carries her MacBook Air in her Marc Jacobs laptop sleeve. Every class, her objective is to prove that she is the epitome of "BEAUTY & BRAINS" and will find a critical point to raise in class. The professor will pause for a moment and respond with "Good Question" but will fail to fully explain the answer to her satisfaction. Subsequently, "That Annoying Girl" will raise her hand again with something along the lines of "But I didn't quite understand so you mean...." She will continue her sentence by simply paraphrasing and simplifying what the prof said literally 15 seconds prior. However, let us not judge quickly, "That Annoying Girl" does not do anything aimlessly, her random question is a chance to shine and reminds her that she is still has her smarts even after 4 lazy months of summer. This will help her sleep at night.
6. "The Lost Girl” - Age: 18. This girl is often seen wearing a high-waisted circle skirt, a Jansport bag and a polyester blouse with flying birds printed on them. The frames of her glasses are tortoise shell and they match her leather strapped sandals. She’s in her first year of microbiology and she can’t find any of her classes. After helping her find the building, she will ask you if you have the BIO 112 textbook from last year because she is trying to save money on textbooks and is “asking everyone I see for the BIO 112 textbook." You apologize and tell her to look online on the “classifieds.” She then gasps and thanks you because she didn’t know there was such a thing, and thanks you a million times while bowing down to you and offers you her lunch as a sign of gratitude. (That last part was a lie)
7. "The PhD couple” - The archetype here consists of a male and a female in a romantic relationship and have left their conservative university back home to excel higher at an international level. They are in their late 20’s, early 30’s. Upon various sessions of eavesdropping, especially in foreign languages that our ears pick up quickly, we have concluded that this couple is in the field of a sort of Engineering or a subject that requires plenty of math and physics. They are probably very excited to have moved in together and live in North America without the rules and restrictions bounding them back home. They are usually seen wearing rimless glasses, a bright polo shirt, denim pants and white sneakers. Often spotted holding hands on campus, in the building corridors, in the library, at the gym - you see, the chances of getting lost during the first week is very high and one must protect their loved ones. They tend to exercise at the gym or go for a walk in the evenings after their research and will often match their outfits with one another.
8. "The Eager Gymnast” - This individual is usually a male in his mid or late 20’s. Probably a Grad student. He is always seen wearing a tank top with very thin straps so that his broad shoulders are accentuated and noticed by everyone. His biceps are just BIG, not the toned and defined kind of big, it is the big that resembles the shawarma meat-cone at your local Lebanese cafeteria. He is not there to work out, but he is there to throw a grand performance. He will throw the medicine ball in the air and clap his hands three times while doing handstands. He will keep opening and closing his lifting-belt while making loud thrusts and grunts that reminds everyone about the presence of his machoism (incase anyone forgot he was there or was listening to their music). He will go drink water from the fountain across the room between every set (roughly ever 7 minutes). This is a time where he can cool off from the heavy weights lifted, glance around for some good Lululemon yoga pants and show his pumped out veins to the rest of the guys. He makes the fitness centre a little more entertaining. Thank you.
9. “The Vegan Feminist” - Beware of this individual, she may look small and frail in her physique but her mouth will voice facts thrice her size. When it comes to opinions, she is the ultimate fiery dragon Super Mario has to slay in order to get to Princess Peach. She is the last level of all opinions and she not only defends herself while speaking, but also takes it upon herself to be a saviour and a voice of all the minorities in her generation. She will often interrupt the professor in the middle of a lecture and ask him/her to edit the slide and use more “gender neutral” language for teaching. She will shun history for being to "male-centric." She will quote from Judith Butler, Michel Foucault and Karen Horney and show you photos by Cindy Sherman. She will remind you that Cambodian kids in sweatshops made all the clothes you are wearing right now. She will show videos of meat factories and make you hate burgers. She will also remind you how oppressed you are as a woman, even in North America, and will convince you to move to Norway.
10. “Someone Like Me” - This individual is female. She walks between campus with a straight/serious face but will crack into a huge smile the moment she sees an acquaintance/friend. She is often carrying way too many things in her hand and if you ask her about it, she will complain about how much wrist pain she has because she carries her camera everywhere. She is often running from one class to another and will shout out “hey Samantha,” and run to her next class with her bag dangling behind her. When stopped for a brief chitchat, she'll overwhelm you by talking very fast, and will use high tones when talking about things she’s excited about. During these brief conversations, plans like “let’s catch up over lunch or coffee” are brought up and both parties seem very keen on. However, as the semester unravels, no one follows through and they prefer to keep in touch and follow updates through various forms of social media.
That’s a wrap folks! Share this if you laughed as much as I did.
Warning: Some incidents may not reflect actual reality and are written solely for satirical purposes.
Mina Mohit © 2014
My Journey started right behind my computer as I was hunting for a plane ticket that met my budget. I also wanted to go somewhere close to Iran, since I knew I had to make a trip to visit my grandparents who live in Tehran. So, I decided to take a two birds-one stone approach and fly somewhere nearby, which landed me in Istanbul, Turkey!
Now, do I speak Turkish? No. Do I know anyone in Turkey? No. Do I know where to go and what to do? Not really, maybe only through Google and TripAdvisor results. My friends and family asked me what my “scheduled plans” were...honestly, I didn’t have any “plans” and I am actually glad I didn't !
Upon landing at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the first thing I realized was wow.. hardly anyone speaks English (even at an International Airport). Everyone starts talking to me in Turkish and I respond with "sorry sorry.. English please." They probably thought I’m some Turkish princess that forgot her mother tongue as soon as her plane entered the foreign airs of the stratosphere. Although I can physically pass off as Turkish, Arab, Latina, Pakistani, Indian (trust me, I’ve used my chameleon-esque features to get discounts wherever I can), I don’t speak every language.
I used simple English to find my way around, and found my way to the downtown area. I dropped my bags, freshened up and started exploring right away. I walked around, played with the street cats hanging outside the Donair restos and gazed at traditional jewellery kiosks. At this point, I’m super thrilled and filled with excitement and the fact that I am alone doesn't bother me one bit. Suddenly, I spot three Turkish girls in the middle of Taxim Square, spending a good 10 minutes taking 'selfies.' I observed them for a while and thought to myself, "well, if I took their picture, it would be so much better than some random selfie with the front camera of an IPhone." So I walked up to them and asked whether they wanted me to take their photo, they burst into a smile and said yes!
So this is how I met Hümeyra, Saadet, and Tuğçe (L-R)
After I returned their phone, I asked if I could take their photo with my own camera. They discussed my proposal amongst themselves hesitantly. I wouldn’t blame them; I could be a creepy person with a big camera (not true, I’m like the nicest person ever).
Using pseudo-Turkish-Persian-Islamic terms and simple English (mainly pantomime), I managed to tell them about my mission statement and how I plan on capturing the changes in women’s beauty and fashion around the globe, and I politely asked them if they were interested in participating in my project. I immediately gave them my website and asked her to search it on her phone, luckily, she had 3G and my website popped up right away, they saw my work and kept asking me “YOU ?? YOU ??? YOU TOOK THESE??” I laughed away and in my imagination, I clenched my fist pulled back my elbow as if I were Tiger Woods winning in a golf championship.
In this day and age of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat right at our fingers, you can immediately bond with people of your generation over the internet and social media. We instantly started following each other on Instagram and became friends! Despite the negative connotations associated with social media, I still believe it is a fascinating technology that allows us to expand our circle of friends and learn more about the cool or quirky things people are doing worldwide.
If you are already following me on Instagram, you probably have seen some of the shots from this day. If you haven't seen them yet, click the link above right away. You will get a sneak peak into the shoot and see the peculiar emotions that are exchanged between two strangers. I am grateful that I am a female photographer since it can be easier to create a comfortable ambiance with my models, especially in a Middle-Eastern/more conservative environment. Click here to see Hümeyra laughing behind the scenes. All in all, I learnt a lot on this trip and it allowed me to think differently, without stressing for plans, schedules, timetables, itineraries and certainty. Now I know I have friends in town the next time I visit the city again. I took every day as it came and captured some memorable photographs on the way. I think everyone should experience this. Strangers aren't scary as we make them up to be, and in fact, they have lots to teach you. Your best friends today were once anonymous strangers to you at some point of your life.
So, next time you’re going somewhere, avoid making plans, but if you are an avid planner (like how I was) the least you can do is avoid making plans for 24 hours, allow yourself to get lost and allow yourself to leave your comfort zone. Adventures and possibilities can’t come knocking at your door if you don’t let them. Additionally, don’t let miniscule factors such as a language barrier or unfamiliarity of geography stifle your ability to go out and explore. Allow yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do, and even amidst the ultimate height of your discomfort, simply check it off as an “experience” … and perhaps a good story to tell!
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à tout à l'heure!
It has taken a long time for me to stop and realize that the world is not populated with people just like myself. ---REALITY CHECK --Really, this has been an epiphany (believe it or not) that has struck me unexpectedly.
However, don’t blame me completely; people get carried away with school, work, paying bills and other obligations that even those 20 minute pensive showers aren't sufficient for deep thinking and self-actualization. For 20 years, I have looked at the world through my perspective and my perspective only, not realizing that “hey…. not everyone has your habits, your reactions to things and your ability to express yourself about what bothers you, what makes you happy and what angers you.” Not everyone is like you Mina - deal with it!
You know how they say if you’re a liar, you think everyone is lying to you or if you’re a cheater, you think everyone is cheating you. Similarly, this entire time I thought people could tell me how they felt the same way my thoughts became effortless speech. I grew up in a household where if something needed to be said or done, it was either said or done. If not, it was expressed and eventually someone got to it. And since all the members of my family simply mirrored my own personality into an infinite oblivion like a four-walled fitting room - I simply thought everyone is like me too!
And I’m not saying that overtly expressing yourself is necessarily a good thing because there were times where my speedy thoughts became speedy words and I couldn’t go back and change them, which put me into lots and lots of trouble (ouch). I had this homogenizing vision that the world was filled with people with brains and mouths, which makes them capable of speaking and expressing themselves! Hah! So much for rationality!
However, what does this single-minded belief bring? A myriad of expectations! I always expected that people could simply tell me what was wrong and we’d all live happily ever after. WRONG. These expectations resulted in me virtually pulling my hair out as a sign of frustration with people I was dealing with because they wouldn’t or couldn’t verbalize the fact I was annoying them, getting on their nerves…. or on the contrary, doing something good, surprising and thoughtful!
And once again, I can go on and on about the important things that we’ve NOT learnt in school. Yes, we got our sciences and multiplications right, but that’s not life, and life is harder than math and science. We were dictated notes about botany, the stratosphere, the Pythagorean Theorem but never were we taught about our differences! Only now I can look back at all the 30 students I grew up with (all in one class, same teacher) and we've all become different people – in our hobbies, academics, lifestyles….and yes… the way we express ourselves!
Therefore, I am able to say that I have finally learned (maybe through a hard way) and I will vow to socialize and immerse myself within my community with this understanding that I am not interacting with a clone of myself (who would want to deal with another Mina?) It has taken a lot of reflection on my side to understand that people express themselves differently, people love differently, and even our most conventional methods of doing things, is done 180 degrees differently by other people. The more I meet people, the more I embark on a journey of self-learning and self-realization, a journey of understanding beautiful qualities in people that I personally lack, and perhaps I am envious of (for example: people that are super calm and collected – I don’t know how you do it, teach me your ways). All I know is that diversity is beautiful and it is our unique quirky qualities that make us who we are. So understand that people’s mechanisms work differently than yours, and this realization will allow people (like me) to appreciate the differences and learn from them.
Thank you for reading this post and being a part of my story.
- Mina Mohit
No one likes to be appreciated.
Said no one ever.
The word thank you is thrown around every day all day.
“Thank you” for shopping at Walmart, “Thank you” for paying for our services and helping us keep our business running. “Thank you” for commenting on my profile picture, “thank you” for thinking my shoes are fancy. “Thank you” “thank you” “thank you.” Its real efficient meaning, or its real value has been lost while we throw it around for different things that are not equivalent to each other. For example, you go to Baskin Robbins, buy a scoop of ice cream and you pay for it. You say “thank You,” walk out and enjoy your ice cream and move on with the rest of your day. You were polite and you had the common courtesy of saying “please” and “thank you” – the two words that are reiterated by preschool teachers to students over and over again.
Now around two weeks ago, I felt very ill and I had extremely high fevers followed by shivers, and I was stuck in bed unable to move. In this situation, I felt kind of helpless and had extreme hate towards my sickness and everything around me. I’m sure we’ve all experienced that. I picked up my phone and texted a bunch of people and told them about my situation, they were polite enough to text me back saying “Get well soon dear” and as common courtesy, I responded saying “thanks.”
However, there are people who go above and beyond the expected “common courtesy,” how do we express our gratitude to them? I was lucky enough to have a friend, who’s also called Mina, to show up at my place, make me tea, wet towels and put them on my forehead, and stay with me all night in case my fever went too high and I needed to go to the hospital. What are we supposed to do when someone goes that far to make sure you are okay and expect NOTHING in return? What can a sick person offer to her whilst she spends all night taking care of her? I was speechless; no one ever did that for me. As soon as I felt better, I was on a mission to make sure everything I did expressed in one way or another how grateful I was to her kindness that night. Saying “thanks” or “thank you” does not cut it. They're just not on the same playing field.
So do not treat the little acts as kindness people do for you as unseen or “conventional.” Being kind and helping others is voluntary and not part of any rule that is programmed in anyone. People show affection to others because they WANT to not because they HAVE to. So next time someone is doing something for you, hosts you at their home, cooks for you or does something that made you happy, don’t just say hey thanks and move on with your life (as if the whole world was created to please you left and right). Learn not only to say “thanks” but also learn how to show “thanks.” You can show it in many ways but one of the easiest yet most impactful way can be by simply sending a card. Buy a box of thank you cards from your nearest bookstore or gift shop, it wouldn't cost you more than $15 (I promise) and just keep it around your house. Or, if you want to be thrifty, pick up a thank you card from your nearest Dollarama, it doesn't matter how much money you spend on the actual card. You know what they say, "it's the thought that counts," so go ahead and mail it to the last person that did something nice for you. Yes, I meant "mail" yes with "stamps" and "post offices" and "pigeons" and "telegraphs." Old School, yes! Send a tangible card, with your own unique handwriting and see how excited they'll be. Don't let the facility of technology make you insensitive, lazy or unbothered. Old school works, trust me!
"But who are you?" asked the Caterpillar
"Why, I hardly know, sir", replied Alice.
"I've changed so much since this morning, you see... "
"No I don't C, explain yourself", he demanded.
"I'm afraid I can't explain myself, you see, because I'm not myself, you know."
Have you ever caught yourself in that awkward situation where people, usually your elders, parents, job officials, potential employers ask you.. "so tell me about yourself child".. "uhm...uhm... well...when I grow up... I will (insert highly ambitious goals)" Impress the person. The storm has passed. phew! However, it is not that simple. Our entire lives, we have been trained to keep defining and redefining ourselves. We are in constant negotiations with ourselves, our surroundings, our peers and how we present ourselves on social media. Our self-definition is both the product of our environment on us and us on the environment, I really do not have the credentials to tell you which came first. For example, when you meet someone they seem to be on a quest to narrow down who you are.. you are thrown questions like "what school did you go to?".."what area did you live in?".. "were you family friends with the XY family?" ... "AHA!" "I know who you are.." And that's it! the quest is over, no one wants to know what you do on Sunday afternoons, they aren't bothered with how you color code your closet, and they don't care about why you twiddle with your hair when you're nervous - the unique details of your life are left undisclosed and unbothered, only for you to guard them close to your heart and regard them as as your own special qualities.
We often hide the things that seem weird to ourselves. Personally, I love dipping my McDonald's French Fry in my vanilla ice cream, but for the longest time, that was my secret because everyone around me thought it was "weird." Here, why don't I use an example from the field of photography, I think I may have a stronger grip of explaining this using photos and social media. The same way you never put that one picture that makes your nose look big, your little bit of fat showing over your jeans and how you crop random people in the background to make yourself the center of the photograph. We've all done that, so don't shy away! Anyways, I'm going to stop rambling on and on trying to explain myself, I'm sure you get the point. I guess my frustration is the act of trying to force yourself unto this cookie cutter that isn't necessarily customized for you. You aren't in any "type" or "category", the only category you are in is in Kingdom:Animalia, Class: Mammalia and Genus: Homo - we're all only human!
So be that human that you are and err. Err as much as you can since they will help you evolve and grow as a person.
Don't try to constantly define yourself, wear certain things to fit in a certain class, drink a certain coffee to blend in a certain culture and never do anything that makes you uncomfortable only for the sake of maintaining social appearances. I do not know who I am, you do not know you are and that is completely o k a y. We are ever evolving beings that are in daily struggles with life's curveballs. You aren't yourself, you are an agglomeration of all the people you've met in your life, the members you grew up with, the songs you've listened to, the foods you've devoured and the habits that have engrained themselves into you. So relax, take a step back and appreciate the contingency of being "you."
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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