tongue tied


Customarily, the introduction goes here. Provide me some context. Explain your purpose. Tell me why, that’s what these consumer eyes have been trained to look for.

Next come instructions. I’ve bought what you sold, now tell me your trade secrets. Spell it out clearly, if it isn’t easy my investment wasn’t worth it.

Then give me the facts. Bare bones. Spare me the fluff, avoid nuance. I like it like I like my whiskey: straight.

Ensuite on va discuter ce que t’a trouvé, la vraie raison que tu m’a arrêté mais en vérité je m’ennuie déjà. On peut partir maintenant; n’inquiète pas, je vais la recommander à tous mes amies.

One more line to part- seal the deal with a kiss. Say: thanks for coming. Acknowledgements. F I N. Now I have the tidy package, ready to share, bury, throw away, or even reopen. My choice, thanks to you.

If I told you the title for my blue box was ‘Sales How To’, you’d probably believe me. Sales is a hard job- many a young entrepreneur would love a guide on how to hook a buyer, myself included.

Except that’s not the concept behind the title here. These days I’m writing a scientific manuscript for my supervisor. What’s contained in the blue box can easily be read as simple instructions for scientific writing for a beginner (not unlike me, if we’re being honest). Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion.

But while the title ‘Writing for Science’ might be an apt title for my blue box, so too is ‘Having an Interview’. So too is ‘Winning a Debate’. If you want to really take a step back, the title ‘One Night Stand’ would not even be off base.

I have two points here. One, is to draw your attention to the titles, the labels. These give context. The title is the preface for what’s to come. You can get a general sense of things from the title, but you won’t get it fully until you go through the whole thing. Mislabeling can detract value. But giving no labels is not necessarily bad either- the reader can interpolate as they please.

Two; even when we’re being direct, we are vague. Meaning is fluid- take what you will and leave what you will.


That said, the title of this space is ‘in crude terms’.

Crude- because no one is editing here. I’ll try to assemble a decent structure, but it’ll be rough at the edges.

Crude- because I wanted to use “cru”, which means raw. It might get REAL.

Crude- because sometimes the C gets dropped and I hope you’ll bear with me.

Crude- because I need a reminder of where I’m from and where I’m headed. Thoughts of a Cowtown gal (stretching here): You might hate the blackness of tar but you can’t undo the fact that its dollar value is what gave you your quality of life. I don’t harbour any deep resentment about my family’s jobs in the oil and gas industry- but I think the metaphor is relevant. I’m committed to being honest about where I’ve been, where I am (privilege or otherwise), and where I want to go.

TERMS- as alluded to here, its so easy to get tongue tied. Conversely, its easy to lose your filter. The nomenclature and terminology of various disciplines is fascinating and beautiful to me for how eloquent and beautiful simple descriptions can be.  my intention is to get there too with simplicity and precision.

So there you have it- my Introduction. Feel free to stick around for Methods & More 🙂

-take what you will,




Featured post

comme il faut



comme il faut- (exp, fr.)- def. proper



mary’s room 

Imagine what it would be like to never have seen the colour red?  Would you know when you saw it? Would you feel different when you saw it? Would reading about the feeling “seeing red” be the same as feeling it yourself?

In philosophy of mindMary’s Room is a thought experiment meant to demonstrate the non-physical nature of mental states. It is an example meant to highlight the knowledge argument against physicalism. The example first appears in an article by Frank Jackson, entitled “Epiphenomenal Qualia”, which appears in Philosophical Quarterly 32:127 (1982).

The thought experiment is as follows: Mary lives her entire life in a room devoid of colour—she has never directly experienced colour in her entire life, though she is capable of it. Through black-and-white books and other media, she is educated on neuroscience to the point where she becomes an expert on the subject. Mary learns everything there is to know about the perception of colour in the brain, as well as the physical facts about how light works in order to create the different colour wavelengths. It can be said that Mary is aware of all physical facts about colour and colour perception.

After Mary’s studies on colour perception in the brain are complete, she exits the room and experiences, for the very first time, direct colour perception. She sees the colour red for the very first time, and learns something new about it — namely, what red looks like.

Jackson concluded that if physicalism is true, Mary ought to have gained total knowledge about colour perception by examining the physical world. But since there is something she learns when she leaves the room, then physicalism must be false. As Jackson explains:

It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.  – (

marvin’s room

 “I’m just saying you could do better. Tell me have you heard that lately?”

-Drake, Marvin’s Room, 2011



Imagine what it would be like to never have seen danger in your life? Would you know it when you saw it? Would you feel different when you saw it? Would reading about the feeling of “danger” be the same as feeling it yourself?

Not unlike Mary’s predicament, it seems obvious that reading or hearing something, and experiencing the thing itself can be categorized as two very separate types of knowledge. One is not a substitute for another, if Frank’s argument stands. Nonetheless, to understand a feeling that we have never experienced, it can be helpful to educate ourselves on things we have not, and will not ever experience, in so doing to better empathize with those who do experience these feelings.

For example, the protagonist of Marvin’s Room does not know what it feels like to receive a call in the late hours of the night, telling you that you can do better, when you are already, in fact, doing better. To gain an understanding of her experience, he could turn to Twitter. Or speak to his female friends, if he has any.  (If he doesn’t have any of those, he could begin by eliminating the word “bitches” from his vocabulary, and then go from there.)

Now, imagine that Mary has never seen red, has never studied colours, and will never see red, because she is colourblind. Imagine Mary also has a friend who has severe erythrophobia (fear of red). After years of telephone correspondence she decides to meet her friend for a lavish dinner. Unaware of her friend’s condition, Mary wears a fancy red dress to dinner. Her friend suffers a panic attack, runs away, and Mary doesn’t see her again. Mary is hurt by her friend’s departure and decides against telephoning her.

Who is more responsible? Mary for not knowing about her friend’s anxious condition, or her friend for not telling Mary not to wear red?


Answer: I don’t know either, but I reckon they’ve both got to pick up the phone (sober) and talk that shit out.

-stop victim blaming, shaming, & running away from the conversation



“who will marry you… when you won’t even wear jewelry?”

“you dress too simple… I’ve brought you some crop tops. You need to look both elegant and sexy to find a man.”

 “you can’t sit like that. Sit taller.”

 “what you’re wearing right now would be completely inappropriate.”

 “you need to look a little more lively.”

 “you look tired.”

 “you have to smile more.”

 “don’t smile too much at him”

 “no boyfriend?”

 “don’t you want to get married?”

 “oh you look SMART! You should wear this more often”

 “why don’t you wear makeup more though?”

 “I think a full body wax will be better… cleaner I think.”

 “do you want me to do your full face?”

 “I went ahead and did your whole face. That’ll be 20”

 “we dressed up… please get on our level”

 “you’re attracting attention”

 “speak confidently.”

 “don’t say anything.”


-excerpts of comments from women in my life, 2017-2018



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texts I wish I never had to send, so I didn’t




For International Women’s Day, I made a list of all of the female role models in my own life. The women who have shaped me over the past year(s), held me up, and helped me to be the person I’m becoming. I thought: wow, channeling the feelings I’ve experienced in each of these relationships into one piece about female unity will be excellent. It will be a perfect way to contribute to International Women’s Day, and it’ll be a perfect way to celebrate my personal female heroes (sheroes)!

Except for that, every time I sat down to write the piece, it completely slipped away from me. Despite being able to recall (well) so many beautiful moments of unity, I couldn’t pick apart the nuances of “female unity” in words. A nagging feeling of things that still bother me, that are still imperfect, grated on me while I tried to find an adequate, non-clichéd metaphor for female strength.

(I still have lots to say about my sheroes. In time.)

Though Women’s Day is a day for celebration, it’s also a day for reflection. Which means- every day, we can take a good look at the mirror and look at ourselves as women, our common experiences, how we treat other women, and how we are moving the needle (or not). This may come as no surprise to you- but for so many of us, we already do this, every damn day.

To be female is to be compelled, by your experiences and the experiences of those who share your gender, to a level of awareness a good 50% of the population doesn’t (and probably doesn’t need to) maintain. What am I wearing? Where am I going? Who is standing behind me? What time does the sun set? Do I live here? Do I speak to that person? Am I safe? Is she safe?

That fundamental question – Are we Safe? – drives everything we do, how we interact with the world, and how we treat other women. It’s in how we seemingly put each other into boxes, encourage each other to “act proper”. Push each other to maintain a “certain level of propriety”, because that’s the only way you can secure your spot in the world. Agree to swallow a certain degree of sexism so that you can get a stronger foothold. Sometimes, forcing “propriety” down each other’s throats, to the point where young women feel the imperative to reject what they perceive as backward patriarchal norms altogether, and do away with “propriety”. And so they should, in my (very liberal, western-educated) opinion. But how do we tell young girls, young women, that they are strong, equal as men, to always speak their minds, go wherever in the world they want- when the current set of rules we live within means she isn’t yet equal, and she won’t be safe everywhere she goes if she internalizes this completely? Physical safety aside, how do you tell young women that they can’t afford to be as socially uninhibited as their male peers- that loud voices, excessive sociability, even appearance, undermines credibility and lowers your own job security? How do you tell her that her financial and physical wellbeing is, in fact, more secure if she decides to play the game? And how do you say all of this, while still encouraging women to shoot for the moon and bend the rules, so we can eventually change the rules?

(Case in point: watch Malala Yousafzai’s David Letterman interview, their body language, and how Malala responds to Dave. Malala literally almost died for speaking up. Also, unpopular opinion: why is Dave Letterman still a thing?)

I had two separate male friends of mine send me this video from 2015, where men speak about gender equality and their views on women.  Last year on International Women’s Day, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau got major backlash for suggesting we “celebrate the boys and men in our life who encourage us to be who we truly are,” for which people were enraged someone could suggest making the one day designated to be for women, all about men. While I agree her stance was a bit “tone-deaf”, there is something to the fundamental principle. I’m grateful to have kind-hearted, self-aware men in my life everyday. It’s an unfortunate rarity it seems- because while we’re socialized to be proper, they’re socialized to think know that the world is their oyster. Nothing necessitates awareness per se, unless the experiences of someone close (a mother, daughter, sister, friend) concretizes what this means. The more men and boys are on board and able to be aware of their actions, their peers actions, and most importantly- aware of what doesn’t and won’t affect them but is always affecting the females in their lives- the less burden there is on women to educate their daughters, be scared for each other, and “play the game”.

This doesn’t just extend to men, women’s issues, and gender equality. I’ve caught myself unaware vis-à-vis my colleagues’ and friends life experiences, and how they navigate the world. I have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes, nor do they know what it’s like to be in mine, but the only way I can even have an idea is to ask.

Though International Women’s Day is only one day of the year for celebration, I think every day is #forthegirls, and I think we can all do better. (In 2018, Drake is doing his part on this- and is much better as a feminist.) Everyday is a day we can talk about it, share our stories of pain, but also our stories of resilience and strength. And everyday is a day we can hopefully stop seeing red, be aware of what other’s are seeing in their daily, and build a better idea of where we’re going.


comme– how

il – it (he)

faut – must be




I like clean, even lines. Preferably, black. Symmetrical boxes, rectangles if necessary. The base pattern has to have at least four vertices, and can’t be too complex. I prefer greyscale, but I guess other colours will do- so long as its dual-tone only.

 My sister prefers a lot of colour. And by a lot, I mean a lot. Colours that aren’t necessarily complimentary- she loves things to clash (her favourite oxymoron – “a pleasant clash”). Abstract shapes and plenty of light, things that pop. She says those are the things that make you feel but also make you think. I prefer to do each of those in separate time, so I tend to stick to my boxes.

 If I stretch far enough, I can remember a time when I preferred curves to edges. I smoothed acrylic paints on canvasses in swirls, because I loved the way a paintbrush effortlessly glides that way. (also, I knew I couldn’t paint a straight line.) I hated when my mother bought square plates for the house. I desperately wanted a globe for my seventh birthday, so I could spin it with one palm and watch the blue and green blur to rainbow, stop it with one finger and not know if I’d land or sink that day. My sister wanted a Rubix cube: the opportunity to arrange boxes by colour, in clear order. Nothing blurry, nothing mixed. But I thought edges were sharp and circles were elegant- you could end up back where you started without needing to turn a corner. (That is why I preferred running track to the lane pool, more or less.)

 We switched at the Grid. The Grid- where numbers and figures made so much sense and the beauty of science was so clearly spelled out for me. The Grid- where I could neatly organize what I liked PER box, no matter how curved the contents of each box. The Grid- a system for sorting and stacking, because I had a few too many tangential thoughts and needed to organize them into one big picture. Around the same time that I learned I could use a flat iron to smooth out the dense black curls on my head, I found I could use the grid to tame the mess of ideas in my head. I liked the consistency, the finality of black lines, and found myself using less colour. (Acrylic paints are both expensive, and messy.)

 To my sister, the Grid was a maze. The corners were excruciating. The girl who loved order so much found that she hated the rigidity, needed space to breathe. My black lines bored her. Metaphorical lines too- rules were made to be broken, right?

 Thanks to the Grid, my paints dried up and I routinely buy Sharpies (black) instead. (for those who don’t know, the natural smell of Sharpie is highly addictive). My sister dyes her hair red or purple or something else and writes me (obviously) non-linear poetry.  On the outside- we don’t resemble each other. It’s irrelevant. Under the Grid and our preferences- we understand each other.




Quentin Tarantino, Preface to the Screenplay of True Romance (’95)


“So why do you have a snake on your arm?”

Standard question, if I’m sitting near anyone remotely new to my life and wearing short sleeves. Sometimes its accompanied by “lol are you a death eater?”, to which I am forced to acknowledge the reference but gently insist I’m not the type of person to get a Harry Potter themed tattoo.

There’s a short answer as well as a long answer, but most of the time I respond with “basically I just liked how it looks.” At this point I get “oh, that’s cool…” alongside raised eyebrows that spell out “lol, this girl is basic affffff.” To be fair, it is a pretty graphic; a geometric snake made up of smooth, black lines (both curved, and straight).

 If anyone cared to ask the type of snake, they’d find out it’s a black mamba (to me, anyways- I’m hazy on the zoology of snakes). The story goes like this- we found a baby black mamba in the pit latrine. Yours truly, having exiled self to a phoneless existence for two months, watches movies to pass the time. The film for that day was Kill Bill: Volume 1, early 2000s blockbuster regarding female empowerment and revenge or something to that effect, starring Uma Thurman as protagonist Beatrix Kiddo aka Black Mamba. Some days later Liv falls ill, hallucinates being bitten by mamba (has obviously not, at this point, been bitten by mamba). Experiences strong female moment to ensure rehydration of colleague. Liv recovers, mamba is never seen again.

Someone once told me that I “have a good tattoo aesthetic.” This was a great moment in my life, as despite the fact that (as any tattooed person will tell you) I always refrain from judging others tattoos as I’d want no one to judge mine, having a ‘tacky’ tattoo aesthetic is one of my worst fears.

Superficiality aside, my tattoos do carry personal meaning (as most people will tell you, though they may not care to tell you the meaning). And though meaning shifts with time and experience and new knowledge, one of my favourite things about tattoos is how they act as timestamps. They serve as little (or big…) reminders of what was important or relevant to us at a given point in time, and force you to remember that part of you for better or for worse. To that end, I think permanent body art does enforce some type of personal accountability- not only in a very literal sense to the choices you make about your body, but in a broader sense to the value judgements you make throughout your life.


Back to QT and Uma Thurman.


In my first year of uni, at least half of my friends were film majors. I never took a film class, but I’d tag along to the screenings for their classes, since these always prompted some type of large discussion at dinner or drinks afterwards. This was, as it were, my first major exposure to analysing film (I liked science and boxes, remember?) and I did learn a lot. I recall at least half of the year was devoted to learning about the role of the (largely male) auteur in film, and so through this and wanting to keep up with my new college pals I got a rudimentary, patchwork understanding of 20th century film.

One perfect example of the auteur-muse relationship was illustrated by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman. When the class watched Miramax’s Pulp Fiction, practically the entire campus was in attendance. No one talked. Just as the co-chairman of Miramax described the script- it is enthralling to watch, even if you have no idea what you are watching. Thurman (muse) puts on a brilliant performance in Tarantino (auteur)’s plot. It’s funny and thoughtful and violent in a dark and weirdly sexy way, and so of course naturally, easily captured the attention of a roomful of newly minted teenage scholars. I once read that one of the best ways to engage someone is to make them feel smart- this is something Tarantino has mastered in his films, in apparently making the audience feel good about their own moral ideals.

Plot of Tarantino movies aside (I really do like them all, I will admit), I thought Uma Thurman was amazing. She was beautiful, smart, and her characters were dynamic even without saying too much. When I watched Kill Bill I liked her even more, Beatrix Kiddo was the epitome of tragic hero-cum-kickass woman taking care of herself. I could accept the violence for her cause, in fact I think by the end of both volumes I was more or less desensitized (QT denies such a phenomenon can occur).

A close friend of mine told me that watching the Kill Bill movies at a young age was horrifying and not that great of a time. Retrospectively, I do see his point.


Tarantino’s approach to violence is as follows: it can be (and is) aestheticized, ridiculed, and reduced to its rawest form as the trigger for action. This is how violent sequences play out: as an action-reaction-action circuit that is so over the top that you more or less forget the acts themselves, and focus on the underlying motives of the characters (or so you think by the end of it all, anyways). In reality: the fork to the face scenario (ie. domestic violence) is reduced to an inevitable escalation of tension, your reaction to it becomes inconsequential because anything you do will be, by time-bound definition, a “resolution” for the narrative. It will be “outrageous” no matter which way you react. And so therefore, there is no “correct” way to react. Despite a claim to a very specific type of morality being inherent to aestheticizing violence, it is quite possible that it only leads to a melancholy state of detachment and passivity towards all things gruesome (ie. describing abuse as “comic-bookish”). When you like the picture as a whole, it becomes difficult to admit if there are pieces you don’t like. Doing that would, of course, have a catastrophic and deleterious effect on the whole thing. The idea that we need violence in our art to understand ourselves better seems absurd- because it positions violence as inevitable, normal, not necessary to question.


In a practical sense, the revolutionary argument for outright violence is as follows: “violence makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. At the level of individuals, violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” – Frantz Fanon, Caribbean psychotherapist.

Fanon died in 1961 of leukeumia. Ultimately, his argument supported a proletariat uprising in African states, expecting that the best route to political reform was for “uneducated fringe groups” to lead violent revolution. (Fast forward just a bit- unsure if this argument was entirely well supported.) The justification of violence as an inevitable act for the greater good is engrained in how we think, interact, and consume everything happening around us.

Uma Thurman told us, recently, that she doesn’t like to speak when she’s angry*. She finally broke her silence, and revealed the dark undertone to her auteur-muse relationship. For the greater good (amazing, total hit movies), she endured pain and silence. And often, we all do- because we prefer a linear narrative to highlighting and cutting out the things we know are cancerous.


Beatrix Kiddo is still one of my favourite characters. Though the movie is usually read as a violence-filled crusade of redemption and revenge, to me the non-linear narrative always seemed more about survival. She fights, she kills, yes- but only so she can cut out the cancers in her life, and move on to more peaceful, blood-free pastures- where she no longer fights or kills.


As a group, we like to collect boxes and pictures and stack them neatly; regardless of how crooked the internal content. We like to prioritize thinking, suppress feeling. We like our systems (I like my system), because they help us turn a blind eye to the chaos. We aestheticize them, so we learn to find them appealing and never have to get rid of them.

The thing about tattoos: we like to think ink lines are permanent. But if you really, really need to- things can always be erased. And though a shadow may stay – things will always heal.


find beauty everywhere, cutting out the dark bits



“’you must never write history until you can hear the people speak’…He thought about that for years, and in the end it came to feel like a valuable principle for fiction as well. If you didn’t have a sense of how people spoke, you couldn’t, and shouldn’t tell their story.”

The way people spoke….revealed so much about them:  their place of origin , their social class, their temperament whether calm or angry, warm-hearted or cold-blooded, foul-mouthed or clean-spoken, polite or rude, and beneath their temperament, their true nature: intellectual or earthy, plain-spoken or devious, and yes, good or bad”

– Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton (Memoirs)


Midnight. The singular moment between night and day, between yesterday and tomorrow. Somehow pregnant with magic, because the sky sparkles black and blue and its both the end and the beginning and that will last another sixty seconds but forget about that for just now. The spell will be broken, and then you’ll forget about yesterday and start tomorrow.

Twelve Strokes- eleven beats to bind your imagination, one to bring you back to reality. Forget about the princes and mothers and adventures of yesterday. Where are they? Not here, not coming with you to tomorrow. You inhale on the twelfth stroke- clear sinuses, clear skies, clear mind. There’s no such thing as magic, anyways.

Beep beep. The shrill sound buzzing at you comes from your wrist. 0:00. Déjà vu. You’ve been here before, you’ll be back again. À demain.




So it goes that another day, another month, another year, we accept the illusion of moving forward while we cycle through so much of the same. Same places, same people. Different places, same people. Same places, different people. Different places and people, same battles.

But ultimately what remains the same is besides the point, because you’re different now.

That is the best part about newness, it’s an open offer for rewriting your self-definition, a blank space to be filled with what you desire.

Inevitably, white space gets filled and the illusion of new starts to fade as we see some of the same. It’s easy to recognize, so we gloss over the new. We lose steam. “Are you trying to go to the gym more this year? Best to start in Feb, after the January rush.” We are our own worst enemies, the first to burst our own bubbles.

We forget that you can change the pen, paper, the author remains the same. Or, you can change the author, pen, paper, remains the same. Sameness won’t escape us, no matter how much we crave a reset.  Hard stops are tough- but don’t worry. You will finish what you started.


When I was fifteen, I cracked open the cover of a new novel- Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie. In return -it cracked me: the prose overwhelmed me, I had no concept of India’s history, couldn’t follow the in’s and outs of the labyrinthine plot. I closed the book and left it to gather dust on my white washed bookshelf- next to my hardcopy set of the Twilight novels and My Sisters Keeper. I didn’t have time to read anyways, I was too busy navigating the teenage waters of learning Calculus for the first time and pretending not to be a nerd.

Fastforward, and you’d see a taller me- furiously dragging my toes through the damp sand while pacing up and down the beach. I was watching the sunset (very beautiful sunset, orange hues and crimson hues and a giant orb that disappears right into an unmarred horizon that extends to the waves at your feet and washes over your sandy toes in a cool, pure white foam) and fuming. Fuming- because I was twenty-two and in India and bored despite myself and annoyed with being stared at and feeling physically on the edge of paradise but mentally trapped in a set of social structures I thought I hadn’t signed up for. (If you want to really fuck with your own emotions- I recommend voluntarily signing your time over to other people, and then conveniently forgetting your decision once you find yourself disagreeing with the itinerary and rules of engagement. Also, go to India.)

In my silent rage against myself and the universe I read aggressively.  I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I wanted to write about India, identity, culture, other random classic DEVS topics, but in my unexplainable state of bitterness, I couldn’t:


December 31st, 2017

How My Trip to India Transformed my Life

Amidst the vibrant sights, sounds, and smells, I gained a sense of clarity I didn’t know I needed, and I learned some truly invaluable lessons. The brilliance of things here illuminated so much. I probably knew all of these things already, but I’ll give credit where credit is due: India changed me, and now fully has my heart. There is a new energy coursing through me, filling me with a sense of renewed purpose and a desire to leave no time wasted. This is probably due to inspiration from the unique spiritual approach Indians take to life: Namaste.

  1. Never be dependant on wastemans. This goes for all things- from a ride to the beach to being your actual husband. If you’re putting yourself in situations where your day to day activities are contingent on wastemans being reliable- don’t.
  2. Time is precious. No seriously, people are capable of waiting all day. Why are you waiting? What is so special that you need to see/ do/ wait for? Have you ever made a list of all the things you could have been doing in this time that you were waiting? Doesn’t that bother you? No? Okay.
  3. Some things are certain, just as the sun will surely rise and set every day. Like random people asking you for a selfie. Like your opinion being ignored, because you probably are not old enough or male enough to know better. Like any apology to you also being ignored when you end up being correct. The point is, there is no fruit in dwelling upon these instances, ideally you should look for the beauty in them and/or accept them as a fact of life.
  4. Ties that bind- they literally bind. Do not expect mobility to be free, didn’t you know tourist vehicles come at a premium?
  5. Everything is about ~balance. Don’t eat rice and bread everyday. Don’t starve yourself and live off of rave drugs. Don’t do that hippie look full out. Just. Chill.
  6. We are all just travellers. No seriously, everyone is a tourist and so if you really want to fuck with your own meter on authenticity, please come and visit.
  7. Live your life, for you. Just kidding, do not, this is not how good wives are made. We must all aspire to togetherness and shy away from loneliness.
  8. We are all one family. Love one another. But your actual family- don’t love them too much. And definitely don’t try to marry them (…it’s a no from me)
  9. Social Media is a Disease. Take time to live and be in the present. Specifically – whatsapp is a disease that can ruin marriages ( T or F?)

…… On the second day of the New Year, after driving 4 hours from South Goa to North Goa I landed in the Mall de Goa, promptly ate a whole pizza and two orders of pani puri, and visited “Bargain Books” because, in my rage I was out of entertainment. Unable to find Shantaram, I found a different paperback with a little yellow sticker that said ₹499 (10 USD, probably).

I made a single New Year’s Resolution, which was to finish Midnight’s Children and know more about India and (hopefully) improve as a writer by reading such a brilliant and well-decorated author.

On January 10th, I boarded a plane to Addis Ababa. Before fulfilling an irrational desire to rewatch 17 Again, I turned the 533rd page of Midnight’s Children, and said goodbye to India for the season.




When the spell breaks, reality comes in at full volume. The illusion of silence is shattered, and there’s no escaping the noise.

There are an infinite number of spell-binding elements to life, and also, in my brief accounts. India. Princes. Brilliant Writers. Sunsets. Fiction. It’s easy to fall victim to these elements. However, in the wise words of Robert Frost as quoted to Ponyboy Curtis aka one of the best protagonists of all time, “nothing gold can stay.”

I made (as many often do) one small mistake as an audience member. I used Google. Not in the sense that I googled the plot in advance or searched terms for added context. I searched the author, and read his lifestory before finishing his story.

What I learned was a backstory of England and identity, prizes and fatwas, intelligence and arrogance, abuse and entitlement. A brilliant male specimen who aired his frustrations on his wives, was sexually inconsiderate despite (or in addition to?) his charisma, but nonetheless possesses the ability to capture the human spirit in his writing beautifully.

I can’t say this didn’t colour how I read the rest of the Saleem Sinai’s story. Armed with an idea of Rushdie’s views on women, I found the sad truths in the treatment of women in the plot were amplified. I found the protagonist less sympathetic. I read faster, not just because the plot seems to turn from fantasy to horror, but because the shine was fading fast.

Just this past week, the ethical debate around supporting Woody Allen has resurfaced as Dylan Farrow has added her voice to the #MeToo movement. Allegations against Aziz Ansari for sexual misconduct have opened a new conversation on casual encounters, feminism and agency, and have highlighted our own failure to criticize potentially (probably) outdated social norms. The question of whether art should be separated from artist, seems to be front and centre and the answer, it seems, is no.

When you prematurely wake up while you were having a good dream, you roll over and press snooze in hopes that maybe, just maybe, you can sink back into the good plot points and wake up later. Unfortunately, the more you try to hold onto, the harder it is to remember, the better the dream seems.

Waking up is more bitter than sweet- you know its good for you, but you hate it for the moment. Between fifteen to twenty-two, from serious-to-casual-to-who-knows-what, from Canada to Nairobi to India and back, the growing pains of waking up to hard truths have been sharp. More of the same, and less patience to take it created an internal storm leading to small Canadian girl kicking sand on the beaches of Goa. The writer’s block of late 2017 and early 2018 has been thanks to a personal existential crisis. Am I not vocal enough? Do I give away my agency? Do I give people more empathy than they deserve? Why are so many beautiful things created by misogynists? Why do I feel guilty about it? Your life is so dope, why are you so angry?

Without a doubt, I’ll keep having questions. But my Obama Smoothline pen still writes well, I’m a little less angry, and I’m out here for a fresh page.




“in autobiography, as in all literature, what actually happened is less important than what the author can manage to persuade his audience to believe” 
Salman RushdieMidnight’s Children


‘Tis the Season

“Please (briefly) describe your career goals, your personal passions, your interest in our program. What personal experiences have motivated you to embark upon this career path? Where do you see yourself in five years? What steps have you personally taken to improve your community? Where do you see yourself in ten years? Why do you think you can do this? Why are you the most suitable candidate for this position? Why should we choose you over anyone else? Why should we choose you at all?”

Please attach a relevant CV outlining all relevant experiences of your (albeit short) life to date, in detail. We will be verifying the contents of your CV through the use of extensive social media background checks, word of mouth, and possible use of Instagram bots, so consider yourself forewarned. To this end, please ensure your LinkedIn page is up to date and with adequate endorsements.  We enforce a strict, zero-tolerance policy for false representation. *Note, a margin of flexibility is granted for embellishment, within reason.

In addition, please select two references who can speak to your competencies. Only references on official letterhead will be accepted (by organizational policy, we are required to add that we are non-partisan and do not prefer certain organizations over others. That said, choose wisely). Please verify with your references in advance. In essence, if you are unable to contend with tedious email exchanges associated with procuring such a letter from a former superior, you are likely not the right fit for us.

The interview stage will be an opportunity for you to equally decide if we are good for you too, but you’ll probably forget that. Through this process, we hope you will gain a true understanding of your personal objectives and interests, or at least, how best to tailor those to our own. We look for self-motivated, hard-working, intelligent individuals who truly drive their own success with tenacity. We very much look forward to hearing how you have done this for yourself.

Because of the rigour required of our people, one of our core community values is resilience. Resilience refers to the ability to take challenges in stride and move forward effectively. Emotional stability within our work place is of the essence. If you currently possess this type of stability, please refrain from explaining in too much depth how you came to attain it. We recognize that hardships are inevitable for people of your age cohort (including this process itself), but in our experience, excessive hardship at a young age is indicative of volatility. Furthermore, we are uninterested in the emotional labour of those who are supporting you, or have supported you to date. Our primary focus is you, as the applicant, and the labour you will bring to our community.

Another one of our core community values is, well, community. Our people are important to us. Family is important to our people, and is likely important to you, too. For this reason, applications will be accepted until the end of the year, at which point our offices will be closed for Christmas the holidays.

We wish you every success in the application process, and a very Happy Holidays for whatever you may be celebrating! Cheers.




One is Silver and the Other’s Gold

It’s December, but there’s no snow on the ground. It’s seems to be ever-green outside because the National Forest Agency supports tree planting to increase tree cover, permaculture and agroforestry. The distribution of seedlings and environmental education has led to flourishing forests and lush farms in many (not all) areas, and reduced deforestation.

None of the new trees are evergreens, so there’s no risk of extra deforestation around Christmas. PVC plastic makes good, sturdy, trees that are easily imported from China alongside their shiny plastic ornaments to deck the malls. Giant silver and gold baubles on trees to remind you how many gifts you need to buy, and make you forget how PVC production releases toxic dioxins anyways.

But for the most part, you don’t need trees or snow to know it’s December. You can tell just from the fact that day by day people are nicer, softer, happier. Probably drunker, too. Once you meet all your deadlines you can go home and spend time with your family, your friends, your colleagues, your dog.

Just a few weeks before, at Thanksgiving dinner, everyone had to go around the circle and say what they were thankful for. At the time, you hadn’t really thought it out, didn’t want to sound corny, and ended up saying something vaguely grateful, related to health and happiness this year and suppressing the urge to make a bad political joke. That was mostly fake, since you haven’t been to the gym since June and you ate enough to gain 5 pounds. But since then, everyday you’re remembering something new to be thankful for, someone else you’d like to hug. Delayed reactions, since everything’s slowing down.

Everything that is, but your social life. With so few days and so many people, what’s one to do? The new friends, the old friends. Close family, extended family. Your most recent tinder date (yikes). Random semi-strangers at the office party. Loneliness can lead to depression, poor health, and even earlier death. At least in December, you don’t feel lonely. If your friends were literally silver and gold, you’d be rich enough to afford presents for all of them.

You didn’t come up for the Christmas bonus this year, but you’re pretty sure that’s okay. Health is wealth, your friends are your health. À ta santé.


I get by…with a little  a lot of help from my friends

Looking back on the past year, it’s been a whirlwind of opportunity and growth. If you told me on my 21st birthday what my life would be like on my 22nd birthday, I’d have been floored. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Every day I’m genuinely excited to see what our generation is getting up to; at home, over here, all over the map. In high school one teacher remarked we were the most apathetic year he’d seen in a few years. For years after that I took that to be the dismal truth, we all seemed to be floating. Fortunately, I think we’ve proved him wrong. ‘Millennial’ isn’t a bad word, thank you very much.

Though leaving school has meant a lot of visible logistic and professional changes for each and every one of us, the growing pains are a lot more nuanced. Social media paints a surface-level picture of success and fuels the fire of comparison. Our generation loves our various highlight reels, but there’s no reel for the lowlights. Even when we do choose to candidly share our struggles, it’s carefully curated to make a point, or a joke. Though we’ve outgrown apathy, we haven’t yet outgrown a fear of vulnerability. Though we care about mental health, we’re still hesitant to take care of ourselves, and to recognize when we need to be taken care of.

So here’s me being vulnerable for a second.

For those who don’t know, I’m living in Kenya working through a fellowship in community development. The project is extremely individual-driven, with no supervision, no prescribed schedule. For all intents and purposes, the project is a “one-woman show”, I don’t have formal colleagues, a supervisor or a template to follow.  It sounds like a dream- and it is, I feel incredibly lucky to get to do what I do.

Having all the flexibility in the world to do what you want is great. Not having to ask permission to just do what you need to, is great. Having the freedom to direct your own life, is probably the crème de la crème of privilege. But it’s not a total joyride, not some “chill adventure”. Going it alone is tough. Often, going alone doesn’t take you far. And if you’re used to going at full speed, like so many of us are, you better get used to a lot of bumps in the road to slow you down. There is no protocol or precise science for building a network from scratch when you have a BSc. and can claim “fluency in English”. No one prints social code on a flyer for you to read at leisure. Checking everything against yourself gets lonely. It’s hard to navigate for so many different reasons, and there’s no roadmap for when you get stuck.

Like I said, taking care of ourselves rarely comes second nature. Especially for “people” people, taking care of others usually comes first. I know I’ve been doing it my whole life, and it’s a habit that has shaped everything from how I speak, to how I interact with new people, to the career path I’ve chosen for myself. At the same time, I spent a good part of my life truly believing that many people around me were apathetic and unable to provide the support I needed. I believed in the one woman show. I truly felt that being your own emotional support system was the most important thing you could do for yourself, so you never needed to rely on anyone else. I cut out a lot of people. I did a lot of things alone, and was happy to do so. This worked for me, until it really didn’t.

TL;DR- the one-person show is fake news.

My life line is very short- which has me convinced my incredibly good fortune will eventually run out on me. I’m blessed to be able to live my best life, with my best people. I continually find love and support in different corners of my life, and I (seriously) wouldn’t have made it anywhere if I hadn’t. I’ve lived in five different places this year. In every place, I’ve found incredibly kind, empathetic and passionate people, all working for what they believe in. They continually inspire me and keep me rolling, reminding me that even when I feel completely alone, none of us actually are.

What I’m really thankful for this year : though I feel distant in time and space from home, there has been wonderful people who have made me feel at home wherever I go. People I live and work with in Mikei. People who have shown me incredible kindness in Nairobi. Passionate (real) adults who have shown us the ropes in development, in research. My friends at home, my family, my extended family.  The incredible cohort of eight superstars working on amazing projects all over the world, who I’m lucky to call “my people.”


The bottom line of this insanely sentimental birthday post is the following: give your people a big hug and show them all the love not just this December, but all the time.

“if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb


Asante Sana for Sticking With Me and Cheers to All of You,

NJ xoxo

high school, english

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

-Mustapha Mond

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)


ABSTRACT- Investigating Millennial Perceptions of 20th Century Literature and Social Attitudes in Online Milieus 

AUTHORS – Jivraj, N 1

AFFILIATIONS – 1 In Crude Terms, Independent

BACKGROUND-  In early 2017, Amazon reported a surge in sales of dystopian fiction novels. These included the likes of Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World*, Fahrenheit 451 (Bradbury), and The Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood). While many of these 20th Century titles have been typical material for the syllabi of high school literature classes, their resurgence suggests content that is continually relevant in a Trump-era of politics.

OBJECTIVE-  This inquiry aims to gauge millennial perceptions towards 20th century literature online, with the objective of determining the perceived relevance of these titles as of 2017.

METHODS- To evaluate social attitudes towards dystopian fiction, this study utilized the Instagram “poll” tool to collect quantitative data over a 24 hour period commencing November 17th, 2017. One (1) dystopian novel was used as a reference point. Users were asked to vote accordingly: “still relevant” or “out of date”. Respondents were aged 14-35, and of both sexes. User responses were classified and made anonymous for the purpose of this report.

RESULTS-  62% of respondents classified the novel’s content as “still relevant”. 38% of respondents classified the novel’s content as “sexist and racist” (out of date). In total, 54% of respondents were female college graduates, and 46% of respondents were male college graduates. Of 458 polled, only 5.3% responded.

IMPLICATIONS- Low response rates suggest millennials may be uninterested in dystopian literature, books generally, unfamiliar with the chosen title, or conditioned to ignore Instagram polls . There is currently no online millennial consensus. Results indicate discrepancies in social attitudes and perceptions of literature within this age cohort. Further inquiry is recommended.

Submitted November 2017.

*DISCLAIMER- this post may contain plot details from Huxley’s text.

(1) The chosen reference text was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, published 1932. Set in London in the year AD 2540 (632 A.F.—”After Ford (as in the car make)”—in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that are combined to make a profound change in society. The novel follows the primarily male protagonists as they begin to question the utopian society where they reside, and eventually come into contact with a liberally educated, part-“Savage” man from outside of their society.



For Review:  Definitions, Questions (no solutions)

  1. hierarchy     ˈhʌɪərɑːki/.  noun . a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.

related: Relative. Lottery. Genetics. Colonialism. Relatives. Money. Melanin. Politics. Power. Sex. Consensus. Defined.

Used in a sentence: The hierarchy provides implicit guidelines on how to interact with other people.


  1. morality məˈralɪti. noun. principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

Related: Relative. Subjective. Church. State. Colonialism. Relatives. Civilization. Lacking. Contentious. Hazy.

Used in a sentence: Morality is the bedrock of any strong society. (right?)


  1. sex sɛks/. noun. (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.

Related: Physical. Not with Your Relatives. Entertainment. Love. Skin. Agreement. Power. Desire. Mental. Money. Muscle. Boundaries. Wild. Hazy.

Used in a sentence: Everything is about sex. Except for sex. Sex is about power.


Please circle the correct answer:

  1. Equity is universally important T/F
  2. In a strong society, males and females are equally autonomous T/F
  3. Morality is a deeply personal thing. T/F
  4. Is it okay to judge other people’s morals?  Yes, because there is an objective truth  No, morality is subjective
  5. The name “Mustapha” means “The Chosen One” T/F
  6. Some men are chosen to a specific calling T/F
  7. Those who are “chosen” deserve to have a higher status T/F
  8. Promiscuity is immoral T/F
  9. Reputation is important T/F
  10. Reputation is based on:
  • A. Your position in the hierarchy
  • B. Your morals
  • C. How much sex you have
  • D. All of the above



For the past few days, I’ve been feeling like I’m back in High School. I have a self-imposed curfew. I tutor English. I analyze literary texts “for fun”. I find myself inadvertently flirting over text. Apart from people from my high school era literally coming out of nowhere to revisit things from the past, I feel like I’m socially living in 2012. Where boys (I’ll say boys) think making dirty and/or sexist jokes is a fun pastime. Where most of the girls I know are in serious relationships. Where I buy dark wash denim and wear ballet flats. Where people seem to *live* off of mixed signals and contrived sexual tension. Where I feel like I’m being watched all the time, and should therefore be on my best behaviour. 

Out of a commitment to self, actively fighting against attitudes I don’t believe in has been a priority for me. Where you can try to open a dialogue, try. But with a lack of physically present female support systems, and an incessant backlash, slipping into a hole is easy. Continuing to commit to “doing you” seems less easy. You have to be yourself, yes. But you have to look out for yourself and how you’re perceived, too. 

This is what I believe. What I’ve been conditioned to believe. Pavlovian conditioning pairs a previously neutral stimulus with a biologically potent one. For me, that stimulus for retreating, putting up the “good girl next door” front, is everything high school.

The correct answer for 10 is D- all of the above. I won the genetic lottery, putting me high up in the hierarchy. Somehow, this makes the spotlight feel brighter. I believe in objective good, but you can’t see morals. And regardless of your sexual choices, people assume what sex you’re having if you are within arms distance of anyone of the opposite gender. I could say I’m abstinent, say I sleep with a new guy every week, and it wouldn’t matter. It’s how you seem, and what you represent that matters most.

Does reputation matter? That depends. If you’re in high school- it sure as hell does.







“that’s the thing about North Americans. They’re impatient. Always looking for the next thing. Itching for something new. I blame that for why families are disintegrating here. It’s from the movies, the music. Always impatient.”

-The Doctor in Seat 3A, as I sat in 3B


always forward, never back

On my last birthday, I sat down and put together a list. It was a long list. It was a list of all my most recent mistakes, and it wasn’t fun to write. HBD to me.

Cringing at each addition to the list, I reminded myself it was okay. Those things were behind me. I made a personal promise not to revisit anything on the list, to only seek out new things in the next year of my life. Always forward, never back.

When things came back around (as they do), I made that my mantra. Always forward, never back. I wasn’t about to make the same mistakes again, I’d learned my lesson the first (or third, or fourth) time. There’s no point visiting the places we’ve already been. Right?


two steps forward, one step back


It seems like we can always know when we go too far,  because something is always right there, snapping us back into place. Sometimes it’s a gentle nudge, minor setbacks reminding us to reflect for a minute, reconsider going any further. Sometimes it’s a massive push, big accidents that stop us in our tracks and force us back to square one.

Its thanks to events like these that we believe in fate. Things happen for a reason. This was supposed to happen. It was a sign. If things that happen to us have been pre-ordained, its easier to accept them and the consequences that may ensue. This is very helpful in some ways; if we took full personal blame every time something bad happened, it’d be tough to do anything at all.

The fine print of taking the “so it goes” outlook is as follows:

Consumer is fully liable for unwanted side effects, including but not limited to-

  1. assigning undue meaning to minor events,
  2. failing to take ownership for personal actions
  3. clouded personal judgement
  4. paralysis via a cemented belief that what is meant to happen, will happen, absolving oneself of personal responsibility for one’s own course of action.

Learning the limits of what you can and cannot control in your life is tough. The hardest part of this is the nonsensical nagging question – why? Why did this happen? Why can’t I be in control? Why can’t I fix this? Why can’t I just do what I want?  We feel entitled to an answer, and usually an immediate one. You can’t google your way out of this, and there’s no wikiHow explaining (with pictures) how to respond when life gives you lemons. For a millennial leaving school, the school of life delivers a swift and rude awakening to the fact that we aren’t invincible; a linear upward trajectory is impossible. That’s not how the real world works- there’s no such thing as a perfectly straight line.

“You can’t control everything, but you can control your responses.”  A few punches in, your reaction speed improves. You learn how to minimize damage and recuperation time, making a speedier recover at each blow. You realign as necessary. You get very good at responding. You get good at defense. And somewhere along the way, you forget that defense isn’t the only position.

You expect the next push. You justify running slower, or less far, because you know that for every two steps forward, you’ll be taking one back. You start to forget that you get to set the agenda, even when the agenda is open for edits, and is liable to get eaten by your dog at any time. You’re still the boss.


we back


 “Enjoy your twenties. Experience everything- make lots of memories. They’re like a movie, you can play through them at anytime. I know I do.”

-The Doctor in Seat 3A, as I sit in 3B

When things come back around (as they do), it’s fun to put the memories on replay. Whether you prefer to replay the good parts or the bad parts- chances are that when your past comes back to haunt you, you’ll put a little life into the memory for at least a moment. Depending on the moment, we might even take our ghosts to be that gentle nudge to realign – choosing to fall back in line with our past selves.

If you prefer to play back the good- you know that nostalgia is a silent killer. It’s easy to indulge yourself by letting the good ghosts stay, easier than remembering why it’s a ghost in the first place. If you ever read J.K. Rowling, you can relate this to the tale of the second brother and the resurrection stone (Rest in Peace).

As recent graduates with B.A.’s and BSc.’s writing job applications, grad school applications, and cover letters of all kinds, one of our favourite lines is “I would love the opportunity to put theory into practice.”   In theory, we learned a lot from our past mistakes. In practice, it’s hard to walk away from the past. It’s easy to justify coming back. You can revisit the same place a million times, and notice something new every time.


There’s no such thing as a linear upward trajectory. But- we all still need a guideline to follow, something to be pushing towards. Otherwise, we find ourselves running in circles that don’t even resemble circles, moving all over the place. (Another thing about millennials: we fucking love abstract art)

This one has been personal in the vaguest terms possible, because the past month has been made up of zig zags, on multiple levels, and a lot of personal deliberation about how to set out a good course for myself. What sets our ideals? What drives what we do? Who drives what we do? What should we try to control? Do I have a lot more control than I’m letting myself believe? Am I too impatient? Probably.

The new and uncharted, the next best thing, it’s always just around the corner. It’s fun to seek out new things. It feels good to “move forward”, if moving forward means only going to uncharted waters.

I keep finding myself back in familiar places, and wanting to stay. It’s comforting. Things that seem the same on the surface are always revealing new parts of themselves- that’s part of what makes the past so pretty.

Currently seeking: wikiHOW- How to Effectively Take Ownership of Your Life (with Pictures)



twitter fingers

September 26th, 2017– twitter grants some users an extended tweet-character limit. Instead of the usual 140 characters, select users can tweet within a 280 character limit. This just a few days after Trump managed to declare war on North Korea via tweet.

I recently returned to Twitter following a friend’s suggestion-admittedly, Twitter provides a great platform for ingesting a lot of information quickly. On top of this- users pre-select what they want to be ingesting- unlike on Facebook, where you’ll likely need to sift through a lot of content. You can follow your favourite reporters, organizations, start-ups, and, of course- your friends. If you don’t feel like following on a permanent basis, searching hashtags makes it easy to keep up with trending topics. Using hashtags with a public account lets you contribute to trending topics- if you have something you need to say, you can easily say it and it’ll be at least seen, if not shared.

Coincidentally, I stopped using twitter shortly after the 2016 US Presidential Election. The intensity of “bad vibes” in the twittosphere was really starting to get to me. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to be back.


“out-of-touch”- but on a touch screen

Last week, the city of Calgary had it’s municipal election, re-electing incumbent Naheed Nenshi for a third term in office. In the days leading up to the election, it was unclear whether the muslim mayor would clear another victory in cowboy country. Despite his fans, the outspoken twitter master has at least a few critics. Speaking to this, Sean Kelso, Director of Communications and Media Relations for the Calgary Flames tweeted:

“I can’t believe it YYC. Having @nenshi as mayor is worse than @realDonaldTrump being president. #arrogant #bracefordisaster #outoftouch”

There’s this whole fiasco between the Calgary Flames and Nenshi re: funding a new hockey arena in Calgary that definitely factored into the manufacture of this tweet but likely isn’t the full picture. Calgary saw its largest voter turnout in 4 decades for Nenshi to secure his seat by a fairly narrow margin. The economic downturn exposed Nenshi’s administration to extra scrutiny and gave his contenders a platform. For a few minutes, Nenshi’s “progressive, artsy, New West” branding seemed to be very at odds with Calgary’s “traditional’ brand- cowboy, conservative, and slightly redneck.

For those of us watching from afar, it was difficult to tell how this would play out. So many Calgarian millennials (like me) have exited the city, forfeiting their ballots and left watching things play out over twitter. Nonetheless, political professors speculated that the youth vote probably worked in Nenshi’s favour to maintain the status quo.

Responding to a question about Kelso’s tweet, Nenshi said the following: “I have no idea who this person this is, I’ve never met him, and boy, what an out-of-touch tweet to send.”


polls and poor ppl

**excerpt of a conversation, between a bro duo. Kenyan**

“what do you mean you didn’t vote last time? So you’re just part of the problem.”

“bro its not safe though. Voting at school is a bad idea.”

“but you didn’t do it. You didn’t do your part”

“I couldn’t. ..the police…”

“You’re just as bad as these twitter activists. Just tweet about a fuss but don’t even go to the polls!”

“no okay – you know what- listen. In 2013 I stood to poll at 4 am. Couldn’t even vote until almost 12 hours later”

“That’s what polling is. So only those who can stand will vote. Not these rich twitter people. Politics is for the poor.”



I’m at Artcaffe for the third time in 24 hours, having lived out most of my last few days in the Mall. The Mall-great place for expats or people with money to indulge in stuff that you probably cant find in the county. Other things you can do in the Mall: eat at a bunch of other coffee shops, buy some ugly clothing, remove your body hair, generally people watch. Use some free wifi that operates at a pretty low speed, scout for your next husband. There’s also a book store and a DVD store, if you need either of those things.

If you’re me, operating at extremes is default mode. To go from no shower, living on white bread, spending less than 5 dollars a day, celebrating the rain, chickens as companions and sexism as your main rival to rooftop pool bars, shisha, private cars, suits, 24/7 security, cursing the rain and *still* sexism as your main rival should seem like a shock to the system. It’s not. Keeping one foot firmly planted in each of these worlds-which usually never intersect and probably never will- you can do a little shuffle when you need to. The consequence? No matter where I am, I can count on being at least 50% misunderstood, with at least 50% chance of offense given. If you’re doing this kind of shuffle frequently, you’re more or less comfortable with either extreme. Becoming a chameleon has its merits- you can blend when you need to, you don’t cause a scene, and you can pass through life comfortably and peacefully.

My perceptions of “normal” are always blurry, though. What I count as safe, is not the same definition as the one my friends and family would use. What I count as expensive, is not the same as what my friends and family would deem expensive. What I count as ‘a good meal ‘ is not the same as what my neighbours might describe. And what I count as prejudice is never synonymous with the definitions of those around me.

I can’t complain about any of this, because its privilege that affords me this position and it’s no one’s fault that complexity of identity is invisible to the eye. This doesn’t change the fact that I’m frustrated on the daily- frustrated by the extremes of the values and politics entrenched in each of these worlds, frustrated by assumptions, and frustrated that my power to change either of these things is limited. Most of all, I’m frustrated by what limits me most: the status quo which makes it easiest for me to continue with business as usual, not ruffling feathers, laying low, and (often) playing dumb.


What this all ultimately boils down to, what prompted this existential crisis, is politics. The Kenyan re-election takes place tomorrow, after several weeks of back and forth on what’s fair, how to proceed democratically, and no real conclusions. There’s been a lot of fancy footwork, resulting in the brakes being put on pretty much all other functions in the cities. There’s been an awful lot of protest (mostly peaceful), met by police brutality and violence that causes everyone to hold their breath. If you’re on the opposition- you just want a free and fair vote and are sick of a broken system. The purpose of protest is to stall something undemocratic- isn’t it?  If you’re with the incumbent- you’re sick of the political charade and it’s damper effect on the economy. The vote should be over and done with and the results ratified- shouldn’t it? On the whole no one overseas talks about how this is just yet another re-run- two sons of Independence-era leaders going head to head, independence-era leaders driven ideologically apart thanks to external Cold War influences and ethnic tensions.

Add to this the fact that the ballot system currently in place can’t physically or legitimately support the number of voters, queues reach ridiculously long lengths, and fear of violence at the polls (mirroring 2007 violence) will keep many voters away- it seems like there’s no way out of the stalemate. Unless you count Odinga’s solution to “slay the cat”: boycotting the ballot, boycotting any companies associated with the ruling party (eg. the nation’s jewel, Safaricom) – and generally kicking up the dust indefinitely. What’s worse, it’s hard to follow what’s happening on a day to day- the press is either a) biased b) can barely keep up or c) regurgitative.


Fortunately for me, a friend of mine recommended I download Twitter a few months ago. For any new updates, I have #ElectionsKE, #PollPreparedness and #IEBC. I get reminders from Kenyatta and the IEBC to #vote (fine print: sponsored). And after just over a month of being a loyal Safaricom customer, my WhatsApp network keeps me in the circuit of video and picture content Google and my TV can’t supply. In summary;




Sending out a very big virtual (and real) prayer for Kenya, democracy, and the free press tonight. x



cognitive dissonance

You have to keep a straight back. Stare at the ceiling- usually, there’s a plastic fan or two rotating overhead. If you’re doing it right, you won’t hear much past a muffled fuzz. Limbs extended, navel up. When we teach kids to float we tell them to pretend they’re a starfish- five points, in five directions. Let go of the fear of going under. It’ll be peaceful, even, if you’re okay with just holding still.

This was your first lesson in the pool. Once we learn to love a newfound buoyancy , we can swim freely. It comes second nature. After all, as your doula might remind you, you could do this before you were born. You just forgot about it for a second or two.

I. need for speed

Most of us might be pretty okay with floating for a few minutes, but probably wouldn’t consider hitting the pool to just ‘take a float’. We like moving. We like moving fast. The pace clock is for measuring speed, not time spent staring at the ceiling.

Even though it can come second nature if we want it to, holding still is hard. Being comfortable to just move with the tide doesn’t come easily. And for good reason- years of evolution have taught us that when the time comes, survival depends on being ready to move away from the tide. How can you be ready from standstill?

II. sink or swim

Meritocracy teaches us that what is ‘sufficient’ or ‘good enough’ is really neither of these things. If you want to excel, you have to be far from average. What is ‘sufficient’ is mediocre, and mediocrity is unacceptable. This is how we operate. If you want freedom, you have to constantly be working to prove your merit. Pausing can sometimes seem synonymous with accepting failure- if you don’t swim, you’ll sink.

Swimming isn’t the opposite of sinking. If the goal is to avoid sinking, floating will suffice.

Swimming is one step further – you’re in your element, and can function freely. So why float?

III. giant pink flamingo


If you didn’t take a picture with one of these last summer, did you even have a summer?

 For us, floating is categorically, a break. It requires no effort, takes us (usually) nowhere, and we can go back to moving whenever we want. Float once in a while and you probably deserved it. Float too long and you’re lazy- do you even know how to swim?


I’m completely exhausting this metaphor because a) I’m exhausted and b) in the hopes of illustrating what changing pace feels like. Moving to a new place and starting a completely new life is a lot like learning to stay afloat. It can feel like you’re barely able to keep your head above water. You soon realize that if you just stop thrashing, you’ll get the hang of it. So you do. You slow down. You remind yourself that you have to adjust to being in your element before you can function freely.

Still, there’s a voice in your head reminding you that this is laziness, you’re not doing enough, you might as well accept defeat, you have to swim. It’s not a matter of if, but when- you will sink. So you find yourself thrashing again, trying to swim. It’s your own self-fulfilling prophecy- you find yourself sinking again.  You slow down. Remind yourself that you have to adjust to being in your element before you can function freely.

The space between ‘surviving’ and ‘thriving’ feels mediocre at best and stifling at worst. If you’ve ever known what thriving feels like, you probably feel the latter. Why’d you have to go and ruin a good thing? You wonder why you thought you needed a change of pace in the first place. You mentally calculate how much time you’re losing to adjustment daily. You double check using a calculator, because your mental math is rusty. Am I stagnating so much? If I hadn’t moved I’d probably still be proficient in Calculus.

It’s completely irrational but completely normal and you’re caught in an endless cycle of self-monitoring and self-assurance. You give yourself a headache. Time rolls forward. You stop checking the time. You start doing yoga. Limbs extended. Navel up.  I’m okay holding still. You probably never will be. But there’s a slight spring in your step and you’re breathing easier.


It’s not your element yet, but it soon will be.


exoticism, existentialism

The first time someone commented on my “unique” hair and complexion in the club, I rolled my eyes and laughed out loud. No doubt it was meant as a compliment, but I thought it funny someone could make such a surface level comment. Born and raised in Canada, I didn’t view myself as different or foreign from any of my peers. But what was left of the small, self-conscious preteen part of me almost basked in the comments. Freshly legal me accepted it- my thick hair and tan complexion were a part of me, so their validation added to mine overall. Feeling desired can be fun, even if for the wrong reasons.

On subsequent occasions, I grit my teeth. Though I considered my appearance to be an integral part of my identity, I realized those addressing me considered it to be the central part of my identity. Where are you from? Do you speak any other languages? I just love your name. You quickly get tired of trying to politely deflect these advances, knowing full well that your white female peers would never be approached for sex like this. Worse still, this would never be seen by my male peers as a legitimate method of ‘wheeling’ a white girl. And yet, most of my ethnic friends will tell you that their ethnicity has been used as a conversation starter, usually more than once.

From where I’m at currently, this is just some mildly irritating anecdotal evidence of what it feels like to realize that despite crossing all the boxes on paper, you can still represent ‘the Other’.  These interactions are a slight on individual agency-  someone else is defining your identity for you.

I’d be lying if I said variations of this only happen to coloured girls. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard girls around me say “I’m really into black guys” – to have all of her friends laugh in response. Do a quick web search on “female sex tourism” and it’s quickly evident that this obsession extends across generations. Though it may be concealed as “romantic tourism”, underlying Western notions of race have shaped economic and sexual exchanges between western women and men in Latin and Central America and East Africa for decades.

“It is the young black male body that is seen as epitomizing this promise of wildness, of unlimited physical prowess and unbridled eroticism. It was this black body that was most “desired” for its labor in slavery, and it is this body that is most represented in contemporary popular culture as the body to be watched, imitated, desired, possessed. Rather than a sign of pleasure in daily life outside the realm of consumption, the young black male body is represented most graphically as the body in pain”

-Bell Hooks, Eating The Other: Desire and Resistance


Regardless of where you were born, your family background, your personality, your political viewpoints: if you have coloured skin, you quickly learn that this is what people will notice first. You quickly learn that uniqueness can be commodified, that this might be how you’re defined sexually. And it makes it that much harder to sift out fact from fiction, genuine interest from curiosity.

Desirability is often considered to be subjective. Realistically, deeply held (and usually concealed) views of race still structure our perceptions of beauty and desirability. Fair skin, straight hair, minimal body hair. My preteen self had a rigid notion of what constituted beauty- one that I eventually learned many of my “ethnic” friends shared. Only recently have we collectively decided beauty norms need a good reshaping- I can now buy a “nude” shade that actually matches my skin tone, and white girls everywhere are proudly embracing their body hair. More on that at a different time.




The first time someone commented on my “unique” hair and complexion in East Africa,  it felt off. I smiled and said thank you, you have beautiful skin too. It was a ten-year-old girl telling me she wished she ‘had skin like mine’.

Unlike being in Toronto, it’s impossible to forget how my appearance factors into daily relations here. If I go to the market or walk along the side of the road, I stick out like a sore thumb. Everything about me from my skin, to my tattoos, to my hair, to my clothes, marks me as “from away”.

One of the girls I lived with last year described it like being a celebrity. It goes in stages like this:

  1. Initially flattered, excited to meet new people.
  2. Taken aback, realizing that you’re an interesting novelty more than anything else.
  3. Sad, in reflecting upon why it is exactly that you are a novelty, and why everyone really wants to shake your hand and touch your hair.
  4. Frustrated, at everyone else for not respecting your privacy, personal space, and feelings as a human being.
  5. Frustrated, at yourself for being so privileged and for feeling frustrated at all.
  6. Neutral**

(** Reaching stage 6 is highly unlikely. More likely: repeat Stages 3 through 5 ad infinitum)


“Uniqueness” is still what people notice first. But instead of being commodified, it’s put on a pedestal. Politely deflecting sexual advances is still tiring, because you still know that if you had a different skin colour you wouldn’t be approached this way.

The experience is multilayered- beyond appearance there are facets of my identity which further separate me from the norm around me. Being unmarried, alone, not being fluent in the local dialect. Not being fluent in any Indian dialect. Being physically smaller. Being a woman –where men manage a fair portion of daily affairs. Occupying a unique position of privilege happens to come with a unique position of vulnerability, wherein having male allies is essential.

In Pat Calpan’s essay “Learning Gender” she describes how as a young woman starting fieldwork in Tanzania, she sought an ungendered role in her work. Seeking to ensure allyship and a good working relationship with men in her community, she projected a “neutral” version of herself. Part of this centred on a western notion of female autonomy: being an independent, single, career-minded woman, was a central tenet of her identity. This meant that though the women around her were her close friends, she regarded the women and structure of gender relations in East Africa as different and separate from her own life. She goes on to describe how over subsequent visits to Tanzania her views on gender and it’s social role changed significantly, as she also moved through motherhood, her marriage, and her career in Britain.

Young Pat is relatable. Despite a hard-earned belief in being an independent badass bitch, I catch myself seeking to project a more neutral, less noticeable version of myself. I catch myself trying to mask parts of my identity out of guilt. I catch myself struggling to reconcile my Toronto-grown conception of female professional autonomy with how I am perceived as an unmarried western woman in the village. A nagging feeling of dishonesty, of having two conflicting identities, is on a consistent low buzz. And another nagging feeling: “when women lie, we lend credence to age-old sexist stereotypes that suggest women are inherently, by virtue of being female, less capable of truth telling” (bell hooks, all about love: new visions).

I won’t ever be able to separate my identity from my current environment, nor from other people’s perceptions of my identity. Nor can anyone. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to have complete agency over their identity. But. In the words of Sartre: freedom is found in the ability to mentally interpret one’s own life for oneself, to define oneself and create one’s own values. I’m fortunate to have male and female allies whom I respect and trust, and who I share values with. In my view- for the time being, that’s the best I can do.

I like to wear long sleeves to cover my tattoos (one of the best and worst things about tattoos is that they are permanent). Mine are: a snake/thuol (sure sign of witchcraft), “l’enfer, c’est les autres” (more fire truth by Sartre), and half of a quote by Beckett. In full-


La fin est dans le commencement

Et cependant on continue.








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