Help Get Christine a Home

Hello, everyone.

I spent my summer in Zambia, teaching in a community school. That’s where I met Christine. She is 20 years old, likes to draw, has tremendous amount of swag. She also has cognitive impairment due to birth complications and other childhood neglect. She has lived in poverty and despair most her life, and the doctor we took her to suspected child abuse in her past. She takes shelter with her ailing mother in an abandoned bar, and they struggle for having a meal

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We managed to get her admitted into a special needs school – which focuses on the intervention she needs and teaches her skills that will help her get some income and sustain herself in the future. She was finally happy, enjoying school, comfortable where she is.

However, I was told that the land owner has asked them both to evacuate. Christine is facing homelessness, which makes her vulnerable (both physically and emotionally). She also faces the risk of not being able to attend school anymore, which is perhaps the one hope for her future.

People back in Zambia and I are trying to find her some accommodation, and we need your help. The smallest gesture on your part could help us get Christine and her mother a roof over the head for that much longer, keep her in school, and secure her future.

Please click here to donate : https://milaap.org/fundraisers/getchristineahome

Do spread the word among your friends and family, and please do not hesitate to get back to me for any questions.

Your help means the world to us.

Edit: All the money will directly go towards their rent. More the donation, the longer we can hope to keep her in school.

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Evaluations

Here I am, a twenty-something year old. I’m at the age that I assumed I would have found stability at. The age where I would know what I want to do, where I want to be. I would have an independent life and a puppy, living in a studio apartment overlooking an ancient city. Maybe Rome, or Rio De Janeiro. The possibilities would be endless.

Yet, as I type this, I realise how stupid I was at fifteen. Because I don’t know what exactly is my life now. I’m not entirely sure if I want to follow the path that I decided upon. There are things I would love to do, but they aren’t practical. I’m not as reckless as I would like to be to pack up my bags and move back to Africa, or Latin America, or even to a quintessential Spanish town. I don’t know if I’ll be able to ever sustain myself or my dreams, if I’ll be able to travel the world and find love at some point. I don’t have the courage to set out a guideline anymore. Or perhaps I have just grown to realise that life doesn’t exactly follow your whims and fancies.

So, at twenty, I am the kind of girl that manages to sneak into clubs and dances her heart out with her friends. I am also the kind to have empty, perhaps broken bottles next to my bed. With his memories running wild in my head, a reminder of the love I will never have. It penetrates deep into me, but there is nothing I can do. I cry myself to sleep, only to wake up the next day and make it to college on time. And then I smile, I whine, I argue about the things I feel most passionate about, knowing all too well that it will soon fade away.

As I walk out the gates every day, I realise that one day I’ll walk out and never look back. That one of these days I wouldn’t have to deal with the jackasses around anymore. That one day, soon from now, I won’t have to rush to the canteen for a noodle frankie. I won’t travel in that train anymore, and I won’t hug my friends every single day. I’ll be gone from the place I’ve spent years in, and the thought sends shivers down my spine. I get home, embracing its comfort.

What am I still even doing at home? Home at 4 pm, doing the countless assignments and studying for the test that doesn’t quite matter. Here I am, slave to the system and everything that the society expects me to do, and my rebellion fails time and again. This doesn’t even matter, I huff and throw spill ink all over the floor. But then, does anything? Does my quench for love matter, does my desire to be happy even matter? Alone in an awfully big apartment, I now feel more lost than ever.

And so, I am a twenty-year-old. Struggling to heal a broken heart, so far with no success. Desperately trying to untangle the thoughts that blur my vision. Fighting against some inner demon that lurks inside me, questioning every single moment that I choose to stay alive.

I will make it out alive, I am pretty sure. I just can’t promise my sanity.

Lessons from Africa

It’s been months since I’ve left the red African soil (thanks for ruining half my wardrobe, by the way) and I’m still not over it. Every single time someone asks me about my trip, or I see a feature on TV, or when I hear the President Lungu talk – God, do I detest him – I go right back to those five weeks.

It wasn’t just my first time travelling to Africa, it was my first time travelling alone. And when your tickets are messed up, your vaccinations are a tad bit delayed, your visa situation is tricky, you are jittery. But God bless Kenya Airlines and their crew, because they were the best I’ve encountered. A lady schooled a guy all up in my personal space (reminder – my shoulders are not your head rest) and this other guy from the crew and I had a legit conversation at the very back of the plane at about 5:30 am in the morning. Because why the hell not?

And that was my first impression of Africa, before I even landed in Africa. Warm, friendly, genuine, brave, strong. So many adjectives in my mind, I got down to collect my bags. Guess what? They lost my bags. The airline freaking lost my bags. Losing my cool and almost crying, I went to a kind man named Martin. Martin, I will never forget you for helping a shaking, scared me in getting her bags back. Also to the old man who gave me his email ID while aggressively flirting, there’s one finger I have designated for you.

And so it happened. I saw how Nairobi’s traffic is slow but nobody bothers honking. People overtake, and the others let them. There is some rush to get places, but then again, most drivers are chill. They just wait for cars to move and reach whenever they do. The security about the airport in Kenya bothered me – I kid you not, we don’t have that kind of security even in our vulnerable, conflict zones. To think that terror is the one battle we all fight, it makes you wonder how ridiculous it is to spread hate on lines of race and religion. And that applies to every aspect – to the girl who pulled her skirt a little while walking down the road, to the school kids who were crammed in a long bus ride, to the beggar on the street. We all have the exact same battles, and yet we choose to deny it.

With these thoughts in my head, I landed in Zambia. No customs, basic immigration formality, and I was out. Rebeccah, who is one of my favourite people on the planet right now, was waiting for me. And she hugged me, she hugged me tight. Finally, I knew there was someone I told rely on in this foreign land. I knew a person, and her smile was genuine. She cared, and it made me feel safe for the first time in two days.

In just a few hours of reaching my new home, Sunbird, I realised how wrong I was to assume it would be just one person I could rely on. My fellow Mzungus payed for me because I had no forex, and the staff was quick to show me around and make me feel at home. I could rely on our house moms to get me blankets and warm water at 2 am when I had a malaria scare, and I could depend on people who worked around to get a bug off my freaking mosquito net. I could rely on the children who escorted me to my placement when I was lost. I could depend on a nice taxi driver who spotted me, sobbing on the street, and took me home and offered comforting words. I could trust the Shoprite security guard to stand with me while I waited for a taxi.

But most of all, I began to trust myself. I had more faith in my instincts and intuition more than ever. And for the first time in my life, I stroke conversation with complete strangers in a village, and had some locally brewed beer – hated it, but no regrets. I jumped off a bridge between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and totally accepted that I could perhaps die of a cheetah attack or an infection as the aftermath. I am glad neither of it happened, but I when that cheetah had grabbed me, I had come to terms with death and a possible feature on TV. It did teach me, however, to respect the wild and to never, ever, undermine the strength of an animal. However seemingly docile that little cheetah cub was, her jaw was inches away from my neck and claws inside my skin.

On my second day there, Kennedy – Rebeccah’s husband and the most patient person I know – told us about Africa time. Everything happened on a relative time. The clock there is just for the sake of us Mzungus, he said, but everything in Africa happens when it happens. And so it did. The school didn’t follow a timetable, the taxi drivers were almost never on time, the immigration office didn’t really care about deadlines. And it irritated me, but for a short while. Because then, I got swept into the concept of time being relative. I began prioritising having breakfast and high fiving random kids over reach the school on time. I began to learn to be and just let be – except when it came to food, I needed my food to be on time. But the point was that even though I take pride in being punctual, this new philosophy made sense in a strange manner. To live life in the moment and not as slaves of two wands on a round glass with numbers on it. It made perfect sense, and I began to embrace it. I was happy.

This one part, I cannot generalise, but I do vouch it to be true for Livingstone. People are so much more liberal than one would assume. The teachers in my school and I had a talk and they were all about safe sex before marriage, they had no shame in talking about HIV prevention. Hell, if I had been drinking and kissing on the streets in Mumbai, I would’ve been arrested. Not there, not in Livingstone. Bar hoping with my hunter’s gold in my hand was the weekend routine, and I appreciated the freedom.

However, it wasn’t all fun and games that I learned things through. For a country with so many people being politically aware, they could do nothing to stop Lungu from being re-elected. That doesn’t speak for the failure of democracy only in Zambia, but across the world. It might be more subtle in our countries, but if we look closely, democratic spaces are fast shrinking. What is left is an illusion, a false sense of control, which people in Zambia never felt they had.

Although I felt safe for most of my trips to and from town, there were also times when my hand would be grabbed, I would be pulled by my waist. I have never experienced such violent street harassment, and what made it worse was that there were no measures to protect women. Granted that locals claimed it happened way more with Mzungu women than Zambian women (apparently we’re exotic), the fact that someone can grab, grope and try to force a kiss on me is scary beyond measure when I know the law and the social construct is not by my side.

It’s easy to forget the privilege that we have, that our forefathers fought for, the causes youth comes on the street when your rights aren’t violated. The truth is, most humans face aggression in multiple ways, but we refuse to acknowledge them. Perhaps because we’re normalised, perhaps because we’re blinded. Going to other cultures, other countries forces you to revisit your entire life and principles, and you become so much aware of the situation we are in, as humans. That some people do have some privilege, and others face hardships based on their sex, their gender, their race, their religion, their beliefs. Witnessing violations as a foreigner in a completely different context than we’re normalised to makes it more glaringly obvious.

Africa reminds me of the human roots – both angelic and demonic. It’s such a diverse continent, and I haven’t seen much of it. I would be stupid and ignorant to generalise things, I know. There’s much to see and learn from this continent, the continent I plan to move to (honestly, I would if I could). But man, is it exquisite, that place. They are so rich, in resources, in reason, in wisdom, in hope, in energy. There is so much to learn, so much to understand. An entire lifetime isn’t enough to even begin and appreciate the continent, but that wouldn’t be stopping me.

On that note, I would be happy if someone is willing to fund my next trip – ideally to Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi and Kenya. Thank you.

No

‘No’ isn’t a mere word…it’s an entire sentence on its own. It doesn’t require any enquiry, justification, explanation or interpretation.

These boys must realise, ‘No’ means ‘No’, regardless of whether the girl is an acquaintance, a friend, your girlfriend, a sex worker or even your wife. ‘No’ means ‘No’. And when someone says so, you STOP.

-Amitabh Bachchan in Pink

And here I am again. This time, with a quote by a legend in the film industry. Hoping, praying, that maybe someone so prominent might manage to bring about a small change. That after decades of movies revolving around a guy harassing a girl he “loves” – and ending up marrying her instead of ending up in jail – it might be time for change.

After months and months of debate over consent and sexual harassment, I’ve had enough. I’ve seen enough people claiming that by drinking, the girl was basically asking for sex. I’m done with people calling Brock Turner innocent. I cannot deal with the kind of brutal victimisation that goes around. Be it to the rape survivor at Stanford, or be it my friends and I. Because we shouldn’t be wearing sleeveless or skirts, we shouldn’t be out late at night, we shouldn’t laugh out loud or talk to men. Then, consent is assumed. You are a promiscuous bitch, and that’s what you want. That’s what you deserve.

Because you know what? I am tired. I am tired of going drinking and having men turn aggressive, so much so that I have to leave. I am tired of getting spammed with texts asking for, no wait, demanding for my love and my body. I am tired of being stared at when I walk to college. I am tired of having to use my hair as a shield from your gazes, you pervert, dressed as a businessman or a student. I am tired of having to take extra precautions so the food delivery guy doesn’t enter my house, that he tirelessly insists upon.

Realise that a no is a no. And to add to this phenomenal dialogue, here is a tip. Don’t assume consent, simple as that. Don’t assume you have the right to stare, make gestures, click my photos or touch me. And when I very clearly, explicitly say “No”, fucking stop.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

– Wilfred Owen

Owen’s genius resonates true even today, perhaps more than ever. How hauntingly beautiful is this poem, capturing every truth of war and combat? Beyond the romanticism of nationalism, beyond the songs or martyrdom. This is the ugly truth we refuse to acknowledge. This is the ugly truth hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, face every single day.

 

Moving on

It was about this time, last year, that I broke up with my first love. Two years and more of a relationship, of talking almost every single day, until one of us fell asleep. That was what we had, and it was gone, instantly. Looking back, maybe it was inevitable.

Both him and I know the reasons for the breakup, and both of us have slightly different versions. Today, I’m not here to prove myself right. Because what happened, happened. What was said and done, is exactly that, in the past. We both broke down and cried, drowned our sorrows in alcohol and woke up in utter misery. We both wondered what would come next, how we would survive it.

He was my person. He was the person I told about my dreams and my lectures, how a teacher was completely unfair and how the taxi driver was such a humble human being. He told me about football, and I barely ever understood anything. But I saw the passion, and I enjoyed hearing him get excited about a match. Before going to sleep, I wished his team won. And sometimes we would text in the middle of the night or early in the morning about how the clouds were so fluffy. That was my life, and it was suddenly gone.

It hurt, God it hurt. I cried myself to sleep for weeks and almost diagnosed myself with clinical depression (note to self: only because you study psychology and know the DSM criteria doesn’t mean you get to label anyone, even yourself, with a disorder.) I didn’t think I would ever be just as happy again, or even look at someone the way I looked at him. I didn’t think there would be a person I cared about as much as I cared about him, or talk to the way I talked to him. I didn’t think I could be myself without him.

Some words were exchanged over the months. Some good, some brutal. Most of all, though, they got me closer to closure every single time. Because every single time a call went bad, ended up in yelling and accusations, I knew it was better for the both of us to go our separate ways. And so I booked my flight all the way to Zambia, just a country below his, using up the money I wanted to spend to see him. Because I wanted to get away and experience life for myself, for once, be free.

It might have been the best thing I ever did. Because I flew over his country, and I gazed down from my flight. I was the closest to him, but I didn’t end up crying. I did want to see him, in some corner of my heart, I was hoping we get to keep atleast one promise. But the thing is, It only bothered me for two days and then I let go.

And I met this guy, this amazing guy who was nothing like him. He wasn’t into football but he was into mainstream music. He had tattoos and barely ate. But he was also the kind who would wrap his arms around my waist when a drunkard made me uncomfortable while trying to flirt his way into my pants. He would make sure a car doesn’t hit me as I tried to navigate the roads of Livingstone. He was the kind of guy who would kiss me on the street and drop me home, and wait until I was safely inside the gate. He would splash water all over me and try to startle me, and fail every single time. I met him. I may have fallen in love. I don’t even know.

But now, one year from my first breakup, I know I can make it through. I would never want to live alone, but I can. I know I am strong enough to face my biggest demons all by myself. I also know it’s okay to be a little scared. It’s okay to ask for help from friends, and even family if need be. It’s okay to lose sight and have a bad week, wanting to spend all my days in bed. Because I know, I can always get back up.

Friendship Day

So, I found out at midnight that it was friendship day today. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against assigned days for some relationship. Valentine’s day, mother’s day, father’s day, dog’s day. They’re all good, man, they’re all good. I’m all for people keeping out one day of the year to express their love and gratitude. Because as much as we all would like to, we just fail to be kind to everyone every day.
My problem with friendship day though is the amount of messages I get from people I don’t really consider friends. You might be my acquaintance, you might be my classmate or we may have trained together. We may have known each other for years or perhaps we just follow each other on twitter. But you see, most people who messaged me, you’re not really my friend. Because when I am up at night, in desperate need of someone, I wouldn’t even think of calling you up. When I am drunk, I wouldn’t text you about pink dolphins. When I’m happy, you wouldn’t be the one I treat with a pizza and coke.
And I’m sure, you wouldn’t do that for me either.
It’s all good, though. I know that when I was younger, it was cool to have hundreds of people on Facebook friends’ list. It was even cooler to get multiple friendship bands and show them off for days together, and never wanting to take them off. They did give a fake sense of self-worth, made me feel like I mattered to the people around me. Because they got be a band, we had a bond.
But now I know better, and perhaps you know better. So the bands are just emojis, and the hugs turn into words on my screen. It’s just that I’m not up for this. I’m not good at faking a smile and even copy pasting a message to all my contacts, because honestly, I couldn’t care less. Yes, I like to known what you’re up to every now and then. I’d be happy to see you get an internship or travel to Paris. But I’m not sure I can call you a friend and pretend to always be there for you, when I won’t be. Truth is, I won’t be thinking of you for most my time and that’s fine.
Anyhoo, for the friends that I do have. I love you, and you know I am all there for you, anytime you need me to. Chances are that we’ve known each other for years, and some for months (shoutout to team Zambia) but I do genuinely care about you. And I hope you know that I cherish your friendship every day, though I may not be the best at expressing it. And so, here we are. Perhaps we don’t talk every day but nothing will ever change.