Little things

I am not here to write about Trump. Or about India’s demonitisation. About the war raging in Mosul. The terror attacks in Pakistan and Iraq. The Phillipino president. The death of Leonard Cohen.

Here I am, a girl of 20, trying to navigate through the prediction of world destruction and chaos. It’s scary, it’s intimidating. If you’re anything like me, you do recognise the anxiety inside you. I am not well-read or qualified enough to preach about how to stop our doom. But I believe in certain things that add sparkle to my life. As I write this, I hope they work the same for you.

Buy yourself a flower

Give someone else a flower

Stare at the moon at midnight

Remember your first kiss

Have mint green tea

Read a worn out book

Go play with some puppies

Remember to get yourself some sleep

Youtube videos of kittens and babies

Buy a homeless person a meal

Work out, go swim, take that cycle out for a ride

Eat that brownie

Plan a trip to Seychelles

Doodle your heart out

Cuddle with a stuffed animal

Run yourself a hot bath with rose petals

Light those candles tonight

Listen to your favorite music from the 80’s

Spoil yourself and get that item on your wishlist

Message an old friend

Strike a conversation with a stranger about clocks

Do your hair up like Cinderella

Cook yourself a good meal

Smile at the little amusing moments on the train

Give your sibling a hug

Make some bracelets with your friends

Go for a late night drive

Camp up in the moutains

Or, build a fort in your living room

Share stories of personal adventure

Try your hand at origami

Write down your dreams on a post it

Love – yourself and others

 

 

Help Christine Get A Home

I am back with yet another update/ appeal. You are perhaps in tune with the campaign to get Christine a home.
To donate: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/getchristineahome

The good news is, we’ve raised $704. The bad news is, we’re going to need more.

Rabeccah, my manager in Zambia and the lady who is (very graciously) helping us out, suggested that instead of renting a house, we buy some land and build them a house. It sounds a little outrageous, but please hear me out.

A house built in their name is a a lifetime, one-off solution. The family of two would, at least, have a roof over their heads during hard times. And with the economic situation in Zambia, it certainly looks like hard times are looming.

If we rent a house, the fear of Christine and her mother getting evicted or harassed is very real. They are vulnerable, and don’t have access to legal recourse. With a house to themselves, we get rid of the problem.

So, in order to get these things done, we’ve had to revise our budget. The current breakdown is:

Kwacha 2000 (USD 200) for a small land
Kwacha 9000 (USD 900) for all the materials needed for a one room house, including:
-bricks
-cement
-brick force wires
-building sand
-garvel (sand for foundation)
-iron sheets for roof
-planks for roof
-salt for foundation
-palstic and conforce wire for foundation
-windows and window frames plus galss
-doors and door handles
-labour

I will be posting/ sending you copies of the bills and receipts regularly and updating you with the progress we make.

I understand that I am asking for a lot. But, I have faith in you. When I started the campaign, I got a tremendous response. People not only donated, but they spread the word, they sent their love and their wishes. I am grateful for every single person who worked to get us where we are. And I know we can do this again. Every single donation matters to us, every share would mean a lot.

Thank you. And I mean this. This campaign has been difficult, but it was been so fulfilling to watch everyone raise the money we did. So, thank you.

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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.

Parallels

Looking at every inch of my body, I stood in front of the mirror. My hair dripping wet, I criticised my uneven tan, my arms, and I almost smirked at the scar on my waist. There it was, refusing to fade away. Everyone who knows me knows the story of the cheetah hurting me and the aftermath of it all. I am convinced it was one of those stories people end up narrating to their grandchildren. I, for one, am debating if it’s worthwhile to include it in my resume.

I turn, and there it is. Another scar, the one I avoid looking at. Even after all these years, I’d rather not acknowledge it. In all fairness, though, the scar I refer to are two marks from a man, one who felt entitled to my body. My physical pain, my helpless dissent, nothing was enough to stop him. And although I recovered well, better than I expected, I can’t deny the influence those moments had on my life.

But today, on the day where Hindus celebrate the defeat of evil (my darling firangs, it’s the festival of Dusshera), I celebrated my personal win over evil. However, the irony of the scars struck me. One scar I have  been showing off – guilty of basking in the attention, I admit. I have posted, talked, and talked some more about the cheetah. The other scar, though, I am not so confident about. I haven’t pointed out to it, haven’t talked about that experience, which was arguably equally terrifying as the former. I have been unable to publicly post my experience, to let comments in, uncensored. Because I have internalised the stigma. I know I will be blamed for what happened. Why would I wear a skirt, why couldn’t I fight it off? Not one, not a single soul questioned me when I told them I went up to a wild animal rather carelessly. The same naive trust would be the reason for my scrutiny when it comes to a man, a human, hurting me.

When the cheetah hurt me, it was shooed away, far away from where I was. Three handlers and a friend all rushed to my aid. There were calls made, I was taken to a doctor, I received free medical care. People offered to help me carry a camera bag, asked me if I was okay, ensured I had everything in place. Friends asked if I needed to talk, and made sure I wasn’t traumatised or shaken up. They ensured I had enough dinner for the strong antibiotics I was on, that I was hydrated enough and could go about my life without risking my health. I didn’t have to fight for some basic care and attention. I received all of it, and I deeply appreciated it. But when I’ve tried to talk about my experience with sexual assault, it hasn’t been the same. The focus shifts from care to question. I am grateful I wasn’t gravely hurt because I know medical care would be a struggle to have access to. Emotional care was far fetched. Because let’s not forget, my own mother assumes it’s the clothes that cause the men to lose control.

And oh, how to I forget about justice and the aftermath? That when a cheetah ended up hurting me in her playfulness, an entire organisation was on its toes. I could effectively ask for the cheetah to be caged up for her entire life, and my wish would be granted. I could claim to be traumatised and scared of cheetahs, and people would be understanding enough to shield me from all kinds of cats, big and small. That the legitimacy of my phobia wouldn’t be questioned, oh no. Perhaps I would be suggested therapy to better adjust in the cat-obsessed-internet-world, but my trauma wouldn’t be reduced to something you “get over”. On the other hand, I would have to prove a sexual assault with medical tests and witness testimony. I would have to file a case, find a lawyer, fight my case in the court and possibly in the society and media, and the best I would get is that man going to jail for 6 months and being released in 3 for “good behaviour”. If I had the audacity to claim that I don’t enjoy a man’s touch without consent, that it’s a legitimate fear of mine to be stuck in an awful situation again, people would chuckle. Because it can’t happen that often, that I’m just blowing things out of proportion. He just wanted an innocent hug, he’s a nice man and wouldn’t harm you, they would claim. The world would immediately try to argue back with rationale and statistics, forgetting that my thoughts and emotions don’t need justification.

Yes, the parallels I have run seem ridiculous. Maybe they are. But so is how sexual assault is treated in this world. No, Donald Trump, it is not just a minor distraction. It is a violation of my basic human rights, and I refuse to let you or anyone else treat this as a minor issue. You know when a freak animal attack is handled better than a persistent problem most women face in some form or the other, it is a shame for humanity as a whole. It is high time that we reevaluate the way we handle sexual violence – the way we educate children, the way we prevent it, the way we punish for it, the way we help people cope with it.

But until we address these issues, millions like me will continue to hide their scars in shame. And that is not okay.

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.