The Boys in the Soccer Field (and what they did there)

20160124_164046We meet them in an empty soccer field: a dusty rectangle between a maize field and a house abandoned in mid-construction. There’s some confusion as we try to figure out a place to sit – the dirt is still somewhat damp from the morning’s drizzle – but then most huddle together on the dirt with their backs to the brick wall of the roofless house, a few others perched on what would have been the windowsills. One skinny boy climbs up and down the walls, his feet finding protruding bricks. The smaller children sit cross-legged, knees touching, giggling intermittently. The rest of them are mostly boys ages 11-14, and all eighteen of them have determined expressions on their faces. Lua, my Tanzanian friend whom I am visiting, and I, sit down facing them.

A sweet-faced boy with a seemingly permanent smile explains their dilemma. The neighborhood kids want a new soccer ball – as we speak, two boys are unsuccessfully trying to patch up the old one, using two sticks and the force of their fingers – but they don’t have the funds to buy one. Lua translates quickly, since my Swahili is still much too weak, and we ask them if they’re interested in carrying out a project.

They look at each other, excitement and hesitation battling in their eyes. “What sort of project?” they ask. Already a boy in a purple shirt, one of the older ones, looks skeptical. He speaks up, unsure about the support neighboring adults could offer, doubting the commitment of his friends. “Why don’t we just all put in some money and buy it?”

“But not everyone has enough money,” another boy points out, surprising everyone with his insight. “And then some will have more of a right to the ball than others. There might be arguments. It’s better if we do something where we can all participate.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

to return

image

The air of what once was is tingling. It shimmers through the fistfuls of iron clasped in the bus, the calls of the youth in their soccer teams, in the eyes of a distant lion.

I appear, now, as a traveller. On my first night, the street was like open arms. She displayed to me her lights like a mother’s ornaments — even through the window’s glass I knew the feel, I knew the scent.

There is some memory of our ancestors, still blurring in the hidden corners of our veins. If science states that at one time a girl with a different face from mine roamed this land — or one much like it — then I am inclined to believe it. Sometimes, when I visit quiet places, places where the air runs soft, hugging the edges of the stones like it is afraid to let go… I think I watch her walk before me. I think I find her footsteps in the sand, a mark that some things never change, a mark that this is less an introduction than it is reunion.

When I sit among the dusty paths and the wind whips around me, I think I can glimpse trails of those who are now gone. I feel as if, if only I could harness it, this feeling might let me gaze into the foundations of the earth. Perhaps it is in lands like this, where stories stretch out beyond Man, that our ancestors remain: in the shifting leaves, in the quiet moments between conversations, in the dust particles that float in the wind.

The cities are different. The people too — we have shed all recognition of each other, but sometimes children keep it. Sometimes, inside their eyes, I find my own.

Sometimes, the mountains stare back.

Why does it not feel like I’m a foreigner
but rather
that I have, at last, returned
and found within my home
a thousand years of change to mourn?


 

The Malfoy Case is at Chapter 26, now!

I finally posted my first work for the Mad Max fandom: Erosion (which is inspired by the erosion pillars in the picture above).

Mzungu Town: A glimpse into the post-colonial recovery timeline

My friend grasps my arm as we cross the street. I’m st20160110_171843ill struggling to understand cars driving on the opposite lanes from what I’m used to. A man shouts, laughing as he calls out to her.

“Don’t touch Mzungu’s arm, the white will rub off on you!”

Mzungu means ‘white’. It’s a new name I was given in this country, one that marks me as rich, and possibly as proud. It has people surprised when I give up my seat to the elderly, and has them staring at me as I pass.

I’m not even white. Perhaps half of me is, but only one fourth of my bloodline is somewhat European. The other fourth is Iranian. The rest of me is Hispanic. But here, the contrast is striking. My name is Mzungu, and I have never been so famous.

When I step off the bus, the merchants murmur “Mzungu” between themselves. When I board a bus, a man looks through the window: “Marry me, Mzungu.” Children wave at me “Hello, Mzungu!”.  A man passes me on the street,  a tune playing on his phone. He presses it to my cheek. “Listen to this, Mzungu!”

Is this what people feel like, in other countries, when we stare at them for being different? I suppose one could easily twist these experiences into some sort of discourse on the supposed existence of ‘white oppression’. But that isn’t what this is. The context here is different than in North America or Europe. It is a framework built by hosts of the colonizers themselves, sometime in the past. The perception of wealth, even where it may not necessarily exist. Someone, at some point, has taught the masses that Mzungu means rich. That Mzungu means proud. That Mzungu is different.

Continue reading

Between Two Years

Well, 2015 is over, and so much has happened! I haven’t had time to post anything before now, but I’m currently in Tanzania, so I’m starting 2016 in a completely new continent.
image

Highlights of this year have been:

  1. My service in Haifa and Akko. Though it began in June 2014, this year has certainly been the most challenging segment of my service in the Holy Land, but also the most fruitful year of my life. I’ve made some unbelievably amazing friends, and I know what I want to do with my life from now on.
  2. Publishing ‘Rules of The Altar’, my first story ever published in a magazine! Knowing that I can achieve that has encouraged me immensely, and confirmed my aspirations to be a published author.
  3. Participating in the QLFC. We made it to the semi-finals and then lost (by 1 point!), but the friends I’ve made and the wonderful plot ideas I’ve been able to explore thanks to the challenge have changed the way in which I view fanfiction, and helped me discover my own strengths and weaknesses in writing. I now have fifteen new stories in my portfolios on AO3 and fanfiction.net, and the knowledge that writing a story every two weeks is well within my abilities.
  4. Getting healthy. My brain is now in perfect working order, and it’s amazing to know that I can be comfortable and happy in my own skin at last. I’ve learned not to be ashamed of what I’ve been through, and learned how I can help those going through similar experiences.
  5. Travelling. I’ve been to Poland, Ethiopia and Tanzania. I never imagined I would go to any of those places at this point in my life, but somehow I was able to!
  6. New fandoms. Ok, maybe slightly less meaningful than the other points, but Mad Max: Fury Road, The Force Awakens, Sense8 and Jessica Jones have given me new faith in what can be done with movies and shows.
  7. This blog. Hey, I didn’t forget about it again, did I?

What to expect in 2016!

  1. Me, travelling even more! And more unpredictably, maybe! I’m going back to Paraguay at some point and then going to either the USA or some unknown location. We’ll see.
  2. A conclusion to The Malfoy Case! It’s been going on for almost two years now, and I’m hoping to conclude it by its anniversary.
  3. The beginning of Mariusmy crime fanfic novel set during the Blitz, which follows Marius Black’s life as a Squib and a criminal mastermind in Muggle London.
  4. More of The Tisroc and the King. I’m hoping to finish it this year but I’d rather not make any promises!
  5. More opinion pieces both here on my blog and on other sites.
  6. Perhaps some new original short stories? Definitely new blog posts about my experiences here in Africa. We’ll see!

 

image

What are you planning for 2016? Is there anything you would like to see more of on this blog or in my writing?

Things I Learned From My Dentist(s)

Warning: The following post contains absolutely no technical terms. I know nothing of the mysterious yet extremely useful world of dentistry, so I’m sorry. 

In the past year, I’ve had about 20 dentist appointments. This extended exposure to excavators and bibs was caused by many different factors: firstly, some weakness in my genes that makes my teeth more delicate than most people’s teeth; secondly, my own obsession with candy and Coca-Cola, which doesn’t contribute to dental health; and lastly, a frankly disastrous history with an old dentist whose fillings consistently fell out within days of being installed.

One could say that very little enjoyment can be found in having one’s root canal uprooted and then redone, having one’s tooth chipped away almost entirely and replacing about eight different fillings, but I leave my career as a serial dentist-patient with the satisfaction of knowing that I made the most of my time there.

I guess I never asked these questions before because my appointments were so few and so far between that I always felt strange speaking my mind to a stranger with sharp tools dangerously near to my tongue. But knowing that I would be subject to the same routine over and over again during the months of making my teeth healthy again, I dismissed my feelings of awkwardness and made sure to ask all the questions I’d ever had about what it’s like to be one of the brave explorers of a weird, saliva-filled world. Here are some of the answers.

  • Do dentists get cavities? Where do dentists go when they get a cavity?
    Well, yes. I’m sure it’s embarrassing, but they do. And apparently they pick one of their favorite colleagues and go to them, and pray that all their other dentist friends don’t get offended when they pick who they think is the best at their job. Also, sometimes they get a discount!
  • Why aren’t there mirrors just overhead so that the patient can actually see what’s going on in their mouths?
    I originally thought the answer to this one would be something like “Because they would faint”, or “Because they would panic”, but it turned out to be more like “Because I did try it and patients would just spend the whole time craning their necks to get a good angle, and it got in the way of work.”To be honest, I was just glad that someone had thought of doing that and actually implemented it. I kind of wish I’d still been there during the experimenting period, though, because the most I got to see of what was happening was the reflection on my dentist’s glasses (which was kind of impressive — as it turns out, root canal uprootings are quite bloody).
  • “Has anyone ever bitten you?”
    “Yes.” [spoken grimly]
  • But do we really have to brush our teeth three times a day? Like, what about people with no access to tooth brushes? Do their teeth just fall out?
    One of my dentists (the coolest one, who played music in Spanish during his practice because the nurses were Argentinian and it made them happy), told me a story about a guy who had never brushed his teeth. That patient was in his fifties. And apparently his teeth were in better shape than any patient my dentist had ever had. In the end it all comes down to a weird mix of genes and eating habits, and it seems that I missed out on all the good parts of those.
  • “Is it really awkward if I fall asleep on the dentist chair while you’re working on my teeth?”
    “No, it’s actually easier for me. You just have to keep your mouth open.”
  • But what if instead of dealing with all of these tooth problems, I just knock out all my teeth and wear dentures instead?
    My dentist just stared at me with a horrified look on her face. I think she thought I was serious. (I kind of was, but I reconsidered after seeing her expression.)
  • The whole issue of how anesthesia takes so long to kick in but by the time it does you’re already halfway through having them drill into your mouth.
    Your dentist should wait until your mouth is numb. Make them wait. In the meantime they can use that period of time to explain exactly what they plan on doing to your mouth and give you tips on staying healthy (and answer your weird questions).
  • DOES MY MOUTH LOOK WEIRD AFTER THE ANESTHESIA?
    No, it really, really doesn’t.

The Malfoy Case, my courtroom drama and Drastoria fic is at Chapter 24 (ending soon!).
The Tisroc and the King, a Narnia AU where Aravis and Shasta never met, and full of Archenland and Calormene politics, is at Chapter 3.
Save is an extremely short one-shot about Oliver Wood’s first Quidditch game.
(AO3 links are available here)

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this month, good luck! I’m sure you’ll nail it! I’ll be engaging in some word sprints throughout the month (mostly active through my twitter), but I’m not officially doing it this year… there’s too much going on to be able to fully commit to a new novel.

Please leave a comment below to share your novel, fanfic or dentistry woes!

Why We Feel Threatened By Victims

Margaret Biser recently wrote an essay describing her experiences working as a tour guide for what used to be a plantation in the South of the United States and had had more than 100 slaves working in it. It’s a very interesting article, particularly because of the tone she employs when writing about people who are clearly racist—it’s not an aggressive tone, or even an angry one; it’s analytical, and almost pitying.

“Other guests seemed to have come around to slavery apologetics through a different route: They seemed find part of their identity in a sense of class victimhood, and they were unwilling to share the sympathy and attention of victimhood with black Americans… These guests felt that the deck had been stacked against them for generations, and their sense of ancestral victimhood was so personal that the suggestion that any group of people had it worse than their ancestors did was a threat to their sense of self.”

It’s a different perspective on racism, and one we often don’t talk about. As people who have been on the receiving end of culturally ingrained and institutionalized prejudice, it can often be difficult for us to see those who are invalidating our struggle as being anything more than cruel or ignorant, every time someone retorts that courts are biased against men in custody hearings, or uses #AllLivesMatter, or holds that immigrants are inherently more likely to be responsible for violent crime.

Indeed, when it comes to governments and bodies that should be responsible for the safety of humankind, regardless of race or gender or social status, their tendency to gloss over the needs of minorities—or majorities, as women are estimated to conform 51.9% of the world population, white people less than 5%, and 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day—this incoherence becomes harder to forgive. But disregarding the institutions that are based on the supremacy of one section of population at the expense of the rest, the tendency to pit negative experiences against those of others is probably one of the main proponents of dialogue that diminishes the very real sufferings a great part of the world is subject to.

Because at the end of the day, it’s only a very small fraction of the world that is not a woman, has never had ancestors belonging to an oppressed race, and whose family has never struggled with poverty. Most of us will fall into at least one of the ‘suffering’ categories, and will have had experiences that acutely shaped and continue to shape our identities. We cannot discount how prejudice, so ingrained into our social structure and culture, has harmed us. And it is natural to be defensive of these experiences—especially when we feel that our pain has been overlooked.

The idea of the social ladder is still too prevalent in our collective minds, and we all like to imagine ourselves as being at the very bottom of the part that matters. Our sense of empathy and selflessness are not consistent with the ‘Ancestral Victimhood’ that has shaped our family history. The idea that there are people that are suffering as well, or even more than we are, seems to be a disservice to years of struggle—like an admission that our pain wasn’t valid.

Homelessness, then, goes ignored. The rape of women is viewed as a small statistic which is probably fed only by liars seeking attention or financial compensation. The wage gap is dismissed as false data. Movements to stop institutionalized racism, the rampant violence directed towards people of color, and the dehumanization of Muslims are interpreted as an attempt on the part of minorities to assert themselves above everyone else. Immigrants come to be seen as numbers instead of people. And empathy is pushed to a side, welcomed only for those who share the pain we ourselves have experienced.

We cannot be constantly aware of all the different brands of suffering that exist in the world. But there is a large gap placed between ‘us’ and ‘them’, a tendency to dehumanize those whose struggle we deem to have never shared. Unable to look past our own experiences and look into those of others, we shut our minds to open communication and dismiss reality as overreactions and victims as attention-seekers.

There is no quick solution to prejudice. The process of replacing the systems that normalized oppression, altering our collective vocabulary, and rethinking attitudes we once thought acceptable, is one that will continue for generations. But more than anything, we must stop the tendency to distance ourselves from each other. In a society that has been based for so long on selfishness, it is difficult to give way for other struggles to also come to the surface. But openness is the only way that problems can be resolved in a thorough manner—we cannot solve poverty without understanding the history of discrimination that has shaped our economy; we cannot solve gender inequality without understanding the implications it holds for racial minorities, and we cannot solve racism without understanding how it entwines with classism.

And more than anything, we must learn to fight the creature that lives within each of us, that feeds on the insecurities the world creates inside us regardless of race, gender or social class—the fear of being thought irrelevant.

As Miss Biser said,

“Addressing racism isn’t just about correcting erroneous beliefs — it’s about making people see the humanity in others.”

From Fiction… to College Essays

College applications are nothing like fiction writing.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never really written much non-fiction, or because I’m just not used to explicitly talking about my own life in text, but I find it really really hard to write essays for college.

I’ve learned that articles titled ‘TEN MISTAKES TO NEVER MAKE IN YOUR COLLEGE APPLICATION’ say exactly the same thing articles titled ‘TEN THINGS TO MAKE YOUR APPLICATION AMAZING’ say. Also, both articles will agree that at the end of the day you can do whatever you want and it’s no guarantee that you will or will not get in.

It would be amazing if all universities could agree and just use the same application. It would make things much simpler, and I wouldn’t have to have ten lists of reminders hovering on my screen so I remember what I put on each application, to make sure I’m giving them a holistic view of the person that I am.

My manager, overhearing my distress as I repeatedly crashed my face against the keyboard, offered me a useful piece of advice: Pretend you’re writing about a character instead of yourself.

It’s actually proven somewhat useful. The only issue now is getting back into The Early Fanfiction Days When Everything Was In First Person Because Every Main Character Was A Mary Sue. And now I have to deal with the Am I a Mary Sue? question, which is a really weird question to be asking about oneself.

I’ve made a list of fun stories that I might be able to incorporate into my essay, because of course my intention is mainly to entertain. I’ve compiled stories about That Time I Went Into A Nightclub Carrying A Cake, That Time I Saw Poseidon, and That Time My Dad Powered A Movie Via His Car During A Blackout—all great stories. I have no idea how I’m going to make them into profound essays that speak about the sort of person that I am, but at least I’m entertaining myself while thinking about them.

And finally, I do think this whole process would be a lot easier if I wasn’t suddenly battling an onslaught of Mad Max: Fury Road Feels. I read a (frankly embarrassingly fluffy) AU where Furiosa owns a Flowershop

Yeah.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to write adorably cheesy AUs about Max and Furiosa.

Yet. I think.

Non-fiction really shouldn’t be this hard.


 

Okay, that fanfic is actually really really good if you’re into Furiosa as a Flower Shop Owner.

If you’re a fellow victim of the College Application Process (or if you’re also battling a Mad Max: Fury Road addiction), let me know. Let’s suffer together.

I’m slow with posting new stories at the moment, as the QLFC is on break before the finals and I’m taking advantage of this time to get my future plans in order. But I’ve written a lot of cool stuff in the past month! You should check it out!

Days of Dust

COXUWhFUwAAqDhO

It’s a Saturday, and it’s dawn, and it’s dark.

There is a to-do list thumb-tacked tightly to the cork-wood and you wrote the words in all-caps just to try and make yourself remember—there are things to do when you feel like you want to hurt. There are other things to do.

You tell yourself that Recovery is mostly made up of Bad Days; that it’s normal to wake up sometimes and feel like you’ve regressed. You tell yourself I am alive. You tell yourself I won’t forget. But there’s a cloud of dust outside, and maybe it’s just the weather but there’s been more Bad Days than there’s been Good, and now you don’t know if you’re allowed to call it Recovery anymore.

See, the crescent moons on your spine are like braille for a mind blinded with fear—they help you read, they help you understand, but when it starts, where does it stop? Will it end with knives or with heads against walls, where it’s almost already gone before?

But it’s a Saturday, and it’s dawn, and it’s dark.

And maybe it’s the quietness—except, no, everything always feels much louder here—but now you lock yourself up in your room to escape all the dust and all the clouds that hide the horizon away, neatly tucked into the Mediterranean, neatly tucked, neatly tucked where the little boy washed up, where the corpses made up our own to-do list in all-caps, thumb-tacked notes, which we ignored, again, because isn’t it easier to forget, isn’t it easier to chalk it all up to a Bad Day, and the weather, maybe, and dig our little crescent graves instead of going for a walk, instead of lifting people up by venturing beyond the dust?

Another Saturday, another dawn, and it’s still dark.


The Tisroc and the King (Narnia)

The Left Behind (Narnia)

A Riddle of Nekhenu (Harry Potter/Egyptian Mythology)

Just like Us (Harry Potter)

 

 

 

Transcendence

Bahji

I’ve spent the last month struggling somewhat with fully grasping what exactly it is that we feel when coming in contact with something beautiful. It’s not a feeling that I get too often, thankfully, because if I did I might not get through the day — being overwhelmed by the complexity of the world around us is certainly an important part of life, but it can be counterproductive if it is constant. Maybe it has something to do with me watching The Lord of the Rings again and beginning a re-read of The Return of the King, but this isn’t a feeling I’ve had for the first time, and I think everyone has experienced it at some point in their lives.

It’s not something solely related to writing, either — it comes suddenly, as a yearning to listen to music that elicits a sort of nostalgia for things we’ve never actually experienced, when looking at a horizon we will never really be able to do justice with a camera, or even as a sudden thing, when you (like me) are lying on the couch near midnight and realizing that it’s been a while since you’ve just taken a moment to breathe.

Maybe it’s happened with more frequency recently because my time in Israel is slowly nearing its end and I know that I will never experience these people and places in the same way again; or because of the new photos of Pluto NASA has been able to capture, showing us a world so distant and yet suddenly made so close to us; or because of the knowledge that somewhere out there is a planet very much like ours, though it may be 500 light years away and we may not be sure that it is like ours… but aren’t the possibilities, and even the idea that maybe it’s completely different from anything we’ve ever seen before, what makes it all so fascinating?

And it’s not only something that takes place when looking outwards at the endless distance stretching out from Earth into the universe — it also comes when looking down at something as small as an ant, and suddenly being aware of a life that is completely removed from ours and different in almost every way — what keeps the ant working, how long will it live, what places has it seen that we, with our (comparatively) massive size, will never be able to see or touch? And when looking at the ruins of what once was a large sprawling city, realizing that we are walking in the very footsteps millions of others must have left behind, people who are now forgotten and whose names were likely never even recorded anywhere, and understanding with an overwhelming sense of awe that they must have all led lives as complex and interesting as ours; and though we are unable to know them now, touching the very same stones they touched with our hands makes us feel a fleeting sort of connection through time — as if in some way, we are being sympathetic to their cause, to their hopes and dreams and struggles, and thankful for whatever fleeting influence they left upon our planet.

What makes us feel excitement about things we will never be able to fully experience, and cannot be sure that even our children or grandchildren will experience? There isn’t really a scientific explanation for it — there isn’t much evolutionary advantage in standing still watching the sunset, and yet it’s one of those things that almost everyone is likely to have done. You could say that it pushes us onwards to create, to learn, to make more things that can create feelings, like stories and music and poetry — maybe this longing is what invented art, made us discover art and the thrills it could cause us.

“Man ever aspires to greater heights and loftier goals. He ever seeks to attain a world surpassing that which he occupies.

This love of transcendence is one of the hallmarks of man.”

-Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions

(the transitory twin)

20150330_182731He’s a modern man, and he takes a seat outside while his family goes in without him. I’ve already been inside lots of times, he tells me. I nod and smile.

And when he asks me what my plans are — what’s a girl my age doing so far away from home? — I tell him about my college plans, and he leans back in his seat with this slow smile on his face (I should have seen this coming).

Engineering is too hard for a woman, he tells me, and the gleaming teeth of his smile are meant to be helpful, I know, fatherly (I want to spit in his face and shake him, tell him You Are Part Of The Problem, tell him about the countless girls I’ve met in life who aspire to nothing because of men like him. I don’t). So I raise an eyebrow and say excuse me and his explanation isn’t an excuse because his ignorance is tangible and I grit my teeth — this is my job and I can’t be insulting (and I feel violently sick, suddenly, because I’m unable to defend myself — I know too little; he’s an electrical engineer, I’m a student out of high school).

(How dare he turn his education into a weapon.)

He leaves.

I’m a nineteen year old girl, and I stand in the sun for hours after (his words are searing in my brain — the first out of many, I predict. I’ve heard what they say to women like me; women who dare aspire to more) trying to stay hydrated, checking my watch. Summer is asphyxiating.

They are a small Muslim family, Arabs from the village nearby. The mother nods amiably when I tell her the rules and proceeds to break them immediately — her daughters laugh (I want to smile. I don’t). I take a swig of water and watch the people file out, tourists with casual eyes, no longer easily impressed, people who reply to a hello with a hard stare that lasts just one second too long.

The women approach me soon after, just before they leave. The mother is laughing, and the eldest daughter asks me my name. I tell her — she laughs. She has large shining eyes and a smile that transforms her entire face; her hijab is tight around her head, her body shrouded — in my short-sleeved shirt, I burn and blister in the heat. She laughs. Her name rhymes with mine.

The mother asks me what my plans are — what’s a girl my age doing so far away from home? — and I tell them about my college plans. The mother smiles and turns expectant to her eldest daughter; her smile widens even more. I’m going to study civil engineering, she tells me.

(Over her shoulder, I glimpse a couple posing for their wedding photographs. The bride is my age, if not younger — the groom must be approaching fifty. Her smile is exquisitely painted violent red, like a painting more real than the canvas. Their eyes never meet.)

I look at the girl and smile. She takes a picture of us together, our arms around each other. We’re the same height, and she smiles with her eyes as well as her lips as they leave; her younger sister shouting my name as if we’ve been childhood friends.

(I forget her name soon after. I don’t forget her smile.)

(She was nineteen years old, too.)


The Malfoy Case has been updated, and new works have been added to the list!