Attending my brother’s wedding on Zoom wasn’t as bad as it sounds

My elder brother and I were born one year apart, an age difference that over the years has led him to become everything from enemy number one to my closest confidant. His wedding was something I had always imagined from a young age – as a sister, how could I not? I wanted to wake up and tease him first thing in the morning and laugh as he morphs into a blushing groom. There would be so much to do – accompanying my mother into the narrow alleys of Liberty Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan as we rushed to complete the wedding shopping; sharing embarrassing childhood stories with my soon-to-be sister-in-law; staying up late into the night as we planned everything from the flowers to the food. I was sure that there was nothing that could stop me from enjoying all of this. But then, the global pandemic happened.

My brother married this summer to a woman he loves more than anything, and I got to see their preparations and nuptials all through a tiny screen. So why did I not get on the first plane back home? Traveling during a pandemic is not the easiest thing to do or even recommended during the height of the Covid, not to mention that I study in Hong Kong, the region with the longest quarantine in the world. So I stayed put as my family got to do everything I had pictured. It was hard to hold my tears back in my dorm room that seemed lonelier with every passing day. Despite the intense loneliness of being away from my family, I realized over time that it wasn’t all bad. I mean, I did get to enjoy some of the things that would never have happened if I had been there.

The first of these arrived in the form of a package I received a month before my brother’s wedding. My mother, who insisted that I should dress up even if I weren’t actually there, made sure that I felt included in every way possible. Draping the sari over my body, I could almost see the beaming smile my mother would have had if I had dressed up in my sari in front of her. I cried that day, but more out of gratefulness than anything. The package was followed by daily calls with everyone in my family as the wedding preparations started speeding up. In a way, their effort to make me feel included seemed to bridge the gap between us almost entirely. A million miles are nothing when it comes to family.

Then the day of the wedding came. My feelings were at odds with each other the entire day. On the one hand, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach because how could I possibly miss his marriage? But, on the other hand, I also felt great excitement. Finally, my brother was getting married, the same boy I complained about and fought with when he refused to do his summer holiday homework, the same boy who stole my doll when I was three years old.

I will never forget that day as a mix of emotions and laughter. Wouldn’t you be laughing if you were in every wedding photo on an iPad? At least the pandemic gave my brother some hilarious wedding photos and me a story to tell everyone. My younger brother and sister, bless their souls, spent most of the festivities carrying me around to meet different relatives. So despite being alone in a dorm room in Hong Kong dressed in a sari and slippers, I felt like I was in Pakistan with my family.

Weddings are about bringing people together, which is undoubtedly difficult to do when a highly contagious virus spreads to every corner of the globe. This experience, however, made me realize that nothing can take away from the magic and warmth of a wedding, not even a pandemic. But more than that, it also taught me that when you feel alone, your family will come through, much as mine did this summer. So, in a way, this article is my love letter to weddings and family.

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Health Care Mind Mental Health Health Coronavirus Wellness

There’s nothing romantic about therapy, but I still recommend it

Essay deadlines, a global pandemic, and limited social interaction left me overwhelmed … to say the least. Throughout the pandemic, I received news of relatives or friends catching Covid-19 almost routinely. To amplify this, my second year of university had also started. Like many students across the globe, I had to readjust to virtual learning. Although I enjoyed the convenience of zoom classes, the time of socializing between lectures and seminars was now empty. The stresses and anxieties I had pushed to the back of my mind started to occupy this vacant time. 

Lucky for me, there was an increase in self-care content on social media, which encouraged me to seek therapy. As an African woman, mental well-being and therapy were never discussed in my community. So, I felt hesitant while contacting the student therapy team at my university. At the same time, I felt like the hero of my own story and looked forward to meeting the new post-therapy me. 

Unfortunately, the excitement was fleeting. Throughout my six months of sessions, I discovered that different media skewed my expectations.

I always imagined therapy to be like the scene in Disney Channel’s Freaky Friday. In which, Jamie Lee Curtis’s character (after switching bodies with her daughter) has a therapy client and keeps asking, “How does that make you feel?” 

The scene is comical, but it is what I believed attending therapy would be like. A client, lying on a sofa letting out their emotions, and a therapist, repeating the word ‘feelings.

This scene, like many in Hollywood, depicts an automatic comfortability between therapist and client. Vulnerability seems easy within the confines of the session. I soon learned this was inaccurate; I did not find being vulnerable with a stranger anything close to easy anything close to easy, no matter how friendly she was. I have never been someone who finds it easy to talk about my feelings in-depth. Yet, I thought once I was in front of a therapist, my feelings would spill out. But her title and qualification made no difference.  It took me a few sessions to become vulnerable. At the time, I thought I was doing something wrong or that therapy was not for me. But I soon recognized it was all a matter of my misconceptions. So, I started unlearning what I thought were the universal truths of therapy. 

I realized that the journey transcends the one-hour sessions. This is true in that you must be practical with whatever lessons you learn during the sessions. In addition, it is important to come prepared to be vulnerable during your sessions. I found it challenging to transition from random everyday activities into my sessions. When I was having a good day, I would come into therapy excitable and waste the hour trying to preserve my mood. And it was just that, a waste. Therapy was the perfect opportunity to talk through any troubles from my week, but I was not always prepared to do so. Through this, I found the importance of some form of a prepping routine. I began spending an hour listening to some music, jazz, or reggae, whatever felt natural. In this time, I tried to connect with my emotions and do things that made me feel at peace. I felt ready to open up once my session started.

Another preconception I had to challenge was the assumption that my therapist would be my savior or guardian angel. Countless movies use the narrative of inappropriate client-therapist relationships. For example, in Silver Linings Playbook. The main character Pat’s therapist attends his dance recital and visits his home, extending their relationship outside the office. In real life, this would be unrealistic and unethical. But it depicts the idea of a therapist as a guardian angel, always there for the precious moments of your life. 

The phrase “everyone needs therapy” is all over social media. Although well-intentioned, it fuels this idea of therapy as a saving grace and the therapist as the angel on your shoulder. I often approached my sessions as a cure-all. My therapist once mentioned that I spoke of our sessions as though they had a fixed end date. Like I was waiting for the day, I would be cleansed of all stresses. And to tell the truth, I was counting down to the day the therapy finally kicked in. 

But I learned that it was a process that relied on me nurturing whatever I discovered in each weekly session. If I had any homework from my sessions, it was my responsibility to make sure I completed it. In the sessions, it was my responsibility to be completely honest and vulnerable. Ultimately, I gained clarity about my therapist’s role as a helper and not a savior. 

The biggest thing I wish I knew before starting is that therapy does not feel good. It is self-care like spa days, face masks, and taking walks, but it is not immediately pleasant. If I could change it, I would have spoken to someone with experience. I thoroughly recommend counseling or therapy for well-being. But make sure you do not rely on the media for advice, talk to someone with experience. 

My experience was hindered by me comparing my reality to what I had thought therapy to be because of the influences around me. Even so, I hope the conversation around therapy within the film industry and social media becomes more honest.

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The World

We must speak ill of Colin Powell

Earlier last week on October 18, Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, passed away after succumbing to complications from Covid-19. According to his obituary in The Guardian General Powell “rose higher in public office than any previous black American” and is remembered by many in the United States as a “trailblazer and role model” who set an example for all Americans. Former US president Barack Obama tweeted that “Michelle and I will always look to him as an example of what America – and Americans – can and should be”. So, if General Powell was such an exemplary man by popular account why is his death surrounded by words such as a “complicated legacy?”

Colin Powell was without a doubt a highly influential man; he has been credited with influencing “American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st and his endorsement of Barack Obama in the final weeks of the 2008 presidency helped shape the result of the election. This influence, however, has not always yielded the results one might expect from someone who is being lauded as a role model. While those in America remember Powell fondly, elsewhere in the world his death has not sparked the same feelings. The role he played in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to many blaming him for the subsequent death and suffering and as such any conversation about his legacy is incomplete without mentioning those that he hurt.

A speech from Powell in February 2003 at the United Nations is considered a pivotal moment for what happened in Iraq. He tried to convince the world that a war in Iraq was needed by citing what was later proven to be false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. His words were crucial in selling the war to the American public, a war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and displaced many others. What is even more concerning is that Powell was privately opposed to the war and yet ended up becoming a vocal supporter in the public sphere. Maryam, a 51-year-old Iraqi writer and mother of two told the Associated Press that “he lied, and we are the ones who got stuck with never-ending wars”. Today the war may be a memory for most but for many in Iraq, its horrors are persistent to this day. The sharp rise in birth defects in the city of Fallujah since the US invasion serve as one of the reminders of how Iraq is suffering to this day.

Powell’s role in propagating US imperialism is not limited to this one incident that he has admitted to being a “blot” on his record, he would later still claim that “on balance” the US “had a lot of success” in Iraq. His legacy of causing suffering abroad to protect the interests of the United States stretches as far back as the Vietnam War. On 16 March 1968 American troops marched into a Vietnamese village and brutally murdered around 347 to 504 civilians. The event would become known as the My Lai massacre and is largely regarded as a war crime by the international community, a crime that Powell helped cover-up at the time. In 1989 Powell oversaw the US invasion of Panama, the operation was paramount in developing the Powell doctrine, the idea that the “US only go to war to protect strategic interests and once engaged, must have a decisive plan for winning and a clear exit strategy”. This doctrine would later come into play during the first Iraq war, a swift operation that lasted only two months but relied on the heavy bombing that caused thousands of civilian deaths.

It is apparent that during his lengthy career Powell has directly or indirectly contributed to the suffering of many and to ignore that pain in the name of respect and politeness after his death would be a grave injustice. Mirroring a similar rhetoric American academic and television personality Marc Lamont Hill tweeted that telling the victims of these wars to be silent is “morally grotesque”. Not only is silence at this point morally questionable but it only serves to further cover up the crimes of American imperialism. Colin Powell may have shown remorse over his actions, or he could have felt that as a black man in America he had no choice but to follow the status quo but neither of these things can erase his actions. To achieve what he did in a country that is seldom kind to its African American population is certainly exemplary, but it is not enough to overlook his role in the often violent and imperialist endeavors of the United States and his legacy must reflect these actions.

Education Now + Beyond

Simul-teaching isn’t the future of education, yet

My sister’s school sent out surveys asking parents for their opinions on restarting regular schools after the summer vacation. Some of the possible solutions that the school suggested seemed a little absurd; two cycles during the school day, a reduced number of working days during the week, socially distanced classrooms with simultaneous video conferencing (simul-teaching). It had me wondering: How far can technology take us to give us a sense of normalcy? What will be the cost of creating a new normal in the field of education?

In my opinion, distance learning cannot completely replace regular schooling. The lack of collaboration and socialization is evident in the use of technology. It also requires students to practice self-discipline that many may not possess. In some regions, schools also serve to combat social problems, like poverty, child marriage, and abuse. Distance learning has left many of these communities vulnerable. We need a new system that can implement social distancing while combating the drawbacks of distance learning. 

The solution seems to be a combination of distance learning with regular classroom interaction.

However, switching to a new normal with new alternatives is challenging for teachers, instructors, and educational professionals. They’ve worked day and night to adjust to new teaching conditions and new technology, providing mental support and relief to students in need. 

They face a new obstacle: Attempting to create a combination of two environments that prove to be effective and beneficial. Though simul-teaching may seem like an attractive option, how will it be implemented? What sort of activities will be needed to engage the physical and virtual audience at the same time? How much training will the teachers need to deliver good quality education? What new technology will need to be introduced to manage both audiences adequately?

Assessments have proved to be challenging in a distanced environment. At my university, professors used a combination of three to four different software to assess our progress, as opposed to a single practical or written session before the pandemic. With simul-teaching, different methodologies will be needed to evaluate and appraise students’ learning. How will group activities be implemented online and physically at the same time? What will be the integrity of such varied evaluations?

Even if schools plan to implement two school cycles during the day with fewer students or reduce the number of working days, the workload on teachers will be immense. To constantly shift their perspective and teaching from virtual to in-person can be hectic. 

This system will also hinder the learning process for children with learning disabilities. How will a teacher or instructor compensate for the lack of physical presence that some students require? How will they ensure that their students adapt to different modes of teaching?

We are also overlooking the costs. In addition to the existing electricity, sanitation, and maintenance cost, there is a new set of requirements for a stable network connection, video conferencing services, and assistive technology. Simul-teaching is beneficial to technologically-equipped communities. But for communities that lack access to services that enable a modern learning environment, the students will be left behind, reinforcing the gap between the haves and have-nots.

The purpose of education is to lift ourselves out of ignorance and provide learning opportunities for everyone. If the simul-teaching environment reinforces inequality and creates an impossible environment to grow in, what is its purpose?

This pandemic has taught us a lot of things, but education systems worldwide do not realize that things need to change to adapt to these problems. Why are we struggling to bring back the same old institutions when everything else has changed? Why are we enforcing a system that takes teachers to their wit’s ends? Why are we so obsessed with reproducing the same capitalist structure that barely benefits us? 

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Mental Health The Pandemic Now + Beyond

Here’s how texting is giving us anxiety – and what to do about it

I have a confession: I’m tired of texting.

Not because I hate technology and certainly not because I think we need to go back to the old times. Rather, I just find it mentally exhausting.

After months of not seeing people regularly in person, texting is just slightly better than solitude at best and emotionally taxing at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting altogether, but maybe it’s time that we don’t treat it like the only form of online communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting.

Before the pandemic, I preferred texting to other forms of social interaction. As someone with social anxiety, it was easier.

I’d have time to think about responses, I wouldn’t have to show my facial expressions and, if a conversation was awkward, I could just ignore it. I much preferred texting to the dreaded phone conversation, the most anxiety-inducing part of my life.

Texting saved me. It was my social crutch. I could second guess myself or start a thought over without appearing awkward. I could easily draft and edit my response to any interaction, and nobody would know.

For someone who struggled so much with socializing, texting was a godsend.

What I never realized was that, when texting is your only form of communication, it’s exhausting. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t see people in person. And with only texting, it’s notoriously difficult to tell someone’s tone while they’re texting, which can make conversations feel awkward or inorganic. I also find it difficult to hold a casual conversation while texting.

When I talk to someone face to face — or phone to phone — we’re able to shift from subject to subject and talk about the most mundane things. With texting, I always feel like I need a purpose to start or continue a conversation. This makes it very difficult to keep up casual friendships. During my time in pandemic-induced isolation, those relationships started to slip away.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

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There are exhausting aspects to Zoom, Facetime, and Skype as well, but having face-to-face communication can feel so much more invigorating. Being able to see someone’s facial expressions and hand gestures, and hear their tone of voice makes such a difference. Being able to have an organic conversation, with plenty of twists and turns and digressions just feels more comfortable for me.

I never realized that, when texting is your only form of communication, it can be exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like texting, and I’m not in favor of stopping it altogether. Still, we should stop treating it like the primary form of online communication.

Some of us need to be able to see a human face while interacting with others.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

Some of us just prefer the spontaneity of a talking conversation.

Texting is great, and it can be a lifesaver in certain situations, but it can’t be the only way we communicate. Technology is bringing us closer to real human interactions in an online setting, so we should take that opportunity. It makes a big difference.

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Work Now + Beyond

Workplace professionalism is a construct rooted in white supremacy

There has been a recent push across the U.S. made by several employers, advocating for the return to in-person workspaces after a year 42% of American workers (successfully) worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, Black people, in particular, have been opposing this return to normalcy because white-collar workplaces have always been a source of oppression for us in a number of different ways; all equally as harmful as the next. 

In fact, only a mere 3% of Black professionals want to go back to work full-time in the office. Therefore, white professionals must reckon with what that statistic illustrates about the type of environments that workplaces have created to the detriment of their Black employees.

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In the context of white-collar work settings, workplace professionalism is “working and behaving in such a way that others think as competent, reliable and respectful,” according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The concept of professionalism also emphasizes how people physically present themselves at work or as an extension or representation of their employer even while away from the office. 

Unfortunately, though, as a result of having to learn to adapt within white workspaces, Black people have had to learn to code switch—a term coined by Einar Haugen in 1954 to describe language alternation, or the mixing of two or more languages, or dialects—manipulate our natural hair texture, or overall abandon our culture as a means for survival in the workplace. And if we fail to successfully integrate or become what white employers deem as “professional,” we risk facing punishment.

In truth, this conversation is long overdue. “Professionalism is just a synonym for obedience,” Chika Ekemezie says in an article for Zora. And she’s right. “The less social capital you have, the more you are tethered to professionalism”: meaning, performing professionalism becomes even more essential the more financially insecure a person is, which puts a lot of pressure on working-class Black Americans to conform to a status quo that centers whiteness or we risk being barred from economic and job opportunities.

Consequently, “these expectations of professionalism are so common to us — from our outer appearance to the way we behave — we begin to create different versions of ourselves, doppelgängers to help us get through the day,” Chika explains. However, having to be what is essentially “reformed” versions of ourselves for long hours of the day, five days a week, can have negative consequences on our mental health and job performance.

According to a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Cost of Codeswitching,” the authors assert: “Seeking to avoid stereotypes can deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance. [In addition] feigning commonality with [white] coworkers also reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.”

Ultimately and unsurprisingly, workplace professionalism in the U.S. wasn’t designed with Black people and Black culture in mind. And especially in a white-dominated society, Blackness is seen as inherently unkept, unrefined, and undignified. 

The idea that we can successfully keep up this illusion of professionalism to remain physically integrated with white people is ridiculous. Because the culture surrounding what constitutes professionalism has forced Black people to adhere to whiteness in a way that’s simply unnatural and unsustainable. 

Even still, Black people have continued to fight a losing battle of performing respectability in the workplace that will never be good enough because the goal post for what professionalism means and who it truly applies to is always moving.

So, if there was ever a time to re-examine toxic workplace culture, it’s now. In the past year, Black communities across America have been hit hard by a global pandemic and have watched as the policing and justice system continues to have a flagrant disregard for our livelihood. And despite all of the racial injustice that was highlighted in both 2020 and 2021, the support for Black lives is at an all-time low.  

Coming back to the office would only serve as an added burden on Black American’s mental and emotional well-being. Working from home, on the other hand, has finally allowed Black professionals the freedom of self-expression without having to endure the inherent racism that comes from being amongst predominantly white work environments.

Understandably, though, adjusting to telework has been difficult for many and ultimately isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to rectifying, improving, or rebuilding racist workplaces. 

But whatever the case, in whatever a post-pandemic society looks like, we can’t resort back to western, white supremacist work culture just because it’s comfortable for some while disadvantageous for others. And to put it plainly, professionalism has long been about control just to remind racially marginalized communities white people hold the power and can wield it against us whenever and however they like.

In turn, there needs to be a continuous conversation for how we can accommodate Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities into the workplace all while dismantling the oppressive idea of professionalism. Because wearing a bonnet, a durag, braids, dread locs, natural hair, or just overall being unapologetically and authentically Black while working never hurt anyone.

And if we’re all working to build a more equitable society, traditional ideas of professionalism would have no place there anyway.

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Mind Health Coronavirus Wellness

3 lessons I learned about self-care when I tested positive for Covid-19

In the last few days of March this year, my parents and I tested positive for Covid-19. My symptoms included a very sore throat and tiredness. My parents’ symptoms were more severe. Our doctor decided that it was best to admit my parents to a hospital so that they would have constant medical care. I self-quarantined alone at home. It was one of the most stressful weeks of my life.

I took time off work because I was not able to focus on anything. Thankfully, we all tested negative in a week. My parents were discharged and came back home, still weak but better. Over the past few weeks, they have improved enormously and are almost back to normal.

After my parents came back home, I felt pressured to revert my life to how it was before. I wanted to escape the hard times we had had by returning to easier times. I wanted to be able to do everything I could do before.

My thinking was that I had to practice self-care to restore my mental health. My usual self-care routines included exercise, dancing, bullet journaling, and skincare routines. I tried getting back into these routines but it did not exactly work out. I was frustrated because I was not physically able to dance as much as used to. I tried to start bullet journaling again but the colors and designs that once calmed me just stressed me out more. The only thing I could really do was watch my comfort TV shows over and over again.

The pressure I put on myself to practice self-care made it way harder to actually do it.

I voiced these frustrations to a friend, and she said something that made so much sense to me. She said that I was trying to run a marathon right after I dug my way out of a trench. I realized then that my thinking was counterproductive. I had been through a very tough time; it was only natural that it would take me more time to get over it. There was no point in pushing myself. I lowered my expectations after that phone call, and it did wonders for my mental health. I decided to stop journaling till I felt ready. I cut down the steps in my skincare routine to two basic ones. And I stopped feeling guilty about rewatching my favorite shows to make myself feel better.

Self-care is difficult when you are going through difficult times. Here are some lessons I learned from my experience:

1. Self-care can mean different things to different people

I thought I had to stay positive and get back to my hobbies. I was not able to do so, and that was okay. There was no point in pushing myself. It was okay for me to find comfort in low-energy activities like watching TV. There is no one way to practice self-care. Even for the same person, the methods that work change when in different situations.

2. It’s okay to take credit once in a while

I coordinated my parents’ hospital admissions and took care of myself physically while keeping our family and friends updated. It was tough, but I made it through, and that was something to celebrate. It took me weeks to understand that I was doing the best that I could, and that was enough. Sometimes, self-care means giving yourself a pat on the back.

3. Eventually I would get back into my hobbies

The difference is, I am not making myself do anything anymore. I used to try to journal every day, whether I felt like it or not. But the things you do for self-care are supposed to make you feel better, not stress you out. And it was okay for me to leave a hobby for some time and pick it up again later.

It is hard to practice self-care when you or your loved ones are sick. It is important to take care of yourself, but what that means is different for everyone. You know what works for you, and what works will change when circumstances change. If on a particular day, self-care looks like taking a walk instead of journaling, it’s okay to miss out on one journal entry.

I’m still working on it, but learning to cut myself some slack and diversify my definition of self-care has already helped with my mental health. Remember, self-care only works when it makes you feel good!

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Health News Coronavirus The World

The Covid-19 vaccine patent divide is yet another example of hinderance from the Global North countries

If there’s any word to describe COVID-19, it’s “unpredictable.”

It’s like a hydra; cut off one head and two more grow back. Every time researchers think they’ve got it figured out, we get new variants each with their own symptoms and varying severity. 

With the multiple vaccines having been created by different countries, there’s a small glimmer of hope for the world to break free from the hold this virus has on us, physically and mentally. 

Research indicates that the vaccines are 90% effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and one dose of a vaccine can halve transmission among people. While it’s easy to be hyper focused on the 10% chance that you could still fall sick, it’s quite literally the best shot at staying safe.

India is currently going through a horrible second wave of COVID-19, where the last recorded tally was 403,405 cases on the 8th of May. Various cities are experiencing a severe shortage of oxygen supplies and hospital beds, showing a harrowing picture of patients collapsing and even dying in the streets with their loved ones are helplessly looking for anything that could save them.

However, despite knowing the extent of what is happening in India and having the means to help, the US has placed a ban on the export of materials that could help Indian pharmaceuticals to create their own supply of vaccines. Denying India’s request to lift the ban, spokesperson Ned Price said that the “needs of the Americans should be looked at first.

So much for celebrating having a vice president with South Asian roots.

Maya Rudolph's Best Kamala Harris Sketches On SNL
[Image Description: a gif of Maya Rudolph playing Kamala Harris sipping on a drink while wearing sunglasses] Source: Buzzfeed
The ban and the US’ refusal to lift it had several people pointing out the disparaging patent divide for COVID-19 vaccine materials among countries all around the world, with particular reference to this map:

How the US can solve the global vaccine shortfall – Progressive Policy Institute
[Image Description: a world map that shows which countries support (coloured yellow), oppose (coloured pink), and are undecided (coloured blue) on the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials] Source: Progressive Policy Institute
Having the patent would allow the countries’ local drugmakers to manufacture vaccines for themselves, provided they have the materials. As you can see in this map, the countries that oppose the patent waiver are those who are part of the Global North (the richest and most industrialised countries in the world), including the US, Japan, Australia, and Europe. 

The countries that support the patent waiver are mostly countries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and parts of South America. Countries that are generally part of the Global South (normally known as the Third World countries).

What Is The Global South? - WorldAtlas
[Image Description: a graphic showing the Global North countries as a happy figure standing upright, and the Global South countries as a distressed figure hanging on] Source: World Atlas
Even China, which has developed its own vaccine Sinopharm, stands in support of the patent waver. The country has even stepped in to provide its vaccine rollout to India in its time of need.

Several people took to social media to point out this disparity between the privileged and the under-privileged.

This isn’t the first time the Global South has had to suffer the worst of an ongoing situation; the North has been known to continuously profit off of resources that the South has, while preventing any form of economic development to happen in the latter. In what is known as Dependency, the North keeps the South dependent on its finances and economic prowess while at the same time, keeping them from their own personal development. 

The scales will always be tipped in the North’s favour without ever achieving balance, and has been so long after the South was decolonised.

By obstructing the patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccine materials and banning their export, countries like the US are preventing countries like India from developing their own vaccines that would enable them to break free from their respective waves of the pandemic. 

Big Pharma has stated that they are doing this to prevent China and Russia (US’ global rivals) from exploiting platforms that could be used for other vaccines.

So basically, they’re saying lifting the ban could lead to more lives being saved. Mass recovery would mean the countries would no longer need US’ and other Global North countries’ support to get by. The US wouldn’t want that now, would it.

With the US, Japan, Australia and European countries moving up with their respective vaccine rollouts and gradually easing their lockdown restrictions, India and other countries in the global South are left in turmoil. At this rate, COVID-19 could become another disease that is ravaging Third World countries while the rest stay safe and vaccinated against it.

Disappointed but not surprised to see that hierarchy and profit triumph humanity when it comes to global health.


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Editor's Picks World News Coronavirus Action Guide South Asia The World

India is gasping for breath as the second Covid-19 wave hits the country

On the eve of 14th April 2021, in a small town in India, a very close family member of mine tested positive for COVID-19. The events that followed left a devastating scar on our family. Aged 67, my mom’s aunt kept fighting for her life till her last breath. As soon as she was tested positive, she needed to be admitted into the hospital, but there were no beds available across the city. It took one whole day to find a hospital bed in a government hospital. It took another day to find a bed with ventilator support.

On the morning of 18th April 2021, she passed away. Her daughter, also tested positive, was admitted in a private hospital on the opposite side of the city, completely unaware of her mother’s death. In between, her distressed husband was desperately trying to procure a dose of Remdesivir injection while tending to the needs of his family who were fighting for their life.

This is the story of countless Indians who are experiencing the devastating second wave of COVID-19. As of 28th April 2021, India is recording the highest number (379,308) of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases and the highest number (3645) of daily new confirmed COVID-19 deaths. There is a major shortage of oxygen supply and hospital beds. The healthcare system is coming to a collapse and the medical staff is being pushed to their limits. There is a sense of panic and extreme grief across India.

[Image description: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. ] via REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
[Image description: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. ] via REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
“I work in a private medical college and a 500 bed hospital. During the first wave, the hospital had allocated 250 beds (5 wards) to the COVID-19 patients. Now, the second wave has seen an influx of 300+ patients everyday. From 250 beds, our hospital has now dedicated all of the wards including 5 ICUs towards fighting COVID.” said Dr. Avijit Misra, a medical intern at Bharati Hospital and Medical College Pune when I spoke to him. “Government hospitals are also full. There is an increase in makeshift hospitals by the government which has helped a lot, but it is still not enough”, he added.

How did it become so bad?

The government of India had one year to prepare for a catastrophe like this. Ever since the start of the pandemic, the government was supposed to set up 150 oxygen plants but only started bidding for it after 8 months of delay. As of April, only 33 out of the 162 government-sanctioned oxygen plants are functioning.

Along with the shortage of oxygen supply, the transportation of the oxygen from the factories to the patients is a big hurdle that is contributing towards the crisis. India cannot ensure 24/7 road supply of oxygen due to the shortage of cryogenic oxygen tankers. The travel time for the transportation of the oxygen from the factories to the patients has increased from 3-5 business days to 6-8 business days, and the duration is much longer for the remote and rural parts of India.

This comes after a claim made by the National Executive of BJP (the ruling party) in February that the battle against Covid-19 has been triumphantly won. While praising the leadership, the party declared “with pride” that India has “not only defeated Covid-19 under the able, sensitive, committed and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, but also infused in all its citizens the confidence to build an ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat ‘(Self -reliant India)’.”

After the declaration, mass gatherings and crowd events became a normalcy. Events such as election rallies and religious events were sanctioned by the government. The rallies and the religious events were seen as an attempt by the ruling party to please and secure its vote bank, as their policy has historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions. The government led by PM Narendra Modi, has also been constantly downplaying the extent of the crisis and shutting down voices which have been instrumental in raising awareness and providing help to those affected.

[Image description: Amit Shah at an election rally] via Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
[Image description: Amit Shah at an election rally] via via Arun Sankar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The price is being paid by the common man

While patients are affected on one side, helpless relatives running around in search of hospital beds, oxygen cylinders, and medications are also being forced to put themselves at risk. Families are being admitted to the hospital together but not all of them are going back home healthy and recovered.

The medical costs are only increasing. A middle-class person cannot afford a bed in a private hospital. Those who can, are being charged Rs. 15 thousand – Rs. 20 thousand ($2011 – $2682) just for the bed. The injections, oxygen cylinders and medication prescribed by the doctors are also in short supply and are being sold at 10 times the price in black markets.

[Image description: Table showing the comparison of prices of COVID-19 medications and oxygen cylinders in India] via BBC
[Image description: Table showing the comparison of prices of COVID-19 medications and oxygen cylinders in India] via BBC
People coming from rural parts of India to bigger cities to get help are being turned back. Families are fighting in the hospitals for bed space. “Phrases such as ‘my patient is younger than yours. At least, give them a chance to live’ can be heard across India,” said Dr. Misra.

In the midst of this tragedy, it is easy to feel helpless right now, but there are ways in which we can help:

1. Amplify

The best thing you can do right now is to use your influence to amplify and share the SOS alerts from those in need on your socials. One share can help save a life.

Instagram accounts to follow that are spreading awareness and amplifying SOS alerts:


Websites & Google Docs:

2. Donate

There are a number of organizations that have come forward and directly purchased resources for the front-line workers, donated supplies, or helped amplify the needs of vulnerable patients. Here are a few:

Local Agencies:

  • Ketto (Mission Oxygen- Helping Hospitals Save Lives) – You can donate to their efforts directly on their website
  • Hemkunt Foundation – Oxygen Suppliers. Donate here 
  • Khalsa Aid – Donate here
  • Milaap – Individual crowdfunding website. Donate here
  • Youth Feed India x Helping Hands Charitable Trust – Food Packages. Donate here
  • Care India – PPE Kits. Donate here

International Agencies:

  • United Nations agencies (UNICEF and WHO). Donate here
  • American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin – Oxygen Machines. Donate here
  • Care India – PPE Kits. Donate here
  • The Association for India’s Development – Protective equipment and food packages. Donate here

As I look back, I think that my family members were among the luckier ones to have at least gotten a hospital bed and oxygen support. We don’t know when this calamity will end. The road to the finish line looks too far ahead. The battle against COVID-19 continues with our healthcare workers on the front line. We cannot be spectators anymore. We need to step in and help those in need. 

In retrospect, the second wave of COVID-19 did push India to become Atma Nirbhar

Science Now + Beyond

It’s time to do away with daylight saving time and here’s why

In March, many countries, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, bumped their clocks an hour ahead, effectively signaling the entrance into warmer weather. For most of my life, I remained ignorantly unaware of the concept of daylight saving until my teens. Having grown up in the tropics, imagine my befuddlement experiencing daylight saving for the first time when I arrived in Toronto, where I went to university. I couldn’t fathom what, exactly, was the point in meddling with clocks, when the only thing that changed was the amount of daylight received based on the shifting seasons (which were marginal at best, considering the extended months of Canadian winters).

The popular, oft-touted reason we commonly hear behind daylight saving time (DST) is that of energy conservation. Logically, having an extra hour of daylight means one hour less electrical usage for lighting. However, it turns out that DST is far more concerned with exploitation than conservation. To understand this, I peered into the history of when DST actually entered mainstream discourse leading to its eventual application.

There are many stories connected to its origins, but DST most likely had to do with the surge in railway trade in post-Industrial Revolution Britain. Operating a railway business necessitated the adoption of standard time to eliminate scheduling conflicts and delivery confusion since clocks in each city were still arbitrarily set according to the sun at the time. Not one to be outdone, its counterpart in the United States and Canada soon followed suit, dividing North America into four time zones to streamline services. It wasn’t until the campaign of British builder William Willett in the early 1900s that DST’s popularity was fanned among legislators, backed by the likes of Sherlock Holmes’ author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Winston Churchill, the then-president of the Board of Trade, despite facing opposition from scientists and farmers. 

Daylight Savings is far more concerned with exploitation than conservation.

Contrary to the myth you may have heard, DST was never introduced to aid farmers. In fact, the opposite was actually true. Farmers were frequently behind aggressive lobbies against DST as it interfered with their schedule. The loss of morning light hampered their routine of getting farm produce to the market, and livestock too did not cope well. So, an industry that actually relied on natural light and labor from the working class was forced to change in order to accommodate the advancement of production chains in more profitable sectors. 

In a consumption-driven economy, DST is inextricably linked to capitalistic impulses to institutionalize time for profit. 

But wait, it only gets messier from here. It’s bad enough that DST’s provenance can be traced to railway industrialization by colonialist forces upheld by a system of indentured labor and servitudesowing the seeds for anti-immigrant violence that we see todayimperial warfare became the primary reason for its adoption. Germany and Austria became the first nations to dally with one-hour clock shifts in 1916 during World War I to save wartime fuel, followed shortly by Great Britain and the U.S. when they entered a war that caused 40 million casualties. Thereafter the adoption of DST varied according to countries and localities, causing further mishaps. A major trainwreck in France happened due to confusion in clock change, and at one point, 23 different pairs of DST start and end dates in Iowa were recorded in a single year. Given the bloody history and inconvenience of bumping clocks, it is little wonder that more countries are scrapping it altogether, or considering its abolishment.

So who profits off of DST? Some of the largest beneficiaries include industries such as retail, oil and gas, and even golf. When you have more daylight after work, you’ll tend to spend more money on leisure. These businesses shrewdly saw this spending trend decades ago, and have since accrued tens of billions of dollars in sales. In a consumption-driven economy, DST is inextricably linked to capitalistic impulses to institutionalize time for profit. 

While these industries thrive, workers’ conditions across the world remain precarious, more so with the added strain of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many are being overworked and underpaid with no social safety net. The crisis has left women and lower-income groups vulnerable, furthering global inequality. The impact of DST time change on workers’ health is extensive and well-studied, leading to upticks in cardiovascular diseases, workplace injury, even pregnancy and childbirth complications due to sleep issues stemming from disruptions in circadian clocks. 

Certainly, we’d all have to gain more with an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Unfortunately, we live in a system that prioritizes maximizing profit from labor that cancels out our collective wellness, which is especially needed at the moment. A year into the pandemic, we’ve had enough of work and personal hours getting mixed up, virtual schooling, Zoom fatigue, and the unceasing demands for productivity to pretend as if all is well when we’re surrounded by death and illness daily. Our psychological time has been severely distorted by the pandemic. There is no need to exacerbate this confusion further with a time change that is detrimental to us when our experience of temporality has been warped by collective trauma. 

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Life Stories Life

Being creative doesn’t need to be performative or productive

My hesitance with being creative started with a set of simple words on my screen: “Now is the perfect time to write your book!” I encountered variations of these words on Twitter, against the scenic backdrop of a forest in an inspiration post on Instagram. They seemed to follow me everywhere I clicked. These words became a trickling of an inner voice in my head that demanded one thing: write a book. Write the book. 

At the time, we were all in our first few weeks of the world-wide lockdown. There was a wave of posts that encouraged people to look at the bright side of staying home. After all, we had the many privileges that came with being able to have our own spaces during this time. We didn’t have to share a common eating space with colleagues and we could work in our pajamas. It wasn’t all bad, right?

Not to mention, while we self-isolated and stayed inside, our schedules had significantly cleared up. These reminders and gentle pushes served as an incentive for us to sit down and do the things we said we’d do if we had more time. My current circumstance, if I would have let it, could have been inspirational. This was the time I had been waiting for, so why wasn’t I typing away? 

I imagined myself as an artist who was finally in their own element with nothing but time and energy to create. Cocooned away in blankets, frantically typing away at her next screenplay, she uses the time she would have spent commuting to work to instead perfect her craft. Or perhaps I’d relate more to a woman whose hands dance in the warm light streaming through the window. There are paint streaks on her cheeks and the coffee in her mug has gone cold.

Then, there is also the image of a struggling artist who perseveres against all odds. Their hand is shaking, but resolute, as they photograph minute details of their surrounding, working with what they have. This artist scrapes the barrel for their inspiration, regardless of the clamor outside. Fair. But we need to remind ourselves these are heavily romanticized ways of approaching creativity. 

Reading the pandemic was the perfect time to ‘write my book‘ made me feel discouraged. I felt bogged down. I was in mourning for the perfect end to my senior year that now would never be. Trapped in my room, I felt the need to escape. Writing allows me to delve deep into myself – something I could not have been bothered with before the pandemic hit. However, as any writer can tell you, it is an incredible feeling to share your work, but writing can be a terribly lonely and internal process.  

I wasn’t partaking in much leisure creativity in those early days. Even writing my college senior project, a creative fictional piece, felt like a chore. All my energy went into listening to the voices that streamed out of my laptop during the last of my online courses.

All I wanted to do was scoop out my mind and leave it in a warm tub to rest. I watched movies, listened to music, and chatted with my roommates, using up the energy I had left on reserve. I didn’t feel inspired to produce some great masterpiece. But I had all the time in the world to do it. Since I wasn’t going anywhere, why wasn’t I writing my book?

Weren’t the arts meant to be those places where we could escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

Over time, I felt myself spiraling. I didn’t have an idea of what I would write. I just felt like I had to make something productive out of my time. I genuinely felt I was going to disappoint myself either way, whether I chose to pick up my pen or not.

This is all sounding gloomy, but actually, there were times when I wanted to be creative. When I felt that sudden urge to set off and start working on a new piece of writing or pick up painting as a hobby. I knew when I started working I would feel good about it, but the benchmark had been set so high that I felt discouraged.

When I was packing up to move back home, I stumbled upon a product of my literary past. I had written up a small outline of a short story sometime in January. Immediately, I wanted to drop everything, move aside the boxes from my desk, and bring the story to life.

I had an epiphany- this mindset of creating perfect art was (and is) toxic. Creativity doesn’t have to be productive. Weren’t the arts meant to be an escape from capitalist expectations of labor and product?

I am not wasting my time even if nothing comes of the writing– I am perfecting a craft.

Art didn’t need to be performative either. It didn’t have to wear the fancy label of a ‘novel’ or perform for an audience. I didn’t need to parade around and place a glossy cover over the pages. Instead, I needed to give myself permission to not even have to finish whatever project was in my drafts. Ultimately, I must accept no creative pursuit is ever wasted. I am not wasting my time if nothing comes of the writing. Rather, I am perfecting a craft. As for talent, there is no wasting that unless I don’t use it. 

The sooner I realized I could follow my creative instincts without oppressive expectations, the sooner I felt creatively liberated. Whether it be through sporadically writing a scene of a story or picking up (and putting down) a paintbrush when I feel inclined, I shouldn’t have felt pressured to fully pursue my creative urges if I didn’t want to. I should be allowed to surrender to that flurry of excitement and passion to simply express myself. Then, when the passion was over, to let it go. Truly, I didn’t even have to show my creative work to anyone or look at it ever again. 

I am teaching myself creativity isn’t meant to always be translated into something productive. The funny thing is I often did return to those pieces and paintings and continued to work on them. But that was only possible when I didn’t feel the heavy benchmark of producing a bestseller or a museum-worthy mural on my shoulders.

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Health Science Now + Beyond

How scientific journalism caused, and healed, my hypochondria

TW: Discussion of mental health, cancer, illness.

Do I have cancer? Cancer symptoms? How do you know if you have cancer? As a sophomore in high school, I would Google questions like this day after day. I remember the anxiety rushing through my head, only worsened by the WebMD articles informing me that, yes, I did indeed have cancer. It took me a year to realize that I was wrong, but it was a long and stressful year.

At this point in my life, I wasn’t particularly educated on health or my body. I had taken health class in school, but we learned very little about our own bodies, and even when we did, it was vague and uninformative. In all five years of health class, we only learned about cancer once. My teacher told me that the primary signs were uneven lumps, unusual discharge, and wounds that won’t heal. At this point, I was convinced I had cancer.

Or so I thought I did. Totally ignorant about the functioning of my own body, I mistook my normal, healthy vaginal discharge for a clean sign of cancer. Once I took into account an odd (but benign) birthmark, a stubborn tonsil infection, and a few small cuts and bruises that wouldn’t go away, and I was certain that I had late-stage cancer. My stress over my apparent illness led to heart palpitations and migraines, which I took as signs that the cancer was spreading.

It probably sounds ridiculous. I agree that it does. It was only later, when I found out about hypochondriasis, that I understood what was happening to me.

To those who don’t know, hypochondriasis is a psychological disorder in which one develops chronic hypochondria. A person with hypochondriasis will assume that they are ill with a serious disease when they are not, and mistake any small ailment for a sign of a larger problem. Many people have experienced hypochondria, but for those of us with hypochondriasis, the anxiety is constant, chronic, and life-altering.

Anything can bring on a bout of hypochondria. For me, it was news articles about strange new diseases that could threaten one’s life or clickbait articles about sure signs of cancer. I’d find some way to match my own symptoms to the ones described, and subsequently spiral. It wasn’t an easy time.

However, I am proud to say that I eventually pulled through. Finally talking to my family about my symptoms helped me understand that my illnesses were normal and not life-threatening. When I eventually faced a serious illness earlier this year, my hypochondria all but disappeared. Once I understood what a serious illness felt like, nothing else could compare.

My hypochondria was a result of my health curriculum, “educational” health websites such as WebMD and “scientific” clickbait. However, science and medicine journalism also helped heal me. Whenever I’d have heartburn or a migraine, I’d calm myself down by reading about the actual mundane causes of these issues. I eventually came to realize that my “symptoms” were not at all symptoms of heart disease or cancer, but very common minor ailments.

Most of my health issues were stress-related, and once I realized this, I finally began to heal. I haven’t had a serious migraine or heart palpitations in a year now. I can thank my scientific research for this, but I can also thank my own strength. Understanding genuine medicine was a catalyst for me, but working on my mental health was just as important.

I still struggle with hypochondriasis, but I find myself improving every day. Mental illnesses don’t disappear overnight, but I’m learning to work through them and learn from them. In the midst of the pandemic, my lived experience is actually quite a blessing. Many of my friends and family members are now struggling with hypochondria themselves, and I’m able to help them work through their anxiety. It’s never easy, but I’ve found myself not only starting to heal, but also help heal others.

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