How reading taught me to be emotionally competent in life

I’ve always loved reading. While other children often got told off for being naughty, I often found myself being told off for ‘being away with the fairies’ as my Math teacher called it – simply put, I love books.

Reading is fun; you come across so many characters that you like and dislike and so many to relate to. Personally, I’ve always related to Matilda – a tiny human that wants to do nothing more than read and be the best version of herself. Even as I’ve grown older, I seek knowledge through books rather than the internet and if there is one thing reading has taught me, it is how to be emotionally competent. 

I read all types of literature; essays, novellas, poetry, short stories. Hand me anything with words and I’ll absorb it. Remember during English class where your teacher would tell you to find the deeper meaning of the crow in the background or the gloomy setting of the book? Everyone would groan in disbelief – “Miss, it’s just a crow.” And it’s true, it may very well be just a crow, but secretly, I enjoyed looking for the deeper meaning of the scenes and characters in the book. I found it helping me to develop my understanding of humans in general. 

I think what a lot of people forget is that when authors write, they write what they know so it is likely that the characters in the book are a mirror image of someone the authors know or used to know. That would mean that all the little traits that the characters have in a book suddenly make them a part of who they are. When we were reading The Kite Runner in class, I knew that the protagonist’s father’s thoughts on Islamic leaders were his own personal thoughts. I had seen an interview somewhere where Khaled Hosseini described his hatred for Islamic leaders as he had grown up watching Kabul fall down at the leader’s expense. The same thing happened when we were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Sebold drew from her experience as she wrote of Susie Salmon’s death. 

But it’s not just character emotions and insight that I’ve learned to pick up through reading; my friends will tell you that sometimes, I jolt when I walk past people because I can almost see their emotions. I didn’t have a social life growing up (story of every broody teen ever), but I am no longer a broody teen. I turned to books for comfort because of the lack of people in my life and somehow, I have ended up with the ability to feel other people’s emotions and their fluctuations. And I know I’m not the first person something like this has happened to. I have a friend who often calls herself emotionally inept – you could tell her the saddest story in the world and unfortunately, it will go in one ear and out the other. And that not to say that she’s not paying attention – she is. Her eyes zoom into your soul and everything in between. But she can’t comprehend emotions unless she is reading about them. 

I think that although the death of the book is on the rise, it is important to appreciate what a good book can do for a person; for a lonely person, it provided me with an endless variety of friends and a boost in confidence. For many other people, both children and adults, it provides entertainment and knowledge. It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a brief moment in time and just escape.

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Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Books Pop Culture

These enlightening poetry books will change your life

As an aspiring poet and avid reader, poetry books are what get me through everyday life. Words are my happy place and I cannot explain how helpful some of these books have been for my mental health. They each hold a very special place in my heart.

Here are some of my favorite contemporary poetry books.

1.  Your Soul is a River by Nikita Gill is both beautifully emotional and incredibly empowering.

Black book cover with stars in the background and the title, Your Soul Is A River, in gold.
[Image description: Black book cover with stars in the background and the title, Your Soul Is A River, in gold.] Via Amazon
Your Soul is a River is my all-time favorite. I adore Nikita Gill and her ability to use the weather and the infinite galaxy to make me feel things. She makes broken things and imperfect people sound so powerful. Whenever my depression is getting the best of me, I try and read a few of her poems to remind myself that I am more than what I sometimes feel like. This book has healing powers.

What people are saying: “Nikita Gill’s words are filled with understanding, courage, hope, loss, recovery, pain, healing, and love. Such an incredible collection of poems for everyone who’s going through rough times and think they’ll never make it. You can make it. You will make it.” – valreads

Price: $33.93

2. The magic that is Everything is Excruciating & Awkward in Doorways by Naveed Khan.

Black book cover with title, Everything is Excruciating, in white and red.
[Image description: Black book cover with title, Everything is Excruciating, in white and red.] Via Amazon
I love all of Naveed Khan’s poetry books. Honestly, the way he writes is magic; all of his books flow so beautifully and make me way more emotional than I would like to admit. But Everything is Excruciating & Awkward in Doorways, in particular, is special to me because it portrays mental health as a casual part of life.

Naveed writes about trauma and heartbreak in a way that is not romanticizing it but showing you that it does not define you. It was something that I really needed to read, and appreciated.

What people are saying: “Loved it.” – Aarti Nair

Price: $16.99

3. Nayyirah Waheed’s Salt addresses healing and embracing all the messy parts of yourself.

White book cover with title, salt, in black at the bottom.
[Image description: White book cover with title, salt, in black at the bottom.] Via Amazon
Salt is what made me fall in love with Nayyirah, but her book Nejma is equally as majestic. Nayyirah is endlessly talented and unafraid to put down raw feelings and turn them into art, and Salt does it by discussing heartbreak, colonization, and self-love

What people are saying: “Her work says what we’ve been thinking in the best, most beautiful way possible. My heart gushes over each page. She’s beautiful, clever, and encouraging.” – Renee McKenzie

Price: $22.50

4. teaching my mother how to give birth by Warsan Shire is a lot smaller than the others, but in no way is it less powerful.

Brown book cover with intricate art and title - teaching my mother how to give birth - in black.
[Image description: Brown book cover with intricate art and title – teaching my mother how to give birth – in black.] Via Amazon
It is intense, painful and brilliant. teaching my mother how to give birth explores many sensitive narratives such as immigration, loss, adultery, and womanhood.

As an immigrant of sorts, I can relate to many of the emotions although I do not claim to have felt things as strongly as her. It gives you short stories in the form of poetry and is just incredible to read.

What people are saying: “To understand yourself and where you are, you must first start at the beginning. This artist can take a situation and make it every woman’s story. If you are looking for a good read, read this. It could help you understand yourself or possibly someone else.” – smanson

Price: $7

5. Questions For Ada by Ijeoma Umebinyuo embodies all of the pain and loss of women everywhere.

Book cover with sunset background a silhouette of a woman's face surrounded by butterflies, the title, Questions for Ada, is in yellow.
[Image description: Book cover with sunset background a silhouette of a woman’s face surrounded by butterflies, the title, Questions for Ada, is in yellow.] Via Amazon
Questions For Ada for me is about womanhood and self-empowerment, using the pain and loss and turning it into something bewitching. It builds great respect for all the women who have got us to where we are in life. It explores sacrifices, diaspora, and harsh realities.

The poem that stood out for me is “First Generation”, an ode to all first generation immigrants that made me fall in love with Ijeoma Umebinyuo.

What people are saying: “I loved this book from beginning to end. As a twenty-something, Nigerian-American, I can really relate to a lot of the poems Ijeoma Umebinyuo used. I think a lot of women of color are able to relate as well because so many of us face the same issues growing up in one culture at home and another one outside of the home. Her literary talent had me completely enthralled from beginning to end. I plan on buying this for all of my sisters.” – HELEN

Price: $11.99

6. Heterogeneous by Anthony Anaxagorou is simply revolutionary.

Black book cover with white and black shadowed pattern and the title, Heterogenous, in white.
[Image description: Black book cover with white and black shadowed pattern and the title, Heterogenous, in white.] Via Amazon
Anthony Anaxagorou is one of my favorite poets in existence.

He is better known for his spoken word and seriously if you haven’t heard of him – YouTube him. It will change your life. Anthony has a way with words that is so eloquent that it is almost inhuman. I have yet to find someone contemporary who his work can be compared to.

Heterogeneous is a stunning collection of poems that tackle a range of important issues in this day and age.

What people are saying: “Saw him live and he blew my mind. If you can, get his book. Even better, of course, is to see him perform his pieces live.” – Illi Syaznie

Price: $12.76

7. Key Ballah’s Preparing my Daughter for Rain reminds me of conversations I had with my older sister about love and the world.

White book cover with a photograph of a mum and young child, the title, Preparing My Daughter For Rain, is in black.
[Image description: White book cover with a photograph of a mum and young child, the title, Preparing My Daughter For Rain, is in black.] Via Amazon
Preparing my Daughter for Rain is a collection of stories and lessons to teach future daughters, and is written in the form of poetry. If I could describe the way this book makes me feel in one word, it would be calm. Key Ballah discusses so many important issues but everything is written with a touch of self-love. It is an important book that I hope to pass onto my daughters, should I ever have any.

What people are saying: “Kay Ballah’s words are more of a fight song, born from pain, struggle and experience, all of which are described with unparalleled beauty and rawness. She writes to the daughter inside each of us.” – gloombunny

Price: $17

8. This Is How You Survive by Lana Rafaela Cindric is an emotional rollercoaster.

A turquoise cover features a pink-purple-blue circle with the title, This Is How You Survive, on it.
[Image description: A turquoise cover features a pink-purple-blue circle with the title, This Is How You Survive, on it.] Via Amazon
This beautiful collection depicts the gritty, resilient sides of ourselves when having to deal with a world that isn’t always going to be kind to you. These poems range from soft and soothing to tough and breathtaking – every single one makes me feel a different emotion that I never want to stop feeling.

Lana Cindric is one of the most talented poets of our times and I cannot wait to see what more she produces.

What people are saying: “I wanna be this book when I grow up. The poetry in this book is so alive it’s like it’s breathing with you. I’ve found so much inspiration about life and living in these pages.” – Jill V Abernathy 

Price: $4.94+

9. Samihah Pargas’ Early Mourning Hours is fifty shades of emotional pain.

The book, Early Mourning Hours, features a pale yellow, abstract cover with an orange sun and bluish-green ocean waves.
[Image description: The book, Early Mourning Hours, features a pale yellow, abstract cover with an orange sun and bluish-green ocean waves.] Via Amazon
Have you ever had to grieve a love? The ending of something that you thought would last forever?

Because I have, and one of the things that provided me solace was in the pages of Early Mourning Hours. It is an emotional book which portrays heartbreak, finding yourself, and having faith in God in a way that really leaves you speechless. Many a time, the words were so raw that I couldn’t keep reading through my tears.

But it was worth it because everything I felt, I saw reflected back at me through these words. It is a special sort of talent to make the reader feel as though you are rummaging around in their brain.

What people are saying: “Thoughtful, self-aware sentence poems reflecting mainly on the author’s emotional pain as she moves into adulthood. Somewhat reminiscent of Rupi Kaur, perhaps because the writer is also a young woman. However, Samihah Pargas has very much her own voice, which I’m sure will strengthen over time.” – CE Dawson

Price: $11.11

10. If They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar is going to be studied in schools one day.

A purplish-gray book featuring three brown women sitting cross-legged in their cultural clothing. Flowers bloom behind them and above them is the title: If They Come For Us.
[Image description: A purplish-gray book featuring three brown women sitting cross-legged in their cultural clothing. Flowers bloom behind them and above them is the title: If They Come For Us.] Via Amazon
I mean, this cover is a stunning enough reason to buy this book.

Fatimah Ashgar explores important issues of being a Muslim woman, the partition, grief and so so much more. Through her own unique lens, Fatimah allows you into her life and I cannot thank her enough for this honor. This collection goes through a variety of emotions, some which you connect to and others, which you feel just as intensely.

What people are saying: “A debut poetry collection that looks into what it’s like to be a Pakistani Muslim woman in America. Filled with anger, joy, confusion and love.  For such a short book, it packs a wallop.” – Amber Garabrandt

Price: $6.32

It was painful to write this because to narrow down my favorite poetry books to 10 felt like a betrayal to all the other amazing works out there. Have you read any of the poetry books above? Do you agree or have I missed a crucial book out?

Love + Sex Love Life Stories

The first time I had sex, I wasn’t a virgin

the first time i had sex, it was four am.

he woke me with a squeeze,
a hug with meaning.

Please. Let me fuck you.



wave of obligation.

anxious ripping, adjustments.
toppled on top.
pulled my legs just so.

Hold them there.

consent is sexy

grapple for a pillow, cover my face with it.

Keep your legs where I put them.

muscles straining.

in. out.


internal mutters.

consent is sexy

soft whimpers from the pillow i bite into.

Keep it down.

pleasure? in a way i have never felt.

do i like this? do i want this now?


pins me down.
pushes harder.

Goddammit, keep your legs still.


legs twitching.
positions I never had to hold.
internal confusion.

It feels good, right? Tell me you like it.


laying on the sheets,
arms grasping for something
head turned away,
covered by the pillow.



eyes closed.
heavy panting.
more thrusting.
my body has shut down.

shift my legs.

i don’t want this.


consent is sexy,

this isn’t sex.

the first time i had sex,
wasn’t sex.

it wasn’t rape,

i don’t blame myself,
i didn’t want him yet wanted it over with.
– the stigma.
i didnt blame him.
not at that time.

it was rape,

because even though i said yes at first,
i didn’t know what i wanted.
because he continued when i vocalized opposition.

it wasn’t rape,

because i had told him the night before that i wanted it,
– he just didn’t know i didn’t want it with him

it was rape.

he was horny.
i was half asleep.
but he was horny. and I was half asleep.

consent is sexy, and that wasn’t consent.

the first time i had sex, i have never been happier.


i trusted him.
he admired me
my brain
my experiences
my body.


there was something.
an emotional connection.
a sense of respect.


we spoke about it before.

in the middle of kissing, he felt me tense up.
lay next to me
held me,
talked to me,
asked me to be open.

I shared with him my previous.
he was quiet, listening.

That was rape.
Have you talked about it before?

he cared.

continuously reinforced my intelligence.
told me I was smart.
that I was going to be someone. successful.
he was captivated by me.
treated my body like a fortress.
made me want in ways i never knew.

i was always told that sex was something different.

life changing.
that after sex, i would never be the same.
to save myself,
to bleed for the one.

emotional connections, they were shameful to me.
why would i want to be into anyone?
my body would shut down without my knowing it.

sleeping with someone, it was a way

to claim myself as an individual –
not one controlled by society.
to find my agency,
the one i found constantly stripped from me,

to combat the subconscious claims that affected me
the ones that made me shut down.

the first time i had sex, it was consensual.

we were both awake,

the first time I had sex, it didn’t hurt.

because sex doesn’t have to hurt.
because the hymen doesn’t actually break.
because the woman isn’t always supposed to bleed.
because i have never been so turned on before.
because sex is the consensual turning on of both.

the first time i had sex, it didn’t hurt.

because i had thought about it beforehand.
because i trusted him.
because i was ready.
because we both wanted each other.

the first time i had sex, i wasn’t a virgin.

because virginity is one of many ways society controls me.
to tell me my worth.
to assume that i am pure.

the first time i had sex wasn’t magical.

there was no romantic dinner.
there was no slow tuned music playing in my head.
it was not seamless, flawless, magical.
it was human.

i remember one time.

we were cuddling, and it hit me.
this was doomed.
all my life I avoided this: feelings.physicality.caring.
what was the point of feeling something for someone that couldn’t be?


we care for each other, trust each other with parts of ourselves even we ourselves cannot fully grasp.
different walks of life, yet a thread of similarities and a mutual respect and trust.
i have never felt so at ease with myself, with who i am, who i want to be.
we care for each other, trust each other.
yet, we are not enough to be more.

i had sex because i wanted it.

i trusted him and wanted it with him.
and so i did.

and it felt so good.

Gender & Identity Life

Survival in a time of trauma

When I think about the ways our bodies carry trauma, the ways we have survived, I am filled with love. I think of my aunt Aziza in Mogadishu who says even making tea is saving ourselves from war. It’s a warm, brown kind of healing. Does the tea help with the loneliness? With the hurt? She says that black pepper in tea burns all of the sorrow that makes a home in the throat.

Children, particularly daughters, carry a lot of generational hurt. And when this hurt is added to the daily traumas we endure, we become bodies of passed-down sorrow and sadness. We think that this sadness will swallow the entire room. We try to make it more manageable, smaller. We try to hide it. We say “No, no, I’m fine, I’m good,” even when the sadness arrives, threatening to take us under.

The reasons for this grief are never clear. It’s never so blatant, never so willing to reveal itself. And sometimes the body hides these reasons, in the curls of our hair, between fingers, under nails because to unearth where the grief is is to begin healing. Healing is painful – it threatens what we’ve known to be true, it threatens life, it disrupts & interrupts.

I often wonder about how much room we actually have to sit and contemplate our sorrow when we aren’t busy trying to survive. Mother says the day is short and grief can only be hot for so long. I ask her how much silence is sorrow. She says it’s painful to find where it hurts. Our entire house is left searching in dark alleys for what we’ve never seen.

We force the body to take on strength & this pretense harms us too. We are accused of strength even in spaces we call our own – our homes, in the arms of those who know our closest heart. We feign strength in dangerous ways, moulding the body into things it is not. Where did we learn to forget what made the body?

We speak to the ocean too, wondering how much of mother is in the water. I think about my mother’s mother Halima, god rest her soul, who spoke to the ocean in whispers: dotting herself around the Tanzanian coast throughout her life. Perhaps this feeling I have of my lungs being full of water comes from there. We’ll ask the ocean if Dar es Salaam still remembers us.

But usually, we want to ask about the bodies under the sea. I spoke to the ocean the night before last and I wanted to say: the red is showing in your blue. I wanted to say: it is exhausting to have to find the body over and over again. Sometimes, you do not even have the courtesy to return the bodies & we are left mourning air and tinted names. Do you not know of mercy? Have you not been taught? Grown waters like you should know better than to swallow others whole like that.

And we survive, we do, but the sadness has a different face every time: white hands cocked last week, red alarming eyes today. How does sadness keep finding the new body, the body that you carved for yourself out of  loss and loss and loss?

It took a long while before I was able to see that our truest existence doesn’t have to happen outside of sadness – it can happen in sadness, around sadness, in front of sadness.