Food & Drinks Life

You must know these tea traditions from around the world

Some will say, drinking tea isn’t a habit; it’s more of a lifestyle. And they’re right. Waking up in the morning and soaking tea leaves in a hot cup of water (or milk) for the right time can be a truly soothing experience. The taste of tea on your lips feels fresh, light, and fragrant – as though it’s a sign for a great day ahead.

Truthfully, tea isn’t just a drink as creating the right cup of tea is more of an art. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a tea addict myself.

Now that fall is here, people’s hearts and social media feeds will be filled with a variety of drinks like pumpkin spice lattes and caramel coffees. Hence it’s time for us tea lovers to impress the coffee lovers by immersing ourselves in a variety of tea traditions from around the world. 

1. Chai of India

A cup of chai.
[Image description: a cup of chai] via Unsplash: Benjie Delmonte
As an Indian myself, I was exposed to tea before coffee from a very young age, whether it was Darjeeling or Assamese. India is the world’s largest producer of tea, and having a cup of black tea is a ritual for us. If you want to experience tea the Indian way, get a cup of black tea and pour some milk, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves into it. Don’t forget to strain it, and you’ll have yourself the perfect, comforting cup of chai.

Try this masala tea recipe.

2. Chanoyu tea ceremony of Japan

Japanese tea ceremony
[Image description: Japanese tea ceremony with cups lined by each other] via Unsplash: ORIENTO
If you’re a tea lover, you must have tried matcha: the frothy, green tea with a distinct taste. Japan has an elaborate ceremony to match the heavenly experience, that being the art of drinking matcha tea in a traditional Japanese tearoom in a quiet, and familial atmosphere. Make sure you store your matcha powder in a Natsume and follow the full procedure for a complete experience this fall.

3. Cha-yen of Thailand

A glass of cha-yen.
[Image description: a glass of Thai iced tea] via Unsplash: Tomas Jasovsky
The cha-yen or the iced tea of Thailand is one of my absolute favorites! To make this, condensed milk is added to black Ceylon tea, which is then poured over ice (yum!). If you feel like adding a touch more flair to this popular Thai drink, you can add cardamom, cinnamon, or orange blossoms as well.

Follow this recipe to create some for yourself.

4. Afternoon tea of Britain

A cup of tea, a teapot and sugar.
[Image description: British afternoon tea in teacups on a table mat] via Unsplash: Miruna Cont
This is perhaps something most of us are already familiar with. British culture is especially fond of tea (go #teateam!). In Britain, tea is usually strong broken-leaf black tea and is generally a mixture of Ceylon and African teas. British afternoon tea is generally prepared in five steps: warming the teapot with boiling water, adding one teaspoon per person and one for the pot, pouring hot water on the tea leaves, brewing for three to five minutes, and then stirring once.

Follow this for a step-by-step recipe.

5. Cha-Dao of China

Cha-Dao ceremony.
[Image description: tea is being poured into a cup] via Unsplash: Sergey Norkov
Getting a taste of ALL the Chinese styles of tea is surely going to take you on a ride. Cha-Dao is literally translated to “the way of tea,” which itself explains the cultural connection and tradition of having tea in China. Cha-Dao is the integration of the drink as a tradition, passed down from masters to pupils. For the ceremony, sustainably produced organic loose-leaf tea like white, green, red, oolong, black, or pu-erh tea is preferred.

Springwater is desirable to produce the perfect cup, along with a quiet place (with no distraction) where you would be able to fully concentrate. Click here to get a detailed guideline.

6. Touareg tea of Morocco

A picture of Moroccan mint tea.
[Image description: an assortment of Touareg tea, sweets, and nuts] via Unsplash
This tea is another favorite of mine. Moroccan mint tea or Touareg is made with green tea, and mint leaves. An essence of mint lingers even when the tea is long gone. As a part of the culture, one must drink three cups (don’t worry, they come in small glasses) in a row as a sign of gratitude. Usually, the tea is very hot and sweet and served with sweets or nuts.

7. Zavarka and Samovar of Russia

An image of samovar and two cups.
[Image description: a samovar and teacups on a table] via Unsplash
Russian tea is known as zavarka, which is a strong tea concentrate. This is usually kept in the samovar: a tall, heated metal container with a spigot. Bonnie Morales, the owner of Kachka, a Russian restaurant in Portland, Oregon, says, “The samovar is the centerpiece of the Russian table. Everyone has one.” This samovar is filled with water. When the water boils, zavarka is created by pouring some of the water into a smaller tea compartment.

To prepare this drink, zavarka is served and those present serve themselves their desired amount of boiling water to the zavarka to create their perfect cup of tea. Perfection.

“Tea time is a chance to slow down, pull back and appreciate our surroundings,” says former American etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige. It’s true, creating the right cup of tea allows you to take a step back and let go of the weight on your shoulders.

This fall, whether it be with yourself or with those closest to you, enjoy a cup of tea that either connects you to your roots or helps you learn of another’s culture. I promise you won’t regret it!

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History Historical Badasses

This gynecologist was Auschwitz’s only salvation

Editor’s note: The content below might be graphic and disturbing.

From a young age, Gisella Perl lived on a different path. Born in Sighet, Hungary, Perl was the only woman and Jew graduate of her secondary school class before later traveling to Berlin to study medicine, where Jewish medical practice thrived before World War II. Returning to Hungary, she became a doctor alongside her husband, Ephraim Krauss. Together, they had a son and daughter, Gabriella, who would be torn from her in 1944 when the family was sent to the Siget Ghetto. Later, Perl was stuffed into a windowless cattle train bound to Auschwitz. 

In Auschwitz, she was one of several doctors under the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi physician and captain who was known in the camp as the “Angel of Death”. If a prisoner was sent to Mengele because they were sick, weak, or for any other reason, they never came back. Mengele was known for gruesome human experimentation. At first, Perl had the standard duties of bandaging wounds and treating broken ribs. Over time, her work became harrowing, both physically and mentally.

Dr. Mengele had ordered Dr. Perl to inform him of any pregnant women in the camp so that they would be sent to another camp for “better nutrition”. However, Dr. Perl quickly realized that there was no separate camp for pregnant women and that they were being used as research subjects. Eventually, these pregnant women would be thrown into the crematorium, sometimes alive. After that, Dr. Perl decided to ensure that no women would become pregnant ever again in Auschwitz. In a 1982 interview with The New York Times, Perl said “The greatest crime in Auschwitz was to be pregnant.”

Rape and violence ran rampant in Auschwitz, despite Nazi taboos surrounding sex with Jewish women. Sex was often used as a commodity by women to trade for essential goods within the camp. Dr. Perl recalled being raped by a male prisoner in exchange for shoelaces, which she needed to walk to the hospital every day. This is how most women found themselves pregnant in Auschwitz, which was a death sentence.

After learning of a pregnant prisoner, Dr. Perl would explain the consequences of pregnancy to the expectant mother. If the mother consented, Dr. Perl would quietly perform an abortion to terminate the pregnancy in the middle of the night in the barracks. These abortions were performed without medical tools, anesthesia, antibiotics, or bandages. In the rare cases that a woman gave birth, Dr. Perl would silently take the newborn’s breath away to save the mother’s life. Aside from her surgeries on pregnant women, she would also treat women’s laceration wounds from S.S. whips, rashes, and sexual infections.

Eventually, Dr.Perl was moved to a different concentration camp, which was later liberated by the British. For another month, she remained behind at the camp to treat the sick and dying. After that, for 19 days she walked on foot across Germany in search of her family. Her husband and son died soon after they were taken to the concentration camp in 1944, but her daughter, Gabriella, had survived the war while being hidden by a Protestant family. It wasn’t until 1978 that Perl would reunite with her daughter and move to Herzliya, Israel to live with her. But before that, at the recommendation of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr.Perl specialized in infertility at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan after meeting First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and eventually being granted special U.S. citizenship by President Harry Truman.

Perl never forgot the horrific experience of having to kill babies in Auschwitz in order to save the mothers. Every time she walked into a delivery room, she would say the same prayer: “God, you owe me a life, a living baby.” God answered her prayers, and she delivered over 3,000 healthy babies. 

In 1948, her memoir I Was A Doctor in Auschwitz was one of the first books to detail sexual violence in concentration camps. Throughout her career, she also co-authored nine academic papers on women’s and children’s health. 

As an aspiring gynecologist, I aim to walk in the footsteps of Dr. Perl, a woman who continuously risked her life to save others. Each time she held a newborn in her arms, memories of Auschwitz probably haunted her…and gave her the resilience to continue to deliver babies. Today, healthcare workers on the frontlines remain society’s greatest heroes, and it was people like Dr. Gisella Perl who paved the way for good in a world of hopelessness that we have to thank. 


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No, I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding and you can’t make me

We often talk about how the hijab is viewed negatively in the Western world. But I don’t think that many people realize that discrimination against the hijab doesn’t only happen in western society. In my experience, it also occurs in my home country, Pakistan, and my own family members are a part of the problem.

My sister and I started wearing the hijab when we were 15 and 13, respectively. For us, it seemed like a natural choice since we’d spent most of our childhood in Saudi Arabia, where the hijab was mandatory. When our family in Pakistan found out we still wore the hijab after moving to Canada in our teen years, they were ecstatic. They thought it was wonderful that we chose this for ourselves and praised us for making seemingly religious choices. 

But that all changed when my sister turned 20 and someone tried to propose to her. Our mother rejected the engagement and it sparked a debate within our entire family. Most of them believed that more proposals would come her way if my sister took off her hijab. I still remember my mother arguing with our aunt who said that hijabs are only meant to look good on girls who are “white, thin, and pretty.” She thought that I was too dark and my sister was too fat, so we were ruining our prospects by sticking to our hijabs.

The worst part about all of this is that my aunt wasn’t entirely wrong. The hijab didn’t make men jump at the chance to marry us. Due to pressure from extended family members, my mother was constantly on the lookout for potential matches for my sister. But every guy who approached would run away just as fast once he heard that she wouldn’t be taking her hijab off for him. 

After a while, my sister did it. She found a guy who seemed accepting of who she was and agreed to marry him after a year. Suddenly, the tune the family was singing changed, but not for the better. Everyone asked if she’d be taking her hijab off for the wedding and discussing how beautiful she would look in this or that hairdo. They tried to talk my mother into making my sister buy lehengas, which would show off her midriff and arms. This completely goes against the very purpose of wearing a hijab.

To reach a compromise with my family, I nominated myself as my sister’s makeup artist and hairstylist for the wedding day and began experimenting with different hijab styles. We naively thought that if we could show them that the hijab could be dolled up, they would accept her decision. They did not. In the end, when the engagement was broken off, they simply returned to their earlier comments about taking off the hijab to score a husband.

The sheer amount of criticism that came with all this has my sister unsure about whether she ever wants to have a wedding, let alone one in Pakistan with our family. It hurt to watch my sister try and deal with the harsh judgment and then come to realize that her opinions hold no value in our community. It hurts more to think that other Pakistani brides might have to put up with the same level of harassment all over one headscarf

My sister was always much more staunch in her love of the hijab. Truth be told, I started wearing it on the condition that it would be pink and glittery. If you asked me just two years back, I might have given in to the family pressure and agreed to take off my hijab for my wedding.

Yet, knowing the struggle and judgment that comes with making a choice has given me an appreciation for the fact that it was a choice. However petty my reason is, it is my choice to put on the hijab, and I will be damned if I let someone else try to make decisions about my body and my attire for that one day in my life.

Now I can say with confidence that I will not be taking my hijab off for my wedding.

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History Historical Badasses

Remembering Fatima Jinnah, the Mother of the Pakistani nation

Muhammad Ali Jinnah is celebrated as the founder of the Pakistani nation. Yet his sister, Fatima Jinnah, who served as a pillar of support for him, never got married and abandoned her medical profession to assist his political endeavors, remains obscured by his magnanimous legacy.

She was born in 1893. The epoch in which Fatima Jinnah was raised (colonial British India) was largely male-dominated, with fewer women belonging to the upper echelons of the professional and political world. In such a world, Jinnah heralded a new dawn for women.

She was an inspiring woman who was known for her power, perseverance, resilience, and fortitude—stuff that legends are made of. She received an excellent early education, which was rare for a woman during her time. This helped her eventually secure a position in a competitive medical college, Dr. Ahmad Dental College in Calcutta. She established herself professionally by running her own dental clinic in Bombay. She was financially independent and self-sufficient—the epitome of modern-day empowerment.

The years leading up to the birth of Pakistan in 1947, paralleled Fatima Jinnah’s transformation from a dental surgeon to a political figure, shadowing her brother. Choosing to not get married, she abandoned her profession and continued to manage the domestic front of the Jinnah household for 28 years. However, it would be a great disservice to restrict her contribution to the domestic sphere. When her brother embarked on his political journey and coped with widowerhood, she became her brother’s chief political confidante. Once Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, told ADC Ahsan “nobody had faith in me; everyone thought I was mad except Miss Jinnah.”

She accompanied him on numerous political tours. In 1932, she attended the Second Round Table Conference with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She also became a part of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League and held that position until 1947. In March 1940, she was present at the Lahore session of the Muslim League (the political party led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah), where she stood in favor of democracy. By this time, she was convinced that the Hindus would continue to practice dominance over Muslims, and the latter would have to wallow in poverty, oppression, and subjugation till the end. Because of her belief, she helped in organizing the All India Muslim Women Students Federation in Delhi in 1941.

After her brother passed away in September 1948, she assumed the role of taking his legacy forward and ran for the presidency of Pakistan as a candidate for the Combined Opposition Party of Pakistan (COPP) in 1960. Her opponent was Ayub Khan, whom she openly proclaimed to be a dictator. Her political campaigns attracted massive crowds, swarming all over Dhaka and Chittagong. Later, she famously came to be known as Madr-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation).

In 1965, she contested elections at the age of 71. She stood against Khan—the dictator and self-installed president of Pakistan. Khan’s victory was inevitable. He exercised complete power over the governmental apparatuses of the country and drew legislation over electoral matters as the head of the state. He lumped together with the discontented, yet equally fundamental aspects of the social spectrum in the country to his favor, and drew support from the ulema (Muslim scholars), bureaucrats, students, and journalists.

When the elections were finally held, Jinnah suffered a defeat, leaving the populace in disbelief. Some even claimed that Khan dabbled in filthy election tactics such as rigging, coercion, and manipulation. They believed Jinnah’s defeat was impossible and advocated her rightful and democratic claim to leadership.

Jinnah died on July 9th, 1967 under mysterious circumstances. The cause of her death continues to be ambiguous to this date; with interpretations ranging from political assassination to natural death.

She made enormous contributions to Pakistan’s political history. Yet in the historical archives, her existence is obscured by her brother’s dominant presence. Muhammad Ali Jinnah is revered in Pakistan as the man who outfoxed his political opponents and stood up to the British. The mantle of attention conveniently falls on him, while Fatima’s own political and personal participation in nursing the nascent country goes unappreciated.

Jinnah fought for all Muslim women—for equality, for their economic independence and liberation, and for their political empowerment. She became a symbol of hope for Muslim women.

She will always be remembered in the yellow, parched, and frail pages of history.

For more awesome history facts, follow our brand-new history Instagram account. 

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Career Now + Beyond

Just because I teach children does not mean I have maternal instincts

While I have never thought of myself to be particularly maternal, I find it relatively easier to work with children. This is why I have increasingly considered exploring a career in teaching. However, this may come with a cost. In an interaction with a distant relative, I expressed my interest in pursuing teaching as a career and simultaneously not wanting children of my own. What followed next was an inexhaustible lecture on how having children is one of the greatest pleasures of life. I tried to explain how I do not picture myself as a mother in the future. According to them, however, I might have the instincts in me somewhere because nothing else can explain my desire for teaching. On the contrary, I think that teaching as a profession would provide me with a sense of fulfilment that is separate from my parental choices.

It is often inherently assumed that most women want children of their own at some point in their lives. In recent years, there has been a growing conversation about normalizing women not wanting children of their own due to various reasons. Many women choose to prioritize their careers instead of starting a family. More often than not, these women are still interrogated and counseled on the importance of having children. Ever since I began teaching, I have been questioned by various colleagues and friends about having changed my opinions on having children. I, however, do not feel that teaching has affected my maternal instincts. 

Teaching is often perceived as a gendered occupation. Whilst this has changed in recent years with more men entering teaching, it still remains largely female-dominated. According to author Bryan J. Nelson lack of male teachers is mainly because “working with children is seen as a woman’s work, men are not nurturing and something must be wrong with them if they choose to work with children.” Nelson explained that there is also the existence of a fear that men are more likely to harm or abuse children compared to women. It is difficult to determine whether or not men are more likely to be abusive than women in teaching, however, these stereotypical notions have undoubtedly added to the gender gap in the profession.

There seems to be a preconceived notion that all teachers would want to have children of their own. Even if they initially begin their careers with not wanting children, after spending an ample amount of time with kids it is assumed that they would eventually embrace motherhood. I, however, wish to challenge this view. As a teacher myself, I have never felt the desire to have children of my own even after spending long hours working with them.

I began teaching in my early teens and since then I have periodically taken on teaching/tutoring jobs. In all my jobs thus far, I have found teaching to be the most gratifying and a career that I see a future in. However, not once have I felt the desire to have children of my own. People may assume that this will change once I get married but I have also spoken to teachers who are married and would not like to have children of their own. Some teachers have also said that they would not have had children of their own had they began their careers before having children.

People find it difficult to dissociate one’s career choices from their life choices.

People often say that ‘childless teachers cannot truly understand children’. This statement automatically implies that women without children may not have maternal instincts. Maternal instinct, however, is largely a myth. It comes from deep love, devotion, intense closeness, and time spent thinking about the child. And is not limited to just mothers. Psychotherapist Dana Dorfman agrees that many aspects of maternal instincts are a myth. It is not necessary to be a mother to understand and care for children. Understanding and care come from observation and experiences. Many people land in jobs that they have had no prior experience in, however, with time they learn and excel at their job. So, why are teachers subjected to this form of generalization?

The idea that being a teacher affects one’s maternal instincts or vice versa is largely misogynistic as it exposes the underlying trend of women being incomplete without children. In the case of teachers, it becomes rather problematic because people find it difficult to dissociate one’s career choices from their life choices.

Globally women have gained greater autonomy to choose their careers and overcome misogynistic trends prevalent in societies. Choosing teaching as a career option and simultaneously not wanting children is largely questioned and viewed skeptically. So much so that people often go to extreme lengths to explain to me that working with children will lead to me changing my mind sooner rather than later. However, that is yet to happen.

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Surviving the Holidays Food & Drinks Life

These are my favorite winter warmers to tuck into this season

Feeling festive and up for more holiday content? Check out our holiday series.

As much as I love the summer, there’s something about winter that holds fond memories for me – the crisp fresh air waking you up in the mornings, snowfall, families coming together, drinking hot beverages by an open fireplace, cozying up in a blanket watching a film or reading a book, and of course, the lead up to Christmas and the New Year. The lights, markets, parties, the buzz you feel when you go shopping, the merry atmosphere….I know, it’s not going to be the same this year, but we’ll all be finding ways to enjoy the festive period whilst staying safe!

It’s also the best time of the year to tuck into some delicious comfort foods. Sure, you can have these foods any time of year, but it feels all the more satisfying when you have them in winter. Here are my favorite winter warmers.

Chunky Soups

Vegan chickpea soup in a blue ceramic bowl
[Image Description: Vegan chickpea soup in a blue ceramic bowl] Via Dan Counsell on Unsplash
When it’s cold and you’re looking for something easy to rustle up to warm you through, that’s when soup becomes the perfect choice. I prefer having chunky soups as they’re more filling – whether it’s adding vegetables, chicken, chickpeas, beans or croutons for some crunch, you can never run out of options when it comes to experimenting with different ingredients to create your perfect soup.

Jacket Potatoes

Jacket Potato on a plate with a smoked fish melt filling, knife and fork are on the plate
[Image Description: Jacket Potato on a plate with a smoked fish melt filling, knife and fork are on the plate.] Via BBC Food.
Jacket Potatoes are the perfect dinner choice for winter – the combination of the crispy skin and light, velvety middle makes this a delicious dish. I tend to fill them up with bean chilli, tuna, garlic mushrooms, grated cheese and beans (not altogether!). As jacket potatoes are versatile, there are so many recipe fillings to try out. I’m sure I’ll be trying out a few different fillings in cafes after the lockdown’s been lifted in England!

Fish Pie

Fish pie with a mash potato topping and haddock, prawns and cod filling
[Image Description: Fish pie with a mash potato topping and haddock, prawns and cod filling] Via BBC Food
A fish baked pie with a mash potato topping is the ultimate dinner comfort food. The mash topping (if it has cheese, then even better) coupled with creamy sauce and fish chunks warms me up instantly as soon as I take the first bite. Definitely one of my drool-worthy favorite winter warmers!

Pasta Bake

Vegetable pasta bake in a tray with a towel underneath, next to a serving spoon
[Image Description: Vegetable pasta bake in a tray with a towel underneath, next to a serving spoon.] Via BBC Food.
Pasta bakes are the ultimate comfort food and a crowd-pleaser. I mean, who doesn’t love pasta?! There are so many varieties to try – tuna pasta bake, macaroni cheese, lasagne. Top it off with melted cheese (yes, I’m obsessed with cheese) and you’re onto a winner!

Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream and Marshmallows

A mug of hot chocolate filled with marshmallows and chocolate sauce poured over the top
[Image Description: A mug of hot chocolate filled with marshmallows and chocolate sauce poured over the top.] Via Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash
This is the ultimate sugary treat! If I’m meeting up with a friend at a coffee shop in the winter, I can’t resist ordering a steaming mug of hot chocolate to warm my hands and gulp down as I’m having a chat with my friend. Topping the drink with whipped cream and marshmallows makes it even more of a sumptuous beverage.

Mince Pies

A white plate with mince pies sprinkled with caster sugar
[Image Description: A white plate with mince pies sprinkled with caster sugar] Via BBC Food
Mince pies are a uniquely British sweet treat that I can’t get enough of. They’re mainly available in stores during the winter period, otherwise, I’d end up munching on them throughout the year! The pies are filled with a mixture of dried fruits (raisins, sultanas, currants) and spices such a nutmeg and cinnamon, also known as “mincemeat”. They can be eaten cold, but I prefer them warmed up. I tend to heat up a few mince pies at home then drizzle over some cream to make them an even more delectable winter treat.

Fruit Crumble

Apple crumble in a white serving dish
[Image description: Apple crumble in a white serving dish.] Via BBC Food
Eating a fruit crumble straight out of the oven is what winter is for! Plums, apples, blackberries and pears are perfect fruits to create a tarty, rich flavored crumble. Personally, I prefer fruit crumbles compared to fruit pies, as crumbles offer a buttery and crunchy topping which I enjoy having in a dessert. Pair your fruit crumble with clotted cream, custard or a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and you’ll have yourself a mouth-watering winter dessert.

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate pudding with a chocolate sauce in middle served with whipped cream on white plate
[Image Description: Chocolate pudding with a chocolate sauce in middle served with whipped cream on white plate.] Via BBC Food
I will have any dessert that includes chocolate – it’s definitely my weakness! Warm chocolate puddings can definitely satisfy my chocoholic cravings (as well as hot chocolate). Crunchy on the outside, thick sauce on the inside and served with ice cream, it’s no wonder chocolate puddings make an indulgent dessert.

As we’re going back and forth between tier systems and national lockdowns in England, I’ll be trying to make these at home. It could end up well or end up being a kitchen disaster! The likelihood is that I’ll wait until the coffee shops and restaurants are open for me to have these delicious winter warmers!

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Culture Life Stories Life

Don’t feel sorry for me because I don’t drink, I don’t need your sympathy

As a British Muslim woman that doesn’t drink, growing up in a country that has a dominant drinking culture has made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome around work and friendship circles. From university through to my career, I’ve had to navigate comments that have made me feel belittled about my choices and values.

“Why not?” – Is that any of your business?

“You haven’t lived until you’ve had a drink!” – I’m living just fine thank you.

“I wish I could do that, I’ve got a lot of respect for you.’”- A comment that sounds like they’re admiring my choice, but is actually patronizing and insincere.

And I’ve saved the best one till last…

“Go on, just try one!” – Yes, there are still people that think forcing someone to drink is like committing a good deed. They expect I’ll magically become a “fun” person to hang out with once I become tipsy or drunk.

To stop people from expecting me to explain myself, feeling ‘sorry’ for me or forcing me to drink, I would come up with different ways to evade any awkward interactions. I’d avoid going to socials where I knew it would involve going to a pub or bar (or leave early if I’m ‘encouraged’ to go), I’d only spend time with people that I trust won’t ask these irritating questions or I’d suggest other places to go to.

I started to feel drinking peer pressure when I attended university. During first-year whilst living in university halls, my flatmates would regularly arrange pre-drinks at our flat before going out partying and drinking even more. I had no issue with my flatmates drinking – it’s their life and it’s each to their own – but I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the drinking culture I wasn’t partaking in. The majority of people entering university were able to build close friendships with others based on their shared enjoyment of alcohol. I felt judged by my peers and definitely had FOMO, but I wasn’t going to succumb to peer pressure.

I quickly came to realize who my real friends were at university – they respected and didn’t want to change me. They like me for who I am and they didn’t make a big deal about me not drinking.

Though I felt the peer pressure dissipate at university, it reappeared when I entered the working world. It was only when I started my career that I realized how intrinsic the drinking culture is in the UK. There are after-work drinks, socials that involve drinking, birthday drinks, successful project drinks, leaving drinks. There always seems to be an excuse to drink.

I had one manager that felt it was perfectly fine to say multiple comments to me about my choices. “Aww, I feel so sorry for you!” was one condescending remark she felt was acceptable to say every so often to me. Am I living life the wrong way? Am I dull, boring, not worth other people’s time when it comes to socializing? Well according to my then-manager, I am.

I would fume. I could feel my heart rate racing when she made those comments. All I could do was take a deep breath and smile through gritted teeth. How could I stand up against my manager if she could make work more difficult for me? I learned not to respond and let her continue talking about her drunken antics instead. It felt more manageable than snapping back.

As I’m older and (I’d like to think) wiser, I’ve come to realize that the people making these comments are likely to feel judged and uncomfortable around me because of their personal drinking choices. For some people, they may have given in to peer pressure so they don’t feel left out of friendship circles. For others, they know drinking is bad for their health and it’s costly, but having a drink helps them to wind down, relax and socialize with ease. I am not the kind of person to judge. I’m not against drinking culture, I will happily go to a pub or bar with a group of friends whilst they drink alcohol and I have a fancy mocktail.

When people ask non-drinkers to explain themselves instead of respecting their choices, that’s when it gets infuriating. When I do get asked these questions now, I’ll tell them it’s my choice, just like it’s their choice to drink. I don’t judge you, so you shouldn’t judge me either.

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Best Friends Forever Life Stories Life

I took a break from my best friend, and now we’re closer than ever

Holding the phone at my ear, I picked at a frayed thread on my couch throw.

On the other end, a close friend of many years was recounting a story about her day, how she had run across the whole city for an assignment then gotten lost with her group members.

“And then what?” I asked, but I was thinking of something else, I had called her to say something. But I quickly found myself doubting it mattered, plus she seemed to have a lot to share. The story eventually shifted to her family at home.

“Why do you think she said that?” I robotically asked her. 

After a while, I got up to blow out my candle, still cradling my phone. My phone lit up against my cheek, the battery was drained. It dawned on me, at that moment, that an hour had passed and I had scarcely said much more than, “But why?” or “Okay, then?”

Something was completely off. Or had it always been like this? The balance between giving and taking had, somewhere along the way, been skewed.

I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

It had been a tough time in my life. I felt adrift in college. My roommates were dispersed around the world studying in their chosen fields while I stayed behind, picking up the pieces after a last-minute change of plans with my major. I was mentally drained from my own struggles, so hearing my friend constantly speak about hers exhausted me.

“My ears are bent.”

This is the life-changing phrase that stumbled upon me in a Journalism class. Through it, I realized that I was always the ‘listener’ in relationships, and I couldn’t ignore this fact any longer. I was slowly turning into a sounding board, an echo that answered back.

I knew I wasn’t being a good friend. Good friends don’t get tired of listening, do they? I knew she also needed my support but I couldn’t find the energy to do much more than listening. 

After that night, our conversations felt– and it hurt me to admit this to myself– tedious. I felt irritated that she didn’t notice that there was no space for me to contribute anything. Not knowing how to bring it up, I kept it deep inside. Until I found my chance when one day, there was a lull in the conversation. My friend seemed to search for something to say while we sat across from each other on the couch.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked. I wasn’t exactly sure wanted I to say, but I needed to say it. She looked at me, perplexed.

Figuring it out as I went, I told her, “Listen, for the past month, I hadn’t been able to get a word in.” 

She seemed ready to interject, but I wasn’t ready to stop speaking again. “When I’m with you, I just listen. And it’s fine, I care about you. But at the same time, I am taking in all your problems when I have enough of mine.”

She suddenly seemed so far away.

“What do you mean?” she asked me.

“I don’t know when, but spending time with you has started to feel like a task, a job,” I replied. Seeing the look on her face, I immediately wanted to take it back and say it wasn’t true. But it was.

“Do you know anything about me anymore?” I asked.

 And that’s when I received the biggest reality check.

“Well, if I don’t say anything, we’ll sit here quietly.”

She was honest, maybe even brutally so. She admitted that she was filling in for my silence. From her perspective, I was still reluctant to open up and she was exhausted from trying to pry me open. Where could we go from here? 

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

Our friendship had met a standstill and, for a while, we took some time apart. I had to confront my hesitance with being vulnerable which was rooted in the fear of not being taken seriously or worse, sounding boring.

My deteriorating sense of self-worth was eating away at my relationships. I didn’t feel what I had to say had value, so I just let myself fade away. As a consequence, those around me had to be taking up all the space in the foreground. 

I reached out to her after a couple of weeks because I knew I couldn’t change without my closest friend. We both agreed to make a conscious effort to try to keep a balance between us, which at first was incredibly awkward.

She paused ever so often to ask me, “Well, what about you?”

Yet, eventually over time, it became organic. Once again, I confided in her about the big things like relationships and anxiety about the future, as well as the smaller things. 

As we grow closer and we can add more years to our friendship, I am so glad I was able to bring it up when I did. Had I let all those feelings fester away inside my head, I would have not only never confronted my own self-worth but also could have lost someone very important to me.

Sometimes it takes a little discomfort and time apart can help things heal. 

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I was sexually harassed online and no longer feel safe on the internet

Trigger warning: mentions of online sexual harassment.

I was in 9th grade when a guy called me on Skype with a fake identity and masturbated. It began when I received a message on my Facebook account from a girl I had a few mutuals with. I glanced at the mutuals and did not for a second think that this might be a fake account. I read the message and it said that she had to tell me something very important. I didn’t initially respond but messages from this account lashed down on my message box unabated. 

I finally messaged this girl, asking her what she wanted to tell me. She said she’d tell me on Skype. “It’s important and best if we talked,” read the black letters on my screen. I gave her my Skype account details but I was suspicious so I covered my camera and blanked the screen. She was doubtful if I was still listening. She typed “show me your hands” in the chat because she wanted to make sure I was there, falling deeper into her trap. Then she turned on her camera. At that point, I wasn’t even sure if it were a “she”.

I’ve told you already what I saw next. It was a man masturbating. The person asked me again if I was there. I looked in disgust at the words that glimmered in the chatbox. I tried to swallow but my mouth was dry.

His presence remained unscathed, but I was traumatized for life. 

I turned off my computer after I understood what was happening. I felt so scared. Never in my wildest imagination had I thought that I could be sexually harassed online. I was young. I was innocent. I was naive. I didn’t believe in the worst side of this world.

I didn’t realize what was happening right in front of me. I was breathing heavily and feeling so scared. When I turned my computer off, I was winded like someone had punched me in the gut. 

Sexual harassment has a way of making you feel so unsafe, regardless of the form. Even though the offender sat on the other side of the screen, I felt like he was right there. I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know why he did this. And I didn’t know if I could ever confront him on what he did. His presence remained unscathed, but I was traumatized for life. 

It happened again, one summer evening, on Snapchat.

Snapchat was trending in those days and, like everyone else, I jumped onto it. My account was new and I was still in the process of adding all my friends. And then, history repeated itself. A few years later, I received videos—this time from three accounts—of men masturbating. I immediately blocked those accounts. I was disgusted.

Who were these people? Why did they send me inappropriate, explicit, and disgusting content? Where they got my username from? I never found out.

Online sexual harassment is devastating, and the obnoxious content that you’re presented with can last in your memory forever.

I just know that both these incidents were extremely disturbing. I felt stupid for becoming a part of someone’s sexual activities and letting them manipulate me. I felt abused. I felt like it was my fault. 

Most girls experience electronic harassment at some point in their life. Sometimes, it’s very graphic. Other times, it’s presented to them as sexually explicit messages from real or fake accounts. Either way, it’s equally devastating, unpleasant and inappropriate. 

I still have so many messages on my social media accounts sent in by people I have never known in my life—asking me for sexual favors, complimenting me, or simply saying “hi”. I don’t read them, or respond to them. I tell myself they’re not worth my time. 

But deep down, I still feel afraid. If these men are so frustrated that they can slip into a girl’s inbox they’ve never known or met, what must they be like in real life? 

Online sexual harassment is devastating, and the obnoxious content that you’re presented with can last in your memory forever. And even years later, it can make you feel the same way—afraid, anxious, in disbelief. It lives with you. It breathes in your memory reminding you of what you endured. 

If these men are so frustrated that they can slip into a girl’s inbox they’ve never known or met, what must they be like in real life? 

To all the girls reading this—your experiences of sexual harassment are real despite what anyone tells you, or how many times you let them go because you didn’t want to make things messier. Don’t listen to people who degrade you. Don’t feel afraid of the world. And don’t let anyone invalidate your experience.

I believe you. I hear you. I see you. And I always will. 


How absurdism taught me to embrace the chaos in my life

“A little boy in a cowboy suit, writing in a puddle with a stick, a dog approaching. Deaf or dumb, the boy is, like anyone, a little timid, partly stupid, ashamed, afraid, like us, like you. He is there. Picture the boy. See his eyes. Sympathize with his little closes. Now, break his arm. Picture violin section. The violins are on fire. (The following is said almost without anger as if it’s just another request) Now go fuck yourselves.”
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), Will Eno.

That’s a little absurdism for you there. The next few lines go into the character trying to sound like he’s fine, but he really isn’t. He is spiraling while trying to understand the colloquial term ‘whatever’ because he thinks it will describe how he wants to feel. Did you get that? I hope so. Because underneath the strangeness is a deep vulnerability– and joy in being alive. 

It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless.

At its core, absurdism is rooted in social activism and rebellion against the norm. At a time when everyone was taking art very seriously and enforcing standards on artist’s practices, absurdists challenged the system. They said, what if we make an art form that defies expectations by being intentionally bizarre? When everything around us is so devoid of reason, embracing irrationality and strangeness may be the next best thing. 

With the current pandemic, there is little that we can control. At first, I felt so powerless against it all. That’s when I turned to absurdism. It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless. The Dadaist slogan of “art for art’s sake” and absurdism’s love of nonsense is exactly the type of energy we need to be bringing into our lifestyles. 

Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time). I spent most of my life, as I expect a majority of you did, trying to assign value to myself by the things that I achieved and the decisions I made. Wanting my life to mean something, I quickly grew desperate when things did not turn out as I imagined.

Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time).

Take, for instance, applying to jobs or sharing creative work. There is a powerlessness that I feel every single time. I can’t help but think that I am putting myself out there to be judged– which I am, to a certain extent. Recently, after being ghosted by a couple of jobs I had applied to, I was starting to fear that the rest of the year would be the same. All my efforts seemed to be in vain. Keen to maintain a certain image I had of my life, I started reaching out to places that I had no interest in. But I soon became so thankful that things turned out the way they did when a professor reached out to me, excited to have me on board to work on her screenplay– something I deeply enjoyed doing.

Like that last line by Will Eno, I often forgot that life was full of surprises. I learned to be okay with it. More than that, to be happy.

By reading absurdist writers, I embraced the joy of being surprised. I found humor in unexpected things. There was a strength in accepting chaos that I did not find anywhere else. When it seems like the year is going entirely on its own path, I cling to these teachings more than ever. We can’t be stubborn and try to force the year to go in the direction we want it to. We are doing more damage by pulling on the leash and digging our feet into the ground then if we let loose a little and see where the year is headed. 

All in all, when things don’t work out, whether it is with your school, career, or relationship prospects, remind yourself that having ‘nothing’ going on shouldn’t be terrible. Just take Daniil Kharm’s The Red-Haired Man, where at the end he admits that he is writing nonsense and gives up entirely. This poem has gotten me out of all types of ruts, both creative and personal.

We can all take a note from absurdism. If we embrace chaos in this way, we can enhance our own sense of wellbeing.

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Family Life

The reality of living with a baby sibling

When my parents told me they were expecting in my final year of high school, I didn’t believe them for about a month or so. My youngest sister was 12 and I didn’t really think my parents wanted another child. But I fell in love with my baby sister before she was born, before we had even decided what we were going to name her. When she’d stepped into our lives, everything we’d planned for our future had changed and we didn’t even realize it. 

I teared up when I first saw her, sleeping in her incubator. Her cradle was decorated with moon-shaped fairy lights. I’d spend hours staring at her, bewildered. How could God make someone so beautiful? Her hands were wrinkled and her eyes barely opened. Her cries were music to my ears. Every little word she said made me jump out of my seat (I say “wordbut I still can’t make sense of anything she says). 

It’s a completely different experience when you have a baby at home but none of the responsibility that comes along with it. There’s no stress about poop-filled diapers, nappy rashes, or sleepless nights. You spend your evenings doing what you want, and your days basking in the bundle of joy. Everything that you watch your parents do is exciting and adventurous. 

It may sound a bit too poetic, but babies don’t stay babies for long. Their cries get louder, their demands get more complicated and they learn all the things you don’t want them to learn. The most dreadful part of a growing baby is when they’re obsessed with touching and tasting every single thing they see. 

Living with a baby is an entirely different experience than watching a 2-minute video of them on Instagram. You’ve already made space for them in your heart. Now you’re making space for them in your room. Your habits are changing; you can’t binge-watch TV series, your desk is always clean and there are toys in every corner of your room. All the time you spent reading in peace is now spent finding a place to hide during your game of hide-and-seek. You feel helpless when she’s pulling on your sleeve while you’re attending an online class.  

They know when your attention is half-hearted. They make you vulnerable. You’re starting to change and you don’t realize it. You’re questioning all the things you took for granted before. Your time isn’t yours anymore. Even if you aren’t actively parenting them, your presence in their lives is enough for them to learn from you.

We tend to compare our upbringing with our siblings’, but there’s an entire generation gap between me and my sister. There is nothing similar in the way we are raised. My parents are different people now as compared to when I was born. I grew up with my grandparents and cousins; my sister only knows them through a screen. She knows how to navigate Youtube at the age of 2. I held my first phone when I was 10. My favorite shows were televised in the morning. She can watch anything she wants, anytime. At the end of the day, we do not have anything to argue about. But then again, is it possible for us to agree on the same things?

Parenting styles differ as parents grow older. We cannot, however, generalize which set of parents have the upper hand. My parents continue to instill the same values in her as they did in me. However, our standards of living are different than what was 15 years ago. I often question how different a person she will grow into.

The decisions I’ve made let me watch her grow. Sooner or later, I will move away from her. Nevertheless, life is volatile and our relationship is fragile. Despite my immense love for her, will we grow apart and never find a thing in common to talk about? Or will the fact that we were raised in the same home be enough to maintain our bond?

Culture Family Life

I long for the day I get to finally meet my mentor

When I was 15 years old, I became friends with a popular girl in my school. She was everything that young people wanted to be back in the day. Intelligent. Beautiful. Confident. Over the years, I got to know her more closely. And that’s when I realized she had someone guiding her through it all. Someone preparing her for life. She had a mentor—her older sister. She looked up to her. She learned from her. I wanted to have the same kind of relationship with someone…anyone. I just didn’t want to be on my own.

Over time I realized, most people around me had found their mentors. When I was in school, my friends found teachers who believed in them and guided them. Some of these teachers are still in touch with their students—appreciating them, supporting them, feeling proud of how far they’ve come. I envied my friends for having found people that they could turn to for help. I felt left out because I had no one that I could reach out to on days I felt at my lowest. Or when I simply needed to hear a few words of encouragement. 

For me, finding a mentor almost feels like a distant dream. 

I don’t know how many days I’ve spent in a haze of yearning, emptiness, and gloom; desperately longing for someone who’d give me the courage to move on and fight my battles. For me, finding a mentor almost feels like a distant dream. 

As a little girl, I read a lot of books. I liked immersing myself in fiction, metaphors, and descriptions that were a work of someone else’s imagination but resonated so closely with my own life. I believed the heartbreaking, mind-numbing stories that I read. It felt like the writer had deliberately scooped up pieces of my life and scraped them together. Almost as if they knew me. Almost as if they had lived my life. I took books and everything they told very seriously. 

My obsession with reading continues. And it still affects me deeply. Almost to the point that I even envy characters in books who find someone who prepares them for the world. I last felt this inexplicable feeling when I read Perks of Being a Wallflower. Mr Anderson believed in his student, Charlie. He helped him grow out of the darkness that consumed him. I thought so many times while reading the book that if someone would ever believe in me in the same way.  

I always dreamt of being a writer. I started by writing stories. Fiction. And I felt so close to my dream. I thought I could be anything I wanted to be. The world was my oyster, and the only limit was my imagination.

But then I eventually realized that I couldn’t do it all alone.  I needed appreciation. I needed acknowledgement. I needed validation. I needed someone to tell me that I was doing okay. 

But no one ever did.

Anything that I ever wrote was dismissed. I showed it to my teachers, my friends, my family—but they weren’t interested in reading my work. They never had time. They had ‘better, more important things’ to do. And after each dismissal, I wilted a little more.  

But I persisted, even if there were days when I felt like giving up. 

I can’t help but think what would everything look like if I had a mentor that I could reach out to and seek guidance from. 

When my name first appeared underneath my writing in a publication, I felt like the happiest girl in the world. But when I broke this news to the people I loved, I only received weak nods of encouragement. Almost as if they didn’t care. And then my excitement dried up.

So often, I find myself submerged in a gloom thick with longing for a person who doesn’t exist. I feel so consumed with hopelessness that I want to stop right here and let go of things that mean everything to me. What’s the point of success if I don’t have anyone to share in its joy with?

My life seems so empty sometimes. It holds so much space for a person whom I’ve never met. And who knows if I ever will meet them.

Even now, some of my friends drop comments beneath my writings without reading what I’ve said in them. It’s their way of showing support. But to me, their threadbare attempts to make me feel better are meaningless. Their words feel hollow because they’re not real. They’re not borne out of the need to say something to me on what I’ve written.

Each time I find myself incessantly clacking at the keys of my computer in a darkened room, I can’t help but think what would everything look like if I had a mentor that I could reach out to and seek guidance from. 

Would life be different? Would my work be different? Would I be different? 

I’ve been trying to hold on to writing, despite the lack of encouragement and support. I’ve been trying to find my way, even if all alone. There are days when I feel like I’m swimming in the dark waters, trying to stay afloat, but failing.

Mentors are important. And I’ve only realized their importance by never having found one

But I’m hopeful that I’ll find someone one day. I’ve lasted so long without a mentor, I can wait a little longer.

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