Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
USA Politics The World

You don’t always have to agree with your politicians

We all seek the perfect embodiment of our personal beliefs and ideologies in those whom we support politically. We look to them for guidance, leadership, justice, and integrity. We also might look to them to affirm and validate our own convictions or perspectives. As global citizens, we are hoping to find political representation that perfectly aligns with our vision of what society should be. However, as strong as this desire is, it’s an impossible reality. Unfortunately, time and time again we are disappointed by the politicians we support, and often we disagree with their policies and actions, too. I’m here to say that this frustration is completely justified.

You don’t always have to agree with your politician. In fact, you don’t even have to consistently agree with just one singular politician. You don’t have to advocate for just one particular person to represent your beliefs, either. It is okay to be disappointed by your politicians because politicians are, by default, problematic.

But first, I’d like to make a distinction between problematic and corrupt. Politicians are often problematic which means they sometimes defend policies that you don’t agree with. Or they vote on a bill with a decision you never expected. Or they endorse a candidate you despise. Or a scandal from their past surfaces. A corrupt person, on the other hand, is someone who is tyrannical. It is someone who actively acts in favor of their own selfish gain and in opposition to society as a collective whole. A corrupt person’s goal is solely to gain control and oppress. So, Bernie Sanders? Problematic. Mitch McConnell? Corrupt and tyrannical. They fall under two different categories.

But, to some degree, all politicians are problematic from one perspective or another. This is simply due to human difference—differences in lived experiences or growth, differences in epistemologies or ideologies, and differences in intention. And still, it is acceptable for us to support someone despite those differences.

It took me a while to accept this. I, like many others, naively wished for a political hero to save us from all of the corruption within the American government. Once upon a time, I supported Andrew Yang as a viable democratic presidential candidate; he was logical and intelligent, personable and charismatic. Many of his policies seemed like great solutions to some of the economic, political, and societal problems we have in the United States today. Universal basic income to combat artificial intelligence taking over some of the most common jobs in America? Yes, sign me up. Ranked choice voting so we never have to vote for just one person for any office ever again? That could solve so much in terms of party politics.

However, as Yang continued to share more of his proposed policies and took actions I opposed, he became just as problematic as any other political figure in my eyes.

Yang didn’t support universal healthcare. He also wanted to keep American troops deployed overseas. Both things I personally disagree with. This confliction didn’t sit right with me. I kept thinking: How could I support someone who may ultimately have a hand in shaping the future of my country, while opposing some of the things he believes in? Would it be right for me to support him? I felt unsure.

He also sometimes reaffirmed Asian stereotypes with catchphrases like, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!” and his MATH caps. For Yang to use this phrase and capitalize on it was, in a way, to cater to his white audience by essentially legitimating a stereotype that claims that all Asians are good at math—a stereotype many non-Asian people perpetuate.

When the spread of COVID-19 fueled anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, and Trump himself deemed coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” many Asian Americans looked to Andrew Yang to call this behavior out. In an attempt to address this racism, Yang wrote an opinion letter in the Washington Post that was published in April. Rather than condemning this racist rhetoric, Yang called for Asians to step up as Americans saying “Asian Americans need to embrace and show [their] American-ness in ways [they] never have before…. [they] should show without a shadow of a doubt that [they] are Americans who will do [their] part for [their] country in this time of need.”

This was, as many critics have expressed, an unsettling message. Yang, as an Asian American, was not explicitly defending his fellow Asian Americans. Instead, he made a flawed argument that states Asian Americans need to make themselves appear more agreeable to white Americans to combat this racism. Yang faced backlash from Asian communities across the country. Simu Liu, who is set to play an Asian American superhero in the Marvel universe, called Yang’s op-ed a “slap in the face.” Conversely, writer Hannah Nguyen defended Yang stating Yang did not call for Asians to assimilate into American society, but rather to embrace the American identity—a statement she supports. Others appreciated what they perceived as a message for Asian Americans to come together with all Americans. But, in my eyes, Yang made a grave error in wording which led me to rethink what his values about race, ethnicity, and diversity are.

So much of the public seemed to hate Yang after his opinion letter was published. I almost hopped on that bandwagon, too, until I realized that criticism is not the same thing as hate, and frankly it should not be the same thing. People are undeniably quick to attack those with whom they disagree. This is a major problem in American politics today. Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry and was, rightly, vehemently attacked for it. But this dire mistake should not overshadow her efforts to fight for Medicare for All and affordable college. Ilhan Omar voted “present” on the Armenian genocide resolution. This was also justifiably criticized, but it shouldn’t take away from her agenda to establish proper paid family and sick leave. So, despite my disagreements with Andrew Yang, I realized these don’t cancel out the things I do agree with.

I still think Yang would be a great leader despite his being problematic. Many of his ideas would do wonders to improve America both economically and societally. That said, I also continue to be disappointed by some of his ideas and some of the things he has done—but this is natural. Let’s keep critiquing those in power, but let’s also normalize disagreement and disappointment without blacklisting our problematic politicians.

Love Wellness

Here’s how you can survive your family this Thanksgiving

Even if your family is picturesque, Thanksgiving invites stress, anxiety, and drama. It’s never easy to travel home only to be reprimanded or curiously examined while trying to mentally compose your sanity. 

As Martha Beck wrote on Oprah, “Your assertiveness training goes out the window the minute your brother begins his traditional temper tantrum. A mere sigh from your grandmother triggers an attack of codependency so severe you end up giving her your whole house.” 

Look, we’ve all been there. 

In short, families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction. Our similarities and differences can impact and deconstruct any sanity-saving tactics we had pre-planned before stepping foot into our childhood homes. While family is a comfort, it is also disruption. Especially for those of us who live far from our immediate family. 

[bctt tweet=”Families are strung together by threads, and generations, of dysfunction.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Your life in your new city, with your friends and your career, may drastically differ from the life you left behind.

But, here you are, heading home for the holidays.

Your ticket is purchased, your bags will soon be packed, and your nerves are already shot. How can you stay mentally sound through relentless grilling and family expectations this Thanksgiving break?

We have a few tips to help ease the pain.

1. Remember that it’s all in the family

Two women getting dinner at the table in the kitchen holding plates. One is smiling at the camera.

While your mother’s antics and questioning may not seem to be the most loving or nurturing form of affection, she’s still your family. As is everyone involved in the holiday spectacle. While you may not have chosen them, they share your blood, your quirky behavior, and your family tree.

Think about yourself for a moment before going into the holiday season. 

Where do your insecurities stem from? Why do you feel attacked when your dad mentions your career? Where does your anger go after your mother questions your intimate relationships? Of course, your feelings are valid, but try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. 

It can help you once you’re in the moment and face to face with the topic at hand.

[bctt tweet=”Try to unpack your trigger points so you can get some insight into why you’re reacting emotionally to particular topics. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

2. Give yourself space

Woman walking down a dirt road

If you need to make a quick phone call to chat with a friend, or go for a walk for some brisk air, then so be it. 

The best advice, for you and for your family, is to give yourself the mental space in order to enter the situation with a clear mindset.

Dr. Ken Duckworth from the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free. That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated. But that doesn’t mean that the solution is to skip the holiday’s entirely.”

Much of what contributes to dysfunction is what is deeply rooted in the past

Obviously, Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories. For now, if anything arises that you can’t handle, excuse yourself and find a moment alone where you can rest, think, and most importantly, breathe. 

You don’t need to remove yourself entirely from Thanksgiving, but giving yourself a bit of space can help calm the air for yourself and for your relatives.

[bctt tweet=”Thanksgiving isn’t the time nor the place to begin unpacking years of painful memories.” username=”wearethetempest”]

3. Consider their voice

A man and a woman facing away from each other looking upset

Take the time to understand their thoughts and processes, where they’re coming from, and why they consider their opinion so righteously valid. If you still feel that they are wrong or being inappropriate, that’s only fair, and you have the right to think so. But first, consider their thoughts and their voice, even if it differs from your own.

You can’t change your family, whether it’s politically or simply a state of mind.

Of course, this isn’t to say their opinion is correct.

But we cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them. If you listen to their side of the argument, or conversation, you can begin a dialogue that will probably involve a large amount of debriefing.

If their voice isn’t worth considering, see the next tip. If you can slightly understand their opinion, calmly explain your voice as well and encourage them to acknowledge your choices.

[bctt tweet=”We cannot write off others voices without accurately considering them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

4. Choose to leave if necessary

Woman driving a car with the sun streaming in the window

Remember, Thanksgiving break isn’t forever. 

It’s a day, or two, or possibly three, and then you’re back to your Utopian bubble in your city of choice. Soon, you’ll be able to revel in your calm space away from anxiety or stress.

Is cousin Greg simply too much? Is aunt Susan a deeply negative impact on your self-esteem and overall well-being? Then that’s it: leave.

You aren’t chained to your family by any means—your choice to see them over holiday break is a gift you can choose to snatch back if necessary. Do not feel as if you have to be present in order for everything to be harmonious. Sometimes, life isn’t built on harmony and if you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk from being around your relatives, you can eat turkey somewhere else.

[bctt tweet=”If you feel your mental and emotional health is at risk, you can eat turkey somewhere else.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Before entering the holidays, remember to set boundaries for yourself.

Decide which people you can safely interact with and which ones you should avoid. Decide which topics you can discuss and which ones you can skip. And most importantly, maintain these boundaries.

Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.

Family love is unconditional, meaning that whatever the comments may be, or what the arguments may entail, at the end of the day you’re together, but that doesn’t mean their love can’t be toxic. 

[bctt tweet=”Don’t let your family bully or guilt you into anything.” username=”wearethetempest”]

We get it, it’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s family. 

But if you take care of yourself and follow these tips, you can make it through Thanksgiving relatively unscathed. 

Race The World Inequality

10 incredible political powerhouses breaking barriers and making America better

Are you upset with the orange man in office?  Are you disappointed with the orders his tiny hands are signing?  Me too!  Let’s perk up and check out some inspiring women in politics who are completely badass.

Remember, people, that we are not doomed.  Check out all the wildly fabulous shit these women have accomplished and are continuing to accomplish and know that you are awesome.  The US doesn’t have to stay the way it is right now, and there are women actively trying to right the wrongs.

1. Senator Mazie Hirono 

Image result for mazie hirono

This woman is incredible.  She was born in Japan and immigrated to the United States.  She currently serves as a senator for Hawaii. But what is so impressive about Senator Hirono is that she was the Democratic Party’s first female nominee for governor in Hawaii.  She lost, but she is still thankful for the chance to represent women in a powerful office. Hirono credits her success to her mother and her strength to her routes growing up as an immigrant in the United States.

Now, as a senator, she is the first AsianAmerican woman senator and the first woman senator for Hawaii.  Hirono came from the bottom and is literally on top now.

2. Congresswoman Barbara Lee

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Congresswoman Lee is currently in the House for California’s 13th District.  She was a senator previously. This Congresswoman is badass because she is a single mother with two sons and fights to help out Americans.  She was born in a segregated Texas, and focuses on fighting hate crimes. Lee wants to end poverty and fight for LGBT rights.

She is also the first to write and pass the first law in California specifically for women, called the “California Against Women Act.”

3. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

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Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is serving New Jersey’s 12th District in the House.  Coleman serves as the first African American woman to serve New Jersey in the House.

Coleman also served as the first AfricanAmerican woman to be a Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly – and was the first African American woman to serve as the Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

4. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence 

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Congresswoman Lawrence currently serves as the representative for the 13th district in Michigan.  Before that, she was the first African American and first woman to serve as the mayor of Southfield, a town within her current district.

Oh, and while she was mayor, she finished her degree from Central Michigan University.  Now, she is the Senior Whip and Vice Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.

5. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson 

Image result for Frederica Wilson

Congresswoman Wilson currently serves as the Representative for Florida’s 24th District.  She is an elementary-school-principal-turned-lawmaker.  She is well known for creating the “5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.”  This is a project that works to help students attend college through scholarships.  Called the Voice for the Voiceless, Wilson’s so awesome that she had a cameo on the “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

Oh, she also has an incredible fashion sense.

6. Congresswoman Gwen Moore

Image result for Gwen Moore

Congresswoman Gwen Moore serves the 4th Congressional District of Wisconsin.  This incredible woman is fabulous for us – like, really fabulous.

She was the first African-American to represent Wisconsin in Congress.  Then she was the Whip for the Congressional Black Caucus and LGBT Equality Caucus.  She is badass with her work for women’s rights.  Moore fights for women’s health, reproductive freedom, and protections against domestic abuse.

7. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

Image result for linda sanchez

Congresswoman Sánchez currently serves the 38th Congressional District of California. Sánchez is the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, which makes her the first Latina ever to hold a leadership position in Congress.

She is also well-known for her work on the Committee on Ways and Means, which means that she helps decide taxes and protects Social Security and Medicare. Sánchez is an avid protector of senior citizens’ rights, which is needed now, more than ever before.

8. Congresswoman Karen Bass

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Congresswoman Karen Bass serves the 37th Congressional District of California.

Before Bass entered Congress, she was the first African American woman in the United States to serve this prestigious role in state government. Congresswoman Bass is focused on improving inner cities, as well as improving relations between Africa and the United States.

9. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

Image result for Nydia Velazquez

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez serves the 7th District of New York in the House. Velazquez is incredible because she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House – then she was chosen as the Ranking Democratic Member for the House Small Business Committee. The development made her the first Latina woman to serve in that role for any House committee.

Velazquez was then made the Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Latina to chair a committee.  She’s kicking ass, taking names and entering leadership roles that are important for our country.

10. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

Image result for pramila jayapal

Last but not least, Congresswoman Jayapal currently serves the 7th Congressional District of Washington.  She is the first Indian American in the House ever. And she is the first South Asian American to be elected to State Legislature!

Jayapal was born in India and immigrated to the United States at 16 for college.

Don’t lose hope.  There are still people in power who are kicking ass for the women of the United States.

Politics The World

We can’t let Trump’s leaked tax returns distract us from what’s really going on

Tuesday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow released a leaked, but authenticated by the White House itself, two page portion of President Trump’s tax return from 2005. The tax returns were originally obtained by David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer-prize winning investigative journalist.

The returns, stamped with the words “Client Copy,” showed that Trump paid $38 million in taxes on an income of over $150 million in 2005. Maddow indicated that more tax returns may also be obtained and released in the future.

The White house released the following statement: “You know you are desperate for ratings when you are willing to violate the law to push a story about two pages of tax returns from over a decade ago…Despite his substantial income figure and tax paid, it is totally illegal to steal and publish tax returns. The dishonest media can continue to make this part of their agenda, while the President will focus on his, which includes tax reform that will benefit all Americans.”

But will it? During his presidential campaign, Trump proposed cutting taxes such as the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) and reducing the current tax brackets to the following four: 0%, 10%, 20% and 25%. The main beneficiaries of this tax reform plan would be the extremely wealthy.

Trump is also the only president to date who has refused to release his tax returns, claiming they are still under audit. Naturally, the opposition sees this refusal or delaying tactic as an admission of guilt of some kind or another.

Perhaps most importantly, concerns are growing over Trump’s ties with Russia, and the public, contrary to Trump’s claims, has wanted to and does want to see his tax returns.

While the White House has tried to emphasize that the documents were illegally obtained and released, it has also been speculated that Trump himself leaked the tax returns, perhaps specifically choosing 2005 in order to benefit his own image and decrease the public’s need to see further (more recent and more incriminating) tax returns.

At the end of the day, these released documents, while important, can’t distract us from Trump’s healthcare reforms which are underway. In fact, it should be noted that the two are connected; tax cuts for the rich are potentially being paid for by taking away health care from 20-something million Americans, and this is something worth being concerned about.

Politics The World

It just became a whole lot easier to be a corrupt politician

These past two weeks have been quite a whirlwind: the Brexit vote, the SCOTUS ruling on Texas’s restrictive abortion laws, the white nationalist, neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento, the devastating triple suicide bombing in Turkey. Between this and much more news, it was probably fairly difficult to keep track of the Supreme Court ruling on Governor Bob McDonnell.

McDonnel vs. United States seems to have been overlooked by the media in between all the other recent news. However, the ruling seems to have legally changed to the role that elected officials play in the government.

The case involved now-former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell who had accepted $170,000 from a businessman in exchange for business promotion and persuading state universities to study its products. This, on the front, seems pretty close to what we would call “bribery” and then call “corruption.” However, McDonnell has some poor follow through.

For whatever reason, these promotions never took place. While McDonnell did set up some meetings, the Supreme Court eventually ruled that those were not considered “official acts”—the exact language of the law that prohibits corruption.

While prosecutors stated that this act looks just as similar to other convicted corruption cases, McDonnell’s lawyers said that they relied too heavily on the “boundless” definition of the crime.

While the court seemed to be focused more so on due justice, a crucial aspect in our system, rather than conviction, there is no doubt that this has changed the definition of corruption for the past and future. Since the ruling that came out on June 27, there have been multiple officials that have already called for a retrial.

It’s not just a few years of convictions, but 700 years of corruption convictions, which are now impacted. Now, instead of the broad definition of corruption that has always existed, it has been devastatingly narrowed. As we face a time of increasing political uncertainty, political corruption has now become just that much harder to legally prove and convict.

However, these corruption laws were not originally supposed to be narrow. They were intentionally broad in order to convict those who were involving themselves in corrupt acts. This unanimous 8–0 conviction could change the prosecution of political corruption forever. This ruling was based in determining that “influence” was just too broad to convict upon and resolve when talking about the reception of gifts when in office.

Now, in other prosecutions of political corruption, this case will be cited in order to relieve those in question of a conviction. Within moments of the Monday ruling, lawyers all over the country were preparing and demanding for retrials of their clients’ previously convicted corruption.

This ruling in many ways reflects the change in our government officials from public servants to something closer to an employee or employer. But we should not support this change and neither should our government. In this case, the Supreme Court, as one of our governmental branches that was intended to provide checks and balances in the U.S. political system, was supposed to uphold the correct role of our public officials.

We need to uphold our elected officials to the highest standard. And let’s be honest, the highest standard is hard. It is incredibly difficult to hold yourself up to the highest ethical and moral ceiling, but this is what’s needed for our communities, and for our country. Being an elected public official should not be an ego trip or an abuse of power. It should not be a space for people to claim their influence without producing anything.

I understand, I am being hard. I am being difficult. I am asking a lot, because I am asking for our communities to be respected and fought for, the way they should be. Public officials are public servants, and we should expect them to be. We do not hire them for backdoor deals to be made for personal gain, we hire them to protect and serve.