Culture Travel Life

Why Kolkata should be on your travel bucket list

You have heard about Delhi, Bombay (Mumbai) and Bangalore, but my home town (not a town but a metropolitan city) is rarely talked about. It’s a wonderful, fragrant, nostalgic, beautiful place with colonial heritage – it is a city that bleeds revolution. The City of Joy, the city of ‘roshogolla’ and ‘mishti doi‘ (two famous Calcuttan sweets), the city of poetry and literature, of orators and socialists and revolutionaries, the love of my life, the city of Kolkata has my heart.

A picture of the Indian museum.
[Image description: A picture of the Indian museum.] Via Wikimedia Commons on Google images
Not only is Kolkata homely, beautiful, and romantic, it is also the cultural capital of the country. Before Delhi was declared the capital of India, Calcutta (Kolkata) served as the capital of the British Empire. Thus, it still bears colonial roots and influences. From the Howrah Bridge to the Victoria Memorial, from S.S. Hogg Market to the Indian Museum (the oldest and largest museum of the country), Kolkata is a wonder to behold. Catch a ride from Ahiritola Launch Ghat to Salkia (a small part of Howrah). Visit College Street, a book lover’s paradise, which is also the world’s second-largest second-hand book market. Take a ride on the beautiful trams, because Kolkata is the only city in the world where you can get a tram-ride with a view of the effervescent sunset right around Howrah Bridge.

A picture of Vidyasagar Setu or the Second Hoogly Bridge
[Image description: A picture of Vidyasagar Setu or the Second Hoogly Bridge.] Via PDPics on Pixabay
Kolkata is home to five noble laureates and is the cultural breeding ground for theater, dance, music, cricket, and wonderful Bengali movies. It is also high-key obsessed with rock music (where most Bengali teenagers are either listening to Kurt Cobain or Brian May), literature and philosophy, and a lot of food.

Calcuttan cuisine is diverse and delectable, with food ranging from ‘daab chingri’ (shrimp cooked with tender coconut), ‘ilish bhapa’ (hilsa fish cooked in a mustard curry) and ‘kosha mangsho’ (slow cooked mutton). You will find yellow taxicabs everywhere, and be greeted with ‘autorickshaws’ driven by the hardest working men.

A picture of a yellow taxicab, famously found in Kolkata
[Image description: A picture of a yellow taxicab, famously found in Kolkata] Via Arindam Saha on Unsplash
Our Durga Puja, the festival to celebrate the Goddess Durga’s arrival to mother Earth, decks the city in the most varying lights for a period of four days. There’s idol worship that brings everyone together to the rhythms of the dhak, a membranophone instrument indigenous to India. Christmas celebrations light up Park Street in color, and the city goes crazy as everybody comes together in Allen Park to celebrate the 25th of December and usher in New Year. Eid celebrations entail everyone making delicious biriyanis and exchanging gifts.

A picture of 'shidur khela', a celebration with vermilion in the last day of Durga Puja.
[Image description: A picture of ‘shidur khela’, a celebration with vermilion in the last day of Durga Puja. ] Via Debasish Poddar
There is beauty in every step in the varied Bengali culture. From “adda” and para culture, a form of interaction where everyone in their community sits down at least once a week to catch up on politics, sports, literature and pop culture, to homely North Kolkata streets where one can buy spicy food from local vendors. The mystical elitist nature of humans who truly are proud of their heritage will surprise you.

You can shop for exquisite jewels at the cheapest price from New Market, and have romantic outings in cute coffee shops in South Kolkata. The pangs, anxieties, love, thrills, delusions of the species that brags about how many phuchkas (deep-fried hollow crepes filled with spicy potatoes and tamarind water) they can stuff into their mouths, are also incredibly proud of the blood that won them freedom.

Our city celebrates Kali and Durga, female deities so badass they slew demons and are worshipped for it. From Kalighat to Dakshineswar, spirituality floats among the romantic hauntings of the city, breathing life into everyone. A breeding ground for utter contempt of mere commerce, a city that is the heart and soul of every Bengali, a perfect marriage of heritage of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and everybody else, one seems to always take back a piece of this city wherever you go.

Kolkata is a passionate city, a city that has the Eden Gardens (just a stadium but it is heaven enough for us). So pack your bags, once it is safe to travel again, and visit the wonder that is Kolkata. Rabindranath Tagore (who is the first Asian Nobel Laureate and the first love of my life who inspired me with his songs and poetry) and Subhash Chandra Bose (the socialist freedom fighter who taught me revolution) will charm you.


Your twenties may have been the best years of your life; mine were drowned out by war

Our twenties are the years that everyone raves about – the time between being a carefree kid and a responsible adult. It’s the time one often gets their first taste of independence. You’re figuring out who you are, and everything is uncertain and exciting. Disappointments and failure will most definitely be a part of it all, but you can take it in stride. I always imagined my twenties would be that way, full of life, experiences, and fascinating stories. But, I was wrong.

A month after my 20th birthday, a war broke out in Libya. I’m saying goodbye to my twenties soon, and I don’t know how to feel about it. The 2011 revolution started with hope – people fought for their dreams of a brighter future. But that hope was quickly drowned out by darker notions.

By the end of 2012, a new chapter had begun in Benghazi. A chapter characterized by chaos, kidnapping, murder, bombs, and gunfire. Being alive under those circumstances felt heavy, and things progressively got worse.

I can’t say it’s over, I can’t say it’s still ongoing, I can’t really explain it at all. The last decade has managed to make us people we never thought we could be.

War only brings suffering. For years now, the war has stolen souls, destroyed houses, and broken hearts. Behind each door, a sad story is being told, and the more closely you look around, the more you see the depth and scope of the destruction.

After drowning in uncertainty for years and losing track while the counting days, I finally decided to be the one that writes my story. Letting the war steal what remained of my desire to live wasn’t working anymore – I deserved better than that. I wanted to have a better story to tell in my seventies, if I ever lived that long.

I decided to stop following the news entirely. It wasn’t easy at first, denying that reality, but I knew it had to be done. I found myself feeling more energetic. I started doing some volunteer work and made a point of spreading positivity by any means I could. I could bring hope to people, draw smiles upon their faces, and focus on the sweeter things in life.

Life wasn’t perfect, but it seemed brighter than ever. Brighter than war.

Even when my foreign friends asked me about the political situation in Libya, I smiled and replied: “You know, I’m not the right person to ask, I don’t follow the news.” They thought I was being careless, and maybe I was. But what I knew for certain was that if the war was not ending, then that was my attempt at ending it in my own way.

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine was talking about a Syrian series, and I wanted to check it out. I could relate to everything about it, in a weird, scary way. The sounds of bombs destroying buildings. The fear, dissipating into an almost gray dullness that painted everyone’s faces.  Knowing that, yes, you are breathing, and you are, in fact, alive, but you’re inhaling the very smoke from the rubble of the war that has stolen years that belonged to you and the people you love.

I realized that as hard as I tried to block it all out, there was no use. You can’t just erase memories and events that made you who you are. So, now, I choose to remember.

War still claims lives, breaks hearts, and overburdens souls. Yet, it taught me one life-changing lesson: we’re not capable of changing what’s forcibly happened, but we can change the way we deal with it. I can’t give life back to those who lost theirs, I can’t rebuild the destroyed souls and houses, I can’t act like nothing has happened or pretend to be someone else. But I absolutely can be the light.

LGBTQIA+ History Coronavirus The World

50 years later, the legacy of Pride lives on

The New York City Pride parade has been cancelled for the first time since its origin 50 years ago. In-person events that were scheduled to take place June 14-28, 2020 are in the process of being reimagined virtually as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pride is a staple in New York City, as it has been since the Stonewall Riots prompted a revolution in June of 1969. The fight for gay-rights as we know it was born and catalyzed here. America in the 1960’s, and in the decades that came before it, was not at all welcoming for those in LGBTQIA+ community. In New York, any inclination of sexual activity between people of the same sex in public was considered illegal. That is, hand holding, kissing, or even dancing. This antiquated and ridiculous law was not overturned until 1980 when the People v. Ronald Onofre case was decided. 

These times were also riddled with discrimination and a series of raids among other forms of abuse on prominent gay bars and clubs in Greenwich village. Such spaces were some of the only places where members of the community could seek refuge and were finally able to express themselves openly without worry. Nonetheless, police brutality on the basis of sexual orientation and just plain bigotry was awfully common during these raids.  

On the night of June 28, 1969 obvious tensions arose between the two groups, and the patrons bravely decided to fight back against the police at the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar that was one of the few of its kind that opened its doors to drag queens. Notably, the first bottle of the uprising, which lasted six whole days, was thrown by a Black transgender woman, Marsha P. Johnson. The protesters were met time and time again with tear-gas and physical altercations with the police, but they persisted. Those in the street are said to have been singing slogans similar to the ones that we hear today like “gay power” and “we shall overcome.” 

It would be an injustice to ignore the contributions of the Black community to this iconic moment that started a resistance.

This moment sparked the beginning of a modern resistance that is beautifully laced with love and versatility. 

It would be an injustice, however, to ignore the coincidences of this past that align with the current civil rights demonstrations happening across the world, declaring defiantly that Black lives matter. Both movements continue to feature a spotlight on recognizing basic human rights while also condemning police practices that terrorize the communities they are meant “to serve and protect.” So much of American history is patterned with this same struggle, consistency, and perseverance. Not to mention that it was, in fact, Black women who spearheaded this revolution 51 years ago, and 51 years later Black women are again at the forefront of a movement seeking to eradicate systemic inequality. We must not let this go unnoticed.

The year after what has come to be known as the Stonewall riots, June of 1970, marked the first ever Pride parade in New York City. Though it took a long time to come, the LGBTQIA+ community has certainly overcome much of the hate and marginalization that has been thrown its way. But, they’re still fighting. To this day, new non-discrimination protections are being fought for and passed all because of their constant effort and strength. 

Since then, New York City and its Pride parade has been a proven safe-haven for vulnerable and battered communities alike. It is a time for people to come together and celebrate themselves as phoenixes who have risen way above the ashes while also acknowledging the slashed history that they are eternally attached to. 

Just last year, New York City hosted world WorldPride and some 2 million people were in attendance. This in and of itself is a testament to the impact that the revolution has had, and continues to have, all over the world. Such ever-clear and unrelenting perseverance is nothing less of an inspiration. 

Today, as the coronavirus runs its raging course throughout the United States, New York City has been noticeably hit the hardest. With nearly 212,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 deaths thus far in the City alone, New Yorkers are being urged to remain full of the hope and drive that makes us so thick-skinned in the first place. But, this is not an easy feat, especially given the turmoil that seems to be slowly encapsulating every bit of our daily lives. Once again, we have set out in a movement that looks to challenge history and change it for good. For the LGBTQIA+ community, that anxiety is heightened tremendously. 

The absence of the iconic Pride parade will certainly have a dramatic financial impact on the people and businesses that have come to rely on it. Not to mention the mental toll that will surely come along without a break from mobilizing, resource, or strategy efforts concerning the ongoing, and seemingly never-ending, fight for equal rights. It is certainly an all-hands-on-deck sort of thing. This fight is fought every single day, with the smallest actions sometimes making the most noise, and none of it should go unnoticed. 

The contributions that the LGBTQIA+ community has made to both the City and to the greater struggle for equality are undeniable. So, the decision to cancel Pride this year was not easy. But, it was definitely necessary. However, just because the pandemic prevents us from physically coming together this year, it does not mean that the spirit of Pride in New York City won’t be felt just the same.

An online Global Pride will be broadcasted for 24-hours straight on June 27, starting in the east and moving west. Each local or participating pride chapter is hoped to have an allotment of 15-minutes of airtime each, depending on individual time zones, for performances and speeches by grand marshals. This is a community that has always come together in the face of adversity and this year is no different. My wish is for this to be yet another example of the LGBTQIA+ communities resilience that should be honored and remembered, especially in a context of human rights.

Editor's Picks Gender & Identity Race Life

What to unlearn in 2019 (and how to do it)

Hi, hello, greetings. My name is Iman and I know lots of things. Mostly things that are useful (the correct marmite-to-butter ratio) and fun (‘The Ketchup Song’ lyrics, phonetically), but also things that slyly yet actively hinder my personal and professional growth. Little habits like saying “sorry” all the time, or trying not to be too loud when I talk or laugh – all things that make me feel and be less than I am.

Where did I learn these habits? The usual suspects: the patriarchy, historical and media biases, the psychological repercussions of colonialism. And they’ve been around for decades, unconsciously passed down from generation to generation of women, with only a lucky few escaping unscathed. But I am here now to announce that 2019 is going to be my year of unlearning, and it should be yours too. All the damaging habits and mindsets I have been coerced into practicing are going to be identified, analyzed and removed. I am going to unlearn better and faster and permanently in order to take apart narratives and systems that push women of color to the bottom and keep us there. Join me!

Apologizing constantly

[Image Description: A giph of a woman looking into the camera and saying “I’m not sorry.”] Via GIPHY
At my university seminars, nearly every time a woman chimed in with a suggestion or a question, she’d start with a “sorry,” or end with one, or work one into her contribution somehow. It was the same at school. It is incredibly rare that I see a man apologizing as frequently and as unnecessarily as women do. Along with taking up space, women also tend to apologize for their appearance: “sorry my hair’s a mess” or “don’t mind my acne” or “excuse the dark circles” – all for looking like a normal human woman.

But that’s not our fault – we are raised by a society that profits off women’s insecurity. I don’t need to apologize for voicing my opinions, for taking up space in a room or in a conversation, or for my physical appearance. So I’ll be calling myself out every time I do.

Colonial mentality

[Image Description: Gif of a women raising her arms and saying “Bring it.”] Via GIPHY

Colonial mentality is best described as an internalized or subconscious inferiority complex that causes those from postcolonial nations to dismiss their own culture and values as inferior to those of the colonizer. It is one of the most common and least-discussed psychological effects of colonization, and it is one I have personally suffered from for as long as I can remember.

To this day, I find myself subconsciously dismissing Sri Lankan artists and thinkers and scientists as less than, and it is through the same lens that I view my own writing. If Sri Lankan art or academia is lacking in any way, it is because we do not enjoy the same resources and carefree freedoms that Western countries do. Instead, we create art and nurture intellectuals in spite of the economic anxieties and social tensions that followed our civil war, the roots of which are entirely traceable back to – you guessed it – colonialism.

This year, I will consume a lot of Sri Lankan, and brown, art. I’ll be decolonizing my own mindset, and giving the art and culture of my people the appreciation and legitimacy that they command. More importantly, I’ll be giving myself, my art and my ideas the validity and the cultivation that they deserve.

Being appeasing

[Image Description: Beyonce Knowles looks into the camera and says “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”] Via GIPHY

Any brown woman is a master at downplaying – downplaying our opinions, our intellect, our politics, our rage. It’s what we’re told to do at social gatherings so that we don’t appear too intimidating, too smart. We are asked to do it to cater to the egos of the men and older women around us. Being young, brown and female is tricky – you are equipped with a competitive education, a distinctive worldview, and being told ‘no’ so much that it now means ‘try’ – all so you can laugh timidly and change the subject every time someone brings up “girls these days.”

It is not my responsibility to make others feel secure and clever. It is my responsibility to use all the skills and resources that I have to right what I believe is wrong. And being angry and opinionated and loud is how I will be going about it. Does this read like a warning? Because it really is.

All these things, isolated, may seem a little bit inconsequential and a little bit hopeless. But collectively, they are a revolution. So please, wear a bindi under your helmet and put a screwdriver in your tiny beaded bag, because we are dismantling the system. 

Politics The World

Media, stop pegging Mexico with stereotypes in the face of their struggle

The only times we seem to hear about Mexico is when main media outlets are talking about immigration policy or referencing Trump’s stump “wall” from the campaign trail (which seems now to be more of a metaphor for his general outlook of pitting people against each other, isolating the country, and overusing a few words than an actual possible construction project, but I digress).

With every policy utterance, President-elect Trump seems to send ripples of economic panic in Mexico. He has made promises like leaving NAFTA, charging Mexico for a massively expensive border wall/fence, and punishing U.S. companies for sending jobs south. 81% of Mexicans feel that Trump is a threat to their country.

Our neighbors to the north are much more present in our cultural conversations, especially with Trudeau beautifying our news feeds with his humanitarian acts. Could it be because the stereotypical Canadian looks and talks a lot more like white Americans? As a country, we seem less interested in the economic ‘pandemonium‘ caused by the hike in gas prices in the past couple of weeks than we do in celebrities’ matching tattoos.

The history of Mexican-Americans begins before the Mexican-American war (a.k.a. The Invasion of Mexico). We annexed much of Mexico and thereby repatriated about 100,000 Mexicans into the growing territory that were the young United States. In 1890, another 75,000 Mexicans became American citizens because of the need for cheap labor. The 1910 Mexican Revolution brought thousands more across the border, seeking refuge.

So, as you can see, many Americans of Mexican heritage have likely been in this country for much longer than many “white” families. They have contributed to our economy in countless ways and served in our wars. Yet, they continue to struggle with being treated like second-class citizens and are portrayed in movies.

The stereotypes of uneducated and minimum-wage job working Mexicans are all over our popular movies and in the media. And though there is nothing wrong with working jobs like that, it is very much wrong to paint an entire population with such a broad brush. Others stereotype Mexicans as criminals, drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and even rapists.

The media glooms onto the worst social problems and neglects to cover the political and economic environment or to acknowledge the rich culture in Mexico.

Here’s what the media fails to acknowledge: the gasolinazo, or approximate twenty percent hike in gasoline prices in Mexico has brought thousands out to protest the country’s economic situation. Over 1,500 people have been arrested, thousands have taken to the streets, several people have been killed, and dozens of businesses have been ransacked by looting.

This is more than just a show of “disgruntled consumers,” as the Wall Street Journal would have us believe, but a display by nervous citizens who are already experiencing the effects of oil shortages and more expensive prices, leaving many home bound.

Protestors in Rosarito, Mexico made every attempt to demonstrate peacefully against Pemex, the historically state-owned oil company with a monopoly on the market. They blocked access to a couple roads, gathered thousands of signatures, and even returned most of the tankers they used to close roads when Pemex expressed safety concerns.

These nonviolent actions were undermined when a rogue protestor unexpectedly drove his pickup truck into a crowd with anti-riot police. Many were injured, several killed, and journalists were beaten and arrested for covering the story.

That is only one city’s story of many.

The Mexican government claims that this increase in gas prices will increase imports and competition, after they broke up Pemex’s monopoly on their oil market in 2016. Protestors are concerned that this increase is the just one policy change of a shift that will cause overall prices to increase, hurting the most vulnerable in the country. Many posters hold the same eerie image: a gas-pump holding up a person, using the nozzle as a gun.

The Mexican people feel that their financial futures are threatened in general, and this price-increase for gas is the final straw for many.

Desperate Mexican drivers are streaming to California for some relief. And, to think of Californian prices as cheap is some indicator of how expensive gas is in Mexican states.

Many in the U.S. are more concerned with the security of our border than the security of those living south of it. For those, it might be helpful to re-engage with facts about immigration from Mexico. The hype about astounding or record-breaking illegal immigration was simply bombastic campaign scare-rhetoric.

In reality, between 2009 and 2015, we have actually seen a greater exodus of Mexican immigrants than influx. The net loss is estimated at about 140,000 over the past 5 years. And, President Obama deported more illegal immigrants than his two predecessors combined. Pew Research says that the overall U.S. immigrants who entered illegally has remained steady since 2009.

We claim to be concerned about democratic partners, but the recent economic protests and concerns in Mexico are not the first time we have neglected to cover the conditions of our southern neighbors. What we seem to forget is that we are close trading partners with this country and that many of our citizens are of Mexican origin.

Our identities and histories are deeply intertwined, as our economies. We should be concerned when there is civil unrest and economic uncertainty south of the border. And, we should read about it much more often, not waiting until the situation becomes sensational.

Gender & Identity Life

3 truths you need to know before talking to Cubans about Che

Growing up as a Cuban in Miami, slash Cuba 2.0, I lived in a little bubble. I never knew that there was a whole other narrative to the ‘icon’ that is Che Guevara. I only knew him as someone whose name was always followed by the word asesino. Not until I was in high school did I meet my first Argentinian wearing a Che shirt, and the wordvomit came spilling out.

I asked him, super offended, why on earth he was wearing that shirt. The kid clearly knowing as little about my people’s cultural baggage re: Che as I knew about his was equally offended by me, and replied with something like they were both Argentinian.

A few years later my younger cousin, product of my two most liberal relatives, half-Italian but raised in Miami, went off to Brown University. My mother often refers to that branch of the family as practically communist. So when he told me about how he literally ripped a Che poster off the wall at school I was shocked, but also proud.

One time in college, a couple of friends and I were going to do a group costume for Halloween. It was like a Lara Croft thing I think. One girl in the group, who I had known since freshman year of high school and who knew my family (and had spoken extensively to my dad about the Cuban revolution), gave me the heads up that she was going to be Che. I told her I would not appreciate that. She did it anyway. That was the end of our friendship.

I tell you these stories in hopes that you, dear reader, can have a little context for the very visceral reaction a group of people have when the subject of Che comes up. Because, you see, he’s become something of a pop culture icon, again, in the last 10-15 years. And while I know that most of the world will never know about the atrocities he committed in Cuba to Cubans, I can ask you, very politely, to please not ever speak of the subject in my presence.

So in order to both help you and I avoid an uncomfortable situation, here are three things you should consider before you start talking about Che:

1. Who am I talking to?


Do I know this person’s nationality? More importantly, do I know if they are specifically Argentinian or Cuban? Now if they’re Cuban, are they Cuban in exile or not? Because if they, or their ancestors, consider themselves to be refugees in exile, it’s better if you just don’t talk about him at all. There are many other things you can talk about. Just move on to the next thing.

Even if they’re the most liberal person you know, if they identify as part of the Cuban exile, even if they identify a pro-democratic socialism and a Bernie or Bust, better to leave it alone.

Talk about something else.

2. What do they already know about Che?


Again, if they’re not Cuban they probably have a very specific, media-taught narrative about who Che was and what kinds of things he did. And even if they are Cuban, you can usually tell pretty easily if they’re pro-Revolution or not. There are pretty obvious signs, like where they live.

If they don’t live in Cuba, and haven’t for a long time, chances are they’re anti-Revolution. If they’re anti-Revolution they’re definitely anti-Che. If you’re still not sure if the Cuban in front of you is pro or anti-Revolution, try asking them when they left Cuba. Anything before 1990 is almost definitely anti, if they’re doctors sent abroad to work by the government more likely to be pro.

3. Do I care about this person and their feelings?

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Like everything in life, people are going to have different facts, experiences, and opinions. I know that most people think differently about Che than this small (but mighty!) group of people that are the Cuban exile. What I would like for you to consider before you broach this subject, and all others really, is whether or not you care about how the other person you’re speaking to is going to feel about what you’re saying. When people talk about Che in my presence, most of the time I don’t engage.

I’m not going to waste my energy on battling a myth. We live in a post-factual society and I have better things to do with my time. If you can’t be bothered to read facts, that’s on you. But I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak about subjects that literally will fill me with a blinding rage in my presence. I don’t think that’s asking for too much.

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Science Now + Beyond

These car company scandals could make your life worse

In the past couple of years, several fuel emission-related scandals from various car companies have come out. Although these have not gone unnoticed, there are deeper issues with these scandals than what you’ve probably read: these incidents do not occur in a vacuum. The effects of greenhouse gas emission lies span across the globe.

The latest major emissions scandal comes from the Japanese automaker Mitsubishi. In April, the company admitted that it had been lying on fuel emission tests for 25 years, causing its stock to plummet by a third. For a quarter of a century, the company has been inaccurately reporting fuel economy. The total amount of cars affected? At least 625,000.

Seven months earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report stating that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act. The statement mentions that many cars made by Volkswagen Group, specifically in its Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, from 2009–2015 “include software that circumvents EPA emissions standards for certain air pollutants.” The company did this by rigging the system that checks for greenhouse gas emissions. The difference isn’t merely marginal, but a shocking increase. For instance, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was tested in the urban city of San Diego, and came up 37 times over the limit of nitrogen oxide emissions. The 2012 Volkswagen Passat was 20 times over the limit when tested in Los Angeles. These allegations, denied by Volkswagen, affect almost a half a million cars in the U.S. alone. The number of cars affected worldwide could be as high as 11 million.

The scandal sheds light on the need for an up-to-date emissions test. Transportation makes up 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. But the exposed scandals as well as those that are still uncovered in the automotive industry have lead to severe miscalculations of emission projections. One analysis states that the Volkswagen scandal alone could have caused an underestimation between 250,000 to 1 million extra metric tons of nitrogen oxide emissions every year.

It gets worse. Because these are not isolated incidents. In 2014, Hyundai and Kai were forced to pay a record $100 million in direct payments to car owners after it lied about their fuel economy statuses. It was no small lie that these companies told, as their projections of greenhouse gas emissions were underestimated by about 4.75 million metric tons over a vehicle’s lifetime. In the same year, Ford compensated 200,000 vehicle owners in the U.S. for overstating its gas mileages.

This deception is the result of greedy companies and a highly competitive market. These companies have chosen to get ahead financially while taking advantage of its customers. While these billion dollar businesses are “saving” money by lying about each car’s MPG, it’s costing their customers significantly more than what they paid for. It is unacceptable.

This is pure corporate greed on display. These companies cheat both their customers and the environment. While much of the media focused on the deception of the company, it did not focus on the severe impact this has on the environment in the form of air pollution. Around 3.3 million people worldwide are effected by air pollution every year, causing premature deaths, according to study in Nature done by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. Another shocking statistic shows that vehicle emissions cause twice as many deaths as traffic accidents in Germany

Oftentimes, we use the statistic that it’s safer to fly on a place than it is to drive a car. But what if it was safer to drive a car than to breathe?

This is only part of a larger issue. We are ignoring the immediate effects of climate change. Developed countries, especially the United States, deny the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. While we ignore the effects of climate change in developed countries because its immediate effects aren’t hitting us over the head, undeveloped or developing countries are much more affected. Developed countries emit the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, but developing countries bear the burden. This is an extension of the problems that arise when we do not hold corporations to high standards. When we allow industry’s greenhouse gas emissions to go unchecked, we are polluting the Earth. More importantly, we are stunting the growth of developing nations, while developed countries’ industries make a profit.

For someone who would consider themselves quite cynical, it is not a surprise that companies did this. But it should be. We should not expect these companies to lie to us. We should not expect corporations to continue to pollute the environment with few regulations. These incidents prove the necessity for cleaner energy and holding industries to higher regulations. It proves the need for greater protection of consumers in the marketplace and and checks and balances for corporations. It proves the need for massive, global change.

Gender & Identity Life

I tucked the Libyan revolution under my breath

For those three weeks, the gravity of my own mortality hung heavy on my shoulders. I was constantly whispering prayers.

Jasmine Riad’s previous work for Coming of Faith can be found here.

Photo: AP

I became more religious during my three week stay in Libya to visit my in-laws. I wore darker and looser clothes to blend in with the more conservative clothing choices of the women. On the car radio I would listen to Quran recitations and Islamic lectures on one of the many stations airing the religious programming. I participated in Ramadan worship with the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country as it broke its fast and prayed as a rare, unified entity.

I didn’t feel like any of these outward, ritualistic forms of worship contributed to my newfound religiosity, though. The religiosity wasn’t even necessarily spiritual. It was a desperate religiosity. One that I grasped and clung to when I became aware of my own mortality, as I wondered how and why I was spared the horror and depravity that had inflicted other humans, just as mortal and vulnerable as me.

For those three weeks, the gravity of my own mortality hung heavy on my shoulders. I was constantly whispering prayers under my breath because I had nothing else to say, and didn’t know what else to do. I found myself muttering the curses and blessings of the revolution under my breath.

On roads in a city with no real government capable of enforcing safe driving laws, I visualized high impact collisions any time I got into a car. It would happen like in the movies: we would be talking about something trivial, perhaps what we would eat for  breakfast tomorrow. Then, mid-sentence and in slow motion, an SUV would crash into the side of the car, glass shattering, blood splattering. Except I didn’t know what to visualize after that. So whether on an errand to the local supermarket or a road trip to a faraway city,  I would utter the shahada, declaration of faith on car rides. I made my tongue wet and brain fresh with those words every few minutes, as I waited for the moment a negligent driver trying to drive across the opposite side of the road would surely crash into the side of our car.

The Allahuakbars, God is greater, were for every time a zooming truck, indifferent to any speed limit signs, flashed passed us without harming us.

Bismillahs, in the name of God, were an oral embodiment of my paranoia. When I didn’t know if booming sounds in the distant sky were fireworks for the Eid holiday or the gunshots that were rumored to be quite frequent and common now that guns were highly accessible in a post-revolution Libya.

Alhamdullilah, all praise is due to God, embodied relief and the placation of the violent rumors for each time the booms were just fireworks. Alhamdullilah for the contentment and peace in standing on the sidewalks, admiring the exploding colors in the night sky while drinking a hot cup of almond tea.

Hasbi Allah wa nama al wakeel, a prayer for justice in this life or the next, when I would sit with my in-laws during late hours of the night and listen to graphic stories about Gaddafi’s cruelty and frustrated political discussions of post-revolution corruption and incompetence.

Allah yerhamhom, asking God to have mercy on their souls, when we would drive through Tripoli Street. Bullet holes were still visible in many of the street’s buildings. Broken glass windows remained shattered. Mismatched paint attempted to cover up blackened buildings from explosions during the revolution. Walls of buildings graffitied with the names of martyrs to honor the fallen, ensuring their souls were still tangible and visible to the city they fought for.

AuthubilLah, asking for refuge in God, upon hearing of the tragedy of two young friends, rebels who had fought against Gadaffi during the revolution. Both were drunk and weaponized when one accidentally shot the other, and when he took him to the hospital he put the gun to the doctor’s head and manically begged him to save his already dead friend.

SubhanAllah, glory be to God, upon seeing the red-orange desert sky scattered with silhouettes of date palm trees while flocks of birds circled above the city of Misrata, from the rooftop of my in-laws’ home.

InshaAllah, God willing, for when people recognized things were difficult now, and would be for a long time, before they got better. But they would get better, inshaAllah.

Gender & Identity Life

Listen, plebes! The true heiress of Egypt speaks

I walk into the Natural History Museum of Really Old Things, an unknowing tourist who just wants to see some fossils and ancient artifacts looted taken from faraway lands that tell us both about the persistence and mortality of human civilization. I see the entrance for the Ancient Egypt exhibit. I am naturally drawn to it. I gaze inside glass cases, internalizing the ingenuity of the mummy-wrapping styles.

I notice an art piece of a gorgeous ancient Egyptian woman who is obviously in a position of power. Men, women, and children are bowing before her in the the portrait. She seems to control the entire kingdom with her eyes.

“Ex-excuse me, miss?” a man with a moustache and a velvet blue blazer, the exhibit curator, approaches me. He is, obviously, British.

“Yes?” I say dreamily, too allured to divert my gaze from this woman.

“Are you–do you–come from any Egyptian lineage?” the curator mumbles excitedly.

I face him entirely now.

“Why, yes. My parents are Egyptian. My entire extended family resides there.”

He lets out a yelp, claps his hands, and jumps a good two inches into the air.

“I knew it! It’s just, the resemblance…it’s uncanny.” He points to the woman in the artwork.

“Don’t you see it? You look just like her, the heiress of all Egypt!”

“Oh sir, I don’t know about that…” I say, humbled but also damn proud.

“Please, I must run a DNA test! You could be the TRUE heiress of Egypt!”

Weeks later, he calls me while I’m doing something that epitomizes the mundaneness of everyday, non-heiress life–like stapling invoices in a gray cubicle.

“Miss, I mean–your Majesty, it is a match!”

And so begins my journey around the world as the one, true heiress of Egypt.*

This is a long standing fantasy of mine. Plausible? A little. Deluded? Maybe. The delusion started way back in elementary school. Whenever someone would ask me “what I was,” and I would tell them I was Egyptian, and they would grow hysterical.

Did I live in a pyramid?! No.

Had I been to the pyramids?! Yes.

Do I have a pet camel?! No.

Have I ridden a camel before?! Yes.

In fact, once I grew accustomed to the reactions my classmates had when they would ask me about my ethnicity, I began using it to gain playground popularity. During ice breaker activities in which we would go around telling the class one interesting fact about ourselves, I would simply say “I’m Egyptian” and the room would fill with oohs and ahhs and follow up questions, even from the teacher. Poor double-jointed Jimmy whose turn was before mine was quickly forgotten.

Once the 2011 revolution hit though, I found people’s perceptions begin to change and move past our 3200 BC glory days. For the three glorious weeks of the January 25th revolution, people actually saw my identity as one of the modern world and humanized it. They said things like “power to your people!” and “keep on keepin’ on!”

Then, when the revolution died and shriveled before the world’s eyes, my Egyptian identity became something I never thought it would be: pitiful.

“Oh, you’re from Egypt. How is your family doing right now? Are they safe?”
“How are things over there? Such a pity.”
And I nod in agreement, “Yes, it is quite sad.” Too overwhelmed and heartbroken to talk about the good times.

For now, my Egyptian fantasies fall between touring the Nile on a private cruise ship and just imagining Cairo with a little less smog. This usually results in an image of me sitting on a plastic chair in an Alexandrian balcony, sipping tea from an aunt’s chipped teacup, listening to Om Kalthoum, and looking over my kingdom, trying to understand the persistence and mortality of human civilizations.

*This scenario actually did play out verbatim at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in DC. Except my husband pretended to be the curator and I look nothing like the art work of the ancient Egyptian woman.