Sexuality Love + Sex Love

I can’t believe it took me this long to talk to my friends about masturbation

The first time I masturbated I didn’t know whether I had orgasmed or not. I come from a conservative family in a conservative society. I did not grow up hearing about masturbation or sex at all. What I knew about orgasms was only what I had read in romance novels. And honestly, mine was kind of underwhelming compared to what I had read. “Is that it?” I wondered. I wanted to know how an orgasm is supposed to feel, how it feels for other people. Do they also take ages to reach climax? Is it kind of disappointing for them too?

(This piece is going to be littered liberally with rhetorical questions, much like life.)

But I didn’t feel like I could ask anyone. I knew a couple of my college friends would be willing to tell me, but for some reason I was hesitant. It was a combination of a deep hesitance to bring up the topic at all and the slight shame of being so inexperienced that I didn’t know what an orgasm should feel like.

I had a vague conversation with one of my school friends (who was also my roommate in college) once, on a rooftop bar two drinks in. Let us call her Rhea*.

Rhea is a part of my school friend group. We have known each other for 10 years, some of us even longer than that. Rhea and I discussed how it took me a long time to reach orgasm while it took her only a few minutes. This was my only point of reference – I wondered if there was something wrong with me.

And somehow even in that open and trusting environment, with one of my best friends in the world, I could not ask about her orgasm.

As I write this article, I am a little surprised at myself. I know she would not have judged me. We knew everything else about each other’s lives. I also considered myself to be a liberal, well-read, and worldly person, someone who understood the restrictions placed upon me by the conservative society I lived in.

I thought I had moved past these restrictions in my head, but now I know that that was not true. Even when we were already on the topic, I hesitated.

A couple of years later, I was drinking tea with another friend from the same group. Let’s call her Luna. I don’t remember how but the topic turned to masturbation. Maybe it was because I was older, or that Luna and I had been getting closer over those few months, but I mentioned something about not knowing whether what I feel are “proper” orgasms or not.

She matter-of-factly told me what it feels like and I felt a rush of affection for her. It was literally that easy. (And yes, my orgasms were fine, I was worried for no reason)

“How come we haven’t talked about this before?” Luna asked me, amazed. She told me that masturbation has a way of stimulating her and making her feel more alert after climax.

I told her that it’s the exact opposite for me – I just feel pleasantly tired and ready for bed. If you had asked me before that conversation I would have told you that of course orgasms are different for different people! But it was more theoretical in my head rather than from any actual knowledge.

The conversation was pretty fun and we decided we should talk to our other friends too, to find out how it was for them. On our next video call with the whole group, Luna brought the topic up again. There was a moment of surprise, followed by a very fun and open conversation. Everyone expressed the same surprise that this was the first time we were talking so openly about masturbation. One of them pointed out that it was probably because we had known each other when we were children – it is difficult to change the tone of conversation when you’ve known each other for so long.

Whatever the reason was, I am glad we had that talk. It was funny and supportive and made me feel closer to these girls that I already felt incredibly close to. Talking about masturbation not only helped me learn more but also helped reduce the taboo and shame I felt about it. It was a healthy conversation to have with friends and I could not recommend it enough!

*Names are changed for anonymity.

Looking for more content like this? Follow our brand new Instagram account!

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter.

Culture Family Life

How oppressive life expectations continues to burden my twenties

I was six-years-old the first time someone asked me what I wanted to be in life. I still remember my answer. I want to be a fairy-princess bus driver, I responded. Notably, I said that with full confidence, and of course I earned some laughs; but what was I supposed to say? A data scientist? I didn’t know any better. All I knew was that I liked fairies and princesses and all the bus drivers I had ever met back then were lovely. So, I just combined them all. However, I was told by the adults around me that my intelligence was far beyond aspiring to be a mythical being or an “ordinary” bus driver. I could be anything, they said. 

And that definitely stressed me out. 

I began to stress because I started to internalize how there was always so much expected from me at a young age. Though, the inclination of my future career endeavors mostly came from my extended family members rather than my parents. My sharp tongue was apparently unusual for a girl to have in Bangladeshi culture, so I was suddenly destined to become the family lawyer, according to members of my family.

At the same time, I was also really good at art, so they suggested I should become an architect. But how could I forget to mention my love of technology, which led to everyone believing I would be the first female engineer in the family. To sum up my point, there were a lot of expectations pinned on me and it was not enjoyable being on the receiving end of other people’s projections. Especially while combining all the impossible expectations I already had for myself. 

After realizing that a fairy-princess bus driver was not quite a plausible career path, I started looking into other options. I’ve always loved fashion. Even now, I would love to be a fashion designer. That dream diminished, however, when my weight was pointed out by those whose counsel and advice I sought out regarding how to make my dream a reality as well as how difficult it is to join the industry without the proper funds. 

So, I changed career projections again. When I was eight, I then realized my love for writing and wanted to become a journalist. But I quickly went through another change of career option when I found that I did, in fact, want to be an engineer. I loved machines, whether it was taking them apart or learning the inner mechanics of how they worked. I adored learning about machines, just not science- the very lessons I needed to take on engineering at a degree level.

What did I want to be next? Well, I’m an artsy soul; in turn, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I did graphic design at A-Level and enjoyed it very much. Although, what I didn’t enjoy was my graphics teacher who would constantly put me down for my preferred style of art by calling it “gothic” and “outdated.” All of which, brought me back to my love of writing, the one thing that has never failed me. I went to a university to receive a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing and an MA in International Journalism.

However, what differing career burdens mimicked from childhood haunt me into adulthood? Finding a job. 

I’m more than aware that being an intelligible young girl came as a shock to many members of my extended family who never, unfortunately, had the chance to complete their education. Perhaps that is the reason they pinned all their hopes and dreams onto me. However, I somewhat feel like I missed out on various aspects of my childhood because I was too busy trying to find what could make me become the “greatest” or “most accomplished” kid in the family.

What’s worse is that I can feel the repetition from my childhood of trying to choose a solid and lucrative career path happening in my twenties. And while I should now be having fun trying to figure life out, most days I stay away from friends and family, applying to job after job and slipping deeper into anxiety. I also know I’m not the only one who feels like this. A friend I have, who is around 3-years older than me, is going through the same thing I am. One of my acquaintances is stuck in a job she doesn’t enjoy simply because it pays the bills.

I can’t speak for other cultures, but here’s what I know about Bangladeshi culture: girls, particularly ambitious ones, must have their lives sorted out by 25 with a job, orderly finances, and assets, etc. After that, according to our elders, we get old and no man will ever want us. I’ve heard people use ‘expiry date’ when a woman ages because she faces the possibility of being less fertile. What on earth is a woman without a family? Well, every bit still a woman.

The non-progressive Bangladeshi mentality pushes women to have achieved everything they must in order to be successful by their mid-twenties, so they can spend the rest of their lives pleasing their spouse and his family. So many of us spend so much time and energy worrying about how time is slipping through our fingertips. As a result, the vast majority of us then feel as though our twenties were just a blur of tears and failure.  

Although my parents do not push me to live with these oppressive life burdens, I can’t help but feel the pressure radiating off of my extended family members. Even my friends sometimes voice their concerns for me and my future projections in life. Sadly, even though I am not physically forced to stay in this trap of life insecurity at such a young age, I remain here as a part of the tradition.

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

History Historical Badasses

Savitribai Phule was the feminist teacher from the 1850s we wish we had in high school

Because of British colonization, women’s rights were nonexistent in 19th century India; women were largely confined to domestic roles and were not allowed to receive an education. Despite such patriarchal restrictions, Savitribai Phule, an Indian teacher, and feminist, established the first school for girls in India in 1848 with the help of her husband, Jyotirao Phule. Savitribai’s trailblazing in women’s education is a testament to the resilience of feminists. 

Like most other married Indian women, Savitribai was not literate at the time of her marriage at age nine. After being educated by her husband and his friends, Savitribai enrolled herself in training programs for teachers at two institutions, the Normal School and an institution in Ahmednagar. 

Later, she began to teach alongside Sagunabai, another revolutionary Indian feminist. Eventually, the Bhides and Sagunabai founded their own school at Bhide Wada, the home of Tatya Saheb Bhide, a man who was inspired by the work of the trio. 

During this time, education was limited to male Brahmins (a caste) and involved the teachings of the Vedas and Shastras. Savitribai’s school was unique in that it taught mathematics, science, and social studies instead of Hindu texts. It was also open to people of all castes, including women. 

However, not everyone supported Savitribai’s endeavors; Savitribai would carry an extra sari with her to school because people would hurl stones and dirt at her while she was walking. By educating people of lower castes and women, Savitribai was radically changing the status quo. Knowledge is power, so her work empowered hundreds of people from historically marginalized communities in India. 

After being kicked out of their house by her husband’s father for their work in the community, the Phules lived with Usman Sheikh and his sister, Fatima Sheikh. Fatima is known as the first Muslim female teacher of India and opened a school alongside Savitribai. Their friendship exemplified feminist sisterhood and empowerment. 

Outside of her educational accomplishments, Savitribai was also a staunch feminist and poet. She authored two notable collections of poetry, Kavya Phule in 1854 and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar in 1892. Through her writing, she was able to encourage people from marginalized communities to break free from the chains of oppression by getting an education. 

Later, she founded multiple organizations to raise awareness for women’s rights, infanticide, and caste-based violence. The Mahila Seva Mandal forged gatherings between women of all castes and encouraged all of the women to sit together on the same mat. In her house, she created the House for the Prevention of Infanticide as a safe space for widowed Brahmin women to deliver their babies and leave them there under her care. At the same time, she campaigned against child marriage and lobbied for widow remarriage. 

After her husband’s death, Savitribai chaired a session for the Satyashodhak Samaj, an organization that serves the interests of non-Brahmins. At this time, a woman chairing an organization was unprecedented and revolutionary. Through these efforts, Savitribai also initiated the first Satyashodkah marriage, which is a marriage without a dowry, Brahmin priests, or Brahminical rituals. 

Savitribai also founded a clinic to take care of patients with the bubonic plague. She passed away in 1897 while taking care of a patient with the bubonic plague in the clinic. While she passed away more than a century ago, her legacy is honored annually in Maharastra on January 3rd, known as Balika Din (Day of Girls). 

Balika Din is a holiday dedicated to educating people about legislation that protects young girls and is dedicated to the welfare of young girls in India. Women are still actively discriminated against in India through sexual assault, sex-selective abortions, and patriarchal gender roles. Savitribai’s work was the first step towards promoting gender equality in modern India. 

Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!

Work Now + Beyond

Working from home showed me what I really want out of my work life

Working from home hasn’t been easy for everyone. With the coronavirus pandemic, many people are out of work or working from home for indeterminate amounts of time. I know a lot of us are unhappy with working from home, but for my family and me, it’s been a source of newfound freedom.

For my parents, it’s been easier working without a long commute, which saves them hours of time. They can now spend more time with their family, when before they usually only saw us at the very end of the day. They can also take short breaks in between work calls and meeting, which they’ve admitted makes them much more productive. After a particularly difficult work event, they can cool off with a walk or a relaxing TV show, instead of staying in the office environment.

As for me, I’ve done both my schoolwork, my on-campus job, and my internship from home. While it has its downsides, there are plenty of net positives. I never rush in the morning, so I can take my time with all my meals and chores. If I need a break between classes or work activities, it’s easy for me to take a nap or take some me-time. I’ve had so much more time to write, read, sew, knit, draw, and indulge in my other hobbies. I was incredibly stressed and in a terrible mental state before lockdown. Working at home brought me the peace of mind I needed to heal.

So will this change anything? Part of me hopes so. Many people I know have always heard that they can’t possibly work from home in their industries. After lockdown, most of them realized that it was totally feasible to work remotely. Those that need to be at home for medical reasons, to take care of their children, or simply because it’s convenient might be able to continue working at home.

For people like me, I think the lockdown has taught us that we can’t thrive on work alone. In a healthy society, every person should have time to relax, pursue hobbies, and spend time with family instead of working every hour of the day. Hopefully some of our employers will learn that we can’t afford to live with that schedule anymore. Even if this working from home schedule isn’t permanent, I hope it can spark some meaningful change.

Working from home has given me a better work and life balance. I’m finally find some forms of fulfillment outside my job and my schoolwork. It has encouraged me to pursue my hobbies and take time to relax and refresh. I know a lot of us aren’t happy with working from home, but it’s significantly better than losing your job or needing to work on-site during a pandemic. It doesn’t mean we have to be happy, but we’re the lucky ones. This is a unique time, and we should make the most of this change and come out of it with a better understanding of how to strike the right home/work balance for each one of us.

Health Wellness

What you don’t know about living with high myopia

I was only six when I got glasses. I remember it well, some memories just stick to you, waiting to spread the glue every time they cross your mind. We were doing routine eye tests at school and I had to go into the nurse’s office. I can still clearly visualize her calling out my name, the first M in my class. I walked in, my tiny legs hanging off the high stool. I sat there while she flipped on the dreaded screen that peaks my anxiety, even today. I couldn’t read all the letters. As much as I twisted and turned, and squint my eyes, I just couldn’t read them. And so, she called in my mom. There was a lot of crying, a lot of eye doctor visits, a lot of not being able to understand until finally, I got glasses.

I hated them. There was an older girl who talked me through it, saying it wasn’t that bad, and when I wore them, I’d finally be able to see everything clearly, bright as day. I don’t remember putting them on. But I do remember the trauma that came after. The bullying. The taunts. The name calling. I hear it in my head even as a grown ass 26-year-old woman – the voices telling me that my weak eyesight was a cause of insult. And because of that, I’ve always been insecure when I wear them. I didn’t want to be all those names those kids called me. 

I eventually got contacts. While I felt better on the outside, my eyes continued to weaken. Over the years, I soared through the first few numbers. Dancing into higher numbers on each visit to the eye doctor. And damn, I hate that bloody test. Every time I sit in that chair and recite the letters and numbers up on that small screen, something within me stirs. I will myself to read them, knowing my eyes can only do so much. When I was younger, my mother would come with me, and when I’d hesitate across a letter, she’d urge me on, saying you can see it right? How can you not, it’s right there? But I never could. It was too hard. It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

Sometimes I’d learn the screens by heart. My memory comforting me. I’d recite the letters off like I rote learnt them for a school exam. Breathing in as I went through them, growing smaller and smaller. But I’d always get caught. I’d leave the eye doctor feeling worse. I never had any excitement in getting new glasses. I’m getting better now, I wear them out more often and yet, every time someone looks at me for a moment longer, my mind lingers – what would they think? 

It was the one test I always failed. And I always continue to fail.

And I know it’s silly. They’re JUST glasses. Everyone wears them. It’s normal. But for me, it never has been. My number has always been higher than everyone around me. The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing. I’m terrified of going to the eye doctor because I don’t want to know how much worse my eyes have become.

I’ve been to so many doctors, been told so many different things. One doctor told me not to lift heavy objects because it could damage my eyesight. One doctor told me to stay away from football matches and cricket games because the movement of the ball could damage my eyesight. But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

The reality is, I have high myopia, and that means my number may never stop increasing.

The first two months of lockdown, I was nervous. What if something happened to my eyes? What if I needed new contacts? What if my glasses broke? And I know it was just my anxiety leading me into believing the worst. 

Two years ago, my eye number was stationary for one entire year. I go to the doctor every four months, get my eyes dilated, spend the entire day just lost in blurred vision and headaches. I usually have to take the day off work. But at my last check up that year, for the first time in my life, I finally had hope that maybe I could be applicable for lasik.

But I can’t live in fear of things that are so simple, so mundane, so quintessentially everyday life.

So I went in, high spirits, got the test done. Saw purple for an entire afternoon. And then went in the next day to hear that my number had increased by three. I was devastated. I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

A lot of people ask me about my eye number as if it’s so fascinating. I get a lot of “Oh, I didn’t know your number could be that high!” or “Can I try on your glasses?” or “Can you see how many fingers I’m holding up?” And it’s normal, humans are inherently built to ask questions, we thrive on curiosity. I know I do. But it’s tough. It’s tough knowing that I can’t get lasik. Knowing that my retina is stretching. Knowing that my eyesight is terrifyingly weak and I hate not being able to see the world without it being reflected back at me from the corners of my thick glasses. 

I love controlling the things in my life and my eyesight is the one thing I’ve never been able to push into focus.

When something happens to my eyes, I’m immediately afraid. Last year, I had a scare where I couldn’t wear contacts for a month to allow my eye to heal. And I was lucky, because it did eventually heal. And I’m learning to live with it. 

But my high myopia isn’t going anywhere. The only possible procedure is too risky. So if you’re reading this, and you too have high myopia, I feel you. I understand. I know it isn’t easy. But we’re doing the best we can under the given circumstances. 

I’m still functioning.

My eye number may be increasing constantly, but so is my strength.

And for now, that’s good enough.

Culture Family Life

A love letter to libraries

I know that I am not alone when I say that we, as humans, find a lot of solace in libraries. They are temples of knowledge, housing collections of stories and dreams alike on their shelves. Libraries are as much a part of our culture as anything else. People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries. In a way, they hold the key to all of our stories,

I love libraries, and I am terrified to see their eventual demise, especially as our world becomes almost entirely digital. They are gems from the past that have maintained vitality no matter the circumstances or happening outside of their walls. Not to mention they are the cornerstones of entire communities, maybe even countries, granting light and stability to people when nothing, or no one, else seemed able to. They offer more than just books; they offer entry into a space that seems more like a sanctuary run by people grounded in compassion, commitment, creativity, and resilience.

People have relied on these spaces for warmth, insight, and marvel for centuries.

I used to go to the library near my grandparents’ house every other Friday. For the most part, my mom took my brothers and me there to get a new book for school or to see what DVDs we could bring home to watch that evening. But I remember roaming around, starstruck, in between the tall shelves, wondering about the people who wrote each and every single one of those books and how long it might have taken to get them all here.

Most weeks, my mother let me get two books instead of one. I could spend hours there if it was permitted. I always liked watching my mom pick her books for the week, too. She seemed so sophisticated and gentle while scanning the shelves, yet she never knew exactly what she was looking for. If it was winter, afterward we would all pile back into the car with our hardcover books and grab a slice of pizza. If it was summer, we would walk to the Italian Ice shop down the street for some cream ice – those were the best days. 

I fear that libraries have been taken for granted, even in my own life, and am always spellbound to find them chock full of unexpected people, doing unexpected things, with unexpected passions. There is absolutely nothing that compares to the feeling, the pure excitement in my stomach, that erupts every time I am searching in a library for the perfect tale to dig into. A trip to the library seems, to me, to be enchanted. I become whimsical, enveloped by the completeness and simplicity of the entire journey.

Even the smell of a library is impossible to replicate because of its specificity and poignance. I am reminded of sandalwood, dusk, and a particular, antiquated, dampness. Its familiarity is beyond comforting. The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination. 

I feel at home while pattering around and tracing my fingers between the shelves of books. I fall in love while blowing the dust off of the covers, revealing bright colors and exquisite lines. I spend hours crinkling through the aged, already yellowing, pages of novels wondering which I will pick this time. It is never an easy decision, and I always leave with dozens underneath my arms wondering if the others will still be there when I return the next week. But, that’s the beauty of libraries, isn’t it? Every visit is entirely different from the last and there is no telling what you might stumble upon. Yet each visit is also starkly familiar. 

The air itself seems to be saturated in possibility and imagination.

Books have changed so much of my life, with plotlines, characters, and lessons that have been woven into nearly everything I do – that is every decision, every consideration, and everything that I have grown to appreciate or even pay a little bit more attention to. Books are there to remind me of what’s important, and when I’m not so sure, they’re there for me to lean on. Without libraries, though, I might have never been allowed membership into such a world of splendor. 

Movie Reviews Pop Culture

Netflix’s “The F**k-It List” shows what it takes to say “fuck it” and do what you really want

I just finished watching Netflix’s new film The F**k-It List, and I can safely say that it’s my new favorite movie.

It’s about a high-school senior, Brett, who shares a fuck it list of things he wishes he had done differently after a senior night’s prank blows up.

He is studious and moves on the right path of life academically. He has a 3.65 GPA and 1590 on the SATs. He makes it to seven Ivy Leagues and gets wait-listed from Harvard—every student’s dream life, right? But he makes one mistake and all colleges drop him. One prank goes wrong, and he loses everything he had worked so hard for.

“One mistake and everything goes away. Total bullshit.”

The movie is beautifully made. All the loose ends seamlessly tie in together at the end and everything falls into place. The cast is also excellent, especially Eli Brown. No one could’ve played Brett better than him. He acted perfectly. 

 Brett looking at the computer in a gray shirt.
[Image description: Brett looking at the computer, wearing a gray shirt.] Via Extramovies

The movie fully encapsulates the life of a teenager. Everything a teenager feels, wants, goes through, gives up on. Everything that matters to them. Love. Relationships. Family. Friends. Transition. Expectations. Hopes. Mistakes. Failures. Adulthood. Dreams.

Brett feels liberated when he finally says fuck it and puts his list out there.

“By themselves, relatively harmless. Put them together and they’re life changing.” 

His dreams on the list are so real. Wanting to skip school. Punching his PE teacher in the face. Learning guitar. Falling in real love. Kissing his childhood crush

Throughout the movie, Brett delves deeper into the depths of what saying fuck it really means. What his list really stands for.

Brett’s video of the list goes viral on the internet and other children, inspired by him, start making their own fuck it lists. And in fact, they start following their lists. His idea spreads like wildfire around the world. It becomes bigger than himself. 

“You ever just want to say fuck it?”

Brett’s friend and childhood crush, Kayla, for instance, breaks her mother’s boyfriend’s car with a baseball bat. He got drunk and came for her when she was 11. When she told her mother about his sleazy behavior, she told her to shut up and stop provoking him. But then inspired by Brett, Kayla finally found the strength to stand up to Steve. This makes me think about how there’s so much that all of us give up for one reason or another. What we endure. What we let go. But what does it take to finally give up all excuses and do what we want?

 Kayla squints her eyes as she looks at the sea.
[Image description: Kayla squints her eyes as she looks at the sea.] Via Extramovies

People call Brett boring because he’s studious and focuses on studying all the time. I know how many times I’ve been called boring for prioritizing school work over having fun. But they didn’t realize that my grades mattered more to my parents than they did to me. And how could I ever let them down?

“Do what you’re told,” they tell you. “Stay on the right path.”

I’ve felt the pressure of making my parents happy, fulfilling their expectations. They sanded down my dreams. I didn’t know when they started living through me, but when that happened, I fell into an abyss. If I deviated just a little from the path they had chosen for me, they felt hopeless—like they had lost everything. They cared about how I was perceived. They paved the road in front of me, making me feel so small. Their desperation, expectations, and hopes settled inside me, holding me back from doing the things that I wanted to do. It was always about get this and get that and get there. Somewhere in between, I stopped caring about what made me happy

I keep thinking now, just for once, I should’ve let go and said—fuck it.

At the end of the movie, Brett is given another chance to attend college. But it comes at a cost. He’s told to write a college essay based on the theme of contrition—contrition, really? 

For what?

Brett made some decisions on his own and his life came crashing down at his feet like sea waves. And then he was told to fix his life. Move ahead. Do as he was told. His parents checked on him, again and again while he wrote his essay because they didn’t want him to blow up his last chance of ending up at college. They told him that they had invested 18 years into making his life. And he was so close now. But then, Brett blew it up saying Harvard wasn’t for him. He told his parents point-blank that he wanted to live his life in his own way. 

“Your frustrations—they’re real, as they should be.”

Sometimes, our parents viscerally start living through us. They don’t realize that we need the independence to make decisions, to choose for ourselves, to be on our own. Sometimes, we don’t want what they want. Sometimes, they just don’t get it. And it’s not just parents, it’s everyone, including our friends and teachers. It’s hard to put together pieces of your life when they don’t belong to you. 

Life is like what’s beyond the sea—the unknown. We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what’s to come. But sometimes, taking a chance is worth it. We shouldn’t kill the pursuit of the unknown. What if everything we want lies in it? The F**k-It List shows us that it’s important to hold on to things that matter even if we don’t understand them fully. 

I loved the movie for how real it was. 

Brett’s character is every other teenager—stuck in a life that he doesn’t want to live. 

But I think I’ve learned to say from him what I should’ve said so many times before. Fuck it. 


Money, rather than fulfillment, is my community’s main career concern

“I think I’m going to apply for Journalism,” I said without a second thought. It was the last year of high school and teachers were constantly inquiring about our future plans. I saw my teacher stop in her tracks. I could almost see the knobs turning erratically in her mind while the wires glitched and sparked. “Journalism? How is that going to make you any money?” she asked while looking incredulously at other students who stared back at her in confusion.

This was not an isolated incident. My plans to pursue a career in journalism were constantly interrogated and mocked in my last years of high school, especially by my teachers. The same treatment was not afforded to students who sought a degree in medicine, mathematics, engineering, and computer science. The sciences were simply glorified more than the arts.

I lived in a community that was founded by the first Indian settlers who were brought as indentured laborers to work in sugarcane plantations. Their lives were difficult, and education, as a means to escape poverty, was (and still is) an immense privilege. A culture of striving to attain high paying jobs was born out of this poverty my ancestors constantly fought to escape from.

Both India and South Africa are developing countries. When my ancestors left India for South Africa, they brought with them the mindset of only pursuing things that are monetarily advantageous. Studying towards a high paying job was the goal, and that demanded one to excel at mathematics and science. Many believed the average doctor or engineer to bring in a higher income than the average painter or poet. However, being good at (or simply just passionate about) English Literature and writing? Well, that was of no use.

My grandfather saw his own father pursue his passion to the detriment of his family. My great-grandfather fought against the Apartheid government – an undeniably admirable thing to do. However, this did not afford him the luxury of having a stable job or home. He was constantly on the run. Constantly in hiding. You can imagine the effect it all had on my grandfather’s childhood. To put it quite simply- he grew up with zero financial security. It shaped the way he thought about work, which in turn, shaped his life.

My grandfather loves singing. In his youth, he was in a band. When I was growing up, he used to burst out into song whenever the mood suited him, and all his grandchildren loved to listen. However, despite expressing regret at not being able to pursue his passion, he knew that becoming a factory manager was the responsible thing to do for his family at the time. They needed to eat, and singing did not pay the bills.

No one can deny the immense sadness that comes with this mindset. Many in my community had to sacrifice their passions in order to live with the security that a stable income brings. This is not to say that people aren’t passionate about maths or the sciences, or that the arts can never make one any money. However, occupations paid through a commission system or only pay once someone gets a gig provided a less constant income – something people living in poverty can just not afford to risk. As seen in my grandfather’s case, some just do not have the luxury of pursuing what they love.

Things have changed for the worse in my experience. This culture has evolved into not just viewing education as a means to earn more money, but it has become a shaming tactic. The prioritization of the sciences over the arts resulted in my community attributing intelligence to only those who excel academically in the former. Anyone else was basically considered stupid.

There is a stereotype that both East and South Asians excel in school. My mere racial identity placed this pressure on me to prove my worth through academic achievements. But even when I did well in school, if it was not in mathematics, then it meant very little.

Though the historical context of gravitating towards certain professions to alleviate poverty makes sense and once served a purpose, I now see how outdated and unhealthy it can be for a community, especially their youth. Money can be a powerful thing, so choosing between what you love and how much you want to earn can be an incredibly difficult decision. However, I like to believe that if you follow your heart, you’ll figure out the practicalities along the way.

Some may believe my decision to make a career out of writing was too risky…perhaps outright irresponsible. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Tech Policy Now + Beyond Inequality

Online education has revealed the painful truth behind South Africa’s digital divide

On 16 March 2020, I begrudgingly woke up on the morning after President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation regarding the spread of COVID-19 within South Africa. I was running around the room preparing myself to leave to campus for the day until my phone started going wild with notifications. Speculations that the university would be closing were soon confirmed by the institution. Our vacation period was moved up, and all students living in university-provided accommodation had to vacate within the next few days. With such little notice, many students found themselves stranded. 

A week later, on 23 March 2020, President Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be entering a 21-day military patrolled lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve. Since then, it was announced on 9 April 2020 that the lockdown would be extended for another 14 days. Universities and schools decided to keep their doors closed while online education took center stage, and suddenly the reality of South Africa’s digital divide became a rather pressing issue. While most students were preparing for online classes, those who found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, however, did not have the luxury of partaking in such classes.

According to Stats SA’s Poverty Trends in South Africa report, as of 2015, 55% of the population is living below the upper-bound poverty line in South Africa. This means that they are unable to purchase both adequate food and non-food items. Statistics such as these bring forth the question of how would poverty-stricken South Africans be able to effectively participate in online learning without the infrastructure or support to do so? As I sit here typing on my laptop with a roof over my head, food in the fridge and a stable WIFI connection, I am very aware of the fact that many of my peers do not have the same privileges.

The solution for effective online learning in South Africa is not as simple as providing computers to access online learning material. Many live in small, cramped and unhygienic spaces with little to no water or electricity. I attend a university where the majority of the student body live in university-provided accommodation with resources such as food, electricity, water, WIFI, heating and sanitation facilities. The university also usually provides all students access to libraries and computer labs. Thus, universities have become a safe haven for many students who do not have the same resources in their respective households. With the lockdown, these favorable conditions for learning have been stripped away from these students.

Students without these conducive home conditions face the difficult decision of seeking other accommodation, away from loved ones, in order to effectively continue their studies. Many students who receive funding are forced to use the money on groceries and other home essentials for their families, rather than purchase laptops or data. Such domestic issues seem to not be at the forefront of concerns for academic institutions.

Their focus appears to be digital-oriented. The University of Cape Town has provided laptops to all students on financial aid. The University of Witwatersrand established a Mobile Computing Bank, which will enable qualifying students to loan basic devices from the bank. Rhodes University has conducted an extensive survey on students’ capability to engage remote/online teaching and learning. They have ordered laptops which “will not be cost-free, but will be made available to students who need them for online education on a financed arrangement.” Furthermore, they plan to deliver printed study packs to students who are not able to make use of online facilities, and acknowledge that they have a “moral obligation to ensure that no student will be disadvantaged by the delivery of teaching and learning using online systems.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is making me, and I am sure other South Africans too, painfully aware of these inequalities now more than ever. The mere fact that we are being told to wash our hands to slow the spread of the virus, yet have no water to do so is a testament to how ill-prepared we are, as a developing nation, to handle such an issue. It is a social justice imperative for the privileged to help those that need it. However, I, as an average citizen, feel overwhelmed and incapable of making a lasting difference. Especially in a time where leaving one’s house to share resources puts them and those around them at risk. 

Thus, the government and the various academic institutions within the country need to make a proactive effort in helping students in need during this time. Solutions already adopted by the University of Witwatersrand include pre-loading devices with the required learning resources before being delivered via the South African Post Office to students who need it and arranging with telecommunications service providers to zero-rate its library and learning management sites. Other universities should either follow suit or suspend all academic activity. Without our leaders doing something, we risk stunting the growth of our future workforce. 

Career Coronavirus Now + Beyond

Zoom bombers reminded me why I cherish teaching

Like many teachers in the age of COVID-19, I’ve switched to virtual classrooms (Zoom) as of late. It’s been two months since I last stood in a classroom, since I last had a thriving discussion about Poe’s work or Bradbury’s prose

It’s a peculiar experience, this feeling of teaching literature – a form that so heavily relies on a connection between pen and paper, person and prose, real life discussion – through a screen. But we’ve been steadily moving, finding ways to decipher this new reality. 

Last week, I came across some articles about zoom bombers: someone crashing your Zoom and disrupting it, much like photobombing. I skimmed through them, not thinking too much about it. People had also been sending me a lot of videos with jokes being played on teachers à la zoom bombers, but I just brushed them off. It wasn’t until a few days after, when it happened to me, that I realized how deeply disturbing and disrespectful it could be. I was teaching a class, one that I’d spent the entire previous afternoon preparing when it was disrupted – I quickly removed the intruder and carried on. 

Because as a teacher, that’s what you do. You pick yourself up and keep moving. I’ve always been really impatient as a person, but teaching is the one thing that’s made me learn some patience. You can’t do it without any.

Teaching isn’t pretty.

And then came the next set of zoom bombers. This one was worse. The crasher came in, abusing, cursing, just totally taking away from the entire environment I had crafted for the day. It made me think about how the teenage mind works, how they believe that they’re invincible, and that repercussions and accountability don’t exist for them. Sometimes, respect isn’t given at all, only taken and honestly, it shocks me. I barely remember that feeling, the one where fear didn’t exist in my heart, and actions were the first means of communication before words. 

The class progressively got worse. Another crasher came in and played a recording of sex noises. I was disturbed, yes. But more than that, I was afraid. Afraid for the future of children who think like that, for those who are constantly on the mode of attack for the simple sake of humor. And humor to what extent? No one knows. 

My mind can’t fathom what makes someone act this way – but that’s alright. And the irony of the situation is that it says a lot more about them than it does about me.

This is why I teach.

I confronted my students, reported the incident, and carried on. But what I didn’t expect is how the students (the ones that come here to learn, to grow, to expand their thinking) reacted. My email flooded with apologies and appreciation and I was reminded – this is why I teach.

Classroom management in a virtual world is new to us and we’re all still learning. There will be bumps and bruises along the way but teaching isn’t meant to be pretty. It accepts the flaws that come with it and works on tackling them in the best way possible.

That one moment where the students sit quietly in awe of the way a story comes together – or a character has her moment of absolution – or a poet evokes some form of greater understanding – that’s everything. And that’s why there’s never a dull day in this line of work.

Zoom is an average substitute, and the virtual classroom is the only thing we can cling to right now – but we, as teachers, and educators know that human connection, the passing down of knowledge, the exchange of ideas – that’s where the real learning comes from. 

LGBTQIA+ Gender Inequality

The hypocrisy of Muslim parents protesting LGBTQ education

Since January in the English city of Birmingham, some parents have been protesting and boycotting their children’s schools.

The conflict is over the award-winning LGBTQ acceptance lessons known as the ‘No Outsiders’ program. The parents, mostly from the Muslim community, argue that that the lessons are ‘not age-appropriate,’ with some even going further to say that the lessons encourage their children that being queer is okay and that it goes against their religious teachings.

‘No Outsiders’ was created in 2014 by Andrew Moffat, the then-assistant headteacher at Parkfield Community School in Birmingham at the center of the protests. He was awarded an MBE in 2017 by the Queen for his services to education and was shortlisted for the Varkey Foundation’s “best teacher” prize.

He states the program aims to teach children about the Equality Act and the characteristics protected under it – such as sexual orientation and religion. It helps children understand that there are different familial dynamics and also teaches them respect and tolerance of others in a world with hatred for ‘different.’

Moffat has said that feedback by parents has always been positive and the protests a small minority who are using the situation to push forward their homophobic beliefs.

These parents have taken to pulling their children out of the school, protesting outside the school and spewing death threats to the teachers and other parents who refuse to stand up for what they believe is ‘discrimination against their religion.’ Staff at the schools are distraught, and the fear that runs through the country’s LGBTQ community has increased too.

Many of these parents argue it is not a case of ‘homophobia’ but more of ‘age-inappropriate’ teaching of subjects that are sensitive and controversial and that they are better taught in the home to reflect their religious beliefs.

And to that, I say, poppycock!

Islam is a religion that is greatly misunderstood. Our community is adamant about telling the world that we are peaceful, tolerant, and accepting of all. We tell everyone that we are not here to change your way of life but to live freely with you for a better life for ourselves in cohesion with yours. We would never change your traditions, cultures or anything that is associated with you – we respect you, and we hope you can do the same for us.

But when you have narrow-minded parents like the ones boycotting and protesting lessons on LGBTQ tolerance, the eye rolls from the masses and ignorance starts to make sense.

How can Muslims be demanding respect and tolerance when they are not willing to do the same for others?

Teaching your children about equality for all, including different familial dynamics which could be two mothers, two fathers, etc, does not make your children queer. And even if they are, that is who they are, and if you were a decent parent, your child’s sexuality wouldn’t matter.

If these parents are boycotting the school and threatening staff because the lessons go against ‘Islamic principles’ then they are not actually practicing the Islamic teachings themselves.

Islam promotes equality, respect, and tolerance for all, regardless of orientation, race, or religion.

So the usage of so-called ‘Islamic teachings’ as a reason for bigotry is a) wrong and not even Islamic and b) plays into the hands of the bigots searching for any reason to condemn and criticize Islam further.

As the lessons begin in Reception classes (four and five years old), parents are arguing that the lessons are not ‘age appropriate,’ which is also ridiculous. If sexual relationships of any kind were deemed not ‘age-appropriate’ for four- and five-year-old children, adults should not be asking children, if their friends of the opposite sex are their ‘boyfriends’ or ‘girlfriends,’ regardless of whether it is in a teasing manner.

If children can understand heterosexual relationships such as ‘mummy and daddy love each other,’ then why are they too young to understand queer relationships? Relationships are relationships – regardless of gender.

Using a child’s age to protest against these lessons is masking the homophobia clearly at play.

Muslims and the LGBTQ community are no different from each other in one critical way: we are both enemies in the eyes of bigots and criticized for our ways of life.

So why are the Muslims joining the same bigots who wouldn’t think twice to verbally and physically abuse us, too?

Children are the most loving, understanding and accepting humans on the planet. The innocence of children is not threatened by learning about the LGBTQ community – a community still considered criminal in many parts of the world.

What will destroy that innocence is teaching young children to hate.

Hatred grows as time goes by and when things go wrong, fingers will be pointed at the same parents who will argue that they had nothing to do with it. Families socialize children from a very young age – if you are teaching your children to hate others, you cannot be surprised if they react with that hatred in the future.

Maybe it will do some good for the parents themselves to attend these classes.

Shopping Fashion Lookbook

5 lessons I’ve learned from developing my own style

Fashion is an art form. Through it, one has the ability to portray a message without ever using a word. It’s visual art through means of fabrics, dyes, and various metals. Seeing the unfiltered individuality and unique styles of street style in New York, Milan, and Paris, inspired me to develop my own style. I saw my style as my sense of self. Here are just a few lessons I’ve learned from observing and appreciating the street style over the years.

1. Dressing for yourself can be self-care

Image result for person relaxing
[Image description: Woman lying in a field of flowers] Via Odyssey
If you’ve ever had a bad day but had a killer outfit that made you feel 100% better, then you know what I’m talking about.

We are granted a physical way to control how we present ourselves to the world around us through our clothes. It allows us to force our own confidence on days when it’s just plain tough. In putting on a favorite jacket, the effect is equal to putting on a cape: you’re getting ready to kick ass today. Regardless of what the #outfitoftheday actually entails, dressing for yourself can positively change your outlook of the day.

[bctt tweet=”Once our 20’s have eluded us, we’re expected to abandon our youth.” username=”wearethetempest”]

2. It’s okay to be bold

[Image description:Woman with a bold, yellow statement necklace.] Via Chictopia
We are always put in boxes of who society believes we should be as women. We are told—as young women—that we are allowed, and encouraged, to be alluring. Once our 20’s have eluded us, we’re expected to abandon our youth. At some point, we are encouraged to dress in clothes that cover up our figure because society says you shouldn’t be seen.

But for me, fashion provides an escape. A weapon used to fight the patriarchy. Other weapons include bright red lipstick, neon yellow jackets, and loud floral patterns. In our fight to be seen-to not let ourselves be pushed under the rugs in society-bold fashion is essential. Looking at street style, I am inspired by women who don’t fit eurocentric standards of beauty demanding to be seen through their outfits.

3. It’s also okay to not fit a mold

[Image description: An array of multicolored silhouettes of people standing side by side] Via Twitter
It’s a beautiful time to be observing fashion right now. Just like street style inspires bold decisions, it also encourages one to find their one of a kind style. There’s a fluidity to fashion. You can be tough and feminine at the same time. It’s as simple as paring a black leather jacket with a floral print graphic T-shirt. You can be bold and modern yet classic at the same time. It’s as simple as a timeless monochrome outfit with just a bold lipstick or earring to help you stand out.

[bctt tweet=”I learned you didn’t have to fit inside a mold of one specific style” username=”wearethetempest”]

4. Fashion, like our own personalities, can be complex 

[Image description: A woman displays three separate outfits of unique pattern and color combination] Via Wikipedia
Through fashion, we can let our very mood of the day shine in the fabrics we flaunt. We can be bubbly one day and then bold the next. Watching the diversity of styles through social media and the real world, I learned you didn’t have to fit inside a mold of one specific style. A figurative bulldozer razed over my childish notions of a spectrum of “girly girl” style and “tomboy” styles. I didn’t have to be one side or the other. My style could be feminine, masculine or androgynous, and fashion taught me that I didn’t have to choose.

5. You choose how the world perceives you

[image description: Several hands gather in order to create crafts out of other materials.] Via Burleydam Garden Centre
In a world in which we feel that so many things are outside of our control, this doesn’t have to be. Our socioeconomic status, the political gridlock, and the appalling nature to which the legitimacy of a woman’s word is questioned everywhere can make us feel powerless. Yet, we have power in small things that we sometimes overlook, and one of them is our clothing. With cheap ways to express one’s self and a fashion world with political messages everywhere you look, we can overcome certain challenges. Through fashion, we can let the world know our political views, our mood, our thoughts, our dreams, our challenges. All without a single word spoken. I learned that holds a certain bit of power in itself.