Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender & Identity Life

9 questions that all teachers are tired of hearing

I started teaching around three months ago. It’s been an interesting ride so far and more so because I’m teaching at the same place I went to school. It’s been a mix of coming home and reliving painful memories.

Since teaching is all new to me, everyone keeps asking me how it’s going. I’m bombarded with questions. 

1. How does it feel to be back?

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This, of course, is a valid question. And I tell everyone the same thing, that it’s good, bad, and weird. But I’m getting used to it. Coming back to your high school as a teacher is strange.

2. What is the staff room like?

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Everyone loves this question. As a student, one of the most undiscovered places is the staff room. I remember wondering what went on in there. What did the teachers do? Were they real people outside of the classroom? These questions crack me up now because nothing is really different. It functions the same way. The real truth…teachers hang out like normal people.

3. How can you teach people who aren’t that much younger than you?

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Since I teach O levels, the students are only around 10 years younger than I am. I think people grow so much between the ages of 18 and 24 that this gap builds, and between that gap is where I find my lessons. At the same time, the gap isn’t that vast that I can’t close it when I need to.

4. How do people take you seriously since you’re so young?

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It is tough but establishing boundaries makes it easier. One teacher actually thought I was a student once, it was not fun. I generally look a lot younger than I am, so this is something I’m used to and learning to get past.

5. Do teachers do enough?

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This question. I feel like there is this inherent resentment towards teachers in society and people are constantly blaming them for not doing enough. Sometimes, teachers do more. But it’s a two-way street: there needs to be a connection between student and teacher. In between that, that’s where inspiration falls.

6. How do you handle the disrespect?

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This is probably one of the worst parts of the job. But that occurs in every job, not everyone is going to show you respect in life and understanding that is the best way to approach it, at least for me.

7. What are you going to do after teaching?

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People keep asking me this for some reason, and I’ve only just begun to teach. I know this isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life, but for now, this is what I’m doing and I haven’t thought that far ahead. I think a lot of teachers get asked this questions because there aren’t a lot of ways to move up the ladder here. But that’s alright.

8. How does it feel working with your old teachers?

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I always expect this question. Only last night, someone asked me, how it is to be working with so and so. It’s funny because sometimes people are more interested in hearing about the old teachers than hearing about what I’m teaching. For me, it doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.

9. Why?

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This question. Every single day. I even had a student ask me why, in almost every class. My answer: honestly, why not?

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Teaching is rewarding. It may not be looked at as one of the greatest professions, but I think stereotypes are there to be crushed. Like Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society, words and ideas can change the world. Maybe teaching can, too.

Books Pop Culture

10 short stories by women that’ll keep you more entertained than your Instagram feed

When you’re in a long line, stuck in traffic, or in the doctor’s waiting room, you probably pull out your phone and scroll through social media, right?

Well, I have another form of entertainment for you: short stories.

Short stories are awesome because you get the emotional impact of a full story but in 30 minutes tops. It’s like a more portable (and more educational?) Netflix. Just pop up a short story and leave your mundane waiting for a bit, then come right back.

When I first got into short stories, I noticed that my favorite ones were often written by women. So I’ve decided to compile a list for those boring moments when you need a quick but moving story to keep you entertained.

1. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

This is one of the first short stories I remember reading, and it’s a classic. It’s almost like an entire dystopian drama compacted into 8 pages. The last time I read it was 5 years ago, but I still remember the unnerving last scene very clearly.

2. “The Flowers” by Alice Walker

“The Flowers” is only 9 paragraphs long, and the paragraphs are max 5 sentences. It’s super short and easy to read, but still  powerful. After the first sentences, it may seem like a cute little story about flowers, but keep reading. Walker’s ability to transform it into something completely different so subtly is magical.

3. “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood

If I had to choose one favorite on this list, it would be “Rape Fantasies.” It’s painful, humorous, and conversational all at once, in a way only Atwood can achieve. She’s one of the best writers of our time, and this story is no exception. While there’s no major violence happening in this story, it is vivid and I’d take caution if this is a painful subject for you.

4. “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker

On a lighter note, this one is for all of you waiting for someone to text back. This was written in 1928 but it’s still so relatable today, maybe even more so now that we have iPhones in everyone’s hands. It also hints at bigger themes, like the forced dependence of women on men at the time. Maybe this will inspire you to look at how far we’ve come. Or maybe not.

5. “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri has a way of combining two cultures so effortlessly into one story without making the story about culture clash. The characters will get on your nerves but will also leave you sympathetic for them. Their multi-dimensionality is what really struck me in this story. And, of course, it’s also just entertaining to read.

6. “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The color yellow takes on a totally different meaning for anyone who reads this. If you want to be a writer, this is especially important to read because this is the perfect example of a story that “shows” instead of “tells.” It’s an uncomfortable yet beautifully written story.

7. “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

This is probably Chopin’s most well known story, and rightfully so. She was a controversial feminist writer during her time – this story was written in 1894 – which gives you all the more reason to read it. It’s really short, but just as well developed. The last sentence gives me goose bumps every time I read it.

8. “Distant View of a Minaret” by Alifa Rifaat

Rifaat, to me, is the rural Egyptian Chopin. This specific story is so similar to “The Story of an Hour” it’s scary because Rifaat was practically uninfluenced by Western culture, having only spoken Arabic and rarely traveled. It gives you a good perspective into what some women on the other side of the world had to go through, too. Like in Chopin’s story, this ending gets me every time.

(Side note: I can’t find the story online except in the Amazon preview version of it. It’s the first one in the book, so you can view it for free. But, you know, you should also buy the book because she has some other good stories in there.)

9. “The Arrangements” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie was asked to write a piece imagining a Trump victory for the New York Times prior to Trump’s actual victory (RIP). It’s absolutely hilarious and will leave you reminiscing about the pre-Trump days. I’ve also heard great things about Adichie and want to read her novels, so this story was a great introduction to her work.

10. “Everything That Rises Must Converge” by Flannery O’Connor

So much to think about in this story. Race and racism, wealth and class, family and generation gaps, arrogance and bias….you name it. Every spoken word and every little glance is important. This is all written in the context of one bus ride in 60s, all in 10 pages.

There you have it, my definitive list to escaping boredom through stories by awesome women. Much better than Netflix, right?

Tech Now + Beyond

South Africans are using Facebook to publish in isiZulu, so why is the language still seen as “backwards?”

isiZulu is the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, specifically in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It is one of 11 official languages in the country. Despite being meaningful to many people in South Africa, not much has recently been published in the language.

Since this is the case, Facebook groups are being used as sites for self-publishing isiZulu short stories. Sites like Izindaba Ezimfishane Nosondiya (Short stories with Sondiya), Ekujuleni Kwenhliziyo With S’phaphalazi (The depths of the heart with S’phaphalazi) and isiZulu Short Stories have been contributing to the growing isiZulu writing community in South Africa, making creative outlets more accessible for writers’ work to be read, commented on and shared.

Many of the stories are serialized. Each story will be uploaded chapter by chapter, and readers will get a chance to critique the story, contribute their thoughts about the plot, and even speculate on what will happen next.

As we know, language is an important tool for communicating the way cultures can change and grow over time. For languages like isiZulu that are seen as less important and even less intelligent than English, having space where they can be appreciated is undeniably important. It gives writers and readers the chance to take control of their own narrative, specifically that of Zulu culture and how it is perceived.

Historically, Zulu culture has been deemed as ‘backward’ and ‘savage’ by first the colonial authorities and then the apartheid system. Zulu people were seen as ‘noble savages’: unrelenting and disciplined warriors. The stereotype still persists to this day. To be able to take control of the way Zulu culture is spoken about is so important for people whose culture has been twisted.

Although these Facebook groups are revolutionary, they also highlight the lack of support that African languages receive from publication companies. Many of these companies claim that there are not enough isiZulu writers and that even if there were, the market for isiZulu literature is small.

Despite this belief, the numbers show a very different picture. Business Tech states that only 600-1,000 copies of a South African English book will be sold in the author’s lifetime. In comparison to international books, this is shockingly low.

But what this illustrates is that there is a lack of understanding from publishers around the demographics that South African society represents. Business Tech also states that English speakers make up around 4.89 million people, whereas isiZulu speakers make up 11.58 million people. The fact that these isiZulu Facebook groups can have upwards of 50, 000 writers and readers attests to the reality that there is a potential for isiZulu literature to flourish and even outperform English titles.

It is clear that publishers are not only neglecting the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, but also refusing the reality that isiZulu speakers want to read in their own language. Since isiZulu is predominantly spoken by black people, this refusal is racist. It shows that African languages have no place in a so-called ‘post-apartheid South African literary scene’; a scene that claims to be progressive.

There are a few books in isiZulu that are published by educational book publishing companies. But what this means is that the only isiZulu books given the opportunity to be published are set works for schools and language guides. Most of the work, therefore, does not cross into mature themes above the level of matric or senior year of high school. What this indicates is that isiZulu is not valued artistically, but just as a somewhat necessary language to learn.

To negate the existence of African languages is to negate the existence of black people in South Africa. It is shocking that we are halfway through 2017 and still have to argue for something so obvious.

The truth is ‘indigenous’ languages across the whole world are being excluded in the same way. But what remains important is that we realize how technology is now so much more accessible and can, therefore, be used to promote writing in our own languages.

The existence of these isiZulu Facebook groups is integral to the reclamation of isiZulu as a language worthy of publication. It shows South Africa and the world that our languages are valid and beautiful and need to be heard. What it also shows is that it is time for companies to step up their game and actively seek out isiZulu writers.

It shows that we need a surge in black-owned publications to publish in African languages. Of course, there are so many factors to consider, such as the persistence of white capital in a definitively white supremacist world.

But it is important to understand that in the place of black-owned African language publishers, we can create our own platforms using social media.

Books Pop Culture

5 women of color authors you have to start reading this year

Everyone has heard about Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker.  But I want to focus on recent novels that feature women of color as the main point of view, written by incredible women themselves.

Every one of the authors listed below have novels that were published within the last three years and are absolutely slaying the patriarchy by focusing on their personal experiences as a female during this era.

1. Roxane Gay

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Gay writes for film and television as well as stories.  She is a featured contributor to the  and an editor for PANK.   She also just recently wrote a script for Marvel. Gay is a beautiful example of a WOC author displaying honest and real women in her short stories and other works.

Her most recent novel, “Difficult Women” came out in 2017 and is already a hit.  This book is a collection of stories that show women and the complexities of their lives.  Her novels tend to be ferocious and hard-hitting about feminism.  This novel involves a mother attempting to avenge her child’s death through non-traditional ways.  Gay attempts to write about what is in the world around her, and explores the truth of that world even if it may be harsh.

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2. Pheobe Robinson

Robinson lives in Brooklyn and is an actress, writer and comedian.  She has been on tons of shows like MTV’s Girl Code and Comedy Central’s Broad City. She is well known for her podcasts, Sooo Many White Guys and 2 Dope Queens.  She has also written for “Last Comic Standing” and “White Guy Talk Show.”

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Her novel, You Can’t Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain is an incredible collection of essays about all different kinds of issues in today’s world.  She tackles race, gender and pop culture.  She mostly focuses on being a black woman in the United States.

While in college, she was the only black person in the class and noted that when slavery came up everyone looked to her.  She has incredibly strong opinions on issues like femininity and body issues and provides a great voice through her book.

3. Han Kang

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Han Kang was born in South Korea and lives there still today.  She has won awards for her two popular novels, The Vegetarian and Human ActsThe Vegetarian was her first novel to be translated into English and has since changed her readers through her incredible novels.

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Kang tells the story of two sisters through three sections in The Vegetarian. The story gets interesting when one sister decides to divert from religious norms and become a vegetarian.  The relationship between the two sisters becomes increasingly tough and stressful for them both with different twists and turns. She explores violence and the consequences of imperialism in Korea.

Writers who can be honest and present a story like this of two sisters struggling through life together but apart is powerful and should be spread to many more languages still. She tells the story through two men and then her sister, which gives the audience an intense look on the view of women in this culture and society as well as from the eyes of her sister.

4. Margo Jefferson

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Margo Jefferson is currently a professor at Columbia University.  She is well-known for being a critic, but she has also worked as a writer and written screenplays.  She was a critic for years with the New York Times and also worked as an editor at Newsweek.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1995.

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Her recent novel, Negroland: a Memoir is the story of her life growing up in Chicago in an affluent black family during the ’50s and ’60s.  She uses this book to jump around times in memories and struggles to convey the tragic and difficult memories that she copes with.

Jefferson’s memoir is an important look into America’s past and includes the need for and strength that can be found in retracing one’s footsteps.  She shows a complex look into growing up black in Chicago, but also remaining a member of the privileged class.

5. Sara Farizan

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Faizan is the daughter of Iranian immigrants who grew up in Boston, but now lives in San Francisco.  She is known specifically for her queer young adult literature.  She is fascinating because of her unique outlook on the world from immigrant parents and growing up to realize that she is a lesbian.  She is known for writing about women who are discovering themselves in unusual settings.

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Her most recent novel, “Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel” is illuminating.  The story revolves around a girl who is growing up in Boston and attending a private school, much like Farizan herself.  It is important for individuals growing up, whether they are struggling to integrate because of their parent’s immigration, or their sexual identity or gender identity and so on, for them to understand that they are not alone.