Food & Drinks Life

You must know these tea traditions from around the world

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

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

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

1. Chai of India

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

Try this masala tea recipe.

2. Chanoyu tea ceremony of Japan

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

3. Cha-yen of Thailand

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

Follow this recipe to create some for yourself.

4. Afternoon tea of Britain

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

Follow this for a step-by-step recipe.

5. Cha-Dao of China

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

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

6. Touareg tea of Morocco

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

7. Zavarka and Samovar of Russia

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

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

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

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

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Sexuality Dedicated Feature Love + Sex Love

Even experimenting with my sexuality seems like a step too far

My whole life, not being straight wasn’t an option I allowed for myself. I knew it was just so much easier to what was expected by my family, friends, and society. A remnant of my upbringing, sexuality in general carried a lot of stigma and pressure. But now that I am on the cusp of adulthood, I wonder how different everything could have played out if I allowed myself to explore. 

I can’t even recall the first time a girl had caught my attention, that’s how far back it was. I must have immediately justified it as liking her hair, or the way that she dressed. Perhaps, I reasoned that I just wanted to look like her, and maybe I did. But then, as I went through my teenage phase, I would often fantasize about girls. I didn’t develop any crushes on anyone I knew, but I wondered what it would be like. 

Scrolling through Tumblr, a haven for young people questioning their sexuality, I found myself wandering over to those pages with the artsy nudes. Appreciating them just for their artistic merit, of course, I would say to myself. But afterward, I would feel such shame that my chest grew tight. What was I doing? Who was I? I never brought it up to anyone else, but I remember being on the verge of tears as I reasoned to myself that all girls were like this. I was just young and curious. From then on, my sexuality became a tough cycle of self-denial and censorship. 

But it didn’t always feel that way to me. Even after I started questioning my sexuality, I was still okay with moving on as I always had, being straight. I normalized it to such an extent that for a while, I stopped questioning it. I pursued relationships with guys and it felt normal, if still controversial to the conservative community around me. When I got older and went on an exchange program for a year, I did the same. On the dating apps, I didn’t hesitate to click ‘men’ as my preference. During my last week there, I swapped phones with a friend to swipe through a dating app for fun. On her screen, a woman’s profile popped up. I knew that she was bisexual, but for a second, it felt like the world was playing tricks on me personally. “She’s cute,” my friend said, peering over. She was.

I felt regret. It was my last few days away from home, so I felt that I had missed my chance to try going on a date with a girl. Although even the thought made me feel nervous, I still regretted never trying and now the door to experimenting with any of that seemed firmly shut. I already planned in my mind how I wasn’t going to tell any of my friends, how I could downplay it if they found out. It was crazy, that I was already prepared to keep it a secret. It struck me that day that I was afraid of experimenting because what if I really was bisexual? Just placing that term anywhere next to me felt earth-shattering.

Perhaps it was fear, or just a desire to avoid conflict. I had always been a non-confrontational person and would rather choose to avoid tension even if I have to give some of myself up. Already in a precarious relationship with my cultural identity and family because of my so-called liberal ideas and forward-thinking when it came to feminism and gender, I didn’t want to seem even ‘stranger’ in their eyes. I didn’t want to be rejected. Every move I made caused ripples, even that year away from home was a scandal. If I dared to experiment, who knew what would happen? It seemed like whether or not I was bisexual, just experimenting had the potential to complicate my life. 

I was afraid of that uncertainty. So I never put myself out there. The fact is that I might have tried it out and found that I actually wasn’t romantically or sexually attracted to women. I could find out that I was. If I had known then that sexuality could be fluid, that it could change over time even without the pressure of labels, would experimenting have been any easier of a choice to make? 

But I still wonder, what if? I think I’ll always wonder about that. I also think about other things I am afraid of exploring because of culture, family, friends, and other external factors. Hopefully, as more awareness is brought to experimenting and sexuality, things will change for the better, and more people will feel comfortable exploring important parts of themselves. As for me, I’m not sure where my life will take me. I wouldn’t rule out anything in my future. This is only the first step, confronting my internal ideas of ‘normalcy’, and I suppose it’s okay to not know if and what comes next.

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Travel Life

Why you shouldn’t expect a life lesson from every country you visit

The professor stooped down to listen to the middle-aged guide speak. As I trailed behind him, I could see his eager eyes searching for something – a life lesson perhaps- behind the man’s story of mountain farming in Jebel Akhdar. Sighing, he turned away in annoyance as time passed and it seemed he wouldn’t get his lucrative ‘scoop’. It was then as if our visit was suddenly useless. When did traveling and exploring other cultures start to look like this?

Rather than organically exploring out of curiosity, he felt entitled to the stories of the locals.

Traveling to Oman with a ‘culture know-it-all’ led me to rethink the way I have always thought about visiting other countries. The trip was for a class in my freshman year of university. The professor was an old-fashioned, classically-trained man from an esteemed university. On the way to our destination, he prepared my peers and me by lecturing us on respecting the local customs and traditions. He had a fair point. However, he had only briefly stayed in Yemen for a previous trip on which he based all his knowledge on the Gulf. 

I noticed that he treated everyone he encountered as a story waiting to be uncovered for his own personal gain as a writer. Rather than organically exploring out of curiosity, he felt entitled to the stories of the locals. He attempted to teach us to treat the people we met during our visit as case studies.

The places you visit don’t owe you anything.

Ironically, when we actually met with locals– in a totally artificial, awkward ‘home visit’ setup– he completely botched the local traditions. He made them uncomfortable with his incessant interrogation. I sensed their discomfort with his obviously pointed questions about the age of a young girl and her infant daughter. Even though I myself had roots from the region, I still had to reserve my own feelings about what should be accepted as the norm. I needed to be prepared to give myself a chance to see things from their perspective and even unlearn things I thought I knew. 

In the end, he was often reduced to standing sheepishly on the sidelines while some other girls and I conversed with the people we visited. Slowly, they would unconsciously drop their charade of ‘Arab hospitality’ and let loose. When the professor was looking the other way, they promised to add us to a WhatsApp group they made with other women in the neighborhood that they use to share recipes (one of the girls must have noticed how I kept reaching for the chaklama).  

In those moments, I saw clearly how local groups cater to the tourist gaze. Not everything is as authentic as it seems and it is partly our fault. Locals respond to what they expect we want to see. These places want an income from tourist activity so they will exaggerate their cultural identity for us to be interested.

The recent restrictions on travel have made me take a step back and reflect on the normalized, but a deeply problematic, approach to visiting new countries. To visit unknown lands is romanticized. We revel in strange new foods that make your lungs burn. Get lost in cobblestone alleyways at sunset. And pocket the funny travel-related anecdotes in the back of our minds for future dinner parties. Before we get lost in these dreamy notions of travel, I have something to set straight. 

Locals respond to what they expect we want to see. 

Initially, I wanted to write a piece that encouraged people to be open to new experiences. I wanted to preach that there was indeed a world outside of your small town. That there are a plethora of wild, hopeful or tragic stories that are embedded in the diverse people you meet. And while that may be true, feeling entitled to experiencing them just because you got on a plane to visit is not right.

This way of thinking can be incredibly exploitative. Seeing travel as a ‘unique’ learning experience and cure for the soul is almost always linked to non-Western countries. The trope of a white person going to an Asian country to find themselves is saturated in pop culture. Just think of the newly divorced white woman’s motivation to visit India in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. 

Here’s an idea- maybe the locals at your tourist destinations don’t exist to merely serve you in your spiritual journey. The places you visit don’t owe you anything. Its buildings don’t have to speak to your creative mind. Its people don’t have to be the inspiration for your next book. Believe it or not, these countries you temporarily visit is somebody’s permanent home. 

While some may return home with various anecdotes and life lessons from the diverse people they meet on their trips, not all have their expectations met. So simply do not have these expectations for wisdom and revelations or you will inevitably end up disappointed and drained. Personally, I don’t plan ahead a detailed itinerary for my travels, rather opting to let myself explore. I accept that I can’t possibly experience every single thing or person that makes a space special. But isn’t that the beauty of travel?

These countries you temporarily visit is somebody’s permanent home. 

I don’t deny that vacations do offer respite, giving us time off from your day-to-day life back home and the routine of our jobs and schoolwork. Yet, we need to come to terms with the ethical and moral costs of our travels. Every part of the world has changed in some way since globalization. We can’t expect people to hold their traditions and remain as analog desert-dwellers just to appease our curiosity and fascination. The tourist gaze perpetuates a toxic cycle, as developing countries need the income and thus put on a show– one we are not at all entitled to but still expect.

Why put such a complicated pressure on yourself and others? I’m going to stay curious as a traveler, and I hope you do as well, without feeling that we have a right to everything the local culture has to offer. 

Book Club Books Pop Culture

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s your ultimate guide to every tradition at a Hindu Indian wedding

Whether it’s an arranged or a love marriage, the entire process of an Indian wedding begins way before the first day of wedding festivities (and yes, there’s way more than just one or two functions). Similar to weddings in other cultures, there are always various errands to run prior to a traditional Hindu Indian wedding.

The sari and the panche worn by the bride and groom respectively must be selected and coordinated, flowers and decorations must be chosen, as well as a delicious menu for all attendees to enjoy throughout the wedding week. Lighting, a venue, a priest, and a ritualistic time for the wedding to occur must also be chosen. A wedding card has to be designed and sent out to all attendees. There are many specific traditions that most Indians take very seriously, thus resulting in very intense preparation before the wedding.

The First Day

[Image description: A man in traditional Indian clothing receives a gift from another person.] via Lina and Jirsa
[Image description: A man in traditional Indian clothing receives a gift from another person.] via Lin and Jirsa

Finally, after months of ‘hustle and bustle,’ the first day of the wedding arrives. First, the bride’s family typically prepares a Ganesha pooja, and then another pooja for the bride right after.

During the bride’s pooja, the bride’s family sits her down and gives her blessings with holy rice. The guests also arrive on the first day, although if they’re very close family members, they arrive a little before the first day.

[Image description: Woman smiling during haldi ceremony.] via Utsavpedia
[Image description: Woman smiling during haldi ceremony.] via Utsavpedia

Usually, on this day, the family will also visit a goddess’ temple and perform various rituals. The bride and groom’s family also perform the Haldi or Ubtan ceremony where they hold a traditional spa day to ensure that the bride and groom look their best for the wedding.

The Sangeeth

[Image description: Women celebrate and party during a sangeet.] via Spiritual GYAN
[Image description: Women celebrate and party during a sangeet.] via Spiritual GYAN

The bride then gets her hands and arms painted with henna.

As night falls, all the guests join together to enjoy performances by the couple’s family and friends during the Sangeeth, which translates to “sung together.” Here, the guests participate in dances, musical performances, and fun activities to bond and, simply put, to party. 

The Marriage

[Image description: Bride performs the gowri pooja ceremony.] via CuspConcepts
[Image description: Bride performs the gowri pooja ceremony.] via CuspConcepts

The big day of the Indian wedding is the second day when the marriage actually happens. The bride takes a turmeric shower at the beginning of the day. Just before the groom arrives, the bride’s family performs the gowri pooja. Depending on the time of the ritual, the groom will arrive and the bride’s family is to welcome him and give respect to each other.

Then, after the bride is brought in, there is generally a pooja and the mangalsutra, or necklace, is tied around the bride’s neck with three knots. After the wedding is when most of the guests usually give the couple their gifts and blessings.

More often than not, South and North Indian Hindu weddings differ greatly; they can be much longer or even shorter, and the rituals do vary from area to area. One North Indian tradition is to have the bride hide the groom’s initials in her henna – the groom will have to find it before he can marry her. Others also walk around a fire or even exchange rings in a more Western-style wedding.

In some ceremonies, the bride will pour holy rice over the groom and vice versa. Not all Indians are Hindu either, so different religions will have varying wedding traditions and rituals.

The Reception

[Image description: Hindu dance party at a wedding reception] Copyright J La Plante Photo
[Image description: Hindu dance party at a wedding reception] Copyright J La Plante Photo

Finally, the reception takes place on the last day. Guests give the married couple their blessings and flowers. Then, the married couple goes to the groom’s house for a farewell and final pooja.

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Overall, the whole process of an Indian wedding is quite lengthy and tedious, but the Sangeeth and partying are too much fun to miss out on. There are so many intricate rituals and details for each ceremony.

While some wedding traditions still don’t really make any sense to me, they are still a part of my culture. And for that, I am so proud to be part of some of the strangest yet most fun wedding traditions in the world.

Editor's Picks Culture Love + Sex Love Life Stories

Will getting married really make my life complete?

I love, love. I just don’t love marriage. The married people in my life have always adored each other, but something was definitely missing. Something was always wrong. Someone was always upset, one way or another.

This constant irritation gets old after awhile.

It’s the fights over bill payments, disputes over the most trivial matters, mistakes from 20 years ago that are brought up again and again, and just plain stagnancy. I can tell that some of my family members feel stuck in their marriage even if they are too embarrassed or terrified to say it. This is not love, or at least it is not the love that I’ve always dreamed about. Marriage might be too co-dependent, and too predictable for me.

Many people marry to fill the void that society tells us our lives would not be complete without. For some reason, our relationships struggle to be considered valid if there is not a diamond ring to be accounted for. When love is real and meaningful it is also eternal, so why do we feel like we need to march declaratively down the aisle to prove its validity?

Marriage might be too co-dependent, and too predictable for me.

For me, it seems that marriage has become an economic institution in which you are given nothing more than social status and succession. It is so easy to become blinded by the conceptions surrounding traditions like marriage that there appears to be no other choice than to join in.

At this point though, most of the romance and novelty has already been sucked out of the tradition. Perhaps this is because when you get married, your relationship becomes a need rather than a want. This is not to say that true love can’t fuel a marriage, but that factors other than love are increasingly becoming a reason to get, and to remain, married. Not to mention that those reasons have the potential to diminish whatever love already existed. 

I am afraid to get married because I don’t want to make a mistake.

Marriage is meant to be a fairytale, or so we are told. Yet so many people are in unhappy, even toxic, marriages. There are marriages that have strong power dynamics which make it nearly impossible to leave. Once married, couples are viewed as parts of a whole, rather than as whole themselves. I don’t need my “other half,” I can stand on my own.

Reluctant to divorce because of societal pressure, many people know that the love that they had for their partner was far more profound before marriage put a label on it and boxed it up. Genuine love is built with patience and tenderness. Love should be natural, compassionate, and without barriers. 

I am afraid to get married because I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want things other than love to get in the way of my relationship, but I also know that from the moment I say “I do” it is inevitable. There is a tiny, and very exclusive, narrative of marriage that all people are supposed to fall into when they take that leap into tradition. I am not saying people shouldn’t get married, but I am saying that I don’t think genuine and ageless love requires such an archaic label.

What I want is love, not a marriageI think that is the main difference.

The problem here is that if I don’t get married, I know that I will be making someone disappointedmaybe even myself. When I think about these life-defining moments, I often remind myself that love will live forever, whether you are married or not. What I want is love, not a marriageI think that is the main difference.

The couples that fall out of bounds, though, are sometimes the ones that put so much effort into focusing on what their relationship “should” look like, rather than its reality. The ones that do not get married are often viewed as being abnormally strange, and in some societies as having lost their way.

Marriage is apparently that guidance.

But, when we get married, we are so willing to accept that not everyone is the exception and can have a miraculous, long-lasting, and passionate love story.

We are so willing to accept that the love dust has settled and that since every marriage is built on the same foundation, we have made it to the peak. That the wedding day is the best day of a young couple’s life and the rest is downhill from there.

I think we all deserve a better narrative.

I think every single one of us deserves to be swept off of our feet every day for as long as we loveand true love, while it may ache, never dies.


10 of the most heartwarming wedding traditions from around the world

Wedding season is here again, and with it comes non-stop action and excitement for brides, grooms, and everyone else that’s a part of such a momentous occasion – not to mention many wedding traditions!  If you’re a bride to be, you’ve probably glanced over many a wedding magazine, and Pinterest is probably your new best friend.

However, wedding planning is often as exciting as it is draining. One thing that might help when it feels like you’re running out of ideas is exploring wedding traditions from other cultures. Random as it may seem, cultural traditions can help give you inspiration for your own wedding, especially regarding what meaning and mood you’d like it to embody.

The cross-cultural wedding traditions on this list will make any girl swoon – from sweet well-wishes to the couple from guests to a literal knife dance (yes, really), there’s a little bit of inspiration here for every kind of couple. 

1.  Henna night, Turkey

[Image description: Bride is celebrated during henna night.] via Shutterstock
[Image description: Bride is celebrated during henna night.] via Shutterstock
During a Turkish henna night, known as Kina Ginesi, the bride has henna placed on her hands prior to leaving her mother. The bride wears a velvet dress and a veil and is surrounded by her female friends and family members.

While the bride sits and has her henna done, the other women sing sad songs around her. The idea is to make the bride cry before she leaves home, and once the women succeed, they each put henna on the bride’s hands and then on the hands of the bride’s mother and other guests.

While this tradition may be seen as sad to some, it commemorates the beautiful bond between a mother and a daughter.  As someone who is super close to her mom, this one gives me the feels for sure!

2. The couple’s entrance, Assyrians

[Image description: Assyrian wedding entry with woman and man seated on chairs.] Via Unsplash
[Image description: Assyrian wedding entry with woman and man seated on chairs.] Via Unsplash
I might be biased when I say this, but Assyrians really know how to throw a wedding. My favorite part of an Assyrian wedding has always been the entrance by the couple – not only is it a beautiful site to see, but it’s so much fun!

Prior to the couple entering the hall, families, and friends gather near the entrance doors. As the couple proceeds into the hall, family members and friends dance and sing in front of the newlyweds. Women often wave their yalikhta or dancing veil around the happy couple, and the touching moment displays the happiness of the couple’s family and friends for their union.

3. Zaffe, Lebanon

[Image description: Man and woman dance in the Lebanese wedding tradition.] via visualizepictures
[Image description: Man and woman dance in the Lebanese wedding tradition.] via visualizepictures
I’m not even Lebanese, but I don’t have to be to love this tradition. Typically, the zaffe takes place at the respective homes of the couple. Drums are played, zaffe dancers perform, and friends and family partake in the celebrations.

Both the bride and groom dance around the drummers, with family and friends joining in. It’s a fun and celebratory tradition that’s guaranteed to get the party started at any wedding.

4. Knife dance, Iran

[Image description: An Iranian knife dance takes place] via Fiona Hall Photography
[Image description: An Iranian knife dance takes place] via Fiona Hall Photography
There’s everybody else’s version of cutting the wedding cake, and then there’s the Iranian version. Known as raghseh chagoo, this tradition begins when a female family member or friend begins dancing to a Persian tune whilst holding the cake knife in her hand.

In true Iranian fashion, the women dance gracefully despite having to hold a knife in their hands throughout the routine. The couple then has to give her money in the hopes of earning the knife.

The woman may accept the money and then proceed to give the knife to another woman. This continues until a female relative or friend feels the bride and groom have earned the knife. It’s a unique way of celebrating the cutting of the cake and is super fun to watch.

5. Kanyadaan, India

[Image description: A bride’s hand is seen being placed on top of the groom’s hand.] via Giphy.
As a daughter, the thought of being given away is an emotional one. In Indian culture, the Kanyadaan is the process of the father giving away his daughter. During the Kanyadaan, the father of the bride takes her right hand and places it on top of the groom’s right hand. This act is the way the father asks the groom to treat his daughter as an equal partner.

After the hands are placed on top of one another, the mother of the bride pours holy water on top of both hands. As people chant during the ceremony, the water soaks through the bride’s hands and into the groom’s, signifying unity.

6. The wishing tree, the Netherlands

[Image description: A Dutch wedding tree, filled with wishes] via Shutterstock
[Image description: A Dutch wedding tree, filled with wishes] via Shutterstock
Some cultures have a wedding guestbook signed by well-wishers that couples can have as a keepsake, but the Dutch go above and beyond in this respect. In the Netherlands, there is no wedding book. Instead, there is a tree that guests adorn with well-wishes for the bride and groom.

Friends and family of the couple write down their well-wishes on small note cards or leaflets, while the tree is typically placed adjacent to the couple’s table.

After the notes are written and collected, they are given to the couple to read aloud, after which the couple ties the notes onto the tree with colorful ribbons. It’s a lovely way of wishing the couple a lifetime of happiness from the people that matter most to them.

7. Releasing doves, Philippines

[Image description: A couple holds a pair of doves.] via Shutterstock
[Image description: A couple holds a pair of doves.] via Shutterstock
Throughout history, doves have been symbols of peace, so it should be no surprise that they are often released during weddings. In Filipino tradition, the bride and groom release a pair of doves, one male, and one female.

This is seen to symbolize unity, prosperity, love, and peace within the marriage.

8. Giving the bride a pair of lovespoons, Wales

[Image description: A pair of lovespoons for a Welsh  couple] via Shutterstock
[Image description: A pair of lovespoons for a Welsh couple] via Shutterstock
The history of lovespoons alone is enough to make you swoon. Historically, lovespoons were carved out by a man and given to the woman he loved, and the spoons would usually be decorated with intricate designs symbolizing the love between the couple. The woodwork was also important to the father of the bride as it symbolized the groom’s capability to provide for their daughter.

Today, Welsh couples are gifted lovespoons by friends and family. The grooms may also gift these spoons to their brides-to-be before the wedding or in some cases after the marriage. The token of love is not just a display of creativity, but also a beautiful way to express one’s love.

9. Unity bowls of rocks, Australia

[Image description: An Australian wedding ceremony might feature the tradition of a unity bowl.] via Pinterest
[Image description: An Australian wedding ceremony might feature the tradition of a unity bowl.] via Pinterest
Prepare yourself for the waterworks. In Australia, the friends and family of the happy couple fill a bowl with various stones. At first glance, this may seem a bit strange, but the meaning behind the tradition is genuinely touching. The stones vary in color, with each symbolizing the color each family member or friend brings to the lives of the couple.

At the end of the wedding, the couple is given the bowl full of stones. The bowl serves as a symbol of the love and support that the couple has from their friends and family. It’s a lovely way to include your friends and family in one of the most important days of your life and serves as an important reminder of their love and support.

10. Bringing the flames, South Africa

[Image description: A display of a South African fire ceremony] via Shutterstock
[Image description: A display of a South African fire ceremony] via Shutterstock
This tradition is incredibly beautiful and touching. In South Africa, the parents of the bride and the groom carry firewood from their own homes to the home of the couple. There, they begin burning the wood in the hopes of igniting the flames of the new home.

What is important about this tradition is that the firewood that is brought over by the parents is a symbol of the flames from the couples’ childhood homes and the continuation of that warmth and light into their new homes and lives.

In other words, this touching tradition reminds newlyweds that home is not too far away and that the feelings of comfort and security from their childhood homes are with them always.

Music Pop Culture

Alessia Cara is reshaping cultural expectations around beauty and we’re so here for it

Recently at the Met Gala, we saw a lot of colorful looks. The stars arrived adorned in glittery outfits and with their hair styled to perfection. Their appearances sparked conversations among people around the world. Some looks were admired while others received bitter criticism.

A lot of effort went into creating all these glittery, colorful looks. If we read closely into this, it becomes clear that all these celebrities feel the need to look a certain way at events—different, beautiful, the best that they can look.

These celebrities, even if unknowingly, are enforcing impossible ideas about beauty.

But in their midst, there’s a young star, who has refused to swim along with the stream.

Her name is Alessia Cara, and she is breaking traditional norms around the concept of beauty through her music and appearance. She has dared to be herself again and again.

I heard Alessia Cara’s “Scars To Your Beautiful” at a time when my self-esteem was the lowest it had ever been. I was listening to her song on repeat—its lyrics gave me hope that I craved in my dismal life.

But there’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark
You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are

Cara’s music is edgy, youthful, powerful and inspiring. There’s defiance in her words. They urge you to be yourself even when the world wants you to be someone else.

But you and I, we’re pioneers, we make our own rules
Our own room, no bias here

The message threaded in her carefully-worded songs is loud, clear and important—she tells her listeners to never be apologetic for being themselves, to escape tradition, culture and conventions, and reinvent themselves—to be who they are.

It takes courage to extricate yourself from society’s expectations. The pressure to conform to these expectations weighs most heavily on celebrities. They are expected to look a certain way, to act a certain way, to be a certain way. Some celebrities have made certain (mostly impossible to achieve) beauty standards the norm. Audiences now expect all of them to look the same—perfect, unreal, ethereal human beings.

And you don’t have to change a thing, the world could change its heart
No scars to your beautiful, we’re stars and we’re beautiful

Cara has taken on the task of redefining beauty measures and promoting a healthier, more real self-image.

She hasn’t achieved this through her music alone but also through her appearances at different events.

The best example is her performance at the VMAs in 2017 where she sang “Scars To Your Beautiful”. In the beginning, she was dressed in a red gown with jewels dangling around her neck and her hair coiffed. As the song went on, the back dancers tore away the red dress, messed up her hair and took off her make up. By the end she was only wearing a plain black tank top and black jeans.

Her performance exhorted audiences to break free from the traditional measures of beauty and appearance. Her message was simple yet powerful—be who you are and not what others want you to be.

The new-age culture embodies stereotypes that especially pivot around female celebrities’ clothes. Cara is slicing these reductive stereotypes into halves by constantly dressing in clothes that are traditionally considered men’s clothes.

Cara’s music has personally been extremely important for me as it set me on the path of self-acceptance. I embraced my flaws and looked at myself differently. I realized if anyone’s opinion is important in my life, it’s my own.

It’s a well-known fact that her words have had the same effect on millions of others. But even then, she’s given much less recognition, appreciation and value than she deserves.

Her music and appearance both resonate with ordinary people. She’s real, she’s beautiful, she’s just like us. Her songs make us realize that everyone’s beautiful in their own way. And that we don’t have to change for the world. After all, we’re stars and we’re beautiful.


Why do Desi parents crush their daughters’ overseas career dreams?

Girls’ education in Pakistan continues to face roadblocks and questions beyond gaining literacy. This is not a generalizing statement for a country that is home to Malala Yousafzai, who was nearly killed for simply going to school and being an education activist. While her case describes the ideas around girls’ education in places like Swat valley, even within urban centers like Lahore, girls choosing to take offbeat college destinations abroad are met with eyebrows, resistance and often rejection from within families.  

I have always believed that acquiring an education should know no bounds, and last year, began investing my time and efforts into applying for international colleges for my bachelor’s degree in Economics and Environmental Sciences. The first college that I heard from rejected me and I felt miserable for days. However, a few days later, I was offered a place at my preferred college. I read the email over and over again, not being able to believe that I had actually secured admission in a college that I dreamed of going to. 

That joy was shortlived, however, as I broke this news to my parents. When I told them that I was considering accepting an offer from a college in the US, my parents looked tense. My mother’s eyes grew wide with apprehension while my father took a while to give a reaction. Later he asked me questions like:

“Where will you live?”

“How will you live alone?”

“Your brother doesn’t live in America anymore. There’s no use of going there.”

I tried to make sense out of my parents’ unexplained anxieties but to no avail. I told them that foreign education meant a future full of opportunities, learning, and promising career prospects. But they didn’t acknowledge that I could live on my own and make decisions for myself. I persisted, laying my right to as many opportunities as possible, but nothing that I said made any difference to my parents. We never got on the same wavelength. Despite persistence, they did not relent, and I had to decline the admission offer. 

I know for certain that I am not the only girl from Pakistan who had to confront such circumstances. There are many other girls like me who had to give up on their dreams just because their parents think it is too dangerous to let their daughters live on their own. They are too scared to send their daughters away from them.

A friend once mentioned that when she brought up the subject of studying abroad with her father,  he said that she should instead find a stay-at-home job because the world is too dangerous. Another friend’s father told her that she couldn’t travel alone because she was a girl, let alone get an education living away from her family.

This belief that a girl’s role in life is to obey her parents, the men in her life, has broken more hearts and shattered more dreams than perhaps can be counted. Though some of us find ways to break the shackles of culture, tradition, and oppression, others are still trapped within the walls made out of deep-seated cultural fears.

It is only by exposing these inherent biases and repeatedly talking about them, can we begin to change the course for the women who will go through the same phases in the future.

At the same time, women who do break such barriers should support the rest of the girls and build a community of trust, mentorship, and guidance, so families and parents stop pulling their daughters down. 

Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

“A Place For Us” perfectly captured my complex relationship with community

Any love story worth paying attention to has two integral components: conflict and devotion. Often the former gives way to the latter, but in Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place For Us, the two coexist, both in her writing and in the lived experiences that inspired it. Mirza’s novel is not a love story in the way that you are thinking, although there are a number of romantic subplots within the narrative. At its core, A Place For Us is a love letter to community, specifically the Indian-American Muslim community whose culture, customs and complexities are at the center of the narrative.

The novel catches a family in the middle of their eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding, which also marks the return of Amar, the estranged youngest child, back into the folds of his family after three years away. Going back and forth in time, the novel tells the story of Rafiq and Layla, immigrants from India, to whom religion, tradition, and culture are both a comforting reminder of their old lives in India and an anchor in their new lives as Americans. Their children, Hadia, Huda and Amar, are attempting to navigate their way between their parents’ world and their present reality, to find a balance between doing right by their roots and staying true to themselves.

Throughout her novel, Mirza situates this family firmly within a wider community and culture. This is evident in the locations where much of the novel takes place: obligatory prayers and Quran classes at the local mosque, functions at the homes of different families within the community, basketball games in mosque parking lots. Many of the most significant events in the characters’ lives are also a by-product of these wider influences, from the pressure to fit in, rumors and gossip, to unconditional support and unspoken solidarity. It is clear that their community, culture, and religious convictions have a deep pull on the central characters, who are both fiercely loyal to and struggling against them.

When you belong to a community that is not widely represented in mainstream media and art – like the one Mirza writes about – there are certain complexities in how you choose to depict them when given the chance. Ideally, you would do so with total accuracy and transparency, but there is always the fear that if you expose the bad as well as the good, the former will contribute to pre-existing stereotypes and rhetoric while the latter remains largely ignored. This is particularly true with regard to Muslim communities because we are at the mercy of a media landscape that refuses to see us as anything but homogenous. And so we are torn between propaganda and accuracy, between irresponsibility and betrayal.

Mirza finds a solution to this dilemma in a single, powerful tool that is the foundation of her storytelling: empathy. She knows her characters intimately and loves them despite this. The same applies to the wider community in the novel, which is reflective of her own. Raised in California by Indian Muslim immigrants, Mirza walks the precarious line between loyalty and clear-sightedness with careful diplomacy.

It can be intimidating to disclose – no matter how subtly – the flaws of one’s community, marginalized or otherwise. And Mirza is subtle, touching on the sexism, the judgment, and the immense pressure that exists within the Indian Muslim community without ever sounding preachy or deprecatory. Even in her criticism, she is deeply empathetic. She recognizes where these flaws come from, in what environments these injustices and oppressions grow, compelling us to understand them without excusing them. She communicates that all these things exist simultaneously with the warmth of the community, the hospitality, the unyielding loyalty, the generosity, the fierce love – and that to weigh either side against the other to come to a definitive conclusion is both impossible and unnecessary.

 As we do with those we truly love, Mirza recognizes and confronts her community’s shortcomings with a degree of empathy and thoughtfulness that catches you off-guard, especially in the fourth and final part of the novel. A Place For Us shows that there is a middle ground in between the extremes of blind loyalty and calculated critique and that writers and artists from marginalized communities must claim for themselves that space that is so easily afforded to everyone else.

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Health Care Love Advice

We need to decolonize the self-care movement – here’s why

Over the past few years, self-care has become a household term in North America and beyond. It’s become synonymous with bubble baths, wine, alone-time, coloring books and more. It’s often seen as a movement that was both discovered and invented in the recent past. However, just as it was conceived, it has also been catered towards a specific audience: white people.

While anyone can enjoy the the activities mentioned above, the idea of self-care being an invention is something that plays into the idea of Western superiority– that it needed to be invented in the West for it to be a valid tool for healing. It also fails to recognize the multiple methods of self-care that have been a part of marginalized groups’ identities in the West.

We need to decolonize self-care so that it’s accessible to all people – particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), because marginalized people are told repeatedly not to center their own self-care. In a world where white supremacy, anti-Blackness and Islamophobia is rampant, BIPOC need to be able to reclaim their space and agency by taking care of themselves.

Artreach Toronto, a community organization defines self-care as “creating and maintaining practices that help you sustain your energy and spirit.” Our understanding of self-care needs to be widened as what it’s come to represent isn’t what the practice initially sought out to create.

This can be done through various practices that may work for different people, ranging from bubble baths to learnings from ancestral traditions like food or art. Self-care can often be weaved into many traditional and cultural practices for BIPOC peoples as these are often tools of healing, remembering, or even resistance.

For refugees or those from diaspora, food can be a means of connecting to their homes even when they cannot go or be there themselves. It acts as a means of preservation of not only recipes, but tradition and the ethos around the food itself. This can be seen with the preservation of Palestinian cuisines to Syrian refugees sharing their foods as an act of remembrance to resurgence with some Indigenous cuisines. Tradition is intrinsically tied to food and in this there is an avenue for self-care that can be explored for BIPOC. Traditions around food are also important to note as they can be generally made during certain events, festivals or times of year. Food is an important part of culture that has a role to play in self-care because it can connect people to fond memories and their own traditions.

As self-care can be meant to be grounding and rooting, it could include engaging in activities that you grew up with. When looking at the movement from this perspective, it allows those looking to access self-care as something that isn’t confined to particular practices. It doesn’t have to include expensive practices, such as buying bath bombs. It can be as simple as working with what you already have.

Exploring self-care from a low-income perspective is important because it should be accessible for everyone. Simple things such as going for walks, spending time with family or friends, and reading are free methods of practicing self-care. There are accessible, affordable activities like cooking, cleaning or just binge-watching your new favorite show. Self-care can be what you want it to be and whatever makes you calm – and these can be things that bring you joy and that are easily accessible, such as going for a run.

For Black, Indigenous and people of color, the popular culture references of self-care may not feel relatable for them. While these popular care methods may work for some BIPOC, it may not work for all of them. Traditional knowledge isn’t always accounted for or acknowledged as a valid form of self-care, which means our views on the practice are often limited.

Generally speaking, when asking someone what traditions, foods, or art they find comforting that comes from their cultural background, the topics they speak of are integral to their conception of self. Without recognizing that traditional knowledge can form a huge part of self-care, the movement is limited and not truly accessible to everyone.

Self-care should be accessible for everyone, but the notion that there are only a few valid forms of the practice is a disservice to how it’s been weaved into many different cultures, traditions and beliefs. By expanding and decolonizing self-care, it can become a more useful tool for BIPOC particularly given the political climate today with Muslim bans, rampant anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity and more.

We need to decolonize self-care to make the movement both accessible and equitable for everyone, and it starts with having frank conversations about what self-care is and who it’s for.

Editor's Picks Reproductive Rights World News Gender Inequality

She defended herself when her husband attacked her. Now Sudan has sentenced Noura to death.

All over the world, women and young girls fall victim to heinous laws that fail to protect them.

The number of women who face gender-based violence is appalling. Standing at one in three,  it is very likely that each one of us knows at least one woman who has or will be a survivor. Women’s rights activists have taken it upon themselves to share harrowing accounts of women being raped, beaten, subjected to humiliation and abuse in order to raise awareness on just how prominent these issues are through the #MeToo movement.

Recently, one account of a 19-year-old Sudanese girl fighting for her life has taken Twitter, and the world, by storm. As I scrolled through my feed one afternoon, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Hundreds of people were tweeting out #JusticeForNoura and retelling the disturbing account of a young girl who has fallen victim to the patriarchal laws of her country.

At 16, Noura’s father tried to force her to marry a man she didn’t love. She ran away from home and ended up living in her aunt’s house for two years. Although she was only 250 km away, Noura was able to continue her education. That all changed when she received word that her family no longer wanted to marry her off and that they were waiting to welcome her home.

Under the pretense that her family wanted to reconcile with her, Noura made her way back home.

As soon as she arrived it was apparent that her father had no intention of keeping his promise. The wedding ceremony was underway and she was forcefully handed over to her “husband.” Days later, after she had refused to sleep with him numerous times, her husband forced himself upon her as his male relatives held her down. When he tried to rape her again the next day, Noura fought back harder and stabbed him in self-defense.

Her parents turned her into the police and completely disowned her. Since the courts do not criminalize marital rape, they tried Noura for pre-meditated murder. On May 10, she was sentenced to death. Her legal team has 15 days since the sentencing to appeal the decision.

Unfortunately, Noura’s story is not the first of its kind. And while activists have been trying to do everything they can to ensure that she is not criminalized for defending herself, they are also trying to bring attention to gender-discriminatory laws in Sudan in general in hopes of abolishing them and introducing laws that protect the country’s women.

Noura’s story garnered wide-spread attention from Muslim activists on Twitter and Instagram when Sarah ElHassan began sharing the details on her social media accounts.

According to ElHassan, she knows many women who have been “married off against their will, who suffered in silence at the hands of their husbands, whose families had all but abandoned them and/or who tacitly or actively supported their husbands’ (and their families’) abuse.”

The only difference here is that they could not silence Noura anymore. Since no one else was going to protect her from this man, she had to defend herself.

While most of the messages on social media were positive, it was unsurprising that others condemned Noura and even defended her husband. According to them, she had no right to refuse her husband’s advances. It is a woman’s duty to obey her man, and if she refuses, then she must face the consequences. However, they always fail to consider the fact that she did not consent to be married, a right that women have in Islam.

It baffles me that we live in a world where some people are quick to defend a rapist who enlisted the help of other men so that he could force himself upon her.

It angers me that we live in a world where a woman’s right to her own body is meager compared to her husband’s right to her’s. But what enrages me the most is the fact that we don’t allow women to consent to their own marriages and to their own sexual encounters.

We strip them of their right to their own bodies. The right to not be humiliated and abused.

We continue to pick out pieces of the narrative from religious scripts or cultural traditions that suit us best without thinking of the ramifications of our actions or understanding what they really mean.

It’s time we stop treating women’s bodies like objects. Our bodies are not theirs for the taking. Standing in solidarity is no longer enough.

We have to fight for all the Noura’s in the world who could not stand up for themselves the way she did.

We have to fight for the women who continue to suffer because no one fought hard enough for them. It is our responsibility to make sure that we do everything we possibly can, whether it’s by spreading the word or actively promoting a cause, to protect women and girls everywhere.