Crazy Yet Blissful

Week 33! Only 19 more to go. It was a very rainy day on Monday. I started out in the morning tutoring a teenage girl who is a refugee from Syria. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had some time to help her out with preparing for grade 9. She wants to attend a local high school instead of one further away that has an ESL program. I’m rooting for her all the way!! We are reading a book called Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay – the author also did the illustrations which are magical and out of this world. It reminds me of how I want to help my Mom to complete her children’s book. We were just talking about it in fact. She (my Mom) is pretty busy at the moment with work, but we shall work on it in the next few months, after we return from England.

IMG_6664
Tutoring Session, Reading Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay

After the session I felt a little dejected because it was a rainy day and I had no plans and I almost felt like just going home instead of carrying on. But on I went. I made it to the local library (Beaverbrook Library), where I sat down on a round table near the back and read from Veiled Threat. The section I read hit close to home because it was about mental health issues and how many women in Afghanistan suffer from anxiety, depression, and are often on the verge of suicide. The numbers are actually staggering. Mind you, this book was written over 10 years ago, so it would be interesting to know what the numbers are now. One of the girls interviewed (age 16) from Kabul said: “Sometimes I think suicide may be a way out of this horrible life, but I feel sympathy for my mother since I am all she has in this world.” Some of the edicts set by the Taliban are so outrageous that they actually make me laugh. They have specified that the stones used to kill a woman must not be so large as to kill her quickly, but small enough that the death is prolonged and she gets due justice. Women continue to be stoned to death in countries like Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan, although not legally but by communities for reasons like adultery or the husband finding out that his bride is not a virgin. Imagine how many stonings there would be in Canada if these were justifiable reasons?!

At the library, I ran into an old family friend, Surinder Auntie, who is a librarian there. We chatted a little about how I was in Ottawa for awhile, and how two of her kids live in Toronto, but her daughter misses Ottawa a lot and is planning to move back home. I can relate, because I find Ottawa so beautiful!! Nothing compares to the simple beauty of the Beaver Pond, late-night walks with my parents, and watching Hot in Cleveland in the evening, or Modern Family, The Mentalist, or Making  A Murderer (which I have yet to watch). Makes me not want to leave.

Oh, before running into Surinder Auntie, I logged into one of the library computers and drafted my email for Walk In Her Shoes, which is coming up this Monday. I am happy that there are quite a few people joining me, and that other people find this cause to be as important as I do. Or maybe they don’t, but are just there to support me. My Mom will be making us a big lasagna brunch to celebrate the completion of the walk. Here is a little excerpt from the email that I sent out:

I’ve included some photos of the walk over the past 5 years, full of joy and dedication, while keeping in mind why we walk – to walk in solidarity with women and girls who are not able to take human rights for granted, who deserve a chance not just to survive, but to thrive, to realize their dreams and potential. There are tremendous things happening all over the world, from grassroots to local to national and worldwide, and there is a planetary shift happening far beyond what we can imagine. In this time of so much negativity and violence, there is a lot to be hopeful for. As the CARE Canada slogan says, and what I truly believe, Together We Can Make A Difference. I’m grateful to be surrounded by powerful men and women who are taking action and making a difference.

And here are some of those pictures, gathered over the years:

After the library I sauntered into the Kanata Art Gallery, adjoining to the library and met a local artist and fell in love with one her paintings, which was made from fabric and was kind of like a framed quilt. Art Galleries are a place of such stillness for me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I continued on home in the rain, and when I arrived home I was absolutely soaked. My Mom said something like “You crazy girl, walking in the rain!! You will catch a cold.”  It’s true, I did look a little crazy, and also amidst that craziness was a little bit of bliss.

IMG_6702 (2)
Walking home in the rain, crazy yet blissful

The next walk is a big one; it’s the group walk with my Mom, Rima, Silin, my cousins, and others. Looking forward to it!

On The Treacherous Road To Kandahar

Week 31. Monday’s walk was amazing, because for the first time this year I took a different route. A much needed different route. I’m in Ottawa for the month, trying to heal and recover from the shock of some bad news – something someone told me that seemed to squash my hopes and dreams, and make me feel like everything I had been trying so hard to achieve was in vain. Ok maybe that’s a little dramatic, but the shock of it all sent me to the ER this week, so clearly it rattled me.

I woke up and had breakfast and went to meditate on the rock at the Beaver Pond that is a place that brings me peace, where I’ve sat in the past and watched the ducks go by. I remember recognizing how lonely I was one time when the ducks left and I felt utterly devastated. This time was a little different. I felt raw and a little crazy, but not devastated. The scenery was so beautiful, I almost couldn’t handle it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I went to tutor my cousin Aakanksha. I’ve been going each day since I’ve been here, splitting the session into Math and English. We are reviewing Data Management, for example stem leaf plots (who uses those anyway?!) and histograms and studying a book called The People of Sparks. It is interesting because it touches upon the situation of refugees and what it takes for a town to extend kindness and accept new people, recognizing the common humanity in others.

Walk In Her Shoes (the group walk) is only a couple weeks away, and I’m getting excited! I’m at the part in ‘Veiled Threat’ where Sally travels to Kandahar, which is the base for the Taliban. She goes through a lot of hoops to make her way in, as it is almost impossible for a foreign woman travelling alone to gain access. The city is war-torn and tragic, as reflected in this poem I came across on poemhunter.com by someone known as ‘spiritual seeker’.

On the treacherous road to Kandahar,
My heart bleeds for Afghanistan,
Though in its natural beauty,
It is a garden of death,
Where landmines laid awaits the unsuspecting,
Bringing death and suffering.

This land of history has never slept peacefully,
Where great armies had marched, shedding blood and misery,
Where conqueror became the conquered.
Lo, these drama of suffering never seems to end,
Where a child born in those times of difficulty,
is now a grown up man,
and the land is still bleeding,
as if the curse never want to leave,
sowing permanent torment and suffering.

As I travel the difficult road to Kandahar,
See me rocky desert and majestic mountains,
And rows and rows of silent graves, their old and new flags fluttered in the cool wind,
Empty villages, destroyed with no living souls,
Burned vehicles and broken bridges…bombed from the sky,
Guns and unsmiling faces…dirt covered children,
poorest of the poor,
In my journey to Kandahar,
I became witness to the cruelty of mankind at its fullest.

After tutoring, I walked the long way home, through beautiful paths and stopping along the way to ask strangers to take pictures of me. I was hoping to make it to the library, but it was closed by the time I got there. I miss Toronto a lot, I’m not going to lie. I have that feeling of homesickness shared by the people of Ember. How does one find home within themselves?

IMG_6365 (2)
Beaverbrook Library, Kanata

No Sleep For The Lucky Few

Monday was an incredibly hot day. I think it must’ve been 40 degrees with the humidity. I woke up early and went to the Starbucks at 525 for a couple hours to work. I’ve been doing that lately to get myself back to a morning routine. Hopefully the right job will come along soon. I interviewed at Cota Inspires last week and the interview went pretty well – they will let me know next week if I got it. The job is an Executive Lead to lead a campaign to provide 20,000 homes for Toronto’s homeless by 2018. It is an exciting job that I would be honoured to be a part of.

I sat outside on the benches at SickKids and read the morning Metro. There was a study about sleep deprivation and how there are certain people who genuinely don’t need a lot of sleep – only a few hours will do. Sadhguru is always talking about how little sleep is required for those who are vibrantly alive and get their energy from life energy. There are yogis that can survive just off coconut water because their kundalini is activated. I’m definitely not one of those people – I love my beauty sleep!

IMG_5464

I walked through the MARS Centre and came across this white board filled with suggestions on who people would like to see come speak at MARS. I agree with a lot of them – Obama would be amazing! And Drake, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, and Elon Musk.

IMG_5467

I started reading Veiled Threat: The Hidden Power of the Women in Afghanistan. As you can tell, I’m obsessed with Afghanistan. And Islam. And Women. Not to mention I love author and journalist Sally Armstrong. I saw her speak at a GenNext event at Spoke Club one time and she was so inspiring. She was one of the first journalists to report on the crisis that women were facing during the Bosnian genocide. She said that since then the media has come a long way in terms of giving attention to the atrocities women face, especially during times of war. She thinks that Facebook is instrumental in gathering forces and providing a platform so that everyone has a voice. The book profiles extraordinary women, like Dr. Sima Samar, who is a doctor, activist and a natural storyteller.

“Let me tell you a story,” she began. “A sixteen year old came with her parents to my clinic. She was six months pregnant and terrified. She had been raped. The law, according to the extremists, is that a woman who is raped must have four male witnesses to prove that she didn’t cause the rape. Naturally, no such witnesses are ever available. Without them, the family is obliged to kill the girl to protect the family honour.”

I made it to Balzac’s where I did some work, and then went to the ROM to get a refund for some tickets I bought for Friday Night Live and didn’t end up going to. I asked to use the bathroom (which they normally don’t let you do because it’s inside the museum) but they let me so I took advantage of it and saw the exhibits for free. There is something so calming about being in the presence of a Buddha statue.

IMG_5485.JPG
Buddha statue at the ROM

Then I met up with Marissa from my Toastmasters club so that she could help me with my interview preparation. She is the director at AIS (Accomodation, Information, and Support) and is very knowledgeable about homelessness and supportive housing. We met at the Toronto Western hospital. She quizzed me on a few things like what my first steps would be in implementing changes described in the consultants report, and why I was good for the role.

On the way home I stopped by the jazz festival and caught the rehearsal of a jazz ensemble that was performing later that evening. So talented!!

 

This Moment, This Breath, This Life

It’s Thursday evening and I’m trying to recap Monday’s walk. What always stands out are the people I meet along the way. As I headed out, I ran into Meher Pavri in the long hallway of my building. I first met her years ago at the very first We Are Your Sisters yogathon that my friend Retu organized. We Are Your Sisters is an initiative to show support with the women of India and around the world who are victims of sexual violence. Retu was inspired to start it after she heard about the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. At the time, I was deeply affected by it, but it wasn’t until I watched the play Nirbhaya that it became seared in my heart and psyche. Seeing Meher brought up all those emotions, and it was difficult trying to explain the walk to her and why I do it. She was dog-sitting for the weekend, so we went up to her friend Rahim’s place to pick up his dog Rumi (named after the Persian poet/mystic, also “roomie” like a roommate). She was telling me about a play she was in recently called “Arranged Marriage” written by author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Here is a pic of her and one of the lead actors:

p1940032549-3

The same author wrote one of my favourite books of all time, The Palace of Illusions. I’ve read it multiple times, and it is just as fascinating every time. It is the story of the great epic the Mahabharata, told from the perspective of Draupadi. The other day I was lending a book to my sister and she was debating between that one and Days of Abandonment. She chose the latter and is loving it, but I really think she will love the Palace of Illusions too!!

Meher joined me on my walk for a little bit, but poor Rumi couldn’t keep up so we decided to meet up the next day instead to finish our conversation. I continued on for what seemed like a very long walk. I walked up University and stopped at the Starbucks at 525 to take a break. Then went to Mercatto near University/College where I had some yummy fried asparagus and tea, and read from the Underground Girls of Kabul.

IMG_4872 (2)

Azita is at her lowest, having been accused of adultery by her husband and for the first time being physically abused by him.

“Shut your mouth or I will make it silent,” he warns her. He will not hear of any more. He reminds her of how simple it would be for him to shame her, ending any of her political ambitions for good: “I will go to people and say that you are not a good wife and that you have relations with other men.”

Jenny asks her if she’s ever tried to kill herself, and she admits that she has, many years ago when she first got married. Her body told her that it wasn’t right, that he was wrong for her, but she didn’t have a choice. Her body went into shock. She had panic attacks, seizures, chest pains, and shortness of breath. Her body would go cold and numb. It reminded me of how my body reacted so violently years ago, when I was misdiagnosed with dystonia. What I thought was a neurological condition was actually a severe reaction to stress. It’s crazy how your body can react like that.

I made it to Balzac’s and I tried to work on my writing assignment but it was really difficult. I am taking Life Stories I at U of T, taught by Beth Kaplan. This assignment was to write a letter to someone, dead or alive, that will never be mailed. I decided to write one to Tsege, a lady that I had tutored through the refugee centre, who committed suicide this past January. There was so much left unsaid. I couldn’t remember our last session together. I told her that I admired her so much because of her ability to go on no matter what, which seems a little odd now considering how it ended. Suicide is a funny thing I guess. There is a stigma because people think that it is a weakness, but it just indicates extremely intense pain, where the person has finally had enough.

Then I stopped by the reference library and read a bit of Naked Imperfection, a memoir by Gillian Deacon who is struggling with cancer, and through her journey realizes her obsession with perfection. It is beautiful and raw. One of the lines that struck me was how she says that one day today will look perfect in a photograph. Oh how true that is. If only we could experience it as perfect while we are living it, rather than after. That is my goal right now, to experience the perfection of this very moment, this breath, this life.

On the way home I walked through Nathan Philips Square and was mesmerized by the reflection of the Toronto sign on the water.

IMG_4957 (2).JPG

 

 

 

 

Afghan Fried Chicken

I’m so happy to be writing this blog post right now. It’s been a crazy week. I did my walk on Monday (Victoria Day) and it felt especially lonely since there was no one out since it was a holiday, and my parents had just left and were having lunch with Roshni and Chris and his family. The only thing that got me out was knowing that Balzac’s was still open (although closing early at 4PM) so I headed out around 2 to try and get there before close.

I headed up University and it was gorgeous weather! I had my sunglasses and scarf and was enjoying the hot sun and the sound of the birds chirping. I thought I looked pretty cool!

IMG_4436

I walked up Yonge and I think I stopped at a bookstore, although I can’t really remember. I really just wanted to get to Balzac’s so that I would have at least an hour there. I came across this lively band close to College and stopped to enjoy the rhythms.


 
I made it to Balzac’s a little after 3, and they were out of my favourite English breakfast tea, so I ended up having a decaf latte and a walnut biscotti. I read about Madonna, and her tribute to Prince that was not very well received. How great does she look at age 57?! It’s pretty amazing how she never misses a beat.

On the walk back I stopped at Queen’s Park and read from the Underground Girls of Kabul, while watching three guys play a game of Frisbee. I shared a bench with two girls who were probably in their twenties, who were deep in conversation. It is taking me awhile to finish this book, as you may have noticed, but I don’t mind because it is so intense and it takes me awhile to absorb it. Chapter Nineteen, “The Defeated” is one of the most powerful chapters. It is about Azita, a politician who fails in her reelection bid, and constantly eats to numb the pain. She is dejected because not only has she lost, but her husband has reunited with his first wife, and she feels humiliated at being seen in public as a second wife. She doesn’t know who she is anymore, without her work, her status, her money. She feels like her life has no meaning. The scene at the Afghan Fried Chicken at the end of the chapter feels ominous; it’s as if she has accepted her fate, that she is now a stay-at-home mom and second wife. Her hopes and dreams have been dashed, yet she still manages to find some meaning in it, or she just lives it because she has no choice. Her youngest daughter, Mehran, who is a bacha posh, is feisty and spirited – however the first wife is crushing her spirits with her constant disapproval. She doesn’t think it’s appropriate for a girl to behave like a boy. She should be focusing on household skills and attending to the men and preparing herself for marriage.

The first wife has also taken to reminding her husband that his youngest daughter needs to be cultivated into a decent marriage material. If nothing else, her current loud and talkative manner will grow into a problem later on. She is already hard to control. He should not let it escalate, she keeps reminding him. “She’s a girl, and you have to treat her as one.”

On the way home, I stopped at Nathan Philips Square where I fell asleep on one of the concrete benches. This isn’t me, but I was in a similar position.

IMG_4476.JPG

After that I encountered a man carrying snakes as if it was just the most normal thing in the world. Freaky!!

IMG_4478