She Wore a Veil

This is a piece I wrote a while ago, in my Freshman year at University for a creative writing class. I recently read an article that talked about how there are not enough positive images of veiled women in Western society, so I decided this was worth publishing. This in honour of one of the most inspiring and beautiful women I know, and in honour of the strength veiled women show every day in the face of so much racism. The name in this piece is fictitious and has been altered in order to protect the privacy of those involved.

Her veil spoke for her before she ever said a word. In my prejudiced mind it told me she was conservative, religious, naïve and timid. I had always prided myself in having an open mind, in not judging books by their cover, in paying no heed to things as superficial as race and religion. I always told myself that the international lifestyle I had been brought up in had taught me better. Yet here I found myself in an international school, in a classroom where around 40% of the students were either Muslim or devout in their own religion, and I found myself judging them, before we even had one conversation. I had never realized the strength of the influence Western culture had on me until I left the Americas.

Suddenly the world I had known and everything I had unwittingly taken as gospel was was not the same. As if I had fallen into a Lewis Carrol novel, where right was wrong, up was down and my mind had to rearrange itself in order to understand this new world I was in. This was not a case of adapting to life in a developing country; this was a case of adapting to an entirely new set of ideals, priorities, beliefs and lifestyles. And Malika, the girl with the veil, opened my eyes to it all.

I would be lying if I had said that Malika and I instantly became friends. It took me almost a year to even have a proper conversation with her, which only actually happened thanks to a mutual friend. I still remember when I first heard her point out that she thought Johnny Depp was attractive, or “hot” in her own words. My first thought was that she should not be saying, or even thinking those things. Somewhere in the back of my mind I imagined it was against her religion to do so. A few minutes later I realized the absurdity of that thought and it was only then that the true scope of my prejudice occurred to me. If I had to guess, I would say that this was precisely the moment when I began to look at Malika, and everyone else I had met thus far in Tanzania, as a girl like any other. This was the moment I began to understand that her veil did not silence her mouth, or her thoughts, that it didn’t make her any different from me. Not in any significant way at least. It was like putting on a brand new pair of glasses after you first learn you need them, when you realize the world you’ve been looking at has so much mroe beautiful detail that you’ve been missing all along.

I recall a school field trip where she was one of my roommates. She would wake up every morning to pray, just before sunrise. I would watch her with my eyes only half open, entranced by the repetition of movements and phrases and the concentration and devotion with which they were performed. I asked her about her religion, her personal beliefs, her family’s views and her culture, and each time I was met with an honest and uninhibited response. She would never speak as if this was the only solution, the only way of thinking; she would simply state her belief without any imposition, you were free to disagree. She told me why she prayed, and why she fasted during Ramadan. She explained her views on dating, and how she would never marry someone who was not Muslim, simply for the lack of connection she felt she would have. She would tell me all this unabashedly, understanding and feeding my every curiosity.

Of course Malika was not the only close Muslim friend I had in Tanzania. She was not even my only deeply religious friend, of which I encountered more in that high school than I had ever before. I quickly discovered different sects of the Muslim religion, and the differences between them. There was even a significant difference between the personal beliefs of those within the same sect, just as there are between those of the Catholic sect of Christianity, or any other sect of any other religion.

To me she remained the symbol of a broken barrier; a shattered prejudice. Her veil taught me that no matter how open minded I imagined myself to be, there would always be a few preconceptions left to tear down. She showed me that a veil can give women just as much strength and independence as its absence. That veiled and muslim women are not passive. That they are not victims. And perhaps most importantly; that they want the same things as the rest of us; freedom, respect, and understanding.

Why I Write

Ever since I was little languages came easy to me, as they do, of course with most children. By the time I learned to talk I had picked up Mandarin from my nanny, Dutch & English from the other adults and children, and Portuguese from my mother. Being the child that I was, I would regularly pick out the easiest words to pronounce in each language and mash them together into a sentence that could not be understood by anyone other than myself and my brother.

Over the years I’ve forgotten all of my Mandarin and Dutch, but my interest in languages persisted. After I had some trouble in school my teacher suggested that I start a journal. I took to it like a bee to honey and filled an entire notebook in barely a month. Mind you, one line of my writing took up most of the page at the time, but I never stopped craving notebooks since. I could spend hours in a stationary shop, drooling over all the different notebooks, wanting to take all of them home and fill each of their pages with my still horrid handwriting. In fact to this day, when I need to express my feelings to someone I would much rather write it in a letter than I would confront them face to face.

Catharsis means different things to different people. Some people prefer to paint, others scream into a pillow, others exercise. I write. I let every word I feel flow onto a page and release it from the eternal chaos in my mind. I write because it clears my mind. I write because I’m happy, or sad, or angry. I write because in many ways it’s the purest way that I can be myself, express myself, and open myself to the world around me. I write for me, in the hope that you’ll find yourself somewhere between the lines.

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?”

Ron Koertge

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It’s all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author’s name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, “Shhhh.”

Then start again.

from Fever, 2006
Red Hen Press

Is University Really Worth the Cost?


I recently watched an interview with Mike Rowe that I wish I had seen 5 years ago. As the host of “Dirty Jobs”, Rowe learned a lot about the American job market & economy. Most often he mentions how much happier and more fulfilled people in the who work ‘dirty jobs’ are, not because they followed their passion, but because they learned to love the work they did every day.

I know a lot of this doesn’t apply to developing markets, where educated and skilled labour is still in shortage, but in many developed countries there is now a skills gap. Rates of unemployment and job growth are disproportionate; while more people enter the job market only after completing a University degree, the jobs being created are more focused around manual labour.

There is a mentality that the only way to wealth & to progress for those coming out of high school, is through University. Our parents worked hard, so that we could go to University and lead better lives than they did. The problem is, these days, a Bachelor’s degree isn’t special anymore. Moreover, the cost of education is rising at an unbelievable rate, and students are continuously drowning themselves in piles of debt, just to get a degree, no matter the consequences.

I was incredibly fortunate. I was able to study at a relatively cheap, yet reputable University, and graduated with no debt thanks to my parents. I have never taken this position and advantage for granted. But had I known better 5 years ago, I would have let my parents keep their money, paid less than half the price of my University, and researched the skills gap to find a job in a industry where people actually NEED workers. I would have chosen a career where I didn’t have to worry about job security. I went to University for status, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and because I was told it was “the only way forward”. Hindsight is 20/20, I don’t resent the hand I was dealt nor the choices I made, but I can learn, study, and research to make the best with what I have now.

What I really want is to end this mentality that University is the “only path forward”. That it is the only way into prestige, status and wealth. Even if you ARE in a developing country the manual labour industry still provides immense opportunities for growth, development, and entrepreneurship. I realize I may sound incredibly patronizing with all of this, but I am simply saying what I wish someone had told me when I was still in high school. University is NOT the only option.

Reflections & Confessions

A while ago I had a very enlightening conversation with my man thing (as I refer to him), and came to quite an interesting revelation. I am a workaholic. 124236_m

I never really considered workaholism as a problem, I just figured it was a term lazy people applied to people who worked hard so that they didn’t feel so bad about their laziness. That logic in itself should have probably been my first hint.

For the last year I have been unable to work while I’ve been struggling through a visa process that will let me live in Canada permanently. You can imagine this has not been easy for me. I piled on project after project just to keep myself distracted. After a while I found it hard to balance my regular chores with all the activities and hobbies I was working on. I found myself just as stressed as I had been while I was working and studying full time. Of course all that culminated in a massive row with the man thing, that led to a deeper conversation about what had started the fight to begin with. And that’s when I realized. The funny thing is, once I brought this up to old friends and family who had known me for ages they all aced as if this was all very matter of fact and something I should already know.

So I stopped altogether. For the last few months I’ve been teaching myself to relax, catching up on all the films and TV shows I’ve been wanting to watch for ages, playing all the video games I’ve been putting on the back burner, just learning that it’s ok to do nothing. Which leads me to why I’ve been missing for so long.

After 4 or 5 months of forced relaxation, I’m ready to ease myself back into action. So be ready for regular posts and updates once again. How about you guys? Do you ever have problems trying to do too many things at once? Or is your problem more to do with procrastination?

Never Stop Dreaming

For a long time I was terrified of starting this blog. To expose my work to hundreds of strangers, to put words, comments, thoughts and ideas out there that I could not take back. I hadn’t seen this cartoon until now, but it definitely gave me comfort to carry on posting, writing and creating. We can’t let our fears keep us from dreaming.


The Shield of Irony

For a while now, I’ve been noticing a growing trend in society towards irony. Sure, it’s often used incorrectly, but it surrounds our every day lives. From the ever increasing population of hipsters, to the current demand for self-reflexive and ironic media such as “The Colbert Report” and “House of Cards”. We have become a generation of cynics. Even advertisements no longer try to woo us in with what we would automatically perceive as ‘lies’ (regardless of whether or not they are); they emphasize their commercial quality and then finish off with a “but hey, buy us anyway” – think, Old Spice commercials or almost any advert that relates to bacon or beer.

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Online Job Search

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these, so I think it’s about time we have another career search motivation. If you have taken a look at my last posts you should have a solid CV and cover letter format set up by now. And you should also be very aware, at this point, that your format for both these items will change depending on which jobs you were applying for.

A few short posts ago I also said that I was going to start applying for one internship per day until I received an offer. Now did not get 2 days into it before I received replies from both of the two first internships I had applied for, and this was on a 1026_cheerful-job-search_400x280Saturday, no less. So, although I hate to say that I have all of the answers, clearly something I’m doing works. Bragging aside, I have momentarily stopped applying for internships until the interview process with these two internships is over. I’m sure not everyone would go about it this way, but I find it difficult enough juggling two potential job offers at once, not to mention they’re both very good and I have no idea which one to pick.

In spite of all of that, I think it’s time we broached the topic of actual job searches. You’ve got all of your information in order, but where are you actually going to find a job? There are always the traditional job search websites, of course. It’s no use for me to recommend any of them because each city has their predominant site, but one thing I’ve found a lot of people skip over is business websites. If you’re looking for a job in marketing, or fashion, or software development: go to the company websites! Find a company you really like or really want to work for, and check their website on a regular basis. At the very bottom of their webpage there will usually be a little “careers” tab that will either list their available positions or give you a chance to send in your CV should a specific position open up.

There are also the specialty websites. The internet is full of them. It seems like each industry has their own specific job search database these days, and they can usually be found pretty easily when you search for “marketing jobs” or some other general search relating to the industry you want to work for. Specialty sites are DEFINITELY worth checking daily, as they get updated most often with a greater diversity of jobs.

Finally, don’t be afraid to apply for jobs you may think you’re not qualified for. You would be surprised at how easy it is to learn on the job these days. Especially with Google to troubleshoot any potential questions you might have. I’m not telling you to flat out lie or to bite off more than you can chew, but if there is one small requirement or preference in the job advert that you think you could easily overcome, mention that in your cover letter. Let your potential employer know that you’re a fast learner and aren’t afraid to tackle knew challenges. Chances are, you’ll have an easier time learning by doing than taking an entire course just to learn one simple skill.