I have a very complex identity, being a Palestinian/Greek Muslim girl. I was always admired for my decision to convert to Islam and my non-Muslim friends always asked about my religion and attended religious events with me to learn more. My roommate even prayed with me once to show solidarity and to further understand my religion. The Islamic community back in America is generally supportive because they are aware of the challenges of being Muslim and America: Sticking to your beliefs but integrating into American society. This is something unique to American Muslims that Muslims in Arab countries judge and do not understand. Living in Jerusalem exposed me to the stereotypes I already knew about but it was nonetheless challenging.
The other part of my identity, a big one, is being Palestinian. I am very passionate about my beliefs and everyone around me is aware of that. I would often receive messages asking “What do you think of this article?” or “Your activism is admirable and I greatly respect you.” My work wasn’t hateful towards Israel and I lived and became close friends with a girl who shared opposite views than me, so traveling to Jerusalem didn’t suddenly push me to think “All Israelis are human.” Yet, it pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to step into a space where I began to see the situation differently because I lived it. ...continue reading "Identity"
For this blog post, we were asked list who or what makes up our community with visuals attached. Anyone or anything that helps us grow and support us can fall into this category. Typically, there’s a long list of people that make up a person’s support system, but there’s so much more to include. At first, I thought I might take a few pictures of people and explain how they help make up my community, but then I thought, why not really show what my support system consists of? First, I should explain why people aren’t the most integral part of my support system.
During sophomore year of high school, I found myself alone at a Baptist Army boarding school in Texas. As a gay Muslim teenager from Los Angeles, I was very clearly out of place. They didn’t let us have our phones during the day so contact with my friends back home was scarce (even scarcer with my family). I had to rely mostly on myself because my trust for the adults at my boarding school was very little after they bashed the LGBTQ community again and again—even at an anti-bullying assembly. Ever since then, I’ve had a support system that’s mostly devoid of humans. I will include friends as a collective category, including best friends, as they are still an integral part, but below is what consists of my support system. ...continue reading "My Support System Includes Binge-Watching Gossip Girl"
Hola friends! I am now into my third week abroad in Istanbul which is both an amazing yet disorienting feeling. In a sense I feel like I have been here for much longer but when I Skype my friends back home I realize that my arrival was only moments ago. Leaving my community back home is obviously a difficult transition but I am so grateful for the community I am beginning to build here. I can already say it has brought much comfort to living everyday life in which most encounters often involve people being shocked I am American, asking "no really where are you from," and leaving me frustrated that I sometimes live in a dual world of being American and Egyptian but in the eyes of some never fully being either. Below are some of my favorite things about my community:
The Bosphorus: Much like the Lincoln Memorial or the Washington Monument, the Bosphorus has easily become one of my favorite places to spend my time when I am stressed or need something to leave me in awe of where I am at the moment.
The Mosques: As a muslim, my religion is extremely important to me. It is so beautiful to me to be able to hear the call to prayer five times a day and know that a mosque is only steps from where I am from.
"In what ways has your community supported the thoughts you had on your identity before going abroad? In what ways has it challenged or altered how you identify yourself?"
I have to admit, I struggled a lot with this prompt. Without a doubt, I'm not the same person I was before I left for study abroad. I've become more adaptable, adventurous, self-sufficient, and comfortable exploring other cultures.
But of course, I knew this wasn't the prompt meant.
It's difficult to explain how my host community has supported and/or challenged my sexuality because in many ways, it's done neither. People seem to be generally accepting here; being gay just isn't that big of a big deal. On the other hand, there isn't a lot of gay visibility either. Exeter is extremely homogeneous; most people here are straight, cisgender, white, politically-moderate youths from Surrey. Beyond the university's LGBTQIA+ society (which doesn't do activism) and Exeter's one small gay club, there isn't much of a queer community or dating scene to speak of. And as lonely as that can be, it's given me a lot of time to focus on my own identity as a bisexual woman outside of the context of relationships and community.
The moment that kickstarted that reflection came in the form of Gender 101, a discussion hosted by Feminist and LGBTQIA+ Societies on the basics of gender identity and expression. At one point, a facilitator stated that there are as many genders as there are people, because each person interprets what it means to be, say, a cisgender woman, differently. This opens the door to multiple cisgender femininities, an idea that I had never considered before but found incredibly intriguing. ...continue reading "Gender 101"
In the last week and a half, we visited a few of the many slums in Nairobi. Slums are informal settlements and often are comprised of shacks and makeshift homes. These areas are located close to the industrial district as well as the wealthier areas. In Nairobi, there are many slums but the largest are Korogocho, Kawangware, Mathare and Kibera. A few hundred thousand people reside in these areas and work as service workers or house-help, as well as laborers. Most people here also live under 100K shillings which equates to less than $1.00. On top of these issues, there is no waste management so trash and waste are scattered everywhere and the local water sources are highly contaminated.
Despite this, since visiting the slums I have found that most of the people are highly optimistic and are looking for ways to improve their situations. I also learned that many kids in this area attend both public or private school, some people have large TVs (I passed a hut in Mathare that had a flat-screen TV) and many people sell goods ranging from vegetables to refrigerated Coca-Cola. It’s a very weird juxtaposition as well because for most of the slum areas are directly next to the wealthier areas.
This week we went to MYSA which is the Mathare Youth Sports Association which is a youth program that first began as a soccer program for youth but has expanded to an arts program, photography, has three libraries, girls peer educator program and HIV/AIDS counseling program. They also have over 1800 soccer teams each with 10-20 kids. MYSA serves as both an after-school program but also a huge slum-wide community development program and everyone in the area is pretty much involved. They also do garbage clean-up in order to improve their community. We also visited WFAK which is Women Fighting AIDS in Kenya. This organization is Kenyan-run and they provide counseling to HIV + and AIDS patients as well as sexual health training. My group also brought food to two bed-ridden AIDS patients in the slums and we were able to ask them questions in Swahili in order to understand their situation and feelings. It was really moving and went right to my heart.
When we first visited Mathare I was a little nervous because this was my first time in such an environment and it definitely is a shock. Slums are nothing like back in the US and no amount of preparation helped with taking in the reality. That being said though, if you ever go remember that no matter what you should be respectful and to considerate to the people in that community. Visiting the AIDS patients though was difficult for me because I felt very helpless and that I could not doing anything to improve the lady’s situation. Hearing her thoughts though really inspired me to want to do something and gave me strength to get through anything.
Finally, at the end of the week I went with another student to Kibera, which is known worldwide as the second largest slum in Africa. We visited two MSF health clinics and were able to talk to kids living in the area. As we walked though, we could hear a chorus of “How are you?” from all the children we passed. Since English is the second language, most of the kids only knew “How are you” and “I’m fine”. They would also follow us until we responded! Many people also referred to us as “mzungu” which means white or open. At orientation we learned that this isn’t an insult but a way to address non-Kenyan people. Most people thought we were aid workers too and were really open as well to talking. I learned a lot about the Kibera residents and the area that I couldn’t learn from watching movies or seeing pictures. I suggest that if you are in an area with slums, that with trusted people and during the day, that you check it out and be open to what you experience. It is also a location I am considering for my research given the lack of resources, difficulties with access to justice and issues with urbanization. Visiting the slums was very moving and definitely will stick with me forever.
After being in Kenya for two weeks, I have learned so much! When you first arrive at your study abroad country you may find things different and confusing all the while searching for things that put you back in your comfort zone. Forget all that. You should jump into the experience with open arms, stomach, eyes, ears, etc.
To describe Nairobi, it is a global mecca in the East, with parts similar to the US with extensive shopping malls (Yaya, Junction, Westgate) and Wal-Martesque stores but also 40-50 years behind the US since there is an huge waste management problem, city-wide slums and water sanitation issues. Although it has its flaws, I have fallen in love with the city, the people and the culture.
Last Friday, I moved into my homestay which is in the neighborhood of Kileleshwa, a middle-upper income area of the city. Most tourists say in Karen and Westlands but that area is known to have higher prices and so far seems pretty isolated from the real parts of the city. My homestay family is made up of my Mama and Baba, my brother Ben who is in college and sister Mariah (Maria) who is almost done with secondary school. Baba yangu (my dad) works for the World Food Programme in South Sudan so I haven't met him yet. The apartment that I am staying in with another SIT student is walled, fenced with an electric fence and has 24 hour guards at the gate. i definitely was not expecting it to be so secure. Despite popular (and ignorant) belief, we have a microwave, a gas stove, a washing machine, a modern LCD TV and wifi. In Nairobi, many people also have "househelps" who do laundry, clean the house and cook. Our househelp or "auntie" speaks mainly Swahili so I have been practicing with her.
This week, we also began preparations for our research project in November. After speaking with professors from the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Medical Board, we have started planning our thesis. I was very conflcted at first as to what to research. Personally, I am interested in human rights, economic development, public health, SGBV, criminal justice and environmental conservation/sanitation. Needless to say, I was all over the place. However, after talking out my ideas to the professors as well as the other students in my program I was able to narrow my topic and begin writing my proposal which will go to the Kenya Research Board.
Currently, I am thinking about researching the extent of SGBV cases reviewed by the Kibera court system. The police in Kenya are widely distrusted due to corruption which has also reduced the amount of sexual assault cases reported in the city. Focusing on the Kibera slum where most people have little access to legal aid or money to pay the police. After reporting, I am curious to see how many are actually given justice in the end. Right now, this is feasible with some safety concerns but will mostly involve qualitative interviews and surveys in Swahili.
But like every student, I am indecisive and have not yet experienced my "Say Yes to the Dress/Thesis Idea" moment. Yesterday, I read statistics on early marriage in the Maasai communities in Western Kenya, so there is a chance that, after a literature review, that I may go live with the Maasai for a month looking at the perceptions of Western views of human rights in the Maasai villages. This is the great thing about research abroad, if you have contacts and a practical idea you can do anything!
I cannot believe it is already October! The semester is flying by way too quickly! Since it is now officially fall in Italy, this week I decided to attend some of the fall- related activities occurring in and near Florence such as this year’s Festival Di Gelato at the Piazzale Michelangelo and even went on a tour of the ‘Castelnuovo Berardenga’ wine and olive oil vineyard in Chianti, Italy with classmates.
Learning about the detailed science behind the process of wine and olive oil making such the double fermentation of the grapes and the fact that cold pressed olive oil is called ‘cold-press’ because it is oxidized in a container that must be stored at 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit was very interesting. Following the vineyard tour was a wine tasting that included a sampling of well-known Chianti region wines and lastly a fabulous brunch at ‘Ristoro di Lamole’, a great restaurant in the Greve section of Chianti. All of the food was delicious, but I must say that my favorite dish was the antipasti (appetizer); ricotta stuffed ravioli.
Going to the gelato festival with friends was also a lot of fun. The Festival featured gelato companies from throughout Italy including ‘Baldiani’s’ and even distributed Nutella flavored ice cream. Throughout the day, the public was allowed to electronically vote for their favorite gelato flavor at the festival (I picked the Buontalenti from Baldiani’s! It was DELICIOUS!)
After stuffing my face with gelato, my friends and I took a stroll through Santa Croce, the Ponte Vecchio, and finally Santo Spirito where I finally was able to enjoy some fantastic pizza at ‘Gusta Pizza’ a well-known pizzeria in downtown Florence and hear some music from a live band playing in front of the steps of the Duomo.
Well, needless to say I have done WAY too much eating this week, but I am enjoying every bite. I have learned that enjoying meals with friends and family is a respected cultural custom in Italy and I feel so lucky to be able to take advantage of immersing myself in new tastes, sounds, and sights in Florence every day.
That’s all for now. A dopo! (See you later!)