Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dark corner of a room

Let the pain be pain, not in the hope that it will vanish, but in the faith that it will fit in, find its place in the shape of things, and be then not any less pain, but true to form. ~ Albert Huffstickler, from “Wanda” Walking Wounded



Loss.. feels like one's life is empty and nothing can fill that void and everytime you try to pick up those pieces and put yourself together, it falls apart, and everyday that passes by you turn silent and numb. Like that little boy in Ice Queen where he couldn't spell freedom with pieces of ice, as his heart turned into ice with no senses left in him.


Its been a while but I still can not comprehend everything that went down with me. And here every time I see my ICQ screen, it seems like your words will blink in blue and say “ hey how are you?”


My system is shutting down as it goes into overdrive everytime it tries to think of my present and gives me hope of my future. And there is so much pain, so much pain but I still can't bring myself together to produce deep dark hatred! I wish I could, maybe that would bring me some peace but I can't!


I ask myself regularly...was that a dream or was I the one living in denial...did I let you be a master puppeteer or was I playing along in this show all along...was that in even real, or everything took place in my fantasy...


You promised! And in the end just like everything, those were just hollow sea shells dispersed on a coast of illusion, where I thought of that illusion as my reality. You were suppose to be there for me! you promised me that you will never abandon me! If those were your words and if your words are true then how come I am all alone over here, sitting in the corner of this large room, trying to bring all those memories from those file cabinets and looking for clues that maybe.. oh maybe I was wrong... and trying to unfold my trauma and see where did I go wrong....


"Why is that you are the one who made a single handed decision of abandoning me and I am the one who is in suffering! Why is that all those memories are haunting me and not you and I am in this misery where I see no way out... why am I in such place where even death has abandoned me that it wouldnt touch my body or soul. Why are you surrounded by so much love and friends and family, and I here alone in the dark corner of my room?!"


I never lied, betrayed and was always there for you, it was a promise to myself that I will always take care of you. And I failed just cos of you! How will I face myself in hereafter that I couldnt keep my word to myself! What will I tell her.... “Err.. you were just too much of a woman for them”, how did you just leave me without saying anything ...


Where were you when I buried my dreams, life, hopes, a friend and “Rojean”, all on my own... I was all alone, no one was there for me.


All I could do was to have a smile on my face so that no one could see my loss, my pain.


I couldnt share that burden with no one!


That stretched out hand that you saw on one rainy night, it wasnt just me, it was my everything and me.


And now, I am alone in the dark corner of a room, hoping, that one day, my body will agree with me and let me leave this place of misery.


"Still now, I send letters into space hoping that some mail man somewhere will track you down and recognize you from the description in my poems, that he will place the stack of them in your hands and tell you 'There is a girl who still writes you...she doesn't know how not to."
~ Sarah Kay

Monday, August 29, 2011

Whose Campus? Your Campus. SPEAK UP!

Campus Racism Hearing - 2009 – Trent University

Over the past decade, universities and colleges have become more racially diverse, a survey says. What it fails to identify is that it still remains extremely segregated and most importantly – racially tense for racialized minority students.

To make matters worse, the voice of a student is suppressed with mediums like “Code of Conduct” which has been conveniently given a softer image of “Charter”, but delivers the same stern message – walk by their (university) rule. Under constant threat it’s really hard for the students’ esp. racialized and indigenous students to speak about racism when the content of racism is not taken in its true context. In an environment like Trent when you cry out such, you are either sensitive or sensationalizing a petty issue.

In 2008, members of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario voted to strike a Task Force on Campus Racism to document incidents of racism on our campuses and provide a forum for students who are racialized, to speak out about their experiences. It came out as a result of 2006-2007, Task Force on the Needs of Muslim Students which identified not only incidents of Islamophobia but also racism and other forms of discrimination on college and university campuses across Ontario. In order to fully address some of the issues that arose from this report, along with a number of incidents of racism on campuses across Ontario in recent years, the Federation launched a Task Force focused on experiences of racism in the post-secondary education system.

Mitchell Chang, author of Improving Campus Racial Dynamics: A Balancing Act Among Competing Interests states in his book , “they (post-secondary institutions) often fail to examine how their racial endeavours are affected by or affect other institutional assumptions, values, ideals, expectations, or practices despite very frequent competition with other presumably opposing institutional interests.” And what institutions fail to realize that it can be a very stable thing but it leaves lasting impacts in progressing towards diversity.

Rinku Sen, the publisher of Colorlines Magazine, has a rich history of organizing, writing and lecturing on issues of race, gender and activism. She says that stereotypes (racism) have their roots in demographics and demographics arise from policy and practice. This shows that we need to move beyond the obvious demands of having diversity trainings and look at bigger things like hiring, curricular review and last but not the least admissions.

My goal as an organiser is to provide a forum for racialized and indigenous students, faculty, staff and their allies to speak about racism on campus, which is not limited to racist incidents but extends to systemic racism where discriminatory policies and procedures dictate things on higher levels. We are encouraging open discussion so that it’s easier to identify key themes. It will be also a place where we will be developing strategies, documenting successes and taking recommendations in addressing racism at Trent. In the end, it depends on a particular group that what they want as a result. It can be more towards awareness about the issue to a larger population at Trent.

The hearing will be a safe space for racialized, indigenous bodies and their allies. For this reason we are inviting those who are racially discriminated or who oppose racism. Those who will attend must be respectful of people speaking about their experiences and we are expecting them to encourage and facilitate such discussion.

Thus, I want all of you out there to come out, speak out and let Trent know that you exist. Let Trent know that they need a change of course which doesn’t marginalise you with the agenda of “multi-culturalism”. That you want recognition of your self-being which is more than colourful cultural dances and appreciation of flavoured food. You want to freely exercise your right to expression; your fundamental right to protest when your posters are taken down during Israeli Apartheid Week and your right to be angry when someone writes an article saying “Stephen Harper doesn’t care about white people.”

I miss you....

“I just don't get it, where do all pens go especially when you need them?,” I thought to myself. I was hurrying to the book store to buy ball point pen. I pushed that thought aside as I was getting late for my organic chemistry lab. Its been literally ages since I went to school book store. Imagine I couldn't even find the shelf where they keep pens and there in its majestic beauty, I found dairy milk chocolate.

That dairy milk transported me back in time and brought back memories to me. I was a very skinny person back then living on that dairy milk and being in detention most of the time. My friend Komy (Komal) used to call me dairy milk canteen. It was when I hated St. Joseph's Convent Woman's College as we had Hitler for the principal. It was when in protesting privatization of our college, students in my year didn't go to school for the whole year and just gave exams at the end of the year and aced it. We couldn't change the decision of our provincial government for privatizing our school but we made our point. I stared at dairy milk in my hand again, this was the first time in three years I had it in my hand. That chocolate bar did not even bring back my old habits and memories. It also brought back emotions attached to them. It brought back all those feelings that I thought I had left behind. That moment made me realize otherwise, that I never left them, I just buried them in my unconscious so that my conscious self could be at ease and not question my actions and judgements all the time.

I remembered volunteering for earthquake victims in 2006. I remembered when I used to work nights in call centre and how my guy friends used to tug at my hip-length braided pony tail for fun. And I felt that my cheeks were wet once again.

Sky is grey outside, its day time but it seems as if Mother Earth is not happy with us and she has turned the sky grey. I miss the bright sun that used to shine on me, its heat and its intensity on my skin. How can I forget that sea breeze that used to touch my skin in the evening and take away my stress for the day and tropical rain that used to bless the land with water after days of dryness. We used to celebrate it by getting drenched in the rain and being absolutely happy about it. I remember when Ammi (mother) used to say that rain is a blessing from God and you should be thankful to that, and my sisters and I would roll our eyes as we got hint of another lecture coming our way. Now when I see people hating rain like plaque, I miss all that.

Immigration does weird things to people. One of my mentor expresses it in this way, he says that it changes the person so much that when you look back and check yourself, you just don't recognize yourself anymore. People over here think that its very easy for us. It's a very painful process for those who don't have a choice. Tell me how does it feels when you are asked to give up everything, your language, your way of life, your friends, your ties and asked to adapt into something that your mind isn't ready to accept? Tell me how does it feels when you listen to your own name and you don't even recognize the way it sounds anymore? Its really hard to navigate in a place and keep yourself sane at the same time.

That was my life and they are my people because this place never accepted me. So I owned up to my identity and started feeling good in my skin. Yes, I belong to a third world country which isn't the greatest place in the world but I wasn't a first world country's third class citizen either. I lived with dignity, self-respect and pride. I wasn't exoticised and tokenised because I had a darker skin. Believe me I am just an average looking person from where I come from and I am not being modest. I am just being honest.

Trust me we have our issues and our problems but that's another story I will share some day.

I left a life behind in search of what, I still don't know. I followed my parents obediently and came with them to something and turned into something that doesn't seem like me. Have I changed to that extent? I don't know.

And now I am here, stuck in this place called Peterborough. I might had been a big fan if I was a small town girl and loved to drink and party every night. But I am not. I am not that person and even if I tried I will never be. I will always be a dark-brown skinned girl who immigrated with her parents a while ago.

One word contains nothing
And at the same time
It contains everything
Like air contains water
Like flowers contain earth

Wasn't born like this, I was made this way
You like it or not, player - I'm here to stay
We walk the same streets, breathe the same air
Add to this state, but do u even care?

~ Outlandish

Note: This column is for all those who have missed home (or whatever their feel good place is) at some point.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Last Dialogue with Self

"Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more — more unseen forms become manifest to him". ~ Rumi

I have been thinking of writing on it since the topic was proposed by one of my dear colleague. The title seemed very interesting...."coming out crazy"... but I didnt know how to start working on it.....

“Should it be about how I seem to be the queen of misfits...”

“ No, scratch that, it sounds more like “Oppression Olympics” rather than the story of coming out crazy.”

“P.S. You are crazy and everyone knows that. You don't need to write a story to tell people how nuts you are”, she replied sarcastically. I rolled my eyes and ignored her comment and moved ahead with my thought processing routine anyway.

After my unsuccessful efforts at coming out of my writer's block, I asked myself again, “Is it too much to desire from oneself to fit into this misfit world, to be sane amongst insane, to be rad amongst conservatives...?” I asked again with innocence.

“Will you just drop it? Stop being poetic and shit.

“Yup”, came the voice from within, “ unless you want to end in some mental asylum amongst people who have REAL issues, I think you should stop fussing over it.”

“But my issues are REAL issues,” I tried to argue worriedly, “they are the issues that so many people face everyday and they go ignored continuously.”

“I think you didn't listen to what our therapist said,” the voice in my head said very angrily, “you need to broaden your scope. You should stop focusing on it as a primary issue. Things happen and thats pretty much about it. Learn to deal with it. Don't let it take over your life."

"But that is my life! It is what I live and breathe everyday. Why are you asking me to live in denial?" she asked surprisingly.

“Popping pills prescribed by some doctor is not going to make you better. People are not going to stop being passive, just coz you have been yelling at the top of your lungs. YOU NEED TO WAKE UP FROM THIS FANTASY OF YOURS!”

Tears ran down her cheeks and she didn't know how to react or what to say. She knew that she was fighting a lost battle and after fighting it for so long, she had become tired beyond reason. So, she decided to let everything go, she wrote her last farewell note wishing her loved ones all the love and happiness in life and note for herself. That night she divorced her conscious from her-self and walked out the door never to be seen again, leaving this message behind:

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do." - Rumi

Disclaimer: The content of this small monologue is taken from real time conversation amongst different people and put together as a work of fiction. Names and identities of folks have been changed for privacy reasons. The opinion presented in this story are not intended to promote any school of thought.

Working in a white space

Its challenging and at times it becomes over-whelming. You see, whiteness evolves itself in so many spaces in different ways that there is no set formula to go about it. Working in a complete white space to working in a space like UofT are totally different.



In our so called “multi-cultural”city like Toronto, people do have somewhat awareness around race and racism. Unfortunately, this awareness is mostly related to how to act around people so that one doesn't appears to be racist or one who encourages racist practices. For example, an organisation saying that they have employment equity policy but never implementing it. It doesn't means that people are all about equity and they are champions of social justice. It just means that you will encounter more people who will be super careful with their words as not to offend anyone and they will try to be politically correct.



You need to bear in mind that fighting racism is not on everyone's agenda because not everyone is overtly affected by it, and even if they are, its usually brushed off as a harsh reality of life. Our task at hand has become more complicated especially after words like “multi-culturalism” has been seeded into the minds of our people. This particular word eradicates the fact that inequity exist in our community and it propagates false harmony. It says that racism has vanished and everyone is being treated fair and respectfully. It opens doors to question initiatives like safe space and employment equity, which have become a sore topic as they are seen as denying white people an opportunity to succeed. The same idea was witnessed in Absynthe magazine published at Trent University in September 2009 issue's article “Stephen Harper doesn't care about white people” where the person wrote the reason how a white man is new n***** on the block. This new idea of multi-culturalism wipes out the experiences, struggles, and healing that the community needed to go through to survive. It questions their existence and justifies their existence as benevolence of a white man and not the willing-to-survive attitude of the body itself. Here racialised body has to reclaim and live its oppression and justify its right to live by being othered and being racialised, which makes the task at hand more tedious.



But there is also another interesting thing that's occurring alongside it, racialised folks in that same space start to be more passive around their identities and their spaces. They let others take their space in hope of having peace, and in hope of having acceptance and not being othered by their neighbours.



Most activists especially student activists start out with their dream of fixing the world as per stated in humanities text books. One thing they don't realise is that the text is a guideline to what can be done and how to go about it. Our world is not academia and not all arguments are won on the basis of strong arguments. Your activism should not in any way be limited to your campus.



There are no hard and fast rules around implementing your theory. You need to be mindful that ground reality is way different and there are multiple realities and multiple truths. It can be frustrating and disheartening at times but you can't accept one for the other and at the same time you can't choose to be neutral. Actually, you cant afford to be neutral!



You need to be mindful lots of people spent immense amount of energy so that we could have certain liberties in life and there will be lots of them coming afterwards to carry on that dream. And in the end, your hard work won't be translated into success all the time but there is no other way to go about it. You are only successful when you have inspired someone to be as passionate as you are and who can carry on that fight when you won't be able to do so. Always be generous in imparting your knowledge to others, and be helpful as you can. And in the end, your hard work won't be translated into success all the time but there is no other way to go about it.



This job can turn you into a mean bean but never loose your essence which makes you. One way to go about it is to remember what made you start out in the first place and you will get that motivation back. Mourn your loss but never forget to celebrate your victories either!



Keep dreaming , keep fighting!



In solidarity,

Ayesha Asghar

Website last updated 2013