Nepal Earthquake Relief Fundraiser

KATHMANDU, NEPAL - MAY 16:  A Nepalese woman carring her child walks past the collapse building in Sankhu village in, Kathmandu, Nepal on May 16, 2015 following the second major earthquake. The second major earthquake hit Nepal on May 12, 2015 as the country recovers from last month's devastating earthquake, in Nepal. (Photo by Sunil Pradhan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sunil Pradhan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Stories of the April 25th and May 12th earthquakes occurring in Nepal have flooded the news over these past few weeks. Tragedy has been everywhere we look and the blatant needs in Nepal are obvious and unavoidable.

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“More than 8,500 people have died as a result of the back-to-back earthquakes” (Time Magazine).

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The death toll continues to rise and daily more and more homes crumble. The Nepalese people are in need of urgent help. So the question to be posed is, who will help them?

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For me, the answer is simple. It is all of our responsibility, as human beings, to stretch out a helping hand to the rest of human kind. It is so easy to see tragedy and feel empathetic; however, when the pictures on the TV screen turn to other news, so goes our concern with it. I am guilty of doing this as well. However, in this face of tragedy, I am reminded that:

No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.

John Donne

If indeed any other human beings suffering affects me, diminishes me, then what am I doing to help those in need? How am I being ‘involved in mankind’? When I see a need, do I passively observe, or do I do whatever I can, even something small, to get involved and help?

This question was considered by some amazingly talented musicians in Toronto, working with Small World Music Centre, to create an unforgettable evening of music on May 25th to raise funds for Nepal earthquake relief.

Nepal Concert Fundraiser- May 25th 2015
Featured artists are: Autorickshaw, FreePlay Duo, Vandana Vishwas, Bandana Singh, Amely Zhou 周嘉麗, Dorjee Tsering, Justin Gray, Debashis Sinha, Pushpa Raj Acharya, Sheniz Janmohamed, and Anand Rajaram.

These talented artists are donating their time and energy to present a ‘pan-Asian program of superb sounds,’ and through the creation of exceptional music, they hope to provide a glimmer of hope through musical solace, a wonderful act of humanitarianism, and provide a platform through which to raise much needed funds for Nepal.

All proceeds will go to the UNICEF Canada Nepal Fund, providing emergency healthcare in Nepal’s hardest hit regions and all donations will be 100% matched by the Government of Canada.

Why not support this wonderful night of music for a most worthy cause?

You can find more info at:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1595633127390229/

http://smallworldmusic.com/small-world-music-centre-shows/

 “The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet….Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places….We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

– J.K. Rowling

 

Published in Fusia magazine May 2015

 

Freiburg, Germany

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Since my coming to Deutschland, I have been told that I simply must see Freiburg, as it is one of the most impressive cities in Germany. Everyone told me that it is incredibly beautiful and well worth the trip. I had the opportunity to accompany some friends who were headed to Freiburg for a wedding. So while they were all inside eating wedding cake, I was wandering the streets of Freiburg, enjoying the sunshine and some authentic Italian gelato. Yes, I definitely got the better end of that deal. After close observation I can report with authority that the city did indeed meet all of my expectations, and then some. From the view of the city centre afforded from the Schloßberg, to the actual city centre itself, Freiburg is well worth seeing.

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Freiburg is one of those cities that it is impossible not to fall in love with. It is one of the most southern cities in Germany, and proudly boasts that it is the country’s sunniest and warmest city. It is also situated in one of the best possible locations: it is in the centre of the Baden wine-growing region. Which is an entry point for Germany’s infamous Black Forest, and is only a 30 minute drive to the France border, an one hour drive to the Swiss border, and a four hour drive to the border of Italy. When you can live in Germany, but have breakfast in France and dinner in Italy, you are definitely situated in an advantageous location to experience the best that Europe has to offer.

Indeed, other European influences are evident in the cities architecture and atmosphere that make Freiburg an incredibly unique German city. First and foremost, there is a distinctive medieval layout that has been preserved, along with the iconic Freiburg Münster cathedral, the Historisches Kaufhaus and the Martinstor, which is one of the original city gates. All making Freiburg home to some of the oldest architecture in Germany.

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There are also semblances to Italian architecture that give the city a European flare beyond the traditional German city.

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All throughout the city centre are small channels of water called Freiburg Bächle that are so unique and really impressed me because they were unlike anything that I have yet seen. Apparently these channels were created to provide a steady stream of water for fighting fires and providing water for livestock. Although there is a common misunderstanding that they were originally created as a sewage system; however, even in the medieval ages there would have been strict penalties for polluting these channels. In their contemporary setting, these channels of constantly flowing of water, diverted from the Dreisam, function as a natural cooling system in the summer time and pleasantly fill the air with the gurgling sound of running water.

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These Bächle have become so entrenched in the city’s identity that they have given way to a famous Freiburg saying, that a tourist who steps into a Bächle will marry a Freiburger. And indeed you can always tell who the locals are because they step over these channels seemingly without even realizing that they are there, whereas tourist without fail will step into them at least once. So the saying has been adapted to “when you visit Freiburg you will marry a Freiburger” because the stepping into a Bächle is inevitable. However, I can proudly say that throughout this short trip I managed to keep my feet on dry land.

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If you are ever planning a drive from Germany to France, Switzerland, or Italy, I would definitely recommend heading through Freiburg and stopping for a leisurely walk around this beautiful city. You will be very glad that you did.

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Published in Fusia magazine, May 2015

Life of Luxury Above 30,000 Feet

 

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For the economically challenged people out there, like myself, whose biggest desire in life is to travel, this is the biggest tip and best information you will ever get in your life. Are you ready for it? Befriend a flight attendant or a pilot!

I cannot stress enough to you how this will change your life. Obviously, I am not advocating that you go out and try to befriend someone in the field merely to use them, because that is clearly not friendship. However, if a friend does come along in this profession…..hold on for dear life!!!!!!

I recently got a glimpse into the alluring life of flight crews when I had the privilege of accompanying a friend (who is a flight attendant) on a trip to Namibia. I got to see the other side of the flight experience which is, in my opinion, a very intriguing lifestyle, and these are the three insights I have gained.

  1. First things first, when you are a pilot or flight attendant, your friends and family can travel with you at an incredibly discounted price and get spoiled rotten!

When you are traveling with the flight crew, everything is different. I was given a ‘jump seat’ ticket, which really is just permission to come along on the flight and grab whatever seat is open. On the flight to Namibia, however, I was extremely privileged to get a business class seat and was spoiled rotten! White sparkling wine before takeoff and all that I desired to drink and eat throughout the entire 10 hour flight. Not to mention an extremely comfortable seat that completely reclined. I enjoyed it thoroughly and even though I can never usually sleep on planes, in business class I was able to sleep for the majority of the flight. The crew actually made fun of me when I woke up, saying they had to keep checking on me to see if I was still alive.

And the food!!!! I cannot emphasize enough how good the food was. The food in economy is normally just edible and you eat it simply because your body requires some sort of sustenance. However, the food in business class was real food that I could actually enjoy. Good enough actually that I would order it in an actual restaurant out of choice as opposed to accepting it out of necessity. The only downside to this experience is that now I will never feel satisfied in economy again. Oh first world issues.

Finally, there is an air of freedom involved when you aren’t just another passenger. I could move through the cabin with ease, lingering in the kitchen to talk to my new flight attendant friends without someone asking “can I help you.” I even got chocolate and candy brought to my seat, and a whole bunch of other preferential treatment. Yes, I realize that this makes me a shallow child, reveling in the fact that I got a whole bunch of extras and perks, but honestly, tell me you wouldn’t feel good about that too?

  1. Although they may work hard on the plane, they get to play hard on the ground.

When we arrived at our destination we were shuttled to our hotel, one of the most gorgeous hotels that I have ever stayed at, and it was of course free of cost since layover accommodations are covered by the airline. The crew assured me that it isn’t always this nice, but I choose to believe that their life is an endless string of exotic locations and fancy hotels. Which, let’s be honest, it mostly is.

I spent the next 3 days in one of the most beautiful and exotic countries I have ever been to, essentially just playing, like grown up children. Our time was filled with wild safari and sand dune adventures, exceptionally good meals, and a lot of hanging out, talking, eating, drinking, and laughing. It was the most fun that I’ve had in a very long time…and with complete strangers! There is a sort of comradery within a flight crew that is very compelling. Of course, again, I was assured by the flight crew that this is not always the case, but again I choose to believe it is always a fantastic experience full of fun and making new friends. Please don’t tell me differently, I prefer to keep this blissful bubble alive and not let it burst!

  1. Hard work comes with its own perks.

Now this is the part that I was very shocked and excited about. Cockpit access! Perhaps the biggest perk, and this is not allowed on all airlines, but I was allowed into the cockpit to talk with the pilots and get a feeling of what the job entails – most pilots seem to enjoy the interest and intrigue others show in their work and relish the ability to show you exactly what it’s all about. And why not? We all feel that way about our passions.

On the flight over I merely joined the cockpit crew for an hour or so, since I was so comfortable in my business class seat and spent many hours sleeping like a rock. On the way back, though, I was privileged to be able to be in the cockpit for takeoff and landing, and could stay and hangout for as long as I wanted. Experiencing the flight from the cockpit is an incredibly unique and educational experience. There is really nothing like seeing a plane take off or land, essentially right from the driver’s seat. And again, to be honest and a little childish, it was just seriously cool! Not that I was ever a nervous flier before, but I actually feel even more secure flying now knowing what I know about the whole procedure.

I am very thankful that I got this little glimpse into the working life of a flight crew. Although I know I experienced the best of it, not the worst, I still think that for the most part it is a very compelling lifestyle and I am very thankful for all of the work that goes into making our flights safe and comfortable.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

It’s Time for Africa

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I was recently given the opportunity of a lifetime. I have always wanted to travel to Africa and go on a safari tour, but it has never been in the budget. The destination was always so far away and required a lot of planning and saving. Recently, however, I was asked if I would like to go along on a trip to Namibia with my brother’s sister-in-law, who is a flight attendant for Condor. I was so excited and obviously jumped on the opportunity. A trip of a lifetime for a fraction of the cost; how does anyone say no to that? Of course the only set back is that layovers are short: we were to fly in Monday night and fly back out Thursday evening, but 3 days in Africa are better than no days in Africa. So naturally I said “absolutely!” and for only €280 I was on my way to my dream vacation.

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When we landed in Windhoek, we were greeted at the runway with a warm breeze and by the biggest grasshoppers I have ever seen in my life! They flew around the tarmac like planes taking off and landing, and I found them to be quite intriguing. Once we passed through customs and baggage claim, we were shuttled to the hotel in a van that was arranged by the airline.

Lesson #1, in Namibia they drive on the left side of the road.

I admit that I was quite happy to sit back and let everyone else drive, because I felt very disoriented cruising down what felt like the wrong side of the road to me at a high speed. Nevertheless, we arrived safely at the Hilton Hotel in Windhoek where we were greeted by an incredibly friendly staff. The hotel was absolutely gorgeous and I would recommend it to anyone who may be visiting the city.

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After a fantastic sleep in our luxurious suits, we woke up to a sunny +26 day and were ready for some fun! We decided to consult a tour guide who planned an action packed schedule for us which included a tour of the sand dunes as well as a safari tour for an incredibly reasonable price.

Although it was around a 4 hour drive out to the Namibia dessert, it was well worth it. The scenery changed from lusciously green and mountainous to soft drifts of sand with hardly any vegetation. And the vegetation that we did see was incredibly impressive and completely exotic and foreign.

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To consider how drastically the landscape changed in only a matter of hours was baffling to me.

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The sand dunes were incredibly beautiful all on their own. We walked through massive ranges of sandy peaks and were able to appreciate the vastness of this dessert. It is a little difficult to describe, but the way the sand glistens in the sun is unbelievably breathtaking.

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We then ended our sand dune experience with a little bit of fun. The rest of the crew decided to go quad riding and tried sand boarding, but I decided to enjoy a nice leisurely ride through the dunes with my furry friend Naftali.

Lesson #2, Namibia has camels!

I was shocked for some reason to find out that Namibia had camels and was very excited to partake in my very first camel riding experience. It was a bumpy and rather uncomfortable ride, but it was incredibly fun and a great way to experience the dunes. Plus Naftali seemed to like me and was incredibly sweet. I’m still convinced that she was smiling for the camera.

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We then left the dunes and drove for another 4 hours to embark on a safari tour.

Lesson #3, expect to drive for extended periods of time if you want to experience the wonders of Namibia.

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Obviously a safari tour is the quintessential activity to participate in when on a trip to Africa and was what I was looking forward to the most. Again our weather was fantastic and we were able to enjoy our ride through the landscape. We saw countless different kinds of wild game, including antelopes, springbok, a wilder beast, impalas, and various other kinds of game that I can’t even remember the names of now. We also saw zebras, wild boars, giraffes, rhinos, and crocodiles, and had the fortune to see an entire family of monkeys run across the road in front of our cars while we were still driving out to our destination.

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There is something completely amazing about seeing these animals in their natural environment. It was an utterly fascinating experience unlike anything I have ever had before. There are so few moments in your daily life when you are amazed by what you see right in front of you, so I consider these moments to be priceless. Seeing rhinos walking together, feeling a thrilling rush when they started to charge at the jeep, or seeing a mother giraffe with her baby; these are sights that many people will never get to experience first-hand.

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Forgive me for being repetitive, but it is absolutely amazing; there is no other word that can adequately describe experiencing something firsthand that is so awe-inspiring. I know as a travel writer I am supposed to be able to portray these experiences in wonderfully descriptive words, but the experience has left me relatively speechless. The pictures, however, will hopefully be able to covey the thousands of words just out of my reach that can describe this experience.

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Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants or big cats, but that is the nature of a safari…with such a vast amount of space to cover, you won’t always get to see everything that you want to. All in all though, it was a fantastic time and I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to partake in it.

Our last day in Namibia we decided to do a little souvenir shopping in the city and then relax poolside in the sun before our evening flight out.

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Of course it is ideal to have a little more time to really be able to take in everything that the country has to offer. I would very much like to go back and spend more time there; however, I feel exceedingly fortunate to have had those 3 days to experience such an impressive country and to have made incredible memories that will last a lifetime.

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Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

Meditations on Prague

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There are very few moments in your life or places that you visit that actually change you. I had one of these moments in a very special place that I have and will continue to hold dear for my entire life when I visited Paris 10 years ago. There was something about that city that made me feel like I was coming home. I absolutely fell in love with it and it continues to be my favorite place on earth. Granted I haven’t seen the whole world yet, so my list of comparisons is quite short, but so far, in the past 10 years, nothing else has come close to its beauty or has been able to rival it in any way. No other city has touched me so deeply and moved me: nothing has changed me.

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That is…until now! Fortune once again smiled my way as I had the wonderful opportunity to spend this past week in Prague. This week was a dream come true, as I have been wanting to visit Prague for many years now. I knew that it was beautiful from my own research into the city, but there was nothing that could actually prepare me for the way the place would move me. Although unlike Paris I didn’t feel like I was coming home, I felt more like I had fallen into this wonderful, beautiful, fairytale-like world that at moments left me completely breathless.

Prague has existed in all its glory for 1,100 years. It is a place of exceedingly great history and has been walked by some of the most impressive historical icons. It is the birthplace of Franz Kafka, the ground of Bohemia, and the declared resting place of the mythical Golem who protected the city’s Jews from violence. The architecture and the history tell such complex and interwoven stories that are simply not found in North America. It gives one the feeling of being immersed in a story, of walking the streets and being a part of something that is eternal: it existed long before you got there and will continue to exist long after you are gone. It’s a feeling that I can’t quite accurately explain, but it mirrors the sentiment that Shakespeare expressed in his sonnet 18:

 

“But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,

Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,

When in eternal lines to Time thou grow’st.

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”

 

Although Shakespeare was writing about immortalizing a person he loved by giving this person life within the lines of his poetry, I feel the same can be said about a city, particularly when that city has not only been written about and immortalized in verse, but is also the birthplace of the creative works within which it has been immortalized. The city has a life and history or story all of its own, to which we can become observers, but it exists without us and despite our being there to experience it. And yet, because we experience it, we add to its life…we ‘eternalize’ the story and history by being witness to it.

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This is perhaps too complex of a concept for this type of travel article, and I apologize for that. I guess my inner nerd is showing. However, being a literary scholar, there is something that amazes me about inhabiting the same space that some of my literary heroes not only inhabited before me, but that is the very space in which the works that I have studied and loved were created. As I toured through the Jewish Quarters I remembered stories of Golem and the myth came to life: for a brief moment I could believe in the mythical creature and the stories surrounding him that I learned so much about. When I walked past the Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, I could retrace Franz Kafka’s steps as he walked the streets of Prague contemplating his frenzy of thoughts that became The Metamorphosis and The Trial.

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Perhaps Golem and Kafka aren’t as alluring to everyone as they are for me, so I assure you that simply being able to appreciate the architecture and culture that was the foundation of so many works of art is beauty enough to attract you to this city. Some of the “main attractions” that I was most impressed by were Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and St. Vitus Cathedral, but I have to say (and this is perhaps again the literary scholar in me) I was extremely impressed by the Strahov Monestery and its immense libraries. Although it is an exhausting and long walk up the mountain side to get there, it is incredibly worth it. There are two vast libraries, one theological that house nearly every translation and version of the bible, and the other is philosophical, housing works from some of the most important pilosophy scholars as well as works of natural science and history. The libraries hold around 280 000 titles and house some of the oldest manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back to 860. It also displays incredible and significant artwork, including beautiful painted ceilings by Viennese painter Anton Maulbertsch (1794).

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Ultimately the city is breathtaking and very easy and pleasant to walk (as long as you don’t wear high heels that get stuck in the cobble stone streets and walkways). There are so many things to see and do; we even took in an Opera on our last night there. If you love architecture and impressive historical and artistic history, then Prague is definitely a city that you should visit.

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All photos, except for Strahov Monastery, were taken by Sloveigh Treis.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, March 2015

Colouring Outside the Lines

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Right from the beginning, we are taught to think within confines. We need to colour within the lines, we need to go to school and get a degree or multiple degrees, and we need to get a good job. We are told that these are the things that are meaningful and lead to a happy and fulfilled life. However, for me, I have never been happier than when I am colouring outside of the lines and treading off of the beaten, traditional path.

As much of a free spirit as I’ve always felt I could be, I have tended to play things quite safe and practical throughout most of my life; always putting things off until later when it was more sensible. So when I decided to uproot my life and move halfway across the world with no certainties in hand, my friends who know me best were all shocked; they said “that’s so unlike you,” to which I replied “that’s the point.”

I realized that the old adage is true: “If you want something that you’ve never had before, you have to do something that you’ve never done before.” I’ve made all of the right steps practically speaking; I got all of the appropriate degrees, I’ve done all of the internships, and I’m advancing in my career, however slowly that may be. However, I realized that there is more to life and being happy than advancing in one’s career or chosen profession and there’s more to life than getting your ducks in a row and working towards the ‘married with kids, blissful little white picket fence life,’ as nice as that may be. There is something about flying free and going off of the ‘responsible’ path that is exhilarating and worthwhile. There are certain interludes or detours that you never regret taking in your life; indeed, some of these moments are the moments when you are actually living your life to the fullest.

So, I decided that this year I would continue to ‘seize the day’ by saying yes to all new and exciting opportunities, which includes doing the things that I’ve never done before. As a result, I have made some of the most worthwhile experiences in just a few months…all from saying yes to the unknown. I said yes to moving to Europe, I said yes to going on a trip to Prague with complete strangers, I said yes to flying to Namibia and going on a Safari with my brother’s sister-in-law – even though I don’t really know her all that well either. But in each circumstance, I’ve made amazing memories and experienced things that I otherwise never would have.

So, when some of my new Berlin friends asked me to partake in a Spartan Race in June, I naturally said yes. I have NEVER done anything like this before. It is going to push me to my absolute limit, both physically and mentally, but that is exactly why I want to do it. In agreeing to this I’ve said yes to running through mud, climbing over walls, crawling under barbed wire, and pushing myself to the brink of exhaustion and past it; all of it simply for the experience. I don’t care about winning or losing, I just care about actually doing it. And I know that it is going to be an incredible experience and I am extremely excited about it.

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Believe it or not, I have never been happier or more excited about things than in these past few months, and this is all from simply by saying yes. We tend to say no to too much in our lives, I think, but there should be a time for saying yes. Even something as simple as agreeing to go and play indoor volleyball and actually playing, regardless of how bad I am at volleyball, instead of sitting on the side lines has been liberating for me. It is small, but it is a big achievement for me, because I am actively participating in every aspect of my life instead of passively waiting for things to turn around. At a certain point, you need to stop playing it safe and you need to stop sitting on the sidelines of your own life. You need to make active decisions and you need to get in the game! Not every risk pays off, but some of the most rewarding experiences come from taking a chance, taking a leap of faith, and going outside of your comfort zone.

There is a time for responsibility and practicality, but sometimes you just need to think outside of the box and colour outside of the lines.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, April 2015

Passion over Practicality

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So, it’s tax time again, and that means going over everything from last year; all of your old transit receipts, charitable donations, etc. It has a similar effect for me as New Year’s day does: you relive the past year in a flurry of papers.

I looked back on this past year and saw a lot of ritual and routine. I spent this much on transit to get to work, this much on rent, so on and so forth. It looked….well….pretty boring. And you know what….it FELT boring. I am never one to discount any blessing or privilege in my life. I know that I had a relatively good job, meaning it was steady, dependable work, it was easy, and I was working with people who were all really nice and that I really liked. Yet, something felt like it was missing.

I’ve always been a bit of a restless person. Perhaps it’s because I am still growing constantly as a person, but when I am caged down in one thing for too long, I always tend to want to spread my wings and fly away. The fever for flight came to me again last year around this time. I had to fly to Germany because my twin brother was having a very serious brain surgery and I wasn’t about to let him go through that alone. The trip was great, the surgery was a huge success, and then I headed back home feeling thankful that everything went so well. But then, I began to be plagued by the realization that I had just used a week of my vacation time (which by the way wasn’t anything close to a vacation) and that I only had one week left. The year had barely started! And I knew that that last week should be reserved for spending time with family around Christmas time.

I know I know, first world problems, but I felt completely trapped. I suddenly began to feel the weight of the drudgery of my life – every single day the same – and I became exhausted and very unhappy. Logically I knew that I didn’t really have a right to feel so upset, too many people have it so much worse, but I couldn’t change the way I felt. I felt stuck in a point of my life where it didn’t seem like anything was going to change any time soon. And day-in-day-out I took the bus and train with miserable people heading to a job they hate, spending the greater part of their lives unhappy, because they have to pay bills and they have to meet other responsibilities.

So, I decided to make a plan. I decided that I wasn’t going to allow myself to end up like that. I decided that I needed to be the change that I wanted to see in my own life. I began to save as much from each paycheck as I could, applied for a German work and travel VISA, and by the end of the year I had quit my job and was flying off to spend the next year in Europe….or at least for however long I could until my money ran out.

Trust me. This decision was not arrived at easily. I spent a long time thinking “I can’t quit my job and flit off to Europe…that’s irresponsible, I still have a huge amount of student loans to pay back.” I gave myself a million reasons to stay in my prison, including the fact that I couldn’t afford it. But one day it sort of just hit me: I don’t have to get up and go to work today if I don’t want to. I don’t have to keep maintaining this same routine if I don’t want to. All of the “responsibilities” that tether us to a life that we really don’t want to live are merely excuses that we tell ourselves which ultimately keep us sheltered in a little secure (but miserable) bubble and keep us for achieving our dreams.

I wanted to head to Germany, not only because my brother and his family are here, but because all of my life I have wanted to travel. While in school I kept on putting it off, saying after this I will go or after that I will go. Then when I started working, the same thing. But the “after that” never really comes. I knew that the job I was in last year was always meant to be temporary, but I realized that if I did get into that permanent, career starting job (which starts at 2 weeks of vacation a year) then I was never going to be able to travel or live abroad.

Once I made the decision I noticed two things: 1. I was happier and I felt less miserable with my situation and less trapped. 2. The majority of people I told all said “that’s amazing, I’m so jealous, I wish I could have done the same thing.”

This response made me think of a very important concept that I want to live my life by: I never want to let “I want to” turn into “I wish I had.” I want my life to be extraordinary, not ordinary, and I want to live it with passion, not just with practicality. The safe road is safe for a reason, but anything worthwhile in life comes with a little bit of a risk.

 

Published in Fusia magazine, March 2015

Family Discord in Jag Parmar’s “Dowry”

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In her latest film, Dowry, Jag Parmar delves into prevalent issues surrounding the perpetuation of the Dowry System within South Asian communities in North America. “My motive in creating this film,” said Parmar, “was to create awareness about an issue that is growing into an insidious international business. I wanted to address that the true meaning of dowry has been lost and now the ritual is performed at the expense of women.”

Dowry_430x240Ultimately the message is one criticizing the way that dowries have inhumanly evolved. When sons become commodities for financial profit and daughters become exchangeable and exploitable property within a rigid business transaction, there is something really wrong and dangerous. In the making of this film, Parmar hoped to “get people talking about something that no one really wants to talk about.”

Because there are dowry laws now in effect in India, Parmar operated originally under the assumption that the practice of dowry and its issues were in decline. When she then discovered that it was actually a growing practice, she felt compelled to address some of the prevalent issues that it poses. “Originally dowry was given to a daughter to be able to take care of herself if anything ever happened to her husband,” said Parmar, “but now it has become a matter of extortion.”

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The Film

The film, Dowry, shows how this ritual unfolds within a Canadian family. It outlines the struggle of an under-privileged South Asian family to finance a dowry for their daughter Mausam (Shirin Hampton). Already struggling and coming up short for the dowry for this one wedding, Mausam’s sister, Gia (Ana Sani), becomes an additional source of contention for the family, as she falls in love with Vic (Sid Sawant) and also demands a dowry. Because Gia is confined to a wheelchair, she is never expected by the family to have a wedding of her own. The financial burden of these dowries generates extreme hostility and resentment within the family and threatens to tear the family apart.

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The Social Critique

So why is this such a big problem? Unfortunately this marriage ritual has turned violent. Instead of walking away from a marriage agreement, some families of the groom have decided to enter into the marriage contract and then “shake down” the family of the bride for the financial profit they desired in the form of a dowry.

In 1995, Time Magazine reported that dowry deaths in India increased from around 400 a year in the early 1980s to around 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. A year later, CNN ran a story saying that every year police receive more than 2,500 reports of bride burning.

Why has it turned violent? Dowry has evolved from a marital ritual into a hostage negotiation. Brides are mentally and emotionally abused, being pressured for more money from their family to satisfy the demands of the dowry. The bride is threatened with violence to encourage the family to come up with more money and if the family cannot pay more, the bride is often killed in a horrific way – often through a phenomena called Bride Burning – or is driven to suicide.

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Bride burning has been recognized as an important public health problem in India accounting for around 2,500 deaths per year in the country.

In this context, a family trying to scrounge up the money to pay a dowry to preserve the life of their daughter is in no way different than a family trying to scrounge up the money to pay a ransom demand to a kidnaper. Therefore, the dowry becomes a hostile negotiation and the bride is a hostage in grave danger.

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In India, official governments reported in 1997 that 6,500 women died from dowry related deaths. Regarding bride burning specifically, between 1947 and 1990, about 72,000 were burned to death, an average of 1,674 a year.

Unfortunately this gendercide is far from extinct. In 2012 a study put Indian Dowry Death Rates at 0.7 % of the world’s 6.2% homicide rate.

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According to the Indian National Crime Record Bureau, India has by far the highest number of dowry related deaths in the world. In 2008 there were 1,948 convictions and 3,876 acquittals in dowry death cases. In 2012, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported across India, which equates to a bride being burned every 90 minutes and situates dowry related deaths at 1.4 per year per 100,000 women in India.

Insight from the Actors

Ana Sani (who plays Gia) stated that this topic only came into light for her after being involved in this film, a revelation for which she is grateful. “Being part Indian,” she explains, “I did know that dowry’s were part of our traditional past but did not imagine that they would still be occurring, let alone in Canada. We dignify ourselves as being a multicultural nation and yet there are so many secrets about our people that we either turn a blind eye against or are simply uneducated about. These issues are important for us to learn about each other, grow from one another, and aid in bettering the values our nation so strongly prides itself for.”

Shireen Hampton (who plays Mausam) also spoke on this ignorance that is prevalent in the social consciousness when it comes to this issue of dowry. “In this day and age people can often be quite oblivious of the world outside their day to day lives,” said Shireen, “Film is a wonderful vessel for learning about other cultures around the world. I’m thrilled to be a part of a film that tells a story that so many people in Canada may be unaware of. I find it fascinating how beliefs and customs of Indian culture are not only passed down through generations but also passed on to a more modern and liberal Canada. ”

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Screening Details

The ReelWorld Film Festival screening of Dowry is tonight, Thursday, March 5th at 8:30 pm (with the Dowry team arriving at 8:00 pm) at Cineplex Scotiabank Theatre, 259 Richmond St West in Toronto.

Dowry stars Ana Sani, Shireen Hampton, Jasmine Sawant, Shruti Shah, Jason Sasha and Sid Sawant.  The film was written and directed by Jag Parmar.  Arun A. Mirchandani served as Executive Producer.

Aside from the ReelWorld Film Festival screening, Parmar assures me that they anticipate more festival screenings in Toronto and are submitting to festivals in the US etc.

For more details, go to: www.reelworld.ca or www.inseyetfilms.com

You can also view the trailer at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dg5ftdMigXc&feature=youtu.be

 

Published in Fusia magazine March 2015

Happiness is not Dependent on Happily Ever After

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When I was asked to take on the responsibility of writing for the Fusia Lifestyle section, I was excited about the challenge, but I wasn’t exactly too sure on what I would write about. Our former lifestyle writer wrote a lot about family and raising children, but as a single woman I cannot relate to any of those things at all. I was stumped.

So I logically did what any other self-respecting writer would do, and I did a little research. The majority of newspapers, magazines, even the Lifestyle section of the local Chapters, seem to centre on love, marriage, relationships, raising children, and the like. Things which I don’t know about. So I was even more stumped. Then I began to wonder…why don’t I come across many articles or books that celebrate single life? What is worse, the majority of material out there discussing singleness is mostly stuff that you would find under the umbrella of self-help.

I refuse to accept that the single woman’s life is not Lifestyle material. This article is about being single, but it is NOT an article about finding happily ever after with a man and therefore graduating from single to couple as if singleness is merely a prerequisite to the next step. Too often we singles are bombarded with the notion that “single” is undesirable; it is equated with incomplete, lonely, and a whole bunch of negative notions that simply aren’t true.

Although trying to reclaim the word “single” is too tall of an order for a short article, I will speak to some of the negative conceptions behind the cliché advice that is constantly offered to me as a single woman.

  1. Oh don’t worry, your Prince Charming is just around the corner!

First and foremost, life is not a fairytale. And I am not saying that in a sad Taylor Swift “I’m not a princess, this ain’t a fairytale, I’m not the one you sweep off her feet, lead her out the stairwell” sort of way. I’m saying this in a very positive way. As a single woman, I am NOT waiting for my Prince Charming to show up. I’m not lying around with a piece of poisoned apple in my mouth waiting for life’s saving kiss. I’m not pining for love. Period. And I most definitely do NOT need to be rescued. So please save your piece of consolation…just because I’m single doesn’t mean that I’m in need of “encouragement” from you. I’m not worried, and you telling me not to worry actually means you think there is something to worry about.

In response to this inane piece of reassurance, I refer you to the Single Law #1 Happiness is not dependent on Happily Ever After. Happiness comes from within. If you place the responsibility of your happiness on anyone else but yourself, you will always be disappointed.

  1. A friend of a friend’s cousin’s friend knows someone who is also STILL single! Do you want me to see if I can set you up?

Hmmm…..let me think about that…..NO! Single people can’t stand when you treat singleness like it’s a disease that you need to cure. Offering to set me up means you think there is something wrong with being alone. Which also means that you pity me. Please stop pitying me. I don’t care that I’m sitting at the “single’s table” at your wedding and everyone else at the table is at least 10 years younger than me. If it doesn’t bother me, why does it bother you? Don’t tell me that I’m being too picky, that I’m not putting myself out there, don’t tell me that I’ll find him once I stop looking (which totally negates the ‘putting myself out there’ bit of advice by the way)…don’t say anything to me. Being a part of a couple does not automatically also make you a single’s counselor. I’m not damaged and you don’t have to fix me, and my singleness is not a riddle that you need to solve.

In response to this well-meaning but infuriating consolation, I refer you to the Single Law #2 Alone does NOT mean Lonely.

Of course there are a million more clichés that I hear, but these are two that I find particularly annoying and offensive. However,  such is the life in the Single Woman’s shoes. I find the lives of my married friends and family absolutely wonderful, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t come from a place of jaded cynicism. But my life – my pick up and move to another country just because I feel like it, freedom to do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it life – is equally wonderful….no….it’s fabulous!

Published in Fusia magazine March 2015

The Road-Trip Upgraded

Road-trips have always held a special allure for me. When I was a child they meant adventure: my brothers and I all packing into our van with my parents to drive all the way to Florida or New Brunswick from our home in Ontario. In my teens and early 20’s it meant freedom: jumping in the car with High School or University friends and driving all night to NYC. Ultimately, the one thing that never really changed, in my opinion, was that road-trips were always more about the journey than the destination. Even though I’m “all grown up now,” I’m still drawn by this childlike fancy to jump in the car and go; go anywhere and everywhere.

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Recently I took a road-trip from Berlin to Frankfurt. Rule #1 of the road-trip, your ability to enjoy your journey depends 100% on who you’re with. If you have to be in a confined space for many hours with a person, it better be someone you enjoy spending a lot of time with. I was luckily making this drive with one of my closest friends, so we were already off to a great start. Why I classify this as a road-trip upgraded is because it was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Upgraded Speed

First things first, we were cruising on the autobahn at a comfortable 180-220 km per hour. Believe it or not, pumping up the speed actually makes a huge difference. Not only does it cut down your actual driving time, but the rush is exhilarating. Of course there were a few teeth clenching moments when we needed to slow down quickly and I braced myself for my imminent death, but in the end it remained fun and not fatal.

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Upgraded Scenery

Second was the upgraded scenery. Don’t get me wrong, Canada and the U.S. have very beautiful pastoral landscapes with cattle grazing or fields upon fields of crops; however, in Germany, this pastoral landscape is also dotted with castles and windmills. While driving down the highway there were multiple stretches of km after km of windmills. At one point we were so close to these windmills as they surrounded us on both sides for as far as we could see. I felt so tiny among the towering windmills, like Don Quixote amidst his giants.

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Perhaps windmills aren’t enough to make most people feel like they are driving through an almost fairytale landscape (they do for me because I am bizarrely fascinated by windmills) but the castles really seal the deal. All along the stretch of our 5 hour drive, we saw castle after castle; at one point there were three castles in a row on closely neighboring hilltops, all easily within the same field of vision. At this point in our trip it was starting to get dark, so the castles were all externally lit up; they stood on their hilltops looking stately and majestic, and we drove on in admiration. ‘I’m driving through a land of windmills and castles,’ I thought to myself, ‘this is by far one of the coolest road-trips that I have ever been on!’

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There are about 20,000 Castles that grace the German landscape, many of which have been preserved as heritage sites or are being used as museums and hotels. There are also more than 21,607 wind turbines located in the German federal area, with plans to build even more in the coming years. This means it is pretty difficult to drive anywhere in Germany and not come across some windmills and castles. With about 19,990 castles left to see…who feels like taking a drive with me?

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Published in Fusia magazine, February 2015