Writing on the Wall: Currencies of the World

…all on one board. I found this in a little deli hidden away on Green Street, East London, which the proprietor had displayed on the wall, probably to show the different type of customers and currencies he has come across.

I loved how this looked on the wall, a mish-mash of colours, cultures and odd bits all lined up together to form a small piece of art to catch your eye (and probably to remind you to pay for your food!)

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World Hijab Day…2016

I love that there’s an official celebration for hijab every year, and the message that World Hijab Day tries to promote. While the event tries to promote hijab and show the various fashionistas, business women and pioneers of hijabi women, I think that it’s also more important in showing the non-hijabi women out there what it’s like and how empowering hijab can be, rather than oppressive.

I’ve seen a lot of fabulous hijab stories out there already, and it’s amazing to see them come from countries all over the world – for me it just proves that modesty and hijab can be a universal concept, rather than just restricted to the idea of a piece of fabric covering your head. I have said before that I believe it’s important to send an important message to our younger generation of girls – hijab is not something to be ridiculed, ashamed of or misunderstood, and that there is nothing wrong with wanting to cover. If there are questions about it, we are always happy to spread awareness and show the reasons why we cover.

I have heard it said that us ‘hijabi’ bloggers can get a little obssessive over the hijab and tend to write about it too much – while I agree that we see it as part of our identity, perhaps we write about it so that we can get others to understand how we feel and who we are. I do think that the hijab brings out a lot of our inner traits which we may not necessarily be confident about if we were too focused on the way we look – in today’s Facebookin’, Intagrammin’, Twitterin’ generation, this is becoming more and more important to us.

But I’ll leave you with something a little more light-hearted – perhaps we love our hijab so much because it allows us to show women’s beauty and what we love about ourselves –  I certainly think it helps me enhance my bright lipstick of the day!

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Containers: Not just about food.

I thought I’d contribute to this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, which I thought was a good one, about Containers. It gives me a chance to reflect on the idea of the sort of containers I’ve been seeing lately, which is of food. Ramadan time for us is usually symbolised (among a lot of other things) by the samosas in my mum’s famous hot-pot container – the smell of samosas instantly brings back memories of early mornings with parathas (buttered chapattis) and iftars spent hovering over my mum’s shoulders while she fried delicacies which we usually see at Ramadan times; afternoons spent salivating over plates of watermelons and strawberries, and waiting for tall glass of cool water.

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Not everyone has the luxury of containers of food that we have though. The whole point of Ramadan, as well as getting close to our spiritual side, is to empathise with those who don’t have the abundance of food that we do, and those who don’t get to end their starving days with a feast. It is easy to forget your hunger when you are biting into a juicy fruit chaat or some hot pakoras, measuring your fasts by the clock instead of by experiences.

Not everyone in the world has the luxury of making everyone wait to eat while they take a picture (yes I’m one of those), while everyone sits back amused, because they know they’ll get their food once that picture is taken. Some parts of the world do not have food to Instagram/Facebook/Tweet the way we do, and do not have the choice of beautiful food.

Not everyone has the luxury of loving making their food, taking their time to eat and savouring their meal. I’m sure you have seen plenty of images and heard news about the horrific things which are happening in Gaza, as well as Palestine right now. There is growing unrest about this, not just the heartbreaking violence, but the lack of action from the Western world, the lack of reportage and the outright refusal to acknowledge events by the major powers – the Western media, the politicians and prime ministers, and those who do have a voice. We have seen protests, rallies and several movements, which are not just online but on the streets all over the world, and which are fighting to give these people a voice, to make change. I can’t help but think about these people who have lived their lives in fear, worrying about whether they will ever eat their meals in peace, whether the roofs over their heads will stay in one place, whether they can let their children sleep in homes without worry. I can’t imagine what Ramadan must feel like to the Palestinians right now – whether it is something they can experience without fearing whether they will see the end of it.

It is apt that it is Ramadan right now. It is the best time for us to truly reflect, think about what we can do to help the disadvantaged. If there is one thing I have learned it is that there is no point in bettering yourself, reflecting spiritually and empathising with the poor by feeling hungry if you don’t use those lessons learned to help others and to further the messages learned.

It is a container of samosas, yes. But it is also so much more – it represents all the luxuries we have which we can so easily forget in our sheltered lives and take for granted. I don’t mean to belittle the lives of our #FirstWorldProblems#, it is easy to be cynical and undermine the efforts of those who actually have tried to make a difference – the things I have seen recently makes me proud of so many of my brothers and sisters. But perhaps, this is a gentle reminder, to appreciate what we have – look at things from a different angle.

Public Speaking – The fear we all have but never admit to

Giving speeches and presentations have never been a strong suit of mine. Ask me to write two hundred words on the topic of why green is a soothing colour, or a paragraph on the benefits of being in the EU, and I’ll have it to you within the half hour. Ask me to do a quick presentation/speech on it, and I’ll be flustered for about a week. And it’s not just for the big, important speeches either, the ones which require planning, researching, doing surveys and data collection and whatnot. I’ve been doing various forms of public or group speaking for years, and yet, I still get that squeak in my throat the minute I open my mouth to speak. I’m a real professional – until I have to actually gather a group of people together and tell them about how professional I can be.

We’ve all had to do it. In schools we had to give presentations about different projects and things we’ve learned, why Macbeth is so tortured, why water can a liquid, solid and a gas, and why King Charles I was beheaded in 1649. In university I remember having to give plenty of presentations in class, staring at the bored faces and trying to jazz up PowerPoint slides with music, films, artwork, (even a drama enactment, once), anything to not stand there for too long and talk in a deadpan voice. We’ve all met that one (or three) person in our class whose knees shook while they gave class presentations, and whose shoes we didn’t want to be in. And of course, my working-life has been just the same. At present, every month I have to give the same speech to a group of professionals at various training sessions and courses which I run, and each time I

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manage to stammer my way through and pretend that the room is empty, or look at the most harmless-looking inhabitant of the room and pretend I’m just speaking to them. Which helps. A little bit.

The symptoms, I’m sure you all recognise. Stammering. Repeatedly saying ‘um’, ‘like’, ‘you know’, ‘er’, ‘erm’ interjected into your speech – you know what to say but you still sound unsure about it. The chest tightening, the sweaty palms, or otherwise that horrible feeling in your stomach and your clothes feeling very uncomfortable. The sweaty armpits and the clammy hair (oh dear). Voices going high and getting stuck in your throat, or otherwise talking in a robotic tone. Speaking too quietly or speaking too loud, too slow for everyone to pay attention to, or too fast for anyone to keep up (guilty!). Staring at everyone and not being sure where to focus, or not making eye contact at all (I’ve seen people stare at the floor even, or just fixate on their pieces of paper). I’ve even had friends tell me about nervous gas issues, nervous hiccups, and nervous pacing about (I’ve seen my Dad do this and I do this myself, it drives my mother up the wall.)

And of course, the dreaded silence before you even start speaking, which acts as the biggest hurdle. Tell a joke, a story, an anecdote, anything to break the ice and make yourself (and them) feel more comfortable. We’ve heard it all before, we convince ourselves that once we break the ice, once we get started, then it’s all a doddle from there. Just get started, and you’ll be fine. And a lot of the time, it’s not. I’ve rarely met anyone who actually loves speaking in public. Even the most confident people I know (and I’m not wallflower myself, most of the times), will baulk a little at the thought of public speaking.

nervAnd it’s not like it’s always about a fear of strangers either – even when you know everyone in the group, and you’ve had plenty of easy one-on-one conversations with them, it’s suddenly a different animal when they’re all together. Because that’s when they all turn into scary pairs of eyes, putting you in the spot and making you feel very conscious of yourself, your words and your self-image which is being projected.

As much as we hate going up in front of a group, avoid speeches and try to even run away from it, we also want to be adored by an audience, we want to have that after-speech glow from imparting some beautiful, witty, amazing and wise sermon to an enraptured audience. And in truth, it’s rarely ever that. As much as we are scared that nobody is listening, we’re also scared that someone actually is. There’s a saying which says ‘no one’s listening until you make a mistake’. Well in these kinds of situations, it’s probably ten times true.

Where does it all come from? There’s plenty of factors, and not just our own nervousness about our abilities and self-image. I also partly blame the ever-growing sophisticated technology of today. Why say something out loud when you can Tweet, Facebook update, text, Whatsapp, email or even blog about it, without worry what people think? You can’t see them, and you can hide behind the anonymous curtain of ‘teh internetz’ and tippy-tappy out opinions on your keyboard.

And yes, a lot of us do have confidence issues, which also makes us feel vulnerable when we speak. Some of us worry about what message we are projecting, the way we look, the hand gestures and body language, or even just what our peers are thinking of us. And don’t get me started on those speeches you haven’t prepared for, the ones where we just try to wing it!

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And yes, a lot of us do have confidence issues, which also makes us feel vulnerable when we speak. Some of us worry about what message we are projecting, the way we look, the hand gestures and body language, or even just what our peers are thinking of us. And don’t get me started on those speeches you haven’t prepared for, the ones where we just try to wing it!

I’ve heard about various ‘Public Speaking’ seminars, but I don’t think I could ever see myself as going to that extent and feeling the need to attend them. I’ve heard plenty of different ways of combating nervousness (the ‘imagining everyone naked is the most common one I’ve heard but it’s never worked for me. I just find it incredibly weird and awkward. Repressed Asian girl and nekked-ness? I think not) – but I’m sure you’ll agree, different things work for everyone. In the end, I wouldn’t say that public speaking is a bad thing, but it’s not something I’ve heard many people talk about – perhaps because we don’t like admitting our awkwardness to other people. I know I’ve blagged my way through plent of speeches to have a fake sense of confidence about public speaking!

The best advice I’ve heard so far? ‘Smile like a buffoon and don’t take yourself so seriously. The audience probably won’t,  so why waste time being nervous?’

The Kathakali Exhibition – the art of South Indian classical dance

I visited the Redbridge Kathakali exhibition yesterday, which was a small exhibition about a mainly male-classical dance, which originates from Kerala in South India. I thought it was quite an interesting exhibition, as I have heard of ‘kathak‘ dance which is a classical dance from India which is popular amongst men and women, but wanted to see how the South Indian Kathakali is related to this.

Kathakali (like kathak itself) is not just dancing – but about telling stories. I was surprised to learn, for example, that the classical dance incorporates sign language to express emotions (such as fingers opening outwards to signify a flower), which I think adds layers of complexities to the dance and the stories.

And of course the costumes were amazingly decorated. In my own culture, we have our own traditional styles of dress, accessories and even other adornments like mehndi – so it’s interesting to see the extravagantly and richly coloured layers of dress worn by these dancers – from the full on bright make-up, the intricate head-gear and to the several layers of robes and jewellery.

Definitely worth a look if you’re in the area – the exhibition’s free and there’s videos, costumes and models to look at.

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Fairy Tales & Long Tails: Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales

With stories of frightened young women giving birth to a pot (yes you read that right!), the Little Red Riding Hood who DOES get eaten by the Hungry Wolf, and old women who live in odd places like vinegar bottles, Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales is hardly the usual type we think of when thinking of ‘fairies’ and ‘happily ever afters’.

I loved reading stories, folk stories and myths from around the world in my childhood (think Spider Anansie and Baba Yaga from Africa, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba from Arabia, Greek gods and goddesses and Egyptians tales of the afterlife), all of which had rich characters, quirky tales and interesting morals to them. Who’d have thought that the stories about the beginning of the world would involve such interesting events – How the Tortoise Got a Hard Back, for example, or How the Snake Lost It’s Legs. Maybe not scientifically accurate by today’s standards, but still interesting stories to read.

And these stories are brilliant at challenging the norm – with beautiful girls leading miserable lives, crafty witches being the winners, wives getting the better of their husbands and the heroes don’t need to be rich to complete their tales.

Angela Carter’s book of tales brings together stories from all across the globe, ranging from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, America, Australia and even the Artics to fully bring a flavour of several countries and cultures. I love the sinister sides of these stories, the gory sides of fairy tales and human nature, with good nature and humour mixed into this pot of short stories which are a far cry from Disney stories we’ve seen.

Definitely a book I’d recommend if you’re a lover of fairy tales and folk stories, if you’ve read Grimm’s book of tales, Hans Christian’s collection of stories or even Roald Dahl’s genius stories as a child, then these will be right up your street. With stories entitled ‘Reasons to beat your wife’ and ‘The woman who married her son’s wife’ (don’t worry, it doesn’t encourage incest or domestic violence!) there’s certainly a quirky style to these stories which are memorable and magical : )