In My Feminine, I Feel Free

A simple henna design I drew on my hand:

A Simple Henna Design I Drew On My Hand

I listened to this playlist I made entitled “Divine Feminine” while doing so:

I belly danced after.The sensuality of the dance and drawings swept me away into this stunningly magical space. No constricting lines existed there, just carefree curves and colours. In my feminine, I feel free.

My second piece for the F-Word UK

When the Defenders are the Perpetrators – the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Weekly round-up and open thread

With 151 countries signing a protocol to end sexual violence in conflict-affected countries and the introduction of a new UN policy to help do so, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London was a fantastic step forward.

The Summit’s aims were many, with much noise made about holding governments accountable, better training for peacekeepers, and supporting women human rights defenders.

Yet what to do when the very defenders are also the perpetrators – such as the United Nations itself? Unfortunately, the Summit did not provide much of an answer.

UN peacekeepers have repeatedly committed acts of sexual violence in many of the same countries the summit highlighted, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti. How can we forget the 2005 revelation that UN peacekeepers were paying young girls in the Congo food for sex? Indeed, according to reports by Cornell constitutional law scholar Muna Ndulo, “UN peacekeepers have fathered an estimated 24,500 babies in Cambodia and 6,600 in Liberia.”

While the UN has condemned these actions and taken steps towards reform, the organisation has been criticised for not taking sexual violence seriously enough – partly because it does not even have the power to do so. It is the UN’s structure that largely enables this abuse; peacekeepers are only contracted to the UN, and thus are subject to their individual countries’ laws. Thus, UN policy enforcement on tackling violence against women is as problematic as the policy enforcement on tackling violence against women is in every country.

While the Summit addressed strengthening domestic laws so that prosecution can occur, still, it did not address this in reference to the UN’s peacekeeping failures – one almost wonders if to avoid touching on the UN’s embarrassing history. It also did not address how the UN keeps knowingly hiring peacekeeping troops from countries that do not adequately prosecute their soldiers for rape, and even keeps the identities of these individuals anonymous.

It is disappointing that at the largest summit of its kind, the media and government representatives at the Summit remained curiously silent about the United Nations’ own contribution to the problem. It would have been the ideal platform to speak up, but then perhaps given the UN’s large presence at the event, it would have hit too close to home.

This inconvenient truth and its omission from the discussions at the Summit offer an important warning: when it comes to ending sexual violence in war, everybody needs to be held accountable for genuine progress to occur. In many ways, some of the factors that have allowed sexual violence in conflict-affected countries to continue without adequate punishment mirror some of the reasons why sexual violence worldwide is so rampant.

To an extent, both are largely fueled by a global culture that perpetuates rape and gender inequality. It’s a culture that often either victim-blames or simply does not take rape seriously enough. Thus sexual violence is not simply the problem of certain countries, but reflective of a worldwide systemic issue all countries contribute to. Even the Summit’s host – the UK government – has failed to protect refugees victimised by sexual violence in war, causing further trauma by refusing to even believe them. And let’s not even get started on how often rape in general occurs every hour in every country, from the US to the Congo, and yet how poorly politicians sometimes respond towards these cases thus perpetuating the problem. For example, the US – despite its large presence in the Summit and the UN – has neglected its own college campus sexual assault survivors.

Ending sexual violence in conflict-affected countries will require more than just 151 signatures. It will require everybody – countries, the UN, individuals – to take an honest look at itself and take responsibility for its own part in this larger problem. The Summit was a wonderful move in the right direction, but until each country and organisation does so, real change will not be possible.

Excerpts from Karen Armstrong’s “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life”

Just a few thought-provoking excerpts in non-chronological order from one of the many books I’m currently reading called “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life” by well-known religious commentator Karen Armstrong:

ImageCapitalism and post-colonial psychology. Made me randomly ponder the link between post-colonial psychology and domination of women in certain countries, wondering if there is some connection between post-colonial emasculation and unhealthy attempts to re-gain masculinity through abuse/domination of women?

Image Interesting analysis of Islam image still pertinent today. Reminds me of how the media and society villainize(d) certain groups ie immigrants, Jews, women now and during times of witch burnings etc….as a means to expunge their Shadow selves?

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Why trying to be a Somebody is the path to suffering:

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It’s a great read – check it out:

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Photos I’ve Taken That Make My Heart Smile

This sign at a cafe:

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The vibrancy of these flowers, so alive with colour:

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Burning away the old (and almost accidentally setting the table on fire – oops)

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Coffee and conversation on a balcony overlooking London:

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The sensuality of these roses:n

The sensual wild flowers contrasted with composed St. Pauls and all it represents:

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The remnants of a hatched egg I found on a walk – birth:

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Pondering my life’s direction on a swing in a playground:

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My little cousin’s artwork:

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Heart-shaped pages:

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Wearing socks that don’t match:

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A beautiful house with roses on a lake:

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Kitten sniffing flowers:

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This gorgeous poem:

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The surprise when I found out the artist is color blind:

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My cousin’s car:

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Innocence – my little cousin and kitten sharing a moment:

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 My baby:

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Couldn’t get enough of this rose:

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The travel section at the bookstore:

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The magic that is this book:

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Kitten sniffing my shoes:

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The colorful 4 in front of Channel 4:

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 Reading this book:

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Camden canals:Image

This funny bird:

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This menu:

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This sign, because it seemed the perfect response to the question “Universe, give me advice about my life” I asked only a few seconds before:

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The Greys of Liberation (from The F-Word UK)

I wrote a piece for The F-Word UK I’ve pasted below. Original article here: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2014/06/the_greys

What exactly does a liberated Western woman look like? Is she the driven career woman, the stripper, the nun, or the housewife? In feminist circles, the debates over this issue are endless and admittedly often judgmental.

To me, the answer is quite clear: there is no set answer. Indeed, to attempt to even provide a rigid definition for another person can ironically be counterproductive.

Let me explain.

For me, who I am today is a culmination of all the people I’ve ever been in my short life. I’m on my journey towards authentic liberation as a woman, but I had to first experiment with different selves – and still am doing so.

When I was a teenager, I rebelled heavily against my more conservative, studious Indian upbringing. The hyper-sexualised Western world seemed more liberating than my strict background, in which I’d felt so controlled by cultural and familial expectations. Scenes and activities I later found objectifying I embraced in an attempt to construct an identity of my own. I looked at the likes of pole dancers and party girls with secret admiration.

Yet as I grew and gained more self-awareness, I eventually no longer felt this way. While I was beginning to construct an independent sense of self, I realised I was still unhealthily looking for the same validation I had as “the good Indian girl”, but now from men and my Western peers. I realised many of the “sexy” women I’d looked up to weren’t as free as I thought. I felt we’d been pressured subconsciously from society and the media to look and behave like a sex object.

I became disillusioned. I labeled women who largely used their sexuality for gain as disempowered – sell-outs who were emotionally either unintelligent or unhealed. I was wary of the sexuality I’d been sold that seemed so disempowering to my gender. I shunned my sensual side as I couldn’t trust my own impulses anymore; they seemed more a product of a patriarchal society and past conditioning than myself. Certainly I was becoming more liberated as I was starting to learn to think for myself. Still, I was not being my full self ironically for fear of not being a truly liberated woman.

Yet, I could never label either of these stages in my growth as more or less liberating than the other. Each part of the journey led to greater liberation, a blossoming of different aspects of myself, shaping the more balanced woman I am today. The only way I could ever grow and become more liberated is by being able to choose, at least consciously, to carve my own identity. Sure, I will never be 100% free of subconscious, environmental, and biological influences, yet I will always have conscious control. And as I choose to create my life, I grow into and learn more about what is truly liberating for me, even if I make some mistakes along the way.

So really, I’ve no idea what is liberating for you or what will be liberating for me in a few years from now. But thanks to all my various phases in life, I have a better idea of what feels liberating for me right now. Like when I let myself feel insecure or strong, allowing myself to be the imperfect, multi-faceted human being I am who’s still growing. When I belly dance, and experience a different, more sensual side to myself. When I achieve a goal and experience a sense of accomplishment.

I also have a stronger idea of what doesn’t feel liberating for me right now. Like chasing success because I am trying to prove my worth. Dressing a certain way because I feel societal pressure to look and appear sexy. Trying hard to appear confident, like I’ve got it all together, and acting like a “good, classy girl” – doing whatever it takes to not appear like the “trashy” or insecure woman we are taught to look down on. Judging another woman, rather than compassionately supporting her in finding her own personal liberation, however it may look like and differ from mine. Because by trying to suppress and define another for themselves, I inevitably end up suppressing and losing myself.

Perhaps, then, a liberated woman is one who defines liberation on her own terms. She makes her own life decisions in whatever way and order she decides aligns with her individual values. Whether that’s pre-marital sex or waiting, one career or 20 or none ever at all, a job as a sex worker or a life as a nun without sex. Maybe a liberated woman is simply one who lives her life according to what she feels is right regardless of what others tell her, whether that’s a patriarchal system or a feminist leader.

“Don’t Believe Everything You Think” – Byron Katie

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I’m reading a lot of Byron Katie and consequently shedding a ton of limiting beliefs. I am learning that all I ever have to lose in any given painful situation is the story I have concocted in my head about the situation, and its possible consequences/outcomes. People and events are what they are; life simply is what it is. The words we use to describe it all, however, is a story we have created – not necessarily reality. The reality is an event happened, a person did or said something, and that is that. Whether it becomes a problem or a miracle, a heartbreak or inspiration, is a part of the story we create – as are the resulting thoughts and feelings formulated from this interpretation.

Another lesson I am learning from her work is about the connection between our relationships with others and ourselves. When we find it hard to be by ourselves, it is usually because we find it hard to be alone with our thoughts. Change, examine, and question your thoughts, and you change your relationship with yourself for the better. Your thoughts and feelings are not always true. Paying attention to your thoughts and your feelings and self-correcting as you go is paying attention to yourself, giving yourself the validation you seek but search for elsewhere. Developing good, intimate and meaningful relationships requires that you develop such a relationship with yourself, your thoughts and feelings first. Journaling, meditation, quiet time, personal growth books, creativity etc… can help one get in touch with these things, or at least these are things that have helped me.

Going Beyond India is Weird

I recently read a post on Thought Catalog titled, How India Changed Us.” In short, the article featured the travel perspectives of two young Americans who recently bicycled across India. Their account was condescending; an eloquently expressed unoriginal piece at best. I can’t even count the amount of times they recounted how traveling in India made them feel “lucky to be American.” While I don’t believe the duo were intentionally being racist they unwittingly approached a sensitive matter in, as one commentator put it, a “less than enlightened manner.”

What surprised me most was not their depiction of India, but the response of many other Indians to the article. A few were upset. Many were not. If anything, they were complimentary -– and critical of those who had issues with the piece. One individual stated:“I think a lot of the time people fall into the trap of immediately branding something as racist if it doesn’t fit into his/her idea of what is appropriate. I understand that, but I really hope we can move past that.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this kind of writing. Nor is it the first time I’ve seen a positive response to it from fellow South Asians. Sadly, I think that sometimes South Asians get so excited about being represented in a media outlet, they ignore the fact the depiction may not be entirely accurate or balanced. Or maybe, like the writers, they’re not even aware of it themselves.

When you’re a Westerner writing about a country like India in public, or a region like the Middle East or Africa, you have a responsibility to be careful given the historical context.

Instead of offering something “interesting” or “original,” readers were offered the same overdone, condescending, Orientalist, being-in-India-made-me-appreciate-amazing-America cliché. It offered a very superficial image of India. The same image we’ve seen time and time again. It was disappointing, especially from a website that claims, “You’re going to discover stories, ideas, and voices here that you won’t find in the mainstream media.”

Why do I resent the image of India portrayed in “How India Changed Us”? Because it ignores the myriad, complex reasons for India’s status quo. India, like many former colonies, finds itself mired in social inequality and poverty for many reasons, some internal but also external. Corrupt governments. A colonial legacy. Unfair international trade practices, which contribute to farmer suicides by organizations dominated by — or at least traced to — the United States, such as the World Trade Organization. These are just a few examples.

But none of these issues are even touched upon in this article. It simply parrots the same old, “Indians are backwards,” “India is weird” trope we see time and time again. While nobody expects these two young bicyclists to offer 10 paragraphs narrating the various back stories behind India’s many troubles, the fact that the article was published in its current form continues a troubling precedent.

The dialogue seen in “How India Changed Us” is particularly significant today. It adopts the kind of approach that breeds First World resentment. For Americans to present themselves as morally superior, when we have helped install authoritarian governments and have contributed to many of the problems in the developing world smacks of hypocrisy.

Now, I’m sure the writers didn’t intentionally mean to insult. They probably just wanted to talk about their radical bicycling trip. But because the post appears on a public site, Thought Catalog, and only serves the purpose of reinforcing American stereotypes regarding countries like India, it’s irresponsible to share yet another article like this one without at least offering a balanced counter-narrative. Every story has two sides. And this one is lacking.

I published this here: http://theaerogram.com/going-beyond-india-is-weird/

Blackfish

Watched the CNN documentary Blackfish via Netflix which slams Seaworld for their unethical practices towards both their whales and employees.

It made me think: some ways we treat animals reminds me how the colonies, non-whites, women etc…have been treated. We fear the different so we control, break, and make small – attack, weaken, objectify or make cute, a source of entertainment – so the seemingly intimidating and threatening become manageable. That is, until they naturally rebel and go “crazy”. Then we slap the word “psychotic”, “criminal”, “savages” and inflict other labels onto them. But that is another story…

A neuroscientist from the documentary said whales and dolphins have more complex brains than us with a very developed sense of self, intelligence and family bond. The part of the brain that controls sensitivity and emotions in them is actually more developed than it is in us!

So when you think of the implications of that – that they are psychologically in some ways more sensitive than we are – us throwing them into tiny tubs for our amusement, making these very strong predatory but also very social creatures our little cute toys and clowns, completely isolated….well, it makes sense the creatures held captive have attacked and killed trainers.

I highly recommend this film to all and encourage my friends to never go to Seaworld again. I am re-thinking zoos too and want to learn more about these kind of issues.

How To Create Your Own Coding “Bootcamp”

Coding bootcamps and courses are extraordinary investments of one’s time and money; understandably, not everybody can attend one. For this reason, some people choose to learn how to code from home at their own pace. I think that’s an incredibly wise move. Even though I completed the first part of DevBootcamp’s full-stack program (I had to leave halfway due to health issues) and then subsequently finished Thinkful’s Front-End Development course, I 100% believe you can learn this stuff by yourself without the hefty price tag.

While it’s hard to completely replicate the type of environment a bootcamp or a course offers, there are many ways to mimic it by yourself. Looking back, I realized these were some of the most useful parts of the bootcamp experience for me: one-on-one mentorship/tutoring, community, and a structured curriculum. I wish I’d known then there are ways to have all that without the financial baggage! Thankfully, I do now and am using the following resources to learn even more by myself for now. Here are a few ways to experience all three factors yourself either completely for free, or at a relatively very low cost:

A) Mentorship:

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I think arguably the reason many attend courses or bootcamps is for the one-on-one assistance. As a beginner, it can be incredibly overwhelming when you’ve been stuck on a tutorial for hours. It’s important to try to figure it out by yourself, but there comes a time when it just becomes counterproductive. Or let’s say you do “fix” it, but then later on your entire code breaks — and you realize it’s because you didn’t really fix the problem properly in the first place! I get it, I’ve been there — heck, I’m still there! Mentors/teachers can “rescue” you when you’re stuck and help you understand the bigger picture you’re not grasping, teaching you best practices along the way. They can also be great for code reviews, spotting troublesome areas before they become bad habits.

So how do you get one-on-one “tutoring” when you’re trying to learn at home by yourself? Here are a few websites that actually connect you directly to teachers/developers who, for a fee, can help when you need them. Use all of them:

1. CodeMentor: Fees range all over the place, from $10/15 minutes to $30/15 minutes, many offering immediate help through an online session via the likes of Google Hangouts. That’s chump change when compared to a $10,000+ bootcamp tuition. They also offer offline assistance for small projects. That could be useful for a code review, for example. Also, just a side note: check out their blog posts. They’re pretty engaging reads and oftentimes very useful.

2. Wyzant: Fees here also vary from $20/hour to $70/hour. You can schedule a one-on-one online session or meet in-person, but I don’t think you’ll get immediate help so-to-speak. This is still a really great option for tutoring and code reviews.

3. Craigslist: At one point, I posted an ad for a tutor here. I didn’t end up needing one at the time, but I got some incredible responses from experienced developers (one was a teacher at HackReactor) for very reasonable rates! You can negotiate the price and how often you meet with them personally. Definitely worth a shot.

B) Structured Curriculum:

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There a ton of online resources out there you can use to guide and structure your learning. It would probably take me a couple of days to list out each one, so here are just a few:

  1. FreeCodeCamp: They offer a curriculum like Thinkful’s with similar projects for free. At the end, you contribute towards a non-profit, giving you real-world experience while giving back. I’ve often used it and will continue to in the future.
  2. Codeacademy: This is a very popular free resource I have found helpful and used to complement my learning while at Thinkful and DevBootcamp.
  3. Treehouse: I haven’t actually used this one yet, and you do pay a fee, but I have heard some incredible things. I definitely plan on using it very soon.
  4. Sites like Udemy offer some courses. Again, I haven’t tried these (well, not to learn web development) but I’ve looked through a few and they seem pretty solid. I have also heard good things about some of them, although not all. Make sure you do some online research on the teacher or specific course before you take one.

C) Network/Community:

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Something I loved about DevBootcamp was the emphasis on pairing with others while working on challenges. But that’s kind of hard to do when, you know, it’s just you and a screen. It can also be isolating learning by yourself and hard to network. Although I am still doing some research on this one, I have found a few ways around this so far:

1. Social Media Groups: Free Code Camp actually has quite a few Facebook pages for various cities worldwide. They can be pretty big too. Members post about events, ask/answer questions, and share hilarious cat memes. I would definitely join one, even if you don’t use Free Code Camp much.

I’ve also noticed some inexpensive programs offered through Udemy/Treehouse have their own social media groups or Slack channels. Definitely take advantage of those, or maybe even make one yourself. Thinkful didn’t have one so I created two private Facebook groups for students and alumni. It took a like a couple of minutes and was super easy.

2. MeetUps: Many cities offer events where you can meet and work with other developers. Great way to connect with people in-person.

3. Obviously, I have to include Stack Overflow, the site for developers. Great place to ask questions and learn while answering them.

Like I said, you can’t 100 percent replicate the bootcamp environment; the career assistance (Thinkful’s Full-Stack offers 100% tuition if you don’t get a job!), for one thing, is hard to mimic as is the immersive, demanding environment. But if you can’t attend one, you’re not totally missing out and can definitely create your own “bootcamp” of sorts that is very similar.

Good luck with the coding!

(By the way, even if you’ve already attended a bootcamp/course, definitely check out a few of the above links! I am using them all to learn even more. I’ll keep adding to this list over the next few days as I’m also using this post for my own reference.)