On Friday December 18, 2020 my op-ed called I’m Muslim And Didn’t Celebrate Christmas But My Canadian Kids Had Other Ideas was published on CBC BC. This is a 650-word column based on a 3500-word literary essay I wrote for my Master of Fine Arts class. I’m hoping the essay, or some version of it, will be part of a collection of my experiences as a first-generation Canadian parent.
Consider this column on CBC BC to be a taste of what’s to come! From the response I have received from the public and my own circle of family/friends, these stories are necessary within the Canadian literary landscape. I’m touched by the kind emails I have received from complete strangers and I appreciate the encouragement.
A big part of my parenting is passing down my ancestral culture while helping/watching them grow into their own identity. Culture and identity are such fluid things, yet as someone with my own strong East African-Indian-Muslim identity, I do want my kids to know where they came from, to know what’s been in our family for generations and generations. It’s an emotional experience though one I’m hoping to to tread a little more lightly on, knowing I am doing the best I can.
My letter to my dad was published in Maclean’s online and appears in the June print issue.
I was born in Mombasa, Kenya in 1978. That’s where my story began. But until March of this year, I couldn’t really say that I had been there. My parents, grandmother and I immigrated to Canada before my first birthday and, while my upbringing certainly included East African flavours, I always knew I wanted to go back and experience it for myself.
East Africa was home to my paternal and maternal sides of the family since my great-grandparents’ generation. They arrived from India in the late 1800’s for employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. In reality, this is just a blip of my history; since the beginning of time, my family called India home. (I actually took a DNA test and learned I am 100% South Asian. Without a doubt, India is my first home). But, East Africa is the most tangible for me because it’s so recent. I’m also enamoured by the fusion of Indian/East African food and the marriage of Cutchi and Kiswahili (in Zanzibar, where my maternal grandparents were born, the languages are so fused that the Ethnologue actually lists Cutchi-Swahili as one of the languages of Tanzania). Because I still have family in Kenya (and don’t in India), I figured I’d feel a special sense of home in my birthplace.
For much of my life, I envisioned returning as an adult. Finally, at the age of 40, I was able to make it happen! Not just on my own but with my dad who, it turns out, is a fabulous travel partner, and the best person to go ‘back in time’ with as his memory and nostalgia really brought our history to life for me.
It was a short but deep journey and I am already planning on taking my kids, husband and hopefully dad again in the next few years.
I wrote a thank-you letter to my dad for accompanying me to our birthplace. My heart still fills with joy when I think of our adventures and I am so grateful to him for connecting me to the land and people in Mombasa.
My letter was published in Maclean’s Before You Go column and I am proud to have my words in this iconic Canadian magazine.
Last Spring, Canada was shaken to its core over a tragic accident that left an entire junior hockey team and staff dead or injured. News of the Humboldt Broncos tragedy reached me via Twitter the next morning; my entire feed was one horrified tweet after another.
In our home, we were already reeling from the news of a young girl, my son’s age, who passed away suddenly over Spring break. We first met her a few years ago when she was in my son’s Kindergarten class and she lived just up the street; her smile and kindness had reached so many in her short life and our entire neighbourhood felt foreign with this loss.
It was a terrible week with both of these events taking place just days apart. But I saw how communities rallied together – the entire country for the Broncos, and our neighbourhood for this sweet girl’s family. It moved me but it also made me think: we come together and connect over such terrible news and also incredible highs (like the Olympics) – but it would serve us well as individuals and a collective, if we made even small connections on a daily basis.
I wrote about this in a column for Peace Arch News. I hope you enjoy the read and I’d love to hear your comments, either on their site or right here!
This is one of my most favourite pieces I have written to date. Combining my personal history as an immigrant to Canada with current events in the United States was both satisfying and unnerving. I wrote this piece while sitting at a local coffeeshop and I can tell you, I covered my face at the barstool overlooking the pretty street in my safe neighbourhood, and choked back tears.
I know I’m only one generation removed from fleeing a country for a better life, and some people have 3 or 4 generations on Canadian or American soil for the same reason. But I really don’t understand how we can’t all see ourselves in each other? Maybe sharing our stories will help with that? It’s one of my motivations for telling this story.
The other hope I had with publishing this was for anyone who hasn’t already seen it, to notice the connection among wayward politicians like Idi Amin, Trump and Hitler. The connection is there. It’s real and it’s scary.
Were you following the plight of the asylum seekers and the detained children? The coverage of it has slowed down; last I heard, there were still many children unable to be reunited with their parents. I think about them often, like this morning when my 4 year old cried in her swimming lesson because she couldn’t be with me. I was close enough that I could hear the conversation she was having with her kind, compassionate teacher. I honestly thought of those children who were unable to communicate due to a language barrier and sheer trauma, who just ache to be with their moms and dads.
My article, The Madman Next Door, was posted on Vancouver Mom and I’d love for you to read it and share it from their site if you are so inspired.
Whenever I write something about my life as a woman of colour, I take a deep breath before hitting send. I know that once the article is published, I am open to all kinds of criticism and comments from THE ENTIRE WORLD. It’s a little daunting. But I do it because I think stories are important, sharing our lived experiences is important. And no, not everyone will (try to) see things from my point of view. (You can read the comments on this particular article to see what I mean). But often, some brave souls will speak up and shut down the nay-sayers – which is touching – and once in awhile, someone will even write to me privately to thank me for being a voice for them. That blows my mind.
I wrote this piece about raising daughters of colour because we do have different experiences than white girls. And while my thoughts do not reflect those of every single woman who identifies as non-white, I have friends and family in my circle who totally get where I am coming from. I also encourage you to read the articles on CBC Parents by Debbie King. She is a black woman raising black children, and I can identify with parts of her story as well.
I never, in all the writing and speaking I do about building bridges among faith groups and cultures, point fingers and claim that one is good and one is bad. That’s not my belief and it’s not my style.
I was really proud to have been given some space on CBC Parents to talk about something that is really important to me. They have some really great articles on their site for everything from Tech & Media to Learning to Family Health, so after you read my article called I Must Be A Role Model For My Daughter Of Colour, you should click around and see what draws your attention.
Even though I haven’t visited the country (yet!) there are so many things I love about Italian language and culture. Those of you who know me well, know that I have a bit of an obsession with the Romance languages; my goal is to be conversational in French, Spanish and Italian in my lifetime. Studying language and culture go hand-in-hand because one influences the other. For example, the Italian expression la dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) reveals the value placed on a slow, mindful way of living. If a term doesn’t exist in a language, it is likely irrelevant in the culture. And if it’s irrelevant in the culture, there’s no need for a word or expression.
CBC Parents was looking for tips on relationships and family, and I was happy to share my family’s version of la dolce far niente. We are a bunch of homebodies which makes it easy to have a day or evening in, where we’ve said ‘no’ to other commitments and ‘yes’ to just being with each other. But we also have a bustling work/school week; with 3 kids in classes and activities, an entrepreneur husband, and myself wearing numerous hats as a writer and instructor, it’s easy to get to the end of the week and wonder what the heck happened?!
In my article, I shared 3 tips for slowing down moments even if we can’t stretch out an entire day in pyjamas. I think these tips are good reminders for all of us about the simple ways we can take a little breather and fuel ourselves for the busy-ness. It’s nice to have a life full of activities and people we love but we can enjoy them better when we’ve also made space for nothing.
Earlier this year, someone asked me on Twitter if there was a difference between the terms East Indian and South Asian. I knew there was. I knew that East Indian was outdated but I also didn’t now why it existed in the first place.
I love it when someone asks me something thought-provoking, and isn’t afraid to do so. Often, I think we swallow our questions and curiosities because we don’t want to offend someone else, but it’s through these conversations that we all get to learn something. When a question is posed without judgement, it really opens the doors to a healthy dialogue.
In this case, I enlisted the help of encyclopedia.com and read a somewhat complicated explanation of the origin of this term. I relayed my childhood confusions over all the ‘Indian’ terms (East Indian, West Indian, Red/Native Indian) in this column for Peace Arch News.
I also shared a couple simple ideas on taking the insult out of categorization.
Read the full article here and let me know if you have ever been confused by these terms or have had any experiences being categorized incorrectly!
Both Ucluelet and Tofino are top destinations when vacationing on the more rugged, west coast of Vancouver Island.
This past Spring break, my family boarded BC Ferries to Nanaimo and set off on an epic adventure. The drive from Nanaimo to the other side of the island was spectacular and I shared some photos and pit stop ideas here. But before we embarked on our journey, we had to decide where to rest our heads: Ucluelet or Tofino?
After researching each spot, we decided we’d like to have our cake and eat it, too, so we opted for both places; we had the time and weren’t pressed to really have to choose. However, if you can only stay in one place, or prefer to just drop your bags down once and simply drive to the other location, this guide I wrote for Surrey604.com will help you out a lot!
It’s only about a 40 minute drive between Ucluelet and Tofino and it is STUNNING. So, if you’re going to visit both (and you should!) then I recommend you stop at beaches along the way.
Read more details in the full article and let me know where you think you would spend the most time!
How moms make friends these days blows my mind – but in a good way! It just caught this Gen X-er by surprise to see what was literally an advertisement for friendship in a neighbourhood Facebook group. I was intrigued (okay, fascinated). Even though I didn’t fit the bill of what this mom was looking for, I reached out to her for a phone chat.
Ok, full disclosure here – this is one of the things I love about being a writer. I can just ask people for a few minutes of their time simply to satisfy my own curiosities! I had an idea of where I wanted to pitch this (it wasn’t CBC Parents, initially, which is where I’m thrilled it ended up) but mostly, I just wanted to hear Berkeley’s story. That’s such an important part of this gig for me. Researching, learning, listening and then, eventually, sharing.
I told Berkeley I was a writer looking to work this into an article and she happily agreed to talk to me about how moms make friends on Facebook. We spoke for quite some time; she filled me in on the friends she has made by adverts in various mom groups.
It’s so different from my own reality as a new mom over a decade ago. I was pretty isolated – the few friends of mine who had babies didn’t live in town or close enough to me to meet with regularly. When my daughter was 6 months old, I joined Facebook but didn’t disclose much on there. It was more of an entertainment thing (and a creeping people from high school thing!).
Click over to CBC Parents to read my full article and then let me know what you think about posting for friends. Have you done it? If not, do you wish you had?
India’s obsession with light skin has followed us to Canada and everywhere that desis have settled, and it has to stop!
I was standing in line at my local Indian grocery store with two of my children. It was a quick run for fresh eggplants and ginger for a curry I was making that evening. As we stood in line to pay for the produce, my eyes wandered over to the area near the cashier where my kids were playing. Lining several shelves within arms’ reach from them were packages of skin bleaching creams. On these boxes, a woman’s face was pictured several times in succession as she faded from her natural brown to a much more light skin colour.
I couldn’t believe it! What if my older daughter had been with me? Someone more aware of her surroundings and who would have noticed those packages. Someone more conscious of what she looks like and aware of the differences among shades of brown. What if my kids ever felt like they needed a product like this?
I pitched the story to the team at The South Asian Buzz, and not only did they love that I was going to cover this, they all shared with me some memories of their younger years. Some were truly heartbreaking.
I’ve since learned that this is not just an issue in the South Asian community but is a phenomenon that spans Asia and Africa. Nobody can pinpoint exactly where it comes from but from the comments I received on my personal Facebook page indicate that everyone wants this to end. Well, everyone except the brands that push this garbage on us.
That little girl inside me who heard comments about fair skin in such a positive light is thrilled that I used my voice to call this out. Some of my favourite pieces to write are the ones that make people question the social ideals that they’ve grown up with.
You can read my article on The South Asian Buzz. Do you have a comment to share about this? I’d love to hear it below or on SAB.