Sunday, February 22, 2015

32 Facts About Me





I was nominated to do this post by one of my best friends and frequent guest bloggers, Aniqah Khalid. She recently did one herself on her website and you can check it out here: http://www.aniqahkhalid.com/50-facts-about-me-part-1/ I know I was supposed to do 50, but since 32 is all I could think of at this point, 32 is all I'll do! I'll update this post as and when things change.

1) I had a poodle phase when I was younger. I know, exactly what it sounds like. See, everyone goes through an awkward secondary school phase I believe, but mine lasted a little longer thanks to my curly hair. Anyone who has similar hair knows that combing out your curls while dry is probably the worst thing you can do to them; yet this is exactly what I did lots of times when I was younger. Thankfully, I eventually learnt my lesson!!

2) My absolute favourite food is my Mum's pizza. I have absolutely NO clue what she does to the sauce, but bias aside, I've honestly never tasted better!

3) I also love snacking on Cerelac. I know, probably about 22 years too late, but hey. It's yummy and nutritious, right?

4) I'm a tad rebellious in that I'm not afraid to offer opinions that differ from the norm. Sticking to the status quo has never been a priority for me, but that being said, I avoid arguing for the sake of furthering my point. I respect the fact that others are entitled to their opinions, especially so when they have real reasons.

5) I love photography, but haven't had a chance to develop much talent of my own. Right now, I'm at a stage where I find beauty and joy in the work done by others! I did take a few photography classes while I was at Sewanee, and some of my favourite memories include those where I was alone processing my photos in the dark room in the wee hours of the morning, after 2 am, when no one was awake and there was nothing but silence around me.

6) Tea is something I probably can't go without for long periods of time. My favourite (obviously) is Kenyan tea, brewed strong enough with a little bit of milk and sugar.

7) Ever done a waltz with 2 other people? I have. While dressed head-to-toe in scarves handmade by members of the Maasai tribe. In the middle of the night.

8) According to a palm reader I met in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the colour purple is my power/spirit colour (and my friends agree). According to another palm reader I met in India 12 years ago, I'm destined to become a famous author one day.

9) I absolutely LOVE wine, and tend not to go more than a few days without some. My favourite is a red blend from California, Menage a Trois. I have many, many fond memories of this wine!

10) I'm very attached to dogs, especially my own. My family has had dogs continuously from the time when my own father was a little boy.

11) When I was 4 years old, I moved to India for about 3 years with my mother and two sisters. My father was winding up work and was supposed to join us there eventually, but (thankfully) things didn't go according to plan, and we ended up back in Kenya!

12) I come from a large, and extremely close-knit family. We talk almost everyday (thanks to Whatsapp), and keep each other updated on our lives. We may be spread out over four continents, but that hasn't made us distant at all.



13) When I say 'my sisters', I could be referring either to the other daughters my parents have, or the two daughters of my father's sister and her husband. Growing up together in Kenya means that we're all very close, and while two of them are technically 'cousin sisters', I consider all four sisters and tend not to differentiate.

14) I'm a grammar nazi, and I have a love/hate relationship with this fact. When I read something, or talk to someone, I'm quick to notice (and judge) grammar mistakes, and it's even worse when I'm the one who commits the faux-pas.

15) People who know me describe me as friendly, vibrant and extraverted. I love meeting new people, and learning more about their stories. However, something that most people don't know about me is that I also occasionally need (and enjoy) time away from others!

16) They say you're lucky if you have more than one true friend in your lifetime. In that case, I got more than my fair share! I'm blessed to have many people close to my heart, and have a unique relationship with each of them. (They're not all in this picture below, but some are)!



17) I was extremely accident prone as a child, and my love of riding bicycles and climbing trees certainly didn't help! In the first fifteen years of my life, I had numerous falls (and subsequent stitches), some more serious than others. Luckily, in terms of fractures, dislocations and concussions, those were only one each (head and knee respectively). My poor parents and siblings...

18) Blue is my favourite colour, but when it comes to interior decor, I tend to favour red.

19) Most people I know hated organic chemistry and loved inorganic, but I was the other way around!

20) I collect keychains from different parts of the world, and old coins.

21) I love to travel! Being in the same place eventually gets boring for me.

22) I can speak four and a half languages, and I'm hoping to learn more soon!

23) Sewanee was probably the most life-changing thing that ever happened to me. I met so many great people there, many of whom will be part of my life for years to come, and learnt a lot more about life than I expected. The four years I spent there changed me as a person, and the time I spent there still inspires me to grow.

24) I LOVE birthdays. Mine, other peoples', my dogs', whatever. While at Sewanee, I loved planning birthdays for friends. On my 22nd, they got together and planned the perfect day for me; I don't think I'll ever be able to outdo that one.

25) I'm a strong believer in second chances and the fact that people can change. New Year's Day is one of my favourite of the year, not just  because of the celebration, but because of the symbolic new start.

26) I'm a realistic-optimist. I know that life can throw many challenges our way, but I think that worrying and being bitter don't produce results, and if we need to face difficult things, we might as well do so with smiles on our faces.

27) I'm a bookworm, and extremely thankful that I read very quickly; if it wasn't for this skill, I think I would spend more time on books than on people (as I fear I did when I was younger).

28) I don't particularly have a favourite genre for music, but as far as movies go, I steer toward action and romantic-comedies. Some of the ones I return to often enough are the James Bond movies and the Lord of the Rings. I also enjoy horror movies, but only watch them under certain conditions (with other people, and with plenty of time to watch something else after so that I can sleep). In terms of TV shows, I follow many of the ones aired on the CW. My new addictions include House and Supernatural.

29) Over the course of my 22 (almost 23 years), I've considered many different careers, from being a farmer (....I blame Enid Blyton's writing), to being a lawyer, to being an air hostess.

30) A year ago today, I'd never even chopped an onion. Cooking for me was a huge event, and was extremely time-consuming. If I had to do something in the kitchen, my first reaction was 'show me how'. The time I've spent with my sister, Rasna, over the past six months has definitely cured me of this, and my proudest accomplishment in the kitchen was about a month ago. My sister and brother-in-law were returning to the U.S. after a trip to Kenya, and I pulled together a meal that included stir-fried chicken AND a daal. *fist pumps in the air*

31) Although I grew up in a pretty homophobic culture, I support LGBTQ rights. I attribute this entirely to my time at Sewanee, and the people I met there. Love is love, and (as long as it's adult and consensual), I don't think others have a right to dictate who you can or cannot be with. I recently read a great article about this; it talked about the fact that Sikhism believes that we should not discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, even if some Sikhs do not share their beliefs.

32) Being tall is apparently a family thing; I'm 5'10'', and not even close to being the tallest member of my family.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Personal Space




Today's guest blogger is Billie Rihal, a lifestyle blogger and photographer from Kenya who is studying International Relations and Economics in Vancouver. She has always enjoyed writing, and started her own website in January 2014. Check out her website here: www.billierihal.com

When you give yourself the time to sit down and reflect on life it brings about various lessons and realizations that you learn from. 

During these past few weeks that I've spent in both Vancouver and London/Leicester, I've realized how important it is to be careful of who you let into your personal space. The space that exposes your true self, your flaws, fears and failures. Sometimes we easily trust others and open ourselves in the rawest and purest form and that itself is so beautifully dangerous. Not everyone shares the same standpoint towards facets such as trust, value and respect. That's not bad either, it is simply a gentle reminder to yourself to be aware of who and what you're allowing into YOUR space.

Personal space is a precious and extremely valuable facet in life. It makes you, you. It’s your golden solitude and you have the ability to grow into mastery through your personal space or simply crumble into small pieces… How? By allowing people in general into your zone. Hence, always be cautious of what might build you or break you because the difference in magnitude is so profound, it’s unfathomable. 

Life is beautifully complicated and sometimes we’ll never know why people come and go from our lives, but that’s what makes the journey exhilarating. Accepting the unexpected and building on your wonderful life. Not everyone can fit in it and not everyone stays in it; that is simply a blessing in disguise. 

Be You. Love You. Always. All Ways. 

Love and Light, 

Billie 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

To Mr. Metaxas, On the Sewanee Community

Today's guest blog features Lauren Joca, a recent graduate of The University of the South. She wrote an open letter in response to the recent controversy over a speech delivered by an honorary degree recipient at the most recent convocation ceremony held on campus. It certainly deserves a read! 

Dear Mr. Metaxas,
We are all aware of the “controversy” incited by your Convocation address, a student’s response to your address, and your reaction to the student’s response. I hesitate to call it a controversy because it never should have become one. You wrote a speech that I fully suspect you wanted to be controversial. Inasmuch, it did not sit well with certain students and those students voiced their opinions, which you, frankly, encouraged them to do in the first place. The self-serving controversy you have created is deeply upsetting to an alumnus who has had to accept that The University of the South has given an honorary degree to a man who profoundly misunderstands the institution. Your misunderstanding is evidenced by the puerile response you had to a student’s opinion piece and your demand for an apology. While I would very much enjoy going into the hypocrisies of your speech and following actions, I believe those have been well addressed by my fellow alumnae, students, and University faculty. I encourage you to read the wonderfully written open letter penned by Lara Lofdahl, another young alum. I have been working on this letter myself to, hopefully, elucidate the values of The University of the South that you so clearly missed on your visit. I hope that I can help you see why your speech may have offended some, fallen on the deaf ears of others, and ultimately was inappropriate in the context of Convocation. Finally, I hope by now you recognize that you will not receive an apology from the University or from the newspaper because you are not owed one.

Sewanee: The University of the South is many things, not one of which is a close-minded institution, illiberal, and oppressive of free speech. Rather, tucked away on the Cumberland Plateau in rural Tennessee, Sewanee represents a bastion of faith and freedom of expression. The Convocation addresses that came before you have included such varied and influential minds as Desmond Tutu, Wendell Berry, Barbara Bush, Marguerite Kondracke, and Stan Brock. To put it simply, you were in exceptional company. Unfortunately, unlike your speech, their addresses have not been archived. Their words of faith and bravery in action can only be re-lived by those who were there to hear the speeches or through short Sewanee Purple reviews. These speeches did not seem to create such lasting controversy as yours has. This is not surprising at all considering these other speakers simply did not take to social media to disparage students of the University of the South or the University itself. There, sir, you are not in good company.   

One of the most impressive qualities about Sewanee is that it is a strong religious institution, but taught its students moral regard without using overtly religious means. As a freshmen, each and every student must sign the Honor Code. The punishment for failing to follow the Honor Code was expulsion. Classes were often discussion based with students graded on their participation. In this setting, we learned the skills of civil discourse and respect for opposing views in a well-constructed argument. The Passing Hello and Save Sewanee exclamation encouraged connection with your community, even if brief. We showed our professors respect through attendance and practicing class dress. We learned tolerance through hosting a myriad of organizations including Sustain Sewanee, the Gender and Sexual Diversity House, College Republicans, College Democrats, Beyond Sewanee, and the Posse-Plus Retreat. The carillon bells on Sunday never felt like ominous reminders that I was falling short on my faith by spending my afternoon in Shakerag Hollow, the ATC, or even on a couch outside with an adult beverage because the world had finally thawed. In Sewanee, that is something worth celebrating. No, in Sewanee, falling short on my treatment of the community felt much more like falling short on faith.

All this is not to say that people at Sewanee were not devout or felt uncomfortable expressing their devotion. It was almost a guarantee to have a class with a sacristan or a choir member. Students bore Ash Wednesday marks without worry. Lessons and Carols was one of the most popular and heavily-attended events in the community. Before this celebration, the Sewanee community, including students, worked together to decorate All Saint’s Chapel. If students were of another denomination or faith, they often travelled together to different churches or temples in the area. We explored faith together by participating in Growing in Grace. Our Outreach Office was housed within All Saint’s Chapel and practiced faith-based service.

For all of these reasons, I find fault with many of the sentiments you have supported on your Facebook page suggesting that we are a faith-fearing community, skittish around the mention of Jesus. I cannot assure you more that this is far from the truth. Where people may find fault with your speech in All Saint’s Chapel is using their religion to support intolerant ideas. While you are correct that we must be open to hearing opposing views, that opposition is necessary in open discourse, and speech must remain a protected freedom, we have no duty to be tolerant of the intolerant. Martin Luther King, Jr. felt that way, as did Rosa Parks and Jackie Robinson. Their faith gave them the courage to fight against injustice. Indeed in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King states, “One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’" To suggest that, “there is a particular move afoot on campuses and elsewhere to marginalize and even to demonize voices of traditional and historic Christian faith. That’s one of the big issues of our time,” is to seriously misinterpret these movements. In 1964, when some were interpreting the Bible to justify segregation, the exemplary basketball coach Dean Smith sought the guidance of his pastor to integrate Chapel Hill. Furthermore, I point you to the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina led by Reverend William Barber. He is not demonizing traditional Christian faith, he is fighting against hate, injustice, and disenfranchisement. We on Sewanee’s campus do not tolerate these either, nor do we accept these as precepts of traditional and historic Christian faith.

While I recognize that I will not change your own personal beliefs with my remarks, I feel it necessary to show you the faith that Sewanee taught me. It is a faith based in compassion. You say we should hear stories of women who regret their abortions. I agree, I think these women can teach us where we as a society have fallen short. I ask her, why was she so devastated by it? Was it a decision she felt forced into by the other parent? When she shared her decision, was she met with vitriol from friends, family, or her community? Was she forced to face the procedure alone? Did anyone tell her that they understand what she did and why she did it? That they understand, at that moment in time, it was the best decision she could have made for herself, and perhaps even the unborn? In the case of this deeply personal and difficult decision, we must hear, with a compassionate ear, all stories. Perhaps asking whether someone is in favor of marriage equality shuts down the conversation because it is meant to. Is it not prideful of man to assume they can interpret fully the word of God? Is it not ultimately up to Him how we will be judged? Why then should we prevent His children from experiencing, one of the greatest gifts He ever gave us, love?

I will not, of course, pretend that Sewanee is perfect. I have known students that felt slighted by the actions the University has taken on sensitive matters. I, personally, have been stuck in an unsavory position because the University mishandled a student conflict. When these things have happened, what did I do? What did other students do? I felt comfortable expressing my frustrations to a Dean and passing responsibility back to the University. Others formed protests and made clearly visible their own criticisms of the institution. One of the most celebrated events at Sewanee in recent years is The Sewanee Monologues. A prime example of freedom of expression that gives students the chance to discuss drinking and partying at Sewanee, the sexism found on campus, racism, body image, and even the hook-up culture. I assure you that the monologues written about these issues have rarely been celebratory and have introduced critical discussions about human relations on Sewanee’s campus. In short, Sewanee has its problems, but rarely are they shied away from. I have the inclination that when Sewanee makes a mistake, everyone, from the administration to the faculty to the students, is aware of it and feels free to discuss it in any medium they choose, no matter what side they have taken.

I had hoped that someone receiving an honorary degree from my alma mater would feel just that- honored. It is an honor to hold a degree from the University of the South. It is an honor to be a part of such a tight-knit community. It is an honor to have been able to experience the Mountain, learn on the Mountain, and grow on the Mountain. I hope now that you realize why your message may not have been well received, but, more than that, I hope you understand why it was criticized in our paper and why you will not receive an apology for it. Your actions since receiving a degree from The University of the South have insulted current students, past students, and the institution I hold dear. I hope you reflect on these actions and come to understand what makes Sewanee such an exceptional example of liberal arts education in the United States. It deserves your respect. Yea, Sewanee’s right.

Sincerely,

Lauren Joca, Class of 2013

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