Where Do You Come From?

Where do you come from? This is a question that can spark a very interesting conversation. As a student at an International school, I know that it is a frequently asked question, a question that we believe will help us understand more about each other. The potential problem for many, is that they do not actually know how to answer this question. When someone tosses out the words “Where do you come from?”, are you supposed to reply with the country in which you were born, the country where you have lived for the longest amount of time, or just where you feel home is?

Sometimes, the question carries a stigma; it is more controversial than it seems. In reality, not everyone is asked the question; sometimes, this query is only posed to people who others find different, mostly just in looks. Sometimes, when the question is answered with an “I’m from here, I’m Swedish”, the asker will look at the replier with a funny look, because they are not satisfied with that answer. They might continue; “No, I mean where are you really from”, implying that “you are not like me, you are different from the rest of us”.

I spoke to Semanur Taskin, the voice of the Green Party Youth Organization in the Stockholm region of Sweden. Many times, the question is associated with negative thoughts. She says that it is because it implies that “you don’t quite belong here”. Taskin continues, “Why does this question have such a central role? It shows that we want to categorize people, to put them into boxes before we actually know them.” Taskin also relates an incident when a doctor kept asking her about her background when he heard her name. She says that after asking about her heritage, and then about her parents’ heritage, he was finally satisfied when he got the answer to his question; Taskin’s mother had lived in Sweden for 45 years, and the doctor replied, almost with relief, “Oh, so you are a third generation immigrant”. She further explains that “Nobody tells a child that it is different, but the child understands from the questions, from the prejudice. People draw quick conclusions. I have been asked the question if my mom is a stay at home mom, completely irrelevantly, even though she happens to have worked for 30 years.”

The interesting thing about the question “Where do you come from”, is that it is perceived very differently depending on where you are. Often, it is not something controversial to ask at an International School. But when it is asked to a person specifically, because he or she does not look like the majority, we see the problem of our society, our obsession with people’s differences. It is when we look beyond what we think we see, what we assume – when we see more than a person’s skin, hair or eye color – that we can truly see them for who they are and can embrace cultures, without implying stereotypes along with them.

Social Media – A Positive Power

We all know what social media is: our window to the world that informs us and helps us communicate at the click of a button or tap of a screen. Social media has taken over our lives, and we have let it. So why do we complain and list all of its cons, instead of focusing on the pros? There might be more upsides to social media than we realize.

Some people have turned social media – “something great” – into a dangerous place. Cyber bullying, Internet fraud, and lack of privacy are some of the downsides that people have created. These are real dangers, and ones that deserve our vigilance. We are social media, so why don’t we put our energy into focusing on the positive differences we can make, rather than divert to the time wasting negatives?

There are the obvious advantages of social media; it helps us create, share, market and advertise. “I love it because it always keeps me connected to family and friends around the world, at no expense most of the time”, says Abigail Kinaro, a Kenyan student at Rosslyn Academy, an International Christian school in Kenya.

We find friends, people we have things in common with, or relate to on the sites we join. We use these sites as platforms to express ourselves, document memories, share opinions, and this gives us a sense of importance. Farwa Noorani, a student attending Oshwal Academy in Nairobi, Kenya puts it this way: “I feel that people post stuff on social media for other people to like and see as well, and it does make me feel good when someone appreciates what I have put up. That ego boost every now and then isn’t such a bad thing, but we should not use it to validate our worth”.

Social media now offers opportunities that one would not have thought possible. Cindy Kimberly is a 17-year-old Spanish girl whose life changed over night. After Justin Bieber shared her picture to his 47.5m followers on Instagram captioned: ‘OMG who is this!’ She went from earning £3 an hour working as a babysitter, to now making her catwalk debut at the 2016 fashion week show in Madrid. This interesting change in situation is all due to social networking sites – a strange new world.

The only way that we could keep up with current events before the advent of the Internet was tuning into the news channel on television, buying the paper, or waiting for someone to tell us. Now we have all of that information available right under our noses on our smartphones with the app Snapchat- commonly used for taking selfies. Snapchat Discover (a.k.a the colorful labeled bubbles that appear on the story screen), are actually filled with daily updated information about almost everything for everyone. From sports to entertainment to food, technology and international current events, this flow of information is unceasing, and provides a window into what is going on in our world.

There are many good things (and bad things) about social media. In the end, if you can keep your own life centered in reality and use social networking as a balanced part of it, you should be fine. There is so much potentially-positive power, and so many opportunities and information available to you when you pull your smartphone out of your pocket, it’s hard not to be in awe of the power of technology. Truly, we live in an incredible time.

The Glass Ceiling

Throughout history women have been downcast, being labeled as the weaker sex. Even in today’s progressive world, it seems that gender discrimination is alive and well; it remains a controversial topic. Women continue to work hard to battle the stereotypes and fight for equal standing with men in regards to employment, wage-earning capacity, and opportunity. Will there ever be a time where society will be free of this dark cloud of inequality? At times, it feels like things will never change; at times, it feels hopeless.

However, the glass ceiling has been broken. There are a number of brave women in history who have fought against this “weaker sex” label. These women came from poor, or middle class backgrounds, yet were able to test the boundaries of their society, successfully crossing them. These women have made the first effort in tearing down this label. They have helped open up people’s minds to change, and progress. Despite the obstacles of racism, social ranking, politics, and sexism a number of women throughout history have not only survived but have persevered.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first female professor at the University of Paris, she also discovered two elements on the periodic table of elements. To this day Marie curie still inspires women. She worked in the field of science especially during her time, the late 1800s when the field of science was male dominated. Marie Curie is the perfect example of a woman who not only dared to work in a field where the multitude was male, knowing the obstacles that she would surely face, but is also a woman who thrived in a male dominated field, and challenged society’s  view of women.

On 1955, December 1st a bus driver told a number of black people to move further down the bus, in order to make room for white people. However a woman named Rosa Parks refused to move. Rosa Parks was then arrested for her disobedience of the legalized segregation laws in America at that time. It was Rosa Parks’ actions on the bus that day that put the Montgomery bus boycott into action. The Montgomery bus boycott crippled the state’s public transport. Rosa Parks is known as “the first lady of civil rights”, not only did she stand up for her race, but she also took a powerful step toward civil rights for all.

Aung San Suu Kyi was a Burmese Politician who spoke out against the Burmese military dictatorship, and openly supported human rights, and democracy. In 1989 Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest by the government. She was offered her freedom on the condition that she was to move out of Burma, but she refused. She became associated with the National League for Democracy, and later won a Nobel Prize, but was unable to attend the ceremony because she was still being detained. She was to be detained two more times, until 2010. Suu Kyi sacrificed her freedom in order to promote democracy, and human rights. Something people often take for granted.

Although these women originate from different countries, cultures, social backgrounds, and time periods, they all saw fit to break through the glass ceiling that their own societies had built. These women are diverse, and are not in the business of discrimination. They have paved the way for many women around the world to start breaking through their own glass ceilings. Yes – perhaps, there is some reason for hope.

Racial Stereotypes and Discrimination

Racial discrimination is when people of one race treat the people of another race in an unequal manner because of their differences. Everywhere we look we can see different types of racial discrimination; it happens in all sorts of different places. Simply, people can be quite biased against other people, and this can be seen in who they give jobs to, and the way they treat those of other ethnicities. People discriminate against each other based on differences that they find strange between one another.

Racial discrimination, no matter the area of the world you are located in, has an immense impact on the people on the receiving end. For example the xenophobic killings of foreign Africans in South Africa, and black codes in the United States have led to numerous racial equality demonstrations. Truly, this is a plague on humanity. 

Racial stereotyping is one of the most common forms of discrimination. One of the main issues this raises is that we, as an international community, can become so used to stereotypes that we begin to see them as true. Is it really true that all black people love chicken? That all Asians are smart? That all blonde women are daft? Some people disagree, and swim against the current; they reject the stereotypical system. Radhika Patel, a student at Rosslyn Academy (Kenya) says, “ I don’t like to believe in racial stereotypes because they are a very non sensible way to describe the behaviors of an entire people group.”

When we begin to categorize each other into certain stereotypes, we begin to discriminate and harm one another. Jomo Kenyatta, another international student living in Nairobi, states, “We are capable of so much greatness when we work together, but when we spread false information about each other, our only aim is the destruction of our humanity.”

As members of the human race, we are members of an international community. As members of this world, we must address the issue of racial discrimination and racial stereotyping by learning about each others’ cultures and customs. If we are able to relate with and understand one another then there will be no need for us to fear or abuse our fellow human being.  

This is why we must change how the world thinks of its people, and how we think and act towards each other.

Pidan Porridge

How do you like your eggs? For years in China, people have declared their dissatisfaction with the standard ways of preparing eggs for consumption. Simple eggs simply wouldn’t do. So, they found a unique way of preserving the egg to bring new taste to it. This egg is called “Century Egg”, or “Pidan” in Chinese. Pidan is made through the preservation of the egg by surrounding it with clay, lime, wood ashes, and salt. After a few months, the crust of the egg will harden and that’s when the delicacy is ready. Century Egg, with its unique appearance and taste, has conquered the taste buds of the Chinese.

Pidan has brown egg whites and gray egg yolks that slowly fade to black. Although the egg white is brown, it shares many similarities to jelly, especially its “bounciness”. The egg yolk of a Century Egg is very soft in texture and has a more substantial taste, compared to the typical egg. Pidan, by itself, is not only a great option for a starter, but also a key ingredient in a main dish, such a Pidan Porridge.

Interestingly, although this food is definitely linked to Chinese culture, a Nairobi restaurant carries this exquisite dish on its menu. You can find this porridge served at the Yue Hai Restaurant. The porridge is served in huge bowls, though each diner is given a smaller bowl to scoop in the amount desired. Personally, I feel this gives the diner more freedom and less restriction. The porridge is predominantly white due to rice, with black spots of Pidan that has been cut into pieces. Small slices of meat add a light pink color to the food; these three colors, white, black, and pink, all contribute to the pleasing aesthetic of the dish.

After scooping myself a bowl of porridge, the thing that struck me first was the amazing smell it possessed. The fragrance of rice, meat, and Pidan all intertwined with each other, filling my mouth with saliva. I first tried the rice; each grain was very soft and didn’t stick together. I could separate each piece of grain from another with my tongue easily – this is completely different from the sticky rice that Chinese usually have as a main dish. The rice not only has the flavor of traditional rice, but also tastes like meat. Next, I gave the meat a try. The flavor of the meat unfolded itself in my mouth and the taste grew stronger with each bite. Lastly, I tasted the Pidan. The egg white of Pidan is black and gives an enjoyable sensation when you bite it. The egg yolk, in my opinion, has a distinct taste and texture that is similar to mashed potatoes. The rice, meat, and Pidan weave together, the Pidan adding an extra layer of more substantial taste to the porridge.

The Pidan Porridge is definitely a different experience compared to the plain and insipid porridge of the morning typically consumed by many. But just like all foods, Pidan might not satisfy everyone’s taste buds, and be to everyone’s liking. Since it’s an ingredient that was invented and used predominantly in China, Pidan might cause some discomfort to people who first encounter these eggs.

China has never had a good reputation for the variety of ingredients that are used in its ethnic cooking. Having been raised in a Chinese family, I enjoy and appreciate all the different varieties of food that are served on the table. But people often criticize the Chinese for eating “everything”. From my point of view, their criticism can be understood to mean that most people around the world eat foods created with a very limited range of ingredients. Justin, a Kenyan student from Rosslyn Academy, says, “I think that we are just uncomfortable with the ingredients that Chinese use that we don’t use, speaking from a cultural prospective.”

Although the ingredients that the Chinese use in cooking may not be understood or appreciated by everyone around the world, don’t let this be a blockade to you in trying out the Pidan porridge. Through this porridge, I hope that you will understand and take delight in China’s culinary world. Who knows? Perhaps Pidan Porridge will help you take another small step towards learning about other great cultures in our diverse world.

Mother Tongue

When it comes to the subject of using your “mother tongue”, many people have varied opinions on whether using them throughout their lives is a requirement or not. Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research, says that there are multiple benefits in knowing your mother tongue when learning a new language. A large amount of high school students plan on going back home after working in a college abroad, and so being able to speak your mother tongue can come in handy. Sometimes, those who don’t speak their mother tongue may suffer a loss of identity and alienation from their parents, grandparents, and other family members.

Balaji Viswanathan, who grew up in India, was asked the question: “What are the advantages and disadvantages of having one’s mother tongue as the medium of instruction during primary education…?” According to Viswanathan, one of the disadvantages is that children that have not been exposed to languages other than their mother tongue can experience a “painful shift in higher education”, where knowledge outside this narrow area is expected. He also states that using only the mother tongue can lead to ongoing results affecting such important areas as a child’s “work ethic”.

Mabel K Wong, a multicultural blogger, wrote a piece on not speaking your mother tongue. She says that it is quite a big issue. She proposes the question, “If your parents don’t speak your mother tongue to you at a young age, how [are you] supposed to know how to speak the language?” Wong said that her parents would change the language from Chinese to English when she would walk into the room as a child. She used to have a group of friends that could speak fluently in their mother tongue. Even though they wouldn’t mind her interjecting in the middle of their sentences to ask what they meant, she still felt like she couldn’t fit in, because she was only fluent in English.

Malachi Rempen is an American, born in Switzerland, and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He discusses in one of his blog entries, some of the disadvantages of moving to a new country and losing your mother tongue. He mentions in his article, Losing Your Mother Tongue? Good!, that there is a possibility that visitors can become “one” with the country and its culture more easily without a mother tongue, and that it becomes easier as a result “to make [the new country] their own”. He goes on to say that, “I’ve been finding myself unable to produce certain English words.” Rempen goes on to describe the feeling of losing the language, by saying, “I know the word I’m thinking of exists, and I know I used to know how to use it, but there’s simply a glaring black hole in my brain where this word used to be…the brain can only do so much; maybe the short term amnesia is temporary.”

Obviously, on this topic, there are as many opinions as there are languages. So, what can we conclude about the use of mother tongues as we continue our journeys through life? Perhaps, we can only say that they are important, and that since they are so formative for us as we begin to grow, we must at least cherish where we began.

A Barbie’s Tale

As a child, living in Kenya, I vividly remember a teenage boy coming up to me, caressing my hand, and telling me that I had beautiful skin. Walking past toy stores, holding my mother’s hand, I saw rows upon rows of white Barbies, caged in plastic boxes, their uniform plastic features painted with only slight variations of turquoise, emerald, and hazel eyes. Even when there was the occasional darker – pigmented doll, her hair was always long, straight, and silky, and, more often than not, she had green eyes. In Kenya, white dolls sell.

The Barbies of my childhood were manifestations of a stereotype placed on Caucasian women. This stereotype exists specifically in regions of the world in which Caucasian populations are a minority, such as Kenya. Just as Western countries have witnessed a recent obsession with “exotic” looking women, it seems as if there is the same perception in third world countries. White women, a scarcer commodity, are ideal. It’s a simple rule of supply and demand, coupled with the power of social media, advertising, film, and pornography. This stereotype is both a burden and a privilege. As a young white woman, readily identified in public, it is easy for wandering eyes and wandering hands to find you.

The differing treatment results in what I think is a superiority – inferiority complex. Seeing those Barbie dolls as a white child gives you a self – perception that yes, you are different from your counterparts who live here, and, unfortunately, you are, will be, and have to be incredibly desirable.

“You get a lot more attention,” says Rachel Rasmussen, an American who has grown up in East Africa. She describes how she is frequently ogled and harassed in public. After getting calls from the wrong number, men often text her back upon hearing her female American accent. Megan Hanson, another teenager who was raised in Tanzania and Kenya, has experienced harassment since she was fourteen.

Megan adds that she sometimes feels a “moral boost” from the attention, despite being uncomfortable. On the topic of superiority, Rasmussen says, “You’re viewed as more attractive, so it’s maybe hard not to think that. But at the same time, it feels like a very objectified attraction. Because Kenyan men don’t see that many white women, and because of how they’re portrayed in the media, that’s the reaction you get.”

When asked about the amount of attention they get in the USA, Rachel and Megan state that there is “a lot less.” Jon Michael Halvorson, a teenager from the US, says “More Kenyan guys will be attracted to you because you’re a white girl. So maybe it’s an attraction to wealth or a ticket to the outside.” Richard Maina, a Kenyan student at an international school, also believes that sometimes “the only reason they’re dating this white woman is to get that green card.”

“It’s the strangest thing. You could be married to a white woman, who’s not from your culture at all, but you’ll still be more respected than a regular guy… it boosts your status,” continues Richard.

In describing her wishes for her future, Rachel voices that her harassment has impacted what she wants her career to be, saying, “I’ve experienced the objectification and sexualization that often happens to women, very firsthand. So it’s made me much more passionate about it and I kind of want to do something about it.”

I wonder what the Kenyan boy was thinking when he told me I had beautiful skin. Did he simply see me as a component of Western media? Or was his compliment just innocently polite?