Freshman Fifteen

High school graduation is approaching for many people around the world. Students are ecstatic about their soon to arrive “freedom”. Thoughts of relief, joy, and sadness reside inside of them, and they cannot wait for the next thing life will throw at them. Summer break quickly comes to an end as they settle into their new lives as university students. Some of them are away from home, and all on their own. The semester begins and as the year progresses, and so do their stress levels. Suddenly, the famous “freshman fifteen” – gaining 15 or more pounds in the first year of college – is no longer a myth, but instead an unwanted reality. It is obvious that university is taking a toll on you and all you want to do is eat your stress away. You look around and realize that there are many people like you, as well as people who manage to deal with the effects of stress in an entirely different way.

When asked about why he got into bodybuilding, Michael Mukolwe said that, “There are many ways to stay fit; running, yoga, Pilates, lifting weights, CrossFit, etc. I chose lifting weights. The act of lifting weights is rather simple; pick it up and put it down. The difficult part is the consistency. It’s not just mindlessly going into the gym and doing the same thing at the same weight. That’s stagnating. The constant challenge to lift heavier and to get stronger and inevitably get bigger is thrilling”. This is what Mukolwe used to deal with the stress of the changes and challenges of college.

Relating his choice to the dreaded Freshman 15, he said that “Balancing that with proper nutrition is the catch. One can lift heavy weights as much as possible and stay the same weight because of the lack of proper nutrition. One can work out their core hard and hope for the abs of their dreams, but not eat properly to carve them out. Abs are made in the kitchen.  Many people understand the concept; it’s the execution that evades them. Although cliché, Rome truly was not built in a day.”

However, weights are not for everybody. As Mukolwe mentions, staying fit can be accomplished in many ways. Therefore, there should not be excuses when it comes to fitness. If going to the gym is daunting, then sign up for a yoga class instead. In university, you cannot afford to eat your stress away, because that’s an unhealthy habit to develop. Overeating can increase one’s chances of getting high blood pressure and a cholesterol imbalance. Exercise is always a good idea to handle stress, but without eating healthy meals one will find themselves trying to form good exercising habits while getting accustomed to bad eating ones.

As a senior about to graduate, I am interested to see if my classmates will continue to take care of their health when their parents are no longer making them eat a balanced diet. The university cafeteria is a student’s sweetest dream and worst nightmare. With proper self-control, you can reap the benefits of a range of food types and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Right now, your main concern is finishing off the year and moving away from your parents, but perhaps you should also focus your energy on how you are going to stay healthy throughout university.

Will you say, YOLO and eat without a care? Or will you make deliberate choices that will benefit you in the future? Everything in moderation – keep that in mind as you get into the next part of your life.

Come Together

It’s that time of the year again, when millions of Europeans come together to celebrate music through the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s a competition filled with nationalism, political controversy, interesting fashion choices and of course, tons of heartfelt ballads and interesting euro-pop performances that probably would sound quite bizarre in a different setting. And there has certainly been a few outrageous numbers in the competition that would have you exclaim ‘Only in Eurovision’, including old Russian ladies singing “Party for Everybody” while baking bread as a part of the choreography, a Romanian countertenor in black diamond embellished clothing. Oh, and Ireland´s Singing Turkey back in 2008.

However, Eurovision does not only contain crazy outfits and catchy songs. Politics often make their way into the arena. In the last few years, loud boos have echoed against the walls after Russia’s performances due to the outrage over the anti-HBTQ politics of the country, as well as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Interestingly, these negative noises have been censored in previous years, but Sweden – this year’s host country – has decided to not censor the show at all. Sergey Lazarev, this year’s Russian competitor, is one of the favorites and says that Eurovision wants to keep politics out of the show and should do just that by censoring the boos. He says that a prospering gay community does exist in Russia and that a Russian victory this year would support it further.

The motivation behind the start of this loved and cherished contest was to unite Cold War Europe. Today, the competition is a friendly one between countries that once were at bloody war with each other. Sometimes things can seem a bit too friendly, when countries put their highest vote on their neighboring country in order to improve the bonds between their respective countries. This leads many to question the fairness of the competition. And in last year’s dramatically close battle between Russia and Sweden for first place, politics might have played a large part. Even though Russia’s competitor expressed her open mind and support of human rights and love, she was faced with deep criticism because of the negative attitude against the country in which she was born. If Russia wins this year, will that victory come without controversy? Probably not.

The turbulence and conflicts that are realities in our world today conflict with other areas – like music – and it seems to be hard to look beyond politics when judging an artist in a competition like the Eurovision Song Contest. As a politically interested person, I know that it can be hard to ignore the political views that certain nation’s governments represent, even when it´s about music. But I think that we all have to remind ourselves that a person can represent only him or herself – not necessarily always a country as a whole. At the end of the day, we shouldn’t have to worry about whether our actions and words are in complete agreement with the policies of our own countries in every aspect of life. We are all from this same world.

The theme of this year’s Eurovision is “Come Together”, and so perhaps we should do just that; we should forget the conflicts for once, and unite with the help of music and creativity.

Evangelical Vegans

Watch any documentary about animal abuse or the meat industry, and you will be convinced that veganism is an ethical global lifestyle, and not just because it ameliorates the grotesque conditions under which animals are forced to live. Environmentally, veganism is an antidote to most of the issues we, as a planet, face today, including carbon emissions, toxic waste, deforestation, the extinction of wild animals, the wealth gap, and excess water usage. Veganism also presents an alternative to privilege that includes dietary meat, animal – based clothing and makeup, and pharmaceuticals. Politically, it creates a rebellious route against ingrained societal greed and ignorance, as well as the fusion of capitalistic endeavor and legislation.

So, why aren’t more people vegan? Obviously, it involves an element of sacrifice, which some may find difficult to conform to. However, there are millions of people in this world who are highly capable of converting. The root issue, therefore, lies in awareness.

While we undeniably live in a world still influenced by racism and sexism, these perceptions have at least been validated as existent. The issue about to be birthed into controversy is that of “speciesism.” In the documentary Earthlings, every being on the planet is described as an equal inhabitant of the earth. The documentary suggests that we are obligated to live consciousnessly under a greater force of nature that transcends political barriers, varying ethical beliefs, and even differences between species.

Bezawit Hailu, an international student, is a vegan. Last Friday, she gave an important seminar on the inhumanities of the meat industry. In doing so, she objectively discussed the major flaws in the Western diet and superiority complex in regards to the rest of the planet. Her seminar is a good example of raising awareness without forcing judgment onto those who were previously ignorant of their responsibilities as dominant species.

James Aspey is an animal activist who remained silent for one year to promote awareness about veganism. In an interview, he says that he “went voiceless because they are voiceless – I thought. But then I realized they’re not actually voiceless. They cry in pain… The problem is that we’re not listening, because they have wings instead of arms… they have fur, they have scales… they’re a different species. So we don’t take their suffering seriously.”

All this said, the attention that veganism garners threatens it with becoming another ephemeral cultural obsession, status amplifier, or personal competition. It is a beautiful decision, but one that requires much thought, dedication, and self – actualization. Like any spirituality, there is a fine line between passion and radicalism. For example, as a former anorexic, an unhealthy vegan routine offered me a glorified path into starvation.

Now, when speaking to some outspoken vegans, I feel judged at times because of my perceived “selfishness,” lack of “discipline” or my unfortunate allergy to legumes. Here’s a phrase more people should be aware of: dietism. There may be a reason why James Aspey decided to lead by a wordlessly profound example.

The reality is that I, like many others, am trying to find my way to the true veganism that encompasses societal and personal respect. Don’t judge those of us who are carefully, intentionally, wading into the waters yet again. By nature, veganism is a yin – yang of the individual and the great society of life, and only begins with changes in diet. It is corrupted when it becomes an idol of self – promotion and materialism, and no longer stands for the shared spirit that drives all beings of life on earth. Veganism cannot exist without fluidity between the species of the self and of the world.

Pride vs. Pride: Lions in Nairobi

The continent of Africa is known for its diverse wildlife, and among this wildlife roam the kings of the jungle – the lions. However, the lion population in Africa has declined by more than 40 percent in the last two decades, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

On the 19th of February 2016, six lions caused panic on the streets of Nairobi after escaping from the Nairobi National Wildlife Park the previous night. It wasn’t clear what path they took to sneak out of the park and enter residential areas. The lions were first spotted at 4 a.m. Friday near a hospital in Langata, and later near Kibera, Kenya’s largest slum, Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Udoto said. Officials urged vigilance and warned residents to call a toll-free number if they spotted the big cats. The rangers scoured the bush and agricultural land searching for the pride on the loose to return them to the park, but the big cats were later spotted back in the park, having made their own way “home”. 

On March 18th, another stray lion clawed and injured a 63-year-old man on Nairobi’s Mombasa Road. The man has since been discharged from hospital, and the lion has been captured safely.

Then, on March 30th, things took a turn for the worse, as Kenyan rangers killed a lion that pounced on a man in a crowd after it escaped the park. The man, who was hospitalized with deep lacerations, had joined hundreds of noisy bystanders surrounding the animal. In order to save lives, as the “last resort”, rangers shot it to death as the animal was considered a “threat to human life” before veterinarians arrived with tranquilizers. The death of Mohawk, a majestic 13-year-old big cat – so named because of the shape of his black mane – sparked an outcry among Kenyans. I am glad I got to see Mohawk several times, but am saddened by the fact that I will not see him again. Did he deserve this brutal, bloody end? Who was at fault? Bansri Joshi, a student in Nairobi, spoke the words that so many witnesses thought, “I expected the rangers to have tranquilizers to protect and disable him not kill him.” The death of an African lion is always a tragedy. Could this have been avoided?

The next morning, a 2½-year-old lion known as Lemek also found his way through the fence. Later, wildlife rangers discovered Lemek’s speared body “under a large thicket beside a dry riverbed” – evidently killed by Maasai tribesmen 12 miles south of Nairobi, the service said in a statement.

Why are lions trying to escape all of a sudden?

There are many factors that may have been contributors to this clash between humans and lions in Nairobi, but is obviously connected to the encroachment of human settlement on lion habitats, and a sharp decrease in their natural prey. The government has also started building a highway through a section of the park, agitating the animals with constant noise, affecting their behavior and leading more big cats to attempt to break free in search of quieter hunting grounds.

But wildlife tourism is also an essential foreign revenue earner for Kenya. Instead of protecting our animals that tourists come to admire, it seems like we are intruding into their habitats and homes. And as we are more powerful with our machine guns and weapons, and always put ourselves first, we will get what we want, but at the expense of possibly losing our animals. Is our own pride worth the deaths of prides of lions?

Kenyan wildlife officials, and many Kenyan citizens, enjoy the fact that Nairobi National Park is the world’s only urban wildlife range, connoting the idea that a satisfactory arrangement has been made between man and animal. But is that still true? 

Privilege

The warm, golden glow over the savanna at sunset may have been one of the most beautiful moments I have experienced in my (short) life. The beautiful peaceful moment when the engine of the van stopped, leaving radiant waves of silence and a warm wind that stroked my face was a peculiar, yet wonderful, feeling.  I remember my first time in the Maasai Mara – more specifically the first sunset I witnessed there – and how the grace of the place washed over me. I remember seeing a giraffe sitting under a bush tree and looking out over the savanna. Lions were near and if they would have decided to attack the giraffe herd, the one sitting down would be an easy target. The giraffe, however, was completely calm. Everything was how it was supposed to be. It was a beautiful vision in gold, and I will never forget it.

Last week, during my Kiswahili class, I was describing to my teacher my most recent safari to Amboseli in Kenya. Amboseli National Park is known for its large herds of elephants, so of course I talked mostly about them. He said that my experience sounded beautiful and that he had never seen elephants in the wild. I was quite shocked; I could not understand how that could be true. This man, a Kenyan who had lived here in Kenya for most of his life, had never seen the animals that his country is so famous for, while I had only arrived about eight months ago, and since then have been on multiple safaris.

To see such an untouched and natural place on earth was a great contrast from the city life I am so used to. The true beauty I was privileged to see made me realize how important it is to respect nature, and how we must work hard to preserve the environment. Seeing the elephants slowly walk in a line against the orange blazing sun, and the lions lying in the high grass, made me understand that this is the beautiful essence of the world.

All of Kenya is beautiful in my opinion. From the crowded, noisy streets downtown to the open landscapes of the grasslands. From the colorful shops and fruit stands to the cascading waterfalls in lush forests. But, above all, the national parks still stand out – the way you can truly see the beautiful essence of nature. It’s magical. Some of us have the privilege to just ride in, in our safari vans, with our cameras and curious eyes. We need to remember that a large part of the Kenyan population may never see what we see on safari.

Nature does not belong to anyone – or any group of people. But, it seems that we are born with different opportunities in life. Some of us will get to view beautiful landscapes that others may never see, even within the borders of their own countries. Sometimes, even Nature is a privilege.

Dressed to Impress? or Transgress

We see it all the time. At music festivals, in fashion shows and magazines, in music videos and out on the streets. People wear jewelry, clothes and symbols that belong to another culture, one that they do not belong to. We don’t even flinch. We didn’t react to Lana Del Rey wearing a Native American headdress in one of her music videos. We probably just thought “Oh, that´s pretty” and kept on watching.

I own Kanga-skirts (Kangas are traditional garments from the Great Lakes region in Africa), dream-catcher earrings (that I love), and a blouse with an embroidered ‘Om` symbol – which belongs to Hinduism. I have never thought of the cultural significance and ancient meanings that are inherent in the heritage of these items. Yes, I was, and I am still, ignorant. But, does being ignorant excuse offense?

The trend of white people wearing Native American headdresses at festivals, like Coachella, has garnered a lot of attention lately. The Native American headdress is connected with a deep spiritual meaning, and only certain people in a tribe are allowed to wear it. So, when non-Natives put it on, what they’re doing is really “playing dress-up” with something holy. It’s like applying “Blackface”; we dress as another race and, in so doing, end up promoting stereotypes, and degrading serious traditions.

The thing about this type of racism – yes, I’m calling it racism – is that it is much more elaborate than we first might think. In her article “A Complete Guide to Hipster Racism”, Lindy West talks about the phenomenon and how common it is. She brings up an example of the hashtags like #thuglife that we use without question and often without consequences. West mocks the (potential) reasoning of white people that post pictures of themselves singing hip-hop covers and holding gang signs, by captioning their thoughts in the moment, like this: “See, it’s hilarious, because we aren’t thugs—we are darling girls, and real thugs are black people who do crime!”

What I think it all comes down to is a question of entitlement. Perhaps, the ancestors of white Americans felt that they were entitled to degrade other cultures, and thereby could degrade other people. They may have felt entitled to take land and to ignore ancient cultures and their traditions. Today, it seems like we all feel entitled to wear whatever culturally significant clothes we want, even though these clothes or symbols are not culturally significant to us. We don’t care about that fact. What does it mean when people whose ancestors slaughtered Native Americans now are wearing the feathered headdresses of that culture?

Who decides when it is fine to wear something? Can it sometimes be honouring to wear a culturally significant item? Or, is “borrowing” cultural symbols and clothing always? And what about the people who are trying to be “Counter-Cultural”? Is there a difference between a white person who has grown up in Kenya wearing Maasai jewelry, and a person who has never set foot in Kenya wearing it? Or does it matter?

The issue of cultural appropriation is obviously a lot larger than we might initially anticipate. The questions about its merit and degree of offensiveness grows the more you look around, because cultural appropriation seems to be everywhere – it is becoming mainstream. Perhaps we need to think more about the messages we send – and the potential transgressions we make – when we dress to impress.

Hidden in Plain Sight

In the majority of African countries, homosexuality and “non-natural sexual interactions” are looked down upon by the majority of people. Here, in Kenya, homosexuality is seen as taboo, and those who are known to live this lifestyle are often met with fierce and even deadly repercussions. If a person is even accused or “outted”, he or she is subject to societal shaming, or worse. Often, they are kicked out of their house by their family, but this can be only the first stage of what will become a terrifying nightmare.  

Homosexuality is looked down upon in many African countries (including Kenya), mainly because of Kenya’s core values of maintaining culture and tradition. “Most of us grow up in traditional and cultural households, so we never truly get the chance to think about other norms because they aren’t in always in our face” declares Kanjaa Dwayne, a Kenyan national studying at the University of Barcelona. Any changes in culture, if they happen at all, take a long time to occur.

Kenya is also facing serious Western pressure to become more liberal about its stance on homosexuality, and how it works with its own homosexual community. According to many, it should be more accepting of the homosexual community.  In response to this growing pressure, a small group of Kenyan youth have begun to accept homosexuality into the society as a norm. Saleh Aahil, a student attending the International School of Kenya in Nairobi stated that Personally, [I think] accepting homosexuality as part of society does raise awareness and educate people; however, the people need to be willing to accept diversity in a way that produces a conducive society for those even that do not feel [part of it]”.

In comparison to Western countries such as the United States of America, Kenya is a very anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) nation. Western nations are more accepting of the homosexual community, and are very supportive of choices the people make. As Kenya is becoming more of an industrialized nation and begins to be influenced more and more by the West, perhaps in the future, the homosexual community might one day be seen as being equal.

The United States government sees the acceptance of homosexuality as something that can be learned over time, as indicated by President Obama during his visit to Kenya in July 2015: “I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage. But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine”.

Compared to other African countries such as Uganda, Kenya is actually quite relaxed in its treatment of the LGBT community. During an interview with CNN in 2015, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, when asked about his view on the bill passed banning homosexuality in Uganda stated that “The West must respect African society and its values.”  This statement symbolizes the ways homosexuals are often viewed in some parts of Africa. They might exist, but will never be viewed as an equal and valuable part of society.

Will Kenya one day be able to accept the LGBT community as part of itself? Will homosexuals be able to live without fear of shaming, or more serious repercussions? It’s hard to say what the future of this evolving nation holds. As of now, it seems that the homosexual community must stay hidden in plain sight.

Modernizing Modesty

The hijab (حجاب) is a veil that covers the head and chest, worn by some Muslim women as a symbol of modesty and morality. The Western media often portrays Muslim women either as veiled victims with a lack of free choice, or a threat to the Western societies in which they reside.

However, the level of acceptance of the hijab is now evolving. As new generations of Muslim women come of age, they find ways for the hijab to complement their growing desire for self-expression. With this new confidence, a new breed of designers has developed, specializing in “hijab fashion”.

Hijab fashion companies currently have a great opportunity, in this untapped potential market, to showcase women of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages. in making the most of this opportunity, these companies may help to counteract the negative messages and break the stereotype that mainstream advertising may be sending out about the hijab. “As a Western woman, I appreciate the Hijab; it is important for the West to realize that the wearing of the hijab is a choice. Western culture is trying to integrate it, and I think it is positive, but there is a fine line between romanticization and appreciation” says Meredith McKelvey, American student at International Christian school in Kenya.

The trend, like so many others in the fashion world, could be just another marketing gimmick, except that the hijab is not just an article of clothing. iIt is a politically charged symbol.

Muslim women who choose to wear headscarves sometimes face challenges, but Stephanie Kurlow, a 14-year-old Australian citizen, is not letting anything stop her from becoming the first professional hijabi ballerina. She has been taking ballet classes since she was 2 years old. She has faced many challenges with regards to her faith over the years; dancing, according to some Muslim traditionalists, can be considered forbidden. Add to this the self-consciousness that also feels when she tops her tutu with the modest hijab headscarf, and one can see that she has already overcome many difficulties.

But she keeps pushing forward with both her passion for ballet, and her faith. Kurlow wants to one day open a diverse performing arts academy. She says she wants to “inspire other young people who maybe don’t feel so confident to follow their dreams due to the outfits they wear, religious beliefs or lack of opportunities.”

Jhillah Chaaker, an Iranian student at Rosslyn Academy, has similar feelings about the hijab. She says, “We are normal people, we cover ourselves by choice. I wear it to embrace the beautiful religion I love. Hijabs do not restrict us or exclude us from society when it comes to partaking in daily activities or pursuing dreams. If everyone else can dress down with shorts, why cant we dress up and cover ourselves without being judged?”

In January 2016, after 71 years of a tall and skinny Barbie, Mattel introduced new physically diverse Barbies that are curvy and small. Now, Haneefah Adam, a 24-year-old who lives in Nigeria, is calling on the doll company to introduce “Hijarbie”- the new diverse body-type-friendly Barbies we know and love, dressed in up-to-date hijabi fashion. This Barbie would represent and inspire millions of Muslim girls around the world who play with the toy.

In our world, everything is changing. It’s time Mattel caught up with retail giants such as H&M, Dolce & Gabbana and Uniqlo, who have answered women’s calls for more diversity in their designs by stocking hijabs and featuring them in campaigns. The acceptance of the hijab in today’s world is truly inspiring and a positive move forward. As long as the true meaning of why Muslim women wear the hijab is not lost, the modernization of modesty is just around the corner.

 

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.