What does sadness look like?

11539059_10155704255705487_9086923172306399047_o[1]What does sadness look like? I think that we all have some appreciation of it, and can describe its appearance in words beyond ‘blue’. What does depression look like? Clinically, many of us may not have experienced it, though certainly some of us have. I don’t claim to be depressed… it’s too strong of a word, and I’d not want to describe. However, if I had to describe the way I feel right now, I guess it’s fair to say that I feel ‘both within and beyond the deep blue; far enough away from the sun to shiver’.

The last time I wrote about PhD applications I spoke to the fact that I was rejected. I spoke to the fact that it hurt. What I haven’t publicly mentioned is that since that rejection, I was accepted to pursue a PhD in Education at Cambridge University, specifically focusing on improving the employment of ICT in secondary schools in various Caribbean countries and building children’s self-efficacy. It cheered me up a bit getting that acceptance and prospective supervision. Despite knowing that my estimations of self-worth should be internally constructed, that acceptance gave me a sense of validation. It helped me to feel like: Hey, I guess that I really am good enough— someone who’s already achieved what I want to believes that I can too!

That acceptance, late last year, was however followed by multiple funding (and other) rejections, and whilst I’ve been able to bounce back relatively quickly from the sting of each, it has cumulatively begun to take its toll. Each rejection leads to a string of internal statements – repetitive, deprecatory, sometimes unpleasantly honest, unoriginal statements:

‘I’m not smart enough; if I was then someone would see the value in supporting my ideas.’
‘It really was just a lucky break that got me there for the MPhil.’
‘You were too confident Kalifa… Take several seats; you’re not good enough to receive the necessary support to do a PhD at Cambridge.’
‘Your referees are probably exceedingly tired of writing you reference letters, and most certainly believe by now that you’re pretty unimpressive.’
‘You’re too lazy. You procrastinate and sleep too much.’
‘You need to work harder; others who wanted what you do have been able to secure it, plus much more. They achieved so much more than you because they are better than you.’
‘You’re at the bottom of the pile.’
‘You’re the only one from your MPhil class who was outright rejected to continue to the PhD.’
‘You weren’t able to get any government scholarship you applied for, much less from anywhere else.’
‘People look at you and think you’re smart, but you know better to not believe their wishful, consolatory thinking.’
‘You messed up, you’re slow, mediocre, lazy, and you’re not good enough to accomplish all that you dream of accomplishing. You’re also repetitive repetitive.’

…and it’s all humbled me. I think that I was relatively humble previously (probably that statement alone is indication that I wasn’t—humble folks don’t boast about being humble >_<), but having been turned down as I have, having questioned the validity not only of my worth, but of my aspirations and my imagined future-self-identity, it’s forced me to place into context a vastly overestimated self-competency. That is what I have been feeling as of late; a feeling that my current and imagined selves are crumbling, a feeling that my relationships will crumble too, and a feeling that maybe I was wrong about what I want to, and can, accomplish in life… a feeling that I’m being punished into submission for?/by?

I am not depressed though. My eyes watered… in that sort of verbose overdone elegantly wretched, etc, etc., etc., metaphorical poetry that life can sometimes feel like: ‘the deep blue depths of the ocean spilling through my window to the world…brrr.’ These words, I guess then, are like my tears… this social platform, my eyes; a window as opposed to a wall.

I take, in attempted stride, what is; in attempted contentment. I allow myself to feel the frustration that I do; to grieve the passing away of old assumptions as reality sets in, working through the pain that needs to be worked through. But, as does, and as shall, because I will, life must go on… not only with the recognition that the ocean depths are cold, but that cold water will sink further and further downward, taking all the salt/flavour/spice/me with it. But, as has been done before by many who face significantly more challenging pressures than I do, I’ll rise again. I’ve got arms, and though a poor swimmer, I can flail them with enough coordination to move forward and upward. There are hydrothermal vents, hotspots of life and vitality even at the ocean’s floor, and I have enough hope that surely enough I’ll find one.

Hire me to draw here: http://www.gofundme.com/FundJendayiKalifa

Ignorant and patchy rumination on ancestry

untitledI’ve been thinking on this, and I admittedly know very little, but I shall appreciate feedback from those who might know more/have thought on it too. Warning! This is a rant. Neanderthals are in the news again. I once heard from science that the Neanderthals were stupid, inferior humans. (Exactly how ‘inferiority’ is determined, is certainly debatable) Either way, calling someone a ‘Neanderthal’ was thus an insult. In more recent times though (Paabo/Green et al, 2010?), it’s been discovered that every group apart from ‘pure Africans’ have Neanderthal DNA in them. Alongside this discovery seems to have come more and more new scientific discovery that Neanderthals were actually smart, adventurous, curious and cultured too—some say probably even more so than pure Homo Sapiens.

“This gene is associated with risk-taking, sensation-seeking and novelty-seeking, and correlated with openness to new experiences, intolerance to monotony, and exploratory behavior — you know… Neanderthal stuff. […]This miraculous combination created a new kind of “super” human hybrid tribe: part Neanderthal, part modern human — and they DOMINATED.”-Lo Porta, Huffington Post 2010

“Prof Riel Salvatore, who co-authored the research, added: “It’s been long believed that Neanderthals were outcompeted by fitter modern humans and they could not adapt. “We are changing the main narrative. Neanderthals were just as adaptable and in many ways, simply victims of their own success.””-Telegraph, 2011

“The view of Neanderthals as club-wielding brutes is one of the most enduring stereotypes in science, but researchers who trawled the archaeological evidence say the image has no basis whatsoever. […]”The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there,” said Villa. “What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true.”-The Guardian, 2014

Some, moreso those who believe that African folks are innately more aggressive, less intelligent, and not as open minded (a view that seemed pretty popular/was upvoted in the comment sections I browsed on various sites) are now suggesting that that explains why ‘Africans are so much stupider than everyone else’ (because we(Africans) simply don’t have the intelligence-giving-Neanderthal-genes). When confronted with smart, non-aggressive, and ‘cultured’ black folks though, some posit that that means we must have had some Eurasian ancestry (due to ‘mixing during and after colonialism’) to give us some of the ‘intelligent and cultured’ traits. Thing is, I have no problem believing/agreeing with the flip in thought which now says that Neanderthals were awesome(Not better, or worse, than homo sapien sapien, just awesome–a view most articles leaned to). I’m inclined to think it’s true, and that we’ve had some pretty biased and messed up ways of ascribing what’s ‘superior’ or not, closely related or not… ascribing value to things in a ranked way which just is kinda sad and superficial (or pathetic even).

However, part of me feels like it follows a historic script of maintaining the status quo or even a desire to prevent cognitive dissonance. For example, our ideas previously were: ‘big brains (relative size ignored intentionally) mean higher intelligence’ ‘men have bigger brains and thus are smarter than women’. However, when it was found definitively that ‘women have bigger brains relative to body mass’, the script changed to brain size (relative or not) does not determine intelligence’ or, according to Broca, the metric didn’t work the same for everyone -> ‘therefore men are still smarter than women’ (Stepan, 1986). Turns out, our brain size actually seems to be shrinking too, so the ‘buts’ on that idea keep growing.

Anywho, certainly though there is a lot of validity to the attempt at discovery and to what we discover, and untangling it all is a noble endeavor, but I can’t shake the feeling that so much of what we ‘find’ is swayed by the implicit and unconscious biases in contemporary thinking (whether liberal, conservative, flaggaboo, whatever). For a long time so much of what was ‘great’ about ‘African-Trinis’ (at least in what I’ve frequently enough observed to be the case) has been credited to every other supposed and actual part of our identity beyond the majority thing: ‘Africanness’… whether it’s ‘Our Beauty: Good hair because yuh have Indian in yuh or what?’ or ‘Our Intelligence: Smarts because yuh have Indian in yuh or what?’ So, after hearing statements such as these, I don’t at all fault folks who choose to take a stand for their innate African awesomeness by solely owning and acknowledging the term ‘black’ or ‘African’… even when they are mixed. Ah, we’re a complex family of humans, different and the same… and certainly African descended folks dish the dirt to others with different ancestry/are racist (and certainly racist to themselves too), but, perhaps the only time we’ll get a truthful picture of what actually ‘is’, is when we accept that difference, whatever it may be, does not always necessitate ranking, and that perhaps, we’re likely much more biased and kinda wrong than we imagine ourselves to be.

Image Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8660940.stm

Don’t put a deadline on greatness


“I see myself as the next face of disruptive technology that impacts lives. The next time you think of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Elon Musk or Muhamad Yunus, I will be there too.”

This is the dream of Christine, who has, at 26, already achieved a great deal. Born in NYC, and raised in Haiti, she currently lives in Dubai and runs her own startup, Venedy. Venedy digitises the street vending industry via mobile technology. Having come from a familial line of street vendors (her mother, grandmother and aunts), and having been one herself, she has a personal connection to the industry and a great desire to help vendors improve their business worldwide. She was able to travel to 30 countries, on a Bill Gates Scholarship, to track the stories of street vendors. Her initiative has allowed her to meet global leaders such as President Barack Obama and Mohammad Yunus. So successful has her venture been, she is now a finalist, and the sole remaining U.S. contestant, in a global social impact competition with a prize valued at US$1million (You can help her in the final stages of winning that prize by voting for her here.

Her journey to her current successes has not been easy though. She explains, “My parents struggled working between jobs so I’ve lived in close to a dozen places. I lost my Papa last year and I literally became a different person. I was numb to feeling, sceptical of love, friendship and hope. Losing my Papa was the worst experience of my life….but he died by his own terms, in his country- Haiti, in his sleep, with me by his side- so he wasn’t alone. It’s funny how many people stand with you when times are good and how lonely it is when times are bad. At the time I was still trying to raise funding for my startup, and was being hit with racism, sexism and skeptisim at every turn. I had to hide my depression because I was both leading a broken family, my mom and 8 year old baby brother, and was leading a team of 4 people for my startup.”

Picking herself up and moving forward wasn’t easy, but she was able to do it through reflection, letting go and bonding with those who really matter, like her mother and brother. “At the end of the day, we don’t hold the mind of God and do not need to understand why things are the way they are. It took me months to get to this point. It’s still a slow process but it is a powerful thing if you can just let go.” When asked what advice she’d give to aspiring others, she said, “Think of the legends of our time, the people we talk about for generations across different cultures. None of them had it easy. It was in their struggle they found strengths. I’ve learned to use my pain as my power all of my life and the biggest advice I can give someone is to learn to reflect, let go, and turn your pain into your power. And more importantly, don’t put a deadline on greatness. Expecting fast results will only disappoint further. Keep pushing: Amazing things will happen.”

Pain is an incredible tool to motivate yourself

bryansm“When I and my friends were 17, one of my closest friends died. That was a major turning point in my life, it was the death of innocence. That made me really angry – angry at how unfair the world was, and angry at life in general. But I learnt to live my life to the fullest, in the name of everyone who never had the opportunity to do so. It has taught me to never take life for granted, and to, at all costs, stay true to what you believe in.”

Those are the words of Bryan, also known as Blinky; a 28 year old Trini punk rocker, the son of a school teacher mom and lawyer dad, and who currently is in Europe studying for his Ph.D. “There are many other achievements on paper which come to mind – I’ve gotten a degree and two masters and worked with two different United Nations agencies. I’ve also lived in a couple of different countries and experienced some really fun and crazy things. However, those things don’t really speak to the true essence of life. My major achievement has just been staying alive and sharing the experiences of everyday life with friends and family.  In terms of the material things, the biggest achievement is releasing a couple of records with my band.”

Asked what he envisions for his future and what advice he’d give to others, he said, “I’d like to continue just playing sh*tty punk rock music and being a university lecturer or something like that. There are many possible paths in life, and I am happy walking whatever path I end up on. I try to not be too obsessed about the future. Music is my life: my passion and my everything. I love punk rock and hardcore music, the scene, and the ethical value systems of these sub-cultures. They are a mechanism for social unity, fighting oppression, and generally uplifting the spirits of everyone involved. On the other hand, I love to learn and I love to teach. I suppose that it is similar to music – I just love the sense of connecting to others in a mutually beneficial environment. All in all, I really feel as if I have been gifted so much from the world, and I just want to give back as much as possible. To others I’d say stay true to what you believe in. Pain is an incredible tool to motivate yourself. However don’t fool yourself. There is nothing wrong with being sad or angry – these are important aspects of the human experience. No matter what, always be honest – honest with yourself and with the world around you. Also, in times of true despair, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone, and also never hesitate to help out someone else in need – helping others is a great way to help yourself and contextualise your own experiences and grow into a better person.”

Never be a victim of life; be its conqueror

11392929_10155597264175487_488535004244395178_nNaballah, a 25 year old Muslim stylist, fashion and travel blogger, designer and UWI graduate, is a multitalented young woman.  She grew up in Chaguanas, Trinidad and  is currently working on launching her own Hijab collection. Her accomplishments have earned her a committed following online as well as feature interviews on the BBC (links below). Commenting on how she was able to achieve all that she has, she said, “I mastered my art and was able to take it forward and create my own platform in the form of my blog and YouTube channel and now my own Hijab line; cultivating a niche for others to learn and simultaneously be inspired. This in turn has drawn the attention of many individuals and organizations, many of whom have invested time and money into my work which consequently brings many benefits for me including financial gain, visibility and publicity.”
However, as many others have experienced before, her journey was not always easy, “On many occasions I’ve been turned away from opportunities because of my faith and wearing my Hijab. Hijab is an extension of my spirit and I felt like every time I was turned away from joining a team whether in a corporate setting or, say, sports, it made me feel as though I couldn’t get anything done wearing my Hijab. Establishing a Muslim identity was difficult especially when you feel obliged to neglect your spiritual dimension in the quest for materialism and sensual pleasures. This leads to struggle with issues like low self-esteem, particularly given the negative media attention surrounding my identity and faith community. When you suffer from low self esteem you usually try to mask it with an outward pretense of extroversion.” Despite the challenges she has faced as a Hijabi woman, she was able to rise above and move ahead by acknowledging her self worth and believing in herself.
In the future, Nabs hopes to have her own business; a branded line of Hijabs and scarves called ‘Chijabs’. She also hopes to continue her travelling, blogging and launch her own website. Asked what advice she’d give to others, she says, “My advice to anyone facing the same discouragement I faced would be to know that discouragement is not the absence of adequacy but the absence of courage. Many times we are discouraged because we feel as though we are incapable of doing something when the reality is that we can but we lack the courage to do it.
Never say that you can’t do something with your Hijab on or that something seems impossible, or that something can’t be done, or that Hijab limits what you can achieve. No matter how discouraging or harrowing it may be; human beings are limited only by what we allow ourselves to be limited by: our own minds. We are each the masters of our own reality; when we become self-aware to this: absolutely anything in the world is possible. Master yourself, and become king of the world around you. Let no odds, doubt, fear, or ANY mental virus prevent you from accomplishing your dreams. Never be a victim of life; be its conqueror.”
BBC Interview (colourful hijabs):  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02rzn1f
BBC Interview 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02rmj93