a daughter's humorous hope for a mom desperately missed OK, so first things first …of course Mom has Vidal Sassoon himself doing her hair and is looking fabulous! Mom met Nora Ephron at orientation and thought she was a cool chick. The two of them hitched a ride to the party with Ferdinand Porche in his 911. The excitement and grandeur was beyond words. Everyone was still buzzing about their Secret Santa gifts. Mom got a painting of a tree next to a cottage, all signs point to Thomas Kinkade. Soon after arriving Nora made a beeline for Helen Gurley Brown. "Are you seriously wearing nylons in heaven Helen?" Mom is definitely wearing "pantyhose" in heaven too, regardless of their extinction on earth. To the squish squash of rubbing thighs she approaches the ballroom in awe. Spotting an empty seat at Henry Hill's table, she goes for it. "This guy has to have great stories" Even in heaven, the scene is reminiscent of high school; the jocks sit at one table, the politicians, actors and musicians all with their respective cliques. The champagne flows. In one far corner Robert Bork, George McGovern and Arlen Spector can be heard having a spirited conversation about the recent election. Daniel Inouye is clearly the most excited. Ernest Borgnine and Larry Hagman haven't budged from the buffet. Sally Ride has clearly had one too many Tangtinis and is chasing Neil Armstrong around with mistletoe. Richard Dawson leads a rousing game of spin-the bottle. Phyllis Diller is thrilled to be the only woman this round. Andy Griffith, Jack Klugman & Sherman Helmsley don't seem to mind indulging the harmless fun until Zalman King takes things too far.James Herr stops by to offer some potato chips. Oh boy Mom, I know you're a sucker for a man in uniform but don't go stormin Norman yet, he just got there! And now, the moment Mom and everyone else in Heaven's Class of 2012 has been waiting for…Don Cornelius introduces Whitney Houston and Donna Summer! Let the party begin. Mommy could not walk for some time, now she grabs Robin Gibb and dances the night away. She never sits down and sings along to every song at the top of her lungs with boundless energy. Adam Yauch is teaching her to rap though she has no clue who he is. Davy Jones stands on a chair for a better view. Free from physical pain and mortal concerns everyone is smiling & laughing. At last, Etta James takes the stage and slows things down. Dick Clark presides over the big ball drop while the room counts down in unison. The Class of 2012 has graduated and the calendar begins again.
Corona was said to be approaching, spreading across the borders, officially reported in Italy and Algeria. The weather this winter has been all but wintery. It was said that the virus doesn't survive in the heat, that's why spring rushed in and February has been warm enough for the bees to hatch. I found it uplifting to see a premature hatching of the bees! It was said that the virus's fatality was overrated. They reported statistics in the radio this morning about it and the Taxi driver said it was America. Why wasn't it spread in Denmark, why wasn't it in I don't know where in Europe? How come China's economy was getting too strong? he said; they built a frigging hospital in 10 days! One expects anything in politics, indeed; not everyone, however is endowed with such level of political analysis. My friend Sarah, fond of documentaries, said that the Chinese ate everything that moved: bugs, bats, turtles, maggots… you name it! From another perspective, the virus was associated with God's revenge, which accounted for divine justice. But I doubt this theory is still valid now that precautions are recommended from our own ministry of health. A doctor in the radio said that they had almost found a medicine, one that was, not newly created, but an old one that when tried out on patients, they sort of breathed better… On the other hand, it was a virus, my father said, and viruses don't have a treatment. It was exactly like a flu only a bit stronger (he knows about the stats) and it was common for the flu to kill tons of people every year. It was just that the Chinese are too many. That's why it appeared like an epidemy. Temperature has started to drop down. Well, gladly! It hasn't rained for too long and it was said that we might instead die of hunger if the rainless heat persisted. Even after the official declaration of the first Tunisian case (Taxi man said it was probably a hundred cases already but they wouldn't say), one would still scroll among all kinds of jokes in the social media. I even saw the virus itself having a fb account and commenting that it had never been so humiliated, so disgracefully slandered! Mom hears the radio, and all they talk about is prevention methods. She said it was a ball of crap. The garlic price went from 8 to 30 dinars! A mere exploitation. People have no mercy toward each other and expect God to have mercy! She told my brother to wash his hands frequently, but he didn't really believe in soap. “They found no medicine that would kill it, and you think soap will?” I'm actually seeing a professionally illustrated poster by Tunisian Red Crescent saying literally “Don't kiss me, don't hug me. A smile to my face makes me happy!” Dad, with an almost gay detachment insisted it might only be serious to people who were vulnerable: The old, the sick, the frail… otherwise it's just a flu. The mail man at work whose heart's been operated more than once said “So what? Let it drop down a little” (referring to the population), “some filtering would be good”. I think he's the only one who heartily acknowledges the virus's right as a lifeless organism to coexist. Does this thing only affect humans? I wonder, because I care to see more bee swarms coming along in the spring; I might even catch some and populate a hive or two.
As an African leader to be, I identify proper management of natural resources as an opportunity or rather the best approach to promote African intra-trade which will, in turn, unlock agricultural potential in the entire African continent. Rapid urbanization is indeed taking place all over Africa although most African countries still endure numerous challenges like adverse climate change which hinder agricultural potential. Depending on the situation, climate changes can have either positive or negative effects on the environment, people and agriculture. As a leader in a bustling African metropolis, I have to approach this situation in an innovative way to ensure that climate change challenges are solved through appropriate management of natural resources. Generally, adverse climate changes in African countries have caused havoc and hunger since time immemorial and this situation is yet to change. Mismanagement of natural resources has greatly limited the potential of agricultural sectors in various economies entirely in Africa which has prompted global inter-trade while crippling African intra-trade. The African continent is globally ranked top for its great heritage in natural resources and I am a firm believer that if these resources are utilized appropriately, vision 2030 would be a real deal and not farfetched. Climate change challenge which is a great impediment to agricultural potential is as a result of Africa not conserving its natural resources like forests which are water catchment areas and trees which help attract rain. Harsh climatic conditions which at times cause either drought or floods in Africa will be prevented if natural resources are not abused for selfish gain but instead well managed by respective authorities to sustain African intra-trade. Cartels and corruption which are major threats to Africa's agricultural economy make management and sustainability of natural resources difficult. I recognize efforts by African leaders to boost African intra-trade. For instance, “In March 2018, African countries signed the African Continental Free Area Agreement (AfCFTA) which is a commitment by African countries to remove tariffs on ninety percent of goods, liberalize trade in services and address a host of another non-tariff barrier. If successfully implemented, the agreement will create a single African market with not only enormous financial potential but also the enormous agricultural potential of over a billion consumers with a total GDP of over $3 trillion. This will make Africa the largest free trade area in the world” (Songwe, 2019). This is a good move, although much needs to be done. My Innovative approach would be, centralization of the management of natural resources and agriculture i.e. from the country level to continental level as this would be the true basis of reviving and promoting African intra-trade. For example, the African Union could consider establishing a body and formulating policies to govern natural resources in entire Africa as this would ensure sustainability. I, therefore, conclude that natural resources must be well managed and preserved in order to tackle agricultural challenges in Africa, promote African intra-trade and unlock agricultural potential in the continent. REFERENCES Songwe, V. (2019, January 19). Intra-African trade: A path to economic diversification and inclusion. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/intra-african-trade-a-path-to-economic-diversification-and-inclusion/
The last week of May and the entire month of June was a very dark period for me. As I was working from home and trying to keep safe in these precarious times, social media had become my go-to for some relief (as well as the consumption of news as I see fit for my mental health). However, when I opened my Twitter app on this fateful day in May, I realised that I could no longer find succour on social media. A young woman had been raped and murdered. Again. As someone who is extremely invested in the protection and progress of the girl child, this news shattered me for weeks. I couldn't go on social media for fear of what I would see and the pain and tiredness I could feel from the tweets and posts from other women. Another thing that made me lose all interest in social media at this point was the "hot take" dropped by men about the heinous act of rape and how women somehow contribute to it. Being someone that already volunteers as a content creator to one of the most responsive rape centres in the country - Mirabel Centre - I quickly got to work expressing my frustrations the only way I new how, by writing. Below is what I had to say; On Saturday, May 30th 2020, the Mirabel Centre's Twitter account was tagged on a tweet about finding justice for a young lady named Uwa, who had been viciously raped and physically assaulted in a church in Benin. We immediately reached out to this young man via his DM on Twitter and provided contact details of lawyers and NGOs in Edo state that could help. Unfortunately, barely 3 hours after the conversation, the poster informed us that Uwa had passed and requested that we do all we could to get justice for her. With heavy hearts and a black cloud over our heads, we got to work and quickly put out a tweet announcing the tragic event and calling for justice from all and sundry. As the news spread to demand #JusticeforUwa, voices began to rise and statements were made to express that #WeAreTired. However, there were people (read men) who thought that a fight against the injustices that women constantly face somehow meant that men's rights were being neglected. Here is the thing; we all know “men also get raped”. Another thing we know is that no one makes jokes about these stories when they are shared more than men themselves. Infact, saying that the rights of men are not fought for is a big slap in the face of the many women who have been at the forefront of fighting battles that directly impact men's lives. We've called out police brutality, the offences of SARS, we've stood with men who were at one time or the other sexually assaulted and are now ready (and brave enough) to share their stories. The Mirabel Centre recently published a post about male-on-male abuse and we have also been known to take on cases of sexual assault against boys and men. So the issue here is that you're not really concerned about the support men supposedly do not receive when they share their stories. The real issue is that you are trying to derail the conversation currently being had and we will not stand for that. And to those of you who ask inane questions in order to shame and discredit victims, we can categorically tell you - drawing on the number of cases we have dealt with at the Mirabel Centre since existence - that it really doesn't matter where she was, what she was wearing, why she was there, what she said, what she did, how she walked/eat/slept/breathed, who she is, whether she fought or not, screamed or otherwise, MEN RAPE BECAUSE THEY WANT TO. In a bid to help, we also see people talking about self-defense and how it can help women avoid getting raped. This is shortsighted because it exposes the underbelly of the issue, which is that our society sees the crime of rape as something the woman should take responsibility for. This goes to prove just how deeply rape is ingrained in our society that it is subtly permissible to an extent - that being as long as the larger society does not raise awareness against it. So, we'll leave you with this - rather than teach girls how not to get raped, teach your boys that they have absolutely NO right to a woman's body! IT'S ABOUT TIME OUR SOCIETY STOPS FAILING THE GIRL-CHILD.
Have you ever asked yourself the following question? How much respect did I pay for my culture? Let me remind you of a few things. Your culture is the base of your knowledge, beliefs, arts, policies, habits, and a pretty thing that you share with your most loved ones. There is no doubt your culture plays a major role in your capabilities. Please take this idea into account: carry and respect your culture along the way of your development because you deserve to do so. We talk a lot about peace, justice, and strong intuitions for the development of our societies. Without considering approval, the possibility to achieve and handle these issues is very little. The characteristics like language, religion, music, cuisines, dances, and belief systems play a significant role. You are the leader, a leader of a nation, a leader of the world. I am a supporter of your leadership have a dream, I want peace and developing world and I highly value my culture. Your duty as a leader is always to promote the culture of your people in the united circumstances on behalf of your people. Our civilization has been facing challenges like violence, human rights issues, security, and justice problems. What are your goals? What are the things that you can share with the world and the whole civilization as a person? Your lifestyle is your heritage. People will value your way of life as the level of respect you show to your traditions. You spend your time learning other people's culture and to accept the things you agree with (I hope so). I want to share a belief of mine with you because you are good. We can go to the goal of peace by sharing our culture while developing our progress and process. I want you to know I respect you and your culture and hope the same from you.
Once upon a time, there was a little boy, with no name, no color and no place to live. They say he lived in the sunflowers as there was his favorite place, but the thing is that he couldn't, actually see them, he was blind. The only color he had on him, was the black of his beautiful curly hair. Fed up of not being able to see the beauty around him, the little boy went to the wisest man in his village, he was known as “THE EBONY GUARDIAN”, he lived in a small, humble house just out of the beautiful sunflowers field, he was known to be the darkest man of his village and therefore, the wisest. As in the whole village, black was considered a sign of nobility and wisdom. “Master”, said the little boy, in sign of respect. “May I ask you something?” “sure, go ahead little boy!” said the man, looking at him. “do you know who I am, or where I come from or why I have no color at all?! I wish I could have a color just for me” said the boy looking sad and frustrated at the master. “I don't know what color you are or what is your name or where your place on the Earth is, but I can show you a place in this word where all the colors live together in the light that you can see and in the dark that hides everything”. saying that the master led the boy to the most beautiful place he'd ever seen, full of butterflies and flowers. The boy looked at the master curious and said: well, these are all the colors the world can be? Where's mine then? What color should I be? Do they speak any language that I could learn or am I a stranger even here? Whispered the boy so disappointed. “shhh! Whispered the master smiling at the boy, “watch”, added him pointing at the sky. The boy couldn't see anything so far. “White as the light before to show up its shades, black as the night where all the colors rest, until a new day comes and the rainbow lives again”. As soon as the master pronounced those words a wonderful rainbow stood up in the sky, with incredible, brilliant colors. Those colored lights hit the boy who had finally found what color he wanted to be, not just one but all the colors of the light, all the magic of a rainbow. “what's your color then?” asked the master “All the colors of the light!” exclaimed happily the boy. “And what's your name?” “Rainbow!” “And, finally: where do you come from?” “I come from the light that spreads in the world all the wonderful colors of the rainbow! The boy eventually, had found his colors, a name and his place, he always kept on the top of his head the black where the colors were hidden. And while the world goes on, fighting to decide who sparkles more than everyone, somewhere in a nowhere there always will be a rainbow to show the light with its colors and a dark, quite night to let them rest until tomorrow.
My beloved and I cannot be together–or so they say. But why? I still don't really understand, but they say we are not the same–or so his mother claims. We are not the same? Like how? I'm confused. On the day my beloved and I go to visit his mother for the first time, she makes it clear to me that ‘we' can never happen. I sit there like a log, speechless, as if my tongue is tied but really, it is because I find no words to express my bafflement. He asks me to excuse them–‘Wait for me in the car Emefa, I'll be with you shortly.' He appears to be quite stunned by his mother's mien himself. I obey and leave the room, but I stand by the door and eavesdrop. I need to hear something, at least to help me comprehend why the woman who sounded so sweet and welcoming over the phone, is being so indifferent to me now that we finally meet. ‘Mom, what is the meaning of all this? Why are you being like this?' I hear him say. ‘I'm not being indifferent Akwasi, I'm telling you the reality.' ‘Which is…?' ‘That you cannot marry her, no son of mine is ever marrying from that tribe or any other!' ‘But mom why? She's the one I love.' ‘No way...Never! Then find someone else to love because I am not accepting this one. Not today nor tomorrow! There are equally good Ashanti women around you can choose from, maybe even better.' ‘But she's the one I like. I don't want anyone else. Why can't it be her?' ‘Mm-mm. Impossible!, I will not accept an Ewe as my daughter-in-law.' ‘You know you're being irrational mom. You're much too educated to be speaking like this. You of all people should know better!' ‘Me? You dare call me irrational? Call it whatever Akwasi!, I've said my own. See? She hasn't even married you yet, and she's already turn you against me, your own mother. That is all they are good at!' ‘Mom! Emefa has done nothing wrong. She deserves to be given a chance please.' ‘It's either her or me then. Let me know when you've made your choice. I have nothing left to say.' ‘Ah-ah mom, this is too much. You can't just…' Door opens and bangs. Soon afterwards, dead silence. Bitterly, I turn away, my heavy heart pregnant with words my lips may never utter. I head calmly in the direction of the car. Another door bangs, I know it's him coming out. I sit in the car and watch him tread over, shoulders slumped, his eyes drooped the way they do when he is fatigued. My own eyes sting from the struggle to hold back tears that threaten to trickle down any time soon. He joins me in the car, I stare in the opposite direction into direct nothingness. ‘I know you heard everything. Right?' It was not so much of a question as it was a statement. I nod. Hmm. ‘I'm sorry you had to hear all that Emefa. My mother is not a bad person. I promise to sort everything out. Don't worry dear, we'll be fine.' I smile, a painfully forced smile. He takes my hand in his and squeezes it gently, a feeble attempt made to comfort me when he himself needed it the more. I am not convinced. How can I not be worried? He doesn't sound confident like the Akwasi I know; I can tell he's scared, that he isn't so sure anymore. I stare out the window at the house one more time. Who knows? It could be my last. As we leave, I close my eyes and allow the tears to trickle, caressing my cheeks as they make their way slowly down my chin. I bite my lower lip and wonder, 'Why must it come to this?'. Due to circumstances beyond our control, families we didn't ask to be born in, identities we had no choice but to embrace, because of this division called tribe; my beloved and I can never be–or so they say. A short story on tribalism and ethnicity.
My beloved and I cannot be together–or so they say. But why? I still don't really understand, but they say we are not the same–or so his mother claims. ‘We are not the same? Like how?' I'm confused. On the day my beloved and I go to visit his mother for the first time, she makes it clear to me that ‘we' can never happen. I sit there like a log, speechless, as if my tongue is tied but really, it is because I find no words to express my bafflement. He asks me to excuse them–‘Wait for me in the car Emefa, I'll be with you shortly.' He appears to be quite stunned by his mother's mien himself. I obey and leave the room, but I stand by the door and eavesdrop. I need to hear something, at least to help me comprehend why the woman who sounded so sweet and welcoming over the phone, is being so indifferent to me now that we finally meet. ‘Mom, what is the meaning of all this? Why are you being like this?' I hear him say. ‘I'm not being indifferent Akwasi, I'm telling you the reality,' ‘Which is…?' ‘That you cannot marry her, no son of mine is ever marrying from that tribe or any other!' ‘But mom why? She's the one I love.' ‘No way,...Never! Then find someone else to love because I am not accepting this one. Not today nor tomorrow!. There are equally good Ashanti women around you can choose from, maybe even better.' ‘But she's the one I like. I don't want anyone else, why can't it be her?' ‘Mm-mm, impossible my son, I will not accept an Ewe daughter-in-law.' ‘You know you're being irrational mom. You're much too educated to be speaking like this. You of all people should know better!' ‘Me?, you dare call me irrational, call it whatever Akwasi, I've said my own. See?, she hasn't even married you yet, and she's already turn you against me, your own mother.' ‘Mom, Emefa has done nothing wrong, she deserves a chance.' ‘It's either her or me then, let me know when you've made your choice. I have nothing left to say.' ‘Ah-ah, this is too much, you can't just…' Door opens and bangs. Soon afterwards, dead silence. Bitterly, I turn away, my heavy heart pregnant with words my lips may never utter. I head calmly in the direction of the car. Another door bangs, I know it's him coming out. I sit in the car and watch him tread over, shoulders slumped, his eyes drooped the way they do when he is fatigued. My own eyes sting from the struggle to hold back tears that threaten to trickle down any time soon. He joins me in the car, I stare in the opposite direction into direct nothingness. ‘I know you heard everything. Right?' It was not so much of a question. I nod. Hmm. ‘I'm sorry you had to hear all that Emefa, my mother is not a bad person. I promise to sort everything out. Don't worry dear, we'll be fine.' I smile, a painful smile, when he takes my hand in his and squeezes it gently, an attempt made to comfort. I am not convinced. How can I not be worried? He doesn't sound confident like the Akwasi I know; I can tell he isn't so sure anymore. I stare out the window at the house one more time. Who knows? It could be my last. As we leave, I close my eyes and allow the tears to trickle down, caressing my cheeks as they make their way down to my chin. I bite my lower lip and wonder why it has to come to this. Due to circumstances beyond our control, families we didn't ask to be born in, identities we had no choice but to embrace, because of this division called tribe, my beloved and I can never be–or so they say. A short story on tribalism and ethnicity based on a true experience.
“Can we be friends?” I stared at the seemingly ominous message sitting in my inbox on the Chinese dating website. Since arriving in China over a year earlier, that question had popped up repeatedly. In my American culture, friendships are assumed to be platonic. So, the romantic undertones in the frequent messages sent to me by male "friends," were bewildering. However, by the time I sat in front of my computer reading this specific message, I had begun to have a vague idea about what that question meant. I took a deep breath and typed, “yes.” My online “friend,” whose English name was Joseph, began contacting me regularly. He was friendly, but I wasn't convinced a cross-cultural, long-distance relationship was a good idea. So, I never texted him first, and looked for ways to end our conversations early. “I don't understand it,” I told a Chinese teacher, as we sat together on the wooden pew during music rehearsals. “Why does he still contact me so much?” She shook her head, “American girls are pushy.” She leaned closer so she could be heard over the noise of the electric guitars. “By Chinese cultural standards, you're already showing interest.” She told me more. A girl should not initiate contact more than the guy does; the guy is responsible to directly ask the girl to be official; "friends" should be exclusive. My mind spun. In spite of my doubts, Joseph kept pursuing me hard. Sometimes, we had light, fun conversations - like about his plans to deal with the mouse problem in his parent's house. Other times, things went deeper, and he would ask, “What qualities do you want in a future spouse?” Then, out of the blue, he invited me to spend Lunar New Year with his family. “He's serious about you,” American friends told me. “He could be planning to propose." I wasn't convinced. A battle ensued in my mind for days. In the end, I knew I had to give him a chance. A couple weeks later, darkness had fallen around the high speed train, as it breezed smoothly down the tracks. Passengers kept sneaking glances at the foreigner, who couldn't seem to sit still. “Well, if nothing else, we'll get to celebrate the Chinese New Year,” my friend Ruth was traveling with me for safety. A blast of cold air hit us as the door opened at the stop. As we walked towards the entrance of the station, I lifted my head, and saw Joseph waving. He grinned. Joseph carried my suitcase, and helped us get settled into his uncle's car. His uncle greeted us from the driver's seat. Joseph handed us a paper bag with burgers inside. Ruth ate, but I couldn't. I stared out the window at the bright signs with Chinese characters lighting up the dark night. Between small talk, Joseph kept glancing at me. When we arrived at his family's house, his parents and sister ushered us into the house, where food was waiting. I picked up the chopsticks, and forced down rice and vegetables. During the five day visit, there were intense mountain hikes, conversations around the dinner table, and Chinese cooking lessons. However, one thing was obvious: Joseph was very distant. As we hiked, he would walk in front or behind, but never beside me. He was busy with other things, and I spent a lot of time by myself. Even though I know cultural differences were at play, I still could not imagine a scenario in which his behavior could be a good sign. Our return train was at 2:00 am, but Joseph insisted on taking us to the station. Sitting beside me in the drafty waiting room, Joseph said, “The time went so fast.” I rolled my eyes. I assumed he was just being polite. Getting on the train, I escaped to the safety of the hard sleeper for the overnight trip home. I slept for hours, and when I woke up, the tears were trickling down. After meeting him, I could see that he was good guy, but it obviously wasn't to be. However, it wasn't over. The communication from Joseph was just as warm as before, and one day, after passing a test, he texted, "It would be more fun if you could celebrate with me." I began to rethink that visit. Chinese acquaintances said that in expecting Joseph to do things the American way, I had misinterpreted his behavior. Time stretched on. Nine months in, we remained unofficial. So, I waited, wondering if other peoples' advice was wrong, and I was right. It was after midnight one night when I got the text: “Can I ask you something?” Then, my phone feel silent for several minutes. I stared at it. There was a long silence. Finally, it buzzed. “Will you be my girlfriend?” Unfortunately, misunderstandings often bring premature endings to cross-cultural relationships. Cultural differences impact much more than diet or holiday traditions. Culture can also shape our views on what is right and wrong. For this reason, cross cultural relationships can be a challenge. However, they are worth the fight. It is important to be patient, and seek advice before jumping to conclusions. Who knows? A guy who claims to be your "friend" may want to be your husband!
My name, Haruko, means “spring child” in a direct translation. It is not an unusual name though girl names with -ko at the end are becoming less and less popular in Japan these days. I have always liked my name. Spring is the time of the year everything comes alive: plants, animals, people. The world suddenly becomes more vivid in color and the warmth in the air makes you smile. Well, at least it makes me smile. I was born in May, so naturally, I love spring. Yet, there is another meaning in my name. Most Japanese kids get Chinese characters for their names. The sound of the name, as well as the Chinese characters for it, gives the extra meaning to your name. Almost all people think of my name as 春子 when they hear my name. 春 simply means spring. Yet, my parents decided not to use this character but used 東 instead. 東 means east. It also means orient. It is pretty rare to use this character and read as Haru, so most of the time I meet Japanese people who have only saw my name in Chinese characters, they read it wrong. I once asked my mother why she had named me with this character. I think she was at the terrace, putting up the fresh laundry. Simply out of curiosity, I turned to her and asked. She said, "because when the first wind blows from the east, it means the spring is near." Then she smiled. I am not sure how long ago it was, how old I was, or which season it was. But in my memory, it was always spring, with soft sunlight bouncing on my mother's face and the towel she was putting up. I just loved how she said it. Whenever someone asks why I have an unusual character for my name, I proudly tell this story. With a smile. After I moved to the U.S., the first reaction I got whenever I told my name to people has always been “huh?” Many people misheard my name as Erika. I cannot tell you how many times I've told my name at Starbucks and got my drink in a cup named Erika. Nowadays I just tell my name as Erika at Starbucks. Maybe I should just pick a random name, such as Elizabeth or Beyoncé. Still, when I write down my name, especially in Japanese, I feel a little sense of pride. I remember the thought my parents put into naming my name. I remember my mother's smile. I remember the slight feel of triumph when non-Japanese people remembered my name perfectly. As I write this in freezing winter, I long for spring. I long for my season. I would love to see the soft sunlight bouncing on the fresh towel at the terrace. I long to feel the warm east wind on my face and to know the spring is near.
My childhood weekends are filled with memories of napping on long car rides and having my mom shake me awake as we reached the Golden Gate Bridge. Crossing the intersection of quiet Petaluma and the bustling streets of San Francisco marked a segue to a different world. For as long as I can remember, my family and I took the hour long trip to San Francisco almost every weekend to get traditional Chinese groceries. We would spend the day browsing the aisles of D&T Shop, Sheng Kee bakery, and countless other nameless stores. The best ones didn't have names, just patched up signs and unorganized aisles that bore elusive specialties. I would run through the aisles mesmerized by the assortments of ramen, the spiked vegetables, and the barrels of bitter spices; Costco and Safeway just couldn't compare. Mom would buy the jiu cai he zi that she used to eat for breakfast in her youth, and Dad would pick up the lotus root and tofu knots that his mother used to cook with. When we returned home, my mom would prepare traditional Chinese dishes for dinner with the fresh groceries. San Francisco brought my parents the comforts of their home, and immersed me in my Chinese culture. As the years passed, my childlike fascination in the endless aisles of noodles and live catfish butchery gradually waned. My parents began dropping me off as they shopped, and I began a cycle of visiting each art museum in San Francisco. Perusing the rooms at the De Young, MoMA, and Asian Art Museum sparked that childlike curiosity in me once again. I began painting and drawing and sketching at home, desperate to embody Dalí's mystique and Picasso's emotion. It was when I turned 16, I was finally allowed to volunteer at the Asian Art Museum. I remember the first day; it was a chilly Sunday and the opening day of the new kimono exhibit. I expected my partner to ignore me because she seemed so professional, whilst I barely knew what I was doing. However, Evelyn and I immediately hit it off and talked for the entire shift. She told me her story immigrating from the Philippines and about her career as a patent attorney. Evelyn gave me advice for my future and even offered me an intern position. In just a few hours, a stranger had become a friend and a mentor. In the next few months, I found myself meeting someone new during each volunteer shift and learning all about different life stories, careers, and experiences. One of the most memorable interactions was with Alex, who had studied art history at Duke University, and just gotten a curator position. She told me all about the intricacies of popular Asian art pieces, bringing us back into the social conditions that explained and inspired different aspects of many works. Those three hours inspired me to enroll in an art history course at the junior college, where I'm learning about worldwide cultures and history that have produced artistic expressions. It's so satisfying to see art as a vehicle that connects everything – culture, psychology, politics, aesthetics, etc. To understand why and how the Sistine Ceiling, Rembrandt's portraits, Van Gogh's landscapes, and Munch's Scream still touch people today, is to truly realize the extent of the visual language. I see the Asian Art Museum through a new lens now, wondering how the distinctive life experiences of each visitor allows them to interpret different pieces. San Francisco has given me a broader view of the whole world. Each month, I've met someone new, learned a unique story, and discovered interests. In San Francisco, I've traveled to my homeland, and visited places around the globe, experiencing thrills in the unique experiences of others.
“Oye, choca, que lindos tus ojos,” a middle-aged man called out to me from his small, beaten up car on the small dirt road I dread walking on so much. This was not the first superficial comment I had gotten that day. Most cat calls directed towards me came from large, unkempt men whose appearance alone caused me to feel fear and unease. I hurried without giving him a glance for fear of fueling the fire that was his acute need for attention that he may go to desperate measures to quench. All my life, I had never been allowed to play out on the street with my friends. I had never been allowed to do something as simple as walk to the little corner store half a block away to buy a few eggs alone. I always needed an adult by my side, and even that was not a guarantee of my safety. As a young child, I had been taught to divert as much attention as I could away from who I truly was. This was done by simple things such as never speaking English in public, never looking people on the street I did not know in the eye, never going out without an adult - preferably a Bolivian man, and by dressing in an attempt to hide some of my snowy skin. Even my best efforts at blending in could not keep all the attention away; cat calls were a common experience to me for as long as I can remember, and this put an inevitable fear in my mind of men. For this reason, getting as far away from that man on the street as possible was my only concern in that moment. As soon as I got far enough away for me to feel comfortable, I remembered the reason I was walking; my mom was waiting for me at the other end of the street to catch a “micro” - a public transportation bus. My mind settled instantly at the sight of my strong, beautiful, Bolivian mother, and all the fearful thoughts that seem to short circuit my brain disappeared for a split second that did not last anywhere near long enough. As soon as I reached my mom's side, she spotted the micro heading towards us. She reminded me to keep my bag in front of me since the risk of either getting something stolen or getting inappropriately touched were high if I did nothing to prevent it. Consequently, I stayed by my mom's side as she paid the bitter, overweight driver who had already stepped on the gas pedal again. No seats were available, so we stood in the overcrowded bus until we reached the “abasto” - a vast market in which one can buy fresh food; cheap materials; and agricultural goods. Immediately after stepping off the bus, I was hit with the seemingly origin-less, inescapable stench. I mindlessly followed my mom through the weaving market that seemed to never be the same as she searched for the perfect bunch of bananas for her banana bread. On the side of one of the endless numbers of small fruit stands, there was a little girl sitting under a truck in an attempt to escape the powerful sun that so violently beat on everyone who dared stand directly under its rays. She looked up from the corn husks she was playing with to observe the unusual sight of a white girl with green eyes. A teenage girl sat in the bed of the truck with one leg carelessly hanging off the side. Contrary to the child's simple way of achieving entertainment, her fingers vigorously flew across the glossy screen of her small cellphone. Unlike the child, the teenager barely glanced at me, and as soon as she saw that I was just another girl, her phone retook her attention. The little girl, however, was still mesmerized by my appearance, so I smiled which seemed to satisfy her as she immediately smiled back and returned to playing with anything she could find. Meanwhile, my mom had decided that she had found the bananas that she wanted, so she asked the middle-aged woman standing behind them how much they costed. The woman, dressed in faded clothes and a threadbare apron in which she kept the money she had earned, readily recognized my fair colored skin and naturally assumed that I was not Bolivian and, therefore, ignorant. She chose to take a chance at gaining more money by charging us extra; however, we were used to being charged extra a countless amount of times due to the fact that I was different. My mom convinced the woman to charge us the honest amount of how much the bananas were worth, and we kept walking through the abyss. After an hour, we got on a micro and returned home - one of the few places I felt safe. This short trip had not brought about any terrible events; however, the possibility of being taken advantage of due to irrelevant and superficial things was a constant likelihood in my life. I have grown up trying to hide who I am because of a fear of those who I do not know, but I have never seen it as a fully negative thing because being different means that I am special; the unwanted attention is simply due to everyone around me recognizing that. Maybe, just maybe, someday I will be free to be whoever I want to be without a threat. For now, I live as a minority in what I consider to be my own culture.
Have you ever tried to imagine being someone else? Two summers ago, when I was 11 years old, I auditioned for a role in Yellow Fever, the Musical. I was absolutely thrilled to be cast as a Korean mother of two who survived the Korean War and lived through hunger and poverty. This was the first time I was part of the main cast and played such an important role. I was anxious but ready to fully commit and put in the maximum amount of effort to perform well in the musical. During that four week period in the Summer of 2016, I learned about the reality of the world around me, realized the importance of teamwork, and discovered the connection between the story and my heritage. This entire experience encouraged me to grow and has changed the way I view the world. The knowledge I gained during the musical program gave me a deeper insight into what it must have been like to live in a war-torn society, struggling with poverty and hunger. To understand my character, I did a lot of research on the history of the Korean War and Korean culture. I read the script over again and again, not just to memorize my lines but to understand the story I was going to tell. I got to visualize myself in her world, and fully immerse myself in the story. Over time, I became more familiar with the complexity of the role as I gained an understanding of the reasons that led to the many ideals and expectations she created for her children. One winter night my character was trembling in the cold weather and her stomach was growling. When she saw bread coming fresh out of the oven, she couldn't help but grab a piece and run. She had no other choice but to steal a small piece of warm bread in order to survive. This made me realize how I was so ignorant of the struggles around the world. The more I learned the more empathetic I became towards my character. In addition to the hardships of war, my character still nurtured hopes for a brighter future. Therefore, she came to America to provide better opportunities for her children despite the struggles to fit in a foreign culture. Along my journey of understanding the story as well as self-discovery, my ambitious cast pushed me even further. My peers, who had been in this program much longer than me, were all very supportive and allowed me to flourish in the new environment. Even though there were some long days, I had so much fun with my cast while we worked towards a common goal. Since that was my first year there, their will motivated me to become the best of myself. I connected with many teachers and directors, consulting them on how to become a better performer and how to better act out my role. Their advice had brought me a long way and in the limited amounts of time I was there, I was able to deeply bond with many people. There was this one time during our lunch break that our entire cast sat around the table and discussed what we wanted the audience to get from the show. We shared our ideas and laid out a plan. We even stayed connected after camp hours just to map out the play and rehearse lines. During that time, I really saw how far our teamwork had brought us. Without everyone's cooperation, the show would not have been as successful or as memorable as it is now. The entire experience inspired me to give my all into the things I am passionate about and to never lose that light of hope even in difficult situations. As I dug deeper into the story, I realized how close it all hit home and the connection between the musical production and my own heritage. Before rehearsing for this musical, I had never truly appreciated the struggles my own family had to face. My grandmother also lived through a similar situation. She grew up in the time of the Cultural Revolution in China and many opportunities were taken from her. When I was seven years old, my grandmother told me a story about her life as a teenager. She had to work in order to help feed herself and her family, working at the train station, selling cargo labels. She told me how hard it was working twelve and more hours each day, running from dawn to night trying to get customers to buy her labels. She also had to outrace other hungry children which made the job even more exhausting. This story is very inspiring and motivational for me and after I was able to better understand it, I gained a deeper admiration for my grandmother and realized how fortunate I am today. My grandmother's experience enabled me to feel the determination to survive. I was able to apply those emotions to my character, which ultimately improved my performance. Before the four week musical program, I would have never discovered so much about the reality of the world, the power of teamwork, nor the truth about my own heritage. I know the skills that I developed during this period will continue to serve me well. This experience has helped me to build values that I will cherish for the rest of my life and it has become an essential part of who I am becoming.
For a long time, I've considered eschewing attending a university in my country in favor of studying aboard because I believe pursuing education overseas is a life-changing opportunity that brings students beneficial experiences to widen their horizon and experience a brand-new country with new lifestyle, culture, language and nature. Therefore, I always ask myself: ‘What country is suitable for me to study aboard?' After thinking twice about it, from my heart, I know Japan is the most appropriate country for me to get higher education because of these things: First of all, international students in Japan have chances to receive the benefits of some of the highest educational standards in the world with over 700 universities and many of them are ranked in the top of Asia, even the world such as: The University of Tokyo, Kyoto, Keio, and Nagoya. These universities are some of the best places for me to study, enlarge knowledge and develop my skills, which is the prologue for getting a good job in the future. Furthermore, a wide range of scholarships are available to international students. As far as I'm concerned, all the Japanese government, universities, public and private organizations provide students with a plenty of generous scholarships. Not only is the life quality of students in Japan very good, but tuition fees are also comparatively cheap. Compared to other popular destinations like the USA, Australia, or the UK, Japan is the cheapest place to study abroad. Interestingly, there are a huge number of meaningful outdoor activities at Japanese universities, which lets students be exposed to foreign cultures and gives them chances to release stress after hard lessons. Besides, international students are allowed to work part-time in order to make extra income, which is very suitable for my living conditions due to the fact that I can help my parents reduce the money used for my study in the future. What a wonderful thing! Secondly, in the future, I want to enroll in the faculty of Informatics at a famous university because I've dreamed of being a successful software developer for years. I believe that my dream will come true after I finish my Informatics degree at a Japanese university. It can't be denied that Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and Informatics degrees in Japanese universities are very helpful, informative, valuable and always up-to-date. Students are taught to write code, programs, build and design software effectively and professionally, provided with a huge source of information about computer and many opportunities to put the knowledge gained into practice. After graduation, with those experiences, I'll be able to get a good job in my country, Vietnam. I hope my future software can make a significant contribution to the development of education and society in Vietnam and narrow the gap between my country and the world. Next, I've fallen in love with Japanese culture since I was quite small. People around the world have a deep respect for Japanese because of their politeness, honesty, punctuality, kindness, intelligence, diligence, and patience. When studying in Japan, I'll have chances to learn these great qualities and experience a both well-preserved and modern culture. I'm also extremely impressed by peaceful shrines, torii gates and wonderful colorful traditional ceremonies such as Judo, Karate, Kado, and Chado. Additionally, Japan is the land of amazing anime feature films and television animations. There are lots of films that have been an essential part of my childhood and my daily life such as ‘My neighbor Totoro', ‘Your name', 'One Piece' and ‘Doraemon'. Japanese literature also is very special: often dark but emotional and full of humor. This is the reason why a lot of people enjoying literature have a mysterious love for Japanese novels. So do I. I'm deeply interested in reading wonderful novels of Murakami Haruki and Higashino Keigo such as ‘Norwegian Wood', ‘Naoko' and ‘1Q84'. Through them, I can imagine the life of Japanese – a subtle and enthusiastic life. Finally, I'm looking forward to trying Japanese foods and enjoying Japanese nature. The foods are so unique, refresh, and delicious that a big amount of people are attracted. People having ever tasted Ramen, Sushi, Tempura, Sake, or other Japanese foods never forget the favor of these. Japan's nature is full of incredible beauty and fantastic wonders beyond the imagination. The sense is very lively, exciting picturesque and magnificent. I've a wish to see velvety cherry blossom, lovely snow monkeys and famous fascinating huge volcanoes for myself. How amazing they are! People usually say and write about 'American dream'. But in my heart, besides 'American dream', 'Japanese dream' hold a special place. I've to say: Japan is such a great, wonderful and astounding country that I'll do my best to win a scholarship to study there and enjoy the miraculous things of it.
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