As I walked up the stairs that led to the platform stage, I could feel all 400+ eyes on me. I gulped, closing out my family's screams that followed my every step. It was only three years ago when I'd crawled out of freshman year with the heaviest bags under my eyes and all life drained from my body. Just those years ago, I'd lucked out on my finals, the stress of the next few years finally dawning on me. I'd probably imagined myself finally graduating from the mess that was my grades, and fleeing far away from my small town to a decent college in a bigger city that would look past my grades and focus on the load of activities I'd gotten myself involved in. But somehow, there I was. Three years later. Trying to find something tangible I'd accomplished in the recent years and almost finding none. Turns out the only things I'd brought out of a two year long pandemic were a new haircut and a tik tok personality. It was a reawakening, of course, realizing all that time passed by and I'd only spent it rising in ranks in video games and not in real life. I'd spent those two years learning all texting abbreviations that ever existed and how to access illegal websites to watch the latest movies for free. I was a master at everything but what mattered. Yet, I'd persevered and one way or another, made it to this stage. This stage that I thought wouldn't come for another three years because I realized, a bit too late, that I was still stuck in that freshman class, hearing for the first time, that school may be closed for a few weeks due to the outbreak of a deadly virus. My 14 year old mind had stayed frozen in time for those two years and I hadn't realized how fast time flew, oblivious to my lack of growth as I advanced through high school. So there I stood on the stage, hand extended towards my school's principal, expecting a credential that forged my accomplishments through the fancy words etched onto the cover page. When did accepting my high school diploma start making me feel like a fraud? I shook off the feeling and advanced, collecting the piece of paper while my family and friends screamed even louder. It was weird as I walked off the stage, my diploma clutched in hand and endless possibilities of the future that lay ahead whirling through my mind. It was weird the way the creases of the paper comforted me, reminding me of the tumultuous years I'd scathed through -a testimony not everyone could give. In that moment, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude engulfed every part of me and tears suddenly found my eyes. I wiped my eyes once I sat down and took in the scenery -the people- around me while a friend of mine mounted the stage, making the same face I had when I was in her place. It was then I realized that I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I looked around once more and saw similar expressions on almost every graduate's face. We were all overwhelmed with multiple emotions at once: confusion, surprise, regret and yet, pride. We were stringed along into a global pandemic that put a stop into our lives without warning and forced us into an immediate life of maturity. Just a few years ago, we were many years younger and looked far ahead at adulthood(and all that came with it), as a distant dream. But it came quicker than expected. That distant dream, now as near as the breaths we breathed, pushed us into the scary, unknown depths of adulthood; and all expectations that the 14 year old children of those years ago couldn't comprehend, had now become our realities. I prayed quickly in that second of unison that each of us would be able to make it through whatever else life threw at us, just as we'd survived through one of the greatest epidemics of our generation. In that, I hoped that the sadness that lingered in our hearts would give us the strength to move on with our lives having no hardships or regret.
If you ask any South Asian kid what their least favorite food is, you will always get one of two answers - karela (bittergourd) or khichdi (a rice dish made with lentils, resembling Italian risotto). Traditional Khichdi does not have the richness or sophistication of a risotto, reserved solely for sick days when a child has the flu or a bad cold. It's usually a soggy mush of lentils and rice, tinged yellow with turmeric and seasoned with salt and pepper. Seems like a far leap from the rich curries and vegetable dishes associated with Indian culture, right? But, at my house, Khichdi was never a boring affair. My mother was raised in a tiny village tucked away in the shadows of the bustling metropolitan city of Kolkata, called Shantiniketan. Bengali cuisine, if you're unaware, is known for the sharp taste of mustard oil, setting your palate up for the tantalizing flavors of fresh fish and vegetables simmering in the most luxurious broth. Any dish is incomplete without small mountains of fluffy white rice, adorned with a small teaspoon of clarified butter or ghee and a dollop of fiery red pickle. I would watch as my mother would stand on her tiptoes, her silver anklets jingling softly as she tried to reach the far back of the wooden cabinets. She was too short, and would call for my dad with a “soon cho?” (are you listening?) instead of his name. I have never heard my mother refer to my father by name, and true to her call, he always listened. He would put down his newspaper and walk into the kitchen, silently retrieving the tarnished container of lentils, with the special type of daal reserved for sick days. She would reach into the container with her bare hands and grab fistfuls of the tiny yellow grains, adding them to a pressure cooker with short-grained basmati rice. He would share a look with her, probably reveling in some kind of inside joke, as she asked him to put the container away. She would giggle, swat at him and tell him to get out of the kitchen. Maa would wash the mixture three times, until the cloudy water would run clear, and fill it with fresh water to the top. She would then reach for her trusty jar of turmeric and add in heaping tablespoon to the concoction, along with some salt, and I would run away as far as possible. I hated the sound of the pressure cooker, the huffing and puffing seeming like the world's worst steam engine, building up to the dreadful moment where the steam would escape with a loud whistling noise. I would count in my head every time the whistle made me want to jump out of my skin, one… and when I least expected it, two. It always made my mum laugh, and she would gently smack my head saying, “beta (child), it's just the whistle.” I would follow her to the kitchen, and watch as she chopped up some red onions and tomatoes into small cubes. It never made her cry, unlike my Dad who would start sniffling while peeling the skin. She heated up a small pot with mustard oil, waiting for the right moment to add the mustard and cumin seeds, freshly plucked curry leaves from our small garden and freshly ground spices. It was my favorite part, I loved watching the spices bloom in the oil - bright red chillies, black pepper and earthy coriander blending into the most wonderful symphonies of flavor. She would add the onions and tomatoes last, barely cooking them so the onions were still translucent and had a slight bite to them, and the tomatoes retained their fresh tart flavor. She would then open the pressure cooker, greeted with a cloud of hot steam as she poured the mixture into the rice-lentil concoction. The colors would change; the khichdi would go from a dull and boring yellow to a vibrant vermilion shade, studded with onions and tomatoes and curry leaves. It had to be served steaming hot, on the nice ceramic plates reserved for guests, adorned with a heaping tablespoon of ghee. It did not matter what ailment you were suffering from, neither did it matter if your head felt like it was stuffed with cotton, or your body was burning with a fever. I've been sick a lot of times in the past few decades, with friends and lovers offering comfort in the form of their home remedies. I have been fed comfort foods from all over the world, be it Arroz Caldo from the Philippines, Italian Pastina, or bright red Borscht. A past boyfriend would make me chicken soup from the can, boiled in a saucepan with a dash of pepper and a generous pour of sriracha. My best friend makes the best rasam, a fragrant soup originating from the South of India, flavored with fresh tamarind and tomatoes. Yet, every single time I wake up with a bad cold or when life seems to get the best of me, I reach for the container of red daal at the back of my kitchen cabinets. I make it just the way maa would, relishing in the warmth of a hug that has traveled through generations of Bengali women to reach my little kitchen.
Idolo knew only two proper sentences in second grade. Thick, tall and seventeen of age, he was quite the sight in the wooden desk meant for eight or nine year olds like me. And he wasn't the only one. At nineteen, his sister, Lariba was a grade ahead of him and could form close to four accurate sentences- a feat, considering where they'd moved from. Born and raised in the Northern region of Ghana meant less access to basic schools, or any school for that matter. Idolo and Lariba had been child workers, that was until an uncle in the city took them in and enrolled them in our community basic school. A miracle which brought them so much joy. How do I know? They never flinched or cowered anytime the students in school mocked them for their English grammar. At eight, even I knew better than to mock people thrice my size. Nevertheless, Idolo never kept mute in class. He either spoke in his ‘broken English' or asked questions in same ‘broken English'. The best parts of being in class with the relentless Idolo was whenever he applied question tags in his speech. His answers, ridiculous as they were, roused laughter even in me. That was until his straight face had taught us- Idolo never joked. I recall the afternoon when Madam Eva had once asked him “Won't you go for your food?”, because he'd been writing notes down during lunch period. Looking straight into her eyes, he'd replied “Won't you go.” A statement, not a question. Richard had run over to the lunch hall, telling everyone in our class. We hadn't believed Idolo could possibly mock Madam Eva and had ignored the stupid Richard. A few days after that incident, Sir Addo had asked Idolo “Won't you bring your homework?”. We were all in class then. Lifting his immensely broad shoulders in a casual shrug, Idolo had replied “Won't you bring.” I still blame Madam Eva for not correcting him. Months passed on but Idolo and I never crossed paths, until we did…in the most flattering way…at least for him. Everyday, my best friend Miriam, and I walked home from school together because we lived in the same compound. We took a new path to avoid Nadia mess-with-our-lives and her minion, Esse; two fifth graders who'd made it their personal mission to bully the lives out of us. Anyways, we'd been in the middle of a laughing fit over something, probably stupid, when we'd spotted the devils of our lives. They were seated under a palm tree, obviously waiting for us. Nadia spotted us and nudged Esse who turned to us with a maddened glint in her dark brown eyes. We gulped. Advancing till they had us cornered, they did a poor impersonation of brutes, rolling their sleeves and cracking their knuckles. You should know that at this point, we'd squinted our eyes, bracing ourselves for the impact(s). Which never came because a thick, dark figure barreled its way to the girls, nailing them in the stomach- with his head. The girls fell hard…and far away, grunting and moaning from the hit. The megahead turned to us- it was Idolo! Casting all inhibitions aside, we threw ourselves on him, squeezing him in a hug. A joyful, tear wrenching hug. How could we repay this kindness? The Idolo effect proved incredibly effective, because after the incident, Nadia and Esse avoided us like the plague. Nevertheless, Miriam and I couldn't let our guards down. We knew- from experience- how bullies always come back like a terrible case of lice. But being the first in class came with perks of its own. Like offering private lessons to the brute other brutes were afraid of for protection. Miriam, on the other hand, had only her toothless grin to offer. Everyday, after school, Idolo came over to my house to learn English and Maths. And everyday, he improved- till he got his question tags right. Lariba, upon seeing the obvious change in her brother's speech and grades, joined the Audrey teaching course 101. Till she could form more than four sentences. Miriam, Idolo, Lariba and I were an unstoppable force of brains and brawn.
“Can you get an earlier flight ticket to come home?” 6:00 AM. My phone awakes from this message. I grab it, squeezing to read the text. It is from my mother. After I am conscious enough to process the words, a surge of annoyance and powerless hit me. I type the response without thinking. “NO. Every time I told you things are fine, you don't believe it. WHY BOTHER ASKING?” “I am already very lucky to secure a ticket in November. Why do you keep asking for more?” I don't normally talk to my parents like this. It's not good adult behavior. However, maybe because I am awakened too early, maybe because I am tired of circling my life around COVID-caused issues, I press “send” without hesitation, and lie down again. Yet suddenly I'm not sleepy. But I don't want to get up, certainly not checking the phone. I just gaze at the ceiling, while my mind goes wild. I am from China, currently attending graduate school in the US. I also went to college here, which means it's my 5th year in this country and my parents shouldn't worry so much. But they do. I've talked to comfort them more than once. I am doing well – I like staying at home, which I truly do as an introvert; I have a place to live, food to eat, and a flight ticket back home before the year ends. I'm in a better situation than many other people, and I'm very grateful. If I must think of something worth complaining about, it would be when I first moved to the city. I injured my elbows while jogging. I was tripped over by a rock. Both of my arms were bruised, covered with small blood drops. Later my roommates helped me to disinfect them with medical alcohol. It hurt like my palm is cut open, but I need to hold a lemon and squeeze it. Looks like exercising is not always good for you. I examine the healed wounds. They have a different color now, showing there has been a rebuild. Then my thoughts go back again. I was in elementary school. One afternoon my mother was making fried prawn crackers, a snack that I love as a child. It's made through dipping the dry cracker into oil for a few minutes. It is delicious, quick, and easy. But that day, it went wrong when my father entered the kitchen to get his cup, my mother didn't see him. She was holding a pot of hot oil and halted. The oil spilled out, mostly on her hands. I was watching TV at that time, heard a short cry, and saw they burst out to the hospital. When they came back, I saw her hand scalded from the tip of the little finger to the wrist. I asked if she will be ok. My father said the doctor disinfected it with alcohol, but she would still need to go back for more treatments. I frowned: “Does it hurt, the alcohol?” My mother patted my head: “No. The doctor was very gentle.” I relieved, thanking the doctor in my mind. Since then, I never had a prawn cracker again. As I recall these two incidents, I realize how naïve I was. How on earth would it not hurt? Sometimes it's like we are paralyzed by the present, yet our brain sets a timer. It blocks the feelings, so that five years later when we stand in line for coffee, the countdown is over, and we are drawn by memories. Am I being homesick? I am surprised by my own question. I went to boarding school for three years, then spend five years in the US for college. But I am seldom homesick. I just don't, not when I need to move to a new apartment by myself, not when I take the midterm exam on Chinese New Year, and not when I see cars lining up next to the dorm with parents picking up their kids. Instead, I am homesick if I eat too much, which is quite counterintuitive because I would assume, we miss home the most when we are hungry. When I was at home, my mom would pat my stomach when I am so full that I don't feel well. Often after a hot pot meal or any meal on Friday night – when I came home from high school. Sometimes my father even needed to cut me off hard. He would say: “OK. That's enough. Leave it for the next meal”. But on the days he failed to stop me, I would feel ill because I cannot control myself and eat too much, then I would lie on the couch, my mother would slowly draw circles on my stomach with her hands to help me digest. Therefore, when I was away from home, after eating excessively, I would miss my mother very much. Fortunately, my cooking skills are bad. So it was all good. As I stop my mind from rippling further, I send my mother a message in the evening, saying I am sorry. “It's ok”, she says: “The world is moving, and we can do nothing about it. Stay safe and healthy.” "We love you", she adds a heart emoji. "Love you". I ponder for a minute, slowly type the response, while feeling the tide of five years' worth of nostalgia shroud me.
According to Webster's dictionary, nostalgia means "a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to some past period or irrecoverable condition". When asked about college, many graduates reminisce with a sense of nostalgia. The funny things about looking back is sometimes the smallest, most simple memories scream into the abyss of the so-called "college memories" folder in my mind. We should take pictures of such moments, perhaps as a way to feel big in the wide world by the vastness of our own memories. Not just for social media but to be able to nurture nostalgia one day. If I had captured snapshots of nostalgic moments in college, then they would have evoked memories such as the following: 1. A Friday on Campus As if looking back at a series of sepia prints, I see a tornado of backpacks among brick walls, printed-out lecture notes appearing as the latest fashion staple, and roaring group circles. Walking to my last class of the day on a late Friday afternoon, the sun dances on my skin as the Friday feeling builds inside of me like an inflating balloon about to burst. The first warm day of the semester graces the campus and one thing's on everyone's mind: spring is here. You can see it in the way people skip down the sidewalks. You can hear it in the way people talk. You can smell a freshness in the air that dusts away the brutal complaints cried out the past few months of coldness. You can feel it in the palpable oneness of the students. Music blares out the speakers of fraternities. Rowdy guys in t-shirts and shorts are either sipping beers or throwing a ball around. It seems their weekend has already started. Well, actually it started as soon as 9am when I heard the speakers chanting the lyrics, "my girl wants to party all the time, party all the time, party all the tiiime", before entering the library. I think that little bit could be their motto. Beep beep. "Happy Friday!" a bunch of girls packed into a compact car shout out the window. Only one more class, I tell myself, although every cell in my body refuses to sit in the gray computer lab and work on a statistics assignment for a whole hour. After turning my assignment in and bolting out the door, my soul dances, floating above each "have a good weekend" exchanged around me, feeling lighter knowing the weekend has finally arrived. 2. A Beloved Study Spot A quiet place to study on a Monday serves as a nice retreat from the beer-littered lawns and people raving about their bumpin' weekend or whatever the college kids say. People raving about their "man that's sick dude"-weekend. People talking about getting trashed and having to walk their overly drunk roommate back to the dorm. Based on personal experience, it's not the best background noise for studying kinetic energy. Sinking into a cozy cafe chair, I can dig into my science textbook uninterrupted. Sometimes the background chatter comes from wannabe philosophers. "Why is this important?". What a great diversion from earlier discussions. Of course, I can tune it out and focus on my work. As usual, I savor my safe haven of note-taking and productive energy thanks to the sea of students studying around me. 3. A Fun Club Activity After class, I find my roommate sitting atop the steps of the tiny front porch while jotting some notes down. "What are you studying?" I ask her. "Oh just organizing my French notes." "That's funny," I reply, "I was actually going to ask you if you wanted to come to the French club party tonight." She squeals, "Oooh!!! I would love to! Let me get ready." Cue the French music. We go inside along with the sound of pre-party entertainment playing from her iPhone, and she announces that she has the perfect shirt, a striped shirt with the word Ibiza, known for its European nightclubs. Then, we walk about 10 minutes through campus to the small party where we enjoy some finger foods and a glass of wine while chatting and taking turns choosing the music. "Did you know she's a good dancer?" my roommate puts me on the spot while twirling her wine. Laughing, I awkwardly shake my hips a few seconds to the beat of the foreign song and mention that we both do swing dancing together. The variety of college activities facilitated the process of connecting with people. Making connections was so much easier. I took this luxury for granted. Looking back is like steeping a green tea as memories diffuse out of our brains, spreading like tea aroma. After a few minutes, there's a warm cup of happiness. If steeped too long, there's a bitter after-taste. Time frames can be recalled by music, smells, pictures, and even the power of your own mind. According to Scientific American, a healthy dose of nostalgia provides an increase in self esteem, sense of purpose, optimism, and ability to cope with obstacles. However, there's no reason to fixate on the past, neglecting to see that the present could be equally cherished. What are you nostalgic about?
On sunny days, the light would peek through the gaps of the blinds which covered the glass sliding door. The rays of sunlight would block the iCarly episode I was watching, but the sound would still spill out of the small speakers on the sides of the viewing box. A rainbow would form on the crimson, vine-patterned carpet, and, later in the day, the rainbow would move to the milky walls, and my brothers and I would look at it with marvel. Mom and dad just watched and laughed at us as they wished to paint the white. But that was something we couldn't do in a place we didn't own. Some days, when the sun decided to leave and in its place would sit crying clouds, raindrops would slap the cars in the parking lot, and shadows would begin to cover the small space. When Mom and Dad were at home, they would speak in a language foreign to our ears. My brothers and I could not understand, but that was what they wanted, as they sat on the couch and made plans to move. Sometimes, my ears would pick up bits of their conversation, and I'd fantasize about a bigger house. But fantasies would fall from my ears as I raced my brother from their room to the front door through the long hallway in the middle of the apartment. How would we run in a bigger house without a carpeted hallway in the middle? My mind couldn't fathom the idea. Once in a while, on rainy spring days, the clouds and the sun would get along, signing their peace treaty with a rainbow. My siblings and I, along with neighborhood kids, would rush out of our home, exclaiming, "Rainbow!" as if we'd never seen such a bewitching display of color. We would all come together in the middle of the parking lot, or newly wet grass, discussing how to get to the end of the rainbow, and arguing the existence of leprechauns. Sometimes, we didn't have enough kids to argue as some of them would leave the neighborhood weeks prior. Their apartment doors a forgotten number among forgotten numbers. Their parents most likely found a pot of gold and used it to move. It's incredible how fast things change. When I was little, I promised myself that I would never curse. My friends and I promised we would all go to the same middle school. When the future is a blank slate, you can say whatever you want. It's like an artist describing a painting she hasn't yet painted. I would never have guessed that I would be the one to break those promises. One time, my older brother stood on the wrong side of the railing on the second floor. He was a pirate standing on a plane; the only thing that kept him from falling was the edge of the wood on which he stood. He looked down to the ground below him, and all he faced was blue concrete and the different colored faces of neighborhood kids. Then he let go and jumped. He fell past the second floor until the red rubber soles of his shoes touched the cold blue concrete of the first floor. The small group of pre-pubescent kids cheered, and some said they could do the same thing; what was once impossible was now the opposite. I wonder what I would've done if I knew I would never get the chance to attempt the same feat. I remember first moving to our apartment. I was less than half the size I am now, and my brain was too. Things are so much bigger when you're so much smaller! Our couch was a deep rich brown, and the TV was on the left wall. Above it hung forgotten gifts, cards, and posters, handcrafted by my parents' children. The dining room didn't have a large green mat yet. The kitchen wasn't even as big as the dining room, but it had more cupboards than I could count - cabinets that hid all sorts of roaches and crawly things that shouldn't be in houses. The place always smelled like tomatoes, spices, and oils. My mom always made stew, and the scent would cling to the walls, the furniture, and the fabric of our clothes. My mother would always wear a flowery perfume when going to church, and I would always ask why smelling like food was such a dreadful thing. Maybe I could've used that as an excuse to keep us from moving. "Mom, Dad, the apartment holds not only scents but memories too! What if it forgets about us?" I could never forget. The sun looked at us through the glass sliding door in our living room, and my brothers and I looked at my parents as they entered a small car with an unfamiliar blonde woman in a grey business suit. As soon as they left, we all sat together on the soft, vine-patterned carpet that we still have, and pondered where they were going.
I'd usually refer Dalat as a ville, rather than a city. I call it ville with the whole of my innocent heart and girliest love. Every time I think about la ville, I always picture a large expense of blue sky dotted with cotton-candy clouds, vast greenery of forestry and streets masked with a thin layer of highland fog. I also think about him and myself when we sat on top of the hill on that chilly afternoon, looking down on the calm and lively city. There are so many emotions associated with la ville - from loneliness as the winds comfort me that day when he mistreated my heart, happiness when he held me tight under the soft sunbeam, to eagerness as the butterflies flutter in sync with the butterflies in my tummy that morning when I was waiting for him to pick me up or enormous sadness as the chills surrounded us when he told me he moved on. A multitude of nature imaginaries accompanied me throughout that lovely experience with my first love. I hold the city deep in my heart, as how we all would hold our first loves. But unlike how I connote him, I feel at peace whenever I imagine la ville. La ville has been genuinely kind to me. La ville is like an elegant mistress who possesses everyone's minds. Her every step emphasizes her gracefulness and sophistication. Her winds are soft, rains are gentle, even her silk-thin sunbeams are comforting as they cast upon the city-wide dewy branches. Just like him, la ville's inhabitants are kind. They are careful with their soft-spoken words, always politely start their sentences with a "dạ". La ville's residents treat each other with a type of authentic love that I would rarely find in the southern region and treat foreign visitors with tremendous hospitality. La ville even has a charm in her daily events. At night, she gracefully lays a light layer of fog to signal curfew hours. When morning arrives, her beams slowly pull away the layer to reveal the rustic lines of the French-styled streets soon followed with steady gusts of the gentle breeze. When it rains, la ville awakens the large mountainous branches to protect its equally thoughtful inhabitants - they greet each other with gentle smiles, friendly embraces, and frequent cups of warm tea. It's obvious to note that la ville is wholly verdant - you'll see an endless expanse of greens. La ville is famous for her romantic forests of pine trees, attracting couples for generations seeking for that rare feeling of bareness and unity with nature. I've seen all the seasons of la ville's: from rows of pink blossoms in the spring to green patches dotted with summertime, lavender transitioned to fresh daffodils, all transformed to glittering fairy lights during festive seasons (la ville also notoriously hosts a large population of Christians). All year-round, though, are the lovely rows of colorful hydrangea grown outside the houses' short fences, wild roses in street pots, open coffee fields, and flower valleys. Essentially, every house embraces a French atmosphere with antique architecture and a generous area for greeneries. Personally, I reunite with la ville every year for her chilling aura... Taking a break from the bustling metropolitan cities and enjoying a stay at la ville always feel luxurious. However, the heartwarming people inhabiting at la ville are gems - interacting with them or merely enjoying hot cocoa as they go along their daily errands are the most enjoyable pastimes. The stress-free behavior relaxes even the tensest visitors. And of course, with so many tourists visiting each season, it embraces new trends and styles through the years. Despite this, the soul of the city remains - it's still the same ville I'd call home and the host to so many nostalgic memories and strong feelings.
What if I start telling you a story about a family that had not laughed for two generations? Do you imagine them living in a place as bleak and gloomy as if from the pages of King's books? The father of the family is a good Catholic who eats no meat on Fridays and marries enamoured couples on rare Sundays beneath a silver moon. His wife is a woman of honesty and reputation who eats bananas with fork and knife each morning and does her best to grow the plum-shaped tomatoes in the garden. Don't be funny! Jokes are such nonsense! Just a flow of words that makes senseless noise. A joke is a mere uproar of rushing water, confessing once again to being simply a tribute to our ego, an exercise of ignorance and overstatement in a constant run for attention. What I am looking for, though, is not attention, but the best beginning of the perfect joke. What should it be about? A married couple doing household chores and monkeying around? God's twitter account? A guy who walks into a bar? The images that could be listed in this connection are legion. I like good jokes: jokes that puzzle you to brain numbness; jokes that bring blush on your cheeks with coarse allusions; spontaneous, impromptu expressions that make everyone laugh, and unique wordplays that so often lose their beauty in translation. Hardly will you be lucky enough to meet a serious office worker in a well-tailored black suit with an umbrella heading for a 6.30 train wearing different socks. What is even less possible, is that this seemingly mundane story through a fine art of narrating will be made into a joke about many bodies being crammed like sardines on the way to work. Jokes and laughter return us to the springtime of our lives, the very nature of them lying deeper than I could ever imagine. Now, in my adulthood, I think of my father more often – a good Catholic who loved his simple wife, whose biggest ambition and pride was her small and cozy garden. Now I clearly see things that were invisible to me before: a real-life hell of poverty, injustice and hard life is out there, and there is another hell we are told about by the church doctrine. The perception of humour as a gateway and release from the former and as a means to make good friends in the latter fascinates me. The privileges people have in low life are so few, and necessity has no pity whatsoever for the poor. In my story, humour and life's drama are mingled together so closely! You have never imagined God as a funny man, right? In the wake of current proneness to atheism, you are probably right in believing in his non-existence. I, in my turn, know by heart from my father how the opening chapter goes: In the beginning was a Word, and the Word was with God. This Word of his was not just one. It was muttering under his nose, sighing, laughing loudly – he was looking for the perfect beginning, the same way I am now. Forget about the story I told in the beginning, as there is no man in the world who never laughed. What I take great pride in is that I can, and definitely will, pass on to the future generations the jokes my father used to tell so often. I now find it the right time to share the one I like most; it goes as follows: How do you make holy water? – Boil the hell out of it! I am fully confident now that all that is kind in the world, as well as true friendship and good intentions, starts exactly with this simplicity. Boil the hell out of everything and joke!
We, human beings, tend to build intimate and emotional connections towards various things we encounter and places we visit. If our relationships with these things or places come to an end; we may well mourn their absence or go through an experience of remembrance. This emotional and existential remembrance could include our past experiences, actions, places we have been to and people we met. This is what we could define as Nostalgia; the emotional yearning for the past, for places and things that we sentimentally associate with. We could find ourselves often trapped in the past, be it pleasant or unpleasant. In such a situation, our remembrance and nostalgic feelings could be evoked by different external stimuli. Even the slightest stimulation can incite nostalgia. In this sense; a scent, a scene, a person, a voice, an action or a place have the ability to stimulate a tape of similar experiences inside our heads. As an international student abroad, I would argue that people would vouch that it is quite natural to be nostalgic, experience homesickness and potential loneliness. A foreign country, a foreign culture and a foreign language, it is indeed obvious that I'm highly likely to miss home. However, the feelings of nostalgia could be relatively different from person to person. In my case, I do not miss the physical place or people per si as much as I miss my past experiences with them. As a Muslim female student, I would say my presence is constantly received as an accumulation of ideas held and interpreted differently by different people. Yet, my true self is always concealed and never received. In my culture, that is highly conservative and sometimes unfortunately sexist, I'm required to live according to the norms of the society, fulfill certain rules allocated to me as a female and prohibited from certain activities that are the monopoly of men. According to their beliefs, I'm not required to have a strong and independent opinion because, by and large, I'm expected to be a ladylike, decent wife and mother regardless of my values, and thoughts. Living under this canopy of rules always tortured me and silenced my entity in fear of being rejected by the society. On the other side of the fence, the situation is not significantly different as a veiled Muslim student abroad. Namely, a lot of people do receive me as a representation of a barbaric, oppressing culture and a terrorist religion. I, frequently, see frightened and hate looks on the faces of people. I try to fit in but the cultural barriers are always a major hurdle. I'm, thus, never received based on who I am or on my thoughts, but rather on my appearance and gender. All these unfortunate experiences made me constantly pressured and nostalgic to the past, to my childhood and teenage years, where I used to be independent, dreamy, strong-willed. I never imagined that my life would take this critical turn and become caged in the so-called world of stereotypes held by others. An influential experience which incited a sudden nostalgia took place in my first Yoga experience. When I arrived at the location, I immediately got a soothing homey feeling due to the warmth of the room and the gentle waft of the incense. We sat down around a beautifully-lit candle in the middle, held each other's hands and listened to a soothing meditation music. I and the instructor held hands, At that particular moment, I had strange feelings of warmth and compassion. Feelings I only used to know when I was younger; when I used to come back from school or sports training, play with my cat, watch my favourite animation on tv, swim in my imagination to be like one of the imaginary animated heroes in the show, and wait for my mother to come back from work to tell her about my day, adventures, my dreams and how I look forward to making them true. I had a sudden flashback; a recreation of the past in front of my eyes, my tears uncontrollably fell down afterward. As soon as the session finished, I realized that it was time to get back to the real world; the world where I'm no longer that strong dreamy child. The instructor looked me in the eyes and said “you will be alright”, I felt she was looking at my heart and that she sensed my sentiments and the overflow of emotions through my skin. I still experience the after effects of my first yoga session because it was utterly nostalgic and a sudden reminiscence of the past. It was like a psychedelic experience of feelings and memories. It is, indeed, enchanting how a single experience stimulated countless feelings and memories through a vivid flashback. All in all, it is terrible that people in both cultures treat me as an embodiment of social and cultural representation instead of a person with an independent entity. Nevertheless, one thing I learned from this existential experience is that we should effortlessly fight for who we are, our dreams and voices.