For the love of food: Sri Lankan edition

Earlier today, one of my friends posted a blog about the top 5 Vietnamese dishes she wants to try on her 8 months academic placement. Naturally, we both share the love of food (more specifically, the dumplings at Grace & Healthy Dumplings in Waterloo) so I decided to create a Sri Lankan edition.

Recently I got asked what types of food I’ll be seeing in Sri Lanka. My response? The most stereotypical (and potentially wrong) answer: “Oh you know, curry and stuff”.

It’s time for me to right my wrongs and do a little bit of research. I present to you 9 staple dishes and drinks of Sri Lanka that I am very, very excited to try.

1. Sri Lankan samosas

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I love samosas. I can’t wait to try Sri Lankan samosas. I’m so excited.

2. Appam

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Appam (egg hopper) is an iconic Sri Lankan breakfast or dinner food made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. I’m pretty sure my taste buds haven’t experienced anything of this nature so I’m excited to have my first bite!

3. (Egg/Cheese/Vegetarian/Meat) Kottu

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Egg kottu

Kottu is a popular Sri Lankan stir fry dish with shredded pieces of godamba roti (oily fried piece of thin dough), spices,  and your choice of egg, cheese, vegetables, or meat. According to Sri Lankan foodies, kottu roti is comparable to the hamburger – it’s tasty, impossible to resist, and always available. (I think I might have to limit myself to only 1 kottu a week).

Check out this video and get ready to be hungry!

4.  Kukal mas curry 

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I believe that I’ve perfected the rice-to-sauce ratio so I can have a delicious bite every time. With that said, I’m excited to try to kukal mas curry, Sri Lankan chicken curry! Fun fact: they say no chicken curry will taste the same throughout the country because of the different recipes passed down so it’s a dish

5. Wood apple juice

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Up until today, I’ve never heard of wood apple. It’s hard exterior is similar to a coconut and the interior looks something like a giant raisin. One blogger describes it as this: “the outer shell smells a bit like rotting blue cheese mixed with dirty socks. The inside of the fruit looks a bit like diarrhea, but tastes similar to a tamarind”. Check out more here.

6. King coconut

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What better way to cool down from the Sri Lankan sun and humidity than with a king coconut? At the Kitchener/Waterloo Multicultural festival, I ended up paying a whopping $12 for fresh coconut. A little steep in my opinion. In Sri Lanka, these bad boys cost 30-40 LKR ($0.30-$0.40 CAD).

7. String hoppers

String-Hoppers

String hoppers are rice-flour noodles that are formed to make a “noodle pancake”. Toss in some coconut curry gravy and it’s ready to go!

8. Shrimp fitters

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I grew up eating some interesting (and often times, questionable) Chinese dishes so seeing these shrimps together in a fritter isn’t disgusting – it looks delicious!

9. Coconut arrack and ginger beer

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Coconut arrack and ginger beer: I imagine it to be delicious. What is arrack? Arrack is a Sri Lankan spirit, distilled from naturally-fermented nectar of coconut flowers. People say that it’s a must try with Elephant Ginger Beer…so I must try!

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I hope to try new things when I move to Sri Lanka for 8 months in September. As long as there isn’t cilantro, sheep eyeballs (that’s another story), dogs/cats, or gizzards, it’s fair game.  Know of any good places to eat in Sri Lanka? Comment below!

For all the women in my life, this is for you:

“I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty

Before I’ve called them intelligent or brave

I am sorry I made it sound as though

Something as simple as what you’re born with

Is the most you have to be proud of when your

Spirit has crushed mountains

From now on I will say things like

You are resilient or you are extraordinary

Not because I don’t think you’re pretty

But because you are so much more than that”

Rupi Kaur 

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This is part of a larger collection of beautifully honest poems in her first book, Milk  and Honey. It is her recollection as a modern woman as she experiences love, loss, pain, and healing throughout her life. It’s an incredible set of poems on strength and survival. Her words will wrap around you and give you a warm hug in times of need. If you’re in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, pick up your copy at Truth Beauty Company in Uptown Waterloo. It’ll be worth it! 

My university experience (as told by .gifs)

I started my university career hoping to have the classic 4 year experience . One where I’d “live, love, laugh” or “eat, pray, love” or join an all-girls acapella group and dual it out with the German vocal powerhouses. In all honesty, I expected to come out of university knowing exactly what I wanted to do, to be settled down, and financially secure.

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Fast forward to now and you can go ahead and add in another year of university and toss in:

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Some tears
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Frantic nights
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Sleepless mornings
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Love lost
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…and new-found love
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Disgusting amounts of sushi
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New friends (and foods)
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Trips to the hospital
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New jobs
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Trips around the world
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Phils & Duke nights
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New hobbies
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Rough mornings
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Some light reading
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and Netflix nights

I’m not sure I can remember all of the types of tress on campus (sorry ENVS 200) and please don’t ever ask me if the means of several groups equal (sorry to my stats prof). So, given my university experience, what did I really learn after spending 4 years in University? And how did I survive? (It helps that my program was mainly female as well…#nodistractions)

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Well, it definitely helps with friends around…

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Catch my blog post tomorrow to find out what I actually learned in University!

Thank you, Rita Pierson

This woman speaks powerful truths about the world of education and the role of teachers. If you haven’t seen it already, I encourage you to watch her TedTalk, Every Kid Needs A Champion before you continue reading (guaranteed to give you a few laughs and your daily dose of motivation).

Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this.

How does education relate to development? In some ways, it’s quite obvious. Education is when an individual or a group of people impact the masses – big and small. As is development. Education is learning that is structured by theories and disciplines. As is development. Education can be a chaotic mess. As can development. Educators can be left hopeless, confused, burnt out and unmotivated. As can development practitioners.

There’s another side to it too – a correlation that focuses more on the beauty of education and development than the faults of the structure.

It’s about the value of human connection; of relationships.

Rita Pierson, TedTalk extraordinaire, says it the best: “Can we stand to have more relationships? Absolutely…we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense and we [work] anyway. We [work] anyway, because that’s what we do.”

Relationships, the most meaningful of them, are twofold: we are enriched as we are enriching. Limits of relationships extend past the boundaries of education and development. It happens in our everyday lives and demands to be enriching.

This serves as an important reminder for my upcoming 8 month placement in September. Connect well and connect often – on a real, human, personal level. Drawing inspiration from Stephen Covey, Rita insists that the secret to relationships is that we should seek first to understand as opposed to being understood. Or it could be even simpler, like apologizing. So thank you, Rita Pierson. It’s a lesson duly noted.

You ought to just throw in a few simple things, like seeking first to understand, as opposed to being understood. Simple things, like apologizing.You ever thought about that? Tell a kid you’re sorry, they’re in shock.

Rephrasing Rita’s closing statement may be the best way to close this blog:

“Every person deserves a champion, someone who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insist that they become the best that they can be.”

****************************************************************************************** Feel free to share your thoughts on this TedTalk below! Even better, share one of your favourite videos – funny, inspiring and everything in between. 

Why “The Stamina”?

Since my blog became live in January 2015, I’ve received questions from friends and family regarding the name of my blog. “Sarah,” they say, “we get the un(tam)ed conversations part of your blog, but what the heck is up with The Stamina?” (Paraphrasing, of course).

So here it is: the blog post that will answer all of the question you’ve ever had about the mysteries of the world and why my blog name is The Stamina (focusing 99.9% on the last point).

First of all, let’s look at the definition of staminaDictionary.com describes it as:

noun:

strength of physical constitution; the power to endure disease, fatigue, privation, etc.

So what does stamina mean to me and why is it my blog name? Read on and find out!

1. It combines a piece of my past with my present

As if my name wasn’t short enough, growing up in high school, I was given several nicknames: Tammy, Tammy Wammy, Tam Tam, SarahTam (which was really just my full name), and Stam. After sitting around for a few hours, I decided to use my nickname Stam as the name my blog: http://www.stamina.wordpress.com. Unfortunately, that was taken.

So I stuck “The” in front of it. And the rest is history.

2. It reflects who I am as a person 

Similar to what I wanted to accomplish for my blog title, un(tam)ed conversation, I wanted to personalize my blog URL to reflect myself as a creative, international development student – who is a sucker for word play. I strongly believe that 1 pun a day keeps the corny jokes away.

3. It explains my understanding of International Development 

Quoting my very first blog post,  3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Enrolled Into International Development, “[this blog] is my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past to coordinates of our system”. International development is a field that I am passionate about and one that I am committed to seeing through for a large portion of my life.

One thing that I’m learning more and more is that the content is dense, the stories are heavy, and the history goes deep. The reality that I’m facing is that this field is intellectually, physically, and emotionally complex. However, when I need inspiration, I look up to my peers and professors who have dedicated much of their time already in this field – it’s no surprise that they’re my role models. As I continue to engage with them, I notice that the common denominator among them all is their stamina. They all have stamina. In whatever trials and tribulations they’ve faced, they overcame it, persevered, and pushed on. They all have stamina and in my opinion, it is the most respectable trait that someone can possess.

4. It serves as a reminder to myself 

Following the footsteps of my role models, I aspire to have stamina: to have the same power to endure fatigue, disease, and privation in this field we call International Development. In 11 weeks, my cohort and I will be leaving for our 8 month placement to Sri Lanka, Malawi, Peru, Botswana, and Vietnam. I’m expecting for all of our physical, emotional, and intellectual capabilities to be stretched, bruised, and even a little broken. But to my friends in the program, and anyone else who is pursuing their dreams, I wish you this:

To have the strength to endure whatever comes your way. To have the stamina to see it through.

With love,

Stam

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What’s behind your label?

Clothing labels are useful to check for three reasons: size, brand and material(s) used. Admittedly, the last thing on my mind when I go shopping is the person behind the label. When you’re caught up in the moment of perfectly adjusted lighting, upbeat pop hits and a selection of outfits that you wish you could buy, it’s easy to put sweatshops on the backburner.

It’s important to know about the fit and comfort of your clothes but it’s equally important to know how people are treated in the process of making it. That’s why The Canadian Fair Trade Network and Rethink partnered up to release three powerful advertisements that outline the hazards associated to working in sweatshops. The ad quickly attracted my curiosity because of the unusually long label that runs down the body of the garment. Just below each image, CFTN challenges us to buy fair trade clothing because it creates safe labour conditions for employees. From a marketing aspect, this advertisement is simple and straightforward: There’s a human cost behind the labels we’ve come to love.

  1. The lightweight blazer that takes you from day-to-night

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Suit_2000px1 (1)“100% cotton. Made in Bangladesh by Joya who left school at the age of twelve to help support her two brothers and newly widowed mother. Her father was killed when a fire ripped through the cotton factory where he works. She now works in the building across the street from the burned down factory. A constant reminder of the risk she takes every day. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

We’re all familiar about the horrific fire that ravaged a Bangladeshi garment factory in 2013 and injured over 800 people. Despite the promise of reform, current labour conditions still need to be improved.

  1. The timeless, knitted, cozy sweater 

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Sweater_2000px1“100% cotton. Made in Cambodia by Behnly, nine years old. He gets up at 5:00 am every morning to make his way to the garment factory where he works. It will be dark when he arrives and dark when he leaves. He dresses lightly because the temperature in the room he works reaches 30 degrees. The dust in the room fills his nose and mouth. He will make less than a dollar, for a day spent slowly suffocating. A mask would cost the company ten cents. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

On September 17, 2014,  workers in Cambodia successfully petitioned retailers to raise their wages from $100 to $177 a month. However, despite this small victory, the salary increase doesn’t remedy the human rights violations within. Is an additional $77 worth the risk of death? Can we put a price on a life?

  1. Soft jersey sweater, perfect for a day in or out

Fair_Trade_End_Child_Labour_Hoodie_2000px“100% cotton. Made in Sierra Leone by Tejan. The first few times he coughed up blood he hid it from his family. They couldn’t afford medical treatment and he couldn’t risk losing his long-time job at the cotton plantation. When he fell into a seizure one day it could no longer be ignored. The diagnosis was pesticide poisoning. The lack of proper protective clothing left him with leukemia at the age of 34. He has two daughters. One of them starts at the factor next year. The label doesn’t tell the whole story.”

With the heavy push for the Asian garment industry to improve their working standards, corporations are looking elsewhere to find cheap labour. In addition to lower labour costs, it’s easier to ship textile from Africa to European and American markets. Under a trade agreement signed in 2000, African countries have duty-free access to the US textile market. As unsettling as it is, the harsh reality is that Sierra Leone is being exploited for much more than blood diamonds. 

Here’s a challenge for all of us. Let’s not keep this issue out of sight and out of mind.  Let’s look past the capitalist façade and reveal the stories about the human cost behind the label.

XOXO, GG

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earughassar

Global girl here. Your one and only source into the “glamorous” life in an NGO.

Granted, that was quite lame and no one stopped me (in fact, Larrissa encouraged it).

In the past four years, Global Youth Volunteer Network (Global) has become a huge part of my life. It’s a student-run, non-profit, grassroots organization that provides students and young adults with the opportunity to connect social justice education with action. I credit this organization, more specifically the founder/director, Dave Skene, for consistently supporting my interests and fostering my passions for cross-cultural learning, social justice and human rights issues.

Since 2012, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to Tata, Morocco, return again in 2013 as an intern, and co-lead a trip to Kyabirwa, Uganda in 2015. Despite how close  Global is to my heart, I tend to shy away from sharing about it with my INDEV community because of the criticism it may receive. Admittedly, I’m scared of people branding Global Youth Volunteer Network as an organization that promotes volunteerism and the exhibition of white privilege in the global South. I believe its mission and values sets it apart from the rest, so if you can spare me a few minutes, let me use this platform to explain to you what Global means to me.

Truthfully, working for this NGO is not glamorous. Our office can be found at DVLB, Starbucks or Dave’s house (or really, anywhere we can get WiFi), posters are put together immediately after we watch a Youtube video about graphic design and food sales have been the most effective way to fundraise (thanks to all of our faithful, yet drunk, supporters). Clearly, Global is not a money-making-machine. Profit has never been one of Global’s strengths so breaking even is usually something that’s celebrated. Consequently, we accumulate a lot of stress within the 9 months of planning, learning, recruiting and fundraising for the trips and our partners. No, working for Global has not been glamorous.

That being said, I would never trade my time with Global for anything. I’m especially honoured to have had Dave mentor me throughout my university career; for teaching me about Indigenous solidarity in Canada, challenging me to adopt a more holistic lifestyle, and inspiring me to immerse myself in experiences and cultures. His humble life is a testament to the fact that money is neither an indicator of intrinsic wealth nor a determinant of your dreams. Thank you, Dave.

Travelling to Morocco and Uganda was also immensely educational and enlightening. On countless occasions, I was reminded to slow down, be present, and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. By building relationships with the Indigenous communities, I was able to learn about the social issues that the Berbers and Moroccans were facing as well as the environmental and economic hardships of the Sogas in Uganda. Moreover, the people I can proudly call my good friends reminded me how of sacred life actually is and the goodwill that a smile can bring. Positive body language can break down barriers of unfamiliarity, especially in places where language isn’t the common denominator and it’s a lesson I’ll carry with me when I go on placement.

To whatever Global has in the future, 1 year from now or 10 years from now, I will always credit it for empowering me to work compassionately towards a more sustainable future.

Is working for this NGO glamorous? No. But the lessons I’ve learned, the skills I’ve developed and the friendships I made in Canada, Morocco and Uganda have indefinitely made my life glamorous.

XOXO,

GG (Global girl)

hilsar

Dear Social Media

Dear social media,

You are so much more than two words and eleven letters.You are Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Pinterest. You have been, and always will be, there for me.

When international development studies gets to be too much, I turn to you. Sometimes I shamefully close tabs about food security issues in the Sahel region, the recent kidnapping of two Japanese men by ISIS, and the Toronto woman charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder of her parents. Instead, I open Youtube so I can chuckle at an overweight boy with a pie crust around his face sing about pie. It’s great.

Pie crusts aside, I’ve also seen real value in your work. Remember the #BellLetsTalk campaign that Bell hosted for mental health? I retweeted the hell out of that hashtag so I was integral in donating and supporting Canadian mental health. (You go girl). Not only were 5 cents donated whenever Bell (oh, and the campaign) was mentioned on Facebook and Twitter or when calls and texts were made by Bell users, mental illness also became the hot topic for the week.

On a more serious note, there was the #BringOurGirlsBack campaign in April 2014 when over 200 Nigerian girls were abducted by Boko Haram. Initially started by Nigerian bloggers, the #BringOurGirlsBack campaign you had on Twitter and Facebook challenged internet users to vocalize their opposition against the rebel extremists.

Last but not least, you shared the infamous #Kony2012 campaign by Invisible Children (IC). Even before IC’s hashtag campaign, I wanted to support them in whatever way I could because I believed in their cause. In 2010, I turned to my dad and asked him to buy me the Invisible Children bracelets because, “dad, I’m really trying to make a difference here”. Of course my father, being the wise man he is, turned down my request because buying into campaigns like that lines pockets of the privileged more than it improves the lives of those in need.

Moving forward, the #Kony2012 campaign rallied the efforts of hundreds and thousands of youth and young adults. I applaud the production and marketing team for doing a phenomenal job. I was moved to tears and compelled to take action…by sharing the video.

Now, social media, this is where I become a little harsh towards you. A few days ago, I came across an ad campaign by Crisis Relief Singapore that gave me a virtual slap across the face. Based around the tagline “liking isn’t helping”, these ads feature powerful images of desolate situations around the world.

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When did we get to the point where liking a cause was enough?

Each image is surrounded by hands giving the thumbs-up sign to mimic the Facebook “like” sign. The ads are simple but the message is clear. Clicking, sharing or liking does not make a tangible difference.

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I am 100% confident that this little boy does not care for your likes.

Did you know that our generation of internet users have been deemed “slacktivists” for this very reason? I’m not kidding. Slacktivism is recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary and defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.”

One extreme of the slacktivism argument boldly claims that slacktivists should be ashamed of participating in hashtag and colour campaigns because it isn’t genuine action.  A study by  University of British Columbia found that those who “liked” a cause were less likely to donate. In their minds, “liking” or retweeting a cause online equates to taking action.

But here’s the shocker. #BringBackOurGirls didn’t bring back our girls and pink ribbons won’t beat breast and gynecological cancer.  In fact, in October 2014, 219 of the 276 Nigerian girls still remained in captivity. Interestingly enough, that didn’t make the headlines.

The other side of the argument suggests that you, social media, are useful in inspiring people, spreading best practice and raising awareness of important philanthropic causes. You are the ideal way to share how people’s support for a cause can make a difference. You are important in raising awareness and allowing people to stay current with top headlines.

I straddle the sentiments of both of these arguments. While I do see value in initially raising awareness on social media sites, I am disappointed to see that all too often, it ends there. You put pressing issues in people’s mind and temporarily succeed in seeping into household conversations but like all other trends, it passes. Action stops when that “like” button changes to “unlike”.

Let me be honest with you, my hands aren’t clean in this. I constantly remind myself that liking a campaign or retweeting a hashtag is the bare minimum of support. It’s impossible to solve world issues with the click of a button.

The uncomfortable reality is this: we are slacktivists. However, I do believe that we are change makers. We are in a unique era that allows us to leverage all forms of technology and networks to improve lives and because of that, I am optimistic that our the generation will bring change. We just need to get off our butts.

So help me out, social media. Help me inspire people to create genuine dialogue about current affairs. Help me challenge people to contact local and international organizations, university clubs and government officials who support their interests. I know you have it in you to bring some real change

Love always,

Sarah

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What do you think? Is social media important in combating world issues or is it just turning us into slacktivists? Have you ever been caught between the crossfires of meaningful campaigns and social media?

3 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Enrolled Into International Development

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Before I tell you more, let me give you a little back story. I started my university career in Arts and Business, majoring in Social Development Studies. The events up to that point of my life seemed to point me in that direction. I was a keener who set myself up for the life I thought I wanted to have.

I spent a few summers volunteering with UrbanPromise Toronto and Toronto City Missions during high school. Both of these organizations aim to provide spiritual, social and educational development or children, youth and families living in Toronto Community Housing. Bam. Social Development Studies.

I also spent a huge chunk of time with Camp Trillium where I spent my last summer of highschool and my first summer of university working there. Camp Trillium is an oncology camp that exists to provide a normalizing recreational experience for children and families who’ve experienced childhood cancer. (I highly recommend checking them if you want more information, know someone who would be interested or if you’re interested in volunteering with them.) Bam. Social Development Studies. Again.

So naturally, when I switched my program from Arts and Business to International Development, my life was bound to change. Without further ado, here are the three most valuable lessons that have shaped me since switching my program to International Development.

1. International Development will make you age a little bit faster
And no, I’m not talking about grey hairs and crows feet. What I’m talking about is media and culture. Goodbye to the days of buying expensive clothes, eating junk food and watching random TV Shows. Well, not entirely. While I still indulge from time to time, I found that I’ve started to try to be more sustainable with my choices and opting for the more “educational” TV alternative. Let me rephrase. The day you choose to watch a documentary or a TedTalk over a TV show about a mysterious person who causes terror and mayhem to a group of 4 “high school” girls (I’m talking about you, Pretty Little Liars), is the day you grow up. You won’t anticipate that day, it’ll just come.

2. International development will turn your life upside down
Growing up, I always pictured myself doing to what I knew: music, business or education. It wasn’t until last year when it struck me. I never thought I’d ever admit to myself that I would be interested in a field that focuses on international waste management systems . Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to any aspect of it but I always saw myself living out my life with a “Western” career. Nowadays, I’m inspired about what has developed from the waste management sector in the global South, from Cairo’s informal waste pickers, the Zabbaleen, to Manila’s waste scavengers in an integrated network in Quezon City. I guess it’s true what they say, another man’s trash is another man’s treasure

3. International development will make you uncomfortable
Along with turning your life upside down, International Development will make you uncomfortable. Last term, I took Culture and Ethics with the brilliant Dr. Serilis. She teaches the kind of class that makes you think about the world differently. She challenged us to think outside of our Western bubble and to think of people as people instead of them as objects or subjects. But the biggest thing that I took from her class is the cruel and unsettling reality that comfort is our great enemy to progress. In the words of Dr. Seirlis (or paraphrasing her, rather), “don’t be confined to society’s teleological narrative. Force yourself to think differently. Question the familiar”

So that’s what this blog is about. It’s my attempt to remain inspired by everything that’s around me, but at the same time, to be conscious enough to see past the coordinates of our system.

This calls for some “untamed” conversations.