a first kiss

we burned our tongue on hot pavements

in a parking lot, at three pm, ninety degrees outside

i wished that it would burn your taste off

so, i wouldn’t feel it

i tried to cut my lips off

the traitorous pair 

betraying my every wish to stop and run away

my hands need a sawdust bath

my legs could be fine sitting miles away from here

 on a boat to antarctica 

anywhere from here, this body

this mind

this guilt

anywhere would be perfectly suitable

for a shameless girl like me

Memories From June 1st

Maybe for kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves. 

Around the kitchen, while waiting for the pasta water to boil 

For laughs, we’ll sing karaoke to “Build Me Up Buttercup”. 

And maybe tonight, we’ll watch the fireflies in the yard and laugh when my dog tries to eat one. 

in three days, I’ll look back on this evening 

Sitting in a lonely dorm room 

And pray that someone would come and take me back to that moment. 

The Governor’s School For The Arts: my thoughts

From June 13th to July 2nd, I got to attend the Kentucky Governor’s School For The Arts as a creative writing student. The program is a fully paid, 3 week arts intensive where students got to spend 24/7 being fully immersed in their crafts while disconnected from their families and in a completely independent setting. However, when I say independent, I don’t mean complete and total freedom. The program did have their share of strange safety rules that made 16/17 year olds feel like kindergartners, but I digress.

The program helped me learn a lot about my identity as a writer. In good ways and in bad ones. I learnt about how much I enjoyed writing in a group setting. I like performing in front of people. I rediscovered my love for poetry, if that feeling had ever left. I learnt that I don’t like playwriting and struggle to come up with dialogue for characters. I learnt what it’s like to write, and not think about anything else. not school, SAT or ACT or college. It was intense, exhausting and a little maddening on some days but I could not be more grateful to have been able to attend. The community that formed after the program, the friends I made and the mentors who I got to speak to, made all the hard work and sleepless nights worth it.

At the end of the program, I created a 20 page chapbook which compiled all my writing from the duration of GSA. I named it “A Few Love Letters” as a dedication to a recurring theme of love in all my writing. This could mean romantic love, love for family, love for home or even love for someone who doesn’t always deserve it.

Over the next few days, I’ll publish the pieces I wrote. Some of these poems are short, some pieces are long. Each was written from the heart and I couldn’t be prouder of them. So enjoy!

Religiously Unreligious

They

Shake a fist to the sky

Spit on the grave of a saint

Roll their eyes at the tomfoolery of church bells and altar boys

Blame the institution

Blame the higher power

Use the Lord’s name in vain- but don’t allow His name settle on the top of their tongues

I

Am religiously unreligious, but I fall far from the fallacy

Of violence and shame and general unpleasantness

I say, Let the people have their bread and wine

I’ll sit in the back having mine

Our minds may work differently

And our prayers may go to different ears

But we bleed the same

And live in the cemetery

Of flesh, blood and a pumping heart

Welcome To The Cancer Mom Club

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” – Mark Twain 

When I was in the seventh grade, five people from my science class formed an unofficial “Cancer Mom Club.”  It was not a support group for the children of women who were Cancers but an alliance between five children whose moms had suffered and survived cancer. It was an unconventional way to make friends. While most people would find what we did unsympathetic or callous, I think it was a healthy way for me to cope. Growing up, I never met anyone who had gone through what I had gone through so it was good to meet people like me. In a way, it was my way of living with the aftermath of my Mom’s sickness.

My mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma when I was two years old. Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s immune system. While Mom was battling her sickness, I lived with my grandparents. I wasn’t allowed to see her when she was in surgery or during chemo because of how young I was. As is often seen in children, I was not aware of what was going on with my Mom and never processed the entire experience. As a family, we tend to not dwell on the subject much. The two years that my Mom was sick are not mentioned in the house, so I turned to the Cancer Mom Club to heal and process my emotions, even if I was not aware of what I was doing. Sometimes it could mean joking around about dark subjects. 

This is not unusual in teenagers, especially for Gen Z. We like to joke about trauma and the bad things that happen in our lives.This can be seen in the form of making jokes about school shootings or racial injustice or abuse. There’s been a lot of conflict over Gen Z’s use of humor as a coping mechanism after experiencing traumatic events. Historically, humor has always been utilized to cope with traumatic events. But technologies on the internet have broadened the impact range and the affected audience of tragic events. This means that more people get affected by dark humor and can be more sensitive to it. 

As a generation, there’s an unspoken understanding that dark humor should never affect other people. Talking about your own experiences and trauma is acceptable, but it should never go as far as making fun of someone else’s trauma. I agree; I never joked about the sickness itself because I was not in the position to do so. According to Meghan Mobbs of ​Psychology Today, dark humor “treats threatening or disturbing subjects…with levity or amusement.”.  Dark humor can be subjective and should never affect other people, only yourself and your experiences. That is why the topic of humor and trauma is so controversial. People don’t like hearing about tragedies, even if the speaker has first hand experience. To me, dark humor helps make a tragedy less tragic.  

The Cancer Mom Club disbanded at the ending of our school year. Since most of us were not friends outside of the classroom, we never spoke after that. Two of my friends, who were also a part of the club, also testified about how the club helped them heal. Their mom also suffered from cancer when they were young. Similar to me, the topic is taboo in their homes so an eccentric group of middle schoolers with a love for dark humor and a common tragedy seemed to be the only space they felt comfortable sharing their stories in. My mom’s cancer is not a huge part of my life, my family and I try to move on from the ordeal rather than be stuck in the past. Despite that, I appreciated the space and the opportunity the Cancer Mom Club gave me, to heal and to grow. 

My mom started getting better after months and months of surgery and chemo. She never forgets her sickness and reminds me everyday about how important it is to embrace life and laugh a little. If we can joke about something, it becomes less threatening in our mind. A few weeks after Mom had recovered, she went to get her hair cut. It was short and choppy after chemo, so it prompted the lady cutting her hair to ask which incompetant hairdresser had cut her hair so badly. My mom laughed, “It was God!” 

A Letter To April 2020

On April 22nd, 2020, I decided to write a letter to myself. I had learnt about this website called futureme.org that allowed you to write letters to yourself which they would deliver to your chosen email in a year, three years or however long you choose. I found the idea fascinating; I was always curious about what the future version of me is saying right now. I wonder if she is proud or embarrassed of the person I am right now. 

When I wrote this letter, it had been a month into the Covid 19 surge in the United States. Though I did not know it yet, I was about to enter one of the most emotionally and mentally challenging years of my life. In a course of a year, I dealt with losing friends, starting high school online, being isolated in my room for days on end and missing family who were stuck halfway across the world. As it was for many teenagers, 2020 soon became synonymous with change and growth. 

My letter read,

Dear Zoya as a 15-year-old, 

Hi its Zoya! Today is April 22nd, 2020, and the world has gone crazy. The coronavirus has taken over the world and i am stuck at home doing “online school” watching Netflix and YouTube and eating to feel better. It’s awful. I am really worried about my grandparents and family. I hope, when u get this letter, they are all okay. 

I hope when I get this letter, I will be happy in high school with lots of friends and no social distancing!!!!! I am so excited for that! Right now, I’m a 
hope u/I have a good summer. I am really bored, stressed, and worried. This pandemic is making me feel gross. I hope that 2021 is better.

Remember to take care of yourself, have fun and i love you! 
-Zoya 
(but 14) 

It was funny to read the musings of a clueless 14-year-old who had no idea what was about to hit her. She didn’t know that “online school” would soon become normal; distance learning is the new thing. The Coronavirus would ravage the world, just a few days ago a statistic came out saying that every 1 in 500 people in the US has had Covid. That statistic terrifies me, especially having seen the negative impact of the disease in such a brutal form. As strange as it is, to see my thoughts from April 2020, a part of me is hopeful too.

This is my reply.

Dear Zoya as a 14-year-old,

Today is September 16th, 2021. One year ago, you wrote a letter, sitting on your bed, not knowing whether our social studies teacher would be hosting a Zoom call for class or not. It is funny to see how much changed in a matter of a year.

 The world did go crazy, especially our own little one. We got into fights with our friends, lost a few of them too. We even saw a few friends reveal their true colors this year. We cried more than we admit, you have a lot to look forward too. 

It sounds scary when I say it out loud. A lot goes wrong but so much goes right. As I sit here, in my bedroom, knowing that tomorrow I will be seeing our friends in school (actual, real school),

I know that we have changed so much. 

We learnt about the world around us. Whether it was discovering a passion for social activism or rediscovering our love for journalism. We made so many friends in the new school you were terrified about joining. It’s not that bad, you know. Everyone went through hell that year and everyone needs a friend. 

We had a good summer. We adopted a dog, finally, whose name is Prudie. She’s the highlight of our year and made our mundane quarantine much better. I know how excited you were about getting a dog, good job finally convincing Mom and Dad!

Our family has stayed safe and are doing well. Our grandparents are vaccinated and looking forward to us visiting soon. Whether it’s this December or next summer, we have that to look forward too. I know you need to hear that, even if you won’t say it out loud.

So, the world does go crazy. But remember the person you will become soon. Someone who has been through a lot and couldn’t be more grateful to be writing to you, today. She wants you to know that she loves you. Remember to take care of yourself, drink some water, wear a mask (it’s a thing now) and I love you more.

Zoya (as a 15-year-old) 

Alex and Isaie’s Story

A significant amount of people moving to the United States come here for medical care. The American healthcare system may have its flaws but the ability to access good quality healthcare and medical facilities, no matter your background, is something that appeals to many refugees and immigrants. Healthcare is important to people who live in smaller countries that may not have access to proper healthcare for many of its citizens.

Alex Ishimwe and Isaie Dusang, siblings who moved from Rwanda in 2016, spoke to me abut their move to the United States. They were only 7 and 9 when their family decided to move to the US. This was because their father was sick and the family needed to get help for him urgently. 

This decision was not an easy one. Alex said that they had to leave behind close friends and family to live in a strange new country where they didn’t speak the language. She found the United States to be very new and cool, there were so many new sensations and sights which made the move less scary. She said that she had never seen so many people and big buildings all in one street. 

As with all changes, this move had its own challenges. To add to the language barrier, the Ishimwe-Dusang family moved from California to the smaller state of Kentucky when their father, who had recovered from his illness, had to learn to drive. Cities like California and New York can be hard places to learn to drive, especially as an adult. Kentucky proved to be the right place for them because they ended up living here for the next 3 years. Isaie said she liked Kentucky but found the students in her class different and intimidating. After learning the English language, those challenges seemed to disappear and they settled into their new life.

Today, they’re confidently speaking English and talking about their settlement in the US with happiness. They reminded me about how grateful they were to be living in the US. Since they moved here, their father got the care he needed to recover and the family was given access to more things than they could have ever imagines having in their home country. Their stories made me realize how much I take my life for granted. We often forget about how lucky we are to have the things that we do, especially if we live in bigger countries like the United States. We can get so engrossed in our fantasies of a perfect place that we forget to look around us and see what we do have. Alex and Isaie are one of the many youth that can show me and others the importance of gratitude because for many families, the things you have could be their saving grace. 

Gentilles’ Story

If you talk to any immigrant of refugee living in the United States, their response to the question of why they moved to the country is almost always the same. For a chance to improve their life and the lives of their families and children. The youth of these refugee and immigrant families are given once in a lifetime opportunity to move out of their home countries to have a shot at a better education and quality of life. 

Gentille Gihoza moved to the US when she was 8 years old. After living most of her life in the country of Uganda, her family was selected by the government to move to the United States for a chance at a better life. However, the journey came with its own set of challenges. The first being the amount of paperwork and medical requirements one had to complete in order to move to the US. Secondly, Gentille faced a personal bump on her journey. She had food poisoning which her mother was forced to hide from the government or else they would risk losing their ticket out of Uganda. So, she had to be treated in secrecy and the experience still remains in her memory today. This story showed me how determined Gentille’s family was, something that is seen in so many refugee families. Despite the challenges and hardships, they did not stop or give up even once. 

As with many children and teenager who immigrate to a new country, Gentille also faced a similar sense of isolation in her new country. Along with leaving her friends and grandmother behind, she was unfamiliar to the languages and people around her. At first, she described the country as ‘a different planet’, complete with tall buildings and sprawling roads. she also had the unfortunate luck of landing up in a school that did not help her new situation much. Gentile talked about how she faced a lot of bullying in this new school which, alongside her inexperience with the English language, made her transition to the new country much harder. Some of the teachers turned a blind eye to the incidents and the bullies faced minimal punishments. This forced her to move schools because, according to Gentille, the other school gave off too many “bad vibes.”

When asked about any final piece of advice she would give to another refugee youth who is moving to the US, she reinforced the importance of learning the language. Knowing English makes the move much easier; I can personally vouch for that as someone who knew English well before moving to the US. Gentille also talked about making friends who could help you learn the American ways of life. Having a support system, especially if they happen to be from the same country as you are, makes your experience much better. 

With this being said, Gentille’s story is an inspiring one. She says that her life, since moving to the US, has become much better. She has gotten many more educational opportunities and accomplishments since she moved here. Her quality of life has become better, and she talked about how she is grateful for the chance she got to live here. Even with all her setbacks, she made sure she emphasized how much she valued the chance to live here. Her story can be a guide to other immigrant or refugee youth who move to the US. Her perseverance and positivity are what helped her become the person she is today, even under sudden or less-than-ideal circumstances. 

Serina and Sahar’s Story

I had the opportunity to work with an organization based in Kentucky called Kentucky Refugee Ministries. The company works with refugees who relocate to Kentucky, trying to help them get their way around their new homes. KRM (Kentucky Refugee Ministries) works to provide them with resources like jobs, medical appointments and homes, getting a driver’s license or learning about the American way of life. This summer, I was an intern for the KRM office in Lexington, KY. Along with my usual tasks of scanning papers, making boxes of item to be placed in the homes of refugee families and aiding with tasks around their office, I also got to work with their team on a writing project that focused on the refugee youth.

The refugee youth is a group of people who can often be overlooked when it comes to resettlement. They may be too young or more often than not, expected to figure out this new life on their own. as someone who moved to a new country at an impressionable age, I understood the perils and challenges of moving to a new country. Although our stories and journeys are different, I found that most youth share the same sense of excitement and loneliness when it comes to resettlement. I got to interview five students, from various countries and backgrounds, and talked to them about their move.

This is Serina and Sahar’s story.

One of the greatest challenges that both immigrants and refugees who relocate to the United States face is learning the English language. English is widely regarded as a notoriously hard language to learn and adding that to the general stress and difficulty of moving to an entirely new country can often make the life of the refugee youth even harder. Although it is a very popular language amongst many people, English is not taught around the world and for some families, it is a path to a better life. 

Serina and Sahar Shalash moved to the United States from Jordan two years ago. Sahar is in 7thgrade and Serina is in 6th grade, and they were still in elementary school when their family, their parents and three siblings, moved to the United States. Their primary goal was to learn the language which would help them get a good education and a way to live a better life and a very different one from the one they left behind. 

Many families who move to the US come here for a better life, especially for their children. Serina and Sahar’s family was no different. They came here hoping that their children would be able to learn and communicate in a language that would be spoken all over the world. However, this move came with its own challenges. 

Sahar said that she found it hard to understand her peers in school. Not only did the language barrier make her school life more challenging but also the cultural difference. She said her fellow classmates were very different from her and found it hard to make friends. Learning English was not as much of a problem for her, she relied on her studies, books, and a couple of movies to get the knowledge she needed.

Most of the youth that immigrates to a new country, especially at an older age, faces the challenge of fitting in. It is hard enough to have to leave behind friends and family, the two sisters said that it was the worst part about having to leave Jordan, but the several cultural shocks which came with moving here makes the transition to US much harder than anticipated. On the other hand, Serina had a different story from her older sister. She talked about how she made friends very easily in her new school and did not face as much of a challenge in classes. One teacher stuck out for her. An English teacher who was respectful of the recently immigrated teenager and made sure to make Serina sit in the front of the classroom during her lessons. 

I often hear about stories of teachers and their impact on their students, especially those refugee youth who face more challenges than anyone in their classroom can imagine. Speaking from my own experience as a student who immigrated to the US when I was 12, certain teachers are still in my mind as I think about my adjustment to my new home. Their actions and encouragement made more of an impact on my life than they could imagine. Sometimes, even the simplest praises or words of advice would turn a hard day into a positive one.  

Serina and Sahar’s stories show a window into an aspect of refugee youth that many people seem to forget. While a large focus is given on the adults who make the decision, or are forced to make the decision, to move to a new country, the youth are often not mentioned. Sometimes, the children are expected to adjust on their own which is unfair to their lack of experience. Their stories are reminders to adults, students, and teachers about the importance of sensitivity and patience. The journey of learning English would become more than just a challenge to overcome, it would be a start to a new world of opportunities. 

This is the website for Kentucky Refugee Ministries which will feature a few ways you can get involved in helping their mission

https://kyrm.org/get-involved/