A Silent Enemy That Is Here To Stay.

Stereotypes have been the bane of many people’s existence. As a young teenager who moved to a new country, I have dealt with a fair share of stereotypes people have made about me. I have gotten questions about why I wasn’t a vegetarian or how I knew English so well. I usually try to not jump to conclusions about anyone and I think of them as misinformed, not racist. Unfortunately, despite how many technological advances we have made, things we have discovered and people who have risen to power against the odds, why do we still face stereotypes?

Can we stop people from making stereotypes? My answer is no, most of us still make stereotypes of people, even if you consider yourself to be “progressive”. In a New York Times article that talked about equal rights in the workplace, a Pew Research Center study found that despite affirmations that the sexes should be treated equally, the same people believe that men should receive preferential treatment in some cases. The poll was taken a few years back but the facts remain the same. Even when it comes to something so heavily debated as equal treatment for women in the workplace, people still prefer having men in control over certain tasks. 

Stereotyping has become human nature for us. Asking for global acceptance and everyone loving their neighbors is too much. The only way to truly beat stereotypes is to understand the word itself. An article published in the “Greater Good Magazine” stated, psychologists call our mental shortcuts “heuristics”—and we need them to help our brains navigate the world. For example, when we are planning to travel to Chicago in December, we use these shortcuts, or stereotypes, of a winter in Chicago and remember to bring coats. Stereotypes become dangerous when they are used against certain people, and people who believe in these stereotypes start acting on them. They can be used to excuse harmful actions made against races or genders.

My family is from India. I would say that my parents and I are very progressive, compared to many of my friends and their families. When I was 12, I moved to America and that was when I realized that I had also been making unfair stereotypes about America. Growing up, I always had the images of tall men with guns and cowboy hats After traveling more to USA, they were quickly shut down after I met and learned more about the people here.

Unfortunately, we can’t beat this problem easily. But we can beat stereotypes by speaking up against them. When someone says a joke that intentionally makes fun or stereotypes a group of people, protest. Say that the joke is wrong and the person should not have said that. Even though the person may not listen to you, it’s better to try than stay silent. A bully is only fueled by support. Try to get to know a person before you make an assumption about them. Simple steps like these could slow the growth of stereotypical statements and make the world a bit kinder. 

Why My Family Moved To The US

My family moved to the US in 2018. My mom had gotten a promotion and needed to be in her company’s headquarters in Lexington Kentucky. I was 12 when we moved. Initially I was upset at the thought of leaving my friends, home and family to move to a foreign country and being a new kid. However, the thought of living in the land of freedom and opportunities was much bigger than the fear of change. We were thrilled about the life we would get to live in America. In the beginning, I used to feel very foreign. I live in a city where there aren’t that many Indian families which was very strange for me and I would feel like an outcast anytime I was in public. After getting over the initial insecurity, I took advantage of the place I was in. I signed up for any opportunity I got my hands on. Moving here helped me get so many new windows to improve and show off my interests and passions. That is why my family moved to America, for equal possibilities and platforms to excel. 

This article is also published on https://my-america.org/your-story/. It is under the tab of “opportunity”.

Life during a Pandemic

By now, anyone who exists on the planet had heard of the global pandemic that is COVID-19. My state has over 10 cases as of March 17th. My county has had 2 cases. My school closed last week and it is going to be closed for 3 weeks. I’m afraid that they will be closing it for the rest of the year! How awful would that be, especially since this is my last year in middle school. So anyways, I am officially in my second day of “self-quarantine” . I am, knock on wood, pretty healthy and so are my parents. This quarantine is only to protect ourselves from getting the virus and/or spreading it to others who have a weaker health. My city hasn’t been locked down yet. I am free to go anywhere but all the big places like libraries and gyms have been shut down. Restaurants are changing to delivery and pick up only. I’m pretty sure that going to malls is banned. In my house, during the times that we aren’t shut up in our respective rooms to work or, in my case study, we are glued to CNN, watching any and every update that is happening. 

But, I’m not here to lecture you on the COVID-19. I wanted to share my story and what I have been thinking during this situation. I first heard about a “mysterious virus affecting China” in the first week of January. I remember watching a video talking about how 2020 was of to a bad start, with the wildfires in Australia, the death of Kobe Bryant and this virus. At the time, I remember thinking, “Wow, I hope 2020 get better!”

(Oh boy if I only knew)

To me, I felt like this virus suddenly became so world wide. One day, the news was talking about cases in China and the next day, BAM, it’s all over Europe. Before I knew it, I woke up one March morning to hear my mom saying, 

“The Coronavirus is in Lexington.”

It was the morning of Dance Blue, an event organized by UK in our school to raise money for cancer patients. Thinking back, that night was probably the last big event for my eighth grade year. 

Only a week after Dance Blue, My eighth grade trip to Chicago that I had been preparing and anticipating for months was cancelled.  My mind was mentally preparing myself the trip being cancelled after I read that there had been several cases in Illinois. It still felt terrible. I felt like the virus had hit too close to home. Now, a week later, I’m stuck at home, my parents are both working from home. Up till today, almost all public places have been shut down, with the exception of our grocery stores. Almost no one is seen outside, which isn’t actually that surprising for Lexington. 

So now what? I am trying to not be too worried or panicked. It is crazy that we are living through something so historically important. I am waiting till thing can go back to normal, however long it takes. I will try and keep updating my blog on the different things that happen. To my readers, remember the three biggest ways to prevent spread of infection- wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and maintain SOCIAL DISTANCING! Don’t go on a trip to Florida when you know that there have been cases there and you could get infected. Avoid going to a party because it’s your friend’s birthday. 

And please stop hoarding up on toilet paper (spoiler alert- the Coronavirus doesn’t give you bad gas.)

All I can say right now is, stay safe! Try not to worry too much and think about the other.

What Traveling Taught Me

I consider myself to be a very lucky person because at the age of 14, I have been to over 14 countries. Since the time I was very young, my parents have been taking me all around the world. Growing up my parents didn’t travel internationally as much as I did. My dad was an army kid who grew up all over the country. On the other hand my mom stayed in one city practically her whole life. Their shared love and curiosity for travel and seeing the whole world led to me getting to experience all sorts of fascinating places. 

Travelling helped me see all sorts of amazing places. My earliest travel memory is going to Thailand. It was a great holiday, the first of many. That trip exposed me to a different culture, different food and different people. Even though I was too young to notice the change around me, it did help me normalise the fact that there is a big and diverse world around me. Since that trip, my parents and I have travelled to a lot of different places. We were super crazy about these trips. We would spend weeks and weeks planning out where we should go and what we should do there. After we would reach our holiday destination, we would spend the trip seeing all the attractions, eating the food and meeting the locals. My favorite trip of all had to be the time we went to Greece. The trip was memorable to me because it was a trip I had always wanted to make. After my phase of being hooked to Greek history and mythology, going and seeing places like the Parthenon and temple of Poseidon made my inner mytholgy nerd burst with happiness. 

Travelling has opened my knowledge about the world around me. When my parents and I went to Vietnam, I hadn’t known much about the country. My trip taught me a lot of the country’s rich culture. We learnt more about the Vietnam war and visited all the different war museums. One museum exhibit showed a couple of American planes that had crashed into that exact spot and had been left there as a souvenir of war. Even my travels within my country taught me a lot. When I went to the city of Agra, India during a school trip, I was taught more about the Mughal dynasty of India and the fascinating and tragic tale of the king Shah Jahan who built the Taj mahal in honour of his late wife. Even when I visited the city of London or Paris, I got to see gain an understanding of European history. The best part about getting to travel and learn about new places is that you get to see these places in front of your eyes. Whether it be castles or the ruins of a lost city, or a giant monument or a street named to honour a famous resident. Travelling helps you learn from the best source, the place itself. 

Travelling helped me become a better global citizen. I will not be ashamed to admit that where I grew up, people were not always as aware of the world around me as I was. Even living in a big city in India was practically nothing compared to big cities in America. Here, the people my age who I have met are much more aware and generally more comfortable with people who are different than them. When I was growing up, change wasn’t as welcomed as it is now. Whenever we would encounter someone even remotely different, we would immediately start to worry, or we would just be confused. I’m not saying that it as our fault. I grew up in a city that wasn’t as diverse as American cities. Travelling however changed that for me. Travelling taught me many simple etiquettes that people would appreciate coming from a foreigner. Basic courtesies like not cutting the line or speaking slowly while talking to people who may not understand your language or accent. Sometimes I had to learn by experience. Nothing can be more humiliating than making a mistake and having a dozen people look at you like you committed a great sin. Travelling helps you also understand that some people prefer that you don’t do a certain thing and one must accept that.

Lastly travelling gave me the best experiences. As a writer, I always loved going on vacation because I knew that the trip may give me a couple of fun adventures and stories for me to use and write about. My travels would almost always have one or two crazy adventure or mishaps that I would immediately go home and write about. How else would I have been able to be stuck on a small boat in a rural part of Thailand, in the rain and in the middle of the night if it wasn’t for my parents love for booking the oddest places for us to stay? Or how else would I have been able to see practically the whole of Singapore if we hadn’t walked 10 miles to our hotel after our dinner? Travelling really brings out your inner adventurous side, whether its pure luck or the nature of your circumstances. I can always look back to my trips around the world if I ever need something to write about and it almost always makes a very entertaining story!

In conclusion, travelling gives so much more than photographs and a couple of memories. Travelling can enrich and change your life in the best way possible. It helps you in so many ways, ways that you may not even know. Even going to visit some attractions in your hometown or places around you. You can really be surprised with what all you may discover. You may find out that your city was a big part of the civil war or it was a hometown to a famous painter! I really believe that every place on the earth has something cool or travel worthy about it. The world is a vast and diverse place. So why spend your time learning about different places on paper when you should take every opportunity you get to see the world.

Each of these trips have given me so many lessons, memories and adventures. I encourage everyone to try and explore the world as best as they can. You will be surprised to find out what you will end up seeing. 

Moving to America

About a year ago I landed in the state of Kentucky, USA. My mom had been transferred and that meant that the three of us had to pack up our bags, say our goodbyes, lock up our house and move to the US. This past year has been one of the most challenging but exciting years of my life. So if you want to read about my adventures in the land of the free, read on!

My parents had been thinking of moving out of India for a long time. We had considered Canada and my dad had got an offer to move to Singapore from his company. So in the back of my mind I knew that I was going to be moving somewhere, within the next year or so. It was sometime in January, at night when my mom got a call from her boss. He told her about the job offer in America, which would be a huge promotion but also meant she would have to move to Lexington KY, the corporate headquarters of their company. She then told my dad who told me. I would love to say that I took the news well, but I didn’t. I bawled my eyes out at the mere thought of leaving my friends, school and comfortable life to move to this foreign place. Thankfully after I calmed down, I came to my senses and realized what an amazing opportunity this was.

The next six months were probably the weirdest months of that year. I was still kind of in denial that I was going to be moving COUNTRIES in less than a year. I didn’t really put much thought into my position, and I believed “ I don’t have to worry about moving for AGES.” We mainly spent all this time waiting for our visa to get approved and preparing everything and everyone for the move. I also tried spending my last few months in my home spending time with my friends and people who I would be leaving behind there. My friends were also very sweet to me and we spent a lot of time together. Finally on August 6th, my parents and I went in for our visa interview and WE GOT APPROVED

The next few days or rather weeks was a huge world wind. We had to pack up or house, my parents had to fly down to Lexington to get a house and utilities and enrol me into school. The week they were there, I would call them everyday and hear them describing the city and my house and my school. I would see the pictures they would send me and when I think about it now, the pictures gave me an illusion very different from what it was. Life in India became pretty different too. We had to say a lot of goodbyes and host many farewell parties.  The last week I was in school happened to be our examination week. Unfortunately I did have to take the tests, but I didn’t stress about it like my other friends. Hello? I would be living and studying in AMERICA in the next week. I wasn’t worried about whether I passed the Biology test or not.

(Just kidding I did put in a lot of effort into these tests despite everything that was on my mind. Remember to study kids!)

The last day of school was bittersweet for me. We had our language exam that day, so everyone was too busy studying to throw a “Goodbye Zoya!” party for me. I wasn’t complaining. I had thrown a small get-together for my closest friends a couple of days before and they were all the best. The last bell of the day rang, and I left my school, where I spent 10 years of my life, after saying the tearful and hugs-filled goodbyes to my best friends and teachers.

My last day living in India came much sooner than I had expected. Our house was completely empty, baring our suitcases and some furniture we were going to leave behind. Our flight was taking off in the night, so that gave us only a day to bid farewell to our familiar home and friends. The hardest part for me was leaving my nanny. She had been with me for nearly 12 years and unfortunately, she would be leaving us to go back to her home. I knew, in the back of my mind, that I would not be seeing her for a very, very long time.  I was unhappy, obviously, about leaving and it did make me cry one and many times. But the thought of living in the US, a place I have always wanted to go and the thought of adventure that was in store for me entirely outweighed the bad parts.

A Pivotal Beginning To Summer Camps

Ever since we moved to the US, my mom was always signing me up for different events. This summer no different. Since this was my first summer here, she signed me up for many things. Three camps, one of them was me spending the week as a volunteer camp counselor. We traveled to different places like California and Nashville. A very eventful summer, but this camp was probably my favorite and the most eventful week of my summer.

When my mom told me about Concordia Language Camps, I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about it. So it was a camp where you learn a certain language and completely “immerse” into the language. I chose German as my language and I would spend the whole week eating talking and learning in German. My overconfident self was 100% sure that I would be fine only talking in German for an entire week after only a couple of months learning the language. So the weeks leading up to the camp, I wasn’t worried or nervous. I was excited to pack my own bags. We couldn’t carry and books in English or any electronic items. I was a little upset about living without any book and my phone for a whole week, but I was fine otherwise.

So on 24th of June, my dad and I set off for Bemidji Minnesota, a small town where Waldsee (the German camp) was. I had my suitcase and my pillow in my hands, and I was getting a little more nervous. When we reached the gate to Bemidji, I could see many kids who were also going for these camps. We landed in Bemidji and my dad handed me over to the Concordia camp people who were waiting in the airport to transport the kids who were arriving from Minneapolis. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, they took us to the bus. I was preparing myself to sit alone on the bus and in Burger King, which was where we were going to go for lunch. Luckily a girl who was around my age decided to be friendly (which frankly speaking I was extremely grateful for and I was so lucky to have been able to meet her) and we hung out till we reached the camp. Unfortunately she was going to a different language camp, so we never saw each other after that.

So I finally reached Waldsee and I was the only person in the entire bus who was going to the German camp. When I entered, I quickly realized that when they had said that everyone speaks German, they were serious. The two people who were signing me into camp spoke German, the counselors all spoke German. Everyone.

I was now starting to get a little worried. Do I know enough German to communicate with everyone?

[Spoiler Alert: I didn’t]

I got assigned my cabin and I went to the nurse who luckily spoke English. I also chose my bunk, which was in the corner of the house and a bottom bunk. This was also when I met my roommates. I have to say, I was very lucky, my roommates were all friendly and we all had a similar experience with the language, and we were all new. They became my closest friends and we exchange a couple of email as often as we can now. The first full day for me was Tuesday. Tuesday was probably my least favorite day because I was extremely homesick the whole day. The day would have been fun, had I not been so sad and homesick. This really proves that two people could do the same thing the whole day, but if one person is sad or upset then they end up having a terrible day.

However things changed on Wednesday. I hadn’t expected Wednesday to be such a fun day. In the back of my mind I just wanted to get through this day, and I would be one day closer to going back home. The day went by normally, like Tuesday. In our camp we used to alternate between familie (family in German), which was when we got into a group with about 6 other campers and two counselors and we did something to help us enrich our German or learn more about German culture. We learned German songs or German dances. We also played some games to practice introductions and greetings. We would also have activities like painting or music or football (or soccer). This would start around 10 in the morning and end at 7 pm when we would have our dinner and an evening program which could be a bonfire, or some plays in German. We would also have a couple of breaks in the day to buy candy from the cafe or hangout with friends. On Wednesday we had an Oktoberfest which is when we had our dinner outside. We feasted on pretzels, salad and sausages. We also did some dancing in the middle of our meal which was something I had never done before, but I had a blast. On Thursday we watched a play in the evening and my cabin had a night-time bonfire under the stars near the beautiful lake behind our camp. Friday was the last day and I had very mixed feeling about that day. On one hand I was excited to go back home, but on the other hand I was really going to miss Waldsee and my friends. The day went by quickly. In the afternoon we had a friendly game of football and when I say friendly it wasn’t friendly at all. I ended up sitting on the side and talking to my friends. We had a disco party in the evening where we dressed up all fancy and danced out hearts away to German pop music which was surprisingly good. In the middle of our dance party they played a Bollywood song which I found hilarious. On Saturday we all said our goodbyes and I headed back home.

Being an only child, I had never experienced living with so many people. Something about waking up and seeing seven other people wake up with you is fun. Or sharing a bathroom and three showers. In the timeline of four days, I got so comfortable around my cabin mates that I was comfortable with the fact that when I was taking a shower three other people could be outside and the only thing that separated us was a curtain. I learned a lot from the camp as well. I learned to respect people’s privacy. I learned to be independent and do things on my own without asking anyone else. I also got a taste of “living on my own” (not really because I had others living with me). I really think that every child should try living in camp at least one summer. It’s a place where you have fun and make friends, but you also learn and grown as a person.

And the food is amazing

The Camp

Bemidji Minnesota

 

Me Without An Idea

Me without an idea

An idea without a thought

A thought without a brain

A brain without a human

A human without a home

A home without a fireplace

A fireplace without wood

Wood without trees

Trees without plants

Plants without the sun

The sun without the day

The day without night

The night without stars

The stars without a sky

A sky without clouds

Clouds without rain

Rain without grass

Grass without cows

Cows without milk

Milk without cats

A cat without a dog

A dog without bones

Bones without a body

A body without a home

A home with me

And me with no time.

-Zoya

The Essence of Eid

I have always been celebrating Eid ever since I was a child.  My parents made it a point to celebrate it every year so that I had an exposure to being part of two religious communities. Every year my father would go to the mosque in the morning and after his return my parents would give me Eidi, which is a tradition for elders to give the children some money on Eid morning. Then we would either celebrate the day by having lunch with my paternal cousins or have a small lunch at home with all the traditional Eid sweets. This year however I got to celebrate the festival with my paternal family who celebrate this day with great gusto and excitement. Finally, the day arrived, and I had a marvellous time. With food being cooked and served every two minutes and the fun I had with my cousins, I could easily say that was the best part was the day. However, it was a different sense that made my Eid better. It was the undeniable sense of community that was there. The sense of community is unfortunately something I as a child living in Delhi have never experienced. Everybody in the tiny town got together to celebrate, even those who weren’t Muslim. Everyone decorated and ate together and there was a sense of everyone being together and happy, even if it was only for one day. All anger is forgotten, and a sense of fraternity is created.

That is the true essence of Eid.

 

My Trip to Agra

I recently travelled to Agra on a school trip and I visited two of Agra’s famous sites Taj Mahal and the Agra fort.

The Taj Mahal

It goes without saying that the Taj Mahal can easily be one of the most beautiful and famous Indian monument. Its beauty and grandness are something that can make anyone gasp with wonder, but what made me the most interested was the story behind this building. This monument is not a palace or castle, but a tomb built by the Mughal king Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal. The queen, when alive, had been given many names but the one that stuck was Mumtaz mahal meaning “beloved ornament of the palace”.  She was his chief queen as she gave the king 14 children out of which Aurangzeb became the king. Her dying wish was to have a unique structure to be built-in her memory and thus the Taj Mahal was made.  This story was a familiar one to me as I had been told this story many times as a child and it remains one of the best stories I have ever heard of.

The Agra fort.

The Agra fort was built by Akbar the great, the most famous Mughal king. This for has many sections with rooms that were used by four generation of Mughal kings. Each room has been preserved and kept clean for tourists to visit and each room has grand chandeliers preserved and thousands of painting put up for display. My favourite room was king Shah Jahan’s prison. Now if you haven’t heard of the tale behind this room let me tell. Aurangzeb was very eager to become king and soon after the Taj was built he couldn’t wait till his father died to become king, so he went to war with his older brothers, killed them all, imprisoned his father and became king. Shah Jahan’s prison was much grander than any average prison. He was after all, of royal blood. His “prison” consisted of a bedroom with a balcony facing the Taj, a bathroom, a garden with a fountain, a room full of glass mirrors and a large part of the fort where he could roam around freely. Then nearly eight years after Shah Jahan was imprisoned, the king passed away looking at his beloved Taj Mahal.

My trip to Agra was an eye-opening experience. I saw and learnt things I will never forget. Hope you liked my short write-up!

My Father’s Childhood Tales

  When I was visiting my grandma during my holidays, I was told some interesting stories about my father when he was a child. I had already heard that my dad was a naughty child but this time I got to hear some of his childhood tales! These stories have been told to me ever since I was five years old and everytime I hear them, it is like I am hearing about a new person all together! 

 Never mess with a monkey

 When my father was living in Gorakhpur, his friend and him decided to do the best thing two kids could do when they are bored, they decided to kidnap a baby monkey to keep as a pet. Considering the two were no more than five-year olds, they did not think about the consequences at all. The place was filled with monkeys, so one day my dad and his friends crept up behind a group of monkeys and scared them away and left one baby monkey cornered. The two were proud of their accomplishment but that feeling quickly fizzled out when they saw that one of the biggest monkeys had been standing behind them the whole while and she was not happy. My father’s friend quickly ran away leaving my dad to face the music. By the time my dad was rescued from the monkey’s clutches he had been badly beaten up, but the monkey was nothing compared to my grandmother when she found out about what had happened. She scolded my dad for acting careless and doing such a pointless and dangerous thing. To this date this story has been told to me so many times and I have also learnt an important lesson, think before you act and never mess with a monkey!

The unfortunate blade eater.

Once my father was playing with a sharpener with my aunt. My aunt was a young one year old, so she just watched my dad use a screwdriver to open the sharpener. My aunt was a curious baby, so she did the first thing she could think of and she swallowed the blade of the sharpener! My father panicked and ran to my grandpa who in turn ran to the doctor. The doctor told my grandparents and my father that there were only two ways to get rid of the blade, one was via surgery and one option was to keep feeding my aunt bananas till the blade came out the natural route, and thus began the great banana fest! My aunt was fed bananas day after day and every time she used the bathroom my grandpa would see if the blade had come out. Luckily on the fourth day the glistening blade had come out and my aunt was unharmed. So, any time you play with sharp objects, make sure you keep it away from any curious (and hungry) children!

The laddoo eaters.

 Whenever there was a festival or function in my dad’s school there would always be sweets kept for people to snack on. The best sweet would obviously be the delicious laddoos, a special delicacy of India. My dad and his friend were both very hungry that day, so they decided to steal some laddoos to eat during the function. Alas! The window next to which the sweets were kept was far beyond any of their reach, so they decided to climb on top of each other to reach the treasure waiting for them on top! Just as my dad, who was standing on top of his friend’ shoulders, grabbed one of the sweets, he was pulled down by his mother who had caught sight of the two thieves and dragged them to their respective fathers. The rest, they say, is history!