Reflecting on My First Ramadan in DC

Note: This post was written around July 2016, but I forgot to publish it out of sheer laziness.

I never would have imagined being a Muslim in Washington, DC would be difficult given the large populous of Muslims (mainly from South Asia and parts of the Middle East) that live either in the District or in the bordering areas of Northern Virginia. However, my Ramadan experience in DC proved me otherwise. Not only is it difficult, for me, to adapt to a more Muslim lifestyle here (a.k.a: Halal eating), but I felt a loss of community that I was once a part of when I lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, and even Indonesia (to an extent).

Let me preface by saying that I am what (I assume) many people in the Muslim community would consider a “bad Muslim,” partially because I do not adhere to the five prayers as well as the dietary restrictions. I am not going to say that my choice of not wearing a headscarf makes me a “bad Muslim,” but that is a debate saved for a later date. I think my pushback towards my religion stemmed from the fact that, in my experience, Islam has been a norm, and something that (to me) has been drilled into me since I had attained consciousness. As such, I never really cared about my religion and, for years, I would consider myself indifferent to Islam and its teachings. However, I began to reconnect with my religion partially due to my experiences in Dharamsala, India and learning the ways of Tibetan Buddhism. And yes, Tibetan Buddhism, for me, was my gateway to opening back up to Islam, but it was not the only reason why I began to view Islam more positively (that can be in another post). So just to recap: my views of my experience in Ramadan are purely from a novice Muslim who decided to try adhering to her religion fully for the first time.

This year during Ramadan (2016), I felt a need to be more religious in my practice compared to the Ramadans of the my past. Reflecting back, I think there are two reasons to this: 1) This was my first Ramadan away from home and my family – a first Ramadan without a strong support group really; and 2) I was at a time in my life where I had no direction. As such, I thought, “Well, if it is a holy month, maybe some of my questions can be answered?” So, I experimented with my self will, especially the temptation to order meat dishes. I adhered to the strict Halal dieting rules, which I had forgone during the other times of the month (and still do). Due to this restriction, I realized how limited D.C. is with its Halal option.

Okay, you might be thinking, “So, why can’t you just be ovotarian/pescetarian/vegetarian?” And to that, I say that I have a strong passion for meat dishes and, yes, even one month of no meat (i.e.: chicken or beef) is a hard limit for me because I am a weakling (haha). Due to this personal (and stupid) decision, I cooked most of the time and limited my take-out and dining out times.

One of the pros of this dietary restriction was that I learned to cook more. I think that Ramadan spurred me to be more creative with my cooking. I started to try new recipes, and especially closed to Aidilfitri, I started to make cookies that reminded me of home. So, I guess my stupidity and ornery behavior led to me level up my cooking skills.

Another pro that I felt was that I was less stressed out during my frantic need to be employed. Mainly because Ramadan is a time to attain some form of inner peace. As such, I prayed more (which is my way of meditating and clearing my mind) and I tried to see the positive side of things rather than dwell on the negative. Some days it works, other days can be hard and I spiraled back to my frantic worry of unemployment. However, I felt an odd calm that I can’t truly explain during this time of month.

Nevertheless, I think one of the biggest con that I can think of is that there is a lack of community during Ramadan in DC. I think it mainly stems from the fact that I am not in a Muslim majority area and that I never made an effort to connect with the Muslim communities in DC (or even at my university). As such, I felt miserable because I missed the Ramadan bazaars and hearing the Azan for Maghrib – these are the things that one can easily take for granted.

Another thing that I noticed is the lack of Halal food in DC itself. Despite housing the Islamic Center, DC has an appalling track record of Halal eateries, and there is only one Halal Chinese restaurant while the rest are mainly Middle Eastern or Turkish food (which is not my main preference). Being a Southeast Asian, I do miss my type of food, from your ayam masak lemak to your murtabak. These are the foods that I have also taken for granted. As such, this was the main reason why I started to cook my own food, because I can’t rely on DC to provide the food for me.

These are all petty cons that I realize were a me problem rather than the District’s problem. But these petty cons spurred my intent to connect better with Islam. So, some might say that it is a good thing (haha).

Overall, I think if I have to do Ramadan again, I learned from my mistakes and I will try to either do better at finding a community or I can suck it up and not complain. Till then, we shall see what Ramadan 2017 will entail.

Starting Again

2016 has passed and, just like almost everyone else, a new year brings an opportunity for restart once again.

For me, I plan to restart my outlook on life, especially when it comes to my health. Furthermore, I plan to boost my writing skills, especially in analytical writing. (Got to show graduate schools that I am a bright person somehow, haha!) I plan to post at least once a month, an analytical piece based on my interests and knowledge bank. However, I also plan to blog a bit more and re-vamp this website. 

We shall see how this goes. Till then, Davai! 

Living with PCOS: My Thoughts So Far

When I was 16 years old, my gynecologist officially diagnosed me with PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome). Her stern face and sharp eyes gleaned at me and back at the results, and she concluded that I have a disease. Suddenly, the room felt colder than usual, and I just sat in the chair on the verge of tears. In my head, the only phrase that was repeating over and over was “there is something wrong with me.” I left the doctor’s office, crying in the car, while my mother consoled me and tried to make me feel normal.

Why did I have such a visceral reaction?

This is partially due to the fact that I never quite fit in with my friends on the basis of physical appearance. Throughout my life, I was the token fat friend. Hence, the fact that I have PCOS made me feel more alien and further away from my peers, who I have assumed were what societal standards of normal – a terrible assumption that can deem you as an “ass.”


Getting Started

After calming down from this reaction, my mother, who was my prime supporter, told me that I can either wallow in self-pity or do something about it. Naturally, the latter option was the one that I eventually chose (a choice that came with a plethora of ups and downs). So, I began to change for the better.

During the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, my mother contacted a personal trainer to teach me how to shed the pounds. At first, I hated the thought of a personal trainer and going to the gym because I felt judged, like I didn’t belong. I would do the trainings half-heartedly and complained to my mother that the regiment was not working. Let me tell you, that initially push towards a healthier lifestyle is the worse part of anyone’s health journey.

One of the downsides of PCOS is the fact that losing weight is hard, and gaining weight is far easier for those with PCOS. As such, I had to find a balance between my physical activity and what I consumed. At times, it can be heartbreaking when the scale does not want to go down (this is after the water weight shedding stage) and giving up seems like the better option. But, my family and Kak Min, my trainer, kept pushing me on.

 


My Surgery

When I entered junior year, I felt better about myself, but something still felt wrong. Once my period started to become somewhat regular, I kept getting painful pangs from my abdominal region. The kind of pangs that I made me wake up in the middle of the night, crying. The kind of pangs that debilitated me for a few hours since I was unable to walk from the sheer pain. What were the cause of these pains?

Well, you see, when I was diagnosed with PCOS, my gynecologist also said that I had a cyst (6.8 x 3.8 x 4.2cm) that simple cyst on the right side of my body, near the fallopian tubes. At the time that this cysts was detected, my gynecologist thought it was benign. Little did I know that after a year of it being benign, this little cysts decided to grow.

At first, I refused to believe that the pain was a result of this cyst, which is a result of PCOS. We ran diagnostics with the doctor and it was initially thought of as a UTI. However, after months of taking the UTI medicine, the pain continued to get more severe. So severe that I was admitted to the hospital at night.

 

This all happened in sometime in when I woke up with sheer pain one night. My mom decided to go to the ER, hoping that maybe medicine or a shot can cure my pain. After the doctors were unable to figure out what was wrong and I was, at this point, just in sheer pain, all of us collectively decided to go on with the surgery. This was a keyhole surgery that is meant to just remove this cyst, the culprit to my period pangs.

During the surgery, my gynecologist, who performed the keyhole surgery, stated that my fallopian tubes wrapped around this cysts multiple times (more than twice). This was the reason why I felt such immense pain whenever I had my period. Not only was there some form of blockage but my tubes were playing a game of Twister as well! Luckily, I was out during this whole surgery. After weeks of recovering and gaining the ability to walk properly again, I returned to school. I was partially mad that I had to miss school since this was the first year of my IB classes and I missed an entire math project, which I had to make up for later. But overall, that surgery reminded me, again, that this is one of the facts of life of living with PCOS.

Ever since that surgery, I (thankfully) had no more pains and no more benign cyst detected near my uterus area. However, other PCOS symptoms continue to prevail, such as thinning hair and the difficulty of losing weight. But those are issues that don’t necessarily cause me pain like the one I felt with my cyst, so I am okay with these issues (which are “easily” (not really, haha!) remedied).

Over time, I have come to recognize the full weight of PCOS, especially coupled with the fact that I have other hereditary health issues due to family history. I was motivated to not let these issues control me. But, just like every other thing set in reality, the journey is never easily.

 


Of Body Image Issues and Mood Swings

When I first started my health journey, my goal was to be thin, based on societal standards of healthy. I wanted a whole slew of things, and I held this lists like the golden standard. This can be detrimental since, like I said earlier, PCOS makes it harder to lose weight. In addition, one of the other side effects of PCOS is extreme mood swings. The only way to not make me feel like utter shit is when I work out since the endorphins help keep those negative vibes away from me. Mood swings coupled with my personal issues with my body and you get someone who has a weird relation to her fitness goal.

 

For years, I had such a weird relationship to fitness. On one hand, I wanted to be this fit person that focuses on health in all aspects (mental, physical, and even spiritual). On the other hand, I just wanted to be this physically fit person. This is an issue that I still battle with since my view of fitness has been warped by so many factors (i.e.: social media, my health history, etc.).

In 2017, I decided to make my fitness goal more sustainable. As such, I aim to be physically and mentally stronger, which means not relying on the scale and not trying to be fit based on society’s standards. I will still continue to work out because, as a woman, having any form of physical strength can potentially help you get away from danger. I will try to hold myself accountable to this goal!


Final Reflections

With any syndrome or disease, it is up to the individual to navigate through it since not every story is the same. The best way is to educate yourself as much as you can and try to surround yourself with either a community or support system to keep you in check. For me, my support system is my family, my boyfriend, and my friends. These are the people who have kept my in check whenever I felt down about my PCOS or about myself in general. Till then, I will be constantly fighting with PCOS being a part of my physical make-up, but I won’t let it dictate my happiness.

Me circa 2009-2010; at this time, I had not been diagnosed with PCOS yet.

 

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Me circa 2015; I still live with PCOS, but I am doing something about it now.

Entitled Homeland Strangers

“You don’t live and experience things here, so what gives you the right to say what’s wrong with Malaysia.”

This was uttered to me when I was talking to a very close friend of mine about the problems in Malaysia in regards to the disconnect between fresh graduate pay and cost of living in Kuala Lumpur. Like any human, I was mad at this statement. I have every right given that I am Malaysian and I read up about this issue in some popular outlets.

Yet, the more I think about the issue – the more I see the fault in my argument.

What spurred me into writing about this issue now is due to several recent posts that I read from Asian Americans who talk about returning to the “homeland” and criticizing that life in their “mother” countries are below their standards. And to be fair, I sympathize with their sentiments since most of them were raised in “Western” countries where they were exposed to more freedoms compared to those living in “non-Western” states. This situation also applies to those who came from privilege lifestyles and placing their prejudices on lifestyles they deem as lesser to their taste.

However, I continued to ponder on this topic and posed the question: Is it fair to place judgement on an experience or situation where you may not fully comprehend?

After thinking about it more and more, I came to the conclusion of no.

This post goes through my reasons as to why I took this stance, giving weight to issues of privilege, savior complexes, and dismissing minority voices in the argument.

However, I do agree that a discussion should take place, but one where those from various backgrounds engage in the conversation and disseminate the issue together via constructive analysis and discussions of meaningful solutions. Ergo, this will (hopefully) be more inclusive.

First, I came to the conclusion that it is not fair to judge a situation because it perpetuates the savior complex. If you ever took international development classes or any class that touches upon disenfranchised people, this narrative is super common. The savior complex, most often in the form of white savior complex, basically boils down to a privilege person who helps out someone who they deem as less privilege and seeks to help them out only to exercise self-congratulatory attitudes. Now, I would safely say that at least 95 percent of people practice this savior complex to some degree – even if we may not a) admit it or b) realize it. We judge based on the lenses that we grew up with.

Second, I did not agree with the idea of judging a situation in which we don’t fully comprehend because it silences the opinions of those who are actually experiencing the situation. This is a bit more complex compared to the first point because you can go about it in two ways.

On one hand, allowing all narratives to chime in can be problematic, especially if the narratives that you are hearing are seen as harmful to the situation. For example, situations such as child marriages or abusing LGBTQ+ communities, if one hears the narrative of those who support them – then that is difficult to not judge. However, I think it is important to hear these narratives to understand where the other side comes from and then try to flip the conversation and understand where this sentiment is coming from. It is hard to hear opinions that are different from your beliefs, and trust me I am the number one culprit, but I think it’s good to be familiar with narratives because the world is not a bubble.

On the other one, allowing all narratives to chime in is super useful because it allows others to understand where help is most needed. Take for example the issue of voluntourism, such as building a house for a village. Many of these voluntourism companies may not operate ethically, in the sense that they are profiting from people’s desires to help. As such, the tasks set out by these voluntourists are not really meeting the needs of the community – thus, the activity wasted time and resources that could have been better channeled to the needs of the people.

As such, it is important to hear the other side to understand where each person’s sentiment comes as a way of fully comprehending the situation.

Finally, I don’t agree with the idea of judging an experience without understanding the context because it may not be your place to drop those prejudices, but it is your place to understand and spread awareness.

I am the first to admit that I have, on multiple accounts, judged my country for many of the issues, from education policies to unfair living standards to the mucky political situation. And I will always be the first to say that Malaysia has a lot of problems, but then again, everyone country does. Countries are constructed by humans and humans are not perfect. Then again, I cannot fully place my prejudice on a situation without understanding the context.

Although I am not going through the same qualms as my Malaysian peers due to my degree of privilege, I try to understand the context of the situation before giving my opinion on the matter. It is through reading and engaging in conversation that I am truly able to learn.

It is due to these aforementioned reasons that I am annoyed by the posts of Asian-Americans who complain that if they go back to Asia, they do not get the same degree of privilege that they are used to in America. Yet, they are heading to these countries and exercising their privilege in harmful ways rather than practicing responsible tourism.

 

Now, I know this post may not be popular among many people. Heck, even writing this, I am also hating myself. But more and more, I reflect on how I talk about my country and how I am an entitled homeland stranger – to an extent. And more so, what about those who are even furthered removed from the motherland. They are more entitled and more distanced from the ‘homeland.’ What right do they have to place judgement on something that they may experience either once or twice annually or even more infrequent.

I don’t know, I have a lot of opinions on this issue and I am still trying to figure out how to best address this issue. Maybe in a few months or a year, I might re-address this topic again because it’s an issue that I am still trying to grasp given the many variables that can be played out.

 

 

 

 

 

ঢাকা

 

Words can begin to describe the pain and horror that occurred on the night of July 1, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. To the families and friends who lost someone during this attack, my heart and prayers go out to you. Condolences and a moment of silence for the lives lost in this senseless act of violence. May you rest in peace and power.

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When the news reported on attacks in Turkey, Paris, Garissa, Orlando (and the list goes on), the tragedy saddens me, but these attacks had not really affected me on a deeper level as the one that occurred in Dhaka. The difference lies in the level of attachment that I had for Dhaka compared to these other  places.

Dhaka was a place that I called home for three and a half years. During my time there, I learned so much about myself and the world around me. I met great people who opened my mind to new experiences. Dhaka, to me, was a turning point in my life and I am forever grateful of the experiences that I had.

What was an even bigger shock was knowing that two of my old friends lost their youngest siblings to this blatant act of senseless violence. Although I did not know the victims personally, I had the pleasure of working with them and seeing them occasionally. To think that now, these bright, young students had their journey cut abruptly short was simply a shock to the heart.

Their brothers loved them deeply and I can recall their sibling interactions when I was on the bus with them or when I visited their house. The most vivid memory that I have of these two students was during the middle school play. I remembered putting on eyeliner for them, albeit very badly. I remembered shining a spotlight on them as they cued up on stage. I remembered their smiles and laughter backstage. These memories are ones that I will cherish because although our interactions were few, they were memorable.

 

No words can bring them back and it pains me to know that their, as well as the other 18 whose lives were cut short, family and friends are grieving and mourning the lost of their loved ones.

Hopefully this attack will not be ignored and that the country will fortify its security and weed out the terrorist who dare use religion as a basis for their horrible, disgusting violence.

Till then, let us have a moment of silence and mourn the innocent lives lost.

Vigil for for the victims of the Dhaka attack held in Washington, DC.

Plans for the Blog: Update July 1

I think I have decided on how to approach this blog thing, so I’m going to post some key postings that I will try to complete by next week. This is to keep me accountable for what I will post – kind of like an assignment deadline. Hopefully I can try to keep this up because I really do want to hone my writing skills.

 

Coming Soon (So Far)

Keeping the A in ASEAN – Given Brexit, I will try to discuss the issue of ASEAN and how they can possible keep it together. I hope to get this post in by this Monday.

Of Security and Safety – With Singapore’s Smart Nation currently in the ‘build’ stage, I want to explore more about the issue of surveillance and how far is too far. Furthermore, I will try to examine urban design and surveillance, especially given the vulnerability of urban areas to crime and violence. I hope to get this in by next week Saturday because I am trying to see how to tread this issue in a critical but also careful manner.

Amie Tan Adventures – This will be in the Stories section and I hope to have a Prologue or some form of concept by next Wednesday. Basically, I am trying to create a Southeast Asian heroine since we lack representation in the media and in literature. So, I will try to dip my hands into it. It might be a short story or it might be a mini-series.

 

Beyond that, I hope to continue keeping this blog active – even writing short personal thoughts. I will try to explore more South and North Asia topics once I figure out how to tackle those issues as well.

 

Till then, I highly suggest giving Leon Bridges a listen.

A Case Against Moral Policing

In recent news, a Muslim Malay woman and her friend were harassed for eating during Ramadan. They were condemned for ruining the image of Islam. According to the article, Mrym Lee and her friend were protesting the moral policing that occurs to those who are eating and drinking publicly during Ramadan. Due to visible identifiers of her Muslim faith (i.e. donning a hijab), Mrym Lee faced even more scrutiny for what others saw as defiling her faith and having no respect for other Muslims abroad.

Now this is some class A bullshit. Let her live her life and the onlookers should just remain so, look and don’t say a word. I agree with Mrym Lee that people should be more concerned by larger issues surrounding Malaysia, such as corruption and poor disregard to health care – among other issues. Instead, people decide to squander through the pits of their pitiful life and prey on those that they find weak. Simply absurd.

Furthermore, this is a violation of her privacy and right as a woman because those who did chastised her were men. Men who don’t understand how the female body works and that if women are on their period, then they don’t fast. Duh. This common sense that I learned during religious classes but I think they might have been too preoccupied with their own limp penises to pay attention. Furthermore, even if they don’t have their periods, they might have other medical complications or other issues that might prevent them from fasting – and what authority do these men have to deem them as worthy. Assholes.

Now, if I were to do what Mrym did – I might not have gotten into trouble. Why, you may ask? Well, first thing off the bat is that I don’t wear a tudung or hijab. Ergo, I don’t have anything on me that visibly shows my faith. Second, phenotypically, I don’t have as “Malay features” due to my family’s mix heritage. As such, if I were to eat in public during Ramadan, they might see me as a non-Malay, non-Muslim person.

Whatever it is, moral policing is a horrible idea that limits human rights and those who are targeted are seen as grimy worms being stepped on by self-entitled twits. What gives someone the right to be seen as better than some individuals? This is a product of the patriarchal norms that the world has seem to normalized. To me, the people who decide to berate Mrym Lee and her friend are nothing more empty-handed, empty-hearted people. They profess themselves as God’s warriors, but in fact, they might have just cancelled their fasting for thinking negative thoughts about a person – so really, they have done more harm than good.