MUMTAZA MASTERCLASS!

I'm so very excited to be telling you about Mumtaza's first Masterclass for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro!

Details Below:

Want to learn how to #Slay on Stage?

The Mumtaza Network is proud to announce the first of its MasterClass Series for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro.

In our survey last year, you said you wanted to learn how to share your stories in the most powerful way possible. You wanted to learn the skills of slaying on stage, of holding a room, of perfecting a powerful presence.

You told us what you wanted, and we listened.

Public Speaking Like a Pro is a day-long workshop run by Women of Colour, for Women of Colour. Hosted by co-Founder and CEO of the Mumtaza Network, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, you will leave the session equipped with the skills to be the most powerful advocate for your message.

Further details will be released shortly, but get your tickets ASAP, as seats are limited!

TIX HERE!

 

The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

 The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

 First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

 Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

Can we actually, truly change?

Change.  We talk a lot about it but how often does it truly happen in the way we want it to? There are all sorts of studies, speeches and books dedicated to the concept and yet, it sometimes seems nebulous.  

One of the really interesting questions that I often hear - and ask myself - is whether people can ever truly change. 

Can someone who has committed a grievous crime be truly rehabilitated? Can someone who has traditionally been socially conservative become extremely liberal, and/or vice versa? Can someone who hates sport turn into an ironwoman/man? 

As I was pondering this very question on my last flight, I came across this podcast... Invisibilia's study on personalities.

I highly recommend you listen to it, and then have a think about what I drew as the conclusion. It's all in our mind... 

...and I think this book is now on my reading list.

Enjoy! 

 

 

On Sabrina & Blasts from the Past

When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)

"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.  

Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.

In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.  

I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.

Easier said than done, of course.

Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges.  When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us.  Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.


After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic.  It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.  

The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules.  I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.

I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:

Salam alaikum dear Yassmin...welll I really don’t know where to start from coz I’m excited. I thought I should share my excitement with you coz you are someone I have always been convinced is of great intellect and life touching potentials, even though I only met you for a short time and we got to talk a few times.

Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. 

Yes! we’ve met before and that’s the more reason why I’m excited...sometimes in early to mid 2012 we were at the same institute of Arabic language (ma’ad lugha al arabiyyah) at International University of Africa, Khartoum, Sudan.

We weren’t actually classmates but we’ve had the opportunity to study together at one of those instances where the teachers have to merge students together for some classes. It was on one of those occasions we met and we talked not so extensively, but heartily. You might not remember who I am, but I do vividly remember you, such that when I randomly watched your TED talk on YouTube while just surfing the internet, I knew it was you even without remembering your name, I just knew it was you...that’s how people with infectious personality, high intellect and extremely inspiring leave me feeling even if we’ve only known each other for a few seconds.

You might be wondering why I’m excited. I’m excited because since I stopped seeing you around at ma’ad lugha, it would cross my mind once in a while what you are up to where ever you are. Seeing you on TED and reading a few other things about you, and realizing that you’re doing great for yourself, and not just that, you’re also inspiring others to bring out the best in themselves is just amazing.

I’m really proud and greatly inspired by you. Keep up the good work and Allah is your strength.

We might not have so many things in common, but like you said in one of your talks, “you want to do so many things, that at the end of the day, you just want to be useful”.

I think we share that in common, and you are one of my inspirations to work even better at achieving that goal. I also have a few things going on in my life, if you do not mind, I could share them with you.

Take care.

That is what makes it all worth it. 

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.

We must never forget that.

I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.

Well, at my speech night someone - an important someone - asked me what I was planning to do with my life. I told him, and he said “No son, you’re going to study law and commerce and do this, this and this...” and that’s what I did!

Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.  


What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.  

The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.

How exciting is that?!

Don't DIS my Appearance: On Beauty

I've been fortunate to be able to support a powerful awareness campaign being run by the Butterfly Foundation.

"Don't DIS My Appearance"

It is a cheeky campaign for a serious cause.

Check some info about it here.

On the theme of appearance, I wrote this piece for Sunday Style.

***

No matter how high performing they are, so many single awesome, high achieving young women I know have insecurities about the way they look.

It’s almost something any two women can bond over, no matter where in the world they are from.

“Oh gosh, I ate SOO much today, and it’s all going to my thighs!”

You would be forgiven for thinking it was a line out of ‘Mean Girls’ and not a regular conversation between fabulously functioning females in 2015. It breaks my heart, and I would be lying if I said that I was always the exception. I also hate that it is true, because it wrongly reinforces a stereotype that says women are obsessed with and overly concerned with their bodies.

“I exercise so that I can eat chocolate,” is not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes it is said almost solely to fit into the expected discourse, because for some strange reason being concerned about weight is just so ‘normal’.

The ubiquitous and insidious nature of the media, and the advertising and image-saturated world we live in means there is no way to get away from a constant reinforcement of what is considered ‘beautiful’, what constitutes the ‘ideal’ and what a woman ‘should’ look like.

It takes constant reminding to disassociate from these cues and remind ourselves that there is no ‘ideal’. It is also worth remembering that these images are essentially produced art rather than a replication of a reality, but that is easier said than done. Ironically, as a covered Muslim woman, most of the time people can’t see my body to judge, but I know and that is enough to spur the internal conversation.

What is even more bizarre is Western standards of beauty being applied to people that are obviously structurally different. I’m an Arab African woman by blood so how on earth will I ever look like a J-Law or Emma Watson? I can’t, and yet somehow subconsciously I expect my body to be able to be moulded to a genetically different norm.

It is said that in Cuba, no matter what a woman looks like she has an inner sense of self confidence. How? Because apparently, growing up in a country without advertising from the nearby United States and the West, she isn’t constantly bombarded with capitalist-driven images of what ‘ideal beauty’ looks like. She grows up thinking the way she looks is beautiful, and just fine the way she is.

Isn’t that incredible?

Beauty and body image are peculiar concepts. What is considered beautiful is completely subjective, but in the world we live in there is absolutely no doubting that there is an ‘ideal’ standard of beauty and everything else is ‘exotic’.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents brought me up to have confidence in my abilities as an individual, and my self worth was tied more around how I could be of service to the community rather than how I appeared.  That being said, that wasn’t always the case, and it isn’t all black and white. I grew up wanting to slice my rear-end off. All the Caucasian girls at my high school had flat bottoms and mine was round and protruding.  Awkward, right? It always making my dress hitch up when I checked myself out in the windows. What I wouldn’t have given to be the same as everyone else, the same as the models in magazines and TVs all around me…

Now though, according to Vogue, the ‘booty is back’!

Wonderful, or perhaps not so much. Because the booty is only considered beautiful if it is a particular type of booty, and accompanied with a body that is just as thin (or fit, because that’s the new thing) as any other model.

Honestly though, this commentary is a little unfair. Although the internet can be a terrible place for women, particularly in relation to body image (Twitter can resemble the Amazon: Beautiful but also full of blood-thirsty piranhas), it has also spawned an incredibly supportive movement and brought like-minded, empowered women together.

Not only are these movements about highlighting alternative forms of beauty, but they are about encouraging acceptance and celebration of difference. It is also about finding female role models who are not celebrated because of their physical beauty but because of what they do.

If there is a way for us to tackle the scourge of low self-confidence related to body image, it will be through that – through empowering young girls to realise that their self-worth is not tied to what they look like but who they are: their intelligence, their humour, their wit, their opinions, their laughs, their tears and their actions.

I look forward to living in a world where women feel comfortable in their own skin and their self-worth is not defined by a constrained and unachievable standard of beauty. Perhaps there will be some of that Cuban spirit in us all!


Don’t DIS My Appearance is a national awareness and fundraising campaign for the Butterfly Foundation, calling on all Australians to take a stand against a culture of appearance based judgement and negative body image.

Funds raised go towards better prevention, education, treatment and support services to fight eating disorders and the devastating impact they have on sufferers, families and our community.

We are asking people to paint their middle finger for May. Check out other ways you can get involved here.

 

So get amongst it!

Awesome Women in Formula One

I wrote this piece for Richard's F1 in honour of International Women's Day... Enjoy!

Formula 1 is not a sport typically associated with women. The world of motorsport seems to be one that continues to be dominated by men, and women’s alleged inferiority on the road seems to be so universally accepted that it pervades popular culture and is the subject of countless YouTube compilations.

Rampant sexism aside, and despite what the Formula 1 greats (hello, Stirling Moss!) think, women have played significant and influential roles in the sport and continue to do so today.

As we approach the beginning of the season and celebrate International Women’s Day, we have taken the liberty to highlight a few of the most powerful women to grace the grids/pits/design labs over the years, shattering stereotypes and busting balls, all in a day’s work.

Spanish racer Carmen Jordá was just announced as Lotus F1’s new development driver; all eyes will be on this Spanish driver’s performance in 2015.

Born in Alcoy, Spain, the daughter of former driver Jose Miguel Jordá has been a professional driver for over a decade and her presence doubles the number of female drivers in the paddock in 2015.

On joining the team, she recognised the challenges: “I know this is just the beginning and the biggest challenge is yet to come but already being part of a team with such a history is a real honour. This is a great achievement, but an even greater opportunity which will lead to bigger and better things.

“I’ve been racing since I was 10 years old so it was my dream to drive a Formula 1 car since I was very young,” she said to the Daily Mail.

Having completed three GP3 seasons without taking home any points, it will be interesting to see how and if she progresses with Lotus. She took out 16th place in 2010 in the Firestone Indy Lights racing for Andersen Racing, and her highest ever final position was back in 2007 when she placed fourth in Spanish Formula 3. We wish her the best of luck with Lotus!

Click here to READ ON at RICHARD'S F1!

***

Into the Middle of Things

Hello there! Well it has been a while. I read once it was bad form to apologise for not having posted for some time, but I think in this case I feel like some sort of acknowledgment of my absence is warranted.

It has been a 'busy' few months, although I do dislike using the word 'busy'.  Busy doesn't tell us very much, does it?  It is like 'fine'; an empty word that describes the status quo and adds no real value to a sentence.  It is there as a social nicety, which is something I suppose.  'What has been keeping you busy?' has been my go-to question of late, rather than 'what do you do?'.  It makes for a more interesting conversation.

Occasionally, I include a twist and amend it with 'what has been keeping you busy mentally?'

In my case, it has been a couple of months of growing up.  Mentally, I have been devoting a lot of time to issues around gender, access to opportunity and diversity across decision making places. I've also been thinking a lot about unconscious bias, how that plays a role in our society and how we can move past it...

Big issues, big questions. Too much for one blog post perhaps.

So instead, let me pepper you with some links to say hello again, and hopefully the next update will not be so far away.

***

I was recently alerted to this wonderful website: 'Into the Middle of Things', where Australians from around the country are interviewed about their life.  The first one I saw was below and it is a beautiful few minutes with Abe, a Sudanese-Brisbane lad:

Born in a Sudanese jail in the midst of a civil war, Abe escaped a possible future as a child soldier and managed to make it to Australia as a refugee with his seven brothers and sisters. The secret emotional and mental toll of this is still catching up with him today.

***

Shonda Rhimes is an awesome strong black woman and is doing some cool things with the various TV series she writes.

"I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in 'diversity' on television,"  Rhimes said, according to Medium's text of her speech. "'Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?' they say. I really hate the word 'diversity.' It suggests something other. ... As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV."

Rhimes offered an alternative to the term "diversity," saying she'd rather describe what she's doing as "normalizing."

"I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain't out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look normal," she said.

***

Some awesome women learning to be engineers in remote areas in the Philippines. LOVE IT.

***

Did n bit of a run down on various topics with the Triple J Hack crew for the Friday night Shake Up. What are your thoughts on some of these issues? Listen to the podcast here.  Also did some radio in Arabic! Check it by clicking here.

***

Loving this insta: Did I ever tell you I really used to love drawing cartoons?

90s Superboy cover for DC's Convergence! :)

A photo posted by babsdraws (@babsdraws) on Jan 14, 2015 at 6:06pm PST


***

So anyway, what has been keeping YOU busy mentally?

That Speech: Obama in the House!

“How much time did you get with him?”

The message was insistent.

“Oh I duno, maybe 10 seconds? Five?"

“Take me through every single second…"

I grinned, cast my mind back to the brief moment of the handshake and let my thumbs fly...

#obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

 

The News

 ...the coolest kid/leader in town - President Barack Obama - was coming to visit my alma mater was everywhere.  Fan girls and boys extolled their excitement with exclamation marks and witty status updates, an exuberance tempered only by the ire of the UQ (University of Queensland) students who realised that ‘day kids’ (students who didn’t stay at college) wouldn’t get a chance to attend. Understandably, it was an unpopular decision, to say the least.  The news that only 40 or so students from every residential college was able to secure one of the sought after tickets rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.

I have it on good authority that it was the University’s decision, and may have been due to the fact that they had to get RSVPs and confirmations with only a few days notice. The US Consulate/White House (as far as I have been led to believe) was keen to get as wide a demographic as possible but left it in the hands of the Universities and schools.  Make of that what you will...

I was fortunate to snare a spot in the crowd, thank you US Consulate!  Awkwardly though, I didn’t realise the tickets had to be picked up a couple of days before the event (at UQ!) until I was called up by the staff on the collection day!  Sitting in my office in Perth, I scrambled to get a family member to pick up the invite for me. Predictably, no-one in my family picked up the phone! A friend came to my rescue and operation “Ticket Collection” was a success. (Shout out to my saviour Romy!)

I arrived in Brisbane on the morning of the event, rushing home from the airport with my little brother at the wheel and hurriedly deciding what to wear. It had to be comfortable, I thought, in order to be able to handle the incredibly sticky Brisbane heat.  Not too crazy I told myself, but also with just enough ‘Yassmin-ness’ (read: flamboyance) to be appropriate.  Smart Casual, the invite said, but since when did anyone pay attention to what the invite says? I went high waisted pants (*cough* cue *cough) and killer high heels (modest, of course!), so that I wasn’t just tall but towering. Ha, nothing like height to demand presence right?

Securing the Seat

Doors opened at 10.45am: I strolled in and secured a spot three rows from the front.  I hadn't realised the President wasn't arriving for hours, so couldn't understand why the place wasn't immediately full.  As I looked quizzically around the center, the guy next to me explained:

"Well, this is what happens when you rock up two hours early..."

Ah, indeed.  Fortunately though, there was plenty of entertainment. 

Politics of the young people in the crowd aside, the invite list was fascinating.  Once the room began to fill up, there were a few hundred students in the risers complemented by hundreds of the men and women who help shape Australia.  In the far right hand corner of the room sat the ‘heavy hitters’, and boy were there a few! Ex-Governor Generals, Premiers, former Premiers, business men and women and stalwarts of the Australian political scene.  Wayne Swan, Qunnie Bryce, John Story, Sam Walsh, Bronwyn Bishop, Colin Barnett, Campbell Newman and Tanya Plibersek to name a few. It was daunting, but honestly? An awesome opportunity to make some new friends, I thought.  The worst part was not recognising someone I really should have, particularly when they clearly think you know how important they are (sorry Colin Barnett).  Something I am working on…

 Funnily enough, one such 'High Net Worth Individual' commented on the number of heavy hitters in the room.

“The thing is,” he said. “I am not sure they are used to being made to wait!" …and yes, waiting is what they were doing.

Doors opened at 10.45am, but the President didn’t make his entrance until after 1pm. That is a lot of time for someone who deems their time critically important, but alas, if not for Obama, then who for?

The Entrance

The Vice Chancellor of UQ stood up to make a speech.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity... but I'm going to get off this stage because I know no-one is interested in what I have to say! I'm like the warm up act for the Rolling Stones!"

People chuckled, but it was true. There was a buzz in the air. Everyone was excited to be there, and even the loftiest figures a little bit groupie-like.  The background music would occasionally fade out between songs, and every time there was a moment of silence, the room would instantly hush in anticipation.  This is the moment, we were all be thinking, and then a note of the next song would ring out and the building erupt in (slightly nervous) laughter.  The tension was palpable...

Then, the moment we had all been waiting for.

A booming voice over the loud speaker: "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America..." The rest of the statement was drowned out as everyone leapt to their feet, cameras in hand, half cheering, half taking selfies.  It was a little bit hilarious...
(Obviously, I was not immune. Here is my video of the entrance...)

The announcement of #Obama # universityofqueensland   A video posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

The Big O

I am not a massive fan of Obama's policies, and anyone who has had a discussion with me knows my opinions on his legacy.  That being said, there is no denying his power as an orator.  He came out and instantly the masses swooned, laughing uproariously at his aussie jokes and comments about "Fawr X".

His charisma is undeniable, and he used it to good effect: starting out bolstering the Aussie pride and subtly reinforcing our status as allies.

"As the world's only super power..." he would say, a silent barb towards China.

"These are our choices, oppression or liberty."

The real clincher however, came after he mentioned Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.   The real surprise was what dominated the headlines; Obama's commitment to an International Climate Fund, aiding developing countries tackle the effects of climate change.

This is a fascinating development, particularly as I am personally interested in the effects of energy poverty and the dilemma around setting up countries to gain equal access to clean, cheap and sustainable energy.  More on this at a later date...

The Handshake

It happened like this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nopWOC4SRm4

(All jokes aside...)

Speech was made, and he moved to the side of the stage. We had no idea if he was going to meet anyone, but the moment he started descending via the stairs, the crowds surged towards the barricade. There must have been ten secret service / body guard guys on each side, warning people not to shove cameras in his face as he walked along the black fence and greeted individuals.

I was aided by my enormous heels and wide hips.  As I swung my way to the front, a former colleague from the Queensland Museum smiled at me.

"Get in there Yas!"

I grinned back. Oh yes indeed!

As the President turned towards me, my mind raced. What do I say? This wasn't the time for a foreign policy barb I supposed...

The handshake was firm, and his eyes fixed on my face, seemingly like an uncle I hadn't seen in a while.

"Thank you sir" was all I managed.

"How are you," he said (I think. It is a bit of a blur).  He looked right at me (slightly up, I was really tall), perhaps slightly surprised to see someone who looked like me in the Australian crowd.

"Good, thanks..."

The lack of inspiration in my answers is slightly embarrassing in hindsight, as was the fact that I didn't go for the fist bump instead.

The aftermath

Lots of squealing. From everyone involved...

Solid handshake with the President of the United States. #auspol #thishappened #obama

A photo posted by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) on

Sassy Sudanese Sister: Holla!

Sometimes professional people in the community say some strange things.  One such Professor in Sudan said on the national channel (Blue Nile) that "all Sudanese women were short and ugly". How charming.

This was the fantastic response...

(Partly in English, partly in Arabic - but the passion needs no language to be understood!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT7KkcWp5Ro

Repost: Fever for Football

This is a piece contributed to a wonderful website Sajjeling - check it out! It's a great collection of Australian-Arab narratives and I am honoured to be a part of it... article-2673362-1F38C38000000578-552_634x421

 

“The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” – Terry Pratchett

My friend shook his head after listening to me wail about the crushing, humiliating defeat of La Furia Roja, the Spaniards, at the hands of ‘Clockwork Orange’, the Dutch.“I don’t understand! How can you care so much when you’re not even Spanish?”

“Explain to me why it means so much? How can it matter so much to you when there is no link between you and the country at all?”

I sighed. How to explain the love of football, especially that of the World Cup?

I can’t pinpoint exactly where my love of the World Game begun. My earliest memory is that of the 1994 games. Although I don’t remember the details, I do recall being left in front of the TV with instructions to call my dad over whenever a goal was scored. Given that I was only three, I wasn’t sure what a goal was exactly but I made a deduction that it had something to do with the reactions of people in the stand. So, anytime the stadium cheered I would rush to get my father, guessing something important had happened. Looking back, I am not sure my father thought the strategy was as impressive as I thought it was.

The following world cup – France 1998 – was celebrated with the purchase of a new set of pyjamas that was blue with soccer balls all over it. Unfortunately, there were no sets of soccer pyjamas for girls; my mother bought me a boys’ set. This was fine, except no one wanted to explain to me why there was an extra hole in the front of the pants…

w01_04892985.jpg

My obsession after that only grew, despite the fact that everyone else in my family only cared slightly. I stuck posters with match timetable and draw on the lounge room walls. I made scrapbooks for the tournament, writing little notes about each match and cutting out all the pictures from the paper, decimating my father’s newspaper-reading ritual in the process.

In 2006, I watched every single game until my mother banned me for a night and demanded that I go to bed. Apparently a straight week without sleep was enough to make my mood positively dangerous, particularly when my team was floundering. 2010 brought the World Game to my screen right in the middle of my most difficult university exam period, and perhaps may explain the grades I received that semester. 2014, even with a full time job and despicable game times in Australia, has been no different.

The question, however, remains. Why, as my friend asked, do I care so much when Australia always does poorly and my land of birth, Sudan, has never made an appearance? Why do I feel so impassioned about the fate of a team when, ultimately, it has no bearing on me?

I am no footballer – anyone who has seen me with a ball at my feet will confirm that – so it has nothing to do with being inspired to play better. And in the weeks of the World Cup, it is much more than ‘just a sport’ for billions of people around the world including me. Football, it seems, has its own type of magic.

It is the most popular game in the world, played on streets in every nation. It requires no gear apart from an object that is roughly round (in Sudan we used balls made out of old socks) and markings in the ground to delineate a goal. Money, pedigree and social standing have no bearing on your ability to be a great player and perhaps even make a name for yourself. It is simple to understand, and its barrier to entry is extremely low. Anyone can play and be a part of the beauty of this game.

This game is so much more than statistics. Football is ultimately about humanity.

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The World Cup is a tournament that brings grown men to tears, changes the lives of rookie players and inspires generations of children to do something great. Some countries grind to a halt to watch the games. The green is a battlefield where literally anything can happen – great teams kicked out at the group stages, underdogs (like Greece and Costa Rica this year) making it further than anyone thought they could goalies and strikers alike making the impossible real. Goals can be scored right up until the last second, changing fates and creating heroes. Infamous moments are revisited for decades; Madonna’s hand of God, Zidane’s headbutt, that-one-English-win-in-1966.

Football is the great equaliser.

Yet, the World Cup is also a tournament that unites in defeat. 31 of the 32 teams that travel to Brazil this year will experience it in some form, whether it is crushing, like that of Spain, or hopeful, like Australia’s defeat against the Dutch. If there is one emotion we can all share, it is the commonality of World Cup heartbreak.

That’s what it’s about, right? At the end of the day, football and the World Cup are about collective emotion and teams that are vessels for the hopes and dreams of nations. The beauty of this game beyond the field is that it expresses an emotion shared right around the world. It allows us, no matter our heritage, to feel part of something huge, and taps into the reptilian part of our brain that wants to belong, to have a tribe. The World Cup makes us all one people

Scottish footballer and former manager of English club Liverpool, Bill Shankly, said it all for me.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

Oh for the love of Holdens...

1968 Holden HK Monaro-02 Affirm Press will be publishing an anthology later in the year called "It happened in a Holden", and I am honoured to be one of the writers contributing to the book!

It should be a great compilation and I am honoured to be a part of the project

Here is a sneak peak of what I wrote...

"‘Hey, you,’ the portly figure across the road called in my direction.

I looked around, was he talking to me?

‘You, over there!’ He was now pointing at me through the throng of people walking across the road, intermittently blocking my view.

‘Who, me?’ I mouthed, pointing at my chest, bending the vinyl Summernats logo printed on the shirt.

‘Yeh, you! Come over here!’

I hesitated. The man was bald, sporting a biker’s beard and a t-shirt with a naked lady on the front. The market store he was standing next to wasn’t much better, and cheeky sloganed t-shirts were just the beginning. Every piece of Summernats paraphernalia from stubby holders to novelty pens seemed to have found its way into this guy’s tent.

Oh, what the hell, I thought, as I made my way across the road, ignoring every ‘don’t talk to strangers’ lesson ever taught. Weaving in and out of the crowd, I passed a gorgeous Camaro parked by the store, and only just resisted the urge to stroke its bonnet. Control yourself, girl! I reprimanded myself silently. The last 1960s model stirred something in my chest that gave me the jitters. "

What is your favourite Holden?

 

***

Madiba! A lament, a celebration.

Nelson-Mandela’s-Top-Five-Contributions-to-Humanity Tears for a man who inspired us all.

Nelson Mandela passed away today, at the age of 95.  There aren't many other figures in recent history who have inspired us Africans in the same way, and sacrificed so much for his people with such humility.  This is a piece I wrote a little while back but never published...now is perhaps a fitting time.  

The world is an emptier place without Madiba.

***

He is one of the great men in modern history, one of the true statesmen that have graced us with their wisdom.

I am not South African myself, but I feel a kinship to the man who gave up 27 years of his life in a prison to fight a cause for his people.  When he was released, he somehow was able to also then forgive the very people that locked him away.

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”

I may not be South African but as a fellow African, Mandela (or Madiba as he is known to his countrymen), is like my very own grandfather.  It is a sentiment I think shared by most, if not all Africans who have grown up or witnessed his immeasurable sacrifice and influence on South Africa and on the continent.

My family originates from the Horn of the continent; having been born in Sudan and flavoured with Egyptian and Moroccan blood, I am thoroughly north African.

As with all African nations (bar one!), the effects of colonisation was keenly felt in Sudan.  Interestingly, the effects of their departure and the legacy that they left still remain.  Sudan was conquered by the British, and in an effort to move on the current regime did everything they could to establish an 'anti-British' and ultimately 'anti-colonial' environment.  This included reverting the education system to Arabic and implementing a strange version of Sharia Law that only applies when they see fit.  In an attempt to find their own identity and cast of their colonial shackles, the nation has shackled itself to static ideologies and a fear of the 'other'.

Sudan isn't unique in this situation.  Every nation has it's own story of post colonial struggle and the fight to define their national identity.

Madiba is a shining beacon of light in this darkness of confusion that African nations have sometimes found themselves in.

He, after all, is the man who fought the good fight for his people against the oppressors.

He, after all, is the man who won that fight.

Most importantly, he remained true and uncorrupted and has stood for democracy and truth steadfastly and with conviction.

It always seems impossible until it's done.” he said.  At the time, the end of apartheid did seem so.  Yet here we are today.

It is difficult to put into words the importance that Nelson Mandela has in South Africa and around the continent. The monarch-like love for him, the deep caring the people have for their leader is unparalleled and very difficult to replace.

Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise for all that we have been made aware of his illness and frailty, in order to prepare us for the eventual truth.  This way, the people are mentally preparing themselves and are thinking about the preservation of his legacy.

At the end of the day, all the love won't be enough if his legacy is lost. To honour his work and his life, we should all remember his words and his actions and aspire to work together and build a continent he would be proud of.

***

"I am here because of people like him" - Zola, a friend and South African sister.

Indeed we are, and we owe much to his legacy.

***

Read The Guardian's obituary here.