From Here On

‘From Here On’ is my latest project with musician and producer, Waleed Abdulhamid. The album explores migration through storytelling and diasporic music. I wanted to do this project because of my own experience and the intersection of culture, nationality, language and ethnicity that chiseled me into the person I am.  And when you live in a city like Toronto, migration stories are all around you. This is our attempt to celebrate, politicize and bring to life some of the stories that shape our lives, our city and our country.

 

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Why Migration?

Because sometimes there are stories that swell up inside of me – like misplaced memory, or unhinged stories that get lost in translation. Because sometimes there are hidden pieces of bone in my mother’s breath, as though she spat out history – the parts that tried to tame her and claim her as conquered land.

My grandmother left India for Israel with 3 young kids and lived in an asbestos hut with no electricity and an outdoor toilet. There were snakes in the grass outside the hut and, as she relives the experience, she tells me she was always worried about her children getting bitten by a snake. She worked as a janitor cleaning empty high schools and eventually learned the language and became a teacher.

My mother left Israel with two young kids and lived in my father’s country, England, for 10 years. She had no family there. The language got stuck in the back of her throat. After the divorce, she had three mouths to feed, a hot temper and an endless stack of bills. Being alone in an unfamiliar country is like waging a war with no ammunition.

I came to Canada when I was 18 with two suitcases and a draft date for the Israeli army. Leaving Israel was complicated and painful. My older brother and I reunited in Toronto and became legal guardians to our younger brother. We lived in a two bedroom  apartment with no furniture and a crazy dog. I found a minimum wage job and eventually got myself into university. A decade later, I’m an artist, archiving these migration stories so that I can one day tell my daughter how much strength the women who came before her had; because more than anything, migration demands resilience.

When people ask me where I’m from, it’s not a straightforward answer. I tell people I’m Canadian but I want to tell them I’m from colonized land and lost language. I want to tell them I’m from a boat that shipwrecked two thousand years ago off the Konkan Coast. I’m from an archeology of oral tradition; a descendent of the ten lost tribes. There are reasons people leave their homelands that remain unnamed – I am from the shadows of those reasons. I’m also from so  many new beginnings – if you hold this story up to the light, you’ll see refractions of your own story.

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Yemoya Artist Residency

The last two weeks have been groundbreaking and life changing. Along with three other phenomenal women, I just completed an intensive international artist residency under the helm of international dubpoet, mono-dramatist and educator, D’bi Young Anitafrika. The residency took place in Nassau, Bahamas and combined physical wellness, meditation, spiritual grounding and self-knowledge as a foundation for creating art. This meant waking up at 5am to meditate, then do yoga, then jogging, then swimming in the ocean and then we would begin our classes for the day! I cannot begin to describe in words how important this residency was for me and how much I learned about myself and my art. What I will say is that I feel more alive than I ever have before… awake, grounded, grateful and deeply committed to the practice of self-love and, as my fellow resident artist Maryam would say, “DOING THE MOST!”

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Year 27

26 was a roller coaster type of year for me. I traveled and visited both parents, I won a national spoken word title, I began writing my first fiction and published a graphic novel. My spoken word is being broadcasted as an MTV commercial thanks to UNITY Charity. I designed and implemented youth creative leadership programs and co-founded Ink Veins – young women’s spoken word group. I produced some great events with the help of my community. I learned about city politics through my work with Toronto Women’s City Alliance. I’ve worked on projects along side some inspiring friends, teachers and youth.

I’m coming out of this crazy year with the realization of how easy it is to lose yourself in the hustle and become unbalanced spiritually and physically. I no longer choose to believe that success comes with sacrifice – that’s just an excuse for not spending time with loved ones or being true to yourself.  My understanding of success goes way beyond financial stability and security to encompass artistic growth, mental and physical wellness and quality time with quality people.

I’ve been feeling a shift in my bones. My new goal for the next year of my life is to take on less so that I can do more. I want to enjoy the process more and feel like I’ve given my everything to each project without getting lost in timelines and deadlines. Most importantly, I want to spend more time being true to myself, even if that means taking a step back from the things that make up my identity.

One of the teachers I have learned from, Geneviève Letarte, once said: “I write to know the person I don’t know I am” and ancient philosopher Lao Tzu said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”  I don’t know why 27 feels so significant but it does. Feels like the unknown is taking a step towards me and for once, I’m not turning my back but walking forward with open arms.

Why Youth

I studied international development for 4 years. Much of what I learned in the classrooms and lecture halls has been archived somewhere in the distant landscape of memory. What I know now of development is what the young people I work with have taught me. These experiences and lessons have been tattooed onto the blueprint of my being.  Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. “Landing can hurt quite a lot if you’ve never learned to jump properly”

– Aneesa Mustaf, age 17.

Without opportunities that support and promote civic engagement amongst young people, youth, especially those who live in underserved communities will remain marginalized from the machinery of the political and legal system within which they are situated.

2. “I come from a place where bombs talk and people listen, could someone please tell the government that I’m young but I’m not invisible” – Hamza Ali, 16

Young people’s voices need to be heard, celebrated and acknowledged by decision makers who direct development. Only youth can speak first hand about their lived experience and the unique needs of their communities. I facilitate leadership after school programs for youth in priority communities by utilizing the medium of spoken word in my programs. I have seen how spoken word is used as a transformative tool – not just because it’s hip and popular but because it genuinely gives youth the chance to speak – to give voice to their lived experience and through their words be a testament to their own excellence.

3. “We must be diamonds in the rough the way they try to keep us underground”

– Marcus Lomboy, age 20.

From my involvement in the municipal political arena, I have learned about the politics of exclusion. I’m talking about deliberate exclusion that serves to shut out people from the democratic process. Most young people from vulnerable communities are too busy trying to survive to really engage in municipal politics. I had no time to even contemplate how city policies were affecting my lived reality when I was raising my younger brother and myself at 18. Take the City budget process for example. If vulnerable youth who are most affected by the city budget are absent from the budget process, then the process itself is broken. Youth need more than lip service. They need city funded after school programs, recreational space that is accessible and affordable, and increased involvement in City planning by looking at the respective needs of different communities and making sure that meaningful engagement is accessible (e.g. bus fare and childcare provided for youth at Town hall meetings etc.).

4. “The Freedom to expand the knowledge hungry depths of my brain and arm myself with the artillery of education as I crush the forces of ignorance with my witty battalions” – Rashmi Logo, age 17.

So many young people drop out of high school not because they are not smart enough to succeed, but because mainstream educational institutes do not meet their diverse learning needs. Young people are falling through the cracks in the education system because their unique skills and talents are devalued or unrecognized. Alternative educational models provide a bridge for the gaps in the system. I’ve been sitting on a steering committee for a curriculum development program for front line youth workers. This program bridges the gaps between what is taught in university and what happens on the front lines in youth work; with youth being active in every level and stage of this project. When youth are given ownership of their education and taught in a way that nurtures their creative and intellectual capacity, they fly.

Youth can be leaders, innovators, trailblazers and directors of development if they are seen by those in positions of power, not just as youth, but as agents of change.

 

Shows in March

I’m performing spoken word at the following events this month.
Get your spoken word on!

KW Poetry Slam

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IWD Event – Gender, Activism and the Arts – Wed March 6th, 6:30-8:00 pm, Macleod Auditorium, Med Sciences Building, 1 King’s College Circle, UofT

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4th Annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet, March 7th, 6-9pm

http://oxfamuoft.com/

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International Women’s Day! March 8th.

1. Presenting at REPRESENT at Ryerson

http://representryerson.eventbrite.ca/#

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2. Opening for Andrea Gibson at The Student Campus Centre at Ryerson,

http://www.facebook.com/events/284050888384459/

3. Performing for WonderFest Concert  in the Ballroom of The Gladstone Hotel

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Feminist At Conference: Saturday, 9 March 2013

http://torontofac.eventbrite.ca/#

LishaiPeel

March 12th – Comedy and Poetry at The Central, 8-10.30pm

http://www.facebook.com/events/383221981775730/

March 13th Going to MC for a slam at Hart House, UofT with Britta B and Serafina as features:

http://www.facebook.com/events/217609561711581/

March 20th – POETIC JUSTICE PRESENTS ~ SPEAK EASY

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March 22, 7pm – 8pm: Toronto International Health Program (UTIHP) Health and Human Rights Conference

http://hhr.eventbrite.com/#

March 24th, 6pm: Plasticine Poetry

http://www.plasticinepoetry.com/shows.html

March 26th, 8.30pm: Spoken Words 4: A Night of Stand Up Comedy and Spoken Word

http://www.facebook.com/events/616508405041437/

March 28th – The Jam:

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March 29th, Sufi Poets Series:

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