Getting free.

“A long time ago, when you were a wee thing, you learned something, some way to cope, something that, if you did it, would help you survive. It wasn’t the healthiest thing, it wasn’t gonna get you free, but it was gonna keep you alive. You learned it, at five or six, and it worked, it *did* help you survive. You carried it with you all your life, used it whenever you needed it. It got you out–out of your assbackwards town, away from an abuser, out of range of your mother’s un-love. Or whatever. It worked for you. You’re still here now partly because of this thing that you learned. The thing is, though, at some point you stopped needing it. At some point, you got far enough away, surrounded yourself with people who love you. You survived. And because you survived, you now had a shot at more than just staying alive. You had a shot now at getting free. But that thing that you learned when you were five was not then and is not now designed to help you be free. It is designed only to help you survive. And, in fact, it keeps you from being free. You need to figure out what this thing is and work your ass off to un-learn it. Because the things we learn to do to survive at all costs are not the things that will help us get FREE. Getting free is a whole different journey altogether.”

― Mia McKenzie


Now my heart is full, and I just can’t explain so I won’t even try to.

I’m too sleepy to write a proper post, but my heart is full. I am having all of the feelings for everyone who loves me and puts up with me and even reads all the things that I write (and never write about) or thinks about me all the time or even sometimes. I’m feeling lots about finishing school for 2013 and being able to dance to Thriller in my Islamic school grade one class. And this whole damn Beyonce album.

I hope I still feel like this tomorrow so I can write about it properly.

Your happiness is my happiness.

1. Asam posted this quote on Facebook recently that really resonated with me: “Some periods of our growth are so confusing that we don’t even recognize that growth is happening. We may feel hostile or angry or weepy and hysterical, or we may feel depressed. It would never occur to us, unless we stumbled on a book or a person who explained to us, that we were in fact in the process of change, of actually becoming larger, spiritually, than we were before. Whenever we grow, we tend to feel it, as a young seed must feel the weight and inertia of the earth as it seeks to break out of its shell on its way to becoming a plant. Often the feeling is anything but pleasant. But what is most unpleasant is the not knowing what is happening. Those long periods when something inside ourselves seems to be waiting, holding its breath, unsure about what the next step should be, eventually become the periods we wait for, for it is in those periods that we realize that we are being prepared for the next phase of our life and that, in all probability, a new level of the personality is about to be revealed.” — Alice Walker

The last 4 years have been full of transitions: incredible relationships have developed, have left me and have affected me. I have finished school and started school and finished school. I have lost jobs and got jobs and lost jobs and got jobs.  I also feel like I have been holding my breath all this time, wanting and waiting for things to change. All the while not realizing how much I have been in motion this whole time.

2. I’m not really a podcast person at all, probably since I don’t have a lot of time where I’m just sitting and not doing anything else, but since shooting a lot more film (pretty much only shooting film), I have been listening to the Film Photography Podcast on a regular basis. It brings me so much joy to listen to a bunch of white folks get nerdy about film and cameras and techniques.

3. My 4 year old niece Nur is home schooled, so when I see her, she always wants to know about my classroom happenings and what it’s like to be a teacher. She wants to know the names of all my students and about their personalities, and what kinds of shenanigans they get up to. I always tell her these elaborate stories, like when a kid peed their pants because waited too long to ask to go to the bathroom, or how another one vomited in front of everyone, or when someone threw their whole lunch in the garbage because they didn’t like what their mom made for them. All of these stories horrify and fascinate her all at once and she wants to know every single detail over and over, as if she’s taking mental notes on what not to do when she goes to school. It’s so fun and hilarious to see the seriousness in her face. I hardly talk to my family about what happens in my class, except when I tell these stories to Nur.

4. Molly. She’s just the best and love our friendship a lot. I’m not afraid of the affection and the vulnerability between us, and that’s new for me.

5. This new Beyoncé album. I can’t stop. I spent yesterday’s every waking and sleeping moment thinking about/listening to this. I’m feeling a lot of admiration (a little bit of criticism) towards her, but this album and videos are stirring up a lot for me.

I am young and I am strong, but I feel old and tired.

I have been having a really hard time.

For the past month or so I haven’t been writing because I honestly didn’t have anything to be happy about or when I sort of did, I didn’t have a moment to spend time to think and reflect on it. 

School has taken a toll on me. When people ask me about it, I mostly avoid the topic because there’s too much to say and it’s not very interesting to complain and whine about how difficult it has been. And they can mostly see it from the exhaustion on my face and the bags under my eyes anyway.

There are parts of it I really enjoy: my students are mostly entertaining and sweet when they (and their parents) aren’t completely dependent on me, I have some really amazing co-workers who keep me going throughout the day, and once a week I get to teach the older kids Sign Language, which excites me so much (because they are actually learning and practicing it). 

But then there are the not so nice things: 14 hours days (and being on my feet for most of that time), meetings, events, planning, worries that I am failing at everything I am doing with these kids, not taking care of my health (and my body just not being happy with me, especially when I continue to go to work when I am sick), sleepless nights, evaluations, report cards, trying to fit in time for It Gets Fatter and photography and friendships, and not any time for family things (like not seeing my nephew on his 2nd birthday because of an It Gets Fatter event). 

I’m taking on a lot at once and spreading myself out so thin. For the last two weeks, I have cried myself to sleep every night out of frustration and exhaustion and sadness. Sometimes when the negativity is really bad, I just think I’m doing everything wrong; my teaching, my relationships, my life in general. It makes me feel like my life will always be like this. But then I think it might be, but it will also have so many small moments of simple joys that help me keep going and remind me that I’m doing the best I can with the energy and skills that I have. 

And even though the next two weeks are going to continue to be incredibly busy and I have so many things to still get done, meetings to go to, lessons to plan,commitments to fulfill, this is still going to be a happy post, with a happy list:

1. This song. 

I have been listening to it so much. And I love it but it makes me cry so much.

2. My phone. I feel like the only way I have been able to communicate with the world outside of school has been through my beautiful, reliable phone. Snapchat, WhatsApp, iMessage, email, Instagram, facebook, texts, FaceTime, etc. have saved me and have kept me less lonely (even though I am surrounded by people at all times). If you want to get a hold of me, that’s the way to do it (I might not be able to respond right away but I read and I appreciate it so much).

3. This picture, and pretty much Ori in general.  I think it’s so helpful that Ori is as exhausted and miserable as I am because it makes us more patient with each other. It makes it OK to have quiet and moody hangouts, it makes us want to hear about each other’s bad days and the small victories, it makes us try harder to find time to do photography things, and remember that we are way more than just teachers.


4. My students. As much as I complain about being miserable, I kind of love those dumb 6/7 year old kids that I see every day (when I don’t have to constantly zip up their jackets, make sure they sneeze/cough in their sleeve and not on me, when I don’t have to stop them putting their fingers in their mouth/nose/pretty much anything). They tell the most random stories and they make me laugh all the time with their ridiculousness.

5. I’m doing a lot of really amazing stuff. It Gets Fatter has now started two monthly support groups, at U of T and at York. After spending the whole day with kids and being on my feet and having to talk so damn much, I usually don’t feel like talking or being around people most days after school. But I love these groups. I genuinely love meeting these people and building something with them. I am also going to be facilitating photography workshops for youths for 3 weeks in December for Access Alliance. I am going to be actually talking to other human beings about my photography, my process, and mentor them. I’m so busy being down on myself about everything that I forget that I can actually do lots of stuff, and do it kind of well. It still surprises me sometimes.

6. Actually making an effort to take care of myself. When things started to get busy in September, I made a list of things I could do in order to feel like I was practicing some kind of self-care. Some things on the list were: to find a therapist, book a physical (pretty much the works) with my doctor, get blood work done, and take longer showers. I still take 10 minute showers, but I’m happy to report that I have made really great progress in finding a therapist and have appointments booked to see all of the doctors ever. It’s not entirely what I need to take care of myself, but it’s a start.

The only time I miss you is every single day.

I started writing this over a month ago, but I stopped because it was hard to articulate all of what I was feeling and I didn’t want to continue. I think it’s important for me to now complete these thoughts. Because, like everything, I want to remember it.


I have been thinking a lot about the things I have been feeling in the last 2 weeks. I have bouts of sadness that make me (as they usually do) take it out on others, isolate myself, and have restless nights among many other things. After I heard about Amr, along with shock and worry and sadness, I felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia too. For several days I couldn’t pin point or process all of things I was feeling, as if my emotions were being overworked. His death was awful and tragic and caused so much pain, for Asmaa and her family but also for myself.

When I heard the news, I ached to talk to Asmaa. I wanted her close to me, and our distance away from each other was really difficult. I had first read about Amr’s death from a text sent by our mutual friend, Maryam, who I have known as long as I have known Asmaa. I think it was significant to hear the news from her, and soon after have conversations with her and Khadijeh (another childhood friend of ours) about it.

I thought about how these women I grew up with and myself thought and dreamt of what our lives would be like 10 or 20 years down the road. I thought about the late night talks in cabins at camp or sleepovers, the whispers of dreams and goals and ideals of the loves and marriages, the careers and losses we would all have.

I truly believe in our abilities to heal, to overcome, to be resilient in all sorts of situations. I have seen it in myself, and in so many others who have suffered worse losses than I have. I know that these challenges and heartbreak happen for reasons we might not understand right now. I know that people are meant to come into our lives, and are never guaranteed to stay. I know all of that.

But in all honesty, I was really disappointed. I was disappointed that this unplanned loss was never talked about or prepared for in our childhood discussions. I was disappointed that my dearest and loveliest Asmaa would be changed forever, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it or change it.

I looked at old photos of us, being goofy and weird (and awesome) as ever and wondered if those times would ever come back. I felt so nostalgic for times spent eating and laughing and talking. Would I be also grieving parts of Asmaa along with the memory of her husband? I think a part of me already was.

It was difficult to admit how I was feeling because it felt selfish to focus on the way this loss affected me. Thinking about it now, over a month later, and remembering that Asmaa is full of wisdom, faith and resilience, I know that if parts of Asmaa have gone with Amr, I will still love her and stand by her, just as she is, in any way she may change or grow.

Without realizing, I had already been growing up and experiencing lives that we never ever planned for. I just hope and pray that we stay in each other’s lives and keep learning and loving each other for as long as we are meant to.

I know where all sweetness hides, in dug up holes where our bodies lie.

It’s been a long time since I have written anything, let alone logged on to any of my blogs. I would try, and start something, and then get sad or distracted and never finish. Or also, at times, would completely forget that I even wrote personal things at all. I have been feeling so bottled up lately and starting school again hasn’t helped with that. Teaching grade one is a really new and overwhelming adjustment for me. My class is sweet and I enjoy the kids for the most part, but it’s so much work (and planning and attention) and requiring me to be present and on at all times, which is a lot.

This is about the time of the year when I start to think about self-care and balance, because I am feeling a lot at once and don’t have time to reflect on it. Instead, I zone out entirely, or isolate myself from others. Maybe I will get myself to write more about how I have been feeling, or finish the things I have already started writing.

I have also been feeling really negative about things in my life (what else is new?), but I really shouldn’t be because lots of really great things happened over the summer (like going to England and Rome!) so I want to take a moment to think about the small positives that have happened recently, or the things that keep me going every day.

  •  I went with Molly to Ohbijou‘s farewell show last weekend, which was incredible and emotional. I cried during so many of their songs, which were amazing to hear live after listening to their albums over these last few years during some really difficult times. They have the amazing talent of capturing love and loss and longing so accurately in these beautiful songs.
  • I used to watch Golden Girls back in the day when it was on TV (I used to pretty much watch everything), but recently, I started re-watching the series because it was recommended to me and it is so funny! Similarly to Seinfeld, watching these sitcoms as an adult is way better and funnier because I actually understand all of the jokes and Golden Girls is the best!
  • skateEven though I haven’t picked up a camera in probably a month, I have a lot of really amazing pictures waiting for me to process and share. I wish I had more time for photography, but I just don’t right now. But when I do, it will be awesome!
  • Over the summer, I finally got rid of my burner phone and got myself a new one, which is now basically my favourite thing in the world. The ways I am able to communicate with others from across the world, or down the street and see people’s faces when I talk to them, is really great.
  • The ways I stick up for myself and stand up for the things I believe in. I don’t think I have done this enough in the past. I have been in a few really difficult situations recently and I am really proud of the ways I have spoken up and didn’t back down.
  • All the people who answer their phones and responds to texts, and who listen to me complain and cry and still encourage me and love me every single day. I wish I could be more present and a better friend to them in return.




I have been feeling a lot since hearing about this tragedy. There are lots of things I want to write, but I still don’t have the words. All I know is that Asmaa is truly incredible, and thoughtful and wise and I am so grateful and honored to have her in my life.

I wanted to re-post something I wrote about Asmaa 3 years ago because she is so important to me and I pray that she and her daughter will be home safely in Canada soon, insha’Allah.


The Greatest Neighbour in the World 

April 17th, 2010.

I’ve known Asmaa for most of my life. We were in elementary school together, which was one of the first Islamic schools in the city and (I only realized this recently) a great place to form everlasting friendships. Though we were always in the same class every year, I didn’t really know her until my family moved from our small apartment into a bigger condominium in Etobicoke. Moving to this new place meant that for the next 5 years after that, my building complex would neighbour hers and somehow (by the work of our parents), we would carpool to school together. This was the start of my family’s use of the word: neighbour.

“The neighbours are gonna be here in 5 mins!”

“The neighbours’ dad drives a red fire truck.”

“Can you go to the neighbours’ house and pick this up?

I don’t know how it developed, but it just did. And whenever someone in my family used the word neighbour, it almost always refered to Asmaa’s family.

In school, we weren’t immediate friends. We would have fun moments on the way to and from school, listening to her father’s selection of  nasheeds and make fun of her younger brother while sitting in the back of the their station wagon. But at school, though it was small, we didn’t always have the same friends. I was always floating from the “popular” girls in my class to the “nerdy” girls because I didn’t quite fit in with either sides of the spectrum. As we grew into intermediate grades, I think we both became less interested with the groups that existed in our class and Asmaa and I became closer. When I think about it now, we were so cool and complete dorks! We would come up with all these hilarious schemes and write things in notebooks. We made plans to go to the same high school so that all of our awesome could continue into our teen years.

After my father passed, my mother decided to change our living situation and we moved out of the building next to Asmaa’s. I begged and pleaded with my mom to be able to still go to the same high school as Asmaa, but eventually understood that it was best for me to get a fresh start at a new school.

My first year of high school was probably one the worst in my life. Though Asmaa and I were still friends and our mothers became very close, I knew only one other person in my high school – and essentially I was lonely and a loner. As years past, things got better, we made other friends and developed into people who didn’t need each other constantly. Not that I didn’t call her all the time and complain about teachers and gush about crushes (and teacher crushes.. ahaha).

We were in each other’s lives, but not constantly or with any urgency. There were lots of things about my life and the people I knew that she didn’t know about and vice versa. But she was always around if I needed her.  We went on different paths for university, still in the city so we saw each other, but making new connections and social groups and interests.

Years ago, I used to sometimes get worried that we would lose each other. Because sometimes I would call someone else or kept things from her or didn’t always need her.  Because I didn’t know about all her friends or inside jokes or backstories.

I don’t get worried about that anymore. We  found each other again, not that we were really that far from each other anyway. She is one of the smartest, amazing and incredibly good people I have ever met in my life. She inspires me daily to be a better person, Muslim and  friend. As we get older, and our lives change and we make new friends and bonds, we might not tell each other everything, but I know she isn’t going anywhere. This friendship has had an impression on me that I won’t be able to shake for the rest of my life. Its influence has shaped how I love myself and others around me. I could not have had a better neighbour.

Just a note about the picture: It makes me laugh so much! I just think it’s perfect! I’m glad we can find romantic spots together at my favourite place.