“Old Kanye”

When people ask me what type of music I like to listen to, I rattle off a list of genres and artists. In this list, I always include “old Kanye”, admittedly a rather trite phrase.

But I was on the subway the other day, heading home from a night out, and Family Business, The College Dropout came on and I thought to myself: this is “old Kanye”. Quoting from the third verse:

I woke up early this mornin’ with a new state of mind
A creative way to rhyme without usin’ nines and guns
Keep your nose out the sky, keep your heart to God
And keep your face to the risin’ sun
All my n***** from the Chi, that’s my family dog
And my n***** ain’t my guys, they my family dog
I feel like one day you’ll understand me dog
You can still love your man and be manly dog

Too dope. I should quote this whenever I get that question in the future. Go listen to it, wherever you find your music. Pay your respects to “old Kanye”.

Haroon

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Mirrors

What would our world be like without personal-use mirrors? A world where we didn’t get up, go to the washroom, and see ourselves every morning. Would it hamper our ability to appreciate ourselves? Would it detract from our lives in any way? Would it reduce our ability to operate as human beings?

Of course, I can appreciate the practical uses of a mirror (list not exhaustive): driving mirrors, security mirrors, one-way mirrors for interrogation rooms, mirrors operating in concentrated solar facilities–but why do we find mirrors in so many other places? Why haven’t we kept the mirror confined to its more practical functions?

Once upon a time, I lived with limited access to a mirror. It was nice not focusing so much on my appearance. I started to realize that it didn’t really matter how I looked, which was new to me because I have always cared about how I look. It was a form of relief, to wake up in the morning and not have to see myself.

Now, this piece is not meant to be some convoluted confession of my personal dislike for my appearance, but rather, simply, I just wouldn’t mind not seeing myself every day. I’d much rather see other people. People I want to see not for the way they look, but for who they are and the meaning they bring to my life.

We as humans value the ability to observe our own appearance so much that cellphone manufacturers have caught on and have started selling it to us. Are our appearances really so important? Or are they just another factor that divides us as people and adds to the social stratification within our society?

We don’t need to be so focused on how we look (easier said than done, I know). I’m of the opinion that we’d be happier if we weren’t.

Haroon

Motiveless Malignity

Those familiar with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s phrase may realize that I plan to discuss Iago, Othello’s undoing.

The first time I heard this combination of words was from my mom. When I was growing up, whenever she’d be reminded of Othello’s tragedy, she would quote her old university professor who had referred to Iago as a “motiveless villain”. And whenever she would mention it, I always found it to be an oxymoronic combination of words.

One of the first things I look for when I hear of villainy is a motive. When I hear of an evil act, I ask why? Do you? I think this is a logical step. But where does logic take you when the motive is absent; when pain is caused for the sake of nothing. That’s a scary world.

And it’s one that Shakespeare created. In Othello, Act II.3, Iago speaks, Cassio having just left him:

And what’s he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again? For ’tis most easy
Th’ inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit. She’s framed as fruitful
As the free elements. And then for her
To win the Moor, were to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemèd sin,
His soul is so enfettered to her love,
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function. How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,
Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows
As I do now. For whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortune
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body’s lust.
And by how much she strives to do him good
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.

Aside from poisoning Othello’s mind by planting seeds of jealousy, using innocent Desdemona as a sacrificial puppet in his deceit may just be the peak of his crimes.

When initially reading the first parts of the play, I had thought that Iago was doing all of this to become Othello’s lieutenant, or because he did not become so in the first place. This is wrong–if this was his motivation, he needed only to defame Cassio (ironically, the one life he did not ultimately ruin). His web of lies consumes the play, the mind of Othello, and the life of Desdemona. All for nothing.

I would hope to think that this evil does not exist in our world but I know that is untrue. Without getting too deep into the discussion of real-world evil, I would just like to pose one question: is motiveless evil the worst type of evil that exists?

Haroon

Pain

I had finished up for the day a little while earlier but wanted to attend the nightly prayers that are held during the month of Ramadan. As such, I remained at the office after everyone had left, breaking my fast on the long office table with some soup and bread purchased from a local vendor.

I remember walking away from work toward the mosque, dress shirt around my shoulders in an attempt to fight the heat. It was a fair distance that I had committed to, but I hadn’t been exercising of late so I was okay with it.

Cars raced past as I walked on the damaged sidewalk. I reached an intersection and looked right. Screeching toward me was a small boy riding his bike, clearly oblivious to the consequences of an unforgiving concrete cushion. As he got closer, I noticed his bare feet on the rubberless pedals. Painful, I thought.

He turned the corner, passing before me, moving into the dark. I crossed the street and continued on my way.

*CRASH*

Catching echoes of a muffled wail, I turned and saw a pile on the floor. Walking back to see what had happened, I noticed the poor boy on the floor, bloody mouth covered by his dirty hand. Bending down, I gestured to let me see his mouth, revealing the damage of his fall.

He was no more than ten years old, now clearly a bit wiser about what the world has to offer its reckless passengers. Another pedestrian passing by stopped to look at the boy. I had a few coins in my pocket and asked him to buy the boy some water while I stayed with him, dabbing at his blood with a white napkin I had in my back pocket.

Tears were fighting through unwilling eyelids, snot mixed with blood on a trembling lip. Pain colored the face of this small boy.

The water returned, cold, comforting. Spit, I said, wanting to relieve him of the taste of pain. He drank and motioned for his bike. I helped him pick it up, and we parted ways.

Haroon

 

 

 

Ajuna

Yes! Good sir/madam, you guessed it. That is my name.

No seriously, that is my name. Well…you see, okay, the thing is, actually, okay fine…that’s not my name. But interesting fact: over time, that is what it has become in Ghana.

I’ve recently learned that the ‘translation’ of Arabic names into local languages is done by more than one Muslim population in the world.

Now, please keep in mind that I’ve only deduced this from word of mouth as it was told to me by a couple of Ghanaian friends. But also note that when I was told this story I actually laughed to myself a bit because the same phenomenon occurs in my parents’ home country of Sri Lanka (and I, for some strange reason, thought we Sri Lankans were the only ones!).

Take my name in Ghana for example:

My name is Haroon (phonetically haa-roon), this an Arabic name. In Ghana, commonly this name is given to newborns as Haruna, (phonetically haa-roo-nah). Somewhere down the line, this became Ajuna.

The theory as it to how this happened is up to debate I suppose, but here’s what I’ve heard and, to be honest, it makes sense to me.

Think back to when you were learning a foreign language. What was your first step? I suppose this depends on the person, but for me it was (and still is) asking someone who knows the target language to say something only so I can repeat what I hear.

And this is what I’ve been told has happened with Arabic names in certain parts of the world. When not well-versed in Arabic, when hearing an Arabic name, in my opinion, it is only natural to say the name how it sounds to you. It’s just like how it’s only natural to spell a word how it sounds to you!

Here are a few other examples:

  • Dawood has become Dawrah
  • Abdur Raheem has become Abraim
  • Yunus has become Inusah
  • Abu Bakr became Abukaray which has become Bukalay
  • Mutawaqil has become Motouchilou
  • Bilkis has become Balkisou
  • Abdallah has become Ablai
  • Khadijah has become Adijah

Yes, I know what you’re thinking it…it’s a worldwide game of broken telephone! Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. Under 3 weeks left in my fellowship. Accra, you will be missed.

Why do I sound this way?

I remember that when my siblings would return to Toronto after months away in our home country of Sri Lanka, that they would speak sorta funny. The inflection in their voices was foreign. Whether they were asking a question or not, it sounded like they were asking a question. To be honest, it was a little annoying because it was something that I wasn’t used to. I was used to hearing people speak Torontonian English in a purely Torontonian accent. I remember thinking, “Dude, you’re Canadian, try sounding like one.”

Oh, how the tables have turned.

Recently, I’ve realized that I’m not exempt from adaptation. I’ve come to notice subtle changes in my behavior, intonation of voice, word choice, and sentence structuring that have made me do a double take. In my head I would ask myself: “Wait, is that really how I sound?”, or “Wait, did I really just structure my sentence that way?”, or “Wait, why the hell did I choose that word instead of the one I would usually choose?”.

Well I know why I sound differently to myself, and why I structure my sentences differently, and why I use different words – it’s because I’m living in a part of world where English has manifested in the population differently than it has in my home.

I find myself saying sorry for things I wouldn’t typically apologize for, and I’m a Canadian. If you thought Canadians apologize to much, I’m sure you haven’t travelled to Ghana. It’s actually awesome, if not slightly comedic. For example, if you trip on uneven ground, if a regular old Ghanaian sees this, they will say “sorry” and come right away to lend a hand. What are they apologizing for? In my head, they are actually saying “I’m sorry that you are hurting,” which, when you think about it, is actually kinda beautiful.

I also find myself saying small or small-small far too often. This phrase is essentially a substitute for say “yea but I really flipping suck”. The following is an everyday interaction:

“Ay, you speak Twi?”

“Oh, small-small.”

I’ve caught myself saying things like “AY!” when I’m surprised, or “OH!” when I’m feigning disgust at a taxi driver’s starting price (see previous post).

Quick anecdote:

One day at work I was calling some Ghanaian agribusinesses to conduct some surveying (oh man that was miserable – surprisingly so, accent barriers aren’t made better by terrible cell connection, who knew?) and I heard myself speak, and I was like, “wow, is this actually how I sound.”

Now, I always find it weird when I hear my own voice through a recording or otherwise, but this time was even more strange as I realized that I had adopted an accent. I would drop the ‘er’ and replace it with an ‘a’ (i.e. Peter becomes Peta, and water becomes wata) and the inflection of my voice had altered in places in which it didn’t used to alter – whenever I heard myself I was all like…duuude, woah.

I’m coming to accept it now. It seems to be a natural progression of things – eventually you start to sound and act like the people around you.

Till next time.

Haroon

P.S. This whole thing of me realizing that I sound different when I communicate in Ghana is even further exacerbated by the fact that I spend a lot of my time communicating avec les Québecois, who also speak English slightly differently than I do. I’ve noticed I’ve adopted a few of their speech tendencies as well – I laugh to myself whenever I catch myself repeating one of them.