OMG! It’s a GMO!!

My mother has recently started seeing a nutritionist. In all honesty, I don’t believe she really needs to. Her diet is pretty well balanced for the most part. If anything, her money would probably be better spent on a personal trainer. She doesn’t move all that much!

Anyway, I was reading the papers the nutritionist gave her to look over just to see what they said. Overall, the advise was fairly sound. Don’t eat too much salty and sugary foods, focus on the protein aspect of a meal first, try to keep to the perimeter of the supermarket when food shopping. The useful advise you could expect from a good nutritionist. But there was one page that really irked me. As you might have guessed, it was concerning genetically modified organisms or GMOs. It started off with:

“A Note about Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)

Genetically modified foods have been shown to cause harm to humans, animals, the environment, and despite growing opposition, more and more foods continue to be genetically altered. It’s important to note that steering clear from these foods completely may be difficult, but if you avoid processed foods you are already ahead of the game since many ingredients in processed foods include sugar, corn, canola and soya derivatives. Look for NON GMO project verified seals.”

The passage was then followed by a list of foods labelled DO NOT EAT to help you avoid accidentally consuming a GMO.

Now, whether you are against the use of GMOs in food or in general, that’s purely up to you. There are valid reasons to be for or against them.  In other words, I don’t mind what your stance is on the topic, provided that they are based on facts rather than hysteria. What I don’t like is when people spread misinformation. I find it  particularly disappointing when a professional is responsible for spreading false information to the public.

For those of you who don’t know, genetic engineering is the practice of deliberate modification of the genome in plants and animals (or fungi…or bacteria). It’s a very old practice which has been used by humans for many centuries, but has recently be hugely improved with the use of technology.

After reading the passage from the nutritionist, I was little surprised at first. Really? I thought. That’s not how I remember it when we covered it in high school. I guess things have changed now that there’s more evidence.

I was curious to find out in what way GMOs were causing harm to humans, animals and the environment and looked up a few articles with Google Scholar. One review by Paparini and Romano-Spica  stated that “despite no described medical condition being directly associated with a diet including approved GM crops in large exposed populations such as 300,000,000 Americans and a billion Chinese, public opinion seems to look at this new technology with either growing concern or even disapproval.” Sounds about right.

Another listed several ways in which GMOs may effect the environment and the breeding of the Monarch butterfly, but no significant results had been found to back up any of these potential concerns. There was no mention of any adverse health effects found in humans.

I typed “GMO” into regular Google to see what would come up. A great number of results flooded my screen, the vast majority of which seemed to come from health bloggers’ pages on how to avoid these evil things without giving any real information on why they were bad. One claimed that they all have more chemicals than non-GMO foods. I find this unlikely to be true. Especially considering how many GMO crops have been altered with a gene to make them more resistant to plant diseases and insect predators. If anything, they should probably have fewer chemicals, since they don’t need to be doused in pesticide. Personally, I’m pretty sure that consuming pesticide would do you much more harm than eating any kind of approved GMO.

Some people are against the use of GMOs due to fear of market monopoly by these large companies who own the patent to each GM crop and believe it harms the business of small family farms. To me, this at least seems to be a valid concern based on reason.

I do wonder why there is such hysteria surrounding the topic. The Washington Post released an article in 2016 addressing the unfounded fears of “Frankenfoods”, which was a quick and interesting read. It stated that the National Academies experts had reviewed relevant studies and had this to say about their findings;

“No differences have been found that implicate a higher risk to human health safety from these GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.” 

Also, “the committee found no conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems. Among other things, the scientists found concerns that the crops are degrading plant and animal biodiversity to be insubstantial.”

People, particularly in the United States, seem to be terrified of them for no apparent reason. Is it because GMOs made using advanced technology has only become available until fairly recent years, and so we can’t be fully certain about their effects in the future? Do people fear that by poking around at organisms on a genetic level should be considered “playing God” and a sinful act? Is it simply because the idea of eating something that has been genetically modified sounds icky and a bit frightening? Perhaps they hear the word GMO and immediately think of this guy.

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I wouldn’t want to eat him either.

Whatever the hype is about, it certainly doesn’t seem to be based on facts.

Gimme Some Purple!

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If there’s one thing that I found especially satisfying about working for cash in Scotland, it’s the beautifully coloured bank notes. Well, the newer Bank of Scotland and some of the Clydesdale bank ones certainly are. The phrase “Gimme some green” still works here, but as green is the colour of £50 notes and the scarcely seen £1 notes, we don’t see them all that often. What we usually gather during a shift are a bunch of blue fives, goldeny-brown tens and bright purple twenties. Since twenty is the highest denomination, it is especially satisfying to take home a wad of purple at the end of the night. Purple has long been my favourite colour (well, indigo is but purple is a close second) and this has only made it more so.

This is the particular note that we see often that I love. I feel that even without its colour, it would still be beautiful. Honestly, if I ever came across a scarf printed version of it similar to these US dollar style ones, I probably wouldn’t be able to resist getting it.

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We see this one a lot too, but less frequently. It’s also worth £20 and very purple, but I find it less ascetically pleasing for some reason. It’s no wonder that the English are often suspicious of Scottish bank notes considering each bank makes it’s own notes and doesn’t change them infrequently either. Still, it makes handling Scottish notes a fair bit more interesting.

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Also, English £20 notes seem to have a good old touch of purple as well. It seems the number twenty just seems to equate to “purple” on this island.

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Too bad they’ve all dropped 17% in value since June.. Cheers Brexit voters.

 

 

 

 

5 Things I Miss About Somalia

 

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It’s been a while since I last visited Somalia. Despite it’s flaws in the eyes of the world (I mean, what country’s reputation improves after two decades of civil war, right?), there are many reasons why I wish I could be there in an instant. I really miss being there. The entire paternal side of my family is from there, the North in particular, and so I always feel welcome and at home whenever I do manage to visit. Every now and again I am reminded of some odd thing that makes me miss it more than usual. Today, it was some frankincense scented incense. Of course, anything frankincense scented feels simply disappointing once you’ve smelt the real deal.

  1. The food is so fresh. The fruits here in the UK, whilst still delicious, just can’t compare to the mangos and bananas you can buy in the local markets in Hargeisa and Berbera. Meat is also much fresher, even though I don’t eat that much. Chickens, goats, ans other animals are usually killed and cooked shortly before the meal, unlike readily killed and butchered animal parts you buy in the West. The are certainly fewer ingredients available, but the overall freshness makes the ingredients you have pack a punch as it is. I also miss traditional Somali foods like angello, sambusas and xalwo.
  2. I feel so at home there. I’ve spent the vast majority of my life so far here in the UK and feel very British overall, yet somehow whenever I go back I feel at home in a different way. I suppose it has everything to do with having so much family living there. I’m always discovering new family members, distant aunts, uncles and cousins, that I had never known about before whenever I go back. Something funny about Somali society is that everyone who is Somali has a place in it, depending on who you are related to and their Clan. No matter where you grew up or even if you have ever been to Somalia itself, there will always be a place for you. It gives you a certain sense of belonging.  Also, everyone looks like you (in a way). I love the diversity here in the UK, especially in London. People from all over the world can belong here, no matter what their background. But there’s a certain different type of belonging you feel when everyone around you is somewhat like you. In a similar way to feeling you belong in a pack of students wandering around a university where you are all usually the same age and at the same point in life. In Somalia, we all speak our own language (which I should get to better grips with myself), we are all Muslim (that I know of), dress in a similar way and the fact that we all have Somali features. I still consider myself to be predominantly British and English at that, but it feels wonderful to fit so well somewhere else.
  3. Somali is spoken everywhere. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can truly immerse yourself in the language. If you ever want to properly get to grips with a language, having it being spoken around you and to you constantly is a huge help, if not a necessity. My Somali speaking skills always fade after I’ve been away for a while, although speaking to family at get togethers helps. Somali is such a poetic language and hearing people who have used it their whole lives gives you a new appreciation for it.
  4. The weather is nice and hot. Sometimes it’s far too hot for comfort, but all hot weather sounds a treat when another Scottish winter is approaching. The ocean is wonderful too. A rich, sparkling blue and warm to the touch. I’ve heard it’s good water to go diving in if you have the equipment, with colourful fish and coral reefs.
  5. The clothes. I often wish I could wear my Somali clothes often while wandering outside in the UK, because they are just so comfortable. They are light and cool to wear and full of colour. They also make choosing an outfit nice and simple, you shove on a baati and headscarf and you’re good to go! Having said that, I do love the way we dress in the UK, especially in London. It feels great to put together a sleek and stylish outfit with a variety of clothing styles. Not that you can’t look sleek and stylish in a Somali dress! It is definitely harder to find modest clothing though.

 

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Disclaimer: none of the images above where created by me, but I feel they accurately illustrate the things I try to describe.

Thank you for reading this far and have a wonderful day.

So, now what?

Ramadan is mostly known in the West for being the month when Muslims are expected to fast. Of course, it’s also more than that as those of us who practice it know. It’s a time for charity, forgiveness and reflection. To understand suffering and to emerge as a better person because of it. I’ve had more time for reflection than in other years and more reason to do so. Anushka went back to Jeddah as soon as her last exam was done, which is understandable considering the fast there was only 15 hours (4am-7pm) rather than 19.5 hours (2:30am-10pm). To say fasting in Scotland is a challenge would be an understatement. To anyone else living up in the North and was fasting, I feel for you!

As for myself, I went from lectures, assignments and last minute cramming on top of working nights until 3am for the first half of the year, to having nothing on my plate (literally and figuratively) as soon as exams finished. With no immediate need to go places and without much energy to do so anyway, I spent a lot of Ramadan dozing around my flat, reflecting over the past year.

Why did I feel the need to dress so modestly for everyday life, yet take on an alter ego to do the exact opposite in the night? Why couldn’t I just feel content being one of these two people full time? In short, I suppose the answer is because I’m not really either and yet both. They are two extremes of the same person and I am somewhere in the middle. Perhaps then, it is time to take a step back from both of these personas until I know where I am most comfortable being.

The truth is I feel powerful as a hijabi and as a stripper, but in rather different ways. Being able to switch between these two makes me feel in full control. Perhaps it’s better to find a new way to feel in control without either of them. I can’t be an exotic dancer for the rest of my life. In fact, it was only meant to last a short while.

 

How funny it is that I started this blog as both a hijabi and a stripper and now it may be that I become neither. In the meantime, I suppose I will go back to doing pole fitness classes more regularly. After all, it’s an innocent pastime that builds strength, skill and flexibility. Plus makes full use of my addiction to Pleaser shoes. It’ll make a difference to be paying to pole dance instead of being paid to do so!

 

Ramadan Kareem!

 

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Ramadan Kareem to you all (and good day to all of you non-Muslims).

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought I really should give the blog a wee update. I’ve finally got all my exam results, so no can finally relax and breath again! Two A’s and two B’s. Not my best, but certainly nothing to be ashamed about. My parents are just glad that the money they’ve spent on my fees so far appears to be a good investment. That’s the main thing.

One of the reasons why I haven’t updated in a while is because I haven’t been working at the club since the beginning of exam season. Having a mostly nocturnal lifestyle really doesn’t fit well with pre-exam cramming and 9am exams. It seemed a bit off to be writing as a Muslim exotic dancer when I haven’t been working as a dancer lately. Not that I’m short of stories from my time spent dancing. Also, with Ramadan just around the corner my occupation would be even more of an issue than usual. At times it seems hypocritical enough to be calling myself a Muslim while working as I have, let alone trying to work in that type of environment during the holy month. I may or may not go back to dancing when my next semester starts in September. Also, I may or may not continue to wear hijab after Eid. I have been giving both of these a lot of thought lately and have mixed feelings about both.

I have a tempting plate full of food covered in clingfilm ready for suhoor next to me on my bedside table and have to keep reminding myself not to pinch any of it now or I’ll regret it when I’m hungry in the morning. It’s definitely better not to be lazy and to go to the kitchen when I need a post-iftar, pre-suhoor snack. Looking forward to finally being able to eat a bit of junk food here and there without it sneaking up on you as it always seems to when you’re fasting. I’m sure many of you are too. There’s only so much filling wholegrain bread and avocado I can stand within a month!

Peace be upon all of you and have a blessed Eid.

A Somali Wedding in London

In my last post I mentioned that one of my cousins living in London was getting married. It was wonderful. More in “look at all this great food” sense rather than “aww, what a sweet couple they make” sense. To be fair, they seemed like a very nice couple together, but my main concern was pigging out on the impressive feast of Somali food there. My mum and sister told me off a couple of times for snatching up all the sambusas and I left with one heck of a food baby, which no one could see under my guntiino (loose fitting Somali dress).

While I won’t add any photos from my cousin’s wedding, I found quite a few photos from other UK based Somali weddings (and elsewhere) to give you all a picture of what it was like. Also, you can take a look at 2nukollection’s post on Blogspot where she has some several photos of a British-Somali wedding. Another nice post with some info plus a video can be found on worldinmybackyard.com.

If you are ever invited to a Somali wedding, the first thing to take care of is finding the right dirac or guntiino to wear for the occasion. Some women use it as an excuse for a trip to Dubai (lucky bitches), but sadly we didn’t have enough prep time (or funds) to do such a thing.

A dirac is more commonly worn, especially by older women. They’re large, colourful and made of soft, silky material.

 

The other most popular option is the guntiino, as mentioned, which is also made of nice silky material and is wrapped over one shoulder. With a guntiino you would normally leave your hair uncovered and your shoulders bare, but I’ve seen them worn in a variety of ways before.

 

Sometimes men and women will celebrate together in one aroos (after party) and other times the men and women celebrate separately. The ceremony itself is nearly always mixed. My cousin’s had the men and women party separately. The aroos is also something that starts late in the evening (say 9pm-ish) and goes on into the night. Sometimes they last only one night, others they last for days. My guess is that they tend to be shorter in the UK since work is less flexible and people need to be somewhere in the morning.

Weddings that take place in the UK and probably many other Western countries where Somalis live usually take a more Western approach than in Somalia. For example, it’s uncommon for the groom’s family to pay meher (dowry) to the brides’s family, or at least in the cases I’m aware of. I’ve sometimes heard of ‘meher’ being used to talk about the engagement, but I’m more used to it meaning dowry.  Also the ceremonies in the UK focus more on the couple rather than the family as a whole. In a traditional Somali wedding, neither the bride nor groom actually has to attend; their families can arrange it all on their behalf.A bride might also wear a Western style wedding dress and there may be a wedding cake. I’ve never actually been to a wedding in Somalia (or Kenya or Ethiopia for that matter), but I know many who have and they’re always keen to describe every detail.

In both the West and Somalia the bride is decorated in wonderful henna designs. My sister and I wore a little henna ourselves, but were careful not to make it too elaborate. To have nicer henna than the bride would probably be similar to wearing a white dress at a Western wedding i.e. not recommended.

 

No matter where the wedding is being held, there will likely be an abundance in Somali treats! Lots of xalwo (Somali sweets) and sambusas (otherwise known as samosas) plus much more.

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I’m no longer in London, so perhaps the updates will be more frequent from now on (hopefully). That said, I have exams soon and should be spending as much time as I can bare hitting the books. A nice update now and again could make a decent study break though.

Back to London

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(Not my picture, but illustrates the journey fairly well)

It’s funny how you can almost instantly tell once you have crossed the boundary between Scotland and England. All the pretty hills become ironed out into smooth, flat farmland followed by a sign that says “Welcome to England”. England looks rather depressing in comparison. Not that I’m at all sad to be back. I’ve missed my family back in London, especially since I didn’t return for the winter break. I tend to call it “winter break” rather than the Christmas holidays simply because I feel odd calling it that, as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. And yet what others call “spring break”, I still call “Easter holidays”, as senseless as that is. Perhaps because it just sounds too American.

I get to abandon “Henna”, my dancer persona, for a couple of weeks and go back to being nothing but my normal self. I’m writing this from my old room that I grew up in while my family bustle around downstairs, completely ignorant of that persona and the blog that goes with it. I was almost tempted to bring along my favourite pair of dancer shoes, but thought best of it. They are so comfortable and good for an ordinary night out without getting painfully blistered feet my the end of the night like normal high heels do. Plus most of my family couldn’t tell the difference (providing that they aren’t the clear plastic platforms that practically scream “stripper!”).My big sister is also hear for the week and would have questioned those shoes in a heartbeat. Part of me really wishes I could check out the local gentleman’s clubs just to see how they differ to the couple in Scotland that I’ve worked in, but I don’t see that being possible. The risk of wandering into another Somali here in London feels just too high.

It has been wonderful being around everyone from home again and hearing Somali being spoken all over the house. I hadn’t even realised how much I missed Somali music either.My sister feels it necessary to correct my pronunciation every once in a while whenever it sounds slightly too Scottish for her liking. It all sounds straight up English to my ears! I’m sure my Scottish pals would laugh at her for thinking anything I say sounds too Scottish. I also heard my mother speaking to one of her relatives in French and Tamashek the other day, which made a change. My mother’s side of the family is not Somali, but Tuareg. Most of her family still live in West Africa and are difficult to track down for a visit since they live a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, I’ve always felt more connected with Somalis and Brits.

One of my many cousins is getting married next week, so my mother, sister and I will need to have a dirac or guntiino ready. There will be relatives coming from Somalia, Kenya, the USA and New Zealand plus probably many more. They had better stock up on bariis! Needless to say, I’m very excited for the occasion!

I might not be able to update too frequently until I get back to Scotland. My sister is terrible for snooping and I really would rather she didn’t find the blog. I can already imagine her endless lectures if she ever found out about my exotic dancing habit. How funny it would be if I found out she was one. She’d never be able to play Holier than Thou with me again!

In the meantime, Salaam to you all.