Fighting more than the virus

This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to visit three of my high school friends who now live there. When I landed back in New York on Sunday night at LaGuardia Airport, I was happily expecting my parents to pick me up. But I received a text from my mom saying that I should take a cab home, because traffic was backed up for miles and it would be impossible for them to get me.

Upset and frustrated, because usually a cab from the airport to Westchester needs to be reserved in advance, and is excessively expensive, I grudgingly got in a yellow cab. I told the driver, “Mamaroneck. It’s in Westchester.”

With his thick accent, of which I couldn’t make out at the time, he told me he didn’t know how to get there, how much it would cost, or how long it would take. With his broken English he asked, “So I take the LIE?”

Annoyed, I bitterly snapped the directions back to him. And he was nothing but sweet, apologizing for his imperfect English.

I’m ashamed now that I took my initial aggravation out on him. I wish at the time, I could have separated my frustration towards the traffic, and my appreciation towards the driver willing to bring me home.

About 15 minutes into the drive, I calmed down and realized that my rudeness was disrespectful and unnecessary. We started talking about the traffic, and how he would try to find another route to get back to the airport to pick up yet another passenger, instead of the one that remained at a stand still.

And then I asked him where he was from.

“I don’t want to tell you, you’ll hop out of the cab,” he said.

He is from Guinea; he left his family and came to America nine years ago. His family: his sisters, his mother, his cousins, his uncles and his aunts, who are all still there, are all healthy, and doing well.

Though he said it with a giggle, it wasn’t a joke; he really did fear that I would think his mere existence, as a man from Guinea, posed a threat. It’s sad that many do feel this way.

Like HIV, Ebola has gathered a stigma of its own, that’s spreading as rapidly as the virus itself.

Many are incapable of seeing Ebola for what it is, a horrible and painful virus that can infect anyone only through bodily fluids; instead, they see it as a marker of West Africans, and as a reason to shun anyone from there.

In attempt to reduce the associated stigma, President Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, embraced Nina Pham, the nurse who survived Ebola, in a hug last week. Pham contracted the virus while treating the now-deceased Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient to be on U.S. soil, at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

About an hour later, I was finally home. I grabbed my luggage, handed him a tip, thanked him, and then shook his hand.

Continue reading

A taste of India

During our first full day in Delhi, Kristin and I got to experience a few of the different religions that are widely practiced in India. Our first stop was at a Sikh Temple. Sikhism originated in Punjab, a province that was in British-ruled India until India’s independence in 1947. Now, it is a region in northwest India.

At the Temple, we took off our shoes and put on a head covering. I had never before covered my hair for religious observance before that day. I’ve heard and read countless debates about the practice of women covering their hair, and whether it symbolizes oppression or respect; but doing it there, at the Sikh Temple, for the first time, felt normal and routine. Standing beside all of the other women with their hair covered as well, I felt unified with them, and I felt comfortable while in a place so far and different from home.

Sikhs pray to the Book of 10 Gurus; they treat it with extreme respect and care. During prayer, the book is swaddled in a blanket like a baby. Sikhs typically pray throughout the entire day, everyday; they bathe outside in the Temple’s large bath. Sikh men follow the 5 K’s: bracelet, dagger, shorts, turban, and comb. In Hindi, these items all start with the letter K. Men must carry or wear these items at all times.


The bath in which they bathe


Kristin and Me in front of the Sikh Temple

Next, we went to a Hindu Temple, which was very beautiful. Not one spot of the Temple lacked color. Unlike Sikhs, who pray to a book, Hindus pray to deities, or multiple gods and goddesses. A few of their idols are Ganesha, the elephant, which represents good luck; Laskshmi, the woman, who represents wealth; Brahma, the man with four hands, who is the creator; Vishnu, the blue-colored man, also with four hands, who is the preserver; and Shiva, a man with a third eye, who is the destroyer. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are part of the Hindu deity triumvirate, the most popular of the Hindu gods. But, those are just to name a few; Hindus believe in 33 million gods and goddesses. Again, the Hindu Temple was beautiful. Each god and goddess was presented in a different room, and elaborately decorated; they were covered in jewels, fabrics and paints. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the Hindu Temple. Continue reading

Into the heat

On May 29th at 8:30 PM New Delhi time, after 24 hours of flying, Kristin and I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India. As we stepped out of the airport, we were greeted by a wave of heat. It was unlike any heat I’ve ever experienced before, even in the Negev.

The air was thick, and it took me a few breaths before getting used to it. I couldn’t take one step without bumping into someone, or without getting slammed into by a taxi. Horns sounded endlessly from every direction. Needless to say, my first moments in India were very overwhelming.

Soon after, our guide arrived with our taxi and we quickly hopped in. About an hour and a half later, we arrived at our hotel in Delhi. During our drive, though it was pitch black out, we could see people laying on the ground, separated by less than a foot of pavement. Continue reading


This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Dubai, India, Thailand, and Cambodia. I traveled with my friend since early childhood, Kristin. During our junior year of high school, because we were both studying Chinese, we traveled to China with our class for two weeks. With college now behind us, we decided to embark on an adventure of our own. We didn’t want to do the typical Eurotrip, we wanted more of a challenge, more of an eye-opener– to India and Southeast Asia we went!

Our first stop was in Dubai in the UAE. A friend of ours now works there, so we got to meet him in the Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world) and enjoy lunch at a Shake Shack before flying onward to Delhi, India. It was bizarre that upon landing in the Middle East, our first meal was at an American fast food chain. It felt no different than sitting in a mall in New York. I promised myself then that I would only eat food native to the country to which I was in.

We saw the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building at 2,722 ft. For reference, the Empire State Building is 1,550 ft. I could not fit the entire building into one photo.


Burj Khalifa

Dubai is a fascinating city– it looks like Las Vegas picked itself up and landed in the Middle East. The city is extremely modern, its a paradigm for new technology and its airport is one of the most trafficked in the world. But despite its modernity, Dubai still operates under a constitutional monarchy. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the current ruler.

And though it all felt very familiar, what haunted me about the city was that I had no perception of how close I was to countries in the Middle East that have been facing such devastating turmoil. Right now, what’s going on in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia is terrifying and disgusting; Dubai is separated from those countries by mere land, and the UAE even shares a border with Saudi Arabia. But Dubai is very westernized, much different from cities in its neighboring countries, though it still shares many of the problems that other Middle Eastern cities face, like suppression and slavery. While only being able to tour the luxurious side of Dubai, it was easy to forget that it’s in the tumultuous Middle East. 



Everything we weren’t taught

After four years of writing for Pipe Dream, and after 46 columns discussing issues from cheese to feminism, my 47th article was my final, goodbye column.

“On the first day of my senior year at Binghamton University, I navigated my way through the infamously confusing Engineering Building to find myself a seat in my classroom.

My class began at 1:10 p.m., But by 1:25 p.m., my classmates and I were still anxiously awaiting the arrival of our professor.

When he didn’t show, I was dismayed. What a poor start to the beginning of the end of my college career.

Was this how my last year at BU would go? Would I have to be taught by a lackadaisical professor who missed the first day of class? Or was this the fault of the beloved BU Registrar? Regardless of the circumstances, I was disappointed.

The next class, I arrived eager to see what kind of professor would be teaching me for the next few months. My professor stood calmly in front of our classroom. “I apologize for missing class yesterday,” he announced. “My wife gave birth.””

Read the full article here 

Brandeis’ decision to nix commencement speaker is misguided

The choosing of a commencement speaker for a college graduation is a big decision, so when Brandeis University students broke out in protest once the speaker was announced, and then again once that same speaker’s invitation was revoked, I decided to write an article discussing the issues that gave rise to the protests.

“Yet early this April, Brandeis rescinded its invitation to have Ayaan Hirsi Ali speak at commencement.

Ali is a politician, writer and women’s rights activist. As a Muslim-born woman who went through genital mutilation in her home country of Somalia, Ali speaks out loudly against the relationship between conservative Islam and abuse toward women. The university originally confirmed Ali as one of the 2014 commencement speakers until a petition, which argued for the withdrawal of Ali as a speaker, circulated the campus and gained over 7,000 signatures. The president of Brandeis University, Frederick Lawrence, announced on April 8 that Ali would no longer be speaking at commencement.

After its initial decision to have Ali as a speaker, Brandeis faced nothing but criticism. Lawrence was condemned for offering Ali a microphone to purport her anti-Islamic values before a large and diverse audience, and he was then later condemned for taking that very power away from her.”

Read the full article here

Sans facts, missing plane conspiracy theories abound

Following the disappearance of flight MH370, the Malaysian airliner that lost contact with satellites and landed in the ocean somewhere of off Perth, Australia in March, I wrote an article discussing our fascination with such occurrences, and why, in an attempt to explain what had happened, we created conspiracy theories.

“Within hours of the plane’s disappearance, it came to the attention of the media that two passengers on board had stolen passports. The accusations of an attempted terrorist attack began immediately, along with other theories that the plane vanished into a black hole, that aliens captured the plane and are now holding it hostage on a faraway planet and that the pilot purposely sabotaged the flight. The idea of a mere technical problem was unimaginable; its straightforwardness made it uninteresting and, even more, its simplicity made it a fear that it could happen again, that it could happen to any of us.

When we indifferently question the logistics of what occurred and when we fabricate theories to replace the truth or fill a void, we distance ourselves from our emotions. We mask our fear with better, more entertaining stories because the one that is true is the one we don’t want to face.”

Read the full article here

Web classes are more accessible and flexible than classroom learning

As part of a Point-Counterpoint for Pipe Dream, I wrote a column advocating for the use of MOOC’s, massive open online courses.

“The argument surrounding MOOCs, though, is not whether they generate substantive revenue, as they undeniably do. It is whether their place in the education system is beneficial for those taking them.

Many point out that distance learning provides a false or inadequate pedagogy and that learning through anything other than a professor who stands before you is unsuccessful. But it is important to note that MOOCs, like an in-person class, are wholly what you make of them. A student’s presence in the classroom doesn’t necessarily equate with retaining the information given; one can just as easily go sit in Lecture Hall and spend the entire time surfing the Web instead of actively listening to the professor.”

Read the full article here 

Addicts deserve compassion, not incarceration

In another article about mental illness, I wrote about addiction and mass incarceration- an epidemic that is rapidly growing in the United States. Many portray those who suffer from addiction in a negative light, as low-lifes, and as failures. But like any other mental illness, addicts deserve our help and understanding.

“The millions of people we mindlessly incarcerate for drug use are not taken to rehabilitation centers where they can appropriately recover; they are taken to jail, where the root of their addictions are overlooked and the conditions in which they are surrounded provide a heartless and intolerant environment that only fosters more pain.

The bottom line is that as long as drugs exist, people will use them. Unfortunately, deaths from overdose are not enough to stop people from using. Like any other mental illness or disease, drug addictions are beyond one’s control. According to the government-run website for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Scientists estimate that genetic factors account for between 40 and 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction, including the effects of environment on gene expression and function.””

Read the full article here

Belcher’s suicide a chance to reverse a stigma

Back in December 2012, when pro-football player, Jovan Belcher committed murder-sucide, the idea of such a masculine figure dealing with depression and other anxieties was considered completely taboo. I used Belcher’s story to try to reduce some of that stigma, and to help people realize that mental health issues do not discriminate.

“But what Belcher did after he killed his girlfriend is what needs to be focused on. Belcher’s suicide changes this tragedy from a heartless act to a cry for help, and we should learn from Belcher instead of just labeling him a cold-blooded killer.

Suicide is not a light topic, but that does not mean it should be taboo.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every 13.7 minutes, someone in the United States dies as a result of suicide.

Every 40 seconds, someone, somewhere in this world, commits suicide.

In 2010, 38,364 Americans committed suicide.

Those numbers are not small. They are significant statistics, and we should not feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about them.”

Read the full story here