Ever since I returned to the US, there’s one, single word that constantly nags at me. A single word that makes me feel guilty when I find myself neglecting all things academic, a word that comes to me when I hear from friends who are finishing up a year in college, or others who are using this time to enhance their resumes and life experiences: productivity.
I haven’t been “productive” since March. I had planned to use this time to take online courses and get a better idea of what I want to pursue in college, intensively study Arabic, get an upper hand on studying Persian, and so on. Instead, I haven’t really been doing much of that. Some days, that feels okay. But other days, I find myself feeling incredibly stressed and inundated by endless worries. What is my college schedule going to be? Why don’t I have any idea of what I want to study? What if I forget all my Arabic? Am I wasting all this time?
So today, I’m here to tell myself that it’s okay. I won’t lie, putting the previous paragraph into words made me a bit anxious all over again. The question of “Am I making the most of my time?” isn’t new; it first surfaced at the beginning of my time in Morocco, and since then, it’s been an unending mental dialogue. As I reflect, I’ve come to realize that the reason I never used to ask this question in high school was because I was too busy, and I never had the chance to really evaluate what I was doing with my time. Everything seemed to have a concrete purpose, and when I wasn’t cramming school content and completing unending essays I was participating in extracurriculars, activities, and all things “productive.”
This year I truly have “free time” and am able to make a choice about how I want to use it. And I’ve also realized that these months before starting college may likely be the last time that I will have so much freedom and lack of responsibility, and empty moments to do whatever I want. And so today, I want to take some time to celebrate some of the things I have been doing that I was not able to do in high school. These newfound moments have opened up more room for books, podcasts, and long walks while listening to music, so here are some things I’d like to share today!
I wasn’t really able to read for fun during high school, but now, I’ve been curling up on the couch with a book every night, and it’s definitely a highlight. Realistic and historical fiction are my favorite genres, and I’ve been reading some great works that discuss cultural, political, and identity conflicts written by some really inspiring women of color. ❤
Hands down my favorite book from this past month or so was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. It’s a multigenerational story following the descendants of two half sisters in what is now Ghana, one of whom must marry a British colonist, and the other who is enslaved by the British and sold to America. The narrative is so well-written and vivid, and at the same time, it offers such a clear perspective on the sickening, racist past and present of the United States, and the exploitative British imperialist occupation of Africa.
I also read Honor, by Elif Shafak, which narrates the story of an honor crime within a Turkish immigrant family in the UK, and A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar, in which the protagonist, a young girl, navigates her identity as she moves from Kuwait, to Egypt, to the United States. I’m currently reading Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, which spans across Japan, India, Pakistan, and the USA from the end of World War II to present day.
I’m a really slow nonfiction reader, because I always take forever to understand stuff, and spend a lot of time underlining and making notes, but I’m currently finishing up On Palestine by the American linguist Noam Chomsky, and Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian from the New Historian school of thought. It’s such an informative, interesting perspective on the past, present, and future of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it really challenges and debunks so much of the rhetoric present in American media. The authors cover everything from Nakba and Palestinian forced displacement, to settler colonialism in Israel, and effective activism and BDS. After I finish On Palestine, I’m hoping to start either Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall, or Orientalism by Edward Said.
More time for long, solitary walks means more time for listening to podcasts! Code Switch is definitely at the top of my list. I’ve written about it before– it’s an NPR podcast that covers race in America, and it’s so well presented. My recent favorite episodes have been Ask Code Switch: What About Your Friends?, which discusses the challenges of interracial friendships in America (I really, really felt this one personally), and What Does ‘Hood Feminism’ Mean For A Pandemic?, which sheds light on how the mainstream feminist movement has failed to address specific challenges faced by women of color– especially black women– overall, and in these difficult times. I’ve also been listening to NPR’s Throughline, a podcast that connects history to the present, and my recent favorite episode was American Socialist, which covered the history and impact of socialism in America.
In addition to podcasts in English, I’ve been listening to Arabic podcasts nearly every day! It’s a great way to passively work on my dialect skills, and also learn a lot more about the Middle East. On my list is Eib, about cultural taboos, Blank Maps, about nationality and belonging, and B’Hob, about love and family, and Jasadi, about the relationship between people, their bodies, and society. The first two are mainly in Jordanian Arabic, and the latter two are a mix of Levantine and Egyptian.
I don’t have much to write about this, but if anyone is tired of their music during quarantine and wants something new to listen to in different languages, here are my favorite playlists that I’ve made throughout my gap year!
- Baarishein, my melancholy “rain” playlist, including Hindi/Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin, and Korean.
- Party Wali Night, my dance playlist! It’s mainly Bollywood, Dabke, and Reggaeton!
- Kolshi bel3rbi, everything in Arabic.
- Koi Gal Nahi, all things Punjabi.
This blog post is mainly a log of the random things that I’ve been reading and listening to, but above all, I want to keep it to remind myself that I am indeed doing things during this time, and even if I’m not being “productive,” it’s fine, because I’m still having fun and relaxing and doing things I haven’t gotten to do in a while!