Category Archives: Interviews

Did you vote?

Every election young people are encouraged to vote, as historically the turnout for the age group 18-24 has always been low. To tackle this problem, the University of Westminster held a ‘Register to Vote’ campaign on all four campuses.

The campaign was aimed to encourage students to register, so they could vote in Thursday’s election. But how could the university entice its students to do this? With FREE ice-cream, of course.

Each student was given a flyer explaining where to register and how. They were offered to register on the spot on the laptop provided at the booth. Once they registered, they could help themselves to a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream.

The atmosphere on the Harrow Arts and Design campus buzzed with chatter about becoming more politically involved. I returned to the Harrow campus today and spoke to some students to find out if they voted.

Cycling in London: how is it going?

Cover photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash.

“It’s as easy as riding a bike” is a common phrase used to say that, well, something is easy. But just how easy is it to do it in London, one of the most congested cities in the world? Transport for London’s 2017 Analysis estimated that 730,000 journeys are made daily with bicycles in the capital.

The Mayor of London recently announced a commitment of an average of £169m per year over the next five years to improve London’s cycling conditions, contributing to its target of 70 per cent of Londoners living within 400m of the cycle network by 2041.

Cyclists and campaign groups, however, want more than that. Yes, appropriate infrastructure is needed, but that also requires a transition of established societal and institutional ways. A study done by the Portland State University showed that changing cycling infrastructure won’t change culture.

Having blue lanes segregated from cars and other motorised vehicles won’t do anything if people don’t know how to use them. Bruce Lynn, from the London Cycling Campaign, says the infrastructure is there but people won’t use it.

There are bigger issues TfL and the Mayor of London have to consider to make cycling a possibility for every Londoner. Today, there is a common idea of the typical cyclist in London: young white men, environmentally-friendly and mostly liberal. This is supported by various studies that argue people who don’t identify as any of the above, feel less inclined to try cycling.

Who is cycling today

Who is cycling in london today_

Graphics by author

In TfL’s 2016 report, the fact that people are highly against changing their routines was assumed to be one of the main reasons they don’t try it. Their 2015 Attitudes towards cycling report also showed that safety concerns, fear of collisions, too much traffic, bad weather, lack of time, health reasons and lack of confidence and accessibility are some of the most common deterrents that put Londoners off using bikes.

Just last Saturday, around 4,000 riders took the streets of London for the #BikesUpKnivesDown demonstration led by the #BikeStormz movement to raise awareness to the rise of knife crime and murder rates in the city. They rode from London Bridge to Oxford Street in one of the biggest youth-led rides against knife crime, showing that the use of bikes has turned their lives around.

Current cycling network

routeplanroll

Central London’s cycling paths mapped by Route Plan Roll.

The current cycling network is made up of quietways and cycle superhighways for the most part. TfL defines them as “cycle routes running from outer London into and across central London. They give you safer, faster and more direct journeys into the city and could be your best and quickest way to get to work.”

Existing ones go from the City to Tottenham, Stratford to Aldgate, Barking to Tower Gateway, Oval to Pimlico, Merton to the City, and Wandsworth to Westminster. The east-west and north-south ones are the newest additions with proposed ones to go from Tower Bridge to Greenwich, Kensington Olympia to Brentford, and Swiss Cottage to the West End.

 

 

repared by the students from (1)

Graphic by author

 

Safety

Safety concerns is probably what discourages people from riding the most. A study done recently by Cambridge academics found that changes in behaviour and policies is what is needed to keep the system moving, and tackle these concerns. A change in work hours, in the number of cycleways and docking stations, and in how people cycle together are factors that will contribute to that.

Another study done by Injury Prevention found that the more number of cyclists and pedestrians, the less likely motorists are to collide with them. This is partly because they are more visible, but also because the so called “safety in numbers” makes riders feel more comfortable.

14.6 per cent of casualties in Greater London while travelling were of cyclists in 2016, according to TfL. However, only eight, out of 4,424, were fatal, a decrease of 11 per cent from the year before. It certainly shows how, compared to the car, the transport mode responsible for 39.3 per cent of the casualties, cycling is less likely to get people injured. The study by Cambridge academics, however, also points out that an increase in cycling traffic also means an increased risk for cycle coalitions.

Not every rider has the same experience levels, specially in urban area conditions. ‘Bikeability’ is something most of the campaign groups advocate for, because they know that is where it starts. The London Cycling Campaign offers free ‘bikeability’ training to anyone interested and the have regular group sessions. Everyone, not only cyclists, should know how to share a public road.

How is London doing compared to the rest of the world?

 

Not good. It isn’t even on the top 20 of bike-friendly cities in the world. Infrastructure, safety and diversity (or lack of) are some of the reasons why the British capital is not considered in the 2017 Copenhagenize Design Company Index.

Tokyo, Munich, Helsinki and Oslo are new to the list because they have worked to fix issues that didn’t allow their cycling levels to grow. Closing the center to private cars, bike sharing systems, growth of network, parking facilities, and the creation of the Cycling Embassy (Tokio) and the Cycling Federation (Helsinki) are some of the things that are on place in this cities to improve the levels of cycling urbanism.

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As much as it is common thinking that more and better infrastructure will make London a top bike-friendly city, if Londoners don’t learn (or don’t want to learn) about ‘bikeability’ and cycling urbanism, the city won’t see any major changes in the years to come. The Mayor of London is committed to increase the use of bicycles in the city as it has been demonstrated that not only will it help with air pollution, but will also provide better quality public spaces.

 

Living with fibromyalgia: Niemah’s story

“I hate…” begins Niemah, glossy red nails clawing the lid off her nearly overflowing coffee cup, “that I always end up ruining a pair of jeans every time I do this.” Reaching for an assortment of brown and white sugars, she leads the way through the coffee shop to an empty table with all the knowing of someone who visits daily.

Upon her request, we met in her local Starbucks, “at least you know what you’re gonna get” she says with a shrug, justifying her choice. Upon first impressions, Niemah is nothing like what I imagined. Confident, funny and seemingly strong – not the typical description you can give of someone living with a serious illness.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 19.48.59She is a 20-year-old university student of English literature with ambitions of becoming a published author, and a proud Muslim happily engaged to her boyfriend of two years, Bashir. This is what she insists you must know of her before you learn that she lives with the debilitating musculoskeletal pain and fatigue disorder, Fibromyalgia. “I don’t introduce myself by mentioning my illness first – that doesn’t define who I am. I like to present what I am most proud of first: my education, my family, my religion.” But that isn’t the only reason she has reservations about people knowing straight away, “chances are people either won’t know what fibromyalgia is, or they think it’s all in my head.”

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Statistics: fmaware.org/Graphics: Christian Onions

While most illnesses are related to one part of the body, or one system, fibromyalgia is a more complex condition that can be difficult to understand or diagnose – mostly due to the fact that it can impact the whole body. While scientific research on the issue is limited and the cause unknown, symptoms can develop after a form of physical trauma, psychological stress, physical injuries or illnesses. To say that Niemah doesn’t let this hold her back in life is an understatement. When we met on a cold Wednesday morning, she gave me an insight into the surprisingly optimistic, criminally misunderstood life of a fibromyalgia sufferer.

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Statistics: nrc.md/Graphics: Christian Onions

“Like most people, you live for years completely misdiagnosed. For me, it was four years ago that the pain started to become something I couldn’t ignore.” Half the struggle for people living with fibromyalgia is reaching the point of diagnosis, with the immense lack of knowledge on the issue often leading to months, or even years of misdiagnosis.

For Niemah, it was an eight month nightmare of agonising pain before she even heard of fibromyalgia for the first time. Watching Niemah whilst she describes the pain is like watching a perfected routine. This is something she has had to do more times than she can remember, “It’s hard for people to understand this because if you get a feeling of pain you can usually link it to something, like “oh, yeah, I have this pain because I worked extra hard at the gym this morning” but you take it easy, a bit of rest, and its gone. Fibromyalgia is like that, but you can’t link the pain to anything you’ve done, and it doesn’t go away with rest. That’s the best I can explain it.”

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Statistics: nrc.md/Graphics: Christian Onions

The bubbly, warm character sat in front of me becomes more subdued as we delve further into her story. Eyes glazed over, Neimah relives her time in college before being diagnosed; “I was regularly missing classes, I had my friends and teachers constantly frustrated with me, I was falling behind on my work and had this pain on top of all of it.”

Answering to other people was one of the most difficult things for her, “I had no explanation. You know, people would say “so what is wrong with you?” and I’m like, “I don’t know.” You look so stupid saying that. Most people know what is wrong with them when they are ill, or they certainly don’t have eight months of not knowing what their illness is.”

In a bid to lighten the atmosphere, we change the topic to what life is like today. She sits upright in her chair, sighing in relief, “I wish I knew back then that life wasn’t going to be awful all the time. There’s obviously a long way to go for sufferers in general – there’s still no cure, no certain known cause. But for me, in this moment, life is good.”

Life for her isn’t without its difficulties, though. “The pain is still there” she states, “but the way I deal with it has changed.” It is a process, she informs me, that took her “a bloody long time” to get right – everything from deep tissue massages and yoga to marijuana cream have all helped her to deal with pain. “Recently my arms and wrists have been my problem areas and the cream worked so well for me. Obviously I don’t do it all the time, but I’ve found what works best for me based on where the pain is at the time.”Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 15.47.58Fibromyalgia has been in the spotlight more than ever in recent months, due to Lady Gaga’s Netflix documentary, where she reveals that she has been suffering with the illness for some time. Released in September 2017, Gaga’s documentary brought much needed attention to the issue, resulting in a new peak in google searches of ‘fibromyalgia’.

“That was so amazing” Niemah explains of the moment she heard, “to have someone as famous and adored as her coming forward to say “this is real, this is happening and it’s happening to me” was just so unbelievable.” She cites this as a turning point for the illness, “even if people still don’t know what it is, they probably know Lady Gaga has it and all of a sudden it’s ‘real’.”

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Global interest in fibromyalgia over the last five years based on google searches. Source: trends.google.com

Taking a final gulp out of her coffee cup, stained with maroon lipstick, she offers advice for anyone recently diagnosed; “Try not to stress. I know that’s really annoying to hear, easier said than done, I know. But stress will only cause you to be in worse physical pain. Get to know your body. Once you understand your body, you can begin to find pain relief. Talk to people – find forums online. When you’re first diagnosed I think it is so important to know that there are thousands of people out there that feel the same as you – you aren’t alone.”

You can learn more about Fibromyalgia here.

 

Can we bring back monogamy?

Image result for dating gif

GIF Credit: TeamCoco

Have you tried dating in today’s society? With everyone staring at their phones and the phone becoming another component in our relationships, it is no wonder everyone has trust issues and are afraid to care about someone other than themselves.

Pressure is put on women to have a certain body type with a tiny waist but with large assets, she is encouraged to adopt the ‘stay at home’ culture, but must be Instagram model worthy at all times. It is enough to say that society has always had its way in depicting how a woman is supposed to look and behave but with social media growing, images of the ‘perfect’ body are literally at our fingertips. We dissect them and compare ourselves to people’s ‘best’ photos collection, forgetting the use of lighting, angles, filters and Photoshop, resulting in insecurities being watered while self-confidence suffers a drought.

In response to the unwritten rule of men being able to do anything they want on the dating scene, women are shutting down, learning not to trust and accept they are worth less than the men they date. Though many women retreat to the safety of their guarded hearts and steer clear of the dating scene altogether some try another tactic: be as bad as the guys. This obviously isn’t healthy for anyone involved, but can you blame them?

I spoke to Gael, 24, who has started the hashtag movement ‘#settle2018’ in the hopes to encourage the youth of today to drop the façade and become open towards real relationships. He hopes to build on his hashtag movement and help this generations boys realise that treating a female with respect and decency is the manly thing to do, while teaching women to let their guard down and regain hope.

Q: What does the hashtag mean?
A: The movement is to get guys and girls to be on their best behaviour – it means we’re serious this year. No trashing around, we need to settle down, find yourself a nice partner and attach the hashtag. We need to do it.

Q: So when did you start the hashtag movement?
A: New Year 2017 – I’m not the sort of person to go out all the time, so it was my third time going out all year and I’ve tried to do the settle down thing before but I never really had the time, what with work and all. But I was talking to my friend about it, saying “this life ain’t really for me anymore, you know, going out. I really want to settle down” and he agreed, so we decided that that was the last time we were going out. The New Year is the time for us to find a partner and settle down.

Q: How long have you been promoting the hashtag?
A: Obviously the beginning of the year. It started New Year’s Eve and took full impact on the 2nd January.

Q: How many people are involved?
A: I’m trying to encourage as many people as possible to jump on the movement. At the moment I’ve got around 50 people, mostly women, some men. But I don’t like taking on the boys, because it’s harder for boys to be serious about this type of thing.

Q: Is settle 2018 important to the youth?
A: It’s important for everyone, you know. This generation: I’m not impressed with it, especially the guys. Guys find it cool to speak to multiple girls; if you speak to multiple girls, as a guy, your friends think you’re cool, like you’re the man.

Then we have girls who have just lost hope. Lost hope in good guys and they end up not letting anyone in or trying to be as bad as boys. It’s like a competition. Nowadays, boys don’t want to settle down because they are scared of the girls that are trying to be as bad as them. It’s a crazy circle, it’s just going round and round. This is how it ends. Well, it doesn’t end, but this is how it gets better.

As soon as guys find it cool to take a girl seriously, that’s when more guys will join. Remember back in the days, when a guy had a girlfriend, it wasn’t looked down upon to take the one girl seriously, but now it’s like if you do that everyone will look at you like “look at this prick”, it is what it is. If you can make guys find it cool or feel like they aren’t the minority anymore, to look after a girl, then girls will see hope and they’ll both make an effort and hopefully give 100% in to the relationship. We’re helping a generation.

Q: Have you helped anyone find love?
A: Yes. At the moment, I think we have helped about eight people. They were previously ‘talking’ but some of them were afraid to get in there. We’re giving advice, got a lot of people in the group that are very wise: wise guys, wise girls, some single, some in relationships, but they know how to give good advice.

Q: What do you gain from this?
A: Nothing really, I just spend my time helping other people and giving them my advice and of course it makes my surroundings a bit better as well. That’s what the movement is and we’re trying to make it global. #settle2018

So far in 2018, we have established that dating is hard. But I have two solutions for you: Do as the gif says and “Don’t do it” OR join Gael’s hashtag and find someone worth your while.

Is teen-mom Kylie Jenner really the next role model?

So earlier this year Kylie Jenner, youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, gave birth to a baby girl at the age of twenty. And we all know that she isn’t any ordinary teen becoming a mom, she is a model, reality television star, socialite and social media tycoon. And with her lip kits and self-branded cosmetics business, also a multi-millionaire.

Now she, having a baby at an age when most people are busting their backs getting degrees or working (and paying off their starter loans) might seem a little odd. Funnily though, it seemed only ‘a little’ odd, if not completely normal after a while when the news first broke in the media. And now look at us, talking about it as if nothing really major happened.

But the other day, I was at one of my friends’ house, just chatting about the news, when her mom tells me she too was a teen mom. And I look at my friend with an almost shocked and disbelieved look. I couldn’t believe that my friend, who would be twenty now, had a mother who was just eighteen years older than her. And suddenly a presumed mental image of their lives popped in my head, complete with all the society’s pressures, expectations and resentments. But then I also could see my friend sitting next to me, so happy and relaxed, and her mom so full of life and humour, I couldn’t help but wonder, what was life like for a regular person who became pregnant during their teenage years.

Did she get the same level of acceptance from the society as Kylie does today for her early pregnancy? What were the circumstances that lead to it? How did her family react to the news? Who supported her during the time and along the way? Did she feel alone? Did she feel ready? How did she manage to provide for her daughter when she herself was practically so young? Did the stress of a different (and a significantly difficult) life, make bonding with her daughter difficult? Have they reached to the point in their lives now, when they feel comfortable with their life’s story despite all the stigma attached to this bigger idea (and how)? How do they make this unique bond between them work amidst all the pressures and responsibilities?

All these questions, but the question that surprised me the most was the one that I asked myself, why did the idea of my friends’ mother being a teen mom shocked me when I felt next to normal when I heard Kylie Jenner’s news?

So, I sat down with my friend and her mom, for a day of storytelling and revelations.

“I was young when I got pregnant. And my family was very religious. My mother was understanding, but my father and the society [were] not so much. So, when they found out [about it] they demanded I marry *Margo’s dad. I knew he wasn’t ready but since that was the only option we were left with, we went for it. Eighteen years old, in love, married and with my baby on board, I was quite happy. And one of my sisters was also expecting her baby around the same time, so I was excited to have our babies grow up together.” **Lily says with a rueful smile on her face.

And I think to myself, well that’s a good start. Mostly everyone’s happy and there are no mean blames thrown here, like that would ever be in case of Kylie and her family, them celebrating this change instead of being worried about future.

Kylie Jenner at her Babyshower, November 2017

“But life works in unexpected ways,” continues Lily, “and shortly after a year of marriage, me and Margo’s dad separated. He wanted different things in life, [things] that no longer included room for his family. So, baby Margo and I went back to living with my mom. Suddenly single and with complete responsibility of my little baby but no real work experience, I felt like I had somehow further failed in life.”

I can see that on outside, Lily looks relaxed as she goes down the memory lane, though a pained expression plagues her face, as if she could almost physically feel all the stings and stigma of her past again.

“But my mother was there with me, supporting me still, and pushing me to not give up hope in life just yet. So, I studied to become a teacher, and later started teaching at this place called ‘Kumon’. See Kumon is a kind of an after-school in Brazil, where kids go to improve their English and Portuguese skills. But my earnings from [working] there weren’t enough to support my family. So, in year 2008 I decided to move to UK to make a better earning and life for us.”

So many twists and turns in such short time, I feel my own heart sinking a little for all the problems Margo’s mom had to face in her youth. Social stigma and financial security, now that’s something Kylie Jenner would never have to worry about. After all, she is a celebrity worth millions.

Reality television star, Owner of self-branded cosmetics, Multi-millionaire

“Coming to UK was not that hard, we came through our EU citizenship. But after that things again got tricky to manage. No job, money or even a proper place to live, the only thing I felt like I had was a little piece of my family here, in this foreign country. My sister and her husband were already [settled] here, so Margo and I simply moved in the same house as them. Getting a roof over our heads felt like a huge blessing I received after such a long time. Shortly after that I picked up job as a nanny, and since I already had teaching experience I was good at looking after children.” says Lily, looking proud of the bravery her younger self showed at the time.

But now a troubled, and sad look came upon Margo’s face.

“Ever since then mom has been working as nanny. In our first year here, mom worked so many hours that I barely got to see.” says Margo. “Sometimes I felt really bad, I was young you know, and I missed my mom so much. We never had enough time to spend together. But it got better with time, and I think I too adjusted with my new life.”

I see Lily exchange a subtle look of deep understanding with her daughter. And Margo continues, “It’s similar in the present, she is working until late but since I’m older now so I don’t really mind anymore.”

“But during the time when she worked a lot and I was young too, it was difficult. But then it all got better once we started travelling together. We went on our first vacation to Brazil in 2010, which was great! But we really started bond when we travel more after 2014, and we visited Spain, Italy, Scotland and many places around England. Travel became our thing, it became the activity which truly brought us together.”

“And I think the best moment [between me and mom] was in Spain, where we just played cards by the beach. In that moment, I could feel all our worries and responsibilities drifting in the back of our minds, and we could just focus on spending our time with each other.” says a glowing Margo, looking happy to relive that moment.

“I guess in hindsight, I think we got lucky a lot of times. I know it’s [life after teen pregnancy] not all the same for everyone, but I feel quite blessed and content with how my life turned out. I am happy now, with only a few regrets, but who doesn’t have some [regrets in life] anyway.” says a broadly smiling Lily.

Margo and I were still sitting in Lily’s living room, but Lily took her leave to prep some tea for everyone after sharing her life’s story. And I can’t help but think to myself, even though they feel comfortable in their lives, look so happy now, and boldly accept their story, but overcoming all of that pain and struggle must take a lot of hard work and constant effort every single day. We all know by now that not everyone who walks down this path gets a happily ever after. Society makes that possibility perfectly clear and unforgettable, but only for the ordinary people. The rich and famous have the privilege and means to break free of the social boundaries that most of the world has to live in.

So, my only hope is that girls out there who are now in a similar position, transitioning into teen moms, don’t go into this life naively thinking it would all be rainbows because of what they see of celebrity lives on social media.

 

(Names of *daughter and **mom have been changed to maintain their privacy and anonymity)