Last month, my husband, two daughters and I went on a two week Euro-adventure to Berlin and the south of Spain. The trip was better than we ever imagined it could be and since getting back to our temporary home base in Morocco, I have hit the post-vacation slump: the can’t-I-just-go-back everyday kinda feeling. But lucky for me, I’m a writer and I can teleport myself to places we have visited using memory and journalling alone. One point I wanted to suss out more about our trip was just how much was affected by the fact that we are Muslims. Perhaps some of the things I talk about below wouldn’t have been so noticeable if we jet-setted to Europe from our permanent home base in Canada, but because we were coming from a Muslim country, however Euro-influenced it might be, somethings really stood out.

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Rare blog appearance by the husband. On a boat, no less.

Halal food hunting is always an adventure. I mean, for any Muslim who keeps halal with their eating, this is going to be the first challenge. This was more of an issue in Spain than Germany for two noticeable reasons: Germany is very inclusive of its large Muslim population -something we noticed everywhere we went and which is largely to the country’s history of genocide against religious minorities. The overcompensation was nice and welcomed…and frankly how it should be. It’s what one would expect from a country that had repented for its monstrous sins – we even had halal breakfast sausages (a variety to choose from!) at our hostel’s morning spread! Of course, this isn’t to obfuscate Germany’s very real resurgence of far-right, anti-Muslim elements but mainstream society seems pretty welcoming to Canadian-levels. We didn’t notice we were different the entire time we were there.

The second reason why halal food was more of an issue in Spain is because of the long Spanish history of persecuting Muslims. This actually has an effect on the food – believe it or not? Spanish hams and pork products are not a cultural anomaly – they rose in popularity during the post 1492 era and the Inquisition as a way of sussing out who was still practicing Judaism or Islam in private despite be forced to convert to Christianity in public. So yeah, Spanish cuisine is very, very pork heavy and it’s everywhere. There is also a lot of alcohol in both places but we noticed that more family-friendly places didn’t serve it at all so it was relatively easy to avoid altogether.

To get around these issues while still having an authentic experience, we sought out halal restaurants with certified halal products, tried street food that we knew was prepared in a haram-free place (like churros!) or we stuck to the grocery stores and ate veg/pescatarian. I am already inclined to veganism so this wasn’t a stretch for me but my husband was longing for a nice big tagine by the end of the trip, for sure!

 

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Finding places to pray is a challenge. Not only are all the former mosques of Andalusia now churches or cathedrals that Muslims are not allowed to pray inside, the remaining modern mosques for local Muslim populations are forcibly non-descript and tough to find. Unlike Canada, where a mosque is allowed to look like a mosque (with a minaret and everything), the same isn’t true elsewhere. We ended up just having salat where we stayed and left it at that.

Airports aren’t fun. Being Muslim in an airport is a nerve-wracking experience, no matter where you are, especially when you are dragging two little kids along and you tend to be the only visible Muslims in a 100-kilometer radius for some reason. Obviously the extra attention by security agents didn’t happen when leaving Marrakech much but it did get bothersome when entering Germany and Spain. My husband has a permanent resident card for the EU and the level at which it was scrutinized was necessary but irritating. Maybe it’s because the officers just did it in such a harsh manner or I’m overly sensitive to racism against Moroccans to the point of paranoia but I wasn’t pleased and I’m pretty sure that he would have been hassled a lot longer if he hadn’t been travelling with his Canadian-passport-carrying family. Oh, and the hijab pat-downs get old real quick, especially when someone is scanning my baby’s milk at the same time and both kids are hollering. Sigh.

Being the only hijabi makes you a sideshow novelty. I have no idea why but on our entire 2 week trip, we really only saw a handful of hijabi muslimahs. And yeah, we look for each other. I was pretty shocked to constantly be the only hijabi in the room and, as a result, be the constant object of other peoples’ stares. In a walking tour around Sevilla, our group turned to look at me every single time the guide mentioned Islam or the Qur’an. I mean, the association there isn’t so bad but you really start to feel like a circus freakshow when people are looking at you with their mouths hanging open in the grocery line.

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Circus is in town, baby.

Having a Canadian accent and being white changed how people with Islamophobic biases treated me. Despite the extra unwanted attention as a hijabi in tour groups, shops and on the street, I did notice that people changed how they treat me immediately on hearing my Canadian accent. It’s amazing how fast people compartmentalize you as a tourist and not one of “those” Muslims with just the flicker of a knowing glance when you ask for a bag or a receipt.

Our people stick together better as minorities. For all of the issues that Muslims have with each other in Muslim-majority countries (humans gonna human, eh?) we sure seem to get along better and in a more cooperative spirit when we are the minority. We just noticed that everywhere we went, other Muslims would seek us out to ask for directions or assistance and to be honest, we did the same. I’m not sure why but the whole “we’re in this minority deal together so give me a hand” thing is real.

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Not a paid ad.

 

For better or for worse, travelling as a Muslim is definitely a unique experience and not one I exactly have a choice in! Before I was Muslim, I travelled a lot and I have to say that I really notice a difference in terms of acceptance and treatment by fellow travellers and locals. It’s also something other Muslims report noticing (especially if they are visibly Muslim) and honoring those experiences without self-gaslighting about them is important. Sharing raises awareness for everyone – that’s  the beauty of storytelling and bearing witness to someone’s stories. In the end, any different treatment we experience is neither going to define our trip nor the countries we visit.


16265681_10154323322850753_2679466403133227560_nNakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. 

Writing is the running of creative practices. It can be done anywhere, with minimal supplies or special equipment. To run you just need a path and a pair of shoes. To write, all you need is a place to sit and something to write with, whether computer or pen and paper.  Or that’s the minimalist ideal, anyway. Personally, I’m not sure that I would get much done if I was simply plunked down in a white cube with a pen and paper.

I like to write in public, usually at a coffee shop, but sometimes a quieter pub or bar. This works partly because if I’ve packed up my computer and books, dressed to leave the house, and taken the bus somewhere, I will do what I set out to do. I can’t just turn on Netflix in the middle of the coffee shop! Mainly, though, I find that the noise and stimulus of a public place helps me focus.

Some might find my routine to be counter-intuitive, preferring to do focused work in libraries and home offices that are by-design distraction-free. (How I envy those home office-workers for the money that they save on coffee and muffins, and the time they save on transit!) Other writers place more significance on having the right tools, such as a favourite type of pen or paper, a comfortable chair, or a mug of tea. So yes, you can write anywhere, with very basic equipment, but most writers have a routine or set of tools that support their practice. You can simply grab a pair of running shoes and get going, but stretching, planning a route, and maybe putting on a podcast will give you better, and more enjoyable, results.

Why do environment and routine matter? Some aspects of a writer’s routine may have clear practical benefits to productivity, but I think it is mostly a matter of ritual. A ritual is a deliberate and habitual set of actions which are imbued by the doer with deeper significance than their immediate, external impact. A ritual can be a religious ceremony or be as mundane as putting on makeup in the morning before work because it makes you feel “put together.”

Rituals of all varieties function to induce a changed state of mind, such as receptivity, calm, or focus – all of which are important states for different stages of the writing process.

Going to a particular place or using a particular pen, notebook, or chair signals to the brain that it is time to work. The preparatory process gently shifts your mental gears into the right state of mind for the task at hand.

So, how do you put together a writing routine or ritual that will finally kick your motivation into gear? I’m not sure that you can just build and institute the right routine and have it work immediately. My routine seems to have naturally developed from habits begun in university. Writing papers at coffee shops and the UVic Grad Lounge started as self-bribery, giving myself a treat to offset the struggle to be productive. Over time, the coffee shop, with its low-key noise and distraction, simply became my best work environment through habituation.

What you can do is think about how you work best, based on experience. In quiet, distraction-free environments, or surrounded by stimulus? In cozy comfort or with a certain degree of physical rigor? What items do you have around you that really help you complete and enjoy your task, versus the ones that are distracting luxury? Say, a cup of coffee rather than full plate of sandwiches.

Build on these observations. Experiment and be mindful of how you respond to different approaches, but don’t get overly involved in crafting the perfect writing ritual at the expense of writing. The key is to do the thing and evolve the support system – environment, routine, even superstition – as you practice. You can put together the best stretching routine, buy the best gear, and find the most idyllic 10 km running trail, but you won’t get very far if you haven’t also been going out and doing the training.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

The Drawing Board is back! Well, to be honest, we never really left but we did take a year-long break from blogging, vlogging and social media for many good reasons.

What have we been up to?

We have been busy working! Throughout the year,  we have continued to serve clients, letting some old friends go and making some new ones! We have also continued to serve our communities through our advocacy and educational work.

We have been busy convocating! The owner and editor-in-chief of The Drawing Board, Nakita Valerio, finished her Masters degree in history at the University of Alberta last year so believe it or not, we were busy thesising, defending and graduating!

We have been busy researching! In addition to regular work for The Drawing Board, Nakita also undertook a research fellowship on anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism in Canada with the Tessellate Institute! Keep your eyes peeled for the resulting publications which should be out any day now!

We have been busy learning the Truth! While we have been off, two of our staff writers took the time to read all six volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports. We encourage everyone to do the same.

We have been busy birthing! In addition to keeping new clients happy and getting her parchment, Nakita also went through an incredible (and difficult) 9 months of pregnancy which ended in a spectacular birth. We welcome Baby Sujood to The Drawing Board family!

We have been busy recruiting! In addition to our fabulous team members and contributors of old, Elisabeth and Erin, we have also added another fabulous femme to The Drawing Board team, just in time for our brand relaunch! We will give Olga a proper welcome shortly!

We have been busy learning how to center accessibility! We have spent some time learning about how to make our vlogs more accessible with simple tools like transcriptions and Closed Captioning. We hope to apply what we have learned to everything we are doing!

We have been preparing to relaunch! We have been hard at work reconfiguring our website to better reflect the work that we do for you!


The Drawing Board is delighted to relaunch our website and our social media after much anticipation!

The new site clearly outlines the philosophy behind our company and the two streams of services we now offer: corporate/non-profit and academics/writers. Our main goal with our redevelopment was to offer as sleek and as simple a design as possible to reflect the professionalism of our company, center accessibility and to let our services speak for themselves in the manner we know best: through good, clean writing.

In addition to rebuilding the design and layout of our website, we are also committed to reinvigorating our blog, Youtube channel, Facebook feed and have finally joined the Instagram revolution. Be sure to follow us on all platforms and subscribe to our Youtube to keep up with us!

In this episode, host Emily Mattingsley takes us to her favourite spot in Morocco: the incredible Hammam Bildi (traditional local steamhouse) where she indulges us by describing the amazing self-care rituals involved therein. The Hammam represents all the best parts of Moroccan culture: female exclusive spaces to take care, indulge, leave stresses behind, and above all, slow down.

Episode 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GnosKzMUkA

Episode 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNM0i5XysNg&t=9s

Edmonton Public Library ought to be ashamed of themselves. Last night, I attended their lecture series on Freedom of Expression headed by Salman Rushdie. For people who have come to know Rushdie’s work over the years, we knew what to expect from him: the cognitive dissonance experienced when trying to reconcile two images of a man – a brilliant and evocative writer and a public speaker who revels in blasphemies, insults and what has come to be called (glorified) “trolling”. I attended because I love some of his novels purely for the craft and I received a free ticket from a colleague of mine at the University of Alberta. I also wanted to see what he could possibly have to say that would fly with an open Canadian audience that prides itself on pluralism. What happened at the event, was far more sinister than anything I could have anticipated and is something that EPL should not be proud of.

Rushdie purported to be talking about freedom of expression and censorship – issues that he has built his personality cult around. And yet, his discourse on the subject is not very well-thought out and lacks significant nuance. That is, of course, giving him too much credit. It could just be that he actually believes that freedom of expression means never having any censorship whatsoever, including for spreading hate propaganda and denying that certain phenomena actually exists. Hard to believe that someone could buy that, but he does. Denying the Holocaust as a counter-argument to this “expression free-for-all” is the first thing that usually comes to mind as something that should (and often is) legislated against. (And before any ill-informed Judeophobes get up in arms, let me be clear: historical discussion is not denial. Ever.)

But Rushdie didn’t take his own argument to those problematic ends. Instead he blatantly denied that a different kind of harmful phenomena exists: Islamophobia. He dismissed Islamophobia (a word he allegedly “doesn’t like”) as a relatively recent innovation designed by Daesh (ISIS) apologists (see: all Muslims) to stop genuine criticism of Islam.

Excuse me? Sit down, Sir.

For people who live with the vile discrimination of Islamophobia every single day, dismissing their lived reality as part of a conspiratorial global Muslim plot to make the world more PC is part and parcel of the rest of the Islamophobia we endure daily. Rushdie’s reified Clash of Civilizations narrative wouldn’t even fly in an intro to Poli Sci class at the University so why the hell is EPL giving this fool a podium to spew it so unapologetically?

Here’s a fact: polarizing rhetoric polarizes. They become self-fulfilling prophecies because they don’t describe the world, they prescribe it and in swallowing such quantifiably impoverished arguments, bigots allow the work done to reconcile alienated communities get thrown under the bus immediately. And for him to put all of this under the self-defensive, circular argument of “freedom of expression” is no better than the unreflective xenophobes I am accustomed to dealing with in much less distinguished settings.

At one point, Rushdie actually said he should have the right to disrespect religions and then proceeded to make an argument for the freedom to hate, coupled with jokes that emulated Trump’s pussy-grabbing sexual assault “quips” and quite literally made fun of transgender women for not having vaginas. He did this while painting the artist/writer as a victim of censorship to a room full of people who, astonishingly, swallowed his intellectually devoid argument and laughed along with his hateful one-liners, including politicians and senior city bureaucrats. As a writer, I was appalled.

Rushdie spreads hate under the mandate of anti-censorship so that any legitimate critique of his neo-liberal, anti-religion, secular homogenizing agenda is dismissed as either anti-modern or Islamist.

And isn’t that the tactic of every colonizer to dismiss his critics as being “uncivilized”?

In Rushdie’s Lilliputian world, I am simply a reactive, anti-modern because I don’t think we should give intolerant hacks the time of day – especially not to massive, sold-out crowds at a huge downtown hotel in our capital city. He would simply cry “Censorship” and believe that that should silence me. Point to my hijab and shout “extremist” because I disagree with him. And that should somehow silence me? The caveat of his argument about freedom of expression is that freedom of expression is for all except people who actually recognize how harmful hateful rhetoric is, who devote their lives to studying and preventing it, who don’t believe that people have an intuitive “bullshit radar” (if they did, they wouldn’t have been laughing so hard at his gay-bashing jokes last night and we wouldn’t be dealing with the gongshow of an American election right now) and who know how easily people are manipulated and made to hate by stories told in defense of their social position and power.

But this isn’t about Rushdie. At all. He is so predictable, it hurts.

We all know what to expect from this pandering neo-liberal fool who positively ejaculates every time one of his books is put on a banned list because he gets to self-fellatiate in front of global press audiences. We all know that virulent liberal secularist proponents are the least reflective and least self-critical non-thinkers on the planet. My God, they barely even know that they too operate under an actual cultural system that is not, impossibly, outside ”culture” itself while reifying Christianoform time, rituals and rhetoric unquestioningly as an allegedly non-religious zombie of the Western European tradition.

No, the real problem here is that a community institution, the Edmonton Public Library, attacked Canadian pluralism in bringing him here and simultaneously undermined the difficult and incredible work their staff does daily to establish safe spaces in their libraries for people of colour, Muslims, women and LGBTQ people. I won’t go so far as to say people like him should remain silent or be made silent because I don’t think that is the case. A community institution giving Rushdie’s blatant intolerance a speaking platform and a large audience is entirely another story.  I did not feel safe in an EPL-created space last night and I know a lot of other people who didn’t either. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I know I am.

 

The Drawing Board has done something incredible and we want all of you to celebrate with us: we have surpassed the number of visitors to our blog for the entirety of 2015 and we did it in just 5 months!

If the numbers are any indication, we are set to beat last year’s numbers (over 6000 visitors) by more than double by the time December 31st rolls around and that kind of traffic is not something to ignore. In fact, this exemplifies perfectly the reasons why we recommend content writing – content turns to traffic which turns into legitimacy, branding and business.

Through our blog, we have been able to publish professionally, garner more like-minded clients we get to support with our services and reach thousands of people all over the world – inspiring dialogue and putting our writers on the map as public intellectuals and important thinkers.

We have some exciting projects coming up for the future of The Drawing Board so please stay tuned for all things lovely in the world of publishing! In the meantime, let’s celebrate!