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. 

After four long, active days of hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile I am not sorry to spend a few hours listening to podcasts and watching the Patagonian landscape roll by from the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. As we wind our way out of the park towards the Chilean-Argentine border, we are treated to dramatic views of the Paine massif from various angles as well as a photo op with a herd of guanaco and one very distant and lonely flamingo. By the time we reach the border, the mountains have receded into the Patagonian steppe, which is all rolling grey-green and brown scrub under harsh blue sky. After some last-chance Chilean souvenir shopping we cross the border into Argentina and continue for hours more before seeing mountains again on the approach to El Calafate, a pretty tourist town and the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park.

Guanaco

A few years ago, I convinced some friends to take the Greyhound for three days and $130 from Victoria, BC to Austin, Texas so I have not only a great appreciation for the beauty of barren landscapes, but a high tolerance for long distance bus rides. Something about this bus ride, whether it was the previous four days of early mornings, poor sleep and physical activity, or the dehydrating air conditioning and hypnotic landscape of the bus ride itself, I could not handle. About half way through I began to nod off, occasionally waking up groggy and uncomfortable.

The roast lamb

I rallied in time for dinner with the rest of the group and went all in, ordering a plate of precariously stacked roast lamb and vegetables. The meat slides off the bone and is satisfyingly charred on the outside. Sadly, I barely make it halfway through the mountain of meat and root vegetables before exhaustion overcomes me in the form of mild nausea and light-headedness. Rather than pushing through the discomfort for the sake of the night out, I bought a bottle of Powerade and went back to the hotel for a full night’s sleep. I still regret not being able to finish, or fully appreciate, that meal but by missing out on one culinary experience I ensured that I was back in full working order to enjoy the next day’s glacier walk on Perito Moreno Glacier.

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Travel can be exhausting. The best trips tire you out and revive you in equal measure. The pressure to maximize your time in a new place and to experience everything on offer can backfire, though. Even on holiday, it is important to have downtime and listen to your body’s needs or you run the risk of burning out. My recent trip to Patagonia taught me this lesson in a number of ways.

Although I am in adequately good shape, I am not an experienced hiker. The main hikes on Intrepid Travel’s “Patagonia Trekking” tour are challenging, although the tour is designed to be manageable for a range of experience levels. The first hike of the trip gave me confidence. The second was one of two all-day hikes with some difficult uphill sections. I started the day at a steady, confident pace which deteriorated before even reaching the most challenging section of the hike – the last, uphill leg before our destination. By the time I returned to the campsite, far behind most of the group except one of the guides and another member of the group who was pacing himself, I was hobbled by burning toe pain and seriously doubting whether I could keep up with or enjoy the fourth hike which was said to be both longer and steeper.

almost near the summit

Two days later we set out on the fourth hike to Mirador del Torres, the grand finale of the W Hike. Somewhat refreshed, but still cautious, I paced myself from the very start of the walk. Instead of instinctively trying to keep up with the group at all times I focused on staying relaxed, breathing and maintaining an easy, sustainable pace. I soon realized that rather than falling way behind the others, the group ebbed and flowed around me as everyone’s energy and pace fluctuated. Sometimes I was near the front, other times at the back. I was able to make it to the summit of the hike feeling challenged but not frustrated or dispirited. Pinched toes eventually made me fall behind on the very last stage of the return to camp, but this time it did not affect my sense of accomplishment because I had maintained control of my experience throughout.

patagnia firebush

Slowing down, resting and taking time to myself when I needed it rather than rushing to keep up, to do everything and never miss out meant that in the end I was able to fully enjoy my trip without getting exhausted, sick or grumpy. When travelling, the tendency to overdo things comes from a desire to make the most of life. In daily life we often overextend ourselves out of a drive for productivity, desire for accomplishment or to be of service to others. Instead, without rest and downtime we become burnt out, anxious and more likely to flake on commitments. Saying yes and taking opportunity as it comes is important, but so is knowing when it’s time to go to bed – whether that bed is a tent in Patagonia or a queen sized mattress at home.


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

The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


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

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.

Host Emily Mattingsley unpacks some of the typical reactions she gets when she says she lives in Morocco and shows why they are problematic with reference to being a white woman. She shows how important it is to recognize privilege and how it constructs the types of choices we are able to make while balancing that with honouring the life someone is then able to build for themselves as something more than chance. She also takes a look at the bigger picture of what really constitutes “bravery” these days and asks you to ask some hard questions of what being a woman is like all over the world.

Melissa Raimondi is the raw vegan guru behind Raw Food Romance. Recently, she joined The Drawing Board’s owner and editor-in-chief, Nakita Valerio, to talk about her life as an online lifestyle coach and raw vegan spokesperson. Her spectacular personal transformation and her magnetic personality have been drawing people to raw food lifestyles by the thousands and we are delighted that she took the time to share her journey with us!

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Fast Facts:

Favourite Fruit Right Now: Pineapple!

Powerful Woman You’re Feeling Right Now: I have always however resonated with great women like Rosa Parks for standing up for what they believe in. Anyone who stands up for the rights of those oppressed has my respect.

Women Who Inspire You Professionally: Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram from FullyRaw Kristina, Emily from Bite Size Vegan and Alyse from Raw Alignment. I love seeing how they have built such large platforms and admire what they are doing with their social media.

Can you tell us about yourself and your role with Raw Food Romance(RFR)? What are you trying to accomplish with it?

I am pretty much the face of Raw Food Romance: it is my own personal journey with raw foods and how that has changed my life. I have been a raw vegan for just over 2 years and have known about the lifestyle for well over a decade. RFR is here to bring awareness to health and animal cruelty and is about moving towards a healthier diet not only for the human body, but the planet. By creating delicious raw vegan recipes, people are not only helping their health, but in turn, helping to lessen their impact on the environment. They also learn about being more compassionate towards the animals we exploit every day. My goal is to show people that it is healthy and possible to live this lifestyle, and you don’t have to be a hippy to be vegan. Everyone can do it!

What sets your raw vegan approach apart from what others are doing?

I am what is called a “low-fat, high-carb raw vegan”. Most raw vegan food is very high fat and gourmet, to appease the tastes of the general public, but since fat can be a problem, I have come up with recipes that are both low-fat and really tasty. I have so many people saying that my recipes have helped them stick to a healthier diet because they are so flavourful. I have also been told that my approach targets many psychological issues regarding why we eat what we eat and problems surrounding food addictions. There is not a lot talk about mind tricks or different ways of thinking when it comes to changing your lifestyle. Everyone seems to say “just use willpower” when they want to change, but it’s so much more complicated than that. Low-fat, high-card vegan foods help address some of those complications.

What are some of your proudest moments with RFR thus far?

  • Watching my YouTube channel grow quickly

  • Releasing a very successful raw food meal plan recipe book

  • Being on local television twice so far promoting the lifestyle

  • Being asked to be part of the Vegan World Summit along with other great people in the industry that I have always looked up to

  • I would say I am the most proud when I see people change, lose weight and make more compassionate choices. If, on the videos I make, I get even one comment saying that I have influenced someone to make better choices I feel motivated and proud to do what I do every day!

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What inspired you to share your lifestyle with others?

I have always wanted to share health and have been in the natural health industry for well over a decade helping others to make better choices. Once I had the raw vegan connection and passion to promote peace between species, I had to share it with the world. I feel like I am making up for 34 years of eating animal products by helping others to release them. I felt crappy and I know how it feels to have sore joints, be tired all the time and struggle with weight. I want to share that with anyone that will listen! I am also a creative and love to create new recipes, so sharing that has been amazing for me as well.

Do you have any advice for other women looking to build their businesses online?

Post daily! Especially on YouTube if you want to have more of a presence there. Rotate posts, keep them interesting and maintain a good variety. Provide information, motivation and something of value that people can use every day. A lot of people will start a page with lots of enthusiasm, but then they don’t do anything with their businesses and after a while, they lose steam. We are saturated by so many ads and bombarded by commercials so much that you need to be on top of things if you want to stay relevant. Find out what gets the most views and hits and do more of that in between the stuff that you are passionate about but doesn’t get as many views. This way the people that see the most popular stuff also have a chance to see the smaller stuff that doesn’t get a lot of airplay because maybe the subject is controversial or touches an emotional trigger in most individuals. Stay positive and try not to be too pushy with your products. When you are the face of your company, people want to see you and what you are doing in your life. Bombarding with advertising will harm them and you: its about a nice mix of inspiration, fun, and promotion in balance. 

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of your work?

By far knowing that I am helping to lessen the cruelty towards other species on this planet and helping to lessen the burden on our resources. It’s also incredibly rewarding to see people blossom and heal eating real foods. I love to hear comments about how I have inspired them to eat better, even if it is just a little bit. Creating new recipes and having people enjoy them is also extremely rewarding. 

What are some of the most challenging aspects?

In short, dealing with haters and trolls: the “mmmm bacon” crowd and people telling me that it’s unhealthy to eat a vegan or raw vegan diet. Being an online personality is also hard because you can’t please everyone. Most people are completely unaware of the science behind veganism and why it’s so important that we make a shift towards a more plant based diet. It can be hard to be in my shoes because I am up against the grain of mainstream society that can parrot the same old health information over and over again, even when new information is regularly released!

Does technology factor into what you do?

Very much so. I can do my business from all over the world. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube are my platforms and I can do everything from my phone as long as I have enough data and a decent internet connection. Without technology it would be very difficult to reach a worldwide audience. I am grateful that I can and that the technology exists for me to share what I know.

What do you like to do in your personal time?

Working on more raw food recipes! I also love photography and do a lot of that, as well as watching some of my favourite TV shows or walking/hiking in the river valley. I enjoy art and though I have less and less time, I still indulge in pencil work, acrylic paintings and watercolours. I also love learning other languages and traveling. 

What is something not a lot of people know about you?

Before I became a fully raw vegan 2 years ago, I was dealing with an addiction to alcohol. I’m blessed that I found the strength to follow through with my lifestyle change and become sober. I’m also somewhat of a nerd – I mostly love Star Trek and the utopian society imagined by Gene Roddenberry of peace, and the pursuit of human development, teamwork, morals, ethics, knowledge, and exploration without needing jobs, money and the mundane grind of today’s life that is damaging our planet and ourselves. 

If you have one take-home message for readers out there, what would it be?

We don’t do the things that we should be doing TODAY. We put so many goal-oriented activities off until tomorrow while we spend today doing frivolous things. We should trade spots. We should say “tomorrow I will do the frivolous thing, but today I will work on my goals” because tomorrow might never come. When we keep putting our goals off until tomorrow, they never become fruitful. If we put off the frivolous stuff “until tomorrow”, maybe our goals with be fulfilled instead!