All posts by Zeahaa Rehman

UTM Bureau Chief 2018-2019

Having my cookies (and deleting them, too)

Soft, steady taps of fingers against keyboard keys stop just as the hypnotic hum of the heating roars through the air duct beside my desk. The wheels of my chair drag against my bedroom floor as I stand, stretch my arms, sigh, and slump back down before surveying the laptop screen before me.

“Submitted!” comforts the Quercus page open on my Google Chrome browser. “11:53 pm,” informs the bottom right corner of my laptop. “Sunday, January 13, 2019,” announces my laptop when I hover over the aforementioned corner. “Agh,” groans my throat, involuntarily, after realizing that I might enjoy more than five hours of sleep tonight. Unless…

I squint at the bottom right corner of my laptop — 11:54 pm. I peep at my door — closed, by my sister in a huff after I made fun of her for having to wear braces for two years. I pop my headphones out and scrunch my ears — snores and snorts sneak underneath my door and permeate my room. I pop my headphones back in before dragging my mouse to the three dots my Google Chrome window wears like a medal of honour on its top-right shoulder, er, side.

“New Tab?” The pop-up asks me. “New Window?”

“New Incognito Window,” I answer, through a click of my mouse.

“You’ve gone incognito,” informs the bespectacled and hat-clad entity. I count incognito mode as one of my best, nay, my best friend, because unlike my other friends, it doesn’t remember all my embarrassing missteps or mock me for them every chance I get. (I only fell down in a bus that one time, okay?)

“P,” I tell it gingerly. I glance at my closed door. “O,” I continue.

“Portal.utoronto.ca?” incognito mode guesses.

“Popeyeschicken.ca/promos?”

“Potterybarn.com?” incognito mode suggests. “Portuguese water dog?”

I longingly glance at Potterybarn.com, before realizing that I neither have the time nor the budget to click through its catalogue of beautiful furniture that would look even better in my room. Retracing my steps, I hit backspace twice.

“Pi,” I tap out.

“Pinterest.com?” offers incognito mode.

“Pictures of cavities,” I press enter.

Both my siblings are currently smitten, or rather ensnared, by the costly cult that is dentistry. After having made numerous trips to both the dentist and orthodontist, both of them have racked up thousands of dollars divided among braces, cavity-fillings, and other drillings into their teeth that are likely to induce anesthesia addiction. And as happens with most cults — social media influencers, Starbucks Rewards™ members, and student journalists — its members always tell you to join it.

I have no plans to listen to my siblings — I have an expensive education habit that I need to support — but their constant needling, nay, drilling, might have chipped away at both the enamel of my teeth and my confidence in their perfection.

Thus, here I am, googling pictures of cavities near midnight to assuage my fear that the suspicious black mark I have on one of my lower teeth is not a cavity.

Maybe it’s deposits of black pepper from the lime and black pepper chips I often scarf down mid-assignment? Perhaps it’s a tea leaf stuck to my tooth? It could, perchance, also be some of the Oreos that I gobble alongside the lime and black pepper chips. It most certainly is not a cavity. Right?

Even if it is not, however, I cannot let either of my siblings find my browsing history, and by extension, this chink in my armour, so they can use it to cultivate me. (Get it?)

I also do not want a constant barrage of sponsored ads from local dentists and orthodontists while I pin recipes I am never going to make or click through Pottery Barn furniture I am not going to buy. I get enough ads from St. George Dental as it is.

My incognito habits, much to the disappointment of my seventh-grade self who didn’t want to be ‘like other girls,’ are in no way weird.

Whenever anyone, like you, for example, visits a website sans incognito mode, the website stores small text files on your computer to identify you later. These files, misleadingly called cookies, are what allow websites to remember login details, items in carts, and, more insidiously, your behaviour on the website.

Cookies can remember how long you stayed on the website, what items you examined and for how long, and when you last visited the website. Like the protagonist — or antagonist, depending on how you look at it — of the book-turned-Netflix series You, cookies know that you want to be seen, heard,  and known. Of course, they oblige.

Though every website can only eat, er, read its own cookies, there exist third-party advertising networks that request the cookies from the hosting website. By having possession of these cookies, these third-party networks can track you and your behaviour across multiple websites to build a profile of you. Companies and businesses can then target ads directly at you if the third-party advertiser decides that your profile fits their demographic.

Google is one of the biggest third-party networks and the biggest search engine, which means Google knows what you want before you even know you want it. Say you visit Potterybarn.com and spend a few minutes looking at a gorgeous Persian rug on sale. Based on your browsing history, Google knows you’re in the market for a rug that you can break down on without worrying about getting your clothes dirty or falling off your bed. So naturally, you’re going to see ads warning you about the selling-out of the gorgeous Persian rug you saw.

Oh, hey, the very ad I just described showed up. Weird.

This doesn’t exclusively apply to Google; shopping websites, as well as content-publishing websites, use algorithms to track your preferences to recommend other products, posts, and pictures they think you will like.

Two ways to avoid getting caught with your hand in the metaphorical cookie jar are to routinely clear your cookies and limit the websites that have access to them, or use incognito mode, which doesn’t save website cookies when you close the window.

I sometimes don’t hang up my freshly laundered clothes for weeks — I actually have a pile sitting on my bed right now — so I’ll let you guess which option I prefer.

I summon incognito mode when I need to log in to my parents’ email account and print out a coupon for them. (Side note: Hudson’s Bay has good deals, I have to admit.)

I make use of incognito mode whenever I visit Urban Dictionary, lest a Google ad suggest I buy a mug emblazoned with the definition of “truffle butter.” (Hint: it is not a baking supply, so Google at your own risk.)

I also always creep on my crushes’ social media accounts on incognito, so my logged-out self does not accidentally fall prey to my baser instincts and like their picture no matter how cute they look. (Disclaimer: they look very cute.)

Apart from targeted advertising however, I admit that I also use incognito mode because I feel a certain degree of shame. In an era of online insecurity, I fear that someday, someone will somehow hack my browsing history, discover that I was googling Ariana Grande’s barbecue grill tattoo, and judge me for having such low-brow tastes in reading material.

Or worse, they could unearth my quest for pictures of cavities, discover that I might have a cavity, and force me to go to the dentist for the first time in ten years. Then where would I be? Cemented in a costly cult and addicted to anesthesia, that’s where.

I do not want to end up there, which is why — despite not deleting my browser cookies — I use incognito mode, as should you. Meanwhile, I will maybe click on this ad for a Persian carpet that’s half off at Pottery Barn and see where that takes me.

The clothes that made me

A long chiffon dupatta that can’t quite decide whether it is red or dark pink. It is simultaneously a comforting talisman, a fun, shapeshifting toy, and a way for my three-year-old self to imitate the women around me. I drape it on my head to mime a dulhan, drape it across my chest to mimic an aunty, tuck it closely around my neck and become a larki, and then reverse the larki-tuck to become a dulha or a dancer. If I feel particularly fancy, then I wrap it around my torso as a makeshift sari. 

My dress-up is punctuated by coos, cheek pinches, and exclamations of “cute!” I revel in both the possibilities it holds, the protection it offers, and the positive attention it brings.

I want to hold that dupatta and absorb the warmth it offers one more time.

A white cotton shalwar that Mama gives to me to wear with my white uniform frock the first day of third grade. In a sea of bare legs, both male and female, my shalwar-enclosed legs reflect the strong, sweltering Pakistani morning sunlight rather than absorbing it. 

“Why are you wearing a shalwar?” boo the boys and girls. “It’s not part of our uniform!”

I shrug, stammer, “My mom made me,” and suffer the distaste and disgust that third graders heap on someone who dares to go against the status — or uniform — quo. The white shalwar is a white flag for my legs. They, cursed with coarse black hair and even coarser thighs, have surrendered to the demand that they never be seen in public again. 

All the dupattas that I use to play an odd game of push-and-pull with my brother. The game comprises of us holding either end of the dupatta and pulling the other where we want to go, be it up the stairs, out to the garden, or to our Baba’s study. 

Suddenly, I can’t play games of push-and-pull with those dupattas anymore, because I have to wear them, Mama tells me. Properly, she emphasizes. And my chest is like dough in an oven — rising and expanding. Any time an older male, related to me or otherwise, comes over, I have to drape the slippery-slidey nuisances across my chest, lest it burn their eyes when they look at me. I don’t think to ask Mama why older men would be looking at the chest of a nine-year-old. 

A cotton shalwar kameez suit tinged with hues of orange, yellow, and green that my nano — Mama’s mom — sews for me. Mama forgets half the clothes I am supposed to change into for my uncle’s Eid party at home. I alternate between sulking and shouting and silence.

Then Mama presents me with the labour of love that is the shalwar kameez that Nano made for me. I forget the shape and shade of the clothes I am supposed to wear. I flow into the shalwar kameez, float out of the room, and flout rules by asking everyone for Eidi first. Nano doesn’t need spells; she has a SINGER machine. I wish I learned to sew. 

A baby-pink, half-sleeve Gap t-shirt with a small rhinestone on its top-left corner that my tayi — Baba’s older brother’s wife — buys me a week into our family vacation to Canada. My family and I come back home after having spent the day at a family friend’s house when my tayi shows me the t-shirt. “It’s a little big for a nine-year-old,” Tayi says, “but why don’t you try it on?”

I am in the midst of modeling the shirt for my tayi and Mama, when my brother stumbles into the room. “Dado died.” Disbelief tinges his voice. My paternal grandmother back in Pakistan is no more. Tears wet my cheeks, slide down my neck, and seep into the pink t-shirt as I struggle to take it off in the bathroom. The t-shirt accompanies me to Pakistan for her funeral ceremony, and it returns with me to Canada when my family immigrates. I keep the t-shirt long after I stop wearing it. 

A pair of flared Gap jeans that I bring back to Pakistan as a souvenir of my vacation to Canada, a sign of my modernity, a symbol of my coolness. I never wear them.

But then, there is a party at school and everyone is wearing jeans and if I don’t I’ll be uncool, so I tell Mama that, but Mama tells me to wear a shalwar kameez suit. I can’t say no to her, so I stuff the jeans inside my bag and change when I’m at school, but change back before I come home. “You took the jeans anyway, didn’t you?” Mama asks.

I brush past her. I wish I hadn’t lied.

A cotton black shalwar kameez suit with grey flowers printed on it that my 11-year-old self wears during the 14-hour flight to Toronto, my new home.

The thin shalwar kameez is no match for the cold tone that the airport immigration officers speak to my mother in, the dismissive stares that punctuate my journey through Pearson International Airport, or the icy wind that greets me outside it. 

The shalwar kameez is a symbol of everything my family and I bring from Pakistan: experience, education, and culture. I must distance myself from it to succeed in the Caucasian, colonial country of Canada. I bury the shalwar kameez deep in my closet in our two-bedroom apartment that houses four. I bury with it my penchant for desi music and movies, my propensity to mix Urdu with my English, and my preference for biryani over burgers. I water these buried seeds of shame with self-hatred until they bloom into a plant of whitewashing. It is only seven years after the bleach has burned Urdu off my tongue, the sounds of desi music from my ears, and the smell of masala from my nose that I realize that I will never be white. 

I wish I was brave enough to wear a shalwar kameez in public.

A ready-made white hijab adorned with sequined black diamonds that Mama forces me to wear when I start school in Canada. The white emphasizes my brownness, the black brings out the dusting of dark hair above my upper lip, and the combination of the two underlines the fact that I am foreign and fresh off the boat; it undermines my every effort to fit in.

“People need to be able to tell that you’re Muslim,” Mama reminds me when I ask her why I must wear a hijab. People need to be able to see that they should avoid you is what I interpret when I observe the wide berth people give me.

Mama doesn’t yet understand that Muslims inspire mistrust, microaggressions, and misgivings. I don’t have the Urdu words to explain this to her, so I lie instead. I lie about wearing the hijab at school when I take it off once I get there, and I lie awake at night worrying about her finding out. I wish I was brave enough to tell my mother how I really felt.

A ready-made black hijab that Mama buys me when I decide, two years after my deception dilemma, to wear a hijab for good. I suddenly represent an entire group of people. I must answer every day whether it is really hair I’m hiding under there. I automatically stand out in a room and I can never feel safe in public again. Sometimes, I think I made the wrong decision.

A pile of pastel Forever 21 dresses that don’t fit me no matter how hard I tug. “Do you need a size?” The floor assistant’s helium-infused voice mocks me from outside the changing room. “No,” my lie is muffled by layers of lace and tulle wrapped around my face while I struggle to shoulder one of the dresses off. “I’m okay.” I shove the dress off, take in the angry red marks that it and its predecessors cursed me with, and alternate between cursing the fashion industry and my fitness levels on my way home. 

“You wouldn’t be sad if you were just a little bit skinnier,” I berate myself. “I wouldn’t feel the need to be skinnier if society didn’t value and make clothes for thin bodies only,” I return. 

I wish I was happy with myself.

A quilted black winter jacket that I wear one winter day as I walk to my bus stop. The cold Canadian winter wind stopped bothering me a long time ago, except on this day. On this day, it carries to me catcalls from a troupe of teenage boys as they drive past. 

Shame and shock paint my cheeks a damning hot red, infuse an itchiness at the back of my neck, and shrink the previously comfortable jacket so it scratches and scrapes me.

“What were you wearing?” I imagine people asking me, if I relayed this instance of harassment to them, just like they do if anyone reports a similar incident. 

I wonder if my answer of being covered hair to toe would shut them up. 

A cotton grey pashmina hijab with fringes on each end that I wear so often, it might as well be the only one I own. I don’t remember when the day was, why I wore that particular hijab, or where I went wearing it. I only remember boarding my bus home and feeling fingers fondling my neck. I glance behind me to find a man touching the fringe at the end of my hijab without invitation. He stops. I lean away. He starts again. 

I tug the yellow rope above my head requesting the bus to stop, jerk up and away from the man who invited himself to my body, and find a seat beside a girl near the front of the bus. 

I wish I had done something more.

Saying hi to hijab

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen I first started wearing the hijab, it was hard to wrap my head around it.

I was a shy 11-year-old, fresh off the proverbial boat from Pakistan, and entering the battleground that was sixth grade. I came into school in March, I might add, meaning that cliques had already formed, friendships had been sworn, and alliances had been made by way of pinky promise. I knew I had no hope of making any friends. All I wanted was for someone to take pity on me, invite me to sit with them at lunch, and not laugh when I asked them what ‘pencil crayons’ were.

Instead, thanks to the cloth my mom had forced me to cover my head with, all I got were cold stares, awkward silences, and a girl in my class harassing me to “take it off.”

So I did what every young adult novel would have its heroine do: I started living a double life. I would wear the hijab when I left for school, take it off and stash it in my bag before my first class, and wrap it around my head again before I went home.

It was dishonest, draining, and frightening. I was always on edge, scared of being caught, or worse — being called out. I didn’t know who to turn to. I had no friends at school, my relatives back home were an expensive phone call away, and my mom was a single mother, apartment-hunting so she could give us a roof over our heads that was better than our small, smelly Scarborough apartment.

The paranoia became too much to withstand, so I gave up my double life — which hadn’t garnered me any friends, anyway — and started wearing the hijab full-time. Still, I wasn’t head over heels for it.

A little later, my mother found us a place in Mississauga, and I took this as an opportunity to restart. I was grateful. I decided the hijab was out of my life and off of my head, and nothing could change that.

After two years of not wearing the hijab, I started attending religious classes geared toward young Muslim women. I related closely to my teacher, who used to have a fear of the hijab that echoed mine. She had hated wearing it as a young girl, she told us with humour, because it made her ‘uncool’ and unfit to hang out with the popular girls. But she had had an epiphany that changed her mind — we would all experience that epiphany at one point, she promised us, regardless of whether it would lead us to choose the hijab or take it off.

I was skeptical of her promise until I decided to learn more about the hijab. What I discovered left me pleasantly surprised.

The hijab, also spelled ‘hejab,’ isn’t just a piece of cloth that covers a woman’s head, neck, and chest. It is a concept that denotes modesty, not only through clothing, but through words and actions — and this idea applies to both women and men. It is a physical form of my commitment to my faith, and as I got to know more about the hijab, I suddenly found myself wanting to make that commitment.

The only thing holding me back was the fear that my non-hijabi friends might not accept me. But I reasoned with myself that if my friends abandoned me simply because of a cloth on my head, then they weren’t really friends, were they?

In January 2011, I decided to wear the hijab.

I’d be lying if I said that in the seven years that have since passed, I haven’t once thought about taking it off, because I have. The poor representations of hijab-wearing women in popular culture have caused me to feel ugly, insecure, and to question my decision. This is especially the case when I see how hijabis who aren’t ‘white passing’ are misrepresented in the media as being timid and oppressed.

But then I remind myself that the hijab is more than a piece of cloth to me. Aside from being a sign of my commitment to my faith, for me, the hijab has become a symbol of feminism and resistance in an age when misogyny and Islamophobia are being perpetrated by leaders of nations. 

Not to mention that the hijab literally hides my flaws: it hides my double chin, hairy sideburns, and occasionally oily hair. For these reasons, it’s probably better that I keep it on.

I love the hijab and everything that it stands for. What I don’t love, however, are the questions that it comes with and the lack of instructions on how to answer them.

Some of these questions are reasonable, but many are downright ridiculous. I’ve heard these questions and many more:

Can I see your hair?

If you are a female, sure, but not in public. If you are a male, no.

Do you wear it at home?

It depends. A hijab is supposed to be worn around unfamiliar males, so if there are men other than my father, grandfather, or brothers, then yes.

Do you sleep with it on?

I don’t even sleep with my bra on because that’s too restrictive. Why would I sleep with a hijab on?

Do you shower with it on?

My hijab is not permanently attached to my head. It is a piece of cloth that, like the rest of my clothing, comes off when I shower. Also, a wet hijab feels even worse than a wet sock.

Don’t you feel hot?

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any hijabs that come with cooling technology, so yes, I do feel hot. The heat still pales in comparison to the oppression I face every day in the form of ignorance and Islamophobia.

What’s under there?

The answer to this question has endless possibilities. While it’s usually just hair, there is nothing stopping me from putting all kinds of things under my hijab. What could I put there?

A water bottle? While that would certainly free up hands, a water bottle is prone to leaking, and my hair must only be washed every two days, otherwise it frizzes.

Plants? This would be lovely, except my hijab is too thick and would block it from getting enough sunlight. Also, how would I water the plant without getting my hijab wet?

Dumbbells? Given the numerous excuses I invent to skip the gym, that would certainly be useful and allow me to exercise on the go. However, they could also fall out of my hijab, down my shirt, and maybe break a bone or two. I don’t know if my insurance would cover that.

A blanket? A blanket would be useful given my tendency to nap anywhere, regardless of the time or place. However, a proper blanket would probably make my hijab look too bulky, and I have standards of hijab-wearing to abide by.

Textbooks? Physical textbooks are too heavy for my gym-skipping, low-upper-body-strength self.

Cheat sheets? As a linguistics student with no time to memorize the distinctive features of every sound in the International Phonetic Alphabet, it is tempting to stash cheat sheets in my hijab. However, it would be hard to extract them discreetly, especially without messing up my hijab — and since I would be far too lazy to fix it, that will probably never happen.

Voldemort? The Last Battle of Hogwarts took place in 1998, a year after I was born. Voldemort had no time and no need to possess the head of a Muggle like me — he already had a physical form by then.

I can’t make heads or tails of any of these questions, but I shouldn’t be surprised to hear them in a time when countries and provinces regularly ban the hijab under the guise of removing religious symbols, and hijab-wearing women are constantly attacked. All I can say is that I’m keeping my head — and hijab — up.

 

A look back at Back to the Future

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]here we’re going, we don’t need… roads.”

With those iconic words, Doc and Marty resume their time-traveling adventures in the sequel to the 1985 hit Back to the Future.

The Back to the Future franchise is now a classic time-travel film trilogy that follows Michael J. Fox as 17-year-old Marty McFly. In the original film, Marty accidentally travels 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by his friend Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd.

Marty has musical ambitions, a girlfriend who loves him, and a nice house in the suburbs of Hill Valley, California. Yet his life still leaves a lot to be desired: his father’s supervisor is a bully, his mother has a drinking problem, and his school principal labels him a “slacker.”

Upon travelling to the year 1955, Marty accidentally interrupts his parents’ love story and must right it so he can return to a future where he still exists. Marty astutely reunites his parents in such a way that when he returns to the future, he finds things have changed for the better. He has little time to enjoy it, however, as Doc immediately beseeches Marty to travel to 2015 with him because “something has gotta be done” about Marty’s kids.

Living in 2017, two years past the ‘future’ in Back to the Future Part II, I was curious to see how accurate creators Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis’ predictions of the future were and how the movie connected to my life. I also wanted an excuse to marathon the entire Back to the Future trilogy during midterm season without judgement from my family.

I was pleasantly surprised that the future Back to the Future Part II’s $40 million budget brought to life mirrored the actual future — my present — quite well. Though we have not been subjected to any more Jaws sequels after 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, its hologram poster in the film brings to mind Tupac Shakur’s 2012 posthumous hologram performance at Coachella and the trend of virtual concerts and virtually created popstars.

Marty’s self-lacing Nike shoes exist, too, though they aren’t the most affordable choice of footwear. There is even a Kickstarter to make Marty’s self-drying jacket a reality, though the jacket’s speaking abilities remain to be seen.

The glasses Marty’s children wear at the dinner table are reminiscent of Google Glass — which admittedly failed to take hold — and virtual reality headsets. Marty’s video call with his boss on his TV is possible thanks to smart TVs and apps like Tellybean and Chromecast.

As the movie predicted, using thumbprints to pay for things is common today with touch identification phones. Using thumbprints to enter your house is less common, as is having a smart home, but both are realities. Hands-free gaming, flat-screen TVs, and tablets are also widespread. Hoverboards are real, too — they don’t actually hover, though companies like Lexus and Arx Pax are in the midst of fixing that. Drones that walk dogs seem more unaffordable than far-fetched, as do automated gas stations. A few misses aside, Back to the Future Part II predicted the future with jaw-dropping accuracy.

The only thing more fascinating than the series’ predictions is its plot: changing one’s past to create a nicer future, thanks to a time machine.

If only I had a time machine.

This thought crossed my mind as I took in the movie, following me throughout the entirety of the next day. The idea of going back to create change has an immense appeal to me. This is primarily because I despise the feeling of regret washing over me even more than I loathe wearing wet socks.

I can’t help but think about all the things that I would change if I had a time-travelling DeLorean. Hell, I’d settle for a time-travelling Ford Pinto if it meant I could change my past.

I’d exercise more in the past, so I wouldn’t run out of breath after climbing one flight of stairs. I’d study better, so the soundtrack of a horror movie wouldn’t accompany me every time I opened the grades section on Portal. I’d learn how to stand up for myself rather than meekly accepting whatever mark a TA felt I deserved. I’d probably give my past self a sports almanac so I wouldn’t have to worry about the increasing numbers on my ACORN account or dread opening my bank statements. I’d voice all the things I left unsaid to my crushes, my friends, my family members, my teachers, and my enemies. I’d try everything I wanted to, unburdened by the weight of consequences, so I wouldn’t imagine all the ‘what-ifs’ whenever I couldn’t sleep.

Everyone, I think, must imagine things they would do differently in the past if were they given the chance. The idea of changing the past is exciting, but a continued obsession with it can be toxic and lead into the quicksand of self-pity.

As hard as it is to do, it would be better to make the most of today than live in the past or constantly fret about the future and how every decision might affect it. This is by no means an excuse to marathon movies or binge-watch a new TV series during midterm season. It is meant to serve as a reminder of sorts that it is okay to breathe once a while and not worry about the ripple effect of every single decision you make. It is also meant to prompt you to stop obsessing over mistakes made in the past and long to change them.

Like Doc says, “Time-traveling is just too dangerous! Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe.” While in Doc’s case this mystery is women, in my version of the present, it’s probably how to use the printer-photocopier-scanner machines at U of T’s libraries.

Best of luck

I am short. If I were one or two inches shorter and lived in the USA, my height would fall within the Little People of America’s description of dwarfism.

If you asked me why I am vertically challenged, I would talk about genetics and how most women in my family are short.

If you asked my grandmother why I am short, however, she would give you an entirely different answer. According to her, my height was caused by someone hopping over my legs when I was lying down as a child, stunting my growth.

There is no rhyme nor reason to her belief — or, as I would call it, ‘superstition.’ My grandmother has never given me an explanation as to why or how this could be true, yet she refuses to believe anything else.

A superstition is a belief that a certain action or practice leads to a particular consequence by means of supernatural forces.

Historically, superstition has been associated with religion. Even though superstitions sometimes stem from religious stories — such as biblical theories surrounding the number 13 — they are often cultural by-products passed down from generation to generation until they become so deeply ingrained that no one questions why they exist anymore.

So why should my grandmother believe anything else, when her culture firmly trusts and reinforces these superstitious beliefs?

After all, superstitions exist all around the world. My grandmother would be glad to know that it isn’t just people in Pakistan who believe that jumping over someone’s legs stunts their growth. People in South Korea, Japan, and Turkey share her belief.

Also, people in South Korea and Japan believe that writing someone’s name in red ink is considered a kiss of death.

The number four is fervently avoided in many East Asian countries. This is due to it being nearly homophonous with the Chinese word for death. Similarly, Italian people are wary of the number 17, since its roman numerals, XVII, can be rearranged to VIXI, which implies death.

In Pakistan, the left eye twitching can be an omen of bad luck, whereas an itchy right palm foreshadows money in the near future, but the palm cannot be scratched on purpose. In Brazil, letting a bag hit the floor means losing money.

Anyone debating eating the last slice of pizza or swiping the last cookie should just go ahead and grab it — eating the last piece of food is said to bring good luck in Thailand.

If it is ever night and you are exhausted, but your parents are telling you to clean up, tell them that sweeping at night is inauspicious, especially in India and in Turkey, as it will deter the goddess of luck or angels from visiting you.

These superstitions will likely seem strange to any who trusts scientific evidence. However, you need only go into an apartment building and look for the missing thirteenth floor or take in the abundance of beards among male athletes during playoff season to realize the ubiquity of superstitions present in our lives.

There is nothing wrong with being superstitious. Most of us possess personal rituals or talismans in the form of lucky t-shirts, special underwear, or pieces of jewelry that we utilize before important events in our life.

Primarily, we utilize superstitions because they give us some semblance of control. They allow us to fill in and explain the gaps of the sometimes inexplicable events in our life. Superstitions can also provide comfort; following a certain ritual or practice gives us a sense of routine. Lastly, superstitions create a sense of community; it is fun to practice and pass down traditions, credulous or otherwise, that have been in your family, culture, or country for years.

However, when we start believing superstitious rituals and talismans are the only way we will succeed in life, things start going south. It is not healthy to be entirely dependent on
rituals and talismans, because the absence of them may lead to panic, paranoia, and stress.

When superstitions start dictating every aspect of our lives — like not buying something that has the number four written on it or going back home because a cat crossed the path —
perhaps it is time to distance ourselves from them.

And if you still can’t break free of your superstitions, you should try and try again — remember, third time’s the charm.

Home is where the HÅRTE is

If anybody ever asked me what my ideal date would be, after contemplating whether or not to answer ‘April 25’ à la Miss Congeniality, I would have to say IKEA. It wouldn’t matter if they meant a romantic date, a platonic date, or a family date; my answer would remain the same.

IKEA, for the unfamiliar, is one of the world’s largest furniture retailers that sells home accessories and ready-to-assemble furniture. It is also, as Ryan Reynolds so eloquently put it, Swedish for ‘fuck you’ because their instruction manuals contain no words and the furniture isn’t quite as easy to assemble as you might think. The resulting frustration can start family fights and end relationships.

Despite the impending clashes that a visit to IKEA may bring, it is still one of my favourite places because it provides everything a broke student like me needs: free Wi-Fi, cheap and unhealthy food, and most importantly, the illusion of getting my life together.

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I make a mental note of the section I’m in as I park my car in IKEA’s underground lot and step through the automatic sliding doors onto an ascending elevator. I get off at the showroom floor, let out a deep breath, and take it all in: the smell of Swedish meatballs, the sound of children shriek-laughing, and the punctuating, flight attendant-like announcements over the PA about IKEA’s current deals. I belong here.

I start my journey in the Living Room section, sitting on this couch and that one, running my fingers over the smooth wood of the MALMSTA coffee table — all of the items come with their own Swedish names. I move on to Living Room Storage to meet the BILLY bookcases. Though I have one of them at home, I still feel like I LACK something. I breeze through the Kitchen section — the only part of the kitchen that matters to me is the fridge — and continue to the Bedroom section.

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Beds of all shapes and sizes issue a silent invitation to lie down, and I wish I don’t have to decline them. With a heavy heart, I walk past the beds and into the Wardrobes and Storage section. There, I look at the beautiful, organized, expensive wardrobe systems and vow to one day amass clothes worthy of them, so that I can fill them to the BREIM.

True temptation doesn’t hit me, however, until I step into the Work section. Desks, chairs, LED lamps, filing cabinets, cable organizers, cork boards — I feel a sudden urge to completely redo my study space until I glance at the price tag of an office chair. I back away in horror and head into the Children’s section. There, I crawl into a tiny tent and placate my furniture-hungry heart by promising to buy myself a swirl frozen yogurt.

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Appeased, I emerge from the tent and make my way out of the showcase area, through the marketplace, and into the self-serve furniture area to get to the Bistro. I realize that the self-serve aisles are nearly empty and so is an abandoned trolley.

Several trolley rides and one crash later, I make my way out of IKEA with a swirl cone in my hand and dreams of a future IKEA-filled home in my heart. Despite one hand being empty and the other sticky from the rapidly melting cone, I know I’ll be back. After all, home is where the HÅRTE is.