The Rugby Rape Trial; I Believe Her.

Yesterday’s verdict of a court case investigating a rape crime which occurred in 2016, acquitted all four defendants (Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison) finding them not guilty of all charges. In the wake of this news, all I wanted to do was cry. That and the constant urge I had to punch something repeatedly. I am simply and utterly heart-broken. My heart is aching for the victim – this poor girl, who not only has had to relive this nightmare for the whole country to see, but who’s worst fears of not being believed in the eyes of the system have become a reality. My heart is hurting for every girl who has ever been a victim of rape, or any kind of sexual assault who feels like there is no place for her voice, for her story, for her truth to be told.

It only takes a glimpse at the evidence in this case, to understand why this verdict is horrifying – no ifs, whats or buts. What this verdict says to Irish women, is that regardless of what you have been put through, regardless of all the evidence and fact you can provide – your truth is only going to be measured against who you accuse. So, when are we going to stop making women feel that by speaking up, they are already fighting a lost case? How is it that this is the Ireland we live in at 2018? Naturally, I am hurt, angry, and dissapointed – but I am unfortunately in no way shocked. Women have become beyond used to being let down by our governments. Our governments, who seem to forget that they represent us too, and that we represent over half of their people. Women have become accustomed to being given the short end of the stick, but we have also grown tired and beyond fed up with it. Now, more than ever, we are determined to make that clear. The biggest thing to show for it, is that despite the fear, despite the odds of going up against Ulster rugby, this woman spoke out and stood up for herself. Regardless of the insane verdict – I want to applaud her. I want to thank her, for giving a voice to millions of other women who did not feel they could be as brave as her.

Yesterday was supposed to be a day of rejoice. It was supposed to be a day that reassured every girl that her voice is vital. That her voice is believed in the world – at least in this country. While the outcome of that verdict might mean are voices our not believed, in no way are they not heard. We are screaming at the top of our lungs and we are fighting, and you can feel the power in our voices.  Since the verdict, social media has been ablaze. This one woman has single-handedly woke up the voices of so many other women and men. We are not just discussing her story and her pain, but our own. We are sharing our stories, fighting those who are trying to imply that this is a case of one woman, falsely accusing men who represent this country in sport. This is a nearly every woman case. This is the case of millions of women and men around our country. This is about more than some stupid sport. This is about how we have come to prioritise sports and lavish careers above the health and well-being of our most vulnerable in society. I simply cannot fathom, how the defendants can get a minute of sleep, fully aware and knowing, that they have ruined a woman’s life. Simply, in order to save their careers. This thought alone cost me my entire night’s sleep last night.

I spent my day today questioning everyone and everything around me. I questioned the people in my life, where they stand on this issue. I questioned every passer by, if they too, were a wicked behind the smile they gave on the street. I questioned the guy I sat next to on the bus, if he was another example of “lad” culture. I questioned the girl I saw in the shop, if she was ever hurt too, or if she couldn’t care less about the trial or the verdict. I questioned my safety. I questioned my government, and I questioned this country – if it was ever as great and as equal as I thought it to be. Is it enough that we are seen to be equal than most? Is that even important, if in something as serious as this, we are not equal at all?

Yesterday showed that if a woman is raped in Ireland, she is not believed. If a woman were to get pregnant as a result of rape, this country would also, by law, force her to carry that baby to term. If that verdict has one positive impact, I hope it is that it heaves support for repealing the 8th amendment. I hope this makes us, as a country, realise just how little women are valued in Irish society. I hope it makes us understand why women need to have a say and a choice in the things that concerns them. We have been robbed of it for far too long. Even in our history, in our independence, the work of women such as the Irish Suffragettes has been wiped out of our books and school education to make way for the big, bold men and all their glory and power. Our time was then, but they never let us shine. Our time is now, and we are the ones emitting our own light.

A Concert Review: Russ.

Last Tuesday I flew out to Glasgow, Scotland to catch the last Russ show of his ‘There’s Really A Wolf’ tour. For those of you who are living under a rock (you must be if you haven’t heard of Russ) There’s Really A Wolf is his debut album, which is a must-listen. As an early Russ fan, I can say there’s much more to his music and work than just the debut album. For a full experience of how insanely talented this man is, I would recommend you listen to his music on where you can find every single song and album he has ever released.

Last year, I flew out to London for his Real Fans tour, and my first experience seeing Russ live made it a no-brainer that I would fly to the end of the world to experience that energy again. Ruth and I headed out on Tuesday morning and made our way to our first Russ concert together. I got Ruth hooked on Russ very early on, and he became an icon of our friendship. While I enjoyed the concert last year with my little sister very much, having another die hard Russ fan with me this time round made a huge difference. We reached Glasgow at 8am, but couldn’t check in until 2pm so Ruth and I spent our morning walking around the city’s streets.

We had breakfast at Bill’s Restaurant on Nile Street, which I would highly recommend. I tried their coconut porridge and buttermilk pancakes over our two day stay and I can’t decide which is more delicious. After breakfast we went and did some shopping, buying much more than what we had budgeted for. We finally headed out to our hostel at 2pm and I managed a three hour beauty nap before having to get up to get ready. Ruth and I got ready and headed out to the O2 ABC arena, with just under an hour to spare.

When we arrived, I queued up to put our stuff in the cloakroom, while Ruth lined up to buy our drinks. While I was in the line, I overheard people speaking Arabic in an Egyptian dialect, but I couldn’t pinpoint who it was or where exactly they were. I got super excited about Egyptians being at the show, but thought nothing more of it. It’s just really cool bumping into other Egyptians anywhere. So, Ruth and I got our drinks and tried to make our way to the front lines of the arena. This proved harder than we thought, and being claustrophobic, it became clear that there was no way we would be able to make it to the top. So, we decided to head to the back and try get closer as the night went on. We were standing at the back, talking and drinking, getting super hyped for the show to start. Ruth left to go to the bathroom, and that’s when I heard the Egyptian dialect again… coming from a conversation between two guys standing right in front of me.

Ruth swore if I didn’t introduce myself, she would. So, I awkwardly tapped one of them on the shoulder and said: “I’m sorry, but I just have to ask, whereabouts in Egypt are you from?” We had a whole “oh my God” moment about being Egyptian before we all delved into conversation. I even got Ruth to show off her minimal Arabic, which is mainly just “wallahy.” Karim, who was the Egyptian, and his friend Khalid, who turned out to be from Oman, told us about how they were skipping out on Engineering assignments to come to the show. We all kind of just clicked straight away, and we fired through so many topics which made the wait fly by. I even found out that Khalid used to live in Ontario so we had a little gushing session about Canada, and that Karim has friends studying in UBC. Mid conversation the lights dimmed, and the place was in uproar. Ruth and I began to scream, when Russ erupted to the stage, starting the night off with What They Want.

Russ brought an insane energy to the arena that night, despite the fact that it was the last show of the tour. With a strained voice, he still gave a flawless performance, jumping between his hyped up beats, and his more slow, sensual tracks. One of my favourite things about being able to attend this concert with Ruth, was that I was with someone who I knew I could count on to rap all the lyrics with me. We were being cheered on by several guys who would occasionally spot us and stare in a little disbelief as we shouted out word for word the lyrics, putting those sticking to just chorus to shame. Russ had the crowd wild, performing songs such as Me You, Do It Myself, and Back To You. We even got treated to some of his new releases such as Some Time and Flip. When the crowd needed to wind down, Russ showered us with songs like Scared and Cherry Hill.

There was one song I was praying wouldn’t make it onto the setlist that night, though I knew it would, as it remains to be his most anticipated song of every concert for fans. I hadn’t listened to Losin Control in 6 months before that night. Hearing it for the first time in that arena was a painful experience to say the least. I couldn’t sing along, or do anything but stand there and cry, ruining my make-up. Luckily, I had Ruth by my side, her arm wrapped around me, holding my hand, crying because she couldn’t stand to see me cry. Karim was so sweet, and asked if I was okay. When I didn’t answer, he asked me if I wanted to go outside for some fresh air.

One of my favourite things about Russ, is how much he cares for his fans. He constantly engages with his followers, not just at his shows, but also on social media. Russ took the time out to talk to the audience, and recalled the story of his first ever gig in Glasgow. There was a strong smell of weed in the arena, and that didn’t pass by Russ. He exclaimed that there was some good weed in Glasgow, and asked that the joint be passed up to the stage so he could at least smoke up with them. It was such a cool, spur of the moment gesture that had the crowd going crazy. I genuinely cannot explain what it feels like to experience Russ live. I had to take several moments to myself to just take in the fact that he was right there in the flesh. All I can say, is that it’s definitely a concert that you must attend in your lifetime if you are a rap fan.

After the concert, Ruth, Karim, Khalid and I went out to a Latino bar, called Mango. Pretty dead since it was a Tuesday night, we spent the night firing from one topic to the next, engulfed in conversation. We ended the night with nachos in Taco Bell, before we called it a night and headed back to our hostel. I highly doubt Karim and Khalid made it to their 9ams the next day, but I think we can all agree, the night was well worth it.

I cannot wait for the next tour Russ brings to Europe, but next time, I’m hoping to opt for a place with just a bit more sun.

Russ: 5/5.

The Fight To Be Woman.

It only takes a small glimpse at history, to see how women have struggled since the beginning of time to simply exist, or to exist equally so to say. Our whole lives, we grow up feeling “less than” to our male counterparts. As this International Women’s Day dawns upon us, many of us now know, that we are nothing short of men. We know that while society may try to undermine us and take away from our equality, we are strong enough to ensure that this notion changes. The saddening thing is, that while many of us know this, so much more of us don’t.

There are so many women and girls around the world who have yet to understand their worth. To become aware of the power and possibilities they are capable of as women. With issues like child marriages and female genital mutilation still at a high, so many women are suffering in ways that we will never be able to truly understand. There are so many women who are denied an access to education, so many of them who will never understand that they are brains just as much as they are body. And even at that, it is a body that will never truly belong to them.

Growing up to Egyptian parents, I truly felt the privilege in every single thing granted to me as a girl. I would look at the girls of so many communities in Egypt and I understood all that I would have missed out on if I was amongst them. From a very young age, I was aware of the privilege I had in the type of education I was receiving, both in school, from society, and at home. I will never forget a day, a few years back, when I was aproached by an Amnesty International worker in Greystones. I always love to stop and chat to charity organisation workers, even if just to learn more about issues happening around the world. This particular worker was talking to me about female genital mutilation (FGM). I learned that day, that 89-97% of women between the ages 25-49 in Egypt suffer from FGM. This has only seen a 4% decrease in women aged 15-49. When I heard this, about a place I knew so well, I was stunned. As a girl who grew up in a developed country – it can be hard sometimes to remember that not all parts of the world are as fortunate as our own. Hearing that information, reminded me, that I didn’t necessarily have to be a girl listening to the inhumane treatment of these women. I could have very easily been one of them.

I was born in Ireland, and I moved to the US for the first three years of my life. I was positive that there was no chance I could have undergone FGM in a practice here in Ireland, but I was so affected by what I had just learned, that for a girl my age at the time, I was determined to make sure I hadn’t. I went home thinking of every single girl I know in Egypt, thinking of the girls I see on the street, the women raising them, and I just couldn’t understand how I had never heard of this before. How was I so unaware that this practice even existed in Egypt? I went home, and sat down for a big DMC with my mom. I’m very lucky, because my mom and I have a great relationship. We have DMCs nearly every second day. Usually, we talk about my dreams, religion, boys – at that age, the most out of norm thing I talked to her about was maybe my period or my constant complaining about why my boobs weren’t getting bigger any time soon. You can then imagine how taken aback my mom might have been when I came home that day, and I said: “Mom, I need to ask you something, and I need you to be completely honest with me. Was I genitally mutilated as a baby?”

Rest assured, I was not. My mom laughed at first, she thought I had to be joking. She quickly realised I was serious. I was petrified. So, we sat down, and for the next few hours we talked about FGM. We talked about the ideology behind it, how it is often justified by religion and culture. That was the day that my mom talked to me about sex in Islam. She told me about how Islam is the only religion that specifies that sex is not just for reproduction but for pleasure too. She talked to me about never feeling ashamed of my sexual needs, and to know that it was my God-given right as a woman to ask that it be addressed if it were ever lacking. FGM although often undergone for the sake of cultural and religious ideologies, is not even upholding a true religious view. We continued to research FGM, and that day we signed up to help Amnesty International in their fight against it.

I understood something bigger that day than just being lucky to be a privileged woman. I understood the importance of the women in our everyday lives. The women we take example from. My mom, comes from a developing country. She comes from the country that I have just explained participates in one of the biggest wars against feminine existence and womanhood. She is nowhere near that frame of mind. Not just regarding FGM, but about so many issues and topics in the world, particularly surrounding women. She did not have sex education classes in school to teach her this, nor a mother who was any more progressive than most Egyptian women of her time. What she had, was her own mind, strength and power. Her mind to learn things on her own, to expand her knowledge and understanding. Her strength to adapt to changes that she was not brought up by her society to believe in. Her power to implement these changes and to be an example to her children. My mom, who is a widowed, working mother, taught me everyday that there is nothing a woman cannot do. Half the things I have learned from her, have not been because she told me of them, but because she showed me. She showed me the power in being a woman, and more importantly gave me the freedom to exercise my own power. She never differentiated between my brother and I, and when she did, it was never to make me feel less than – it was to say, there are just some things a woman can do, that a man never can.

Today, in Ireland, we are fighting to repeal the 8th amendment. Here we are, still trying to bridge in that gap of equality between men and women. It serves to remind me, that though we have been fighting our whole lives, the war is still not over. While it is important that we educate ourselves about the issues women face outside our own communities, I disagree with the rhetoric that is common today, of undermining the importance of “first world feminism”. They are both important. One is just in need of more urgency than the other. We can fight for women in other parts of the world, while still fighting for our ourselves in our own communities. We do not have to choose either or, simply, because we are powerful enough to do both.

This International Women’s Day, I want to praise and thank every single woman who has taught strength by being strong, who has changed opinions because she decided to speak instead of remain quiet, who picked to kill it in her job and kill it in the kitchen. I want to praise the women who embraced the stereotypes women are given, while proving that we can go above and beyond them – because they were smart enough to realise that they are not weaknesses but strengths that some men can never understand the importance of. I want to praise mothers like my own, who raised their daughters to be proud of being a woman. I want to acknowledge the men, and praise them too – those of them that understand that equality for us doesn’t mean inequality for them. Women are not a threat to men. We have been men’s allies since the beginning of time. And if you cannot be allies for us, well then, consider yourselves warned – the war has begun and we have never been more ready to fight.

GC Poetry: All I Get // Suleman Khan.

The moon hung low; drooped, and surrounded by the wretched howling stars. The soil upon which you tore my heart and soul out, is fertile; like nothing ever happened. The oak trees kill the moonlight spilling on our skin.

Under this Taj Mahal I’ve built for you, we slowly dance to the beat of the future you’ve written out for me. I guess it’s inconvenient that I realise I’m alone and I have spent an entire lifetime making you something beautiful; making you something permanent. When in actual fact you died yesterday; and the day before that; and the day before; and the day before.

Sirens of verses from the holy book alerted me that it was time to leave; to leave home and to commence my pilgrimage for forgiveness. Under the white lights of Pearse Street Train Station, my skin begins to burn. I whisper prayers of contrition under my breath when the sirens start to kill me.

I spoke to God about you.

When I sneak out to inhale the smoke you exhale – a certain calmness slaps life into my cracked lips. Your scent lingers around here slyly, wickedly. I am drawn to you but you make it criminal to worship you.

So if you have anything to ask me, let’s go down to the station and do it under the fluorescent light and I promise you it will not be me who’ll be embarrassed. You can tell them that I love you. Tell them that this is the first time I’ve felt since I opened my wrists in our farmhouse bathtub; since I screamed holy verses of mercy before the imam in the same mosque I said goodbye to my first love.

“We’ve already pumped him full on morphine.”
“What’s happening to him?”
“It’s the pain, nothing’s working.”
“Can’t they do anything to help him?”
“We can put him in a medically induced coma; It’s how we help burn victims deal with the pain.”

You’re cold, even though I gave you my sweatshirt. Your invisible shivers resonate within me and I get that you have pain; I get that you’re hurt. But why can I not help you?

When will you let me tend your wounds with hydrogen peroxide and a wet cloth to soothe your ears with nothing but the tones of my motherland; the plain between the Indus and the Himalayas? The plain in which the sun causes drought but the rain provides comfort.

Come down, soft stars; the midnight twilight gets too cold on lonely nights like these where I miss the pain of keeping her around. Black oceans, deep seas; call my love from the ruins of never ever after.

Forgive me father for I’m about to sin.

Ignite the engine, close your mouth; start breathing and begin crying. Drive away and never come back. Steal your heart and crush it with your heel. Wrap your body in cloth and bathe under the yellow sun. Sink into the soil and eat cotton. Parch your mind, scream for your parents; lay under the palm trees and whither tenderly.

I wake up 25 years later. I’m in my hometown in Northern Pakistan. I see my mother locking the doors of our British-era cottage and I try to turn on the fan; the electricity is out. I look out my bedroom window and I see the glaring, boiling sun piercing the dying grass. It’s midday. Everyone is asleep.

I have fasted from dawn to dusk for the past sixty days, swallowed myself whole and pierced my eardrums with chants from the holy book. I have begged and screamed for forgiveness and cleaned my body water from a bucket.

I enter my bathroom. The walls are panelled with oak and dusty Persian rugs are spread over the floor: the blinds are closed, the lights are off. A porcelain tub laughs across from me, understanding that the time has come: He mocks me and whispers an Urdu curse into my ears.

I turn on both taps.

I let the water run and sit in the tub. The broken liquid glass pours onto my legs and soon enough cover my legs. I begin to laugh, and begin to cry; I begin to drink. Twenty five years swirling in the end of this bottle; half empty and consumed alone. Because I prefer my edges blurred when I hide in the grey area between Dream and Reality. The water reaches my chest.

I turn the taps off.

“I want us to be friends, if you’re cool with that.”
I’m sorry if I drove you away.
“Hey, gosh yeah you’re rambling but it’s okay. I understand that it can be confusing. I’ve never been drunk like that. I know we vibed pretty hard. But at the same time, we’re both a mess.”

I have found the antichrist in your words. My existence has become an endless maze and everytime I think I’ve figured out my way, I end up cradled in your words and the emotions only you make me feel.

The fingernails heat when I’m reminded of you. You shoot my brain everyday; my repressed memories are written in the sea and the sky. I drown in the state you’ve left me in. Years have passed, and I think about you almost every everyday. You cut off my limbs and no matter who I see, what I feel and what I want – I am chained to you.

Why is it that all of these thoughts and feelings still make me want to scream “I didn’t mean for anything to happen”; why is it that I see you behind me when I look in the mirror every morning. You never forgave me for the things I never did to you. You never said “I’m sorry.”

My mother told me once, bloodied and beaten, that Allah puts love into our hearts. And once you encounter love, the heart begins beating: for you, and only you.

The sun is setting, and I bring back a wheelbarrow of soil. The empty ceramic bowls, waiting for the birth of buds; the birth of spring; the birth of a new life.
I spend the night sowing seeds and filling pots.

“I planted for you 100 flowers”
You smile, and you say nothing. You walk away into the summer, and leave me in the spring.

I look forward, and I see you praying to the Lord.

I lay for sujood and your anthem echoes the halls of this empty masjid. My limbs are glued to the floor and my soul begins to levitate. My bones are softening and your skin is cracking. I begin crying; I begin screaming, water gushes in through all the windows and my body begins to drown. My black shadow soul watches my body resist, watches it fight and then watches it fall down: watches it give up.

I look forward, and there you are – you stand at on the golden altar. I scream verses of the holy Quran to fend you off, but you laugh at the fact that my eyes are inverting and deteriorating. White shadows encompass you, and soon enough, you leave.

I look forward, and I see you letting go of me.

Today; everyday: I sing for forgiveness. My knees bent and hands above my head – I call for you, and you. But they are lowering me, shrouding me in white linen and whispering the divine verses of mercy. They lower me into an earth I don’t know anymore.

An earth into where I slowly realise that I cannot press your chest into mine. But even under the earth, I stumble over your rarely recited contrition.

The call to the funeral prayer. The Maghrib boom. Afghania is engulfed in dusk; Pakhtunkhwa is falling asleep.