Inspiring Women Part 2

Humaira

(courtesy of Intelligent Life Magazine, 2013)

“The courage of a Pakistani hero involves facing the ultimate fact of death. But the fantasy of martyrdom, where it exists, is largely a male one. A heroine needs a more supple courage. She must negotiate: with her emotions, with her adversaries, with her family, with hypocrisies. But not, if she can help it, with her ambition.” (Rahul Bhattacharya, 2013)

With life so full, I’ve not been able to finish part two of this three-part series  as soon as I would have liked. But, the topic has persisted on my mind, because of stories that have had an enduring impact on me, and because of my irrevocable life experience and relationships.

As I alluded to in the first part of the series, there were two key pieces of literature that first prompted me to start thinking about a future blog post about women and their unique potential. The second one was an article I read in the Economist’s Intelligent Life Magazine, my favourite periodical. The article was published in an edition that also features a supplement dedicated to inspiring women entitled “16 women you ought to know about” found here.

In this September/October 2013 edition, I read a piece about a woman in Pakistan who, at the age of 13, made it her mission to offer education to children living in squatter communities – including girls. This was almost unheard of, and Humaira Bachal faced many obstacles, much opposition and physical danger. Despite the threats and with great enthusiasm and persistence, she built two schools, called the Dream Model Street Schools, which have provided an education and opportunity to thousands of children who would otherwise have no way to even become literate. So inspiring have her altruistic, leadership and entrepreneurial efforts been that in April 2013, Humaira was honoured in New York City at the Women in the World Summit.

In discovering Humaira’s courageous work, I was reminded that when women take hold of their natural gifts, among them sensitivity, empathy, intelligence, creativity, tenacity and bravery, this can result in extraordinary and profound successes.

I believe that women who strive to do something unique and powerful in order to make a difference must contend with some gender-related challenges. Aside from the very significant socio-political/cultural barriers that exist for women like Humaira, it is true that women face some great difficulties in contending with themselves and their emotions. We sometimes over-analyze and process through an emotional filter; the same filter that can make us powerfully empathetic and passionately caring. We must fight self-doubt and channel these characteristics in order to be catalysts for incredible, affirmative change. I don’t mean this to be a feminist rant at all, as I believe men and women possess innate characteristics that uniquely serve in partnership. But, from a woman’s perspective, I know how my propensity towards emotionality can serve to either inspire or inhibit innovation and accomplishment.

As I began writing this series, I was travelling back from a healthcare leadership conference. It was a very nourishing conference with much significant knowledge to take away. One thing that stood out for me significantly, in a room of over 700 delegates, was that there are so many women in Canada who are healthcare leaders (and of course in other sectors as well). Some of them are the most influential leaders in the Country and have implemented changes that impact a whole province in the way healthcare is delivered and received. Women have a very special opportunity to use their natural capacity for love, their overall emotional intelligence, their cognitive and professional intelligence and their experiences to be combined catalysts for real and lasting change in whatever area inspires them.

I reflect again on the women in my life and they all inspire me in some way. So many are confident, resilient, intelligent, talented and ambitious. And, they care. What phenomenal facilitators of meaningful work are empathy and concern for humankind.

I can encourage you to read about Humaira here.

Identifying My Canadian Voice

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I began the journey of blogging in February 2013, with the intention of it being an outlet for writing whatever might be on my mind, and in particular to explore my love of poetry. I never intended to write about food, and I also never considered that writing about food could actually fit well with my objective of sharing, without boundaries, from my soul.

I was intrigued by the Canadian Food Experience Project because I do love food and cooking, but also because of its purpose: to identify a Canadian voice for culinary arts and facilitate a clearer perspective on our culture, via food. I’ve always been intrigued by our Canadian “culture” and am drawn to any initiative that unites people and builds relationships.

It seemed to me, at first, that these CFEP challenges and the resultant writing would be misfit with the rest of my blog. It could even alienate readers that follow my blog mainly for the poetry. What I’ve found instead is that it has been simply a different way of exploring who I am at my core. Some of my monthly posts really got at the foundations of who I am as an extension of my family and my heritage, as well as the food I grew up on. This helped me to recognize the crucial influences in my life. Others were focused on my own creativity as I set about inventing recipes from scratch; something I’ve not done much of. I have realized through a year of focus just how much I relish the process of creating interesting food, and it emphasized how much I really love baking.

My Canadian voice, vis-à-vis food, is no different than my voice as it relates to my other writing and take on life in general. So in this last post of the project, I have defined this voice by means of a few self-identified characteristics that this blog and the CFEP have allowed me to reveal.

My Canadian voice is broadminded and exploratory, multi-dimensional and exciting.

My family is from Hungary and I very much identify with this heritage. I like to experiment with new flavours, spices, ingredients and even lifestyles (i.e.: vegan, raw, etc.). I believe the multi-dimensional nature of our country makes it a fascinating place to live. I have always had friends who themselves, or their families, hailed from distant lands – India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, and so on and have eaten traditional foods from many parts of the world, right here at home. These opportunities to ‘taste the world’ represent the wonderful compendium of flavours that come together to create a diverse and special ‘food nation’ here in Canada. Together with our country’s First Nations, Canadians are fortunate to have a world of culinary possibilities at our fingertips.

My Canadian voice is colourful, loyal and holistic.

I enjoy delicious food but I also enjoy healthy food. I want to make and eat meals that are not only tempting to the eye and satisfying to the palate, but also make the body healthy and strong. Some of my posts have evidenced my love of fresh and wholesome ingredients, which stimulate the senses and nourish body, mind and soul. If these fresh ingredients can be obtained locally and their purchase supports nearby producers in the process, then the benefits are double. When I support dedicated growers nearby, I can even visit their farms and feel confident about the products I’m eating . In season, I can literally create a rainbow on my dinner plate and connect with a greater good in the process.

My Canadian voice is creative and courageous.

I am not afraid to try new things, inside and outside the kitchen. Without the courage to allow ourselves new experiences, even if failure or pain is an option, we do not grow and learn in the same way. We would be denying ourselves rich opportunities to be better, stronger, fuller people. Cooking is both an art and a science. With copious websites and cookbooks out there, the number of available recipes is boundless. To go beyond and create something unique requires creativity. I’ve pushed myself out of my box in order to start from scratch with spontaneous inspiration and a few key ingredients, to create recipes that put smiles on people’s faces. The writing that goes along with my recipes shows a glimpse of who I am, and I’ve tried to be courageous in sharing transparently, as I do with my poetry.

My Canadian voice is open, honest, caring and relational.

In large part, I cook and bake for others. Sharing my baking with family and friends makes me happy; knowing I have brought them joy. It is key element of relationship-building for me, being a natural nurturer and someone who strives to influence others’ lives positively. In all kinds of relationships, my goal is to always be transparent about my values, feelings and priorities, honest in my communication, compassionate and loving in my actions and present and active in helping the relationship flourish. It is also crucial to admit mistakes in order to open yourself up to learning, and this is the same for cooking as for almost anything in life.

I believe that my commitment to this project and all that I have written about has exemplified these characteristics of my voice – things I strive for, even if not always successful. It has taught me that no matter what I am writing about, I must relentlessly pursue the identification and communication of who I am at my core and a life that allows me to live it authentically.

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A final note to cap off this year-long project, I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to Valerie for challenging Canadian foodies and chefs to contemplate their food identity. She lives her passion so evidently and has created and collected so much enthusiasm, ingenuity and fellowship amongst us in the process.

The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.

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Inspiring Women, Part 1

“Already they were conscious that the nature of women’s close friendships would shield them in the weeks to come, and that the men, on the other side of the fort, were often not bound to each other by similar ties. ‘We did not need to “make friends”’ Madeleine would say, ‘we were solidly together already. ‘We were,’ Betty said, ‘a team’.” (Moorehead, 2011)

A blog post has been slowly developing in me over the past several months; thoughts coming together gradually, inspired by both literary and real-life sources. A combination of two literary works in fact, and my own life circumstances in which I have seen friendships blossom and support come from some amazing women in my life. Not that this is an entirely new revelation, but I have recognized just how important women are in each other’s lives and how unique and special women’s relationships are. I’ve always gotten along very well with men; I can easily be ‘one of the guys’ because I have always been a bit of a tomboy, I like to joke with the boys and I’m not generally offended by crude stories. But, the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve connected with my femininity, and the more my friendships with other women have grown to become an essential and marvelous part of my life. The nature and depth of relationship that women have is unlike a mixed-gender relationship. That’s not to say there isn’t value in friendships with men; indeed I’ve had and have some very close male friends who have contributed great insights, wisdom and companionship, but it is different.

I have reflected, too, on how different a conversation between two women is versus one between men or between a man and woman. The way that my female friends and I interact is centered on open communication, understanding, compassion, emotion. Of course we have fun and joke and converse about unemotional topics, but still we really care about one another. The women I’ve had in my life will go out of their way to assist in tangible and intangible ways when another friend is going through difficult circumstances. They are thoughtful and considerate of what they might do to ease a burden, bring a smile or engage in practical or symbolic acts of kindness. They will go out of their way and even compromise their own comfort in order to comfort another. Perhaps this analysis is biased quite simply by the kind of company I keep, but nonetheless, I think the potential for such relationships is universally existent.

Arguably, being of the same gender would bring about obvious similarities that would create comraderie: analogous challenges, parallel experiences, an understanding of what it means to be a woman. I will contend that the depth of relationship that can form between women goes beyond mere chromosomal structure and the resultant biological or social consequences that follow. Most women have an inborn inclination towards nurturing. Partly a biological imperative of childrearing, this may have been altered over the years as women’s roles in society have changed. However, in my experience, there is an innate empathy that exists and develops inside a woman if she chooses to cherish it.

The excerpt above comes from a wonderful piece of historical non-fiction I’m reading, entitled A Train in Winter and written by Caroline Moorehead. It chronicles the lives and experiences of the women of the French resistance during World War II. The other day, I read the above passage, which quotes imprisoned women resistors in France living under arduous and enfeebling conditions. They endured famine, cold, loneliness, fear, and widowhood. They wondered when their next meal would arrive. And still, these women banded together and loved and cared for one another. Older women acted like mothers to the young girls who had lost theirs. Creative energies continued to flow and the women entertained themselves and the others by putting on dramatic productions. They equitably shared what little food they had, giving more to the women who were weakest. Through onerous times, they grew closer. Each knew that the relationships they developed in prison would be the only source of comfort they would receive for many months.

Thankfully, I’ve never lived through such types of grueling circumstances as this, however some of my family have, as I’ve written about before. I imagine my Granny helping to take care of others in Auschwitz; I do know she made friends there, my other grandmother being one of them. I only wish she were still alive and well so I could ask her about this facet of life in the concentration camps as a woman. Nonetheless, I have been blessed with a few extremely profound friendships with women in my life, where there was mutual understanding, trust, respect, fondness and a desire to care for one another. These trusting relationships have meant outlets for sharing life’s most precious and most troubling situations, and for giving and receiving empathy and sometimes advice of great value. These friendships have proven to be a great source of reciprocal comfort, because knowing that a person is listening without judgement and with compassion, sharing their experiences and providing insights with your best interests at heart is invaluable. Indeed, I have loved a few formidable women with whom I’ve had remarkable friendships. Now more than ever, my life’s door seems to be wide open to new and brilliant relationships, and because of that, I feel very wealthy. I only hope I provide them with the same kind of comfort, joy and companionship they bestow to me.

“But most important of all was the fact that the women, despite differences of age, background, education and wealth, were friends. They had spent the months in Romainville very close together and it was as a train full of friends, who knew each other’s strengths and frailties, who had kept each other company at moments of terrible anguish, and who had fallen into a pattern of looking after each other, that they set out for the unknown.” (Moorehead, 2011)

Moorehead, C. (2011). A train in winter. Vintage Canada: Toronto.