13/15

A sombre murkiness hovered in my train carriage yesterday morning; opposite me sat a young Muslim girl with downcast eyes & beside her, a woman clutching a Metro newspaper; its contextual accuracy so ambiguous I didn’t bother to grab a copy. The woman with the paper huffed and moved to the seat beside me, the front page of her paper imaging French fighter jets en route to Syria. How many innocent people will continue to be massacred at the hands of a merciless war?  I thought to myself, as the woman tutted and threw her paper to the floor. I felt an unspoken tension which whispered prejudice and fear, with myself – edgy and paranoid – wishing to give some reassurance to the silent girl before me.

Who can we rely on to educate us? I remember being taught about the Holocaust in school and it was all numbers and figures – I felt nothing. Nobody dared to communicate the true devastation of war, the horrors of ethnic cleansing, the helplessness of a brutal occupation. Nobody explained innocent citizens, just like you and me, have been endlessly terrorised and murdered for reasons that are beyond comprehension.

I don’t believe since then the state of the world has evolved, it’s falling apart, mostly in corners where we don’t have to look. At least now, when Western land is targeted, great coverage is received and suddenly, the world is alerted to empathy and outrage: we are the chosen ones. Chosen, in the sense that we are overfed, overstocked, pacified and left to consume a range of mere “things”. We are the true SIMS, living in a robotic society and playing dutiful roles; we’ve “evolved” and therefore have no clue when it comes to instinctive survival. We’ve turned our backs on natural living and have been placed into a society which says “You are more important than those who born into poverty and war, enjoy it”.  We continue with our busy lives, dreaming about how to make more of ourselves and forgetting the ones who dream of an escape.

I am the product of Western vulnerability and realize that my only true “grief” lies in the palms of self-discovery and learning. I am privileged and thus far in life my problems have been either solvable or avoidable: “Oh, I need to lose weight”, “I need more money”, “I’m so afraid of death – how do I avoid it?” I wonder, if I had to wake up in the morning to an empty fridge, the sound of bombs, a falling ceiling or worse, the eye of a pistol staring into my forehead – would I have the time to worry about trivialities?

As mankind we’ve let ourselves down; every person in a position of power has acted as a war puppet, enabling injustice and destruction; spinning us a web of lies. How have we allowed ourselves to get to a place where money rules everything? Money, a self-made piece of flimsy fucking paper, dictates a humans honor and intentions. If only we could turn our backs on such a way of living, escape to an place where we could fend for ourselves, no dictatorship, no corrupt government and just start all over again.

A girl can dream right.

We’ve developed a very unhealthy attachment to things and as a result we question very little. We go with the motions, coveting possessions;  a means to an end in keeping us quiet and controlled. How can I continue with my usual desires? To wish for nothing more than to enjoy life, to eat the good food, drink the good wine and love the right people. How can I go on with the knowledge that the world is falling apart? What are my options? Why is our government happy investing murder weapons and death machines when there are countries suffering from malnutrition, starvation and scarcity? How can we fight with our fists when our opponents fire bullets?

I discuss such topics with loved ones often and so why only now, have I decided to write about my anger towards the world? The ugly truth is, it’s easy to give empathetic sighs from a distance, knowing bits and pieces but keeping research to a minimum in order to avoid a nervous breakdown. I could sit here and list countless countries enduring devastation but I’m not sure what impact it would have.

Prior to the 13/15 Paris attack, I’ve felt more comfortable seeing life as a dramatic film. I’ve been ignited but stayed passive. I’ve kept silent and wanted nothing more than to remain in a bubble protecting only myself and my loved ones. Collectively, we have settled without even figuring what it is that we desire. How do WE want to live? How are WE going to help? Are we happy to pay this much rent? Are we happy working for industrial companies? Of course we are, so long as we have enough money to continue being a culture of consumption; comfortable and with a fine roof over our heads.

The Paris attacks have merely reminded us that we are not invincible; we can try to segregate ourselves from the real dangers of the world but it’s only a matter of time before the glass shatters. I’ve been clinging on to the hope that there might be something more godly out there, but current times have pushed me to the doorstep of atheism.

I write this article for those who dream of a better world, for my Muslim friends who have offered me nothing but friendship and hospitality over the years; who are now being racially branded as “terrorists” despite only ever demonstrating peace. We need to stamp out the ignorance and unite because things aren’t going to improve unless we make a collective change. Let us keep seeking out the fairness in the world, questioning everything, becoming bolder, pursuing knowledge and starting to speak up.

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Too cool for a condom, too smart for a smear test

I’ve been procrastinating when it comes to shedding light on this next subject however, I feel a sense of responsibility in spreading awareness. Warning: this is personal, this is recent and mostly – this is a reminder to be cautious when it comes to any form of sexual-contact.

I’ve approached my (few) physical relationships in two ways, realizing that love has made me careless and time has made me responsible. A few months ago I received some bad – but not the worst – news and felt frustrated that nothing was available to console me. I found all the online information cold and clinical, whilst forums described uncomfortable procedures without any kind of reassurance.

My most recent relationship was complicated. Whilst I would have preferred to use condoms, my ex-boyfriend detested the idea as they gave him no feeling. I found this the typical male reaction when using condoms – male friends have compared them to wearing latex gloves; saying they’d rather not have sex if compromising pleasure. To compensate, girlfriends of mine have given the whole “he takes it out before he ejaculates” thing – two of which ended up pregnant and the others alone with dirty sheets. Nice. But this is not to blame and shame, condoms are renowned for being a moment-killer, transforming spontaneity into something awkwardly mapped out.

In my last relationship I did what I thought would be most sensible; I went for an STI test and my then-boyfriend did the same. When all was fine, I went on the contraceptive pill Microgynon and felt that we were good to go! I have to emphasize that I really, really didn’t want to go on the pill – I just wanted to please my partner. Typical.

Whilst I understand most men prefer to go bare-back, we need to be more careful with how we protect our bodies. Around 80% of my friends have said their boyfriends “just won’t use condoms” or that “they say they will but then just slip it in”. Seriously?! Guys, if you care about your woman, or better still, women in general, perhaps learn to embrace the latex cling-on: wear it, own it and revel in the knowing that nobody is getting pregnant…or infected.

The amount of times I’ve caught urinary-tract infections due to unprotected sex is staggering. I have tearfully sat in warm baths, not knowing what’s happening to my body, enduring agony. I’ve visited A&E multiple times and had nurses accuse me of not rinsing out the sample bottle as bacteria-ridden skin has been floating in the liquid.  It isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun and I can only compare the experience to pissing razorblades.  As a result, I live with interstitial cystitis which no amount of scans, fluids and antibiotics can clear.

And that’s not where my story ends. In May 2015 I went for my first official smear-test and didn’t think much of it. It was only when I spoke to my nurse a couple of weeks later that I found myself at the brink of heart-attack.  “WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE HIV??!!” I cried in a canteen full of co-workers. Luckily, I’d misheard her and had actually picked up a sexually transmitted infection called HPV (human papilloma virus) as well as having an abnormal cell count.  With no physical symptoms, I had no idea where the virus was from or that it even existed. It was never picked up in my previous tests because it was found on my cervix and also:-

MEN CANNOT BE TESTED FOR IT.

It’s all well and good when guys say “I’m clean – I’ve been tested”. But the truth is, unless they’ religiously use condoms, they could never really know. To top it off, there is no official cure; our immune systems fight off the infection naturally however, having already been single and alone for 6 months prior to the smear, it seemed my body was failing me. It’s also worth mentioning that Big Brother’s Jade Goody died from was cervical cancer and HPV was a trigger for this. Sigh.

The NHS weren’t able to provide me with a colposcopy for 6 weeks – which would have meant 6 weeks of sleepless nights (I’m a hypochondriac and suffer from chronic health anxiety). In the end my mother paid £1500 for a piece of my cervix to be removed along with an internal scan. Despite the cost, we felt it necessary due to myself having no awareness or knowledge of a virus I can only cure alone.

Loads of girls have HPV, even in my social circle. My friends kept it a secret because they felt embarrassed and ashamed. Think about the girls living under poverty-stricken conditions, who don’t have the luxury of smear tests, contraceptives, vitamins and immune-boosting foods? We need to talk about this, it’s not embarrassing, it’s essential.

We can avoid the risk of disease by using condoms and going for smears. Your partner should also support you on this, your health is more important than a sexual preference.  We should be stronger. If you want your man to use a condom – make him use a condom. Don’t be ignorant by thinking you’re safe because you’re not.

I felt so low finding out I had HPV; let down by the partners I’d trusted with my body. I just wanted to be left alone in every sense. All potential suitors were held at arm’s length: ”Hey buddy, don’t shake my hand unless you’ve put a condom on it” – ha! Luckily, results showed my HPV to be the weakest type – my cells aren’t in fact abnormal. The relief was great, but taking care of myself is now top priority the way it should have always been.