Why students should be complainers…The Québec protest and why it’s justified.

We’ve heard all the arguments and criticism  that we can possibly hear about the tuition strike in Québec (or the recently dubbed Maple Spring), but I’m not tired of hearing about it, and I never will be.

This movement is without a doubt revolutionary, and a statement to all levels of government that tuition shouldn’t take a toll on people’s financial (and emotional) stability.

I’m not a Québec student, so I don’t know what it’s like to be paying $2,000 a year for tuition, but I do know what it’s like to wear yourself out trying to pay for an education that may not or may not guarantee you a career.

I know what it’s like to be harassed by the university’s collections office weekly and to have your grades be put on hold because you (only) have $500 left  to pay out of the $5,000 total.

And I definitely know what’s like to barely be able to afford an education that means a lot to you.

(I won’t delve into the debate about the recent job cuts and the recession that’s dawning upon us that we’re all pretending doesn’t exist. Not today, anyway.)

This is not about “how much”  as much as it is about the selfish idea of cranking up costs with complete disregard to the person paying, it’s as frustrating as your phone company calling and telling you that your bill is increasing – just because – and it doesn’t matter whether you can afford it or not, because it’s happening anyway. You’ll have something to say about it, and you’ll want to make a point.

Students have every right to complain, tuition is not easy to pay – it’s sometimes impossible. And it’s even harder to accept the fact that you’ll be spending the rest of your life trying to pay it back.

Yes, we love overpriced lattés.

Yes, we love drinks on weekends.

We love going out every time we get the chance. What’s a student supposed to do when he’s bombarded with schoolwork for years and when he knows that he’ll graduate only to face more responsibility? And how can a student not complain when he’s going to wake up after graduation to the realization that thousands of dollars worth of debt have to be paid off?

And what else should a student be doing when a big part of his or her post secondary education is about needing, fighting for and making changes?

*A French version be will be blogged this week/Une versions française sera bloguée cette semaine.*


Interview with Abdul Snobar

I’ve recently had the chance to interview Abdul Snobar, manager of undergraduate student relations at Ryerson University. He, along with the members of RIEL commerce, went to Kenya in order to put together a one of a kind project that would help financially benefit the communities in the village of Dago. This interview also helped clarify the misconceptions I personally had about the impacts of commerce on socioeconomic issues.

*Much thanks to the team that helped put this together –Wesley Murray, Ché Pereira and Brian Hastings.

And I will stress that you check out Wesley Murray’s blog, he’s a very gifted writer, producer and editor. I  was privileged to meet him on my first week of Journalism school and a person whom I  had the pleasure to work with for a whole semester. He’s got some major charm as well, and I must admit that his professionalism and maturity are things I look up to, not too many people can can be quiet and hilarious (and awesome) at the same time.

Review of Asghar Farhadi’s ‘A Separation’

I had the chance to watch the Oscar-winner A Separation last night and I feel the need to express my feelings about it.

 Video courtesy of YouTube.

I must begin with admitting that I’ve only seen a handful of Persian films, so I don’t have much to compare it to when it comes to films in Farsi, but on the spectrum of all the foreign films that I’ve seen(which are hundreds), this would be one of the best.

Hollywood has become very one-dimensional and selective with respect to the films produced in it and especially when it comes to its standards of selection. I am happy that the academy awards chose smart for a change.

Hollywood  films (and I’m tempted to say all films produced in North America) are usually created to meet demand, and that’s nothing new, but it disappoints me to see promising filmmakers abide by industry standards, ones that don’t stimulate intellectually or emotionally  enough but that can keep you entertained long enough to last through a film. It’s like being tricked to see a film, it’s enjoyable to watch, but not worth talking about or seeing again…or even remembering.

The more often a lousy film receives academy recognition, the more the filmmakers feel the need to produce formulaic content and the less they produce work that’s their own, they see risk in making art that’s not defined as “profitable”( and yes, film IS art).

As a viewer, I don’t want to be entertained for an hour and a half, I want to be intrigued for days!

That’s the beauty of film, it’s impact as much as it’s presentation. I want to leave a theatre affected by what I saw and wondering why and how as opposed to leaving with a head-nod of  approval or a head-shake of disappointment.

Good films make a story worth listening to, it has memorable quotes/dialogues and depicts people in ways that tell stories within a story. A bad film will often use the same tools in different contexts and back them up with either,

A) A good soundtrack

B) A solid love scene, or

C) A cast made up of well-liked actors who will often generate all the excitement and detour the attention from the film itself.

A Separation has managed to shatter the notion that films need any of the above while framing the story within a cultural context that not too many are familiar with. Iran, because of its islamist regime, is already very strict with the kinds of films that can be made, but Farhadi aimed to educate rather than simply narrate. Without ruining the story, here are the elements that made this movie worth watching:

The household dynamic and divorce

A wife decides to file for divorce because of her husband’s refusal to travel abroad with her – his reason was that he needed to stay in Iran to care for his father who had Alzheimer’s. The first guess, of many viewers at the sight of a woman in a headscarf in court is that she was the victim of spousal abuse. She’s also a working woman who is pursuing a better future for her child, not a cooking/cleaning/beaten woman. The notion that divorce is not a option is also challenged, showing that middle-class women in Iran CAN have the choice of wanting and getting a divorce. As opposed to the classic portrayal of women in the region; she’s capable, she’s a choice-maker and she has say when it comes the (in)/stability of her marriage, in other words, she’s a human being (a statement to those believers that feminism and freedom are border-sensitive).

There’s also an emphasis on the father-son relationship that’s very rarely presented in any film for that matter. The father is torn between living abroad with his family or caring for his father for the sake of respect and love. There’s also the important element of martial love – something that’s often misrepresented with the belief that all non-western marriages are forced upon the women and that they’re more like hostages, not women who love. Even at the time of their separation, there’a sense of attachment to one another.

The Mystery

Nader (Peyman Moaadi), at the time of his separation, is forced to hire a pregnant caretake for his father. She begins to become uncomfortable with the nature of her job but keeps it because of obvious financial needs. A fight breaks out between Nader and the caretake and she loses the child in a miscarriage shortly after. He’s then charged with murder and both his innocence and her honesty become questionable in the movie. That’s what caught the attentions of the viewers; that they themselves couldn’t tell which side of the story was the right side. I even forgot some things that were said/done at some points and became so engaged with the story that I was second-guessing what I saw and heard.


Farhadi used very little music and the reaction shots were well-documented to the point that they shaped the environment in the film. It’s very hard to notice the details of the home, the clothing (which were very simple for a reason) and the spacing, but what the viewer response was well-dictated. So no viewer would have left the theatre with any exact description of any physical details, but  had a fairly good description of what they felt. The scenes were mostly in the home or in the court, so the attention wasn’t drawn to any landscape, architecture or anything specific to the city/country. Iran was depicted through Iranians.

This film depicted crime with no one being stabbed or beaten to death, drama with no excessive crying or screaming in agony and shaped the narrative in a way to trigger questions, fears and anticipation. I think it’s nailed film-making better than today’s hollywood ever will.

Go see it. It’s (re)playing in theatres.


p.s. It’s called IRAN (pronounced E-rawn not Eye-ran), my ears and blood pressure can’t handle the ‘pretend-to-struggle’ accent.

“A toast, Jedediah…”

I get small but divine reminders every now and then. I often get them in the form of wake-up calls and occasionally in the form of an animated light bulb moment. I must admit though that the most unforgettable reminders are the  nicely worded, date-stamped and signed ones ending with the stalest “we wish you all the best with your future endeavours.”

Yes. Stale as hell. I do need these kick-in-the-face type of reminders.

At times like these  I am reminded to knock my ego back in place, somewhere in between ‘humbleness’ and ‘confidence’ and as far away from ‘arrogance’ as possible. I get a little carried away when I start to think that I’m too good for reality.

In any other year and if I was any younger I would have taken it to heart – felt a little more insignificant and lot less capable.

Not this year. And definitely not me, not anymore.

Sh*t happens and these two seemingly worthless words couldn’t ring any more true. Big girls try endlessly. I’m 25, and this is not the year of mourning.

Screw anything and everything that tries to step over my emotional stability, I’m the luckiest 25-year-old out there, and I’m serious.

Here’s to trying beyond obstacles and fancy rejections, here’s to what I can  do, and what I will do, whether the big guys say so or not.

I do a little trick I call the Ego-librium; whenever I get a rejection letter I put it up on my cork-board so that I wake up to it to remember that I haven’t tried enough, though I’m not the type that needs a visual reminder at all. I rarely forget.


“I can remember everything. That’s my curse, young man. It’s the greatest curse that’s ever been inflicted on the human race: memory.” – Jedediah Leland, CK (1946).

Nude or Never

Telling a woman how she should dress is one part of a problem, telling a women how to think she should dress is the core of the problem itself. Let me tell you why.

We live in an era where self-expression is parallel to the self, not knowing who are will directly impact how you are. What’s inarguable is that an element of choice should be at the centre everything we do. We live in a era of a fast-paceness and interconnectedness that still overwhelm us; we get signs from everything, sounds from everywhere and influences in every millisecond of our everyday lives. We are so often and so quickly faced with things that thinking for ourselves is no longer a choice. This is a concern, not a comment and for women today, it’s a serious problem.

Women are taught by society to flaunt their femininity  in ways that please everyone before themselves, in no way am I stating that women MUST cover, but I am saying that women are repeatedly taught that strength of character, sexiness and fierceness are only visible through the dress code, in the “less is always more” sense, and THAT is bullshit.

I can’t think of the last time I saw a woman express her femininity through means other than sexual. It’s always the same depiction of courage through the same means and I am personally getting a little tired of it.

If modesty is a choice, then so is nudity, it can’t and shouldn’t be a requirement for progressiveness! I had a conversation with a ‘gentleman’ who tried to convince me that posing nude is actually the  much more expressive and attractive way of posing for pictures, he also added that stripping should be seen as significant since society strongly stands against it. When I said that I wouldn’t do either one, someone asked if I was “Religious” – so to him my choosing to not look a certain way and controlling matters instead of letting matters control me is dictated by religion, never by my society. I disagree. If religion forces someone in a direction, it’s possible to (want to) fight back, but society is the hardest thing to fight, because it’s everything around you; it’s the movies you watch, that ads you see, the people to talk to, the conversations you have, and the thoughts that are generated from all that.

The scariest thing I’ve seen to date is the amount of time women spend in front of mirrors and it’s rarely for themselves. Presentability should be the comfort you feel when you see yourself before the pleasure others feel when seeing you. The fashion, make-up and entertainment industries put a strong emphasis on perfection; “you must look it to feel it” is what echoes through their messages. Perfect hair, perfect make-up, no scars, no split ends, not a pound of over-weightness, and tons of skin- THAT is the new-school definition of sexy. And I liked the old-school system where she was who she wanted to be, how she defined herself, how she felt, where sexy meant confident and not sexualized, THAT she is the one I struggle to stay close to. THAT she is the one society tries to separate me from daily. I am not a product of my surroundings, I am product of my own beliefs, values and feelings.

Society stripped choice from she, divided progressive and modest, split liberal and reasonable, and shamelessly blamed religion on anything and everything that’s not connected to societal beliefs. That, to me, is more dangerous than being told what to wear. I can fight back if I am forced to dress a certain way, but if I’m swayed by a compliment that I am taught is essential to my self-esteem, then there’s nothing to fight back, because I’m taught to “need” compliments, that’s the drug that’s being fed to women and that’s dangerous.

Marwa Siam-Abdou

X-Men: First Class. The “pre-review”…

If  a movie makes you leave a theatre feeling like crap for being human and average, and wishing you were born with some sort of genetic mutation, then it has GOT to be good. This movie has blown me away,  not only because it was well-made, but because it continuously underlines the importance and beauty of being different (to me, anyway) and I’ve loved the comic book and cartoons since I was child and always look forward to every X-men film.

Aside from the genius combination of historical facts with fantasy which you don’t see in any other Marvel film, the movie is enjoyable even to those who don’t religiously follow the X-Men cycle; it’s catchy, inspiring, entertaining, moving and without a doubt creative. Aside from the fact that it has an amazing combination of actors who look good to a jaw-dropping, blood-freezing, mind-blowing extent. Go see it!

On a more serious note.

The movie explores the ideas of war, trauma, conflict, self-loathing and the problematic, shattered nature of man in a way no science ever will. Magneto’s personal experiences take him to a point where he does not feel connected to mankind, where revenge is the only option because forgiveness was no longer a means to contentment. This is the only movie where I feel completely sympathetic and understanding and almost supportive of everything the antagonist feels and does. Professor X’s experiences were different, and so he believed in mankind, believed that forgiveness was a solution, the only solution for that matter. Professor X and Magneto represent the two extremes of human nature, we all fluctuate between one and the other; one being the defensive, experience-struck, unforgiving and the other being the compassionate, understanding one.  I strongly recommend reading the comic book to see the way medium can impact the story-telling technique. Both the comic book and movie are worth reading/seeing.

Marwa Siam-Abdou

I unleashed my inner child today, and it felt great

A surprise suggestion to spend time in a park making bubbles has resulted in my feeling very very satistied. There’s some sort of therapy in acting  like you’re four years old at 24. It lightens the weight of adulthood stresses.

Here’s a kick in the ego(s); Dedicated to the Education system of Canada

“Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little need of reform in our prisons.” – John Ruskin

I have a big problem with a school system that segregates students based on so-called ‘competence’. The idea of an applied vs. an academic learning method needs to go, as a matter of fact, the university application process along with the standards used to judge a qualifying student need to be reformed.

What I also disagree  with is the societal judgment that stems from that system; this common notion among the majority of people that a college student is “intellectually inferior” to a university student or  that some students can be considered gifted, and hence given privileges over students who work equally as hard, and at times, harder.

My criticism comes from my high school experience, and I went to a school under the CSDCSO, not the Toronto district school board like most students, but I’m pretty sure that all schools within Ontario operate the same way.

In grade 9, a student has to choose the classes that would determine the course of his or her four years of high school and consequently, his or her life. Yes, life! Choosing applied courses meant guaranteeing only admission to colleges and not to universities, which meant, according to societal rules, only graduating and being permitted to work in a selected number of industries, acquiring a specific number of skills, and even being hirable by certain employers. If you don’t believe what I say, check out a job post for an income of $45,000 and up and see what the requirements are (Bachelor’s degree is almost always a must).

Colleges and Universities should be considered the same, and should have the same standards for admission. Most importantly, people should look them at as being the same thing. Practicality and theory need one another, which means that the idea of having one institution teach one and the other institution teach another leaves all graduates lacking something. Society likes to pretend that one is better (one being an elite of some sort), when both are equally important.

The idea of forcing someone to determine their career path at an extremely young age while giving them no chance of changing directions is dictatorial and disrespectful in my opinion. Which thirteen or fourteen-year-old can make such an important decision?  Someone who has zero experience in the work force and in academia altogether needs time before anything, the school system selfishly takes that away. I’m sure that there is some statistical need to have some students in college and some in universities. Oh wait! That’s right! I forgot… they’re all moneymaking businesses, it’ a consumer market not academia, and high schools just help them generate their profits.

My other problem is with this program for gifted students– the idea of selecting a number of students and giving them access to resources that guarantee them a much brighter future is unfair in every way imaginable. I’m not denying that some students excel better than others, but why are we disregarding the fact that people learn differently? Sometimes at different paces and some even require a completely different atmosphere to learn. Everyone deserves a chance and every student should have access to privileges, because the truth is, everyone has capabilities but it takes the right system to help a student discover them and put them into practice. If a student is exceptionally smart, he or she can skip a grade or two, so they can move to a level where they are challenged and motivated. I am not sure about other school boards, but the CSDCSO gave out a test in grade three (GRADE THREE!), where the students with the highest averages were put into a group (all the way until the twelfth grade) and placed in privileged programs, trips and activities and even taken out during regular class hours to partake in all sorts of things. How does a system like that leave the ‘the other kids’ feeling about their own abilities? Inferior! Because to the rest of the students, these were the special kids, with the special rights, and they were just ‘average’.

I stand in complete opposition with a system that shamelessly segregates students based on a poor judgment of their performances. A student’s skill level fluctuates, especially in high school where he or she is still being taught how to learn. A student may become better or worse academically depending on multiple factors, varying from his or her own learning method(s) all the way to the teacher’s ability to teach. High schools should be considered an experimental step, not a life-altering point in the lives of students. The school system narrows down the possibility of having many promising students, by telling them ‘where they belong’, keeping them there and leaving them with no room for change or growth.

The choice of going into college or university should strictly be the students’; high school should not ‘classify’ them and then force them into disciplines that match their ‘learning abilities’, and the gifted student program needs to be extracted from schools and established in its own school, where no one needs to feel better than the other.

The system is unethical and uses a lazy way to split students and set a scale for their strengths and challenges. School needs to be revamped and re-educated on how to educate.

**The story behind this story:

Experience is one of the most valuable lessons, and I often use my experiences to form my judgments.

I went a school where my performance was often ranked much below average. In the mornings, I left a household where I was told that I could do it and arrived to a school that detoured me by telling me that I could ‘NOT’. I wasn’t a good student, I grasped things differently, and I’d say that I learned ‘slower’ than most, because my attention span was extremely short and my listening skills, bad. The constant criticism by the teachers resulted in my insecurity and belief that I was not competent enough, for anything, and I hid that problem very well. The only thing I could do was convincing myself that it was cool to fail. I was always getting grades between D- and F. It took me years (until the age of 22) to come to the realization that I was not inferior to the A+ students, but that I was just different, and I realize now that different NEVER means ‘not good enough’.

School taught me otherwise, I had a guidance counselor who, ironically enough, told me that  ‘I should have failed’ instead of miraculously getting 50s, of how I should not apply to university because my grades can barely get me into college and of how lucky I was to even be passing.

It’s those schools that (in)directly tell youth that they “can’t do”  that often produce adults that “don’t do”. Almost all societal problems can be traced back to a school system  that operated based on a primitive and backward belief, one that classified  students as “bad, “good”, “better” and “worse”. All students of all learning abilities and all challenges (because we all have them) need to have access to the same resources, because like they say, ‘education is a right’…right!

“But you’re dark for an Egyptian”

‘ “What’s your background?”


“oh..The Egyptians I know don’t look like that” ‘

I am forced to be a part of a conversation that sounds like the one above at least once a week. In an attempt to battle the ignorance that I often have to go head-to-head with, I usually respond with something along the lines of “It’s because I am from the south” and am, in return, forced to hear something like:

“Oh … so you’re from Sudan then?”

So now It’s my turn to ask: how does an Egyptian look like?  Because the things I keep hearing – from Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike – insinuate that I don’t look like an Egyptian, that most of them are olive skinned/fair skinned, or that I must be mixed something.

Based on which historically-void theory are people coming to the absurd conclusion that Egyptians aren’t supposed to be black? Or that they’re only supposed to be fair skinned?

In case it has been forgotten or ignored; Egypt is an African country, it neighbors Sudan and has been subjected to ethnic and racial transformations post the rise of the Islamic and Turkish eras (1258 AD and 16th century respectively). Meaning that, in short, Egyptians do vary in appearance, significantly.

So for those who have asked, will ask, want to ask, below is a free history lesson  for your insights and information:

Nubia [Biilad al Nouba,  Arabic], formerly known as the Kingdom of Kush,  are a number of villages located along the southern end of the Nile river, surrounding the Toshka Lakes and Lake Nasser, located more specifically between the cities of Aswan and Abu Simbel. The villages start in southern Egypt and go all the way to Northern Sudan.

The language spoken is Nubian, a no-longer documented language thanks to President Abdul Nasser’s decision to build the high dam over the old region (located east of the current location) and flood the villages, the houses, the libraries and obviously, the history. Due to these politically-motivated changes, the language spoken more commonly now  in the south is Arabic, especially among my generation. My personal belief is that the construction of the dam was a refined (and redefined) form of ethnic cleansing, due to Nasser’s Pan-Arabist views and due to the fact that the Nubians were not considered Arab.

For more information, visit www.thenubian.net, it’s an amazing website about the place, the history, the people and the traditions. On this website, I was happy and surprised to come across a short bio about my own grandfather, Yossef Sombaj. It’s now my go-to website for things that, sadly enough, I don’t know about my own heritage. I blame politics for that.

Marwa Siam-Abdou