A Ride with a QUIET driver by Yazeed Al Jeddawy from Yemen

12961239_991807820855091_6669144089850005081_oI remember very well how I did not sleep for two nights, and how I could barely take my exhausted body to reach the taxi station. It took me only about 15 minutes to reach to the station, where I was supposed to “ select” the means of transportation to travel from Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, to Ibb city, a four hour long trip. In my country, there are no fixed prices for transport. Rather, once a passenger reaches the station, a so-called bargaining process begins. The drivers try to convince you to go with their ride. This includes offers from several buses, taxies, and Toyota Hilux model cars and leaves you to make a decision after each grabs you to his side by your shoulder.taxi

In all the confusion of the station, I quickly grew sick of the driver’s’ “deals” than ever before. I was so tired, and was not able to hear the driver’s loud offers. I was not in a mood to argue about their fare bargaining. I decisively refused them all, and went to the only driver who was quiet and felt similar to me in regards to not wanting to bargain with each other. “Are you driving to Ibb”, I asked.

“Yes, get in…. I need only three passengers and we will go … I do not like waiting or arguing about the fare… my son will join us, he is in that shop buying me cigarettes and once he comes we will wait for two other passengers and l..” The man did not finish as I interrupted, “Yes, I know, two more passengers and we will leave” I imprudently finished his words.

It had been almost a week in which I had to go everyday and apply for a postgraduate scholarship which I found advertised on the ministry of Higher Education website. They said the scholarships will be granted based on merits and academic achievement. I was very naïve, almost a fool. Our corrupt government masters fooling its people. After a week of the application process, I eventually realized that the application was not for all. To be shortlisted for the program depends neither on merit nor on academic excellence. Rather, it is based on how much you pay and how handsome your bribe is. This is all that decides on how qualified you are for the program.

After this realization, I decided to hopelessly go back to Ibb, and I was in such low spirits as it seems as if I am trapped again. After my trek back, I presumed I had a good choice for the quiet driver, who turned out to be “ a football match commentator.” To make things clear I told the driver, “ You see, I am very exhausted from my journey and I would like to have like a nap which requires a non-talkative drive, can you offer me that ? “ I asked.

“Yes, sure” he the driver replied. He continued the conversation and said “It is so obvious that you’re tired, and who is not tired in this country… I wish I was not driving and have time to rest but how can I pay my son’s tuition fees.. he is studying in a private college and he is doing well and I am very proud of him.”

I gave up and I knew that it was impossible to have what I wanted, and it is now clear I have to be patient and try to sleep.

In my sleep, I heard sounds or talking, or maybe it was the “unidentified” voice of the cassette player of but I continued to sleep through it all.

It was like after 30 minutes I could open my eyes to start slowly looking around the very many people in the car who made the ride so crowded. The last thing I remembered is the driver’s waiting for his son and his concerns about his study fees. When I woke up, surrounded by so many loud people I felt like it was a ride in the suburbs of India, it was no longer a quiet ride.

A Brother’s Love | Amir, Israel

The day was March 24th, 1999. It was the late in the afternoon of a regular, routine day. I was 9 years old and had been playing with my younger brothers. I was the eldest of four, so I always had someone around.

My mother had been cranky all day. So the moment that a hiss left her lips and was followed by a very loud “ahhhhhhhh,” it suddenly became very clear that something was going to happen. amir_hershkovitzWe all ran down to see. There it was, the baby was on its way. My mom first called my father, then hers and was immediately evacuated to the nearest hospital. 

We saw the baby for the first time the very next day. It was an angry-looking, blue-eyed-angel with bright red hair! And it was a girl… a girl? Yes, a girl. We couldn’t believe it, nor could my parents. They could not imagine having a girl after having had five boys. All I knew was that I had a new responsibility. My mom had always told us that when we were together and taking care of each other- no one could break us. However, what I didn’t know when I was holding that orange haired bundle of joy is how she would change my life forever.

Right after my sister arrived my mom fell very ill. With my father working long hours, that little baby became my only priority. She came before school, before classes, before anyone else. The one thing I knew was that I would never ever let anything happen to her, ever. I suddenly became extremely anxious about how to keep her safe and what would happen, god forbid, if anyone tried to harm her. The worst was to think about the statistics— the fact that 1 of every 9 women is a victim of rape. That 1 in 3 gets sexually harassed. During these years, this perspective- this protective feeling-  gravely altered the way I see the world.

Change will come when all men in the world can imagine women in that same light that I see my sister: a person who is worthy of anything she wants.

I know in my heart that my baby sister will grow up to be someone who you don’t want mess with. I know this because she can kick your ass in less than a second. Nevertheless, I also know that she will be treated as less worthy, will be thought of as a “pretty thing” first,  and will likely face wage discrimination earning 23% less than a man in the same position. This is not the type of world that I want for her, though I also know that change won’t come with just me saying it. Change will come when all men in the world can imagine women in that same light that I see my sister: a person who is worthy of anything she wants. A person who is not afraid to walk alone. A person who is free to dress however she wants.

This type of thinking is not just male-feminism. This is called humanism. I am a humanist. I am a person who believes in the spirit of freedom for all mankind. And, as men, it is our responsibility to look at women in every situation and treat them in the way we would like others to treat our sisters, to treat ourselves.


Being the Change I Want to See in the World | Lana, Palestine

Growing up, I was like any teen – I hated going to school and studying for classes. But, something happened that changed my perspective on learning.

One day I was sitting with my two sisters and my brother when suddenly I started singing loudly “wi weah wi weah” followed by a censored word. I was about to proceed with the song when my brother stopped me and called my father. I was very surprised and confused as to why he became angry. He called my father and said, ” Lana said a bad word!” WHAT!?

I was shocked! I didn’t even know what I had said, I was only a child. So I started crying and begging ,”No I didn’t! Areej and Nibal sang it, that’s who I learned it from!” They looked at me furiously. I heard my two sisters singing the song, so naturally I repeated it without truly understanding what I was singing. As a result, I decided to do something different. I decided to walk a towards a different path in my way of life, one where I would become more independent.

My first big step towards independence was to participate in a “professional guidance and counseling” camp with around 100 other teens from all over Jerusalem and the West Bank. After spending just 6 days there, I felt like my brain had doubled in size. Our well-educated guides gave us a unique learning experience that changed our personalities for the better, as well as introduced me to some really cool new friends that I consider my second family! The last thing I wanted to do was leave after those 6 days and, luckily enough, we didn’t have to separate for long.

After seeing all the positive energy that we teens had to give, they decided to guide all our efforts and passion towards something useful! Specifically, about 20 of us who had participated in the camp were chosen for another project that aims to provide teens with the chance to give something back to their society. We brainstormed about a lot of initiatives and ended up accomplishing two of them.

The first one involved organizing and going on three tours of Jerusalem in order to inform people about the most important places the city has to offer as well as to build better and stronger communication channels between youth so that they can create positive actions for their societies. Our guide was amazing and the mission succeed when more than 500 people attended the three tours. Our second initiative focused on underprivileged youth with extraordinary talents in drawing and photography. By matching them with professional artists and photographers, we were able to offer them free classes so they could improve their skills.

It is really an amazing feeling when you give, rather than just waiting to receive. Plus, I believe that when you give in a selfless way, you’ll get double kudos from the universe for what you gave. Basically, don’t be selfish by waiting for others to give first. Take the initiative, help someone out,  because giving is getting in the long run.

If you guide yourself and your energy in the right direction, you can and will plant goodness in the world.  I am a big believer that no matter how old or young someone is, they have a lot to give – it’s just a question of whether they believe or not. As youth, we have a big opportunity here because people don’t always think that we can make a difference and do positive actions for our communities, but they are wrong… and it’s really cool to prove the opposite!

Believe in yourself, in your ability to give, in what can you do and believe in what you want to do. The special thing that I see in youth is that they don’t listen for bad comments, instead they just believe. And, as I said, when you believe, anything and everything will be possible.

Victoria Takes the Wheel | Dana, Israel

Victoria worked as a bus driver for Israel’s largest public transportation company for 20 years. Out of 3500 drivers working at the time, she was one of the company’s six female drivers.

She missed the big vehicle and even back in the day, she had adjusted her method by keeping her eyes at the passenger’s hand level so as to never create eye contact as well as avoid any chance of conversation. She had never been much of a talker since, the road, she says, gives her all the thrills she needs. But, you have probably all heard a story or two where a woman needs to take extra protection, especially in this world…

Victoria is a hard worker. Alongside the app, Get-Taxi, which employs over 6000 drivers in Israel, Victoria’s cab is owned by a contractor and he provides work for her. “I am here for work,” she says. “When I worked for the bus company, they wanted me to leave with no privileges. It took a great deal of time as well as effort till I managed to break out with what I deserve.” Now, she is the master of her own time, taking any drive she wants.

Victoria also works with the organization MONITA, which was established by another woman with an intriguing story of a woman in a man’s world. This woman is called Ora Levy. As she takes her old cab license out of the storage, Levy tells me that she has retired to the world of unemployment. But in her eyes, working for a cab station in her hometown of Ashkelon was a rough experience. She had to push her way through to get equal work and sometimes, depending on who was in charge that day, she was asked to do inappropriate things. Things that she had neither intended, nor ever wanted to do. Yet, it was this sort of story and experience that prompted Levy to fund the all female cab company, MONITA, which offers female only taxi services.

MONITA symbolizes a global phenomena of the modern day—women creating solutions for their fellow women. From London to Mexico, women around the world feel the need to protect themselves from potential harassment, and female entrepreneurs are now offering them a fair solution. “We offered Get-Taxi the solution of having a female driver option, for that need exactly, but they did not cooperate,” says Levy, who is currently working on developing an independent app for MONITA. As for the bigger question of why women feel uncertain enough to develop a separate society, this remains unsolved.

*Interested in learning more about what MONITA is all about? CLICK HERE

A Mother’s Gift | Aya, Morocco

Ever since the first days of my childhood, I can recall the nature of my relationship with mom. I could plainly see love, self-sacrifice, dedication and inspiration all embedded in her every deed, both daily and unconditionally. My mother has been my refuge in my bad times before my good times, has been my supporter in my failures before my great achievements. She has always believed in me when everyone else has doubted me. I can still hear the very first stories that she used to read for me in bed when I just four years old. I can still her beautiful voice with which she would sing me happy songs in order for me to have happy dreams. I can still remember myself telling her, “mom you are the smartest person ever,” as she would always figure out every hardship one of my siblings might be going through.

No matter how long this essay may be, these words still do not measure up to reflect the true feelings I have for such a wonderful person. The love of knowledge, of reading, of dreaming bigger, of expecting the best in studies and in life in general, of believing in my hidden potential are all inspired from my mother. I could never be “Aya” today without that key role that mom played in shaping my personality, in lightening up my path. I am speaking specifically about the role of my mother in my love for reading and the way her skillful orientation contributed to my tolerance and open-mindedness towards other individuals who’s worlds and backgrounds are completely contradictory to mine.

My love for reading, as I alluded to above, began with my early childhood years. As mom is a ‘bookaholic’ or a book lover in other words, she could read hundreds of books and always yearn for more. She used to tell me simple stories, though not frightening ones, that I could find very entertaining and at the same time very instructive for I used to get scared of my shadow when I was a child.

In my first years at primary school my mom would buy me collections of stories in Arabic that include a mixture of stories from all over the world. I would read them with passion and enthusiasm, with pleasure and fascination, with immersion in the world of stories, books and libraries- in the world of my mother.

When my teacher used to ask me to write a simple essay about a topic which required a little bit of style and imagination, I would write samples and go straight to mom to ask her to add her magical touch- a scent of style, rhetoric, and imagination all colliding in a unique hand writing. This I find reflects her gift of authorship. When I would come to class to hand my work in, I would proudly get up and read it aloud while my teacher would ask me, “did anyone help you out?” I would respond with a simple yet confident tone,  “yes, my mother.” Later, I would go back home and tell mom that everyone liked our work and how talented she was. Her reply was always, “ you are the talented one, I only helped you correct.”

Many of these childhood scenes often arise in my mind now that I am a 20 year old Bachelor student of English literature who has consecutively proved herself to be successful amongst both the ranks as well as in the eyes of the faculty, and in spite of all the hardships I have gone through. I believe that after god’s help, my mother has played and is still playing the role of a mentor, a friend, and a parent to me. It is for this reason that I plan to dedicate the certificate that I will receive from YaLa to her for the way I have been raised on the love of reading. It has opened the door for many realizations. It was broadened the scope of understanding differences, accepting other religions, tolerating different beliefs, and having faith in the fact that hope for a better future, for better individuals, and for a better world all exist. My participation in YaLa is a reflection of all these beliefs that my mom somehow sowed in me unconsciously.

Now this little seed has grown to reflect the goodness of my mother’s heart, or perhaps a bit of it. I hope to make you as proud as I can Mama, I love you.

Smashing Stereotypes, Hoping for an Asexual World | Robyn, Israel

In a world where gender has only been a public question for less than a century and a personal choice for a few decades – and either of these in only limited parts of the planet – what do we really know about it?

Self-determined gender has emerged as an opportunity at a time when personality is less and less reliant on one’s reproductive organs or “sex,” as it is often called to differentiate genes from gender. Worldwide, we largely agree that identity is formed partially by one’s environment and partially by the unique design of their mind, though the classical competition of nature and nurture persists quantifiably. Beyond this, identity and all of its factors is anyone’s best guess. At worst, it’s a total mystery, and at best, it’s the source of many a strong, contradictory opinion.

Does your biology determine your gender identity, or does your gender identity determine your biology – or neither?

Scientifically, we have biological archetypes for men and women which outline normal, but not absolute, hormonal differences between them. Statistically, men and women consistently deviate from their hormonal archetypes – each harboring an unpredictable combination of hormones according to their own individual DNA. We also know that hormones can greatly influence mental activity. But between the discrepancies in hormonal statistics and the stronghold of gender-affiliated behavioral stereotypes we’re exposed to throughout our lives, it’s impossible as of yet to identify the exact factors that make up identity. Just as many people are genetically different from their hormonal archetypes, many men and women are different from their behavioral archetypes. The inevitable question arises of what correlation there may be between these realities. But the question most concerning me today is: does your biology determine your gender identity, or does your gender identity determine your biology – or neither?

As someone who has personally felt and has known many others to feel evaded, if not betrayed, by gender stereotypes, I struggle with both the association of behavioral stereotypes with respective biology (specifically reproductive organs) as well as with a gender identity that is detached from any biology. I don’t believe that the reproductive organs you have determine whether you feel masculine or feminine on any given day. I do believe that we all have men and women living within us, and that both should be a part of our identity; but this is nothing more than my ideal. Those of us who feel that our sexual biology doesn’t determine anything about our identity beyond the body that we clothe want to support those of us who want to change their biology in order to determine/fulfill their identity and vice versa, but I sometimes think our goals are counterintuitive. That being said I have never felt that I live in the wrong body and will never think someone else is wrong for feeling that way. I only worry about the strong association this implies between sex and gender that has never existed for me – and I hope to one day see a world where our biologies don’t control our identities, and wonder if anyone in that world will still feel the need to change their bodies.

Families Living in Tough Circumstances | Zeina, Palestine

This blog you’re about to read is based on a personal experience I encountered about two weeks ago while visiting a family with one of the local NGOs that I work with. Together, our organization helps to fix peoples’ homes in order to make them habitable once again.

This Ramadan we heard about a family living in Palestinian village of Bil’in, not far from Ramallah. We were told that their house lacks the necessary standards for a proper living, and that every month they receive a small amount of money that is barely enough to cover the electricity payments and the father’s psychotherapy treatments.

The heat of the day had already set in by the time we arrived at their home. Standing before us was two story house- all doors open, a wreck in the front yard, old cars and torn down furniture strewn across the front yard.

We walked in and said hello to the mother, a woman in her 60s who hardly moves, though she’s the healthiest. Seen from the other room was the father, staring at us with wide eyes. I had been told that he suffered from a psychological illness, and wasn’t sure if he understood why exactly we had come to their home. One of their two daughters was also in the room. Robed in a long black dress with a head-scarf sheathing part of the hair, her face was small and dark. She kept staring and smiling at me. She too was mentally ill and kept screaming loudly every few minutes. The other daughter came in after a while. She had a heavy tongue.

I couldn’t stay in the same room. It was my first time visiting a home that miserable, and in order to bring in the necessary donations, I was also required to document footage of their home and how desperate and dire their situation really was. I held my camera and went out of the room. I checked the house, filmed a few parts of it to show what needed to be fixed. The bathroom and kitchen, in particular, were terrible. What had once been two separate rooms merged into one as the door, like most in their home, was broken.  I couldn’t tell the living room from the bedroom.

While filming, my heart dropped as a wild scream came up from behind me. Jumping from the other room was their mentally ill daughter, just 35 years young. I turned to face the young woman, her smiling face staring at me once again. It all felt so terrible as a pang of scared emotion griped my body. I couldn’t handle her knowing how I felt, so I went back to the room to stand with the group I had came in with. This woman needed help, she was no danger.

Everything I saw that day gave me the chills as thoughts swirled over and over again in my mind. How could anyone live this way? When will it be time to leave? I felt so cruel- this family had lived in this home for years, yet I couldn’t stand being there for one more minute.

In the end, donations came pouring in and with the help of volunteers, we began the process of fixing this family’s home. Please, stay tuned for the next chapter of this family’s story- I will share a video update when the house is fully fixed.

So, what have I learned from this all? Well, firstly, good people that want to lend a helping hand are always there. And secondly, a strange and unfamiliar situation is no reason for me or anyone to be afraid. It is a reason to be strong, it is a reason for me to stand up for the unknown.