The Excruciating Arena of Mental Illness

Angst … is a word not to imagine but to let it wrap you unconditionally body and soul in itself. People are in the habit of calling their heartbreak as depression and their stress as anxiety yet almost nobody wants to open their eyes to the bitter uncoated truth of angst, major depression, bipolar disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia, and even paranoid schizophrenia, PTSD, borderline disorder, and a lot more! Every morning you wear a mask and you do your best to either choose a merry one or at least an apparently normal one based on society’s expectations. However, the question has always remained: does it help you or it just fools others to consider you normal and react shockingly while seeing your meltdown? You might have heard substantially about people with mental disorders but in reality, how many of you can honestly understand the situation and try to help? On the scale of zero to ten, I don’t assume it can possibly exceed half a percent, far from satisfactory but sadly it is the case.   

When you cannot even make it out of bed, cannot eat or drink anything, cannot take a shower, or even climb or go down the stairs, cannot remember the date, time, and place; or even worse, on many occasions you are looking into the mirror and to your sheer horror, yet cannot recognise yourself at all, I should stress literally at all! Notwithstanding, you are obliged to pretend to be normal, go to work, wear a smile, hide your tears, angst, anger, etc. just forasmuch as you can never ever be open about the reality of yourself among people without being labelled as: lazy, preposterous, weak, insane, liar, etc. I know, walking in our shoes is not manageable or may not be probable at all, yet please try not to label us erroneously and do a little tiny effort to read and do research about people akin to us who are killing themselves and taking piles and piles of pills to be able to live up to that ‘normality expected’ while shattering inside.

I take a trip down my memory lane reading an anonymous quote: “People who die from suicide don’t want to end their lives. They want to end their pain.” I’ve seen a considerable number of people along with myself who suffer from various kinds of mental illnesses; numerous friends of mine gave up their jobs, and so many other things in their lives due to these problems. One of them is a dermatologist and a great university professor who prefers not to work at all because she thinks with depression, she is not going to be adequate; the other one was crying like hell for the reason that she was lost in date and time and missed her class as a professor! I myself likewise was crying in between my classes like a baby who lost her mom without even knowing why!!!! And let’s not talk about self-harm that is beyond the bounds of your imagination.

People like us usually struggle to achieve capabilities as much as possible and be as multi-tasked as possible yet when others congratulate us, there is absolutely no sense of pleasure or accomplishment!! Weird? Yes, it is, true. Anhedonia is a word to express that inability to feel pleasure in commonly pleasurable situations, and this is a psychiatric condition.

There are various scientific justifications for the roots of these harrowing hells; the most critical one is our genes. These illnesses have been imprinted on our DNA by chance by our ancestors since millions of years ago or merely by our parents, in conjunction with, environmental factors. 

Imagine this: you are part of a huge society, you are a teacher, a woman who has not The Passport and who has to fight for both her rights as a Woman of Colour in ELT and keep her mask in front of her students, be as patient as a prophet to teach and answer all their questions – now with this COVID-19, even from her bed early in the morning or late at night – yet get labelled as ruthless, get rejected by The Government after applying for an Interdisciplinary MA Social Justice and Equity Studies program while having received the acknowledgement and acceptance of the university of the interest as the best applicant. How does it make you feel? Let me make it easy for you: an outcast! Yes, an outcast in the middle of nowhere towards never-land! That’s how confused and devastated it makes you feel. 

Behnaz Amani
Photographer: Amir Hossein Soroush


Look at you.

Still standing

after being

knocked down

and thrown out.

Look at you.

Still growing

after being

picked and plucked

and prodded out

of your home.

Look at you.

Still dancing

and singing

after being

defeated and


Look at you.

Still here and hopeful

After it all.

Alexandra Elle [1]

[1] Alexandra Elle is a full-time freelance writer, published author, poet, and small business owner. Her career focuses heavily on writing and holistic healing from the inside out. Elle’s written work is an embodiment of her passion for self-love and advocacy of self-care.

Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Brave New World of ELT

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

The Brave New World [1]


People say anyone can torture, but to break someone down one should do it without any physical harm; this is an art! 

Horrible? Yeah, definitely. Let’s imagine a tigress, a wild, beautiful tigress that is captured and displaced in a zoo. How does she feel to lose all her freedom, security, and awe-striking mightiness while her power is suppressed as well as curbed? Suffocating I presume. 

Racism does the same to people. When one recalls all her efforts to be erudite, intensively talented, multi-tasked, moreover intelligent, even though dealing with racists who are trying their best to smash one down as long as they are precisely well aware of their cowardice, callousness, and impracticality, the feeling is the same. 

Here one might wonder if they don’t approve of you, why were you hired at the very first place? Without considering all those disadvantages they bestow upon you; you are here only to keep their multinational mindset disguise! To shield them against all the racist labels, that in fact they fathom to deserve; albeit no value would bequeath you considering aforementioned safeguarding. 

Faith is a dangerous phenomenon forasmuch as it hampers you to detect any blemish; in the manner that all these “white privilege” believers’ scorn to affirm. 

On account of studying interior architecture, I decided to decorate my classroom; my colleague and I spent a whole month to do both classes; even though they were all enthralled by the outcome, not only did we not receive any proper feedback, but also, we received mockery from one of the principals instead! Couple of days ago, the director came into my class with his entourage while I hadn’t done my lesson yet. Perplexity was far and wide in my mind on the grounds of being uninformed; they came back a couple of hours later and commenced removing the furniture during which I inquired the reason. To my astonishment this was all about “a very professional commercial video” using my class, my students, BUT with someone else as the teacher! Someone who didn’t have any idea about my students and teaching approach; though to be fair! She had the advantage of being a non-certified “native” teacher. Non-certified for which I have a CELTA from Cambridge University, and I have studied English literature. To me and a whole community this deed was, is, and will always be disrespecting and all the water in the ocean will not wash their hands. No, instead their hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red [2].


Merry Christmas to all! Here those foreigners, or let’s say those with powerful passports, are on their Christmas leave even if they are not Christian! In this country, they do not celebrate Christmas eve, yet due to their multinational mindset! they are giving THE foreigners leave, still since I am not included in that specific category, there is no such a fancy thing as a day off for me. Nevertheless, the thing which I cannot comprehend is if they try to respect other cultures, why nobody congrats me on Nowruz? Why couldn’t I have a day or two off just like the others? As a matter of fact, they had absolutely no idea about Nowruz (Iranian New Year), which is even worse for this multinational mindset. Why all the privileges only go to a few specific cultures and not to all? 

There is a course in colonialism for PhD students of English literature which after taking I came to realize that to colonise a world, there is no need for physical invasion; just exploit the indigenous’ minds and implant the idea of your supremacy in them; that would be imprinted on their DNA and do the rest. By reading Prof. Daryush Shayegan’s book, titled Cultural Schizophrenia, we learned that this is the time of acknowledging differences.

Behnaz Amani on the left with Prof. Daryush Shayegan on the right, Tehran, Iran

The postmodern human identities are categorised in both horizontal and vertical axis; one of indigenous traditions and one of multinational diversity. Nonetheless, how many of us thoroughly think about it and carry it out? It’s time to ponder and alter toward equity.

 [1] The title of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel. 

[2] Will all the water in the ocean wash this blood from my hands? No, instead my hands will stain the seas scarlet, turning the green waters red. Shakespeare, Macbeth, II, ii.

Behnaz Amani

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Real Talk: #MeToo & EDI in the ELT Classroom

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

The following explains my perspective as an ESL teacher but can absolutely be applied to any language classroom.

Throughout my 10 years as an ELT educator, I became hyper-aware of the fact that teaching the English language was just one of the things I was teaching. I was doing much more than that. As I became a more experienced educator, I started to unpack everything that my students were unconsciously learning as I was also unconsciously teaching it. It hit me, that I was not just a language educator but also a cultural ambassador to both my country of birth, the United States of America, as well as a representative of “a person of color,” of Puerto Rican/Cuban ancestry.

Suffice to say, I was not the physical profile of the teacher they expected to walk into their classroom. When I did, they were often surprised and curious as to “what” I was. The conversation would ensue and, without ill intention, their perceptions of all the “things” “my people” were, would come out.

Americans are power hungry.

Americans can’t find anything outside their country on a map.

Wow, you’re Latina and you went to college? Wow! All Latinos here clean bathrooms or take care of our elderly.

You must be great at sports because you have African in you.

I can’t tell you how often a variation of these things were said to me. Then came the sexist ones…

You must have moved here for a man!

You came by yourself? And you’re a girl! Hmmm..what could you be looking for?

You can imagine how thrilled I was to hear these constantly. Also, note the problematic nature of that bold language prior to the quotes.

What am I? A person, thanks.

Turning difference into opportunity

Although it may sound it, my classrooms never got hostile. In fact, they all really turned out to involve super interesting discussions that resulted in brilliant vocabulary and sentence structures. I realized that my unique identity was beneficial to their learning process so long as the learning opportunities were curated by me in a comfortable way.

Once I really took this opportunity by the horns, I was able to build these learning caveats into lesson plans. I did this by curating my reading selections, picking a variety of clips that did not just show one kind of person, and by looking at seemingly awkward situations head on. This included racist, sexist and homophobic idioms and expressions – with intention and a discussion-ready attitude.

In my classes, I worked hard to avoid sugar-coating problematic vocabulary and social constructs within the English language. Instead, I tried to discuss why we said that, where it came from historically, and finally how we could say that very thing in a different way (fun, challenging, and useful language exercises!)

Language is important! We, as language educators know that more than most! Just because our language (along with several others) is problematic, doesn’t mean we should perpetuate antiquated terms and phrases, nor should we ignore them. Take a look at a few:

To hit like a girl

Happy wife, happy life

To man-up

An Indian giver

Gypsy/ To be gypped

And believe me, there are many many more. Not only do we encounter it in the phrases we teach but also in the video clips we show. Friends, for instance, is a classroom favorite but actually quite problematic. There’s blatant sexism, fat shaming and transphobia and it is all laughed off as if those at the core of the joke don’t actually matter. Rewatching some of those episodes for me was actually cringe-worthy. It is undoubtedly a product of its time and the solution isn’t to pretend it never happened, but as I said before, tackle these conversations head on!

Different ads, readings, role-playing you do in your course can follow suit and also perpetuate a variety of micro-aggressions, toxic masculinity or overtly disrespectful stereotypes of a culture and its people.

Make that into a lesson plan!

Different ads from different decades:

What are the differences and similarities you find?

How have they evolved?

How have they not?

What was happening in the world at the time of their creation that made this effective?

The possibilities of this class are endless, a great learning opportunity and ultimately really fun and interesting for the student, even if they disagree!

Taking a broader look at education

So, how much is it our job as educators to promote an open mind? I strongly feel that as English language educators, it is imperative that we push.

English to evolve in order to shift away from racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic language. English is used internationally for travel, work, pleasure and we need to be aware of how we use it and who suffers when it is poorly used. Language has history, it tells us the climate of the times, but it also shows what we are willing to tolerate.

I like to think that having had me as a teacher was beneficial in other ways than linguistically. I like to think that I challenged preconceived notions and stereotypes fed to them by society and the media, that my careful word choices and careful lesson planning opened the door for the ever-growing population of immigrants arriving in Spain, the children of interracial couples and of little girls who just want to be treated equally without being the punchline to a joke. I have asked many people, including those who attended my session, to check their privilege. We all have privilege and our awareness of it is essential in creating a more equitable and more welcoming space for students and teachers alike.

How else can we do this?

By addressing multiple cultural identities and identities in general

By adjusting hiring practices to really represent the English speaking world

By not shying away or dismissing uncomfortable situations

By not falling into the tokenism trap

By admitting that we’re all trying but going to make mistakes and that’s completely okay!

Continuing the discussion all over the world

I look forward to continuing to encourage educators around the world to consider the importance of the social and cultural impact of the languages we use and teach. I also hope you can make time and space for diverse voices within the classroom and also make time for yourself as an educator to have difficult but honest conversations about gender and race.

Note: These experiences in the classroom is where the InnovateELT session entitled “Real Talk: #MeToo & Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in the ELT Classroom”, was born and published as a post here. It also stemmed off Jade’s graduate thesis work entitled “Enhancing Cultural Awareness & Sensitivity through Theatre and Language Education”.

Jade Cintron holds a Masters in Arts Administration, focusing on cultural awareness in theatre & language education. Her work has involved into incorporating honest conversations about social justice, people of color, women of color and women. She currently serves as a Bilingual Literacy Specialist for The Free Library of Philadelphia where she focuses on the Latino & African American communities in North Philly.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

My Journey to Understanding Intersectionality

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

I want to share some moments in my journey to understanding intersectionality, from my initial confusions about critical pedagogy, to moments of clarity afforded by Elizabeth Ellsworth’s writing and then bell hooks, to my own term semi-privileged, to how I use it in my classes, to how I made a mistake in a Digital Pedagogy Lab workshop once, to discovering Patricia Collins’ Axes of Oppression and Nancy Fraser’s three-pronged understanding of social justice, and finally to Parisa Mehran’s post on WOCinELT.

The Frustrating Abstractness of Critical Pedagogy 

I came across critical pedagogy by coincidence. I was doing my PhD research on critical thinking and  kept stumbling upon this other term critical pedagogy and it intrigued me. I kept reading more and more about it, finding myself agreeing so much with it, but I also reached a level of frustration where it felt too abstract to know how to apply this stuff in my classes, and I also talked with my supervisor, Jon Nixon, about how to find all the “isms” because all this talk of racism, sexism, classism, was not cutting it for every situation. He told me that this was OK, that not all the power differences fit into one clear “ism” and he also introduced me to Edward Said and postcolonialism. Now this felt like a breath of fresh air (btw I had heard Edward Said speak at one of my university’s commencement ceremonies and his speech touched me even back then when I didn’t know how much of a big deal he was). 

Critical Pedagogy in Practice: Ellsworth & hooks

But then the thing that really helped me understand critical pedagogy in practice and introduced me to intersectionality was an article recommended to me by another professor, Chris Winter. In my upgrade viva (about 1.5 years into my part-time 7 year PhD journey) she recommended to me the article Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering by Elizabeth Ellsworth. That article is one I struggled to read the first time but I have read it many many times since then, because it takes critical pedagogy from the abstract to the practical, and highlights the intersectionality of the white female professor in class (where being a professor gives her power in a classroom context, but being a female means she is disadvantaged outside the classroom) trying to teach about race and racism to diverse students, who, with their intersectional identities, have more and less power depending on the context. This article was honest about complexity in ways I felt neither Freire nor Giroux were in the books I had read at the time, and it enabled me to imagine critical pedagogy in the classroom. At the time, I didn’t understand this as intersectionality, but as a research methodology called feminist poststructuralist critique, and I decided to follow it from then on, and I have used her approach a few times (see this article using Ellsworth’s title and applied to web-based cross cultural dialogue; and this one about my own failures in teaching with critical pedagogy at first).

The next author to really inspire me was bell hooks and the way her writing about critical pedagogy was accessible, and her very unique take as a black woman, that combination of being black and a woman and NOT choosing one or the other but BOTH. I also remember lots of moments of enlightenment from bell hooks‘ writing, such as how the idea of “liberating the oppressor” which Freire mentions, can actually apply in the relationships of women with men who oppress them because gender oppression in society cannot be fixed by empowering women alone (see hooks’ The Will to Change).


Throughout all of this, I don’t remember when I was introduced to the term intersectionality or how it eventually stuck with me. But I know that I had started using a term “semi-privileged” which is closely related to intersectionality but recognizes the particular situation where some elements of one’s identity can make one privileged in certain contexts but some not. It’s also a recognition of how something like the internet is only potentially empowering to the semi-privileged and not to the least privileged of us.

Throughout all of this, I never read Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality (I did eventually and then I started assigning it in class).

Side Point: My Intersectionality

I came up with that term semi-privileged to refer to myself in academia. I’m an academic, privileged social class, Western educated throughout my life, fluent in English, and this all gives me privilege in my country. However, I am a woman, with all the disadvantages society bestows up on me for being one, and I am Egyptian, so even though I am privileged within my country, I am not privileged within the global academic landscape. In particular, it is difficult for me to go to conferences, which are really important for developing social capital. And so I am privileged enough to be digitally literate and comfortable with social media, and so Twitter (where I now live, basically) and Virtually Connecting (which I co-founded) have afforded me ways to develop my social capital while sitting in my living room at home!

I work at the American University in Cairo, a private American-style institution, so it’s a privileged space with mostly privileged students. But we all have our hybridity and intersectionality. For example, the more Westernized you are, the more influenced you are by cultural imperialism and the more disturbing it is to think about your postcolonial self and circumstances. I work at an American institution where I am a second class citizen because I am not American. I have to teach in English and (most of) my students and I are completely aware that we are actually more fluent in English than Arabic, we are aware of our hybridity and how we are neither fully Arab Egyptians. But we also talk about how, for example, wearing a headscarf in the streets is useful to blend into the culture but on campus may not be seen as much of a privilege because of how people might interpret your reasons for wearing it, but never really ask you to your face. We also talk about the ways Christians are marginalized in Egypt these days, but how on campus they are mostly not, and how if they lived in the West they would not be. We talk about how Muslim men are the majority in our society but when they travel abroad they are likely to get detained in airports for inexplicable reasons because of their identity but not anything in particular they have done. So yeah. Intersectionality is something we talk about and live with a lot. Students particularly appreciate the modified privilege walk role play activity we do which demonstrates that.

Not a Good Moment: What I Didn’t Know

I was teaching a track with Kate Bowles at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in 2017 and someone asked about intersectionality. There were several black women in the room. I remember answering the question and mentioning Ellsworth, then asking one of the black female participants to talk about Crenshaw. I now feel horrible about this. I should have started by inviting one of the black women to discuss Crenshaw. I remember stumbling over Crenshaw’s name, because I was guilty of not having read her. I should not have painted myself as an authority on the term, when I wasn’t. I so wasn’t. Sure, I lived with intersectionality, but the expert was the one who coined it, Crenshaw, and she was talking specifically about the intersectionality of being a black woman in America. 

More of What I Didn’t Know

Other things I learned recently which helped shape my views of intersectionality and social justice are the work of Patricia Collins (I learned of this through the work of Sasha Costanza-Chock on Design Justice), and Nancy Fraser (I learned of this via the work of Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams on applying it to Research on OER for Development). Patricia Collins is the one who identifies the Axes of Oppression (aka matrix of domination) including white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy and settler colonialism. This work is apparently what Crenshaw later expanded into her work on intersectionality. I do think the axes of oppression misses things like ableism and prioritizes settler colonialism over cultural imperialism, but I think it opened room for looking at all the different dimensions of oppression and their intersections.

Nancy Fraser’s work is also really important in seeing a multidimensional view of social justice. Fraser identifies social justice along three dimensions: economics, culture and politics. She also differentiates between surface reform (which she calls affirmative) and structural reform (which she calls transformative).

Fraser’s work is important to see in light of axes of oppression and intersectionality, as we can look at a particular context and see what kinds of injustice and oppression are occurring, and how these might be addressed. It becomes clear why certain reforms do not go far enough, or can instead actually cause more harm than good, because they use single-axis interpretations of problems (e.g. economic) and attempt to reform them without accounting for others. One example I’m reading about now is from Serene Khader’s work on decolonizing universalism, and how Western notions of feminism have misinterpreted the oppression of women in non-Western cultures through their modernist Western idealist lens, and in doing so, ignored differences in context and culture, eventually doing more harm than good. I guess the important parts missing in these actions are viewing the multiple axes beyond gender oppression, but also focusing only on the liberation of women, or removal of sexual oppression, without looking at the entire society in which women exist, and what other kinds of oppression and injustice need to be addressed and prioritized. 

And this is where Nancy Fraser’s work is really important where she talks about the importance of participatory parity – that the women we aim to empower should themselves participate fully in decision-making on what their priorities should be, what solutions they want, how they want to implement them, and how to evaluate the success or lack thereof. Any external person parachuting in with solutions would risk being colonizing or indoctrinating. As Serene Khader writes “Sometimes solutions solve problems. Sometimes they go in search of them. And sometimes they deflect attention from what the problems really are.” And ignoring multiple axes of oppression, ignoring intersectionality, leads to deflecting attention from what the real problems are.

Importantly, though, we need to recognize what we know from capability theory: first, that one’s surrounding environment can limit someone’s capacity to practice what they are capable of (e.g. you can give a woman a particular skill to work, but if their town does not employ women at all, how will they benefit from it – see the work of Nussbaum on “Combined Capability”). Second, we must recognize that marginalized people, when given agency and choice, may not be able, at first, to make good choices because of the hegemony of the dominant worldview narrowing their vision on what is possible for them (see Walker and Unterhalter).

Even More of What I Didn’t Know

And then came Parisa’s post yesterday, where she critiques an article by a white man trying to appropriate intersectionality. 

In Parisa’s post, she reminds us that Crenshaw insists that “intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where *power* comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects“ (source: Click here) and I realized that sometimes, in the midst of discussing intersectional identities, power is not something I speak about explicitly. And I need to do that, because as Parisa writes “not all intersections of identity are equal” and just to recognize everyone’s multiplicity and hybridity without highlighting which people are “furthest from justice” is to miss the original intentions of Crenshaw in developing the term intersectionality. And I intend to never make that mistake again, but I know I will keep making mistakes and keep on growing.

Another Side Point

An American white male colleague recently asked me if I see myself as a person of color. And I told him it depends on context. I am technically Caucasian and considered on the fair side in my society, but I am not treated as white in a Western context. Sometimes when I wear a wool cap instead of a headscarf I can pass for Spanish, Mexican, Turkish, but with a headscarf and with my nationality I was a minority when I lived in the US and UK, and I used to *regularly* get stopped for so-called *random* checks at airports. But I get invited to keynote conferences and I am extremely welcomed by my academic peers at events. My friends give up alcohol for a night to be able to go out with me and my family on conference evenings. And I bask in all of this even when I can easily tell I am one of a handful of headscarved women, handful of Muslims, in a large conference. But I’m a privileged minority, I’m semi-privileged. My privilege or lack thereof is highly contextual. And I will only now speak of it as intersectional when I make the power dimension of it explicit.

Dr. Maha Bali

Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She has a PhD in Education from the University of Sheffield, UK. She is co-founder of and co-facilitator of Equity Unbound. She blogs at and tweets @bali_maha

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

“No News Is Good News”

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.

I wake up. Still trying to remember the dream I had last night. It was something about my mum. Can’t quite remember it, but I know she was there, and my newly born niece too. She was there too. I close my eyes a bit longer trying to keep the dream, live in it if possible, but it’s fading away.

I open my eyes, and check my phone. No goodnight message from my mum. It’s the fourth night that she hasn’t sent me a goodnight message. I check her WhatsApp. “last seen Saturday”. I check Iran’s time. It’s barely four in the morning there. She must be asleep. They all must be asleep. And “fine”. I repeat it again. They’re “fine”. They have to be. I remember the Farsi proverb “No news is good news”. If there is no news it means nothing bad has happened. I have NO news but I know something bad has happened.

Have to push these thoughts away. I have to submit the first draft of my thesis today. That should be my primary focus. But how?

I drink my coffee. I try to eat something but I have no appetite with everything that’s going on. I check my Instagram. Still no news from home. I check my family and friends’ Instagram pages over and over and over. I check my mum’s. I look at her posts. Read the comments she’s written. Over and over and over.

I look at my husband. No need to exchange words. We’re both desperate for any news of our family and friends. Both wondering, both probably thinking the worst but wouldn’t dare to say them out loud. Try to comfort each other, say that of course it’s fine, but deep down wondering if the dead or the injured are someone we know.

I read the news. No major news media is talking about Iran. Did Iran stop existing on the map after the internet was shut down? Is it how we exist? By internet?

I look at the few videos from Iran. People running, screaming. I can even recognize some of the streets. This is all the news I’ve got. I wish there were more.

I get ready. Have to go to university to submit my thesis. I walk out. Look around. So calm. No protests going on. People living their everyday lives. Right! The protests are happening only on my phone, not in my real life. Here, everything is normal. No one cares about what’s happening in Iran. Why should they?

I do the last editing of my thesis. Have to print it out and submit it soon. I’m so stressed. I want to talk to my mum, her calming voice is all I need. I need to tell her that I’m stressed, so she could tell me to read a verse of the Quran that she knows would calm me down. And I cry a bit, so she could tell me to relax and that none of this matters and all will be good at the end. But I can’t. The internet is shut down. And I can only call her on her cellphone. And I don’t know if she’s up or not. I don’t want to wake her up if she’s asleep.

I do the last editing and print it out. I look at my thesis. I’d promised my dad I’ll send him a photo of it when it’s done. He was so proud of every tiny step I’ve taken. When I got accepted, when I sent him my GPA, when I got the scholarship, every article I’ve published. He was involved. He was far away in Iran, but he was involved. He was pushing me forward. I want to send him the photo. But I can’t. The internet is shut down.

It’s almost 9:30 in Iran. I have to hear their voices. I try calling their cellphones. I try LINE, it’s not working, I try Pinnacle, not working. I try Skype and finally after five times trying, he answers.

-“Hello?” I hear my dad’s calm voice.

-“Hi, Dad!” Oh! What a relief! He’s alright. Alhamdullilah! “How are you?”

-“We’re fine, everything’s fine”

-“How about the protests?”

-“Oh, it’s over. And nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

I hear a pause.

– “Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

-“I’m glad to hear that”

-“Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”


-“Nothing major has happened. We’re fine. And everything is back to normal.”

I keep hearing his voice repeating over and over. Oh, another connection bug. Pointless. I hang up. Maybe I try again later.

Can’t stop worrying. I think of my mum picking up my nephew from school, my dad walking with my niece in the park, my sister driving back home from work…. What if something happens? What if….. “No news is good news.”

I check the time. I should submit my thesis. I feel so lonely. But how can I explain that even though I talked to my parents a minute ago, I still miss them? I still feel the seven thousand kilometer distance, a distance that was a lot easier to forget when I could see their faces while talking to them. When I could talk for hours whenever I miss them. No, that short phonecall did not help, it just made me feel more lonely. I push away the tears.

Done! I’ve submitted my thesis. I should feel accomplished, I should feel happy. But I don’t. I still have too much pain in my heart to feel anything else.

We go out to celebrate. It’s big, I did submit my thesis. But I’m not in a celebratory mood. We go to our favorite restaurant for dinner. We laugh. Maybe even for a minute we’re happy, forgetting the reality.

But how can it be a reality if it’s happening only on my phone? Which one is “my” reality? My peaceful routine life here or the one filled with fire and protests?

I am not at all affected by any of it. I’m living my privileged normal life here on this side of the globe. My family and friends are all fine, living their normal life. Everything is fine. But I’m not.

I walk around the city, looking at all the Christmas decorations. Kids running around, parents telling them not to. Everything as normal as it can be.

But I can’t stop thinking about home. My home. My reality.

Marzie Khalilian 

Marzie Khalilian is a master’s student of International Public Policy at Osaka University, Japan. She holds a BA in Japanese Language and Literature. She teaches English to Young Learners in Japan. Her research interests include politics in the Middle East and Africa, media studies, gender studies, and cultural studies.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

The Late Chaos of a Painful Night: A Poetic Narrative of a Huwo

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.


I know Behnaz from Book City located in central Tehran, Iran where we took some classes and participated in events on literary criticism and joined reading circles to read critically together.

When I started Women of Color in ELT movement, I contacted Behnaz. Here is our conversation:

Me: Do you identify yourself as a Woman of Color? If yes, join Women of Color in ELT.

Behnaz: I’ve never thought about it. I am whiter than my British and Belgian colleagues. Women of Color is a term to colonize women as nowadays to colonize, you do not necessarily need to physically occupy lands. Such terms can do that for you.

Me: I see your point although I use this term in a different way.

Behnaz: So, what’s your opinion on the term Women of Color?

Me: I believe this term can unify all women experiencing multiple layers of marginalization with race, ethnicity, and/or skin color. It will help us come together to build collective power for equity and systemic change. I believe together we can dismantle white supremacy and racism in ELT.

Behnaz: The thing is when you call yourself a Woman of Color, you have accepted oppression and then you want to resist and stand up against it.

Me: [Her critical comments reminded me of this article: The Problem with ‘People of Color’: It Implies Whiteness Is the Default where Kay Gilbert agrees with Nadra Widatalla on the fact that the term People of Color erases black people and she would retire the term for a different but related reason: “It privileges whiteness.”] I do understand what you mean and that is why I am ready to change this term if I find a better one. I not only acknowledge these concerns, but I myself am critical of this term. For now, I am using Women of Color as a unifying term.

After our critical discussion, Behnaz added her name to the database of Women of Color in ELT, and after a while, she contacted me and said she would like to share her story.

Here is a poetic journey to her story of confronting her past and the pain she has silently carried with her for years:

“The Late Chaos of a Painful Night”

“آشوب پسين شبي پر درد”

Followed by a poem about being a woman from her narrative both in English and Persian.

Her mesmerizing voice will touch your heart and soul.

Peace, radical love, and revolutionary hope,

The Late Chaos of a Painful Night

I still remember the old, long stairs of my granny’s house;  with its dark brown coating and thick, low walls that surrounded them and were our childhood spiral slide away from the eyes of the elderlies; away from the others, an elderly who turned the slides into the slaughterhouse and sealed my body and soul forever with pain. My mother said: “shush! Don’t breathe a word, don’t go there, don’t do this…” and I wonder should I be blamed for these harassments, is it my delinquency to play around my own bloodline?

The night of adolescence befell by trusting the air and injected fear and wound into my every cell, “shush! Otherwise…” and there was I, sitting in slimy concussion and a blade awaiting death without any objection, not shedding a tear, neither screaming, nor begging for help.

I grew up in my loneliness with a mind-blowing number of unanswered questions, intuitively discovering my instincts. Hatred of femininity and the way of human intermingling became persistent nausea. A gradual death like a carcass which required meat-devouring worms to degrade and a decadence befalls me.


That man came. A masculine who set my boundaries into the fire, taught and fed me the carnal pleasure; yet again it was HIM who defined me, though I was a woman, a ‘huwo’ [1].

Carnal pleasure by others that if it is for me, it would be prostitution and promiscuity which deserves abandonment and the scarlet letter endurance, that deserve to be treated like a dirty tissue to clean their slimy-prostitution and eradicated by them who becomes unwomanly born angels whose love only bestows on the other as if your body was only a public lavatory honoured by their filth.

And love that never was, never is; a mirage and a whirlpool; barren hands and eyes filled with tears, gazing upon the deserted road gone with the wind and a hole that has been punched through my chest.

Behnaz Amani
21 June 2019

آشوب پسين شبي پر درد
The Late Chaos Of A Painful Night (in Persian)

I sing myself to the acid rain of a pain-bruised city
Are you listening?
I, a woman suffering from a dementia of getting rid of myself
Walk through all the bloody and strange backstreets of this sinister thought
Till I’m back to the melancholic womb of my creator
Till I’m back to the late chaos of a painful night
That the heavy apparition of a moon slither on my naked body.
I, a woman like a one thousand years wine
Surrendered in the opium breaths of an out of history crypt
Make a vow to all the ancient herbs,
Stomping to the dance of wheat
There that I’ve been stolen to the Hades’ embrace
Till the earth round on My circuit
Till months and years, become the plaything of coquetry of My eyes
That My eyes bewitched the high stature of Olympus
There that the fiery lust
Galloping and dancing on the figure of inevitable fate of humane

Yes, I, a woman lost in breeze
Singing the elegy of this earth’s refugees
With love….

Behnaz Amani
30 December 2015

Neither a separationist nor a racist, I’m just a woman, a “Huwo”[1] who wants to share her story with the people of the world to hear theirs. I fell in love with literature this treacherous mistress of all who sucks the life out of your veins and gives despair when I was a teenager. To be a Nobel Prize winner was my ambition, yet growing up made me realize that being a voice requires accomplishments greater than just a prize. It needs courage beyond doubts to accept your loneliness in your life journey and wisdom to be the sole reliance.

A Ph.D. candidate in English literature, who had studied interior architecture and design as well. A fine art photography model, poet, and writer who believes in kindness and understanding. Tries her best to be supportive of those in need and hates lies and infidelity.

[1] Human – woman. Since both of these terms have ‘man’ as their essential components, I thought omitting that and converging the two remaining parts would give us a sense of emphasis on femininity.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives. 
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.

Give Them Voice: Tanzanian Girls in Primary & Secondary Schools by Catherine Njau

The views expressed in blogposts are the author(s)’s own and do not necessarily reflect WOC in ELT’s stance.


I got to know Catherine Njau through TESOL Social Responsibility Interest Group. When I started Women of Color in ELT movement, I shared it with her, and now she is one of the active members of this movement.

We usually chat with each other and share what we do in our classrooms. I am always fascinated by the love and passion Catherine brings to her classes.

Here is the story of the organization, Kuleana, she has founded in Tanzania to liberate girls by making them understand their human rights and by helping them develop their potential for their liberation.

Peace, radical love, and revolutionary hope,


Give Them Voice: Tanzanian Girls in Primary and Secondary Schools

In Tanzania which consists of 120 tribes speaking their own vernacular languages and practicing different cultures and customs, girls are facing different challenges when it comes to the time of menstruation.

Most of the tribes have their own taboos regarding menstruation. For example, a Chagga girl is not allowed to pick vegetables during their period; a Sukuma girl is not allowed to touch and wash utensils until her period finishes. These are some examples of taboos which discriminate girls during their period.

Apart from these discriminatory acts against girls, adults and even leaders do not speak about menstruation as they feel ashamed to speak about it openly, so girls do not get enough and quality education about their body changes and menstruation hygiene.

Due to lack of proper education and poverty, girls use unclean products during their periods such as cow duck, rags, toilet papers, leaves, and barks of trees. Buying disposable sanitary pads is not affordable for many of these girls. This makes them stay at home for three to seven days and as a result they miss their education while boys are still proceeding with their education.

The Kuleana organization is a group of teachers who join together to speak about this issue. This idea was generated when I worked as a counterpart with Peace Corp volunteer, Riah Werner, and we tried to solve this problem by distributing re-usable sanitary pads from one of the organizations in Kenya known as Huru International after attending a workshop held by this organization.

After the distribution of the pads, the demand was so high that I asked for grant from the USA Embassy and got one. The challenge was how to transport the pads from Kenya to Tanzania as the taxation was so high. I then decided to think and produce re-usable sanitary pads and distribute them among the girls. The quality of the products was satisfying and many girls were happy and shared positive feedback. Since 2011 to the present, the Kuleana organization has successfully distributed 5000 Waridi Kit bags in many parts of the region.

The current challenge that the organization is facing is lack of grant to proceed with our products. We have all the necessary equipment. What we lack is materials and labor charge.

Based on my observation, this project has had some positive outcomes. Many girls come to school during their periods and they feel comfortable. The problem of early pregnancy has been decreased. Also, the performance of these girls at school has increased. Boys have also benefited from this project as they have learned about life skills and body changes, and they have become aware of different challenges that girls face and try to help them instead of laughing at them unlike before.

The group members of the Kuleana organization are trying to increase education in many parts of Tanzania and they regularly meet with all groups in the country such as children with disabilities, parents, mentors, and teachers.

We hope more people who wish to support this project join Kuleana so that many more girls and boys can develop awareness and confidence to live empowered. You can donate to this project here.

In this video, Catherine is teaching students about body changes and menstruation at Lyakirimu secondary school located in Moshi district, Kilimanjaro region, in Tanzania.

Catherine Njau is a secondary school English language teacher in Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania where she was born and raised. Catherine is currently a student at the Open University of Tanzania studying Linguistics and Literature. She has earned several certificates in online English courses. Catherine is a regional coordinator of Tanzania English Language Teachers Association, which is an affiliate of TESOL. She has been employed in a government’s secondary school and she has been teaching English there for 15 years. Apart from teaching, she has participated in various educational activities. She coordinated life skills and debate programs at her school. She has served as a primary counterpart for two different Peace Corps volunteers from America and volunteered for two English Teachers Training Programs. She has also participated in English Volunteer Training in her school and contributed to Maua Mazuri Project by helping create bilingual training manuals for arts-based girls’ empowerment workshops.

Catherine Njau on Facebook and Instagram.

We, Women of Color in ELT, have powerful stories to share. Our stories can help us heal and empower ourselves and our collectives.
Check here to share your story if you choose to do so.