We are kicking off our South Asian women bloggers profiles with Samar EsapZai. Samar is ethnically Pashtun, she is a visual artist and a PhD student in international rural development and gender studies and currently lives in Canada. Her interests include food, travel, intelligent debates, and spending quality time with her best friend — her husband — and her beautiful baby girl. She is currently writing her first book.
When did you start blogging? And is there a Why?
I guess the real question should be: When did you start writing? I have been writing since I was eleven years old, from personal journals to poems to short stories to novels even! However, to answer your question, I didn’t start an official blog until early 2009. The reason I decided to start a blog was because I’d newly discovered WordPress and was quite intrigued by it. And, also, mostly because I love to write. A lot. And a blog gave me the opportunity to do that, openly and freely, without the need to adhere to any rules or boundaries. Here was a chance to express myself anyway I wanted, whenever I wanted, with just a click of the “publish” button. Blogging, in a nutshell, allows me the opportunity to have my voice heard; in its true, honest and raw form. No rehashing whatsoever.
Before blogging, however, I was very active in forums and wrote most of my stuff, by hand, in a journal. Writing has always been my love; my passion. And to finally start my own blog, where I would get the opportunity to share my writings publicly, was something quite new and exciting for me (at the time). Needless to say, it was the best decision ever. It’s been five years now, and my blog now receives over 200+ hits per day with close to a 100 email subscribers. Never had I imagined that I’d actually have such a wide array of readership that arrive on my blog, from all over the world! It’s quite incredible, to say the least
Describe your blog and what it means to you as an artist and activist?
When I first started my blog, my intention was simple: to have a platform where it would make it easier to write about things that are very near and dear to me. One such thing was discussing everything there was about my people: Pashtuns. However, the more I blogged and the more readers I attained, the more I realized that I needed to broaden my topic horizon. While I was, and still am, very passionate about Pashtun-related issues, especially with regards to gender and development, and still doggedly write about them, I felt it was also important to add a little bit of a personal touch to my blog, while at the same time keeping it formal and academic. Therefore, I pretty much share everything on my blog: my poems, links to my artwork, personal reflections and travelling experiences, etc. I know that many blogs tend to have a theme of some sort, but mine doesn’t for I don’t believe in limiting myself as a blogger and certainly not as a writer.
As a visual artist, academic, and human rights activist, my blog serves as a platform where I get a chance to write and shed light on issues from each of the above three categories that I feel defines me as a person — as a human being and most importantly, as a woman. I write and share writings that are not only in tune with my artistic side, but are also related to my academic and philanthropic work as well; hence the title of my blog. I feel that blogging serves as a wonderful platform to allow me to showcase my personality and individuality to the world, without the need to be standoffish or arrogant. Hence, for me, blogging is both humbling and therapeutic, just like my art. Additionally, writing about issues that are deeply close to my heart gives me a sense of purpose — a sense of great responsibility. And while I strongly believe in the saying: “Action speaks louder than words,” I have also come to realize how incredibly powerful the written word can be; how it can serve as a podium for good things to transpire. Just knowing that is a beautiful feeling.
What inspires you to write and blog?
Everything! Everything inspires me: from the stuff I read in the news to things I learn about in school to conversations/discussions with friends and loved ones to the daily occurrings in my life. I try to draw inspiration from it all, because it is only then that I am able to write about fresh, new, unique and interesting topics.
How does your art meet your writing? Do they feed into each other or are they separate creative processes?
Passion: this is how my writing meets my art. Indeed there have been many a time where I’ve married my art to my writing, especially when it came to topics related to the treatment of women (both in general and in my culture) and Pashtuns (in general). Additionally, I feel that my writing inspires some of my art, especially when I write poetry, which is, in itself, a form of written art as well.
Is there a piece of writing you are most proud of? Why? (And please share )
Oh, gosh. That’s a tough question! There are quite a few pieces that are special and endearing to me and it would be unfair to pick one over the other. However, if I really, really had to choose, I’d say that my most prized piece is an article I wrote titled, “On The Issue Of Walwar (Bride Price)And Marriage Among Pashtuns” . It’s actually one of my most popular pieces — if not the popular — to date!
When I initially wrote this article, I was a little hesitant in sharing it as I did not have prior knowledge about the term “walwar,” which means bride price in the Pashto language. I recall initially discussing the topic with a few acquaintances and friends over Twitter, which hence inspired and encouraged me to research deeper into it, going as far as writing a full-length article on it. To my surprise, it was very well-received, especially by those (fellow Pashtuns) who truly understood the essence of my argument and what a huge problem walwar is in our culture; it even elicited a highly informative and interesting discussion on my blog. And, though I wrote this article about a year and a half ago, it still receives the most hits and ongoing commentary from new blog visitors.
What have your experiences connecting with other women bloggers over the interwebs been like? (please feel free to describe positives and negatives)
I’ve actually met some of the most amazing women bloggers through my own blog! There were a few wonderful women who’d shared a comment on a post I’d written, which then gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each other; while others have contacted me personally (through my contact page on my blog) by introducing themselves and then telling me how they love reading my blog and how much it inspires them. It’s both flattering and humbling at the same time; to know that I have the capability to bring joy into someone else’s life simply through my writings. It’s an incredible feeling, no doubt. Others, I’ve met through social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, and with whom I, too, have become very good friends. I was even fortunate enough to met a couple of these women bloggers in person and it didn’t feel like we were meeting for the first time; the rapport was instantaneous!
Hmmm. There haven’t been a lot of negatives, I’d say; for the most part, my experience with other fellow women bloggers have been quite wonderful. We’re all pretty much friends and acquaintances who respect and admire each other for all our similarities and differences. And even though I believe that this is how it should be, it’s not always the case necessarily. Yet, my being a generally positive person, I avoid and refrain from every and all sorts of negativity that happens to come my way. You could even say I have become immune to it.
Who are some of your favorite bloggers and what are some of you favorite blogs?
Ahhh! There are too many! I do actually have a list of them on my blog here: sesapzai.wordpress.com
Three things every woman blogger must know?
Just three?😉 The blogging world is huge! It’s a community all on its own. Over the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve learned quite a few things that have allowed me to become a better, more effective blogger. My top three are as follows:
1) Don’t be shy. In other words, don’t shy away from topics that you feel will give people a chance to judge, criticize, or think negatively of you. Let people think whatever they want. It hardly matters anyway. Besides, this is the reason why we all have a blog. It’s supposed to provoke and invoke; it’s supposed to include topics that challenge common norms and beliefs. It’s your voice and your voice only. So, let it be heard, loud and clear.
2) Be original. I cannot stress this enough. No one wants to read a blog full of false facts or plagiarized content. It just undermines the purpose of having a blog in the first place. Of course, you are free and more than welcome to share other people’s articles on your blog; however, ensure you reference and give them their due credit.
3) Keep it simple and honest. Don’t try so hard to impress by writing about topics that are beyond your realm of understanding. I mean it’s okay to challenge yourself and write about topics in which your knowledge is limited; however, ensure that you do your research, speak and discuss the topic with people who do know more about it, and then perhaps write your own analysis or interpretation of it.
Samar blogs at SesapZai – Artist. Academic. Philanthropist and tweets at @sesapzai
Her art portfolio can be accessed here: http://www.artifolio.com/Sesapzai/gallery/
Like her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SesapZaiArt