How Many Skin Cells Have You Shed Today?

 A Prompt for Personal Reflection


by Ivy Tirok, United World College Maastricht
July 5th, 2018


Your wardrobe hosts new clothes. Old ones: crumpled up, packed up, swapped in shops. Swap shops. Discard the second-hand clothes bought at the flea ridden, flea market. Forget the discounted pants haggled over from the seller desperate to make ends meet. Disregard the damage already done to the textile industry in your homeland. Your body consents only to Zara and Hilfiger; designer. America Today, each day, making your donation to the stagnation in your native land.
a
Your hands are quick to grip your borrowed iPhone. Your old Nokia with poor camera quality has been stored away. Only the best to capture life moments, share them on social media and try to prove to the world that you have a life. You have no life. Scroll away at queues, on the toilet, over conversations… Scroll… Compare… Scroll… Compare… A cycle, like the rat race: inexorable and self-defeating.
a
Your tongue lost its former respect. When you speak to your professors, you refer to them by their first name, analogous to how your mum addressed you when she scolded you for your notoriety.
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You are equals; you must revere them.
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You are friends; you must maintain boundaries.
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Your soul, sold to the world, must explore foreign flames. You embrace diversity. Your heart must court the Dutch man with Argentinian roots; your time must be spent on the American, the Chinese alike; your fantasies must entail the Australian who grew up in Malawi. You must lust for things dissimilar, so that for a moment, though brief, you may abandon your background.
a
Your hands grab a croissant, two… make that three and add Nutella. You readily gobble down foods in excess while discussing ways to promote sustainability and end world hunger. Blinded, you cannot see the log in your eye. Your actions speak too loud for your voice to be heard.
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Your name misplaced a part of itself. Presently, it reads ‘Ivy Tirok’. Forget ‘Jepsergon’. Too difficult to enunciate. Too traditional. Superfluous. Unnecessary.
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Your language, an unexercised muscle, loses her strength. Your tongue says it is Swahili, not Kiswahili. Swahili is fashionable. Exotic. The wisdom passed onto generations through your language slips away from your hand like shadows into darkness. “Mwacha mila ni mtumwa.” “He that abandons his culture is a slave.” You forget.
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Your eyes fixate on your phone screen. They have grown too shy to maintain eye contact in conversations. Verbal communication lost its touch. Need to pass a message? Send it via the protected view.
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Your value system has been modified. Patience is a foreign concept. Delayed gratification? A thing of the past. Television series must be released in seasons to allow for binge-watching; laundry must be done in a jiffy; feedback must be given without delay; emails must be responded to ASAP! You call it efficiency. When did you make the uneconomical exchange of long-term satisfaction for instant gratification?
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Your hands dig deeper into your pockets; even deeper into your friends’ and family’s pockets. You must have the latest brands: primer, eyeliner, concealer. Conceal. Conceal the hoax that is the temperament you portray.
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Margaret Atwood aptly phrased it, ‘Change is like a gradually heating bathtub, you get burned before realizing it.’ As for the answer to how many skin cells you have shed today, scientists estimate the value at about one million. Similarly, ask yourself, how much of your identity have you unconsciously stripped away and traded in for one which is subpar.

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