Excerpt of the Day: Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is perhaps one of the most beautiful fantasy novels I’ve ever read. It contains sharp observations of the human mind and heart in a manner expected of a literary novel, however it’s an adventure containing librarians, scholars, magic, dreamers and strange enemies.

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It is an incredibly unique Young Adult Fantasy novel, which incorporates original concepts in a breathtakingly fresh manner, the story weaved with such true emotion and wit that it seems real, allowing the reader to fall into the lush world Taylor has created . The quality of writing is amongst the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The thoughts, desires and experiences of the protagonist, Lazlo Strange, are enough to touch any heart and fill it with wonder, joy and, yes, the longing to dream just a little more fearlessly.

Lazlo Strange is a war orphan and junior librarian. He has been obsessed with the mythic city of Weep since he was five years old, but it would take someone much bolder to make his way across half the world in search of it. But then a stunning opportunity presents itself and he gets the chance to travel to Weep with a band of legendary warriors passing through his hometown, and he seizes the chance to make his dream come true. Everything that unfolds from that moment on in a pure adventure, full of unexpected turns, wonders and magic.

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 An excerpt from page 14-15. 

“Some manuscript were expected at the Great Library of Zosma, and Lazlo was charged to deliver them.

He never came back.

The Great Library was no mere place to keep books. It was a walled city for poets and astronomers and every shade of thinker in between. It encompassed not only the vast archives, but the university, too, together with laboratories and glasshouses, medical theatres and music rooms, and even a celestial observatory. All this occupied what had been the royal palace before the current queen’s grandfather built a finer one straddling the Eder and gifted this one to the Scholars’ Guild. It ranged across the top of Zosimos Ridge, which knifed up from Zosma City like a shark’s fin, and was visible from miles away.

Lazlo was in a state of awe from the moment he passed through the gates. His mouth actually fell open when he saw the Pavillion of Thought. That was the grandiose name for the ballroom that now housed the library’s philosophy texts. Shelves rose forty feet under an astonishing painted ceiling, and the spines of books glowed in jewel-toned leather, their gold leaf shining in the glavelight like animal eyes. The glaves themselves were perfect polished spheres, hanging by the hundreds and emitting a purer white light than he’d ever seen from the rough, ruddy stones that lit the abbey. Men in gray robes rode upon wheeled ladders, seeming to float through the air, scrolls flapping behind them like wings as they rolled from shelf to shelf.

It was impossible that he should leave this place. He was like a traveler in an enchanted wood. Every step deeper bewitched him further, and deeper he did go, from room to room as though guided by instinct, down secret stairs to a sublevel where dust lay thick on books undisturbed for years. He disturbed them. It seemed to him that he awoke them, and they awoke him.”

We Deserve to Know what’s really Happening in Aid Projects: the Fight for Greater Transparency in Aid

Transparency will make aid much more effective  

If we wish to see the effective, accountable use of aid throughout the world, we need to push for greater transparency.

We are living in an age of astonishing global inequality. Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world are living in extreme poverty while the number of billionaires has never been higher. There is a lot of work being done by NGOs, charities and governmental organisations to deliver aid and funds to those in need. However, many aid organisations have been accused of misusing or misplacing funds in the past and this highlights the severe importance of increasing the transparency of where funds are being invested. This is just one of the many reasons we must push for greater regulations and practices promoting open data standards for global aid.

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Greater transparency will enable us to achieve higher levels of aid effectiveness and create a culture of accountability. The World Bank’s Sanctions and Suspension Office, which keeps track of cases related to aid, found extensive evidence of fraud and corruption. In fact, in between 2007 and 2012, investigations unveiled that fraud or corruption existed in 157 contracts worth $245 million. Of course, we must note the hidden figure of crime in such statistics and acknowledge the corruption that remains undiscovered. The Center for Global Development state that if we spend more time tracing the usage and dissemination of aid funding, we will be able to tackle corruption effectively. Thus, if we wish to see effective, accountable use of aid throughout the world, we need to push for greater transparency.

Women are suffering and we need aid transparency to ensure the right work is being done in the right places

Women’s economic empowerment is essential to decreasing poverty globally, and aid organisations must be transparent and held accountable for their funding in such areas.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty globally. They are much more likely than men to be deprived of education, food, sanitary equipment, paid work and healthcare. According to Oxford International, women are affected by poverty more deeply than men in the form of unpaid care work, lack of decent work, lower wages and longer workdays. Gender inequality in the economy costs women in the developing world approximately $9 trillion every year. If aid was delivered to girls and women effectively, actively providing them with education, healthcare and enabling their employment in safe environments, entire communities, families and economies could be uplifted. For this reason, the United Nations has listed gender equality as an important Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) if we wish to create a more equal, peaceful and prosperous world.

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Abundant evidence suggests that countries with higher levels of gender equality tend to have much lower levels of poverty and stronger economies. For instance, in Latin America, the increase of women coming into paid employment from 2000-2010 led to a 30% decrease in poverty. Thus, women’s economic empowerment is essential to decreasing poverty globally, and aid organisations must be transparent and held accountable for their funding in such areas. In order to enact effective change through aid, we must have a solid evidence-base on how much is being spent on gender-related aid projects and what areas the funding is being allocated to. Furthermore, there must also be follow-up reports, statistics and data which highlight the effectiveness of varying gender equality projects. This will empower aid organisations with the knowledge of where greater funding in required, what techniques are ineffective and what aspects of aid have proven to be highly useful.

The work that is being done to create greater aid transparency

Publish What You Fund found there was little information on aid that could be used for effective decision-making, leading onto the risk of donors duplicating efforts in some areas and leaving others under-funded.

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In October 2011, a non-profit organisation, Publish What You Fund, created the Pilot Aid Transparency Index in order to implement the systematic assessment of aid transparency. Publish What You Fund found there was little information on aid that could be used for effective decision-making, leading onto the risk of donors duplicating efforts in some areas and leaving others under-funded. Furthermore, this lack of information also meant that donors weren’t being held accountable and civil society was largely uninformed of what resources were coming into their country, even though they have the right to have access to such information.

In 2016, after five years of the creation of the Aid Transparency Index, Publish What You Fund found that there was a 25% increase in the transparency standard of aid. Furthermore, by June 2020, the Aid Transparency Index showed significant improvement in aid donors’ transparency in comparison to 2018. This tells us that the efforts to make aid more transparent are moving in the right direction and the work of organisations such as Publish What You Fund is integral in this movement.

The global fight to tackle gender inequality is intimately linked to the fight for aid transparency, and we must push for greater transparency if we wish to have access to accurate information on aid figures, statistics, reports and effectiveness. Whether we are ordinary citizens, aid organisations or governmental institutions, we have the right to see, trace and understand the effectiveness of the aid that is being disseminated by aid organisations globally.

 

A Poem: Ageing Aches

oldhnads

forgiveness is no longer a choice.
it is a given,
for there is no other way left
to live.
so close to the end of the
longest walk.
all you have left to give
is goodness and hope,
and all the memories that crawl from
the folds of your aching skin and
latch onto those who once held
such firm hands
are like sunlight caressing the
curves of a tree that
withstood endless seasons and tides,
that has yet so much life to give,
and yet has nothing to give at all

Excerpt of the day

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We can all talk. The challenge? Getting people to listen.

Your ability to influence others, build your career, and achieve your personal goals is dependent on how effectively you communicate and engage with people.

And here’s both a harsh and sad fact. Some people have values and views many would find offensive. But they get heard. They get noticed. Not simply because of what they believe, but because of how well they communicate their message. Criminals and politicians can manipulate minds because they’ve developed the skills of knowing how to persuade others. Yes, other factors and skills do come into play, but if they’re unable to communicate effectively their influence is weakened. Their voice is less likely to be heard.

Think about the ways you communicate your messages to others. Could your approach ever be described as boring or bland? Do you say things the way you’ve always said them? If not, great; but if you do, then perhaps it’s time to freshen up your style… see how you can make your message more sticky and memorable. First, repetition – be prepared to repeat your message in different ways. Second, use less-familiar language – language that gets people’s attention and causes them to want to know more.

How to Speak so People really Listen – Paul McGee (Pp1. 5. 7. 24)

 

 

Excerpt of the day

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“The first step is so define what success looks like for you…

Serial achievers all have their own definitions of success, with the common feature that they want to test themselves and deliver the very best – that’s where their personal fulfilment comes from.

What do we mean by success?

First of all, what we are talking about here is your idea of success, not what other people believe or expect of you. Their definition will always be based on their own measure, which may be very different to yours, so let’s put them on one side for now.

The symbols of success vary from one person to another and from one time to another. Getting the degree you want or running the marathon in the allotted time are goals that give you something to reach for. They are also tangible measures that others can see and respect, which is always gratifying.

The intangibles of success are more subtle. They span your life to this point and include your hopes and fears for the future. When it comes down to having a successful life or not, then the essence remains the same for all of us.

The Psychology of Success – Judith Leary-Joyce (Pp13-14)

A poem: Burning skin

fire 1

perhaps the reason
our skin burns so bright
when it meets
is that it craved a touch
not of this body
but of something that would seep
lower and deeper
until the core that was always
so lonely and detached
from everything would finally have
a chance to reveal itself to someone
whose flame sways the same

A poem: Grace Fervour

blog image for poem

My limbs are piled on top of
one another.
But it is not messy or unclean, it’s
the mysterious, alluring tangle of the
roots
of an old, robust tree.
This is the only place I know now,
where there is no
shame.
And the stretching of my redbud arms as
the sun caresses me, to prosperity,
is not pride; desire; greed, but
prayer and
grace fervour.

Anam Iqbal 

Perception post: Embracing scars

blog post on respect

“We are the curves of the mountaintops: smooth from a distance, but jagged in proximity; serene from afar, yet possessing dusty scars when observed closely.”

Upon starting this blog – on April 5th 2016 – there were some thoughts racing through my mind, holding me back: what if this blog reveals too much about me? What if all the judgmental people from my past find it begin to do what they’re best at – judge? What if people don’t resonate with my creativity? What if I overstep the boundaries of my experimental comfort zone and, instead of remaining private, as I have always been, become an open book?

I have found there is only one way to make peace with my worries: I want to be honest – an exposing, confessing, vulnerable honesty. Not because it’s something that this blog or my life demands of me, but because I know it will liberate me. Once you’ve told your truth, openly accepted it, confronted it, you feel its hold over you ceasing, its strength diminishing. Gradually, it becomes so weak and faint, until one day, it’s no longer much more than a reminiscent smile curling at your content lips.

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A short story: Son & smoke

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“…no matter how many faces it possesses, all truth is made of the same substance: the same slippery, elusive smoke, so eager to escape our grasp, yet so eager to reveal its signs.”

As I walked into the living room, to grab my car keys from the coffee table, I spared my father a glance. I felt the familiar agitation that overcame me whenever I found him in such a state: he was huddled in his arm chair, in the far corner of the room, reading an old, dusty book, as he always seemed to be doing in his spare time. His keen, wrinkled hands were moving impatiently over the pages, as though he couldn’t get through it fast enough, as though perhaps he could delve into its very pages if he caressed it in the right way.
“I’m going out dad,” I called to him, already making to leave the room.
“Wait, come sit with me,” he called across the room.
I would have refused, as I normally did, but I saw a light of hope in his eyes, and didn’t want to be the reason it disappeared.

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A poem: Swaying Water

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Come, dip your
feet
in the cold, swaying water
with me.
Allow it to fill you up
and leave you:
cleansed, soothed, renewed.
Let it wash away your
anger and envy.
Let it drown your
grief and fear.
Let it liberate you;
for nothing,
no matter how vast,
beautiful or horrifying,
survives the power of
the sea.

Anam Iqbal