By: Barbara Atsieno Alusala

St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls, Hillcrest, South Africa


She burns.

She is a bright, hot, walking eruption of beauty. When she walks, eyes fall on her. The ground beneath her shakes. Plant embryos sprout from the ground in anticipation so as to not miss the spectacle that passes by. Dark skies split open to make way for the sun – for only its radiance is bright enough to surpass her glow. When she speaks, the world is enthralled, holding on to the words she utters as though they were gold. She knows her value and she puts the men who dare to challenge her finesse to shame. Who is she?

She is woman.

Without her glow, the world is dreary and cold. It is lifeless and monotonous. Embryos become stubborn in the ground for they know what awaits them above. The sun retires and appears for short spells, its presence no better than that of a dying streetlight in the night. Without her, the words of the world are corrupt and dry – gasping desperately for justice and life.

Even though she is the source of vivacity, zest, and felicity, many are still oblivious to the significance of her presence. Naïve; they cast their eyes away and deem themselves more powerful – confidently leading their world into annihilation. They doubt Woman’s power and deem her unequal or unfit to lead. Woman allows herself to be brainwashed by their ways. She follows and soon becomes blind to her own radiance. Her feet drag as she walks yet the flowers still bloom in her path and the sun still shines brightly upon her head. She sees it not, for her head droops, her eyes are filled with tears of worthlessness, and her shoulders carry empty struggles. The source of her power – her heart – dampens as she becomes dubious of her capabilities and self-worth.

But I am not.

Stand strong Woman! Stand strong! I say: you are the light and the hope that the world needs. It waits patiently for you. How much longer will you sit despairing in your puddle of self-pity? Do not lose yourself in the ways of this world. Dry your tears! Clear your eyes of the dust that corrupts your visions and aspirations. You have the power to move mountains. Your mind has the strength of a thousand men. Your destiny lies not in the shadows, but in the light, where all can dote in your presence once again. You are beautiful, and you are capable. I know this because I have seen your power and might. I know this because you are Woman. I know this because I am Woman too.

The Colors of Gumbo

By: Tyler Newman

Kent Place School, West Orange, New Jersey


The old book was dusty and seemed to sigh as Mawmaw heaved it off the top shelf of her kitchen. “Diane,” she whispered, “out of all the books you’ll read in your life, not one will be as important as this one, for this book is magic.” On each brittle piece of browning paper were recipes passed down from generations, hurriedly scrawled in cursive. “It’s about time I taught you how to make one of my favorite dishes, seafood gumbo. It’s a meal that every son and daughter of this family should be able to make!” Mawmaw bustled around, gathering ingredients here and there, settling them on the counter beside an old fashioned cast iron pot. I could almost see the dozens of batches of gumbo that had been created by this magical pot over the years. After all the preparations were made, Mawmaw flicked on the stove and beckoned a gangly, 7-year-old me to a step stool in front of the fire. I looked down into the pot to discover chicken marinating in stock. We got straight to work, me chopping up garlic and celery, Mawmaw mincing onions and bay leaves. “The key to a good gumbo is the roux,” Mawmaw said smiling. “Make sure it isn’t lumpy now!” I stirred the stew, making sure to beat out any lumps. Next, in a skillet, Mawmaw added


I watched in awe as she stirred the mixture and the fire in the old stove sparked, flying through the air like fireworks. When the concoction was brown, she added it to the stock.

After an hour, we returned to a kitchen alive with delicious aromas. I fought the urge to jump up and down as Mawmaw pulled out

gumbo 2.png

Finally, when the gumbo really got to brewing, Mawmaw added a dash of black peppers and a generous dose of Lawry’s. “Remember Diane, the gumbo ain’t the real thing if there’s not any Lawry’s in it. I swear by that stuff.” I stirred the gumbo for a while afterwards, watching the sea of gold swirl round and round with an occasional protruding crab leg. The sky was a dark, velvety blue by the time the table was finally set to eat. Grandad woke up from his nap and Mawmaw changed out of her apron for supper. Smoke mingled with the spices of soup as Grandad exhaled his last ring of cigarette smoke and snuffed out his cigarette in the ashtray before taking a seat at the tidy dining room table. He picked me up and set me on his knee as Mawmaw brought out bowls of gleaming white rice. Finally, out came the gumbo pot, which I watched with delight as it was set in the middle of the hard oak table. Mawmaw beamed at me and exclaimed, “In honor of you making your first gumbo, I’ll allow you to taste the meal first.”

After we all said Grace, Grandad poured a serving of steaming golden soup over my rice. I picked up my spoon, scooped up some gumbo and took a bite. I closed my eyelids as an explosion of light went off behind my eyes. It was as if the spices of the gumbo were colors and, as I ate, I was painting a picture of my own.

Finally, I opened my eyes and smiled.


Residing Within

By: Faizah Aditya

Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh


She walked an easy comfortable gait. As her hands gently swayed to the rhythm of her footsteps, the bangles on her wrists clinked softly, beautiful, fragile glass bangles on one while the other held bold patterns of wood and brass. Her long, jet-black hair blew with the breeze, strands flying around her face, some of them shades of brown and blonde. As her delicate fingers came up to brush those stray strands away from her face, her French manicured nails caught the light of the setting sun. It was majestic, or maybe just plain, simple, and ordinary.

“Sakinat Maliha Islam!”

She halted on her steps, a faint smile playing on her red painted lips as she turned on her heels, her dainty feet twinkling to the movement as her anklet shifted. She looked back with those dark kohl-lined eyes to see the face of the only person she knew who called her by her full name.

“What’s up Mr. Shouvik Ghosh?” She inquired in English, looking into the face of her best friend.

“You look beautiful. Not every woman can hold up a style like yours. Is that a katan saree turned into a skirt that you are wearing with your top?” he asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

She chuckled. Her clay beaded earrings swayed with the movement as she nodded and replied, “The pattern makes for a great skirt, don’t you think? Oh, that reminds me!”

She reached into the jute bag hanging by her shoulder, fishing for something elusive. His eyes caught the fading henna design fashioned like a dream catcher on her upper arm before drifting to her bag, where her hand continued to search.

“What is it?”

“Oh, found it!” She brought out a folded piece of paper and handed it to him eagerly. It contained the verses of a song she had composed.

While he opened up the paper, she bounced on the balls of her feet with a mix of anxious excitement and blurted out, “It’s titled ‘Bangladesh Residing Within.’ The first verse is in English. I envision it being sung by someone with a voice like Adele’s…an edgy soulful introduction to the world of Bangladesh! Then we switch to Bengali in the next part. I took inspirations from Lalon, Nazrul songs, and folktales! It is supposed to…”

She was shushed by Shouvik, who gently grabbed her shoulder, a smile on his lips as he whispered softly, “Let me read it first at least?”

She blinked and laughed, nodding and gesturing him to do so.

While he read, she studied his face with beady eyes for the sign of any emotions, her hands unknowingly playing with a thin gold chain around her neck that she had been wearing since she was five. She sighed, growing impatient with his silence.

“Is it that bad? Don’t tell me. Okay no, I need to know. You promised honest feedback!”

He looked up and met her wide eyed gaze, revealing no emotions before breaking out into a grin and hugging her. “It’s brilliant, Ms. Sakinat Maliha Islam! I knew you had it in you! I could envision it being played live, a rendition of old and new, with tunes from the guitar and drums to the ektara and dhol!”

She grinned a Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear as she heard his feedback, still hugging him tightly before slowly pulling back, her eyes glittering with delight as she said, “It’s like a piece of my soul, a harmony of old and new, the way I see my country continuously changing and evolving but never forgetting its roots…”

He interrupted her again—it was a habit—and said, “Just as you do. You carry your traditions and culture around with pride. Both old and new, you are the epitome of old living in harmony with the new…Bangladesh truly does reside within your soul.”

Cake: 1971

 By: Clementine Woladarsky

Marlborough School, Los Angeles, California


She brandishes the knife like a weapon. To me it is a weapon, particularly useful for stabbing people in stories, but she does no such thing. Instead she falls upon a variety of vegetables with a zealousness I never associate with cooking. She is frustrated because only last week she taught me to properly chop an onion, and I am still doing it wrong. It was hopeless, I said, to teach me how to prepare a tomato sauce.

“What man will marry a woman who can’t even cook a meal?”

She asks me this while we are waiting for her long-term boyfriend to come down for a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and freshly ground coffee. All she ever seems to be doing is waiting, especially for her boyfriend to ask her to marry him.

She repeats the question. I tell her that I’ll never have to cook as long as I have her around. She has abandoned all her feminist values for the right to make a proper dinner every night and fold the linen napkins she embroiders.

“What if you were to starve to death?” That makes me laugh, which annoys her greatly. “It could happen.”

“I’d go out to eat.”

“You’re hopeless,” she says, though not without affection.

Her boyfriend comes downstairs fifteen minutes late.

“The food’s getting cold.” She pouts attractively, causing him to kiss her head.

“I was getting ready, Lovie.” It’s a term our grandmother used, and I am repulsed. He hands her something in silvery blue paper. “Go ahead.”

The paper reveals a box, which reveals a ring, which makes her scream. “Are you asking me to marry you?”

I respond in the affirmative, and she throws me a dark look. “It was a stupid question,” I remind her.

“Well, will you?” The boyfriend is hovering over his plates of eggs and bacon.

“Of course!” She throws her arms around him, and they dance around the kitchen table. I resolve to quietly drink my coffee quietly out of a blue and white striped mug.

He pats my head and says that he is really late now and has to go. They embrace again.

When the door closes she stares pointedly at me.

“I’m engaged and you’re not.”

“I am fully aware of that.” I start on the eggs, which are quite cold but still good.

“I can cook, and you can’t. Oh please be smarter about this and let me help you. I can’t have my older sister die alone because she never learned how to cook a proper breakfast.”

I inform her that my boyfriend cooks for me. “It’s marvelously new-age,” I gush. “He brings me soup in bed.”

“A boyfriend?” She eyes me suspiciously. “How long?”

“A year on Tuesday.”

“I can’t believe I knew nothing of this.” She meditates on the news for a while. “Is he that boy Ian?” I nod. “He’s your boyfriend? I could’ve sworn he was gay!”

“He’s not gay,” I say defensively. “We’re going out.” I am more annoyed than I care to admit. She idly stirs her coffee.

“I should get new china.” She picks up a plate. “This is no kitchenware for a married woman.”

I have been using the same tin plates for years, but I don’t bother saying so.

“Honestly, when are you going to pick up a frying pan?”

“Never, if I can help it.”

“You will never be a good wife. He’ll divorce you in no time and take up with a man, most likely.” This makes her laugh until she looks at me. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t mean that. Here, we’ll have a lesson in the kitchen right now.” She busies herself pulling eggs and flour and butter out of garishly blue cupboards. She wants to teach me to bake a cake. “Like this, and like this.” She pours the stuff into a bowl and mixes. When I try the flour goes everywhere, the bulk of it on my forehead.

The cake doesn’t rise because I mixed up sugar and salt. It’s dry with a runny inside.

“It’s a terrible cake.” She sits down and begins to cry.

I trivially think her tears concern only me.

“I’ll buy you a cake.” With my money that I made not being a housewife.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” she says through her tears, a clear indication I should go. I take the cake and it creates a slight problem on the metro so I toss it, tin foil and all, into the nearest bin.

My sister got married several months later and asked me to “handle the cake.” In all her whirlwind planning she seemed to forget that I was still unbearably wretched at all things culinary. I ordered the cake from a bakery and asked for untidy frosting to make it seem realistic. What a joke! She married easily and prettily and became the sort of housewife she wanted to be. Coffee in the morning, dinner at seven thirty, a kiss on the cheek. She said she loved the pots and pans as I love pens and paper. My sister would throw her life into a Sunday roast.

It was around this point in time that Ian left me. For a guy, I should add. He asked me to bake him a wedding cake. I sent him a bakery cake without bothering to take it out of the box.

My sister called me in a panic after he left.

“What are you going to eat?” She screeched.

I told her about the deli across the street, then hung up.

I remained happily well-fed for many years without ever lifting a frying pan. No coffee or Sunday roasts for me. The best I ever did was buy a tablecloth, a gesture my husband pronounced “utterly charming.”

The Canola Violence

By: Erika McDonnell

Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia


The canola fields were a haven. Like warm butter on toast, the yellow flowers spread brightly across the earth for as far as the eye could see. Luca liked to run among their tall stalks, creating waves of sunshine. The big house was ideally located right in front of the largest field the Harveys had to offer, so when Momma called for Luca to tidy his room, wash the dog, or have a shower, he would hide among the canola. He could hide for hours, content to lie back and gaze upwards, pondering the clouds that dotted the blue like cute cotton swabs in a school diorama. It would be a long time before Momma came toting a whip-like dishtowel, her tool of choice to get her son back in the house before the summer thunderstorms began.

“I’ll never ruin the fields,” Luca often said at dinnertime. To this, Momma and Poppa would shake their heads, a sad smile uncomfortably plastered on their faces because the future was inevitable; Luca had to follow in the footsteps of generations of Harvey men. For canola was no haven—it was survival. Deep down, the doe-eyed nine-year-old knew, but he remained adamant about refusing his fate. After all, who could say no to this boy—a vision of innocence with cherubic cheeks and wispy brown locks—but God Himself?

Sometimes Momma and Poppa would watch their son prance about the fields from the window above the kitchen sink.

“Walter, we’re going to have to put an end to this somehow,” Momma said one day as she passed a plate to her husband for drying. He took it, ran a dish towel across, and placed it in the cupboard above his head.

“It’s fine.” Poppa dried another plate. “You know, I’ll take him out with me tomorrow for the swathing. Lionel’s youngest, you know, Peter? He’s just one year older than our Luca and he’s got no problem. He’s practical, understands that canola’s a business and not a fucking Von Trapp pansy-fest.” Momma gritted her teeth; she didn’t like when Poppa swore, but she had learned not to say anything. After all, he was her husband.

“Alright. Here, take these knives. They’re the last of the dishes to be dried.” Momma wiped her soapy hands on her apron, her eyes always on Luca who was running swiftly through the canola, his brown head bobbing among the yellow. His eyes were wide and bright, his cheeks rosy with joyful adrenaline. Momma gripped the edge of the sink so hard her knuckles went white.


Poppa was sliding the knives into the drawer one by one and he didn’t stop or look up to answer. “Yeah?”

“We’re going to break his heart.”

The knives stopped and Poppa looked up, his watery blue eyes meeting his wife’s own anxious ones.

“That’s life, Susan.” And the knives picked up again.


Luca bounced like a hare through the sea of canola. He relished in the sensation of the stalks and flowers as he whipped by, feeling entirely in his element. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the real hares snuffling around and he could hear the whooshing wings of twittering birds passing above. There was something wonderfully invigorating about being the fields and, for a moment, Luca wished he could run forever, far away from Momma and Poppa and the swathing and the life of a Harvey.

A rut in the ground brought Luca to an abrupt stop. He tumbled face first into the dirt, bending some canola with him. His first instinct was to cry, to holler out for Momma who would come running with a wet cloth to clean the scratches, but he caught the words on his tongue. Luca didn’t want to give his parents any reason to forbid him from frolicking about the yellow. Already, he could hear Momma saying “It’s dangerous” with downturned eyes, and that would be that. Poppa would be ecstatic. Instead, Luca rolled over on his back and lay flat against the uneven ground so that he could look up at the bright blue sky framed by yellow above him. Beads of crimson blood formed along the scratches that now adorned the sides of his face, but Luca couldn’t have cared less. All he was feeling was the warmth of the Earth on his back and the sun on his face.

“Luca!” A little golden body flitted above the boy, who smiled easily.

“Hi Marigold,” he said. Luca slowly lifted up his small arm, letting his hand flop forward, his pinky finger extended. Marigold moved to sit on the small finger, her minuscule legs dangling as if perched on a branch. Luca was always amazed at the weightlessness of his fairy friend. “How are you today?” Luca brought his arm to rest on his stomach now, and Marigold lightly stepped off to take a seat.

“So fine, so fine! The sun is shining and the birds are chirping, so everyone is happy,” Marigold said in her sing-song voice. She paused before continuing, “Do you know when the swathing begins?” A cloud crossed over the sun.

Luca scooped Marigold into the palm of his hand and slowly sat up. His face was solemn.

“Tomorrow, I think. Poppa hasn’t said much about it, but I heard him talking on the phone to the others.”

“And there’s nothing you can do to stop it?”

“You know I can’t, Mari. He prides himself on our family’s history in canola. Though I mourn it, I am small.”

Marigold stood up and clenched her fists, her face scrunching up in frustration. “But think of the animals, the earthworms, the canola spirits! We are all smaller, but we breathe and exist, so why should we be sacrificed to your giants?”

Luca sighed. He loved Marigold, but their conversations always ended this way: hopeless. He was hopeless in thinking he could properly explain the situation to the fairy, and she was hopeless in thinking that he could stop Poppa and the others. As usual, all Luca could reply with was a meek, “I’m sorry.”

Marigold grumbled. “This isn’t fair. They act as if we are a fairytale, mere figments of imagination.”

But you are, Luca wanted to reply. Instead, he changed the subject and the two began discussing the sky.


Poppa was on the phone again, finalizing tomorrow’s swathing so Momma could sit peacefully on the front porch and keep an eye on Luca. He was no longer bobbing around like a gazelle in the canola; in all likelihood, he was now lying flat on the ground staring up at the blue sky. He did this sometimes when he got tired. Momma couldn’t understand how her nine-year-old son could find enjoyment in doing absolutely nothing, but then she didn’t really understand anything her son did. Everything he took pleasure in was so contrary to the rest of the Harveys. Once, Momma had dared ask what he thought about when he looked up at the sky.

“I don’t just look up at the sky, Momma. That’s boring,” Luca had replied as he dipped his grilled cheese in ketchup.

“Okay, then what do you do if you’re not looking up at the sky?”

“Well, I discuss things.” This answer took Momma by surprise and also made her a little nervous because she didn’t know anybody who frequented the fields except for the Harveys themselves. And they preferred to avoid her oddball son. Luca went on, seeing the look of confusion on Momma’s face: “…About the world. About the canola. About life. With Marigold.”

Momma took a sip of her coffee. In the back of her mind, she wished she’d made it Irish. “Who’s Marigold?”

“She’s a canola fairy.”

“A canola fairy?” So it was an imaginary friend.

In between bites of grilled cheese, Luca explained. “Yes, she protects the things that live in the canola fields, like the spirits and the animals. It’s a hard job, ’specially when you’ve got Poppa and his friends going through and harvesting everything.”

“So what does Marigold look like?” She was humouring him now.

Luca smiled, pleased that someone was interested in a part of his life for once. “She’s beautiful, Momma. She’s tiny and gold, and her wings are like the sun’s rays. She wears little dresses that the canola spirits make for her. I think you would like her.”

Momma couldn’t help but smile back at Luca, though it was tinged with something akin to sadness, for canola was no haven, it was survival, and the future was inevitable.


The next day was the swathing, so Poppa got Luca up early and Momma was already busy in the kitchen. She had prepared a thick stack of pancakes and fresh berries, hot coffee for her husband, and a milky hot chocolate for her son. The swathing required lots of energy.

Poppa took two large strawberries and a swig of his coffee. “So,” he said with his mouth full, “big day, huh Luca?”

Luca merely grunted in response as he pushed a soggy portion of pancake around his plate, which was bogged down with maple syrup.

“You reply to me, son,” Poppa ordered. Momma froze at the griddle. This is not a good way to start such a day. 

Luca looked up and stared his father straight in the eye, where there was fire. “Yes, it is a big day.”

“Son, this is your future and you must embrace it like I did, and my father before me. This is our role in the world, and we must fulfill it. So today’s the day you join me for once. Peter’s there with his poppa, and you’re gonna be there with yours. So it’s going to be a good time.” The way Poppa phrased it, there really was no choice in the matter; this was clear to both Momma and Luca.

“Yes, right, I’m going to embrace my role in the world and destroy something beautiful. After all, that’s what we do best, isn’t it?” Luca stood up, chair grating against the floor tiles, and stormed out of the kitchen. He marched to the entranceway, fetched his coat and thick boots, and slammed the door open.

He yelled, “So what are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it, if you’re so keen.” Within seconds, Poppa was up and standing and at the door with his son. The fire still flamed in his eyes, but there was a confusion, perhaps even a hesitation. Luca was past outright refusal, but that was all Poppa knew of his son’s nature: refusal and stubbornness. When that was all gone, what was he left with except for a nine-year-old he didn’t know at all?

But now was certainly not the time to contemplate Luca. Now was the time to teach Luca the ways of the Harveys and, by extension, Poppa had some hope that Luca would come to understand what it was to be a Harvey instead of some canola-loving pansy.

Momma watched from the kitchen window as her boys went out to meet with the others, including Lionel and Peter. She watched them until they disappeared from her sight, but she knew what they were doing. They were getting the swathers, probably explaining the important parts of the machines to Luca, and maybe a bit to Peter in case he hadn’t remembered everything. They were getting gloves, the maps of the fields, and planning out who would go where and what would be cut. Then Luca would join Poppa in one of the swathers, Peter in another with Lionel, and the rest would hop in, well, the rest.

Actually, she could hear them now, the swathers. They rumbled by and traversed the canola fields, splitting up and heading to their designated sections. Luca and Poppa took the section directly in front of their house. When she saw this, Momma turned away and got her knitting. She didn’t want to see Poppa growling at Luca and as much as she disagreed with her son’s antics, she didn’t need to see him as he cut down his favourite place or his imaginary friend.

She didn’t need to see it because she heard it. The wails were loud and heart wrenching, as a mother might scream for a lost child, and they sliced through the shrill tone of the swathers, the thick trunks of the trees that lay at the edge of the Harvey property, and they most definitely infiltrated the walls of the big house. Momma’s ears bled as she felt the sound of her son’s loss as deeply as if it were her own. Regret filled her; guilt shrouded her; grief clung like burrs.

Luca’s innocence was broken, and it was murderous.

The Spicy Girl (La Mei Zi)

By: Tiantian Zhang

Agnes Scott College, Decatur, Georgia


First, let me clarify the term. Stop thinking about that long-gone pop singer group. If you happen to know Chinese, I dare you not to omit the “Zi” in this word, which would completely transform to mean someone from that long-gone pop singer group. The “Spicy Girl,” as given in Google Translate for the Chinese term 辣妹子(La Mei Zi), is one stereotype that has to do with food in China. A young woman awarded with this title is usually considered beautiful, brave, feisty, and has an appreciation for spicy food due to her upbringing in the provinces of Sichuan, Hunan, and Chongqing. An English equivalent for this expression might be “a tough cookie,” though much lower in sweetness level.

Along the line of stereotyping others with a taste of food, there are terms such as the “Old Fritters” (Lao You Tiao refers to slick and flaky characters), the “Rice Buckets” (Fan Tong means someone who knows nothing but to eat), the “Baby Cabbage” (Xiao Bai Cai, a general metaphor for a poor young girl), and many, many more. Being born on the South bank of the Yangtze River, I was expected to become someone who is tendervoiced, fairskinned, professional at embroidery, who enjoys the local cuisine of Huaiyang—slightly sweet and sour in taste but never, ever spicy. Among these traditions, only that of food persisted in my family; I was brought up in a household which never spiced up the dinner table. Thus, my first encounter with spicy food was twelve years later than a real “Spicy Girl,” who is raised in the mid-Southern part of the country, where the famous Sichuan cuisine originated.

At the age of twelve, I started my 6-year sojourn in the city of Nanjing—the closest metropolis where various food cultures gather—along with my challenges in the level of pungency I could take. It was my young and adventurous cousin-in-law who decided it would be a great idea to take me out for spicy hot pot; I took a naive bite and almost cried. It might be this instance which made her my closest extended family member. Back then, she was not yet my cousin-in-law, but merely a family friend who happened to attend a college in Nanjing. Born to Sichuan parents but raised around here, she has a spicy tongue that has been an open secret in our family; although I never truly realized it until that day in the crowded spicy hot pot place in the heart of Nanjing.

Her bowl of contents steamed up with a lens of what I used to call the color of Hell. Describe a shade of red that scares you: blood, flame, heat, Mars, or the backdrop of the Communist flag. She had no fears, and she even held the bowl up finish the scarlet broth.

“It was delicious,” she told me in the most earnest manner.

“…I guess?” I was jarred as I stared at her reddened lips.

Maybe it was a means of adaptation that made me practice eating spicy food while living with her, but honestly I forgot why it all started. Maybe I was a twelve-year-old “big girl” who was capable of making food decisions for herself, or maybe I just wanted to get away from my family—who, as people, were as plain as the food they ate. As a matter of fact, mammals are the only members of the animal kingdom who can taste spicy flavors, and humans are the only species to show appreciation for them. In other words, enjoying a spicy diet is a distinct privilege of being a multicellular organism on this earth, and that was what my twelve-year-old self had yearned for.

It takes time and effort to make a Spicy Girl out of oneself. But always remember that practice makes perfect. What trained me was the pickled chicken feet, called Pao Jiao Feng Zhua in Chinese, literally meaning chicken claws that are soaked in jalapeno jars, perceived by the Americans as a bizarre dish. The reasoning behind this choice was quite apparent back then; it was the cheapest and spiciest choice in the convenience stores. They were cheap because they were merely skin and bones, and all of its value went into the enduring, sharp spiciness that has soaked all the way to the core of the bone. It is such a delicate gourmet that every corner of your mouth cannot avoid interacting with it. What a practice of the mammal privilege it was! The juice of ten jalapenos at the same time!

That same year I went back home for the New Year feast. Everyone seemed to enjoy the massive table of dishes except for me. As I said, the food on the table that night was as plain as the taste I grew up with. Halfway into the feast, my cousin-in-law squinted at me with a mysterious smile. We soon excused ourselves on a long “bathroom break,” which turned out to be the deliberate hunting of street food.

The temperature of New Year’s Eve was never mild. Thin coats of snow attempted to cover the narrow streets, disturbed by the two trails of footprints we left. Facing these unusually dim roads, my cousin-in-law and I were surprised to come across an open restaurant. The chef was still in his oil-stained apron, sitting at a square shaped table with his family, clearly having the New Year’s feast of their own. Even so, he immediately spotted us and sat us down.

I can’t recall what we had that night, but it was probably spicy hot pot again. I do remember staring at the homemade pickled chicken feet on the chef’s family table, which he had noticed and kindly shared with me. That night I graduated from factory processed pickled chicken feet. These homemade ones were by far spicier and, for the first time, enjoyable. When we walked out of the little restaurant, the snow had stopped and the air became frostier than before. Thanks to the spicy food, I did not feel cold at all on the way back home. It is said that Chairman Mao would always carry a bundle of dried chili peppers with him on battle fields, which kept him warm and awake on the freezing winter days. Little did I know that my future self would be the same — I cannot live without spicy food now.

The next quests on my spicy food journey included Mapo tofu, spicy deep-fried chicken (La Zi Ji), shredded eggplant in garlic sauce (Yu Xiang Qie Zi), and a lot more Sichuan food. However, a Nanjing privilege for pungency lovers is a condiment called red oil (La You), which is a necessity on tables in all sizes of restaurants in the city. Eating out with my mom in Nanjing always requires two separate bowls, one for my non-spicy-eating mom and another for me, the artificial Spicy Girl. Every time I sat on a table with a red bowl in front of me and a white one across from me, I would taste a slight boldness and feeling of independence.

My mom still wonders about my favoring spicy food.

“I never brought you up this way!” She said as if I had become an alien, an alien from Sichuan.

“Well, life happens.” I shrugged and told the truth.

It is true that life is full of surprises and that they are, of course, never foreshadowed. I never expected to find myself in a place where spicy food was not as cherished as a spicy soul. This magical place, called Agnes Scott, hosts young women who are beautiful, brave, feisty and barely who eat anything spicy. Being in the South, a.k.a. The Spice Desert, I struggled to find home on my tongue. Nevertheless, not only would I never give up on my quest of trying spicy cuisine, I would also strive to become more diligent, more of a Scottie. After all, you don’t have to indulge in peppers to be a Spicy Girl from the inside; just like you don’t have to be sweet when you are “a tough cookie.”