The Heroine Next Door: Status Update

HIVAIDS_infographicTuberculosis_2016 Diabetes_infographicIt has been a few years since I first thought about a series of books about Islam and chronic diseases. What would such disparate topics have in common, one might ask? Part of the impetus has been to try and interpret complex events that hog the news headlines and impact my life in a direct and indirect way. As someone who experienced apartheid in South Africa and the 9/11 aftermath, my writing journey started as another twist on familiar themes. The start of the project was simple. Join some Muslims together in a loosely-fitting collage of immigrant experiences and show that a positive spirit can endure all manner of problems to solve, in one instance, the burgeoning triple epidemic of HIV/TB/diabetes epidemic in South Africa. Combine those books with some non-fiction tips and poems about the diseases, relationships, and life.

Since “The Heroine Next Door” and subsequent books appeared in print over the last 24 months, I have realized how difficult it is to transmit the message that good people can help one another if they choose to apply themselves to solutions. My naïveté has been tempered, but I have also been heartened by the positive responses from fans and the fact that some people have expressed that their eyes have been opened to new ways of doing things.

So, in the spirit of continuing to spread positive energy and basic information of the top infectious killers and the diabetes epidemic, I have put together some infographics. Please feel free to visit Amazon to check out the books and Facebook/LinkedIn for the infographics (high-res versions are available upon request).

Less means more for this scientist

You have more opportunity and time to create when you have less. This is the You have more opportunity and time to create when you have less.  This is the

(Credit: Ann Makosinski)
(Credit: Ann Makosinski)

take-home message of a TED talk given by eighteen-year old inventor and entrepreneur, Ann (Andini) Makosinski. Makosinski, born to a Filipino mother and Polish father, has a string of scientific accolades, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and was named TIME magazine’s 30 under 30. Creativity for Ann was born out of necessity because she was not showered the number of toys people tend to give their children today. So she needed to find creative ways to entertain herself and never felt FOMO, which is the teenage acronym for fear of missing out.

Influenced by her parents, her idols include Ravi Shankar, the well-known Indian composer and sitar virtuoso who influenced the likes of violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, and Beatles guitarist, George Harrison. She was also influenced by the poverty she saw in Shankar’s home country, India, as well as the poverty she encountered in her father’s home country, the Philippines. Building on her talent as a tinkerer, she entered science fairs and tried to nurture her innate sense of wanting to help others. One night she listened to a friend from the Philippines who told her that she had failed a grade simply because she lacked electricity in order to study at home. So she invented a flashlight that runs off the heat of a human hand- a feat that earned her the 2013 Google Science Fair for the 15-16 age category. As she relates her story:” Using four Peltier tiles and the temperature difference between the palm of the hand and ambient air, I designed a flashlight that provides bright light without batteries or moving parts. My design is ergonomic, thermodynamically efficient, and only needs a five degree temperature difference to work and produce up to 5.4 mW at 5 foot candles of brightness.”

Her latest invention is the edrink – a coffee mug that converts the excess heat from your cup of coffee into electricity – useful if you wish to recharge your iPod or phone and there are no electricity outlets to meet your needs. She won 24,000 Canadian dollars for her invention from Shell Canada. One can imagine this gadget finding a market in poorer countries where electricity comes at a premium cost.

The smartphone-shy teen’s favorite pastime, according to a Guardian article, is to watch vloggers – Zoella or Tyler Oakley, say – on her laptop. One of her tips to parents is to nurture inventors by limiting lots of activities eg, she was allowed half-an hour over the weekend for TV.


My country

In the Fertile Crescent’s crucible,

Well-meaning military decimated the lives of citizenry.

In the bowels of an Arab nationalist and socialist Babel,

Stepped young patriots tasked to achieve instant victory,

Only to watch euphoria decay into obfuscation and local misery.

Thanks to the comforting distance of technology,

Who bothers to keep up with death’s daily tally?

Was this happenstance? How did this come to be?


Once upon a time, a shepherd’s son from Tikrit,

Oblivious to a cleric’s sermon delivered in a masjid,

Rose to become a dictator wrapped in a delusion,

To bypass a colonial past and religious fervor,

And expand his reach beyond the Euphrates river.

Ba’athism equaled renaissance equaled a unified Arab state.

Alas! War further fractured The Fertile Crescent into tribes separated by hate.


A quiet Sunni son of Samarrah,

Home of a Shiah Muslim holy site,

Purportedly the Prophet’s descendant driven by his version of valor,

Saw the invasion as an opportunity for a larger union of the pious and those who believe in what is right.

Once slammed by others as illegitimate,

War’s chaos was the perfect climate,

To enroll ex-Ba’athists in the quest for a perfect caliphate,

Devoid of non-believers’ hegemony and hypocrisy.

Instead, history bore witness to the decay of a vision,

Now twisted to cleanse the earth of the Kufar or ‘the other,’

Whose ignorance is inferred to have destroyed the purity of every sister or brother.

Humanity continues to watch in silence

As competing narratives of tragedy

Numb souls to endless violence.

What a travesty

That a burning pilot’s cries

And subsequent bottomless grief of parents’ relating a soldier’s demise

Blur into a nihilistic canvas.

Is that really us?

At our very core,

How willing are we to end this war?