Miles Away

Disclaimer : This story is a work of fiction. However, all characters, monuments, institutions and places mentioned in this story are real. The author is aware that the thread of this story has resemblance to the incidents mentioned in Chapter 1 of Dan Brown‘s novel, Inferno. The author believes that she was inspired by the novelist’s fast-paced plots that revolve round an intriguing incident described back-and-forth in time. However, there is no content scraping or copyright infringement in this story and any similarity to the writing style of the said author is purely unintentional. 

 

I woke up from sleep after what seemed like ages. I tried to lift my hands, but I could barely move them. I tried to listen to the voices around me. I heard the beep of the life support devices and the muffled voices of people talking to each other. I tried to make sense of the  voices, but they were incomprehensible. The peculiar sterile smell of the place was strangely familiar.

My head was aching. I felt like I was being pricked by a million needles all over my head. A sharp shooting pain ran down my spine and I felt as if I being electrocuted. My pulse quickened and the machines attached to me started beeping vigorously. I tried to wriggle out, but I couldn’t. I felt very heavy. I could only manage to move my body a bit in response to pain.

It now occurred to me that I was in a hospital, probably in the intensive care unit. I tried to think hard, but I couldn’t remember how I ended up there. My headache was worse than the worst episodic migraine I’ve ever had, something terrible must have happened to me. The last thing I remember was examining a patient in my hospital.

I tried to open my eyes, my eyelids gave way despite its heaviness. The room was empty except for me and the medical devices. Looking around, I saw that I was supine on the bed, connected to an intravenous line. A bottle of 5% dextrose hung from the pole of the i.v stand like a hideous fruit on a leafless tree. The side rails of my bed were pulled up. I had fresh bandages on both knees. The tip of my finger was attached to the sensor of the pulse oximeter. I looked up the machine on my right side and found that my oxygen saturation, pulse and heart rates were within normal limits. A crash cart, covered with a green cloth stood at the right corner. An ECG machine with unconnected leads sat on the shelf behind my head. There was a window covered with curtains at the far end of the room.

I had no difficulty in figuring out where I was. I was in Calicut Medical College.

A nurse, dressed in blue scrubs hurriedly entered the room. She pulled the plastic stool from under my bed and sat down. She had a long pointed face, neatly threaded eyebrows and gentle, brown eyes. She wore steel rimmed spectacles. Her hair was neatly tied into a bun. It looked like she was in her mid-thirties. I could say from her demeanor that she was from South Kerala. She smiled at me, studied my face for a while, and picked up the clipboard and pen which was on the head end of my bed.

“How are you feeling?”, she asked in English, with a pronunciation suggesting an Oxford sojourn some time in her past.

“My head hurts badly”, I said. “Besides, I can speak Malayalam”, I added after a while of silence.

She looked mildly surprised. She continued the conversation in Malayalam, in what I thought was a southern accent.

“What is your name?”

“Netha Hussain”, I replied.
She noted down on the clipboard.

“Occupation?”

It was clear that she did not know that I was a medical student. Gone are the days when medicos and nurses knew each other very well.

“I am a writer”, I replied. Apart from being a medical student, I was also a writer. In fact, outside of the hospital, I always introduced myself as a writer. I was mildly agitated because she did not recognize me as a medical student. If the nurse did not know that I was a medical student studying in this college, there was no way I was telling her the same.

She noted down something on the clipboard.

“What day is today?”, she asked, after adjusting her spectacles that stooped beyond the bridge of the nose and was in peril of falling down.

“Tuesday”, I said without a doubt. Tuesday was the out-patient day of my medical unit, when we had to examine patients in the Casualty in the afternoon. I might have had an accident during work or on my way back home, and might have got admitted to the ICU of the same Casualty.

“Do you know where you are?”, when she asked, I knew that she was trying to test if I was oriented in place.

“Calicut Medical College”, I replied confidently. She had finished the questions to test my orientation in time and place. The next question would test if I was oriented in person. I smiled inwardly.

She stood up and reached out to a locker which was on top of the shelf where the ECG machine was kept. She turned the key twice, opened the locker, and took a camera out. I immediately recognized that it was an Olympus SZ-16. She swiped through the controls and turned the screen towards me. Written on the top right of the control button was my name.

“Don’t you touch my camera”, I snapped.

“Sorry. But I want you to identify this man”, she said firmly, pointing to the man in the picture.

It was the picture of a man in his twenties, wearing a t-shirt and grinning widely. I looked carefully. Though I found him strangely familiar, I had no idea who he was. I didn’t even know how that picture got into my camera.

“He looks European”, I said. “Probably from eastern Europe”, I added after studying his features.

“So, you do not know him?”

“I guess I don’t”, I replied truthfully.

She then swiped once more and showed the picture of another man. He was taller, and had similar features like the other one. I couldn’t recognize him either.

Then, she showed me a third picture. It took me a second to process what I was seeing. Then, my jaw dropped.

 

I was standing between the two men whose photographs the nurse had previously shown me. It was evident from the picture that the men knew me very well. Their t-shirts suggested that they were associated with Mozilla/Firefox. Being a Mozilla volunteer for over a year, I tried to recall who they were, but I did not have a clue. I had clearly lost my memory.

I was getting increasingly confused. I told the nurse that I did not know the context of the photograph. She smiled empathetically and asked me to relax.

She looked up the monitor of the pulse oximeter and scribbled something on the clipboard. Then, she went out to call the doctor.

In around ten minutes, the doctor arrived. He was a white, tall man in blue scrubs. He had a long pointed nose, golden hair and thin lips. There was a stethoscope around his neck. What struck me was that he didn’t look Indian at all. I knew that it was possible for foreigners to intern in my hospital, but since when did they start seeing patients in the ICU?

The nurse talked to the doctor in French. She said about me being désorienté and embrouillé.

Disoriented and confused. I knew enough French to make out what she was talking about.

“I am not disoriented”, I shouted at them in English.

The doctor looked at me and gave me a compassionate smile. He sat down on the stool near me and asked me in English if he could examine me. I did not protest.

He took out a pen torch from his pocket and examined my eyes. When he took out another torch, I knew that it was for testing consensual light reflex – so I placed the medial border of my hand on my nose to help him to shield the light. He looked amused at my gesture.

During the course of examination, I cooperated with extreme dexterity. After he examined for wrinkles on my forehead, I took the cue and shut my eyes tightly. Then, I blew my cheek, showed my teeth and grimaced, in that order, without being instructed to do so. I was helping him to test my seventh cranial nerve.

The doctor’s amusement turned to surprise. He asked me if I were a healthcare practitioner. I replied that I was a medical student. He asked many questions during the course of examination, and I knew that he was trying to assess my higher mental functions. He told me that he had to catch up with many patients that day, so he had to be really quick. We ended the examination with me demonstrating dysdodakokinesia and Brudzinski’s sign without waiting for instructions from him.

The doctor told me that except for a few superficial injuries on the arm and one knee, I was normal. It was a case of retrograde amnesia and he said I would recover soon. He told me that I had already started shaping new memories, indicating that it is a good sign. He assured me that he had looked into my CT scan reports, and had found that everything was okay. He left after giving instructions to to the nurse in French. I felt reassured. But I couldn’t yet recall the happenings that led to the hospital admission.  The nurse moved the window screens before she left and I could look outside the room.

 

 

The view was stunning. I could see a Gothic-style tower with a square tower body that narrowly pinnacled to an octagonal spire. The metal statue of the archangel Michael was clearly visible through the glass window. Thanks to my high school research on medieval architecture, I knew that I was seeing the 96 metre long tower of the Town Hall. This monument was unique, and has long been the icon of a city and a UNESCO world heritage site. People visiting this city never miss taking pictures of this monument. The tower looked even more stunning in the night light.

I swallowed at the thought of where I was. There is only one place in the world where this monument could be.

Brussels, Belgium. I was over ten thousand kilometres away from Calicut.

I now knew why the doctor spoke French, the native language of most Belgians, and why the nurse described me as disoriented when I recognized the place as Calicut Medical College.

The stark realization made me feel sick. What was I doing here? Did I meet with an accident? How did I end up in Brussels?

I scanned through the pictures on my camera hoping to recall something from my memory. On camera, I saw numerous pictures of people at what seemed like a party. It was evident that I has spent a long time with a bunch of people whose faces I could not recall.

 

Just then, the nurse opened the door.

“Am I in Brussels?” I asked in Malayalam.

“Good that you started remembering things” she said.

“Ahem, actually, I do not remember anything. I just made an intelligent guess on seeing this tower”, I said, pointing towards the window.

She sat down beside me, and started talking in measured sentences.

“The only thing we know about you was that you met with an accident while you were sightseeing with your friends. Your friends are busy at the hospital administration wing, entering your personal details into the hospital’s database, talking with the police and conversing with the Indian Embassy over phone. Personnel from the Embassy will reach here after 10 am in the morning to talk with you and find out if you need any help”.

“Actually, do you know how I reached Brussels? I only remember examining patients in my college-hospital in India”.

“I have no idea”, she shrugged. “Probably your friends know. They will be allowed to see you in a while. I suggest that you take some rest”.

After checking the i.v lines, she turned to leave. I quickly held her hand, making her look back.

“How, as a Malayali, did you land up here in Brussels?”, my eyes widened with curiosity as I anticipated her reply.

“You might already know that a lot of the nursing workforce worldwide comes from Kerala. I immigrated to Belgium 5 years ago, and I’ve been working here for the last 3 years. I figured you were from Kerala from your passport and I asked the duty doctor to put me in charge of you”, her eyes narrowed as she smiled.

“In fact, my duty gets over by 12 pm in the night, but I stayed on to ensure that you were alright. Now, that you are stable and conscious, I think I can leave”.

I was speechless for a while. I managed to say a ‘Thank you’ at last.

“There is an Indian nurse in the next shift. I have already called her up and asked her to take good care of you”, she smiled as she spoke. “And by the way, my name is Sheila. I have left my visiting card in your case record. If you have any trouble, don’t hesitate to call me”, she added.

I thanked her again. As soon as she was gone, three men and a woman entered the room. All were in colourful Mozilla outfits. I immediately recognized that they were the people I saw in the pictures.

“Good Lord, I hope you are alright”, the woman exclaimed. I later learnt that her name was Ana-Maria Antolović.

I smiled weakly.
“Sorry”, I said. “I can’t remember your faces, though you all look strangely familiar. I think I met with an accident and I can’t remember a thing. Not even travelling  to Brussels”.

“Big story”, the woman said. “You reached Brussels for the Mozilla Summit. We met you on the first day of the conference and became friends. You were returning to the hotel with us after the closing party of the Summit. As we were walking, an unknown driver speeded his car through the sidewalk and knocked you down. Luckily, you were not badly injured. You immediately fell unconscious, and we called an ambulance to bring you here”.

“The doctor told us that you would recover soon and be able to return to your country in good shape”, she smiled as she placed a bowl of fruits on to the eating board attached to my bed.
“Eat well and be strong”, one of the men said playfully.

“Thanks people, too bad that I can’t remember the time I spent with you”.

“You already have hundreds of pictures of us and the Summit in your camera. You will remember everything in no time”, the other man re-assured.

We had a hearty laugh together.

Sincere thanks to : 

* Ana-Maria Antolović, Dejan Strbad, Saša Teković and Stanić Mihovil from Mozilla Hrvatska, Croatia for letting me use their pictures taken during the Mozilla Summit 2013 in Brussels in October 2013.

* Neethu P.M and her elder sister for cross-checking the consistency of medical facts mentioned in this story.

* Jeph Paul for spending several hours in copy-editing and reviewing this post. 

* Neethu Santhosh, Neethu N.T and Sona Sathian for reading the story from a medical student’s perspective and providing me with valuable criticism.

Over a cup of coffee

I first saw you on-stage at the public speech contest held at Vythiri when you were a high school student. I was a contestant at the versification contest at one of the off-stage venues, and my contest finished two hours later than expected, so you were half way done when I reached the main stage where you were speaking. The essence of the topic of your extemporatory speech, I later understood, was “Science and Superstitions”.

You were average in height, with slender build and narrow shoulders. You wore steel-rimmed spectacles whose refraction partially concealed the glow in your eyes. You were unconcerned about the heat of the media lights, the height of the podium you were standing on,the echoing of your voice from the huge microphones and the five hundred or more pairs of eyes which were watching you, measuring your every word, expression and movement.

Words seemed to flow from you effortlessly. “Science has reached to a point where the complexities of the Universe could be shredded into mathematical equations. Science has proved it that snakes cannot milk cows, that enchantings cannot cure diseases,that wine cannot be made out of water. Science proves facts beyond doubt. In science, every new breakthrough opens door to many new breakthroughs.”

Silence.  Followed by a huge applause.

Science should be the most powerful tool with which the educated youth should fight superstitions”. 

You paused to let the audience reflect upon the statement.

And we all are here, just in time to revolutionize the world with rational thoughts”. You ended.

You walked away from the stage before the audience could stop the huge applause. And that was the first time I saw you. I’d never forget the way you probed the audience, as if sending a message directly to me. I wanted to give you a handshake. But you happened to be so inaccessible to me at that time that I didn’t even attempt to meet you in person let alone giving a handshake.

On the next day evening, when the prizes were being distributed, I carefully listened to the list of winners to find out if you were one. Your name was announced twice, as the first place holder of the extemporatory speech and debate. A teacher from your school received the prize on your behalf, as you had already departed from Vythiri by then. You were to represent Kerala state in the National Contest to be held during next month.

Your name was Arun Prayag.

Long after, I accidentally saw your profile while scrolling through dozens of friend suggestions offered by facebook. I am not someone who likes going through the facebook profiles of random people, but there was something that made me to click on your name impulsively. It was the familiarity associated with your name or it was the gleam in your eyes that made me feel like you are probing my eyes: I am not sure which of these made me look into your profile. I discovered from your profile that you are my senior at college, and suddenly realised that you were the debater I saw at Vythiri four years back. I quickly scanned through the list of current students on the medical college’s website and found that you are now pursuing the compulsory rotating internship at the hospital attached to the medical college. You would have been posted in any of the twenty departments in the hospital, each of which is further broken down into three to six units. It was near impossible to find out where you were, unless I ask for information from one of your batch mates.

I went through the posts on your facebook wall and found that you were quite active there. You had posted statuses, links and comments about irrational governmental policies, emerging diseases and healthcare tips. You also had also shared anecdotes from your life as an intern. All these sounded very much like you, confirming my suspicion that you were indeed the debater I once looked up with respect. I overcame the urge to send you a friend request, fearing that you might not accept my friendship because you do not know me in person.

In the following days, I looked for you while I passed through the corridor from one ward to another, among the team of doctors that conducted morning rounds around patients lying down on mats in the verandah . You were expected to be the one without the white coat, kneeling down on the floor mat of the patient, wearing the stethoscope round your neck, explaining the details of the patient to the small group of white-coat-wearing senior doctors and jotting down the orders on the case record. You were not to be seen in any group of doctors I saw. You were never to be seen at any of the community events at college which made me think if you had shrunk to medical books the way many of the medicos have done. You were not to be seen at the entrance coaching institute like the many interns who choose to devote their weekends to study for the post-graduate entrance exams. You were not seen in the coffee-station where doctors, medics and nurses hung out after their ward rounds to gossip over a cup of coffee. You seemed to be literally non-existent. Eventually I stopped looking for you and forgot about you altogether.


It was a particularly busy day in the Outpatient department. In addition to the interns, medical students were also asked to help out the consulting physicians by examining the patients and explaining the findings. Names of people were being called out through the microphone every once in a while. People who were impatiently waiting for their turn had started to encroach into the cubicles of doctors to find out when their turn would arrive. The Outpatient tickets were being stalked on the physician’s desks from time to time by the green-uniformed nursing assistant. It was half past one in the afternoon when the queue in the OP thinned, when medical students were let go. I sighed in relief when I was finally released from work. Being too tired and hungry,  I walked my way to the coffee station anticipating to have some light snack before going to the lecture class which would start in 30 minutes.

The coffee station had glass-shelves, which displayed fried snacks of various shades of brown and different shapes – round, triangular or doughnut shaped. As it was late in the afternoon, there were not many people hanging out at the coffee-station. I bought a coffee and idli-vada, and sat down on one of the empty seats close to the entrance. After some time, a man sat down on the seat directly opposite to me, despite several other eating tables being vacant. I quickly looked up, and found that it was you.

“Netha, right?”

“Yes”, I replied. I was surprised that you knew my name.

“And you are Arun”, I said. You looked amused and all the more surprised to be recognized. You were amazed to learn from me later that I remember you from the high school public speech contest at Vythiri.

We talked. You told me that you know me from the organization I am volunteering at. That you had also joined the same organization a few months back. That your busy schedule at the hospital is keeping you from spending more time on volunteering. That you have moved from public speaking to digital writing. That you are planning to launch a digital magazine about medicine and health in Malayalam language. That you are reading Albert Camus’s ‘The Stranger’ and is thoroughly enjoying it. That you aspire to become a physician-scientist. That you had won the third place for the debate contest at the National level after winning at Vythiri. That you feel like it has been ages since you made your last public speech. That you are posted at a community health centre in a village close by, which justified your absence from the hospital.

I felt as if you were my acquaintance for a long time, though that was the first time we met. Our talk continued for a long  time even after we finished drinking the coffee. I had to interrupt and wind up our conversation to reach in time for the afternoon lecture class. We parted after promising to keep in touch with each other.

When I checked my facebook account that evening, I found that you had dropped a friend request.


In black and white

 

She’d open up lives on canvas :

the infant’s inked footprints in black

and the marbled tombstone in white,

the mushroom cloud of the nuclear bomb

all painted in black and white

while they conveyed ideas

dominated by shades of grey.

The picture of her chest snapped by the machine

baking her tissues with a beam of rays

was in black and white, too.

When my white-sleeved hand

held it up against the glowing screen,

I saw cannonballs* piercing her lungs.

The back of my mind wished

it was just another picture

painted by her.

Truth is not always what we wish for.

 

*Multiple pulmonary nodules on chest x-ray are known commonly as cannon ball secondaries. Cannon balls indicate poor prognosis.

SMS (Save My Soul)

This poem won the S.Challenge Memorial Poetry Prize, 2012. The award ceremony will happen in Trivandrum Press Club on 12th May 2013. If you would like to attend the function, please leave a comment or mail me directly so that I can send you a copy of the invitation card.
I wrote this poem in one stretch after reading about the Abu Ghraib prison torture.

My uncle Sam is a hefty man.

He has a golden tooth.

You now know why he smiles a little wider.

When I quit the slave’s job

at his firm that buys oil in exchange for food

he held a pistol at my temple

and told me that I have two choices in life-to be killed in a war,

or to kill in an anti-war.

Since both of them involved exploding my brains,

I escaped through the window.

He sued me, for leaving through the wrong exit.

Dad can’t pay a million for the bail,

in dollars, with interest compounded.

My peers at jail were charged for nailing bombs

to non-existent walls, for wearing skull caps,

for stealing bread. Even the deputy’s dog torture us here.

 

Reader, if u r stil human,

plz tell da policeman

dat i did no crime.

 



Outputs from Ada Camp

It has been around eight months since I traveled to the U.S for the first time to attend Ada Camp D.C. Looking back, I find the Ada Camp as one of the most fulfilling experiences I had ever had.

The Ada initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture. They organize the Ada Camp and other women’s hangouts in different cities of the world. The one I attended was the second Ada Camp held in Washington D.C, U.S.A.

I had to appear for my exams soon after the camp, and I was skeptical if I would get a U.S visa. I was the only attendee traveling from India. I would miss my classes at the University for a week, and I knew that catching them up would be hard. Despite all these, I decided that I should attend the Ada Camp anyway. I guess I was lucky, because I got the visa without much hassle. I was granted leave from college. I couldn’t believe that I would be flying to join the Ada Campers in Washington D.C!

The Ada Camp brought together more than 100 enthusiastic women from all over the world. The attendees were a diverse mix of individuals, homemakers, mommies, engineers, researchers, students, social media analysts and many other people from different backgrounds. The participants were from different nationalities, but all of them were driven into applying for the Ada Camp because of their sheer love for open source stuff. I met many women who are in many ways similar to me. I could take part in discussions which centered around topics of my liking, which widened my perspective. The notes shared by the participants on etherpad were very useful for future reference. I could learn a wide variety of skills including coding and Karate! Being a student, I was fully unaware of the gender issues at workplace, and Ada camp gave me an opportunity to learn about best practices for working women. The two days of the camp was fully packed up with so much of knowledge that was relevant to me.

a380d-nethandconnie
With a fellow Ada Camper. Photo by Chit Thiri Maug

It was after the camp that the WikiWomenCollaborative, an initiative to engage women in Wikimedia, was launched. The initiative was launched by a fellow Ada Camper Sarah StierchHeather Walls, who designed the Collaborative’s page, was also an Ada Camper. Together, we conducted many activities including editing articles, blogging and social networking to bring more women to Wikipedia and help the existing women editors to actively contribute to Wikipedia. Meeting Sarah and Heather in person at the Ada Camp helped me overcome the cultural  and communication barriers and work collaboratively with them. It would not have been possible otherwise because of cultural and communication problems involving communicating solely online.While traveling back to India, I was deeply satisfied. I had too many projects in mind, and the potential to work towards accomplishing them – Ada Camp put me in touch with the right people and right resources to get me started. Listening to the success stories of other participants helped me overcome my initial inertia, and stimulated me to work hard towards increasing the participation of women in Wikimedia projects.

Ada Camp gave me a taste of coding. I wrote my first code in Python during my training session at Ada Camp. Though it was a small code involving adding numbers, I was so happy to have accomplished a skill! I am not good at coding yet, but the Camp helped me to get over my fear of codes. I have been improving fairly, and I dream of writing a useful code someday. Gathering ideas from the Ada Camp, I successfully conducted a conference in my city  in open space format. I have forgotten the 10 life saving karate moves I mastered during the camp, but I still cherish the learning sessions when we had a lot of fun practicing the moves on each other.

After participating in the Camp, I started spending quality time on Wikipedia on activities that are directly relevant to women. I started writing on Geek Feminism Wiki and got involved in writing blogs about women in open knowledge projects. I could get myself updated on recent issues that concern women from the Ada Camp alumni mailing list. The alumni mailing list also helped me maintain the contacts I made during the Camp. Talking at the Ada Camp increased my confidence in public speaking, and I have given three talks since the Camp.

Now, I have been involved in many open knowledge related activities that involve outreach, mobilizing people, conduct Wikipedia workshops and mobilizing funds. My participation at the Ada Camp enabled me to carry out these activities productively.

Yes, Ada Camp literally changed my life.

1. The third Ada camp is happening in San Francisco, U.S.A in June 2013. If you are a woman or an ally of women involved in open stuff, apply for the Camp here
2. My proposal for Wikimania includes the ideas I gathered from Ada Camp D.C. The abstract of the paper can be viewed here.

 

Ladies, let’s contribute to Wikipedia!

This post first appeared on Forbes website and Women 2.0 website in August 2012.

There is nothing else that changed my life like Wikipedia. It is not just that I “edit” Wikipedia, but I also “celebrate” it.
Editing Wikipedia is a rewarding experience as it helps me gain a new perspective of things. It is also exciting to be able to share the bit of knowledge I know with the millions of knowledge seekers from around the world.

Women and Wikipedia

Like most other tech-related organizations, Wikipedia too cannot boast of high female participation. A recent research points out that only 9% of the editors of English Wikipedia are women.
Wikipedia is sensitive to the gender gap issue and is on its way to close it. The Wikimedia Foundation has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25% by 2015. A WikiWomanCamp was organized this year at Buenos Aires, Argentina for the wiki-women to interact with each other, share their experiences and discuss about gender gap and related issues.

Why so few women edit?

At the WikiWomenCamp, it was pointed out by participants that women do not contribute to Wikipedia because of various socio-cultural factors. Women are traditionally assigned the responsibility of housekeeping and childrearing, which leaves them with very little time to spend for volunteering activities. Women often suffer from lack of confidence and insecurity, which makes them think that those around them are better performers than them.
Women are not clear on why and how to get involved. The specific jargon used in Wikiprojects makes some new users uncomfortable and they eventually quit editing.
There should be a deep cultural change in the tech field to value women’s contributions and make their contributions more visible to the outer world.Sue Gardener, the Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation says, “Deliberately focus efforts on recruiting women. Don’t assume that general outreach efforts will motivate women. Encourage women to recruit other women”.

We edit! CC-BY-SA.

 

Why should women edit Wikipedia?

Diversity of opinion is the essence of any encyclopedia. It is important that all articles are written from a neutral point of view, and having equal representation of women editors would increase neutrality and reduce bias. Women scientists, thinkers and those women who excel in traditionally male dominated fields are given lesser biographical coverage on Wikipedia than men involved in these fields.Having more women volunteers will help reduce this skewed coverage and increase the quality of the content of Wikipedia articles.

Getting involved: You too can write on Wikipedia

Anybody can edit Wikipedia. You don’t have to be an expert in the subject to be able to edit any article. You do not have to learn any computer language to be able to edit Wikipedia. If you are interested in any specific subjects, you could join the Wikiproject for the topic to collaborate with editors of similar interests and keep updated about the latest news in the subject. There are mailing lists for many aspects of wiki-editing, including the Gendergap mailing list for increasing the participation of women in Wikiprojects. Most regional languages have Wikipedias of their own, so if you are not comfortable with contributing in English, you could contribute to the language Wikipedia of your choice.
If you have photographs of educational value, you could upload them to Wikimedia Commons to permit their usage in Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia has sister projects like WikinewsWiktionaryWikibooksWikiquote etc. which also work like Wikipedia.

For more details on how to edit Wikipedia, see this Wikipedia page or contact me!

Wikipedia: Towards closing the gender gap

This blog post was first published on Huffington Post U.K. For my Wikimania proposal with a similar title, click here.

Most of us know Wikipedia as the free online encyclopedia, written collaboratively by millions of volunteers from around the world. I am one of those writers for the last 3 years. It was by writing articles about medical sciences that I started contributing to Wikipedia. Later, I was intrigued by the enormous volume of information available on Wikipedia, and was curious to find out who actually write them – which made me delve into the editor demographics. It really made me upset when I figured out that only around 9% of the contributors to Wikipedia are women. In fact, I knew that so few women write on Wikipedia, but I hadn’t expected the figure to be as low as 9 percent.

Diversity of opinion is the essence of any encyclopedia. Having equal representation from women will bring in wider perspectives, and increase the neutrality of the articles on Wikipedia. With men creating most of the content for Wikipedia, certain subjects might be covered more than a subject that may be of interest to women. Women not writing on Wikipedia mean that certain subjects may not be receiving the attention they rightfully deserve.

CC-BY-SA. User: Jaluj. Wikimedia Commons

The Wikimedia Foundation, the not-for-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia, had recognized this problem sooner than I did. The Wikimedia Foundation has launched various programs to bridge the gender gap, and the latest addition to the list is the WikiWomen’s Collaborative.

The WikiWomen’s Collaborative was created in September 2012 by women around the world who edit Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, and want to encourage others to do the same. The project was aimed at helping women and transwomen to support one another and engage in programs that help the Wikimedian community to bring in new women editors. A variety of events, like edit-a-thons, interviews and wikiwomen parties were conducted as a part of the collaborative.

In May 2012, a WikiWomenCamp was organized for women in the Wikimedia movement to get together and discuss about the various issues related to being women involved in the Wikimedia community with like-minded women. Over 20 women from different countries participated in the camp to brainstorm solutions for existing problems that concern women, and suggest future plans to collaborate with one another. It is customary to conduct a WikiWomen’s luncheon at Wikimania, the global gathering of Wikimedians, exclusively for the women participants.

Organizations like the Ada Initiative, named for the world’s first programmer Countess Ada Lovelace, support women working with open knowledge projects like Wikipedia by creating resources for women in open stuff, conducting conferences and advising organizations on supporting women.

Many outreach programs were conducted in women’s universities all over the world to encourage students to participate in the Wikimedia movement. The Women’s History month edit-a-thons conducted every year, attracts both male and female editors to write biographies of notable women on Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Foundation has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25% by 2015. Given the good response from the community to various events conducted for women, it is likely that the foundation will achieve its goal within the set time limit.

If you would like to get engaged in various activities for women in Wikipedia, write to me or join us here.

Women, we can do it: A conversation with Anastasia Lvova

This is the report of my interview with the Russian Wikimedian, Anastasia Lvova.

Anastasia Lvova’s story should be an inspiration to women editing Wikipedia. She started editing Russian Wikipedia in 2007, because she found volunteering very interesting and useful to society. She has been one of the most active editors of Russian Wikipedia since. After writing her first article (certification) and improving her first good article (RFID), she became dedicated to Wikipedia.

 

lvova_i_edit_wikipedia
Lvova. CC-BY-SA. Self.
Lvova’s contributions to Wikipedia and the Wikimedia community are impressive. She runs a bot, which does automated tasks on Wikipedia. It is now active on multiple language Wikipedias. She is also a Toolserver user — where she works on the Connectivity project — and an agent for Wikipedia’s volunteer customer service group, OTRS. She has created more than 2,200 new articles and authored some good and featured articles about Ireland and the arts. She has made as many as 404 edits in a day, 23,777 actions with flagged revision in a month and more than 60,000 edits in all! She was at the lead in organizing Wiki Loves Monuments Russia in 2011. She is an advocate for free knowledge and took part in organizing protests against internet censorship in Russia. A large part of her collection of images on Wikimedia Commons are photos from her foreign trips, because according to Russian law, photos of still-in-copyright buildings are not free.Outside the Wikimedia network, she is a photographer and writer. She graduated with a degree in management and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in psychology. She maintains a blog where she posts about her activities within and outside Wikipedia. She is also involved in charity and volunteering, and likes spending time writing letters to the elderly and children in orphanages. For her, these hobbies contribute to her activities within Wikipedia, as her hobbies help her create ideas for writing Wikipedia articles.For Lvova, being a woman editor is a positive. She says that the Russian community is receptive to woman editors, and fellow editors have helped her from time to time. She has met like-minded individuals from the community, and has done collaborative projects with them. She has noticed that the Russian wiki-community sometimes expects feminine behavior from women editors, but she says it’s not really a problem for her. She also noted that in the past, when it was hard for women to teach in universities, they became teachers, fighting against the odds, even disguising themselves as men to be able to teach. Women should be inspired by the past and feel empowered to contribute now, she argued. “Dear women, we can do it, and sharing information has always been our competence,” she said with a smile.Lvova enjoyed meeting other women editors in Argentina during the WikiWomenCamp, a meeting of women Wikimedians from around the world that took place in May 2012.“WikiWomenCamp was helpful for me not only because I got new contacts and a new perspective of things, but also because it gave me some courage to work for women’s issues,” Lvova said. She was grateful to receive a grant from Wikimedia Germany to participate in WikipWomenCamp and she has been supported by Wikimedia Poland to attend two Wikimanias and several wikiconferences.After WikiWomenCamp, Lvova started a project for new woman editors to write articles about notable women on Russian Wikipedia (they have written about 50 articles so far). She said she wishes to be helped by both men and women in her community to bridge the gender gap in Wikipedia. She thinks that this is an issue which has to be dealt with urgently. “Statistics show that around 6 to 23 percent editors are women, but we can’t be sure yet as many women prefer to disguise themselves as men because they think that a man’s opinion would be preferred over a womans,” said Lvova. She, therefore, likes to research about women’s participation in her home wiki.Her activities on Wikimedia have helped her visit interesting places, but the most rewarding experience for her has been meeting fellow Wikimedians. Through these events she has met new people who have helped her learn fresh ideas for problems, many of which were not raised in local discussions. If you want to say a ‘hi’ to Anastasia, the best place to drop by would be her talk page, where she says she would welcome the discussion.
This post was first published on Wikimedia blog on 16th October, 2012. The interview was conducted as a part of the activities of WikiWomenCollaborative. 

Touring Washington D.C in a day!

 Visiting places is fun, more so when you are at the capital city of U.S.A. I was invited by Google Inc. to attend the prestigious Ada Camp D.C held in Washington in July 2012. My three day trip was tightly packed, with two days spent at the conference venue and just one day left for sightseeing. There is so much to see at Washington D.C that it is near impossible to see them all in just one day. However, I managed to make the maximum out of my visit, and here are some tips for those who are planning to go to the U.S for sightseeing.
An airplane flying over the Potomac River, Washington D.C

 

Getting prepared: 

  •          If you have running shoes, pack them up! The city is seriously obsessed with running! So, join the insanity and do the sightseeing while jogging past your favourite tourist spots! If you are not a big fan of jogging, you could consider taking a bike tour or a bus tour.
  •             Camera is a must. Stop at the 19 foot long Lincoln Memorial, the sparkling Hope Diamond at Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the spiky Washington Monument to click a few snaps. I bet those pictures would be your most prized possessions once you reach back home!
  •             Get a map of the city. Maps are available for free at tourist spots and most restaurants.
In front of the Washington monument

 

Good morning!

Step back in time at one of the old fashioned restaurants in Dupont circle to have a scrumptious breakfast. Get a taxi and head to the Lincoln memorial by sunrise. It feels great to watch the Washington monument bathed in gold just after sunrise. Then move to the Potomac River and have a paddle boat ride to view the capital’s best monuments on the banks of the river.

At the Lincoln Memorial

 

Good afternoon!

The latest food trend in D.C is to follow the city’s food trucks. The trucks offer everything from muffins to sandwiches, so make sure that you enjoy some of the America’s indigenous delicacies. Then march ahead to the Smithsonian group of museums which showcase a wide variety of artifacts, exhibits and videos. The Air and Space museum and the Natural History museum are especially child friendly, so do not forget to take your kids there!

The specimen of the stuffed African Elephant at Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Exhibits at the Smithsonian Museum

 

Good evening!
It is evening and you haven’t yet finished strolling through the museums! Now it is time to go to the White House. Though getting an entry pass is hard, one could always get near the gates and pose for a picture near one of its gates. There are plenty of gift shops around, so do not forget to buy stuff for your relatives back home from here!
Good night!
The best place to hang out at night is one of the disco clubs or outdoor movie houses. Pamper your taste buds by eating a caramelized black cod or steamed fish with picklebacks for dinner!
Wikimania evening party in the Library of Congress, D.C

 

If time permits:
Go to the U.S botanical and zoological gardens. I missed this part, and I can’t yet forgive myself for missing it. This is the best place for kids to appreciate various ecosystems and diversity of the earth.
The locals are extremely friendly. The city has signboards and maps at every nook and corner, so there are no chances for you getting lost. If you are planning to do some heavy shopping, stroll over to Georgetown, where you’ll get plenty of souvenirs.
 
I couldn’t believe that the day ended so quickly! I had a very memorable time at D.C that I felt like not going back home!

PS: Thanks to Dr. Jayakrishnan for correcting one of the obvious errors in this article. 🙂