1) I enjoyed learning about your fashion journey. What inspired you to begin the journey of this book? Have any of your ideas changed throughout the process?
I had written about modest fashion as a journalist for various newspapers and magazines, and was then approached by Neem Tree Press, who were interested in publishing a book about this new niche industry. I was overjoyed! That’s how the journey of the book began (while I was halfway through my pregnancy).
Surprisingly, many of my ideas have changed throughout the process, and even now, after the book has been printed and published. Following a “modest” lifestyle is an ever-evolving journey, and my own definitions and interpretations of modest wear, and what I’d personally wear, often change. For example, while writing the book, I never considered the burkini to be a swimwear piece I’d ever wear. However, since then, I’ve come across some extremely stylish full-coverage swimsuits, that may not be labeled “burkinis” but essentially cover the same amount of skin, and I’m sold!
2) You cleverly include a little black book of all the amazing people and their Instagrams in the back. Could you recommend your top 3 accounts for people taking their first steps into the world of modest fashion and tell us a bit about each?
There’s a Toronto-based fashion blogger named Saira, on Instagram she is @shazaira. She’s a perfect example of an everyday Muslim woman balancing faith and fashion in the modern world. Some days she’ll be in a glamorous dress, others in a hoodie and sweatpants. What’s more is that she’s candid, genuine and relatable.
Melanie Elturk, CEO of Haute Hijab (@hautehijab) is another influential female to follow. She’s the face of her headscarf business, and combines blogging with entrepreneurship and humanitarianism in her posts.
For whimsical, ethereal fashion inspiration, look no further than South African fashion blogger, Nabilah Kariem (@Nabilahkariem). Her outfits range from suits to floral dresses and floaty kaftans, and her styling approach is chic and clever, and can be easily emulated.
3) What advice would you give to your younger self struggling to find fashion choices that worked for you?
I would tell myself to stick with my gut and avoid overthinking – especially about whether or not an outfit was “trendy” enough, because fashion comes full circle, and what may have been previously “unstylish” one year will be all the rage next year! While growing up, layering to achieve modesty was not considered stylish – at least by mainstream standards. However now, layering a turtleneck over a slip dress, or a corset over a blouse, is very much in vogue.
I would also urge my younger self, to have fun with fashion, be creative with it, and to take it lightly – not too seriously.
4) In the preface, you recollect receiving a t-shirt from a friend that says "modest is hottest" and later analyze this saying in your concluding chapters. What are your final thoughts about this saying now?
I wish I still owned this T-shirt, it would have been such a meaningful memento at this stage of my life –I probably would frame it! While many dispute the use of this saying, arguing that it teaches women to look “hot” for men, or instils the wrong intentions in young women, I believe that you can over-analyse any statement and poke holes in it. I’m confident that with this “motto,” the positives outweigh the negatives – having a fun and catchy slogan that validates your fashion choices and faith-based dress codes can really uplift, inspire and motivate young women.
5) On a personal note, I am an American about to move to Egypt. I've never visited Africa or the Middle East. What advice about anything could you give me?
How exciting! I’ve actually never been to Egypt, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a vibrant, bustling city! Prepare yourself for the summer heat – pack clothing that’s lightweight, cotton, and loose. They may have certain “modesty” dress codes for public outings – that will be worth checking. Also prepare yourself for a language barrier – not everyone will speak English.
While you’re in this part of the world, you should take full advantage and travel everywhere! Save up and spend long weekends in other African and Middle Eastern countries.
1) Your mother, to whom your book is dedicated, and your sisters are often busy preparing food throughout your memoir. What food or drink do you see as the epitome of Amish culture? Why?
Amish food is simple, delicious and starchy. We always had meat of some kind, gravy, mashed potatoes, and often noodles. Starch, right there. Usually, there was a vegetable, too, string beans or some such thing. For breakfast, always farm fresh eggs, gravy of some kind, and toast. Simple and very good. We drank water and coffee. I started drinking coffee as a young teenager.
I would guess the Amish focus on these foods, because they are readily available on the farm.
2) In your memoir, you remember penmanship in school. What were the other subjects like? How did your Amish schooling transfer into the academic world outside the colony (transfer denoting more the experience than literal GED, etc)?
School was very basic, focused on the basic subjects. Reading, writing and arithmetic. I had eight grades of formal education, then graduated to work on the farm. I would stack my Amish school education against any other program out there. We weren't taught a lot, but what was taught was taught well. That was my situation. Some Amish schools are lacking, as many English schools are, too. I stridently defend the right of the Amish to teach their own children.
3) While we set up this interview through email, you mentioned traveling to an ex-Amish meetup in the future. What is it like to be a member of the ex-Amish community? What holds the community together? What's it like?
It's very loose and informal, but we all recognize that each of us has traveled his or her own journey to get to where we are. The Bloomfield reunion happens about once every five years. I always look forward to reconnecting with people from my own place and my own background. It's a unique bond.
4) My grandparents are an example of the Amish's English neighbors. I remember chasing an Amish boy's loose rabbit around their farm, and (not catching the rabbit) hoping their neighbors would somehow grab the fiend when my grandparents returned from bringing them to the grocery store. How would the Amish community be impacted if they had no English neighbors? In your memoir, you discussed the personal importance of your English neighbors at a local coffee shop. How did they keep you grounded?
The first part of the question, I can't answer. The Amish have always lived among English neighbors, so I have no basis to imagine a scenario where they don't. I don't know if my cafe friends kept me grounded as much as kept me sane. I was thirsting for some sort of real outside connection that would not judge me. My English friends came through in flying colors.
5) Is there anything you would like to share about your upcoming sequel?
It's different. The first book is the agony and ecstasy of youth, the turmoil of breaking free and finding myself. The second book focuses a lot on my father, but so much more. It is the mature voice of a man who has seen and felt a lot of heartbreak and anguish, but is walking free. In the first book, the gospel was hidden. In the second book, it's just part of the narrative as an accepted fact.
6) The Amish have a significantly lower suicide rate than the rest of the population. Based on your memoir, I'd infer the 'Amish' shield and community support probably have something to do with it. Do you have any insight to this topic?
Suicide is not unheard of. My great-grandfather shot himself in the chest. The sequel will include this scene. He was bipolar, I guess we'd call it today. I suppose if the actual rates are lower than outside society, it may be because of the tight knit community that was so hard for me to break free from. You may post any of my answers.
1) How does (re)writing folktales for your children and the greater globe compare to your other writing experiences?
First, let me say that I am a very new author. I had only one other book published, a YA
Steampunk – The Ghost Engine, before I wrote The Girl Who Became a Goddess. So I
When I wrote my first novel, I relied on years of storytelling experience as well as my
previous career as an analyst/programmer. I put myself into the role of my protagonist,
asking myself how Berd would have felt as a young woman growing up in the Industrial
Age, when women had yet to obtain equality. I hope I would have made the same
decisions as she. But what I wrote was fiction. Although I put my heart into my book, I
could ‘hide’ behind the story.
Writing The Girl Who Became a Goddess was different as I was writing for my children.
While I wanted them to know the world I had come from, I didn’t want them to see an
idealized version of Singapore.
I was determined from the start to write the truth.
Truth is a cleansing experience.
Living in Australia, so far away from the childhood trauma, it was easy to ‘forget’ what
had happened. Writing my folktales, I was forced to relive the pain, and ask difficult
questions of myself. I didn’t realise until I started writing the folktales, how it was that I
had heard so many stories.
2) 2) I loved when you took the readers a step back to explain your view of folktales. What inspired you to include these sections?
Singapore is a dot on the equator. When I left Singapore there were just over 3 million of
us. I know people who think Singapore is in China.
I am proud to be Singaporean. When my first son was little, I had plans for him to learn
His answer: Mum, I am Australian.
Right now, my children aren’t interested in Singapore or their Mum’s culture, much. But
one day, hopefully they will be, and I might not be around to explain. These explanations
are for them.
3) Many of my students will eventually move to another country. What advice would you give them as they spread across the world?
I started the habit of giving my Year 12 students each a photo frame. I’d say to them, “Remember
this year. One day you might look back and realise this is your happiest year. You have no
responsibilities. The world is out there for you to conquer. Take a photo of yourself and put it
inside. Treasure your memories of what you have now.
“Fight for your dreams. And know I believe in you. You can do anything.”
(Year 12 is the final Year of High School in Australia)
4) What is the one food you have to eat when you visit Singapore?
Char Kway Teow.
The best was at Lau Pasat but that has moved. Singaporeans always joke and say, “See how that
hawker is wiping his forehead, he is actually flinging his sweat into the noodles and that is what
makes them so tasty.”
But seriously, just one?
There’re prawn noodles, laksa, nasi goreng, chicken rice, durian, cendol, ice kacang, nasi berani,
chee cheong fun…
And of course, you need to know where to go to find the best tasting dish.
5) In your reflection, you mention the loss of hawker stalls and the abundance of people finding education overseas. How do you feel about Singapore’s changing environment?
Pride and sadness.
Pride that my homeland has accomplished so much.
Sadness, because every time I return, some place, some thing or some person will have gone.
There are still many hawker stalls around, but thanks to urbanisation, the old ones are mostly
moved away or gone completely.
I am Singaporean so it is in my makeup to love food.
But I am also a teacher, and a strong advocate for education, whatever that may be. All I want is to
see my students achieve their own dreams. It’s all any teacher could want.
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