I know, I know – us feminists can’t even be happy with simple, plain eye candy and have to find flaws in everything. You’re welcome ❤
I just don’t see why that image went viral and why everyone was so shocked to see that a Pakistani tea-seller could be so attractive – other than that he was being fetishized. Where in the world do people live that they lack good-looking men so much they go cray when they come to know of one? I think there are several reasons why this photo went viral and why especially Pakistani non-Pashtuns went cray-cray over it. Read on, fellers.
And, by the way, if you shared this picture on your social media, have been told why your choice to exotify it is wrong, and you’re still defending your choice because “but I shared it only because he’s so attractive and yet so simple! What’s wrong with that?” … yeah, you actually just answered your own question without realizing it, but let me break it down bit by bit because there are many layers to this problem.To be clear, however, this is not about Arshad Khan himself (Arshad Khan is the actual name of the human now known instead as “chai wala”). He’s not at all the problem or even a remote part of the problem. I’m happy for him that he appreciates the fame he’s received from the photo and that he’s even got a contract with a modeling agency in Pakistan. If that’s what he ever wanted, may God put barakah in his life and grant him success in all ways, aameen.
The problem lies in the ways he’s being talked about, in the reasons that his photo became an internet sensation among South Asians *and among white people* who are so pleased with themselves to see “a guy who’s not exactly white but who looks white, yay! Look how cute he is!” Ya, that’s not okay.
The many problems include the following, in no particular order.
- internalized self-hatred among Pakistanis and other South Asians (and others, #weKnow, but this is about Pakistanis) getting out of hand.
Formerly colonized groups of people have internalized the beauty standards – among other concerns – that our white colonizers imposed on us. These include declaring white skin, blue or green eyes, and blonde hair desirable, attractive, and the ultimate form of beauty. White people even declared white skin to be “fair” (the synonym of just!), equating “fairness/justice” with whiteness, with beauty, while declaring “darkness” to be evil, ugly, undesirable. But they did this while also declaring “tan” to beautiful and desirable. Tan is just the right amount of darkness – not too dark because that’s not attractive, but not entirely white either because that’s just too familiar, too normal, and not exotic enough. This is why too many of us can’t respect and love ourselves if we don’t have the skin, hair, and eye colors most white people are naturally born with. This is also why black/brown eyes and brown skin aren’t desirable and sexy enough to go viral even though every. other. person. in Pakistan is brown and doesn’t have green/blue eyes. Even though most Afghans/Pashtuns don’t have blue/green eyes. Remember Sharbat Gula? Yeah, her, too. It was the piercing green eyes. Green eyes are always piercing. you understand.
So Arshad Khan became popular because too many South Asians lack the self-esteem, self-love to see a green-eyed person of color randomly and just move on. No. We must take a photo of this creature because omg, this is so … different, you know? A Pakistani with green eyes?! No way! That, too an individual who’s at other people’s service, a tea seller? Aren’t those people supposed to be, like, poor, and aren’t poor people supposed to be dark and unattractive? Our world is turning upside down. Apparently, this tea-seller just doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes that exist anywhere about tea-sellers. Like, omg, *even* a chai wala can be this sexy?! Because chai walas are such useless and unattractive and poor people that they have no business being good looking and desirable.
Which brings me to the second issue.
- serious class issues going unnoticed. Hurmat puts it really well when he writes:
The fascination with the ‘chaiwala’ (ironically he doesn’t have a name which the photographer can easily find out and give) of Pakistani cyberspace represents the stereotype that working people and laborers shouldn’t look like ordinary humans and looking handsome is just out of question. You see them looking agape, and sharing it as some sort of revelation. Go and look around yourself and drop the lens of privilege and bias, you will find out that the people on streets are just like you. The middle class and certain faction of elites have a new passtime which is objectification of a laborer who just happens to not fit into their stereotype. All who are surprised by this handsome face or pretend to be surprised by his face somehow feel that they are doing good to that man. The level of stereotyping and patronizing is just nauseating.
And the headlines! You guys, the headlines are craaaayzee! I saw one the other day that went, literally, like this: “Guys, there’s a hot chai wala in Islamabad!” Then there’s this, also on Buzzfeed: “This Hot Pakistani Chaiwala Is Now A Worldwide Sensation And Has A Modelling Contract.” The rest are equally abhorrent. Because, again, wtf.
- Sabina adds another good point to this discussion:
Pashtuns who spoke out against the stereotype of all Pashtuns are uneducated and poor, themselves responded with classist responses, such as “We are NOT ALL chai walas,” which is problematic because it implies that the very work he does to support himself and his family is not worthy.
It’s not just non-Pashtuns who perpetuated this myth about Pashtuns’ being uneducated but good-looking (see this meme that says, “Pashtuns are handsome. It doesn’t matter if they are makers of tea or chauffeurs”). Pashtuns, too, have been complicit in these self-misrepresentations of themselves, being classist and suggesting that there’s something wrong with being a “chai wala,” selling tea. There are a lot of wrong things with this image, as we’ve established already, but “OMG #NotAllPashtuns are #chaiwalas” is not one of them.
- Pashtuns are white/light-skinned with blue/green eyes (which is a myth, but okay), but they are useless, terrorists, misogynists, and just don’t deserve to be treated like humans in Pakistan. And they have useless jobs like selling tea, or selling naan apparently (see here).
a. Pashtuns are only as good as our looks, but we’re not good enough to be treated with respect. We are “goodlooking” because we have light skin and apparently green and blue eyes, but we’re not human enough to be respected in the society. What the response to this picture tells us is that “You guys! Yeah, we’re Pakistani and all, but we do have some very beautiful people, okay? Look at this hottie, for example!” If you didn’t know any better, you’d think our purpose in life was to insist on our own humanity.
b. Especially in Pakistan, Afghans – a majority of whom are Pashtuns, Arshad Khan’s ethnic group – are treated horribly as refugees. In fact, Pakistan is driving out some 600,000 (you read that right: six hundred thousand) Afghan refugees, sending them back to Afghanistan. The refugee situation in Pakistan worsened with the Dec. 16, 2014 shooting of the Army Public School children, when Afghans were accused of being terrorists – and they still are. Afghan refugees are considered useless, unproductive, terrorist, and just overall unfit to be human or legitimate. They’re not allowed to run their own businesses or live outside of camps, and their bank accounts and sim cards for phones are shut down. (See here for more human rights violations of Afghans in Pakistan.)The fact that in 2005, a Pashto song by Naghma came out begging Peshawar to take better care of its own children (the Pashtuns, the refugees, from Afghanistan) is evidence enough that things weren’t going well.
c. And it doesn’t begin or end with these goodlooking refugees: The Pashtuns of Pakistan, with some exceptions (based especially on socioeconomic class), are another unwanted minority in Pakistan. Not only are there all these stereotypes of Pashtuns throughout Pakistan (hint: #PathanJokes in mainstream media), but there are also issues like: our language is not important enough to be taught even to us, let alone to others; more than 90% of Pashtuns can neither read nor write their own language, but all literate Pashtuns–whether they went to school for just one year or finished their PhDs–can and must be able to read/write Urdu. We Pashtuns have internalized this so deeply that now, the more educated we are, the less Pashto we must speak. We are deprived of learning about our history and culture, so that we never get to read about Bacha Khan from our own perspectives but we are taught he was a traitor to Pakistan. Never mind that he was one of the most important leaders in Pashtun history – who spent more time in Pakistani jails than he did in British jails (and he spent more than half of his life in jails). We are identified as “Afghan” on our national ID cards and whatnot, which automatically otherizes us, but we are then denied all connection with Afghanistan so that most Pakistani Pashtuns think lowly of Afghans and Afghanistan.
d. Then, of course, there are Pakistan’s and the U.S.’s victims of drones: they’re largely Pashtuns. Remember Nabila? The 9-year-old girl who survived a CIA-issued drone attack that her grandmother died in, and who was in DC in 2013 speaking about drones – and only five Congresspeople attended the hearing?
- The stereotypes about Pashtuns are so bad and so prevalent that a very common conversation starter between me and non-Pashtun Pakistanis goes something like this:”Ahhh, you’re Pathan!”
“Yes. I’m Pashtun.”
“Par (but)… you’re so educated… your parents let you?” [It’s either this or then “Your parents are good people to let you go to school.]
“You know … you know how Pathans are, you know, a lil backward, misogynistic and don’t let girls go to school. The Taliban–”
“No. Pashtuns are no more misoygnistic and backward than the rest of the Pakistanis.”
And this next line is one that the latest Pakistani person literally used with me:
“Haan, haan (yes, yes), but Pathans are just a lil more backward, hai na? (no?)”
“No. Not at all. And I’m sick of these stereotypes, so stop being so ignorant. You have access to knowledge and resources, and you have no excuse to believe these things you hear about us. Illiteracy has everything to do with poverty, which has everything to do with marginalization and denial of access to resources, and so if it so happens that the largest illiterate population in Pakistan is Pashtuns – which isn’t true, but for argument’s sake – it’s not because Pashtuns don’t want education but because of other deeper, structural issues regarding lack of access to education for Pashtuns/Pashtun women. Also, the Taliban don’t represent Pashtun thinking and culture, so don’t use them as an example. Ever.”
The person did eventually acknowledge that her knowledge about Pashtuns came from mainstream Pakistani media, which portrays Pashtun men like violent, controlling monsters and Pashtun women like oppressive, submissive, helpless creatures of God who are forced to cover their faces.
This is hilarious because my last point.
- too reminiscent of how Arab men are portrayed in western media (at least historically) as being tall, dark, and handsome – sexy, desirable, attractive – but not human enough to be afforded basic human rights and dignity. Objectifying us, dehumanizing us, mocking our cultures, beliefs, ways of life, and literally killing us. But, yeah, we’re handsome people. To the Pakistanis/Muslims who shared this picture and made comments like “I’d love to get some chai from him ;)”: It’s totally possible to fight bigotry in one context and be a bigot yourself in another.Darkashan basically summarizes these problems as follows:
Can Pakistans and the world quit their fetishization of the Pathan people meanwhile justifying the expulsion of Pathans as refugees, using Pathans for proxy wars, and throwing Pathans under the bus for drone strikes and miltiary occupations?
Can the world move from fetishizing blue/green eyes or the “exotic” look and focus on the violence Pathan bodies have faced for centuries? Can we do that?The fetishization that my grandmother and many faced for being green/blue eyed Pathans was HORRIBLE. They had deep traumatic stories and prayed to have children with brown eyes and darker skin so they could fit in rather than being objectified consistently. For women that resulted in harassment and violence that was unbearable.
Also not feeling these weak arguments on white supremacy from the diaspora that lack any nuanced understanding of the fetishization of Pathans in the context of Pakistan.
“White people even declared white skin to be “fair” (the synonym of just!), equating “fairness/justice” with whiteness, with beauty, while declaring “darkness” to be evil, ugly, undesirable.”
Oh, where to begin? “Let there be light”? “Light upon light”? “And for them are fair women with beautiful eyes, the likenesses of pearls (which, surprise surprise, is white) well-preserved, as reward for what they used to do”? Yes, by all means, humans rights are inherent to all, but let’s not pretend that standards beauty, like standards of justice or goodness or compassion, are not (language itself is universal in equating fairness to goodness). My late grandfather used to tell me not to play in the sun when I was a kid, because he was afraid that my skin would be darkened, and he’s from Thailand, which has never been colonized.
… “for them are FAIR women…” isn’t what the Quran says. It says for them are beautiful/attractive mates.
Quit equating beauty with fairness. They’re not the same.
It’s also a huge mistake to think only nations that have been colonized can think in colonized ways. Afghanistan was never colonized either, but that doesn’t mean colonialism/imperialism didn’t influence it.
You make no valid point. But thanks for ur response!
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The “light” in those Quran&Bible verses doesn’t have a thing to do with light skin, but with the light of the SUN or a LAMP, neither of which have anything to do with human beings and how they look.
And like Orbala already noted, the Quran talks about beauty – not about light skin per se.
Beautiful people come in every shade, skin colour, and hue, and there are many different beauty standards. That story about your grandfather only proves that self-hatred, anti-black racism, shadeism and colorism are a global problem. It does NOT “prove” that Western beauty standards are somehow “objective”.
Allah swt forbade racism in the Quran, and our Prophet, peace be upon him, did too. He pbuh gave a good example because he had many black companions, and rebuked his brown companions for their racism against Hazrat Bilal, about whom he said that he was one of the people of Paradise. Also, some of the later ahl ul bayt were also black.
But even if this all wasn’t the case, claiming that we as black people are ugly, inferior, stupid etc. (because THAT is exactly what your post essentially says, it reeks of anti-blackness) because we have lots of melanin in our skin is racist & both morally & factually wrong.
The rape, enslavement, dehumanization colonization and genocide of millions of black & brown people has been justified by this line of thinking, racist opression and anti-black racism continue in countries as diverse as the U.S., many Latin-American countries, Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, etc. Basically world wide.
Stop with racism, because racism dehumanizes & literally KILLS black people!
“(language itself is universal in equating fairness to goodness)”
This also is not true. There are many languages that don’t. I speak Dutch, Egyptian Arabic and Sranan Tongo, and none of them equate “fairness” to “goodness”.
Right? Neither does Pashto.
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By the way, Orbala, I have the translation of the Quran of Laleh Bakhtiar and think it’s fabulous, however, she, too, translates many verses like this “to God belong the Fairest names……..” Problematic on many levels, most of all that she, too, unwittingly promotes the idea beautiful=fair=light skinned and vice verse. God is not black or white, and beautiful and light skinned aren’t the same.
Yes!! Too common a notion that needs to be killed asap.
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By the way, I googled him, but I don’t actually think him THAT beautiful (ofcourse, beauty is in the eye of the beholder). He’s handsome & looks nice, yes, but that’s all IMO…..
As a black Muslim woman I already knew about the anti-black racism rampant in the Indian subcontinent.
It also is a problem in my native Surinam, where many Hindustani folks, the biggest ethnicity think like that. Ofcourse, the colonial divide-and-rule by the Dutch between Hindustani-Surinamese people and Afro-Surinamese people also is a part fo the problem. However, even some Hindustani folks in Holland are happy to pose as the “good” “model minority” at the expense of their Afro-Surinamese brothers&sisters. Never mind that they have their own set of problems like high suicide rates, alcohol addiction, forced marriages, etc.
That being said, I am reading this thread with interest, even though I’m not Pakistani so it’s not my conversation or struggle. However, I would like to note that the image of Pashtuns isn’t very good amongst non-Pakistanis as well. I remember telling a friend, a white Dutch convert, about a case of domestic violence and sexism amongst Pakistanis. Her first reaction: “Where they Pashtuns?” (And no, they weren’t)
The cliches about Pashtuns amongst parts of the general public: Light skinned, traditional, “strict” towards women, etc.
Now that I think of it, some Punjabi/Panjabi Pakistanis play the same “blame the other” game as Hindustani Surinamese do. Both groups try to claim that they are the “good” Surinamese/Pakistanis, whilst throwing their brothers&sisters in front of the bus, because the approval of white people is ofcourse the biggest accomplishment one can get in life.
By the way, maybe you can explain me some more about the -probably complicated- relationship between the Taliban and Pashtun communities? In the Western media, it is often stated that most Taliban in Afghanistan (&sometimes Pakistan) are Pashtun. Ofcourse, there are many misogynist, far-right fundamentalists amongst other ethnic groups as well. Come to think of it, I often read the Taliban have destroyed much of Afghanistans traditional cultures – be they Pashtun or otherwise…..
I dont want this to turn into a political debate but since we are talking about Pashtuns, i”ll just give you a brief intro on our problem (Pashtuns) . First off, a sizable number of us Pashtuns do not differentiate between other Pashtuns based on their nationality. Be they from Afghan or Khyber. Now, the taliban are part of the pakistani government’s policy of “strategic depth” or thd use of proxies to gain power over the affairs of Afghanistan. This stems from their deep fear of Afghanistan’s inciting the Pashtun areas’ (Khyber’s) to secede from paki. Now, reports from various international observers have proved that the bulk of the taliban are made up of salafist punjabis who are trained by the isi, while they do have some Pashtun and Tajik elements, they however have been known to desert and are testament to the fact that the taliban was full of punjabis.
“So Arshad Khan became popular because too many South Asians lack the self-esteem, self-love to see a green-eyed person of color randomly and just move on. No. We must take a photo of this creature because omg, this is so … different, you know? A Pakistani with green eyes?! No way! That, too an individual who’s at other people’s service, a tea seller? Aren’t those people supposed to be, like, poor, and aren’t poor people supposed to be dark and unattractive? Our world is turning upside down. Apparently, this tea-seller just doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes that exist anywhere about tea-sellers. Like, omg, *even* a chai wala can be this sexy?! Because chai walas are such useless and unattractive and poor people that they have no business being good looking and desirable.”
Indeed. Racism & classism combined – a manifestation of a world-wide problem.
By the way, back in the day I read quite a few books about Afghanistan, trying to understand its cultures and history. I read Khaled Hosseinis books, Malalay Joyas book, Fawzia Koofis book, Nelofer Parizas book and books by Westerners. One of those books mentioned traditional Pashtun Landay poetry. The translations were beautiful & evocative, but sadly, the writer noted that the only “weapons” Pashtun women have, are suicide and poetry. (There is this book about it “Le suicide et le chant”) And I was like, for real?! What about Orbala, and Malalay Yousufzai, and Malalay Joya? So yeah, this cliches abound…
Here it is: “*In 1988, Majrouh was assassinated by religious fanatics who would later become the Taliban. In 1994 one of his French colleagues, André Velter, published these landays in French under the title: Le Suicide and le chant. In 2003 this collection was translated into English by Marjolijn de Jager and published as Songs of Love and War: Afghan Women’s Poetry (Other Press, 2010). Curiously enough, “suicide” is absent, and yet today, as thirty years ago, death and song are still the two forms of rebellion and self-determination readily available to Pashtun women like Rahila Muska.”
Some lovely, beautiful & bold poems with explanations: “Girl:
Slide your hand inside my bra.
Stroke a red and ripening pomegranate of Kandahar.
I’d slide my hand inside your bra,
but who will drop coins in the attendant’s jar?
This a very old landay that has been remixed: the word “sleeve” here has been replaced by “bra strap” in Pashto. Old and new, both speak to the salty nature that these poems have possessed for centuries. But what’s ironic now is that the southeastern city of Kandahar, the home of Afghanistan’s most famed pomegranates, is also the birthplace of the Taliban. Despite the rigidity on the surface, women’s rebellion simmers underneath. Landays are its foremost form of expression. Since they are collective and anonymous, a woman can’t be held responsible for repeating them.
In the second couplet, the man responds by saying that he can’t afford to touch the woman’s bra, since that would require that he perform ablutions afterward to purify himself. Who, he asks, will pay the fee for him to use the bathroom? It’s a clever ripost to a bold woman’s dare.
Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.
Is there not one man here brave enough to see
how my untouched thighs burn the trousers off me?
For God’s sake, I’ll give you a kiss.
Stop shaking my pitcher and wetting my dress!
I’ll kiss you in the pomegranate garden. Hush!
People will think a goat’s stuck in the underbrush.
Come, let’s lie thigh against thigh.
If you climb on top, I won’t cry.
Ouch! Don’t squeeze me so tight:
My breasts burn from becoming a woman last night.
Bright moon, for the love of God,
Don’t blind two lovers with such naked light.
Climb to the brow of the hill and sight
where my darling’s caravan will sleep tonight.
One leading theory of landays’ origin traces back to the Bronze-Age arrival of Indo-Aryan caravans to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India around 1700 bce. These poems could have evolved out of communication through call and response back and forth over a long caravan train. Many of the poems refer back to this nomadic way of life, as well as to the moon, flowers, nature. As ancient songs, they are thought to be related to the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures at least five thousand years old and comprised of couplets called slokas, not unlike landays, except that they are sixteen rather than twenty-two syllables long.
Daughter, in America the river isn’t wet.
Young girls learn to fill their jugs on the internet.
How much simpler can love be?
Let’s get engaged now. Text me.
Climb to the brow of the hill and sight
where my darling’s caravan will sleep tonight.
One leading theory of landays’ origin traces back to the Bronze-Age arrival of Indo-Aryan caravans to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India around 1700 bce. These poems could have evolved out of communication through call and response back and forth over a long caravan train. Many of the poems refer back to this nomadic way of life, as well as to the moon, flowers, nature. As ancient songs, they are thought to be related to the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures at least five thousand years old and comprised of couplets called slokas, not unlike landays, except that they are sixteen rather than twenty-two syllables long.”
Orbala, do you know if the info in the article is accurate? Personally, I doesn’t sit well with me that those poems are attributed to Indo-Aryans, the Vedas, Hinduism – as if beautiful poems can’t be essentially & originally Muslim. The same thing is often done with, for instance, Sufism. It HAS to come from Platonism, Christian monks, etc…. That is my gut feeling, but I hold my horses since I don’t know much if anything about Pashto culture.
Also, sadly amongst Afghans, the notion of black=bad also exists. I know an Afghan lady from the mosque, a sweet, cheerful & positive person, who always hugs me fondly & asks about my parents. (Her mother tongue is Persian) Anyway, she once told me a story about a man who threw with the Quran and was “punished” – his face turned black. For real, I like this woman, but didn’t know how to react………… Later on, I realized I should have said: “Well, I’m black, God created me like this, and I don’t consider it a “punishment” at all, and thinking that blackness is a punishment is racist& anti-black.”
That article also featured this quite disturbing landay:
“My lover is fair as an American soldier can be.
To him I looked dark as a Talib, so he martyred me.
O darling, you’re American in my eyes.
You are guilty; I apologize.
Because my love’s American,
blisters blossom on my heart.
These landays reflect how the poems have shifted over time. The first is oldest. It used to go: “My lover is fair as a British soldier,” from the nineteenth-century British occupation in Afghanistan. In some places, the word Angrez, or English, is still shorthand for any foreigner. Slowly the word American is taking its place. The second is popular on the radio and Facebook now. All soldiers, be they Spanish, British, Italian, are called American. In an earlier version of the final poem, the word “American” was “liar.””
Well, IMO the writers of the article SHOULD have noted again the racist equation “fair=light skinned’=good” and “Taliban=dark=bad”.
Brilliant piece, Orbala, and enlightening.
Fwiw, ‘chai wallah’ didn’t trend in New Zealand (my cohort of young Muslim wives must have decided not to implicate themselves in lustful admiration!), so I hadn’t heard of this particular controversy.
But the general theme of ‘hot exotic foreigner’ occurs here in Polynesia too – Fijian-Hindustani Muslims, our refugee & migrants groups of many ethnicities, all have instances where media use ‘beautiful’ or ‘innocent’ looking children & adolescents to popularise particular communities. (Often during festivals such as Eid, Diwali, Chinese New Year, when families dress up and celebrate their religious or national culture.)
There’s a huge debate going on here about ‘migrants’ here, which turns ugly on occasion, and has been used to deflect attention from a Government-induced failure to keep up pace in building infrastructure. Incoming migrants have been scape-goated as putting pressure on infrastructure in particular cities, without good cause, but then we all know how media love a beat-up.
It’s funny that these desis in pakistan fetishize Arshad khan yet at the same time have created a whole generation of ‘khans’ that have gone unnoticed. That arshad’s Pashtun brethren called “refugees” by the pakistani state are deported by the motherload and are depicted as savages. Yet these servile punjabis aggrandize the chai kharsol agha poor alak just to show him off on social media. It is sickening and frankly it just shows how much these punjabis and other desis hate themselves that they see one Pashtun and treat him thus. They even brought him up on some talk show where the hosts apparently made fun of his inability to talk like them or his social status. Let me make this clear, us Pashtuns DO NOT judge each other on social constructs especially one which actively tries to subvert us. Keep your desism to yourselves apus. Pashtuns that don’t fit in the pakistani narrative are termed “Afghan” and are threatened with expulsion. Little do they know that Khyber belonged to Afghanistan and if we go……. so do our lands. And btw khoray, we are miles apart from these desis in every aspect; whether it be culture/ ethnicity, i’m sure most Pashtuns (in Afghan and Khyber) don’t judge their brethren on the color of their skin or how depigmented they are. Only these insecure white wannabe desis do that. Sorry for the rant, but i just had to
Oh and its not just the euros that have the monopoly on ‘white features’….. a thorough tour of our lands will shock them and change their views on how the world actually is, quite thoroughly