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Buddhini Samarasinghe
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator
Molecular Biologist & Science Communicator


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Remember the past

I am currently reading the cheerfully titled 'The Origins of Totalitarianism' by Hannah Arendt and I just wanted to quote this passage where she lays out, step by painful step, how citizens were denaturalized into stateless people in 1930s Europe. Note that I say Europe, not just Germany; there is not a single party in Europe that did not produce Nazi collaborators at the time.

"During the war, the principal European States found it necessary to amend their laws of nationality so as to take power to cancel naturalization. The class of stateless persons created through revocation of naturalization was very small; they established, however, an easy precedent so that in the interwar period, naturalized citizens were as a rule the first section of a population that became stateless. Mass cancellations of naturalizations, such as the one introduced by Nazi Germany in 1933 against all naturalized Germans of Jewish origin, usually preceded denationalization of citizens by birth in similar categories, and the introduction of laws that made denaturalization possible through simple decree, like the ones in Belgium and other Western democracies in the thirties, usually preceded by actual mass denaturalization"

And now I'd like you to please read this article and remember that history can repeat itself, especially when we forget the past -

Also in the New Yorker:
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by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it's not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did -
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage -
look what they've done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child's body
in pieces - for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don't know what
i've become.

but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

Image: Holy Family Icon by Kelly Latimore

(Comments are turned off because I won't be around to moderate this space, but I thought this was a beautiful poem that expresses exactly how I feel about current events).
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Wax amaryllis rescue

Two years ago my mother-in-law gifted me a wax amaryllis. To those of you who aren't familiar, it is an amaryllis bulb encased in wax so that it doesn't put out any roots, doesn't need any water, and instead uses the energy stored up in the bulb to produce two flowers. After it's finished flowering, the bulb is chucked in the bin.

The wax-encased bulb was really big, maybe the size of a large orange (or a small grapefruit). That was a sign that it was a really healthy bulb and sure enough it produced two large flower spikes over the Christmas holidays. After the flowers died, I was reluctant to throw the bulb away so I thought I'd try to rescue it. I gently cut away the wax, to find the bulb now shrivelled to at least half the size it was, with a layer of black mould around it. I cleaned as much as I could using a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide and then planted it in a pot with some compost thinking it'll probably die anyway but I had nothing to lose so...whatever.

Over the next few weeks and months it put out leaf after giant leaf and I knew it survived. After a winter dormancy, fast-forward to today and as you can see it's put out a giant flower spike possibly even larger than the one before!

There's probably a metaphor here for how with just a little bit of care and attention, it's possible to salvage something that may seem past it's prime. Somehow the satisfaction of achieving that rescue is even more rewarding than simply buying a shortcut and disposing of it afterwards.
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Balcony Garden 2018

I realise it's been absolutely ages since I updated this album, so here are some photos taken over the last few weeks of my balcony garden. A few quick updates:

The Japanese maple is putting out new leaves after the winter. I pruned it in December to remove crowded branches and it looks much cleaner now. I've noticed that the leaves tend to get scorched from wind damage pretty easily but unfortunately there's not much I can do since it's an exposed balcony. The good news is that the trunk is much thicker that it was when I planted it last year, and the roots have spread more to stabilise it - so a storm can only damage the leaves a little bit rather than uprooting/damaging the whole tree - I hope!

I don't think repeating spring bulbs in containers work - my pot of crocuses from last year only gave me 4 flowers this time but the fresh bulbs gave me loads. So I may have to use these pots for annuals or something like that.

We had a pretty frosty winter during what was supposed to be early spring, so that I forgot to cover the agapanthus and the amarylis with fleece until it was too late. I had resigned myself to losing them but they seem to have survived and the poor wee amarylis is actually putting out new leaves which makes me go awww :)

I've noticed a few pesky caterpillars on my honeysuckle leaves (not pictured here) and I'm not quite sure what to do. I'm all for providing a home for beneficial insects but not if they gobble up my whole plant! I'll keep and eye and see if it's affecting the overall health of the plant or not.
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Summit of Ben Nevis

Omg we actually made it to the summit of Ben Nevis! I can't even begin to describe how proud I feel for doing this. The views most of the way were breathtakingly beautiful but the last hour or so of the summit climb was very poor visibility and it even snowed a bit. Nine hours total time hiking, and the summit was pretty much a whiteout. Would have been helpful to have better gear and equipment like crampons but I'm so glad we made it, there and back!
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Merry Christmas

Growing up, Christmas was not a holiday I really celebrated. But since my husband is British, I've been absorbed into the celebrations with his family. For the last few years my mom has made the trip over too, and it's wonderful to have time off work to relax, experiment with baking new cakes (photo below shows an absolutely delicious carrot cake and some Sri Lankan Love Cake) and enjoy good food and conversation with my favourite people in the world.

Christmas used to mean "phew, the lab is empty so I can use the microscopes in peace" for a number of years of my life but now it's just really really nice to spend time with the people I love and make memories with them.

Merry Christmas to you all :)
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The Silence Breakers

I didn't realise that the Silence Breakers of the #MeToo movement had been named Time Magazine's person of the year until a friend sent me a message. He said "I counted and visualized you on the cover among the Silence Breakers this morning. - I'm proud to know you"

It was only then that I realised that my own #MeToo story was written before the Weinstein story broke - you can see the timestamp here (, because I broke my silence on September 20th, 2016.

Being a 'Silence Breaker' comes at a cost, and sometimes I'll admit that cost can feel overwhelming. I have felt so alone and so unseen through various points of this journey because it's easy when you read stories like this to forget that we, the survivors of abuse, live with that shadow over us for far longer than the interest in the story lasts. Since I began talking about what happened to me, I have had friends who inexplicably distanced themselves from me, as if I was permanently damaged, and then eventually completely disappear from my life. I have had people who initially offered support but then lost interest in even maintaining a semblance of contact after the novelty wore off for them. I have had to defend myself (and my choice to speak out) to friends, co-workers, and of course, strangers on the internet. I have had to expose my wounds and share my trauma again and again as I attempt to demonstrate how abuse doesn't happen in isolation, and bystanders are as complicit as the abusers themselves.

And all this time, the man who abused me has not done any accountability for the harm he caused. His friends who stayed silent have not done any accountability for the harm they caused. It feels unfair, and it feels imbalanced, and it makes me feel so exhausted.

It is exhausting to be a Silence Breaker. I don't do it for the attention, and I wish I didn't have an experience of abuse to share. To be clear, I don't regret sharing my story publicly, but I do wish it hadn't been so damn hard. If we truly want to honour the Silence Breakers as this year's Person of the Year, then be a part of that change. Even if you are lucky enough to never have experienced abuse or harassment, educate yourself on how you can support people like us. Amplify our voices. Hold your peers, co-workers, family, and friends accountable for their behaviour. Do better, so that we can someday live in a world where stories like this won't need to be reported because gasp abusers think twice about behaving the way they do.
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De-escalation and doing the math

I am so tired of having to de-escalate men.

Today as I was leaving my apartment building, a man was outside waiting to go in. It was clear he didn't have an entry fob, and I had never seen him before. I slowed down as I exited, waiting for the door to swing shut behind me while trying to make it seem not obvious what I was doing but he reached out and pushed the door open and walked in while sarcastically saying "thanks". I have never seen this man before, and he did not display any identification or even ask to be let in. The sheer entitlement he displayed in expecting me to unquestioningly allow him into the building enraged me. I stopped and asked him what he was thanking me for and he responds "don't worry I'm not robbing or nothing".

I debated standing my ground and demanding he leave before I call the police but then, I did the math. I did the math on how much bigger he was than me, and how long would the police take to arrive. I did the math on how late that would make me for work, and the fact that the front door to my apartment itself is locked and he can't get it there despite gaining entry into the building. I did the math that if indeed he was intending to break into the building he likely wouldn't have antagonised a resident this way and that he'd probably have smiled and made himself seem non threatening. I did the math that women all over the world do when we are confronted with situations like this, and we decide to de-escalate because most of the time that's the only option we have. I just shrugged and walked away.

But I'm so tired of it. I'm so tired of doing the math around their entitlement. I'm tired of doing the math around their obliviousness. I'm tired of doing the math because I wonder "why should I?"

I have been doing the math and de-escalating ever since I was a teenager. I still remember the first time, when I went to see a cricket match with friends in Sri Lanka and as we were walking through the crowd a man walking past me reached out and grabbed my breast, hard, over my shirt. I was 16 years old. I opted to pretend it didn't happen and keep walking because if I had stopped I'd have lost my friends in the crowd and who knows what else he could have done. When a man feels enough entitlement to grab a woman without her consent, he also feels safe about the fact that he will get away with it. He too, has done the math and he knows that the equation always favours him.

My worst memory of de-escalation is still something I struggle to write about. It had to do with the surreal experience of a friend I trusted ignoring my boundaries, agency, and consent. My response was to freeze and then submit under the rationalisation that friends don't assault each other therefore this couldn't possibly be assault, especially if I do my best to pretend everything was fine. De-escalating helped me get to safety.

The worst part though, is living with the sense of anger, regret, and guilt afterwards. It takes a lot of processing for me to get to a place where I accept that this is just how things are, and I made the right decision in hindsight. Immediately after I de-escalate and remove myself from the situation, I find myself nearly shaking with impotent rage. I think of all the alternatives I wish I could have said or done instead. I look to myself and wonder what I could have said or done differently to either avoid or have prevented the situation. This endless post mortem is exhausting. Do you see how ridiculous and fucked up it is, that we have to do this emotional labour while the man who did the escalating gets to walk away with impunity? It's only later that I understand and accept that my instinct to de-escalate is a survival mechanism. My instincts get me out of these situations into safety, and I am learning to appreciate that more instead of berating myself for being a coward and not punching these fuckers in the face.

I'm so tired of doing the math and de-escalating. Even now I wonder if I should bother writing this or just suck it up because I don't know if I have the energy to deal with #NotAllMen comments. It feels incredibly lonely and isolating, and sometimes I wish I just didn't know or understand what rape culture is. Because then I could treat these incidents as minor unrelated inconveniences, and not as symptomatic of an ecosystem of male entitlement and privilege that feels too huge for me to do anything about.
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The Mountain Goats, finally!

I may have mentioned a few months ago how I pounced on tickets when The Mountain Goats UK tour dates were announced. I've adored John Darnielle's music for nearly a decade now, but can you believe it, I hadn't seen a live performance until now?! I had always heard that TMG are amazing live (and I've seen enough of their live performances on YouTube to agree with that) but I felt sad that I had never experienced the privilege myself.

(It's also worth noting that the last time I could have seen them was on October 13th 2013 in Glasgow, on my birthday no less, and my husband bought tickets when their tour was announced but then the goddamn UK Border Agency refused my visa so I was stuck in Sri Lanka dealing with that dumpster fire and to this day I hold Theresa May's shitty immigration policies responsible for me not being able to revel in the delights of a live TMG performance until now).

Before the concert I wondered if I should take my copies of his books with me to the concert just on the off chance that he'd be able to sign them. I bought, read, and loved 'Wolf in White Van' a couple of years ago, and I had just bought the paperback of 'Universal Harvester'. The @mountain_goats and I follow each other on Twitter (I once tweeted about the poetic coincidence of autoclaving biohazard waste in the lab while listening to Autoclave by the Mountain Goats and he followed me back!!). So I tweeted at them asking if there was an chance of a book signing, and he replied that he'll come out after the show to the merch table. Eeek!

And so a couple of weeks ago, I finally got to see them perform live and it was absolutely amazing. It was, hands down, the best gig I've ever been to. It's hard to pick a favourite moment, from when he sang 'Wild Sage' on acoustic guitar and the audience seemed to literally hold its breath during the pauses, to the rebellious yells of HAIL SATAN during 'The Best Every Death Metal Band in Denton'. Aaaah!

After the show, we waited for a while and then the bouncer person told us he'd be coming out soon. So this being Britain of course the thirty or so people who stayed hoping to meet him dutifully queued up. And by the time I got to the front of the line holding my two books in my hands, I was awestruck to hear him say "oh, Buddhini! Hi!". And then he proceeded to sign my books and even spelled my name correctly without needing any prompting. It was such an amazing moment and I still find it hard to believe it actually happened except I have a book with John's autograph on it to remind me that yes it actually did happen! Eeeee!
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Some thoughts on Harvey Weinstein and the culture of abuse

I have been following the Harvey Weinstein scandal with a mixture of rage, sadness, and a complete lack of surprise. Those of you who have been following my writing on the topic of sexual harassment and abuse would know that this is a topic I am personally invested in. Because it happened to me too, although thankfully the man who did this to me was nowhere near as powerful as Weinstein is.

Yesterday was #WomenBoycottTwitter on Twitter. Women had planned a silent protest in response to Twitter temporarily suspending the account of Rose McGowan, one of the most vocal accusers against Weinstein. I consciously decided not to join this protest, and in fact tweeted more than I normally do, simply because silence in response to abuse and harassment just doesn't work for me. Abuse silenced me for so many years, I will not do this to myself again.

I was silent about my experience of abuse (more at during which time he targeted more and more women. I hate to even think about it, but it's true that my silence contributed towards allowing him to target many other women after he finished with me. But I also admit and agree that survivors such as myself have very good reasons for remaining silent - we only have to see how society responds with victim blaming and shaming to understand why people chose to avoid that hassle completely and try their best to put a shitty experience behind them. There are truly awful consequences that happen when women decide to speak out in defiance of their abuser. As the Weinstein scandal shows us, it's so easy to use guilt and shame and a false sense of complicity to silence survivors. I know because it happened to me too. This article by Jia Tolentino does a fantastic job of explaining how predators like Weinstein implicate their victims in their acts:

But I've also learned that if enough of us gather in numbers too large to ignore, with stories too similar to be coincidental, the truth comes out.

Silence enables abusers to thrive. And bystanders who stay silent also enable abusers. Because abuse doesn't happen in a vacuum. That's why I wrote this article last year on the importance of speaking out against abuse: In it, I said that "our feminism and activism cannot end with simply sharing a BuzzFeed article once the story comes out. We need to do more before it ever gets that far."

I am not as active on Twitter as much as I used to be. I haven't felt inclined to participate in a network that has such an awful track record with tackling harassment and abuse. But my lack of participation is also because several of my abuser's friends stayed silent following the revelations of his abuse. They are part of the problem. One of his friends, a very prominent woman astrophysicist subtweeted in defence of him and undermined his victims. It was awful, hypocritical, and unforgivable. It was also doubly ironic given how vocal she is about her feminism and how loudly she calls out Trump's sexism. I'd laugh, but it is still painful for me.

The problem is so much deeper than the Scott Lewises or the Harvey Weinsteins of this world. Their enablers and their complicity is collusion.

My abuser silenced me for many years. I will not be silent anymore in response to abuse. Silence does not change anything; it just maintains the status quo. But sharing stories, supporting and validating each other, and most importantly holding our friends accountable for their behaviour - that's how we stop abuse.
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