Posts Tagged ‘Hassina Obaidy’


Selling Your Services, Expanding Small Businesses



Joey "The Cat" Mucha throws the ball at his skee ball trailer in the SoMa Streat food park in San Francicso on February 20, 2013. Photo by Andy Sweet

Joey “The Cat” Mucha throws the ball at his skee ball trailer in the SoMa Streat food park in San Francicso on February 20, 2013. Photo by Andy Sweet

By Hassina Obaidy
Photos Andy Sweet

A young man dressed in a cat printed black t-shirt, a leopard print zip up sweater, and a pair of dark washed jeans is standing next to a red Skee-Ball trailer at SoMa StrEAT Food Park on a Friday night. He is known as Joey the Cat, or Joey Mucha, and his Skee-Ball trailer can be often spotted every week at the SoMa StrEAT Food Park, parties, and other city events. A Skee-Ball champion and trainer, Mucha uses Zaarly to help promote and expand his Skee-Ball business.

Slightly similar to other service selling platforms, Zaarly, based in San Francisco, gives talented people the opportunity to make money by doing what they love while expanding small, local businesses. A visually driven platform, it offers services and goods from Skee-Ball lessons, make-up tutorials and homemade goods to the local community. Storefront sellers and buyers can avoid the awkward face to face business deal when purchasing products on websites like Craigslist. With a click of a mouse, a smooth transaction is made between the buyer and the storefront seller on Zaarly to ensure security, privacy, and trust.

After Bo Fishback, CEO of Zaarly, picks up his order from the barista at Blue Bottle Coffee in Mint Plaza, he sits outside his office building dressed in jeans and a black zip up jacket.

“I’m really, really proud of our product actually because I think it fixes much of what is broken in local services,” says Fishback.

Since February of 2011, Zaarly has been growing since with more users and services provided. Zaarly is active in three cities: San Francisco, Kansas City and Seattle. Although Zaarly may overlap with other selling platforms like Amazon, Craigslist, and Etsy, it works a bit differently. Anyone can go through the application process, but not everyone is accepted to sell and promote their business. Fishback says it takes amazing local talent, motivation, and experience to actually create a storefront on their platform. Most possible sellers who come to Zaarly have either had prior experience with other businesses, or come in with referrals. A little less than a thousand businesses are using Zaarly and only about twenty percent of people who apply, go through the application process and end up getting accepted, says Fishback.

Scrolling through Mucha’s storefront on Zaarly, users will find unique services that he specializes in such as Skee-Ball machine rentals, Skee-Ball parties, and Skee-Ball training lessons.


Joey “The Cat” Mucha assists his girlfriend Ali Mazzotta with her technique at his skee ball trailer in the SoMa Streat food park in San Francicso on February 20, 2013. Photo by Andy Sweet

Mucha has been using Zaarly for nearly five months and agrees that his business has boomed since.  With a built in audience and a built in backend to handle different vendors, Mucha says Zaarly is “great exposure and good for connections. People in the industry have said ‘oh, I saw your Zaarly store’ and they’ll share it on Facebook, so it’s got a nice social aspect.”

Fishback says some storefront owners don’t have businesses yet, but they want to and this is a starting point for them. Other storefront owners like Mucha, have small businesses that they would like to grow and make more efficient.

As of now, Mucha’s services are only available within city limits, mainly because a Skee-Ball trailer is not aerodynamic and can’t be driven on the freeway. He hopes to grow his business in more cities and expand his services.

According to Fishback, Zaarly collects a ten percent transaction fee on each purchase. A powerful tool that Zaarly has is the use of stories and photos of each seller and their storefront. Before their storefront goes live, the content team makes sure that the seller’s page is visually appealing and includes enough information about the owner to make it more personal. Zaarly pays for professional photography for the storefront owners to show the audience their services rather than just reading about it. In addition, an entire team has multiple conversations with the seller to make sure they’re a good fit and not a waste of their time.

“I would say our biggest straining factors is motivation,” says Fishback. “It’s got to be people who really want to leverage a platform like this, to make a business, to make money doing what they love, to really take a skill that they have and really bring it to community.”

Jonathan Reisfield, an SF State alumnus and Zaarly seller, appreciates the visual and personal aspect of the platform. Reisfield’s storefront has been active for nearly a year and similar to Mucha, his business has also expanded and became more apparent. His storefront consists of specializing in hair and makeup (personal shopper, tutorials, styling), personal assistance services and a singing telegram. Reisfield used to sell other services like gardening, but the representatives helped him narrow his focus down to something that would be the biggest grab.

Before Zaarly, Reisfield had his own business and used Facebook to promote his hair and makeup services, but wasn’t receiving the same amount of attention as he is now.

“I was getting attention because I’m a performer and doing hair and makeup on performing friends, but going on Zaarly has opened up a mainstream market to people who are outside of our circle of friends that refer me, so in that way it expanded,” he says.

Aside from Zaarly, which is a more community based platform, Fiverr also offers a number of unique services to its consumers locally and nationally. Fiverr is a website where people can provide micro jobs for a flat rate of five dollars to purchase services and goods. Although Fiverr is not as visually driven, or personal like Zaarly, this platform is largely used to make some extra cash.

Shawn Rosvold, a former resident of San Francisco, has been selling on Fiverr for two years. Rosvold sells voiceover services for extra income in hopes of getting a long term high paying client.

Rosvold acknowledges the international aspect of Fiverr. Compared to Craigslist, he has buyers outside of the U.S. and has generated the most income thus far.

“Once your ad and demo is posted on Fiverr, it remains there until you stop it, or you’re suspended for some reason,” says Rosvold. “Craigslist requires you to post and repost your ad on a regular basis.”

Consumers have access to a number of diverse platforms that fit their needs and wants.

Samantha Yee, student at U.C. Berkeley, uses both Zaarly and Fiverr to purchase services. Yee uses Zaarly for more practical reasons like car services and purchasing baked goods from a variety of options which also includes free delivery in San Francisco and the surrounding areas.

“You also get to know people on a more personal level on Zaarly. Almost all sellers have profiles with photos and bios about their hobbies and their backgrounds, and you’ll usually get to meet them if you order their services,” she says.

Although Yee prefers Zaarly over Fiverr to purchase goods and services, she’d rather sell on Fiverr because she says it requires less time and effort.

“The five dollar price tag is appealing to buyers, and the potential customer base is all around the world rather than just in San Francisco,” she says.

Although cheap services, personal relationships, and visual aesthetics may entice buyers to specific platforms, the use of social networks like Twitter can take online purchases to a different level. Tweetstore, based in San Jose and launched in September 2012, allows Twitter users to post products or services to engage with buyers in real time and avoid scams, spams, and excessive e-mails.

Chip Wilkes, co-founder of Tweetstore, says that he was fed up with all the scammers replying to his posts on Craigslist, so he built his own marketplace, a social commerce marketplace.

“For every ad I posted, I would receive ten scam replies,” he says. “I wasted a lot of time posting, reposting and reposting ads only to receive scam emails.”

After closing down his franchise, Smoothie King, Wilkes decided to pursue online opportunities and began selling the equipment on Craigslist. Wilkes also started buying other equipment from Craigslist sellers and resold them. He met his partner David Donson, who was already developing Tweetstore.

Once a seller posts their product on Twitter, Tweetstore will promote the item on their Twitter feed and help spread the word. As of now, it’s free to use, but starting January 1, 2014, a freemium annual subscription price plan will be implemented of seventy-five dollars for unlimited product listings.

Tweetstore is in the process of developing their customer adoption, building their supply side, and customer loyalty incentives for buying and selling on their website.

“Ambitious and ripe for disruption, our plan is to take out Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist,” says Wilkes.

Find Your Flow



Brian Pollett, a local artist, is flowing and glowing using flow lights at Ritual Cafe in San Francisco. Photo by Julie Hannah

Words: Hassina Obaidy

Vibrant colors of light flow in the air as it dances to the rhythm of the music. Illuminating in the free air, the lights go through different modes from ambient lighting, to lighting that leaves trails while it’s moving. The spinner moves to the rhythm and uses the leash to spin around these bright, colorful lights in every direction.

This form of expressive art has caught the eyes and minds of many intrigued beings and has become a new form of expression, meditation, and movement. Flowtoys, an internet based company, specializes in illuminating toys that encourage the exploration of movement. Founded in 2005, Sean von Stade and Prisna Nuengsigkaplan combined their technical, engineering, design, and administrative skills to build this eco-friendly company, which is rapidly growing in the Bay Area.

“The constant challenge and satisfaction of finding my flow in movement has made me feel in tune and in flow with the people and the world around,” says Stade on his company website.

From flowlights to poi’s to flow wands and martial flow, there are a number of unique and durable designs created for amateur spinners and professionals. The Berkeley based company also sells accessories, gear, learning tools, and flow kits for the full flow experience.

The flowlight is the heart of the Modular System- an interchangeable pixel of light that fits in a wide variety of flowtoys, according to Flowtoys. The flowlight is a versatile, incandescent, rechargeable LED glowstick that runs on one AAA battery. Attached to a leash and sold in pairs, poi’s range from weight preference, styles, and light application. Their newest innovation, the podpoi, which has been recently sold out, are made of silicone and are indestructible.

Their current designs are inspired by martial arts, dance, fire spinning, and other forms of expressive movement. Despite the fun and entertaining aspect of lights illuminating and naturally flowing in the air, flow toys are used to challenge oneself with concentration, to help connect the mind and body through increased brain power, and self-improvement and meditation. According to the Flowtoys website, “by engaging in any new practice, you add networks to your brain, which increases your processing power.” In fact, flowtoys, also called flow arts, are also used to relax and clear one’s mind. Spinners put all their energy and focus on movement.

“The flow arts in general has been emerging since the late 90s and the Bay Area has been an important crucible for innovation and evolution,” says Nuengsigkaplan. “Several entities and events in the Bay have been responsible for that evolution: Burning Man brought fire dancing and spinning to the attention of many.”

After pursuing in live digital art painting, which is the creation of live art in a virtual space using modern media such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, or other traditional mediums such as oils, or acrylic paints, Brian Pollet and girlfriend Jessalyn Dean began incorporating flowtoys into their art.

“Utilizing flowtoys is a movement art and dance that can bring a theatrical, ritualistic feeling to any space or event,” says Pollet. “We use flowtoys to bring a joyous expression of dance and celebration to our live painting, we add more of our spirit to a painting this way.”

During their “glow-ventures,” Pollet and Dean travels within the city after hours from one zone to the next and spins their flowtoys to a set musical playlist. They perform at events and small venues like Ritual where they collaborate on a single live painting. While one is painting, the other is dancing and glowing to the music.

Pollet’s choice of flowtoy is poi, which can be purchased from a small herb shop in Berkeley called Happy High Herbs and the Flowtoys Headquarters.

Pollet says anyone can begin spinning and flowing “whether you want to be a performer or you just like being surrounded by brilliant, fractalicious, colors, flow arts is a long process of infinite learning, possibilities, and fun,” he says. “People of all skill levels are more than happy to teach and share, which can make ones entire exploration in flow arts all the more encouraging.”


Kombucha Me Crazy!


Words: Hassina Obaidy
Photos: John Ornelas

The strong aroma of vinegar filters the air of 26-year-old Lewis Scaife’s San Francisco flat. He’s well accomplished in the hobbies department, dabbling in hip-hop instrumentalism and whips up homemade ginger beer. His latest quest: brewing kombucha tea.

Kombucha is a fermented sweetened black or green tea with a carbonated, tangy vinegar flavor that was first brewed in Asia and consumed for thousands of years. While not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, kombucha is purported to have a variety of positive health effects. As it is a raw food with live bacteria and active cultures, Kombucha bottles claim that their probiotic nature help to maintain healthy levels of bacteria within the body, and the lactic and gluconic acids aid in liver detoxification.

In the kitchens of many San Franciscans, brewing kombucha is a widely popular hobby and is considerably cheaper than buying the bottles in stores. Prior to home brewing, Kristina Kerley, senior at San Francisco State University, would spend about $25 per week on ready made tea like GT Kombucha, or Healing Springs. She began brewing just a couple of months ago after taking a quarter of the mother culture from a friend. What looks like a round-shaped, raw chicken cutlet, the “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast) also known as the “mushroom,” or “mother” is the culture that forms in the tea jar and rises to the top when fermented after a week. After brewing a couple of batches, Kerley’s mother culture reproduced five kombucha “babies.” These “babies” grow bigger and turn into mothers, and are then stacked in an unflavored kombucha jar called the “SCOBY hotel.”

More than a year ago, Scaife began brewing in his own small kitchen in his Mission District apartment. Large jars of already prepared tea litter his flat, as well as a 409 bottle filled with vinegar, a drawer full of various kinds of tea bags, and a large, round “SCOBY.”

Scaife says the current culture he is using in his SCOBY hotel is hundreds of years old.

“It’s like when you take a trimming off of a plant and you plant it, then you take a trimming off of that plant and so on,” he says. “The plant itself is very, very old, it’s a composition that’s kind of like a clone.”

Scaife, a support technician at Sacred Heart Preparatory School in the Mission has been obsessed with different home fermentations. He began fermenting pickles prior to kombucha tea and became more and more interested in how preserved foods work without necessarily being chemically preserved. He read about kombucha, ginger beer, and a variety of other fermented drinks.

The kombucha vinegar is a valuable ingredient for cooking as well. Along with salt, it can be used as a marinade for tofu, or meat and adds a whole new depth of flavor. Scaife says that it’s also good for breaking down some of the proteins in meat, or tofu and making their nutrients more absorbable by the body.

“The drink itself is very delicious and it’s just a fun little thing to have at a party,” he says.

Kerley says she feels energized after drinking the fermented tea, although this side effect is not scientifically proven. She began drinking kombucha at the age of 18 when she caught the swine flu and her co-worker at the time urged her to drink kombucha. “It will knock the shit out of you,” she said to Kerley.

She had no idea what it was, but decided to buy a bottle anyway. By the end of the day, she says her temperature went from 101 degrees to normal temperature.

“It definitely knocked the shit out of me,” Kerley says. “I feel so much better when I drink it. It’s just one of those natural things that helps.”

The Do’s:

  • Avoid older, neglected, dried out cultures.
  • Cover the SCOBY hotel with a cloth.
  • Ideal temperature for brewing is 74 to 89 degrees.
  • Kombucha should not be disturbed during the seven-day initial brewing process.
  • Make sure to refresh the culture with unflavored kombucha.
  • Sanitize hands with vinegar, NOT SOAP- it kills the culture.

The Don’ts:

  • Brew under direct sunlight.
  • Leave the culture under the sink (too damp), in tightly enclosed space (no airflow), or next to a window (sunlight, hot or cold temperature).
  • Add lemon or pineapple juice because it has a flavor agent & prevents the culture from doing its job.

As living organisms, SCOBY’s need rest too! The SCOBY hotel [PHOTO]

Purported Health Benefits:

  • Contains probiotics- healthy bacteria
  • Improves digestion and increases metabolism
  • Alleviates constipation
  • Detoxifies the liver
  • High in antioxidants and polyphenols
  • Gives you a boost of energy
  • Relieves headaches and migraines
  • Helps lower glucose levels
  • Heal eczema – can be applied topically to soften the skin
  • Improves eyesight
  • Prevents atherosclerosis

For more health benefits visit

Transforming into a Drag Queen


Edgar Lepe’s transformation.

Words: Kayla McIntosh & Hassina Obaidy
Photos: Deborah Svoboda

Edgar Lepe takes a tube of red lipstick and begins to dab the bottom half of his freshly shaven face. Using a white cosmetic sponge, he blends in the red marks to cover up his subtle dark chin hair. Like an artist, Edgar paints his face as if it were a canvas. After blending concealer and both cream and powder foundation on his face and neck, he waves a black, floral-printed Chinese plastic fan to air dry the makeup after each application. This is just the beginning of a long transformation from man to drag.

The makeup process alone takes Edgar about an hour and fifteen minutes, with the whole process lasting a total three to four hours to transform into full drag mode. This includes showering, shaving nearly his entire body, styling his hair, applying makeup, and putting on his often elaborate outfits.

Edgar transforms from a tall, Hispanic man with a five-o’clock shadow wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and black Converse tennis sneakers to a classy, feminine drag queen with fake red and black roses clipped in his dark black hair, chandelier earrings, and an extravagant dress for a performance. He’s not like the stereotype with his more understated take on drag.

Then, there are the over the top, va-va voom, super glamorous drag queens that take it to the next level with big hair, crazy vibrant makeup and bedazzled dresses.

The epicenter of the city’s drag scene is arguably the infamous Divas in the Tenderloin District. On a Saturday afternoon just as the bar opens, an outcry of drag queens erupts inside the small, dimly lit bar. The patrons outside pay the quarrel no mind as if this is something they are far too used to.
About five women, some in drag, gather around the bar’s counter as one drag queen screams at the bartender. Cursing and continuously barking, the drag queen’s attitude is cutting and harsh.

A unidentified and highly intoxicated young woman claims that there’s a “tranny fight” going on and it isn’t a good time for anyone to talk to them.

“They’re feminine, but not really,” she says as she begins to laugh.

To equate all folks dressed in drag with all those who identify as “trans” is to show a lack of understanding toward the two radically different communities. Drag queens and transgender people have two different identities. A drag queen is one who changes their physical appearance, usually for a performance, and is often characterized by an over the top costume and makeup. As this young woman alludes, many think that being a transwoman means to be unclassy and involved in lurid activities like prostitution. However, to be transgender simply means to have chosen to live your life as a different sex than the one you were biologically assigned. This can occur simply through dress or more drastic approaches like hormone therapy or surgery.

The classic drag queens like Donna Sachet are the opposite of what one may experience at Divas bar. Tall, blonde, and elegant Donna, dressed in a long, sequined red gown is well aware of her celebratory fame. As mentioned in the Winter 2011 issue of Xpress Magazine, Donna is the lead performer at Sunday’s A Drag show at Harry Denton’s Starlight Room at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. After a decadent brunch and a magnificent show with four talented drag queen performers, Donna and the girls happily take photos with the guests. Once that is over, she is seated to the couch near the bar by Michael Pagan, the producer, and presented with a glass of champagne before the next performance.

“I don’t put drag on, I let it out,” she says.

Donna says her drag queen identity is a character she created and maintained for 20 years. During the day when she’s running errands, no one recognizes her.

“There’s this female character inside me and I always knew it was there,” she says. “I’d put a towel on my hair and lip sync to a hair brush.”

Similar to Donna, Edgar is unrecognizable to those who know his drag identity. A UCSF cancer researcher by day, Edgar also dances for the Peninsula Ballet Theatre on the side. Although his physical appearance drastically changes, his personality remains the same.

“I don’t feel like anybody else, I feel like myself,” he says. “I don’t go out faking my voice. I really don’t even try to fake it. The more you try to fake it, the more fake you look. I like to just keep it as natural as possible.”

Confident, humble, and sociable, Lepe began his drag queen life at the age of 18 with the help of his “drag mom”, Bianca Cruz.

According to Lepe, a “drag mom” is someone who helps an individual transform into a drag queen and they must take her last name.

“It’s like they’re giving birth to you,” he says.

Lepe goes by Paloma Cruz when he performs. He believes that one can’t be a drag queen if they can’t make people laugh.

“Out of many categories of drag queens, I think the successful ones are the pretty ones, but the pretty ones that don’t open their mouth,” he says. “And the ugly ones they can actually make people laugh because you’re either ugly and funny, or pretty and stupid.”

Lepe recounts a time when he was supposed to be a part of his his friend’s wedding in Sacramento, his hometown. When he went to get ready for the event at his aunt’s house, he walked in the door only to find his 91-year-old grandmother there as well. She had no idea that her grandson had two separate identities, and he had no intention of letting her find out.

“I said ‘Tia, why didn’t you tell me grandma was here?’” He eventually had to explain to his grandmother why he came back home from San Francisco with a bag full of makeup and an assortment of ladies’ clothing.

And to his surprise, she did not judge him. She even helped iron his dress for the event.

Before he erupted with the news to his grandmother his cousin took him to the side and asked him, “How do you want everybody else to accept you..if you’re not ready to show your face to the people who care for you?”

And from that moment on, he’s never let anyone stop him from being exactly who he wanted to be.


Ahmina Alenthia James visits the Islamic Society of San Francisco on Jones Street to pray and read. Photo by: Tearsa Joy Hammock / Xpress Magazine

The Road to Conversion


Ahmina Alenthia James visits the Islamic Society of San Francisco on Jones Street to pray and read. Photo by: Tearsa Joy Hammock / Xpress Magazine

Words: Hassina Obaidy
Photos: Tearsa Hammock

The first step is often the hardest. Stephanie Skoog has dreamt of this day countless times-the day when she reveals her new identity to the world. She’s not without inhibitions, though. She imagines all the comments construction workers will say when she walks by.

Skoog begins this particular morning as she would the rest from here on out: she wraps a silk maroon scarf, a gift from her friend in Libya, to cover her hair and neck. She wraps layer upon layer around her face and neck, making sure her hair and light skin aren’t revealed. After finishing up her morning rituals, she dresses herself in a silky, bright pink blouse and black pants. She steps out of her room, walks to the front door of her Richmond district apartment in San Francisco and opens the door. Slowly, she peeks her head out, takes a look outside the apartment door then suddenly closes it shut, overcome with fear. Skoog opens the door once more, this time stepping one foot out, then rushes back inside the comfort of her Richmond apartment unable to take that first, big step.

Finally, she pulls herself together, opens the door and walks outside. This is the first time she had revealed her new identity to the world.

She takes the bus across town to San Francisco State University, where she is a student. There, she makes her way to the Muslim Student Association (MSA) room in the Cesar Chavez building. It is here, on the afternoon of May 2, 2012 that Skoog converts to Islam.

A Peaceful Passing


Svoboda_Senior Dog_006
Moca, a 9-year-old Pit mix that’s looking for a new home, rests in the home base of Muttville. Muttville is a rescue group that takes in senior dogs, cares for all of their medical needs and either finds a new forever home for them or puts them in a “fospice” home to live out the rest of their days. San Francisco, September 21, 2012. Photo by Deborah Svoboda.

Words: Hassina Obaidy
Photos: Deborah Svoboda

Poor doggie. Poor Max. Just four years old, the black and brown boxer had been diagnosed with stomach cancer a short time ago, and he was slipping away fast-twenty pounds in just two weeks-and now he couldn’t eat, couldn’t even move. Euthanize, the veterinarian at Rancho Santa Margarita Hospital said. That was the best thing to do.

Upset and heartbroken, San Francisco State University student Alyssa Bowdle wanted to stay strong and keep up a positive energy for her dog Max. She knew if she showed her real emotions of grief, Max would be strongly affected.

“My emotions were very much needed to stay strong on Dewey’s [Bowdle’s second boxer] behalf. He didn’t understand [Max] was sick, but needing to stay happy for [Dewey], I didn’t want him to be scared,” she says as she begins to cry. “It wasn’t sad because [Max] wasn’t sad, but I think the entire time I was just trying to stay strong. I was obviously upset, but more so wanting to stay positive.”

The day of the procedure had finally come, and they wanted to make it special. Bowdle and her family stayed home and spent the day with Max as they sat around together, made him a special lunch, and brought his special toys and blanket. When it was time, they took him to the vet. Accompanied by her cousin, a strong Bowdle lay on her side, struggling to control her emotions as she holds Max in her arms.

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