developmentaliste

A thinker, dreamer, idealist, ardent observer and traveller

Category: Life observations

Dreams of Adventure and the Future

The future is a fascinating notion. It can be anything and everything you want it to be. A favourite childhood pastime was walking with my father, hand in hand, eating a stick ice cream and chatting away about what I would do when I grew up.

One day, I had just been introduced to the wonders of the Porche sports car by my friend’s little brother. My father agreed it was a very nice, but an extremely expensive car. A few days later he showed me the Porche on television, saying “remember the car you spoke about? That’s a Porche”.

I was in total awe of its sleek, curvey design. It was a small and cute car with so much personality, and it just zoomed off into the distance. This was my dream car. This was going to be the car I would drive around when I became an adult and started earning my own money. For a while many of our sessions would involve talking about the beauty of the Porche. One day I think my father felt I was ready for a change of topic and said:

“…my little girl, it’s good you know what you want when you grow up, but you must know that you have to work very hard before you can buy it”.

“I will save up for it”, I said.

“Even if you save up, you still have to work hard to earn the money to buy it. In order to get the job you need to earn that amount of money, to allow you to save up to buy a Porche, you need to work very hard. You need to be a good student in school and you’re not doing a good job at that yet, so how will you ever be able to earn the money to save? Dreams are all very good, but you need to work hard at achieving them.”

In reality, dreams are not fixed. They keep changing, evolving and improving. The dreams of a teenager will always be different from those of an adult with more life experience. For many years I felt like the same person, never changing my outlook, always pursuing the same goals, thinking that just a little more patience would eventually get me where I wanted to be. From chasing those dreams like a mad woman, I eventually realised that sometimes tenacity is wasted agony and time. You are actually allowing yourself to wither away. Life is too precious a gift to waste on self pity and wailing over shattered dreams. In these cases, while it is easier said than done, you have to figure out a way to light up the darkness. Dreaming about a better future helps, but sometimes you need to change your visions and paths.

Hence, some people volunteer, they start learning a new skill. They find other ways to meet people and make new friends. When I was getting interviews only to be told they decided to recruit someone internally or the post was cancelled, I decided to treat them as interesting conversations with people I would never get to talk to otherwise. Gradually I realised that if I can advice people on how to get the communication started with the challenging communities concerned, I should be able to figure out a way to develop my own strategies on topics I found interesting. When I started to research on different issues, my creative flow guided me into  different directions. There is much to learn and do.

The thing is, the small steps matter. Even if the adventure turns out different from what you imagined, the trip is still important. I thought I would experience beautiful nature and see fascinating wildlife. Well I did, but instead of ostriches, lions, tigers, elephans, rhinos, hippos, colourful birds and mungooses, blue feet penguins and massive sea tortoises in their natural habitat, I got to see people resembling animals.

They literally personified scorpions, lizards, snakes, rats, mice of various species. Not to mention buffaloes, flea and rabies infected stray cats and dogs. Heck their idiosyncrasies even made seeing a horned snake in Dubai Zoo, for the first time in my life, an amusing experience. Compared to the animal like people I had experienced, the horned snake was rather cute. When I saw it in its chamber in a dopey state I remember thinking “ Hah! Even the the Devil’s  best friend couldn’t escape Hell”. When I told people about it, they thought I was crazy. One even said “you must have felt at home at the Zoo”. Not one of those animal resembling persons were like a cute squirrel, beautiful peacock, colorful parrot or a majestic lion. Yet, all those experiences are priceless, because life is a roller coaster ride in the rain. You just have to know you will get drenched, so you better dress up accordingly.

Finally, one can dream and work towards the future you want. The way life operates, you usually have to make several detours. You can only try your best, every time. There are no shortcuts, and the safari you always dreamt of experiencing may not be as glamourous as you imagined. Similarly, no matter how hard you try, that Porche might never be yours either. However, if you have a driver’s licence you can at least  visit an authorised dealer and take it for a test drive, which is an experience in itself. Nonetheless, you have to admit that life is a blessing because as human being we have the freedom to think and imagine a better world. Some are lucky to actually be able to make a difference. So make use of the present to create the future you want. As mentioned above, it’s easier said than done, but you will be rich in experiences.

Forgiveness and such things…

The ability to forgive is divine. It requires a massive heart with the capacity of a bottomless ocean of generosity. We all make mistakes, we all wish we had chosen or acted differently. We are human after all and we all move within grey zones. What is wrong by others might be right by you and vice versa. I think there is a limit to the damage you can cause others, as well as a cutoff point to the times you can forgive people for their transgressions.

In many instances time heals everything. You come to understand how events come together for the best. In those cases when time passes and the healing process is still ongoing, forgiving becomes an excuse for others to find new ways to damage, hurt and insult you. In these instances, the proverbial turning the other cheek becomes an excuse to slap your face red to their hearts content and a source of entertainment. These instances show that forgiveness is not always the answer, unless it means leaving in order to let go.

There are so many phrases concerning forgiveness. Such as:

“whatever people do, be willing to forgive”.

“Forgive those who wronged you”.

“Forgive, but do not forget”.

The spiritually inclined say the forgiveness is for you not them. When you forgive you let go of the burden of the pain they caused you. I tried to follow the goodwill intended by these saying, but instead of feeling better, I always felt like I was allowing people to walk all over me.

Being human, sometimes an apology is insufficient. I have come across people who willingly apologise, and once granted forgiveness will just find another way to cause your ire and make you look like a fool, yet again. Nevertheless, sometimes forgiveness is the only way to cut your losses and move on. This is because you need to take personal responsibility for allowing yourself, in good faith I must say, to end up on the cross roads to nowhere and walking into whatever closed street life can throw at you. When you tend to end up back at that onerous cross road, you might as well change your outlook and deal with things as best as you can. Hence, forgiveness never granted me peace of mind. Closing the door shut usually did.

Still, everyone kept telling me that I should have an open heart and forgive others no matter what. They also told me to stop acting like a scorned, angry, bitter woman, who was incapable of dealing with the past, let alone focusing on the future. Undoubtedly the future is paramount, and to make the future you want, you have to make the most of your present.

So, in relation with the forgiveness agenda, I started searching for a bullet proof reason why forgiveness was crucial, even if it made me feel angrier at myself. It is a constant struggle to turn that anger into a driving force to pursue creative endeavours. Yet, I believed I had to make a better effort finding the light at the end of the dark, narrow, humid, vermin infested tunnel.

It was during spontaneous study of the Holy Quran that I found the answers to my quest. To my big surprise I was exonerated from the burden of forgiving when I read Surah Tawbah, which I thought would be about ghosts and other invisible spiritual beings. It felt so good to be vindicated. Moreover, I have always believed that when life throws bitter gourds at you, which is probably the least palatable vegetable you can think of, religious texts usually have an answer to your most troublesome concerns. I am far from the ideal Muslim believer, but my heart sang when I read these verses:

78. Know they not that Allah doth know their secret (thought) And their secret counsel
And that Allah knoweth well
All things unseen?

79. Those who slander such of the Believers as give themselves Freely to (deeds of) charity,
as well as such as can find
Nothing to give except
the fruits of their labor
And throw ridicule on them:
And they shall have a grievous penalty.

80. Whether thou ask
For their forgiveness,
Or not (their sin is unforgiveable):
If thou ask seventy times
For their forgiveness, Allah
Will not forgive them:
Because they have rejected Allah and his Messenger; and
Allah guideth not those who are perversely rebellious.

Yusuf Ali, Abdullah (2001) Surah Tawbah in The Meaning of the Holy Quran; (amana publications: Beltsville, Maryland, USA)

 

On an ending note, if you have the strength to do so, always forgive. Sometimes you have to be selective in who you grant forgiveness to. In certain cases it is better to sanitise the negative elements from your surroundings. In other instances, you should show patience because when the other party is making a consistent effort to stay in your life, their efforts should be appreciated. In my opinion it is reassuring to know I have the freedom of choice in these matters.

Exercise and I

I have an ambivalent relationship with regular physical exercise. I love my clothes and if I stay true to my slacker tendencies I can barely fit into them. So exercise is a must. Over the years I have adopted several strategies to include regularly some sort of physical activity into my weekly schedule. Dieting never worked for me. As I have a relatively healthy diet, neglecting 5 portions of fruits and vegetables have never been an issue. Through my experiments with exercising I have come to understand that it is just something a person needs to do, to function properly in your daily life.

I am an indulgent eater and drinker. By drinker, I mean I love my smoothies, and shakes. I also enjoy the occasional soft drinks. I enjoy my cakes, cookies and South Asian delicacies.  As for the salty snacks, I have a weakness for Doritos, Pringles and crisps in general.

Since I eat home cooked food, I am safe from the effects of artificial sweeteners, flavouring, and preservatives. Processed meats are hardly ever on the menu, however, once in a blue moon I might buy a pack of chicken sausages to keep in the freezer, just in case I crave salty fats. They are easily mixed into a pasta dish and make a nice pizza topping.

I buy store bought cookies and cakes now and then. Yet, baking cakes and cookies myself is healthier, even though they are made with real butter or oil, chocolate, marzipan or golden syrup. They also taste much better than a cake made with palm oil, corn syrup, artificial flavourings, sweeteners and preservatives. In a nutshell, food and drink are my extravagant drug addiction. Unfortunately, it is an extravagance that is bound towards obesity, enhanced with anti-oxidants and healthy bowel movements, rather than the sought after weight loss.

Unable to reduce my intake of  mostly home made goodies, the only recourse I have to continue enjoying my drugs, and stay alive and healthy is some form of cardio excercise. I have still to gather my nerves of steel to include a little weight training. I have tried walking on the treadmill with 1kg dumbbells in each hand. For some reason my arms were more active without the dumbbells, so I stopped using them.

Over the years, I have struggled with staying physically fit. My exercise regimen is haphazard and the usual reasons for staying fit seem to have little effect on me. Consequently, as with many other things, I have had to re-evaluate my relationship with regular physical activity  and create different reasons which more or less work for me to stay active and healthy.

It is easy to get bored with anything and everything. It requires much effort and dedication to stay healthy. In the end it boils down to one question: how much do you really care about yourself? In connection with good health, you can control what you eat, your portion sizes and the frequency of sweets and snacks. Regarding staying fit, you are also in control of your activity levels. A gym membership and fancy gym wear are unnecessary. You only need a pair of comfortable shoes. Outdoor walking is the best excercise. If nothing else, you will get some fresh air and explore places. Gradually you will realise photo opportunities and you start carrying either a phone or a point and shoot camera, and begin taking pictures. In other words, spontaneous walking can lead to other adventures and interests. Thus, as you engage in some sort of physical activity at least 3 times a week for 1 hour, there are bound to be some positive changes.

While weight loss is the long term aim, I have noticed when I exercise regularly, I sleep better and I have more energy. Moreover, I drink more water so I am less dehydrated than when I skip an exercise session. Most importantly, I feel less guilty about eating. Furthermore, exercising helps getting my creative juices flowing whenever I am stuck or unable to just get something done. Hence, it helps me focus on the things I have to get done.

Nevertheless, I also struggle with the feeling of boredom about exercising. Sometimes you want to do something else than just walking. I never liked the stationary bike. It is nothing like riding an actual bike out in the open air, it also requires more effort than the spin bike. I learnt to ride a bicycle just to spruce up my exercise regime. It is a full body work out, and a lot of fun.

So, on a final note, a healthy life style is a balancing act of paying attention to what you eat and drink, and regular physical activity. Instead of setting ambitious goals of weight loss, focus on making the effort to include some sort of body movements. Run up and down the stairs, skipping for 3 minutes even. Instead of driving to the supermarket, walk the distance. There are multiple ways to include physical movements in your daily routines. Nevertheless, walking continues to be my favourite when I feel like slacking. As mentioned above, it all comes down to how much you care and appreciate yourself. Life may be a stressful jungle to navigate, but you owe it to you, to take care of yourself. In fact, you are your own best caretaker. So, chop, chop; get moving!

Farewell to the Past, Greetings to the Future

Life is a colourful maze and the people you interact with can turn navigating the twisted alleys into a fascinating tapestry of colours, shapes, fragrances and repugnant odours. I am finally able to close some very unfulfilling chapters in my life and look towards the future with renewed enthusiasm. I have tried to write something for several months. Considering this is the last day of 2015, it is time to finish the passing year with a few thoughts before I embark on new adventures in 2016 and beyond.

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I realised my mistake within 3 months after moving to Pakistan, but I also accepted that mistakes are part of life. Moreover, being adult means taking responsibility for your decisions.There is a likelihood that even  if had I chosen Denmark, the dream career would elude me. There is a chance the rebellious Muslim in me would erupt. Consequently, I like most ethnic minority Muslims, born and bred in Denmark, would had remained in the “us versus them” bubble of Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, and 3rd class citizen frame of mind. I would naturally had drifted in that direction, even though the Danes I interacted with would always say  “…but you have to understand we are not talking about you. You are like us.” Yet I was not like them and I had too many unanswered questions about what it actually meant to be Pakistani and Muslim.

The reality is that since I left Denmark, the debates have hardly changed. The same issues are researched and discussed. The same complaints I used to make as a teenager, are still voiced by the professionally educated ethnic minorities. The only difference is that now they are included in the research statistics and hence given due consideration in national policy making. This sort of inclusion is what my parents always argued for when they were discussing social issues with their friends. Through numbers one can see how much ethnic minority communities actually contribute to society in general through taxes, businesses and hence employment generation. We are just as much a part of society as everyone else.

It was good I chose my roots over comforts, but it has been a long journey to finally accept this reality. I know Pakistani society, like it is my own. I know the Muslim world is as hypocritical, judgemental and prejudiced as everywhere else. Moreover, I have come to appreciate the inherent altruism, however faulty, of a democratic political system and the range of opportunities it offers. There is no such thing as a perfect world, a perfect country or a perfect society. It is up to the individual to learn to navigate the social conventions of society. Since I left an advanced society to carve my own path, and as I refused to act like a Roman in Rome; it was out of the question to join the rat race due to peer pressure, from people who thought they could take me for a ride.

Instead I went the other way, I wrapped myself up, like an old woman from a rural village. Albeit with a better fashion sense. I have proved that independence is a frame of mind. I proved that I was more Pakistani than the Pakistanis themselves, despite my heavily accented and gender confused Urdu. I have proved that you can still be spiritual and religious simultaneously, without being old fashioned or boring. I simply refused to lose sight of the things that mattered to me, such as family, respect, and professionalism.  While simultaneously, trying to get along with people you are mentally and socially incompatible with, due to their arrogance and misplaced sense of entitlement. Instead of letting such idiosyncrasies affect you, just stay focused on the end goal  and never shy away from aiming at perfection.

Choosing Pakistan and the Muslim world taught me the best life lessons. From my mistakes I learnt to grab every opportunity, however small, like my life depended  on it. Do as much as you possibly can within the time you are given. This is because sometimes in life you only get one chance. When that chance is gone, you will always wish you had done more, or appreciated it better. This is a pointless feeling to burden yourself with, and no matter what people say, you will always regret the stupid things you do. Furthermore, you tend to find yourself making up for those mistakes later.

I also realize that when my community complains about racism, Islamophobia, being considered 3rd class citizens; however justified they may be, I still think they are much better off in their naturalised home countries, rather than in their countries of origin. In most cases, whatever they have today, they could never had achieved back there. Rather than focusing on the difficulties, be more appreciative of the opportunities you have in the Western world.

I saw my parents work hard while providing for my siblings and I. They were able to give us the best upbringing possible in safe and secure surroundings. However, they were also given the best by their parents in Pakistan, so they had a good idea of what to aim for. Therefore, never lose sight of the good in your life, however insignificant it might seem. Furthermore, greediness is just as bad as ungratefulness. Hence, life will only be as good as you make it.

I carry with me hard earned and valuable lessons. No prior life experience, relationships, academic or professional accomplishments can prepare you for the harsh realities of adulthood. Nevertheless, your common sense and instincts can guide you, but you also need to believe things will work out eventually. It is easier said than done, but sometimes this is the only way forward. Moreover, you have to believe in your own strengths because no one else will.

When I talked to one of my lawyer  acquaintances in Pakistan about my broken dreams and subsequent disappointments, he said “who cares about broken dreams?” Then he looked at me intently and said “build bigger and better dreams. Just know you will do better than before.”

While looking forward to the future with enthusiasm about the adventures in store for me, I can finally close some difficult chapters and move on with my life without a sense of indescribable loss. Finally, to you my Dear reader, I wish you a very Happy 2016. May it be blessed with happiness, prosperity and success.

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Faith & Belief

People of faith, whatever they believe in, and whichever religion they follow, often go through life experiencing existential crises. Their relationship to faith has its own cycles of ebbs and flows. This does not mean they stop believing. They have to find other ways to continue their relationship and connect with the Divine. For Muslims, Ramadan is the month to renew your relationship with the Almighty.

My mother gradually introduced me to fasting. It started with the infant “birdie” fast which would be 1 day during the weekends. Usually I would have breakfasts in the morning and be allowed to drink liquid and then eat properly later in the evening. I kept my first proper fast when I was in 5th grade and it was always a weekend event. When I started at the International School in Copenhagen I had Pakistani school fellows. When I found out that they were all fasting, it just became a normal thing to do. During Ramadan, my fellow Pakistani school fellows and I would have a little communion with each other everyday during the month, and enquire about each other’s fast.

Just for your information, Danes are a very peculiar nation. If they like you, they will never make an issue of your ethnicity or religion affiliations, but accept these colourful aspects as part of your identity. If, for some reason they dislike you, even if they adore, admire and respect your family; you are pretty much on your on your own. Nevertheless, just like in the Muslim world they dislike educated women- at least in my experience- similarly even racists can have a strong sense of humanity and empathy. When I joined my graduating class in high school, Ramadan would be one source of many stimulating conversations.

In Ramadan, you come to understand that eating is an unconscious act. It is a force of nature. During one of my first proper fast, my mother and I went to the post office. By the cash counter were big charity jars of old fashioned boiled candies. I asked my mom to buy me a candy, and I would pack it in a tissue and keep it in my pocket. She was sure I would forget and just eat it, and I ascertained her I would remember. As soon as I got the candy out of the jar, I forgot I was fasting and without thinking put the candy in my mouth. Initially my mom just gave me her incredulously nasty look as if saying:

“I can’t believe what you just did!”

She kept staring at me and when she had finished her transaction I said:

“ what are you looking at me for? You’re staring at me as if I’ve done something wrong.”

Adding a few parental abusive insults she said

“ ….because you have done something wrong! You Devil’s fiend, you made an intention to fast this morning, and just now, you assured me you wouldn’t eat that candy and yet you did…I’m so disappointed in you.”

Immediately I spat out the candy, apologising profusely. Nevertheless, my mother kept claiming I did it on purpose and I was the Devil’s creation and would roast in Hell for this transgression, never to be forgiven.

Even though I grew up seeing my parents practicing Islam, I always considered it such a chore because there were all these strict rules and regulations to follow. It is especially unnerving when everyone around you are celebrating something as colourful as Easter, Christmas, New Year, and eating pork, or cakes, pastries or other delicacies made with lard or pork gelatine. Not to mention adhering to socially constructed, hypocritical, gendered behaviours, which have nothing to do with religion, but only require common sense, a lot of communication and mutual trust. Yet, my parents have always been very particular about illustrating to us what being a practicing Muslim implies. It is a constant struggle and a difficult road to navigate. Yet, there is much solace in making the effort.

The hypocrisy is just something you have to accept as given. Everyone will judge the woman harsher than the man because she is the root of the family. Even if a man has children born out of wedlock with other women, since he is a man, he is only answerable to the Almighty. Nevertheless, in the Koran, both are equally punished for their sins.

The man will get whipped with 80 leather lashes, and the woman gets stoned to death. When discussing technicalities, people say it is discrimination that while adulterous women get stoned to death, men only get punished with 80 leather lashes. In reality, being pelted with stones makes death more immediate than by leather whipping. Yet, how many men have survived 80 leather lashes? Nevertheless, societies are made by people, and the written word is open to interpretation, however flawed.

Hence, while one parent was always the ‘going by the book’ type, emphasising that some things will always be old fashioned and never change, irrespective of current practices and fashions. The other was the hippie type, with a peace, love and harmony mindset. By hippie type, I mean someone who is sufficiently open minded to understand that defying convention is about breaking sterotypes, without losing a sense of your identity, values and principles. Thus, while following rules and being responsible, you should also be a part of the society you live in. In other words, it is easy to go into extremes, whether in the liberal or the fanatic sense.

Nevertheless, the best way is always to take the middle path, but you need experience to understand how to manage this. In other words, many things you will only understand with the passage of time, when you have gathered a fair amount of life experiences. Luckily, both parents always understood the significance of following the rules of life responsibly. Together they understood the significance of exploiting your limits within certain boundaries. Hence, rather than forcing religion upon us, they illustrated what Islam really is about, and how to try to be a practicing Muslim. Even if these things make little sense while growing up in non- Muslim surroundings, as you grow older, you develop your own relationship to faith and religion. Morever, all those rules and regulations actually start to make sense. In a way, it is just like paying your taxes and being a responsible citizen. It is hard work, requires dedication, persistence, and constant swallowing of your ego, even when at times it seems nonsensical.

As a Muslim I am still developing my relationship with my own faith. Yet I fail to fathom the types who say they are spiritual, but not religious. Spirituality is at the very heart of religious practice. It is how you “feel” religion. The Sufis were not just a bunch of wandering, dancing and whirling gypsies. They were religious scholars, who had studied at esteemed centres of learning for several years in many different countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Samarkand, Palestine and present day Pakistan, among many places. Yet many seem to overlook this essential fact.

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A sufi is a scholarly practicing Muslim, who is  qualified to answer all the existential questions of the believer and help them become better Muslims and human beings. It is not just someone who believes in love thy neighbour as yourself, or believes that through love you shall find the answer to human salvation, without establishing regular prayers or reading the Quran and the saying of the Prophet (pbuh). The same goes for whirling and chanting the Almighty’s blessed names, as if they are some sort of de-stressing meditation method. Yet, these are all part of the worship, with the chanting following the actual prayer. Nevertheless, the sufi method, which includes the chanting, whirling, poetry and music, is how people can feel connected to, and manifest devotion to the divine. However they do not replace the obligatory prayer. Moreover, they are great communal exercises for people wishing to develop greater spiritual awareness.

As for my own circular and twisted journey, I am a mere mortal sinner with a faulty practice. I think each to their own belief. How people chose to practice their faith is a personal matter. In my experience, the so-called “liberal” elements have judged me far more harshly than I would ever judge anyone. Thus, if they do not like to be judged they should not judge others either. It goes both ways. In this connection, religion is an amazing black box system. This is because it allows you to just accept the unanswerables as mysteries of life. The answer will either come to you eventually, or it is never meant to be unravelled.

Education, Knowledge, Learning

Ever since I was a tiny totty, potty, snotty, little thing, it was always implied that books, more than anything, were like diamonds and pearls. They were the keepers of the mysteries of life, your guardian angels, protectors and best friends. Only through books and the written word, can you digest the lessons of life and be taken seriously in the world. Only an education will save you from the dismality of adulthood. Life experience teach you survival skills and the ability to apply knowledge of various forms. They do not replace technical skills. Wisdom does not require an education. Still, in my experience, I am yet to find anyone who would seek legal representation from someone who is not a qualified lawyer. The same goes for an engineer or school teacher.

As soon as I started working I was told to work smart not hard. To this day I fail to understand what that means. Unless that is, you have to make stodgy old men feel young again, massage fragile egos, dumb yourself down and violate whatever sense of integrity you have; just so you can earn a living, generate experiences and realise your dreams. I believe knowledge and education contribute to a better world for everyone. More than a stepping stone and a means to an end, education broadens the mind, teaches you how to think, and aim at becoming a better person. Luckily, I have always been surrounded by overachievers. Whether friends or family, they all illustrated how far hard work, focus, dedication, discipline, honesty, humility and humbleness can take you.

One day, during my school holidays I was bored out of my mind and there was nothing interesting to watch on the television. It was a bright, sunny, summer day and my best friend was away on holiday with her family. I had no one to play with. During one of my whining session I was going on about how bored I was. My mom told me to keep quiet and stop whining

“…I’m bored, you say? What kind of thing is that to say?! Go out in the garden and find something to do….I’m bored hmph!”

My brother, the quick-witted overachiever said”

“Bored? ….only boring people are bored, so that means you’re boring, otherwise you wouldn’t be bored,”

and walked away to dissect some bumblebee, butterfly, or garden furniture because he wanted to explore its construction.

This left my Dad and sister. My sister just listened. When my dad asked why I was bored, I told him I wanted many friends because when my best friend was away on holiday I had no one to play with. At first my father just smiled and listened to my whining and then he said:

“You want friends? I will introduce you to some friends.”

He gently grabbed me by the shoulder and led me towards our bookshelf and said:

“here, these are your friends.”

I looked at the books and then at him in disbelief and uttered contemptuously:

“books?! What fun can I have with books?! They’re not humans, they are not even my age.”

Swallowing his amusement my dad, with a conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes said:

“yes books… but these are not just words written on paper, these are the best of friends you could ever have. You make books your best friends, you will never need the company of people until your friend returns from holiday. Books can take you to unknown places you never knew existed. You can explore the world through books.”

He then handed me the Pearl by John Steinbeck and told me to read it. Considering Steinbeck’s love for words and intricate descriptions, it is a relatively child friendly story.

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Dictionaries save you from misunderstanding contexts and meanings. I never really bothered with them. I used to have a very lackadaisical attitude to education. I have come to understand that knowledge acquisition is a matter of life and death. In this case, if you snooze, you lose. Hence, during my first year at university, my brother asked:

“what do you do if you don’t understand anything?”

“ask the lecturer to explain?”

“…Well that too, but what else? It’s really easy, just look around and you will know what I’m referring to. It’s in this room, right in front of you.”

When he understood it was unclear to me, he said:

“use the dictionary”

“dictionary? … isn’t that for stupid people?”

“Yes, dictionary, …and no, people who use dictionaries are not stupid. It is stupid not to use a dictionary. Trust me on this, you can’t know the meaning of every word. Sometimes one word comes up all the time and if you don’t know what it means you won’t understand what you’re reading. If you don’t understand what you’re reading, you will most definitely fail.”

In retrospect, I didn’t understand a word of what I studied, but in this case, failure was not an option. Well it never is. Even if nothing materializes, at least you know you tried your best. I never got a 2:1, or a glamorous career in international development. Yet, my undergraduate degree is my most cherished possession. It gave me the skills to think independently, outside the box and enabled me to face the world confidently. Moreover, it forced me to respect myself in an otherwise disrespectful environment. It was an all-inclusive ticket to explore different countries and organisational environments.

Interestingly, whether university educated or not, all previous bosses and supervisors considered university education irrelevant. Coming from people with Masters or M.Phil from good universities is rather twisted. Yet, according to them, irrespective of their educational attainments, what matters is experience. As I lacked the latter I was unsuitable for employment. Which is ironic since they were very happy to take my work and ideas, practically for free, before telling me I was a waste of space.

It is amusing how senior management will hire seemingly insignificant people, take their ideas and strategies and take the credit for the nobodies invaluable contribution, which enable the employers to develop their own “Rockstar” status. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of continuity in projects, and might explain the lack of direction every 5-10 years in planning. Still, this discontinuity is what makes international development such a rewarding field. Particularly, due to the constant need for novel, bigger and better thinking and methods. So, in my case, I take the blame for this exploitation because I needed experience about the ways of the world in a professional context. Thus, according to an old AC/DC song “good riddance to bad luck.”

Luckily, I am not the only one with such encounters. However, on behalf of my community of fellow nobodies in international development, I fail to justify such unethical workplace practices, and believe me, it is not for lack of trying. On a positive note, I will say, thank you for the rubbish experiences, the crappy offers, the insignificant or nonexistent remuneration. Not to mention the amazing people I met. Hence, armed with a solid education, in my case it certainly has been my only means of self-defense. Also, I dare say, adulthood makes you master of your own story.

Adulthood requires you to sacrifice family for career prospects and everything it entails. This is how you develop an independent identity. It also one of the reasons you are born into a family. They are supposed to be there for you even after you mess up everything, throw caution to the wind and transgress values and principles. This is how you come to understand their significance. However, those sacrifices should be for something bigger and better than slander, libel and professional dead-ends. This is because in some cases, even if you make those required sacrifices, you still end up with your face down, smudged in cow-dung.

Finally, no one can take your abilities and skills away from you. It is up to the individual to keep finding something to be passionate about, even after the nuclear grenades explode in your face and you have to close another pipe dream. In this connection, education gives you the technical skills to process, synthesise and work with different kinds of materials. Hence, whenever people ridicule educational achievements my mother always says

“…What did they say? …Education is nothing? …Education is everything! …It is the base, the foundation of everything. Without the base or the foundation you can never build anything. Experiences are important to learn how to use knowledge, but how can you construct anything that lasts if you don’t have knowledge? How stupid they are.”

Seasonal Variety

Over the years I have come to appreciate and actually celebrate the coming of winter and autumn as much as spring and summer. Denmark has all 4 seasons, which are beautifully represented through the floral variety in a suburban backyard. Winter was only enjoyable when it snowed and before the snow turned to grey slush. Even if it is minus degrees you never really feel the cold indoors because everywhere is centrally heated. Similarly, Pakistan also has 4 seasons, but winter there is an annoying season for me. The air smells of decomposing rubbish. Due to lack of central heating you need gas heaters and to handle the cold you have to be wrapped up in sweaters and woolen shawls, even indoors.

The only enjoyable part of the winter season in Pakistan, for me, is the seasonal variety in edibles. You can eat dry fruits a plenty, apricots, figs, raisins, mulberries, all kinds of nuts and candies as accompaniment to the latter. It is rather pleasant to have a combination of freshly roasted peanuts with a candy called Rewari, made with raw sugar, clarified butter/Ghee and sesame seeds, with a cup of warm milk or tea and a spoonful of honey.

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The local varieties of carrot and pumpkins are wonderful ingredients in both savoury and sweet dishes because they are juicy, succulent and sweet. Winter is also the season of apples and oranges of different varieties, pomegranate, beetroot, cauliflower, and cabbage.

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In my opinion, Pakistan is the best place for a diet rich in seasonal, and fresh produce. For the foodie in me, there was always room for experimenting with different ingredients and cuisines. Winter was always a favourite season for Chinese dishes. Through cooking I was constantly searching new opportunities to explore Pakistan and its society, like a little child enjoying the frollicking in a playground with swings, slides and climbing castles.

In this connection, I have to say, my parents’ dedication and patriotism is admirable. They always stocked up on rice, pulses, spices, mangoes, sweet meats, dry fruits, decoration pieces and other interesting paraphernalia on our holidays, to ensure their children never lost the taste of Pakistan. However, maybe I took this persistence on belonging and identity too literally. Yet, it was necessary to go to Pakistan to define my own individuality and personal identity. This is because blood will always be thicker than water, but in order to silence the emotional noise of the heart and better listen to the rationality of the mind, you might have to take the long and tortuous road to self-discovery and hence burst that pink bubble of self-delusion that the grass is greener on the other side.

Autumn leaf

In retrospect many people claim the past is truly gone, buried and forgotten. It is also claimed the past makes the present and the present makes your future. In this connection is it even possible to build something out of nothing or sheer ignorance? Hard earned experiences become those tiny drops which eventually form the ocean of your life’s work. I suppose, as long as you just keep on making baby steps towards a distant, hazy goal, you will eventually get there by the time you reach your 60s or 70s. As the adage goes, better late than never. After all, the tortoise won the proverbial race.

In connection with the above, just like the calendar year has different seasons, life has its own cycles of ups, downs and still seasons. They tend to be coloured by joy, laughter, tears and sometimes all of them simultaneously. This is how we grow and heal. We shed old skin, just like plants and trees shed their leaves; grow new ones and bloom as the weather gets warmer.