Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer is over!

I can’t believe my time in DC has already come to an end. As daunting as it was at first to move here in less than a week’s notice, everything worked out in the end. I was lucky to have great friends here who took me in and made me feel right at home- Thank you Elbert and Priya! Although I didn’t quite become a Dcite, I did develop a new found appreciation for the city and all that it has to offer.
Professionally, I developed so many new skills and learned a lot more about gender, the economic plights women face and the inner workings of a NGO. I have to say my impression of the sector has now changed once I saw how things actually work. But at the same time I can’t wait to start the next venture, whatever it may be, because after having heard actual life changing stories I am ok making a difference on a smaller scale. It also didn’t hurt that my team at Vital Voices was so much fun to work with! Despite having a pretty quiet intern room, Katie, Lucas and I always made the most of each day and I have to say I looked forward to laughing with them each day. 
This summer has also been the best ever because I met a truly amazing man. He has completely changed my outlook on life and my cynical opinions on love. Not only did Asghar enter my world by complete surprise, he also got me to fall head over heels in love with him. And I have to say it is the most amazing feeling.
I am heading back to New York next week with a new outlook, fewer worries and a lot of excitement for what comes next.
See you soon New York!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Challenging the norms of culture

Over the July 4th weekend, I attended a Pakistani wedding and what was different about this wedding from all the others I have ever attended is that I did not know anyone there except my boyfriend and was essentially his date for this 350+ guest affair. Those of you that are a part of this culture are fully aware of how something like this would rarely, if ever, happen. 

When describing my culture, the two things that I’m sure come to everyone’s mind are familial expectations and rampant gossip. People love to talk. Parents and extended family love to tell you how you should live your life, irrespective of how you actually want to live it. The two of us decided that we should take advantage of being in the same city at the same time and so I decided to attend the wedding. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive because I did not want it to become a negative experience because of people’s stares and judgments. But that only lasted so long.. We went, we looked amazing and we had a great time together. Nothing horrible happened afterwards and I think we actually challenged people to get out of their comfort zones and accept that the culture is changing and has been for a while now.

I had already lived that way. I did it for a good chunk of my life, like many of us do, solely because we feel some catastrophe will occur if we don’t. We grow up hearing a good child will listen to their parent’s every wish, become a doctor or engineer and basically be a robot that is guilt ridden for wanting any independence and will be directed by cultural norms rather than living a life that is guided by their own dreams and ambitions. 

When I slowly started breaking away and making decisions based on what I felt was best for me, I was scared but asked myself, “What is the worst that can happen?” And that always helped. My parents never disowned me or kicked me out of the house but gradually learned to accept my decisions and rationale and the best part is they actually got to know their daughter. We actually have a great relationship now where I can share things with them honestly and don’t feel compelled to live a double life- like many young desis do. I know I am also very lucky to have pretty open minded parents that even allow for such dialogue. Sadly, there are some that feel ruling with an iron fist is the only way to go and really don’t give their kids a choice. 

Fear and the unknown are two very powerful things. They prevent you from taking the necessary leap. But it is really important to remember that nothing will ever change if you don’t speak up and do things that challenge the norms. I have way too many friends that say things like, “I wish I had your parents” or “You are so lucky that you get to do what you want” but they don’t actually try to change their family dynamics. Parents need to be given some credit. At the end of the day, they do want to see their children happy and I really believe a middle ground exists, if you allow it to.

Updates from DC

I can’t believe over a month has passed since my last post. Apologies for the lack of communication but this is my first free weekend where I have planned to do absolutely nothing. The last 4 weeks have been a whirlwind of events from moving, family visits, cousins, weddings, and quick getaways- I know I am known to always be on the go but I will be the first to admit how nice it is to just sit on the couch and watch a movie.

I have been in DC for a month now and don’t really have anything to show for it in terms of a favorite coffee spot or happy hour or restaurant and so I have decided July will be the month where I will make a conscious effort to explore DC on a daily basis and find my niche. I haven’t really been able to identify with the city, partially because I keep comparing it to New York, wrong on my part, I know. And mostly because I just haven’t had the time. My internship, on the other hand, has been absolutely amazing! I am learning so much and actually getting to contribute to real programs and initiatives, which has also been contributing to my busy schedule.
What I have noticed over the last few weeks is that there always something going on-whether it be a visit by the Dalia Lama or movies by the Potomac or awareness campaigns for any given issue. They may not have a Time Out DC here but if you have a few minutes to spare and access to the internet, you can plan pretty interesting weekends and weeknights.
For example, within my first week here I got to attend a CNN human trafficking awareness talk, a conference on democracy for women, and an outdoor concert. But then again during the first two events I also got to see another side of DC, the lack of genuine concern/desire to bring about change. A lot of us associate the city with the ability and power to make a difference. But what I have noticed here is that very few people actually have that desire. Most do their jobs but real life issues get placed on an economic ladder where causes with the most funding get the most attention. I know that has always been the reality but it is disheartening  to actually witness.

What I miss the most about New York is the food and neighborhood walks and of course, my friends. But now I am equipped with great recommendations from some current and past locals and a new location right in the heart of Dupont (thanks to an awesomely generous friend) that I am sure will allow DC to find a place in my heart.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Im moving...again

When I writing about DC back in March, I really had no idea when I would be back but here I am getting ready to move down there tomorrow. My affinity for the city makes the move an even easier venture because I have always wanted to live there once in my life. Having great friends already there makes it even better.

I was offered an internship with an amazing women’s organization and so I am picking up and leaving New York City again but only for 3 months this time around. At least as of now..

Saying that I am excited would be an understatement since I am over the moon about immersing myself in the political and development culture of DC. What I had been missing most about my life in Birmingham was the conversations with friends about development issues and now I can finally have that around me once again. And I’m sure my world traveling/rural livelihood expert roommate will bring me up to speed on the current trends.

Since completing the Masters, I have been wanting to part of something that allows me to utilize what we learned and actually see it in action.  I’m sure I will regret saying this later because of course the real world is nothing like what we read about in our idealistic courses. Nonetheless, this change was much needed and off I go!

Of course this means that I will no longer be available to gchat and email as much as my heart desires during the day so I send apologies to my daily circle of friends that are sure to feel the impact. To my New Yorkers, you can never be replaced and wont. I'm sure ill see you soon.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

End of the World

On my way to work this morning, I heard a man screaming, way too early in the morning I might add, “The world is ending on Saturday-have you lived?”  My first reaction was to figure out the fastest way to escape his loud voice and get my coffee. But while waiting in line to get my latte, his words had me thinking.

I looked up this whole world ending thing and of course only someone from California could have come up with it. A pastor and his followers really believe that the apocalypse will occur on May 21, 2011.

So if it were to happen in 2 days, have you lived your life?

I think I can comfortably say that I do not have any regrets with the way I have lived my life. I am 26 and have my Masters, have traveled more than I ever imagined, have loved wholeheartedly, experienced loss and have found my passion and now just need a job to accompany it. Many can’t say that.

But then I think about the people in my life who are still struggling to find that happiness- some are stuck in jobs they hate, some are in marriages without love, some don’t know what they want to do in their lives and are part of the daily grind because it pays the bills. I know life is not as simple as if you want things to be differently then make it happen but sometimes I really think you have to wake up one day and take a step towards change or else life will pass us by without giving us the happiness we seek.

A good friend once asked, “Who are you living for?” I think an honest answer to that question is a start in determining what you want out of your life. It is easy and definitely only a quick fix to fill up our homes with things that bring us momentary joy but that will never be enough. The people that are happy are that way because they live without worrying. Everyday, they make a point to simply be near someone/something that makes them happy which in turn pushes them to attain more forms of success. 

Random thought I know, but hope you all try even if it is for 2 days ;)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chicago, IL

I have been meaning to write a post on Chicago since my trip but life events have given me an excuse to be lazy. I visited the windy city for a relaxing two days to see my little sister. Prior to grad school, I made an effort to visit at least once a year and sometimes even three times to the point that the city had become a second home. But this time around, I felt like I really connected with it because we made an effort to explore neighborhoods rather than the typical sights.

Specifically, we explored Wicker Park, Buck town, and Lincoln Park. Each had its own identity which made the atmosphere completely different from that of downtown Chicago. Wicker Park is a trendy low key row of streets lined with small independent boutiques and cafes. Each shop is totally different from the next as well from those on State St. We started our day with brunch at Hot Chocolate and just as the name suggests, there were many different options for this comfort drink. But it was not what you would typically expect in terms of ambiance. There were moose and deer heads along with abstract paintings and brick walls all around. I had the espresso hot chocolate and was already scared for our food crawl because I was beyond full from just this. Oh yea, I should mentioned that my host had decided to take me all over Chicago for some of her fav dishes and this was just the first stop with about 10 more to go.  

After purchasing a few items meant to distract from life’s troubles, we headed to Buck town for some window shopping and people watching. This area is more for vintage items, tattoo parlors and record stores. We stumbled on a vintage fair and I scored a beautiful Burberry coat for dad! Of course mom wanted something equivalent or better but I couldn’t oblige this time around. Next was Lincoln Park for some customized jewelry shopping and then our food crawl began. In a span of 4 hours we managed to consume a burger, hot wings, frozen yogurt, a kebab roll, nihari and french fries. Needless to say, the next day we could barely eat anything.  

I should mention that Chicago has a lot to do in terms of sightseeing from Millennium Park, Hancock Building, Sears Tower, Lake Michigan, Museums, State St, Oprah show, Navy Pier and the deep dish pizza. You can easily spend a few days here and explore. I came to Chicago with an empty carry on and an appetite. I left stuffed, my carry on overflowing and my mind had enjoyed the much needed break!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Key West, FL

I was lucky enough to find a really cheap ticket to Miami so my best friend and I decided to drive down to Key West for a relaxing weekend. And that is exactly what we did, RELAX. I think this was the first trip where there was nothing on the agenda besides which beach will we lay on and where will we eat! 

The drive down from Miami is about 3 hours and is absolutely beautiful after the one and a half hour mark. The Gulf of Mexico surrounds you as you wind down to the tiny island. We were lucky enough to do it during sunset so it made it even better. Once we arrived, we quickly changed and went straight to the water for a quick spliff. Luckily, you can choose from the Atlantic ocean or the Gulf because each is only about a 20 min walk away from the other. We had the Atlantic in our backyard.

Duval street, which is really the main strip, is filled with bars, restaurants, and everybody really! I really think this city is the Cancun for the older crowd. We saw way too many old men trying to pick up younger chicks and loud drunken moms on the floor. Duval Street is also home to what probably became a daily gluttonous treat for us- Flamingo Crossing, delicious homemade ice cream served in massive portions and some even with alcohol! This is also where we enjoyed amazing scallops at Nine One Five. They were so good that after we finished our dinner we seriously contemplated having another plate! 

Next were the beaches where we thoroughly enjoyed the sun after experiencing a prolonged winter in NYC. Though, the white sand beaches were a bit rocky, they were still beautiful and peaceful. We were there everyday for as long as we could possibly be without our skin peeling. Since the island is so small, we opted to rent bicycles to get around and there was something really tranquil about it. Initially, I was scared that I was going to fall or get run over but the locals are use to bike traffic and nothing of the sort happened.

We did encounter one not so racially tolerant woman but besides her, the southernmost point in America was definitely very good to us. It was exactly what we needed and although didn't let us detox our bodies, we definitely left rejuvenated.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Courageous Children

I am known to have an affinity for the sad things in life. I know the news is always filled with depressing stories but I seem to have a gift of finding the worst of the worst and passing it on to others. And so here is one for you all. 

I recently watched a documentary called, “Which way home” and wasn’t really sure what it was about but figured it wouldn't be that melancholic. It ended up being horribly eye opening! Cammisa takes us on a journey north which should ideally end in the land of the free but rarely ever does. Nothing too earth shattering about that since millions of immigrants try to enter the United States illegally. But we always associate this journey with adults, not children! Turns out thousands of children try to cross over illegally and ALONE. Some do so to find their parents while others hope to find work so they can send money back home. Some of these kids are as young as 9! I can’t imagine a 9 yr old from the States trying to travel for a month alone with all the perils of the journey continuously in front of them. Kids here couldn't even fathom that.

It really got to me because these kids grow up so fast during this journey, faster than than they would have to at home even under the poor conditions. They have to witness accidental deaths, murders, rapes, muggings, defeat and all without any family or friend in sight. This is not something a child should be witnessing, let alone be experiencing!

What makes it worse is that they genuinely believe things are amazing in America. They will sneak in and find adoptive parents or jobs or reconnect with their parents and their lives will be set. Little do they know that things are never that simple. If some do make it in, they get caught practically right away at the border and are then placed in detention centers until they can be deported back. After all this, some attempt it all over again. 

I admire their strength, courage and determination to reach their dream. But hope that the number that attempt this do decrease rather than increase each year.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Washington D.C

I love this city because of its balance of history, sights and city life. There is so much to do and experience that being there never gets old. There are two things that are synonymous with DC for me- Amsterdam Falafel House and Lincoln. I know I know. Lincoln is from Illinois but the Lincoln memorial always leaves me in awe. Seeing his handsome statue is something I must do and so we visited at 2am after my arrival! There was no one there and his statue was just beaming through the pillars. And the falafel doesn't need an introduction, you can just look at the picture and understand.

 I decided to visit during the famous Cherry Blossom festival and fell in love all over again. Almost every neighborhood had cherry blossoms blooming and the sunny weather was great for exploration. Walking around the tidal basin required some patience because of the massive amount of visitors, their dogs and bikes. When you are ready to escape the crowd, nearby is a fresh seafood market where you can get delicious crab cakes, all types of fish and pies! The festival lasts about two weeks and there are loads of different activities planned.

Another great thing about DC is the vast variety of museums on the mall you can visit for free. Depending on your interests, you can have a weekend just for museums. Since I have been a few times already, this trip focused more on neighborhood exploration. But a few great museums would be the Natural History, Air and Space, and the Modern Art. If your trip includes some weekdays, you can also do tours of the White House, Congress and Supreme court. My exploration included a visit to Eastern Market, a quaint neighborhood with a flea market, fresh foods of all kinds and loads of nice coffee shops.

As for the nightlife, it isnt as extensive as New York's but has three distinct neighborhoods- Adam's Morgan, Dupont Circle and Georgetown. Each has its own vibe depending on what you want. Food also varies from massive pizza slices in adam's morgan to highend dining on the harbor but some great finds include Ben's Chili bowl, delicious Ethiopian and of course falafel.

Can't wait to be back!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Waiting on the world..

I have been meaning to write and something or the other has always come up and can't believe it is already mid March! These past few weeks have been all about going after what I want despite the odds. Remembering to stay motivated despite all the reasons not to.. Fear should not prevent anyone from pursuing their passion. With everything that is happening in the world, it is just a reminder that life is too short to live passively, for someone else, or without meaning. But yet so many people live their lives like robots, forgetting to take the time out to enjoy their life or even having reasons for why they have the checklists that they do.

My heart is aching for the people of Japan and Libya and I just don't understand those that are buying Charlie Sheen tours with their money when they could be helping someone that desperately needs it. Sometimes I wonder, how do we all end up so different even though we are created the same way. Compassion seems to be dying along with the need to help. Most people are out for themselves and have become desensitized to the problems of the world. Fair enough, everyone has their own shit to deal with but even empathy seems to be disappearing.

I guess what I thought to be an innate feeling, really isn't and that is just depressing me. I know it shouldn't but I expect more from people. Always remembering the good with so much bad is tough sometimes.

Monday, February 28, 2011

New York City

The big apple, New Amsterdam, the city that never sleeps- all names that are associated with this great city. Once the capital of America, it is a regular on top 10 lists and an obvious tourist magnet. Besides possessing  iconic buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler building, it is home to a diverse range of cultures, food, art, street fairs and parks. There are also loads of fun facts about it. One of my favorite neighborhoods, Battery Park City, is entirely man made using a a process called land reclamation because Manhattan needed more land!

A typical tourist itinerary includes a visit to the Times Square, Empire State, Rockefeller Center, the Financial District, site of the Twin Towers, Statue of Liberty, the Met, the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park. And that is all just Manhattan! But there are so many other gems that we New Yorkers are still discovering and so it makes it nearly impossible to see NYC in a week let alone a weekend.

I wanted to highlight some not so obvious sights that I have come across while discovering my city. When I tried to say goodbye to New York before heading to the UK, Z and I planned a tourist day and this was our first stop. There is a piece of Berlin wall hidden away in the midtown and the graffiti is def worth a second look. Although, it isn’t worth a special trip, it is a cool find and can be enjoyed with a plate of lamb and rice from the nearby award winning cart guy.

During another outing, we decided to finally visit Ellis Island and absolutely loved it and everything inside. It was amazing to be there and to know that this was the first place immigrants use to pass thru before entering the Island. They have an archive there that allows you to search for your own ancestors and thus making the experience more personal. There also rooms filled with things people came with and it was interesting to see what were considered prized possessions at the time.  

There are also many activities that can just be enjoyed like the High line, movie nights under the stars and Shakespeare in the park. Then there are other treasures like Williamsburg, MoMa, and the Tenement museum. And of course food here deserves its very own list!  I try to make an effort to continue to see new things and know the list will never run out!

Friday, February 18, 2011


My 26th birthday is fast approaching and it has made me think about how fantastic my 25th year has been to me. Traveling wise, it was definitely a record year as I was able to travel to 13 countries and 45 cities, some old and some new. And I can officially say that I now need a break from visiting castles. I know. I had at least one trip planned for each month of the year and that is a stark difference from this year. I got nothing.

Besides exploring, I graduated and earned a Master's in something I am very passionate about- International Development. Development brings out the fire in me and am glad I decided impulsively to go back to school to further educate myself on the field. Not only did I learn more but I also gained an international family of friends. I miss them daily and am looking forward to the reunions.

I am impatiently waiting for the next phase to start since I am not known to be one that sits still. I hope becoming part of the 26-30 bracket brings me at least half the experiences and adventures of the last one. I am nervous!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

I have been meaning to start this blog for a while now and after encouragement from a few persistent people, I finally got around to it today. At first I thought I would just showcase my travels but now have decided to expand the horizons a bit and speak to you all about other things that come to mind as well.

As soon as February rolled around, some of my friends had either been looking forward to Valentine's day or wishing it would come and go as quickly as this short month.  I have never really been an avid supporter or hater of this day of love but this year I have been pushed to declare my allegiance.

Honestly, I would never subject a significant other into conforming to all the hype and purchase flowers and the whole nine for me. And do not think this day is necessary to showcase your love for someone else. But after reading something today that made me smile, I can say that this day is ok in my books. The quote was- "On this Valentine's day I challenge us to not only say I love you to the ones who mean the most but to spread it to someone who needs it most..tell the annoying co-worker you appreciate all they do...tell the shy girl in the back of the class she is at your bus drive or the person looking aimlessly at the floor in the never know what hope and joy you might bring."

Though, we really should be doing these things on a daily basis. Some of us forget. The hectic schedule of life takes over and everyone gets embroiled with their daily to do lists and do not realize they can also impact someone's life with a small gesture. Maybe silly but I'll jump on the bandwagon..

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