PS: THIS is why we live here

And as an addendum to my post yesterday, THIS is why we live here:

I was at my kids’ Parent Teacher meeting the other day – you know the ones … where the teachers spend the whole time telling you how great your kids are but that they really should study harder. I was flicking through Nabihah’s folder of work when I came across a page that she had written for creative writing. The teacher said “yes, look at this!”, and I saw that they had to write “when I grow up I want to…..”

The very first point on my 9 year old daughter’s list was (and bear in mind she is a very normal child who spends far too much time playing computer games, hates to study and does not even like the daily half hour session with the Kari who teaches them Quran):

“When I grow up I want to be a good muslim, so that when I die I will be close to Allah”.

I had that flash of immense love that parents sometimes have, and asked what the other kids wrote, thinking perhaps that they were encouraged to write something religious. But no – Nabihah’s best friend wrote “I want to be the Queen of the World”, the boys wrote “I want to go to the moon”, “I want to be a doctor”, “I want to be a pilot” and suchlike.

I stood up with tears in my eyes and said to the teacher and the Principal “I dont care WHAT marks Nabihah gets in maths, social studies, science or whatever. This is what REALLY matters”.

And THAT’s why we live here. MASHALLAH!!!





Another day, another barber shop

I was sitting in the (strictly men only) barber shop the other day waiting for Shams to have his 4-monthly hair cut under extreme protest and found myself in the same conversation I have with just about every Pakistani here who wants to know what the hell a white girl is doing in a country like this.

I quite like these conversations because I have taken it on as one of my missions in life to make Pakistanis appreciate Pakistan a bit more. The conversation usually goes like this: “Do you work in the UN?” to which I reply “no”. “Are you a teacher?” to which I again reply “no”. “Ahh your husband is from Pakistan” … “yes, thats right”. “What does he do?”. That is where I usually get stuck. My feminist side wants to shout “Judge me by ME, not by what my husband does!!”. My loyal wife side wants to create an instantly appealing kind of job that my husband does so that everyone will immediately thing he is as great as I KNOW he is. My truthful side usually mutters something about hotels and shops (which is the truth), knowing that it is an unsatisfactory answer and the poor Pakistani I am talking to was hoping for me to say he was a high court judge or something equally spectacular. Part of that of course stems from the fact that they were hoping I would be married to some bigshot that would make them instantly rich (in a land ruled by corruption that is a common dream) I always qualify it by telling them that he is a great man, but the disappointment is always evident on their faces.

The next thing they ask is why I dont live in Australia. Now that one takes some pretty fancy Urdu to explain, and Allah only knows whether any of them ever really understand what I am talking about, but this is where my mission kicks in. I usually answer that we choose to live in Pakistan, as strange as it is, because we believe this is a better life for us and our children than Australia can offer. That really gets them stumped. To the average Pakistani, the ultimate dream is to escape as far as they can away from this country, which is a symbol to them of poverty, hunger and hopelessness. The idea of someone coming from the mythical jannat that is the West to this hell-hole is confounding to say the very least. “WHY? Australia is so BEUOOOOTIFUUL! There is so much money! They are so good at cricket!!!!”

Of course my “better life” explanation is never enough. How could it possibly be better? This barber was certainly not satisfied. Sure, Pakistan might be dirty, poor, disorganized and seem hopeless, but even then it offers so much that Australia cannot. Everything is so comfortable in Australia that it never pushes you. It is a nafsi life where you live and die and never really get the whole point of pushing yourself to be better. It is hard to see the blessings because they are EVERYWHERE. There is nobody to give charity to, there is nobody to give zakat to, there is nobody to even give the other 2/3 of your baqra to on Eid (well actually you cant even HAVE a baqra – its illegal).  As a muslim what kind of life is that?

“Look” I said, pointing to all the Quranic quotes covering the walls of the little barber shop. “No matter how bad Pakistan may seem, Allah is always near. In Australia everything SEEMS heavenly, but Allah’s name is nowhere to be seen”.

By this point in the conversation the barbers had all stopped what they were doing to listen to this bizarre female trying to talk about Islam – because no matter who you talk to, religious talk is ALWAYS listened to intently.

Shams finished his haircut and was dragging me out the door for his promised treat, but I finished by telling these simple guys that the west might look clean on the outside, but the heart is empty, whereas Pakistan is dirty on the outside, but there is still a grain of truth left in even the most hardened of hearts and that is enough to give the whole of Pakistan hope.

Feeling pretty happy that I was able to spread my message a little further, I started to leave and the barber (like just about everyone I have ever had this conversation with) leaned in out of earshot of the others in the shop and quietly asked…

“can you help me get a visa for Australia then…?

Eid Mubarak

It’s Eid here and the whole muslim world have become carnivores for a few days at least as we slaughter sheep, goats, cows and camels in the memory of the Prophet Abraham. It was of course Abraham who was asked to sacrifice his son for the sake of Allah as a test of his faith, and then at the last minute Ismail was replaced by a sheep.

This festival is my favourite here because there is no forgetting the religious background behind the dayThe meat is divided into 3 – one third for the poor, one third for family and neighbours, and one third for you. In Australia on Eid ul Azha Muslims give to a charity to kill their sheep for them. They never see the sheep or get the blessings of eating their third. They dont get to give the charitable third themselves or share with their family or neighbours. My friends in Dubai told me they have to give a camel at the abbatoir because you cant kill sheep or cows at home. Even in some richer parts of Islamabad you have to give the money to the local mosque because they dont let you kill them at home.

Here on the other hand, it is a 100% home affair. I have posted a few of our photos for posterity. This year at home we had 4 sheep and 6 goats. The sheep arrived at home a couple of days earlier so we got to make friends with them and they were just gorgeous. Of course that also meant that the kids were in tears by the time it came to kill them, but can you imagine how Abraham felt with his son under his knife?

So the day went something like this…. After Eid prayers at 8:30am, the family all ate Eid breakfast together (halwa puri, sevigna and cake) then the butcher arrived. All the sheep and goats were taken to the empty block across the road for their last meal and run around. Then the goats came one by one into the garden to be killed. There is no hacking and slashing – they are rolled onto their side, legs are held and with prayers their throat is quickly cut.

(As an aside, Cosima tells me that they did a study of animals killed in this halal method and those killed by first stunning… they put receptors in the brain to detect distress, and with stunning they continued to have distress until they were eventually killed, despite being unable to move. The halal killed animals who had their throats cut with “Allah hu Akbar” stopped their brain function immediately. In terms of humane treatment, halal killing is the best. Plus because the spinal chord is not severed, the meat is not suddenly tensed. )

So 6 goats were dispatched pretty quickly, left for a while to bleed, then hung up on the gate and their skins removed. The sheep then came through and were also killed. We had 2 sheep, and mine was the last. He developed a taste for the birdseed we keep downstairs, and had eaten about a kg of that by the time his turn had come… it was my job to keep him away from the killing so he didnt feel distressed, but he was already in birdseed heaven. I shed a quiet tear as he was killed, but also said plenty of prayers for both him and us, that Allah would accept the sacrifice.

The next 6 hours were spent butchering meat. This is a huge job – cutting it into pieces and splitting every animal by 3… scores of little bags made up for the poor (who had been banging on the gate since morning), different cuts of meat separated for our home use, and parts to be given to all the relatives. Big bags of meat were sent to all the neighbours. The skins were all given to different people (they are much prized), the heads were given to others, the feet to others, and the stomachs etc to still more. The fat is melted down for cooking and the only things that were not used was the intestines and some of the stomachs, but these were all collected up and removed.

My mother and father in law cooked the first livers and spleens and distributed them for everyone to eat (me under protest) and my kids made themselves scarce for the whole event because they had grown too attached to the sheep to be able to watch any of it.

Until late at night meat was being distributed to the poor and cars were running all over the city sending legs of sheep off to the family members.

To those who say that Eid is horrendous and cruel, I wish they were here to see the love that was given to these animals and the way they were sent off. It is just one of the many things that make me proud to be a muslim.

Looking for writers who actually WRITE

It is only 9:45am but I am already insane today.

Running a freelance writing team in this country is a bit like trying to round up cats. Everyone is so free-willed that when you finally get one walking where you want them, the others flee off in a different direction. Here for some reason, very few people seem to have the discipline to actually work. They all say they WANT to work, but every month I have to send a furious email to my whole team telling them to take this job seriously – or get lost.

This morning one of my writers submitted his measly 3 articles (2 days late) and informed me that he would be taking 2 weeks off as of Monday. Perhaps he was thinking that he was doing me a favour by giving me a day of notice. Very generous. That is on top of 4 other writers who have taken a week or two off for other reasons (sick, exams, blah blah blah) and another 5 who are so busy in the rest of their lives that they cant possibly fulfil the 2-3 hour commitment of working for me each day.

That leaves me a total of 3 writers that i can count on to do their work each day and those 3 are my saviors. Without them I would have long ago been committed to some kind of mental asylum.

When there is no work, everyone writes me daily emails asking where the work is and how they are suffering because they are not making money. Stupidly, I have this over developed sense of responsibility that means I spend about 5 hours a day at that time finding new work. This is no easy feat and it takes a week or so to even hear about most jobs. Then by the time the work comes in, those same writers have often somehow decided that they don’t need the money so badly after all and are not available.

Although I am theoretically the boss, I feel more like I am working for my writers than they are working for me. I think I am living proof of the Hadith about the end of times when the slave will be the master and the master will be the slave.

I would usually draw some parallels now between the lack of work ethic in my team and the complete lack of discipline in Pakistanis in general which means the whole country runs like crap. But I am too self absorbed to do that right now.

Right now I just want WRITERS WHO WRITE!


The idea of “cool” is so strange, yet it somehow rules our lives.

When I was a kid in the 80’s, I knew what cool was, and I knew I wasn’t it. Cool was perfectly flicked hair, rollerskating to “I wanna know what love is…”, white shoes, being athletic and a whole lot more that I wasn’t even close to.

Then when I was in high school, cool was hating your mother, smoking, art classes and hanging out with the right people. I certainly was not cool. I was into sheep, wierd music, dressing like a hillbilly and poetry. I was like the antithesis of cool – I had a yearning to be different, yet I still really wanted to be cool.

I guess now that I am 40, cool shouldn’t matter so much any more, but it does. But because I live in Pakistan I have to readjust my whole idea of being cool. Here cool is not those horrendously tight skinny jeans with tiny t-shirts and overhanging bellies (thank God!) that everyone is wearing in Australia. Here cool is wearing this year’s print of cloth (perhaps only my mother in law understands that because I certainly have no idea). It is wearing just the right length of qamiz (those long shirts we wear over our pants) and the right combination of ribbon and piping to make them cool. I am destined to always be a year behind, because I just can’t bring myself to throw away all of last year’s clothes because they are too short, too long, have thin ribbon instead of thick etc etc etc.

My mother in law is so up with what is cool that even when she goes shopping for tupperware containers she asks the shopkeeper “what is the latest?”. She has a whole network of sisters who talk of the phone every day about what is the “latest” so they can keep up with the ever-changing trends. Every now and then Cosima and I manage to strike it lucky and get the thumbs up for having the coolest and latest clothes, but mostly we get the rolled eyes and despairing “what will we do with them?” kind of grunts that indicate we have once again failed to get it right.

The amazing thing about Pakistan is that God is ALWAYS cool here. In high school in Australia believing in God was a first class ticket  to un-coolness. God was definitely NOT cool. But here, young girls wear their hijab as a style statement. Hip young guys with slicked back hair and pointy shoes have stickers with I LOVE ALLAH on the back of their cars. Even my own kids write religious poetry for their friends, love to wear hijab and carry their praying beads with them.

And not only is God cool, but loving your mother is REALLY cool. Even now, admitting that you love your mother in Australia is ultimately daggy. There it is cool to be rebellious. Here it is cool to be submissive. Roll love of God and love of your mother in together and you have a recipe here for eternal coolness (and heaven as well!). Because here “cool” is not just judged by your peers, it is  judged by Allah and His presence is felt everywhere you go. Getting the big tick from Allah is the ultimate in cool.

One of my favourite wierd things here is the sticker that many of the Suzukis proudly display on their back windows. Suzukis are a form of transport a few rungs below taxis… they are like little buses, and the drivers of these vans are the maddest, craziest young blokes on the road. They always drive like they are in a street race and they are the coolest guys out. The sticker says “MAA KI DUAAA”. This means “My mother’s prayer”. In Islam it is said that heaven is under your mother’s feet, which means that it is through her prayer and love that you can achieve Allah’s love. Mother is like the gate to heaven. So the prayer of a mother is understood to be incredibly strong. These guys are acknowledging that it is thanks to their mother’s prayer that they have what they have…. even if it is just a rusted up 50 year old Suzuki van.

Now that is COOL.





Returning from the Wilderness…

It is a year since I wrote anything on this blog, and in that year I have run around like a chook with its head cut off managing my freelance writing business.

That’s all good, and I love my writers like they are my own children, but I often ask myself how much blessing there really is in writing articles about foot sores, Halloween screensavers, liposuction and protein supplements. Not much I bet.

Then I remember back to the good ole days when I would think about things bigger than the thousands of SEO articles that pass across my computer. I used to spend days contemplating the blogs I used to write, getting them perfect and testing the reactions before clicking the PUBLISH button. It was sense of excitement and achievement that I have not really managed since then. A bit like love… That butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of pain and joy at the same time.  And then a year of not much more than eye strain.

Thats what happens when an ideas person gets stuck into the day to day small picture stuff. The love kind of dies. Anyway, my friend Abez has reinspired me with her day to day musings on life and other stuff… Every day I check back to see if she has a new post.

So here I am back again.

Perhaps they will be less essay kind of pieces and more daily observations, and since I think I lost all my readers a year ago, it probably wont make any difference to anyone…

Asalaam aleikum world!

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