God, Drugs and Thugs – My Messy Beautiful

Zainab Khawaja:

This story is so inspirational. I am proud of everyone, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world, who has had the strength to recognize their weaknesses and make an effort to fight back against them. Whether it’s drug addiction or other challenges, everyone has weaknesses and to overcome them, we need great courage. That’s something that not everyone can find and even when we do find it, it takes a great amount of self awareness (which often comes with time and at great cost)and strength to stick to our goal of improving ourselves.

As Anais Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

I wanted to share this story on my blog because there’s so much out there for each of us to achieve in our lives and we can, if only we find some courage.

Originally posted on God, Drugs and Thugs:

4e67614cfe13a73a2b81c15780fa8395I read something this morning that took me back 5 years, 9 months and 20 days – to a moment which is never too far from my consciousness. As I approach my sixth year clean and sober, the image burned into my mind on June 17th, 2008, doesn’t haunt me like it once did. That skeletal frame, covered with bruises and track marks no longer chases me, fearfully, toward sobriety. The hollow, lifeless eyes are no longer black holes threatening to swallow me whole unless I begin sprinting toward a spiritual life. No, today the memory brings up a feeling of sorrowful gratitude. The girl in the mirror has sunk to such a low point that she can’t even recognize herself anymore. Absolutely nothing in her life makes sense anymore. Once upon a time, she was really something. She “coulda’ been a contender.” On this day, though, she has finally lost her last…

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23 Vintage Photos of Egypt’s Golden Years

Zainab Khawaja:

Then and now for #Egypt. As a Pakistani, I’ve often seen similar blog posts and images about Karachi. This post about Egypt just seemed to reinforce the message: equality, justice and freedom to live our lives should never be compromised.

Originally posted on Egyptian Streets:

A woman reading a magazine in the 1950s

A woman reading a magazine in the 1950s

By Mohamed Khairat, Founder, EgyptianStreets.com

Egypt in the 1900s was a different place. Egyptian cinema was the third largest in the world, Cairo was a city that foreigners dreamt of spending their holidays exploring, Egyptian music flourished and shook the world, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together as neighbours, and women had freedoms that were unheard of in many other countries.

Egypt was a place of liberal spirits, unhampered by sectarian and ethnic prejudices. The rights of men, women and children were championed.

Yet, all that has changed, and often may Egyptians forget the Egypt that used to be. Here are 23 photographs of vintage advertisements and other images that will teleport you to Egypt’s ‘golden years’ and show you an Egypt you may have forgotten ever existed.

(These photographs are available thanks to ‘Vintage Egypt. Click here for more)

1. “The Japanese do…

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Coming Home – A Thought

I’m sitting in my aunt’s living room, amidst an ongoing argument on the issue of the electricity and expenses of cooking food without gas, the usual start to my day in this household. Every day, since she returned back to Pakistan five years ago, I’ve watch my aunt wake up to a very typical version of “Pakistani” problems knocking at her door, while her servants have their remedy ready in the form of some morning tea on the side. To her surprise, being home to raise her children has not been as green as it seemed from the other side of the fence. Daily frustrations like these have become quite common for many Pakistani’s returning home after relocating abroad, dreaming that it would provide those homey comforts which the foreign country could not. Unbeknownst to them, that during their time away our motherland has continued to push against the underlying evils of mismanagement, corruption and possibilities that exist in governments everywhere.

The longing, emotional bond with the homeland usually brings the expatriates back after some amount of time spent away, but it has little support to offer those that are returning under usual circumstances. These returning families face a variety of problems, consequently, returning back has its own perks but the fears formulated in the process can make the transition even more challenging.

  • Cultural shock, or the feeling of being a foreigner in their own homeland, leaves many feeling lost while they are still struggling to relocate back to Pakistan and reacquaint themselves with the new areas, growth, and culture that may be much different than they remember.
  • Jetlag, however, might still be one of the most difficult things to manage physically during a return home. Taking the biggest toll, and adding to an already stressful situation. Also, the most easily overlooked and underrated part of the trip back, jetlag can not only lead to additional problems but can also compound new problems blowing them way out of proportion.

Initial days are thrilling of course, filled with the excitement of a journey back home and the chance to revisit old friends, but the real deal sets in shortly thereafter. The feeling of being a stranger, sometimes among your friends and family despite the good old lifestyle you once left behind, prevails. Very well leading to confusion, lack of direction, and in the worst case, a mismatch between the dream home you’re searching for and the current transitional phase. However don’t lose hope, there are a number of things one can do to combat these factors that many face.

  • Pick the most suitable city- For many this is one of the most important aspects. Your new city will be your new environment, and your “ideal” city and what it offers may have changed while you were gone, much like you did.
  • Weigh the pros and cons- Resources, employment, commute time, and convenience may be just a few to begin with, aside from the presence of one’s family and friends.  This makes it easier to adjust as it did when moving abroad.
  • Enjoy the hunt- While it can be very exhausting, as it is the basis for your new life back home, it can be made much easier by buyer’s assistance companies like Lamudi here in Pakistan. While these new real estate listing websites may have sprung up while you were gone, they walk you through the entire process of this transition, providing paperwork and help along the way.

Your “settling down” phase, and the joy of returning home is one that you have been looking forward to for weeks, if not months. For many it is a dream, and as the pressure and culture shock begin to wear off, you should be able to slowly return to the list of things you’ve put off during your busy schedule abroad.  Your home country is glad to have you back, and despite what you remember about the past, it has grown and matured much like you have, and has all the solutions ready to paint the life you’ve wanted to live, in a very Pakistani way – slow and steady.

The King Has Arrived, but Will He Stay?

Image via oly.com.pk

Image via oly.com.pk

Islamabad opened its arms in warm welcome to Burger King, as the global food chain opened its first franchise in The Centaurus Mall. Residents of the twin cities were excited about experiencing the magic behind the Whopper, BK’s signature burger. With expectations high, and anticipation even higher, did the King stand up to all the hype?

I went to Burger King with similar hopes; having visited franchises in the US, I was looking forward to re-enacting the experience of a large, mouth-watering burger feast. Unfortunately, the entire experience ended up being a little lackluster. After waiting in line for thirty minutes (only two of three cash registers were staffed, even though so many young uniformed men seemed to be walking around aimlessly), I was told to wait at my table as my order would be brought to me.

As I waited, I looked around, to gain a sense of the place. The aesthetics were off by a long shot. Red walls, and dim lighting, with a few tables placed haphazardly, and a large wall decal reading TASTE KING, all brought a rather depressing look to the place. It was only after a few seconds that I realized the decal was meant to read TASTE IS KING, with the ‘IS’ separated from the other two words by a large flat-screen TV (which was not turned on). It was not brightly colored, or exciting or fun. I had expected large images of juicy burgers, crispy lettuce, mouth-watering tomatoes, not this blank red wall atmosphere.

My burgers arrived – I had ordered two to try some variety – and the regular burger was too small. The up-sized burger was of a size comparable to a Hardee’s burger. Both were flat and seemed a little smushed. Where was the crispy lettuce? The juicy tomatoes?

In their defense, the meat was tender and well-cooked, and the burgers tasted good, despite their less than exciting appearance.

Overall, I’d say you might stop here once in a while, for a quick bite, but this court isn’t one you’ll want to visit regularly.

Recruiting & Retaining: Are The Best And Brightest Attracted To Public Service?

When thinking of government service in Pakistan, a few things tend to pop into a person’s head. A sharply dressed officer with a prominent power walk, a shiny official car, a personal secretary carrying files and folders. “What’s not to like?, one tends to think. But, is the public sector and its practices in Pakistan really all that they’re made out to be?

civil_servantThe choice to follow a career in public service doesn’t have to come with age. Some people dream of becoming an astronaut, some of racing cars and some simply want to serve their country. There’s no doubt that a country cannot function without a framework of government employees who’s duty is to make sure that the rights and services deserved by a citizen of the nation are dispensed to them with the utmost ease and lack of hindrances. They are the framework through which the constitution acts, through which the rights of a citizen are upheld, the means through which a government interacts with its citizens, the connecting bridge between the decision making and the on ground functioning of a country.

Let’s be honest, that’s a heavy burden for any pair of shoulders. To be given the duty of running a country at a defined level is a great responsibility and it’s only logical that these particular jobs should only be given to the most capable of people. This, in turn, causes the questions to arise; are the best possible candidates being selected for the job currently? If not, then why not? What can be done and needs to be changes regarding the application and selection procedure?

When it comes to public service in Pakistan, the Government service comprises two distinct categories of officers. One, recruited at the federal level, either through the contemporary examination scheme or direct induction, provided minimum job requirements have been met. Two, officers recruited at the provincial level who apply and are selected through the same two means.  Since provinces report to the federation, it is usually the case that federal officers are allocated more powers and seniority than their provincial counterparts.

Openings in the service are advertised in small black and white columns in newspapers. There’s nothing about them that stand out or pull your attention. Meager descriptions of the openings don’t give a person much of a hint about where applicants will be ending up, what the job itself entails and what packages an applicant may be eligible for. The typical bureaucratic black and nature of desk jobs comes across as nothing that would inspire or excite an aspiring civil servant. There are no media campaigns depicting the travels and adventures you can have like the marines. There are no recruiting drives in universities targeting potential applicants, showing them what the public sector has to offer. Civil servants should be the best and the brightest, it only makes sense when giving them such responsibilities. If there’s no need to draw them in or show them a world full of opportunity, does that mean the service already gets the crème de la crème?

The majority of university graduates that specialize in science and engineering based fields in Pakistan rarely end up going into

Image via civilservant.org

Image via civilservant.org

public service. Does the Government not require technocrats for policy making regarding technical fields? Public administration courses for undergraduates at the university level barely exist. Should the grooming for public service not start off early if a person would prefer it? When the functioning of a country is pivotal when it comes to its establishment, why is there so little public knowledge and outreach on behalf of the service itself? The recruitment process is inherently based on minimum disclosure and outreach. Maybe the public sector has the top tier of employees. Maybe they’re alright with not having them.

On the other hand, when seen through the perspective of retaining employees, the civil service rarely sees voluntary cast-aways. The perks and privileges allocated to a public sector officer and more than enough to keep them happy. Official transport, a comfy desk, powers associated with the relevant job and field given, subsidized utilities are just a few to name. The most important factor however is security. Once you’re in, you’re in. You’ve got a pension, you get to take travel as part of official tours and most of all you can’t be removed from the service unless a major offence such as corruption has been proved. As stated before, these facts aren’t very well known amongst the general public. The only way through which you get to understand and know about the public service is through firsthand knowledge through an actual person. Word of mouth, as to speak. Families of doctors keep making doctors and families of engineers keep making engineers unless an inspiring job seeker comes into contact with someone with knowledge of public service that ends up appealing to them. The only reason for that is the lack of exposure the general public has to the line of work. Not to say that that’s the story of every household, but an actual passion that leads a person to public service isn’t a common finding.

Without a doubt, the country’s machinery needs well educated, oriented and motivated to work smoothly.  It needs mindsets that are diverse, originating from different backgrounds and levels of exposure with expertise in a broad spectrum of fields. Currently, the needs of the public sector may be met with the existing workforce, but when it comes turn for the younger, more broadminded and skillful generation to takes its place, the question arises that will the selection process change accordingly to accommodate such future civil servants? The world is moving forward, and if that’s not the case with the recruiting procedure currently employed, our citizens will not have the best and brightest formulating and executing policies for them.

Ilmesters Academy Hosts an Open House in Karachi

Education, apart from being the cornerstone of a successful and fulfilling life, helps mold and polish students and Ilmesters Academy aims to make your child shine. The administration, faculty and staff members are pleased to invite your family to the Open House. Ilmesters Academy is an IB World School with the goal to meet the international benchmark by offering unique inquiry-based learning. The school provides rich opportunities for academics, physical-education, artistic and community endeavors and engages in programs, which are offered by University of Cambridge.

If you’re interested in visiting, there’s an open house coming up.

Date:               25th January 2014, Saturday

Timings:          09:00 a.m. till 12:30 p.m.

Venue:       31/11 Block 7/8 Alhamra Cooperative, Shaheed-e-Millat Rd, Karachi

Phone:  (021) 34558986

For registration and more details please click here.

As Aristotle said, “the educated differ from the uneducated as much as the living differs from the dead.

To connect with Ilmesters on Facebook, click here.

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I am Oprah, I am Mindy, I am Cassey. My 2014 Resolutions.

This post is inspired by this prompt at The Daily Post.

New Year’s Day has come and gone, and since the world isn’t shivering in fear over coming to an end (as it was in 2012), we’ve all made our resolutions and posted them on Facebook – in fact, I think I have read more resolutions on my Newsfeed than I have seen selfies in the last two days. They range from pleasant vagaries (“I promise to be a better person this year”) to very specific, drill-sergeant type torture-plans (“32 push-ups every morning, 15 squats, 10 lunges, repeat!”) and they all had one effect on my unexcited 2014 self: they made me wonder what I wanted to change about myself. What was it that I wanted to focus on this year and improve about myself?

In order to narrow down the million or so options that immediately rushed to my head (thinner, prettier, healthier hair and skin, read 100 books, clean my room EVERY DAY, exercise 1 hr every day!) I decided to think about who I would like to be. Did I want to be Christina Aguilera, whose self-confidence knew no bounds? She was comfortable with her body no matter what size. Did I want to be like Tina Fey, whose humor and quirkiness was a thing to marvel at? Did I want to be smart like that Google employee in The Internship? Who did I want to be?

I made lists in my head and thought it all through, and I decided that I wanted to be like a few people – not just one. So here’s the list:

1.Oprah

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Not only is she a self-made success, Oprah overcame significant personal difficulties and made it in a business she was passionate about. Starting at the bottom of the food chain, she is now reigning queen of popular daytime shows, with an audience that spans multiple generations, and a show closet that could contain my entire house. She also gives back, in a big way. She made a first class boarding school for underprivileged girls in Africa, and how many times have we seen her give a car or a house or participate in rehabilitation efforts after natural disasters? I think a lot of us could do with having Oprah as a role model.

My Oprah Resolution of 2014: Remain focused on my academic and professional goals and give them top priority.

2. Cassey Ho from Blogilates

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This woman has a passion for exercise and healthy eating. That is evident from her workout videos, fit lifestyle motivators and a plethora of other related products that she markets online. She has turned it into a business, a career for herself. Her success in maintaining a truly healthy lifestyle (as far as I can tell) is so inspiring for so many young women who have joined the Blogilates community.

My Cassey Ho Resolution: To do at least 30 mins of exercise every day, whether it is dancing to the latest Avril Lavigne song, or doing some brisk walking. It’s important to maintain some level of activity and not succumb to living a sedentary life. In 2014, I am going to up my energy.

3. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project

I only recently started watching this show, and Mindy Kaling’s character on the quirky office comedy is not only kind to a fault, but also looks at life through an entirely unique perspective. She is not afraid to be her plus-size self, even if that leads to her saying or doing things that others might judge her for. Though I may not agree with everything the character does, this is something I do agree with.

My Mindy Lahiri Resolution: Be confident. Don’t let your trivial insecurities about your quirks or weight get to you. You are a strong individual and you are going to achieve your goals. The world is your oyster – and life needs to be lived.

Goodbye, 2013. Thanks for the books.

At the beginning of 2013, I promised myself I would read 30 books. Come December, I didn’t really make it – 4 books short of the gold – but I did manage to read 26 stories, and I thought I would share them with you. It’s not uncommon to see our social media feeds bursting with status updates about how successful someone’s year has been, so how many amazing things they’ve done. I thought about how I remembered 2013, and was surprised to find, it was through these books.

I started the year with East of Eden, which skyrocketed to the very top of my Favorite Books Ever list. It’s a retelling of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, and beyond that, it’s a story of life. There is so much beauty simply in the way the book is written – Steinbeck really pulls you into this world that is simultaneously profound and gritty, giving you the feeling that you’re learning something phenomenal, but leaving you with more questions than you’ve managed to answer. There is love, betrayal, devotion – on both a micro and macro level. The one thing I took away from the book was the story of the Hebrew word Timshel, which roughly translates into “thou mayest”. It was with that reaffirmation of choice – that we have the power to make decisions in our lives, whether to choose good or bad – that set the course of my entire year – one that would change my life, thanks to the books that guided my way.

After East of Eden left the taste of morality and betrayal in my mouth, Quasimodo taught me true compassion, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Having watched and loved the animated Disney interpretation as a child, I wanted to sing with Esmeralda, and swing from Notre Dame’s royal heights with the bell-ringer, but I was in for a surprise. The story is heart-breaking, with Esmeralda and her lover a far cry from the jovial couple Disney showed me. Quasimodo is no humble giant, but a monster and a simpleton with a heart. His caretaker is part evil villain, but part human, and in a gut-wrenching moment of shock, I was able to relate to his troubles. There is evil and magic and a consistent tearing away at your heart, until at the end, Quasimodo is dust, but you are still bleeding raw.

With two classics in my 2013 backpack, I turned to more contemporary fiction. Next stop: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared. Yes, that is the entire title. This lickety-split story of adventure had a wholehearted feel that had me chuckling the entire time. I’ve written a full-fledged review on it, and you should give it a click.

And so the year went on, one book leading to the next, with memories tied to each one. When a dear friend visited from abroad, she brought me Looking for Alaska, when I was suffering from insecurity issues, I read Valley of the Dolls and took shelter in Anne’s unwavering self-confidence. When I was complaining about my bout with gastritis, The Fault in Our Stars made me take back every ungrateful word and forget about my fever as I learned about love. On the same note, The Last Original Wife reminded me not to take any of my relationships for granted, and Empty Mansions made me grateful that I was not burdened with extravagant wealth.

So what did I do in 2013? I lived 26 adventures. I learned 26 lessons. I started paying less attention to the internet and more to my family. I stopped wasting money and time. I strengthened my relationship with God and pushed aside insecurities. In 2013, I lived, and I don’t regret a single page of it.

What did you read in the past 12 months?

P.S. There will be a full book of each of the books I read in 2013, one a week, every Monday.

Wishing you thrills and tear-stained pages,
Zainab

BOOK SALE! Get your books here!

I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, and over sips of chai, we shared our lives with each other. During our discussion, we realized that so few of our colleagues enjoyed picking up a good novel, and diving into the story it holds.

In elite universities in Pakistan, we hear discussions about how it’s up to our youth to lead the country, and our bright young minds – fostered and developed in the nation’s top universities – are the leaders of tomorrow.

We are expected to lead, and rid the nation of poverty, corruption and nepotism.

But how can one lead without the essentials that literature gives us, without learning the lessons of times past and times present? Can you truly understand the line between passion and obsession without Anna Karenina?

Can you feel an oppressed woman’s pain without Simone de Bouvoir?

Can you understand compassion if you haven’t walked 500 pages in Quasimodo’s shoes? An author doesn’t just tell a story – they share a piece of the world as they know it. And aren’t the greatest leaders known for their understanding of humanity?

So I decided to do something about it. My online book sale is a project to bring popular titles to people who might read them. Whether you’re an avid bookworm, a maybe-sometimes reader, or just clicking around on the internet, the book sale is open to you, and I hope you do stop by. We’ve tried to make the books as affordable as possible, to facilitate that bookworm that we know is somewhere inside of you. Our goal is to get you to read more, and develop a love of books.

Some of these books were donated for this project, and most are from my personal collection. There are some new ones, some almost-new ones, and some that have been well-read. These are books that I have loved and learned from, and that I want to share with the world.

How will this work?

A photo album is uploaded on my Facebook page. Each picture is captioned with the name and price of the books shown. Simply pick the books you want, and send an Inbox Message to the page, telling me which books you would like. Those will be set aside for you. Prices are non-negotiable, and have been set keeping in mind the conditions of each book.

All books will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. Keep in mind, the quantity of books is limited, so you’ll want to hurry!

How do I pay, and how do I get my books?

Payment will be through online bank transfer, and your books will be delivered to you by post, or in person (if you’re close enough).

How can I help?

Since this is my way of giving back to the community, I encourage you all to help with the effort. Feel free to contact me here on the blog, on on my Twitter or Facebook to donate books, create a partnership, or share your ideas. I would love to hear from you!

“If you are a dreamer come in
If you are a dreamer a wisher a liar
A hoper a pray-er a magic-bean-buyer
If youre a pretender com sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin
Come in!
Come in!”
- Shel Silverstein