Young Woman, You ARE Marriage Material

I’m at that point in my life (by which I mean my early twenties) where everyone around me (literally everyone) is either getting married or about to. Whether it’s engagements or at-home Nikah (Muslim marriage contract) signing ceremonies, I’m losing single friends faster than I imagined. I’ve got two weddings to attend this week, and three more coming up in the next six months. 

Now, at this point in my culture, most girls have probably gotten one or two rishtas. These are families who approach the girl’s parents asking for her hand in marriage on behalf of (if he knows her) their son, or for (if he doesn’t know her but the family thinks they’d be a good match) their son. If you’re 25 and single, ladies, we all know there’s a few common reasons this is so:

1. You are focusing on your career and your parents are (almost/maybe/hopefully) supportive of your decision to wait to get married. 

2. You have older sisters who aren’t married yet and you have to wait your turn. 

3. Your boyfriend doesn’t have a job yet and so can’t respectfully ask for your hand in marriage (because what could he possibly offer you if he doesn’t have any money? *gasp*). Darling beti, focus on the doctors and the engineers. 

4. There is some sort of ideological divide. He is from a different caste, or Allah maaf karay religion, or is a communist, or is from a family that for some reason or the other, your family is not happy with. 

4. Nobody wants to marry you because you suck. 

Unfortunately, it’s the last reason that tends to take up residence in our hearts and even if the whole world is cheering us on, it’s not uncommon for young women to become overly critical of themselves. We begin evaluating ourselves on a host of factors. Can I cook? Would I prioritise raising children full-time over my career? Do I know how to host a dinner party and keep a clean house? And most pressing in our minds: Do I look good enough? 

Is my nose too big? Why isn’t my skin fairer? 

A lifestyle of perpetual dieting and stomach-sucked-in selfies, body-shaming larger women (yes, it counts when you’re openly feeling sorry for her), and eyeliner-mastery is adopted. Hair is straightened for everyday, and curled for formal events, and every pushed-up, tucked-in, brightened, whitened, and mattified part of your body is dressed to the nines at weddings because beta log kya kahen ge? (Child, what will people say about you/us?)

Let’s get a few things straight ladies. Maybe dressing up makes you feel good about yourself, maybe it’s just fun, and all of that’s great, but under no circumstances should you ever feel that it’s necessary for people to like or approve of you. I know it’s so easy for me to write these things down and so hard for them to be true. It took time for them to be true for me. It took time for me to allow myself to be comfortable in my own skin. I am so many great things, and so are you. 

Skills like cooking and being a great hostess can be learned, should you wish to learn them. Children may or may not be part of your future, and that’s something you can deal with when the time comes. They say motherhood gives you a different perspective (as do most major experiences) and who knows what you’ll feel like then? We are all constantly changing and evolving as people. And in any case, those possible future children could really benefit from a mom who knows how to follow her dreams. 

Im not saying these are the only issues – spending your life with someone is a big decision, and comes with a myriad of variables – but these are certainly prevalent for a lot of young women (on the verge of spinster-hood (haha, I joke). 

Know this: strive to be the best you can be. Cliche as that is, let yourself be open to different definitions of what’s good and what your best is. Allow yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do simply to expose yourself to different people and ways of thinking and embracing the world. Something as life changing as marriage takes teamwork, emotional and mental  maturity, strength and positivity. Be sincere. Be kind – especially to yourself. 

Most importantly, cut yourself some slack. You are kind. You are important. You are talented. And you deserve to be valued. The protruding stomach and the limp hair – those are obstacles you have the power to move past. 

And your knight in shining armour? He’ll show up when it’s time. 

The Veiled #Muslim Bogeygirl

Zainab Khawaja:

Phenomenal insight into what it means to choose to be a veiled Muslim woman. This article says everything and more that I was trying to say in this Tribune article.

Originally posted on Building a Common Future:

By: Ethar El-Katatney

Photo Credit: Time Magazine

There are around 800 people attending this forum. Let’s assume half are women. Out of those 400 women, less than half a dozen are veiled.

I understand that “we’re” very much a novelty here. And I understand that our presence here is extremely important to break the stereotypes, misconceptions, prejudices, etc etc And I am extremely grateful to the Anna Lindh Foundation for granting me the amazing opportunity of speaking at the inauguration ceremony, and again on a panel today.

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It’s Okay to be That Girl

The girl that wears a full face of makeup one day and nothing the next. The girl who will only dress well if she’s not tired, or too lazy, or doesn’t have to iron her outfit. The girl who watches TV shows that are so girly, so hipster, so lame. The girl who can curse like a sailor, and isn’t afraid to say what everyone else in the room is thinking – in fact, she doesn’t see the point in not saying it; things would be so much clearer if we could all just dispense with these mind games. It’s okay.

The girl who is so far from elegant and graceful that it’s a laugh out loud situation. The girl who always has more guy friends than girl friends. The girl who is well over the over-weight barrier and gleefully goes on existing (the horror!). The girl who can’t be bothered matching her socks, and the girl who painstakingly puts outfits together when she wants to impress. The girl who is neurotic-neurotic-neurotic – are you sure you double checked that the stove was off?! – and is really intense about things like worrying and seriousness and the very real Worst Possible Scenario That Has Every Chance of Coming True. It’s okay.

The girl that feels like she’s playing pretend when she laughs at his jokes that aren’t funny, when she smiles at the older women asking but not really asking about her dreams, when she says sorry when she’s not sorry. The girl that fights for feminism and women’s empowerment when she can’t figure out in her head how women would ever be able to be equal in this messed up world. The girl that un-apologetically demands that she be loved, that she be loved, that she be… at least treated well, at least not degraded, at the very least smiled at after a long day. It’s okay.

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The girl that says no, sorry, to the guy she knows she will never love, could never love, because she values honesty. The girl that feels bad about it after. The girl who feels like she has the worst luck because the hot guys never like her, just the social rejects that she isn’t into. The girl who doesn’t care about feminism or socially-constructed gender roles because she just wants a goddamn knight in shining armor and is that so freaking impossible to wish for? The girl that feels selfish but thinks why the hell shouldn’t she? This world is a hard place and she needs to look out for herself. This girl that vows every night to try to be better, as a person, as a sister, as a woman, as a wife. This girl that doesn’t think she can, but knows that she will try. It’s okay.

That girl who loves pink, and glitter and getting her nails done and her hair done and is tired of being thought of as a looker, not a thinker. The girl who smoked a joint when she felt pressured by the cool kids in high school. The girl who fell down the stairs in front of everyone and pretended to laugh with them, because she hoped they were laughing with her. The girl who wanted to be a boy because it was so much easier and no one ever asked her brothers to do the laundry. The girl who always came second in her class, and wasn’t very pretty either, so what use was she? The girl who was only ever good at one thing but couldn’t even manage to be the best in it. It’s okay.

The girl who was always insecure. The girl who wasn’t afraid to take risks. The girl who experimented with her personality. The girl who ate lunch alone because of her pink hair. The girl who skipped class because she couldn’t bare to face them. The girl they called Tootsie because of the rolls on her stomach. The girl they called Goddess, because of the curves of her body. It’s okay.

The girl who wrote because her heart was breaking. Who ugly-cried her guts out without caring who was watching. The girl who sat with her legs politely crossed making small talk because she couldn’t let the facade crack. The girl who worked two jobs to support her family and came home early, pretending she had plans so she wouldn’t have to go out with coworkers for coffee she couldn’t afford. The girl who never drank alcohol because she just didn’t want to, and why was that so hard for everyone to understand? The girl who prayed to a God she believed in even though she could never justify his existence. It’s okay.

That girl. Every girl.

It’s okay.

Paki Yuppie: What It Means to be a Young Urban Professional in Pakistan

It means you wake up warm on cold winter mornings, and whine about how cold the bathroom tiles feel beneath your feet. It means your cook probably makes you breakfast, while you strategically shower at the time when you know hot water will be available. It means you dress to impress, whether that means twirling a scarf around your turtleneck, or flicking on some eyeliner. It means you probably own a pair of loafers. It means you spend your mornings in the office trying to wake yourself up, your days running around trying to complete your projects, your evenings breathing in relief through your cigarette, and your nights in bed with Downton Abbey, or Game of Thrones, or Star Plus dramas.

It means you vaguely discuss politics – broad terms, quick generalizations, general acceptance of failure – while you calculate sales figures, or browse Khaadi online. It means you are quick to joke about how Pakistan is a failure, and have no real concrete idea of how to fix it. It means you know you are privileged – everyone’s been telling you that your whole life. It means you are kind to those who aren’t whenever they knock at your car window at a red light. It means you love traditional clothing and food, speak of them fondly, but always as “traditional”.

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It means that you live with your parents, usually even if you’re married, and don’t pay rent. It means that you worry about how you didn’t buy any new clothes this season. It means you crib about rishta auntie culture, but you probably had an arranged marriage. It means you’re ambitious about something – you need to make something of yourself, otherwise what’s the point of you being so privileged, so educated, so well-groomed? It means maybe you went abroad to study and are now back in your home country, wishing you could have just stayed in London. If you’re lucky, it means when someone compliments you on your clothing you can reference some loving aunt from abroad who sends you Zara, or H&M, or Forever 21.

For many of us, it means we have a father or an uncle in the army, and someone or the other in the police, customs, foreign ministry. It means, of course they would never be corrupt, but they can help you out if you’re in some kind of big fix. It means we make promises that we don’t keep and then joke our way around them. It means we have “first world problems” that we joke about openly. It means the girls are always worried about gaining weight and the guys are always worried about their egos. It means we enjoy things like book launches, art exhibitions, qawwali nights and hand embroidery. It means we plan weddings months in advance, and often shy away from vibrant colors, favoring pale pinks, whites, reds for an “elegant look”.

It means we hesitate to take chances. It means we use words like dynamic and innovation. It means we casually reference the work trip to Thailand, and the summer our parents took us to Europe. It means we are upset over Shia killings, and attacks on schools, and donate money to cancer research, and participate in candlelight vigils, and talk of freedom of right and freedom of expression and freedom of belief and just a lot about freedom – all the time. And then we say, ‘but our culture…’, ‘but our religion…’, ‘but our families…’. It means we are fond of the disclaimer. Fond of not feeling too much, not saying too much, not meaning too much – or rather, not saying, feeling or meaning the wrong thing. It means sometimes we stand up for our values, but mostly, we’ve got other things to do. It means we’re not heartless, we’ve just got a lot on our plates.

It means we probably would leave the country if we could, but we’d probably come back in 10-15 years. It means we say we know “hardship” but we don’t know hunger. It means we are grateful, but we have probably never begged. It means we know of faith, but we struggle to feel it. It means we yearn with all our hearts for our country to get back on its feet, but we also yearn for 3G internet services. It means we spend money to go watch movies in cinemas and eat nachos, but nothing makes us happier than a bowl of well-cooked biryani in our dining rooms.

It means we have two sitting rooms – one for the guests and one for ourselves. It means we have multiple sets of china – some for the guests and some for ourselves. It means we have servants – staff, if you will – to wash our cars and cook our food and clean our houses, sometimes even to raise our children. It means we are kind to these servants, but get upset if they disrespect us.

It means we have egos. It means we are Pakistani. It means we are young. It means we are flawed and perfect in our own ways. It means we can evolve, we will evolve, we have evolved. It means we are you, you are us, we will always be the same and yet different. It means nothing, and it means everything. We are different, and we are the same. We are a colorful mosaic of insecurities and talent.

It means we are human.

[This post was written after a conversation with a Kazakh friend of mine, where we decided to write and tell each other what daily life was like in our respective countries, sharing things that aren’t traditionally on the news or in books.]

Reading & Eating – A Match Made in Heaven

unnamedReading and eating makes a heavenly combination. Some bookworms at foodpanda, the leading online food ordering marketplace, figured out a way to make it as little messy as possible. They listed down food items that give a reader more accessibility and less discomfort while eating. If you are an avid reader, this friendly little piece of art will save lots of food stains on your books.

Meanwhile you decide what to eat next, here are some interesting facts for your reading:

  1. Biryani: Originates from Persia and took a while before it arrived in India.
  2. Chocolates: One of the famous potato chip brands sells chips dipped in milk chocolate.
  3. Lasagna: It can be cooked in a dish washer!
  4. Penne pasta: Ridges in pasta allows it to hold more sauce.
  5. Ice-cream: People ate ice-creams to celebrate ending of World War II.
  6. Pizza: Scottish people normally deep-fry their pizzas.
  7. Cookies: Standard amount of dough for one cookie can hold 50 chocolate chips.
  8. Soup: Chinese meals always begin with soups.
  9. French Fries: There is a museum in Belgium dedicated to French fries.
  10. Burgers:  At one point in history, burgers were considered to be renamed as ‘liberty sandwiches’.
  11. Pop corns: In some parts of the world, microwaves are sold with a pop-corn control button.

Accept me please! – The Senior Year #College #Survival #Guide: Grad School Edition

This is part 2 of my series The Senior Year College Survival Guide. To see part 1, the Friends Edition, click here.

Today’s topic: Being worth something.

That’s right. Say hello to adulthood. You’re anywhere from 21 to 23 when you’re graduating from your Bachelors, and it’s about time you put the big boy (or girl) pants on, because it’s time to get into grad school, and while that girl from the fancy private school is Instagramming every second of her life at Harvard, and your neighbor’s car has a shiny UPenn bumper sticker on it, it’s time to *gulp* face those applications.

It’s your final year in this safe little shell that has become your Bachelors degree. Now, you need to pursue higher interests. Those grad school you’re looking at – somewhat ambitiously, let’s be honest – ask about research objectives, passions, extra-curriculars and pesky standardized tests. All that fine print makes your eyes water, and makes you question yourself. More than one final year BA student has been found whispering to themselves, “Do I even HAVE a passion? Why am I passionate about [insert subject here]?” It’s times like these that you need The Official Survival Toolkit.

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  1. Mentors to guide you through the tricky process.

    With every grad school having its own dedicated webpage, and some with their own Facebook pages (hello, education 2.0) with unique requirements, confusing UIs and even a complete lack of information (why won’t they just tell you what GRE score you need?), applying for a future as a graduate student is a daunting task. Make sure you ask a professor, an older sibling, or even an experienced friend to guide you through the finer points in the application process. It always helps to have someone there to send you an extra reminder, to read through your personal statements, and help edit that resume.

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  2. Friends to take you out for a stress-relieving meal.

    Ah, friends –  those lovely people who, at this point in your life are either getting married, or going to grad school with you, or taking some time to “find themselves”. They’re the ones that will listen to you whine about your hectic schedule, pencil you in for that much-needed mani-pedi or take you out when you’re at the brink of nervous collapse. Rely on your friends because they know you – and sometimes that’s exactly what you need for your applications, a third-person perspective. You may not be able to identify your best qualities off the top of your head, or know how to phrase mention of your volunteer work, but they’ve shared those experiences with you and can help you through it.

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  3. The ability to pick yourself back up again, from admittedly minor, but ego-shattering realizations that your GPA just isn’t going to cut it.

    This one’s crucial, folks. There comes a time in every application process where the applicant faces serious self-doubt. Is my GPA good enough? Have I done enough community work? Am I clear about my research goals? Am I good enough? This kind of thinking can be toxic, and the worrying and constant stress are likely to make you feel low. Just remember that climbing every mountain is tough, but if you make it to the top, the view can be exhilarating.

 

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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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