Monday, July 30, 2007

Amparaaaaa, Amparaiiiiii

I’m here. I really am. Whoa.

It’s amazing to be back in Ampara. Who knew I would actually feel like I was indeed coming home. From seeing old familiar faces, going to the same markets, feeling as frustrated by dial up as always, adjusting (way faster this time than last time) to a swiss keyboard where the z and the y are switched (and imagine what that is like with someone with my name) and just knowing where I am in the 2 kilometer radius of Ampara Town; this feels good.

I am not one of those people who when in a new place needs to go out and explore and know every single street. My younger sister is that way…that is what she has been doing with London in her ten weeks there which are almost up and I didn’t do diddly about directions or scale of the city or knowing where I was when I was there. Why that feels inconsequential to me is a mystery. I think I am a curious person but knowing about the direction of m surroundings is just not of interest. Which I wish it was since I tend to get lost a lot and it would be nice to know where I am going and I think it is some sort of a mental block that I need to work on (behind on the list to the following mental blocks: numbers are scary, rocket science itself is not really rocket science, science is scary, learning tamil is impossible, economics with numbers instead of words and theories is still scary). I need to just sit with myself one day and talk myself into a directional sense. There are ways in which to uncondition ourselves.

So, I am here and I want to write about work but I did something silly and actually inform work that I wanted to write about work. There is no official policy that can be found within my organization about blogging about work and of course I would not do stupid things like publish internal information but I am doing cool projects and want to write about them. As of right now, there is no moratorium on my writing on this blog and I think I will just do so till I hear otherwise and if in doubt, will ask if something can go up or not. If anyone has any guidelines out there (aid world specific please….we are a different breed of blogger. It is easy for people to say to separate your personal and professional but when you work in the field, it’s near impossible to do so. This time, unlike last time I was blogging in SL, I actually do want to talk about work. I have other aid workers reading this and I want to get opinions and comments and suggestions etc from others and to share any best practice type situation we might have going here). Anyhow, blog I shall for now till I hear differently.

It has been two and a half working days since I have been in Ampara but lots going on.

Want to give a shout out to two blogger buddies o mine, both in London, The Buddha Smiled and House Negro, both of whom I hung out with when I was in London for a week and it was awesome. With TBS, I always have a good time, he was an occasional guest at my dinner table and House Negro is a new friend with whom it was easy to just sit on Charlotte Street, eat good food and shoot the shit (I would love to pretend we were talking about techy geeky computer stuff (mental block on techy geeky stuff which I would like to remove), but we weren’t. More interesting things actually. I don’t know lots of Australian Pakistanis (ok, I don’t know any), and hearing about that diaspora community was good for me since it was different.

One big difference that I do need to comment on....the office has 'high speed' internet. Higher speed than dial up and my computer doesn't freeze up when I open up my blog so I can indeed post with relative ease.

Also, I do want to draw everyone's attention to my little cluster map thing on the right hand side....I have NOT checked my blog since I got to Sri Lanka so I have NO idea why that dot tha tis now obscuring this fair little island is that big and I seem to have got my first hits from Central America and Africa!! And other European places and American places that I don't recall seeing before...

That is it for now. More soon.

Hugs and kisses.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Ah, L-o-n-d-o-n, London.

Back and I like it. There is something nice about being back here. Perhaps since it is only for a week and I am seeing familiar places and familiar faces. I am sitting on the second floor graduate lounge at SOAS where I have spent many a morning, afternoon and evening, reading, studying and sleeping. Great to catch up with my sister as well. All the panic of leaving has subsided, thank god, and thanks for supportive messages (zo) and one of my bags is lost at Heathrow...or in NYC. not really sure. It's the bag with all my clothes and more importantly, all my underwear in it. Oh well. The being zen about everything in life starts now since this is only the beginning of things that will go wrong and it is pointless to get pissed off about it. It's just stuff and one needs to be careful what they wish for since I was saying shit like, who needs stuff, I hate packing, I hate things, etc etc and guess what, Z, now you don't have any stuff so nothing to bitch about anymore.

Me in the grad lounge. More later. Briefings later on this week and I am actually getting some work done on my thesis which is nothing short of a miracle.

Sunday, July 08, 2007


Ok, three hours but my dad will wake up in two in order to have his tea and check his email and read about the world for an hour before he takes me and my mum to the airport.

I am sitting in the middle of my stuff overflowing from suitcases and I am tempted to throw most of it back in the drawers that I have pulled it out of. I have no idea how much anything weighs and I don't want to know. I want to keep my hands on this keyboard of my pretty little mac which I will also give away, my constant companion for the last year, my big purchase with the big money I made with my first real job...keep my fingers moving, not look up at the time since I know I will forget things and will wonder why I didn't pack more systematically. I was just getting used to being in my room again. There are still drawers in here that I have not properly re discovered. The ghost of Zehra past has been very much alive while I slept, skyped, smoked, read, day dreamed in this room in the last few weeks. She will stay where she is and I will leave.

Ican't turn my suitcase over and just leave everything on the floor. Panic will strike at that moment which I am holding at bay with denial. I got home at midnight (two and a half hours ago) and slept on the couch for an hour. My parents keep asking if I have packed and my response has been to stomp my feet like a four year old and shake my head and say in a four year old's voice, Main NaheeN JaRahee HouN! (I'm Not Going!). I think they have enjoyed asking the last few times just to hear me say that and smile.

I am terribly excited about going to Sri Lanka. And strangely terrified. I realized it is because I don't know when I will see my family next. Usually, there are some milestones, some distance to reach in time, some inevitability that I will see them that keeps me going. Being the family that we are, we don't have anything planned right now. Everyone is too jet set.

Why am I scared? I hate that it keeps peeking out from under all the excitement.

I want to do well. I think I am also scared since this is real. It is not a fluke. I APPLIED for this job. It wasn't right place, right time. I went to school in order to do this. I have talked about it and dreamt about it. I am going to do this. I want to do it well. My expectations of myself must be reasonable. I shall have to be gentle with myself. I think I am perhaps putting undue pressure on myself. Fine, I have worked in Ampara before but no one will expect I know everything and that is just me being crazy. It's new for me. The streets will be the same, but everything else will be new and I need to just realize that everyone knows that.

Rant over. Sorry about that. Momentary panic. It will be ok.
It is ok.

Oh yeah, I still have a THESIS to write.

I'm off. Next stop, London.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I don't write about Iraq much. I think about it a lot. This piece from the blog Baghdad Burning coupled with the excellent, Hometown Baghdad video journals say way more than I ever can.

From the blog, Baghdad Burning.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Great Wall of Segregation...
…Which is the wall the current Iraqi government is building (with the support and guidance of the Americans). It's a wall that is intended to separate and isolate what is now considered the largest 'Sunni' area in Baghdad- let no one say the Americans are not building anything. According to plans the Iraqi puppets and Americans cooked up, it will 'protect' A'adhamiya, a residential/mercantile area that the current Iraqi government and their death squads couldn't empty of Sunnis.

The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, "Oh look- we're just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here- it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!" And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn't enough, apparently- Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It's time for America to physically divide and conquer- like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of "Shia areas" and Shia out of "Sunni areas".

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq's history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven't been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war- one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were- we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it- depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea- leaving ones home and extended family- leaving ones country- and to what? To where?

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren't being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn't necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you're wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

It's difficult to decide which is more frightening- car bombs and militias, or having to leave everything you know and love, to some unspecified place for a future where nothing is certain.

BBC News Story

Indian Woman Strips in Dowry Row.

A woman in western India has stripped to her underwear in public to protest over alleged abuses from her husband's family for not providing a dowry.

Her in-laws were questioned by the police and have been released on bail.

The low caste Hindu woman shocked residents of the normally conservative city of Rajkot in Gujarat state, by her half naked parade through the street.

Women's groups say her case highlights the plight of women who continue to face abuse at the hands of males.

'Extreme steps'

There are reports that the 22-year-old tried to set herself on fire a few days ago demanding the police take immediate action against her husband and in-laws, who she alleged had been physically torturing her for a dowry.

In an interview to a local TV channel, Pooja Chauhan justified her action saying she did it to embarrass her husband and in-laws.

Although paying and accepting a dowry has been illegal in India for more than 40 years, it still goes on.

Official estimates show that every year almost 7,000 women are killed by their spouses and in-laws because of inadequate dowry payments.

Ranjana Kumari - who runs a refuge for victims of dowry and domestic abuse - says the law enforcement authorities need to be more active in tackling the problem.

"It's a shame that women are driven to take such extreme steps. The law enforcing agencies must be more active," she told the BBC News website.

A police inspector in Rajkot, SS Jhala, told the BBC that "swift action" had been taken against Ms Chauhan's family, who had been arrested and were now on bail.

Police have denied reports that they charged her for indecent behaviour.


A reader left a comment on my Bollywood post and shared her very funny piece, (thanks for the link SH) and she quotes the following line in her writing:

As Carrie declares in the last episode of “Sex and the City”: "I’m looking for ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love."

I do need to write about LOVE and I don't know if I am going to do this now. I think I am. But it might be a topic I keep coming back to. Not just LOVE but dating, relationships etc etc.

I guess what I want to say for now, and no disrespect to all the ladies and gents out there who are totally into and believe in the Carrie statement above, (I share genes with people who believe in it), but I cannot imagine LOVE being that suffocating. I had thought at one point that that is what I wanted but now, if a boy calls or texts too much, I really can't deal. I want to ask, don't you have a life outside of me? Please tell me you do, since I do and I want to get on with it, thanks very much. The whole consuming bit....there is SO much in the world to be consumed by, why limit it to ONE thing?

I always hesitate to write about LOVE etc since I think I end up sounding like a bitter, dejected person. I'm not. I believe I have an amazing capacity for love, actually. (ha ha). I think I am too free with my love, in fact. I think, perhaps, that people want LOVE to be just for one person. I find that limiting.

Someday, I will get to the post on sex.

I thought about this lots in bits and pieces, digestible bites, this past year in London. It was the first time I was single for the amount of time that I was...(a year and counting...) and I never used to be the kind of person who was OK with that. And in London, DUDE, British PEOPLE, get another past time other than trying to hook your friends up with other people. Jeena haram kardiya tha (you make living, haram). So many conversations I was a part of would come down to, Zehra, why aren't you dating, snogging, sleeping with someone when you are a great woman? Yeah, ok, thanks. I know I'm just fine and DO NOT sigh and tell me when the time is right it will happen. Do I really look like I give a shit right now?

I don't blame any individual or individual conversations I had but it was remarkable in London how much people DID talk about it. Perhaps it was rose colored glasses, but I could not recall feeling that way in NYC. And in fact, any time I have visited home (which I did a lot this past 9 months and have now spent 6 weeks at home), not once has anyone asked if I am seeing conversation has centered around the topic. Not around the topic of single (but weirdly enough, happy(!!) Zehra or any of my friends or even randoms I meet. They don't seem to care about it and we talk of other things instead. my needing to reconcile my work in development and feeling like a neo colonialist and being south asian. Now THAT is something I do struggle with and can talk about ad nauseum. My other topic these past six weeks has been the S. Asian diaspora and feeling like we should have moved beyond some things and we seem to be stuck. This is in the context of art and writing and it started with every non S. Asian person I would meet asking me if I had seen The Namesake. That is another post all together. And no, I haven't seen it. And no, I don't know if I will. I probably will. I should. Jhumpa is a post waiting to happen for me.

Enough for now. Will revisit at a later date.

Islamica News

So, one of my absolute favorite websites, but unfortunately not up and running as it should be since 2004, but they have archives which make me LOL and LOL and then LOL some more.

Like this photo with the headline:

Muslim Doll Found Indecent in Toy Chest.

Or this article (original found here) and posting below for your reading pleasure. Issues Controversial New Fatwa: Declares Every Other Website Haram
Sunday, October 10, 2004 - 07:36 PM CST | Issue 8

KARACHI, OH - Some time after Fajr this morning, Websheikh Angree Mufasaa warned his website visitors that surfing other websites is now considered haram.

The fatwa also outlines a new "e-Shariah" form of punishment for violators of the ruling.

Punishments include "virtual stoning e-mail" forwards, directing violators to a page that plays a "whiplash" audio file and restricting broadband violators to 14.4k dialup speeds.

News of the e-fatwa ruling drew varied reactions from the online Muslim community.

"This is terrible, my site traffic has really taken a hit," stated a visibly-disturbed owner from competing website "What next? What if he declares himself the e-Khalif?"

Others, such as 14-year old Waleem Fuzail applauded the decision.

"There's so much fitnaa and bidaah and haraam and kufaaar out there," stated the passionate youth. "His site has none of that. He just has one page with big red letters that say "HARAAM" and his fatwas are listed below. I really aaplaaud what the Imaam is doing for Islaam."

Another site regular stated, "I really respect the Websheikh. He's visited just about every link on Google for the keyword 'islam' so he's very knowledgeable. I guess I'll just have to make my default homepage and make sure not to click on any of his banner ads."

I feel like I need to make these disclaimers though I think I am making them anyway but let me repeat. I am NOT the author of most of the funny things on my blog and I do credit where I know where to credit the stuff (re: Bollywood post since people seem to think I wrote it even though I said, I don't know who wrote the list of 45 things. I only wrote the paragraph on the top of it). Also, I think all of this is LOL funny if you are 29, South Asian, grew up Muslim in America and have a sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I'm a loser who is hooked.

The depths of my loser tendencies are abysmal since I am hooked to the YouTube version of America's Got Talent. I suppose I could google the show and see when it comes on (does it still come on?) and what ever happened to the people I am stumbling upon on YouTube, how old the stuff I am watching is, and what happens after they get the three ok's from the judges? I mean, when is the big show in Vegas and how much of that do we see and how many people get to go? From what I am seeing on YouTube now, that show is going to be continous one month long show.

This guy was way too good to not post. I have a weakness (just fact, as soon as I typed the word, weakness, I acknowledged it) for southern accents. I love country music...which is what I thought this guy was going to sing, but no. He sings another song. And not in a southern accent.


I went to Amsterdam right after major stuff for school was like in...ummm, May, I guess...first week of May. I went for four days to go and see my incredibly lovely friend Alka and photos of everything I saw are below. We left the house once. Or, I should amend that. *I* left the house once. It was toooo good to be living with Alka again. She and I used to live together and we do it well. I was pretending to study for looming exams so she would go and grocery shop and cook me lovely things and once I made something (she loves my chicken rice), and other than that, we stayed indoors, she had an outside rooftop on which I could smoke (and then it got cold so I just started smoking in the house) and we watched movies on a big screen since she had a projector and we just talked and laughed and I had an amazing time. Everyone likes to raise their eyebrows and say, OH, you went to AMSterDAM....I should have just told everyone not that I went to Amsterdam, but instead, I went to Alka. The one time we did go out and walked around (she knows amazing places there, by the way, she DJ's as well as doing everything else she does...when I knew her back in the day, I wanted her job which is why I think I have ended up doing dev work the way that I do), anyhow, so when we went walking around, she would point stuff out and I was just like Uh huh, ok, and after a while she was like, you know what? This is nice since you don't really care about what we are seeing right now and you seem quite content just randomly walking around.

It was fun to walk around randomly. It was even more fun to finally watch Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle the way one should in homor of the movie and Amsterdam...I have seen that movie about six times and never the way one should and that was fun. It was Alka's first time watching that and also watching Rang De Basanti....I love both movies.

I saw these tulips too which mesmerized me. They were submitting beautifully to gravity.

There are tons more Alka stories but they will have to wait. I want to be at a party that Alks DJ's. Maybe she can DJ my birthday party!!! In Sri Lanka.

My favorite Alka stories have to do with the time when both of us were unemployed and living together properly for the first time. We would leave the house at midnight and walk home at 7 am from whatever bridge we could find that would take us from Manhattan into Brooklyn. People I hung out with in London will never believe that about me. Alka is still that rock and roll.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What happens when you leave the country...Or, there's NO place like home; a heart warming story of why I love America

You miss things like this on tv, not that I would be watching America's Got Talent anyhoooo, but still, at least I would have heard about it. Shame on you my two sisters for not making me watch this on YouTube since we end up watching ALL others sorts of shit when on Skype for 18 freaking hours a day. David Hasselhoff is a judge?

It's this dude from Pakistan living for the last 6 years in the states and he dances the first two minutes (in good boy gear, like dockers and a light blue collared shirt and those good desi boy black shoes and thick white socks) from Aik Pal Ka Jeena. He's about the size of Hrithik's extra finger. And he says, I quote:

"I'm da best, since I can do ispecial moves"

I am not hating on my desi peeps, I'm just saying it like it is. The crowd LOVES it and he makes the next round. Spoiler alert!!! Oh, am I supposed to say that before I bring you the stunning conclusion of the whole three minute clip? It's my bad.

More spoilers, which are not really spoilers since you'll say that same exact thing as soon as you watch the clip in about four seconds, he says, My name is Kashif and the judges say, so Kasheeeeef, blah blah blah...So, let's try this simple exercise, that even David Hassels could follow along with, shall we?

Kashif, as in, you shift a car into gear, Kasheeef, as in, a sheaf of papers.

Also, and this is not spoiler behavior since we all already think this, Jerry Springer, (Brits can look here to see a cross cultural reference that fits the Jerry Springer bill and Americans can look here and here and here to see how the Brits once again try to emulate and fall short even when it comes to emulating our bad taste, thanks to Clody for introducing me to day time Brit TV and translating the English everyone was speaking and to Clem, my amazing GFG (Gift From GOD) flatmate who was an enabler and helped me feed further into the addiction)...where was I? Right. Jerry Springer, as I was saying, is an asshole. And again, Jerry Springer is on the show? Why not Dennis Rodman too? Anyhow...

You go, Kashif! You go, boy. You got heart and I love it. America is in-sourcing the talent now. (yes, yes, I know they have been for a long time, I'm a second gen immi, I was just attempting some wit).