Thursday, September 11, 2008

Million years

It totally does feel like a million years since I have written here. I am so sorry, especially to all those who have written and not complained, per se, but asked me to write again. Bad Z. But here I am, and going to write. I started using Twitter too. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about it, but let's see. Read this awesome article in the NYTimes, (which you can find here), called the Brave New Digital World. I like how it is written. Got me on Twitter. AND to come and update my blog. I don't know why I have been so lazy about it. I just have.

But am back and will try to write more frequently. There is lots going on all over the world. I have to wake up early tomorrow so can't write lots now. I have a phone interview!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Amanat Ali

most of you, I am sure, know this man. I can't believe I didn't write about him before. Like American Idol, India has htis show called SaReGaMaPa (that's the different sur's one sings in...sur is...tone)...Anyhow, I think this guy is toooooooo cool and I love hearing him sing and I didn't see it on TV but on my beloved You Tube, which I have not had time to scour with the same urgency I used to in London. Grad school obviously didn't keep me busy enough....

He didn't win the competition in the end however, he should have.

It's a lovely song. Dude is from Pakistan. They get internationals in to sing. It's a fun show. I have no idea what is going on with it now. There was this girl from America on the show too. Mauli something. She sang well too and didn't stop being her bad ass desi American self.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Stuff like this makes me mad

Ok, so I am just as concerned as the next person about the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, but god, I am getting irritated and sick at the whole conversation around letting in foreign aid workers (and I am well aware that my livelihood depends on being let into places)...

A quote from this alert net article:

A major problem in delivering foreign aid has been an inability to get enough international aid workers into the worst-hit Irrawaddy delta due to visa hurdles and red tape.

And more:

"We haven't been able to get the whole mechanism going. Progress has been slow," Hakan Tongul, deputy director in Myanmar of the U.N.'s World Food Programme, told Reuters in Yangon.
Around 500,000 people have received some food and water since the storm struck nearly a month ago, but another 200,000 have received no international help at all, he said.
Some 45 U.N. visa requests were approved after junta leader Senior General Than Shwe promised last week to allow in "all" legitimate foreign aid workers, but obstacles remain.
One western aid worker said on Saturday that a two-day processing period to enter the delta area, which had been earlier cut from two weeks, had now increased to three.
Speaking to reporters in Singapore, Gates, whose government is one of Myanmar's harshest critics, accused the generals of "criminal neglect"

The Criminal Neglect from my POV is the fact that we have people that need help, we seem to think that only FOREIGN aid workers can do this, there is WFP on the ground and should just be mobilizing local people (who are going to the regions to deliver aid themselves, whatever they can afford to), and instead, our hang up is on visas to let in WESTERN aid workers. Have all the other people/aid workers in the world that is not in the WEST died or something ? Is it really just rhetoric when we talk about community participation and consultation and local solutions since when we have the time to show that yeah, it's not just lip service and local solutions, partners, communities can be used, we sit around twiddling our thumbs waiting for the WESTERN experts to come in.... such bullshit.

If we as the international community were really concerned about the PEOPLE, the victims (of both the cyclone and the regime (and with that line, there goes any chance of my job there)), we would be making huge efforts to get aid to the people in any manner we could. I refuse to believe that agencies on the ground already cannot do that. Just cuz some foreign aid workers can't get in everyone gets into a huff. So childish. Organize with what you have on the ground, and if you have people who are willing to work, you can do this. It is that simple. if the UN thinks there is still relief that needs to go out, GO DO IT using the local capacities available and there are local capacities available....there always are. Deal with the messed up nature of the government later. Now is not the time for petty politics. Gawd!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dear Future Employer

You may have googled me and found my blog...I don't really hide it. My current employer big boss man just recently, as in this last week, said to me, careful Zehra, your blog is out there and more and more, employers use google and can see blogs etc and read about you and gauge your employability on it. I didn't believe that employability was a word but my spell checker is not picking it up so I guess it is...good one. Learned something new today, but I digress...

I think it's sweet that my Big Boss is telling me to be careful of my internet footprint. I don't want to make fun of British people since I do love them, but dude, how is it that they are sooooooo far behind on the curve? Things always seem to be at least 5 years behind in the UK than they are in the States. I am fully aware and would hope that I would be googled before I took a job. I google future potential employers. (MR if you are reading this since I just applied for a job with you, only good interesting things showed up)...

I am who I am, and this blog is meant to entertain and keep me sane. It's thoughts and bits and pieces all strung together and it's mostly apolitical...mostly. But when working, I am super careful about what I write and tend to keep off controversial stuff. It's cool. I don't really have an issue with it. I hope you don't either.

My line manager said something interesting to me about how annoying I can be. Turns out I am not, which I still find hard to believe since he is a Brit and I am an American and a loud one at that and overly earnest about work, but it seems the only time I annoyed him was on the phone interview. After which he hired me even though he found me irritating. I still think he is being diplomatic since I think I am a handful to manage but in a good way. I let my managers manage me, which is important.

So yeah....if you all are reading this and wondering if you are going to hire me, the answer to that is yes, you do want to hire me. Even if I am irritating over a phone interview. At workshops, when we are laying out 'ground rules (phones on silent, when someone is talking we listen, respect for all opinions etc), I sometimes say to the group, I know I sound American and I know it can be grating on the ear and soul, but really, give it 15 minutes and it will be OK. You will get over it. Which irritates people that I say stuff like that since I am doing it in an American accent and attitude which yeah, most people hate, but really, in 15 minutes, they figure out it's not so bad and they like me.

What a weird post this is. But I enjoyed writing it. I don't really expect any future employer to really be reading this...just being facetious since it's fun and I wanted to make fun of Brits being behind the curve on the "INTERNET". Don't really like missing chances to be able to publicly make fun of the Brits...we are a language separated by culture. And I only make fun since I love you so much....

Space Toilet

I don't seem to be writing anything of my own but rather, just posting stuff I find...but what can I do when it is just so funny....

There is a space toilet on the fritz, according to CNN. The astronauts have rigged up something they can pee through and luckily, the solid waste function of the toilet is still working.

I wrote a post about living on the moon recently...I said I didn't want to. Fritzing toilets have sealed the astronaut deal for me. Not interested.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

This is why I love the French

Just read this on CNN and you need to read his quote in the accent that the French dude in that Ricky Bobby movie of Will Ferrell, which is called Talladega Nights or something would say it.

The dude wanted to skydive 25 miles down to Earth but his sky diving balloon got messed up and escaped him. He could get blood clots and die etc.... His quotes on the issue are excellent.

I have a post on French aid workers that needs to happen one day. I love you guys. Don't let the rest of us aid workers get you down...but again, that is what I love about just don't give a fuck (said in a French accent).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Yes, I want to go

to Burma....

Two months more to go in Sri Lanka.

My great grandfather made his fortunes in Burma. Back in the day.

That's all i wanted to say for now. Well, that's not true. Lots to say but little time.

No plans to go yet. Yet a desire to do so.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Who wants to live on the moon?

Just saw this article on the beeb about how plants thrive on moon dust or something...maybe I should have read it properly, but sometimes the impression we get when we read is more important than what we read (don't EVER quote me on that anyone!), and there was crazy scientist talk going on and they seem to be getting their knickers in a twist and are saying, hey, you could in fact, live on the moon!

I don't want to. I think it would be boring and too much responsibility. You would have to be soooo super careful about not messing anything up since messing up the moon means messing up Earth and it would piss off a lot of people. I know we should be careful about the Earth, and I do my bit. A bit. I guess there could be a renegade bunch on the moon, American like, who could be like, well, too bad suckas, we live here now and we will do whatever we want to do and save yourself since it's not our problem, we got to live on and pollute the moon and mess up your ocean flows, light etc and it's too bad for you but you got to do what you got to do.

It can't be nice, can it, living on the moon?

I did this career profiling thing last night with Mick and Hrusi (my colleagues) and there was 50 questions or so, and no results yet since we only put in the answers for Mick and H and I will someday sit down with all the numbers we wrote and stick them into the computer and see what it churns out but they were asking about Nature and how much one would like to work with Nature and if you know the names of plants and animals (tree, monkey, nasty snake 1, nasty snake 2, Ampara birds of paradise numbers 47, 52, and 5, grass that is tall, or green, dried up, poohed on by cows/elephants....I know my Nature), and as much as I would like to like Nature, I don't think I would do so well if I had a job that was about Nature. Or Math, or Science, or Computers. I like computers, but not if I have to sit in front of one for work all day. I can sit in front of one if not obliged to and can just google all day or pimp fight on Facebook (which is even more evil now).

Hrusi, who is awesome, made me sit down and write down what I can do (I kept drawing a blank which was scary but then it was ok, I started remembering who I was and what I had done before which didn't have to do with my current job) and community mobilisation, training/mentoring and coordination are the three things I love and want to continue to do. I would like to be a goat farmer one day and make goat cheese but that is some time away (and I will write books at that time and have a B&B/bookstore cafe where I will serve home made soup with my fab goat cheese) and being a chef would be lovely but I think too stressful (give me conflict zones over a 5 star restaurant to work in, any day), and even though I love music, no way I can make money off of it (I don't think that part of my brain functions properly), so, I think I need to look for a job that combines the first three things I started this rambling paragraph with. Don't know if it exists. I feel like my mom in this situation. She wanted to be a mom but also a physician and when she was at work, she thought about us and when with us, about work (I could never tell, but so she says) and if I am not doing one of the three things I want to do in this sector, I feel like I am missing out on something that I want to be doing.

Woe is me. Boo Hoo. I am sure something will turn up, appropriate for the likes of me.

I want to like the idea of living on the moon, but I don't think it's going to work out for me.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Here is a whole slew of appalling things:

I didn't blog the whole month of March

I may be addicted to Facebook but just the Pimp Fight application for which I blame Asad Jaferi.

I didn't quit smoking (I never said I would)

I posted a photo of myself in a bikini on Facebook after I made friends with everyone I knew when I was growing up in a conservative Muslim community and I suspect that they all have me on limited profile since we may all be in our late twenties and early thirties but god forbid we forget the year we hit puberty and hormones flew around under scarves, facial fuzz, between curtains and in the parking lot.

Someone I have never met but I guess knows me has decided that they don't like me. And I was told about it.

My all mighty adopted currency, The Pound, slipped a bit to the dollar. Damn thing always does around payday. Amazing what a difference a four day delay because of a trans-atlantic bank transfer can make.

I was sure I had more appalling things to talk about. Hmmm, seems not. Happy go lucky kinda girl. I need to finish writing reports. This was a fun procrastination which I shall try to indulge in more. Our program finishes in THREE MONTHS so crunch time is on!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

And the Ampara blog!

Nick Young the BRCS CEO wrote his Ampara part of the blog. It is tooooo sweet. We had a lovely time. Read about it here and it is the weekend, sooooon so I will write more then. I hope! The blog entry for the 25th of Feb is the one on Ampara.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


The Chief Exec of the British Red Cross is out here visiting us and he went first to our sister program in Batti and he blogs! I love the fact that he blogs.

Go read it here. The first post is up and I know there are more that are filtering through. I can't wait till he writes about Ampara. month

Very sad that I call Feb my month and yet this is my first post for Feb. It is my month since tomorrow, I turn 30. YAY!

I have been meaning to write but I have been out and about traveling. And things have been busy. Was in Surrey, UK for some management training, a post that is waiting to happen, and got to see friends in London which was lovely and then back to Sri Lanka.

Emma wants me to write about the primaries in the US and I would love to but it is kind of strange since I am not really there and not following as closely as I should be. All I check to see is that Barack Obama, the candidate I am endorsing (belated drum roll please, but really, is it surprising?), is still ahead. It is exciting and I get made fun of by all the Brits that I work with because they think it is all a little bit soppy (I was telling people last night about how I love his line, We are the change we have been waiting for, and that will pretty much do it for me....I love it. How inspiring). I think he is awesome and I want him to win and I think the whole thing is very exciting and this is what I love about America. We are still a country who can have elections/primaries, such as this one. This is really what we should be about.

If Clinton really loved America, she would stop now.

I just had a week vacation with my sisters. They both came over for the first time to Sri Lanka and we had an amazing early birthday party for me at the house of my country coordinator, and it was nice to have my worlds meeting and liking each other. I think my sisters were surprised that people I work with put up with me with the same love and tolerance that they do.

I am back at work after a relaxing lovely holiday and so revved up to be back. And I turn 30 tomorrow which is totally exciting to me as well. Two photos of me...some from the party when I was opening up my gifts and the other from my vacation. I didn't really get out of my pajamas for the 4 days. It was awesome. Photo credit goes to my camera and the lovely Saks who was the official holiday photographer.

I do hope I write more about the month of February. Just wanted to touch base for now but lots to write about, stuff that has been going round and round in my head....I wish I were more articulate...

More on Slum Tours

Things happen perhaps not so coincidentally....

Damian left a comment on my blog that I saw today about my previous post on Dharavi and slum tours and he has a post about Kroo Bay. I also went onto Facebook (evil) today after ages and I was invited to join a group that at this point has only 82 members and it is called, I love Kroo Bay.

Kinda cool, eh? Something I have not heard about and all of a sudden, it comes at me from two totally different places. Love it.

I would talk about what Kroo Bay is but go see what Damian has written about it since he writes better than me.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slum Tour Anyone?

I don't know how I feel about this. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world (and let me just thank my friend Joe for pointing me in the direction of the above link). The website looks fantastic (not the look look but the words on the website), where it does seem all PC and progressive...more progressive than PC. Like the term PC which people use pejoratively, the website is saying the word slum doesn't have to be pejorative but just descriptive. It's a slum that has a $665 USD income a year. People are productive and involved in all sorts of livelihoods.

I think I know why this feels strange to me....I hesitate to take photos in the villages where I am a visitor since it feels invasive and disrespectful. The villages in which I work, I have only just stopped asking if I can take photos since the people I work with had started rolling their eyes at me and said, look madam, every time you come here you ask us, and every time we tell you it's ok. Stop asking and we will let you know when it is not ok. So, labeling something a slum tour reeks of disaster tourism for me BUT but but but, this is being done with the permission of the residents and it goes into that debate about images and how aid agencies like showing people as victims and not people and it seems that this tour group is not doing that...80% of the revenue goes to NGOs in the area and they are creating awareness.

I don't know. What do you guys think?

Facebook, evil eyes and other random sentences stitched together.

OK, for those that read my blog, you know that I think FaceBook is evil however I joined and I am semi active on it, I would say. Though that is relative since I know people who spends hours on it and have mobile phone connections to it and stuff so relative to that, I am barely on FaceBook. Weeks go by and I don’t go on and then there are my active weeks where I will check it out three times a week. Anyhow, today, I found this group through my friend Angad’s page (the one I met in Bombay who calls me Jungle Queen) and it is called, Anthropology+ Good Looks= A Deadly Combination. The blurb for the group is as follows: Sexy Anthropologists all over the world must unite in global awareness of our dashingly good looks and witty, unparalleled brilliance.

What can I say, I love it. One of the officers of this group (and I would just cut and paste the entire group here but I don’t want to be messing around with people’s privacy) says, “sexy is her name, evolution is her game”.

How could I not be in love with this group?

There were other groups before, like, I secretly want to punch slow walking people in the back of the head, or Lovers of Third World Shit Holes, and Drunk Dialing Appreciation Society etc and all funny, but really, it takes anthropologists to do it for me.

I still think FaceBook is evil.

Must comment on two comments I got: Lurker person, thanks for the postcard, I did so love it and I really wish I could have read it properly but really it’s al blotted out with the rain but it has a place of pride on my fridge, just below the other anonymous postcard I got that was covered in poetry. You are a star, send me more, the rainy season is almost over so it might make it in one legible piece.

Mr. nick naeem who wrote a comment along the lines of my blossoming into my own woman after my strict upbringing hijab wearing oppressed days…I hate to do this to you and disappoint all those people who saw me growing up, but I really do not even once recall growing up oppressed or strict or repressed in anyway. Your concern and backhand compliment is really very sweet but I think I grew up because of the way I am because of my parents and the environment I grew up in. I ain’t no rebel. I’m just me and like you, my parents are also very, very proud of me. Thanks for reading and the very lovely comment. And I shy away from these conversations since people see everything in black and white but my decision to stop wearing hijab was because my mom said to me, Look, it’s obviously not working for you…what are you afraid of? Take it off, try it out, you can come back to it if you decide to and you may not so live your life. I was never once told I HAD to wear hijab. It has always been a personal choice in my household (like everything) and I am super lucky to have grown up with the family I have. I look at other South Asian (and not just South Asian but any race) kids and their relationships to their families, and there is nothing that I would change in mine. I love it and love how it grows, changes, new people coming in and out and I think of what my dad used to say to us growing up (which obviously as a 12 year old was harder to understand since as much as I love my family, going to the mall with everyone in tow when I wanted to go with my friends was uncool), my dad would say: at the end of the day, it’s your family who is there for you. Time and time again, that has been proven to me. I now feel like I need to shoo away all the evil eye with my proclamations about my family and how kick ass we are. Will call my mom and ask her to do it. If Iqbal Khaldun had told me about how to get rid of the evil eye with chickens, I would do it here in Ampara. My sister has been privy to some egg charm…will ask her to test it out.

The flooding in Ampara seems to have stopped and I am gearing up for the next hectic 6 weeks and my bday extravaganza (relaxed day on the beach) coming up in Feb. I will be 30. YAY! And I decided that it will be in Sri Lanka, bombs or no bombs. Anyone want to come?

Still love my job and I have photos but dial up and no patience. And no time at work but soon.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Art in Baghdad

Good stuff....Check out the article. I like. I must write more soon. I keep thinking about it. Got lots to say on a random postcard I got but it was all rainy so I can't read it properly, all the bombs in Colombo and the cease fire being called off, along with my birthday celebrations since I just can't take the responsibility of having people over and not knowing where they are at all times since I am anal retentive about security and people but I think I will be in Portugal instead and that might be an option if people love me that much to fly there instead, flooding in Ampara and how good it is to be back, elections in the US and how exciting that is, and just for Clem, I am watching Planet Earth!!! Mick got it for me as a Christmas present and I am thrilled but I miss my flatmate loads....

Soon, I will write properly...till then, enjoy the article...

Gallery Owner battles for art in Baghdad.

By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer Sun Jan 13, 12:57 PM ET

BAGHDAD - By all rights, the Hewar art gallery should be a casualty of war. Months go by without a single painting or sculpture being sold. The gallery's cafe — once a noisy meeting ground for Baghdad's intelligentsia — now sees just a few hardy regulars.

The owner's balance sheet shows losses of up to $400 a month — a sum considered a good monthly wage.

On the plus side: three sheep that were a gift from a friend in his native Anbar province to the west. They grazed on weeds and hedges outside the gallery in north Baghdad's Waziriyah neighborhood.

But something keeps Qassim Sabti from locking the doors for good.

It's part stubbornness, part nostalgia and a dash of belief that, just maybe, better times are ahead — the same recipe that kept a handful of other cultural guardians, such as book sellers, poets and theater troupes, from abandoning Baghdad during the years of fighting and upheaval.

Now, with violence on the wane, the city's struggling artist community looks for signs that their patrons could someday return and the discussions in the coffee houses could again be about their latest works rather than the latest troubles.

Sabti's gallery is a bellwether.

The Hewar, or Dialogue, is perhaps the best known cultural crossroads in Iraq.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the two-story building became the main salon for debates and exhibitions basking in the heady freedoms that were long bottled up by the regime.

But as the insurgency took hold in Baghdad, the gallery's fate mirrored the rest of the capital. People with some savings left for Syria or Jordan. Checkpoints and blast walls rose up in the gallery's neighborhood. Sunni and Shiite artists — bound by lifetime friendships — took pains to avoid discussing the sectarian bloodletting.

Sabti estimates at least 70 percent of Iraq's artists and intellectuals are out of Iraq.

"My gallery, like Baghdad, is under siege," said the silver-haired Sabti, a Sunni Arab married to a Shiite. He still walks with a limp from childhood polio.

But Sabti, 54, has not stopped organizing exhibitions — 29 in all since 2003. "The Iraqis kept coming but none can afford to buy art," he sighed.

Sabti arranges for financial support to artists from an association of painters he runs, and some of the artists who exhibit at Hewar have taken advances against the future sale of their work. Dozens of pieces are stored in back rooms under a layer of dust — like the rows of empty chairs in the gallery's top floor where young people occasionally take music and painting classes funded by a private U.S.-based organization.

"Security has undeniably improved, but people don't yet have the confidence to leave their homes unless it's necessary," he said while sipping a coffee on a recent January morning. "People are barely surviving on their salaries, and these are the lucky ones with jobs."

Last month, Sabti tried to drum up business for the gallery by offering art to the capital's foreign diplomats in the heavily protected Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

"We only sold five sculptures," he said, with a hint of sadness.

Then comes his resolve: "I will never close Hewar."

He even manages to keep his wicked and wry sense of humor. He looked over at one of his three children, his stocky teenage son Ahmed, and jokes that the Americans must be spraying secret growth chemicals over Baghdad. "I don't remember us being so big as kids," he quipped.

"How are you? You infidel pimp!" he shouted from the terrace of the gallery's second floor to a Christian friend whizzing past on a scooter. The friend looked up and smiled.

After several weeks roaming in and out of the gallery, the sheep from Anbar have been taken to a friend's house with a healthy patch of grass.

"One of them will be lunch next month in remembrance of Imam Hussein," he said, referring to one of Shiite Islam's most revered saints whose 7th century death is the holiest day of the Shiite calendar. "I will invite Shiite and Sunni artists to a lunch of lamb and rice."

In 2006, Sabti sold 250 of his works to a U.S art dealer — collages made of hundreds of books charred by a fire in the library of his alma mater, the Arts Academy, the day after Baghdad fell in April 2003.

The works defined his strong feelings about the chaos and lawlessness that swept Baghdad and saw the country's national museum and library looted and torched to the deep dismay and anger of many in Iraq. Sabti blames the Americans for the looting, arguing they should have done more to stop it.

Sabti now has found artistic inspiration in something else — the changed landscape of Baghdad since the invasion. "They speak of the conquerors who have laid Iraq to waste over the centuries," he said of the new project, in which he uses rags, pebbles, match sticks and glue to create street scenes on wood.

"There is little empty space in each one of them, but the rest is filled with destroyed sidewalks, rocks, concrete blocs and blast barriers, barbed wire and bits of the human flesh found on streets at bombing sites," he said of the works he began three months ago.

"They reflect what the tanks did to our streets, but they are not about the ugliness of Baghdad. Rather, they reflect the city's melancholy. We used to be very proud of Baghdad."

Sabti says only three close friends have seen the 20 works he has completed so far. He says he wants to keep the pieces under wraps until he has completed the project, but he doesn't know when that will be.

"I don't want anything to disrupt or distort the life story of the works," he said.


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