Friday, May 29, 2009

Career Advice

So dear people, I need some help figuring out my life. After graduation last year, I started working for an energy start-up in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I love what I do and I like living here (except for the fact that I'm living in an isolated area between Abu Dhabi and Dubai and I don't drive). The people at work are wonderful, I'm learning lots of new things and it's very comfortable alhamdulilah. I also like the fact that I'm close to Pakistan and, at the same time I can travel to Europe or the US without too much hassle.

They're also offering a Masters' program which is 2 years long starting in September 2009. The faculty is great, but the campus doesn't quite exist yet. I'd be part of the first class to graduate from this program- also, it's fully funded (I don't have to pay a single fils). The downside is that there's no alumni network, it's not really famous and the other students are, well, not that fun :p

Option two is Imperial College, London. They have a really good program (one-year) and I was super excited when I got in. Plus, I have lots of friends and family there and I've always wanted to live in London. It's just really really expensive... I'd be using my entire life savings plus borrowing from my dad :p. I could defer for a year, work some more and save up enough to go but that would mean finding another job and perhaps moving back to Pakistan. I don't think I'm ready for that right now :S.

Option three, University of Toronto or McGill in Canada. The programs are one-year long and pretty decent but Canada's really far from home and I wouldn't get to travel as frequently. The visa procedure is also pretty intense and I don't know too many people there. Also, it's more affordable than the UK.

Advice would be appreciated... !

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I can't believe it's been a whole year and I've come a long way... from an idealistic fresh graduate to reluctant adult.

I want to be here right now. See all my friends, roommates and professors, cheer at P-rade, watch the class of 2009 graduate, eat Bent Spoon sorbet and relive college life for a few precious days. Thanks for some of the best years of my life :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Marriage Guidance at the Mall

It's summer in Abu Dhabi and it's hot outside (over 45 degrees C today!) so one goes to the mall to relax after work, read a newspaper, chill with friends at Chocolat, or take the kids out to play (in the airconditioned play area). Now, people can also get marriage guidance at the mall...

The campaign, sponsored by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai, is an attempt to reach people who might otherwise not seek support when faced with marriage or family problems.

The campaign, called “He has put between you affection and mercy”, a reference to a Quranic verse, aims to encourage parents, couples and those about to marry to seek professional guidance and counselling in a bid to reduce divorce rates. According to one survey published by the Marriage Fund, the country’s divorce rate has reached 40 per cent, the highest in the Arab world.

Also yesterday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, ordered that all new shopping centres in the emirate must have mosques and health clinics.

“We decided to do this in a mall in order to reach out to people who would normally be too bashful to enter an official building and ask for help,” said Yousra al Qaoud, the head of religious advisory at the department.

“When the place is comfortable and casual, people relax and open up, and it’s free including the coffee and tea."

I don't know about you but I'd be more embarrassed going to the mall for marriage counselling than going to say, a private clinic...  

 A recent survey by the department showed the most common cause of marital problems was infidelity.

“Especially online infidelity,” said Ms al Muhajeri, who will soon publish a book about online trends in Emirati society and their effect on the family.

“We’ve been hearing about it so much lately. Women especially come to us complaining that
their husband spends too much time chatting with women online, or that he visits pornographic sites.

You can read the rest of the article here.


The other day, I was in queue at the checkout lane in Lulu's Khalidiyah Mall. I only had a few things to get; a carton of Lacnor milk, a Kitkat bar and an Etisalat phone card and the two Arab ladies in front of me had shopping carts piled high with items. I was already running late... the bus was supposed to leave at 8:30 pm sharp and I considered leaving without buying anything (I hate making other people late). My anxiety probably showed on my face because the ladies in front of me turned to me, smiled and offered to let me go through first. I was so relieved! I feel all warm and fuzzy inside knowing there are still good people in the world... :)

My colleague M is getting married in July and she recently went in for chemical peeling. Basically, the dermatologist applies a chemical solution that causes skin to blister and peel- the new skin underneath is soft and smooth but it causes a LOT of burning and pain- Why would any sane woman would put herself through that?! I can't imagine what burn victims have to go through...

When I was in Lahore last December, I went to Depilex. The proprietor, Musarrat Misbah employs women who have been victims of acid and kerosine attacks as salon workers. Most of them have undergone reconstructive surgery thanks to the Smile Again foundation which is funded by Depilex in Pakistan. It's a good source of income and a way to keep them busy especially since they'd have a hard time getting a job anywhere else. I guess it makes sense to provide employment to these women, but, I couldn't help wondering, each time one of these women gives someone a bridal makeover, her heart probably crumbles cursing her fate... Life can be so ironic sometimes.

The situation in Pakistan worsens day by day... I feel guilty sitting in my comfy airconditioned cubicle, drinking chilled bottled water, eating meals containing enough calories to nourish a displaced Pakistani girl for a 



Sunday, May 24, 2009

Emiratis steer clear of taxi-driving jobs

Another gem from The National:

SHARJAH // An attempt to recruit Emiratis as taxi drivers in Sharjah has been a “complete failure”, according to a senior transport official.

Despite embracing a programme of Emiratisation, the Sharjah Public Transport Corporation (SPTC) said all of the nearly 20,000 taxi-driving positions in the emirate continue to be filled by expatriates.

Emiratis were actively recruited and promised higher wages relative to those of other nationalities, although SPTC officials would not give details.

Mohammed al Shamsi, the chairman of the board of directors of the SPTC, told the Sharjah Consultative Council the results were disappointing. “We admit this whole campaign was a complete failure,” he said, responding to a question from the council member Abdullah Sultan bin Khadim about the progress of Emiratisation. “We have tried several times, and I will tell you that we shall continue trying.”

Emiratisation process among taxi drivers almost five years ago, only one national had enquired about a position as a driver.

“He called in the evening saying that he wanted a job as a driver, and in the morning, we called him back – he said he didn’t want the job anymore,” Mr al Shamsi said. “We asked him why and if he had got another job – he said he was a national and was content to remain unemployed if he didn’t get a decent job as a national.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thank God It's Friday

The end of yet another week... time flies by so fast! I feel like I arrived here just yesterday and it's almost time to leave...

Today, I met up with a friend K and we went to see Terminator Salvation at CineStar in Marina Mall. It was "noisy," lots of guns and bombs going off and machines fighting humans, humans fighting machines :p. If it wasn't for Christian Bale, I might've slept right through it but I managed to sit through the movie with a semi-interested expression so as not to offend K.

Anyway, after the movie, I had a brownie ala mode sundae from Baskin Robbins with walnuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top (delicious! but I felt sick afterward). Then we walked to Havana Cafe; K had mint sheesha and we talked about oil rigs (K works for an oil company). The floating rigs are called "ships". First, they mark out an area in the sea and pump out the water. After the ship is ready, they let the water back in and push the ship out to where it's needed.

Back at the villa, M and I watched E.T.. It's weird watching a movie you saw as a child through an adult's eyes (I still find his fingers creepy though).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Care Package for HiDee

HiDee is the librarian at the institute. She's in her mid-fifties, originally from Iran, but spent most of her life in San Francisco until she moved to Abu Dhabi last year. At 4'10, HiDee is a tiny woman but always full of energy, good cheer and a kind word for everyone. She also happens to be single and lives by herself. 

Last week, HiDee slipped while rushing down the stairs (she's one of those people who "bounces" everywhere). She hit her head as she fell, resulting in deep gashes and bruises all over. Being fiercely independent and committed to her job (besides having noone to take care of her), she refused to take more than a couple of days off and was back at the office on Sunday with bandages around her head. 

In the ladies room, she showed me her legs, bruised black and blue... S came up with the idea of presenting HiDee with a care package, just to show our support. We got bananas, nuts, chocolate, vitamins, knee wraps, soap, a body lotion set, inspirational books, dvds, scented candles, a teddy bear and a heart-shaped cushion and Ilm burned a CD for her, then we put everything in a large wicker basket decorated with tissue paper and pink ribbons. Everyone signed a get well soon card and we presented it to her at lunch time :)

She was sooo happy, her face lit up and everyone got a hug... it made me happy too :)   

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Marriage 101

Mandatory lessons on married life should be implemented at universities in an effort to bring down the divorce rate, a senior family adviser said yesterday.

"When you buy an electrical appliance, you always get a catalogue that teaches you how to use it and work with it. Where is the manual for men and women? How will they know how to treat each other, talk to each other, and respond to each other?"

"I believe we need a family science curriculum to become mandatory in universities in the country."

Mr Darwish also called for more "entertaining" social awareness campaigns, suggesting for example, TV cartoons on the importance of the family to instill sound values. 

Now if guys were like Aladdin, Hercules or Simba (who isn't even human) or girls resembled Princess Jasmine or Ariel, they'd probably have even more unrealistic expectations going into marriage leading to even higher divorce rates :p  

In the UAE, husbands and wives are now akin to electrical appliances :P You can read the rest of the article here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Akon in Dubai

For all the lucky people who can go:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

State of Play

This weekend, I met up with my college roommate in Dubai and we watched State of Play starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck (<3) and Rachel McAdams (from Mean Girls and The Notebook)

After a leisurely lunch at Japengo's (a cross between Japanese food and Arabic food... go figure :p), we wandered around the mall because that's what we do in the UAE. Express is finally open in Dubai!.  

Around 4:00 pm, my relatives came to pick me up. It was awkward... I see them maybe once a year and we have nothing to talk about...  when I was a kid, my parents took care of family stuff; now I'm expected to be my own person and call and visit people and keep in touch with the extended family. So I made polite small talk with my aunt and cousins until we finally reached Abu Dhabi (huge sigh of relief). My cousin, who was driving took three wrong exits and we ended up near the Petroleum Institute and Al-Raha Beach each time. I felt sorry for him... he'd just returned from Boston the day before and was still jetlagged and slightly out of it. 

We had dinner at Lebanese Flower (Zuhrat Lubnan) but it was impossible to find parking, so my cousin circled around in the car while we feasted inside... The food is great and service, decent but it's not the kind of place you'd take your girl on a date :p

Back to work on Sunday (I'm finally used to Sunday being a working day...!).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Interviewing for Grad School

I got an email last week, scheduling a phone interview for 2:20 pm UK time on Friday, May 15th. After going through my application, memorizing my resume and googling phone interview tips (sing a song to warm up your voice and sit in front of a mirror), I sat by my phone waiting for it to ring.
5:20 pm: (Abu Dhabi time): stop singing, turn off air conditioner
5:21 pm: sip water
5:22 pm: gaze outside the window... temporarily blinded by the glare
5:23 pm: maybe the interviewer's out for lunch
5:24 pm: maybe he's stuck in traffic
5:25 pm: check to make sure it's 5:25 pm
5:26 pm: email from interviewer... can't get through
5:27 pm: google: "calling abu dhabi from london" copy and paste number and email back to interviewer
5:28 pm: breathe deeply
5:29 pm: phone rings :D
5:30 pm: say a hurried prayer and pick up phone

Overall, it was ok and only lasted 10 minutes... the interviewer, Prof. TC had a strong British accent and did most of the talking. I'd prepared 4 pages of notes and practiced out loud. I didn't really get a chance to say much, but I did manage to throw in a couple of words about my thesis and research project in simple English (all the nice words, "tangible results, diverse perspectives, evolving field, rewarding work" somehow slipped my mind :P)...

Oh well, wait and see!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Signs of the Quarter-life Crisis

Signs of the Quarter Life Crisis in Action
What are the symptoms of the Quarter Life Crisis, and how can you identify a sufferer? Here are a few common traits of this transitional period experienced by hundreds of twentysomethings.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

LUMS- Poondi Bench

LUMS boys :P

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Quigley (or Bear) as J liked to call him was our bunny. Ok, so he was J's bunny but we all loved him to bits and baby-sat him on weekends when J was away. J adopted Quigley from an animal shelter after Gutsy died. Gutsy was the first bunny. He died in J's arms when his stomach burst after filling up with too much gas...

In our dorms, we weren't allowed to have pets, but since the fine was only $25 if he was discovered, we decided to risk it. Quigley had a large cage under J's bed (when the bedcover was down, the cage was completely hidden from view). We lined the floor with newspaper so it wouldn't creak when Quigley moved and we attached a pipe to his water container so it would fill up gradually without making a mess.

At night, we'd let him out to frolic and play in the common room while we did homework or watched Ugly Betty or The Bachelor. He'd bounce around and sniff at whatever caught his fancy. He liked chewing up computer cords and if it was cold, he'd curl up into a bread loaf with his ears down flat... When we were sad or stressed, petting Quigley was therapeutic- he was a cuddly bunny :)

Being cozy :)

Quigley liked Frist pizza

Quigley nibbles a green apple- notice his shiny coat :)

Quigley was with us for almost two years. After graduation, he flew to Texas to be with J's parents while the rest of us moved away. My roommate A was visiting last month and we bought Annie's bunny grahams to commemorate :)

Friday, May 8, 2009


So I thought I'd be starting grad school (in Canada) come September and alhamdulilah I did get a couple of acceptances. But now, I'm seriously double-minded. Should I continue here in Abu Dhabi, move back to Pakistan or go to grad school?

Of course, nowhere is perfect but I've finally settled down here, made good friends and I really love my job. The roads in Abu Dhabi are lined with date palms bearing low-hanging fruit; you can simply reach out and pluck a few dates. In Karachi, we have coconut palms in our garden. Our gardener used to climb up and cut down the young green coconuts, then he'd slice off the top and we'd dip straws into it and enjoy the refreshingly cool coconut water :)

But it's tough moving back; everyone's changed and I know I have too. It's hard to smile and nod when girls my age are complaining about how the stylist gave them a bad blow dry, or how Bareeze has hiked up it's prices yet again (Rs. 8000 for a simple suit! what a tragedy) when people are (quite literally) dying all around you. But I also want to spend time with my grandparents, be there for my parents and watch my sister grow up.

Plus, do I really want to go back to class, start over with new roommates, stress over homework assignments and freeze in the winter?

I don't like major life decisions :P

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cancer is a scary word

Yesterday, a colleague casually mentioned that she'd had cancer junior year of college. It's been almost three years since then but she still experiences shortness of breath and she's always terrified it might come back. I was humbled by her courage...    

People, please think twice before making thoughtless jokes/comments about baldness, wigs and hair-removal techniques. Most of us know at least one person who's had cancer and had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. It's a traumatic experience for the entire family- definitely not funny.

It isn't just "old" people who get it. Cancer can happen to literally anyone. Perfectly healthy, happy-go-lucky people with very active lifestyles may have battled with cancer in their youth and put it behind them- it could be the 40-year-old secretary typing away at her desktop, the pretty new girl in the office, the boss, your next client, your ex-roommate... It's important to be aware and to be prepared. Not to scare anyone, but if you have a chronic cough, unexplained weight loss or an injury that isn't healing as it should please consult a doctor. 

As an aside, I finished reading Still Alice. It's about a professor at Harvard diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Again, it makes one realize how a single event can change one's entire life in an instant. 

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beautiful in Abu Dhabi

This past weekend, I went to Al-Lulu Beauty Center opposite Abu Dhabi Mall to get a trim. The salon is run by very efficient, (empowered?!) Moroccan women and patronized by both locals and expats.

Under their abayas, veils and shaylas, local women are dressed in style. Some women also wear a clip-on claw attachment (with feathers or velvet bows) on their hair to give an illusion of volume (almost like a fake bun/head hump) and to keep the shayla in place (mystery solved ;)).

There were a couple of brides getting ready. I was fascinated... Arabic makeup is bold and dramatic: eyebrows (arched high above the eye and plucked thin), multiple shades of eyeshadow, lots and lots of black eyeliner and several coats of mascara, followed by peachy cheeks and full, pouty lips painted scarlet/fuchsia.

Nancy Ajram, a Lebanese pop star is considered an icon of a beauty in the Middle East. She appears on Pakistani tv too!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I miss feeding the swans, geese, ducks and pigeons at Regent's Park... :'(
All I've seen here are a few sparrows, some severely injured cats missing an ear or part of their tail at the Petroleum Institute and the occasional crab at the beach...

We do however have pictures of camels up on the wall- I have yet to see a real one somewhere in the desert...