Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I feel like I'm standing on the brink of a deep, dark abyss. I decided voluntarily to not renew my job contract in Abu Dhabi. With no immediate employment prospects for the summer, I am not looking forward to sitting at home, lazing on the couch, and generally being a burden on society :p... I don't want to volunteer at an NGO because my past experiences have been pretty negative- you drive to far away places (paying for your own petrol and mode of transport), you sit around all day reading papers or magazines, take loooong chai/lunch/namaz breaks and basically exhaust yourself without accomplishing anything worthwhile.

I finally read Outliers (by Malcolm Gladwell). It's an amazing book, although some of the relationships that Gladwell highlights are a tad farfetched. He claims that the key to success is meaningful work; i.e. an activity in which there is a direct and obvious relationship between effort and reward (i.e. the greater the effort you put into something, the greater the reward). I think I agree with him... Now I need to find a project where I'll see immediate, tangible results. Easier said, than done :p

I've also started watching TED talks! TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design- fascinating...!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Min Abu Dhabi ila Dubai bil Bus

My last trip to Dubai was memorable. I woke up bright and early on Saturday and got dropped off at the Abu Dhabi bus station near Al Wahda Mall. Luckily, there was an Emirates Express bus leaving for Dubai in 10 minutes so I hopped in, paid the fare (15 Dhs only!) and settled down with my book. The bus filled up pretty quickly; mostly young men (Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos).

Since traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road was low on Saturday morning, we made it to Dubai in an hour. I wanted to get off at Mall of the Emirates where I was meeting my friend for lunch but the bus went all the way into Bur Dubai. This is the old Dubai area, the buildings are somewhat dilapidated and run-down in comparison to the bright and shiny "new" Dubai and you hardly see any Arab/Emirati nationals. I got off at Al-Ghubaibah bus station and tried to figure out how I could get to Mall of the Emirates. There were no maps, so I asked the RTA officer for directions. He told me to take the 9D bus to Al-Satwa station and from there I could take another bus to MoE.

Forty minutes later, after roasting in the heat, I boarded the bus to Al-Satwa. Again, I got stared at since I was the only female (weird enough? stupid enough?) to take the bus. The bus ride from Al-Satwa to MoE took another forty-five minutes. By this time, I was tired, hungry, hot and frustrated.

Mall of the Emirates cheered me up :) I met Al (one of my Pton roomies who got transferred to Dubai). We had lunch (creamy soup with warm bread fresh from the oven) and wandered around the mall. Al had to leave early so I decided to head back around 5:00 pm. I ended up taking a taxi to Bur Dubai and from there I took another bus back to Abu Dhabi. This one was filled with Pakistani laborers and again I was the only girl :S.

I know this sounds really mean but they were smelly! It's the weekend... they could have taken a shower and put on some perfume or attar... I've noticed South Asian men have a strong smell; Arabs and Filipinos are generally cleaner and are more particular about personal hygiene (and they don't stare).

Masalaam Dubai!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Transformers 2 Revenge of the Fallen

I just saw the movie and according to a friend who accompanied me it was "cringe worthy". But, I have to say it was better than I expected... (or maybe my expectations were really low).

Megan's role was basically geared towards the dreams of hormonal males; luscious lips, cutaway shorts, bouncy ummm assets and all... Shia LaBeouf did a blah job of being a Princeton freshman and saving the world :P The Transformers made too much noise... I zoned out after a while.

The glimpses of campus were pretty cool though and I liked the shots in Petra and Egypt :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Peter and Jane

Anyone remember Peter and Jane? I grew up learning to read using the Key Word Reading Scheme (based on the premise that just 12 words make up a quarter of all the English words we read and write and that 100 words make up a half of those that we use on a daily basis).

Napoleon Dynamite Dance Scene

A Little Golden Book

When I was little, my mom used to read aloud stories to me. She used a lot of expressions, intonations and gestures to make the stories come alive. I'd memorize every single word and the routine had to be perfect... if she skipped/altered a single word or forgot to make the right sounds at the right places, I'd throw a tantrum :p

One of my favorites was Four Little Kittens. It was part of the Little Golden Books series and I adored the pictures. It was the story of a mother cat with four little kittens (Tuff, Luff, Ruff and Muff) telling them what they could be when they grow up. Tuff chooses to be an alley cat (a tough life), Luff decides to be a ship's cat (a life of adventure), Ruff wants to live on a farm (responsible and useful) and Muff simply can't make up her mind. In the end after her siblings leave, Muff has a revelation, "I'm a cushion and cream cat, a purring cat, a cuddlesome cat, a playful cat, a little girl's cat, - I'm a house cat!"

Muff was my favorite, the sweet one who'd stay at home and bring joy to a little girl... I guess I turned out more like Tuff, Luff and Ruff...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


After five years of living independently, away from my family, I'm always a little apprehensive going back home for extended periods of time... I've visited frequently, sometimes three or four times a year and each time it's a different experience. People have changed; my grandparents seem older, more frail than before; my dad has more silver hair and gets tired quickly and my mom's more conservative than I remember (or maybe I've become more "liberal" ?!). It takes a while adjusting to the changes, observing things through a fresh lens. Things I took for granted growing up (health, family, physical and financial security) seem ever more precious...

Then of course, there's the extreme lifestyle makeover: intermittent electricity, intermittent water supply, dependency on servants, the never-ending round of social commitments, a curfew :p

Last time there was no electricity at the airport, so people were filling out forms manually at immigration, the conveyor belts weren't running and there was complete chaos at the airport... it's terrifying when you think about how backward we are compared to the rest of the world. Even a simple task like checking your email becomes a chore. Plus, I feel like an ingrate complaining, knowing there are millions of people worse off than me :p and frustrated because I'm wasting precious time doing routine stuff that could be taken care off by machines (hand-washing clothes and dishes, doing jharoo poncha (sweeping and mopping) etc.) or supervising others to do it...

Then again, there's no greater bonding experience than sitting in one room in semi-darkness in my pjs (in an effort to conserve the UPS/generator) playing ludo or snakes and ladders with my siblings to while away the time or simply going to Seaview for a long drive (with the car ac on) to wait out the blackout.

Of course, not everyone can afford three meals a day let alone UPS or generators or even a car with ac. In fact, while we sweat at home, people's livelihoods are at stake- men are sitting idle in tailoring shops, workshops, photocopy/binding shops, offices and bazaars. In local hospitals without power, hundreds of patients are lying helpless. At times like this, we Pakistanis become resigned to our fate... Indeed, what will be will be... and I have to say, I admire our patience and fortitude.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Ramblings

In preparation for my impending departure, I am trying to finish up food items in the fridge and I've managed to come up with some strange concoctions. Today, around 11, I had ice cream with whipped cream topping for breakfast... except, the whipped cream turned out to be labneh :P blech.

I took the bus to Madinat Zayed Shopping Center around 2:30pm. It was rather deserted for a Saturday afternoon except for the usual crowd of expat men who have nothing to do on weekends. In winter, they congregate at the Corniche but since it's boiling outside now, they hang out at the air-conditioned shopping centers and ogle at women. There was sale at Ninewest and Charles and Keith but it turned out to be a hoax- they jacked up the prices and after discount, the prices were more or less the same as before :p.

I bought a heavily embroidered table runner for my mom from a handicrafts store. The shopkeeper turned out to be Pakistani but he continued speaking to me in English... In situations like these, I'm always confused. Do I talk in Urdu? Do I appear arrogant/sound like I'm trying too hard to be "western" if I speak in English? Plus, I can't always tell whether a person speaks Urdu/Hindi or Tamil/Malayalam or some other language just by looking at him... some Arabs take offense if someone mistakes them for an Indian; it's quite a dilemma sometimes!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Date-picking in Abu Dhabi

There are date palms all around the area where I work. This one caught my eye because the fruit was red... (usually they're green and turn yellow as they ripen). The heat dries them up, they shrivel and turn brown, ready for picking!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Yesterday evening was M's bridal shower. I got her a nice set of crystal drinking glasses and Il and S got her a coffee machine and a blender along with a couple of gag gifts :p. Afterwards we went to the newly opened Applebees in Mazyad Mall.

I ordered a Cowboy burger. It's a huge patty topped with a crunchy onion ring , barbecue sauce, jack and cheddar cheeses and strips of fried chicken (recipe for atherosclerosis :p). This morning, I googled "Applebees Cowboy Burger" to find that it contains 840 calories not counting fries and dip!!! The others got quesadillas and regular sandwiches which were probably slightly healthier...

On top of that, we got complimentary dessert! (added advantage of going out with giggly girlfriends). White chocolate with walnut brownie topped with vanilla icecream and maple butter sauce... sigh!

How to get a Cell Phone in Abu Dhabi

Etisalat and Du are the primary telephone and internet service providers in the UAE. To purchase a cell phone plan/sim card in Abu Dhabi, you will need a copy of your passport and residence visa and fill out an application form. Etisalat offers the Wasel prepaid plan. Onetime registration charges are AED 165 and you can subsequently purchase phone cards or top up online. International calls can be pretty expensive- the international rates for Etisalat subscribers are listed here.

Du is cheaper than Etisalat (a one-time payment of AED 62) and offers a monthly plan- details can be found here. Alternatively, you can purchase the Pay as you Go service (a one-time payment of AED 55).

Note: Du coverage may not be available in all areas.

Public pay phones are available in most areas in Abu Dhabi and accept coins (50 fils and one dirham) and prepaid phone cards, which can be purchased from grocery stores and Etisalat outlets. To make a telephone call to a mobile subscriber within the UAE, dial 050 (for Etisalat) or 055 (for Du) followed by the seven-digit cell phone number. To call a landline number within the UAE and outside Abu Dhabi, you must dial the city code followed by the seven digit telephone number.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


So, in order to apply for a student visa, I need "good conduct certificates" from three countries! (USA, UAE and Pakistan). For the US, I had to send a fingerprint card all the way to Clarksburg, West Virginia (and hopefully they'll mail it back soon). Prior to this, I'd only heard of West Virginia in a song by John Denver. For the UAE and Pakistan, I had to go to a police station with the required documents and obtain clearance.

Note: I've never been to a police station before, not even for a minor driving incident!

So I went to the criminal headquarters in Kharadar, Karachi. The officers were surprisingly polite and efficient and rolled my fingers on an ink slab. Afterwards, they gave me Surf Excel to wash the ink off my hands :). I didn't see any criminals but there were a couple of addicts sleeping on the floor... and the head officer had to leave in a hurry because there had been a bomb scare somewhere in the city.

So if you're planning to study in another country, allow plenty of time for processing of documents and be prepared for a lot of khwaari :p

Disney Roll :p

I heart this site :)


When I Need A Good Cry...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Goodbyes have always been awkward for me. Usually, I put on the tough-girl act and say a terse, off-hand goodbye (while trying not to burst into tears and resisting the urge to bawl like a baby). The other person usually ends up thinking that they've offended me deeply :p so I follow up with a highly emotional email explaining why I was rude... Some things are just easier expressed when written rather than communicated face to face...

I will inshalah be leaving soon and I want to do it the right way...

I could be cheesy like SRK and come up with bollywood-ish farewells...

But I'd rather be dignified and calm. I bought gifts for my close friends and colleagues and I'll probably send out a mass email to everyone else thanking them for the opportunity to work with them.

I'm definitely older and perhaps a little wiser after my stint in Abu Dhabi :). It's been quite an experience after the Princeton cocoon but I think I'm ready to move on and try something new...


They came from a land of scorching deserts, snowcapped mountains, camels and mosques. Now after several miserable years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, 13 Muslims from China will try to resettle on the tiny Pacific nation of Palau _ a land of lush beach resorts.

For some reason, it reminded me of Shrek 2:
Fairy Godmother: He endured blistering winds and scorching deserts - he climbed the highest bloody room of the tallest bloody tower - and what does he find? Some gender-confused WOLF telling him that HIS princess is already married!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is my Islam?

Taufiq Rahim writes:

My Islam is foremost about reason. It is about harnessing one's capacity to understand the complexities of this world and beyond. The mind and the pursuit of knowledge are central to comprehending, to the extent that is possible, what is the divine. One also cannot make conscious decisions about right or wrong without exercising his own judgment. Blindly following the edicts of scholars, is not choosing a path except one that is not your own. When I refrain from consuming alcohol, it is not because I am backward, or uncultured. I refuse drugs because they hinder our judgment and our ability to reason, the trait that God endowed us with that distinguishes humankind from all other beings.

My Islam is about the equality of women, where paradise as the Prophet said (the Prophet whose first convert was a woman, who was his wife but also his employer), is found at the feet of our mothers. Islam is the faith that gave women legal status, the right to divorce, and the path to financial independence. Inspiration is found in the women leaders of the three most populous Muslim countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Indonesia, who found their way into the modern political space long before their counterparts in North America. This Islam is about the strong, independent Muslim women, some who wear hijabs, and others who do not, who balance the needs of families with their rights to be full and equal participants in all aspects of society.

My Islam is about tolerance. It is about a religion that told its adherents that all persons performing good deeds can find a just place in the hereafter. For Muslims, believers of other faiths should be respected and protected. I believe in the traditions of Fatimid Egypt, Andalusia, and the Ottoman Empire, which gave sanctuary to Jews fleeing from the West. In my faith, discrimination and prejudice along race or ethnicity is an abomination, while equality is a requirement. It is a religion that sees all peoples living in mutual respect, working towards the common good.

My Islam is about compassion. Empathy is not a virtue but an attitude that permeates every aspect of my life. The condition of your neighbor or a stranger is a reflection of you. The mosque is the center not for organizing people for bombastic shouting sessions of anti-Americanism but rather for mobilizing persons of faith to serve their communities to develop an ethos of compassion for all. My Qur'an exhorts in countless verses that spending on the less fortunate is the true measure of an individual.

My Islam is about humility. It is an Islam that means submission to something greater than oneself, and forces the recognition of our smallness in the face of the wider world and beyond. It is about co-existence with all creation that surrounds us be they our compatriots or persons living in a distant land. It is about sustainable stewardship of the resources that God has endowed this world with.

I do not naively believe that what I see as Islam is the status quo in every Muslim country or family. Nor do I consider my vision as a monopoly on what is right, for true religion is about the ability of each follower to forge his or her own path. Yet, the next time someone remarks that Islam is irrational, violent, and hateful, know that there are countless millions whose practice and beliefs of Islam prove otherwise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We iz cute pussy kats

The kittens grew up... we managed to find homes for three of them, two are still home with the mom :).

Katie Couric Comes to Princeton

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. That's a major point Malcolm Gladwell makes in his book "Outliers." He writes that to truly master something, you need to spend at least 10-thousand hours doing it. Take Bill Gates, for example. He dropped out of Harvard and he still became Bill Gates...by devoting his every waking moment to building and understanding computer codes. The Beatles might have seemed like an overnight sensation, but they played together more than a thousand times before that famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. For them, it really was a hard day's night...night after night after night...for four years!

I'm no Beatle or Bill Gates, but I've learned the importance of hard work, as well. I was a desk assistant at ABC News in Washington where my major responsibilities were Xeroxing (hey, it was the dark ages!) and making coffee. When I moved to what my network colleagues referred to as Chicken Noodle News in 1980, I finally got a chance to do some reporting...and the President of CNN said he never wanted to see me on air again. It could have been demoralizing; instead I found it motivating! And rather than let the turkeys get me down... I just kept practicing. And I actually got better.

Next, don't be a hater. Princeton has taught you to think critically, to approach things with a healthy dose of skepticism...and that's a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say. But you really must guard against the cynicism and nastiness that are so pervasive today, particularly on the internet. It can be a wonderful, powerful and equalizing tool, but it's also populated by haters and trolls. People think they can say or do anything online under the cloak of anonymity. Don't get sucked in...In his book, entitled "Snark", David Denby writes, "Snark often functions as an enforcer of mediocrity and conformity. In its cozy knowingness, snark flatters you in assuming that you get the contemptuous joke. You've been admitted or re-admitted to a club, but it may be a club of the second rate."

Third, I have a message particularly for all you young women here today...or as Beyonce might say, all the single ladies. John Lennon, once wrote "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

I'm sure you are all graduating with big career goals. You may also have a dream of being married and having a family, and at some point the career may take a backseat. There is no more challenging, rewarding or important job than being a mom. I just want to say this--sometimes dreams of domestic bliss are interrupted by reality. People get divorced. People die. You need to protect yourself. I was very happily married to a wonderful man. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and nine months later, he was gone. I was a single mom with two very young children. This was not part of the plan. Luckily, I had a career and therefore the financial independence to support my children. Many women in my situation are not nearly as fortunate. And while I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, I want you all to be prepared for the unexpected and approach some of the big life decisions you'll be making with your eyes wide open.

And another thing you probably need to realize: It's not all about you. As you venture out into this big bad world, I hope you each find a way to make it better. As anchor of the Evening News, I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I was there for a matter of days...not months or years. No matter what your opinion may be about the wars this nation is fighting, the men and women of the military are making sacrifices every day...and deserve our respect and support when they're deployed...and when they come home.

Never underestimate the contribution you can make. Its been said: "If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito."

So give something back. After all, you're graduating from Princeton! You are so lucky. And do me a favor...thank your parents or whoever helped you achieve this goal. Then, transform your gratitude into action...and give back to a world that has already given you so much.

When President Obama announced he was choosing Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court it was a reminder that the American Dream is alive and well...that a young Puerto Rican girl who grew up in a housing project in the Bronx could earn a seat in the highest court in the land. She congratulated the single mother who raised her to be a judge and her brother to be a doctor. Parents, your children, too, can achieve anything because you gave them strong shoulders to stand on and the tools they'll need to succeed. Remind yourselves of this when they ask if they can come home and live with you while they look for work!

We can finally burn the bumper sticker that says: "he who dies with the most toys wins." The truth is closer to the old Italian Proverb that says: "At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back in the same box."

What really matters in the end is how you've played the game of life...that you've lived it with honor, integrity and character... old fashioned qualities that never go out of style...whether you're a fan of Ella Fitzgerald or Lady Gaga.

Finally, take some chances. Get out of your comfort zone, even if that's extremely uncomfortable.

Mark Twain once wrote, "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do."

When I left the safe confines of NBC News, a friend wrote me a note that said, "Boats are always safe in the harbor. But that's not what boats are built for." So sail away, even if the waters are choppy and the territory uncharted...you'll be amazed at what you learn about the world and about yourself...and through it all, cherish the handful of people you can always depend on to throw you a life preserver when you need it the most. And don't forget to wear sunscreen.

Monday, June 8, 2009


For a country that's supposedly at war, its most populated city Karachi, is serene. The weather is warm, sunny and humid, traffic is at its peak and people go about their daily business with cheerful apathy, oblivious to the suffering of fellow countrymen and women in the north. 

The wedding season will begin soon, once students' are through with their final exams. Millions of rupees will be spent on lavish arrangements, jewelry, outfits, food and gifts. There will be music, singing, dancing and fun. Kids will attend summer camps and take swimming and music lessons while older siblings will hang out at the numerous cafes and coffee shops and take exotic trips abroad. Mums will attend kitty parties and dads will play golf or go to the club.  

Somewhere in an obscure part of the country, several children will become orphans, men will lose their lives and women will forfeit their honor and dignity to support their families. A few million have already been made homeless and are now battling heavy monsoon rains in addition to scorching heat in the makeshift tent camps for the Internally Displaced People. I realized I don't like the term IDP- it's desensitizes us to reality... 

The contrast between the haves and the havenots in Pakistan is amazing, scary and ultimately depressing...  

The other day, I was listening to a commercial on the radio, "Bijli bachaein, mustaqbil barhaein" (conserve electricity, salvage the future) vocalized by little kids (apparently, this has a greater psychological impact on listeners). KESC is also publishing full page ads in DAWN encouraging consumers to conserve. I think it's a step in the right direction but it would be nice if they would put another 5000 MW online by the end of the year... :p

My mom took me shopping for summer clothes... Women of all ages in Karachi are now wearing looooong kameezes (almost down to the ankles) with culottes (a split or divided skirt developed for horseback riding so that women could sit astride a man's saddle rather than riding side-saddle). Dupattas are no longer part of the "modern" Pakistani woman's attire... Skinny fifteen-year olds can pull off "the look", but it does NOT suit sixty-something year old aunties with multiple tummy tires. 

I also went to the police station in Kharadar for fingerprinting (a prerequisite for my visa application). It was my first time in a police station in Pakistan... the officers were surprisingly polite and efficient and gave me Surf excel to wash the ink off my hands.

Now, back to work in Abu Dhabi... (which was actually known as Umm Dhabi until they changed the name).