Seaside in Karachi, Pakistan
I have had the luxury of observing Ramadhan (the Muslim fasting month) in Pakistan with my extended family for the past two years. My employers have been very generous in giving me that time off and I luxuriated the holy month in an Islamic environment. Ramadhan has been in the summer and that meant long, hot days of no food and water and the thought of that was depressing and frightening to me here by myself in New York. So, I went to Karachi and my relatives accepted me with open arms and I loved every minute of it. This year, however, I chose to stay in New York during Ramadhan. I wanted to get over my trepidation of a summer Ramadhan in NYC and just do it. So far, I am glad that I did.
In Karachi, the awareness of Ramadhan begins a week in advance. Signs are up, lights are up, it’s equivalent to Christmas. It is a countrywide experience (since Pakistan is an Islamic republic), school/work days are shortened or timings are changed (I used to stay up all night and sleep a lot during the day), days off are accepted and charity is a given. People are incredibly kind to those who fast. I remember driving home with my cousins one day, it was close to sunset, and there was a lot of traffic. In the midst of the traffic, folks were going around to the cars and people on street, giving them food so that they may break their fast. Likewise in my family dinners, other people were thought of first, either in prayer or by handing out food in the community/mosque or by giving money to the less fortunate. It was the done thing - charity was a given. My Ramadhan experience in Karachi was an incredibly social one, I was constantly surrounded by people, family, friends, neighbors, etc, we dined together, talked and traveled, joined in happiness and sorrow, in remembrance and forgiveness. It was truly the wholesome family experience any person could ask for during a holiday.
This year in New York, I have faced a different sort of Ramadhan thus far, one of solitude and reflection. I live alone, my nights are spent eating, praying and figuring out a sleeping schedule so that my work is not affected. I do not attend the mosque here for I do not have enough time to travel back and forth and it is physically exhausting navigating the subways at nighttime in the heat. However, this Ramadhan is one of the best I have ever experienced. This struggle has helped me understand how much I have in my life and how imperative it is to help others who do not have the luxuries I enjoy. I find myself constantly reflecting on my life and my choices. There is no “New York” rush this month, I walk slowly, I talk slowly; there is no overexertion of any facet because there is a thought behind every action. The solitude in fasting is a joy; it’s a silent, daily journey for God and myself. There is a real chance to improve my character, to try and change for the better.
While these two cities have offered me entirely different Ramadhan experience, the lessons I learned are quite similar. There is an importance in constant reflection of ones character and there is equal importance in the establishment of charity. May the rest of Ramadhan be equally rewarding to everyone.
I traveled to Peru with some friends three years ago; It was my first venture into South America and I did not know what to expect. I knew of the Incas from school and the amazing feats of construction and engineering that they were known for but generally, the trip was to be completely and utterly new.
We traveled to Lima, Cusco, and Puno. Upon arriving in Lima and during our taxi ride to the hostel, we passed by several malls, highways, McDonald's and other fast food places. For a minute it seemed as though I had not left New York. Nevertheless we ventured out to eat at a sushi place and explored the city as best we could in the one day that we were there.
The next day, we departed for Cusco and when we landed in that airport, in that rugged valley between mountains, I felt as though I had escaped any reality I had ever known and entered a new dominion. As we roamed through the city streets, I was reminded of Che Guevera's quote from his infamous motorcycle diaries. He wrote about the city of Cusco, "The word that most perfectly describes the city of Cuzco is evocative. Intangible dust of another era settles on its streets, rising like the disturbed sediment of a muddy lake when you touch its bottom."
In Cusco we adjusted to the altitude by drinking plenty of mate de coca, a special tea, and exploring the neighborhood. The city center was populous and geared towards tourists- however we had the pleasure to go up horseback riding in the mountains and to visit some ancient sites away from the touristy places. History in Cusco was everywhere, in the buildings, in gravesites, and even in the people; I watched as a Quechua woman bound her baby in her garments and fastened it to her back with ease, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The children were exceptionally beautiful. I would be transfixed in watching them with their parents and friends. Family was important to them.
Our journey to Macchu Picchu took roughly 6 hours from Cusco. A train ride through a mesmerizing landscape took us into the village of Aguas Calientes (hot water). The mountains and trees around this place were green and flourishing, completely in contrast with the brown dirt in Cusco. Aguas Calientes probably started off as a small village but soon expanded after Macchu Picchu was discovered. One has to journey there and stay the night (the village is filled with many hotels), with buses leaving in the morning for Macchu Picchu. The bus ride up was scary, it took us to such heights that looking out the window frightened me. Nevertheless, the excitement I felt upon seeing those mountains, upon those clouds that we were going up into, that excitement was boundless. By the time we reached Macchu Picchu I thought nothing could make me happier. And was I wrong.
After roughly a 20 minute hike up some steep stairs, one gets the glimpse of the entire city. It was unbelievable, for lack of a better word. So many questions were going through my mind about this place, it's purpose, it's inhabitants, how it was so precisely created and engineered, that I barely listened to the guide who took us through the city. We sat for a while, surrounded by its stone walls, and I tried to understand the place. I could not and I had to leave it at that. It was beautiful, it had a quiet strength and dignity, and though the questions in my mind remained unanswered, they were pushed back. I let myself sit and enjoy the solitude and peace this city in the mountains brought to my heart and thanked the Lord Almighty that I had been privileged enough to visit this place.
My only hope is that I one day get to see it again. Che Guevera said it best, "How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?"
So what if it rained today? New York City has seen it fair share of hazardous weather and the city has overcome it. The cancellation of the GoogaMooga festival today really annoyed me. It's just water, really. And guess what? It dries and evaporates once one is back indoors!
Luckily the Fifth Avenue Street Fair still went on, despite the dreariness. There was music and food and all sorts of artwork and antiques. People were out with their umbrellas and plastic ponchos. That's the spirit of Brooklyn that I know and love.
The festivities on Friday in Prospect Park were inherent of the spirit of Brooklyn as well. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the GoogaMooga festival on Friday (see the pictures below). It's a great festival celebrating mostly local food and music. There were young and old mingling in the park eating gourmet hot dogs ($12 a pop), sampling the different kinds of food and enjoying the music. It's really a shame that it was cancelled today. I am sure if it had been based on a vote, the show would still have gone on.
I am an incredibly snooty Northeastern New Yorker. I turn up my nose at the idea of having to travel to "cities" outside of NYC or the northeast (unless its Seattle). To me, NYC is the greatest city in the world because of its diversity, culture, history, opportunity, transportation, etc, obviously I could go on forever.
This week, I have been humbled and brought down from my high Northeastern horse. The city of St. Louis has shown me a potential like no other city that I have traveled to and I've come to truly enjoy the time that I have spent here.
There is history in St. Louis that I never knew existed, mounds of civilization had been discovered here and dated back to 1150-1200 A.D. Lewis and Clark started their expedition through here, Dredd Scott was tried here, Mark Twain wrote much about life on the MIssissippi, and engineers developed careers here in trying to alleviate flooding issues.
This city will be up and coming, there are several neighborhoods that are very commercial, lined with restaurants, coffee shops and art galleries. Today, while standing near the Mississippi River, I could feel something spiritual about it, i understand why so many songs and poems and books were written about it. There is something bittersweet about this river and about the city that lives on it. I'm glad to have had the time to experience it and I hope to travel with a much more open mind.
Vases at the British museum in London.
A couple of years ago I took a trip to visit a friend in London. We got a chance to see the famous British museum and the Islamic art exhibit there was gorgeous. I realized that i use many, many Islamic art motifs in my henna designs and now I look to them for inspiration. The floral patterns and geometric patterns and intricate mathematical algorithms look amazing on these mosque lamps and look just as stunning on henna patterns on ones hands!
The mosque lamps below were my favorites. They were lit up and looked exquisite in the light. The style of writing is beautiful.
If you would like to know more about Islamic Art - check out the Islamic Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I went to the MoMa in midtown for the first time in my life and it was a great and overwhelming experience. It was a free Friday and the place, like midtown Manhattan, was overflowing with tourists. It was difficult to navigate through the throngs (zillions of people with dslr's and strollers) so we didn't stay long. Note to self: Never go to a museum on a free Friday (or weekend for that matter)- check it out on an obscure day and time.
Nevertheless, I did get to see some classic works by Picasso, Munch, Van Gogh, and Monet, pieces that I had only ready about but never laid eyes in person. I was surprised by the sizes of some of the paintings. Picasso's work really stands out (two pictures above) and this painting below really represents melancholy and fear, in my opinion. The photo below is a work by Munch. I feel like I've seen that look in the mirror.
Now that I may get furloughed and have every Friday off, I can go museum hopping! I will definitely be back at the MoMa, so much to see and to get inspired by! Maybe I'll use abstract art in my future henna designs.
I love this city. But I hate it at the same time. Here is my list of annoying things about NYC and it's people. Feel free to add more!
1. People who take up more than one seat on the train. Or people who sit in the aisle seat and block you from the corner seat so you have to open your mouth and ask them to move so you can sit down.
2. Shopping in person. For anything.
3. People at work who are lazy, make twice as much as you do and do half the work you do.
4. Having to wait in line for practically everything!
5. Waiting a long time to pay for a coffee while foreign tourists who are on line in front of you are trying to differentiate between quarters, nickels, and dimes.
6. People who don't control their animals on the street and expect you to adhere to them.
7. People who walk slowly in groups and take up an entire sidewalk so not only can you not walk through them but you can't walk around them either.
8. The brown, slushy snow mess the day after a snow storm.
9. Waiting twenty minutes for a bus on a weekend, deciding to walk instead and two minutes into the walk, seeing the bus whiz by.
10. The constantly changing temperatures during the months of February, March, and April and the resulting sicknesses that ensue.
I can write much, much more!!
A restaurant on the ocean, Clifton, Karachi.
Pakistan is in the news again today, yet another bombing in Karachi, targeting the Shi'ite minority. Violence is disgusting, aren't we all Muslim? Why can the Shia not have their own views without being killed for it? May those who were killed find peace and be granted Heaven.
In part two of my Pakistan segment I try to bring forward the beauty of the country in these pictures. I visited Karachi again last summer and had the opportunity to travel north to Islamabad (the capital) and to Muree (a mountainous, tourist town). We took an early flight from Karachi to Islamabad and reached there in about an hour and a half. The weather in Islamabad was miserable, 95 degrees and incredibly humid, much worse than we left behind in Karachi. Karachi is very brown and Islamabad is green, it was like driving through parts of New Jersey or Pennsylvania, very suburban. Upon arriving in Islamabad, we packed up our things and drove to Muree, roughly 2 hours away. It was a long road into and up the mountains but we were more than pleasantly surprised upon arriving there. The temperature was a chilly 60 degrees, there were lights up for Ramadhan and many people were out and about in the town.
We set our bags down in our hotel and got to exploring, staying out on the main road until two in the morning, shopping, eating, and talking with the shop owners. The green tea and coffee was exceptional in Muree. We were practically giddy with excitement, my cousins and I. At night the town was very much alive, the lights looked like spaceships in the distance, each town carrying lights higher and higher in the mountains. The next day we explored some of the sites with a guide (encountered breathtaking views and a Santa Claus) and had some horrid and frightening driving experiences. Driving on those road is definitely not for the faint of heart; I can't remember ever praying so much for my survival. At the end of the day, we drove back to Islamabad. The next segment will feature my findings in Pakistan's capital city. Stay tuned!
I hate crowds. It is why I avoid taking the R train from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM in the morning and 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM in the evening. The trains are overcrowded, especially in the winter with people and their enormous coats and bags. However that is the usual grind and I've timed myself out of it.
I wouldn't be me if I didn't find something to complain about. I've been meaning to call the MTA about this for a while but I never seem to remember to do it. At Prospect Avenue, going towards Bay Ridge, there is only one exit. It is so annoying that most people who get off at this spot (myself included) have to strategically place themselves between the 3rd or 4th subway car to get out right in front of turnstile. Otherwise, one can imagine waiting and moving slowly in line for 3-4 minutes. It seems like a silly thing to gripe about however isn't it against some law (or a fire hazard) to only have one exit in a heavily populated neighborhood where majority of the people ride the subway? The other side of the station has 2 exits. So MTA, BUILD A NEW EXIT AT PROSPECT AVENUE PLEASE!
I love downtown Manhattan, the financial district, in the evening. There's serenity in a place where one wouldn't believe there could be. When I leave my work place at 7pm, I'll often walk down broadway, all the way to Whitehall station (roughly 1.5 miles from where I work) just to enjoy the quiet streets. Most businesses close by 7ish, it's not like midtown in the financial district.
Lunchtime is a different story, that's when I absolutely loathe downtown Manhattan. Between construction, tourists, workers, students, beggars, and everyone in between, it is impossible to walk continuously in a straight line on a single street. Everything is open and people are shoving whatever crap they sell into your face. It's exhausting just thinking about it. The most annoying are those happy people in the street who are trying to make you donate money towards their charity. I won't make eye contact or I'll walk by so fast that they don't even try to stop me. Those people should go to wall street where bonuses are more than what I make in the year.
Day and night are two different creatures in the financial district. During the day, GET OUT OF MY WAY. During the night, walk a bit without fright.
My favorite past time at night, going to whole foods to get groceries on a Wednesday evening. It's empty and no one is out with their annoying children. Or grabbing a coffee/pastry at Pret A Manger or Aroma Cafe on Church Street near the PATH station.
I'll be adding pictures and commentary of the things I love. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary place. There is no special purpose to this blog other than to project what I am thinking of at any given moment.
All the photos are mine (unless stated otherwise). Please do not use without permission. To learn more about me, check out my linked in profile below.