There has been this persistent grey color to the sky, the ground, and the very air we breathe in New York City. The lack of sun and this endless winter has turned this city into a page out of a Dostoevsky novel, cold, snowy, miserable, and grey.
I was lucky enough to escape for a few days in January; we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I felt that warm sun on my skin I completely understood why people used to worship this majestic, celestial body. It is rejuvenating and magnificent in its splendor; it is life.
Old San Juan was particularly inviting, a 500+ year old city surrounded by forts built by the Spanish in the 1500's. The two forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, were high and mighty and must have been quite a sight in the days of colonial trade routes in the Caribbean Sea.
San Juan was fantastic however the best things to do were outside of the city. El Yunque rainforest, a national rainforest about an hour away from the city, had fantastic trails and interesting plants to discover and kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay was one of the best experiences of my life. I was frightened a bit by the dark and the water however once we reached the lagoon we saw nothing but the green lights of the phytoplankton in the water below us and the bright stars above. I lived the entire trip in that one moment.
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.
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!
Grave of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan)
Pakistan has been and continues to be in the media as of late. The media will never give us good news or tales of generous deeds and adventures from this country, rather one hears only the worst possible things about this place. What comes to mind to the average American when they hear the name of Pakistan? Terrorism, probably. Or death, destruction, instability, corruption, etc (as if these things never happen anywhere else in the world).
Nevertheless, the next two segments will be dedicated to the beautiful Pakistan that I have known and visited and grown to love. I have been blessed to travel to Pakistan for the month of Ramadhan (Islamic fasting month) for the past 2 years and God willing will continue to do so. The people are great, the sites are amazing, the textiles, culture, landscapes, and history are spectacular. I have enjoyed and loved every bit of time that I got to spend there. I bring you here some of the pictures of Karachi and Thatta, in the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan.
Karachi is a port city, grand and luxurious. There is extreme wealth and also extreme poverty but a middle class is establishing themselves. Thatta was eye opening as it was falling apart, with this mosque one could see that this indeed was once a grand city in the Mughal empire. Now, it was reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was.The streets were lined with people who had nothing but the clothes on their back. There were refugees from the north who escaped flooding. It was devastating. There were many people at the mosque, taking comfort in the shade of the corridors and in the free food given away during the iftaar (breaking of the fast) at sundown.
May we always give back to those who are less fortunate than us and remember them in our prayers.
I'm lucky to have an apartment and to have heat that I do not have to pay for. However why is it so difficult to get the settings right? I must be be only person in my block who has all my windows open and the fan on all night in mid February because my thermostat reads 90 degrees!! I can't even dress properly because I can't tell what the weather is outside. It just feels hot. Alas, another call to the landlord...
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.