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Highlights of 2015 and hello 2016 :)

Last year was a lot of hard work and unexpected playful interactions when I least expected it. The highs were pretty high and totally awesome and the low points felt bottomless. My resolution for 2015 were several but the one’s that I did manage to stick to stood me in good stead.

I lost people in 2015 – one of them was a very good friend who was taken from us too soon. I still can’t speak of Cesare without tearing up, even when I laugh, there’s a deep sigh that comes up unbidden. I have lost people when I stuck to my resolution to treat people as they treat me. Some loved it, some hated it. It simplified my life. I lost the one’s who drag me down far more often then they pick me up.

2015 was the year that I learnt the meaning of what it means to be family. Most of us define the word family by the people we are related to by blood or marriage. Instead I learnt the following:

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Loyalty, honesty, integrity – in everything that I do, every relationship that I develop whether in my career or personal life, in my actions, words and thoughts continue to remain my guiding stars.

Through out the year as people and opportunities walked in and out of my life, I discovered that the one’s who genuinely care and want me in their lives will always prioritize and make time for me. My one month of working in Ethiopia gave me not only invaluable work experience, a totally different perspective on the role of aid in developing economies but also a family and new friends and colleagues whom I enjoyed immensely.

While 2015 ended in a bittersweet note, looking back there is nothing that I would do differently. In each moment I had made the best possible decisions, drew my line in the sand and stuck to my guns where necessary and it is that integrity and faith in choosing what is right that allows me to move forward without looking back. Knowing that I have done my best, given my best and I deserve the best.

I look forward to 2016 because this life is an endless journey were the scenery is constantly changing and along with the props, the actors change, bringing in new perspectives, lessons, knowledge, wisdom and yes, even love. There will be new countries to see, new cultures to discover, new cuisines to try, new friends to make, new ways of thinking that will challenge my current one’s, ideas to discover, challenges to conquer and victories to celebrate. I look forward to the highs and lows and while the first 3 months are already promising me to be hectic, full of travels and new experiences and learning’s, here’s a nod off to the highlights of 2015 🙂

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The power in letting go of regret

Regret… now that’s an emotion that we are ALL familiar with, some perhaps more than others. Unless you are a sociopath, in which case you do not have the brain function necessary to feel the emotions associated with ‘regret’. So anyway, I did a quick search on this blog and turns out I have written exactly eight posts were I have tagged ‘regret’ as a key word. It’s a word that I have associated with coming out stronger from adversary, in making life choices, with death, with honesty, with having more than others – a myriad of situations which on the surface are not related to each other.

But looking at these posts, basically I have associated it with any situations where I felt there was a choice (ok, death was not by choice but maybe I have survivor’s guilt). So even though we love the feeling of having options – unfortunately, the minute we make the choice – any choice (it really doesn’t matter what we choose) – we immediately open ourselves to the very real possibility of experiencing regret – for not picking the option we didn’t choose.

I was watching the movie “About Time” last weekend, and the main character in it reaches the age of 21 and discovers that part of his inheritance is the ability to time travel. Now I tried imagining that given this ability there would be events in my past that I would choose to erase (trust me, I have a vivid imagination). The thing is, just like in the movie, if the butterfly effects of things changed means that I don’t meet certain people, experience certain situations, fundamentally, who I am, would change. And surprisingly it turns out THAT is a choice that I am not willing to make.

I like me, I am me because of everything that has happened to me, through the years, with the people, in places and situations, which at the time I had thought were the worst thing that can possibly happen. Yet, there I was, slapped on the face with the realization that I don’t want to lose or change who I am.

You know what that means? I don’t.

I think it might mean that I am letting go of the regret I had felt at the decisions I had made through life. That I had somehow made peace with my choices. Now knowing me, before I make any choice, I do weight them on a scale (I am a Libra so that figures my obsession with the scale thingy). I do the whole exercise of columns and rows of alternate scenarios and in most cases, I had chosen, what I believed at the time, to be the best possible option/choice. I can be quite obsessive with having a plan A (for action) and back up plan B, C, D… you get the picture.

Now, if you watch the Ted Talk below you will notice that at 6.15, she outlines what people regret the most – or rather the choices that people regret the most and funnily enough these are related to – education, career, romance, parenting, self, leisure, finance, family, health, friends, spirituality and community – in exactly that descending order. And that basically means that we most regret the things where we feel that we had a choice and we could’ve chosen something else. But what if like me, you get to a point, where you realize that at the moment of choosing, you had weighted all your options and you had made the best possible choice you can?

Would you still then hold on to regret? Or would you let it go?

So, here’s what I am going to be doing…. I am going to get myself tattooed this weekend and then be damn happy that I at least had the courage to do something that I had always wanted to get done. And if I regret my tattoos, then I guess I will learn to love my imperfect flawed creation 😉

The lesson that I ultimately learned from my tattoo and that I want to leave you with today is this: We need to learn to love the flawed, imperfect things that we create and to forgive ourselves for creating them. Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly. It reminds us that we know we can do better.

BTW, hindsight is always 20/20, so don’t bother looking back.. just keep moving forward 🙂

 

 

The Locust Effect: How everyday violence undermines efforts to alleviate poverty

In the development discourse, violence is an issue that is discussed in terms of wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing, gender, ethnic minorities etc. but perhaps not enough in the broad strokes of everyday violence in the way it affects the 2 billion people who live on 2 dollars a day. Not in the very tangible way it keeps people enslaved in poverty. We discuss violence against women in the household and outside as a factor to address in our march towards equality and economic emancipation. But are we really addressing the multi-faceted nature of everyday violence that is a part and parcel of the reality of the very people that we are trying to help? Are we shining a light on the daily instances of violence that pushes people deeper into poverty?

When law enforcement systems are broken, when access to justice is paved by payments unaffordable to the poor, where does that leave them and where does that leave us?

In The Locust Effect, Haugen outlines the catastrophic effect of everyday violence on the lives of the impoverished, and shows how rampant violence is undermining efforts to alleviate poverty.

 

Getting your priorities right

If you have ever struggled with getting your priorities right…

If you have woken up too many mornings wondering how you will drag yourself through the day…

If you have looked at your life thinking I need to change something but I don’t know where to start…

Then this Ted Talk is for you 🙂

You can read the full transcript here.

Growing is painful

Last year in January, I declared that I am challenging myself to grow. The challenge initially felt like I was biting off more than I can chew and I huffed and puffed and ruminated over it until I realized that what I was experiencing is growing pain. My challenge to myself to grow beyond my own comfort zones was bound to bring on a bit of that. My university classes are from 6 pm to 9 pm and after putting in 8 hours at work, it gets difficult to keep up the energy to actively participate in class. On the other hand, I am finding my subjects so interesting that I hardly realize how time flies.

The commitment to keep growing sometimes feels like trying to carry a mountain, there are times I am tempted to put it down, permanently. Yet here I am .. sloughing right through it all… carrying on. “Cannot” is a word that I refuse to keep in my dictionary.  I don’t give myself the option of saying that I can’t do something. I expand and challenge myself to grow by constantly pushing my boundaries/limitations. And partly the reason I don’t use “cannot” is my continuous effort to keep motivating myself to be better than yesterday.

I had an ex-colleague who was in a difficult career path.. he motivated himself by loudly repeating “I love my job” 3 times several times a day. It allowed him to deal with the day-to-day stuff that would’ve easily unmotivated him IF he had allowed it to. Instead he chose to use these 3 empowering words.

The power of words, self-motivation and the vibe we send out to the universe… should never be underestimated. Each and everyone of us has the power to shine, to be the best possible version of ourselves. We don’t need someone else’s permission to do what is right for ourselves. The tyranny of the cousins must be realized for what it is and left right there. We are not here to live to by someone else’s rules & regulations. We are here to live our own unique life the best way we can.  But the growth seems to always comes with pain.
So here I am growing, feeling the pain, stretching and accommodating. Word press reminds me that I need to find the time to write even when life gets in the way. It’s not that the words have dried up, they are just being replaced by new ones that I am learning every day.

Changing lives – one child at a time – Jaago Foundation

A hero & her heroism

 

While most of us, city-people, romanticize rural life. There’s very little that is romantic about it. Life is hard for people who depend on the land to make a living and even more so for the women. While women are discouraged from taking up work outside the home, it becomes a necessity ultimately when the responsibility of bringing up children falls squarely on them in the de-facto absence of husbands. Combined with the hardship of daily life, women ultimately end up working longer hours trying to make ends meet.

Children’s education, a luxury before, is now a necessity. But one that not everyone can afford. Monija, the lady who helps my aunt care for her domestic duty, brought her daughters over yesterday. Turns out that the one I had thought was her younger sister is actually her eldest daughter. Her husband worked in Sylhet for five years and while he sent as much money as he could afford, it became impossible for her take care of her 3 children in the village. She moved them to the city, to my aunt’s place where she has worked before.

It’s a big house with joint family so there’s always the need to have an extra pair of hands around. She found employment, has been given a house to live in and now sends her 3 kids to the Madrasa for education. I asked her why she didn’t send them to the government school, and she said that her husband wants the kids to get religious education. He wouldn’t hear of them going to mainstream school and she is tired of fighting him for every little dream that she has for her children.

Thing is the quality of education in Madrasa is far below par. Yes they will probably learn to read and write but the emphasis will always be on learning to read Arabic so they can read the Quran or perhaps just memorize it. However, for many others like her, this madrasa education is already a step up than what she had not been able to get and moreover, this is all that she can afford. She hopes that her 14-year-old daughter will do well in her Secondary School exam and if that’s the case, she hopes to be able to continue her education further to Higher Secondary level.

While I marveled at the thick bamboo clumps and the tall maize plants, I saw beauty while she saw danger. She doesn’t want to live in the village with her daughters. She fears that places like these are for girls to be taken away to and once they have been deflowered, whether forcibly through rape or willingly because they imagine themselves to be in love, no other man/boys in the village will want to marry them.

The collectivism of the rural life will not protect her daughters and it won’t let them or anyone else forget either. Since her daughter is now as tall as her, for villagers, she’s old enough to get married. Forget about the fact that neither the girl nor her parents wants her married off. If something happens, then the burden of it will rest squarely on the shoulders of the family and worst case scenario, they might even face ostracism from the community.

In places that has only a handful of people living in it, hardly a couple of hundred, everyone knows everyone’s business. Yet to not be allowed to interact, buy, sell or trade with these people can be a serious disadvantage. So she has chosen the path of individualism, living in the city, hoping to be able to give her daughters some education and delay marriage for as long as possible.

The lack of mobility is a serious drawback for the women of the village. While I am lucky enough to ‘whoosh in and out’ in a car, that is a luxury most people don’t even dream about. The highest aspiration in a lot of cases seems to be able to afford at least one bicycle – in fact that is quite frequently part of dowry demands. For women, whom no one would dream of giving a bicycle to, mobility frequently means the ability to walk for miles to get to the nearest town or even the village bazaar. The difficulty of making a trip to the doctor in illness under such circumstances is not something that I have enough imagination for.

When I think of heroes, these days, I always end up thinking of women like Monija. Women who somehow find the courage to continue in the face of insurmountable odds. Women who somehow still have dreams for their children even when they are struggling to put 3 square nutritious meal on their plates. Women who go from one day to the next without knowing what awaits them around the corner. Women who dedicate their life and all of their effort into raising a brood of children, hoping that they’ll be able to give them at least a little bit more of an edge in the race of life.

Anyone who can face so much and still persist in living & dreaming deserves to be capped as heroes.

Caught in between lies and half-truths

Perhaps one of the greatest paradox of human life is that while we profess to upholding the truth above all else, the reality is that we are all caught in a complex web of white lies, half-truths and out-right lies. We are indoctrinated into this lie at a very early age and we either do not question it at all or we have all kinds of reasons as to why this is so.

Who else but humans would be capable of creating such a rich web of spinning words that catches and holds you like the spider’s web?

We bring up our girls on a steady diet of Disney princess and first loves and true loves power. We bring them up to fall in love and get married and stay married. Our fairy tale prince’s are not perfect, in fact, they might be downright abusive, but the princess doesn’t leave. No, she stays and she works on him, till he is perfect (a la carte beauty and the beast).

Do we bring up our boys on the same diet? To be worthy of being a prince? To fall in love with one girl and stay with her no matter how imperfect she is, until their love is perfect? How many boys do you know who are obsessed with Disney prince, vis-a-vis, some other cartoon character like Ben 10?

We bring up our girls to be super-woman. If she wants to work outside, fine but let’s not forget that she must be a domestic goddess first. The domestic goddess maybe battered and bruised and exhausted from having to do with too little sleep on a chronic basis, but never mind, she can mind the house, the babies and her husband before she goes out and discharges the duties of her career.

Our boys worldwide are pampered. Unburdened of housework or even the simplest acts of picking up their dinner dishes from the table and washing it off, boys have their childhood extended into their adult life. The pampering that starts with mama, continues with the wife. If it doesn’t, hey, most major religions will allow him to beat up his wife until she understands and fulfills HIS needs. If not directly with fists, then the same results would be obtained with half-lies and emotional blackmail: “Yeah, you are a great wife, but if only you would….. “ fill in whatever you want that either caters to him, his children or his parents or his family.

Is it any wonder that our girls are disillusioned? Bewildered? Disheartened?

This is not how it was supposed to be… this is not what happens when you are taken away by your knight in shining armor, who rides in on his white horse to save you.

And then we leave them wondering – did no one love them enough to tell them the truth? To warn them of the reality? To stand beside them as they muddle their way through this foreign landscape of half-truths and lies?

And even worse are the self-criticism that we are so good at installing in our girls, the doubts. The ‘maybe I wasn’t good enough’ statements that can be added and applied like a condiment to almost any situation in life. And of course we add some more spark to that fire by expressing our displeasure at the fact that she has failed to make something work out. Failed. Like the entire burden of making a relationship or a career work out is solely on the shoulders of the girl.

Why do we bother giving our girls an education? Why do we tell her that she can do anything, while we subtly discourage her from pursuing interests that are not in line with her gender stereotype?

Why do we tell them that they can have careers, children, husband, all of it… if they would just work hard enough and then work them down to their bones? Until they have nothing more left in them? Until they are so empty from giving, that living doesn’t make any sense to them?

Why do we not tell them instead that they would need to make some hard choices and its ok to make them? That she needs to do what is best for her. When a girl questions her choices, what do we tell her? More lies and half-truths?

But let’s face it, as long as one out of every three women worldwide continues to face violence, as long as more than 90% of that violence is carried on by either intimate partner or someone she knows, as long as we resort to comparison with a man in order to validate a woman’s accomplishment with statements like ‘she’s the man’, we still have the problem of half-truths and outright lies.

Who says money can’t buy happiness?

Here’s one of the best things you can do with money

Give someone else the gift of education 

It’s simple, it’s life changing and you will leave behind a legacy that nothing can ever destroy.

Nazmul, the child I sponsor with Jaago has graduated to KG-1.  Jaago sent me his pictures with an update, they were taken when he’s doing class-work, with his friends, near the black-board, entering the school premise and so on.  They also attached his report card for the third and fourth quarter examination. Compared to his report card a year ago, I see vast improvement but far more than that… I see a child who is happy to go to school, loves his classmates and engages well with both his peers and educators.

Last year, I received this amazing gift “Soul Food” on my birthday and along with Nazmul’s I also received an update on the kids who were sponsored.

Arafat, Mohua, Muhin, and Monir are all your children and are studying in our Rayerbazar school.  Arafat is graduating from the Reception class, Mohua  from the KG-1 class as an all-rounder, determined Muhin from KG-1 with his love for Mathematics, and the friendly Monir from KG-1.    
Just that single sentence said so much about these kid’s – their perseverance, their determination, their drive for education. How can anyone resist that?
I have written about Jaago on my blog here and here – or you can head over to their website for more information on the amazing work that they do for the children.
So …  go on… spend your money… buy some happiness 😀

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It’s all your fault

AWESOME SARCASM !!!!

The satire is poignant in pointing out how ominously, mercilessly, unthinkingly WE allow woman to be victimized – over and over again. Yes, we ….. not some anonymous ‘someone’ or ‘others’….. it is certainly ‘we’ consisting of you and me.

SO……… the next time you are tempted to jump on the bandwagon of being the guardian of “social morales”

wag your tongue and remind a woman of what she ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do,

what she is ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ to do,

what ‘society’, ‘family’, ‘friends’ will ‘say’ about her or her parents or her upbringing…..

hold your tongue….

IF you can … stop & think and ALLOW common sense to prevail.

She’s busy fighting her way through the 24 hours that already exist in the day, she doesn’t need you to make it harder for her.

We, the women, allow the victimization of other women. We watch silently from the side, while someone else is getting victimized. We ‘allow’ the victimization of our own mother’s, sisters, sister-in-laws, aunts, cousins, nieces, friends, neighbors.

We justify it with ‘what can I do?’, ‘this is not my problem’, ‘it’s a family matter’, ‘what happens between husband and wife behind closed doors is none of my business’, ‘she was asking for it’ and we close our eyes to the violence.

We ‘allow’ it with our silence.

We ‘allow’ it every time we let someone step all over ourselves or someone else.

We ‘allow’ it when we want to avoid making a scene by calling attention to ‘this’.

We ‘allow’ it when we are too busy saving ‘faces’, instead of really looking at those faces around us.

We ‘allow’ it when we leave it to others to take action.

We ‘allow’ it when we encourage others to speak up but quiet down when it comes to our own self or family members  – by neither reporting the perpetrator nor helping the victim.

We ‘allow’ it when we advise a victim to ‘keep quiet’ in order to uphold the ‘family honor’.

REALLY?? Does the family’s honor, the woman’s honor, her social status, her worthiness as a human being, reside in her ability to keep quiet?

in allowing victimization??

in silently putting up with mental, verbal, physical abuse???

While the video above had been a satire, the one below unfortunately is not. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this is a South-Asian problem, an Indian problem or a Bangladeshi problem or an African problem. As report after report with mountainous statistics show…. this unfortunately is true the world over, including the first world countries, the developed world.

When women make up half of the world’s population, why do we put up with being abused by the other half? If we band together and stand up against this, can such impunity really exist?

 

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