Saturday, 24 May 2014

Things I love

There are two things I love: stationery shops and the post office. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

What is Motherhood Part 2

  1. Giving birth and becoming a mother reminds you about the circle of life. 
  2. Giving birth and becoming a mother gives you an immense sense of power. Women literally create life in their bodies, nurture it and, then bring it into the world. Even then, I do not understand why women do not rule the world. 
  3. I felt I already had a bond with my baby while she was inside me but, after she was born, my bond wither is stronger. I can't enough of her and, kissing her little face.
  4. I love her little toes and fingers. 
  5. What brings out the tenderness, love and wonderment in us when we are around babies and children? I think it is because they are so tiny. They are also so innocent, pure and curious. They love us unconditionally. These are the most primal feelings that babies and children evoke in us.
  6. Having a child makes me want to become the best, perfect parent. I want to do everything right. I think about what I want around her. I think about what I am teaching her through my words and actions. I think about how I want to bring her up. I want her to have a magical childhood.
  7. Having a child makes me also feel very close to my baby's father. I do not give him enough time but I do feel close to him. 
  8. I feel very responsible now but also very carefree and happy that I am a mother. I love playing with Kavita, letting people take care of her, and pretty much still living my life like before Kavita arrived. There is so much more to do in a day but it has made me really put a structure to my days and, try to achieve more efficiently. 
  9. I love napping with Kavita.
  10. I think my child is the most beautiful child in the world. 
  11. I can't stop photographing everything she does.
  12. I am so glad I named my daughter after my friend, Kavita, who passed away during the last year of my undergraduate studies. Kavita is now my little Kavita, a poem. My friend and my cherished memories of her will always live on. 
  13. I am so excited that Kavita is the product of two very different people who apart from being such different personalities also are divided by religious, national prejudices. Kavita is living proof that love is all that matters.
  14. have thought a great deal about my relationship with my mother. It was good to reflect up on it and, let it inform and shape my relationship with Kavita.
  15. Amongst all the gifts and knowledge I want to bestow on Kavita, one of the most important will be freedom of thought and, absolute freedom from religious indoctrination. I am going to bring up Kavita free as a bird. 
  16. Mind you, bringing up a child without religion does not mean I will not teacher the difference between what is right and wrong. And, much more importantly, I want to teach empathy, generosity and justice to Kavita. I want her to be aware of the world around her and, how to treat her fellow human beings. 
  17. I will teach Kavita all I love about politics, history, literature, films, our beloved Africa and the subcontinent, and feminism. 
  18. As much as I love my parents and where I come from, I managed to take many leaps in terms of rebelling against our so-called norms and traditions. I have lived my own life, according to my own terms. I wish the same for Kavita. I don't want Kavita to be like me. I want her to take leaps of her own.  Life is about reaching for new horizons, learning new systems of thought and, embracing change. 
  19. I still do hope, though, Kavita will love Calvin and Hobbes, movies and books as much as I do.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Submitted India visa application

I finally submitted the visa applications for India for Kavita and myself today. I can't believe this process is finally over. It feels like I went and wrote exam papers for two days straight.

As you know, I first went to submit the visa application back in April but the centre told me that I needed to submit an original sponsorship certificate! I also needed to translate my NIC card and, also submit a copy of my landline bill. I had to ask my friend to send the attested sponsorship certificate in the mail which took 3 weeks to arrive. I was half ready to give up and, start making moves to go back as intended mid May. The original plan was to be away from Liberia for 3 months during which I would visit haresh's family in Dubai, re-connect with my own family in Pakistan and make a trip to India. You would think 3 months would be enough to do all this.

But the certificate arrived from my dear friend and, I decided to submit the visa application after all and, extend my trip if need be.

I spent 2 days at the Gerry's office in F-9 Markaz or commonly known as Karachi Company. The first day, I went without Kavita early in the morning. I knew I had to get my NIC (National Identity Card) translated so that would take time. I also intended on making photocopies of mine and Kavita's passports and, submit only copies. You can do that for the India visa application. It can take up to 8 weeks for the visa processing. 

I got there bright and early. There are lots of fellows near the centre who ask the visitors whether you need any help at all with the online visa application form, with photocopying, and, anything else. I asked one of them if he could translate my NIC card for me. Sure, enough, he directed me to his office close to Gerry's. It seems there are so many little businesses who complement this 'visa industry.' This fellow quickly translated my card. He had a form already made. And, he got the passports quickly copied too. Everything in total cost me 300 rupees! That's $ 3.00, folks!

So, I entered the centre. I surrendered my mobile phone and got a token for it. I also got a separate token for the queue system. 

I was ushered into a reception area where when your token was called, you presented your documents for 'checking.' I had to wait about 30 minutes until my token number was called. The fellows at the reception desk asked me where I was applying to, why I was going and so onHe checked all my documents and, then asked me to go upstairs to the 3rd floor. 

I get there and, there's that generic waiting hall that one is so accustomed to in banks and visa centres. The waiting hall has the main booths, the passport collection counter, the cash counter and the bio-metrics booths. This is standard now for all the visa centres, it seems. These visa centres are companies to which diplomatic missions have outsourced their visa application submission process to. 

In Islamabad, you can submit your visa either at the Gerry's visa centre in Karachi Company or at TCS in Aabpara Market. Since Karachi Company is closer to my house, that's where I went. 

So, I mentally prepare myself for a long wait and, pull out the book I have brought with me. I ended up sitting there for an hour until my token number was called. I go up and, the fellow starts 'checking' my visa application form. It is a form that was filled online

He points out an error. I had entered "Chicago" as Kavita's city of birth on the application while her passport mentions "Illinois" as her place of birth. He said the Embassy wouldn't accept it. I look at him incredulously and, then pointed out that Chicago was in fact in Ilinois. He said, he could not accept the application. I started to really get annoyed. I first told him that the online application asks for city of birth and, hence, I put in "Chicago." The guy brushed me off. Then, I told him that his colleagues had gone through my whole application downstairs already. So, why did I unnecessarily spend a few hours at the centre when I could have just re-done the application? That embarrassed him and told me that he would let me back in the centre if came back exactly in 45 minutes. 

So, I rushed out of the centre and, went back to that same office which had translated my NIC card for me. I didn't have my laptop with me so I needed a computer. The fellow seemed to have handled these situations before. He quickly logged online and, started filling out the application. He even had a scanner so as to scan my passport size photo and upload it on the online application. We whizzed through 2 pages but for some reason, lost the whole application when hit 'Next' for the 3rd and last page! I was so angry. We re-started the whole process over but for some reason, the same thing kept repeating. The fellow was even kind enough not to charge me anything for his time. I gave up and, trudged slowly back to the car. 

The next day, I had to bring back Kavita with me. We got there bright early, armed with snacks and, all the necessary documents. Kavita was the epitome of cooperation and patience for the first 5 minutes of the whole 3-hour adventure at Gerry's. As the reception staff went through my documents, I explained to them what had happened the day before. The fellows looks shocked and, I sarcastically said that I was sure they would find another mistake in my application again.

I got up to the 3rd floor to wait in queue to submit my application. Kavita at this point got quite hyperactive and, was running up and down the waiting hall. There was also a kid who came over to us and, started telling me all about himself. He was quite shy at first. I had a pack of Oreos for Kavita and, also offered him one. I offered him one more but he was quite polite and, didn't want another. He told me all his A, B, C 's and alif bay's. He told me about his best friend who he currently had a 'katee' with because he sat on his other friendHe showed me his scraped knee. He also asked me to tell him what all the places were shown in the pictures on the walls. I guess "Colosseum" or "Leaning Tower of Pisa" for one. The other one was probably Tokyo. There was also a picture with a windmill and, the kid told me his mother had been there. I said, "Really? Your mom has been to the Netherlands?" He said, "Yes, and this time she was taking him wither." 

Anyway, so my token number was finally called and, I went up to the counter, lugging all my files in one hand, and Kavita in my other arm. I was so annoyed I was just waiting for them to tell me I was missing a comma or had forgotten to cross my t's or dot my i's. There turned out to be a minor issue. The guys did not agree that I could submit my visa application without my passport even thougtheir own website mentions it or the Indian High Commission one does, I forget. I was going to lose it and, the same fellow from the day before noticed I was boiling like a kettle. He called someone up and then confirmed I could submit my application without my passport. But he made me write a letter nevertheless and sign it. Then, they asked me to provide my mobile number. 

So, I don't know my mobile number off heart. I get a new SIM card every time I come back to Pakistan. I should have written it down somewhere and been prepared! 

Instead, I needed to go back down and retrieve my mobile phone and, then, get my number. The problem was I had lost the token! I went back down with all my documents (they wouldn't keep them for me) and tried to negotiate with the security guards. I was so tired and annoyed. They wouldn't give it to me even though I explained there was a lock on my phone and, only I could unlock it. But no one would agree. The security guard looked like he was grinning or something. That really annoyed me. he told me I should go back to the 2nd floor and talk to his boss. I threw a fit! I mean,  I was supposed to go back up, with a baby and all those papers and beg his boss to release my phone? I refused and asked to speak to his boss. The security guard called his boss and, I managed to convince him to come downstairs and give me my phone. He was an amiable man and obliged. He came down and politely gave me my phone. He also gave me a quiet lecture about needing to know my own mobile number. 

I went back up to the 3rd floor to be able to finally complete the application submission process. I paid the visa fees. It was 100 rupees for me and about 10,500 for Kavita. I initially wanted to get Kavita a 10-year multiple entry visa but the maximum number of years she would get when applying from India would be 1. So, next time she is in the US, we'll get her a 10-year one.

I asked the officer how long the visa process usually takes. Does it really take 8 weeks? He tells me that applications are usually returned within 2 to 3 weeks. That sounded good! 

It was over. Just at that time, the security officer comes over to say that they found my mobile phone token! Then, he proceeded to lecture me about his staff and, that I should be nice to them on my out. I tried my best. 

So ladies and gentlemen, I have submitted my application. For any Pakistani who wants to go to India, please know you need the following:
  1. 2 printed copies of the duly-filled online visa application with 2 passport-size photos (white background)
  2. Try not to make any mistakes when filling out the form. The guys at the centre will ask you to re-do it. So, if you are confused about anything, call the centre. The info for Gerry's is here and, I quote " Get the latest visa information 24 hours-a-day, 6 days-a-week through our hotline 0900 31111 (landline users) and 8111 (for mobile users).  Whether you want to check the status of your passport or wish to submit a visa application, the information will be available on your fingertips." 
  3. You will need to also upload your passport-size photo when you are completing the above - therefore, you need a digital copy of your passport size photo
  4. A copy of your NIC card (back and front) and, a translation (you can get a translation done at one of the little offices next to the visa centre)
  5. A copy of your landline bill in Pakistan
  6. 2 attested original sponsorship certificates filled out by your friends/relatives. Your hosts will need to send it in the mail. Expect 2-3 weeks by post from India
  7. 2 attested copies of the attesting officer's ID card from India
  8. Landline bill of your hosts in India
  9. Copy of ID card/passport of your host
  10. A polio certification for yourself (if you're in Islamabad, go to Policlinic)
  11. Copies of the main pages of your passport
  12. Copy of your passport in case you plan on submitting it without the actual passport
  13. Any other document you think would be useful
  14. The visa fees are 100 rupees for Pakistanis.
I am pretty sure I'll get the visa. I'm really really looking forward to my visit! 

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The sky is electric blue

The sky is electric blue, the jacarandas are blooming lilac and it is about to rain. As the poetic Pakistani TV weather guys would say, "Mausam dilkash aur sohana hai."

Friday, 9 May 2014

A walk in the park

I was walking in the park one day, in the merry merry month of May....

These are pictures of my walk in F-9 Park with Kavita. And what a glorious, leisurely walk it was. I love this park and, I have so many memories of of it. 

When I used to live and work in Islamabad (2002-2003), I used to regularly come to this park for evening and morning walks. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Arty farty vase and a cat

For all my plans and promises to myself, I've done a lot of shopping in Islamabad so far. I've bought so many many toys for Kavita and, so many things to make her a play room, most of which she doesn't use all that much. I vowed to become the kind of parent who doesn't keep buying toys for their kids which are so unnecessary and a waste of money. Not to mention, it would spoil the child.

I have splurged quite a bit on clothes. I could not resist shopping at all the new places to go shopping for funky kameezes and kurtas.

I also bought two kilms.

I went perusing at an arts exhibition with a friend (a long-lost ex-UNDP colleague and friend from when I used to work at UNDP Liberia) and, ended up buying a few things which I am actually very happy I did: a glass tea tray from Rang de Truck Art, a cushion cover from Life Fabric, some soaps from Aura, a set of post cards by Shirjeel Rabbania and a fabulous pair of silver earrings by Amna from Lahore.

But what I really want to talk about is these arty farty pieces I got from a shop in F-7/Jinnah Super Market. Apparently, they are semi antiques from Isfahan, Iran. Aren't they cool?

Sights, sounds and smells of Aabpara Market

Aabpara Market is Islamabad's oldest market. I used to come here with Ami quite a lot but I hadn't been here in at least three of my past visits so that means I probably had not been here since 2007 or so. It was nice to be back. It truly does have the typical market feel to it. 

My mother also has some nostalgic stories about it when she was newly married and used to come to this market a lot. 

Apparently, it has one of Islamabad's oldest, if not the oldest, bakery. I got a photo of it here. See below.

You know the more I go shopping and, look for stuff to give me my childhood sense of Islamabad again, I notice that some of my favourite products like Frost juice or Super Crisps are not available any more. The shops are flooded with Lays chips. So many of the juice cartons are Nestle brands. 

What's more, I've been at fruit stalls and, been told apples from New Zealand are 'dastiab.' Can you believe it?

And, you already know that apparently Prema Milk is 100% Australian cow milk!

I guess when you see Globalisation at work, you really do appreciate and understand the criticisms. Big bad companies enter a domestic market and, crowd out local products! 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mausam dilkash aur sohana hai

Summer is earnestly here but today we got a welcome cool rainy day or what the Pakistani TV weather guys would describe it as, "dilkash aur sohana mausam."

 When I came to Islamabad in the beginning of March, it was wintry cold and now it is blisteringly hot

Pakistan suffers from acute electricity and gas problems. During the summer months, electricity is out for 1 hour every 2 hours and for 1 hour every 1 hour at night! So, in total we are out of power for 8 hours every 24 hours and, apparently it can get worse. Apparently it is much much worse in other parts of the country. 

I can't figure out if this is worse than LEC or not. Life gets disrupted either way. You're watching TV and, are in the middle of a great movie scene and, zip, the light goes out. You're sleeping and, the light's gone off and, you wake up hot and bothered, with mosquitos buzzing in your ears and sucking your blood. You can't make a cup of tea since the kettle will not come on. You will have to use the gas stove. Not to mention it is dark. 

We have a UPS at my parents house that keeps a few lights and fans going but it is only for the downstairs portion of the building. I am staying on the top floor where we don't have a UPS so it can get quite hot!

Milk has started to spoil already because the fridge also goes off with all the other stuff.

I bought a battery operated fan for my room from Karachi Company and, it has provided some relief. It comes on automatically when the light goes out and, goes off when the light comes back on. It even has a small remote control and a light. Nifty, eh?

Monday, 5 May 2014

What is motherhood?

Uma Thurman's character in "Motherhood" is trying to answer this question for a writing contest.

Friends also ask me what it is like to have a child. 

I'm going to take a stab at it. But before I do, I have realised that there is nothing one can compare having a child to. I can't even come up with a metaphor. It is simply a joyous feeling. 

My pregnancy was a very smooth one and, I hardly had any discomfort or nausea. In fact, I really enjoyed my pregnancy as I took time off from work and, explored a new city. As I got bigger and bigger, I was more aware of my body and, the baby. People would ask me, "how's the baby? And, I would confusedly assure them that she was doing well. She would kick now and then and, it was indescribable.  I would read books on pregnancy, read guides on how to prepare for the birth and, attend pre-natal yoga classes. In this day and age of information, the Internet and, science, one is completely aware of how one's body is making a baby and, what all the stages of development are. And, in this day of commercialisation, there is so much you can already to do to prepare for the baby. 

The birth itself was a little stressful but once the baby arrived, it really was a defining, most glorious and, stupendous moment. That little face, those little fingers and toes, those little eyes looking at me. There's nothing you can compare that sense of wonderment  with. That little baby, that little thing that popped out of you, is yours! That sense of possessiveness, tenderness and, contentment overwhelms you. You do not want to leave that baby for a minute, even. You can't even handle someone else holding that baby for too long. 

The baby brings you very close to your partner and, you both feel so proud of having created a child together. But your partner also sort of fades into the distance as you bond with your baby even more. All you want your husband for now is to help you change the diaper, clean up the mess, pamper you, and, take care of everything. You start to physically bond with your baby even as time passes and, you only want to cuddle her and not your partner at night. You sort of feel guilty for not wanting to cuddle your partner any more. You start to understand why they say that you should let your baby sleep in their cot so that you don't give all your time to your the baby. You apparently need to attend to your partner's emotional and physical needs too but honestly, you couldn't care less! All you want to do is cuddle your baby, recover from your delivery, especially if you had a C-section, come back to most of your old life and, eat Nutella at night! 

My baby is almost a year and a half old now and, all I want is her to cuddle with at night. I want to hold her in my arms as I fall asleep. I can't stop kissing her, all over. She is my beautiful, sweet, and unique child. And, I feel I am beautiful too because she is beautiful. She is completely a part of me.

What does having a child make you realise? It helps you to understand the circle of life. We all were babies once. Once upon a time, our parents were young, newly married and, then went and made us. We were their babies. They brought us up. And, now I am going around having babies of my own. And, I can't wait to have another one! 

And, while having a child emphasises our mortality, it also gave me this immense sense of power as a woman. By God, women give life! We literally are built to create life. Kavita grew from a couple of cells, fully formed inside me until I gave birth to her. Men have no biological role to play. Well yes, they provide the sperm but it represents less than a fraction of a percentage of the total contribution to the production of life! And, even after birth, women nurture their babies with their milk. Sure, in my case, I was not able to breast feed Kavita but hey! My body created her! And, to think that still, women have been repressed and control for thousands of years and, been deemed the weaker sex when it is they who create and give life. 

This sense of power as a woman, of being a creator and giver of life,  was a huge part of becoming a mother for me. No, I'm not going to lord it over all the men around me, especially my husband, but it is a nice piece of realisation for me. It convinces me even more of my disdain for formal religions and the patriarchal structures that stem from them.

But while I am extremely giddy over my sense of power, most of the time, I am thinking about being the perfect mother, the perfect parent. And, it seems everyone around me is doing the same. That same information age is full of parenting books. There are so many competing ideologies about how parents should bring up their children. The day I actually went to the hospital to get induced as instructed by my OB-GYN, Haresh and I went to see "Parental Guidance." It is a great example of how modern day parents almost over do parenting since they are so freaking scared that they will ruin their children's childhoods or they are not setting up their kids for their potential futures. 

How does one want to define one's motherhood? I guess most mothers take a queue from their own mothers. Do they want to be like their own mothers or do everything opposite to their own mothers depending on how their experiences were? It is such a primordial, soul-searching quest to figure out what kind of a mother you want to be or rather how you feel about your relationship with your own mother. Figuring this out is extremely crucial. 

I know I want my daughter to see me as a nurturing, tender and non-judgemental source of love and comfort. And, I want her to see me as a strong, secure and balanced person. I want her to see me as a woman of my own and, from that, to build positive relationships with other women. I want her to develop a positive and healthy attitude towards life. And, hopefully, by being a happy person, she will learn that happiness and joy is up to us. 

In this respect, I feel that the modern approach to parenting is wonderful. We all want to be in loving, supportive and joyful relationships. We want to find our true potential in life and, seek a healthy balance between materialism and spirituality. We want to have children for the pure joy of having children. Not because we have to. We do not own our children. They are not our property. They are not ours to brainwash or control. They do not have to inherit any unnecessary baggage but only the best of our identities, pasts and cultures. Children are truly a gift, ours to nurture and love. 

I am immensely lucky and privileged to have become a mother at 33, a time in my life when I feel I know myself well and, am on my way to emotional maturity so I can be a reasonably stable parent, of mostly sound mind. First of all, I never could even guess I would start a new life after the tragic end of my late boyfriend and, lo and behold have a baby less than five years after this death. Also, it is much harder for independent women to find partners. I still have many amazing single women friends who simply cannot seem to find life partners with and start families. And, not everyone is fertile or has a fertile partner. heck, not everyone even gets to pick the partners they want to have children with. So many women have their partners picked out for them according to religion, social status, ethnicity, race and nationality. I am fortunate enough to have made a baby with someone I love. We had a child for the pure pleasure of it. For all these reasons, I feel privileged to have had a baby. 

Another thing I observe and notice in Kavita is her curiosity, desire to play, smile all the time, and absolute innocence. She also has a sense of humour already! This must be our natural untainted state before we learn all the negative habits, mannerisms and attitudes. It is completely up to us as parents to create positive, happy and content people through our own actions and behaviour. 

I love this new phase of life and, look forward to creating a happy, adventurous and magical childhood for Kavita. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Haresh's Sunday Walk Back in Monrovia

Haresh sent me this photo of his Sunday walk to Ducor Hotel with our friends back in Monrovia! I really miss him. 

He has been working out a lot and apparently is now 65 KG! So, he trains with a German trainer three or four times a week. He's also doing the Hash run thing. And, he's apparently eating very carefully, too. 

I never thought I'd hook up with a himbo in my life.