Verbal tantrums of a writer & an anxious spectator of life.

Stop and Think

It’s not just that we live within urbanized paradigms, and forget to breathe real oxygen often enough, we have served ourselves a cruel amount of immunization in the form of numbness. The wilderness of violence surrounds us, yet we succumb to none other than quietening dispositions. This past week has brought madness to a whole new level: chemical weapons of mass destruction in Syria. Piles and piles of cotton-clad bodies, labeled numerically, placed in room after room have not shocked the international community enough to stop, and think: Why are we questioning whether it’s a chemical attack or not? Why are we doubting such a gruesome reality. The dangerous silence has consumed lives, and yet we remain unscathed by the horrors of death. Pure murders. Death of family, after family, after family. High-level discussions within various white-marbled halls are not the solution – That, if there is no immediate result, is merely a futile effort. Conversations that lead to other conversations to redeem the situation are only delaying what needs to be immediate reaction. Mankind is caught in a suffocating rut, ironically, becoming slow in acknowledging that death is all around us and unless we stop and think, our complacent, yes complacent behaviors will not change anything. 

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Beneath the Soil

 

BBC News, Asia

BBC News, Asia – 1/1/2013

Northwest Pakistan marked the beginning of the New Year by opening gunfire on 7 charity workers. Their crime was participating in a vaccination program. Several men on 4 motorbikes fired at the van the social workers were seated in, close to “Ujala” or Light, the Centre where their work was to take place. Well before 2001, foreign aid swept into Pakistan, aiding only a few but proliferating the number of sanctions. Many projects amounted to nothing because the people did not want what was being offered. This is particularly true in the vastly tribal regions of Pakistan, where uneducated masses reside amidst terrorists who maintain their angst towards the West, and any cooperation between Pakistan and the West. When ‘outsiders’ have gone in with ideas of changing lives, they have been met with great shock: sensitive cultures, traditions, conventions, religion, language and perspectives are dangerously different than they seem to anyone outside of the country. For an example: building schools. If foreigners are seen participating in this much-needed charitable work, terrorists don’t just act out on them, rather bomb the school and carry off more explosions inside the country to send their message: We don’t want you. The rest of Pakistan, well, they are seen as helpless.

January 1st 2013 saw a tragedy unlike before. The horrific shootings of innocent women and men, only trying to help. But they were stopped by militants. This made me think, rather re-think developmental strategies and ideas of progressive change.

The trouble is not that there aren’t enough people willing to help, neither is it that the general Pakistani masses are helpless. The truth is, we need to water the roots beneath the soil with education so that the development we want to bring will be accepted, acknowledged and appreciated. If you keep adding water to a plant that’s already dead, it won’t make it come back to life. We need to plant new seeds under the soil, and these seeds can be found in the palms of education. See, if you want to implement vaccination programs in rural villages of the Northwest, the reality is the people will want it, of course (Who wouldn’t want their medical needs met) – But the terrorists won’t let you. This connects to the number of children that are being trained and brainwashed to participate in history’s worst practice, that of killing in the name of religion. Poverty and lack of options is a huge factor in why so many children are sent to terrorists to be schooled, trained and used. If we can begin to educate minds, we can begin to inform. Information will lead to thought, which will enable minds to think for themselves and make better choices. We can begin to decrease the number of children joining forces with militants by offering them opportunities at schools, providing them with waivers, uniforms, incentives and a natural belief in their potential.

If we focus on education, we can have more educated officials in our government representing our country. Unlike the current President whose own education is under controversy, we will find it easier to breathe and believe that our chosen representative has an informed mind and the ability to make better choices for our country. Those who advise him should be educated, those who surround him should be educated, those who want to participate in politics should be educated so that money doesn’t have to be the only incentive, rather education will enable them to believe that there are other factors that contribute to a high quality of life. If our government gets better over the next few decades, their decisions will be well-armed in combatting terrorism.

As you can see, all roots back to education – the schooling of a young boy and girl, letting them know they can make better choices. Only then will efforts that only touch the foreground meet fruition.

 

LooseTalk: 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Her Name is Jane

There had always been a gentle sting in her eyes that could awaken even the dullest of corpses in any grave. She could even make time and tide wait. Gold rays of a pocket full of shine gravitated towards her and if you passed her, even a whiff of her coconut scented hair could dodge you of memories of love before. There was a significance to her; an almost necessary purpose that beckoned quietening sunsets to raise their fists in the air and call on the sun to come out again. She was fortitude, a conquest of becoming desires with a twist of vanilla.

Best of all, she was none of this to herself but to the world.

Step by Step

There’s a gentle sting between us and the world.

“There is a bend in life” said my mother

 

I miss it so much, all of it, my childhood. Playing cricket with a textbook and tennis ball in Bhai’s blue-walled room. When did we grow up, how did decisions and choices shift our lives with such haste, with such grace? As a bright-eyed 13 year old me, I could have never comprehended what it meant when my brother first left for college in 2001. Landing in NY on September 10, 2001, his absence changed our lives significantly. Waiting by the telephone line, tearing up at the sound of his voice – those little things that mattered, you know? When suddenly Skype came to being, seeing my brother on the other side of the world, it was all so sudden and so exciting and it all lead to learning to accept the distance.

Technology didn’t make the distance go away. It just made it acceptable. Now Mum could comfort herself, that she could sneak a glance at her son, thousands of miles away. What a farce, though. Just because there’s a screen that encapsulates pigments of a photograph in movement certainly does not mean the person is there.

But c’est la vie – I move forward but then and now, I can’t resist glancing back at how simply wonderful youth was. The scrabble and ludo games, endless nights of cards resulting in one of us being the spoilt sport, most likely me, because I would brush off all the cards when I’d realize I was losing. Things that make you a child if you succumb to them now, but they were so pure then. Trips to the northern areas of Pakistan, packed in bundles inside of cars. Hissing like fools when one sibling took too much space in the backseat than the other. Asking Pa every 5 minutes “are we there yet? are we there, now?” and him, patiently, gracefully responding “almost there chanda”. The shrieks of excitement this one time a white kitten summoned itself inside our home and my siblings were too scared to touch it so my brother convinced me to fetch it milk and deemed me ‘brave’! I took so much pride in his compliments that at times I was stupid in my actions – anything to please the promise of a family. The comfortable battles with siblings, the ongoing fights over what dress belonged to me and not my sister. Not wanting to have lunch right after school, but becoming a teenager wanting to watch Baywatch instead! Being compelled by my galiant grandfather to eat together when we got home from school. Pleading with Ami, losing the battle, time and again.

Then one day, my sister flew to Ann Arbor. Another limb went missing. Watching her in her dorm – unable to surpress the countless aspirations she had, trying to provide me solace by saying “it will be your turn next year, Aanya” and I took refuge in that statement, that one day, I will be away from home too, paving my own way, leading the excruciatingly exciting college life. Who knew the year would fly by so fast and that I would be sitting in Virginia in the July of 2007?

For my parents, all of their limbs went numb. Their pride and joy, the noisy household became silent all of a sudden. Meals without the demands of each one of us became quietening. There was such a haste to grow up, to move forward that looking back became a chore. But now, all I can do is look back. I wish there were words to explicate the demise of a part of my soul without my childhood but I suppose sentiments felt within will suffice.

One time my brother attempted to sneak my mum’s car out. In what was supposed to be a successful adventure, turned into a traumatic injury of his hand getting stuck in the middle of the car door and the wall behind it. Bleeding finger, stitches — Instead of anger, all a mother could do was hold her son tight. Forgiving him instantly and yearning for his blood to stop dripping. That’s love, I thought to myself, then. I will find that too one day, I said, then.

Now, so far away in a city that never sleeps and most dream of, struggling to find a me in a corner of New York, I find myself wishing for 7 Fazlia Colony in Lahore: my childhood home, where the grass was ever so green, and the ivy on the tall walls formed a sort of security from the world. Where the swings and baby swimming pools were all I would look forward to. The splashing sound of water in that pool still gives me joyful shivers. Water babies, that’s what everyone called Sudaif, Faarya and I. Made to live in water, forever-moving, flowing, sliding and shifting water.

Who knew that would turn into a metaphor for our lives?

Soles for Syrian Souls – An interview with Sara Obeidat

While in Jordan this summer 2012, Sara was, like many Jordanians, facing the reality of chaos in Syria first-hand. Thousands of refugees have settled in Jordan to find shelter, leaving behind any sense of home they had in Syria. Here is an interview with Sara Obeidat and the campaign she lead “Soles for Syria” to help the lives of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Sara Obeidat is a 22-year-old Jordanian dedicated to human rights. She grew up in Jordan and then moved to the US where she studied Foreign Affairs and History at the University of Virginia (UVA). She also focused on theatre.  She was quite active in various student groups on campus as well as the arts. She has also worked in various places around the world including Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and New York. Obeidat graduated from UVA in 2012 and went back to Jordan where she worked at the Syrian refugee camps and founded Soles for Syria, a drive dedicated to helping the Syrian refugees. She currently lives in New York.

 

Soles for Syria

Background:

If you could summarize the events that have taken place in Syria, how would you do so?

 Syria is no exception to the Arab Spring, very few Arab countries are.  Bashar Al Asad, and his father Hafez al Asad have ruled Syria under emergency law since 1963. When a country is ruled under emergency law for so long, one can only imagine the standard of human rights within that country, especially with respect to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and the right to have free and fair elections. It was therefore inevitable that the the Arab Spring would reach Syria, and it did. An uprising began in the Southern governorate of Daraa and was crushed immediately in a disturbingly brutal fashion. The regime showed how willing it was to attack its own citizens. Murders by the thousands and massacres that included children, torture, and  thousands arbitrarily detained by the regime. The protests have not stopped since last March due to the regime’s brutal crackdown. Despite the fact that the government has tried to pass some reforms, the protests have not stopped due to the degree of violence the regime has adopted. The regime claims to be fighting terrorists. There has also been a denial of medical assistance to many of those who have been wounded. Refugees by the thousands have fled into Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and other parts of the world. At this point I believe there is no turning back, the government has shown how far it is willing to go by expelling, killing, and torturing its own citizens- no legal reforms can change that.

Foreground:

What role is Jordan playing in alleviating some of the obstacles that the refugees are facing?

Jordan is a small country with limited resources, yet when it comes to refugees it has opened its doors to its Arab neighbors time and time again. Jordan does not only have Syrian refugees, it also has the highest percentage of Palestinian refugees and Iraqi refugees. As a country undergoing economic strain and considered to have one of the highest levels of water scarcity in the world, the government can only do so much. Many countries have set a limit for the amount of refugees they can take, but Jordan continues to receive refugees every day. Jordan has set up refugee camps for the Syrian refugees, whose number has risen to around 210,000 as of today and are expected to reach a quarter of a million by the end of October. It has set up the Zaatari camp which is not home to around 33,000 and is planning the opening of a new camp as well. Many Syrians have also been taken in by Jordanian families- some are related while others have no relation but have been able to form a brotherhood through a concept of Arab unity that has died out with our governments but lives within our people. The government has set up special organizations and is working with collaborating with UNHCR and other NGOs, but a government whose own citizens are starving can only do so much to help the refugees of a neighboring country. The tents in the refugee camp are expected to be converted into trailers by the end of the year, and the government has also set up medical aid within the camp, but the situation is still in dire need of emergency assistance.

Sara’s story:

What inspired you to establish your own cause and campaign?

Fortunately,  the first task Save the Children gave the volunteers was to fill out a survey which assessed the needs of each tent. The first tent I went into had a three year old boy who was limping, his foot was wrapped in a plastic bag. When I asked the parents about the cause of this, they explained that the child had scratched his foot while playing in the sand, and the scratch eventually turned into an infection. When I asked the parents why the child did not have his shoes on, they explained that they did not have time to put his shoes on before running for their lives.  Because this was the first family I met at the camp, the observation stayed at the back of my mind and I made it a point to notice who had their shoes on and who did not. After only a few hours at the camp anyone can notice that most of the camp is in fact barefoot.  The sand in the camp is incredibly hot and the environment is rough and is basically a desert, making it very difficult to walk outside barefoot.many people would get burns on their feet, or get an infection because of a small cut from walking barefoot, and because there is little follow up for such minor injuries, their whole foot becomes infected eventually. A lot of people were also sharing a slipper between a family of 6 for instance which would limit mobility. Some women would need to wait to use the bathroom because they were waiting for their turn to use the communal slipper. There were children being cooped up in tents because their mothers could not let them leave the tent barefoot.

The work I had to do involved speaking to a lot of people, to a lot of the refugees, which was great because I got to know what they needed and what their problems were first hand. There’s nothing like understanding a problem from the very person going through it. I started coming back from the camp every day feeling quite depressed because I noticed that there were a lot of issues that could be easily solved (i.e., being barefoot). These are the frustrating issues- the ones that can be avoided through a simple solution and yet are unattended to causing a lot more problems throughout. Sometimes I would meet a child with a huge infection that could have easily been avoided by something as simple as rubbing alcohol, so I would go ahead and buy it and deliver it the next day- but this was an unsustainable approach tha caused me more frustration because I felt limited in my capacity to help anyone.

The project began as a small drive with a facebook page. We were surprised at the resposes and how much it grew. People in Jordan, particularly Amman really wanted to help. There were also may people outside of Jordan who wanted to help as well. We began involving the private schools, and partnered with 6 local schools in the country and one school in Qatar in order to collect donations from students. The results were remarkable, and sometimes overwhelming. The community responded very positively, and with only an effort of a month and a half we managed to collect six thousand pairs for Syrian refugees, and also allocated a separate portion (not including the 6000) for Jordanians in need as well. I think what made our project special was the quality control. The team was small, and the girls working with me were brilliant. We literally checked every shoe donated to us for quality, and would specifically make sure that our specifications were met. Closed shoes, good condition, fit for the desert and the rain, that was our criteria. In this project it wasn’t “good enough” to donate, we collected way over 6000 pairs, but we only chose 6000 because of the quality of the shoes. We also handpicked each shoe bought from the funds we collected and ensured they were the right quality.

Soles for Syria:

What did your cause accomplish?

Besides the shoes collected, I think we raised a huge awareness about the camp in itself. Amman is a great place with so many generous people who are willing to help, but sometimes people forget that they have a responsibility. I think we served to many members of society that there is something expected of them to do. We got the schools involved which reached a huge amount of people, and we raised awareness about the camp. So many people called me to ask me for NGOs they could volunteer for in order to help the camp. I think we also showed people that you do not have to be affiliated with an NGO to make a difference- the initiative was run by girls who had just graduated from university or were still at school.  I think we also set a standard to what qualifies as a good donation and what will be used and what you cannot donate. Many people have the conception that a donation means giving away your trash- but a donation requires some form of sacrifice, something that you can continue to use and are willing to give to someone else- that’s how you make it count.

Inside the Refugee Camps:

Could you share some of the life-stories you heard/shared in the refugee camps?

There stories are too many, you hear so many every day that after a while its hard to believe that so many people go through something like this.

There are so many women who have fled Syria and have not heard from their husbands for over a month or two. They fled with their children and do not know wether or not their husbands and eldest sons are alive. One woman fled barefoot and in her nightgown and has not been able to aquire clothes since.

The resources are so scarce that there was a family of 12 (a mother and all her children) living on one  bottle of water for 2 days.

The amount of people in the camp with physical and mental disabilities is surprising, these families have no way to aid these children, they need to carry them for long distances in order to help transport them to the so called bathrooms in the camp.

There was a family with four children, one with cerebral palsy, the other one was hearing impaired, and one was mentally disabled. These children do not belong in the camp.

What is the environment of the refugee camps like?

It is a desert, with incredibly hot and sands. The environment is rough and during the summer it is incredibly warm in the day and very cold at night, which is why a lot of the children get sick.

It is also a very dusty environment because of the amount of sand, and so many people with asthma suffer, and almost everyone is suffering from allergies and lung infections because they are breathing in so much dust.

The camp is huge and it is also very easy to get lost for a child. It’s a tough environment, especially for people who aren’t used to this terrain. The area round the camp where Jordanians live is also not much better, it is considered to be one of the poorest parts in Jordan.

When these refugees come in, what type of shelter are they provided?

They are provided with tents. Now they are slowly converting these tents into caravans in order to prepare for the rough winter conditions.

A Jordanian Perspective:

As a Jordanian citizen, what makes you feel close to this cause?

The issue of refugees is very close to my heart because as an Arab, and particularly as a Jordanian, I grew up hearing about the refugee situation time and time again.  By the time I was born Jordan had a huge amount of Palestinian refugees, and I remember very specifically the US invasion of Iraq’s consequences as Iraqis came in to Jordan and I saw my country change.  On a personal level, many of my friends are Palestinian and their own grandparents may have been refugees at a certain point, it’s an issue that makes it emotional for me because you can put a face to the situation. You can not be Arab and ignore the refugee issue, it’s a central part of many political discussions – and you definitely can not be Jordanian ignore the issue because whether or not you have compassion for them or share the same heritage as those refugees, their status affects Jordan’s status and its resources, which basically affects every citizen in our country.

I feel close to this cause because I spoke to people in the camp, their faces are in my mind and it is something personal for me. Being a refugee is not something that happens over night, these people were not poor, they were simple. They were not starving back in Syria, they had their lands that they farmed and their vegetables that they grew and ate. The are simple but not poor, and for them to get used to living in such circumstances.

Saving lives:

What does the word “Save” mean to you?

My notion of the word “save” has actually changed a lot after this project. In almost every tent I walked into and sat down with the family, I was offered food. These people were starving, and with the few boxes of food they received every day from the WFP they would offer me biscuits, rice, or tea. Some would insist and not allow me to leave the tent until I had something to drink because “it is too hot outside and I should not get dehydrated.” You can not think of someone as “helpless” after that, you can only be humbled and slightly feel ashamed. These people do not need to be “Saved”- they need to be aided. When I spoke to the refugees many of them actually had great ideas and knew what they needed. When we talked about the problem of trash accumulation all over the camp, they offered to have each “Street” in the camp (two rows of tents) responsible for its own trash collection, but they needed actual TRASH BINS (that’s where a good donation should come in). When I spoke to women about the uncleanliness of the bathrooms, the ladies said that all they would want are hygiene kits for them to clean the bathroom themselves. When I asked if they would be willing to take turns on a day to clean the bathroom almost all of them agreed. They need to be supported, they need to be aided, their circumstances need to be made better, you do not need to do it for THEM, you are not “saving” them.

 

How YOU can help:

How can we continue to aid the refugees?

By aiding SPECIFIC CAUSES. By not donating money simply to an NGO, but by paying attention to the specific programs they have and taking the time to invest in their donation. Money is great but sometimes the problem is not a lack of resources but rather a lack of proper distribution.

 

“Everyone it seems has questions this week. Some are of the stupid variety.”

Follow my Page “Loosetalk” on Facebook

This blog will continue to be my instrument in changing lives through words. 

I have also established an official Facebook Page to establish a platform for cultivated and informed discourse on empowering females around the globe. Each week, a new female will be featured on this page, providing fundamentals on her work, accomplishments and her drive to be an activists for women’s causes. 

 

Check back frequently for weekly updates. Comments, insights, photos, videos and all types of informed discussion are heartily welcomed on the page.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Best,

Aanya 

Where do the children play?

Pen down your ideologies, and the child of your pursuit will carry the torch of your dedication.

What dreary lives are we leading where our mothers, daughters and sisters are being shot in the head? They point their guns and the target is shunned. What remains is the voice behind, but if we falter in raising that, we’ll lose the battle completely.

It’s no secret that without women, there would be no national development. Why? Mothers raise, educate and set priorities for the children. Mothers ensure health and wealth for their children. Mothers manage the households so her sons and daughters can go to school and become something, one day. Mothers sacrifice their own visions, career aspirations and professional dreams so that her children’s mouths are fed. How do women do this? They are biologically inclined to tend to the needs of human beings; their emotional sensibility has ingrained in them a sense of sheer humanity males do not possess. Everywhere we go, we see women catering to the needs of homes, communities and jobs. If the woman is isolated and kept in the dark, so are the children. If a woman is robbed of her right to be informed, her children are highly likely to remain illiterate. Women are the reason our societies prosper and grow into dynamic nations.

Pakistani women are in no way behind: Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Bhutto, Um-e-Hassan, Ayesha Jalal, Madiha Lodhi, Mukhtar Mai, Malala Yousafzai, to name a few of the prominent names we have seen in global news. These women have been the movers and shakers in both political and social spheres of Pakistan, striving to shake the unequal ground we stand upon. However, these are only the most prominent names, the list is never-ending when it comes to young and adult female minds that compromise their livelihood to strive for equal rights for women. Those who want to educate, those who want to illuminate lives, those who fight crimes, those who shelter rape and acid-burn victims, those who remain quiet when their husbands beat them to pulp just so her children always have a roof over their heads – The mothers, daughters and sisters of Pakistan, despite the extremely conservative and at times, devastatingly oppressive regimes in some of the Tribal Areas, remain alive in their pursuit of equality and keep our heads high.

In a most recent event, a young activist and education-lover, Malala Yousafzai was wounded by the Taliban. They said she spoke for the West and against the Taliban; she wanted to go to school and educate herself and that was no place for her. Her place was at home, beneath the shadows of male figures surrounding her. Her only right was to pay heed to what the Taliban required. This young, courageous and mighty young woman resides in Swat, one of the tribal regions of Pakistan and also one of the most beautiful mountainous regions, might I add. Amidst the quietening gloom of religious fundamentalists, she wrote, she spoke and she took a pen and began to share her story. She spoke of the hopeless environment enveloping her; she spoke against illiteracy and stood up for female education. She almost died because of this. Today, she lays in a hospital bed, struggling for her life. How often do we find such vibrant young women who reside in some of the most oppressive surroundings? Some say in Pakistan, women only come third; that is after men and even some animals that aid men in carrying out their work. But guess who always shines like the brightest diamond? Women such as Malala; alive, breathing and believers.

 

Beacon of Hope – Hosting a paradigm shift for women in Pakistan. 

 

The purpose behind this post is not to repeat what many already say: women are the dynamic of prosperity, but to address a most fundamental matter at hand: Today we remember Malala, but tomorrow when the load-shedding takes over, and the weather changes to blistering cold, when a friend of ours visits us from abroad, when we lock our eyes with our favorite tv shows, tomorrow – Who will remember Malala’s voice?

What You Can Do To Make A Difference:

Donate and/or volunteer with:

The Citizens Foundation

Shirkat Gah – Women Resource Center

Women’s Rights Association

10X10 Educate Girls. Change the World.

Save The Children