Tuesday, 20 June 2017

I'm Back!

Hey readers!

I'm back after almost a year-long hiatus, when, in all honesty, I'd run out of ideas for this blog and let it languish, unloved and neglected, in the black hole that is the internet. 

However, I've decided to give it another go and to see where my ideas take me and how my writing develops.  (Also, I quite enjoy people telling me they read my blog!)

So I think a life update is required here on the last one or two years:

  • I qualified as an English teacher in May 2016
  • I have been teaching English at a college part time BUT...
  • I will be starting a new job at a grammar school (posh!) in September.
  • I went on my first ever girls' holiday in May 2017 to Greece (more about this in future blog posts!)
  • My eldest is going to start high school in September (unbelievable!)

Generally, I think I'm winning at life.  I'm ready to embark on a new career and hopefully, excel at it.  I've worked at college for 5 years and will dearly miss it and the people but it's time for a new adventure and the new job was too good an opportunity to miss.

So for future blog posts, reply in the comments and tell me what you want to read more of.  My funny life stories?  More fiction?  Or just a good old rant?  Tell me!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Belonging

She turned the TV on and the result of the EU Referendum was glaringly obvious.  Her heart sank with disappointment.  She turned up the volume on the TV, hoping the presenter would say something contradictory to all the infographics on the screen.  Unfortunately, he was confirming Britain’s exit from the European Union.  She felt confused, how could this happen?  Britain was a sensible, safe country, always putting security first.  How was it then that it was now no longer part of the European Union?  She had voted to stay in, it seemed nearly half the nation had but more had voted to leave.  It was a fact to her that strength is in unity, not in division.  Was the general public really that stupid?
 
With a deep sigh Amina hauled herself off the sofa.  Her joints creaked but, at 70, she was still able to get about, albeit slowly.  She made her way into the small kitchen of her council flat and put the kettle on.  The fourth floor flat was clean but lacked character, everything seemed to be a dull beige colour.  Amina had sold the three bed terraced house, in which she’d raised her family, after her husband died.  She thought of Khalid now as she made her cardamom tea and Weetabix.  As the kitchen filled with the aroma of cardamom, she wondered what he would make of the world now with its smartphones, fast trains, and the madness of Brexit.
 
She carried her breakfast tray slowly and steadily into the living room, placed it on the coffee table and sunk into the sofa again.  David Cameron was on TV now, she listened to him as she sipped her tea.  He was resigning.  Amina felt panic rising in her stomach.  She put down the cup and forced herself to breathe deeply.  She didn’t like sudden and extreme changes of any kind.  Nevertheless, she told herself that these political changes meant nothing, it wouldn’t be like last time.  Britain had been her home for 38 years, she would not have to flee.
 
The shrill sound of the telephone interrupted her panicked thoughts and startled her.  She stood up shakily and reached for the cordless on the window sill.
“Hello?”
“Assalamu-alaykum.  Amina?  Have you seen the news?”
It was her good friend, Shazia, who was clearly as perturbed by the news as she was.
“Wa-alaykum salaam.  Yes, Shazia, I’m watching it now,” replied Amina.
“Britain is- whatdotheycallit- Brexit!  And Cameron’s resigned!” announced Shazia.
“I know.  What will happen now?  I thought we were safe here, Shazia.”
“When have we ever been safe, Amina?  They’ve never liked us since we set foot here in the seventies.  I’ve been saying to the kids for years that these gore will send us back.  They’ll get rid of us now, you wait and see.”
“But Shazia, we have lived here for so long.  At our age, where will we go?  You don’t think it will be like Tanzania, do you?” Amina voiced her fear.
“In Tanzania, we were fleeing a war….I don’t think Brexit will be like that.  But still, they’ll find a way,” said Shazia, quietly.
There was a pause then Amina asked again “We fled from Tanzania to Britain.  Where will we go now?”
“Back to the motherland,” sighed Shazia, “back home to rest our weary bodies for good.”
 
On that sombre note, they finished the phone call and as Amina ate her Weetabix and watched the news enfolding, memories from almost 30 years ago crowded her mind.  Amina had, so far, lived on three continents and three different countries in her life.  Born in an Indian village, she was married off to Khalid at 16 and a couple of years later they emigrated to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to start a new, prosperous life.  Many other Indians also emigrated to Dar-es-Salaam and they formed a close-knit community.  This is where she had met Shazia.  Amina and Khalid had a business, a bakery-cum-grocers shop, which ran very well.  Amina made fresh kitumbua and mandazi every morning and they were almost always sold out by midday.  The sweet, round, fluffy, greasy dough balls were very popular with the locals.  Their three children were born there and life seemed settled.
 
Then in 1978, the Uganda-Tanzania war made life difficult.  Idi Amin wanted to claim a part of Tanzania but more significantly, he wanted a black Tanzania, leaving no place for Asians.  She closed her eyes as she remembered those dark days when she feared for her family’s safety.  The days when Khalid and the boys left the house and she didn’t know if she would see them alive again.  The nights when she couldn’t sleep for the threat of being robbed, raped or killed.  Businesses and homes were destroyed simply because their owners were the wrong colour.  With so many dangers and disturbances, it became impossible to live there and, like many other Asian families, they immigrated for the second time to Britain.  Now, after 38 years, had people decided she was the wrong colour for this country too?
 
Uprooting themselves and the children from Dar-es-Salaam had been necessary for survival but extremely distressing for all of them, especially her daughter.  Sameena was only 10 when they immigrated, leaving all her school friends behind to move half way across the world had been emotionally overwhelming for her.  She had made new friends and settled in eventually, but it had taken her a lot longer than her older brothers.  The lifestyle changes were drastic, none more so than the climate in England.  It was just so cold compared to India and Tanzania that during her first year she thought her bones would never warm up, no matter what she did.  All the streets looked the same upon arrival, everything was so expensive and all the white people looked at them as though they were aliens.  However, the racial abuse was a small price to pay for safety and security.  And, as immigrants, Amina’s family had one advantage – they spoke English and this immediately made it easier to look for work. 
 
Amina wondered briefly how her children felt about Brexit.  Did they have the same fears and reservations as her?  Her grandchildren were born and raised here – how did they feel?  Did they feel British, loyal to Queen and Country or was the world more cosmopolitan now?  Were people happy to move around the world and live where they thought best?  Who knows, she thought.  Clearly, the referendum result showed that she didn’t understand people as well as she thought she did.
 
Amina finished her breakfast and recalled what day it was – supermarket day.  She busied herself getting ready to go shopping.  She pulled her wheelie shopping trolley down to the bus stop, her days of lugging home shopping bags in her arms or in the car were long gone.  It was not economical to keep a car when she could travel everywhere for free by bus.  Amina caught the number 54 bus into town and shuffled towards the supermarket with her shopping list.
 
She picked up a shopping basket as she entered and began to scan the aisles for what she needed.  Shopping took a lot longer these days.  Everything took a lot longer at 70.  Amina was searching the shelves for rice pudding (they’d moved it again) when she heard him.  It was a grunting sound and when she looked up, a middle aged man was swaggering towards her, his face set in a scowl.  Six foot tall, broad shouldered with a beer belly, he was wearing a baseball cap and looked menacing.
Amina blinked in surprise.
“Oi, you!” he growled.
Amina looked startled and looked around her but, apart from the two of them, the aisle was empty.
“Yeah, I’m talking to YOU.  We voted your sort OUT,” he spat, towering over her now.
“Wh-what? Excuse me?” stuttered Amina.
“It’s time for you,” he sneered, prodding her shoulder with force, “to go back to where you came from.”
Amina stumbled back from the force of his touch and dropped her basket.
“Won’t be long til you lot are deported,” the man cried.  He peered into Amina’s frightened face and said in a low voice, “Britain’s gonna be white again!”
 
Amina’s breath was coming out in short, sharp gasps.  Her heart was racing.  She felt the world spinning around her.  The thug’s face filled her view, blurring slightly.  With her hand still on the shopping trolley, she spun around as quickly as her old body would allow her to, and got away from the man as fast as she could.  She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t hear, she needed air, she needed to get out of here, she wanted to be home.  Oh, why couldn’t she move faster?
 
Aisles and aisles of tins, packets, jars, bottles, cleaning products, nappies, baby milk, cow’s milk, yoghurts, cheese, desserts, frozen chips, frozen fish, frozen vegetables, frozen water, ice-cream, books, magazines and flowers and there at last the exit.  The exit to fresh air, freedom and safety.  The exit to gather and compose herself.  The crucial, most welcome exit.
 
At last, she was outside, she took big gulps of air, spotted a bench and sat down heavily on it.  She checked the entrance to see if the man had followed her and then looked all around her to make sure.  She closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths, her heart was still thudding in her chest.  Her legs were shaking and as she ran her hand over her face, she noticed that it was wet.  She reached into her pocket for some tissues to dry her tears.  Then she reached into another pocket for her mobile phone.  With shaky fingers she searched for the number and tapped Call.
“Sameena, beti, please pick me up,” she breathed into the phone, “I’m…err…I’m at the supermarket.”
Somewhere, a few miles away in an office, Sameena’s answer phone recorded her voice.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

What the Death of Muhammad Ali Means to Me, An Everyday Muslim



Muhammad Ali died on June 3, 2016 and here are my thoughts on the life and death of the most famous boxer in history.


Ok, yes, I admit I'm too young to ever have seen a Muhammad Ali fight.  I vaguely remember my dad and his friends eagerly watching the fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.  But even though, I've never seen him box, the thing about Muhammad Ali was that his reputation proceeded him.  Yes, he was a great athlete and a champion boxer but he was also a man known all over the world for his great reputation.  He had unique universal appeal and there'll never be an athlete who draws global attention and respect like this again.  Certainly, there'll never be another Muslim athlete who commands such a reputation.


On the day of his death, and later, on the day of his funeral, the thing that hit me, like a bright beam of sunshine on a cloudy day, was that nobody had a bad word to say about Muhammad Ali.  Furthermore, nobody had a bad word to say about a a famous Muslim man who had died.  Of course, there was a small minority calling him a racist but this was brushed aside because in the time and place where Muhammad Ali lived, everyone could be called a racist.  The vast majority of the media, including social media, were positive, complimentary and respectful.  Furthermore, the Jewish Rabbi gave a particularly rousing and honest speech at the funeral.


As a Muslim myself, the fact that I took notice of and was pleasantly surprised by this feeling of mass positivity shows that for so long all I have experienced from the media against Muslims and Islam has been negativity, hatred and blame.  So all the optimism and unity left me with a warm glow in my belly and a renewed faith in humans.


Even in his death Muhammad Ali managed to unite people all over the world, regardless of creed, colour or background.  His determination, moral integrity and steadfastness to his faith are a source of inspiration to anyone who believes in anything good.  He was an example of hope, peace and a true Muslim and humanitarian.  He was and is a better representation of an "everyday Muslim" than a suicide bomber will ever be.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

To Donate or Not to Donate?


Have you ever donated blood?  This year I made the intention to do something selfless for others, to give something back, rather than taking.  It was going to be my regular good deed to donate blood and feel good about myself.

With this in mind, I planned to donate blood today for the first time in my life.  I was working so I rearranged my lunch break in order to attend the donor session and made sure I’d eaten my lunch beforehand.

I arrived ten minutes before the doors opened and there were already six people waiting in the queue.  I took a seat and just as I was worrying that my hour’s lunch break wouldn’t be long enough to do this in, a man ushered us in.  We queued at the desk, most of the people were regulars with their forms ready to hand in.  I approached the desk and explained that it was my first time.  The friendly nurse gave me an information booklet to read and a questionnaire to fill in.  After answering lots of personal questions about my health and lifestyle (do you have sex for drugs or money?  Have you ever injected yourself with a substance – even once?  Err…no and no!) I was asked to help myself to a drink.  The information booklet said that drinking a pint of water steadily for 10 minutes before giving blood reduced the risk of fainting after donating.

Before I’d finished my drink, the nurse called me to the desk for registration.  I’d registered online so she retrieved my details, printed them out and then I was escorted behind a private screen by another nurse.  This nurse confirmed a few details on my questionnaire and then pricked my middle finger and drew blood into a very tiny syringe.  She dropped this into a vial of blue solution.  My main concern before donating blood was that I would be anaemic (Asian woman problem) and therefore my blood would be rejected.  But I’ve recently started taking iron supplements to increase my haemoglobin so I hoped I’d be ok.  The nurse looked at the drop of blood in the blue solution and so did I.  After a slow start it started sinking to the bottom of the vial.
“Is that ok?” I asked.
“Yes, if it sinks to the bottom, as it looks like it’s doing, then you’re ok.  Your blood should be heavier than the blue solution,” she explained.
My blood drop sank to the bottom, I smiled, pleased with myself.

Next I had to take a seat and wait for a bed to become available, which wasn’t a bed but a reclining chair.  I started looking at the clock again, I’d spent half my lunch break here by now.  After 5 minutes or so, my name was called out by a nurse and I was led to a bed/chair.
“Right arm or left arm?” asked the nurse.
“Oh…err….left, please,” I told him, thinking about how I would need my right arm to write at work.

The nurse had short white hair and wore glasses, he had a good bedside manner.  He tucked my hand under his arm as he put the strap on my upper arm.  He pulled it very tight and asked me to open and close my fist.  My arm started to feel numb and heavy.  I was feeling more excited than nervous at this point because with my iron deficiency I didn’t even think I’d get this far.  The nurse looked carefully at my veins, feeling tentatively for a good one, he didn’t look confident.
“Let’s try the other arm,” he said.
“OK,” I agreed, “this happens a lot, nurses can’t find my veins.”
“Your right arm might be better.”
He strapped up my arm again, tighter and tighter and I found myself wishing that I had a good vein in this arm, please!!
He felt my arm again and there was a bulging line but the nurse said it was an artery and not a vein.  I felt disappointed.  He went back to my left arm again and strapped it up once more.
He inspected the single vein that showed, deliberating on the suitability of it.  Eventually, he let out a sigh.
“Ok, this vein looks rather thin and I can’t find another one.  The needle we use for donations is a bit thicker than the one used in a syringe so we need a good vein.”
“Ok….” I said, confused.
“I don’t want to bruise you and this vein looks like it may bruise if I insert a large needle into it.  You might donate blood four or five times a year and it’s no good if we bruise you each time.”
I looked at him, uncertainly.  Was he going to take my blood or not?
“Unless we’re 95% sure that this will be a comfortable experience for you, we don’t take the blood.  So I’m withdrawing you.  What we ask is that you encourage your friends and family to donate.”
“What?” I stuttered, shocked.
“I’m withdrawing you,” he repeated.
“So I can’t donate blood?”
“It’s unlikely that the size of your veins will increase, love,” he said, patiently.

I felt a surge of disappointment and frustration.  I felt like shouting, what if I go to the gym and pump some iron, will I get bigger veins then?!  The saddest thing was that I was the only person of ethnic origin in that room offering to donate blood.  This was shocking considering that I come from an area with a high Asian population.  I’m sure they would have found my blood type very useful – if my veins were thicker.

I got up off the chair and grabbed my coat and bag.  I’m not sure if he saw the disappointment in my face but he said, “please help yourself to a drink or snack before leaving.” 


I looked at my phone, I had ten minutes of my lunch break left.  I stomped back to work with a sulk.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Book a Day UK





Books Are My Bag asked book lovers to tweet the answer to a book question everyday in October (as shown above).  I decided to include all my answers in a blog post.


  1. A Harry Potter book is perfect to curl up in front of the fire with.
  2. Manchee from The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness is my favourite fictional dog.  This heroic creature is the true definition of man's best friend and I don't even like dogs!
  3. One Day by David Nicholls
  4. A book with a beautiful spine?  Hmmm, I struggled to think of one.
  5. My favourite cinema/film reference in literature is the Rocky reference in The Silver Linings Playbook.  It's where Patrick describes his running regime as a montage from the film Rocky.
  6. I really can't remember the first book I bought.... I would guess it was one by Stephen King.
  7. The last book I bought in a bookshop was Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.
  8. My best bookshop find?  That's difficult, there are so many books I love.
  9. My favourite book about a bookshop is Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane.
  10. A book with an orange cover?  Trainspotting.
  11. Unfortunately, I've never been to a Books Are My Bag Bookshop party, it sounds awesome though.
  12. My favourite bookseller recommendation is probably Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.
  13. The book that changed meaning when I read it later in life (there are two): The Shining by Stephen King and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
  14. I adore the title of the novel The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes.
  15. The best literary home?  Can't think of an amazing home, any suggestions?
  16. The most memorable journey in literature for me has to be Alice in Wonderland.
  17. The nearest book to me, apart from my Kindle, is a text book on English grammar!
  18. A book that's made me laugh in public is the hilarious The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
  19. A book that's made me cry in public is Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.
  20. My favourite bookworm in literature has to be the wonderful Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl.
  21. I fell in love with the narrator in The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks.
  22. The Island by Victoria Hislop made me want to travel.
  23. The best book on diversity is White Teeth by Zadie Smith.
  24. My hidden gem is The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.
  25. My favourite food/drink moment is in James and the Giant Peach when they're all eating the juicy peach!  So fleshy and yummy!
  26. My best book on time-travel is The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffernegger.
  27. Favourite epigraph?  There are so many good blurbs out there, how can I pick one?!
  28. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho has a lot of good advice.
  29. My most memorable fashion moment is the granny pants in Bridget Jones' Diary!
  30. I'm not sure what an experimental book is, perhaps, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Schteyngart set in the near-future New York where life is dominated by the media and retail might qualify for this category.
  31. The spookiest read and the reason I'm afraid of clowns is It by Stephen King.
Hope you enjoyed my list.  Do you have any books you agree or disagree with?  Can you think of any for the questions I missed?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Book Review: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne





I recently joined Blogging for Books and received this e-book free of charge in exchange for this review.

The Girl in the Road is Monica Byrne's literary debut and a fascinating, culturally abundant vision of the future.  Set in the latter part of the century, around 2070, global power has shifted East, Africa is the new America and India is the new Britain.  Humans have micro ID chips in their arms, notes and coins are hardly used to pay for things and taxis drive themselves electronically.

We follow the extraordinary journeys of two women, Meena and Mariama, and learn how they are linked in a horrifying and moving conclusion.  Meena is fleeing India because she believes someone is trying to kill her.  She travels across the Arabian Sea on a floating bridge know as the Trail, hoping to reach Ethiopia, her birthplace.  Mariama, a slave girl, runs away from her village and a life of slavery with a group of misfits, she is hoping to start a better life in Addis Ababa, the centre of the world. 

The characters of both Meena and Mariama are strong, determined and ambitious, with clearly defined voices, however, I did not find them likeable characters.  Byrne keeps you guessing through her vivid imagery of snakes and girls lying in the road and small revelations throughout the book.  I enjoyed many of the speculative, futuristic devices in the book, in particular the "aadhaar" - a cloud over a person's head showing their personal and social profile.  Within minutes of meeting someone, without even speaking, you can gather plenty of information by studying their cloud.

I thought the scenes showing Meena's mental decline as she travels alone across the sea for months were well written with just enough madness and hallucinations.  The author captures Mariama's innocence about life candidly and this is displayed partly, through her relationship with Yemaya, a woman she is travelling with.

It's difficult to compare this book because it is unlike anything I've read before.  It's a little sci-fi, a little chick lit, and a little mystery, all rolled into one.  If you want to read something unique, remarkable and intense then try The Girl in the Road.


Monday, 12 May 2014

My Solo Cinema Experience

So a couple of weeks ago I did something I've never done.  I went to the cinema - all by myself.  A few years ago I would never had had the courage to do this, I would have been called a 'saddo' by my friends and I would have felt socially awkward.  However, for two years I've been working evenings and I've found that I'm no longer available when my friends are and weekends are family time.  Therefore it makes practical sense for me to go to the cinema when I'm free, which is in the daytime, during the week when the kids are at school.  By myself.  It's also cheaper.

I had thought about going solo for a few months but never actually done it, but two weeks ago it seemed to happen by chance.  I had planned to watch the Bollywood movie 2 States with the bestie but she took a raincheck.  I went into work the next day and my class was cut short so I had the whole day to myself, I thought what can I do?  I know I'll go to the cinema!  And that was it.

It was a midday showing and the whole place was relaxed and quiet, even the staff looked like they were taking it easy.  I didn't feel even a bit awkward asking for ONE ticket to the movie and a single portion of nachos.  In fact, I felt confident, independent and like I was indulging myself in some much needed 'me' time.  As I walked into Screen 6, I couldn't see anyone else in the semi-darkness.  I was the only one in here; alone.  This is not what I envisaged when I thought about going to the cinema alone.  I didn't mean completely alone in a huge room with all these empty seats.  This was creepy.  After a few minutes, a couple walked in and this placated my anxiety.  Just as the film was about to start, one more couple came in so in total there were five of us watching.

The film was very enjoyable and watching it by myself had both advantages and disadvantages.  I was aware that there was nobody to make comments with, to point and say "I've got one like that!" or "that's something my mum would say!"  But after half an hour or so, I grew accustomed to simply enjoying and absorbing the film by myself, grinning widely and chuckling quietly at the screen.   Then, as in all Bollywood films, came the emotional scene and it really resonated with me and I connected with it and there in the darkness, I let the tears come and roll down my cheeks and I felt soothed.  I would never have allowed myself this liberty had I been with someone else but it felt good.

So all in all, my ticket was cheaper, I could sit anywhere I liked, I didn't have to share my snacks, and I could cry without anyone seeing me.  I'll definitely be doing this again!

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