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!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Confessions of a Receptionist

So I've been a receptionist for a number of years now and the common perception is that we are all dragons, bitches and impossible to get past.  I admit, sometimes, we are but the dragon never breathes fire without provocation.  In this post, I'm going to confess to some of the things I do in my job which are not strictly part of the job description.

Good Manners
Good manners will get you everywhere.  Whether you're colleague or client, I want to be asked nicely and treated with respect.  Rude people will get the lowest level of customer service I can possibly get away with, followed by the 'glare of death' and the 'sickly sweet sarcastic smile.'  (I know you all know what I'm talking about!)  However, if you ask nicely, show manners, maybe even use flattery, I will bend over backwards to get you want - and if I can't then I know a man who can!  Hey, I might even crack a genuine smile.

If you arrive for an appointment and don't know or can't remember who you're here to see it makes my job very difficult.  My company employs over a thousand members of staff, it's impossible to guess who you're meeting.  I have a lot of things to remember so help me out by remembering who you're here to meet FFS.  Confession: there are times when I've guessed who a visitor is here to meet but I like to embarrass the visitor by feigning ignorance and making them feel stupid: "you're here to see Julie?  I've got ten Julie's working here, can you be more specific?"

It's not just visitors who feel my wrath, uncooperative colleagues also experience my dark side.  Usually a sarcastic comment to their visitor or associate does the trick:
"I'm sorry, are you here to see [name]?  He clearly didn't think I was important enough to know about your meeting so unfortunately, I can't direct you to the room because I don't know where the meeting is.  Perhaps, you could mention it to him for future meetings?" *sickly sweet sarcastic smile* 
This results in said ignorant colleague being extra nice to me and eventually respecting me.  Result!

Don't Touch My Shit
I'm a receptionist, I like my stationery, especially my pens.  Do not walk away with my pen, or stapler, or Tippex or anything else on my desk. I will hunt you down and take it back.  Furthermore, do not touch my signing in screen; nobody touches my screen unless I ask them too.  This applies especially to obnoxious visitors who start signing in on my touch screen without even speaking to me first.  How rude!

Don't Tell Me My Job
There's nothing that riles me more than a smart arse.  If I'm giving you information about  something, don't tell me why it's wrong, don't try to catch me out, don't tell me the other receptionist said you could and definitely do not tell me how to do my job.  This will result in maximum waiting times for appointments and a low level of customer service.

There are times when I can be abrupt, short and generally not very helpful.  I try to keep these to a minimum but we all have our off days.  Don't tell me that you give 100% in your job all the time, not when you go for your 2 hour lunches, hourly smoking breaks, gym sessions during work time and seemingly never return your calls, while I'm assuring your callers that they are important and you will get back to them.  Is it any wonder that my professional mask slips occasionally?

Annoying Callers
Annoying callers who don't understand that the person they're trying to reach is not in their office will not be told anything different by calling back 5 minutes later.  Just because you call back 5 minutes later doesn't mean I won't recognise your voice or forget our last conversation.  Now stop being annoying and send an email instead!

Beautiful People and Gifts
If we find you attractive you get better service.  That's standard.  If you're the CEO you get the best service.  That's guilt.

We love gifts.  Buy me a gift, leave it on my desk as a surprise and I am yours forever.  Better still, buy me a gift to say thankyou for the time I helped you out in your hour of need and make me feel special and valued.  Gifts don't have to be fancy or expensive, anything from a coffee or chocolates to jewellery is appreciated.

So I've confessed to some nasty stuff there but now I'd also like to confess that I've let members of the public use my desk phone to call a taxi on cold, dark evenings when their phone battery has died (phones are strictly for staff use).  I confess I've done favours for colleagues by laminating their personal items using work resources.  I confess that I have helped colleagues from other departments with their work, even though it's not in my remit, because they've been snowed under and stressed.

See, we're not dragons all the time.  I have a heart, you just have to find it.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

My Third Decade

As another birthday in my 30's passes by, I'm feeling reflective and philosophical (and old!)  I've come to understand that as human beings, it takes us almost half our lives to understand ourselves and the way we personally operate.  Why so long??  It seems such a waste.
I'm my 30's I feel at my most confident, assured and more comfortable in my own skin than ever before.  I'm comfortable with my identity, my traits, my strengths and weaknesses, I've accepted the person I have grown to become. I know I can play many roles: wife, mother, friend, daughter, colleague, and equally importantly: counsellor, anchor, disciplinarian, listener and confidante.  All these roles are a necessary part of my complex personality and part of growing up is knowing which role to play when.  Perhaps no person has seen all my facets but I have found outlets for each of them so I no longer need to suppress any part of me.
I feel a quiet confidence in myself with no need to prove myself to people.  Those who are interested will perceive me, acknowledge me and respect me.  I understand when to push forward and when to retreat, when to be social and when to be quiet, when to engage and when to retire and recharge.  I understand what I am capable of, what I could never do and what I could possibly accomplish if I push myself.  I've learnt that we are far, far stronger than we think we are and can deal with circumstances beyond our imaginations if required.
Of course, with this understanding also comes the awareness of my faults and shortcomings and the wish to reform.  The dark, ugly side exists, it is a part of me, I cannot erase it but I can stop it from taking over.  Can I forgive myself for my mistakes?  That's still a tough one.  Nobody's perfect but most of us are good people.
The best thing I've learnt over the years is that it's ok to say no.  It's ok to be selfish sometimes and put yourself first; the world won't end if you say no.  For my own sanity and peace of mind I cannot commit to everything, I need to prioritise the people and things that are important to me and give them my time.  Because suddenly, half way through life, you realise that time is running out, life is too short to spend with people you don't like, doing things you don't enjoy.
My faith is stronger too, I understand that everything happens for a reason and it is not in our power to always understand or see that reason but I believe we are equipped to confront and deal with what we come across, even though it seems hopeless at times.  Everything changes and whatever situation we are in will change one day because nothing is designed to stay the same forever.  Pain will end, good times will dissolve because we each have our share of good and bad in this life and I'm thankful for my blessings.
Why does it take over 30 years to comprehend yourself?  Why does it take so long to 'mature'?  Imagine what I could have done (or not done!) in my 20's if I had this knowledge?  Surely, the  better you know yourself, the less likely you are to make a fool of yourself?  Or do you keep discovering yourself as life goes on?  I wonder what my 40's and 50's will bring.


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