Harsh Reality

Just received this message on Facebook and I feel it merits a blog post.

Judgmental much 1

Judgmental much

First line of second image roughly translates into, “It’s people like you who can’t handle the honor Allah bestows on them.

I am not sure what to think of it. Don’t know this guy at all. He added me on FB and I accepted the friend request. As I have done with countless others. That’s all. Also, I don’t know the guy he asked me to reach recommend him to. He also just happens to be on my FB. Are people really naive enough to think that just because someone is a part of your social media network you are actually buddies? And then he goes on to insult me saying there is something wrong with my family background and I am putting obstacles in other people’s way to success!!!!

Sighhhh … this is JUST ONE of such examples. And I am choosing to talk about it because I need my FB/Twitter/LI/Pinterest/SoundCloud ‘friends’ to understand unless we talk on quite a regular basis and know each other professionally I am sorry but I can’t recommend you for a job. Can’t walk up to a friend and say “Hey, this stranger approached me and he wants a job. Give it to him.”

Also, my Gmail and FB ‘Other’ folder is chock full. I try respond to as many people as I can if their message merits a reply but if I don’t see your email and I don’t respond, it’s nothing personal. I am a wife, a mother, a businesswoman and a very faulty human being – some times I just don’t have the time or energy.

On another note, I am very open on social media. I talk about fun, mundane every day stuff instead of posts about how wonderful I am and how busy I am with my work. It helps me relax and keeps me grounded. But at the same time if you are going to come up with negative comments like, “Oh, you should clearly mention a job that’s advertised by WDL is for women only”, and start a solo thread of comments don’t expect me to be good-natured about it. It’s WOMEN’S Digital League – how much more clarity do you need?

And YES I AM ANNOYED. I AM TIRED AND I AM STRESSED AND I CAN’T SLEEP AND I GOT A THOUSAND AND ONE THINGS TO DO WHICH I HAVE NO CLUE HOW I AM GOING TO MANAGE AND I WORRY ABOUT MY PARENTS WHO ARE FAR AND ARE NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER AND I HAVE FRIENDS GOING THROUGH SOME VERY TROUBLED TIMES. So I am sorry if my being human is such an inconvenience to people but that’s who I am and that’s never going to change. THANK YOU!

Bye

Orientation on Digital Livelihood, Going Dutch, Monsoon, and other stories

LCWU DFDI OrientationHad a great orientation on Digital Livelihood at the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU). Being there makes me feel old. GOD! College for me was ages ago. Graduated in 2000. But I digress. So went and told them my story, gave them an idea about working online, an idea of why it was important for women to work. Note to self: I need to work more on it – make it tighter and more focused so I am not running around in circles. Had a healthy turnout. Let’s see how many actually register. You can see album from the orientation here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.658595287580704.1073741924.234046770035560&type=1 

 

Met with my Dutch journalist friend. She ran the story she did last time she was here. It’s in Dutch of course but she said she would share links which of course I will share with you all my lovelies. Amazing how similar people are everywhere. All these differences of religion and culture are in our heads. I mean this woman is from Netherlands. A journalist, a divorcee, with an adopted daughter. On the surface we have nothing in common. But underneath the layers of skin color and clothes and language we are so much alike. Guess when you put away prejudices and preconceived notions and give people a real chance that you see a common thread of humanity. People are born good. It’s time and experiences that turn us more one way or the other. Another note to self: Don’t judge people by who they pretend to be – give them an honest chance. 

The monsoon in Lahore has been CRAZY. Thankfully our house didn’t get flooded but all the ceilings started to leak to an extent that I was scared of turning on the lights in case there is a short circuit. Government and political parties too busy participating in the circus in Islamabad. Lahore, the city that the provincial government promised to turn into Paris, ended up becoming Venice. Case in point … 

Lahore turns into Venice

WDL is giving a scholarship to this AH-MAZING online entrepreneurship mentoring course. ‘Young Entrepreneur Mentorship’ is a 3-semester mentoring program spearheaded by Sandi Krakowski. Sandi is the President & Founder of A Real Change International, Inc. She is also one of the most sought after marketers in the world, specializing in social media, copywriting and digital media. She has homeschooled all 3 of her sons, and has personally mentored many young people who have created a 6-figure income online in under 24 months.

The scholarship is worth $497 and is open for all women between the age of 16 and 25 who are interested in starting their businesses or want to take their business to the next level. More details available at http://www.arealchange.com/blog/young-entrepreneur-mentorship-opens-week

If you or someone you know is interested and exhibits qualities like leadership, passion, perseverance and a strong will to help others then please write to query@womensdigitalleague.com with “The Young Entrepreneur Mentorship” in the subject line. 10 shortlisted women will be interviewed by moi for the spot. Selected person will have to volunteer with WDL for 3 months after the program. 

OK … that’s all folks. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

Right to Life with Dignity

Wrote this few years back for The News blog. Thought I would share it here. Right to Life with Dignity.

Human rights rest on human dignity. The dignity of man is an ideal worth fighting for and worth dying for. – Robert Maynard

 

My first reaction on reading above quote: *HeadScratch*. All my life I have been told I had the right to life, to healthcare, education, practicing my religion and beliefs. Therefore imagine my surprise when I find out one fine day that the first right in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the right to life with dignity. What does that even mean? Dear old Google came to my help and I realized ‘Dignity’ is what everything else stems from. Dignity means knowing your worth and valuing yourself because only when we start valuing ourselves do we start asking for more and understanding our rights. Being an entrepreneur myself, the following video by Acumen Fund really struck a chord:

 

Dignity (<= is a link to the YouTube video)

 

People seek dignity, not dependence. Choice, not charity.

 

This has been a bone of contention between me and the foreign donor agencies I meet. They ask why Pakistanis hate them so much despite the aid they are sending. I say, ‘Maybe because you are throwing your aid at them from the back of trucks and enjoying seeing them make a  spectacle of themselves fighting over bags of flour and rice? It would help if you setup a proper system of distributing these goods that wouldn’t compromise their dignity.’

 

When you rip people of their self-respect you take away their most basic and vital human right. This in turn makes them hate themselves for their weakness and others for exploiting it.

 

The truth is that without dignity there can be no equality. And it begins at home. If I don’t love myself enough because of my weaknesses or failures and hence lack self-respect, I give others the power to usurp my rights. Looking down upon one’s self leads to low self-esteem which makes us doubt what we deserve allowing society or certain segments of it to take over our rights.

 

The easiest example that comes to my mind is a question that plagues the life of most women right from childhood to old age, “Am I pretty?” Think about it, look around you. You will hear mothers telling their daughters how pretty they are. Not how good, intelligent or sweet they are but how pretty they are. And when the same little girl grows up and realizes her teeth stick out, or her nose is crooked, or her chest is flat and she doesn’t come up to Hollywood’s interpretation of ‘pretty’ how does that make her feel? Crestfallen! Since the day she was born she has lived thinking being pretty was the best thing she could be and here she is all imperfect. In the process, self-esteem is what she loses. Generations of women come one after the other judging themselves on a yardstick of beauty and then cursing men for objectifying them and not looking beyond their gender or their looks. Just a word of advice for all my gender-mates – listen to this woman and follow her example:

 

This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, “No! The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters.

“You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing. But you, will never be merely ‘pretty’.”

 

The day we realize double standard of asking for right to practice our religion anywhere in the world when we look down upon minorities in our own country with loathing we will have a better case. The day women are well represented and at the same time do not expect quotas or ‘seats ‘ in educational institutions as a form of entitlement we know we will be making progress.

Finally the day people realize they cannot ask for a right to clean roads and public toilets while at the same time throwing garbage in front of other people’s homes instead of taking it to the dumpster they will sound more convincing. In short, we have to earn the right to ask for our rights by giving others theirs.

 

The right to life alone is not enough. Its life with dignity that we should strive and struggle for because every other right arises from awareness of our worth and respect for ourselves. I leave you with this thought:

 

Equality lies only in human moral dignity. … Let there be brothers first, then there will be brotherhood, and only then will there be a fair sharing of goods among brothers. – Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

Challenges

Short and sweet. 

Took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Totally nailed it. Would post the video here but I haven’t completely lots it YET so I won’t. 

Was also asked to name my 10 fav books. This I can certainly share. And NO, it does not feature anything by Steve Jobs or Malcolm Gladwell or Napoleon Hill. 

1. All of Enid Blyton. Specially partial to ‘Naughtiest Girl in School’ and ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ series. Famous Five and the Seven Find-Outers are a very close second. Envied Fatty for having his own shed and all those cool disguises.
2. Harry Potter series. Had the privilege of reading the first print and also at a time when it wasn’t the craze it became later. No shame in admitting I was in college at the time and the Prisoner of Azkaban scared the hell out of me.
3. Gone with the Wind. Read the book some gazillion times and can read it another gazillion times. Totally in love with Rhett and more so with the feisty Scarlett O’Hara. Can relate to the pre-Civil War American society’s treatment of women. The sequel ‘Scarlett’ saved me from committing suicide over Rhett’s abandonment of Scarlett.
4. The Anne of Green Gables Series. The first 3 books are my fav. Still lack the courage to read beyond Anne’s House of Dreams.
5. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin.
6. Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Although if you ask me for details I may not know them. But this was when I really understood why Hardy is such a celebrated writer.
7. The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne This hit a chord. One of the most touching, heart-rending books ever written.
8. The Book Thief. A book I read recently. It made me LOL and cry bitter tears too. I know if my grandkids take literature in college they will have this on their course.
9. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Even though Kite Runner is the more famous book, I like this much better.
10. Samarkand. Amin Maalouf is a genius.

Leaving you with some poetry by Omar Khayyam: 

Those whom we meet in churches, divinity colleges or temples
Desire heaven and fear hell;
But he who has read the secrets of the Divine,
Does not give a moment’s thought to such matters. 

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

The Dirty ‘F’ Word for Startups and Other Things

The Send Maria To School campaign FAILED! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee (that’s me getting excited over nothing). Couldn’t find 1250 people to donate $8. *Sob. But did find many friends who rose to the challenge and donated very generously. Still a long way from my goal so decided to return the money. 100% of those who wrote back said they wanted me to keep it and use it for WDL. How awesome is that! Here is the thing. Crowdfunding is such a cool concept and it really works. But to make it successful you need to have a team of people working with you. You will need someone to run your social media campaign, do your graphics, write emails to network, send thank you emails, send updates, put up latest info on the campaign on whatever platform you are using and so on. Plus, you need to do it from a proper platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo or if most of your network is in the MENA or Pakistan you can try Zoomaal. With the other 2 platforms sometimes credit cards from these regions are not accepted. Zoomaal is based in MENA so it won’t give you any problem with your plastic. Also, of all the donations received the one that touched me the most is from Sidra Qasim. Sidra is the co-founder of an e-commerce startup called Markhor. Out of nowhere she sent me $50. Knowing how hard-pressed startups are for money this gesture really won me over. Thank you once again Sidra and Waqas. 

Recently made acquaintance of this really inspiring young man. Imran Ali Rajput is the founder of Inovadors, a startup aiming to ‘bridge the gap between education and employment’. This guy came out of nowhere and made it to the first ever week-long MITx Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. He is the only person to get selected from Pakistan. You can read more about it here. Unfortunately he couldn’t find any sponsors. I can’t tell you how frustrated that makes me with everything. We have tons of money to spend on stupid workshops that serve no purpose except to show donor agencies we are doing something. Even more is spent on startup competitions, that I completely endorse, but if startups like Inovadors are not finding sponsors for such huge opportunities then what exactly is the purpose of holding these events? Now he has been selected for the Web Summit in Dublin. I truly hope he finds someone to pay for him to attend. If you know someone who can help or you have any ideas please do share them. 

Above is just one example. The guy just happened to connect with me. I wonder how many others are missing out on huge opportunities just because they can’t find funding. :( 

Other than that, it’s all good. Kids have started school. THANK GOD FOR THAT. They were driving me nuts expecting me to entertain them every day. I have started drinking the yuckiest possible homemade juices. An example? Cabbage, cucumber, spinach, carrot, mango, apple, plum, beet, ginger, lemon concoction. :D Told you it was disgusting. 

The Digital League just finished working on this really cool website for a client. Check it out here. This involved a lot of sweat and blood and I am so proud of my team. I still hope for the day when I can source out such work to WDL. Any girl-coders in Pakistan out there who can deliver such work? DO get in touch. 

Have a workshop at Lahore College for Women University starting 15th September. Looking forward to that. Involves some surprise guests. Will share more later ;) This is strictly for students of the university. However, if you are interested in attending drop me an email at maria (at) womensdigitalleague (dot) com and I will see what I can do. 

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Workshop with the British Council Active Citizen Program (ACP) participants at the LCWU.

Still waiting for the NGO registration to go through for WDL. Oh yeah … a Malaysian friend/client has got my Hunza team working on a data scraping project. We have 20 women engaged. It’s so awesome. Am really excited. There was definitely a learning curve there and we are still trying to figure out most efficient way of extracting data (we = client and us) but it’s really cool that the women are getting a first hand experience of how online work is actually possible. The procurement officer in Hunza tells me the women are having such a grand time they even come to work on weekends. :) :) It’s my dream to have this model replicated through out Pakistan. 

OK no more to add. Take care my lovelies. Don’t let anyone get you down. Stay away from negative people. You are wonderful as you are. 

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 P.S. The ‘F’ word = FUNDING 

Shankay Displacement

(Inspired from real events)
As the ten hour journey came to an end, She didn’t realize this was the last time She’d be visiting her village.

It was a sad day. Her father came to pick her up from school after dropping Her there just an hour ago. That never happened. As they got in his old government owned Pajero She asked him if Grandfather was OK. Baba didn’t answer. She was right. He was no more. As saddened as She was there was also a little excitement there. Bad girl! Always thinking and doing things good girls didn’t do. There was no doubt She was going to hell but this meant going to her village.

It was a rare thing but the few times She had been there She had  loved it. Despite an urban upbringing there was a strong bond She felt with everyone there. The kids seemed to Her like Herself – wild, mischievous, loud, even a little evil.

Growing up Grandmother had told Her many stories about that wild, rough land. Of how she kept little chicks under a wicker basket to keep them safe from large scavenger birds. Of going down a big mountain to green fields along a gushing stream with her prized cow. That was where Grandmother spent most of her day talking with other village women, grazing the cow, cleaning up the little paths she had made from the stream to her field. She was lucky to witness the scene before Grandmother passed away. Her Cousinly, same age as herself, expertly carried a jug of buttermilk in her hand and a basket of cornbread over her head as She towed behind. How envious She was of Cousin. She half-hoped the buttermilk would spill or the basket slip from her head. Which never happened. Many years later, when they were both expecting babies at the same time Cousin died in her first trimester. The baby had died inside her without her realizing it. Could it be that Her wish had come true after so many years later? The perfect Cousin had made the mistake She had been waiting for?

Sitting there in that field, nothing had tasted better. Grandmother sat erect much like the Native Americans She had seen in movies with a few of her many tiny braids hanging out from her chador. Being the village chief’s wife all the other women treated her like royalty.

Today as they walked from the market, which was where the road ended, down the narrow path through mountains and villages with curious children and huge angry dogs She expected the same. Women grabbing her and giving her huge busty hugs and sloppy kisses while the men ignored with all the manliness they could muster. But no, this was definitely different.

Grandmother was never one to show emotions. Today she sat in a corner surrounded by other women as usual but something was unusual. She had some emotion that was hard to describe. Pain? Anger? Pride? Sorrow? Fear? She never expected to see Grandmother crying. Oh no. A woman didn’t cry over their husband’s death. It meant she loved him. This made for a lot of gossip. Was he loving and caring? That wasn’t very manly. But could Grandmother be crying without shedding any tears?

This was Her first funeral. Oddly She didn’t feel anything. Until then. As She sat with her back against the wall hiding from all those gathered in the biggest opening in the village, a queue of men started passing before Her. Tall men, stocky men, young men, old men. All with hard, weather-worn faces. Faces that had seen hardships beyond their years. Roughened by every day struggle to live in a ruthless land where there was no room for a gentle soul. But beyond those fierce tribal facades were many concealed moments of kindness. The world would never know about those moments. She saw them file past Her towards the middle of the opening where Grandfather lay on a high bed all wrapped in white. She couldn’t see his face from where She was. Hadn’t seen his face since they brought him to the village from Dera. Those proud men paid their respects one by one to the tribal chief and moved along to take their place on the stones with the other men. Fascinating!
That’s when Her uncle announced they were taking Grandfather’s body for burial and the women could have one last look. Curiosity made Her inch closer. That’s when She saw him. She didn’t know what She expected to see but this was strange. First time She was seeing Grandfather without his big, beige turban in public. He looked so vulnerable. Walking away as fast as She could warm liquid running down her face the voices of women crying and men chanting the Kalmah would forever change the way She looked at Her life. Pain would subside because the wounds would heal. Those were wounds to the body, not to the soul. That was a body being carried away. Grandfather was elsewhere smiling his amused smile with his piercingly intelligent eyes waiting for the right moment to tickle with his big hard fingers that hurt more than made Her laugh.

No one ate that day. Big cauldrons of food were made for the people who had come to pay respects. Different beans all cooked together. Later she saw the food carried away by the strong current of the stream. No one in Father’s village ever ate funeral food. Found it repulsive. She and Sister didn’t touch it either though they didn’t know the oddity. Genetics!

Later that day, Cousin and other children from the village went to gather “shankay”. She was charmed! What was “shankay”? Cousin just grinned and told Her to come along and find out for Herself. This was a different path from the usual one they took to go to the fields, stream or even to the other villages that they dared each other to go to. It was different. Rocky and barren as most of her village but with a bluish hue and some vegetation. This was where shepherds brought their cattle to graze. This was Her favorite part – discovering what She called a mountain on a mountain. Her village was on top of a mountain but She knew that there were other mountains surrounding the area. Here She was at the foot of one of the largest She had seen yet. And it was blue. A deep, serious blue – not one of those cheerful hues. On closer inspection, small crush-like stones were found to be the reason for the color. This was shankay – small blue stones people used to decorate graves with. Cousin was happy to see Her surprise. Cousin was like that. She liked showing Her new things and was delighted when the right amount of curiosity and excitement were shown. Does the mountain feel happy it gives a part of itself to decorate a grave? Or does it find it morbid? How would I feel if someone thought my hair pretty and took away locks to lay on a dear one’s grave? Is that why bits of me were taken away so they could make their ugly souls look pretty even if for just a while? She collected the stones because She couldn’t let Cousin take all the credit for making the grave pretty. Cousin had already started making a flag from rags to put on it.

Death should be mourned more. Isn’t that how it’s shown on TV and in books? But as the kids returned to the village and headed towards the graveyard, She saw women sitting by the graves chatting amongst themselves. There was nothing tragic. No tears. Just life going on. Grandfather’s newly dug grave was easy to find. She never knew he was this tall. They must have made the grave bigger by mistake. Here in the late afternoon breeze with the women’s silent murmuring and chuckles, running around of the children with slingshots around their necks, the chatter of tweens like herself as they spread shankay on the grave, Death was a friend and not the scary monster it was made out to be. Life and Death. Death and Life. Just a Dream separating the two. Both cruel. Both kind. Both divine.

Granduncle’s room with the tin roof shaded by pomegranate trees. Mud stoves and log fire. Enchanting rooms with poles smack-dab in the middle going up a hole in the roof for keeping night watches. Prized walnut trees. Ancestors. Roots. Simplicity. All dead. Displaced. And in Her mind She has covered it all with shankay.

Negativity – Let It Go

People will bring you down no matter what you do. There will always be something you didn’t do right. Something someone thinks you or they could have done differently. A dear friend was telling me just today about how social entrepreneurs will forever face the dilemma of going with fulfilling their dream and getting rewarded with immense personal gratification, and following the set rule of success and measuring it in terms of money.

“What is your revenue?”

“How many people do you employ?”

“How come you don’t even have an office?”

So many questions. So many DUMB questions to put to someone working to bring a sustainable social change. Foolish questions to ask a social entrepreneur spending every minute of his/her life envisioning and working for a social revolution that will make lives better and not just bring in VCs. Makes me question the person’s knowledge of what a socent actually is.

Then there are those saying they would do it differently. My question to them; Why don’t you? I don’t own copyrights to running digital livelihood workshops and connecting people to work. Fast rewind to my first blog posts. I have said it time and time again I am not one to get scared of challenges. And no one can stop me from doing something I truly believe in. Everyone I went to with the idea for WDL said NO. They said it was impossible. So here I am doing it myself. My journey has been no secret. It’s all here on this very blog. Been saying if I couldn’t make it happen it was OK. Maybe someone will pick it up from where I leave (which would only be when I die or someone actually makes my dream a reality) and take it to the next step.

My “marketing tactics” have been questioned. Something about how I am cashing in on being from South Waziristan and a woman and a Pakistani and working for digital livelihood and using that as leverage to get attention. Can I help being in a unique position? All of that is true but just how many times have I pitched myself as a poor lil helpless D.I.D. running away from my oppressed past? Or plastered black, yellow, brown, orange faces with myself patronizing them? People find out from word of mouth about WDL and they are curious and then they want to tell the world about it. Am I supposed to say “No” to them just because I make some people uncomfortable and insecure? So if Pakistan has a dormant workforce and faces challenges in working I am not supposed to highlight it? Puhleaze! On the contrary to what some excuse me of I am telling the world we have a LARGE UNTAPPED EDUCATED SKILLED workforce and all it lacks is opportunity. Millions of little girls are denied and education but MILLIONS do go to school and college and universities. Pushtun women have perhaps a harder time especially those from Waziristan and rest of FATA but we are NOT the oppressed, illiterate lot the World wants us to be or knows us to be. I am one example of the women who came forward and said HELL WITH ALL YOUR MEDIA-FED PERCEPTION. I am as Pakistani, as Waziristani, as it gets. I am a woman. I have an education. I am doing tech. Our fathers and brothers and husbands are NOT the cruel savages they are made out to be. There are many more like me … many MUCH MORE intelligent, educated, empowered then me. Stop stereotyping me.

So how the hell am I using any marketing tactic here? I don’t remember even referring to my tribal background ever in any interview. I am taking a social media detox for this reason. I am so sick and tired of all the negativity. Always under a microscope being judged for every word that I tweet or put up on FB. This is precisely why I don’t talk about work on social media and blog as little as possible. This constant scrutiny. It’s like I can never do anything right. Now I know the moment you read this post you will be like oh she is aiming for sympathy/empathy. UGH! I wish I could say I don’t give a crap. But I do. I mean not enough to stop being me. But enough to want to go get a sugar high and then hate myself for it.

In other happier news, had a great 3 days in Islamabad with the familia and friends. Miss this city. Just being able to walk from Shaheen Chemist to Kohsar Market to sit in GJC for a smoothie and then walking down to Kuch Khaas which is my “safe spot”. Off to Lahore tomorrow via train. Sighhh … I am not liking the place so far but having a house in the most green area in the city helps a lot.

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. Aerosmith’s Angel is still goosebump inducing.
P.P.S. Goosebumps remind me … I had the BIGGEST HUGEST BUMPIEST goosebumps listening to Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Baig. Pakistan’s first mountaineer sibling duo from Hunza climbed 7 peaks in 7 continents including the highest, Mount Everest. Oppressed women? OH SHUT UP ALREADY!
Samina Baig and Mirza Baig