Its on us

Another one becomes a victim of depression. You know, that thing that’s in your head and not really there? That illness for which there is no blood test or xray or ultrasound? The one where everyone tells you to keep busy, stop acting, don’t be so selfish, turn to prayers? Yeah, that imaginary illness people have. It claimed a life, once again. There were calls for help. Silent cries saying, “I am drowning. My lungs are filled with water and I can’t scream. But you see me. Save me.” And we just tell her, “Swim!” And then when the person dies we call it suicide. Tell yourself whatever you need to feel better. But its never suicide. It’s our collective negligence and selfishness that wants to avoid problems and brush them under the rug.

We killed her.

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DeClutter

I need a bookshelf for the kids. None of those fancy cute things but something big and sturdy. Preferably that has 2 sections so both will have their own side. These kids have accumulated I don’t know how many books over time and I literally have books coming out of every part of the house. Makes me happy and SUPER ANNOYED at the same time. So yeah. Suggestions for good ones please.

I need a bookshelf for meself. Again, nothing fancy. Practical and simple. Preferably made from natural material. Cane? Don’t suggest pine or walnut wood – that’s horribly expensive.

Have been sick for a long time now. This cough is not good.

Told hubbie to bring me Cream of Chicken / Mushroom soup. He brought Chicken Mushroom Soup. It’s. Not. The. Same. UGH!

Ordered a McD. Meal cost = Rs 500. Delivery Charges: Rs. 300. DAMMIT! (Yeah, McD doesn’t deliver in my area).

I need to declutter my house. Too much stuff. Will start with clothes. Have 3 HUGE suitcases filled with stuff I will never ever wear.
– One lot is what I still hope I may some day fit into. Not gonna happen.
– One lot is of beautiful shawls I bought so lovingly after saving up for so long but that I never wear. Can’t just toss them away so am torn between giving to relatives or keeping them. :/
– And there is the fancy bling stuff that I wore a max of ONE time. A huge suitcase filled with them. BEAUTIFUL stuff some of it but a. some don’t fit and never will b. some are reallyyyyyyyy pretty and was hoping Sheroo could use them some day but will she? c. I don’t have any unmarried brothers or sisters or very close relatives whose weddings I can wear them to. So please advise. My garage has big huge trunks filled with bedding and old pillows and covers that I have used a total of 3 times maybe. I just don’t get so many guests and for the ones I do, we have enough inside the house. Then there are the odd bits and ends that don’t make any sense any more but are sitting there just in case. Those are the most annoying. Like bits of electric cables, a bag full of keys that no one knows what they fit into, broken furniture that might some day come in handy, all kinds of cartons for when we ever have to move out of this house we could use to pack out stuff and so on. IT ALL GOES.

Jon Elia is a wizard. I read one of his books till late last night. Every word made me stop. Reread. Touch it. And then move on. I could feel the rawness of his pain. The absolute beauty of his verses so laden with meaning and emotions. While I could always admire his poetry but for the first time I heard his plea for help. The anguish of his fading soul. Like he was crying out to us. It reminded me of a scene from Spy Kids (yep, kids movies can be quite “deep” if you think about it) where the Fooglies are seen as funnny creatures in a kids show but are really people trapped by an evil genius and they are calling out for help. OK come to think of it that comparison was a little strange. But anyhow, you get the idea. This is my favorite Elia poetry:

Angaray - Jon Elia

In other news, WDL was selected as a partner by UpWork for its Social Impact Project. AND …. my baby was also selected by Facebook as an official partner for the #SheMeansBusiness program. Wheeeeeee. Which was I most excited about? Facebook. Which meant a lot more? UpWork. This was oDesk dudettes. This is where I started from. This is why I would sit in front of my computer at 10 PM and hit REFRESH like a possessed person looking for new writing jobs that paid me 25 cents a piece but that was better than zero. And now that same company TWICE as stronger because of the Elance merger has partnered with WDL. Yes, I have no shame in admitting I cried on the webcon we had. But no, you can’t see pictures of that. Will make it up to you peeps by posting pictures from Facebook visit:

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So much fun!

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I am starving

Having a hard time living with myself. Everything is perfect but there is a void. A strange emptiness that I can’t explain. I think I know what it is but am too afraid to follow it and fulfil it. Fear of the unknown has never bothered me. Death is just a word we have made into something to be scared of while it just means a Union. Union with Him who loves me most. May sound bizarre. You may argue there there are plenty here that love me. But do they love me with all my faults? Do they accept me with all of me? Everyone thinks they know me. Funny. It’s so easy to deceive without meaning to be deceptive. Everyone is happy knowing what they do and don’t want to learn more because they aren’t interested or don’t have time or think what they know is enough. But He knows me. Inside out. Every thought. Every heartbeat. Every crease and every crack. All my sins and all my teary repentances and then the repeating of the sins … the entire cycle. True I hide form Him. His love is so easy. Just remembrance – a few minutes of time spent together – and He gives me so much. But how do I ever repay Jim or even match His love? I can’t and therefore I hide. I sin and hate myself. Pull myself away and go far away from Him until my eyes don’t see Him and my heart doesn’t feel Him and every particle of my body and soul screams with the want of a longing for Him. In the most unimaginable and surprising of ways He comes back. Heart expands and eyes come alive enlivening the face and the excitement of First Love is back. The embrace is same as the First Embrace evoking same feelings. So warm. So safe. It washes away all my sins and makes me feel so pure. But then, once I have Him, I become this ungrateful lover that takes His Love for granted. And the cycle repeats itself. He gives me my space until that space makes Him just a nagging worry rather than a soothing memory or presence. And then He stops calling my name. His sweet gentle rustling tug no more asks me to His presence. I plan every day to go see Him, spend time talking to Him but I speak to machines instead. I am scared. What if one day His patience runs out? He says enough. Stops expecting me and waiting for me and just lets me go? I need Him to stop me. Because I need Him. I don’t know what is stopping me. I am so embarrassed and ashamed. See how there is so much ‘I’ in all that I write? I am just sad. There is absolutely no need to be sad but I am. I see people around me – strangers crossing the streets; people going their own way in cars and buses; I realize they all carry a part of Him and believe if only I knew all of them or at least remembered each ones face I’d have Him but I can’t. I never remember. I see Him all around and can’t have Him all. It’s distressing. While He is in all of them He is also of them. He belongs to them too and that makes me jealous. I don’t want to share Him. His love is mine. He is mine. He is the first one I ever spoke to. Told all my secrets. Shared all my silly thoughts. Even spoke of the sins I was planning and the ones I actually committed. Thought I was looking for Him when I dug a little “grave” under the huge money-plant tree in our old colonial-era house in Peshawar. He asked what I was doing and I said, “I am looking for God. I saw my mother and aunt go to a place like this and they were praying so I am guessing this is where He will be”. And He indulged me – kept me company while I dug a small hole and buried some pebbles and a leaf from the tree inside. He smiled as I squatted there in the middle of the hot afternoon with my hands together praying to Him. I miss my childhood only because He was my constant companion. Now I am too distracted. So much so I don’t even take 5 minutes out right before I would go to sleep to speak to Him and say, “Thank You for everything today” or complain and be angry, “You weren’t so nice. I asked you for xyz and You could easily give it to me but You didn’t so I don’t want to talk to You” while all the time talking to Him. I just turn off the lights, lie down, turn on my phone and look at the screen till sleep takes over.
And that’s the time of the night now. I will turn off my laptop now. Switch off the lights. Cover myself with the blanket. And with a starving soul turn to things that don’t even matter.

A Whole Year!

It’s been a whole year since I last posted anything here. I am surprised because I thought it had been much longer. Good to see some loyal fans have been visiting the place. Shows I’ve been missed. Here is why I stopped.

I am famous. Well, kind of. People in Pakistan know me. Particularly in the tech industry. And I also say the most ridiculous of things. If a thought comes into my mind I tend to blurt it out. If I get a feeling, a vibe, I say it. If I have an opinion, again, I don’t keep it to myself. Previously it was just me those things would hurt (or benefit!). Not any more.

Since last year, here is what has happened:

  • I became a World Bank Consultant
  • I joined Enclude Pakistan as a Senior Consultant on Sustainable Business Practices and am working on WomenX, a training program for existing women entrepreneurs to help them scale up
  • Was invited to the APrIGF in Taipei and attended a workshop on Women Human Rights
  • Was spoken of very highly in a New York Times bestseller
  • Am speaking soon at a UN – ISOC event

So I am all kinds of hoitey toitey cool NGO auntie who pretends to know tech. And then some. *pictures to be followed*

Now if I say the things I want to say it would get me into a whole lot of trouble. I am not giving you details. But if you REALLY want to know, oh my dahlin’ what long hours of juicy gossip and heartbreaking, disappointing, lose-my-faith-in-humanity chats we could have. But I can’t spill it on the blog. Just trust me on that one. So I have been keeping quiet. But something made me come back here.

Few weeks back the team from UpWork contacted me. They wanted to speak to me about some program I might be interested in. And half way through the call I couldn’t keep it together any more. The tears just started pouring no matter how hard I tried to stop. It took me back to the early years working on oDesk. Staying up all night just so I was one of the first 5 people to bid on a project that just paid $2 for essays that took me hours to finish. When no one believed online work was real. That you could work on a computer using the Internet and could actually get paid for it. That I wasn’t up to no good during those late nights but was actually working till my fingers hurt so bad I couldn’t straighten them out. When my biggest dream was to somehow make $500 per month.

And here were people from that platform talking to me, sharing jokes, ideas, possibilities! Phew …. *deep breaths*. Nothing has been as big a win as this.

Can I be a little grown up-ish and say something? Oh what the hell – I don’t need your permission. I forgot it was my blog. 😛

Don’t put limits on your dreams. No matter how crazy they may be. People will tear you down, poison you to your very soul with their doubts and jeers and negativity, but don’t give up. It’s OK to go slow. Take your time. Breathe! Hide, if you need to. Escape, when you need to. It’s OK to do that for a while. But always come back and continue.

This is me coming straight from the heart.

In other random news, I finally visited Hunza. Met the current CEO, Kamal. And had a CRAZY FUN TIME. Was interviewed for a cover page story of an urdu newspaper’s women edition. Made me realize the power of Urdu newspapers – WDL’s official number rang incessantly. BTW our official number is 0336-WDL-0-WDL. Cool, right? 😀 Finally bought a MacBook Pro. Yes, no more a poor woman. 😀 I have gained enough weight to make 3 plus size models from.

 

And sorry – Facebook is taking forever to load pictures and I am losing patience. Later! Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

And then everyone WINS!

Almost SEVEN years! Time does fly – takes several breaks to crap on you – but it flies. Women’s Digital League started as FIRST and ONLY social enterprise of its’ kind promoting and providing online computer-based work to Pakistani service providers. Of course, we were gender-biased and still are. But regardless of that, we were the pioneers. At a time when people scoffed at the idea, closed doors in my face, mocked me, gave friendly advises on NOT continuing with it and continuing with my teaching career WDL kept plodding away. SLOW AND STEADY never made sense to me until WDL.

Today, WDL has several franchising offers, a World Bank grant under its belt, recognition on several platforms including FORBES and ASHOKA *insert crazy blood-curdling excited screams*. WE WERE EVEN ON MASHABLE before Mashable decided to post articles on male health (ahem) and 9 year olds getting all excited about meeting Trump.

UN, WB, USAID, investors and VCs are pouring in Alahmdulillah (easy – I am not detonating anything – merely praising God for everything! Gosh, peeps! *eyeroll). I have offers from people in other countries to expand there. It’s just crazy.

But what makes me really happy is that FINALLY this crazy idea is being taken up by others who are MAD and implemented. My mission was always to have people believe and come into the field. It was lonely being the only one. I am so excited to see new faces doing incredible work creating digital livelihoods. Hundreds and thousands of people trained throughout the country in working online doing graphics, WordPress, social media, article writing, data entry … the awesome interactions taking place, the stories coming up … it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Currently, the grant we received from WB back in April 2015 for just one training has been extended and we are now conducting 10 trainings over a period of 12 months. Who would have thought! World Bank hiring me as a consultant to run a digital livelihood program! RIDICULOUS!

There is this quote by Gandhi I found a while ago and have been in love since finding out;

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Giving up is never an option. Perseverance always pays off and that’s the quality of an entrepreneur. Tell you the truth, just last week I broke down while on my way to a meeting. When I say broke down I mean I actually sobbed in the backseat of a rental with a driver who was a complete stranger. Decided I didn’t want to attend the meeting, didn’t want to have anything to do with WDL and that I just couldn’t handle it any more. Some would argue I shouldn’t be making this pubic because it would make people hesitant in investing in WDL or me but WHAT THE HELL. Since when have I ever played it by the rules.

Anyhoo what I was trying to say is that Gandhi forgot one thing. He forgot to mention … “And in the end everyone wins” because when you are doing good in whatever way you are actually multiplying the effect.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeee

hodgepodge

It’s been a long time. Been stuck in that place between happiness and pain where both cancel out each other and you are left wondering how you feel, or if you feel anything at all. Nothing too dramatic. Just the usual ups and downs. I am still in that zone but I need to talk.

Been going from strength to strength lately Alhamdulillah.

– World Bank project has been extended by a whole 12 months and we will be starting some time this year. It will also be extended out of Peshawar to other districts. Girls from previous training are doing so well and couldn’t be more proud of them.

– Invited to speak at the Tech valley Abbotabad inauguration ceremony. This was my first ever trip to the city. Received such a warm response from the local kids. Of course all the boys had same old complain: “Why just the girls?” Umm … maybe because it’s the WOMEN’S Digital League? Love that finally people are sitting up and taking online work seriously. Donors coming in and giving out huge sums to get the digital economy up and running in Pakistan. It’s the new hot field for NGOs to get their hands on big $$$, pocket most of it, come up with fancy confusing statistics, show some shady sounding results and win big awards.

OH MY GOD! I DIDN’T MEAN TO SOUND SO MEAN. *actually I did but that’s between me and you okay?*

It just makes me upset to see money that could actually create a positive change being wasted. AT LEAST see if the NGO you are giving the money to actually has some expertise in the field. I can’t even big on these RFPs you know why? Because I haven’t been around for 10 years!! WHAT THE HELL! I have more than 6 years of experience in the field and was an early adapter and perhaps the first person/organization to speak up for introducing computer-based work in Pakistan as a means to bring employment and also use a dormant workforce (women, duh!).

See what I mean. I am MEGA happy and MEGA upset.

Whatever!

– Oohhh … I also visited Swat Valley after like 20 years. Creepy how the place looks exactly the same. No development. No new or repaired roads. No mention-worthy construction. Just some designer brands housed in small run-down buildings in the middle of nowhere. I mean if you have Nishat and Khaadi and Bareeze you can’t really say there hasn’t been any development in the area. Who wants roads and schools etc.

^ was the bitter part. Sweet was I was invited to speak at a Women Entrepreneurs Conference by Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC) working under Small & Medium Enterprise Development Center (SMEDA). Pretty cool even though there weren’t many attending. Heartening to see something being done.

– Going to attend Startup Istanbul! EEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Sponsored by somebody. *some crazy demonic tribal ritual* Can’t believe it. OK not talking about that any more in case I or some hater jinxes it.

– Web Summit is happening and it’s in DUBLIN again. 😦 I wanna go. *loud wailing* The flight to Dublin from Pakistan costs less than the price of attending the Summit at the Super Early Bird price. Life is so unfair. Wish I had roughly $2000. GOD the time of my life that I could have with that money. Going to Ireland has been on my Life’s Bucketlist for like FOREVER. If you gave me a choice between Ireland and Disney I would still pick Ireland. Now you get how much I want to see/explore the place? So if anyone rich is reading this, PLEASE GIMME THE MAANEEEE. If you want me to call someone and yell something that’d cut me off the social list a-la Mr Cruise in Jerry Maguire, I’d totally do it.

Too long to finish this and I don’t know how to so
OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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.