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

Make “Some Day” Today!

A couple of days back my kids were having a rare friendly moment in the backseat of the car. As I sat in front my mind suddenly zoomed in on their laughter closing out the usual thoughts. In that moment I realized just how blessed I was. In that tiny little world inside our car everything was perfect. And ever since that day I have been counting blessings that I tend to take for granted or never really think much about. It’s like a bulb inside me went on putting a spotlight on things that really mattered … things like family, health, friends, life, sunshine, rain, a place to call home. Just thought I’d share it with you folks. We spend so much time chasing after dreams we forget to enjoy what we have in that moment. I am not discouraging any one from wanting more – that’s perfectly fine. I want more.I need more. And I won’t stop until I have put myself to tests everyone including myself believe to be impossible ‘coz what’s the fine in life otherwise, right? Just saying don’t ignore the now and here while preparing for your next adventure.

So much time is wasted in thinking about “some day”.

Some day I will paint my door yellow.
Some day I will hitchhike my way through Europe.
Some day I will write a book.
Some day I will start a new company.

‘Some day’ may or may not come. But what is certain is today. Have you stopped and thought of what you did today?

Today I called my parents.
Today I started a new book that had been sitting on the shelf for so long.
Today I kept my temper under control.
Today I spent time playing Pictionary with the kids.

All that you did and experienced today was a ‘some day’ once upon a time. Sit down, relax, breathe, take it all in and enjoy the moment.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Hey Scaredy Cat

Interacted with a bunch of startups and more mature business owners. then darling friend Salma Jafri (@salmajafri) asked something similar on Twitter. Thought I’d share it with you loyal PakiMom-ers before I lose my urge to write.

If you have launched something stop being scared of not being able to deliver. Look at Patari. They launch an invite-only beta. This not only keeps them from getting overwhelmed while just finding a foothold. Also is a great marketing strategy ‘coz it adds the exclusivity angle. We all like feeling important and flaunting our exclusive access even if we may not use it all that much.

Also, I will continue with the Patari example since its local and more relatable. So everyone knows Patari now. Their unique selling points. Many others will jump into the field. They will have the advantage of having Patari already there having done their market research for them and all the feedback people have. The dos and donts. So developers will have no problem replicating the thing, making it prettier, cleaner, even reaching out to same artists and offering them something better/more. But while this may sound like a negative it actually could also work to Patari’s advantage. While others are copying them they can add new things, improve and roll out new features. That way their competitors will always be a step behind them. Remember the idea is easy and anyone can copy it. No big deal. I mean we know Facebook – lets make one and all become billionaires. But whats difficult is the entrepreneurial spirit that comes with it which means thinking ahead and doing new things all the time many of which may not work out but the few that do become game changers.

Feel free to disagree. Not like I care. Duh.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Feel

New Business Ideas – Seeking Validation

I have realized I am in the wrong business. No one wants a social entrepreneur. Especially not an honest one. But I want dwell and elaborate on that. But I have identified a few other businesses that I’d like to start. I have exclusive copyrights to them so if you steal you will get into trouble.

1. Open a tattoo parlor. Yes, you heard it right. Did you know a tiny tattoo costs like Rs 25,000 ($250)? Now being from the tribal areas, I know a thing or two about those. or at least I should. It ought to be in my genes since about 90% of women I know and about 50% of men too, have had tattoos done on their foreheads, chins, thumbs, wrists, and dunno where else. Tribes in South Waziristan agency which is where I belong to find tattoos very attractive so everyone has them. They take a clean sewing needle and start poking your skin with it in the desired shape. When blood starts coming out they dip the needle in a mixture of coal and water and continue poking you until that coal lodges in your blood stream forever. Then they let you go and after a few days when you have come out of that traumatic experience all in the name of beauty and the swelling goes down you have a pwetty green bruise in a shape of your choice!! And anyone can do it. I had little cousins, not yet teenagers, doing it to each other. So yeah I could bring some relatives from Waziristan and we could set up the parlor.

2. Start trade business. Yeah so today I went to this famous bazaar in Lahore called Duppatta Galli (the scarf street) in Liberty Market. It was to look for something specific a friend in Karachi wanted. While there I took pictures of random pretty stuff – clothes, shoes – and posted it to an online shopping group on Facebook that’s women only. And what do you know! I received more inbox messages and comments on the post than I ever have. Women just went gaga over it and want one of everything. This despite explaining I wasn’t a seller. These were women outside Lahore especially from Karachi. So I know there is a market. I buy cheap stuff and sell at big profits. Also, since my family lives in Peshawar and I visit regularly I can exploit the famous cloth market, Shafi Market. And not to forget, Karkhano (literally “factories”) where you can buy all sorts of counterfeit stuff ranging from YSL and Chanel to Nestle and Godiva. Also, there is a special market there called Sitara Market (Star Market) where they sell stolen stuff from UN forces. Yeah, you read that right. ROFL. So all kinds of fancy night-vision binoculars, swiss knives, weird packaged food, tents … you name it … are available. I can sell it all over Pakistan and make some good money.

3. Food Truck. Best idea ever. Me and my friend came up with it a-la Chef, the movie. So Pakistani folks are crazy over food. At least the ones I know are. Especially when it’s breakfast or tea time. So we thought we would get a small food truck, put an average chef on it, and travel through the country selling food. Now we both love to travel but traveling domestic in Pakistan is going to be hard because of security and all. But we can travel wherever the motorway goes. Get a license to park at the roadside rest areas. Menu would include all kinds of spicy chaats, biryani, lassi, lemonade, samosay and pakoray, and typical Pakistani tea (Lipton Yellow Label). For dessert, we can serve all kinds of mithai (sweetmeat), shahi tukray (my personal fav), and kheer (rice pudding). Yum! It will be so much fun. I can’t wait to start this.

OK byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Stuff

1 – Deactivated Twitter for a month. Wiped off all data. Signed up again. Same handle … @MariaUmar. Why? Dunno. I just did. No, not an attention seeker. On the contrary … had quite some followers. But you will think what you think so whatever.

2. WDL received a $6000 grant from World Bank to run a pilot on online work in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. Training 20 women in creating a digital livelihood. Diverse backgrounds. 7 of them now working – 3 as writers, 2 on social media, 1 on data entry, and one on research.

3. ^ also means I can now officially call myself a WB Consultant. Very cool.

4. Spoke at several events, attended even more.

5. Do I sound bored? No, I am not. Just don’t feel like documenting everything.

6. Do you want to see something super awesome? For the WDL KPK campaign, my fav graphic designer, Nida Salman created these graphics that EVERYONE is talking about. From concept to execution it’s all her.

Message to women from conservative backgrounds that wearing a scarf and concealing their faces did not mean they had to kill their dreams.

Message to women from conservative backgrounds that wearing a scarf and concealing their faces did not mean they had to kill their dreams.

Girls are often told their

Girls are often told their culinary skills, especially making a perfect round roti or bread is their biggest asset. But it’s time to break that stereotype.

Another take on the "Gol Roti" syndrome.

Another take on the “Gol Roti” syndrome.

Sewing Machine has been seen as a sign of women empowerment for ages. You see the government and charity organizations distributing these pretending to be for female empowerment when they are missing the point. Education and dignified work is what women need.

Sewing Machine has been seen as a sign of women empowerment for ages. You see the government and charity organizations distributing these pretending to be for female empowerment when they are missing the point. Education and dignified work is what women need.

These posters make me as excited today as they did a month ago.

Want to thank Qazi Jalal the sweetest, most humble, extremely helpful guy I know. If I ever vote PTI know it’s only because of him.

Don’t have energy to go into details of any of above.

OK byeeeeeeeeee



Wish List 2015 – Let’s Start With Some LG Love

Television

My peeps, this is where I am heading. This is where all of you with any fragment of good taste and loads of money is headed. A picture so awesome the real world appears fake!

I had myself invited to the LG Launch Event at Pearl Continental Hotel, Lahore. You know I love free stuff even if it’s just a cookie and this was actually a full on Hi Tea. So there I was in all my awesomeness. Those people had really gone all out decorating the place. Red lights, vases, stage, fancy cameras … even the one that goes on a crane-like thing … the middle-class small-town person in me was secretly bedazzled. I wonder how much it all cost. I mean a fraction of it could sponsor so many WDL workshops. Sigh.

LG Launch

Thank God, I found Fatima Rizwan (TechJuice any one?) soon as I walked in. I get nervous when I don’t know anyone at a place. Got a demo of the latest energy efficient product range. Spotlight was on the LG Battery TV. Since I don’t watch much TV and dunno what all the fancy technology behind it is so I didn’t expect to get excited but I did. The thing comes with some kinda technology where you can connect your phone to it and stream videos or music or look at pictures from the phone directly on the TV. Plus, it runs for a whole 90 minutes even without electricity. Why do you think it’s called “Battery TV”? Duh. I think that’s pretty cool.

LG Battery TV

But what got my house-wifely heart beating was the refrigerator. Now you see I have been married 12 years and that’s how long my fridge has lasted me but now it needs retirement. It DESERVES retirement. For example, last month the door came off. We had to seek help from a welder. It was painful watching the surgery. But the resilient piece of historic crap actually made it through. However considering its age something or the other is gonna pop up and kill it. So I need a fridge … got the not-so-subtle hint? And this fridge was super glam. Like it had some 4 or 6 doors and there was a door within a door. Umm … hard to explain but like you know one of the doors had an outer section that only stored water and small snacks. Dunno how to explain it but was really cool and if you need proof it was even called “Ever Cool”.😀 LG peeps, are you listening? Watch this till 1:15

Oh and their split AC has an internal mosquito killer! Yes, you heard me right. It attracts mosquitoes and traps them inside it and then ‘spits’ (for lack of a better word) them outside. Fancy, eh?

And of course, near the end I had to go meet the Asian General Manager and get my picture taken with him. Wheeeeeeee

LG GM

New Year is coming up. I know a lot of you would LOVE to buy me presents. You can start with the fancy fridge and slowly build your way up to the Tuscan holiday. Thank you.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Up and About

Have my posts become a bit whiny and self-obsessed? First bit is bad but latter … I am worth obsessing over. *snort* Alright, I’ll give you some exciting, chirpy updates.

Last week I was interviewed by FM91. I had such a blast. When FM100 first started its services in Peshawar back when I was a teenager everyone was so psyched. That was the first time most of us ever used the radio on our boomboxes. The first few months the coolest thing anyone could do was get a call through to one of the programs. Very first week and my call got through. Still remember I asked for Take My Breath Away from Top Gun and dedicated it to my friend Tehmina Gilani who was crazy about Mr Scientology. Life really is funny. And guess who the RJ was? This girl who used to be a VJ back in the day when being a VJ was really cool and she used to come on the same channel as the Flavor-of-the-Century, Waqar Khan, the Pushtun Brit.

The Eye Candy

The Eye Candy

I would call the TV channel incessantly whenever he came online and YES I got to speak to him twice. *annoying teenager squeals*

My fav part of the interview was when the RJ asked what kept me going and I said it was my pushtun genes that make me stubborn and hence I go on.😀😀

with RJ Natasha of Desi Girl FMP91

with RJ Natasha of Desi Girl FMP91

Now I am Famous!

Now I am Famous!

Oohh speaking of famous, I was on CNBC!! Yeah OK so I may have tweeted that and FB-ed it a gazillion times already but don’t be haters and let me enjoy my spot in the limelight a while longer. Yeah, so the team came to Pakistan to film me. It was so cool. Loads of very fancy equipment.

I mean it took them 2 whole days to film this and it’s only like 2 and a half minutes long. RESPECT for all film-makers even those who made Creature 3D *shudder.

Also, a special shout out to all the people who helped make the video so awesome – Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) especially the DFDI department’s Saima Riaz and Asma Fakhr; Zareen Niazi, Director Ala-ud-Din Academy; Hafsa Shorish, Program Manager Plan 9; Sidra Qasim, Co-founder Markhor; and Shah Rukh, Co-founder Smartek. And of course my wonderful LCWU students whose love and respect mean the world to me. *hugs* to you all.

And of course, the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW). I was invited by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN) and the US Embassy to moderate a session on “How to become a Successful Entrepreneur”. To be honest, I didn’t know half the people on the panel. But I only need an excuse to go to Islamabad, and also I love meeting my fellow alumni, so I went. And boy was I blown over! I had 6 people on the my panel: Master Ayub, Yasmin Lari, Raza Saeed, Sean Griffith, Qurban Bibi and Rafi Imran. Of these I had only heard of Master Ayub but that’s it. I read their profiles and they all seemed very impressive. But it wasn’t till I started talking to them that I realized just how extraordinary they were. I mean there was Master Ayub who had been teaching disadvantaged kids in a street school for the last 29 years. Yasmeen Lari who has done tremendous work for the economic and social uplift of rural Sind. Raza Saeed, the guy who raised $3.5 million for his company and who spreads dollar-dust wherever he goes. Sean Griffith is a serial entrepreneur and founded Startup Cup and WeCreate. Qurban Bibi runs a training center in Chitral that she built with a micro loan. And Rafi Imran, a young student whose startup just made it into the GEW Top 50 list. MIND BLOWING! I didn’t want the session to end it was soooo fascinating.

Later, the kids wanted to take pictures with me. It was sooo sweet. It’s so humbling when a complete stranger walks up to you and tells you she is a fan. One of them told me she taught at FAST University and gave her students my example. *awwww moment* And then the best thing happened. This woman came right up on stage with a big smile on her face. She had been giving me warm smiles the whole time I was moderating the panel. Turns out she was one of the cofounders of KADO! I read this quote somewhere that appeared cheesy at the time … something about someone hugging you some day in a way that all your broken pieces are fixed. I experienced it myself. There was a warmth and sincerity and so much love in that big huge hug she gave me that made me want to just stay there forever and forget all my worries. I am telling you I am not being emo. Honestly, it was the best thing ever.

Also, I got to meet Salma Jafri, the woman I admired from afar when I first started freelancing and now admire her from not-so-far.

Dazzling!

Dazzling!

And the fantastic panel:

GEW - Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014

In other news, I met my Hunza people! Yayyyy. It was so surreal. They were here in Lahore for some conference. I wanted to hug them all and did hug the girls. Wish they could have stayed longer.

How I love them all

How I love them all

OK are you all happy now? No? Whatever!

OK Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee