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Archive for January, 2014

A friend of mine messaged me yesterday and asked me something along the lines of, ..how was it that I wanted to go out to parties with my friends and you didn’t Shaf..I would love to know the secret if there is any of how you passed those years without getting into severe trouble!!’ I laughed. She is an amazing and wonderful woman and a close friend and she of all people should know how much trouble I keep getting myself into. So I wrote back, ‘My secret was to get into smaller bouts of consistent trouble so that parents were perpetually fed up with me.’

Our ensuing conversation got me thinking about expectations. Perceptions feed expectations. Despite growing up together my friend had a perception of me as a person who didn’t get into severe trouble and expected I may have the answer as to why. Building on that premise, our perceptions of our relationships with family, friends, partners – all breed expectations. We all have them. But why are they so debilitating? Why do they make us vulnerable to others? Especially those we love? This post is going to be extraordinarily clichéd but it is because I have been thinking about clichés lately. Why are clichés clichés? Why can memes like these be read by anyone, anywhere and have an instant mutual understanding? Clichés (say it five times really fast!) are what they are because they have been tested by time and place over and over again. And although it might seem like they are not worth more than a cursory glance, it is actually clichés that can teach you so much that you thought earlier on in life you didn’t need to know.

When you are younger and ignorance is bliss because you think you know all there is to know (Hello 16 year old self! Aren’t you eating your words right now), you scoff at quotes which tell you that more expectations lead to more disappointment because hey you know everything and you only expect what you deserve so your definitely going to get it right? Wrong. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve learnt that love is directly proportional to expectation. I love my father. He is my favourite person in the whole wide world. So even the most offhand cursory comment from him (well intended as it may be) will elicit tears from me when more severe and cutting rebukes from my mum are easily ignored (not because I love her any less but the frequency of those builds up immunity!). There have been times in my life where I have loved and expected thinking that my love for someone justifies my expectations. I have seen sisters who love and care for their brothers and expect from them love and respect only to be marginalised for their wives. The disappointment elicited from unfulfilled expectations is not the fault of the one you love. As much as it may seem so – tis not. It is wholly and entirely your fault.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s words, ‘No one can you make you feel inferior without your consent’ resonate with me when I say this. Love, admiration, respect and trust are in their place. But none of these should build expectations from others. Because others are fallible. In our society and in our culture we are raised to ‘expect’ love and care from our parents. We are raised to ‘expect’ an ATM in shining armour for a husband. We are raised to ‘expect’ respect from our siblings and colleagues even if we have not done enough to deserve these things. My point here is two-fold. Firstly, we should not be expecting anything from anyone except God. Yes you may want the love of a certain person and the respect of another, but that ultimate destiny and decision is in God’s hands and it to Him that you should supplicate. Secondly, God has told us that it is not enough that you simply have faith, you must tie your camel too (Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2517). Simply praying to God for the love and respect of others but doing nothing to elicit or deserve it will get you nowhere. The responsibility then for the outcome of your expectations lies wholly on God and on you. Your actions will deem you worthy to God who in turn will reward you. Nowhere in this scenario should the expectation or the blame in the case of a negative outcome lie on the object/person of you affection/attention.

This. Is harder said than done. I know. Because I have struggled with this for the past 5 years of my life. I was brought up by awesome parents who instilled in me so much confidence (it was my fault that I ignored their lessons in humility) that I felt entitled to love and respect regardless of how I acted. And it has been a hard path to travel on the way back from overconfidence with copious consumption of humble pie. I still don’t have the answer and I won’t pretend to. All I know is that this year I’ve told myself that enough is enough. Enough immaturity. Enough eating what I want. Doing what I like. Focus. So I’m focusing in my Religion. Health. Self-betterment. And that’s all. By being focused on good goals I hope to automatically cut out the peripheral chances of making mistakes had I had bad or unsavoury goals. Or even no goals which would keep me open to distractions.

Building on my awesome conversation with her I had another conversation with two more friends who were talking about ‘give and take’ in relationships and how they ‘manage’ their girlfriends. Now before you jump on your feminist high horse, this isn’t about keeping your ‘woman’ in her place. Rather it’s about managing your relationship in a constructive and communicative way. And I was impressed that here were two relatively young twenty something’s that had put a considerable amount of thought into how they approach and sustain expectations from their loved ones. What great maturity! Gone are they days in which the ‘hunter’ was always a male and the ‘gatherer’ was always a female and the two roles were mutually exclusive with the former exercising dominance over the latter. Gone are the days when men refused to talk about their feelings and partake in an open dialogue with their loved ones for fear of losing their place on that imaginary high pedestal of masculinity.

In our culture, no one prepares you on how to be a good daughter/son or a good husband/wife or a good mother/father purely on religious values, so much of it is mixed with our ‘desi’ culture which is mostly based on the timeless adage “What people will say and think”. Which sucks. You know how in movies they have a happy ever after? Well life doesn’t have one. I found that out the hard way. So many times in my life I had Kodak moments in which I wishes I could just end my story here. But God is the best if planners and if your story is still being written then go with the flow. It will have action and drama and suspense but inshallah the end will be beautiful. Perseverance is key. Easier said than done I know. Much of our lives as kids is about fitting in; into school, dawaats, friends circles, family expectations… we are all taught to not rock the boat. But Islam isn’t about that. And to be a good Muslim sometimes you not only rock the boat but turn it upside down and dance on it! As in, you challenge the perceived norm of what is cultural acceptable to do what is religiously mandated such as prayer, and modesty and the core values of all religions. And it’s only when we’ve had a good upbringing and surrounded ourselves with good people that we can be brave enough to follow Islam instead of society. So this year I plan to walk that path with my head held high knowing that I am not alone.

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Fiji is Fantastic. No Really… it is. I LOVED it. Let me tell you why. At the end of 2013 I was overworked, tired, stressed and just burnt out. I needed a break and my workplace had forced me to take 3 weeks off (coming out of my annual leave) which meant that I was determined to utilise the break properly by going somewhere relaxing. Having no intention of going back to Bangladesh with its upcoming elections or going to the UK or US in the freezing cold, I turned my eye to warmer locales and narrowed my searches on Expedia to Langkawi in Malaysia, Bali and Fiji.

Now this may surprise you (not!) but I am not the partying type. All the reviews I read of Bali on trip advisor kept circling back to its amazing nightlife and I gathered it was a place for the young and party inclined. After a noisy year at work and home – All I wanted was a quiet time. So out went Bali. Having been to Kuala Lumpur several times, the idea of a Muslim country where I wouldn’t have to worry about halal food or the weird looks I would get jumping into a pool in my tights and tshirt was very appealing. Alas EVERY place worth staying at in Langkawi (i.e reasonably close to the water and reasonably liveable) was booked. Admittedly I was a bit behind in planning my trip in mid December but how was EVERYTHING booked out? Word of advice dear readers – Langkawi is a VERY popular destination so if you want to go there, do not leave your bookings till the last minute.

And so it seemed fate led me to typing in Fiji into Expedia. Oh how I love Expedia’s ‘Hotel and flight’ Package search! Within minutes I had at my fingertips a delectable selection of resorts to choose from. Having very few requirements (nice, quiet, relaxing and accommodating of my laziness), I began to sift through the results. I omitted the Hilton and Sheraton for being too expensive (I wanted to relax but not at the expense of my life savings). I omitted resorts like the Sonaisali Island Resort (and all the other faraway island resorts) because they were, well, far away! I wanted something close to the airport so I didn’t waste time getting to and from the hotel (some hotels in Fijian islands have transfers by boat so make sure you check out where your hotel is exactly and how you plan to get there before you book it).

And then I came upon the Sofitel ‘luxury resort and spa’ hotel and that one picture of their lagoon pool in the foreground and the beach in the background totally sold me. The stamp of ‘rare deal’ on Expedia was further confirmation that I had made the right choice as the ‘savings’ I had made were recorded in big red font appealing to my desi sense of fiscal responsibility. It took only one phone call to Expedia customer service to confirm all my details (despite working in IT, I am still quite reluctant to trust it wholly), and a few clicks later – I had booked a week long stay at the Sofitel in Denarau Island inclusive of direct flights with Virgin.

And from there my trip ran just as smoothly. I booked airport transfers with Rosie Holidays (although later I found out Sofitel has its own private taxi service that did airport transfers from Sofitel to the airport for $30FJD one way, I had paid $42AUD for peace of mind but it really wasn’t required.) We were greeted at the airport and wizzed off to our hotel in an airconditioned minivan, the trip from the airport to Denarau Island taking about 25 minutes. We checked into our beautiful room which was literally 10 steps to the pool and 5 more to the beach and spent the rest of the day on the hammock by the beach.

For dinner we walked the short, quiet and lovely walk to the Port Denarau Marina which had a lovely collection of restaurants to choose from and hosted not only guests from the six resorts on the island (including the Westin and the Sheraton) but also Fijians who had come out for a fancy dinner and a night out. The Marina made me realise that I had made the right choice. This was not Bali. There were no clubs, loud music and inebriated youths. Drinking in public was not allowed in Fiji and Fijians were really lovely amicable and laid back people. In addition there was good news for us because most of the chicken sold in Fiji was halal which meant less worrying about what to eat.

Over the next few days we travelled parts of the coast including Lautoka, Vunda, Vuda lookout and the garden of the sleeping giant and a short trip to Sigatoka. We took in the lush country side with sugar canes planted in every square inch, we visited the beautiful white mosques in Nadi, Lautoka and Sigatoka and we drove past many huge and colourful temples and churches with people sitting around outside and waving to passers by. We took a catamaran to the south sea Island and went on a semi sub to ‘Find Nemo’ which interestingly enough had more adults participating then children. And everywhere we went, my mum made friends. She loved to talk and the Fijians she met loved to talk to her in return.

I sat back and watched as she listened to our driver tell her the history of how his grandfather came to Fiji and, scared of a new country, was saved from the brink of suicide by the coincidental passing by of his namesake. She made friends with the lady that came to do our room service and she told of her arranged marriage and what it was like to live in a joint family. We met waiters in restaurants and random ladies on the street who wanted to know where we were from and then delightedly told us that they too had relatives in Australia. And as I listened to and collected these wonderful stories I realised that travelling for a week teaches more than a year of school if one has the right frame of mind. Travelling teaches one to plan, to be precise and timely but it also teaches one to relax and learn. Fiji taught me how to relax. It taught me that human beings are inherently good people and we love to tell our stories which funnily enough are very similar. Fijians, Bangladeshis, Australians – we all have much in common and a good holiday and an even better disposition is the perfect time to share and revel in our commonalities. Fiji – thank you for the wonderful memories, the breathtaking sunsets and the lovely hospitality!

Where – Sofitel Resort and Spa, Denarau Island, Fiji. Denarau Island houses the main resorts and is a secure island. It has its own taxi and bus service within the island and the yellow (westbus) which takes you into Nadi City for 1.15FJD or you can a taxi for12FJD. Denarau Island is a 25 minute drive from the airport and contains the Port Denarau Marina from where most cruises depart.
When – First week of January 2014. February to April is cyclone and Hurricane season but post that the weather is warm and sunny all year around with small and quick patches of rain.
Why – To relax. There isn’t much to do in Fiji except find a hammock and watch the sunset
How – Virgin, Qantas and Fijian Airaways all have direct flights or with stopovers at Brisbane or Melbourne. Look on expedia for deals and check in trip advisor before you book
What – You can get active with fishing, surfing, jetboating, snorkelling and other activities in and around the main island of Fiji. You can book tours on viator.com or speak to travel representatives at your hotel once you arrive for day tours of gardens and villages. Alternatively you can hail a cab and come to an arrangement for the day and be taken around as you wish. Mostly though – Fiji is best to just relax

Tips:

  1. Fijian chicken is halal as is chicken express, chicken bites and McDonalds (though there is only one in Nadi). These are your safe (and cheap) options even though it is worth trying local restaurants for their flavour and hospitality
  2. Haggle. Fiji is like Bangladesh and India. Never take the first price offered to you. Have fun with it. The store owners do too.
  3. Fijian Time – Everyone is laid back in Fiji. Fiji time is desi time and no one minds if you are (or they are) upto 15 minutes late. Learn to let it go
  4. Souvenirs – Tokenistic magnets, postcards and the like can be found almost everywhere but the wooden carvings and showpieces are truly admirable and worth the investment. Check to see if its treated wood and ask for a certificate so you can get it past customs in Australia
  5. The heat is sometimes unbearable. Unlike Australia Fijian heat is humid and clammy and the tropical weather can take a toll. As wearing hats is seen as a sign of disrespect, make sure you slip slap slop on that sunscreen and carry a water bottle with you. (I also had a mini portable handheld fan but it didn’t help much)
  6. Try the cream buns, the coconut ice cream, the fresh fruit from the road side stalls, the murku and the coconut water – all widely available in the towns and main streets

Enjoy yourself. Fijians are extremely nice and helpful so don’t be afraid to ask anyone for directions or suggestions. Have fun!

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