Tuesday, May 21, 2013


I tried to write 24 things Ive learned in 24 years, but I wrote 34 instead. Perhaps one of them shouldve been: stop blabbering :)

1. Dads give great life advice. Just give them a chance.

2. It is never too late to learn something new. Never ever.

3. You will not learn philosophy or culture or language or anthropology or history or most things about humans from a book. You must go and see for yourself and talk to people and experience.

4. Look within and you will see the world.

5. Travel is still the best way to learn about the world. Travel is still the best way to learn about yourself.

6. Find God. Ask it lots of questions. Talk to it. Develop a relationship. Then, like any relationship, decide if it’s The One.

7. Even if I ever get used to the whole waking up early thing, I will never be a morning person. I will learn to deal with things that never change because, who am I kidding, waking up is torture.

8. Do not take people for granted. You do not own them and this will be one of the fastest ways to lose them.

9. Lies are not worth it. Tell the truth even if it is against yourself. This will make you wiser and stronger in the long run. Gossip is not worth it either.

10. Only do work that you are willing to do unpaid, but will do it paid because you have to pay the bills. Money does not make the world go around. Sorry to burst your bubble.

11. Volunteer. Give what you can. The world is very small and we humans need each other.

12. Give love graciously; receive love humbly.

13. Know your own worth and don’t put up with anyone who treats you any less.

14. Tell people how much you love them, every single day.

15. Dance.

16. You only get one mom. Make the most of that relationship.

17. Don’t change others. People show love, care, appreciation, humanity, and compassion, all in their own different ways. This is what makes us unique. Don’t change others.

18. Read as much as you can to remember how small you are. Stories are important.

19. Talk to yourself as much as you can to remember how much you can accomplish.

20. Balance in all.

21. Take care of your mental and physical health. At the end of the day, this is what will get you through everything.

22. Love is a force that is entirely separate from us. It operates on its own agenda. Don’t try to control it.

23. Let things go. Less expectations = less disappointments = more pleasant surprises.

24. Find your purpose. Work hard. Fight. Show the world what you’re made of and how much passion can be contained inside one soul. Make the world a better place.

25. Dream of the future but focus on the present. Planning is often futile but not even entertaining thoughts about the future is worse.

26. Do not be afraid of this world. Take it all in and realize just how beautiful it can be.

27. Don’t let overused clichés determine any kind of relationship you have with someone. See the uniqueness of every situation.

28. The world continues spinning and stops for no one and nothing. If you need a break, don’t think that the world will pause for you. Take a break anyways.

29. Smile through the good times and smile through the bad times.

30. Some people will never appreciate your presence in their lives, not because you are not worthy, but because they never learned to show appreciation. Try to teach them but try not to get too hung up on them.

31. Your restlessness is not negative energy. It will point you in the direction of what you want the most. Use your restlessness positively.

32. If you operate on the idea that you don’t owe the world anything, then don’t expect anything from the world either.

33. The journey is more rewarding than any destination ever could be.

34. It is more difficult to treat everyone equally with love and compassion than treat them based on how they deserve to be treated. Treat them better.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Coffee and ash
Pillow talk me into
Oblivion, and

Let me lay my head
On your heart
And beat
Let me hear your heart
Let me hear it beat for me

What if
I never
Forget you?

Shaky hands
And shaky legs
Yet smoke
Still fills her nights

Sit with me
Let's have a cup of tea
Tell me your story
And Ill tell you about

Let me tell all of our stories
And all the things we never said
Let me be your star
On a cloudy night
And you'll be the moon
That guides me back
Let me count the freckles
Across your back
Let me find in you
My treasure map
Let me love that love
You've spoiled me with
Let me come back home to

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Note to Self.

Sometimes you realize that certain people can stay in your heart but not in your life. And more often than not, it is much more difficult to remove someone from your heart than from your life. So perhaps you should be more careful who you allow into your heart. 

"Years began and ended 
I am still struggling 
whether I should let go
or hold on more."

Monday, December 24, 2012


going back and forth between familiar places realizing they have become unfamiliar.
going back and forth between comfortable cities realizing they have become uncomfortable.
going back and forth between the same people over and over again realizing they have become strangers.

round and round ourselves in circles, are we really back at this place again? perhaps that's why the earth is round and relationships are circular and everything that begins must come to an end.

escapism doesn't work, hopping on the next plane train automobile wont work, and ignoring you definitely isn't working either.

and suddenly you realize you were born alone in this world, with nothing but your screams at the injustice of natural oxygen, and you will leave this world surely alone, with nothing but your silence at the injustice of inhumane humans.

it's not a fair world, yet we expect stories to make sense, places to stay the same, and people to be kind. we expect linearity of ourselves, yet we change every day. we hold others up on pedestals they never asked for, we want relationships to stay on a straight path with no bumps and potholes, even though there is no such thing in reality as a purely straight line from A to B, a theoretical dream only.

reality will surprise you with people you did not expect, situations you can not understand, and places you couldn't even imagine.

open your hands, receive in anticipation. perhaps the unfamiliar will become familiar again, the uncomfortable comfortable again, and the strangers friends again.

give love graciously; receive love humbly.

Anywhere but here.

It feels like a good night for some quotes.

“Listen a hundred times; ponder a thousand times; speak once.”
—  Turkish Proverb

“Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is more serious than adultery. A man may commit adultery, and drink [wine], and then repent, and Allah will forgive him. But, the backbiter will not be forgiven by Allah until his [backbiten] companion forgives him.”
—  Prophet Muhammad saws صلى الله عليه وسلم‎

“Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.”
—  An excerpt from a lecture by Sheikh Abdel Hakim Murad (Tim Winter) given to a conference of British converts on September 17 1997

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’”
—  Aldous Huxley

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.
—Barbara Bloom, on Kintsugi

“Don’t give up on those you love. Give them time, give them space, give them love, but don’t give them up.”
— Shaykh Waleed Basyouni”

“The three saddest things are the ill wanting to be well, the poor wanting to be rich, and the constant traveler saying ‘anywhere but here’.”
—  E.E. Cummings

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Ramadan reflection from this summer in London:

Just when you completely want to disappear in the background, you don't want to be identified, you don't want to be recognized as anyone or anything, the coffee barrista asks you if you're fasting. He doesn't look particularly Muslim but sympathizes with the long days. Says you look so energetic! I tell him I've sat at home the whole day and took the day off. We laugh a bit. As I walk away I want to turn back and tell him everything about how awesome fasting is this year, fasting for the soul truly, not feeling the long days. I want to go back and tell him a better version of the story. But I realize that I told him the truth and that's enough. Its enough for me to recognize my humanity. Fasting is hard, no need to make it sound glamorous. But him just taking the time to ask and see how I've been doing and make me smile about it, that was also enough. Enough to realize that I do want to be recognized. I want to open that door for dialogue and discussion. If people associate hijab with something then that is their issue not mine. I'm not going to change who I am because someone has a misconception about who I am or how I am. It doesn't concern me. I'd rather have honest curiosity than live in the invisible background for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The other day...

I'm watching the security man at McDonalds and wondering what sort of future he used to dream for himself. Is he an accountant? Did he go to university? Did he ever finish high school? Has he ever eaten McDonalds? He's so polite.
He came and removed the dirty tray off my table. He spoke quietly. He was polite. He was kind. I wonder what kind of future he imagines for his children. I wonder if he had to buy these jeans just for this job and whether he would've rather spent that money on his daughter's new school uniform so she wouldn't have to wear the one that's too worn out from last year. 
I wonder about his daughter. What type of life does she lead? Did she go to school? 

Conversations I want to have.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In The Depths of Solitude

"I exist in the depths of solitude pondering my true goal Trying 2 find peace of mind and still preseerve my soul CONSTANTLY yearning to be accepted and from all receive respect Never compromising but sometimes risky and that is my only regret A young heart with an old soul how can I be in the depths of solitude when there R 2 inside of me This Duo within me causes the perfect opportunity 2 learn and live twice as fast as those who accept simplicity"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Anxiety is one of the fine names for philosophy as a practice of insomnia, when it stays up late at night, its forehead pressed against the window, keeping watch over the living and the dead, hoping that the dawn will not come and wipe out every trace of memory. Philosophy is a practice of insomnia. All of us, as living human beings destined to die, are looking for consolation. But the anxiety that inhabits us is not appeased by words. It keeps watch in the face of the greater mystery of what it is to ‘be in the world.’ Why? Why are we here? To what ends? Why is there pain? Why mourning? Why the succession of births and days? We suffer nonconsolation. And from the depths of time we have been speaking of the depths of ‘night.’ What other word is there to signify that which escapes, which slips away, which withholds knowledge of another time, knowledge of myth and mysteries, and keeps us in the dark? Philosophy was born with anxiety, with questioning, with insomnia. It takes upon itself the ills of the world, and thus it cannot sleep. The wound does not heal. Philosophical thought keeps watch at the hour of sleep and dreams. It has to answer for the Other: who? you, him, all of you, everyone, here, now, at once—before any possible acquittal, says Levinas. Insomnia means not being able to give oneself over to the certainty of love, to the self-evidence of words, to the presence of the world. It means being haunted.
Nietzsche - Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Uncle Usama

One of my dad’s very good friends is Uncle Usama. We’ve known him our whole lives. Ever since I was a child the things I would remember the most about him was that he was a doctor who took your blood (a phlebotomist I later learned), that he smoked a lot, and that he had the crinkliest eyes when he laughed, which was all the time. He is one of the kindest men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so let me tell you a story about Uncle Usama.

My sister sent me this photo a few days ago, asking me if I remembered this envelope. She’s spending the summer with my dad in Egypt and Uncle Usama came to visit them for dinner, bringing this letter along with him. Unopened, this envelope has been with him for at least 17 years. On the front of the envelope, in English and Arabic, it says: From Susan to dad. There’s also a gruesome-looking heart with an arrow going through it, and a pool of “bloud” (blood) draining out of it.

I had no recollection of this mysterious envelope whatsoever. Uncle Usama handed it to my dad, apologizing for the superbly late delivery, and told him that a very long time ago when my dad had gone to Egypt for the summer without me, I found out Uncle Usama was going to Egypt as well, and asked him to give my dad this envelope. Inside the envelope is a letter to my dad, sealed, and signed with a gruesome heart on the front of the envelope. For unknown reasons, Uncle Usama was never able to give my dad this letter, and it has been sitting in his paper collection for almost two decades. He apologized profusely and said that for whatever reason, every time he would see my dad he would forget to bring along the letter. But this time he remembered! The envelope is still sealed and the gruesome heart is just about starting to fade away, but Uncle Usama remembered this little letter from a little girl to her beloved dad.

As my sister was telling me this on the phone, tears welled up in my eyes. I remembered that as a child I used to love writing little letters and giving them to people, usually with candy and chocolates inside the envelopes as well. I specifically remember drawing this heart on many envelopes for some bizarre reason, and just the beautiful fact that Uncle Usama held onto this letter for this many years, reaffirmed in me that great people still exist in the world.

I talked to my dad on the phone and he was so happy, I could feel his happiness from thousands of miles away. He promised to hold onto the letter and not open it until the next time I see him so we can open it together.

Incredible people still do incredibly small things to make this world a better place. Thank you Uncle Usama.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Paths to Respect

(Sunrise from the top of Mount Batur, May 2011)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Inspiration often arrives in unlikely places, but almost always at the bookstore, and I have serious difficulties in reading just one book at a time. I recently picked up the new anthology of short stories, Love, InshAllah about the secret love lives of Muslim American women. In the imminent rush to read the book, I inhaled it instead. Yes, it has generated much controversy. Yes, it’s about all types of loves and intimacies. Yes, it’s about all types of self-identifying Muslims. But at the very core of each story is a woman’s search for her place in the world, and that’s what makes it such an interesting book. One particular story that stuck with me ended with this quote: There are as many paths to God as there are people on this Earth.

A few days after finishing the book, I attended a leadership discussion with The Leaf Network, an organization supporting community and social action projects, where we reflected on the importance and difficulties of staying true to yourself at the intersections of faith and leadership. One of the speakers, also at the end of his talk, which focused on staying true to faith, said the same phrase as above: the number of paths to God is the number of people in the world. In two very different contexts, within a few days of each other, the world was handing me this idea to contemplate, and so I must.

In its vastness, it’s sheer size, and the number of people on it, our world is anything but uniform. It is anything but narrow. It is anything but a straight line from point A to point B. I like to imagine that when the author and speaker said the phrase above, they meant God and Love to mean the same thing because, in my mind at least, it’s one and the same. So what is this path they speak of so fondly? The path to Love is, I believe, a journey inwards. A quest to define what exists within (which reminds me of another favorite book, The Quest for Meaning). And as each one of us looks inwards, reflecting on the life that is outwards, we are each bound to come to realizations that are very different from one another. With that idea in mind, I am naturally confused by those who want to define an ideal, ultimate, or universal path in life. How can there be one type of path, one idea or goal of a path, that somehow applies to every one of us? When did we start focusing on building such narrow paths with such high, limiting, borders?

The point here is simple. Assuming that only one type of journey will lead 7 billion people to one goal is not only unrealistic, but also unforgiving. It makes zealots out of well-meaning people and builds our walls higher and higher against each other. It is high time we recognized that each person is on a different quest, journey, and path. Whatever the ultimate goal is - Love, God, power, success, wealth, compassion, or any other - there truly are as many paths to it as people who are trying to get there. Each person needs the time and space to find and create their own while realizing that it will be completely unique and different from any other person’s. So while we come to recognize these different journeys, we must also learn to move beyond tolerance and into the realm of appreciation, celebration, and respect. Because once we truly understand the concept of respect, mere tolerance becomes such an ugly idea. The paths are many and all are beautiful so let’s celebrate differences and respect individualities.

(A version of this article first appeared on the SpeakOut website)

Parisien Stranger

(Monsieur Eiffel, June 2012)

So many stories to tell about Paris I dont know where to start. Perhaps the end is as good a place as any other.

Just as I was walking into the train departure waiting area in Paris heading back to London, I look out of the window down onto the street outside. We’re only about one floor up and it’s a smaller street. A young man and a young woman are sitting on a step smoking. The man happens to look up right at me just as Im looking down at him, and then, he smiles a big smile and waves. It takes me half a second to register that it’s me he’s waving at and so I smile back and wave. Im sure my smile was too big but he kept smiling up at me anyways.

This is why I love strangers.

Melanie Nind

Melanie Nind took us on a small private tour of the back streets of Oxford after our official tour guide proved ineffective. She talked about hoping the weather will be nice in Southampton this summer so she can go swimming in the ocean a few times. She must be in her 60s. Healthy, vegetarian, quiet, funny, serious. Professor of sociology I believe, and a researcher to boot.

I remember thinking very clearly, I want to be like this woman when I grow up. Calm, dignified, respected, humble, down to earth, with sensible shoes, living near the beach, and working at something I love.

This was at the ESRC conference a few weeks ago in Oxford and Ive been thinking about the impression this woman left on me ever since.

I wrote down a new goal today: to grow into a dignified, respected woman who has achieved something that has positively impacted others in the world, who radiates peace and is filled with contentment.

In sensible shoes.

Professor Abbott

I met Professor Andrew Abbott of the Chicago school of Sociology at the 2012 ESRC Research Methods Festival. I was sitting having breakfast at the large dining hall the morning of the last day of the conference at Oxford University and there was no one sitting in the two seats in front of me. Long tables all set together to encourage interaction. He came and sat diagonally across from me, said good morning, and proceeded to take out his own croissant and pain au chocolat from a paper bag. He offered me a slice. He said he couldnt be this close to the best bakery in Oxford and not have some, so he went over there this morning and bought this. Maison Blanc. I said thank you and promised to go over there myself later on the day. It rained. He was a great storyteller.

We chatted and he told me a few stories. I was very quiet for some reason. After having attended the Lyrical Sociology morning session with him the morning before, I knew I was in the presence of someone very intelligent. And very peaceful for some reason. Perhaps it was his age, even though he wasnt that old.

He had a 'valley girl' student. "Like oh my God Professor Abbott!" He even imitated her voice and hand actions. She was in his class and was doing fine but then one day emailed him and said she wont be returning to the fall semester as she has to undergo chemotherapy. His valley girl had cancer. Professor Abbott told me he sent her an email every day during her radiation with a job posting in each. "What do you think of being an air travel controller?" Anything to keep her going, he told me. But anyways, she was a valley girl with cancer, but she was still a valley girl. She came back the next semester. I was sitting with a master storyteller.

The point he was trying to make was that we have to question why we shy away from being critical of someone’s work just because they have some sort of condition, that they often can’t help, for example AIDS or cancer. We fear that people will think we are criticizing the illness or the person themselves, when indeed we are critiquing the work constructively.

The only point that came across to me was that I was not only sitting with a master storyteller, but with a master teacher as well.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost, 1915

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seven Steps

Take back your life in seven simple steps - read this article.

Schwartz suggests:
1. Focus on what you're doing with your attention.
2. Spend a few minutes every day writing down what you want to accomplish the next day
3. Do the most important activity in the morning (really important, I think)
4. Eliminate as much insecurity work from life as possible
5. Keep a running list of everything on your mind
6. Ask yourself "Is this the best use of my time?"
7. Train your attention systematically.

But really, it's a short article so go read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Yesterday, somewhere between loving my post graduate education and hating exams and wanting to hear the sound of the ocean and having no idea where I'm going to be living in three months, I was overcome with a very sharp and overwhelming sense of restlessness. My brain was frazzled and I couldn't keep a single thought in my head for longer than about 5 seconds. So I did the only thing I could imagine doing: curled up on the couch with a good book for a while then watched a movie. They helped calm down the frazzled nerves for a bit. But why did I feel the need to control this restlessness?

I woke up this morning and remembered reading this post on Prolific Living last week and the best sentence ever:

Your greatest regret will be to ignore your hunger and to deny your restlessness a chance.

What are you restless for? There is a common obsession with living calm lives. Why is restlessness shunned? Why is it deemed a negative source of energy? Being restless doesn't mean that your inner peace has somehow vanished or that you are aimless.

Not all those who wander are lost.

So I have made a decision today. I will love my restlessness. I will harness its power and feed it into positive change. I will utilize this beautiful effort and energy and I will stop telling my brain to calm down. I know that I am at peace within and if my energy decides to flux and go insane for an afternoon or a whole week I will just let it be and use that energy to stay positively restless.

Change the mindset. Learn to view what makes you tick in a positive light and it will be so.

Paris vs NYC

I saw this photo on a tumblr last night and immediately wondered if this book was real. My teenage dreams of living in NYC (even though I have yet to visit) and my constant love of all things Parisian collided into one book! And what's more is that this book is not just real, it's also a visual memoir. C'est plus que parfait. Merci to Vahram Muratyan and his dandy blog for reigniting my love of both huge cities :) Can't wait to get my hands on this inspiring book!

The Pale Blue Dot

Did I ever tell you that I wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger? I used to draw the solar system and make planet models and wonder about how far the stars are. I wanted to go to Pluto and look out to see if there's anything else behind it. I then discovered that physics was a lot more difficult than it sounded, so that dream ended quite fast. But still, what lies beyond this Earth remains one of the world's unsolvable mysteries; actually, we've barely begun to know anything about our own Earth at all. Such a humbling place, such an experience. The video above has been one of my favorites ever since a friend showed it to me a good few years ago. I watch it every now and again to remind myself that at the end of the day, we humans spend much more time bickering over a fraction of a pale blue dot, and that in the grand scheme of things, we really need to stop that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Where did we go
And what did we do?
I don't remember it all
But it was just me and you
We lay on our backs
And watched the stars
And promised we would stay like this
For all of our times
Don't ask me if I remember
I don't remember it all
But what I do remember
Is all of those stars
And no matter how much has changed
And how much time has passed
What we had was golden
Yet we'll never be the same.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Siwa Oasis, Egypt

January 2011, right before the Egyptian revolution, I was hanging out in the Siwa Oasis and went hiking in the desert with some friends, way out near the Western boarder of Egypt. I took this photograph and my university picked it for their monthly photo gallery.

It's a lovely memory.

On Simplicity

Honestly, if you can't declutter your life, it will take you so much more time to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Inefficiency and un-productivity will rein supreme. Guaranteed. Here's a quick summary of a great 99% article.

1. Simplify access: de-clutter your physical space and centralize your materials.
2. Simplify your space: there's a reason yoga studios don't look like your grandmother's attic.
3. Simplify your tools: when was the last time you actually used pen and paper?

Of course, the master of simplicity is Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. So much love.

Be simple, live the moment, do the work, accomplish life.

Lois Weisberg

Hey, can you do yourself a huge favor and read this article? The Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg is a must read for anyone interested in networking, social work, social research, community organizing, human beings... Ya. It's longish. It's delightful. Go forth and read lovely people.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Small Coastal Village

Such simple beauty.
(sorry it's a bit blurry, didn't write this but Ive seen it around a bunch of times)