Calm yo shish

Picture this: the mood is like that of any other shisha joint in Dubai. Warm lighting, Arabic music in all its glory, moroccan tea in abundance, and the smell of scented tobacco smoke in the air: a universal retreat for adults across the city, regardless of nationality, citizenship status, and culture; a respite from the daily grind, and most certainly shelter from the heat. At present, for a good few hours, your primary goal is to socialize and slowly char your lungs. I’m not judging – I’ve done it myself. There is a rose-tinted, lemon-mint scented smokescreen in the way of our better judgment, but we are adults; we make autonomous decisions regarding what goes into our body.

Once you’ve filled your socialization quota (or wish to move on to bigger, better, and perhaps more alcoholic things) and are all shisha’d out, you get up from the sprawling cushions and sluggishly adjust to the real world. The thought of fresh air is incredibly appealing. You notice, for the first time, the table next to you. You notice, for the first time, a toddler. You clear your hookah-borne swampy throat and realize with a jolt that there is a pretty decent chance this Mothercare-wearing, tiny, minor of a human being has been inhaling the same shit you’ve been.

Horror enters, stage left. Shock soon follows. Guilt brings up the rear, but at the head of everything is confusion. Many restaurants that serve shisha will ask you for identification, ensuring you’re of legal age before you are served. Often, this gets waived for larger parties, simply because of the hassle that is ID’ing each and every person in the party – but toddlers, bouncing five year olds, susceptible preteens and even babies in their mothers’ arms are not hard to miss. Now I’m not trying to be the morality police here, but surely children should not have to be exposed to the health hazards of hookah, especially if they aren’t educated on the harmful effects of what is, quite honestly, a huge cultural staple here in the Middle East, and a trend which is gaining traction in the rest of the world as well.

Everyone knows how gross smoking is. Anti-smoking campaigns have been growing more and more common, and even cigarette boxes are sweetly decorated with damning, hard-to-stomach images of Smoker X’s future lungs, unborn child, decayed teeth and gums, et cetera. This person has lung cancer – and so can you! Even in the Middle East people are being educated and advised against smoking hookah. Shisha has many of the same health hazards as cigarettes do, and then some: keep in mind that for most people, smoking is a lengthy affair, and a Dhs50 hookah (a reasonably hefty sum) can last you for as long as you want it to, provided that there is someone to change the coals – and there always is. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, and other organizations well-versed in such things, it’s reasonable to assume that smoking hookah is more dangerous than smoking cigarettes considering the average cigarette requires 20 puffs, where an hour long session of shisha can see the user taking about 100 puffs. Caveat to this stipulation: research about smoking hookah is still on-going.

Once again, this isn’t a call for everyone to get up, roll up their sleeves, and smash their shishas to the ground, throw their hookahs off their 34th floor balcony (I respect your passion, but please don’t do this) or put that spankin’, “slightly worn” product up for sale on Dubizzle. It’s your body, you do what you want, you’re an adult – or at least capable of making independent decisions once you know the facts. My only concern is for the children whom you take to restaurants that are ignorant of what they are inhaling. Until they know, they can’t make a reasonable assessment as to whether or not they should go. Your two year old will not be spewing facts against being taken out for family dinner. And (hopefully) they won’t be smoking themselves but what about that ever-present second-hand smoke circulating around your table? You don’t have to be smoking shisha yourself, I can assure you, there are plenty of people doing that for you.

I’m not here to tell you how to parent. I have no parenting experience and as far as my mother is concerned my business is to be parented and go to college like a good daughter. All I request is a bit of cognizance, some careful thinking before you pack your child in a car seat and make the drive to Dubai Marina. You may think you’re in the clear if you yourself are not smoking but a hookah-devoid table in the midst of a restaurant filled with smoke does not a healthy oasis make.


Thirteen years of school officially ended a few months ago – but today, the next leg of my life is set in stone. For the first time, I don’t really have many words, but I’ll try to be as eloquent as possible regardless because I think this does garner a little speech. 

I went to school today to say goodbye to my teachers, and maybe it was the heels of my fit flops, but I felt tall walking the corridors of what used to be my high school. I said my goodbyes and I made my peace with the classrooms and my sixth form and the weird picture of me up on the reception walls. The walls of my room are barer than usual; my nail polish box is considerably devoid of nail polish; and the usual tell-tale signs of my habitat are pretty much gone. It’s a sad sight, but this is not a sad occasion. This is a joyous occasion, the *most* joyous occasion – I’m moving to Boston, a city I love, to the college of my dreams, to study what I was meant to study since I came into this world a messy bundle of pink skin and wet tears.

Really, I’m only going for three months – an extended vacation, but with more studying. I’ll have a new view to inspire me, and new people to spur me on, but I’ll know I’ve only gotten there because of the people who’ve loved me these past 6 years in Dubai, and before that, in Pakistan. I went from being an insecure girl to a (fairly) confident, happy adult, with ambitions and plans and excitement pumping through my veins. The journey always seems so slow, but in retrospect, it reads as a split-second. And I can’t wait to make more split-second memories in my new home.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have never been more happy: at 00:40, in 8 hours and 32 minutes, I will be Boston-bound.

I wrote the above around 3pm Dubai time on the 19th of August 2013. Right now, it is 5:01pm EST on the 20th of August 2013.
I have moved to Boston.

List: Things that made my heart soar today

(Today being the evening of the art exhibition and the 9 hours before that in which we set up everything.)

  • How much fun I had actually setting everything up!
  • Bonding with other artists from school
  • Seeing all my paintings put together so beautifully and the subsequent pride in my work
  • Getting complimented on my outfit which was basically everything anyone would expect it to be (AKA, pink, lacy and girly)
  • The incredible turn out! I mean, what?! We were expecting a lot of people to come by but…not the way they did! Not in the sheer numbers that we actually received! And not the kind of enthusiasm the crowd brought with them! I mean…just, wow. Honestly, so much love to everyone who visited. I seriously appreciated it, and I know everyone else did too.
  • The way people asked QUESTIONS about my paintings, beyond just looking at the descriptions, let alone glancing once and then being on their way. Getting asked about my inspiration, the media used, the methods…wow, just people showing their genuine interest…
  • …and the appreciation that came with it! The compliments and all the love and the way people would get excited with my own excitement about the paintings and the thought that went behind them!
  • …and everyone that actually got to learn a little bit about space through my paintings too! I mean, come on, that’s incredible.
  • Meeting a Nerdfighter! Yes!
  • The wonderful man who had a long discussion with me about my paintings, science, religion and art, about my school life, my goals, the way I described my paintings in the placards, and then just – on top of the incredible conversation, which was more than awesome as is – sprinkled my day with pink, well, sprinkles, by saying how he was so impressed by my articulation at 17, by my talent and maturity and how he wanted to pay “his compliments to my parents for raising me as they did.” That’s honestly the best compliment anyone could give me.
  • My wonderful teachers who gushed about me to their families.
  • Other things I’ve forgotten but the best part?
  • The one lady who recognized me/my name from the TEDx event and brought up my TEDx talk and told me how much she absolutely loved my talk and asked how I got the idea and basically let me dissolve into a puddle of squealing as I explained it.

So yeah. My feet are throbbing, my voice is next to nonexistent, and my throat feels like its on fire, but today was honestly one of the best evenings of my life. I’ve rarely ever been this exhausted but it was worth it.

Again, thank you, EVERYONE who was there – my friends, my family, everyone else – because without you, this event would have been nothing. Thank you for all the support. I love you all dearly. I said this to Lara, but I need to reiterate this here as well – there’s only a couple months left till I graduate high school…and now? The thought that I was ready to leave school after Year 12 seems ridiculous. Year 13 has been worth it. I don’t regret my decision to stay for a second.

The Winchester Astronomy Club Art Exhibition!

The Winchester Astronomy Club Art Exhibition!

So as you can tell from the details on the flyer, my school is hosting an Art Exhibition on the theme of space and astronomy at Dar Al Adaab in the Al Fahidi Historic area art district of Dubai!

There are many artists from my school who’re going to put their work up on display – myself included, shamelesspluggingshamelessplugging – and believe me, these are all incredibly talented artists who’ve worked very hard on their paintings. More than just the pretty artiness, there’ll be presentations about space from various members of the Astronomy club, an iPhone guided tour of the night sky, and you’ll even get to peek through intensely powerful telescopes and look at the moon and Jupiter…and honestly, as someone who got to see both last year, it’s not something you want to miss. Plus, the DJ is going to be playing some sick house music!

All in all, it’ll be a very chilled out evening, in a beautiful area, with really cool people, and I’d love if you could stop by! Admission is totally free and you can bring whoever you want!

Hope to see you there 😀

Love letters: Rain in Dubai

Dear Rain,

Hi. It’s been a while. We’ve waited for you a very long time, you know. It’s been a long, hot summer – a summer which, quite frankly, has no business stretching itself through till November. We’ve had to endure long, hot days, sickening humidity and brutal assaults by piercing sunlight. All in the hopes that the evenings will bring a cool breeze, just enough to make going outside bearable.

To be honest, I was quite mad at you, rain. You barely showed your face last year. I felt a bit betrayed, telling non-Dubai natives how oh, sure, we do get rain, in fact we’re due to get some soon when in fact, you never really followed through. I suppose it’s my fault, trying to put a predictable label on you. It was probably insulting. If that’s the case, then I’m very sorry.

But you’re here now. And let me tell you something – you’re beautiful. You’re absolutely stunning and I’m completely riveted by your majesty. You and the entire family – thunder, lightning, wind, chill – all of you in one grand bluegreywithhintsofpurple package. I love the feel of you caressing my face, the way you tousle my hair and turn my nose cold. I love the way you sparkle in the corner of my periphery, right in the corner so you get my attention and make me turn my head to face you. I love the way you surprise me when I least expect it. I adore you in your entirety, I adore you wholly. You wash the dirt from this dusty desert city and polish it anew, high-definition, radiant in its true colors.

I love the way you marry the marina every time you come visit her, the way you make her dance and splash, romancing her by the city lights. You pull together this city, you make it sing, and even though you don’t come very often, it’s hard to stay mad at you. In the end, you make the wait worthwhile. And we fall in love with your splendor all over again.

Stay a while. Play with my hair some more. Caress my face some more. I allow you to be an inconvenience if that’s what you want.

Just stay a while.

All my love.

TEDxWinchester – Watch it live!

TEDxWinchester – Watch it live!

So tomorrow, after months of grueling work and weeks of intense rehearsing, training, presentation making and a weekend of utter exhaustion, TEDxWinchester is FINALLY HERE and I cannot wait to speak tomorrow!

If anyone out there would like to watch the events live – starting 9:30am (GMT +4, Dubai time. That’s 12:30 am EST I believe!) here’s the link! I assure you, it will be an absolutely spectacular show!

Short Note: November

I’ve always loved November. The promise of cold mornings and nights, of incoming desert winters, the crunchtime in regards to exams, a general nostalgia that lingers in the air.

The smell of the beach. The fog over Marina. The signs of which are already so apparent this morning, at 7:30am, in October. My favorite sight in the world after the pinks rays of sunlight that flaunt themselves from behind a veil of clouds.

Snuggle-weather. New Years. Winter break. Thoughts of Lahore and, newly, promises of Boston. Good music and good company and nights out in the Marina, the scent of minty, grape-y shisha and distant chattering.

I can’t wait.