Zebra crossings Kenyan-style

I have recently returned from a trip back home to Kenya where I was able to spend time with the love of my life, my darling baby niece Ayzah. Of course the days of my brief sojourn there flew by all too fast.

I shan’t bore readers of this blog with pictures of Kenyan safaris, Mombasa beach holidays and ‘nyama choma‘ (the most delectable food in the whole wide world!) gatherings with family and friends, however, there is one particular picture of a lone ‘zebra crossing’ whilst my brother was driving that I cannot resist sharing.

zebra

(image source: personal picture)

The picture on the right was taken during a drive through Nairobi National Park one weekend. It is literally an example of some of the incredible experiences that are common place whilst living in Nairobi. Some true past examples of daily life in Nairobi of incidents that have actually happened to myself and my family include:

  • Having to stop the car as we waited patiently for a herd of giraffes to cross the Airport Road after my dad had picked me up from the airport when I was back home for the Easter holidays one year (side note: baby giraffes have the cutest ears!).
  • A pride of four lions causing mayhem in people’s gardens – this 2016 occurrence caused my brother to be stuck in traffic for five hours on the way back from work one day! The south side of Nairobi National park which is bordered by a tributary of Nairobi’s famous and gorgeous Athi River still remains unfenced, hence why we have frequent animal wanderings into residential areas.
  • An Aunt who ran over a (suicidal) monkey that leapt out onto the road as she had just left the house. She heard and felt a bump against the car as it hit the monkey, but then looked in her rearview mirror and didn’t see any dead monkey, so she assumed that it had managed to scamper away. Only when she got to school to pick up my cousin did they realise the now-dead monkey was caught in between the car wheel and the chassis! Only its tail could be seen dangling by the side – my poor cousin was mortified, and the episode was the subject of school chatter for quite some time.
  • Our pet dogs killing a spitting cobra (they usually used to kill porcupines that ventured into our property from the neighbouring forest). We didn’t know the snake’s species at the time, but as per law, my dad took the lifeless reptile over for identification to the Nairobi National Snake Park, where it was found to have been a female. My brother and I were immediately forbidden from venturing anywhere into the lush one-acre gardens of our house. Within hours, we had the Snake Park rangers over and they used some strange smoke-emitting machine and burning rubber that they poked all around various areas of the garden to kill any other spitting cobras or their potential babies that were lurking around the foliage.
  • Baboons almost-stealing my aunt’s handbag as we sat down to tea one weekend at a restaurant by the Thika Falls.  These famous sugar-loving mischievous baboons are the bane of adults and children alike, but no visit to the Falls is complete without some sort of light-hearted encounter with them.

There are countless other wonderful memories that I have of my country, Kenya. It is truly a land that one must visit in person to fully realise its awe-inspiring experiences. For now, if you don’t have the opportunity to plan a visit in the near future, and if you fancy bits of some touristy snapshots, the video below captures the vast and varied nuances of this unique country that I am proud to call my own:

Happy Watching and I wish you a siku njema (‘Good Day’ in Swahili!)

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

Tommy’s: the baby charity

As the Christmas trees are slowly de-baubbled and brought down, and the festive lights that adorn homes, shops and streets are switched off and tucked away for another 11 months or so, I find myself reflecting about the commercialisation of the holidays. In 2017, I was one of the guilty ones who hit the Boxing Day sales from early morning on 26 December, on the hunt for anything and everything that I could buy for my adorable baby niece Ayzah. Considering that I am not fond of shopping – even for myself – at the best of times, this was a record-breaking feat for me. Of course it goes without saying that I consider it to be a demonstration of the pure love that I have for my darling little girl, whose every smile turns me into putty and every tear breaks my heart. But I digress.

The purpose of this post is to comment on how I try to mitigate my guilt over my contribution to festive capitalism. This year, I did not give out any Christmas cards or gifts. Instead, I made a donation to one of my regular charities – Tommy’s, the baby charity – which funds research into pregnancy problems to save babies’ lives. The work that Tommy’s does is particularly meaningful to me at this time each year, because it is around the anniversary of my Aleena’s passing. Aleena was still born due to foetal cardiac arrest only one week before she was due to enter this world. She is an angel in heaven and now has a little sister here on earth who will one day learn all about her big sister who is loved boundlessly beyond the realms of time and space.

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image source: http://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/newborns/every-newborn/en/ (click to open full size in a new tab)

The statistics are eye-watering: 2.6 million babies (of those births that are recorded) die annually in the last 3 months of pregnancy or during childbirth (stillbirths) out of which 75% are preventable!* In the United Kingdom, 1 in every 224 births ends in a stillbirth – that’s 9 babies every day in the UK alone! Aleena was born in November 2015 in a country where healthcare (even the private kind covered by health insurance) leaves much to be desired. Poignantly, in January 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report consisting of a series of papers titled ‘The Lancet Series: Ending Preventable Stillbirth’ which  was developed by over 200 experts including staff from WHO and HRP (the UNDP/UNFPA/UNICEF/WHO/World Bank Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction). You can read a brief overview here. What is most damning is how the complications and dangers of stillbirth were absent from the Millennium Development Goals and are still missing in the Sustainable Development Goals. It is no wonder then, given this indifference at a global level,  that “stillbirths remain a neglected issue, invisible in (national or regional) policies and programmes, underfinanced and in urgent need of attention.”**

All this astounding disregard – despite a 2014 initiative by the WHO, called Every Newborn Action Plan (ENAP), (endorsed by 194 member states of the United Nations!) which aims to reach the every newborn national 2020 milestones – led the WHO Director for Reproductive Health and Research in 2016 to comment:

“What is especially tragic about stillbirths is that they are largely preventable. We know key interventions such as syphilis treatment in pregnancy, fetal heart rate monitoring and labour surveillance have the potential to save around 1.5 million lives. The challenge is to deliver these within an integrated care package that extends from pre-pregnancy through delivery.”

Ian Askew, (World Health Organisation, January 2016)

A research project into national, regional, and worldwide estimates of stillbirth rates in 2015, with trends from 2000, concluded “Progress in reducing the large worldwide stillbirth burden remains slow and insufficient to meet national targets such as for ENAP.

Fortunately, some progress has been made, including the use of an ENAP progress tracking tool. A May 2017 report Reaching the Every Newborn National 2020 Milestones was released, which charted the roadmap of actions that now 48 countries have made towards addressing the issue of stillbirths as per eight strategic milestones. A really good poster summarising the ENAP country progress report can be found here. However, a lot still remains to be done.

Institutional-level initiatives, such as Save the Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program have given rise to the the Healthy Newborn Network (HNN). HNN is an online community dedicated to addressing critical knowledge gaps in newborn health on a global scale. The information and resources available on its website can also be broken down country-wise.

Back to Aleena. Feeling devastated and helpless to support Aleena’s parents, at the time, I did the only thing I could – pray and offer words of solace. I didn’t know how else to support them across the continents. In desperation, I googled ‘stillborn support for parents’ and that is how I came across Tommy’s. The charity strongly resonated with me, because it not only funds medical research into the causes of premature birth, stillbirth and miscarriage; Tommy’s offers support to those parents who have lost a child soon after, as well as information for parents-to-be to help them have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

There are many ways to ‘give back’ during the year, but more so, during the holiday season. If you are looking for a cause to support for either an event, a fundraising activity, or you’d simply like to make a donation to a charity, I would highly recommend Tommy’s. You can donate directly here or through JustGiving. Read about some of the impact of the work that Tommy’s does here. Its research breakthroughs in stillbirths, pre-term births, miscarriages, and obsesity in pregnancy, mean that more babies globally will have a chance in the future.

*Kingdon, C., Givens, J. L., O’Donnell, E., and Turner, M. (2015). Seeing and holding baby: systematic review of clinical management and parental outcomes after stillbirth. Birth42(3), 206-218. You can read the research here.
**de Bernis, L., Kinney, M.V., Stones, W., ten Hoope-Bender, P., Vivio, D., Leisher, S.H., Bhutta, Z.A., Gülmezoglu, M., Mathai, M., Belizán, J.M. and Franco, L. (2016). Stillbirths: ending preventable deaths by 2030. The Lancet387(10019), 703-716. You can read a summary paper here.

NB: My blogger friends have advised that I point out this is not a sponsored post. I genuinely believe in Tommy’s work and that is what has compelled me to write about them.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

Soleil Levant

2017 has been the most (positively) life-altering year for me yet – like a rising sun or ‘Soleil Levant’ (more about this later). The last few months have been a whirlwind of change (hence the lack of blog posts). I’ve changed jobs and cities. I’ve travelled across Europe, Asia and Africa – including trips to Singapore and Denmark for the first time – and learnt new words as part of my ongoing ambitious attempt to teach myself Arabic.

I’ve been taught some unforgettable lessons this year, not least of which is that relocating to a new city is no easy task! However, what makes things much easier is moving to a lovely Scouse city, supportive and inclusive work colleagues and of course bountiful doses of humour and reality checks from good friends (you know who you are). My year – both personal and professional – could be summarised in this eloquent, brief ‘autobiography’ by Portia Nelson:

sidewalks
image source: http://shanahan1.pbworks.com/f/Hole%20in%20the%20sidewalk.gif (click image to open fullsize in a new tab)

I’m currently in either Chapters IV or V in various aspects of my life – but I’m slowly getting there and learning not to make choices that only lead me into the same ‘hole in the sidewalk’. Those who know me, will agree that I certainly applied the last chapter to a key area of my life that was bringing me nothing but stress and negativity. Also during 2017, I’m happy to report that following my reflections this time last year, I proudly wore my multi-potentialite and multi-localite identity. This is something I will continue to affirm, and hopefully, might lead to some interesting blog posts in 2018, so watch this space!

On a more solemn note, one particular experience from late Summer of 2017 which will be forever etched in my memory is that of standing before Ai Weiwei’s art installation in Copenhagen. The statement about the plight of refugees evoked powerful memories of my time volunteering with the refugees in Budapest, Hungary at the peak of the Syrian crisis in 2015. Weiwei’s Copenhagen installation, named ‘Soleil Levant’ (French for Rising Sun) is inspired by Claude Monet’s 1872 painting Impression, Soleil Levant. Monet’s art depicts the harbour in Le Havre, France, at the end of the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, capturing the political and social reality of its time with its cranes, steamboats and industrialisation. Weiwei’s Soleil Levant draws attention to the political and social reality of today through the arrangement of 3500 used refugee lifejackets stacked on the facade of a building. The installation is particularly notable, for its location within the thriving Nyhavn district, and I found the stark contrast between the vivacious outdoor cafes on one side of the canal, and Weiwei’s sombre Soleil Levant on the other side to be a moving and poignant reminder of the vicissitudes of life. I have inserted a slideshow of some images that reflect this below.

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Weiwei’s commemoration of the refugees’ ordeals reminded me of another of my favourite artists, Nizar Ali Badr, whom I was also thrilled to see receive recognition and coverage by the BBC in 2017.  I recall writing about Badr in 2016; his works moved me then, and continue to do so today. Experiencing Weiwei’s installation first hand, seeing the marks on the life jackets, the dried sand and possible bloody stains, served to remind me of the immensity of my own blessings.

So here’s to 2018 – may it be a year in which, like a Soleil Levant, the sun rises to greet us and remind us each day to be grateful for our blessings. I leave you, dear readers of my blog, as I do each year, with an Irish blessing which is one of my favourite new year wishes:

“May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

Oh, Earth!

This blog post has been inspired by Erhan Aqil Arif, the 8 year old son of dear friends of mine. Erhan wrote an eloquent poem about Earth, which he beautifully and smilingly illustrated (including a depiction of the little red planet Mars as well):

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Oh Earth – A poem by Erhan Aqil Arif (click on image for larger version to open in a separate window)

Oh Earth

Oh earth, such a beautiful planet.
Oh earth, you have big cities.
Oh earth, you have beautiful people.
Oh earth, you have beautiful, clean rivers.
Oh earth, you have boats that people can travel on.
Oh earth, you have different countries.
Oh earth, you are such a big planet that God created for me.

(Erhan Aqil Arif, Aged 8 years, January 2017)

Erhan’s poem made me reflect on two counts. The first being certain electoral events in 2016 that have resulted in political upheaval which is still rippling across the global arena in numerous respects; climate change being the primary focus of this post. Climate change pertains not just to global warming, as was the buzz term in the nineties and noughties; but to any changes and extremes (both hot and cold) in global or regional climate patterns as per the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is a concern so grave, that countries’ national interests have been threatened. Climate change has long been the subject of discussion as a collective action problem, a focus of celebrity cause for concern, and divested political campaigns. Sadly though, there is not much contemporary information available about children’s voice in the discussion about climate change, bar one now-defunct website for teachers about curricular activities on the subject; the 2009 Young Voices on Climate Change series; a 2014 UNICEF publication on ‘Climate Change and Children‘ and the odd scholarly article.  It is my hope that more authentic and unaffected poems such as Erhan’s, or other prose written by children about their regard for our precious planet Earth, make their way  into the minds and hearts of not just politicians and policy-makers, but the common man too, who can do his part – his little drop in the ocean – to tackle this grave issue.

The second manner in which Erhan’s poem made me reflect, was a result of Erhan’s maternal grandfather’s (his Nana’s) response to his poem. He wrote the following to his grandson in acknowledgement of his eloquent ode to Earth:

Oh Erhan, What a nice poem.
Oh Erhan,  What wonderful ideas
Oh Erhan,  keep writing
Oh Erhan,  be happy.
Oh Erhan, Nana is proud of you.

Stay blessed.

(Erhan Aqil Arif’s maternal grandfather, January 2017)

Now, I may be biased in the first instance, as Erhan is already very dear to me, when I say that I thought his poem was an excellent effort for an 8 year old, who articulately expresses the reasons why he loves the planet that he lives on. Of course, Erhan’s grandfather is also biased in his view of Erhan’s eloquence. However, the exchange above epitomises the experience that each and every child should have – the ability to express themselves, to have that expression be positively and well-received and to have future expression encouraged and supported. Erhan’s paternal grandmother too, showers him with love, support and encouragement. No matter what cultural backgrounds children come from, this manner of nurture is one that each and every child has a right to, and that they should receive, so that their self-esteem and self-confidence can be developed and enhanced during their precious formative years.

It is my hope that Erhan takes from this experience the lesson of how much value his thoughts and views, and indeed, his very existence has in this world. It is through children such as he – indeed, all children (proud Aunt alert!) including my beloved 3-month old niece Ayzah – that we adults can experience joy and positivity and follow through on emotive calls to action for a hopeful future.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

Singapore is a ‘fine’ city, lah!

I have just returned from a work trip to Singapore, where I had the opportunity to indulge in an afternoon of sight-seeing before my early morning flight the following day. Usually when faced with limited time in a new city, I prefer to walk around the

fine-city

image source: https://chroniclesiy.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/focusing-in-on-singapore-ge2015/ (click for larger image to open in separate window)

city, rather than follow the beaten tracks that are normally recommended for tourists. I have found that more often than not, this way usually affords me a deeper insight into the city from a local perspective, which is a far more flavourful experience than those derived from pre-designed tourist tours.

Besides buying the mandatory fridge magnet about what a ‘fine’ city it is (a mock take on how fines are imposed for numerous and varied breaches of behaviour/ etiquette), and

china-town

the entrance to Chinatown (image source: personal picture – click for full-sized image to open in a separate tab)

admiring the delights of China Town, all bedecked in anticipation for the Chinese New Year; ‘Year of the Rooster’ on the 28th of January 2017 (Gong Xi Fa Cai! to all who celebrate!), I also had the opportunity to walk to Little India off Serangoon Road

little-india

a park in the midst of Little India (image source: personal picture – click for full-sized image to open in a separate tab)

via the Arab Quarter in Kampong Glam (housing ‘Arab Street’; aka Singapore’s coolest street).

sultan-mosque

Sultan Mosque from a side street in the Arab Quarter (image source: personal picture – click for full-sized image to open in a separate tab)

The trek also took me through the delightfully phonetically-pronounced ‘Boogie’ (aka Bugis) Street, which is today a bustling labyrinth of little stalls plying all sorts of tourist and local fare – a far cry from it’s days of infamy hosting flamboyantly-dressed trans women. Suffice to say that my walk around the city was truly enjoyable, capped off with the ultimate delicious meal, the mouthwatering and utterly delectable ‘Chilli Crab‘ which I ate with gloves as per local tradition!

chilli-crab-aftermath

the gory and messy aftermath of a delicious meal of Chilli Crab (image source: personal picture – click for full-sized image to open in a separate tab)

Ultimately, one of the things that stood out most for me, being as interested in languages as I am, was the very unique language of ‘Singlish‘ which is spoken by the locals. Although the official languages of Singapore are English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil, I caught snippets of Singlish being spoken both by vendors at shops, as well as locals chatting amongst themselves at  bus stops and walking around the roads. I found Singlish to be a fascinating amalgamation of a number of languages; however, despite Singlish’s gaining popularity, its usage is frowned upon by officials and a certain members of the Singaporean populace.

Besides a number of websites cataloging the various nuances of the language, such as Aussie Pete’s, Just Landed and good ol’ Wikipedia, I include here some examples – please bear in mind that ‘my Singlish not powerful’ (translation: my Singlish is not good) and so I’ve had to source the phrases from another website:

On the whole, I loved Singapore and look forward to my next visit. I hope you enjoyed this post, lah!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

 

Life is short, make it count

A friendly recently commented about the infrequency of my posts on this blog. Once I contained my excitement of actually having a loyal reader who’d noticed this (besides my dear mum of course), I got to thinking about the reasons why I post on this blog.

It started off as an exercise in writing for a different audience to the academics whom I normally write for in my day job. Away from work, my interests are vast and varied, and cover the spectrum from languages and cultures to current affairs. That is why it was difficult to narrow down the focus of this blog. Instead, I purposely sought to maintain it as a medium through which I write on any topic that tickles my fancy. In doing so, I have written posts on topics such as the ‘Grim Reaper of Football‘; my foray into amateur vexillology; and my mock indignation at public signage in Austria.

image source:

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image source: http://qaspire.com/2015/11/09/emilie-wapnick-on-being-a-multipotentialite/ (click on image for larger version to open in a new window)

I’ve often wondered whether these diverse and varied interests (and related knowledge that I’ve subsequently picked up along the way) were a boon or a curse. This is particularly because it means that I am almost always interested in almost all aspects of new things around me – and I then absorb myself in learning as much as I can about them. A TED Talk (12:26 duration) by Emilie Wapnick, a Career Coach, celebrates the “multi-potentialite” — those of us with many interests and many interlocking potentials. Emilie’s talks resonated with me to such a degree, that for the first time in my life, I actually thought of my ‘multipotentiality’ as a unique advantage that I have; further evidenced by Tanmay Vora’s sketch (image on right) of the ‘super-powers’ that we multi-potentialites possess.

Another thing that I have learnt about myself in 2016, is that I should be proud to be a ‘multi-local’ person: a citizen of the multiple global identities in many senses. Taiye Selasi’s TED Talk (16:31 duration) on ‘Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local‘ made me realise that it’s alright not to have a straight answer when people ask me where I am from: I was born in one country; raised in a second;  spent my teen years in a third; travelled and volunteered in a fourth; realised my strengths in a fifth; and am currently working in a sixth – and those are just countries that I identify with by virtue of having lived in them for extended periods of time. There are still even more countries, cultures (and languages) that I associate with, such as the ones where my ancestors are from; and where my personal travels take me to the most!

These two profound realisations (aka my double boons), coupled with other personal milestones for me this year, have made me realise that my mantra for 2017 will be “Life is short, make it count.” And to make one’s life count, one cannot and should not discount the attributes that make one unique. So here’s to 2017 – may it be a year of more frequent posts on this blog, and may it be the year where I proudly stand up for my multi-potentialite and multi-localite identity!

And for you, my dear readers, I think it only fitting, having recently returned from a trip to Dublin, to leave you with an Irish blessing for a happy and prosperous New Year:

“May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.”

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

There are no kangaroos in Austria

I’m currently in Austria as a guest of the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz. JKU is hosting the EERA Summer School 2016 where I am a tutor, facilitating sessions on research methodology for PhD students. The sessions are going well and there is excellent learning taking place for both the students and myself.

Today we had an away day in Salzburg where students attended sessions on quantitative and qualitative data analysis at the Federal Institute for Educational Research, Innovation & Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE).  After a morning of intellectually challenging sessions, we had the afternoon off to explore Salzburg (and solve a problem like Maria! – worry not though, this won’t be a blog post with cheesy lines from The Sound of Music). However, I cannot resist mentioning one of my favourite things: the ‘No kangaroos in Austria’ souvenir slogan which made me giggle as I pictured hapless tourists perplexedly demanding to view these marsupials. I did ask if any zoo in the country had specially brought a kangaroo in, but was told that the seasonal European climes make it impossible for the roos to thrive.

IMG_4064

image source: personal picture

Anyhow, back to my exploration of Salzburg. My colleagues and I strolled around the city admiring the various historic locations and quaint buildings. At one point we came across the designated UNESCO heritage site, Mirabell Palace and its luscious gardens.

IMG_4051

image source: personal picture

The Palace was commissioned in the early 17th Century by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his Mistress Salome Alt (an eyebrow-raising story in itself). But  I digress.

Now I attach here the sign that was at the Garden entrance for your convenience. Allow me to explain: you see, I am used to such signs in public parks and gardens usually having one coherent message: either prohibitive or informative.

 

IMG_4053

image source: personal picture (click on image for larger size to open in a new window)

So I quickly scanned the sign. (Please bear in mind that my colleagues and I had vowed not to use our map or translation apps during the course of our exploration of the city). The upper level cautions made sense (although I was saddened to see that juggling is prohibited). The middle level cautions were also easily construed by the diagonal red lines across them. The lower left one seemed to me like a wishbone, goggles and a paper being thrown in the bin. Although on second glance, I surmised that’s probably a banana peel and apple core, not wishbone and goggles. Anyhow, the red arrow made it clear that this particular caution was of an advisory nature. Now the last one on the lower right. No diagonal line and no arrow. Whatever is one supposed to make of it? Run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance? Or maybe don’t run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance?

My point is, as someone who has studied Special Educational Needs, I think it’s important  that public signs – whether they are informative, prohibitive, cautionary, or advisory – be clear and unambiguous in their message – even to those with vivid imaginations such as myself. Therefore, in the spirit of public service, I’ve taken the opportunity to make a little amendment to the sign. All that remains now is for the Salzburgian City Council to officially proclaim my genius!

Untitled

image source: edited personal picture

Fortunately though, apart from this one instance, I am happy to report that all the other public signage was up to my irrational wacky nonsensical exacting standards; my favourite of course, being that there are no kangaroos in Austria. I am loving every moment of my trip and the warmth and hospitality of my Austrian hosts and the wider community here.

Have you had any experience of confusing public signage?  Please do share your stories below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Stories through pebbles

A few months ago I spent some time volunteering with Syrian refugees in Budapest, Hungary. The memory of the experience is forever imprinted in my mind. So much so, that whenever I come across news to do with the refugee crises, I am compelled to read it through the lens of someone who has spent hours talking with these brave souls about their unimaginable journeys from what were once their homes and safe havens.

I recently came across the work of a Syrian artist Nizar Ali Badr. Hailing from the historical Syrian port city of Latakia, Nizar’s latest works of art are based on  pebbles and stones found in his town of residence. A recent corpus of his work is based on the theme of the Syrian refugee crisis – a  situation quite literally close to his heart.

Nizar’s work “transmits the pain of the people who have to die, to suffer, to leave the country, but also… a hope for the revival of the country, the return of human values – love, home, family.” I believe his pieces of art speak louder than words; his work is painfully accurate in its portrayals of the emotions and physical tribulations that refugees have to endure.

The incredible power of Nizar’s wordless visualisations of human suffering and migration due to war are made even more poignant by the fact that they are made from Syrian pebbles and stones.  Nizar himself is a man of a few words, saying on his Facebook page, “”I love the dust and stones from Syria. My message is a humanitarian message.”

I leave you to absorb a few of his works.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

For the love of flags

A recent TED talk caught my attention, primarily because the presenter is seemingly as obsessed with flags as I am. Roman Mars waxes eloquent about design concepts as applied to flags, and talks about how banners are unifying instruments which can bring groups of people together in various situations. I have always loved learning about flags and their symbolism. Growing up, one of my favourite games during long car trips with my parents and my brother, was describing and guessing flags. Another one was guessing capital cities. There was also I-spy and another favourite – adding up the numbers on car registration plates, as a competition between my brother and I to see who was fastest at mental computations (I usually lost). Suffice to say though, with such an upbringing, it’s no surprise that I’ve gone on to have a career in academia. But I digress.

Back to the topic of flags. One of the most-thumbed encyclopaedias in my house is The World Encyclopedia of Flags: The Definitive Guide to International Flags, Banners, Standards and Ensigns. I remember spending hours upon hours pouring over the fascinating world of pennants, banners, standards, ensigns, streamers, and the symbolism associated with colours, emblems, representations and images. Who knows – I might very well have possibly grown up to become a vexillologist (from the Latin word vexillum, meaning flag or banner) were it not for the innate educationist in me. Nevertheless, vexillology still remains a hobby for me, and indeed others too. There are some fascinating resources for those who might be interested in funny trivia about flags, anecdotes of flag mix-ups and world records and historical overviews of the flags of British counties. Despite the vast array of flags that we as individuals align ourselves with – be they national, civil, provincial, diplomatic, social, religious, linguistic, professional or institutional – the main representation which most of us proudly associate with, is that of the country to which we belong.

The Kenyan flag, that I am proud to represent, was officially adopted on December 12, 1963. The colour black represents the indigenous people of the Republic of Kenya, red for the blood shed during the struggle for independence, green for the country’s natural resources and fertile landscape and the white fimbriation was added later to symbolize unity, peace and honesty. The black, red, and white traditional Maasai shield and two spears symbolize the defence of all the things mentioned above. Growing up in Kenya, I fondly recall, following the offical flag-hoisting ceremony and recitation of the National Anthem, chiming in collectively with the rest of the school during Friday morning assemblies to recite the (now-withdrawn) ‘Nyayo Philosophy of Peace Love and Unity and the Loyalty Pledge‘:

“I pledge my loyalty to the President and the nation of Kenya. My readiness and duty to defend the flag of our Republic. My devotion to the words of our National Anthem. My life and strength in the task of our Nation’s building. In the living spirit embodied in our national motto – Harambee!* And perpetuated in the Nyayo** philosophy of peace, love and unity.”

*Harambee: Kenya’s national motto; Swahili for “Let us all pull together”

**Nyayo: Motto for Kenyan’s original political party, KANU; Swahili word for “footsteps”

The pledge was withdrawn after Kenya evolved into a political multi-party state in the 90s. Nevertheless, the pride and self-identity instilled in me with respect to hoisting the flag of my country, and accompanied singing of the National Anthem whilst standing at attention, remains as indomitable as ever. I leave you with a rendition of it:

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015


			

Learning a new language

A BBC item titled Language lessons ‘should aim for more than phrasebook competence’ caught my interest. The article caught my eye for a variety of reasons; firstly it’s about teaching, and secondly, because I am trying to teach myself Arabic these days. In the article, Vicky Gough of the British Council, says, “It’s really important that we don’t just teach languages in isolation, but as part of a wider cultural education.” The more I resort to a variety of language resources in my quest for basic Arabic understanding, the more I am struck by how cultural aspects impact languages.

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image source: http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/2014/10/vanilla-arabic.html#.VQSaz47keSo (click on the image to open a larger view)

I am learning that Arabic is a very poetic and metaphorical language. Expressions of delight, for instance, can be described in a myriad of ways which actually have nothing to do with the object of delight in the first place! For example, in colloquial Levantine or Shami Arabic (my attempts to figure out which Arabic I want to learn could comically be surmised from the cartoon on the right), the transliterated phrases “aala ra’see”  (Arabic: على راسي) literally means ‘on my head’, and “aala aynee” (Arabic: على عَيني), literally translates to “from my eyes”; both are the replies oft used to mean “it’s my pleasure”, after someone thanks you for something.

I consider myself to be elementarily proficient in French. But today I learnt, after a strange look from a friend, that the meaning of the sentence “Je suis trop pleine” (I am really full) after a meal, does not have the same expression as it does in English. This is because in French, one cannot simply state that they are full. “Really now, so what are you full of?” my friend asked me with a cheeky grin. After some banter, I had to correct myself to say, “J’ai trop mangé” (I ate too much). Incidentally, in Arabic, although you can say “Ana qad aa’akl kteer” (Arabic: أنا قد أكل كثيرا) ‘I have eaten a lot’, I am told that it is more appreciated by Arabs when you say  “zaki kteer” (Arabic: زكي كثيرا) which literally means ‘very yummy’.

I am off now for a seminar about ‘School Life Experiences of Young People with Intellectual Disabilities in Columbia’. So Au revoir and “Ma’a-salaamah” (Arabic: مع السلامة) ‘see you later’ .

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015