Y for Yak and other vagaries of the phonetic alphabet

The following exchange is a true story of a conversation between myself and a Boots helpline member of staff (following what was admittedly a long work day the other evening):

Me: (Having to spell my name) So that’s ‘S’ for Sierra, ‘A’ for Alpha, ‘N’ for November, ‘E’ for Echo, ‘E’ again for Echo, ‘Y’ for… (momentary pause as I desperately searched the recesses of my brain)… ‘Y’ for Yak, ‘A’ for… ”

(nervous interruption)

Call Centre rep: Sorry ma’am, I didn’t get the last one.

Me: Oh, that was ‘Y’ for….. (searching my foggy brain again for something coherent to spell the letter ‘Y’)Yucatan.

Call Centre rep: (befuddled silence… clears his throat and then asks in an almost strangled whisper) Orangutan?

Me: (Horrified bemusement at the turn this conversation has taken) No! Not ‘O’! I mean ‘Y’! ‘Y’ for You…or Yoda

Call Centre rep: (after another pause, in a pained voice) Sorry Ma’am, could you start spelling your name again from the beginning please?

Me: Oh dear, I’m sorry, there’s someone at the door (there wasn’t). I’ll have to call back later. (Put phone down in disbelief and self-disgust, and then immediately recall that it’s ‘Y’ for Yankee)..


NATO phonetic alphabet, codes and signals image source: https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_150391.htm (click to open full-size image in new tab)

I had to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet by heart during my years as a trainer with the Northamptonshire Police Force. It was particularly important during the scenario-based assessments that we conducted for students on the Police and Criminal Justice Courses and the Thames Valley Police Specials and regular Force recruits. It was good fun and serious business then, so I was in top form for the duration of my job, from which I progressed in 2015.  However, it is now evident that my recent lack of practice has made my recall of the various letters and corresponding nouns quite rusty.

The above-reported interaction with the poor, harassed call centre chap compelled me to google the NATO phonetic alphabet to review some other letters that I can’t seem to easily recall (‘Q’ for Quango, anyone?). Imagine my surprise when I read on good ol’ Wikipedia that all of the letters – not just the ‘troublesome’  ones – have been through vast and varied iterations before reaching their current noun words of reference. I have illustrated a condensed version of the timeline below for your shared amazement (and vindication at not being able to properly recall the appropriate noun when so required):

Timeline in development of the ICAO/ITU-R radiotelephony spelling alphabet
Letter 1920 UECU[32] 1947 (Atlantic City) International Radio Conference[44] 1946 ICAO Second Session of the Communications Division (same as Joint Army/Navy)[24] 1949 ICAO code words[24] 1959 (Geneva) Administrative Radio Conference code words[48]
A Argentine Amsterdam Able Alfa Alfa
B Brussels Baltimore Baker Beta Bravo
C Canada Casablanca Charlie Coca Charlie
D Damascus Danemark Dog Delta Delta
E Ecuador Edison Easy Echo Echo
F France Florida Fox Foxtrot Foxtrot
G Greece Gallipoli George Golf Golf
H Hanover Havana How Hotel Hotel
I Italy Italia Item India India
J Japan Jerusalem Jig Julietta Juliett
K Khartoum Kilogramme King Kilo Kilo
L Lima Liverpool Love Lima Lima
M Madrid Madagascar Mike Metro Mike
N Nancy New York Nan (later Nickel) Nectar November
O Ostend Oslo Oboe Oscar Oscar
P Paris Paris Peter Polka Papa
Q Quebec Quebec Queen Quebec Quebec
R Rome Roma Roger Romeo Romeo
S Sardinia Santiago Sail/Sugar Sierra Sierra
T Tokio Tripoli Tare Tango Tango
U Uruguay Upsala Uncle Union Uniform
V Victoria Valencia Victor Victor Victor
W Washington Washington William Whiskey Whiskey
X Xaintrie Xanthippe X-ray ? X-ray
Y Yokohama Yokohama Yoke Yankey Yankee
Z Zanzibar Zurich Zebra Zebra Zulu

Table source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet (with hyperlinked references to Wikipedia endnotes left as per original table)

Reviewing the table above I’m saddened to see that they seem to have taken out some of the best ones like G for Gallipoli, J for Jig, O for Oboe, P for Polka, T for Tare, X for Xaintrie, X for Xanthippe and the ‘loveliest’ of them all – L for Love!  Some of them seem almost on par with the utterly hilarious Michael Mcintyre’s spellings of ‘F’ for Fandango and ‘G’ for Gnome (a 3:45min youtube video).

But coming back to my predicament, on the plus side, at least I have now reviewed my phonetic alphabet again. And the next time I have to spell my name for someone, I’ll be able to use either Yokohama, Yoke and Yankee instead of Yak, Yucatan, You and Yoda!

To the poor call centre chap somewhere out there, who may still be reeling from the trauma of having to unravel the vagarious spelling of my name, I am Sardinia-Ostend-Roma-Roger-Yoke!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2018

TBT: My Year 4 Teaching Portfolio

I have recently been reflecting on what it takes to be a great – not just good – teacher. My professional experience includes teaching students from Year 3 all the way to, ahem, those over fifty. During the years before I embarked upon my PhD studies, I was a primary school teacher in one of Pakistan’s leading schools. In my current nostalgic frame of mind, I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post about the ethos which I endeavoured to inculcate in my students through the visuals that surrounded them in their classroom. So I write below about some of the displays and activities that I initiated during my unforgettable and memorable time as a Year 4 teacher at the Karachi Grammar School.

Keys to Success: motivational prompts about positive social skills and good habits

Concept behind the display:

The Keys to Success were displayed prominently above the blackboard at the front of the class. This was in the children’s direct line of sight for main classroom instruction so as to ensure constant and subliminal reinforcement. The Keys included:

  1. Listen Actively
  2. Respect Everyone
  3. Ask Questions
  4. Do Neat Work
  5. Read Books
  6. Be Punctual
  7. Be Responsible
  8. Do Your Homework

Reading Garden:  developing and encouraging children’s creative and literary skills

reading garden.jpg

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the display:

Every week each child would borrow four books from the library:

  1. A fiction book
  2. A magazine
  3. A non-fiction book
  4. An Urdu (national language) book

To encourage the children to read, they would then make a flower, or any garden item, colour it and inside it, write the name of the book they enjoyed best that particular week. This way other children were encouraged to review their classmates favourite books and borrow the books to read for themselves.

Alongside this display, there was a list of reasons why particular books are chosen and enjoyed, that the class came up with together. This list included things such as colourful pictures, interesting characters and so on,  and was constantly being added to during the term. As a result of this display activity, children were exposed to a variety of authors and genres of books.

House Points: an eye-catching, child-friendly inspirational display

Concept behind the display:

house points

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Each child in the classroom was assigned a House to which they belong. House Points were awarded to children on an on-going basis throughout the week for classwork, homework, behaviour, personal presentation (for example, neat and tidy appearances, and wearing the correct school uniform), following school rules and so on.

Each day as children would have to go out of the classroom, they would line up Housewise. According to the positions of the markers on each House’s ladder, the children were then requested to move out of the classroom, usually with members of the House with the most points leading the group.

This display was located in a prominent place in the class and children were encouraged to put up their House points themselves. Each House had one member (who was appointed on a rotational basis from another House) responsible to ensure the correct tallying of points.

As a result of this display activity, the children were greatly motivated to behave well, produce their best work and work together as a team (members of a common House group). I found this display a particularly useful tool that the children used to encourage each other.

Notice Board at Class Front: reinforcing learning outcomes, important spellings and conceptsnotice board

Concept behind the display:

The position of the display board was right next to the main blackboard. Therefore, it was in the children’s frequent line of sight. I took advantage of the board position to put up a whiteboard on which I would write the main learning outcomes for numeracy and literacy for every lesson.

This was advantageous because I would review these learning outcomes with the children after each lesson and a number of times, the children themselves would in fact add some more of the learning outcomes that they perceived they achieved from the lesson! Once this started happening, I realised how essential this strategy was and how much it added to the children’s understanding of the practical outcomes of each lesson.

Additionally, the display also had a spelling list of words for each week, alongwith a mathematical word of the week and number of the week, so the children were constantly able to review them.

The display border consisted of a collection of flowers, each containing the name of every member of the class, which the children loved!

Interactive Train (at the bottom of the display): reinforcing learning outcomes and making cross-curricular connections

Concept behind the display:

Positioned in an easily accessible place, I made a train with a number of carriages. Each carriage had a ‘compartment’ within which slips of paper could be inserted as per the respective labels on each carriage. As illustrated above, there was a little container pinned to the board near the carriage which held slips of paper which children could pick up and insert into the relevant carriage.

For example, for the topic ‘Improving the Environment’, the carriages had various labels such as, ‘how litter harms the environment’, ‘why recycling is important’, ‘how we can save energy’, and so on. As the topic progressed, children were able to pick up slips of paper (the opportunity was usually given as a reward for neat work, good behaviour, etc) on which I had pre-printed phrases such as, ‘plastic bags can destroy animal habitats’, ‘we can conserve our resources’, ‘we should carpool’, and so on.

Nearby was also a notice asking children if they could think of some more of their own examples to put into the appropriate carriages and a number of blank slips were provided for the children to write on.

I adapted this display for Mathematics as well, during the topics revieweing multiplication and division in particular. Each carriage was assigned a random number and various sums were made up with the blanks in any place for children to insert in the correct carriage, for instance: ‘5 x _ = 45’, ‘35 ÷ 7 = _’

Character Building: promoting good habits, health, hygiene and school spirit

Concept behind the display:


character bulding

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

As the children would eat their snacks inside the classroom three times a week, before going outside to play, I utilised the opportunity whilst supervising them to discuss positive character building habits, such as the importance of saying ‘please ‘ and ‘thank you’, washing hands before and after eating and especially after entering the house, and so on. Usually I would try to link the discussion with a Science or Geography current topic, such as the environment, or the human body, or relate it to a character in a story that the children would be reading.

I would also regularly review the School Song with the children because I believe it is very important to inculcate a proper understanding of the words so that the children realise the very principles and backbone on which their school was founded and strive to live up to them.

The good habits and values talked about during these discussions were also the basis for a number of rewards given out during school time, for instance, ‘Sarah shared her colouring pencils with Adam.’ (based on the principle  of sharing with each other). Rewards would be in the form of Housepoints, certificates, a chance to take home Sylvester (the class mascot) and so on.

Our Pledges: personal pledges by each student

 Concept behind the display:


source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

On the first day of each term, I conducted an exercise whereby we would discuss the school rules, come up with our own classroom rules, and talk about what we each expected, as a teacher and students respectively, from the classroom and associated learning.

Following this, the students and myself then each wrote down our ‘pledge’ of thought, behaviour or learning for the coming term. We coloured our pledges which were then mounted and displayed in a prominent place in the classroom.

Students’ pledges included, ‘I pledge to write in cursive handwriting’, ‘I pledge to improve my vocabulary’ and ‘I pledge that I will not run in the corridors’.

As a teacher, whenever the opportunity arose during the term, I would constantly refer children to the pledges they made. This served to keep them focused.

At the end of the term, children were returned their pledges along with a short note of appreciation from me on the back of each pledge encouraging them to strive for even more the following term.

The Classroom Layout: colourful, interactive, child-friendly, organised and conducive to learning

Concept behind the layout:


source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

It is common knowledge that the more child-friendly and colourful a learning environment is, the more conducive for learning it will ultimately be. Keeping that in mind, I arranged my classroom in such a way that as children were divided into various groups they were able to experience a positive ambience all around.

A number of the displays were interactive and required some form of input from the children, whether their writing on the boards in a given space, or placing slips or paper in the correct strategic places and so on.

The students’ work in the form of worksheets, posters (for instance those such as movie posters advertising movies based on their favourite books), bookmarks they made, and artwork was also displayed at all times, as seeing their work up on display was a great motivating factor.

Children’s cubbyholes and trolley baskets (for them to organise the books they required at their tables for various lessons) were also placed in easily accessible areas with clear labelling of each and every area and compartment.

Poetry Corner

Concept behind the display:

In my classroom I laid great emphasis on having a poetry corner. The objective of which was to enable children to compare and contrast poems on similar themes, particularly their form and language, discuss personal responses and preferences, find out more about popular authors and poets, and use this information to move onto more books by favourite writers.

The display also served as a tool to encourage children to understand the use of figurative language in poetry and prose, compare poetic phrasing with narrative and descriptive examples, reading the poems aloud, identify various patterns of rhyme and verse, read the poems aloud, locate the use of similes, making comparisons and identifying familiar features of the works of particular poets, to write poems of their own keeping all the explored factors in mind, and so on.

A key aspect of the display was the visual appeal of the poems. I endeavoured to show children how enjoyable poetry can be, particularly when combined with artistic creativity.

The perennial display was also a key build-up to the annual intra-school poetry recital competition, in which there were class and solo performances.

Sylvester: motivating and inspiring students to behave well, and inculcate within them a sense of responsibility


source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

I instituted a class mascot ‘Sylvester’, a stuffed toy replica of the famous character from the Looney Tunes series. The concept behind Sylvester was that he would go home every weekend with a member of the class who behaved well or performed outstandingly in a particular endeavour.

The student whom he went home with would have to look after Sylvester and ensure that he had an ‘enjoyable time’ with them whilst ensuring that no harm came to him and he was kept safely. They would then have to write an entry for that weekend in Sylvesters journal, pretending to be him.

Indeed, his own introduction in the journal was: “Hello! I’m Sylvester. This is my journal. It is all about my life and the exciting time I have during my travels. Every weekend I go home with a different member of Class IVG2. All my splendid moments are jotted down in this journal. Join me in my merry adventures with the students of IVG2.”

Children absolutely adored Sylvester and constantly referred to him as another member of the class. I would also use him as a positive example, inspiring their imaginations, for example by saying, ‘What do you think Sylvester would do in such a situation?’

Certificates: reinforcing and rewarding positive behaviour

proud of me certificates

source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity: 

Every week on a Friday, a child would be presented with a certificate rewarding a particular aspect of their behaviour. Reasons were varied and included things such as, ‘My teacher is proud of me because I…

  • cared for the environment
  • completed my class work  accurately and neatly
  • listened carefully and followed directions
  • remembered to use kind words
  • was a kind and willing helper of my classmates
  • made commendable contributions to class discussions
  • asked questions when unsure
  • was sensitive to others’ feelings
  • offered to help without being asked
  • demonstrated a positive attitude towards a problem
  • read voraciously during the holidays

The certificates were laminated and presented in a mini-ceremony just before the close of school for each weekend.

Bookmarks: a memento of their time with me and encouragement to continue reading


source: personal image (click on image to open full size in a separate window)

Concept behind the activity:

At the end of each school year, once exams were over, and children had some free time, I would give each child a bookmark to colour. On the reverse side of it, they could draw their favourite character from any book that they had read, write the name of the book, and the year. Before the last day of school, I laminated all the bookmarks, and presented them to the pupils with their report cards to take home as a memento of their time in my Year 4 class.



Note of Appreciation: students’ application of taught concepts which make all my effort truly worthwhile!  

As a teacher, I receive a number of sweet notes from my students not just during their time with me, but long after too. The notes are often full of love and appreciation. A number of them often reflect some particular skill or strategy that the student has recently been taught by me.

One such example are these notes from Year 4 (Key Stage 2) students. At the time, I had just taught the children how to explore and write poems based on different styles and structures. In these particular poems to me, what is most pleasing to note is students’ application of concepts taught in the classroom and their extended learning from it.

These notes are just one example why the teaching profession is so immensely rewarding and joyous and why I return to it time and time again. Teachers come in all forms, for all facets of life: academic, personal and professional. Do you consider yourself a teacher too? Or do you know of a great teacher? I’d love to hear from you, so do please share your experiences in the comments below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

A Celebration of the Elderly

Normally, on this blog, I like to write light-hearted pieces, or short posts about any random topic that tickles my fancy; but sometimes, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do. And I cannot shy away from writing this any longer.

In Africa, where I grew up, there is an oft-used adage, “When an old person dies, a library is burnt to the ground.” This proverb has stayed with me through the years and moves me every time I think of it, because its very essence is based on the utmost respect and regard for the elderly, for the wisdom they possess, for the value of their experiences.

So today, in the spirit of the Easter holidays and commemorating the renewal of hope and life, I’d like to use this forum to celebrate the elderly: the values they stand for; the rich, cultural and familial histories they symbolize; their infinite patience and forbearance; their love for even those who are at their most unlovable; their special bonds with their grandchildren. The list is simply endless.

Indeed, such recollections remind me of various unique “only-with-the-elderly” moments in my life. Memories that I wouldn’t exchange for all the gold or diamonds in the world!

A darling Grand-Aunt has often surprised us with some astounding slips of the tongue which undoubtedly deserve a place of honour in the family hall of fame. Indeed, the family has often ended up in stitches of laughter, literally laughing till the tears flowed from our eyes, with priceless name gaffes such as Graffi Stef (Steffi Graf), Silver Stallion (Sylvester Stallone), Madeline Fullbright (Madeline Albright), not to mention a dear personal friend whose name is Arish, but is known to Grand-Aunt Dearest as “Ashar”.

Then there was the family acquaintance who was in hospital recovering from operative surgery. Grand-Aunt, ever the concerned mother-hen, called him up to enquire how his “elastoplasty” went. The patient was gracious enough to reply that all was going well. Meanwhile, myself and the rest of the family busied ourselves in prayer that his stitches wouldn’t come undone from the hysterical shock of hearing Grand-Aunt’s ‘minor’ mispronunciation of his “angioplasty” procedure. It was not an easy task, I assure you, as the image of the poor chap being constantly “twanged” with elastic bands by the nurses continuously replayed in our minds.

My all-time favourite though, has to be when Grand-Aunt was telling a friend of hers, during a serious conversation, that my mum used to be a “medieval” reading teacher. She meant remedial! – but since then, whenever I tell people about my mum’s work, I visualise her dressed up in apron-topped antediluvian clothes with a bonnet on her head, perched upon a barrel in a castle courtyard, teaching phonics to children of aristocratic knights and proletarian cottiers.

When it comes to economic issues though, no one brought a brighter smile to my face than my grandfather. For in his “real world”, his haircut used to cost a whopping thirty Rupees (equivalent to current £3)! Of course darling Grandpapa was blissfully unaware of the additional two hundred Rupees (equivalent to current £20) that my Uncle used to secretly slip to the barber. God rest both their souls in peace.

Even more amusing were the various covert acts that the family had to resort to whilst taking Grandpapa shopping. It still makes me smile to recall an incident when, as a student, I had to buy some stationery items. As luck would have it, I was accompanied by my grandfather into the shop. I tried unsuccessfully to get him interested in the various books on display, but by the time I had selected what to purchase, he was right there with me at the cash counter. Initially, I tried to make eye-signals at the shop-keeper to convey the hint that he should follow my cue. However, either the man had never seen a James Bond movie, or read a spy novel – or he thought I was making eyes at him! Literally. Actually, in hindsight, as I reflect on the episode, I fear it must have been the latter case. Oh God. The horror of it all! Poor man. Needless to say, it’s one shop that I never had the mettle to visit again.

Anyhow, as you might guess, when the actual tab was drawn up and announced in full hearing of Grandfather Dearest, his outrage lasted for quite some time. For months on end, the family was treated to the story about how “Saneeya was conned by a shopkeeper,” having paid a mind-blowing hundred and twenty Rupees (equivalent to current £12) for a set of markers (Crayola ones, mind you!) and some manilla sheets!

There are so many respects in which the elders around me have enriched my life. For me, they are a much-beloved source of strength and courage. They serve to inspire me during my own tough times and to bring out the best in me.

For every time I think of the worth of elderly persons, I feel humbled and blessed to have them around me. To me, they are indeed, one of God’s miracles. A celebration of what hopes and dreams still lie in the future. A celebration of all the goodness that still exists in this world. I salute them all!

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):


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


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


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


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 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!


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:


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.


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.


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.



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!


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

I’m an impostor

A dear friend emailed me this Buzzfeed article ‘13 Charts That Will Make Total Sense To People With Impostor Syndrome‘, saying that she was pretty sure I that had stated or continually state at least one of the thoughts in the article on an almost-daily basis to her.

I must admit, that although I giggled at the charts; each and every single one resonated with me. Apparently, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. Admittedly, I am in esteemed company, as the actress and UN ambassador Emma Watson has confessed that she feels like an impostor, as have Sheryl Sandberg, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Kate Winslet and Maya Angelou.

For a number of years, many around me, including my family, my supervisor during my PhD studies, my current boss, and recently and more vociferously, a close friend and colleague, have urged me to consciously overcome this syndrome, because it’s doing me no favours, particularly as I make ground in my professional achievements on an international level.

A TED Talk by Amy Cuddy (suggested by said friend) has been particularly inspiring and I watch it at least once a month, fervently trying to “fake it, till I become it”. I also pull similarly inspirational articles via my Feedly RSS reader, including this recent piece in the Telegraph, ‘Imposter syndrome: Why do so many women feel like frauds?

The path to changing my mindset is no mean feat; after all, I am someone whose all-time favourite childhood poem is ‘I’m Nobody! Who are You?’ by Emily Dickinson. I shall shamelessly take this opportunity to share the poem below (and use this blog post as an excuse to recite it as I did for my prize-winning School Elocution Competition Performance way back when life was so much simpler):


I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us -don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

by Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

I feel it obligatory to end this blog post on a hopeful note. Caltech has a list of positive behaviours to reinforce the sense of acknowledging one’s achievements, and moving on. My favourites though, and ones that I earnestly try to incorporate, are from a Forbes article:

  1. Focus on the value you bring; not on attaining perfection.
  2. Own your successes. You didn’t get lucky by chance. 
  3. Cease comparisons. They’re an act violence against oneself. 
  4. Hold firm to ambition.  Risk outright exposure!

What about you? Do you, or anyone you know suffer from Impostor Syndrome? What’s your take on it? I’d love to know, so do please leave a comment below.

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.


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