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)..

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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

Paper:2 Me:0

Papercuts. Not one, but two papercuts – one on each hand. Right now, my pain level can be described as potentially pretty much around the grizzly-bear-mauling proportions experienced by Leonardo di Caprio/ Hugh Glass in The Revenant. You can watch the gut-wrenching scene here (3 min duration not for the faint-hearted). Fortunately though, I don’t have to find a horse carcass to recuperate in (another 3 min video not for those of a delicate disposition). This is a good thing as I busy myself wiping the trail of blood around my home whilst I bravely battle through the brain-fuddling agony.

Perhaps I should admit that my pain threshold is pitiful at the best of times (in direct contrast to my penchant for occasional overstatement). You may recall my 2015 foot injury which resulted in a trip to hospital A&E during which my dear friend Lola sat beside me giggling satanically at my predicament. I still haven’t entirely forgiven her for that (although we continue to be the best of friends), but am duly grateful to her for chauferring me around following that harrowing near-death experience. I’m happy to report that I made a full recovery from my broken fractured mangled mutilated dismembered pulverised seriously injured toes and am once again able to perform the perfect ballerina pirouettes and twirls on my tiptoes like I was able to before the incident (in my imagination).

But back to my current gash/wound/laceration. The researcher in me immediately started looking up scientific papers about this moribund experience. Of course, I have been beaten to the punch, as there are numerous papers and articles summarising research into it, including one disdainful project resulting in a model for measuring fear of pain (including papercuts on fingers). Fear of pain? Are they joking? What I feel is not fear – it is very, very real, very, very present and very, very intense, pukka papercut pain. More reassuringly, though, another brief article titled ‘Paper May Be the Unkindest Cut‘ reported that “The thought of it makes the strong tremble and the weak pass out.

Fortunately, I have not passed out from a papercut – yet! – although I almost do whenever I momentarily forget about having one and use hand sanitiser. Oh! the anguish, the torture, the utter tribulation of this mortal wound! As visions of my martyrdom flash before my eyes, I search valiantly for words to describe the degree of my suffering.

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The Subjective Pain Scale [image source: https://remotemedicine.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/importance-of-pain-scale.html (click to open full size in new tab)]

There are many variants of the pain intensity scale, but the most common one, which is also used in hospitals across the world, is the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS-11). It is an 11-point scale (0-10) for patients’ self-reporting of pain in clinical settings. Known as the Subjective Pain Scale, I was amused to see an edited version of it floating around the internet. I share both versions here for your entertainment.

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The Edited Subjective Pain Scale [image source: https://i.redd.it/gyyndb3xfowz.jpg (click to open full size in new tab)]

Please note that my current papercut-driven pain scale is hovering somewhere between Levels 9 and 10. Level 10 in the amended version of the scale states that it is “pain so intense that you will go to the internet and joke about it hoping that the absurdity of it all will make it more manageable” – hence this blog post.

NB: This post is meant as a tongue-in-cheek catalogue of my papercut woes today.  It is no way meant to be insensitive or disrespectful to those who are poorly, and particularly those suffering from chronic pain and illness. Good health is one of the greatest blessings on earth and its value can never be underestimated.

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

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

An Emirates Cabin Crew Knight in Shining Armour

Have you ever been in one of those situations where you were feeling so poorly that all you wanted to do was crawl into bed and lie under the covers whilst someone pampered you – but you couldn’t because real world responsibilities had to take priority, instead? Well, I was in one such predicament last month where I had to catch two consecutive long-haul flights to get from the UK to Singapore for a work trip. Normally, I’m used to travelling – usually after a manic day at the office, coupled with last minute packing, I’m on and off different planes before you can even say ‘Bob’s your Uncle’! But this time was different.

This time, I felt the beginnings of a migraine start the day before my first flight. However, despite taking the usual precautions, it only became worse during the first 7-hour leg of my journey (and possibly wasn’t helped by the strong Arabic kahwa (coffee) that I chugged down during my 3-hour transit in Dubai). Suffice to say that by the time I boarded my 3.15am flight for the final 7.5-hour leg of the journey, I was functioning at far below my optimal levels, well and truly in the throes of the mother of all migraines!  Those who know me well, will understand the scale of my pain when I tell them that I felt so miserable that I didn’t even go and eat my usual shawarma at my favourite Dubai airport restaurant Shawarmanji (It’s in Terminal 1 C for anyone planning on checking it out). Yes, it’s true – I passed up an opportunity to eat shawarma, and yes – I’m such a loyal Emirates frequent flier, that I even know which shops and amenities are located where within both airport terminals!  

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A bevy of A380 beauties parked at Dubai airport concourse (source: personal image)

Anyway, by the time I boarded that much-adored A380 plane (my favourite flying machine in the whole wide world!) I had left my cerebral processing power (read: brains) behind on terra firma.

To begin with, I walked right past my allocated seat like some sort of dimwitted newbie passenger, and had to be called back by the purser – who came up the aisle after me, calling me by name! How he recalled it from just a nanosecond glance at my boarding pass, I’ll never know.

The next thing was getting my little carry on up into the the overhead cabin. Normally, this isn’t an issue for me, despite my (ahem) petite stature. I stand on a seat if necessary, but am usually able to get it up into the lockers without issue, and rarely, if ever have to call upon a fellow passenger for help. This time though, not only had I stuffed my heavy jacket and coat into my carry on (the temperature was 1C when I left Northampton and 22C in Dubai), but also quite a bit of Duty-Free shopping that I’d done for my darling niece Ayzah (note to self: baby shopping is heavy on both the pocket and the back!). So my bag must’ve certainly weighed at least double the 7kg allowance. Anyway, the poor chap must’ve seen me stand helplessly gazing up at the overhead cabin, and the next thing I know, is that he’s left his post at the front of the aircraft once again, and is by my side, gallantly lifting the leaden bag into the locker. Fortunately, he was far too professional to ask what elephantine contents I had in there or mention my apparent disregard for the cabin baggage allowance. I vaguely recall feeling very guilty at that point, as I watched him straighten his jacket from the exertion as he walked back to his post. I really and truly hope he didn’t pull a muscle – I’m hoping he didn’t, because the knight in shining armour that he was, when we landed, he actually made his way through the other standing passengers and took my carry on down for me too! All this without really knowing how very, very gravely ill I was feeling.

His gestures are all the more touching as I later learnt here, here and here that cabin crew actually aren’t supposed to help passengers lift their luggage into the overhead lockers, because lower back pain is an ongoing hazard of the job for them. Anyway, after spending most of the flight listlessly dozing in and out of sleep, by the time we touched down in Singapore at 2.40pm local time, I was in desperate need of a quiet, darkened room and a bed to lie down on. In my haste to get off the plane, through airport formalities and to the hotel, I didn’t even get a chance to properly thank my knight in shining armour or to even get his name! This is quite literally one of my biggest regrets to date.

My migraine took about four days to clear (yes, it was that bad!), and since then, this whole saga has been eating away at me, particularly because I really didn’t thank him at the end, and neither was I very appreciative of his help during the flight itself. This was very remiss of me, especially because I know how hard all members of cabin crew work as a dear friend of mine is cabin crew with British Airways. I have of course, written to customer services at Emirates  requesting them to convey my indebtedness to the purser whom “I think was from Pakistan. He wore glasses, and sat in the middle jump seat at the front of the plane during takeoff (the lower deck of the A380) on my flight EK354 on Friday 6th January 2017”.

Hopefully my message of gratitude will have reached the described knight in question, and hopefully it will have made his day to know that the huffing and puffing and heaving that he did for the grumpy and folorn-looking ‘Ms. Qureshi’ that day, didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated. I also hope that Emirates will have rewarded him in some way for being a sterling exemplification of the brand ambassadors for the Airline that Cabin Crew are meant to be.

I should also mention that the capacity-builder in me initially wanted to take every measure to ensure that my gratitude was suitably voiced. I reached out to Kelsey Johnson on Facebook, and received an immediate reply from her. This also got me into reading Kelsey’s blog about her travels as cabin crew with Emirates. I would highly recommend her fascinating and enjoyable posts about life as a literal jet-setter.

So through this blog post, I suppose, I am laying to rest my guilty conscience for not having been suitably grateful to my knight in shining Emirates-Cabin-Crew-uniform! If he ever does read this, this message is for him: Shukran, Merci, Arigato, Grazie, Asante, Obrigado, Danke, Shukriya – Thank 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

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

The Circle of Life

One of my mother’s oft-sermonised mantras relates to not judging people by appearances. “You never know what challenges and hardships, trials and tribulations their seemingly-carefree façades may be masking,” she’d often tell my brother and I, particularly during our formative years, as we  faced struggles of varying degrees and descriptions and would often turn to her, my Uncle and my grandmother in frustration and despair. And so, we persevered. We got knocked down, but we picked ourselves back up and were sustained by those who cared. Worries and complications still abound, but we endure.

What is most interesting to me today is the circle of life as it works its way around:

Where once my mother was our pillar, we are now hers.

Where once she was a source of courage and fortitude for us, we can now be hers.

Where once those who had but few words of care, kindness or comfort, have now the time and inclination to spout platitudes and bromides, and pose unsolicited, yenta-spirited counsel.

Where once a little acorn stood its ground, and from it grew a mighty oak tree… but where once a mighty oak heaved and burgeoned; is today felled and forlorn – all in tandem with the circle of life – the most chilling reminder of all!

But as ever, any karma-related discussion with my mother results in yet another oft-quoted reminder, “Gratitude and humility – these are the two things I want my children to have learnt from me. Do not gloat; do not compare yourself with others; and do not begrudge. Embrace your blessings. Success, wealth and fame are insignificant and ephemeral.”

So I leave you with this quote from Martin Luther King  which prompted today’s blog post, catalogued from his keynote address, ‘The Three Evils in Society,’ at the 1st Annual National Conference on New Politics in 1967: “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” – Martin Luther King Jr (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968).

 Saneeya Qureshi © 2016