Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to Square One

Today, I'm flying back to Bowdoin, where my journey started. My Mom is upset that I'm leaving early and was only home for four days. She wants me to stay and celebrate Eid with the family. I feel a bit guilty.

I'm arriving to campus early to lead a community immersion pre-Orientation. It's the same one I did as a freshman. This pre-O exposes incoming students to Bowdoin and the greater Brunswick community through service. It's a great immersion and introduction to the common good, a pillar of Bowdoin College. I'm excited to welcome the new kids to our wonderful community! This is the kind of stuff I LOVE to do. So yes, while I felt guilty for seeing my Mom briefly, I also felt good for...well, doing good.

Take care, everyone! Thanks for following my blog this summer. It's been an unforgettable adventure.

Ride on!

On Tuesday, my little brother planned a Kings Dominion trip for me. It was really adorable and so thoughtful of him. All my siblings and I spent an entire day -- from the time the doors opened at 10:30 a.m. to the time the gates closed at 8 p.m. -- having a blast! We rode almost every roller coaster there, though my brother sat out on the "scary" ones.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I'm back in USA! I safely arrived at Dulles airport around 3 p.m. on Sunday, August 14th - Pakistan's Independence Day! The trip was exhausting. I was in travel mode for nearly 48 hours.

It took us 3 hours from Pakistan to Bahrain; we stayed in a hotel in Bahrain for 15 hours; flew from Bahrain to London in 8 hours; had a 5-hour stay in London; then flew another 7 hours from London to D.C. Whew!

Feels great to be back in the USA. Although I just read up on the debt ceiling and....ouch!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coming home

The song "Home" by Chris Daughtry just came up my iTunes....

"I'm staring out into the night,
Trying to hide the pain."

As I continue packing, listening to music, reflecting on my summer - the research I did at Hazara and in Lahore, my internship at Al-Imtiaz Acadmey, my students and their memories, the Imtiazian (and the hours I spent on its layout!), the up's and down's with my family members, the funeral I attended, the smiling faces of my nephews and nieces, the hospitality of Dr. Luke at the Bach Christian Hospital, the witty jokes my cousins made, the heat and sweat during power outages, the long nights Skyping with my mother, and the boring days I spent texting - I am saddened. I am sad to be leaving this place; my students, my house, my home, my family, my country.

"I'm going to the place where love
And feeling good don't ever cost a thing.
And the pain you feel's a different kind of pain"

Before embarking on this summer's journey, I knew what I would be losing if I committed to teaching journalism at AIA. I could have done an internship with some U.S. government department. I could have been a counselor at SJP's 10th anniversary. I could have spent time with my friends in NoVa and enjoyed Java Chip Frapaccino every afternoon. I could have spent time with my only brother and taken him to the theater to see Harry Potter's newest release. I could have served my mother and perhaps even learned some cooking from her. How wonderful it would have been if I could reunite with my old teachers and catch up on their lives. I could have bugged my sisters and started mischievous fights with them. But after this summer's experience ... I am glad I made the right decision to come back to Pakistan.

"I don't regret this life I chose for me."

I learned a lot this summer. More than I could have ever imagined. I grew in ways I did not expect. My summer experiences have made me better, stronger and more confident. I've learned to be patient and flexible; to not let little things get to me; and to always be open-minded and forgiving no matter the circumstance. I've learned to ignore (painful) comments even if they were made by my loved ones. My summer taught me to always have the bigger picture in mind. I've strengthened my abilities of coping with stress, loss and the truth. My students showed me that one can always live in the moment, but without memories, it's as if the moment never happened. I was reminded by summer how good it feels to be selfless.

It's been a long summer and I am grateful for every minute of it. I will forever cherish these memories. But I think it's time to come home now.

"Well I'm going home,
Back to the place where I belong."

Student Work

Check out my students' blog - let them tell you what they've been doing this summer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Celebrating hard work

Tonight was the students awards ceremony. It was a wonderful occasion! I got to make a speech about my program, why journalism is important and how proud I am of my students. It reminded me of Richard Just's speech. Richard Just is one of the directors of the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program (SJP) I did during the summer of 2008. (That program just concluded its 10th anniversary, by the way! Whoo!)

The newspaper, The Imtiazian, looks great! Everyone's hard work has paid off. I am really impressed and proud of all my students. During the program, everyone -- the school principals, Ms. Ayesha, Madam Imtiaz Nawaz (founder of the school), and my students -- thanked me over and over again for coming to Al-Imtiaz Academy and starting their newspaper. I was so humbled for such great honors and good wishes. My father sat in the front row and I could tell by the look in his eyes he was so proud of me. My father is usually shy in expressing his feelings, but today, managed to say a few words after the program was over. "Mariya, you did a great job. I am really proud of you." Hearing this from him meant a lot to me.

After the hour-long program, we served all the guests an Iftaar meal catered from a famous five-star restaurant, Usmania. I got to meet a lot of parents which was wonderful. Saying goodbye to my students was the hardest part. I bid them farewell, not knowing when I would see them again.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I did it!

Great news, everyone! After four all-nighters, I completed all the editing and 16 pages of layout of the first issue of the Imtiazian. It was sent to printers at 7:04 a.m. on Saturday, August 6th. The paper has officially been laid to bed. Though stressful, the beast is over!

Tomorrow is my last day at school. Saying goodbye to my students is going to be hard. I've learned so much about them and have enjoyed their company that it's sad leaving them. Through this internship, I've also learned a lot about myself and what teaching is like. This was a great experience, and I am grateful to Ms. Kathryn Davis for making this opportunity possible for me.

On Wednesday, August 10th, I have planned an awards assembly for my students and their parents. It's an opportunity to recognize their hard work and share their accomplishment with their family and friends. I'm looking forward to the event! August 10th is also the publication date. Once it is distributed, I'll be sure to post a copy on here so you all can get a sneak peak! :)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Where is the hope?

All my body muscles have cramped. Blood has probably clotted in my every vein. How am I still functioning after not sleeping for 48 hours straight??! When will this newspaper finish? So close yet so far. I think I'm losing hope.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Just when you thought you could escape the college all-nighters, you can't. Or at least I can't. I've been up for the past three days working on The Al-Imtiazian, my students' newspaper. They've done their part by writing the articles. It is my job to edit and perfect them.

Given the time constraints, unfortunately I could not teach my students how to use Microsoft Publisher to create newspaper layout. The reason for my decision to do the entire layout was because the school computers do not have Microsoft Publisher (even though I told the school I would need the program since the very beginning). And since we have limited laptops, each section editor would not have a machine to work. Not to mention touchpad mice are tricky and hard to use, especially for my new-bee kids.

I have to put out a paper in the next 12 hours! AHHHH! So much editing, so much layout, I'm going crazy! I used to complain about the 5 pages I had to layout for the Orient; now I have to layout 16. I think I'm being punished.

I haven't gone to school all this week because I have been working on the newspaper from home. My students email and text me saying they miss me. I miss them also. I will go to school on Monday or Tuesday as a final wrap-up day. It's gonna be hard to say goodbye. I've come to know my students so well and I can't believe the program is over.

On Wednesday, August 10 I have planned an awards ceremony for the students. They will be recognized for their hard work before their parents, teachers, and friends. They deserve it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Ramadan Mubarak!

The chand, or moon, was sighted Monday night and Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims, officially began on Tuesday, August 2nd for us. Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and the USA are a day ahead of us so their Ramadan began on the 1st. Ramadan is a month of purity; a special time of worship where Muslims around the world take a break from worldly pleasures and focus their energy on thanking Allah for His blessings. The purpose of Ramadan is to experience what the poor of our society endure every day, hunger and thirst. Even then, Ramadan does not do justice because the poor go days without eating or drinking clean water. During Ramadan, Muslims get only a glimpse of what life without food and water is like.

We eat a hearty breakfast called Sehri before the crack of dawn. After the morning prayer, Fajr, some read the Holy Quran while others go back to bed. During the next 15 or so hours, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink anything. They may distract their minds from food by reciting the Quran, listening to naats, or praying. The point is to have good thoughts and be positive. This helps keep the shatan, evil, out of the house and away from you. As soon as the sun goes down, the azan, call to prayer, for the Maghrib prayer (fourth of the five daily required prayers) is the official marker of opening the fast. This is called Iftar.

Muslims open their fast with a date, just as Prophet Muhammad used to. It is also traditional to drink Roo Afza, coolaid-like red and sweet drink. Iftaari also includes pakoras with chutney. After a quick iftaari, devout Muslims complete the Maghrib prayer (approximately at 7:20 p.m.) before eating the full course dinner meal.

I joke with my father that I've been fasting for the past two months since I don't have much of an appetite anyway when I come to Pakistan mainly due to the heat. People die to lose weight, but me, I wish I were healthier. Fasting isn't helping--but then again, that's the point of Ramadan, isn't it?

As we speak, I am editing my students' articles. I am so stressed out! This is worse than the Orient Thursday nights. For the past two days, I've been working from home. I have been waking up at 9 a.m. every day and working until iftar, then again from 8 p.m. until sehri. Tomorrow all day is LAYOUT day. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Goodness in the World

On Friday, July 28th, my father and I were invited for yet another dawat—a formal invitation for dinner. This dawat was by Americans.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve heard of “Dr. Luke” and how he has saved thousands of lives. Dr. Luke is a famous doctor at the Bach Christian Hospital, a missionary hospital located in Qalanadarabad, my town. I, too, was born there. The hospital was established in 1956. Dr. Luke’s father was among the many who established the hospital with the vision of helping the poor. Dr. Luke, from Norfolk, Virginia, has dedicated over 36 years of his life to this hospital. It is no wonder that my entire village and town know him. And he, too, knows all the townspeople. I have forever wanted to meet this famous doctor.

Our dawat on Friday was at Dr. Luke’s house, located within and behind the hospital. It was wonderful to meet him and his wife, Nancy, both of whom were very hospitable—no pun intended—to us. I took this opportunity to interview Dr. Luke because I find his story fascinating. These folks, who could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars in America decided to live in Pakistan, in my town, helping the poor. Their gesture is highly commendable and very respected. What they are doing is truly inspiring.

I learned that their four sons all grew up here. How cool is that? Imagine goras (white people) speaking Urdu. How weird is that? It’s like seeing apples grow in the ground instead of trees. Strange no? I’m not ignorant; I know we live in a globalized world, it definitely feels out of context. I never imagined East meeting the West in this way. It was so beautiful to see Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy wear salwar-kameez, speak Urdu, and adopt the Pakistani culture. If only more people understood my culture the way that the doctors of the Bach Christian hospital do. If only the perception that Americans have of Pakistan were not negative.

I had a great time with Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy. They are the definition of what goodness means in the world. It is people like Dr. Luke and Dr. Nancy who are helping bridge the gap of misunderstanding between those who are less educated. Given the relations between America and Pakistan, Islamophobia in the West, and general fear of the “other” in the world, it is important to be open-minded so that we can all live peacefully. I was and still am impressed by the continued efforts of the Bach Christian Hospital doctors and nurses. A simply ‘thank you’ is just not enough.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Over Burdened

I have about 30+ stories waiting for me to edit them. It's a daunting pile. The challenge now is how to edit English grammar and content accuracy of my students' articles while trying to maintain their writing style. This weekend looks busy. If I am awake until 2 a.m. every night, I'm already too busy. This is the final stretch, and it requires my full effort. It's getting more stressful and exciting by the day, and the radar swings in the direction depending on my mood, hah.

The father of one of my female students owns a printing business. How convenient! We have decided to get our newspaper printed from his workshop. Today, I chose the paper quality, gave him the tabloid size, and asked him to give us price rates for various quantity amounts ranging from 300 to 500 copies. The man was very cooperative and I appreciated his patience as I carefully made my decisions.

My students are wiling to put in the extra hours, and so am I. Ramadan starts next week, and so does school for my students. Summer vacation for my kids is over. However, since the newspaper still needs to be completed, this means we will be meeting after school to do layout. And I have already warned my students: there is no sleeping in journalism. In other words, if we need to stay the whole night at school finishing up layout, so be it. Dinner on me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


On Tuesday, July 26th, I had a very frustrating day at school. Everything was going well until 11 a.m., the time when my girls class ends and break begins. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the principals of the three sections, Ms. Ayesha (my internship coordinator), and her grandmother, the founder of the school, have a meeting. So before 11:30 a.m., I join them—it’s a nice way to catch up and talk with them.

Long story short, a particular teacher at the boys section misunderstood the directions of the boys section principal, and as a result of his lack of attention, I missed my entire class for boys that day. The principal asked him to bring the entire class to the interview with the president of private schools in Abbottabad. Instead, the teacher brought only two students. The principal required that I be present for the interview even though I did not want to. To make matters worse, the interview was only supposed to last about 20 to 30 minutes. It took 90 minutes. So, here I was: in an interview with a guy who went off tangent on every question, with only two of my students, while the rest of my class waited for me at the boys section, doing nothing.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal to me except for the fact that we have so little time left to produce our newspaper. Every minute is valuable for these kids, and we cannot afford to lose any time. That was a second time in a row that the boys have not had an opportunity to type their articles—and it was because of this teacher. I was frustrated and upset at this, and I felt that aggravated that no one sympathized with my view, especially this teacher who I think is purposefully trying to sabotage my program.

After the exhaustive interview, I went back to the girls section—where the meeting carried on—and complained to the principals and Ms. Ayesha. After understanding the situation at hand, they were all on my side, and sympathized. Even though this did not make up for the lost class time, it did provide some comfort. I walked out of the office that day, nearly tear-eyed.

What I learned from Tuesday’s scenario is that in life, you have to roll with the punches. Not everything in life will be perfect. Not everything will go as we want. We will meet different types of personalities wherever we go in life. We may not always appreciate someone else’s way of doing things. When an issue arises, the real test is not the details of what went wrong, but how we dealt with the situation. In retrospect, it would have been better had I consulted the teacher directly before going to his authorities. Although the teacher got yelled at for his faults, he did apologize to me. I have forgiven and I have forgotten. After all, there is something bigger to worry about right now! Tick tock, tick tock.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Hi everyone. I'm sorry for falling off the map. This past week has been a whirlwind! I'm behind on a few blog entries, but I hope to post them up tonight. Hope you are all doing great!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The "Doing" Begins

Our Dawn field trip marked the end of my teaching journalism. It is now time for students to put everything they’ve learned to use. They will now be practicing journalism.

On Monday, July 18th, I announced staff positions. The boys and girls section each have one editor in chief, managing editor, and one editor per section (news, opinions, features, people, entertainment, and sports). We also have one classroom and one newspaper photographer in each staff. This means everything times two. Boy, will the staff box be humongous!

In the next three weeks, these students will be working hard to write articles about their school. They have learned how to write each type of article; how to interview; how to take good quotes; when and where to use quantitative data; how to write interesting ledes and nut grafs; and how to take evocative photos. The students know what good layout looks like, how to write eye-catching headlines and interesting captions. They know the advantages, and sometimes the risks, involved in practicing ethical journalism. And now is their chance to roll back their sleeves and tie their shoes. This is their moment. This is it. And I’ll be there to help them along the way. An exciting three weeks await us.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Breaking the Tradition: Faisal Mosque

When I was in Lahore in June, I visited the Badshahi Mosque, the second largest mosque in Pakistan. After the Dawn field trip, I visited the first largest mosque in Pakistan (and all of South Asia!): the Faisal Mosque. Situated against the picturesque Margalla Hills (the westernmost foothills of the Himalayas), this beautiful Musjid was a gift from Saudi King Faisal bin Abdul-Aziz to Pakistan. As you can see, the mosque is untraditional in that it does not feature a dome. It was architected by Vedat Dalokay of Turkey, whose design won an international competition in 1969. When completed in 1986, the mosque was criticized its ‘modern’ look. Though we didn’t stay for long at the Faisal Mosque, I was blown away by its never-ending beauty. Enjoy the pictures!

Waking up to 'Dawn'

On Friday, July 15th, I woke up a little after the crack of dawn.

I took my students to one of Dawn newspaper’s bureaus located in Islamabad. Dawn is the oldest and one of the few English newspapers in Pakistan. It has four bureaus – Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi, and Islamabad – conveniently one in each state. Dawn is headquartered in Karachi, which means all the main news coverage is done there and then sent to other bureaus. And of the four bureaus, only Peshawar does not have its own printing press; its newspapers are also printed in Islamabad.

Overall, the trip was very educational and enjoyable. I learned a lot and the students learned a lot. The purpose of this trip was to allow my students to see firsthand how a newspaper is produced. Through discussion with a journalist and an editor, students gained a new perspective on the responsibilities, hardships, and rewards of committing to journalism. My students had pre-planned questions to ask Ms. Arifa Noor, an editor of the Islamabad metro section. After her short introduction about Dawn’s history and establishment, my students eagerly raised their hands and asked questions. Why is journalism important in your opinion? Why is free press vital for Pakistan’s survival? Saleem Shahzad was a journalist who was killed for telling the truth; should death be a compromise for such a service? What other publications does Dawn produce? Is Dawn censored? Have you ever been bribed?

My favorite part of the trip has to be learning about and seeing the printing press. It’s one thing to produce a newspaper behind a computer screen, but entirely another to see hard work come to life with help of top-notch machinery. It was fascinating to learn about how the very paper we hold in our hands comes into being. In the States, I have been fortunate enough to visit and tour the newsrooms of The Washington Post and The New York Times. But never have I seen a real printing press live and in action. It was such a beautiful sight. So systematic. So sophisticated. So wonderful.

Dawn said that they order their newsprint from Russia and ink from Germany. Did you know that only four colors are used to print a newspaper? Cyan (a shade of blue), magenta, yellow, and key black are enough to make all other colors we see in pictures. EUREKA! So that’s what “CMYK” stands for in PhotoShop and InDesign!

Logistically, I was disappointed with how things were managed. First, the trip was scheduled to promptly depart at 8 a.m. from school, but we did not leave until 8:45 a.m. due to last-minute administrative tasks. Secondly, the schedule I had created for the trip was not followed. I realize that makes me sound anal and inflexible, but actually that’s not the case. It’s completely the opposite. The agenda I had planned—by the hour!—already accounted for the give-and-take moments on the trip, thus making it a very flexible schedule. Simply, we were to depart school at 8 a.m., reach Islamabad by 11 or 11:30 a.m. (it’s about a 3-hour drive from Abbottabad to the capital), have an hour lunch break, and arrive at the Dawn office by 1 p.m.—the time they expected us. We would talk with journalists and tour Dawn until 3 p.m. and then sight see until 4:30 p.m. This would bring us back by 8 p.m. as planned.

I was disappointed and quite agitated when the principal simply demanded us to return by 7 p.m. This meant leaving Islamabad by 3:30 p.m.—an impossibility because after visiting Dawn, I had planned, in my schedule, time to sight-see. Of all the wonderful places to visit and see in our capital, I wanted to at least visit Faisal Musjid. In the end, the dice rolled in my favor. We were done with Dawn by 3:30 p.m. and visited Faisal Mosque. I was stubborn—and why shouldn’t I be? After all, I organized the trip and I should be in charge. Although things didn’t go exactly as planned, it was a wonderful trip regardless.

We were super late on our way back due to a car accident. We reached school shortly after dust.

Visit to Radio Pakistan

Today I took my girls to Radio Pakistan Abbottabad—a local branch of Radio Pakistan which is headquartered in Islamabad. The station was conveniently 5 minutes away by car from the Girls Section. At the station, we were welcomed by one of the program ladies, Ms. Nadia Bano and an engineering director, Bhakkar Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed showed us the studio, the booth, and the control room.

In the studio, where the program readers sit, there was a two-person table with two microphones on it. This set-up was similar to what I had seen at NPR when I participated in the Washington Urban Journalism Workshops as a junior and senior in high school. Mr. Ahmed explained to us how a radio a show is produced; what the big white boxes on the wall were; and what the job of an engineer was in the control room.

Radio Pakistan is censored by the government and therefore is not free press media.
A radio show starts with lots of rambling of people in interviews. Then sound control engineers edit everything that was recorded and choose the best sound bites. Once a preliminary program is finalized, a new set of editors edit the show before sending it to government officials to approve. Once it is stamped OK, the show is aired. The process of producing a radio show is much different than producing a newspaper, and it was interesting to learn about a censored media outlet. There is one advantage that radios have over newspapers: it reaches a larger audience because illiterates can obtain news by simply listening to the radio.

The white boxes that had holes in them are filled with wool and beaten glass to absorb the sound and prevent an echo. In normal places like homes, usually there are things like curtains or furniture that absorb sound waves and thus do not produce a echo. Therefore in an empty room like the radio studio, the white boxes serve that purpose. How interesting!

The staff at Radio Pakistan Abbottabad was very hospitable to us. They even did a show on us—to be aired on Saturday at 2 p.m. Wicked cool! They served us Mountain Dew as well, a refreshing taste we all appreciated in the heat.

Before leaving, we met with the director, who welcomed us into his office and gave us an opportunity to ask him questions. When silence fell, he filled it with, “You want to see my kids? Let me show you their photos.” At first, I thought, “How odd. Who whips out photos of their kids to show strangers?” The director explained each photo, one by one, and passed it around. His three, adorable, and innocent kids—one girl and two boys—were standing with important government officials, receiving trophies for their accomplishments, smiling with their parents.

For one of the photos, I said, “Your son is so adorable! In this photo, what grade is he in?”

“He was in first grade when he won that award.”

“Wow, mashAllah, what grade is he in now?” I asked, so impressed with the little boy.

Silence fell upon the room. Did I ask something wrong? Uh-oh...perhaps I should have kept quiet. Why did I have to say something! What's wrong? Why is there silence?

More silence. This time I could feel it slice my guts.

After a few minutes, a hushed voice spoke up.

“Actually, Mariya, all three of his children died in the earthquake 2005,” said Ms. Nadia.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Lay Down Outside'

Yesterday, we learned about my favorite part of newspaper production: layout. I began the lesson by asking the students whether they knew what the word 'layout' meant. Or if they had never heard of it, what they think it means. One of my students raised his hand and said, "to lay down outside." I cracked up! But in seriousness, I was very proud of my students for breaking down unknown words and trying to make meanings out of the simpler ones. Even though my student used the incorrect "lay" (it should be "lie" in the context that he used it) and was completely off, I was very proud of him for at least trying. It's these moments I'll cherish the most.

We learned about a masthead, headline, byline, sub-headline, captions, and teasers. We also learned what good layout designs look like. I had my students browse through this past year’s copies of the Bowdoin Orient to follow along with the lessons—that was super fun because they ran across things like ‘alcohol transports’ and ‘hook-up culture’ and ‘trustees.’ When they asked about everything that was new to them, I zoned into my story-telling mode. I’m a big talker (if you haven’t met me) and I like to explain everything in detail. (My aunts often criticize me for this because in a gossip-oriented culture of neighborhoods here, being succinct is important.) Anyway, in order to answer each of my students’ questions, I had to tell them what was happening at Bowdoin at the time. Like I said, it was a lot of fun because I love talking about my alma mater! That’s why I’m a tour guide, right? :-)

We’re gonna finish up lessons this week and dive into assigning stories next week. We are also preparing for our field trip to Dawn newspaper on Friday—ahh, only two days away! I’m so very excited for this!! And I know the students are, too.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Mamu's Wedding

Sorry to go MIA. Actually, it’s been quite hectic here. I’ve been teaching, attending a wedding, and visiting family relatives – and it’s exhausting! The good news is that my mamu's wedding is over. A traditional Pakistani wedding lasts three days. The first night is called mehndi, the henna ceremony. Separately in their own houses, henna is placed in the bride’s and groom’s hands and then placed on wall paper. This is symbolic of a long-lasting relationship about to form. The bride usually wears green and yellow on mehndi. The second night, called the barat, is the actual wedding day. This is when the groom’s family members go the bride’s home and bring her to her new home (the groom’s house). In Islamic tradition, a nikah is the official prayer and signing of documents by the bride. The nikah is attended only by the bride’s closest family members and the groom’s father, uncles, and cousins. The bride usually wears an elaborate red dress on her barat. Lastly, the walima is the final celebration in which the groom’s family invites the bride’s family for a meal. This day is typically reserve for tons of pictures. The bride usually wears pink or some other light color with jewelry given to her by the groom’s family. Can you see why I am still exhausted??

Anyway, my classes are fantastic. Two full weeks of straight lessons. My students have learned a lot. We’ve covered the definition of journalism; its importance in society; relationship between a free press and democracy; elements of journalism as presented by journalists Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach in their book; how to interview and take down good quotes; how to determine credible sources, especially those from the Internet; the importance of verification of facts and accuracy; and the need for quantitative data in reporting. Last week, we unraveled how to write a news, opinions, feature, review, and sports article. The classes are very demanding and I’m proud of my students for keeping up. Their homework assignments are evident of the time they are investing in my program; they really are taking this opportunity seriously. As their teacher, I am proud to know this. My efforts are making a difference – even if a tiny bit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Two days ago, I missed a family tradition: celebrating the 4th of July at the Washington Monument. Since 1999, the year I moved to the United States, my family has always celebrated America’s Independence to the sounds of the fireworks at the Monument. As I sat by myself in my room on July 4th, I yearend to be with my Mom, sisters, and brother, eating ice-cream or cotton candy—whichever I was in the mood of—seeing the bright colors lighten up the sky, and hearing the patriots should “USA!” I wanted to take pictures in red, white, and blue. This would be the second time I’m missing this tradition.

I’ve been teaching for a week and a half now, but it feels like I’ve known these kids forever. The bond I’ve formed with all my students is indescribable. The act of teaching in and of itself is indescribable. When I enter the classroom, all my students stand up and greet me. When they have a question, they stand up straight and then speak. Their every sentence ends with ‘Ma’am’ – “May I drink water, Ma’am?” “Can you explain that again, Ma’am?” “If a journalist is supposed to tell the truth, then what happens if there’s a conflict of interest, Ma’am?” Is this what authority feels like? My students—boys more than girls—crack jokes that make me laugh hysterically. I feel more like their peer than a teacher. I can’t help but feel so fulfilled when they raise their hands and keep answering a question until they get it right. Maybe I was meant to teach after all. Maybe this has been my calling in life and I’ve been blind to it all along.

Sometime in January during my winter break, I had dinner with one of my favorite teachers of all time, Mrs. Joan Reynolds. As we enjoyed our warm food at Bertucci’s Italian Restaurant in Old Town, we went on talking about what we had missed out on each other’s lives. I updated her about my summer 2010 experience teaching English, math and blogging at the Al-Imtiaz Academy, and she shared with me details about her life as a retired English teacher. It was she who told me that I should consider teaching, and what a rewarding profession it was. I didn’t doubt her one bit. I had experienced for myself how fulfilling teaching can be. It is this fulfillment that has brought me back here again; to Al-Imtiaz Academy, to my students, to a country I dearly love.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It's Pakistan, Anything Goes

Every Wednesday and Saturday, students have a current events quiz. They are expected to listen to news every night. Their quiz asks for two headlines in detail; the who, what, where, when, why and how of a story. A good journalist is informed, I taught them. In order to tell the truth about the world, you have to know what's happening in it.

During my daily 20 minutes on the New York Times website, I naturally clicked on the top headline of the day: "Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist." Pakistan, journalism - how relevant I thought. Saleem Shahzad's death raises important questions about free press, democracy, rights of journalists, and the behavior of our government agencies in which we place our trust.

New York Times reported that Pakistani secret intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), administered the attacks on the journalist "in an effort to silence criticism." Can you imagine the outrage in America if CIA had ordered for a journalist to be killed? Just imagine the the riots and protests on Capitol Hill by journalists around the country. Can you imagine the embarrassment? But this isn't America. This is Pakistan. There's no First Amendment to protect such rights. One of my students said in class today, "Teacher, this is Pakistan. Anything and everything goes." How disheartened I was to hear that mainly because I knew he was right. It's frustrating because it's so sad. It's sad that the government can do whatever it likes and the people don't have a voice. It's sad that the people are too scared to speak up for what they believe in. It's said that the rich live off haram money while the poor continue to live in poverty. It's sad that when a journalists reports the truth, he is awarded with death by the very government it is trying to better.

Here's the article. I'm excited to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Inspiring or discouraging?

Today was my fifth day of teaching and I’m really enjoying myself. Today is Jumm’ah, Friday, so classes were short to allow students to pray the noon prayer. This is a national rule—all schools are supposed to end early on Friday’s as this is an important day of worship for Muslims.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten this so the short classes are definitely throwing me off my syllabus and schedule. I had one hour—very short but enough time—with each class to get through the introduction of journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book, The Elements of Journalism.

I had each student read aloud a paragraph and tell me its meaning in Urdu. This was my way of checking their comprehension. Of course, vocabulary was the biggest challenge for both of us: I struggled to explain the meaning in such a manner so that my students could understand and my students struggled to grasp the words’ meanings without simply memorizing verbatim the gibberish in the dictionary. I have also found that what I consider to be my everyday-speaking-as-a-normal-person vocabulary is not easily understandable to my students. For example, I had to explain what “obviously,” “commitment,” and “offend” mean. And it was hard.

Based on the feedback I am getting, it seems that the students are also enjoying themselves. Teaching journalism in the worst country for journalists is … well, let’s just say not the easiest task in the world. A good teacher is supposed to inspire its students; sometimes I feel like I’m scaring mine. Very recently, Saleem Shahbaz, a 40-year-old Pakistani journalist was found dead near Islamabad after writing about the links between the Pakistani military and al Qaeda. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the current political situation in Pakistan has made practicing ethical journalism impossible. Reporting the truth has become deadly. The goal of my program and initiative was not to instill fear but rather, educate the youth about the importance of truthful journalism in a society that is in chaos.

My ‘dangerous country’—as the West calls it—needs honest people and it is my hope that these children learn to be honest, if nothing at all, from my program.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Telling the Truth About the World'

I’ve begun teaching! Monday was my first class and I really enjoyed it. Our first lesson was simply ‘what is journalism?’ I used the definition I had learned at the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program in the summer of 2008. “Journalism is telling the truth about the world,” said Richard Just, one of the directors of the program and now, the Executive Editor of The New Republic.

I teach the girls in the morning from 9 to 11 a.m. and boys in the afternoon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. I had requested the principals to allow me to teach in a co-educational environment, but they objected given the Pakistani traditional culture of separating genders so as to avoid misconduct. I find this arrangement very interesting.

I had expected the girls to be more social with me given that I, too, am a female. But to my surprise, they are all reserved. They are very obedient and always follow directions. They are also very quiet, and it is a challenge for me to get them to talk and speak up. Even last year when I taught blogging, I found the girls to be far more conservative. It bugged me that this was so. I wanted them to be more interactive.

The boys, on the other hand, are not shy. They talk often—it’s actually a challenge to keep them quiet! They do not hesitate to voice their opinions and speak their mind. All of them enjoy participating in discussions and that makes me happy and excited to teach. But I still couldn’t figure out why there was such a role reversal: why were the girls more shy than the boys? Something was wrong. There has to be an explanation—and as it turns out, there is.

Women are expected to be submissive. But this was not a new fact to me. I know very well that women are held to a double standard—that’s true everywhere. I suppose I can somewhat see how submissiveness is related to shyness—conforming to another’s authority means being obedient and unwilling to challenge that authority, therefore being reserved. Maybe I’m just used to men and women being “equal” in every aspect of life? Maybe America really has changed me in more ways than I can imagine. Or maybe, my concept of gender equality is skewed. Maybe both?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Anarkali Bazaar

Anarkali Bazaar: A very famous shopping center. It is also one of the oldest markets in all of South Asia. The Bazaar is named after “Anarkali,” legendarily believed to be a slave girl who had an affair with the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s son, Prince Salim (also known as Jahangir).

Badshahi Mosque

Badshahi Mosque: Badshah in Urdu means “king.” This was the king’s mosque. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb built this in 1671, and it’s hard to believe that it only took 2 years to complete! Badshahi Mosque (hosts 60,000 worshippers at once) is the second largest mosque in Pakistan, followed by the Faisal Mosque (hosts 95,000 worshippers at once) located in Isalamabad. The three domes of the Badshahi Mosque symbolize the three most important aspects of Islam: Allah, Prophet Muhammad, and the Holy Book of Quran. The five doors on either side symbolize the five pillars of Islam—declaration of faith, prayer, fasting, zakat (charity), and the hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Finally, the four minarets guarding the mosque symbolize the four caliphates that ruled following Prophet Muhammad’s death.

Shahi Qila

The Moti Masjid.

In front of Naulakha pavilion.

In front of Alamgiri Gate.

Lahore Fort:
Also known as the Shahi Qila. This castle was built under the Mughal emperor Akbar, but has been continuously augmented by the subsequent rulers, including the British who used it as a fort instead of a palace. Within the Qila (meaning “castle”) are Shish Mahal (mahal means “palace”), Alamgiri Gate, Naulakha pavilion, and Moti Masjid (moti means “pearl”). The Moti Masjid was built by Shah Janan to extend the Naulakha pavilion. The Lahore Fort encompasses many different architectural designs date as far back as the 16th century Mughal era and are as recent as the 20th century British era.


Minar-e-Pakistan: Think the Washington Monument. Minar in Urdu means a “tower,” just like a “minaret” is a tower of a mosque. Minar-e-Pakistan is the site where the Muslim League passed the Pakistan Resolution on March 23, 1940, exactly seven years before Pakistan was formed.