Pakistan: Don’t give up on her now

Like many people, I have grown up balancing many different identities. I was born and raised in Canada, follow the Muslim faith and have Pakistani roots…all have been very important to me, however,  it seems that my Pakistani origin has dominated in shaping me into the person I am today.

My obsession with Pakistan started very young, and to this day people are often confused by my degree of patriotism.  I wasn’t born there, have never lived there and only visit every couple of years…but still, there’s something about her that keeps pulling me in.

 However, I have recently begun to feel like a minority amongst other Pakistanis; people just don’t feel the same love for Pakistan as they used to. Conflict, politics and popular media tend to bring the worst out in people- Usually it doesn’t bother me much, I figure everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but the recent attacks on Pakistan have left me more than just a little disturbed. Whether it’s due to the growing violence, political corruption, or overhyped media delivery, it is important now more than ever that we don’t give up on Pakistan.

 How can so many people have turned on their own country so quickly? I hear them all the time, sitting around talking about how horrible Pakistan has become, and how glad they are to be out of that place. Some even go as far as to say that they’re disgusted by the country and would never go back. Seriously? The country that gave birth to you, where you started your families and have buried your elders. A country rich in culture, history and good old fashion jazba, now disgusts you?

The thing that amuses me the most is that these people still want to be associated with the culture; they wear the beautiful clothes, eat the delicious food and speak the poetic language…they want to be associated with everything Pakistani…just not with Pakistan. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am the first to admit that Pakistan has problems…lots of them…but how is cutting your ties going to help? Until we are united as a people, both inside Pakistan and around the world, we will never be able to see the change in the country that is so desperately needed. The recent events in Pakistan have shown the government, and the world that the time for change is now. It will not happen overnight, and definitely will not be easy, but together we can help Pakistan achieve the dream that Jinnah had envisioned for her…don’t give up on her now. 

The Thoughts of a Liberated Woman

This is a post by Guest Blogger Anila Qasim. Anila is currently completing an Undergraduate Degree in Forensic Anthropology at the University of Toronto.  

The Thoughts of a Liberated Woman  

“You’re liberated; you can do anything you want.”

“Because I’m not married and you are?”

“No, because you wear hijab.”

That conversation – that up there, that you just read – actually happened. It wasn’t in as serious a tone as it seems here on paper. My cousin and I were just putting together a day bed, and I was just saying that I was capable of constructing things despite my inability to do “masculine” things, as per my little brother. But she said that to me, nonchalantly, in the middle of the prayer room at her house: she told me I was a liberated woman.

Those words she said to me meant nothing that moment in time, but they have since triggered a great deal of thought. I, Anila Qasim, am a liberated woman.

Indeed, my liberation is ostensible. It is merely a cloth, this liberation of mine – sometimes matte and sparkly, sometimes brightly coloured and patterned. Perhaps it is of a paradoxical nature. In isolating my physical self, I liberate my physical and spiritual being. To some, I may seem like a fool swaddled in cloth in the August heat. (Just like that man at the SuperStore, who told my mom she was crazy, wearing her hijab and aa’baya when it was 30 degrees outside.) But I don’t know, it’s amazing, subhan’Allah, what some hidden locks can do for you.

It’s one thing to say you’re a Muslimah and another to embody your faith. It’s another thing to stand in a crowd and have someone know immediately what you are and what you stand for, and another to have someone look at you and pass you off as a “regular girl”. That being said, wearing a hijab does not make a woman better or more pious than another. Allah knows best whose intentions are purer and whose actions are more righteous. Wearing Islam on my head is a reminder to me of what I am. My hijab is for me, for me to remember that Allah is watching my every move.

I am a Muslim, Alhumdulillah.

I stand for piety, peace and submission to Allah. When I look into the mirror or a puddle or a window, I see a girl with deen on the outside, and that motivates me more than ever to strengthen the ima’an that is within. Before I say something, I think: is this what I need to be saying, is this what I need to be doing? Is this how I should behave being a symbol of Islam? Am I just going to fuel the misconceptions that the media has about my deen by acting against the tenets of my faith? What do I need to do, to demonstrate to others that Islam is really the religion of truth?

If there are things out there, rumors in the Western world that label us as oppressed beings, why don’t we awaken the world to the truth? I cover myself, because I belong to me and Allah. No one else. My body is mine. It is unassailed. Not physically, not visually. I’m a mystery aren’t I? And why should you, who has no right over me and what Allah has granted me, be able to see what does not concern you?

I, I am not oppressed. But yes, I was forced to wear hijab. YOU, the one with a narrow mind, forced me to free myself from the highly sexualised society that we’re both a part of. And now I am oppressed because I choose to stand out and deviate from the societal norm? I am oppressed, because I refuse to show you how beautiful Allah has made me? I am oppressed because I refuse to be an object of desire, the subject of your discussion and I choose to let Islam permeate every aspect of my life?

Now you may say that Islam enslaves me, enslaves me. But I ask you, are you not enslaved by the lungs and the heart that helps sustain you? Would you not do everything in your power to maintain them, to keep the blood coursing through your veins and the air entering and leaving your body?

My faith in Allah is the only thing I need to survive in this world, the only thing that will bring me contentment in this dunya and success in the hereafter, insha’Allah.

What this piece of cloth does is tell the world that there is more to you than the curvature of your hips or the pout of your lips. You are a woman, and you demand respect. And that’s what the hijab does.

Being hijabi in public is proof:

One winter’s evening, around 6pm, I got on the TTC. It was a snowy day. The bus was wet and packed. A number of people were standing, I amongst them. I was slipping and sliding about, with the weight of my bag making me unbalanced. This guy got off his seat, and told me to sit down. I said it’s alright but he prodded. Through this whole exchange, another woman was glaring at me, perhaps because the guy wasn’t making eye contact with me as he spoke. I sat, nevertheless, and when I got to my stop, he said “Allah Hafiz” and that was the last I saw of him.

Where that brother is now, I don’t know. I don’t think I could even recognize him, but I will always believe that he gave me his seat because I was a Muslimah. Or maybe he was just a Good Samaritan. Maybe he just picked me to be kind too.

I never really got to thank him, but I guess this is it. Wherever he is, may Allah reward him, jazak’Allah khairun.

Maybe getting a seat on public transit isn’t the greatest motivation for donning the hijab but I must say, it might just be the icing on the cake, no?  I remind myself before I remind anyone else, and I ask Allah to guide me and those in my vicinity, insha’Allah. I do not intend to offend. This is just how I see it.

These are the thoughts of a liberated woman.

You can follow Anila Qasim on twitter: www.Twitter.com/AnilaQasim

A New Year’s Resolution to keep

Every year around this time, people start to reflect on the year that has passed and the one to come…the successes and failures of the past 12 months, along with the expectations of the next 12. This is also the time of year when celebrations are had and New Year’s resolutions are set…something that I encourage everyone to do.

Growing up I always set out New Year’s resolutions for myself (actually, they were more like challenges), and as with many people, they were very short lived and quickly became a joke. Losing weight (a popular one with many), exercising more and being more social were all past resolutions of mine that flopped mid way through February (if even that long).  I would come down hard on myself (as would my mom, weight loss is no joke in the South Asian community), and I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have the motivation to keep my challenge going.

After years of flopped resolutions, I finally figured it out. I needed a resolution that was not centred selfishly around myself, I needed a challenge that would have a greater impact. This passed year was the first time that I was able to keep my resolution…I challenged myself to spread some serious GOOD to my friends, family and community. Throughout the year I have been doing random acts of GOOD, giving charity and trying to make a difference…one small good deed at a time. Many people have been skeptical of my challenge; how are little deeds going to change anything? But that’s where they are wrong… a year of smiling at strangers, opening doors and leaving random notes of inspiration has taught me that changing the world is not the goal…making the world seem better for even one person, for even one moment is what truly matters.

Throughout the year I started to notice all the other people spreading GOOD in their communities, people that had been doing it for so long, I just never paid attention to it until now. My sister in law held many short campaigns for different causes throughout the year, she had always been doing it, but I had never noticed. People at work, family, friends and even my kids had been spreading some serious GOOD all year round…I was finally doing my part. And it wasn’t just the impact that it had externally, it completely changed me and the way I see the world. I started interacting with people differently and felt truly grateful for everything in my life. 

This year as you sit down to think about your New Year’s resolution, think about challenging yourself to do something that will inspire you and the people around you…don’t get me wrong, weight loss is a great challenge…but what are you going to do mid February onwards…

 

30 Days of Ramadan GOODness – 2012

Ramadan has always been very important to me, for many reasons. I find that it helps bring family together, creates unity amongst my community and helps me reflect on everything that I have been blessed with.  From when I was very young, my parents talked very strongly about the spiritual benefits of fasting and recognizing that there are people in this world that are not as blessed as us… and that I should always be thankful for the life I have been given. These early teachings have been engraved into my soul, and have helped me get the most out of my annual month fasting.

This year I decided to take it a step further. I have always fasted during Ramadan, prayed my obligatory prayers and genuinely tried to be ‘better’ during this time…but I feel like I can do more. This year I have decided to cleanse my mind, body and soul, by doing 30 good deeds throughout the month of Ramadan.

I call it my 30 Days of Ramadan GOODness’.  I will set out to do one good deed (and hopefully many other smaller ones) a day for 30 days. I hope that I will be able to spread some serious GOODness throughout my family and community…and hopefully even inspire others around me to join in!

Follow me through the month of Ramadan as I spread some serious GOOD!

Day 1: Giving the gift of water

This summer has been hot, very hot, and I have found myself attached to my water bottle all day long. This quickly got me thinking about how fortunate I was to be able to walk over to the sink and fill up my water bottle in seconds. No walking long distances, no dirt tinted water, no need to go without. There are 884 Million people in this world that do not have access to clean drinking water, so for my first task in my month of GOODness I have decided to donate to ‘water.org’ and give the gift of clean drinking water…nobody should have to go without.

Day 2: Cleaning up my community

I am a strong believer that we were intended to leave this world as we entered it, however if you look around it is quite obvious that this is not the case. I live in a beautiful residential neighbourhood, lots of great people and breath-taking nature…but through time people have littered the community. For Day 2 of Ramadan GOODness I am grabbing my kids, a few big garbage bags and a pair gloves…we’re going to head out into the community and pick up any litter that we can see. Beautifying our world, one community at a time!

Day 3: Spreading some love to my work family

Have you ever noticed how much time you spend at work, sometimes I feel like I see my work family more than my own. We are able to share stories, learn from each other and always have a good belly aching laugh, all of which are very important to get you through a work day. For Day 3 of Ramadan GOODness I have decided to bring in a platter of yummy treats for my work family.

Day 4: Brightening up a medical centre with flowers

Throughout my life I have been blessed with good health, which means I really only go to the doctors office once a year for my annual check up. However, even in that one visit it becomes very apparent that a doctors office is quite a dreary place. I couldn’t imagine having to visit that pale and depressing office on a regular basis. That is why for Day 4 of Ramadan GOODness I will be taking a bright beautiful bouquet of flowers for my local medical centre…cheering up the atmosphere with some Ramadan GOODness!

Day 5: Simply smile…at everyone

Have you ever walked through a mall or office building and looked around at all the serious and almost gloomy faces? Everyone seems to be preoccupied by the worries of the world, so much so that they have forgotten to smile. I find that smiling at someone, especially when they’re not expecting it, gives them a sudden boost, and although many are caught off guard at first, they almost always shoot you big shiny smile back. For Day 5 of Ramadan GOODness I am going to walk through the day smiling at everyone as big as I can…it’s a small good deed with a big impact!

Day 6: Leave a note of inspiration…on someones windshield

At the end of each work day as I am walking to my car I can’t help but feel a little dazed. Thinking about the hectic work day I just had, the long slow dive home, and even the tasks for the day to come…all seem to preoccupy my mind. Imagine walking to your car and having a sudden lift in spirits, a boost for your trek home. For Day 6 of Ramadan GOODness I will be leaving inspirational and encouraging letters on random cars in the parking lot…hoping to spread some serious GOODness, one windshield at a time.

Day 7: Help the environment and plant a tree

Trees are very important to the health of our planet. They clean the air by giving off oxygen, help modify temperatures, provide shade and habitats for wildlife…and so much more. Trees also help beautify our cities and provide a perfect place for childhood fun! For Day 7 of  Ramadan GOODness I am getting the family together-we’re going to put on our gardening gloves and sun hats to get outside and plant some trees…helping Mother Nature soak up some Ramadan GOODness!

Day 8: Contact family and friends you haven’t seen for a while

Life is busy, there’s absolutely no denying that. I often feel like the days are just flying by, and I can only hope that I am taking enough time to pull back and actually enjoy the pleasures of life. Weeks and months go by without any time to  connect with old friends and family…social media has made it so easy to know about people’s changing lives, that we no longer make an effort to actually connect on a human level. That is why for Day 8 of Ramadan GOODness, I am connecting to some old friends and family…emails, phone calls and letters…spreading some long overdue GOODness!

Day 9: Baking for your neighbour

We all grew up hearing the term ‘love thy neighbour’, be friendly with them and help each other whenever possible…but what does that even mean? These days loving our neighbours usually consists of a wave hello in the drive way or a smile while mowing the lawn. People can spend their whole lives living next to the same family with only a few short conversations every few weeks. That’s why for Day 9 of Ramadan GOODness I am ‘loving thy neighbour’ with some delicious baked goods prepared by my kids and I…spreading some yummy GOODness right next door!

Day 10: Donating Toys

My children are truly blessed…they have endless love from two sets of families, they are healthy and happy, and they are showered with gifts at every possible occasion. I often think about other families that are not as fortunate as us…all children should feel the excitement of opening up a gift and being able to play with a toy that is theirs alone. These simple pleasures are what childhood memories are made of. For Day 10 of Ramadan GOODness my children and I are going to donate toys to children who really deserve it…spreading some GOODness to the most important people.

Day 11: Learning to greet people in their own language

Have you ever had someone walk up to you and greet you in your own language, or even better, in a completely different language? It always catches me off guard and puts a big smile on my face. The way that you greet someone can immediately change their mood, and at times, set the tone for the rest of the day. For day 11 of Ramadan GOOODness I will be learning greetings in many different languages…speading some GOOD with a personal touch!

Day 12: ‘Good for one favour’ coupon

Do you ever feel like you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off? Juggling 10 things at once has become the norm for our society, and every time you feel like you just pulled your head out of the water, you are bombarded with another hundred tasks. Don’t get me wrong though, I love being busy and having a lot to do, but everyone can use a hand once in a while. For Day 12 of Ramadan GOODness I am giving out ‘GOOD for one favour’ coupons to my friends and family…hoping to spread some GOOD…one favour at a time!

Day 13: Donating clothes to the needy

Ever since my kids were born I have noticed that we buy a ridiculous amount of clothes, not to mention all the clothes that are gifted to us from friends and family. They wear their clothes a few times and then are ready for the next batch, leaving the old clothes in almost perfect condition…many of the clothes in their closets still have the tags on them! That’s why for Day 13 of Ramadan GOODness, we are going through our closets and bagging all the clothes that we can donate to the people who really need them…cleaning our closets and spreading some GOOD at the same time!

Day 14: Dinner with the family

Anybody that knows me, even the slightest, will be able to tell you that my family is the mostly important aspect of my life. I turn to my family in happiness, sadness and moments of confusion…they have always been there for me and I hope that I have, and always will be there for them. For Day 14 of Ramadan GOODness I am having my family over for dinner…spreading some family GOOD with a yummy feast!

Day 15: Donating a water well

At the beginning of Ramadan, Day 1 of GOODness, we donated the gift of water to a family of four. We were able to give the family clean water for life, which was great. But it is no surprise that the water crisis is growing all over the developing world and many people are denied the basic necessity of water. For Day 15 of Ramadan GOODness we have decided to donate three wells to different villages, providing access to clean water for an entire community!

Day 16: Write a letter to someone who inspires you

Most people have someone in their lives that has helped encourage them to reach for the stars and follow their hearts. In the past few years I have met many strong independent woman who have encouraged me to be strong, independent and an over all better person. They have shown me that being a woman (especially a woman of colour) should not stop me from reaching my goals, instead it should be an even greater push to fulfill my dreams. For Day 16 of Ramadan GOODness, I am writing a letter to one of these inspirational women, and sharing with them how they have touched my life…spreading some GOOD to those that have already spread it to me!

Day 17: Sign a petition for a cause close to your heart

It should come as no surprise that like many people,  there are many social and political issues that are very close to my heart. Sometimes issues are so big that we often think ‘ there is nothing that I alone could do to help this situation ‘, and then, discouraged,  we slump back into our chairs. However, I have found that there is always something we can do; write a letter to you local politician, learn more about the issue and educate others around you, donate to the cause and  so much more! For Day 17 of Ramadan GOODness, I have gone online and signed a petition about a cause very close to my heart and will be encouraging others to do so as well…spreading some GOOD, one signature at a time!

Day 18: Donate food to a food bank

I often watch commercials or see billboards about the world food crisis. They usually state numerical facts about poverty that leave one stunned and saddened. I have heard people in the past comment in these facts by saying, ‘ Thank God we live in Canada, and are not touched by such poverty’. True, we are very fortunate to live in Canada, far from many of the greater world’s problems, but poverty and hunger is not one of them. It may surprise you to know that 851,000 of our Canadians use food banks every month. My parents always taught me that charity starts at home, and so for Day 18 of Ramadan GOODness, I am donating a large amount of food to a local food bank…spreading some GOOD close to home!

Day 19: Learn from a group of seniors

Have you ever walked by a group of seniors hanging out, playing cards or telling stories? I have always found my self slowing down when walking past such gatherings and trying to listen in on what they are talking about. I agree, a bit intrusive, but always so interesting. I find that seniors always have such great histories to share with us…about life and love, war and peace, and of a simpler time when people had a bit more interest in the simple pleasures of life. I am fortunate to work in a community that has many of these senior gathering hot spots. So for Day 19 of Ramadan GOODness, I am going to sit in on one of these gatherings, listen to stories and ask questions…spreading some GOOD and learning from our seniors at the same time!

Day 20: Pay the bill  for person behind you in line

Have you ever been at a coffee shop waiting for your turn, and then suddenly have the person in front of you turn and say, ‘What will you be having, it’s on me’ ? Yeah, me neither, but wouldn’t that be great! I am certain that it would set an extremely positive tone for the rest of my day, and probably encourage me to do the same for someone else. That is why for day 20 of Ramadan GOODness, I am going to buy the person behind me in line their morning coffee and breakfast…spreading some early morning GOOD in a coffee shop!

Day 21: Help someone carry groceries into the car 

I am one of those people who always underestimates the amount of groceries that I need. I walk through the entire store trying to balance my items on my arms and chest like a game of Jenga. Half way through my shopping trip, I decide I need a carriage, but am too far from the front doors to get one. After paying for my groceries and while lugging my heavy grocery bags to the car, I look around and notice that I am not alone in my madness, so many other people are doing the same grocery balancing act as me! That is why for Day 21 of Ramadan GOODness, I am going to hang out in front of the grocery store for a while, and help people carry their grocery bags to the car…spreading some GOOD and getting a workout at the same time!

Day 22: Pay for the order after you at a drive thru

My family and I, like many Canadians, frequent the Tim Horton’s Drive Thru on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times a day. You get into the long winding line, relay your order to a machine you can barely understand and then pick up your yummy treats…pretty uneventful. Imagine getting to the pick up window and having them tell you that the car in front of you has already paid for your order, wouldn’t that be great?!? What a great way to spread some surprise GOOD and encourage the others in line to do so as well. So for Day 22 of Ramadan GOODness I am going to pay for drive thru order behind me…spreading some GOOD in the most Canadian way possible, at a Tim Hortons!

Day 23: Register to volunteer

When I was younger I remember volunteering at many different community centres, shelters and hospitals. Not only was it fun to do, but also quite fulfilling. As life got busier, these volunteer experiences became fewer and less manageable in the madness of everyday life. For Day 23 of Ramadan GOODness, I am going to join the 5 million people volunteering in Ontario and donate some of my time to a good cause…spreading some GOOD and feeling good while doing it!

Day 24: Honouring your Mother

Mothers are very unique people…we get angry with them, come to them with all of our problems and often take them for granted, but Mothers continue to be there for us, day after day. My Mother and I have a very close relationship, especially since I have no sisters, my Mother and I have relied on each other for all degrees of support. My Mother is  a very strong woman who has always been there for her family, so for Day 24 of Ramadan GOODness I am honouring my Mother with a big bouquet of flowers…spreading some GOOD to one of the most important people in my life!

Day 25: Making amends with an old friend 

We go through life meeting a lot of different kinds of people, some fade away without notice and some become good friends leaving deep impressions. Many times, close friends quickly get pushed out of our lives, and usually due to small misunderstandings that escalate out of control. After such incidences we often reflect on how silly the argument was to begin with, but by then it’s usually too late to go back. For Day 25 of Ramadan GOODness I am connecting with an old friend that I have had a falling out with…taking the first step towards restoring our friendship and spreading some GOOD at the same time!

Day 26: Buy a person in need a meal

I work in a very busy community, loud noises, busy streets and unfortunately, quite a bit of people in serious need of some GOODness. Usually in a hurry to get to work, or to start my trek back home, I find myself quickly slipping by with a smile and a simple hand gesture apologizing for not being able to drop anything into the coffee cup. But today I decided to stop and talk to one such individual, share a few laughs and buy her a quick lunch. She seemed so grateful and so genuinely sweet…that’ll be the last time that I slip quickly by those in need. Spreading some GOODness…with a warm cup of soup!

Day 27: Kill them with kindness

Do you ever come across those people who seem as though they are just bitter and upset with the whole world? I know I do…walking through the mall, down the street or sitting behind the desk at the doctor’s office, people just seem to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. For Day 27 of Ramadan GOODness, I decided to smile and be friendly with everyone I passed, even got a few people to turn their heads and smile back. It made me feel great and I have a feeling it made them feel pretty good too…spreading some GOOD, and killing them with kindness at the same time!

Day 28: Give someone much needed advice

I often have friends and family confide in me for advice, and I have always found it hard to give tough advice…you know the kind that might upset the other person or just isn’t what they’re expecting to hear…but that really isn’t fair to the person trusting me in the first place. So for Day 28 of Ramadan GOODness, I am contacting a friend and giving her some much needed advice, and a swift push in the right direction…finger’s crossed my advice doesn’t backfire. Spreading some GOODness…with some much needed advice!

Day 29:  Giving out little gifts that make people smile

With Eid celebrations around the corner, this is a great opportunity to make people smile with some thoughtful gifts of appreciation. Getting gifts of any kind, and any size, have always made me feel good…knowing someone cared enough to put thought and effort into the right gift for me, is a great feeling! For Day 29 of Ramadan GOODness, I am buying some special little gifts, for some special little people. Spreading some GOODness…with  gift wrap and ribbon!

My 30 Days of Ramadan GOODness (well 29 days thanks to the moon), was a wonderful experience. I have never felt so happy and care free. It was like every good deed I did, mirrored back on my three folds, and kept me smiling all day. I even had many of my friends and family excited about their own daily GOOD deeds…success! With Ramadan coming to end, I definitely don’t intend to stop spreading my daily GOODness. Smiles and small gestures of kindness is something that I will continue in my daily activities, and I encourage everyone else to do the same…spread some GOODness, all year round!

Depression, our dirty little secret

Depression…sounds like a scary word doesn’t it? It makes you think of lonely people, dark rooms and black and white images of sad families. Fifteen years ago, that is exactly the way that I used to see depression. A ‘condition’ that might affect other people, in other families, far away from my picture perfect home. At that time I had no idea was I was in for.

My experience with depression is a very different one; because it wasn’t me that was suffering with this disease…it was my mother. Being of South Asian background, where depression is often stigmatized and rarely taken seriously, this was a scary little secret that my mother and I kept deep in our hearts. It started off with something that I can only describe as small bouts of sadness, and eventually grew into something much bigger and harder for a 15 year old girl to understand. It was always worst during the night when my dad was at work and the world around us seemed to have disappeared. I would try to comfort her, talk to her about why she felt the way she did, if there was anything that I could do to help…but the answer was always the same, ‘ I don’t know’.

 I tried so hard to convince my mom to talk to somebody, my dad, my brother, a doctor, a friend…anybody that may be able to help. But the answer was always the same. She was absolutely terrified of anybody finding out about her depression. She thought that people would judge her, think that she was weak, or worse, not understand or care at all. I remember us at family get togethers where she would be trying so hard to act happy, smile and laugh like everything was just fine…those nights were the hardest…for both of us.  This lasted for quite some time, and there were days where I thought that she was actually getting better, but she wasn’t. It wasn’t until I walked in on her one night, sitting in a corner with tear swollen eyes that I decided…we decided, something needed to be done. It was her own decision to finally start seeing a therapist (secretly of course), and after many failed attempts, finally found a medication that really seemed to work. Over a period of a few months I started to see a strong improvement in my mother’s mental health, and I was slowly starting to get my mother back.

At this point you may be wondering why I decided to share this part of my life…other than totally outing my mother’s personal experience. That time in my life was very difficult, seeing my mother suffering and not being able to do anything about it was really hard…but what made it so much harder was the fact that we had to hide her illness like a dirty little secret. There is so much strength and resilience in the South Asian community, but if one is unable to talk openly about issues as important as mental health, without fear of being stigmatized, then there is still a lot of work to be done. It is said that 20% of Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime…this disease is no longer affecting other people, in other families…it is affecting friends and family members all around us. I am always encouraging my mom to talk to others about her experience…and share with them that although depression may never really disappear completely, there is help…nobody should have to go through this alone.

The unobtainable ‘beauty’

Let me start off with a little bit of a history lesson for you: The British invaded India in the 17th century, they came-they saw- they conquered… and eventually, they left…leaving behind many legacies, some good and some not so much. The one that has plagued my life for as early as I can remember is an incredibly unrealistic (and quite westernized) view of beauty. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what a vain thing to obsess about’, so please, allow me to explain. Growing up in the South Asian community can be very difficult for girls. From a very early age you are surrounded by unreasonable expectations of what a ‘pretty Pakistani girl’ should look like. You must be thin, but not too thin (so that child bearing doesn’t become a problem), tall, but not too tall (otherwise how will you ever find a husband), fair skinned (really fair), have thick hair, perfect white teeth, dainty hands, a thin nose…and the list continues.

I remember early on, I didn’t really pay much attention to the comments, I felt pretty confident…that didn’t last long. Once I became a teenager, everything changed. I started to avoid mirrors, I hated what I saw staring back and popular opinion agreed with me. I started starving myself, bleaching my skin on a daily basis (thanks to the creators of the fair and lovely products), applying make up to thin out my features and so much more. I was completely obsessed with reaching that unrealistic idea of beauty. It worked for the most part, I was thin, fair, make up perfected and even started to look a bit taller…my exterior started to match others expectations, but what about all the stuff on the inside. I was always unhappy with the way I looked, something could always be better…I could never reach my goals, because they never existed. My goal was always to be better than where I was. I was never able to walk into a room late, out of fear that I would draw attention to myself, hated taking pictures and couldn’t even sit without wrapping a shawl around my waist. I felt alone…but I wasn’t…low self esteem was something that was prevalent in South Asian females across the community; my friends, my cousins and even my aunts. Everyone was going through the same obsession of reaching that unrealistic beauty.  

As I grew older, got married and had kids, those unrealistic expectations started to fade slightly, but never really disappeared. To this day I can’t walk confidently through a crowd, I still find myself shying away from the sun, and am always draping myself in a shawled distraction of some sort. I try really hard not to let my insecurities shadow over my daughter…but while I may have grown somewhat, societies expectations of beauty have not changed. When working with young girls in the community (including my daughter and nieces) I am always trying to push positive self image, and why it’s important to ignore societies expectations of us…but it’s hard at times, because deep down inside, I know that I am still avoiding that person looking back at me in the mirror.

Child of Immigrants

I have been trying for some time now to finally sit down and start my first blog post. I have so many things that I want to say; so much to share, but my mind seems to get dazed at every attempt. That is until this morning.

I was talking to a friend about all the problems I see newcomer Canadians going through, and how badly I wish I could help. She made a quick comment and changed the topic, “why do you care so much anyways, you were never a newcomer”. She continued on to talk about her husband and plans for the weekend, but I found it hard to hear anything she was saying.

The loss of identity, language barriers, depression, not to mention the financial burden of relocating their lives, it all seems like too much for anyone to bear.  But why does it bother me so much, why do I feel such an attachment to newcomers? Instantly I began to think about all the stories my parents had told me growing up, about their own newcomer experiences.  My brother and I used to laugh and say that my dad sounded like Bill Cosby telling scary tales of struggle to his children, but deep down inside we both knew they were true.

One of my favourites was his story about the mid-winter snow storm that had him walking 2 kms in knee deep snow due to a missed bus after work. After arriving at home, my dad realized that somewhere along the way he had lost his boot, but his feet were too frozen to even notice.  Or the many times my parents had to carefully draft out what they wanted to say to the bank teller, in fear that she wouldn’t understand their request. I also vividly remember the looks that people used to give us in our predominantly white neighborhood, or the way the teachers used to speak to my mother, loud and slow…as though she was deaf and they were doing her a favour.

I feel like it is these stories and experiences that have helped me appreciate the trials of newcomer Canadians. I remember when I first started working with newcomers in the schools I found it really difficult. Every time I met with a South Asian man I felt like it was my father, and I wanted to help as much as I could. Every woman that said she felt helpless and alone made we want to jump across my office and hug her…comfort her…tell her that things will get better, I promise.

As a child of immigrants, I feel strongly connected to my parent’s struggle, and want to help other newcomer Canadians as much as I can…you don’t have to be a newcomer to be passionate about the issues, you just have to remember where you came from.