Friday, January 31, 2014

Random Poetry for Random Thoughts

I ask that you come at dawn, with eyes closed and heart open, as the earth welcomes us once again

kya mila tujhe, ek jhoot bhol ke; soch ke zara mujhe patha 
(what did you get by lying; think about it and let me know)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to get some flies....

Everyone has heard the saying "you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar".  I have heard it many times and have understood it to mean it pays to be nice.  I am also a believer in karma - meaning you get what you give.  

In my mind, I have combined these two statements into one as a mantra of 'to get respect, you need to give respect' and respect entails (in some part) being nice.  This, I believe, is especially relevant in customer service.  The name says it all, you are in service of the customer.  No, that does not mean bowing down to them; but it also means treating them with respect and decency.  Also, it is the customer who has to complete the transaction because without the customer's actions there is nothing.

All of this to say that I do not understand why people - especially in the customer service industry - are so rude to customers.  You are not doing me any favors - i am the one ordering and I am the one paying.  I am not asking for your blood nor your first born; all I am asking is that you do your job with a smile and respect to others - apparently that is too much to ask. 

I have worked in the customer service industry - I have had stuff thrown in my face, I have been cursed out by frustrated customers, and have had people come in and talk to me as if I was beneath them.  The entire time any of these actions were occurring, I stood there with a smile and still showed them respect.  Just because they were disrespectful that did not mean I had to stoop down to their level and be equally disrespectful.   I showed up everyday with a smile on my face and respect for the customers in my heart; I was choosing to do this job and any baggage or issues I had with my life or my job were that - my issues!  They had nothing to do with the customers so why take it out on them.

Today, at the same company, I had two complete opposite interactions of customer service.  The main person we were dealing with couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating and bent over backwards to help us.  His colleague, whom we needed to interact with for part of the transaction, was the complete opposite - a complete ass who was rude and disrespectful.  We had to get some things from this colleague, and we could have gotten more - but why?  Why would we choose to provide our business to someone who is rude or disrespectful to customers - when it is those customers who are the key to his business' success!!  Had he been nice or respectful, we probably would have bought all the extra stuff he was trying to sell us, but we decided to stick with the man who showed us respect - by respecting him back and rewarding his offering of being nice and respectful.

One provided vinegar and the other provided honey -- which to you is more appetizing?!?! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trip Report: Oman Air, Lahore to Cairo via Muscat (December 2014)

Trip Report: Oman Air, Lahore to Cairo via Muscat
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was very interested in trying Oman Air.  Even though they are based in the Middle East, they have not had the growth as the big 3 ME airlines but have focused more on steady growth. I have previously flown with them before to Kuala Lumpur and had a good experience so decided to try them again.  Booking a flight on Oman Air is simple and easy as everything is available online.  I booked my December trip in October over the internet while I was sitting in America and later received an electronic confirmation of my booking.   

The flight was scheduled to depart LHE at 8:20am and check-in was required 2 hours prior to departure (web check-in for Lahore was not available).  As Lahore has become an increasingly important destination for Oman Air (it recently increased its frequency to daily flights), check-in was a breeze with dedicated check-in counters in the international terminal (one for business and 2 for economy) and I received my boarding pass for both flights.  When we arrived at the gate, we noticed the plane was not at the gate but parked to the side (all of Oman Air’s flights have a turnaround time of 2 hours or less); apparently we would have to take a bus to the airplane (unusual for international flights at Lahore).  Boarding commenced at 7:30am and in no particular order passengers lined up to present their boarding pass and get on the bus.  The bus brought us to one of Oman Air’s newer and biggest planes, an Airbus A332, with a 2-4-2 layout and each seat fitted with personal IFEs, a headrest, and footrest.  The bus could only carry 20 – 30 people at a time to an airplane that could hold over 200 and with a flight 80% full, thus resulting in a delayed departure; however not many passengers noticed the delay since the IFE was immediately available (unusual as most airlines make you wait until you have climbed into the air before turning on the IFE).  Oman Air’s IFE is very well stocked with movies, TV shows, games, and music from all over the world and in a variety of languages (English, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telegu, and Arabic).  Internet is also available, for a small fee, once above a certain altitude.

With a flying time of 3hours (3:05), the in-flight service started almost immediately as we reached our cruising altitude.  The international cabin crew, who spoke a multitude of languages, started offering breakfast to the passengers.  In custom with the Islamic nation, all meals on Oman Air are halal and none include any pork products.  We were offered a breakfast choice of either a Western or Indian dish (the Indian dish was vegetarian catering to Oman Air’s heavy traffic and clientele from South India).  I choose the Western dish which consisted of an omelet with mushrooms in it and on the side, potatoes, bread, fruit, and water.  The food wasn’t the best in the world – the omelet was bland, the mushrooms were not fully cooked, and the potatoes as well as were bland and not fully cooked.  I was travelling with family, one of whom also ordered the same meal and theirs was also undercooked.  Coffee and tea were promptly served and about 1 hour prior to touchdown our trays were cleared away, which gave the passengers time to continue to enjoy the IFE or the in-flight magazine (with an option for duty free).   We landed in Muscat about 15-20 minutes behind schedule, but as almost everyone had a lengthy connection in Muscat many passengers did not mind the delay. 

We had a 3-hour layover in Muscat International which gave us a good chance to explore both the old and new sections of the airport.  The older section of the airport has 2 levels – the ground floor houses gates 1 – 10 while the second floor houses the duty free shop (small), an ithar boutique, as well as the business class lounge.  The newer section of the airport also has a similar layout, but the second floor houses food options along with bigger (and more comfortable) seating options.  The food options are limited and are restricted to either Western or South Indian.  There are no bridges at the airport, so all planes are parked and passengers must take buses to and from the terminal.  The airport takes this into consideration when boarding a flight so requires passengers to be at the gate 1 hour prior to departure.  
Our flight to Cairo was scheduled to depart at 13:40 but at 12:00 we were told to head towards the gate.  After presenting our boarding passes, passengers were asked to gather in the waiting area and wait to board the buses.  The buses brought us to our awaiting plane, which was a Boeing 738 in a 3-3 layout and was a lot older, smaller, and did not have any of the amenities as the plane from Lahore; this was disconcerting since the flight time was almost 5 hours (4:40).  We pushed back a bit behind schedule, but this was somewhat expected as the flight was completely full (and everyone had multiple hand bags).  As soon as we reached a safe altitude, the flight attendants started the in-flight service of lunch and again the options were to choose either a Western or Indian dish.  This time I choose the Indian dish which consisted of rice, lentils, curried vegetables, bread, achar, and desert, and again the quality and taste of the food left much to be desired as it was completely bland and looked like (and tasted like) it had been cooked and sitting for 3 days; it was completely unappetizing.  The food was followed up with tea and coffee, and after about an hour the trays were cleared away.  This left the passengers with over 2.5 hours left in the flight time with no IFE and no movie/TV shown on the main screen (the main screen was showing the flying route map).  The seats were also extremely uncomfortable and had no leg room (a problem for this 6’1 passenger).  After an uncomfortable 5 hours, the plane finally landed in Cairo and we deplaned and were bused to Cairo International.

This was not the first time I had flown Oman Air.  I first flew Oman Air in 2011 from Lahore to Kuala Lumpur (via Muscat for which Oman Air does provide a 24-hour layover at no extra costs) and encountered new planes, excellent food, and excellent service and this is why I choose to fly Oman Air again in 2012; however I did not experience the same Oman Air.  The cabin crew on both flights, while international, were not gracious nor helpful to a clientele which needed help to find their seats (example: on the flight from Lahore, the flight crew did not speak nor understand the national language of Urdu while a majority of the passengers only spoke that language; this led to people sitting in wrong seats and lot of miscommunication and visible frustration from both the passengers and flight attendants).  Also, the food this time was appalling and unappetizing (on the way back, we made sure to rely on food in either Cairo or Muscat International and not rely on Oman Air).  Finally, the plane on the longest leg of the journey from Muscat to Cairo was uncomfortable and made for a very unpleasant journey.   

amenity kit with socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, eyeshades, and earplugs
Oman Air brands itself as ‘the new wings of Oman’ and a lot has changed for Oman Air. Oman Air used to be part of the Gulf Air network, but it branched out in 1993 and started its own airline.  In March of 2007, Oman Air went through a refocus and rebranding which put the airline mostly under government ownership and moved the airline into a new direction.  The airline added new planes, revamped its livery, and added destinations.  It is continuing on its quest to become a major player in the Middle East market, albeit a smaller and more focused (the longest flights are either to Europe or to Malaysia) player than its neighbors Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar; but in its expansion it seems to have lost the attention to the details.  I choose to fly Oman Air again based on my great experience in 2011, but given that the service on my return flight paralleled what I encountered on the departure I am not sure I would choose Oman Air again.  Oman Air has thrived in markets that are lower cost, and where national airlines have let down passengers (Pakistan International and Air India) and for that it continues to draw passengers but if it does not keep up with a good level of service, will passengers continue to fly its wings?

A Trip Report: airblue, Lahore to Dubai (January 2013)

Trip Report: airblue, Lahore to Dubai 
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Pakistani-based airlines have not instilled a lot of confidence in their passengers, especially in the last couple of years.  With multiple delays, cancellations, rude service, and lost/damaged bags many passengers have flocked to other carriers (mainly Middle Eastern carriers such as Emirates and Qatar).  Some of those perceptions changed in 2004 when airblue, Pakistan’s first private airline, commenced its service.  airblue had a different reputation than the national, and predominant, carrier of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) which was known colloquially as ‘panic in air’ for the aging fleet and lack of service.  Airblue had a reputation for having newer planes, for having better service, and for being more internet-friendly.  This is one of the reasons why I choose to fly from Lahore to Dubai on airblue (it was also far less expensive as I paid two times less for 2 passengers than what 1 passenger was costing on Emirates).  Airblue has been promoting its website (and web-booked reservations) to reduce cost and increase efficiency so I was able to easily find and book my flight.  To allow for passengers who are on a cash-based system (or do not have credit cards), airblue has a 2-step booking process: 1) first step is to find and book the flight which is held for 24 hours and 2) step 2 is the payment of the flight, which can made online or at an airblue office, and final confirmation of the booking.  I booked my flight online and received my confirmation via email shortly thereafter.  I had booked my flight for December 30th evening, but due to a family illness had to change my flight to December 31st evening.  It was very easy to change the flight and see other available options (plus the change fee) online and all changes and additional payments were made online. 

Anyone flying into Lahore in December knows that fog plays havoc with flight departures and arrivals, so I had been checking the website to ensure my flight was on time and was not cancelled (most airlines had rescheduled their flights or cancelled them completely to avoid the fog).  The flight was scheduled to depart Lahore at 00:35 on January 1st and airblue had advised passengers to check-in 2 to 3 hours prior to departure.  We had arrived 3 hours prior to departure and it was a good thing we did; check-in for the flight was done at an ad-hoc counter on the side of the international terminal and it was extremely chaotic.  There were 3 airblue flights leaving around the same time and nobody knew what line (there were 2 counters open) was for which flight (or if all flights had been open to check-in).  When we finally got to the counter, I put my bags on the counter and waited for the boarding pass only for the check-in attendant telling me I need to go and get a ‘credit card verification’.  To decrease credit card fraud, any flights booked via credit card must go through credit card verification to ensure it is the same passenger (this information is stated on the reservation).  I had read the statement, which said ‘the card holder must present (in person) the Credit/Debit Card and their Photo ID to Airblue personnel for verification. This can be done at the airport at the time of check-In, -or- at any Airblue sales office prior to travel’ and as it had said it could be done at the time of check-in, I waited until then.  The airline representative said that she could not do the verification, but rather I had to exit the terminal and go to the airline office housed at the airport, do the credit card verification there, and then come back and receive my boarding pass (when I pointed out what their statement said, their response was ‘oh that’s not correct anymore’ even though I had received the changed ticket only the day before departure).  After an hour of going through this process, I was finally able to come back and complete the check-in process and receive a boarding pass.  Seats were assigned at the airport, thus another reason to come and check-in early. 

Boarding started at 11:30pm, in no particular order, and we were bused to the awaiting plane.  The plane was a relatively new Airblue plane, with a 3-3 layout consisting of relatively comfortable leather-covered seats (it had been previously owned by, and we pushed back for an on-time departure at 00:35.  As it was the first day of 2013 one of the first things the airblue attendants did was wish everyone a happy new year, which went to the level of attention to detail they offered.  Airblue has adopted the low-cost carrier model being replicated throughout the world (commonly referred to as the ‘southwest model’) and thus is only a one-class airline and only provides snacks and drinks.  The reservation stated that on flights less than 2 hours, only beverages are provided and no meals; our 3 hour flight was not applicable to this rule and thus were offered a snack and a beverage.  Additionally, passengers were given a choice of international or national newspapers to read and a movie (ice age 2) was shown on the main screen (a welcome sight for the late-night flight).  The snack consisted of chicken or veggie sandwich pocket, served warm and was appetizing, along with a choice of beverages as well as tea or coffee.  After serving all passengers and on their way back to the main galley, the flight attendants were offering to refill beverages and ask if passengers needed anything else (another attention to detail which was appreciated).  There was no in-flight magazine to read, but the availability of the newspapers as well as the movie made the flight go by smoothly.  We landed on time in Dubai and after a long taxi, and a delay in getting the door open, disembarked.   

Based on the state of aviation in Pakistan, I was hesitant to fly a Pakistani-based airline (even many of my Pakistani-based relatives and friends were shocked I had booked airblue for my flight especially because Airblue recently had a fatality in YEAR when one of its planes crashed into the mountains while trying to land in Islamabad, killing all 152 on board) but in spite of our hesitation I had a pleasant and wonderful experience from Lahore to Dubai.  While a Pakistani-based airline may not be everyone’s first choice, my flight with airblue restored some of my confidence in Pakistani-based aviation.  

A Trip Report: AirNiugini, Brisbane to Madang via Port Moresby (January 2013)

Trip Report: Air Niugini, Brisbane to Madang via Port Moresby
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Air Niugini is the national airline of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and is the only airline that flies to/from Papua New Guinea and other international destinations besides Australia (Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Fiji).  Air Niugini has a codeshare with Qantas meaning that if you are booked on a Qantas flight to PNG it will be operated by Air Niugini (except to Cairns which is operated by Qantas).  I was booked on Air Niugini as a Qantas codeshare, which allowed for an easy baggage transfer and allowed for collection of my boarding pass from Qantas once I arrived into Brisbane (meaning I did not have to go through customs and recheck my bags, as I did in Hong Kong as Air Niugini and Cathay Pacific do not have such codeshare).  I had previously flown this sector – Brisbane to Port Moresby – but then I checked in with Air Niugini at 9am for the 10:40am departure (the counters were manned by Brisbane Airport personnel, which was the case in Hong Kong where the Air Niugini counters were manned by Hong Kong Airport personnel).  As I had a seamless transfer, I was able to stroll through Brisbane International Airport (and duty free).  We were instructed to be at the gate no later than 10am and we started boarding immediately as the plane and crew were ready.  When I had previously flown the sector, the operating aircraft was a Fokker 100 for the 3 hour journey; however this time the operating aircraft was one of Air Niugini’s three Boeing 767s.  The plane was only 50-60% full thus boarded happened quickly, but we still had a late push back and were finally in the air by 11am. 

Air Niugini is a full-service airline so the plane contained both business and economy section (although no one was in the business section) and had a 2-4-2 layout in economy.  All of Air Niugini’s Boeing 767’s are used planes, many former Iceland Air planes, and their age and sound are well apparent.  In spite of that, Air Niugini has refurbished all the planes with new seating and interiors to make the journey pleasant (also a plus is that the older planes have more legroom and bigger overhead bins).  Once airborne, the in-flight service commenced which first included a beverage (alcohol is available and free on all Air Niugini international flights) followed by lunch – a choice of either chicken or pork.  I choose the chicken which consisted of 3 pieces of chicken (with bones), rice, vegetables, bread, cheese and crackers.  The chicken was bland did not look appealing so I stuck to the side dishes.  Dessert was also present, but as none of the passengers could figure out what it was, I left it to the side. After serving the main meal, the flight attendants came around to offer tea or coffee and also came back to refresh any alcoholic beverages (choice of beer or wine).  To pass the flight time, a movie was shown on the main screen (no personal IFE) or you can read the in-flight magazine (which also contains duty free options).  We landed in Port Moresby right on schedule at 13:45.

There is a process if you are connecting to a domestic flight within Papua New Guinea: once you clear immigration and customs, collect your bags, go through security, exit out of the international terminal and walk to the domestic terminal (about a 5 minute walk), and then go through security again and stand in line to check your bags for the domestic flight.  This can be a hassle, especially if you are unfamiliar with the layout or with the procedure, and can definitely be a hassle if enough time has not been allotted for the transfer.  The luggage allowance for domestic flights is 16kg but if you are coming off an international flight then the domestic counter will honor the international allowances.  (Side note:  when flying within PNG, even though you have an electronic ticket the passenger must hold and keep a paper copy of your itinerary with you as that is what is utilized for check-in).

After I checked-in my baggage and received my domestic boarding pass, I went through security and waited in the lounge for my flight.  Because of delays in flights, Air Niugini usually allots a long layover at Jacksons Airport, Port Moresby (POM) to ensure passengers make their connections (90% of the flights are to/from Port Moresby).  In spite of the long layovers, there is very little to do while waiting for your flight.  Cushioned chairs (not in the best condition but still comfortable) are available to sit and there is a kiosk that sells soft drinks, water, tea, and light snacks in the back of the waiting area (they only accept PNG currency, but there is a bank kiosk located in the international terminal which will exchange foreign currency).   Roads are not very accessible within PNG so to get from one domestic city to the other is done mostly through flying (in spite of this, domestic fares are relatively expensive).  Most flights within PNG are about 1 hour (the longest being about 1.5 hours) and because of the short distances most planes utilized by Air Niugini are either a mix of new and older Fokker 100’s, Dash 8’s, or Q400’s (they recently required a brand new Boeing 737 to be utilized on domestic markets and for special international flights).  All domestic flights have both business and economy class, with business class usually contains a bigger seat (similar to a lazy boy in feel and size) and passengers are served a light snack/meal.  In economy class, the seats are smaller (but equally comfortable and this 6’1 author fits in comfortably) and you are served only juice and a biscuit (on early morning flights coffee or tea is also offered).  Given the short duration of flights, the flight attendants are quick and efficient in serving all passengers and collecting all trash and still have time to relax before landing.  

For my flight to Madang, the domestic lounge has a TV screen to show which flights are boarding but most people just wait to listen for airline representatives to yell out the flight number and destination before they start heading to the gate.  There are no bridges for any domestic flights so all passengers must board and deplane via stairs and this is how we boarded the flight.  I have flown Air Niugini many times many times passengers have been called to board the plane well before schedule, but the plane will not depart until the scheduled time.  We departed on time from Port Moresby, received our biscuits and juice, and 1 hour later landed in Madang (most Air Niugini flights have a short turnaround time within the city before it heads back to Port Moresby).    

While Air Niuginis is the only international carrier, there are three domestic carriers: Air Niugini, Airlines PNG, and Travel Air.  Air Niugini has the biggest and most extensive domestic network, consistently flies to these destinations, and has not had a crash or fatality in its 40+ years of flying.  The other two – Airlines PNG and Travel Air – do not have as extensive network, do not fly consistently to their destinations, and are constantly delaying or cancelling flights (Airlines PNG also had a fatal crash in 2011 killing all passengers on board).  This is the main reason why many people choose to fly Air Niugini and overall Air Niugini’s service is pretty good, but more importantly its reliable.  This is especially important in a country where reliability and efficiency is not always present.  Given the relative monopoly Air Niugini has on the PNG aviation sector, the fact that they maintain a decent level of service (and have an excellent safety record) is a testament to Air Niugini.  While the fares are high (due to the monopoly, flights in and out of PNG to any destination besides Australia are very expensive), and sometimes flights are cancelled, what you find on Air Niugini is a scheduled flight that will eventually get you there and will provide decent service on route.   

A PK-AM in PNG; a Pakistani-American leaning lessons in Papua New Guinea

When I told people I was going to go work in Papua New Guinea (PNG), these are some of the responses/questions I got. 
           ‘You are going where!?’
-          ‘Where is that?’
-          ‘Why would you go there?’
-          ‘Is it safe there?’ 
-          ‘What are you going to do there!?’          

Truth be told, I also had to look at the map to certify where the country is located and confirmed it was located on the other side of the world – at least according to my American-perspective.  Initially I was hesitant about going to PNG because many of the stories or reports I had heard mostly involved violence and poverty, and a quick internet search only furthered my hesitation when I found plenty of stories relating to these subjects.  Digging a bit deeper, however, I found other stories that did not relate to violence or poverty but rather were stories of discovery.  There were stories about explorers encountering new people, languages, animals, and species of plants that have never been encountered before.  These are the stories I decided to focus on because as a Pakistani-American growing up in America, I learned to see the negative but focus on the positive.

I was born and raised in America and am proud of my Pakistani-background but sometimes that proudness was tested, especially when terrible news would come out of Pakistan (which unfortunately was the only time Pakistan would be in the Western news).  It was then I decided not to ignore the terrible news from Pakistan, but I wanted to focus on the many great things that Pakistan holds in my heart: my relatives (khalas, chachus, cousins, etc.), the amazing Pakistani food (garam naan straight out of the tandoor with rich salans), the rich culture and heritage of Lahore, and general good nature I found while visiting Pakistan.  It was these aspects of Pakistan I would try to focus on and illustrate when talking to people in America, so they could also appreciate the Pakistan I know and not focus on the Pakistan they heard or saw in the news.  I wanted to find the balance and that is the same lesson I applied when I set off for Papua New Guinea.
When I first arrived into Papua New Guinea, it was a complete culture shock; the motto of Papua New Guinea is ‘land of the unexpected’ and everything I encountered on my first trip was COMPLETELY unexpected.   Papua New Guinea is nothing like America – the food, the culture, the way of life, the way of working, the climate, and the intense security  – and the country has no overlap with what I am accustomed to, but as I spent more time with the people I noticed more similarities with Pakistan.  Yes I did notice the violence that plagues the country – there is communal violence, rampant domestic violence, as well as petty thefts – but I also noticed warm hearts and inviting people; people who would welcome and embrace you as if you were part of the family. 

My job required me to travel to different parts of the country and in one city the hotel shuttle forgot to pick me up from the airport.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal except that the airport was about an hour outside of the city and would only open when the plane landed and the shut when the plane took off (an hour after it landed).  The shuttle driver only worked when there were passengers to be picked up so the shuttle was not available, so there I was stranded at the airport and I was the only foreigner there so I stuck out.  It could’ve have been one of the scariest times I experienced, but I never felt unsafe or unprotected because the Papua New Guineans surrounded me with warmth and security.  Person after person would stop and ask me if I was ok, if I needed a ride to town (some even willing to go the complete opposite way to drop me off thus adding another hour to their commute), or if I was ok standing there by myself.  In the end, it was the airline ground staff who eventually stayed with me and dropped me off at the hotel but I never forgot the warmth and security the Papua New Guineans showed me while I was stranded there.   This showed the Papua New Guineans capacity for warmth and protection, but they also showed great heart.  

In another instance I had been working in one city for about 2 weeks doing intense training with a group, which provided enough time to get to know someone but not enough time to consider someone family or a part of their tribe (at least not in my mind); I found out later that I was completely wrong by PNG standards.  My flight was in the morning from another city so we had to drive down, but due to traffic (and bad roads) I missed my morning flight and was rerouted to the afternoon flight.   Instead of leaving me at the airport or dropping me off at a nearby hotel, I was invited, as part of the family, to witness a PNG tradition – the bride price ceremony.  The bride price ceremony involves “an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom.”[i]  It is very similar to a dowry in Pakistan, but in PNG they have an elaborate ceremony in which all family members are invited and this is what I got to witness as a member of the family.  The leader of the group I had been training had recently gotten married and was now conducting his bride price ceremony and invited me to be a part of the celebration as part of his tribe.  As soon as I stepped in I was immediately welcomed as part of the groom’s side and got to witness an AMAZING tradition which has a lot of heart, but also has elements of community and oneness and of coming together as one.  Witnessing a bride price ceremony was an incredible opportunity but when it was over it wasn’t the ceremony or the customs that I took with me, rather it was the feeling of a community or tribe coming together and welcoming everyone that remained with me.  I felt a part of the tribe, a part of the family and that is something which I could not read about in the news; I had to experience it.

These two stories are just some of my experiences travelling and working around Papua New Guinea and it taught me that no matter what is being reported or told or heard, every country has heart and good people.  The goodness and warmth of people is what I experienced in both Pakistan and Papua New Guinea, and my experiences in supposedly two countries that are considered ‘dangerous and high-risk’ showed that while there is some negativity, the people of these countries are filled with heart and joy and welcome everyone.  That is the message that needs to be delivered.

[i] Paying the price of marriage in PNG: (accessed on March 6, 2013)

A Hyphenated Identity - The Journey of Self-Discover!

I was born and raised in America, therefore I am American.  My parents were born and raised in Pakistan which means my roots are in Pakistan.  All of this combines to make me a Pakistani-American: a hyphenated identity.  I wasn’t always comfortable or accepting of my hyphenated identity, but I learned that being hyphenated didn’t make me less of one or the other but rather it made me stronger and prouder of both identities.  It made me more of a unique person and it allowed me to find myself in this world.

As a young person, everyone is trying to figure out who they are and trying to fit in with their surroundings.  We all just want to be like everyone else, and an individual identity is not always the best thing when you are young.  I had the same feelings when I was young; I wanted to be like everyone else but it was hard to figure out to which group I should identify with.  I thought I would fit in with my American peers, since we all were born and raised in the same city and we all went to the same school; but they didn’t have the roots I did, they didn’t speak a different language at home, and they didn’t have long-distance calls at odd-hours in the night from relatives across the world.  My Pakistani-side was making me different amongst my American peers, so I figured that if I can’t fit with my American side then I should be able to fit in with my peers in Pakistan.  After all, we looked the same, ate similar food, and spoke a common language; but they weren’t exposed to the diversity America offered me, they didn’t think in English like I did, and they were mad about cricket (I sport I never completely understood until recently).   So there I was, stuck in the middle of a non-identity trying to figure out who I was and then I discovered it: hyphenation.  I can both at the same time and that is ok.

Some people are not comfortable with hyphenation; to them it means beings half of something instead of being completely whole.  For example some Americans think that because I am proud of my Pakistani background and acknowledge it through the hyphenation, they are justified in stating that I am not fully American.  Because I am proud of speaking a different language at home, eating garam pakoras on a cold rainy day, or spending every 3rd summer in Pakistan (suffering in the heat and loadshedding but enjoying the company of my cousins) this means that I am not completely American.  According to them, because I am not completely American I don’t have the same rights or privileges as them and should ‘go back to where I came from’.  This perspective was very harsh the first time I heard but it wasn’t that surprising; what surprised me was hearing the same type of sentiment from Pakistanis.  Some Pakistanis believe that because I am proud of where I was born, proud of where I was raised, and proud of my Americaness (according to them that meant ‘being loud and free to do whatever I want’) this meant that I cannot be Pakistani and cannot partake in any activities that show my proudness for Pakistan.  For these reasons, many people choose one or the either instead of hyphenation but I didn’t want to choose; I wanted to be proud of both equally and at the same time.    

I finally decided not to listen to what people have to say and learned how to proud of what makes me.  I am proud of my Pakistani roots, as that is the country that educated my father and gave him the opportunity to from the village to medical school.  Pakistan is also the country that gave my mother a strong sense of national pride, which survived with her as she traveled over continents and oceans to America, and which she transferred to her children all those years later.  I am also proud of being an American, as this is the country that gave me the opportunity to be whoever I want to be regardless of who I know or didn’t know.   America is also the country where justice can be served legally (and most times fairly) and where doing the right thing does help you get to the next level.   I am proud to have Pakistani roots; I am proud to be born and raised in America.  I am proud to be a Pakistani –American; hyphenated and complete.


I started this blog because, as the title suggests, I have random thoughts about this journey we call life.  So I decided to create a blog and share my random thoughts (hello - how are you!)

So I welcome you with a saying you will find on the back of many rickshaws in Pakistan 

                                   dekho, magar pyar se (look, but with love)