Who am I?

Rahul: Why Maher choosed you?
Me: Ah, very good question, but this one you have to ask papa!

Rahul: You and papa is in love?
Me: Yes we are. Papa and I love each other.
Rahul: You and papa loved each other before me and Leila came out of your belly?
Me: Yes, we did, honey.

Leila: Mama, where was Leila and Rahul before we was in your belly?”
Me: Hmmmm…your body wasn’t anywhere. And you were an idea that mama and papa had.

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9 Years and Moving to the Beat

9 years ago today Maher and I got married. In Montreal. We were amidst close family and friends – a party we won’t forget.

Guajira – I Love U 2 Much

Dandia RaasThere was dancing – from barefoot in the rain with Yerba Buena at the jazz fest, the garba and dandiya raas non-stop night, to the gypsy band “Soleil Tzigane” who used to play Friday and Saturday’s at Cafe Sarajevo, what used to be my hangout while we long distanced. We were thrilled that the musicians accepted to do our reception.

Ederlezi – Goran Bregovic (First dance)

I can’t just grab a photo that represents the occasion from my phone’s camera roll or off FB, our wedding photos are stuffed into a steel box in Chengdu. Hard copy.

Together koh samui

4 moves, a few mistakes, a stroke, IVF, NICU time, Leila and Rahul, long distance all over again on, and we continue to sneak moments together, learn about each other, grow in our relationship, listen to each other more intently, accept each other more sincerely, continue to compromise, let go, and love more deeply.

At least that’s what we try to do anyway. And hope for more years together.

Related:

Waiting for Cafe Sarajevo to say Good bye.

For Just Being There

In July last year, Maher bought me an iPhone for our anniversary. My frist ever Smartphone. Of course, I didn’t even open it for a few months. Now I’m hooked.

And then my brother introduced me to WhatsApp while complaining about how people don’t just pick up the phone and call for a few minutes. Instead they chat on this thing for hours on end.

Then last month one of my friends suggested I get it. So here I am now, chatting with my friends around the world, anytime of day or night – and yes, sometimes it’s more of a monologue than dialogue. But they understand, they know I’ve lived on the moon for the last ten years.

I was chatting with some of my friends while my kids were in hospital last week. Sending emails too.

A couple of weeks into the NICU experience in Nov and Dec of 2009, one of the nurses organised a Parent Support Group. After some hesitation, it being our first “support group” and all, Maher and I went. We were only two couples in the English speaking section, and the woman leading the group showed us a day-by-day photo album of her twin boys born there, at 26 weeks gestation. Actually, one of her 6-year-old sons was taking us through the pics himself. His mum openly discussed the challenges her family faced at the NICU and over the following years. Of course, she encouraged us to talk. What struck me was that the other couple had shared their baby’s photos on Facebook. Their naked baby with a ventilator, feeding tubes, bandages, IV’s, the works.

They found love, support, and strength through their network of family and friends.

I, however, was unable to call my own brothers. I almost dialed my closest childhood friend’s number a few times. Even did once, a few days after Rahul was already home. Chatted for a few minutes.

A couple of friends of mine dropped everything that was going on for them in Chengdu and came to see me in HK. I barely even spoke to the one who stayed two weeks. She got to know my mum amd mother-in-law a bit better though.

That’s the way I used to deal with things, and during the NICU time and later, this reflex kicked in more strongly than ever before. I felt that no one could help anyway, and isolating myself was the most efficient way to deal with what was in front of me. It made sense at the time because only parents were allowed into the NICU, and I wanted to savor every moment I had alone with my babies. I was too fragile to handle criticism and questions, stress from others, and least of all pity. And there was no way I would break down. Not then.

But then a few months later, both babies out of the NICU, and home in Chengdu, I relaxed. I started to comment on blogs. (Big step!) Then I started my own. I got a VPN in China, to access Facebook again, right after Zambia won the Africa cup. I couldn’t join the celebrations, not even over FB. That was too much for me to handle!

I tried to create a network of my mum friends via Multicultural Mothering.

When one of my friend’s twins were in the NICU a year ago, I felt the need to be present. He had no problem communicating with me, explaining, and even listening to me. I was impressed. And now while my kids were in the hospital last week that same friend along with others all listened, and shared their own experiences. It made everything more bearable. Others read my endless WhatsApp monologues.

Thanks for the support over the last couple of weeks, for the brainstorming sessions, the connection. For just being there.

When I saw this talk for the first time a couple of years ago, it was perfectly timed then. I immediately forwarded it to an exhaustive list of friends. A few days ago my cousin shared it with me again. It was just what I needed to hear. Again. For my friends – old and new.

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

Minimalism in Education: A Guest Post by Erica Killick

Erica: I am a Primary school teacher in Hong Kong. I’ve recently started a blog on moving towards a more minimalistic lifestyle. One of my hopes in living a simpler life is the freedom to be able to make a living doing my passion as opposed to being tied to a system I don’t believe in.

This blog post was inspired by my growing desire to break free and find out what freedom really means to me. You can find the same blog post and others at my blog: The Minimalist Makeover.

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These times of transformation are exciting. But they are also challenging. I’m in that time along Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey where you’ve just set out and you feel hopeful and excited for the novelty of your new surroundings. But all of the sudden you realize, you’ve only just been called to your adventure and haven’t yet crossed the threshold and you’re still in the ‘known’ world; the mundane, boring and infuriating known world. Here’s a little recount of how my minimalist makeover rocked the boat on a boring old work day.

I was at work on my lunch break. Usually I would watch a make-up how-to video for 10 minutes or so on YouTube, while I ate my peanut butter sandwich. But seeing as I have made a rule for myself to not watch any make-up or fashion related videos in an attempt to curb desires for material objects, I have had to look for alternative videos to chill out with over lunch. Of course I realize the real next step is no videos at all and just mindfully eat my sandwich (something I have done for periods of time in the past) however today was not going to be that day.

Instead I stumbled upon a YouTube Channel called ‘Be Your Potential’ where a man named Matthew, his wife Toria and their 6 month old baby, Indigo are walking The Camino De Santiago or The Way of St. James in northwestern Spain.

They have been ‘vlogging’ daily along the way and so I got quite sucked in and watched 4 days in a row. I was so immersed in the pilgrimage through these YouTube videos that by the time I stood up to take a bathroom break, I was almost shocked to find myself in my present surroundings. I think I thought I would walk along a small path and take my washroom break in the bush. And that’s when something hit me.

I opened the door to my classroom and stood there, looking out at my view. It was no Spanish landscape that’s for sure. I’m in a concrete prison, and the children I teach are trapped inside with me. It was recess time when I stepped out my door and my classroom exits directly onto the ‘playground’. The playground is in fact a pavement square with some basketball nets and white stripes on the ground for races.

There are approximately 900 students going to school here and they were all wandering around aimlessly. It’s a primary school, ages ranging from 6-12 and I was struck by the kind of education they are receiving. And it’s the same education that in many ways brought me to where I am today. They are taught to stay in one building from 7:30am until 3:30pm. Bored, frustrated and lazy students, meandering around in front of me, with nothing better to do then tease or chase the student nearest them.

The juxtaposition between the video of sprawling Spanish hills and rushing rivers and the pavement playgroup the children were playing on was too much to bear. This can’t be the only way to educate the next generation! And it didn’t just hit me that the children are in a pretty mundane situation, I was also deeply disturbed for myself.

This is what I do, day in and day out. And it’s grating on me. I’m not teaching what I’m passionate about, I’m not working with my own natural rhythms or teaching the students while considering their natural rhythms. In that moment as I opened the door for a bathroom break, I felt the urge to break out of the school compound and run up the nearest mountain…to freedom.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is (yet). Sure there are plenty of independent and alternative schools popping up, but will these ever be the mainstream? And I’m starting to even question whether or not school is the way at all.

The videos of Matthew and his family were so enriching, the lessons these two parents were learning and feeling in their hearts during this journey, the love and comfort their young son was experiencing by being able to physically be near them all day and all night was so beautiful and inspiring to watch.

I know this post might seem rather radical (especially coming from a primary/elementary teacher). I’m just sharing my experience and my emotions from today. Hoping my feelings are not only my own, but are potentially shared by others.

Let’s start a dialogue. I want to feel these things, think these things and let the feelings change me and the world around me. I don’t want to feel it, notice it and then push it away and hide it in the mental box labeled ‘too extreme and weird’. So here it goes out into the world-wide-web!

The videos of Matthew and his family walking their pilgrimage somehow inspired me to think there is another way to bring up the next generation; a way to teach our children and help them teach their children how to love the Earth, how to spend quality time together, how to care for and respect animals (and all living beings). The pilgrimage left so much time for the family to reflect on their experiences, share their feelings with each other, meditate, pray and bless their food, be grateful even during the times you think there is nothing to be grateful for. Isn’t this what ‘school’ should look like?

Matthew’s YouTube Channel. Follow this family on their Hero’s Journey.

Hit by a Whirlwind

Last night, we had to dodge: balls, balloons, trains and tracks, horses, blocks, dolls, grapes, icing, biscuits, sippy cups, shoes, 15 or more little people, and as many big people, to get anywhere. Rahul was fixated on a little blond girl. He’s a flirt and charmer, but this time, it was to keep HER (not any of the other 15 kids who ransacked his playroom) from touching HIS tennis ball, HIS stuffed doll version of Iggle piggle, and HIS motorbike.
Leila found me whether I was in the kitchen, amidst the big people, or in the washroom.

But when the “Tangled,” cakes they requested, came out, things changed. Leila’s had a picture of Rapunzel on it; Rahul’s had Maximus the white horse, on it. L stood tall and blew out her two candles. Rahul blew his out at early, at “…dear Rahul, happy birthday..” They stuck their fingers into their respective cakes and…yummy!

They waited or should I say cried, all afternoon for their chocolate and cheese cakes. Leila sang “To you,” to me, many times. Rahul sang, “Happy Daisy Doo,” all day because Upsy Daisy Doo has a birthday too!

Once they got their cake, and the music was pumping, they were in their element. They danced to the Bollywood hits they love, the Zambian music D2 brought for us, and some reggae.

We all had a blast, if you can say that about a couple of 2 year olds birthday party.

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For his birthday, Rahul asked for a piano, Leila followed up by asking for a guitar. We were proud. Now we have a little electric organ in the living room. With a microphone. YES, A MICROPHONE. And did I mention that R and L both love to sing opera? And that we don’t know what the Chinese character for “volume” is. So yeah, we still have to FIND a mini guitar.

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All week I’d been brainstorming for a two year birthday post, and yet the 1st of November came and went. It’s in a bit of a list form, here goes: I thought to write about how Leila is a beautiful, sensitive, little girl. Extremely expressive. She imitates hip hop, Belly dance, Indian classical dance, and Chinese Opera like a pro.
When she saw a scrape on my knee the other day, her face showed immense concern, she turned both palms up questioningly and asked “…happened?”
She’s the “stuff police.” No one can touch, forget about borrow, her “papa’s shoes.” Today she chased him around announcing that the t-shirt he was wearing was Jalal’s. Maher and I had wondered which one of his brothers t-shirt it was. She knew!
She’s cheeky, and mischievous. She overheard that Rahul was looking for the baby elephant toy. She found it, took it, and ran. She’s fast.
And she’s fighting back now. She’s no longer the vulnerable poor little girl who gets bitten or hit from behind. She turns right around, snarls at her brother, either pulls his hair, or snatches her toy back.
She loves her new motorbike. It’s a shared toy that either she doesn’t let Rahul ride a whole lot, and/or Rahul is not terribly interested in, and he lets her have it most of the time. Either way, we know where her motorbike gene comes from.

Maher and I spend a lot of time teaching the children how to negotiate.

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Rahul is sweet, he gives kisses. He loves his ayi (nanny) to bits. Many days he doesn’t smile until he sees her.

He keeps his dads contact lens case in his palm day and night. It might be a way of keeping a piece of Maher with him.
He calls things “jolie.”
He has to have whatever L has. Yet, he can happily play on his own for extended periods of time.
He’s a word machine, and mostly what he says makes sense. He repeats anything, even Greek! He talks when he dreams: “Dog, one, two,” he said at 4am the other night.
The longer the word the better. His favorites are “disanaur”, “tephelone”, “capilo” (caterpillar), and “hecolopta” (helicopter).

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L and R are jealous of each other, and they compete for attention. But if anyone gives R something to eat, drink, or play with, he always asks for one for L. Leila does the same.
Often, Leila’s first question in the morning is, “Aya?”, (interpretation: where is Rahul?). Rahul’s first question is “Naina?” (interpretation: where is Leila?).

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They test our patience everyday. For every time we scream or want to scream at them, they do something that makes us want to hug and kiss them 10 times over.

So we do all: the screaming, the hugging, and the kissing.

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I wrote “Medium and Happy” (http://natashadevalia.com/2011/05/09/medium-is-just-fine/) 6 months ago. We’ve come a long way since the whirlwind hit, 2 years ago.

Some Music for the Birthday Girl

My little cousin turned 23 yesterday. Here are a couple of YouTube videos (that’s I’m accessing via the proxy server),for you Saloni.

The first is a Talvin Singh electronic piece, Jaan, with beautiful vocals. I travel through enchanted worlds of love when I listen to it. I discovered it in 1998; when I was in Chennai taking dance lessons.

And the second is a TV5 show, again of Talvin Singh, but this time improvising with Angelique Kidjo. I found it today on YouTube, randomly.

Jaan because of Chennai, electronic music, and the vocals. And then, the Angelique Kidjo one because you know, strong female African performer!

Hope you enjoy it.

http://onolisa.tumblr.com Saloni’s blog: Everytime I visit, I dream big, I travel far, I’m beautiful inside and out, I’m hip, alive, and connected.

It’s no small feat, not only to be all that, but also to inspire those around you to feel it!

Thanks