O Dhaka!

 

O Dhaka, I am dispirited and down.

I feel weak for what am I to do?

Instead of joy, paralysis is sown.

I pray that there is something I can do!

 

On and on, a string of sadness replays

throughout this blessed month of Ramadan.

Where is the happiness and joy I pray?

What am I to do during this time of reflection?

 

O Lord, give me strength to carry on;

so I can pray for my brothers and sisters.

Let me pray for those whose heart are torn

and for those whose heart is bitter!

 

Let me not fall into a cyclic trepidation

and, instead, reflect through meditation.

Let me not fall into the dizzying darkness.

and, instead, shine with a collective brightness!

Reflections on Respect for Animals

ant

Sorry, it has been a long time since I’ve done this, but I had to address something that was bugging (no pun intended) me since the afternoon. I hope you all can get a chance to read this and reflect upon it. If there are any errors, please let me know and forgive me. I tried to write this without bias, but I know this is impossible, so forgive me.

There was a fly spiraling upwards. I noticed it buzzing around, while I was sitting down. I pushed it gently to the side and later it buzzed away from me.

Later, I was talking with a friend and I noticed this person smack hands together. I asked the person why they did that and the person responded that it was a fly. The person rolled their eyes and said, “please!” I told the person I was serious and was trying to explain why it was wrong. The person said it was just an animal and I explained we were animals. However, the person didn’t agree with this. The person became frustrated and shot, “It’s JUST a fly,” and that caught my attention.

The statement was so ignorant and careless. I went on and explained that we should respect all living things and we shouldn’t kill things just because. The person answered back, “if that is the case, why don’t you stop eating meat,” which is a good point. However, although I will admit that it is a good point, I will argue that the two scenarios are different, which I will explain below.

Firstly, I believe that those who are vegetarians are spiritually stronger people than me. I can admit this. However, killing for food and killing “just because (in this case, a nuisance)” are two separate matters. After all, humans are omnivores and, as such, we are programmed to eat meat and non-meat. Therefore, killing for food is a matter of nourishment and shouldn’t be compared with killing “just because”.

Secondly, when we eat food religion (I bring this up, because religion was brought in to this) teaches that we should be conscious of our food. We do this by blessing our food – either by making it halal, kosher, or saying grace. Why? We do this to reflect upon God who has sacrificed this animal for our benefit – our nourishment. It teaches us to be aware of where our food comes from. It teaches us to be cognizant that an animal died for our nourishment. Ultimately, we are taking the life of a living organism with the permission of God. Therefore, respect should be paid for the animal that becomes our food.

butterfly

I hope this illustrates the difference between the killing of animals for food and “just because.” On the matter of it being, “just an animal,” is also a horrible answer. I questioned, “aren’t human animals, as well?” and the person answered apathetically, “NO!” for spiritual reasons.

Scientifically, human are part animals. After all, we are part of the animal kingdom. Nevertheless, I can understand that, in religion, we are considered to be above animals. Many people will argue this and I can see the logic. However, this does not give permission for us to kill animals, “just because.” This logic explicitly says it is alright for one to kill or mis-treat another because one is perceived to be “dominant” over the other. This idea, which is inherent in many, shows no humility or respect for life – and if one has no respect for the smallest or weakest of things then how can one have respect for humans – or even God!

On the contrary, our dominion over the animals give us more responsibilities to handle and treat animals with care and respect. To say otherwise is repulsive and disgusting. Even animals, don’t have this logic of killing just because – rather, they do it for their own nourishment or fear. Both of these reasons, are reasonable. Ultimately, a human that kills an animal intentionally “just because” is worse than an animal itself because animals don’t have use this logic. “If” we are better than animals than we need to show that we are better by treating them with respect and awareness.

dog

Nevertheless, lets see what religion has to say on this matter for those that are still not convinced. From what I have been taught animals are to be respected. This can be related by the prophet (PBUH);

Whoever kills a sparrow or anything bigger than that without a just cause, God will hold him accountable on the Day of Judgment.

Sunnan An Nasai

There are many hadiths similar to this, for example;

A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being, while an act of cruelty to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty to a human being

and also in the Holy Qur’an;

Seest thou not that it is Allah whose praises are celebrated by all beings in the heavens and on earth, and by the birds with extended wings? Each one knows its prayer and psalm, and Allah is aware of what they do. Yea, to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; and to Allah is the final goal (of all).

Quran 24:41-42

However, this isn’t just in the Holy Qur’an, but also in the Old Testament;

For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; the same thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man has no advantage over a beast: for all is vanity

Ecclesiastes 3:19

I don’t mean to make it a religious argument, but I desperately hope to show that it is a serious matter when it comes to religion.

deer

Lastly; although I can go on, killing animals “just because” is not just a spiritual dilemma. It has affects that are visible in our daily lives. For example;

The killing of wolves in Yellowstone led to the overpopulation of elk. This as a result led to more elk grazing for food by eating berries and shrubs. More elk grazing meant more berries and shrubs were eaten. Consequently, this meant less food for birds, bears, and beavers. [paraphrased]. 

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/26/endangered-species-carnivores-extinction

Animals play a big role in ecosystems. The loss of one species can have huge repercussion within an ecosystem and consequently other organisms that are part of the ecosystem – which includes humans.

This is also visible within the human itself. Aside, from the spiritual decay that results from killing “just because” it can also cause physical decay. The logic is this: Those who don’t have sympathy for the killing of an animal will have no sympathy while eating. As a result, one eats based on satisfaction and not nourishment. Therefore, the person doesn’t stop eating until one is satisfied and therefore eat more to satisfy this desire. This ultimately leads to diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cancer, and so forth.

It is imperative that we, at least, have respect for animals. Otherwise, if we don’t, there can be serious and unfortunate repercussions. Unfortunately, these consequences go beyond the self, albeit important, but also to entire ecosystem, the planet, and our humanity.

humanity

My Humanity in Egypt!

Egypt Pyramids

I have been trying to write this blog for a while, but I kept delaying it. However, due to recent circumstance I believe it may be a good time to share this experience. It is my experience in Egypt…

My friend, Madhav, and I went to Egypt right after the first revolution, which had Hosni Mubarak thrown out of power and Mohammed Morsi recently elected as their president. Egypt was thrown into a realm of uncertainty and people were curious about the future of Egypt. Demonstrations raged throughout the streets. Tahrir Square hosted these protests. There were angry faces everywhere and they yelled for freedom. All of this was shown in the news, social media, and my daily conversations. I came into Egypt after all this madness and I tried to imagine what Egypt must have been like. It was surely in chaos, despair, anger, suspicion, and unease.

I remember looking out of the plane window down upon Egypt. It was a wide desert littered with mud-brick homes. The Nile cut through Egypt with its green vegetation following it. The airport, upon arriving, was eerily quite. As I exited the airport I could feel the sun beat down on me. We asked a cab driver to take us to our hostel although he wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Nevertheless, he took us into the mad traffic of Cairo and I was introduced to honks, which raged throughout the streets. I could see the hazy silhouette of the Cairo buildings, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the sands or smog. We checked into our hostel and we took a tour of the city. Tahrir square was empty as if everyone wanted to avoid it. People walked around it next to graffiti sprayed walls. Revolution was sprayed on the walls. Sand swept through the streets and I was filled with suspicion.

Grafitti

Grafitti two

We were met with stares and I could sense their curiosity. They may not have seen a lot of tourists since the revolution. Around many of the tourist attractions there were beggars. They were desperate. They would twist up words to get a better deal. Even our cab driver, later on during our stay, insisted to take us to a mall. We originally wanted to go to the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, but our driver insisted that their was a riot going on. We reluctantly agreed only to be disappointed and after we wanted to go back to our hostel he said the Bazaar wasn’t under a riot. At the end, he insisted that we pay for the whole fare.

Eventually, we planned to head south towards Aswan through Luxor. The night of our departure the train never came. We were warned by an old man exiting the train station. He communicated with hand signals, but it was fruitless. We waited at the train station for an hour only to go back to our hostel. Apparently, there was a strike, which held up the train. Fortunately, we were able to get a train the next night and we made our way south. The train was in disrepair and it was covered in dirt. Later on, two couples arrived into our compartments. They seemed to be tourists and they seemed miserable. The wife complained desperately to the conductor. She went into a monologue and insisted that “the train was a mirror of Egypt.” The conductor didn’t know what to say. During our trip back to Cairo, as I was leaving the train station, the conductor ran after me with my iPhone in his hand. He was an older Egyptian with a funny mustache. He wanted to return my iPhone.

IMG_0355

IMG_0354

After leaving Egypt I insisted I would never come back. Later on, I began to ponder on my experience. I began to think how much of my perception of Egypt was affected by the news and social media. I wondered how much bias and prejudice I brought with me. I pondered whether my fever and cold had affected me so that I reacted negatively. I realized how much I had become withdrawn, introverted, and suspicious. I wanted to develop a connection between myself and the people of Egypt, but instead, I created barriers.

I want to make the world feel like a smaller place by welding these two worlds together. I mention “worlds” because they feel different and separate. We have different languages, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. These difference may feel intimidating. In reality, it is these differences which make the world a better place. The world becomes much richer when we embrace these differences. Instead, of making these two different worlds further apart we need to bring them together. I wish I could have come to Egypt with an open mind.

Instead, I will try to hold on to my good memories of Egypt. I will remember the old man and the conductor with the funny mustache at the train station. I will remember the soda seller beneath our hostel who smiled after I said, “shukran! I will try to remember our waiter at Luxor who fed our leftovers to the cats. I will remember Egypt well and learn to be more open minded about its people. Especially, those whom I barely know.

Happy Valentines Day!!

Walden and Boston

Panorama of Boston by Zemar Ahadzada

It has been a while since I wrote my last post and so I would like to pick up on my experience in Boston. Like my last few trips  I was limited to a weekend to explore a new place and learn as much as I can with the small amount of time I had. I believe this is possible in Boston where there is so many things to see. I remember asking a lady about Boston and she told me that “Boston is an interesting city,” which I found to be extremly true.

I went to Boston because I was always interested in seeing the city. There is so many cultural and pop references to Boston that I was curious to see what the city was like. There is a lot of history that I wanted to explore and I thought a trip to Boston would provide a better context of that culture and history from one of America’s great cities. This was my main motive to travel to Boston and I hope to share some of the highlights from this trip. Hope you all enjoy!

Walden

My first stop had to be Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts. I know! It’s not Boston, but it’s close to it. It was where Thoreau, someone who I have referenced in some of my previous blogs, came to find solitude and write his experience of living in the woods. However, it was much more than that and his purpose was to reawaken and transcend towards a natural and spiritual dimension that I thought was missing. I thought it would a perfect place to explore and to get a better background on Thoreau’s book, Walden. It was my own mini pilgrimage. The following is my experience at the pond.

I arrived at Walden during a chilly November morning. The sun was rising from the east and rose over the autumn trees whose leaves hung on arduosly in order for me to see them in all its wonder and glory. I was surprised to see the leaves still on the trees. The leaves were in hues of red and orange and was reflected precisely by the clear Walden Pond, which was like a gem. The light bounced through the pristine pond and sparkled like sapphire where it was deepest and emerald where it was shallow. It was as if I were looking through an iris. I felt as if I were looking deep into nature and consequently myself. The phrase by Thoreau “the earth’s eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature,”couldn’t be more true when referencing Walden Pond. I would have enjoyed staying at the Pond longer, but I was short in time and I had to make my way to Boston.

Walden

Walden Pond Water

Boston

Boston is concentrated with tall skyscrapers looking over the harbor. Boston is a spectrum of different colors, which ranged from the warm red colors of the tall buildings against the cool colors of the sky and harbor. Boston was indeed chilly, but the warmth of the city provided us some life, which was seen from the buzz of the city. Boston is a time piece, which displays the past and present in front of the eyes. The jewels of the past are immersed with some of the modern inventions, which make it an historic city.

Boston has so many streets and avenues to explore that it is impossible to become bored. It is an enormous city and is filled with many specialty districts. There is the waterfront, the historic district, business district, Newbury Street (Shopping district), the theatre district. Additionally, there is a Little Italy and a China Town, which displays Boston’s diversity. This variety and diversity makes it difficult to see everything in such a short time, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. The following were three things that I loved about Boston…

Fenway Park:

Ahhh, Fenway is a gem in Boston. It is no wonder that Fenway park is one of the last two jewel park stadiums in existence. The other one is Wrigley field, which I hope to visit one day. I was able to get a tour, but because it was the offseason I wasn’t able to catch a game, which will be my excuse to come back to Boston. Fenway park is much more then a baseball stadium because of the history and culture that comes with it. It is referenced frequently, especially when making movies in Boston. For example, It is referenced in The Field of Dreams, Good Will Hunting, Fever Pitch, The Town, and Ted to name a few. Needless to say, there is a lot of history and stories to tell about Fenway Park and so it definitely was one of my favorite places in Boston. The tour itself was 17 dollars for adults (13 for students) and provides a lot of that historical and cultural context that I was trying to explain.

Fenway Park

Cambridge

Harvard was one place I was excited to visit. It is an old college town with old buildings and older traditions. The Harvard name carries a lot of prestigious weight and grandeur that it was nice to finally see it all in person and see what it was all about. Overall, it was a quite campus, but perhaps that may have been because we went on a Sunday. I also missed my opportunity to eat at Mr. Bartley’s Burgers (referenced in The Social Network) for that same reason. It is suppose to have the best burgers in the country. Another excuse to visit Boston, again! I particularly enjoyed walking through Harvard Yard, which is surrounded by an old-Boston architecture (don’t know what the real architectural name for it is). I also walked by some of the old cobbled-brick churches and walked down the promenade, next to the Charles River as row boats made their way down the river passed the setting sun.

Harvard St

Promenade

Promenade

Some of the Old-Boston Architecture!

Boston City

This is kind of a cheat, but I was hoping to reference the Freedom Trail, which is a great way to explore Boston in a short 2.6 mile walk that spans through most of Boston and provides a historical and cultural background to the city for avid know-it-alls and historians. It starts from Boston Common, a park that sits next to the Massachusetts State House, and ends up to the monument of Bunker Hill. In between, I was able to explore the Navy Yard, which illustrates the history of ship building and has a nice tour of the USS Constitution. Further south, I passed the Old Church and Paul Reveres Home. The roads were cobbled, which gave it an old feel. Further south, there was Fanueil Market, the Old State House, the Kings Chapel, and finally Boston Common. The park was particularly enjoyable because it is just a nice place to kick back and watch people having a good time against the facade of tall skyscrapers in the back.

It's Historical! Blend of old and new!

It’s Historical! Blend of old and new!

State House!

State House!

I hope all those visiting Boston have a fun time. It is truly an enjoyable city!

Till next time!

Bliss with Nature: Bull Run

We started off at mile marker zero. Jeremy and I were foolishly ambitious to stretch it to thirty six, however, we realized that it would be a difficult task considering we had only nine hours of day light. We realistically looked towards twenty miles, which included the walk from the parking lot to the actual hiking entrance.

We chose to hike Bull Run National Park and the weather was beautiful. The air was calm, crisp, and cool and a subtle reminder that winter was soon approaching. The autumnal winds rushed through the woods and following it we entered it too. As I looked down at my watch it was ten in the morning and we had a lot of ground to cover and so we carried on.

In the beginning we started off with typical conversations about our life and daily routines. We talked about work, weight lifting, girls, and our families, but the topic soon became exhausted and we were left with a steam of conversations, sometimes filled with depth and sometimes filled with silence. It is similar to the back and forth motion of a river. The hiking experience is very much like a river. Our thoughts are more in tune during a hike and I feel we are better able to share our experience, emotions, and our own thoughts.

River

Railroad Tracks

This may be a little too philosophical, but I think it is an important point especially when it comes to sharing my hiking experience. Our conversations went from one topic to the other and were mostly meditative. However, the conversations were in the present and based upon the natural stimuli from the woods. I hope to write on my experience in this structure because I feel it is the most natural.

We walked at a steady pace; it wasn’t fast, but we were always moving. We were surrounded by trees and we moved from one tree to the next. It was almost hypnotizing and we were quickly lulled into thoughts. Jeremy even asked, “what would it feel like if we were hallucinating while hiking through these woods?” I smiled at the thought and answered, “It would be like walking through a maze,” not that I have any experience of hiking while hallucinating, but it was purely imaginative. Although, it was what I would have felt had I not known where I was going.  The trees can by dizzying.

I realized that the hike would be more comfortable with a stick and so I looked carefully for one. It was at mile marker three when I found one and I fashioned it to be a walking stick. It was perfect and it helped transfer the load toward my arms and remove any additional stress from my knees. Jeremy asked me, “What is the difference between faith and hope?” Of course, i realized the question wasn’t simple, but I felt compelled to give him an answer, albeit simple, “I don’t know… maybe, faith is a belief in some idea or thing, while hope is like a wish.”

I soon realized that I was stepping on top of the dead leaves. The crunch of my footsteps echoed through the woods and I wondered if I was being reckless. I wondered if the animals could hear me. I understood that it was impossible to avoid every leaf, but I was determined to try so. I softened my foot steps and tried to observe if there was any difference. It was quite, except for the wind that was rushing past the trees. The wind currents strummed the string of trees and a natural tune resonated throughout the woods and the birds accompanied it with a chorus — I feel like Thoreau! It was a pleasant melody or perhaps a lullaby because, once again, I was lulled back into nature and my focus was much more clear.

By mile marker five I began to pay attention to the gentle rays of the sun as it passed through the negative space of the woods. The soft rays reflected against each floating air particle and the warmth were bent into my eyes, my soul. The rusted leaves were plated gold and filled with life. Energy flowed through the woods and I was surrounded in beauty. My mood was brightened and my pace was lightened as I carried on from one mile marker to the next.

Minute by minute, we continued our pace only stopping for the wild life that caught our attention. Particularly, we spotted an Eastern Box Turtle that hid itself under the rusted and fallen leaves. It hid inside its yellow shell tentatively looking out with its red eyes. Further down, Jeremy spotted an Eastern Garner Snake that slithered its way around a tree. It was very similar to the one I saw earlier in the year. There were were tiny frogs hopping into ponds and little lizards that crawled past us. Life was flowing everywhere and in everything.

Leaves

Turtle

We took a break at mile marker nine, but found ourselves lost a couple miles before — The woods can be dizzying! I sat on top a log and chewed on some beef jerky. I also had a chewy bar covered with dark chocolate to brighten my mood, which was starting to fade, but only slightly. I replenished my electrolytes with dried apricots and hydrated myself with water. Jeremy kept on his feet to prevent cramping, but I was more focused on my joints. They wasn’t any pain and I wanted to keep it that way. I was surprised that I was able to do nine plus miles of hiking with ease.

After fifteen minutes we began to head back, which I felt would be the most difficult task. Fatigue had already begun to set on our legs, but fortunately, we were in good spirits, although Jeremy was starting to get a bit restless. He mentioned, “I am getting depressed. Do you remember a few hours ago we were so excited to be here? Now, I am like ugh!” I laughed, because, in a way, it was true. In the beginning, everything is new; but the novelty fades, everything is plain, and we just wanted to go home.

I added, “What if we went all eighteen miles and were just heading back. Heck, imagine if we were doing this hike for six months and camped out in the woods?” Jeremy continued walking pondering over my question, “I don’t think I would be able to do six months. I can definitely scratch out extreme trekking from my hobbies.” We both laughed and I answered, “extreme trekking?” He nodded. “I don’t think this is extreme trekking,” I continued and he just smiled.

The shadow of clouds began to descend upon us as they formed below the clouds. There were shadows upon mile marker eleven and I wondered if there was a possibility of rain and I asked, perhaps to myself, “what would you do if it starts to rain?” We continued to walk and Jeremy looked up, “I don’t know, kill myself!” I laughed and he continued, “I can’t wait to reach that bridge!”

On and on, we went up and down the small hills in the woods and through the millions of trees. We waited for the sight of the bridge, but it was still far in front of us. The sun was beginning to set and the sunlight was quickly descending. The rays of light reached the bottom of the tree trunks and the warm colors were replaced by the cool colors of the upcoming night. There was stillness throughout the woods. We were surrounded in silence. There is always that silence that penetrates between the transition of day and night.

Trees are Dizzying

Sunset

We were past mile marker fourteen and past the bridge as well. The croaks of frogs and toads could be heard in the distance. Night had almost fully descended upon us and I mentioned to Jeremy, who was determined to get back home, “I don’t know why, but the night feels kind of peaceful… It reminds me of my childhood.” Jeremy kept walking and pondered over the question, “You’re right. It’s so peaceful! Although, I remember doing a night hike in Shenandoah, but I didn’t like it”

At mile marker sixteen Jeremy mentioned, “You know… We spent almost the whole day in the woods.” I nodded and he continued, “It is like a nine to five job” I corrected him, “Nine to six!” I pondered over the statement and I wondered what would work be like if it was from nine to five. Would our attitudes change?

We were at mile marker seventeen and we started to quicken our pace towards the last mile marker.  We were reminded of this by the GPS in Jeremy’s watch. I pondered over how I would describe our hike using unconventional words and I asked Jeremy. He said, “A nightmare!” I smiled. He also listed, “depressing and treacherous.” I smiled, “I dunno… I would say it has been enlightening, serene, and tranquil. Maybe, heavenly!” He shook his head, “More like hell!” We both laughed.

The night was fully upon us, but we saw an opening in the distance. In front of it was mile marker eighteen, which indicated the end of the trail! We could see the light from the headlights of cars passing in front of us, leaving the park. We hurried towards the mile marker and I saw the eighteen numbered and I took a picture with it to mark my accomplishment. However, when I looked behind it I saw mile marker zero, which pessimistically, indicated our total displacement, which was nothing.

 

Night Time Hiking“I am hungry. Lets get something to eat” I said and Jeremy suggested, “how about Pho?”and I pondered over his question and answered, “Its getting cold now… That would be perfect!”

 

Miami

Panorama

Panorama of Ocean Drive by Zemar Ahadzada

It was monday before Labor Day and the holiday was quickly approaching. Naturally, my friends and I were trying to find something to do during the three day weekend. Originally, we were planning to drive down to the Outer Banks, but we couldn’t get enough people to make it happen. Jeremy looked up airfare for every city in the United States and found the cheapest to be to Miami through Tampa (from Washington DC). He told me about his plan on Wednesday and I purchased the tickets on Thursday.

After work, on Friday, I headed to my friend’s home who was kind enough to take me to Ronald Reagan National Airport. I had to change from my scrubs to something more acceptable. When I arrived, I found Jeremy and Kush waiting for me. Kush was going over things he wanted to do in Miami.  Eventually, we boarded the airplane and waited for take off. The plane started down the runway, the turbines began to create thrust, the airplane began to generate lift, and we made our way up the sky towards Tampa.

The flight was a little over two hours and we arrived at eight in the evening. We were welcomed to the hot temperatures, humidity, and coconut trees that line itself systematically along the roads, which one can expect when travelling to Florida. Madhav arrived a few hours later, having come from Dallas, and met up at our hotel with a rental Jeep. We were ready to hit the roads the next morning, but I needed to get some sleep. Jeremy and Madhav explored Tampa during the midnight hours and made me wish I had gone with them.

The next day we hit the road towards Miami in the morning. We went south towards Naples, where the roads were surprisingly smooth and empty. We passed by more coconut trees and blue skies and eventually made a quick stop at Naples, which was quite, scenic, and serene. From there we headed east towards Miami where we passed through the everglades, which retain heat and keep Miami warm and humid. The ride was roughly four to five hours and we arrived in Miami around two in the afternoon. 

When we arrived at our rental home, which was half a mile out from South Beach, we tried to settle ourselves,  find who was sleeping where, and find out the plan for the day. Of course, it was obvious that we would go to the beach and party at night…

Ahh… Miami! It is an incredibly energetic and seductive city that I really hope to visit again. The atmosphere is very different from most U.S. Cities and I had to convince myself that I was still in Florida. The city is filled with scenic beaches, an exciting party scene, and a very unique demographic.  It is an ideal spot for any three day weekend and it is very possible to stay longer and still enjoy. 

I’ve already mentioned it earlier, but let me explain three things that make Miami what it is. This list is not exclusive, but rather, my experience of Miami. There are so many other things that make Miami very multi-dimensional and less stereotypical than I am about to describe it as. However, I do believe these are some important things that Miami has to offer.

 The Beaches

Collage 1

Pictures taken by Kush Sareen (Instagram: ksareen23)

I believe this goes without saying, but the beach is an iconic destination of Florida. The scenery is amazing! Miami has an aquamarine-tinted shore that stretches towards the horizon. The currents bring the warm currents from the Gulf, which crashes along the shoreline. There is the occasional 2 PM shower that brings relief from the humidity. The white sand stretches along the Miami’s shoreline while it’s iconic coconut trees line up behind it. Further behind, there is a nice park and a nice selection of restaurants, bars, and clubs.

My friends and I visited South Beach, which had just that. I stayed most of my time in the warm water, which is a unique experience away from the cold ocean water that I am normally used to. The water is shallow and I was able to walk far away from the shoreline although I was very conscious that there could be sharks the further I went. The waves were strong and choppy and I wish I could have done some surfing, but I will wait to do that on another vacation. 

Another past time of the beach is to lay around and bathe in the sun. The sun is heavenly, at least for me! The heat comfortably warmed my back and brought warmth and happiness to my soul. Although, I applied sunscreen, I was still a bit sunburnt against the back – so be careful and apply a lot of sunscreen. I walked along the beach catching the white foam hitting against the white sand and carrying it back into the ocean. It is also hard not to notice all the nice bodies that are roaming about.

The Party Scene

clubbing

Pictures taken by Kush Sareen (Instagram: ksareen23)

I must admit that I am not very into the party scene, but if there was any place to go clubbing it would be Miami. It was almost like a music video with lamborghinis rolling in the club, women in bikinis dancing, a random beach ball bouncing in the air, the DJ is dropping a jam, colored lights electrifying the sky, and everyone is having a good time. Okay, so that example may have been a little exaggerated, but it is very close to it.

Many of the clubs lie on Ocean Drive. Although, these clubs are described as touristy I feel that they are still worth visiting and are exciting. However, if one were interested to go clubbing with the locals one could go to downtown Miami or Fort Lauderdale. That being said, I do want to describe my experience at the two clubs that I visited.

The first one was Nikki Beach, which had a cover charge of thirty dollars. The drinks were expensive and I had to pay eight dollars for a red bull to keep me awake. Overall, the club had a very chill and tropical feel to it. It is situated right on the beach and it is decorated with a cabana, day beds, and tiki-bars, which make it more of a beach club or lounge than a regular club. I spent most of the time drinking red bull in one of the chairs under the cabana. There is also a dance floor with music that will leave your ears ringing until the next morning.

During our second night, we went to The Clevelander, which is situated in the heart of ocean drive. The club was very similar to the music video I described. At the center was the DJ, rhythmic colors were displayed behind him, go-go girls danced beside him, the people danced in front of him. The dance floor was electric, energy flowed throughout the club, and the night lit up with music and colors. Up above, on the top floor the Clevelander had a lounge where people could drink, mingle, and have a good time. However, much of the excitement was down below where the music would play until five in the morning, but we cut it short because we had a plane to catch and so we left at two in the morning.

Overall, the night was great and I had a great club experience. I would definitely say it is a nice place to visit, especially if one wants to get the full Miami Vibe.

The People and the Atmosphere

atmosphere

Walk on the beach (left) and Motorcycles on Ocean Drive (Right) by Zemar Ahadzada

Although Miami is small geographically it makes it up with a large population of up to 5.5 Million people. It is, therefore, no wonder that Miami is very diverse and unique demographically.

What I found was that the people loved to show off their bodies, drive down ocean drive with their fancy cars, and love the material high life. If they aren’t movie stars, athletes, or models – they want to be. I feel like I have seen Miami a hundred times in movies and music videos. It is the good life! The place is almost superficial, but, I believe those qualities make Miami the seductive, luxurious, and glamorous city that it is.

Another important dimension of Miami is the large hispanic population that make up Miami. A large percentage are Cubans who have left Cuba due to the political situation. The hispanic population bring a unique flavor, a latin flare, that makes Miami alive with their music, dancing, art, and cuisine. We were fortunate to visit Little Havana, which embodies that culture and is a good place to visit in Miami.

There are also the beach-bums (not really bums) but I know they love the beach. This is evident by their unique orange sun-kissed skin and their long and salty hair and beard. They have a wild, yet laid back demeanor, and have a good time at the beach.

Overall, the population of Miami is very diverse and multidimensional city, whether it is living the high life, following the latin flare, or flowing with the waves, Miami is the place to be.

 

 

Jumping Next to the Smoke That Thunders

So… My friend Jeremy and I, in order to make most of our trip, decided to find another place to travel.

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Naturally, we decided to go to the Smoke that Thunders or Victoria Falls. Why wouldn’t we want to travel here? We were also very interested in going to Devil’s Pool, which is a natural pool formation that is situated on the edge of the waterfall. This was the ultimate adventure! We purchased our tickets one month before our flight to South Africa.

We would soon find out that the attraction was closed due to the winter season or wet season. Bummer! The wet season, as the name implies, generates a lot of rain, which increases the currents, and makes it impossible for swimmers to get to Devil’s Pool. This is evident by the large quantity of water that plunges down from the gorge creating a smokescreen of water. It is impossible to get a clear view of the falls during the wet season.

Nevertheless, my friend and I were still very excited to visit the falls. However, we needed to find some other extreme adventure that we could partake. Jeremy did some research and decided that we should bungee jump, which made me a little nervous. I decided to just do it (Nike would be proud), and soon enough I made the reservations for our jump through Shearwater reservations.

Our trip to Victoria Falls was only for three days. We arrived using Air Zimbabwe and prior to landing we were able to identify a mist ascend from the dense forest. We instantly recognized that the landmark was Victoria Falls. We landed in a small airport and took a cab to the A’Zambezi River Lodge.

Prior to our jump, we decided to explore the falls. The falls were scenic, especially during the sunset, where the falls were highlighted by the sun. We walked through a rain forest which is nurtured by the falls. The hues of green from the trees were highlighted by hues of red and orange, which transitioned beautifully to the orange waterfall.

The falls were literally a smoke of thunder! Massive amounts of water were dumped down into the A’Zambezi river, the fourth longest river in Africa, that stretches from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mozambique. The mist was like walking through a monsoon or maybe more like a summer rain storm. Our jeans were soaked! Get a poncho!

Eventually the day came where we had to jump. In order to do this we had to get a temporary visa, walk past the border to Zambia, and walk towards a bridge where the jump would take place. We purchased our tickets and did the full package, which included the zipline adventure, the bungee jump, and the bridge swing.

Panorama of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Rain Forest

Zip line Adventure

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

We started off with the Zip line adventure, which was fun, but not incredibly exciting. Perhaps, this was overshadowed by the bungee jump and the bridge swing.

Next in line, was the bungee jump, where the question “to jump or not to jump” became more relevant.

Bungee Jump

Bungee

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

The worst thing about doing anything is thinking about all the bad things that can happen  I remember watching a video prior to our trip about an Australian girl who fell in the river after her bungee cord snapped. Luckily, she survived without a scratch. Like I said, there is a lot of thoughts that pop up, but I have a good way of ignoring those thoughts. Maybe not a good thing.

We waited in line until our turn came up. It was a long line full of crazy people just like my friend and I. Jeremy went before me. It took only a couple of minutes for him to receive instructions, hobble to the edge of the bridge, and jump backwards while yelling “YOLO!”

He disappeared and they quickly called me up to the edge of the bridge. My heart began to pound and they were instructing me on what should I do. They mentioned that I should look forward, dive as far I can, and blah blah. I was more worried about the jump. I could feel my heart thump against my chest… Thump… Thump… Thump…

Everything went fast. Before I knew my legs were tied up and I wobbled forward to the edge. I looked down for a moment and took a deep breath. They placed my arms up and they started counting down from five quickly. I jumped…

The next few seconds were the greatest seconds of my life. The experience was amazing. It is where everything begins to slow down. I am looking down with tunnel vision and everything becomes focused. I realize what I have done, that I have just jumped, and that I am currently falling. Quickly I was developing a high as adrenaline kicked in. I observe every moment, a smile cracks from my face, I yell for my life, and before I know it I am done.

Blood quickly rushes towards my head and I am dangling below a bridge above raging waters. My thoughts go back to every second of the jump. I can hear the raging water storm below me, I can feel the droplets of the falls hit my face, I can smell the moisture of the falls, and my surroundings open up to me. The landscape is beautiful. It was as if I were seeing through a new lens, promoted by the adrenaline and blood rushing to my head.

Eventually, a person came down and picked me up and we slowly were brought back up to the base of the bridge. I had to walk through the steel work and climb up to the main road. I was greeted by my Friend and we cracked a smile and laughed.

Bridge Swing

Bridge Swing

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

We were still high from the bungee jump, but we had the bridge swing left to do. We decided to do the bridge swing together in order to build more speed. Once again we waited in line. I was still thinking about my jump. Jeremy bummed a cigarette from one of the jumpers. He was trying to keep his brain stimulated . We waited in line until we were called up. The staff walked us through the jump. My friend and I were tied together and we walked towards the ledge. After the count of five we jumped.

It was icing on the cake. Instantly gravity was pushing against me, I could feel my stomach fall, and I couldn’t help but scream from the top of my lungs  It was a few seconds of free fall before our rope followed the motion of a pendulum. We flew over the river and screamed “woo hoo” and “that was awesome!” It may sound corny, but I guess it is something that you just have to do.

Just Do It

Just Do It!

Table Mountain

The View

I remember the day clearly. I was scanning medical documents at the office. One by one, each document passed through the feeder, while I was deeply focused on a quiz that I recently took. The quiz was a Buzzfeed article on What City Should You Actually Live In. For me, it said Cape Town. I don’t know if it was through impulse or natural inspiration, but I texted my friend Now I wanna go to Cape Town. I waited for his text. Finally, he texted back lets goo! I think he thought I was joking, but three days later we booked our tickets to South Africa.

Perhaps — it was inspiration — that led me to Cape Town, especially Table Mountain. The flat-topped mountain and the fog that ascends from it illustrates a surreal piece of landscape that is full of raw emotion. Devil’s Peak and Lion’s head bow down to the grand mountain. It is the highlight of the façade of mountains that stretch behind it. The vitality and rawness of the mountain is captured as it watches over the City Bowl. It is a part of Africa! The unique flora illustrate this fact. Yes! it was Table Mountain that brought me to South Africa.

The Distance

***

What I was to behold in Table Mountain was — as a fellow South African described it — Magic! Below is my best description of what I think he was leading me to…

After four months of planning and a two hour flight, including a layover in London, we finally arrived at Cape Town International Airport. We took the N2 highway going to our Hostel. The road was wide and surprisingly empty. Meanwhile, we passed through the winelands and the township. It was further down where I got my first glimpse of Table Mountain. Just like I thought, it stood up tall and strong. There were storm clouds that churned above it, but still, I managed to feel small in front of it. I could sense the anger of the mountain. There was a huge storm that passed by and it looked like there was a forecast of rain still to come.

We woke up early the next morning as the sun rose above the horizon. The sun painted the city in orange and our day began with bright optimism. We walked passed the Soccer stadium as we headed towards the V&A Waterfront. It was on the ferry to Robben Island that I noticed that Table Mountain was shrouded in a thick fog, which caused my heart to drop because that meant the Aerial Cableway would be closed due to poor visibility. Meanwhile, the boat is rocking back and forth through three meters swells. I was still hopeful! I still believed we would go up Table Mountain.

View from the Ferry

The Aerial Cable Car

Fortunately, on our way back the fog began to clear. After lunch, we took a cab up the winding roads to Table Mountain, which was a 200 ZAR fare from the V&A Waterfront. We took the Aerial Cableway (205 ZAR Round Trip) to the top of the Mountain where we were greeted with amazing views of the city surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It was towards the west where we looked down upon the city. I saw Lion’s head held high and confidently above the city. Further west, was a succession of three peaks that were covered in fog. The scene was magic! Finally, to the North, we saw Devil’s Peak, which was also covered in Fog.

Legend has it that a Dutch Man named Jan Van Hunks, a prodigious pipe smoker who lived at the foot of the mountain circa 1700. he was forced by his wife to leave the house whenever he smoked his pipe. One day, while smoking on the slopes of the peak, he met a mysterious stranger who also smoked. They each bragged of how much they smoked and so they fell into a pipe-smoking contest. The stranger turned out to be the Devil and Van Hunks eventually won the contest, but not before the smoke that they had made had covered the mountain, forming the table cloths cloud.

Story by the 19th Century Poet Dante Cabriel Rossetti in his poem Jan Van Hunks (The Dutchman’s Wager)

At the top, there is a wide diversity of plants and floral life that illustrates South Africa. Much of the floral landscape makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom (Capensis Kingdom). One of my biggest regret was not hiking up Table Mountain, a four hour hike one way. I believe that hiking would have provided the best experience of Table Mountain. It would have been the best way to explore the rich flora of Table Mountain. Alas, we were racing against time and had only two hours to explore the mountain.

The Top

Fynbos Plant

more flowers

The two hours we had to explore were well worth it. If I had one advice, it would be to use any opportunity to explore Table Mountain, especially during South Africa’s winter month. The weather is variable. We had only one day to explore Table Mountain, which was closed for most of the week due to fog or rain.  There were so many travelers who didn’t get the chance to go up and explore the top…

In hindsight, the experience was amazing and something I would recommend to any traveller. It was very easy to get lost in deep thoughts when looking down on the city bowl, the two oceans, and the series of mountains that stretch along the coast. There is so many legends, stories, and poems that are inspired by the mountain. It is a beacon of hope to lost sailors, it is place to explore for avid adventurers, and it is a muse for lovers and storytellers. It is an experiences that can inspire. After all, it was my inspiration to travel to South Africa.

Lion's Head, the City Bowl, and Devil's Peak

Sunset

Experiencing “The Good Times”

The awareness of experiences brings up some of the best emotions in our lives. There are triggers everywhere that bring out these experiences and I reminisce about the “good times.” However, I believe the good times are unveiled through careful observation that can only be brought through novelty and experience. These are four examples (not exclusive) of my “good times.”

In Zimbabwe, I look up towards the night sky. I can feel the warmth of the bonfire behind me. The stars are scattered everywhere and decorate the blue draped sky. I find the stars comforting. I float from one star to the other. Slowly, I locate the Southern Cross, a constellation that points towards the south, and right above it is the star alpha centurion. I use that to find Corvus, the crow, and Gemini, the twins. I show my friend this and eventually we find the red glow of mars. I do this throughout the night.

DSC03198

Bonfire by Zemar Ahadzada

DSC03192

Southern Cross by Zemar Ahadzada

 In the Shenandoah mountains, as I am hiking I notice the sunlight reflect off the trees. The warmth of the sun provides a vibrant display of yellow and red. Light seeps through and warms my heart. In the distance, I hear finches and sparrows singing their songs. Their songs are followed by cardinals. The warm air rises as the sweat of my brow evaporates. The sun slowly finds its way to the horizon. Meanwhile, I look for my way back down.

DSC00377

Treetop by Zemar Ahadzada

1915000_10150228453975029_7330304_n

Shenandoah Waterfall by Zemar A.

 I am in the woods next to my home. The days are slowly approaching summer. The sun has already set and a blue dusk falls upon the trees. Everything is almost quiet. The electric generators and acceleration of cars create background noise that is often ignored. I wait patiently for darkness to fall over. Slowly, everything becomes blue. I get my camera ready as I patiently wait. Suddenly, flickers of light are set off. They flash systematically, every five to six seconds, as the males try to attract the females There aren’t many. Maybe, the ideal requirements aren’t met. I take the picture, but I can’t capture their lights.

DSC03308

Woods by Zemar Ahadzada

DSC03306

Searching for Fireflies by Zemar Ahadzada

At the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town I notice a fog on the far side of the mountain. It sits carefully on the top of three peaks. The sun reflects off the Atlantic Ocean behind it, creating a glare. Wind is blowing aimlessly at the top and I begin to put on a wind breaker. It is amazing how detailed one’s vision can get when one is carefully in the present. I notice the dassies and the starlings. I also notice the ants scurrying underneath the Mountain Fynbos. Unfortunately, not many of the flowers are in full bloom considering it is winter time in Cape Town. Nevertheless, the views are amazing. As I look down from the Mountain I notice the flickering lights of the cars and homes. The city of Cape Town is surrounded by the mountain and the ocean. It leaves for some wonderful pictures.

DSC02781

Table Mountain by Zemar Ahadzada

DSC02787

Top of Table Mountain by Zemar Ahadzada

These are some examples of my “good times” that are triggered through novel experiences. What are some of your good times? What were you doing at that moment? Also, why was that moment important?

 

Sufi Saints and Dargahs: Part 1

NIZAMUDDIN

The first night in Delhi was stressful as the hotel we had chosen was depressing. It didn’t have much and lacked basic sanitation. We took it upon ourselves, during the beginning of the night, searching frantically for another option – we were restless and filled with exhaustion. When we finally found something that fit our preference we took it with desperation. In the beginning, the trip looked bright, but now, not so much. I kept my cool and looked forward to the next day as I finished my butter chicken. I don’t know if I could say the same for the rest of them – my mother, aunt, and brother – surely I was tired and so were the rest of them.

The next day my heart was restless. I came to India looking for a sense of adventure. More so, there is a sense of spirituality – from what I hear – that flows within Hindustan; therefore, it is no wonder our first stop was in the Nizamuddin slums. It was in a busy market place that our taxi driver dropped us off and he left without any hesitation. The streets were dizzying – there was so much congestion. We tried to push through crowds, but it was helpless without any direction. However, with the help of a young lady carrying a baby we were helped to our destination. With a smile she pointed us onwards through a small gate that led us to the Markaz (market place or center) and there after the Dargah (shrine).

Praying at the Khana Jammat Masjid by Zemar Ahadzada

Through the narrow and winding roads of the Markaz we walked past street vendors and shoe-watchers. They asked for our shoes and offered to watch over them for a small token of appreciation. Without hesitation we walked past them. I am sure you can sense our anxiety, but there was no way I was walking barefoot through the street-filled pollution. It was covered in its shadow – the place was depressing.  I entered a world of blue. It is hard to describe, but It was some place new. In hindsight, I felt I entered another time period. At the very end of the markaz, we were left with a tough decision, to part with our shoes or leave sufi saint’s presence. In the end, we walked without shoes on the white tiles of his Dargah.

We followed the devotees – their feet covered in mud – they walked gently on displaced white tiles. I was enveloped by a community that I barely knew and so I stayed quiet and listened. It was a community of different backgrounds and religions. I could hear Qawalli songs resonate as the audience swayed with the saint’s blessings. I walked towards the Jamaat Khana Masjid where I performed my afternoon prayer.  When I finished I headed back to the Dargah.  There were people flowing from each direction. They carried baskets of petals as offerings, they tied strands of yarn on arabesque-laced marble, they rubbed their hands on his Dargah and asked for blessings.

The Devotees by Zemar Ahadzada

IMG_1074

Looking for Blessings by Zemar Ahadzada

The whole situation brought me into a sense of calm-tension. I was troubled by an anxious meditation (process of thought) – I was lost in hesitation. I pondered with careful observation. It was the sufi saint who suggested to his successor, Nasiruddin:

 To learn to be still in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life and to be alive and animated while at rest (1)

Dervishes were lost in deep trances of emotion. Hindus, sikhs, and muslims filled the mausoleum, a sense of plurality established, and an aspect of spirituality resonated. I could sense the sufi saint’s message. Nizamudin Auliya, a member of the Chishti silsila (Chain or order). His exoteric practices asked for pluralism and tolerance. His sense of spirituality shaped India and provided it’s flavor to the modern day. It was after he passed away that many built their tombs to be buried close to him. Within the Dargah, Amir Khusro and Shah Jahan’s daughter lie next to him.

Homoyun's Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Homoyun’s Tomb by Zemar Ahadzada

Islamic architecture and culture are scattered throughout the city. The Sundry Nursery lies in the north, while the garden-tomb complex of Homoyun lies east. The tomb of Homoyun is decorated in wonderful gardens and canopies. It was the sufi saint who attracted many followers, including the Mughal rulers, to the city. His love and tolerance for the poor brought many to his Dargah and with it the assimilation of the most dense collection of mediaeval Islamic architecture. The vast wealth of culture now inspires the development of Nizamuddin’s future with the help of Agha Khan Trust of Culture.

The sufi saint’s selflessness and unasked for charity in Ghiyaspur (now Nizamuddin) immediately diverted to opening schools and hospitals for the poor (2). It seems as if his spirit still watches over the city. His message remains prevalent in the slums of Nizamuddin. Once in disrepair, but now being rebuilt anew! It is a wonderful sight – for eyes that are depressed and blue. It is enlightening!  There is no other word, but inspiring! There is improvement in waste management and education. There is still a lot of work, but the culture of the past is slowly perspiring.

Foot notes:

1.) Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1390-1391). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

2.)  Jaffer, Mehru (2012-10-15). The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia (Kindle Locations 1471-1472). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.