18 life lessons you taught me daddy

It’s been eighteen years since you passed daddy. And though we miss you more than words can do justice to, you live on in more ways than one.

Every time they ask me my name, every time I sign Nebila Abdulmelik, I’m reminded whose daughter I am. You live in our memories, our dreams, our prayers, our thoughts, our poems. You live on in us and the munchkins who have your blood running through them – one who took your name as well as your ears and your countenance.

You live on in our mannerisms, the way we talk and walk – in our characters that seem to mimic yours.

You live on in the way we live our lives and who we are and who we’ve become – because of all the lessons you and Mommy have instilled in us. Here are eighteen in honor of the eighteen years you’ve been away.

1. Humility – that it doesn’t matter how high I get in school or wealth or status, you taught me to keep my feet on the ground, stay humble and never look down on others

2. ‎To look up. To see the stars. To appreciate the workings and magic of the Almighty.

3. ‎To be good to others – to be kind. That ultimately that’s what we’ll be judged on. Not how much money we have or how many degrees or how many acres but how we treat others.

4. ‎Not to be afraid of the dark. And in doing so, to allow our own lights to take shape.

5. ‎To be comfortable with silence.

6. ‎To fear nothing and no one but the Almighty. That ultimately it would just be Him and me

7. ‎To give the best of ourselves and the best of what we have to others.

8. ‎To love and devour fruits, in all their various shapes and sizes. To become a fruitaholic.

9. ‎There was nothing I couldn’t do because I was a girl. You kept reiterating that I was anbessa, ye anbessa lej. Perhaps my first lessons in Feminism.

10. ‎To be a father was to be present.

11. ‎That love could start in the womb. That a parent could love a child even before it was born.

12. ‎ Kelam faregh. That sometimes words are not enough.

13. ‎That you can’t always get what you want. That you must sometimes wait till Alghefra zezelema sa.

14. ‎That our prayers are not about the words we utter but rather our intentions

15. ‎What true, meaningful and deep friendships look like

16. ‎That there’s such a thing as more than a whole. More than 100%. Gobez we nus.

17. ‎That children can be confided in too. To spend time with both young and old.

18. ‎To be generous – with time and money – and quietly so. To make sure the left hand doesn’t know what the right is giving.

Thank you for raising us to be strong, grounded women, the daughters of lions. For these lessons and more, for all the love you showered us with, we’re forever indebted. Rest in paradise daddy.


17 Reflections of 2017

It’s been a whirlwind of a year. Two family weddings, complete career shift, travels to new destinations as well as seeing previous ones with new eyes, birth of the first boy in the family, namesake of daddy, conscious investment in creative parts of me, including my first photo exhibition and photography residency, lots of reading and learning and growing as well as saying goodbye to someone I’d never met…

Some of what I’ve learnt this year:

1. There’s no such thing as tomorrow. We don’t live forever. Do the things that you have wanted to, aspire to, plan to – today – it is all we have. Be with and see and spend time with the people that you cherish. Don’t put off the important things – there may never come a time again.

2. Take that leap of faith – if it works, well and good. If it doesn’t, dust it off and try again. You’ll be surprised at how the universe conspires to ensure providence. When you take steps in a certain direction, the Almighty makes sure those doors and windows along the path are wide open, awaiting you.

3. Point of life is not to be fearless but rather to acknowledge your fears and work to overcome them – sometimes over and over again. Appreciate the many work(s) in progress.

4. ‘Pluck a feather from every passing goose, but follow none absolutely’. Like this Chinese proverb suggests, listen to what others have to say, weigh their words and advice carefully but ultimately make and own your decisions in life. Don’t worry about what appears to be crazy or irrational as long as you are at peace with it.

5. Don’t be enslaved by a paycheck. There are lots of things money can buy – don’t ever let your sanity or your dignity be something someone can put a price on. Gibran’s words ring so true here: ‘they deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold. I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.’

6. Keep growing. Or stay hungry as a friend says. As long as we’re alive, we should strive for growth. When we think we’re all grown, that’s when we have the most growing up to do.

7. Believe in second and third impressions. Give a person and/or a place a chance beyond your initial or first impressions of them. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how wrong or off you are sometimes. Perhaps the benefit of hindsight or the rewards of digging deeper.

8. Be comfortable in not knowing. Be curious and open to find out and be surprised by whatever you learn or find out. Life is about discovering everyday.

9. There is power in beginning things. Begin today. As the African proverb goes, ‘the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.’

10. Your body is your first and most permanent home. Treat it right. Respect it. Be good to it. Care for it. Don’t litter. Same goes for the streets.

11. Document. To allow the coming generations to have a little bit of an idea of the kind of lives we led and the cities and communities we inhabited and were a part of. For posterity.

12. Don’t seek validation. Be comfortable with disagreement. Learn to stand your ground even if contrary to popular belief. Trust your instincts. Don’t second guess yourself. 

13. Don’t put your life in other people’s hands. 

14. Step outside of your head often. Test your assumptions. Challenge your conclusions. 

15. Be proud. Be humble. 

16. Don’t give up your power by believing you don’t have any. We often hand over our power – consciously or sub-consciously. We must reclaim it. 

17. Remember that this too, shall pass.


Today, on the 31st, I turn 31.

Following 30 lessons over 30 years posted this time last year, here are thirty-one lessons learned over the years and reminders for the years to come insha’Allah:

1. Put the Almighty first, always.

2. Don’t dignify nonsense. Regardless of its source.

3. It’s scary. Jump still. Headfirst.

4. Some things can be bought with money. Don’t let your dignity be one of those. Or your sanity.

5. You’ll be surprised at how unimportant something is when it doesn’t happen and the world doesn’t crumble. Don’t sweat it. 

6. Your capacity to come back after being beat down is much more than you imagine. Believe in it. 

7. Don’t allow your worth to be measured by others. Something so important shouldn’t be at the whim of anyone other than you.

8. Be kind. Most of all to yourself.

9. That thing you think is undoable…go and make it happen. It’s possible.

10. Master your mind. It’s more important than any other organ in and out of your body.

11. Bring all of you. Every part. Even when you think it’s not appropriate. No entity or person is worth only pieces of you.

12. Failure is good. It keeps us humble and grounded. Keep at it.

13. Games are essential. Play them often.

14. Laughter keeps you young and fresh. Laugh and do so out loud. Unapologetically. 

15. Exercise not only your body but your mind. Linked to #10.

16. Be present. Wherever you are, with whoever you are, be there and nowhere else. Multitasking is an overrated skill. The true skill we must master is the skill of presence.

17. Know your limits. Don’t compare your limits to others. Our bodies are built in a way that we know when enough is enough. Respect that.

18. Appreciate that everyone has differing value systems, ways of thinking about and understanding the world. A hareri saying goes: an kut khunu baytee, jenam khunu bayteenta. Asking for people to be like you is asking them to be crazy. Require of no-one to be crazy.

19. Allow people to be who they are. Expect of them and yourself nothing more or less.

20. Listen. Even to words unspoken.

21. Chase the sun. Sunrises and sunsets are daily miracles that most of us miss, either because we’re asleep or because we’re not alive to the beauty around us.

22. Seek storytellers. Travel is also possible through their tales.

23. Stop making excuses. Stop hiding behind the pretence of ignorance or bewilderment. Own your actions.

24. Declutter. Constantly and consciously. Our homes, our offices, our lives and most importantly our minds.

25. Use the best of what you have today. It’s only now that we own. Everything else that we get beyond now is extra. 

26. Find and breathe beauty. Even in the most mundane.

27. Fear none but the Almighty. Ultimately it’ll be just you and Him.

28. Devour knowledge voraciously. Read. Listen. Absorb. Share. 

29. Document as a way of preserving culture, history… Recipes. Duaas. People. Places. Moments. Keep #16 in mind as you do this.

30. Make time for the things and people that matter. Be both selfish and generous with your time. Discern carefully how and with who you spend precious time you’ll never get back.

31. Love wholeheartedly. Yourself first.


30 Years, 30 Lessons

It was perhaps apt that the big 30 was ushered in on three continents. Celebrated simply but beautifully surrounded by loved ones.

Here are some lessons that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to be goofy and have fun. If it’s pretending to be the tickle monster with a set of 4 year old twins or 8 year old munchkins, do it. Chase them, tickle them and savor their uncontained laughter that emenates deep from their bellies. You’ll find that soon you will also be echoing their laughter. Watch cartoons. Play. Unapologetically. These are the moments that make you younger and bring out the kid in you. Don’t be afraid to experience them.

2. Have a bucket list. Write down the things you think are even far fetched and impossible. You’ll be surprised how the universe conspires to make your intentions come to pass. Especially when you speak (and write) them loudly to the universe.

3. The best time is often now. Don’t leave things for later or tomorrow. There’s a Hareri saying which I’m sure is echoed elsewhere that says, ‘later is the brother of never’ or something along those lines…later or tomorrow either don’t happen or are consumed by 101 other things

4. Breathe Beauty. By this I mean that one must seek and appreciate beauty in ordinary spaces and moments. Beauty is not perfection. It simply is. We must be awake to it. It’s all around us. It’s the rays of the sun streaming into a room and resting on someone’s face…it’s the petals of a bright flower…it’s a full or partial moon that seems to light up the sky…it’s a pattern on a dress…or a colorful street…or laughter

5. I’ve realized how happy it makes me to see (teenage) kids who respect, love, appreciate and honor their parents. As parents, we must treat our kids as though they are responsible members of the family whose viewpoints are sought, heard and acknowledged. As children, we must never dismiss the difficulty of being a parent, making decisions that are unpopular and living every day for the betterment of family. Keep family ties – there’s nothing like family.

6. There are friendships that are so deep and pure and real that they turn into family. Don’t take them for granted. They don’t come along often. Treasure them and feed and care for them. They are often what keep you sane.

7. Learn to spend time alone. No matter what kind of person you are, whether ambivalent, introverted or extroverted – this is important. Learn to be ok with silence when there’s no loud company or loud music or chatter to distract you from listening to and getting to know and be at peace with yourself. If we’re uncomfortable with ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to be?

8. Go with your first instinct. Don’t second guess yourself. This is true even when the contradicting voice is external and not internal. You’ll be happy you weren’t easily swayed later on.

9. Similar to the previous one, don’t be afraid to counter the dominant or mainstream. Don’t necessarily rebel for the sake of being different but understand that being different, holding an opinion that doesn’t feature very prominently is ok. Don’t change who you are or what you think based on the crowd you happen to be or find yourself with.

10. Someone’s always watching. Your words, your actions are being recorded and observed. Even when you least expect it and by those you least anticipate to be watching. Sometimes by young kids whose thinking and values are being shaped. Act and speak in a way that you would stand by at any time. This goes for your digital footprint as well.

11. Be conscious. Whether you believe it or not, your existence on this earth has an effect. Whether that effect is on the environment, or on a community or a family. You matter. Make your existence count. Make sure that at the very least, you have left the world a bit better than you found it. That could be as simple as not throwing trash on the streets. Or trampling on plants. Or harassing animals. Make sure that if those streets, or plants or animals could tell tales about you, it’s that you walked and existed on this earth with respect. Karma is real.

12. Make time to spend time with the elderly. They were born in a very different generation and have rich stories for days. There’s so much his and her stories captured in their brains and etched in their memories that one can’t get from books. Or anywhere else for that matter.

13. Perhaps back to #1 and #12, spend time with kids. They come with a different energy and bubbly enthusiasm that’s not dampened by life and jadedness. In the same vein, don’t be the one to dampen kids imaginations. It will serve them in the future and reduce limitations they put on themselves.

14. Love yourself. All of you. Flaws and all. Understand that you’re a work in progress, and you must work on those things that are in your power to change. But in the meantime, love, respect and appreciate who you are.

15. Enjoy the present. And the journey. Celebrate the small steps and the milestones.

16. Don’t get stuck on plan a. Life often throws you surprises … and what you think is certain is not. Learn to be flexible like bamboo, which means that you’ll bend rather than break.

17. Don’t ever forget your infallibility. And your mortality. And who is really in control. It will keep you grounded and humble. Although this shouldn’t be an excuse for a laissez-faire attitude on life.

18. There’s a time for patience and a time for impatience. Learn to know the difference.

19. Impossible is nothing. Don’t be afraid to dream. And dream big. But don’t stop there. You must be ready to execute and wake up in order to realize those dreams. As a friend once reminded me, impossible itself is telling us, ‘I’m possible’.

20. God is the ultimate judge. We mustn’t condemn or critique others’ actions for we know not what is in store for us. Let us focus on improving ourselves first and foremost and that in itself is a big contribution to society.

21. Don’t underestimate the power of faith. At times it is the one thing that gets us through the night or a difficult situation.

22. Love. Deeply. Don’t be afraid of pouring your love into another. It has the power to transform and doesn’t drain your reserves.

23. Don’t underestimate the power and medicinal properties of laughter. It’s good for the soul and keeps one radiant and young. It reduces stress and adds spice to life.

24. Don’t give power to ludicrousity. If such a word exists. Don’t feed, react to or dignify nonsense.

25. Put the Almighty first, always. Stand by your faith, unapologetically.

26. Be curious. Yes they tell us that curiosity killed the cat. We don’t often hear the second part of that, ‘satisfaction brought it back’. Curiosity leads to exploring, learning and discovering.

27. Take on challenges. It leads to tremendous growth but also makes one realize just what one is capable of.

28. Feed and cater to your creative juices. Read, write, draw, imagine. Beautiful things can be created through this process.

29. The monster is often bigger in our minds than it is in real life, if it even exists. The sooner we face it, the sooner we realize it’s not spooky or insurmountable.

30. And one last one for good measure. Your best benchmark is previous versions of yourself. May we always strive today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today.

Disclaimer: you may have read these lessons elsewhere, or at least something similar and so am not claiming they’re original…perhaps some are lessons I’ve been told or read about and implemented along the way…but all are lessons I find to have worked in my life…hope you benefit from being reminded of them.


Running Circles

we are strong together

the struggles seem a-plenty
the solutions too far and too few
we squabble over space amongst ourselves
while our world is constantly shrinking
squeezing us too tight
that we must ration our breaths

we’re too busy running circles
we’ve dropped the basics along the way
it’s time
to slowen our pace
time to go back
pick up the pieces
of ourselves and each other we’ve left behind


Ramadan – Satisfaction of My Soul

I couldn’t put it any better:

‘…fasting is about gaining a deeper awareness and mindfulness of one’s self and, in turn, the world in which one is situated. From the outside it might seem like it’s about deprivation of food and drink. But by shifting focus away from a simple satiation of my stomach and looking more towards the satisfaction of my soul, I realize that are many different ways that I can nourish myself and many different parts of me that need to be nourished that I often times neglect, my heart being a primary amongst those….’
– Imam Khalid Latif

Jumah Kareem!


Paying Tribute to Maya Angelou – Every Woman Should

I am saddened by the news of the passing of Maya Angelou today at the age of 86. She lived an extraordinary life and touched so many lives. We celebrate her and her legacy. Today and Always, you will truly be missed Maya, but you will live on in everything you’ve left behind.

Maya Angelou

By Pamela Redmond Satran

enough money within her control to move out
and rent a place of her own,
even if she never wants to or needs to…

something perfect to wear if the employer,
or date of her dreams wants to see her in an hour…

a youth she’s content to leave behind….

a past juicy enough that she’s looking forward to
retelling it in her old age….

a set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra…

one friend who always makes her laugh… and one who lets her cry…

a good piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in her family…

eight matching plates, wine glasses with stems,
and a recipe for a meal,
that will make her guests feel honored…

a feeling of control over her destiny…

how to fall in love without losing herself..

how to quit a job,
break up with a lover,
and confront a friend without;
ruining the friendship…

when to try harder… and WHEN TO WALK AWAY…

that she can’t change the length of her calves,
the width of her hips, or the nature of her parents..

that her childhood may not have been perfect…but it’s over…

what she would and wouldn’t do for love or more…

how to live alone… even if she doesn’t like it…

whom she can trust,
whom she can’t,
and why she shouldn’t take it personally…

where to go…
be it to her best friend’s kitchen table..
or a charming inn in the woods…
when her soul needs soothing…

What she can and can’t accomplish in a day…a month…and a year…

*I had originally noted that this was by Maya Angelou – it has since come to my attention that the actual author of this work was Pamela Redmond Satran. Our apologies. However our tribute to Maya still stands. Here are 11 Ways Maya Angelou taught us to be better women.


Today, Let’s Fall in Love

today let’s fall in love



Take Time Out

Excerpt from Maya Angelou’s Take Time Out:

Use a minute
feel some sorrow
for the folks
who thinks tomorrow
is a place that they
can call up
on the phone.
take a month
and show some kindness
for the folks
who thought that blindness
was an illness that
affected eyes alone.

-Maya Angelou



by Max Ehrmann, 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. 


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