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.


Death, dying and waiting

So lose not heart, nor fall into despair: For ye must gain mastery if ye are true in Faith. Quran 3:139

It’s the oddest thing
Discussing funeral arrangements
For one who has yet to breathe his last

And waiting, breathless
For news of his last.
When at least, he’ll be at peace. And rest.

Convincing oneself
Mourning is selfish
He must rest now.
In a better place,
Away from the cruel hands of this world
Surrounded, insha’Allah, by the fragrance of jannah

Over. And over. And over.
Losing track of where one ends
and the other starts
Not sure what to pray for.

Settling on this:
May our endings be beautiful.
And peaceful

La hawla wa la quweta ila billah
Inna lilahi we ina ilayhi rajeeun
To Him we belong and to Him we return

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.



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. 


Excerpts: And the Mountains Echoed

and-the-mountains-echoedKhaled Hosseini doesn’t disappoint with his third book – ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. He has to be one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading his next novel. While some say it seems like he writes about the same thing in all his novels, it takes a very talented writer to capture so many different and engaging personalities, stories and vantage points using very similar geographical and historical settings/context that he sets for his stories. Here are a few excerpts of the conversations, observations and reflections in the book that stood out to me–including the acknowledgement to his wife Roya “without [whom] this book would have died somewhere in the first paragraph of page one.”



By Khaled Hosseini

…country has been sufficiently chronicled…I can sum it up in one word: war.  Or, rather, wars. Not one, not two, but many wars, both big and small, just and unjust, warms with shifting casts of supposed heroes and villains, each new hero making one increasingly nostalgic for the old villain. The names changed, as did the faces, and I spit on them equally of all the  petty feuds, the snipers, the land mines, bombing raids, the rockets, the looting and raping and killing. Ah, enough!

‘Which are you calling me, deaf or lazy?’
‘No need to pick, I’m calling you both!’
‘You have some gall calling me lazy for someone who lies in bed all day.’

Now I was free to do as I wished, but I found the freedom illusory, for what I wished for the most had been taken from me.

They say, find a purpose in your life and live it. But sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.

The word senseless springs to mind, and Idris thwarts it. It’s what people always say. A senseless act of violence.  A  senseless murder.  As if you could commit sensible murder.

I see the creative process as a necessarily thievish undertaking. Dig beneath a beautiful piece of writing … and you will find all manner of dishonor.  Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly.

I was told I could have died. Perhaps I should have. Dying can be quite the career move for a young poet.

..if an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out, but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.

In my experience, men who understand women as well as you seem to rarely want to have anything to do with them.

I have a theory about marriage… its nearly always you will know within two weeks if it’s going to work. It’s astonishing how many people remain shackled for years, decades even, in a protracted and mutual state of self-delusion and false hope when in fact they had their answer in those first two weeks.

She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith,  against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you…at that moment, she cannot think of a more reckless, irrational thing than choosing to become a parent.

‘…you  dig a little and you find they’re all the same, give or take. Some are more polished, granted. They may come with a bit of charm—or a lot—and that can fool you. But really they’re all unhappily little boys slothing around in their own rage. They feel wronged. They haven’t been given their due. No one loved them enough. Of course they expect you to love them. They want to be held, rocked, reassured. But it’s a mistake to give it to them. They can’t accept it. They can’t accept the very thing they’re needing.  They end up hating you for it. And it never ends because they can’t hate you enough. It never ends—the misery, the apologies, the promises, the reneging, the wretchedness of it all. My first husband was like that. ‘

The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.

Markos wants to walk the earth and capture it with his lens.

He had a frozen, wide-eyed look to his face, I remember, the way some old people do, like they are perpetually started by the monstrous surprise that is old age…

The world didn’t see the inside of you..it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that.

‘James Parkinson. George Huntington. Robert Graves. John Down. Now this Lou Gehrig fellow of mine. How did men come to monopolize disease names too?’

When I was a little girl, my father and I had a nightly ritual. After I’d said my twenty-one Bismillahs and he had tucked me into bed, he would sit at my side and pluck bad dreams from my head with his thumb and forefinger.

..the badly framed poster of the Afghan girl from National Geographic, the one with the eyes—like they had passed an ordinance that every single Afghan restaurant had to have her eyes staring back from the wall.

If what had been done to her was like a wave that had crashed far from shore, then it was the backwash of that wave now pooling around my ankles, then receding from my feet.

…I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.

‘But time is like a charm, you never have as much as you think.’

..she had also very deep sadness. All my life, she gave to me a shovel and said, Fill these holes inside of me, Pari.’

I used to picture us as two leaves, blowing miles apart in the wind yet bound by the deep tangled roots of the tree from which we had both fallen.

They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.

Acknowledgements –  Without you, Roya, this book would have died somewhere in the first paragraph of page one. I love you.


Pray the Devil Back to Hell


“Joining with Muslim women would dilute our faith.”
We told them – ‘do bullets discriminate? Do they choose Christian over Muslim?’

At the end of the day, it was all about jobs.
‘I want to be Ministry of Finance. So I can steal.’
Are we supposed to pay you for killing us?

He said to me, ‘I will kill the people of Liberia, take the women with us and replenish the population.’

‘If you were a real man, you wouldn’t be killing your people. Because you are not a real man, they are treating you like boys. Now go and sit down!’

‘We love you. Drop your guns.’




You’ve Reached the Couple

You have reached the man
Who is not afraid to give it all up and start afresh
Who persists tirelessly night & day
To build an empire of his making
The man who puts family first and himself last
Who is not easily deterred nor easily fazed
You have reached Nebil

You have reached the woman
Who is full of soul
Who lights up a room
With rays of her high-pitched laughter
The one who stands tall
Regardless of how many times she falls
The woman who never ceases to be anbessa ye anbessa lej
You have reached Siham

You have reached the couple
Who have criss-crossed the earth
Sought the pearls
Beat the drums to their own rythms
And chose home

May love be your waking greeting
May respect cradle your every conversations
May joy never cease to be your constant companion
May blessings line your every paths
May understanding make up your very foundation
May progress be a daily ritual
May compassion dominate  your parting moments
May peace be your evening lullabies

May you put the ALMIGHTY at the centre of all you do
For if GOD is for us, who then can be against us?

Here’s wishing you a lifetime of bliss
May your today’s be beautiful
Your tomorrows bright
May the heavens smile upon your every days
Wishing you all the happiness and blessings this life has to offer.

With lots of love,




‘He who has nothing has ALLAH, and he who has ALLAH, has everything.”

“His alms are vain who does not know that his need of the reward for giving is greater than the poor man’s need of the gift.”

Quran 33:37 …you did fear the people, but it is more fitting that you should fear Allah…

Do not waste a drop of water, even before a flowing river.
-Prophet Muhammed PBUH

“Whoever amongst you sees anything objectionable, change it with your hand, if you are not able, then with your tongue, and if you are not even able to do so, then with your heart, and the latter is the weakest form of faith.” – Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

Be not so consumed by this fleeting world for there are more permanent things awaiting in the next

The greatest Jihad is within me, myself & I. Fight that battle before any other.

‘The ALMIGHTY places the heaviest burdens on those who can carry the weight.’

Greet with ‘assalam u alaikum’ and mean it. Who doesn’t need salutations of peace?

A true Muslim is the one who does not defame or abuse others; but the truly righteous becomes a refuge for humankind, their lives and their properties.
-Hadith The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as narrated by Abd’Allah bin Amr

Knowledge is supposed to make one humble, not arrogant, if the husk is full of wheat, it is lowered.
-Shaykh Muhammad Bin Yahya Al Husayni An Ninowy

You can only do to me, what the Almighty has already decided for me.
-Omar Mukhtar

“…the ALMIGHTY demands of people only that which is within the possibilities of each of them.”

‘Don’t ask the ALMIGHTY to guide your steps, when you’re not willing to move your feet.’

“don’t be afraid for God is with us always, and God never lets down people who have faith and patience. We are righteous, and right will always prevail against injustice and wrong doers.”
-Thaer Halahleh, Palestinian imprisoned and undergoing a hunger strike, 75 days & counting

Those who are quick to judge others, must remember that a day will come when they too will be judged. And it may be that their deeds are far worse than that of those they judge.

Respect your children and cultivate in them the best of manners -Prophet Muhammed (PBUH)

Those who give of their wealth in the way of God are like grain that sprouts 7 ears with 100 kernels in each ear. -Quran 2:261

‘He is not a true believer until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.’

Take one step towards ALLAH and He will take two steps towards you.

If it’s not meant to be, it will be. If it’s mine, nothing and no-one can take it. If it’s not, nothing and no-one can make it.

Proof, time and again that the plans of the ALMIGHTY are not in the hands of men and women though they may seem so.

Futile to resist truth. With the ALMIGHTY for us, who then can be against us and succeed? None.


I Didn’t Realize You Were a Poem

I didn’t realize you were a poem

I didn’t realize
That I could unravel your layers
With every line
That I could write you and re-write you
And you were always so forgiving
That I could mold you to my liking
And sometimes, you’d mold me to yours

I didn’t realize
That I could share you with the world
And still claim you as my own
I didn’t realize
How you so easily eased my sorrows
Just by being
That you came to define
A big part of who I am

I didn’t realize
That you enabled me to speak through silence
To see through the blind folds
To feel through the numbness

I didn’t realize
That you filled me with peace
That you helped me through today
So I could look forward to tomorrow
Propelled and not held back by yesterday

No, I didn’t realize that you were a poem.

I didn’t realize
You would sing the songs of my heart
That you could fine tune the lyrics of my soul
That you would hum the beats of my inner drums

I didn’t realize
That you could keep me grounded
That you could capture my dreams in flight
Without preventing them from flying

I didn’t realize
That you could be
Both teacher and pupil
Both pen and paper
Both earth and sky
That you could contain and liberate at the same time

No, I didn’t realize that you were a poem.

©Nebila Abdulmelik, September 2011



Today, September 28, marks RIGHT TO KNOW day. As part of my right to know, and yours, I would like to know who…

Who assassinated freedom
And buried it 10 feet under?

Who wrongfully convicted justice
And incarcerated it indefinitely?

Who orphaned peace
Scarring it eternally?

Who crippled progress,
Handicapping it permanently?

Who overthrew hope
And replaced it with fear?

Who paralyzed love?


©Nebila Abdulmelik, Sep 2011


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