Artists plant and paint “Pakistani flowers” in Amherst

In June, a well-traveled artist group from Karachi, Pakistan visited Amherst. But first, some background.

In 2014, Becky Howland and Mike Hannahan from the UMass Civic Initiative traveled to Karachi to finalize the Balochistan University Partnership, program funded by the U.S. Department of State. While there they were contacted the U.S. Consulate General Karachi to gauge their interest in helping a local artist group paint a mural at the Pakistan American Cultural Center (LINK). Of course, they said yes and they were soon side by side with “Phool Patti” with paintbrushes in hand.

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2017 – The year in books

Hi, here’s the list of the books I read in 2017. I averaged three books a month which I know I haven’t done since college. Besides that raw number the other remarkable thing about 2017 was the amount of fiction I read. I’ve said I’ve been on a non-fiction kick but that “kick” has lasted for 10 years.

I can recommend most of these books. Please ask me questions in the comments section if you are curious about any of these.

(In case you are wondering, in 2018 I’ve already read Ready Player One and I’m about to finish The Lovely Bones.

The 2017 List

(starting with the last book I finished)

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
Bryson, Bill

Orwell, George

Cloud Atlas
Mitchell, David

Daniel Shays’ Legacy? Marshall Bloom, Radical Insurgency & the Pioneer Valley
Stevens, Amy

“You’ll Like it Here.”: The Story of Donald Vitkus-Belchertown Patient #3394
Orzechowski, Ed

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Green Town, #2)
Bradbury, Ray

The Martian Chronicles
Bradbury, Ray

The Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood, Margaret

The Dread Line: A Mulligan Novel
DeSilva, Bruce

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan

Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London
Hamid, Mohsin

Fahrenheit 451
Bradbury, Ray

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
Finkel, Michael

Moth Smoke
Hamid, Mohsin

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam
Aslan, Reza

The Book Thief
Zusak, Markus

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate
Franken, Al

Alexander the Great
Cartledge, Paul Anthony

The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan
Siddique, Abubakar

Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring
Youssef, Bassem

The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe
Chambers, James

Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World
Armstrong, Karen

Exit West
Hamid, Mohsin

The Lovers: Romeo and Juliet in Afghanistan
Nordland, Rod

The Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan
Lamb, Christina

The Hobbit
Tolkien, J.R.R.

And the Mountains Echoed
Hosseini, Khaled

A Thousand Splendid Suns
Hosseini, Khaled *

Islam: A Short History
Armstrong, Karen

The Forty Rules of Love
Shafak, Elif

The Alchemist
Coelho, Paulo

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Hamid, Mohsin

America’s Hidden History: Untold Tales of the First Pilgrims, Fighting Women, and Forgotten Founders Who Shaped a Nation
Davis, Kenneth C.

Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History
George Crile

Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time
Armstrong, Karen

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’
Lodhi, Maleeha (editor)

Teaching for the first time


It’s one of those life experiences where I say “never would I have expected to have done this”. Not a teacher in the classic sense. I’ve never taken an education or pedagogy class. I have no teaching certification.

This summer I was asked to lead sessions about blogging and LinkedIn through my work as a communications manager. My ‘students’ were from the Balochistan province of Pakistan.  I was asked because of my experience as a communications practitioner and my experiences with Pakistan.

I worked with two groups, both for five week long courses on blogging and one for a session on LinkedIn. The first group was made up entirely of university faculty.

Repeat, my first teaching experience was to have professors and lecturers as my “students”. In my first class with them I made very clear that I would be “leading” not teaching these sessions and that I saw everyone as a colleague and not a student. I actually spoke very little outside of the first session when I introduced the concept of blogging and the last session where we wrapped up. For each session in between, I gave the group prompts or questions to help guide what they would write about. By the end of the course, many felt empowered by this new form of writing for themselves but also as a tool for their courses at their home universities.

I then led the next blogging course with college students from the same Pakistan universities. This group was different in that I saw them as my students and not my colleagues. The group had a different energy than the older, more professional faculty. But, they warmed to the concept of blogging and I gave them many prompts that allowed them to reflect on their experiences in the US.

The last thing I led as a teacher was the purest teaching experience. Over two hours with the college student group, I showed them how to use LinkedIn. Several of the students already had accounts set up so I tried to make the class as helpful as possible. We also took their profile pictures after class which I later shared with them to post.

IMG_6344I had a funny moment where I ‘caught’ one of the students in a social media post about my LinkedIn class. She simply called it “Boring” in a picture from the classroom. Since she and I were already connected on Instagram, I saw her photo and then commented, “Be bored all you want, just don’t post this picture to LinkedIn.” Funny enough, her next photo was a selfie we took together at the last class. Her caption this time referred to me as her “#favoritehuman”. Hmmm, ok.

All in all, I’m glad I tried teaching. I don’t know if it is my higher calling though I do enjoy sharing my skills and experience with others. I think I’ve earned a position to be able to do that and it feels good to be recognized as an expert in something.


Let’s raise the expectations for fathers!

I recently saw this article via Facebook, “What This Dad Did On His Daughter’s Last Day Of School Defines Good Parenting“.  It highlights a father who walked his daughter to school on her first day in kindergarten and her last day as a graduating senior in high school. The article talks about how important it is for fathers to “be there” for their kids and how this father is the definition of good parenting.

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Clothing as memory cues

I recently said goodbye to a few dear friends.

They weren’t people. They weren’t even animate objects. They were a pair of gardening gloves and a rain jacket. Continue reading

Heading down a history wormhole

Before and since my trip to Pakistan in January 2017 I’ve been reading a lot about that part of the world and about Islam. Both Pakistan and Islam were known to me, of course, but I hadn’t spent any time trying to study them or understand them past beyond what I would see in the US media.

I never planned out my readings in these subjects with any academic or scientific rigor. I was first guided by what I felt I needed to know before going to Karachi and Lahore. Since returning, I have been guided by what interests me and what might answer the questions that had accumulated for me from my trip. The books I’ve read have also been guided by the recommendations of friends both in and outside Pakistan. I am very grateful for their help!

Since returning from Pakistan, my readings continued about that country but eventually moved outside those borders and into Afghanistan and India. As I continued to read, my interests were also leading me further backwards in time and to other places connected via Islam.

For example, I recently finished “Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World” by Karen Armstrong. This book has started to help me understand not only the history of Christian crusading but also the possible roots of the “Middle East Crisis” in Israel and Palestine.

Within minutes after finishing this book I picked up “The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe” by James Chambers.  Much of the history I’ve read of the Pakistan region has included mentions of the Mongol invaders. While my current book centers on Europe it’ll hopefully be the start of a “deeper dive” of future reading about the Mongols who played an important role in Asian and world history.

Also on my list is “The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key to the Future of Pakistan and Afghanistan” by Abubakar Siddique. This book will be a return to my Pakistan reading roots and I hope will give me some historical background on this tribe.

“Finding religion” on the bookshelves

I was not brought up in a religious household. Both of my parents were raised in Presbyterian homes but Mom and Dad decided to not raise their kids (me and my older sister) n this way, opting to let us choose our paths when we were old enough to make that choice for ourselves. I’ve chosen to not take a religious path though I was curious in my 20s to attend Quaker and Unitarian Universalist meetings, both considered progressive and non Christo-centric.

In the back of my mind, I knew my curiosity about religion would get to me and I would pick up a bible or some interpretive text that help me understand the stories and teachings of the bible since in my experience as an American I have been nearly constantly surrounded by Christian references in culture.

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