Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Year in London

Its been a month since I found myself at the arrivals terminal in Muscat Airport. Usually I can’t help but smile while exiting the door to the waiting area. This time I was genuinely scared. I was scared of being back, for what’s waiting for me once I exit the airport. A month later, I’m still as scared if not more. 

The past year I’ve spent in London was a good one. I might even step out of my comfort zone and call it successful in so many levels. I’m back with a Master’s degree, with knowing more about myself and a little bit of self confidence. 

When I first arrived in London and this whole journey started I found my self-esteem, self confidence and everything related to how I view myself and my capabilities visibly fall like the autumn leaves. I felt as exposed as those shedding trees in the cold and gloomy London days. I continuously questioned myself and if I’ll make it through. That autumn I set my goals for the year, made new friends and put myself out there for London to do me good.

Then came the chilly winter with its strong winds. Sending me left and right with every huff and puff. I’ve never felt more scared about whether I’ll be able to make it past winter, past all the winter wonder labs and all the studying. The colder it got, the stronger my fears shivered and I felt them the most. No matter what I did, nothing kept those fears calm. Winter felt like it was spent between the library and cups of coffee. Coffee kept me going, it always did.

By spring I left all my fears behind. I knew I passed my exams that once kept me up all night. Although I was a bit disappointed, I was glad I made it through and it was time to focus on whats next. I learned to love labs that spring, the anticipation of whether PCRs worked, the excitement when it was time to analyse the sequences and learning to appreciate the calmness of the lab. There was always something to look forward to.

Then came summer and as the days passed I wanted them to stop. Everything was coming to an end. Starting to write my thesis was also an indication of the start of the end. The support I got from my lab mates and supervisor was beyond what I expected. They were what I needed and more. They kept me going and always there to motivate me. Leaving them was the hardest part.

My year in London was not just a time to know myself better. It was also a chance to know my friends more. I got to see a side of them I’m so grateful I got the chance to. Their endless support, motivation and care is something I will always remember and appreciate. 

And now I’m back and confused. I don’t have a place to sit at and start a new journal with clear goals. I’m still stuck somewhere and not sure how to get out of it. I’ll continue to write and hopefully find my way out. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dear 26

Dear 26,

The last letter I've written was from my bed in London, this time I'm trying to sit comfortably on the one in Muscat. I got so used to sleeping on a double bed that my king size bed now feels too big for my thin body. I'm grateful for my sister who is currently too lazy to move to her own room and is sharing it with me.

A lot has happened and nothing has changed since I started writing these letters 2 years back. I still dwell in my insecurities. I've become more anxious and worried about things that matter and others that don't. I find myself constantly trying to pause the present because I'm too scared to face the future and what it has for me. I still hate uncertainties and still try to organise and label and categorise everything that comes my way. I still hide behind 500 paged books, swallow black coffee that understands my bitterness and eat less as the days pass. Before I know it I'll be back to 50 kilos (if not less), and I'm hoping for at least my thoughts to get lighter with it. I'm probably a coward, but I'm satisfied with the present and rather not lose it.

But that's not fair, I'm always my harshest critic. I'm now more focused I feel, more determined and more sure about certain topics. I have a tiny bit of self confidence back and I share things much easier than before. I've become goal oriented more than ever before and I think it's doing me good. I passed my MSc with Merit and while that might be a sign of failing to meet expectations I'm kinda satisfied with it, I just have to remind myself not to compare. I have a little bit more knowledge up my sleeve and that's always a good thing. And most importantly, I as a person changed and change is healthy.

The other day I was thinking I might want to start my PhD by the time I reach you. We'll see how things will go.

Best wishes,
The confused 24 year old

Friday, September 30, 2016

Documenting My Life | September

September was good to me and I can't seem to find the right words to document it. It has been an eventful month, I found myself in 4 different countries and reached my degree's end point. I'm now back in Oman and it's the first time I document this series from here. 

I woke up early on the 1st of September in Sevilla to catch a train to Cordoba. It was our last day in Spain and wanted to make the most out of it and see as much as we could. We took a 45 minute train to Cordoba, we took a quick walk in its old streets, bought myself a souvenir with my name in ceramic and visited the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. In terms of architecture, the Mosque-Cathedral was not as beautiful as other buildings we visited but I guess its understandable as its meant to be a place of worship. We spent less than 2 hours and we decided to head back to Sevilla to visit the Royal Palace. The palace was breathtaking and I can't explain the beauty of the details in the interior. Sevilla was definitely my kind of city and I can't wait to go back again. We ended the day by going to the airport to catch our flight to Portugal.

Our flight to Lisbon was in a propeller and I'd be lying if I didn't find it a bit scary. But we made it safely and now I could say that I've been in one and survived it. We did a lot of walking in Lisbon, visited the oldest bookshop in the world and bought a few books by Saramago, which is fitting since we were in Portugal. We walked up hill to the castle with a breathtaking view and walked around as well. We saw the old yellow tram, admired the azulejo covered buildings and enjoyed our surroundings. We had lunch at the Time Out which has some local restaurants and businesses under one roof. Our last stop was the National Azulejo museum, my favourite part of the trip. I loved seeing all the tiles in one place and I really wish I could turn one of the walls in my room into an azulejo collage! At night we headed to the airport to catch our flight back to London.

September was also the month my sister got rid of Twiggy, the wooden mannequin she has been carrying around and taking pictures of for 3 years. We went to visit Newcastle and she saw it fitting to leave him there, where it all started. My sister extended her stay for Eid and it was really nice to have her around longer. I spent my mornings in the library studying for my viva and my afternoons and evenings with my sister. Before she left, we filled her bag with as many books as possible so I have less things to ship back. 

On the 16th of September I did a practice viva with my supervisor followed by a farewell lunch with the lab group. It was really nice to see them all after almost 3 weeks and catching up with everything including my trip. My supervisor prepared me well and on the 20th of September I defended my thesis and was officially done with my MSc. I still can't believe the year has passed and I'm done! I'm very proud of my progress this past year, I've learned a lot from skill to more about myself. It feels good to know that the main aim of going to do my MSc has been fulfilled, I'm now more comfortable and confident in the lab. 

I'm now back in Oman and I feel I have rushed my trip  back. I should have stayed longer and eased myself into coming back. The future is scary but I'll take it one day at a time until I sort things out. October might be tough, I'm already worried but as my favourite quote says: "“Somehow, something always happens just before things get to the very worst... The worse thing never quite comes.” 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Dear 26

Dear 26,

I haven't planned this letter. I'm sitting on my London bed, writing this as a distraction from continuously worried thoughts. I'm worried about you, how I'll be and how everything is going to be. But this is not a letter about my worries. It's about the habit of doubting myself and I know bad habits die hard. I'm 24 and still suck my thumb.

It's hard to get back to writing letters after stopping for 3 months. You lose that connection you once created with a future self. But after 2 years, I shouldn't really stop that established mean of communication with the future. You know for the sake of hope and strength and all that cheesy stuff.

If you're at a time that you're doubting your abilities, skills, anything for that matter, then I'm here to pick you up. I'm here to remind you why you're continuously wrong. And as I write this, I'm reminding my present self at the same time.

I can actually point out when self-doubt started. It was after that D I got in Math during 9th grade and the C in Physics. You'd think that initial self-doubt would've gone by the end of 10th grade when I got both those grades up to an A. And no matter how much I tried to convince myself I was back on track, my subconscious always won. And it continues to do so.

Despite the self doubt, let me remind you what has been achieved in the past 2 years. First and most importantly, getting comfortable with labs. I have hated them since I was 19 and never thought I'll ever enjoy them. 2016 marks the year I not only get comfortable with the ideas of labs but also actually enjoying them. And to go with that, a thesis I'm actually very proud of. And when I doubted last night that I'm not ready enough for that practice viva, I actually did really well. I have continuously proven to myself that I'm better than my doubts and it's time to think that way.

I'm hiding the true meaning of this letter behind education. You and I both know that this letter has nothing to do with education. I'm staying strong from this side with lots of hope and faith that Allah has written what's best, and that I'm sure (with no doubts) is true. I also have faith that this is the right thing and everything will work out accordingly.

With lots of hope and faith,

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Documenting My Life | August

August was an eventful month. A lot has been done and lots of memories created that will last a lifetime. I'm writing this from our train ride to Seville from Córdoba and it's probably why this post might not seem coherent.

I started with a sweet goodbye. My best friend left London but I managed to have a heartwarming dinner with her and her family before they left. It was a good way to end their stay in London and I'm looking forward to catching up with her when I'm back in Oman.
Part of August seems like a blur and I don't remember many of the details. I was stressed with trying to perfect my thesis. Stressing over every detail. Reading it a thousand and one times hoping to spot any mistakes to fix and add as many details as possible. As stressed as I was, I'm glad I spent a good amount of time editing it as now I'm sure at that given time, it's the best piece of work I could hand in.
Sometime in August a friend came to visit. Throughout her stay, I've admired her dedication towards achieving her goals and her confidence with her abilities along with the work she produces. We walked around Shoreditch discussing random topics while taking photos of the area. Her stay was very inspirational. Her stay made me realise the more you're confident with yourself the better work you could present.

Having friends over always distracts my forever worried brain. After she left, I started worrying about my future after submitting my thesis. Will things go according to my plans or should I just wait and see what life has for me with its endless surprises. I'm not a big fan of the unknown, it scares me more than anything right now. But I can't do anything about it and the stresses me out. Everything stresses me out.

If I could ask for any pet, I'd ask for a chimpanzee. I felt for the entirety of August it's all I've thought about. A cute huggable chimpanzee. One that's fully trained and just there to play around and enjoy life without any worries. I'm yet to find a zoo in the UK that would let me pet one for a day at least.

I love days when I find something I lost a while back. I love finding them when I need them the most. Sometime during the month I found some emergency cash I thought I lost a while back. I found them at a time when I was short on money and it felt like I found them at the right exact time. When I first lost them I thought I'll just stop looking because one day I'll pack the place up and I'll find them then. I still think I found them at exactly the right time. It felt really good.

People travel all the time. They share pictures and memories when you meet them. They talk about what they liked the most and what they hated. They talk about the weather and atmosphere. You don't usually expect them back baring gifts, but when they do it's a totally different feeling. One of my friends went to Greece for a holiday and came back with a bracelet from an island she visited and got me a pot of Greek coffee because she knows I love coffee. The thoughtful gift made me appreciate her even more. I love giving gifts and I don't usually expect ones in return.

On the 23rd, my sister arrived to London. We spent the day catching up on the happenings of the past 8 months that we didn't see each other. Met a few friends and went to sleep getting ready for the big day. We woke up on the 24th got ready and headed to Hammersmith to submit my MSc thesis. On our way we documented my submission journey every stop of the way. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulder and it was time to enjoy the freedom before stressing over my viva. We went for lunch with some of the MSc course mates, went to visit the Science museum and ended our night with watching the Aladdin musical.

August was also the month we visited Spain, visiting 6 cities in 7 days. I had high expectations for Spain and it didn't fail me. I enjoyed my travel with the sister a lot, she has always been the perfect travel partner as we have similar interest. We visited Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla and Cordoba. Each city had it's own unique thing about it but probably loved Sevilla the most. I'm not sure what exactly made me like it the most. It's probably the mix of history, quiet-ish atmosphere and the people. So much beautiful architecture was seen in this Spain trip, my camera couldn't capture beautifully what my eyes could see. 

I'm looking forward to September but I'm not sure how I really feel about it coming. I'm excited for visiting Lisbon but everything after the end of our trip just scares.

P.S: Serendipity is a beautiful word.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

My Best Friend & Her Brother

I’m sure we all have at least one person in our life with an unexplainable attachment to. We care for them, love them, sometimes even become overprotective about them. There is nothing weird about caring about a person to such an extent, it’s odd though when this person is not someone you meet on a daily basis. You might even talk to once every year or two. Yet that bond doesn’t change. Faisal, known as Anoosh to his family, is one of them.

Anoosh is my best friend’s youngest brother. I still remember the day after he was born. My best friend, Fatma (or Fatoom as we call her), came to school with a bag filled with Patchi chocolate individually wrapped in blue and silver. She walked around giving each student in the class a piece of chocolate with a genuine smile, reflecting the love she has to the newest member of her family. We were 11 at the time, and I grew up with Fatoom loving Anoosh more and more as time passes. Her love to him, her care and protection, how she always remembers him in the tiny details around us probably rubbed into me. Anoosh, 13 years old now, became a part of my life before he even realised who I was.

My earliest memory of him was during our school’s annual bazaar. He was probably 2 or 3 at the time. We took him to get his face painted as a Spider-man and Fatoom bought him a fish. Fatoom being the eldest sister is like a second mother to him. You could tell he loves her from the way he holds on to her, the way he hugs her and the way he speaks about her. Fast forward 11 years and it’s still the same. Last weekend Fatoom came to my place for a sleepover and I could tell how much he loves her when he asked me why I’m taking his sister away. She was to leave them for less than 12 hours as we had plans to meet them all the next day. Their relationship is special.

Anoosh calls me Super-Mario, he always called me that. He laughed about it the first time he did and since then he stuck with it. Ever since, Super-Mario has always reminded me of him. I remember once going to their house and he ran to his father telling him Super-Mario is here. As embarrassing as it felt when it happened, I found it adorable. It’s the little things he says and does that makes him even more special.

Last night I went out for dinner with Fatoom’s family. I joined them as they made fun of each other like any siblings will do, I laughed till tears ran down my face and joined them as we documented the day with photos. While last night will always have a place in my heart, it won’t be just because of that. I was happy when he walked into the restaurant and said he wanted to sit next to me, when he recommended a dish and agreed to share a piece of his lasagna. I smiled and my soul smiled when their mother told me how he mentions me a lot. I held back my tears with a smile when he said he has 5 sisters and he mentioned me as one of them. He has 2 biological sisters, the other 3 are his cousins and I. I felt the love when his mother told me how one day he’ll walk me down the aisle and his reply was that he’ll make sure he knows the guy well before that.

Fatoom, Anoosh and their family will always have a special place in my heart. I’m indebted to their Aunt who taught me how to read and write. I’m indebted to their mother that always treated me like a daughter and for bringing such a wonderful family to this life. I’m indebted to Fatoom, for all the memories we’ve had and memories we’ll create. And I’m indebted to Anoosh for always saying the right thing at the right time. May they all live a long, healthy and happy life. Because seriously, each and everyone of them deserves it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Documenting My Life | July

It feels like I was conscious of July only in London's underground. I was in the company of books, stuck in my deepest and shallowest thoughts. Other than underground, July has been a blur. Yet July moved in slow motion, unlike the quick trains that don't have to be stuck in London's traffic. It gave me time to think about very random things, over and over and over again, from different angles.

*At this point I go back to my journal to know what else I have been doing this month*

This has been the first Eid in a while for me to spend it away from my family. It felt weird yet I was mentally prepared for it. I took lots of chocolates with me to the lab. Had different people come up to me with Eid greetings. I also received a big Cadbury bar as a Eid gift. I'm surrounded by great people in the lab and I'm grateful for that.

I love it when I unintentionally discover cafes in a quiet corner of a busy street. Prestat had good coffee and probably the best carrot cake I have ever tried in my life. I spent my time there reading and writing and it actually felt good.

I decided to do something different and meet an online friend for Dutch pancakes and coffee. We got along well, laughed a lot and discussed very random topics that didn't link to each other. That's always a sign of good company.

I went to Cambridge twice this month and something sparked in my brain when I was there. I imagined a future I could associate myself with. Cambridge might be the place for decision making when times get tough. There is enough greenery to clear your mind. Enough history for inspiration. Enough space and air for clarity.

I've introduced myself to Virginia Woolf this month and I'm not sure where she has been so far. I read an essay she's written but it's definitely on my list to read more of her work. She made me think a lot about Women's contribution to fiction and I feel like I need to list down my favourite books one day and see how many of them are actually females.

This month I've appreciated the time I've spent alone more than ever before, always in the company of some kind of hot beverage (more often than not a cup or two of Americano) and a book. This month I've read:

  • Why I write by George Orwell
  • مهزلة العقل البشري لعلي الوردي
  • A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
  • The Private Life of The Diary by Sally Bayley
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Marking the first month I don't pick up a fiction book to read. I actually don't mind it.

I'm grateful for the way July ended. Spending time with my best friend and reminiscing the 4 years we've spent in Leeds. We caught up with 7 months worth of gossip, news and updates. Today I've laughed till tears ran down my cheeks, had fun at Madam Tussauds and had the perfect dinner at Five Guys.

August is a month I've been looking forward to for a while now and it's finally here.

Let the fun begin!