Thursday 27 September 2007

Beware! Muslimah at Work

Having fun with the air con at work, it has been blasting out freezing cold air the last few weeks so everyone is coughing and sneezing and this afternoon its suddenly turned tropical; good to sweat out the cold symptoms everyone is getting I guess.

Aside from this little hitch, the last few years of work have presented their own challenges for me as a Muslim woman. I have worn hijaab since half way through university so this was something that was there right from when I started working. I find that whenever I start in a new place everyone assumes that I must be very reserved and quiet and far too serious to joke with (I wish!). Some people presume I must be the new temp rather than their new manager and some even seem to be wondering if I can speak English. I have learnt that it is my job to manage perceptions about myself. One of the biggest issues I have had is shaking hands. A great way to make a strong first impression; with a firm handshake, only I don’t want to shake hands with a man. Usually I try to avoid this by having my hands full of files or saying hello very quickly and rushing into whatever we are supposed to be doing so that handshakes are forgotten. However occasionally I have to explain to people that I don’t shake hands and their responses vary - embarrassed, understanding, respectful or occasionally a little insulted. (When my husband worked for a wholesaler, he often met with female company reps and would just say to them the only woman whose hand he could touch was his wife - which would just make them go aaaahh!).

Another thing I do to affect the way people see me is dress as professionally as possible. Although I have worn abaya since the last two years, I co-ordinate these with a smart jacket, matching khimar and smart pumps (I know I shouldn’t wear them but I love my heels – you can tower over all your staff). Aside from that the hijab forces people to look at you as a person to be respected rather than another bird at the office with nice legs or big breasts. Plus if you see my beloved giant mock-croc bag you know I mean business.

When I first started praying five times a day, I’d miss any prayers that fell during work hours and make them up at home. However one of the benefits of working for the government is that in the last few years most government offices have put aside place for prayer/meditation rooms, so there is no excuse to miss prayers. The real issue though is making wudu. This is usually in the disabled loos (for privacy) and can be a mission at times. At my current office, the sink is high up and almost too small to fit your foot in. When I was heavily pregnant my main concern was not what if I should fall over but what if I put my fat swollen foot in the sink and the sink came off the wall (I’m serious, this has been a major fear through all three of my pregnancies). The upside though is that your prayer becomes an oasis of peace in the middle of the day. A dawah too as often people walk in and see you and are awed by the beauty of the Muslim prayer. Maybe will put up a post with my thoughts about dawah and work some time soon.

Anyway, almost time for me to escape from this sweltering human jungle.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Happy Mama Feeling a Bit Left Out.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to see if there were other women in a similar position to me out there (other reasons include I’m a bit of a show-off astaghfirullah and also that I was inspired by the likes of the wonderful Sunni Sister, Umar Lee, Writeous Sister Speaks, Precious Modesty and Indigo Jo Blogs – whose blogs are far more cerebral and important than this one mashallah). Anyway, I find my situation a bit unique. I don’t quite fit in with the school-run mums because they all see each other every day, whereas I see them occasionally, although a few have been lovely and very friendly and made things easier for me because of this.

All the young hijabi mums mostly do not work and many are very judgemental when they find that you do work, often more-so the ones born and raised here, many of whom are very well educated (these are often the mothers who home-school, organise Muslim play-groups and run sisters circles. I am in awe of them and to be honest a little bit fearful of them sometimes, expecting to be told off for something). The ones from “back home” (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia etc – this is a very mixed neighbourhood) are often surprised that I work and some are honest enough to say that they wish they had the time/nerve/English to go back to school or get a job.

The people my age at work (and in general) don’t have kids, home, husband, in-laws etc to contend with (alhamdulillah) and so often I feel that I do not have a lot in common with them, especially when many people my age are most concerned with music, I-pods, trainers, the latest skin-flick or drinking and clubbing (muslim or not) which kind of don’t interest me (at all). Most of the working mums here are quite a bit older and just want to do they’re days work and head out first chance they get. All of my closest friends are just getting married or have not had a child yet except one, who every time we see each other smile knowingly whilst we drag along our shopping and kids. I know there are sisters out there like me: teachers, public servants, office workers, doctors and lawyers and allsorts else. I hope this blog can, amongst other things, be a medium for me to learn from them and be inspired by them.

Tuesday 25 September 2007

Dodgy Neighbours.

I mentioned these guys in a previous post. When we first moved into this house one of the bonuses we soon found was that we had absolutely lovely neighbours on both sides and we soon made friends with a few of the more gregarious people living on the road. However, about a year or so ago, two families related to each other have moved in, one on the opposite side a bit further down and the other behind our lovely next-door neighbours (their back gardens touch). I hope I don’t sound like a big snob, but boy are they rough! At first they just hung about on the road smoking and blocking the way for my pram to get through, then they started speeding up and down the road in their old banger cars at night (rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…clunk..clunk). Since then there has been a big rise in car radios and other items being stolen from parked cars at night. I maintained that it probably wasn’t them and despite what they look like, they seem harmless. My husband on the other hand was adamant it was them. He never leaves his car radio in the car at night, the one night he forgot – yep, it was gone.

Soon after this, I was performing my Isha salaat at about 12pm and some crazy 70’s disco music started up really loud from the house behind. My husband ran out into the garden and I could hear him shouting at them (OI SHUT UP!! SHUT UP!! OOOIII SHUUUUT UUUP!!!!!!! – I tried not to giggle and break my salaat astaghfirullah), they carried on regardless, until about 12.30 when they suddenly stopped and my hubby came in and went to bed. In the morning I found out why he was looking so pleased with himself. When they ignored him, he pulled some pears off the tree that overhangs into the garden and started aiming them at the revellers, after about a minute of this pummelling they switched off the music and all ran inside.

Didn’t think much more of this except when walking Little Lady to school saw a nice car parked on the road round the corner to us with its front passenger window just smashed out (my husband noticed the radio was gone). Still didn’t want to think it was them. Then yesterday hubby spoke to the guy who lives directly behind us; he is truly fed up of them. On one side he has one of the families living next to him, on the other side he has an empty plot of land with a creaky old shed in it, which said merrymaking family have been using as a social club. He decided to have a look one day and found it full of purses, handbags and other items like condoms. One of the wallets contained a number on an invoice and on calling it he found the wallet belonged to a brother in a nice part of town. He said that someone had smashed his front window a year ago and whilst he and his family were sleeping, burgled his house, took his wallet and the car keys for his Mercedes and stole his car CD-player and other items from his car.
Hmm, I don’t think we should go stomping up and rounding up the two families up, but nor should the whole matter be ignored. Think I might just e-mail my councillor, who is a very good helpful man, not about the families, but about the plot of land being misused and the items being found there.

In the meantime more and more of these guys happen to be congregating on our road and the main road it adjoins, during the day, I think they come in from the next borough and a few from other roads locally (what you thought they worked? pah! What’s really worrying though is their kids don’t seem to go to school). They drink all day, race their cars and talk very loudly (although can’t complain about the last bit I’m Punjabi). Up until now just been ignoring them thinking even if they are different they are no trouble to anybody, not so sure now.

Mr Removal Man

I usually try to keep on top of things, but with Ramadan here there are piles of washing everywhere (how do three kids go through enough stuff to clothe an army? Little Lady’s clothes are covered in paint, Little Man’s in mud and grass, and Gorgeous’s in baby-food), sink is always full of dishes (i.e. right up to the tap, on the window-sill, the counter and the sink drainer) and house is a tip. Alhamdullilah, you can’t be gorgeous and keep a perfect house ;-).

My husband started his business recently, he does removals, delivery and house clearances, so he keeps turning up with all sorts of thing, the other day he turned up with beautician course books (ahem, I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with them) and a very cool, very heavy clock that looks like a car tyre. The hands and the spokes all blend in, so at suhoor and iftar time, we all sit there peering up at it for ages, think I will paint the arms. A few days ago he had a customer who’s uncle used to run an electronics business (that’s Asian’s for you – uncles everywhere) and left all his stuff behind at her house, she gave them to hubby to flog (printers, camera’s, a maaassive TV etc) and split the proceeds. So at the moment my front room looks like a mini-warehouse, and we have to keep the curtains shut in case the dodgy family down the road catch sight of the stuff (might do a post about them).

Last week he did a warehouse move and the owner gave him a case of little olive-oil bottles (the baby-massage type), a crate of Fanta and a wholesale pack of loo-roll (will be useful seeing how many relatives like to descend on our humble home). What more can a girl ask for?

One day he turned up with a giant mirror the size of one of our walls (he and his brother tried jumping on it, then he bashed it with a hammer, it still didn’t break, so he brought it home – just as well, I don’t like to see things destroyed or wasted). In the end we sold it for £30, plus he charged £20 to deliver it to the guy who bought it!

On the downside they did a house-move for brother-in-laws friend who paid them by giving them a car (I still maintain it saved him from having to pay to get it scrapped). I spent a good chunk of my maternity leave growing flowers in pots for the front garden, they were just all blooming at the same time (fuchsia, mini-rose, some stringy anemone’s, freesia’s), when this lovely rusty silver Sunny Datsun (I think that’s the right name) turns up and is parked right in front of the pots so you cant see them from the street. Then we found out that in-laws are coming, so we had to clear our spare-room out and had no-where to put the stuff (Asian’s can never, ever, ever have enough storage). All the stuff went into the car. So we have it parked outside full of bags, boxes, a pram and an enormous teddy in the driving seat. Only consolation is my husbands big van is parked on the road just outside the house, which obscures the view of our whole house and front anyway.

So you can imagine what my house looks like at the mo (3 adults, three kids and endless junk) and why life has become chaotic. Two more in-laws due on Saturday, so more helping hands inshallah – plus Eid pressies hopefully.

In a way this has been good for me. I am so used to clock-watching and order and routine and having everything just so, that the only way to deal with the mess is to chill out a bit about the state of things and stick to what is important: taking care of the little kids, the big kids and myself and also making the most of Ramadan (don’t you always feel you never made the most of this precious time?).

Hope that all of my brothers and sisters are keeping in good health, that you are able to worship as much as possible, and that all of your dua’s are being accepted. Ameen.

Ramadan Kareem

“Ramadan Kareem”
There finally got round to saying it (after the first third has passed). Hope you are all making the most of lovely Ramadan. The time is flying by; the ashra of forgiveness is already gone. How can that be? I must have tonnes of stuff I still have to say “sorry” and “please, please, please forgive me” to Allah for and the best chance is already gone. No guarantees that any of us will see next Ramadan, and when the refuge of this beloved month is gone how much less will our ibadat and dua’s be worth? May Allah give us the effort to make the most of this time and benefit from it as much as possible.

Monday 10 September 2007

My grandmother

Have a week off work as its Little Ladies first week of school. Her first day went great, she had an argument with a little boy over the play-dough and when we went to pick her up, Little Man managed to make one of the boys in her class cry (I have no clue what he did, I didn't see and LM would'nt say). She absolutely loved it though. Still looked a bit nervous this morning, but their new teacher is an angel; hugs and kisses and big smiles for her whole class.

So this morning I am being a house-wife (ha ha ha - is there still such a thing?) and putting my home in order. Dad-in-law coming over to stay from Pakistan on Thursday so have to get our junk out of his room. Mother-in-law and brother-in-law will follow later in Ramadan, so hopefully by Eid the house will be packed to bursting. (I wonder if I will be so chirpy about this in a couple of weeks - anyway nothing can get me down on Eid - oh except last year when I waited all day and realised I wasn't getting anything then burst into tears half way through the second day of Eid - I think hubby will know better this year).

Anyway may go visit gran today, she lives with my parents and expects to spend every day I have off work with her (didn't tell her had week off). She lived with me for about two years before my Dad got fed up of our crazy living arrangements and took her home with him (which happens to be about five minutes walk away) Looking after her was the one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have done. She has osteo-athritis so cant walk further than the bathroom, she is partially deaf and sees with a magnifying glass (Little lady broke the last one) and she is one of the sharpest people I know. She was amongst the earlier group of immigrants from Pakistan and followed my late grandfather here in the 1960's. At that time all of the (South) Asians in London mostly knew each other and my Grandparents were always very hospitable and social people. Because of them I grew up in a full and busy house and that is what I try to emulate in my own home. Even now that she is mostly confined to her room she still gets guests most days (much to my mums chagrin) and she sits and talks with them for hours. A lot of family friends who have known her since they were young and are now my parents age and have lost their own parents see her as a mother and come to talk to her when they are down.

I was her carer from the time I was expecting Little lady until after I had Little Man (about two and a half years). She was much more work than my children as anyone who has looked after an elderly person will testify. But she knew so much about looking after a baby (having seven children and dozens of grandchildren and now eight great-grandchildren) and gave me better advice than even the health visitor could. I would leave the baby with her whilst I was in the kitchen and she would recite Quran or tasbih whilst she watched the baby. Our house had guests most days(for Muslims guests bring blessings and honour into a home).

She is also a great story-teller, she has a mind which has oftened been likened to a super-computer by freinds and family and will recall details of a story like it happened yesterday (although she has a tendency to go off on a tangent half-way through and also tell you the names of the last twelve generations of the person she is talking about). For someone so old and pious she is also a great mimic and loves taking the mickey out of other old people (defo a role-model!!). If you annoy her and you are from one of the families she knows she will innocently recount a very embarrassing story about your granddad from back home or when he first came here.

I think she was happy in my home because there were so many young people (my parents are very nice and proper) and we used to pester her into going out places with us so she wasn't stuck at home all the time (My husband took her to the park one time and started chasing pigeons with her wheelchair - while she was still in it, she threatened to knock him out with her walking stick). I think the other reason was my little ones - those bundles of grubby noisy joy.

Some things I dont miss are washing her dentures for her (yuck, yuck, yuck) and washing her walking stick (thats my gran for you) but she gets my sisters who are still at home to do that for her (mainly long-suffering sister gets stuck with that job as she is the kindest and most helpful - the other two think work or chores of any kind are bad for their health).

I think I might go get Little Lady after school and go visit gran today (still not telling her I have the week off though)

Thursday 6 September 2007

Little Lady's First Day at School

Little Lady's First Day at School
Have day off work today as Little Lady's first day at infant school, looked so little to be wearing a school uniform. She wasn't very pleased about the early morning but brightened considerably when she saw her new teacher who is absolutely lovely. Felt so sad to leave her, but must have been so much harder for the stay-at-home mums and all the children who haven't been to nursery before. Its like breaking a peice of your heart off and leaving it somewhere else whilst the part thats left inside you aches away (sorry to be so melodramataic, but thats how it feels to me).
Anyway gave me time to go through all the stuff have been accumulating all year for Ramadan and Eid. Going to make my Ramadan gift baskets over the weekend so will try to add pics when done. Split the stuff by who will get it (girls, boys and little kids - in our family we only tend to give to those younger than us, I'm the oldest of my siblings and and all my cousins so maybe that tradition needs to be reconsidered!) and stashed it round the house where hopefully little lady will leave alone. Rest of the bitty stuff I have stored in two bags - one for ladies party favors and one for kids party bags. These will be for my after Eid party. Also went through my kids toys and pulled out Macdonald's happy meal toys, key-rings, badges and allsorts of other things for the kids party bags (waste of money to buy these ready made)I know it seems kind of shallow to be thinking of Eid before Ramadan has started, but thefeason I do this is so that firstly I can put it all away and forget about it till right near Eid. Secondly I remember growing up thinking how great Christmas looked but not being able to join in. My father was a strong traditional Muslim, alhumdulillah, so no tree, no presents, no joining in the school nativity play (lots of good films on telly and lots of cheap chocs after Christmas, so not all bad). I can see why he did this now, but I want something for my children thats as much fun for them. So over the last few years I have made a tradition of giving gifts rather than straight cash, having a big party after Eid for all the ladies to meet up and bring their kids, getting everyone excited in the run-up to Ramadan and generally harrassing everyone into joing in and meeting up. I try to keep the cost down as much as London is sooo expensive and also I know that Allah does not love wastefulness. I buy lots of the stuff at 75% off and pound-shops through the year and stash it and I make my own gift baskets, gift boxes and cards.
Anyway time to go get Little Lady and see how her first morning went.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Crafty Mum - Eid Cards

As things have gotten so hectic right now I'm glad that I made a whole load of my Eid cards in June whilst I was on maternity leave. Few more to go (if I ever get a spare second) and I will be done. Sorry the pictures arent great, kooky little sis gave me a hand at taking them as I am still getting the hang of the digital camera lark.