Prompstagram

So I have a confession to make.

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I can’t get enough of Instagram.

Let me tell you some reasons why I am sort of addicted to IG (short for Instagram):

  • IG has a more ‘cosy’ platform compared to Facebook. Of course, both have different uses but when it comes to photo-sharing, IG is better thumbs up. And what I like is that the photos are not greatly magnified like in FB.
  • You get to edit and filter photos so that your pictures come out looking pretty – and your blemishes are easily concealed. There are apps solely for this purpose and the ones I mostly use are PhotoGrid, Fotorus and Perfect365.
  • Hashtags. I don’t use Twitter so I only use hashtags on IG. I love using hashtags to check out places especially other countries and cities. Right now I’m always checking out #newzealand #lakewanaka #mountcook and the hashtags go on.
  • Also through hashtags can you find common interests and people. Several months ago I started inculcating fruit smoothies and green smoothies into my diet to clear up my skin. So one day I was looking for simple green smoothies to make and literally typed #simplegreensmoothies in the tags search bar. And wallah, there really is an IG page called Simple Green Smoothies run by 2 ladies Jadah and Jen. They even have a website for it and constantly update it with awesome education on fruits & veggies and all things good for your nutrition.
  • Following celebrities on IG. There’s nothing like daily visual updates of my favourite celebrities to feed the fan in me.

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Can’t Get Enough

Why I Wear What I Wear

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My hijab signifies me as a Muslim woman, as well as covering other parts of my body leaving the hands, feet and face uncovered. Besides that, Islam does not have any auspicious colour that we should avoid wearing.

So for me, I love a mixture of bright colours, prints and textures. My style is pretty practical, I go for comfort but at the same time colourful. I’m not fussy, jeans, skirt and maxi dresses go well with me anytime. Except that I’m a bit more formal at work and don’t wear jeans to work unless it’s dress-down Friday. Also at work (and many times after) I am usually in my glasses; unless I am in the mood for contact lenses. I think these stylish nerd glasses add character, no? And they reflect the writer in me…

On days I have to dress-up extra to go to festive events (top right, top left and second from top left), I usually wear the traditional Malay dress, consisting of a top and skirt (except for the blue and pink dress which is actually a kaftan and an inner).

I sometimes colour block my shawls to my outfits, like the bottom right and second from bottom right outfit. Otherwise, I just match them according to complementary colours in my outfits. My style reflects the way I am; confident and colourful (which I like to think so!).

In future years, I see my style similarly colourful but hopefully more chic and sophisticated. We’ll see how my dress sense will evolve over the next couple of years!

Inspired by Daily Prompt: The Clothes (May) Make the (Wo)Man

One Last Salam

The night my dad passed away, I was using the computer in my brother’s room.

I heard the usual turn of keys at the door lock, and my dad entering the house. It was 11pm and he’d just came back from work. Usually I would go out and salam his hand (kind of like a handshake, but an informal one, something you do out of respect and something I’ve always done with my parents) but that night, for some reason I did not. I continued using the computer. I can’t even remember if I acknowledged him or not.

A couple of minutes (or maybe more) later, in a panicked voice, my mum called me and both of my siblings.

I went into my parents’ room to find my father in his last few moments of life.

He’d had a sudden heart attack and the impact was immediate. He was 47 and does not have a history of heart illness. But he was, a smoker. And several years ago, my granddad too had passed on due to the same cause of sudden heart attack at 63 years old. When something is meant to happen, nothing can stop it from happening.

It has been seven years since his passing. I miss him everyday.

If time were to have stood still, I would rewind it to the moments before God took him back. I would get my butt out of my computer chair, out of my brother’s room and salam his hand. Or maybe give him a hug. Who knew it would have been the last one I would ever have?

For now.

I’ve grieved enough Alhamdulillah and I can honestly say I don’t regret or feel guilty about it. Regret and guilt is something no one should ever have to live with. I don’t wish for things to be different, but I do think about it sometimes. Those everyday moments we tend to take for granted.

Till then, I look forward to the day I meet him in Paradise where I’ll run up to my father excitedly, salam his hand and embrace him with a big, long hug. I am thankful for this life is not permanent and a better life awaits us. Perhaps in Paradise, insyaAllah. If God wills. Janji Allah itu pasti.

“Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to  create the like thereof?” – Yea, indeed! for He is the Creator Supreme, of skill and knowledge (infinite)! Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command is, “be”, and it is! So glory to Him in Whose hands is the dominion of all things:  and to Him will ye be all brought back.” Surah Yaseen, 81 – 83

Inspired by today’s Daily Prompt: Standstill

Practice Does Make It Perfect

I did something brave recently.

I asked for feedback on my writing on the Weekly Writing Challenge this week.

Asking for feedback is something I don’t normally do. Half of it is due to me being confident enough of my writings, half of me is not prepared to hear any negativity about it.

I am always border lining on confidence and doubt when it comes to my writing. After having the reading aloud exercise during the writing workshop I attended, I started getting more brave to hear feedback – to be honest I have no problem with the good, it’s the not-so-good ones that I have a problem digesting. I’d like to believe I’m getting there, though.

All this while, my writing strength is actually stronger in Malay language compared to English language. With that I interned in a Malay newspaper where I had to write news articles everyday. Alhamdulillah, I have always been good in writing in my native language even if I don’t speak it as proper as it should be. But as a writer I’d like to always learn and develop my language skills and writing style.

I really admire Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, whose careers as professional storytellers allowed them to touch the hearts and reach out to so many through their “30 Days 30 Mosques” project in Ramadhan few years ago (the website, 30mosques.com, is no longer available). The way they wrote the stories about the different Muslims all over the state made me feel touched, made me think, made me laugh. My favourite story was “Nor’s Letters”, an inspiring and touching real-life love story of David and Nor. I also love Yasmin Mogahed, her writings are amazing and truly connects to the heart. The first article I read was “Why Do People Have to Leave Each Other?” and it continues to be my one of my favourite articles ever. And then of course, J. K. Rowling; Harry Potter practically accompanied my secondary school life. When I grow up I want to be like them; write and share inspiring stories.

Back to the feedback, since it was my first time participating in the challenge it was an accomplishment to actually even finish it given the weekly deadline. Afterwards I asked my sister and close colleague to read it (I know, even though I only asked two people, that is something coming from me) and…be a critic. Some of the points they shared were:

  • Story is very narrative and descriptive
  • The flow and content is good
  • The part on the prayer could be more powerful if it was a dialogue
  • Needs to be less descriptive and more engaging, more touching
  • Lacks emotional aspect

Fuhh. That was really something huh? I must thank them for being honest with me. I guess if I were to have a talent, for now, it would be the ability to bounce off feedback immediately (instead of like going round in circles and come back in a week or so…)

Now I need to go acknowledge my bravery, take it all in and go write some more.

P.S: Any feedback gladly welcomed at mardmood@gmail.com 🙂

Inspired by Daily Prompt: Practice Makes Perfect?

Summit. (Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue)

“Where are you?” I asked Khadijah, my sole female climbing buddy for the Mount Kinabalu expedition.

“I couldn’t make it up,” Khadijah replied.

“What do you mean?”

“The altitude sickness got to me and I had to climb down halfway. I’ll meet you guys back at the start point.”

My heart sank. Five of us had reached Laban Rata, the mid-point rest house where we were to rest for the night before climbing up to the summit. We were now waiting for the rest of our team members and I was on the phone with her, separated by an altitude of 2,000 metres.

Khadijah went on to explain that she was having breathing problems and felt nauseous at 4 km onwards, and as much as she wanted to continue on, the rangers had advised her to stop. There have been been several cases of climbers meeting a fatal death due to the decreasing oxygen in the increasing altitude so I was thankful that Khadijah was okay.

But this would mean I had to continue the rest of the climb up to the summit without her, as the only girl in my team. I felt upset, scared, and somewhat, alone.

Girlfriend company

Khadijah, or Dja as she is affectionately called, and I first met during a rockclimbing gathering with some friends. She was a friend of a friend, and our similar interest in adventure brought us together. This expedition was our first trip to the mountains together so we had developed a sisterly bond through our trainings.

There were only 2 girls in the team, which meant I depended on Dja for girlfriend company. Our 18-men team had consisted of 13 Malaysians, all guys, and 5 Singaporeans, consisting of Ezriel (who is also Dja’s fiance), Musaddiq, as well as his uncle, affectionately known as Uncle Man. Team captain was Abang Amirul from the Malaysian team.

At the start of Mesilau trail, we had positioned ourselves at different points for safety reasons, seeing that we were outnumbered by the number of guys in the team – me at the front and she at the back. So I was not aware of what was happening until I reached Laban Rata, 3,272 meters up in altitude. By then, there was nothing I could do but wait till the next day when we would reach Timpohon Gate, the end point…

Strength

After finding out about the news, I conveyed it to the rest of my team who was as shocked as I was. Later on I found out from Ezriel that Dja would be spending the night at a place near base camp, alone. I tried to gather as much strength as possible afterwards.

I prayed to God to keep both of us safe, in two different places. I prayed to God to keep me warm enough as the temperature had dropped and it was almost freezing. I prayed to God to protect me from altitude sickness as we were going to be in higher grounds. I prayed to God to give me strength to reach the summit and the wisdom to be OK if indeed reaching the summit was not meant to be for me.

Night Climb

At 12am we started our climb up to the summit. Coupled with our headlights, thermal wear, jackets and windbreakers, we headed off in the dark and cold night into the dark, always mysterious forest. There were many climbers from various countries and nationalities, but in the night only their accents differentiated them out as quiet chatter filled the air.

It is this same air, silently thinning as we go up, that threatened the breaths of several climbers. As we go along, some people had thrown up due to nausea from altitude sickness. It was scary to hear this in the silent night as every sound was magnified. I made a silent prayer for them to be okay. Also, I found myself getting breathless and so sipped my hydration pack of water more frequently than usual.

Lost…

My group had planned to gather at Gunting Lagadan hut, where some of us stayed, before proceeding to the gate leading to the start of the summit climb. However, in the darkness of the night I had unfortunately lost my sight of the hut and by the time I realized this I was already several steps ahead.

Fearing being lost of the tracks in the dark and ending up not knowing where I was, I did not turn back but instead continued on following a group of Japanese climbers in front of me. Ironically, I found comfort with their presence as it indicated that I was going the right way, and that I was not lost.

…and Found

Halfway through, I stopped an sat on a big-sized boulder to take a break and drank some water. Few minutes later, I saw 2 of my team members, Ridzwan and Baizuri, the fastest guys in my team. At that moment, the sight of them had never been so comforting. I had been climbing on my own with a different group and now, seeing them meant I was in familiar ground again. Perhaps God wanted me to feel this way so that I could appreciate the struggle. As happy as I was climbing alone, I was of course, happier climbing with my group. There is nothing like familiar territory to make you feel comforted.

This familiar territory then went on to question me, wondering why in the world did I start the summit climb without them. Umm, sorry guys. Totally didn’t mean to. And then another 2 of my team mates Musaddiq and Ezrieal appeared, wondering the same thing. You can question me all you want, I thought, I’m just glad I was found. At that point, they were my family for the expedition, and you know how families can be. They annoy you but you love them anyway. I must add that they were also happy to see me as they had been wondering where I had been all those while. Thanks, guys!

Step by Step

By now the terrain had gradually changed from dirt tracks to steep boulder-like tracks. It was more difficult because boulders can be slippery. Hence due to the absence of trees and easily accessible branches, there were strategically placed ropes at certain spots and these really helped me navigate my way up. It was also getting harder to breathe as per normal, and we had to stop every now and then to catch our breaths and drink up. I just went step by step because at some points, I just did not have the strength to speed up. It was all mental from then on.

The last checkpoint we stopped by was the Sayat-Sayat Hut, which contained a small office where the rangers would record your name by checking your tag as you go through this checkpoint. This was for the certificate that you had indeed summited Mount Kinabalu. On the way down, the rangers would double-check again with the climbers to make sure who reached the summit and who did not. Every climber would get a certificate regardless of reaching the summit or not, but the difference would lie in the color (summit in color, non-summit in black & white) and of course, the text. After a brief rest at this hut, we continued on.

I swear this last few moments to the summit felt like the longest journey ever. The summit was just right in front of me, but it was not. Every time I get close to it, I’m not freaking there yet. It was so frustrating and the mental aspect of it was excruciatingly painful. Trying not to think of my tiredness, as well as accompanied by my team mates who put their strength and ego aside to wait for me, I tried with all my might to just put one foot forward and go.

Finally, the summit!

After an excruciating and very slow climb, finally the summit, the real one, was now in sight. It was already daybreak and we had been climbing for almost 6 hours. But there was one last obstacle. The terrain here was an all-kinds-of-sizes-boulders, vertical uphill climb. The good thing was that even though it was uphill, it was not as steep as the previous terrain and there were a lot of literally climbing up with your whole body, hands and all, to get up. Again, all mental from now on. 80% mental strength and 20% physical strength.

When I finally, finally reached the summit, Alhamdulillah, all thanks to God, I was just…speechless. Just in awe of the smallness of myself against God’s majestic mountains. And the view, it was tremendously awesomely amazing beyond words can ever describe. As I stood at the summit point, thinking of Dja, thinking of my late adventure-loving dad, thinking of my upcoming wedding, and then everything else that happened prior to this expedition which almost did not happen, I thought, it’s not about reaching the summit. It was about many things, but it was never about the summit to begin with.

Out of the many things it was, one word was what it was to me: Humility.

Weekly Writing Challenge

mardmood: This post is also part of the series “My Kinabalu Story” based on my expedition to Mount Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia on 26th September to 1st October 2012. For more chapters go to ‘Kinabalu Khronicles’ in the Categories section.

All Roads Lead to Home

Daily Prompt: Bookworms

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…and Rome, too.

I’ve started planning my trip to New Zealand and these two books have been in my head these days.

The Road to Mecca is about the journey of Hungarian journalist Leopold Weiss, or Muhammad Asad, to Mecca, on how he discovered and then embraced Islam.

Wild documents Cheryl Strayed’s journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in US after the passing of her mother, in dealing with grief and coming to her own.

I’ve enjoyed reading both books for many different reasons. These two stories, as well as their writing styles, couldn’t be any more different. However, a distinct similarity between these two amazing journeys, in my opinion, is not about the place itself.

But about finding a centre. Finding Him.

Everyone’s journey is different, but in the end all roads lead to the same place – the Creator.

A Tribute to Criticism

Daily Prompt: Thank You

The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).

Criticism. I have always had a love-hate relationship with criticism (leaning more towards the hate).

When it comes to compliments, you can see me smiling the whole day thinking of it. Likewise when it comes to being criticized, my whole day goes by with that criticism in mind.

Lately however, it seems that the All-Knowing has been trying to tell me to suck it up, accept it, be OK with it and rise above the criticism.

I know these criticisms only serve to make you better, but why does it have to be so painful?

Because the best lessons come from the most painful experiences.

And sometimes only through painful experiences do we get closer to Him.

Allah has mentioned this in surah An-Nahl, verse 53: “And whatever you have of favor – it is from Allah. But only when adversity touches you, to Him you cry for help.”

However, something interesting happened through these criticisms. Something magical started to unveil. It made me think of my strengths, and that I should go ahead with the fitrah that Allah has guided me through. At least, when you are criticized for following your fitrah, you are standing for something.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” – Winston Churchill.

Like my ustadh in my Tuesdays “Don’t Be Sad” class (based on the book of a similar title) says, “We can view criticisms positively as a way to improve ourselves. In our distractions, Allah sends others as reminders.”

And last but not least, Aristotle said, “Criticism is something you can avoid easily – by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.”

So to Criticism, I don’t necessarily like you, but I thank you.

Exciting Next Destination!

Daily Prompt: The Excitement Never Ends

Tell us about the last thing you got excited about — butterflies-in-the-stomach, giggling, can’t-wait excited. 

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Source: 100% Pure New Zealand

Planning my upcoming trip to New Zealand next year, if He wills!

I have always LOVED mountains and places with absolutely stunning sceneries. Whenever I think of the beautiful sceneries in NZ, I’m just in awe! Imagining myself in Queenstown, Laka Wanaka, Lake Wakatipu, Milford Sound and the list goes on… You know those scenes in Lord of The Rings? Can’t wait to be there!

I feel giddy thinking of the possible activities we can do such as kayaking at Lake Wanaka, skydiving, white water rafting, just cycling and walking around the place exploring the beauty that is Allah’s lands. Beaauuutifuuul!

Getting excited now! *jumps around*

Writing Workshop for Budding Journalists

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In the Name of ALLAH the Most Gracious the Most Merciful

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a writing workshop organized by Simply Islam. Titled “Social Media and How It Changes Things: Tips for Budding Journalists”, it was conducted by Saeed Saeed, a journalist with numerous publications and who is currently writing for The National. He is also currently working on his side project, MSpiration, “an online series of interviews with inspiring Muslims from all walks of life”.

The workshop aimed to cover these 3 things:

1) VALIDATION
In this social media world where information spread faster than light, how do writers sift through and validate the information that we have? What are some of the tools or processes that we can go through to ensure we are not spreading untruths?
 
2) SOCIAL MEDIA
With ever-increasing social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Storify and others, how do we capitalize on such platforms to benefit our writing? How do we use them to create, collaborate and share our written work?
 
3) STAYING INSPIRED
What do we do if our muse disappears? Find out tips from Saeed Saeed, a journalist who writes regularly for The National and also constantly updates his writing project, Mspiration. 
***
My first forays into journalism

Before I begin sharing about the workshop, I thought I’d share on how I got interested in writing and the world of journalism.

My first forays into journalism was in 2007 when I had the opportunity to intern in Singapore Press Holdings, with the Malay newspaper Berita Harian. I was attached to the Business Desk, or Ekoniaga and it was the perfect opportunity to combine business, writing and Malay language. I studied Accounting & Finance but did not yet want to work in my direct diploma related job. I was still in the mood of exploring other options. The internship ended in 2 months, but I continued writing for BH on a freelance basis.  One of my most memorable assignments was an overseas assignment in Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. Students from a business competition had won a homestay trip to Kampung Pelegong, Negeri Sembilan and I was sent to cover their experiences as well as write about it. An important thing I learned during my time in BH from my mentor, Kak Haiza (or Ekoniaga reporter Norhaiza Hashim) was to write from an angle that would make the article most interesting.

Then in 2011 I had another journalism opportunity when I worked with IslamicEvents.sg. That year, IE was in charge of managing Ramadan.sg, the annual Ramadhan campaign by MUIS. My role was the Chief Editor of the website; writing and editing articles from a group of freelance writers. One of the highlights of that project was interviewing Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, the first Malaysian astronaut, on his experience fasting in space during Ramadhan. MashaAllah, that was one inspiring interview! Through these experiences I discovered my love for writing and coming up with stories. To me, being a journalist brings about many opportunities to meet new people and new experiences and I just love the whole process of an idea becoming a story.

That’s enough of my story and now let’s move to the subject of this post, the workshop! I found the workshop to be interactive, engaging and interesting. I learned so many new things and I thought Saeed Saeed’s sharings on his journalism experiences were eye-opening and amusing. I am just going to share most in point form as how I jotted down in my notebook:

Validation of facts:

  • Statistics
  • Names (Tell me how you spell your name)
  • Quotes (Do you go back to the person to rerun their quotes?)
  • Positions (People change jobs and positions all the time – find out their current position and/or location

First Obtacle: YOU!

  • Why are you writing this story?
  • What’s your motivation?
  • What’s your intention?
  • What do you want to do with this story?
  • What do you want from the story?
  • It doesn’t work when you’re trying to please everyone
  • But don’t be a slave to your ideas. Be open to changes. Are you open to the story changing?

Second obstacle: Reliability of sources

  • Wikipedia is not a source – use it as background information, check the references instead
  • What kind of sources are you finding?
  • What sources are you going to cultivate?
  • Without your sources there’s nothing you can do
  • Just because you’re a creative writer does not make you free from research

How do you define your relationship with your contacts?

  • Key word: Empathy and Respect
  • Balance between being empathetic and professional relationship
  • If you do your job the best that you can, people will respect you
  • Even if you write something that people don’t like. Not everyone is going to like what you write
  • Journalism is a “social professional” job

On Social Media

  • Different social media platform for different uses. Eg. Tumblr for purely visual platform, Facebook for a chatty platform, WordPress for a writing platform, Twitter for reactions, trending, announcements…
  • Importance of #hashtags
  • Use your facebook to give a preview of your work
  • Use them so nothing is wasted
  • Look at the platform strength and go with it

The 5-min jump

After that session, we had to do an exercise called the 5-min jump. Saeed told us to “write about something you noticed today on the way to the workshop”. Just write and write, without any editing, as much as you can in 5 minutes.

Then, we were asked to read aloud what we wrote to the class! It was kinda embarrassing at first, to be honest. Then we were asked to listen to what everybody wrote and pick out certain words that call out to us. As the writer, we were asked to note down the feedback from others. We were then asked to condense our original passage into only two sentences, using the words that others have highlighted to us.

For example, this is what I wrote:

I noticed my friend’s brother on the way to the building, at the bus stop. I remembered Huda Lee (my friend) and that I had just visited her house with some friends last Saturday. It reminded me of her son who has bambam cheeks! It made me think of her strength and determination in life. Her strength inspires me. She is somebody who is not afraid to take risks.

The audience highlighted to me words that struck out to them; bambam cheeks, strength, determination.

This is my revision, condensed:

Huda Lee reminds me of strength and determination. She also has a son who has bambam cheeks!

Saeed said, doesn’t it now sound sharper? I would definitely have to agree! Although I was initially embarrassed to read out my paragraph, especially the non-existent word “bambam cheeks”, it turned out to be the highlight of my story. Another wonderful thing was listening to the way everyone wrote. All of us had our own distinct way of writing, MashaAllah. The words that we chose, and the rhythm in which we arranged our ideas. The exercise was also a way of us finding our own voice in writing. No doubt it would take a while to find it, you have to keep writing and editing… but it’s a start!

Some other points during the workshop that I found to be really useful on:

Staying Inspired

  • When you write free articles, you can afford to make mistakes
  • Once you write, you are a journalist
  • Even if you write crappy stories, it’s your crap – be happy with it
  • Your ideas cannot be photoshopped, that’s what you bring to the table
  • Each idea will generate another idea
  • Your first draft is gonna be crap, but you gotta own it
  • Suspend all facts and grammar from the first draft
  • Stick to a regimen. Write everyday
  • We read a lot but we forget to “hear”
  • Be someone on whom is nothing is lost – Henry James
  • Write away and don’t look back
  • Writing is a race between your creativity and your doubt
  • If writing is your fitrah, go ahead with it!

My first drafts are definitely…crappy. Haha. But from now on I am so going to own it! Thank you Allah for this knowledge 🙂