Saturday, March 22, 2014

Egypt Travelogue - al-Qāhirah IV


The El Hussein Mosque
Click by Danish Henry
Cairo is a city of contradictions, just like other cities of the developing world – of sorry slums (called ashwa’iyat) and soothing spas, of abject poverty and envious wealth. It has a network flyovers and underpasses to ease a crowded Cairo and Egyptians have a better civic sense than ours. 

Cairo Traffic
Click by Danish Henry

The mosques and churches of old Cairo bear testimony to the diversity of groups that have ruled this city. Infact, our good guide informed us that Cairo’s official name ‘القاهرة al-Qāhirah literally means ‘the Conqueror’.

While I was in Cairo (March 2011), I witnessed no protest or civil unrest. Banks doing business, stock exchange recovering, school buses picking up kids and leaving those who were late, patients being operated; in a net shell I witnessed normal routine life.

A number of medical students from Ain Shams asked me about how I, as a Pakistani, viewed the Egyptian uprising. I do the same when I meet someone who is not in our shoes – their analysis (if it is) from the scratch, empowers me with fresh perspective but it may also be misleading as the neighbors grass is always appear greener. Overall, it is an educating experience to watch ourselves through the lens of a foreigner and in fact an opportunity to locate similarities.

The Alleys of Khan El Khalili

Source: Google Images
The Khan El Khalili Bazaar in downtown Cairo is a centuries-old souk with small shops, coffeehouses, restaurants offering local food and the ubiquitous 'shisha'. People from across the world can easily be located here. The revered Al-Hussein Mosque is near the bazaar.

The El Hussein Mosque
Click by Danish Henry
The shops sell a plethora of collectibles and Khan El Khalili can be a shoppers’ paradise with sharp bargaining skills.

While visually scanning the shops, I wonder if the Pharaoh were to roam the alleys of Khan El Khalili with me, how would he react to the conversion of his culture to a business enterprise?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Egypt Travelogue - al-Qāhirah III


Click by Danish Henry
Click by Manthan Mehta

The Egyptian Museum is housed is an orange-colored edifice where ancient Egypt is concentrated and giant statues stand to welcome you. It speaks volumes of how ancient Egyptian Kings constructed their immorality in stones. 

Click by Danish Henry

The Egyptian Museum is bottomless pit of knowledge where one can spend hours and still be left with some sections to go through. One section whose mention is essential is the mummy room. The mummy room is a large black-tiled room with transparent boxes for the scary mummies. Seeing dead bodies that are more than 2500 years old is an unexplainable experience. Our guide tells us that not only were humans mummified, animals were also, as evident from animal mummy room with their canopic jars. Canopic jars are vase-like structures which we would use for decorating garish-coloured plastic flowers.

Participants of the 19th AIMSC 2011.

The boy king Tutankhamun’s section is yet another attraction. The perfected-to-precision face mask of the king is 11.5 kilograms of pure gold. This sections has personal belongings of the King (including a beautiful scarab), the tombs items especially the gold sarcophaguses. Our guide, carrying the Egyptian flag, tell us that mummy of King Tutankhamun was damaged by it’s very own discoverer, in an attempt to remove the gold mask from the mummy’s face.

On exiting the museum, one is opened to L-shaped shop selling Egyptians books, souvenirs, alabaster statues, clothing items among others.


Close is the charred building of the National Democratic Party, set ablaze during the Egyptian uprising (February 2011). At a walking distance is the epicenter of the Egyptian uprising of 2011 - El Tahrir Square/Liberation Square in Downtown Cairo. 

The square is a busy piece of land ever plied by roaring vehicles of all shapes and sizes, and recently by the ordinary Egyptian who simply believed in the promise the country has to offer. The square has a gray statue of national hero Omar Makram and close by is the headquarters of the Arab league.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Egypt Travelogue - al-Qāhirah II


The Sphinx at Giza.
Click by Danish Henry
Click by Danish Henry

Adjacent to the Pyramids, the mythical creature Sphinx rests with its silent gaze. The Sphinx is a load of stone craved into a lion with a human head (and a damaged nose). I listen to stories, perhaps myths, about Greeks travelers who were questioned by the Sphinx and so on. The group is also shown diggings done by treasures seekers/stealers.

The Sphinx at Giza.
Click by Manthan Mehta

The favorite thing to do, for travelers, at the Sphinx, is to kiss it. This is accomplished by meticulously positioning the camera, creating a visual illusion and the impression of proximity to the Sphinx’s lips.  

There is a small square-shaped fenced crater at the entrance to the Sphinx. According to tradition, some money in to the crater can fulfill your wish.


The Nile in Luxor.
Click by Danish Henry
Next day, we visited the Nile – the lifeline of Egypt for centuries for the famous Nile Cruise which is a night at the Nile with local cuisine and captivating Egyptian music. The oriental dance is the show stopper at the Nile cruise.

I noticed that with almost all servings, a kind of dip is served, called 'tahina'. Also, the 'shawarma' I ate in Cairo is significantly different from the one available in Karachi. In a nut shell, the Egyptian is a gustatory delight.

S for Shukriya and S for Shukran

Source: Google Images

At dinner, I meet an Egyptian girl, she introduces herself as ‘Shukriya’, and I tell her that in Urdu (the Pakistani national language), it means ‘thank you’. She replies that in Egypt ‘thank you’ is ‘shukran’.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Egypt Travelogue - al-Qāhirah I


My journey started when I boarded an airplane bearing the insignia of Horus – the Egyptian god of sky and vengeance. I was bound for the city of a thousand minarets because my research article was selected for oral presentation at the 19th Ain Shams International Medical Students’ Congress organized by the Ain Shams University, Cairo. At the airport, I am bombarded with taxi drivers. 

In Egyptian Skies.
Click by Danish Henry   


Click by Danish Henry
There could not have been a better place to start than the Great Pyramids – a place believed to be celestial consequence. Of the 135 known pyramids in Egypt, the Great Pyramids at Giza are the largest stone buildings on planet earth. They are titanic structures standing tempered in a sandy desert and is the only wonder of the ancient world which has stood the erosion of time and survived the ferocity of mankind.   

A Pyramid at Giza.
Click by Danish Henry

@ the Pyramid of Khufu.
Click by Jetmir B Sejdiu

The Pyramids are an epitome of manual dexterity and architectural excellence - a marvel of ancient Egyptian engineering and a worth quest for Egyptologists. The vicinity of the Pyramids is invaded by hawkers, frequented by keen learners, bustles with holiday seekers and merry-makers and camera flashes abound as for some the place is no less than a photography studio. The Panorama is a close by open space giving an immaculate view of all the four pyramids.

 @ the Panorama
Click by Jetmir B Sejdiu
The Opening Ceremony
Click by Danish Henry

Late afternoon, we were taken to a Papyrus factory and briefed about the centuries old art of paper making. I faintly recall the mention of papyrus in the Bible. I am glad to be the owner of a Papyrus. In the evening, the opening ceremony of the congress vibrated with applause for the recent Egyptian uprising. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

How can education systems and businesses develop a broader approach to STEM skills and make related professions more attractive?

by Héctor Ponce - an Argentinean techpreneur & Chief Financial Officer at C-Labs, Argentina. Héctor is an Android developer and loves to travel. He tweets @p11arkad. 

The question itself is the wrong one to ask.

If we make those careers “more attractive”, we will only continue to create workers who do not think differently, who settle for mediocrity, and who are only interested in the next paycheck. By making them more attractive, we are going to be bribing students into those occupations.

The professionals, the best at their craft, are the ones who discovered their passions and worked on them. They are the ones who understood that it is ok to be who you are and do what you love to do. They are the ones who push the human race forward.
If we want to create more people like that, what we should be asking is “how do we encourage people to discover and nurture their passions?”, “how do we inspire people to never lose touch with their natural abilities?”, and “how do we provide channels for their manifestation?”

We are all born with tremendous capacities for creativity. Every child is born a genius. Every child is imaginative and curious. At the same time, every child has different tastes, skills and talents.
That’s why I believe that there is no lack of talent. There never was, and there never will be. The problem is that in today’s systems of mass education, those skills we are born with, are neither appreciated nor rewarded.  In fact, they are repressed and underestimated.

We allow to be pushed by this sadly view of human capacity, and from a very young age we forget what our talents are. We adapt this way of thinking as our own, we don’t question them and we apply them on the next generation. Therefore we become part of an apparently never ending cycle, continuing a process that feeds itself. We accept the advice from teachers, friends and family that however well intentioned, end up making us unable to connect properly with our individual talents and passions.

Source: Google Images

In order to foment engineers, technicians and scientists, who will strive for innovation, who will excel at what they do, and who will give us hope for the future, we have to do three things:

1- We need to promote awareness of the extreme importance of nurturing natural human gifts along with an understanding of how different individuals have different talents.

2- We have to stop giving so much value to standardized tests, which only measure some kind of intelligence. Tests which left aside things that a score could never indicate.

3- We must educate the young ones to live a life with purpose and meaning while working on things they love. We must encourage them to pursue their higher callings, to share their unique talents to the world, to set goals and to dream.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

ISFiT Diaries XII - Post-ISFiT

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

The flights back home were long and tiring. While I waited for my flight at Oslo, I read the comments written on my back and I couldn’t stop smiling. It was heartening to read your kind words.

My Souvenir from Montenegro.
Click by Danish Henry

Back home, the first thing I did was eat ‘biryani’ (spiced rice with chicken and potatoes – Karachi’s specialty). While I unpack my luggage, I recollect what day I wore this jeans and so on. I decorated all souvenirs on my study table. Still overwhelmed by the ISFiT experience, I held on the ISFiT bracelet which was now the physical manifestation of my bond with ISFiT, the workshops, the energy that kept us going. Days later, when I severed it, it was like severing my connection to ISFiT. But I still miss the banal voice in the AtB bus announcing ‘munkegata’.

Relics of ISFiT
Click by Danish Henry

Now, I’m back to routine life, striving for excellence. I love you guys and I believe we will meet one day, as Richard with his unkempt hair, would say it, ‘If you just believe’.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014

ISFiT Diaries XI - The Experience called ISFiT

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

There was so much happening at ISFiT at all times, that I didn’t realize until the last day that 10 days elapsed like smoke in the air. These 10 days has been of learning and unlearning, of discussion and dialogue, of fun and fruits, of agreements and disagreements, of plenary sessions and parties, of dancing and dahls, of HahoHe and our host, of cheese and cheers, of listening and laughter, of mediation and music, of skiing and spiceless food, of freezing temperatures and warm embraces and of check-ins and check-outs.

Source: Google Images
The city of Trondheim will bear witness that 450 students from all over the world left their lives behind and gathered at Studentersamfundet as global citizens. They gathered to celebrate diversity, for hope, for the future, to tell the world that we care, but more importantly, we gathered to trade ideas.

We all came to ISFiT as strangers but we leave as friends – friends for life. I never really thought that Studentersamfundet would become like our home and the workshop people our family. I never really thought that living in temperatures below -15 C° was a good idea. I never really thought I could like cheese. I never thought that I could become best friends with Megha.

Click by a Trondeimer 
The experience called ISFiT was kickass, personally enriching, professionally rewarding, and financially challenging, it was simply amazing – a memory for life. These 10 days will always be remembered as one of the most amazing times I’ve ever had.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

ISFiT Diaries X - In the End - Last days at ISFiT

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

Bananas for Monkeys
Click by Danish Henry
I still wonder why our workshop was called the monkey business workshop, when it focuses on being ‘anti-monkey business’, because that is what we stand for. Anyhow, the most interesting activity at the workshop was the creation of the rogue state of ‘Monkeystan’. I was amazed at the amount of work that was put into all fabrications, it was well thought and meticulously arranged. It truly reflected the dynamics of capitalism, and how each and every member of the society contributes to keep the caravan of capitalism moving, though unintentionally.  

The Editoral Team at Moneystan Today
Click by Danish Henry
Sindhi Ajrak. Source: Google Images
On my last day at the workshop, I exchange gifts with Vladimir – my angel friend. I gift him a traditional cap (called a Sindhi topi) from Sindh (the province I live in). I also exchange currencies of different countries, expanding and enriching my archive. And now it was time for the final check-out.  

At evening, Susanne is hosting all the workshop participants at her place. Susanne, one of our workshop leaders, looked like a Viking the day she made two ponies in her blonde hair – the day we pre-partied at Kristian’s place. Fortuitously, I also discovered that the color of her hair is similar to the color of her shoes.

Susanne is preparing waffles to sweeten the sour moments of ‘leaving’. I hug and say my last goodbyes to the monkeys. I leave with a treasure of memories I can cherish and facilities to ring a number after 5 years and be welcomed. I am bestowed with a heartening ‘see-off’. Thank you guys and girls for those special moments. 

Waffles with strawberry jam.
Click by Ghislaine Assou

I didn’t want to leave but time dictated that I should, as Dr Torgeir has arranged a farewell dinner. Over dinner, Dr Torgeir asks us about our stay in Norway. One of the things I tell him is I’m not very happy to leave ISFiT. He comforts that it is normal and assures that it will soon fade away. I present him the gift I bought for him, a national costume and he shows me his vast collection of currency from all over the world. At midnight, I start my packing and early morning I have my last cup of Norwegian juice and off I go to Vaeners. On my way to the airport, it is snowing and traffic signs warn of crossing reindeers. On the runway, the wings of the plane are washed with some yellow liquid, don’t know what was that liquid.

Source: Google Images

Sunday, March 2, 2014

ISFiT Diaries IX - The Silent Night

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

Trondheim's iconic Nidarosdomen.
With permission from Chathuraka Kaushalya 

The Silent Night is soul-searching at Trondheim’s landmark Nidarosdomen. The Nidaros Cathedral, by the River Nidelva, is a majestic edifice, quiet, standing high with all its grandeur, having seen the ups and the downs and ins and the outs of Trondheim across a millennia and reminding passer bys of Trondheim’s Christian past. As I and Megha enter the cathedral, we enter a stratosphere of silence. Megha curiously scans the interior and is bubbling with questions. I walk to the altar and to the octagon, to the chapel. Candles are lit, knees strike the floor and eyes are closed.


Nidaros’ statues reminisce medieval Christianity, however I could not derive meaning out of some structures and how their related to Christendom. Megha questions me on different Church artifacts, on Christianity. I figure out Megha’s current understanding of Christianity is based on hearsay. We come out Nidaros Cathedral, our spirits revitalized.      

Click by Danish Henry

In today’s fast paced world, a world that seeks material fulfillment and tramples inner peace, we seldom stop, and reflect and spend time with ourselves. While ISFiT was ‘relating to the world outside’, the silent night was ‘relating to the world inside’. Amidst all the hoopla, this night provided an opportunity to mediate, connect to our inner being, make peace with ourselves and seek solace for our souls in Nidaros’ serenity.

Click by Danish Henry