6 life management skills I learned from my mother

Conscious of it or not, you mother helped set and influence your life’s direction.

Can life be managed just like your team at work? Did it ever occur to you that your mother had somehow influenced you? Pretty much, that’s based on my over 2 decades of experience.

As a manager, I can be a dotting mother and a strict one to beat a looming deadline. Working in global emergencies can often be the same as any work — but in full speed. One needs to be organized ensuring all hands are on deck working.

The schedules are often 24-hours (when you are in Asia or the Middle East and you coordinate with teams in the US or Europe this becomes normal), the conditions life-threatening and deadlines are hairy-thin because you’re working to save lives.

Skill that worked in most conditions? Decisiveness. Discipline. You lead by doing. You’re ready to do the dirty job. You rally your team like a cheerleader, not frustrate them. You are there when they need a decision. You take the risk.

You support what they need and everyone who worked hard gets the credit. You roll up your sleeves when the team is short of manpower. Take a closer look at these. They’re also done by mothers, right?

Some of the skills I learned from my mother I got to use managing teams and working with people from different cultures.

1. Never be ashamed of your name.

Her parents named her from the Roman calendar which memorialised Jesus’s circumcision rites on January 1. Obviously, they did not bother to ask around what it meant. My mom lived through sniggers and sly smiles because of her name. When I wrote her story for an online news, some bashers even sneered and posted insults about her being named such. People can be cruel and heartless. Imagine if my mom lived through this times and opened a Facebook page?

I learned grace and humility from her living with the name. She respected her parents’s choice despite what it brought her. Those who chose to ridicule her just showed what kind of people they are. It’s not the name but how you live your life.

Nothing is extraordinary with my name. But I learned to be sensitive with others who has this same issue with my mother.

She never got conscious (or did not show if she was) of her name. I saw a steely trait that did not easily flinch to challenges, no matter how tough they were. You cannot please or make people like you all the time. Just do the job.

2. Find out the dreams of people you love and work with. Support them.

Despite my mistakes, she never gave up on me. I still clearly remember her, arms on her hips, confronting me head on if I am contended dropping out of school and working in the farm. A small woman so thin you’d think strong winds will carry her away. No sir! She had stood up to so many men bigger than her and won by virtue of her confidence. She said, “Are you contented?”

Not waiting for me to answer, she added, “Finish your studies. Even if you won’t find a job as long as you graduate, that’s fine with us.” I followed the orders and of course I found a job. That simple decision brought unimaginable hardship for my father and mother who worked twice as hard in the farm to send me back to school. I rose to follow my dream because she never allowed me to give up.

Ask them. Talk to them. One way to win hearts (and cooperation) is to know the dreams of people I lead and help them work towards realising them. It is a privilege to be part of it and a sheer pleasure when they get back to you and tell you that they got it because you believed in them.

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Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!

Defining women’s beauty in Bangladesh: How my short hair defied the norm

By Arpona Ghosh

2016. Arpona defied tradition and stood up to her choice.

Towards the end of my education in Dhaka University in Bangladesh and while preparing for my first job, I tried a new comfortable look. I cut my long, bouncy and silky hair short. It was sassy and manageable.

At that time, I was also seeking for a soul mate I can tie the forever knot with. In other countries, it was just a haircut. In Bangladesh, it is not.

That was 17 years ago and it was not welcome change for my parents. In fact, they got seriously worried I might not find the best groom in town because the men in my country would usually prefer their women with long hair and fair complexion. You can roll your eyes from where you are, but in my country, these are critical priorities for many prospective bridegrooms.

With the short hairstyle, I looked odd to many of my peers and people around me who did not lose time expressing their dislike to me frankly. I was determined to keep my short hair. I want to set my own description of beauty.

1992. Her moms and aunts found the time to nourish her hair to make it look nice to people.

In Bangladesh, just like many Asian countries I should say, long hair and fair complexion are two major indicators for beautiful women. In thousands of literary works poets, novelists and artists praise women by describing their long and black hair like clouds or fair complexion like milk white.

When it is time to choosing brides especially in arranged marriages (mostly decided by parents end elders), these two things automatically come in their checklist. The bridegroom’s status, whether he is a student, a professional or unemployed, often do not matter.

This practice is gradually changing in urban areas but still many people are not ready to accept or welcome women with short hair (if I may add, dark complexion).

Just like the millions of Bangladeshi girls, I grew up amidst these socio-cultural perceptions. In my childhood, I observed, my mother and aunts have very little time even to comb their knee-long hair properly since they were busy with their children, running around for household chores and their day jobs. Many of the women in my family are schoolteachers.

2002. Defying the norm. Cutting her hair short caused a lot of alarm and arguments in her family and even at work.

However, they would all take time to nourish my hair, keep it longer and silky. All it aims is to attract people’s attention. This alongside making sure I go to a good school for quality education.

Cutting my hair, therefore, is challenging an age-old tradition. I chose comfort than what is fashionably acceptable.

When I started working with this ‘unusual’ hairdo, many of my colleagues remarked negatively, some even regarded me indecently. To them, I was trying to be younger or I am hiding my real age. Yes, I get that with my hair short.

By just looking at me, some concluded I was a very rude, unfriendly and a cruel woman. In 2004, in one formal gender training session, one of my feminist friends wrote an appreciation note for me. She said, “She is a wonderful lady but she looks like a boy due to her short hair.”

Even today, when I am in public, I can sense there is still a raging debate around me speculating if I am a boy or a transgender. When I stand up to my decision or choice, I often heard, “Oh, she is behaving like this because she is a man.”

1996. In the country, a beautiful woman is defined as someone with long hair and fair-complexion.

Despite all the odds up against me, I kept my hairstyle because I believe it suits me well and shows my personality perfectly.

My story represents the challenge many women from different cultures are faced with – if we choose what we want that goes against common socio-cultural norms, we must be ready to stand up to it. In Bangladesh, pulling tussles of hair is a common form of violence against girls and women.

During the International Women’s Day celebration this year, one renowned local branded hair oil has advertised one woman who went to the parlor and had a short haircut to protect her from domestic violence.

However, cutting hair to prevent a form of violence might create hundreds of different forms of violence by the husbands, in-laws or other perpetrators. It is not a solution to the problem. This sort of advertisement also teaches women to adjust and to remain silent against violence committed often. This is also a provocation for continuing the culture of silence and accepting violence as normal.

Women need to be bold from our innermost hearts to respect ourselves and make a choice. We need to come together to stop violence against women. At the end of the day, it is our life and we must live it according to our own choice.

Arpona has stuck to her own decision; she is a mother of two boys and continues to advocate for the rights of women in Bangladesh.

Arpona Ghosh, a communications and media relations expert of Bangladesh works in a development organization. For more than 16 years, she promotes stories of successes and challenges in the communities focusing on women and children through NGOs and donor organizations. Apart from roof top gardening and reading, her great passion is to analyze electronic and print media advertisements and other media content. A mother of two growing sons, she also loves to listen and discuss issues on children.

A journey of faith: The day I met my best Guide in Jerusalem

By Echo Chow

From a very unlikely messenger, Echo received her first gift from above.

I received my first Holy Bible when I was traveling alone in Jerusalem.

One afternoon in a restaurant, a middle-aged man came and asked about my nationality. After leaving for a while, he then returned and passed to me a Chinese Bible.

“Thanks for the gift,” I said politely with no intention to read it for the rest of my life. “Not from me but a gift from above,” he pointed at the sky and disappeared in the crowd.

What an odd reply to a non-Christian like me at that time! Only after nine years that I realized the true meaning of the word “gift”.

When I got back in China, the design of a book called “Desert in the Streams” caught my eyes in a bookshop. I opened it and could not stop reading. I wondered why I can see religious books in China. I was so curious and phoned my Christian friend in Hong Kong, just to make sure that it was not heresy.

Later, another friend gave me a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life”.  Again, I finished it with keen interest. One day, an idea emerged that what I had been reading was “second hand” information on Christianity.  Why not try to experience the original version?

Among the Bibles she received.

Yes, in between those years, I received six Bibles in different versions from different people.

The year 2008 was the turning point. On Christmas Eve, I shared my sleeping problems with my friend since childhood.  Among the many strange dreams I had, the one about the struggle between “good” and “evil” scared me most.  “Go home and read the Bible. Only Jesus Christ can save you,” she concluded.

That night before bedtime, I was reading Romans 7:22-25 “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These verses shocked me completely! It seems that the author from a thousand years ago understands me better than myself. I could not figure out why, but I felt a very deep fear in me. I could do nothing but pray for the first time accepting Jesus as my Savior.

The journey has its ups and downs, but Echo knows in her heart she found her best Guide.

There is no fear in love

Suddenly, the fear is gone. I felt like a baby sleeping in a cradle with someone comforting me. My hands were getting warm, and my heart was at ease. “It’s just an illusion.” I thought with disbelief. It was an instrumental prayer. I used Jesus Christ and denied him after that.

Two weeks later, I visited a museum in Singapore. Inside the museum was a church. Touring around alone, I felt a drop of cold water dripping on my left hand. I saw nothing on my hand but above my head was a huge painting of Jesus and his disciples. At the bottom of the painting was a sentence like “This wine is my blood”.  And I was just standing beneath the cup the disciple was holding.

Water … wine… blood…

I asked myself whether it was just an illusion again. But it would do me no harm to confess and follow Jesus. Why not have a try? The church people were happy to meet me. Yet I needed to answer them a few questions before attending classes.

“What is sin?” they asked. “Motivation,” an English word suddenly flashed into my mind. “It’s not just action and motivation matters, right?” I replied.

“Why do you trust the Bible?” They asked again. “Consistency,” another English word appeared in my mind, again. “I guess the book was written by many people living years apart, right? And the message is consistent even though some of these writers might not know each other,” I said.

Even a car she once saw on the road one day when she was upset reminded her that she should be thankful God too time to shepherd her.

With limited knowledge about the Bible, I could not understand why what came to my mind was English but not my mother tongue which is Chinese.  At that time, I could not even distinguish the Old and New Testament and misunderstood that the Bible had a “printing mistake”, for it repeated the story of Jesus Christ for four times!

That is not important, though. What matters most is that I have started a journey of love, faith and hope. There are always ups and downs in life, but I know with Jesus in the boat I can smile amidst the storm as we go sailing home.

Power is perfected in weakness

My journey seems to be pre-destined long time ago yet heading to somewhere to my surprise though I have never been a well-planned person.

It is natural that most people would like to use their strength to perform and achieve. The more confident we are, the more we will succeed. In my entire study and career life so far, I see the Lord has been protecting me from my weaknesses and strengthening me in areas I was never even aware of.

At university, my major was Communications but I scored highest in Philosophy and Religion. My news sense was not sharp but I was elected the chief editor of the school newspaper simply because I could communicate better with the Taiwanese professor who supervised us on this project.  When I was still puzzling what to do after graduation, I was offered a job in a renowned international news magazine as a staff writer per recommendation by the professor.

That was how I jumped into the media field, in spite of the fact that I had very little understanding of international affairs.

The job came with immense pressure. I found myself totally inadequate to write in-depth analysis on topics like regional conflicts or economic crisis. I drank six cups of coffee a day to keep myself awoke, and slept only three hours a night.

The journey of faith continues …

We can make our plans, but …

Such hard times continued six months until I resigned because I wanted to gain more front-line experience as a local news journalist. Out of my expectations, though, the newspaper I just joined shifted its editorial policy to intentionally nurture journalists with global perspectives. I became one of the potentials, perhaps due to my previous background.

A golden opportunity arrived when I was 26. I was offered a post stationed in the US for two years as a correspondent. That was my dream for a long time! But my mom opposed so strongly that I gave it up. Several months later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she died two years later.

Lesson learnt – when the world values personal achievements and prestige, the Lord tells us that staying with our loved ones is more valuable than anything else.  And He loves me so much that even though I didn’t know Him at that time.

Frankly speaking, I was very nervous during those days. My English and common sense were far from satisfactory, but the job required me to deal with many unfamiliar technical topics from missile tests to human cloning, as well as natural disasters and international development conferences.  All these not only widened my perspectives significantly, but paved the way for my future career in the NGO sector.

Now I am working in an international non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in China, a place beyond my plan. I am not sure why and how long I will be here. But I know I am in God’s hands, for “we can make our plans , but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Echo’s journey with God pursuing her is such an inspiring message that He is around watching and keeping us – an amazing message we can ponder on Easter celebration.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

I am the first Yazidi actress to star in a lead role and my first reaction was “Oh, no way!”

Dejin’s dream found her; and never let her go until she said yes. Some girls are just born with their silver spoon waiting for them.

By Dejin Jamil

I smashed a glass ceiling. It felt very similar to breaking borders.

I should perhaps add, I raised the bar for Yazidi women when I said “yes” to star in a film. I did not even realize that the break handed to me on a silver platter can also open the door wide – and on screen, so to speak, for all the women in the world.

I am an aid worker for four years in Duhok, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, working in the camps for the internally displaced people coming from the conflict zones in northern Iraq. I run an education and protection project for children and youth.

This project always gives me mixed feelings. I am sad to see children, women and men of my country displaced by the war, in the process losing family members and relatives. This kind of sadness is painful and indescribable.

On the other hand, I feel happy when I go to the camps and see how strong and resilient the Iraqi families are. It gives me joy to provide support, share in their sad and happy moments. I love it when I go with the children as they gather around me. Many of them would say, “Hey, we saw you on TV! We are proud to see a Yazidi woman as an actress.”

My journey in doing movies began with a friend telling me that a Kurdish friend of hers who is a film director was looking for a woman to act in his film. They need someone who can speak both Kurdish “Badini” and English. She said, “I thought of you.”

Many girls dream of walking in the red carpet. Dejin proved it is possible to make that dream come true.

I immediately said, “Oh, no way!” This came out of my mouth without even weighing the merits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was also certain that my parents would not allow me to join the film.

The Yazidi men are very conservative. Thinking they will be restricted to do what they want anyway, the women in turn have created their own barriers. But there are also other reasons for such concerns like fear for the safety of their lives and those of their daughters’.

Days after, I told my mom Fairoz, I added that I said no. Surprisingly she said, “Why not?” My mom then said, “I once dreamed to become an actress. At least you will make it come true.” My heart almost screamed. I cannot believe she wanted me to do it. I thought my mom would never support me.

My mom later told my father who never had any adverse reaction. I know he is more open-minded compared to her. The Kurdish fathers love to spoil their daughters.

My worries extended to what the bigger Yazidi and Kurdish community will think. I was concerned of talks about my reputation and that of my family’s. Working with too many men and being on screen are often frowned upon.

Nevertheless, when something is for you, it mysteriously finds a way. Visiting a neighbor, my parents learned that he knows the director and is a good friend. They discussed my refusal to star for the film and he told my parents to encourage me assuring that the director is a very good one and famous among Kurds.

Dejin with Mano Khalil, the first director who gave her a break in the film The Swallow.

My mom told me about the conversation in their visit. That gave me courage. I immediately contacted my friend who was also was having a small part in the movie to tell the director that I am interested. The director turned out to be Mano Khalil, a multi-awarded Kurdish-Syrian director whose documentary film The Beekeeper gained numerous acclaims.

My acceptance, I later learned, was a great news for the director and for the film crew as well, as they struggled to find someone who can match their requirements for the film. No many women are keen to do a movie because of family and traditional restrictions. I am fortunate my family is among those who are open-minded.

What happened next was almost surreal. My “yes” gave me two major roles in films by famous and well-respected directors.

In my first film by Kurdish Syrian director Mano Khalil The Swallow, I played a sister of a man on his 30th who falls in love with a half-Kurdish and half-Swiss girl who came to Kurdistan to look for her father.  During deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s time, her father was the reason why our own father got killed. My brother wanted to take revenge on her, but later falls for her.

My second was A Dream Before Dying (currently on post-production work) by acclaimed director Fekri Baroshi. My role was that of a Peshmerga soldier’s wife. While my husband was fighting the war, I was at home taking care of a sick father and son. This film shows how the dire conditions of the country and soldiers’ lives during the war. It also affirms the strength of Kurdish women left behind as their husbands serve the country, many of them becoming widows. My husband also dies in the movie.

In the film A Dream Before Dying, Dejin plays the role of a Kurdish woman married to a soldier fighting in the war in Iraq.

My first shooting of the first film was in April 2014 in Amedi district. The scene was welcoming my brother and meeting his Swiss girlfriend for the first time. Honestly, I was very nervous because that was my first time to stand in front a camera for a film. I once worked as a presenter in a TV channel but this was different.

The making of the second film is very emotional for me. The theme upholds the strength the Kurdish nation standing up to a group that is also a threat to the whole world. The films shows the sacrifice of men and women for the country and the people. I take pride in showing the courage and suffering of a Kurdish woman in this movie.

When I was around nine years old, I already dreamed of becoming a movie star. I would try to organize a movie shoot along with my younger sister Vajin, assigning my brother Danar as the camera operator. I would act as the director and at the same time take up the role of my father, hilariously imitating him. My parents found the short video we produced as very funny and shared it with my uncle in Germany.

My mom and I shared the same dream of becoming an actress. She did not have the chance. I almost buried mine without thinking. Looking back, I am so happy and proud that I took the challenge with the support of my parents. I take pleasure in the fact that I am sharing the achievement with my mother.

The highlight of these all was gracing the Solothurn Film Festival in Switzerland. I was nervous to be on the red carpet for the  first time in my life. It was also my first time to be in the country. So many strangers surrounded me but I did my best to be confident and show my best.

My parents and the whole family were very proud of me. While in the film festival in Switzerland, not many Yazidis and even Kurdish people got to know I was in a film. Most of the European audience were interested in the content of the film.

But when it was shown in Duhok Film Festival on September 2016, I got a lot of attention from media as a new Kurdish and the first Yazidi actress. For me that was an affirmation that my people are proud of me.

I have learned that I can lead the way for other women to achieve their dreams if I take the courage to say yes to an opportunity. In a way I am opening the door so others can follow. I should not be scared of what I want to do and always believe in myself. Belief in one’s self is very important. I finally realized a major lesson – that life is about taking chances; and taking the courage when daunting opportunities knock in our doors.

Dejin’s passion for her work and pursuit for her dreams is infectious. Crossing boundaries and breaking barriers must be in the to-do list of every woman. She has proven it can be done.

Dejin Jamil continues to work as World Vision’s Project Coordinator, Education and Protection Project for two Child Friendly Learning Spaces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?

By Alina Rajbhandary Shresta

Alina met her knight-in-shining armour with a lot of help from her family. Her resistance was no match to the powerful pull of destiny.

In Nepal, it is normal for a woman to be married with the man selected for you.

Raised as a very independent Nepali woman, I could never imagine doing that. Not my cup of tea. Just thinking about how I would spend my entire lifetime with a stranger chosen for me bring shivers up my spine. I resisted the idea – much more the reality.

Thus, in 2002, when there was a proposal to meet up with a man who passed the criteria of fitting into our family requirement of a suitable son- in-law, I was distressed. Terribly. The potential groom’s photo got especially delivered to me at our house. It was actually a group photo of men and one of them, of course – was my future.

When I saw Pushkar for the first time in that photo, my immediate answer was a big “no”. However, my over-eager family interpreted my “no” as a “yes”. Eventually, I got persuaded to meet and see him in person. I invented many creative excuses I can imagine. To no avail.

Finally, my youngest sister Namrata came up with an idea that was so simple yet did not strike me earlier. She said, “You don’t have to marry him, just meet him. Enjoy a good pastry at his expense (if he is generous enough to pay for it) and come home.”

It was brilliant, for me at least. It sounded like a hilarious solution to my dilemma of being an obedient daughter who cannot go against my parents’ wishes. I thought I had nothing to lose and it would be a good end to the ongoing conversations at home.

The meeting was set up at Hotel Himalaya in downtown Kathmandu. I drove to meet him with the wise matchmaker seated beside me in the car. Families often engage with a matchmaker for arranged marriages. As soon as we reached the hotel, he pointed to the man at the door who seemed very excited. He was friendly and overly accommodating. Of course, I told myself, he will show his best foot forward.

Pushkar had lived in the United States for 11 years and came home for a break after acquiring his engineering degree. I suspected he also came home to find a wife. His acquired accent reminded me of one of the American shows I watched on TV, which I found very funny. This made me chuckle.

We talked about our interest and hobbies in general. I concluded we were poles apart. He shared his love for fishing and I was like “yeah right — fish in the heart of the city” (add an eye-roll)! Since my mind was already made-up, half of what he said flew past my head. I did not find them interesting. This concluded our brief (and in my mind, our supposedly last) meeting.

“I was raised as an independent Nepali woman. I cannot imagine not making my own choices.”

When I reached home, everyone wanted to hear how he was and my answer was ready, “He is not my kind of guy”. I confidently closed the chapter and life became peaceful. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later, I received a call from our landline telephone that was not working for a while. It was Pushkar, and I got alarmed. I soon recalled this was the number I shared with him when we had our short and forgotten meeting. I pretended to be my sister, trying not to sound like myself, informing him about the distant possibility of talking to a girl who was extremely busy with work. I was then working as a teacher.

He did not give up. When he called the following day, I picked up the phone again and this time, I got caught red-handed. He asked, “Is this Alina?” and running out of alibi, I have to admit I am the one on the phone. He immediately added, “I heard you do not like me? What is it about me that you don’t like – was it my looks?”

Before I could answer he continued, “There’s a face cream in the market I have heard about- called Fair and Lovely- do you think I should start using that?” My jaws dropped and I was lost for words.

Eventually I responded, “Yes, do that!” That did not faze him. “Which cheek should I start with – right or left?” My response- “Your call”. The conversation did not stop. He went to say, “What if I am fairer on the right side and dark on the left side”.

I have no idea if it was a joke or part of a vengeful plot to spite my decision. It was a hilarious chat for sure, but I was scared at the same time. I ended the call but this was just the beginning.

The next day he called again. He said, “You know what, you are the first girl to say no to me and I find that quite attractive – I always thought I was good looking.” The calls got frequent. My sisters and I sat together almost every evening to hear his endless tales just to burst out into peals of laughter.

Here was a man who was so confident that his charm would work on the girl he wanted to marry. I strongly believed it was just a passing phase of my life and would end soon for all of us, including the uncalled-for laugh sessions.

The beautiful bride on her wedding day. “It was destiny.”

My parents noticed the buzz in the house and decided it was time for them to meet Pushkar. A meeting was arranged between two families- his and mine.  This formal meeting usually culminates into marriage.

My resistance broke down. I had no time to think when my parents finally decided he was the one. They added to remind me he was better than the Bollywood actors I admired on screen. Yes, they also did question my earlier decision to say no.

After six months of courtship, I happily married the man I have not imagined would be my husband in the first meeting. It was destiny.

This became the most important lesson in my life.  Sometimes the best gifts in life come as a blessing when you have no clue and when you least expect it. Our choices may not be right but when God has plans for you, they find their way to come full circle.

My husband was not a choice I made, but he is my destiny. He was my perfect fit. He became a friend, a mentor and above all my inspiration.  After 14 years, we were blessed with two boys Pratyush, 12 and Pravaath, 7. Both of them asked me once, “Mom, why did you say no to our dad?” adding, “We don’t like this story of yours.” I just smile.

I guess they love that the story has a happy-ending.

“Sometimes your best-laid plans may fail for something much better to happen. Go for your dreams but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen exactly as you want. Better things may replace them and surprise you. For girls on pressure to get married, don’t give in easily. Enjoy life and what you love to do. Your knight in shining-armour will find you, if he is your destiny.” – Alina

Now. Alina is a happily married woman to Pushkar and a loving mom to Pratyush and Pravaath. Yes, there are still fairy tale endings. And they lived happily ever after …

Alina R Shresta is currently World Vision Nepal’s Communications Manager and a very passionate humanitarian worker and advocate for the better future of girls and women.