Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Zakia
Zakia (63) is a nun and lives in the metropolis of Lahore on the border to India. Her father earned his living in the military, her mother was a very educated housewife. Zakia dedicates her simple and meaningful life with full devotion to the women, youth and children of Lahore. Since 1988, she has written monthly articles in two magazines and is responsible for the well-being of her fellow nuns. In addition, Zakia takes care of the needs of children in the education sector..
Zakia, how did you spend your childhood?
My childhood was carefree and I associate this time with many happy memories. I loved going to school. As a teenager I learned to play the piano, loved listening to music and poetry. I learned a lot about drama. When we had sports, I looked forward to the 100-metre runs and I was always enthusiastic about athletics too.
In the holidays we often went to Murree hills, a great picnic resort. The place is over 2,000 metres above sea level. When the view was good, we enjoyed the panorama of the surrounding mountains all the way to the Himalayas. Murree hills has been a tourist resort since 1851, founded by a British governor. Little changed after Pakistan's independence in 1947. People love Murree hills thanks to the pleasant temperatures in summer.
What causes you a headache sometimes?
Pakistan is one of the most populous countries in the world. Alone from 2019 to 2020, the population has increased by about four million people. Water, food and goods of all kinds have lost their natural quality.
Then there is an influence of Islamists, it is changing the inner attitude and mindset of many people. As a nation, we miss our original freedom. Our lives, our actions, everything is being scrutinised by Islamist ideology and viewed from their side. I think that is a pity. Pakistan is so diverse and its people are filled with a great warmth, helpfulness and hospitality.
We Christians are a minority of 2 per cent, living very scattered in Pakistan.
Would you like to give us an insight into the culture of your country?
I would love to. Pakistan is a melting pot of cultures. Indian, Persian, Afghan, Central and West Asian influences meet here. Officially, besides Urdu, between 73 and 76 languages enrich my country.
Punjabis from the Punjab region, Sindhis on the Indian border in the south of Pakistan, the Baluchis, Pashtuns, Kashmiris (the area of Kashmir gained sad notoriety through the conflict with India) and Hazaras are just a few of the many ethnic groups in Pakistan.
We love to celebrate festivals, the bond within the family is strong, the focus is not on the individual but on the community where there is a lot of singing and dancing.
Qawwali, for example, is a traditional singing style that originated in the Punjab region. A famous Pakistani qawwali singer is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Pakistan was also home to the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 - 1984). His poetry was characterised by its reference to current social and political issues.
What couldn't people in Pakistan do without?
Chai tea and cricket! Although tea is grown in Pakistan itself, we are the third largest importer of tea. We like to drink tea strong and sweet with milk. On special occasions, we spice it with cardamom or other spices.
What would you like to leave us with?
I see it as a grace that I am salt, leaven and light, or in other words, that I can make a positive difference through my actions. Easier said than done in daily life. God will help us all!
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Didorali
Didorali (24) was born and raised in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. He has a bachelor's degree in marketing and worked in tourism during the summer months. Since the professional opportunities in the field of marketing could be better in Tajikistan and friends told him about a job in the Maldives, he plucked up the courage to try his luck in "paradise". Since January 2021, he has been working in the food and beverage sector and as a guest experience agent, where he looks after the well-being of Russian guests, mediates and translates when communication problems arise between guests and staff.
How were the organisational challenges?
Simple, actually. After the contract was signed, I uploaded all the necessary documents for a business visa online, I was given a QR code, and the visa was printed out at the airport. From Dushanbe I flew via Istanbul, where I had to wait 15 hours in the airport with mask and gloves for my onward flight to Male. Once I arrived in Male, I was met by a hotel employee and went into a 10-day quarantine before I was allowed to start working.
Have you worked abroad before?
No, this is the first time I have taken a job abroad.
It is also the first time in my life that I have seen the sea with my own eyes, perceived how it feels to swim in it, felt the sand between my toes.
As a student, I did a semester abroad in Poland and the Czech Republic. There I had the opportunity to make short trips to Germany and as part of a 10-day training I was once in Bruck an der Mur in Austria.
It is common for people from Tajikistan to work abroad. Out of almost 10 million people, 2 million work in Russia alone. My father and my family also moved to Moscow about five years ago. My father works as a biologist in a laboratory.
How is the hotel occupancy in times of Corona?
I work in a resort with about 90 rooms that opened about two years ago. In January we were partly fully booked, at the moment the occupancy rate is around 60 percent. The majority of our guests come from Russia, but also India and occasionally we have European guests, like from Great Britain or Germany.
Depending on their nationality, the guests (mostly families or couples) stay an average of one week.
From which countries do the hotel staff come from?
The majority of the staff are from the Philippines, others from Sri Lanka, India, Russia, Ukraine and South East Asian countries such as Indonesia. The General Manager and the Executive Chef are from Australia. The working language is English.
All the people who work at the resort also live here.
It is a very pleasant working environment, the staff are very helpful, friendly, they teach me a lot and I learn from their experiences.
Can you give us an insight into a normal working day?
If I'm on duty in the morning, I start at 7:30 a.m., otherwise at 12:30 p.m. Depending on the duty roster, there is a four-hour shift, followed by a two-or four-hour break before the second four-hour shift begins. The last shift ends at 23:00 in the evening.
I greet people in the restaurant, am available to answer any questions, translate for Russian guests and look after their well-being. The majority of the guests feel comfortable to be able to speak Russian even on holiday and to have a contact person who meets their needs and wishes.
Did you settle into your new rhythm of life quickly?
Actually, yes. Since the kitchen is international, there is a wide variety of food. The food is delivered every few weeks by a big ship.
One change has been that I can't meet up with friends after work or go out in a city. I miss the city life on the island. Leisure activities are limited and the days are very similar.
Since the island can be circumnavigated in max. 15 minutes, I often visit the fitness centre provided for employees, where max. 5 people are allowed to work out at the same time, and go swimming. We have our own beach area and the staff area is separate from the guest area.
Are you satisfied with the accommodation provided?
Yes, everything is very comfortable. I share a room, a toilet and a bathroom with one person. Because of Corona, great care is taken to ensure that hotel staff from the same area share accommodation and are not mixed up.
Once a week, someone from housekeeping comes to maintain the rooms, and my uniform is provided ready ironed.
There is a small shop for staff where we can buy hygiene items and things for daily personal use.
What I like best is the weather. It is wonderful when it is always nice and warm and I can feel the warming rays of the sun on my skin.
Discover the diversity of people - a snapshot with Abed Al Majid
Abed Al Majid (41) was born and raised in the metropolis of Amman.
He studied economics and works in the real estate industry. His greatest passion is swimming. He lives with his family in a house on the outskirts of Amman since 10 years. They have a daughter (12) and two sons (10, 6) who attend a private school.
How hard has Corona hit the real estate sector?
Strongly. The real estate sector is down. My employer, who also builds houses, has not realised a new project since the beginning of the pandemic, although Amman (approx. 4 million inhabitants) is a rapidly growing city. The market has plummeted, causing property prices to drop by up to 50 percent in some cases. Before Corona, for example, a medium-sized flat in the new town costed about USD 200,000 to USD 250,000. In the old town, property prices are much cheaper.
However, our company is not an isolated case, over 100 companies have closed and many more have no new projects.
Some people save their money, no one invests in such uncertain times. Others spend money to be able to survive.
You live in a housing estate on the outskirts of town, how can I imagine this?
There are some building regulations in my area. For example, no house can be higher than 2 floors, wooden houses are completely forbidden. A fence is mandatory for every property. Windows are covered with curtains to protect from prying eyes.
Due to the high summer temperatures, many houses are equipped with air conditioning in addition to aluminium blinds. Energy is very expensive. My sister, who also lives in my settlement (it was through her that we first got to know this beautiful place and bought land at that time), has solar panels installed on her roof to generate energy. She is very satisfied and the system will definitely pay for itself quickly.
What do you appreciate about Amman?
Amman (the city itself looks back on a very eventful and old history) connects me with many emotions and memories. My friends, my family, my centre of life was and is Amman. I love the weather, the sun, the dry air. Before Corona, my friends and I trained hard three times a week in a 50-metre pool. When I swim, I am a happy person! It hurts me that all the public pools have been closed for a long time. I haven't had such a long break from swimming in the last 20 years.
Have you ever seen snow?
Believe it or not, snow is not uncommon here. On average, Amman (elevation 784 metres) is covered in a blanket of snow once a year. (On the day of the interview, 2 April, it was warmer in Vienna than in Amman). Everyone looks forward to the snow. Friends and families come together and celebrate the snow with traditional food like manssaf and take lots of photos with themselves and the snow. When it snows, we don't have to go to work and the children don't have to go to school.
Winter tyres are uncommon. Roads have been cleared for a few years now, but the snow removal service still has to learn. They shovelled the snow in front of my garage.
Describe the rhythm of life in your city.
Before Corona, Amman was a city that never slept. Shops and restaurants were open seven days a week.
There is little alcohol consumption, but a lot of smoking (e.g. the water pipe) and coffee, preferably black, strong and without sugar.
There is a whole list of holidays. We celebrate Muslim holidays, the Eid ul-Adha festival being one of my absolute favourites, Christian holidays, like Christmas, and national holidays like Independence Day, which we celebrate every year on 25th May.
At the moment, the shops close at 6 p.m. On Fridays they are generally closed. There is a curfew after 7 p.m. Wearing a mask is compulsory.
Why do your children attend a private school?
Teachers are more responsive to children's needs, offer a wider range of school activities and foreign languages. Children in a private school learn English from the first grade, whereas children from public schools are immersed in this language years later. The earlier a child is introduced to Latin script and foreign languages, the easier it is to learn them.
Public schools are also attended by many refugee children. More than 700,000 refugees have found refuge in Jordan. According to the UN Refugee Agency, 88 percent of them come from Syria.
Would you like to give me an insight into your family life?
My children go to school and I go to work from Sunday to Thursday.
I get up at 7 a.m. every day and drive to work. If there is no traffic jam, I only need 15 minutes. Since public transport is very crowded, many people prefer to drive their own cars. This is one reason why the roads are heavily overloaded during rush hour.
On a positive note, I would like to mention that a dedicated bus lane has been built and will be opened in the near future.
In the evening, when my set goals have been achieved, I go to bed satisfied - and I look forward to the day when I can finally swim again.
Discovering the diversity of the world - a snapshot with Soso
Soso (39) spent his childhood on the Black Sea coast. Together with his wife Nino and his sons Saba (10) and Nikoloz (8), called Nika for short, he lives in Tbilisi (Tiflis), the capital of Georgia.
He is a travel guide, his wife is a dentist who works for a pharmaceutical company that markets oral hygiene products.
How has Corona changed your lives?
The pandemic changed a lot in our lives. Before Corona, we had very little time for each other, especially in the summer. During this time, I was usually on the road a lot for work and hardly ever at home. Corona made it possible for one of my son's dreams to come true: to do a lot together in the summer and spend a lot of time together as a family.
My children had online classes last year, and since a month ago the schools are open again, attendance is voluntary. Before the pandemic, the children visited their school friends almost every day. Currently, they communicate online and play games together, like Minecraft, Roblox, etc.
Do you want to tell something about your wedding?
Yes, it´s a pleasure. I met my wife in 2006, she was a dentist and I was her patient. My dental health required me to see Nino several times during a week, so we got chatting and kept in touch. In retrospect, my toothache was a good thing.
In 2008, we got married according to Georgian Orthodox rituals. My parents celebrated a wedding with about 700 people. At that time, this number was not unusually large. In contrast to then, our wedding was very tranquil with around 80 guests.
We spent our honeymoon in Germany, visiting a good friend of mine in Munich, whom I met at the time on a tour I was accompanying. As a wedding present he gave us this wonderful trip.
What impressions from your life and your home country would you like to share with me?
What fascinates me about Georgia is the nature, the mountains and the glaciers.
As a child, my favourite season was summer. I usually spent my holidays with my grandparents. Many tourists came to the Black Sea coast and I made friends with the children every year. The days were always too short because we wanted to play until late at night. We played all kinds of team games, which we thought up first. Nowadays, I have to ask my children to tear themselves away from the computer and spend more time at the playground with other children.
People from Guria, a region in West Georgia where I grew up, are considered compulsive, which is true of me only to a certain extent. Many traditional songs from the region tell about this issue. Here is a small sample. I myself like to listen to Pink Floyd.
Is there an awareness of sustainability?
There is still a lot of room for improvement. In my opinion, awareness of sustainability must mature among the population first. On a positive note, I would like to mention that the use of plastic bags is prohibited, with the exception of biodegradable bags. Organic products can be found in supermarkets and it is possible to order them online.
How do your and the other Georgian children grow up?
At the age of two, children in Tbilisi attend kindergarten and at the age of six, Georgian children are required to attend school. My boys attend a private school further away, which has a focus on languages. We chose this school because my sister teaches there and the school is on my daily way to work.
From the first grade, French is taught in addition to Georgian, the official language. English is taught in the second grade. The children learn Russian from the fifth grade onwards. In High school, there is a choice of other foreign languages.
The children share the class with about 18 other children.
Saba and Niko, what do you like to do and what are you particularly looking forward to?
Children: At home we like to play Lego and at school our favourite subject is maths.
We would especially like to have a dog, but we haven't yet been able to convince our parents. Maybe in the future. We get especially excited when our birthday is coming up or when the Christmas holidays are just around the corner. At this time we always go to the village where our grandparents lived and where our dad spent the summer holidays. It's a big family celebration every year.
Saba: I'm learning guitar, love the book „Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and enjoy watching „The Mandalorian“.
Discovering the diversity of people - a snapshot with Hương
Hương (40+) saw the light of day on a beautiful autumn day in Hanoi. Her parents gave her this beautiful name, which translates as "The flavour of Autumn". When she was 10 years old, the family moved to what was then Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), where she has lived ever since.
As she enjoyed playing school as a child and loved taking on the role of teacher, she became a teacher and later a professor. Currently, Hương teaches at a university in Ho Chi Minh City.
What were the biggest challenges in distance learning?
As my students are already adults and have access to good computers, the difficulties were moderate. I remember that the internet connection was often poor. Often the microphones echoed and barking dogs or clucking chickens could be heard in the background. Distance learning became routine for my students after about a month.
How did you feel about your childhood?
Peaceful. I spent hours watching dragonflies and butterflies. In the beginning I walked to school, later I rode my bike. Every day I heard the chirping of birds on my way. At that time, the city was not overpopulated, but cosy. Surrounding villages lived in harmony with nature, the natural diversity of the villages disappeared with time, giving way to modern cities with their high-rise buildings and industry. When I walk on the city streets now, it is dusty, the birds are overruled or disappeared by the traffic, I have to concentrate with all my senses, otherwise I will be bumped into.
I spent my holidays then as I do now on Vietnam's beautiful beaches.
I was born into a country with a thousand years of history and a very vibrant culture.
What do you understand by traditional Vietnamese cuisine?
I personally love to eat the very famous Pho soup, or Bún chả, a grilled pork with noodles. I usually have breakfast around 7:30, lunch around 12:30 and dinner around 18:00.
I would like to share with you the legend of Banh Chung, a "rice cake" essential for our most important holiday, Tết Nguyên Đán, or Tết for short, our New Year celebration.
The legend highlights the important role of our rice culture.
All family members sit together while cooking. We tell each other stories, share life experiences and welcome a new year with best wishes.
The legend goes back thousands of years, when the Hong Bang dynasty, or more precisely the sixth Hung king ruled the country. When the king wanted to hand over his throne, he thought of a competition between his 21 sons. The one who could prepare the best dish for him, a dish that symbolically reflected the value of their ancestors, would become his successor.
All but the 18th son, Lang Lieu, travelled the provinces in search of the most expensive and extraordinary dishes. Lang Lieu searched for ingredients that were connected to nature. One night he had a dream, a deity gave him the following wisdom along the way: "There is nothing greater than heaven or earth. Rice is our greatest and most precious treasure.
Use glutinous rice, and form Banh Chung, in the shape of a square, which represents our earth. (At that time, people thought the earth was square). Fill it with green beans, and pork. These ingredients symbolise the plants and animals on earth. Cover the filling with green leaves, as a sign of the care that parents have for their children.
Next, use ground glutinous rice to cook bánh dày (a white, cup-shaped and round glutinous rice cake). Place this cake on the green leaves, it symbolises heaven."
When he woke up, he immediately began to prepare both dishes. On the day of the competition, the king was so overwhelmed by the taste, and its symbolic meaning, that he chose Lang Lieu as his successor. Since then, Banh Chung has been an integral part of the annual New Year celebration.
Would you like to introduce me to a traditional Vietnamese festival?
The festival of the Hùng kings is very important in our culture. The main celebrations take place at the Hung Temple in Phu Tho province. There we honour our ancestors and pray for good weather, abundant harvests, good luck and good health. The festival is celebrated every year for one week in the third month of the moon.
Can you give us an insight into Vietnamese music?
With pleasure. I like to listen to traditional music.
UNESCO has listed our Nha Nhac and Quan ho Bac Ninh music as Intangible World Cultural Heritage. Vietnam was and is strongly connected to its music. Ca trù music has its roots anchored 1,000 years in thousand-year-old Ly Dynasty.
What means: Discover the diversity of people in Vietnamese language?
Khám phá sự đa dạng và khác biệt.