17 April 2024

Days Trips From Manchester - Mam Tor, Peak District

Wednesday, April 17, 2024 0 Comments
If you see a map of Poland, we have the sea in the north and a few mountain ranges in the south of the country - our southern border is actually naturally formed by the Carpathia Mountains.

I'm from the South, from a rather hilly area - my hometown was built on seven hills. Most places close enough for a day trip are in the mountains - Tatra Mountains, Pieniny, Beskidy, Bieszczady, you can take your pick. Naturally, this was the sort of trip we'd take when I was younger. Family trips, school trips, and some outings we went to through Dad's work, usually involved hiking. 

After I moved to the UK, hiking definitely fell off my list for a while. I spent a weekend in Zakopane during the summer visit back home once, and then a few years later I took my now husband there on his first visit to Poland. Then along came baby number one, then the second one - we did visit the mountains when in Poland, but we were only ever able to have a walk through the valleys and any actual hiking was out of the question. I decided, however, that once I was confident that they can handle it, we'd be visiting the mountains again on our holidays.

Fast forward to now, we live in Manchester. So close to the Peak District, that on a drive towards Stockport or Ashton, we can actually see the hills - and I'm telling you, when we get to fly to Poland, the landing on the way back, low over the hills, is truly special.

It was actually back in 2020 when we first decided it was a good idea to start trying some easy hiking routes - Eid was coming up, we couldn't meet up with anyone due to lockdown restrictions, and not wanting to just spend the day at home, we spent some time researching child-friendly hiking routes in Peak District. And that's how we ended up first going up the Mam Tor.

Mam Tor, which translates to "Mother Hill", is a 517m (1,696ft) peak overlooking Castleton in Derbyshire. Located just under 30 miles from Manchester, it's a great place for a day out and a perfect spot for beginner hikers. It's a relatively easy climb, particularly if you begin the approach at the Mam Nick car park - the path is paved all the way to the summit, with steps on the steeper parts of the hill. This makes it easy even for the youngest hikers - our daughter was just under 3 years old on our first visit there, and was able to walk most of the way on her own. 

[Photo from our first 2020 hike with the toddler]

You can enjoy climbing Mam Tor as a part of a circular walk, with a few routes that can stretch for up to 8 miles. However, if you're a beginner who wants to start small, or walking with smaller children, you can easily keep it short and just climb up, have a picnic on the top, and get back down. 

In this case, start at Mam Nick car park. From there it's only about 550 metres (approx. 0.3 miles) to the trig point. At the back of the car park, you'll find the footpath, which will be the first part of your walk to the summit.

For the most part, the footpath runs parallel to a road - once you reach the end of the path, you'll meet the bend in said road. This is the point where some other paths meet, and you'll need to enter through the wooden gate for the actual approach to the summit. From there you just need to follow the steps and then a bit of straight paved path to reach the top.

It's not an overly challenging walk, you'll see plenty of children and walkers of varying abilities along the way. Once you reach the top, you'll find the trig point (might wait a while for a photo opportunity on a busy day), and there are some breathtaking views. And you're likely to meet a few sheep on the way too!

Things worth noting:

  • If you plan on starting from the Mam Nick car park, arrive early. This National Trust-operated car park only has about 80 spaces, and fills up quickly on weekends and during school holidays. National Trust members park for free, but non-members will be charged £4.50 for up to 4 hours, and £6 for more than 4 hours (prices correct at the time of writing), and you can only pay by phone. If, when you get there, the car park is full, there are some spaces available along the main road, with entry gates onto paths that will get you to the summit. Be mindful of how you park though, it's easy to get caught out by double yellow lines (we narrowly avoided that after noticing that the whole line of cars on a part of the road had the fines stuck on!).
  • There are no facilities. You'll find a coffee van and a few picnic benches at the Mam Nick car park, but no toilets - the nearest public toilets are in Castleton, a short drive away. 

15 February 2024

Things to Do in Manchester - Runway Visitor Park

Thursday, February 15, 2024 0 Comments

I've spent a total of 10 years working at an airport, and I do miss it sometimes. I admit to being a big kid at heart, and I love a bit of plane spotting - I'd sometimes go outside during my breaks, and just watch the planes take off and land while I was eating my lunch. 

Where we live now, we can see the planes descending towards Manchester Airport while we walk down the street, and sometimes even find ourselves directly under the approach path when we visit Stockport - if timed well, you can have the Emirates' A380 flying just over your head!

My kids also enjoy watching planes, and if we're in a spot where they fly low enough above our heads, they enjoy spotting which airlines the planes belong to. And there's an even better way to watch planes in Manchester - the Runway Visitor Park.

Located just a short drive from the Manchester Airport, adjacent to the runway, it offers a viewing area just a few metres away from the planes! You'll be able to spot anything from smaller Ryanair and EasyJet planes to major international carriers like British Airways, Air Canada, or KLM, and even the Emirates' huge A380 which always attracts a crowd.

The park provides a large fenced area for watching the planes on the runway. There's a raised viewing area closer to the terminal, which is where you get closest to the plane as they taxi to and from the runway. Beyond that, you'll find a grass-covered space along the runway, with picnic tables scattered around, and a plane-themed playground.

If you're in need of refreshments, there's a café with indoor seating, and a smaller building next door holds a souvenir shop and toilet facilities.

For those looking for something more than just plane spotting from the side, the Park offers a variety of tours and experiences. While wandering around, you can have a look at the AVRO RJX - the last aircraft to be fully made in the UK, forward section of Monarch plane, or take a peek inside the Trident which was the first airplane to make a fully automated approach and landing.

There are guided tours available too - you can choose between exploring the famous Concorde or retired RAF Nimrod, or go and see both. 

Youngest plane enthusiasts can enjoy one of the Flight Academy Airport Life tours, suitable for kids 4+ (there are two groups available, for ages 4-7 and 8-12). Children get to go on board the Monarch DC-10, learn about various job roles at the airport, and even be a pilots for a bit - at the end they even get a certificate for completing the Academy.

Thrill seekers can try out the Fly 360 simulator, where you can have a go at flying an aircraft yourself (for ages 9+).

The Runway Visitor Park is free to visit, but there are car park charges - £5 for up to 2 hours, £10 for up to 4 hours, and £12 for over 4 hours (prices correct at the time of writing). The car park charge is included in the price of some of the paid tours. 

For more information about opening times (varying depending on the season), current prices and bookings, visit the Runway Visitor Park Website, and check the airport website for departures and arrivals so you can spot the best planes.

11 February 2024

10 Fun Date Ideas for Parents Who Struggle with Childcare

Sunday, February 11, 2024 0 Comments

This post may contain affiliate links (I'll earn a small commission if you use them)

February is the month of love, and even though we don't really celebrate Valentine's Day (I can't actually think of a single one we did, apart from our very first one together when we went for a trip to London), it's nice to pause and get a little bit romantic. 

As I sat down to write this, I stopped for a moment to think - when we're married and go out with our spouse, is it still "dating"? Or should we reserve the term for people who meet up to get to know one another?

If for nothing else than a lack of a better term, let's keep calling it "dating" - it's still making time for each other, maybe doing something a little special together, just the two of us.

I think after having children it feels even more like dating to actually be able to go out on our own, just be the couple again. But it can be really hard to find that time to spend on our own - we don't have any relatives living locally who could babysit for us, so we usually plan quality time as a whole family. 

It's a little easier now that both kids are at school, as we're able to plan some activities for just the two of us during school hours. Here are five ideas for daytime couple activities:

1. Breakfast/brunch/lunch

Because who said only candlelight dinners are romantic? If you can both manage a couple of hours during the day, breakfast dates are great! Most places, even the most popular spots, are also quieter during the week, so you can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere.

2. Cinema trip

When we are really keen on the newest blockbuster, daytime cinema trip it is. Sometimes it doesn't quite work out with the timing - you need to consider the time to get to and back from the cinema, then the length of the movie itself, and add about half an hour of adverts and trailers on top of that. But when all that works out well in between school drop off and pick up time, then again it's a less busy time - and who knows, you might end up getting a private screening if no one else turns up!

3. A walk in the park

Sometimes it's all about the simple things. When you're a parent, a trip to the park is usually a child-centered activity. It's nice to just have a walk and a chat, without needing to keep an eye on the kids, being asked to play, or getting nagged for some ice cream. On a warm, dry day, if you have time to spare, it could be nice to have a picnic too.

4. Visit an art gallery or a museum

Museums can be a fantastic rainy day activity with the kids, but, depending on their ages, they might only find a select few exhibitions interesting - mine love a visit to the Science and Industry Museum, where the whole of the 1st floor is dedicated to interactive activities for children, but aren't really into regular exhibitions where you simply walk around looking at stuff. A date at the museum could give you a chance to see all those things that kids made you rush past.

5. Go bowling

While it might not be the most romantic thing in the world, it's good fun and a way to blow off some steam. And since you've been together for a while, it's less awkward than if you were still in the dating stage and wanted to make a good impression.

If you can only get time together in the evenings, when children are at home, there are still some things you could do to feel like you're on a proper date after they've gone to bed. Here are five ideas for a date night in, for parents who can't get childcare:

1. Movie night at home

One of the easiest ideas ever. You can put on one of your all-time favourites, but the best effect choose a movie you haven't seen yet - it will feel almost as good as actually going out to the cinema, but with the added bonus of being able to snuggle up on your sofa. Make some popcorn and other snacks, turn the lights off, and get the cinema feeling on.

2. Have a fancy meal

Cook something special, different from what you usually have for dinner. Maybe a dish from a cuisine of a country on your bucket list? Or something fancy you've seen on TV, but never tried making yourself. Or that dish that you love, but never cook for family dinners, because kids won't touch it! Alternatively, order a takeaway - again, maybe from some place you wouldn't normally try because of the children.

3. At-home spa 

You can't go wrong with a little bit of pampering. Light some nice-smelling candles, get you both some face masks, foot soak, and good massage oils. And if any of you is like my husband, needing a more intensive massage after a day stuck in one position, I highly recommend getting one of those massage guns with various attachments - works wonders for me too, when my previously broken foot plays up.

4. Garden/backyard picnic

More of an idea for when the days get longer, and warmer. Up here in Manchester, the summer days get really long, and it stays light until well after 10pm. After getting the children to bed, get out into the garden/backyard. Hang some fairy lights on the fence for the mood, get a nice drink (we enjoy a glass of non-alcoholic G&T or a mocktail), some snacks, or even eat that fancy dinner al fresco.

5. Play board games

Board games are usually a family activity here, but they can be great fun for a couple too. You could choose something for the older players that you can't normally play with the kids, or go for the family favourite and enjoy getting more competitive than you do against your children.

So that's 10 examples of things you can do as a couple with children but no childcare available - not just for Valentine's Day. Just think about what you both enjoy doing, set some time aside, and go for it!

05 February 2024

5 Practical Tips for Ramadan

Monday, February 05, 2024 0 Comments
This post may contain affiliate links (I'll earn a small commission if you use them). Also contains placement of my own products.

Due to the Islamic calendar being a lunar one, Ramadan starts about ten days earlier every year of the Gregorian calendar. Hence it feels like it comes faster every year, because it starts ten days earlier, even though it's still a year since the last one.

As the Ramadan approaches earlier again, it's easy to feel unprepared - even though it's my 11th year as a Muslim convert/revert, and so my 11th Ramadan.

I won't lie to you, I'm not one of those people who excitedly share on social media how much they're looking forward to Ramadan. I usually don't - it's physically draining, and I'm probably not in the same place spiritually as some people. But I think this is the case for a lot of people and not enough of us admit to it - we're only human after all, might experience spiritual highs and lows, and we're all in different places on our journey. And that's okay to admit.

I might not necessarily look forward to Ramadan every time, but I still observe it by fasting, keeping regular prayers, and trying to add extra worship during that month. Here are my ten tips to prepare for Ramadan, and to make the most of it regardless of how you feel going into it.

1. Set yourself realistic goals

It doesn't have to be a long list. I usually set out to read 1 Juz of the Quran a day (I read in English or Polish), intending to complete it in 30 days. I also make a goal to learn a new (short) surah. It can be anything else - learning 99 names of Allah, reading a new Islamic book, maybe going to the mosque more often. Just make sure it's something you think you'll be able to keep up with, so you don't end Ramadan disappointed in yourself.

If you're a planner kind of person, I designed a really simple Ramadan Planner - this, and a few other versions, are available as instant downloads for you to print at home, in my Etsy shop 

And if you need a more comprehensive journal and/or prefer a paperback copy sent directly to you, there's plenty of Ramadan planners on Amazon to choose from.

Again, when setting your own goals, make sure they're achievable for you personally - you'll feel better accomplishing one or two simple goals at the end of Ramadan, than if you try to take on too much and don't succeed.

2. Stock up and make a meal plan

Again, I don't mean anything crazy - I'm not telling you here to go crazy like people did in the lockdowns, or plan your meals for the whole month ahead!

In the UK many major supermarkets have a lot of offers and promotions before Ramadan. It's a great time to stock up on essentials that have lower prices, and there's often more variety of products. What we do ahead of Ramadan is stock up on the stuff that will get used the most: big bags of flour and rice, large bottle of oil, tins of tomatoes, packs of lentils and chickpeas - it's all the stuff we get in larger, bulk packs, and the logic is to get the heavy stuff before Ramadan starts, so then we can just do smaller top-up shops throughout the month when we start lacking energy. 

Meal plan isn't something I do regularly, and I don't strictly stick to one in Ramadan either. I find, however, that it helps to have a general idea of what we think we'll want to eat - it helps avoid thinking too much about what to cook every day, and helps with the shopping list too (we all know what happens when you go shopping on an empty stomach and without a plan).

I also find it helpful to batch cook before Ramadan - I don't do much because of the small freezer space, but it's good to have a few meals ready for the days when you don't have time or energy left to cook. Other than that, when I make fresh meals, I try to choose something that can be made to last at least two days, rather than spending every day stressing in the kitchen. 

3. Clean and decorate the house

I love a bit of a spring clean ahead of Ramadan. I declutter, reorganise stuff, and all that. I find it helpful for two reasons: first of all, a clear house = a clear mind (or so they say). Doing a deep clean before Ramadan means that I only have regular, small daily tasks to do, and rather than distract myself with a deep clean while fasting, I can use this time for reading and learning. The second reason is that decluttering potentially means finding items to donate to charity - great time to get rid of those clothes you keep telling yourself you'll lose weight for, or the toys that are still good but now forgotten.

Since having children I also decorate the house for Ramadan and Eid - in recent years this has become a really common thing to do, and decorations can be found pretty much everywhere. eBay is probably my favourite place for finding Ramadan and Eid decorations on a budget, as they have everything from hanging wall decor or balloons to partyware or even full sets of decorations for all your needs. I find that decorating for Ramadan sets the mood, and helps us all feel that this is a special time of the year - it also gives the children more excitement, as they get the same atmosphere as others do over Christmas. 

4. Be mindful about the media you consume

Music is definitely my guilty pleasure - I love getting the headphones on for cleaning or exercise, or even when I pop out of the house alone. Alternatively, I enjoy playing commentary YouTubers in the background. During Ramadan, however, I do try to avoid that. I swap music for Quran recitation (Mr also plays it in the car instead of the radio) - my favourite band released a new album in Ramadan last year, but as much as I wanted to listen to it straight away, I put it off. I also swap the YouTube drama for something more informative - last year I was listening to the Islamic History Podcast.

5. Organise activities for the children

Last year a large portion of Ramadan fell over kids' Easter holidays, and it will be similar this time - depending on actual dates for Ramadan and Eid, my two will be at home for nearly 2 weeks, so almost the full second half of Ramadan. 

Over the past few years, we gathered a small collection of children's books about Ramadan - my favourite places to buy them from are Kube Publishing and Muslim Children's Books, but I also occasionally order them from Amazon for convenience.

Some of our favourite Ramadan titles include: "It's Ramadan, Curious George", "Hassan and Aneesa Love Ramadan", "Tell Me More About Ramadan", and "Ramadan Moon" - they are aimed more at the younger children, so my daughter still enjoys them. My eldest, however, is a more advanced reader, so for him we have a few of Zanib Mian's books - Migo and Ali are still enjoyed here, as well as the Planet Omar and Meet The Maliks series.

Another thing to keep the children occupied in a positive way is Ramadan activity books - my daughter was definitely more interested in that than my son, and again it's something more for the younger children as those activity books tend to mostly contain colouring pages. My favourite over time was the Momin Explorers Ramadan Activity Book which includes templates for DIY Ramadan and Eid decorations, greeting cards, and bookmarks, so there are some things to get the children more involved.

Whether you're eagerly awaiting Ramadan or feeling a little apprehensive, hopefully these little tips can help you get prepared for Ramadan in a practical way, so that you can focus more on your spiritual enrichment over this holy month.

04 February 2024

Becoming Muslim - My Revert Story

Sunday, February 04, 2024 0 Comments

Growing up, you could say I had a pretty sheltered life - born in freshly post-communist Poland, spent my whole life in a small town, with extremely limited experience of different cultures. Raising children in England, I appreciate how much they learn about different cultures and religions at school, while our RE classes were all about the Catholic Church, and I only ever remember having a very brief (and not entirely correct) introduction to other main religions.

My knowledge of Islam before moving to the UK was that basic, stereotypical one - I knew the basic stuff, like the belief in Allah, Prophet Muhammad, five daily prayers, and fasting in Ramadan. From what I'd ever learned at school, I never knew just how many countries Islam dominates in, and considered it a domain of Arab countries. And obviously thought those poor covered women are all so oppressed.

When it came to my own faith, I was born in a Catholic family. Baptised as a baby, attended church every Sunday, and had my First Communion. Attended extra worship during Lent and Advent, and had the Confirmation in my teenage years, although that was more because everyone did it, rather than the conscious confirmation of faith that it's technically supposed to be. I had a time though, when I did want to get more into it - my friends convinced me it would be fun to go to a summer camp with the local church, and I even tried to join the church's youth group after coming back, but I ended up feeling really out of place and never quite into the worship just as much as the others were.

Fast forward to the move to England, and entering this melting pot of cultures. I was trying to remember my first impressions some time ago, but can't really think of how I felt being immersed in this multicultural environment. I think I was just in overall shock of being alone in the new place, and didn't really focus that much on the variety of people around me.

What I do remember though, are the Muslim girls that were in my class at uni. The hijabis fascinated me at first - I mean the fact that those, in my mind, "oppressed" young women were in higher education, when I was always led to believe that they weren't really allowed to do anything with their lives. That was my first opportunity to learn that Muslim women can be really fun, cool, into their clothes and make-up like anyone else, and beyond everything really smart and ambitious.

In the years that followed, Islam still really wasn't something I would be interested in. I've been around various Muslims a fair bit, they changed my general view of them as a whole, but it was more along the lines of "you do you", and just living alongside each other.

I first really started exploring Islam more, when I moved in with my husband. Not really because I was extremely interested as such, but I felt like I needed to know more if I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person. I know how some say "I married a man, not his culture or religion", but for me, these are the things that shaped the man I married, so I wanted to know what influenced the way he is.

The first big thing I encountered in our relationship, was the nikah - the Islamic marriage, which I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. Food played a big role too as I made a switch to a halal butcher, and started being more careful about what I bought in case it contained pork or alcohol. I started realising that Islam is this whole way of life, outlined in the Quran, and I wanted to learn more about that.

I started watching scholars' lectures on YouTube, and then Mr brought me a copy of the English translation of the Quran that I could read. So I read, I listened to explanations of the Quranic verses, I listened to comparisons of the teachings of Islam to Christianity. I loved the overall logic that I found behind certain beliefs.

Contrary to what some people might assume, neither my husband nor his family ever pushed me into accepting Islam. It was my own curiosity, and it took me about two years to decide this is what I actually believed in, that it agreed with me more than the Catholic faith I was brought up in. I don't think my husband even knew how much I got into it - I just occasionally asked him about something I'd read or heard, to clarify. I started looking for Muslim women's blogs and YouTube channels to connect with, and I watched hijab tutorials when he wasn't around just so he wouldn't get overly excited about my interest. 

I eventually realised where I was going wrong with my whole journey - I thought that if I was ever going to convert, I'd have to first know all there was to know, learn how to pray, be ready to wear the hijab, the full works. I didn't look at it as work in progress - I didn't consider how people born into any religion still have to go through their whole lives learning. Just as I didn't get baptised as a baby fully knowing what I was getting into, but had to learn everything growing up, I shouldn't have been putting this pressure on myself to be ready-moulded Muslim before I even admitted I wanted to be one.

After that realisation, one evening I finally said to my husband "I think I want to be a Muslim". I repeated the words of shahada after him, and that was that. A few days later he booked me a meeting with an imam in the mosque, because after reading somewhere that I might need a certificate if I ever wanted to perform Umrah or Hajj, I wanted to have the official piece of paper for the future. We went with one of his cousins as another witness for me, the imam made sure I wasn't coerced into anything and knew what I was doing, and the rest is history really!

That was in 2013. I've obviously learned to pray since, but I'm still not the perfect Muslim I thought I'd become. I dress modestly, but don't wear the hijab (I did for some time, but decided to stop). I don't regularly go to the mosque, and struggle to connect with other Muslims, but I'm generally anti-social nowadays so I struggle to connect with anyone really ;) I still don't read Arabic, often struggle with connecting in prayer, and don't get as excited about Ramadan as some people do. Throwing In Sha Allah or Alhamdulillah into conversation still doesn't feel natural. But this is the way of life I chose to follow, what I felt was the right thing to do for the future of our family, and beyond anything else that I believe in.

26 January 2024

Practical Advice for Non-Muslim Women Considering Marriage with a Muslim Partner

Friday, January 26, 2024 0 Comments

You've seen and heard all the horror stories by now: how Muslim men are so bad, don't let their wives have any rights, if they marry a non-Muslim they'll force her to convert to Islam and take away all her freedoms, blah blah.

I won't sit here and defend all the Muslim guys, saying it's all just Islamophobic lies and doesn't happen - it sadly does, and while it's not about Islam but about the type of person someone is, I know that there are plenty of men that will use Islam to justify their actions.

But I am here to tell you, from my personal experience, that it's just a matter of knowing what you're getting yourself into, and deciding whether you want to go along with it. Over the years I've talked to many women in a position similar to mine, and all that I'm writing in this post is based on personal experience.

My pet peeve, when it comes to mixed marriages, is when women say "Oh, I'm not marrying his religion or culture, I'm marrying the person". I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement - a person's culture and religion play a massive role in their identity and have a heavy influence on what kind of person they are - their moral values, their everyday habits, traditions they follow, the way they behave with other people, even down to the trivial things like what they eat and how they dress. In my opinion, it's pretty important to at least get familiarised with some basics of your partner's culture and religion, to have a better understanding of what influences the way they are as a person. I mean here, of course, that both a woman and a man should show interest in the other person's background.

The first thing you'll hear, when you tell people you're planning to marry a Muslim man, is that "He'll force you to convert to Islam". I remember when I told my friends that I had an Islamic wedding (nikah) with my husband, the first thing I got in response was "Did you repeat anything in Arabic after them? Because they like to trick girls into saying the declaration of faith and converting to Islam!"

Let's clear this one up straight away - yes, I've heard of this happening. It would be either the husband, his family, or even an imam(!) insisting that the bride must also repeat the words of shahada, the declaration of faith. That doesn't mean it always happens, that it should ever happen, or that it's even in line with the teachings of Islam.

The truth is that 1) Muslim men are permitted to marry non-Muslim women, and 2) that as outlined in the Quran, there is no compulsion in the religion. Based on that, nobody can force or trick you into accepting Islam, and making you repeat a set of words which meaning you're not aware of, is simply meaningless. To actually become a Muslim you need to believe in Allah (One God), in the fact that Muhammad (pbuh) was the last Prophet, and if you don't then empty words don't make you one. When I made the decision to officially become Muslim on paper, and went to the mosque to do this in front of an imam so I could get a certificate, he asked me multiple times whether I was doing this out of my own free will and conviction, and then made sure I actually had at least a basic understanding of Islam.

In short - if anyone is trying to convince you that you have to become Muslim to marry your Muslim partner, it's a massive red flag.

Based on what I've said above, my main advice will always be to Discuss all the matters involving religion before the marriage:

  • Are you familiar with at least the basic principles of your partner's religion?
  • Do you think you'll ever be willing to convert to Islam? (it's okay if not)
  • How do you want to raise future children? Bear in mind that any practicing Muslim will want to raise children in Islam. 
  • What about you celebrating your religious holidays, for example Christmas?
  • Something that might seem trivial, but food - Muslims don't consume pork or alcohol, and will usually source their meat from a halal butcher, so you'll need to consider if these are changes you're willing to make.

Remember it's all about compromise. It's not only about you adjusting to life according to Islamic values, but if your partner is willing to marry a non-Muslim, then he needs to be accepting of your traditions and beliefs, and generally take you just the way you are. 

Another important thing, that I mentioned earlier, is the nikah - Islamic marriage contract, which basically makes the marriage religiously valid. 

I'll be honest, I had no clue about this at first. When my now husband asked me for a nikah, I was terrified because I didn't really know what it meant for me. I took some time to learn a bit about it because it was clear that it was important to my other half, and it turns out it's not all that bad! It's pretty much a contract that states that both bride and groom are entering the marriage out of their own will, outlines the rights and obligations of the couple, and specifies the value of mahr - the obligation by the groom to his bride, in form of money or other possessions (reverse dowry if you will). 

I think the most daunting thing about the idea of nikah for a non-Muslim, especially if you come from a Christian background, is that for example in the Catholic Church divorce is not recognised, and it's really "til death do us part" kinda thing. Well, good news - divorce is allowed in Islam, which definitely made this less intimidating and "forever" for me when we were only just at the beginning of our relationship.

Food for thought here: nikah should be important for a practicing Muslim man, who has genuine intentions about the marriage. It's not to say that without it you'll be a "bit on the side" or something, and of course even with the nikah you can't ever be 100% sure of anything, I've seen a variety of scenarios. From the experiences shared with me though, as well as my own, a Muslim man keen on having the nikah with his non-Muslim partner tends to be an indication of sincere intentions, and similarly avoiding it for no apparent reason can potentially be a cause for concern. Again, everyone's circumstances are different, and discussing these things is essential.

As mentioned in the beginning, all of the above advice is based on my own experience of marrying a Muslim man while not being a Muslim myself, as well as discussions with other women like me. I'll repeat again - the best thing you can do is to make sure you both put your cards on the table from the very beginning, know exactly what your expectations are, and whether you're willing to compromise (and to what extent).

18 January 2024

Polish Traditions We Cultivate: Grandparents' Day

Thursday, January 18, 2024 0 Comments

Truth be told, we don't follow many Polish traditions. Most of the holidays in the Polish calendar are Catholic religious festivals, which as a Muslim household we obviously won't celebrate. 

There are, however, a few traditions that we do follow - they would usually be days to celebrate our nearest and dearest. One of these is Grandparents' Day, or actually two days, because Grandmothers and Grandfathers get a day each.

Dzień Babci (Grandma's Day) is celebrated on the 21st of January, and Dzień Dziadka (Grandpa's Day) falls the day after, on the 22nd. The holiday itself isn't that old - the idea of celebrating Grandmother's Day in Poland first came about in 1964, in women's magazine Kobieta i Życie, popularised the following year, and has been celebrated ever since. 

Grandparents' Day doesn't seem to be something celebrated in the UK, but apparently, it does exist. It was proposed by the charity Age Concern in 1990 and falls on the first Sunday in October, but it hasn't really been adopted by the British public.

I found out that quite a few countries around the world celebrate the Grandparents' Day on various dates throughout the year, but interestingly Poland seems to be the only one that splits that between two separate days, one for Grandmothers and one for Grandfathers. However, in my family we'd normally combine the two and celebrate all the Grandparents in one day, usually the 21st - when we visited grandmas with flowers and cards, we would also take grandads' gifts since we were already going over. If that couldn't work, then we would visit one set of Grandparents on the 21st, and then the others on the 22nd.

Now I've passed this on to my own children, even though it's not something celebrated in the UK. We never really bought gifts for that day, only flowers for grandmas and then some handmade cards or maybe a new photo of us grandchildren, so now I do the same with my children - if I remember early enough, I ask them to make pictures that I can send to my mum and dad, and something for their last great-grandma (my maternal grandmother), if not we just call them with wishes and take some nice photo of them together, particularly for my Nan who keeps photos of all us granddaughters and her great-grandchildren on display. 

09 January 2024

My Big Fat Pakistani Wedding

Tuesday, January 09, 2024 0 Comments

Just kidding, that never actually happened.

I don't like weddings, never have. Not even as a guest.

A big, traditional Polish wedding, would be my absolute nightmare. It's normally a lot of people (because "it's polite" to invite relatives you've barely met in your life), a lot of drinking, rubbish music, awkward dancing, and even more awkward wedding games. 

I can't say I would be too keen on a Pakistani wedding either. The couple usually just sits on stage, the bride looking sad like it's the worst day of her life, and the guests basically just enjoy the party until it's time to take some photos with the couple. In most cases, men and women sit separately, so if, like me, you rely on your partner for company when you're at a wedding where you don't know anyone, you're out of luck.

When I was in high school, my youngest aunt got married. She didn't have an extravagant wedding - instead, they booked a local restaurant, invited only the closest family and friends, and that was it. I loved this idea and at that time decided, that if I ever got married, this was what I wanted to do. 

Luckily for me, my husband was on the same page, and perfectly satisfied with just a small wedding. Just as well, because at the time we were rather skint, living in a tiny bedsit, getting by. You may ask - why plan a wedding then, why not wait until we could afford something more? Truth be told, we decided to formalise our relationship to make our life together easier - while Mr I. was already legally residing in the UK, being married meant a lot less issues later on. At this point I can imagine people go "Ohhh so he married you for the visa/passport/whatever" - can someone remind him then, as I'm still stuck with him in spite of the fact that he already got the British passport? ;-)

Anyway, because of that we didn't want to go too far into the future, and settled on a date that only gave us a few months to plan everything. That sounds absolutely mental, when you think that people plan these things years in advance - the reception venue, catering, photographer, music, flowers, even the wedding dress. 

One thing I knew, despite deciding on a small wedding, that I wanted it to include both our cultures. I definitely wanted a traditional white dress for the ceremony itself, but for the reception I went for a Pakistani outfit.

I was never into big, typical wedding dresses, plus I really was on a budget, so it was definitely a task to find a dress I would love. I came across mine completely by accident, tried it on, and it was the one - quite plain white maxi, with pearl embellishments, which my friends later described as "something out of the Pride and Prejudice". 

Unfortunately I only seem to have that one photo on my own in my wedding dress, that shows it in full, but here's a little close-up of the detail on it ^

While our actual marriage ceremony was the Western part of the day, there was one Desi element I had - the mehndi, traditional hand decorations drawn with henna. Done by our wonderfully talented friend, who was so committed that she was with me from 6am creating this intricate design.

For the reception I decided to embrace the Pakistani style - the outift, bangles, matching jewellery and khussa (shoes), full works.. Looking back, after learning more about Pakistani wedding fashion, this was definitely a really simple choice for a bride, but at that time all the embroidery and embellishments felt SO over the top for me, especially considering the very simple style I chose for my wedding dress.

What did the actual wedding day involve then?

We booked ourselves a slot in the local registry office, on a sunny Saturday in September. We had all of Mr's family who live there, and some of mine flew over - my parents and sister, and my godmother with two of my cousins. My godfather who lives in London came over as well. Apart from the families we invited some of our closest local friends, maybe 30 people in total.

For the reception we booked a small local Pakistani restaurant, just to have a dinner and sit around with our guests for a little. Due to the majority of our guests being Muslim we opted for a place that was fully halal and didn't serve alcohol - we were debating a couple of other places, but finally decided to choose that particular one to make sure everyone would be happy to attend and celebrate with us. My family sorted themselves out afterwards ;) 

Even though we both come from cultures where big weddings are more of a thing, I'm happy we both agreed that it wasn't something we necessarily wanted for ourselves. We both felt that what we did was perfectly enough for what's just one day in the end. There might be a few details I would change, because hindsight is 20/20, but overall our wedding day was pretty much everything we wanted it to be.

05 January 2024

How I ended up living in England

Friday, January 05, 2024 0 Comments

I previously told you the story of how I met my husband. But that wouldn't happen if I hadn't first moved to the UK, so let's go back to the very beginning - how I actually ended up living in England.

I'm from a small town in the south of Poland, roughly 25 miles from Krakow. When I was growing up, we didn't start learning a second language at school until year 4, which considering that kids start school in Poland at the age of 7, is 10 to 11 years old. I was lucky that my parents decided to send me for English classes earlier than that - they never got to learn English at school, because in their time it was Russian, so they wanted us to have a chance to get ahead with English to get better prospects later in life. I remember my first "lessons" were with a lady who used to live abroad and then taught a few kids at her home, but that was mostly us watching Cartoon Network in English (it was SO fancy to have access to that at the time), and occasionally doing some actual learning. But then they enrolled me in a proper language school, and I found myself doing pretty good at learning it. 

While learning English we obviously also learned bits and pieces about British culture. You know - the Royals, London and all the landmarks, Sherlock Holmes, kind of the basics. It became a dream to visit London one day - a seemingly unattainable dream in the times before the open borders, and before cheaper air travel became available to everyone. 

My heart was kind of set on studying English at university when I was in middle school (something that existed in the education system at the time), and I wanted to go to a language-focused class in high school. My family convinced me to choose the history and geography one instead, because "what will you go on to study later, English philology, to be a teacher?" - well, in the end, this is exactly what I said I would go on to study anyway.

In my final year of high school, when it was time to start considering universities, I came across some information about potentially being able to study in England. My three best friends and I bunked off school one day (well, with our parents' permission, so it didn't really count), to travel to Krakow to an education fair, where we could see the offerings of a multitude of universities and colleges from around the country, but also from abroad. That's where I met the people from the University of Bedfordshire, and I was instantly sold on the idea of going there - particularly as they offered the exact kind of degree that I was after! I mean come on, if I want to study the intricacies of the English language, what better place to do it than England?

I talked to my parents, we went through the prospectus, discussed all the logistics of me potentially going, and they got behind the idea. They gave me an insane amount of support, and when they saw how much I wanted to give it a go, they never said no. We weren't like insanely well off or anything, and despite me not needing to actually pay the tuition fees because I qualified for the student loan, I still needed a fair bit of money to fulfill that dream, so I totally would've understood if they discouraged me. They didn't though, as they saw this as a big chance for me, and I'll forever be grateful for their support.

So, after that slightly long background story, in September 2007 I boarded a plane, alone, for the very first time, and flew to Luton. In retrospect, I don't actually know what possessed me to do this - I was rather shy, full of insecurities, and there I was in a foreign country for the first time, all alone. I had £500 in my pocket, a room arranged through an online portal (that could've gone SO wrong for me, but that's yet another long story), and absolutely nothing and nobody to fall back on. I also quickly realised that I massively overestimated my proficiency in English, which I'd been learning for 12 years - I. Understood. Nothing. They teach you all the grammar and most useful vocabulary but don't tell you that people don't actually speak in Queen's English like on the tapes we listened to in class (Yes, I'm that old). Some time ago my mum was actually reminiscing about how I called her first time after coming here and cried that I couldn't communicate because I hardly understood anyone.

Fortunately, I decided to get here a little ahead of the start of the academic year, in time for Freshers Week, and threw myself into the international students' community. They were a massive help in those first days - took us around the town centre to get familiar with the area, showed us local shops so we knew where to get our essentials, organized social events. I even got to go on a few trips over the first couple of weeks: coach trip around Bedfordshire, another one to London, and even a day in Brighton. With the last one, I couldn't get my head around the fact that I was at the seaside in literally a couple of hours on the train - I remember my mum giving me an angry call because I hadn't phoned them that day, and she wouldn't believe I was actually sitting on the beach! 

Funny thing about my first London trip - it was SO underwhelming. Maybe because it was a coach trip, I only got to see most of the landmarks by driving past, and we only really made a few stops with not much time to explore. But I was massively disappointed - I said above that it was almost like a lifelong dream for me to visit London, and it was just a bit... meh. However, when I made my own way there after some time and got to actually experience London properly, I was happy to discover that my dream destination was all I hoped for and more. Now, despite our move all the way to Manchester, London is still a city that I never get bored of visiting.

My time in England was supposed to be short - the plan was to just stay for three years, for the duration of my degree, and then move back home and probably carry on with the Master's degree, or who knows. However, plans are one thing, and life itself is another - lots changed for me over those three years, and I just didn't fancy going back after graduating. I wasn't quite sure what exactly I had in mind for the future, but I was starting to feel a bit at home here, and even my family weren't asking me about moving back. Then I got together with my now husband, and the rest is history ;)

02 January 2024

How I met your father - my multicultural marriage story

Tuesday, January 02, 2024 0 Comments

Over the years I've had a lot of "Oh, your surname doesn't really go with your first name, does it?". I'd then reveal that my husband is from Pakistan, and this would usually be followed by "Wow! How did you two meet then?"

I kind of wish I had some exciting story about this, but it really is quite ordinary - we simply met at work. We both used to work at Luton airport, in restaurants next door to each other. Our places were managed by the same company though, and shared a cleaning area at the back of the house, so we naturally bumped into each other a fair bit. At that time I was good friends with another Polish girl, who started the job at the same time as me, and who was already in a relationship with a Pakistani guy at that time - she was working with my now husband, we all sort of clicked and that's how I became friends with him.

We'd known each other for about 2.5 years before we began our relationship. There was a lot of stuff happening to both of us during that time, and I was adamant I'd NEVER be with him. We used to chat online a lot - it was the glorious time of MSN Messenger, and we'd sometimes chat up until 1-2 am, but I always put him firmly in the friendzone. Not sure what eventually changed, but here we are!

We moved in together pretty quickly because I was getting evicted by my landlord who decided to sell the house I lived in. 3 months into the relationship, I think. We knew each other for quite a while though, and since I had no other choice but to find a place anyway, we figured out that we might as well find one together.

I wasn't Muslim at the time and was really only starting to learn anything about Islam, and that was also only because my life partner happened to be a Muslim. Shortly after we decided to share a home, he asked for us to get Nikah, the Islamic marriage - I remember him coming home one day after meeting his friends, with a realisation that we'd have a more blessed life if we did things properly and have the religious ceremony.

I'd obviously never heard of it, and not gonna lie - at the time it freaked me out a bit. Of course, I did think of our relationship as something long-term, quite possibly permanent. But that was unknown territory, it was *his* faith. At first, I refused. It seemed scary - I was brought up a Catholic, and religious marriage was something really serious, the whole "till death do us part". He didn't push, it wasn't a "make or break" kind of thing at the time, he just asked me to give it a thought. I took a bit of time to read about it, trying to understand what it would mean for me in the future. When I realised that it was actually a pretty straightforward thing, if things didn't work out we could just get a simple divorce, I agreed. While at that time it had no real significance for me, it was important to my husband to make our relationship "proper". The nikah we had was a simple affair, held in his friends' house with one performing the ceremony and the rest of them being our witnesses. 

I say that to me it wasn't really that important, just something to make him happy. I could see though, that it mattered. From that moment, if we stumbled across any of his friends in town, he would proudly introduce me as his wife. And since the relationship was "halal", he decided it was only right to introduce me to the family. I remember him being really worried about what his parents, who live back in Pakistan, would say - on one hand, he wasn't comfortable telling them he started living with his gori girlfriend, but also felt guilty that he didn't inform them about his intention to get the nikah done. Their reaction was great though, especially mum - she was absolutely lovely and you could see she was genuinely happy for us.

This happened in early 2011, and as we continued living together, we eventually decided to get married officially, and in September 2012 tied the knot in a small ceremony. No grand wedding, either Polish or Pakistani style - this would be my ultimate idea of hell, being a centre of attention at this massive party. Ours was a simple registry office ceremony, followed by a dinner in a local restaurant, with just a handful of our families and friends attending. I honestly hate massive weddings, even as a guest, so this is what I always wanted for myself, and I'm glad this suited my husband too. We did make it into a bit of a cultural fusion though, just a litttle bit - more on that another time though, or this will go on forever.

As I'm writing this in 2023, two kids and a global pandemic later we're not divorced ;) We're still massively different people and sometimes our views still clash, but there are way more things we agree on, and some that we compromised on over the years, so it just goes to show that our kind of cultural mix can successfully work.

I hope that after reading this you'll come back for more stories!