Munira Premji

I met Viveka, spent time with Mauro and Chiara, and was mesmerized by Chicca!

The best part of our recent trip to Portugal and Spain was meeting people that left me in awe.

In Madrid, I sauntered over to a pop-up venue at a hotel where there were many wares to be bought. I saw a long outfit of shimmering gold that caught my eye and I put it on. I noticed the designer looking at me as I surveyed myself critically in the full mirror. She walked over to me and said in her beautiful accent and wide smile, “No, no, not like this; you need to put it off the shoulder. You are too vibrant to wear something in such a formal way; the clothes need to flow and breathe with you.” It was hard to ignore the designer, Viveka (https://www.vivekashop.com/). She was tall, and larger than life. She was also very popular and many people stopped by to say hello. In the brief time I spent at her booth, she sold at least 10 pieces, and they were remarkably affordable. Viveka chose to hang out with me, all the while managing customers, giving opinions, selling clothing and finding the right pieces for people. She was curious about who I was and where I came from. We bonded and shared stories. She told me of her adult son who had lymphoma and liked to party. I told her about my bout with cancers.

And while we were chatting away, she brought stuff for me to try. A pink net coverup, a beige coverup. A white casual top, and she threw in a second one for me at no cost. And then she told me I should buy a kimono as kimonos are all the rage in Europe right now. I was hesitant because it felt like wearing a bath robe. But Viveka searched and went into her trove to find me a vibrant, bright blue kimono that she approved for me. She asked me to pair it with jeans and a white top. We hugged and kissed and exchanged contact information, promising that one day we would see each other again. Her radiance stays with me.

Munira, with Viveka at a pop-up at The Westin Palace Hotel, Madrid, Spain.

In the Algarve in the southern region of Portugal, we met a couple, Mauro and Chiara, who had moved from the UK to settle in Portugal. They had family in Lagos and one day, they decided to take a leap of faith and move also. In their travels, they met someone who had a business idea of opening up a family bar that was child-friendly, and had healthy and fresh food options. And that’s how O Ninho (oninho.familybar) came to be. We were passing by outside their restaurant and they invited us in with the promise that Mos and Amaal would be occupied in the kids area on the second floor, with educational toys and books, while we enjoyed a cappuchino. We learnt that this was the first time they had ever worked together. They were discovering how to cook and create beautiful Vegan concoctions together. And they were just making plans to start a “Mommas Club” as a place for mums and their kids to come together monthly, and learn and eat together. What has stayed with me after meeting this adorable couple is how life during Covid gave them a chance to pause and think about what they loved, where they wanted to live and what was important to them. And once they figured this out, they just made it happen. They work hard running their business and then make time to go to the beach and enjoy life. I am so inspired by their courage to reboot their lives and chase their dreams, trusting that it would all work out.

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g189117-d23974638-r839263397-O_Ninho_Family_Bar-Lagos_Faro_District_Algarve.html#

And then there was Francesca Rimonti, also known as Chicca! She owned a highly-rated restaurant called Chicca’s in Praia da Luz in the Algarve (https://chiccasrestaurant.com), and she was one of the most dramatic women I have ever met. She oozed confidence. She was a wondrous entity and a drama queen all rolled in one. It was in the way she announced herself unapologetically, with flourish, when she came to your table, “I am Chicca!” And when she told you about the menu, it was like an art form. Every dish took a life of its own through her words and I could literally taste the succulence and fragrance of what she was describing. She saw herself as a craftswoman, working with the finest ingredients, combining things that grow together seasonally, and cooking with love. And the dessert, oh my, the dessert… I can still remember the beautiful chocolate raspberry peanut butter cake, the white chocolate & raspberry shortcake and the roast strawberry & passion fruit tart, desserts that Chicca created and makes lovingly. Chicca has shown me the raw power of passion and bringing that to life in a visceral way.

Francesca Rimonti aka Chicca! with our very own Cherrelle aka Cheche!

I am channelling a little bit of Viveka’s radiance, Chicca’s passion, and Mauro and Chiara’s faith, as I return to “real life” in Toronto. I find it wondrous, that people I met quite by accident, from the other side of the ocean, for just a fraction of time, have had such an impact on my life and how I choose to live.

My Book is in the Library!

Ever since I was a teenager, the library was one of my favourite places to hang out. I would scour the titles and touch the books with reverence. It did not matter to me what the genre was – it could be biography or romance or business. I was mesmerized by words on the page and acknowledged the brilliance of the writers to give voice to their thoughts.

I continued my passionate affair with the library through my 20’s and 30’s, even 40’s. Over time, technology caught up with me and I started purchasing books on my kindle and using the library’s online system to borrow books. Yesterday, I saw that multiple copies of my book Choosing Hope: One Woman. Three Cancers. is in the library – in Toronto, in Hamilton, in Burnaby! I don’t know why this is such a shock to me. But I shed many happy tears as this was an unexpected finding.

It took me two years to write this book. Two years of recounting painful memories. Two years of discipline and perseverence. Two years of going through the rollercoaster and emotions of sharing information, not just of one cancer, or two, but three advanced cancers in 5 years. But it was not just me. Shayne, Sabrina and Nagib wrote chapters in the book. Their passages are raw and unadulterated. Until I read them, I did not know the extent of trauma they went through. Shayne expressed honestly about how he did not like to visit me at the hospital because he could not bear to see me so swollen, almost unrecognizable. Sabrina talked about the agony and miracles she witnessed as my caregiver. Nagib poignantly spoke about how helpless he felt as my caregiver. If you have not read the book, please consider borrowing it from the library. It would be a public service! And if you have read the book, I ask that you take a few minutes to rate and review the book on Amazon as it will help more people find the book.

If you are able to come to my presentation at the library on September 27, I would be ecstatic! And if you have a group of friends that get together and want to invite me over for a book meet and mingle, let me know.

It has been two years since Mawenzi House gave birth to this book. For almost two years, I have found it difficult to re-read the book and only just picked up the book again a few weeks ago. It feels like visiting a dear old friend and I find I am having self conversations and reflections as I read through each page carefully. Would I do anything differently? What was the hardest part? What lessons have I learned? How has my life changed? My myeloma did make an unceremonious return and I required a second stem cell transplant in November 2019. In this moment though, I feel fantastic, living each moment with precious care. In this moment, life has never been better and I am sitting in a place of gratitude for the privilege of being alive!

And just like that, they are 1!!!

It was quite the experience  witnessing Mos and Amaal see each other again in Portugal close to their first birthdays.  

They started out ignoring each other for two days, barely acknowledging the other’s existence. They slowly warmed up to each other, but only occasionally. After a few days, they showed a modicum of interest in each other. And then one day, we observed them having a full on conversation at a beach in Lagos, Portugal. There was serious eye contact. There were hand gestures. And they were babbling to each other at a rapid pace. We were mesmerized. 

We imagined what they were saying to each other:

Mos: “Hey Amaal, we’re in Portugal! 

Amaal: “I know dude, this is the 5th country I’ve been to. How many countries are there in the world?”

Mos: “A lot, I think. I just hope there’s bread everywhere. I love bread”

Amaal: “Yeah, yesterday you fell asleep eating bread. You’re so silly, Mopey!”

Mos: “I’m half Dutch, of course I love bread! You love French fries. You’re so Canadian.”

Amaal: “French friesssssss!!!”

After they shared a laugh, they continued talking. This is what we imagined they said:

Mos: “Have you learnt the superpower of pointing? I point to everything and say. “Oh!”.  And my mom and dad respond right away.”

Amaal:  “I know.  Me too!  But I say, “that” when I point.”

Mos:  “I notice that you and I both like toothbrushes.  Maybe we can be dentists together.  We can be “Amaaludin and Mopeydin, Dentistry for Children.”

Amaal:  “Ha, ha, ha, ha.”

And then they stopped talking and went on their own merry ways, totally ignoring the other.

Mos turned one on June 9th.  Amaal’s first birthday was on June 28th. Both children have captured our hearts and imagination. We love Amaal’s mischievous smile as she plays “peek-a-boo”.  Her excitement at seeing dogs is contagious and her Nagib Bapa – scared of dogs – has befriended every dog in the neighbourhood, in service of Amaal. She appears to be fearless and resilient, willing to try anything with the confidence of a one year old that she won’t fail. We love how Mos is a problem solver. His ability to be consumed by a toy for a long time, figuring it out, turning it upside down, is a pleasure to observe. And he’s got persistence and is undeterred when he takes on a task. This, coupled with his sweetness and big belly laughs, makes him entirely too special.  

As they celebrate their milestone first birthdays, we wish them the joy of discovery and exploration, of playing and learning, of becoming who they are destined to become. And we take a moment to thank God for the gift of blessing us with two precious grandchildren who have transformed our lives. Happy first birthdays, Mos and Amaal!

Will Smith Flipped His Lid

I watched the chaotic incident with Will Smith and Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards and, like many people around the world, was stunned at what had just transpired. Was it part of the act, or something more? From a place of transparency, I love Will Smith.  I think he is a great actor. More importantly, I perceive him to be a fine human being — a man of character and integrity.  I also don’t particularly enjoy Chris Rock’s comedy. 

Let me start from the beginning.  During the Academy Awards broadcast, in a moment of emotional dysregulation, Will Smith, reacting to a joke by Chris Rock, walked on stage and slapped him. The joke was a reference to his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who shaved her head late last year after struggling with alopecia. After taking his seat, Smith continued to berate Rock shouting at him to “Keep my wife’s name out of your f-king mouth.”  Will Smith essentially “flipped his lid”. This is an American slang expression and implies a metaphor of a pot boiling over and knocking off its cover.

We all have moments when we flip our lid. It is part of being human and manifests when we feel attacked or threatened. Our rational brain shuts down, our emotions take over and we experience an amygdala hijack. Was Will Smith justified in his actions as he went to bat for his wife?  Did Chris Rock go too far with his “G.I. Jane 2” joke?  People are passionately divided in their opinions. I offer my perspective.

Earlier in the show, one of the hosts, Regina Hall, joked about Will and Jada’s open relationship saying his wife had approved it. I think this comment unnerved Smith and he felt attacked.  So, when Rock made what I consider an innocuous comment in the scheme of things, it was like the straw that broke Will’s back and he reacted violently, out of proportion.  And can you imagine if Chris Rock would have reacted in kind and slapped Will Smith right back? Thank goodness, he showed some restraint. The story of the 94th Academy Awards has become the story of the slap. Not the story of the thousands of people associated with the awards showcasing their life’s work who deserved their moment of recognition.

My disappointment is that Will Smith could have made this right when he took to the stage to receive his Best Actor award for his role in King Richard, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. In his tearful address, he apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees but did not apologize to Chris Rock. He explained his actions as one of defending his family by saying “Love will make you do crazy things”.  Rather than justifying his actions, how much more powerful would it have been if he would have used his platform to say that he did not appreciate the comedian’s joke about his wife but that did not give him the license to do what he did? What if he would have taken accountability for his actions? What if he would have humbly asked everyone to not focus on this one incident, because the Oscars are about the thousands of people who celebrate their craft?  I think it would have allowed people, regardless of the side they were on, to move forward.

I am a leadership development consultant and I teach people about emotional intelligence and strategies to manage their emotions effectively. Sometimes my clients tell me that when they go to work, they leave their emotions at the door. This is not possible to do because we are emotional creatures and if we suppress our emotions, we act them out.  Emotional intelligence is about being able to understand and manage our own emotions and recognize the emotions of other people. And these skills are important whether you are a manager, a spouse, a parent or a child. One way I manage my emotions when I feel attacked is to pause for 6 seconds and take a deep breath, label what I’m feeling and think about how I want to show up in this situation. Waiting 6 seconds before responding to a situation when triggered allows one to respond to the situation, rather than reacting to it.  6 seconds is the minimum amount of time required to put emotions on hold when confronted with an escalating situation.

We all flip our lids on occasion. It is very human to feel angry. It’s just such a shame that this happened in public by a dynamic and globally-recognized actor who could have used his platform to show how to handle a challenging situation with grace.

Discovering the little things

As we spend time with Mos Malik and Amaal Noor, it is fascinating to us how they will focus on the little things. Give them a toy and they will immediately reach out for the tiny label attached to the toy, examine it and put it in their mouth. When crawling to a table, Mos found this little screw under the table and this screw consumed his attention for a good 5 minutes. Amaal, while crawling, saw an ant and immediately raced to try and bop its head with her flailing hands (Ant – 1, Amaal – 0). Yesterday, her attention was captured by an electric outlet and she crawled rapidly to check it out. Lesson learned; we covered the outlet, and fast. It is fascinating to watch Mos with a spoon. He rolls it one way, then another; gently put it down, bangs it on the table, then bangs it on another surface to hear a different sound; pushes it away and then bring it close, throws it and picks it up again. That one tiny spoon can literally hold his attention for 10 minutes. Someone gave Amaal a valentine gift of a stuffed orange toy that looks like a cross between a horse and a unicorn. Each time Amaal sees this orange toy she goes close to it and communicates to it by coughing twice; she has done this enough times that it is a thing. It’s all the little things.

And as we look after Mos and Amaal, we have started to see the little things and calling them out. so they see what we see. The wet leaf. The acorn on the ground. The texture of a wool blanket. The sound of birds. The bitter taste of lime. The sound of rain when it hits the deck. The sound of paper being torn. The perfect chai latte. Roasted potatoes made to perfection. A whiff of lilies. Stars so close you can touch them. Generously buttered toast. An ideal picnic spot. Discovering an Enid Blyton book in a bookstore. Late Sunday breakfast. A WhatsApp message from a friend. A big piece of Wholenut Chocolate. Mint in tea. The perfect Vanilla Chai Latte with Almond Milk. Dutch cheese. Making Wordle in two tries. Singing “Ain’t no mountain” off -tune. By calling this out, we are discovering the thrill of just being present to the little pieces of everyday life. And instead of moving from one thing to another without thought. we are learning from Mos and Amaal to slow down, savour the journey and bring awareness to all the simple joys that life has to offer.

And a big part of this for us is noticing the little things that Mos and Amaal can do today, that they could not do yesterday. Like clapping, or making duck faces, or learning to drink water from a glass, or growing teeth, or babbling and finding their voices.

The outstretched arms when they see you, the smile they greet you when they see you, the resistance to putting on snowsuits. Graduating to bigger diapers. And then there is the food. Like watching them as they taste or eat hummus and bread (and avocado, and oatmeal with banana and mango, and peanut butter and tahini). And just as each day is a new discovery for them, it is giving me the inspiration to re-discover foods and places and people and experiences that bring me joy. No more of focusing on the next big milestone; now it is about appreciating my todays and being present in the moment. What an incredible gift my grandchildren have given us!