Singaporean mamas are doing amazing things all over the world! Today we meet writer, baker, and mother of two Syahirah Anwar in Pakistan
Pakistan gets a lot of bad press in the media and not many Singaporeans would venture there for holidays, much less relocate there and start a family. Meet Syahirah Anwar, who accidentally found her way to Islamabad after meeting her future husband at university. Now a mother of two, she tells us more about the importance of raising her children to be compassionate and how Islamabad is growing on her.
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Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! My name is Syahirah. I am a 31-year-old Singaporean married to an amazing Pakistani guy (no, it was not an arranged marriage! We met while studying at Monash University) and a mother to two beautiful princesses. I used to be a journalist in Singapore and I lived in Melbourne, Australia for a while before moving to Islamabad, Pakistan.
In Islamabad, I was working as an assistant editor with a magazine, but now with two kids, I chose to take a break from work and become a stay at home mum (SAHM, which I find is way tougher than working!!). To keep myself sane, I work as a freelance writer and also run a small baking business to pursue my passions! Oh, and I am a foodie (I mean, which Singaporean isn’t, right?).
What brought you to Islamabad, Pakistan? How long have you been living overseas?
I moved to Islamabad as my husband is from here. Technically, I have been living away from Singapore since I was 21. I was studying at Monash University Malaysia, and after marriage, we were shuttling between Singapore and Pakistan, and then to Melbourne. My husband had to return back to Islamabad, so here we are!
Favourite aspect about living in Islamabad?
Winters! I have this love-hate relationship with Islamabad based on the season! I absolutely love the winters here. I love exploring the bazaars during winter. You can find some really cute and nice stuff but more importantly, in winter, you have street vendors selling hot corn, tea and warm snacks, which is really nice to have when the weather is cold. Our house is also opposite the Margalla Hills, and if we get lucky, it starts snowing up in the hills, making it a very pretty sight.
And the worst part?
Summers! It is crazy scorching hot and I never want to leave the house. Summers here are hot and dry, and temperatures soar up to 42 degree Celsius some days. The summer heat can be pretty unbearable.
Your most recent purchase
… for your children?
Hmm, bicycle? My older girl, who is three years old, did well in school, so her dad and I rewarded her with a bicycle. For my younger girl, who is still a baby, I bought some winter clothes for her.
Food? Lol! I barely shop for myself now that the girls are around. I just end up spending on the kids. My indulgence is food, so it makes up my main purchases!
How do you think parenting in Islamabad differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I guess parenting is very subjective. I am the kind of person who prefers to raise my children to be kind and compassionate, valuing humanity above everything else. Here, in Islamabad, they do live luxuriously, but I always make it a point to educate my older child about those who are less fortunate, and the role she can play in society to ease the difficulties of the less fortunate.
She sees little children on the streets, and as parents, we often encourage her to give them some money, or we bake cupcakes and distribute them. Now we are in the process of clearing out some toys and clothes to give to the less fortunate. I like to keep her involved in these activities so she grows up to understand that materialism isn’t everything.
Also, since I am a SAHM, I get to raise them and educate them and be with them, which is really important to me. I think, if we were in Singapore, I may not be afforded the luxury of being home with the kids, as it will usually take two incomes to support the family, but since the cost of living here isn’t as high as in Singapore, I get this opportunity to be with the kids, and watch them grow. So that is something I truly appreciate, because I know not many mums in Singapore get this opportunity.
Did you give birth to your children in Islamabad? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
No, I didn’t deliver them here. Both my kids were born in Singapore as I wanted to be in a familiar and comfortable environment during my deliveries. It is a bit tough for me when it comes to healthcare here in Islamabad, because at the end of the day, I am still not very fluent in the language here (Urdu), and I want to be able to communicate freely with my healthcare professionals. Plus, here, confinement is quite different from how we do it in Singapore, so I wanted to be home, where my mum is, during that period.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
Pre-baby, I was a journalist, and later rose to become an assistant editor. I was determined to make it to one of the major news networks as a journalist but my plans changed after having my first child. I couldn’t bear the idea of working 10 to 14 hours each day, and being away from my kid. So, I made the decision to stay at home and raise my kids, putting my career on hold. Maybe when the girls are a bit older, I might consider returning full-time to the workforce, in a different capacity perhaps. But for now, I am content to bake and do my freelance work, while being with my kids.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Islamabad?
This is something that is a bit lacking in Islamabad compared to Singapore, but restaurants are slowly catching up. I would say my favourite kid-friendly restaurant here is Smokey Cauldron, a Harry Potter-themed restaurant. Kids get to dress up as wizards, select their wands, and there are some quirky drinks and desserts that would fascinate the young ones!
Top five places in or around Islamabad you would recommend to parents traveling with kids?
Murree – During winter, you will enjoy nice cold weather at this hill station, and snowfall, which is something that most kids would enjoy!
Rawal Lake – There are several activities for kids such as horse riding and paddle boating. The lake also has an old-school theme park and picnic areas for families.
Bird Aviary – Kids will enjoy getting up close with different types of birds and ducks as well as having the chance to feed them.
Margalla Hills – If you have slightly older kids or if you are into hiking and carrying your kid in a baby carrier, then I would recommend hiking at one of the many scenic trails in Margalla Hills. You can also enjoy brunch at the hilltop restaurant, Monal Islamabad, which has a really beautiful view of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Pakistan Monument – There is a wax museum which shows the history of Pakistan and all the historic figures of the country. A little like Fort Siloso in Singapore.
Any advice for surviving a flight with young children?
Book a night flight if possible, so they will sleep through the flight and it doesn’t massively disrupt their sleep cycle. And also make sure you have their favourite snacks, books, toys and their favourite pillow!
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
We try to go back to Singapore twice a year so that my kids can meet my family. But while we are here, I tend to cook local dishes – my older girl loves her chicken rice, nasi goreng, egg roti prata and soups! I also introduce her to some of our local songs like “Singapore Town,” “We are Singapore,” and “Chan Mali Chan.” She even danced to Chan Mali Chan when she was younger, and of course, I still talk to her in Malay to keep her in touch with her mother’s roots!
Best souvenir one could bring back from Islamabad
…for a child?
Khussas for kids! Khussas are traditional hand-stitched shoes/sandals, which are beautiful and cute!
…for a mama friend:
Shalwar Kameez, the traditional dress of Pakistan. There are so many fancy designs that it can be hard to keep up with the fashion here!
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
Being away from your support network. That really is the toughest part for me, especially when there are some days where you feel like breaking down.
On raising multilingual children …
My older girl is trilingual, but relies heavily on English because we all speak mainly in English. We make an effort to use our mother tongues with her. She understands us but she will still choose to reply in English! She is just adamant about us speaking to her solely in English.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
For myself, I always bring back all the seasonings and spices because it is hard to find them here. I tend to cart back things like dried shrimps, ikan bilis, belacan and all sorts of nasi goreng seasonings. My older girl is in love with Nestum so I usually bring back lots of packets for her. Aside from that, I guess we usually bring back some toys and clothes for them.
Your top makeup tip for a busy mama?
Eyeliner. There is just something about an eyeliner that transforms your ace from looking insanely tired to being slightly more perked up!
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
Pasta — any kind of pasta. It is the fastest to make and my family enjoys it. I am known at home for the different kinds of pastas I make. My husband enjoys baked chicken Alfredo pasta while my daughter loves all kinds of creamy pastas. I prefer Agilo e Olio, which I improvise with ingredients like tomatoes and spicy chicken fillets.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Islamabad if you moved away?
The peace and quiet. Generally Islamabad is very quiet and does not have the hustle and bustle of Singapore’s city life. While there are times I miss the fast-paced city life, I have also gotten used to the quiet that Islamabad offers.