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What does your last name mean?
“My last name is Yousaf, and it is the name of the prophet. It is also my dad’s name.”
Have you ever had a nickname? "My family calls me Shani. It means king and it is more of an affectionate way of saying my name. But I usually get called Zee or Zeesh, my dad also calls me sunny side up (which is embarrassing)."
What subjects did you like studying in school?
"In my early school days, I had a learning disability. I was dyslexic. I struggled to learn the alphabet when people my age were way past that stage, but I was always good at maths. I was getting the top grade in the whole year and that made me feel good about myself and gave me a work ethic. Once I realized I was good at maths, that created a virtuous cycle where I studied more and more. That realization also sprung into other subjects, and I also came to like sciences."
Do you have a specific memory of the time when you realised that you were good at maths?
"I can’t pinpoint a memory where my interest to maths grew, but I struggled so much when I was young because of my learning disability. At one point I thought that I would never be able to read. I was at the stage where they gave me a special needs teacher. They even offered to send me to a special needs school, but my mum refused. I was falling behind in most subjects, but in maths I was way ahead of my classmates and that’s when I knew I was good at it. Most of my friends were top of the class and eventually I found a thing I was good at."
You speak multiple languages, what do you like about your first language? Are there any limitations?
"Whilst English is my first language, I don’t think that English is the best language, but it is the most convenient one. Obviously, everyone talks it, and it is the language that I speak the best. But Urdu is a language that my family speaks, and it is a very beautiful language to me."
Can you tell us about one of your fondest memories?
"One of my most memorable moments while travelling was hitchhiking in Bosnia and Herzegovina with a friend. I was going to be spending a couple of days in the country and we had heard that the country is known for hitchhiking. So naturally, we thought we should give it a go.
We planned to hitchhike from Mostar to the capital city of Sarajevo (which is about 120 Kilometres). The night before we set off from Mostar, we had dinner with a local who just so happened to be an expert hitchhiker. He had told us it was safe, and that he and his wife had hitchhiked to Norway the previous year, so he showed us all the best spots to catch a ride to Sarajevo. The next day, before we set off, we wanted to check out a place close to Mostar called Dervish House. This was a two and a half-hour walk or a 20-minute drive, so we saw it as our first opportunity to try hitchhiking. However, it was not the best road to hitchhike with little cars driving past, we continued to walk towards the destination and only stopped to put out our hands when we heard a car approaching. An hour and a half into the walk, a car finally stopped.
Now when a car stops you get a sudden rush of adrenaline, you also feel a great amount of shock every time, it’s a total mystery on who you will get, if they will be able to speak much English, If I am pronouncing the name of the destination correctly for them to understand, if they would understand the google maps. Harris picked us up, and saved us an hour of our day, by driving us up the road in a couple of minutes he didn’t speak much English, but he was a very nice fellow. Once we were done seeing the area, we thought we should head back to Mostar and hitchhike from there. On the way back we got lucky, within 15 minutes Eddy had picked us up, he was able to speak more English. He was a local diver in Mostar who would collect donations by diving off Stari Most which is a famous bridge in Mostar. Eddy told us that you haven’t visited Mostar until you jump off the bridge (so I guess I have never truly visited Mostar then). Once arriving at Mostar, we got two locals from the market to help make us a sign for Sarajevo and we were ready to hit the road. The drive from Mostar to Sarajevo was just over two hours, the spot we caught our ride was at a busy junction where cars would slow down before joining the main road to Sarajevo. We waited there for almost two hours in the suns peak and had no luck with anyone picking us up. Drivers would see us and laugh and then nod they won’t pick us up. At this point, I was thinking I am prepared to stay here for the rest of the day and if no one picks us up we can take the last bus ride to Sarajevo. After a while, we walked up the road a little since the junction was not working for us and it would allow us to catch more traffic. So we stopped outside a petrol station, then after 15 minutes, someone stopped. My friend rushed over and told the driver we wanted to go to Sarajevo. He replied, “are you from England? That’s cool jump in”. Armin had picked us up, he was an engineer and could speak English well.
Since it was a two-hour journey we spoke about many things, he gave us a great insight into the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the towns we had driven through, he told us about the war and how it affected him. He had no hatred for the other side despite his family home getting burnt down. I did ask Armin why he picked us up, and his response was so that he could do his one good deed for the day. Finally, after all the help from the locals we arrived at Sarajevo. We could have taken the bus which would have only been a couple of euros, or even the train journey for around 15 euros. But the reason we wanted to hitchhike was so that we could meet the kind people that we ultimately did meet and learn about their country from them. If I did take the train or bus, I wouldn’t have had the great adventure that I did."