Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sister Week

It is National Best Sister Week and I luckily have a sister who is a gem. We are basically twins but born 13 years apart. Why twins? We share the same birthday. She was my gift you see and a very special one too. Recalling all my birthday gifts that I have ever had in my life time, I do not think that any of them compares to my 13th birthday gift.
There are so many special memories about my sister growing up. She was adorable with her blond curly hair that I used to brush and make into so many different styles. When I went away to university, I LOVED going shopping for her. She used to get more gifts than anyone in the family from both my brother, who was also away at Uni, and I. My mother was afraid that she would turn out a spoilt child… but she never did.
I know that having such a big age gap can make people wonder whether or not we connected since we would have experienced totally different things growing up. I would like to think that, even though there are 13 years separating us, we are connected on so many different levels. Even though, I got married when she was still in high school, and I had children when she was still at university, it never mattered much. We still connected!
We were brought up to respect our elder brothers and sisters and to listen to them even if they were wrong. In Iraq, siblings should call their elder sisters and brothers not by their first name but by Abi (for a brother) and Abla (for a sister) as a sign of respect. These terms are also used for people who are older than yourself but whom you must show respect as well. My sister does not do that at all.
On the contrary, she makes fun of us all the time… I say all of us because that includes my parents as well. Not in a mean disrespectful way but in such a way that it would make us all buckle over laughing because of her wit. My sweet mother was one month away from her fortieth birthday when she had my sister and despite that huge age gap, they get along well. My mother and I always mix up our words and letters when there is so much on our minds that we do not pay close attention to what we say. Leave it to my sister to pick up on that and hang on to that mistake for weeks and weeks on end. What is funny though, is that my mother’s and my memory are not as strong as hers, and even though she makes similar mistakes sometimes, we cannot remember them all…. We both blame it on having children. So we are all waiting for her to have children of her own to start forgetting as well... forgetting our mistakes that is.
When my sister was 12, we were fortunate to gain a third sister; my sister in law. She is nothing like the Cinderella version of a sister in law. She is as sweet as honey and very caring. Before she got married to my brother my mother encouraged me to have a chat with her because I was afraid that she would be taking my only brother away from me.  When I found out that it was not her intention to do so, everything worked out. I have to give it to my mother who made sure that we were close.

My second sister and I went to the US of A together to meet my brother who was studying for his PhD.  We spent two fantastic years having a blast while she studied for her dentistry exam and I for my Masters. We bonded like other sisters would and did everything together; the driving exam, partying, cooking, and shopping. I believe that those two years brought us closer together. Now when I talk to my brother and his family, I spend more time chit chatting to his wife, my sister, than to him.
So THANK YOU BOTH for being in my life… I am certainly blessed to have sisters like you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I was frying up some home-made chicken nuggets and Korean potatoes this evening (which were not anything like my mother's) when hot oil splashed and burned my fingers... 3 on my left and one on my right. And Boy do they hurt...I remember, from my several first aid classes, that I had to run my wounds under the cold water from the tap for a while to soothe the pain and cool it down so that the burn would not sink deeper into the skin... it helped a little but the pain kept coming back...

I remember my mom slicing open an Aloe Vera leaf to place on one of her burns... they were much worse than mine and actually left a bit of a scar. She also said it would be a good idea to rub some antibiotic ointment on it and wrap it with a bit of gauze so that it would not get infected... I also remember her advising a cousin of mine who had major sun burn on his back, to rub some yogurt all over to reduce the pain. I tried it once when I was in Beirut and after a whole day on the beach in the sun without any sun protection (yup... I know what you might say). After an hour, the yogurt dried up and it felt so much better. 

Anyway, being the lazy person I am when it comes to taking care of myself, I decided just to go with the water and continue preparing dinner for the family... it was not such a major wound for me to do all that anyway.... just first degree burn that is all. A week of red skin and then it would be gone.

During our meal, I sat with my husband and we talked about burn victims and how dreadful it must be to have so much of their bodies burned... if a tiny burn on the fingers can cause so much discomfort, can you imagine what it must be like for a burn victim who has third degree burns?

I did experience second degree burns on my nose with blisters and all... but if I tell you the story, do you promise not to laugh? (Fat chance I know)... ok so here it goes... I was fourteen years old and had finished changing into my clothes after swimming laps in the pool. It was a long fun-filled yet exhausting day and I decided to sit on a chair with my head leaning back to enjoy a few minutes of sun before my parents came to pick me up from the club. I fell asleep, which I never usually do especially not in the position I was in. It was a 20 minute nap.... I woke up and thought nothing of it until my mother and father saw me and my blisters- covered nose. I did not feel pain until I had a shower. For weeks I had to put ointments on it to soothe the burning sensation.

As for third degree burns... It was not me who experienced having some but my dearest and only brother. I still remember the incident as if it were yesterday. I was twelve years old  and remembering him coming back to my uncle's house with a bandaged arm.  He was on an airplane when it happened... Remember how the air-hostesses used to walk around with boiling coffee or tea asking passengers if they wanted some? Well he was traveling to Mecca with my mother, grandmother and a few other relatives. He was 15 at the time and going for a Umrah (which is similar to a pilgrimage but does not involve all the rituals and basically it is considered just a visit to the holy place). 

The air-hostess passed by my mother and brother carrying a boiling jug of tea and wanted to take my mother's food tray as well. My mother asked her if she would return the tea pot and then come back to take the tray as it was much too dangerous. But she refused and as she was leaning forward to take the tray she spilled all the hot boiling tea on my brother... he lifted his arms and was in shock... my mother quickly opened the closed water cups on the tray and poured water all over my brother asking everyone around for their water cups as well... because my brother had lifted his arms she did not pour water on them. His right arm was still burning and the more it stayed up there the deeper the burn sank. His jeans trousers provided some protection but his shirt did not. 

My poor brother suffered third degree burns on his right arm and had to be rushed to a hospital as soon as the plane landed. Can you believe that the air-hostess did not blink an eye, help or even apologize?  But had the audacity to ask for the airplanes blanket that my mother used to cover my brother's semi-naked body? My mother sure gave her an ear full and a piece of her mind... and believe me she deserved it... if I were there with them, I would have tore a strip off of her too. 

Anyway, my dear brave brother's burns were horrible and very painful to the extent that my grandmother fainted when my mother was changing the dressing... I can still remember how his arm looked like. But due to continuous dressing changes, he recovered well and I believe there was no scaring (right brother?)

Anyway... burns are horrible... learn to protect yourself....  There are excellent information sites out there... so as not to lose precious time treating burns... check some of them out to acquaint yourself with the different methods.

Anyway.... here are some good sites to visit for more information.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


 I totally agree with the view that whatever I experience in life shapes me and makes me who I am today. If my experience was a difficult one then I learn from it becoming stronger in the process and if it was a good one, then I would just enjoy the ride.  

But what if I am faced with a situation that I do not accept, then how am I supposed to deal with it? React to it? Should I be going with the flow? Letting things go and just live with it? Or should I take a stand against it and be firm in my opinions and views?

What if it involves a person who is doing something that might harm her or the people around this person? Do I let it pass or do something about it? Do I just allow that person to continue doing whatever it is she is doing and go with the flow because I do not want to lose the connection?  Do I risk our relationship and face it? What if it did not end well... would I be able to learn from it all and move on? Would I become stronger or would I break down into a million pieces not being able to live with the fact that I have lost a friend?

Just recently, I have faced something I never thought I would ever have to face in my entire life. I never made up a similar scenario in my head to get me ready and help me face what I faced.  You might think I am crazy but many times I find myself making up scenarios to trigger my thoughts and prepare my reactions. I think of different ways that I could react to a certain situation and which one would be the ideal way. I do not always do it but since I am known to have my tongue speak faster than my brain works, I need to make up such stories in order to avoid a situation going out of hand. I let my emotions run wild sometimes and thus these scenarios help curb my emotions and rein them in.

However, the last few days were different. I never thought that something like this could ever happen to me and so I was not prepared. When it all happened, I was at loss for words... I remember thinking up a reasonable explanation for it all but deep inside all sorts of bad scenarios roamed around in my head. I could not help thinking of WHAT IFs... which are not really helpful. I was unsure of what to think or feel... was unsure if that friend of mine deserved  my friendship, whether I should leave it at that because I could not take it any more or could not help out in any way as I have never witnessed anyone going through this when I was growing up and therefore I had nothing to base my judgement on.

Should I call it quits and just leave this whole friendship? I really did not deserve such treatment, and nor did the others around us...I felt clueless, helpless and devoid of all emotion at one point.
I did not know whether I should persevere and help my friend or just leave it at that and consider myself defeated? Does my friend deserve my support and constant waves of understanding even though there were many 'I'm sorry' and 'It won't happen again' statements over the past few years?

I know it will happen again and it will continue to happen until my friend does something about it and tells me, or our group of friends, how to lend a helping hand and support through all of this. Is the friendship worth it though? Will things change or am I lying to myself?

These questions keep going around in my head like a windmill. But even though I am unsure if my decision is the right one, I have decided to stick to this...

But is my decision based on the fact that I like perseverance and I do not like to give up on things? Or am I worried about something else? Am I worried about losing a friendship and maybe much more than that? Or is it that I know I have issues of my own that need addressing and so cannot and should not expect my friend to change and stop harming herself and others?

I am not sure I know when to say enough and also I know what the consequences are if I decided to leave... Honestly speaking, I think I am too much of a coward to face the consequences than I am to face the current reality of the whole situation.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Barbie... really?

I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be writing such a post about something that, in my point of view, does not really represent the average woman... but I was watching Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus and thought that it actually had, other than the beautiful classical music in the background, certain honorable values that one would like their children to learn. If kids watched this they could learn about the love of siblings and family, courage, bravery, forgiveness, helpfulness, honesty and free choice… even though it was a bit corny at times.

I always believed that Barbie gave an unrealistic view of what bodies look like in real life and would probably have children emulate her and become either anorexic or bulimic to match her specifications. She might be a man's dream really, with big breasts, hips and small feet but according to research done in Finland; she would lack the essential body fats that would bring on menstruation.  I always thought that if her measurements were of a real woman, she would probably fall flat on her face. But to be fair, in the last 12 years, Mattel Company, which made the doll in 1959, has widened Barbie’s hips a little. Way to go Mattel! (Sarcasm!)

I have to confess that I had a Barbie doll when I was 8 years old and it was a gift from a healthy looking female relative of mine with her clothes, shoes and Ken, her partner. They both did not have any recognizable lower body parts and so you might think they were both in the middle of a sex change operation. My first ever doll was actually Cindy, which my mother bought and which had a more realistic shape to her... my mother was not really a fan of all this but she could not stop the nagging. I have to be honest and mention that it did spark up my imagination in making up stories or scenarios and also improved my Arabic language since all my conversations between my friends and I were done in classical Arabic; which is more difficult to converse in than the day to day dialect.

Even though I mentioned in the first paragraph that I was actually surprised to find some qualities to the movie, I still believe that it might be perpetuating a negative image of females and stereotyping them. There are so many blockbuster movies out there that show a lopsided view of life and since children are affected by what they watch, I think that we should always be aware of this. We should be responsible and intervene when it is necessary so that our children do not take what they see on television as the truth and the reality of things. We do not wish to have our children's attitudes towards the genders affected in such a way that they would have an unbalanced view of the roles men and women have in the society nowadays. So let us be extra observant the next time our children watch television or a movie and be proactive parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, baby sitters and friends.

Friday, March 25, 2011

You Big Bully!

This week was full of incidents of bulling at school and it was such a coincidence that I had also watched one episode of Glee, Season 2, last night where Kurt was bullied by a football player because he had come out of the closet. I know bullying happens in every culture and every country... But I find it draining! It instills fear in the bullied person and the sense of not belonging!

At school students come up to me to tell me they have been bullied. But yesterday was different! After school, this student of mine told me that he had bullied his friend and gotten into trouble. I thanked him for being honest and coming forward admitting his hurtful behavior. You do not usually get students who would come forward and admit to such an act... 

I thanked him for trusting me… he was unsure why I had said that… I told him that he trusted me not to change my opinion of him after hearing about what he had done to another student. I assured him that my opinion of him will never change… that I know he was a good person deep inside and just took the wrong path this time… but can easily go back to the right path and do the right thing.

We talked about how usually bullies inflict pain onto other ‘weaker’ students either because of their own low self-esteem/confidence or because they were trying to work through something. They mistakenly believe that they would look stronger and more powerful and that it would increase their own self- confidence, which doesn't. The bullies' behavior would in turn affect the bullied students' self-esteem which means no one really comes out of this a winner.  I explained to him that it is sometimes a vicious cycle and it has to stop somewhere and stop with someone.

I asked him if he was ever bullied, made fun of or made to feel inadequate and he said yes… I was not surprised. I knew that usually the bully was bullied before… not always the case but many times it was. I asked him if it felt good to him to be bullied and I do not need to mention what his answer was as I am sure you guessed right… I then asked him that if he knew how it felt like then why he would do the same to someone else…

He was unsure how to answer that question… he just did not know exactly why he did it…he just did … went with the flow… followed another’s lead and did it. I then asked him what he thought he was going to do about it to which he replied stop his bullying and stop others from bullying that same student.

Honestly, I do not believe that this student would have come on his own accord to inform me of what he did if he was not crying out for help. He did not feel very good about what he did and he wanted someone to stop him. His view of himself is probably shot as well and he would need a boost of confidence in order to stop his actions. He needs to feel good about himself before he can move away from such behavior.

If it is hard for teachers to hear of bullying cases it must be triply hard for parents to find out that their child has been bullied or is the bully.

Here are some tips for parents on how to handle their child being bullied:
1.      Encourage your child to report any bullying incidents to you or the teachers.

2.      Validate your child's feelings as it is normal for them to feel hurt, sad and angry.

3.      Ask your child how is s/he going to solve the problem. Your child needs to do the thinking before any grown up jumps in. This empowers them and helps to make them feel stronger. It also helps your child work through this predicament.

4.      Your child might need some guidance or a push to start the thinking process so coach your child in alternative ways to dealing with the problem; avoidance is often a good strategy, play a different game in another place, play near a teacher, look for new friends, join social activities outside of school. All of these help in developing new friends.

5.      Talk to your child's teacher, coordinator or school councilor. Make sure they are aware of what is going on. Also encourage your child to be assertive and seek help from his teachers as well.

6.      Do not take matters into your own hands and confront the bully or the bully's family.  it is understandable that you would feel protective of your child but you would be doing your child more harm if you get involved.

7.      Teach your child to defend him or herself, maybe even enroll your child in a self-defense or martial arts class.

8.      Avoid labeling or name-calling the bully...the bully is also human and someone's else's child... they are misguided and need help... if you do the same to the bully what is the difference between your actions and the bully's?

9.      Let your child know that it is okay to express their anger but that there are positive ways of doing that.

10.  It is also a good idea to teach them how to use humor. For example, if the bully says to Omar, "Hey boy, you're ugly." Omar can respond in a few different ways; for example, "Thanks for sharing!" or "Yes, I know, I always have been.'

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Racism & Segregation

I feel that there is so much inside of me that I want to scream it all out so bare with me while reading this long blog post and try to understand where I am coming from and that I am not trying to attack anyone in particular but the situation as a whole.
We, the whole world, seem to forget that we all come from the same seed, same mother, some say she is ‘Eve’ and others say she is 'Lucy’ (and it really does not matter whether I am referring to the Biblical/Quranic one or the Evolution one). We seem to forget that we all have the same build, anatomy, two eyes, one nose, a brain, two legs, two arms, a chest, an abdomen… need I go on?
I think that you know where I am headed here…
We seem to place titles everywhere we go… and we stick to those titles. It starts with I am a man and YOU are a woman and the rest follows. Titles bring on the feeling of hatred.
Let me list all the ‘I am’s’ and ‘YOU are’s’ that I can think of...
I am black and YOU are white
I am Muslim and YOU are Christian
I am Catholic and YOU are Protestant…or I am Sunni and YOU are Shiite or… I am Ashkenazi and YOU are Sephardim
I am Western and YOU are Eastern
I am Northern and YOU are Southern
I am Arab and YOU are European
I am Upper Class and YOU are Middle/Lower Class…
or I am Affluent and YOU are poor.
I am Hutu and YOU are Tutsi
I am Hispanic and YOU are Caucasian
I am a ‘Gulfy’ (Khaleeji) and YOU are not
I am Irish and YOU are British

I am Heterosexual and YOU are Homosexual
The list goes on and on and on… I can include the Native Americans, the Aboriginals or any Indigenous community in this and just so many others… but I will stop at that.
This segregation has been going on for years… way back… from the Aztec, Babylonian, Ancient Egyptian and Roman eras. This is not something new… however we are now in a different time period … There are more laws to stop all this… and we tend to follow these laws… but do we actually ‘believe’ or agree with them to our core?
Racism goes both ways… it is not like people might think  that it is usually one sided. I have had my share of racist comments thrown my way and I am considered of a ‘Caucasian’ color.
While my husband and I lived in Malawi, Africa we never thought that we would be on the other end of the stick, if I can call it that. We were called Muzungu (while person) every time we passed a group of little kids in the street or we cycled through a lovely village trying to avoid rocks thrown at us. I must stress that it wasn’t on a regular basis. Sometimes when I remember it I think that I do not really blame them it might have been due to the colonialist influence but I also believe that this feeling of hatred might have been due to fear.
One time my husband and I were driving to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia and our old white Pajero broke down in the middle of nowhere. It was a long corrugated dirt road and no one drove on it unless they were going to or coming from the national park.  We waited for hours for someone to stop and help out but no one did until a white car pulled up with four Zambians in it; three men and one woman. Two of them were mechanics… what luck! They were ever so sweet and helpful.
After 20 minutes of working on our car, the male mechanic turned to us and said, “If the situation was the other way around, you would not have stopped and helped us!” My husband and I were taken a back a little bit but asked him why he thought so, he said “Because we are black and you are white!” We engaged him in a debate about whether we, ‘white people’ would stop for a broken down car with ‘black people’.
When you think of it … they were right but not because they were black as much as it was because there were so many carjacks and robberies in Africa at that time. We have many friends in Malawi who had their houses or cars broken into and everyone, including the Malawians themselves, warned us not to stop for a broken down car or for a person running in front of our car waving his arms trying to stop us. They warned us that there might be someone in the bushes waiting to jump out and rob us or steel our ride. When we shared that information with our helpful mechanic he seemed to understand where we were coming from.
It is only fair to mention that I heard similar racist comments not only from Africans but also from others whom I thought were more similar, if I can use that term, to me. I remember one time, during the 2003 war on/invasion of Iraq, and after my husband had finished playing his double bass in a hall full of people, a ‘Caucasian’ gentleman approached me and said, ‘I know your husband is Canadian, but what are you?” I just had to stress the WHAT bit… I said, “I am Iraqi/Palestinian brought up in Jordan.” To which he replied without blinking an eye, “Oh… I would not say that if I were you.” I had such a puzzled look on my face but I did not skip a beat and said, “Why? I am very proud of where I come from!” My answer startled him and he did not know what to say to that… so he walked off.
What I am trying to get at in this post is this…
We do not need to place titles on our heads and in our hearts to make us a part of a group separated from everyone else in this world. NO ONE and I repeat NO ONE in this world is better than anybody else in terms of what they look like or where they are from or what religion they follow. I believe that what separate us are our DEEDS and what we DO and I do not mean our profession.
People… if we continued down the road we are walking then there will never be peace in this world. If we continued to cease other people’s rights, invade, conquer and oppress them based on their religion or our religious rights, ethnicity and/ or race, then we will NEVER stop the thousands of people who die every year. If we continue to BELIEVE that we are right and ‘them over there’ are wrong, then we will always be at war and every time we turn on the news all we would see are the newest weapons, bombs and machinery being tested on people like us.
When are we going to wake up and see that we all SHARE this world? And instead of robbing people of their rights, we should focus on how to live in it together and improve the situation for everyone so that we could have some peace of mind.
I love being an international teacher who travels from country to country learning about new cultures and appreciating the different tones of skin, points of view, beliefs, values and ways of life. I love the fact that my children are experiencing all this so that they would grow to love the WHOLE world and then maybe, when they are older, fight for justice and the dream of having a UNITED WORLD free of titles, inequalities, occupations and religious segregation. I do not want them to know the meaning of the word hatred or ever use it. It is a venomous word.
I have been told I am unrealistic…. Ok… so I am… I am a dreamer but I know that I have a wonderful dream…I will continue to dream it and work on improving it and myself in the process.

Have a look at this link… it is interesting to read about the amount of segregation out there…

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Women and Driving

Everyone talks about their driving experiences from time and time and it is not unusual that when a conversation such as this takes place in a group of people of both genders, to have the men say how women are unable to drive.... same old argument same old generalization. I am not saying that there aren't some women who lack the natural skill, the spacial reasoning and common sense to drive a car. I am just disagreeing with the generalization. I consider my mother, my sister, sister-in-law and I good drivers and we are female.

The first time I ever sat behind the wheel of a car was when I was 17.5 years old. In Jordan, the legal age to drive is 18 which I think is a much better age to start than 16 as they would be better equiped , aware of their surroundings and their spatial reasoning would be much more developed than two years earlier. Anyway, my father was the first one to teach me the art of driving even before I took lessons. It was expected, and still is, that a learner take 40 lessons at a driving school before s/he was able to sit for a driving test; both written and practical.

My dad told me that I was a natural behind the wheel of our old Champaign- colored Honda Accord. He even said that I was better at driving than my older brother (Sorry bro but I am telling the truth). I took 20 driving lessons instead of the 40 that was expected of me to take just because my instructor thought I didn’t need the whole lot.
I went on to pass my written exam and my practical driving test from the first time. The tests in Jordan are different than let us say The United States because two road policemen sit in the car with you; one in the front next to you directing you where to go and telling you what and when to do it. The other one sits in the back watching whether or not you check your rear view mirror regularly. The policeman in front also has the right to play tricks on you to see whether or not you are familiar with the law, right of way and other technicalities.
On the day of my exam, I remembered my brother, bless him, reminding me that the policemen who run the tests usually played tricks on the new learners and so I should be aware of that at all times. I slid behind the steering wheel and was asked by the Policeman not to put the seat belt on. HUH? I said, ‘No!’ of course but he kept on insisting… so I said, “If you would not like to put your seat belt on, then that is your choice even though I encourage you to put it on. But I, on the other hand, will put my seat belt on because I care about myself too much…” Smile!
The next trick he played on me was to order me to drive faster in a 50 km/hr zone. I refused and pointed out that there was a club on the right hand side of the road and a college on the left hand side which meant that I should expect pedestrian. He continued to insist on that and so I said, which was again my brother’s advice, “I will listen to you but only if you say that it would be your full responsibility if I got into trouble.”
I was very opinionated at such a young age, which gave mom a heart and headache sometimes, but I would like to think that the policeman actually enjoyed riding with me listening to my arguments. Needless to say, I passed my exam with flying colors especially the up-the-hill stop and start, the reverse gear trick down the hill (in case we ended up without break), and my reverse and parallel parking sections of the test. The policeman at the end of the whole test, walked up to me and shook my hand because I did so well on the drive. HAHA!
HOWEVER… Since I mentioned how I passed my Jordanian driving test I need to mention how I failed my American one… do not laugh at me! Well you can… I still laugh at myself sometimes.

My sister in law and I needed to take the American driving license to be able to drive ourselves to and from university in West Lafayette, Indiana and so the night before we practiced parallel parking and all that. BUT we seriously did not need any of this because the driving test was dead easy… I mean it… dead easy compared to the Jordanian one.
I slid behind the wheel again.. I was nervous this time round though because I did not know what to expect. I knew what was expected of me in Jordan because I took lessons. Anyway, the female instructor sat beside me and said,  "Ok… turn on your engine and go." I did very well at the beginning until I reached what looked like the main road. It was wider than the ‘artery’ and in Jordan that meant that you do not need to stop. I looked around for stop signs but I did not see any. There was a huge bus standing on the right hand side of the intersection. Thinking that it was my right of way, I proceeded and as I passed the bus, I noticed the red stop sign. I immediately turned to my instructor, smiled and said, “I will drive back to the center now and I will see you in two weeks!” knowing that I had failed the test. After two weeks, the same instructor climbed in next to me and said,”beware of those stop signs.”
 Moral of the story?... Men... try not to generalize... there are many women race drivers and who are better at driving than many men out there... SMILE!
Erin Crocker

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Love Old Traditional Iraqi Songs.

Nathem Al Ghazali, an Iraqi singer, singing Fog il Nakhal Fog
(Over the Palm Trees)

As far as I can remember, I used to listen to beautiful traditional Iraqi music during the time I was growing up at home which meant so much to my father as he loved to listen to and enjoy it! I remember him and my mother taking my brother and I to live concerts by Iraqi singers in Jordan while Iraq was at war with Iran. Every song had such lovely meaning to it and it mostly talked about love; songs about the love of a woman were sung by men and visa versa. 

I loved going with my parents to such concerts. They were actually a change for us from the classical concerts and quartets that they used to take us to. I remember once, they took us to a harp solo concert and we nearly died of laughter when my mother was stuck in the auditorium for an encore when we had all slipped away. Don't get me wrong... it was absolutely beautiful but by the end of two hours every single piece of music the musician played sounded the same to us... and therefore we found it a bit boring by the end of it.

As for traditional Iraqi music, each song had a different and special ring to it. I never came across one that I did not love to sing. We all loved how the music played pictures in our minds and tickled our skins. It just brought such loving feelings and now every time we hear it not one single person stays at the dinner table; everyone claps, cheers and dances. It just brings about so much love and connects people together. The above song is known throughout the Middle East and is sung by the millions. They cover such a wide imaginative description of a loved one and all the strife that comes with love. One of my favorite traditional Iraqi songs talks about how the pomegranate blamed a heartbroken man while a lime defended him... such beautiful descriptions.

There are so many famous singers, be it Iraqi or Arab, who take on some old Iraqi songs and modernize them. One of these people is none other than my dad's relative, Ilham Al Madfai. He brought about the weaving of Western Guitar styling and the Eastern Iraqi traditional songs. He is revered by the people in his native country of Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

The above song first began when a young man, who lived in a traditional two-storied compound with an open courtyard in the middle, fell in love with one inhabitant. These traditional houses comprised of several rooms. It was the norm to have such compounds but they were usually inhabited by a nuclear family, one per room, and therefore, it was very difficult for a single unattached young man to live amongst them. However, this special young man was very polite, respectful, honorable and came from a good family and therefore was allowed to live in the compound.

He used to leave to work early in the morning and come back late at night. One day, he came late and spotted a gorgeous woman standing by her door on the second floor. He began to sing in an enchanting voice about the beautiful face up on the second floor, how her cheek glowed to the light of the lamp she was holding up to her face and how he had no idea that the moon lived there.... The next day he was hoping that he would see her again and he did... he continued singing the song for days and the people living in the compound later began singing with him. These love birds ended up getting married. The first verse of the song slowly changed, due to different accents, from talking about a girl who lived on the top floor to talking about the girl who lived up above all the palm trees. Well this is how the story goes... it is simply beautiful.

If you click on the links below you could hear Adel Mukhtar singing one song with a long traditional introduction and then Ilham Al Madfai doing his weaving and singing a traditional songs in his own delightful style.  I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

My beautiful mother and I; she is wearing a Palestinian dress (Thobe) she designed, and I am wearing a traditional Iraqi dress (Hashmi).

Mother’s Day is celebrated on this day in the Arab world, the 21st of March. People are expected to honor, protect and take care of their mothers, as is the tradition and the culture, until their old age. However, they wanted to set aside one day in the year to be devoted to the Mothers something they learned from other countries who had been celebrating it. For example, in Norway and Argentina, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of February and October respectively. In South Africa it is on the first Sunday in May and in France on the last.
The idea behind celebrating Mother’s Day in the Arab World grew in Egypt. It first started as an idea in Mustafa and Ali Ameen’s newspaper Akhbaar Al Yawm (which translates to today’s news). The two brothers asked the people for their input on whether there should be a day that commemorated the mothers and remember their virtue, hard work and sacrifices. They mentioned the ‘west’ and how other countries were doing it already and that since it is an Arab person’s obligation to honor the mother then why not adopt the idea. The paper received many positives votes, some suggesting that it should be for a whole week since every day of the year should be for one’s mother and not just a single day. But the majority of the votes suggested a one day celebration. They all voted and chose March the 21st as it was the first day of spring and it is symbolic of open-heartedness, purity, beauty and love. Egyptians started celebrating their Mother’s Day on March 21st 1956 and from then on it spread to the rest of the Arab World.
March 21st does not only commemorate Mother’s Day but also the Coptic New Year and the Kurdish Nawroz festival which is another way to celebrate the Kurdish cause.
So on this special day, I wish every single mother a Happy Mother’s Day! And say that you are a beautiful person inside and out. Thank you for all the love, care and warmth that you showered us with. Thank you for the sleepless nights you spent next to us when we were sick. Thank you for kissing our hurt and listening to our problems and worries. Thank you for teaching the necessary skills to survive in this world. Thank you for your constant unwavering support despite the heartache that we might have given you. Thank you for being protective. Thank you for simply everything… for giving us life! We love you! No one can fill the void a mother leaves after she passes on. No one can take over a mother’s job, a mother’s place.
To My Mother
By Edgar Allan Poe
Because I feel that in the heavens above
The angels, whispering one to another,
Can find among their burning terms of love,
None so devotional as that of "Mother,"
Therefore by that dear name I have long called you,
You who are more than mother unto me,
And filled my heart of hearts, where death installed you,
In setting my Virginia's spirit free.
My mother -- my own mother, who died early,
Was but the mother of myself; but you
Are the mother to the one I loved so dearly,
And thus are dearer than the mother I knew
But that infinity with which my wife
Was dearer to my soul that its soul-life.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reacting to the Horror

I have been listening to and watching the news more intently than ever since December of 2010 and I find myself sensing mixed feelings towards the whirlwind of it all. It started with me being so happy for Tunisia and Egypt... so scared at the beginning for them. at the same time.. because I had family and friends in Cairo and also because I visited Tunisia for a big family reunion and had so much fun that it made me fall in love with the country wanting to live there since I was 7 years of age.

I have been wanting the Arab World to wake up and demand change, development and rights for such a long time. Demand a better standard of living. Demand jobs and education. Demand equal rights for women and children. And my dream has come true... I am so proud of these two countries and others who have brought change and helped their leaders see the err of their or their parliaments' ways.  

But now this wish has turned into a nightmare... I was proud of the Libyan people for standing up against a tyrant but now I find myself worrying about them and fearing for their future or lack of it. That being;  if it ended well, then Gadhafi would be out and the country back in it's deserving peoples' hands, and if it ended badly, then we know what that would be like plus a million lives lost.  

However, I am certain that it will end well as the whole world has come together against that UHU dictator. For some time now I have been needing and wanting to feel proud of where I come from and I got what I needed and wanted only a few days ago. The Arab League finally came together and united on the right thing to do which was to approve a No-Fly-Zone over Libya to prevent this UHU from attacking his own people.

And then you have Japan and the horrific natural hazard that hit them. The number of lives that were taken is in the thousands... the amount of damage and destruction is immeasurable...sometimes, when looking at the news and the pictures.... I feel that it is all a film... there cannot be so much destruction and death can there? My heart goes out to them... 

I am not sure if this year is bringing in a lot of sunshine, happiness and positivity and I am not sure whether it will... maybe I am being pessimistic... I feel pessimistic tonight after watching the news. However, I am still thankful for the people who bring it. They risk their lives; some are in Tokyo, despite the amount of radiation that is floating around and the risk of the reactor exploding, and some are in Libya undergoing bombings and the threat of something going against the plan.

I hope that the next time I switch on the Television, I will watch some evidence of a ray of light, of hope, of survival and of construction...

I Love Spontaneity

I thought yesterday would be one of those same Saturdays that we have every week and for the past few months. But I was pleasantly surprised! I woke up the usual time by the same tiny person in my life. She wanted her milk and the potty and I thought we have started the day on the same old foot. My son woke up an hour later and it was a morning full of milk, apples and marshmallows. 

After taking my daughter to buy some essential items like diapers and milk, we made our way to the senior citizens center where we played hockey. We met our friends there and played a few games, the kids had fun feeding the fish, playing tag, the freeze game and drawing on the pavement with street chalk.Just a normal Saturday... well so we thought!

Since we had a good time we canceled some plans we had about going to a shopping mall  for some new shoes for my husband and our son, and asked some friends to come to ours for a spontaneous gathering. Everyone pitched in to buy some chicken on a stick and some sticky rice. Other friends brought some fruit and we had a paddle pool for the kids to spend the day swimming and discovering the fish that were placed in it (I was actually against this as I thought it was traumatic for the fish... but I was outnumbered).... The kids also had monster tattoos placed on every part of their bodies...tattoos that take such a long time to take off...

The weather was awesome and sunny...  and everyone had such a good time. The kids played really well together, eating chicken, peanut butter, strawberry jam and cheese sandwiches along with carrots, broccoli and cucumbers... we brought out every single veggie or fruit we had. Since it was all spontaneous, we had not stocked up for the gathering.

At the end of the day, which was around 8 hours later, we decided to put on Madagascar for the kids and  have some down time with all of us sitting around the TV waiting for the pizzas to be delivered and our friend to pop some popcorn.

We woke up this morning and had to clean up... but it was a fun clean up... I do not usually enjoy tidying up the place as I have to do it every day, sometimes twice a day if not more, but this time it was different... every time I cleaned something up I remembered something funny that happened the day before... The best part of the day was the kids... they truly had a blast and loads of activity and vitamin D.

I like being spontaneous every once in a while... it frees the spirit and is also less stressful because no one really expects you to be prepared or make loads of food and the like... it is pressure free... and just full of sunshine smiles and easy going natures...

Life feels like a drag sometimes when it follows a routine for months... I mean there are some things that one must stick to a routine for, like bedtime for little ones and when they eat... but on the whole it is so much fun and refreshing to veer off and break that routine... sometimes we really have to learn from our kids... they know how to have fun,how to laugh,  be themselves and do things spontaneously.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oh for the Love of Chocolate


There is something about chocolate that I cannot resist… and even though horrible zits that may appear on the side of my face if I indulge, I continue to inhale them with much gusto. I cannot seem to stop myself! I can go for any kind of chocolate, M&Ms, Galaxy, Twix, Mars, Minstrels, Maltesers bitter chocolate… Any kind of Cadbury, Kit Kat, you name it, I have had it… I enjoy all of them… I like the way they melt in my mouth and I think that is the reason why women like it so much.
I am sure there have been many scientific experiments and theories to tackle the issue of why women love chocolate so much but I am not sure if there have been any conclusive results. Besides, why would I care what a scientist tells me if I know that I love it! It would make no difference to me.
As Deanna Troi in Star Trek, The Next Generation said, “I have never met a chocolate I didn’t like.” I have never had a piece of chocolate that made me feel sad or lonely. I have never had a piece of chocolate that lectured, disagreed or blamed me for anything or even made me feel inadequate. I actually think the chocolate that I eat want me to try them out… devour and enjoy them. Even their wrappers attract me… so colorful and inviting! They make me feel wanted… they want me to buy and eat them. It feels so good to feel wanted, isn’t it?
My husband knows exactly what to get me if he stayed out late the night before…. Chocolate... he uses it as a bribe and then helps himself to some LOL! It is like the men buying their sweethearts chocolate candies in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day and then eating half of its content before presenting the gifts to them. Makes me laugh!
The Book Chocolat and the movie starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, are simply wonderful… I loved reading the book which is a little different than the movie but it does not really matter… the descriptions in the book and the way they make the chocolate in the movie, makes your mouth water but they also touch on the positive effect chocolate has on an individual. In case you have not seen the movie, here is the trailer... watch and enjoy the movie while you eat or drink your chocolate (or if you are a reader... then enjoy the reading in bed while you nibble on delicious pieces of chocolate). 

my Favorite Jabal of all time... Jabal Rum

Wadi Rum 2007

Jordan 1991

I love climbing rocks... I am not very good at it but that does not stop me. This love started with my adventures in the desert and one of my favorite deserts of all time is Wadi Rum. What a place! Absolutely beautiful and serene. Simply breathtaking. I love the red sand, the magnificent rocky mountains and the warmth of the Bedouin people.

The first time I had to climb Jabal Rum was when I was 19 years old. We woke up at our camp very early in the morning and headed to the bottom of the mountain. The left side of my head, face and jaw were killing me. I had a bad migraine but I did not really want to pass this opportunity by. I never climbed a rocky mountain before and so thought nothing of the fact that we climbed without any protective gear such as ropes, helmets....wala shee... zip... nada... we were supposed to start our climb walking in single file... we were responsible for the person in front of and behind us. 

What? I was not sure how that would work because honestly, if I was to focus on every single step I made... making sure that I do not fall off that cliff... then how was I supposed to take care of two other people and watch their moves.... before I had the time to figure that one out... the girl in front of me, a twin whose sister was two people ahead of her, slipped off the rock and believe me when I say , that the officer who was in front of her caught her hand the last minute and she was dangling from his wrist. Now THAT was shocking! It was so quick that there was nothing I could have done to help or save her....I stood there for a second frozen to the ground, thinking that anyone could fall off and die... no wonder they asked my parents to sign a release form.

How were we to continue our climb? It was nuts... simply bananas... but we continued... at one point we had to climb up a straight face to get up the next stage of the climb and without ropes it was just impossible... So the only way to go up it was to climb over the shoulders of two of our mates , who were standing one on top of the other, and then when everyone was up ,pull the last person by the hand... shear madness I tell you. Still we persevered...with a migraine and no gear... we actually did it... we climb to the top...

And then..... we had to climb down again.

The throbbing in my head was worse on the way down with every thump thump thumping of my feet. My friend had to tie his belt around my waste and hold the other end just in case I slipped or something. Man what a day! 

This story just makes me think that nothing is impossible... even without protective gear and the necessary equipment to make it up there, we relied on each other and persevered through the difficult parts... so keep going... punch through it all and one day you will climb that mountain of yours...

I keep going back to that beautiful place.... My husband and I take our son to Wadi Rum every now and then and he has climbed some rocks when he was just two years old.... This place is special to all of us... the picture is of my son and his father on top of one of the many jabals (rocky mountains).

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Favourite Islands in Thailand

There are so many islands scattered around the Gulf of Thailand and they all have a special touch to them and are simply beautiful. But two of my most favorite islands are Koh Chang and Koh Samet. Chang means elephant in Thai and the island got its name because it actually looks like a head of an elephant along with its trunk. As for Koh Samet, it derives its name from the cajeput tree found scattered around the island. ...oh and Koh means island in Thai.

They are both equally beautiful but each has a different atmosphere to it. We have been to both islands three times already. On Koh Chang, we have been to three different hotels on three different beaches.. It is amazing how one was made of pebbles, another of fine white sand and another fine beige sand.  As for Koh Samet... well we went to the same run down lodge every single time... it has a name that really makes you wonder what the connection was... it is called Apache... isn't that a name of a Native American tribe?

We are so taken by the beaches on both islands... love them... however it all depends on which season and what the weather was like at the time of your visit. I remember having to clean the beach up, along with my husband and 5 year old son,  at Koh Samet after a major storm that washed all kinds of debris, trash and wooden planks with nails on them. We just could not sit there and watch a beautiful beach being taken over and covered by ugly dirty objects.

There are so many activities that you can do on these islands... elephant trekking, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, to name a few and just chilling by the beach having a massage. Even though my husband and I are not into riding elephants because we would like to see them walk around free as we saw them in Africa, but we did once because it was our son's birthday and so a special request. It was painful watching the handlers knock the elephants' strong head with an axe- like object.

One advice though... when hiking to any waterfall, beware of snakes taking some time off and enjoying a swim in the water next to you. We spotted such a snake... a long one may I add... while my boy, his friend and my husband were swimming... it passed them by trying to find a way out and enjoying the cooling waters of the waterfall. The Guard there panicked a bit and asked everyone to leave the water. He threw rocks close to it to guide it out. The poor thing swam down the river and away from the tourists who had jumped out the water as soon as they spotted it.

I think the beach, any beach is just so great for the kids and for the parents who just want to relax and not struggle to find activities to entertain their kids. Every kid has loads of fun on the beach; swimming, building castles, watching the hermit crabs popping their claws and little bodies from their tiny holes, kayaking and snorkeling. I have to say that the beach is one of the few places where I do not have to worry whether or not the kids are having fun.We are blessed to be living in Thailand and have such wonderful beaches a few hours away from our home.

Koh Chang Pictures:

Picture of the Lodge and beach on Koh Samet:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Oh The Stress!

Today was one of many stressful days... after living through such days all I want to do is crawl in a hole and plug my ears... just be alone... ugh!

The day started off on the wrong foot. We had to go to the immigration office to get re-entry visas for Thailand in order to be able to get back into the country after our trip to Hong Kong. We had to take the kids as well. I packed my bag with loads of coloring books, reading books, crayons, small squishy toys and cars, snacks and a bottle of water... not forgetting our passports, immigration documents and diapers.... oh and a plastic bag to put the trash in. It felt really heavy... but I always have to be prepared when the kids have to spend around an hour in a taxi... it is boring as anything... poor little things....

I called the taxi company to send us a cab... 5 minutes before we had to leave the house they called to let us know that there were no taxis on the road... huh? and that if we wanted we could wait another 15 minutes... ok so we waited another 15 minutes and then they called again and said that again there were no taxis... so jump in the car we did... we parked the car next to the main road and hopped into a taxi whose driver nodded that he knew the place we wanted to go and invited us in… minutes later it was apparent that he had no idea what we were talking about as he was calling someone mentioning the street we gave him.

After making sure he had no knowledge of what we were saying, I called a Thai friend of mine and asked her to translate. Thanks to her we were on our way to the immigration office. You might find this a little bit strange but this is the culture here in Thailand; they like to save face and therefore would not outwardly tell you that they did not know something…. Which might be a little frustrating for someone who is not of that culture.

The kids were not bad at all on the way there… coloring, eating their snacks and reading their stories…. And that was probably the best part of the whole trip.

When we got there, we took a number and headed straight to the rows of chairs to fish out some entertainment items for the kids. We sat and waited for the man in charge to call us. At school, they had previously informed us that if we took a multi-entry Visa that we would be able to transfer it to our new passports if we ever needed to renew them. So thinking that this was the case, we asked for multi-entry visas… he started writing the receipts  while he was talking on a hands-free phone to his girlfriend or wife... we then found out that we were short of money… my husband went to the ATM machine and came back with the rest of money but by that time, 2 minutes? the official gave our turn to another person.

After ten minutes, the official who had just finished from another mobile phone call, pointed out that both my daughter and my passport needed to be renewed and that we would not be able to transfer the visa onto them. Then when I asked for a single entry visa for my daughter and I, he started shaking his head showing us his displeasure, which is quite surprising as Thai people are known not to outwardly show any such emotion. It is extremely rare for you to see someone upset, angry or discontent here in Thailand… they are very patient and passive people. So you can imagine my husband’s and my astonishment at his reaction.

Being me… I so wanted to say that if he was not talking on the phone the whole time he was dealing with us, we would have been able to ask him questions... but I could not do that... however, I could not help but ask him why he was upset and explain to him that we were assured that we could transfer our visas…this was all while my daughter was screaming for her father to let go of her and put her down...

Anyway… all was done but after my daughter ran around the whole place 3 or 4 times sometimes screaming, sometimes crying and sometimes laughing… my son wanting to go to the bathroom while my daughter wriggled and had a temper tantrum on the bathroom floor… yukh! Had to wash her hands several times… oh boy!

And then the ride home… oh what a ride home… my daughter would not sit down… she was all over the place… taxis, of course, do not have car seats and so she was not constrained… she was all over me… down on the floor, standing up to watch the other cars… and no matter how many things I took out to entertain her with or ask her to stay in her seat with the seat belt on, she continued doing whatever she was doing.

On top of all that the taxi driver had his music on loud, my husband was trying to converse with me or tell me what to do with my daughter, my daughter was trying to grab my attention and my son wanted his colors…  I just wanted to plug my ears and hear absolute silence for 5 seconds… just 5 seconds.

We drove my daughter home and made our way to a coffee shop as my husband noticed that I really needed to just wind down for ten minutes before heading back to work… on the way there, my son put his head on my lap and the only thing that soothed me was having my fingers brush his bronze hair and look at his beautiful angelic face.

This morning, I needed a hole to crawl in… moles and hibernating bears are so lucky. For months they can hear absolutely nothing and they sleep like babies cuddled up in their snug holes or caves.... I think I would like to be one of those animals in my next life (if I have one).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Please keep me awake... Yawn!!!

I never used to drink coffee in the morning… and if I did, it would have probably been because I am out with some friends for breakfast or brunch and therefore I was considered to be a social coffee drinker. I do not like drinking Turkish coffee, which is usually served in Arab houses unless my sister in-law promised to read the cup afterward. I love drinking the traditional cardamom filled Arabic coffee which is bitter and just simply delicious and aromatic but that was about it.

I am finding out that the older I am getting the more coffee I am drinking… and instant coffee which is not very satisfying really. Funny though, I do not drink it at home… not on weekends or while I’m on vacation… The only place I drink it is at work… Why is that? Am I trying to stop myself from falling asleep or has it become a ritual… I see others doing it so I copy cat?
I know that the caffeine in coffee is what stimulates me to stay awake but during university,  it did not matter how many cups of coffee I drank to keep me awake to study for my finals, I always managed to sleep well that night. And so, I stopped drinking it… I did not see that it had any effect on me except that it would stain my teeth if I drank too much of it. I am also not sure it has any effect on me now… I mean I drink it but I still yawn straight after… what keeps me going is the amount of work that I have to do…
My husband drinks a can of Coke or Pepsi on our long road trip drives. He says that it keeps him awake and alert…they both have caffeine of course so same stimulant as coffee but  they're cold… I remember once while road tripping around Africa, Zambia to be exact, it was my turn to drive and usually if the terrain is all the same and just straight forward, that makes me a tad sleepy… so instead of coffee or Coke to keep me awake my husband gave me a silver can of Red Bull… and Whoa! MAAAN! I tell ya that went straight to my brain and to every single capillary in my body… it did the trick... but I never ever imagined that it would do it so quickly.
Now I know that the slightly addictive substance in the fizzy drinks and coffee is caffeine… but what is in Red Bull?  I knew that it definitely had caffeine in it but I was positive that it contained something else …why did it have such a quick and strong effect on me when drinking a cup of coffee did not?
 I searched on the Internet to find out the other ingredients. I found out that it is an Austrian product but the entrepreneur who created it was inspired by the Thai energy drink Krating Daeng which translated to the red bovine (kind of like the water buffalo that you see all around Thailand… even in Bangkok).
I was also surprised to find out that Red Bull contained 80 mg/250 ml of caffeine which is the same amount that you find in a cup of coffee… what? Really? 

So why was drinking it have a different effect one me? There are, of course, other ingredients in a Red Bull; taurine, gluguronolactone (?????), B vitamins, sucrose and glucose... Taurine is an amino acid and it supports neurological development, has antioxidant properties and it is believed to improve mental performance if it was combined with caffeine... AHA! now I get it.... Coffee does not have that extra ingredient in it... maybe that was why its affect on me was instant.

We gotta be careful as to the amount of coffee or energy drinks that we consume in a day or a week. Too much caffeine and energy drinks can increase the heart rate and blood pressure, interrupts our sleep patterns and can cause nervousness and irritability due to lack of sleep or extreme alertness. We also have to be careful about the calories that we intake due to the amount of sugar that these energy or fizzy drinks have.
So remember... everything in moderation!!!

A few Links for you: