Saturday, April 30, 2011

My Traditional Wedding

Before I begin describing the traditional part of my wedding, there are a few aspects of getting married that I need to make clear for my readers in order to avoid any confusion.  In the Arab countries, it is of vital importance for the groom to take permission from the father of the bride-to-be before any wedding could commence, every one is involved in organizing the wedding as the family is a tight unit and it is usually the bride’s side of the family that pays for an engagement party while the groom’s side of the family pays for the wedding.
My wedding was kind of like a shot gun one… it took my parents some time to accept my decision to marry someone who was not of my culture, background or religion. They believed that marriage had its usual problems with men and women being very different to one another, the stress of having children, stresses of work and trying to build a secure life, and living under one roof. Therefore, they were afraid that if the cultural, traditional and religious background differences were added to that equation, I would not have the easy comfortable life that they wanted me to have. They were and still are protective parents and therefore, I do not blame them for their trepidations.
I did not have an engagement party but my mother made sure to throw me an exquisite “marriage certificate” celebration, Katb Iktab (as it is called in Palestine) or Mahr (as it is called in Iraq). And what an awesome ceremony it was… My dear Uncle in Amman took all of the below pictures and I will go through each one explaining the meaning behind them… Since my father is Iraqi and my mother is Palestinian, she decided to join both cultures and traditions together.
I hope you enjoy my Photo Diary:
I wore a traditional Palestinian Thobe (a hand embroidered dress in different Palestinian cross stitch designs) which my mother bought... but then embroidered the cover of the Quran with the same colors as well as the top of the box it came in. The other parts of the ceremony are Iraqi... except for lighting the candles which is a shared tradition. In Palestinian customs, the bride wears ten thimbles on her fingers with ten lit candles on them.

I was reading a certain section/part of the Quran over and over again while my feet were soaking in a pot filled with water, jasmine flowers and green leaves. This is a traditional Iraqi custom to signify fertility and blessings... that may my life be showered with greenery and flower scents.

The passage in the Quran talks about the marriage between men and women and how God created two genders so that they could mingle, love and be there for each other.

My sweet mother kept pouring warm water into that brass pot fearing that I would get cold.

The women sit in one room and the men in another for the first part of the ceremony and until the marriage certificate is signed.

My husband and his father, my father, my two uncles who were witnesses and the rest of the men were sitting in another room with the Sheikh who was to bless the marriage.

On the table in front of me there was a silver tray with seven dishes filled with white and green things (such as sugar cubes, cardamom, henna, rice, yogurt… to signify blessings and fertility and a white peaceful marriage) , a mirror (to reflect all the good that is in this world), a lit candle (to mean that we will always have each other to light our path... but in my case there were 3 lit candles; joy, love and peace) and a lock and key to indicate that I have locked his heart forever… I was supposed to throw the key away afterward but I have no idea what happened to that key.

The Sheikh’s responsibility was to ask my father, my husband and I a few questions before my husband and I and the witnesses signed the certificate.  For example: The men had to talk about the right to take care of me and protect me… the Dowry (before marriage and after in case of divorce) and the like… most of it was translated into English for my husband of course or he would have been like a deaf man in a Zaffeh  (an Arab saying)… Zaffeh is the first section of a White Wedding ceremony with loads of people drumming and cheering.

The three questions that were asked of me were:
Do I accept this man to be my husband?
Is it my choice to marry him?
Did my father or anyone else force me to marry him?

During the whole time I was asked by the Sheikh and was signing the certificate, my sister in law, cousin and best friend were right on top of me. My sister in law and cousin were carrying a white cloth while my best friend was rubbing two large blocks of sugar together on top of my head while the sugar grains fell onto the cloth. This signifies blessings of sweet moments and events in my married life.

After that the men went back to the men’s side for the witnesses and my husband to sign the certificate, shake hands and read the Fatiha verse of the Quran…. To start the marriage with a blessing.

Another Tradition is the lighting of a Life Size candle that stood in the hall greeting the visitors and which was later brought in to stand amongst the guests. My mother tried to find one that was my height but was unable to... however she did a fantastic job with this one... it is supposed be lit during the whole Katb iKtab, the next day when I had the reception wearing my white dress, on every wedding anniversary and the day a child is born. My mother still has it stored in her closet to this day.

After the whole ceremony, Kunafeh is served... it is a sweet cheese delicacy with crunchy fine vermicelli and sugar syrup....yet again signifying a sweet start to the marriage.

I wish you every kind of blessing in this world and may you be surrounded by greenery, white, candles, mirrors and sugar!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sido...How I Miss You!

One of my favorite pictures of all time...
It is of Sido (far right) carrying my mother,
My uncles (his sons) are standing in front.
Wadi Hunain (Palestine), 1946.

My Grandfather (Sido) , Nazif El Khairy, was born in 1906 in Ramleh, to Sheikh Mustafa Yousef Ahmad Abdelrazzaq El Khairy, a graduate of Al Azhar University; the mayor of Ramleh for over 20 years and a very popular political leader of that region, and Fareeza Al-Taji.

Sido attended the American University of Beirut and graduated in 1928. Afterwards he left to London to attain his Graduate Degree from the University of London. He went back home to Palestine and was the District Commissioner for most parts of that region at the time: Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah, Nazareth, Gaza, Jaffa and then once again in Jerusalem. 

In 1948, he was  forced to evacuate his home in his beloved Ramleh , along with his family,  because it was declared a military zone. He was a well respected figure  in all the areas he served in and everybody loved him as they did his father before him.

But no one loved him as much as his family and felt the loss as his loved ones have. We still feel his loss. Every one of his children and grandchildren has special memories of this wonderful, kind, generous, compassionate human soul.

Sido passed on when I was only 12 years old and I still remember begging my mother to take me to see him while he was sick. It took so much effort to convince her to finally take me. She did not want me to see him the way he was. She wanted me to remember him walking and laughing, but I was stubborn and could not accept that. I could not allow him to leave me without playing a game of cards with me.

You see... Sido had vowed not to play cards with anyone else but himself after my dear uncle (who currently lives in Montreal and helped me with all the above dates) and mother cheated while playing a game of Pinnacle a long time before I was born... a game I was never taught to play unfortunately and would still love to learn. For years, I tried to get him to play with me but he would sit me next to him, draw fantastic detailed pictures of animals for me, such as donkeys, roosters, cats and dogs, read stories to me, but never once play cards with me.

Because of that, it was of vital importance for my 12 year old mind to break that vow of his before he decided to set out on his journey to leave this Earthly dimension. And when I managed to do so, I was in bliss because he was smiling despite the pain he was in.... I was so happy which simply helped me forget his fragile state. 

This was the second to last time I saw him. I do not wish to talk about the last time as it pains me too much until now but I remember how at the funeral, I fought with everyone there because they were wearing black and white which was against Sido’s wishes... he did not want anyone to wear black... he did not like the Pharonic tradition, thought it was too depressing... I wore a Royal Blue shirt and a white vest with a yellow trimming… My selfish immature young heart failed to realize that I was not the only one in pain during that time.

One of my fondest memories of Sido was when I was very young. He used to always take me for walks around the 1st circle in Amman, buy me a soft strawberry and vanilla ice-cream from a sweet shop called Delice. I will never forget how once, as we were walking down a hill back to his home, my teddy bear’s head fell off (I was carrying two) and rolled underneath a parked white car. You have to remember that he was old at the time but that did not stop him. He kneeled down, stretched himself under the car and pulled the head out. He came out dirty all over but he did not seem to care even though he was such an elegant man, always smart, prim and properly dressed. All he seemed to care about was the smile on my face.

My mother was not with us at the time and I never told her the story… except years and years later…and therefore, she did not understand why I threw a crying fit when I came back from school one day to find that she had taken that same teddy bear, along with a bunch of other books and toys, and sent them off to a refugee camp in Beirut during their Civil War. She tried to explain to me that I had the other teddy bear and that it was in a better shape but I could not forgive her for a few days after that.

After my Sido decided to watch over us from a different realm, I went through a terrible phase. My mother had a very hard time dealing with me and trying to understand me. I blamed her for so much… accused her of doing things Sido would not have approved of if he were still with us. I was horrible to her. I was selfish; only thinking about how I felt at that time, not caring about how she felt about losing her dearest and only father.

You see, I never got over the fact that I would have to live the rest of my life and grow up without my role model by my side. But my relationship with my mother started to get better the year after I decided to attend the same university he, both my paternal grandparents and my father had graduated from. I felt that I had some kind of spiritual connection with him; that I had walked the same path he had walked; I even had lectures in the same buildings as he did… I felt he was watching over me while I was there.

My Sido had touched many lives to the extent that he is ALWAYS remembered with love and fondness. He was and still is my role model because of his open-mindedness,  accepting and modest nature, even though I have to add my mom & dad to the list now. My heart goes out to his life time companion on the 1st of October of every year. I keep reminding myself that if it was and still is so hard for me to hold back a tear when thinking of him, I cannot imagine how hard it must be for my sweetest Tata (my grandmother) and my gem of a mother.

I miss you Sido!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Blind Side


I just finished watching an inspirational movie with my husband. A movie that would bring tears to an emotional person like myself. I could not hold or control the tears and they kept streaming down my face... 

It was a touching true movie about the life of the current Baltimore Raven's All Star NFL player, Michael Oher. I will not spoil this beautiful story by typing a summary of it.... it is a must see, that won Sandra Bullock many awards in 2009; The Academy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress and the Guild Award for Outstanding Performance... the movie is a must see but I bet you anything reading the book would be even better... I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy as I aspire to  be a "Leigh Anne Tuohy."

From the movie I wish us all this: 
  1. May our hearts be open to everyone... 
  2. May we have the courage to change the parts of us that we need changing or improving...
  3. May we have strength to fend off ridicule.... 
  4. May we stand up for others and their rights...
  5. May we always choose the right path...
  6. May we own the courage to continue ploughing through difficult times... 
  7. May we have faith that everything will get better soon...
  8. May we believe that there is always a reason behind everything we experience...
  9. May we see the positive in everything we do or anyone else does...
  10. May we have the power to believe in ourselves and others...

Transgenders/ Transvestites

I know that by writing such a post, I will be attracting a lot of controversy and disagreement from many people around the world who tend to look at things from a different or even strict religious point of view.
My mother, bless her gentle giving soul, sent me the following petition and wrote, “I thought you might like to sign it.” It was sent to her by which she is subscribed to and it lit a light bulb above my head... "I am going to write about this," I said to myself, "Since my blog is about the change that must take place in ourselves and the world."
Let me first state that I, for one, believe that a human being is a human being no matter what gender identity they choose to be.
I am referring to transgender/ transvestite individuals. These terms describe people who want to live cross gender lives by wearing clothing traditionally associated with the opposite sex. It can also include individuals who have undergone sex reassignment surgery by changing their physical appearance as well as the function of their sexual characteristics to resemble that of the other gender.
I am unreservedly against any discrimination laws, be it by a government body or religion. If we got rid of all the layers that these beautiful souls place around themselves to protect themselves from the aggression and hateful comments of others, we will realize that they are very similar to us.

To me, there is no difference between someone who cross dresses or has decided to go through with the reassignment surgery and myself. We both have the same basic physical features, a brain, thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions and basically a life.
The only difference is that they were uncomfortable with their bodies… they felt out of place... I believe that there would be more psychological problems if someone remained in their present rejected gender bodies than to change to a gender that they would feel content and comfortable in.
Individuals know which identity they want to be… There is no use lying to themselves just to accommodate for and please the society and its expectations. The society will never cease to expect things of every member. It will never stop wanting people to conform to its beliefs, be it religious or secular. So why adhere to such expectations if it is on their account? Why conform, if it is mentally and emotionally agonizing to them? Wouldn’t we go to the ends of this Earth to find our happiness?
Happiness is at the core of every person’s decision to do anything in this life…. If we make decisions that would ultimately lead to our sense of fulfillment and happiness… Why on earth can’t we allow and accept them to do the same? They are human beings after all and what we want, they want as well…
I live in a country that has so lovingly accepted Transgendered/ Transsexual people the way they are, Thailand, and I have found it to be refreshing. During my trip to Hong Kong a month ago, my friends’ daughter showed me a YouTube video of this wonderful Thai individual on Thailand's Got Talent and I was blown away and was filled with such joy. Have a watch and notice the Thai judges' reaction... a breath of fresh air!
 (note: I apologise for not being able to download the video onto my blog... not sure why I was not allowed to do so)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reiki and Me

My mother’s first cousin was the one to introduce me and many members of my family, including my mother, to the wonderful peaceful and calming world of Reiki. She gave me my first initiation and then when she immigrated to Canada, I sought her Irish Master who then gave me my Reiki II and III initiations. I am grateful to the both of them for providing me with such an amazing relaxing and healing technique that I wish I could practice more often.
For those of you who have not heard much about Reiki, it is a Japanese technique used to reduce pain and promote healing, reduce stress and provide relaxation. It is ‘Life Force Energy’ which is unseen and which flows through us causing us to be alive.
The word Reiki is made up of two Japanese words; REI meaning God’s (or Higher Power) Wisdom and KI meaning ‘Life Force Energy’. So Reiki is basically spiritually guided life force energy and those who practice it are usually very spiritual beings.
People on the receiving end of the healing feel like a wonderful flow of energy passes through them or surrounds their body… they tend to see colors changing… each color has a different meaning to it which I will not delve into in this post. Each individual receives and reacts to Reiki in a different way as it heals the whole person including the body, emotions, mind and spirit. But at the end of the session, people feel much more relaxed and many have told me how wonderful they felt after I had given them a session.
Reiki has provided me with so many stories that I would love to share with you. My first experience undergoing a group session was just after I finished my Bachelors and Teaching Degree from Lebanon and went back home to start work at my old school. I was miserable… very depressed… it was wonderful being with family again but I had left so many emotions bottled up and just needed to let go. For the longest time, I was unable to do so and ketp hiding things wanting to struggle and plough through it….
That was when my  cousin (who had become a Master teacher by that time and is very dear to me), the same cousin who initiated me the first time, insisted on taking me to her Irish Reiki Master to give me a full body Reiki. I had four people placing their hands on me… my cousin at my head, two on each side and another by my feet…. After only ten minutes into the session, tears started to fall uncontrollably down my cheeks… I tried so hard to stop them but couldn’t… the Irish Reiki Master, who was healing another person next to me on another massage bed, said, in a very calm and serene voice, “Let it all go… let the tears flow… let go!” and I did… I cried and cried while they gave me the healing and I felt so much better… What a session that was! Just beautiful… freeing… peaceful… unbinding…
I decided then to start working towards my Reiki II certificate… I started attending the group sessions providing healing to people along with the Irish Master… a few weeks later, my cousin decided to immigrate to Canada, but I kept going to those sessions… I received my certificate in 1997 a few months before I left to the US to study for a Master’s Degree… My friend was also planning to go to the States to get a joint Masters/PhD degree during the same time… but she had found a little immobile kitten by the side of the road a few days before her departure.
Being an animal lover, she took it home and then to a vet… the vet said that the kitten had problems with its hip and that there was no way that it would walk again… the vet advised my friend to put her to sleep as there wasn’t much she could do… but my friend refused to give up.. The kitten continued to just lay there next to her food and her litter box, being carried from one to the other to stay alive.
But my friend would not give up… she was telling me the story and that was when I explained to her about Reiki… I told her that usually dogs like it more than cats but that we could always try… and so it was that I started going to her house every single day for 30 mins- 1 hour… to provide the little helpless kitten some healing. The 4th and last session was the day my friend was jumping on a plane. I gave the kitten her Reiki session and then did not see or hear from my friend for two weeks until I got to the US myself.
When I called her up to check on her and the kitten, she in New York and I in West Lafayette (IN), she told me what a miraculous recovery the kitten had made… I was a bit puzzled and asked her if she had taken her to a vet or something…  but she said No… that as soon as the plane landed and she reached her apartment, the kitten was jumping from one couch to the next, running around as if she discovered her legs again. Every time I remember that story I smile… I just love Reiki and wish that I had a group of friends around me who practiced it as well.
Moving on… I lived in Malawi, Africa, for four years and during that time provided many of my friends with Reiki Healing sessions which they loved… If I practiced Reiki on a regular basis, I feel stronger and also my premonitions and connection with the spirit world strengthens… you might think I am crazy but I have felt many presences during my sessions with friends… I will talk about them later… as this is becoming a long post…
But before I go… there was one time that I shocked a skeptical scientist on my school’s teaching staff… he was a Physicist and would not believe in such spiritual stuff… but I proved to him that it actually worked one time on our hike when his camera batteries went flat and he was so disheartened because he so wanted to take pictures and my husband and I had not taken our camera either… we had taken Moon Dance, our dog, but not our camera. So I asked him if he believed that I could recharge his batteries… and he said that he didn’t…
So on top of one of the hills and for ten minutes, I kept those batteries between both palms and watched the beautiful scenery in front of me, while he watched me with a smirk on his face shaking his head from side to side….
When the ten minutes were over… I gave him back the camera batteries and asked him to check them out… and I kid you not, the batteries worked and they remained working for another few days…. He was flabbergasted I tell ya… you could have heard a pin drop when he took his first picture… silence… and then a burst of laughter with, “I cannot believe this!” To this day he cannot explain it… he researched Reiki and saw heat detector pictures of hands with and without Reiki… THAT story also puts a smile on my face!
I know that many people out there are skeptical about Reiki… and to them I say… NEVER judge anything unless you have tried it… make up your minds AFTER you have tried it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Respecting Relgious Deities and Figures

I was brought up to respect and revere every religious figure and never make fun of them, dishonor or disregard them in anyway.  My parents taught me that no matter what the religion was, whether I agreed with the beliefs or not, they had esteemed figures who were considered either prophets, Gods, or sons of Gods, and that these admired figures should always be respected… no matter how different they were to my own beliefs. Granted my parents disagreed with many religious ideologies or stories and sometimes talked about how different they were to their own, but they never accepted me disrespecting their religious figures.
I have seen many cartoons about the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Moses, Mohammad, Ganesh, Buddha and all the others and I honestly cringe every time I look at them…This is coming from a person who was brought up believing that Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Moses, Mohammad and other Quranic/Biblical prophets, those honorable faces, should not even be shown in movies or pictures or any drawings. It is a sign of reverence as they are considered the purest of all humankind…. (But this is in Islam and of course does not have to apply to other religions).
And thus, I find it extremely difficult to understand how people could make fun of religious figures, draw cartoons about them or belittle them in any way or form. I have had many a discussion with my husband about this as we seem to disagree on the extent of Freedom of Speech… I am not against freedom of speech…or freedom of opinion…. not in the slightest…
BUT what I am against is ABUSING that freedom… that right… disregarding others and their beliefs…
Everyone has the right to say whatever they thought and believed… I believe that… but I also believe in respecting other people’s beliefs…. Granted people have a right to not believe in any religious figure… any religion… that is their right… their prerogative… I have no problem with that… I respect that…
BUT to me, if I respected people who do not believe in any of these religions and respected their opinion and beliefs, should they respect my beliefs as well?   If I respected the religions of others, should I expect the same respect as well?
I love Holy Places… no matter which religion they belong to as I am a genuine believer that ANY Temple, Church, Synagogue or Mosque is a HOLY place and offers me some peace and tranquility. I have visited many of these Holy buildings and have prayed in them, lit candles, burned incense… etc. and loved it… As my very wise blog friend Paula Devi,,  said, "A sacred space is sacred ground - there are no borders. If it's sacred to one person it is sacred to humankind.

 I would never make fun of any deity, any religious or revered figure... I do not make fun of Animism, Voodooism, Greek Mythology or Roman or Pharonic Gods... I find them fascinating. 
And therefore, I find it difficult to understand where people come from when they make fun of other people’s deities or religious figures or just pure beliefs…
To me this just creates more divisions… more hatred… more wars… Something this world has had enough of... Why can’t we all just respect one another and just accept that there are billions of people on this Earth who all have different beliefs and yet would be able to, with a little acceptance and respect, live together harmoniously…
We can all respect each other’s beliefs even if we disagreed with them or did not believe in them.

Just live and let live, I say!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Common Decency

Sometimes I wonder about people and their sense of decency. Seeing people not really care about what others are going through and just focus on their wants and needs makes me wonder how they would feel if the tables were turned. How would they feel if someone else did the same thoughtless thing to them? Would they accept it? Would they move on and just shrug their shoulders? Or would they be ticked off and feel angry? 

On the way back from Koh Tao and while we were waiting in line with 2 big bags, a heavy carry on,  two back packs, and two children in tow, the sky opened up and down came a wall of rain.... tropical rain... heavy... one where you would be soaked to your underwear in a matter of seconds. As we walked towards the ferry, that would transport us to the main land in 1.5 hours, we could barely see in front of us. I was carrying my daughter, my back pack and dragging the heavy carry on and watching out for my son, while my husband was carrying all the other bags.

Everybody was in the same boat maybe minus a few bags or children, but they were soaking wet. We finally reached the ferry and when we went in, we were faced with utter chaos... people trying to find a place to sit, people trying to place their bags on a mountain of others... it was just crazy! 

In the midst of it all, I spotted a place to sit with my daughter... when I approached the row of three seats, I saw a young man sitting in the middle seat with two bags on either side of him. I asked him if the bags were his or if he had some friends coming? He barely paid attention to me... I asked him again politely, and he informed me that he had friends coming. 

Ten minutes passed... after finding dry clothes for my kids, and when I still had no seat yet, I went to him, still carrying my back pack and my daughter and asked him again where his friends were... 

He looked at me and gave me the cold shoulder.... I nearly killed him with my eyes then... but I kept my cool and asked him if he saw the chaos around him and how people cannot find a place to park themselves... he just ignored me. I thought that maybe he did not speak English... but then I remembered that he told me about his friends... so no, I was wrong... he did speak English but he chose to ignore and close his eye pretending to fall asleep.

A Thai staff member saw what was going on, ushered me to a seat and then went back to him. Thai people are extremely tolerant and accepting and sometimes I think that single travelers like this man take advantage of that. They take advantage of the fact that the Thai people do not like confrontation and so they could get away with murder if they wanted to. But due to the state of the ferry, the staff member had to intervene this time. Their conversation went on for minutes... he then gave up one of his seats... the aisle seat. 

But guess what... no one wanted to sit next to him... there was a young traveler at the back of the room who was sitting on a stool. I spoke to him, as I was trying to get my displaced bag, and told him that there was a seat next to that man over there. He told me that he did not want to sit next to someone who would not give up his seat for a mother and daughter. He had watched it all. 

I should not wonder at people who behave in such a way... I should feel sorry for them... because they are loners. This traveler was alone... he had no friends as he made us believe he had... he walked alone, traveled alone... no one wanted to sit next to to him... people who have no common decency  and who thought of their own convenience and comfort, will always be loners and I feel sorry for them. Other travelers on the ferry who were with friends or family offered their help. to others... asked if anyone wanted to switch seats so that a family would be together, smiled and made small talk... but this guy... he was alone... and I really felt sorry for him.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bad News at 7


I came back from a beautiful island in Thailand called Koh Tao and have been bombarded with bad news... news of death, destruction and utter chaos. All I see on the news are images of death. I hear of death from people... I read of death...  I watch people being shot at as if they are dolls in the street screaming for their rights in the Arab World... I hear of people's souls being robbed of their existence... I read of people suffering from illnesses that their loved ones cannot carve and take away...

I long to hear about a birth... a birth of a child, animal... a birth of a new era.... a new ideology.. a new Art form... a new ANYTHING...

Why has death become our companion? Why has destruction become a source of entertainment? Every channel I come across on TV has images of riots, revolutions, murders... even series and movies... people are so interested in how a murder is solved... present company included... me that is... one of my favorite books to read are Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie's Poirot besides Jane Austen's Classic books... Why is it that nowadays we have different CSI's and they are so popular? Even I am taken by them... 

I remember when my husband and I were in Toronto for the summer in 2008 and I was watching this daily documentary on cases gone cold, how the authorities re-opened them and caught the criminal... My husband, a Canadian, never understood why I found it fascinating... He never understood why I was taken by the idea of death, murders and rapes... I wasn't really... I just looked at them as a sign of hope... hope that the real criminals would be caught and made to pay for their horrendous crimes.... he still did not understand it...

Come to think of it though... I agree with him... Why was I taken by it, when all these documentaries were about was death and crime? I mean shouldn't I be watching more movies about life and people's achievements?

I know no one can escape death... I know that no one can escape such an end... an end to life... and end to the road... 

There is always another way of looking at death...

I like how my friend Birdie  words it as "The last stage of living" on her blog when talking about her dear brave mother's struggle with cancer... I love that idea... We celebrate life and see it in stages... We do not look at it as an end... but kind of like a play on Life's Theater... a play that touches people's lives and will be remembered forever as it is told to the generations to come...

My parents and grandparents always told me stories about when they were young in Baghdad, Ramleh, Jaffa, Jerusalem and Beirut. I will never forget these stories and they will remain with me until my children are old enough for me to pass them on to them. Souls are never lost... they are never forgotten... they never fade... they live within us... and so from now on, I will change my views on death... and will try not to call it death any more... 

A life is never lost... it never fades... 

Every single person who has fallen around the world must have had lives worth talking about... The lives of those who were washed away by the terrible Tsunami in Japan, will always be remembered by the survivors who are struggling and fighting to live... The lives of those who were shaken in earth shattering quakes around the world will forever be remembered by their loved ones... The lives of those who stood up to dictators and asked for their rights in the Arab World will always be remembered by the rest for their courage and patriotism.... and the lives of those who fought for peace will forever be remembered as the beacons of hope and change. 

May we all celebrate our life and the lives of others as we celebrate achievements, happy moments, love, graduation, weddings, births, etc. !

Saturday, April 16, 2011



I am so saddened by the news today.... I feel empty all of a sudden... aching... every little cell in my body grieves. I felt like this many times before and whenever I heard of violence, death and destruction... This time it is over the death of a wonderful giving man, Vittorio Arrigon. on the hands of ignorant people who never once thought about his life, his family, his cause. Never once thought that killing one life to save another...  Is like killing millions of lives.

I feel for every person his soul touched... I feel for his family and friends... my heart aches for all of them. My heart aches for the Gazan people... Some people might hate me for this... might disagree... I understand that it happened in Gaza, but please remember that generalizations are dangerous at such sensitive times. The ordinary people of Gaza, are mourning and feeling the loss as well, for they understand what it feels like to lose a loved one... as all the other people in that area who have lost loved ones. And their source of solace and joy,  ease of suffering and humanity came from this generous gentle soul.

What happened was the result of sheer hate, ignorance and selfishness which is quite widespread in that region, and something must be done about this.... Any side, country, front or faction should stop... stop and think what this madness is bringing.... many coffins from both sides... 

I loathe violence in any form or matter from any faction/front/country. I fear it... it pains me! I believe in Human Rights, love, forgiveness and understanding.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Songkran in Thailand

I had the good fortune to be asked by my Thai colleague whether or not I would like to join her and her husband's family on a day filled with Buddhist religious rituals and blessed experiences. So of course I jumped on the opportunity. Today marks the second day of Songkran.

Songkran is the traditional New Years in Thailand. It is celebrated on the 13th, 14th and 15th of April of every year. It is a time to throw water at everyone passing you by , have a whale of a time and pay respects to the elders, relatives, friends and family. It is also a time when Thai people visit a Wat, a Buddhist Monastery, pay respects to the monks and offer them food and money. 

The water is a symbol of washing all the bad away. It is also loads of fun for everyone, especially the little kids who run in the streets with hoses and water guns ready of any scooter, car or bus to drive by them. The water is sometimes mixed with chalk or talcum powder. Chalk is usually used by the monks to mark their blessings, but during Songkran everyone uses it to bless each other.

People who visit the Wats also cleanse Buddha statues by gently pouring water on it. The water is mixed with colorful flowers and fragrances. It is believed that doing this would bring good luck to  the person pouring the water for the whole New Year.  The monks, who wear their ceremonial robes and sit in lines on a platform above the people, give their blessings and sing their prayers, in front of the people. They then go up to their rooms, change into "Songkran" robes, which have less folds than the ceremonial ones,  and sit on plastic chairs in a line for the people to pour petal-filled fragrant water into the hands or on their shoulders.The people pour water on the monks to receive blessings from them. 

Below is a picture diary of my day at the Wat... 
Pouring flowered scented water over the Buddha.

The Wat where we attended the Songkran ceremony

 The Buddha at the temple... once people get there, they light 3 incense sticks and some candles, repeat a mantra 3 times and then make a wish. I repeated the mantra after my friend... I was told it is a mantra from Bali that many Thai people do not quite understand the meaning of but have memorized it anyway. 

My friend paying her respects with the 3 incense sticks

During the ceremony... praying monks sit on a platform above the people's heads. They spread blessings to all who come to the Wat. They tend to sit in lines according to the time they had spent in monkhood. The men sitting at the start of the line are the ones who have been monks the longest.

On the left you can see the monks' chambers where they sleep and change into Songkran robes. Many of these monks live in the monastery for one month and some stay longer. The children only stay for the summer holiday. The men are expected to become a monk for at least once in their life.

The water that is poured onto the monks is mixed with flowers and beautiful fragrances.

People stand in line waiting for their turn to pour some water over the monks and receive their blessings. I was totally dry until I got to the end of the line, before I met the monks,  when an old woman poured a bowl of water down my back... I gave out a yelp and covered my mouth fearing that I had offended anyone... but everyone around me burst out laughing... my whole backside was wet... down to my underwear. I was laughing too... it was so much fun.
Pouring water in the monks' hands and sometimes on their shoulders. The monks were intrigued to find a foreigner amongst them and a few times I passed by one and he would smile and say something I did not understand. (I gotta learn Thai!)... Two monks placed flowers, from the ones that dropped onto their hands, on my shoulder and then giggled. I felt blessed!

The young monks waiting their turn to have water poured on them. They sit at the end of the line and people tend to be more playful with them and pour more water on their shoulders than in their hands... many of them looked so cold. Poor dears!

Me... after a man placed chalk paste on both of my cheeks and an another old lady sneaked up from behind me and threw water on me. the cold water shocked me to the extent that I threw my camera on the ground. It hit the ground with a thud but it still worked... managed to take this picture!

I stood there, all wet, and watched the kids play with water and having a blast of a time. They were not involved in the ceremony, they were at the back enjoying their time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Things that make me smile/happy

  1. Babies and children's laughter
  2. Adorable baby animals,,, well animals as a whole!
  3. Balloons and Popcorn
  4. Memories of special people
  5. Watching people make up and resolve their differences
  6. Watching people welcoming their loved ones at the airport
  7. Rain and Sunshine
  8. Being told that I touched a life
  9. Lit candles and the smell of incense
  10. Helping others
  11. Watching inspiring stories on TV or reading about them
  12. Listening to great music
  13. Hearing of or watching people overcome obstacles
  14. Listening to my kids go on and on about something that makes no sense to me.
  15. Listening to their imaginative stories
  16. Playing games with my kids
  17. Talking to my family and relatives around the world
  18. Receiving emails from family and loved ones
  19. Beautiful touching weddings of people in love
  20. Watching my 92 year-old grandmother stitching Palestinian embroidery (still without eye-glasses!!!)
  21. Sunrises and sunsets
  22. Roller coasters and Candy floss
  23. Eating Arabic sweets, Humus, Tabouleh and my mother's & grandmother's cooking of course!
  24. Swimming in beautiful waters
  25. Elephants
  26. Safaris
  27. Old dancing and singing 50's movies
  28. Dancing or watching superb dancers on TV
  29. Hearing from a very old friend... one I lost touch with...
  30. Reunions and celebrations
  31. Traveling, meeting new people from different cultural backgrounds and learning about them.
  32. Discovering new things
  33. Watching a good movie
  34. Writing 
  35. Reading a good book
  36. Hearing a funny joke
  37. Vacations
  38. Hiking to a waterfall
  39. Hiking to a mountain top
  40. Love
.................................ok... I think it is enough... the list goes on... but I do not want to bore anyone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Power of Words


There is so much power in words... they can lead a man to his freedom or his doom... they can start a fight or lead to a truce.... words hold so much meaning... the way people phrase their words can change the whole atmosphere or the way events turn out... There is an Arabic proverb that says that  'The wound of words, is worse than the wound of swords" and another one... "Your tongue is like a horse, if you take care of it, it will take care of you... but if you treat it badly, it will treat you badly."

I have to admit that I am much better at writing than I am at speaking and voicing my opinions and feelings. When I write, I have the ability to delete any words that I misused or felt that they do not fit in with the sentence structure that I had chosen.... I wish that I had that same option when I spoke.  After words come out of my mouth, I sometimes find myself wishing that I had used another term or phrased them differently... When words escape my mouth like that, I sometimes wish that there was a rewind and delete button.

I remember my dad continuously advising me on this... He always mentioned an Arab proverb that made so much sense to me but for a person who has so many words on her mind and on her tongue it was kind of difficult to press pause and hold them inside my mouth forever ... The proverb went like this... "If talking is made of silver, then silence is made of gold". I have to admit that I am getting better at biting my tongue the older I get... If I were to use those imprisoned words wisely, then I am positive that they would make a difference in many situations... but until then I will try to heed my father's advice.

Which brings me to my next point.... How I wish that those in high powerful places, and I am not referring to God or any divine power, would allow people to say what is on their minds... say the words that they have been forced to imprison within them due to fear of persecution...torture, imprisonment, house arrest or exile.

Everyone has the right to say what is wrong with a certain aspect of their country... At the end of the day, they are living in that country and would like to see some positive changes to where they decided to raise a family. No one would want their family to live in injustice, to live in fear, to be persecuted, humiliated and their basic human rights violated... Therefore,  what is wrong with bringing those powerful people's attention to the reality of how their subjects are living? 

Why is it a crime to share your opinions and ideas with the rest of your country? Isn't the most essential job when leading a country is to make sure that everyone is content and have a good standard of living... that no one is left wanting and that the basic of human rights are acted upon? 

I feel that these leaders, who have a difficulty accepting that their subjects are suffering, are either blind to what is really happening outside their mansion or palace walls or have such a low self-confidence that they do not accept constructive criticism from their subjects who are living outside that protective shielding wall.

Did they really go around their country getting to know the people they are leading? Do they make it a point to touch their hearts and win over their acceptance, love and loyalty? I wonder.... 

Leading a country is such a huge responsibility... something I do not think I will ever be able to fully understand the magnitude of.. but one thing that I definitely know is that there is something lacking...  there is a missing link between the person who is leading and the people being led... 

To me the whole purpose of leading others is to 1. Guide; guide them to a better way of living, with better laws and regulations, 2. Protect; protect them from aggressors, invaders, thieves and murderers, 3. Educate; educate their minds and souls so that they grow up into responsible and independent citizens, 4. Provide; provide them with job opportunities, the chances and resources to grow and live well, 5. Nurture; nurture their bodies with food and good medical care... and in return, the happy and satisfied 'led' people would work well, be loyal subjects to the leader and live harmoniously with others.

This is me babbling on and on... but at least I have the option of scrolling up and deleting everything if I wanted to.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tantrums and Bonds

Today was a great day in the sense that I have bonded with my son and got somewhere with my daughter... 

It was a usual morning... nothing different... as always my daughter alarm clock woke us up early, potty and milk time... Son wanting his milk... breakfast ... this time though, because I slept late the night before having a Tweeterapy session with myself, my husband took the kids in the AM and I tried to have an hour or two of sleep. It was not meant to be... 

My daughter threw a tantrum and all I heard for two hours was her crying, whining and wailing... I got up and had to deal with it...but she went into our bathroom and started pulling things off the shelf and throwing things onto the floor.... well I placed a cushion in the bathroom, closed the door behind me, sat there and asked her nicely to pick up what she just threw... 

And that was that... 45 minutes of continuous crying... I knew she was trying to be defiant... stubborn... trying to sort out what she was feeling... sort out her emotions... but I would not budge... I mean if I went back on what I asked her to do, she would think she would always be able to get away with things... so I stood my ground... let her cry... well it was more like a screaming fit... she pulled other things down, the toilet paper was everywhere at this point... oh Boy! 

I still did not budge... but in between all the bursts of tantrum episodes... I gave her hugs... she would hug me so tightly while weeping and calm down a bit ...but as soon as I asked her to pick up the things she would go back to her tantrums... she wanted her dummy... wanted water... wanted to get out of the bathroom... but I kept saying,"If you pick up those bottles, I will give you water/your dummy!" Premack's Principle.

Well after, 45 minutes... she relented... picked up the toilet paper... so I gave her some water to drink.... she picked up more and I then jumped in to help her... and the rest was history. I gotta tell you that it was a difficult three quarters of an hour... I had to plug my ears a few times worrying about the damage the screaming in a small room would cause to my ear drums... but it all worked out in the end.

As for my son... I had a great 4 hours with him... my daughter was supposed to go with us but I think the screaming made her tired and she needed to sleep. So after I put her to bed for her afternoon nap, I took my son and we went to a play area at the mall... we painted picture frames, raced cars together shared ice-cream, pop corn and Auntie Annie pretzels...We bonded and had a whale of a time. You see, we have not been spending quality one on one time with each other... there is always my daughter with us... so from time to time, I like to take him out on his own... I should do it more often... it's so much fun!

After we came home, I felt guilty about the junk food that we ate at the mall that I made a salad with red kidney beans and the kids gobbled it  up....phew!  Squeezed in something healthy... LOL... I was glad that we all shared the love of something as healthy as a salad...

Meat Glue


OMG... A relative of mine in Jordan just sent me this video to my email account.... it is scary... Holly Molly... you gotta watch this...

Please be careful all you meat eaters out there.... that is dangerous poisonous stuff!

How can people cheat other human beings like this? How can they do this to others? Don't they think of their families? Their children, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, grandchildren, friends?  This stuff hurts... how do they feel about giving that to their beloved? or maybe eating it themselves? How would they feel if someone else did that to their families? ... That goes for everything else that can harm others....

I stand aw struck and unable to think at the moment... I just cannot fathom it or ever will.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

I am ashamed

Did you ever find yourself so much under stress that you say or do things that you would not normally do if you were a little more relaxed?

I thought so much about writing what I am about to and whether or not I should expose so much of myself to blog readers out there... but then I thought that if the purpose behind my blog was to write about what we should or should not do to make a change in the world, then I must write about the stuff that I am ashamed of as well... I sometimes write about the changes that I would like to see in myself... 

Being a mother is not an easy job, I have to admit... and  even though I enjoy it so much, I find that my stress level sometimes reaches such a degree that I just need to hide in a totally vacant padded room where no one can hear me scream if I found the urge to or hear any crying, pleading or whining from my family members. 

Yesterday, I found myself saying something to my daughter that I never ever thought I would say... I swear it was like an out of body experience because I surprised even myself... I heard myself tell my daughter that I did not like her... it was after a stressful morning with children crying, me trying to decorate a baby shower cake, tidying up the place, cleaning and dealing with the children's constant demands... 

I had placed my daughter on the bed with her bottle of milk and went to find her dummy which she left in the play room. When I went back in, I found her spilling all her milk on her brother's bed, wetting the quilt and the sheets underneath... oh boy... another thing I have to contend with and that was before all the guests arrived.

I said it... As soon as I did, the veil, that was protecting me from all the stress beyond me, fell away... the veil that was desensitizing me and shielding me from caring so much about the pleading and the whining dropped to the floor... and all my senses flooded back at once... the flood was overwhelming... I felt instantly ashamed.... how could I have said something so horrible, mean and insensitive to a little girl who was barely figuring out her own emotions and feelings? I am the one who should always be in control... I am the one who should be patient and understanding of my daughter's outbursts... I am the one who is supposed to be censoring my own emotions and words... 

Fifteen minutes later, as she was lying in her travel cot about to fall asleep... I asked for her forgiveness... I said sorry... and told her that I loved her... but I knew that if it ever happened again she will forever remember it and be scarred by her own mother and that is a terrible feeling.

Never again will I put her through this... I was a villain... I was someone that I never wanted to be... I did something that I keep warning my students' parents not to do...I did something that was completely opposite of what I preached about...

I promise you, my son and daughter, that I will try my best to bite my tongue... I will try my best not to hurt you... try my best to never put you down, be sarcastic or make fun of you... I will try my best to protect you from my stress...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Letting Go


I was listening to Alanis Morissette's song from her album, Flavors of Entanglement, Orchid... I took a breath... and let go... I let go of every feeling I had... I let go of every stress in my body ... and floated on a cloud... I needed to let go for an instant while I was listening to this song...  I put the iPod speakers on loud and drained the other voices around me... just for 4 minutes, I wanted to be alone in my thoughts and let go...

It was a very long week... two weeks actually... I have been planning a baby shower for a friend of ours... I have never organized one before and was unsure of how to do it.... but I thought of my friend and how she does not have family around her to throw her one... so I decided to ask her on Facebook... she said that she was tickled at the thought of me throwing her a Baby shower... so that was that... I felt I needed to make a nice one for her so I hit the Internet and searched for games, decorations and cakes... 

Today was the day and I have to say that the room looked lovely... believe it or not, I did not even take a picture of it myself... after all, it was not my party... it was hers.... I made a mess of a cake though... oh man! I tried making two booties... so while I was cutting the cakes into shapes to make the booties... I messed up one and had to bake another batch.... the next time I thought that I would leave one cake as is and cut one of them... so I would place one booties on top of a square cake... 

Please do not ask me about the cake decoration... even though my room decoration was good, the cake decoration was a disaster.... the first thing my husband said when he looked at it was, "What is it? A toilet?" oh NO... I looked at it again and even with a bow in the middle it looked like a toilet... so I thought that I will explain to my friend that it is a toilet and when she cuts the cake it would symbolize an end of going to the toilet every 20 minutes...

Anyway... it was a great Baby shower followed by a tasty barbecue, thanks to my hubby and the kids had loads of fun swimming in the pool, running around and just making a mess of themselves by drawing on their bodies with coal. 

So listening to that song just helped me let go for 4 and some minutes.... I just needed to take a breath... just let go!

The Power of the Media

Switch on the TV for a moment... flick through the channels... pause for a minute at each channel and observe.... be patient and watch... what do you see?
How many programs depict violent acts?... killing scenes....fists colliding with jaws... bullets infiltrating skin and flesh... blood spurting... cats and mice choking one another... bombs, rocket launchers and tanks…
What about Video games? How many of those video games that we play or our children play show realistic images of people we have to shoot, kill, strangle, behead, pull their spines out of their bodies, or give a karate chop to get to the next difficulty level.... or unlock something or the other...
How many films/cartoons/games out there help to desensitize us and our children? The assailants/enemies/aggressors are becoming more and more realistic on video games and in films/sitcoms? Well, they are usually from a certain country or group of people… Russian, German, Arab/Muslim, Vietnamese and so on and so forth…
Granted that many of them are based on historical events and what is going on in the world right now… but many of those depictions are also subject to propaganda and are usually one sided. These depictions and views of the world do not teach our children the values, morals and behaviors that we are continuously trying to instill in them. These shows either  depict violence as something humorous or something to admire and be proud of and therefore does not teach the kids anything about consequences of such behaviors… it desensitizes them and helps them to become more tolerant of such acts no matter what the violent levels were. It starts with cartoon and moves on to something else...
These films also do not help adults either…they do not help us shed the stereotypes and hatred that we might feel towards a particular group or nation due to historical or current events. On the contrary, what they show in these films either brings back hurtful memories, increases the intensity of hatred, brings about the feeling of self-righteousness, divides the people into groups and labels them or increases animosity between factions.
I do not think that these film directors and producers know or understand how much damage they are helping in this world. They are helping the world divide instead of using such a powerful media to bring the world together… They need to be using the media to teach people about the admirable morals, values and ways of life of other countries/nations/religions. 
I am aware that there are many programs and films out there that try to bring the world together, one step at a time, but we need more of those.
I understand that there are films that try to portray a different side to all the other films, thereby revealing to the world that there are two sides to every event or story in this world… BUT we need more of those…
Maybe it would be better to paint the assailant or enemy black and never label them in films... or maybe they can choose one common enemy of the whole world... maybe that enemy is someone who wants to divide us... someone who does not have a distinctive mark, piece of clothing or facial feature…. A common enemy that would bring the whole world together…and have the heroes, who would save us from this common enemy, come from ALL countries of the world…

For example,  I allow my my son to watch Ben Ten a few times a week... I know it is still violent but first, there are not many other cartoons for him to watch and second, the hero is facing aliens and not other human beings. Many times we flick to nature shows which he loves watching but a kid is still a kid and therefore asks for cartoons from time to time.
I keep saying that enough is enough… I was telling my husband last night that it is exhausting having such a dream in my head that I know is probably impossible to achieve or make real… it is exhausting because it pains me every time I hear of a murder, a suicide bomber, an attack on a holy place, houses being demolished, people being forced to leave their homes, an attack on a school, genocide, ethnic cleansing, war, or any kind of robbing of life.
I am a dreamer and forever will be a dreamer… I dream that one day we can all come together.