Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: January, 2013

Christmas is Officially Over

Christmas Day 2012

Schools were closed today due to the weather. I found this out at 5:31 am when I got a call with an automated message. Afterwards, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I ended up waking up late and even though I got some writing done, the background noise of Spongebob and Patrick, Dora and Diego, and “mom, I want this and that” got to be too much.

Shortly after my husband came home, I escaped with my laptop. I decided to go to McDonald’s since it’s right around the corner and a lot of people study there now-a-days. A woman around my age initiated a conversation. She is four classes away from getting her master’s degree and she only started going to college in 2005, when she was working full-time, had an eight-year-old son, and was a single mom. Her son is now 16 years old and she said that growing up in an environment where the two of them studied side by side was a very healthy experience for him. He’s very much ready for college already.

I felt better by the time I left McDonald’s. I came home and decided to finally take down the Christmas tree which my kids have begged me to keep in the living room. I tried to tell my son that it’s no longer Christmas, to which he responded, “Then why is there still snow, mamma?”

Until now, he often has me play Christmas songs in the car, although recently I’ve been firm about listening to my audio book – Michael Moore’s memoir “Here Comes Trouble.”

Christmas is officially over in my house, and the house is so quiet that I don’t want to go to sleep and miss out on the beauty of its silence.

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Greektown and the Auto Show

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Over twenty years ago, when I was a student at Wayne State University, my friends and I frequented Pegasus in Greektown. We loved their traditional Greek cuisine and music, the staff who mostly had a Greek or Arab accent, the open kitchen and cozy atmosphere and the periodic shouts of “Opa!” and the flame that we worried would catch our long Mediterranean hair.

But Greektown was not always Greek. In the 1830s, German immigrants settled in that area. Little by little they began moving out and in the 1880s Greek immigrants began taking their place. By the 1920s, the area was becoming primarily commercial rather than residential, and the Greek residents began moving out. Yet their restaurants, stores, and coffeehouses stayed put. In 1960 the Greektown neighborhood was reduced to one block, beside it the big Greek Orthodox Church that was founded in 1910.

After I had kids, I just couldn’t get to Pegasus as easily as when I was single. I think I might have gone without a genuine Greek dinner for a period of two years. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case for over a year now. Yesterday was one of those special nights where not only did I enjoy a dinner at Pegasus but I also got to go to the Detroit Auto Show for the first time in my 32 years living in Michigan.

The first auto show was held in Detroit in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden at Riverside Park and since then annually except 1943-1952. It was renamed the North American International Auto Show in 1989. Since 1965, it has been held at Cobo Center where it occupies nearly 1 million square feet of floor space.

We took the People Mover, an automated system that encircles downtown Detroit, to Cobo Center. It was packed with people trying to get to the Auto Show. Last time we rode it on a Sunday afternoon it was empty. The Mover costs $12 million annually in city and state subsidies to run. In fiscal year 1999-2000 the city was spending $3 for every $0.50 rider fare, according to The Detroit News. The system was designed to move up to 15 million riders a year. In 2008 it served approximately 2 million riders. I wish it was always as busy as it was yesterday – like the transportation systems in cities like New York.

The car show was a wonderful new experience for me, despite not having a big interest in cars. My brother said that the show has come a long ways since he last attended over ten years ago. Who knows – maybe one day all the corrupt people will be gone and Detroit will be at its peak once again!

Abu Ghraib

Prison

From early in the day, my son cried for ice cream. I think he saw it in one of the children’s programs. He went on and on about it until we finally left the house, picked up my daughter from school and drove to the video store to pick out documentaries that sort of resemble the one I’m currently working on. There, he picked an ice cream sandwich. I asked my daughter if she wanted to share it with him and she said no. Once we were out, she cried that she had wanted a Push-Up and I said, “Why didn’t you say so?”

“You know I don’t like chocolate,” she said, adding, “You don’t know me, mom. If you did, you’d know what flavors I like and what are my favorite colors.”

Back at home, right after dinner, I watched “The Invisible War”. According to this documentary, a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire. The Department of Defense estimates there were a staggering 19,000 violent sex crimes in the military in 2010.

Yesterday I watched the “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” where the soldiers involved in the torture and picture-taking told their sides of the story. What was disturbing was that the women involved in the scandal were less remorseful than the men. One said she’d taken the pictures with that big fat smile on her face and a thumbs up, next to a tortured corpse, because, ‘you know, that’s what people do in front of cameras – smile.’ The other said it was uncomfortable doing what she did, but she did it anyway – you know, like going to the dentist but you’re uncomfortable to go.

The moral of this story? Just because one works in the government does not automatically equate to him or her being a hero. Sometimes it just means one is a sheep. There is a good thing to being sheep, however, which is that no matter what crimes you commit, you will not get punished. Actually, you may even be promoted, as was the case with the General Miller, who was sent to Iraq by the Department of Defense to help get more information out of Iraqi prisoners. In 2006, he received the Distinguished Service Medal at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes.

Premature Births

Baby Jude

My great nephew Jude was born last night, six weeks earlier than his due date. Good thing his mother, my niece and goddaughter, had the baby shower the Sunday before that. Initially the baby shower was scheduled for yesterday but the date was changed to accommodate a relative’s trip.

We went to visit Jude at the hospital but were not permitted to see him. Because he’s premature, he is placed in the intensive care unit and no one, not even his parents, are allowed to hold him. He is on IV and has not yet had anything to eat, poor thing.

Historical figures who were born prematurely include Johannes Kepler (born in 1571 at 7 months gestation), Isaac Newton (born in 1643, small enough to fit into a quart mug, according to his mother), Winston Churchill (born in 1874 at 7 months gestation), and Anna Pavlova (born in 1885 at 7 months gestation).

In the UK, the debate regarding resuscitation of babies born at 23 weeks was highlighted by Dr Daphne Austin, an NHS official who advised local health authorities on how to spend their budgets in 2011. She argued that babies born at 23 weeks should not be resuscitated because their chances of surviving are so slim and that there is sufficient evidence that keeping the babies alive can do more harm than good. UK official guidelines for pre-term babies state that medics should not attempt to resuscitate babies born before 22 weeks, as they are too under developed. Babies born between 22 and 25 weeks should be given intensive care as routine.

As a result of this decision, when Sarah Capewell gave live birth to her son at 21 weeks 5 days gestation, the baby boy was denied treatment. According to the mother, he was breathing unaided, had a strong heartbeat, and was even moving his arms and legs. If he had been born two days later, they would have treated him. However, untreated, he died in her arms within two hours of birth. This took place at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston, Norfolk, in October 2009.

She says that during her premature labor she was told that she was not allowed injections to try to stop the labor or a steroid injection to help strengthen her baby’s lungs because she had not reached 22 weeks into pregnancy. After her son’s birth, her increasingly desperate pleas to assist her baby were met with a brusque response from doctors, who said she should consider the labor as a miscarriage, rather than a birth.

Over 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and south Asia, but preterm birth is truly a global problem; countries with the highest numbers include Brazil, India, Nigeria and the United States of America. Over the past decade, some countries have halved deaths due to preterm birth by ensuring that health workers are skilled in the care of premature babies and by improving supplies of life-saving commodities and equipment. These include Ecuador, Oman, Sri Lanka and Turkey. In the wealthy world, the increase in premature births is linked to rising rates of diabetes and obesity, stress and other complications that require early delivery, often by C-section.

Thank God, my niece had a natural birth and the baby, at 6 lbs., 3ounces, will be just fine.

Saddam

Saddam

I was watching an Iraqi documentary screened at a local restaurant when I received a call from a friend. I had to take the call. I walked out of the restaurant and stood outside in the cold. My friend, who had suddenly become very ill last fall and has been in and out of the hospital on a regular basis, shared some good news. She’s been feeling great lately, despite having gotten off of her pain medications. A lot of her healing was due to holistic therapy and maybe a little bit, or actually a lot of, love.

I was glad to have been briefly pulled away from the documentary, which was about the suffering of the Kurdish people in Iraq during the Baath regime – the stuff Iraq is made of. I found a couple of things interesting in this documentary. One, the Al Anfal campaign which Saddam was accused of. Al Anfal was a military operation allegedly launched by the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet although in December 2006 Saddam was put on trial for the genocide during Operation Anfal, he was quickly executed for his role in the unrelated Dujail massacre, which killed 143 men. The Anfal trial, which supposedly killed thousands, recessed on December 21, 2006 and when it resumed on January 8, 2007, the remaining charges against Saddam were dropped.

During Tareq Aziz’s trial, the Iraqi Foreign Minister said that the U.S. State Department, in the immediate aftermath of the Anfal and Halabcha incidents, took the official position based on examination of available evidence that Iran was partly to blame. A preliminary Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) study at the time reported that it was Iran that was responsible for the attack, an assessment which was used subsequently by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for much of the early 1990s. The CIA altered its position radically in the late 1990s and cited Halabja frequently in its evidence of weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Is Africa Next in Line?

Africa

In March of 2009, when I was six months pregnant with my second child, I was invited to attend a tour of the 09L Army Interpretation/Translation program in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. For years, Chaldeans and Arab community leaders from all over the U.S. were gathered at Fort Jackson to be educated about the program, return home and spread the information they’d learned in order to recruit new 09L soldiers.

I wrote an article about this program, which included a quote by the chief instructor and course developer at the school. He’d told us, “Although there has been a slight shift in recruiting efforts, I don’t think it will slow us down. By end of the year, we’ll start recruiting Farsi, Dari and Pashto (Afghanistan) language. By next year, the African language.”

I wondered how far ahead of us the government really was. When I saw what was happening in Mali, then Algeria in the last couple of days, I figured, they’re so ahead of us that by the time we utilize our freedom of speech, it no longer matters. The event has been already set in motion some 50 years ago. Meanwhile, we’re crawling as slow as a snail to comprehended and catch up with a fraction of what the government did 50 years ago.

The Forbidden Yoga

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Last year, I asked my editor if I can write an article about a Chaldean American yoga instructor that held classes at my gym. She said okay, except she wanted it to address the belief that yoga is against our Catholic faith. I thought, oh my God, I may have been committing sin for over twelve years!

I interviewed several people: the yoga instructor at my gym; the yoga instructor at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center; and a Jesuit priest. All talked about the positive health factors associated with yoga. I tried to get a quote from one of the half dozen Chaldean Catholic priests but they didn’t have an opinion on this matter, given it was a foreign subject for them. No wonder I never saw a Chaldean person in a yoga class.

After the article was published, a local non-Chaldean priest sent a letter to the editor stating that there are significant concerns about yoga’s compatibility with the Christianity/Catholic faith. The biggest problem with yoga, he wrote, is that one is going to a source other than Jesus for inner peace. There is no peace apart from Him “who is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). He also called its origin occult. This was all new information to me, especially since many of the postures we performed in yoga classes were common exercises we did in Iraq.

Well, sin or not, I ended up in a yoga class last night, and thank God for that. I have not been able to go for a while because lately the gym’s daycare is not my son’s most favorite place. My husband, seeing my frustrations, said he’d watch the kids and encouraged me to go out there and commit this “sin” – though he did not know that’s what it was. We’ll just keep that a little secret.

Baby Showers

My daughter with her godmother, who is also my niece and my goddaughter and who is obviously expecting a baby

My daughter with her godmother, who is also my niece and my goddaughter and who is obviously expecting a baby

My niece and goddaughter, who is also my daughter’s godmother, had her baby shower today (it’s not as confusing as it sounds). For a number of family members, this was the first baby shower they had ever attended. Myself, I’ve only gone to two, even though I am an aunt to some 30 + nieces and nephews and a great aunt to eleven or more (not sure). Some of the family members did not understand this ritual as in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, during the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Victorian Era, celebrations took place after the birth of the baby.

The modern baby shower started after WWII during the baby boom era and evolved with the consumer ideology of 1950s and 1960s. They not only served an economic function by providing the mother-to-be and her home with material goods that lessened the financial burden of infant care, but purchased “things” also emerged as the principle whereby women make themselves into mothers. The shower basically serves to teach the woman into the special behaviors associated with her new role in society.

We expect baby Jude in March and we still have some 25 nieces and nephews to marry off.

Professional Runners

Woman who knows all about patience

woman who knows all about patience

Today Pastor Aaron talked about impatience and how people tend to satisfy their immediate desires rather than wait for the fruition of what is important to them.

“We find ourselves waiting for the economy to change, waiting to have a baby, waiting to find the right job, and when it doesn’t happen when we want it to happen, we get sick of waiting and we come up with an alternative plan,” he said. “Big mistake!”

He gave the example of Abraham and Sarah. After ten years of not being able to get pregnant, Sarah suggested to Abraham that he sleep with her maidservant Hagar and build a family through her. This caused a whole lot of problems.

“Then when our alternative plan does not work, we run away from the problem we’ve created for ourselves,” he said. “We are great in America for being professional runners. We run away from our marriages, we run away from our parents, we run away from our responsibilities.”

Multigenerational Homes

My mother with my daughter

My mother with my daughter

On Wednesday night, I went to visit my brother who had just been released from the hospital for a minor health issue. He lives less than a mile away with his wife and their three children and with my mother. Before I got married eight years ago, I lived with them as well. That’s the eastern tradition. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you live under your parents’ roof until you get married.

Shortly after I arrived to their home, I took off my shoes and curled on the couch as my children went to play with their cousins. I was exhausted and needed some rest and this was the one place where I can feel free enough to sleep well and be attended to. When I returned home, I tried to do research on when it became a norm in America and other western countries for children to start leaving their parents’ homes at age eighteen – a custom that easterners cannot fathom.

I couldn’t find the answer to that, but a report published in London, co-written by associate professor Enrico Moretti of the University of California-Berkeley, found that eight in 10 Italian men ages 18 to 30 live with their parents, compared with one in five in Great Britain and one in four in the USA. There were a lot of articles discussing the fact that these days a lot of adult children (14 million) are still living at home for economic reasons. Dr. Phil has an article out called “Steps to Independence: How to Get your Adult Child Living on their Own” where he talks about the simple steps both parents and their kids need to take to make their lives more productive, fulfilling and healthy.

But what better way is there to have a more productive, fulfilling and healthy lifestyle than when you grow up amongst children and elders, amongst birth and death? This type of lifestyle can teach a person the type of independence, responsibility, love, cooperation, maturity, and respect that no book, class, school or doctor can teach.