Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: April, 2013

I don’t want to be married!

Before the start of “civilization”, people got married in a simple manner. The man said, “You’re my wife.” The woman said, “You’re my husband.” The union was consummated, the two had babies, and everyone lived happily (or semi-happily if not miserably) ever after. Today is a different story. People take months to years to prepare for their wedding. Shortly after they have children, half of the couples end up getting divorced and in and out of court fighting for custody, property and assets. Then they remarry.

Recently, marriage has become even more complicated. A few days ago France passed a historic same sex marriage law. Some people were happy about that, others were outraged. The battle for such law still continues in the United States.

My son has his own theory about marriage. I decided to post it, although I’m not sure it’s appropriate today since today is my eight year wedding anniversary.



I Miss My Caribou


Caribou Coffee on Rochester Rd in Troy had been my stop for over fifteen years where I ordered my favorite Carmel High Rise with nonfat milk. The place resembled a log cabin and had the friendliest baristas. One of the guys there, Aaron, had been there since I could remember. Though he didn’t pronounce it right, he knew me by name. “Hi, Weem,” he would say, which was close enough.

During the winter I’d sit at the table near the fireplace and during summertime, I’d sit at the table near the windows. Sometimes in the summer, I’d sit outside. I loved the place. There were daily trivia on the board and if you guessed the right answer, you got ten cents off your drink – which at approximately $4.00 and up a drink wasn’t much, but that’s beside the point. There was another board where customers used chalk to finish sentences like “I stay awake for….” The Caribou cups and napkins were unique in that they also had words-to-live-by that were made by average people. There was also a picture of John and Kim Puckett, the founders of Caribou, and their story.

John and Kim Pucket were newlyweds, backpacking through Alaska in 1990 when on the summit of Sable Mountain in Denali Park, they decided they wanted to build a company to capture the spirit of accomplishment they felt during the climb. They began plans to build a special company that would bring the mountain experience into local neighborhoods where customers could find a place to “escape the daily grind” each and every day. On the descent, they saw a herd of wild caribou. The beauty and incessant movement of these caribou seemed to be a fitting name for a company that aspired to both rapid growth and high quality.

The Pucketts sold their interest in the company in 1998 for $120 million to Atlanta-based Crescent Capital, which has since changed its name to Arcapita. Since opening, the chain has expanded to 415 locations in 16 states and the District of Columbia, making it the second-largest operator of non-franchised coffeehouses in the United States, after Starbucks Corporation.

Two weeks ago when I went to Caribou I noticed the tables were dramatically moved around and it just didn’t have the same feel. For that reason, when I was heading there Sunday morning, I considered if I should go to Panera Bread instead. The idea was playing in my head when I noticed that Caribou was shut down. It had closed. I kept driving, thinking of all those years that I sat in that place writing novels, poetry, essays, articles, scripts, memoirs, query letters, homework assignments and grant proposals.

9/11 Recurs Every 3 1/2 Months

911 Memorial

Early Thursday morning, April 11, gun violence survivors and families of victims finished reading the names of all the people who have been killed by guns since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting less than four months prior. The list of over 3300 people took 12 hours to read.

The total number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks was 2977. With the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government responded within a blink of an eye. They made plans for the War on Terrorism, thus began the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many lives were lost and destroyed. However, if you were to ask any government official who gave their consent to the wars, they’d likely say, “We think the price was worth it” – the exact answer that their colleague Madeline Albright had given decades ago when she was asked if the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq was worth it.

Over 1,057,000 have been killed in the United States by gun violence since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980. That’s 1,054,000 more people than those who died in 9/11, and that’s only counting the last 22 years. Yet a few days ago, something as simple as President Obama’s background check reform plan failed to win enough votes by the senate.

My question is this: are not your average everyday victims of gun violence, who outnumber the victims of 9/11 by more than a million, worthy of consideration when making the slightest changes regarding the very thing that took their lives? And, why is it always so much easier to pass laws that destroy people (war) rather than laws that help save people (health and gun reform)?

Chicken Blaster, A Birthday Wish

I thought I was a deprived little child who never got to celebrate her birthday or attend any of her friends’ birthdays because my parents wanted to save on a few bucks. Or given that I was the 11th of 12 children, they were sick and tired of celebrating birthdays. Turns out that people don’t normally celebrate birthdays in the Arab and Muslim world – though they do it a lot in the movies. Many Muslim scholars and clerics consider the celebration of birthdays a sin, as it is an innovation of the faith. While others have issued statements saying that it is permissible, mostly Muslims (and Arabian Christians) adopted the custom after they migrated to the United States.

Even many modern rabbis do not endorse the celebration of birthdays. Origen in his commentary “On Levites” writes that Christians should not only refrain from celebrating their birthdays but should look on them with disgust. Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Sacred Name groups also refrain from celebrating birthdays, believing birthday celebrations are portrayed in a negative light in the Bible and have historical connections with magic, superstitions, and Paganism.

Wow, I had no idea! Good thing I did not research this information as I prepared for my daughter’s seventh birthday – although maybe it would have been a good thing if I had. I’ve been consumed the whole week planning a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party. When I asked my daughter why she chose Chuck-E-Cheese, she said, “Because I want to go inside the Chicken Blaster and the only way you can do that is by having a celebration there.”

“What is a chicken blaster?” I asked. She repeated, so again I asked, “What is a chicken blaster?”

She laughed and repeated it one more time, only louder. “A ticket blaster.”

“Oh.” My daughter’s front tooth has recently fallen out so her pronunciation is not that clear and given I’m getting older, neither is my hearing. Still, I’ve continued since then to call it a chicken blaster.

Birthday celebrations began as a form of protection, to keep the evil spirits away. The Germans are given history for starting celebrations of children’s birthdays. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was composed by two sisters, Mildred and Patty Hill, in 1893.

Whatever their history, for all those who never got to celebrate a birthday, it’s not personal – it’s just religious.


Meeting Little Sarah in Germany
Video of my cousin Ayad with his daughter Sarah and his niece – talking in Aramaic, he shows them a church in Germany

The Frankfurt Book Fair held in Frankfurt, Germany in 2004 welcomed the Arab League as Guest of Honor. I attended the book fair, which was an interesting ten day experience. But what I remember most about Germany is my cousin Ayad, his wife Furrat, and their little daughter Sarah, who at that time was about a year old.

I stayed at my cousin’s home, and I’ll never forget what great hosts Ayad and his wife were. I’ll also never forget how much my cousin loved his daughter. I was engaged at the time and when I returned to the United States, I kept in contact with him and his family. I ended up getting married shortly afterwards and having my first child and he had a son and then another daughter. Then suddenly, one day I heard he was diagnosed with cancer. He died within weeks. I couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t stop thinking about Sarah. His last request was that she be well taken care of, given how much she was accustomed to him pampering her. In the above link to the video, her cousin calls her “Sarah, the pampered one.”

Well, I know that his little family had one hell of a time after he passed away. But today I got news that Sarah, who has since moved with her mother and siblings to the United States, woke up this morning unable to see. She was taken to the hospital, and they discovered she has brain cancer. She is now in critical condition and doctors are not sure if she will make it.

Her aunts, uncles and cousins have posted pictures of her, praying for God to save her. It has been nearly nine years since I saw Sarah, but I remember her enough for my heart to go out to her and her family and to pray for her well being.


From Paris to Sterling Heights

Last Tuesday, I was visited by three people who were so French, they caused my mind to wander to and linger in Paris. This Tuesday, my mind has returned home, so I will write about my hometown of 20 years, Sterling Heights, the fourth largest city in Michigan.

A little over sixty years ago Sterling Heights was a rural Michigan township with a population of 4,000. It was organized in 1835, two years before Michigan became a state, and it was originally called JeffersonTownship. The name was changed to Sterling in 1838. Some say the community was named for Azariah W. Sterling, a settler; others say it was named for Sterling, New York. By the 1880s, the township had become thirty-six square miles of well-developed and prosperous farms, with a mere 1,000 residents. Today the population is nearly 130,000.

Prior to 1784 there is little written history about the area that is now Sterling Heights because the Indian tribes who lived in villages along the ClintonRiver or came through here on hunting expeditions did not keep written records. The first white settlers along the Clinton were captives of the Chippewas who had been freed or escaped after years of wandering with the tribes.

Sterling Heights was ranked the sixth safest city in the U.S. in 2006 and currently boasts more movie screens than any other Michigan City.The August 2006 issue of Money magazine listed Sterling Heights as No. 19 on its list of the 90 “Best Small Cities” to live in.

Another attraction? Eminem lived here briefly between 2000 and 2001. And a phenomenon? After twenty years of living in this city and over ten years of living in nearby neighborhoods, I can still screw up directions to get to certain places.

My Unexpected French Guests


I was working on my book when I received a call from a friend attorney. She said there were French reporters/filmmakers doing a documentary entitled “My Beloved Enemy” about Iraqi Americans. They were looking for Warina Zaya Bashou, who at 111 years old became the second oldest person to be granted a US citizenship. I’d interviewed Warina and wrote an article about her last year. Unfortunately, Warina passed away a few months ago.

My friend asked permission to give the French team my phone number and the next thing I knew I had three beautiful and gracious French people at my door – an attractive blonde woman and two tall and dark handsome men. With the presence of my mother and my children, we ended up having a little brunch together and learning much from each other. And my mom was interviewed about her experience in attaining her citizenship in 1997, which was a tremendous accomplishment for her – never having gone to school.

As we interacted, I couldn’t help but think about the words of my Native American teacher. “If you stay long enough in one place the whole world will pass by.”

My love for France started in 1999. I was visiting London with a friend when she and I decided to hop over to Paris for a day. Yes, a day! Who does that? People were known to pack up and move to France permanently and we expected to get our heart’s full in a day?

The moment we landed in Paris, we loved it. The city was so alive that I was determined to return and stay a lot longer. That didn’t happen so instead, I tried to swap the experience with movies and books. I bought a copy of “Julie and Julia” two years ago and watched it umpteen times. I watched “Midnight in Paris” in the movie theater and then repeatedly after it was on DVD. If you go in my car right now, you’ll find a CD audio book of “My Life in Paris” by Julia Child. If you look in my purse, you’ll see on the cover of my planner the photo of the EiffelTower.

While I’m certain one day I’ll revisit France, I’m very happy that today it visited me.