Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: July, 2013

A Proud Aunt

The Nieces

My nieces have grown up to be wonderful women, wives and mothers – most of whom also juggle work. The other day one of them invited us over her house and she proved, once again, to be a great hostess. Watching them do what they do, I am proud to be their aunt, and to have played a role in their lives. I’m a godmother to a few of them, have at one point or another babysat all of them, as well as tutored some, put others to work, gave them quite a bit of advice, and of course, engaged in arguments with them.

Stepping back and observing their lives, I’m once again reminded how sacred family life really is. In the end, the work we put towards our loved ones does pay off.

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French Food Tasting

French Food

This evening I entered my friend Elisabeth Khan’s house and truly unwound from the family drama that had consumed much of my afternoon. My husband was supposed to join me, but when he saw the absence of other men, he quickly excused himself and said, “I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

I was left in the company of five wonderful women, sitting around a kitchen table filled with French salads, bread, and Paris à Vous food products. Paris à Vous is a new company that wraps up the romance, indulgence and tradition of France, and delivers it to U.S. consumers by way of authentic French packaged goods like cookies, mustards, oils and vinegars, and chocolate.

With French music in the background, we drank natural fruit syrups such as lemonade, mint, and grapefruit. We talked and laughed and tasted French bread with butter spread and cocoa sprinkles. For dessert, we were served a bowl of fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries with a choice of yogurt or ice cream topping. Then various types of chocolate bars – my favorite being white chocolate with raspberry – were passed around.

In the end, we moved to the cozy living room and were served red wine and coffee, with solid chocolate to dip in the coffee, if one so desired. Given what we ate, I wondered if it is true that French women don’t get fat and hoped that I had somehow adopted those genes if even temporarily while sitting in a French woman’s home.

By the time my husband picked me up, my mind, heart and spirit were rejuvenated. Having been served so well, I was able to come home and serve my own family well.

Love, Greece and the Movies

Greece

I was nineteen years old when I first watched Shirley Valentine, a comedy about a 42 year old bored housewife in England who takes a trip to Greece and while on holiday, decides to change her life forever. As a result of the beautiful scenery of the Greek islands in this film and the message it gave, that we should love ourselves and go after what we really love before it’s too late, I began following my desire to travel – first and foremost to Greece.

Today I went to the Main Arts Theater and enjoyed watching an intelligent and mesmerizing film. Before Midnight is an American romance drama film and the sequel to Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). It takes place in Greece and it’s about a couple who ironically are in their early forties (guess I have this thing for the 40s). This couple gets a little time off from their twin daughters and end up confronting each other with some interesting conversation that challenges the questions of commitment and acceptance.

It was exciting to see that such wholesome smart stories still get created, even though they are put in one theater. It’s unfortunate that only certain types of people go to see them. Today, for instance, the majority of the twenty audience members watching this film had grey hair. Still, all that really matters is that they are being made and there is an audience for them!

I Don’t Speak Your Language, But Let’s Talk!

Today two of my nieces, who are also sisters, each baptized her baby son. After church, we gathered at a lovely restaurant in downtown Rochester. Neither of my nieces’ husbands is of Middle Eastern backgrounds. One of them is originally from Central America. Well, he decided to have a little chat with my mom. Mind you, he does not speak Arabic or Chaldean. My mother does not speak Spanish or English.

They talked about totally different subjects. My mother raved about what a good person her granddaughter is and how much she loves her and he accused my mother of knowing more English than she leads on (probably doesn’t help that his wife, my niece, always felt like my mother is an undercover FBI agent who understands more than she has everyone believe). Yet even though their words hit in various directions, the two enjoyed some nice communication. And believe me when I tell you, it is not easy to get my mother to talk!

Goes to show, one need not know the same language in order to enjoy each other’s company or have a good conversation. One need only have a big heart.

With her grand-daughter's husbands
My mother with my nieces’ husbands

Stories that Hurt Our Hearts

The Mansour Family

A week ago today three children rode a tube behind their father as he towed them with his jet ski on Sylvan Lake. Another man, 56, driving a boat did not see the kids and hit them. The 11 year old boy died shortly afterwards, his six year old sister died the next day, and their 10 year old sister is still in critical condition.

I first heard this story on Monday night, one day late of everyone else. I was washing dishes and talking on the phone with my friend when she asked, “Haven’t you heard what happened to this one Chaldean family yesterday? It’s all over the news!”

I had heard nothing. I’d spent a nice quiet Sunday reading and writing – half the day alone, since my kids were at their cousins’. My friend filled me on the details and ever since then, I and the majority of the Chaldean community – given we are all somehow or another related – cannot get them off our minds. Whether we’re at a gathering, a birthday party, we bring them up, unable to imagine the horror of a nice Sunday afternoon having turned into a nightmare.

A vigil at St. Thomas Church in West Bloomfield was held for them. Over 1200 people showed up to pray. Other vigils were held in other churches, one even in San Diego. The lake, which used to have a marine patrol that was stopped due to budget cuts, will soon reinstate a marine patrol.

I spoke to another friend, told her that my heart keeps aching for this family, that I can’t help but wonder, again and again, why such a tragedy would occur.

She said, “In the Bible, it is written that there’s a time to laugh and a time to cry. There’s a time to live and there’s a time to die.”

She told me a story of when her cousin whom she was very close to had cancer. She prayed for Jesus to save her. Her cousin ended up dying and she asked Jesus, “Why didn’t you save her?”

He responded to her, “I saved all these other people you read about in the Bible, yet are they still here today?”

Death is inevitable, and some things, like the way in which death comes, are just way beyond our grasp. We can only pray that here on earth, God take care of the 10 year old girl, and her mom and dad. And from heaven, the loving and pure energy of the two beautiful children forever fill and guide their parents’ and sister’s hearts.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Justice

Protesters in some of America’s largest cities continued demonstrating their anger Sunday night at the acquittal of George Zimmerman. But here’s the thing – it is required that the jurors only hand a guilty verdict if the prosecutors showed evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed.

The evidence in the Zimmerman case did not prove that. That does not mean he did not act in haste and could have prevented the death of a young man (especially had he not been carrying a gun). But at the same time, everyday we watch television programs showing that if one man or woman in jail were to behave a little out of control, they are considered a threat and a team of 5 or more police officers approach them. These officers are decked from head to toe with armor and use strict methods to sedate one unarmed person.

It would be more worth the protestors’ time to focus on a crime which does show evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, such as the case of Robert Leone. Leone was stopped by Pennsylvania State Police after a low-speed chase for a traffic violation that apparently he did not commit. While Robert was attained he was nearly killed by the police. He suffered through 11 hours of multiple beatings. He was hog-tied and tasered at least 10 times. He was also chemically maced. He spent more than 2 ½ years in jail. Robert was charged with felony assault on a police officer because the officer broke his hand when he punched Robert in the head with his fist while he was being detained.

The dash cam video of the assault went viral and you can hear the state trooper saying, “Do you know who you’re messing with? This is the Pennsylvania State Police!”

Robert is heard screaming in pain and anguish. The trooper verbally abuses him and then angrily accuses him of spitting on him. Robert, who has been compliant and submissive, cries, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t spit on you, sir.” But the trooper thinks otherwise so Robert continues to be beaten.

When the ambulance came to take Robert to the hospital, the trooper with the broken hand took the ride instead and left Robert hog-tied in the back of the police car. Robert was carried into the hospital, where he begged the nurse, in a whisper, to save him from the cops’ brutality. One of the cops overheard him snitching on them, and he and his buddies returned into the room, kicked everyone out, and continued to beat and taser Robert, which was all caught on video. Neither in the video of the assault nor in the hospital reports was there any evidence that Robert did not cooperate.

The cops eventually lost their jobs, and someone in a post thread wondered why they were not prosecuted, but was glad that at least they didn’t get a promotion. Of course, no protests were held for this obvious crime which had mounds of evidence for a guilty verdict.

You can watch the video of the graphic beating in this website: http://www.theluzernecountyrailroad.com/police-brutality.php

Peeing in the Pool

Pool

The summer has been stressful enough as it is – hopping from the beach to the pool and back again – when my son decided today to add a little touch to it. The fitness club I belong to has a beautiful outdoor pool area in the summertime that really, I have not found the equivalence of.

Well, a few minutes after we arrived, my sister-in-law exclaimed, “Your son is peeing in the pool!”

I looked and there was my son, his swimsuit pulled down and a tiny water fountain crossing into the lap pool. I guess we had watched Parental Guidance one too many times last week (4 times to be exact, not counting when we first saw it in a movie theater). For those who have not seen it, the movie stars Billy Crystal and Bette Midler. They’re assigned to babysit their three grandchildren when the youngest one decides to pull down his pants and pees onto a half-pipe.

Of course, I scolded my son and the lifeguard who witnessed the incident had the pool shut down. I must say, the employees were so gracious about it!

Later on, we met with some friends at Burger King and when I told them what had happened, a fourteen year old friend said to my son, “You’re supposed to pee inside the pool, not outside of it.”
It wasn’t exactly the advice I was looking for, but what the heck! I still have a month and a half of summer to go.

Five year old arrested in Israel

I was eating dinner when a story on Al Arabia channel caught my attention. An Israeli soldier decided to arrest a five year old for throwing rocks. The little boy was sobbing and frightened as he tried to pull away from the soldier who forced him away from his playmates and into a military vehicle. It didn’t matter that the camera was rolling. The arrest had to be made.

I instantly remembered a youtube video I watched not long ago. An Israeli woman wrote a letter to Obama, pleading for him to take away the pains in her stomach that were caused by the injustices done towards the Palestinians. She was a mother, and so her heart went out to all of life, given she was a bearer of life. I wondered if she’d heard about the arrest of this five year old, and if so, how much pain that caused her stomach. I wondered if this little boy would be from this point on too frightened to stand up for anything (otherwise, oppressed) or if he would turn out to want revenge (otherwise, a terrorist).

And we wonder how tyrants and terrorists are made. I mean, imagine how different things would turn out if that soldier went and bought the little boy an ice cream and explained to him that he was not there to harm him or his family, but to protect his own people, that throwing rocks was not going to change anything to the better. Or are my ideas too uncivilized for that type of solution? Or is it that difficult to maneuver a 5 year old to behave differently?

Palestinian Child

The Cost of Picking Grape Leaves

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One day years ago I discovered outside of a Barnes & Noble bookstore a fence covered with grape leaves. I hurriedly got into my vehicle and informed my mother and sisters of my finding. That same day, we all squeezed into my minivan, empty plastic grocery bags in our hands, and drove to the back of the store. My daughter sat in a stroller and watched – she must have been a year or so – as we excitedly picked the grape leaves.

We were plucking away when a tall man dressed in professional clothing suddenly appeared from around the corner. He was the manager of the bookstore and he hesitantly approached us and asked what we were doing. He looked a little nervous. We had all been dressed in black because my aunt had recently passed away and we were in mourning for forty days. Obviously the sight of us frightened the store manager, so we explained that during summer we picked grape leaves, enough to last throughout the winter, to make an Iraqi dish called dolma (a pot of stuffed vegetables). He said that was fine, but if we could just inform someone in the store next time we decide to pick grape leaves so that they wouldn’t be surprised by our sudden presence.

Last year I asked my Iraqi-American neighbor, who was throwing away his perfectly good grape leave into a garbage bin, if I could pick them. He said, “They’re all dead.” They were not, but I let it go and since then have been buying jars of grape leaves.

Today I was at my friend’s home. She told me of a man who shot a woman picking grape leaves somewhere near his house. Another man was picked up by a police officer who asked him, “What are you doing?”

The Iraqi man did not speak English and motioning with his hands towards his mouth he said, “Food! Food!”

The police officer, feeling sorry for this man, took him into his car and drove to his house where he gave the Iraqi man ten dollars, thinking he did not have money to buy food and thus was eating leaves.

People – if you see someone picking grape leaves, it is okay! God created everything in this world to be used, not be wasted or just sit there and look pretty.

Chucke’s Anthem

Okay, so where did my son want to have his birthday this year? The same place his sister had it at, Chuck E Cheese. Some of the highlights were that Chuck E Cheese had a makeover, and now has a “younger look.” He’s still the same cool guy on the inside.

Chuck E. Cheese’s was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. The first location opened in San Jose, California in 1977 and was labeled as the first family restaurant to integrate food, cheap animated entertainment, and an indoor arcade. As the restaurant became increasingly successful, he began to franchise. As of May 2009, Chuck E Cheese operates 542 restaurants.

The birthday took place a few weeks ago, during which time I thought, I’m not coming back to this place for a long long while. Then yesterday I ended up there once again, with my cousin and her kids. By the time I came home, I was going to barf – from the hours of noise, noise, noise!

When I was single, I used to think “you’d never catch me in this place.” Yup! The joke is on me.

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