Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: March, 2014

Bring the Rain Forest to Your School

Rain Forest

When I saw a brochure in my daughter’s folder with photos of exotic birds, snakes, monkeys and alligators, with the words live on stage I thought, “There has to be a catch. No way would an elementary school have a program as interesting as this brochure claims to be.”  But in case it was real, I was not going to take a chance of missing this show.

Well, the show was way beyond my expectations.  Not only was it entertaining, but it was educational and designed specifically for kindergarten through sixth grade.

“We do this because we believe if you see how beautiful and intelligent these animals are, then you will help the rain forest,” said the trainer.

The animals sure were intelligent. A McCaw flew over the crowd to grab a dollar from the hand of a volunteer audience member, and later returned it to his hand. A capuchin monkey drank from a Sippy cup. Kids got to get kissed by parrots. People got to pet alligators and take pictures with snakes. It was wonderful! Ninety minutes of pure lively entertainment and at half the cost of going to the movies.

When the time was up, the trainer said, “It’s getting late and you guys are just about ready to go home, right?”

“No!” the kids literally screamed.

It was great to see how creatively the trainers incorporated the live animals to deliver a powerful message.

“It’s really up to you and me and how we choose to live our lives that will save the rain forests,” he said. “So get involved! Because together we will make a difference!”


To bring the rainforest to your school, contact your school and tell them about this incredible show:   1-888-738-0398

Mayor Brenda Lawrence

 Mayor Lawrence

Today the Niagara Foundation, Michigan held a panel discussion “Celebrating Women as Community Builders” in commemoration of Women’s History Month. The three women speakers were Diane Slavens, Michigan representative; Carol Cain, journalist and columnist, and senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters” on CBS 62; and Brenda Lawrence, Mayor of City of Southfield.

The three women shared their stories, of how they started their careers, the struggles and challenges they faced (and still do), how they have balanced work and career, and what advice they would give other women. I was touched and inspired by their wisdom and accomplishments, but I was particularly in awe of Mayor Brenda Lawrence – mostly because of the possibility that she would be one of our congresswomen.

As Mayor Lawrence pointed out, over 50 percent of the US population is women, yet less than 20 percent of congress is represented by women. We complain about how the country is run, and part of the problem is that this country is being run by men.

“Everyone is a unique individual and there’s no one that’s created like you,” she said. “You were created to use your special talents, whatever they may be, not to just suck air out of the room.”

Mayor Lawrence encourages women to push themselves out of their comfort zone in order to achieve their dreams, whether it is to become an artist or a stay-at-home mom. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 42 years. She brought her teenage granddaughter to today’s event. She does so much without keeping her hands completely out of the kitchen. To me, Mayor Lawrence is the essence of true success. How does she do it?

“It’s hard,” she said. “But anything worth doing is not easy, including giving birth to a child.”

She said for a while it has been said that Detroit needs a woman mayor because the city needs a mother who would not abuse or steal from her.

I say Detroit needs a mother and America needs dozens of mothers.

International Women’s Day


Last Saturday the Iraqi Human Rights Society held an event at Double Tree Hotel in Dearborn in honor of international Women’s Day. The main speaker was a dear colleague, Judge Eman Jajonie-Daman, who was born in Iraq and came to the United States in 1979, when she was 14 years old.

Mrs. Jajonie-Daman gave a wonderful speech about the history of women in the United States, the things they had to do in order to get to where they are today. It was not easy for them. They fought and worked hard and despite all their accomplishments, we women have a lot more work ahead of us.

“That’s my daughter,” the woman sitting beside me said.

“You’re Eman’s mother?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, and after I told her who I was, and she told me her name, Hayat Jajonie, it turned out that our families knew each other.

“Tell me, what’s the secret to raising such wonderful children?” I asked, after she told me how all her children (three daughters and one son) had prestigious occupations. “What advice would you give mothers?”

“To educate themselves!” she said. “And spend less time shopping.”

Oh, I was so grateful that I was on the right path.

Opossum and the Apples

I often saw paw tracks on the snow covering our deck in the backyard. I assumed it belonged to the black and white cat that passed by every now and then. Feeling sorry for it in this cold winter weather, I threw four apples outside. I figured either the cat or the squirrels or birds would eat them.

A few days ago I saw an opossum chowing down the apples like there’s no tomorrow. He ate three of them, half of the forth one, and the next day came back and finished the other half. The thing about him is that he’s bold. He was not scared of my children knocking on the glass door.

In the Native tradition, when an opossum shows up, you are to check appearances. Are there people around you putting up false appearances? Is your attention being diverted? A possum teaches that it is sometimes better to hide our strengths and not to fight, but to divert attention and stay out of the fight. He also teaches to rest when needed, by playing dead.

While an opossum’s teachings are great, I don’t think I’ll be throwing out anymore apples into our backyard.


Can You Help Save the Wolves?


It isn’t every day that someone asks you, “Can you help save the wolves?”

That’s what a woman standing in front of the Sterling Heights Library asked me the other day. My daughter and I stopped and looked at her. She was wrapped in layers of clothes and had on bright red lipstick. She extended a petition towards us and said, “Please, they’re killing the wolves, and it’s not fair.”

Many Native Americans in Michigan oppose killing wolves, an animal central to their spirituality and culture.

“In the Native American tradition, the wolf is my power animal,” I told the lady and signed the petition.

She stared at me and told me a little about “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.”

Last December Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill that designated wolves as a game animal. After 50 years of protection, the population of wolves in Michigan is still estimated to be fewer than 700. Michigan farmers, ranchers and other landowners are already permitted to kill wolves to protect livestock or dogs, even though cases of wolves killing livestock are relatively rare. And ranchers are compensated for livestock losses from wolves. There has also never been a single record of a wolf attack on a human in Michigan. In fact, wolves are fearful of people, and avoid them.

Jill Fritz, director of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign feels that “This shy and very intelligent species is being gunned down for no other reason than trophies.”

The campaign hopes to gather 225,000 signatures by March 27. To date, they have nearly 200,000.

When we walked away from the woman, my daughter cheered, “Yeah! Mommy saved the wolves!”

“Well,” I explained. “Something like this needs a lot of people’s votes.”

To sign the petition, please visit:

Changing the Future – Through the Eyes of French Filmmakers, An Iraq Veteran, and Iraqi Americans

Iraq veteran Alejandro Villatoro was trained to view everyone in Iraq as a potential threat, with a weapon pointed at them. After a while, he began to ask himself, “The Iraqi people, were they ever our enemy?”

When the documentary My Beloved Enemy was released last week, I was anxious to watch the stories of Iraqi Americans, especially that of my mom, Shamamta. French filmmakers Claire Jeantet and Fabrice Catérini did a great job portraying the real lives of this immigrant population. But what they also did was weave within these stories the testimony of a young Iraqi veteran whose observation and honesty is truly touching.

“Coming back from the war I was confused,” said Villatoro. “I wasn’t sure if what I did was right for my country or the Iraqi people.”

Villatoro ended up joining Veterans Against War, which helped him heal and put him in peace with himself.

“I’m still proud of where I came from, and I still sometimes wear my uniform,” he said. “But I have taken a proactive role to educate the community about the consequences of war.”

Villatoro can’t forget the past, but he has learned to forgive himself in order to move forward. This is how he, and the people who made and participated in this film, can help change the future. (click here to watch My Beloved Enemy)