Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Month: February, 2016

Lush’s “Hand of Friendship” Soap

We’re at Partridge Creek mall, enjoying the nice weather, observing the fancy dogs, some of which had spent more time getting ready for this little expedition than I had, when my daughter and I decide to stop at Lush to buy handmade bath soaps which are made from natural ingredients. Heading in that direction, I notice a big sign written in Arabic. It says, “Ahalan Wa Sahlan” – “Welcome.”

Intrigued, I wonder why they’d chosen Arabic in particular to welcome their buyers. Inside, I learn that Lush, which started in the UK, has introduced a limited edition soap to raise money to help refugees resettle. The soap, called “Hand of Friendship” shows fingers interlinked in the shape of a heart. It’s only $5.95 and all money raised from sales will go to families being settled in Canada and the US. Their sign says, “Extend a hand of friendship to our new neighbors.”

I bought one, of course, not only to support the cause but to have this beautiful reminder at home, whenever I wash my hands: that most humans are good at heart, always finding creative ways to make beautiful things and to give. Especially in western countries and certain spiritual societies, where creativity is encouraged and nurtured, people are always finding ways to say “Ahlan Wa Sahlan” to love, to giving, to acceptance!

While I was unable to do anything to prevent innocent people from torture and suffering at the hands of unnecessary wars and political greed, I can at least say to those who were lucky enough to escape the misery, “Ahlan Wa Sahlan.”

Michael Moore Honors Our Dark Side

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If you’ve visited Europe and lived with the locals like I have, you would have already realized that, in comparison to other countries, here there’s a big imbalance between the US Government and its people. You would watch Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next and understand that, yes, Europeans have a much healthier lifestyle than we do, thanks to their government. True they pay a little more taxes than we do, but they get the lifestyle fit for a human being not a working machine.

Americans work harder than people in most other countries, sometimes juggling two to three jobs, in order to meet their financial obligations. Europeans, on the other hand, get eight weeks paid vacations, two-hour lunch breaks, and countless other perks. Women get months of paid maternity leave.

When I visited Germany, my cousin’s wife told me that her baby would get a monthly allowance until she turned eighteen years old. For several months, this new mom even had a woman come into her home twice to three times a week to help with household chores, laundry and cooking.

As Moore points out in his documentary, we’re paying these higher taxes anyway – healthcare, college tuition, etc. He says, “We don’t call them taxes, but that’s what they are.”

Carrying the American flag, he “invades” various countries in order to bring back their ideas into our territories. These ideas include the Europeans’ view on work, education, healthcare, sex, equality, and food! It was difficult to watch French school children served gourmet food on china while our children, in the most powerful country in the world, get served— well, I don’t want to even think of it!

One Tunisian woman pointed out that Americans are lucky because they live in the most powerful nation in the world. She says, “But being the strongest stops them from being curious.”

I used to notice, after my trips abroad, how difficult, even insulting, it was for Americans who never set foot outside the United States, to consider incorporating what Moore is trying to do in his film – adopt positive ideas (rather than stealing resources) that would greatly improve our country.

Other things that were uncomfortable to watch because they were simply embarrassing:

  • Finland’s educational system is at #1 while the US is at #29
  • Portuguese prison guards who treat their prisoners with dignity and decency reminding us of what our forefathers wrote in the US Constitution, that we’re not to have “cruel and unusual punishment.”
  • Germans advising us that taking a little care of our neighbor benefits everyone, is “common sense” and in the long run, is cheaper on us
  • When stressed, a German can go stay at a spa for 3 weeks (paid by their insurance)
  • Norway prison guards using words, not weapons (they don’t carry any) to break up conflicts inside the prisons
  • American students going to Slovenia to attend colleges and universities for free
  • Germans advising us that taking a little care of our neighbor benefits everyone, is “common sense.”
  • Germans educating their youth about the sins of their forefathers in order that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

“In Germany, they don’t white wash what happened, or pretend it never happened,” said Moore. “Why do we hide from our sins when it’s the first step to recovery… We have to honor our dark side and make amends for it so we can be a better world.”

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, the first female president both in Iceland and Europe believes that it will be women who will end up saving the world. “Women will do that, not with war, with words.”

Other Icelander women believe the same, because, they say, “Women think, What’s good for the whole? Men think, What’s in it for me?”

They feel that when men join women in embracing this peaceful concept to resolving conflict, then yes, we will be able to save the world.

The movie ended and the audience applauded (haven’t experienced that in years).

Ziplining through the Yucatan Peninsula Jungle

Today’s freezing cold reminded me of the beautiful warm weather in Cancun, particularly the day we ziplined in the Yucatan jungle. The video here is the second zipline adventure we did, and it was mild in comparison to the first one, where the zipline was so high, they paired us with our children.

I was proud to have participated in something excitingly frightening – until on the flight home, I watched Everest and felt that this zipline really paled in comparison to most adventures. Anyway, I still take credit for doing something outside my comfort zone. When you’re in that area, surrounded by nature, it becomes natural to do physical activity.

The Yucatan Peninsula consists largely of the ancient Maya Lowlands, with many Maya archaeological sites such as the Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Uxmal. In modern history, it was largely a cattle ranching, logging, chicle and henequen production area. Since the 1970s, and the fall of the world henequen and chicle market due to the advent of synthetic subtitles, the Yucatan Peninsula’s economy has leaned more on tourism.

Due to this, we were able to enjoy a stroll in a Mayan town, having lunch at a family-owned Mayan restaurant, and experiencing several ceremonies with Mayan shamans, which for me was the most delightful adventure!



Riding the Mayan Limousine to the Coba Ruins

“Mayan people did not leave the Earth, with aliens, to another planet,” said our tour guide. “They are still here, making handmade items. Each family-owned store supports almost fifty people.”

Our bus arrived to the Coba Ruins in Tulum.  The tour guide explained that Mayan was not an empire. It was a city of 70,000 people with smaller cities within the bigger city, but not where one person ruled over everyone. Their classical era was between 400 to 900 AC. During that time, men who had knowledge controlled people by keeping them ignorant and using this knowledge to make them people believe in them.

So, those who knew about solstice and equinox, which occurs twice a year, would make predictions based on this information and would credit this prediction to his close relationship to God, which he communicated with by going to the top of the temple. They claimed that the God of Rain, or whatever god, delivered information to this or that special person. (Hmm… I think people in power are still using this system to control people).

He talked about the Mayan sacred book, which mentions the World Tree. That’s a magical tree that creates the four sacred directions moving out of the center. It’s a structure for humans that shapes and accesses the spiritual worlds. According to their belief, the World Tree was the first creation and then everything emanated, and continues to emanate, from it.

“Now we are going to go see the Coba archeological site and, if you want, you can go up the 120 steps.”

The tour guide then explained that we had three options to get to the ruins: one, walk there; two, rent a bicycle; three, rent a Mayan limo, a chauffeured tricycle where you just sit and take in the sights. We opted for the limo, which my children (even myself) found more adventurous than climbing the Coba ruins’ 120 steps, which we did, huffing and puffing.

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Shamanism, Bringing This World from Darkness into Light

Healing Wisdom  (FRONT COVER) (1)

For a long time, I struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. It was especially difficult when I had to witness the wars on Iraq, the sanctions, the suffering that these political acts created, a suffering that still trails into our lives through television sets and other media outlets, holding up mirrors on how conflict can leave such awful residue on our souls.

From the time I was in my early twenties, my priorities have been family, writing and service. Though it had its challenges, combining family and writing was something I knew I could do and do it successfully. Combining writing and service, however, was questionable, especially after the 2003 U.S. led invasion when, for the first time in my life, I doubted the work I was in. While I loved being a writer, I figured what was the use of articulating thoughts and facts on paper when women were kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned?

On the radio, on TV, in newspapers, online, everyone, including myself, put their two cents in. But women were still kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned, in a place that I’d visited only three years prior, during a time when a woman such as myself could step out of the house wearing her Western clothing without anyone batting an eye let alone threatening to kill her, or simply killing her, if she didn’t veil and remove her makeup. True, people were tired then because of the UN imposed sanctions and Saddam’s regime but they were safe from the senseless and random violent acts that grabbed hold of the country like coyotes attacking a chicken hen. That also grabbed hold of me.

The violence drained my creativity and led me to a dark place where I lost my literary voice. Then I met a shaman, I met Lynn Andrews. Her teachings dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light. These teachings also brought me, through my writings, to a place of service.

Once someone asked, “What is shamanism?” To me, shamanism is a healing, through love, through nature, through the Creator. It’s a natural way of living which had survived harmlessly for hundreds of thousands of years, for even longer, until the agricultural revolution occurred in ancient Mesopotamia, now called Iraq, when people began to control others through food production. Shamanism opened my heart and healed my voice, to where I was able to write full-time, today publishing my eighth book. It’s an ancient teaching that works in the twenty-first century, and I believe, will continue to expand and be embraced because we’re beginning to realize the benefits it offers our world.


Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School