Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Category: History

The US Book Review of My Book

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The US Book Review of my book The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment 

The true and gripping story of an all-American girl charged with illegally selling telecommunications equipment to Iraq. However, her co-conspirator turns out to be a CIA operative, possibly working on a project to bug Saddam Hussein and his top henchmen.

The author makes good use of firsthand accounts, skillfully weaving them together to show how the “War on Terror” has blurred or perhaps frayed our criminal justice system. As an Iraqi-American journalist the author has the prefect background to tell this story. Settings are well-depicted and characters come to life so that it’s tempting to skip ahead to learn the resolution. This book takes a hard look at how terrorism, oppression, and sanctions invite hypocrisy, abuse of power and double-dealing. One hopes this isn’t an example of the new normal for America but fears that it is.

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My Tribal and Powerful Mother

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It was a sunny April afternoon four years ago when I was working on my book that I received a call from Eman Jajonie-Daman, an attorney friend and magistrate at the 46th District Court. She said there were French reporters and filmmakers in town doing a web documentary entitled, My Beloved Enemy: Iraqi American Stories.

They wanted to cover an interesting story about an elderly Iraqi attaining their citizenship and hoped I could introduce them to Warina Zaya Bashou, who, at 111 years old, became the second oldest person to be granted U.S. citizenship. I had written an article about Warina the year prior, having lived only a few blocks from my house.

Warina was born in the then-Christian town of Telkaif in Iraq. One moment I remember clearly about our interview is when she said that the keys to living a long life are work, drinking tea, and not going to see the doctor. But when I called Warina’s family, they told me she had passed away a few months earlier.

I then invited the filmmakers over to my home to help them find another subject. An hour later, three beautiful and gracious French people came to my door – writer and director Claire Jeantet, co-director Fabrice Caterini, and chief cameraman Thomas Bernardi.

We had a little brunch, and they ended up interviewing my mom, who was visiting, about her experience in attaining her citizenship in 1997 – a tremendous accomplishment for her, since she had never gone to school. At that time, I helped her memorize fifty questions and answers about the United States, in Arabic, and I was permitted to be her interpreter during the examination. She had to get seven out of ten questions right. She only got one wrong answer.

“Why did you want to get your citizenship?” Claire, the director, asked my mother.

“I wanted to be like my children,” my mother said, and I interpreted. “They all got their citizenship, and so it was now my turn.”

I told the filmmakers how on the day of her naturalization, I was in a hurry to go to work. My mother wanted to take a picture with the judge, like the others had lined up to do. I did not see the point in a picture, though, and had not taken one when I received my citizenship. We left and ever since, when I thought about that day, I wished I had reacted differently. I did not realize it then, but this was my mother’s first major accomplishment for her outside of her home. She was proud to have received a document that honored her efforts; a reward, something that validated her capabilities outside of being a good housewife and mother.

“Now she got more than that picture that she had wanted sixteen years ago,” I said.

We laughed.

In September, the filmmakers showed the documentary at Visa pour L’Image, the premiere International Festival held in Perpignan, France.

“Oh Weam, your mother up there on the screen made a real impact,” Claire told me through Skype. “The audience loved her.”

Her words further illuminated what I had begun to understand about my mother, now that I myself was a wife and mother. This woman had deep tribal and ancestral powers that few people understood. Born in a village and never having gone to school, although she wished she had, she had impacted not only the lives of her twelve children and nearly two dozen grandchildren, but her story had landed in France and later traveled the world through the internet. And at eighty-years-old, she was not done yet.

That same year, my mother’s health drastically deteriorated. On several occasions, my siblings and I thought we were going to lose her. Later, we were also faced with difficult choices of who would care for her now that she was in a wheelchair and had dementia. In the end, I offered to take her into my home. The process has taught me quite a bit about God, life, and humanity.

My mother and I were so different. She was born and raised in Telkaif, a Christian village, and her parents, who lived on a farm, could not afford to send her off to school. I was born in the Muslim city of Baghdad and my attendance of school was as natural as learning jumping jacks. She married my father at age twelve. I married my husband at thirty-four. She never went anywhere alone and rarely left her home. I traveled the world alone.

Since I was young, I knew I had inherited my love for words, books, education, and adventure from my father. I didn’t realize until later in life that I could not have made my dreams come true without my mother’s teachings of discipline and faith in a higher power. She did not go to school, but she knew who she was, having made her life experiences her education.

This article was originally published by Arab America in honor of Women’s Month http://www.arabamerica.com/tribal-powerful-mother/#.WMlmTk7HNFg.facebook

My Beloved Enemy doc. link http://my-beloved-enemy.inediz.com/?a=391

 

Cleopatra’s Dance of Darkness

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Cleopatra and Caesar (1866). Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

An old friend, a Native American whom I call in my books the Red Indian, is the focus of my upcoming book, Conversations with My Native American Friend. Over the weekend, we continued a conversation we have been having for a while about Cleopatra. Here is some of what he said:

Cleopatra was a matriarch and that’s why the war happened. There were big wars at that time which people didn’t know about, and Cleopatra actually won a couple of big wars. She kind of took over the Roman guy, Caesar. It was like she married him, not he married her. Everything is negative toward that woman, and everything is Caesar, but it was Cleopatra that was the ruler at that time, in the Roman Empire. That’s why Rome was burned.

They didn’t write the history like that, that Cleopatra was the clan mother, that she won. They call her Caesar’s wife and point to her femininity and promiscuity because she is female. They write all about that because it takes away from all the positive things she did. They focus on her negativity to make her a negative person, but she took care of thousands of families and she almost took over the Roman Empire.

Cleopatra was in the middle of the world, the middle of the clan system. When she married the guy from Rome, Caesar, she did that for a reason, but they took her power away. They thought in their mind that they suppressed the clan system to start what we know now as the judicial system. They’d rather not have the clan system. They’d rather have the judicial system.

The court system is the largest corporation in the United States. It’s a form of tax and it’s operated on billions and billions of dollars. If it’s a clan system and you pass a red light, you say, ‘Hey girl, give me the keys. You can’t drive for two or three weeks. Your sister will drive you or you have to wait.’

With the judicial system, you pay a big fine. Making a mistake is monetary with the judicial system.

So back to Cleopatra…  Ancient people, her people, did the dark dance, where it gets cloudy for so long that there’s no crops. That’s how she won a great battle by using the powers at hand. Her enemies had no food. People became sick and died from starvation with no sun coming from the cloud. The problem with the dark dance is not only did the enemies have nothing to eat but neither did you.

If you have a weapon and you decide to use it against someone else, then you have to be willing and able to take that medicine too. If you wish something on someone else, like your enemy, you really should be able to take that on yourself without harm – or you die.

The patriarch society was forced on the matriarch society but that does not mean that the matriarch society is still not there. It just means that it’s not as prevalent. Everything that happened on the earth was because the Creator made it like this. There’s a reason. It’s not good or bad. If you look to the Creator, you will always find a reason why.

 

For more information and updates about this book, visit wwww.weamnamou.com

 

Publishers Weekly Review of My Book

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Spiritual coach Namou (The Flavor of Cultures) describes her personal journey in this first volume of her four-part memoir. It begins with a phone conversation between Namou and author Lynn Andrews that was an essential part of Namou’s development; quotes and themes taken from this conversation are woven throughout the book, which recounts how Namou processed and came to terms with her childhood arrival in Detroit, Mich., after emigrating from Baghdad at the age of nine.

Andrews encourages Namou to participate in the Mystery School, a lineage of learning based on Native American shamanic teachings, and this brings Namou a sense of release from the traumatization of being suddenly uprooted at such an early age to move to a vastly different culture.

This thorough and descriptive first installment includes a deep look into her Iraqi past and Chaldean Christian background, and explores how that spiritual upbringing has influenced her present life. Spiritual terms and symbols that could be new to some readers are explained well throughout the book. Readers interested in personal journeys of faith will be eager to follow Namou along her spiritual path. (BookLife).

To read original post, visit:  http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-9776790-3-4

Iraqi Folklore Party

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My husband and I attended a party the other day that was hosted by Beth Nahrain Community Club, a new club that I recently wrote about. It was lovely to see the people who are all connected through heritage and bloodline meet in one banquet hall, together celebrating their folklore dances and costumes that span from various villages in northern Iraq  – something that, unfortunately, people who are still living in our ancestors’ ancient land are not able to do.

Some of the people at the party ran into relatives they had not seen in decades. Beth Nahrain seeks to solidify the bond and spirit of friendship and fellowship among the shareholders, their families and friends. Its founders are working with various Iraqi Christians organizations and/or groups (Chaldeans, Assyrians, and Syriacs) in an effort to coordinate resources for the betterment of the community. The goal is to preserve customs, traditions, and social values.

“We wanted a club that would accommodate all families without discrimination or an attempt to dominate one group over another,” said Sammer Tolla, senior loan officer at Security Mortgage in Sterling Heights. “The main goal is for our families to feel they have a place where our community could safely gather and get to know each other, and also for the new generation to meet and know each other. We want to start programs for the young people so they can take leadership roles.”

Sammer says that there was a private club in Baghdad, with a pool and various social activities, where Christian Iraqis gathered called Al Mashriq. Many had their wedding receptions and other celebrations there.

“If we don’t start now, I don’t think our children would do it at all,” said Shawki Bahri. “Once we establish it, they will do a better job carrying it forward because they are mostly open-minded and well-educated. They will be able to incorporate their professions, skills, and knowledge into this community.”

Watch this short video of the party:

Here’s an article I wrote about this club which was published by the Chaldean News: http://www.chaldeannews.com/efforts-to-add-eastside-club-gaining-steam/

 

What We Carried: Fragments from the Craddle of Civilization

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Samir Khurshid and Jim Lommasson at the first What We Carried exhibition in Portland, 2011

What We Carried: Fragments from the Cradle of Civilization is an ongoing project currently on view at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois. The exhibit includes photos and writings chosen from over 250 Iraqi and Syrian refugees of the objects they carried to <!–more–>America, such as abayas, Barbie dolls, coffee cups, Qurans, platters, milk cans, rugs, and flip flops. Some of the actual objects that refugees carried to America from their homeland are included in the exhibition.

Renowned freelance photographer and author Jim Lommasson of Portland, Oregon started this project as a way for Americans to meet the people who have been displaced and demonized in the media.

“It’s a bridge building project,” Lommasson said, explaining how it came about. “I was horrified that we invaded and occupied Iraq. One of the questions I wanted answered for myself is: what did the American soldiers feel about the war in Iraq?”

Believing in the power of pictures, and the idea that photography can change lives, Lommasson used his artistic talents to tell stories he hopes can bring about peace. In 2007, he created a traveling show and book about American troops called Exit Wounds: Soldiers’ Stories – Life After Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lommasson asked the soldiers how they felt about the war in Iraq. He was surprised that the vast majority of soldiers he interviewed admitted that the war was a mistake. Many had regrets, became anti-war activists, and some wanted to go back to Iraq as civilians and help rebuild the country.

“They wanted to tell us cautionary stories,” he said, “that we should not be so gullible for our leaders to bring us to war. Many said, ‘If foreigners came to our cities and neighborhood and started kicking in doors, we would do the same to them as the Iraqis did to us.’”

He realized that the consequences of war are horrific for everybody, so he thought that he should not only interview soldiers who fought in Iraq, but the affected Iraqi people, too. Lommasson sat down an Iraqi woman, who is now an academic in Portland. During the course of their interview, he asked her what she thought about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She answered, “I thank America for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but did they have to destroy the whole country to do that?”

That statement stuck with him, and it suggested a new project. Lommasson felt that people needed to hear from those “others” affected by the war. He soon learned that Iraqis, whether they came before or after 2003, shared universal stories.

Poet Dunya Mikhail brought with her a folder of stories written by her friend, famous Iraqi author, Lutfiya Al-Dulaimi, who now lives in Jordan.

“Although there’s an age gap between us, we were friends in Iraq,” Mikhail said. “Once she wanted to throw out this file in the garbage. I said, ‘What are you doing? Why are you throwing this out?’ She said, ‘What would I do with it? They’re already published.’”

Mikhail asked if she could have the file and Al-Dulaimi easily gave it to her. The file came along in the one suitcase that Mikhail brought along with her to America. While at a conference in Jordan last summer, Mikhail met with Al-Dulaimi and showed her the file she’d held onto for twenty years. She said to her friend, “You can keep it or let me keep it. But if you let me keep it that’s even better because they want to place it at a museum.”

Al-Dulaimi thought Mikhail was joking.

“The irony is that she wanted to throw it away and now it ended up in the museum,” said Mikhail.

Rafat Mandwee, a tour guide at the Arab American National Museum, also had from Iraq a blanket, which was over a hundred years old and previously owned by his great grandmother. He also brought a tin milk container, which was used during the 1950s and 60s. After the milk finished, people used it to store water.

“Some of the items people brought with them, like diaries, were sensitive material and too dangerous to bring out during Saddam’s time,” said Mandwee. “If they were caught, they would have risked their life. This required a lot of strength and courage on their part.”

“When you leave, you often leave under the veil of darkness and the things that you bring, you lose more along your travel, depending on your travel path,” Lommasson said. “It’s not really about what people brought, but what they left behind – their memories, cultures, education, families.”

Exit Wounds and What We Carried have traveled to universities, galleries, and museums. They have become books that have been embraced by the participant communities.

What We Carried will be going to Nebraska next where there’s a large Yazidi community.

Lommasson feels that this project is creating a new and unique language to tell stories.

“I wanted the American public to know the consequences of our government and the consequences of ignorance. George Bush told people to just go to the mall. We can’t just go to the mall,” said Lommasson. “We have to become aware and educated. The efforts we do – we have little effect moving the big picture, but we can have an effect on one-on-one relationships.”

This article was written for, and originally published by, Arab America http://www.arabamerica.com/78783-2/

Ibsen, Iraqi Style: The Latest from Heather Raffo

I originally wrote this article for, and it was published by, The Chaldean News  http://www.chaldeannews.com/ibsen-iraqi-style-the-latest-from-heather-raffo/

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The story of a Chaldean refugee family living in New York is examined in Noura, award-winning Iraqi American playwright and performer Heather Raffo’s latest work.

The play, directed by Joanna Settle, was presented as a staged reading on October 7 as part of the Arab American National Museum’s Global Fridays program.

“You are part of our development process,” Settle told the audience of about 100 people. She had also directed Raffo’s well-received one-woman play 9 Parts of Desire. “It’s somewhere between a reading and a staging. This version is tonight-only. It’s critical that you’re here and that you share what resonated with you.”

The play was a re-imagining of A Doll’s House, written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen in 1879. That famous work is about everyday, ordinary people, with an emphasis on women’s rights.

Raffo’s Noura incorporates the stories and experiences of Iraqi Americans who must tackle such issues as assimilation, nostalgia, shame, exile and love. The play’s contemporary characters include Noura, played by Raffo; her husband Tariq, who adopted the American name Tim (Peter Ganim); their 9-year-old son Yazen, who takes the name Alex (Logan Settle Rishard, the director’s son); a Sunni doctor and family friend named Rafa’a (Piter Marek) and Maryam (Dahlia Azama), a 26-year-old Chaldean who’s an orphan and was raised at a convent in Iraq.

Noura and Maryam stayed in contact through Facebook, and Noura even helped her financially until Maryam arrived to America. These multifaceted characters come together for Christmas at Noura’s house where unknown truths and past shame and hurts are revealed.

Noura is an educated woman, an architect, who now tutors math. Tariq was a surgeon in Iraq, but when he arrived in America he had to work in a restaurant kitchen. Now he’s working in the ER. After right years in the U.S. the couple still struggles to assimilate. Tariq wants Noura to let go of her attachment to Iraq and the sorrow she feels for what the Islamic State has done to Mosul.

“You should be grateful we are in a place where we can reinvent ourselves,” he tells her.

But Noura is afraid of letting go of that connection, afraid she will lose her identity if she does so. She also feels guilty. She says, “I don’t want to reinvent myself … They never asked what part I played in f_ _ _ing up my own country.”

Through unique and realistic monologues, and plenty of humor, the characters beautifully brought the Iraqi American experience to life and they made the audience consider the question of “Who am I?”

The play came out of a three-year grant workshopping with Middle Eastern women, both Muslim and Christian, on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in New York City.

“I was inspired to do a story off of their stories,” Raffo said.

Born to a Chaldean father and an American mother, Raffo grew up in East Lansing and went to school in Ann Arbor. She holds a BA from the University of Michigan, an MFA from the University of San Diego and she also studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

“I was connected in spirit to my Chaldean heritage, but my identity was an American,” she said.

Raffo visited Iraq as a child in 1974 and then later in 1993. At age 20, she experienced her first war on television, a war between the two countries that she loved. She’d never seen her dad so distraught watching television.

“Out of that came a big need for me to bridge the two cultures,” she said. “As an artist, I was the perfect bridge for Americans because I look like them.”

Raffo has produced numerous works that portray Middle Easterners’ perspective, women in particular. She has taught and performed at dozens of universities and arts centers both in the United States and internationally, engaging students about the politics and arts of Iraq and about her own experience as an Iraqi-American playwright and actress.

“I realized as an artist, especially an actor, your job is to be a conduit of a story, that I had a role to play – saying what wasn’t being said.”

At the same time, she wondered if she would be viewed as a fraud for writing an Iraqi story.

“Who am I to write an Iraqi story?” she asked herself. “I’m a blonde woman.”

But as her Iraqi self emerged to the forefront, she realized, “My inner workings always knew I’m Iraqi.”

She has since used her talents to help Middle Eastern women reveal their own feelings and stories, and she has mentored many young Middle Eastern women.

The audience who viewed Noura was made up of various Middle Eastern backgrounds and they were particularly touched to watch a play that did not stereotype their community but gave it an honest, unique and original perspective.

One audience member expressed his desire for the communities here in America to unite the way that the characters of Noura do on the stage.

“I don’t want our communities to be divided,” he said. “I want good relations between all religions. In America, we’re seeing all the democracy that we didn’t have in the Middle East, and we can teach our kids that.”

A Conversation with a Native American about Shamanism

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This is a conversation I had with the Native American man I’ve known for decades who I call in my books the Red Indian. This portion is about shamanism and is taken from my memoir series but one day I will write a book solely about him because he has fascinating perspectives worth sharing.

When we spoke about shamanism, he said, “Shamanism was like a society that made sure people stay well. The society policed themselves. All Natives have different societies inside their tribe, a group of people that study the same things, like the plants, the animals, the stars, the rocks. It’s like your writers group. It’s a society.” He paused momentarily before he continued. “You know what the dreamcatcher is? It was a society that disbanded, and the dreamcatcher was given away to the people. That’s why there’s a dream catcher hanging in everyone’s car or in their house or key chains.”

“Why are some natives very angry that people use the word shamanism to describe healing?” I asked.

“Because some people are belittling everything around them to look more powerful than everyone else when in fact it’s the other way around. Everyone is more powerful than them.”

“But if it’s a good thing, wouldn’t it make more sense for natives to share this knowledge with people and educate them?”

“We’ve done this all along. We shared everything with people. We felt it was our duty to share and as soon as they found out, they put us in jails and killed us. As it says in the bible, don’t throw your pearls before swine. We were a very giving people. We fed people and gave information, and what came back to us was some guy hanging on the tree. Wow! It went from giving good things all around the world to receiving back very, very bad things. Most native people that I know are pretty quiet on what they say. It’s not that it’s a secret, but it’s a society, like doctors in the hospital who no one sees. They gather and discuss certain issues and no one knows about it, not even the nurses.”

“I read somewhere that one reason natives get angry about how others use the word shamanism is because Hollywood misuses and abuses this word.”

“Natives had a very hard time with Hollywood,” he said. “You know what Hollywood is? Holly wood is the stick that comes from the holly tree, and Merlin was the king’s magician in Europe who would go around the country like a politician telling people what’s good for them and why they should vote for him. Historically, magician’s wand is made of holly wood. Magicians were good at what they did and made people believe there was magic behind it all when it was really an illusion.”

“Couldn’t an illusion be the same as reality?”

“If you want to believe that way, yeah,” he said. “It’s like believing the sun comes up at six o’clock at night. It’s not real. It’s an illusion. If you believe it, it’s real to you but it’s not real to nature. That’s what an illusion is. It’s a trick. So people who call themselves shamans are for natives just an illusion, trying to call themselves something that’s not real. On the other hand, there are people that can do a cause-and-effect on earth here. It’s usually not personal. Of course, it’s a prayer. You ask the Creator to do something. If people say they can do it themselves, they’re probably a pretty big devil. It’s one evil person trying to cause something for themselves or other people and that’s not good. When you ask something from the Creator, then it’s the best thing for you. It might not be what you want, but it’s the best thing for you. Oh Lord, I need patience, and I need it right now!”

He laughed at the irony, and we were silent for a moment.

“The reason I mentioned Hollywood is because that’s the magician’s wand, and it’s not real. The whole Hollywood thing is not real. They depict something and tell a story, have you believe it’s real and of course it’s not real.”

“It’s like that movie Captain Phillips. They made him a hero when he jeopardized the lives of his crew. Even though the people on the ship came out and told the truth, no one did anything about the non-truth. They did not boycott the film. It was accepted as is.”

“That’s what I mean,” he said. “There are people that relish in the thought of shamanism. Anyone with this much authority that can create the cause-and-effect of things is very humble, and they wouldn’t want you to think of them as a magician. They wouldn’t call themselves shamans to begin with and they would have much experience because they take care of a lot of people, children and grandchildren and those who come to them with problems. They’re normally wiser people. Generations of people make wise, not fifteen minutes of class.

“Just because a person is old doesn’t mean they’re wise. Some portray elderly native people as very wise, bla, bla, bla, but to native people, a baby could be very wise. No one person is greater than another. Wise people make decisions with consideration to the seven generations that are not born as opposed to what I need right now. I can make a decision for something I want right now, but it might not be a good thing for my grandchildren. A decision can be made by looking at the seven generations behind and the seven generations to come. It’s harder to look into the future than it is to look at the history. It’s still a consideration for the future.”

Legendary Iraqi-Born Author and Publisher

 

IMG_7857 (2)I’ve been freelancing for the Chaldean News for about ten years. Oftentimes when I interview people, they’ll ask me, “Is the publisher of this magazine the son of Fouad Manna, otherwise known as Abu Jibran?” I’d say yes and they would then list Abu Jibran’s wonderful qualities and mention his accomplishments and contributions as a writer and publisher. Their descriptions made me want to one day meet him in person.

Well, yesterday I had the honor of doing that. We met at the Chaldean Community Foundation and then taking advantage of the pleasant weather, we walked the short distance to Ishtar Restaurant for lunch. For approximately three hours, this legendary and kind man shared with me some of the most fascinating stories, starting with his childhood.

Fouad Manna was born in 1936 in a Christian village which had 96 homes, 500 residents, and no schools. It was during a time when families easily and naturally shared one big home. In his case, there were three families, each with about seven to eight kids. For the most part, they lived off the land, through agriculture or herding. Everyone worked, even the children. But Manna wanted something else. He wanted to go to school.

“I went up to my mom and said, ‘I want to go to school,’” he said and she and her husband helped fulfill his desire. They registered him in a school that was two miles away in walking distance.

He continued in this educational path, and after graduating, studied journalism for a year. One day a man was pushing a three-wheel cart, selling used books. A book that stood out for Manna was by an author named Khalil Gibran. He was drawn to this book and decided to buy it.

“Reading Gibran’s book mesmerized me,” he said. “I felt an immediate connection with the author. It was as if he knew my thoughts and feelings.”

After that, he searched for more books by Gibran and read each one several times.

At the age of twenty, Manna also began his writing career by working for one of Iraq’s newspapers. This was during the Hashemite Kingdom which he describes as “The best government Iraq ever had. Every government that has come since then has been worse and worse.”

During this period, a writer could write whatever they wanted as long as they did not attack the government. The Kingdom of Iraq was founded on August 21, 1923 under British administration and following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I. It was established with King Faisal I of the Hashemite dynasty receiving the throne.

After the Hashemite Kingdom’s overthrow on July 14, 1958, the new government closed all the newspapers associated with the Kingdom and arrested the editors-in-chief. Manna eventually continued to write in different papers until 1963, when the Baath Party came into power. They too closed newspapers, but they did something entirely different with the editors-in-chief.

“These people were gone, just disappeared,” said Manna.

This reminded me of the Mural of the Revolution in one of Baghdad’s famous squares. The Mural is located on the other side of where the Freedom Monument stands and it depicts, among other beautiful things, a woman whose hands extend upward as she holds peace doves. In 1963, when the Baath Party began to come into power, they considered certain art dangerous, so they removed the doves and left the woman’s hand empty.

Manna realized that he could not live under this type of government, especially not given his writing profession. “Journalists have to address the negativities of the community, to shed light on it,” he said.

So he prepared to leave for America. He arrived to the United States on January 11, 1969 and he has since then made an incredible legacy for himself and his family. His story is uplifting and the lessons he learned over the decades are full of wisdom, the details of which will be included in the upcoming book, Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Writers.

When Women Owned Bathing Suits in Baghdad

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Six Detroit area-writers gathered Sunday to share their work (memoir, fiction, poetry) during the monthly reading series organized by Detroit Working Writers. The theme for July was water and I shared two passages from my new book, Healing Wisdom for a Wounded: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School (Book 2).  

The first passage was from Chapter 7, where I recount a story that took place in the 1970s. In our neighborhood in Baghdad, almost every home had some sort of bathing attire because the families had a membership to Al Zawraa Swim Club which had two pools outside, one for children and one for adults. This made it useful when an out-of-towner who did not possess a bathing suit was invited for a swim, as so happened with one of my cousins. My cousin spent the night over our house and the next day my siblings wanted to take her swimming. Because she did not have a bathing suit, they ended up borrowing one from a neighbor who was somewhat my cousin’s size.

 

As many know by now, Iraqi women who grew up in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s had much more liberty than the women who grew up during the 80s and the 90s. They enjoyed higher education, independence, and positions in the public work force. Many even dressed in miniskirts and bikinis. Men imitated the Western style of a shaggy moptop hairstyle, and dressed in bellbottoms and disco shirts. Women dressed miniskirts, cropped pants, and had fancy updos.

When Khairallah Talfah, Saddam’s paternal uncle and his father-in-law and the brother-in-law of then President Al-Bark, became the Mayor of Baghdad in the early 1970s, he ordered the security service and police force to spray paint the legs of any woman wearing short skirts and to tear the bellbottom trousers worn by any male or female. These actions against any westernized contemporary trends only lasted a few weeks and were terminated abruptly, when Vice President Saddam Hussein intervened. These trendy fashions subsequently spread all over the country and ironically had been worn even by Tulfa’s own sons and daughters.