Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Category: Holidays

Baghdad, the Gift of God

Weam at School

They say that Baghdad means the “gift of God” in Persian. That definition reflects the memory I have of my birth country, not the news, which is saturated with accounts of prolific violence and a reign of terror. Instead, I visit that place, the past, which contains flavors of a happy childhood, of magic and mystery.

In the 1970s, children in Baghdad owned the streets during the hours when they were not in school. We were like the train gate in control of traffic. When a car drove by, we scattered left and right to make way, and once the car passed, we resumed to jump rope, hopscotch, tag, hide-and-go-seek, and play the all-time favorite game of marbles, where we drew a circle on the ground with a stick, placed all the marbles in the circle, then shot their smooth and brightly colored glass sphere to knock the other marbles out of the circle.

We did not worry about thieves or kidnappers because the majority of mothers stayed at home and watched the children, theirs and the whole neighborhoods’, as if they had binoculars implanted on all sides of their heads.

We didn’t have toys, board games, or electronic games. Television programming started at 6:00 pm, opening up with Quranic prayers, then children’s shows, followed by regular family programming, and the news. By midnight, the screen would go dark and then the colored bars came on, followed by the pink noise and static-filled screen. In the summer, two additional hours were added in the morning to get the kids out of their mother’s hair.

Our district was our amusement park.

We didn’t need waterslides, merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, cotton candy, popcorn, or lemonade. We just had a simple desire to be together, and to be creative.

Once the early morning winter frosts had given way to spring, the wild flowers and fruit trees sprouted over the land the way in which brown and yellow grass turned green here in America. There are more than 3,300 plants and flowers in Iraq. The scent of palm trees, fig trees, citrus trees, berries, Jasmine, sunflowers, and roses – the national flower of Iraq and the United States – is enough to cure ailments and feed the soul before their parts are removed and used for food or traditional medicine.

In the summer, our bedrooms were dismantled and our pillows, bed sheets, and blankets were carried to the rooftop, where they were set up in rows so we could sleep under an open sky. The rooftop was a real entertainment.

During broad daylight, we would go to the rooftop and watch the man in a white tank top smoke, his arms resting over the roofless wall; a woman hang bed sheets, pajamas, nightgowns, and men’s tank tops and pants on a clothesline; our neighbor’s older sister hold up a mirror in a well-lit corner as she plucked her eyebrows; a young student across the street who liked to pace back and forth while reading his book.

In the falling twilight we would crawl out of our beds on the rooftops to chase after the moon that changed direction whenever we changed direction. We’d stand on top of the beds, raise our voice, and call out to our friends next door, asking them, “What are you doing?” Or we argued about who the moon was actually following, us or them, until our mothers would hush us up and scuttle us back to bed. Lovers had their own secret way of utilizing the rooftop, which we were then too young to learn the details of.

Every July 14, we watched the fireworks celebrating the 1958 revolution that took place in Iraq, marking the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy established by King Faisal in 1932 under the support of the British. One July 14, as we competed with the neighbors across our roof, we screamed so loud and jumped so hard that the bed broke and we fell through to the ground. The neighbors laughed hysterically and we got up, all red-faced.

Long before that, Baghdad was the center of learning and commerce where the House of Wisdom was built. The House of Wisdom, was a key institution in the translation movement where Greek, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese, and Syriac works were translated into Arabic and the concept of the library catalog was introduced. When the Mongol invaded Iraq in 1258, they destroyed the House of Wisdom, along with all other libraries in Baghdad, and that has become the story of Iraq’s life.

My family left Iraq when I was nine years old, and I didn’t visit that land until 20 years later. I spent Easter of 2000 in Baghdad, church hopping and eating pacha with relatives. I visited my parents’ and grandparents’ village of Telkaif in Mosul, and slept on the rooftop under the star filled night. Iraq was not the same as I remembered it, but I still had a lovely time.

This article was originally published by Arab America

Shabbat Shalom Olam

A Wolf Song

I want to share this powerful prayer, which for me reads like a poem, by Lisa Osina, author of A Wolf Song: A Story of Forgiveness. She too is a graduate of Lynn Andrews’ shamanic school and has been using words to spread awareness, joy and peace into the world.

She wrote this prayer in honor of Shabbat, an observance in Judaism that’s primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment. It’s a time when people set aside all of their weekday concerns, engage in restful activities, and devote themselves to higher pursuits.

Her sacred words help us see how our attachments to manifestation often spoil our peace and enjoyment (sometimes even our relationships).

*                              *                          *

Shabbat Shalom Olam

Friday, Saturday and Sunday are sacred days
Each celebrates and observes in their own way.

The common is prayer and each individual has a way.

I am working on shifting the way I pray and how the manifestation of Prayer requests happens.

The first thing I learned is that it doesn’t manifest.

Prayers are not ‘answered’ the way we’ve been told
Prayers do not bring health, happiness or good fortune.
Prayer opens a person to God, the Universe and the energies that rule our world.
When we pray to a force outside of ourselves our wishes and dreams become scattered and unfocussed because our intent gets lost in the thick of it,

Relying on another will only bring you their wishes.

My prayer today is for peace within me
Because we cannot expect peace in the world until we’ve come to peace with ourselves.

Oh dear great Sprit
What is it within me that holds the peace?
Where is it stored, how can I pull it out and share?

In this day when battles are raging inside and outside
I pray for the flower to bring beauty
I pray for the people to see it
I pray to be open to for what I don’t know
and let questions be answered with echoes and mirrors.

On this night of sacred air, soft rain and dew
I see the peace, I feel the peace
Oh Lord let me be the peace

To which Lord do I speak?

She lives in the cloud on the outskirts in shades of pink and purple
He lives inside the wolf beside me
They live amongst the fairies and the elves
Where wonder thrives and rules won’t go.

I dream of light, I dream of good
Where we open to love, she returns the food.

When we ask out loud, to whom do we speak?
But her tiny self inside the heart
Her womb is ready for birth.

Where wind blows and shifts my thoughts
Where rain washes away the sorrow
and Sunshine dries my spirit from wet rag to riches.

I pray, I honor, I trust
the new day will come and I accept the unknown it holds.

I release it to the heavens.


For more information about Lisa Osina and her work, visit



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!



Creating Alternative Ways to Serve Our Country


This afternoon, I actually had free time on my hands, alone. Wanting to take full advantage of this rarity, especially now that it is summer and my children are home from school, I drove to the bookstore. I treated myself to a white chocolate mocha and browsed through the book shelves. I picked up a small book that called out to me, titled The Thing You Think You Cannot Do. I opened to a page that talked about the author’s experience in Iraq.

I walked with the book to the café and sat at a table next to the window. I returned to that page, and read something that I thought was quite appropriate to share for the Fourth of July Holiday. Here are excerpts of what the author, Gordon Livingston, M.D., wrote in Chapter 10, Beware of ideas on which we all agree:

“No shared feelings are more firmly embedded in the American culture than the admiration and gratitude that we have toward the young men and women who have served in our most recent wars. Their sacrifices are celebrated at every opportunity, and stories about our “wounded warriors” and their families are a stable of the nightly news. Our great national spectacles – sporting events, holidays – become occasions for patriotic celebration and remembrance, rife with clichés (such as “Freedom isn’t Free”) designed to reassure us that, while we personally have not chosen to sacrifice anything during wartime, we at least appreciate those who have made the choice to do so. They stand in their camouflage uniforms often looking a little mystified at the applause.

The reflexive impulse to treat our troops as heroes serves an important part aside from relieving our guilt at having done nothing ourselves. The war in Iraq, no less than other wars, involved the morally ambiguous process of killing large numbers of people who posed no threat to us. Because the instruments of destruction were our sons and daughters, we find it hard to take responsibility for asking this of them without regret and self-examination. Ignoring our misjudgments and redoubling our admiration for the young people who risked everything on our behalf are far easier….

The “Support our troops” bumper magnets that blossomed as the invasion of Iraq commenced could have just as well read “My country, right or wrong!”

And so we venerate those who put themselves in fear-inducing situations on our behalf and did whatever they could to survive. Most of them are neither heroes nor killers, just patriotic people volunteering to hazard themselves for reasons that to them seemed good at the time. Can we deal with our fears in some way that does not involve the use of bullets or high explosives? Can we celebrate those willing to take risks while creating alternative ways for young people to serve their country that are less costly to them and to others in distant places who love their children in the same way that we love ours?” 

I hope that we value our troops enough to listen and reflect upon the questions Mr. Livingston posed before us, and invest the time, wisdom and love necessary to find answers for these powerful questions.

Iraqi Children Receive Christmas Gifts

This morning I received an email from Shlama Foundation telling me what my and others’ contributions were spent on. With a combined $680 donation, the foundation was able to deliver 550 Christmas gifts to displaced children on December 29th.

On one hand, that brought a smile to my face. On the other hand, I thought, “I should have donated more than a hundred dollars.” My children received a number of unnecessary gifts for Christmas, many of which they used for only a day or two.  We should have used that money to give to the Iraqi children. Such an act would have been more rewarding and my children would have learned a valuable lesson about the job of giving.

Shlama Foundation was founded in August 2014, after tens of thousands of Christian Iraqis fled ISIS and were forced to live in refugee camps in the Kurdistan region. One of the founders, Noor Matti, lives in Iraq. He had come to Michigan when he was six years old. As an adult, he applied to pharmacy school and was accepted, but decided instead to return to Iraq.

Shlama means “peace” and the foundation has established a secure system that not only shows where the money went, but creates a relationship between donor and recipient. On their website, a spreadsheet shows the name of the donor, the amount given, and a link to a YouTube video that portrays how and for whom the money was used, with photos of the receipts. In each video, the recipients express their situation, thank the donor by name and address how the money has touched them.

I interviewed the members of this organization last year, during which time Matti told me his feelings about the situation in Iraq. “Better days are ahead,” he said. “As a nation, we hit rock bottom. So, there’s nowhere to go but up.”

Learn more at

Shlama Foundation

Winter Wonderland at the Ford House

Playhouse - A gift from her grandmother Clara, it was built in 1930 for Josephine's seventh birthday. The house contains miniature furnishings in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room.

Playhouse – A gift from her grandmother Clara, it was built in 1930 for Josephine’s seventh birthday. The house contains miniature furnishings in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room.

Last night we went with friends and family on a Winter Wonderland tour and stroll of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House grounds. It was a lovely night, filled with the magical feeling I always experience when I enter this beautiful 87 acre estate that was built in 1929.

Edsel was the son of Henry Ford and an executive at Henry Ford Company. He was married to Eleanor and they had four children – three sons and one daughter, all of whom are now deceased. His grandchildren are still alive, and every so often they come to visit the estate, during which time it becomes closed to the public.

Edsel Ford died in this house in 1943 and his wife Eleanor lived there until her death in 1976. It was her wish that the property be used for “the benefit of the public.” So today this house is not only open to the public for guided tours, but also has wonderful programs that the whole family could enjoy, such as the Winter Wonderland, where we strolled under a canopy of twinkling lights, listened to carolers and folktale storytelling while sipping hot chocolate around a fire, and visited with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Clause who are still working although Christmas Day has passed.

Inside, we saw how the house got decorated during the holiday season. Original ornaments that the Fords used from the 1930s were hung on trees. One tree had elongated purple ornaments which Eleanor wanted but could not find anywhere, so she had the Ford Company make them for her. We wandered from room to room, listening to the sound of live musicians play soft Christmas music while tour guides filled us in with stories of the family.

One story I particularly enjoyed was the one about the painting hung on the dining room wall.

“Who is this painting of?” I asked the tour guide.

“This was Edsel’s favorite painting, because it reminded him so much of Eleanor,” the woman said. “Sometimes, when the two of them were dining alone, they would sit right here – ” she pointed to two 18th Century Queen Anne-style chairs. “So he could see that painting every time he looked up.”

My friend and I were in awe, my friend complaining under her breath that they don’t make men like this anymore.

Seeing our expressions, the woman smiled and added, “They had a very good relationship. A very good one.”

This would explain why Eleanor, after Edsel’s death, remained single for the next 33 years, until she joined her husband once again, and why this house today is still full of life.

photo 3 (1)

Happy Belated Thanksgiving

I tried so hard to write a post on Thanksgiving Day, but after marinating and roasting the turkey, cooking a pot of biryani, chicken with fresh dill leaves, making four kinds of salads, and cleaning the house before the company arrived, while they were here and after they left, I was tired. Then the next day, because I had a lot of extra food and some of my sisters were not able to show up on Thanksgiving Day, I had yet another gathering.

Although it was work, it was also wonderful. My children helped bathe our turkey in butter – well, my son started to help but soon after he raised his sleeves up and rubbed the turkey’s belly, he said, ‘Oooh, this is gross!’ and took off. The work was left to me and my daughter and I think we did a pretty darn good job.

Other than cooking a nice meal for my family, I enjoyed seeing and reading about people that really made Thanksgiving what it’s meant to be. For instance, Ram’s Horn in Rochester provided free meals for those in need. Scott Macaulay hosted Thanksgiving for people who have no other place to go. He started this tradition 28 years ago when he put an ad that anyone who did not have someone to spend Thanksgiving with, to come to his house. Well, over the years, the number of people has expanded to nearly 70, and so he had to start holding the gather at a Baptist Church in Melrose. Macaulay pays for the whole thing. Now that’s a spirit of Thanksgiving that is hard to beat.

Thanksgiving 2013(2)

Mother’s Day in Puerto Rico

The video cut off before he finished his sentence which is “She takes me to Burger King.”

No, I am not in Puerto Rico right now, but two years ago on Mother’s Day I was. I remember my family and I tried to plan where to go and what to do when one of the hotel employees said, “Everything is closed today.”

“Why?” we asked.

“It’s mother’s day. This is considered a holiday here – like Christmas and Easter.”

Well, in Puerto Rico as in other Latin areas, almost every other week has a three day weekend!

Jan. 1 (2) – New Year’s Day / Closed
Jan. 6 (2) – Three Kings’ Day / Closed
Jan. 12 Eugenio María de Hostos’ Birthday (second Monday in January) / Closed
Jan. 19 – Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January) / Closed
Feb. 16 – Presidents’ Day (third Monday in February) / Closed
March 22 – Emancipation Day / Closed
April 9 (2) – Good Friday / Closed
April 11 (2) – Easter Day / Closed
April 19 – José de Diego’s Birthday (third Monday in April) / Closed
May 9 – Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May) / Closed
May 31 – Memorial Day (last Monday in May) / Closed
June 20 (2) – Father’s Day (third Sunday in June) / Closed
July 5 – Independence Day (United States) (July 4) / Closed
July 19 – Luis Muñoz Rivera’s Birthday (third Monday in July) / Closed
July 26 – Constitution Day (Puerto Rico) (July 25) / Closed
July 27 – José Celso Barbosa’s Birthday / Closed
Sept. 6 – Labor Day (first Monday in September) / Closed
Oct. 12 – Columbus Day / Closed
Nov. 2 (2) Election Day / Closed
Nov. 11 – Veteran’s Day / Closed
Nov. 19 – Discovery of Puerto Rico Day / Closed
Nov. 25 (2) Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday in November) / Closed
Dec. 25 (2) Christmas Day / Closed

Happy Mother’s Day to ALL MOMS!!


Easter Egg Coloring Burnout

Easter is coming up so I did what mothers do days before the great holiday – I had my kids color eggs. I prepared the table, had the six color dying tablets ready, adding a tablespoon of vinegar to make the colors more vibrant. Everything was perfect until my oldest niece, in an attempt to help me, knocked down the crystal bowl of green water. My entire kitchen tile was green and had shinning tiny crystal scattered throughout. I warned the kids to keep their feet on the chair as I cleaned up the mess. My niece rushed to the bathroom where I suspect from the length she stayed there, she was crying.

My son was crying as well. “I wanted the color green! It’s my favorite color!”

My mother tried to help by asking irrelevant questions like, “Why did you pick today of all days to color eggs?” And, “Why don’t you see why your son is crying?”

I gritted my teeth and brought everyone sandals as I continued to scrimmage for glass on the floor. In no time I heard complaints of “The eggs are finished! Bring us more!”

As if I could simply turn on the faucet and boiled eggs pop out.

On a more pleasant note – the custom of the Easter egg originated amongst the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion. The Christian Church officially adopted the custom, regarding the eggs as a symbol of the resurrection; in A.D. 1610, Pope Paul V proclaimed the following prayer.

Eggs, in general, were a traditional symbol of fertility, and rebirth, pre-dating Christian traditions. The practice of decorating eggshell is ancient. Ostrich eggs with engraved decoration that are 60,000 years old have been found in Africa. Decorated ostrich eggs, and representations of ostrich eggs in gold and silver, were commonly placed in graves of the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians as early as 5,000 years ago.

Have a wonderful Easter everyone!

Easter Egg Coloring 2013

Happy New Year


It’s 3:30 am. I finally have a chance to sit down, drink a fresh cup of coffee, a caramel drizzle, and to write my very first post. My in-laws left a few hours ago, but I could not leave the house a mess and go to bed. We had a few unexpected guests tonight. Unexpected guest number one is a cousin who happens to not get along with unexpected guest number two. Needless to say there was a little bit of drama, but that’s expected in any home let alone a Middle Eastern one.

I made the appetizers, my husband made a wonderful barbecue and my in-laws brought over a lot of food like stuffed grape leaves and saffron rice with lamb. Much preparation went into the dishes, but it was nowhere near what it takes to make pacha, a traditional Iraqi dish usually made during the holidays. Pacha is made from sheep’s head, trotters and stomach; all boiled slowly and served with bread sunken in the broth. The stomach lining is filled with rice and lamb and stitched with a sewing thread. The brains and tongues are considered the best parts. The eyeballs are a delicacy. Every Christmas, my sister-in-law spends three days preparing pacha and then on Christmas afternoon my family and I go to have a pacha lunch and exchange presents. As a child, I never understood why grown ups savored pacha so much, but now I do – although I won’t eat any brains, tongues or eyeballs. When I visited my cousin in Germany, he made a pot of pacha – eyeballs and all – but told me he had gone to a farm an hour away to get the ingredients because it was illegal to sell them in the regular market.

It’s nearly 4:00 am. My coffee cup is almost empty. It’s time to say goodnight.