Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Category: Spirituality

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

 

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3rd Publishers Weekly’s Review of My Books

Front Cover for Healing Wisdom Book 4 (300)

It’s difficult to get one book reviewed by Publishers Weekly let alone 3 books! But it can happen – as it did in my case, 3 books in a row!

Much love to my teachers Lynn V. Andrews and Nancy who worked with me on this fourth and final year of Lynn’s 4-year school.

Publishers Weekly review:

Accomplished spiritual coach and author Namou (The Flavor of Cultures) concludes her four-part memoir by describing her final year in Lynn Andrews’s shamanic school, Storm Eagle. Her new mentor, for the fourth year of the school, is Nancy. Just as in the other three books of this series, this new spiritual teacher has a profound impact on Namou’s journey. Nancy explains that the fourth year is about the apprentices working on themselves and that the year is designed to “help you come out into the world.”

A major portion of the book focuses on the preparation for the graduation ritual, and the ritual itself, which Namou describes in detail that draws the reader in. Familiar names from the previous books in this series make appearances. By the conclusion of this fourth book, it is apparent how Namou has benefitted as a person and writer. The weaving of family life and spiritual life throughout the series helps forge Namou into the person she is today, and she uses what she has learned to help others on their spiritual paths.

Link to full review http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-945371-94-3

Meeting St. Pucchi, the Designer of my Wedding Dress

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A few days ago I discovered that a Facebook friend, Rani Totman, was the award-winning designer of my wedding dress. We’d connected a year ago through a book marketing program we had both joined. Recently, when I saw pictures of her standing next to rows of beautiful wedding gowns, I realized she’s the one who created the wedding dress which reflected my personal story, a story of a traditional woman with an ancient lineage who’d traveled the world and wrote books. Rani asked to see a picture of the dress and to share my story, so here I am, as my 12th wedding anniversary approaches, going down memory lane.

Years before I got married, I bought a wedding magazine as I was about to get engaged. There was only one dress that interested me, a ball gown with a tulle skirt. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for – I wanted something more couture and extravagant – but it was a good starting point in search of my perfect dress. I tore out the page and gave away the magazine. Too in love with books, I was not the type of girl who kept beauty or fashion magazines. That engagement did not work out, but I kept the picture of the dress in one of my drawers.

Years passed and my now-husband came into my life and asked for my hand in marriage. In our Chaldean culture, we go through many festivities before the wedding, one of the major ones being the engagement which, in our case, consisted of 150 guests (that was considered moderate in comparison to larger engagements).

One day, my brother’s fiancée called me at work and said, “Weam, I ordered a beautiful wedding dress that is at Orosdi Beck Fashions. I want you to go try it. I know you’ll love it.”

She’d ordered it for a wedding that didn’t happen, and she did not want to wear it now when she was marrying my brother. But because she’d put a deposit, it sat there waiting for someone to pick it up. And she thought it too special not to be worn.

“Okay,” I said reluctantly. “But I haven’t even gone shopping for my engagement dress yet.”

“Just try it, please! It’s so you.”

I said I would but didn’t make it a priority. At the time, I was a full-time student at the Motion Institute of Michigan, worked full-time, and was getting ready for the publication of my first book, The Feminine Art. I had a big to-do list – still do (guess some things never change). She called several times afterward to see if I’d gone yet, and each time, I had to give an excuse of why I hadn’t. She persisted, and finally, to get her to stop pestering me, I took one of my sisters to Orosdi Beck Fashions, which was famous for its couture dresses.

I quickly tried on the dress and when I walked out of the dressing room, my sister’s eyes and that of the owner widened. The moment I stood in front of the three-way mirror, the phone rang. It was my now-husband. He asked, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” I said, taken aback by what I saw in the mirror. The dress resembled the picture I had saved, but this one was much more exquisite. It was lavish and luxurious, to meet my culture’s tastes of an elaborate traditional wedding, yet clean and timeless, to meet my preference for elegance.

I told my then fiancé I’d call him later and the owner of Orosdi Beck came to take measurements. “This fits you so perfect, it doesn’t even need any alterations,” she said.

It was the first and last wedding dress I tried on,  a dress with a story I often tell women to help them realize their dreams. Having connected with the designer that made my dream a reality, I’m now also inspired by her story as a businesswoman.

Rani’s love of fine fashion started early, drawing on experience from her family’s business as the largest purveyors of fine lace in Thailand. Having earned a degree in English literature during her college years, and much to the dismay of her parents who did not want her to follow them into the fashion business, the story of St. Pucchi is an against all odds tale as success came to Rani without any formal fashion training. She pulled only from her experience growing up around fabrics, her lifelong enthusiasm for style and design, and remarkable natural talents that invoked her true calling as a designer at a young age. This led to her world-renowned Bridal house St. Pucchi. And recently, she published her book “Your Body, Your Style: Simple Tips on Dressing to Flatter Your Body Type.”

Sometimes, by making our dreams and fairytales come true, we illuminate the dreams of others.

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/

 

The Healing Circle

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Exactly a year ago today I sat in front of Lynn Andrews during what’s called the Healing Circle as she brought me to the very place she took me to the first time we talked four years prior – Baghdad. The city which I thought I had let go of, which I wanted to put behind me, kept pulling me in its direction. What did this city want from me? Why wouldn’t it let me be? Or what did I want from it? Why did I keep holding on?

Those questions were finally answered and that part of my story finally released. Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey through a Shamanic School (Book 4) is the fourth and final of the four-book memoir series of my apprenticeship in Lynn’s school. One major lesson I learned in this school is that you can create a new interpretation that takes you out of your past and into the present and a new future. You do that once you identify the story that is running your life. You release that story and are then able to pursue your dreams while enjoying healthy relationships and living a sacred family life. In this school, through the ancient teachings and with the help of my wise teachers, I used my storytelling abilities to change my narrative and, since then, I’ve helped others transform their lives by changing their own narratives.

For over two decades, medical practice has increasingly recognized the significance of what’s come to be called “narrative medicine” to the person’s healing. Narrative medicine is a wholesome medical approach that recognized the value of people’s narrative in clinical practice, research, and education as a way to promote healing.

A number of medical schools such as Columbia University now have Narrative Medicine master’s program. Columbia states on their website that “The effective practice of healthcare requires the ability to recognize, absorb, interpret, and act on the stories and plights of others. Medicine practiced with narrative competence is a model for humane and effective medical practice. It addresses the need of patients and caregivers to voice their experience, to be heard and to be valued, and it acknowledges the power of narrative to change the way care is given and received.”

Since I graduated from Lynn’s school a year ago, I’ve watched various discussions about shamanism, what it is or isn’t, who is considered a real shaman and who isn’t. I just observe and listen and think of how I entered into a shamanic school not knowing what shamanism was, not knowing who Lynn Andrews was, but wanting to change my story. It was toward the end of the second year that I googled the word shamanism and learned, for the first time, its real definition. This was not a matter of ignorance, but of innocence, of trusting God to lead me in the right direction.

Available on Amazon

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Wisdom-Wounded-World-Life-Changing/dp/1945371943/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1477997035&sr=8-3&keywords=Weam+Namou

eBook: https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Wisdom-Wounded-World-Life-Changing-ebook/dp/B01LYMYLRR/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477997102&sr=8-1&keywords=Weam+Namou%2C+eBook

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.”

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.

My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School

Front Cover (large)“The school helps you to be heard not just by others listening to you, but by you listening to yourself,” said Lynn Andrews during the second year of her four-year shamanic school. “You have to do that in order to create a mirror for yourself, for your act of power. We’re peeling away the clouds of ignorance that cloud your vision. Then you begin to see that you really do have something important and wonderful to say, and more and more you’re appreciating yourself. Patience and diligence are important in this.”

In the second year of the shamanic school, we focused on understanding how to bring form into the world; to experience holding energy and moving it out into the universe; to develop the ability to move energy into objects for healing and sacred work; to learn how to use sacred tools in a powerful way without manipulating ourselves or others; and to prepare for the building of dream bodies and develop the skills for lucid dreaming.

Lynn said to me, “You need to stay focused on one project and just get it done. You need to have faith in it and see it being strong and wonderful. I think you have a fabulous project. I wouldn’t blur it with other projects. And if you can, stop worrying about it. Just do it. If God wants to help you, He wouldn’t know what to do. You’re kind of all over the place.”

Her preciseness and honesty tasted like sugar cookies. They were sweet and light and yet extremely important. They helped me see why I kept hitting a slump.

“Stick with that, with the book,” she said. “Do it! Live it! You’re really onto something wonderful. If you were speaking to God, what would you tell him you want? Tell God what you want!”

I did.

 

Book 2 of my memoir series about this school was released today. It’s my 10th book to date and it’s available in paperback and eBook.

Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School (Book 2)

https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Wisdom-Wounded-World-Life-Changing/dp/1945371994/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469275283&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Healing+wisdom+for+a+wounded+world

A Lavenderly Writing Experience

 

IMG_7397 (2)The world news was infused with negative stories and my kitchen had dust galore as men tore down one of its walls. I could not be happier to leave this chaos and the news behind and transport myself to the Detroit Working Writers Boot Camp which was hosted at the home of author, gardener, educator, and my great mentor Iris Underwood. Her home being in an organic lavender farm, I knew I was in for a treat.

Within half-an-hour, I was out of the city noise, driving through unpaved roads of a small town that still has a post office that has been in operation since 1884. I found the home tucked amongst a thick silence, with the only sounds coming from the rustling tree leaves and the bees over the flowers. I walked around the house and down a hill of green pastures to where the writers gathered outside. They sat on large wooden bench tables under a large canopy and were surrounded by lavender plants.

Author Cynthia Harrison led the workshop, discussing Character, Conflict, and Setting in a most vivid, humorous, and loving way. She shared her experience of when one day, shortly after she got married, there was a storm in the 1970s that flooded her basement, where a box of her notebooks was stored. Needless to say, her poetry and other writings were drenched and, for the most part, disintegrated. While at that moment she reflected on her career, her then husband wanted to know, “What’s for dinner?”

She brought us much laughter and inspiration to write from the heart. We later enjoyed a delicious lunch of salad, lavender scones and lavender brownies. We took a tour of the farm. I visited the little building with a yellow door and sign that read “Girls Only” and found it was occupied by four pretty healthy hens. We were offered scissors to clip the lavender plants and take some home. We then sat beneath another canopy where two musicians sang country songs while playing the mandolin and guitar.

Iris started this farm because lavender had healed her in several ways. Lavender oil is known to reduce anxiety and emotional stress, heal burns and wounds, improve sleep, restore skin complexion and reduce acne, alleviate headaches, slow aging with powerful antioxidants, and has many other beneficial effects. No wonder I walked out of her property feeling like I’ve just walked out of a therapeutic, a magical, bath.