Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Chaldeans

My Unexpected French Guests

France

I was working on my book when I received a call from a friend attorney. She said there were French reporters/filmmakers doing a documentary entitled “My Beloved Enemy” about Iraqi Americans. They were looking for Warina Zaya Bashou, who at 111 years old became the second oldest person to be granted a US citizenship. I’d interviewed Warina and wrote an article about her last year. Unfortunately, Warina passed away a few months ago.

My friend asked permission to give the French team my phone number and the next thing I knew I had three beautiful and gracious French people at my door – an attractive blonde woman and two tall and dark handsome men. With the presence of my mother and my children, we ended up having a little brunch together and learning much from each other. And my mom was interviewed about her experience in attaining her citizenship in 1997, which was a tremendous accomplishment for her – never having gone to school.

As we interacted, I couldn’t help but think about the words of my Native American teacher. “If you stay long enough in one place the whole world will pass by.”

My love for France started in 1999. I was visiting London with a friend when she and I decided to hop over to Paris for a day. Yes, a day! Who does that? People were known to pack up and move to France permanently and we expected to get our heart’s full in a day?

The moment we landed in Paris, we loved it. The city was so alive that I was determined to return and stay a lot longer. That didn’t happen so instead, I tried to swap the experience with movies and books. I bought a copy of “Julie and Julia” two years ago and watched it umpteen times. I watched “Midnight in Paris” in the movie theater and then repeatedly after it was on DVD. If you go in my car right now, you’ll find a CD audio book of “My Life in Paris” by Julia Child. If you look in my purse, you’ll see on the cover of my planner the photo of the EiffelTower.

While I’m certain one day I’ll revisit France, I’m very happy that today it visited me.

http://www.mybelovedenemy.com/

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

The Forbidden Yoga

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Yoga at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center

Last year, I asked my editor if I can write an article about a Chaldean American yoga instructor that held classes at my gym. She said okay, except she wanted it to address the belief that yoga is against our Catholic faith. I thought, oh my God, I may have been committing sin for over twelve years!

I interviewed several people: the yoga instructor at my gym; the yoga instructor at Manresa Jesuit Retreat Center; and a Jesuit priest. All talked about the positive health factors associated with yoga. I tried to get a quote from one of the half dozen Chaldean Catholic priests but they didn’t have an opinion on this matter, given it was a foreign subject for them. No wonder I never saw a Chaldean person in a yoga class.

After the article was published, a local non-Chaldean priest sent a letter to the editor stating that there are significant concerns about yoga’s compatibility with the Christianity/Catholic faith. The biggest problem with yoga, he wrote, is that one is going to a source other than Jesus for inner peace. There is no peace apart from Him “who is our peace” (Eph. 2:14). He also called its origin occult. This was all new information to me, especially since many of the postures we performed in yoga classes were common exercises we did in Iraq.

Well, sin or not, I ended up in a yoga class last night, and thank God for that. I have not been able to go for a while because lately the gym’s daycare is not my son’s most favorite place. My husband, seeing my frustrations, said he’d watch the kids and encouraged me to go out there and commit this “sin” – though he did not know that’s what it was. We’ll just keep that a little secret.

Food, Prayer, Marriage

Wedding rings

Ever since snow arrived, my children wanted to build a snowman. So Sunday we gave them a substitute snow activity – sledding. Needless to say they had a great time. Myself, who as a young girl rode roller coasters at Cedar Point, simply videotaped their adventure. Yes, I was too scared to slide down the hill that my three-year-old and six-year-old thought nothing of.

Yesterday was so packed with activities there was no way I could write a new post at night. We bought the children snow gear, took them sledding with their cousins, I discovered black tomatoes at the produce market and we attended a small 500 guest Chaldean American wedding (usually they’re 700 plus). And most importantly, church!

“The Life of Abraham” lecture series started at Freedom Christian. As the pastor spoke of Prophet Abraham, I thought of my ancestors’ land, Ur of the Chaldees in Iraq, where Abraham originated. This city, which is mentioned several times in the Bible was one of the great urban centers of the Sumerian civilization of southern Iraq and remained an important city until its conquest by Alexander the Great a few centuries before Christ. Ur was eventually incorporated into Babylonia. The Ziggurat of Ur, believed to be 4,000 years old and originally a temple to the moon god, has become a symbol of honor for Iraqi ingenuity and culture, as well as being the birth place of the prophet Abraham.

During the lecture, the pastor said something very important about marriage.

“Your marriage is not your true identity. It is not the job or your wife or your husband to make you happy, not that they should attempt to do otherwise. Your hope of who you are should be based on your relationship with God.”

I agree. Many marriages fail today because a lot of pressure is placed on what spouses should do and not do for each other. In the movie Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts plays a married woman who is not happy in her marriage. She wants a divorce to go out and find herself but her husband desperately does not want the divorce. He asks her, “Why can’t you find yourself inside our marriage?”

She could have.

“Enjoy your vacations,” said the pastor. “Enjoy your relationships, enjoy your work, but don’t make them the source of our joy or your status. God is the source.”

Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Mosque

Today I feel as if I visited South Asia for two hours. Last night I received an email from CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) mentioning that its Executive Director-MI, Dawud Walid, was going to give a lecture at the AMDA Masjid about the importance of recognizing and properly addressing extreme religious rhetoric in Islam. I met Mr. Walid a few years ago. He and I have spoken at some of the same conferences and he is part of a documentary that I’ve been working on. We once talked about the possibility of doing a type of forum to open up dialogue between Muslims and Christians here in Michigan. Noticing today’s lecture was going to be only minutes away from home and liking the subject matter, I decided to go. Well, I was in for a big, but pleasant, surprise.

As soon as I entered the masjid, I saw people taking off their shoes at the door, women wearing head scarfs and kurtis, and a gold-colored silk curtain partially separating the men from the women and children. I have been in a mosque, which is similar to a masjid, once before when I was in London, so it was not a real shock. However, given the announcement of the “lecture” I was expecting a different setup. I asked the women who were warmly greeting me whether it was okay for me, as a Christian, to be here. They said, “Yes, definitely. Please feel at home.”

I took off my shoes, wishing I had worn my better socks, and although no one batted an eye, I respectfully put my long hair in a bun. I joined the ladies on the beautiful burgundy rug with beige and light green decorations. A number of the women approached me to introduce themselves and answer questions I had. From them, I learned that many of the attendees were Bengali, but there were others from countries in South Asia. This masjid has been around for approximately three years, but it’s temporary. A larger one is being built a few miles further north. It’s always available for prayer but on the first Friday of every month, there’s a community gathering where everyone brings food and eats together, then prays, then listens to the speaker of the month give a lecture.

The conversations around me were similar to all women topics – nails, weddings, etc. All the young ladies were university students. The food was heavenly, the call to prayer reminded me of my childhood days in Baghdad, and the lecture was something we don’t hear about in non-Islamic media outlets. Mr. Walid talked about the importance for American Muslims having good manners towards differences of opinion.

“In other Muslim communities around the world, each town and village may follow one school of thought,” he said. “But there’s a diverse pluralistic community called America where many different ethnicities live. So we have to open our minds and be flexible to others’ opinions. Just because we don’t understand something does not make it wrong or un-Islamic.”

He encouraged for people to instead give advice, if they’re qualified to do so (he noticed the worst debates on Islam are those who know nothing about it) in the manner the Quran asks for – with tenderness and gentleness so that they do not commit verbal aggression on each other and so no one feels slighted or embarrassed.

“In Islam there are some things that are non-negotiable, but most are flexible. We shouldn’t let our small differences disunite us as a community. Scholars debated centuries ago about such matters as whether the Quran is a word of God or if it the creation of God, and about other matters. They never sorted out those questions so we don’t have to get bogged down about it.”
Another quote he used from the Quran was “Let there be no compulsion in religion because right action is clear from error” – meaning, anytime we use pressure to make someone do something against their will, they will naturally hate it.

I have so much more to say about this experience, but I have already gone over the limit of how long I want my posts to be. So I may just have to pay the masjid another visit in the near future.

Happy New Year

IMG_0097

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.