Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Detroit

When Women Owned Bathing Suits in Baghdad

Reading (2)

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.

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Serving Our House through Journalism

Photo By: Vickie Thomas

Left to write: Marlon Walker of the Detroit Free Press, Weam Namou, and Charlie LeDuff of Fox News, and moderator Kathy Chaney, Producer/Reporter at WBEZ 91.5FM              (Photo by Vickie Thomas)

While in my birth country ISIS continues to wage war against journalists, here in the United States journalism continues to flourish, opening doors to new voices – as is the tradition of the United States.

It’s true that a lot of minority groups in America do not receive the air and press time they deserve. But it is also true that in America, there is an opportunity for people to break the mold without risking their life. Here, an association of black journalists says “welcome” to an Iraqi-American journalist like myself, because what they see and appreciate in each other is the heart of journalism, which is an appetite for truth and education, an appetite which journalists in many other countries cannot dare quench.

On October 11th, at the 2014 NABJ Conference in Detroit, sitting on the panel next to award winning reporter Charlie LeDuff of Fox News and reporter Marlon Walker of the Detroit Free Press, listening to the easy and lively manner in which they spoke about how they dealt with “Conflict in the Community”, the topic of our discussion, I realized that a large part of the problem many Middle Easterners and Arabs have is inner conflict. Born and raised under authoritarian regimes, they have difficulty expressing their truths in constructive ways. Rather than influence public opinion and government policy, they try to influence each other – which often builds tension within their own communities rather than create progress.

Investigative Journalism is such a phenomenon in the Arab World that Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) based in Amman, Jordan describes it on its website as “still an alien practice.” Many journalists from that region who growing up, were told to “Hush!” and “Mind your own business” have wounds to heal before they can grow wings like the American journalists who were told to “Speak up!” and “Dig for the truth”, who like Charlie LeDuff can confidently say, “This is my house too! We’re all living in the United States, sharing it.”

It is when people from the Arab world, who over the last decade have become one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, fully comprehend, appreciate and believe in the words “This is my house too!” that we will best serve this house through journalism.

Mayor Brenda Lawrence

 Mayor Lawrence

Today the Niagara Foundation, Michigan held a panel discussion “Celebrating Women as Community Builders” in commemoration of Women’s History Month. The three women speakers were Diane Slavens, Michigan representative; Carol Cain, journalist and columnist, and senior producer and host of “Michigan Matters” on CBS 62; and Brenda Lawrence, Mayor of City of Southfield.

The three women shared their stories, of how they started their careers, the struggles and challenges they faced (and still do), how they have balanced work and career, and what advice they would give other women. I was touched and inspired by their wisdom and accomplishments, but I was particularly in awe of Mayor Brenda Lawrence – mostly because of the possibility that she would be one of our congresswomen.

As Mayor Lawrence pointed out, over 50 percent of the US population is women, yet less than 20 percent of congress is represented by women. We complain about how the country is run, and part of the problem is that this country is being run by men.

“Everyone is a unique individual and there’s no one that’s created like you,” she said. “You were created to use your special talents, whatever they may be, not to just suck air out of the room.”

Mayor Lawrence encourages women to push themselves out of their comfort zone in order to achieve their dreams, whether it is to become an artist or a stay-at-home mom. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 42 years. She brought her teenage granddaughter to today’s event. She does so much without keeping her hands completely out of the kitchen. To me, Mayor Lawrence is the essence of true success. How does she do it?

“It’s hard,” she said. “But anything worth doing is not easy, including giving birth to a child.”

She said for a while it has been said that Detroit needs a woman mayor because the city needs a mother who would not abuse or steal from her.

I say Detroit needs a mother and America needs dozens of mothers.

Detroit Unleaded – Red Carpet Premiere

Detroit Unleaded

When I received an invitation to view Detroit Unleaded at the Detroit Institute of Film, for its red carpet premiere, I had to smile. “You did it, Roula!” I thought.

Roula Nashef, the writer, director and producer of the film went to the same film school I went to, Motion Picture Institute of Michigan. I had met her on several occasions and I have been following her hard and long journey towards completing her first feature film. As a filmmaker myself, it is inspiring to see a woman like Roula not only get her film onto the big screen, in an industry where the percentage of women filmmakers is less than 9 percent, but for the film to also win awards.

The Director of the Detroit Institute of Films was at the Toronto Film Festival when he decided to watch Detroit Unleaded. He was impressed.

“When I find something that is extraordinary I try to present it to as many people as humanly possible,” he said tonight. “I fell in love with this movie. The whole country will ultimately fall in love with this movie because it is a wonderful movie.”

That it is. Aside from the fact that it is 100% cast and filmed in Detroit and that it portrays a more realistic image of Arab-Americans, Detroit Unleaded is nicely done, with genuine humor.

Roula will surely one day make Hollywood films. I look forward to watching her career move in that direction.

For more information about the film, visit http://www.detroitunleaded.com/
To watch the trailer, click here http://www.detroitunleaded.com/trailer.html

Greektown and the Auto Show

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Over twenty years ago, when I was a student at Wayne State University, my friends and I frequented Pegasus in Greektown. We loved their traditional Greek cuisine and music, the staff who mostly had a Greek or Arab accent, the open kitchen and cozy atmosphere and the periodic shouts of “Opa!” and the flame that we worried would catch our long Mediterranean hair.

But Greektown was not always Greek. In the 1830s, German immigrants settled in that area. Little by little they began moving out and in the 1880s Greek immigrants began taking their place. By the 1920s, the area was becoming primarily commercial rather than residential, and the Greek residents began moving out. Yet their restaurants, stores, and coffeehouses stayed put. In 1960 the Greektown neighborhood was reduced to one block, beside it the big Greek Orthodox Church that was founded in 1910.

After I had kids, I just couldn’t get to Pegasus as easily as when I was single. I think I might have gone without a genuine Greek dinner for a period of two years. Luckily, that hasn’t been the case for over a year now. Yesterday was one of those special nights where not only did I enjoy a dinner at Pegasus but I also got to go to the Detroit Auto Show for the first time in my 32 years living in Michigan.

The first auto show was held in Detroit in 1907 at Beller’s Beer Garden at Riverside Park and since then annually except 1943-1952. It was renamed the North American International Auto Show in 1989. Since 1965, it has been held at Cobo Center where it occupies nearly 1 million square feet of floor space.

We took the People Mover, an automated system that encircles downtown Detroit, to Cobo Center. It was packed with people trying to get to the Auto Show. Last time we rode it on a Sunday afternoon it was empty. The Mover costs $12 million annually in city and state subsidies to run. In fiscal year 1999-2000 the city was spending $3 for every $0.50 rider fare, according to The Detroit News. The system was designed to move up to 15 million riders a year. In 2008 it served approximately 2 million riders. I wish it was always as busy as it was yesterday – like the transportation systems in cities like New York.

The car show was a wonderful new experience for me, despite not having a big interest in cars. My brother said that the show has come a long ways since he last attended over ten years ago. Who knows – maybe one day all the corrupt people will be gone and Detroit will be at its peak once again!