Cultural Glimpse

Enjoying diversity

Tag: Mesopotamia

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 http://www.arabamerica.com/baghdad-gift-god/#.WO5FxRMpPxw.facebook

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Shamanism, Bringing This World from Darkness into Light

Healing Wisdom  (FRONT COVER) (1)

For a long time, I struggled to fit into two worlds, my birth country of Iraq and my home, America. The process made me feel like a yo-yo, and oftentimes, like I was living a double life. It was especially difficult when I had to witness the wars on Iraq, the sanctions, the suffering that these political acts created, a suffering that still trails into our lives through television sets and other media outlets, holding up mirrors on how conflict can leave such awful residue on our souls.

From the time I was in my early twenties, my priorities have been family, writing and service. Though it had its challenges, combining family and writing was something I knew I could do and do it successfully. Combining writing and service, however, was questionable, especially after the 2003 U.S. led invasion when, for the first time in my life, I doubted the work I was in. While I loved being a writer, I figured what was the use of articulating thoughts and facts on paper when women were kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned?

On the radio, on TV, in newspapers, online, everyone, including myself, put their two cents in. But women were still kidnapped and raped, men slaughtered, and children orphaned, in a place that I’d visited only three years prior, during a time when a woman such as myself could step out of the house wearing her Western clothing without anyone batting an eye let alone threatening to kill her, or simply killing her, if she didn’t veil and remove her makeup. True, people were tired then because of the UN imposed sanctions and Saddam’s regime but they were safe from the senseless and random violent acts that grabbed hold of the country like coyotes attacking a chicken hen. That also grabbed hold of me.

The violence drained my creativity and led me to a dark place where I lost my literary voice. Then I met a shaman, I met Lynn Andrews. Her teachings dusted off the residue that clogged up my creativity, one by one removing the particles of fear and sadness, eventually bringing me from darkness into light. These teachings also brought me, through my writings, to a place of service.

Once someone asked, “What is shamanism?” To me, shamanism is a healing, through love, through nature, through the Creator. It’s a natural way of living which had survived harmlessly for hundreds of thousands of years, for even longer, until the agricultural revolution occurred in ancient Mesopotamia, now called Iraq, when people began to control others through food production. Shamanism opened my heart and healed my voice, to where I was able to write full-time, today publishing my eighth book. It’s an ancient teaching that works in the twenty-first century, and I believe, will continue to expand and be embraced because we’re beginning to realize the benefits it offers our world.

 

Healing Wisdom for a Wounded World: My Life-Changing Journey Through a Shamanic School http://www.amazon.com/Healing-Wisdom-Wounded-World-Life-Changing/dp/0977679047/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1454348624&sr=8-2&keywords=Weam+Namou

Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists

Iraqi Americans the lives of the artists FRONT for Amazon

Artists have a story, a story that affects their pallets. In Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists, I wanted to honor artists of Mesopotamian ancestry by giving them the opportunity to share their incredible stories themselves rather than risk having others to do it for them, as was the case with Layla Al Attar.

Layla Al Attar died in 1993, along with her husband, after her house was bombed by a US missile. Iraqi news announced that she was killed since she was responsible for creating the mosaic of George Bush Sr.’s face on the steps of Al Rashid Hotel, over which Iraqis and people from all over the world walked on upon entering. Unfortunately, she is remembered more so by how she died rather than by her incredible talent and the way in which she lived her life. Worse than that, many misinterpret the play 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo to be based on her life.

Like Al Attar, the 16 artists in this book are not victims, but victors over their lives, following their passions and finding ways to showcase it despite any and all challenges.

This book is available in print and as an eBook

http://www.amazon.com/Lives-Artists-Iraqi-Americans/dp/0977679012/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444272104&sr=1-4&keywords=Weam+Namou

Real Talent Lives in My Neighborhood

Sabah Wazi 2Today I went to Wazi’s Rug Shop to pick up a gift that talented artists Sabah Selou Wazi made for me. Sabah is one of sixteen artists I interviewed for my upcoming book, Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists. Because the shop is only a few blocks from my house, I mostly interviewed Sabah at his shop.

Each time I go into the shop, I feel I’m entering a small museum. Sabah has a studio in the back of the and his artwork is displayed in various corners in the front. Being surrounded by Babylonian and Sumerian artwork makes you want to wander around, and basically, not leave. When visitors admire his work, Sabah takes the opportunity to introduce and educate them to the rich history and culture of Mesopotamia. Doing so has become dearer to him since the horrific attempts to destroy Iraq’s heritage.

About a month ago, Sabah told me that he made clay tablets with cuneiform writing, replicas of those made during ancient Babylonian and Sumerian times. He passed them out for free during the opening of the Keys Grace Academy in Madison Heights. Grace Academy is the first Chaldean charter school in the United States. He told me he would make some tablets for me and my family. Today I picked up these four tablets.

Aside from being impressed by the detail of his work, so many feelings went through me as I held the stones that resemble those made thousands of years ago by my ancestors, who invented the first writing system.  There was a mixture of awe and wonder, a real closeness to my birth country, but also a little sadness to what has happened to that land. By the time I returned home, the sadness was gone and all that was left was joy – joy at having a number of real talented artists live in my neighborhood and doing their part in keeping the memory of the Cradle of Civilization alive.

Sabah Wazi

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AKITU, Chaldean Babylonian New Year Festival

Akitu

Akitu/Chaldean Babylonian New Year Festival is a festival that marks the renewal of life, the beginning of spring in ancient Mesopotamia. It is also referred to as Resh Shatti(m), which literary means the beginning of the year.

In Babylonian religion, whether during the first recorded unification of ancient Mesopotamia under the legendary king of Kish Meshalim (2550 BC) or during the Babylonian dynasties, it came to be dedicated to Marduk’s victory over Goddess Tiamat, the bloated female dragon that personifies the saltwater ocean; in short, the victory of civilization and order on Chaos.

It has been proposed that Thanksgiving may trace its earliest recorded origins to this ancient Mesopotamian harvest festival.

In honor of this occasion, the Chaldean Educational Center of American and UR Multimedia held its yearly AKITU festival event at St. Joseph Chaldean Catholic Church on Sunday, April 6th. The festival included Chaldean music, a book fair and photography exhibit, a show, and of course, food and drink.

My children’s favorite part of the event was eating the delicious kabob sandwiches! I loved seeing the women dressed in the traditional clothes my grandmothers and great-grandmothers once wore. My most favorite part was the information that artist, historian and author Amer Hanna Fatuhi shared about this festival.

“One of the roots of this festival is the sacred matrimony Hashadu, which represents the union of the male (sky) and the female (earth),” he said. “By mixing the sky and earth together, life grows, and you get the sacred matrimony, a renewal of life. This marriage was practiced by the king and the highest priestess.”

More information can be learned about this festival by reading Mr. Fatuhi’s book, The Untold Story of Native Iraqis.

Website: http://amerfatuhiart.com/Amer-native/
Facebook: The Untold Story of Native Iraqis

The Mystery School, My Little Secret

The Mystery School, My Little Secret

This February I’ll be starting the third year of the Mystery School (it’s a 4 year program). Very few people in my life know that for the last two years I’ve been enrolled in this school. Until now, I had kept it my little secret.

I stumbled upon this school in 2011 after reading Lynn Andrew’s Writing Spirit. Hugely influenced by this book, and because Lynn is an internationally bestselling author with 19 books under her belt, I called her up. I wanted advice on how to move ahead with my writing career. Little did I know then the journey I’d be embarking upon.

Like magic, the Mystery School began transforming my life as a writer, wife and mother. Its ancient Native American teachings were not strange to my ears. I come from a tribal nation that’s thousands of years old. My people are from Mesopotamia, where once upon a time long ago, similar types of teachings were the norm. Then people invented so many new things, that they forgot the value of anything older than 50 years.

Well, my little secret is no more. But what awaits me in the school are a lot of hidden rich secrets, which I cannot wait to unearth and discover.

E’Rootha’s 5th Annual Evening of the Arts

Dunya's Award

Again this year, the E’Rootha’s event brought to life Iraq’s rich cultural heritage with a beautiful program that included a strolling gallery and performing arts. Last year this organization honored me with the outstanding contributions of the arts award. This year the award went to a great and accomplished poet and a dear friend of mine, Dunya Mikhail – recent recipient of the Kresge Award (recent Kresge Literary Artist Fellow).

As I sat among the audience, I recalled years ago when I sat with a group of Iraqi-born artists and discussed ways to do what Matthew A. Kalasho, Executive Officer, says E’Rootha has been doing and intends to do more of – “to preserve our [Chaldean/Assyrian Syriac] history, language, culture, dance and our sense of community as we continue to grow and prosper in America.”

I realized and was happy that all along, our older generation and younger generation had the same desires, and shared similar dreams. I imagined how much farther we would go if we one day closely worked together. Since I’m an optimist, I see that happening very soon.

Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture

The Minaret of Samarra

The Minaret of Samarra

Mesopotamian Forum for Art and Culture held its monthly meeting today at Abu Nawas. My husband said he’d watch the kids so I happily prepared dinner, tidied up the house and then lo and behold, my daughter decided to throw a tantrum because her dad couldn’t take her to the dollar store. I tried everything to pacify her frustrations, even considered not going to the meeting, but she kept at it until she knocked onto our beige rug the bowl of curry stew I was feeding her brother. That got me to quickly change clothes, grab my purse and head out the door!

MFAC was established in February 2012, and since that very short time, they’ve held five successful events, two of which I had the honor of participating in. Today’s meeting was to establish the New Year’s activities. On their agenda are lectures on story-telling, poetry readings, theatrical plays, cinema and an art gallery. Nabil Roumaya, one of the founders of MFAC once said to me, “We want to ignite the cultural awareness that was once present in Iraq in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.”

Civilization was born in ancient Mesopotamia over 7,000 years ago. That is where writing, astronomy and science were invented. The first school, law, literature, map of the world, and the idea of dividing time and space into a multiple of 60’s started in this historic land. The first writer in recorded history was Enheduanna, a woman from ancient Iraq. She lived, composed, and taught roughly 2,000 years before Aristotle. Man’s most important invention, the wheel, was devised in Mesopotamia, as was plumbing, the plow and the sailboat. Like other Iraqi-American organizations in Michigan, MFAC, which consists of a number of distinguished artists, writers and intellectuals, attempts to shine light on a culture that only small groups of people know about.

When I returned home, my daughter apologized for her earlier behavior and my son threw a couple of tantrums because I wouldn’t let him play with the butter knives.