Friday, October 14, 2016

My Son: The True Hero

I think I haven’t told you that the past few months were the most difficult in my life. You have every reason not to believe me. After all, I witnessed the atrocities of the civil war in Lebanon, where women and girls were raped. I lived under Saddam’s Regime where I witnessed the Iraqi police arresting my nine-year-old friend and grabbing her from the classroom.  I survived a suicide bomb attack on my life in which four of my bodyguards were killed. My son survived an attempt on his life. Every single person who is connected to me in some shape or form has been assassinated, killed, or attacked.
How I Looked, During, The Last Few Months

Monday, September 5, 2016

At The Art Center: One Isn’t Enough!

I met James at the Art Center in Pacific Grove where I volunteered; he was the Volunteer Coordinator. James was engaging, warm, and inclusive. He never forgot a name or a face. 

During the little breaks that volunteers enjoyed, James would come and start a deep and genuine conversation about feelings, dreams, experiences or interests. 

I enjoyed our conversations; James usually started the conversation by saying, “What’s going on?” “Everything,” I replied. Then, we would laugh together.

The Stairs of The Art Center
The Entrance of The Art Center

We talked about everything; my day, his day, his dogs, my cat, his motorcycle, my car, his family in Seattle, my son and his friends. 
I found myself volunteering more at the Art Center. 

If I came late 10 minutes or so,James would greet me saying, “Where were you? You had the heart to keep me waiting! How could you?” I would laugh and start helping him right away. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Bill Took All The Colors With Him!

Today, I went to Carmel Coffee House, this coffee shop reminds of Italy a lot; the cozy outdoor seating area, the hanging flowers, and the small narrow bath that leads to the courtyard.
I ordered my soy latte and sat down near the jasmine tree. The fragrance of jasmine flowers made me think of Bill, although I think about him all the time.

Carmel Coffee House and Its Jasmine Tree 
Bill used to put a little jasmine flower in my curly hair each time we passed by a jasmine tree. The funny thing was I couldn’t see him taking one, to begin with, let alone attaching it to my hair. He used to put his arms around me whispering, “A little flower for my beloved flower.”
The Courtyard 

We met when I was translating for the U.S army in Iraq. I was a linguist and Bill was a Sargent with the Marines.

He used to show up, out of nowhere, each time I need help. My printer cartage was running low; he would come and make it work. He was the only one who could start my little green Jeep. It took him less than two weeks to tell me how he felt about me. It was during a Happy Hour, I passed by him as I was going to the ladies room; Bill stood in my way and hugged me in front of everyone. When he finally let go, he said “Don’t be late now,” I assured him, “No. I won’t.”

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Food, Wine, and Style

I am going to show you around the beautiful city of Monterey, where we are going to wine and dine. Before we go, I have to warn you. I am a beautiful lady, stylish, and feisty. Some men find me intimidating! Don’t listen to them. They just don’t know how to impress a beautiful lady.

This evening, I am taking you to 1833, located at 500 Hartnell St, in Monterey. The restaurant spreads over seven rooms. It is a two-story historical house. I like the romantic ambiance; the real candles add renaissance touch to the place, but then you look to your right and you see the contemporary bar that is lit. Sometimes, I like to sit outside around the firestone.

I won’t bring my shawl then. I am wearing my red wine dress. It is a pencil skirt dress that has a deep v neck. Don’t get excited. The black lace covers everything. But, you got the idea. I am also wearing my black suede fringe booties and my fringe handbag. Wait, I need to wear my perfume. It is called Opium.  It will make you high.

Restaurant 1833
Let’s sit at the bar. How about a glass of red Zinfandel? I like the mild spicy taste along with the raspberry flavor.
The Zinfandel goes nicely with the Everything Hawaiian Bread. The wine makes love to bread. The wine touches on the soft brioche gently yet deeply. The nuttiness from the poppy seeds feels like a warm kiss on the neck. Then, light sweetness from the bread slows down the wine to balance its spiciness.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Two Sides of Same Coin: The Classic and Contemporary Man

Yesterday, I took my friend, Justin to lunch. We wanted to celebrate his last week in Monterey since Justin is visiting from New York. 

Justin is liberal with modern and progressive views.  He is your typical New Yorker; fancy, sophisticated, complicated, fun, energetic, inclusive and engaging. 
We headed to Ambrosia; an Indianan restaurant that offers a verity of vegetarian and meat-based dishes. The place is warm and cozy, the food is delicious, and the service is excellent.

“This is great! Excellent choice. I like this place.” Justin said.

“I am glad you like it. It is nothing like the fancy places you have in New York.” I replied
“I know. That is why I like it.” Justin said.

We decided to sit outside enjoying the beautiful weather: light ocean breezes, blue skies, and the sunshine.

I had the chicken curry and Justin had the Basmati rice and the curry vegetables. We were both served with the Indian Chai.

Justin had a hard time understanding the Indian accent of the server. When we started eating, Justin commented, “Misunderstanding his accent, misunderstanding women, what else could I miss?” Justin smiled but I felt he was uncomfortable.

“What is going on, Justin, women are giving you trouble?” I said.

“Not all women,” said Justin.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Plastic Ring VS The Diamond Ring: Small Things Matter.

Yesterday, I was heading to one of my favorite coffee shops;  East Village Coffee Lounge, to meet my friend, Alison.

I like that coffee shop because it is warm and inviting. The baristas there take their time to know you and strive to make you happy. I have to admit that I like the décor too: it  is rustic chic. The stone fireplace adds an extra touch of elegance to the place.  

I entered the shop, chatted with Dylan, the barista, while he was making my velvety soy latte. My latte was ready in minutes. Dylan took the time to create a “ heart” shaped foam.

My Soy Latte

I sat on the red chair facing the fireplace thinking about what Alison would talk about. I haven’t seen her for a while; we were both busy.

Where Aly and I sat. 

“Here she comes”, I said greeting her. “ Hi Aly, I haven’t seen you for ages!” I followed
“ Yes, I  know. I have a lot to share. Wait. Let me get my Jasmine tea,” Aly replied. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Middle East Heroes

As I was surfing the web looking for op-eds discussing the Iraqi paradoxical situation, I came across a headline featuring my best friend’s name.  I immediately recalled our last heated discussion.
My friend and mentor, Ammar Al-Shahbander, asked me to go back to Iraq and work with him on promoting freedom of expression and empowering women. I declined; I didn’t want to go back.

I felt that I already jeopardized my safety and that of my family and friends. Ammar was disappointed. He said, “If you don’t go back and help, and I don’t go back and help, who is going to build the country?”  “I just can’t,” I replied.

I felt I couldn’t do it again to my son. Both of us suffered a lot.  Just like many Iraqis, we have been shot at, survived bomb attacks, threats, separated from each other, and lived in fear. Even though I wanted to help, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. My mentor concluded the conversation with deep disappointment.
( Ammar's name  in Arabic calligraphy ) 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Lottery: Reality VS Fiction

Yesterday, I read The Lottery; a short fiction written by Shirley Jackson. The story portrays a society gathering to play a game of lottery. Children run around collecting stones for a drawing to take place to see which woman would be stoned. No trial, no guilty verdict, just a sentence of death. In the story, men stride in as the sheppards and women reluctantly join as sheep to the slaughter.

In the end, Tessie, a mother, and wife is stoned to death by her community. Even Dave, her son, is given small pebbles to throw at his own mother. 

While the story is set in an American village, the symbolism of women’s suffering is universal.
Jackson presents a patriarchal society, where men come first as they converse with each other, but don’t include women in their discussions. Similarly, in peace processes women are left out, even though they didn’t wage the war. However, the warlords, all men, are seated at the negotiation table.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Water and Security!

How can there be a connection between safe drinking water and insurgency? Is it possible?

On 24th of August of 2004, I survived a suicide bomb attack in which four of my bodyguards were killed. Mousab Al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq at that time, claimed full responsibility and called me “the leader of the infidels.” Perhaps he was overestimating my capacity, I thought. After all, I was not working on security issues at all! In fact, I thought I was as far away from dealing with security issues as would be possible for a government minister. At least, that was what I thought.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Teaching for the First Time

When I started teaching at Baghdad University, I was the only female teacher among 45 teachers.

Newly appointed and not being assigned to a class. The chairperson approached me, saying “can you teach legalese?” I immediately said, “ Sure, I can.”

Once he walked away, I said to myself “ What did I do? Wasn't it the class that Laser tagged their teacher, who left after 15 minutes of class?” unheard of in the School of Law, the most traditional and conservative school at Baghdad University.

“I can do it. I took that class before as a student, what was wrong with it? ”  These are the words that were in my head while trying to prepare for my class.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lebanese, Iraqi, and English.

" Samie, how can you do that? How can you talk to your father in Iraqi and then turn around to answer your mother in Lebanese?" I asked.

Samira, or Samie as I call her, is a friend of mine, who was born in Lebanon to a Lebanese mother and an Iraqi father. At home, she speaks two dialects, Iraqi and Lebanese. The family came to the United States after the Iraq-Iran war broke out in 1980. I see Samie each time she comes to visit her parents.

" It is easy when you are born with it!" Samie laughed.

" I still don't know how can you do it? " I said.

" Force of habit, " Samie said.

" Tell me which dialect you prefer and why?" I asked.

A Traditional Hand-Made Lebanese Jewelry Box; A Gift from Samie 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Diplomacy, Justice and Dinner

"Can you tell me why the U.S foreign policy seems puzzled when it comes to dealing with Iran?" Ferrinaz asked.

Ferrinaz, or Ferri as I call her, is a friend of mine who was born in Iran and came to the U.S with her parents. The family left Iran right after the revolution of 1979 that resulted in ousting the Shah. The family settled here in the U.S.

"What do you mean puzzled?" I asked.

"I feel the U.S foreign policy doesn’t know how to handle Iran. One day, the negotiations are delayed, then they are canceled or postponed. Then, the negotiations veer from discussing the nuclear power to be all about relaxing the sanctions." Ferri elaborated.

"Aren't the nuclear negotiations linked to the sanctions? What's wrong with talking about it all?" I asked.
A traditional gift from Ferri

"You see, Mishka, it isn't about what we talk about. It is all about how we talk about it." Ferri explained.

"What do you mean? What's wrong with how we talk?" I asked

"The notion of justice; Iran is invested in the notion of justice. Have you heard the latest statement from the Supreme Leader Khamenei? He said, 'Iran will continue to support the oppressed nations because it is just and fair. If you want something out the Iranians, you have to talk about why it is just and fair, not about why it is needed and how the international law enforces it." Ferri explained.    

Monday, May 18, 2015

Environmental Security: Which is More Pressing the Far Future or the Near?

The Institute for Environmental Security doesn’t differ in its approach to “ Environmental Security” from any other organization that is out there in the main metropolitan areas. The Institute for Environmental Security focuses all of its energy and resources on a "threat” that will happen within “100 years” from now, ignoring the current threat that the U.S paid dearly due to ignoring it.
In Afghanistan, the timber policy, and by timer I mean wood, resulted in a proxy war led by Taliban in Pakistan against the U.S soldiers in Kunar and Nuristan. The U.S soldiers were getting killed, in an area they called “ the Valley of Death” due to an ill-designed environmental policy. The timber policy utilized an absolute language prohibiting all timber cutting without any consideration to the supply and demand. Thus, Taliban launched a proxy war to smuggle the timber, fund its criminal activities and killing our soldiers because they get in the way. Taliban hit three birds with one stone. The security threat and the blood that our soldiers shed went unnoticed and was not even mentioned in their document titled “ What is Environmental Security?” The Institute for Environmental Security focused only on what will happen with “ 100 years” from now.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

William, Mary, and Islam.

I went to see my friend, Jamila, or Jamie as I call her. She is a well- renowned history professor; her field is religious history. 

In the early seventies, Jamie left Egypt and came to the United States to study history at Berkeley. After completing her studies, Jamie decided to stay here in the U.S to further advance her research. We met through a mutual friend and we managed to stay in touch.

" I am heading to the College of William and Mary in Virginia. I have been invited to present," Jamie said

" Wonderful! What are you going to talk about?" I asked. 

Jamie looked at me and said, "  The usual. You know the financial rights of women in Islam including the right to inherent. I presented this topic many times. You know, I was never asked to talk about women’s rights to rule according to Islam." Jaime said. 

" What? the right of women to rule in Islam? Seriously? Women have no right to rule in Islam. A woman can't be a judge or a president," I said

" Yes. But...,"  Jamie said.

" But what?" I asked.

"As you know, Islam has  two main sects Sunnis and Shiites," Jamie said.

" Yes, I know. But, both sects don't allow women to rule. Isn't that the case?" I asked.

" Not really! I think women have every right to rule in Islam" Jamie said.

"How so?"  I asked.

" You see,  Sunnis feel that Mohammed’s rightful heir is his disciple  “Abu Baker,” while Shiites believe that his cousin and son-in-law “Ali” is his rightful heir. I believe neither one of these two men is the rightful heir," Jamie said.

" Now, wait a minute. Are you saying that the rightful heir is a woman? That is interesting. But who is she?" I asked.

" She is  “Fatima” Mohammed's daughter. She is his rightful heir," Jamie said.


                                                               Fatima's Hand: A Gift from Jamie 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Part Two: My Days Under Saddam’s Regime: An Environment Of Oppression Where Love is Lost.

In such an oppressive environment, love was lost. It was not a virtue anymore because it was for the weak (who would listen to his/ her feelings). While, many of my elder cousins married based on love [1], my friends and I did not.  Love, kindness, and romance were all lost values. 

Part One: Living under Saddam's Regime: My Own World VS the Hard Reality.

I lived most of my life under Saddam’s regime. Living under his regime made me feel like I was carrying a heavy weight on my shoulders. However, that weight would increase each year when I grew older. I cannot recall that I enjoyed my childhood or youth. I always remember myself as an adult who the regime could hold responsible for her action at any time and behaved accordingly.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Question from a Reader: Is it Safe in Basra?

I have received a query from a reader asking me about the security situation in Basra. The reader is interested in learning more since he will be working there.
The security situation is not a trivial one. You will not hear explosions every second of the day. In fact, Basra witnessed less bomb attacks than Baghdad. It is not a battlefront.  Is it safe? No, it is not. There are gangs and militia who will kidnap for a ransom or kill for a bargain. Who are the victims? Wealthy people, officials, professionals… etc. Anyone can become a victim and for any reason.
Given that information what can you do to be as safe and prepared as possible? I can offer you the following tips:

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Power Struggle in Iran: Ahmadinejad VS the Shark!

The Iranian President Ahmadinejad is seeking to overthrow one of the founding fathers of the Islamic Republic of Iran: Ayatollah Rafsanjani or the Shark. He earned this reputation because he successfully defeated all those who opposed him.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Discussion in Iran: Where Appealing to Justice Matters!

Recently, I was having a discussion with an informed friend regarding Iranian politics. My friend explained to me the importance of the notion of “justice.” He attended a confidential meeting in Tehran regarding the formation of the Iraqi government.

The Story of the Elections: Iraq VS the U.S.

Following the recent November elections here in the US, I came to understand how different the US electoral system from the Iraqi one. I think the general differences are not very well understood by the public in the US. Most people in the US assume that elections in Iraq are conducted in the same as they are here, which is not the case at all.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Part III Learning from the First Gulf War.

The war continued and the days were passing slowly [1]. During the day, my sister and I would bake bread using an oil stove [2] that we had, clean the dishes, and wash the clothes. Nothing was washed unless it was necessary and every drop of water was saved.
Sometimes, I would read my law books, as I was a senior at the Law School.  My mother helped as much as she could, though her health condition was not helping her. My father also helped and provided moral support [3].

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

During the First Gulf War, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and Kurds Were Lined Up at the Back of my House!

Although the bombardment was far away from our house, we could still hear and feel the impact. Sometimes, it felt like the entire house was lifted and then thrown on the ground. My sister and I were the calmest people within our family, while my mother kept shaking and vomiting, my father looked pale.
The electricity was shut down almost right away. However, as I was in charge of supplies, I bought four kerosene lamps [1], batteries for the radio, flour, rice and other dry food [2].

Friday, November 5, 2010

Part One: Feelings of Uncertainty before the First Gulf War.

I was living in Baghdad with my family during the first Gulf War 1990-1991. The neighborhood where I was living was mixed Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, and Kurds [1]. My family consisted of my father, my mother, my sister, and myself [2].

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Blood Timber!

“Tell us why should any of us care about the timber forest in Afghanistan?" The committee asked my friend Archy.
Aarash, or Archy as I call him, is a passionate environmental activist. He is originally from Afghanistan. His family moved to the U.S right after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. We met at an environmental conference and we become friends.
Today, I am supporting him by attending his meeting with the House Committee on Armed Services.
“Because the timber mafia is killing the U.S soldiers in Kunar and Nuristan Provinces to smuggle timber to bordering Pakistan," Archy answered.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Environmental Security of Basra.

The parliamentarian elections took place on March 7th 2010 and there is still no government that has been put in place. However, while lacking a government does not seem to bother the Iraqis, lacking reliable electricity supply disturbs them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Founding Women and the Environment Organization (WATEO)

In November of 2004, the tribal leaders of the Iraqi Marshlands came to my office at the Ministry of Environment. They came without an appointment, since the communications in Iraq are not reliable. I wanted to see the tribal leaders; I felt I could not let down people who traveled more than 339 miles to see me. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Attorney Representing Women

I worked as an attorney representing marginalized groups- mainly women and workers. Women were seeking divorce, custody, or child support, workers were seeking compensation based on work injuries. I have to say that I learned from them. I learned that formalities matter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teaching Human Rights under Saddam's Regime.

I think it is time to take you back to the days when I taught at the Baghdad University School of Law; the school I have studied art since 1987 where I earned my B.A., M.A and PhD. However, I started teaching at the Baghdad University School of Law in 2001. I taught International Law, and Constitutional Law. I offered my courses in Arabic and English.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Working in Sadr City

I owe my understanding to the role of environmental policies to my students at the Baghdad University School of Law. Most of my students were from Sadr City. Usually, they looked pale, their clothes were old, and they had a frustrated look in their eyes. They formed their own groups, and they had their own group identity.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just Add Water!

How can there be a connection between safe drinking water and insurgency? Is it possible?

On 24th of August of 2004, I survived a suicide bomb attack in which four of my bodyguards were killed. Mousab Al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq at that time, claimed full responsibility and called me “the leader of the infidels.” Perhaps he was overestimating my capacity, I thought. After all, I was not working on security issues at all! In fact, I thought I was as far away from dealing with security issues as would be possible for a government minister. At least, that was what I thought.