The world we live in is a product of our imagination, so we might as well reclaim our imagination.
On December 21st, the day the Mayans predicted the world would change, I got together with friends recounting our learnings from 2012. I had embarked upon last year with Martha Beck’s advice of resting until one needs to play and playing until one needs to rest. It took me a while to come to an understanding of that way of life. At the beginning I thought the resting meant sleeping and the playing meant playing pingpong. But eventually I came to the realization that what she meant by resting and playing needs to be felt in everything one does. In other words, if whatever you do does not feel restful or playful and thus not lifting your spirit than it is probably not the right thing to do. I had been working so hard all my adult life that it took me a long time to find my new equilibrium, my balance, and my peace.
It is in that peaceful silent space where I got my learnings from last year. In that space I learned that only if one feels love to themselves can one feel and see the love in others. I had always shied away from love for myself thinking of it as selfish. It took me reading Warming the Stone Child by Clarissa Pinkola Estes to understand that loving and mothering thyself has nothing to do with selfishness and everything to do with maturity of spirit and an understanding that the love we are seeking is not outside of us but lies within us. As a matter of fact, everything we are seeking lies inside of us. If we love the Mother and respect her, than we need to love ourselves and give the proper respect to how we treat ourselves. She can only exist inside each one of us. And if we are waiting to see Her outside of us than it is going to be an endless process of waiting. Imagine how different you will treat yourself if you actually will give the same treatment as you would to the Divine Mother; the Mother in each one of them; a mother that is not only kind, loving and generous but also strong, determined and clear.
To love oneself means to also accept all of the self: the shadow and the light and and good and the bad. Up until recently, I had separated all of these meanings away from me thinking of their existence as only outside of me. But in truth, in love one can see the shadow that exists within oneself, and rather than reject it or hide it, we need to see it, acknowledge it, and accept it as part of the self. For me this was an ordeal and a painful process to accept the part of me that I was embarrassed of and that I hid in the caves of my caves. But as long as I was hiding it, I could never address it, and eventually I came to the conclusion that only when I acknowledge it with love can I actual love myself fully and thus calm and balance that shadow within me. Wilma Mankiller once said when asked about a necklace of two wolves she was wearing where was black and one was white, “they are both part of me. Which one I choose to feed more is my choice”. I had quoted her for so many years but only when I came to realize that darkness and light are both inside me andonly when I love that full part of me and do not deny either can I address my light and my darkness with consciousness and will.
I can never explain the relief that comes with this process. I felt like I was particles of sand dispersed all over the place, and only when I loved the fullness in the light and in the shadow could the particles come back together and form the full me and only when I could do that could I make the conscious choice that Wilma Mankiller was talking about. Otherwise my suppressed side always forced itself outside of me despite of me.
Then, and only then, could I deal with all the things I have been struggling with: my doubt, my pain, my hurt, all of it in a way where I acknowledge the feelings for what they are and make the choices to listen to them or to move away from them. The choice was mine. And then, and only then could I take full responsibility for the love I need to give myself not as being selfish at all but rather as being mature and responsible towards oneself. I realize that only then I could show true love to others. Love that understands my boundaries, my good and my bad, much better. Love that understands that unless I give myself what I need, I could never receive it from others outside of me.
Nothing in this journey is magical outside the realm of our imaginations. Each one of us, all of us, are part of this experience. The divine lies in each one of us. In our love, in our innocence, in our joy, and definitely in our freedom. The secret to all of that is to get the “I” out of the dynamics. The trap is when we think that only “I” am special. Only “I” feel this or that feeling. The truth as I see it, is only when we get the ego out of the way can we actually feel the divine. For we are all part of the oneness of this world and only in oneness can we feel the divine. And only in oneness do we all exist.
A farmer once told me “I don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with self-sustainability. Nothing on earth is self-sustainable. Everything on earth is dependent on each other, so why we humans think we can be self-sustainable. It just doesn’t make sense.” What he was sharing is true to everything we do. Our actions are interdependent and codependent on each other, our survivors, our food and our energy and definitely our feelings even though it is far less obvious.
So with that spirit, my friends and I started imagining the world…. a world where every time a man rapes a woman, he feels that violation onto himself….a world where every time a person carries arms to kill, he feels that death inside himself and drops the arms as quickly as he picks it up. We imagines a world where every bite we take out of an apple or any food we think of how the earth was treated, about the farmers that picked it, the person who packed it and sold it and about the apple itself. We imagine a world were we are all free to fulfill our full potentials. We imagined a world were we can lead out of love and not out of fear. We kept on imagining and went wild with our imagination until we came to only our breath. And that is when we realized we are but breath in this massive, beautiful amazing world.
The world we live in is a product of our imagination. So we might as well, with the beginning of a new era and a new year, reclaim our imagination and make magic happen. But remember, the journey always starts with the self. It may be the hardest journey to make but the one that holds the secret to utter joy and love. Happy new year everyone.
We Just Have To Be Who We Really Are
I was told to ask forgiveness from my body by an indigenous woman who was leading a small gathering of women in Mexico. “Ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that were in pain and you did not heal; ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that you have strained and exhausted and you did not give time to nurture and rest; ask forgiveness from the parts of your body that you did not love” , the woman continued to say. At first I was in shock. I had never had such relationship with my body; I neither talked to it nor asked it for forgiveness before. But as she continued talking, her wisdom simmered in me and I started touching different parts of my body, and for the first time ever asked them for forgiveness.
I had never stopped to have a proper respectable relationship with my body before. Now don’t get me wrong. I practice my yoga at least 3 times a week, I get a massage when my back is in pain, I even go to a chiropractor after a long trip. But I also tolerated pain, missed going to doctors for months with the excuse that I had too much work, pushed it in long travels and exhaustion and throughout that, not once did I think of my body as something that may be outside of me.
The Dalai Lama brought the subject out two years ago when he held a meeting with 50 social activists. In it he urged caring for our bodies, asking us teasingly “Is it the healthy spirit that leads to a healthy body or the healthy body that leads to a healthy spirit?”. These words echoed back as I touched the different aspects of my body with the instruction of the indigenous woman and asked for forgiveness. But that was only the beginning.
After a process of writings, talking, listening, dancing, singing, bathing, I came to see all the other women in the gathering, the majority of which I did not know, as no different than me. Under the mud, we are the same, I thought to myself. We may be big, small, tall, short, thin, fat, and with all different hair cuts and colors but in our hearts the love and the heart beat is the same. Only when we put the “I” in the dynamics do we loose our connections and get into our separation and hurt. Ironically that “I” often comes out of fear and loneliness rather than love and abundance. Letting the “I” go is a constant leap of faith that always starts with fear and always lands on the most rewarding, loving and joyous tickle of the heart. For it is in that union of our commonality that we get to see our inner connection and where we get to tell our stories, where we learn from each other, share with each other, and see how love is bigger than all.
But that process in so different than the stories we have within ourselves and between our bodies and ourselves. For the longest time, we have separated and fragmented the different aspects of us: the mother, the lover, the daughter, the wife, the sister, the worker, the strong one, the martyr, the victim, the savior and the list goes on and on. Perhaps if we see the oneness in our womanhood within let alone outside of us and between each other, we would know that all we need to be is who we really are with less efforts than one thing needed. Acknowledging the self and embracing the body can only be a process that helps us see our interconnections to each other. I always heard that saving the world starts with the self. I obviously did not do that and embarked upon a whole journey to work with other women around the world only to come to the same conclusions so many ancestors talked about: be the change you want to make in
It is that relationship with the soul and the body that keeps us in touch with every emotion we have be it love, hate, anger, fear, joy, jealousy, beauty, shame, pride, and on and on. And with every touch of every emotion within helps us be in touch with others outside of us. And every acceptance of us being who we are, helps us accept others for who they are without judgment. And it is with every loving of the self that helps us love others fully. Books have always helped me a lot, but never did I know that the simple touch of nature, women gathering, and indigenous wisdom can bring so much
peace inside the heart. As we end a year and enter a new one, and as we end an era and enter a new one, may we all meet in the “field” that Rumi talks about. May we always meet in love. Happy New Year everyone.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century
Things I learned from my summer:
I had the privilege to spend much of my summer in nature, and my best teachers were a rock I sat on as I meditated, a snake I thought I saw as I swam in a lake, clutter of old mattresses that I got to clean up and a rainbow that I got to see after a storm.
Cultural anthropologist and writer Angeles Arrien always said that nature’s rhythm is slow to medium and we often miss out on nature’s teachings by living our lives so fast we forget to slow down and just listen. All the technological gadgets are distracting us even further. I often catch myself walking the streets or lining up in a grocery store as I am checking my emails thereby missing out on everything that is around me. I catch myself being as far away as possible from Rumi’s advice of “Being fully present wherever you are”. My emails took me to the world on someone else’s watch as I bought my food, walked to the train, sat in a cab, ate my dinners and sometimes even as I hung out with friends. My emails, texts, voice mails and tweets took me away far away from my present moment and I missed out on much.
So this summer, I decided to discipline myself by being in the present moment and listening to what nature is trying to tell me wherever I was. I found my favorite rock by a creek in a farming land not too far from the city. I decided to do my meditation on the rock for no reason other than I liked it. Well, one day as I opened my eyes in the midst of my silence, looked at the creek, and heard the rock’s wisdom: “You need to give away your sadness for the creek to wash away just as you give away clothes that you no longer wear.” I know it sounds crazy but try to listen to the rock and join me in my craziness. You wont regret it. You see, when we give away an old dress or shirt, we never think of it again, at least I don’t. But sadness, that is a different story. We refuse to give it away. On the opposite. We hold on to that old rag of sadness and attach ourselves to it as if it is our full story. So, I tried to follow the rock’s advice and started giving away one sad story after the other to the creek. Its been two months since I did that and ever since whenever I remember any of the stories I gave away, I feel as pathetic as if I remember an old dress I gave away; I no longer care and the story no longer has the emotional baggage that it used to have on my heart.
I felt like a child who just discovered a new toy except my toy was nature. Everyday I would go to an adventure and see what I would l learn. I sat on rocks, swam in lakes and just walked on hikes. I grew up in a dessert so seeing any kind of greens as offered by the wilderness of the US or Canada makes me so very excited. Its like my eyes could never fill up from all the trees and the lushes green around. Once I was sitting by a tree and was watching aunts climbing the trees, birds building their nests on it, and squirrels climbing it but the tree stayed the tree in its strength, heights and power. Non of what the squirrels, aunts or birds did bothered the tree. It was centered in itself and I thought to myself, well that’s a lesson here. We are often bothered by what this person or that person think about us, say about us or do things that may impact us. And perhaps we should each be like a tree, centered in our being and not disturbed by aunts and the squirrels in our lives or the people who act like ones;-)
But nothing was a scary as when I was swimming in a lake by myself. I looked down at the clear water and I thought I saw a snake. I panicked and started swimming as fast as I could to get to the shore but that was not so close. I had lost myself in swimming and now I am stuck with what may be a snake under me and that’s when I decided that rather than fearing the snake, I am going to ride my fear. And ride my fear I did. I stopped panicking, kept my strokes steady and calm, and felt that I ended up swimming better and faster by just staying calm and feeling that I am riding my fears. As I got out to the shore, I realized that that’s what I need to do every time I feel fear about anything in my life. Rather than shy away from it or escape it or hide it, I am to ride it and in riding it I not only can triumph over it but I actually can swim better and live my life fuller.
Most of these events were taking place in a tipi camp my friend runs. The camp was cluttered with old stuff she had accumulated over the years but she was dreaming of new dreams for the camp. But it almost felt like there is no room for new dreams to come when it was so cluttered with old stuff so we decided to clean up the camp, burning what needs to be burned and giving away what needs to leave. It was cleaning of the mixture of nature and its interaction with manufactured things from mattressed to chairs and the mix of the two was not always nice. It includes mice invested things, rotten wood, spider homes, etc etc. As we finished cleaning, it started to rain and within few minutes the most beautiful rainbow emerged as if telling us “only when you clean the old clutters, can new dreams come through.”
Summer is over but not its learnings. I start my fall full of gratitude to all the blessings that is around all of us; the blessing of mother earth which is so equal in its teaching to each and every one of us. No ivey leaque schools here. Just go to a tree and you will get the best learnings. I promise. As for me, I put an auto reply in my email quoting Rumi’s advice of “being fully present wherever you are” and that entails some delays in seeing my emails. There is so much around and it my miss if I don’t hear the teachings. To live life fully often means to be fully present in the moment whatever that moment may be.
Be the World You Want to Live in
At this juncture of your life, you have two choices to make: to live life out of fear or live life out of love.
We have been taught to live life out of fear for a long time now. To fear ourselves, to fear revealing our full self, to speaking our truth, to living our truth fully, to show the beauty inside us, to show our wings. We have rather been told to calculate every step out of fear of not having… not being loved… not being accepted….not succeeding… fear of our own self.
You have a choice to make today, and the choice is fully yours.
You can live your life hiding your dreams, or you can live your dreams now.
You can live your life being afraid of love, showing it or receiving it, or you can dance in love, expressing it to all around you and to yourself.
You can live your life escaping from your truth, keeping your secrets buried, keeping your silence, keeping yourself busy with this thought or that doubt and this job and that shirt or you can live your life with the courage to face your truth, live it, speak it, and be it.
It is your choice to make. In the process you will always come to the same conclusion… to live out of fear is to live out of your smallness…. and to live out of love is to live out of your bigness. To live out of fear is to live out of scarcity… to live out of love is to live out of fullness. And mostly, you will come to know that you cannot live in the world you want to live in if you do not be that world yourself.
So how do you do that?
There is no better teacher than mother earth herself.
You see a tulip does not question its right to come out, it just comes.
A water spring does not ask can I come here or there, would it be ok if this is the corner I give my water to or do you prefer this corner, it just comes out…
A bee does not ask for permission to sting when it feels in danger. It just stings.
A volcano never worries about its eruption, it just erupts.
So what if you allow yourself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in the spring?
What if you allow yourself the same peace a waterfall has in its strength?
What if you spread your wings in their fullness without hesitation or fear?
How will the air feel?
Where will my heart take you to?
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet we spend too many years depriving ourselves of what our mother has always given us: the clarity of the tulip,
The strength of the water fall,
The sweetness of a rose,
The defensiveness of the bee sting,
The beauty of a peacock,
And the softness of a water spring.
What if on this graduation day you are fully clear
With an open, full, strong, vulnerable, and beautiful heart.
What would life be if you let it be.
At this point, you have studied much and learned much about what is working and what is not working in this world. I have no doubt you have enough understanding of the problems the world faces and what women in particular face in today’s world. We still live in a world where a mother dies every 90 seconds in child birth. We still live in a world where one out of 5 women faces violence in some form and where hundreds of thousands of women are raped as we speak. We live in a world where trafficking of women and girls is among the top 3 illegal trades. We live in a world where only 2.2% of all peace agreements are signed by women, where women control only 3% of decision-making positions in the media, and where women have only 18% of political participation.
It is not whether we are going to change these problems or not. We have no choice. We must change this world if we are to survive as people. The consistent marginalization and the disrespect of women cannot be sustained not for us, not for men, not for this humanity. The question is how to change… how to make the world a better place?
To be that person who will have the guts to speak truth to power, to change policies and outdated abusive structures, you must first have the guts to do it in your own life and act it within yourself. You can’t criticize a politician for not speaking truth to power if you don’t speak truth to your own self and to the powers around you, your friends or your enemies.
Much in the world can make us really upset, I lived and worked in war all my life. I have seen bombs destroying homes and families. I have seen loved ones cry and die and get displaced. I have seen my own home pillaged and destroyed. I have seen a mother’s leg chopped into pieces in front of her children. I have seen mothers raped in front of their boys. I have been angry. I have been very angry at the injustice in the world and every part of me says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH for a line has been long crossed when even the children are violated. I decided to walk the walk of change through beauty and compassion for I no longer could sustain the anger and resentment. The darkness I was working so hard to change exhausted me, broke me to tears often, and tried to destroy my spirit over and over again.
And finally I arrived to the conclusion that in order to create the peaceful and just world we envision and talk about, we need to make the change out of love and beauty and not out of anger. You see, I came to realize that a strong heart is a happy heart. A strong heart is not the warrior heart as we see it in movies, the one that goes to battle fields and with anger kills the enemy. A strong heart is a happy heart. That heart can go to darkness, to brothels where women are forced to sleep with 15 men a day, to refugee camps where any type of humane living ceases to exist, to a basement factory, to shelters of abused women, to prisons, and still see the love in the other and reach out for change out of love and not out of anger.
That journey is not an easy journey. Your heart may be broken several times. But let not the broken heart take you to fear. Sufis say, “O break my heart, o break my heart again so I can love even more.” I say, “build a bridge, they will destroy it. Build a bridge again, they will destroy it again. Build a bridge until so many people are part of building a bridge, it cannot be destroyed.” Never give up on this beautiful world and never give up on doing the work with love.
As I walked the journey of my truth and decided to dedicate my life to service, I have been filled with inspiration and at times I have been insulted and hurt. I had many choices to stop the work and get myself a job and make money and live in a nice home with a nice garden. But I can’t. I would rather die than not live my truth. So there goes my journey starting with Women for Women International when I was only 23 years old and moving from helping 33 women to more than 315,000 women and 100,000 million dollars later. And that is only one chapter of my life. My journey has only started as I move to focus on young Arab women, to acknowledge what they have done and to show the possibilities of change using personal cultural narratives.
As you embark upon your journey, I ask you to service the world in a new way. Do not think it can only be done through civil society and non-profit organizations. The separations between for-profit and non-profit sectors may have worked for a while but the segregations and separations of the do good for people and do good for yourself can no longer be sustainable. Change the world through the government. Change the world through the corporations. Change the world through religious institutions. Change the world through art. Change the world by emerging into the for-benefit sector that is the future.
And as you do that, never ever forget the people–the very essence that led you to where you are today and where you will be tomorrow. In the baker, the taxi driver, the tailor, in the mother, in the father, in the rickshaw pusher, in the beggar, we anchor ourselves. We are them. They are us. I am you. You are me. Never forget our inner connections and never lose yourself in the process of living your life.
Spread your wings and fly. Spread your wings fully and fly and breathe and laugh and go home to yourself inside your heart. It is in that we are all anchored.
THE HOPI ELDERS SPEAK
We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For.
You have been telling the people that this is the
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in the right relationship?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
This could be a good time!
There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who may be afraid.
They may try to hold on to the shore.
They may feel they are being torn apart, and they may suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
See who is in there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
Least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a scared manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
- The Elders Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
I was totally disconnected from nature until I was 30 years old. Up until that time, I would barely notice a bird, a tree, and found documentaries on animals or nature very boring. Though I turned vegetarian few years prior to that after feeling the soul of a sheep recently slaughtered as I was helping a family in Bosnia cut it in pieces and distribute it to the poor, I still never paid much attention to non-humans if you may. I thought of the sheep experience as very unique and personal, but I still did not reach out to animals or nature around me. All of this changed when one day I was lying down on the ground in the wilderness alone. That’s when I first felt earth’s heartbeat.
I had enrolled in a leadership retreat thinking that I would be getting lectures on leadership, only to be surprised that the whole experience was around wilderness. It entailed 24 hours of being alone in nature with nothing but a sleeping bag and a plastic sheet for cover in case it rained. After hours of restlessness, I finally started to calm down, and eventually I lay down on the ground in silence with nothing but nature surrounding me. In that silence, I felt I was listening to a tone, a rhythm, a language that I have not heard before: nature’s language. I remember hearing Angeles Arrien saying that we need to adjust our rhythm to nature’s rhythm, which is slow to medium, and that our fast rhythm is both unnatural and lacks synchronicity with nature, thus missing so much of what is being communicated around us. I honestly didn’t get that until I finally slowed down in those 24 hours and started witnessing, feeling, smelling, and hearing all that is being communicated from nature around us. That’s when I felt the mother of earth and our interconnection with each aspect of it. That’s when I realized we are all part of it, and there is no such thing as us humans and the rest of earth (nature, animals, water, all of it). We are all connected, and all it takes is us slowing down so we can learn and listen from all that is being communicated in nature around us.
Once I felt that heartbeat, I could never go back to my isolation. It’s not that I don’t find myself at times so immersed with the fast speed of modern urban life and completely disconnected from nature as that happens often especially as I live in the city. It’s just that I am more aware now. I know when I am moving so fast that I am no longer listening to all that nature and animals are communicating and teaching. I know that when I don’t slow down and take the time to spend in nature, I feel incomplete, depleted, even empty at times until the moment I can go and touch that ground and touch the earth and feel the heartbeat of Mother again.
It’s been more than 10 years since I became conscious about the importance of truly listening to nature and animals and realized it’s like a book that holds so much knowledge and is never ending. So I keep on reading and reading and listening and listening, and the more I do that the more I want to listen and read and learn from everything else besides humans that are teaching us every single day. In this spring, I found myself paying a different kind of attention to all the new emerging flowers and blossoms. I find a clarity about every plant that is emerging out of this earth in this spring, a clarity that I sometimes doubt or question when I have it about myself. Yet, I am of the same mother and the same roots. So what do I learn from what this spring is trying to teach me…. teach us…. I am not a poet, but here is what came out of my heart when I paid attention to the tulips around me in this beautiful spring.
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet a tulip does not question its right to come out in its full beauty, but I do.
Of the same mother and from the same roots,
Yet a water spring never questions its right to come out in this spot or that spot, but I often do.
So what if I allow myself the same clarity a tree has when it blossoms in spring
What if I allow myself the same peace a water fall has in its strength
What if I spread my wings in its fullness without hesitation or fear.
How will the air feel?
Where will my heart take me to?
What if I know that I am the rose and the thorn in it as well.
What if I am OK with the best part of me and the worst part of me.
What if I see fully me and still love what I see.
What if I see fully you and truly love the full you.
What if I let the energy of my volcano erupt fully in its roar
What if I let the sweetness of my spring to nourish all
What if I let my peacock feather to open in its beauty and seductiveness
What if I am OK with the bee inside me to sting when attacked.
What if I know when my rose is cut off, it will come back again and again.
Of the same mother
Fed from the same roots
Yet I spent too many years depriving myself of what my mother has always given me: the clarity of the tulip,
strength of the water fall,
sweetness of a rose smell,
defensiveness of the bee sting,
beauty of a peacock,
and the softness of a water spring.
What if in this spring I am clear
with an open, full, strong, vulnerable, beautiful heart.
What would life be.
So let it be.
Welcome to my web site. After 19 years of working on women’s rights, I enter the 101 anniversary of International Women’s Day with the clarity that it is time for women to narrate a new story of who we are. And I plan to start with me.
You see, I spent the first 20 years of my life growing up in Iraq and the last 22 years living in the United States but traveling to, and working in, various war zones, ranging from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. As part of this work, I would meet women survivors of war, who were receiving sponsorship from their ‘sisters’ in the developed world. It struck me time and time again how much we women had in common, despite the diversity of our cultures and backgrounds.
To invest in a woman is to invest in her children, her household, her community and her country. According to the World Bank, women reinvest 90% of their earnings on their family, while men reinvest only 40%. Investing in women, therefore, is not only the right thing to do but also necessary. And yet, women in many parts of the world continue to be denied equal treatment, in areas including access to education, health, and legal protection.
But that is not what I wanted to write about today. In my almost 20 years of work, I have observed that women, wherever they may be, have the following in common: we apologize for ourselves and for who we are; we doubt and question ourselves too much; we love to see ourselves embody the image of the giving mother and with that comes sacrifice for our children, our husbands, our families; and we have an inner voice that tells us that if we do anything less than that, then we are “selfish”. In a way, we are enchanted with our sad stories and are fascinated when we hear even sadder stories of other women. And in a way, we worry about whether we are being true to ourselves. And that, in my observation, is not unique to any one culture. I have seen this just as much among Western women as I have among Asian, African and Middle Eastern women.
So why is this a relevant discussion? Well, there is our own individual happiness, which is in and of itself important and, in my opinion, can only come if we are true to ourselves in all ways, if we give ourselves permission to be who we are and to own what we believe. That is not an easy thing to do, but it is important that we try. After all, what is life if we are not happy?
But there is more to it than that. Whether one person is happy can have a big impact on the world around them. Humanitarian work is far more effective and empowering if you approach it from a happy and healthy mindset, one that allows you to engage with less privileged women, in any country or community, from a place of genuine respect, rather than with an attitude of “she needs saving”.
The truth is, or my truth at least, is that if we really want to build peace and stability in the world and if we really want to help all women gain access to all the things necessary to exercise freedom of choice, than we can only do that from a place of respect. The Dalai Lama said that if you cannot respect the person you are trying to serve, than better not serve them. I couldn’t agree with him more. I learned that there is a distinction between helping and truly building peace. A vulnerable person will take what is being given to them out of vulnerability, and sometimes from whoever will give it…. but that does not mean that they are not aware of whether they are getting respect or disrespect in the process of helping.
And that is how helping ourselves be true to who we are and serving the world are interconnected. Yes, there are lots of women around the world who are suffering severe injustices and need help. But for that help to be truly meaningful and to have a lasting impact, it has to come from a genuine place, from a safe and peaceful place inside our hearts. The problem is that when it is not genuine, it is felt. Believe me! And thus it has very limited impact. The journey towards peace starts from inside your heart and that journey will help you to navigate the world in clear, loving, and joyful ways. So what if you allow yourself that truth and that joy. How would that feel? To have wings? Where would you fly?
What if I am not sadness
What if I am not grieving
What if I am not my victim’s story
Nor am I my pain.
What if they are all a part of me but not fully me
What if I am just me.
What if I am joy without reason…. happiness in all seasons
What if I am love for all
What if I laugh for no reason and all reasons
What if they are all a part of me.
What if I don’t hate my enemy
What if I forgive
What if I am clear about my right and my wrong
And still see me
What if my actions are not defined vis-à-vis him or her
What if they are defined vis-à-vis my truth, mine only
What if I am fully free
How will I be?
What if I see without judgment
Love without reason
What if I give and receive without worry
What if I can be all and still be me.
What if this is it.
What if this is perfect
What if I don’t doubt
What if I just believe
How would life be if I let it be.
How would I be if I accept fully, me.
What would I be if today I am Free.
What if this is the new story.
May this year brings us all closer to our truth so we may go out in the world, reach out to our sisters, build bridges of peace, out of respect for difference, with no judgment but instead with lots of love.
It all began in the year I was born. According to an Iraqi tradition, with each child’s birth comes a blessing. My parents always referred to our family’s house as the blessing of my birth. They started building this house in 1969, the year I was born, and it has since been our home. Over the ensuing decades, it became home to my family’s joys and our sorrows. Today the house shelters the story of our family, and a story of Iraq.
Like most middle class houses in Baghdad, it is a simple two-story building. Inconspicuously nestled among eucalyptus trees and perched at the end of a cul-de-sac. As a child, my bedroom was the big, spacious room at the end of the second floor hallway. Intimidated by the room’s grandeur I often consoled myself by staring out the window. From this window I observed the growth of the eucalyptus trees alongside the constant, and often unsettling, coming and goings of the nearby cul-de-sac.
In my earliest memories the cul-de-sac is teeming with water. While my parents blamed the country’s nascent infrastructure for this lack of proper drainage, I welcomed the accumulation of heavy rains. It meant a chance to frolic, surrounded by enormous newspaper boats that my father diligently, and lovingly, constructed by hand for my brother and I. To this day, I smile when I think of those innocent days.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that often, long after I went to bed, Saddam Hussein parked his car in our cul-de-sac. It was the 1970s and Saddam was vice president of Iraq. In hopes of advancing his political ambitions, Saddam was courting different social groups in Baghdad. My parents were considered part of the “hip” crowd. My father had studied in Scotland and now traveled the world as a commercial pilot, accumulating a diverse collection of musical records as he traveled; my mother was a fashionable, intelligent teacher who loved dancing and partying with my father and their friends. Most importantly, neither of my parents was interested in politics; this made it “safe” for them to entertain Saddam as their visitor. Saddam didn’t acknowledge that my parents didn’t care about his politics and my parents didn’t recognize how hard it was to refuse any of Saddam Hussein’s wishes – not in the 1970s, not ever.
In 1951, Ali Al-Wardi, one of Iraq’s most respected historians and social anthropologists, wrote about the need to lift women’s seclusion and the necessity of women’s full inclusion in all aspects of the public life in Iraq. He argued that gender equality was one of the major prerequisites for a healthy Iraqi society that eliminates the dualism caused by the seclusion of women and systematic encouragement of segregation and separation of men and women. Nearly 60 years later, Iraq is witnessing more seclusion of women than ever, more suppression of women’s rights than ever, and the near total disappearance of a female presence in the public sphere. This is a dangerous phenomenon that should not be taken lightly.
Women are a bellwether for society and no progress can be achieved in any country, let alone Iraq, if women are continually suppressed and hidden from the public sphere with little or no rights or freedoms. In my recent visit to Iraq in May of this year, I was saddened to learn the extent to which women status has detracted in the country. Legally, women’s rights remained unprotected. The Family Status Law, written in 1959 and shaped by legal scholars of a similar mind to Al-Wardi, had been practically erased by the new Iraqi constitution of 2004.
Those who wrote the 1959 Family Status Law wrote about the need for a consistent, centralized law that ensured the protection of all women in Iraq as a vision for progress in the country. While the 1959 legislation and its Hussein-era amendments left much room for improvement, the Family Status Law protected Iraqi women’s rights in many ways from establishing the legal marriage age at 18, to creating barriers, polygamy, specifying a women’s right to maintain her lifestyle upon her marriage, and asserting a women’s right divorce her husband. The Family Status Law was written under the auspices of Islamic law with an intent to gear away from sectarian laws that suppressed women’s public participation and basic human rights established in many other Muslim countries at the time.
Welcome to my web site. After 19 years of working on women’s rights, I enter this year with the clarity that it is time for women to narrate a new story of who we are and I plan to start with me. You see, I grew up the first 20 years of my life in Iraq and lived the last 22 years of my life in the United States while working in various war zones from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the process of encountering many women from conflict areas who are receiving support to the Western women who are giving support, I observed that despite of our various and diverse cultures we have some themes in common. I am not going to address issues such as access to education, health, and legal rights, all of which are themes encountered by more women in the developing world than in the developed world. Though there is a lot of work to be done on that area and we should continue if not increase that work for women in all parts of the world to receive full equality as citizens in the whole meaning of the word. Financial investments and services to women and girl issues are still very limited and if anything we need far more investments in women and girls not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it is the necessary thing to do. Investing in women is a one stop shop that ensures positive impact on the family, the childrne, the community and the country. Women, according to the World Bank reinvest 90% of all their earnings on thier family compared to men who reinvest only 40% on their family.