Two letters on strength and falling in love

I’ve read these two letters before, but today I saw them again on twitter. I’ve always loved both letters and wanted to share it here. If you are like me and a fan of intimate letters, this website maybe of interest to you.

The first letter is from W.E.B. Du Bois to his 14-year old daughter, Yolande. It’s just a powerful letter from a father to a daughter, but also a message that can be a great benefit to all of us. The second letter is from John Steinbeck to his son Thom, who has written to his father that he has fallen in love. It’s simply a beautiful letter that puts a smile to your face. Both letters and their sources are below. Enjoy reading them. They are a treat to read!

Dear Little Daughter:

I have waited for you to get well settled before writing. By this time I hope some of the strangeness has worn off and that my little girl is working hard and regularly.

Of course, everything is new and unusual. You miss the newness and smartness of America. Gradually, however, you are going to sense the beauty of the old world: its calm and eternity and you will grow to love it.

Above all remember, dear, that you have a great opportunity. You are in one of the world’s best schools, in one of the world’s greatest modern empires. Millions of boys and girls all over this world would give almost anything they possess to be where you are. You are there by no desert or merit of yours, but only by lucky chance.

Deserve it, then. Study, do your work. Be honest, frank and fearless and get some grasp of the real values of life. You will meet, of course, curious little annoyances. People will wonder at your dear brown and the sweet crinkley hair. But that simply is of no importance and will soon be forgotten. Remember that most folk laugh at anything unusual, whether it is beautiful, fine or not. You, however, must not laugh at yourself. You must know that brown is as pretty as white or prettier and crinkley hair as straight even though it is harder to comb. The main thing is the YOU beneath the clothes and skin—the ability to do, the will to conquer, the determination to understand and know this great, wonderful, curious world. Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.

Above all remember: your father loves you and believes in you and expects you to be a wonderful woman.

I shall write each week and expect a weekly letter from you.

Lovingly yours,


New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.





Novel: Update

I think the last I updated was in July. Oh how time flies. Although I don’t have any specific dates to report, I thought it was a good idea to update anyways. Since the last update, the story has been out of my hands and with the publisher to be edited. We communicate through email, since my publisher has relocated to California. I think I may have implied, everything would be finished by September, and boy was I off. Rookie mistake. The process takes a lot of time and my publisher has been very kind to let me know patience is needed. And I totally understand and just grateful for the opportunity so waiting is nothing major.

I was informed that they are in the last stages of editing and then the changes will be given to me to look over. Hopefully this will occur within a week or so, but I can’t say for sure. The process should be at its latest completed by December. This is what I was told. I was not given a set date, but when I do get a date, I will be sure to update. Any new update about the project, I shall post here. A graphic artist is also working on the book cover and I hope to post the finished design here as well. That’s pretty much it. Things should pick up after the editing process is completed.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart to each one of you, who has shared this journey with me from the beginning. Take care and will write soon. Peace & Love.

Alice Walker on Democratic Womanism, Color Purple, Justice and the Election

I know this sounds like I live under a rock, but I have yet to read the Color Purple. I’ve heard of this book so many years ago and watched the movie, but never read the book. Nor can I say I have ever read literature by the great Alice Walker. Watched her lectures and read articles, yes. But books, no. After watching her interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, I was reminded about how much I have missed out on. I am a huge fan now and am so much in awe of her, that I can’t wait to read more of her work. Even Amy Goodman seems a bit giddy by interviewing Alice Walker. The full interview can be found here (It starts at 16:23 and it’s well worth the watch, simply brilliant!) but I wanted to share the poem she read at the end of the interview. Just Amazing.

(More on Alice Walker, NPR does a section on Alice Walker’s rediscovery of Zora Neale Hurston found here. Visit Alice Walker’s Website and be inspired!)

Democratic Womanism A Poem by Alice Walker

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.
You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!
There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
to rehabilitating it.

Could you survive on a weekly paycheck? Play spent and find out

I saw someone post this game on twitter called “Spent” from Urban Ministries of Durham. I am not familar with the organization, but was deeply taken by the game. I played it twice, before deciding to share it here and let others also experience it for themselves. The first time I played it, I cashed out on day 8. Damn, I would be homeless. I know it is only a game, but it is very scary and eye opening, because it is real life for many folks and allows us to “experience” such an experience. It is one thing to read reports as I often do and I do deeply care about these issues, but a whole different ball game to put yourself in that situation. Even when you think you know, reality is you don’t know jack and this game just showed it to me.

Reminded me of the book Nickel and Dimed and how author Barbara Ehrenreich took on the role of a minimum wage worker. I encourage you to read that book if this subject is of interest to you, it’s short and very informative.

The game throws at you, real life situations (as also described in Nickel and Dimed), such as paying for health insurance, medications, or your child’s after school programs just to name a few. What was interesting is that I ran out of money by doing the “right thing”, such as paying for any loans, putting the kid in after school programs, or going to the doctor before it was too late. My money ran further when I skipped those things in order to buy food or pay rent/gas, however this choice led to my debt increasing, car being possessed, unhappy kid, and putting my health in danger. Either way, I couldn’t win.

Try it for yourself here and let me know how you did.

One woman’s painful story of migration from Africa to Europe

Somalia, as most of us know from the news for the past two decades has experienced every human catastrophe imaginable. Wars, terrorism, diseases, and famine are just among some of the enemies of the Somali people and many who survive these foes, fall victim to equally devastating and humiliating afflictions.

Nowhere are these afflictions more pronounced than for women. Even in privileged societies like North America, where law and order is intact, women not only fall victim to sexual violence and domestic abuse, but at times are victimized twice. So one can imagine the catastrophe which befalls vulnerable groups, most specially women in a war torn society like Somalia that has no such protections in place.

(Note: Not the picture of “Marwo”.)

The phenomenon called “Tahriib” or migration exposes an already very vulnerable group to more dangers, rape often being the weapon of choice. Historically, civil unrest has always been accompanied by sexual violence.

Women are raped along the journey as they flee the conflict or extreme poverty conditions. They are raped once they reach “safety” at a refugee camp. As if that was not enough torture for a soul to endure, some contract deadly diseases like HIV. For the lucky ones who escape the wretched life at camps and end up in lands far beyond their borders, misery is never far too behind.

Below I will do my very best to translate into English one such story of a Somali woman migrant, who recently did an interview with a Somali channel about her tahriib (migration). English is the leading world language. The vast majority of people around the world, who use the internet, can read English. This is only a personal blog with minor viewership, however with the world being interconnected than ever before, it is my hope people will come across this post and have the interest to get a glimpse of a heartbreaking human story, which often goes untold.

When we read about human tragedies it rarely goes beyond headlines like “scores of Africans dead at sea attempting a voyage to Europe”, we never see names, faces, or read their intimate narratives. What were these people like? How was their childhood? What were their fears and their dreams? What made them happy, laugh, or sad?

When the tragedy concerns privileged societies or individuals we get to see the narratives beyond the headlines. They are not just numbers or “scores dead”, but people with names, faces, interests, and loved ones. But when you are both poor and black such a privilege is usually not granted.

Ultimately the weight of the responsibility to document and tell these narratives and make African lives significant on the world stage falls upon Africans themselves. Tahriib or migration of Africans out of Africa is a major area that needs to be spotlighted and documented, but this has been so far neglected.

It is my hope in my limited capabilities at this moment to at least try in this post to give English readers a sense of what it is like for a migrant, who undertakes the dangerous journey to Europe from the Horn of Africa. It will be impossible to capture the hurt, the pain, and the suffering of this woman in simply writing this post, but I’d like more people to at least hear this story outside of those who watched the interview on Somali channel. I will do my best to translate word for word or when I am unable then summarize the narrator and not project my own voice into the story. When I do so I will use brackets.


The source for this summary is from: Somali Channel episode 10/14/2012. The video can be found here.

The segment is titled: The troubles facing women migrants.

The host of the interview begins with a prayer and welcoming her viewers to the show. In the past several segments, the show has been highlighting stories relating the troubles facing Somali women. The host tells the viewers this particular upcoming story is a story which is the most shocking story she has covered on her show. She mentions how such stories are hidden by victims because of the fear of being treated like pariahs. She admonishes the culture of Somali’s, concerning hiding shocking/painful experiences. She compares this phenomenon to having physical pain, saying if one hides the pain and does not seek treatment; the pain will continue to persist. Then a news clip is shown about 30 migrants from Ethiopia (of Somali descent), who were fleeing to Yemen, but instead were arrested by Somali authorities in the coastal city of Bososso. Recently there has been a spike of migrants from the city of Burco and other areas of Somaliland and Puntland. People are fleeing poverty and drought. The policemen being interviewed has harsh words for any would be migrants, stating they will be arrested and taken to court.

Host: Discusses the economic troubles facing young people in Somalia. No work, no livelihood. Mentions these young people are the very people, who would build the nation as the next generation, but don’t have the environment to facilitate their talents and strengths, and thus they take the dangerous journey of seeking a better life overseas. She further states, most people believe those who make these types of voyages reach their destination safely, but that is not the case and most actually lose their lives, not to mention suffer many human right abuses. (The host seems to be very anti-tahriib. She hammers at the point of the risks far outweighing any potential benefits),

(Will now go straight to the interview. To protect her identity, the host decides to call the interviewee the name “Marwo”, which is a name of endearment. I too will stick to that name. The interviewee is also wearing a niqaab, which is covering everything except the eyes).

Host: Thanks Marwo for being brave and courageous to share her story.

Marwo: Is thankful to be on the program. She was born in Burco, a major city of the breakaway region of Somaliland, and now lives in Manchester, England. It seems she is in legal trouble in England and asks for help from those watching. She further calls on mothers, women, who have suffered to not hide their suffering, but come forward and tell their stories.

Marwo: My suffering is long. For a longtime I have suffered. My suffering is a result of not having a mother, having lost my mother, and not having the love and care of a mother. I have undertaken migration to foreign lands and suffered a lot in those lands.

Host: Where did you come from?

Marwo: My birthplace is the city of Burco and I migrated from Burco. From there I came to the city of Bossoso with my husband. I was pregnant at the time. We took a boat. There were many people on this boat. There was heavy rain, which made the boat tilt from side to side. Many people on the boat were forcefully thrown off the boat. I pray for the families of those who lost their lives.

Host: How were these people thrown off the boat?

Marwo: If the person was overweight, they were told to jump off. If they are unable to jump (because of fear), then a gun was pulled on them. Before we got on the boat, they searched everyone for weapons. (She mentions all the suffering she has witnessed in the experience of being a migrant, which will forever be tattooed on her conscious. Those who are telling people to jump off into the ocean are the traffickers, who solicit money from these migrants with a promise to take them to Europe.)

Host: Tell us more about the boat experience.

Marwo: As many people were being forcefully thrown off, while others were falling off, a pregnant woman gave birth on the boat. What was most shocking and stomach turning to me was the day I saw people, who were Somalis throw their own brethren off the boat…throw off the boat a woman, who is their sister and shares the name Somali with them. The pregnant woman gave birth due to the pain of what she witnessed. They told her to jump or sharks will come for us. (I suppose the reasoning behind this statement is because of the loss of blood, the mother has undergone having given birth). The woman hesitated and couldn’t jump so they took her baby and threw the baby overboard. When her baby was thrown, the mother jumped after the baby. What was most painful to witness was the cruelty people who are brethren inflicted on each other, and their lack of mercy. I pray God guides these people and to those who died, I pray God rests their souls. Then my husband, who I loved most in the world stood up and said to the men this is inhuman and unislamic. When he said this they stabbed him, took all his money and threw him to the ocean. (the Host repeats the story: the baby being thrown overboard, then the mother jumping after the baby, Marwo’s husband protesting the inhuman action of the traffickers and he too being killed.)

Marwo: I was pregnant when I got to Yemen. (She pauses indicating a poignant memory having landed in Yemen. She repeats several times, “the country of Yemen”). In Yemen everyone else ran away from me. As I kept walking, I saw an old man with a donkey who stopped to help me. I didn’t know how to swim. I must have been saved to come ashore. When I reached the shore….. (She pauses and says the tale is too painful to tell. The host urges her to keep narrating). The old man took me, while I was in chaotic state. I kept screaming and repeating the name of my husband. He took me to his home. (The host cuts her off and redirects the conversation towards Marwo being pregnant. She asks her to talk about how she gave birth on the street. But before she does, Marwo says she stayed in the old man’s home for a period of one month then he took her to a camp called Jihiin in Yemen. There is no word if she was abused/sexually assaulted by this man, but I suspect that was highly likely). I went to the camp feeling chaotic and confused, not knowing anyone or having any clan connections. I slept in the camp. A Yemeni man who runs the camp assisted me. To survive, I became part of the people who beg on the streets. It is on the streets I would beg. It was while I was on the street begging that I gave birth. I didn’t know anything about giving birth. It is the God who made me pregnant, who helped facilitate the birth. The people covered me in a blue bag and it was on the street that I gave birth.

Marwo: Radwan Mohamed Seed (she mentions this woman, who was at the camp with her. I am most likely spelling the individual name (s) wrong). I thank you dear sister for the help and kindness you have shown me. You maybe watching this( program) as I am on the air and I thank you sister. I believe you are in Canada or America. This woman had one tent at the camp and she gave me one side of the tent to live after I gave birth. (Marwo discusses how Radwan encouraged her to live with her and to also find a job and not beg on the street. It is not clear if they leave the camp and find a home outside of the camp, but I believe it is the latter. Marwo then leaves the city Radwan lives in, after a while of staying with her and she finds a job. There is no mention of what type of job and the duration of this process. It looks like it was several years and the job most likely was maid work. Marwo finds a baby sitter, while she goes out and works. In the home of the baby sitter, her boy was raped. He was six at the time. The host asks Marwo what she did to the people who raped her child. Marwo says she filed a complaint, but nothing was done. Then other Somalis began to harass her and shame her, because her son was raped and thus she went to another city. The bus she was on with her son was involved in an accident. Her son had a head injury as a result of that accident. At the hospital she was given the option to have blood money for her son’s injuries. It is not clear if this offer came from the bus driver. She didn’t take the money and said tragedies happen outside of human control. She resolved to marry to help herself and her child, because she was poor and had nothing. She says she met a man in the hospital, it is not clear if this man is the bus driver or the owner of the bus. She marries for the sole purpose of having a roof and a safe place for her son. She marries the Arab man for that reason and for a while she lived a good life, however his family didn’t like her).

Host: Did you have children for this man?

Marwo: I gave him two children. Their names are Osama and Muctas (wrong spelling). Unluckily, my two children, he took from me and I would have loved that they come with me to the UK.

Host: The man’s relatives didn’t like you and you had trouble with them, so he took your two children from you. And now all you have left is your first son. How did you and your son manage to leave?

Marwo: (She had help from a Somali woman who assists refugees. Papers were filed with the UN on her behalf and her son. Eventually she left Yemen for Romania. She was happy on the one end of leaving Yemen and on the other end deeply saddened to leave her children behind. When she comes to Romania, she is taken to a camp for refugees. There at the camp she meets another Somali woman, who shames Marwo for her son’s rape. Marwo fights this woman, who was spreading rumors around the camp. Marwo pulls a knife on this woman and the police are called. Only Marwo is arrested and this makes her very angry. She is in a chaotic state and can’t communicate why she is protesting the arrest. She is taken to a psychiatric ward, where she is sedated with drugs. They increase the dose during the times she fails to be sedated. She says her body was lifeless, but her mind was still functioning, when the Romanian doctor raped her.

Marwo: When I was taken to the psychiatric ward, I was evaluated and was not pregnant. When it was discovered I was pregnant, everyone was shocked. I am not blaming the entire United Nations, only the office, which brought me to Romania. They knew what I suffered and how I suffered, but turned a blind eye. It reached a point where officials from this agency sought to kill me and put a pillow over my face to kill me. A Romanian woman, Mama Maryana (who works for that UN agency) told me to have an abortion, because this pregnancy will embarrass the UN. An Arab guy, I thank him so much. I won’t say his name, because I don’t want to reveal his identity and for him to lose his job, this Arab guy from one of the Arab countries told me when I get to the UK I have a case to file a complaint against the UN office. (Eventually she lands in London with her first born son and her daughter from the Romania doctor).

Marwo: I was in London for a short while. I was broken. I didn’t know the language and the people who brought me, having taught me nothing, but just brought me to a home. My son called the authorities on me and said I beat him. My son and new born child were taken from me. He said I was not his mother and didn’t give birth to him. A DNA test was taken and it showed I was his mother. (The host and Marwo discuss the trauma faced by the young boy, his rape, the head injury from the bus accident, having led to him rejecting his mother. There is no question from the host if Marwo did beat her son. Marwo says she loves her son more than anything and asks people to pray for her that her children return to her).

The host: Summarizes the story of Marwo, recalling the details she shared.

Marwo: Mentions the Romanian doctor who raped her has not been charged and the officials/UN agency has put in her personal file that is she is psychotic so that she would never file a case against them and her testimony wouldn’t be taken seriously. (It seems Marwo is listed as psychotic in her files, even the ones she has in her now new residence of Manchester. This led to her children being taken away. This interests me, but the host doesn’t ask her further questions regarding this aspect of her story, ie the legal case against the UN agency, who helped sponsor her to the UN and the Romanian Doctor…. what is being done about the cover-up Instead the host goes on a tirade about the difficulties of tahriib/migration.) Marwo cuts off the host and brings attention to the problems facing Somalis in Yemen, especially new arrivals who came seeking employment. She mentions young Somali men face the greatest difficultly; they are being raped and set on fire by the Yemenis. She signals out a place in Yemen called: Basateen.

Caller: Calls in. He thanks Marwo for telling her painful story. Mentions many people have suffered like this, but are too afraid of shame to come public with their story. The caller seems to be an informed man and is a community activist. The host finally draws attention to the case in Romania and asks the caller what Marwo can do about the case. The caller details what Marwo can do about her case, file a lawsuit and so forth.

Host: Tells the caller about the evaluation papers Marwo has from a doctor in the UK, who has outlined Marwo is not crazy and has no cognitive deficits. (Marwo comes across as very intelligent, compassionate, sincere, and sane). This doctor encourages the state to reinstate the children to their mother. The baby girl was only two months old when she was taken by the authorities. The host asks the caller to speak on this.

Caller: He says this doctor’s paper will be very helpful for Marwo’s case. He explains what she can do with the law and encourages her to fight using the laws in place. (I am not sure if the Somali community and human rights adovcates in England are assisting Marwo. There is no mention of legal help or help of any kind she is getting).

The host opens the floor to more callers, who mainly pray for Marwo. I will end the post here.

It is an ugly fact so many lives have been swallowed up by the world’s seas. How many in the last two decades, we will never know. While those who survived the overwhelming journey, so many suffered like Marwo. Most of their stories will never be known. For me, I am always ambivalent when relating the stories of victims. Even though I am not a journalist and I am simply translating an interview, I don’t wish to define Marwo solely by her suffering and thus making her a case for pity. There is a delicate balance when telling stories and obviously, Marwo is much more than the horrors she has suffered. I don’t know her story beyond this interview, therefore I am limited in what I can relate, but I do feel the need to say this just in case one were to come across this post, I would want them to also remember the importance of not seeing people through one dimension. People are much more than the unfortune fate has dealt them. Regarding tahriib, I would encourage anyone who comes across this post to read the story of Olympian Samia Omar written by Teresa Krug. It is a very personal and beautiful piece by Teresa, who I believe captured that delicate balance of relating a tragedy.

I mourn for all of those who have perished seeking a better life and those still in the struggle.

You never know where a blessing can come from

My mother always said you never know where a khair (blessing) can come from so be open to everyone. As is her custom she would teach me these important life lessons with a short moral story. This story in particular involved a husband and a wife of meager means. One night they had a visitor. The visitor knocked on the door. It was the husband, who stood up to answer the call, but before he opened the door, the wife asked the husband, who it was that was at the door. The husband replied it was so and so. Upon hearing this, the wife asked her husband to ignore the visitor and not open the door. The husband obliged his wife’s wishes and the visitor left when no one would open the door. It is said the visitor had glad-tidings for the family and had they opened the door for him, the family would have inherited riches, a great blessing, which would have made the rest of their life one of ease.

And thus, my mother said, one doesn’t know where a blessing will come from and who is carrying that blessing for you so be open my dear. She also said, you never know where shar (misfortune) can come from so keep your eyes open too. I understood this to also mean what or who seems to be honey, can really be rather poisonous. And what looks harmful can turn out to be sweet honey.

I am sure many of us have had such experiences and how enlightening it is or sometimes heartbreaking when what we saw or thought was the truth wasn’t the actual reality. I had many such experiences, both done by me and done to me.

One experience done by me, which still sticks in my mind, because it is rather silly and of course for my personal life journey it remains a reminder for me to always look beyond what is apparent. In high school part of our graduation curriculum included that we take computer courses. I remember going through the course packet looking through all the classes to pick for the following semester. My criteria for taking these electives was not for the purpose of education or to gain skills, but to simply take any computer class that was not being taught by Mrs. Davidson. It is important to note computers were just coming of age in the early 2000s when I was starting HS and I practically didn’t know anything about technology nor had much interest. I loved science, history, and English, not computers.

Only a handful of teachers taught many of the computer courses available at my school so I picked the ones that were not being taught by the “mean-looking Mrs. Davidson.” My buddy and I were in the same boat. We saw Mrs. Davidson in the school hallways and she did not look like someone we were going to survive. We judged her as not being nice and she scared us so we avoided her courses. As destiny would have it, the following semester reporting for duty for my database class, guess who is the teacher?

Mrs. Davidson and not the teacher whose name I don’t even remember now. Mrs. Davidson took over the course for the other teacher, who had gone on leave or something. My friend and I were shocked. After this shock wore off, we plotted to change courses, but were unsuccessful. Not wanting to spend a semester in Mrs. Davidson’s class, my friend dropped the course. I stayed with it, because I didn’t want to fall behind on my courses or take a summer course. It was one of the best decisions that I made in HS and Mrs. Davidson’s impact on my life I still benefit from now and will do so forever. Remember as I’ve said, I was very illiterate almost in computers and technology. Her teaching style, her encouragement, and high expectations not only made me computer literate, but helped me excel in other courses. She became my favorite teacher ever and I her favorite student. She nominated me out of all the classes she taught as her student to represent the school. The teacher whose class I plotted to avoid, I would end up taking her other advanced computers courses that I didn’t even need. She was an amazing teacher, who unlocked my potential and love of learning of challenging subjects that I didn’t find interesting, and pushed me to be better. I can write in great length about Mrs. Davidson. I am grateful to her not just for making me a better student in the classroom, but a better student of life. Thank you Mrs. Davidson.

My mother’s saying was right. We simply don’t know where a blessing can come. That is just one experience of many for me.

And one such experience that was done to me and what sparked this entry down memory lane, happened today. I was at the gas station. A very busy gas station, in which cars were in line to pump gas. Around the same time that it was my turn to pump at my station, two young white guys pushed their car to the station diagonally across from the station I was at. They had run out of gas. Both were wearing baseball caps, white sneakers, and baggy t-shirts/pants. The more active one of the two begin to ask people for money and he didn’t ask in a polite sort of way. It was more:, “Hey you got some change.” The middle-aged white guy next to my station shook his head no almost in disgust. Undeterred the guy goes on to ask other people at the station, one by one. Well, everyone except me. I even looked towards his direction to see if he would ask me for help. He didn’t and walked across to the other side to ask.

Now I was fascinated by this. I follow the school of thought, which says give folks the benefit of the doubt. I don’t like to rush to assumptions and when I do, I try to check myself. But there I was thinking about it and I couldn’t come to any conclusion, apart from me being a visible Muslim. That was the only thing that separated me from the other diverse/mixed race crowd at the pump. Only one guy gave him a bunch of coins. No one else helped the young man for the few minutes this was ongoing. Maybe they had looked at him, judged him and saw a no good, lost child. It is possible.

I just went inside my car, in case he came back to my side and asked for my help at last. That would be testing my principles you see. Because if that had occurred and I refused to help him knowing I could or did help while also letting him hear a piece of my mind then it would be about my ego and kindness to another human being shouldn’t involve the ego is what I’ve always told myself. I guess I didn’t want to be tested. I am not a Prophet or a Monk. I do have selfish feelings. And who knows, maybe that young man saw a Muslim woman and he thought he was a man so he didn’t want to burden me for my own benefit. So not asking me was rather a favor he had bestowed upon me in his eyes. It is possible. But I certainly would have been the one to give him actual dollar bills.

Cultural assimilation in America and two interesting Somali boys

Recently comments by a mayor in Maine, dubbed “one of the whitest states in the Union” caused a controversy, when he stated: Somalis ‘should leave culture at door’. Following protests, the mayor has since retracted his statements and toned down the racist implications in those statements by stating he meant immigrants should try to assimilate into “American culture,” not give up their language or traditions. Yeah. Right.

I am not sure really what makes up “American culture”. What exactly is American culture? What I see is a nation shared by many people, all whom are immigrants one way or another, except the Native Americans. Each group has a unique history/”culture” which they brought into this country and all have the commonality by being governed by the ethos/laws of the land.

Have Somalis and other recent immigrants broken the law of the land? Is there something in their culture, which makes them not law abiding citizens or unproductive members of society? Because if I was a mayor or a public figure this would be of a greater concern to me, if immigrants were breaking the law and thus endangering the fabric of society. Don’t you think?

But of course this is not what unsettles the mayor and assimilation enthusiasts. Those Somali families, who have gone to Maine have gone to seek a better environment to raise their children. Years ago as the wave to Maine was underway, I met parents, who felt their children were losing their way in Ohio so they sought a nurturing and family oriented environment. I don’t know who the first person was to lead the way, but many more families followed other families to seek a better life in Maine. I believe now the number is around 6,000 Somalis live in Maine.

You see that has always been at the core of every immigrant story since the beginning of time, to seek a better life. People risk their precious lives and that of their families for the dream of creating a better life. That to me is so remarkable and courageous and deserves support, compassion, and kindness. If the tables were turned, those from richer environments would be embarking on the same journeys we have seen throughout history. I’ll get off my soapbox.

Somalis are no different than the immigrants that came before them. Well, except of course they happen to be black and their women tend to wear a lot of bright clothes from head to toe on top of that. And that ladies and gentlemen is what unsettles the mayor of Maine and assimilation enthusiasts.

To me, that is what makes America or Canada for example, great and beautiful, our diversity. Our diversity of race, of language, of attire, of poetry, of song, and dance. I love for example when I go to a big city like NYC (I’m from Indiana) and I see much of humanity represented. That is beautiful. I want to see Latin cultures, Indian, Nigerian, Indonesian, or Haitian and so forth all around me. I don’t want to live in a world where we are clones of each other, speak the same language, dress in the same attire or believe in the same things. That is boring and quite frankly limits our human growth.

But you know what, behind those words of the Mayor of Maine and those like him, “assimilate into “American culture,” means hey look more like me, think more like me, and dress more like me. It is not politically correct to say that, thus hiding behind those words of “assimilate into American culture.” Because let’s face it, which “American culture” does the Mayor wish Somalis and recent immigrants to assimilate into? Yeah I thought so.

Here is the thing. Somali’s are very new immigrants. As an immigrant community, they haven’t even reached their 20 year milestone. The first Somali born American generation is just coming of age. And Mr. Mayor don’t you worry, history is on your side. Be patient. Be a man of vision. Think about every immigrant story before the Somali’s you are now fixated on, wishing they’d change their ways immediately. Remember change doesn’t occur overnight. You’re in politics man, you should know that already. And the change you’d wish would magically happen to the Somalis, well that kind of change takes generations. Think of the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Puerto Ricans and so forth. But as I’ve said, history is on your side.

What you are seeing now is our mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, and grandparents, who haven’t been away for long from the land of their youth. They are very unlikely to give up “their ways”, you know how old folks are, they are very stubborn, but our children and their children’s children will dress, eat, speak, and honor your “American heritage” better than you sir. Now doesn’t that make you smile and put you more at ease? I thought it would.

And oh no, I am not making this up. Of course there is nothing scientific about my theories, only personal observations over the years. You see even today, I met two very bright Somali boys. Both under 12. They have an older sister, who is 16. Both of their parents are Somali. The father drives a cab, the mother stays home, I believe. Both of their parents hardly speak English and they are very gung-ho about their Somaliness. You know, they are the type of folks who follow more what is going on in that God-forsaken country of theirs, instead of immersing themselves in the Great US of A. We are having an important National election for goodness sake and they are more interested in the local politics of a “failed state.” What gives? Beats me too.

Well here is the kicker. I had a long and interesting conversation with the two boys, in English, as they and their older sister speak not a word of Somali. That must make you proud, Mr. Mayor. But this will make you even more proud. The boys went on to tell me about the world in a perspective of “us and them.”

They were bright you see and we discussed various topics including important world events like WW1, WW2, Pearl Harbor, the Vietnam war, Africa, and even “the financial threat of China.” I sat there fascinated as these two young boys of Somali descendent, whose parents spoke very little English, told me how “we won WW2 against the Japanese”, how “we put Japanese in camps, because of Pearl Harbor”, how “we are greater than the Chinese and Africans, and they need us to survive economically.” Fascinated I tell you, fascinated.

So I asked the boys if they considered themselves, “Somali-American, just Somali, or just American.” They replied, “American.” They didn’t even pause to think of the answer. And I tell you, identities for immigrant children and I am one can get very complicated. Anyways, I asked them why they answered just American, and they said, “because we were born here and have no connection with Somalia.” Fair enough. Even I, who wasn’t born here, but raised here identify more with the land I grew up in more so than the one my dear mother gave birth in.

But here is what troubled me and not because I am a proud, hardcore and diehard Somali culture, afrocentric adherent. It was the total disconnect, almost disregard of their Somali/African heritage. These two boys saw the world as us and them. And what was foreign to them were their ancestors, the fathers and mothers of their father and their mother. Somalia and Africa to them was a place unthinkable, undesirable, and alien so far removed from what they could possible find any value in. It went as far as looking down on their parents, because their parents had accents and can hardly speak English. It was very scary actually and very sad to me. Now I understand they are just children and children grow and learn. I just hope they don’t grow up to be like the Ivy League educated Somali guy I met a couple of years ago, who thought the less he identified with being Somali or African the more sophisticated and awesome he was. Or the Nigerian guy in my class, who got angry every-time someone didn’t identify him as an American and asked him where in Africa he was from.

So Mr. Mayor, chill and just wait a generation or two. If the pattern continues as I have observed, it is the cultural enthusiasts who wish to maintain their rich cultural heritage and language in a very westernized world, who have more to fear than you do.

How does one respond to insults…

How does one react when you, someone you love or values you hold very dear are belittled, undermined, insulted, in short treated with contempt and/or dismissal? Granted, different situations and personalities will require different responses from you. Circumstance is a strong influencer (ie on the job, with a loved one vs a stranger and so on) as will be our own personalities. Some of us are more combative, as my cousin once said following a racist insult in which I encouraged we ignore, “if they throw xaar(shit) at me, I will throw xaar (shit) back at them.” And she did just that. Traded insults for insults.

Although I understand the human need to defend one’s honor after being insulted and I am a strong believer in standing up for yourself (and others), I just have never been capable of trading insults or screams.

When one’s personhood is insulted, the natural human reaction is to insult back. If they belittle your race, religion, or country then to make sure they don’t get one over you, you belittle their race, religion, or country. From my experience that seems to be the predominate path most people take.

I was reminded of this after watching the interview with CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper, in which he responded to Star Jones allegations that he publically revealed his sexuality to boost ratings. After dismissing those allegations as outrageous, he went further to discredit Star Jones personhood. He mentioned how she, not him was obsessed with the limelight, pointing out her gastric bypass surgery and wedding. And how Star Jones was practically a “nobody” now. Even though it is not my style, I can’t say I blame Anderson for defending himself and pointing out the hypocrisy of his criticizer.

How else can you defend yourself against lies/hypocrisy, but criticize those who criticize you? The other path to take is just defend yourself, without taking that additional step to belittle the other person. If it doesn’t end there (and often it doesn’t, because it is seen as being weak, which encourages more criticism) then simply keep silent and separate yourself. I have personally always struggled with which method (s) to employ. I don’t believe in being made a fool of and I hate hypocrisy, but I also regard respect in the highest esteem.

When I was around five, my aunt had admonished me severally for spilling juice and breaking a vase during the same night, in which I stayed with her. I was so devastated by her yelling that I left her home in the middle of the night and went to the park to sleep. I didn’t know what I was doing or what I had got myself into. I don’t even know how the dangerous idea entered my little mind and where I found the courage to carry it out. I just felt humiliated and fled. That incident shook my parents so much, that they never left me with anyone ever again until I was much older. Although of course I am more rational and wouldn’t make such dangerous choices, that nature of mine, in which I have to flee yelling and disrespect I still carry. Even friendly sarcasm that belittles rubs me the wrong way. I am very sensitive when it comes to respect and when I feel like I don’t receive it, something happens to me emotionally. It is like I shut down, especially if it is coming from someone who is important to me. Because I don’t like it for myself, I am incapable of practicing it on anyone else. (This is also makes me think of romantic relationships and how I would perform since I hate conflict/arguments etc. Would I flee after a fight? I have never been tested and it is something I think about. There is a Somali saying, which states there is nothing closer in the world than teeth and the tongue and sometimes they too bite. I find this saying very profound.)

When a person is angry or insulting you then there is little room to reason with them so why bother and waste your energy or worse escalate a situation? And when you have the platform to get back at them it just seems wrong and egoistic to point out their shortcomings. I am specifically speaking about personal feuds like the one that occurred between Anderson and Jones, and not social/political arguments. I am fully on board with the Islamic ethics of not publically belittling someone’s personhood and if you have something to say to them than share it with them in private and with respect even if they have not given you the same courtesy. This can be something as small as telling someone they are late for a meeting and it applies to children as well, because they too feel humiliation.

Of course there are times when the hypocrisy is so blatant as in Anderson’s case that is hard not to retaliate, but couldn’t one just as easily have said you are wrong and here is why, without dragging the other person in the mud? I think most of us call that being the bigger person. I know it can be hard to follow sometimes though.

The Moth Presents Anthony Griffith: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

A good friend of mine had sent me the radio link about a year ago. I was moved to tears by this powerful tale. This week, I’ve seen the video being shared in various blogs and thought I’d share it here also. Please listen to this powerful, very touching story.

Balpreet Kaur, a powerful message

Saw this great post today. Such a powerful and positive message from this young lady Balpreet.

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn’t know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled However, I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn’t important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I’ve gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

Fore more see