The Dreams of Syrian Refugees

khaledhosseini

I came across this video the other day by Australia for UNHCR (the UN’s Refugee Agency). It featured one of my favorite authors of all time, Khaled Hosseini, and followed him during a visit to a Syrian refugee camp in Iraq. Hosseini is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and was a refugee himself. Aside from being a best-selling author, he also raises money and awareness for refugee families in Afghanistan through his organization, The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

I have always eagerly awaited Khaled Hosseini’s new releases ever since finishing The Kite Runner years ago. His writing is so powerful and relatable because he brings an unmistakable humanity to his characters. Rather than lumping together those marginalized by war and suffering, as the media is understandably apt to do when trying to provide broad coverage of an issue, he draws out the story of a few individuals that make us remember these are people like any of us, who have hopes and dreams and wish to better their lives. By visiting the refugee camp, he seems to be doing just that, bringing a voice to people who refuse to be defined by their situation.

During his visit to the Syrian refugee camp, Khaled Hosseini met two young, inspiring women, Payman and Nayleen. Payman is only 16 and is a writer at heart, but Hosseini explains that she can’t go school and follow her dream, which is a massive blow to her hope and self-esteem. Nayleen has a beauty salon in a tent, which she says is a way for her to help her family and gives her purpose. Both women appear strong in the face of their situation, and both continue to do what they love despite their circumstances.

As Hosseini walks around the camp, he observes the “suspended existence” these people seem to be in. They can’t go to school, work, or pursue their goals. Their lives have been reset at zero, as if their former lives and accomplishments never existed. They now deal with the psychological impacts of feeling helpless and like they are just burdens. He explains these people are an embodiment of the Syrian civil war and the loss that’s been done, as their dreams have been taken from them. However, he ends on a hopeful note. These people are still going on with their lives despite the losses they’ve suffered, and they continue to be driven by the very human need to pursue happiness where they can.

I hope there will be an end to this war soon, so these people can get back to rebuilding their lives and following their dreams. I hope one day I can read stories written by Payman. I hope that Payman and Nayleen and all the victims of the war won’t become a lost generation defined by needless suffering and the bitterness of fading dreams.

Until next time…

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Maysoon Zayid: Kick-Ass Woman of the Week

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Making a name for yourself in the entertainment world is hard enough for anybody with a dream of making it big. Add in being Palestinian, a Muslim, a woman, and cerebral palsy, and you can pretty much forget it. Today’s Kick-Ass Woman of the Week, Maysoon Zayid, refused.

Meet Maysoon Zayid – Palestinian, Muslim, female, disabled, living in New Jersey (!), and trail-blazing comedian. She is the first person to perform stand-up comedy in Palestine and Jordan and is one of the first Muslim women comedians in the US to perform around the world. Zayid uses her comedy to combat stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims and bring attention to living with a disability.

Zayid has managed to overcome a disability that was predicted to define her life. People with CP have damage to the motor control centers of their brain, which in Zayid’s case causes her to shake constantly. That didn’t stop her – she has tap-danced on Broadway, made appearances in the movies and on TV, and performed stand-up in some of New York’s top clubs and all over the world. In her TED talk, which you have to watch, she says, “people with disabilities are the largest minority in the world and we are the most underrepresented in entertainment.”

Even beyond her noteworthy career in comedy, she also runs Maysoon’s Kids, a charity for disabled Palestinian children in the West Bank. The charity provides art and wellness programs, scholarships, and other initiatives to better the lives of these children and decrease the gap between disabled and non-disabled children. Check out her charity here: http://www.maysoon.com. Seriously, how can one person be an inspiration on SO many levels?

“The doctor said I wouldn’t walk, but I’m here in front of you. If we had more positive images it might foster less hate on the internet… If I can can, you can can.”

Until next time…

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To My Mom, and all Moms – الى امي

muslim-mother

Today is one of the most important days to remember for most Arabs around the Middle East: the first day of the beautiful season of spring, which so adequately and perfectly coincides with Mothers’ Day.

No words will be sufficient to describe how grateful and thankful I am for all the things my mother has done for me so far in life: for being my best friend, for surprising me with my favorite home-cooked meal on bad days in high school, to being my personal ATM machine and all-inclusive support system no matter how far away from her I was.

Above all else mom, thank you for making me love the world around me, and instilling in me the passion to explore, to learn, to live, and to help others around me; qualities without which this blog and my continued adventures would not be possible.

This year, as we are all reminded of how thankful we are to have our mothers, let us continue to pray for families in Syria, Palestine, and other conflict-stricken areas in and around our region who have lost their mothers so tragically and suddenly.

I leave you with the words of one of my favorite poets, the outstanding Mahmoud Darwish (with an English translation that follows the original version).

 

 الى امي

أحن الى خبز امي
وقهوة امي
ولمسة امي
وتكبر فيّ الطفولة
يوما على صدر يوم
واعشق عمري لأني اذا متّ
اخجل من دمع امي
****
خذيني اذا عدت يوما
وشاحا لهدبك
وغطي عظامي بعشب
تعمّد من طهر كعبك
وشدي وثاقي
بخصلة شعر
بخيط يلوّح في ذيل ثوبك
عساني اصير الها
الها اصير
اذا ما لمست قرارة قلبك
****
ضعيني ، اذا مارجعت
وقودا بتنور نارك
وحبل غسيل على سطح دارك
لأني فقدت الوقوف
بدون صلاة نهارك
هرمت ، فردّي نجوم الطفولة
حتى اشارك
صغار العصافير
درب الرجوع
لعش انتظارك

To My Mother

I long for my mother’s bread,
My mother’s Coffee,
And my mother’s touch…
Childhood grows in me,
Day after day,
And I love my life,
For if I die,
I fear my mother will shed a tear!

Oh take me, if I return some day,
As a veil for your eyelashes,
And cover my bones with herbs,
That turned sacred by your ankle,
And tie me,
With a strand of hair,
Or a thread, that dangles from your dress,
For I may turn to a god,
A god I will be,
If I ever reach the bottom of your heart!

Place me, if I return,
As a fuel for your fire….
And a clothesline on the roof of our house,
Because I have lost the ability to stand,
Without your evening prayers!
I have grown old, so give me the stars of childhood,
So that I could join the young birds,
In their journey home,
To your waiting nest…….

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World Down Syndrome Day

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In the Middle East and other parts of the world, March 21st marks one of the most important days in the year – Mother’s Day. While I work on that piece for my blog, I share with you another important cause that is without a doubt worth celebrating and bringing to the attention of all of my readers, especially those in the Arab World.

March 21st, as I found out, also marks World Down Syndrome Day – a global awareness day that, since 2012, is officially recognized by the UN. It is a day where, each year, the voice of those with Down Syndrome, those who live and care for them, is heard, recognized, and celebrated.

The goal of the day, according to the website, is to bring to the forefront several points:

1.    Having Down syndrome does not make a person unhealthy.
2.    Down syndrome is a genetic condition, not an illness.
3.    People with Down syndrome may have health issues throughout their lives, just like everyone else and they should have access to healthcare on an equal basis with others.
4.    There are specific known health issues which may affect people with Down syndrome, for which accurate, evidence based information is available.
5.    Health professionals should be aware of these specific issues when treating a person with Down syndrome.
6.    Health professionals should not discriminate against people with Down syndrome by:
a.    refusing to treat them;
b.    blaming health issues on Down syndrome in general, or;
c.    considering only specific known health issues which may affect people with Down syndrome.

Growing up in the Middle East, I know there is a need to enhance support for this cause, increase awareness on the subject, and invest in facilities to support those with the syndrome and their families.

I hope my readers in Jordan and other countries in the Arab World learn more about the subject, read more about it, and explore how other countries are commemorating this day.

I leave you with this video, titled “Dear Future Mom,” in which kids with Down Syndrome respond to an expectant mother’s concerns about her child’s life (whom she just finds out has the Syndrome too):

Until next time…

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Focusing on the Wrong Issues

A few days ago, I came across an interesting petition that was being shared across various blogs and across twitter. The pleas and exclamation points embedded within these tweets and blogs made it seem like the issue being covered by the petition was significant to the global Muslim population – something I should be aware of and part of. I was intrigued. I opened up the link to the petition, and began reading.

“This petition is lodged In regards to  Katy Perry’s music video ‘Dark Horse’; hosted by KatyPerryVEVO, on YouTube. The video is considered as highly controversial to its viewers as a result of its portrayal of blasphemy.” I kid you not. That was what the petition was all about.

I was disgusted. This is what outraged Muslims around the world? Seriously?
I was astounded by just how many Muslims focused on such a petty issue rather than the bigger questions we need to tackle. One issue that I continue to wish the international community, but especially the Muslim and Arab Worlds would maintain focus on, is Syria.

UNRWA Photo Yarmouk
The photograph above, released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, taken in Yarmouk Camp in Syria, is the desolate reality that thousands are living in every day, starving, counting their days as we count our many blessings, and focus our attention on a Katy Perry video. Yarmouk continues to endure severe life-threatening shortages of food, water, and medication.

Filippo Grandi, the head of the UNRWA, visited Yarmouk last week, releasing this statement to reporters, ”The devastation is unbelievable. There is not one single building that I have seen that is not an empty shell by now. They’re all blackened by smoke,”

Some years from now, we will look back and talk about what we could have done, what we should have had our leaders do, to stop the sheer madness in Syria. We will express regret. Some of us will say that there is nothing more we could have done. Unfortunately, none of it will matter. For Syria and its citizens, our Arab brothers and sisters, it will be too late.

Here are ways we can all help:

http://www.unrwa.org/donate

https://give.wfp.org/629/?step=country

Until next time…

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The Ice Princess Zahra Lari

Zahra

Kickass Woman of the Week

I’ve never really been into the winter Olympics, maybe that’s because growing up in the Middle East meant that for much of our athletes, the focus and goal would be to make it to the summer Olympics, not the winter Olympics. There aren’t that many places one could practice for winter events. Apparently, I was wrong…

This past week, the Middle East and the whole world has been buzzing (albeit for many different reasons) about Lebanese female athlete Jackie Chamoun. There have been many  blog posts and articles covering this huge “scandal.” Rather than add to this list, I will direct you to an article by a fellow blogger, whose opinion I wholeheartedly agree with.

The female athlete I will bring to your attention today, is Zahra Lari – the Ice Princess. At Sochi, you cannot miss her, she’s the one wearing a black hijab. Lari became the first woman in the world to compete in international figure skating in a hijab, making a courageous decision I’m sure face scrutiny from various Muslim conservatives.

Lari has said, “In my country women don’t do much sport and even less figure skating. . . . I want to encourage girls from the Emirates and the Gulf to achieve their dream too and not to let anyone tell them not to do sport, not only figure skating but all sports.” And defending her hijab, she said, “I skate with the hijab, my costume is in line with Islamic tradition.”

Zahra, you are truly an inspiration. We are cheering for you.

Until next time…

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Remembering Hussein – ذكرى الحسين

hussein

اﻟﺸﻌﺏ ﺍﻷﺭﺩﻨﻲ ﻫﻭ ﺒﻼ ﺭﻴﺏ ﻤﻥ ﺃﻜﺜﺭ ﺸﻌﻭﺏ ﺍﻟﻤﻨﻁﻘﺔ ﺤﺒﺎ ﻟﻠﻌﻤل ﻭﺇﻗﺒﺎﻻ ﻭﻤﺜﺎﺒﺭﺓ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ. ﺇﻨﻪ ﻤﺘﻌﻁﺵ ﻟﻠﻤﻌﺭﻓﺔ، ﺘﻭﺍﻕ ﺇﻟﻰ ﺍﻹﻁﻼﻉ، ﺭﺍﻏﺏ ﻓﻲ ﺃﻥ ﻴﺘﻌﻠﻡ ﻭﺃﻥ ﻴﻌﻠﻡ ﺒﻌﺩﺌﺫ ﺃﻭﻟﺌﻙ ﺍﻟﺫﻴﻥ ﻻ ﻴﻌﻠﻤﻭﻥ. ﺇﻥ ﺸﻌﺒﻨﺎ ﺒﺎﻟﻎ ﺍﻟﻨﺸﺎﻁ ﺼﺎﺒﺭ ﻤﺜﺎﺒﺭ ﻻ ﺘﺯﻋﺯﻋﻪ ﺍﻟﺸﺩﺍﺌﺩ ﻭﻟﻴﺱ ﻤﻥ ﺒﻼﺩ ﻓﻲ ﺍﻟﺸﺭﻕ ﺍﻷﻭﺴﻁ ﻟﻡ ﻴﺸﺎﺭﻙ ﺃﺭﺩﻨﻲ ﻓﻲ ﺘﻨﻤﻴﺘﻬﺎ ﻭﺘﻁﻭﻴﺭﻫﺎ

Jordan continues to face a combination of rising external and internal challenges. The main external source of instability is the spillover effects of Syria’s war, specifically the enhanced pressures and costs of taking in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Internally, rising impatience over economic austerity, the continued perceived tolerance of government corruption, and insufficient political reform are still evident. During my last visit to Jordan, one thing was clear; people needed to be inspired, not by parliamentary representatives firing Kalashnikovs during a parliamentary session, but by individuals who passionately seek what is best for their country and its people.

There is much to be done to ensure that Jordan is a stable and thriving nation, and to ensure it remains a nation that fits the vision of its most beloved King, Hussein.

February 7th 2014 will mark the 15th anniversary of King Hussein’s passing. His beliefs, and his passion for not only Jordan and its people but the entire Arab World are principles that I hope the Arab World will bring back to attain progress, protect the rights of the Arab citizen, regardless of religion or political belief, and achieve the highest levels of pluralism. What King Hussein wished for his citizens was simple. He wished to enrich his people with respect, ensure justice and equal opportunity for all, and push forward with economic development. Challenges are best overcome when they are tackled by all peoples, and not exasperated by difference of tribal affiliations, origin, gender, or religion.

“Jordan seeks to play only one role, that of a model state. It is our aim to set an example for our Arab brethren, not one that they need to follow but one that will inspire them to seek a higher, happier destiny within their own borders.”

 

Until next time…

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