Saturday, April 24, 2010

Childhood Memories

There is a familiar sound that I have not heard in many years; I often wonder about how I would react if I ever heard it again. It is a sound from my childhood, a big part of my memories from growing up as a little girl in Iran. It is a memory that I share with all of the other little boys and girls who grew up in Iran at the same time that I did. A loaded sound full of meaning and full of deep emotions that echoed throughout the streets of our city mostly in the middle of the dark quiet nights spreading rays of red shock through every single sleeping body. It is the sound of the RED ALARM (ajeereh ghermez), warning us of the enemy's attack.
The Alarm began with the words "Attention, Attention", the voice of a very serious announcer who warned the residents of the city of the approaching danger and urging every one to move to a "safe" location. After the announcer was done with his speech, the high and low waves of the RED ALARM took over and continued for eternity.
Some times I would wake up and jump out of my bed immediately as the first "Attention" was said, some times it was the melody of the red waves that brought me out of my dreams and into the dark night, and some times I was woken up by my parents who had jumped out of bed and rushed into my bedroom. Holding a flashlight, my father would lead my mother and I down four stories (63 steps) to the garage, which was the lowest part of the building and where our "safe" location was. We shared that spot with the neighbors from our building who had jumped out of bed just like us, had ran down the stairs just like us, were holding a flashlight in one hand and a small radio in the other hand and wearing pajamas just like us. Turning a light on was a great mistake because it would draw attention to our location, therefore we stood in the dark and waited. We waited for a bomb to drop on our city.
As we waited, we listened to the sound of the shots firing throughout the dark sky that tried to bring down the enemy's airplane, the airplane that was carrying a bomb and looking for a light to drop it on. Then it would happen, the big one, the loudest of them all, the bomb. After hearing the bomb, silently we would take a deep breath, then wonder about friends and family and wonder if it was any of their homes this time that was shattered and blown up and their bodies torn apart. Right after the bomb was dropped, the radio played the WHITE ALARM announcing the departure of the enemy's airplane and the clearance to go back to bed. The WHITE ALARM was a flat note. We would say our goodbyes to our neighbors, go back up the 63 stairs and slide back into bed.
Episodes like this occurred multiple times throughout the 8 years of war (based on decisions and quarrels within politicians) so it had become part of our childhood. Even though we did not understand it, it was what we knew and what we had accepted (there was no other choice), yet when the big BAM shook us now and then, our little bodies shook with fear as well. We were frightened just as any one would be in that situation, when their life is at risk, but we were used to it. You could see this when at times we whispered and laughed with the neighbors' kids under the dark staircase and some times even played games while waiting for the bomb to fall down on us. You could see it when we all woke up the next morning, got dressed, had breakfast and went to school, just like any other ordinary day. To us, it was part of life - doesn't every child go through this every now and then? They must, because it would be such an unfair life if it was just us who had to live life like this -. When you are a little child and you grow up with something, you believe it to be normal and the common way of life, and that is what we believed of the enemy's attacks. Now that I think about it I realize how scary, unnatural and fucked up that situation was.
The high and low of the RED ALARM which was a big part of my childhood will always stay with me as it is ingrained in my memory. I remember being able to see the color RED in the notes. Even though I have not heard that sound for many years and even if I never hear it again I know the words that came out of the little radio by heart and the tune of that melody by ache.

The funny thing is that to this day I still do not know what that 8 year war that took so many innocent lives was about?!

Monday, April 19, 2010

One Night In Madrid

One day I am going to write a book. I have picked the location of my story and the plot, I know the characters and I see their fates clearly. My inspiration ignited inside of a bus, in a foreign land, looking at a stranger and thinking of a Glass Palace.

It is going to be a romantic and heart wrenching novel, one that will leave you in awe and envy. You will fall in love with this story that I shall create for you as it will make you crave true love and real lust.

On this day the first words are yet to be created, however what I do have is the title of my book and that ladies and gentlemen, is a start.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lipton Tea

Every time I stepped into the book store I saw this book on the best selling shelf, picked it up, looked at it, read the back, thought about buying it and every time I proceeded to put it back on the shelf and walk over toward the more superficial, meaningless, no lesson to be learned and romantic novels that I love reading. As though the book was stalking me, it showed up as a suggestion in our monthly Book Club and won the pick. So I ended up purchasing Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.
Three Cups of Tea is a story of an American man, a mountaineer, who stumbles upon a small and poor village in Pakistan after he strays from the rest of the climbers and loses his way. He is so touched by what he sees in that village and in the people whom he meets there, that his life mission becomes building schools for girls all over the country of Pakistan. Throughout the book, the American goes through such tough ordeals such as being kidnapped, getting shot at, riding alongside dead and skinned cattle for hours and just lack of some basic luxuries that the Americans are so used to having, in order to accomplish his tasks. He learns two languages, meets many characters, some with the biggest hearts and some very scary. He mingles with the American politicians and has a chat with some members of the Taliban. He lives away from his family for months at a time and puts his life at risk only to reach his goal of educating the girls of the neglected areas of Pakistan. He believes that education is the only way to help impoverished societies and to fight terrorism. This American has won awards and has been recognized for all that he has done for the people of Pakistan, for his selflessness and for his dedication to fight ignorance. Three Cups of Tea which is a story about one person taking an unselfish step to change the world warms your heart and opens your mind.

OK, that being said, I am going to play the devil's advocate here and point out something in the book which made me wonder if this American's work was really positive. Just bare with me.

The first thing that attracted the American to Pakistan and its villages was the people, their kind hearts and their hospitality. He was greeted with a steaming, tasty cup of tea each time he met a new person or visited an old acquaintance. As he was told by one wise Pakistani man: "Here, we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything- even die." These cups of teas were prepared in the traditional way, the way they had been for years, brewed into perfection by the women of Pakistan who were the hearts of the home. The women were the ones who made and served the sweet and buttery tea, which was such an important part of their lives, to the men who while drinking, built their businesses and eventually their families.
Fast forward 10 years from when the American met the Pakistani people and worked on building schools for girls. He sits down with one of the girls of the village who received an education with his help and was now graduating and planning a future with higher education for herself. This was such a satisfying experience for the American that it brought tears to his eyes, confirming to him that all of his sacrifices were worth this moment. During the visit, the educated girl serves her father and the American Lipton tea, LIPTON TEA! Not brewed, milky, sweet tea that took it's time to be simmered, but a TEA BAG! Now the book does not focus on this small part, but for me it felt like a screeching halt to the entire story. Through out the book I was with him, the American, feeling for him, wanting the girls to get an education, hoping for the destruction of the Taliban, but all of a sudden the Lipton tea stopped me on my tracks.
I am definitely not saying that I am by any means on the Taliban's side or am in any way against education for girls, I am merely playing the devil's advocate like I mentioned earlier, so hear me out. Is it not so typical of Americans to come into a strange land, intrude on the people's lives and waltz right in with their own beliefs, morals, ideals and how they think things should be, and force their ideas upon the people of that land? Is this not exactly what this American did? He came in to Pakistan and brought in his belief that education will make the girls stronger, more powerful and happier, however he did not consider the consequences. What he failed to notice (just like every other American does) was the fact that this act was the start of the destruction of these people's culture. Their rich culture of brewed, sweet, milky tea that sat within all of their discussions, socialization and lives, was now going to be turned into a Lipton tea bag, it makes me sad to even think about it. I can just imagine, the men of the little Pakistani village sitting in a circle on a roof top under the dark sky lit by millions of stars, with no woman in sight to help them with their tea (because she is in some big Pakistani city pursuing her education and career), drinking a sad sad Lipton cup of unsweetened tea.
Yes yes I know, women's rights, equality of genders, girl power, yati yati yatta, I get it. Tell me though, what about the culture and the tradition? What about the brewed tea made by a woman's tender touch and by her love? Should that be sacrificed and turned into history just like home made apple pie and fresh squeezed orange juice? Which is more important? Is it worth it?
Do you really think that after the third cup, when you joined their family, they will be prepared to do any thing for you, even die, over a cup of Lipton tea?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Part I: The Beginning

It was thousands of years ago, some where in the Middle East, in the middle of the desserts and the mountains lived a group of people called the Arabs. They were an uncivilized and uneducated clan, barbaric creatures who lived in chaos. These people stole from one another, killed each other, raped their women and died of diseases brought upon them by germs and viruses. It was a crumpling society where there existed no laws and no fear of consequences.
One day an Arab man, a genius, decided that he was going to change the way things were in this place where he lived. His name was Mohammad and he was wiser, brighter, smarter than the rest and whose thinking was above his peers. He saw the way his people were self destructing and envisioned a better life for all of them. His goal was to find a way to help them, this Arab race, to become better, stronger and Civilized.
The first thing that Mohammad needed to do was to instill fear into the people in order for them to follow his guiding to a better life. Mohammad's genius plan started as he dived into the unknown, somewhere where no one had any inkling of idea how things worked, the world and the universe. Mohammad's idea was to create a thing above all, so powerful and strong that one could not even see, touch or feel and that would be why they would fear it. He named it God and told people that this is who created the world and the universe. He stated to the people that since God is the one who created the world, naturally he was the ruler of it and there are certain rules and guideline that he demands from his people to follow. Mohammad's plan was masterful, because he managed to come up with consequences to those who did follow God's rules and those who did not. Again, it had to be something that the people could not see, feel or touch, so his idea of after death consequences worked perfectly. This way people would not know what their fate will be until they die, therefore they have their entire life to try to be good.
Because the people were uneducated and simple, Mohammad had to only provide some simple tricks for them to believe the existence of God. Yet, mostly they fell for it because they were desperate for something to believe in, they needed goodness and they needed faith. Another big contributor to Mohammad's success was that he was a good and decent person, he cared about others and the people could see and feel that.
Through God, Mohammad conveyed to the Arab people that stealing, cheating, lying and killing others are bad acts, calling them sins, and if any one commits any of those sins, they will be punished by God. And no one wanted to be punished by God because that would mean burning in the fires of hell as Mohammad had informed them. Mohammad taught the people about honesty, forgiveness, responsibility and commitment. He also educated them on good deeds such as helping the poor, and lending a had to their neighbors, acts which would help them build a strong case to enter paradise after death. Mohammad presented himself as the messenger from God and would bring to the people the requests and demands of God as the need arises. Now that Mohammad had fear on his side, he could guide the people toward health, order and peace. The Arab society was finally beginning to move toward civilization.
The Arabs were violent and angry people so the first thing that they would benefit from was meditation, therefore Mohammad organized praying to God. Five times a day they would push all thoughts out of their minds, clearing it of negative and disturbing waves. Their focus on quiet and united attention on one thing only, between the hustle and bustle of their day, calmed them. And finally, at the end of each prayer they would focus on a wish or a desire (which we all learned while reading "The Secret" that focusing on your goal brings you closer to it). This invention of Mohammad grounded the people and provided them with peace and tranquility.
The reason for many diseases and early deaths was that the Arabs were dirty people who rarely bathed, so Mohammad brought down a new message from God. The message stated that to maintain respect for God, one must be clean while standing in prayer in front of him. That is when Mohammad introduced them to the act of "Vuzu" where each person must wash themselves in a specific way (which covers most bases of the body) before each prayer. The Arabs were washing their hands, feet, arms and faces five times a day, increasing their chance of living a healthy life.
The next thing to tackle was the excessive raping of women by the men. The only solution Mohammad could come up with at the time was to cover up the women so that the men would not get aroused by seeing their bodies and hair. He introduced the people to a new message from God, stating his demand for women to cover themselves with cloth at all times when they are in the presence of a male who is not their father, brother, uncle or husband. He chose the age of 9 for girls to start covering, maybe because that was when the girls started to arouse the men. By not being able to see the women's sexy arms, luscious ankles and mouth watering hair, more and more men refrained from attacking and raping them.
There were many wars during the time of Mohammad, which left many women widowed who did not have anybody to take care of them. Because of his big heart Mohammad decided that the men should take care of these husbandless women. He conveyed yet another message from God stating that men are allowed to have up to four wives at a time. This way women who had lost their husbands in war had a man to take care of them and their children.
Although Mohammad said that the reason God wishes for his people to fast for one month was in order for them to understand and feel connected to the hungry and to the poor, the untold reason was the cleansing of the people's bodies. The unhealthy eating habits of the Arabs was a contributor to weight gain and physical risk factors. Mohammad was not a doctor, but as a genius he felt that a month of cleansing will benefit the people live a happier and healthier life. He decorated fasting with celebrations to make it more attractive to those who loved food.

Mohammad was a genius and a kind hearted man who saved the Arab nation from crime and disease by telling them white lies. Read on and in the next parts you will find out how his good deeds were turned against the people he tried to save.