Windchime Walker

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

a hidden hero 

Today I entered my seventh year of online journaling. On Friday, February 25, 2000, I posted my first journal entry on my Windchime Walker web site. I'd put the site up a year earlier, in late February 1999. When I think back, I'm rather amazed that I managed to do so, since I'd bought my first computer only four months before. As soon as I saw a personal web site, I knew I wanted one. My original intent was to share my ideas about being what I called "creatively disabled." This blog was a latecomer to the scene, having been started on Tuesday December 23, 2003, thanks to the encouragement and assistance of a regular reader of my journal, Mark Dilley.

Over my years as an online journalist and blogger, I've appreciated having the opportunity to share the stories of the unsung heroes and sheroes who cross my path. Today I'd like to tell you about Paul, a man of tremendous heart.

Paul and I first met on Friday when he came to check out my furnace. I'd called the furnace company on Wednesday, the second day that unidentified fumes had bothered me while I'd worked at the computer in my upstairs bedroom. They were bad enough to give me a headache, so that night Ed had duct-taped my bedroom heating vents closed until we could have things checked out. Thank goddess for electric space heaters!

Paul immediately found the problem: the furnace exhaust pipe to the chimney had been dislodged by some debris and was lying on our basement floor. That meant all the exhaust fumes from the furnace, including carbon monoxide, were coming back into the house instead of being vented out the chimney. As he said, I was lucky all I had were headaches. By the way, our one carbon monoxide alarm was on the first floor and things were obviously OK down there. Now I have one upstairs too.

As Paul was writing up our invoice, we got to talking. When he heard that my husband was a physician, Paul said, "Oh, you might be interested in this." He then told me that on April 10, he will be undergoing an operation to remove two-thirds of his liver so it can be used to save the life of a friend. She's a neighbor and a friend from church whose son is only eight. Paul and his wife have been spearheading fundraising efforts for years to help their friend pay her rising medical costs, but had only recently heard about the Living Donor Program.

By the way, he wanted me to know that his friend's cirrhosis of the liver was NOT due to drinking, but had come after a serious illness. She's been on the liver transplant list for fifteen years and only received her first call a few months ago. Unfortunately that liver turned out to be too large for her body, so they didn't try the transplant. She went back on the list. But Paul says she's now coming close to the end and can't wait much longer. So when he found that that his liver WAS a good match, he decided to go ahead. His friend didn't even know about it until weeks later.

Being accepted as a living donor has meant undergoing an extensive seres of medical and even psychological tests. Paul's surgeon, Dr. Marway Abouljoud, at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, is a world-recognized transplant specialist who also does transplants in his native Lebanon. The surgery itself will last five hours for the donor, and longer still for the recipient. Paul will stay in the hospital five days, and then be on bed rest for 3-4 weeks. During that time, his liver will completely regenerate itself. Isn't that amazing?

But what I find most amazing is that this 37 year-old man who has a wife and three daughters would do this for a friend. Now isn't that the story of a true hero?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Will the horrors never cease? 

I have never been more ashamed of my country. Step-by-secret-step we are walking down a path so similar to Hitler's Germany in the early years that it is chilling. I recall wondering how the German people could have allowed such horrors to exist and escalate without protest, and now I'm seeing firsthand how it can happen.

Yes, there are some of us protesting this slide into the abyss, but the vast majority of our neighbors go on about their lives as if nothing is wrong. They seem more engaged in their TV programs than real life.

What will it take to wake them up? If torture and murder of innocent prisoners, people being held indefinitely in cages with no charges being brought against them, preemptive wars based on lies, and government-sanctioned destruction of the planet don't get their attention, what will?

They don't complain when their government wiretaps their phones with no oversight, monitors their emails, keeps records of what web sites they visit, what library books they take out, looks at their bank, medical and employment records, searches their homes without their knowledge, examines their persons and property before boarding a plane, and more things that I'm sure we don't know about yet.

They seem comfortable with a president who, in five short years, has overturned our country's 230-year history of checks and balances and claimed power for himself that is above the law. They don't raise an eyebrow when, in those same five years, our federal budget has gone from having a surplus to being trillions of dollars in debt, with the military taking over 60% of our tax dollars. And what about all the social, economic, educational, disaster relief, welfare and health programs that have been gutted?

Today's lament was triggered by my reading of yet another in the long list of horrors being done by the country of my birth. In Sunday's New York Times (but already posted on today's web site) will be a long article on the expansion of a prison, this one in Afghanistan, that is even worse--if you can imagine it--than the one at Guantanamo Bay. It appears that my government's way of responding to the recent chorus of international voices calling for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay is to increase the capacity of their Afghan prison so they can transfer the 500 Gitmo prisoners there. This reminds me of how they responded to the international outcry about the secret American prisons on European soil--they simply closed them and transferred all the prisoners to another secret prison in Northern Africa.

Is no one else appalled by this country that calls itself the "beacon of democracy"?

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times article, "An Afghan Prison Expands, Filling Guantanamo's Role" by Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt that will be published on Sunday, February 26:

While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.

Pentagon officials have often described the detention site at Bagram, a cavernous former machine shop on an American air base 40 miles north of Kabul, as a screening center. They said most of the detainees were Afghans who might eventually be released under an amnesty program or transferred to an Afghan prison that is to be built with American aid.

But some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as two or three years. And unlike those at Guantanamo, they have no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants," military officials said.

Privately, some administration officials acknowledge that the situation at Bagram has increasingly come to resemble the legal void that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 affirming the right of prisoners at Guantanamo to challenge their detention in United States courts.

While Guantanamo offers carefully scripted tours for members of Congress and journalists, Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the international red cross and refuses to make public the names of those held there. The prison may not be photographed, even from a distance.

From the accounts of former detainees, military officials and soldiers who served there, a picture emerges of a place that is in many ways rougher and more bleak than its counterpart in Cuba. Men are held by the dozen in large wire cages, the detainees and military sources said, sleeping on the floor on foam mats and, until about a year ago, often using plastic buckets for latrines. Before recent renovations, they rarely saw daylight except for brief visits to a small exercise yard.

"Bagram was never meant to be a long-term facility, and now it's a long-term facility without the money or resources," said one Defense Department official who has toured the detention center. Comparing the prison with Guantanamo, the official added, "Anyone who has been to Bagram would tell you it's worse."Read more...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubai port deal 

So President George W. Bush wants Dubai World Ports (DP World) to take over managing six key U.S. ports so badly that he has threatened to veto any attempts by Congress to block the deal. He is on record as saying,

"I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I'm trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, we'll treat you fairly."

When I read this I smelled a big stinking fish. After all, I know firsthand how well the Prez and his cohorts treat our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters. Just ask my brother Rabih Haddad. Then ask Riverbend in Baghdad, and while you're at it, ask the people of Iraq, Palestine, Iran and Syria. But we already know, if we saw Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11" how Mr. Bush treats SOME of our Middle Eastern neighbors. Remember Saudi Arabia and the close Bush family ties to its royal family?

So now let's take a good hard look at the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the government that stands to benefit from any deal made by DP World. We can examine this relationship between Bush and the UAE from several different angles.

Did you know that the United Arab Emirates is "one of the world's most prolific arms buyers and a multi-billion-dollar military market both for the United States and Western Europe." Since the #1 most profitable U.S. business is the international sale of arms, that's a pretty significant connection.

And, strangely enough, this port management deal, that was kept so completely under wraps during its negotiations, had as a central player Treasury Secretary John Snow. It was his department that headed the federal panel that approved "the $6.8 billion sale of an English company to government-owned Dubai Ports World - giving it control of Manhattan's cruise ship terminal and Newark's container port." Mr. Snow just happens to have been "chairman of the CSX rail firm that sold its own international port operations to DP World for $1.15 billion in 2004, the year after Snow left for President Bush's cabinet."

Oh yes, let's not forget David Sanborn "who runs DP World's European and Latin American operations and who was tapped by Bush last month to head the U.S. Maritime Administration."

Are you getting the picture here?

There's another piece of the puzzle that I find worth noting, and that is that the UAE has been most willing to have U.S. military use its bases since before the first Gulf War. The Dhafra Air Base, located about an hour outside the capital, is a pivotal refueling base for U.S. planes in the Middle East.

But from what I've just read, all this is small potatoes compared to the main reason George W. Bush is so adamant about this deal going through. David Sirota brings up an issue in his article, "The Dirty Little Secret behind the UAE Port Security Scandal," that I hadn't even thought to consider. The following paragraph says it in a nutshell:

How much does "free" trade have to do with this? How about a lot. The Bush administration is in the middle of a two-year push to ink a corporate-backed "free" trade accord with the UAE. At the end of 2004, in fact, it was Bush Trade Representative Robert Zoellick who proudly boasted of his trip to the UAE to begin negotiating the trade accord. Rejecting this port security deal might have set back that trade pact. Accepting the port security deal - regardless of the security consequences - likely greases the wheels for the pact. That's probably why instead of backing off the deal, President Bush - supposedly Mr. Tough on National Security - took the extraordinary step of threatening to use the first veto of his entire presidency to protect the UAE's interests. Because he knows protecting those interetsts - regardless of the security implications for America - is integral to the "free" trade agenda all of his corporate supporters are demanding.

Oh yes, Mr. Bush is deeply invested in having this Dubai World Ports deal pass, but NOT for the reasons he gives. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out...and whether the mainstream media will continue to focus exclusively on "security concerns" and ignore the issues I've raised here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Writing up a storm 

Not a lot to report. I've been working hard on the lengthy article (7200 words at present) that I started at the writer's retreat in January. The working title is "My Brother Rabih's Crime of Being Muslim in Post-9/11 America." My final draft is now in Rabih and Sulaima's hands. After all it's their story and I want to be sure they're comfortable with how I told it. When they've offered their feedback and I've completed any necessary revisions, I intend to submit it to The Sun magazine. They ask for essays that blend the political and the personal, and that's what I've done.

I'm also working on an article that I'd like to submit to New Mobility, the disability magazine that published my article, "Pumping Iron" last May. My present essay is intended to show that it's possible to live medication-free with a diagnosis of MS. That's what I've been doing for seventeen and a half years and I gather I am a rare bird. The working title is "Not Conforming to MS."

Gosh, am I becoming a real writer after all?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The next step down this slippery slope 

I know that most of us, myself included, are sick to death of reading, thinking, talking and/or worrying about our Commander-in-Chief's next disastrous move. As bad as things are now, I fear we are going down a path that will prove to be much, much worse. As my husband Ed has taken to saying,"I used to call this the darkest chapter in our history, but now I fear things are going to get even darker yet." I'm afraid he's right.

So here we are fighting executive-authorized torture of prisoners, the shameful horror of Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens by a president who sees himself as above the law, environmental abuses that put the entire planet in peril, a federal budget that cuts everything to the bone except billions for the war machine and tax breaks for the rich, the Cheney-directed outing of a CIA operative as punishment for her husband not going along with the pre-Iraq war spin, the continued incompetent handling of the aftermath of Katrina, and, last but hardly least, the escalating nightmare of the war on and occupation of Iraq, a war that should never have happened.

It's not as if we don't have our hands full already, but, my friends, what's hiding not-very-successfully in the wings is going to be like tossing a lit match into a gas engine. And that is Bush's determined push toward bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. The plans are already made--sound familiar?--and it's just a matter of time. As in when the White House PR department gives the go-ahead.

Knowing you don't have the time, I'm still going to ask you to read this article by Heather Wokusch. It is called, "WWIII or Bust: Implications of a US Attack on Iran."

Could we have imagined in 2000 that our country would have come to this in six short years?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

lovely February days & nights 

Yesterday was a fine mix of working out with Matt at the gym, scooting for miles on a cold day, sitting in the sun by the lake, watching a little of the Olympics on TV over lunch, catching up with the news in the paper and online, taking care of emails, and joining my friend Pat for dinner and a night of jazz at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

And what a night of jazz!!!! I was blown away by this young trio featuring critically-acclaimed Jason Moran on piano, Tarus Mateen on the hand-held acoustic bass, and Nasheet Waits (son of the famous Detroit drummer, Freddy Waits) on drums. Oh my gawd! These fellows took us places we've never been before. It was jazz, blues, spirituals, improv, avante garde and classic all rolled into one. When Jason, an absolute genius, took us into the Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," I thought this Detroit audience was going to positively melt. A number of us stood up and sang as he played. By the way we were in the most beautiful setting imaginable--in the Diego Rivera Court surrounded by his room-sized murals. I could feel Diego smiling down on us, pleased to see his art enoyed in this way seventy years later.

After a nice long sleep last night, I awoke to a VERY cold day with the temperature standing at 10 degrees F. and frost on the windows. I've had a lovely relaxing day on the computer. Among my projects was putting up a link to a PowerPoint slide show I'd created of my January 2006 Peace Calendar entries. The link is now on the sidebar of my Photographic Peace Quotes Calendar under the heading, "PowerPoint Archives."

Soon Ed will be home for dinner and I expect we'll have another evening of reading aloud from "Ladies of the Club." After completing it a week or so ago, we've now gone back to the beginning since I hadn't read that part before. If we follow our usual pattern, we'll also spend some time at the piano with Ed playing and us singing together. I think I'll let Eddie go for a walk by himself on this frigid night--Yes, I'm chicken!--while I watch some of the Olympics.

Life is sweet.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

yet another Olympics 

It came as one of those spur-of-the moment, off-the-top-of-my-head inspirations.

Today was a seriously noisy day at school. It started right away at 9 AM with our first fourth grade class. Now maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were working with oil clay, which is a substance that's pretty hard to get malleable enough to sculpt: you have to warm it with your hands and keep squeezing and pulling before it will do anything.

We go around the world in art with the fourth grades and now we're in Africa making masks. Last week they'd seen a great video on African mask-making using clay, and had made pencil sketches of the mask they wanted to create. We use a fine white clay for the finished product, and, once the mask is dry, they paint it with tempera paints. It's a cool project and the kids always love it. Today they were asked to try out their sketches using oil clay before moving on to the finer clay next week. A task that encouraged chatting.

About three quarters of the way through this first 45-minute class, Susan the teacher said, "Maybe we should try Ms. Patricia's silent time-out!"

I'd forgotten all about this trick I've used with classes over the years. You challenge the class to remain totally silent for five or ten minutes at a time. It helps if you say this is REALLY tough and not many classes can pull it off. Then it becomes a matter of pride and the kids really get into it. But you can't overuse it. It doesn't work very well after the first time or two.

It helps to know that I've been thoroughly enjoying watching the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics on TV. That was what inspired me to fine-tune the game.

So, instead of just saying we were going to try to stay silent for five minutes, I said we were going to have our own Olympics and each class would compete for the Gold Metal. The event was called SILENCE. Oh my goodness, did that get their attention!

The first class received a perfect score for their Five Minutes of Silence. Then the second class--another fourth grade class--did the same. Now we had a tie for the Gold. The third fourth grade class BEGGED me to let them stay silent another Ten Minutes after they'd completed their first Five. And after successful completing that extension, they begged some more.

"Come on, Ms. Patricia, let us do FIVE MORE MINUTES!"

Well, they did it with flying colors. By now this event was being extended into next week too. After all, the other classes had to have a chance to match or beat this class that had pulled off TWENTY silent minutes! Of course, they want to remain silent for the WHOLE CLASS next week!

After one kindergarten and one first grade class-- who were definitely not yet ready for the Senior Oympics--we had our final class of the day.

This particular fifth grade class has some of the most out-of-control boys in the school. I saw them as pretty far down the list of Gold Metal hopefuls. Before I could even introduce this Olympic idea, Susan had to send the girls into another room so they could do their work in peace. The boys were off the wall. But I decided to give it a try anyway.

I told them about the time they'd have to beat and they were up for it. These wild men said, "Let us do it for TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES!" And that would be without a break. I shrugged and said, "OK, fellas. Let's give it a try!"

Now it wasn't perfect. There were a few falls, but, hey, they were PRETTY DARN AWESOME! After 25 almost-silent minutes, I gave them the Fifth Grade Gold Metal. Of course, it didn't hurt that they were the only fifth grade competing--I only come in one day a week, usually on Thursdays. But it didn't matter to these guys. You'd have thought we were in Turin! Such a celebration! And now THEY want to try to stay silent for the entire class time next week too, and want the girls to do it with them.

My guess is we might have a triple or quadruple tie for the Gold. The first time in Olympic history! And to think, these kids are only 9, 10 and 11 years old. I'm so proud of them all, I could bust!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yes to miracles! 

I am here to say that, after today, I believe in miracles. The biggest being how one person can feel the love and support of untold numbers of people, most of whom she doesn't even know. And then I must bring forward the power of having someone whom you DO know and love there at your side when you're going through a rough time...for me his name is Eddie. Let's also hear it for the medical miracle of antibiotics that can kick an infection out of the body so fast it makes your head swim. And finally, the gift of kind, competent medical technicians who help you keep your self-respect--even in stirrups--by sharing their lives in ways that take your mind off the unpleasantness of what they must do. Thank you Tosha and Colleen.

I am feeling like a new person tonight. No, that's not true. I'm feeling like MYSELF again, which is even better. My dear body is performing all of its tasks as well as anyone could ask, and, hey, that is the greatest miracle of all! So all my worries were for naught. But, you know, maybe it's good every so often to lose what you think you will always have. It sure makes you appreciate the small everyday wonders that you've been taking for granted.

Yes, I have one more test with the urologist in a couple of weeks, but I'm no longer concerned about what he's going to say. No one knows my body as well as I do, and as far as I'm concerned, she's doing just fine, thank you very much.

I offer special thanks to all you dear ones who held me in your hearts today. My body and I are deeply grateful. Please let me know when I can do the same for you. That's how the magic works, when it benefits both.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

the best & the worst 

Do you, like I, find that when you're mired in the muck of life, something unexpectedly wonderful will come your way?

The "wonderful" for me right now is receiving word that I've been nominated to receive a Beacon of Peace award at the 2006 Inspire Peace Conference to be held in Detroit on June 17. The email I received from the conference organizers--Dr. Carolyn Crocheron, Founder, Peace of the World International and Rev. Tia Taylor, Founder, Destiny Bound--said I'd been nominated because I'd met three of these four criteria:

--Actions touch and support humanity
--Daringly approach the impossible
--Demonstrations of indiscriminate and profound Love
--Devotion to and protection of children.

I am deeply touched by and grateful to my new sister/friend, Rev. Shaheerah Stephens, for nominating me for this award. May I do my best to live up to it.

And now for the "muck." Let me offer a warning to those folks who are not comfortable discussing bodily processes. Best stop reading at this point.

The symptoms of my urinary tract infection (UTI) returned--never went away?--last Thursday. On Friday I did something very uncharacteristic: I went to the doctor.

Let me say right here that if you're a woman medical student or intern who's still uncertain about what specialty to pursue, may I encourage you to seriously consider urology. My attempts to find a woman urologist turned up just one name in the entire Detroit metropolitan area and she had no appointments available until March. So I settled for the first male doctor who could see me at a urology clinic on our side of town.

Dr. Boutrous was obviously competent, seemed to ask the right questions and, as far as I could tell, listened to my answers. But the whole experience was somewhat traumatic for me. The nurse, who was kind and gentle, had to catheterize me to get a urine sample and that was distinctly unpleasant. Guess I'm just not used to "doctoring" because the whole thing spooked the heck out of me. I don't think any woman is at her best with her feet in stirrups and her nether region open to the air!

Long and short is that he prescribed a ten-day regime of antibotics, and said he wants me to have three tests so we can find out what's going on with my bladder, urinary tract and kidneys. Fun. Tomorrow (Wednesday) I'm scheduled to undergo two of the three. Dear Eddie, who has been an ABSOLUTE PRINCE during all of this, is going with me to offer support.

Today Dr. Boutrous called to say the urine culture showed that I am resistant to the antibiotic he'd prescribed, so now I have to take 14 more days of a different one. At least it answered my major question and that was "Why are my symptoms getting worse not better?" Believe me, it's no fun to lose control of your bladder and have to stay within a few feet of a toilet day and night. Kinda cuts into your social life.

I realize that, even when I finally kick this UTI, I might be looking at the need for new ways to handle my chronic bladder concerns. If you're a regular reader, you already know that diapers are a part of my wardrobe, but an indwelling catheter might be in my not-too-distant future. This is something I'm trying to prepare myself for, just in case. As much as I resist the idea, it could end up being as great a gift as my scooter. Anything that gives me more independence!

There's nothing life-threatening going on here, but nonethless I could sure use a little healing energy sent my way. Thanks ahead of time. You folks are great!


10:30 PM Good news! Just three and a half hours after taking one capsule of a different antibiotic, I am feeling WAY better! What a relief.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

a reunion 

So if you were asked to share what's happened in your life since 1994, what would you say? That was the question five of us had to answer yesterday.

In 1992, five individuals--a Franciscan priest, a male nurse who specialized in the treatment of AIDS patients, a single mother who worked as a Christian Service Coordinator in a suburban parish, a nun who was a state leader in Pax Christi (a national Catholic peace group), and a married woman artist/activist--started meeting every Sunday evening in what we called a Christian Base Community (CBC). Our intention was to share our spiritual journeys with like-hearted persons. We had two important things in common: 1) We were all progressive-thinking Catholics whose faith meant a great deal to us; 2) We all abhorred George Bush, Sr.'s recent war against Iraq.

We met faithfully for two years. During that time there were changes in each of our lives, changes we could not have predicted. The priest fell in love, left the priesthood and married. The nurse became a sought-after speaker on the treatment of AIDS patients at national and international nursing conferences. The single mother left the suburban church and went, with her 9 year-old daughter, to live and work at Day House, a Catholic Worker respite home for women in Detroit's inner city. The nun became both a campus minister at a local university and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother. The married woman artist/activist became a committed feminist and turned from organized religion to a spiritual path uniquely her own.

In the autumn of 1994 we held the final meeting of our CBC. Although we've stayed in touch, the five of us had not met again until yesterday. Almost twelve years had passed.

The first change we noticed was our hair. Our four members with brown hair now had silver running through it to varying degrees. Our one redhead was now pure white. One of us was in a disability scooter. Beyond these superficial changes, we found our hearts still beat to similar rhythms. Now it was George Bush, Jr.'s war on Iraq that we despised. And our spiritual paths, though different, still determined how we live our lives.

The now-married former priest worked hard on Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign. He even went to Boston for two weeks during the Democratic National Convention. In response to pro-Bush anti-abortion pamphlets that blanketed Catholic parishes prior to the 2004 presidential election, he has just created and printed pamphlets to distribute at parishes around Michigan before the upcoming mid-term elections. His intention is to give single-issue Catholics information on the broader issues that define what he calls an authentic pro-life agenda, issues like war, the death penalty, poverty, affordable health care, and support for women who need it.

The nurse still works at the same hospital, but now only half of his time is spent working with AIDS patients. The new life-saving drugs have turned this former killer into a long-term chronic condition, at least here in the United States where most patients have access to the drugs. It's outside of work that his life has changed most dramatically. Since 2000, he has been foster father to nine teenaged boys. His specialty is refugees--a natural for this former Peace Corps volunteer whose years spent in Niger defined who he has become. His boys have come from the Sudan, Iraq and Morocco. Five are still living at home, although two of them live away at college during the school year. In a month he will become a grandfather for the first time.

The single mother is in her thirteenth year as house director of Day House. The changes she has brought there are more than cosmetic; they go to the heart of what it means to create community among persons of diverse ages, races, ethnicities and classes. As one of Detroit's growing numbers of urban gardeners and a fabulous vegetarian cook, last season she brought 600 pounds of homegrown fruit and vegetables in tasty recipes to the dining table where staff and guests sit down together and eat every night. She has also become a massage therapist who works with elderly nuns in a local religious community's infirmary. And her daughter, now 21, has just one more year before graduating in sociology from the University of Michigan.

The nun has just begun a three-month sabbatical in which she plans to be mentored by a local woman whom she met at a California institute that blends spirituality, creativity and environmental awareness. After her mother died four years ago, she was free to follow her passion for peace. She has made two trips with the Michigan Peace Team to Palestine and Israel. In her first visit, she joined with other international peace activists in their attempts to protect Palestinian families whose homes were under threat of being bulldozed. She described living in such homes as both gratifying and terrifying. The second visit ended up differently from what was planned when half of their team were turned back a dozen times at the border to Gaza. But they stayed in Jerusalem and did what they could to offer support to their sisters who had gotten in.

The married woman artist/activist spoke of her ongoing commitment to and work for peace, her writing both online and off, her visit to her family in Beirut, her six winters spent in San Francisco, her continuing comfort living outside of any religious structure, her disability and regular exercising, her part in co-founding the Raging Grannies in Detroit, and the joys of participating in the O Beautiful Gaia CD project.

Here is a picture I took of four of the five--Ray Chappa, Jerry Burns, Joan Kusack and Pat Kolon. We hope not to wait another twelve years before meeting again. Twelve months might be more like it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Baghdad is still burning... 

Do you want to know what it's like to live in Baghdad right now? What it's like to be raided in your home by troops at 5 AM, troops who point Klashnikovs at you, take men aged 19-40 away, never to be seen again, search all your drawers, cabinets and closets, steal things, and frighten you half to death?

Go to Riverbend's blog entry for today, February 11, and you can see for yourself what it's like.

It drives me WILD when naive (brainwashed?) Americans say Iraq is a better place to live in now that we've "liberated' them from that monster, Saddam Hussein.

So who's going to liberate them from us and the monsters we've created?

Friday, February 10, 2006

looking beyond the obvious 

As millions of Muslims across the world continue to mount protests against the Danish cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammad in, to them, blasphemous ways, I am struck by the superficial and often racist reporting of the subject by the media. More and more it seems that the protesters are being portrayed as rabid, violent, out-of-control Islamic fundamentalists who are overreacting to what was meant as a "joke."

While those few who set fire to Danish embassies, torch cars and threaten Danish citizens with harm DO fit that stereotype, the vast majority are faithful Muslims who, like my brother Rabih Haddad, take to the streets in prayerful, peaceful protest of what they believe to be an intentional insult to the Prophet who was the father of Islam, the religion that courses through the blood of their bodies and beats in the heart of their spiritual lives.

And I believe it goes even deeper than that. Followers of Islam have become the most rejected among us. Not just in the United States, where, since 9/11, institutionized, government-approved racial profiling of Muslims of Arab descent has become the law of the land, but in European countries where anti-Muslim feelings have led to unprosecuted crimes against immigrants from Arab and South Asian countries. What happened in Australia in December serves as a clear illustration of what I'm talking about, not to mention America's endless war on and occupation of Iraq and the escalating horrors there.

All this to say that if the Muslim people seem to be overreacting to a "mere" cartoon, perhaps it is simply the last straw.

In relation to this issue, Thomas Bryner, a reader who often leads me to new awarenesses, sent me the following link in an email today:

If you're interested in looking beneath the surface of what the media is telling us about the cartoons and from whence they came, I recommend your taking the time to read this blog entry written by Mr. John Sugg, veteran journalist and new blogger. There's LOTS more there than we're being told.

Whatever did we do back in the pre-internet days when we had to take at face value whatever the mainstream media chose to tell us?


February 10, 2006
Danish Editor Responsible for Cartoons to Take Indefinite Leave

International Herald Tribune

COPENHAGEN, Feb. 10--Flemming Rose, the Danish editor whose decision to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad helped provoke weeks of fury in the Muslim world, said in an interview today that he was leaving his newspaper on indefinite vacation following a series of recent mistakes.

Mr. Rose stood by the decision of the newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, to publish the caricatures, citing the freedom of the press.

And he declined to apologize for the drawings, which have prompted widespread protests across the Middle East, boycotts of Danish goods and the burning down of Danish embassies.

He said in an interview, however, that the stress of recent events had given him sleepless nights and affected his judgment.

"I am thankful that the newspaper has given me the chance to recover. I am tired," he said. "In the middle of a crisis, you do not always recognize the tensions placed on you. I'm glad someone on the paper had the guts to make the decision to give me a break because sometimes you want to keep on fighting." Read more...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

My shero 

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours with one of the hidden sheroes of our time, Mercy sister Elizabeth LaForest. Now 90, Sr. Elizabeth has been working for peace and justice for more years than most of us have been alive. And she hasn't stopped yet. Not even Lou Gehrig's disease can keep her down.

Where her sphere of influence used to be the world--she spent three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria when she was in her 60s, and I don't know how many months (years?) in jail for non-violent civil disobedience actions in places like the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Nevada Nuclear Test Site and countless peace demonstrations here in Michigan--she now uses her precious time and energy creating opportunities for political and social change among her religious sisters, the staff and visitors at the McCauley Center, the Sisters of Mercy retirement home where she's lived for some years now.

Her instrument of change is a bulletin board on which she places articles and pictures relating to peace and justice issues in the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan, our country and the world. Because her medical condition makes certain things difficult for her to do, an aide helps Sr. Elizabeth by cutting out the articles she chooses from the newspaper and one of her religious sisters, Sr. Rita, puts them up on the bulletin board. But Elizabeth chooses what and where everything will be posted: it is her creation. She said, "I know I should be doing more prayer and meditation, but I just don't have the time!"

The last tme I'd seen Sr. Elizabeth was on October 7, 2002 as President Bush was beating the drums for his preemptive war on Iraq. The Detroit peace community held one of its many antiwar demonstrations that day and Sr. Elizabeth, then a young 88, was one of fourteen activists who intended to be arrested in a "die in." She--and all of them--were disappointed that the police refused to arrest them. This was the second time in the lead-up to that disastrous war that Elizabeth had tried unsuccessfully to be arrested. She complained bitterly, "But I have the time to spend in jail!"

I just "googled" her name and found that in August 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit seeking to block the Michigan State Police from participating in the Matrix multistate crime and terrorism database. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the civil liberties group and Michigan Governor William Milliken, Al Fishman and Elizabeth LaForest. Elizabeth was 89 at the time.

I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

So what's all the fuss? 

As Muslim protests against the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad spiral more and more out of control, it is important to stand back and try to understand what is really going on here. Whatever we do not understand we are apt to judge and condemn, but how is that helpful? Doesn't it just fan the flames of violence?

I have two Western authorities on Middle Eastern and Muslim issues to whom I go when I need to understand what is happening among the people in that part of the world. One is Juan Cole, professor of History at the University of Michigan and keeper of an invaluable resource, his blog Informed Comment. The other is the world-acclaimed international correspondent for the Independent/UK newspaper, Robert Fisk, who has lived in Beirut for the past 30 years and has reported from wartorn areas across the planet, most recently Iraq. Both are now analyzing what this most recent disturbance is about. I will quote them both here today.

If you click on the following links I've taken from Juan Cole's blog, you'll find an indepth discussion of this entire issue, including a synopsis of the recent history of violent responses to all kind of provocations by other religions, many of them in so-called western nations. He is not justifying what is going on today but placing it within a broader context.

Fact File on Reaction to Danish Caricatures
Caricatures Roil Muslim World; Beirut Embassy Torched; Iraq Demonstrations; Threats against Danish Troops
More on the Hypocrisy of the West and Cartoongate

But if you don't have the time to read these links--they are lengthy--Juan Cole introduced the subject in his February 6th blog entry in a way that I think adds immeasurably to our understanding. I will quote it in full:

Muslim Protests Against Anti-Muhammad Caricatures

Several readers have asked what I think about the protests among Muslims against the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published by a Danish newspaper.

Of course people are upset when their sacred figures are attacked! But the hurt is magnified many times when the party doing the injuring is first-world, and the injured have a long history of being ruled, oppressed and marginalized. Moreover, most Muslims live in societies with strong traditions of state censorship, so they often assume that if something appears in the press, the government allowed it to do so and is therefore culpable.

Westerners cannot feel the pain of Muslims in this instance. First, Westerners mostly live in secular societies where religious sentiments have themselves been marginalized. Second, the Muslims honor Moses and Jesus, so there is no symmetry between Christian attacks on Muhammad and Muslim critiques of the West. No Muslim cartoonist would ever lampoon the Jewish and Christian holy figures in sacred history, since Muslims believe in them, too, even if they see them all as human prophets. Third, Westerners have the security of being the first world, with their culture coded as "universal," and widely respected and imitated. Cultures like that of the Muslims in the global South receive far less respect. Finally, societies in the global South are less policed and have less security than in Western Europe or North America, allowing greater space to violent vigilateism, which would just be stopped if it were tried in the industrialized democracies. (Even wearing a t-shirt with the wrong message can get you arrested over here.)

What Muslims are saying is that depicting Muhammad with a bomb in his turban is insupportable. It is often assumed that in the West we believe in free speech, so there is nothing that is insupportable.

But that simply is not true. Muslims mind caricatures of Muhammad because they view him as the exemplar of all that is good in human beings. Most Western taboos are instead negative ones, not disallowal of attacks on symbols of goodness but the questioning of symbols of evil.

Thus, it is insupportable to say that the Nazi ideology was right and to praise Hitler. In Germany if one took that sort of thing too far one would be breaking the law. Even in France, Bernard Lewis was fined for playing down the Armenian holocaust. It is insupportable to say that slavery was right, and if you proclaimed that in the wrong urban neighborhoods, you could count on a violent response.

So once you admit that there are things that can be said that are insupportable, then the Muslim feelings about the caricatures become one reaction in an entire set of such reactions.

But you don't have to look far for other issues that would exercise Westerners just as much as attacks on Muhammad do Muslims. In secular societies, a keen concern with race often underlies ideas of social hierarchy. Thus, any act that might bring into question the superiority of so-called white people in their own territory can provoke demonstrations and even violence such as lynchings. consider the recent Australian race riots, which were in part about keeping the world ordered with whites on top.

Had the Danish newspaper published antisemitic cartoons that showed, e.g., Moses as an exploitative money lender and brought into question the Holocaust, there would also have been a firestorm of protest. For the secular world, the injuries and unspoken hierarchies of race are what cannot be attacked.

Muslims are not, as you will be told, the only community that is touchy about attacks on its holy figures or even just ordinary heros. Thousands of Muslims were killed in the early 1990s by enraged Hindus in India over the Ayodhya Mosque, which Hindus insisted was built on the site of a shrine to a Hindu holy figure. No one accuses Hindus in general of being unusually narrowminded and aggressive as a result. Or, the Likudniks in Israel protested the withdrawal from Gaza, and there were dark mutterings about what happened to Rabin recurring in the case of Sharon. The "sacred" principle at stake there is just not one most people in the outsider world would agree with the Likudniks about.

Human beings are all alike. Where they are distinctive, it comes out of a special set of historical circumstances. The Muslims are protesting this incident vigorously, and consider the caricatures insupportable. We would protest other things, and consider them insupportable.

Juan Cole, "Informed Comment"

If you're still with me, I'd like to bring you Robert Fisk's take on the situation:

No Clash of Civilizations, Unless We Make It So

Source: Independent/UK
[Feb 07, 2006]

So now it's cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb-shaped turban. Ambassadors are withdrawn from Denmark, Gulf nations clear their shelves of Danish produce, Gaza gunmen threaten the European Union. In Denmark, Fleming Rose, the "culture" editor of the pip-squeak newspaper which published these silly cartoons - last September, for heaven's sake - announces that we are witnessing a "clash of civilisations" between secular Western democracies and Islamic societies. This does prove, I suppose, that Danish journalists follow in the tradition of Hans Christian Anderson. Oh lordy, lordy. What we're witnessing is the childishness of civilisations.

So let's start off with the Department of Home Truths. This is not an issue of secularism versus Islam. For Muslims, the Prophet is the man who received divine words directly from God. We see our prophets as faintly historical figures, at odds with our high-tech human rights, almost cariacatures of themselves. The fact is that Muslims live their religion. We do not. They have kept their faith through innumerable historical vicissitudes. We have lost our faith ever since Matthew Arnold wrote about the sea's "long, withdrawing roar". That's why we talk about "the West versus Islam" rather than "Christians versus Islam" - because there aren't an awful lot of Christians left in Europe. There is no way we can get round this by setting up all the other world religions and asking why we are not allowed to make fun of Mohamed.

Besides, we can exercise our own hypocrisy over religious feelings. I happen to remember how, more than a decade ago, a film called The Last Temptation of Christ showed Jesus making love to a woman. In Paris, someone set fire to the cinema showing the movie, killing a young man. I also happen to remember a US university which invited me to give a lecture three years ago. I did. It was entitled "September 11, 2001: ask who did it but, for God's sake, don't ask why". When I arrived, I found that the university had deleted the phrase "for God's sake" because "we didn't want to offend certain sensibilities". Ah-ha, so we have "sensibilities" too.

In other words, while we claim that Muslims must be good secularists when it comes to free speech - or cheap cartoons - we can worry about adherents to our own precious religion just as much. I also enjoyed the pompous claims of European statesmen that they cannot control free speech or newspapers. This is also nonsense. Had that cartoon of the Prophet shown instead a chief rabbi with a bomb-shaped hat, we would have had "anti-Semitism" screamed into our ears - and rightly so - just as we often hear the Israelis complain about anti-Semitic cartoons in Egyptian newspapers.

Furthermore, in some European nations - France is one, Germany and Austria are among the others - it is forbidden by law to deny acts of genocide. In France, for example, it is illegal to say that the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian Holocaust did not happen. So it is, in fact, impermissable to make certain statements in European nations. I'm still uncertain whether these laws attain their objectives; however much you may prescribe Holocaust denial, anti-Semites will always try to find a way round. We can hardly exercise our political restraints to prevent Holocaust deniers and then start screaming about secularism when we find that Muslims object to our provocative and insulting image of the Prophet.

For many Muslims, the "Islamic" reaction to this affair is an embarrassment. There is good reason to believe that Muslims would like to see some element of reform introduced to their religion. If this cartoon had advanced the cause of those who want to debate this issue, no-one would have minded. But it was clearly intended to be provocative. It was so outrageous that it only caused reaction.

And this is not a great time to heat up the old Samuel Huntingdon garbage about a "clash of civilisations". Iran now has a clerical government again. So, to all intents and purposes, does Iraq (which was not supposed to end up with a democratically elected clerical administration, but that's what happens when you topple dictators). In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 20 per cent of the seats in the recent parliamentary elections. Now we have Hamas in charge of "Palestine". There's a message here, isn't there? That America's policies - "regime change" in the Middle East - are not achieving their ends. These millions of voters were preferring Islam to the corrupt regimes which we imposed on them.

For the Danish cartoon to be dumped on top of this fire is dangerous indeed.

In any event, it's not about whether the Prophet should be pictured. The Koran does not forbid images of the Prophet even though millions of Muslims do. The problem is that these cartoons portrayed Mohamed as a bin Laden-type image of violence. They portrayed Islam as a violent religion. It is not. Or do we want to make it so?

by Robert Fisk

If you're STILL with me--and I commend you if you are!--I have one more article by Robert Fisk that I'd like to share. This one was published in the Independent/UK yesterday (Monday, February 6) and discusses the demonstration that turned violent on Sunday in his adopted city of Beirut. Since no Western journalist knows Lebanon's recent history as thoroughly as Mr. Fisk, his perspective is worth reading.

Religious fury threatens to wrest control from secular governments

By Robert Fisk

Anger flashing through the Muslim world over the weekend saw protesters burn Danish flags and attack buildings from Lahore to Gaza. The Islamic Army in Iraq, one of the main insurgent groups, made a blood-curdling call yesterday for violence against citizens of countries where caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed have been published.

"We swear to God, if we catch one of their citizens in Iraq, we will cut him to pieces, to take revenge for Prophet," it said in an unverified internet statement.

In Lebanon yesterday, 2,000 troops fought demonstrators in the heart of Christian Beirut during the day as the Danish consulate was set on fire and a large church was attacked by a mob. Other demonstrators headed for the Lebanese foreign ministry. One protester at the consulate was trapped by flames and died after jumping from the third floor.

Yestereday's violence may have been inspired by the previous day's assaults on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus - or were perhaps encouraged by the same Baath party which must have originally permitted the Syrian demonstrations to take place.

More likely, the crowds in both cities were allowed by the authorities to stage protests, but the demonstrators quickly became overwhelmed as Sunni extremists - in Lebanon, perhaps from the Salafist Hezb al-Tahrir party in Tripoli, and equally Wahhabi-minded Palestinians from the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp - arrived with sticks and stones to assault the Danish property and then to attack the St Maroun church and march on the Lebanese foreign ministry.

If this is true, it shows how quickly two nationalist Arab governments can be challenged by Islamists within their own countries. The 2,000-strong Lebanese security forces had to be deployed in east Beirut to fire tear gas and live rounds into the air to hold back the rioters.

For Lebanon, divided along sectarian lines as it has been since its creation by the French in the 1920s, it was a grim and bitter day - perhaps the worst since ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated on 14 February last year - which brought Muslim demonstrators into the centre of Christian east Beirut where the Danish consulate is - or rather was - located. Burning fire engines and smashing cars parked in the streets, however, brought back ugly memories of the 15-year Lebanese civil war.

Little wonder, then, that Charles Rizk, the Justice Minister, asked angrily: "What is the guilt of the people of Ashrafieh for cartoons published in Denmark?'' Ashrafieh, needless to say, is an almost entirely Christian sector of Beirut.

Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese Prime Minister - who, under the country's unwritten constitution, must be a Sunni - insisted that this was not the way for Muslims to express their anger. One Sunni prelate who appeared on the streets in a vain attempt to calm the demonstrators remarked that "they have done more damage to the name of the Prophet today than the cartoons in Denmark''.

Lebanon's Interior Minister, Hassan al-Sabaa, resigned yesterday, becoming the first political casualty of the crisis.

At least 30 people were arrested and the Lebanese authorities later announced - predictably - that most were "foreigners". Whenever any civil unrest occurs in Lebanon, foreigners are always blamed - just as they were throughout the civil war - although it will be interesting to see if there are any Syrians among their number. Christian politicians complain that the Lebanese government, which knew that there would be demonstrations, should have dealt more "firmly" with the demonstrators - for "firmly", read "fatally".

But, in fact, the Lebanese troops managed to avoid shooting any of the protesters dead; "martyrs" would only have provided room for more violent demonstrations - and yesterday's battle in east Beirut was in marked contrast to the way Israeli soldiers deal with Arab demonstrators. The Lebanese, far from firing bullets into the surging crowds, pushed them back with water cannons.

There is no doubting that those preposterous cartoons originally published in Copenhagen last September have lit a small inferno across the Middle East. In Nablus, Palestinian gunmen stormed the French cultural centre yesterday. In Qatar, the government announced it would no longer accept trade delegations from Denmark. Iran recalled its ambassador from Copenhagen.

Muslim demonstrators could be seen on the streets of Beirut yesterday with green banners bearing the legend: "Oh Nation of Mohamed, Wake Up!'' The danger for the West - as well as the dictatorships and semi-democracies of the Middle East - is that rather a lot of members of the nation of Mohamed will do just that.

Syria is a largely Sunni nation ruled by Alawites - a branch of Shiism - and it is not difficult to see how even minimum Baathist encouragement of Saturday's demonstrators quickly turned into a Sunni protest.The Norwegian embassy had demanded extra protection from Syria - but was not provided with the security forces it asked for. There will be many questions asked about this among Europeans in Damascus; for it is the same old problem: who runs Syria?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

More from Beirut 

In tonight's New York Times online, I read an article about today's demonstration in Beirut. I found the following paragraphs confirmed what my brother Rabih had said about infiltrators:

Late on Sunday, the Lebanese interior minister, Hassan al-Sabaa, offered to resign over the way the episode was handled. The Interior Ministry said that 21 members of the country's internal security forces had been injured, and a source in the state security service, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to provide the information, said that 174 people had been arrested and that most of them were not Lebanese.

Lebanese Muslim leaders quickly condemned the attacks and appealed for calm. Lebanon's grand mufti, Muhammad Rashid Kabbani, denounced the violence, saying there were infiltrators among the protesters trying to "harm the stability of Lebanon."

By the way, my entry for tomorrow (February 6) on my Photographic Peace Quotes Calendar says in a nutshell what I feel about this issue of freedom of speech/press vs. freedom from religious insult. To my mind it is just another example of our western inability/unwillingness to respect the perspective of our Muslim sisters and brothers. The point is not whether it would bother us, but the fact that it obviously DOES bother them. For once I am proud of the restraint shown by my country and its media. Let's hear it for America!

Beirut demo goes bad but my family is OK 

Today I'm reminded of my Peace Calendar entry for January 14 that had a photo of Rabih, Sulaima and the kids with the words,"When one becomes intimate with persons in another part of the world, peace is no longer an abstraction."

During Friday's phone conversation, Rabih had told me he'd been asked to come up with ideas for signs for Sunday's (today's) demonstration in front of the Danish Embassy in Beirut to protest the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have so riled the Muslim world. He said he wished I'd been there to help him, but, from what he told me, he did fine on his own. "Freedom of Speech Is Not the Freedom to Insult" was one of his creations. He told me he planned to attend the demonstration himself because he felt so strongly about this issue. Besides, the demonstration was being organized by a coalition of respected Muslim groups and associations who were committed to its being a peaceful event.

So when I read on the Aljazeera-English news web site that the Beirut demo had gone very bad with the Danish Embassy being torched, police firing their machine guns into the air, crowds being pelted with tear gas and water cannons, and 28 persons having been injured, I immediately got on the phone to Lebanon. Rabih answered. By now it was 7:30 PM his time.

Well, yes, he's OK, but very shaken up. And his main concern was not for himself but for the children he'd brought with him--his daughter Sana, sons Sami and Rami, and some children of friends. His intention was to show them how one could stand up for one's rights in a public, peaceful manner. He assured me that the violence was obviously instigated by saboteurs planted specifically for that purpose.

I believe him because this isn't unusual in today's world. The first time I woke up to such tactics was in November 1999 when that small band of "anarchists" trashed Starbucks and other businesses and burned police cars in Seattle during the WTO protests. If you recall, that single image was broadcast over and over while the hundreds of thousands of peaceful demonstrators were virtually ignored. From then on I was alert to the very real possibility of infiltators being planted among peaceful demonstrators. We also saw it painfully enacted during the G-8 Summit protests in Genoa, Italy in 2001 when Carlo Giuliani, a 23 year-old protester, was shot and killed by an Italian paramilitary policeman who claimed he was just acting in self-defense.

The most effective way to discredit a peaceful demonstration is to infiltrate their numbers and start vandalizing property, burning cars, torching buildings and violently fighting the police. Once violence gets started, mob psychology takes over. It doesn't take many infiltrators to turn things bad.

Planting such saboteurs is a tactic commonly used by governments, military and/or special interest groups who have reason to make those who are demonstrating look bad. Of course if you call them on it, they just say you're paranoid. In the case of today's demonstration in Beirut, all one has to do is look to the north and see which country is under so much pressure right now that they would just LOVE to discredit anything to do with Lebanon. Seems pretty obvious to me.

Anyway, Rabih and the kids had a real adventure!

They'd gotten to the boulevard in front of the Danish Embassy--a boulevard I remember our driving down--early and were enjoying seeing the signs and feeling the amazing sense of support you get in a crowd of people who share deeply-held beliefs. Sana said it gave her chills it was so beautiful. The rally with speakers was to begin at 11 AM, but an hour before that, at 10 AM, things started going bad. Rabih said his first indication was when he heard machine-gun fire and got whiffs of tear gas. Luckily, he and the boys were on the edge of the crowd and he quickly got them out of there. Fifteen year-old Sana was with a friend's family across the street with the women. They were much closer to the embassy and she said she remembered seeing sparks of flames that quickly turned into a huge billowing cloud of black smoke. She and her friend's family ran away down some alleys, and were able to get a taxi to take them to her friend's apartment. Rabih picked her up later.

When I talked with 11 year-old Rami on the phone today, he said that yes it was an adventure but it was really scary. I think they all shared that feeling, including Sulaima who had stayed home with 7 year-old Oussama and 19-month-old Ibrahim. She heard the news of what was happening on the TV and made MANY calls to Rabih on his cell phone as he and the boys were disentangling themselves from trouble.

Rabih said this was his first demonstration since high school. I said I hoped it wouldn't deter him and the kids from taking to the streets in the future to stand up for what they believe. Rabih said he was glad I wasn't with them today...and you know I would have been if the opportunity had come up during my visit. Being disabled on a scooter in a demo-gone-bad is not my idea of fun.

You'll enjoy the fact that as we talked, I said to Rabih that I was sure our call was being wiretapped by the National Security Agency (NSA). We definitely fit the profile. He laughed and agreed. Then he said, "For you who are listening, let me make it plain that I do NOT agree with using violent means to make a point. I decry such tactics myself, but I guess you already know who was involved."

Oh yes, Big Brother is watching...

Friday, February 03, 2006

The richness of life 

Just as I'd predicted, the writers' retreat took me places I could not have imagined I'd go.

The first full day--Monday--led me to a new friend whom I feel I've always known. On some level, I suspect that's true. Shaheerah and I spent hours sharing our lives, thoughts, feelings and wisdom-born-of-experience. She is a minister who founded her own church in Detroit eight years ago. It sounds like the kind of place where even a non-religious sort like me would be comfortable. Shaheerah is about spirituality, empowerment, healing and helping folks in our wounded city of Detroit find ways to create their own source of economic and spiritual abundance. She believes each one has unique gifts to offer; it's just a matter of finding and developing them. She also has a terrific sense of humor and is a heck of a dancer! We anticipate getting to know one another better.

But it wasn't just new friends in whom I delighted; there were some dear old friends at this retreat as well. DeShaun, Lisa and Rachel are women writers whom I'd met at last July's writers' workshop led by Anya Achtenberg and Demetria Martinez here at Leaven Center. Then DeShaun, Lisa and another writing friend, Allyson, had accepted my invitation to attend their first Michigan Womyn's Music Festival last August. And a month later Lisa, Jessi (yet another writer from July's workshop) and I had driven and stayed together in Washington, DC for the huge "Stop the War In Iraq" march and rally on September 24th.

So here we were as January gave way to February, writing again at Leaven Center, this time in community with seven women--Jeanne, Michelle, DeShaun, Lisa, Rachel, Shaheerah and myself. We ate lunch and dinners together, and every evening spent a couple of hours sharing our writings with one another. Often it would be what we'd written that day, but we also heard earlier works created by one or another of us. You never had to share, so sometimes folks just listened and offered feedback if it was requested. Such wonderful writers, and even more important, such respectful listeners. And each person was also respectful of the silence needed during the day for those who wanted to write.

The meeting room was designated as a talking area if people wanted/needed it, but as the time wore on it seemed like everyone was really into writing. Most of us had brought our laptops and used them wherever we were most comfortable. I wrote at the desk in my bedroom. Jeanne used the table in the sun room, while Shaheerah worked in the meeting room. Rachel and Michelle slept and worked in the guest house and DeShaun and Lisa must have found their own quiet corners somewhere. There was great variety in content, style and the form in which we chose to write. Poetry, fiction, fantasy, personal essay and science fiction were all shared at one time or another. We also laughed a lot!

As for me, I started a personal essay about my trip to Beirut that quickly evolved into telling the story of my brother Rabih's experience with post-9/11 America's paranoia and imprisonment of Muslim men of Arab descent. I am continuing to work on this project and feel deeply committed to it. The response of my sister writers when I read aloud during our evening sharings helped me see that this is a story that holds people's interest and opens their eyes to things they did not know were happening in their country.

Hopefully the day will come when Rabih will have the time and inner strength necessary to relive those dark days and write his own story, but until then, I will do my best to tell it from my perspective. I must admit "My Brother Rabih Haddad" web page is proving to be an invaluable resource. By the way, I see this as a long article rather than a book, at least for now. But I'll follow it wherever it wants to go. Please hold me in good energy with this work.

In addition to making new friends and writing, I spent a good deal of precious time outside in nature. And of course I took photographs. Here are just a few of them:

--A view of the main lodge at Leaven Center taken from the paved accessible path.

--Three natural still life photos that my eyes were fortunate to find. Photos #1, #2 & #3.

--The fire circle where we women writers roasted marshmallows during our four-day workshop last July.

--What I saw when I peered between two trees and the morning sun in the forest.

--Views of the Grand River from outside and inside the lodge. Photos #1, #2 & #3.

--three portraits of grasses and seedpods. Photo #1, #2 & #3.

--Looking from the dining area out onto the sun room. My bedroom also had a door onto the sun room.

--Two lovely parts of the Leaven Center land. Photos #1 & #2.

Can't you see why I love going there?

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