Life-Changing & Inspirational Books

2020 taught us to count our blessings& My eternal wish for the new year is may 2021 bring world peace & inner peace to every soul in this universeesp. that humanity needs it badly

The Wind of Change in Iran - (December 18th 2020)

Aria is a magnificent vibrant novel by Nazanine Hozar about the wind of change that disrupted the lives of Iranians between 1953 and 1981 after Mossadegh's displacement, during the Shah's regime, and upon the Islamic revolution. It is portrayed by the intricate dramatic life of Aria who had three mothers: Mehri, who delivered but abandoned her; the motherzilla Zahra; and Fereshteh, the rich woman who offered her everything except love.

On his way back home from his shift as an army driver on a snowy night of 1953, Behrouz found a baby girl under a mulberry tree. He decided to adopt and name her Aria! But his cruel wife, Zahra who was older than him by 17 years and had an illegitimate son of Behrouz's age, didn't accept Aria and yelled at him for not wanting this 'filth' in her house! However, Behrouz was resilient and kept Aria! In Behrouz's absence, Zahra used to rage at Aria for no reason, beat her harshly, or leave her out on the balcony overnight without food! This manner was echoing Zahra's past sufferings due to being physically abused during her upbringing, and raped when she was 16 by Mahmoud, the gardener who married Fereshteh and ran away to Qom! These dark experiences also made her pessimistic as revealed in her warning to Rameen, an army captain who carried Aria from the army base in Darband (near Alborz range to which Behrouz has taken her to save her from Zahra but got discovered by the army) back to Behrouz's house in the city "… not to be a good person because the more good you do, the more you'll be hated. It's the rule of life…. It's the innocents who get skinned alive"!

In South City, Tehran's ghetto, Aria became a friend with her neighbor Kamran who took her around on Ashura' (on which Shia Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Hussein in 680 AD at Karbala), and entertained or brought her food when left on the balcony. He also used to leave her a bead bracelet every night on her balcony after getting back from the Bazaar, where he worked since his dad has lost his job!

Aria endured Zahra's ill-treatment for 6 years until Fereshteh adopted her. She was a rich woman who believed that taking on Aria would be her way to heaven, esp. that she was Zoroastrian and converted to Islam upon falling in love and marrying Mahmoud! Fereshteh sheltered and sent Aria to school, but was not emotionally available to guide her through life! This is due to being left parentless as Fereshteh's mom went to Russia to search for her husband, thus having to take care of her younger sister and two brothers when she was a child herself! Also in her youth, Fereshteh lost two humans dear to her heart; Mahmoud abandoned her while she was pregnant after becoming a cleric, and her baby died suddenly after a few months of his birth! Yet Fereshteh's maid Maysi treated Aria affectionately, who also was Zahra's friend when she used to work in this palace! Fereshteh's family, particularly her younger brother and his wife (Nasreen) didn't accept Aria and were rude to her, as they didn't want Aria to inherit the palace in the future. On one occasion, Maysi even described Nasreen to Aria as "when the head is wrong, all hope is lost"! Meanwhile, Kamran kept leaving Aria a bead bracelet on her window every night!

Behrouz looked for Mehri (Mrs. Shirazi), and upon finding her, he agreed with Fereshteh to let the 7-year old Aria visit and help Mehri's family without telling her the truth. Aria didn't like the Shirazis because the mother and her eldest daughter didn't talk to her, and they were very poor which reminded her of her origin. Nonetheless, Fereshteh replied that she would keep on sending her to educate the family's little girls, and that "money doesn't make you better than anyone!" So she kept visiting them until discovering that the Shirazis were Jews and not Muslims, after which she was forbidden from going! But Aria maintained her visits as she had a mind of her own, and liked two of the girls who were eager to learn reading and writing! It seems that Fereshteh's response resulted from believing that assisting the Jews won't let her go to heaven not knowing that kindness and helping those in need irrespective of religion is the path to repentance/God because God will give the giver as mom says 'إللي بعطي الله بعطيه'!

At school, Aria became friends with Hamlet (an Armenian who hated his rich father for working with the Shah) and Mitra, whose communist father kept getting in and out of prison. Aria enjoyed her friends' company and always tried to encourage her best friend Mitra to be independent by telling her: "That's because you make others think for you. You don't even want them to hear you thinking"! They also talked about politics in which Mitra said:"But God created princes. Don't they? To which Aria answered: Yes, and princes hate their Gods"! The three friends were always there for each other but the two rich kids criticized Aria's low class behavior such as the way she talked and ate! Yet at some point, Hamlet started to like Aria as he once defended her by telling Mitra that "embarrassment embarrasses you. Isn't she your friend? …your father is a communist …, you don't live to your family heritage". But what Hamlet didn't know is that Mitra loved and wanted him for herself, which Aria tried explaining many times to Hamlet except that he was already in love with Aria! His love even deepened after telling him her life story, of which she was ashamed esp. being a bastard child and desiring to know who her mother was?!

Accordingly Aria and Hamlet, who exemplify Jung's saying 'I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become', got married in 1977 after Hamlet's theoretical conversion to Islam! This devastated Mitra who distanced herself from them till Hamlet's imprisonment in Evin midst the Islamic revolution. He was accused of providing money to his communist friend, Reza. Mitra gave herself up in place of Hamlet without telling him or Aria, which eventually resulted in her hanging by Kamran! On the other hand, Kamran grew to hate the rich because when he was ~ 10, Nasreen kicked him out of the palace and didn't allow him to see Aria! This was a turning point in his life, which made him vulnerable to being brainwashed by the Bazaar sellers; hence joining the Khomeini Islamic army! Overall, the relationship between the first trio is a blend of friendship, love, emotional support, loyalty, and sacrifice; and the four characters highlight the importance of forgiving yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learnt it (Maya Angelo). Moreover, Evin is the place for political prisoners during the Shah's and Mullahs' rule, where Rameen also was imprisoned and viciously tortured on the pretense of being a communist amid the Shah's regime!

The money that was given to Reza was actually Aria's. She gave it to Hamlet to help his friend since she didn't want it due to assuming that it belonged to Zahra. Yet, the money was actually from Mehri who gave up Aria as she lacked the means to protect her from her ex-husband, who wished to kill his baby girl! Mehri inherited the money several years later from her friend's husband, who assisted in Aria's delivery but because he looked down on the penniless like Mehri, she felt ashamed and ran away! This man nevertheless blamed himself for Aria's desertion, and so resolved to leave his bakery to his wife and all his saved money to Mehri! In turn, Mehri decided to send the money to Behrouz to give it to Aria on her 18th birthday. But after his death, when Aria was 15, Mehri chose to send the money to Rameen; the only man that Behrouz has trusted and so did she as signified in her letter to Aria "… those who seem good are bad, or those who seem bad are good. We can never know. But I always hope"! Rameen met Aria after his release from Evin and gave her the funds thinking they were from Zahra. The reason for this speculation was the coincidence of getting the money at the same time of receiving several letters from Zahra explaining her anger at life and Aria! However, the truth eventually was revealed in a letter that Mehri has sent to both Rameen and Aria.

Following the revolution and while Aria was scrolling in Tehran's Square with her 2-year old daughter who wasn't named yet, she met the crazy woman Yaghoot who told her: "How can they arrest you when they're the ones in prison?" in response to Aria's remark about being arrested by the regime for losing her headscarf after being pulled down by her daughter and exposing her hair! Yaghoot also agreed with Aria, which a name represents everything and suggested to call her child Ghermez (i.e.; red) tha symbolizes love, rage/anger, fire, heart, and blood! This is similar to what we Arabs believe that a name reflects a trait in its holder - اسم على مسمى!

Throughout this tale, the author portrays the wide ethnic, religious, and political segments that were and still present in Iran, and the hectic life of Iranians at the time of the Shah and Al-Khomeini rule. She also described the natural beauty of the Caspian and the landscape of Iran's mountains, deserts, green valleys, cities, rich and poor neighborhoods, and streets such as Pahlavi street; the gap between the wealthy and the deprived; the Shah's and later the Khomeini secret police that watched everyone everywhere - in universities, night clubs, or mosques; the curfews, food shortage, riots, and violence that spread during the revolution where the Shah's snipers shot many civilians from helicopters, and the Khomeini supporters attacked the soldiers and the rich including flipping Aria's car and shooting her and her baby girl while she was going to Fereshteh's palace as Hamlet was forced to serve with the Shah's army; how the Khomeini followers started spreading the rumors that the Shah's soldiers were shooting women and children despite Aria's response that she was attacked by the Mullah's supporters; the incapacity of hospitals to handle the large number of the wounded and dead; the role of the West (mainly France and England) in bringing the Khomeini back to Iran; the inhuman treatment of prisoners pre- and post-Islamic revolution; and the new laws that the Khomeini imposed on the country and women esp. forcing them to wear a headscarf despite being a choice in Islam, and letting mullahs to work as judges who don't even have a law degree as demonstrated in Mitra's trial!

Aria also was clairvoyant as she used to tell everyone that they misunderstood everything; friendships, love, politics, the Shah persona, and the Khomeini and his real aim. For instance, the main reason for the revolution was the Shah's abuse of power resulting in the poverty of millions of individuals. But as I read somewhere that sometimes in revolutions, people replace a tyrant by a tyrant, which was the case of replacing the Shah by the Khomeini! Sarcastically, in his speeches while he was in exile in France, the Khomeini used to state that he would not mix politics with religion and will leave ruling the country to politicians, which turned out to be not true! History showed that mixing these two has destroyed nations as Marx noted 'religion is the opium of the people'. Thus "Madmen hide behind their causes" as a female prisoner told her cellmate when Mitra was in prison. 

This turn-page novel also shows that two of Aria's mothers projected their childhood wounds on her. For instance, Zahra's abuse reflected her inner darkness as she even used to tell Aria that she had devil's eyes because of their greenish-blue color! Sadly, Aria believed Zahra's comment until Behrouz told her that these are just superstitions with no rational that people had invented and trusted to explain illogical things! On the other side was Fereshteh's lack of affection and provision of answers to child's inquiries about life or even punishment upon asking about religion or politics, which depicted Fereshteh's deprivation of self-love and social support! Therefore, it is vital for individuals to work on healing their childhood demons to help them in building healthy relationships with the people in their life; otherwise, they will traumatize them because if a person doesn't heal what hurt him, he will bleed on people who didn't cut him! Besides, you cannot give what you don't have as we say in Arabic 'فاقد الشيء لا يعطيه'!

Finally, Aria questioned how the amount of money spent on going to space, after watching Armstrong walking on the moon, would feed any person?! It won't! Despite knowing that space science is important, I also believe in prioritizing things! So it is better to redirect the $50 million used to build a spacecraft in feeding humans esp. in this pandemic as in addition to the present 690 million hungry people, 83-132 millions are at risk for malnutrition (WHO, 2020)! Moreover, this book illustrates that abuse of power, riots, and wars are awful, as I myself have witnessed two terroristic events in Jordan. The first one was the 1991 Gulf war when I was in 3rd grade. I remember how everyday of the entire school year we were trained to hide in an underground safe room. Thank God, nothing happened in Jordan, yet the economy was badly affected! The other chilling incident happened on Nov 9, 2005 when I was in a MS nutrition class, on which Al-Qa'da attacked 3 hotels (one of them had a wedding party), killing, handicapping, and injuring hundreds! In all, conflicts only harm the innocent and I wish that love is as strong as hate then it would never lead to bloody wars or revolutions!

Girls, Woman, Other - (November 13th 2020)

Girls, Woman, Other is a vibrant non-traditional novel by Bernardine Evaristo about feminism via illustrating the interconnected lives of numerous Black women and LGBTQ living in England, the difficulties they faced, and the sacrifices they had to take to survive in a non-merciless world.

Amma, whose parents from Ghana and Nigeria, is a free spirited bisexual playwright who wrote The Last Amazon of Dahomey; a legend about female slaves who used to guard an African king because he didn't trust men. This play was performed on the National Theater in London that was attended by Carole, her school friend Shirley, and Morgan that praised it on her famous twitter account. It was a successful achievement for a woman who struggled a lot in her beginnings due to being Black, lacking resources, and cultural-clashing with her family, hence leaving them for disapproving her profession esp. her dad who was a man of his own time & culture! In her 20s & during early career days, she founded a theater company with her best friend and significant other Dominique that had a short success, but terminating this project did not affect their relationship. Then Dominique met Nzinga, a charming feminist, and decided to leave with her to the US. Yet Nzinga turned out to be an abusive narcissist that required Dominique's rescue by the women living on the same premises. After healing from this traumatizing incident, Dominique established the Woman's Arts Festival in LA where she settled, and only visited England 30 years later to attend Amma's play.

Amma's daughter, Yazz is a rebellious 19-year old woman like her mom, who taught her to be self-expressed since childhood to protect her spirit from being crushed later by the oppressive education system! Yazz and her 3 friends also watched the play; Nenet, a rich Egyptian woman who paid a professor to do her essays for her, and was betrothed to a rich guy of her parents' choice (who ran away with their fortune to the UK after the coup on Mubarak). Waris on the other hand is a poor woman whose parents had to flee Somalia due to violence, and argued that Mubarak's long presidency was a dictatorship and not a political stability as Nenet called it! She also played martial arts, wore a hijab, put layers of makeup because of being dissatisfied with her body image, and was dating a Somali-Norwegian guy. Lastly is Courtney, a White British lady who grew up on a farm in Suffolk. These ladies were always there for Waris who endured an offensive treatment after 9/11 and spread of islamophobia such as being called a dirty Arab or a cockroach immigrant! In addition, Yazz's dad (Roland) was among the attendees. He is a self-centered Black professor of modern life who became a public figure by supporting the norm (White supremacy) to stay standing in an unjust discriminating world, allowing him to irresponsibly abuse his students to teach his classes.

Carole is a successful bank accountant who was gang rapped when she was a teenager. She told no one about it as she felt that nobody would believe her, and feeling that it was her fault (because of wearing flashy clothes, dancing, & getting drunk for the first time in her life). This incident traumatized Carole and affected her studies. Nonetheless, her mom (Bummi) and one of the teachers (Mrs. King) kept encouraging her until she made it to Oxford. In this University, she was shut off by many people due to being Black esp. that not many Blacks attended it during the mid 19th century. The childhood's trauma kept haunting Carole as she couldn't trust men up till meeting Marcus at the university, and later Freddy (a White English man) whom she married against their parents' approval! Conversely, LaTisha, Carole's school friend whose dad (from Montserrat) left her, her half-sister and mom when she was a teenager to be with another woman but surprisingly returned back a few years later, didn't go to college and worked in a supermarket. She had 3 children in consequence to dating 3 men who either made her feel that the relationship would last forever, lied to her, or forced her to have sex in spite of not wanting to! The latter assault was done by the same guy who raped Carole; so if Carole had told LaTisha about her rapist, she might have saved her from this animal!

Bummi also had dark memories! For instance, she suffered a lot during her childhood in Nigeria after her father's death as she & her mom were kicked out from their property by their relatives, and had to run away when her grandfather decided to sell Bummi into marriage. Soon after, she lost her mom and had to work as a cleaning girl at a relative's house to pay for her studies, till she met Augustine at the university where she was studying mathematics. She married this economics professor, and migrated to the UK looking for a better life. Unfortunately, they were faced by racism that forced Augustine to work as a cab driver and Bummi as a cleaning lady! The misery didn't stop here as Augustine died from a heart attack, forcing Bummi to ask the pastor to loan her money. And he did, but only after she gave up herself to his sexual desires! In spite of all these tragedies, Bummi was able to start her own small cleaning business after some years, through which she met Kofi (a Ghanaian retired tailor) and settled with him!

Shirley (Mrs. King) is an uptight Afro-Caribbean teacher who was always hushed down during school meetings by the male teachers and Penelope. During her childhood, she felt angry on behalf of her brothers who had to endure the police harassment, causing her parents to teach them how to handle such treatment! She also tried to live up to her parents' expectations all her life via obtaining a BA in education and having a family with Lennox, who secretly betrayed her with her mom, Winsome! In 1950s, Winsome hopped from one British city to another with her husband who wanted to work as a fisherman. But all the doors closed in their faces due to their skin color, until they got to Plymouth where some locals welcomed them. Nevertheless, when their children were treated with hostility at school, they moved back to London where Blacks are more welcomed!

Shirley's colleague, Penelope, is a White British woman who didn't like Blacks as she felt that they were the poor, uneducated, and addicted humans who were the reason for the high rates of crime, violence, and Whites' unemployment in the country! She also believed that during colonization, the Blacks were ungrateful to the White man who tried to teach these savages civilization!? On the other hand at 16, Penelope discovered that she was adopted which changed her drastically, deciding to get everything she wanted in life. So she married the most popular guy in her high school and had 2 children together. Yet this relationship didn't last long because after reading the Feminine Mystique, she decided to work but her husband refused, resulting in divorce. This was followed by another failed marriage in which the second man was a distrustful psychologist! Through all this and despite reaching eighty, Penelope was still eager to know her origins. So she took a DNA test! To her shock, she discovered that she was 13% African and 16% Jewish, and that her grandfather took her compellingly from her mom (Hattie, who was a teenager then) and gave her up for adoption to avoid a scandal!

Hattie's story started with her mother, Grace, who was a light brown skinned lady. Grace was the daughter of an Ethiopian sailor and a British teenage girl (Daisy) who was kicked out form her parents' house when her pregnancy was revealed. So Daisy had to work in a flower shop to take care of her daughter. But after dying from tuberculosis, Grace was given to an Association Home who trained her to be a maid. While working in a rich family's house, she met and married a White man, Joseph, who owned a ranch and called her Queen Cleopatra! At the beginning, they had a baby girl followed by a boy who sadly died during infancy, leaving Grace's heart sore. So when she had Hattie, she couldn't look at her for a few months, fearing that she might leave her like the others! Blissfully, Hattie turned out to be a strong girl who lived past ninety, married an African-American man, and had a boy & girl. Yet their children hated the countryside because of the way people looked at and treated them as they were dark-skinned! So upon leaving for college, they never visited again except on the Holidays.

Hattie's great granddaughter, Megan is a light brown Ethiopian, Malawian, African-American who had a hard time growing up in which her mom wanted her to look cute via wearing dresses and playing with Barbie, whereas she loved to play with boys' toys and wear pants & t-shirts. And only in her teens she realized that she was gay, which her parents disapproved! So she got into addiction until one day she decided to clean herself and leave her parents' house. She then met Bibi on the internet, a Trans Asian woman who educated Megan about feminism and the difference between gay and transgender. Accordingly, Megan decided to change her name into Morgan, and identified herself as gender free due to hating gender labeling! Morgan loved Hattie immensely because all her life Hattie was the only person who accepted her for who she was and never tried to change her. She & Bibi also kept visiting Hattie every other weekend as they loved the countryside and enjoyed riding horses & chopping wood. This has inspired Hattie to leave the farm to Morgan since her children, grand-, and the other great grand-children didn't like the farm life, and was sure that they will sell the property once she stops breathing.

This exhilarating book vividly describes the awful treatment that the Blacks had to endure since colonization of their land, their enslavement, and even after their emancipation and enactment of laws that should protect them, ranging from looking down onto them; underestimation of language proficiency; kicking them out of stores, hotels, or restaurants; to being burnt alive! Up to this day, many people still ineptly think like Penelope that the colonists were spreading discipline and democracy, not knowing that they only abused the natives and robbed their lands!! But conducting a DNA test has changed the mindset of this arrogant woman making her believe that anyone can be a relative in this world, as displayed in this link:

One of my personal experiences with race privilege occurred in IAH airport. At the passport/visa checkpoint and after examining my papers, the officer asked me to wait in a room that had ~100 individuals from East Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, & the Middle East without explaining why. I waited for almost an hour until an officer called my name, checked my passport on his computer, and said I am free to go! So I ran to catch my next flight to Austin which once resulted in delaying my bag till the next day! Luckily this only happened twice, but my Syrian friend had to go through this every time she used to return to UT! This was the only time I envied Caucasians!! Yet the author showed that privilege is also about context, circumstances, & money and not only color as depicted in Nenet's and Courtney's characters. Nenet was the immoral, lazy, spoilt, and rich non-White Arab who would do anything to hold on to her privilege as compared to Courtney, the White decent, poor, hard-working farmer who played by the rules!

Other issues that Evaristo lucidly weaved are domestic violence, single mothers, rape, and the rights of women and LGBTQ to work, and live the way they want and in the identity they feel comfortable with! For instance, a rape victim should never be blamed by herself or others because it is never her fault as it is the responsibility of the guy who couldn't control his sexual desires! Adding to that, revealing a rapist is a bravery that protects other women, and saying no (like Carole), not ready or it is still early (as LaTisha) always mean 'No' and never 'Yes'!

Moreover, we can't blame only men for the failures of feminine movements because the first and strongest enemy of women's rights is the woman herself! Unfortunately there are numerous women even educated ones who still consider men to be superior to women, and stand in the face of other women, trying to control or change them like Bummi and the moms of Amma, Daisy, & Morgan. For example, some of my female co-workers believe that the main reason for rape or sexual abuse/harassment is the girl herself by the way of her dressing style (even leggings??), talking, laughing, hair or nail color, putting makeup, and music genres! And one of my undergrad experiences at JU was finding a piece of paper on all the desks of all the classrooms of the building printed on it: هل تعتقدين أن طريقة لباسك تعبر عن معتقداتك؟ That is 'Do you think that the way you dress expresses your beliefs?' This act only reflects narrow-mindedness and the mentality of predators to justify their actions! Furthermore, no one should stuff his (ill) thoughts into others' heads (esp. those ≥18) particularly that judging a person by what they wear only defines the critic! Besides, lifestyle including clothes could reveal a person's interest in a specific designer, fashion, or quality; expressing his creativity or individuality; or impressing others! So I don't think that dressing styles represent a personality because we can only understand someone, his identity, and beliefs by knowing her/him and not by what she/he is wearing!! Finally, because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere (MLK Jr.), we should always help these who are judged or treated unfairly by fighting with them since we only fail to defend them when we stop trying!

The Beach - (October 9th 2020)

The Beach is an agitating story by Alex Garland portraying the mystical non-touristic journey of a young British traveler in the Far East. This tale reflects on the beauty of Thailand's nature, the extremes to which a person can go to keep a secret, the detrimental effects of dope in fogging the judgment of the human mind turning him into a beast, and disconnection from the world.

This novel lucidly narrates the adventures of Richard who traveled to Bangkok in 1995. On his first day in the hotel, he awoke after midnight to the noise of his neighbor (Daffy) whom he confronted, resulting in an ugly argument between them. However on the next Morning, Daffy left Richard a map showing the direction to a hidden beautiful beach, which also had a lagoon encircled by cliffs and connected to the sea by underwater caves near Ko Samui Island in the Gulf of Thailand, before committing suicide! Richard was questioned by the police in addition to a French couple, Françoise and Étienne, whom he befriended and told about the beach which they decided to look for. In Ko Samui, Richard met 2 Americans named Sammy & Zeph whom he liked and left them a copy of the map.

The 3 Europeans rented a boat that took them from Ko Samui to an island that is ~2 km away from the island that had the secret beach, to which they swam carrying only very few things in plastic bags. Upon reaching the targeted island, they walked through it and discovered a dope field which was guarded by Thai men carrying rifles. So they hid from them and found their way to a waterfall from which they jumped, landing into a beautiful pool in a jungle where they were received by a guy named Jed, who later became Richard's friend. Jed guided them through the jungle to the beach where they were introduced to 16 men and women from diverse countries (England, Scotland, Italy, Spain, France, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Israel, New Zealand, and the US). Some of these have lived on the beach for a few months, whereas the founders; Daffy, Sal (the leader), and Bugs (Sal's boyfriend who and Richard hated each other) have been living on it for 6 years. The occupants were divided into groups to keep the beach life going as there were gardeners, carpenters, cookers, fishing groups, and a watchman (Jed). Richard, Françoise, and Étienne joined one of the fishing groups in which they used wooden spears to catch fish.

The three friends lived about 6 months on the beach before deciding to leave. During their stay, Richard described the beach life that consisted of working 5 days of the week, and playing football, swimming, or looking for phosphorescent seaweed in the weekend. He also used to play video games with Keaty who became his friend after spending many hours playing together. Richard also volunteered to join Jed to go to Ko Pha-Ngan Island to buy rice. Rice run required diving under water to reach the boat that they drove to the island, during which Richard depicted the terrifying moments of getting caught in an air pocket and the difficulty in finding his way out back into the sea where he found Jed waiting for him. Going to Ko Pha-Ngan was challenging to Richard because it was his first connection with city life after about 2 months of detachment from the real world! This strengthened the friendship between Jed and Richard, as he asked Sal whether Richard can join him in his missions to watch for new visitors who may try to get to their beach!

Despite the haven life that the travelers enjoyed, living on this clandestine beach was marred by a sequence of dramatic events. For instance, the settlers experienced food poisoning due to eating dead squid, and 3 of them were attacked by a shark that resulted in the death of 2 Swedish guys (one died directly while the other, who was rescued by Richard, suffered from superficial injuries and was taken care of by Jed, but unfortunately died from internal bleeding), and the insanity of the third who fled the beach by taking the boat that was used for the rice run! Before running away, Étienne tried to convince Sal to take the 2 surviving guys by boat to Ko Pha-Ngan where someone may help them, but she refused because selfishly she was worried about the beach secrecy (if discovered, it may be overrun with tourists and ruined like other exotic spots in Thailand)! This really pissed Étienne off but calmed down by his girlfriend who was worried that Sal may do something to shut him up!

Nevertheless, the striking blow was the arrival of Sammy & Zeph to their island accompanied by 3 Germans on a raft, who reached the dope field and started raucously collecting some of the cannabis leaves. The newcomers' behavior aroused the field guards who captured, brutally hit, and shot them! Witnessing this, have traumatized Richard who tried to reach the waterfall silently, during which he was annoyed by Daffy's ghost (that kept haunting Richard most of his time on the beach) who nudged him to help the travelers! Yet Richard couldn't, as he had to follow Sal's orders and not let them into their beach.

All these catastrophes persuaded Richard to leave the beach on the night of the Tet festival (an annual celebration of the beach foundation) using the raft that was made by the American & German travelers. He discretely told his plan to his friends, Françoise, Étienne, Keaty, and Jed, which included adding weed into the soup in an attempt to end the festival by midnight, to allow them to leave before dawn. The festival started by drinking too much alcohol and smoking weed. But because things don't go the way we want as we say in Arabic: "لا تأتي الرياح كما تشتهي السفن ", the dope guards stormed the festival, threw the corps of the 5 travelers onto the beach, grabbed Richard and hit him after throwing at him the map that he left for Sammy & Zeph signed by his name, and before leaving warned the celebrators about taking undesirable actions towards them if they didn't maintain the secrecy of the island!

In response and due to the effect of drinking and smoking/swallowing weed, the beach residents started mutilating the dead corps using knives after which they attacked Richard because of being responsible for spreading the word about the beach, leaving many superficial injuries on his body! Luckily, Richard was rescued by his French friends, Keaty, and Jed who came back with fishing spears, threatening to use them if the attacks on Richard didn't stop! Subsequently, the four friends helped Richard to the raft and left in which they were picked up by a fishing boat that towed them to Ko Samui, where they contacted their families, provided with new passports from the British and French embassies, and left Thailand!

The Beach is a vivid exploration of the ability to live a simple life as a cave man, which sadly was stained by maleficent behaviors such as allowing murder or not responding to the calls of help that were raised to provide medical care to a colleague at the expense of not spilling a secret! This tale also represented the consequences of keeping, and the inhuman limits a person can go to protect a secret that reveal his dark evil side. In other words, the way you see the world reflects what's inside you; love or hate, kindness or meanness, and the beauty (ugliness) we see in another soul is a reflection of our own!!

Moreover, smoking weed and drinking alcohol have shown to have detrimental health effects including masking the mind's ability to think clearly, which in case of long-term use can cause irreversible brain damage. These 2 substances also deteriorate the liver (the body's filter) and kidneys (the flushing system) that work at a specific rate irrespective of the amount ingested. That is, excessive consumption of these stuff would result in fatty liver that develops into liver cirrhosis (hardening of liver cells, hence shutting it down) and consequently death if not replaced by another transplant, as well as kidney failure that may call for dialysis. Thus, grass and alcohol are temporary fun but with permanent consequences! Similar issues also happen with unsupervised/overuse of medical pills or supplements such as protein supplements. So moderation (in everything) is a key in life! For example, modest intake of red wine (a cup for women and 2 for men) has been proved to reduce the risk of coronary heart diseases, but surpassing these limits would negatively impact the human body as indicated by an Arabic saying "ما زاد عن حده انقلب ضده "!

The author also shed some light on nature and pollution of rivers by toilet paper. In fact, its manufacture requires cutting trees, water to clean the tree (~37 gallons/toilet roll), chemicals to bleach it, and gas for the machines. All this contaminates nature and reduces the number of trees (~27,000trees/day) that are essential for the continuity of earth's life as Deepak Chopra said: "The trees are our lungs, the rivers are our circulation, the air our breath, and the earth our body"! Therefore, using bidets as some cultures do and recycling are good solutions, but I also believe that people should cut down their consumption of toilet paper and paper towels, esp. that the latter can be replaced by washable cloth towels! Plastic is another material that must not be used frequently as it isn't just polluting water but also harming marine life due to mistaking the indigestible plastic for food!

Finally, this book touched on detachment from the real world which is illustrated in the difficulty Richard has faced when he was trying to talk to some tourists on Ko Pha-Ngan (during the rice run). This was the case for just being away from humans for ~ 60 days in a story that happened in the 90s, before the revolution of smart phones that entered our lives about 10 years ago! And unfortunately, these phones have decreased human-to-human interaction despite their role in connecting acquaintances esp. those living in different countries; knowing about international incidents in an instant; and capturing images of injustices practiced on others! Yet as Sophocles stated: "Nothing vast enters a life of mortals without a curse"! Accordingly, social media isn't really social but a form of emotionless communication that dissolved the boundaries between public & private life. Social platforms also prompted distraction from what/who really matters in life and from the present moment (ironically, I've seen people who called from their cell phone asking if they forgot it at home, or bumped into a street light due to walking while texting), impassiveness to the people and environment around a person (raising the number of kidnappings & car accidents), believing or not believing the news due to the spread of fake news, exposure to bullying or abuse, loss of self-confidence and inability to express oneself during face to face communication, and dissatisfaction with one's life or shape (increasing the rates of eating disorders, cosmetic surgeries, depression, and committing suicide).

Addiction to smart phones not only alters our mental health but our physical wellbeing too including the eyes, hands & fingers, shoulders, back, and sleeping pattern! And as the speakers of 'The Social Dilemma' film and Frankl said that "social media industries are marketplaces trading in human future", and "When a person can't find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure!" respectively, therefore humans should not let their phones control them but on the opposite, to try to control its use. This can be done by removing the notification option (of at least the unimportant Apps), setting a specific time to check the email/Apps, not to be allowed during mealtimes (may cause mindless eating & lack of socialization with family members), and control what children watch (there are accounts, games, & Apps that normalize child and sexual exploitation, drinking, smoking, dieting, and use of weight loss pills or drugs, etc.)! I believe that the previous practices can minimize the unfavorable effects of smart phones/social media on our lives (esp. not to be distracted from those around us, and our goals), particularly that we mainly use them not because we need them but because we have them!

My German Brother - (October 2nd 2020)

Chico Buarque has set quest to search for his long lost German half-brother about 60 years ago, which inspired him to write the twisted novel My German Brother. It is a malevolent tale weaved by humor that highlights the cruelty of dictatorships and police states in Germany and Brazil in the 40s and 60s, respectively.

This is the tale of the teenage boy Francisco (known as Ciccio) who while reading a book from his dad's huge library, noticed a letter dated Berlin, 1931. This letter was from a Dutch woman named Anne Ernst in which she promised Sergio de Hollander (Ciccio's father) to send him a photo of their 1-year old son (Sergio Ernst) and that she will marry another man (Heinz Borgart - a pianist) in case he doesn't take any action towards her and the boy! For fear from his father, Ciccio returned the letter into the book and decided to search for his German half-brother without his parents' knowledge hoping that by doing so, his father would acknowledge and praise him the same way he commended his brother, Domingos (nicknamed Mimmo).

In the late 60s, when Ciccio was in college, the coincidence allowed one of Sergio de Hollander's books to fall into Ciccio's hands. This book indexed the names of individuals who were rescued from the Nazis including Heinz Borgart, who found refuge in Brazil in 1942. Luckily, while Ciccio was socializing with one of his girlfriends, he discovered that the pianist is working in São Paulo (the same city where he lives) under a different name though; Henri Beauregard. So Ciccio located Mr. Beauregard however after several meetings with him and his wife, he discovered that Mrs. Beauregard is not Anne! In addition, Henri knew Anne as he used to sooth her baby (Ciccio's brother) by playing the piano for him but nothing more, as his heart has already been given to Michelle (now Mrs. Beauregard). Sadly, Ciccio reached a dead end, nonetheless this journey allowed him to become friends with their son, Christian Beauregard.

Yet after more than 40 years, Ciccio took a trip to Germany as one last attempt to find his German half-brother or at least to know what happened to him, based on a letter dated back to 1934 that was acquired by the police, when they raided his parents' house, but returned back by one of his friends (Udo). This letter was directed to his father from the Secretariat for Childhood and Youth of Tiergarten (as Anne gave her son to this department in a way to protect him from being taken away to the Jewish camps as de Hollander was considered a Jewish name in Europe), stating that Sergio Ernst was going to be adopted by the Günthers (Arthur and Pauline) upon receiving documents proving his Christianity. These papers included the birth certificates of Sergio de Hollander, his parents, and his maternal & paternal grandparents; otherwise, the boy will be kept in the state's care! This absurd racist request of the Nazis could not be accomplished by Ciccio's father! In fact, Ciccio found another letter that his father has sent to this department indicating that Brazil did not offer birth certificates prior to 1889 during which Catholicism was the country's religion, and that he was only able to provide his baptism certificate and that of his mother, and the marriage certificate of his grandparents. Additional letters that Ciccio recovered have disclosed that his father earnestly tried to bring his son to Brazil but with no avail as the Nazi authorities did not respond to his requests.

Subsequently in 2013, Ciccio reached Berlin where he met a number of people who helped him to set an appointment with the pastor of a Lutheran Parish where the Günthers used to go on Sundays. The Pastor allowed Ciccio to read the Günthers' records that were kept in the Parish's archives, which revealed that his half-brother was adopted by the Günthers, who gave him a German name (Horst). Ciccio also found out that his half-brother had joined the Democratic army after which he worked in the television studios, and upon discovering the identity of his biological parents, Horst has reverted to his original name, Sergio.

In this historical story, the author also narrates by the tongue of Ciccio the crazy things that he used to do with his childhood friend Thelonious (known as Ariosto) including stealing and driving cars when they were teenagers and leaving them somewhere far from town or ending with crashing and running away before the police appears, and eating & drinking in restaurants then leaving without paying the bill. Furthermore, Ciccio described how he used to smoke weed, and the kind of competition between him and his brother to meet girls and bring them home.

This thrilling chronicle also shed light on the struggle that Brazilians have gone through to find jobs including scholars like Ciccio, and the brutality of the Brazilian police that was used to suppress protests against the government in the 60s. The inhuman cruelty of the police state that restricted citizens' freedom of speech and violated human rights also was depicted in arresting his friend Ariosto and the mysterious disappearance of his brother (who left with Ariosto's girlfriend to visit her acquaintances) who were never found, and forcibly entering and disrespectfully searching Ciccio's parents house and taking away books and letters (the Dutch ones that were sent from Anne) from his dad's library under the impression that his father was Marxist!

Unfortunately, many people have lost and still lose their lives due to living in police states or countries ruled by dictators similar to the nations surrounding Jordan, and many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as indicated in, as well as the people of color in different parts of the world!

One of the incidents on the cruelty of police states that I witnessed in a neighboring country, when I was a teenager, was of a police officer who grabbed a bunch of clothes from a stall and walked away without paying for it! Of course the seller couldn't do anything about it because the officer represents the government, and he knew that if he objected (against the behavior of the government's representative) he would end up in one of the prisons to be beaten harshly and only luck would bring him back home! So he surrendered to the injustice just to stay alive and be able to work and support his family! In such dictatorships, absence of democracy results in fear and lack of resistance towards the corrupted system/leader similar to George Washington's saying: "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be lead, like sheep to the slaughter".

This is just one of many much more horrible stories that police states do to stay in control and rule a nation, like what happened to Khashoggi who sadly was tortured and no one was able to punish the killers. This is the most distressing fact about dictatorships; not being chastised due to the inability or fear of people to revolt against them which is a crime as Marcus Aurelius said:"You can commit injustice by doing nothing". Moreover, the corrupted regime could be supported by another powerful government that has mutual economical benefits that necessitates the presence of the current leader/dictator, yet as Che Guevara indicated "How can it be "mutually beneficial" to sell at world market prices the raw materials that cost the underdeveloped countries immeasurable sweat & suffering?". In relation to this issue, when I was in Austin, a friend of a friend of mine told me once that the price of a pineapple in Brazil cost ~ $7 which I used to buy in Austin by ~ $3! So how it is possible for a pineapple producing country to sell its own produce to its people at a double price as compared to that shipped to the US!?!? I think that the only answer here is corruption, greed, and hunger for power of dictators, businessmen, and these supporting them!

This is a political novel and as much as I hate politics, it runs in my blood since I was born in the Middle East, the center of numerous dictators and political unrest that displaced and harvested the lives of many innocents! And because "Politics is not a game, but a serious business - Churchill", love for power and riches is the driving force for dictators who feed their followers many lies and hatred converting them into mindless and heartless slaves who would enforce the "tyrants' orders" no matter what! Hence, a dictator is a dishonored slave of money whom without his supremacy would vanish! Some of them even believe that they are immortals or God's representatives on earth, forgetting that they have a grave to go to and a God to answer to like Genghis Khan who claimed that: "I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you"!

So in my opinion, satisfaction with what one has is an important gift similar to what we say in Arabic "القناعة كنزٌ لا يفنى", that is contentment is an inexhaustible treasure which many humans and leaders lack!! This is best described by Rumi who stated that "Peaceful is the one who is not concerned with having more or less. Unbound by name & fame, he is free from sorrow, from the world, & mostly from himself". Thus, contentedness, loving for others what we love for ourselves, and accepting the other are a key in spreading justice, equality, freedom, and respect to all humans as quoted by MLK Jr and Nelson Mandela: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that," and "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite," respectively.

Married to a Bedouin - (August 21st 2020)

Married to a Bedouin is a dazzling memoir of a Kiwi young lady, Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a hitchhiker traveler whose parents originally left Holland to find better opportunities in the new world. This book, which was in my dad's library, recounts her visit to Petra as a tourist not knowing that it became her home. Marguerite beautifully portrayed the first 7 years of her life in Petra describing the hospitality and customs of the Bedouins in Jordan, the haven that received refugees from the neighboring troubled countries.

Marguerite narrated how she left New Zealand in 1978 to travel the world with her friend, where Jordan was on the list of her friend Elizabeth, whom she met in England and joined her on her trip to the Middle East. Upon reaching Petra, the guide showed them the only hotel that was available in the city at that time, where the other option was to go to Aqaba (the Gulf of Aqaba is at the northern tip of the Red Sea which contains amazing coral reefs and the only port in Jordan). So they stayed in the hotel and on the next day they walked back into the old Nabataean city that was carved in the rosy mountains 400 years BC. Petra is big, as it has an area of 164 km2 (102 mi2) and consists of the Siq (~1 meter narrow passage which has water canals carved on the side of its mountains that carry the water into the city from the springs) that leads to Al-Khazneh (the treasury), AL-Mahkama (the Court), the Amphitheatre, Qasr Al-Bint (the palace of the girl/daughter), a church, Ad-Deir (the Monastery), Turkmanian Tomb, the Crusader Castle, and Aaron's Tomb.

While sitting on the steps of the treasury, Mohammad Abdullah, a trinkets' seller approached the ladies and invited them to stay in his cave that was located inside this ancient city. So they checked out form the hotel and moved to spend the night in the cave, before which Mohammad took them to Ad-Deir to watch the sun setting over the sandy colorful mountains. Marguerite described how he prepared dinner of a goulash of vegetables and corned beef, shrak bread (a very delicious big flap that is thinner than a pancake), and tea for them over the fire. The ladies spent the night in their sleeping bags inside the cave whereas Mohammad slept on his mattress outside. The next day they left to Aqaba and while enjoying their food at the hotel, a taxi driver approached them saying that Mohammad has sent him to invite them to attend a Bedouin wedding. So they left with him and celebrated the wedding with the Bedouins, whose women put traditional knitted dresses (thaub) and colorful head scarves (mendeel) on Marguerite and Elizabeth, colored their eyes with kohl (similar to the eyeliner), drew henna on their hands (a non-permanent decorative tattoo), and gave them Arabic names (Marguerite was named Fatima and Elizabeth was called Basma). Then they left to Amman and continued their trip to Syria. But after reaching Damascus, they discovered that they cannot enter Lebanon unless they got a visa, and the Lebanese Embassy resided in Amman! So they returned to Amman in which their passports were stamped with a new Jordanian visa for another 30 days. At this point, Marguerite felt that she isn't obliged to leave and wanted to go back to Petra to see Mohammad; which she did and who received her with a big smile!!

Marguerite fell in love with Mohammad, Petra, the desert, the Bedouins, and their life as she even wore thaub like their women, but she wasn't considering marrying him. Yet, after spending a few days in Petra, the Bedouins started asking if Marguerite will marry Mohammad esp. that he is a very good man, and if not, then why is she still here?! (Generally in the Arabic and specifically in the Bedouin culture, marriage is an essential component of a person's life). These pressuring questions bothered Marguerite because she was from a different culture that considers these things personal and not public issues! Eventually she agreed to marry Mohammad because they loved each other, and after ensuring that she can get a divorce at any moment she wants!

Hence, Marguerite and Mohammad got married without having wedding rings (he got her gold wedding bands against her will a few years later) and a marriage certificate as they had a traditional Bedouin wedding, which celebrations continued for days and included dabke dancing (the traditional Jordanian dancing that is slightly similar to Greek dancing), singing traditional Bedouin love songs, and eating Mansaf (the traditional Jordanian plate, prepared by cooking lamb meat in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt (jameed) and served with rice).

Marguerite portrayed the difficult but simple Bedouin life, and the generosity of the Bedouins that she really loved, particularly visiting others without an appointment as she used to pop in and enjoy the company of the neighbors or Mohammad's relatives, and savoring the night around the bonfire due to the absence of electricity at the time (Bedouins used a tally lamp for cave lighting). Her daily chores included collecting wood for fire; filling jerry-cans from the river and carrying them back to the cave on the donkey; cooking, churning milk, and making shrak bread; bathing and washing the clothes in the river and later inside the cave; sewing and knitting clothes on her sewing machine; cleaning the cave and killing scorpions whenever finding one between the folded mattresses and bed covers; and playing cards or shish-bish (backgammon) with Mohammad and his friends.

Moreover, part of her daily routine was to work as a nurse in Petra's clinic. She mainly gave vitamin injections or pain killers to those in need, bandaged a wound or a burn, and assigned the severe cases to the hospital in Wadi Musa, which also helped her to learn Arabic. She also indicated that she refused to receive any money from them regarding their treatment as it was at the expense of the Royal Court, so instead the people used to give her food (eggs, bread, or samen (animal ghee), or jameed balls) to express their thanks! She also depicted the challenges that they faced in 2 separate incidents: the first was about going back and forth between Amman and Ma'an (a city in the South of Jordan & close to Petra), which is a 3-4 hr drive to get a wedding certificate that Marguerite needed to obtain a resident's permit. The second was when she was going to have her second baby (Raami) in 1983, whose legs were down instead of the head and how they barely made it to the hospital in Ma'an esp. after their car had a flat tire and didn't have a spare one, and having to stop one of the passing cars to take them to the hospital!

She also described how in spring 1981, Marguerite and Mohammad visited New Zealand where they spent a few months there after which they felt that they need to get back to the desert, their favorite place on earth! The following year, her parents and brother visited her and stayed with them in the cave. This encouraged Mohammad to make a shower for them against Marguerite's will who thought that if she can do with what they have, then her family can do too! Another emotional reminiscence has occurred in 1984, when Marguerite and Mohammad were invited to the tent that received the Queen of England, Prince Philip, Late King Hussein, and Queen Noor, as she was the blond foreigner who left city life to live with a Bedouin in the desert!

Marguerite ended her anecdote by recounting how Mohammad had suffered from diabetes where he had to get insulin injections and control his sugar intake (Bedouins add a lot of sugar to their tea, which Marguerite loved); the process of moving out from the cave and moving into their new settlement that the government offered to all the 78 Bedouin families, who used to live in Petra's caves in 1985 - a procedure to protect Petra from destruction or theft esp. that Bedouins used to search for antiquities (ancient coins, jars, or lamps) and sell them to tourists; Mohammad's death in 2002 due to having a kidney failure despite having a kidney transplant the previous year; and going back to Australia because after losing Mohammad she felt that she had nothing in Petra, as Mohammad was the only soul connecting her to the desert! However currently, Marguerite and her 3 children (Salwa, Raami, and Marwan), who got their education in both Jordan and New Zealand; live in Petra where she and her son (Raami) sell trinkets at Mohammad's stand! In all, as Marguerite stated, love was the only thing that made her stay in Petra, and endure the thorny life of Bedouins with the man she loved and who loved her dearly as Jay Woodman indicated: "Love endures and works out ways of enduring the other stuff!" Also she could not compare between Petra and New Zealand because none of them is perfect as the best place would be a combination of both, or as Rumi said in his quotes:"Home is where the heart is"; "A thousand-half lovers must be forsaken to take one whole heart home"; and "My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there".

This chronicle sheds light on the life and traditions of the Bedouins in the late 70s and early 80s when Petra was not yet one of the 7 wonders (became so in 2007), despite shooting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in it in 1989. This historical city is magnificent and I encourage anyone who can and likes to travel and hike to visit it. Hiking in Petra requires staying hydrated, and wearing comfortable clothes that also respects the culture - khaki hiking pants, leggings but with a t-shirt that covers the butt, knee length shorts, or sleeveless blouses but not strap shirts. I've also seen older people use skiing sticks in Petra which are useful to reach Ad-Deir in which a person needs to go up about 1,000 steps carved in the mountains.

I have been to Petra many times since the early millennium where my last visit was 5 weeks ago as part of the government campaign to encourage internal tourism. My family and I joined a group of friends where we camped in Wadi Rum [totally different from Wadi Musa (the Arabic name for Moses) through which prophet Moses passed by and struck water from the rock for his followers] and visited Petra the next day. This visit made me sad as the city was empty from tourists (after borders' closure) and even locals due to the corona epidemic, which badly affected tourism and the economical situation in the country (and worldwide)!

There are shops inside the Nabataean city that sell refreshments, hot drinks, trinkets, and traditional clothes. Yet during this unfortunate season, we only found one coffee shop open from which we got Arabic coffee (there is bias in calling Arabic coffee Turkish because Turkey does not produce coffee beans, it only consumes it, and these beans were originally shipped from Yemen and Ethiopia). When I was a child, I witnessed my dad's late grandmother (all the old Jordanian women - not just Bedouins - used to roast coffee in their homes) roasting coffee beans in a long handle pan (mehmas) with cardamom, which my brothers, cousins, and I used to fight whose turn it is (was) to grind the roasted beans in a manual wooden grinder, after which spoonfuls of it is boiled with water and poured in special cups.

Finally, I have numerous advice for tourists coming to Jordan: (1) to exchange money in Amman because the price is better than in the airport; (2) be careful when you carry your money as it is better to keep most of it in the hotel's safe (if it has one) or inside your bag in the hotel, when going to downtown in Amman (that has a Roman Theater and famous for its hummus and falafel bistros esp. Hashem and eating knafeh - the most delicious Arabic sweets) as it has its share of muggers like every place in the world - there have been no reports of being mugged in any of the touristic places in Jordan except in the downtown, but it's better to be careful than sorry; (3) to haggle when buying souvenirs or if you don't like the price just walk away and then you will be called back and offered a better one; (4) if you get lost you can just ask the locals who are on the streets or inside their shops or cab drivers to direct you - Jordanians are your GPS. Also if a kid asks for money to guide you where you want to go, then just give him/her a quarter or half JD (25 or 50 piasters or in between, which can help him buy bread to feed himself  and his family) as it is clear that he is a beggar and I apologize in advance for this behavior as it shouldn't happen, but unfortunately it happened with one of my friends (whom I met at UT Austin) upon her trip to Jordan years ago before knowing each other; (5) alcohol is allowed to be consumed in Jordan but it is expensive because of the high taxes imposed on it, esp. if bought from a touristic place or 5-star hotel or restaurant. This is because every now and then the government raises the taxes of alcohol and cigarettes (nonessential commodities) whenever it needs to cover their expenses. So what you can do is buy alcohol from the duty free that has 2 branches: in the airport and Abdali Boulevard in the downtown; and (6) it is better to have a real camera because the smart phone camera cannot capture the Milky Way at night, which can be seen by the naked eye in Wadi Rum.


A final word; this is the last blog for now as I wrote about most of the books that I've read, yet I bought several ones and hope to get back to posting in a month or so. But until then, may God keep you and your loved ones safe - "ma' salameh"!

City of Friends - (August 14th 2020)

City of Friends for Joanna Trollope is a witty tale flavored by some dramatic events that altered the interconnected lives of four 47-year old British women living in London, whose friendship goes back to the university days. It is a story about friendship, marriage, raising children, single mothers, taking care of a parent with dementia, being laid off from work, and contemporary business issues including humanizing employment, and women empowerment by having equal rights in employment opportunities and salaries.

Beth was a professor of business psychology who had numerous published books on organizational psychology and was invited to many presentations to talk about the importance of humanizing employment! She was in a relationship with Claire, who was younger than Beth by 12 years. Sadly, Beth's heart was broken when Claire broke up with her and tried to make her sell the house that they salvaged and renovated, which was in both their names despite that Claire only paid for less than one-third of its value, because Claire needed the money! Eventually, Beth put the house on market and moved to Lausanne in Switzerland, where she got a prestigious job offer in its university for 5 years. Beth was a very nurturing woman who provided advice to her friends, Stacey, Melissa, and Gaby when need, who in turn emotionally supported Beth after her break up with Claire.

Stacey however, was laid off from work for asking to work from home due to having to look after her mother who had dementia. But Stacey did not expect to be fired after being in her job since her graduation! This caused Stacey to get into a depressive episode in which she refused to talk to anyone for the first few weeks, not even to her friends who tried calling her many times! Her mother's health status has exacerbated Stacey's gloominess, despite having a nurse who used to come every day to feed and bathe her, as well as her supportive husband, Steve, beside her. Yet after a few months of having her mother at their home, which was redesigned for her situation, Stacey's health and relationship with her husband were negatively affected! So he suggested transferring Stacey's mother to a nursing home, who ultimately was placed in a nursing home for patients with dementia that cost £ 1000/week! Overtime and after visiting her mother 3-4 times/week, Stacey discovered that the nursing home was good for her mother, who doesn't recognize Stacey anymore, thus making her feel less dreadful about putting her mother in such place!

On the other side, on the day Stacey got fired, she sat in St. Paul churchyard where she met an Arabic woman with a head scarf who offered her water and told her to 'go home and get by'. This woman told Stacey that she also was rejected from a filling shelves job, which according to Stacey would be due to her unprofessional appearance; she was not wearing a professional suit and was carrying an old cloth bag instead of a handbag! Months later, Stacey remembered this woman and her external appearance which gave her the idea of a project! Peg's Project (named after her mom) consisted of renting a store that would be used for 2 purposes: (a) to train poor, non-White, and immigrant women for job interviews (put them in an interview environment, and educate them about the kind of questions to expect, and the way they should answer); (b) to display and sell second-hand formal clothes, bags, and shoes to these low-income women in affordable prices, esp. that all the clothes were Melissa's. She even refused to get her old job back because her heart was in her new project despite being much less profitable, because it was more satisfying and enriching to her soul!! Steve was skeptical about this project because it needed a lot of investment at the beginning (renting a store and decorating it), yet he supported his wife's project when he saw her passion towards it! And I think that Peg's Project will succeed in time because nothing works out from the first attempt; I mean if a person just goes back in time to the days of applying to the university (be it undergrad or grad school) or a job, they will discover that despite applying for many places, they only got a few positive responses! I also believe that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step as Lau Tzu once said!

Melissa was a single mother of the teenage boy Tom who was fatherless for the past 14 years. But the coincidence has reconnected the son with his father (Will Gibbs) in which they met at school. So Tom started to visit his father at his home where he enjoyed the company of his family (a teenage daughter from his 1st marriage, and 2 boys form his second/current one). After several encounters with Will's family, Tom decided to change his last name into Hathaway Gibbs. This kind of hurt Melissa's feelings, however she supported her son's decision and filled the papers needed to change Tom's name! Melissa owned a company (Hathaway) that discern and supervise company boards by highlighting their weakness and strength points, concentrating on maximizing work force, and stressing on the necessity of employing women particularly in companies that its staff mainly consisted of men.

Stacey and Melissa had a couple of problems with Gaby. The first was due to not being able to offer Stacey (after being fired) a position in the bank where she works, because of having an efficient employee and team player whom she could not give up, Sarah Parker; yet Stacey thought that Gaby does not want to help her! Moreover, Sarah was the wife of Will Gibbs, the father of Tom; but Gaby did not know this information when she gave her the job, which has upset Melissa after hearing this news from someone else! So both misunderstandings were solved by having Gaby to face her friends and tell them these facts, clearing the water between them! Nevertheless, Sarah quit her job because of her family responsibilities and joined Stacey in her new project. Consequently, Gaby was happy for Stacey but not for herself due to that Sarah has been a vital employee and Gaby has invested a lot in training her.

Gaby was raised in a hippie family which she did not like. She even was the only one who left her family to get an education where she earned an MBA, which unfortunately has resulted in being cut off from her family! But Gaby did not care, as she became an indispensable successful woman working in an international bank, who also empowered and helped working moms. For example, one of her excellent employees (Ellie) whom she trained for 5 years, wanted to quit because of not being able to balance between her work and family as she was a mother of a baby and a child with celiac; but Gaby didn't want to lose her! So she offered Ellie to work from home on most days under the condition of being on her computer for 8 hours a day professionally dressed, which she gratefully accepted! In addition, Gaby is married to Quin with whom she had 2 teenage girls; Taylor (who was going through an emotional problem because her friend has ghosted her after having a boyfriend whereas Taylor had none) and Claudia (who was on a very short term relationship with Tom Hathaway), and a young boy, Liam. Their house was always in chaos because of Gaby's inability to organize it but she was thankful for her helpful husband, who at some point fired up at her about the necessity of changing their current home situation; Quin needed some time for himself as he was thinking of selling his shops and do something new, and asked Gaby to dedicate more time into their family! I think she can organize her domestic burden by engaging the kids in housework because they have responsibility towards the place they live in. Also being helpful should be natural like breathing and not an effort, similar to Gaby's advice to Liam about being polite!

Thus, this turn page book is about four upbeat audacious women and friends who were in continuous communication by phone or email, as they contacted each other every now and then to check on each other or whenever they needed emotional support or an advice! In other words, real friends are like air, they are very important in our life where one loyal friend is better than a thousand fake ones, and as Thomas J. Watson and Walter Winchell said: "Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up”, and “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out”, respectively. This tale also emphasizes on being kind to others because each of one of us is fighting a battle we know nothing about!

The author presented a significant issue in this story which is the importance of humanizing employment by making the working area suitable for the employee and not the opposite, because production and profit would be greater if the employee was comfortable in his job and working environment! For example, what is the issue with cashiers in all malls, and grocery or apparel stores (be it in Jordan, Europe, Dubai, or the US) work standing without having a chair or stool to sit on? Standing for long hours is tiresome and has adverse health effects such as suffering from back and feet pain, developing varicose, or having disc problems. So I think it is very humane to provide these workers with chairs while serving others!!

Another crucial topic is empowering women and their essential role in being part of the work force, as they should have equal rights in employment opportunities and benefits. Currently, the international participation in labor force for women and men is 49% vs. 75% as reported by the International Labor Organization!! I also like to add that it is very important to offer a paid maternity leave for all moms all over the world for its vital role in allowing a mother to take care of her newborn, who does not talk for the first 12 months and therefore cannot express his needs except by crying! In line with this, I shed some light on the duration of paid maternity leave in various countries from Asia, Africa, and the Americas (in an ascending order):

The US: 3-4 weeks

The United Arab Emirates: 45 days (~ 7 weeks)

The Philippines: 60 days for normal childbirth or 78 days for a cesarean (8.5 - 11 weeks)

Jordan, Lebanon Saudi Arabia: 10 weeks

Ecuador, Mexico: 12 weeks

China, Egypt: 90 days (~ 13 weeks)

France, Singapore: 16 weeks

Ethiopia, Brazil: 120 days (17 weeks)

The UK: 39 weeks

Canada: 50 weeks

In response to the countries that do not provide a long paid maternity leave, I think that the least thing the hiring organizations can do is to offer post-partum moms to have an unpaid maternity leave up to a year, or to work remotely from home if it is doable, which will definitely help the mother to take care of her baby without being worried about him esp. that motherhood is the biggest gift of all!

Breaking the Barriers within Oneself - (August 7th 2020)

Abraham Verghese's novel, Cutting for Stone is a mix of exuberance and tragedy that is based on true historical events that occurred in Ethiopia between 1947 and 1991. This engrossing tale which is about love, betrayal, brotherhood, sacrifice, and medicine, has made me cry and laugh.

It is the story of the British surgeon, Dr. Thomas Stone who left India to Ethiopia to work in a missionary hospital named Missing. On the ship that left India, numerous passengers got typhoid including an Indian nun, Anjali. So her companion, the Indian Sister Mary who and Sister Anjali were on their way to Eden, looked after her as she was a practicing nurse. Sister Mary also looked for the doctor to ask for his assistance; however Dr. Stone was suffering from sea vertigo! Accordingly, Sister Mary nursed him for a few days until he regained his health, and was able to provide medical support to those who were infected with typhoid including Sister Anjali, whom sadly they lost! After this, a kind of connection grew between the doctor and the nun but none of them said anything as she left for Eden and he continued his journey to Addis Ababa. Some weeks later, Sister Mary left Yemen and traveled to Ethiopia, reaching Missing Hospital frail. So Matron, the British nun and principle of the hospital, took the Sister in and nourished her until she was able to join the team of Missing. And for her astonishment, Sister Mary found that Dr. Stone also was working in this hospital where she became his skilled assistant, and Addis Ababa became her new home.

Seven years later, Dr. Stone found Sister Mary in so much pain in her room, so he carried her with teary eyes to the surgery room, where he and Matron shockingly discovered that she was pregnant!! And the problem was that the gynecologist, Dr. Hema, was not present due to being on vacation in India, and the other one, Dr. Ghosh, the internist, could not be found! So it was Dr. Stone's duty to conduct the delivery, except that he couldn't! He actually tried to extort the fetus using a scalpel as he was trying to relieve Sister Mary (the woman he loved but neither admitted it to himself nor to her) from her pain by extracting the intruder! Luckily, Dr. Hema came in at the right time and rescued the babies (identical twins) via conducting a C-section, and named them Marion and Shiva! Yet, they lost Sister Mary due to losing a large amount of blood! After this, Dr. Stone left the room and Ethiopia forever and never asked about his kids!!

What actually happened to Sister Mary was revealed by the end of the story, where at one night in his office, Dr. Stone went into a hysterical crying state and Sister Mary tried to console him in which at some point, he kissed and made love to her to which she responded due to having the same amount of love for him! However, the doctor was under the influence of alcohol and didn't remember anything about this incident, and Sister Mary never mentioned anything to him except in her letter. Nevertheless days and years later, Dr. Stone spent his sleepless tearful nights reminiscing on his wasted love, and wishing he had told Sister Mary how he felt, because maybe then he might have been able to save her!! But what can regret do when what has been done cannot be undone!

On the other hand, Dr. Hema felt a strong bond to the twins and adopted them. Moreover, Dr. Ghosh was head over heels in love with Dr. Hema but did not get the guts to tell her because he was afraid of getting a sarcastic rejection from her. Yet after the previous tragic event and losing Sister Mary, he decided to tell her how he truly feels! And to his surprise, she had the same feelings for him! So they got married and raised the twins as if they were their own sons. Marion and Shiva grew up in the Missing quarters with Hema, Ghosh, their dog, and its family: Gebrew, the guard and priest of the hospital, and the kitchen workers; Alamz and the Eritrean Rosina (and her daughter Genet). Genet was Marion's love of life until he was 15 years when she betrayed him with his brother. Genet's behavior resulted in her circumcision where she would have died if Hema hadn't intervened to save her, her mother's suicide, and breaking the strong MarionShiva bond!

Moreover, when the twins were young children, Ghosh was imprisoned for weeks due to treating a General who was later involved in an attempt of coup against the Emperor. During his detention, Ghosh was ordered to treat the captured General from his wounds, after which he was released but the General was put on trial and hanged! Another sad event has devastated this family a few years later when Marion was in med school and Shiva was assisting Hema in her clinic; unluckily Ghosh was diagnosed with leukemia and died shortly after, leaving a space that couldn't be filled by anyone else and at which the twins felt fatherless for the first time!

So Shiva grew up to work with Hema in vaginal fistula repairment, and Marion became a gastrointestinal surgeon after having to leave for the US (at the age of 25) due to being falsely accused of working with the Eritrean rebellions, because of Genet's role in hijacking an Ethiopian plane! At this point, Marion's love towards Genet turned into hatred because he felt that she not only betrayed him but also the Missing people and Ethiopia! Fleeing Addis Ababa wasn't easy as Marion went through an excruciating journey of spending the nights walking across the mountains carrying his heavy bag, hiding in underground tunnels during the daylight, and crossing the borders to Sudan where he took a flight from Khartoum to Kenya. In Nairobi, he spent 2 months studying for the American equivalency medical exams after which he got his US visa, which was supported by the benefactor of Missing.

In NY, Marion described the amount of strenuous and dehumanizing work that doctors go through to become efficient. In addition, the coincidence allowed him to discover where his biological father worked - in an elite hospital in Boston. The events escalated when Marion broke into Thomas' room trashing it, taking his father's finger (that was extracted in the fifties due to being badly infected during one of his surgeries and kept in a jar), and leaving him a bookmark (which indicated that Sister Mary has left Dr. Stone a letter) that he found in Dr. Stone's book that was given to him by Shiva on the day he left Ethiopia. Two weeks later, Thomas Stone visited his son in NY and told him his life story. It turned out that Dr. Stone has built walls around his heart due to being separated from his mother, who was taken to the hospital due to suffering from tuberculosis, when he was a child. She was the only person who loved him as his father was an unavailable military womanizer. Yet a few weeks later, Thomas got the infection and joined his mother in the hospital! But tragically Thomas lost his mother when he was just 8 years old for aneurysm (the distention of blood arteries beneath her breast) that ruptured and showered the mother and child with her blood, which she acquired from her playful drunk husband who had syphilis! After hearing the sad story of his father, Marion felt sorry for him and promised to ask his mother and Shiva about Sister Mary's letter (which Marion and Dr. Stone thought that the other had it). But when Marion called home, Hema and Shiva knew nothing about the letter neither about the bookmark! Dr. Stone's revelations also made Marion discover that he should never judge a book by its cover as he thought that his father was a heartless man, but turned out to be a sensitive man who did not know how to deal with his heartbreak that resulted from his unhealed childhood wounds. He also found out that Dr. Stone was responsible for an annual donation to Missing.

Subsequently, the father and son amended their relationship, but Marion still felt that Ghosh was his real father and not Dr. Stone because he was the one who has been there for him and his brother! This reconnection also helped Thomas to open up for the first time in his life and tell his son about his past which made him a socially and emotionally unavailable person! In other words, Thomas was afraid of letting Sister Mary inside his heart due to being afraid of losing her, which would have left his heart sore similar to the pain he felt when his mother was taken away from him (by doctors and death)!

As the past keeps on visiting us when we least expect it, one day and after 8 years of separation, Marion found Genet on his doorstep in a pathetic state as she had tuberculosis. So he provided food, medicine, and shelter for her, after which she apologized about her past behaviors. Genet also told Marion how she left the rebellion Eritreans, came to the US, and attacked her husband and his mistress that resulted in her imprisonment and taking away her son from her. Then, they made love that resulted in her bleeding due to her circumcision, which also caused Marion to acquire Hepatitis B! After the weekend, Genet left Marion's apartment for good but unfortunately found dead on the streets weeks later!

Nevertheless, Marion was found unconscious by his colleague who called an ambulance and transferred him to the hospital. Dr. Stone was called by Marion's mates, where all of them tried saving him. So they called his mother (Hema), who and Shiva flew to NY to see Marion as they were sure that he will die. But against all the odds, he survived when Shiva suggested donating part of his liver to his brother! This proposition was faced by rejection because it has never been done, and due to having adverse health effects on the donor (Shiva)! But Shiva convinced everyone that it was the only chance for his brother. So Marion was cured but sadly Shiva died because of a sudden hemorrhage in his brain!!

After these tragic events, Marion and Hema returned to Addis Ababa rejoining Missing! In 1991, Marion visited Sister Mary's room, continuing a childhood tradition, to which he returned the image of Ecstasy of St. Teresa that Hema has given to him before running away from Ethiopia! To Marion's surprise, he found his mother's (Sister Mary) letter to his father inside the frame of this portrait, which she left the night before her tragic death inside Dr. Stone's book accompanied by the bookmark! It turned out that Ghosh found the book and the letter in Dr. Stone's room that he checked when Thomas didn't come back to Missing. So when he was dying, Ghosh framed the image, hid the letter in it, and asked Hema to give it to Marion, and made Marion promise to find Thomas! So when Marion found the letter, he called Dr. Stone.

In all, this is a historical tale that portrayed the geographical beauty of Addis Ababa and Asmara (the capital of Eritrea); the kindness of its people; the  cruel and bureaucratic Emperor; the amount of terror that the people lived under during the dictatorship of the Emperor successors; the Italians' effect on Ethiopia's architecture that is seen in its piazzas and cafés; and the responsibility of the British in igniting the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea by annexing Eritrea to Ethiopia (after WWII) in retaliation for Eritreans' joining the Italians in fighting them!! This incorporation resulted in many terrorist attacks on Ethiopia by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front who succeeded in gaining Eritrea's liberation in 1991.

The author also sheds light on is the health of African women including suffering from vaginal fistula and circumcision. The first is an abnormal opening between the vagina and the bladder, colon or rectum that results in uncontrollable continuous repugnant discharge, causing families and communities to shun these girls/women. Vaginal fistula is caused by prolonged or obstructed childbirth, and/or childhood pregnancy due to child marriage as girls' body is not yet prepared for childbirth. Circumcision involves injuring the female genital organs of young girls (≤ 15 years) that is associated with bleeding, problems during urination, cysts formation, and having infections. Therefore, educational campaigns are carried to stop these violations of human rights, but they are not enough as according to the WHO, at least 200,000 girls and women have suffered from these behaviors that strip a girl from her dignity, integrity, and sexuality!!

This absorbing novel also depicted a lesson in the romantic relationship between Dr. Stone and Sister Mary, and Drs. Hema and Ghosh. Both couples never expressed their love to each other which eventually resulted in the dramatic separation of the first duo forever! Yet, the second ended with marriage! Hiding one's feelings about someone is stupid because if you love someone then you just tell them even if you are afraid of rejection, because you might be surprised by the response like Ghosh, esp. that only the right person stays! So a person should conquer his fear and have a leap of faith when it comes to loving someone, and follow Rumi's advice:"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it", because if he doesn't fight for the one he loves then he will lose him forever, esp. that we can't go back in time and change the past but we definitely can change the future by taking action now! Moreover, our actions are responsible for paving our destiny as reflected by these sayings: 'Thoughts become words, words manifest as action, actions become habit, habits shape one's character, character becomes one's destiny', and 'We work to live, not live to work'!! For instance, Dr. Stone rejected his twins and buried himself in work, trying to forget the love of his life, not knowing that he could have been able to redeem his love for Sister Mary by caring for his children and parenting them instead of running away from them and from love!

Memoirs of a Geisha - (July 31st 2020)

At the beginning of the coronavirus quarantine, we were only allowed to go on foot to any grocery store between 10 am and 6 pm after which a curfew alarm used to go on. But thank God, after about 60 days of quarantine, all stores and occupations were allowed to open under the condition of wearing masks and gloves as the number of cases was ≤ 10 /week. We also were allowed to use our cars based on their plate number (odd or even) till early June, whereas now we are free to use any kind of transportation irrespective of its plate number, but we are still obliged to wear the masks! So finally I was able to go to the book shop, when the stores opened in May and buy some books where one of them was Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. It is a compelling story that is different from any other book that I've ever read.

This tale is based on true events that primarily described the life of a little girl Chiyo-Chan from Yoroido (a village on the Sea of Japan), who had beautiful grey-bluish eyes and lost her mother for bone cancer. Chiyo's father sold her (8 years) and her sister Satsu (15 years) through Mr. Tanaka (who owns a fish company and whom Chiyo used to love a lot, thinking that he wanted to adopt her!) to a geisha house (Okiya) and a prostitute house, respectively that are located in Gion in 1930. This historical book also depicts the catastrophic events of WWII, followed by the Depression period, as well as the war with China and Korea between 1920(s) and 1960(s), which resulted in the death of many Japanese from bombings and hunger.

This is a sad novel that Chiyo-Chan narrated portraying the difficulties and struggles that she had to go through from being sold and separated from her sister, trying to run away with her sister from the Okiya but failed to, the death of her parents, and enduring the harsh treatment and physical abuse by the women who run the Okiya; Granny, Mother, and Hatsumomo (the only working geisha in the Okiya). Chiyo also illustrated the hard schooling that girls go through from a young age (3 or 4 years old) to become geishas including singing, dancing, playing music on the shamisen, preparing tea (a tedious process), putting make up (geisha's make up is very different form the one we know/do!), talking, being witty, and entertaining men and draining their minds from life's stress.

But because life keeps surprising us at our darkest moments, the same thing happened to Chiyo when she encountered a man known as the Chairman. This turned the wheel of luck for Chiyo, as this man supported her career discreetly via asking the help of another geisha, Mameha, to train her to become a successful geisha. Yet, despite all the efforts of Chiyo & Mameha, Hatsumomo's wickedness kept sabotaging them, who also destroyed the friendship of Chiyo with another girl of a similar age in the Okiya, Pumpkin, who had been training to become a geisha! But hard work always pays off, so at 15, Chiyo was adopted by the Okiya, which secured her future career and was named Nita Sayuri; as every geisha should have a professional name that is different from her birth name. Subsequently, her career took off after meeting several important men; the doctor whom she named Dr. Crab (to protect their identity/real name), the Chairman (who owned an electricity company), his partner Nubo (a military guy who had a very bad injury from an explosion that resulted in having permanent skin burns - so some people such as Hatsumomo, used to call him Mr. Lizard), the Baron (Mameha's danna), and the General who became Sayuri's danna. A danna is a man that secures the expenses of a geisha and her Okiya, and he would be the only man with whom a geisha can sleep with, but she still can attend tea parties and entertain other men.

All the previous men, except for the Chairman, negotiated Sayuri's mizuage with the Okiya's Mother when she was 15 years old. Mizuage is when a virgin spends her first night with the man who pays the highest price, where Dr. Crab won this one! Afterwards, a famous artist used Sayuri's face in his paintings and posters that advertised for social events portraying a geisha in kimono (the traditional Japanese dress) dancing or posing such as looking at dawn! In 1938, when Sayuri was 18, the General became her danna after a hard bargain between him and Nobu, who turned out to love Sayuri a lot. This negatively affected her friendship with Nobu; nonetheless he was the only one who helped her to find a refuge during WWII by sending her out of Gion to stay with a family that makes kimonos.

The story ends by the termination of WWII, and life blooming again in Gion that went back to its old rhythm of activity. Moreover, Sayuri discovered that the Chairman was in love with her, which she always hoped for because she had the same feelings for him from the moment they met on the street years ago, when she was 12 years old! So he became her danna for the rest of her life and with whom she also travelled to the US. In August 1956, Sayuri settled in New York and opened a tea house and brought geishas from Gion to entertain Japanese men, who mostly came to the US for business after WWII.

At a personal level, I do not like the kind of dehumanizing lifestyle that geisha's go through but who am I to judge these girls who chose (although sometimes are forced like Chiyo) to live this life, because each one of us has his own rules to follow and standards to live according to! Yet, this is a story about fighting for one's life and dream, never losing hope, defending a friendship (such as the one between Sayuri and Pumpkin but eventually was lost), loyalty (mostly seen in the relationship between Nobu and the Chairman in which both of them loved Sayuri, but the Chairman gave her up to Nobu because of appreciating his help during difficult times when the Chairman was going to lose his company), and ruining one's self due to blind jealousy (which happened to Hatsumomo who as Sayuri has said:"But she was like a teakettle that even on a good day might still scald the hand of anyone who used it").

In addition, the converse of the events in this book has gripped me till the end especially the author's use of comparisons, such as when Chiyo described her home as the tipsy house because of the way it was tilting to one side near a tree like a drunken man leaning on a wall. I also cited some of my favorite quotes that showed Chiyo/Sayuri's sadness and struggles, and lack of control over her life and dreams:

"Was life nothing more than a storm that constantly washed away what had been there only a moment before, and left behind something barren and unrecognizable"?

"We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course".

"Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper".

Or when Chiyo/Sayuri compared between the (social & financial) dependence of both geishas and married women on men in the mid 20th century: "I'm sure there are great many things I don't know about these young women in their splendid dresses, but often have the feeling that without their wealthy husbands or boyfriends, many of them would be struggling to get by and might not have the same proud opinions of themselves". She said this due to the fact that most if not all married women did not respect or like geishas, because their husbands always wanted to spend time with them.

I also liked the way Chiyo/Sayuri used a metaphor to describe the adverse effect of war on her health and body shape particularly her skin: "If you no longer have leaves, or bark, or roots, can you go on calling yourself a tree"?

Another enlightening statement is:"I never seek to defeat the man I'm fighting; I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals -true equals- only when they both have equal confidence", which was said by an admiral whom Sayuri has met at a social occasion about defeat, victory, and confidence.

And finally, when Mameha told Chiyo/Sayuri to stop having high expectations: "How curious it is, what the future brings us. You must take care, Sayuri, never to expect too much". I admire this one because sometimes we hurt ourselves when we set expectations that aren't met. Moreover, faith, hope, expectations, and dreams are different words but emphasize on one thing; never giving up, because eventually life will reward our hard work but sometimes the outcome is different from the one we expect to get! Thus, the best one can do is to follow Shakespeare's advice: "I always feel happy, you know why? Because I don't expect anything from anyone, expectations always hurt. Life is too short. So love yourself, be happy, and keep smiling. Just live for yourself, and before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you pray, forgive. Before you hurt, feel. Before you hate, love. Before you quit, try. Before you die, live".

Inspirational Women - final part - (July 24th 2020)

The last part of Dooley's book talked about three vital topics that are shyly covered by mass media: child exploitation in media, injustice imposed on the indigenous people of Canada, and the Yazidi women of Iraq. Child sexualization and exploitation in media that prevails in Japan, is precarious as it may reflect that it is the norm due to not being acknowledged as a form of child abuse. The biggest shock to me was that parents bring their kids to TV stations, studios, and media companies to be involved in such (inhuman) business! What kind of parents are these?!? These parents are heartless because children, who mostly will be traumatized after this experience/job, are not aware of the consequences of doing such a job, which is also considered a form of child labor that is condemned by law! This journalist also reported quiet a number of incidents that involved children acting in porn series, and ads displayed in the streets about such series, which are of high demand in Japan! And the problem here is that people defend this creepy and disturbing behavior by being a type of freedom of speech! In other words, laws against depicting child pornographic magazines and TV series cannot be set due to violating freedom of speech! To me, this is hypocritical because they are using the right of free speech to do something that is not right!!

It was unbelievable to discover that until this day the indigenous people of Canada are ignored and not treated by the slightest human rights! In this chapter, Stacey described how Native Canadians are still called Savages and asked to speak Canadian (as if this is a language) when talking to an official - due to having an accent; although having an accent means that the person speaks more than one language, which is considered a privilege compared to these who only know one! Lack of justice against Native Canadians started by snatching about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and placing them in residential schools, which were run by the church, to teach them to be humans as they were considered savages!! The appalling truth about these schools is that the attendees have suffered physical beatings and sexual abuse without having anyone to report to!?! And I just wonder, as in school we used to learn that God is love, where is love in all the abuse that incorrectly was imposed in the name of the Christ and & civilization on these innocent children?!? This barbaric system had started in 1831 but thank God was abolished in 1996. These schools resulted in breaking family ties and creating mentally ill people, as after getting out from residential schools, those who were abused mostly turn into abusers (such as exploiting their girlfriends or daughters)?! In addition, indigenous people live in conservations that lack availability of schools, clinics, clean water, and other infrastructure. Native Canadians also have a very hard time to find a job, mainly due to not completing their education. This leaves no choice for some of them (esp. women) other than to be on the streets, where they are involved in drug abuse or prostitution, which is mostly forced by an authoritarian family member! Moreover, due to lack of public transportation near the conservations, Native Canadians have to look for a lift on the road to go to town. Hitchhiking has resulted in the rape and murder of ~ 4,000 Native Canadian girls and women! Such problems are exacerbated by the government's insensitivity to Native Canadians' needs, and ignoring their pleas to activate police and bus stations/stops over the road from the conservations to the town. Mothers and brothers of some victims also stated that the police do not respond promptly upon reporting that their daughter or sister is missing! In such cases, the officers usually comment that 'family members have to wait for 72 hours in order to report her missing, and that she might be out there partying & she will be back in the morning'!? To me, this answer represents the incompetency of the officers to respond and do their job, which is serving the people and making sure that they are safe! Thus, I suppose that the government should address these critical issues primarily by providing basic infrastructure to these conservations and ensure their security! Finally, reading this chapter left me wonder if the natives of the U.S. and its territories, Australia/new Zealand, and South Africa were/are treated in the same manner??

The last two chapters extensively discussed the lives of the Yazidi women in Iraq and their captivation by ISIS. Yazidis are the indigenous people of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, who are an endogamous group of people and have their own kind of religion; a monotheistic that has similarities with Abrahamic religions. Yazidi women are very strong women as they survived horrific and unspeakable violent treatment of abuse and rape! And those who ran away from ISIS have joined the Kurdish army to fight this merciless group! Stacey animatedly described the process of traveling to Iraq, joining the Yazidi women in their camps, eating the same food with them (which mostly was tomato), watching these courageous women shooting at ISIS, and hiding with these fighters from ISIS attacks. Stacey also skillfully illustrated how she, accompanied by a freed Yazidi young woman, interviewed an ISIS prisoner on trial who answered questions about his reasons for following ISIS and his feelings towards what he did. Shockingly, these men joined this ruthless group because of (1) needing a source of income to survive, or (2) being forced to as they have been told that they have two options: to kill for ISIS or to be killed (them and their families)! Stacey also revealed that over time, ISIS members became aloof and inhuman, and did not even feel ashamed of what they did. This is maybe due to reaching a point of believing that their current lifestyle is the normal way of living?! In all, Yazidi women are very brave as they not only have survived the trauma of being captured, raped, and tortured by ISIS, but also decided to stand in the face of injustice and cruelty, and fight back to free their families and land!

All the topics that Stacey covered in her thrilling book (violence against women, trans-women, people of color, sex workers, inequality, abortion & birth control, and child sexualization & exploitation) describe human beings who are treated with inhumanity and disrespect! And I just wonder where is the "Human Rights' Organization" from all this?? This best seller also reflected on how some people love to judge and imply their rules over others! This is not right as each person sets his own rules that only apply to him and should never be imposed on others! No one has to live according to anyone's standards because he is a free person and one person's freedom ends where another's begins!

Poverty, greed, and the love for power & enslaving others seem to have a major role in the injustice practiced on the unfortunate, which is reflected in some quotes that I admire for: Omar bin Al-Khatab: "متى استعبدتم الناس وقد ولدتهم أمهاتهم أحراراً - When did you enslave people when they were born free" and "لو كان الفقر رجلاً لقتلته - if poverty was a man, I would have killed him"; and Confucius: "In a country that is well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of, in a country that is badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of"! So the effect of poverty can be eliminated by implementing projects to create job opportunities such as in tourism or industry, which must be regulated to prevent commodity proprietorship that sometimes happen in agriculture (e.g.: tropical fruits, coffee, or cocoa plantation).

The other part of the worldwide inequality is due to corruption, overrule of cultural habits, and the presence of outdated laws! Prejudice and discrimination must be uprooted primarily by governments, and secondly by activists and anyone who have a conscience or can be heard just for the privilege of being a celebrity, royalty, or White/Caucasian! For instance, legislations that were set in the early 19th century should be amended because they cannot be used to solve the problems of 2020(s). New laws also should be passed to set stringent penalties on child sexualization and exploitation, and on violence against women, trans-people, sex workers, and people of color, as well as novel regulations should legalize contraceptives' use and abortion or at least consider a conditional abortion such as in cases of rape.

In relation to women rights particularly honor killing, in some countries a law is either inhuman or just a cliché as it is not effective because of the presence of people who are above law! The latter was the case of the fatherless make-up artist Israa whose murder shocked Palestine in August 2019. She was tortured and killed by her brother-in-law (an official in the government) by the name of honor killing! On the other hand, an example on inhuman laws was hideous murder that rocked the Jordanian community a few days ago. A heartless father brutally hit his daughter (Ahlam - it means dreams), followed her in the street (as she was trying to run away from him), and finished her and her dreams by hitting her by a stone on her head in the middle of the night!! In response, the Jordanian feminine movement rallied in front of the parliament to abolish a law that allows the family to drop its rights against the killer, and 2 laws that protect murderers who kill in the name of honor killing because there is no honor in murder! These archaic laws were set in the mid forties upon the establishment of the kingdom! But it is time to be eradicated (similar to the law that was cancelled 3 years ago that sets the rapist free when he marries his victim!!!!) as they allow the murderer to take advantage of a reduced sentence if he killed a woman by the name of honor killing (i.e.; instead of being sentenced for life or 20 years with hard labor, he will only be sentenced for 1-3 years!!!). This is why, all Jordanian women and I would be grateful if you can sign this petition to put an end to such ancient laws (!

Another note that I'd like to add that may have a role in the rate of violence against women is calling them animal names such as "chick" or "cow" or "batta" (a duck - as Arabic men call ladies) or "penguin" (I heard it to describe a pregnant woman)! I don't know if callers think that these are nicknames but they are not!! These descriptions are rude because women or girls are humans like men and not animals. So I (and many girls/women) feel that this kind of calling depicts women as a piece of meat and not a human, which maybe one of the things that entice the animal instinct in abusers and rapists?! Moreover, some of these calling may negatively affect the girl's/woman's image about herself (esp. that teenagers & pregnant women are so sensitive about their body shape due to the hormonal changes that they go through), thus encouraging these girls to diet in order to control their body weight due to believing that they are fat! Unfortunately, unhealthy dieting and starving oneself result in serious eating disorders such as anorexia (AN) or bulimia nervosa (BN), which in a number of cases ended with death due to deteriorated health or committing suicide! According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the crude death rate among patients with AN and BN is 4% and 3.9%, respectively! So dear men, be considerate when dealing with women and think twice before describing her with any of the previous animal names!!

In addition, reading this documentary made me believe that generally, circumstances control the decisions of some individuals but if they fight back, then they can get out of the bad situation and have a second chance in life similar to the Yazidi women. Also, a person should try to never stop being a good person because of the presence of bad people, such as not to sell their children for sexual pleasure, or join the ISIS, drug cartels, or other cruel groups even if it was the only way to earn a living, esp. that it results in bloodshed and death of the innocent! So a person can change his life by changing his way of thinking, for example by planting his land different species of crops or trees that can be sold in the market instead of planting coca.

In conclusion, the fight against injustice will not end unless the good people unite to outnumber the bad ones to: change the outdated laws, shed light on injustice, not tolerate inhuman treatment to our brothers and sisters, and raise the new generation to respect those who are different form us whether they were of dissimilar color, race, age, religion, sex, and trans people or those who underwent sex reassignment surgeries, because as Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela indicated: "Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free", and "The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children", respectively!

So defending the weak is the duty of every person on this planet. And no free human being should stay silent or say that he cannot do anything to help others, because the least we can do is to speak up on injustices such as using smart phones to record every wrong doing that is done onto those around us, or just by defending someone (be it a nonwhite person, woman, or kid) on the street who is being abused/attacked by others, as Dalai Lama stated: "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try to sleep with a mosquito in the room", and Rumi said: "Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion", respectively!

Inspirational Women-II - (July 17th 2020)

To continue with the astounding book of Stacey Dooley 'On the Front Line with Women Who Fight Back', another serious topic that this reporter touched on was the pros and cons of coca planting in some cities in Latin America as they are two sides of the same coin. Based on interviews with some Peruvians and Mexicans from Cushillo Cocha and Tijuana, respectively, Stacey explained that coca is detrimental to users especially if it was contaminated and not made from a pure source. In addition, coca trade triggers fights between cartels and dealers that harvest the lives of many people, where some of them are innocents who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But this only happens in some cities as many towns are safe and beautiful to visit (check how not to travel like a basic bitch blog). Yet, growing this plant in the land of the poor would provide a source of income to these houses, hence providing a decent (but not extravagant) life to these families such as feeding their children and sending them to school, or being able to have a TV and a fridge. But still some families refused to plant it due to knowing the blood bath that results from this plant or to losing their loved ones in such clashes!

Sex trafficking and pedophiles in the Philippines is one of the most chilling sections in the book! This chapter described how Eastern-Asian infants, children, and teenagers are sold by their parents or kidnappers for men ≥ 20 for sexual pleasure or to be used in the porn industry! And what made it worse, is that there are about 750,000 individuals worldwide who are willing to have sex with a child at a specific time! In March 2020, the UN also reported that there are > 78,500 websites that advertise images or materials of sexually exploited children, and each year ~ 1,000,000 children are compelled in prostitution or pornography!! This appalling information is horrific!! And I felt so angry at these people while reading this part, esp. that predators neither felt remorse nor responsible for what they did/do! They even didn't care that their disgraceful sickening behavior would badly affect and traumatize these girls and boys, leaving them like feathers in the wind! Even some mothers (not sure if they should be called so?!) who sold their children or filmed themselves sexually abusing them, justified their behavior by two feeble excuses: their need to support their families, and that the kids do not understand what is being done to them (yeah right?! this is BS!). These are the most pathetic justifications that I have ever heard, which are in agreement with a Lebanese saying: "An excuse that does not fry an omelet - حجة ما بتقلي عجة'', and Steven Grayhm quote:"Excuses are the tools with which persons with no purpose in view, build for themselves great monuments of nothing". Poverty could be one of the main causes of child sexualization, but it is not an excuse to sell a child for pleasure! Why don't these parents sell themselves instead of their children?! May be because the money made by adults would be less than that earned by children?!! On the other hand, organizers of sex trafficking and child porn are self-absorbed greedy inhuman people who made millions from this industry (e.g.; according to the UN, a pimp gets $ 200,000 for one girl!!). And like Stacey, I believe that these people and pedophiles are mentally unstable and sick. Therefore, they need therapy and counseling but before that, they need to be locked away so they won't be able to harm any other kid!

For the first time, I learnt that there is one expression to describe both 'sexism and violence' against women - femicide or feminicide. The kind and amount of brutality performed on women in this world is outrageously dreadful and alarming! One of the horrible stories (supported by photos) was of a woman in her 20s whose husband chopped off half of her leg (from beneath the knee) by a machete in front of their 2 young daughters! And guess what? He was only sentenced for 2 years!!! This woman, who is confined in a wheelchair, reported her fear from her husband to come out and finish what he started and kill her once he is out of prison! This is just one example on sadist behaviors practiced on women! For instance, the UN reported that in 2017 more than 30% of the women worldwide have suffered from violence, and 87,000 women were intentionally killed in which > 50% of them were killed by a family member! The problem resides in the absence or ineffectiveness of laws that prohibit and penalize femicide and limit the power of the machismo culture! This was represented by Stacey's visits to the police department where she was blocked from meeting the person in authority, and to a prison to meet imprisoned men for harming, killing, or rapping women! This concept empowers men and considers femicide a right to straighten a woman's behavior; thus giving men the authority to treat women violently?!! And in some societies (not just in Honduras as indicated in the book), violence against women is exacerbated due to considering feminicide a taboo that must not be talked about as if it does not exist because punishing this dishonorable behavior reflects men's incompetency! In my opinion, the first step in solving this problem is by endorsing the presence of a gap in both culture and law regarding women treatment, which can be fixed by setting strict laws that make men think twice before touching a woman! Governments and activists should also work on empowering women to not stay silent and to use their voice to defend themselves! Furthermore, parents should spend money on their daughters' education and intellectualism (esp. in nations that saves money for a daughter's wedding), which helps the girl to grow up to be independent, brave and speak up when abused or not treated respectably, to find worth within herself (her personality, knowledge, and being real), and to be able to take care of herself, instead of teaching her that education is not important as eventually she will marry a man who will look after her and make her worthy!?! Unfortunately, these archaic doctrines and thoughts are still passing on to generations of some families in many conservative developing and semi-developed countries like the Arab world and Turkey.

Moreover, this book provided some serious revelations about the reasons that caused some women to become sex workers in Russia, Brazil, and Turkey. Joining this field is circumstantial, as generally women had to do this kind of job in order to survive (or feed their families) by getting $ 1.5- 20/person, except for very few of them who were involved in such business because of enjoying it. This chapter also described that prostitution is illegal in Russia which endangers the lives of sex workers because of the probability of dying from the cold weather, violence, or hunger! Yet the Russian law allows women to have a business in prostitution only if it is called a personal escort (similar to geishas in Japan), and this is usually done by rich women who are passionate about this kind of occupation! What kind of hypocrisy is this, where changing the name of an occupation makes it officially permitted!? In Turkey, sex working is legal, but prostitutes could be murdered by their families in the name of honor killing! Adding to this, sex, sex education, and sexual assault in general are considered taboos and not talked about in conservative nations, which limits informing the authorities about any kind of sexual assault. Why? I can attribute this for 2 reasons: (1) victims are the ones who are going to be blamed by the culture as it is considered the victim's fault (she brought it on herself based on how she acts or what she wears), and (2) reporting such assaults mostly will result in the victim's death due to the honor killing culture that is protected by law! Sadly, the latter rationale is used as an excuse by some inhuman men to kill their wives by the name of 'honor killing' to avoid paying her divorce settlement agreement!! All these obstacles silence sexually harassed or abused children and women from reporting what is done to them!

Transgender women are another group of people who suffer a lot as a result of inequality. For instance, very few trans people got an opportunity to work in beauty salons. However, countless communities have shunned them, leaving no choice for many of them just to be sex workers which most of the time results in their death (murder)! This is because governments do not provide protection to them as attacking transgender people is not considered a hate crime, because they believe that Trans people, who chose to be who they are, brought this onto themselves!? What an excuse?!?! Stacey also explained another sad reality about Trans women whom she met in Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, and Detroit that some individuals have rejected them due to thinking that trans people are mentally unstable, delusional, bisexual, or suffer from dysphoria! This reflects the amount of ignorance in the universe, which must be addressed by the media via conducting more documentaries on such critical issues instead of spending a large amount of money on covering the news of the celebrity, the Oscars, etc.! In addition, governments must change laws to condemn and punish violence against Trans people who must be treated equally like their non-trans counterparts!

Abortion and birth control are a choice for women to make and only women because it is their body, and they are the only ones who know it and know when they are ready to have a child. I knew that many countries forbid abortion, but I was surprised to discover that some societies even ban use of contraceptives! And this is a huge problem primarily in nations with a high rape rate such as in Honduras. Moreover, a large number of rape victims are teenage girls and young women who may go through problems during labor that could result in their death; thus leaving an orphan behind who habitually end up in the streets or got adopted by the drug cartels! So not allowing abortion is pure hypocrisy, because if abortion is a crime so is rape! And for those who argue that God forbid abortion I say that He also forbid rape!! Thus, developing legislations that authorize abortion (at least in case of rape) and birth control techniques assist these communities in reducing the adverse effects of having an unwanted baby. These legalizations also would maintain the health of these jobless mothers preventing its deterioration, especially if she was a teenager, and that of the newborn due to the unwanted delivery! So the most important thing that can be done in addressing these undesirable outcomes is by setting strict sentences on rape, as well as legalizing abortion and contraceptives' use. But Stacey indicated that in some countries corruption is the major cause of the predominance of the machismo culture, due to the presence of men in power who work against penalizing rape and decriminalizing abortion for the same reasons that don't punish feminicide!


Inspirational Women-I - (July 10th 2020)

One of the impressive women in this world is Stacey Dooley whom I read her amazing book 'On the Front Line with Women Who Fight Back'. She is the voice of those who don't have a voice as Stacey touches on many vital topics for women such as rape, violence & murder, trans-women, people of color, sex workers, inequality, abortion & birth control, and child sexualization & exploitation. She traveled to diverse countries including India, the Ivory Coast, the Americas, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, Japan, and Iraq covering stories about social injustice practiced on the unfortunate, as St. Augustine of Hippo said: 'The world is a book, and those who don’t travel, read only one page'. The narration of this captivating bold documentary is based on Stacey's experiences. This turn-page book is an eye opener and I think that every person should read it. And by this I mean every man and woman, because the fight against injustice that is imposed on the vulnerable, particularly women and children, requires unity of all community members.

At the beginning of the book, she talked about the story that got her into the media field, and about receiving many negative nonobjective comments on her work. Stacey also explained how overtime she learnt that she cannot be everyone's cup of coffee similar to what we say in Arabic: 'satisfying people is a desire that cannot be achieved - إرضاء الناس غاية لا تدرك'. One of the reasons why some viewers did not like Stacey was due to lacking a degree or specialized training in media! So she had a couple of messages to those who are new in any occupation: to be confident in oneself and his work esp. if the person is satisfied with his accomplishment, and never give in to what people say because each one has a different opinion and taste. She also commented that feeling passionate about her job was the key to her success!

Her story about traveling to India when she was 19 to work in clothes' factories while living in slums was life changing to her and me, due to revealing the dirty secrets of clothing business. This exploration started by answering an ad about a production company that was recruiting 6 consumers obsessed with "fast, throwaway fashion". She and her mates (like me and whoever watched their show on BBC; Blood Sweat and T Shirts - were shocked by the horrendous and sickening working conditions, and the young age of the workers as most of them were children. Many kids were orphans suffering from hunger, who worked for > 10 hours a day to receive only ~ $2! Stacey also reported that every day, about 10,000 piece of clothing are produced by 4,000 workers! This is a huge amount of apparel made in a short period of time, in the worst environment and without receiving minimum rights; workers were not allowed to relieve themselves and there weren't even toilets to do so! So I believe that the least we can do is to reconsider buying clothes (particularly the pricy ones) when we go shopping as regardless of the price in the store, the piece of clothing is made by an underprivileged person who doesn't receive his lawful rights!! In addition, the price tag usually covers the store's expenses (electricity, wages, shipping, etc.) as well as the profit, which I guess is a huge one esp. that the price differs a lot during sale time, which also guarantees a profit!

In another story, this wonderful author talked about getting a chance to work with the BBC on a gig that discussed cocoa production in the Ivory Coast. She recounted the bad conditions under which African kids work and that some of them had missing limbs! Their job was to cut coca pods off the trees using a machete. These children have to work in order to ensure an income for their families! On the other hand, Stacey beautifully portrayed her experience with the people there who are very genuine and kind. She also described how she got malaria that forced her to go back to England, and how Suzanne (an African widow who has 9 children, with whom Stacey stayed while she was working on her report) used her savings to buy a phone and a card just to call her at Luton (in the UK) to check on her! This testimony and the previous one are a huge call against child labor that is forbidden by international law but many countries, especially developing ones, still practice it just to fill the bank accounts of capitalists!

In the second chapter, this documentary filmmaker visited two prisons for women in NY, where one of them was a military-style boot camp correction facility. She met a number of the inmates, who explained the reasons that forced them to go down this murky path, and eventually into their imprisonment including: drug addiction, violence from partners, sexual assault, and the negative environment in which they grew up such as having violent or addictive parents and/or being exposed to childhood maltreatment or sexual abuse. Stacey also indicated that these reformatories provided counseling to some prisoners who kept obstructing and delaying their release. For example, one of the inmates was sabotaging her release because she was afraid of going back to her parents who are addicts, and her husband who is a drug dealer, where both of them made her a codependent addict who cannot steer away from them! In the end this woman was discharged but showed surrender to her parents who picked her up, reflecting falling again into the clutches of addiction as the prison administration predicted! Yet, Stacey advised the prison management to incorporate education, and specialized-training to the prisoners. These suggestions would help these women to live a decent life after getting out of prison and to be independent of others; otherwise they may return back to living the pre-prison life, which is unhealthy and dangerous as they may end up in detention or dead!

After that, Stacey has been to the borders of Mexico with the U.S. where she interviewed a number of women and a priest, who provided refuge to the travelers before crossing the borders. She brilliantly illustrated the terrible and harrowing dangers that Latin Americans go through to migrate to the U.S. that encompass traveling from their homeland to Mexico, paying large amount of money to people who help them to cross the Sonoran Desert and the borders to the U.S., and fear from being caught by border patrols! During this exasperating journey, a lot of immigrants die in this desert due to thirst, hunger, cold, rape, or snake bites! They endure all this in the hope of finding a better living for themselves and their families in the U.S.! Latinas leave their country mainly because of the dreadfulness that they live in, which endanger their life and that of their loved ones! They run away from poverty and the attacks of drug cartels between each other and/or on their villages, causing bloodshed! Drug cartels also kidnap their kids and force them to join their activities by threatening to kill them or their families! In other words, these immigrants leave their homes and family (some women left their kids with their mothers in the hope to bring them later) travel to the U.S. to earn a decent living and not to spread violence as some people think! Lastly, the shocking novel information to me was the hypocrisy of the drug cartels as they attack others and kill people on all days of the week except on Sundays as they go to church to pray?!?! This is mere hypocrisy because God said "Don’t kill" - He forbid killing in general and NOT JUST ON SUNDAYS!?


Russian Literature - (July 3rd 2020)

I always have been interested in reading different kinds of literature including the Russian classics, in which I read Turgenev's Love Trilogy that my dad had it in Arabic! I also was intrigued to read for Dostoevsky and Tolstoy; so I got an English version of some of their works. The Russian literature is one of a kind as it is rich in impeccable books that are distinguished by the complicated events of the characters; reflecting the indecisiveness that humans go throughout life when trying to choose between 2 things as sometimes in life we don't know which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn, esp. when not knowing which path will lead to one's happiness. So for me, I just follow Garth Brooks' song "The River"!

Turgenev's Love Trilogy consists of 3 short love stories that occurred in the early 19th century, illustrating some of the author's romantic experiences! These tales included Asya, The First Love, and Torrents of Spring. Asya was about 2 love birds; the anonymous narrator and Asya, the half sister of Gagin from an out of wedlock affair in which Asya was tormented by hiding this fact from the narrator. The 3 of them met on a street in Germany where a kind friendship grew between the narrator and the 2 siblings. Over time, the companionship between the narrator and Asya turned into a love passion, but none of them expressed his love to the other! Eventually, Asya and Gagin left Germany to London, whereas the narrator regretted letting the girl he loved go!

The First Love is a kind of an autobiography about the first love of the author (depicted in the character of Valdimir) for his neighbor, Zinaida. It is a heartrending story that described the infatuation of the teenage Valdimir with the 21-year old impoverished aristocratic Zinaida, who turned out to be his dad's mistress! This shocking misfortune affected Valdimir badly after which he decided to leave for college! Years later, Valdimir discovered that Zinaida had married a rich man and moved to St. Petersburg. So he went there in an attempt to visit her, but sadly he found that she died a few days earlier during childbirth!

Torrents of Spring portrays the struggles that a person goes through when he falls in love for the first time. Young Dimitry was a rich man who fell in love with the beautiful Italian lady who worked in his parents' pastry shop, Gemma. Yet, this love was threatened by Gemma's senseless fiancée and the rich seductive woman, Madame Polozov, who was trying to buy Dimitry's estate. The following complicated events resulted in Gemma leaving her fiancée for Dimitry, who unfortunately gave up on her for the sinister Polozov! Gemma was shocked and hurt by Dimitry's behavior, but in due course she married a good man and moved with him to NY! Nonetheless after more than 20 years, Gemma received a letter from Dimitry apologizing about the way he treated her and asking for forgiveness, which was given to him!

Overall, Turgenev's trilogy shares some messages in which a persons' past doesn't define his future! Wrong decisions, ego, and pride also prevent a person from taking a chance on love (to win his love) which he may regret later in the future, similar to Paulo Coehlo's proverb: "One day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you always wanted. Do it now"! Besides, sometimes people know what they have to do when listening to their heart or instinct, but do not act due to over thinking or fearing the outcome obscurity as Lao Tzu stated: "The soul always knows what to do. The challenge is to silence the mind".

Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov is an amusing sarcastic drama of the 3 brothers; Dimitri, Ivan, and Alexei, who are separated but reconnected at some point of time as they tried to kill their father, Fyodor, to get their inheritance. In addition to their father's role in their disconnection, each one of these brothers left home due to other personal reasons and intertwined circumstances. For instance, Dimitri left because of fighting with his dad over loving the same woman, Grushenka. Ivan was disturbed by the human's suffering in the world, didn't like his father and brothers, and fell in love with Katerina, who was Dimitri's ex-fiancée. In contrast, Alexei devoted his life to God and became a novice at an Orthodox monastery. When Fyodor was murdered, Dimitri was accused of killing his father and sentenced with 20 years of hard labor in Siberia! Yet Dimitri was able to escape with the help of Ivan and Katerina (who bribed the guards), and joined his beloved Grushenka to run away to the US after asking Katerina for forgiveness for hurting her. This is a very twisted novel that teaches us about morals, reasoning, free will, karma, repentance, forgiveness, having faith in God, brotherhood and family as Anthony Liccione said: "Everyone needs a house to live in, but a supportive family is what builds a home".

Anna Karenina and War and Peace for Leo Tolstoy were 2 different novels in terms of theme and sequence of events. Anna Karenina was a melodrama about Anna, the aristocratic woman who did not love her rich husband, Karenin whom she married for his money and position. Anna fell in love with Count Alexei, the cavalry officer who was supposed to get engaged to his friend's sister (Kitty who thought that she was in love with Alexei). The events got so entangled after Anna's betrayal for her husband and getting pregnant! And because of her strong love desire for Count Alexei, Anna left Karenin and her son for her lover with whom she had a baby girl. After living in a beautiful house in the suburbs outside Moscow, Anna started to feel lonely, suffer from paranoia, and doubt Alexei's fidelity. Ultimately, Anna committed suicide by throwing herself under the train tracks, which devastated Alexei who returned to the army (in attempt to die due to giving up on love and life) and gave up his daughter to be taken care of by Karenin! This is a heartbreaking tale about the miserable Anna who followed her love passion that was blinded by unhealthy jealousy. The characters of this tragedy also represent the complex emotions and actions that a person feel and do in a relationship such as between spouses or family members/relatives including hate, adultery, loyalty, trust, respect, (mis)communication, and duty. And I believe that following one's passion is good and essential for one's maturity but it should never be at the expense of destroying others!

War and Peace however, is an exhilarating novel about Napoleon invasion to Russia and his defeat by the Tsar (Alexander I) in Berezina battle in 1812. Tolstoy enthusiastically describes the gallant battles between the Russians and the French, and how Napoleon gave up on his army and left to Paris which weakened his forces, resulting in its surrender! On the other side, this book narrates the escalating events between 5 five aristocratic families representing the kind of relations and friendships among them in the form of respect, love, loyalty, betrayal, and greed. But the main story revolved around Natasha, the beautiful teenage lady who fell in love with prince Andrei to whom she got engaged. During her engagement, she met Anatole who abandoned his Polish wife, and seduced Natasha (who didn't know about his wife) to elope with him. This plan was discovered by her cousin, Sonya, who told her aunt and stopped Natasha from running away! This caused Natasha to go through a severe depression, and sent Prince Andrei an offer to break off the engagement, which he accepted, as she felt unworthy of him! Prince Andrei returned to the army to fight the French during which he had a severe injury and had to travel back to Moscow by train for treatment. When Natsaha found out that Andrei was on the same train she was on, she went to him, nursed him, and asked for forgiveness, which she got from him before passing away. After all the gloomy things that happened to Natasha, life smiled to her again as a rich but naïve heir named Pierre fell in love with her and proposed to her (after losing his wife)! So Natasha married Pierre and lived happily with him because as they say: love is the only medication that can heal wounds of the world! This thrilling book is a striking historical description about war, bravery, patriotism, gambling, sacrifice, honor, apprehension, lack of communication, and dealing with authoritarians.

All the previous stunning books also emphasize on the importance of love, which is the acceptance of the other unconditionally with the absence of judgment and expectations, and not to give up on those we love especially when they go through difficult times. But these novels also teach us to be strong enough to walk away from what is hurting us, and be patient enough to wait for the blessing we deserve. Moreover in marriage, a person's happiness is largely dependent on his spouse's personality, and on the importance of communication between couples as without it the marriage may fall especially if it is not based on love, and to listen to understand and not just to reply when conversing! Another important lesson is forgiveness with which a person changes his future not his past, and sets his soul free from anger and revenge. Lastly, these literary works encourage us (humans) to always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God!

French Literature - (June 26th 2020)

After reading The Black Tulip for Alexandre Dumas in school, which captured me with its tragic events that was maximized by the English teacher's role in mimicking the sounds of Cornelius and Rosa making us (5th graders) so engaged in the story, I became more interested in reading French books. So I challenged myself to read The Three Musketeers, Le Comte de Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and Joan of Arc in French. The French library is full of exquisite and appealing books about human life and values.

For example in Le Comte de Monte Cristo (one of my favorite books that I've ever read), Alexander Dumas beautifully and vividly describes the rhythmic events of the sailor Edmond that prevented him from marrying Mercédès, the love of his life. For Mercédès' cousin also was in love with her and didn't want her to marry Edmond. So he claimed that Edmond is a traitor supporting the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. This resulted in his imprisonment in Le Château D'If (a prison on the island of If) where he met Father Faria, who dug a tunnel to Edmond's cell thinking that he was digging towards the sea! This priest, who was known to the guards as the mad priest, taught him a lot of things and made Edmond a wise and rich man by guiding him to a treasure hidden in Monte Christo Island. After 8 years, Edmond ran away from prison by hiding in the burial bag in place of Father Faria, which was thrown in the sea (the prisoners' burial place), Edmond freed himself and swam to the shore. Subsequently, he got a boat and went to the Monte Christo Island to search for the treasure, which after claiming it he returned back to Paris disguising as Le Comte de Monte Christo to avenge those who jailed him. This fanciful story is about love, loyalty, hate, faith and hope, sacrifice, revenge, power, and doing anything to stay in power even locking up innocent people based on prejudice and jealousy. This epic also highlights the difficult question we humans face sometimes: which is harder, waiting, giving up, or moving on? This is similar to what Paulo Coelho once said: "Waiting is painful. Forgetting is painful. But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering"!

This drama was different form Dumas' The Three Musketeers, which was a cavalry story of D'Artagnan who wanted to join the Musketeers of the Guard in mid 19th century. The story starts by