Life-Changing & Inspirational Books
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Happy 2022!

Happy 2022!

The Life of Kurds - (December 17th 2021)

Gian Sardar's Take What You Can Carry is based on true historical events, which profoundly describes the lives of Kurds in Iraq in 1979 - a few months before Saddam's reign. This absorbing book is about Olivia, a secretary in a newspaper desiring to be a photographer, who plunged into the unknown for the sake of understanding her Kurdish boyfriend, Delan.

Olivia joined Delan on his trip to Erbil to attend his cousin's (Ferhad) wedding, reminding herself "if you want something enough, you make it happen"! Olivia met Delan (an actor) in LA after renting a room in his house in addition to the other renters, Rebecca and Mason. Their voyage had an urgent landing in Amsterdam caused by a bomb threat, during which Delan disclosed his desire to cancel their flight! He was afraid! Moreover, their trip from Baghdad, where they stayed one day with Delan's aunt, to Erbil took the whole day due to the presence of numerous checkpoints at which the officers treated them scornfully! On their way, they stopped at a deserted house that was his childhood home, which his family was forced to evacuate so that an Iraqi one can move in! After that, he rescued an Iraqi man from angry Kurds, who turned out to be in the military and could have killed them; except that, Delan felt that this man deserved saving because at that moment he was just a father devastated by his son's loss! They reached his parents' house before sunset, ahead of the curfew! Delan's brother Soran and parents, Gaziza and Hewar were amiable to Olivia, assuming she was his fiancée. Actually, it is culturally unacceptable for a girlfriend to stay with her boyfriend! She also met their neighbors Miriam and her adopted child. When she was pregnant, Miriam was among many people who were imprisoned and tortured, resulting in losing her baby. In the same night, a baby's parents were murdered, and so Miriam breastfed the baby naming her Lailan! Olivia loved Lailan, who spoke little English as Soran was teaching her, esp. that she, too, lost her mom when she was a kid.

Soran and Delan took Olivia to downtown to show her how the Kurds live and invited her to a Kurdish restaurant. Yet after seeing a number of political figures in the restaurant, Soran paid for the uneaten food and ushered them to leave! His act has saved them, as upon heading into the souq the restaurant was bombed! This had a very negative effect on Olivia who experienced such horror for the first time in her life! Some nights there were even power cuts and planes roaming in the sky that altered Olivia's sleep! Delan explained that it was just the fight between the resistance and the government in the mountains! Sadly and meanwhile picnicking in the mountains with Delan's acquaintances, he was detained for about a week, tortured, and interrogated to know the whereabouts of his friend Aras, who was a Peshmerga (the resistance). Throughout his detention, Hewar, Soran, and Olivia tried to distract themselves by planting. The latter two also spent time with Lailan. Olivia danced, drew, read stories, and played with her. Delan returned home after several days, making everybody happy esp. Olivia who wanted to express her love to him but felt it inappropriate, as he was traumatized! He conveyed to Olivia that torture is performed in basements and that his toenails were removed! This is why Delan hated going down to his basement in LA! In fact, Uday, Saddam's son, was the king of sadism in Iraq; he used to torture the football team players by placing their naked backs onto protruded metal to get punctured whenever they lost a game, in addition to abducting any woman he liked!

Delan's act of kindness (helping the Iraqi officer) has saved his family from the animosity of the Iraqi police, who attacked their village to avenge the Peshmerga's destruction of a major road. On that night, all Kurds have suffered even Miriam was savagely hit, while Lailan was hiding behind a car and watching. Luckily, she was pulled inside by Olivia! That night, they slept together on the kitchen's floor to feel secure! Regardless of living in fear and being tortured and killed by the ones who should protect them, the Kurds faced daily abuse with courage and by showing kindness to each other. They rise from the ashes, and as Delan said, they move with since no one can forget nor stop living because of misfortunes!

One day, Soran left to buy seeds for the garden, and Delan took Olivia to the mountains. Olivia wandered around and started taking photos. Through her camera, she saw numerous soldiers attacking a man with his hoodie covering his head. So she hid behind the rocks and kept shooting admiring the man's courage, as he kept standing after every punch until being stabbed repeatedly! Olivia got scared and felt nauseated, but crept until reaching Delan who upon seeing her took her in his arms despite being furious for putting herself in danger!! They got back to his parents' home and took care of Olivia who was traumatized from seeing such atrocity. In the meantime, some villagers knocked at their door carrying Soran's blooded body, which they found near the mountains. At this moment, Delan and Olivia realized that she witnessed Soran's murder! This left her bitterer and dismayed! To witness a murder is something, but to see someone you love tortured and stabbed is unbearable! Following the burial, the house was filled with neighbors, friends, and relatives who came to condole Soran's family, bringing with them food! Yet, one of their acquaintances accused Soran of being a spy, and that the police killed him after not needing him anymore. Adding to that, being a spy was the reason that saved Soran's family from the police's attack following the road's sabotage! This false speculation was due to that Soran used to leave on early mornings and not come back home until noon! However, after Soran's murder, a beautiful Christian woman came to his parents' door to pay her respects. She told them that she met Soran in London, and had to get back to Iraq after her graduation. This is when his family understood why Soran left London! He wanted to be with his beloved! But their love was forbidden (Christian with Zoroastrian)! So they kept it a secret to keep her from harm!

By the end of her trip, Olivia felt guilty for going back home and leaving Delan, his parents, Miriam, and Lailan behind in the city of terror, knowing that she might not see them again! Yet and despite all the agony and adversity that Olivia lived, she enjoyed the beauty of Northern Iraq, its humid weather, wildflowers, date trees, Grand Canyon, and mountains where the Kurds hide from the Iraqis' attacks! She loved the hospitable Kurds, their food and sweets such as baklava or Mann al-Sama (Manna of heaven - a delicious kind of sweets also known as mann o salwa), and their wedding traditions. For instance in Ferhad's wedding; she dressed a traditional Kurdish dress, and joined Delan (after his release) and Soran in a traditional dance.

Olivia's dream was to be a photographer and so applied for the photo contest held by the newspaper. Yet, after getting back to LA, she didn't even want to participate. She was devastated by Soran's death, living the chilling life of Kurds, and feeling sad for being home safe while the ones she loved were under the mercy of dictators! But Peter, the head of the photography department, encouraged her due to having the potential, unlike the others. So she submitted 3 photos of: Delan reading the newspaper one morning in LA with tears on his cheeks; Hewar in his Kurdish turban watching the birds, and Delan's family and Miriam asleep on the kitchen's floor on the raid's night. She didn't win, because as Peter stated the contest was politicized!

Of all the photos she took, Olivia couldn't process the roll of Soran's murder. Instead, she asked Peter to do it for her! Looking at the photos has broken her! She identified Ferhad hiding behind a tree, thus knowing that he betrayed Soran! So she called work in sick, took a 5-day vacation, Mason booked her a ticket to Iraq, and called Delan's parents telling them that she would visit his aunt! Thus, after 6 weeks of being to Iraq, she flew again for one day to give Delan a cropped photo of his cousin, as she couldn't tell him over the tapped phone. In Baghdad, she saw the shock, anger, and pain on Delan's face! He decided to give the cropped photo to Aras, who would know how to deal with such issue! They agreed that Ferhad was tortured and threatened by the police to provide them with the name of who might have participated in destroying the road! So he thought of Soran probably, due to knowing that he used to leave every morning! Delan indicated that at some point, he would be able to forgive his cousin because Ferhad loved Soran, but definitely did what he'd done just to protect someone he loved, perhaps, more than Soran! He also added that he was preparing the papers to adopt Lailan and bring her to the US, and marry Olivia, if she still wanted to! Olivia loved the thought of being a family esp. that she loved Lailan, as well as was worried that Delan wouldn't like to leave his parents!

This story touched on how the newspaper employees made sexist comments to their female colleagues, and their pettiness towards a secretary who competed with them; they even set out rumors that she tried to sleep with Peter to win! Yet and after getting back from Iraq, Olivia was fed up with their nastiness and faced them by recounting the horrible things she lived, and that the winner wouldn’t have won if he wasn't connected to the manager, and left for good! She left with a blissful heart and looked forward to the day Delan and Lailan would land in LA, and she would be a photographer in another institution! Her trip to Iraq allowed Olivia to understand Delan (particularly after breaking his inner walls and talking about his fears and childhood wounds) and experiencing his traumatic life! Besides, she was glad for not giving up on him and listening to her dad's advice by leaning closer to support him, and following Delan's remark by loving others in spite of who they are even if all what she really wanted to do was run in the other direction! Sometimes, the best ones are the most difficult ones!

This book vividly illustrated the Kurds' history! They originate from Neanderthals, and include the Magi that visited Jesus on the night of his birth. They are Zoroastrians but currently there are Muslims, Christians, and Jews too. Kurds are distributed in the mountains of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Iran, forming about 25-35 million individuals. They experienced many years of genocide from the Iraqis, Turks, and Iranians, and were forbidden from forming their own country. In Iraq, they lost their peaceful life since the 1958 royal massacre! Many Kurds joined the resistance such as Abdullah Öcalan, who unfortunately was abducted with the CIA's help and imprisoned in Turkey in 1999! Similarly, the author revealed how the CIA (by Kissinger's directions) encouraged the Kurds (under Barzani's leadership) to revolt against the Iraqi government in 1970 via providing them with ammunition, for the sake of Iran's Shah. Yet the CIA gave up on them after not being needed anymore, letting them being butchered by the Iraqi dictatorship, and displacing over 200 Kurds! This was repeated in 1998 when the CIA promised to evacuate Iraqi scientists from Iraq but gave up on them to be murdered, as they were considered traitors for working with Americans. This shameful incident was covered up by displaying Clinton's scandal with Monica, which also masked the Contra war and cocaine trafficking to LA! In 2005 however, a Kurdish government was formed within the Iraqi Federal Republic, and I hope that Syria, Iran, and Turkey can follow the New Iraq and allow Kurds to form an independent government and live peacefully on their land!

Tyranny and Greed of Leaders Beget Misery - (November 19th 2021)

The Gardener of Baghdad is one of a kind story that portrayed the life of Iraqis during the monarchy, and compared it with the current situation. Ahmad Ardalan elegantly linked the story of Ali (the Gardener of Baghdad) with that of Adnan (a bookshop owner), revealing the role of politics in dividing Iraqis since the early 20th century!

After surviving bombers' attack in the souq (market) where his shop was, Adnan decided to follow his wife's advice, sell the store, and leave Iraq! Yet and while dusting his books, he found a hand-written diary inside a French book-cover replacing its ripped pages, and a golden locket! When he opened the pendant, he found M and A carved on one side and a B/W photo of a fair woman on the other! Intrigued, Adnan started reading the diary. It was about Ali who was born in 1934 in Diyala, to the southeast of Baghdad. He was a lone child whose grandfather had a big agricultural land, where he used to live and work with his parents and uncle's family, and play with his cousins, esp. Mustafa - his best friend. Unfortunately, his dad died when he was a kid in a car accident, and his mother followed him a few years later due to grief. So his uncle looked after Ali and took him on his trips to Baghdad. In his teens, he met Mr. Radhi in Baghdad, an old rich gentleman who was educated in England. After introducing himself, Ali asked Mr. Radhi about the way to become like him! Mr. Radhi liked his enthusiasm and told him to learn English, then to stop by his house to give him a book about planting. He did so and kept on visiting Mr. Radhi to borrow additional books. With time Mr. Radhi and his wife (Mme Laila) liked Ali, esp. that he reminded them of their late son! To return their kindness, Ali redecorated their garden, which they loved! Afterward Ali decided to follow Mustafa's steps (left the family business and became a sailor) and start his own business. He moved to Baghdad, bought a land, and built a nursery with financial help from Mr. Rhadi.

Mr. Rhadi and his wife spread the word about Ali's work and threw a party in their garden, which brought him many upper-class clients. Ali was delighted that his business started to flourish. He even was asked to design Baghdad Pact Square (The pact intended to stop the spread of communism by forming a treaty between Iraq, Turkey, the UK, Pakistan, and Iran). His happiest moment however, was when a beautiful blond British lady with green eyes, Mary Thompson, visited his nursery with her guardians Nassima and Mr. Dalton. Ali fell in love with this woman from the first sight. But Mr. Rhadi warned him that it is dangerous to suit such a woman because they were from different worlds; he was a gardener and she was the daughter of a British General. This also was noted by Mustafa. So Ali was lost between following his heart or listening to his advisors! Eventually and after receiving a valuable advice from a fisherman, he decided not just to choose the path of love but also to move forward in it, irrespective of the consequences because who rides the sea isn't afraid of drowning!

Ali decorated the Thompsons' garden, who lived in a compound for foreigners in Baghdad. He planted diverse kinds of flowers, roses, and strawberries as Mary has requested. The General was nice to him but not his bodyguard Charles, who was racist. Mary apologized for Charles' behavior stating that she couldn't believe that her dad wanted her to marry him! This was Ali's fourth meeting with Mary that was followed by many meetings at a cloth store. He also invited her on a journey in his boat in Tigris. She had a degree in English literature and like Ali, lost her mom when she was a baby, and didn't know her dad much due to his continuous absence with the military! To see Mary again, Ali threw a party to announce his business to which he invited Mr. Rhadi and his wife, his family, friends, and customers including the Thompsons. In the party, Charles insulted one of the guests, Dr. Kamal who was a communist cardiologist. So Ali kicked Charles out, which angered him and promised to avenge the insult! Then and while an Iraqi band played music, the love birds met behind a rose bush and expressed their love for each other!

In the meantime, Iraq wasn't stable and became dangerous for foreigners, because the king didn't support Abdul Nasser's (Egypt's leader) decision; nationalizing the Suez Canal. The monarchy's decision wasn't in agreement with the Iraqis' Arabism spirit as they only cared about pleasing the British - the power that maintained their presence! So the General decided to send Mary (against her will) back to London. Despite his sadness for being apart, Ali advised her to go due to worrying about her safety. Nonetheless, Ali's love to Mary made him go and visit her in London. He toured London and its museum that was filled with Iraq's history (Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian) before paying the Thompsons a visit. Traveling all the way to London just to see Mary convinced Nassima of his sincere intentions! In fact, the trip took him 2 days, as he had to go to Beirut by car and then fly to London, where he was exposed to racism because of his color! Nassima told Ali the location of Mary's university, where she was taking poetry classes. Inside her locker, he placed a red rose and a golden locket with 2 emerald stones in the form of her eyes, inside which he put her B/W photo that she gave him, and engraved M & A on its other side. After finishing her class, Mary was shocked to find the locket and rose in her locker, and by Ali who was standing behind her! They hugged and kissed, then walked in the park near the university. She also invited Ali to attend the Christmas party at her house, stating that she would only marry him, and promised to see him in Baghdad after finishing her studies in January!

In April 1957, Ali was taken to Rusafa police station! So Mustafa and Mr. Radhi inquired to know why! Actually, Charles saw Ali and Mary walking in the club's park, and told the General who in return filed a claim against Ali stating that he was a communist assisting Dr. Kamal! The investigator yelled at Ali demanding to know the whereabouts of Dr. Kamal because elite witnesses saw them talk in the street! Mustafa tried to convince Ali to tell the investigator that the General only did this to stop him from marrying Mary! However, Ali refused, as he couldn't drag Mary into this! Against Ali's wish, Mustafa told Major Amin the truth and eventually Ali was released. Afterward, Mr. Radhi picked up Ali and took him to his house where Mary and his cousin were waiting. They agreed to meet at the courthouse so that Ali and Mary would marry, then taken to Sulaymaniyah (a Kurdish county that fought for its independence in 1910-1932 but failed). They lived with Mr. Radhi's friend, Kaka Hawazin and his family, who was a butcher and had cattle's farm. The couple stayed almost a year in Sulaymaniyah and learnt Kurdish. Ali helped in taking care of the livestock, whereas Mary taught the farmers' children English. Several months later and once Mary dyed her hair; they were able to leave to the souq and buy a red cloth so that Mary can sew a dress! Mr. Radhi and his wife, Nassima, Mr. Dalton, and Mustafa visited them a few times, esp. after having baby Laila, who looked like Mary.

Sadly, Mary's health deteriorated after giving birth. So Ali sent Mr. Radhi a letter asking his advice. The latter communicated with the General who stated his regret for hitting his only daughter and fighting with her, and offered to take her to London to be treated. He also indicated that Ali had to go to the court at which the General would drop the charges against him. The memoir ended by this, except that Adnan wanted to know what happened! Therefore, he met his neighbor's uncle (in his 80s) who enlightened him about some events. Hence, he was able to locate Mustafa and visited him in Diyala, who filled the gaps for Adnan. So on July 13, 1958 everybody met at the General's house. While saying goodbye, Mary gave Ali the pendant, yet he was stopped from giving her the diary by Charles and taken to the car. During the ride to the court, Charles pulled his gun aiming at Ali but was pushed away by Mustafa causing the bullet to hit Ali's arm. Eventually the car had an accident and Ali ran away, hid the memoir and locket in a bookshop, surrendered himself to the police, and transferred to Abu Gharib prison. Charles on the other hand was killed by a mob of angry Iraqis, whereas Mustafa was captured and released later. Tragically, a coup d'état massacred the royal family and the Prime Minister Nuri Pasha on July 14. This coincided with chaos in the country during which a fire occurred in Abu Gharib prison, and Ali was pronounced dead. Mme Laila and Mary however, refused to accept this news! After the massacre, the situation wasn't safe for the Thompsons, and thus left to England! Mary lived with her daughter away from her dad, and established Red Flower orphanage in Ali's remembrance. Mme Laila did the same in place of Ali's nursery to continue his legacy.

Ultimately, Adnan gave Mustafa the memoir and locket, who mailed them to Mary. She and her daughter Laila flew to Baghdad to meet Adnan. Upon seeing the 2 blond women wearing red in the street, Abu Nasi started having flashes of his past that ended by having his memory back. So he excused himself and told his colleagues that he had to find a red rose for someone who had been waiting for it for so long! In reality, Abu Nasi was Ali! He lost his memory due to inhaling smoke during Abu Gharib's fire, and saved by an Iraqi old couple who lost their son in the fire. Since then, he became Abu Nasi - the forgetful - in agreement with his health condition! On the other hand, Adnan decided to follow Mary's advice and not sell his bookstore that his dad opened in 1944, instead to go and live in Sulaymaniyah with Hawazin's granddaughter Sara. She ran her grandpa's business and opened a Red Flower orphanage as well in memory of Ali.

Reading this love story made me feel like watching a B/W Egyptian movie, where love conquers all and that sometimes people meet, but life separates them just to reunite them again (when they are stronger)! This story also illustrated the current life of Iraqis who live in the horror of daily bombings and the hazy future! Adnan's character depicted Iraqis' fear of relocation, and questioning their ability to settle and make a living in a new city (i.e.; Amman or Europe or the US) if they leave Iraq! This was highlighted in Dual Identity post in which the tyranny of leaders and greed of foreigners (for power and petrol) are the major sources of Iraqis' misery!

The monarchy ruled Iraq between 1921 and 1958 by 3 kings. The last was King Faisal II, a second cousin of late King Hussein of Jordan. He was 23 years when murdered. He was wishy-washy (he didn't even have a car of his own and so King Hussein sent him one as a gift), as the real rulers were Faisal's uncle, Prince Abdul-Ilah (his mom's brother) and Nuri Pasha. The latter two abused the power as the rate of poverty was high, and most of the cities lacked infrastructure and services, esp. healthcare and education! Iraqis also hated them for not being Iraqis (they originated from Hijaz). Since the massacre and until 1979, Iraq was in turmoil due to being exposed to 6 coup d'états. The last one was lead by Saddam, who converted Iraq into a developed country after years of clashes and political unrest. For instance, Saddam built Iraq's infrastructure (pedestrian bridges had escalators), hospitals, and schools. In fact, many Jordanian doctors got their MD in Iraq between 1960s and 2000s. His government also financed research and provided work to every graduate as the rate of unemployment was low. Sadly, this is currently unavailable as many educators work in bakeries and restaurants to pay the bills!! Yet his sadistic dictatorship made Iraqis hate him for almost every family lost at least a loved one, particularly the Kurds! Accordingly, Iraq was destroyed again by the Gulf war in 1991 due to Saddam's stupid move - attacking Kuwait; thus ending his vicious rule by the American invasion in 2003 and spread of poverty, malnutrition, chaos, terror, death, and ISIS formation.

War and Scarred Souls - (October 22nd 2021)

Mark Sullivan's Beneath a Scarlet Sky vividly depicted that wars cause tremendous destruction, leaving handicapped and deeply scarred survivors. This is the true story of the WWII brave man Pino Lella, who narrated his family's role in fighting the Nazis and Fascists in Italy, specifically in Milan, to help him heal his wounded soul. Between 1943 and 1945, WWII has turned this 17-year-old boy into a grown man!

In June 1943, the tall Pino was desperate to date and fall in love! During one of his strolls with his friend Carletto and brother Mimo (15 years), he saluted and invited a 24-year old woman, Anna Marta, to the movies who smiled in return. In the evening, Pino climbed down his room's window, went to the cinema, and bought a couple of tickets! However, Anna didn't show up but Mimo did. While they were watching You Were Never Lovelier, a bomb fell onto the building tearing Rita Hayworth's image! This caused chaos and everybody ran out under the showering bombs! The Lella brothers rushed home and found their parents celebrating with their acquaintances. This angered Pino! Yet his dad told him that music is the only way to help humans get over fear and survive dark times! Afterward, their dad sent Mimo to Casa Alpina, and his wife took their daughter and left to Rapallo. On the other hand, Pino, his dad, and the Carletto's family joined others and took the night train to the countryside to stay away from bombings, then returned on the next morning! On one of these nights, Pino's dad played Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep) on the violin and Carletto's dad beautifully sang it. It was an unforgettable night for the 2 friends, esp. that Carletto's dad sang it from his heart to his dying wife!

Eventually, Pino's dad sent him against his will to Father Re's church in Casa Alpina (in the Alps and overlooks Lake Como). In Madesimo, he was picked up by Alberto Ascari (won Formula-1 World Champion for Ferrari in 1952-53); whose driving impressed Pino as he skillfully drove the curvy mountains. Before dropping him at the end of the paved road, Ascari agreed to teach Pino driving in exchange of teaching him skiing. Then Pino continued on foot through the Motta plateau until reaching the chapel. Under the leadership of Father Re, Pino was trained to climb the Groppera, the Passo d'Angeloga, Valle di Lei, and Pizzo Stella mountains, until reaching Lake Como, and back to the Motta and Campodolcino. The Father's intention was to recruit Pino to help the Jews, who hide in the chapel, cross the Alps to Switzerland. Later, he trained Mimo who followed his steps in assisting the runaways. They aided hundreds of Jews: young, old, men, women, pregnant moms, and children, surviving the harsh climbing conditions and avalanches!

In December 1943, a few bandits lead by the infamous Tito left grenades in the mountains. Unfortunately, the son of the innkeeper Nicco, where Pino used to stay on his way back from the mountains, held it thinking it a toy. The bomb exploded in his hands, killing him and leaving 2 other kids handicapped! The same thug, who called themselves partisans, attacked the villagers on New Year's Eve and Father Re's chapel in April 1944, extorting money and commodities such as Pino's snow hiking boots! In the same month, the Nazi captain Rauf visited the chapel while having Jews. So Mimo hid the refugees on one of the old huge trees. Then Mimo, Pino, and the rest of Casa Alpina's boys distracted the captain and his soldiers by trying to get oxen into the barn. The captain helped them in this process stating that he grew up on a farm! Pino spent 7 months doing this heroic dangerous act before his parents ordered him to come back because of turning 18, at which he would have to join the Italian army and sent to die in North Africa. Fascists committed horrible war crimes against Libyans, who fought for their freedom for over 30 years that ended after the demolition of Nazism and Fascism!

Pino's parents and uncle insisted that the only way to stay alive was by joining the Nazi's army, which he did but against his will due to feeling so ashamed of himself! Nevertheless, he got injured in one of the Allies' attacks on Modena where he was stationed. During his recovery period and while walking in Milan's streets, he helped General Leyers' driver to start his car. The General admired him and appointed him his personal driver, which also was an opportunity to spy for the Allies. Thus between August 1944 and May 1945, Pino was a witness of the Nazis' cruelty including transferring Jews in trains from Platform-21 in Milan to concentration camps to be worked till death; executing Italians in Piazzale Loreto including his cousin Tullio in response to the partisans' revolutionary acts against the Nazis; imprisoning partisans in San Vittore including his uncle; extorting Italians' food (wine, cheese, meat, crops) and killing every man who objected; stealing gold (Leyers took some for himself) and shipping it to Germany; and forcing Italian factories to work for them without paying them like the Fiat! So Pino used to tell everything he saw or heard to his uncle Albert who in return transmitted the information to the Allies through a radio system! He also described the General's meetings in the crazy house of the Italian leader and Hitler's puppet, Il Duce and his mistress (Claretta Petacci). The latter 2 were killed savagely by a mob of free Italians who lost loved ones under Mussolini's rule! Yet when the war was almost over, General Leyers tried to do good by freeing four Jewish kids from the train and handing them to the Cathedral's Cardinal, Schuster!

One happy thing happened to Pino during the worst years of his life was reuniting with Anna after 14 months, and after working for Leyers for over 4 weeks! She was the maid of Dolly Stottlemeyer, the General's mistress. During the war's vileness, Anna was Pino's candle in the dark that restored his faith in mankind, and his ray of hope when he was in despair! Between August 1944 and April 1945, the couple kindled their love and told their scars to each other! For instance, in her childhood, Anna's mom blamed her for not being able to have more babies due to suffering from several miscarriages after her birth! Anna also lost her dad when she was 15 due to nagging to sail in the sea during a storm, which engulfed their boat and caused her mom to blame her for her dad's death. So to get rid of Anna, her mom wed her to an Italian captain. He was older than her by 10 years and sent to fight in North Africa after 2 days of their wedding, where he died! Pino on the other hand, suffered from receiving hateful comments and scornful looks from the neighbors, his brother, Carletto and Carletto's dad before knowing his role as a spy! They made him feel like a traitor and Mimo even attacked him trying to shoot him! During his espionage, Anna helped Pino by acting like a drunken lover when entering his parents building on Christmas Eve of 1944. They planted a radio antenna in his room, and connected it to the Nazis' wavelength to mask his uncle's connection with the Allies/partisans!

Unexpectedly, one day Mimo surprised Pino in his car apologizing for calling him a traitor and asking for forgiveness. He also told him to arrest Leyers! So Pino arrested the General after giving the orders to his soldiers to transfer Dolly and Anna to Innsbruck. The General pleaded for his life and to be taken to Dolly's apartment to get some papers, but in vain as Pino made up his mind; he couldn't work with 'Pharaoh's slave master' anymore, and so delivered him to the partisans! In 1947, the General walked free without being tried for his crimes and lived with his family in his ranch in Düsseldorf! Interestingly, Pino driving skills allowed him to save the General from the Allies attack twice. Once, when a fighter hit them upon returning to Milan from Turin, after inspecting the gothic line and Fiat production; the second was when Pino and Carletto were assigned to transfer the General across the Brenner Pass to safety under the Americans' command (the General was a hero as Major Knebel indicated)! Yet upon nearing Brenner Pass, Pino decided to implement his plan! He pulled the trigger of his tommy gun and aimed to shoot the General, who asked to pee, to avenge Anna's death! The General argued with Pino about not knowing that Dolly and Anna were killed, and that their death was on Pino's hands because he refused to return to Dolly's apartment to get the papers, which may have rescued their women from the partisans! These words affected Pino's thinking! And against Carletto's pleas to kill him, he couldn't esp. after the General called him 'observer'! Only partisans called Pino by this name! This made him question if the General knew from the beginning that he was a spy, and allowed him to see things in a way to impede Hitler's madness?! During the transfer, Pino fought with Tito's thug who attacked them, but was saved by the General. This was another reason for Pino not to kill the General!

In April 1945, Pino answered his mom's pleas to find her friend's daughter, who was killed while passing by a clashing zone between the Black shirts (Fascists) and the partisans. He witnessed the Fascists' cruelty including chopping and hanging victims' heads on the cemetery walls! Moreover, Pino decided to check the papers in Dolly's apartment that the General talked about; however, he found it in disarray! Tragically and on his way back home, he saw the execution of Anna, Dolly, and others on the hands of partisans after stripping them down to their underwear. Anna's only fault was being the maid of Leyers mistress, except that the partisans didn't believe it and insisted that she was a whore! This left him devastated and feeling a coward for not defending his woman, in addition to that partisans followed him trying to kill him due to thinking a Nazi collaborator! So he ran to the Cathedral and hid in its tower where the Cardinal found him. After knowing his story, the Cardinal tried to ease Pino's grief by saying that he wasn't a coward and only feared for his life, which is a normal human feeling; he has the right to live; and faith will help him through this tragedy, to which Pino objected! So the Cardinal stated, "Faith is a strange creature. Like a falcon that nests year after year in the same place, but then flies away, sometimes for years, only to return again, stronger than ever".

Pino blamed the General and himself for losing Anna, because the night before her murder he was celebrating the end of the war with Carletto, American soldiers, and Italian women. He wished that he didn't attend the party and instead checked on Anna. Unfortunately, regret cannot bring back the dead ones! The next day, he found Anna's body in the cemetery while he, his dad, and uncle were looking for his cousin's body, Mario the pilot, who was shot by partisans assuming him a Fascist! Pino wiped the word 'whore' that was written in red rouge between her eyebrows, and wanted to claim her body. But his dad and uncle urged him not to due to fearing that the guards might consider him a Nazi! It took Pino more than 2 years to get over Anna's loss. Afterward he started a career in training skiers, had 2 failed marriages and 3 kids, and divided his life between the US and Milan! At the age of 89, he confessed to the author while wiping his tears that "some loves never die" and his favorite memories of Anna was the day spent at Lake Como!

The WWII is an example that wars only destroy nations and squash humanity by the name of claiming power and retaining it. Sadly, humans did not learn from this horrible tussle and still fight with each other; though, I hope they stop before wars put an end not just to mankind but also to nature!

Finally, I am quoting down my favorite statements:

Father Re told Pino after expressing his fear of guiding the Jews across the Alps:"But we can't stop loving our fellow man, Pino, because we're frightened. If we lose love, all is lost. We just have to get smarter".

Pino tried encouraging himself when discovering that Mrs. Napolitano (a Jew) was pregnant while climbing the Groppera, "I couldn't let fear take control of my brain. Fear has no business here".

Anna sympathized with Pino after he witnessed Tullio's execution and told him:"The best thing is to grieve for the people you loved and lost and then welcome and love the new people life puts in front of you". She also said, "Someone wise once told me that by opening our hearts, revealing our scars, we are made humans and flawed and whole"!

The Education Journey in the Time of Deficit - (September 24th 2021)

نقوش على جدران الذاكرة (Inscriptions on the Walls of Memory) is Dr. Zuhair Abu-Faris' memoir about his childhood in Deir Istiya village of Nablus that was marred by the Israeli occupation, and his journey to study in the Soviet Union when he was 18. The summary of this amusing book was merged with similar stories from my dad's and late grandfather's quiver.

This mesmerizing chronicle sheds light on the simple life of villagers in Palestine, which actually mimics the life of most Arabs in the Middle East including that of my dad and grandpa in the first half of the 20th century. For instance, Dr. Zuhair, the eldest among his 4 brothers, described his happy but poor childhood where he and his peers used to study under the oil lamp! Peasants also used to exchange food with each other due to lacking money to buy commodities. In addition, the book narrated how the whole village joined each other's joys and sorrows, and shared food with every mother upon giving birth, as well as in weddings and funerals. The memoir also beautifully depicted the role of kids in guarding the harvest from wild animals by sleeping on top of the collected crop while hearing the sounds of hyenas! Of course, he didn't miss illustrating the cooperation of all villagers in picking olives, its types, and pressing process. Personally, I enjoy this tradition that I have been doing since I was a kid, as every November my family collects olives from the trees besieging my dad's office! Women also used to fill their water jars from the springs and carry them on their heads as they went up the steep hills, which my dad described as too difficult to climb unless he went on all fours when he was a kid! One of the book's eccentric stories was that Dr. Zuhair's dad loved catching snakes and keeping them in the attic, where little Zuhair and his brothers used to sleep. In fact, his dad once used a snake to frighten the police and free a relative, who was detained upon participating in a demonstration against Israel. The author also bitterly explained how the occupation obliterated their identity by wiping out their old ruins and building illegal settlements on their agricultural lands.

This gynecologist showed the role of his illiterate but insightful mother in pushing him and his brothers to get educated. She fought with his dad to prevent her son from herding the sheep, but he used to help in milking the sheep/cows. He studied in the elementary school of Deir Istiya that lacked a high school, and so rented a cab and moved to continue his studies in Nablus. In the old days, many Arabs dreamt about finishing their education and help in the development of their community like my grandpa Suleiman Mousa. For example, my grandpa (born in 1919 and lived in Al-Rafeed village in northern Jordan) and his peers were taught by a sheikh/scholar. Then moved to Al-Huson city (30 km away from Al-Rafeed), on a mule to study in its high school. Unfortunately, lack of means prevented him from continuing his education, as his dad died when he was six leaving nothing to him, his younger sister, and mother (who refused to remarry and insisted on raising her kids on her own). So at 16 my grandpa worked as a teacher in the village's school, then moved to Jaffa and worked in a bookstore where he educated himself by reading. He also taught himself English (using books and dictionaries) while working with the Iraq Petrol Company as it had many British workers. Thus, similar to Dr. Zuhair's mom, my grandpa prioritized educating his 6 children because he was denied it, and ended up in having 2 professors, 2 engineers, and 2 teachers.

This memoir recounted many traditional and fictional tales, which my grandpa also used to narrate, that were famous in the old days such as these of Al-Zeer Salem and Ras Ghlais. But I love to share a true story about the brotherhood among villagers that my grandpa used to tell us. In the early 20th century, and specifically in Ramadan, the sheikh of Al-Rafeed's mosque got sick and could not call for the prayers that announced the ending and beginning of fasting - in Ramadan, Muslims break their fasting between the hours of sunset and dawn. So the sheikh asked the village's priest Naser (my grandpa's uncle) to help him! The priest responded by ringing his chapel's (still present to this day) bell at sunset and dawn to alert Muslims!

In 1969, Dr. Zuhair's parents esp. his mom and her communist brothers decided that he should go to study in the Soviet Union and become a doctor. The journey from Deir Istiya to Amman then to Damascus was not easy for the sensitive Dr. Zuhair, who was sad for leaving his family and go to a very far place. Moreover, people in general were skeptical about the Soviet Union, due to the bad publicity about communism by the West and the US! Arabs used to believe the spread lies that Russians and communists are atheists, not patriotic, and inhuman individuals who don't respect the principles of marriage and family ties. Actually, in the fifties and sixties, many people were jailed by being accused of communism; it was a way to fabricate anyone a person hated due to absence of democracy at that time in which the accused is guilty until proven otherwise! My grandfather was jailed in Al-Jafr notorious prison in 1956 (closed in 2006) because a coworker claimed that he was a communist! On the other hand, in 1967 my dad got a scholarship that covered studying and living in the Soviet Union, which my grandpa knew about while meeting with the Russian cultural counselor (as he was an employee at the Ministry of Culture). Yet, allegations about communism scared my grandma and her mother in law, who refused to let my dad leave! They were tragic, but my dad had to go as my grandpa had a meager income. So against his mom's and grandma's pleas, my eldest uncle drove my dad from Amman to Beirut. Then he boarded the ship that left to Moscow, where he spent 5 years studying mechanical engineering at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia.

With regard to Dr. Zuhair, he flew from Damascus to Moscow. At the airport, he was received by a member of the Jordanian Students Association, who took him to sleep in the students' dorm. On the next day, he was taken to the Ministry of Higher Education to choose his field of study - he registered to study medicine. Then he took the train to Rostov, the capital of the northern Caucasus and located on Don River, where his medical college is. The rest of the book charmingly portrayed the characteristics of Russians and the people of the 15 republics that were part of the Soviet Union. Dr. Zuhair expressed the warm reception in which foreigners were received. They were provided with warm wool clothes (from underwear/socks to coats and boots); fed 3 times a day in which many meals contained meat or fish (a luxury to these coming from the village); taken on trips to visit the historical places in the city and Moscow; offered recreational classes including sports (my dad learnt swimming and chess), playing on musical instruments, or photography (which my dad acquired - he still have many B/W photos that he processed); and engaged in paid-community service such as helping in building parks or in fruit picking. Additionally, foreigners were considered guests of Russia, and therefore used to receive a monthly wage twice as much as Russians. They also spent the first year learning Russian and basic sciences in a specific institute, before moving on to study at the specialized department. So Dr. Zuhair spent 6 years studying medicine, followed by 3 years to specialize in gynecology, and another 3 years to obtain his PhD. During these 12 years, he visited Jordan once where he was able to see his parents! In 1973, he met the love of his life Galina whom he married and had 2 girls before going back to Jordan, where he currently works and had 2 more boys.

There are many stories in this memoir about students' life in the warm dorms, where each room had 2-3 foreigners and a Russian. The corridor of each level ended with a kitchen and bathrooms. The students used to cook in the kitchen, particularly if they got hungry past 8 o'clock when the cafeteria is closed. The most famous plate was frying onions with sliced potatoes! In Jordan, we cook this plate but we also add eggs to it (resembles quiche). The alumni also stored their food by hanging it on the windowsill in the freezing temperatures. My dad told my siblings and me a funny story about this technique. Once, a colleague discovered that his food was stolen. He was astonished because his room was on the upper floors!? So he decided to stay in his room and watch. To his surprise, he noticed a fishing hook dangling from the upper window catching his food! Another tale that my dad recounted was about his roommate (his best man) who was a heavy smoker (recently quit smoking after undergoing an open-heart surgery). But my dad hates smoking, and so he used to play Umm-Kulthum's discs (a famous Egyptian singer) that his mate detests. As a result, my dad only turned off the disc after his friend put out his cigarette!

In Jordan, there is an association for the Soviet Union alumni where they meet to discuss their issues. They also arrange social activities such as internal trips and parties on Woman's day and New Years Eve, signing books (like this one), or watching Russian movies. Russia also organizes an annual assembly for its graduates in Moscow or in the alumni's country. In most of these gatherings, the comrades (tavarish - as they call themselves) sing Russian songs esp. Katyusha. It is a song about Katyusha (nickname for Katarina or Katia) 'who when the spring came, went out to sing about her lover who left for war, and whom she promised to stay faithful to while he protected their land'! Luckily, I visited Moscow twice and have been to St. Petersburg once. Train stations (currently the info is displayed in Russian and English) of these cities akin to museums since many of them were built after winning battles against the Nazis (lost ~27 million individuals)! I also enjoyed their food including their famous plate pelmeni - meat dumplings boiled with water, which is similar to a Jordanian plate but we boil it with yogurt. The Russian mustard is delicious (garsheza), but my favorite plate is tvorac - Russian cottage cheese with raspberry jam! I also noticed that their cold cuts have a short shelf-life (about 5 days) which could be due to lacking preservatives!?

The author ended his book by stating the faults that the Soviets did resulting in the Union's collapse in 1991. This included the cold war with the West and the US by spending millions on weapons esp. nuclear ones, and getting involved in wars in Afghanistan and Korea as I indicated in earlier posts (June 5th 2020 and Jan 15th 2021), instead of investing in developing their nation. The Soviets also prevented owning private businesses that weakened the economy. Another issue that Dr. Zuhair and my dad noted was lack of imports. For instance, people used to stand in long lines waiting to get into supermarkets or apparel store, which sold few quantities of commodities and limited kinds of shoes and clothes. For example, jeans were found only in the black market because it weren't allowed to be produced or sold in Russia! China did better by engaging the private sector, due to knowing that humans love to own things and enjoy trying new and diverse stuff! Nonetheless, Dr. Zuhair, my dad, and all the alumni were able to continue their education and make something of themselves only because of the Soviet Union, which also gave them the chance to meet people and have friends from all over the world!

These scribbles describe the rough education journey that people used to go through in the past similar to that of Fadwa Tuqan. She is a Palestinian poet (1917-2003) whose memoir illustrated how she was forced to quit school after someone told one of her brothers that a boy gave her a flower when she was 13! But she never gave up as her intellectual brother, the poet Ibrahim, home-schooled her and taught her how to write poetry. Accordingly, in her twenties she published her first poems under a false name, and in 1962 attended English literature courses in Oxford! So it is never late to achieve our desires! And I compare these experiences with today's generation where some individuals complain about resources' availability despite having many things (sometimes are taken for granted) that facilitate their schooling such as better transportation tools, learning centers, phone apps, internet, books…etc. For example, one of my students blamed his schoolteacher for being poor at English. Public schools in Jordan are weak in teaching English but I believe that if a person wants to achieve something he must sweat for it, which I said to the student after providing him with English-learning resources! I was lucky to go to a private school but like my peers I depended on dictionaries, which also accompanied me while learning scientific concepts (esp. in Bio-1 and -2) when I was a freshman in 2001. In other words, whenever there is a will there's a way!

Perspective Shapes our Life - (August 27th 2021)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton is a short story narrated by Rutherford to his friend Green while meeting in Berlin with their other British friend, Wyland. This fiction is about the adventure of three Brits and an American who tried to run away from the violence in Baskul (India), but became prisoners of the mystical Shangri-La monastery in the Tibetan Himalayas, after the hijack of their plane.

In May 1932, four passengers, Conway the multi-lingual British consul and a WWI veteran who was in his forties; his vice-consul Captain Mallinson; Barnard the American who turned to be wanted by the police for financial fraud; and the missionary Miss Brinklow, have left Baskul in a hurry to evade death. Yet, their airplane was steered away from its path, and landed suddenly in nowhere! They discovered that they have been hijacked by a Chinese who attacked their pilot and stole their aircraft. This forced landing, which was received by numerous tribesmen, was needed for gas refill. Afterwards, the plane took off and continued its flight towards the Himalayas. Throughout the trip, there was a heated discussion between the travelers about what to do in which Captain Mallinson kept stressing angrily about the need to do something. But his companions didn't agree with him because none of them knew how to fly nor had a gun. Conway also decided to give in to the circumstances, and enjoy the magical view of the misty snowy mountains that were pierced by sunrays! Eventually, their crash-landing ended on the snowy plateau of Blue Moon valley! They found out that the pilot has died, and so spent the cold night inside the plane. The next morning, they left the plane. While walking, they were met by a dozen men lifting a chair containing a Chinese old monk (Chang). The monks guided the four travelers to Shangri-La by roping them together to facilitate their climbing of the mountain's hillside on which the lamasery is located, which overlooks Mount Karakal.

In Shangri-La (a fortress-like monastery), the voyagers were received warmly, fed well, and each one was offered a room with a glamorous bath. During the dinner, Mallinson, who was in his twenties and had a fiancée back in England, kept trying to bring Chang to tell them how to get in touch with the outer world and go back home. But with no avail, as Chang indicated that he had no connections, and that Mallinson could wait for the porters who bring commodities to Shangri-La. Chang stated that the porters should arrive in a maximum of 2 months at which Mallinson could ask them to help him leave. This really angered Mallinson but Conway, who was more rational, calmed him saying that they could talk about their departure plan the next day. This situation continued for a few weeks, during which Conway (who knew Pashto) visited the lamasery library that contained many European books, and made the acquaintance of numerous residents of Shangri-La. He met a Manchu lady (Lo-Tsen) who used to play harpsichord and the piano, a French lama (Briac) who taught him some unpublished Chopin pieces, an English lama who was analyzing the Brontë sisters and their novels, and the German lama Frederick Meister.

Conway also was summoned by the High Lama more than once, who told him the story of this monastery. Shangri-La is used to be a lamasery, but turned into a church in 1734 by a Nestorian priest (Perrault) who was saved by the Buddhist citizens. He also described the natural environmental characteristics of Shangri-La (humidity, low air pressure, and clean air and water) that lengthens one's life. Since then, numerous Europeans came to Shangri-La! Some stayed and became monks or lamas. However, others tried to search for the gold hidden in the valley and leave, but sadly died while trying to depart due to the difficulty of going down from the lamasery to the valley, and cross the mountains to China or India. Over time, Perrault converted to Buddhism and so Shangri-La returned to be a lamasery. The High Lama also informed Conway that he and his companions couldn't leave (a rule set by Perrault to protect this monastery from invaders and gold collectors), and that the pilot who brought them was sent by the lamasery! The intention of the monks was to bring new people to Shangri-La, because they needed individuals who could continue the High Lama mission, who also needed a successor. This shocked Conway but disclosed to the High Lama that they will only have troubles with Mallinson, in which the rest of them had a different view of things. For instance, Conway was captivated by this place esp. that it gave him the opportunity to go back and look onto and evaluate his life! Barnard also was running away from justice, and therefore would like to stay, whereas Miss Brinklow started learning the Tibetan language to try converting the Buddhists into Christianity!

In the last meeting and before passing away, the High Lama told Conway that he should be his descendant! The sudden death of the High Lama has dismayed and paralyzed Conway, as he didn't know what to do! He tried getting help but found no one except for Mallinson, who was happy to hear the news. To him, this was the chance to run! In fact, Mallinson agreed with Lo-Tsen to leave Shangri-La with the porters' help. He confessed to Conway that he loved Lo-Tsen, and pointlessly tried convincing Conway to leave with him! So, Mallinson left but returned in a few hours because he couldn't go down the mountain's slope! This time and after so much contemplating, Conway decided to join Mallinson! Upon reaching the Tibetan Plateau, they met Lo-Tsen and the porters who assisted them to get to Tatsien-Fu, the Tibetan-Chinese borders.

Conway disclosed these adventures to Rutherford when they met in Chung-Kiang. He also noted that Conway made it to Thailand after which he never heard of him and neither of Mallinson. Rutherford also told Green that despite finding some facts about Lo-Tsen and Meister, people considered Conway's tale about being trapped in Shangri-La a figment of imagination. This thought was mainly due to believing that Conway was traumatized by WWI and the bloodbath and chaos that erupted in Baskul!

This lighthearted fantasy describes the simple life of Tibetans, Buddhists, and monks that included reading and analyzing what they read, playing music, social service, meditation, and yoga. Moreover, it showed the role of priests in trying to convert Buddhists to Christianity such as Perrault and Miss Brinklow, believing that their faith is the only true religion, and being indifferent to the freedom of worship! The author also beautifully illustrated a magical image about Tibet, which is known for its clean environment due to the lack of factories in its land. In fact, its only source of air pollution is the smoke that results from forest fires or South Asian industries.

This sensational story highlighted the different opinions of the four travelers about leaving Shangri-La. This reflects that decision-making is mainly dependent on the individual's way of seeing things. I can relate to this but in a different situation. For example, the covid-19 pandemic was bad in terms of being a contagious disease that forced us to stay at, and work from home! Yet, the epidemic has given me the chance to learn navigating diverse media platforms, and acquire new skills in Web-based teaching. Another case would be about one of the people that I know who has suffered from heartbreak after losing her son suddenly. Due to fearing emotional pain and getting hurt again, she decided not to connect emotionally with others and instead trained herself to be insensitive towards others! There is also the recent story of 'America's Got Talent' contestant, Jane, who decided to be happy by not giving up on her dream, and refusing to be defined by her cancer because she is much more than that! So, it is all about perspective, which is also the case when perceiving fear. For instance, one person defines fear as to 'forget everything and run' whereas another considers it a test of courage and inner strength by seeing it as a sign to 'face everything and rise like a phoenix'. That is the individual's choice (based on his perspective that can make the impossible possible) shapes his destiny and life!

A Nation's Cause - (July 30th 2021)

In ثلاثية الأجراس (Triple Bells), رجال في الشمس (Men in the Sun), and As We Always Have Done, Ibrahim Nasrallah, Ghassan Kanafani, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, respectively presented the epic life of Palestinians, and Indigenous people of the Americas in resisting the oppression and insolence of Israel and the colonizers.

Nasrallah's الأجراس ثلاثية portrayed the oppression Palestinians have experienced in the wake of the Israeli invasion, under which they still live. In 1948, the 17-year old soldier Nahom hid in the barn of the Palestinian Um Jaser, following the Israeli army raid on a nearby village. Due to begging for his life and feeling motherly towards him as he was similar to Jaser’s age (her eldest son), she promised him safety and gave him food. After 7 months, Nahom returned with the army and attacked Ra’s Asarou, burning homes and killing any being they encountered. This forced most villagers, including Um Jaser and her family, to leave their homes and find refuge in neighboring villages. Days later, the villagers returned to their homes and lands trying to start again. In response, the Israeli army came back with their heavy machines and blew up the village! Meanwhile, Nahom kept looking for Um Jaser because of feeling indebted to her. After 20 years, they met and he offered her a wooden box containing her shawl, which he took from her home before bombing the village! Um Jaser refused the gift telling him that she cannot accept anything from a person who took from her everything, her children, land, and home! Nahom's family moved from Germany to Palestine when he was a kid, and resided in Um-Khalid's house after she and her family were expelled from it! Nahom’s dad (Mosheh) was a journalist sent to photograph Palestine. The photos were displayed in European newspapers with the headline: 'the houses (actually homes of Palestinians) are waiting for the Jews to come and live in'! But Mosheh loved shooting more than taking photos. So he switched his job with Levy, the man who taught him how to shoot. Levy and Mosheh's scheme was discovered and contradicted by Karima Aboud, the first Palestinian female photographer. She took photos of houses, mosques, churches, and neighborhoods inhabited by Palestinians, and published them in Arabic journals. Karima lived (1893-1940) in Beit Jala, and like all Palestinians, Karima’s family suffered a lot from the British occupation who used to pursue and imprison any Arab carrying a gun. Mosheh was proud of Nahom but disappointed by his other son who was pro-Palestinian and felt sorry for Um Khalid. Years later, Captain Nahom harassed Palestinians in Jerusalem, Beit Sahur, Beit Jala, and Bethlehem. His men used to arrest young and old men from the streets, schools, colleges, or stores and hit them brutally esp. on their testicles to break their will and their ability to reproduce. The captives then were detained for a day and released at 8 pm, the beginning of a curfew! This daily tactic resulted in the death of hundreds. Moreover, Zeidan was a watermelon seller who was thrown in a military car and showered by his watermelons! After a few days, he was left at his parents' door suffering from severe bruises and damaged internal organs! Zeidan was imprisoned again before his high school exams, and only released after the exams' last day because Nahom told him that he didn't want him to become educated! Yet Beit Jala resisted by refusing to buy the Israeli milk. Instead, they collected money and bought 18 pregnant cows! This was a blow to the Israeli economy, causing Captain Nahom to harass Beit Jala men to know the cows' place! So the men kept moving the cows and milking them to feed Palestinians. The military also abused others by not giving them or their family members a permit to be medically treated in another city (e.g.; Jerusalem) unless they work with them, such as providing information about revolutionaries' names and plans or the cows' place. Unfortunately, the cows' project failed after Oslo's agreement due to capitalism, corruption, and converting it into a dairy factory managed by European companies.

This trilogy is full of tragedies extracted from real events including burning homes with children inside, shooting kids, attacking prayers in Al-Ibrahimi and Al-Aqsa mosques or in churches, separating families, kicking Palestinians from their homes, bombing their buildings, holding them at gun point, and interrogating them for >12 hours when moving within the West Bank (the occupation divided Palestine into 3 areas: West bank, Gaza Strip, and Israel). Unfortunately, the UN's decision to stop Israel's genocide is always vetoed by the US, which also provides annual military aid to Israel. It is true that the US provides financial assistance to other countries including mine, but the issue with Israel is using the heavy machines, which are more advanced than what Hamas makes, against the unshielded Palestinians who only defend themselves by stones! The origin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict started by Balfour's promise in 1917 to establish Palestine a home for the Jewish. But what many people don't know is that Palestine was part of Bilad Al-Sham where Arabs, Jews, Christians, and Muslims used to live, eat, celebrate and mourn together, which also had mosques, churches, and synagogues. This land was under the British colonialism from 1917 till 1948, when the Israeli military suddenly raided Palestinian cities and villages, assaulting and killing many women, children, and men, and displacing at least a million Palestinian. Balfour's declaration was refused by Arabs resulting in their execution or exile, like Sharif Hussein bin Ali (great grandfather of King Abdullah II) who was exiled from Mecca to Cypress by the British. Since 1948, Arabs fought 4 wars to free Palestine which they lost, but won numerous battles to keep some cities from falling. The last battle was Al-Karama that occurred on Mother's day of 1968 on the Jordanian border in an attempt to invade Jordan. In addition, there is difference between Jews and the violent Israel state. The Jewish like Christians, Muslims, Hindus…etc are present everywhere. In fact, there are synagogues in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. No one is against Judaism or the presence of Jews in Palestine who were living in this land with Arabs for hundreds of years. But humanity is against the police state of Israel that is practicing all kinds of apartheid against Palestinians, which mimics these used by Hitler, and can be viewed on the news or Netflix (Omar and The Gift films).

The suffering of Palestinians to find a job and support their families continued post the Israeli occupation as Kanafani showed in رجال في الشمس. The story revolves around the old man Abu Qais, teenager Marwan, and As'ad who wanted to go and work in Kuwait. The journey started by crossing the Eastern Jordanian desert, but instead of skipping the borders to Iraq, the drivers left the passengers in the middle of the desert due to fearing security patrols! Those who survive the heat, thirst, hunger, or snakes, look for a driver in Baghdad to take them to Kuwait. So the three men met by coincidence in Baghdad with the Palestinian water-tank driver, Abu-Gasab. He promised to carry them inside his empty water tank in exchange of taking a lower fare than what Iraqis ask for (10 vs. 15 Iraqi dinars). The three travelers were skeptical about surviving August heat inside a metal tank (50 C°)! But Abu-Gasab calmed them down by stating that they will only stay for 5-7 minutes inside the tank, and Iraqi drivers would leave them in the desert! The next morning, As'ad got beside the driver whereas Abu Qais and Marwan sat on top of the tank. Ahead of the Iraqi borders, the three men got inside the tank. Abu-Gasab nervously passed the frontiers and after 7 minutes, the men got out of the boiling tank drenched in sweat! They drank water and spilled some of it on them. Afterwards, Abu Qais and Marwan switched places with As'ad, drove till reaching the Kuwaiti borders at 11:30 am, and hid again inside the sultry tank. However, the borders' officers refused to finish Abu-Gasab's paper work unless he told them about his adventures with a dancer, which was a tale made up by Abu-Gasab's boss! At 11:51, he left the building and drove to a hill, where he stopped and found the three travelers dead! This pained Abu Gasab and cursed the officers. In Kuwait, he left the bodies at a dumpster, knowing that the municipality would bury them the next day, and took their watches and money (his promised fare) while wondering 'why didn't they knock on the tank's walls?' This is just a glimpse into the infuriating journey that the displaced go through in the hope of finding a better life in another land! Sadly, many of these immigrants die in the desert, sink in the sea, or get captured and jailed! Countless humans experienced such distress after WWI, WWII, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Also until this day, many people from Africa, Asia, or Latin America endure terrible conditions and die in the Mediterranean, Pacific Ocean, or Sonoran desert while trying to escape conflict and cross to safety.

As We Always Have Done by Simpson (was a gift) features cultural resurgence of the Indigenous people of the Americas, esp. of Canada. She also described the injustice that the Indigenous suffered from upon the colonizers' conquer and seizure of their land 'Turtle Island', as well as destroying and polluting its habitat, changing its name, and torturing its inhabitants. For instance, colonialism killed the Natives; raped and forcibly sterilized their women; confined them in reservations; and changed their way of living, dressing style, hunting/fishing, gender viewing, and rituals of marriage and worship. The settlers also took away the Natives' children, gave them English names, and placed them in residential schools where they were exposed to inhuman treatment in an attempt to reform them and erase their heritage, resulting in the death of many children as I noted on July 24 2020. This book also detailed the 7 Fires creation legend, which emphasizes on combining feelings and spiritual knowledge with 'action/doing', and interacting with other beings in order to thrive in harmony with the world. An example on this is the cultural story of a child who learnt how to obtain maple syrup by watching a squirrel sucking the maple tree's bark, who then ran to his mom telling her about his discovery, providing her with the sugar he extracted from the tree. Another tale that the White culture tried to falsify is that of Pocahontas. It is a tragic story of Matoaka, the Chief's little girl who was abducted, raped, and separated from her son, family, and tribe by the colonists, and taken to England in the 1600s where she was poisoned. Moreover, the Indigenous considers 'land' a representation of place, power, and relation between beings and nature, and not 'commodity' as the colonizer sees it. The author also illustrated the Nishnaabeg's (first nation on Lake Superior) economical, political, and matrilineal systems, as well as their communal teachings including honesty, concession, empathy, helping others, and perseverance. Regrettably, colonialism, capitalism, and residential schools produced a traumatized nation of Indigenous people whose self-esteem and self-confidence were broken via calling them stupid, useless, dirty, slut, addict/drunk, or savage, and telling them not deserving the land they live on. The White man also sidelined the role of the Indigenous in politics due to making them believe of their inability to govern their nation. To cope with shame, the Indigenous found peace in drugs, alcohol, and harming themselves or others. Therefore, to be emancipated from pain and shame, the Indigenous must recognize their identity as Indigenous regardless of the government views/values. Accordingly, they will unite and perform decolonization movements to transform their communities, like the NODAPL campaign that started in spring 2016 against the Dakota pipeline that passes through sacred places of Standing Rock Sioux, threatening their vein of life via polluting their water supply.

In all, Palestinians and the Indigenous share a similar history of oppression and obliteration of their identity, which they still bear its consequences to this day. For instance, Israel changed the cities' names such as calling Java Tel-Aviv and destroyed the 4200-year old Canaanite cemetery to build a road, whereas the colonizers renamed PKOLS (White Head) Mount Douglas! Such occupation also violates human rights by enforcing evictions, unfair trials, torture…etc. This must be discontinued by trying criminals at the International Criminal Court, because every nation has the right to live peacefully in its land and participate in governing it; this is the request of Palestinians and the Indigenous.

Shaping Life Paths - (June 25th 2021)

Sunil Dutta juxtaposed his life with that of his brother (Kaushal/Raju) in Stealing Green Mangoes to understand the reasons that shaped their poles apart paths. In this memoir, he enthrallingly moved from portraying his atrocious childhood in Jaipur's camp, the displacement of his family following India's partition in 1947 that was preceded by the eruption of religious violence, meeting the love of his life, becoming an academic, joining LAPD, and the excruciating cancer journey, to analyzing the life choices of his brother and gang members.

In the sixties, Sunil and Raju had a deprived childhood that lacked fun activities except for running in the streets of Raja Park every afternoon or playing on a rickety tricycle. But the most exciting thing for them was stealing green mangoes from a nearby school, and unfortunately losing all the mangoes that they hid in their pockets while being chased by the vulgar guard! At their extended family home, the two brothers were bullied by their grandpa, uncle, and aunties due to a fight between their father and uncle over the entity of the house.

In 1975, the police paid money to people to report anyone objecting to Indira Ghandi's rule, who announced an emergency state in India that allowed the police to attack and arrest any person without justification. So Raju was imprisoned due to being falsely accused of opposing the government when he was 15; this act happened and still happens in dictatorships! Seeing Raju in a cramped prison has really distressed the 11-year-old Sunil, who noticed that his brother has lost his innocence midst his incarceration! Sunil also touched on corruption among Indian politicians and their clans, as they are untouchable outlaws, which is sadly a universal phenomenon!

The life of the two Dutta kids, who lived in Jaipur - the desert Pink city and capital of Rajasthan, has changed as soon as a rich Maharaja (Amar Singh whom they called Raja Sahib) moved into the city in the 1970s. He was kind to them as he used to receive and tell them stories about his adventures with women, advising Sunil to fight for the girl he loves otherwise he won't get her! Moreover, Singh spoke about WWII and his time in the army where the soldiers were forced to enlist and fight with the British, while the Indian and British Royals and chiefs were awarded medals despite only supervising the soldiers. Singh adopted Raju and offered him a job that paid well; accordingly, he moved to a private house forgetting about his family, which disappointed them. Yet Raju had a dispute with Singh, resulting in ousting and stripping him from the benefits given to him. This raged Raju causing him to duplicate the Maharaja's signature, steal a large sum of money from his account, and run with it. This was the beginning of Raju's criminal life as he later attempted to kill Singh, stole a Dutch passport, forged it, and ran to Canada.

He was caught in Vancouver's airport and imprisoned, during which he filed for asylum. In the meantime, Sunil and his parents suffered from social shame and police harassment to punish them for Raju's behavior, and make him turn himself in. The police intimidated them, asked for a sum of money (a bribe), and stalked Sunil at the university threatening to detain him. This only happens to the poor who lack 'immunity' unlike the rich! However, Raju was impassive to his family's anguish. He even joined the Khalistan terroristic group and disguised as Sidhu, a Sikh radical. Surprisingly, he dropped his asylum request and went back to India. While waiting for his trial that took 22 years to be arbitrated, Raju taught French and attended a seminar for teachers in France after getting a court approval. In Paris, he proposed to a French woman whom he convinced of loving. On his return to India, he asked the court to leave again to France and bring his wife, which he was granted. But this time he never returned and continued his criminal activities that eventually got him jailed.

In his late teens, Sunil met an American teenage girl (Wes) at the gym. They became friends cycling and going for walks together, and meeting each other's family. Except that, this innocent friendship was unwelcomed by the city's conservative community. Yet, they enjoyed each other's company and Sunil took it on himself to protect her from sexism (common in India where few women report sexual assaults) as men considered White girls a sex commodity, judged by their dressing style (which is kind of a general notion in various nations)! Numerous athletes even warned him of the consequences of not passing her on; nevertheless, he was saved by his good friends. Sunil commented of not knowing why Wes liked him and not his rich colleagues! I think it was her instinct of feeling safe with him and not caring about appearances. Eventually, Wes had to return to the US with her family, which upset both of them.

Distance didn't stop this utopian romance that carried on via exchanging letters. Years later, Wes visited Sunil who was at the university in Hisar. She stayed the whole summer at the end of which she asked him to marry her. This required him to apply for a US fiancé visa. So, Wes sent him an invitation letter, and her biological dad provided him with a financial support letter, because her adopting and step-dads refused to do so due to the bad reputation of Indian husbands. Sunil was shocked by knowing that Wes's mom married 3 times because in India couples don't get a divorce even in cases of domestic violence. Sunil's relationship with Wes was full of love but was marred by Wes's infidelity too! Once, while she was in the university in the US, and the second was discovering that she was pregnant the day he landed in NY, which she aborted. This hurt Sunil and made him contemplate over the probability of love's survival as in some Bollywood movies! His dilemma was his inability to un-love Wes! Being a metaphysical bookworm, who likes Urdu poetry such as these of Ghalib, Zauq, Mir, Momin, Shah Hussain, Bedil, Seemab, and Rumi that he mentioned in this book (rationality ruins this world. Love saves the world and the hereafter - Rumi; in my passion to kiss the roses, I lay my tongue on the sharp thorns - Seemab), also have taught Sunil that love is unconditional and a true lover doesn't give up on his love, particularly when storms ravage. Therefore, he decided to surrender to love and forgive Wes, who remained faithful to him until his last breath.

In the US, Sunil got his PhD in biological sciences from UC Davis and became part of its faculty. Throughout this time, Wes supported him until deciding to achieve her dream in acting and moving to LA in the 1990s. Nonetheless, Sunil only followed her once the 1992 riots spread in the city after LAPD brutally hit Rodney King. To understand the motives behind Raju's actions, gang's cruelty, and police brusqueness (esp. towards ethnic minorities), Sunil decided to join LAPD in 1997. One more reason was being disappointed by Academia that is guided and limited by funding, even though he got a research grant and supervised a number of students. He was dissatisfied with his job and desired to help his community feeling that he might be an asset to the police, mainly because of experiencing the tyranny of the Indian police.

At LAPD, he calmly endured racism and made some friendships as well. Sunil beautifully depicted how his training officer Lisa taught him how to deal with the accused. Besides, he lively described the way he and his partner (Andy) responded to robberies, shootings, domestic abuse, and rape cases. The harshness of the assailants' pursuit didn't make Sunil lose his humanity, which he has seen too in the way Lisa talked to victims. On the other hand, he illustrated that officers sometimes are frustrated by witnesses who avoid testifying (due to fearing gangs), and judges who release the illicit in case of trivial issues. His experience revealed the necessity of using all six senses to survive this arduous job, yet it doesn't preclude the presence of violent officers who shoot and kill innocent POC. Moreover, this practice allowed him to understand gang members who usually blame their familial issues, culture (oppression or racism), and poverty for their actions, which shouldn’t be an excuse to be lawless. He discovered that they shed blood just to defend their honor or territories from other mobs. However and like Sunil's brother, none of the criminals showed remorse or the intention to change!

Sunil also argued that despite growing in the same environment and hearing the same dark stories about India's history, he and his brother thrived into different persons and chose distinctive life paths. So, the Dutta brothers couldn't change their past but Sunil changed his future! Thus, regardless of our inability to choose our fate that is ruled by God/Universe, we can choose our destiny, which is shaped by our thoughts and choices that guide the way we respond to events or challenges. In addition, he questioned if some people are born sinister, which may justify his brother's actions and I feel can elucidate the presence of dictators, rapists, bullies, thieves, misogynists, racists, or abusers! This debate kept on Sunil's mind amid a metastatic lung cancer that crawled into his body in 2016. He died in 2019 after a piercing journey that slightly was masked by opioids, and undergoing three clinical trials.

In the first part of this book, Sunil portrayed a horrific image about riots and religious violence that erupted in consequence to India's independence/partition. This included raping, abducting, and parading 150 naked Hindu women; the three races (only recognized by the dressing style) attacking and chopping each other while traveling from one side of the country to another; and the 1947 train massacre that killed thousands of Hindus and Sikh by the Pakistani police at Lahore Station, which caused the Sikh troops to respond in retaliation upon reaching Amritsar platform. The net result was displacing, assaulting, and murdering at least 15 million Indians. Further, survivors suffered from PTSD, became violent, or lacked repentance.

In the pre-colonial era, the three religions lived peacefully until the Empire on which the sun never used to set interfered and created discrimination! Subsequently, the British had a tête-à-tête with Mirza to give him Pakistan (even Lord Mountbatten was kept in the dark), before announcing the partition plan. This agreement made Mirza request a country for Muslims, and Nehro demand India for the Hindus. Mountbatten plan was refused only by the Mahatma Gandhi, as he dreamt of one India that consisted of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh (seceded from Pakistan in 1971). Division of India, which explains the Indo-Pakistani ongoing conflict over Kashmir, has split Punjab into a Hindu eastern state that is part of India and a Muslim western one ruled by Pakistan. Adding to this, the Khalsitan group was formed in 1979 to acquire Khalistan as a Sikh's state via spreading hostility in it, which was halted by the Indian army. Coincidentally, a month ago I watched the 'Viceroy's House' movie that displayed the sad story of India's partition in which the director's grandma was a Sikh survivor of the bloodbath erupted during this era. These atrocities also haunted Sunil's family (uncles, great uncles and aunties, and second cousins), some of whom were reunited by chance several years later. In all, Sunil concluded that the heartless acts of gang members are not different from what the Hindus, Muslims, and Sikh have done! Their washed brains masked their sensibility to act humanly, benefiting ammunition factories in the first scenario, and fulfilling the British dream of weakening India in the second case by reducing the number of both, its ports on the Arabian Sea and owned oil wells.

Egotism and Insatiability - (May 21st 2021)

The Snakes is a sinister gripping book about the Adamson's dysfunctional family. Sadie Jones portrayed how this family's foundations were ruined by greed, dirty money, child abuse, and evasion of confronting children's problems via putting a phony impeccable appearance to conceal the bitter truth.

Bea is a psychotherapist who loved her rewarding work esp. that listening to others made her see the triviality of her troubles. She lived with her handsome Black husband Dan in a modest area in London. He is a property agent but his passion resides in drawing. Dan knew nothing about Bea's familial issues or the extent of her dad's riches as he married her for loving her beautiful soul. Despite being satisfied with her life due to being free from her parents and their tainted money, the couple struggled with paying their flat's mortgage. One day, they decided to travel Europe and stop by her younger brother's hotel in Burgundy. Upon reaching Alex's hotel, Bea and Dan were surprised to find an empty shabby building with its attic and garden inhabited by snakes. Alex used to be an alcoholic drug addict whose parents bought this place to help him throughout his healing while attending a NA online support group. Yet in reality his parents ran from facing Alex's problems, as well as his dad used him to clean his Swiss bank account. Dan didn't like Alex; he considered him a narcotic stupid guy but treated him nicely for Bea's sake. However, the three of them enjoyed each other's company and the countryside for a few days before the surprising visit of the parents, Liv and Griff.

Bea was worried about Alex of being abused by her superficial mom, with whom she had a bad relationship because of being cruel to her, and witnessing Liv sexually abusing her son when he was a kid. She even felt guilty about not saying anything to stop it, and blamed herself for Alex's mental issues that caused his addiction. Bea also questioned her validity due to her dad's negative comments. He continuously bossed or criticized her such as telling her not being beautiful and calling her 'oops' as her parents didn't plan to have a 3rd child, or St. Beatrice for refusing his money and always arguing with him about the unethical way he obtained it. Bea spent her life healing from her childhood wounds because as Simone Weil said, "The only way into truth is through one's own annihilation", which she read in one of Alex's philosophical books. After knowing about Griff's extreme riches, Dan fought with Bea regarding his right to know about it, the basis of her hatred, and the reasons preventing her from taking her dad's money despite that sooner or later she would get it (as inheritance). Both of them viewed money differently, Dan believed it would set him free to achieve his dreams whereas Bea felt it as a gilded cage.

The waters stayed calm just for 24 hours. Tragically, they were woken up the next day by the French police knocking on their door with the horrific news of Alex's death, who left the previous night to run an errand for his dad. The rigorous unkind investigation took a few days and included the four family members. But the most one who suffered was Dan because of his skin color (a sin in a White community). The police considered him a major suspect. Their questions targeted his knowledge about the riches of Bea's family and his childhood. In fact they inquired about his social status, exposure to domestic/neighborhood violence, imprisonment, mom's personality, and dad who was absent all Dan's life and only made up for it by giving him guilt money after marrying Bea. The family also had to put up with the bureaucratic procedures of the investigation, not receiving answers from the police and hospital regarding the cause of death or the time of obtaining Alex's body, and the lack of help from the British Consulate. Nevertheless, Griff's money made his cajoling Indian-British lawyer and a French one to move things around, causing the police to let them return to London.

In their luxurious property, the Adamson's made a farewell party for Alex instead of a funeral. His mom decorated the garden in way to resemble his wished wedding! A large number of people attended the party including the eldest son Ed and his wife, their flattery rich friends, and Alex's comrades, esp. his childhood friend Will who played the guitar and sang the Beatle's Blackbird! Before the party, Dan and Bea fought as her dad offered Dan a job that he wanted to accept. He also felt that Bea could at least take some money from her dad to buy a house for their future family, to which eventually she agreed. Conversely, Dan's feelings about her dad changed the moment Griff told them about a huge number of bank notes hidden in the hotel, which Alex have brought from Switzerland. This disgusted the couple and caused Dan to turn down Griff's offer because this cash was the reason behind Alex's murder. The next day, Bea and Dan left towards Alex's hotel to think their life through and continue their journey across Europe.

In the hotel, Dan searched in the basement whereas Bea looked in the attic. She found the moneybag attached to a snake trap in the corner of the attic. It contained € 800,000, equaling 20 times her annual salary. She brought it down and called the French lieutenant, who came but refused to take the bag as it needed some paper work, and left to come again the following day. Fearing for their lives, Dan and Bea returned the moneybag to its place and packed their bags to go to a hotel in the downtown. They knew that someone killed Alex, took the cash in his car, and would come back again to fetch the rest of the money. Before leaving, they were surprised by a visit from an American guy named Russ. He stated knowing Alex and looked shocked to hear about his death. Then he asked for a drink and told them fabricated stories about his friendship to Alex. Afterward, Dan asked him to leave, as they needed to depart too. The next day, they went to the police station to provide the officer with Russ's description and toured the town.

In the evening, they returned to Alex's hotel. Dan walked in the garden to wait for the police who was late and unfortunately got struck by Russ's tire iron whereas Bea, who was inside the hotel, decided to tell Dan about her childhood wounds. Yet she was astonished by seeing Russ and asked him about her husband! Without answering her inquiry, he took her phone and asked about the hidden money. She told him where it was but he requested her to join him and forced her to get into the attic. So she handed him the trap with the moneybag and asked him to leave her alone. But he refused, and ordered her to come down upon which he pulled and punched her. Then he dragged her on the floor to the stairs, forcing her to walk down despite her inability to do so due to her face injuries and the pain in her legs, chest, and dislodged shoulder. The police arrived at this time and Bea was able to scream for help but Russ's hand chocked the shrieks, and so the officers couldn't help her. Subsequently, Russ threw Bea and the moneybag in the car and took off. He drove out of the town until reaching a side road that headed into a forest. In the woods, Russ pulled Bea out of the car and Dan's body from the trunk. Bea was shocked by Dan's appearance and touched him thinking about the way their marriage ended, with unfulfilled wishes and death! Russ dragged Dan's body to hide it behind the trees, during which Bea felt the chance to run away. Yet her painful wounds did not allow her to go far as Russ was able to find her hiding inside a huge tree trunk.

The ending was shocking esp. that I like happy stories because life is full of frustrations and misfortunes. But this absorbing novel revealed that in spite of the snakes present in the hotel and its garden, the real snakes were Griff's greed and his fortune that is built on the shoulders of the needy and by tax evasion, Liv's sexual abuse of her son, the discriminating French officer, and Russ who murdered Alex, Dan, and Bea for money!

This social drama showed how some of the rich build their wealth via monopoly market. These cocky people believe that 'money talks' makes them special or powerful, and can get them anything similar to Griff's intention to buy the protected Bussey building. However, they are nothing without their riches and once the glamour subsides, people will be shaken off them. Ill-gotten money also can be a curse as it destabilizes relationships of weak foundations such as that of Dan and Bea as well as of Griff with two of his children, as we say in Arabic وما فيه بركة المال الحرام ما بدوم. Although selfishness of the greedy is harmful, Covid-19 pandemic has uncovered a different face of egoism. For instance, various people didn't care about others getting sick as long as they stay uninfected, while others stated 'so what if the virus killed older people. C'est la vie!'

Jones argued that socialization can be a double-edged sword as it shapes human's personality but may result in bullying or imperialism as well, like the one caused Alex's murder. She also vividly illustrated the human attachment to smart phones as depicted in Bea's behavior while strolling in the village after fighting with Dan! Moreover, this tale beautifully revealed the disreputable role of some media reporters in living off the lives of celebrities via trashing them, dramatizing their stories, or spreading rumors. The globe has numerous journalists who attack someone or flatter another for personal gain instead of documenting the real communal issues including corruption that has a major role in the poor quality of public education and healthcare systems, hunger, insecurity, domestic violence, racism, genocides, unemployment, pollution…etc. Such columnists forget that rejoicing in others' distress isn't honorable esp. that no one knows when the tide will turn as this Hadith states: 'قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: لا تظهر الشماتة لأخيك فيرحمه الله ويبتليك'.

Additional negative attitudes highlighted in this tragedy are hubris, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, which Alex have given to the keys of 7 hotel rooms reflecting his affliction. Holding others responsible for our mistakes and not taking responsibility towards our decisions/actions also was seen in the way Dan blamed Bea for lagging behind and not financing him to follow his passion and become an artist! But this is just an excuse because clover awaits only those who dare, and he had a plenty of time to draw in the hotel before Alex's death.

In relation to these notions, Ruthanna Hopper and Amanda Goldberg wrote a hilarious silly memoir about working with the stars called Celebutantes, which I only bought because it was in JD 1! It encompassed the life of three friends: Lola the fashionista Hollywood royalty, the actors' agent Kate, and Cricket who was trying to become an actress in a crowded abusive field. This book described the self-centeredness, evilness, and sassiness of celebrities or Hollywood people. I was astounded to know that famous designers pay celebrities to wear their outfits!? It also depicted the kind of mental problems that interns/beginners in any field go through to meet deadlines or expectations of buyers, bosses/supervisors, or sponsors including anxiety, sleep disorder, or panic attacks, which I can relate to it. During my PhD, I suffered from severe migraines and insomnia; I even kept having nightmares of my supervisor asking me to edit my dissertation all over the month following my defense. Finally, this story portrayed how the distinguished steal interns' work, which happened to Lola without being able to defend her work because no one can discredit an icon! This was no news to me as the advisor of one of my master’s colleagues plagiarized her research ideas. In the US, my cousin was bullied by delaying his graduation unless he registered for his supervisor's course to prevent it from being canceled despite already taking it, whereas mine threatened not reading my proposal until I finish writing her chapter. These experiences taught me the kind of mentor I (don’t) want to be!

Escaping One’s Life - (April 16th 2021)

In The Runaways, Fatima Bhutto artistically fabricated the tale of 3 Pakistanis who escaped their life for the promise of a new opportunity. This thrilling novel occurred in 2014-2017 and touches on siblinghood, love, betrayal, brain washing, imperialism, capitalism, Westoxification, state religion, racism, cultural clashing, and intellectualism.

Since Anita-Rose's childhood, she lived with her brother Ezra and mom in Karachi's slums where electricity cuts were normal. Her mom was a home-visit masseuse whose income was meager. This forced her to ask Anita to knock at their neighbor's (Osama Shah) door for rice, sugar…etc. With time Anita befriended Osama, the middle aged Marxist whose family left him due to drinking, becoming her educator. Osama talked to Anita about nationalists, revolutionaries, and poets such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, Kipling's Law for the Wolves, and Shelley's Mask of Anarchy. She wrote every word in a red notebook that never left her! The family's situation improved when Ezra started working with Khaliji Arabs. He changed his name to Feroze, took his sister on one of his trips to Dubai, and moved his family to a furnished air-conditioned apartment. Yet their mom took a while to adapt to a bed as she was used to sleep on the ground; to her, comfort resides in having a clear conscience! Moreover, Feroze moved Anita, who likewise changed her name to Layla, from her old school where she used to be bullied by her classmates to an American high school. In the new school, Layla was different from the other girls as she wore see-through shirts with tight jeans, discussed politics in classes, and spent good time in the library. She became Monty's girlfriend, teaching him how to kiss and touch her. This was her way to blend and fit in this new setting! She gave up her identity replacing it by another just to be accepted by others! Layla also misunderstood one of Osama's teachings; to survive in Karachi she must take others’ hearts and not let anyone steal her heart. She should have applied this on her brother, not Monty who truly loved her!

Monty was a spoiled guy who used to spend every summer break in Europe. His father, a wealthy businessman, was married to his work and constantly criticizing his son, and wife for ruining Monty. But she didn't want her son to become a drinker like his dad, as over time she became a religious woman brainwashed by a TV guru who stated securing heaven by donating him money (to finance fighters) and kicking out Filipina workers for being seductive Christians, which she did! Monty's world changed after meeting and falling in love with the mysterious Layla, whom he showered with expensive gifts and took to lavish restaurants or the beach. Unfortunately, following Dubai's trip Layla changed; it broke the lioness, which reflected on her behavior with Osama and Monty! She coldly stopped talking to and answering Monty’s calls! This devastated him as he spent his nights drinking heavily or sweeping Layla’s neighborhood with his driver looking for her! Shockingly, he discovered form his friends that she was expelled from school due to leakage of a sex tape of her! No one knew that she was betrayed and sold by her brother for one night with a rich Arab! Yet one day Layla called Monty at 4 am asking him if he really loved her and what were the most things he loved about her, and hung up! Afterward, he searched for her on the internet but in vain, until seeing a YouTube recording of her as the daughter of jihad endorsing men and women to join jihadists and fight capitalism, democracy, and the West! Disguising by the cloak was Layla's solution to all the bad things that happened to her after changing her name, instead of fighting back as Osama advised her! She should have told her story to enlighten others since "Truly they speak, only those who have seen the truth - يتكلمون الحق، فقط أولئك الذين رأوا الحقيقة" as she read somewhere.

Watching Layla's video encouraged Monty to leave his fancy life and go to Mosul to find her! In Iraq, Monty used his real name (Mustafa) while training with the jihadists under the supervision of an ex-Iraqi soldier, Abu Khalid who wore Khakis, smoke opium, and ate better food then the trainees. He and a British-Pakistani guy named Sunny volunteered to walk the desert to Nineveh (Ninawa in Arabic) ahead of the troops to scan it. Sunny's trip to Iraq wasn't easy in which he was interrogated harshly for 4 hours by the Turkish police, had trachoma, imprisoned and questioned by jihadists before allowing him to join them. In Portsmouth, Sunny suffered from racism, cultural clashing, and lack of self-confidence as he was torn between finding himself, achieving his dad's dream by being a liberal British man and working in a reputable company, or following his cousin's path (Oz). Sunny also couldn't fathom his dad's eagerness to live, dress, and look like the British. He even didn't appreciate his dad's sacrifices to give him a better life and education; rather, he felt that his dad was a fraud! So he turned to his cousin who brainwashed Sunny to join the Jihad Movement, making him give up on drinking, music, and sex. Yet, one night he entered a nightclub, played darbuka, and hooked with the DJ Aloush (nickname for Ali)! This night made him recalculate his plans. He even went to Oz's house to talk to him but couldn't! He wasn't able to stay and face his life by telling his cousin and dad that he finally found love with a man who understood him; thus decided to run away!

Not until spending a few weeks in Iraq that Sunny sent his dad an email telling him what he did. Sunny's actions angered his dad who threatened to disown him and stopped answering his emails. However and while he and Mustafa were surviving the harshness of the desert, Sunny was surprised by an email from his dad telling him to follow his cousin's steps!? It turned out that Oz became a reforming radical, which shocked Sunny. In response, he sent vengeful emails to his cousin that left unanswered, displayed terroristic posts on social media, and intimidated Mustafa. He believed that he was better than Mustafa for being a British Muslim, and not a Pakistani who came to Iraq to get over heartbreak! Within a few days of hardships, Mustafa and Sunny reached Ninawa suffering from exhaustion, hunger, thirst, blistered feet, and intestinal problems. In the meantime, Abu Khalid gave a heroic speech about the urgency of Muslim lands' Westoxification, followed by calling for volunteers to kill a "traitor" - the mayor of the city! Sunny was the first to come up. He slaughtered the man in cold blood using his bayonet, which made him feel being recreated! This incident scared Mustafa; he realized that he traveled with a barbaric murderer! On the other hand, Monty saw Layla ululating among the soldiers! He reached her and tried talking to her but she rebuffed him! He discovered that escaping home was worthless, as Layla didn't love him!

The next day, Abu Khalid appointed Sunny (who was promoted) and Mustafa to kill Layla! Her sex video reached the movement via Sunny who got it by email from his cousin's reforming newsletter. Jihadists thought that Layla was an American spy, and the words written in her red notebook were codes for secret messages! She was detained in a room, tied into a chair with boggled mouth and bloody bruised face from being brutally hit by fists and boots! Upon entering the room, Sunny lectured her about the price of disloyalty, took out his dagger, and held her head to slit her throat, but she pushed him back by her skull! He stood up again aiming at her when unexpectedly Mustafa stated his intention to do it! This made Sunny happy as he always considered him a whimper! So Mustafa took the bayonet and instantly twirled placing it in Sunny's chest! He saved Layla not out of love but because he evolved into a new man (a guardian and beacon), and knew her past years of poverty and the days spent nurturing her mind!

Bhutto highlighted through this story that running away to escape one’s life is a losing race because it only complicates issues! I think facing problems and working through them is the first step in solving them. She also addressed miscommunication between a father and son as depicted in the relationships of Monty and Sunny, and siblinghood between Anita and Ezra. In spite of his hard work to provide a good life to his family, Ezra's dream to become rich overnight made him forget his role as a caring big brother and abused Anita's blind trust in him.

'Jihad' is an Arabic concept that means fighting for something one loves such as God's name, which actually the Crusaders did when invaded our land despite that Jesus never held a sword! Similarly, ISIS and other radicals use this term to purify earth from what they call atheists and non-Muslims, by savagely attacking and raping any creature be it a human or an animal that doesn't support their faction! Ironically, these fanatics perform inhuman practices that were executed in past revolutions (the French revolt) and conquests (the Arab rule in Spain; the West invasion of the Americas; the British occupation of Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Asia, and Africa. The latter 2 nations also were tortured by the Ottomans, French, Italians, and Spanish).

In relation to names, Jihad is an Arabic unisex name that sadly is preventing people named so from getting a visa to Europe, Canada, Australia, or the US. This is due to stigma of names, which my younger brother Omar also suffered from! His visa application for a 2-month internship in the UK was rejected when he was still an MD student at JUST. This happened again a year later while trying to secure unpaid training in the US; his visa was rejected for about 5 times! This really put him down until one day one of my grandpa's friends (an MD) suggested writing to a friend (another MD) in the US, who sent my brother an invitation letter to volunteer with his medical team. Luckily, it worked and my brother got a 3-month visa! And by hard work, he was able to obtain additional volunteer opportunities with other doctors, and eventually securing residency in SUNY Upstate Medical University and fellowships in gastroenterology and liver transplant in Mayo Clinic! This stigma resulted from terrorists' behaviors, who due to racism or cultural clashing exploit the countries that opened their arms to them, and thus ruining the chances for the persevered ambitious! These monsters assume that their actions fulfill God's will, not knowing that they are the puppets through which politicians and owners of ammunition factories accomplish their special agendas! Moreover, Anita-Rose Joseph was a Christian who became a jihadist to escape her qualms. This is why she changed her name to Layla Yusuf, to adjust to her new life after Dubai's affair. Yusuf is the equivalent name in Arabic for Joseph. In fact, my name has a saint and 2 prophets in it; Tamara Yousef Suleiman Mousa (or Musa) equals Tamara Joseph Solomon Moses! In Jordan, this stigma takes a different turn. Students who are named Joseph, Michael…etc experience failing courses just for missing classes/exams on Palm and Easter Sundays that are legal holidays for Christians! This actually happened to the friends of my brothers and cousins. These students should have protested to the department's head/dean because discrimination can only be abolished by calling out discriminators! So stigma of names can haunt anyone depending on where he is!

Finally and based on the dedication, this historical exuberant novel which portrayed how some humans are brainwashed and turned into wild creatures spreading Pandora's wrath on earth, may give better insight on real life events than history books. Particularly that some historians are affected by their own or the financier's views, or don't base their writings on interviewing the oppressed/witnesses! Luckily, social media is doing a good job in documenting incidents, hence preventing claiming otherwise similar to aid obstruction or assaulting Activists, women, Asians, Blacks, children, prisoners, Burmese, and Ethiopians.

The Word for Woman is Wilderness - (March 19th 2021)

The Word for Woman is Wilderness is a captivating tale by Abi Andrews that made me circle the Arctic and live in wilderness. She travels in time between Voyager 1 or moon landing and the travelogue of a 19-year old lady, comparing the anecdotes of each journey. This philosophical personal narration describes woman's issues and taboos, Mountain Man, cultural taxonomy, the Inuit, and environmentalists, scientists, or novelists (H. Lacks; R. Carson; Annie Peck; Unabomber; J. Muir; Darwin; Thoreau; C. McCandless; Jack London; & J. Kerouac).

This book revolves around Erin's story who wondered about the absence of Mountain Women. Therefore, she decided to travel from her small town in England to Alaska, and document the trip by videotaping wildlife and interviewing the people she would meet. She started her adventure against her parents will and got on a ship to Iceland where she met Urla, the Icelander who became her friend. Upon reaching Iceland, Urla invited Erin to stay with her mom and showed her the town, after which they both went to Greenland in the boat of Urla's uncle (Larus), a marine life scientist. Erin enjoyed Larus's company as he used to explain to her scientific facts about whales and orcas but unfortunately, he misunderstood this relationship! In Kulusuk, a small island in Greenland and a settlement for the Inuit, the two ladies took a fortnight to go to Nuuk via getting on a sled pulled by a husky. In Nuuk, they enjoyed camping for 4 days in snowy tundra with Urla's Danish-Inuit friend, Najaa. Unexpectedly, two men approached these women and asked them to join their camp to be safe from bear attacks. The ladies refused the offer which disappointed these machos, knowing that they camped somewhere animals don’t come due to fearing humans and their guns! This is just an example on men who don't believe in women's capability to survive in nature without a masculine guardian.

After that, Erin travelled alone to St. John's in Canada by joining Larus's friends on their ship, and hitchhiked to Quebec. She stayed for a few days with a family who she found on couch-surfing and visited city museums that represented Natives' history. In Ottawa, she spent about 2 weeks in a B&B inn that employed backpackers. She befriended Tom, a backpacker like her with whom she went sightseeing on the weekend. At night, Erin was startled by Benny (the hostel manager who was drunk) trying to break into her room, resulting in a big scene that impeded assaulting her! So at dawn, she left the hostel and hitched a lorry to go to Winnipeg. Nevertheless, the driver assailed Erin, which forced her to jump out of the moving vehicle and lose a shoe that was grabbed by the driver! She ran in the woods until being saved by an indigenous woman, Rochelle, who nursed her wounded foot as well as provided her with food and water. The next day, Rochelle gave Erin a ride to Winnipeg after telling her the Highway of Tears' story on which many Indigenous women went missing or murdered. Then, she thumbed a car to Edmonton where she spent a few weeks in a farm that belonged to a Native Canadian family. With Sam (21) and Berry (17), Erin grazed the pigs, collected eggs, caught fish, kayaked, and explored Boreal Forest.

Subsequently, Erin hitchhiked for the last time to Fairbanks after getting over her fear from the last incident! She stayed with Stan, a worker at Denali Park Center whom she contacted via couch-surfing, for a week to prepare for her adventure. She got suitable clothes, freeze-dried and instant foods, a compass, ropes…etc. Yet egoistically, Stan tried to dispirit Erin by overestimating the number of people killed by bears in Alaska. He also said that she wouldn't make it like him because she is a girl although he was from Florida and never lived in a cabin; he was living in a house that had all the appliances and running water! But wild hearts can't be broken! So when the desired day came, Erin carried her bag and took the bus that dropped her 2 hours later in the center of Denali Park. She walked to the designated cabin in which she lived for a few weeks. Erin enjoyed hiking in the forest; going on top of a tower; shooting hares, skinning, cooking, and eating them; making a fishing stick to catch fish; filling a bucket with snow or rain and boil it before drinking it or using it to make noodles; and bathing in the river. She also portrayed connecting with reindeers and getting face to face with a bear!

Interestingly, she found a diary, map, and letter wrapped together beneath the cabin's wooden floor. They belonged to a mountain man (Damon) who eventually committed suicide due to fearing to go back to the city and lose himself again after becoming the best version of himself while living in wilderness! This spurred Erin to climb Polychrome Mountain (the nearest mount to her) that took her about 2 days. Upon waking up at daybreak, Erin was engulfed in the clouds! However when the mountain's crest became unclouded, the view of Denali Park was charming and fanciful; it was a mix of orange-brown, red-violet, yellow, green, and blue. Her unforgettable feeling was indescribable, since emotions have better memory than words! After having some food and tea, Erin's heart was full and went back down; this too took her 2 days. In the cabin, she had a few days to rest, returned Damon's stuff to their hiding place, collected her trash, said goodbye to wildlife, and left!

In her short venture in Alaska, Erin discovered that her documentary may alter the wilderness' authenticity; yet it allows her to pass on what she discerned to help others learn from her voyage, for men die but not their ideas as Ghassan Kanafani's said 'تموت الأجساد وتبقى الفكرة'! For instance, Erin needed to go on this journey to find herself and what she wanted from life. Being on her own was vital, notably that her mom wanted Erin to be a copy of her and achieve her unfulfilled dreams. She also wanted to prove to her parents that she would succeed in her endeavor. Sometimes, parents have a hard time to let go of their children, esp. their daughters, as they see them as young and weak creatures to be on their own [mine alike had the same fears when I left to the US to pursue my education (Racism - May 1st 2020)]. Hence, she concluded that what matters is the journey, not the final destination as this kind of solitude allows a person to tune into his inner voice, understand himself and the people around him, and see the world form a different perspective.

Andrews wittily detailed Erin's exposure to sexual abuse while working or roaming. In one of the local newspaper investigations, an attorney reported being assaulted by her boss who was her dad's friend (the dad thought that she would be safe with someone he knew)! In response, she resigned and submitted a claim to the Jordan Bar Association. But they asked her for a proof which she didn't have; and thus, this abuser couldn't be tried! This courageous woman, who lives in a restrained culture that condemns the victim not the lecher and values women's silence over talking about things that matter, used her voice to defend herself and be an example for other women suffering from harassment at workplace. She knew that 'Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor' as Ginetta Sagan stated! The author also described the difference between the British, Danish, and Inuit cultures regarding sex education and use of birth control pills to avoid periods and their pain. In fact, women have higher pain tolerance than men. This is why a woman can put up with childbirth that equals breaking 20 bones, spend over a third of her life enduring period pain, and do her job and/or housework when sick without complaining.

Seeing the woman as a sexual (emotional) object and not quite a rational companion like men is one of the common misconceptions that cause people to think that men are better leaders, researchers, travelers, and thinkers than women are! Larus's misunderstanding of his relationship with Erin by considering it romantic and not mere mentor-ship, which enraged her, is an example on this! So literally, who is the one ruled by sex?! Erin's adventure in Nuuk and Stan's comments to her also reveal how women's aptitude to travel on their own is underestimated. Nonetheless, my school (globetrotting_blonde) and UT mates (hownottotravellikeabasicbitch) are fine examples on women's proficiency to tour the world on their own, esp. in their beginnings! Likewise, NASA didn't allow women to travel to space in 1950s and 1960s as they only chose military test pilots despite the readiness of the experienced Mercury 13 astronauts. Erin argued that women would be more efficient astronauts than men would, since they are smaller and accordingly need lesser amounts of food and oxygen. Probably, these gender differences go back to the beginning of time when thinkers set the grammatical linguistic rule that if a group consists of 99 girls and 1 boy they should be addressed by the masculine pronoun; this actually contradicts the 'ladies first' custom!

During her voyage, Erin depicted the positive effect of nature on humans such as the role of sunshine in making us happy via activating serotonin hormone, which is why Icelanders have a bad mood during winter! I have a similar experience in the US in which South-Western Americans (sunny for 6-9 mo) are much nicer and sociable than Northerners (dark and snowy ≥ 6 mo); they used to converse with me as if we've known each other for ages! On the other hand, Erin delineated the detrimental effects of human's inventions on environment, animals' longevity, and our health including the spread of fracking in her small town in England and Alberta, and dumping nuclear waste in Iceland. Wreaking havoc on earth may have encouraged space scientists to study the human's ability to live on Mars. Yet, I agree with Andrews that if we don't love something about our planet we should face the problem to fix it (e.g.; climate change) and not look for another place to go and live on! However, disrespecting nature probably results from politicizing this word by considering it a feminine concept (it is the case in Arabic and Latin languages), which may also explain not valuing freedom, democracy, equality, and empathy! Noteworthy, March coincides to be the month that celebrates the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere (the 21st) and Women's International Day (the 8th). Most Arab countries also celebrate Mother's day on March 21 because mothers are reproductive, nurturing, and don't live for themselves but for others like spring/nature, which is why the Inuit consider women sacred! In addition, the Inuit believes in transmigration of souls between humans, animals, and non-living objects, which in a way cancels the gender's concept.

This exuberant book also uncovers the role of the White man in obliterating the Inuit matrilineal community by burning female shamans after accusing them of witch craft; taking Inuit children from the reservations and place them with White families in an attempt to erase their heritage and teach them "civilization"; tampering their environment by bringing animals from Europe to domesticate them (caribou vs. reindeer); expropriating their sacred land to fracture oil, pass pipelines, or dump waste in it; and building his civilization on the ruins of the Inuit such as renaming Mountain Denali (i.e.; the high one) Mount McKinley after President McKinley in 1917 that remained so until 2015, or by abusing Blacks such as using H. Lacks' cervical cancerous cells in research without asking her or her family which are currently known as HeLa cells. But to be fair since eternity, nations have been built on the ashes of others! The author also highlighted that Natives are mistakenly called Indians and unfortunately, people still call them so. This misconception is attributed to when Columbus discovered the Americas thinking it was India, which originally was his intention! Finally, Erin wondered why the White Man loves conquering and naming things after him?! Why can't he just discover a place and leave it the way it is without altering, similar to the Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay who prayed after climbing Mount Everest without putting his country's flag on it? 

Love & Politics - (Feb 19th 2021)

Rafik Schami beautifully wrote Sophia or the Beginning of all Tales describing the nostalgia of a human being in exile! This complicated exuberant dramatic novel weaves the intertwined threads of love & politics, and the role of love in revolting against the treachery of a police state.

This story revolves around the lives of the Syrian Christian teenage girl Sophia & her first love Karim, the Muslim who was from a liberal family that became hypocritically conservative upon his sister's elopement with a Christian man. In their last meeting in 1940s, Sophia told Karim that she was marrying a goldsmith despite being in love with him! This left Karim devastated, but she promised to be there for him whenever he needed her. So in 1951, Sophia kept her promise & hid Karim (24 years) with her aunt after being pursued by the police, as he was accused of murdering his sister (Saliha) & her husband to avenge the family's honor! She also assisted in finding the real killer & getting Karim justice, after which he was denounced by his family for being a coward & not kill his sister! In return, he promised Sophia to help her if she gets in trouble, which he did 6 decades later. Meanwhile, he met & married an intelligent woman, Amira, who unfortunately died in a car accident when their daughter Maha was still a baby. Karim stayed faithful to Amira for over 50 years until meeting the Christian widow Aida in 2006, who was in her mid-fifties & gave him oud lessons whereas he trained her to ride a bicycle. They taught each other something that they really wanted to learn in their childhood but were never allowed to because of being culturally not acceptable for a girl to cycle (in the mid 20th century), & Karim's dad hated music!

The other part of this tale is about Sophia's only son, Salman who in his early twenties joined a group that rebelled against the dictatorship in Syria following the Arab's defeat by Israel in 1967. These revolutionists, including his cousin Elias, followed Guevara's fighting path; they even grew beards like his & wore a beret! Yet his group was ambushed by the army in the cold winter of 1969 due to being betrayed by Elias. Salman struggled a lot to stay alive while roaming in the woods, looking for water or food until passing out on the side of a road soaked in his blood! Luckily, he was saved by a farmer who removed the bullet & nursed his wounded arm. Afterward, Salman was able to run across the Lebanese borders after paying a sum of money to a cab driver. In Beirut, he stayed with his aunt Amalia, who was shut out by her parents & brothers (including Yusuf, Salman's father) for marrying a Muslim but kept her friendship with Sophia!

In 1970, Salman made it to Heidelberg where he studied German but kept distance from socializing with others esp. Arabs, as he trusted no one, fearing that somebody may tell on him! Salman struggled to find a permanent job regardless of having a degree in philosophy & knowing Arabic & French! Nonetheless, he moved to Italy in 1980 after meeting Stella in Heidelberg while she was traveling across Europe before starting her studies in pharmacology. So, Rome became his exile where he lived with his wife (Stella) & son (Paolo), & founded a company that imported Arabic food to Italy & exported Italian food to Arabic nations. His business became a huge success, making him a rich man. However, Salman kept dreaming about going back to Syria, visit his parents & the house where he grew, & walk in Damascus's alleys in spite of that his parents visited him a few times in Rome! But feelings of longing & nostalgia to visit his hometown overpowered him particularly that he was forced to flee Syria, which left him feeling humiliated like the Arabic saying 'مجبرٌ أخاكَ لا بطل'! Hence, he contacted his parents & the Syrian Ambassador to check if he still was wanted by the government. His parents told him that his cousin Elias assured them that there were no criminal records on Salman, of course after receiving $10,000 from Salman's dad! Thus in early December 2010, Salman landed in Damascus intending to celebrate Christmas with his parents.

The first few days in Damascus were like a dream come true! Yet his devious cousin Elias, who had a reputable position in the secret services, maliciously betrayed him a couple of weeks later. For instance, the newspaper displayed Salman's photo & reported that he was accused of murder, which ironically was committed a few weeks before his arrival. This only happens in police states! Elias's main aim was to take revenge on Salman for running away 40 years ago without being punished, & to extort money from this millionaire cousin! At this point, Salman became on the run, moving from a friend or cousin to another until he found refuge in Karim's house, who was contacted by Sophia asking him if he still remembered his promise to her! Karim & Aida made Salman feel at home; they celebrated Christmas & New Year's Eve with each other & some of their friends. During his stay, Salman was asked to act as if he was the son of Karim's cousin & was visiting from Canada to spend the Holidays with him!

On the other hand, Karim & Aida changed Salman's looks by dying his hair & asking him to grow a beard to resemble Karim's Lebanese step-brother (Hassan Mandur), the owner of a chocolate factory who agreed to lend Salman his passport that would have a an Italian visa. On the night of January 8 of 2011, Salman said goodbye to his saviors & provided them with gifts to express his eternal gratitude to them as well as money to book 2-way flights to Rome. In the next early morning, Salman reached the airport & left on Alitalia to Rome, after spending more than 2 weeks practicing the Lebanese dialect, how to respond to the questions of passport officials, & bribe them with Mandur chocolate.

Schami amazingly described how the secret services savagely tortured his comrades in 1969, a few years prior of a coup. Similarly, 4 decades later the regime which took charge in early 1970s, bugged the house of Salman's parents, entered & searched it when they were out, as well as imprisoned & abused his cousin (Maria) for helping him. He also dramatically illustrated how Salman was able to run from the services' agents & hide in the house of an old blind woman who hated the police for wrongfully capturing, torturing & murdering her son!

Syria is a beautiful country that I was lucky to go to many times since I was a child! I knew the cities & places that the author talked about as we used to drive to Bludan passing through Damascus, which I really miss visiting esp. Souq Al-Hamidiyeh & eating Bakdash's ice-cream! What happened to this economically independent nation is very sad! But I witnessed some of the injustices that were imposed on Syrians by their regime, which also tormented & harvested the lives of many Jordanians in the 80s & 90s! This kind of tyrants controlled their people by scaring them via inhuman torture, rape, imprisoning them in psychiatric hospitals, & tormenting their family members including children to prevent them from criticizing the government! That is in police states, where a person's freedom is restrained as Nâzım Hikmet said in his poem 'A Sad State Of Freedom', a thought is blocked instantly even before being fully formed! Nevertheless & after a few dictatorships have been taken down, survivors of such systems disclosed preferring to be ruled by their previous authoritarians than living in chaos & terrorism such as in Iraq or Libya, where Qadafi used to punish his people by posting on the national TV (the only channel in the country) the image of his shoes' sole for numerous days!

This tale also boldly discusses two taboos in the Arab world; honor killing & marriage between a Muslim & Christian! I agree with many free thinkers that honor killing is just a justification for a man to express his masculinity & feel that he still has some sort of power as a result of the continuous humiliation of Arabs in general over time from the moment of being ruled by the Ottomans 500 years ago, who succeeded in breaking the Arabs' will & dignity! So to make up for their defeat & inability to stand up to their oppressors or participate in politics, Arabic men try to exert their power over woman, probably the only thing they can control, & use the gap between her legs as an excuse to retrieve their long lost honor!

Moreover, not welcoming the relationship between Karim & Aida, and the marriage of the sisters of Karim & Yusuf is very common in the Arabic society as represented by killing Saliha, deserting Amalia, and maltreating or cat-calling Karim & Aida by the neighbors as well as by Maha, whose ideology was brain washed by her close-minded husband! Actually, love is not much accepted in the Arabic culture despite being a sublime feeling that should not be tarnished by religion, status, or politics! Schami also skillfully depicted how people forget all their imperfections & only see other's "flaws" the moment they do something different as an old Arabic proverb that my late grandma used to repeat 'الجمل ما بِلّد على عوجة رقبته', which means the camel cannot see its askew neck!

This novel also portrayed the way Middle Eastern daughters were raised (and unfortunately still in some families/cultures) to be housewives without caring for girls' needs. This is embodied in Stella's mom who spent her life criticizing Stella's behavior & her ambition to get a degree in pharmacy, telling her what men like or don't like & to only concentrate on catching a husband! No one should control others' attitudes or steer their desires including parents, who I believe should provide advice to their children as my dad always used to tell me: 'my job is to advise you but the final decision is yours', & encourage whatever they are passionate about'! Marriage is not catching fish! It is a serious establishment built on understanding, honesty, trust, respect, compromise, caring, sharing, communication, & friendship weaved together by love! And girls must be taught that they can do anything & given the right to achieve their dreams just like boys

Bringing up boys is another matter that was touched on as disclosed in the way Karim & Salman were raised. They had strict dads who never showed their love to their children masking it by toughness, despite that Salman's dad cried when his son was on the run! These fathers considered being emotional or sensitive & shedding tears in front of their kids a weakness & characteristics of girls!? Obviously, this is nonsense! Being affectionate & sensitive reflect genuineness, kindness, self-confidence, articulacy, empathy, & the ability to love or assist others! In other words, sensitivity is not a trait of femininity or masculinity; it is a feature of humanity!

This turn-page book also shed some light on the way those who never set foot out of their hometown think about Europe & the US, perceiving them as countries that pour gold from the moment they land in the airport! Unfortunately, many individuals consider this a fact; & if anyone tells them that the rate of unemployment in these states is lofty, they won't believe them!

Other issues that were highlighted are keeping promises as illustrated in the way Karim & Sophia jumped to help each other as we say in Arabic 'وعد الحرّ ديْن', that is the promise of a free man is a debt! Hate & betrayal also were stressed on as seen in the relationship between Salman & his cousin Elias, yet a person should not let hatred poison his heart because it will only destroy him, his life, & the people he loves! Finally, the author drew attention to bullying in which Karim was badly abused by some of his schoolmates but the bullies were avenged by Karim's friend! Rejecting & aggressively trying to dominate others just because of being different is not justified. It is an indication of dictators' mentality to rule by overpowering others! Unluckily, bullying is very common in schools as 30% of the children (≤ 18) worldwide are bullied; this figure even reached 50% in a population sample of 1000 children (UNESCO, 2018; PACER, 2020; Al-Bitar, 2013). Tragically, 7% of such children ended their lives because of their inability to tolerate the humiliating insult (Bullying and Suicide, 2020). Tackling this phenomenon starts at home & is complemented by the school system, as children learn by watching their parents' behavior. So kids will only eat veggies if their parents did, & similarly they will abuse their classmates if their parents insulted other people. Therefore, parents should treat people the way they like to be treated, not judge others, & help these who are abused instead of stand & watch with folded arms or cheer for the abusers since each human being deserves to be treated with respect, because they are the role models for their children!

Comfort Women & Sexual Slavery - (Jan 15th 2021)

Reading White Chrysanthemum for Mary Lynn Bracht has pained me; yet I loved having the chance to come across such a book that vividly narrates the abuse of young Korean girls and their use as sexual objects to comfort the Japanese soldiers during WWII, and the lack of justice to survivors, which none of the school curriculum history books ever mentioned. This novel also portrayed the inhuman war that exploded between the southern & northern parts of Korea, and the eternal clash between the two powers supporting each side, the Americans vs. Russians.

During the Japanese occupation of Korea, Hana's mom taught her to be a haenyeo (diving & catching the fruits of the sea) since she was 11. She & her sister Emi were taught Korean privately in their home as the occupation forbade Koreans from learning or talking in their own language, and not even give their kids Korean names as they were trying to erase the Korean history! Hana's mom always warned her to look for her sister whenever she goes up to sea surface. But while swimming in the summer of 1943, when Hana was 16, she saw a Japanese soldier approaching the rocks near which Emi was playing. So she swam fast & reached the Beach of Jeju Island in an attempt to distract the soldier from her sister. So after a heated conversation, Morimoto, the Japanese soldier and 2 of his colleagues forcefully dragged Hana to their truck, joining other 4 girls. They were detained in a police station for a few hours where they were given a dress & underwear. Then the girls were put onto a ship that transported hundreds of young girls & women to several cities.

On the ship, the soldiers used to call out a number of teenage girls (because they were virgins) including Hana, who was taken to Morimoto's room where he raped her! After returning to the cabin, Hana felt severe pain in her private parts as well as disgust & distress, but kept reminding herself that she saved her 9-year old sister! In the meantime, the soldiers came again for another group of girls and chose SangSoo, who was Emi's age. Upon reaching land, the girls were taken to a train in which Morimoto joined Hana's cabin as well as SangSoo, whose face & neck were bruised and dress was ripped & fixed by pins! It turned out that this poor little girl has resisted, resulting in her rape by several inhuman soldiers! Later that night, SangSoo died from hemorrhage as her seat was soaked by blood and was buried with other 4 bodies on the side of the tracks without a marked grave!

In Manchuria, Hana was taken to a brothel. Her hair was cut, and her photo was taken & placed in a frame on the wall of stairs that goes up to a second floor. She stayed in a room that contained a water bowel for washing condoms, a mat, and a torn blanket. The brothel housed 10 girls who were given Japanese names reflecting flowers. So Hana was called Sakura - cherry blossom! On her first night, she witnessed the suffering of a teenage girl in labor who & her fetus died by the morning! Until then, Hana didn't know what was waiting for her as she had the usual breakfast of soupy rice & some pickles with the rest of the girls! But shockingly, she was attacked by the merciless soldiers who wanted to try her as if she was a piece of meat because she was the new girl?! So every day and for 84 days, Hana & the other girls were brutally hit & forcefully raped by 20 soldiers (30 minutes for each), and undergone a weekly humiliating medical checkup which mainly aimed at maintaining the soldiers' health! The amount of misery & pain was more than Hana could bear. She even tried to end her life a few times but was stopped by her mates! Nonetheless while continuously being raped, Hana was pleased that she rescued her sister from this fate & hoped that someday she would see her family since hope is born from the womb of suffering as we say in Arabic "من رحم المعاناة يولد الأمل"!

One night she was shocked by a visit from Morimoto who forced himself onto her since he was the night officer. Despite telling Morimoto that she is disgusted by & hated him, he told her that he loved & wanted to marry her, and therefore would help her to escape! On his last night, he left the brothel's door unbolted while Hana was still contemplating to stay, flee with him & be his slave, or run away from him! She left the brothel after taking her photo, and ran away bare feet in the other direction of where he was waiting for her. She survived for a while by hiding in the prairies & eating any kind of insects or rodents that she could catch! But what she needed was water! She was very thirsty that caused her to see a mirage of her family calling her, which turned out to be Morimoto! He caught, hit, & raped her before providing her with a little bit of water & an apple! Afterward he placed her on his horse and walked for ~3 days until reaching Mongolia, where he left her with a nomad family. During this tormenting journey, Morimoto cursed the emperor who was sacrificing his men to rule the world, and told Hana about his family whom he sent to the US before WWII to keep them safe. Yet, he lost his son & wife after the attack on Pearl Harbor as the US government detained all the Japanese in cramped camps with little amounts of food! So Morimoto was a deranged man who inflicted his trauma onto Hana to help him cope with his anguish!

At the beginning, Hana was afraid that the Mongolians would rape her; it was the norm for her to be used as an object/prostitute & so she didn't trust men! However, the Mongolians were very nice to her and she loved their simple life! They provided her with clothes & food; spent every night singing in their tent; and taught her how to milk an ox. She also joined the father, his wife, & their 2 sons, Ganbaatar & Altan (the latter was Hana's age and became friends with her despite not speaking each other's language) in harvesting poppy. But because nothing is permanent, Morimoto came back to claim her! And after a failed trial to slit Morimoto's throat by a knife, Hana escaped with Altan on a pony with the help of Altan's brother. Unfortunately, Morimoto caught them post the mountains where he attacked Altan harshly and grabbed Hana while yelling at her for betraying his kindness!? Suddenly, Morimoto left Hana to be captured by the Russians who also tracked & arrested him. They interrogated Morimoto then asked him to end his life either by seppuku or by being shot. So he did the former using his sword! On the other hand, Hana was traded by Ganbaatar's eagle, freed & spent her life with Altan's family.

After ~70 years of Hana's abduction, Emi got into the hospital upon which her son (Hyoung) & daughter (YoonHui) demanded to know their history. So Emi emotionally described the dramatic events that marred her childhood, including throwing white & yellow chrysanthemums in the sea that represent loyalty & sorrow towards losing a loved one; why she hated their dad; the shame she felt regarding her sister's sacrifice to give herself in her place; and questioning her survival! She also illustrated Jeju's Massacre in 1948 when people turned on each other, killing those called Red (communists or North Korean sympathizers). This included slitting her father's throat in front of Emi & her mom, burning their home, arresting them, and being forced to marry the South Korean officer who detained them. All this misery happened when Emi was just 14! Emi also narrated how her husband turned in her mom to the authorities, who executed her with many North Koreans. Then they dumped the bodies in a land that is now Jeju International Airport, which is why she hated flying to Seoul whenever she visited her children! Emi felt so much comfort after confronting her past & letting out all the anger & grief congested inside her, hence relieving her from seeing the recurrent nightmares of Hana calling her from the sea! Besides, Emi's survival permitted recounting the horrible history of Korea to her children who didn't live during the dark times of WWII and the Korean War.

This story ends with Emi passing away from a heart disease after attending the 2011 1000th demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul & revealing the Statue of Peace. Protesters demanded the Japanese government to confess its crimes against humanity, esp. to the women who perished due to sexual exploitation! In winter 2012, YoonHui went back to Jeju Island to practice haenyeo (which she stopped when she was 10 because of wanting to pursue her education) with her mom's best friend; it took her ~5 decades to find her way back home!

The real Hana most probably didn't have such a happy ending, but the author wished her a joyous life instead of being dumped in a nameless grave in a strange land! According to Bracht, the Japanese tricked 50-200 thousand Korean women into sexual slavery by abduction & offering them a ride or a job in the city! In 2015, Japan acknowledged its crimes but didn’t apologize for them, and promised to compensate the survivors by $9.7 million only upon the removal of the Statue of Peace. Thus, the original statue was eradicated but other statues were erected in Busan & other international cities including Berlin, Melbourne, & Hackensack (NJ).

The story of war rape & comfort women remained unknown until Kim Hak-sun revealed herself in 1991, who is followed by many others. But sadly, no one believed them as people, governments, & the world thought they were prostitutes in quest of riches until the Dutch-Australian Jan Ruff O'herne joined this crusade! Finally, telling such stories is essential to enlighten the next generations about the detrimental effects of war and to try preventing history recurrence. Yet in 2014, numerous reports have surfaced revealing child sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers (https://www.un.org/africarenewal/news/fresh-allegations-sexual-abuse-made-against-un-peacekeepers-central-african-republic). These unbelievable inhuman actions signify the presence of individuals who instead of assisting those in need misuse their position to satisfy their desires! Such misdemeanor has been occurring for over 10 years without being noticed! This is a serious problem because currently no kid will trust anyone who would offer him/her help as it is said, "Breaking someone's trust is like crumpling up a perfect piece of paper. You can smooth it out, but it will never be the same again"!

Throughout this devastating tale, Emi argued what a person should do to obtain an apology, which would neither erase the injustice that was imposed onto the victims nor indemnify the traumatized survivors, but at least it indicates acknowledging one's mistakes. I even think that an apology that is asked for means nothing! And if given, it is meaningless in its value because the scapegoat deserves one & the person who inflicted harm should express remorse by himself! Nevertheless, "some people accidentally walk on your feet & apologize, while others walk all over your heart & don’t even realize"; this statement agrees with the comfort women's pursuit to obtain an apology from the Japanese government! So what is requested is a meaningful apology that communicates three R’s: regret, responsibility, & remedy (Beverley Engel).

This suspenseful novel also embodied the role of a parent or sibling in doing their duty in protecting his children or sister. It also showed that age is counted by experiences and not by years as Lincoln stated "And in the end it's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years". This is depicted in how