Hello Everyone

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Old Friends

A Friend Renewed

Today, as I was cleaning out items, as part of my downsizing, I came across my Mont Blanc pen, given to me many years ago by a close friend in Kuwait. This pen was given to me in celebration of my achieving a Ph.D. in 2001. It has traveled with me from Kuwait to Qatar to Chad to South Africa to Rwanda, and now back home to America. The pen is a faithful friend I’d carefully tucked away while in South Africa for fear it would disappear. Many times I’d pull it out and write short pieces with it. But I thought it had been lost. Now I find it again, this old friend, in time to write my spiritual biography.

It is black with a wonderful snow-white star on the top. I understand this star represents the cap of the mountain for which the pen is named, Mt. Blanc. Just the name brings inspiration and contemplation. It brings memories as well. I remember the party given to me in celebration of my achievement. How much this party meant to me is hard to express.

The hardest part of this degree was the paperwork. My friend did all the editing for me—a fact for which I remain exceptionally grateful. Her friend did all the copying and binding for me, another fact for which I send eternal gratitude. I had just finished everything, so I thought, when I was told I needed one more copy. If it had not been for these two wonderful people, I doubt I would have finished. I was in Kuwait where obtaining the correct paper was nearly impossible. And completing everything in the time required seemed beyond impossible. I had mentally given up.

My friends didn’t allow me to give up, however, and they pushed me screaming and hollering through the door of this advanced degree. To celebrate the occasion, they decided to throw a party. One of them came to get me, telling me we were going to my cousin’s for dinner. I dreaded these excursions, because I always felt like the dowdy, country hick relation. My family is from Lebanon where the women are known for their exceptional style and care in dress–something I was never allowed to forget.

Each time I was invited, I knew it was useless to compete, so I didn’t even try. I was always greeted with comments such as, “Are you really Lebanese?” or “You don’t look Lebanese.” And some would ask my cousins, “Is that woman really your cousin?” I was under-dressed, overweight, and I definitely didn’t fit in. From their point of view, I was a total misfit. I’d long ago given up attempting and just tried to endure the agony, because once I got past all the comments, the parties were usually fun.

This night, however, I was near tears when I was told we were going there. I had been under such stress, I didn’t feel I could cope with one more jeering reception. But as it turned out, the party wasn’t at my cousin’s house, and my friends, not my cousins, were there. The evening had been planned to honor me and my achievement. My friends had gathered to celebrate with me, and they give me many wonderful gifts including a sheepskin. But the best of all was my Mt. Blanc pen, which I have treasured ever since as a symbol of my ability to write and to achieve my goals. And as a reminder of the real treasure, the friendships I have made.  

Oman in Pictures

I will soon add a story of my travels through Oman but I shall now entice and wet your interest with pictures. When I was just a young thing I celebrated my sixtieth birthday with a climb through the Omani mountains. These are pictures I took on that adventure — and it was an adventure.DSC_0835 DSC_0790 DSC_0797 DSC_0798 DSC_0730 DSC_0713 DSC_0644 DSC_0650 DSC_0652 DSC_0631 DSC_0629 DSC_0630 DSC_0552 DSC_0555 DSC_0536 DSC_0492 DSC_0466 DSC_0483 DSC_0469 DSC_0987 DSC_1019 DSC_1025

I needed to go to the road way down this hill -- straight down that is
I needed to go to the road way down this hill — straight down that is

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Windham College better known as Windy U

A tribute to my old college which no longer exists

Windham College or Windy U.

Windham was known as a second chance college. When I went there in 1967 most of the students had come from better known college with bigger names. I myself had managed to flunk out of Pennsylvania State University. It seemed I was trying to accommodate the feelings that several of my high school teachers had about me. They had directly communicated to my parents that sending me to college was a waste of money and time, as I would never amount to anything (a story to be told in the near future). At the time, I was known as Carol Ann Badwey, a name I divorced in 1986 (again, another story).

I arrived at Windham in time for the fall foliage and the draft demonstrations. I was overwhelmed with both. The colors, the forests were amazing and I so fell in love with Vermont that I was to stay there for the next twenty-seven years. I do not think I was unusual, as Vermont had that effect on many of us. It created a bit of a Neverland mentality, and many of us refused to grow up. We lived as we could and really did whatever we wanted when we wanted. I believe we saw the local Vermonters as kind of strange people, whom we did not understand and the feeling was mutual. We were a hippy, anti-war group of students who most of all enjoyed being high. The first year a male student was grabbed and given an unwanted haircut in the Putney town square. We had some amazing professors, and most amazing was that they actually cared about us as individuals and as people. What a strange concept . . .  We were young and alive and determined not to grow up and we believed the saying of the time “never trust anyone over thirty.”

The draft demonstration was a unique experience. I came from a small town in Western Pennsylvania that was still burning crosses on lawns when I was small. It was a railroad town, and to say it was conservative was an understatement. I heard Martin Luther King speak at Penn State in 1965, and he changed my thinking forever. I did not understand the difference between liberal and conservative, but really only knew what made sense to me. And what he spoke did. Participating in the draft demonstration made sense.

So there I was, with a group of people in the middle of a demonstration in the middle of Manchester, New Hampshire being thrown around by police. It was not within my experience. All I could think was, “What is a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” And as I thought this, a smile came across my face. And I looked into the steely eyes of a policeman as he raised his hand to backhand me. I was and always will be grateful for the older policeman who grabbed his arm and told him to calm down. Nervous reactions such as laughter are not a safe thing to do when threatened by a beating. My having been kneed in the groin was bad enough. The policeman thought I was a man since I had on a motorcycle helmet. The inside of the jail was most unpleasant, but we were soon released. Interestingly enough, I have no memory of how I arrived home. All I remember is that as we were leaving, I heard the words of the Christmas carol – “Silent Night” sleep in heavenly peace. And I thought “how weird, here I am being arrested for doing just that, trying to bring peace.“

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

I am downsizing or, as I prefer to think of it, releasing my possessions for someone else to love. Although I am influenced by the need to provide financial support for myself to allow me to write that is not the primary reason. Neale Donald Walsch wrote a book “When everything Changes, Change Everything.” For me, everything is changing and it is a feeling of needing to help this change.

This process has often been a part of my life. As a child I never owned much; no one did. As I grew, I accumulated things, and then I would either lose them or give them away. Prior to going overseas in 1993, I sold everything I owned. When I moved to a different country I often gave things away and on a few occasions sold items. But now, I have twenty years of accumulation, as like in 1993, I feel a need to make room for changes in my life. To make room for new things; new experiences to take place is my soul’s need. Through the years as I traveled, I purchased many wonderful rugs, paintings, jewelry and all manner of things. I had many wonderful items given to me. Each carries a story, and I will share the story of my treasures when the time comes.

Part of me wants to keep everything. No, my mind yells, we cannot sell that. It is special. Don’t you remember sitting in Khaled’s store and speaking of this treasure with him and sharing tea together with him and Ron. Both have left for new worlds; new experiences; new dimensions. No, my mind yells, how can you sell that rug? Don’t you remember sitting in Hussein’s store listening to the stories he spoke of the rugs. He wove magical tales with the magical pictures in the rugs. We sat upon piles and piles of rugs. The area felt snug and truly cozy with the remembrances of centuries. But we must, my soul responds, as it is time to recall these stories in writing and to relay the lessons of a life well lived. We will have pictures, and as I stare at the pictures, I will dream of past experiences and I will weave my stories like Scherazade in A Thousand and One Nights. She wove her stories to stave off death. She left each story unfinished, and the Shah – hungry for more – would allow her to live another day. Until after a thousand and one nights he realized he loved her. Her stories were his redemption. What do I stave off with my stories? What do I accomplish with my stories? Will I redeem myself? Will my stories leave you, my reader, hungry for more?

For as I am releasing my goods, I am releasing my mind and its accumulation of lessons learned in this life. It does not matter if no one reads these or cares about them. I do it because my Soul cares, and my Soul needs to experience the rest, that comes with resolution. My Soul is releasing much so it can truly unite with who I am and truly release the Being within who is struggling to shine through.

Iraq – after the fall

IRAQ

Shortly after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, there was a period of joyous peace, and I, along with two others, was invited to visit Iraq. My friend was invited to start a small school there to serve children who had problems learning. It was a different world, and one not ever forgotten

From the time we arrived, we were instructed to wear flack jackets built to handle at least ten rounds from an automatic weapon, and we were guarded by Blackwater troops, considered the best in the business. If the jacket took 11 rounds, well then, we were on our own. Blackwater troops, at that time, were considered the elite guards. They were an interesting group of men. From the first time they guarded us, until we were delivered home, we were never left alone. Often these men surrounded us, and when we moved, they moved. It was as though they anticipated our every move. It was eerie. At one point we went to a palace that was Saddam Hussein’s, and we thought we had ditched the guards. When we returned, we said such. It was simply stated they knew exactly where we were, and were just coming to retrieve us.

They all looked like Rambo, and I mean this seriously, right down to the dark glasses. We were there, as guests of the Governor at the time, in the Diwaniya area. One man was an amateur ornithologist, and was tracking the migration of birds back into Diwaniya, after the war. The camp, where we stayed, had a small pond behind it that had a large number of mosquitoes, and these mosquitoes brought birds. The military wanted to drain it, and Jim was strongly opposed. When he was on guard duty, on the top of the buildings, he was also tracking birds as well as the human predators. No way could he allow them to drain his swamp.

The vehicles, we rode in, were obviously bullet proof, but beyond that, two of us sat in the back with a guard, and there were two guards in front. Being a curious sort, I asked our guard about the weaponry he carried. There was an automatic weapon in his hand, a gun in his belt in the back, an automatic weapon in the pocket in the seat in front, and a couple of throwing knives attached to his ankle.

They were wonderful to us, and we developed long-term relationships. When they came for R and R in Kuwait, they would come over for meals and we would show them around Kuwait, and the markets. However, to look into the eyes of one of these men, was to realize they were not to be trifled with — if it was necessary, and I or anyone proved a threat, death would arrive faster than thought. The eyes could be cold, hard and deadly. I looked at these men who were being so kind, and considerate of us, and had this chilling thought. There was a whole side to each of them, I could not comprehend, and a part of their mind that, no matter how hard I tried, I would never understand. And to tell the truth, I am not sure they understood themselves either. There is a certain feeling of power that is intoxicating. I could feel this when I was around them. Some would call it a significant increase in testosterone, and whatever it was, I could feel its addictive effects.

The drive from the border of Kuwait and Iraq was one of the most boring rides, as far as scenery goes, I have ever taken. There was nothing to see. It was flat, with very little vegetation or people. This was an area of Iraq where the people had displeased Saddam, and so, there was no updated infrastructure – only a road and endless stretches of dirt and sand. This was the land that had seen the boots of thousands of soldiers, and these soldiers had kicked up enough dust to create one of the most intense sandstorms I had ever experienced. I was in Kuwait, at the time, and I could not see out the window of my apartment for days, as the sand was so thick. It was like being in a snow blizzard but instead of snow, it was red sand, and dust.

We were headed to Diwaniya. And yes, we were in Iraq illegally. No one in Kuwait knew we were there,e. And most definitely, our friends at the U.S. Embassy did not know. And, as I learned later, had they known we were going, our passports would have been confiscated. I was treated to many lectures, when I returned, about the folly of our actions. Looking contrite was not easy, as I was exceptionally happy to have had the chance to take this trip. It was not possible to get a VISA to visit, and that is regretful, as it would have been wonderful fun to have stamp from Iraq. Going through customs is not fun when you have stamps from Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon in you passport. I cannot imagine what having one from Iraq would have done.

The camp for the soldiers was a trailer habitat surrounded by concrete walls. At least, when we were inside, we did not have to wear the flack jackets. We had the opportunity to visit Babylon, and here we were, the first tourists in 40 years…………and what an amazing place to be. As I stood in the middle of this relic, I realized I was at the site of the Tower of Babel. I was where Alexander the Great spent his last days. I could see where the hanging gardens had once been. I saw relics of mosaics, and statues, and I saw incredible destruction. The place had been savaged during the second world war when all of the statuary, and anything that could be carried was removed by the Germans, and placed in museums. But even so, as I stood there, I could feel the thousands of years of history. This was old – so old, and we were so very young. If you listened you could hear the chariots, the crowds, and the lions. Saddam had decided to restore parts of Babylon, so he started with creating stones with Arabic writing on them, that stated the Arabic equivalent of “Saddam was here”.

His palace was almost as grand. He built it overlooking the court of Alexander the Great, so that it would be known he was greater than this Ruler of old. The palace was on a hill. Saddam and his sons built their palaces within view of each other, as the legend goes, as they did not trust each other, and always wanted to know what each was up to. The sons and their father continually plotted to kill each other. The people did not know these palaces existed. In an amazing display of human manipulation, they believed Saddam lived in poor houses like his people. They never looked up. To do so, to look up, and to see his palace was punishable by death and so, they never did. He had fifty palaces and each was grand.

The one we were in was not finished and had been stripped of all its finery before we were there. And yet, it was still amazing. The rooms were huge and the ceilings grand and the bathrooms amazing. In each corner of each room was a ladder. At all times, he (Saddam) wanted easy access for escape and so each room had multiple exits. Some were obvious and some not so much.

We arrived in Iraq at the time of the celebration of Ashoura. It was the first time in forty years the people were allowed to celebrate this festival. Saddam forbade any celebration that singled out one group of people to the exclusion of others. He forced unity. We saw miles and miles of pilgrims all headed for Felugia, where the holy shrine was. Miles and miles of people on foot, carrying flags, and walking with no provisions — just the clothes they had on. No food, no shelter. The only one who was providing for them was Muktida Sidar. He had tents along the way giving the people food, and a place to rest. No wonder Muktida Sidar was so strongly supported by so many people. He fed them, he cared for them. There were so many people walking, walking, and all headed for Faloujah.

To say this part of Iraq was hard pressed is a vast understatement. Although we were there to look at the concept of building a school for children having trouble learning, we never saw children on crutches or blind children. We came to understand these children were kept within their homes, as they would be killed if seen in public, as Saddam had a perfect society, and these children did not represent him. It was the same for all “cripples”, as they were known. Whoever could not care for himself disappeared, literally. I heard stories of how beautiful women were kept indoors, as Saddam’s sons would kidnap women who caught their fancy, and these women were forced to engage in gruesome acts. Many of the stories were horrifying and it is my preference not to repeat, and to allow them to pass through without being retold, and thereby, hopefully, forgotten.

Iraq was repressive, and the people we saw were afraid. Their eyes told the story of an inability to stand up for what they believed. They had learned to live by their wit,s and knew voicing an opinion could end in their demise in some very unpleasant ways. Some of the stories I heard my first few years in Kuwait were horrifying, and sickening, to say the least, not to mention what was broadcast on television. On my visit to Iraq, many of these stories were retold. I tried to imagine what it would be like to live with this kind of fear. Never knowing when I left the house if I would return or end up kidnapped; never daring to lift my eyes for fear I would see something I should not; never daring to speak my opinion for fear I would be heard.

 

 

Meandering through Streets

I travel down this street that seems to go on forever into times gone by. It feels like I have traveled this road a million times and yet I have not been here before. Teasing at the edges of my memory is familiarity. I am here in Egypt in Khan el Khalili and I am here in Damascus on the Street of Straights. The roads move beyond and carry me into the far distant past of my lives.

In Khan El Khalili, a coffee shop older than America a woman approaches me. She is an old Sufi woman known for her wisdom and insight. She looks at me and she slaps me across the face – not a hard slap, more like one to wake me up. She looks at me and asks for money and when I do not give her enough asks for more and I give her more. I am startled by the slap and not angry, just startled. It is a gesture, which has different meanings, and each time I think about it brings new wisdom.

Damascus, I wander if the Street of Straights is still the same after these many years of conflict. When I say it twenty years ago it was bustling with echoes from the past and merchants who showed their creations with pride. These people were descendants of generations who had lived in these lands for thousands of years. Lineage could be traced to Biblical times. The pride of generations lived within them. There was a home this man showed us proudly. He had hand carved the entire interior of the home. He had carved figures and leaves and trees into the woodwork and into the walls and had created a bas relief giving a three dimensional aspect to it all and he did it in the colors of gold and blue with hints of red and green. Leaves and vines circling in and about the carvings created an intricacy enticing the eye to follow. It was a lifetime of work and it stated the man expected he and his descendants to continue in this place for generations to come. I wander if this man’s home still exists and if he or his family still lives. Families are being forced to leave their home of centuries and to go where they do not know – to become lost in the cycle of change. They are being forced to adjust to lives and languages and people so foreign as to be frightening and they move into a world that is hostile to them. The world they are moving into does not like foreignness and difference. And yet they are forced against their will to do so.

And their children will barely remember their past and the heritage, which created their lives.