Salam Neighbor – Hello Neighbor

1001Media Mohab Khattab Salam Neighbor leaving for Jordan to film

I just dropped my Mojo off at the airport.  Carrying two extra bags of winter clothes, he is on his way to Jordon.

His first stop is Amman to meet American filmmakers, Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple and Sean Leonard, the creators of  Living on One.  They flew in from California.

Why?

Zach and Chris want to say “Salam Neighbor” to the 570,000 Syrian refugees.

On January 19th, he will drive them and their Jordanian translator, Ibraheem, north, five miles past the Zaatari Refugee Camp, to the Syrian/Jordanian border.  There, in the middle of the wintery desert, he will drop them off, and they will walk away with the clothes on their back and a camera.

You might be asking, “What kind of evil plot is he involved in?”

The Jordanian government and the UN have given Zach, Chris, Sean, and Ibraheem permission to become a refugee for the next month.  Like a half-million Syrians, they will walk away from the bombs to the the fourth largest city in Jordan, the Zaatari Refuge Camp.  Joining the long-line, they will be checked in, given an UNHCR tent, a ration card and, maybe, a blanket.  Sean will film everything and post to YouTube.

Why have they given this opportunity when international reporters have not?

Because these extraordinary, twenty-somethings proved in Living on One that they are willing to take themselves out of their comfort zone and live in unimaginable circumstances.

The state of Syria is currently unimaginable.  And the refugees keep crossing into Jordan.  No one knows how or when it will end.  No one knows what these young men are going to encounter.  Security measures have been put into place but Zach and Chris want the full experience: getting tossed out of their home; crossing a border; and setting up a new life in a UN refugee camp.

Salam Neighbor is not just a film, but a social action campaign.  Generous donors will give $1 for every Facebook LIKE.  The funds will be distributed between UNHCR, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee

On January 19, they will leave Amman and journey north.  Zaatari will be their home-away-from-home until just after Valetine’s Day, February 15th.  

I invite you to stay abreast of how Zach and Chris fare during this winter. They are already tweeting @livingonone and put up blogs on their website.

You can participate by sharing Salam Neighbor on your FB, Twitter and Instagram accounts.  And in your nightly prayers, send your wishes for Salam to the Syrian refugees and their Jordanian hosts.

ABOUT SALAM NEIGHBOR AND LIVING ON ONE

What does the daily life of a Syrian refugee really look like?

In partnership with 1001 MEDIA, Living on One founders Chris and Zach have just launched Salam Neighbor.

They are on a bold, immersive journey into the heart of the world’s most urgent humanitarian crisis. From January 19th through February 15th, Chris and Zach will live alongside refugee families in Jordan to uncover the daily realities, struggles, successes and dreams of displaced Syrians.

Chris and Zach can’t do it without your participation! As they film they will be releasing weekly blogs and live-stream hangout sessions to hear and help answer your most pressing questions about the humanitarian crisis and life as a refugee.

Join the Salam Neighbor film and journey. Learn about the humanitarian crisis. Take action to change the world!

www.salamneighbor.org

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The Majlis – Public Salam

In Arabic, majlis means a place for sitting.

In the Gulf, all important or connected people have a majlis, a ring of chairs that is opened for anyone to enter and sit with the King, the business man or the esteemed, religious leader.  Upon entering, you are expected to walk around the entire gathering and great everyone individually before taking your place at the end of the line.  One by one, each visitor gets an opportunity to chat with the host.  It is a kind of town meeting where congratulations are given, grievances are expressed or issues discussed.

Of course, fitted for a King, a royal majlis is grand.

But anyone can create a majlis.

majlis one bench by side of the road by eva the dragon

It starts with a bench set along the street or in any open spot.  Someone sits down and calls out, Salam a lay kum – “PEACE be upon you” – to the passerby.

Like Jesus in John 20:19, the receiver responds with “PEACE be with you” – Ah lay kum a Salam.

Greeting someone with PEACE clears the air of any shared negativity.  Without any animosity or grievances, a second chair appears because now there is space for a conversation.

Shlow-nik is the local greeting after Salam.  Like a mood ring, the majlis holder literally asks, “What is your color today?”

I interpret the greeting as a way to express feelings without actually calling them forth.  An unpaid psychiatrist, the listener does not have to engage in the situation.  He lends an ear and responds with haram, masha al’lah or mabruk confirming his understanding of the situation, but leaving all solutions and graces up to God.

Tea, sweets or whatever is on hand are offered because the next part will take awhile.

The conversation expands outward to others in your sphere of influence.  How your children, your mother, your father, your great-aunt, and how all the extended relatives are fairing must be addressed.  To a 21st century Westerner accustomed to getting down to business, it feels like a lot of time is wasted talking about irrelevant people.  But to the Arab, our lives are intertwined with our family, our tribe.  Meeting one is coming into contact with the entire tribe.

It is only after we understand the other’s state of mind and their current family situation and after any physical discomfort caused from hunger or thirst has been eased that we are ready to discuss Matters.

majlis with satellite dishes dragons rabbits and roosters

In the village near our house,  over several weeks, I watched a man create a majlis.  It started with two plastic chairs set up in the vacant lot across the street from his house.  An old sofa was added, then a second.  An extension cord was pulled across the street to run a popcorn maker.  A third sofa appeared and because it was summer, a large fan.  It only took a few weeks before a satellite dish was added and outdoor lights.  Despite the nearby altercations between the villagers and the police, nothing was ever covered or stolen.  It was a majlis.

Last summer in the USA, I noticed people living in beach towns created outdoor majlis.  In my grandparent’s small, Mid-Western town, the unfenced, front yard and porch was the equivalent.

A majlis can only exist where there are no walls, and someone invites you to sit in Peace.

56 Days $56 Dollars

Anyone reading my posts can tell that 56 Days $56 Dollars has nothing to do with me.

The title refers to young filmmakers and change-makers, Zach Ingrasci, Chris Temple and Sean Leonard.

During university, they were curious how 1.1 billion people manage to live on $1 a day.  They decided to explore extreme poverty by going to Pena Blanca, Guatemala and living on $1 a day for 56 days.  They filmed their experiences and uploaded them to YouTube.

Watching the young men learn to grow radishes, manage a tiny, volatile budget and waking up covered in flea bites was only part of the story.  The rest was about the friends they made in Pena Blanca who taught them how to add fat to their diet, take out a microloan and bargain in the market.

When they returned home, 700,000 YouTube hits convinced them they had something worthwhile to share.  Their experiences became Living on One, a full-length documentary.  The film and the post-production tours are a great demonstration of how a small group of people can absolutely make a huge impact and help improve the lives of others.

Inspiring, not only because of their willingness to give up their American lives and literally walk 1,000 miles in the shoes of another, Living on One shows us how Gen Ys combine their passions, idealism and social media in new and constructive ways.  It is a lesson for those of us who ask our kids, “Do you watch anything useful on YouTube?

It is not enough to simply watch the film.  You must click through to see their social impact campaign and what has grown out of their efforts.

Oud, Liwa and Al-Sout

Weaving through the narrow streets lined with gold shops, I said to my Bahraini friend, “I have never been here before.  Where are we?”

“This is the old Muharraq souq.  Remember when I showed you my grandfather’s house?  We are near there.  The Mohammed Bin Faris Hall is next door to my husband’s father’s house.”

“Next door” or “Near to” are typically included in the directions a Bahraini gives but they are not literal.  My experience is Bahrainis are so knowledgeable about the honeycombed streets, they find it difficult to give detailed directions an outsider needs.  If I wanted to ever find my way back, I would have take a daytime, reconnaissance trip.

Arriving before 7pm, we met some old school friends on the doorstep.  Hearing I was from California, one women became particularly interested.

“Where – in Los Angeles?” she asked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“GO TROJANS,” she yelled making her fingers into a horn.  “I went to USC.”

“So did my husband,” I told her and instantly we became friends.

My new friend insisted on showing us the recently opened Mohammed Bin Faris House Museum where the legendary Bahraini artist used to live.  Born in 1855, he recorded several Al Sout albums in Iraq and two albums in Bahrain before his death about 1946.  Looking around his one-room house, his albums did not go platinum during his lifetime.  Still seventy years later, his music continues to be played live.

At 7pm, ten Bahrainis wearing matching winter-grey thobes entered from the stage left and began setting out their instruments – a qanum, violin, oud, several drums and an electric keyboard.

“Who do you think will dance?” my friend asked me.

“It will likely be that guy,” I said pointing to the tall thin, young man who reminded me of Harold Perrineau from LOST.  “The others are too chubby to be dancers.”

Without any introduction, the singer began.  A slow song, “About love,” my friend whispered to me.  By the second song, the tempo sped up, the clapping began and then the dancing.  It was not the young Perrineau look-a-like; rather, the oldest man, a tall man of African descent with a missing front tooth began a slow, somber walk across the stage.  Soon the music inspired him.  He spun around, placed his hand on his ghuttra and jumped high off the ground then spun again.  The twinkle in his eye showed us how much fun he had before returning to his seat to help out with the percussion.

When the spirit moved him, he would get up.  As the songs continued, love song after love song, his shoulders started shimmering and his gestures grew more flirty.  He paused to pose for us, the photo-taking audience, or to smile at a friend.

“Is he doing this for show,” I asked my friend.  “Would your husband dance like him?”

“No, he is performing.  My husband would not dance like that.”

“His jumping reminds me of the African dancers we saw in Tanzania.  Is he Bahraini?” I wondered.

“Yes, but probably his ancestors were from Africa.”

I read later, liwa is a traditional African dance performed in the Gulf by people from Tanzania and Zanzibar.  Usually the al-sout was a male-only dance performed at night.

mohammen bin fares hall

The Mohammed Faris Hall is modern and formal but the audience was fluid and friendly.  Some arrived late then walked across the seats to kiss their friend hello.  Others shouted their Salams to the band when they entered.  An elderly man called out for his favorite songs.  And a woman announced in a loud voice before she led a pack of friends out, “We would love to stay with you all night, but we have another appointment.”

We did not have another appointment so continued to listen to song after song about love – “if you love me, how could you have done this to do me” and “I see your face in the water I drink”.  Finally, the topic moved from loving women to loving Bahrain.

ABOUT MOHAMMED BIN FARIS BAND

7pm every Thursday night, the band will perform in the Mohammed Bin Faris hall.  Courtesy of the Ministry of Culture, their concerts are free.  There is little parking around the hall.  It might be easier to take a taxi.

The Hall opened in April 2013 and is part of the Muharraq revitalization project.  Across the street, a new Zaffron café has opened.  It is built over an old date juice building.  The acrylic floors make you feel like your floating.  Zaffron serves breakfast, coffee and tea.

The First Happy New Year in 2014

view of palantine hills from coliseum rome italy by eva the dragon 2013

Warm greetings to my Rooster friends on this Roman, New Year celebration.

It is only twenty-five days until the Year of the Horse begins.  And then a string of New Year celebrations until we get to the Islamic New Year which will be celebrated on a most auspicious day, October 24th, my birthday.

2013, the Year of the Snake, was good for a Dragon like me.  The Chinese say a Dragon falling down from the sky becomes a Snake.  Literally spreading my wings, I flew over 57,000 miles, landed, then slithered around ancient lands.

The UAE near Jebel Faya – Recent 2010 evidence changes our evolutionary history.  Tools found in the lower, Arabian Peninsula, dated 125,000 years ago, challenge the old hypothesis that the migration out of Africa began 75,000 years ago.

Cairo, Egypt – What else do I need to say?

Amman and Petra, Jordan – Almost as old as Jericho, Al-Beidha (near Petra) has been inhabited since 9,000BC and Amman reaches back to 7,500BC.  Jordan is truly the Holy Land of the Bible.

Rome, Italy – Founded by the prophetess Carmenta, she made her son, Evander, the king of the Pallene settlement that eventually became Rome.  Evander instituted the Lupercalia, a spring, cleansing festival associated with the wolf. Those hills later evolved into the fashionable, Palantine Hills, home of Roman Emperors which archeologists continue to excavate and to find “new” discoveries.

Hawaiian Islands – Oahu, Maui and Hawaii – Prior to Captain Cook, Polynesian’s long-distance, ocean navigators are thought to have paddled to the islands as early as 3000BC.  We climbed Mauna Loa, the largest volcano on Earth and the Hawaiian’s sacred mountain where benevolent spirits reside.

Uluru and Kata Tjuta, Australia – The Aboriginals, whose 44,000 year-old culture is the oldest in the world, continue to dream in the red desert.  The Aboriginal say Uluru was created during Creation.  Kata Tjuta is even more sacred to the Aboriginals.  It is the home of Wanambi, the snake god and his stories are kept secret.

My Dragons and Rabbits ended 2014 in another corner of the Polynesian Triangle: the land the Maoris called Aotearoa; the British originally called New South Wales and later changed to NEW Zealand; and the place Lord of the Rings followers now refer to as Middle Earth.  Scientists believe New Zealand is the last major landmass to be settled by Homo sapiens.

It was a magical year.  I am certain these experiences will continue to reverberate through my life and, as they inspire me, I will share my stories with you.

Wherever you are on planet Earth, Happy Beginnings.

Annie Kurkdjian Authentic Expression

Annie Kurkdjian’s Flight and Enclosure at albareh gallery is one of the most provocative exhibits I have seen in Bahrain.  Occasionally artists paint abaya-clad women or soft, ephemeral women whose faces remain obscured.  Kurkdjian’s work is provocative, not only because she is an Arab painting naked women, but because she reveals how they feel.

Upon entering, a woman bored out of her mind drew me across the entire gallery to the sunroom.  The woman/girl’s life is so tedious, the only thing she has to do is twiddle a tiny black box – or blank space – in her delicate fingers.  Her eyes are not filled with fear or anger, nor hope, nor joy – just boredom.  Actually her boredom is so great, she looks feeble-minded as if trapped in a state of perpetual adolescence.

All the naked women shared the same ennui.

After absorbing that initial impact, I toured the gallery to see if I could witness the artist’s evolution.

Her 2007 and 2008 paintings were done in dark colors and incorporated pain and archetypal symbols: witchy women, cages, ravens, mummified beings and blood.  Their darkness reflects the underworld; the psyche’s dark realms; and the artist’s experience as a young girl during Lebanon’s civil war.

annie kurkdjian #art man and woman 2012

Kurkdjian began to rise from the depths and into the world but with a changed perspective.  Since at least 2009, she incorporated a surrealist style and elongated her subjects’ limbs into curves only a Bahraini highway engineer could imagine.  She painted both women and men whose giraffe necks give them a 180 degree view of the world.

2013 Kurkdjian burst into the light of the living.  Her colors became brighter.  Her subjects were more vibrant as if new energy had entered the women’s lives.

Yet, despite escaping the darkness, in this new life, her young women cannot get out of bed.

annie kurkdjian bored woman bed  #art 2013

Lying across her bed like a wet noodle, the young woman has nothing to look forward to and cannot generate the will to participate in another dull day.

annie kurkdjian #art pained woman in bed 2013

Another cannot leave her bed because her boredom has become her pain, forcing her round, healthy body into a fetal position.

annie kurkdjian #art woman in bed with black box 2013

One woman is in so much actual pain, her fingernails dig furrows in her bedcovers.  Her wasted body can barely hold her “black box” which is horribly out of place.  She waits, presumably, for death.

When a few women do get out of bed, their day is spent in intimate investigation of their bodies. Three young women, echoing their Greek sisters, the muses, discover their beautiful, long braids are really chains.

annie kurkdjian #art #albareh flight and enclosure

For the exhibit’s catalog cover, the woman is actually dressed, but not for going out in public.  The highlight of her day is gobbling her food out of a giant, dog bowl which she does without real joy.

annie kurkdjian #art frankenstein woman 2013

Perhaps the young women see a future destined to be like this mother with her dyed hair and face like a Frankenstein monster.  Her body no longer her own, she  has become a creation sewn together by some mad doctor.  Resigned to the boredom of servitude, she lifts the tray and serves us her milk cups.

The exhibit’s official description was the usual art speak and made no sense to me.  What I saw was an exhibit describing the poor state of women’s lives, particularly those who have survived war.  Kurkdjian did not title her paintings.  Perhaps she did not need to as the women’s stories were in their bodies and eyes, not in their words.

ABOUT ALBAREH

Annie Kurkdjian’s exhibit runs through December 30, 2013 at albareh gallery in Adliyah.  I highly recommend it.  Click picture below for a link to online catalog.

annie kurkdjian #art #albareh flight and enclosure brochure

To the Edge – or Falling into The Treasury

Entrance Road to Siq

Road to Siq

“Hey Bahrain!” the Jordanian cowboy called out as he waved me down.  “You want your horse ride today?  It’s free, part of your ticket.”

“Sorry,” I told him.  “We are allergic to horses.  Plus, we arranged for a donkey today.”

“With Juomaa?” he asked.

“Yes,” we confirmed.

Defeated, he shook our hands and said good-bye.  The game was over.

9:20. Of course, we were late.  The tour groups had already made it to the Treasury.  A sound floated our direction – a whistle? Our eyes followed the sound to the grinning Maaz, still dressed in brown.  We hardly recognized Juomaa sitting next to him, looking regal in his thobe and gold ghuttra.

Our Salams said, we boarded our 5-star donkeys.  Our tent-mates insisted we could make it to the High Point of Sacrifice by ourselves, but Joumaa’s promise to show us the unmentionable place held my curiosity.  Maaz led my donkey while I texted my husband.  “If you don’t hear from me by the end of the day, then send someone to look for the circling buzzards.”  Following narrow trails, we reached a silk-rock cave.

“This was a classroom.”  Joumaa pointed out the markings on the walls.  They were early 19th century, nothing ancient.

“And here is the place,” he said ushering us around the corner before he hurried away.

Ancient Fertility Symbol

The unmentionable  – a reminder of the Goddess’ rites practiced under a full moon – a huge phallus carved in the back wall.  After seeing that big boner, I understood the Old Testament tirades against Baal.

The visit took ten minutes.  4,000 years later, save the lone phalli, there was nothing left of those wild, fertile times.  When we returned, our donkeys were gone.

“I sent the boy ahead.” said Juomaa.  “We will walk this way.”

Joumaa Kudblan #petra bedouin guide @evathedragon 2013

He led us through trees and boulders, narrow passages.  We were not the first to cross the ancient steps, but we definitely needed a Bedouin’s guidance.

I heard humming, the echo of a thousand, gathered voices and whispered to Juomaa.

“Shhhh, he said pointing at Louise.

Still wearing her gold shoes, Louise broke through the brush.

“Close your eyes,” I said.  “Hold out your hands.”

“Why?  What are you going to do to me?”  Conjuring the vestal virgins, she stood tall and held out her palms.

“We will guide you.”

As if she knew her fate, she asked in a regal tone, “Where are you taking me?”

“Trust us,” said Juomaa.

It took us a dozen steps to walk her across the boulders.

“Stop here,” Juomaa commanded only centimeters from the edge.  Gripping her forearms so she could not break away, he said, “Now – open them.”

Startled, she nearly fell.  Then tears swelled in her eyes as she took in the Treasury below us.  From our ledge, the tourists and the Bedouin looked like ants.

treasury overlook people are ants by @evathedragon 2013

“It’s so beautiful,” she whispered.  “I am overwhelmed.”

Surprise,” said Juomaa.

To be continued …

ABOUT JUOMAA KUDBLAN THE PETRA BEDOUIN GUIDE

Jouma Petra Bedouin Guide Jordan by Eva the dragon 2013

Juomaa Kudblan, Mr. Friday, was a man we instantly felt comfortable with.  His mobile is 00 962 7 7753 5425.

You can arrange to meet him at the Petra entrance, or, if you are lucky, arrange to meet him at Haroun’s for a sunset trip to the Monastery.  He charged us each 50JD for our four-hour tour.  His rate matched the rates quoted on Frommer’s.  His donkey were well-cared for, and he is a kind, stable individual.

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