Author Archives: ehammouch

About ehammouch

I am an American woman who has found home again and again in several parts of the world, though most comfortably in Morocco and other parts of the Arab- Islamic world, including Turkey and the UAE. I am a new mom to my son born in 2010. My husband and I are raising him to speak English, French and Arabic. I am interested in language and identity politics, Islam and Islamic Feminism, Consciousness Studies, a range of spiritual practices including Sufism and yoga practices. My current aim in beginning this blog is to breathe life into a somewhat neglected writing practice.

Tap Into Greater Possibility: Questioning Our Cultural Assumptions to find true Freedom 

I have been thinking a lot about possibilities.  Our cultures can be a determining factor in what we believe is possible – and THIS creates our reality – individual AND collective.  This is a limitation. Culture, family and communities can also offer an expanding sense of possibility but no matter how you slice it, there will always be a boundary or a border to come up against, a place where possibility is hindered by the determinations of a culture. It might look like social expectations or obligations. It might be about money – a lack of money, or even respectable, acceptable ways to spend the money when it exists in abundance.

While I was living abroad, I was able to see exactly how this worked. I was a young, single, American woman traveling in Morocco as we entered the 21st century, I often saw myself floating beyond rules and responsibilities. I could move in and out of participation with what was going on around me almost at will. One of my favorite examples is always the social organization of men and women in Morocco. When invited to a large formal party – like a wedding or a post Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) celebration thrown for the pilgrims upon their return, the men and women would often sit on opposite sides of the room. They would interact and even get on the dance floor together – but often eating and chilling in different spaces. In the early days, I was not really sure what to make of this and I felt more comfortable in the men’s space – so I just went there and everyone was at least outwardly okay with it.

When I wanted to explore the women’s social circles, I was welcomed but noticed that I could easily slip back out to the street to grab a smoke with the boys or that I was often called into the men’s space to dine with them. This was in the very early days. As time progressed and I became better able to express myself in French and Arabic (as well as becoming more comfortable with exploring the possibilities around my role as a woman in these social contexts), I began to gravitate toward the women and felt the change in expectations from myself and others about where I was supposed to be and what I should be doing. When I married my husband in 2009, I noticed an immediate and dramatic shift in what his family expected of me in this way. I was suddenly being invited (and with an not so subtle undertone of obligation) to the women-only parties more often. Where I used to go everywhere with my husband and his gang of male friends, I was now being scooted over to the female side of the family and all the things they did.

The possibilities in those situations were different. (I had quit smoking by then but even if I hadn’t there would have been no way to duck out for a puff. Or, where I could have left a men’s gathering any time I felt like it, the women often expected me to spend the night). They fluctuated based on what I thought I should be doing and how others were behaving toward me.

It was interesting because I realized for the first time that possibility is truly relative. AND it is dictated by where we come from and what we are willing to accept about the assumptions we (and others) make from that place.

For many of us expats, travelers and explorers, we are presented opportunities to disrobe, if you will, from our cultural layers to try on new and other sheaths. Doing this creates the experience of opening to unforeseen, unusual possibilities. As I became more willing to be alone with the women of Morocco and the UAE – I developed surprising (to me) views about how women can be strong and feminine at the same time. I slowly began to unravel the tightly wound thread of obligation I felt to DO IT ALL – picked up from my rearing in the USA. Our feminist movement of the 60s and 70s (and the general patriarchal culture) often seemed to argue that women could or HAD to do exactly what the men were doing – in the same ways. Suddenly I saw that we might do it differently. And maybe (probably) even better (couldn’t resist that!).

It’s possible to be in command of your domain, of your divine and spiritual identity and still be receptive to new views, visions and ways of doing.

Before I drag you all off on some wild and wooly tangent into the cosmos – let’s bring it down to earth.

If you there is something you wish to see in your life right now. If there is something you want to do, to try, to experience yet that thing seems unattainable or even impossible, then take a look at the assumptions you are making about that lack of possibility.

It will be worth it to consider how those assumptions are derived from your culture. And by this, I mean – your family culture, the culture of your friends, your workplace – also your country, the culture around your native language or even other languages you speak on a regular basis. (OOOh, another time, let’s talk about how language creates assumptions in the beings who live through that language. I just got CHILLS!!!) Now that you are thinking about this, it will be easy for you to see how you have just accepted so many things about how life works – how you make money – what you are “allowed” to do to be considered successful – what is good – what is respectable because of where, when, and among whom you have grown up.

If you would like something different to happen. If you want to invite more of something into your life – something that seems far away – then you absolutely MUST call into question what you are believing, resisting, accepting, claiming that may be standing in the way of that thing you desire.

One more example, just in case:

Possibility is determined by collective cultural consciousness. We can argue that Hilary Clinton – or any other woman before her – has not yet been elected President of the United States because as a collective USA cultural consciousness (and honestly, even beyond the USA), we still accept a predominantly male perspective.  Our country is run in a very yang energy – assertive, active, rational, mental, producing, and dominant. None of those qualities are bad in and of themselves. But they are ruling us in an imbalanced way.

Any woman who wants to compete in that environment must also up her yang energy, and minimize her natural feminine/yin qualities such as receptivity, intuitiveness, sensitivity, emotional intelligence, imagination. Hilary is just an example of how a woman has had to swing toward an imbalanced yang consciousness – to the detriment of many of her yin qualities to even have the chance to be invited onto the playing field in politics, law, and oh my – any number of professions. A certain female executive chef I once knew comes to mind. She was well known (and feared) for her explosive and swear-word splattered way of keeping order in the kitchen.

I am not saying that Hilary shouldn’t be assertive or that my executive chef at an upscale Boston restaurant should not be powerful and in command. No. But I am suggesting that it is possible that these women were culturally required to amp up that part of themselves to achieve what they did. When women (or anyone) are not permitted by the norms of the collective cultural consciousness to fully tap into their full range of qualities, gifts and talents (both yin and yang) then the possibilities for them to succeed with their own unique wholeheartedness or integrity are crippled.

What I am saying is that we are not yet ready for a female leader in the USA. We must alter our ideas – our assumptions about what it means to lead a successful, flourishing, wealthy, technologically innovative and intellectually advanced country. We must accept that feminine qualities ARE leadership qualities.

And this, my darlings, is applicable to your personal life just as it is to politics, education, work, spiritual advancement and anything else you need an open door to.

When we change the way we see a thing. When we recognize where we come from with ALL of the cultural assumptions we have unavoidably absorbed, then we have the power to reconsider which assumptions are no longer working for us. How are we using these assumptions to aid us in our own demise – resisting what we deserve and what we need to thrive in a truly human, whole-mind body spirit experience.

THIS IS WHAT FREEDOM looks like. And as soon as a growing number of individuals take on the responsibility of claiming their own freedom through cultural inquiry, we will see changes in our greater societies that have the potential to alter the entire course of humanity. That is fucking scary. I know. But it is needed right now.

 

Talk to me. I want to know what you think.

Oh, and ladies – join me here in our closed FB group for the well traveled woman making meaning and unconvering purpose: Worldly Women of Purpose

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A View of My Process in Identifying Connections.

 

This, then, is a story about process and connection. It may not make perfect sense to everyone but the ones who need to will hear the message. I wrote it in a bit of a stream of consciousness and it is taking ALLL of my determination not to break it down and try to rewrite 200 times to make it into some kind of perfect essay! So let this also be a source of inspiration to those of you who are trying to start something but feel caught in the crippling desire to do it perfectly.

This is a call to all of you to find a way to tell your story. Your experience is invaluable. Sharing what you know, taking the time to recognize how you have come to view the world around you will help us create a truer vision of who we are as a collective humanity. It will help us build connections and find our commonality – especially valuable and necessary when we face challenges to the way we understand the world in the form of perceived threats to our sense of who we are – what we believe in – our very identities.

There was a moment in my life, around 7 years ago when I was fully immersed in the Ganges river. I was in India. And I was sick and wild and starry eyed, wandering around a place called Rishikesh at the foot of the Himalaya mountains. Achraf laid up at the hotel, fed up, nursing an ugly stage of culture shock by disappearing into the TV screen dancing with Bollywood films.

All the yoga halls were closed in this hot, unusually rainless August monsoon season.

But I wandered anyway – until I stumbled upon a woman who was on her way to take a dip in the Ganges. She was Korean, if I remember correctly. She had a carefree air about her. Traveling alone, somehow enthusiastic, curious and almost aloof at all once. I followed her down to some concrete steps leading right down into the river. Chatting intermittently, each taking moments to gaze across the water, bringing our attention within, my new companion and I lowered ourselves in to the water.

Yeah I know it’s dirty. I know it is becoming quite toxic due to the cremations, bathing, and other toileting in and near the water. It’s a shame. But in the moment, and where I was, there was no visible filth. And I was totally absorbed by the exhilarating energy that seemed to be coursing through me. That was India.

There is a lot of moving energy in India. I witnessed and experienced what seemed to be a microcosm of the world. There were so many people. All different colors, hundreds (over 1,000?) languages spoken, all major religions represented. And still through all this difference, there was a shared culture, a spirit, a complex sociology. I felt that I was in a place of distinctly concentrated life energy. I don’t know how else to describe this.

In India, I tuned in to the presence and influence of Islam and yoga, Arabic names, Sanskrit language and Hinduism. Living in the UAE at the time of this trip, I had been steeping in the Islamic world for over 9 years. For just as long, I had been practicing and studying yoga avidly. Taking classes daily when living in the US, and continuing my practice alone on my travels, working through the images and instruction in BKS Iyengar’s, Light on Yoga.

From the very first time I was invited into a mosque in Casablanca with the intention to pray with the other observers one Ramadan night in 2005, I recognized that prescribed Islamic prayer prostrations and the movements through a yoga sun salutation were deeply intertwined. This was important to me because I felt increasingly grounded within both practices. And this was the link that brought it all home for me.

Perhaps strangely, I found that yoga was a kind of an American aspect for me – in the beginning. It was an acceptable form of spiritual practice in the circles of educated liberal urban youth I ran in where religion was strongly frowned upon. As I had entered my fifth year of living in Morocco and developing an ever-deepening sense of connection and relationship with Moroccan people and culture, I started to explore different aspects of practicing Islam. I took an interest in the messages of the Qur’an and when I had the opportunity to follow my friend’s mother in law to the mosque that first time, I accessed a state of deep calm and connection to a Source of energetic being that I had only ever known in yoga practice.

Four years later I would approach my master’s degree program advisor and tell her that it was my chief aim to find and define this connection between yoga and Islam. I am chuckling to myself now when I think about how determined I was – that this would reveal something seismic. What I came up with in that effort was a study of human consciousness – the experience of what it is to be – from behind the lens we all develop, even subconsciously, through the layers of culture, family, language, gender association and more.

Even more what I have learned from my continued movement through yoga and Islam – including the practical applications, philosophical study and the cultural inquiry of the worlds, people, societies these practices are attached to – is how to take the reins of my own consciousness. I can make choices about how I feel, perceive and experience the world. I am not obliged to be dragged along on an impulse. I can see very clearly how all things are constructed by our minds and that freedom to create something other than whatever is spinning through the old mind – recording now.

We have the power to recreate who we are from one moment to the next.

Culture is learned.

Fear, Doubt and Hate are learned.

Wild emotions are born from an unsettled mind trying to solve and control things that don’t’ need to be solved or controlled.

The core of our being is love. I know this can sound hokey. I went through years of not quite wrapping my mind around this. But it is true. And seeking a connection across cultures and between unlikely spiritual traditions has shown me all the evidence I need.

When we train ourselves to act from this space, we can achieve states of being – attracting experiences – realizing dreams – making choices where we thought we were trapped – creating a lifestyle that has been burning and glowing in our hearts for longer than we can remember.

Many paths exist to lead us to this goal of self-mastery. All ways for the practitioner to find the gateway to NOW. I have found my path balances on the razor’s edge between ways of being – cultural consciousness – knowing where I come from with the keen willingness to call myself into question as I move through various experiences.

My work now, is to help others learn the art of questioning what they have settled for as truth.

What habits, what beliefs, what attitudes and actions are we falling back on out of comfort, safety and even a fear of change, that are keeping us from expanding into the full expression of our lightness?

How can we be grounded in a sense of belonging, while also being courageous enough to put words and clarity to our visions and giving ourselves full permission to take practical, forward moving action in the direction of our purest dreams and desires?

I’d love to see you in my Facebook community – Worldly Women of Purpose where we work to answer these questions every day, supporting one another on our parallel paths.

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Reaching Beyond the Limits of My Own Feminine Consciousness

 

Okay, I cannot ignore the fact that I am publishing this post on the day that the US presidential election awarded the highest office in the country to a man who is now widely known as a sexual predator a for his vow to restrict or even completely block entry of Muslims into the USA.

Quickly this morning I was able to recognize that – as with everything else I am currently experiencing in life – it will be in my best interest (perhaps ALL of ours) to see how this situation is working FOR me and NOT Against me. Echoing many friends and mentors, I will point out that this choice did not all come together in one day. We have been leading up to this for some time now with our collective negativity, complacency and general reluctance to fully stand up for what we believe and know to be true. I know some people have put lots of effort and blood/sweat and tears into it but as a collective nation, we are clearly quite divided. And I am certainly not innocent! I have taken too long myself to finally get it together and share my stories and the things that are dear to me.

I see this election outcome now as an opportunity to be inspired, to organize and unite with Americans and international communities alike. I have no idea exactly how to do this. I suppose I will figure it out along the way. I will start by opening my mouth and raising my voice right here. Singing my song for everyone to hear.

On that note:

The following is a reflection on ways  feminine spaces in Islamic culture have taught me about community, trust and support and the importance of pushing limitations and boundaries.

Living in Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates over 10 + years from 2000-2010, my continued relationships with the cultures through my marriage to a Moroccan man, my love for Arabic language and the Arab – Muslim friends and acquaintances I have grown close with around the world exposed me to the magic that can happen when women regularly gather together to work, live, raise their children and go through life inwomen-only spaces.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know this thought is loaded with politics. I know that some of this separation of women and men in Arab-Islamic societies has been a way of controlling and keeping women down. I know so much of it is unfair – BELIEVE me! I have been down that road. I rejected and resisted entering these women-only spaces for a very long time. For several years,  I barely dipped a toe in – the hammam (public steam bath) in Morocco, which I visited only once in my first year in Morocco and at the weddings and parties I was invited to in those first couple of years – I stayed close to my male friends with only a brief nod in acknowledgement of the women who were sitting on the opposite side of the room. I feared those spaces. I thought being with the women would somehow make me smaller and even restricted. And I acknowledge that from valid perspectives in certain contexts, this is exactly what it would be.

However, there is a realm I had never imagined. A level of collective, supportive feminine consciousness that nurtured my soul and taught me how to be a member of a group – something I had never known as an only child to a single mom in the USA, moving from state to state every few years of my childhood. I was very good at being alone, justifying this with a prideful independence. That independence has served me extremely well. In fact, it facilitated my inclusion into the female collective I now describe.

In the UAE, I worked inside Abu Dhabi public schools where all staff are female through primary school and in high school male and female students are separated into different schools with male staff for the boys and female staff for the girls. For three years, I went to work every day with only women. The security guards and a maintenance man here and there were the only exceptions. These men had to announce themselves – standing just outside of a doorway with eyes averted – before entering a room, giving the women inside time to cover their heads and sometimes even their faces before he entered.

Inside those rooms I was welcomed. My otherness was recognized and acknowledged but for the most part did not hinder my inclusion. My deep interest in and experience with Arab/Islamic culture and my willingness to listen earned me their trust. Every day we shared food and coffee, stories about our husbands, children and lifestyles. (I did not have children yet so they loved to offer their wisdom about what to expect in the future – some of them were a bit worried about my age (I turned 30 the first year) and the fact that I still hadn’t had a child. They were fascinated by my knowledge of yoga and meditation. Some of them were even so brave as to join me in group guided meditations in the school gymnasium – though they weren’t so sure this was an activity approved by Islam.)

I was invited to come to their homes, developing am especially close friendship with one woman mentioned in the previous post. Through her, I was able to witness and participate in cultural and religious gatherings: weddings- which are also female only in the UAE, the men’s party taking place on a different day or in a different location – birth celebrations, trips to the mosque, or lazy Sunday afternoons hanging out watching Egyptian soap operas and drinking more tea and coffee.

There were women who got a wistful and faraway look in their eyes, asking me what it felt like to be on the beach in a bikini. There were other women who stifled laughter when they asked me why American and European women felt okay going jogging in the street in their underwear (shorts and a sports bra/tank top). As my interest in Islam began to grow, and when I eventually declared my own belief in Islamic practice (while meditating at a yoga ashram on a Thai Island – that’s another story), there were some who wondered about my sincerity – asking me to recite various parts of the Quran – which I did – and others who worried for me and my decision not to wear the hijab – not covering my hair as they did. Still they welcomed me, every day. They embraced me. I prayed in mosques in rooms full of women at times savoring the profound collective energy of a group feminine meditation. At other times I found myself in mosques suspiciously empty in the women’s room – indicating that for many women their duties inside the home or other cultural (patriarchal) restrictions related to womanhood required or made it easier for them to just pray at home.

Women in these cultures often shared the care of their children. In Morocco it was not uncommon to see breastfeeding women feeding the infants of their cousins or sisters. I met grown men who introduced me to their “milk brothers,”  – a close friend who was otherwise unrelated and had been breastfed by the same woman (one of their mothers, another woman all together, etc). I have had Moroccan mothers on long train rides pass me their infants to hold while they ran to the toilet or got up to stretch or rummage through their bags for food, a diaper change, etc. In the UAE more women had foreign housemaids to mind their children but the Emirati mothers were never far away and in the beginning I would lose track of which child belonged to which woman since all of the extended family freely blended together and women took responsibility and care for all of the children.

And at the risk of rambling on – how awesome is it that there is a separate – much shorter line for women at the bank and the DMV!?!?!?! (Some of them with curtains so you are totally free from the leering eyes of men! Yeah there are leering men all over the world!)(Yeah, I’m stifling a joke about the new president elect.)

I left the UAE and returned to the USA in 2010, when I was still pregnant with my first child.For many reasons the last six years of living in the US and being a mother have been a strange and challenging transition. Something I have missed most about living in the Middle East/North Africa is that sense of community. It has been lonely at times raising my kids in the USA where it can be very natural for Americans to isolate themselves in the hustle of the lightning-speed of the daily grind. I have fantasized about all of the community I would have had available to me in mothers in Abu Dhabi or in Morocco that sometimes only translates to text messages with other overly busy, overworked, overtired American mom-friends over here.

What to make of this? In my personal experience, I have been fortunate to explore my American feminine consciousness as highly independent, a solo traveler, a rebel in some cases, a trail blazer. All of this has beautifully led me to see and know some complementary, harmonizing aspects of Middle East and North Africa feminine consciousness. I learned what it looks like to belong to a group, to steep myself in feminine energy, issues, and practicalities where before I tended to avoid understanding what it is to be a woman.

Reaching beyond the limits of my comfort in these ways has incited a personal expansion, a deeper compassion and understanding for others than I could have developed if I had insisting on clinging to what I thought was comfortable – what I thought was the “right” way. And in turn, I have inspired others to challenge their own boundaries – as in the case of the women who adventured into yogic meditation with me, those who dared to learn to speak English with me, invited me into their homes, allowed my different ideas to spur conversation a their dinner tables.

I regard all of this as deeply significant at a time when my original country – the USA – and the rest of the world – is in dire need of unity, healing and a renewed sense of connection – with the self and to others. There are plenty of illusions, distractions, falsehoods disguised as truths that parade through our lives. We latch on to those – recognizing differences and allowing fear to dictate our responses to those differences at the encouragement of media, politics, and others with questionable, selfish agendas.

What is possible when you push the limits of your perceived boundaries?

What is revealed when you pull back the veils of perception and assumption?

What’s left when we strip away labels, “shoulds,” and attachments to identity?

Honestly, the simple answer to this is: Truth. Love. Purpose. Potential. Literally everything is possible when we remove limits and fear.

What will that look like for you? What will you do?

“Recognize the other person is you.” -Yogi Bhajan.

 

“The degree to which your Consciousness expands, is the degree to which you understand yourself and the universe.” ~ Gina Charles (Artist: Alisha Lee Jeffers) ..*:

Categories: Feminine Consciousness, Inspiration, Morocco, UAE | Leave a comment

The Privilege of Awakening Through Intercultural Experience.

I thought I was a liberated, empowered and independent woman until I encountered Islamic feminine culture. Over the course of ten years living in the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region, I learned to recognize the vastness of possible expressions of femininity and how I had been rejecting certain feminine ways of being to my own detriment.

Everything you experience is subjective because you naturally and unavoidably filter all that you see, do, and understand through your own consciousness – your own experience of being.

The thing is that people are living in different cultural consciousness wherever you go and it is a privilege and a duty to recognize that. Even if you cannot ever completely understand it or have it – taking the time to recognize it will make all the difference.

Here’s what happens when you start to realize where you come from culturally –

  1. You recognize your gifts and your challenges. For those of us who are free to buy a plane ticket, pay the fees for a passport and visit almost any country we choose – this is a privilege easily taken for granted. When I began to recognize this privilege as a gift, the quality of my experiences changed. I became more open to respect and experience the cultural differences I met – even when they made me uncomfortable or angered me, in some cases. To take it even a step further, I could see that the things that made me most uncomfortable could be directly traced to something within myself that needed attention.

 

  1. You have a deeper understanding of where your beliefs come from – for example – when I noticed I felt discomfort, confusion and even rejection around the idea of creating relationships with Muslim women in Morocco back in 2000 – my introductory year to the MENA , I didn’t realize at first that this was my American culture – or my understanding of that culture rising to defend itself against the “otherness.” I slowly came to realize that Arab/Islamic feminine culture was challenging everything I thought made sense about the world. And this caused me to first reject….and later grow.

 

  1. Your world becomes bigger and enables you to make choices about what you believe, what is universal truth and what is made up of assumptions and locked into certain spaces and times. We are now in a time when the world is seeming to grow smaller. Political strain, climate change, location independent career paths and lifestyles and more factors are bringing us into contact with cultural thoughts, traditions, languages, religious and spiritual practices most people would never have had to consider even as recently as 20 years ago. For many of us, we find ourselves faced with a necessity to expand our sense of what is true. As we are driven closer together as a global population, our narrow beliefs will no longer serve us. We will need to learn to extract what is best and most useful from our history, traditions and social systems while we work together to unveil new, more universal truths about who we are and how we fit together.

 

I have had the luxury and the fortune to draw from the history and experiences of women in both Western/ North American and Middle Eastern cultures. These cultures – varied and diverse even in themselves – have equally empowering, enlightening aspects that can be blended to create a new consciousness allowing for more freedom of movement between a range of feminine cultural constructs and architypes.

 

I remember what it felt like to be in a large group of Arab women every single day at work. By this time, in Abu Dhabi, I had already been living in Morocco and Turkey off and on for 7 years. I had read deeply about Islamic history and culture. I spoke a fair amount of Arabic – though I discovered with some frustration and embarrassment that my Moroccan dialect was not so useful in the Emirates. The only missing connection had been an opportunity to spend time with women.

 

I worked in an elementary school where all the teachers were women – as a rule. We would spend time in the teacher’s room eating Egyptian coushery (a heavenly meal of pasta, brown lentils and a slightly spicy tomato sauce), gourmet chocolates and endless streams of saffron and cardamom spiced coffee from tiny glass or porcelain cups. Back then I did not have any children. I was newly married and all the women were curious about me and my marriage to a Moroccan man.

 

Over time I began to spend more time outside of work with some of the women. One of them became my UAE bestie and would invite me to her downtown apartment during the week, or take me with her to her mother’s home in a suburb of Dubai where we met with all her siblings and their children, attending weddings and birth celebrations and so on. My number one take away from all of this was the simple yet rich pleasure of belonging to a female community. Their acceptance of me acknowledged our differences. In a culture where the native Emirati women believe it is inappropriate to dance at a party – even a party where only women are attending – they still encouraged me to dance when the music started hopping and the hired belly dancers came onstage at a party. I was dancing with the Filipino housemaids and possibly some Egyptian or Tunisian women – in a minority that was a contrast to the quietly seated Emiratis. But still we respected one another.

 

I will never forget a day, sitting in a luxurious living room at 2 in the morning with my Emirati bestie, listening to the music still loud and booming at the tail end of a new birth party – the kids and the house maids were dancing the night away. I teased my friend about not joining us for a dance, even at a private party in her own family’s home. She looked at me then and smiled. She stated that she was only doing what her mother told her was right. She was doing her best to be a good person, a spiritual and dedicated Muslim woman. Yet, she said that our relationship had begun to show her something else. And though she did not feel the need – or even the freedom to dance, she somehow understood why it was okay for me to do so. And she loved me for it.

 

There we were, two women from vastly different backgrounds, looking at one another across a room in a house in the Arabian desert. We disagreed on so many things. Really. So many. But somehow we met one another where we each were. And we shared a mutual love. We were equal in that each of us was doing what we knew how to do in our desire to be strong women. We were striving to act from love and achieve a sense of satisfaction, balance and fulfillment.

 

This story is neither a beginning nor an end.

 

Stay tuned for the next post where I will talk more about how my feminine consciousness was opened, challenged and reaffirmed through the phenomenon of being “required” to exist in women-only spaces in the Middle East and North Africa. I will talk about the value and the limitations of these spaces, and how they  can help encourage support and community in north American culture (and already are!).

 

The picture is me at an art exhibit in Abu Dhabi around the time of the above story. I won’t share any photos of my good friend mentioned here because she prefers not to share photos of her face on social media.

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A Shout Out to Inspiration

Virginia Woolf, novelist.

(photo: Virginia Woolf’s workspace, buzzfeed.com)

I have gathered some important people around me without even knowing I was doing it.

Any motivational speaker will tell you that to get closer to realizing your dreams you should never be the smartest person in the room. Although it was not always intentional, I see now that I have a strong circle of successful and inspiring people in an international ring around me. Most of them are women and for that I am very grateful.

They feed my creativity, my entrepreneurial spirit, my pursuit of academia when  the duties of having children and keeping the logistics of life going seem to take up all of my time.

There is an environmentalist in Switzerland who loves my children like her own and serves as a constant source of encouragement and affirmation that I am going to achieve my dreams.

There is a world traveler hiding in Boston suburbs commiserating with me over hours of sleep lost at the hands of our infant children. We day-dream about businesses we will start. We pontificate about the preferable cultural details of Spain and North Africa.

Today there is a great reason to celebrate one of my major inspirations. Heather Demetrios is living a writer’s dream – writing and publishing in a wave of energy and creativity. She put all of her intention into her career as a writer for many years and now it is all paying off as she rises to the top of her chosen genre, Young Adult fiction.

Since I was a very little girl  too young to read and write on my own I wanted to be a writer. I have written and I have hesitated to write. When I met Heather four years ago, she was on the brink of this great success she is now enjoying. I am inspired by her because I saw what she did. She sat down and wrote. And she learned everything that one should learn in order to market themselves as a writer, seek publication and flourish. All while writing without rest. It is a formula that anyone can follow: Find what you are moved to do – whatever it is that you cannot live without doing and then do it. Keep doing it over and over again. And something will come of it. Whether it is a private, secret success or a public one, something will happen and chances are it will be pretty good!

Learning this lesson from Heather and others is part of what has led me to this blog -again – after a year of neglecting it. I didn’t write for a year because I didn’t know what I should write – what I was supposed to write. And I still do not know today, but I do know that I must write. Not sure I mind what happens next…

"Secret to Writing a Bestseller: You write..." - Jonathan Gunson #quotes #writing *

(photo: bestsellerlabs.com)

Heather Demetrios, your successes feel like success of my own. I don’t know why or whether that sounds selfish. But when I see all that you are doing and I overwhelmed with pride and I feel the fires stoking in me to press on.

Please read this article about Heather’s current place on a list of 13 Female YA authors That Owned 2014. Just go ahead and see who else is on this list and tell me you’re not inspired!

Here is her second book published, which is also the first of a trilogy! I especially like it because it has the classic details of an old. Arabian genie story, yet it is saturated with heather’s unique style! (photo taken from yaseriesinsiders.com)

We’re so excited to have Heather Demetrios with us today celebrating her new release EXQUISITE CAPTIVE. Thanks for the interview, Heather! YA Series Insiders: Who is your favorite character to write and why?  Heather Demetrios: Not gonna lie, my favorite character to write is Malek, Nalia’s master. I’ve known from the beginning that he has a dark past and while we get hints of that in Exquisite, it really comes out in Book 2 (Blood Passage, which comes out next October). There’s something so incredibly satisfying about slipping into a voice and skin so unlike your own. Malek is unbelievably cruel, but it’s his vulnerabilities that get you off balance. Nalia’s confusion about him is a direct reflection of my own: you’re so evil—why am I drawn to you? This isn’t a love triangle situation, though. At most, Nalia has symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome. We learn some secrets about Malek as to why there is this seemingly inexplicable connection between them. But even as Nalia is repelled by him we, the readers, can’t help but see those things Nalia isn’t privy to. YASI: If you were going to write a spin-off about one of your characters, who would it be and why? HD:  I’d love to write a spin-off about Leilan, Nalia’s BFF, who is a free jinni living in Los Angeles. There are a few different kinds of jinn: those who are on the dark caravan (the slave trade), those who are expatriates (they’ve run away), and political prisoners who’ve been banished to Earth by the ruling caste of jinn. We learn a little bit about how Leilan escaped Arjinna, but I’d love to explore what it was like for her to make that decision to run away from home and go to an entirely different plane of existence, brave the dangers of crossing through the portal between Arjinna (the jinn realm) and Earth, and how she navigated living in the human realm all on her own. I also suspect cute boys and girls are involved. Leilan’s an artist and she sells her work on the Venice Beach boardwalk. I’m curious about how her art helped heal her after some of the stuff that went down in Arjinna. YASI: Who or what was the inspiration for the villain in your book? HD: Exquisite has two major villains (though there are more than two very unsavory characters). One of them is a ghoul—a cannibalistic jinni—that basically uses Earth as a buffet on his search for Nalia, whom he’s been hired to kill. I did a lot of research about jinn—there is a wealth of folklore out there—and ghouls are often mentioned. My inspiration came from the book Legends of the Fire Spirits, which is a non-fiction book about jinn lore. I took certain common traits of ghouls and added a little, shall we say, flair. What you get is Haran. If he doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will. I had so much fun working on his sections, which are about 3 or 4 pages each and scattered throughout the book. Each section takes place in a different country (I’ve been to all the countries featured in the book). I had no idea I would enjoy writing horror, but it was great fun! YASI: What motivates you to write even when you don’t feel up to it? HD: Fear. Honestly, I make myself sit down and write even when I don’t want to because I’m terrified of having a totally dried up creative well, of somehow losing touch with that part of me that writes. There’s also fear of disappointing myself, fear of not meeting a deadline, and fear of not being able to crack the code of my work-in-progress. My favorite quote about making art is tacked onto a board right above my laptop—it’s by Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” YASI: What book have you read that somehow changed your life and how? HD: I actually wrote a blog post all about this called “Coming out of the YA Closet” because one of the reasons I write YA is because of Twilight. This is a pretty unpopular thing to admit, but I’m trying to be more open about it. Haters gonna hate, right? Say what you will about it, that book made me want to write for teens. It was the first time I’d been so hooked on a book that I literally lost weight because I didn’t want to take the time to eat—I just had to keep reading. I’d never read a romance before, not that kind, anyway. I loved Harry Potter, but that was pretty much the only fantasy I’d ever picked up too, other than The Hobbit. Imagine my surprise when Edward Cullen walked into that cafeteria. Since then, I’ve become very educated in the YA genre and have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’m not a book snob, but I know what’s what when it comes to craft. Obviously Twilight has its problems, but I will be forever grateful to the culture that dropped that book in my lap and made me want to create book crack for my future readers someday. YASI: What is the core thing in your book? The one thing you would never in a million years have given up no matter how much money someone paid you? HD: The thing I wouldn’t have given up in The Dark Caravan Cycle is its connection to slavery and, more specifically, trafficking. There are a lot of other huge issues that come into play with the novels, but I think the thing that sets this apart from other fantasies is the jinn folklore connection to slavery. We always see jinn enslaved to human masters who make them do their bidding. It was important for me to really highlight this unique aspect of their character. They are magical creatures with enormous potential, yet they are constantly being stifled by people who have zero magical power. I quickly realized that this idea of transporting jinn in lamps and bottles means that they’re being trafficked in some way. I wouldn’t have wanted to give up the idea of the dark caravan, which is a euphemism for the jinn slave trade. This was never going to be a cute book about wishes. YASI: Did anything happen in your series that surprised you, that you didn’t plan? HD: I would say that the biggest surprise so far has been the changes I’m making in regards to Book 3. In Book 2 (Blood Passage), there are definitely things that came out that I hadn’t expected, but I always knew Book 2 would have surprises for me and for the reader because it was the one that terrified me. I am SO PROUD of Book 2. I really keep the reader on their toes, if I do say so myself. A LOT of unexpected things happen and I was just as surprised as the reader is going to be. Now I’m working on Book 3 (Freedom’s Slave) and I realized that my original ideas for it just aren’t satisfying after all the cool places Book 2 took me. I want to surprise my readers and find unique ways to honor these incredibly cool jinn legends my story is born from. So I’m really going back to the drawing board and figuring out how to use some of the new characters that come in the story in Book 2 and reconsidering my plans. It’s exciting and terribly scary, all at the same time. YASI: If you could pull one thing from your series world to have in real life, what would it be? HD: I created this magical energy force called “chiaan” – it’s how my jinn draw magic from the elements around them, but it’s also the energy they have inside themselves. Each energy force is individualized within each jinni. Just like fingerprints, no two are the same. So their particular magic is related to a feeling you get about them that is also somehow related to the element they draw magic from (so earth jinn—“Djan”—might have a calm, resolute, strong kind of feeling to their magic). I discovered it when writing the sexy dance scene between Nalia and Raif—I love how it can be unbearably sexy, this exchange of energy even when nothing sexy is necessarily going on (okay, but that dance puts Dirty Dancing to shame). It’s extraordinarily intimate—kinda like touching someone’s soul. I love this idea, that you can share this really intense connection with another person that is transmitted through a simple touch. You can get the true measure of a person this way. Chiaan will out, so to speak. That’s why my jinn very rarely touch one another. To touch someone’s bare skin without their permission would be the height of rudeness. About the Book  Forced to obey her master.  Compelled to help her enemy.  Determined to free herself.  Nalia is a jinni of tremendous ancient power, the only survivor of a coup that killed nearly everyone she loved. Stuffed into a bottle and sold by a slave trader, she’s now in hiding on the dark caravan, the lucrative jinni slave trade between Arjinna and Earth, where jinn are forced to grant wishes and obey their human masters’ every command. She’d give almost anything to be free of the golden shackles that bind her to Malek, her handsome, cruel master, and his lavish Hollywood lifestyle.  Enter Raif, the enigmatic leader of Arjinna’s revolution and Nalia’s sworn enemy. He promises to free Nalia from her master so that she can return to her ravaged homeland and free her imprisoned brother—all for an unbearably high price. Nalia’s not sure she can trust him, but Raif’s her only hope of escape. With her enemies on the hunt, Earth has become more perilous than ever for Nalia. There’s just one catch: for Raif’s unbinding magic to work, Nalia must gain possession of her bottle…and convince the dangerously persuasive Malek that she truly loves him. Battling a dark past and harboring a terrible secret, Nalia soon realizes her freedom may come at a price too terrible to pay: but how far is she willing to go for it?  Inspired by Arabian Nights, EXQUISITE CAPTIVE brings to life a deliciously seductive world where a wish can be a curse and shadows are sometimes safer than the light. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads

Tell me who inspires you!

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Innervisions

Today’s thoughts were all images: Here are a few of them:

All meeting needs of some kind. Uncharted territory, green and refreshing, organized and eye catching.

A fab Amsterdam apartment of Brechtje Troost. Inside out.

Places I have already been but who call us back. The desert and the oasis.

Qasr al Sarab Abu Dhabi- I could see myself vacationing here and looking out at this for daysMake sure you make time to ride the camels.

Dreaming of a new apartment, how we will decorate it and organize it to make it feel creative and clean and comforting.

Bow Bridge, Central Park. New York City I've been, but would love to go again!!

Have you been here?
you would never guess what lay behind that door!

What did you daydream about today?

photos found on the following websites:

1. augustana.edu

2. myscandinavianhome.blogspot.co.uk

3. jetsetter.com

4. elites.bizzboard.com

5. apartmenttherapy.com

6. apartmenttherapy.com

7. flickr.com

8. assilah-holidays.com

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The Next Move

An ancient photo but it looks about right. Complete with the strange guy peekng over our heads in the background!

An ancient photo but it looks about right. Complete with the strange guy peekng over our heads in the background!

We’re moving! That is what we keep telling everyone.  Moving is what we do. In the past, it seemed that our desire to move in and out of countries and cultures has often been stronger than our need for a home. With two children now, the need for some kind of is gaining priority but the urge to move on at least just one… ok, maybe two more times is a light that never goes out. So we are going. To Morocco. No, New York City..or Abu Dhabi, UAE… or New York City. Wait, what about Spain!? This is part of what happens to people who have few mental, and cultural barriers that would keep most people in the place they are familiar with. We have experienced feeling familiar almost everywhere and equally unfamiliar or foreign in the countries we were born and grew up in.

Some people around us are on the edges of their seats. Many more are rallying around us, encouraging us to make this choice or that choice. Lately we are wondering if the choice is even ours. We have to find jobs  or at least one job first. We have to know that there will be childcare and schools that are good for our kids. With so many moves and experiences under our belts at this time, we have the added dimension (pressure) of trying to make sure we learn from the past.

Fifteen years ago I moved around the world by throwing a dart at a map. Today it’s much more complex. That complexity is completely throwing me for a loop this time! It can be so challenging on certain days that I get trapped in a circle of questioning and comparing pros and cons. Every morning I wake and say “What will happen?”

That’s where it all lies here on this darkening winter Tuesday afternoon. Where will we go next? Will we go at all? Does it matter where we go? If we go?

Have any of you moved abroad with small children? Had you lived abroad before? how did you choose where to go? Tell me your stories!

Categories: Morocco, Nomadism, UAE, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

To Do List

My writing is significantly rusty. Getting all of this down is like riding a bike for the very first time – wobbling over all the place. But one must ride right through that. Consistency is a word at the forefront of my mind these days. I think productive, intentional consistency in a personal practice can be very challenging.  As I embark on refashioning the shape of my family life after 4.5 years in the USA, I notice there are many angles from which I am being called to practice being consistent. I’ll make a list:

1. Weave some purpose into the day. Though I am not technically working a full-time job right now, I must consistently create and follow a schedule for as many days a week as possible. This can help me avoid feeling stuck. I do not currently have the kind of job that schedules my day for me. So I am realizing how necessary it is to rise in the morning with a purpose – even if it has to be a sort of faking it kind of purpose on some days just to keep the ball rolling.

2. Read something. Right now I am reading a sort of spiritual historical novel depicting the meeting and relationship of Shems Tabrizi and Jalaluddin Rumi. (A thoughtful and perfectly timed gift from Yassine. Hi Yassine!) When I say reading, I mean that I hold the book in my hand once or twice a day and every few days, I actually read some words out of it – a page to three pages at a time. But hey it keeps me going in the sea of child centered tasks and activities I engage in everyday at my house.

3. Be consistent with Aslam. Even for a four-year old, his personality is intense. He is sometimes so annoying and just when I want to run away from him I remember that I can actually influence him significantly. With this guy, you must be on at all times. He doesn’t let up so neither can you. Learning lessons all day long.

4. Write everything down. It worked when I was 7 and 14 and 21 and 28 and 32. Until recently I had been writing everything down. Now seems like a good time to get back to that.

5. Eat well. Because it feels crappy not to and it will be helpful to be in tip-top shape throughout this lengthy and energetic transition that is life itself.

I realize I could generate a much longer list of things I need to be consistent with. However, the full edition of such a list would surely be overwhelming and probably cause some apathy so these five things are currently at the top of this list.

Though there are moments when the effort it takes to be consistent feels like too much to bother with. However,  in a life like this one – teetering on the edge of great change and guiding two small others through their continuous personal evolution as well, developing that consistency is going to keep me grounded and possibly even be the way to my own self realization.

What is on your to do list? Where do you challenge yourself to be consistent?

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Creation

Observation:

We used to be a lot more creative: I saw that sitting in the Met yesterday looking at clay bowls and noticing that we used to have to make everything we needed -we the people of the human race. Now what we mostly do is consume. We buy plastic bowls made in other countries in a supermarket lit with fluorescent lighting and everything is a little bit far away from the skin and bone.  This is what I was thinking about when I stumbled upon this in the Islamic art gallery:

Image

It is beautiful. And historic. The courtyard of a Moroccan Ryad full of traditional artistry serving as the very structure of it. But at the same time, it looks an awful lot like my first (Marrakshi) husband’s house. They weren’t rich people. They had just been in their little alley folded into the medina qadima (old city – a walled in section of the city built by the Arabs who came to settle in North Africa – called the old city for its differentiation from and contrast to the Ville Nouvelle built by French colonists) for several centuries. I visited and slept at and lived in that house over and over again over years. And then yesterday I found myself standing in front of what felt like a replica of it in a New York City museum. So I started to cry. I didn’t even read the little blurb about it on the card. I could not bother. What could some text typed on a card in a museum possibly tell me?

When I saw two men speaking in low tones and pointing at specific details in the exhibit, I knew they were going to tell me much more.

I asked if they were Moroccan. (Yes!). One of them started to explain what we were looking at and then quickly recognizing the knowing expression in my face and the familiarity in my nodding head, he asked: “You know this. Have you been to Morocco?” I told him a 10 second version of my 7 year “visit” to Morocco and said, “Isn’t it strange to see our home in a museum?” We remarked that we were all feeling homesick. Our bond was created.

Introductions: Mohammed, Abderrahim, Erin. They are from Fes. Fassi. We talked, forgetting about the art. Abderrahim – with his shy silence – made it clear that he doesn’t speak English. We switched over to a mix of the three( English, Moroccan Arabic dialect and French) – heavily favoring French – and told our stories.

Abderrahim is visiting Mohammed from Fes. Mohammed is an Arabic teacher for CUNY. Abderrahim is an accountant. Abderrahim and I pull out photos of our children. He has a little girl, Amira – 5 months old and zwiiiiiina (so beautiful) and he remarks that my Aslam is bogossss (a Moroccan transformation of the French beau gosse – meaning handsome). But we did not just politely appreciate one another’s children. We jumped up and down and squealed the words out and smiled and joked about arranging the marriage of Aslam and Amira. This is what happens in a real Moroccan ryad. This is how we relate to each other – how we greet and appreciate one another. This was better than the blurb on the card typed up by an employee of the museum. This was transportation to another place. And that’s what they put it there for.

And I found myself creating once again. Sure I am going to buy a plastic bowl from Target again someday. But I got to participate in creating a connection and I felt like a human being. I flipped a switch from a moment of feeling very tired and spent and a little bit lost – lost on behalf of all of us – to a moment of creating another human connection – another family. That’s what we are doing here.

I would like to thank the people of Morocco for awakening this in me. No one does it like you do!

And Pour mes amis nouveaux, Sidi Mohammed et Sidi Abderrahim, Je serai on contact tres bientot! C’etait un grand plaisir!!!!

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Plotting

Trapped.

That’s an uncomfortable word. And if you know that feeling then you also know the feeling of this one: Plotting.

I am plotting my escape to a new lifestyle right now. I have been for awhile but I didn’t know it in these terms until the wee hours of this morning when I woke up from a heart-racing dream of being stuck in a teeny tiny elevator made of glass. I could see out but no one seemed to see me and the height of the thing was just tall enough for me to sit cross legged on the floor and leave an inch of space between my head and the ceiling. That’s what I dreamt this morning. This is how I spent my sleep. Not restful, exactly. And just when I was about to lament, when I wanted to give into the feeling of exhaustion I was sure I would have when I sat up and started walking around the house – I realized that my fearful and uncomfortable dream would serve as a refueling of a kind. Though I did not rest peacefully last night, I awoke with a burning to plot my escape.

Gathering tools:

Right now my biggest challenge is to stop feeling like a victim. I hear it in my voice and I can observe it in the way I behave. I feel like I don’t have time. I leave dozens of blog posts unedited and unpublished in the administrative window of my webpage. I have journals with only a few pages written in them littered all over the house. Can you identify with this?  I would like to now put my plotting energy to activating all of the efforts I know very well that I have to make. I have all the tools lying around me in a tidy half circle on the floor. I just need to pick them up.

It may me I have to stop sleeping. Right? Do I? Last night I had all the intentions in the world to write and I started to but then I was interrupted by my son’s very honest and obvious needs – a bath, dinner, attention, a lunch made for him to take to preschool tomorrow. By the time I had finished those things, I found myself with my hands poised over the keyboard and my eyes drooping shut in front of a Disney movie.

Then there’s the business I mentioned earlier: www.shop.com/asherin. This is my online shopping portal. It’s the project that can fund my escape. My biggest challenge in running this business so far is that I do not talk about it enough. And how are people going to know if I don’t advertise? So here is a brief advertisement: If you create a login for yourselves on this site, you can comparative shop at thousands of popular stores and earn 2%-50% cash back while you shop. This site helps you find all the best deals and then gives you an added cash back discount on top of them. It isn’t complicated and there are no strings attached. If you are in another country, I have a global site: global.shop.com/asherin that will lead you to a wide range of high quality products from supplements to skin care to household cleaning products and offers free shipping on purchases $50 or more. Contact me for any details.

To arm myself for a future PhD in Islamic studies, I practice Arabic in the subway and have conversations with old friends in my head.  I teach my son silly things to say to my husband in Arabic and we all laugh. Baba, nta mudhik (Dad you’re funny). I have begun telling people: “I speak Arabic.” which I shied away from saying before because I thought it wasn’t really true. But it is. I am not proficient but I do. speak. Arabic. And I am simply brushing up in order to qualify to take a test that will make my CV look like one of an Islamic Studies doctoral candidate. I say this because I have to Because it is one of the threads of the web I am weaving. (Imagine this web being cast out and down from a broken window in my elevator cage – I squeeze through and nimbly shimmy down to freedom. I am the mother of a three year old boy. Spider-mom).

Right now I am wheel spinning in a limbo position of when and how to make my transition to freedom. It seems as though time is all I really need but is that an excuse? Doesn’t everyone say that? Did all the great ones have a lot of time to pursue their passions? Isn’t it true that the best of the best were desperately forging their paths in stolen moments just as I will need to do? This is official a call for stories, people. 

I am going to publish this one here not because I believe I have blessed anyone of you out there with a great piece of writing but because I HAVE to publish it. It is 7:15 am on Friday morning. I will close my computer and rush through dressing and preparing for work. Then the day will start to spin away from me. The publication of this humble piece of writing is an act of rebellion against  the voices in my head and the ticking of the clock.  It is an enactment of the process one of my dear girlfriends reminded me of yesterday: “Ponder ponder ponder until you find your own magical and radical solution.”

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