From Jordan, Syria and Lebanon: Fall 2010
Cameron and Kristina: Journey to Syria, Lebanon and Jordan
Friday, Oct 29, 2010
Family gathering at Said and Rodina's home in Al Rabia to emotionally prepare for Said's mother's open-heart surgery scheduled for Saturday... They very kindly included us in this extended Palestinian family and we did play and sing for a good part of the evening. Many new friends.
Later we walked up to the second circle from our hotel to satisfy our 2:00 am hunger and realized, more emotionally now with our departure imminent, how we are appreciating the inter-connected and welcoming atmosphere of these Arab-world places where the on-going conversation proceeds with all people in all places at all times.
And yes, my Arabic is getting better. It took a long time but now there is some compartment in my brain which works and remembers (and forgets) in Arabic! As my father told me, "when you learn a new language, you gain a new soul!"
Thursday, Oct 28, 2010
We were invited to play again at Limana restaurant in downtown Amman, Jordan last night. The Palestinian family who owns the restaurant came down for the event so we met quite a few more members of the family, including the elder female. Recently they have travelled to Gaza and adopted a one-year-old child whose entire family was killed in the last Israeli invasion. Other members of the family who tried living in New Jersey for many years have now moved back here. They found it too difficult to raise their four sons with decent family values in the US.
We happened to meet an Australian friend here in Amman the other night. We know him from Cairo, Egypt, where he owns part interest in a small, Bedouin-run hostel. He is on his way back to Bankok and then Australia. He will be glad to be home to Sidney and to receive a Thai massage along the way but, "I sure will miss being able walk through the city any time of night without risk of running into belligerent drunks or risking being robbed!" And we of course laughed at the way our respective countrymen always say that "they hope we will be safe" here in the Arab world.
I repeat these things to try and awaken curiosity and of course to challenge the stereotypes which generally are all backwards.
Day after tomorrow we fly back to Arizona.
Monday, Oct 25, 2010
Kristina's Letters From Damascus 3
Friday, Oct 22, 2010
Being in Saida Zeinab is not so easy. People on the street are nearly all Iraqi. The older people look tired, exhausted, worn out. Inside the Saida Zeinab mosque these people are taking refuge, crying out loud for the pain of the Shia history and for the pain of the present moment... Some of the Iraqi men look like gnomes who have been suffering for years in some underground prison. I don't see hope in their eyes. I see shells of human bodies with near life-less energies.
Many of the elderly women scuttle about in their black abayas looking nervously from side-to-side as they navigate the streets. Like owls forced out into the daytime sun, they don't look like they belong here. They are relics of some other time and place. War is hard on men. But war is even harder on women. They have lost the promise of modern times and deprived of the elegance of the past: now caught in a nowhere land.
We walk past men with withered legs using their arms to peddle themselves in makeshift carts and wheelchairs.
We are confused and tormented by little boys and girls begging for coins. Giving them something does not satisfy them. They simply become angry that they were not given more.
Mothers display malformed children in baby carriages and collect the coins of passers-by.
Wealthier Shia pilgims arrive in buses from Iran and move in little crowds to cry and pray in the mosque. They don't speak Arabic, they speak a totally un-related language: Farsi.
But that's not all: a re-birth is happening! The teenagers and young adults have some energy! I don't think many of them ever planned to stay forever in Saida Zeinab. But fresh fruit-juice shops, internet shops, a few upscale hotels for the pilgims, restaurants are all open and busy behind the flurry of cars and carts and street vendors. Youth will have its way.
Zahra, a young Iraqi girl of 20 who has befriended us, takes us to the best Iraqi restaurant in the market. One of her uncles runs it. We choose between the dishes made of sheep brains and testicles and opt for a bit of sheep meat with a tomato sauce: excellent taste! She is leaving tomorrow to go back to Iraq to see her father. She is from Babylon, or rather the modern town located there.
Kristina sits with her and they play daf (frame drums) together. "Here, take these 3 drums to your women friends in Iraq," Kristina gives them to her and Zahra seems delighted. She is instructed to take them and play with other Iraqi women so that they may enjoy the healthy feelings that come with that musical sharing!
What happened from singing with a group of Iraqi men the night before last you are wondering? The same group told a few of their friends and came back for more the next night. After following our lead for a few songs, one of the men launched into a vocal improvisation with praise to Allah and followed that with an adan, or call to prayer. I responded by leading "T'ala al batru alaina..." a song which could be called the Islamic national anthem and concluding it with an Egyptian version of the call to prayer.
After this there was a pregnant pause filled with the unspoken question about my and Kristina's presence in Saida Zeinab: "are we Muslim? What is the meaning of our being here now singing these things?"
I explained in Arabic that the version of the call to prayer which I had just sung came from an Um Kolsoum composition by Riyad el Soumbati called "al soulasia al muqadasa"...
This was my way of bringing the conversation back to music and away from religion... which of course everyone found somewhat confusing as in Arabic there is a pretty solid line between "music" and "prayer."
But the truth of the matter is that Love is my religion. And any music which feels to me to express that Love is my prayer. So I am crossing lines that are not so easy to cross from the insides of places like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Native Americanism, Hinduism or any of the other places where traditions prevail.
Did I mention that I saw a cloud high in the blue sky over Syria today which I am sure I saw high in the sky over Colorado last summer?! I guess the new border control checkpoints aren't fully funcional yet! That cloud made it through!
What do musicians like Cameron and Kristina have in common with clouds, birds, gypsies and bedouin? We sometimes cross borders with no papers needed! We have pitched our tent in no-man's-land: the last remaining strips of freedom between the borders! Yes, even from eastern Jordan we have seen the Bedouin with their tents pitched and with their surrounding herds of sheep: right in the no-man's-land between the border check-points where the guns are aimed from Israel and where licensed citizens with their passports dare not trespass! And Cameron and Kristina entered Iraq in 2003 with no official permissions: just a few Iraqi songs!
And what else do we seem to share? ...no money in the bank!
Monday, October 18, 2010
My home is now made of glass... the walls between the rooms became transparent... the whole world is now filled with people who see into each others' rooms, hallways, minds, thoughts, deeds... there can be no more secrets... nothing happens one-at-a-time... nothing in isolation... it all is happening at once... everybody's reality overlapping... nothing is private... all this came to me in my sleep... in my dreams... I joined the human race on a deeper level... I am being invited into the ancient Mesopotamian consciousness... Egyptian consciousness...
I walk downstairs from my room here in Saida Zeinab... "Good morning, brother..." ...high five handshakes from the younger guys... they have adopted us now because we played their favorite songs last night... "When do we party today?" they want to know...
Breakfast at 4:00 pm with our new Iraqi friend, Zahara... she has lost two cousins to the US soldiers in Iraq: they simply disappeared into US custody and were never heard from again... and two more were killed by other Iraqis because they once helped the Americans with some translation projects: helping Americans leads to the death sentence in Iraq... they were executed on the street... and there are also the deformities in the new babies resulting from the poisonous weaponry used by the US military, the depleted uranium... her young niece was born with her mouth on the side of her face up under her left eye... this is now the normal situation for newborns... always something deformed... this is Zahara's claim...
Sunday, Oct 17
Whirlwinds of travel: from the last-gasp-Crusader-castle on the Mediterranean coast taken back in the 12th century by Salah al Din... famous for his generosity of not killing the conquered Christians...
Sunday, Oct 10, 2010, 4 - 5 pm
Saturday, Oct 9, 2010
Friday, Oct 8
Another restaurant gig for us here in Syria on the Mediterranean coast last night... Set up by Mohammad of course at Nay Cafe... Kristina was especially delighted that some of his family members made a point of coming to hear us... especially the female ones... Once again the magic of the music led to immediate connection and invitations... We went over to the home of a Christian Arab family after our show and were introduced to a family of artists: the father inlays tens of thousands of naturally-colored wood pieces to create murals and tabletops while the mother works clay into vases and figures derived from ancient styles and the daughter is a performing rap singer in both English and Arabic and a skilled graphic artist! All these new friends and new ways for us to represent America thanks to the music! Almost every day another bridge is built!
Wed, Oct 6
Last night we had the honor of singing an all-Arabic-Music concert for the Gaza relief convoy now boarding a ship here in Lattakia, Syria.
Sun, Oct 3
Receive phone call from Guy Benintendi and from Mohammad Ziadeh. The Gaza-bound Palestinian relief convoy has just arrived in Lattakia on the Syria coast. More people are arriving from all over the world and donating more goods. Sounds like at least 150 people are planning to make the voyage by sea. Kristina and Cameron have been invited to represent Musical Missions of Peace and perform an Arabic music concert Tuesday night for the Palestinian Refugee Camp being formed in Lattakia. So tomorrow we will take the bus down to the Mediterranean coast and offer that concert.
Kristina's stomach slightly under the weather so I went to the Iraqi refugee section of Damascus alone this afternoon while she reluctantly assigned herself to rest. If anyone is interested in going to another planet without having to leave earth I highly suggest Saida Zeinab here in Syria. I went inside the glittering mosque to offer my prayer for world peace as a part of the popular mix. La Illaha IlAllah... There is Nothing But Divinity... Everything is Sacred...
I remained in a quiet mood sitting inside and went up to touch the kaba. Being tall, it is easy for me to see the women on the other side of the curtain offering their prayers and many wailing with grief. These are mainly Iraqis. Iraqis, as you know, have been through a real hell for the last few decades. And there are also many Iranians, in fact someone asked me if I was an Iranian... I said, "no, I'm from America..."
I walked the marketplace streets. Iraqi women are reduced to begging here. As we know, the latest estimate is that there are now 4 million Iraqi widows... This number according to Haider who works on a daily basis with trying to help dispaced Iraqis inside Iraq... Without their men they have little access to bread-winning... And the advances made for women during the second half of the 20th century are now history... This according to Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt's 2009 Book: "What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq". Basic conclusion: War Is Not Healthy For Women.
I gave some money to an Iraqi widow whose daughter lay apparently near death in a basket in front of her. The child was staring weakly out of her emaciated body. Perhaps a 5-yr-old but weighing almost nothing, skin hugging her bones... "Hiya marid!" wailed the mother... "She is sick!"
Damascus is now, according to the taxi driver, a city of 11 million. Syria has grown over the last 10 years from 19 million total now to 22 million. This is largely due to the admission of something like 3 million Iraqi refugees. Many are now returning to Iraq but it is interesting to note that no other country in the world allowed more than a trickle of Iraqis to enter. Sweden was 2nd with 60,000 allowed. Yay for Syria.
This city has been here now for at least 5000 years... they say it is the oldest city in the world... it is filled with magnificently decorated inner courtyards... the hotel we are in now, although just an inexpensive backpacker destination, has been an elegant home for the last 700 years... but on the way down the streets the smell of jasmine alternates with the smell of urine... the city is chock full of feril cats... and they have plenty of rats, big ones, to catch... and there are more and more people sleeping out in the open, with the cats and the rats... an 8-yr-old girl is dozing inside the pedestrian overpass while a little pile of coins accumulates beside her... the stresses and strains of this all-too-tightly-packed modern world...
But even in Saida Zeinab the sexy lingerie shops abound, even as the women there all wear the Iraqi abaya... a long black gown with head-scarf... changes changes changes changes... that's what we were all just praying for in the mosque: that it all comes out good!
Sat, Oct 2
Change hotels, go to get $$$ from our Syria bank acct, purchase cell phone for local use... take naps... study song lyrics with friendly local guys... excellent singer although economist by trade... we spent at least two hours working on musical translations together but his first comment to me, upon learning where I was from was, "Why do you like to kill people?"
Fri, Oct 1
Now in Damascus... Friday night, oct 1...
Park is filled with young folks... everyone out for the evening until midnight at least...
walk in to old city through Bab Tumma... jammed shoulder to shoulder... cars people bikes... carts... go into restaurant to listen to oud and riq players.... singing many songs we do and don't know... woman with new baby and friends... every one feels very soft and warm... many people look at us with warm smiles and say "welcome... you are always welcome here..."
In a park just outside of the Northern Gate to the old city. It's 9 pm. Under the glow of the street lights the playground is alive with little children. The grassy areas are spread with blankets and picnikers Every bench is full. The young, the old, the teenagers everyone is visiting together. We feel a loving warm vibe as we walk through the park.
Blessings to you all, Kristina
Thursday Sept. 30: Coffee shop in Amman, Jordan -- Kristina has Tea with Dhuha and Amal:
Dhuha is Iraqi she has an organization called Association of Women Entrepreneurs. She has helped start businesses for Iraq women to sell their hand crafts and is very concerned about the situation of the women in Iraq. Some of our Iraqi friends have suggested that their situation is worse now than it has been in 100 or more years.
Amal has worked for Women to Women an organization which funds job training programs and provides micro loans to get them started.
Both are very interested in our ideas of providing the drumming circles for Iraqi women. I show them the research studies that have been conducted in the united states on the effect of group drumming and recreational music making: boosting our bodies' natural defense mechanisms, reducing anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue. Keep in mind these positive outcomes only occur when the circles are conducted in a way where no stress is created. The first step is to make sure everyone is at ease and comfortably participating.
Dhuha, is adamant that all Iraqi women be invited from all religious backgrounds. Of course this is essential.
We all agree that a drumming facilitator training program would be the best. Training Iraqi women to lead the circles themselves would be the way to have the biggest influence. Then they themselves can take the circles into the refugee areas and directly into Iraq.
Both Amal and Dhuha are very enthusiastic about the idea. Dhuha proposed that Cameron and I provide a lecture on our work to an organization of Iraqi Artists and Intellectuals to drum up support for our idea. She went off to contact the necessary people and gets the ball rolling....
I just received an e-mail from her saying the idea is being enthusiastically received.
Please keep this project in your prayers that it manifest easily and successfully. Iraqi women have been through more hardships than most of us can imagine. Several organizations have reported that there are at least 2 million widows in Iraqi (latest info says 4 million) as a consequence of the war. Every women I have met has had one or more family members killed or kidnapped or both. Many of their homes have been destroyed, and many are left without any means of support.
This is a very simple way to help lift them from despair into empowerment.
Then we take taxi to Damascus, find hotel...
Wed, Sept 29
Very happy evening spent having and Iraqi dinner with Haider and his mother, Suaad. She gives Kristina new abayas and scarves to wear in places like Saida Zeinab where dress is conservative. So much news to exchange about all our families and latest changes... too much to try and describe here...
Tuesday, Sept 28
Kristina meets with Julie, Music Therapist... Sounds like she wants to be involved with using drum circles as part of her work with Iraqi refugees. Waiting to hear more from her...
Walking by myself down the street around midnight in Amman the usual nonsensical kaleidoscope unfolds:
But this time a new and unusual response: "I hate America! What are you doing over here?"
Me: "I hate what America has done too! That's part of the reason I am over here..."
Another Arab Teenager adds: " I hate America too! I am from Iraq!"
Me: (in Arabic) "I sing the old songs... from Um Kolthoum, Abd el Halim, Nazem al Ghazali..."
Another Arab Teenager: "Here is how we teenagers greet each other now..." (He shows me complicated jive handshake sequence ending with bumping our right shoulders together)
Go figure... But this in new for me. First time I hear hatred of America directly at me personally...
Monday, Sept 27:
Kristina met during the late morning hours with Amal, who has worked with women-to-women networks in the past to benefit Iraqi refugees trapped here in Jordan. Some of these networks are now continuing there work inside Iraq but underground as there is no friendly goverment infrastructure yet. Kristina is planning to expand the use of the the drum circle, now so widely acclaimed as a healing path, among Iraqi refugee women. Amal is enthusiastic about this plan.
Later in the afternoon and evening we were held captive for eight hours in "Limana" Coffee Shop and Restaurant by Palestinian owner-in-exile from Jerusalem old city, Mustafa... we were forced to sing for our supper for several hours to an amazingly loving audience... So much fun that once again I didn't get to sleep before the sun came up... Mustafa had claimed that the work we are doing through Musical Missions of Peace shines even above and beyond what Arabs themselves have been able to do. He had me say a few words in Arabic to ensure my place in paradise... He didn't want to get there and not find me! And Kristina's voice indeed had that indescribably beautiful female Arab quality which reminds us of Fairuz, the famous Lebanese "nightingale of the Middle East!"
And a late night visit from Haider, a young member of an Iraqi family whom we have known for decades now. He is one of the few Iraqis who has managed to survive the Jordanian government's attempts at expulsion. He is deeply involved working for an organization devoted to finding and helping re-settle Iraqis who have been displaced inside Iraq. He explained the necessity of cooperating with the occupying US forces since the alternatives lead nowhere. And he upheld the positive potential of a post-Saddam environment.
And he revealed that the organization he works for now counts, not two million, but four million Iraqi widows... You do the math... What does this mean if not a holocaust-sized catastrophe wrought by the greedy pressures of hunger-for-oil and the resulting war and destruction which has unfolded in Iraq. Yet Haider has found ways to work toward the positive. We will see him and his mother, who feels a deep bond with Kristina, again soon... Be prepared for tears...
Sunday, Sept 26:
Passing by a local music store owned by our good friend Jihad we brought him up to date on the successes of our two-year-old Musical Missions of Peace "Iraqi Refugee Project" through which we have channeled approximately $9000 USD to Iraqi refugee musicians in both Syria and Jordan to faciliate both employment for these musicians and also the teaching of traditional Iraqi music and culture.
Jihad was very helpful two years ago in helping us find local Iraqi musicians in Amman to participate in the program and he was happy to hear of our success.
Then came the magical moment: Jihad picked up a huge Iraqi oud made by Najim Abood in Baghdad and began to play an improvisation for us while transmitting the emotional and spiritual essences through intense continual close-up eye contact. I couldn't believe my ears! I had never heard an oud with a voice so sweet. Now fate has brought it to pass that I have purchased more than one oud from Jihad in the past and they have all been exceptional instruments, one of which we left in Syria to be part of our Iraqi music school project there. But now I am the incredulous owner of this professional-quality oud which devours me with sweetness every time I pick it up!
We also purchased an inexpensive darbekki for Kristina to provide percussion accompanyment for our Arabic songs.
We met with our half-Bedouin friend, Yazid, who introduced us to his oud-playing brother, Hamza. With the new oud in our hands we exhanged musical moments for the rest of the evening: Hamza playing the Bedouin desert music and Kristina and I the old popular mainstream Arabic compositions.
Saturday, Sept 25:
Enjoy music of oud player at Umiat Coffee shop then go to meet an extremely well-educated Jordanian Arab friend, Fayez to discuss the world situation. We visited with him many times during the early years of the US invasion into Iraq and share many common memories and feelings.
Catching up with information from Fayez is fascinating, as always.
Folks in the Islamic world are protecting themselves against the Western bankster problem fairly aggressively by returning more resolutely to the Islamic banking system which, unlike the Judeo-Christian system, prohibits charging interest on a loan.
His best guess:
How does this work?
Islamic banks charge a one-time fee (right now for real estate
purchases it's at 9%) so a $100 k house would cost $109 k.
The art of life under occupation:
Since the future may involve re-appearances of other invaders... (is there a coming period of rising Chinese influence or domination?) Fayez suggests that we study history in order to determine the flavor or each occupying culture in order to predict how brutal or benign things may become. Whether or not there is any gradual world-wide improvement in human rights or not is an open question: public executions and forced gladiator-like events are perhaps declining but the ability of an occupying army to kill millions at the push of a few buttons has escalated...
We discussed the nature of past occupations by Chinese, Turks, French, German, British, Portuguese, Russians and Dutch... but our assessments were inconclusive... Nevertheless, Fayez seemed to have especially poor impressions of the French, German, Chinese and Portuguese...
As for current changes under the American and Israeli domination, Fayez made the point that it will be best if changes happen slowly so that commercial systems don't collapse and cause catastrophic starvations for everyone. Nothing too dramatic...
We both agreed that Jewish Voice For Peace is a very encouraging and rapidly growing movement.
Regarding the tragedy of human and cultural destruction in Iraq we lamented the realities underlying the counting of two million Iraqi widows. Fayez feels that the status of iraqi women has been put back 400 years, not just the approximately 100-year set-back suggested in Nadje Al-Ali and Nicola Pratt's 2009 Book: "What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq". For more on this subject read on...
For any interested in a perspective on long-term Iraqi history:
Friday, Sept 24:
Yazid says: "we all are in trust with each other here... even on the street... I can even walk up to anybody and borrow 5 JD (approx $8 USD) and they will give it even if they don't know me..."
Yazid is "half-Jordanian Bedouin from Petra area where he grew up in Wadi Musa ("Moses Gulch"). Now he is working in the hotel and studying languages here in the college.
Yazid's Bedouin grandmother used to tell him stories from 1001 nights for 3 hours at a time... insisting on maintaining uninterrupted eye contact during the whole time... if he ever looked away, she would give a little tug on his shirt sleeve... He said the older generations had this habit of continual eye contact even more strongly than the younger generations do now.
Arrived Queen Alia Airport, Amman, Jordan, 5 pm, Thurs, Sept 23, 2010
To support or read more about our 501c3 non-profit organization:
Checks to "Musical Missions of Peace" can also me mailed to:
Donors will receive receipts for their tax-deductable gifts.
Contacts with appropriate Philanthropic organizations or with sympathetic commercial enterprises not involved with political agendas would also be appreciated.
Please encourage your friends who may be interested to add their email addresses to our list at: http://www.musicalmissions.com/cgi-bin/dada/mail.cgi
Please reply to this email if you are so inclined. We love to hear from you!
Musical Missions of Peace 501c3:
Recent History of Arab World Travels:
GL Design: Publishing Company