Arab American Book Awards!

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I am pleased to announce that my book, The Treasure of Maria Mamoun, has been selected as the 2017 winner for Children/Young Adult for the Arab American Book Awards. 

The award is put out yearly by the Arab American National Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, and “the first and only museum in the United States devoted to Arab American history and culture”. I am greatly honored to be recognized by this esteemed organization, and so excited to travel to Michigan to receive the award this coming October.

Thank you so much!

Michelle Chalfoun

 

In Response to Paul Ryan:

26-paul-ryan-w710-h473-2xStop Perpetuating the Myth Of American Meritocracy.

Yesterday, in honor of July 4th, Paul Ryan tweeted, “In America, there is no limit to what you can do with your life. It’s not pre-determined or government-ordained”.

I wonder if he truly believes this nonsense, or if it is propaganda for his base that can’t handle the guilt of their privilege. On the chance that Ryan truly, ignorantly, doesn’t recognize that government plays a role (shall I even go so far as to say “ordains”) many aspects of what one can and can’t do in life, this is my response:

Beginning with the Constitution, which excluded Native Americans and declared enslaved blacks as “three fifths of all other Persons”, the US government has enacted policies and laws that have had lasting implications the successes and failures of the people living within its borders. It has been documented and proven repeated that as a group Native and black Americans have substantially less wealth than their white counterparts because of the unfair hindrances US law has placed on their ability to live where they want, get an education, and consolidate and pass on wealth. “It took 400 years of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized discrimination in the labor and housing markets to build the wealth gap that we see today. For example, by the time the Fair Housing Act made discrimination in housing illegal in 1968, people of color had missed out on decades of robust growth in the housing markets (and much of the next generation missed out on that wealth building in the 20 years it took to fully implement the law).” (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-average-black-family-would-need-228-years-to-build-the-wealth-of-a-white-family-today/)

To find a more recent example of government policies ordaining inequality, one can look to  Flint, Michigan. In 2014,  to reduce costs, Flint city officials changed the city’s water source to the Flint River without applying necessary corrosion inhibitors to the water. As a result between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead, a known neurotoxin that results in cognitive and behavioral deficits. Despite plenty of evidence, government officials lied and delayed rather than deal with the problem. The affected children will have deep and lasting challenges that limit what they could have done with their lives, had they not been exposed to lead due to government-ordained contamination of their water.

We also historically and continually see government-imposed inequality in education. Wealthy people can send their children to private schools. Even with the possibility of Republican-sponsored school choice legislation, private schools will be forever out of reach in areas where there are no quality private schools, or the school’s price tags remain prohibitive even with vouchers. Therefore, the average American is at the whimsy of the government when it comes to the quality of their public education. Leaving funding aside, the government meddles in the content and quality of what is taught. In districts where local government chooses to teach creationism (like Kansas did in 1999), or to deny established science (as in the new wave of laws proposed since Trump took office allowing schools to question climate change), the children passing through these science-avoidant school systems are now condemned to learn falsehoods parading as science—thereby making it unlikely they will go on to high-salary STEM careers. These are government-ordained laws that hinder what science-illiterate children can achieve.

The current ACHA “TrumpCare” bill, if passed, will ordain that some people do not get the services they need to live independent lives. As a result, the government will be guilty of ensuring that their lives become limited. A person with a physical disability that requires nursing care or specialized equipment, upon losing that equipment or care, can no longer go to work or school, and is thereby condemned to a limited future through a government action, unless they are incredibly lucky or inordinately (Stephen Hawking’s level) talented.

Paul, it is a matter of common sense that misguided or willfully evil government policies hurt the poor and middle class. If your  house is destroyed in a flood, but you couldn’t have predicted that you were buying in a floodplain because in your state climate science wasn’t taught; or your medical bills are impossible to pay because your child was disabled by lead-poisoned water, and the government won’t pay for proper services for your now mentally disabled child that they, in fact, disabled through water mismanagement; and you can’t sell your house and move away because who would want to buy a house destroyed by a flood or in a SuperFund site—tell me, honestly, how the government hasn’t stacked the deck against you with policies that favor the rich and privileged? Tell me once again, how this country treats all its citizens in the same, fair and even-handed manner, and all Americans have an equal chance to succeed?

So Paul Ryan, any clear-thinking and honest person must admit that the government does indeed pass laws that either support or undermine equality. Your responsibility as a government official isn’t dodged by denying this fact. Either you create the ground for a true meritocracy, or you throw up roadblocks over and over, to consolidate power in the hands of a few who look and sound like you.

 

 

 

Accepting Unacceptable Behavior

Detaching from the Donald.

john-kasich-rips-trumps-unacceptable-behavior-1038x584Families in recovery are taught they don’t have to accept the addict/alcoholic’s unacceptable behavior. They learn that their lives have value beyond suffering and repairing the chaos the alcoholic/addict causes through their disease. “Detachment” is the tool used in recovery to separate oneself from the abusive behavior. Once the family member has detached, the addict/alcoholic is left to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, and sometimes they choose recovery for themselves as a result. Even if they don’t, the previously affected family member is living a healthier life without the constant chaos caused by the sick behavior of another.

What does detachment look like? Here’s an example: your drug addicted loved one steals from the other people in the house. You explain calmly that they are not allowed back in the house until the missing money is returned. Then you change the locks. You can still meet the family member outside of the house, give them rides, find them a rehab–whatever–but they can’t rummage around the home stealing your stuff.

This is hard enough in a family setting, when the abuser is a suffering alcoholic/drug addict whom you once loved or still love. But what do we do when the abuser is the president of our country?

I’m not making a joke here. Yesterday I hit my limit, and I can tell by the Twittersphere than so many others have too. Nevertheless, because we are not in a family setting, the average citizen has no power to put “natural consequences” in place for DJT. Only Congress does, and they will move slowly (if they do at all). Even individual Congress members, or entire Congressional blocs, have no power to check his abusive behavior.

Detachment, in this case, is impossible. We can avoid news, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, email, radio and overhearing other’s conversations, but his actions will affect us whether we pay attention or not. Our healthcare will change or disappear, our rights to birth control, travel, voting etc will be threatened or lost. Those of us who disagree with his agenda must continue to pay attention and engage, no matter how upsetting.

And many of us are. And many of us are suffering as a result. Those of us in medical fields have been talking amongst ourselves about the rise in stress-related disease. Not just mental health issues (anxiety and depression have spiked in the last five months), and not just the threatened loss of health coverage, but also things like chronic pain, digestive issues, sleep issues, migraines–all of these are exacerbated by emotional stress. There is also the issue of very real violence against groups targeted by DJT supporters inspired by his hate-speech. Women, people of color, the poor, and immigrants are being hit especially hard. And these groups make up the majority of Americans.

This situation in our country is currently similar to that of a child trapped in an alcoholic home. Just as the child is dependent on the alcoholic and has no power to leave, most of us depend upon a functioning and predictable government, and we can’t simply move to Canada.

To make matters worse, we are told by DJT supporters and certain news outlets and the entire Republican party that we are wrong, the news is fake, and we are hysterical snowflakes. This kind of gas lighting drives any sane person crazy. Our country is like the alcoholic household where the other parent or the siblings are in denial and tell the child that they are the crazy one, Dad is fine, stop making trouble, even as Dad is throttling family members and destroying household stability.

What are we to do?

The recovery model advises we find support in a group where people understand what we are going through. Meditation is helpful, so that we can soothe our own stress response. Use the Serenity Prayer: Accept the things you cannot change, but more importantly, for self-efficacy and sanity, CHANGE THE THINGS YOU CAN. Remember that this too shall pass. In 3 years and change, this will pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Record of the Times

20170425_183908The other day I ran out of postcard stamps. That meant I’d sent 100 postcards since DJT became president. I’d sent postcards to the man himself (remember the Ides of Trump?), to my members of Congress when their phones were jammed, to Mitch McConnell, to Paul Ryan, and to Republican MOC who deserved thanks for bucking the trend and voting against the health abomination bill passed by the house. The last batch of cards were to Democrats in South Carolina’s 5th District to remind them to vote for Archie Parnell in the upcoming special election.

I’ve been super-busy since DJT crashed into the White House. I’ve gone on 3 marches: The Women’s March, The March for Science, and The People’s Climate March down in DC. With some other ladies in town, we’ve formed an Indivisible Group–and with that comes meetings, and creating agendas, and educating ourselves on all sorts of local issues. We’ve run a member for the local Board of Education (she won), and are running two members for the City Council. That means I’ve attended local Democratic Committee meetings, quickly come up to speed on the issues in our local politics, and now I am walking around with petitions to get a friend on the ballot.

In between all this, I’ve joined Facebook and Twitter, to better keep up with the issues and to communicate with my various new political actions groups and coordinate with other groups in neighboring towns.

Of course there are the daily phone calls (or faxes if the lines are jammed), petitions (probably useless–but I can’t help signing some when they show up in the in-box), Twitter blasts to various officials, Facebook posts to MOCs, and good, old fashioned letters and emails to politicians.

I have no way of knowing what or which of these efforts will make a difference. I do know that I am super-busy. After all, I am a mom with two teens, and I’m mostly doing that by myself (husband travels a lot). I also have a full time job as a nurse, and a side-gig as a writer. So I certainly didn’t want to take all this on. Sometimes I resent how these selfish men in Washington are so incompetent and mean-spirited that I am forced to monitor their messes. It’s mom-work, but on a national level. Instead of coming into the kitchen to discover a mess, I’m watching the news and seeing corruption. Instead of scolding, “Put the milk away when you’re done with it!”, I’m writing about keeping the Paris Accord or Single-Payer Healthcare.

Such are the times, and this is a record of the times.

Appreciation Day!

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really appreciate our town.

Today was High School Staff Appreciation Day. So the PTA moms and I headed over to the  high school with our covered dishes and laid out an amazing spread. I brought stuffed grape leaves and almond cake. There was black beans and rice, lo mein, barbecue ribs, spanakopita, vegetable curry, fried rice, and tons of pasta dishes. Salads, fruit, sandwiches, bagels, pizza, pupusas…we went crazy.

I don’t have to cook tonight–there was so much food.

And the moms were just as varied as the dishes: Indonesian, Japanese, Cuban, Lebanese, Italian, Puerto Rican, El Salvadoran, Guyanese, Jewish…

I can’t understand people who feel threatened by such richness and variety. Recently I read an article in the Atlantic that many who voted for our Orange Overlord really did so out of a sense of “cultural anxiety”.  They felt they were losing their America to foreigners.

Not only do I feel such people are losing out on one of the nicer things in life (new foods! new friends!), but I also know that there never was a time when the world was that pure and that stagnant. Humans have been moving around the planet ever since we walked upright. We marched north from our birthplace in Africa, spread to Asia, and crossed the land bridge into North America back in pre-historic days. We traveled and traded and mixed it up–sometimes for good reasons, like trade along the Silk Road, and sometimes for not good reasons (colonialism, slavery). But we were always migrating and immigrating.

So when, where, and for how long did white Christian America even really exist? I read that there are pockets in the Midwest where people feel they are the “true” Americans, but I put that in quotes because they only got there by displacing the Native Americans and riding railroads built by Chinese and free black men. Nevertheless, they believe they own America.

The Women’s March folks wanted moms to have “daring discussions” with people who believe differently from us in honor of Mother’s Day. I tried. I got into a discussion with a DJT voter about undocumented immigrants. He said anyone here “illegally” should get deported. I asked him whether something had happened to him that made him feel this way. He didn’t come up with anything. I told him I had a different point of view and explained how I felt compassion for people who have committed no other crime than trying to escape violence or poverty. He said, “They aren’t citizens and they should get out of my country.” I gave up, because there was no discussion. Just a whole lot of anger.

I am not going to worry about understanding people like that anymore. I don’t want to understand people who feel threatened by children brought here by parents who wanted a better life for them, papers or no. I don’t need to understand people who feel threatened by refugees fleeing war. People threatened by a diverse bunch of PTA moms feeding a diverse group of school staff a multicultural buffet are never going to make sense to me, if they can’t even explain why they feel that way. I am not ever going to change their minds, or even understand their minds, no matter how many “difficult discussions” we have.

Anyhow, it’s their loss. They’re hoping for the return of a fantasy world that never really existed, and they are very much on the wrong side of history–because humans travel, and fall in love, and mix it up. That’s what we’ve always done, still do, and always will do.

And I guarantee our multiculti feast was better than an all-white, all-Christian buffet any day.

 

 

 

 

 

Firing Bill O’Reilly: a few thoughts from a broken feminist

rts12tlpI felt a sense of righteous vindication upon reading that Fox has let Bill O’Reilly go. I was one of the many women writing letters  by email and on Facebook to companies that advertised on his show. Thanks to the work of women’s rights organizations like ultraviolet and NOWI knew who to write to and what to say. I explained to my children that every small action the resistance takes is making a difference. The pawns are falling: the resignations of Milo Yiannopolous, Roger Ailes, Michael Flynn, the recusements of David Nunes and Jeff Sessions, and Jason Chaffetz deciding not to run in 2018, are all precursors to the eventual, inevitable, downfall of DJT.

We deserve a moment to relish the sense of accomplishment we feel after taking out the trash.

But this morning my daughter and I had a conversation about music. At the moment, she’s into music that denigrates women: “b**tches and h*s” lyrics by men who slap their girlfriends around. I tried to explain to her that she’s internalizing those bad messages, and that it wasn’t healthy.

She wasn’t buying it.

After all, why should she listen to me? I’m a broken feminist. I talk the talk, I even try to walk the walk, but there’s a part of me that’s so deeply damaged, I continue to accept unacceptable behavior from men ALL THE TIME. I still make myself nice, and small, and agreeable, just to fly low under the radar. I have not realized my potential, and it’s likely I never will. I’m like many American women: I’ve been a victim of sexual violence, both attempted and completed. The attempted left a 21-stitch long scar on my right hand; I sliced it open scaling a chainlink fence in a burst of adrenaline to get away from two attackers after my car broke down on the side of the road in Brooklyn. The completed acts left internal scars that despite years of therapy, have not healed. These scars affect my ability to have healthy adult relationships with men, both in work environments and social environments. My workaround is that I limit myself by sticking to female dominant work settings, and I work primarily alone. I don’t ask for promotions or raises because the bosses are male. I’ve tried a few times, but after being shut down I’ve given up.

The resistance is female for a reason. DJT’s voice turns our stomachs. He has the cadence of our predators. He has the same cold, dead eyes. He has their sensibility. That the predator-in-chief is still in his position, despite what he’s admitted to, and what he’s suspected of doing, wounds us and our daughters daily.

I am so proud of our every accomplishment in resisting this juggernaut of sexual predation. And I am so grateful when men, like the Patriots, join us. But I am afraid for my daughter. The end of allowing predatory men in positions of power can’t come soon enough for her or millions of girls like her.

 

 

 

Falafel in the time of Trump

how-to-make-falafel-recipe-5-1

The other day my co-worker Layla (name changed to protect her privacy), gifted me some homemade falafel mix. If you’ve ever made falafel from scratch, you know this is quite a present. Falafel from dried fava beans is a lot of work. I was definitely touched by this gesture.

Layla is Egyptian, and as the only two MENAs (Middle Eastern North Africans) in an Anglo-Saxon work environment, we’d bonded over food. As we followed the children we were tasked with protecting around the halls and fields of the school, we talked about recipes, ways to preserve the excess mint and cucumbers in our gardens,  and what stores we favored: Super Jordan, Patel Brothers, or Maharaja Farmers Market. When a recently immigrated relative of hers was applying for jobs, I looked over the resume and corrected the English. We complained about our husbands and kids like all moms; she invited me to a festival at her church.

Unfortunately, our relationship became awkward after November 8th. You see, even though Layla is Egyptian, she voted for DJT. The day after the election, she was all smiles and I was shell-shocked. We had a weird exchange. I’d made the assumption that, as a Middle Eastern person, she wouldn’t go for him.

I had this strange experience again with another woman friend. My across-the-street neighbor is a single mom with three daughters. Let’s call her Nataly. She’s an immigrant from Peru, and over the years I’ve given her kids rides to school (she used to leave even earlier than me for work), and we’ve had coffee together. Lately, we’re both so busy we only meet when we are gardening in our front yards, or as it happened after the inauguration, when we are both in the street shoveling snow. I was wearing my pink Women’s March knit hat, and I proudly said, “I went to the Women’s March!” Nataly replied, “Oh, I went to the March for Life.”

Again, cognitive disconnect. I’d made the assumption that as a Latina immigrant, she wouldn’t go for DJT.

I was trying to figure this out with my husband. The two groups DJT demonizes the most are Middle Eastern people and South/Central Americans. And he disrespects women. Yet these women voted for him.

“I guess they’e one-issue voters,” my husband said.  Of course he meant abortion.

I think he may be right. Both women are some form of Catholic. But I think there’s something else. Lately I have been reading about how people who vote conservative really do think differently than people who vote liberal/progressive. These women both come from traditional patriarchal cultures. (As it has been pointed out over and over, DJT is patriarchy on steroids.) They may be more able to tolerate a blow-hard misogynist like DJT as a result.

I could resent the way DJT has inserted himself into every aspect of my life. Even my friendships are tainted by him. Or I could be the better woman and value these women even as I disagree with them. After all, we are going to have to keep living with each other. It is better to share falafel and coffee, to shovel snow and follow children and share rides, than to argue. I will not be able to change their minds with anything I say. But maybe I can be a powerful example of a life lived as feminist. Maybe they will eventually see the error of their votes through no action of mine. Maybe it is the friendships of women that will heal the country when this nightmare ends–and it will, as all nightmares do.