Black And White – A Workout Reverie

*2 min

I was breathing hard as I was swinging the kettlebell. I lost count, was it 64? I placed the kettlebell on the ground. My heart was pumping fast. I took a breath and raised the volume of the music in my ear. The sharpness of her voice was giving me goose bumps.

Linda George’s, elixir of Assyrian singers and the zeitgeist of the Assyrian music, “Kuma O Khara” (Black and White) song was playing loud in my ears. The rhythm was pumping in my blood, her words were echoing in my head – life is a series of bad days and good days.  This is how our life will pass until we die.

It was a bad day for me, lost in a maze of choices. Caught by analysis paralysis, but really it felt more of Buridan’s ass. I wanted to shake destiny.

I’m expecting something to happen that will open the door to the next level. Maybe it’s my Middle Eastern mindset of transferring responsibility to a higher authority, in this case God, or the American mindset of believing in Karma, in this case, waiting to cash in on my past good deeds. But the sky never bothered itself to return an answer, and Karma it seems is a placebo effect.

So far, I lived an average life, and I just don’t want to live an average life. I refuse to think I failed for not achieving greatness.

That special feeling that we have when we were kids growing up thinking we were destined for something big. Then all of a sudden you realize there is nothing special in you, and you might just be another average person living a boring life – one good day followed by a bad day. It’s psychologically crushing.

I looked at the mirror in front of me. I saw myself and couldn’t believe I’m 40. I wish I had data on those years. How many of those 40 years were bad? How many of those years were good? How many days were bad? How many days were good? I don’t know.

But imagine if we have marked our calendar life with a bad day or good day mark.  How would it look after all these years? How much sadness or joyfulness fill those calendar boxes?

I don’t want to lose that childhood feeling. I don’t want to give up.

I have to make some decisions soon and perhaps wait for the divine to wake up and say something.

A bad day or a good day, this is neither good nor bad. It is simply life.  We all have to deal with it.

I picked up the kettlebell and started to swing again. One…two…three…four…black…white…nine…ten…eleven…twelve…thirteen…black…white…lost in another reverie.

 

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Why I stayed working in Iraq?

*2 min

“Against our deepest wishes, we become suddenly, inexplicably, committed to a path we have avoided, a line of thought we’d had no interest in.” – Zachary Lazar

Last year I wrote a post titled: “Five Years between T-Walls” where I talked about some of the psychological problems I faced working in Iraq, one of them is the battling destiny vs. choice dilemma.

After that post, some people emailed me back and asked if I was ok. Others wondered why I even stayed that long working in Iraq. Why did I sacrifice that many years of my life? Why did I miss all those special moments and holidays away from my family?

I wasn’t there for my grandmother’s funeral.  I arrived in Chicago two days before my sister’s wedding. I wasn’t stateside when my first nephew was born. Two romantic relationships fizzled out. And, I flew back to Iraq the day my father was going through his cancer surgery. And many more milestones slipped by in my absence.

Why did I do all that? Did I love working in Iraq that much? Or did I love making money that much?

In this post, I try to answer these questions briefly. I will leave the long answer for, possibly, a future book.

When I read books that cover the past fourteen years of the American history in Iraq, I feel I’m part of those books. I understand it. I live it.

And, not like the way a physics teacher understands physics. But maybe the way a chemistry teacher lives through chemical reactions, or better yet, a boxer in a boxing match. I live in those pages of the American history in Iraq.

I was paid, (and paid well) to be part of historyfrom the first day of the American invasion of Iraq until President Trump’s travel ban…from the absurdity of it to the idealism of it all. In this sequestered life in Iraq, I feel at home. I feel I’m somebody. It gave me a sense of identity. I’m on the frontlines of American foreign policy.

When I ponder my option to go back to my normal life in the U.S., I get confused. I face uncertainty. I face another type of loss: prestige, status, income, identity… being somebody. Maybe it’s a version of “Into Thin Air”, mine is ”Into the Uncertainty”.

What will I do that is bigger and better than now? Be a business analyst? A consultant? A manager? A programmer? A falafel shop and maybe call it the T-Wall Kitchen?

t-wall-kitchenphoto credit: Diego Montoya

Five years ago, I was designing a few programming processes that would go into a new health care system for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. I was sitting on the sixth floor of one of the high-rise buildings in downtown Chicago. I could turn my chair and face Millennium Park. But I didn’t feel the purposefulness. I didn’t feel the satisfaction.

Some escapades in Iraq make me feel high like the satisfaction of climbing Mount Everest. I connect governments.

If I go back to the US, then I must go back to something even bigger than what I have now. I can’t move backward. My heart wouldn’t let me.

This is the toughest decision I have to make, to go home…to go from being somebody to being nobody. It will never be the same.

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40 Reasons Why I’m THE Assyrian Bachelor

As a painful memory of my New Year’s Eve fades away, I thought of starting my first blog of 2017 with a subject I haven’t written about in the past four years of blogging.

Here is a little background to where and when I was inspired to write this post.

On Christmas day of 2016, I was with a few friends and co-workers somewhere not identified on Google map in Baghdad. It was late evening, the sky was clear after a rainy day, and the ground turned to mud. Between our muddy cars and the ubiquitous T-Walls, we hosted the last bonfire.

The culture shock of the lifestyle between T-Walls is difficult to depict in writing for those who have not lived it. The demographic ratio between men to women is literally hundreds to one. In this environment, the attractiveness of a female rises exponentially. Not only does a two in Chicago becomes ten, but she gains the notoriety of Kim Kardashian as soon as she lands in our bubble. 

No, I’m not spilling my guts, but after five years, I’m still not used to it.

Ravenous for any female contact, where kissing is a revolutionary activity, friends and co-workers are always trying to outdo each other in every way imaginable. I surrendered to my cloistered life and gave up on any attempts to meet a girl long ago. I would be better off searching for El Dorado.

While we were drinking and exchanging stories with a bit of Don Quixote style self-aggrandizement, our conversation turned to women. As usual. 

Fueled by a few Vodka drinks, dating stories, and with some motivation from men who checked-in to a life/work style of (D)ivorced, (S)ingle, (S)eparated Department, I was inspired to write this post.

I must stop typing now to let you enjoy my list, the voice of truth, and go wash my hands from the omnipresent Baghdad dust.

40 Reasons Why I’m THE Assyrian Bachelor

  1. I’m 40 years old. Never married and no kids.
  1. I kill spiders with an Assyrian worrier courage. (Flip flop is my ultimate weapon.)
  2. I give you my Facebook password. (This act will create problems but it will level off as you take command.)
  3. I’ll click “Like” on anything you post on Facebook and Instagram.
  4. I let you take all the time you need to get ready. I get ready half an hour before you are done.
  5. I am human; but I have a big heart. I forgive quickly.
  6. Your parents will love me.
  7. You will be the only one I follow on Twitter. (Comic included illustrating the impact.)
    Twitter Romance
  8. I let you win in any game we play. (I suck in games.)
  9. I admit when I’m wrong. I’m always wrong.
  10. We travel at least once a year.
  11. I buy new airline tickets to a different country, if you don’t like the country we just visited.
  12. I listen when you talk.
  13. When you are upset, I will shut my mouth rather than trying to answer you.
  14. I can be your date for anything. (Just don’t abuse it.)
  15. I text you and ask you about your day.
  16. I return your text within an hour. (I know what you’re thinking. Why one hour?)
  17. I always use proper form in writing when texting (You vs. U etc.)
  18. Any gift from you will make me happy; because I know you are thinking of me.
  19. I’m against animal cruelty.
  20. I always go to the gym.
  21. I write our love story.
  22. We eat at Hard Rock café in every city we travel to. (If there is one.)
  23. I cook for you, although the truth is I don’t even know how to cook an egg.
  24. I drink red wine mostly; and I’ll sneak bottle of wine into movie theaters. However, I usually forget the corkscrew.
  25. I am a wealth of useless facts, random stories, and some inappropriate jokes.
  26. I don’t live in fantasy football. And I don’t care about super ball or any sport in that matter.
  27. I buy you a new Louis Vuitton piece on your every birthday. (This is a big one.)
  28. I write our life legacy for our kids.
  29. I binge watch your favorite TV show with you even though I don’t watch TV. (Just don’t abuse it. I need time to read.)
  30. You can go out with your friends every time you feel like it.
  31. There’s nothing you can break that I cannot buy. (Except my heart.)
  32. You never gained weight. Wear it!
  33. You buy at least one piece of clothing a week, because I know you have nothing to wear. (I’m taking a risk here.)
  34. When you ask me what’s wrong, I never say “nothing”.
  35. I read Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus book. Ergo, I understand a little bit about relationship. (No consoling is needed.)
  36. I read Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence book. Thus, I understand a little bit about sexual life. (No consoling is needed.)
  37. By now I’m deeply loyal to iPhone. Switching me to Samsung is an act of cheating. (Let me have this one)
  38. I’ll go shopping with you. (Just don’t abuse it.)
  39. I‘m romantic like Mr. Casanova and naughty like Mr. Grey. (Must have a lot of alcohol for this.)

 

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2016: Year in 36 Blogs

* 1 min

I hope you enjoyed your New Year’s Eve.  Mine was bad. I spent it with strangers listening to music I don’t enjoy. What made it even worse is that I had a 3-day pass to either Dubai or Lebanon. I chose not to go.

You see, part of life is about memories. I try to collect good ones.  This time, I collected a bad one by staying in Baghdad.

However, from Iraq-American politics, to cultural differences, to Assyrianism, to reading, to travel, to beauty, and with some humor, and a few vodka drinks between T-walls, I downloadwas able to capture 2016 in 36 blogs.

I may not be in the public eye, but you and I are 24/7 in the social eye.  We have a social self.  It is a live document updated with every facebook, twitter, and blog posts.

I am writing about now, which is soon to be the past.  I am not going to be able to literally relive these experiences.  My memory will decline as time passes. With blogging at least, I will be able to see myself in lost memories. They are the souvenirs from my earlier self.

I hope you enjoy some of the posts.

January:

  1. 27,000 Words in One SketchNotes
  1. New Year’s Eve with Absolut Vodka
  1. “Some” is modifying speaking culture
  1. The Rise and Fall of the Arab and Muslim World

February:

  1. Beauty and Free Will
  1. Forget about Passion!
  1. American Psychopath 2020
  1. Cultural Differences between Iraq and America

March:

  1. Names that Echo History
  1. LinkedIn Post
  1. Life Goal of Reading 10,000 Books

May:

  1. Part 1- Chicago and the Assyrian Vote
  1. Part 2- A Flâneur in Istanbul
  1. Part 3- Bangkok between Anticipation and Reality
  1. Part 4- My Small Window into Dubai
  1. Why is Important to Say “Radical Islam”?

June:

  1. Power Food for my Brain
  1. The Significance of Assyrian-American Convention
  1. A Quick Prescription to Eliminate Islamic Terrorism
  1. Adding Insult to Injury – the Victimizing of Victims in Post ISIS Iraq

July:

  1. Love Secrets
  1. Understanding Iraqi Society
  1. Mustafa’s Lament

August:

  1. Run Away from Baghdad – On Travel

September:

  1. Always a Drama Always a Victim
  1. My 40th Birthday at AANF with the New Americans

October:

  1. The Assyrian Conference of Professionals
  1. What is Political Prostitution?

November:

  1. Cousin Inc.
  1. Thanksgiving Baghdad 2016
  1. How will I Explain it to my Child?
  1. Moral Hero?

December:

  1. 14,997 Pages and One Book
  1. A Window into Iraq’s Humor
  1. Stairway to Saddam’s Palace
  1. Five Years between T-Walls

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Five Years between T-Walls

The fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one.” Salman Rushdie, Satanic Verses

It was early evening when I finished a two-hour phone call with a friend of mine. The night had arrived. The nights always seem to arrive quickly in Baghdad. I hate the night.

The conversation with Dave was still echoing in my head. I was thinking about what I told him, which was:

“The thought of being five years behind T-walls is killing me. It’s tearing me apart. Now it’s like a Chinese torture, where you feel the drop of each thought.  I’m trying to reframe it, to be positive, to look at the bright side, but when the night comes, I’m losing the battle. Ah…I hate it…

I feel I’ve wasted five years of my thirties, a good percent of my best years huddled behind the gray concrete walls that surround where I work in Iraq.

dsc_5676

photo credit: Diego Montoya

I’ve been battling destiny vs. choice. I feel when I’m here; I want to be there. And if I’m there, I want to be here. When I’m in Iraq, I feel sure I cannot stay here anymore. When I’m in America, I feel I can no longer live the American life.  

And it’s not that Iraq is taking one step forward and 10 steps back. Or America seems, at times, so terribly uninformed, and even worse…happily carrying on thinking mostly about “keeping up with the Kardashians”.

I believe it’s deeper than that…maybe it’s more of a belonging problem. I feel I can’t belong in Iraqi society anymore, nor I can belong in American society, which is scary.  It seems it’s an identity problem…Maybe? Or maybe is it the camaraderie that I cannot find in America? But, I do feel this: that I’m never settled. I have no home, no country.

When I wake up in the morning, I feel determined to win the day and reframe the negative thoughts in my head to positive. Thousands of people would wish to have my job. It’s a dream job. Certainly, I’ve been lucky to have it.

But it has been five years since I came to Iraq. The New Year is approaching, and I promised myself last year would be the last New Year’s Eve in Iraq. But, I failed and will spend yet another New Year’s Eve here – behind T-walls…at the best, artful.

100_0208 photo credit: Diego Montoya

I am not happy with my choice on that.

The dark sky above me doesn’t even bother to answer: And why should it? It’s like God is chuckling at me and saying: “You made a plan… yeah right. I’ve my own plan for you.”

Why am I writing this? What is the point, besides feeling confused about where to live?

I guess the only point is I missed celebrating New Year’s Eve with my Assyrian people.

I want to tell this to my Assyrian cousins…

Please enjoy your New Year’s Eve. Enjoy the Assyrian party.

One day, I will join you.

 

 

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14,997 Pages and One Book

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” – Mark Twain

In the land of a thousand and one nights stories, I finished reading 46 books, and am currently reading two. Still, my Amazon book list is at 511 and counting. I find it frustrating.

In fact, I find reading itself to be frustrating. What to read? What to focus on? And how can you read? – if every second something interesting gets published.

I try to finish a book as fast as I can, and while I’m still reading the book on my iPad, I’m thinking about this other book on my Kindle, and while I’m thinking about it, I’m debating whether I should read the introduction for the new book I just downloaded. I really get frustrated. I’m serious.

What I really wish is to be able to read these interesting books ALL at once. I find everything important – it’s like: how can I live without knowing having this knowledge?

Anyway, the end of 2016 is just around the corner. It has been my tradition for past two years now to recommend one book out of all the books I read since the beginning of the year.

I believe the greatest book is the one that connects the content to our own experience. It makes you shout “Yes…this is how I felt”, “This is what I mean!” – It validates us.

Thus if you are interested in the top two or three books I read, there is only one book at the top of the list. I feel obligated to increase awareness about the most important issue of our human race around the globe. I ask you with no-frills to read this book: Heretic

heretic

 

The author Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Martin Luther and John Calvin of the Islamic world. She has taken a noble cause to promote a reformation in Islam.  

There are a few moments in my life that have given me personal pleasure, like being able to make certain statements publicly. My ability to opine freely on certain topics about Islam was restricted in my previous years of living in Iraq. Ayaan Ali spoke my heart and wrote the book I wish to write, every statement hits a vestigial feeling inside me.

I’ve been engaged in numerous debates about Islam with Muslims and Anglos. As a result, our discussions end in a common theme like: “You are not a Muslim to understand Islam fully”,  “Islam is deep…and you need years of study to understand Islam”…and “Who are you to teach us about Islam?”

Well, she was a Muslim who lived in Mecca – an insider who wrote from an outsider detached perspective about the problems in Islam. She wrote a valiant and a brilliant polemic about Islam.

I have great admiration for Ayaan. People like her, Ayad Jamal Addin, Brother Rasheed, Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, Kurt Westergaard, and Geert Wilders. Their names will go down in history for their stands on intellectual freedom.

I hope my recommendation for the “Heretic” this year will encourage people to read more about our present day problems and heroes.

Finally, if you are interested to see the list, then everything I read is pinned on Pinterest 2016 Books board, under each book, I tried to write who recommended it. I also wrote reviews for some books on Amazon.

In my previous book recommendations like in 400,000 Pages in Baghdad, I wrote about the ugly side of reading 100 books. In 300,000 Pages and one book, I explained how I select the books I read. And last in Happiness from Lalastan, I wrote about how the Privileged Rich West seems to live in a bubble of their imagination and the stupidity of certain claims about Happiness. In Life Goal of Reading 10,000 Books, I explained the reason for trying to cross the Rubicon of my cognitive limits.

I hope you get a chance to check them out.

If I were to pick the first and second runners up, they would be “Expert Political Judgement” by Philip Tetlock and “Stonewalled” by Sharyl Attkisson.

Also, I truly enjoyed reading “Sapiens” by Yuval Noath Harari, “The Existentialist Café” by Sarah Bakewell, “Open” by Andre Agassi, “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble” by Dan Lyons, and “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel  – but that’s other subjects/blogs.

Make 2017 a reading year!

Thank you for reading.

 

 

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Moral Hero?

*3 min

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Tolstoy

I felt my acerbic impulsiveness possessing me. I tried to think of the most venomous word. My thumbs couldn’t stop from polluting the airwaves by firing off a barrage of insulting and abusive texts directed against my loved one.

What had started under the most trivial of circumstances “Hi, how are you?” escalated to a heated discussion. She had been asking for help the past few months. It had become a recurring theme. But rather than agreeing to help her, I launched an attack, because she had not listened to my earlier advice. And that has left me carrying the financial burden for her mistakes.

I was apoplectic.

moral hero

Maybe it is the Middle Eastern way of dealing with anger. It goes like this: someone is advised by their family regarding a certain situation, they disregard the advice and later need to ask the family for help to unravel themselves from the consequences of their poor decision. Then the family gets angry about their advice being ignored. It is a way of adding insult to injury. It’s like “I told you so, but you never listened!”

In my case too, I think she should’ve listened; and I added insult to her injury and left her in a state of distress. I had mixed feelings of being victorious and cowardly.

After we ended our discussion, the perverse episode gnawed at me. I was standing outside looking at the dark sky above. The secret voice inside me made me feel like a coward because my family and loved ones always saw the less admirable part of my character. I tend to inflict psychological harm on the people closest to me, or on the helpless.

After I cooled down, I reflected on the larger implication of my ethical mistake. In a world full of sorrows, how many ways are there to live? Many of us have the willful desire to pass pain on to those weaker than ourselves, or to our subordinates.

My impulsiveness betrayed me. It made me speak the language of an abuser. I fell asleep without knowing she was admitted to a hospital overnight. She came back from the hospital and texted me. I woke up to her messages.  As I read them I felt the pain I had caused her.

The concept of a moral hero came to my mind. I asked myself what makes a moral hero?

I don’t mean to be pontificating here, but I believe it is that person who forgives when it’s difficult to forgive, helps when it’s difficult to help, and loves when it’s difficult to love.

The word hero may sound inappropriate in this context. The prestige is stripped away from it. But in its essence, a hero is that person who is important in our eyes and close to us.

I’m sure many of us have been in similar situations. We feel guilty for a while, then forgive and move on. In my situation, it was a moment that tested my self-control.

I read stoic philosophy every day, and try to live by it. I decided to write this blog to hold myself accountable to changing this bad habit…to be free from this compulsive tradition. Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

 

 

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