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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Thanksgiving Baghdad 2016

I’ll be spending thanksgiving shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers, coalition forces, and diplomats at a communal dinner in Iraq, away from my family for the fourth year.

Ouch! …It hurts. Seriously.

thanksgiving

However, I’m thankful for many things. I’m especially thankful for my one year anniversary. This past 17 of November marked the birth of my Coffee Shop Politics platform. With more than 20 posts and 18,000+ words, I can’t believe myself, I have come this far. I’m thankful for all those who helped in making them better, and those who read and continue to read my posts.

When diplomats come and shake my hand, and people write me back saying things like “this article should be framed & hung on the wall!” I am honored. It encourages me to share more and be part of a collective to advance further the Assyrian narrative.

Destiny took me back to Iraq. I’ve played the hand I was dealt. For eight years, I lived a reality that was hidden away from news channels, PowerPoints slides, and statistics. My political views have emerged from the front-lines of American Foreign Policy. I’ve become a cultural hybrid – the semicolon between East and West.

And with that said, I like to share with you the first post that started it all.

Assyrians…Coffee shop politics…what is next for Iraq?

Cousin Inc.

*3 min

“You are fortunate to have a strong community. I find that immigrants to the States connect with their ‘people’ better than those of us here all along.” Mika (non-Assyrian American) wrote to me privately in response to a blog I posted on LinkedIn.

A majority of self-development books like “Never Eat Alone” and “The Last Safe Investment” emphasize the importance of developing friendships and networking. Silicon Valley’s books mention the importance of building a tribe – even Seth Godin wrote a book about it with the same title. Robin Chase wrote about multi-billion dollar businesses like Airbnb and Uber that are built on the concept of shared economy in her book “Peers Inc.”

We, Assyrians, have this relationship naturally; I call it – Cousin Inc.

cousin

In America, Assyrians tend to gravitate toward each other and refer to each other as cousins. “Cousin” is a building block of our social life. He or she could be a real cousin, someone from our extended family, a tribal member, or any other Assyrian person.  This practice is powerful enough to cross Corporate America and even international boundaries.

Our family, tribes, and friendships are our life equity. We can easily become friends. This is something people like Mika envy us for. This is the real value in a gregarious culture. It decorated our quotidian life in palpable ways.

The “cousin” way of life has pervaded my life since I migrated to America. Thousands of Assyrians live in Chicago, Skokie, and other cities in different states. These “family ties” and friendships have helped me in many different areas – big and small. From things as simple as free parking and valet parking to something a bit more valuable, like entrance into to the better nightclubs on a Saturday night in Chicago.

Cousin Inc. even got me my first job.

It’s helped me remodel my house and find a good mechanic to work on my car. One time, thanks to my Cousin Inc. connections, I was even upgraded to a first class ticket on an airline. And as I have traveled, family members have opened their homes for me to stay during holidays in Sweden, Holland and Australia. My “cousins” pick me up from the airport too.

And just a few days ago, someone I’ve never met or spoken with on the phone, messaged me and offered to help me get a job with Microsoft. All have been Assyrian cousins. This is our tribal form of Airbnb, Uber, Angie’s List, and LinkedIn.

More importantly, it is my cousin that owns a 7-Eleven Store who allows my retired father to spend his idle time socializing with other Assyrians who hang out there. Which I am sure, has helped keep my father from slipping into depression.

I’m personally grateful and value my cousin equity more than money. We have a shared life journey. Each one of us represents a link to our past – and our future.

To give it a full social understanding, I would share the following true story.

About five years ago, I was working at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) as Sr. Programmer with Accenture. One day my manager and I went to get a coffee at a nearby building. As we entered the Starbucks, I spotted a guy engaged in a conversation with his co-workers. I turned to my manager and said, “He is Assyrian!”

“How do you know?” he replied.

“From his facial contours, plus he looks like a guy I’ve seen at a party.”

“Sorry, are you Assyrian?” I asked after our first eye contact. As expected, he was, so we chatted for a bit. Ever since then, we have been friends. I visited him at his house in Chicago on my last vacation. He always expands my knowledge about investments.

The “cousin” has become a wonderful phenomenon between Assyrians in America.  Maybe it should be written in capital letters “COUSIN” or established as a standalone institution. It’s the “cousin” equity asset in the Assyrian ecosystem.

These intangibles are paving over the bumps on the road of life. This is how relationships are impacting the strength of our Assyrian community and creating a collaborative economy. This is the essence of a gregarious culture.

My grandfather’s way of life in the north of Iraq has just re-emerged as a new trend in places like Silicon Valley and the Bay Area with concepts like “tribes” and “community living”. Maybe we don’t need to “Reinvent Capitalism” as Chase indicated, but simply change the American culture from rugged individualistic to gregarious interconnectedness. 

Maybe all that is required to do that, is for me to pay in to our communal account, when the opportunity presents itself, by returning the basic human brotherhood that has been given to me so many times.

At the end, I want to build enough “cousin” capital to survive the rest of my life in an uncertain world.
If you enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my insights on the Cultural Differences between Iraq and America

 

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The Assyrian Conference of Professionals

*This is the message I sent to my Assyrian friends and connections on LinkedIn.

I am reaching out with two goals in mind:

I had a great time at the Assyrian Convention in Arizona last month. That inspired me with the question of “Why not create an Assyrian Conference of Professionals?” that could meet once a year at a certain city such as Chicago, San Jose, or even Las Vegas.

Let’s face it…many of us are not in our dream jobs, feel stasis, or not living a life full of meaning and purpose. In some area of our life, we are stuck.

Just imagine a conference room with 1000 Assyrians: authors, consultants, designers, doctors, developers, engineers, founders, lawyers, pharmacists, project managers, recruiters, and many other professionals, all gathering in one place. Picture a version of TEDtalks or South by the Southwest Conference (SXSW). It gives me an empyreal feeling – It’s inspirational!

I predict many benefits to such a conference. It would allow us to develop a supportive community and build a variegated network of resources. It may even inspire us with ideas for new companies, or the motivation needed for a career change. While, at the same time, it might put us face to face with the very people who could make that possible.

For example, living in Chicago, I never thought of government jobs, but after working four years at the U.S. Embassy, I definitely encourage our young graduate Assyrians to seek employment with the State Department. Embassy jobs are amazing. I met friends who spend two to three years in different countries at the government’s expense. One of my friends is going to France; and another to Denmark. The pieces of the puzzle that a person would need to make that happen – the details – are something I can bring to the table. So I asked myself “If there are a thousand of us, what else will be added to the mix?”

To put it succinctly, it will be a place where we share our experiences, adventures, lessons, achievements, and meet like-minded Assyrians. As I believe that any new start-up/company with two or three founders stands a better chance of success because it has multiple skill sets built into its foundation, the initial conference could be exploratory, and would offer the environment for potential founders to emerge. And it would offer us an easier reach to the pioneers of Silicon Valley and corporate America. This could be an exponential career growth to many of us.

There are many questions such as: how does this differ from LinkedIn? What does it offer that the current Convention does not? Why start another, separate organization? Why not do all this within the AANF?  (And many others).

I don’t have all the answers. But to start, I found out that many of our people do not attend the Assyrian Convention for a variety of reasons. This could run separate from the influence of any of our religious or political establishments. It could focus on professional development of the Assyrian workforce. The expanded social network and the new friendships that are bound to develop out of it, would just be an added benefit.

My second goal is to improve as many relationships as possible. I value our connection! I found the “weakest” links in my friendship network are not weak at all and have improved my life. I believe there is more mutual value than we realize in our limited, online connection. 

Here are a few extra things about me, I am 40 years old, traveled to 24 countries, write my own blog and am on a quest to read 10,000 books in my life time. It has been quite a journey thus far and most unlikely without the help or encouragement of my professional network.

I am open for discussion and building professional relationships; and even a few more close friendships.  Life and business should be experienced with those who truly value each other. I am willing to build the bridge between the real online world and real real world whenever feasible.

I might be on the fringes, but it’s a propitious time. I rhapsodize about achieving this success. Please let me know if you believe the concept of Assyrian Conference of Professionals worthy of merit and you would like to be part of such gathering.

 

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My 40th Birthday at AANF with the New Americans

When you have a story to tell, tell it till the end. Don’t worry how long it is”, D. MacMaster

As my birthday was approaching, I was in Chicago enjoying a month-long holiday with my family and friends. The 3rd of September was nearing, I was reflecting deeply on my goals, dreams, and accomplishments for the past 40 years of existence on this planet.

Although, I could invite a friend and celebrate it in one of those exotic cities or islands like Cannes, Monte Carlo, Dubai, Capri, or Santorini; I was debating the idea of spending it with my family or flying to Arizona and celebrating with my extended family – the Assyrian people.

In a way, I was thinking about trading the love of being with my mother, father, sisters and a few close relatives in Chicago, for a greater sense of belonging – with the Assyrian community.

I was falling into reveries: imagining a hotel full of Assyrians, people gathering in the lobby, relatives meeting after many years, friends seeing each other again after a long disconnect, activists and political lectures, a swimming pool full of my people, nightly parties, and… all the infidelities. I was feeling the gaiety of the atmosphere. It was poetic.

The Assyrian American National Federation (AANF) stakes a claim to our existence, a plinth to stand on – we, Assyrian immigrants, are the new Americans. I wanted to be part of that. On this note, I share my story.

The 83rd year of the five-day AANF convention was hosted in Scottsdale, Arizona at DoubleTree Resort. That hotel was fully booked, so I made my reservation at Embassy Suites, just next door. And I got lucky, it was a better deal, plus I had a suite.

It was mid afternoon on Thursday, September 1 when I arrived in Phoenix. Nick, who I had met in Iraq, but now lives in the host city of Phoenix, was waiting in his shining white Escalade at the arrivals area of Sky Harbor airport. I surprised him by coming from the back. We hugged and exchanged greetings. The Iraq experiences we had shared created a bond between friends that’s even stronger than family. We spent the 30-minute ride sharing our latest stories. That’s when Nick explained that he would be returning to Iraq. He’d found a new job helping the American Army, and he had to take it. He and his family of five live in America now, so he’s raising kids all the way through college, has a 30-year mortgage, medical bills, car payments, a stay-at-home wife, and of course the occasional emergency, To maintain an average life is extremely expensive in America. The job pays well. He can’t turn it down. So, he’s going back after one year of living stateside.

After I checked-in, and dropped the luggage in my room, we spent the rest of the day at the convention. Many Assyrians have moved in the last few years from places like Illinois, Michigan, and California – to Arizona, making it one of the largest Assyrian communities in America.

Every night, there was a party – the first night was slow. People were still arriving from all over America and Canada, as well as some from overseas, including Germany, Sweden, and Holland. Assyrian immigrants scattered around the globe, separated from their families for various reasons – but mostly, war and bloodshed, were now meeting up in America.

Take my family for an example: I have relatives on both sides of my immediate family in Canada, Sweden, the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany, Austria, and Australia. And each one of us has an immigrant story to tell.

On Friday September 2, after our first late night of drinking and socializing, Nick drove 40 minutes from his house and picked me up around 10 am. We wanted to get the day started. As we walked through the lobby, the registration line was getting long, the poolside was filling up, the whole event was starting to pick up steam. We sat at the bar to have lunch, and as we finished, I spotted my friend Z. He is Syrian-born – a U.S. Marines Major, retired infantry – who has done seven combat tours including Iraq and Afghanistan. We were together in Iraq at the same location during the war on ISIS, but lost contact after his retirement.

“Z…Z”, I shouted.  He looked at me with pleasant surprise and joined us at the bar.

We hugged, both of us knowing that we were not just friends; we’re war-bonded brothers. He had flown from California and, like me, was traveling solo. Naturally, I mentioned to him that it was my birthday eve and he shared my excitement. We decided to meet later on.

Nick was flying back to Iraq the following day, so he had to leave us early. He dropped me back to my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

I had a couple of drinks in my room, as I was getting ready. I know most men dress in suits at the convention, but lately I’ve been a polo shirt and fashion jeans guy. Over my past holidays to Europe, I’ve picked up nice limited edition Paul & Shark, La Martina, and Diesel. So I decided to let them reflect my age. Hey… I’m only 39 right?

Around 8 pm, Z and I met at the convention lobby and walked to the bar to start the night with some shots. As more people were coming and joining the party, we were outside with our drinks in hand, mingling in and out of groups of friends, some of the old stories made the rounds again, and new ones were shared.

Noticing our drinks were empty, Z and I headed back to the bar for a second, then a third… then a fourth.

As the night went on, there I was. No cake. No 40 burning candles. No singing happy birthday. No sisters or parents. No gifts. Just a few good friends in the midst of over 3000 Assyrians. Close to midnight, with several friends gathered around one of the bars inside, we were toasting with shots. People were dancing the Assyrian traditional dance while Ramsen Sheeno sang. It was as lively as I had imagined. I was turning 40 – single – and there was no place else I would rather be!

There was some disappointment when the party ended early, at 1:30 am, due to Arizona law. But I’d met a woman and I invited her to my hotel for some late night food and maybe some vodka out by the pool.

She agreed, we picked up our few provisions, and the next thing I knew, there we were at poolside talking, our voices quiet in the early morning hours. That in turn, led to some moments of silence, each of us wondering what might happen next. So, there at the poolside is where I had my first birthday kiss, and what a kiss it was! I’ll say only this: it gave me shivers.

The vodka bottle, the glasses, the food – all were left behind as we walked together to my room.

And as soon as the door closed… we started again.

Saturday September 3, I felt the hangover as soon as I opened my eyes. I left my room, and as I was walking to meet Z at the pool, I saw the Vodka bottle, half full still on the table. I was tempted to apologize to the staff who were near by – “sorry, that’s mine. I left it there last night” – but I didn’t say a word.

I settled down next to Z and we snapped the first picture of me at a new age. Years from now, as I lose the battle of aging, I will remember how I looked on that day.

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We weren’t paying much attention to the political and cultural lectures given by the Assyrian activists and politicians; instead, we spent most of the convention enjoying the music at the swimming pool – and the nightly parties.

On one occasion by the pool, Fredrick, a friend from school days and now a manager at a consulting firm, stopped by for a quick chat. As we were talking, he pointed out and said:

“Do you know Steve Nabil?”

Who’s Steve Nabil?” I said.

“This guy next to you!” He replied. Then continued, “You should. He is widely known in Iraq. He was reporting on ISIS. He has a great number of followers on Facebook and Twitter”.

Can you introduce us?” I asked.

Steve had come with his family from California as well.  A few minutes into the conversation, we discovered that we’re tribally related. We hit it off like we’d known each other for years.

He shared a few of his stories from Iraq with me. One in particular, took most of our time: his recent incredible survival in Turkey. He and his wife had just returned from their honeymoon in Santorini, and were transiting through Istanbul Airport when the attack occurred.

Check his bristling interview on CNN.

While we continued talking he even Snapchatted about our meeting. Thousands of his followers saw our Snapchat story in Iraq and around the world. (Thanks Steve!)

Then, he invited me to the presidential dinner that evening. The newly elected executive board administration for AANF was being announced. Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-8) was the featured presenter. He gave a rousing speech and unremitting support to the Assyrian right to the Nineveh plains – a degree of autonomy for the Assyrian people in Iraq.

After the congressman’s speech ended, we left the dinner early and met Z at the party. We all had a few drinks and joined the Assyrian traditional dance line till the end of the night on song after song with a few intermediate breaks for more drinks. This time, the party lasted until 3am.

Steve’s poor wife, who is studying to be a pharmacist, ended up falling asleep at the table.

Someone once said, “Friends are the family you choose”. I had some of my close relatives, who I barely crossed paths with throughout my stay at the convention. But friends like Nick, Z, and Steve are my new family. Their entourage was my gift.

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Indeed it was the right decision to attend the convention – a place where my heart and mind wanted to be. In Psychology parlance, it is called reaching the state of Flow – I was in that State.

“What is it that makes people happy?” the Greek philosopher Epicurus asked this question back in 341 BC. He discovered that human nature needs friends.

No possessiveness, no drama – just a relaxed acceptance – that is a true friendship. 

I am happy to belong to an Assyrian community that provides real friendships like that. It enriches my life. I can move from Chicago to Phoenix, Vegas, or San Jose; Sydney, Marseille, or Frankfort, and I can easily build new bonds.

I can message a few, of the thousands, of Assyrians connected by the Assyrian Network of Professionals group (on LinkedIn) and go out for a coffee. It’s the beauty of a greater sense of belonging.

MacMaster said, “tell your story to the end”.  Well, there is more to my story, but as the 83rd convention came to an end, a new chapter started in my life journey. 

For various reasons, I couldn’t accomplish a few of my goals before the age of 40, (like visiting 40 countries before my 40th birthday).

So, I made some new ones: By the age of 50 – visit 50 (26 countries left), build more real friendships, see my abs, continue reading  – and mainly… continue writing my life story.

 

 

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Always a Drama Always a Victim

Always a drama…always a victim!” – this is a label I recently started giving to a few acquaintances who are constantly entangled in some type drama. And when they blurt out their explanation, they are always describing themselves as a victim. Misfortune is their constant companion.

Here are two quick stories to illustrate what I mean. One of them is a contractor who worked in Iraq with the U.S. Army. I will refer to her with a sobriquet – Drama Queen One. And the second one is someone I met in Chicago, and I will refer to her with Drama Queen Two sobriquet.

Every time I met with Drama Queen One during lunch or dinner time, she poured out her work drama. When she shared with me her issues, I noticed, she was always the victim. Because she didn’t have a good relationship with her co-worker, she would get fired up at a small incident that could be unintentional. In one incident she explained she had just walked away from her desk, and her co-worker sprayed air freshener in the office. She took that as a personal insult. The drama continued for a few months until she was released from her army unit and assigned to a new one.

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At her new assignment, she quickly got involved with another drama. She didn’t last two months. She was released from that unit as well, and assigned to a third, by the program manager.

The reputation of Drama Queen One had preceded her arrival at this new assignment. Not even a few days into it she got involved in drama with her co-workers and she was fired. She lost a high-income tax-free job because she couldn’t stop complaining.

As for the Drama Queen two’s story. We met each other at one of the Assyrian cabarets, and made plans to go for a coffee. The day after our first coffee meeting, she called me in the morning crying. She claimed she had lost her parents monthly Social Security checks when she drove home the night before. She claimed she couldn’t pay the rent, and asked for help. So, I helped her.

A few days passed before we talked again. Not even a few minutes into our second conversation on the phone she hung-up suddenly. Then texted me back saying “my brother just got into an accident in front of our house.” I doubted it. I replied “I hope he is ok!. Send me a picture of the accident. She never did.

A few days more passed, and on the third phone call, she shared a story about her mother’s niece – that she was dying in Las Vegas and needed to take her mother to see her. She asked for help. So, I helped her.

By now it was getting predictable. As I expected, the fourth call came from Las Vegas. She asked me for help to come back to Chicago. I said testily: “You are beautiful. I am sure you can manage in Vegas and find a way to come back!

Appearances are deceiving. Our natural instinct is to trust people and help them. But then we wonder about their life.

I look at these people’s Facebook pictures, and a clamor of voices start in my head: (Why is there always a drama with this person? She is always negative. They look beautiful in those Facebook pictures, but their beauty does not reflect their characterwhy is there so often an inverse relation between beauty and craziness? Is she lying? Is she taking advantage?) I become discombobulated trying to reconcile how their Facebook persona contrasts with the reality of their life.

Friends and acquaintances, like the above people, suffer from emotional extremes. I find my relationship with them to be taxing and toxic. I’ve started to cast them off as fast as I develop them, in order to reduce stress from my life.

All of us are sometimes victims of adversity caused by life’s randomness. Everyday requires a constant balance between sharing and restraint from expressing our thoughts, complaints, and opinions. We must develop the habit of self-editing. It’s a lustering veneer to our character. 

But if you are the type of person who blurts out drama all the time, here is my advice to you – it comes from Stoicism philosophy: Never show self-pity. Never blame others. Never complain. It encourages us to live a dignified, and even elegant, life, and builds moral fortitude.

As for me, nothing remains from these friendships or acquaintances, but a memory of – always a drama, always a victim. And that seems, somehow, even less than a memory.

 

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