We had skeletons in our closets, literally. Sometimes, they were on the dining room table (not for eating :-). I grew up in a medical household where human bones were for studying. The only non-doctors in the house were the cats and me. Talking about body parts, illnesses and bodily fluids were normal dinner conversations. I remember having to recite which vitamins are in which foods before being allowed to serve myself. We had what you may call “pill infestation”: open any cabinet, closet or drawer, and watch bottles and boxes of medicine pour out. Pharmaceutical companies are generous with their free samples; many of which end up being used on us, the kids. Everytime I sneezed, my dad would run to me with a handful of pills and a glass of water. Getting shots for anything and everything was the MO of my childhood. I often felt like a lab rat and envisioned my butt looking like a colander. Science was fun! When my Dad slaughtered the sheep for the big feast every year, he would hang the dead carcass by the neck, open the belly, and give us, kids, a biology lesson; showing the digestive system, the respiratory system, the reproductive system, the different organs and tissues. I really enjoyed that part, even though I was never able to watch the neck severing. One huge advantage of having doctors as parents, is that masturbation is accepted as normal. I started pleasuring myself at a very young age, maybe 4 or 5. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew when I rubbed between my legs, it felt good. I remember doing it under the covers while my Mom and brother are having a conversation in the same room. Or stepping out from the busy kitchen where everyone is labouring over something, going to my room and playing with myself. Even though I was as discreet as a 4-year old can be, I’m sure it wasn’t a secret, yet never once was I ‘caught’ (my first introduction to “don’t ask, don’t tell” ;-). My Dad was an OB/GYN, we talked about pussies and butts just like any other body part, nothing special. Yet I still absorbed all the body shame, guilt and oppression from the surrounding culture nonetheless. I grew up hating my hair (too frizzy and thick), skin (too hairy and oily) and body (too skinny). I was repeatedly told by relatives that I’m unmarriageable because I’m too bony معضمه. My Dad, worrying about his daughter’s future, used to give me shots to increase my appetite so that I would put some meat on my bones. I did eat more, but never gained weight and never looked ‘marriageable’ (whatever that was). The irony is, I got the skinny genes from him. When I moved to the USA to study, for the first time in my life I felt that my body is not only normal, but also beautiful and desirable. What a relief that was! There was no going back.
Two liquids of different densities don’t mix, like oil and water. But when two slightly different variants of the same liquid touch each other, you would expect them to blend together and produce a new homogeneous liquid. Right? Not in the Amazon! El Río Negro meets the Amazon River near Manaus, Brazil, they share a 40 km (~25 miles) “border” without mixing. You can see and feel the difference. El Río Negro is darker, has high acidity (4.6 pH), warmer (26°C, 78°F) and slower. The Amazon River, or Rio Solimões as it’s known in that area, has low acidity (6.8 pH), cooler at 23°C/73°F and runs faster. Because of its speed (7 km/hr, 4.35mph), it washes off the clay shores which gives the water its light brown color. The high acidity and relative shallowness of El Río Negro (16 meters/52 ft max depth) make it home to only 300 types of fish as opposed to 2000 varieties in the Amazon (60 meters/197 feet max depth). The best part is that mosquitoes cannot breed in El Río Negro! It contains 60% minerals, including iron and uranium and 40% organic matter. The Amazon River is a gold mine, literally and figuratively. The region is very rich in resources: oil, minerals, gold, wood, rare flora and fauna, raw materials..etc, and is being exploited to the detriment of the environment, the wild life and the indigenous peoples. The government is giving incentives for companies to invest in the region by charging no taxes. So you come to the Amazon, only to find manufacturing plants for cars, digital devices, oil companies and other “modern” sores. Now Manaus, the capital of Amazonia state, is a busy polluted, grid locked metropolitan city with traffic jams, high rises and high blood pressure. Can’t blame them for “paving paradise to put up a parking lot”*. They want “progress” too and they have the resources to get it. The only silver lining is that arts flourish; free music and dance shows daily in the Opera House in addition to live music in the square, complete with drinking, smoking and trash everywhere.
Humans are, indeed, the cancer of the Earth and cities are the tumors. Like cancer, we grow at a faster rate than our host, Earth can support. Can we stop before we sink our mother ship and die?
* From the song “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell.
Meeting of the waters near Manaus, Brazil.
Meeting of the waters near Manaus, Brazil. From Rio Negro.
Opera House, Manaus, Brazil.
It’s against my religion to voluntarily travel to cold weather. I don’t carry winter clothes (except for 1 emergency jacket), to keep my luggage light. Yet here I am, in northern California in December wearing 4 layers of clothes, socks and shoes with my hands cold all the time… and loving it! Catching up with family and friends, having my winter clothes and the holidays celebrations more than make up for the cold weather. It’s surreal to be in my old surroundings yet I feel different. My old life pretty much disappeared; no Keesha, Zuzu or Semsem, no Halanda Studio, no “Mezza and Tapas” (my radio show), no car… it’s as if it was all a figment of my imagination. If it wasn’t for Shawn, the house, friends and pictures, I could easily pretend it was a dream. Yet I have no regrets, longings or any remorse. I lived and loved to the fullest, poured my heart and soul into what made me happy, and continue to do so. In 2016, I felt a lot of pain from my attachment to how things should and shouldn’t be. In the meantime, I learnt to surrender to the seasons of life and I feel peace. When I look back, I’m filled with gratitude, joy and awe at how my life transpired. When I look forward, I feel excitement and anticipation for all the magic that has yet to unfold. I appreciate the present moment, cold hands, 4 layers of clothes and all, for the love and warmth of family and friends! May life continue to unfold in wonderful ways for all of us! Merry Cosmos and Happy No Fear!
I lived in caves, boats, hostels, apartments, houses, hotels, resorts. Slept on the beach, in the fields, on couches, in hammocks, cars, benches, feather beds. Showered in the rain, oceans, rivers, sprinklers, bathrooms. Hitchhiked, walked barefoot, rode camels, horses, traveled by bicycles, motorcycles, cars, buses, trains, planes. Ate from dumpsters, fresh from the fields, grubs and nuts from the forest floor, at Michelin star restaurants, and everything in between. Befriended homeless people, prostitutes, drug addicts, CEOs, artists, lawyers, conservatives, liberals, people of all religions, colors and races, gays, anti-gays and people all over the sexuality spectrum. When I reflect on that, I realize that Roosevelt was right: “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself”. That doesn’t mean I am fearless, far from it. I just acknowledge and examine my fears, which I have every single minute of every single day. Sometimes I choose to act on them, often not. The more data I accumulate against my fears, the easier it gets to not let them run the show. It’s a practice and challenge that I enjoy.
Most of our fears are inherited and irrational. We hardly ever examine the validity or the applicability of our fears and we pass them on to future generations who do the same. We’re all fleas in a jar*. Even though the lid had been removed long ago, we still behave as if it’s still there.
We fear change, death, nature, mistakes, failure, judgement, the unknown, things we cannot control, ideas that don’t match ours, wild life…etc. When all these are, in fact, NATURAL and INEVITABLE. How crazy is that?!? We’re like a kitten who’s afraid of its own shadow. Our irrational fears are destroying our health, well being, vitality and the Earth we call home.
Can you imagine life without irrational fear? What’s the first thing you would do, if you had no fear?
* If you put fleas in a jar and close the lid, they will adapt and jump only as high as the lid, even after you remove the lid.
“Cuidado”. “Be careful”. “75% of the people we met got mugged in Rio”. “There’s an app that shows the number and location of Rio shootings”… Why did I go to Rio de Janeiro despite all these warnings? Because they were all followed by “… but you have to go!”. I figured it’s like going to Egypt and not visiting Cairo, it’s just not the complete picture. I’m always curious about the daily lives of the locals, and that wouldn’t be complete without Rio… and it didn’t disappoint! Since I was specifically warned about cell phone thefts, I obsessively guarded my phone like a hawk. Never imagined, in my wildest dreams that I would eventuality lose it to my most beloved
My host lived in Copacabana across the street from the beach. Perfect location to go for a swim, without having to carry any valuables. So I wore my bathing suit, sarong and flip flops, took the keys and, not wanting to miss any photo opportunities, put my phone in its waterproof case, wore it around my neck and headed to the beach. The ocean was a little rough that day so I got tumbled around a few times. When I finished my wave fun, I sat on the sand and took my phone out. Even though it was in the waterproof case, it had gotten a little wet and turned off. I tried to turn it back on, but it wouldn’t turn on. I immediately went home, cleaned and dried it, still it remained lifeless. My host didn’t have enough rice, but, luckily he has a cat. I stuck the phone in a bag of cat litter for about an hour, still dead. So we looked up phone repair shops and I took it to one. Using Google translate, I explained what happened and they said I had to leave it until Monday afternoon (it was Friday). Sh!t, I exclaimed. Not only did I use my phone to book transportation and accommodation, it was also my navigator, camera, connection to my friends and, especially in Brazil where very few speak English, my translator. Spending the whole weekend without it was akin to solitary confinement. I could no longer meet up with people, make any travel plans, write or even find my way around without asking. Breathe. Meditate. Surrender to the flow. Live in the moment. Monday will be here before I know it. Rio is very picturesque, diverse and has a lot to offer. Like San Francisco, each neighborhood has its own character and charm. I walked a lot discovering a different area each day. Since I couldn’t take pictures, I made a point of slowing down and taking in every detail. I discovered new depths to living in the moment (be careful what you ask for…). On Monday at the appointed time, I went to pick up my phone, only to receive the bad news that it was un-repairable . My travel companion and reliable assistant is dead. I lost it to the ocean. I thought I was traveling alone, but I wasn’t until now. In a time when everyone is using a smart phone, when I would ask for anything that you can look up online, people would start to talk slowly and loudly to me, like I was retarded. “Let me show you on your phone”, “give me your WhatsApp number, I’ll send it to you”…talk about adding insult to injury.
Internet cafes (I was happily surprised that some still existed), borrowing people’s computers and asking for information painfully got me by for a couple of days. Now I had to decide which course of action to take. After a quick research on phone prices and plane tickets, and motivated by the loneliness I had felt in the past few days, I decided to return to CA for a few weeks, spend the holidays with my friends, get a new phone, eat lots of food then resume my journey from there. Very happy I made that decision! Everything does, indeed, happen for a reason.
The human race has been seeped in a culture of fear and scarcity for several thousand years. All human made borders are drawn in blood. Countries appear and disappear through wars. If you are alive today, someone in your ancestry line must’ve killed people. It’s been so long that we have no clue what life looks like without fear and scarcity. Like all living systems, our culture of fear is very efficient at replicating itself. Because fear is the most contagious and most addictive meme, it’s very good at producing quantity, but not quality. In fact, quality of life under fear is very poor. Yet, it is the only system we know and the only mode in which we feel “safe”. Because we’re so addicted to it, when we have no real reason to fear, we create imaginary threats and fear them. Sometimes it’s insects, animals, wild nature, change, the unknown,…etc. Most often, it’s other people who don’t share our myths/skin color/location/ even the way they choose to use their own bodies. We demonize them and fear our made up demons. We create borders, build walls, race in arming ourselves, throw our youth in the fire, all in the name of security. But in reality, we’re securing the myths that we made up. Of which many become self fulfilling prophecies. In the culture of fear, there are no winners. It doesn’t matter on which side of the wall you’re standing, you are still a prisoner. It doesn’t matter whether you’re holding the gun or standing at its point, you’re still a victim. A victim of a rotten system that stripped you of your natural empathy and compassion. Your suffering doesn’t end at pulling the trigger, it only starts. The emotional, psychological and mental damage of our fear systems go much deeper and propagate much farther than any physical damage. We keep passing it on to future generations who keep passing it on and so on.
The most efficient way to produce numbers, is to use men as cannon fodder and women as breeders. Hence most of our belief systems, traditional gender roles, beauty standards and human culture are dominated by ideals that enforce and idealize those modes. Often at the expense of individual happiness, freedom and self actualization. Yet this “effectiveness” is not only making us unhappy, it’s also depleting the earth’s resources faster than they are being replenished. War and killing are now children’s games and no one gives it a second thought. The first thing we teach our children is what to fear: strangers, insects, darkness, wild animals, wild nature, the future and anything that we cannot contain and control. The list keeps growing with every generation.
Can we stop this madness? Is it possible?
Samantha Elizabeth hosts “Your Ecstatic Sacred Soul” show. She interviewed Hala on July 26, 2018. You may watch the interview here: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2035510249816152&id=1816834025017110