A Slice of Life – Kurdistan: Volume 3

I woke up this morning to bright sunshine creating shadows on the walls. It is almost spring in Kurdistan. While indoors it is still brutally cold because of concrete buildings and lack of insulation, all of nature is breathing signs of spring. From goslings to buds on trees, life is bursting forth.

We have heard that March is a spectacular month in Kurdistan. It is a month long celebration of life and the new year. Nowruz (Persian and Kurdish New Year) is celebrated on the 21st of the month and we have heard that people picnic both that day and all the days surrounding the celebration. Winter has felt long here, even without snow. The rains come and seep into your bones and through cracks in the walls so that your body and your environment are constantly wet. It’s a bit like monsoons in Pakistan. With the dryer, warmer weather all of life feels easier.

A Daughter Visits…

Our younger daughter visited us this past week and in her presence we felt once again the joy of belonging. We rearranged our schedules to maximize our short time together and let her experience as much as possible.

We visited Darband and looked out onto a brilliant blue lake with snow capped mountains in the distance. We hiked up a small mountain behind the university and took in the expansive views of the area. But the highlight was a friend driving us up a steep mountain road where hairpin turns and switchbacks had us gasping and wondering if we were all going to die. We didn’t die and as we stopped to take in our surroundings it was all worth it. The view from above was magnificent. The sun was setting and the entire area was bathed in shades of fuchsia, gold, orange, blue, and grey. We could see where the lake detoured into smaller pools and rivers. We saw mountains beyond mountains and hills beyond hills. Almond trees dotted the landscape, their small pink blossoms whispering the hope of spring. Kurdistan’s beauty was on full display as if to say “I’m so much more than people realize!”

And it is.

In addition we were invited into homes of dear friends who showed Stefanie the warmth and hospitality we have been bragging about since we arrived in Kurdistan. It was an incredible gift to have her here with us and to show her why we love Kurdistan so much.

Beauty & Kindness of the People,
Stunning Landscape,
Generous Hospitality

There are times when I feel like our life resembles a National Geographic magazine article. Surrounded by adventure, beauty, and uncommon experiences as compared to the Western world, we find that each day holds a story or ten. But far more than that, what I long to communicate from our time here it is the beauty and kindness of the people, the stunning landscape, and the generous hospitality that is shown to us at every turn. I long to challenge stereotypes and show people how much they miss when they are locked into media perceptions. This is why these slice of life posts are so important. They are read all over the world and I can only pray and hope that my small words will make a difference.

But my words are inadequate to describe the beauty that we have seen, so I will leave you with pictures. Enjoy and as you look at them, think of Kurdistan.

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Defying the Definition of Beauty

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I see her when I go to get coffee on a rainy afternoon. In a busy, city coffee shop, you see a lot of things. Black suited business people, musicians, law students, homeless, and tourists are just a few of those who walk in during the day. She is right in front of me with someone who could have been a friend or a sister. Both of them petite, with dark, straight hair. When they turn around, I see the difference.

One of them is beautiful by traditional standards of beauty. The other? Her face is a map of burnt skin and scar tissue. I know immediately that she is a victim of an acid attack. It would seem that the attackers won; that their actions permanently disfigured the woman they set out to punish.

On the morning of December 23, 2014, as a 30-year-old doctor was riding to work in New Delhi, two men on a motorcycle intercepted her scooter. While one grabbed her handbag, another sprayed the contents of a syringe at her face. It was filled with acid. The liquid quickly ate through her skin and facial tissue. She is currently undergoing treatment and may lose the sight in one eye.*

Beauty is an odd thing. We are told it is in the eyes of the beholder, even as we are accosted by subliminal advertising that assaults us through print and picture, telling us what we are supposed to think, what our eyes are supposed to behold as beautiful. We end up victims of a culture that defines beauty for us and dares us to defy that definition. We see ourselves through society’s eyes, our identity too often molded by the shape of our nose, the size of our hips, the alignment of our teeth.

When acid is thrown on a person’s face, the eyelids and lips may burn off completely. The nose may melt, closing the nostrils, and the ears shrivel up. Skin and bone on the skull, forehead, cheeks and chin may dissolve. When the acid splashes or drips over the neck, chest, back, arms or legs, it burns every inch of the skin it touches.*

But the woman I see defies that definition. Daily, she faces a visual world, a world that tells us what beauty is, and what it isn’t. But she is not staying at home, she is out in this world, defying it to define her, defying this world to see beyond traditional beauty to a new kind of beauty that shines from these faces the world calls scarred. Her scars symbolize the beauty of resilience; the beauty of strength; the beauty of survival. Her scars mean she defeated her enemy; she lives on, loved by her friends and family.

I walk away from the shop, hardly tasting the strong roast that I looked forward to. I am lost in thought over beauty: What it is, and what it isn’t. I feel society’s definition leering at me, daring me to challenge her notion of beauty. I suddenly catch a glimpse of my reflection in a shop window and, just like that, I panic. For my lipstick, so carefully applied that morning, has faded.

*[Source – Indian Acid Attack Victims Share Their Stories]

Click here for more information on acid attacks.

On Being Miss Rumphius and Robynn Bliss

 

lupines by Janet Wachter

Today Robynn is taking a day off – I dedicate this post to her and talk about why she’s taking today off at the end! 

One of my favorite children’s books is Miss Rumphius. 

The book begins with a little girl named Alice on a grandfather’s lap. There she would sit listening to exciting stories of faraway places. She would listen and listen and then say to her grandfather “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.”

Her grandfather says ““That is all very well, little Alice”….“but there is a third thing you must do…You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

“All right” says Alice. So Alice becomes a librarian – A librarian named Miss Rumphius. As a librarian she helped children find books that told them all about far away places. When she retired she decided to travel herself to see some of those far away places she had only visited through books. She travels and travels, gets tired, and finally ends up in a small cottage by the sea. But she still hasn’t figured out what to do to make the world a more beautiful place. Miss Rumphius ends up with a terrible back ache and has to have complete bed rest. It’s while laying in her bed that she knows what she wants to do to make the world a more beautiful place: she will plant lupine seeds. That way lupines will grow all over the country side.

So when Miss Rumphius is well again that’s what she does. She walks all over spreading lupine seeds. And the next year the ground is covered with beautiful lupines. She is now little and old and people call her the “lupine lady.”

The book ends delightfully with Miss Rumphius telling her nieces and nephews stories about far away places. And when they say they too want to go live in far away places and have houses by the sea she says to them exactly what her grandfather said to her:

“That is all very well….”but there is a third thing you must do…You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”

The book is based on the author’s great-aunt. It is a delightful read no matter what age you are and should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Today I was reminded of this beautiful book when my friend Janet, an amazing photographer, posted pictures of beautiful lupines. On this Friday the idea of lupines and making the world a more beautiful place makes me smile. And it makes me think of Robynn who is taking this week off as she transforms a house that is not beautiful into a place that is beautiful and warm, a place where she can love her family and care for her mother-in-law. And I love this. I love that she is transforming a house. I love that the ugly mural on a wall is being covered with fresh paint. I love that she is in the business of helping to transform lives and souls. 

So here’s to you on your day off Robynn! Keep on making the world a more beautiful place — through your writing which we get to enjoy weekly, through transforming your house, and for being a person used to transform souls. We love you.

Today how can you make the world a more beautiful place? 

Picture Credit: Janet Wachter who is also making the world a more beautiful place. Thank you Janet!

Readers – stay tuned for a book giveaway next week! 

 *Check out the book Between Worlds:Essays on Culture and Belonging – Available at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon GermanyBarnes & Noble!

 

Beyond the Window at Fish’s Eddy

Those of you who are regular readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know that we go from provocative to poignant to profound quickly in any given week. This week is no exception — today we move away from TCK’s into a totally different arena with more glimpses of New York City in this post by Stef. 

I’ve now lived in New York City for two years. In urban settings beauty doesn’t always come naturally – you have to look for it. Sometimes it comes in the form of a building, other times through a shop window.

For months I passed by one of these shop windows. I would peek into the window on my way to Union Square and promise myself that one day, when I wasn’t in a hurry, I would stop in. That shop is Fish’s Eddy.

When my parents came to visit me for Thanksgiving, I finally got a real peek at the store I was so fond of.

I went beyond the window.

Fish’s Eddy is a gorgeous pottery store. Gorgeous doesn’t begin to describe it. Every inch is covered with jars, plates, bowls, cups, platters, etc. The shapes, colors, and textures are charming in every way. There are plates with crossword puzzles on them, platters with bridges spanning the length of the dish, coasters in the shape of artist’s palettes, and more. The pictures below don’t do the store justice, but let’s just say my future home will be full of Fish’s Eddy dishware.

It’s also a reminder that sometimes I need to slow down to see what’s beyond the window. 

Take a look at the wonder of Fish’s Eddy through these pictures.

Fish's Eddy - cups, teapots Fish's Eddy - Hands Fish's Eddy - hanging cups Fish's Eddy - Vintage China Fish's Eddy -Close up of cups

“She Shouldn’t Have Worn White”

“My mom says she shouldn’t have worn white”. I looked at my friend perplexed. I was 16 and had never heard the phrase. She was referring to the western Christian custom (brought about by Queen Victoria in 1840) where a bride wears white, symbolic of virginity, of purity. She was specifically talking about a wedding I had been to — a wedding where the petite bride’s belly showed through the satin and lace of a wedding dress; a wedding where the bride was pregnant.

She said it again: “She shouldn’t have worn white” and shook her head. I, daughter of Baptist missionaries, was completely confused. The irony that She, with little church background, was educating me on symbols of purity and virginity was not lost, even at my young age.

They were words of condemnation. Words said in disgust. Words said in judgment.

Suddenly the bride’s gown didn’t seem as beautiful. Suddenly it was stained, all that satin and lace now the color of condemnation.

This conversation has stayed with me since that time. For there are many times where I have heard the words in my head that spoke judgment and condemnation about something I’ve done or said. The words “You shouldn’t have worn white”. 

You shouldn’t have worn white. You’re not qualified. Your past should exclude you. You’re not worthy. You’re an impostor. You’ll never be good enough. You shouldn’t have worn white.

Far worse is that in my mind I have used these words with others, deeming them unworthy. Casting judgment, the first stone, condemning the white until there was no beauty left.

The words made their way into a pocket of my soul unreached by Grace. Grace had to find the way to burrow in and replace words of condemnation with words of conviction. “You shouldn’t have worn white” had to be replaced with words of saving Grace. Words of truth to replace lies of condemnation.

For I have found that true conviction leads me to action while condemnation paralyzes, the paralysis expressed in the phrase “She shouldn’t have worn white”. Satin and lace tarnished, beauty gone, my heart closed to the beauty of Grace.

But conviction? Conviction opens wide the door and makes me long for loveliness, strive for transformation, open to the work of Grace.

“She shouldn’t have worn white” still casts its stain, for sticks and stones may break my bones but words can haunt forever. But words of Grace ultimately win this battle.

Wrinkled Beauty

Female beggar at Haji Ali in Mumbai, wearing a...

She’s Wrinkled Beauty. It’s as though all the years multiplied on her face into wrinkles expressing and describing each year; the hard years defined by pain and tears, the good years adorned with smiles and laughter, the mundane years demonstrated by stubborn “I will not quits”.

As I age I recognize more and more that beauty is about life lived well. Beauty is about wrinkles born of love, wrinkles born of living through the pain and hard stuff. Beauty is about a mind that is ever inquiring. Beauty is about a face where a million stories live in the lines of the eyes and marks by the smile. Beauty is about a heart that knows how to love, how to forgive, how to live.  Beauty is about a faith that sustains and can be seen when looking at the eyes, reflections of the soul. Beauty is about wisdom.

Beauty must be earned. Earned through the wrinkles, earned through the years. 

Young women, with their fresh faces, perfect teeth, and ability to wear whatever they want may be pretty, stunning even…but beauty? Beauty must be earned.

And this wrinkled beauty? She’s earned it!

But I have to ask myself – if I truly believe she is wrinkled beauty – why do I spend so much money on face cream? 

And God Said “Tonight I’ll Give Them….Chartreuse”

By the time we reached our favorite rocks the sun was setting over the ocean. The colors looked as if all the blue, purple, green and gold had spilled out across a canvas, blended yet distinct, in a crash of colors. Standing on the rocks we stared, we marveled. There is no way man could create such beauty.

My husband shook his head and looking toward the ocean said “And God said ‘Tonight I’ll give them….. Chartreuse'” We both laughed. It was just like that. As if God had come out with his brushes and in broad strokes painted the sky just for us, deciding on colors at the last minute to surprise and delight.

Of all the analogies that we try to use to help our finite peanut-sized brains grasp the character and person of God, God as artist is my favorite.

An artist that delights in the work of their hands, that paints with broad sweeps and draws with the infinite detail of pen and ink; that uses clay one day, shaping it into pitchers and bowls, and oil the next; that reaches into a never-ending box of brushes and artist supplies and comes up with the newest creative project.

And the grateful audience sits back in awe. Only we aren’t just an audience – we are participants in his creative process, his thoughtful design. We not only long for and appreciate beauty, we love to create it. Beauty nourishes the soul and revives the spirit.

When I doubt the goodness of God I have only to think of the ocean, the waves and the tonight-I’ll-give-them-chartreuse sky.

“Art is as much a necessity for man as eating and drinking. The need for beauty and creation embodying it is inseparable from man, and without it man would perhaps have refused to live in the world. Man craves it, finds and accepts beauty without any conditions just because it is beauty and worships it with veneration…. and it is perhaps in this that the greatest secret of creative art lies, namely that the image of beauty created by art at once becomes something to be worshipped without any conditions…. The need for beauty is felt more strongly when men are at variance with their reality, in a state of disharmony, in conflict, that is to say, when they are most of all alive.” Dostoevsky