Cosmetic Surgery

Before

(Before)

Growing up in Iran, I felt that there was great value placed on physical beauty for females. Many young women had nose job done. It almost felt that if the family could financially afford the operation, mothers and daughters had the nose job and other cosmetic operations depending on finances.

Even at young age, I felt my soul longing for some recognition of inner beauty and felt pressure for outer beauty and resisted it with all my might. I decided at that tender young age that I will not volunteer for any cosmetic surgery and focus on the inner beauty and radiance of the spirit.

A while ago, a dear friend, colleague of mine shared that she was going to have an operation on her eye lid. She explained that the skin has been preventing her to see her peripheral vision and she was not able to see the open doors of the cabinets at the face level causing pain to her head hitting the cabinet door. She was informed that insurance will cover the cost and she scheduled the operation.

When she came to visit me after the recovery, I was pleasantly shocked. This was not the woman I had known for many years. She was a bundle of joy, not only physically a gorgeous, beautiful woman, more importantly her radiant soul that I had always felt had blossomed. The “Joie de Vivre”, her passion for life had filled the room. Her laughter was like a soothing remedy to the soul.

“You seem like an entirely different human being. What has changed?” I asked.

She could not stop smiling and shared that since age 7 she had frequent thoughts of “I wish I was never born. Why do I have to struggle so much?”

Why wasn’t I loved?

Why is life so difficult?

Why am I here?

In school children called her “ Cootie bug” and no one played with her.

Her only friend was a legally blind girl. She had a strong and independent nature and was blessed with a high IQ.

She decided, perhaps unconsciously, “if I can’t have friends, I don’t need friends.” This was to prevent her from being disappointed.

She was the oldest of four. When her parents divorced, she was 10 years old and the youngest was three years old. She recalled not liking her father and being afraid of men. Her mother remarried when she was 12 years old, shared that her mom was preoccupied with her new husband. She decided to live with her father and step mother. She loved her step mom, while her father kept putting her down and called her “stupid”. She wondered later, if her father was a “sociopath”, a self-centered man who knew how to get what he wanted by manipulation.

When she was a senior in High School, her fifteen year old brother came to live with her and her father. After a few months, there were conflicts, and she and her brother wanted to go back to live with their mother. Her father told her that the mother is willing to take the brother back but does not want her. She was heartbroken as someone stabbed her in the heart with a sharp knife. It was an affirmation of feeling unloved and unworthy.

I wondered if she felt that if her mother did not want her, who would?

She met Mike, the first young man who was attracted to her. She fell in love with him and imagined having a family with him, happily ever after. As one may imagine; the young man desired being intimate with her.

She was an inexperienced young woman fearful of men and moreover fearful of pregnancy. She knew nothing about sexual intimacy. The internal struggle of loving this man and intense fear of pregnancy and being rejected was deep. She declined and he broke up with her on the phone.

It reminds me of the movie “Splendor in the Grass”. She was heartbroken adding to the heart break of feeling unloved by her parents. She was smart, brilliant and eager to learn,yet she lost interest in school and life and cried her heart out sharing with a girlfriend. She withdrew from life altogether.

She wanted to become an airline stewardess and travel all over the world. She checked all the requirements. She was not accepted related to her height. She was not tall enough to reach the cabinets. . In High School, she was a teacher’s assistant and volunteered to read stories for children and started writing short stories. So, she decided to be a teacher’s assistant helping the children.

She remained with her father and as soon as she graduated from high school, got a job as a waitress working from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

As she had begun earning an income, her father immediately started charging her rent for $15 per week.

When it rains, it pours. Her father suddenly asked her to quit her job, knowing that she would not. He said he worried when she came home late at 3 a.m., she may not lock the door! He said he couldn’t sleep. She found a roommate, also a waitress and moved out. As such, she paid less rent than her father was charging her.

Later, she learned that her father had an affair. He wanted to get a divorce from the step mom and to have the freedom he desired. The step mom affirmed to her that “men are only after one thing when it comes to women”.

She decided she “hated” men. In her early 20’s, she read an article on MENSA in The Readers Digest; filled out a form and sent it in. They recommended for her to have and IQ test. After the test she was informed that she has a very high IQ. The interviewer added “I believe you have been molested as a child.” She couldn’t remember anything and wondered if he wanted to sell her books and left. She wondered to herself, perhaps he said that because of my hatred of men.

She shared how she shut down, feeling helpless so many time in life, barely surviving.

“ Have I shared with you that I was suicidal?”

My heart was aching, looking at this goddess in front of me, a tower of strength, amazing survival skills, overcoming so many obstacles in life and raising two precious sons in spite of all challenges in life. She is the loving grandmother of five who plays, sings and nurtures their imaginations.

As she was sharing, the beautiful song, once – twice – three times a LADY started playing. It felt as the universe was directly communicating with her through this song. Suddenly, my shy friend started singing with the song. The goddess had  emerged.

I was totally present and joyful as witnessing a miracle. I couldn’t imagine her singing at all. Wow, what a beautiful voice and what a joyful human being. The room was filled with the sound of music.

“Did I tell you, I love to sing?”

You have a beautiful voice my friend. “What is your favorite song to sing?” I asked. She did not need to think, let it go; and a Country Western song, “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.

“Hold on a second”, I went and brought my IPad. Within a few minutes, she found the lyrics on her phone and we wrote it down and played the song on the IPad. She sang along for the very first time with the music and we recorded it on her phone. We both listened to the recording and laughed from the heart. We had lost track of time. We became playful kids.

This was a transformation of the soul. The words are not able to describe the inner experience. I watched a beautiful colorful butterfly that emerged from the cocoon right in front of my eyes. She had released the impact of childhood traumas. She was celebrating her creative talents.

This is my heartfelt thanks to all the cosmetic surgeons who create physical beauty and may not be aware of the emotional transformation that follows.

Happy Rebirth my friend.

After

(After)


Quartetto Gelato

QG-Lydia-small-250x282

“We have two tickets for this great performance that we cannot attend. Would you like to go?” my dear friend asked.

I was deeply touched by his generosity and thoughtfulness. It was a heartwarming act of kindness that gives me hope about the nature of human beings. I accepted with deep gratitude.

On that Sunday, we went to the auditorium, not knowing anything about the performance or the performers. The title sounded Italian and that sounded great. When we entered the auditorium, it was filled with mature audiences from the senior community. The energy was felt with much joy and excitement of anticipation. It was about fifteen minutes past the hour that the program was supposed to start. Then the announcer appeared on the stage.

She said “The performers are here! I just wanted to share with you that they have come from Toronto and had five flight cancellations on their way.”

There was an“Ah” sound of understanding from the audience. Yes, some of the delays were related to the weather and others due to mechanical and scheduling issues.

“They have not slept in over fourty eight hours and are as tired as you can imagine. They barely made it here from the airport and had not eaten anything. So, we provided them with something to eat. I am inviting you to be patient and give them time to get ready.

“Moreover, some of them have lost their luggage! Their luggage did not make it to their flight here. They have not had a chance to check the sound system. Please be patient when they test their instruments. We are so proud to have the Quartetto Gelato with us all the way from Canada. Give us a few minutes. I am sure you will enjoy the performance.”

I was thinking to myself how exhausted they must be. How are they going to perform? Then the curtain opened and four young performers, three males, one female appeared. The audience acknowledged the long, tiring journey with a long applause as we understood the level of fatigue they were experiencing. The leader of the group, Peter De Sotto thanked the audience for the welcoming cheers, expressed his happiness to be there and feeling the Sun’s warmth on their way from the airport after the cold winter of Toronto. When they played their first piece, I felt a natural high. When Peter played the violin, I felt the vibration of his music in my heart and soul. It took me to another dimension. When he started singing, his voice was strong and similar to Pavarotti. If he could perform like this with that level of fatigue, how does he sing and play when he is well rested. I feel music is the language of the soul and this music was nurturing my soul.

Peter then introduced Lydia Munchinsky, the Cellist. She was a beautiful young woman who has been performing all over the world since she was ten years old. We learned that she backpacked across Europe with her Cello, met her husband in Switzerland and now is the young mother of a baby born in July 2014. WOW, she has a young baby and is traveling with her band. This is dedication. Now, my admiration for this talented woman had increased tremendously knowing about her life off the stage. I love passionate people. How many choose and follow their passions in life? That would make her a passionate and loving mother too. She was in a beautiful dress. She must not have been the one with the missing luggage.

Peter introduced Alexander Sevastian from Minsk, Belarus playing the accordion. I love the sound of the accordion. That was the only instrument I played as a child. What he played seemed much more complicated than the accordion that was familiar to me.

We learned that Alex became a professional musician in Moscow in 1996 and that the instrument he plays is a Bion with 270 buttons

He plays so fast that he cannot see the buttons or his fingers. He has been the World Champion four times. What an accomplished performer. He plays the piano and band neon. When he played the Romanian Caravan, it was an experience for a life time.

They played music from all over the world and when I thought that piece was the best, the next one was even better.

Peter introduced the last but not the least member, Colin Maier who played the oboe. We learned that he also plays the violin, clarinet, English horn, five-string banjo, acoustic / electric bass, piano, saxophone, flute, guitar and mandolin. In addition, he is a dancer, actor, stuntman, singer, choreographer, martial artist and acrobat having performed with Cirque du Soleil.

My husband and I looked at one another. He seemed like a young man. How and when did he learn to play all these instruments? We were witnessing a genius on this stage.

When Colin did the split on the stage, I felt the whole mature audience was holding their breath in. I wonder what they were thinking, remembering their childhood long ago. He was doing what no one in the audience could imagine doing anymore. When he stood up, the audience was giving him their loudest applause of the performance. When Colin took his shoes off, we were wondering what he was going to do next. He jumped off Peter playing the violin sitting down. When he took his socks off, the breaths were held in, one more time. He danced to Alex’s Russian tune, performing a Russian dance that required extreme flexibility and speed. He was awesome.

Colin then shared with us that he is the one who did not get his luggage and he is wearing Peter’s stretch pants and his shirt. The joy and laughter filled the huge auditorium. Then Peter dressed in a long coat opened his buttons and showed us his bare skin under the jacket. Yes, he gave his only shirt to Colin to wear. Now, I was feeling that I wanted to get to know these people. They had become a source of inspiration to me. Where did they get such sense of humor and how do they maintain such a positive attitude. They were putting their heart and soul in their performances. Not only they were gifted and talented musicians, there were extraordinary human beings.

I thought to myself I wonder if they are coming out to the lobby after the performance. I would love to meet them. Then I thought after adrenaline rush of performing that they would love to go to bed and get a good sleep. I doubt if they wish to meet thousands of people at this time.

When the program ended, a standing ovation was the least we could do to show our appreciation. Without awareness, I was shouting “one more, one more”. Thank God, I was not the only one. Guess what? They came back graciously on the stage one more time and played a piece that we could all join in by singing and clapping.

When we left the auditorium, I was like a battery that had been energized. It was hard to walk away. I kept looking back hoping that the Quartetto Gelato may come to the lobby; you never know, they may. They did not.

There was a five hundred year old tree in the community nearby, a walking distance. I had shared with my husband about the beauty of the Sycamore tree. It was a landmark. It was the perfect time to go and say hello to the tree. We walked and shared the highlight of the performance on our way. My husband loves music. To me, he would have been a great musician if his family and culture would have supported his natural gift and passion for music.

As a child, he made a flute for himself from a bamboo. It was taken away and broken with fear that blowing too much into the flute may harm him in some way. He played the piano and guitar in his adulthood yet his desire for the perfect performance got in the way of enjoying to play for his soul. He still plays the piano and guitar every now and then and singing with his beautiful warm voice. I feel his soul shivers when he gets behind the piano or takes the guitar in his lap like his beloved.

He got a PhD in structural engineering and has spent many years building complicated structures, yet he is a musician at heart.

We spent a great time by the tree. We couldn’t stop talking about the performance.  I was reminding him that it is never too late for music. When we were walking back to our car in the parking lot, I let out a joyful scream with what I saw in front of me.

“Hey Peter” as if I were calling my old dear friend from long ago.

Peter turned back wondering who we were. He was carrying his violin case, Lydia’s cello and his luggage.

“We loved your performance” I said with a world of joy and excitement.

Now, Peter knew that we had been in the audience, as by then, everyone was gone.

He smiled with gratitude. We offered to help.

“You guys were fantastic. I can’t believe how great you were, being so tired. I can imagine you can’t wait to get to your hotel and rest.”

“Oh NO, we are going directly to the airport from here.”

“What? Going to the airport? LAX? What time is your flight?” I asked.

“Well, it is the Orange County airport. We have not been able to rest or see anything. I would have loved just to feel the Sun for a few hours.”

The sun was still shinning.

I looked at his tired eyes, took a Sees candy from my purse and offered him and took a chance and asked him.

“There is a 500 year old tree there within a five minute drive. Would you like to see it?”

Peter started enjoying the candy and I saw a twinkle in his eyes. He said let’s check with the group.

By then, we got to their big car in the parking lot. I hugged them one by one as if I were hugging my children. For some reason I had several candies in my handbag and shared them with the group. For the first time in our life, my husband asked them to sign the program for us. We go to musical performances every chance we get. There was the energy of Quaretto Gelato that inspired us.

Peter shared about the tree and asked if they would like to see it. They looked at one another, even though extremely tired, they agreed to go. They were going to follow our car to the tree. I went to the car and got them each a healthy bar from my emergency pack in the car. When we arrived at the tree, they each had a Sees candy in their mouth. I loved it. I gave them the bars and we walked to the tree.

We learned about their personal lives which made our admiration triple for them

We took a group photo with the Sycamore tree, a priceless souvenir.

I got their email and contacted Peter and got connected. It is interesting, how sometimes life provides opportunities. It happened that our son got a project in Toronto for a few months. We are going to visit him in May 2015. I am planning to invite them for a Persian dinner in Toronto.

Somalia’s First Olympics

“Shining Eagle, I understand you have lived and traveled through the  African Continent” I asked.

“Yes, I have been to 40 out of 56 African countries.” He replied with a smile.

“I wonder about your first experience. Where did you start from?”

“The first visit was to Somalia. It was in 1962 and I was 24 years old living in New York. I had finished college and planned to go to graduate school. I was in touch with Dr. James Robinson, a black Minister who was organizing whites and blacks to go to Africa through Operation Crossroads Africa. They were to build schools and training programs. He informed me that Sydney Hall, an African American Head coach at Howard University is looking for athletes to go to Somalia to help them organize their first Olympic team.”

“Wow, interesting, their first Olympic team! Where did that idea come from?”

“Somalia was governed by three European countries; Italy, England and France prior to their independence. They did not want the Somalis to be educated therefore prohibited them in many ways. Somalis couldn’t swim even though they lived by the Indian Ocean to give you an example. Somalia achieved independence on July, 1st 1960. The first President wanted to get Somalia on the international map and the best way was through sports. If they could send a small team to the Olympics, people would learn about them.”

“What a smart plan. How were you selected?”

“Sid Hall wanted runners and basketball players with coaching experience who would be sensitive and respectful going to an African country. I met all the criteria, met Sid in New York and I was ready to get out of the American egocentric way of life and learn about the world. I never dreamed of going to Somalia.”

“Was this Sid’s project or did government have a role in it?”

“Oh this was a continent to continent project. We had a huge gathering at the White House’s Rose Garden, hosted by President Kennedy. I think over two thousands guests were present. President Kennedy was a big supporter and gave us a grand send off. We were eight athletes going to Somalia.”

“Share your experience on arrival in Somalia.”

IMG_7259“By the end of May 1962, we landed in Mogadishu airport.The President’s Limo, the only one in the country, took us to the President’s Palace. At the time, Somalia had only sixty miles of paved roads. The rest were dirt roads. Next, we were taken to the Police Headquarters. The police force was the only strong and organized force in Somalia. All strong and athletic men were recruited for the police force as privates. We were placed in a newly built quarters, had our own room and common bathroom at the end of the hall. We were placed in the Somali Police force with the rank of second lieutenant.  They gave us complete authority over the privates.  We could order them to jail if they did not comply with the rules.”

“What did the Somali government want your team to do?”

“They wanted us to form an athletic team and prepare them for the 1964 Olympics in Japan. They wanted a nutritional plan for them to build strength and to teach them Western sports.”

“What kind of teams?”

“The Somalis were tall, thin and great runners and jumpers. They ran barefoot and it was a challenge to invite them to wear running shoes. We needed to learn their culture and customs. I had never been around Muslims in an African country. The good news was that they did not drink alcohol or smoke. They were motivated, appreciated that we had come a long way to help them form a team. They were respectful and eager to learn.” He appeared to be back in time, remembering.

“What kind of sports?”

“They were natural runners especially when it came to long distances. I was amazed by their stamina to run in that heat and humidity. They were great for basketball. The government wanted us to teach them baseball. The problem was that soccer was their only sport and they were used to using their feet and head, no hands. They had been conditioned NOT to use their hands for years. Now, when we would throw them a baseball, they naturally kicked it with their feet. Yet they became good basketball players over time.”

“When did you start training?”

“The next day after arrival, we had practice at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.; do you know why?”

“The heat?”

“Yes, Somalia is on the equator with high humidity. We focused on long distance running, marathons, high jumping and long jumping.”

“Any issues with discipline?”

“No, not really.” He smiled and said, “One time a young man came at 6:20am, 20 minutes late. He apologized and said according to the Koran, when a man has four wives, he must treat them equally.

“I got it. If he was intimate with one wife, he was to be intimate with all his wives. That was the reason he was late. Interesting, he could then run a marathon?”

“How did the training go?” I asked.

“Well, we were doing well yet the President seemed to be impatient. After six weeks, he wanted to have an exhibition game. He wanted to invite Egyptian athletes and have a big ceremony with all the dignitaries. Now, nobody wanted to tell the President that our athletes were not ready for such a match. If they were defeated badly, the might lose stamina and enthusiasm altogether. We were meeting with the President weekly to give him the progress report. So, we said to the President that it was a great idea and suggested how about if the match would be with the U.S. team – ourselves. This way we could monitor the game and keep it interesting and keep the score close.

FullSizeRender(1)“How did the exhibition game go?”

“Oh there were representatives from all the embassies in Mogadishu; the President and his wife and all the important people in the Capital City. It was the very first time that such a game was organized. We kept the game close and won by only six points.”

“What did you learn from Somalis?”

“Oh so much! The first thing that comes to my mind is that, in the U.S. we used to eat fast in a few minutes, always rushing. In Somalia, the food was fascinating and people appreciated so much having food to eat. They had camel and goat meat; the camel meat was tough to chew. We were chewing it for a long time to take the juice and threw out the meat. I learned to appreciate having food, an awareness I am grateful for. I became aware of the issue of hunger around the world. Every meal took about two hours and the conversations were meaningful.

I also went to villages for tribal ceremonies: drum Circles, dances and fire.

You know the Europeans drew arbitrary lines in the African continent and divided the land between them and called them countries. There were tribes that lived together peacefully yet their families were separated by these lines.

Around the fire, the villagers sit and talk. I loved to see the children at the feet of the elderly with such respect. The elders shared stories by oral traditions, something that has been fading in the U.S.”

“Yes, I was raised in homophobic society in which men only shook hands. When I met Somali men and they held my hand to greet me, I felt uncomfortable immediately and quickly looked around to see if others are going to view my holding hands with a man! I realized no one was looking and the Somali men were simply greeting me. When they asked, “how are you?” they meant it and wanted to know how I was doing; a conversation could last ten to twenty minutes. It was authentic. I began living a new way of life and could make comparisons to my previous life in New York that now looked hectic, brutal and dehumanizing to me.”

“What about the Somali way of thinking, viewing life and events in life?”

“You know if we are in nature, see a tree collapse, we think of a logical cause, like bugs have caused the tree to die. For them it was that the tree was possessed by “demons”. My understanding is that what they call “demon” comes from mistreatment of nature, when humans hurt nature. They developed a magical black power, “juju”, to walk out the demon.”

“What about treating physical and mental issues? Any unusual experiences?”

“Oh yes, one time I was at a general hospital. I saw an Egyptian surgeon operating on a naked man. The door to the operating room was open.  He had his left middle finger in the patient’s rectum and a scalpel in his right hand. He looked at me, called to me and said “Hey young man, would you like to see an operation?”

“I was shocked, not sure if he was referring to me. I asked are you speaking to me?”

“Yes, you, come on in.”

“I am not a doctor.”

“Do you have a degree?”

“Yes a B.A. in Psychology.”

“That would do.”

I went in and saw that he was cutting part of a man’s intestine. There were flies all over the place.

“Tell me about the flies.”

“When I first arrived, at meal time, I was eating with one hand and waving my other hand all the time like a wind shield wiper to keep the flies away. Gradually, I did it with slower speed. Finally I got used to it. There were flies every where. The president had an interesting instrument. There was a wooden man carved out of wood and it connected to the tail of a zebra. It was the symbol of authority and was used to keep the flies away.

FullSizeRender(2)“Any traditions that impacted you?”

“Yes, I went to a village dance ceremony. It was to bring rain. There was drought, starvation resulting in the death of thousands. In 1962, there was a festival organized with rituals asking for rain. There were twenty five young men lined up with thick sticks. Another tribe was also lined up in front of this group. When they blew the whistle, the young men started beating each other with the sticks. I was shocked. There were bloody heads and hands. What are they doing? I asked myself. They continued for about fifteen minutes. When they stopped, the women came in took the injured and nursed them.

“Abdul, what was the fight all about?” I asked my friend.

“It was a not a fight. They are “warriors”. With this ritual, God will smile, we will have rain; fruitful crops and women will bear children.” Abdul said with a smile.

“Did you meet any women?” Were you able to communicate with anyone? I know Moslem women are not to speak to any men outside the family.”

Shining Eagle hesitated for a moment. “Yes, once I met a prostitute at a bar. Moslems don’t drink. This bar was for Europeans. We had gone for a drink; a beer never tasted so great to me. I still remember the taste. I met this beautiful eighteen year old Somali woman.”

“Would you share your life story with me?” Shining Eagle asked her.

“Yes, I was forced to marry a man at age fifteen. He was drinking, cheating on me and beating me. One time I decided to defend myself and fought back. He said “I divorce you” and that was the first warning. He was rough with me. I was afraid of him yet I knew if I did not defend myself, the beating would get worse. The second warning happened. The third time, he was drunk and climbed on me demanding sex. I pushed him away. It was rape. He said “I divorce you”, went to the Court House paid $1.70 and divorced me. I had no one. My parents had passed away. I had a married sister but her husband did not let me live with them. I was with my husband for three years. By this time, I was eighteen years old. Somali men marry virgins. I had no option and had to become a prostitute. I may be able to work for five to ten years. Then after, will be considered too old. God knows what the future will be for me?”

“She spoke to me for over an hour. I felt her pain in my heart. I never saw her again.”

We both had a moment of silence honoring the life of all the women on the planet in the similar path, our divine sisters.

“My questions are endless. I feel you are like Shahrzad, the story teller of 1001 nights. It is difficult to stop. The last questions; how long were you there? Any unique memory and how were you different as a human being, when you left?”

“We were there for three months. The unique experience was witnessing Somalia’s independence parade. They had only one boat. They put the boat on wheels and brought it to the parade with such joy and pride. I left with a full heart. This experience prepared me for  work in Selma, Alabama. I felt the struggle of the African people within me. It got me ready for the civil rights movements in the United States. I found myself. I was awakened.”

” Somalia today is a very different country, still poor with a shaky government and a civil war brewing. I can only hope and pray that Somalia will eventually find the peace and joy that I found there so many years ago.”