Those Dead Lights

dead-sea-sunset

[image from https://saramistbixian.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/dead-sea-sunset.jpg]

Those lights that you can see from a Dead Sea resort in Jordan are bright and commanding. They are bold like diamonds yet soft like the first beams of daylight that pour into your window. They live in the mountains, and they accentuate the sharpness of every rock in a landscape that seems to crumble upon itself.

Those lights are from the holy city of Bethlehem and they are mesmerizing. You notice it when you peer out your hotel room at night, you notice it when you’re walking next to the dead sea, and of course you notice it when you’re driving towards Amman and your driver tells you “Habibi, those are the lights from Bethlehem.”

There was a night when the sun was setting and my family was wading in the salty lake.  The water was still and silent. The salt laden mud masks were cooling to the skin. A gentle breeze touched our backs and sent ripples across the sea. A gift from the shore in Jordan to the shore in Israel.

Those lights from Israel were illuminating and intriguing. What was the story of those lights? They all had to be from somewhere. Lights from churches, synagogues and mosques. Lights from cars, houses, and street signs. I wanted to just walk on the Dead Sea and follow those lights.

But I couldn’t. Those lights from Israel were teasing me. I was being drawn in like a little mosquito. If I had let myself float to Israel I would never be allowed back into Kuwait. I would be slapped and wiped off. Those lights were creating a foggy haze over some issues that had suddenly become really real and relevant.  Those lights had something more behind them.

 

Those lights from Israel were an illusion.

 

They could’ve been lights from buildings and signs.

But they could’ve been the lights of an engulfing fire.

 

They could be the lights of explosions.

They could be the piercing beams of army tanks.

 

They could be the missiles of terrorists.

They could be the missiles of state politicians.

 

They could be the floodlights of a Palestinian camp

They could be the lanterns of an activist group

 

They could be the candles placed in solemn remembrance

of the death of a loved one.

 

I was wading in the Dead Sea and those lights lost their glow. Those lights from Israel died out right then and there. The water was unbelievably still. The wind was still whispering. The mud on my skin was still cooling. And I still couldn’t understand how there could be so much violence and heat and hatred in this land of inherent peace.

 

A Short Reflection on The House of Mirrors

mirrors-2

While most people would cite Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, or their mother as someone who has inspired them.  I found an enormous amount of inspiration from a very small woman. Though I had only visited her once, a frail woman named Lidia Al Qattan has permanently touched my life. It was a Friday morning, and my mom had made plans for us to go take a private tour of a local attraction, The House of Mirrors, in Kuwait. I initially declined the offer but finally caved in after her continuous pleading. Before I knew it I was on my way to The House of Mirrors.

When we pulled into the small Kuwaiti district of Qadisya, my eyes moved along the string of dusty brown houses. Suddenly, a glittering building with Arabic calligraphy and picturesque scenes came into view. As we entered the regal metal gate, a tiny Italian woman appeared out of nowhere to greet us. There was something about this old woman that unexplainably made me happy. She spoke with a thick Italian accent about where she came from, how her late husband was a renowned Kuwaiti artist, and how she had inlaid her entire house with the fragments of broken mirrors in his memory. Her voice was pure and unaffected by her ancient age.  She sat us down and hospitably served us fresh cake which tasted like a moist biscotti and a cold glass of ginger water. When we were done eating, she bounced up, swiveled around in her black gown, and led us to through the hallway as if she was about to open the wardrobe that led to the mystic land of Narnia. She opened the main doors of the house, and we walked into her world.

mirrors-1

 

I was dazed by the way white beams of light bounced infinitely from the walls to the floor. Mosaics covered every crevice of the house, from the staircase to the toilet seat. She then proceeded to show us some of her paintings. I’ll have to be honest, I don’t see myself as the kind of person to go to an art gallery and stare at piece of art with my hand on my chin. But seeing a piece of art and its artist side by side adds a whole new level of meaning to a piece of art. It gives it emotion, it gives it a story, and most importantly it gives it life. Mrs. Lidia talked nonstop about each of her paintings and I could tell from the sparkle in her eyes that each one meant something to her and was a part of her story.

Finally, she led us into a room which she called “The Galaxy,” turned off the lights, and watched our faces as they looked up at the light sculptures and stars which dotted the entire room. When she turned on the lights I asked her why she made this room, and she replied succinctly “because I am amazed by the stars.” As she said this I swear I could see “The Galaxy” right in her deep blue eyes. It was not a complicated or overly intellectual statement. In fact, the beauty of her response lay in its simplicity. She made this room because she is amazed by space, and nothing more.

Mrs. Lidia did not inspire me to be an artist. Mrs. Lidia inspired me with her character. She inspired me with her generous personality, her amazement with the world around her, and her tenacity to fully follow her passions.  She taught me not to let age creep up on you and that even if the world around you changes or you experience the death of a loved one, you can always maintain that little innocent part of you that just wants to look up at the sky and feel a sense of wonderment.

The Crime We Will All Commit on Election Day

 

i voted

On November 8, 2016  millions of Americans will flock to voting booths to vote for the president of the United States. It’s hard to believe that I will get to be one of them. It was when I was filling out my driver’s license application that I saw the little box at the bottom that I could check to become registered to vote. A small little box with huge implications. Ever since I was little I couldn’t wait to vote. To me it was the best part about getting to be  an adult. As children we would watch presidential speeches wide-eyed with innocence and wonderment. George Bush was the first president I could remember. Then Barack Obama. We didn’t see their flaws. We didn’t hear the people cursing at them. All we saw were strong individuals with power and the ability to make a difference. When I received the Presidential Award certificate with Obama’s mass photocopied signature in fifth grade I thought I had hit the jackpot. I tucked that award safely under my bed with my other valuables (mostly rocks and sea shells I had collected). I mean, the President of the United States had given me that award.

 

This year’s election hit me hard with reality. American politics feels like a scam. We spend all our lives believing that we are the greatest country on earth with the most freedoms and choices. But what are my choices in this election? There are two individuals left. One of them is racist and the other is corrupt. I’m not going into detail about who I am going to vote for. Rather, I am trying to show on a high level the predicament that Americans are in. Vote for Hillary so that Trump doesn’t become president. Vote for Trump so that Hillary doesn’t become president. Like little chickens in a  pen we flock to the side we are less afraid of only to be grabbed by the throat and butchered no matter what side we cower in. For those of you that are vehemently supporting one of the two candidates, you are lucky. You are pretending that your own candidate doesn’t have flaws themselves. You know that isn’t true.  No matter who we support or vote for we will all feel a small sense of guilt at the voting booth.

 

Not pride. Not moral fulfillment. Guilt.

 

No one will feel a 100% sense of pride for the country. No one will feel 100% sense of hope for the country. If you do you’re just blocking out the facts about your candidate that you don’t want to hear. At this point we are just individuals in a free country without the ability to do anything or say anything to change the course of the election. We are free to vote for one of the two evils.  I always imagined voting on a bright November day with blue skies, puffy white clouds and a big sticker saying “I voted” stuck onto my chest. Now I envision this day will be cloudy and gray, and I promise that I will peel the “I Voted” sticker right off when I’m done.

This is because on November 8th, 2016 I, like millions of other Americans, will have voted for one of the two evils.  I don’t want there to be any proof of my crime.

June 1, 2016: A Fast Change in Direction

kuwait graduation towers

Often times it feels like some days are too busy and other days are too boring. June 1st 2016 was the fastest day of my life. In one day I had my 18th bday, my high-school graduation ceremony, and we flew out of Kuwait for the last time. I knew these days were going to come. I just wasn’t prepared for it to come all at once. On this day I became an adult. I could now officially vote. From now on I wouldn’t need my parents to sign random forms of approval. I could work at more places. Soon I would be getting my drivers licensee and getting my own credit card and living on my own. Yay adulthood. (Edit: Three months into being an adult I can say wholeheartedly that it sucks). On this day I graduated from high school. I said goodbye to the educators  that truly made a difference in how I thought and how I perceived the world around me. I said goodbye to the teachers who helped me find what I was passionate about. The hardest goodbyes were the ones I had to say to the teachers who I initially hated for making me challenge myself. Lemme tell you kids, the “big fat meanies” (#spongebobreference) that everyone curses and makes memes about are sometimes the ones that impact you the most.

big fat meanie
 I walked with the friends I had been in class with for 4 years and kept the ones that had to move at the back of my thoughts. I hugged and said goodbye to friends who I had literally travelled the world with. The hard part about going to an international school is that very few people go to the same college, let alone the same state or country. But i know that i have friend on every corner of the globe and with this rate of traveling ill find a way to make it there again 🙂 I saw my parents and sister on the first row cheering me on as i walked down the runway  of the Arraya Ballroom of the Marriott hotel and knew that they would always be in that same spot cheering me on no matter what I put my mind to.
kuwait graduation family
When I opened my high school diploma I saw that half of it was in English and the other half was in beautiful Arabic calligraphy. No matter what I do in the future or where I go I will always have that as my high school diploma. Kuwait will always be a part of my past and upbringing and I am so thankful for that.  After the graduation party out senior class had at the cheesecake factory in Arabella, I went straight to the airport. Flying out of Kuwait for the last time was hard but I knew that one day I would visit again. (Technically I wasn’t that bummed out because i was going to be in London and Paris but that’s going to be another blog post). I could see the iconic Kuwait Towers lit up with its cool laser lights from the plane window and couldn’t believe that just a couple of hours ago I had taken a picture at its base with my cap and gown. Getting on that plane I had plunged myself into a new journey. I was leaving the Middle East for Austin TX, The American School of Kuwait for the University of Texas and blissfully ignorant childishness for the responsibilities of  adulthood. At 500 miles an hour I was flying through the clouds away from one part of my life to the next and I couldn’t be more excited to see where I would land.

Sri Lanka – The History Behind a Name

sri lanka blog

 

Sri Lanka to me

Is Sweet Serendipity

A small wet tear drop.

 

What is in a name?

A country’s name is a blend of

faces and stories.

 

The year 10,000 B.C.

Old Vedic scriptures call it

 Sinhaladvipa.

 

Land of the Lions,

Unexplored, Undiscovered,

A jungle frontier.

 

Where are all the lions now?

 

It’s 5,000 B.C.

The Ramayana calls it

Lanka; “to shine” “to glitter.”

 

For gold and sapphires

Coated the surface and rocks

Calling out searchers.

 

Where is all the gold and all the jewels now?

 

It’s 700 A.D.

Arabs call it Serendib.

And the beauty seen,

 

Came across by chance-

Became Serendipity;

Sweet discovery.

 

Where is that element of surprise now?

 

It’s 1815 A.D.

The British call it Ceylon

“The Land of the Hills”

 

Rows and rows of tea

Rows and rows of slavery

Cutting the smooth hills

 

Where are the marble hills now?

 

It’s 1978 A.D.

Freedom and independence

A new name bestowed.

 

The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

 

But take a look back,

And make yourself realize,

All that’s in a name.

Turkey: A Slice of Tiramisu

 

 

 

 

turkey grand bazar blog.jpg

I am the artist who painted Turkey.

It’s a piece that I am proud of.

 

When I painted this picture,

I didn’t mix every color.

 

I wanted dynamic.

I wanted contrast.

 

The Middle East and Europe,

Complimentary colors:

 

Green and Red,

Purple and Yellow,

Blue and Orange,

 

Mixed would be an ugly brown,

But right next to each other?

 

I took a step back,

That’s when I truly saw it.

 

Two opposites,

Gentle interaction

 

Yin Yang perfection

Magic swirls

 

Harmonious sustenance.

Incomprehensible Abstract

 

If Europe and the Middle East had a baby its name would definitely be Turkey. Never had I seen such a vibrant integration of vastly different cultures. I’ve seen cultures mix in other countries, such as India. For example, the Taj Mahal is the perfect blend of Persian and Hindu architecture. In Turkey it’s different. Culture in Turkey is layered like tiramisu.  There is the coffee of the Middle Easterners and the mascarpone cream of Europeans. In Turkey it is not just mixed; it is intricately integrated. You can literally point out things and say “Middle East” or “Europe.” It’s almost like a game.  Wanna try it? Persian rug – Middle East! Coffee shop – Europe! Hookah lounge – Middle East! Small restaurant with a balcony – Europe! Hagia Sophia – Christian. Blue Mosque – Muslim.

Istanbul is the city of two continents. That’s a lot of pressure for a city. Crossing the Bosporus channel is an invigorating experience. Suddenly you are crossing from Asia to Europe and you feel like you are in a whole new world. Countess figures who crossed the Bosporus must have felt the exact same way. The Greeks and their victorious wreaths. The Romans and their silver shields.  The Mongols and their hardened horses.  The Christians bearing their cross. The Muslims pushing the legacy of their prophet. He that shall conquer the city of Istanbul shall control two continents. It seems to be written into the clouds. If that’s not incentive I don’t know what is. If I wasn’t worried about college applications right now I wouldn’t mind invading the place.

I remember this one time my parents and I went through a passageway underground to see an ancient Roman aquifer. Our guide had told us with great excitement that archeologists are constantly uncovering ancient relics under the streets of the city.  Inside the aquifer, it was dark except for the glow of a few golden candles. Droplets of water fell from the ceiling, plopped into the still water, and the sound bounced infinitely off the stone walls. The Corinthian pillars were fat and decorated like Honey Boo Boo.

The guide took us over to the base of one of the pillars and showed us how it had been placed on the head of Medussa. I turned my head and saw Medussa alright. The stone grey face, the curly snake hair and the gaping mouth screamed at me and gave me the jitters. It was almost as if the weight of the pillar was crushing her skull and she was begging me for mercy. I escaped the statue and began to listen to the guide again. The guide told us that the some historians think that the Romans used Medussa’s head for the base of the pillar to show how they were conquering the Greeks and rejecting their pantheon of Gods. My theory was that they put the head there because who would want that creepy ass head staring at them all day long?

Anyway, I begain to think about the nature of war and the implication of conquests. Great civilizations arise, and even greater civilization takes over. I thought of Medussa’s head and the Roman pillar on top. That pillar and the thousands like it underground support the road paved by the hooves of the Mongols. And those roads? They support the grand weight of the entire Blue Mosque. Civilizations feed off of each other and need each other to sprout.

Like I said before, the best way to describe Turkey is like a slab of Tiramisu. The culture of the West and the East layered in perfection. Layer upon layer of kings and dynasties and conquerors. What will be the next topping? Whatever it is, there is one thing I know for certain. If you’re trying to appreciate Turkey, don’t rip apart the cake. That would be devastating. Take a silver spoon, appreciate the fluffiness of every layer, and cut through it all at once. That’s when it tastes the best.

 

 

 

 

 

Luxor, Egypt: The Sol Sets from East to West

nile cruise blog.jpg

Death

is only afraid of one thing. It cowers under a quilt when it hear the wailing siren of the mother of all rivers: The Nile.

The Nile is raging north and I am cruising south. The landscape slips away as I sail backwards. Rocky white limestone mountains seem to crumble in her tragic presence.  She was born from a sprinkle of Monsoon rain but now she is dyeing with a frantic fury.

The Nile is flowing down the soft cheeks of a thousand Pharaohs.

She

is

slithering

through

their

brown

desert

skin.

 

She is glistening on their gold ornaments, wetting their long strands of grass hair, and feeding their thirsty palm lips.

The Nile cries and fills the earth but it seems as though even the earth rotates in her supple tears.

As I write this I am laying on the upper deck of a cruise ship on the Nile River. Sipping coffee, enjoying the infinitely changing view on both sides of the river, and occasionally having the saggy asses of old German tourists in my face.

The Nile is a vital artery of Egypt. Every tributary is a vein and every entity at the end a vital organ. The Nile fills the entirety of Egypt like the

 

Smoking

incense

of

sandalwood

bark

aromatizes

a small

room.

 

She fulfills the godly desires of great kings and queens.  She warms Tutankhamen’ lips with lust like a glossy glass of hibiscus tea. She feeds the insatiable ambitions of Hatshepsut, Cleopatra and Ramsey.  If Egypt is the heart of human civilization then she is its steady heartbeat.

A skinny kid wades into the river to wash the dirt off his bronze body.

A dirty man cups his hands and pours a handful of cold water onto his sun brazed face.

In an amazing twist of irony I take of my Ray Bans and watch as my luxury cruise ship zips by

And now I am forgetting what era I am in. The temples from a thousand years ago transport me back in time. Time is relative and all relativity is lost when you are emerging yourself in thousands of years of history. History become my present and I realized that I am the future of the past. My present was someone else future and my present will be someone else’s past.

It’s now five a’clock, also known as five baboons in Egyptian mythological time. Somewhere on the muddy banks the God Ra crawls out of his hole. He takes the smooth shape of a scabbard and with his tiny feet begins to roll the sun across the river.

 

He makes his way slowly to the West                                                                       from the East

To the tombs in the Valley of Death.                           from the glistening cities on the side of life

 

Now that the sun’s rays are changing from white to gold and the river is changing from green to dark blue, the blackness of the night has taken over the brightness of the day.  The god Ra is finished rolling the sun, and like the mummy of King Tutankhamen lay shrouded in his coffin, I stretch myself out on the long pool chair on the deck of our cruise and stare at the blackness and the small pockets of starlight that are bursting through.

The pedantic words of my eighth grade science teach came out in his raspy aged voice: “The stars that you see at night are actually the stars from a billion years ago. So most of the stars that you are looking at have already blown up, you just don’t see that because of how long it takes for light to travel. Isn’t that neat?”

It is neat. The span of human kind is so large, then you compare it to the universe and it becomes even smaller still. The more you zoom out about your own existence as an individual, the more you realize that greater things exists. And these great things which have existed for billions of years and weigh hundreds of billions of tons can disappear with a small flash of light smaller than a firework.

 

Greatness

Vastness

Radiance

A blink

Darkness.

 

This is the rhythm of the stars.

 

Greatness

Vastness

Radiance

A blink

Darkness

 

This is the song of human civilizations.

 

Greatness

Vastness

Radiance

A blink

Darkness

 

This is the simple story of human life.

 

With nothing else to see I can now feel with greater sensitivity the drifting of the boat. I shut my eyes and am suddenly on the celestial boat of the gods, drifting from mortal death to godly awakening, making my way to where it all starts in the east…

Waiting for the moment that I can awake in my coffin, open my eyes, and finally be

Reborn.

 

Vietnam – The Wealth of Nations

vietnam blog

Flying over the mountainous valleys of northern Vietnam, my ankles were trembling with unforeseen trepidation. Twelve students and two teachers were on that plane with me, and we were keen on fulfilling our National Honor Society service project. After landing in the capital city of Hanoi, we were to take a six hour bus ride to the small rice cultivating village known as Mai Châu. Our mission: collaborate with other villagers and build a house for a disadvantaged couple struggling to make ends meet. There was so little I knew about this small Southeast Asian country that I was going to be immersing myself into for the next eight days. I knew about its notorious role in the Second World War and the period of communism that reigned under the dictator Ho Chi Minh, but basic knowledge about a country acquired by flipping through an AP U.S. History textbook is barely sufficient. I would soon learn that what I knew of Vietnam was a miniscule twinkling star in a vast universe of constellations. I would soon understand that Vietnam is a country characterized not by its history, but by its people, and it was the interaction that I had with the villagers in Mai Châu that transformed my perspective on the developing-world forever.

The cultural differences between rural Vietnam and the U.S. baffled me after spending just one day in Mai Châu. At the top of the list of my “first world problems” was the “horrendous” fact that I had to shower in cold water, the “unspeakable” experience that I had sleeping on a hard wooden floor shrouded with a mosquito net, and the “terrifying” situation of not having cell phone signal or wireless communication. I was distressed, homesick, and felt terribly out of place.

My first day building a house was equally painful. My hands were splintered from carrying and cutting large sticks of bamboo. A few feet away from me a few Vietnamese children were merrily kicking around a deflated soccer ball.  I felt so much pity for them. They had nothing and were so oblivious to the luxuries that Western children are so accustomed to. At the same time, some of the village elders who were helping us learn proper bamboo cutting techniques kept chuckling at our inability to do such a seemingly simple task. In their minds, the process was quite simple: drag a stalk of bamboo to the side of a road, squat over it, position a sharp machete on-top of the stalk so that he blade runs parallel to the thin veins of the bamboo, smash the machete with a mallet, then turn the bamboo one inch around then repeat the entire process. To them, it was not an arduous task associated with dangerous tools and physical strength. It was the mundane process of crafting a piece of bamboo flooring which they had known since time immemorial. Occasionally they sipped rice wine from small wooden cups and chittered away in Vietnamese, pointing their quivering fingers at us “foreigners” who were so inept. As I chopped bamboo, I tried to block out their scornful laughs and focused on the task at hand.

After 7 days, the house was built and our hard days of work were over. We all climbed the ladder to the second floor, testing its sturdiness with our feet and appreciating every nail and plank placed by our very own hands. We all sat down and waited for the couple who we built the house for to walk in. They treaded in slowly with tears flowing out of their eyes. They gave a small thank you speech in Vietnamese, and handed each of us a banana for our hard work. I thought of their calloused hands gathering large clusters of bananas, their only source of income, and my face radiated with appreciation.  I grasped the banana which at that moment felt incredibly more valuable than a cheap piece of fruit. I did not understand a single word that came out of their mouths, but it didn’t matter. They were speaking with their soul, and the words of gratitude that they spoke were words that any human could understand.

I looked over to my peers, Mr. Berg, and Ms. Hawkins. A beautiful silence hung around the room and everyone had a string on their heart pulled. Even Mr. Berg, known for his jokes, funny stories, and relative youthfulness had tears in his eyes. The room had been magically transformed and for the first time in my young life I felt this funny feeling of content in my stomach. This was not the feeling of receiving an I-phone on Christmas morning or getting a shiny new Mustang for your 16th birthday. This was the feeling of kindness, happiness, altruism, friendship, community, and success, and it hit us all at once. This was bliss in its purest form, and the hour we spent sitting on that wooden floor felt like a millennium of unperturbed Nirvana.

As we were leaving the house, I looked at the village children one more time. They were frolicking through the streets chasing chickens, and my initial feeling of pity immediately turned into a feeling of envy. Paradoxically, these were children who had nothing, yet they had everything. They didn’t need cell-phones or wireless communication to keep themselves entertained. All they needed was each other to be jubilant. Just then, one of the elderly men walked past me, using a thin wooden stick as a cane to hold up his fragile body, and I recognized something that I had not seen before. The elderly men, despite their sneers and their annoyances, were actually some of the most selfless individuals I had ever interacted with. They were not obligated to help the couple we were building the house for, yet they came with their feeble bodies to support someone in their community.

It was at that moment that I perceived an often untold relationship between communism and community. Yes, communism once flowed as a mighty river down Vietnam. As a socialistic country today, it still trickles down its banks. Despite the destruction it brought, it left behind something instrumental for its people. The farmers who dig their soft heels into the rice fields bend down, fix their cone bamboo hats, and pick rice together in one large wave. The neighbors who come together to build a house nail together the planks in one large swing. All the tiny children that play soccer together graze the field like one gigantic tractor.  It seemed as though every villager cupped their hands into that stream, took a sip, and gained an unmistakable sense of community.

Images of Mai Châu still appear to me as they encompass a fresh definition of serenity. I reminisce sinking our sandals into muddy rice field pathways, biking through ancient crevices in jagged mountains, and a blood red sun setting over smooth, bucolic hills like something out of a Japanese oil painting. A dream-like fog loomed around us, people from different races and hemispheres, and I was able to understand something that I could not perceive before. There is no first world or third world. There is no us vs. them.  We are just human beings whose only allegiance is to each other. Although often unrealized, the earth holds us all together like a fragile droplet of water, in perfect harmony and balance, and it only takes a small gust of ignorance to make it shatter and disperse.

While we have a plethora of things to offer to developing counties, be it new technology or humanitarian assistance, individuals from the developing world can teach us something about the human experience. Thankfulness is being appreciative for the people around you, not necessarily for the things that you possess. It is saying “thank you” to a friend for giving you a gift, but it is also giving up your only form of livelihood to thank those who helped you out at a time of need. Altruism in its greatest form is giving up your own happiness for the happiness of others. It is flying across the world to build a house for someone in need, but it is also exerting your feeble bodies to work for the overall good of your community.

Economist Adam Smith defined wealth as the accumulation of silver that results from a favorable balance of trade. In that respect, Vietnam is a poverty stricken nation. In my eyes, there is so much more to it.  A lack of material goods does not mean a lack of wealth. For wealth can be measured in many ways, and with respect to self-sacrifice and gratefulness, the people of Vietnam hold immeasurable affluence.

 

Amman, Jordan: The Universal Prayer

dead sea jorda n.jpg

Om, Amen, Amin

Lead me from Darkness to Light

The Holy Vedas

 

Om, Amen, Amin

You are what your desire is

The Upanishads

 

Om, Amen, Amin

Sweetly shine with the Divine.

The Ramayana

 

Om, Amen, Amin

He is great who has learning

Mahabharata

 

Om, Amen, Amin

Set thy heart on work not reward

The Bhagavad Gita

 

The Holy Torah

I create what I speak

Om, Amen, Amin

 

The Holy Bible

Do not fear I am with you

Om, Amen, Amin

 

The Holy Qur’an

My mercy embraces all

Om, Amen, Amin

 

Om, Amen, Amin

Said over thousands of years

Breathed in every way

 

Om, Amen, Amin

The words of our creation

The words of its end

 

Om, Amen, Amin

The start and the end

Of the same prayer.

Jordan was that random binge trip my family took that is always going to be fun to talk about. It was the first trip we took after we got to Kuwait. As soon as my mom and I were issued our residency status for Kuwait, we were allowed to leave the country. Without knowing anything about Jordan, within two days my family had boarded a plane.  Jordan redefined mysticism for me. For some reason, I had always felt that Abrahamic religions lacked mysticism. I had always believed that they were built upon books that listed out rules without any spirituality. Jordan changed that for me.

Mysticism cannot be examined or analyzed. It can only be felt. I remember this one day we went to the top of Mount Nebo and stood at the same spot old Moses died after showing his followers the Promised Land. Panting and out of breath, I looked out at the landscape surrounding the salty Dead Sea and immediately felt a wave of color enter the rocky scene.  Up there on that mountain every ray of sunlight felt like it was descending from the gates of heaven, every road felt like it was treaded on by the soft heels of holy men, and every green bush or yellow flower that emerged from the brown rocks seemed to sing outload that they were a creation of God.  This was a feeling that I simply could not explain.

You know a place is spiritual when you seem to forget about your own religion and feel fully immersed in another. The ease by which I felt the holiness of Christianity shows the commonality of all religions. We divide ourselves up by name and denomination but forget that in the end we are here for the same purpose. We are the ones that set up these barriers. Religion is a breeze of colorful autumn leaves that yearns to flows through all of us but we block it out in naïve pursuit of single sprig.

I crave a religion that opens myself up to all beliefs. I lust to absorb the philosophy of every religion. Why block out thousands of years of great intellectual thought just because it came from a different civilization? I want to experience the beauty of purifying myself in the Ganges River while watching the sun set over the jagged skylines of river temples. I want to circle the Ka’ba and understand why people cry tears of joy when they see the simple onyx-black stone. I want to follow in the footsteps of Krishna, Jesus, and Muhammed.  Why limit yourself to only one set of experiences? So what if some of the beliefs contradict. It’s up to you what you want to believe because religion is built on belief. If it was based on facts we would just call it history. No one religion is right so therefore all religions are right. Every religion has something to offer. God is like a tree and He branches out to us in every way. We should enjoy all the sweet fruits that have ripened from His inspiration.

 

Kerala, India: Driver Land

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Almost every Indian driver in Kuwait is from the State of Kerala. People here don’t understand how diverse India is, and how difficult it is for Indians to converse with one another. Every state in India has its own language, landscape, food, clothing, interpretation of religion, etc. Thus, for an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) like myself a driver from Kerala might as well be from Azerbaijan. As soon as I sit with a taxi driver or a bus driver, I am expected by my friends to be tight with them, but the cultural barrier is just too thick. Every state in India could basically be its own country. After all, they used to be their own kingdoms a thousand years ago. So no, I won’t talk to my driver in “Indian.” No such language exists and if you mean Hindi unless I’m quoting a Hindi song that is going to end pathetically as well.

One spring break my family decided to visit the state of Kerala. Known for its tropical beaches, winding rivers, and lush tea plantations Kerala is a popular travel destination for tourists from other places in India and abroad. I smelled India before I even got there. The entire plane smelled like spices and curry leaves. Every single person other than my parents and I were domestic workers. Many were confused and did not know what to do. Almost everyone stood up as soon as the plane landed to the dismay of the air hostesses who were frantically trying to sit them back down. Like seriously hold on buddy the plane isn’t going anywhere. After thirty minutes of having armpits in front of my face we finally got out of the plane and walked towards the airport exit.

We can all imagine a time when we were at an airport exit. I bet you would be surprised to hear that it is actually one of my favorite places to be. Friends and family leaning against metal bars, the glistening in their eyes when they see their loved ones walking towards them, the uncontrollable urge they have to just “jump the fence” and give them a hug. The tears, the laughs, the snark remark. The conjoining of souls that need each other to keep going.

What I saw next was the Indian version of this and it almost brought me to tears. It was a beautiful scene. Women in brightly colored silk saris, little girls with fresh white mogra flowers braided into their hair, and little babies opening their shiny black eyes and seeing their fathers for the first time. It was at this moment that I understood the true hardships of the workers living in Kuwait. Not only do they have to endure physical labor, pain, and sometimes even abuse. They have to leave behind their families. Airplane tickets are costly, and with their low wages, some may only afford to go home every four years. Can you imagine bearing that your son was born and not being able to see him? Seeing your kids grow up exponentially until suddenly they are old and out of your grasp? These men are not just workers. They are soldiers. They are sacrificing their lives for their families.

Kerala as a place was incredible. Hotels in the middle of large lakes, river boat houses, palm tree, fresh malai from coconuts, herbal tea, and clean air. All of that stuff was great, but the thing I valued most was that little airport exit before I experienced the rest of the country. It was at this little airport exit in Driver Land that I finally understood the strength of my drivers and where they were actually coming from.