I didn’t get a lot of “work” done this week but were inspired by two events at which I made some marvelous connections and insights that were rich, relevant and rewarding.
About 15 years ago, I joined a group called WE. Back then, WE was an acronym for Women Entrepreneurs. But the purpose of our group has evolved as we’ve evolved. So nowadays, the “E” could stand for Extraordinary, Evolving, Exceptional or any E of our choosing. There are six of us who meet once a month – religiously. We plan our work and travel schedules so as not to miss a meeting – it’s that important to each of us that we keep the continuity and connection going with as few interruptions as possible.
We use this monthly “hooky day” to learn, grow, laugh and support each other through life’s challenges. Sometimes we schedule a resource – an expert in business, wellness, spirituality or whatever topic strikes our fancy. Other months we plan a field trip involving art, architecture, history or just fun.
On Tuesday I was the host for a conversation with Soraya Deen, a Muslim peace activist. We had several guests join us, as Soraya spoke of her experiences as an American Muslim woman, as well as the experiences of her children, growing up in a country that is suddenly inhospitable.
Her activism began on September 11, 2007, when her 7-year-old son came home from school, crying. He looked up at her and asked, “Mommy, are we terrorists?”
Soraya knew in that moment that she had to change something. “I was sad and angry, humiliated. But I also thought this is time to change the narrative.”
So she travels the country urging others to rethink assumptions about Islam and unite against hateful stereotypes. She recently traveled 1,000 miles to Oregon to meet 1,000 people. Many of them had never met a Muslim before. “It is a big goal, but I want to do a 50-state tour and meet 50,000 people in the coming year,” she told us.
She founded the Muslim Women Speakers Movement because she believes that more Muslims need to be included in the conversation and need to have their voices heard – especially women. “I want to create 100 Malalas. Everywhere. In Africa, in Islam, in Iraq, in Sri Lanka, and some here, too, so that we will question every answer, so that we will really challenge patriarchy so that we will really challenge hate.”
She told us about the opening of a Women’s Mosque in Berkeley last month – only the second one in the U.S.
She patiently answered our questions about Sharia law, about oft-quoted passages in the Koran about “killing the infidels,” about hijabs, burkas and Muslim’s women’s issues, as well as other topics that fuel Islamophobia. She explained that Islam is a smorgasbord of practices and interpretations – no different than Christianity. She suggested that some controversial passages in the Koran – again, no different than the Bible – should be considered based on the context of the times.
I fervently believe that barriers and distrust break down when people meet one another face-to-face, which is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the connections that people make with others when they travel.
My friend Jill wrote a beautiful thank-you note: “My travels with you to places that have caused apprehension in the world news (Cuba, Turkey, Greece, Dominican Republic, Belfast, etc.) have convinced me that individual people are so welcoming and open to sharing their stories of transcending ‘the troubles,’ fear, injustice, persecution, financial setbacks, etc., as they share their great food, dancing, music, art, spirit, and love. Truly, we are all the same human family.”
On Thursday, I was invited to a charity luncheon at the ritzy Upper Bay Club in Malibu. Handsome young valets greeted a convoy of pristine Porsches, Mercedes, Range Rovers – as well as a whole lotta hybrids. My car – a Hyundai Genesis – was conspicuously dirty since I haven’t had time to get it washed since last weekend’s rain. Once upon a time, I would have been embarrassed about that. But now I appreciate one of the benefits of getting older: wisdom to know what matters!
On a sunny patio, surrounded by vibrant crimson bougainvillea, flutes of prosecco and canapes were served as dozens of women circulated around the tables displaying silent auction items. We were there to support the International Medical Corps. This LA-based charity, established in 1984 by volunteer doctors and nurses, is a global first-responder, delivering more than $2.4 billion in health care, education, and training to tens of millions of people in 75 countries in its 33-year history.
Inside, the gorgeous dining room overlooked the sparkling blue Pacific. As we dined on Wild Arugula with Herb-Scented Salmon and Goat Cheese, we listened to CEO Nancy Aossey’s journey of guiding the organization to become one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world. She spoke of how they prioritize the needs of women and children, who bear a disproportionate burden in the too-frequent disasters and conflicts.
I was impressed by the fact that they focus on imparting skills and knowledge to local people – so they don’t leave a secondary crisis behind when they pull up stakes and leave the location. In fact, 90% of International Medical Corps’ 7,000 worldwide staff are local to the communities they serve.
Next, Sean Casey, Deputy Director for Emergency Response and Preparedness, shared his stories from the front lines of the crises and disasters that make headline news here in the U.S. for a day or two. As one of the first to deploy to western Africa in response to the Ebola crisis, his international flight showed the movie, “Contagion.” Several months later he traveled to Nepal to “get away from it all.” The next day Nepal suffered a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake – proving that the organization stays true to its motto of, “First there, no matter where.”
Last October, after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti as a Category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, they had boots on the ground within 48 hours. 900 people died, infrastructure was decimated and 350,000 people were left in desperate need of humanitarian assistance in the impoverished, besieged nation. And two days later, International Medical Corps had volunteers on site when the same storm hit the Bahamas.
Sean is currently overseeing the dire situation in South Sudan, where famine is rampant in the draught-plagued, war-torn nation. It’s a dangerous assignment in this country where only one of IMC’s 10 offices is accessible by road. He said that 120,000 people walked for as long as two weeks to reach them. Aside from the dangers of serving in a place ravaged by civil war, they must employ men to kill the snakes!
As I sit here typing this blog on my MacBook Pro – cozy, comfortable and safe in my beautiful suburban home decorated with treasures I’ve collected from a lifetime of global travel, it’s impossible to comprehend being forcibly displaced – knowing I would never return. And if I were to reach a resettlement camp, I might never leave there. Or, if I were to immigrate somewhere else – legally or illegally – the citizens of that country might not want me there. That’s the current plight of 65 million people – mostly women and children. They face appalling living conditions and instability.
Of course, none of them are educated, privileged white women like me . . .
If you’d like to learn more, here are links to people and organizations that inspire me to do good work:
Thanks, and Namaste . . .