Friday, April 28, 2023

It Is Ok Not To Be Ok

We all have our ups and downs in life. That is normal, who doesn't? But sometimes in our life there is a time when we get stuck, and feel down and cannot bounce up again. We feel down due to many causes. Sometimes the reasons are clear why we may feel this way. Either because we had just lost a loved one, or just had a baby, or because we just moved away from home…etc. But sometimes we feel depressed and we don’t know why or that what we are experiencing is actually a depression. 

This happened to me recently. I have had my share of ups and downs in life, and with God’s help I had sailed through them. Six months ago, I moved again and settled somewhere I had lived before and considered home for a long time, so it wasn’t new. The kids had settled well and started school, work, and I was left home alone. I suddenly felt a huge void. That feeling of emptiness was overwhelming. I started feeling down, exhausted and tired all the time. I felt that I didn’t want to do anything anymore because everything felt like a huge effort. I didn’t want to cook nor take care of anyone. I was heavy hearted and wanted to be left alone and spend all day in bed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone nor meet anyone, so I secluded myself. I just wanted to stay home, all the time. Everyday felt like the day before and the day after. I gradually lost the zest in life, felt numb and lost my appetite, not just for food but for everything. I lost weight and became lethargic and weak. This happened over 3 months. I didn’t realize then what I was going through was a depression. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone until I figured out what was happening to me, what was wrong and why I felt that way.


I finally opened up and spoke to a friend, who was close but lived far away. I felt safe opening up to her and she helped me realize that what I was experiencing was a depression because she had gone through it herself after moving countries. I realized then that I had multiple reasons to feel that way. It could’ve been due to the move, although I had been moving around countries, literally all my life. But I honestly felt a sense of stability in our last move because I thought it would be the last one, and suddenly that feeling was taken away from me. I had some gastrointestinal issues which my friend pointed could also manifest into a depression. I was also going through an existential crisis because as my kids were older and independent I suddenly felt like an empty nester. Everyone in my family was going on with their lives while I reflected on mine and felt a huge void. I felt unfulfilled, like I hadn’t accomplished anything nor made a difference. I was also probably going through Perimenopause since I’m at that age. Nobody ever mentions that depression is also a side effect to the many changes happening to you. In addition I later discovered after doing some blood tests, that I had a severe Vitamin D deficiency. All of the above reasons can lead to a depression and I had all of them and hence a severe one.

My family noticed I wasn’t my active bubbly self and so did my close friends. I wasn't ready to open up and I shunned everyone around me. It took me a while to figure out what I was going through. Admitting to myself that I wasn’t alright and reaching out and talking to my friend helped me understand that. When I finally figured out what it was and why I was feeling that way, I started feeling a bit better. I also started doing something about it. I needed to get myself out of that downward spiral. After doing some self reflection, I realized I had some unaccomplished dreams that I wanted to pursue, and that gave me hope and purpose. 

I always wanted to be an artist and to study Art, and I believe it is never too late to pursue your dreams. I had just met an artist friend who always inspired me with her work, and she told me about an interesting workshop she was joining. So, I signed myself up to this Artists’ Workshop to unblock my creativity which motivated me to pursue my dream and turn it into action. Among the tools is keeping a morning journal and going on an Artist date by myself, for an hour each week, to do something fun. I got some art supplies and made myself a working corner at home. I put a plan on motion and am working towards achieving my goal, one art piece at a time. I started painting and joining different art workshops to improve my techniques and I regularly visit different art exhibitions for inspiration. I gradually started resuming my family duties, going out, meeting my friends, socializing and I recovered my zest for life and am back to my normal self. I reached out to my family and my closest friends and told them what I was going through and I felt that I had to share this here too. 

Many of us are ashamed to admit that we are struggling or admit to ourselves that we are weak or vulnerable let alone telling others. But it is ok not to feel ok. We sometimes can’t face things alone and need someone to support us. We should always let someone know that we are not feeling ok. We should reach out for help, as depression could be a dark, long and lonely journey. There is nothing wrong in asking for help and explaining to your loved ones what you are going through. Mental illness is like any physical illness that needs to be addressed and dealt with. There is no shame in acknowledging that and seeking help. You are not alone.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Yemen... unraveled facts about my beautiful homeland

Yemen... unraveled facts about my beautiful homeland

What do you know about Yemen besides being a land in turmoil which has been covering the news headlines? What else do you know besides what you heard about it being the poorest country in the Arab world, the Arab Peninsula Al-Qaeda's base, the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden, its people are heavily armed and chew Qat?

Let me tell you a few facts about my country which you probably didn't know:
Yemen is the one of the oldest civilizations in the world and it's history dates back to the first millenium B.C and was commonly known as"Arabia Felix" meaning Fortunate Arabia or Happy Arabia. A name which was given to it by the Greek geographer Ptolemy. It acquired this name because of its high mountains which attracted rain, making it more fertile than most of the Arabian peninsula. 
Four of the world heritage sites are in Yemen, in Sanaa, Shibam, Socatra and Zabid. The capital Sanaa, itself is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

Many do not know that Yemen was ruled by two queens. Prior to Islam Yemen was ruled by Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba,  mentioned in both the Bible and the Quran and after Islam by Queen Arwa bint Ahmed Al-Sulaihi (1048- 1138)who ruled Yemen for fifty-five years.
Once Yemen used to be famous for it's coffee and was the center of the world's coffee trade. It was in fact one of the first countries to introduce coffee to Europe. Four centuries ago, it began to export its own coffee brand out of the port of Mocha, a town on the Red Sea and so the coffee became known by the name of this port: Mocha.

Yemen is best known for its variety and high quality of honey. Sidr Honey from Wadi Doan in Yemen is considered one of the finest and most expensive honeys in the world.

The  unique architecture of Yemen is what distinguishes it from any other country. The Qamariya is a symbol of Yemeni architecture, it is the distinctive and  decorative multicolored stained-glass windows that adorns Yemen’s buildings.

The oldest sky skyscrapers in the world are in Yemen in Shibam in the Hadramut province and consist of  500 mud-built tower houses, some of them reaching 11 floors high. Shibam is often called "the Manhattan of the desert" and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Yemen is also famous for it's ethnic silver jewelry which is handmade, has timeless designs and also made with rare and genuine beads which are highly collectible items.

Yemenis, contrary to what had been portrayed by the media are among the most friendly and hospitable people. The massive marches that marked Yemen's revolution is a testimony to how peaceful the people are. Despite the continuous crackdown and violence by security and military forces they continued to march peacefully demanding a regime change and hoping for a better future.

Finally, Yemen is rich with beautiful, spectacular scenery and is famous for it's high mountains and green valleys, it also offers adventure tourism. I hope you visit and see for yourself ... one day.

This is an open invitation for you to visit Yemen. 


Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Grieving Mother's Note

Ten long years have passed since February 27th, 2006, the tragic day we lost our child, a day that marked our lives forever.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I lost my beloved little son Ali, the day a part of me died forever. Not a day has gone by when I don't think of him. I wake up everyday ,since that day, knowing I will never be able to see my son again, at least not in this life. I know I will never be able to hold him, hug him, kiss him or watch him grow and that yearning tears me apart. Yet, I carry him in my heart everywhere I go. I feel him in every corner of our home. I picture him beside his brothers and sister. I imagine him walking along every child who should be now his age.

Despite all the years that have passed the pain is just as raw. It only takes a memory of the loss to trigger it and bring it back to the surface again. It is like a wound that has been covered with tissue, but any small scratch can make it bleed again. They say time heals everything, I somehow agree, but this kind of pain doesn't heal nor does it get better with time. Ten years later, it is still intense, there to stay and will never go away. I just learned through my faith in God to accept it and endure it as the years go by.

A wise man said "grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve." The experience of grief when losing a child is lifelong. During the funeral I was numb with pain, then I fell into a depression and went through all its stages. The only thing that kept me going was my faith and my two dear children. I had to pull myself together and function for them. I was on autopilot going through the motions of daily life, but inside I was still falling apart.

Over the years I mastered how to control my pain. It is only like today that I allow myself to grieve like every mother would and should. I allow myself to unleash the pain and let go of all my emotions, to cry and let the tears wash some of the pain away. The vivid memory of every detail in  that day keeps replaying in my head and all the emotions it stirs come up to the surface once again. The heaviness in my heart no longer is contained, it is an overwhelming physical pain that flows all over my body. This day I prefer to spend it alone, so I can let my guard down. There is no one to upset and I can just feel.

Whenever I talk about Ali or someone mentions him, my eyes instantly fill with tears but my heart is warmed with joy that he is never forgotten. Hence, his sweet memory brings a tear in my eye but a smile in my heart. I never dreamt of Ali, except once a few months after the funeral. I dreamt that he was offering me a cup of water. In Islam dreaming of water is a sign of happiness, peace and prosperity. I have never dreamt of him since, throughout these years. I guess he is very present in my conscious that he doesn't appear in my subconscious.

I decided to make the dream of Ali and his memory be my inspiration to do as much good in this world and to spread happiness and peace. I pray that one day I will be reunited with my little angel up in heaven. Until that day comes he his living in my heart, in my mind, and in every breath that I take.

I want to thank on this day my family and friends who stood by me in this painful time, along my journey, but most of all I want to thank my dear husband, who was experiencing the same pain yet managed to be my rock and support me through it all. God bless you all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Visiting Syrian Refugees in Jordan

Imagine waking up without your bed, finding yourself sleeping on the floor instead. Imagine if there was no ceiling or concrete walls to shelter you, only a tent or a caravan if you are fortunate. Imagine having lost everything you own, including all or some of your family, relatives or friends. This is what millions of Syrian have experienced since the uprising began in March 2011. Syrians, who lost their homes and means of livelihood, were forced to flee the war in their homeland crossing into neighbouring countries to seek safety and shelter and have since became refugees.

Syrian refugees informal tented settlements
According to Amnesty International, more than 4 million refugees from Syria (95%) are in just five countries Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt:
  • Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria which amounts to around one in five people in the country
  • Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria, which amounts to about 10% of the population
  • Turkey hosts 1.9 million refugees from Syria, more than any other country worldwide
  • Iraq where 3 million people have been internally displaced in the last 18 months hosts 249,463 refugees from Syria
  • Egypt hosts 132,375 refugees from Syria

Over the past years, despite its own socio and economic challenges, Jordan has been hosting a large number of refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and in the past 4 years from Syria. Approximately 80 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in informal tented settlements among host communities in urban areas in the north of Jordan, while the remaining 20 percent live in Zaatari (considered to be the second largest refugee camp in the world), Marjeeb al-Fahood, Cyber City and Azraq camps, built on land provided by the Jordanian authorities.
The UN humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is only 45% funded. Due to the shortage in funding the most vunerble Syrian refugees in Jordan recive approximately JD20 a month, the equivalent of $28, which is less than $1 a day. Hence, more than 80% of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living below the local poverty line. Syrian refugees also struggle in Jordan to find jobs to help them survive, since it is illegal for most of them to work as per the Jordanian law, so they accept low paying and odd jobs that Jordanians usually would not fill. If they are caught, they risk being deported back to Syria and hence some children have been forced to work as a result to secure food for their families.

UNHCR Report on Registered Syrian Refugees in Nov. 1, 2015
Three of my friends and I travelled to Jordan, on the first week of November 2015, as volunteers to support Syrian refugees there and witness first hand the conditions they were living in. Since visiting the formal gated Zaatari and Azraq camps required government permission, we were only able to visit the informal tented settlements in both Azraq and Zaatari. Our itinerary was arranged by Catherine Ashcroft, Resource Mobilisation Specialist, Consultant to Mercy Corps and Founder of Helping Refugees in Jordan (HRJ) whom we have been collaborating with for the past year. Catherine is also a mother of three and above all a humanitarian who has dedicated her time and effort for this cause and her motto is "if a child needs shoes, it doesn't matter where they are born." She has transformed her garage into a deposit point for donations such as clothing, shoes, blankets, mattresses, heaters, wheelchairs...etc and her living room has become a small bazaar selling handicrafts, scarves and carpets to raise funds. Last year Catherine's projects has been able to raise almost half a million dollars. One hundred and two trucks, one ton each, carrying blankets, clothes and shoes, food boxes and school furniture were transported to refugees across Jordan, without any administrative charges.  
Catherine Ashcroft
Carpets and local handicrafts for sale to raise funds
Maher, a Syrian refugee working for HRJ and MercyCorps 
Clothes sorted and labeled for distribution
Heaters, blanket and wheelchairs

Day 1 we travelled to Azraq in Northern Jordan and visited a school built with the help of donations collected by HRJ and Mercy Corps and is run in collaboration with the Azraq Women Association. It consisted of 4 caravan classrooms from grade 1 to 4, a small playground in the middle, and a fifth caravan that was serving as a sewing training center. The students attending the school were Syrian refugees living in houses in the village as well as some Jordanians. New donations to HJR allowed for the construction of a library and workshop hall on a floor above an existing office building.

A sewing center, part of the vocational training programs for women
We then went to visit a new site which was being prepared to include more tented classrooms and caravans. We were told by the head of the Azraq Women's Association that the area would be used in the morning as a school for students from year 5 to 7, and in the afternoon used for workshops and a vocational project that would secure 26 job opportunities for Syrian refugees. Jobs such as selling homemade food, traditional handicrafts...etc, would generate income and help improve the living conditions of Syrian refugees.

Later that afternoon we visited an informal tented settlement in Nothern Azraq, in a farm 25 km away from the school which we visited in the morning. A few tents were in that farm and they sheltered several families each. We were all overwhelmed by the miserable living conditions we witnessed.  There was an obvious lack of sanitation and medical care and some of the children's growth was stunted due to malnourishment. It was heart breaking to see how these people were surviving with almost nothing. Yet we felt the eagerness of the children to resume their education as we sat in a tented school which was being prepared for them. Many had been out of school for the past 4 years but were excitedly seated around us recounting what they still remembered. The distance and off road journey made this area harder to access. UNICEF was able to provide them with 2 teachers only who could visit them twice a week. We left that camp heavy hearted feeling that the support from our donations was just a drop in the ocean.

A tented school set up by HJR & Marcy Corps in Northern Azraq
Syrian refugees inside their new school in a Northern Azraq farm
Day 2 early in the morning we stopped at Catherine's house and loaded one of the cars with jackets, shoes, heaters and powder milk before we headed to Zaatari village to distribute them. When we reached the village we stopped at a local society called White Hands for Social Development and were briefed about its activities to support Syrian refugees and the local community, such as micro loans for small businesses and awareness workshops. We were joined by its head to visit some of the settlements there. The first tented settlement we visited was in the middle of nowhere with a tank serving as the only water source for all the families living in the scattered tents around it. Despite the living conditions they were subject to, the children still greeted us with a smile. They had already been dismissed from school since we arrived after mid-day so we visited an empty classroom and saw the children's colourful drawings on its walls. As we drove away, we saw the men being dropped off by a pickup after a day's work in the fields. I wondered how much did they earn that day?

Jackets and coats for children

A water tank serving many families in the tented settlement 
Syrian refugee children smiling against the odds

A tented school by HJR from the inside
Artwork by Syrian refugee children
Afterwards we visited another informal tented settlement in a private gated farm. We delivered some heaters and checked on the progress in another tented school. The children were dressed in winter clothing yet didn't have socks nor shoes to face the cold weather. The tents didn't look like they would survive a heavy rain, let alone the harsh winter ahead either. As we were heading back to Amman, there was news forecast of a storm hitting the area in the next few days. We were daunted by that thought, but were recently comforted by Catherine that the tented schools we had visited were all waterproofed with extra tarpaulin and ropes before the storms hit last week

Syrian Refugee boys standing in front of what is now their home
Another tented school by HRJ from the inside
Day 3 we had two meetings scheduled. The first meeting was with Eng. Raed Nimri, Mercy Corps Deputy Country Director for Jordan. Mercy Corps is funded by the United Nations and US agencies and has been working in Jordan since 2003. It has developed a network cooperating with 175 local community based organisations since they have better reach and more accurate data. Mercy Corps have been focusing on the Syrian crisis in the past 4 years, helping secure the immediate needs of vulnerable Syrian refugees and has built 4 health centres across Jordan requested by the communities. We were briefed on the various projects Mercy Corps is currently working on, including the No Lost Generation Campaign. Their main focus currently is the winterisation of Syrian refugees in order to prepare them for the harsh winter ahead. HRJ acts as a gap filler for Mercy Corps when its standardised program can't provide a certain need, because it has a quicker process and donations reach those in need directly.

Our second meeting was with Lina Farouqi, Regional Director of Middle East Children's Institute (MECI), an NGO which was founded in New York in 2005 and has been operating in Jordan since late 2013. MECI provides an informal education for Syrian refugee children in Jordan and helps out of school Jordanian children catch up and return to the educational system. They presently run after school programs, 3 days a week, in 9 schools with 5 classes in each, in different locations across Jordan, mainly in Irbid, Ramtha and Salt. A portion of HRJ donation goes o MECI to support the education of Syrian refugees.
Shahd's haunting look embodies the Syrian refugee crisis
Before going to Jordan I had been following news about the Syrian refugee crisis and was familiar with their hardship but what we witnessed in Jordan during our short visit was truly devastating. Syrian refugees in the informal settlements were in need of proper shelter, food and clothing. Health and education were secondary needs. Yet, what struck me the most was the condition of the children, Syria's future generation. They not only needed proper homes, but proper health care and a formal education. Many of the children had been out of school for years. What future would these children have?

I had wondered why would some families choose to leave the established gated refugee camps, set up by the Jordanian government and UNHCR, and opt to live in the informal tented settlements with barely any support. I soon realised that life in the camps wasn't much of a life. These camps were overcrowded, limiting in job opportunities and generally not safe. They felt trapped, insecure and desperate, yet they were sadly escaping from one hardship to another.  

As the conflict enters its firth year, and as the situation deteriorates and becomes more desperate for Syrian refugees, the hope for their return is starting to fade. After visiting these informal settlements and hearing about living conditions in the gated camps, it is now understandable why some choose to risk everything and cross hazardous waters to find better living conditions in Europe. The driving force is their hope to secure a better future for their children, a formal education, job opportunities and an extra income that they could send to their relatives back in Syria. Some are so desperate that they even opted to return to Syria.

It isn't enough to just feel sympathy for Syrian refugees, it is our duty to help them. 
You can help sponsor a Syrian refugee family = JD 100 per month, JD 600 for six months, JD1200 for a year, or sponsor a teacher to teach Syrian refugees = JD 250 per month, times 9 months for a scholastic year.  To support Catherine Ashcroft efforts in providing the necessary help to Syrian refugees in Jordan donate through GoFundMe ensuring that 100% of the donations received are spent in essential supplies for the refugees. Catherine welcomes volunteer donors who are also willing to donate their time and effort for this cause. 

"Because the Syrian crisis isn't over. Because children's lives are at stake. Because they deserve better than this. Because it's not too late. Because they are the future of Syria."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

What is love...?

It is February 14th again ... that day of the year where people express their emotions to their loved ones with cards, chocolate, flowers, teddy bears or various gifts, while some others prefer expressing it with meaningful gestures. Well, I have to be honest, Valentine was a special day to me too when I was much younger, but as I grew older...and wiser, I felt it was more of a "Hallmark" commercial occasion. It made me think, do we really need an annual day to remind ourselves to tell our loved ones that we love them? That we are blessed to have them in our lives? And that they mean a lot to us?

Expressing our love to those who matter should be done on a daily basis. We should go further than that, if not everyday than at least today. We should show and express our love to others beyond our families and friends. We should extend our love to fellow human beings. We should live by the teaching of "love to others what you love to yourself."

As a parent and mother, I want the best for my children. I want them to be safe, nurtured and nourished. I want them to have a good education, follow their dreams and make a positive change in this world. As a human being, I want that for all the children in the world and I wish that all parents can fulfill that.

Instead of the animosity, hatred and violence we are witnessing today, let us start spreading love, peace and tolerance around the world. Let us start by caring for those beyond our circles, by offering a helping hand, by creating awareness, by donating for those in need and by offering whatever is in our power to make others lives better. That to me is also...LOVE.