Tag Archives: iraq

Zoning in on Pace and Motivation (Week 8 Updates)

We meet again, minions! Can’t believe it’s been two months since I embarked on this exciting journey!! The week has been fantastic all around from work to running to even traveling! That’s right, I’m thinking about flying across the Atlantic to Dubai to relax and connect with relatives I have not seen in about 7 years now. I’m stocked!! Work has been nothing but perfect; happy boss + not-so-needy patients = happy me! And running, oh boy, has not been as much of a struggle as it had been in prior weeks. I’m not going to say that I have been running 6 min-miles but still. My goal is to finish the race!

Who would not want to trade cold and snow to sun and warmth? I’m visiting Burj Khalifa!

Let’s start by following-up on last week’s goals:

  • I was not able to log the 23 miles set in the protocol *sad face*. Saturday run was supposed to be 13 miles except the trail was not marked where I needed to turn. So I just stopped at mile 6ish and returned to “base.” I contemplated the possibility of going to 6.5 miles if I had a GPS watch or something with similar capability (my phone’s battery would die when I turn on GPS for some odd reason). Somewhat a good excuse, no?
  • I have been stretching pretty good lately! Except Saturday because I returned to Columbus Running Company’s store so I did not stretch as long as I wanted.
  • I incorporated more conditioning exercises like sideway and backward running when possible. I did it maybe once this week. Also, I did two cardio sessions on Monday: 4-mile easy run + spin class. It was absolutely great! I felt rejuvenated and hungry. So hungry.
  • I broke my Monday and Wednesday runs into pieces to shake things up a bit. I did some warm-up running, some sprinting, and back to slow running. It helped. I felt like I was more in control of my breath. Also, I did not walk!! Those times when I’m tired or leg hurts a bit I just reserved to light jogging in lieu of walking.
  • I’m still trying to phase out music from my runs, just because.

One thing I have been struggling with the past week was staying motivated. I just feel like my mind gives up faster and quicker than my body. That’s a problem because physiologically speaking I could be running, but my mind tells me that no I need to slow down or even stop. So to circumvent this I stayed conscious of it. Whenever I “feel” tired, I think: “no I’m not tired. That’s just my mind giving up. Body is not going to cave. Keep going.” And I go. I push. I make those strides, and my body happily goes with it. I still need to find some ways to keep my mind off running to log in those long miles…to be continued!

This rings home. Sometimes on my long runs I find myself asking why I’m doing this. And then I remember how satisfied and fulfilled I feel after the run. It’s necessary to log those long miles and not to skip hell workouts!

Oh, oh, oh. I got myself some new running toys J! I cannot wait to put Garmin Forerunner 15 and Asics Nimbus 16 to run!!! I will let you how they feel next week but for now I can say this much…I will run out of excuses as far as logging those miles.

Garmin Forerunner 15 (www.garmin.com)

Asics Nimbus 16 (www.runningshoesguru.com)

Week 8 Running Stats:

Monday 3/2 4 miles (+ strides)= 43:13m, pace= 10:48 min/mile

  • Good run on a treadmill! I was not trying to go fast. I actually forgot about pacing and focused mainly on form and preventing leg pain. I succeeded at that for I went ahead after the run and did a spin class with my favorite gym instructor.

Wednesday 3/4 6 miles= 1:04:07h, pace= 10:41 min/mile

  • As good as the Monday’s run! Like Monday, I rarely walked if ever. I set the speed to 4.0-4.5 to lower my heart rate and rest. Instead of briskly walking at this speed, I jog lightly for ~0.25 miles before running again.

Saturday 3/7 12 miles= 1:55:27h, pace= 9:37 min/mile

  • I started out slow to prevent crashing or cramping in the first miles. I did not walk until probably mile 4? There were two water stations set up at mile 2 and 4 and I stopped at both. I did stop my timer the first round but let it run the second round on my way back. Overall, it was a very good run. I tried running with another CRC member. Still cannot decide if I like running with someone or not. We’ll see maybe next week.

Next week is going to be rough- 26 miles to log. Between the new shoes and the watch (oh and day light saving) I’m excited to give it a try. Now I can actually run outside that the brisk, dark winter is passed to let the warm, bright Spring break in. Until next week, runners.

That's right!!! The one and only, Arnold, as he left the Arnold Classic events today. He looked a tad old :D

That’s right!!! The one and only, Arnold, as he left the Arnold Classic events today. He looked a tad old 😀

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Story of Love, Reconciliation, and Healing – Preemptive Love Coalition

I “liked” Preemptive Love Facebook page after I watched its founder’s – Jeremy Courtney’s – heartwarming, optimistic TED talk at TEDxBaghdad2011. Every now and then PLC Facebook page would post personalized photo-stories about their patients with blogs entries talking about things range from meeting the patient to after-surgery celebration. I came across a photo-story today about love, hope, and kindness in their finest and purest forms (pictures below, or can be viewed here.) Because we hear about suffering, disasters, misery all the time, it aches me to say that sometimes people’s pain becomes mere background noise. Not for the Courtneys.

Beautiful Nivar

Jeremy walked the extra mile to change the sad, sick, helpless realities of Iraqi kids. “Dissatisfied with mere sympathy, Jeremy started looking for solutions,” to alleviate some of the suffering in Iraq. After their visit to Iraq in 2006, the Courtneys decided to “love and serve the poor” and starting PLC. (Here’s a little bit of a bio about them here.)

Nivar’s echocardiogram

Anyways, today as I was going through my usual, religious duty of Facebook-ing, I came across a touching photo-story about Nivar – the girl with congenital heart defect. Iraqi Nivar was transported to Istanbul for a much-needed heart surgery to fix her Tetralogy of Fallot that is most debilitating and potentially life-threatening, thanks to Preemptive Love Coalition staff and surgeons. I initially had a gut-wrenching feeling about Nivar but as I read her story, and scrolled through her photos, I was filled with feelings of optimism, love, and hope. Why PLCers do it? It’s because “we work because we love, and we hope that love can be shared with everyone who donates to a child.”

Nivar Prepped & Ready For Surgery

Read one of PLC’s staffs experiences in Nivar’s home before she was given surgery. http://preemptivelove.org/2010/06/27/revisiting-nvar-helped-plc-family-advocate-refocus-on-plc-goals/

Nivar made it through surgery!

I strongly urge you to donate to help PLC taking on more cases. Or simply, talk about PLC’s work. Bring to people’s attention the plight of Iraqi kids.

Click to go to [PLC] blog and read about our excitement when Nivar made it out of surgery with total correction!
http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/21/nivars-surgery-results-in-total-correction/

More pictures and short photo-stories can be found PLC Facebook page.

PLC twitter page: @preemptivelove
Looking for summer internships with PLC click here.

Video: Four Iraqi Children Arrive in Istanbul for Lifesaving Heart Surgery

Taken from Preemptive Love Coalition website: http://preemptivelove.org/2010/07/20/video-four-children-arrive-in-istanbul-for-lifesaving-heart-surgery/

Please donate, help, or simply share/talk about PLC. You might be the cause of saving some kid’s life.

Crashing Stereotypes

If you watch Crash, at first you would think the movie is racist. But what is racist, and how do we judge it? While the movie throws many racial language and images, it does not really tell us what is racist. It does, nonetheless, draws an interesting picture of what racism is. Racism stems from ignorance.

Typical stereotypic images presented included white district attorney buys off a black cop, Hispanic man with shaved head and tattoos, and Persian woman wearing hijab are prevalent in the movie. It is up to the viewer to judge who is racist among them. As the movie unfolds one finds interesting twist: those we thought were victims turn out to be offenders, and vice versa. For example, a Persian man is pictured trying to buy a gun. The all-proud American shop owner, irritated by the man’s inability to speak well, refuses to carry out the transaction and asks him to leave. The man is upset because he thinks he was discriminated against by the shop owner. Later, the Persian man tries to commit a murder. And he failed. Initially, I had a clear picture of who is the victim, but later in the movie that changed. Now, it is not just black and white. I’m not justifying the actions of either men but simply saying that I’m more aware of the circumstances that not only allowed the American dude to refuse the Persian the transaction, but also that made the latter almost commit a crime. I think being aware of these complexities helps us better understand people, ourselves and our biases.

Another example is a white male policeman pulls over a black couple in a Cadillac Escalade. The cop searches the affluent couple, touches the wife inappropriately in a defying gesture, waiting for the couple to react so he can arrest them, or to apologize for something they have not committed – humiliate them. The cop’s white partner protests initially but submits eventually. The movie establishes two things here: institutionalized racism and white supremacy. Clearly, it was race of the couple what prompted the cop to stop and humiliate them. So, I developed a negative attitude towards this cop. I made assumptions based on that one incident. Later, however, the cop almost lost his own life saving another’s of a black person during a car accident. Ironically, it was that same person he searched, touched inappropriately earlier. So, I think these conflicting notions made me slightly at unease calling the cop racist. I mean he IS racist for pulling over the black couple, but he is also NOT racist because he saved the life of a black person..?

Apart from that, in the movie, men are depicted as leaders, whereas women as servers. Examples range from a black secretary and white district attorney, to a Hispanic cop as black detective assistant. Movie starts with a scene of two women in a car accident: Asian and a Hispanic. LA officer writes a report and talks to victims, trying to calm them down and control the situation. Sitting in the car, next to the Hispanic women, is a police detective who investigates a crime scene. He gives orders to cops – who appeared to be mostly women work under him. Furthermore, I noticed that women are generally silenced and unheard. For example, the district attorney’s secretary spoke only a line or two in the movie; district attorney’s wife was often ignored. I believe that the movie not only address these issues in an impartial way, but also helps us examine ourselves from an outsider perspective. Do we think of women like that when we go on our daily lives? Is that how we view women at work, school, etc.?

I think this movie really helps us examine racial and social complexities from afar and so we can educate and correct ourselves when we err. I don’t know, just thought this is something we can ponder.

3iraqi Identity

Beautifully created by May Asaad.

Warning! 3iraqi culture and 3arabi words ahead.

It appears as an instagramed painting from afar. Upon a closer look, thirty distinct mini paintings appear. Ranging from samoon (bread) and nakhal (palm trees) to lala (lantern), argila (hookah), to Arabi coffee, these beautifully organized pictures tell us a story about Iraqi food, music, and culture.

The very first picture in the left upper corner is the well-known delish Iraqi bread, samoon. It is very unique to Iraq. Neighboring countries have a variety of this kind, but none tastes the same. When I arrived the US it was difficult to get a hold of Arabic food, let alone Iraqi bread. In Chicago, I used to commute for almost an hour to buy Iraqi bread, spices, and kabab. The first picture on the upper right side is an isteekan – tea cup. Virtually every Iraqi I know drinks tea. It was probably introduced to Iraq during the British occupation during 1910s. Ever since, Iraqis drink tea in the morning, at work, in school, after napping, and serve it to guests. It is inseparable of the culture. Some went as far as ‘deciphering’ the word isteekan as eeest teee kan, or ‘east tea can’ – presumably what the British called the cute little small cups tea is served in.

Furthermore, the picture in the bottom right shows red yashmagh – traditional head cloth worn by men. This is not a hijab – head scarf, or veil – but a piece of cloth worn by men signifying reverence, respect, and tradition. I associate my culture with yashmagh because not only I wore it multiple times, but also because it has historical significance. It is believed that yashmagh was inspired by Babylonians, 2nd century BCE, who used clothes with similar knitting pattern to fight off evil spirits. It has evolved to symbolize resistance and freedom during colonial era.

On the other side, bottom left, a picture of shanasheel during evening. Shanasheel are traditional Iraqi architectural buildings from Ottoman Empire time. They denote sophistication, as well as, historical and cultural heritage. Remainder of pictures represents different aspects of home.

This collage can potentially be limiting and confusing to non-Iraqis. There are many assumptions made while making it: familiarity with music, food, etc. I have a memory for every picture. Not all of these pictures have mere historical relevance. Some remind me of times during Hussain’s regime, such as second picture in bottom left of a square with a stick. We used to utilize this during programmed power outage in hot weather. Power was cut once a day for two hours. Apart from that, there are few pictures used to convey religious and political ideas. I personally may not associate myself with these pictures; however, they are still culturally relevant. I shared this collage in class and someone pointed out that these pictures represent me. It is probably assumed so because of the nature of these pictures: mosque and flag.

I shared the self-portrait on Facebook and Twitter. Some of my contacts “liked” it, and others “retweeted” it. Those were mainly Iraqis! I think it is the case because they could relate to the portrait. It really speaks to Iraqis in a way that only those who lived and experienced life in Iraq would understand. Also, for those living abroad, Arabic words on some pictures stir feelings of nostalgia and belonging. If I want to reconstruct my life back home it will be comprised of twenty eight pieces. It’s rather interesting how powerful pictures presented in a certain way can be.

This collage always serves as a reminder for me to go on and continue doing what I do best.  It motivates me to succeed academically, excel intellectually, and continue being an extrovert social bee. 😀

Iraq; some thoughts..

Deborah Amos,

Deborah Amos, “Eclipse of the Sunnis”

So, first off, I haven’t blogged in eons now. It’s a rather hard task balancing between work and academics, let alone blogging. Regardless, I’ve been trying to put together something talking about my life in Baghdad and how I ended up being an “exile.” So until then…

Recently, two weeks ago specifically, I started reading Deborah Amos’s “Eclipse of the Sunnis.”  This book has been one of the best books I’ve read this year. I recall shedding a tear reading the first 10 pages. It talks about post-war Iraq, the large refugee crisis that followed, and the spill of Iraq’s war into the region. It focuses more on the geopolitical transformations and security vacuum followed the US-backed invasion, than talking about the refugee crisis itself. She definitely uses personal anecdotes from Iraqi exiles in Damascus, Jordan, Sweden, and London, raising questions about the future and quality of life of these exiles, as well as,  implications in shaping Iraqi’s nationstate.

Here, I will be quoting Amos because her book portrays Iraq almost vividly. The following quotes explain not only things I lived through and managed to survive, but also they detail daily lives of millions of Iraqis at home today…

So let’s start with what is Iraq? When exiles reminisce about good ole days of Iraq, we usually compare today to pre-war Iraq. But was pre-war Iraq a good Iraq to start with? Were we actually unified as a nation under Saddam Hussain? Paying loyalties to Iraq, serving the country, and its people for the common good? Or were we simply scared to say no to authority. Were we secretly hating each other, and loyal to our own sect and/or religious cult? Did Iraqis live a lie that they all loved each other and shared the belief that Saddam sucked, but they had to submit to the one and only secular, nationalist, pan-Arab Saddam?

“Syria and Iraq..long the rival [cities] in Islamic history, and geopolitical rivals in modern times, are consumed with the questions of identity. In one, a Baathist state had tightened its grip on power; in the other, it had been blown away, opening a vacuum into which the politics of rival identities had flowed with catastrophic results. For Iraq, the forces that divided the country after 2003 were far stronger than the history that had unified the people. Banditry and breakdown in Iraq had led to mass exodus and internal displacement. In 2009, the unanswered question ‘What is Iraq?’ discomforted Arab neighbors and kept the exiles from returning. They were still unwilling to bet their lives and the future on their homeland until they were sure of the answer.”

When I was in Syria, I was planning on studying abroad – as in outside the Middle East. 1) I couldn’t go back to Iraq, not only because it was risky, but also because I didn’t have a house to go back to; 2) There was no country in the Arab world that would grant me visa simply because I was Iraqi; 3) The Syrian government – so as other Arab countries – treated Iraqis as tourists (ineligible to work) and as international students when they decided to enroll in college. This meant that I had to pay somewhere between 200-250% more than a domestic Syrian student had to pay- something unrealistic at the time.

“We have learned over time that Iraqis have lost hope. They don’t believe in a future any longer. They have become survivors.”

Finally, this quote describes what I lived through. From constant fear of getting kidnapped (myself of members of the family), being unlucky enough to have a bomb go off in my vicinity, have my car/house stolen, or simply get attacked by armed men, at a fake security checkpoint because my name suggest I belong to a specific sect of Islam. As the above quote suggested, I was surviving in Iraq.

“By 2009, [Iraq] was ranked as the most corrupt country in the Arab world, and the fourth most corrupt among all nations… Baghdad had developed into a kleptocracy that rivaled Nigeria… Iraq [is] still a place of militias and unemployment, with intermittent bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations. [The] medical care remained far below pre-war standards. Electricity and water supplies were undependable at best. The capital was a cantonized city controlled by armed guards at checkpoints. The sectarian police force was deeply corrupt. There was no longer such a thing as a Baghdadi – just Sunni or Shiites. An Iraqi could still be the wrong kind of Muslim for a particular neighborhood.”

I still remember that one time when I was on the bus returning to Baghdad when an Iraqi border officer got on the bus and asked me to get off the bus… My life flashed back before my eyes!

One final note, please do not pity me. I’m a strongly motivated, determined man who has acquired survival skills to let him turn negative feelings into positive ones. I appreciate everything I’ve been through!

Should I forgive an Iraq war veteran?

Forgiveness, Forgetting, and Conceding Atrocities

Ethics was one of the areas I explored in a religious worldviews class I took couple years ago. Among other things assigned for class, we read a book which explored ethics in religion. Specifically, the book, The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal, poses a question as to whether it is permitted to refuse forgiveness to a sincerely repentant malefactor. The story takes place in a concentration camp, where the author, Wiesenthal, was called by a dying Nazi soldier, Karl, to ask him for forgiveness for his crimes against Jews. Wiesenthal refused to grant Karl forgiveness by simply leaving him without saying a word. Later, remorse swept him; he questioned his decision from a religious as well as moral standpoints. Wiesenthal’s encounter with Karl sets up a parallel with an encounter I had with two American soldiers- Iraq vets. The book made me re-think my response to them, and revisit my moral guidelines.

I had a reunion gathering in New York City with friends from Iraq. An organization called Veterans’ Sanctuary visited us with two Iraq war veterans, who returned from Baghdad few months earlier. They wanted to share their experience in Baghdad in attempts to redeem for atrocities of war and ask forgiveness. The soldiers described how their respective units patrolled the streets of my city Baghdad, walked in houses and searched for alleged weapons, killed and tortured insurgents as well as civilians. They described how they could not differentiate between combatants and civilians because “Everybody is a target in times of war,” as one of them explained.

The soldiers sought forgiveness from my friends and I for their crimes against Iraqis during the 2003 war. They were talking about Baghdad by the time my friends and I arrived the interfaith organization. I voluntarily, yet anxiously, headed towards them to listen to what they had to say. “I was at a patrol one night,” Sergeant Mike talked about one of his patrol nights in Hay Al-Jamia’a neighborhood, where I used to live. He was on a mission to capture insurgents, “… I covered his head with a black plastic bag. I had to drag him to the Humvee, right in front of his children and family,” the Sergeant continued. I could literally visualize the incident for I had lived through similar incidents before. Standing there listening to him awakened feelings of anger, hatred, and repugnance. At that point, I could not listen to him anymore and I left immediately. I, later, asked the Veterans’ Sanctuary to leave the organization- the place where we were having a reunion. That night I could not sleep, and when I finally did, I had nightmares.

Nightmares of burning flesh and blood had haunted me for several weeks after the incident. This several-minute talk brought back many somber memories of the war. My home and country have been stolen from me, and the person who was in front of me contributed to this fact. I asked him to leave. That decision was not of consensus among my friends. Few of my friends contested, but the majority joined my camp.

This situation may not be identical to Wiesenthal and Karl’s, nonetheless is similar. According to The Sunflower, Simon was asked to listen to Karl’s story, “…I followed the Red Cross nurse into the building, in accordance with her instructions” (p. 23). I, on the other hand, willingly listened to Mike talking about his experience in Baghdad. While Simon was in a concentration camp, waiting for the day to be executed, I was home with my family and extended family, waiting for the moment a bomb “misses its target” and falls on us. Every day, we were expecting soldiers like Mike to break in and arrest my father, uncle, or even me; everyday we were expecting soldiers like Mike to break in and rape my mother, aunt or cousin. Baghdad on April of 2003 was, to a considerable extent, a large concentration camp: bombs were falling on military facilities as well as civilian neighborhoods and shrapnel were cutting bodies and ruining houses, cars, etc. indiscriminately. Nobody could leave the country because everything in motion was a target.

The aftermath has been even more deadly due to the security vacuum generated following the occupation. Long years of sectarian strife and armed militia killing, robbing, vandalizing whatever was on its way, were among many other reasons why I had to flee the country. I was living in Wiesenthal’s concentration camp! My education was suspended because in time of war nobody goes to school. I lost one year of my life due to the occupation. I lost family members, just like Wiesenthal. Those, among others, were the main reasons I left Mike and later asked him to leave. I could not listen to him given the fact that he expected forgiveness. I could not grant forgiveness to someone who made my people, family, and I live through hell every day of the four-week shock and awe campaign, and to a lesser extent, the aftermath hell. Forgiving him will neither bring my family members back nor it will rebuild my beloved country. While I very much do appreciate his sense of responsibility and accountability, but at the same, reserve the right to not forgive him.

Another reason why I did not forgive him was that my people back home who are still suffering from the aftermath would be ashamed of me. Forgiving him on behalf of those who died defending Iraq would be betraying them and bargaining their blood. Apart from that, I’m in no position to act as a religious figure or public representative of a ~27-million Iraqis who may or may not agree with my decision. Moreover, forgiving the sergeant may mean acknowledging the crimes and knowing that he will never be punished for them. I could not live with such a burden. Furthermore, if the two soldiers, or others, are sincerely repentant, then it is not my job to grant them forgiveness. It is God’s (if you believe in one), who will embrace them in his mercy. It is Him who they should seek forgiveness not their victims. I, by all means, still appreciate them as human beings and forgiving them is irrelevant to this fact.

I might share some of the biases that influenced Wiesenthal’s decision not to forgive Karl. Biases such as living in a war zone, knowing who is your perpetrator, and talking bluntly about bargaining the lives my people with alleviating the sufferings of one soldier. Cultural and ethnic cleansing cause so much pain especially when they are done indiscriminately and systematically. Similar to Wiesenthal, this incident still haunts me. I find myself asking the question of whether or not I did the right thing. At the end of the day, I treat people with my moral code not theirs, did I do the right thing?