Saturday, September 23, 2017

Africa: The Beauty of a Woman in a Wig

Having fun with Elizabeth's wig.
My African friends have some beauty tricks I find charming. Every time I see them they are showing off another persona--their own individual style with their wigs. They like to show off their locks in different ways that fit their mood. Sometimes it is with braids, bangs, curls, streaks of color, buns, and sometimes just their cropped hair. My predictable hair is pretty boring next to them. 

One of them told me, "I like to wear my hair not only for the occasion, but my mood. Sometimes I like to have it short and sassy. But most times, I like to have the long locks, even wrap it around a few times."

I replied wide-eyed, "How many wigs do you have?" 

Elizabeth proudly said, "I have five. But some of my friends have a few shelves of them."

Intrigued, I said, "So you wear them like I wear a hat?" 

"Yep," she said, "As soon as I get home, I plop it off on the hanger. Just like a hat." 

Here is one of the occasions that Elizabeth brought out the bangs.

Here is Elizabeth without any wigs or other locks. She is beautiful any way--without any extra locks.

Lucy, just relaxing with her cropped hair at home.

Christiana with her two-toned locks.

Elizabeth, to my left, with one of her wigs, and my other friends with her hair up.

But the next time I see her, her wig is down.
Minika's hair is different every time I see her. I call her "The African Queen." 

Minika's braids wrapped around her head.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Painting Together: Elbow to Elbow.

 One of life's quiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful.... 
                   Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It: And Other Stories

Sometimes in your life you daydream with a far off gaze on doing something unusual and extraordinary. Perhaps to pitch to your favorite baseball team, write a best seller, build a log cabin or travel to your ultimate destination. The past two summers I have experienced some amazing dreams I didn't even know I had. But I would consider them just as great as the lofty ones I described. Some of my dreams happened with a paintbrush and paint, a barn that is like a cathedral, some remarkable teenagers, and being in some of the most beautiful nature on the planet. Yes, that is right. I got to teach teenagers to paint their masterpiece. The clincher? They would paint together as a team--elbow to elbow.

My girls (some of the girls I taught) learning how to create collaboratively. Egos begin to diminish since it is a group/team effort. Everyone feels their different strokes add to the finished beauty.
Am I an art teacher or even a trained artist? The answers are both no. But the surprisingly wonderful thing is that every team of six did paint a glorious painting. As each joyfully expressed, "I couldn't believe our painting all came together in the end." Yet perhaps the best thing about my dream coming true was watching those teenagers' faces on the journey to painting their collaborated creation. I observed with curious interest their confidence grow in the two sessions I was privileged to be with them.

Elias, my son, inside the cathedral art barn. The bounteous windows, looking out in every direction, with rays of light steaming in, is a place that naturally grows creativity--in unexpected people. And that's a whole other beauty that emerges here....
A large plaque I made with the scripture of Isaiah 55:12 (as shown behind Elias). For me this scripture is what the art barn and creativity engenders-- uncommon joy and peace. As I looked out at the aspen trees around me, listening to their gentle rustling of leaves, I could almost feel them clapping for joy. Painting nature always reminds me of how sublimely marvelous this world is that we live in.
One lanky, athletic 16 year old boy was quietly painting a most beautiful sky--with soft, billowy summer clouds. I complimented him, and exclaimed, "Wow, you have captured that sky. It is gorgeous!" I meant it too. I will never forget his astonished glance at me and then his reply, "That is the first time anyone has ever told me I was good at art. In fact, I don't think I have picked up a paintbrush since I was in kindergarten." He then happily proceeded to paint a lush field with Van Goghish strokes. As I looked at his careful, thoughtful brush strokes on the canvas, I hoped that he would not doubt himself in the future. That he would remember this holy moment when he felt he could do something way out of his personally conceived boundaries.

Times to never forget where I saw young boys and girls make something much bigger and better than they ever imagined....

This summer I taught teenage boys from 13-17 to paint in a barn that is designated as "an art barn"-- reminiscent of a cathedral. Instead of stained glass windows, there is a panoramic view of the Teton Valley--even viewing the three Teton peeks. In that awe inspiring setting, I spent an afternoon with each team in two different sessions, with a break where they went to another class. When they returned, they were refreshed to start painting again--ready to tackle the canvas. Each team chose a theme to paint such as light, mountains, fields, sky and stars, water, trees. They studied, thought, and talked about that topic. And then with an enlivened fervor to create, I saw the beauty of the world grow in them. It was real and visible; every day the joy of creativity was manifested.

Working with the boys this summer, I added  my son, Elias, who has autism to many of the sessions. It was heartwarming to see them include him, allowing him into their space--letting him explore and discover along side them. In the art barn all kinds of connections were created. When we walked out the door after being together for two sessions, each of us was different. We were better people than when we entered.

Each team proudly talking to everyone about what they learned from the experience.
Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was interesting to note the differences in teaching teenage boys and girls. The boys jockeyed for position, all of them boldly crowding around the canvas. Early on they were eager to get their hands into the paint.--even when they didn't know the direction they were heading. One boy who had never painted before on one team put the first brush stroke on the canvas. They talked to one another like they were at a soccer or basketball practice, "Dude, that was so great. Bro, you've got this." At first they reserved "territories" on the canvas to paint ("Eli, you do the sky, Henry does the trees, and I will do the mountain," etc). But then toward the end of the session, they all unitedly painted every space of the canvas together. For example, Henry who had been the painting the trees the entire time touched up the sky. They welcomed assistance from one another. Also, they didn't mind if the other teams saw their pictures before they were finished.

For an onlooker, it was marvelous to view all the differences in the teams--their personalities, interests, backgrounds, and then to watch them enfold their creativity together.

Last summer I taught the girls en plein air (painting outside with an easel)--before the barn was built. The girls generally came to the canvas one by one--with one girl who felt the most confident in her artistic talents coming forward to begin. When the others saw the picture was beginning to take a shape and form, they joined in too. With the girls, the entrance to the canvas was more like a gentle trickle. As they felt comfortable and their assurance grew, they picked up a paintbrush. They had to feel confident in the process before they became vulnerable enough to begin something so new and different for them. Most soaked up the confidence and courage, and then decided they were ready to begin. Each one eventually took her place with the team--until each girl was standing clustered together elbow-to-elbow. There were not the designated "territories" or spaces on the canvas for the girls as much. Two or three girls would socially be painting a tree or mountain together. Each team wanted to "unveil" their masterpieces at a show at the end of the camp session. For them, the thought of a grand exhibit where everyone gathered at the end to gaze at their paintings was joyous.

Another team that is capturing the aspen trees around them.

Learning to paint in a cluster--elbow to elbow--and loving it!

I gave both the boys and the girls praise and some instruction, but stepped back--letting them own their creation. Wavering confidence grew into assurance with each brush stroke. They were weeks I will never forget.

Lessons from two summers of teaching art to teenagers:

1) When people are around beauty, they desire to capture it--particularly when they feel connected to the land. It fuels them to talk about colors, textures, light, shading, allegories and a few stories. At first perhaps they will put one color on the canvas to paint a tree or mountain. I invited them to the window to look out at the scene or in en plein air to quietly have them gaze at all the colors that make up the tree or mountain. So many greens or browns to discover....  It was glorious to watch them begin to mix the colors, and put on three colors of green on a paintbrush. The world is not designated in a crayon box with eight colors. I watched them see that there is always another color to mix and discover.

A team reading about mountains, gazing at the gorgeous shading they had created in the summits and crests.
2) The world began to unfold to them. The crevices, summits, leaves changing, contrasts of light emerged. Like a person who puts their glasses or contacts on in the morning, I watched them begin to see, as if in a panorama. Nature was not the only thing they discovered in all its splendor. They widened their own vision of themselves--of who they are and who is at their elbow. Layers peeled away. I saw them transform--becoming more alive. The connection between the beauty around them and in themselves was more bonded, sealed. Also, they knew they had achieved something great together, and their friendships were strengthened.

This team didn't want to leave their "mountain" picture. They had to go to another level and admire from another angle. To many of the teams I said, "You all should go to art school. You are amazing." This team replied to me, "Only if we can do it together." Ha! Way to be united!
3) Sometimes adults think teenagers are sulky or look bored. I propose they just need to find a place where they can open their hearts and minds. One way is for all of us is to create a little more with our hands--to get rid of all the goblins that tell us we can't create or make something beautiful. Find a place or zone to create and watch the goblins shrink inside. Doubts flee, and joy flies in like a beautiful bird on a landscape. And in those moments, you can find your own cathedral or sacred spot. 

This team captured their light. I remember they told me with great pride, "We should take this picture to an art gallery. I am sure many people would want to buy it." Love those happy, confident, creative faces! With every team, I saw this joy. It was fun to watch them move past the fear of not doing it right. They had conquered it not only in themselves, but with their team.
4) You get confidence by doing. There is no other way! You just have to boldly put your brush to the canvas. The first stroke can be tentative. You just have to begin. And that goes for anything in life.

Bryn adding her strokes to the aspens.
5)  I taught them that nothing is ever permanent. You can redo, repaint, erase, and cover over anything you don't want to be on the canvas anymore. One team completely changed the mountains they had painted when they came for the second session. The team agreed together the mountains they had painted two hours before were childish, too whimsical. They wanted something more lifelike, more real. So they went to work and did it all over again. We talked about how that experience is an allegory for our lives. We can start over. Nothing is ever really permanent. 

Trying to capture the colors....
6) There is no need to stand too near when you are teaching. Step back. Listen. Let them discover their own creative pulses. To see a person become more enlivened through creativity is the best kind of reward. As I said, it is a dream come true.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Mobilizing Hearts and Hands

    Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.   --Reinhold Niebuhr

One of my favorite pictures of my husband. He is taking out some stitches from our little neighbor's head. Who would have thought the Mormon and the Muslim neighbors would be dear friends? But we are. It was worth moving to Qatar to meet them.

Watching my friends and family from across the world suffer in the deluge of Harvey brings me to my knees in prayer. But watching from afar has made my hope barometer rise up too. To see and hear of all the rescues, assistance, and outpouring of love shows not only what Texans are made of. It is what all of us humans can do in our everyday lives. When we let our hearts grow and our hands reach out, ordinary people become extraordinary.

Since it is Eid this week for Muslims all over the world, these kids came to bear gifts at the hospital to my husband and friend.

Just like a hurricane that can wash away huge structures of cement and brick, we can allow misunderstandings to wash away in our hearts. As terrifying as the climbing waters have proved to be in Houston, the pictures of helping neighbors and strangers heartens me.  As I watch many areas of the world struggle with racism and even genocide, these scenes from Houston remind us of the immense powers we hold in our hearts and hands. We can shoulder others' burdens--even when we don't know them. We can choose to act with compassion. We can cast off preconceived misconceptions about a culture or race. And we can even be friends. Maybe even good friends.

Meeting the Coptic bishop in Egypt was a wonderful event.

My husband and daughter at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 2016, a place and time when people from all over the world gather together to remember and honor the men and women who died there on the battlefields 73 years ago. My husband's father lost his sight six weeks after he landed on Omaha Beach when he was 22 years old. But on that beach now all the hate and bigotry is gone. There is only love, and it is manifested in the lantern toss every year on June 5 on Utah Beach. 

A team of Egyptian, Indian, Qatari, Lebanese, Jordanian, Sudanese, and Syrian doctors ready to go to work.
Recently I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Cahill's last paragraph has been ringing in my mind for the last week--about how we humans are always divided in every civilization. For clarification, the word "catholic" in this quote is denoting "humanist, or universalist," which includes Christian, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, and other faiths that value equally all lives.

"Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and ... catholics (humanists). The Romans (from the Roman Empire) are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide.  . . . If we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans, but by saints."

One of my husband's good friends from Istanbul, Turkey who loves boundlessly....

Cahill is speaking of the 21st century Romans who jockey in aggressive or subtle ways to be superior--who refuse to wear down racism and age-old misunderstandings. The saints, I propose, are ordinary people who choose to love with borderless hearts. Why does history curiously repeats itself generation after generation? If only the 21st century Romans could see the rewards of casting away old walls and misconceptions. The gift of loving is so much better than trying to be superior to another person.

The gifts of true friendship, with all residues washed away, are the reward when we live with love.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Qatar: The Metaphor of the Raining Dates

It is the apex of the summer here in Qatar, with a magnitude of fiery heat that can almost squeeze you--leaving you with not much breath. Happily, there is a little reprieve/shade under an occasional tree. But amidst the sweltering heat, there is a harvest emerging here--a bumper date crop on the landscape. In fact, the golden nuggets are hanging in clusters on many trees. And just when you least expect it, the date, the golden fruit of the Middle East, plops in front of you. In this summer desert, where you think nothing could ever grow, let alone live, a glorious, sweet date drops from the seeming sky.

Bringing the rain of dates down in Qatar
The second blog I wrote after I came here three years ago: Embracing the Dates
The other day when I was swimming next to some date palms, all of a sudden a few dates dropped from their perch. I squinted, and looked up--gazing at the harvest dangling above me. I thought, just as in life when we have our most fiery afflictions, the sweetness eventually does come. In places where there seems to be no end to the furnace we are living in, the peace, understanding, healing arrives. As Jeffrey R. Holland said, "Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. ... It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come."

Our pool where the sighting of "raining dates" happened.
Sometimes we might feel shriveled and almost extinguished in our deserts. But truly, a sweet, abundant harvest awaits. And sometimes it is just above you all along, ready to descend any moment. If you get a little assistance to pick the dates like I did, I promise the harvest will pour down. You can hardly pick them all up.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Father's Day: The Impact of a Dad

My amazing dad, the title he loved best. To his daughters, he told them they were beautiful and deserved a partner worthy of them. When he and Mom had very little when I was born, he saved his money for my sister and I to have an Easter dress, hat, and gloves. He taught us to strive for an education, but to be able to converse with the poor, illiterate, and humble. The poor people of this world intrigued him more than the rich and famous.
        A father should be his son's first hero, and his daughter's                                                   first love.

This year will be my first Father's Day without my dear father. As it is with everything, you cannot know the rupture of that moment until it happens to you. My father, as great as he was in many areas of his life, always strived to be a wonderful husband and father. It was his lifelong aspiration. The last two weeks I have reflected on the gift a father gives a child by being their counselor, confidante, coach, teacher, cheerleader, protector, guide, mentor, and a hundred other things. I know many people have already traveled on this journey of losing their father, but this is new terrain for me. My sister said on the day he died two weeks ago, "A giant tree has fallen in the forest today." If that metaphor is true, I would say he was an olive tree. In the Mediterranean countries, the olive tree is known as an "eternal tree"--constantly regenerating itself to give shelter, shade, protection, and sustenance to those around it. The roots of an olive tree never really die.

A reunion four years ago... Not everyone was here, but I would say we were quite well represented. Nine kids, 54 grandkids. And everyone felt like they were the favorite.
Everyone said my father was larger than life, tremendously dynamic. He attacked anything with wholehearted fearlessness and grit. Much of his early character was built during the years of The Depression. He knew how to scrap for jobs as a young child, and constantly worried about losing the house they were living in at the time. As a young boy, he would listen to his parents talk through the paper-thin walls about impending bills. Dad later wrote, "My father was deeply scarred by the Depression. As children, there was no interaction with him of any kind. He was never physically abusive, but the only time I talked to him was when I was told to work or complete a task of some kind. Parenting was far more formal and distant in those days than it is today. There was absolutely no chatting or informal banter of any type. He said very little to us as children. I made major life changing decisions about work, leaving home, to going to strange and dangerous places, buying a car, and literally everything else without any help or comment from him. It was just the way he was and I accepted it, and went ahead and did whatever I thought was best."

With this sense of intense determination after many severe illnesses, Dad built a business with his brother. He was a good and respected businessman. But he really had the heart of a social worker. Since he had earned his way from childhood, he understand the plight of those who were trying to economically scrape by. He knew people from all walks of life, and even made friends with an inmate that was chained to his hospital bed while he shared a room with him briefly when they both recuperated in a hospital room. When my sister came to visit him, she was horrified. Our dad was sharing a room with a prisoner! There was a deputy sheriff guarding the room. In his typical way, Dad just whispered, "No, don't make me go to another room. I think maybe I can give him a little help, hon."

Dad was 100% Icelandic, and couldn't have too many conversations without talking about the land of the Northern Latitude. This picture was at a family reunion when he dressed up like an Icelandic fisherman to tell the stories of his ancestors.
The next day after Dad had given the patient/inmate a little talk about "making better decisions," my sister said they were jovially laughing and talking together. Dad had a boundless heart. Strangers, even if they didn't speak the same language, were his friends. He could speak about Shakespeare or economic theory with one person, and a few minutes later enjoy a conversation with a truck driver about his family. Besides his books, people were his hobby.

Dad absolutely loved ALL people. My mom and I were looking at some shops, and found my father with some new friends at a market in Qatar. Did he speak Arabic? No, but it didn't matter. They could feel his love and admiration for them. On the last few days in Qatar, several men asked him to go to the mosque with them. He came home, with a profound respect for his new friends.

When he was in Qatar, he went to the barber from Bangladesh. Could they communicate? No. But that made the encounter that more engaging to him.
My father was an endlessly fascinating man--someone who was constantly changing, improving, trying. His tenacious efforts to be better, apologize, create better habits for himself, and a safe, loving family culture is the stuff of a compelling movie or novel. Somehow as a young person, he decided he wanted to change the line in the family that he was tethered to. He raised nine children, and had 54 grandchildren. His insistence to whitewash the past and create a loving family, moves me. Carlfred Broderick, the late renown child psychologist describes my own father when he described the "transitional figure." You don't have to be your father:

"A person, who, in a single generation, changes the entire course of a lineage. The changes might be for good or ill, but the most noteworthy examples are those individuals who grow up in an abusive, emotionally destructive environment and how somehow find a way to metabolize the poison and reuse to pass it on to their children. They break the mold. They refuse the observation that abused children become abusive parents, that the children of alcoholics become alcoholic adults. . . .  Their contribution to humanity is to filter the destructiveness out of their own lineage so that the generations downstream will have a supportive foundation upon which to build productive lives."

Since Dad had a physically and emotionally absent father, he sought to change the tone of his own family. He was known for quickly saying he was sorry if he became frustrated. Anyone who knew him knew he was intense. Yet, I have to say, he learned to channel all that fervor and spirit. I remember once as a young 15 year old, he came into my room, and apologized for getting mad that I had left a juice that spilled in his new car. He sat down on my bed, and tearfully told me he was sorry for "'flying off the handle.'" "Please forgive me. I am trying. You are the oldest, and I guess you are the guinea pig. I am trying to be a good father."

My mom and dad last year at one of his grandchildren's weddings.

He would then tell you how great you were. It was personal and specific in the way he built people up. He was an elevator of people--a lifter. His praise was real, authentic, and obviously reflected upon. One of his quotes was, "Master the Compliment." Of course, Dad's tender emotion and constant efforts to be a better father endeared us to him even more. He would then take his fathering skills to those around him. Countless people thought of him as their surrogate father or grandfather. I hugged more than a few sobbing children at his recent funeral when they told me he was their grandfather. Many grown men and women tearfully told me he was like their father.

Dad loved the ocean and was fascinated by ships and boats. His favorite movie was "Master and Commander."

Mom and Dad celebrating their 58th anniversary on a dhow boat in Doha, Qatar. A few minutes after this picture was taken, his dream came true: he got to drive the boat.
We put him on a pedestal and loved him--not because he was perfect. But because in front of our eyes, we could see a new, better father constantly emerge before our eyes. He would tell us the talents that he perceived in us, and we would try to build upon what he saw. He was also known for giving second, third, fourth chances, and then another one with his employees and anyone else he worked with. We knew he had high expectations for himself, and he also had them for us. He had an unwearying belief that people could change, be better than they could even imagine themselves. Dad saw things in people what they could become. He not only saw it. He told them so.

Dad was a wordsmith, poet, teacher, a keeper of stories. He could intertwine truths seamlessly with ease and humor. Thousands of people loved his talks he so tediously worked over.  He loved to sit down and talk about a great book, poem, or scripture. A few of his own quotes are:

Do the Difficult

Master the Compliment 

Be a builder

Live with Awareness

Err on the side of mercy

Life can be hard. You never know what people are going through so be kind and love them.

All or nothing

He would say these two things with a twinkle in his eye, but you knew he meant it too:
"Don't be a Hollywood baby"--showing his aversion to people who want to complain and pout about the unfairness of life.

"Don't be hotsy totsy"--meaning to stay humble whatever you achieve in this life.

Since he was born with some health ailments, he always tried to be healthy. Decades ago he was teaching us how to exercise and eat healthy. He was way ahead of his time. He would say, "Eat rough. Be tough. Dine on fibrous stuff." He hailed the benefits of "the mighty bean" and lentils. He thought, "Who would want to eat a chocolate chip when you can have a date or raisin?"

Dad left a legacy that I will keep on trying to live up to until my last breath. As I look over the treasure trove of memories with my dad, I am grateful to be his daughter. I know the impact of a father reaches no bounds. A father who keeps loving, trying, giving is extraordinary. His gifts are received by future generations. No matter how old you get, a woman is always Daddy's little girl. We knew he held our hearts. Thanks for unfailingly lighting the way, Dad. We will keep walking in your shoes until we meet again. Obituary

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ramadan 2017

Ramadan: The time to go on a spiritual journey
About one quarter of the earth's population is Muslim--with Muslims spread in most every country around the world. Although I am Christian and living in a Muslim country, I have had many spiritual experiences talking to my Muslim friends about their beliefs and yearnings. They have taught me what it really means to embrace and love a stranger in a wilderness. To see their devoutness and discipline as they pray five times a day inspires me--even when it means stopping on the side of the road and putting their prayer rug down in the sand to kneel on. My Muslim friends pray for me, sometimes every day, and always when they go to Mecca. I tell them I can feel their prayers, and I hope they can feel mine.

Ramadan happens in the ninth month of the Islam calendar when you see the first glimpse of the crescent moon--the emerging new light. This year in 2017 the crescent moon occurs on May 26, and then a few hours later at 3:09 am, the first call to prayer of Ramadan will start. Children and families look to the first moonlight on that night, the symbol of a new radiance and enlightenment. The month of fasting and prayer is meant to be a new beginning, not only in the sky, but in a Muslim's heart. Ramadan's purpose is to have an inner spiritual journey--shedding negative habits--letting new light infuse your soul.

It is required of Allah for all those who can fast to do so--of course not for small children, the elderly, or people with health conditions. Most of the time, children begin to fast with their parents when they begin puberty, but sometimes children voluntarily want to fast earlier. Water and food are abstained from for about 13 hours, from the first prayer early in the morning called suhar, which is before sunrise. Therefore, if the suhar prayer begins at 3:09 am, a small meal is eaten before the prayer. The children wake up and eat with their family, and then the first of the five prayers is offered for the day. It is still dark outside. But it is said to the children that when they can tell a difference between a white thread and a black thread, the fast has begun. The new daylight has dawned.

For example, on the first day of Ramadan, the prayer schedule will be at these times: 3:09 am, 1:05 pm, 5:23 pm, 9:15 pm, and then 10:28 pm. When the sun sets, people will reach for some dates, and maybe some soup before the iftar meal. Many will go to the mosque. After the last prayer, then a huge meal is spread out for family and friends to partake. It is called the iftar meal because the last prayer is the iftar prayer. People still go to work and school during the month of Ramadan when they fast.

Praying five times a day is part of my every day rhythm--hearing the imman call to prayer.
Fasting is intended to bring Muslims closer to Allah. It requires immense self-restraint, discipline, patience. But also it is a time to share blessings with those who are poor or living in difficult circumstances. Ramadan is to sharpen inner spiritual traits, but then show selflessness and compassion outwardly to those who have less. One of our friends from Turkey said he always gives many sheep to people for their Ramadan feasts who live in meager conditions. As he looks over the past year and recognizes his blessings when he fasts, he then naturally wants to give and share his abundance. As Muslims fast, it reminds them of others' suffering, They want to give to charities and those whom they know are less fortunate.

During the month of Ramadan, many people read the 6,000 verses of the Qur'an, preferably reciting them by heart (You would be surprised at the children in my compound who can recite page after page of the Qur'an. They prepare all year long). The Qur'an is studied more deeply this month, thus adding to the deeper spiritual experience.

Arguing, gossiping, swearing, and anger are reigned in. Forgiveness is sought after by those who may have wronged another. One Qatari friend in his 60's told me that his sister was upset at him for a year. She would not speak with him. But two weeks ago, to prepare for Ramadan, she called him on the phone. She apologized, and said she wanted to visit him at Ramadan and Eid. If she fasted for 30 days, and still did not have kind feelings for her brother, then her connection to Allah during Ramadan would be void. Her efforts would amount to nothing. She choose to reconcile her family relationships so she could have a light-filled Ramadan.

Controlling one's emotions and thoughts-- connecting with Allah--is of paramount importance. With fasting and devout prayers, there are new resolutions and reflections to be better--to change inwardly, and then to give with new compassion. When I asked my neighbor children what Ramadan means to them, they said, "For ten of the days of Ramadan, there is one single night when the water is smooth on the ocean. That is the night when any of our bad deeds we might have done during the year disappear.. That is the most important night." I guess all the light is gathered in that night.

I am so grateful to live in a Muslim country at this time in my life. I hope I am growing some light too--next to my Muslim brothers and sisters.

                                         Some books to teach children about Ramadan:

                                                 A calendar for Ramadan, just like an advent calendar:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Qatar: A Rising Tide With Art

Elias being introduced to the Minister of Art and Culture here in Doha. Adel, Elias's friend and mentor wanted him to meet the minister who visited the exhibit. 
Qatar is not only aiming to become a sports hub in the world, but it is also eager to bring more art to the Gulf Region. That means supporting not only local artists, but those who are here from different countries. This week we attended an exhibit of about two dozen artists who are trying to make it in the art scene here in Doha--several from different countries. Large paintings, and a few sculptures were being sold. Elias, our son with autism, was invited to show his paintings too. In the last few years, creativity is weaving into this culture in Qatar. It is an exciting time to be an artist in Qatar.
Creativity is prized and sought after.

The exhibit was a rich experience in various cultures being represented---Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Qatar, and Elias, the token artist from the U.S.

This is a children's story by one of my favorite children artists, Leo Leonni. He tells of some mice who are gathering food for the winter, but Frederick is writing poetry and making pictures. The theme: that in the winter the mice not only need some food, but they need some culture--like art, a riveting storytelling session, and poetry. This is the message of Qatar's message right now to everyone: You are invited to create. To build a sculpture, paint, sketch, and draw is important to celebrate life and humanity. And then to share it. Somehow forming color onto pages, paper, wall, canvas make us more alive--definitely more happy. There should be a little Frederick in all of us.

Artist Elias with four of his paintings. Another one is hanging on a wall .The winter scene was sought after by a Qatari policeman/art who misses snow, and spent some time with his mother at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN

An artist painting a mural to advertise for the show.

A Qatari artist who paints portraits with his hands
I go to see Miriam, a Qatari artist exhibit some of her paintings at the show. She has not been able to walk for seven years, but continues to create. If you talk to her, she never stops smiling. It makes me think how much joy and fulfillment art has brought to her. I met her at the Picasso exhibit. You know how it is. We artists run in the same circles.....

An artist from Saudi Arabia wood burning portraits. He is stunningly accurate with his wood burner.

The night we went to bring the paintings, Hamad, a Qatari policeman and artist spotted Elias's painting--begging to buy it.  He misses the snow when he brought his mother to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, USA.

Hamad, the policiman/artist and Elias. Hamad never stops smiling. He laughed when I told him he didn't look like a policeman.

An artist from Pakistan who has just been here in Doha a few months--trying out his hand in a new country to show his art.

Some traditional Qatari music in the background. Adel, Elias's friend, a fellow artist, who has done so much to help him.

Some Qatari brothers buying some ice cream in a stall out in the parking lot--part of the show.

Of course, there is always decadent candy at exhibits in Qatar. The candy even was highly decorated for the occasion.

Elias with one of his art classes at an exhibit at the Fire Station. It has been thrilling for him to have his art displayed now three times since we moved here two and a half years ago. I am so grateful to those teachers and mentors who have helped my son be more alive and happy because of art. I appreciate Qatar for supporting him and all other artists.