Interview with artist and author Paul Batou

Written by: Weam Namou

Paul Batou was born in 1959 in a tiny village on the border between Iraq and Turkey. When he was two years old, the Kurds destroyed his village in an act they called “ethnic cleansing.” This forced his family to migrate to Mosul and eventually to Baghdad, where he lived among Arabs. His family rented a room with six other families. Almost forty people shared one small kitchen, bath, and toilet. He described his home as “more like a prison.” Even though his family spoke a different language, Aramaic, they managed to survive. Batou’s mother was forced to work like a slave in a hotel while his father traveled back and forth from Baghdad to the north in order to restore their land. He could not imagine working in a city while others stole his land.

Paul Batou4

None of Batou’s siblings completed their education, but thanks to his aunt’s generosity, he was enrolled in a Catholic school. He performed very well, especially in art and science. At first, he drew simple Disney characters, and then graduated to Western wild west-style pictures. At the age of twelve, he wrote his first short story, which was a love story based in the city of Kremat, where he grew up. His journey as an artist continued throughout high school.

In 1989, Batou traveled to Italy to study art, but his father refused to finance his studies. He returned to Baghdad and was accepted in a pharmacy school, so he followed that direction. Luckily, the school had a studio for the arts. One of the protocols in Iraq was that each college must have a music and art department to be used for students’ hobbies.

The following is an excerpt from the book Iraqi Americans: The Lives of the Artists

WN: Why didn’t you study art in Baghdad?

BATOU: The College of Fine Arts was exclusive to the Baath Party. I didn’t even bother to apply because I had no desire to become one of their members. I was fortunate that the director of the studio in the pharmacy school was one of the most famous Iraqi artists, named Abdul Ellah Yassin. That’s how I practiced and learned art in a more professional fashion. It was as if I’d missed something and then found it. I was hungry to absorb all the knowledge I could in art.

WN: While living in Iraq, did you have any serious encounters with the Baath Party?

BATOU: My problems with the Baath Party began after I received my bachelor’s degree. I was accepted to continue my master’s degree in toxicology. However, because of my friendship with Abdul Salman, a Shia Muslim student who was disliked by the Baath Party, my art teacher told me that, like my friend, I would not have a chance. My friend and I took our case to the minister of education and eventually to the minister of health, who refused to help us. When we asked him why his daughter was going to England for the master’s degree when her scores were lower than ours, he replied, “She is my daughter and I want the best for her.” The minister’s final advice was for us to join the army.

One of my classmates from elementary school had become a powerful person in the Iraqi intelligence agency, the Mukhabart. I had helped him in his academic study in pharmacy school and we used to play together during childhood. He offered me the opportunity to study nuclear pharmacy in Sweden. In return, I would receive an excellent pay and my family would be provided with a nice home and a comfortable life. It was either the army or studying abroad and joining the Mukhabarat. It was like having to choose between heaven and hell. I chose hell.

I served in the army five years during the Iraq-Iran war. The first few months, I was on the front line, and every night I asked myself if I had made the right or the wrong decision. I played by my principles, and my principle was not to give up my freedom. I later wrote a poetry book, My Last Thoughts About Iraq, which is based on the notes and soldiers’ quotes I jotted down during the time I served in the war, from 1983 to 1988.

Matters changed when I was placed in the medical unit and began focusing on helping as many people as I could. We were in a city that bordered Iran, where there was shelling and wounded men every day. That’s when I forgot my doubts and questions. God gave me peace in my heart, and I ended up staying in order to help the people who needed me. I stopped feeling like I made a bad decision and I felt happy to be a pharmacist. I’m helping more people now.

WN: What was the driving force behind leaving Iraq and coming to America?

BATOU: Freedom. The turning point in my search for freedom was when I started reading and painting the Epic of Gilgamesh. That story had a major impact on my thinking as a human and as an artist. Gilgamesh and his long journey and search for life, love, and freedom opened my mind and caused me to look back at my roots as a Mesopotamian. I became more determined to love my land and my people and to fully understand that this is my Iraq, not owned by Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds. The Christians of Iraq are the natives of Iraq. They carry the heritage of Iraq.

Seeing my friends, mostly artists, writers, and poets whose thinking was in opposition to that of Saddam’s ideas, taken by Baath Intelligence or put in prison or disappearing from the university affected my thinking. I realized I am not free. If you search for freedom while under the dictator rule, either you think to exit Iraq, or if you can’t do that, your alternative is connecting to whatever makes you feel free. To me, the gypsy culture, writing poems, painting, and playing classical guitar provided me with the ideals that I live by and the freedom to express myself among the people who fear God and pray all day.

In 1989 I moved with my family, a wife and a son, to Athens and eventually to the United States. Although it was difficult in the beginning, the image of America being the land of freedom and opportunity lived up to its name. I found American people very helpful. They assisted me as best as they could. One person who played a big role in my success was a friend and pharmacist by the name of Ira Freeman. He offered me a job in his pharmacy even though I had no experience with computers and I didn’t know the name of the drugs since they were different than what I had learned in Iraq. He even provided me with financial assistance to get me through.

One thing you learn in America is that you have full freedom. Humans with freedom will have more powerful production than humans under oppression. I’m happy in America, but I miss the friends I left behind in Iraq. I’ve written many times that I can’t feel joyful and happy when my friends in Iraq are sad and worried.

One day my father told me Iraq is my homeland. It was called Mesopotamia before, the land of two rivers. My mom said any land that gives you freedom is your land. I ask myself one question. Could I have done all this in Iraq? Would I get the same support to express myself freely, with no restrictions? The answer is no. Only true freedom will make you a professional pharmacist, artist, writer, and musician. How many people living in Iraq now missed that opportunity? Freedom is what makes a country and its people great. Finally, this is my land. I lost my home in Iraq. I don’t want to lose my home here. The way to keep my home is to restore the world to peace.

Front Cover (painting)

WN: Why do you think that America is not very familiar with Iraq’s art?

BATOU: Everyone agrees there was a big arts movement in Iraq long before Saddam came into power. Many artists had traveled to Europe and accomplished such extraordinary work there that they were very well-known there. While American professional observers who deal with art know about the high standards of art and music in Iraq, the general public does not know. The United States and Iraq did not have good enough relations to create programs where Americans can come to Iraq and witness, for themselves, Iraq’s culture or people, or for Iraqis to come to the United States and do art exhibits.

Since there was no cultural interference or exchange with Iraq, Americans didn’t know anything about Iraq’s history, culture, and heritage. That’s the one reason that the US failed with Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Yet our cultures are similar in a way. It’s about new invaders who came in with a different culture and changed Iraq to what we see now. This is a repeat of what happened to the Native Americans, when Europeans invaded the Natives’ land and changed their beliefs, religions, and way of life.

WN: Have you visited Iraq since you left? 

BATOU: I once felt that even if I visited Iraq for one or two weeks, that would mean I would have to give up my freedom for one or two weeks, which I didn’t want to do. Then, in 2014, I finally visited the northern part of Iraq for two weeks. It was the first time I was there since I left in 1989. Things were stable and people were generally happy when I visited. I told them, “It can’t be sustained. Things will not end happily.”

WN: What made you say that?

BATOU: The government offices were unorganized and corrupt. You can’t maintain a society with poor politicians and poor thinkers.

Everyone focuses on the Islamic State, but the war in Iraq has been ongoing since 2003. I believe Saddam was only one person and we, the Iraqis, gave him his power. We became his hands and eyes, his army and secret police. We the Iraqis created the dictator. Iraq for the Christians was not a paradise before his rule. We lived among a lack of knowledge and education. Iraq was always a land of fear and discrimination. Maybe the Islamic State did something good. It brought the world’s attention to us. Before then, no one knew or cared about the minorities in Iraq.

The Islamic State has a positive presence in the Middle East. They cause people to examine their thoughts and beliefs about killing others, which were happening even before they entered the picture. Saddam also tried to destroy our identity and culture, but not in this way.

WN: Can you tell us about Minor Dreams and Confessions, two of your paintings?

I painted Minor Dream in the 1990s during the sanctions against Iraq. I used to have family there and you could feel the pain and suffering of the people during that time. I thought about the kids, especially after what Madeline Albright said in regards to half a million Iraqi children dying due to the sanctions that made it difficult to access milk and prohibited other basic foods and medicine items. When asked by the TV anchor if the price is worth it, Albright said, “We think the price is worth it.”

I also painted Confessions in the 1990s, and this relates more so to the Christians of Iraq, when the Arabs conquered Mesopotamia. You know how you confess your sins to the priest and the sins will go away? I confessed so that I can wash away all the sins of Iraq. I shouted and cried, but I am tied up. I cannot reverse the history of Iraq. It’s God’s Will that it falls. After reading the Bible many times, I found that God insulted Babylon repeatedly for having enslaved the Jewish people. The wars, the sanctions, the invasion— they are punishments from God. They are consequences of the past.

WN: How do you plan to restore the world to peace?

BATOU: The way to make a change is through what I do with art and what you do by writing books. We become a voice for the people who cannot express what is in their minds and hearts. Our job is to explore the world through beautiful art. Our job is not to condemn Islam, Christianity, or any other religion, but to provide people with a vision.

For me, art has a universal message. Part of art’s universal message is to deliver beautiful pieces with nice colors, logic, and philosophy for all humans. My colors reflect the tone of the Earth, the language of the universe, the cry and pain of the oppressed people.

As an artist, I go back to that civilization, that beauty, and ask myself, why do I need to restore that Iraq? It’s because it represents the great civilization, the beauty, the knowledge about all humans. My love for the US plays an important role in my art. Since 9/11 there has been less freedom in the US, affecting the way people live and think. One of my goals is to restore that freedom.

Usually artists, whether they are American, Iraqi, or from any other country, don’t like war. Our concern is mostly for the innocent people who will suffer, whether those people are the citizens of Iraq or our troops and their families in America.

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 This interview was hosted by the Chaldean Cultural Center and UofM Detroit Center. http://www.ChaldeanCulturalCenter.org

http://www.paulbatou.com

Bridging Cultures with Music

Luti Erbeznik began his music career as a 15-year old by playing drums and singing in a band. A few years later, he was the lead singer and drummer in Angled Projectile, a regionally acclaimed rock band. He taught himself to play acoustic guitar and began writing songs. In college, Luti left the band and focused on his college education, eventually earning a Fulbright Scholarship for graduate studies in the United States. After earning a Ph.D. in molecular biology, Luti spent a decade in postdoctoral research and teaching at liberal arts colleges. All the while, he kept playing guitar, mostly for himself, and mostly for solace … an aspiring immigrant trying to live the American Dream.

Luti bridges cultures with music. His mixed ethnicity (Slovene/Macedonian/Greek), his childhood immersion in folk music from the many ethnic groups coexisting in the former Yugoslavia, combined with exposure to melodic rock (Wishbone Ash, Styx, Queen) and classical music, helped forge his eclectic songwriting style.

Watch Luti’s half-hour interview, read his interview, and visit his website to enjoy more of his music http://www.lutimusic.com/

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When and how did you begin your music career?

I began my music career when I was about 15 years old. My buddies and I began picking up songs of our favorite rock bands, and practicing them on the instruments we had. I was raised by a single mom, and we were quite poor. At the time, she could not afford to buy me a drum kit (I was the drummer in the band), so I was borrowing drum kits from other older boys who had their own. We would perform at school venues for our peers, and we were very well received. I was the lead vocalist as well. Within a year or so, my mom took a loan and bought me a drum kit, so I was able to practice and perform on my own drums.

As time went on, we started writing our own original music, which was also very well received by the audience at our performances.

How has your background, where and how you were raised, affect your music?

In our country which used to be called Yugoslavia we were exposed to all sorts of music! Ours was a multi-ethnic society with more than 20 different nationalities living together, and so we enjoyed a variety of music from different heritage lines. The republic in which we lived ( Serbia) had its own rock and pop bands, which drew the inspiration for their opus mostly from the Western counterparts. That is to say, under our leader Josip Broz Tito, we were an independent multi-ethnic nation, not oppressed by the Soviet Union (like our neighboring countries Romania, Hungary, etc), and, as such we had open access to Western (American and Western European movies, music and other cultural aspects). So, our music was largely influenced by the music of the American and British rock and pop scene.

How did your career in music develop?

As our musicianship developed further, our songwriting became more sophisticated, and our songs became more complex. Ours was a five-piece band: a lead guitarist, a rhythm guitarist, a bass player, a keyboardist and me on the drums. Everyone but the keyboard player (who at the time was a 12-year old prodigious sister of our lead guitarist) sang, and, as I mentioned before, I was the lead vocalist. At one point, we went to a studio, and had three of our songs professionally recorded. Unfortunately, the people on the radio were not too keen on playing our music. Our songs required close listening, and were not simple three-chord ditties which one could hear on radio stations at the time. We were not too discouraged, though, and we kept playing for the fun of it. Those were some of the very best times of my youth.

What’s your daytime job, or the job that supports you, and how did you get involved in it?

While in my rock band, I, of course, continued my education, which involved completion of the undergraduate degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Taxonomy (a special discipline within biology). Simultaneously, I was doing research at my university in

the Microbiology lab starting as a sophomore. After coauthoring several articles in peer-reviewed science journals and having presented research results at multiple national and international conferences, and having earned a high GPA in my coursework, I received Fulbright Scholarship in 1987 to pursue graduate studies in the USA. So, I came here and earned my PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After three productive postdoctoral stints and several adjunct teaching engagements, I landed a permanent teaching career in higher education. For the past 15 years I have been teaching as a full time faculty member Microbiology and Human Anatomy and Physiology at Oakland Community College in Waterford, MI. That’s my day job.

How would you describe the music that you normally create?

Musically, I would say it is a bit of a blend of rock, pop and folk, with some influence from the music of the Balkan Peninsula where I grew up. Lyrically, I am interested in delving into the social issues and bringing the elements of human condition that corrupt the possibilities of understanding, harmony, acceptance and mutualism in a society. Some of the themes evident in my songs include greed, racism, police brutality, abuse of women, homelessness and destruction of the environment. I am not shy to sing about these and, by doing so, implicitly ask my audience to think about these issues and contemplate how each of them can make this world a better place.

What is your creative process like?

Usually, I come up with a melody first. To me, a song is not a song unless it has a melody that is catchy and pleasant to the listening ear. Then, I decide what the song ought to be about. Next, I write any thoughts, lines, ideas, images that may come to my head – uncensored by my internal editor. Then, I begin to figure out how these writings — that are seemingly random, but all connected in some way—can be converted into the lines of the song. It helps if the lines rhyme, so I use a rhyming dictionary and also a thesaurus.

Which famous musicians do you admire and why?

There are too many to count. I’ve always loved music by ABBA as their songs are so beautiful and memorable. Of course, there are the timeless Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel and hundreds of others such as the late Paco de Lucia, and a living legend of the Macedonian rock scene, an amazing guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski. Every one of them is a hard worker, passionate about their music, immensely creative and dedicated. I am also a huge fan of Jethro Tull and their leader Ian Anderson, and also of the British band Wishbone Ash. Both of those bands have had remarkably strong influence on my music writing.

What has been the biggest struggle you experienced in your music career?

I guess just finding enough time to pursue music, when at the same time I want to give the best of myself to my students and my family.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Just keep doing what you’re doing.

What advice would you give someone starting out as a musician or struggling as an established one?

Enjoy every moment of music and try to find enough time for songwriting, as songwriting takes time.

What’s next for you?

I currently play in three different bands — The Whistleblowers, Eastward Bound and The Byrds Tribute Band. I also perform in a duo form with my friends Bobby Pennock and Dan Hazlett. Once Covid-19 pandemic is fully brought to control, I will resume performing with those people as it gives me immense joy and happiness. I will also continue to give my students the best education I can to help prepare the for their further endeavors in health care.

Paul Manoian Photography

The Royal Starr Arts Institute

As an author and filmmaker, I’ve been quite productive because I dedicate a lot of attention and work hours into my field. I also connect with communities who support my type of work, in order to learn more and network. For filmmaking, this is particularly important as, unlike with writing, making films requires a team – oftentimes a huge one. Just take a look at the credits at the end of any movie.

Sometimes, the work dynamics are not apparent right away. For instance, today I’m working on my feature film with Dr. Stan Williams, a veteran award-winning filmmaker who taught screenwriting and directing at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan which I attended over a decade ago. You never know how the people you meet will team up with you in the future.

That’s why communities like the Royal Starr Arts Institute are vital to a career in film. They offer you the opportunity to associate with like-minded, like-spirited people where you can share your talents, learn about the talents of others, and possibly find a team for your current or next project. Last month, I interviewed Luke Castle, the president of Royal Starr Arts Institute, which has a free mixer every month and a film festival every year in September.

Be sure to check out the half-hour TV-interview in the youtube video. Please note: the mixer which takes place every 2nd Tuesday of the month will be online through Discord due to COVID-19.  Reserve Your Free Tickets Here!

What’s the story behind the Royal Starr Arts Institute? Why and how was it started?

The Royal Starr mission was to celebrate the art of film through the curation and exhibition of works from all over the world, the United States and right here in Michigan. Eighteen months before the first 2016 Royal Starr Film Festival a group of gentlemen met to talk about starting a Film Festival in their community in Royal Oak, MI. After a few months of meeting,they had a name. Royal Starr. “Royal” to pay homage to the community that they made home. “Starr” to honor Orson Starr’s Family, the first manufacturer in Royal Oak. The Starrs made cowbells and bricks, helping create jobs and an economy back in 1840’s. Along with finding a name, the group of gentlemen found their very first Partnership with Paul Glantz and the luxury theaters of Emagine.

What’s your personal background in film and how does that help the Institute?      

I studied film at Full Sail University, but I wanted to stay here in Michigan to help other filmmakers; I believe in Michigan talent. I was a member of the Detroit Windsor International Film Festival before this and wanted to explore my passion for modern creative arts. Thus, Royal Starr was created.

What role does the Institute play in the filmmaking community? 

We are rebuilding the fragmented Michigan filmmaker community after the withdrawal of the Michigan film incentives with consistency, communication, partnerships.

In 2018 we started the Michigan Filmmaker Community Mixer. Knowing consistency would be key to building the trust of the already fragmented community. With the belief that community thrives on face to face interaction to encourage better communication between the fragments of the community, we would hold a open and free event every second Tuesday of the month.

How has your organization made a difference in Michigan’s filmmaking community? Do you have any examples to share?

We understood we had to be more than just a networking event. We had to create viable and real opportunities. From the beginning we offered tables at the event for members to highlight themselves, for casting roles, filling crew positions, and sharing their projects. Driven by our second belief, we are here to create a viable film economy. So we made sure that whoever had a table and were recruiting for a project had to be offering some sort of monetary compensation for the roles or crew positions they were offering.

You have a yearly festival. What are the dates for 2020 and what are some of the things filmmakers should know about the festival? 

The 2020 Royal Starr Film festival will be held from September 11th- 20th at Emagine Theatres in Royal Oak, featuring films from Michigan and all around the world. We love to celebrate with our guests afterward.

What advice would you give filmmakers just starting out? Or those trying to hone their craft? 

Every project you work on is a learning experience and grows your skill set.

Where do you see the institute five years from now? 

I see Royal Starr expanding and offering more learning initiatives, especially during our Film and Digital Media Expo (FANME). In past years, we offered editing, acting, writing, and lighting workshops with leaders in the film industry.thumbnail_logo

Dreaming into Reality Your Own Path

 

Over the years, Sharon Lee Samyn attended various speaking engagements where I talked about writing, healing, and transformation. She would approach me after the talk and share her desire to publish her first children’s book. Last year, she attended The Path of Consciousness, our yearly spiritual and writing retreat, and shortly after that, she set out to publish her first book, Thinker’s Dream: Dream to Find Your Path for Life. As I guided her through the process, I admired her tenacity, her confidence in herself, her belief that she can and will reach her goal. Her ability to dream into reality her own path and in the process inspire others to do the same. 

Sharon Lee Samyn2

I interviewed Sharon after her book was published. You can watch the video and read about her experience in this blogpost.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? 
I dreamed of being an artist, clothing designer, seamstress, teacher, had so many different jobs that eventually led into a self-taught career as an interior designer with hands-on skills to create products for clients. Actually making window treatments, recovering furniture and more to personalize a unique look for each client.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 
Well, actually I wanted to write about my life about 15 years ago with the help of my husband for I thought he could help me to edit with his skill of writing in college. I really never thought that I could put all the right words together. I was always encouraging others to write.
How long did it take you to write your book? 
The writing took about a bit over a year and a half. My husband fell into a deep depression and I was trying to find ways to get him inspired to help me write this book. I began looking at all the paintings that I had painted for causes that were donated while ill with side effects from scoliosis surgery about 8 years prior. A story started coming to me with a positive message while looking deep into my art. Then the mission started and I knew that I had to write this book.
What is your book about and why did you choose this topic?
This book is about what I have done to control my fears and keep me focusing on ways to keep positive in difficult times. Also how I always motivated myself to keep the child in me alive throughout my entire life. I was always a dreamer and was curious asking questions to learn new things. I challenge myself to create new projects all the time to prevent depression. The message was clear I knew the time was now to write to show a way to inspire children and adults more than ever with the world as it is now. This book is about learning to love and care for all life including yourself. Caring for our water, air, trees, and so much more. To explore, learn, grow in life with having fun along the way to meet and connect with all to share kindness together for the hope of a better world.
What was your biggest challenge in writing this book? 
Finding a way to self publish to keep the cost low enough so many could afford to read and get this important message out.
What advice would you give the first-time author?
Find out about different writing groups to join, meeting other writers to learn what they have done. Go and research information at the libraries, online, and bookstores. Read a lot of books about writing. Visit bookstores to check out about the kind of book topic you want to write. Set a list of goals to keep motivated to write. Ask questions when you need advise. Set time to journal each day. Remember to have fun along the way by networking with people, sharing ideas to help others. But most of all never give up for when you complete any goal in life it will give you the greatest gift of all and that is the joy of accomplishment. Try going to writer retreats, get involved in storytelling, find a toastmaster group.
What do you do for a living and how do you find the time to write? 
Being self-employed since 1992 and semi-retired, I have been doing a bit of teaching in areas of upholstering, sewing. I create natural holistic products, networking to promote my current book, painting, research work also trying to reach out to help others find their light.
What does your family think of your writing?
At first, my husband showed a bit of interest and he helped me a lot to blend the right words together but he did not think it would get out there. I did a lot of work editing it on Shutterfly that was how I first published this book. I found that it was too costly. He lost interest but he did not know how determined I was to find a way to self publish on Amazon and IngramSpark to get the cost down to reach the children. My greatest gift was when I had seen my husband come back to a positive outlook right at the time my book was finally published on Amazon. That was a great day for me. The rest of my family have enjoyed seeing my 1st book out there and are excited for me to create my next book!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
That I really have a voice and my writings have helped me to inspire others to keep moving forward to the positive light of love and how they can learn to care for their self as I have. I am so excited about how this creation came about and that I really opened up to challenge myself to open up to the world!
Are you working on a second book, and if so, what will that one be about?
I am working on another series of art to get another book started. I am seeing signs that are coming to me but the message is not yet there. Spring is on its way and that will bring a lot of inspiration when nature starts a new cycle I am excited!

Keeping up with the Chaldeans

Keeping Up with the Chaldeans is a podcast and vlog created and hosted by Junior Binno and Anthony Toma that highlights entrepreneurs within the Chaldean community. KUWTC was created to help strengthen the Chaldean community by showcasing the diversity of businesses, bringing recognition to those in our community who are unknown and driving support to one another. Each episode highlights a member of the community who shares their story, knowledge and expertise while showcasing their business ventures.

So you ask, who are the Chaldeans? They are an indigenous people from ancient Mesopotamia, otherwise known as the cradle of civilization and modern-day Iraq.  The history of Mesopotamia is measured in millennia rather than centuries. The first cities developed in the south around 3500 B.C. For the next 3,000 years, kingdoms rose and fell, empires expanded and contracted, outsiders conquered and were repelled. During this time, three dominant civilizations held center stage: the Sumerians (3500 – 2600 B.C.), the Babylonians/Chaldeans (1792-539 B.C.) and the Assyrians (1115-612 B.C.).

ziggurat

The city of Babylon inherited the culture of Sumer and under Hammurabi (1792-1750 B.C.) became the seat of a strong central government and a great cultural and religious center as well. In 612 B.C., Babylon was dominated by the Chaldeans (Neo-Babylonian Empire). The Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II rebuilt Babylon into the greatest city in the world. His most noted contribution is believed to be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Mesopotamia is home of Enheduanna, the first recorded writer in history, the goddess Inanna and Ishtar.

Ishtar Gate
Original Ishtar Gate

Mesopotamians are known for a number of achievements, including inventing the wheel, the first to use writing, to establish a calendar which included 12 lunar months, observe and describe complex patterns in the motions of the heavens (astronomy), and to develop an irrigation system for agricultural purposes.

cuneiform

Chaldeans are among the many ethnic groups that have been immigrating to the United States since the early 1900s. They are Eastern Rite Catholics, Aramaic speaking, and originating primarily from Iraq. They have come to America for the same reasons as other immigrant groups – in search of better economic opportunities , as well as for religious and political freedoms. Over the years, due to wars and violence, their numbers in Iraq has dwindled and today, the largest concentration of Chaldeans live in Michigan.

By watching “Keeping up with the Chaldeans” viewers will get an inside, candid look into each entrepreneur and their journey to success, learn valuable information, gain knowledge about starting their own business and advice on overcoming obstacles others have faced.

Since its inception in May of 2019, KUWTC has shot nearly 100 episodes highlighting various industries from restaurant entrepreneurs, attorneys, musicians and performers, medical, skincare, nutrition, fashion and clothing, photography, auto sales, insurance, mortgage and more.

You can find Keeping Up with the Chaldeans on Youtube, Itunes, Spotify, Facebook and Instagram. Kuwtchaldeans.com

Keeping up with the Chaldeans3

Not Without God

It was a rainy October morning in 1994. Zina Hermez, 16, woke up late for school and missed the bus that came in front of her house. So she walked, as she normally did when that happened, down to her best friend’s house, where the bus came a little later. On the way, she had to cross a busy two-lane road on Middlebelt, between 10 and 11 Mile Road. That’s when a car, going 50 mph in a 30 mph school zone, hit her and changed the fate of her life.

“The month before the accident, the vice principal had asked me to represent Harrison High School on the Multicultural/Multiracial Community Council for that year,” said Hermez. “The council was a diversity panel being implemented for the first time and would include schools in our district.”

That, and everything else in her life, was changed instantly when the accident happened. She remembers lying there, unable to talk, see, or move, with chaos all around her. She was in shock, but as she lay there on the street, her body broken, she still felt God’s grace sustaining her.

“There’s a huge lapse of time that I don’t remember,” she said. “I don’t know if God took me somewhere to take my attention away from the pain.”

The ambulance took Hermez to Botsford Hospital but her injuries were so severe, a helicopter transferred her to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, where she underwent twelve hours of emergency surgery.

Hermez stayed at Mott Children’s Hospital a little over three months, during which time she prayed often to God, asking Him, “What are we going to do, Lord? What is to become of me?” Her friends had started to visit less often and she feared she would be a burden on her family. She kept a journal and each night at midnight, she wrote letters to God.
“I don’t want to say that I found God through this experience because I already knew God,” she said. “I just felt the love of God in a more powerful way.”

While in the hospital, Hermez said that God sent many “angels” her way. She’ll never forget Dennis, an African-American man whom she worked with at Strawberry Hills Fruit Market in Farmington Hills. He was always happy and whenever he saw her in the aisles, he’d say, “Zina, smile!”

After the accident, Dennis came to visit her on the weekends, with flowers and prayer booklets, even though she hadn’t known him for a long time. He talked to her about God and faith. One day, he stood next to her bed, held her arm gently but firmly, and began to pray, speaking in “tongues.”

Her arm, which was stuck at a 90-degree angle started to get warm as he slowly stretched it. She didn’t understand all that was happening, but she knew he was a good man and trusted him. Dennis was praying and talking to God all the while, and after fifteen minutes or so, her arm became completely straight.

“Oh my God, Dennis!” she said, excited, but he told her to keep calm about this so not to startle the nurses and doctors. The next day, the therapists were shocked to see her arm so straight. He did in fifteen minutes what they hadn’t been able to do for over two weeks.

Dennis made about five or six visits and then he stopped coming.

“He did the healing work and was gone,” said Hermez. “If God didn’t heal my arm that day through Dennis, I never would’ve been able to get up on parallel bars. I never would’ve been able to use crutches the way I do so now.”

At that time, Hermez’s biggest fear was that she would never be able to walk again. One of the doctors had told her that, and in return, she’d yelled at him, “Yes, I will! You’re not God!” Many others assured her that she would walk again, including her nurse, Regina. Regina received very prolific and spiritual dreams about her patients, one of which was that Hermez would walk again.

Hermez was very nervous to return to school in a wheelchair, but everyone lovingly welcomed her back and her principal and teachers helped her graduate on time. By 19 years old, she was able to walk short distances with a walker. By 20, she was driving herself to college to take classes.

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“This was pretty miraculous considering how bad my accident was,” she said.
In 2004, Hermez received a bachelor’s degree in English from Oakland University. Today, she teaches English as a Second Language at the Language Center International. She wrote a book, Not Without God, which was published in 2014, to share her experience of faith, perseverance, and determination.

“I wrote this book because I wanted to leave my mark in the world,” she said. “I wanted to do something more than ordinary before I leave this earthy. It was also a healing process and a way of helping other people overcome adversary.”

Hermez has spoken about her experiences at such places as Kensington Church in Troy and at Harvard University. Her goal is to continue to share her story and her message.

“No matter what you’ve been through, it doesn’t have to change you. Be better because of it,” she said, adding, “Life is not about how successful you become, it’s about the people you help while you are here.”

Sacred Medicine for Body, Mind & Soul

Deborah Epstein is a visionary artist, shamanic practitioner, and body worker. She recently created a project called “Life is Art: Conscious Creativity Summit” which launched last month. We’d met on Facebook and were connected through shamanic teachings. She’d studied at the Heart of the Healer organization with don Oscar Miro-Quesada, an internationally acclaimed shamanic mentor, ceremonialist, healer, and author. He’s a kamasqa curandero and altomisayog adept from Peru and originator of Pachukuti Mesa Tradition cross-cultural shamanism.

Deborah created this free online summit by inviting 21 artists and healers whose focus is fostering creativity and imagination to be the impetus for folks to heal, find courage and purpose to create change in the world and ream a new planet into being. She felt this summit was in alignment with my message so she invited me to be one of the 21 panel of experts to add my expertise to this project. I was happy to say “Yes” because this was obviously a meaningful and life-changing project.

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After learning more about Deborah’s work, particularly her art, I decided to interview her on my show so others can discover it as well. Deborah has been making unique bodies of work inspired by her journey as a healer and a client of many varied alternative healing modalities. Her passion for healing and creative expression are the basis of the work found here at Deborah Epstein Studio. Using a variety of media, Deborah explores topics such as:  healing physical and emotional pain, the nature of the fascial system which is a weblike structure connecting all other structures and systems in the body, and the fractal nature of the universe.  As a shamanic practitioner,  her recent work explores non-ordinary states of reality that have a dream-like quality to them and also have initiatory “light codes” within them. Light codes are symbols that are a language of light from the heart that are channeled from source for healing the relationship between humans and the Earth Mother.

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EMBODY WORK

WHAT is it?

Embody work is a blend of modalities that addresses body, self, soul, and spirit. Barnes’ Myofascial Release, Craniosacral Therapy, Core Belief Work,  Reiki, Expressive Art, and Peruvian Shamanism are used in combination to achieve embodiment, healing, and deep connection to one self and all that is.

HOW

The client and practitioner understand that they are in partnership with one another and work together to bring the body, self, and soul into harmony and balance with one another. Utilizing the container of the Mesa and employing energy work, Cranioscacral, MFR, and creative expressive practices and exercises, a safe space is created for expressing, imagining, and creating health in the body.

WHY

There are many reasons for a disconnection or disassociation from the  body. We can also be connected to the body and disconnected at the same time. Pain or trauma, whether it is emotional or physical is a major factor and “being out of our body” becomes a subconscious pattern. 

As our world is changing and evolving, our soul grows and the body needs to “catch-up”. Embody work helps to integrate the changes that occur as our soul grows and evolves. Our body is our connection to the earth and we need to be in it in a functional, healthy way. Embody work helps to build connection to the body, self, soul, and all that is.

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Deborah offers the sacred medicine Journey, a 30 hour experiential program that combines hands-on bodywork, creative expression and shamanic ceremonial practices to  clarify intention, open channels of creation, release pain and dysfunction, and create easy to adopt rituals to sustain peace, quiet the mind, increase creativity and flow in life.

For more information about Deborah’s work, visit https://deborahepsteinstudio.com/

The Blessings of Taking Care of Our Elderly

The most rewarding and precious work I’ve ever done was taking care of my mom. I was sad when last year this time, I no longer had that work. She went to rest in God’s hands, to enjoy all that heaven has to offer, and I’ve thanked her daily for the blessings she brought to our home since she moved in with us.

My mother spent the last five years of her life living in my home. She had dementia and was bound to a wheelchair and taking care of her was challenging, but it was also a huge blessing. The memories and teachings she left behind helped me understand why Chaldean family and friends always said to me in our native Aramaic tongue, “Ittagh edjal” which translates to something close to “You have points in heaven.”

I brought my mom into our home for numerous reason, the major one being that I wanted her to be surrounded by the thing that was most dear to her – her family. I wanted her to leave this earth feeling loved and wanted. I also wanted my children to get to better know their grandmother and for them to learn compassion – not through books and other intellectual ways that have no real substance, but through experience. 

Mom with angels

That’s why after I learned about Manish Patel’s book, I invited him on my show. He wrote Second Childhood, which talks about the importance of taking care of the elderly, especially our parents. Manish was driving from his home to his office on one of the most beautiful sunny days. At the time, he was so busy with his work and family life that he didn’t make time to write, even though his mind was full of thoughts about Second Childhood. Instead of trying to find time to write, he decided to record his thoughts while driving.

While driving that day, Manish discovered the true meaning of the word “Parent.” He heard a whisper from, and was thankful to, God to learn that the word symbolized our duty to “pay rent.” He writes in his book, “We never forget to pay rent for our house, office or other services, so how can we forget to pay the most important rent to our parents? Like other collection agencies, God is the highest special collection agency. Rent can be paid in the form of respect and love.” 

Chapter after chapter, Manish shows the importance of us looking at what really matters and not getting lost in our busy daily lives. He reminds us that if we fall short of interaction within a circle, we no longer are part of a circle. At some point, without attention, our circles and cycles are broken and compromised. He warns, “Let’s not reach a point where we have to say, If only I gave a little more effort, if only I tried harder, things would have been better. If only I paid more attention when I needed to…”

Taking my mother into our home was one of the best decisions I made. She and I learned so much from each other those last five years. We served one another, each in our own special ways. My conscious is at rest. I am at peace as I continue my relationship with her in Spirit and as I enjoy those “points in heaven” here on earth. 

The Art of Living on Purpose

Satori is a Buddhist term that references Sudden Enlightenment. It’s a term that Detroit-based artist Nina Caruso uses in her coaching platform SatoriShift: the art of living on purpose. Nina’s work spans many mediums but her primary focus has been abstract encaustic and oil painting as well as mixed medium sculpture.

Nina has 20 years of teaching experience working with students from Pre-K to senior citizens. She currently shares her love of art while teaching senior adults and adults with disabilities and other challenges. She believes that all forms of art are a response to our existence and are best expressed through exploration, play and curiosity.

As a Whole Life Healing Coach, she uses art as a means to help others to explore, express and expand. Through her SatoriShift platform, Nina facilitates a variety of holistic modalities including art, yoga, diet, self-care, and mediation to infuse and unfold conscious purpose into the lives of individuals, communities, and organizations.

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Q: What type of healing work do you do?

I work with individuals or groups to bring to light and expand upon their specific or united purpose.

Q: How do you incorporate holistic healing into your artwork?

I consider each person holistically. I look for instability and offer methods to restore balance through a variety of holistic modalities including art, yoga, nutrition, brain health, self care, mindfulness, intuition and meditation.

Q: What makes your work different from other healing work?

I believe that we all have purposeful work to accomplish while we are here. Our mission is innate within us whether we know it or not. Often anxiety and discomfort may arise within us if we are not in tune and true to ourselves. I serve as a guide to assist in bringing clarity and tools in support of manifesting one’s purpose. Satori is a Buddhist term that references Sudden Enlightenment. Making the shift to sudden enlightenment is truly living with purpose. It is through this platform that I provide creative coaching through process based art experiences and conscious healthy living choices.

Q: On your website, you address five healing aspects. Can you describe each one:

These are suggested offerings of the creative coaching that I offer. One may choose from this menu or I can create a unique recipe in support of my individual clients needs. These menu items can be expanded upon or combined for a greater impact.

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* Shining in to Shine Out

Sankalpa painting is a meditation on canvas. Where one can explore the pathway to self through this meditative painting approach. Through this process you will find yourself in the space where your head and your heart are in agreement while helping to restore focus and harmony in your world. Group or individual offerings are available.

* Celebrating Identity

This is an opportunity to explore and celebrate group or individual identity and purpose through artful means. Through this practice you will unleash your authentic self in order to live your passion. You will explore, express, and expand while inspiring others to do the same.

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* Take Good Care

This is all about self care. Clearing any obstacles that are in the way from being healthy in body, mind and spirit is key to living on purpose. I work together with my client to position them in a place where their head and heart are aligned with the direction that they are taking. This can be acquired through having awareness of self care and what that means personally for an individual or organization. Together we will explore creative options to support individual or group well being.

* The Power of Story

Because our stories are so powerful it is important to be aware of them and make sure that they are servicing us along our path and not sabatoshing us. In this practice we will explore, create and manifest your story through artistic modalities. Your story is exactly that; yours to edit and rewrite according to your purpose. Let’s explore your story together making sure that your head and heart are aligned, we will omit any fear or lack and colorfully illustrate the pages with love and abundance.

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* Be the Change

This is a practice in social justice. Art is and has always been a visual language. It has the ability to deliver messages on a soul level. What shift would you like to see in this world? Here we will join together in bringing your message to light.

* Creating Community

Art unites communities. We can work together as individuals, families, organizations, or whole communities to create personalized artful offerings to foster unity. Allow SatroiShift to assist you in creating unity within your community

* Placemaking

Placemaking is a powerful way to explore how art and artful practice can enliven your world. Through Placemaking we create a sense of place within a community or personal space through artful expression. Arts based placemaking manifests in many forms. It may be site specific permanent or temporary art in public and private spaces or present as site specific events all fostering artistic movement creating culture within our lives.

For more information, visit www.ninacaruso.com

A Heroic Doctor, Author, and Activist

Watch the half-hour interview with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha 

“Its’ one thing to point out a problem… it’s another thing altogether to step up and work to fix it. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a true American hero.” – Erin Brockovich

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a physician, scientist, and activist who has been called to testify twice before the United States Congress, awarded the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Influential People in the world. She authored the book What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of  Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, an expression which she first heard ruing her pediatric residency. It’s based on a quote by D.H. Lawrence.

What the Eyes Don’t See reveals the inspiring story of how she, accompanied by a distinctive team of researches, parents, friends, and community leaders, proved that Flints’ kids were exposed to lead and then fought her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. It begins with stories of her early Chaldean family life and throughout, she interweaves the influence of that culture in her upbringing. Born in England, it was her grandfather Haji who came up with her name Mona, which means “hope, wish, or desire,” thinking it would be easy for both English and Arabic speakers to pronounce. Her family lived in England as her father, Michael David Hanna, studied at the University of Sheffield for a doctorate in metallurgy.

Trained as a chemist in Iraq, Dr. Mona’s mother was an avid reader who at bedtime, entertained her children with stories of the ancient capital of Baghdad, once the most advanced, prosperous, and progressive civilization in the world – the center of mathematics, astronomy, and medicine. She would weave stories of Mesopotamia’s history with strands of mysticism and fables, the romantic tales of Sinbad, Ali Baba, and Alad­din as told by Shahrazad.

Dr. Mona’s parents always assumed they’d be returning to Iraq one day, but over time, they realized that “the Iraq they knew was lost, replaced by war and ruins.” Eventually they immigrated to the United States, and lived in Houghton, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where her father was a postdoctoral researcher at Michigan Tech University. Mona started elementary school at age four, after her parents mistakenly wrote her birth date in European style on the school forms; it was misunderstood as September 12 rather than December 9, so she was always the youngest in her class.

After her father finished his postdoc and was hired by GM, the family moved to Royal Oak where they lived for the next fifteen years. Mona and her older brother Michael were only a handful of other minority kids in their schools and experienced their share of being called “camel jockeys” and other ethnic slurs.

Mona writes that though these incidents were infrequent, they did seem to coincide with U.S. military actions against Arab countries, usually Iraq, that kids were hearing about in the news. “Even though we didn’t talk about them, they stung.”

But she confers that the promise of America worked for her family like it did with so many immigrants over the centuries. Her mother eventually returned to college to validate her chemistry degree from Baghdad University, getting a master’s in chemistry and a teaching certificate at the same time. She ended up working in school districts. As for her father, he never really stopped working.

Dr. Mona had wanted to be a doctor as far back as she can remember, attributing this desire to several factors: obsessively watching M*A*S*H reruns growing up; the story about her grandfather Haji when he fell out of a tree and doctors took care of his broken leg; the family car accident that led her, as a child, to the hospital where a caring physician made it seem like everything was going to be okay.

Given that her parents are both scientists who raised their children to love multiplication and periodic tables and the majestic order of the natural sciences, it wasn’t difficult for Mona to enter a field that dealt with biology, chemistry and math. “Education was the religion of our family, embraced as a way to a better life but also a richer, more intellectually alive existence.”

In high school, Mona had powerful experiences as an environmental activist so she created an environmental health major at University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, merging environmental science and pre-med courses. That’s where her passion for activism, service, and research were solidified, followed by four years of medical school at Michigan State University, where her last two clinical years were in Flint.

Mona beautifully describes her love for attending to children and helps heal them and make them feel better. “A crying baby gives me a sense of mission. Deep inside I have a powerful, almost primal drive to make them feel better, to help them thrive. Most pediatricians do.”

Her husband, Elliott, is also a pediatrician.

In her book, Mona mentions the story of her distant cousin, a bacteriologist named Paul Shek­wana, one of the first public health scientists from the Middle East, from Iraq, to work in America. After studying at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in England, he was hired in 1904 by the department of pathology at George Washington University in D.C. Shortly afterward, he was called to Iowa City, where a deadly outbreak of typhoid fever had struck.

He was brought in to work with the Iowa State Board of Health Bacteriology Lab, where an entire floor of the new Iowa City Medical Building was given over to his lab team. There, Shekwana investigated, among other things, the tie between unpasteurized milk and typhoid. But he didn’t stop there; he promoted new public health regulations in Iowa and beyond. His most important contribution, Mona writes, may have been an article published in the New York Medical Society Journal in 1906, urging all doctors to wash and disinfect their hands throughout the day, particularly before and after seeing patients.

Over a century later, there are undeniable similarities between Shekwana’s and Mona’s careers. After a friend told her that researchers found high levels of lead in Flint residents’ homes, Dr. Mona performed her own research and discovered this to be true. In a September 4, 2015 press conference, she urged residents, especially children, to stop drinking the water. This was a risk to her career as traditionally her research had to be scientifically peer reviewed.

Not long after, the City of Flint, the State of Michigan, and the United States made emergency announcements. Dr. Mona initially received some backlash from the State of Michigan, but after The Detroit Free Press published its own findings consistent with hers, they backed down.

Dr. Mona writes, “We each have the power to fix things. We can open one another’s eyes to problems. We can work together to create a better, safer, world.”

She’s right.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha has a number of upcoming literary events, including at West Bloomfield Library on April 23rd. This event is in collaboration with the Chaldean Cultural Center. For more information, visit https://monahannaattisha.com/public-events

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