Two Sisters Co-Author their First Book

As first generation Assyrian Americans, Josephine and Mary had one goal. They wanted to share their vision of Iraq with the world through the stories that molded their minds throughout their upbringing so people get a chance to see that Iraq is more than a place riddled with war, destruction, poverty, and terrorists.

The sisters were born and raised in the North Park area of Chicago, Illinois, for most of their lives until they moved to San Diego, California. They shared their lives with each other until they got married and now live on opposite sides of the country. This didn’t stop them from creating Before There Were Borders.

Josephine1

The creation of Before There Were Borders started when Josephine wanted to write a book, a goal she wanted to mark off her bucket list. She wanted to write a story about her culture so people could understand that Assyrians are more than just a chapter in history books. She wanted to show that the Assyrian community is still alive in today’s modern world. Then she decided to reach out to her sister, Mary, and ask for her feedback. Once Mary came on board with the project, the story came alive. Mary’s creativity helped make the story and characters blossom and reach its true potential.

Josephine3

Josephine and Mary overcame lots of challenges over the course of three months, in addition to living across the country from one another. But this didn’t stop them from completing their mission. Josephine and Mary’s writing routine consisted of waking up early and being on the phone several hours as they formulated scenes and character development while fulfilling their marital and maternal duties. This went on back and forth until the story was edited and finally complete.

In December 2018 Before There Were Borders was published. The novel is a coming-of-age story about an Assyrian-American female named Sara Georges, who shares her experiences growing up as a young girl in Iraq and how she dealt with its culture, patriarchy, and limitations. She tells her story to her American-born granddaughter, who is unaware of the harsh truths of her grandmother’s homeland.

Quite ambitious, the sisters were able to accomplish their goal despite their busy schedules. Josephine studied English at the University of San Diego and specialized in medieval literature along with philosophy and history. She is fluent in several dialects of Aramaic. She can also read and write classical and modern Aramaic. After college, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she lives with her husband, Victor, and two young boys. Josephine has a decade of experience in the building industry and project management. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration at Central Michigan University. Her passions include volunteering in the community, training for races, spending time with her family, reading books, writing, and cooking.

Mary has been married to Zaid for almost a decade and together they have a daughter and son. She currently resides in a well-manicured suburb of San Diego. Mary lives a life that consists of constantly improving herself spiritually, intellectually, and physically.  She hopes she can reach one person and make a positive change in his/her life, which would be enough for her. She’s first and foremost a humanitarian and believes change starts at home and with those within her reach. She tries to contribute to making a big difference in little ways. Mary’s passions include reading books and watching movies, listening to all kinds of music, cooking, decorating homes, and hosting big family gatherings. She is artistically talented with an unforgettable sense of humor.

Since Mary lives in California, I interviewed Josephine on my show about her journey.  Here are some insights she had about the writing life.

What inspired you to start writing?

I was inspired to write since I was a little girl. I used to read all the time and was fascinated in getting lost in a story. It was always a goal of mine to write a book ever since I was young. This also attributed to my English major at the University of San Diego.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl, but have been “professionally” writing for over thirteen years.

When did you start writing?

Believe it or not, I started writing Yelp reviews when I was twenty years old. Then, I was asked to write movie reviews for new releases. I finally shifted to getting creative with different types of writing from screenplays, poems, list stories, and full-on research papers.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I have always wanted to be a writer. It’s a definitely a “calling” since I was 8.

What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?

First, you have to read. Reading gives a writer mental exercise.

I suggest finding your voice through journaling. Start out with a small goal like writing one word on the first day. I promise that you will end up writing more. I recommend getting yourself somewhere comfortable with limited distractions and the writing will come. Try to sit in the same place at the same time and before you know it, you will be writing effortlessly.

Once you find your voice, you can practice executing your voice by writing reviews or writing letters to your friends and loved ones. Then, get creative with whatever writing style that calls you.

How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I came up with my title while I was exercising. Running and exercising stimulates me.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a writer when I became a Yelp “Elite” member and got “Review of the Day” (LOL true story).

Describe your writing space.

My favorite current writing space is in my kitchen with the shades open. On my kitchen table. On the table is a cup of tea.  And the shades open so I can watch the sun rise whilst listening to acoustical classical music.

What time of the day do you usually write?

I usually write first thing in the morning before I look at my phone or talk to anybody.

Describe a typical writing day.

A typical writing day starts around 4 AM before I get influenced by anything. I wake up, force myself out of bed, and go downstairs to my kitchen.

I drink some water, make some tea, and put my laptop on the kitchen table with my journal. I review my affirmations of the day, start some initial journaling expressing gratitude, and review my schedule in my planner.

Then, I open my laptop and start writing once I hit play on my music playlist. It’s called “Focus on Work”, which consists of: Alan Shavarsh Bardezbanian, Bach, Beethoven, Café del Mar, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozart, Lindsey Sterling, Rossini, Thievery, Vivaldi, and so many others. Music is essential for my creativity.

What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

The difficult part of writing is continuing where you left off when life throws a curveball at you.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing?

My work schedule is flexible since I am currently raising my boys and helping my husband with his businesses. But, since my boys, husband and household are my job, I have to focus on writing early in the morning before anybody wakes up and needs me.

What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

To me, success means doing what you love whilst positively impacting the lives of those around you. The definition of success is working on a goal you are passionate about and getting it done. Success is simple. We complicate it.

To learn more, visit https://beforetherewereborders.com/

Trusting What Comes

Her father was a taxi driver and her mother a stay-at-home mom. He supported his eight children and they lived a comfortable life in Al Ghadeer, a district in Baghdad where many Christians lived. She remembers wanting to be a doctor.

“My parents and grandparents called me doctor,” said Nidhal Garmo. “They were sure I would become a doctor. That was the dream they had for me.”

Nidhal went to college for just a few months in Iraq before she came to the United States at age 20. She worked as a cashier and studied medicine at Wayne State University. The strong school system in Iraq made the education process for her at WSU “a piece of cake.” Although she received good grades, and felt she was ahead of the game, she didn’t make it to medical school but she did finish pre-med. She became a pharmacist instead.

“God gave me something better than I expected,” she said. “I didn’t know I would be a charity lady. Had I become a doctor, I would’ve been too busy and under too much pressure to do humanitarian work.”

Nidhal with kids3

It wasn’t an easy path. People put Nidhal down for going to school. They said things such as, “Tomorrow you’re going to get married and have a baby. What then would be the use of your degree?”

Well, Nidhal did get married when she was still a student in the liberal arts department. She became pregnant, gave birth to a baby girl, and returned to class three days later. Her husband helped a lot with the baby even though they opened a salon.

“The same people who discouraged me from getting an education now call me asking to help them find a job for their kids,” she said. “They’re impressed with me. Life turns different ways.”

After graduating from college, she earned a position working as a pharmacist for Perry Drugs, which is now Rite Aid. Five years later, she decided to establish her first pharmacy, Nidhal’s Pharmacy, as part of the Sav-Mor franchise in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Her business grew rapidly and was a success.

During the sanctions against Iraq, Nidhal send a lot of medication, money, and other donations for people in that region. Later, the 2003 war caused her to have nightmares. Watching the suffering of the Iraqi people ignited her passion for humanitarian work. She felt she had to do much more. That’s when her missions to Iraq and Kurdistan began, 23 to date.

“I saw things that touched my heart,” she said. “Sometimes it’s difficult – when you get close to someone and when you go back and ask about that person, you learn that person is dead.”

Among many, many things, Nidhal has sponsored 12 containers of medicine and medical supplies, clothing and dry food to doctors, clinics, and hospitals in Iraq and Kurdistan to treat the sick and wounded children refugees there. She helped save thousands of lives through her nonprofit foundation, One World Medical Mission which since 2008 has provided medical assistance, food, and clothing for underprivileged, at risk refugees and IDPs in conflict areas such as Kurdistan Iraq, Jordan, and Honduras.

“There is joy in helping these people and it’s not hard,” she said.

It’s not hard because Nidhal works from her heart, not her mind. She sees the bigger plan in everything and doesn’t allow circumstances to deter her. She once said to me, “My house is big. There’s a reason my house is that size. It’s arranged by God so I could use it as storage for the medical containers and other donations.”

She’d also said, “I trust God. When I don’t have money, I talk to God and within 30 minutes or so, I receive a call or email that guides and assists my situation. God does not disappoint anyone! Just wait and see what will happen!”

Trusting what comes is sometimes not easy to do in a western culture that encourages us to push and pull rather than look inward, listen and embrace. Trust what comes. Embrace it. Love it. Be grateful for it. And miracles will happen.

For more information about Nidhal Garmo and to help her with her mission, visit https://owmm.org/

A Night in Nineveh

Nineveh was an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. It is one of the oldest and greatest cities in antiquity. The area was settled as early as 6000 BC and by 3000 BC had become an important religious center for worship of the goddess Ishtar.

“Nineveh was the superpower of her day,” my pastor once said during a church sermon. “It required three days to circle metropolitan Nineveh. And the Ninevites lived large. They enjoyed the best chariots, the finest food, and the most exotic entertainment. It had an extensive business and commercial system like none in the world. In addition, it had ruled the world for 200 years and was the strongest military power. Sounds familiar?”

Yes, very much so.

Nineveh is where Jonah was swallowed for three days and three nights by a whale. It’s where he was called to preach, to help its people repent and change their ways. Despite its great power, this ancient city was attacked and reduced to rubble by a number of groups as Nahum had prophesied. Nahum was a minor prophet whose prophecy is recorded in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. By 612, the city was left lost and buried until its rediscovery by archaeologists in the mid-19th century.

What happened in recent times to that region is truly tragic. After the advancement of ISIS in 2014, most of Nineveh was emptied of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people for the first time in thousands of years. 12,970 homes, 363 churches and 140 public properties were destroyed. The people who fled ended up living on the streets and in tents in the city of Ankawa, Kurdistan. Every effort was made by ISIS to destroy one of the oldest and most influential cultures in world history, bulldozing cemeteries, desecrating ancient churches and burning irreplaceable books. Without a country, minority groups were, and still are, bombarded from every angle with Arab, Kurdish, Iranian, Syrian, and western influences.

In response to this catastrophe, a young group of Americans of Mesopotamian heritage quickly formed a nonprofit organization called Shlama, which means “peace.” Peace is what they ultimately wanted to give back to their community so that they can thrive and prosper in their native lands. Today, most families who remained in Iraq have moved back to their villages. Shlama continues to be fully committed to supporting them in rebuilding their lives.

The organization’s board members are very creative. They provide a spreadsheet that states the name of the donor, the amount they donated, and a link to a short YouTube video that portrays how and for whom the money was used, with photos of the receipts.  In each video, the recipient(s) express their situation, thank the donor by name and address how the money has touched them. This not only shows where the money went, but it also creates a relationship between the donor and the recipient.

shlama1  shlama2

Currently Shlama is organizing a mission’s trip to Iraq in March and before that, they’re having a fundraising event on March 1st called A Night in Nineveh where I’m honored to be the guest speaker. I’ll be sharing stories about the women of Ancient Mesopotamia, the history of education and schools in that region and healthcare and doctoring, and I’ll be talking about the marriage customs of the olden days. At this event, there will be lively music, great food, and a number of fun stations where you get to experience the colorful and rich traditions of ancient Mesopotamia.

The name Mesopotamia was changed to Iraq by the British in the early twentieth century when they occupied the region. Up until the 2003 US-led invasion, the general public was not aware that this area is the cradle of civilization. Writing, the first school, law, literature, a map of the world, and the idea of dividing time and space into a multiple of 60’s started in this historic land. Man’s most important invention, the wheel, was devised in Mesopotamia, as was plumbing, the plow and the sailboat. Iraq is the birthplace of Prophet Abraham, supposedly the site of the Garden of Eden, and where many biblical stories occurred. The first writer in recorded history was Enheduanna, a woman from ancient Iraq. She lived, composed, and taught roughly 2,000 years before Aristotle and 1,700 years prior to Sappho. Before the “golden age” of Greece.

It’s unfortunate that the region where science, astronomy, and numerous inventions were a prominent way of life has become the exact opposite of what it once was. But it’s inspiring that the youth connected to its ancestors have not forgotten their heritage and are highlighting it in celebratory and humanitarian ways.

For more info about the event, visit https://www.shlama.org/events

3ec4ff5b-ede7-44ec-a3bf-5ca9dd62bc84