Thursday, February 27, 2014

Is the World Indifferent?

New to this site? Here's what I'm doing.

My 40 day challenge is nearing the home stretch! The last day of my 40 days is March 6th. I've been keeping up with my yoga practice every day, although my work schedule has made it impossible for me to make it to my home yoga studio over the past couple of days. Fortunately, I get to hit up an awesome hot power yoga class taught by one of my favorite teachers this morning! I'm still having some issues with my knee, but I know that just getting to class is going to help loosen it up. It's also going to help me sit for hours today at work as I wade through a mountain of paperwork at my desk.

And now, for the reason I'm doing all of this yoga:

Yesterday morning, I heard this episode of the Diane Rehm show on National Public Radio, about the world's "failed response" to the Syrian refugee disaster. After delineating the fact that there are now upwards of 9 million displaced people inside and outside of Syria as a result of the civil war--a staggering, mind-boggling number--one of her guests pointed out that it has been more difficult than normal for relief agencies to raise the money they need to provide assistance to refugees. To paraphrase, he presented this example: an unnamed agency was able to raise more money in three weeks for the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan than it had been able to raise for Syrian refugee relief in three years. It's a major problem that is making refugee relief so difficult in Syria and in all of the countries that are hosting refugees, both in official camps and in their societies at large.

Why is it that the world has not been better equipped to handle this situation, nor responded with the same sort of outpouring of other horrible events? And why is this not a major news story all the time? I would suggest that the answer is one I'm well aware of, as someone who works as a Middle East historian. The general public in the USA has an image of the Middle East as a violent, always troubled region--one they do not understand, and often do not care to understand. Despite the fact that our lifestyles and economies are entirely dependent upon the natural resources of the region, despite the fact that our monotheistic religions come from the region, and despite the fact that the USA meddles constantly in the region, Americans just do not know about regular people's suffering there. And sadly, when they do learn about it, a lot of people just do not care. I'd like to be wrong about this, but I do not think I am.

Syrians and other Middle Easterners have been dehumanized in the media, and, as a result, it's hard to get the general public to think of them as just regular people trying to live their lives, raise their families, and be happy--just like everyone else in the world. That's why we need more stories like this one, a blurb from Michael Abramowitz of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial, discussing the destruction of Syrian childhood as a result of this catastrophe and the responsibility of the world community to protect these kids. We also need a lot more visual and audio images of regular people in this horrifyingly irregular situation, such as these powerful photographs of "Syria's Lost Generation" by Elena Dorfman. Click on this link and follow the slide show -- you can listen to teenaged refugees' stories as you look at their portraits.

And here's another photo by Dorfman, taken in Lebanon for the UNHRC. I don't know about you, but I cannot turn away from these babies.

Original caption: "Dorfman captures a baby in the box that serves as his crib on the grounds of an active slaughter house near Tripoli [Lebanon]."

I know this is an overwhelming problem, but I believe it is imperative that we all face it head-on and work to curb this humanitarian nightmare. It's not just the right thing to do, but it's political pragmatic as well. My fundraiser is small, but if we all put our small work together, we can make something big. I've made my living off the study of the Levant for many years. This is the least that I can do. Please, consider supporting my fundraiser for the International Rescue Committee and their work with Syrian refugees by making a contribution and/or spreading the word via social media. Thank you very much. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014


New to the site? Click here to read about what I'm doing

It's been a very hectic week at work and in my life, but I've been keeping up with my yoga! I've made it to the studio on most days, but I've been struggling with my left knee. My Power Yoga practice has been suffering because of some swelling and irritation, so I've had to scale back my efforts on my mat. On the days when my work schedule has prevented me from taking a class in person, I've relied upon my Gaiam TV subscription to get my yoga in. The theme of my 40 Days program this week was Restoration -- so on the days when I've felt extra tired, I've relaxed with some yin yoga and restorative poses, and I even took a nap one afternoon, which is something I almost never do. 

Despite my fatigue, there have been some powerful stories in the media this week in regard to the crisis of Syrian refugees. Malala Yousafzai, the brave Pakistani teen who was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school, and who is now a tireless campaigner for girls' education around the world, visited the border between Jordan and Syria this week. In this video, you can see Malala and her father as they watch new refugees crossing the border, fleeing the civil war in Syria. 

Some of those new refugees no doubt have wound up in Za'atari, the largest camp in Jordan. (In fact, the camp is so large that it is now the fourth most populous city in Jordan.) The camp is overseen by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Jordanian government, and relies on many non-governmental organizations for its daily operations, including the International Rescue Committee--the organization for which I'm fundraising with his challenge. The IRC has many roles in the camp, and some of its primary focuses are the protection of women and girls from domestic violence and stranger exploitation, children's education, and employment training. This week, I read an inspiring photo journalism piece about women of the camp and how they find ways to create meaningful lives while they live in the limbo of being refugees from their homes. This photo in particular struck me: 

Photo by Rena Effendi
Original caption: "More than half of Zaatari's population is under 18. These kids, making their way home from school, are some of the 60,000 children who call the camp home."

When I look at this photo, I see the horrible conditions in which these children are living. However, I also see the commitment they, their families, and organizations like the IRC have to maintain their educational development, despite their displacement. These children, just like Malala, inspire me beyond words. They are not allowing inhumane circumstances to strip their humanity from them. It leaves me humbled. 

In keeping with this theme, there was a viral video blowing up social media this week from Norway, about a boy who had no coat, freezing at bus stops around Oslo. Shot using a child actor and hidden cameras, it illustrated that most people wanted to help the boy, and many even gave him the coats off their own backs. Here is the video:

The video was created by an organization, SOS Children's Villages Norway, to encourage people to give to a campaign to raise money for winter cold relief among freezing children in Syria and the surround countries' refugee camps. It makes a powerful statement about what happens when we are confronted face-to-face with suffering. Even the smallest acts can make a difference in a person's life. This is what has kept me going with my yoga challenge, even as I've had some moderate pain over the past couple of weeks. I want to make a small difference in a few people's lives. I encourage you to consider donating to my fundraiser, sharing it on social media and among your friends, and doing what you can to make a difference as well. I truly believe that we are all part of a one world human family, and we need to look out for one another. This is my small way to try to help. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, February 13, 2014


New to the site? Here's an explanation of what I'm doing.

I've been keeping up with my 40 days of yoga program and really enjoy my practice. However, it's been hectic at work, and it's been quite chilly here in Denton, so some days, I've been fairly tired when I get to class and sometimes I feel like I'm struggling in places where I normally do not. For example, I have a knee injury that often inhibits how deep I can bend my left knee in poses such as Warrior II. My knee has been bothering me a bit more than usual, so I've had to back off a bit, which is a challenge for my ego! This is, of course, one of the biggest lessons of yoga: listening to your body and doing what you can do today, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. Fortunately, I always leave the mat feeling better than when I start. That's a real benefit of doing yoga: gaining not only physical strength, but also getting energized, even on days when you scale yourself back a bit. Also, I love the teachers and community of people at the studio where I practice, Authentic Yoga Life. They keep me going, because we are all in it together.

My intention of raising money for the IRC throughout this forty day period also keeps me going. I've been following harrowing tales of life in the refugee camps this week and wanted to share a little snippet with you today. Here's a photo from a recent pita bread distribution in Za'atari camp in Jordan, from Instagram users Livingonone. They are living with Syrian refugees in the camp while they make a film about their plight. This photo really hit me; look at how many people are crushing up against the window to get their bread. Pita bread is a staple food for people in the Levant, and when I think about how much of it all of the organizations working the camps need to make in a day, just to keep people at subsistence levels, it boggles my mind. However, it seems to me that providing food and shelter is just the small part; taking care of people's humanity is a much greater task. To get a sense of that, check out this recent Reddit Q&A with the guys behind Living On One. It is very humbling.

Thank you for following my yoga journey, and please spread the word of my fundraiser. More soon! Namaste.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


New to this site? Here's an explanation of what I'm doing.

I'm so excited that I've passed the half way mark to my fundraising goal of $500 for the IRC's work with Syrian refugees! Thank you so much to everyone who has donated so far. I am grateful to you!

We've had a quite cold week here in Denton, and it's gently snowing today. I was so cold going into yoga this morning, but the studio is so warm--both in terms of temperature and the people in it--that I left feeling totally restored. Our teacher Rachel changed the sequence up on the mat for some fun, which is always great -- it keeps us on our toys and in the moment! Now back home, as I look out my window, I see flakes of powdery snow drifting onto the white ground, and it's very soothing.

That being said, my thoughts throughout this 40 day challenge are never far from the refugees who have let their homes in Syria. The UN is now saying that there may be over 8(!) MILLION people who have become displaced, both inside and outside of Syria. This is mind boggling and scary. For those people, snow is not a fun and picturesque event that makes winter charming; snow is a life-threatening occurrence. This problem is compounded when the snow falls in camps that are short on food and even water. While I've lived through significant droughts in California and Texas, I've never, ever had to worry about whether I had enough water to live. Even though I think I'm pretty conscientious when it comes to not wasting water, this is relative. When I'm feeling slightly dehydrated, I just automatically go to my kitchen and drink some water, or even coconut water or Gatorade, to get myself back on track. I don't think about it--I just hit the tap and it's there for me: safe, cheap, and plentiful. But refugees throughout the Middle East are struggling to get basic water for subsistence in most of the refugee camps in neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Turkey. This is a kind of misery that I cannot fathom, but which is being tackled head-on by groups such as the IRC. However, without a lot of help -- a gigantic amount of help -- this problem will only get worse.

Moreover, some really horrible reports were released this week about the lengths to which all sides in the war have been torturing and killing children. Click here and here if you want to read more about this--but I'm warning you, it's beyond disturbing. On top of that, there are extreme food shortages and people are starving in some parts of Syria--particularly in and around Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp that was decimated recently in the midst of a series of battles between factions of the civil war. I can't begin to imagine what it's like for the people who remain in this camp and who are being starved and brutalized by war. It just breaks my heart, and I feel completely despondent about it.

And yet, in the midst of unfathomable despair, the people are Yarmouk are making music.

Humanity cannot be crushed, even in the face of radical attempts at dehumanization. Thank you for reading this and supporting my 40 Day of Yoga for Syria project. Please spread the word. Namaste. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Week 1 has Finished + the Weather

New to this site? Here's an explanation of what I'm doing. 

On Friday, I took another amazing Yin Yoga class, then stepped outside into a warm 74 degree afternoon here in Denton. Less than 48 hours later, there's a little ice storm taking place outside! North Texas in the winter is a roller coaster, that is for sure! Our Sunday yoga and weekly 40 Day Challenge meeting at the studio have been cancelled due to the weather, so I'll be doing yoga today using my Gaiam TV subscription on my Roku. I took Saturday off from yoga (I'm allowed one rest day per week), but I did buy myself a new pair of walking/running shoes, so it wasn't a totally fitness-free day!

Looking outside into the cold weather makes me think of the difficult conditions facing refugees from Syria who are now living in refugee camps, or even worse, in the streets. A lot of people do not realize that the Levant is very cold in the winter. Average low temperatures dip below freezing, and cold rain, snow, and sleet are not uncommon. While the IRC works hard to provide winterizing kits in the places where it works, the overwhelming amount of people living in camps, in the streets, and in the harsh elements is crushing supplies for relief agencies. Moreover, a significant amount of refugees are children--at least half the refugee population is under age 18! Displaced children face grave health risks, but also lose out on their education -- this is a problem that harms the entire world. Children in war and displacement also are at risk for a variety of types of abuse, disease, malnutrition, and other hygiene and mental and physical health crises at a disproportionate level. Many families are sending their teen daughters off into arranged marriages because of the risks of sexual abuse and poverty in refugee camps. These threats are worse when winter comes. So while I sit in my warm house with the fire and crockpot going, I can't help but wonder about so many people who are freezing, scared that they will never go home, worried about keeping warm and keeping themselves and their families alive under such horrible conditions.

Look at these Syrian refugee children making a snowman in an "unofficial" refugee camp in Lebanon. You can read about this camp here. Photo from AP/Getty Images. 

Here's another photo from the same camp: 
Photo from Reuters

Thank you for reading and for your support. Please consider donating to and/or sharing my fundraiser, and please don't forget about these children and their plight. Namaste.