My story is your story. I am you. We are searching for truth, hoping to find happiness, and along the way pave our own journey. Join me on my adventurous ride, learn from me and I hope to learn from you.
With Peace,
Salmaa Elshanshory

Monday, October 10, 2011

Celebrating Our World: One Colonizer at a Time


Happy Post Columbus Day and for all of you who got a day off, I hope you enjoyed it. And as you start up the workweek complaining about another day of work, remember that the nice break we just finished celebrating came with an unforgettable price.

No one can change history and go back to 1492. While it would be nice to imagine someone trying to knock some sense into Christopher Columbus, it did not take one man to colonize a nation; it took an entire empire to create what we label as the New World.

Land was seized from the Native Americans. Genocide occurred. The colonizers then fought amongst them selves and attempted to enslave what was left of the indigenous population, but were unsuccessful. So they invented a different means to carry out their ends by enslaving another population via shipping them over from Africa (a simplified narrative of history of course.)

Why remember a history that we can’t change nor ever justly giving retribution to the communities involved? Because while we can’t change history we ought to change how we dismiss it and learn from what it has shown us about humanity or lack thereof.

We should acknowledge the pain that can still be felt among these communities to really move forward. We should pay tribute to the people of this nation. 

A great start would be following the lead of three other states {Alaska, Hawaii, and South Dakota] who do not observe the holiday, more out of logistical reasons, but a step in the right direction. OR if we are so invested in our three day weekend, respect those who allowed for this entire ‘American Dream’ to be built upon( pun intended) by calling for National Indigenous day.

Oh and just in case you thought I was just discussing history, you might want to explore the world and see how the ugly mask of colonization still grasps onto it so tightly.  We continue to live in a world where you can place your hand on any part of the map and find forms of genocide, human trafficking, racism, imperialism, ecocide, patriarchy etc. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

99 Problems & the Rich GOT One!


I stood among the powerless who were enraged and therefore became forcefully engaged. 

No we are not out to overthrow a dictator. No our system is not in utter chaos. And no we won't change the way America has been functioning over night. BUT we have awaken a giant of discontent, reminded the minority who have dictating the lives of the majority that we are ANGRY about how things are being done in OUR country. 

Sure letters and phone calls to our leaders would have been the more civil way to go about it, but that was back when it actually worked. It was way back when the stash of dollars from lobbyist had less sway of the words of the population they were representing: their constituents. Now that corporations are people (can use share holders dollar to put in their vote...or our dollar), our voice is becoming a soft whisper. 

The American dream has sadly demolished. It is now only affordable to those who can pay to bid for it and for those who are lucky enough to find the right connection to it.  

The middle class is burdened, as the lower class grows and the impoverished slowly are disappearing. That is a first world for you people; where we are too busy dropping drones, wrongly distributing aide, funding wasteful projects in America and still have time to write on the drawing board how other nations should run their country. 

We got PROBLEMS. DOMESTIC PROBLEMS that are affecting students, nurses, teachers, laborers....hell YOU. Occupy US of A is a movement that will not die easily, but should it, it will have left a stark reminder of what will happen if things in this country continue to run the way they are.

The Middle East was shook by the Arab Spring, Europe tides turned with a European Summer and the time now is for the American Autumn. 

The Middle East did awaken a giant, reminding the world of the undeniable power of the people. Globalization is no longer making the world smaller it is connecting ideas, allowing a synergy to flourish. The status quo is no longer viable, it is time to OCCUPY the FUTURE. 

Check out the link to hear voices and other opinions, along with mine at Occupy Wallstreet on Democracy now.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I am MISS ARAB USA Everyday




Someone once said live your life with no regrets. So I decided to take that person seriously. I entered the Miss Arab USA pageant filled with hesitation of being selected a candidate, contemplating the appropriateness of this platform for a scarfed Muslim, and trying to weigh out benefits I could gain.

I applied for several reasons, knowing that every reason had an equal rationalization not to pursue this unorthodox path. I applied hoping to challenge what defines a Muslim woman, display the diversity of Arabs, and show that modesty can too be beautiful. Countering this mindset was knowing that a scarfed Muslim wears her religion on her sleeve (or head), therefore I would be a walking contradiction.

The scarf does call on modesty and purity not only in one’s clothing but also one’s lifestyle choices. However, after much thought I found that while the scarf on my head does bear responsibility with it, maybe it should not reflect the entire spectrum of what a Muslim women is. At the end of the day the scarf goes further than a piece of cloth depicting modesty, but a relationship between oneself and God.  For me it has helped set my own boundaries because I am daily reminded who I am.

I do my best in upholding the principles I believe in and for that very same reason I decided the only cognitive dissonance I had was about standing on a platform doing what I do every single day; wearing makeup, rocking my liberal style, and getting down when good times call for it. I decided I will take the path of most resistance and be real by putting myself out there on center stage doing what I do everyday.

I wanted to enjoy my youthful femininity, while showing others that it can be done in a respectable way. I went in it not to win the crown, but to make a statement. This weekend I did and I too dispelled some of my own stereotypes by meeting some of the most educated, outgoing, and humble girls. 85% of our score was based on these criteria. The night of the pageant where our outer beauty and attire was judged, our inner beauty already shined through. The judges had a tough choice before them.   

I stepped onto that stage with the biggest grin because I new I made it. The young girl who grew up uncertain of herself had grown up. She no longer was waiting on someone to cheer her on, for she was confident in who she has become. I have come so far and believe this pageant reminded me that I am Miss Arab USA everyday. (That is until I become Mrs. Arab USA every day. One lucky man ;)

YES the beautiful Christina Rafidia <3 holds the title this year, but the reality is Arab American women are all Miss Arab USA; upholding our culture, values and dispelling stereotypes. One day there will be a scarfed Miss Arab USA and for me I find fulfillment in knowing that I might have just paved the way for someone to do that.  


With Salaam,

Salmaa

Monday, August 1, 2011

No More Fasting of Ramadan.

~RAMADAN KAREEM~

I am finally home after my hiatus away from my blog. I look forward to sharing the rest of my experiences in the Holy Land with all of you. It was an extremely emotional time that showed me the spectrum of human nature and how our environment can nurture those extremes. 

As I take time to debrief myself and absorb all the information I took in, I will be sharing other parts of my life. I hope you continue to follow me on this journey and feel free to come along at any point! 

Today, as we mark the first day of the holy month of Ramadan I would like to share with you what it means to me. As a kid it likely meant starvation, but also being labeled a 'big and tough kid,' who can endure stomach growling all for the sake of well we weren't quite sure! I mean I remember one year Valentine's day fell on Ramadan and I took a bite out of this big old cupcake. Talk about LOVE! I remembered soon enough that I was suppose to be fasting, so I stormed out of the class, spit it out and rinsed my mouth. I felt so guilty. I cheated. 

Then I grew older. Ramadan manifested into something a little more substantive. It meant spending iftars  with family and friends who during the year often time were to busy to gather together. It was social month! Hollllaaar. Oh and the best part was of course anticipating Eid, which basically meant a new outfit, money and gifts. 

Then I some how became too old for that and grew up. In college, Ramadan meant missing my family and hoping the dorm room cafeteria would just stay open one more minute so I can grab the left overs. 

Ramadan was and has always been to me a matter of things one can touch, taste, smell and see. Food, gifts, people etc. It was not till I had to literally fast from all of those that I remember what Ramadan is really about. Due to my health I no longer can fast during the month of Ramadan, due to living in another city I no longer can eat dinners with family and close friends, and due to my age well I no longer anticipate the end of the month when 'Santa Ramadan' comes. 

But ironically, enough because all of that I have learned what Ramadan really is suppose to mean. It is suppose to be about fasting from all the negative things in our lives, from all the things that distract us from our purpose here on earth, and from from all the things that make us stray away from our path. Ramadan is about fasting from gluttony (whether it be food or malls,) it is about re-evaluating how you treat others, it is re-aligning your thoughts with your actions, it is about helping those who don't have the opportunities you have before you. 

Ramadan is about fasting from more than just food. It is a time to fast from who you are in hopes of who you hope to become. May that new you shine toward the right path. RAMADAN KAREEM.  



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Standing in A Picture

About mid-January I went to a newly opened gallery for Muslim art. I had no intentions of making a purchase while I was there. Then I was struck by a stunning picture glistening from the corner of my eye. It was a picture of a young girl climbing up the Dome of Rock. Within an instant I made the purchase. From the day I bought it I decided I would see it one day. That day finally came.

The photograph hanging in my room can't begin to encompass the beauty before me. I saw it from a distance as I slowly esclated the Temple Mount, where the Al-Aqsa mosque stood across from the Dome of the Rock. As I stood there taking a plethora of pictures and listening to the rich history that was embedded in this area, I was taking aback by the loud chants "Allaho akbar wa lil lah el hamd." The chants grew louder. Then we noticed why everyone was chanting; a group of Jews walked in from the similar entrance that Sheron once walked in through (starting the second intifada.) A women in the group stood appalled, expressing her disbelief at the anger that was demonstrated by the Muslims.

In a  calm and wise voice a young girl of the age of 17 in our group explained that it was their form of nonviolent protest. Loudly they were proclaiming God is great and with vigor they were expressing that God's power is greater than that of these Jews (who are not allowed on that territory for both security of Muslims and to avoid conflict.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Arriving to Reality

Two days of orientation and I am prepared. I am ready to venture into the unkown and absorb from my surroundings. I am about to journey on a trip with some of the most incredible people I have met. Individuals who are also leaving everything behind to discover the unkown: their children, their false realities and their apprehension.

We are trained on how to deal with the possiblities of being interrogated by Israeli soldiers. To no suprise, I am repeatedly pointed out in the room as someone who might find much trouble. I am nervous, but certain Imy charm will get me through.

I enter the plane. I reach Tel Aviv on a wheelchair. Miracles really do wheel into your life! My health or lack there of was a blessing in disguise. BUT as I near the end line of course I am pulled to the side by an Israeli soldier who stares at me and with fierce eyes asks me, "Are you Muslim?" My instincts are to say NO SHIT, but instead I politely say yes and proceed to ask his minimal questions. I am cleared and FREE. The horror stories of five hour to full day interrogations are not one I have to live through. Despite this, some of the others on our trip do undergoe longer interrogations (about 4 hours.)

I step onto the bus toward my first destination: Jerusalem. I leave behind an airport that does not seem as hostile as expected and slowly drive toward a place where I hope to find misconceptions rampant. In my head staring out the window I slowly realize that hope is a seed that was long weeded out and injustice can be seen merely through glancing out the window.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lost and Found: The Holy Land

We walk into the unknown afraid and scared. We shape a world that lacks true presence, other than the ones we have formulated in our heads, which often times diverges from reality .

As I first found out and made a decision to travel to Palestine and Israel, I had a mixture of emotions. The more people I told about my adventure, the more stories I heard. I found myself a day out of my trip scared and apprehensive about the journey I had dreamed about my entire life. I can't tell you the first time I knew I was Pro-Palestinian, or for that fact Anti-Israeli (government.) I can tell you the first time I realized how ignorant I was about the issues. Growing up it was fact to me that Israelis were oppressors, and even more than that our eternal enemies. And that was the perspective of an individual who came from a moderate and open minded family. I grew up socialized that Jews where behind every catastrophe or conspiracy, they were at fault for the divide among the Arab world and much more they hampered any chance of peace in the Middle East.

In some ways I fell victim to this simplified narrative. Never questioning and never really understanding it. This all changed post the Gaza War in 2008, where I stood in a counter-protest to protest the Texans for Israel rally condemning the newly elected president's 'harsh' stance on Israel. I stood there enraged by what I had learned throughout the war, enraged by the amount of people who stood in solidarity with Israel, and enraged that there were not more people on our side (Arab.) After the protest a few of us stayed behind to discuss the war with some pro-Israelis. It was beautiful. We had a civil conversation. One filled with one party throwing facts, ones I could not counter, experiences I could not equate to and  connections to a land that I had yet not known. They might have a narrative (filled with wrong facts,) the rosy experiences and the strong connections, but I had nothing to even begin to compare to.

That day I stood the most ignorant Pro-Palestinian. One like many who stand and chant for hours not knowing what or who they are really standing for. That had to change. I just landed in Israel and Palestine. I am here to experience things first hand: to see history with my own eyes, to touch those who have been victims on both sides of the conflict, and to hear the stories that have gone untold. The hope for my journey is to learn about the realities on ground and return dedicated to the human stories that have gone untold. Wherever you stand on this conflict, we all stand at one end place: a peaceful one.

With Salaam,

Salmaa