I'm a Gemini and it strikes me that there are feel-good stories alongside some pretty horrific titles.
Disclaimer: This was an incredibly difficult post to write. First off, Islam has so much controversy surrounding it: Jihad, 9-11, suicide bombings, and the list goes on. These terrible things are perpetuated by bad people. Secondly, I have Muslim friends (both in America and abroad) and I love them. They are good people. With that said, I feel compelled to speak out against the extremist factions of Islam that perpetuate violence against the innocent.
People who perpetuate violence in the name of God really, really get to me. So seeing news stories or films depicting the torture and killing of women and children in Islamic countries really gets me riled up. When I think about what it would be like to be a woman in a place like Pakistan or Afghanistan, I just don’t even want to go there because I am a woman and mother to a baby girl and a little boy.
Malala Yousafzai’s story comes to mind. In 2009, at 11 years old, she started blogging for the BBC, detailing her life as a young girl trying to get an education in Pakistan. The Taliban moved into her town and wanted to ban girls from attending school, so she became a young activist, promoting education for young women. In 2012, at age 15, she was shot in the face by a member of the Taliban. She survived and continues to speak out for the rights of women and children, especially on the subject of education. I hear a story like this and my mind gets this message: women are worthless and they must obey. Or else.
Subservient. Worthless. That’s the message I–and I think many Americans–understand about a woman’s place in Islam.
But this series of blog posts is supposed to be about my personal experience with the different religions, not about societal attitudes or philosophical arguments, so I’ll tell you a story about the first time I visited my husband’s home country of Malaysia. Malaysia is a Muslim country, so I felt anxious because all I had to go on was the media’s coverage of Islam. When we met up with a group of my husband’s Muslim friends, all the women wore head coverings. My chest filled with outrage and anxiety because, to me, wearing thehead covering was an act of submission.
“Why are they being forced to wear those?” I thought. “Why don’t they step out from behind the veil and stand up for their rights as women?”As if they’d rise up like the American bra-burning feminists of the 1960s. Right.
Before I even spoke with my husband’s friends, though, I had seen many, many Muslim women wearing the hijabin Malaysia. Just random people out in public: at the airport, at the grocery story, at a restaurant. But my American mind had only seen movies and news stories which showed the Taliban stoning women in a stadium or shooting girls for attending school. My mind imagined these Malaysian women to be meek, hidden, and oppressed.
Then I actually had a real conversation with them and what I actually encountered during that first meeting with my husband’s college mates was a group of empowered women who held Engineering degrees from American universities. They were mothers and wives. They were strong faithful women who spoke their mind and exhibited character. They came across as “normal” to me.
I even felt comfortable enough asking them about their head covering. They explained the difference between a hijab and a burqa; the hijab is a covering for the head and chest, but does not cover the face. They explained how Muslims in different countries practice differently. A Middle Eastern Muslim would have different attitudes than they might about how a woman should dress in public. These new acquaintances explained that they wear the hijab as an act of modesty. I’d never considered that and I felt kind of stupid when they explained it that way. Now, when I see Muslim women wearing a head covering, my brain registers “modesty” instead of “subservience.”
I can’t solve the violence in the Middle East. I can’t save a woman from being stoned or a schoolgirl from being shot by the Taliban. Most of my “crazy day” is spent doing mundane things like folding laundry or changing diapers. But I do know that I want my kids to grow up in a good world. The only thing I can affect is my little piece of this world: my family. So my hope is that I can raise my family to use critical thinking and common sense when formulating opinions. And when we don’t really understand something or somebody, we actually ask a person who knows the answer. I can teach my kids to use kindness instead of violence, but to also stand up against injustice (even on the playground). Then I can pray each night, with one baby girl and one little boy, for “peace in the whole world. Amen.”
Judaism. Of all the faiths, it seems like the Jews have had the toughest go of it with regards to religious freedom. Throughout ancient history and into the modern day, the Jewish people have faced persecution and have even had to fight for their lives. All for being Jewish.
Which brings me to a very humbling experience that I had at a place where that sort of persecution happened to Jewish people not so very long ago.
During the fall of 2000, I studied abroad in London and was able to take several trips to nearby Europe. A few of us decided to visit Prague, Czech Republic. It was a fun trip fueled by Red Bull and Vodka and lots of cheap, delicious food. On that trip, we learned about the Velvet Revolution, where Czechoslovakia shrugged off the iron curtain of Communism with peaceful revolution.
We visited the Jewish Cemetery in Prague with its many, many headstones jabbing up out of the ground at odd angles (see above picture).
One of the other items mentioned in my tour book was a day trip to the concentration camp of Terezin, outside of Prague.
When I saw the sign above the entrance to Terezin (see picture to the left), it sunk in, “This all really happened. It’s not just in a movie or in a book. This is really still here.”
Arbeit Macht Frei, or “Work Makes (You) Free,” was posted above the entrance to some concentration camps in Nazi Germany, giving Jewish people who entered, the false hopes that they could earn their freedom back through hard work and conformity.
Every person should go to a Nazi concentration camp once in their lifetime if given the chance. Experience the place. Let it sink into your body. Stand in a place like that and know the truth with each free breath you take.
Terezin was not a death camp, like Auschwitz, which means that people were not exterminated here. However, Terezin was a transient camp where they moved people from Jewish ghettos around Europe into the death camps. The picture above (with benches, bunks, and tables) shows a barracks for 400-600 people. Can you imagine what it would be like to sleep with that many people jammed into the bunks and on the floors? How could you sleep?
The picture above shows the showers at Terezin. These were real showers, not a gas chamber like the ones in Auschwitz.
The picture above is Terezin’s crematorium. Though mass killing didn’t occur here, people did die from natural causes and this is where they would be cremated.
Terezin may not be as infamous as some of the other Nazi concentration camps, but it still carried the heaviness of the Holocaust on its shoulders. Our tour group remained pretty much silent through the entire tour.
So why would I choose to go to such a terrible place? Because we, as human beings, should never forget what the Jews of Europe went through before and during WWII. It’s good to recognize that, even though the Holocaust happened seventy years ago, terrible things still happen in this world. The best we can do is be aware of it and try to make the world a better place in whatever way we can.
When I envision a Buddhist, I always think of someone very centered, in the moment, and peaceful. And I can relate to the need for inner balance because I have always been naturally drawn to Eastern practices like meditation and yoga. I grew up in the Midwest where I had very little exposure to other cultures, so I have no idea where that tendency came from.
Every time we visit Malaysia, we go to the Buddhist temple in Ipoh (my husband’s hometown). It’s a unique place because it’s built into a mountain and if you follow a walking tunnel, you end up in the center of the mountain which has been completely hollowed out by some geological process. The five-story building in the picture has more than enough room in this courtyard made by Mother Nature.
During one visit at the temple, I noticed this picture of the birth of Jesus:
I remembered iconography from Western art that included the Virgin Mary holding her baby surrounded by angels. All the holy figures pictured with halos to represent their divinity.
“How cool,” I said to my husband. “The Buddhists recognize Jesus, too?”
When I leaned in closer, the plaque labeled this painting as “The Birth of Buddha.” So if the birth of Jesus and the birth of Buddha are portrayed in such startlingly similar ways, how different can we, as humans searching for answers, really be?
Malaysia has an interesting dynamic, because it is a Muslim country with practicing Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus. My husband’s family has lived there for three generations and there has NEVER been war or terrorism in this tiny country where four major religions have to coexist. In fact, regardless of religion, my Hindu family will visit holy places and recognize the sacredness of the place. We go to the Buddhist temple and light incense, praying by the Buddha statue. Plus we get to feed these cute little turtles who live in the mountain.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church was next door to the Hindu temple where we got married. Muslim prayers from the local minarets echo through the valley at sundown. And I’ve gotten to see the bright colors people wear to the many Hindu holy festivals we’ve attended. I’m so happy that my kids will get to experience all the different types of beauty that these religions have to offer.
I’ve been married three times. Yep, three times to the same man. The first ceremony was at the courthouse to get our marriage license. The second was a Catholic ceremony at Paradise Cove in Malibu because I always wanted a beach wedding. The third was a Hindu one when we visited Malaysia for the first time. PS–I’d never met my husband’s family until that trip two years after our first (courthouse) wedding.
While the Hindu wedding was much different than the Catholic ceremony, I definitely noticed similarities between the expressions of the two faiths in my first trip to Malaysia.
The morning of our Hindu wedding, we went to the local temple to honor Ganesh (the elephant god in the picture), an important deity to my husband’s family.
Then we took the supplies and headed back to the house for a small, intimate ceremony. The nuptials were in Telegu, my Hindu family’s language, so I had no idea what was going on. However, I did think it was incredibly cool that the ceremony was performed by my MIL and FIL along with two other women friends of the family. Catholicism has such a strong, patriarchal tradition that it was refreshing to be honored by women during this process.
Certain elements of the Hindu ritual were very familiar to me as a Catholic. They used incense (note the smoke in the picture), which is used often during Catholic rites. There were also tiny oil lamps, like the candles used in Catholic marriages. And what wedding would be complete without flowers?
Obviously, there were some VERY foreign elements. Take the picture of the two bananas in a coconut. I have no idea what that meant, so I made up my own explanation. Instead of two peas in a pod, we’d be like two bananas in a coconut. Anyway, it was a cute little memory.
My wedding sari was much more colorful than the white dress for the Christian ceremony, but I LOVED all that jewelry, wearing fresh jasmine in my hair, and getting henna on my hands and feet.
In the evening, we ate lots of delicious Indian food with my new family and friends. And that is definitely familiar to me as a Catholic, because we marry in the afternoon and party all night.
All you need is love.
SPOILER ALERT: Do NOT allow children to read this! Major Spoiler Alert! (Probably THE spoiler alert of all spoiler alerts).
With the Christmas season all wrapped up and put away for the next 12 months, I decided to reflect on my experience as a mother to a six-year-old. People, I’ve never had to lie so much in my life. My little man, X, is asking questions these days. LOTS of questions and that means I have to make up answers… Ahem. Okay. Lie.
Exhibit #1: Santa. I am glad my parents lied to me about this. I have lots of warm memories of anticipation and excitement about getting presents and being a good girl. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I really do mean that. Santa was slightly scary for me when I actually met him in person, and still is for my own kids.
Exhibit #2: On a tangent, I must note that X screamed his head off (I have pictures to prove that, too) when he met the Easter Bunny. Those were a bad couple of years, but he managed to keep it together for Santa.
I can deal with lying about Santa and the Easter Bunny because these stories embody the things I want my kids to know and live by: generosity, hope, magic, happiness. But now there’s a new craze that makes me lie on a daily basis during the Christmas season.
Exhibit #3: Elf on the Shelf. X’s teacher has an elf on the shelf. We actually have an original elf on the shelf from the 60s, but I chose to remain blissfully ignorant of this elf on the shelf phenom until it hit close to home. It started with X-man’s daily report about Snowball (the classroom elf). He’d follow up his report with questions about OUR sedentary elf. It went a little something like this.
X: Today, Snowball left everyone gummy bears while we were at P.E.
Me: Wow. (Notice the short response so as not to trip up on my ignorance).
X: Why doesn’t our elf on the shelf work?
My subconscious: Anything you say will be a lie.
Me: [Squirms in chair]. We must have forgotten to activate it.
My subconscious: Liar! Liar McLiar-ton! This is your child for God’s sake.
X: [Considers.] Hmm. How do we activate it?
Me: Please, make it stop! Make the questions stop. I don’t know. Let me look it up on the Internet.
Note: The information I have put together is this. The Elf on the Shelf watches and listens all day long (slightly creepy). Then it reports back to Santa at the North Pole nightly (slightly like Communist Russia and the KGB). To help it fly, you must put a dish of sugar out for it. The elf needs a name. Ours was going to be Crazy, but we settled with Bud. (Fair enough, an elf does need a name). When the elf flies back every night, it lands somewhere else in the house, so the kids have to find it the next day. (One more thing for me to remember to do. Not a big thing. But a thing nonetheless. Not to mention, I also feel like I’m lying. Again.) An elf on the shelf cannot be touched by human hands. (Very good rule, elf on the shelf creators.)
So I moved Bud semi-regularly. And once in a while he had sugar. But really I’m still kind of struggling with the whole elf on the shelf phenomenon. I thought it would go away after a year or two of enthusiasm. But I think it’s here to stay for the duration of my two kids’ childhoods.
I’m struggling and here are my inner thoughts about Bud the elf: Why do I have to do ONE MORE thing over the holiday season? I have a baby. I’m BUSY. I also don’t want to have to lie on a daily basis about our elf.
But then there’s the Christmas and wonder part of me that’s thinking…
We can make memories. It’s so sweet when they’re little. They believe in magic. Deep down, I believe in magic too. And I LOVE Christmas. I break out the Christmas music in July just to get a taste of it and then start playing the stuff everyday after Thanksgiving (sometimes after Halloween). Decorating the Christmas tree has become more fun every year as X gets more patience and enthusiasm for the project. It’s fun to watch him and hubby decorate our front yard with lights. Christmas is fun, even though it does require some work.
So what have we learned here? Lie. Lie like there’s no tomorrow and then lie some more.
No, really, when I think of the effort that it takes to keep these traditions in motion, it makes me realize that we, as parents, are guardians of magic. These phenomenon live on because we put in the effort to help our kids understand that magic is possible. And in a world where real lying occurs–the kind that hurts people and causes war, famine, holocaust–we should feel okay when we make up stories to call into being all of the wonder of a season that allows wonderful things to be real.
My husband and I have been seeking out new churches. And on this beautiful journey to find out where we belong, we have come across St. Paul’s Methodist Church. St. Paul’s runs Wednesday night classes where the kids do their own activities and the parents get to learn. Hubby and I signed up for the Christianity and World Religions class.
My plan with this next series of blog posts is not to reiterate what I learn in the classes. And I do not have the knowledge base (or space in a single post) to explain each of the world religions. That said, I do have personal experience with each of the world religions. On the one hand, hubby is from Malaysia, a Muslim country, which has practicing Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus, too. Magically, they live in harmony there. Also, his family are all Hindu, so I will share my photos and stories about faraway Malaysia and its cultural variety. On the other hand, I am from the Midwest of America. The town I grew up in has very little diversity. The town I currently live in has very little diversity. Actually, an arsonist burned down the local mosque in the town that I now live. Luckily, my family brought me up to love other cultures and I would say that most people in the Midwest are peace-loving and accepting of others.
The next five posts have the potential to ruffle some feathers simply because they deal with religion, which makes us face our differences. Dealing with “the other” upsets some people. That is not my intention. My intention is to share my personal experiences; those moments when my life adventure has allowed me to meet people of other faiths and understand their customs. Fasten your seat belt and enjoy the flight.
Now for my experiences at The Myrtles Plantation, America’s most haunted house.
2:00 PM–We checked into The William Winters Room and after, literally, dropping off our bags, we left our room to walk around the grounds. About twenty minutes later we came back and as we opened the door to our room, Mom and I were overwhelmed with the smell of gardenias. The smell had not been there before and I didn’t say anything initially because I didn’t want to be overzealous.
Mom mentioned, “Can you smell that?”
Mom didn’t know it, but I had just read some online accounts and one person experienced a strong smell of gardenias in her room, too. I recognized the gardenia scent because I had used gardenia sachets in my dresser for years. Sara Winters, one of the many owners of the house, spruced up the rooms for her guests by spraying perfume. It is interesting to note that the apparition my mom described in my last post was the figure of William Winters, Sara’s husband, and the man our room was named after. After being shot, William died in Sara’s arms on the seventeenth step.
Additionally, legend has it that a young girl died in our room. She was very sick and was on her deathbed already when the parents employed the help of a voodoo priestess who put a gris-gris bag in the floorboards under this rug. When we lifted the rug there was a floorboard that had been replaced with an ill-fitting board. The girl died anyway and the black woman was blamed for her death and hung from the chandelier. There were certain places in the house where I felt extreme dizzy spells, specifically outside of our room. Dizziness affects those who are sensitive to certain changes in energy associated with haunted areas.
3:00 PM–Decide to get some rest before darkness. The room had its own thermostat and the vent blows directly on our bed, so we are very warm. However, we keep feeling cold drafts (drafty, old house perhaps?) and I feel a pair of icy “hands” cover mine on top of the covers.
Intermission: Not much happening while we were out on the porch until midnight, but we are having a blast hanging out and sipping liquid courage with a family of four from Texas.
2:30 AM–I am lying awake in bed, but near sleep. Mom lays beside me dozing. Suddenly the end of the bed starts rhythmically shaking from side to side. After thirty seconds of the rocking motion, I decide to wake Mom. I squeeze her hand, but she is out of it. Finally, I shake her and say aloud, “They’re shaking the end of the bed!” And the shaking stops as quickly as it started.
3:00 AM–Piano plays in another portion of the house. Only one couple has access to that part of the home and they did not touch the piano.
5:00 AM–A child-like presence crawls into bed with us. If you have kids, you know what it feels like to have a toddler climb onto the end of your bed, then slowly crawl up between you and your spouse, and snuggle in between.
7:30 AM–The ghosties rhythmically rock the end of our bed again. The movement is not a jolting shake as seen on the movie, The Exorcist. Instead, it feels like someone is rocking our bed as if to say, “Good morning sweethearts. Time to wake up.” I get out of bed and try to recreate the rocking motion, but the bed is much to heavy and well-built for me to shake it from side to side.
After describing my experiences, some have said, “I would be freaked out if something started shaking the bed or crawled into bed with me! Weren’t you scared?!” Actually, it was comforting. I have experienced living in a haunted house and some of my experiences at my home were terrifying, but the ghosts at The Myrtles seem to like having visitors. They provide reassuring touches or show you a glimpse of their world. These experiences humble me and reaffirm my faith in an afterlife. The paranormal reminds me there is so much we do not understand about our world…or the next.
Originally posted on www.camillefaye.com.
My mom, my sister, and I took an awesome girls’ weekend to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. First of all, I don’t know how they built that town, because it’s literally perched on a mountain with streets that are nearly straight up and down. Driving through the skinny, switchback streets I definitely prayed to the god of effective brakes.
We stayed at “the most haunted hotel in America,” The Crescent Hotel, which has gotten publicity in recent years from paranormal investigation shows like TAPS. The building is beautiful yet creepy, a la the hotel from the movie The Shining.
The Crescent opened in the late 1800s as a lavish resort for VIPS in the Midwest. As the years passed, it served as a college for young women. Then as a “cancer-curing” hospital which pulled in millions of dollars in just three short years in the 1930s. (Many of the ghosts probably came from Dr. Baker’s failed attempts to save people with his “miracle cure”).
The Crescent Ghost Tour (well worth the twenty bucks per person) gets you a good historical account of the hotel with plenty of ghost stories and even some demonstrations (ghost photos, paranormal video evidence, and a beeping ghost meter).
Creepy Carving on Fireplace at The Crescent
The most haunted room, 218, gets visits from Michael, an Irish mason who helped build the hotel. Supposedly, he fell to his death during construction in the area outside the door to 218. Michael likes the ladies and will sometimes touch them while they sleep–or push men out of bed (Ha!). Here I am with my pregnant self, wearing my rosary for spiritual protection and posing by the famous spot.
We did not stay in 218, but did stay down the hall where my mother heard a rhythmic thudding in the hallway right outside our door. When the hotel was a women’s college, the dean’s young boy fell fatally ill and sometimes he’ll bounce his ball down the hallway.
Room 3500 seems the creepiest to me–especially after seeing the picture that our guide provided. A woman will stand at the foot of your bed and stare at you, but most times only women can see her. So if your hubby’s in bed with you, he may think you’re crazy.
Room 419 is Theodora’s space. She was a tiny woman (we’re talking four feet tall) who worked at The Crescent and when you stay in her room, make sure to clean up after yourself…or she will. Some guests report that they’ll come back to their room after being out for the day and find their bags packed by the door.
Orb of Morris the Cat?
After the ghost tour, I decided to take some pictures of my sister who was petting one of the two resident cats. But there is also a resident ghost cat, Morris, whose framed picture hangs above this couch. I got this cool orb that I am quite proud of. Plus, in the making of this post, every time I viewed the picture it was positioned correctly. But each time I downloaded it to Blogger, it showed up rotated! I’ll take it to mean that the ghosts approve of this post.
Originally posted on www.camillefaye.com.
Read more about my haunting experiences at America’s most haunted house, The Myrtles Plantation, and in haunted New Orleans.
I wrote this blog post when my son started Kindergarten. It's been some years now, but the sentiment is still the same. My kiddos are my greatest creation and here's a little reflection on what it has meant to me to be a WAHM (write at home mom):
My big boy starts Kindergarten today. Whooooppppeeee! Did I just write that? Oh yes I did. I am not one of those moms who will suffer from separation anxiety, but [sigh] I will probably cry because this is a big step. Since becoming a mom nearly six years ago, I have experienced the full spectrum of human emotion on the roller coaster called motherhood.
Things I’ve given up:
A typical career
Romance (just kidding, but kind of not)
Things I’ve had to do:
Clean up all manner of bodily fluids
Learn how to cook deceptively healthy meals
Multi-task (my lists have lists…it’s ridiculous)
Survive newborn insomnia (twice)
Things we’ve gotten to do:
Explore the World
Watch Baseball–Go Cards!
Things I’ve learned:
Appreciation (thanks Mom…this is so hard)
The perfect tickle technique
From an existential perspective, I’m raising two kids alongside of a writing career (and when I say writing career, I mean I work in the basement, stringing together bits of writing time like seed beads on a string).
Since leaving my teaching job in 2009, I’ve decided to focus on what is most important to me: being the heart of my family. At times, I get all charged up to go back to work, thinking “I’m smart, I’m driven, I’m not a Stepford wife, I’m not Mrs. Cleaver.” Many days I am completely out of my head BORED, but then I look at these two kids and wonder, “Who will if not me?” And it’s an existential question, not a practical one. Yes, I can find a good sitter, but I know that deep down–for me–I HAVE to do this. When I think of the big picture of my life, I want to stay home with my kids until they are in school. Then, I want a career that allows me to be available for them if they get sick or have a school holiday.
I wasn’t always that way. I was the uber-independent woman who never had a relationship that lasted longer than two months. Before meeting my husband, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to have kids. Then the right man made his way into my life, we birthed two little ones, and now here we are. This change has not been smooth for me. In fact, it’s reached dark night of the soul status a few times.
On a regular basis, I ask myself tough meaning-of-life questions like: Who am I? What am I doing? Sometimes it’s not for philosophical reasons either. Sometimes I’m just so frazzled or exhausted that I literally roam around my house trying to figure out what it is that I’m trying to do. Oh yeah. There’s my cup of coffee.
There is no singular way to raise a family; my way is a work in progress. Even though I may not have much time or energy to craft the great American novel, I know that I’ve dedicated this small piece of my life to my two best creations. Eventually, my little pieces of immortality will go out into the wide world and be my little ambassadors, representing all the love and care (and time outs) I’ve given them. And that’s my bigger picture.
To all the mommies of kindergartners: good job and try not to cry too much.
To Xavier: Have a good first day at school. I love you.