INTERNATIONAL Feed

We build a mudhif

Mudhif building sarah and mohannad
Your correspondent joined U.S. military veterans, Iraqi refugees and other volunteers from the community to break ground on Memorial Day and start work on a traditional Iraqi structure dating back thousands of years called a “mudhif“ on the grounds of the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, Philadelphia. More photos here. Watch a video about the first day ceremony and building start of an Iraqi mudhif.

“Al-Mudhif” is the brainchild of Seattle-based artist Sarah Kavage and Mount Airy based designer Yaroub Al-Obaidi who, after attending a lecture Kavage delivered a year ago at Moore College of Art during which she displayed a photo of a mudhif, suggested they build one! It is, perhaps, the first in the United States. The project, sponsored by the Alliance for Watershed Education of the Delaware River, is one of fifteen site-specific installations, six already completed, extending as far north as the Delaware Water Gap and as far south as Wilmington, west to Reading and east to Trenton, all within the Lenapehoking watershed, the home of the native Lenape people.

Building a mudhif, which your correspondent can attest to firsthand, is overlaying and binding together reeds into long columns. These columns are then placed in 32-inch deep, 2-foot wide holes to provide the vertical supports. They are then bent toward one another to form an arched roof. In upcoming days, mats will be woven and set in place to form a thatched roof. Air and sunlight will come through lattice panels to be constructed and attached. Adjacent to the structure, Kavage’s husband, Rob has been busy installing the structure for a large bench for seating and a view from just outside the mudhif.

On day one, we divided into two large teams- the first tasked with digging 10 large holes, 5 opposite 5 to form the length of the rectangular structure. I opted to work with volunteers assembling the columns. We used phragmites, reed grasses, harvested previously. (A non-native form of phragmites is considered invasive and it is likely a plus-side of the project was some invasive control)

From the sidelines, an older man from Iraq who went by “Kam” vividly recalled his father’s large mudhif in Nasriyah near the Euphrates River. His family would welcome guests and travelers to rest, stay, eat and drink coffee or tea in the mudhif, set apart from the main home. At that time, Kam said, people traveled distances by horse and would go from mudhif to mudhif to rest along the way.

A younger man, Hadi al-Karfawi, who left Iraq at the age of nine spoke of his strong emotional connection with the mudhif his grandfather, a tribal leader, had built . As a boy, he was tasked with preparing and serving the strong coffee to guests. He absorbed that the mudhif was community place where people would come to resolve disputes. Everyone was given a chance to speak without interruption. The disputes might be inter-tribal or among families  of one's own tribe.

As your correspondent spoke with al-Karfawi, Mohaned Al-Obaidi, the lead builder and Yaroub’s brother, was having some trouble bending the first two columns of reeds to form the arch at the entrance. Traditionally, al-Karfawi said, the reeds, of a different variety in use here, might be more moisture-filled, perhaps more freshly cut, which would make the bending easier. (The arch is not going to be the traditional rounded one; Yaroub has designed it to be more angular  so winter snow will more easily slide off and not weigh down the roof.) al-Karfawi spoke of helpers being divided into groups, just like us, with specific tasks and he demonstrated how he and others would stomp on mud mixed with hay to form the “cement” to applied inside the roof. He had brought along two of his young children and, as the project was about to get underway, they stood by with child-sized shovels at the ready.

In his opening remarks, Al-Obaidi spoke of how emotional this undertaking has been- recreating a traditional community structure from his homeland. He suspected many of us have only associated Iraq until now with war and suffering. He hopes this welcoming mudhif will bring about a better understanding of Iraq’s ancient and rich culture.

The grand opening of the mudhif is planned for June 24th and according to a Schuylkill Center blog many activities are planned. “We will activate the installation Al-Mudhif with extended programming around exchange of war experience, healing and intercultural encounters from June to October 2021.”

Your correspondent asks, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the dispute resolution aspect of a mudhif could be "activated”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if representative native Lenape could settle ongoing claims in this mudhif with representatives of the long dominant immigrant community? Descendants of former slaves with descendants of former slaveholders? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Israeli and Palestinian representatives could forge a just and lasting peace in this mudhif? And isn’t it fitting that this peace and justice-making take place on land taken from the Lenape, now in the safekeeping of environmental non-profit, in a traditional structure of a people who themselves experienced recent devastation to their own culture- the swamp Arabs of Iraq? A structure built for community, hospitality and peace-making. Inshallah.

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More videos here

Building Al Mudhif - short version

Mudhif groundbreaking ceremony

Docent tells about Iraqi mudhifs and ancient Sumer

Schuylkill Center Director acknowledges land belonging to Lenape people at mudhif groundbreaking


Comrade Pineapple, Soviet Great-Granddaughter

Comrade pineapple two
Julia Alekseyeva emigrated to the United States from Russia when she was four years old. Her relationship with most members of her family was fraught. But her great-grandmother, Lola, reflected her own personality and they developed an especially close bond despite nearly 80 years difference in age. Lola, like many other Jews who had been marginalized and persecuted in the pre-Soviet era, had become a member of the Communist party. She later became secretary, devoted but exploited, to the NKVD, predecessor of the KGB. The years leading up to and through the war years were a time of struggle and deprivation. Lola's husband, sent off to fight, and many other family members fell victim to the Nazis. In "Soviet Daughter," a graphic biography, Alekseyeva recounts Lulu's sweeping 100 year story based on memoirs her great grandmother had secretly kept. Alekseyeva places "Interludes" between some chapters of the book which weave in her own personal history- growing up an immigrant, overcoming thyroid cancer (precipitated by Chernobyl radiation exposure) navigating her college years and discovering her sexual, Jewish and political identities. Near the end, lost in grief after the death of her beloved Lola, Alekseyeva receives a phone call. She has been accepted into the Comparative Literature Department at Harvard. Alekseyeva has also authored illustrated works on Rosa Luxembourg and Walter Benjamin. At "Book Paper Scissors! an artists' book fair at the Free Library on the Parkway, cosponsored by the Philadelphia Center for the Book,  these were on display along with Soviet Daughter. Rounding out her display were Yuri Gagarin t-shirts and other t-shirts embellished with a pineapple and written across the pineapple Alekseyeva's DJ name - “Comrade Pineapple.” Watch here the author artist describe her graphic memoir about her one hundred year old Russian great-grandmother.


Driving suicide awareness through humor and fashion

Drive out suicide
Gabriel Nathan has a 1963 "Love Bug" VW that screams "Drive Out Suicide" on its rear window. The car is the same model as "Herbie", the anthropomorphic Volkswagen Beetle emblazoned with a large encircled number 53 in the 1968 "Love Bug" film by Disney. Having lost an Aunt to suicide, been plagued by intermittent suicidality himself and having worked in a psychiatric facility, Nathan hopes to bring awareness to the issue with his Herbie. He is on the board of Prevent Suicide PA " and trains people in the community, "natural gatekeepers" he calls them, in the QPR ("Question, persuade, refer") method. This short training equips them to perceive when others may be in crisis and what to say and do. Nathan and his Love Bug are the subject of a short documentary film by Bud Clayman, "A Beautiful Tomorrow: Taking Suicide Awareness on the Road" and can be followed on Instagram at @lovebugtrumpshate

Watch video interview here

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Samsara frank

Frank Rapoport, an attorney, started SamsaraGear some time after his daughter Alex took her own life at 32. Alex had gone to the Himalayas during her college days, fell in love with it, and converted to Buddhism. According to Rapoport, these experiences were the brighness in her life of struggle with an eating disorder. Rapoport retraced her steps in Bhutan and discovered the colorful textiles handwoven from sheep and yak hair, a thousand year old tradition of the native people. So impressed were his friends with a vest he brought back from a trip to Bhutan, Rapoport decided to make a go of an import business of clothes and accessories as a tribute to his daughter. In Buddhism "samsara" is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Watch video interview here.

Related: "End The Stigma is a community that provides education, resources, and discussion about mental health. Your story matters." #EndtheStigma "Leave kind words for someone who may need them" at the Starbucks in Flourtown

 


Waldorf students weave jump ropes to benefit UNICEF

Waldorf students weave

Using a handloom built by former school parent and woodworking teacher, John Fiorella, Philadelphia Waldorf middle-schoolers set up yarn on three spindles for people to crank out their own soft jump ropes. Admissions Coordinator Maggie Davis says the students decided to donate all monetary proceeds on Sunday April 7, 2019 at the Clover Market in Chestnut Hill, to UNICEF after reading Alan Gratz's book, "Refugee," about the plight of refugee families from three different countries in three different time periods. Watch video of Waldorf students using a hand loom to weave jump ropes to benefit UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.


Exiled Romanian bronze sculptor mounts outdoor show at Woodmere

Farcas bronze
 
Viorel Farcas, a sculptor in bronze in the expressionistic, figurative tradition and whose works are in the collections of notable European institutions left Romania in 1985 as a political refugee. Under the Romanian dictatorship his works were destroyed for being "politically incorrect" as his wife Mihaela euphemistically put it when she showed me around her husband's outdoor sculptures at the Woodmere Art Museum. I had videoed Farcas and Museum Director of Exhibits Rick Ortwein installing the pieces the day before and coming back to take some still shots, she had approached me without introducing herself at first, asking what I thought of the work. Farcas has made his home in Philadelphia since arriving in the U.S. and has produced 100s of monumental pieces but has not had a showing at a major area art institution and neither has sought out the limelight. In his sculptures, long arms and limbs are often attenuated, frequently disjointed and reassembled with disturbing yet graceful, artful effect. Museum Director Bill Valerio is excited to mount this show of Farcas' work, officially opening on September 22. For more information see https://woodmereartmuseum.org/experience/exhibitions/expressionism-in-bronze-the-sculpture-of-viorel-farcas
 
Farcas arm

Palestine Teach-In draws hundreds in Philly

From the Facebook Event Page

"Join us on June 30 for our Palestine teach-in! This event brings together an amazing group of scholars, organizers, activists, and teachers for a day of teaching and strategizing. Whether you’re looking for a basic introduction or advanced analysis, the event will be a valuable experience." Hosted by Uncle Bobbie's Coffee and Books in Germantown.

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Meanwhile  Weavers Way Co-op may have gotten around the boycott Israel issue by selling Equal Exchange Olive Oil produced by Palestinian small farmers

Palestinian farmer olive oil


College bound Syrian refugee survived bombings

Syrian refugee survived Assad bombs
When Philadelphia Inquirer syndicated columnist Trudy Rubin called on a young man to pose his question after her talk, "7 years, 4 months and counting: the Syrian Civil War" at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia on Saturday evening, she addressed him by name. In an interview afterward, M. Eisa, a Syrian refugee, who had been living with church Reverend Jarrett Kerbel, echoed what Rubin had concluded- that the presence of foreign forces from Russian, Turkey and Iran fighting in pursuit of their individual agendas bode very poorly for the civilian population remaining after millions of Syrians have fled. As Rubin put it, they are fighting over Syria's dying body. Rubin believes the United States missed an opportunity to militarily back non-Islamist rebel forces many years ago and a United Nations powerless against Russia's security council veto, has sealed Syria's fate. M Issai says he tempted fate in 2013 when he stayed amidst regular bombing by the Russian supported Assad regime of his Homs neighborhood in order to finish 9th grade exams. He then fled with his mother to Turkey via Lebanon, received a scholarship to attend Friends Select High School in Philadelphia in 2016 and now is bound for Bard College in upstate New York where he intends to study philosophy. Of friends and family, he has lost a lot. "I don't think there's a single household in Syria that hasn't suffered losses." Grandparents and aunts who remain are facing economic hardship and food shortages. Watch video interview of young Syrian refugee describing escaping bombings by his own government and taking refuge in Turkey and U.S. and the plight of his remaining countrymen and women and kin.


Thai food truck serves Thai tacos New Year's Eve


Will Trump shoot young South Korean visitor who pokes fun at him?

Trump shoots young korean woman
On New Year’s eve day, four young women newly arrived from South Korea for government-sponsored internships in Washington, DC browsed the "America" store in Alexandria Virginia with bemusement Your correspondent asked if they were interested in purchasing any of the merchandise - a jolly mix of seriously patriotic and comically political clothing, accessories and knickknacks. People don't buy or wear such things in South Korea they explained. When one jokingly vamped with a patriotic T-shirt emblazoned with Donald Trump's face against an American flag background, I asked what she thought of our dear leader. "If I say frankly, Trump will shoot me." To be honest? "I think he’s crazy.“ Watch video of young Korean women browsing "America" patriotic and parody store.


Free coffee draws crowd on National Coffee Day

National coffee day free coffee
Hearing that WAWA convenience stores were giving out free coffee in celebration of International Coffee Day, on Friday morning your correspondent headed over to the Mt Airy store to grab a cup. The scene in the coffee area was crowded, festive- and a touch frenzied. The barista, who was refilling large coffee canisters non-stop, expected the store would serve about 4000 free cups that morning and said WAWA observes NATIONAL Coffee Day each year. He wasn't sure where WAWA coffee is sourced from but assured me all l needed to know was that it is the "best possible quality." It tasted just fine to me but, actually, I did want to know more so a little bit later that morning I visited the High Point Cafe in the Allen Lane train station Their barista wasn't acquainted with the unofficial holiday but quipped that every day is International Coffee day at High Point and comped me a delicious cup. He elaborated that High Point's "ethically sourced - locally roasted" coffee comes from small farms in Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra and elsewhere. Watch customers crowd store for free coffee on National Coffee day and interviews.