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The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

The Arab Woman You Don’t See – Part 1

posted by Donna Henes

 

Hopefully, all the bugs on this new server are fixed, so that we can continue this important series about Women and Power.

 

The Arab Woman You Don’t See – Part 1
By Queen Noor of Jordan

Throughout the extraordinary events of the last few months, across the Middle East and North Africa, long-silenced voices demanding change are being heard worldwide — and stalwart among them are the voices of women. From the bereaved mother of the first tragic Tunisian protester, to Asmaa Mahfouz, the 26-year-old whose YouTube video brought Egyptians into the streets, to Sally Zahran, a passionate 23-year-old Egyptian woman who was bludgeoned to death on January 28, to Tawakul Abdel-Salam Karman, the activist whose arrest sparked demonstrations in Yemen and countless others, women have joined with men in peaceful protest, braving beatings, rubber bullets, and worse.

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In Egypt, considered the birthplace of Arab feminism in the 1920s, an estimated quarter of the million protesters at the height of the demonstration were female. In all the pictures from the protest, none was as powerful as that of the woman standing face to face with an Egyptian soldier in a pose of utmost defiance. One young female protester stated, “There are no differences between men and women here. We are all one hand.” In more conservative cultures such as Bahrain and Yemen, fewer women have demonstrated, but for that very reason their presence is perhaps even more significant.

This should come as no surprise. Women are consummate peacemakers, and civil protest has always been one of their most powerful tools of expression.

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I have been privileged to work with numerous networks of courageous women who have suffered the worst consequences of war, conflict and discrimination; in Jordan and Palestine, in Israel, in Colombia, in Central Asia, in Africa and the Balkans, raising their voices and joining forces for change.

Many countries that are struggling to recover from harrowing civil war, including Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Chile, Bosnia, and Liberia, have turned to women leaders for stability, security and peace. After the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, Hutu and Tutsi women joined together to support each other and the war’s victims and to lead the search for truth and reconciliation as official members of government.

In Liberia, I have witnessed the inspiring force of the market women who, throughout 16 years of civil war, sustained their families, saved lives and kept food supplies flowing while they marched and successfully negotiated for peace and, then ensured the election of Africa’s first woman president.

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And, in the former Yugoslavia, the site of the worst carnage in Europe since World War II, I have sat and wept with Bosnian, Serb and Croatian women as they struggled to come to terms with the deaths of their husbands, sons and fathers — killed, in some cases, by the husbands or sons of women sitting across the table.

Why such compassion to the widows of their enemies? As one woman put it simply, “We are all mothers.” They came to our meetings to search for threads of human connection amidst the chaos of conflict.

Today, women raising their voices in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen are not all mothers, but they are also daughters, wives, sisters. They are fighting for their families, but they are also fighting for themselves; and in Palestine, the women of the occupied territories are fighting for the freedom to be included in the greater Palestinian struggle.

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Heartening though this may be, as revolution gives way to realpolitik, women’s rights are all too often the first things to be compromised on and bartered away. For example, although these protests present an unprecedented opportunity for women, some of the results are less than encouraging. In Egypt, while the protests themselves were marked by a sense of unity, it did not take long for sexual harassment to reassert itself. And women returned to protest when the Supreme Council for the Armed forces, designating a committee to amend the country’s constitution, neglected to appoint a single woman.

Tomorrow: The Arab Woman You Don’t See – Part 2

* Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

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***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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It’s Pay Back Time

posted by Donna Henes

Hail Queens!

It is good to be back online. As I am sure you noticed, Beliefnet had many techno troubles last week and I was unable to post. But I am back!

Lately I’ve seen several outrageous television commercials that blithely extol the benefits of throwaway dust rags and floor mops and disposable baby bibs, of all things. Apparently the landfills are not yet filled to over-flowing capacity with pampers as I had assumed. As it is, every American uses an average of 4-6 trees a year on paper goods, wood products, and newsprint.

Knowing myself to be a concerned citizen and certified Queen of Reducing, Re-using and Recycling, I feel morally indignant in the face of such crass waste. The mere sight of The New York Sunday Times stacked in high piles at the newsstand fills me with queasy guilt. Heaven forbid I should buy one. I take my own bags to the grocery. I use cloth napkins and hankies and refuse to use paper towels. I’m the one who used the same paper bag for 65 days worth of coffees-to-go.

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All well and good, but what have I done lately? What did I do today?
This is an important distinction: what did I do versus what did I not do. The issue is not how many trees did I save, but how many trees did I plant? I should have planted 250-350 trees by now to replace those that I have used. While I have conducted quite a few tree-planting ceremonies over the years, I still owe the earth a new orchard.

Maybe it is self-defeating to think that we should be giving up comforts and luxuries in order to be more environmentally correct and connected. Such negative terminology doesn’t make acting conscientiously seem like a very attractive prospect, but rather like some sort of deprivation that would appeal only to martyrs. That’s just bad psychology. Unproductive. The medicine does not have to taste bad in order to work well.

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Perhaps it is more fruitful to think not of giving something up, but of giving something back. It is the most elemental and universal rule of etiquette that if you take something, you put it back; if you use something, you replace it — plus some. While saving and conserving are admirable virtues to be commended and encouraged, being generous and proactively responsive is equally crucial to our survival, body and soul. Take less. Give more.

It is pay back time. So I pledge to plant trees this Spring. As many as I can. Won’t you join me?

Let’s plant trees everywhere. In our gardens, inside our houses, throughout our parks and school-yards. Even those of us who live in the most crowded cement cities can join a community garden or participate in a park clean-up and planting day.

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We can “buy” acres of rainforest to give as gifts or have trees planted in honor of all the special occasions celebrated by friends and family. We could adopt a neighborhood or a stretch of highway and help take care of it. Like a brigade of green guerilla Queens, we could spread out and scatter wildflower seeds in every vacant lot, strip, mall and avenue median. Just like Queen Lady Bird did.

Knowing through Her personal experience what is true and valuable, and having learned, usually the hard way, to be proactive, the Queen pledges Her royal Self to defend and promote all that is precious.
-QMD

***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

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The Vernal Equinox: Hatching the World Egg

posted by Donna Henes

If the Winter Solstice signals the birth of the sun, then the Spring Equinox exclaims the birth of the Earth — the resurrection of nature from the dark death of winter. The life, which has stayed hidden, in exile or underground, during the long deep sleep of the cold season, now shifts and starts to stir. Poking and peeking, it seeks the surface. The space. The air. The light. Striving, stretching skyward, life breaks new ground. Bulbs, shoots and buds burst forth from the earth, exploding open, exposing their tender green growth. The sweet sap rises.

The birth waters break. The snow melts. The skies open. It rains, it pours, it mists, it drips fertilizing fluids from the heavens. The air is damp like a baby’s bottom. The land is soaked. The mud, like mucous, like after-birth. The defrosting sodden soil is teeming, churning with every creepy crawly thing that ever slithered out of a swamp. Hordes of birds descend, drawn by the juicy feast. Animals awaken from their pregnant hibernations, skinny and starving and suckling their young. Birds and beasts, alike, set out on a concerted feeding frenzy, gorging themselves and their ravenous, insatiable, mouths-ever-open offspring.

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It is as if the great egg of the whole world has hatched.

And so it has in the collective imagination and symbolism of many cultures. The myths of the peoples of Polynesia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Greece, Phoenicia, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Central and parts of South America and Africa all describe an original cosmic egg from which the universe is born. The Latin proverb, Omne vivum ex ovo, proclaims “All life comes from an egg.” It is only natural and not so subtle to assign the birth of the world to a Great Mother Goddess who laid the egg of life. All of nature, after all, is a constant cyclical reminder of just such a fertile female force, the seed source of all generation. All life does, indeed, come from an egg.
    
The Egyptian goddess Hathor took the form of the Nile goose, the Great Cackler in order to lay the golden egg, which was the sun. The Egyptian hieroglyphic notation for the World Egg is the same as for that of an embryo in the womb of a woman. The Celts, too, had a Mother Goose who laid the egg of all existence. According to the Hawaiians, the Big Island was produced from the egg of a huge water bird. She was known as the Great Midwife, the Egg Mother. Knosuano was the Moon Egg of Ghana. The Druids honored the Egg of the World. In Greek Orphic tradition, The Great Goddess of womb-like darkness, Mother Night, was impregnated by the Wind, and she gives forth with the silver egg from which the earth emerges.
       
According to the Chinese, the first human being sprang from an egg dropped from the heaven into the primordial waters. The Chimu Indians of Peru are descended, ordinary people and heroes alike, from the original egg — the moon. The Samoan Heavenly One, hatched from an egg whose shell pieces became the earth. Prajapati, the creator of all living things in Indian mythology, was born of a great golden egg, which was first incubated in the uterine waters of eternity. The god, Brahma burst forth from a gold egg.

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In time, the egg, the symbol of life, of birth, came to signify the season of spring. For it is then that the aspect of fertility and rebirth within the cycle is so overwhelmingly evident. Clearly, the egg stands for spring. The egg, in fact, stands at spring. Actually stands up on its end at the moment of the Vernal Equinox. Stands at attention as the sun crosses the equator into the northern hemisphere. Stands in salute to spring.

Soon after I started producing urban celebrations of the seasons in 1975, a friend returned from Asia with an odd bit of equinoctial information for my interest. Apparently, in pre-revolutionary China it was customary for peasants to stand eggs on their ends on the first day of spring. To do so would guarantee good luck for the entire year. I have since had people tell me that their Scandinavian grandparents, too, balanced eggs at the equinox in their home countries.

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Tantalized, I immediately set out to prove it on American soil. Of course they stood. That was thirty-six years ago, and I have initiated the public balancing of many thousands of eggs on every Spring Equinox since. There is something extraordinarily powerful in the image, in the experience, of an egg standing upright without any support that elicits ancient and rarely accessed emotions. Stood at the first moment of spring, the egg becomes the symbol of a new season, the birth of new life. The regeneration of hope. 

Let us stand, too, on the Spring Eqquinox, in the company of all the Creatrix Goddesses in celebration of all life and living.

Please join me:

Mama Donna Henes, Urban Shaman
35th Anniversary Vernal Equinox Celebration
Eggs on End: Standing on Ceremony
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Under the Arch, Grand Army Plaza
Exotic Brooklyn, NY

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***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

 

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The Nation’s First Mother

posted by Donna Henes

During the last presidential election campaign, we heard scant little about the woman who gave birth to and raised President Barak Obama. This is a shame, as she was an extraordinary woman, who rose from a simple past to achieve great things in her short life.

She was born Stanley Ann Dunham in 1942 in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, while her dad was serving in the US army. An only child — a disappointing girl — she was named for her father who had hoped for a son.

After the war, her family moved to California, Texas, and Seattle, Washington, where her father was a furniture salesman and her mother was a vice president of a bank. In 1956, when she was 13, they moved to Mercer Island, Washington, so she could attend Mercer Island High School. There, she was encouraged to challenge societal norms and question authority.

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Dunham took to these lessons wholeheartedly. She gravitated toward an intellectual clique, saw foreign films at Seattle’s only art-house theater, and trekked to University District coffee shops to talk about jazz, the value of learning from other cultures and the “very dull Eisenhower-ness of our parents.”

She questioned pretty much everything and became a budding beatnik. Her school friends remember her as “intellectually way more mature than we were and a little bit ahead of her time, in an off-center way.” One high school pal described her: “If you were concerned about something going wrong in the world, Stanley would know about it first. We were liberals before we knew what liberals were.” Another called her “the original feminist.”

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Upon her high school graduation, the family moved to Hawaii and she enrolled in college there, introducing herself for the first time as Ann. While a student at the University of Hawaii, she met a Kenyon student Barack Obama, Senior. Her liberal values allowed her to break the taboo of the time and date him. Within a year, they were married with the consent of Barack’s first wife, which was a tribal custom, though against the wishes of all four parents.

In 1961, at age 18, she gave birth to a son, Barack. She quit school to take care of him, while Barack, Sr. finished his undergraduate work. When he was offered a scholarship to Harvard, he left Ann and his one-year old son, to see him only one more time in his life nine years later. She filed for divorce, enrolled in school first in Seattle and then in Maui, where she struggled as a single mother and full time student.

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While still an undergraduate student, she met and fell in love with an Indonesian student, Lolo Soetoro. They married in 1967 and moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. In Indonesia, Dunham enriched her son’s education with correspondence courses in English, recordings of Mahalia Jackson, and speeches by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She sent the young Obama back to Hawaii rather than stay in Asia with her, an extremely painful decision.

Soetoro and Dunham had a daughter, Maya Kassandra Soetoro, in August 1970. In the 1970s, as Dunham wished to return to work, Soetoro wanted more children. She once said that he became more American as she became more Javanese. Ann Dunham left Soetoro in 1972, returned to Hawaii and to graduate school in Honolulu in 1974, while raising Barack and Maya. When Dunham returned to Indonesia for field work in 1977 with Maya, Barack chose not to go, preferring to finish high school in the United States.

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Although Ann loved and married two Muslim men and her parents were Christian, she, herself, was a free thinker. She gave both her children the holy books of the world’s religions — the Old and New Testament, the Koran, the Upanishads, Buddhist texts — and encouraged them to find their own spiritual paths. She was a firm believer in rigorous intellectual thinking and action based on compassion.

Ann earned a BA in mathematics in 1967, a MA in Anthropology on o1983, and finally a PhD in Anthropology in 1992. She then pursued a career in rural development championing women’s work and micro-credit for the world’s poor, working with Indonesia’s oldest bank, the United States Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, Women’s World Banking, and as a consultant in Pakistan. She was active in her support of Indonesian human rights, women’s rights, and grassroots development.

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Her career was cut short in 1994, when she was diagnosed with both ovarian and uterine cancer. She moved back to Hawaii to live near her widowed mother, and died there in 1995 at the age of 52.

Queen Ann accomplished a great deal in her abbreviated life. She succeeded in breaking through the barricades of a conservative 1950s upbringing to create an interesting, expansive, multiculturally rich life for herself and her children. This single accomplishment has already made a huge impact on our country and the entire world.

 * Please send me your thoughts about power. Also stories of your own empowerment. When shared, these ideas and examples are extremely inspiring to others. Thanks.

 ***
The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

CONSULT THE MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™
Queen Mama Donna offers upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity.

 

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