Tag Archives: human interest

Travel: The Bridge to Friendship

November 01, 2012

Imperial Airways & Associated Companies 1938

A few days ago I was at Soaptopia–one of my favorite neighborhood stores–picking up a few bars of their heavenly scented handmade soaps when I noticed the exquisite earrings the lovely young saleswoman was wearing. The earrings were round in shape and made of gold but wafer-thin, almost transparent with detailed carvings studded with tiny stones which looked like coral and turquoise. I hadn’t seen anything like them, at least not here in the States. They were exotic and delicate. 

I felt compelled to compliment her on her earrings and she beamed me a bright smile and told me that she’s had the earrings since she was 16. “I got them when my family travelled to Persia!” She told me.

“You mean Iran,” I said.

“Yes, Iran,” she confirmed, her smile never leaving her lips.

I told her that I was from Iran and that I was half Armenian. She told me she was from Senegal and how much her parents loved to travel but that Iran had been one of her favorites. Though I haven’t been to Senegal, I had travelled to Kenya when I was 13.

“I had my ears pierced in Kenya,” I told Isabelle, my new-found Senegalese friend.

Soon Isabelle and I started chatting about Senegalese music, Persian food, Armenian coffee and the joys of travel.  A middle-aged woman standing nearby couldn’t help but join in on our fun. Turned out she was from Cape Town, South Africa and she too spoke of her trips to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt and would’ve loved to have visited Iran had politics not intervened. 

This is exactly why I like Los Angeles, in spite of the smog and traffic. The beauty of living in Los Angeles is the myriad of cultures that coexist and the stories we have each brought with us.

At Charters Towers School, the boarding school I attended in England, I had the privilege of meeting and making friends with girls from all four corners of the world. At 15, thanks to my friend Sheila Samani, I attended my first Indian wedding, dressed in a turquoise blue sari. I learned about miso soup and nori from my Japanese friend Masako Kawahara. I listened to stories of apartheid in South Africa from my friend Kavita. My friend Anupama, a devout Hindu, told me stories of the guru whose teachings she and her family followed. This was the first time I heard the word “meditation,” and techniques to sit, breathe and calm the chattering mind.

I owe my African adventure to my boarding school friend Anne Summers, whose parents had moved from England to Kenya like many other English expats. Anne had talked me into piercing my ears and I still remember the day I placed the long distance call from Nairobi to my parents in Tehran for permission. My mother gave me her blessing, but it wasn’t until we were on safari when the deed was done. Out in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles away from Nairobi, we happened upon a small white-washed box-like structure with the words “Clinic” painted in black. We were greeted by an English woman dressed in an all-white nurse’s uniform. She even had on her white nurse’s cap, white hosiery and sensible white shoes. There and then I decided to have my ears pierced. She agreed to pierce my ears and while numbing my lobes she casually mentioned that she’d never done this before, which made me nervous. But my worries quickly disappeared when she broke into Farsi on learning I was from Iran. Before relocating to Kenya, she had lived in Isfahan, Iran where she learned Farsi. I still can’t get over my encounter with the English nurse. What are the chances of having your ears pierced by a Farsi-speaking English nurse on safari in Africa?

Travel, be it in the form of a study abroad program, back packing or vacation, is the antidote to xenophobia, and the “us and them” mindset that prevents us from seeing the goodness in everyone. The experience of travel also broadens our minds and helps us appreciate the connections and similarities we all share, no matter where we’re from or the languages we speak, or the religions we follow.

Next time you’re in LA, Mar Vista to be exact, make sure you stop by Soaptopia, say hi to Isabelle and share stories about your travels and ask her about the Persian earrings!

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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The War on Women: From USA to Iran and around the World

August 23, 2012

Afghan women voice concerns to coalition forces [Image 4 of 4]

There is a war going on; it is against women and it’s on a global scale. From the outrageous remarks on “legitimate rape” made by US Senate candidate Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), to the arrest of the three feminist rockers of the band Pussy Riot in Russia accused of speaking out against Vladimir Putin, to the practice of defacing women with acid in Pakistan, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia and 15 other countries, to female genital mutilation, child brides, sex trafficking of young girls, and on and on it goes.

And now, Iran, a country not known for its stellar human rights records, has taken its hardline stance against women a step further. In an officially-approved act of sex-discrimination, Iran is barring female students from more than 70 university degree courses. According to Robert Tait of the UK Telegraph, the move “has prompted a demand for a UN investigation by Iran’s most celebrated human rights campaigner, the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi.” The Iranian government’s decision means that 36 universities will no longer allow female students to enroll in 77 BA and BSc courses in the coming academic year. These courses have been labeled as “single gender” and open exclusively to men.

Here’s a partial list of university degree programs from which women are barred: English literature, English translation, hotel management, archaeology, nuclear physics, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, business management, petroleum engineering, chemical engineering, mining engineering. The universities complicit with the Islamic Republic’s agenda claim that they are creating an even field, a balance between the sexes by restricting these fields to single-gender students as a large percentage of female college students were left unemployed after graduation.

Just two months ago I wrote a blog about higher education in Iran, and the rising number of Iranian women holding university degrees. In fact, women account for nearly 60 percent of the total enrollment at Iranian universities. Higher education and global awareness of social issues have freed Iranian women to embark on a life of singlehood to pursue careers, rent apartments, travel, and question their rights. Iran’s recent barring of women from more than 70 university degree courses is telling of the Iranian government’s agenda on suppressing women in the traditionally male-dominated society.

Iran, as noted in Tait’s article “has the highest ratio of female to male undergraduates in the world, according to UNESCO. Female students have become prominent in traditionally male-dominated courses like applied physics and some engineering disciplines. The relative decline in the male student population has been attributed to the desire of young Iranian men to “get rich quick” without going to university.” The radical steps taken by the Islamic regime and followed in lock step by the universities are to turn back the clock, return women to a domestic life and suppress their voice in the public arena. Whether the government bans women from a large portion of university degree programs, it does not mean that young Iranian men are going to flock to the universities and take the place of their female counterparts.

The attacks against women are attempts to silence their demands for equal rights. Like everything in life, we cannot take anything for granted. The struggle is not over.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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Useless Literary Terms Come Alive

May 17 2012

Synedoche: figure of speech wherein part represents whole, e.g. “crown” stands for “king” or “queen”.

Objective Correlative: T.S. Eliot’s literary device, akin to metaphor, where an object or thing represents an emotion or feeling.

How do I know such obscure things? Rather than following my dad’s advice to pursue a more practical career as a doctor or lawyer, I studied literature, finally taking an M.A. at UCLA. Later I was in the Ph.d program, but when confronted by an obscure question about a lesser-known English poet named Charles Lamb in the part one written exams, I walked out of that UCLA classroom room and away from the Ph.d program. I left three months later for Paris with $400 in my pocket, a big smile, and no real plans. I had gone to school in Paris a few years before so the City of Light was no stranger.

When I returned to the States 2 years later, it was tough getting a decent teaching job, even though I had three teaching credentials and plenty of teaching experience. So I took an even more risky career detour into music. I would have been a terrible lawyer and could have never gone to med school to cut up a cadaver anyway.

But going back to seldom-used literary terms, occasionally they crop up in real-life situations. For synedoche (sin-ek-dough-kee), I pulled into the SMC parking lot last Sunday to do my show. I beheld the 1964 Chrysler New Yorker sedan, blue-green and in glorious original condition. It belongs to Jason Groman, who runs logistics for KCRW, and also handles the KCRW mail and fulfillment departments, both crucial links between KCRW and its members. The Chrysler harkens back to the era of great Amercian cars and embodies the taste and sensibility of its proud owner, who loves classic things, whether they be Paper Mate pens, Lawry’s Prime Rib, classic Magnavox hi fi consoles, and Sinatra ballads on the original vinyl. It made me happy to see Jason’s car and to know I would also soon be seeing him. Everybody at KCRW loves Jason Groman. He’s a great guy and a unique human being. The Chrysler New Yorker truly reflects him.

As for Eliot’s objective correlative: I used to think that Sinatra’s Only the Lonely was his best album of torch songs. Then I heard In The Wee Small Hours, and that trumped Only the Lonely. Then I discovered No One Cares, and realized that this was numero uno. On the cover of No One Cares, we see a photo of Sinatra in a club at the bar, alone, down and depressed, nursing a glass of whisky, smoking cigarettes while others gaily dance and romance in the background.

Then you look at some of the song titles: ”A Cottage for Sale” is about a failed marriage. ”Stormy Weather”, captures his tempestuous marriage and divorce from Ava Gardner. These two song titles capture the essence of the album. T.S. Eliot’s term, originally meant for aspiring poets, actually comes up a lot in music. These are just two examples.

So even though obscure literary terms do not have much use in daily life, occasionally they spring back to enliven the little things that make life more interesting. And you don’t need a Ph.D to appreciate them.

Tom Schnabel, M.A.
Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Host of music program on radio for KCRW Sundays noon-2 p.m.
Blogs for KCRW
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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