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Reasons to Read

March 20, 2015
Books in Erbil souk.

Books in Erbil souk.

One of the reasons I am so passionate about literacy and education, especially for children, is because of my experience growing up and the impact reading had on my life and the person I became. Maya Angelou put it best when she wrote, “When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”


A peek at the Kurdish Textile Museum

March 17, 2015


In a tent made with black woven goat hair in the Kurdish Textile Museum in the Citadel in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, I stood on Kurdish carpets woven in the early 1900s. The museum has more than 400 carpets and is reopening very soon, after more than 18 months of renovation. The history and culture of Kurdistan, with a focus on Erbil, on display is extensive and beautiful. To be surrounded by such beauty for an hour and a half is a reminder that even in a region with violence and war surrounding on all sides, there is some place where peace and splendor prevail. Life continues amidst instability everywhere – what other choice is there?

More photos and a more in-depth story on Kurdish textiles will be coming soon!

BlattChaya – An Artisanal Love Story

March 5, 2015
The three-generation BlattChaya team.

The three-generation BlattChaya team.

BlattChaya’s headquarters in Dekwaneh, in Beirut, is one of the loveliest places I have been in Lebanon. Immediately upon entering, the office/factory of Lebanon’s only handmade artisanal cement tiles feels and smells like home, even for a stranger.

Below I have attached the PDFs of a story published for Lebanese magazine, RagMag, with photos from Osie Greenway, about Edgard Chaya’s passion for tiles that revived a family business and solidified a trademark that will be continued for generations to come. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing and reporting it. (If you can’t read from the screenshots, click here: BLATTCHAYA)

A female artisan in Lebanon

March 3, 2015

Check out the beautiful work of one amazing woman who works in a man’s world of iron, copper and aluminum with ease. Fatima

Passion fuels next generation at Halabi Bookshop

February 22, 2015

Lana and her father, Abdallah Halabi.

Recently I wrote a story about a little bookshop with a big heart in Tarik El Jdeieh, in Beirut. There is a proverb that you often hear from the Lebanese, especially when it comes to books: “Egypt writes, Lebanon publishes, Iraq reads.” But I have met so many readers here and people passionate about books, I know that isn’t entirely true.

The Halabis are some of those people, and I am really happy I was able to support Lana Halabi’s dream to turn her father’s messy bookshop into a space for readers in Lebanon to enjoy.

I have attached the story in full, with photos, from Agenda Culturel’s website, below. Also, you can find the bookshop here! Read more…

Beirut’s public libraries, largely still undiscovered gems in the city

February 12, 2015
The Bachoura branch of Beirut's municipal public library network.

The Bachoura branch of Beirut’s municipal public library network.

I have always believed libraries can change lives. Some of my best and earliest memories are from the Vestal Public Library, where the memories of breathing in the sweet smell of library books and pulling off as many books as I could carry in my arms feel as if it were not so long ago (certainly not 29 years!) For me, this space was a sanctuary and what I thought a privilege to be able to read as many books as I wanted, regardless of my ability to buy them. I traveled the world from my small town, longing to see the lives of the people in my books. Little did I know back then that this is a right, this access, that so many people not only in the United States do not have, but globally as well.


Librarian Cosette Azzi works in the Monot branch of the Beirut public libraries, where there is an emphasis on the arts in the collection, due to its proximity to places such as the Monot Theater, Jan. 27, 2015.

I learned this firsthand when I began to travel in my early 20s. Where were the libraries? In Kazakhstan, in the town where I lived, a library was a place to copy information out of encyclopedias for homework and for President Nazarbayev to display the latest biography written about him. Certainly not a cultural hub. When I found the first of three public libraries in Beirut, I felt home again in a way that I never felt anywhere else in this chaotic city. For many reasons, which I address in the article I wrote below for Al-Monitor, the public libraries here still struggle for patrons and funding.

I am attaching my article in full below, but in case you decide not to keep reading, I’ll leave you with one of the most inspiring things I have heard in a long time, said to me by Antoine Boulad, President of ASSABIL.

“Promoting public libraries is promoting spaces where critical thinking and free thinking are valued. Since our societies are threatened, they are in need as much as bread and love. This is our survival.”

I can’t think of a better way to say it.

Keep reading for the article!

Read more…

Lebanese4Refugees distribute aid to Syrians

January 27, 2015
A home for a Syrian family in an informal settlement in Al Marj, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

A home for a Syrian family in an informal settlement in Al Marj, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.

In the wake of brutal weather in early January and winter storm “Zina,” that battered Lebanon, civil initiative Lebanese4Refugees arranged massive clothing and aid drives for Syrian refugees living in informal settlements. In order to allow people to see some of the aid actually being distributed, they organized a trip to Al Marj on January 13, in the Bekaa Valley, for anyone who wanted to come along to help. IMG_0229 Two vans full of Lebanese and expat volunteers bundled up for the long, cold ride down into the valley. In the informal camp in Al Marj, there are around 750 people living, more than half of them children. While waiting for the truck of aid to come, children swarmed around the volunteers and adults were eager to tell their story and voice their needs to anyone who would listen. Walking away from the crowd toward the families standing outside their homes, I was soon holding one-month old Najwa, then invited in her mother, Noura’s, home for coffee. IMG_0278 This family was more fortunate than many in the country, and even in the sprawling camp. They had a stove and an enclosed concrete room where the family of five slept – but they pay for it. $200 per month for the one room, a massive burden for any refugee family. Noura, whose husband is still in Aleppo, struggles to make ends meet with occasional house cleaning in the area. Despite their struggles, I have never met people more warm and generous than Syrian refugees, both in Jordan and Lebanon. IMG_0304 At first, aid distribution was chaotic, with volunteers throwing clothing off the truck into a crowd of people desperately jumping and fighting over items they wanted, and tossing unwanted clothing behind them and small children getting knocked over. In front of me, a little boy landed in a puddle of ice water and mud facedown. Another man fell into a baby carriage. Once this proved to not be working, they instead gave out the aid house to house, which worked much better, and was much more dignified for both the donors and those receiving it.

With the Syrian conflict going into its fourth year, new restrictions have been slapped on Syrians coming into Lebanon and the situation only gets more difficult for the more than one million refugees who are already here. Despite rising tensions between Syrian refugees and Lebanese people throughout Lebanon, it is good to see that there are also many Lebanese who are trying to help people in need in their country.