Surviving a Saharan Sandstorm

  This spring I had the opportunity to travel to Morocco with friends. I’ve long wanted to visit this country and the Sahara Desert. So much about the people, the arts, the food and the blending of cultures (Berber, Arab, French and others) has enticed me to return. Geographically, the country reminded me much of mountains and deserts of Utah, but Morocco’s canyons were filled with oasis and palm trees and the beauty of the Sahara’s sand dunes are beyond words. This photo was taken at sunrise the morning after my friends and I awoke in our tent, where we had waited out a ten hour sandstorm that swept in around noon the day before. Visit again to learn more about Morocco as I will be posting about it over the next couple of months. Below is a photo of myself, friends Mary Platt and Beatrice Upeniks, and our guide Lahsen Essaib of Fint Tours at the caravansarai during the sandstorm...

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Streetwise Istanbul: Seeing ‘Other’ As Self

I appreciate all of you who may have followed me from this blog to my Streetwise Istanbul Instagram and Facebook pages over the last year. I will not be posting on those sites any longer but will resume regular posts on this blog related to my travels and writing.  I am currently working on a longer presentation for Streetwise Istanbul that I can bring to schools and community centers and which will eventually be available on this website and the Streetwise Istanbul Facebook page.  ...

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Follow Streetwise Istanbul on Facebook and Instagram

Ercan Ertan bought a mini mart type store with his two sisters Silan and Hülya in Sultanahmet in hopes that their profits will put them through college. Ercan is studying engineering. His store carries a little of everything including cigarettes that he is willing to sell one at a time to help his friends and customers to quit smoking. If you’d like to read about other people who live and work in Istanbul I have been posting about them for the last five months at Streetwise Istanbul on Facebook and Instagram. I won’t resume posting on this blog until the spring of 2017. Please join me on these...

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Desert Photos to Celebrate Earth Day

I recently returned from the Utah desert, a week of hiking with my daughter, and wanted to share these photos with you. We are lucky to have many undeveloped landscapes in the American West.  I hope you get a chance to spend some time in the wilds this Earth Day...

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Syrian Couple Gives Back Creatively to Host Community

This fall I was in Istanbul at work on a project Streetwise Istanbul and while there I had the opportunity to meet Syrian refugees. A story about this was published last Sunday in the Spokesman Review. Among those I met were Samer Alkadri and Gulnar Hajo, co-owners of a new bookstore and cafe in Istanbul called Pages. Gulnar is a children’s book illustrator who, this fall, won the Etesalat Award, an international children’s book recognition for her illustration of Nour Escapes Her Own Story, written by an author from Oman, Abair Alai. The story explores a young person imagining a better life. The illustrations featured in this blog post are from this book. Gulnar is unable to attend the award ceremony in Dubai due to her visa constraints, but a friend living there will accept it for her. Meanwhile, she continues her contracted work: books for both a Moroccan and Lebanese press, and, a book with Bloomsbury Press UK about street children around the world, which will be published simultaneously in several languages. Gulnar likes to write and illustrate books about concepts: love, loss, happiness, courage. Rather than talking or painting down to children, her images are often bold, stark, and quite cerebral as the ones featured in this article, for which she won her esteemed prize. Two nights a week Gulnar reads and draws with Syrian refugee children who have relocated to Istanbul. I had the pleasure to participate one evening. It heartened me to see the cheerful colors in the children’s paintings. When I had visited a preschool in Bam, Iran, some 15 months after the devastating earthquake in 2003 that killed roughly 25,000 people, many of the children chose to paint on black paper. As mentioned in the Spokesman Review article, Samer and Gulnar are donating books to 50 schools in Istanbul where Syrian children attend. The couple plans to stock these schools with 10 copies of five titles, books in English, Arabic and Turkish. They would appreciate help. Anyone wishing to donate to this book drive may contact them through the Pages Facebook page. Image on left is a Syrian refugee girl reading a 3D book at Pages Bookstore Cafe, Istanbul, Turkey. For weekly words and images from Istanbul follow...

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A Poem in Celebration of Rumi’s Urs

On December 17th  Sufis around the world celebrate the passing of Jalaluddin Rumi, the great 13th century mystical poet who was born near Balkh, Afghanistan, and lived his adult life in Konya, Turkey. Rumi considered his death as his “wedding night” with the Divine. The following poem was translated by Kabir Helminski and Ahmed Rezwani in the book Love’s Ripening (Shambhala Press).   Expanding Friendship Money and real estate occupy the body, but all the heart wants is expanding friendship. A rose garden without a friend is indeed a prison; a prison with a friend becomes a rose garden. If the pleasure of friendship did not exit, neither man nor women would be here. A thorn from a friend’s garden is worth more than a thousand cypresses and lilies. Love sewed us securely together. We owe nothing to the needle and thread. If the house of the world is dark, Love will find a way to create windows. If the world is full of arrows and swords, the Armorer of Love has made us coats of mail. Love itself describes its own perfection. Be speechless and listen.   The painting of whirling dervishes is by an artist in Damascus named Sanaa Abd...

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Star Wars, St. Fionán, and Byzantium

What do Star Wars, St. Fionán, and Byzantium have in common? Location, location, location. A movie director, a 6th century monk, and merchants from Constantinople were all attracted to these two islands, known as the Skellig Islands, rising off the southwest coast of Ireland. On my way to Istanbul this fall I traveled by way of Ireland to join my son Gaelen who is staying in Galway for a couple months. We recently had the rare chance to voyage out to Skellig Michael, a rock pinnacle in the sea off the coast of County Kerry. The island is the home of a 6th century hermitage associated with St. Fionán. The weather and the seas cooperated for us the first time we attempted to visit the island. We are well aware of our luck as we heard of others who traveled to Portmagee harbor town on twenty occasions hoping to make the hour crossing, only to be disappointed. People the world over will soon get a glimpse at this hermitage as it will be featured in an upcoming Star Wars movie. Skellig Micheal is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the smaller Skellig island is a protected wildlife sanctuary populated by puffins and gannets. Dolphins surround the islands, while several seals seem to call them their home, too. The hermitage is perched in a cleft of land clinging to the side of the rock face. The climb up to the tiny settlement of beehive shaped rock huts and a chapel is quite vertical and exposed to hundreds of feet of drop offs. The ascent can be fatal in the wrong weather. Apparently, fractured monks’ bones were a common find among archaeologists, so said our guide. The Skellig site felt reminiscent of the Anasazi cliff dwellings in the American West in terms of its extreme location and the austere setting. A good book about this sacred place is called Sun Dancing: A Medieval Vision by Geoffrey Moorhouse. At the Skellig Michael visitors center in Portmagee I read that although the Skelligs seem as if they were as isolated as one could get, they were along a busy trade route on the southern coast of Ireland and such places were connected with a wider world, including Byzantium....

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Leaving Aleppo With 700 Works of Art

Yesterday, my article about Syrian Refugee Artists in Istanbul appeared in the Huffington Post. I share a bit of it here… Adnan Alahmad left war-torn Aleppo, Syria, with his wife, two adult children and seven hundred paintings by the best of Syrian’s artists. Their journey took them to Lebanon, and Mersin, Turkey, before arriving in Istanbul last summer. I met him and his family at the “Syrian Plastik Arts” exhibition at the Marmara University campus in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, just beside the Blue Mosque. The show aimed to introduce contemporary Syrian artwork to Turkish art lovers and tourists, as well as to support artists inside war-torn Syria and those now living in other countries. “We left a thousand paintings behind.” The pain in Adnan’s eyes spoke volumes. For twenty years he had built a life around his gallery in Syria, where he also encouraged and developed young talent through an organization called Fine Vision. But, his art show in Istanbul drew few visitors. His daughter Zain Alahmad is a painter who had two pieces in the exhibition. Both depicted a charred Aleppo cityscape with bold black strokes on lengthy white and brown canvases. She holds a fine arts degree from Aleppo University and had been teaching art before having to leave her home. Adnan’s son Ahmad Karam Alamad is studying Turkish and hoping to continue his studies in computer science while in Istanbul. His wife Aruoba Moubayed Alamad, whom Adnan met while the two of them attended law school at Aleppo University, had been his partner in their former gallery as well as a practicing attorney. “We shared a big love story,” he said, causing his wife to smile. Only minutes before she had broken into tears when gazing at one of the paintings. “When not in school, our children spent their time in the gallery doing homework, drawing, or playing with friends, surrounded by works of art.” For the rest of the story, and to view more artwork, please visit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meghan-nuttall-sayres/fleeing-aleppo-with-700-w_b_7646838.html   The painting above is a detail of Zain Alamad’s work that appeared in the “Syrian Plastik Arts” Exhibition in Istanbul.  ...

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Writing Is Spirit: Calligrapher Omër Basdag

  Meeting Ömer Basdag was yet another fabulous example of the synchronicity I experience whenever I go to Istanbul. People there have two expressions for serendipitous happenings: zuhurat and tefafuk. Apparently both are old Ottoman words. The first means unexpected, unimagined, and often-fortuitous. Some might add it holds a cosmic, if not divine, quality. While tefafuk translates as “nothing is coincidence.” Join me over at PEN American for the rest of the story…   Above is a photo of Omer Basdag with his mentor Master Calligrapher Sinan Sinangil, Istanbul, Trukey. Below is Omer’s work on paper: “Writing is Spirit,” and,  an aliph, inlaid on the back of a violin.  ...

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Conversations in Istanbul in the Wake of Charlie Hebdo

The temperature was a bracing 23 degrees F with high winds, but business was as usual in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Seated in an alley outside the Varol Çay Ocagi, a tea kitchen, I talked with Sefa Ulusan, one of the men who serve çay to the merchants and their customers on the north end of the maze of shops. Snowflakes fell on my face and shoulders as we spoke. What surprised me most about Istanbul in January was that despite the bitter cold and sleet, all the restaurants and shops that I was accustomed to seeing with their street-facing walls opened wide in spring, summer and fall, never shut their doors. Instead, waiters and store clerks as well as the diners simply added layers of clothing. Perhaps they did this out of necessity (lack of space inside) and because of their socially convivial nature. I traveled to Istanbul to resume work on a book Street Wise Istanbul, essays based on conversations with vendors, artisans and others who make their living on the street. I found their commitment to a work ethic, to the sustainability of the planet and equal rights for all, were much like the concerns and wishes of people everywhere. Similarly, so were their grievances over the ensuing tragedies that week, in their own country and abroad.   Please join me over at Huffington Post for the rest of my essay “Conversations in Istanbul in the Wake of Charlie Hebdo,” where I talk with three unique people, Sefa Ulusan at Virol Cay; Talat Sanat, a shoe shiner, and, Cengiz Tekin at Barefoot...

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Writing the Middle East at Get Lit! Festival

                    Writing the Middle East: Journalism, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir. Join me and two other Western authors, who have journeyed multiple times to the Middle East, for a discussion about current events, culture, and the challenges and motivations behind their work. Reese Erlich (Inside Syria, 2014, and Conversations With Terrorists, 2007) is a Peabody Award and Clarion Award winning journalist based in Oakland, CA, who has reported for the San Francisco Chronicle and NPR, among other news outlets. Diana Darke (My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution, US edition 2015) is a UK author who has also published travels books on Turkey, Syria, North Cyprus, and Oman. Meghan Nuttall Sayres (Love and Pomegranates: Artists and Wayfarers on Iran, 2013) is an author from Spokane, Washington, whose two novels set in Iran Anahita’s Woven Riddle (an American Library Association Top Ten Best Books and an Indie Next Choice 2007), and, Night Letter (nominated for ALA Best Fiction List 2014) have been translated into several European and Middle Eastern languages. The discussion will be moderated by EWU associate professor of journalism, Jamie Neely. She has worked as a professional journalist for over 25 years, including serving as a member of the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. Location: Spokane Convention Center, west campus, second floor, room 206A Saturday April 25, 2015 1:45pm – 3:15pm Spokane Convention Center (334 West Spokane Falls...

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Beyond Identity to Soul

Are you a reader who enjoys stories about people from all walks of life? Do you read so that you can taste, smell, hear and see a city you’ve never visited? Learn words from a language that isn’t your mother tongue? Are you curious about the hundred ways there are to kneel and kiss the ground in prayer? The thousand ways there are to express love? Or how someone who has lost the use of their legs gets on in life—learns to ski and scuba dive? Would you simply just like to find yourself inside the pages of a great tale? Or even take a step beyond self, gender, and identities to celebrate the souls whose stories fill the pages of a book? We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. You may know of #WeNeedDiverseBooks as the hashtag that went viral after BookCon released its whitewashed author lineup. But since then we’ve become so much more than just a hashtag. They’ve incorporated and become an organization dedicated to creating tangible change within the publishing industry, and have been thrilled at the support we’ve received from organizations across the world. They recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility of diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process. To accomplish their mission, they reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students. Please help them change the face of children’s literature by joining our fund raising campaign at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/we-need-diverse-books. Check out the many PERKS that authors and illustrators from around the world who support this campaign have contributed for donors such as swag bags, posters, and the chance to have a manuscript read by professional agents and editors. We are so pleased to announce that it’s only five days into our campaign and we’ve already...

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Why Write a Story If You Can Weave One?

This week I visited my amazing friend and tapestry weaver Sarah Swett. Sarah taught me the little I know about weaving and every time I visit her I am blown away by what she has on the loom or has recently cut from it. Here’s a close up detail of a tapestry that is part of her series “Rough Cut,” which tells a story about a woman, a mule and their flight into the forest. The words are derived from the novel she wrote Palouse by the Sea, which she decided to try and weave. How cool is that? What I find most intriguing about the process of weaving is how much it is like writing. I’ve often read lines from my work out of sequence when proof reading. Sarah discovered something quite interesting when weaving her words/lines of prose bottom to top as one does when building most any tapestry or carpet. She explains this below in an excerpt from an article she wrote about this experience for Tapestry Topics published by http://americantapestryalliance.org. “Weaving letter by letter from bottom to top revealed alliteration and unexpected rhythms that now, reading top to bottom, I can no longer find. There was also the bliss of concentrated revision. Unwilling to weave so much as a comma I did not love, I dissected each syllable–paring, splicing, cutting favorite phrases. Revision, in fact, became another obsession and what began as a justification for solipsistic hours with my precious text (self publishing for tapestry weavers), exploded into parallel narratives where individual words were less important than the potential for viewer participation. Whole scenes vanished in the name of brevity. Most events were abbreviated. In “Rough Copy 9: Red Paperclip” I wrote and rewrote only to cover the bulk of the words with trompe l’oeil ‘paper.’ In ‘Rough Copy 10: All Burned Up,’ the longest chunk of text and most dramatic moment ended as a burned fragment. Readers are left to invent their own versions from the bits, just as they have been doing with sequential tapestry for centuries.” To have a look at the entire series of tapestries entitled “Rough Copy” visit: http://afieldguidetoneedlework.weebly.com/blog and scroll down to the slide show under the date 25/5/2014. Next week I will post...

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Knightly and Son: Agatha Christie for Kids?

Debut UK author Rohan Gavin has recently published the first in a detective series for Bloomsbury Books Knightly and Son. I had the pleasure of meeting Rohan Gavin (also a screenwriter) several years ago at the National Theatre in London for the last performance of Corum Boy (which also appeared on Broadway), an adaptation Jamila Gavin’s novel. This is a family steeped in talent. I was delighted to walk into a bookstore and find their books stocked side by side. Based on the reviews I’ve read, the book seems the perfect choice for the middle grade children in your life. http://www.novelthoughtsblog.com/2014/03/review-knightley-son-by-rohan-gavin/ https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17978149-knightley-and-son http://storytimesecrets.blogspot.com/2014/02/review-knightley-son-by-rohan-gavin-arc.html http://lauraplusbooks.com/2014/01/book-review-knightley-son-rohan-gavin.html      ...

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Favorite Indie Booksellers Worldwide

Over at the GuardianWitness people are invited to share their memories and photos of independent bookstores they know and love. This is the one I visited in Kerman, Iran, while attending their First International Children’s Book Fesitval a few years ago. My other favorite indie booksellers include Aunties Books in Spokane, WA; Elliot Bay and The Secret Garden in Seattle; Book People of Moscow, Idaho; and the Kings English in Salt Lake City. And then there’s Charlie Byrne’s and Dubray Books in Galway, Ireland, The Winding Stair in Dublin, and Daunt Books in Holland Park, London. I musn’t forget the ones mentioned on this link in Istanbul! Share yours here or head over to the Guardian.  ...

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Under the Bosphorus

This tile mosaic is just one of several in Istanbul’s new Marmaray metro system station that whisks passengers from Europe to Asia in just 3 minutes! After sipping a cup of chai in the beautiful Orient Express train terminus, I boarded the new metro with my friend. Our destination: Gezbe, some twenty miles south along the Asian side of Istanbul’s megalopolis. The new metro has saved commuters the time of having to cross the Bosporous by ferry. A Turkish friend of mine who works in a hotel in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet tourist district said the new metro cuts his commute to and from work by an hour each way. Employees in this area often travel up to 3 hours to get to work using cars, buses, trams, trains, the metro and their own two feet. The new Maramary is to be admired. I wish more public transportation were available in cities in  the US. When Istanbul finishes connecting up their metro with rail, they entire grid will be something to envy. Not that it isn’t already. I do, however, have a special love for the ferries and recommend them over the metro for anyone who is not in a hurry. The combination of sun, water, fresh air, gulls and the lovely rocking motion is a feast for the senses, along with a cup of steaming chai, especially on a chilly day. The views of the city at dusk, when a skyline of bridges, minarets, boats and ships light up, is breathtaking. Istanbul is a place like no...

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