Daphne Muse

(WOMENSENEWS)–Dear Grandmothers of Iraq:

I have no idea if my letters are getting through to you, but I hope that at least a few of you have received them through the anti-war activists who’ve carried them to your country and the various media outlets, including Web logs and radio stations, that have published them.

I send them to share commonalities, including our hopes for the future of our grandchildren. I also send them because I have to find a way to engage with women witnessing the daily dismantling of their lives and their country and mourning the loss of grandchildren who can no longer dream a world.

You continue to appear in my dreams and on my mind, as the bleeding bodies of your grandchildren appear in the media from around the world our family reads, listens to and watches.

Like so many grandmothers, nanas, bubis and abuelitas, we long for you to hold your grandchildren close to your warm bosoms as they listen to your hearts beat longingly for a real future for them.

Last week, as I looked out into my small orchard and saw my lemon tree filled with hundreds of fruits kissed by the sun, I wondered if we would ever share a cup of tea, pictures of our grandchildren and stories about how the Iraqi people have taken on the rebuilding of the country and culture.

I look forward to joining you in celebrating the day when your grandchildren will be able to go to school without you worrying about them being blown to bits by a suicide bomber or armored tank-occupying military personnel.

Reaching a Crossroads

Throughout the United States, our concern goes to our grandchildren being hit by bullets from drive-by shootings, killed by drunken drivers or dying from starvation. More than 15 million U.S. children go to bed hungry every night. Our government wants charity to take care of this growing problem instead of providing the kind of jobs and living wages that would help eradicate poverty and hunger in the country.

While all of those things are destroying segments of the country, it does not equate to the untold numbers of your grandchildren who’ve been killed, maimed or emotionally scarred as a result of this war.

We’ve reached a crossroads where a growing number of voices are urging the government to stop this war and bring the troops home. Millions of us never supported the war in the first place and one of the leading voices from the very start is my very own Congresswoman Barbara Lee: When everyone else in the U.S. Congress voted to authorize the use of armed force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she said, “No.” Her voice has reverberated across the country and around the world. Now so many others are joining her chorus.

I realize that many in Iraq recently finished celebrating Ramadan and Eid al-Fitar. In 2000, the U.S. Post Office amazingly issued a beautiful blue-and-gold “EID Greetings” stamp. I have a framed plate of the stamp in my office, right next to my desk.

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, Christmas was the dominant year-end holiday. But because I was a Girl Scout and had two outstanding history teachers in elementary and junior high school, I knew a little about other holidays celebrated around the world. With hope, our school curricula will begin to reflect the diversity that exists in Iraq as well, so students will learn about all the people in your country including the Shiites, Kurds, Sunnis and Sufis.

So Many Holidays to Celebrate

As a result of many people fighting for greater recognition of the longstanding cultural diversity of America, Muslim holidays are taking a growing place in our culture. Meanwhile, many other festivals, holidays and rites of passage that occur during the coming weeks are acknowledged and celebrated.

These include: Kwanzaa, an African American harvest festival; Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday; Winter Solstice, a pagan rite of passage; Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, from the Mexican tradition; Tet, the lunar new year celebrated by many of our Vietnamese citizens; and New Year’s Day, the first day of the new year on the Roman calendar. For many of these rituals, people exchange gifts.

For more than 30 years now, I’ve given books to my grandchildren and the other young people to keep their minds and souls well fed. One book we’ve all enjoyed is “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq,” the children’s book by Jeannette Winter about Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian who put her life on the line to save thousands of books.

Just as with your celebrations and rites of passage, we prepare great feasts that include family, cherished friends, trusted neighbors, and the colleague or acquaintance who doesn’t seem to have anywhere else to go.

For various occasions during this holiday season, I will prepare grated yam pudding, black rum cake, macaroni and cheese, roast duck, baked stuffed fish, and various winter squashes and greens. I’ll also harvest lemons from my latest crop and make my signature lemon pound cake to share with friends and neighbors.

Lentil Soup and Date Cakes

During my travels both outside and within the United States, I’ve learned to prepare abgushte adas (lentil soup) and I love tamriah (date cakes). Maybe one day, I’ll join you in a feast at your home and dine on some of your delicious dishes. I’ll eat almost anything with figs in it. I’d also love to prepare my grated yam pudding, gumbo (a rich stew of meats and seafood) and roasted beets for you.

While I continue to place my voice in the wind as a writer, I recently took a position as the director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills College, a women’s college located in Oakland, Calif. Over the past four decades, some women from Iraq have earned their degrees at Mills. Some of my colleagues teach Middle Eastern literature and history in their classes as well.

In the area of Northern California where I live, some of the independent bookstores also carry works that include Iraqi poets, scholars and journalists. And because of the diversity of the area and the popularity of world music, I can listen to music from your country on our public radio stations, in cafes and at concerts.

History will teach me, my grandchildren and others in our country about the remarkable women who put their lives on the line during the war in Iraq. Many of them have grandchildren who may well become future presidents, scientists, doctors, teachers, spiritual leaders, artists and archivists of your country.

As my family, friends, neighbors and colleagues gather together during the coming holidays, we will keep you in our hearts and minds, while working diligently to bring an end to a war that never should have been. I realize the peace I wish to invoke throughout the world must first be in my own heart and each day I strive to work accordingly. May the dreams you have for your grandchildren become a reality in your lifetime.

Go well.

Daphne Muse is a writer and social commentator, who also serves as the director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills, a women’s college in Oakland, Calif.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

For more information:

Daphne Muse, a Literary and Cultural Oasis in the Diaspora:

Mills College–
“Our Week with Rosa Parks”: