Abu El-Ajab: Preserving the Land of Storytellers

“We won’t be forgotten. We’re the world’s shiver. It’s cold out there and whether you like it or not, we’re coming in.” With the anger, passion, and rightfully brutal honesty so characteristic of his poetry, Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi performed these words before a packed house at Ramallah’s Café La Vie. It was an exciting event to be a part of, especially in the context of a country which possesses a rich oral history. I’ve been catapulted into such creative spaces since being here in Palestine; into the vibrant world of its artist community. Besides this most recent poetry night, I’ve been mesmerized by the intricate and strikingly elegant flow of dabke, jammed out with local musicians on percussion, and been blown away by the photography of young Palestinians. Dance, Music, Poetry, Photography… Art. Through these diverse forms of self-expression, Palestinians continue to exemplify their prowess for storytelling; keeping their cultural landscape fertile through traditions of oral narration.

Abu ‘Ajab knows something about this. He is the oldest storyteller of his kind in Palestine. With the help of his Sunduq Al-‘Ajab (the Wonder Box), Abu ‘Ajab has been telling stories to children across Palestine for the last 16 years; recounting traditional Arab folklores about epic heroes such as Antar, Abla, and Abu Zayd Al-Hilali. He adjusts these ancient stories to appeal to kids today, hoping to pass on important life-lessons and the wisdom of their ancestors. “These stories are meant to instill the values and principals of humanity; to make them smile and learn in an entertaining way and engage them in analyzing the world around them.”

Abu ‘Ajab is a legend around these parts. Better known to his family and friends as Mr. Adil Tartir, Abu ‘Ajab is a kind, welcoming man, with a gentle smile that lights up his eyes and colors his cheeks; his face is framed by his wavy, silver, shoulder length hair and a brilliant bicycle mustache. I first met him on my way home one afternoon. “Ahlan, Ahlan, tafadali” (Welcome, welcome, come in), he said to me, guiding me into his magnificent underground fortress of storytelling. I found myself engulfed by large, exaggerated costumes, colorful masks, musical trinkets, and an interesting apparatus that looked like a puppet box, but that I had ultimately never seen before. Beaming, he told me that it was the “Sunduq Al-‘Ajab.” “Look inside!”, he invited. I leaned in and cupped my hands around the sides of my face, staring into illuminated windows. As Abu ‘Ajab turned the handles of his magic sunduq, I watched in awe as colorful, hand-made illustrations passed through, transporting me to another time and place.

Mr. Tartir has built his life’s work around invoking such reactions from audiences such as myself. For over four decades, he has been connecting the past to the present through his work in theater. He was only 18 when he and a group of friends established the theater group “Ballaleen” (Balloons) in 1967. When I asked him if the ’67 war propelled its creation, he said, “Sure, it was one of the factors. But it was also simply because of our individual talent and interest in the performing arts. And, it was also a way for us to express ourselves and share what we wanted with the world about our challenges, concerns, and dreams.”

Years later, the group created a new company in 1975 called “Sunduq Al-‘Ajab.” It was the first theater group of its kind since the 1920s and spurred a new era for theater in Palestine, especially since it was the first time actors worked solely in theater as professionals. Through its performances on a wide array of socio-political ideas, the group transformed the field. “The theater was a way for people to rebel, to resist, to express themselves and the struggle (against the Israeli occupation).” Over time the group’s members eventually moved on, but Mr. Tartir remained, continuing to enhance the field of theater in the country.

It was in 1994, through his own vision, conversations with several elders, and after a number of attempts, that Mr. Tartir – also a skilled carpenter – constructed the actual Sunduq Al-‘Ajab. His move to create this age-old storytelling device and perform especially for children stems not only from his passion for theater, but for his desire to protect the history and traditions that shape his identity as a Palestinian. “The occupation has stolen many things from us,” he told me one evening as we sipped on ginger tea. “(It stole) our food, our history, our culture. We can not let them steal our stories too. We must preserve and protect our stories, because they belong to us, to our people, to our society, who have been around for thousands of years.”

Since its formation, Israel has attempted to trample on these stories through their denial of the existence of the Palestinian people. In the June 15th, 1969 edition of the Sunday Times, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is quoted as saying, “There was no such things as Palestinians… It was not as though there was a Palestinians people in Palestine considering itself as Palestinian and we threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” Israel continues to espouse this belief; that Palestinians had no national identity prior to Israel. Not only does it continue to oppress the Palestinian population through state violence, but its robbery and systematic denial of Palestinians’ cultural landscape defines its socio-political claims to the land.

In 2001, poet Zeinab Habash wrote, “With music, we transform into butterflies/With drawing, we color life/With poetry, we embody fantasy/ With persistence, we entice the impossible.” Whether through poetry, dance, music, or theater; whether through contemporary spoken word pieces, or through theater performances dating back centuries, Palestinian artists continue to share stories which tell the world that they “will not be forgotten,” and remind their own people, “Persist Palestine. Persist.”

“The Unforgotten Land of Storytellers” was originally written for MIFTAH, the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Dialogue & Democracy.


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Inspiring Dreams in Jalazone

Several months before I arrived in Palestine, I was connected with a mutual friend who established a small NGO called “Inspire Dreams, Inc.” A nonprofit organization which uses academics, athletics, and the arts to promote social change, Inspire Dreams holds a summer/afterschool program called Camp “I Have a Dream” for Palestinian refugee youth in the West Bank. For two days before the arrival of 2010, I participated as a camp counselor in the Jalazone refugee camp, engaging youth between the ages of 6-12 in a range of different activities.

Upon entering the camp, you can’t miss the number of kids roaming around. Out of Jalazone’s 15,000 residents, 5,000 are children under the age of 18. They’re everywhere – playing football in the streets, chasing each other with sticks in a game of cops and robbers, or people watching from stone steps leading onto dirt roads. Through Inspire Dreams’ partnership with the Jalazone’s Palestinian Children’s Center, the camp’s youth found a productive and creative outlet through which to not only express their individual talents, but their most intrinsic dreams for themselves and their community.

The first day’s activities were focused on fitness, and led by instructors from Peace Players International, an organization which “uses the game of basketball to unite and educate children and their communities.” In the video below, you can catch a glimpse of the range of activities that the kids participated in:

The second day concentrated on theater and art. Camp organizers started off with a game of “Simon Says” or in this case, “Amer beheki.” Later, there was a photography workshop after which each child received a disposable camera. The center and the streets of Jalazone were soon filled with deafening screams of pure elation when the children learned the cameras were real.

Yet, in those two-days, it was the theater activity that was the most powerful. Each group was given a scenario and told to create a story, assign everyone a character, and act it out for the others. My group was given a “classroom scene” and due to my shameful, beginner-level Arabic speaking skills, it was my stellar co-counselor, Amany, who took the reins in guiding the plot. A beautiful, confident fifteen year old girl from the camp, she helped the children act out a scene that was later explained to me for its resonating significance. It was about a young girl who was good in school and passionate about pursuing further education, but who was under intense pressure from her family to get married instead. It’s a familiar scenario which is being experienced by young women across Palestinian society – as well around the world. The children’s decision to act out this scene simply from being instructed to do something about a “classroom,”  is a striking reinforcement for how unfortunately common such a societal pressure is.

It was the “checkpoint” scene that left its mark on me; the performance of which I most easily understood. It was unsettling for me to watch; young children acting out such a tragic, intense scene; and yet at the same time such a normal part of their everyday. I watched, mortified, as an older child forced a younger one to the ground with a stick, yelling at him as a young girl draped with a kuffiyeh over her head wailed. Her fellow female peers held her back, as the older boys dragged away the younger one. Yet, as I held my stomach in horror, the kids held theirs in jest. The sentiment of the room was caught in a dichotomy between my distress and the sound of children’s laughter. Perhaps, though, their response was more appropriate than my own. As disturbing as such facets of the Palestinian struggle are, they are ultimately ridiculously silly; the whole occupation is among mankind’s sickest and longest running jokes.

At the end of the camp, Amany took me and another international counselor on a brief tour of Jalazone; guiding us back to her home to meet her family. They were all ridiculously kind; their eyes and smiles big as they excitedly welcomed us in and offered us tea. Their home was humble and warm; occupied by her sisters and brothers, her sister in laws, her nephews and nieces, and her parents. After visiting her family, we went back to the children’s center to wait for the others to head back to Ramallah. We bonded and joked with the Jalazone counselors over chocolate wafers and juice – which they kept obliging us to take more of. At one point, we heard honking and cheering coming from the streets outside. I ignorantly asked if it was because of New Years. It was not. It was another kind of celebration; a welcoming-home of a young twenty-two year old man that had been incarcerated in an Israeli prison for the last three years. His supposed crime? He was walking home from work past curfew.

Volunteering with the youth of Jalazone was an incredible experience, and I hope to return again soon. Two big thumbs up to the Inspire Dreams Inc. team for their dedication, and hard work in organizing the camp. I can’t think of a better way to have spent my final days in 2009.


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An Unusual Christmas


Christmas Day was unique this year. I didn’t snuggle up and watch an old movie with the family as I would have normally done at home in Chicago, nor did I check out the action in Bethlehem as I had originally planned to before leaving the states, but instead I found myself on a bus with a group of young Palestinian activists from across the West Bank, headed for a community service project in Um Salamuna, a Palestinian village located in south Bethlehem.

Owned by an elderly Palestinian man named Nadi, the land rests within the beautiful, vast hills of Beit Fajjar, the fresh smell of zaatar emanating from the earth.  It is a land, like so many others around the country that has been under increasing threat of becoming yet another stolen territory for illegal settlement extension. “Surrounded by two Israeli settlements, Um Salamuna faces continuous harassment, as settlers move to steal more than 200 dunums of the village land to create a cemetery.”  

Of course, these settlements are illegal under international law. According to both the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, and the United Nations Security Council Resolution 452 in 1979: “… calls upon the Government and People of Israel to cease establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories since 1967, including Jerusalem.” And yet, it is not these Israeli “neighborhoods” or “communities” which suffer, but rather residents of Palestinian villages who are discriminately removed from their land.

In Um Salamuna’s case, the Israeli Supreme Court have given Nadi and his family until the end of December 2009 to clean up the land. Not allowed to own or use bulldozers or other heavy machinery or equipment, they must resort to manual labor. Daily, Israeli satellite cameras take pictures from above to see how much progress has been made.  

So every day since the decree was issued, busloads of volunteers make their way to Nadi’s land to lift heavy rocks and hack away at fussy brush, proving that the land is indeed being utilized by its rightful Palestinian owners, rallying around Um Salamuna’s resistance against becoming another statistic of Israel’s discriminatory land seizure policies.

I came home exhausted, not able to feel my legs, and days later, there was still an ache in my limbs. Yet, I’m simultaneously rejuvenated, knowing that it is the people, and the purpose of the experience that will ultimately make a stronger impression on my memory than the physical pain.

Thank you to all the volunteers, and village residents, who invited me to be a small part of such an admirable endeavor.

*Translated video interviews with landowner Nadi, and Beit Fajjar resident, Mohammad Aslam, coming soon…

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Dabke in Ramallah

Soon after arriving at my friend’s home in Ramallah, we spent hours catching up on what we had been up to since we had seen each other last, years ago. Among the many things we re-bonded over were recent artistic performances we had been involved in. I shared performances where I had dabbled as a percussionist and vocalist in an all-women’s musical ensemble in Chicago called “SoundRight.” Alternately, she led me into the world of professional dabke – sharing videos of her performance at the Ramallah Cultural Palace back in June with the dabke troupe, Wishah. It was unlike the dabke I had seen before, where Arab friends spontaneously created circles at weddings, or in the streets, schooling us non-Arabs on how it’s broken down. As an Indian, who’s watched her fair share of Bollywood films, I always found the movements in dabke fairly simple. But this was different. I watched, mesmerized, by the ultimately intricate and strikingly elegant flow of each movement, the exquisite dresses, and the obvious passion of each dancer. The next day, much to my excitement, we learned that Wishah was having its final rehearsal before heading to Egypt for a performance. It was beautiful. Each stomp, cry, jump, and clap, represented a different element of Palestinian culture, highlighting rich traditions that live beyond the history of occupation. I’m not going to lie – it was the highlight of my day. I was so excited I added my own zughrat to their soundtrack! Here’s one of the dance sets I captured on video…

From bboy crews in Chicago to dabke troups in Ramallah, a familiar story line knits its way throughout – illustrating the unifying power of music and dance in expressing the most beautiful aspects of humanity’s common culture.

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Ordinarily Extraordinary: Rafi Peterson Transcends Labels & Builds a Legacy

Rafi infront of the transition house 

When I first began working with IMAN, I would always hear about the legendary Rafi Peterson. I would talk to people around the office, and in the community about their different experiences living on Chicago’s south side, but I was always told, “You should hear Rafi’s story.”

 Rafi’s a big man, with a deep, resounding laugh, honest eyes, and an endearing smile, but he also possesses a certain kind of intensity that implies that he’s no joke. One day, after a colleague insisted that I approach Rafi for a one-on-one, reassuring me that he didn’t bite, I finally got the opportunity I had been waiting for. Sitting in the living room of Project Restore‘s Transition House, Rafi led me into the parallel worlds of prison, the projects, and what it means to be a black man in America.

 This is his story.


Growing up in the Urban Serengeti

Growing up in Chicago’s projects of Argyle Gardens – Rafi learned the game of the “Urban Serengeti” from a young age. Joining his first crew at the age of fourteen – which called itself the “AG mob” – he hustled in the drug trade to make ends meet. After being shot when he was sixteen, and having a recurring nightmare about his enemies uniting against him, Rafi decided to escape the hood by joining the military right after high school. Following his discharge from the army, Rafi went back to a life of dealing, leading a crew in his neighborhood.

After a relationship with a dealer went sour and his family’s life was threatened, Rafi was incarcerated in a state prison for twelve and a half years for murder. Upon entering, Rafi realized that the “system was just as corrupt in (prison) as it was outside (in the projects).” In the 80s and 90s, street gangs in the city were reinvented – “making the drug and banging scene at the top of its game, and Chicago the murder capital of the world.” During this time, street organizations ran the institutions. “When you came into the institutions it was gang leaders representing ‘folks’ and one representing ‘people’ sitting with the correctional officer assigning you to housing.”  Because Rafi was not part of an organization, he was assigned as a ‘neutron’ and put in the kitchen.

Big Muhammad

 While working in the kitchen one day, three vice lords (or street organizations) sent representatives to put Rafi “on count”; a way to indoctrinate other inmates into their gangs by forcing them to pay protection. Rafi refused, resisted, and showed them, “kill me or take something if you can.” Holding his own, the vice lords eventually backed off of him; but the fight got the attention of others in the jailhouse, including a certain “Big Mohammad.”

Big Muhammad was a “Big, huge brother, with a beautiful, beautiful smile, who wore eight long braids, and had a sentence of 2700 years.” Intrigued by Rafi’s fearless character, Big Muhammad “sent some brothers to holler” at him. Knowing that the vice lords would come after Rafi again, Big Muhammad had Rafi moved to his cell, taking him under his wing, and teaching him about Islam – lessons which changed his life forever.

Embracing Islam has deeply impacted Rafi’s life, and has guided him in every aspect of his work. Today, Rafi claims, “If I was not Muslim, I would not be breathing air today.”

Giving Back- Project Restore

In 1998, a year after his release, Rafi met Rami Nashashibi, the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). Together, they coordinated a “taleem service” in Cook County Jail’s Division 11, giving religious classes to brothers in prison. Through these encounters, they soon realized that such rehabilitation efforts went well beyond that of the prisons; that it was critical for ex-offenders to have a positive support system welcoming them back home to society once they were released, in order to keep them from going back to “the life.”

From these conversations, Rafi and others at IMAN developed Project Restore. Two years later, in 2007, the Transitional House was introduced, which houses “formerly incarcerated Muslim men who are focusing on community service, counseling and job training.” These brothers play a significant role in the community through their work with CeaseFire, doing vital violence prevention work with youth and street organizations in the hood.

A few years ago, Rafi was chosen as one of only six people across the nation to participate in the Muslim Integration Program under the State Department’s Institute for Training and Development (ITD). Interested in Rafi’s work with young gang members, the Institute invited him to hold workshops on youth empowerment in the Netherlands; a country in which the fastest growing groups going to prison are young, Moroccan and Turkish males who Rafi describes, “happen to look like me.”

His Biggest Accomplishment

Working his way up from the projects and prison to getting two bachelor’s degrees, and becoming a critical leader in community empowerment initiatives on the Southside of Chicago and even abroad, Rafi is an incredible reservoir of willpower and experiences. When asked what his biggest accomplishment was, he proudly said, “My daughter.” Rafi’s daughter grew up visiting him in maximum security prisons, learning to braid hair by braiding Big Muhammad’s locks, and was often taunted by her girlfriends about “her daddy being in prison.” Today, she is a successful high school teacher, married, with a beautiful son.

Rafi’s proudest moment was being asked by his daughter to lead a violence prevention workshop at her school. At the end of the workshop, Rafi revealed to the students that he was their teacher’s father, much to their surprise. “For her to be able to have me come to her place of work, and not hold her head down in shame – that was a great accomplishment. That was one of the most joyous and prideful days of my life.”


Today, Rafi serves as an IMAN board member and continues his work in reducing violence in Chicago Lawn. In early April 2008, Rafi was recognized as a Community Hero by LISC’S New Communities Program and next month, he will be honored with the “Excellence in Community Leadership” award by Holy Cross Hospital, where he does violence prevention work with CeaseFire.

He will also be beginning his master’s program this fall.

Transcending labels and building a legacy, Rafi is an unstoppable force – a dynamic, inspirational leader whose life serves as a moving reminder about the power of the human spirit, and one’s faith.

In Rafi’s Words:

 Lessons on the Urban Serengeti & the State

“The strong will always control the weak, but the wise will control the strong. So I learned over the years to become wise as well as strong. Out there is a food chain, it’s the Urban Serengeti. And the higher up on the ladder you are (on the street life), the better you can eat.” 

 “In the African American community you cannot tell if the prison is an extension of the community or the community is an extension of the prison.”

“They (the state) always allows a certain amount of dope to enter these institutions; that’s how they maintain control – to keep the inmates out each other. How do you keep rats from gnawin’ outta’ a basket? You keep the basket shakin’ and the rats turn on each other.”


“Allah is the best of planners. If I hadn’t went through what I went through yesterday, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

“I was once a convict. I’m not proud of it, but that’s a reality for me. But I have went and gone beyond that, and I have gone beyond that by the graces of Allah, my Lord, and I know I have been blessed.”

Rafi’s Soundtrack.


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Ordinarily Extraordinary: Alejandra Rolon-Campise Bridges Borders

ale interview pic

I am constantly meeting fascinating individuals – people whose struggles and triumphs divulge a whole universe of inspiration. It was on my way to work one day – right there in the middle of the 94 California bus – that I had my eureka moment. I decided I was going to interview inspiring, “everyday” individuals; by sharing their stories, I would weave a human narrative whose common theme would be to propel us to engage the personal power within each of us to create change.

Among the first of these people is a good friend of mine, Alejandra Rolon-Campise. I first met Alejandra my freshman year of college in our Model UN class. The fact that English was not her first language, and that she was the eldest in a class full of 19 to 20-somethings did not seem to perturb her. Rather, she jumped right into our class discussions, filling the room with her knowledge, good humor, and love for learning.  

With her two young daughters in tow, Alejandra left her home in Mexico to be with the man she loved in the United States. It was here, she was forced to “reinvent” herself – taking ESL classes, getting her GED, and despite the hurdles of studying in a different language, she graduated in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in International Business from Benedictine University. That same year, she attained US citizenship, and was also accepted into UIC’s NEW Illinois Leadership Program, which seeks to promote women’s representation in the government.

Next up,  Ale plans to get her master’s in public policy and international relations with the hope of working for global women’s empowerment initiatives.

Tune in to Alejandra’s interview and see what this “ordinarily extraordinary” woman is all about:

Music: “Mojado” by Ricardo Arjona

In Ale’s words:

On Women’s Education –

“I really, truly believe that if girls get educated, if they have access to knowledge, they will be empowered by themselves because they will find the strength inside of them, and then we can all change the world and change our country. I do believe women are the hope of this world, to become a better place in all countries of the world.”

On Immigration Reform –

“This nation is made for immigrants. And I think if you think about it, all the world is made of immigrants. That’s how humanity developed – we moved from one place to the other, to the other, to the other, and then we all ended up in so many places and we populated the world. So I don’t understand why this has been such a big issue in this country.”


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Book Review: Rebiya Kadeer’s “Dragon Fighter” Unravels a Legend

dragon fighter book cover

I just finished reading Rebiya Kadeer’s autobiography. WOW. The title, “Dragon Fighter,” is more than appropriate. Rebiya Kadeer’s life story is the stuff of legends. Adventure, romance, horror, even moments of comic relief, encapsulate this epic about one woman’s “call for a nonviolent resolution that would allow Uyghurs to find peace with China.” I’m besieged with emotion: engulfed by rage and resolve; finding myself within the trenches of an overwhelming sense of empowerment. I closed the book after I was done and sat in awe for a good twenty minutes, trying to absorb the trip that I had just been on through those 390 pages.

I decided to pick up Kadeer’s autobiography after listening to an NPR segment about her story. What most struck me was not only her amazing human rights work, but that she was the mother of eleven children. That’s right – ELEVEN. Those feats combined told me I had to find out what this “Mother of the Uyghurs” was all about.

And find out I did. Quite frankly, she’s ridiculous; a powerhouse of a woman whose smarts, drive, patience, persistence, courage, compassion, and nearly prophetic faith have guided her in the numerous challenges she’s faced. She worked her way up tirelessly from the position of refugee child to being the wealthiest woman in China, the seventh wealthiest person in all of China and the Autonomous Regions, and a high official in China’s National People’s Congress – all with the dream of freeing the Uyghurs from the noose of socio-political oppression under the communist domination of The People’s Republic of China.

Despite the bruises after each adversity, she trudged forward, not waiting to allow even others to convince her to stop and lick her wounds. She endured public humiliation by Mao Zedong’s Red Guards; relocation and the poverty that comes with it; an abusive first marriage; childbirth; the added pressures and prejudices of being a woman; the loss of her business endeavors to government corruption several times; the insanity that is Chinese prisons; and an assassination attempt (just to name a few). After each page, I kept thinking, “Good God – who is this woman??”

I’ve found myself gushing about her relentlessly these days, excitedly retelling tidbits of her life I’ve learned. One of my favorites is the story of her birth:

“In Uyghur tradition, no sunshine is allowed to fall on the bloody linens involved in childbirth. For this reason, my father took the sheets and dug a hole near the rock-face behind our tent. He flung one spade of dirt after another into the air. Suddenly he stopped.

‘Gold!’ He shouted until he was hoarse. ‘I found gold!’

After he paid his workers their share of the find, he still had enough gold to build a whole new life for our family… From that moment forward, my parents saw my life as a gift to others: ‘You don’t belong to us, you belong to the people.’ What that meant for me I would find out only much later.” (Dragon Fighter, 11)

Her courage is envious – which she exhibits not only in her business and political ventures, but in her personal life as well. I couldn’t help but smile widely in disbelief as she told the story of how she approached her second husband, Sidik, who she often refers to as her “beloved.” Falling for him simply by hearing about his counter-revolutionary struggles, she traveled to his home-city to seek him out, and unabashedly told him:

“What I really want to say is that I’m twenty-nine-years old. Of the ten qualities that my future husband should hold, you meet nine of them. There is only one that’s still unknown. Do you think you can love me?… I don’t have less to offer than other women. I need someone who loves me and who also needs my love. It’s true that I’ve already given birth to six children and already been married once. However, my love is like that of an untouched maiden. I’ve been in love with you from the first moment I saw you.” (Dragon Fighter, 135).

The bond she shares with Sidik is a near-mythical rarity, incomprehensible either by modern-day standards or even Uyghur tradition. Despite being separated for months at a time due to her business responsibilities (and later, years, when she was incarcerated), Sidik’s support of his wife is an inspiring tale within itself (take note gentlemen). She later says of him, “Sidik is such a noble man. In our two hearts, a strong love was to be our shared destiny. To this very day, it is inconceivable for me to be separated from him. I am sure that I would not have survived this struggle without him.”

Kadeer’s experience in Chinese prisons, I cannot even begin to delve into. You will have to read it for yourself. But I will share a few lines of a poem she inscribed into the walls of one of her cells:

“You should not underestimate yourself

In hell

One day the fire will go out,

Do not think that you will be here forever.”

To have vicariously experienced the awesomeness that is this woman through her words has, quite possibly, changed my life; altering my perception of potential obstacles to the limitless possibilities, and how I face them. Her autobiography is a guidebook of sorts, reminding us that “if one wants to achieve great things, one has to overcome resistance and take a leap of faith into the unknown.”

This book is a must-read for everyone. It is simultaneously an eye-opening tell-all about the oppression of a widely unknown ethnic minority in China, as well as a profound source of self-reflection. I would highly recommend it to women, but believe it’s an equally important read for men; for anyone that believes in something, for anyone who has dreams, for anyone who thinks she can’t. I’ve learned many things from Kadeer’s life-story, but perhaps the most important is the one she takes from her father’s fable about the little ant in the wilderness: “We each have the power to unlock the secrets of the world, as long as we have the courage and self-confidence.”


Some current human rights and freedoms issues facing the Uyghur people today:

1. No freedom and self-determination/ either per the Chinese constitution or international law.
2. Severe religious and cultural repression.
3. Uyghur language suppressed in the region’s schools and children are taught only Chinese.
4. Forced abortion and family planning practices forced upon the people by the Chinese in grave violation to the Muslim religion’s idea that human life begins at the point of conception.
5. Forced land confiscation of Uyghur owned farms given to Chinese settlers in the region.
6. Forced transfer of the young Uyghur female population to work in China’s coastal factories.
7. Mass arrests of Uyghur people who peacefully seek human rights on fake trumped-up “terrorist” charges.
8. Massive ecological degradation of the region’s natural resources by the Chinese authorities.
9. Large scale above and below ground nuclear testing near Uyghur populated areas resulting in the deaths of many thousands and radioactive contamination and sickness of thousands more.
10. Chinese convicts are settled in the East Turkistan region bringing crime to a Muslim region that traditionally had almost no crime.
11. Prostitution and various other social maladies imported into the region by the Chinese authorities.
12. The torture and severe abuse of Uyghur nationals who become imprisoned by the Chinese for “political crimes”.
13. Large scale population transfer of Han Chinese into the region.
14. Uyghur people are not allowed to travel internationally and are not issued passports.
15. All political and economic power now held by the colonial Chinese authorities and Han Chinese and not by the indigenous people of the region.

You can find more information at: http://www.uyghuramerican.org/

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