Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Thankgiving, Afghan Style

There's this Afghan supermarket that makes Thanksgiving turkeys with Afghan and Middle Eastern  spices. 

It's delicious. Dozens of people order it in advance.

Here's a piece about it, and the folks behind it. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Zena, from Oakland, is a singer songwriter, visual artist, storyteller –  and one of the few women masters of the kora – a West African harp – taught directly by Malian kora master, Toumani Diabate. She blends West African music with American Delta Blues and Appalachian tunes, to create what she calls "Afrofolk."
Loved meeting her!


Sudanese American parents look at Ahmed Mohamed and think of their own kids

The now famous Sudanese American Texan, Ahmed Mohamed, captured the attention of the world when he was arrested for bringing a clock to school.

Now that the hubbub has died down, there's a group of people left thinking. For some parents here in the US, it was a reminder of how their own children may be treated as they grow up in America as Black Muslim girls and boys.

Reported for PRI's The World.

(PS- the three men in this story have a last name of Elhassan.
No, they are not related. It's a common Sudanese name.)

In Egypt, a soccer team owner's racist comment leads to online protests

El Ashira Masaa is a popular daily Egyptian call-in show on satellite TV that has viewers around the world. On July 3,2015, many of them were shocked to hear Mortada Mansour, head of the Zamalek soccer club, calling in a slamming the show host for having soccer player Ahmed Elmerghani on as one of his guests.

That's when things got ugly.

Reported this for PRI's The World.

The Sushi Mosque

In Oakland, there's a towering turn-of-the-century building near Lake Merritt.
It used to be a Masonic Home, but today it's the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California- a place where Muslims from all sects (Sunni, Shia, Sufi) come to meet, learn, and engage with one another.

We called it the Sushi Mosque because it's where Sunni and Shia Muslims (often in the headlines for fighting) find common ground. Sunni+Shia = Sushi!

It's a thing, really.

What also makes this place special is its focus on arts- music, theatre, painting, ceramics, open mic nights. In the words of one founder 'beauty is missing from the current conversations about Islam"

Really enjoyed being in this unique space.

Profiled it for KALW, and NPR. Here's the short NPR version:

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nubian Americans Revive Songs of Return

                    - Credit: Mosno Elmoseeki

The area of Northern Sudan and Southern Egypt is the land of the Nubians – an ancient people that go as far back as the 8th century BC Kingdom of Kush. They built a flourishing civilization along the Nile.

With the 1970 building of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt came the flooding of the Nubian villages to the north and south, and an exodus of refugees poured into both countries.

Today, many of the sons, daughters and grandchildren of that displaced generation form a diaspora scattered around the world. And some have continued to tell their story through poetry, song and music in a Nubian arts revival of sorts right here in the United States.

(In the photo above is one of these artists, Mosno Elmoseeki, out of Baltimore. )

Pasgianos. Nuff said.

Just mention Pasgianos (pronounced biz-ya-NOSE) to any Sudanese and they will know what you're talking about. That is, if they don't starting drooling first, or get a sudden bout of nostalgia.

Pasgianos is hands down my favorite soda pop on earth.

And it's only available in Sudan.

I'll let this story tell you more about it.

Isfahan Blues - American Jazz meets 1960's Iran

In 1963, Duke Ellington made a famous tour and on that stop was Iran. He played jazz clubs in Tehran and Isfahan, and later produced his album Isfahan Blues.

At that same time, Vida Ghahremani, was living in Tehran. She was a film star there, and decided to open the country's first dance club. Jazz was big in Iran then. Vida Ghahremani is now in California. Her daughter Torange Yaghiazarian is a playwright and executive director of Golden Thread Theatre in San Francisco.

Movie star mom and playwright daughter teamed up to tell this story about the jazz scene in 1960's Iran.

Meklit Hadero rocks the Nile Project

Okay, I must admit, I am always excited to interview a fellow African. But a fellow EAST AFRICAN WOMAN? That's a special treat. Especially when it's the multi talented musician, vocalist, and ethnomusicologist Meklit Hadero.

Ethiopian-American Meklit is the mama of The Nile Project- a project that brings musicians from the Nile River valley to play together, learn from each other, and then open up the conversation to East African relations. Central to this engagement is water- how it's used, how it should be used.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

California Smokin'

If you know me, you know I LOVE cultural traditions and folk practices. It's only fitting that I did a story about Dukhan- the signature beauty ritual of married Sudanese women.

This is a story I really had a blast with - although it was tricky. Privacy was an issue, so some names were changed. Some women were too shy to be interviewed. Which made it all the more exciting.

So, what is dukhan? It’s like a sauna, but with smoke. 
At least every week, Sudanese wives shed their clothes, wrap themselves in blankets, and sit over pits of burning aromatic woods in the privacy of their yards. So, when they move to the US, do they still do it, or is that a tradition that is left behind? I visited Sudanese women here in the Bay Area to find out.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Coptic in California

This is St. Antonius Coptic Church, established by Egyptian immigrants in 1976, in Hayward, California. 
I went there one Sunday morning to observe their prayer service. 
The congregation starts in English, then switches to Arabic, their spoken language back home in Egypt. 
Then comes another switch — to Coptic, the language spoken by Egyptians until the 7th century. It evolved from Greek and Demotic, which goes back to 2000 BC, with roots in the hieroglyphic Egyptian language of the Pharaonic era.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Interview with President Carter

President Jimmy Carter was in San Francisco on a tour to talk about his latest book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power" - topics of high interest to me as an Arabic speaking African, American, and Muslim woman.

One of the most interesting points he makes in his book is that religions (and he refreshingly doesn't only focus on Islam as a 'go-to' example) are not inherently misogynistic; it's the men who misinterpret and manipulate religious texts who cause much of the oppression and degradation that happens to women around the world.

He has chapters on girl infanticide in Asia, female genital cutting in Africa, but equally: abuse of women in the US - military harassment, rape on college campuses, and the trafficking of girls in America.

Lots to talk about. I had 30 minutes with him. Here's how they went, in this interview for KALW's Crosscurrents.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sudanese women moving to shed pounds as ideal body image changes

This is a billboard from Khartoum, Sudan advertising a weight loss center and gym. There are more and more of them popping up around the city, in a country and society which traditionally valued a woman's plumpness.

Welcome to a changed Khartoum. At least in terms of what women want to look like, and how much they want to weigh. 

Thin is in, and that's a complete departure from tradition.

So, what happened and why are Sudanese women changing?

Listen here, in a report for PRI's The World, which was also broadcast on BBC.

Samina's story

I'm part of the International Museum of Women's exhibit "Muslima: Muslim Women's Arts and Voices", an online extravaganza of some of the most creative Muslim women in the world. (Here's my page on the exhibit site.)

The curator of the exhibit is Samina Ali - San Francisco - based author, writer, HuffPost blogger on Muslim women's issues, and a woman with an INCREDIBLE personal story.

A story that needed to be heard. On the radio. Enter: me. I pitched it to one of my favorite radio storytelling programs, Snap Judgment.

Samina's story begins when she is married, gets pregnant, and starts to feel something is wrong.

Listen here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Having Dinner in the Dark

The weekend is a time for relaxing or maybe going to dinner and a show with friends. One typical scenario is you meet up with them, get dinner. Now, imagine you walk into a restaurant and it’s dark. Pitch dark. It’s not a power outage; this is darkness by design.

Welcome to Blind Café.

The brainchild of Brian Rosheleau, who goes by just “Rosh”, Blind Café is a pop up dinner, with a live concert – and for dessert, a discussion about what it’s like to live without sight. All the while, the lights are off, the wait staff is blind, and the food is delicious… if you can find it in the dark.

I went to try it out.

Didn't expect my reaction to be like it was.

Listen here:.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When It Comes To Falafel, The Flavors Of Home Can Vary

In 2012, I got the chance to feature my own mother on a story for NPR. I feel this is significant because it may be one of very few instances when a Sudanese woman's photo is on major media without being involved with war or poverty stories.

So, here it is.

Falafel — those crispy, filling fried balls of mashed beans, herbs and spices — is found in cafes and homes all over the Middle East and parts of Africa. It's like a common language shared among sometimes fractious nations.

But until recently, I always thought falafel was made one way — garbanzo beans, onion, garlic, parsley, cilantro and cumin. (That's how my Sudanese mother taught me.) But it turns out there are many recipes out there, each with a flavor distinct to its region.

So I set out to investigate in my backyard — going on a Falafel shop hop around the Bay area, in California.

Listen to the story on NPR here.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Reviving America's first slave autobiography

William Grimes was not only a slave, but the probable author of the first unedited, autobiographical slave narrative in American history- The Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, in 1855.
In his book, Grimes details life as a slave in great detail, as well as his escape and life after slavery, and commentary on the contradictions he saw between the institution of slavery and American ideals like liberty and equality for all. 

Two hundred years later, his descendent Regina Mason revives his narrative in an annotated book, and upcoming film.

- Listen to this interview on KALW here.

Thanks to KALW’s David LaTulippe, who read passages from the book in the above story

Friday, June 10, 2011

Parents and teachers keep art alive in school

Scores of schools county-wide and state-wide have had to cut art classes due to funding restrictions. And what do you do when times are tough? You get creative! That's exactly what the parents and teachers at my child's school in Union City, California are doing. 
The children may not have a structured art class, but they are immersed in the world of artistic expression through a parent-sponsored program called Art Vistas. Here is their story.
Broadcast on Crosscurrents, KALW News. Listen here.
And while you listen, check out this photo slideshow of the art.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Cooking up a solution to violence- from Berkeley to Darfur

Every day, women in Darfur, Sudan walk miles to gather firewood for cooking, often risking being kidnapped or raped by bandits along the way. So, the engineers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab invented a new kind of wood-burning stove that uses much less wood than regular three-stone fires which the women cook on. This stove would not only make their lives easier, it could possibly save many lives.
I visited the office of the The Darfur Stoves Project in Berkeley and spoke with executive director Andrée Sosler, who was recently in Darfur, and Kayje Booker, one of the engineers who worked on the project. I asked Adrée how the women in the refugee camps reacted when they first saw the stove.
Broadcast on Crosscurrents, KALW News. Listen here

Photographer James Lee captures daily Afghan life

Yes, that's a photo of a goat's head being cooked. 
James Lee spent three years stationed in Iraq, as a U.S. Marine. After his time there, Lee went to Afghanistan, but not in uniform.
He retired to become a photographer because he says he wanted to tell the stories of the Afghan people, stories of a culture and a country that he found fascinating. While many photojournalists focus their cameras on the international troops, Lee turns his towards the people and their daily lives, he says, to understand them.
His images were on display at San Francisco City Hall, as part of an exhibit called “Afghanistan in Four Frames."
Broadcast on Crosscurrents, KALW News. Listen here.