Tales of Yemen: Politics over Tea and Cookies

Globe - Politics over Tea and Cookies - kimberlymitchell.usIf you want to make Americans uncomfortable, mention politics or religion and watch the room fidget. You only have to look at the current presidential race to feel the awkwardness of American politics and see the deep divides it creates. And religion? That’s a topic better left to another blog post.

When I moved to Yemen, I quickly learned that these two subjects, nearly taboo in polite American conversations, are the same topics most often broached in first conversations in the Middle East. In fact, not discussing religion or politics with a guest in your home might be considered rude.

I wasn’t prepared to offer deep thoughts on American intervention (or interference) in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, or support or defend then President Bush’s war on terror, but these questions were the ones most often posed after the chai ahmar (red tea) and cookies had been consumed during afternoon visits with neighbors and friends.

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I’d been in Aden for roughly four months when Saddam Hussein was captured, sentenced and hanged. I vividly remember the afternoon I learned of his capture.

My fellow teacher, Vlad, dashed into the teacher’s room and breathlessly told me, “They got him.” I looked up from a grammar book I was perusing. “Who?” I asked. It was a steamy, Aden afternoon and I was battling a desire to nap. “Saddam Hussein,” Vlad gasped. I dropped the book.

We ran to the computer lab to pull up any information we could find. (Pre-Twitter days, but the internet still had plenty to report). Needless to say, my students were full of questions and opinions that night. They wanted to know if I thought Hussein deserved death, and whether George Bush hadn’t committed the same sorts of crimes in waging war against Iraq. Ironically, I had a student in class named Saddam Hussein (I’m not making that up), who took a lot of teasing that night, too. Eventually, he changed his name.

These were tough questions, and I didn’t feel completely comfortable discussing them, but I tried to push through my American upbringing and join in the debate. It’s not that my students didn’t agree that Hussein had been a brutal dictator, but they were uncomfortable with the idea that the U.S. could roll into any country, conduct a war, and drag that leader out of a hole in the ground for public trial. To be sure, they had cause to worry. The U.S. was (and still is) carrying out drone strikes against suspected Al-Qaida militants in a region east of Aden. Saudi Arabia and Yemen - Politics over Tea and Cookies - kimberlymitchell.us

Occasionally we’d hear the military jets leaving Aden on flights to observe that desert area and, I suspect, feed information to their U.S. partners. Perhaps their uncertainty also stemmed from the fact that their behemoth neighbor to the north, Saudi Arabia, is also a U.S. ally. There is little love between Yemenis and their northern neighbors, for too many reasons to cover in this post. It came as no surprise to me when the Arab Spring in Yemen resulted in a civil war partially influenced by Saudi Arabia and other outsiders. My students’ fears we spoke of on that long ago day are, in many ways, coming true.

Though I found the political questions challenging, I had to admire the openness with which my hosts asked these questions. They honestly wanted to know my thoughts as an American. I should also say, I never felt condemned by them, even when we disagreed or debated. They agreed that leaders can be separated from those they lead. In fact, the phrase, “Bush no good, but you, we like,” was a pretty common utterance. Evidence to the fact that meeting someone face to face and having an open dialogue is a far cry from the politically slanted, hate or fear fueled news we ingest every night.

I often wished (and still do) that every American could have the same experience I did and sit down to discuss politics with my Yemeni neighbors over a steaming glass of tea and chocolate filled cookies.

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Wouldn’t the world be a different place if we could?

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Valentine’s Day Giveaway Winners!

Valentine's Day Giveaway - Hello February - kimberlymitchell.usWow, what a great Valentine’s Day Giveaway response. Thanks to everyone for your comments on the blog. February is a much loved month! Now, to the winners!

Leigh B. is the winner of the Blog Post giveaway.

Jaime M. is the winner of the #vdayhunt giveaway on Twitter/Instagram.

Thanks again for participating and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Don’t forget to try #asweetpairing of Ghirardelli chocolate and Josh Cellars wine this weekend, or any day!

Ghirardelli - Hello February - kimberlymitchell.us@JoshCellars - Hello February - kimberlymitchell.us

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February IS Heart Month!

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February is all about love. Red hearts are everywhere, but the month isn’t just for paper hearts. It’s also the American Heart Association’s American Heart Month. That’s why #NWArkCares, a group of local bloggers here in Northwest Arkansas, is focusing on actual hearts this month.

Did you know heart disease is the LEADING cause of death for both MEN and WOMEN?

  • Heart disease and stroke accounted for one out of every three deaths in Arkansas in 2007.
  • Both the coronary heart disease mortality rate and the stroke mortality rate in Arkansas were higher than the national average, and Arkansas had the highest stroke mortality rate in any state in 2007 (Arkansas Dept. of Health Cardiovascular Health State Plan).
  • In September of 2015, new data revealed Arkansas is now the most obese state in the nation with 35.9 percent of the adult population scoring 35% or higher on the Body Mass Index Chart. A healthy adult will generally score between 20-25% on the BMI scale.

All of these indicators should set off alarm bells. A heavier population leads to greater risk for heart disease and we are seeing the results of that in Arkansas.

heart-care-February IS Heart Month - kimberlymitchell.us

That’s the bad news. Now, what can we do about it?

That’s what American Heart month is all about. Here’s some great ways to get involved locally to raise awareness for healthy hearts and lives.

  • February 5th – National Wear RED Day – Break out your Valentine’s Day shirt a little early. Post a picture on social media showing your support for heart health. #nwarkcares #GoRedWearRed
  • February 16th – Go Red For Women Luncheon at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers, Arkansas. Be inspired to get heart healthy and motivate others to make changes in their lives and communities. Register at American Heart Association of Northwest Arkansas.
  • April 16th – Participate in the NWA Heart Walk and 5K Fun Run at Arvest Ball Park. Join others in giving your heart a work out and raise money for heart health awareness. Register here.
  • May 16th- Attend the NWA Heart Ball, a black tie affair centered on building healthier lives. NWA Heart Ball information.

Events are great, but here’s some ideas you can use in your home and everyday life.

  • Get certified in CPR. There are many opportunities locally to obtain certification. Find a course near you at cpr.heart.org.
  • Learn the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and stroke in both men and women.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Signs of a Heart Attack in Women

Am I Having a Stroke?

Remember, if you’re not sure if it’s a heart attack or stroke, it’s better to be cautious and seek medical attention immediately. Minutes matter!

  • Become an advocate for healthy living, whether in your family or in your community. Find ways to include exercise in your days. Begin to plan meals around foods that will create good health instead of increasing your risk for heart disease.

The American Heart Association has a great website devoted to healthy living. It includes ideas for families to exercise together, healthy eating, weight and stress management and other helpful tools. Check it out and make a commitment today to a healthier heart!

Healthy hearts - February IS Heart month - kimberlymitchell.us




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