Step Two: The Lawsuit

This week, the ACLU of Michigan filed a lawsuit on my behalf to hold the parties responsible for arresting and detaining me on 9/11/11 for “suspicious behavior” on a flight from Denver to Detroit.

That “suspicious behavior” seems to mean having an Arabic last name and sitting next to two men of South Asian descent. Nothing more. You can read about the experience I had in a previous blog post.

The ACLU, working in tandem with lawyers from the national ACLU office and private attorneys from two firms, have made the claims through the lawsuit that my constitutional rights were violated and I was racially profiled. You find a summary of the claim at the ACLU’s website.

Here’s an excerpt:

Through public records, the ACLU discovered that Hebshi was removed from the flight because she was seated next to the men and because of her ethnic name. A small number of passengers noticed the two men go to the bathroom in succession and complained to the flight crew. The two men were cleared of any wrongdoing and were also released from custody later that evening.

The complaint cites a number of violations, including unreasonable search and seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, and discrimination prohibited by the federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit was filed against Frontier Airlines as well as officials with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Wayne County Airport Authority, Detroit Metro Airport Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

We held a press conference in Detroit on Tuesday announcing the case and explaining the reasons for taking action. I made a statement, which you can read in full on the ACLU’s blog here.

Here’s an excerpt:

This, certainly, was a difficult day for me, but I also recognize that many others have experienced similar horrors because of racial profiling. Through this lawsuit, I hope to reclaim the dignity that is taken from us when racial profiling trumps the American values of fairness and equality.

I appreciate the tremendous support I have received from friends, family and strangers who feel as outraged as I am that this happened. And I hope that through this lawsuit not only will public awareness grow of this issue, but some changes will be implemented into the system so innocent people are not targeted as criminals.

Here are some of the media reports since Tuesday’s press conference:



Too good not to share

Too good not to share

Got this from a friend on Facebook. Happy MLK Day + Inauguration Day, and a day to reflect on how far we’ve come, yet how far we still need to go.

Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

The New Normal

Life in Ohio is returning normal, though what is normal is still being defined.

The kids are in school, I am not working at an 8-5 job, my husband is on the crazy roller coaster that is residency, and I am figuring out what this new normal is for me.

Having time to think, to write, to be good to myself: this has not been normal, but I like it.

Networking online and offline, meeting people, having flexibility and time to enjoy those around me.

Volunteering at my boys’ school and looking for more opportunities in the community.

Holding up the fort at home and feeling happy to do it.

These are the things that are making me happy. After what happened to me on 9/11 in Detroit, I am also paying more attention to others who are being targeted and experiencing humiliating detainments or removals from flights in San Diego, in Indianapolis in New York and elsewhere around the country.

I’m paying attention to Occupy Wall Street and participating where I can. This movement is gaining wings because it is resonating with those of us who are tired of the status quo, of feeling like we don’t matter in Washington, in statehouses and in corporate boardrooms.

I’m continuing to work with the ACLU in Detroit, and progress is being made there but I have nothing new to report as of yet.

As for settling in to our new life in Ohio, I’d say it’s a work in progress.

Puritanical, indeed!

As I mentioned in a previous post, moving to the Midwest has made me more aware of the religiosity of Iowans. While religion has always been an interesting topic for me–I am a product of mixed religions–living in Iowa has alerted me to the depth to which Americans hold their faith.

The majority of those we have met here use religion as a compass. It is their community, their network, their foundation. To me, this is a revelation. In fact, I have been marvelling at the incredibly large amount of blog traffic I have received from my post related to praying before a triathlon.

So when I come across an Iowan who has as cynical a view on religion as me, I chuckle. And I cling. And I feel more at home.

I came across this blog post, by a University of Iowa professor, who aims to dispel the reality of the omnipresent devil. Here’s an excerpt:

The Puritan ghost believes that the devil is part of the “elect or non-elect” spiritual delivery system. And if you think you can’t argue with that, you’re right. In fact the only way you can win an argument with Puritans is by kicking them out of your country as the British did. And how thankful the Brits continue to feel about their ancestor’s wisdom each and every day.

I Figure It’s About Time

A month or so hiatus can be restful. Or so they say.

I say, blogging is restful. A chance to clear the cobwebs and the air, and whatever flurry of ideas are running rampant in my brain. But, I have to admit, that since I started working full time, I have been cleared out of ideas. Not so much ideas, actually, but drive.

So this is something I don’t understand about writers. Real writers. Writers who are disciplined and published and continue cranking things out prolifically. How do they keep motivated. I seem to be motivated by guilt. And a sense of a ticking clock.

Last week the Iowa Poet Laureate Mary Swander gave a talk at my workplace. One of the audience members asked her about her process, meaning how does she produce her work. What happens when she sits down to write?

Swander, being a witty off-the-cuff speaker, said she doesn’t have any obsessive compulsive traits or routines she does before she begins writing, like sharpening her pencil on a manual sharpener 18 times. She just squeezes it in.

I often imagine myself locked away in some remote cabin for a month or two to crank out an idea I have for a story or novel or essay or something. Just to get it out. Isolation. But I’m sure I’d get distracted and find some way to procrastinate and not get it done. Does this make me not a serious writer. I’d say so. But who knows?

If someone were to take a poll of writers to talk about what motivates them to sit down and write, I wonder what would be the consensus?

I have a pile of ideas I’d like to churn out. But who, really, has the time? Might as well let them fester.

Revisiting the Ole Health Care Conundrum

When Obama addresses the nation tomorrow night I hope he comes at them in full force without compromise.

We, I hope this isn’t the royal “we,” don’t want to see him crash and burn, ala Hillary Clinton circa 1991,  or fail to see a golden opportunity right in front of him, like Sen. Ted Kennedy.

When expressing the need for real health care reform to skeptics (of which I know few it seems), I like to tell the story about how when my twin boys were born 9 weeks early and had to spend that time getting “well” and growing in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the bill when we checked out of the hospital was $1.5 million. We paid $5 for each child, took them home and never faced a doctor bill from that long, intense stay.

We were the lucky ones. Had we not had a stellar insurance plan through my work we would probably have had to sell all our possessions, move in with a parent, take out a major loan and hope that we would win the Lottery.

When a child is sick and needs care, they should not be denied. On the flip side, if a child is sick and is not denied care, they or their parents should not wind up buried alive in debt.

We are slaves to a system that bleeds us dry. We live unhealthy lives that make us prone to sedentary diseases, like diabetes and heart failure. Yet, we don’t want to go to the doctor because he or she may tell us to lose weight or stop smoking, and that is uncomfortable. So we wait until the situation becomes dire, and we end up in the emergency room—a more expensive and traumatic situation.

Affordable, accessible, quality health care should not be a luxury for the wealthy. Like in most other countries, it is considered a basic human need, like food, clothing and shelter. Why not in this country?

We are at a historical crossroads, now. And, I hope tomorrow we will see a leader come forth and explain a plan that would effect real change, not just shop talk that gets us one baby step closer to change.

When you are standing at the edge of a cliff, with your toes hanging over the edge and a bully running up behind you looking to push you off, do you step aside and let the bully fall off the cliff or do you sustain the blow and try to cling to whatever you have left?

Weekend Getaway

My husband and I were granted a long-weekend away from normality to celebrate our eighth anniversary, so we hopped in the car and drove five hours straight east and ended up in the Windy City. It’s been a while since I’ve been in  a real city, and this is as real a city as any—especially for the Midwest.

Chicago is filled with noise, smells and sights of almost anything imaginable, like any great city would have, including the smell of urine, the bone wrenching sound of a light rail screeching along the tracks, pigeons bee-lining for your head on a crowded sidewalk, and amazing food. We indulged. We ate, we drank, we lounged. We listened to incredible jazz during the Chicago Jazz Festival, and we admired the interesting and varied architecture and public art around downtown. We ate so much deep-dish pizza we actually got sick of it. And it almost seemed like we were a young couple again, childless and fancy free.

The hotel we stayed at hosted a wine hour each evening, so we obliged. We sat among about 50 other hotel guests in the snazzy lobby, people watching and reminiscing, when an old woman and her husband walked into the room. They looked to be in their late 70s or early 80s. She was wearing a long gown circa 1975, and he was in the same time period slacks and shirt. After they got their wine they sat on a sofa facing us. The old woman turned to a young man next to her, who seemed to be either German or Dutch, and started telling him that she was from Brooklyn and had met her husband, who was in the English Army, in New York.

Then she turned to us and told us the same story. “Thank God for Hitler,” she said, because if it weren’t for him, she would have never met her husband.

My husband and I looked at each other, sort of in a state of amused shock. By then she had turned to the next person and started telling him the same story. Meanwhile, her husband had been working the room, probably telling a similar story of love and adventure during WWII.

Moral of the story: when you come to the big city be prepared to rub shoulders with the wacky and subtly senile.

Chicago lived up to expectations. Visits with old friends, and meeting new ones. Hot dogs with chili, and chorizo stuffed dates. Lake Michigan. Weddings needing to be crashed. And very little wind.

Working Mom

Going back to work, in theory, was supposed to renew my sense of purpose—or, at least, give me a little more autonomy and independence away from being a stay-at-home mom. It’s been four full weeks now of employment, and I have to say, I’m ready to retire.WorkingMom

But it is nice to have a paycheck, rather than rely on student loan income. It is a difficult balance, I must say. I don’t know how people do it. Work all day, come home to a messy house, hungry children and a husband. So far, I have not figured out the recipe. Whenever I get some down time I just want to relax. That is usually spent playing Scrabble on Facebook, or just before I turn off the light in bed I indulge in some New Yorker reading (the same article paragraph by paragraph I have been reading for more than a month).

How do people do this? I can see why it is called the grind. I feel like I’m grinding my teeth out of their sockets. I suppose it gets easier, but it is difficult to think of what to cook for dinner at 5 p.m. when there is no food in the house because no one has been able to get to the grocery store in two weeks. OK, I am exaggerating a little bit. But not by much.

For now, I am trying to hold it together. Thinking up a menu for the week. Trying to get the major chores done on Saturday and Sunday. And try to spend some good energy with the kids for the three hours I see them a day. I know that husbands are supposed to be picking up the slack, but mine hasn’t quite been trained to do that yet. So things just don’t get done.

I’ve had advice from other working parents that I can’t do it all, but I am so used to doing it all. Now there’s just more to do.

Christmas Card Friends

I’ll never forget the time I was in anguish about some friend drama when I was in my early 20s, and a close friend of mine said something along the lines of: sometimes friends just become Christmas Card friends.

At the time I scoffed a bit at this comment. I couldn’t imagine any of my close friends, no matter how much drama came with them, demoting themselves to Christmas card-only status. And I didn’t even sent out Christmas cards.

Alas, the time has come when the wise words once spoken have come true. I now have a handful of Christmas card friends. They were once close, but time and distance has ceased regular conversation. We now only get correspondence in the form of Christmas cards. The friend who explained this phenomenon has become one of them. Actually, we don’t even do much of the card exchange anymore.

It’s hard to see friends come and go. People you thought were once so close they could be a sibling become distant memories. People you thought would be your best friend forever or your maid of honor at your wedding didn’t even RSVP. But, this is what happens. Lives change. People change. Paths diverge. It happens to everyone.

I do say, though, that Facebook has created this notion of closeness to friends whom I have not been in touch with in 15 years at least. It’s an interesting social experiment. I don’t necessarily feel closer to these people, but I suppose it deletes the need to have much small talk at high school reunions. You can just get down to the nitty gritty of why you lost touch to begin with and how amazing it is that Facebook brought us all back together again.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that high school reunions are going to become obsolete because we can all peer into each others’ lives through Facebook. How much real conversation are you going to have with someone you haven’t seen in more than a decade once you’ve gotten past that initial cocktail party chit chat? Take this out of the equation and is there really anything else to talk about?

I’d rather just send a Christmas card.

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