My mother will tell you that last week’s crazy running around was offset by a week of vacation in Thailand in March. What does she know? The way I look at it, it was a week of cleaning out the lungs, a necessary respite from the Shanghai goop and chaos. More on the goop and chaos later, for sure, but not now.
Now I want to write about something that happened while we were in Thailand and is related to world current events. I rarely write about politics or world events because this blog is really about expat living, even though they intersect with great frequency. The following anecdote is about one of those intersections.
Sitting at the hotel pool in Phuket, Thailand with my children this past March, we were approached by two girls from Tehran. Thing 2 was cavorting with Thing 3 in the pool. Thing 1 was doing her best teenage lounge on a chaise nearby. I was sitting alone, reading, when the two girls came over and spoke to me in halting English. It was evident that they had sort of been taught the language but, understandably, had not had an opportunity to practice it. I think their parents were sitting at the other end of the pool and had no objections to them speaking to me, an obvious American (okay, maybe I could pass for a German or a Swede but we were speaking English).
They had a lot of questions, those girls, and I let them do most of the talking. For starters, they were amazed that Things 2 & 3 were allowed to play together. They were twelve and ten years old, the ages of my children in the pool, and they were not allowed to have boys for friends. They did not like having to cover up to go outside, and nor did their mother. They were very happy to be in Thailand where they could “relax”.
The question that stuck with me the most, though, was rather bizarre: why do Americans like the name Michael? It is an “evil” name, according to these girls, in Iran. I had no answer for them. It is my father’s name (looks of shock registered on their faces) so naturally, I do not think it is evil. On the contrary. I told them the little that I knew about that name, that in the Old Testament of the Bible Michael was an archangel. The Irish, I said, use the name a lot but also that a version of it is found in many countries: Mikhail, Michel, Miguel. I could see them mentally trying to process this alternate viewpoint. Thing 3 got out of the pool eventually and entered the conversation. They had a lot of questions for her, a fellow ten year old.
This question about the name has perturbed me greatly: a case of misinformation or propaganda? Even the name Adolf is not inherently evil, although I personally do not know anyone using the name. So this morning I went to BehindtheName.com which researches “the etymology and history of first names” and looked up the name Michael, which says: “From the Hebrew name meaning ‘who is God?’. This is a rhetorical question implying no person is like God. Saint Michael was one of the seven archangels in Hebrew tradition and the only one identified as an archangel in the Bible. In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament he is portrayed as the leader of heaven’s armies, and thus is considered the patron saint of soldiers.” Well, that sort of gives me a clue (Hebrew origins, patron saint of soldiers), although the only Jew I know named “Michael” is syndicated columnist and talk radio host Michael Medved. What about the name David? That’s probably pretty bad too …
As I watch the events unfold in Iran, I think about these girls and hope they are safe. I think about the father of the two other Iranian toddler girls telling Mr. Understanding he wanted our countries to talk and how he hoped for world peace. I hope the family is safe. I think about President Sarkozy saying that burqas are not welcome in France, that they are a symbol of subservience and how I was forced to think about them myself this year. I think about how easy it is, in the age of the internet, to be misinformed (unless, of course, you do not have the internet). Change is going to come to Iran – I hope for the girls it is a good one.
Questions of the day (tangentially related): do you think it is a sane idea to release the 100 Yemeni Gitmo detainees to Saudi Arabia’s “jihad rehab”? Do you think there can be such a thing as “jihad rehab”? Please write President Obama if you think this is not a good idea. Does the blowing up of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen ring a bell? It was a 9/11 precursor.