A World of Refugees: Davut from Turkey

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Davut and I posed in an old-time photo in Turkey

I wrote about my dear Turkish friend Davut before.  I met him 8 years ago when I escaped from frozen Russia to spring-like Turkey.  He was a special Turkish Army Officer improving his English at my second language school.  I was fired from the first language school in the first week–for sharing about Russian Easter traditions.  Some Muslim students complained.  I protested being fired for being a Christian when Turkey’s Constitution grants freedom of religion, and I may have got my job back, but I walked around the corner of Izmit, Kocaeli (near Istanbul) and found a better language school that paid more and gave me more teaching hours.

I still did not have a good place to live.  Some female teachers from the first language school had offered me a bed, but I must have offended them, too, for I was told to leave.  I was sitting on the steps in front of their apartment building with my luggage stacked around me.  I looked and felt like a refugee.  Indeed, I did not have much to return to in America:  no home, no job, no husband.  My young adult children had their own lives, and I was not important in them.

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Davut (right) when I first met him 8 years ago in Turkey

Davut and his friends found me there, and he immediately offered me a place to stay in the spare room of his apartment.  I stayed there for months.  He did not even ask me to pay him, but I paid a little that I could afford.  He knew I was lonely, and he invited me to hang out with him and his friends.  We walked through the cobbled streets of old Izmit, stepped into ancient stone churches and tiled mosques hung with tiny lights, drank tea and played backgammon in cafes by the Marmara Sea, strolled through parks lined with multi-colored tulips (“lale” is the Turkish name of the tulip flower which the Dutch imported from Turkey).

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Davut and his friends are on the far right in my Turkish wedding photo

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Why I Love Starbucks

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OK, now for some light-hearted, fun writing.  I love Starbucks.  People tease me for that, often saying, “But it’s so expensive!  You pay $6 for a cup of coffee.”

I try explaining that I do “star dashes” and gather little gold stars on my smartphone that count toward free coffee and food.  Plus, I get anything I want to order on my birthday!  People usually roll their eyes or shake their heads, not believing that it could be fun and not-so-horribly expensive to frequent a designer coffee business.  I don’t go out to dinner at restaurants, I argue.  Doesn’t that count for something?

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When my kids were teenagers, we often went to Starbucks in Southern California, sitting together outside under a green umbrella, wearing our summer t-shirts, shorts, and sandals, squinting in the sun.  We talked and planned together, ate the Best in the World Lemon Cake, and got free house brew coffee refills because I have a Starbucks Gold Card.

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What I Learned in Prison

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I have been living in the California desert for awhile now, renting a room in a family’s home.  My almost seven-year marriage to a Turkish man broke up, and he is living somewhere on the streets of Los Angeles, stuck in his paranoid delusions that everyone is after him.  He leaves voice messages on my smartphone, though I had to get a restraining order against him, and he should not contact me.  I hope he goes home to Istanbul for medical help.  I feel alone, as the desert wind howls across rocks and sand, and autumn sun cools beneath clouds.  Better to be alone than yelled at, used . . .

Who would have thought that I, a free-spirited writer who has traveled much across this globe, would land in a regular job, from 07:30 to 16:00 Mondays through Fridays, 40 hours a week–teaching inmates in a prison?  I got the job after a 5-week background check (I had to list everywhere I lived since I was 16), a physical exam, and drug tests.  I drive to work across a desert Apocalypse landscape.  It is littered with rock queries, railroad tracks, and old industrial warehouses with broken windows and metal pipes.  Homeless people scarcely populate it, pushing metal carts or baby carriages without a baby.  I lost my three-level, wood-carved home in the mountain forest near a lake.  My children are young adults now, and I don’t see them much.

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My 2 oldest children have completely shut me out of their lives (and my grandchildren’s lives).  An enemy has much to do with this (an ex-husband who once laid me on a bed and strangled me, which I wrote about in my book “Fire and Ice”).  I don’t know what he’s said or why they listen and refuse to meet so that I may answer charges laid against me . . .  My few friends call me “Sweetie.”  I am not a serial killer or assaulter, some crazy grandma gone wild.  I can not understand how my own daughter, my firstborn, could take away my little remaining family . . . I lost my father at age 4 and my mother and only brother (that I knew about) not long after.  I never had a sister.

So . . . the best part of my life is the “Special Needs Yard” prison where I teach male inmates their high school GED course.  We cover mostly English reading, writing, social studies, and science (my inmate clerk helps with the math).  Most of the inmates are sex offenders who could not be in the general population; some are ex-gang members or ex-cops.  My classroom is the last one on the left, near the moving white-barred gate and blue door that leads to the desert yard.  I must have my special ID and my keys on a chain to enter the prison.  If I lose my ID or keys, the whole prison would be locked down until we found them.  I must wear professional clothes (like black slacks and a collared shirt, sensible shoes, my hair clipped back, with no identifying jewelry showing).  I walk through a metal detector, surrender my clear plastic bag for inspection, and pass through 9 gates.  A young guard in his khaki uniform with silver badge says, “Morning, ma’am,” as he holds the heavy door for me at Central Control’s Sally Gate.  I peer into the dim room filled with camera surveillance screens and many keys.

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Darkest before Dawn

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“Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” Psalm 30:5.

Sometimes it seems as though the night will never end.  I am writing the 4th book in my “Survival” series, “Darkest before Dawn.” I survived cancer, car accidents, loss of my family, abusive men, and teaching English overseas for 5 years–in Russia, Turkey, and China.  What more must I survive?  How can we all survive what is coming?

Have you ever noticed that it really is darkest–and coldest–before the sun rises?  I often have trouble sleeping and have stayed up until dawn.  Just knowing that the sun will rise gives me hope.  Then, ironically, when that yellow orb breaks upon the eastern horizon, I can relax and go to sleep.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”  In the book of Revelation (written by John), Jesus is “the bright and morning star.”

I often do my writing at night.  If you like my blog, please check out my books.

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Jewish, Christian, and a little bit Turkish

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I am part Jewish.  I call myself a Messianic Jew AND a Christian.  The 2 seemingly contradictive terms CAN go together.  Jesus was Jewish.  The first Christians were Jewish, like Paul who traveled through Turkey to Rome and planted churches along the way.  John, who wrote the Apocalypse, penned letters to the 7 Churches–all found in Turkey. He was exiled on a Mediterranean island not far from Antalya.  My American life has joined with that Mediterranean country that connects the continents of Asia with Europe–at Istanbul.  Once called Constantinople, that city rises above 7 hills adorned with ancient castles, Christian cathedrals, and Muslim mosques.  Contradictions are part of daily life.  Viva la difference!

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Terrorist Attack in San Bernardino

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Jennifer Thalasinos is comforted by her pastor, Kathleen Dowell of Shiloh Messianic Congregation

Today the world’s news focused on new U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration restrictions concerning 7 highly volatile, Islamist countries.  Money poured in from liberal sources like George Soros and CAIR (Committee for American-Islamic Relations, a group with ties to terrorist organizations like Hamas) to fund many of the people who protested at airports and government offices across America and across the world.

The “Los Angeles Times” covered anti-Trump protests at LAX airport in a completely biased manner and even asked readers to submit their “Immigrant Story.”

Well, here is my Minority Report immigration story.  Let me clarify that not all Muslims are Islamists, a term that indicates an embracement of the extreme, violent, jihadist beliefs of Islam and Sharia Law. My Muslim Turkish mother-in-law, for example, would sooner give a stranger tea and homemade soup than assemble bomb parts, and she longs for world peace.

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Jennifer and Nick Thalasinos

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Pentecostals and Proud Prosperity

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Most Americans know about TV preachers and that they get money from their viewers.  Many of these TV preachers are  Pentecostals, an often-emotional and loud group of “Christians” whose movement to promote Spiritual gifts, miracles, healing, and especially “speaking in tongues,” was started in Los Angeles, California at the beginning of the 20th Century.

There are many types of Pentecostals.  I have encountered several of these groups, churches, and conferences–and have mixed feelings about them.  Some Pentecostals are humble, kind, and helpful to their fellow human beings.  They believe that God is God and can do whatever miracles He desires through His Spirit.  Others are proud, entitled, promoting the “Prosperity Gospel” view that a real Christian, blessed by God, will have lots and lots of money (and probably not share it with homeless people).  They believe a good Christian gives “tithes” and “gifts” to support “the ministry.”  In conferences, they often take more than one noisy “offering” from the less affluent people there.

The problem with Prosperity Gospel adherents is that their leaders are very, very rich–and proud of it.  Many are found on T.V. shows, running entire TV broadcast businesses and publishing houses.  Some call themselves Dollar, fly in private jets (and sometimes die in them), live in huge mansions on large estates, brag about their yearly income, wear expensive clothes and hair designs, vacation in exotic places, and continue to extract money from their followers with the promise that they, too, will be rich.

Pentecostals draw more on some Old Testament examples of wealthy Jewish leaders than the New Testament teaching of Jesus and his followers, who often marked money as an evil snare and rich people as oppressors of the poor.  Wealth also led to the fall of Old Testament heroes–and the tragic end of their families and personal empires.  Job was the oldest Old Testament rich man who suffered much because of his riches.   Gideon was a hero, mentioned in the book of Judges, who saved Israel from a huge enemy army.  However, he asked for all the gold earrings (and other gold ornaments) from that army, built a giant gold statue near his hometown, got lots of wives and children, and turned Israel back to Idol worshipping.  He also lost all but one of his 70 sons, and his inheritance plunged into nothingness.

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Now for my story.  As you know from my previous issues, I taught English overseas for more than 5 years.  I went alone, with no credit card, backup plan, or help from home (I had no American family to help me).  I lived in the economies where I taught (Russia, Turkey, China).  Sometimes I was paid well; sometimes I wasn’t paid at all.  When I came back to America after this hard duty, I felt like a soldier who had suited up every day to battle language barriers, cultural differences, and dangerous surroundings.  I was attacked by men in all 3 countries (thankfully, I took Self-Defense classes, so I was not raped or killed).  I returned worn out, tired of trying to get around in Taxis driven by people who didn’t understand me, toxic air, acidic water, and nauseating food.  My Armenian/Turkish husband helped for part of my overseas journey, but he could not get a work permit, and his family was poor (better than my entire lack of family). Continue reading

Homeless in America

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All of us face challenges.  In America, our challenges are usually not as difficult as people who face civil war in South Sudan, where children walk miles each day just to find a safe place to sleep.  Yet many people think life is easy for Americans. I say, not true. Which do you think was more difficult for this American (Lonna Lisa Williams) to do:

1. Leave my California home in October, 2010 for Russia to teach English because I could not find a job in my own country even though my grandfather graduated from Yale University, was a professor at UNC, and handed the torch of education to my teacher mother and to me. Endure a long winter where I wore chains on my boots to run across the ice that coated every surface.  Teach English to 13-year-olds only to end up speaking and reading in Russian because no one really wanted to speak English and hated America. Even though my grandmother was Russian, I learned their alphabet and simple words as a child, and I look Russia, most people avoided me because I was the “Amerikanka.” Discover that Vodka is easier to get than good tea, Russian food is bland and full of potatoes, and everyone shares alcohol and violence in the 3rd-class wagons of the Russian train from Samara to Moscow. Endure the 17-hour journey with 50 bunks to a wagon, accidentally stepping on a sleeping Russian woman who screamed when I descended from my top bunk. Cry on the trash bin in the back of the wagon. Kiss a Russian stranger between the wagons, in that blessed cold, dark connector, as snow fields slipped past and a full moon shone on frozen rivers. We, Russian and American, kissed without words, like lovers from a war movie who will never meet again, showing how tragedy is really, really Russian and American.

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Christmas Lights in China

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My daughter Jessica was born in September, so by her first Christmas she was old enough for me to carry around and look at Christmas lights.  Her small blue eyes widened at the amazing colors and brightness.  Now she is 22 and lives in California.  I am teaching English in China.  This is my 5th Christmas away from home.  I went out last night to a colorful, cobblestoned street by the river in my Chinese city near Shanghai and was amazed at how the lights lit up like a fairly-land.  I thought, “Jessica could see this.” Continue reading

Autumn in China

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGinkoa Biloba leaves blanketed the courtyard outside the high school classes where I teach English near Shanghai, China.  This colorful display cheered my students and me.  Later we went to Starbucks to celebrate a strange kind of Thanksgiving with a student’s birthday cake and flavored coffee.  Half of the students paid attention to my speech about Thanksgiving, and the other half played with their mobile phones.  Such is life in China.  If you like my blogs, please check out my books.

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