Integral Life Coaching

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A slice of My Self-acceptance Journey

It was a wakeup call when Joseph said, “Shabnam, you are reliving your childhood traumas of war.” It had been a few months into my new job that I noticed I was crying every day. 

I knew I feared war and its disturbing news; I had grown up with them. It makes sense that I am against war but to be realistic, if the last resort is fighting to defend or protect ourselves, I accept that as a distressing event. So, my self-reflection on everyday crying was that I was assigned to the wrong projects at work. Defense projects on weapons are necessary (perhaps) but I am not the right person to work on them. I thought I was fighting with my moral values and guilty feelings.

That day in June 2021, I was sobbing in the therapy session. Joseph waited for me for a few seconds and then calmly said, “Shabnam, you are reliving your childhood traumas of war.”

I brought my head up and unhide it from my hands. Tears streaming, I started listening to him carefully. Joseph continued, “The powerful emotions you are feeling at the moment, are all the emotions you felt during childhood but little of them had come out. This strong reaction you have to your job now is to release the suppressed emotions. You are experiencing a trauma reaction.” 

There were a few moments of silence. My mind felt blank, overloaded by the awareness. I had thought it was an inner conflict between my job and my values. Little did I know, the powerful trigger of working on a bomber project caused reliving the trauma of being bombed. I had worked on a similar project before, and my strong guilty feelings pushed me to change that job within a few months. It was my ignorance on not re-thinking the path I had chosen in my career. Or better yet, I had blindly jumped to the next job opportunity that was in front of me, allowing the randomness of the opportunities to build a career path for me. I wish I had a mentor or a career coach back then who had asked me about my values and ethics of working. I was a naive, young, immigrant woman. 

Joseph asked me if I could talk to my manager and ask to be transferred. I talked to the management. Accepting my situation with empathy, they promised to move me as soon as they hire a replacement for me. 

On top of my problem with the nature of the products I was working on, the team who I was working with was matter of fact and serious and worked under the threat of losing their jobs that rippled from the top management. So, the strict hierarchy, demanding for work to be done in a strong authoritarian style with no mercy took me back to the dictator government I had lived under in Iran. That was the right recipe for disaster for a person with such childhood experience.

Earlier in September we hired a young professional who needed training. I was in charge of his training but already slipping on the path of depression yet accepting the management decision. I blamed myself for not being strong enough. I told myself that I needed to wait and cooperate with the team. It was only fair that way. I could do it. I needed to be stronger. 

Mid-September, on a Friday afternoon, I felt so much anger and fear at work that I emailed a co-worker and said I needed to turn off my laptop before I sent a disrespectful email to the project manager I worked with due to her uncooperative behavior. I was shaking and needed to lay down. I crumpled in my bed under my blanket and began sobbing. I was sick over the weekend. It was a powerful anxiety attack and a new experience to me. I had experienced feeling depressed before, but I had denied the power of anxiety and depression and got through it without stopping. This time, I wasn’t able to function, and I asked for a week of sick leave. I received a warm email from my manager accepting that but on Wednesday he called me and asked me to get involved with the new hire and get back to work and I did it. I was stoic fighting to overcome my guilty feelings of the anxiety attack.

It took another month and half until I was completely removed from those projects but by then I was feeling sick and had to call out many days due to the weakness I felt in my body. It was perhaps difficult for my manager to understand the power of my trauma reaction. He never directly talked to me about the matter in our calls, we only talked about the logistics of the programs. I had talked to our Human Resources about my emotions and never to my manager directly. On one of my sick days, he sent me a text, “Are you working today, Shabnam?” I answered that I had emailed him for the day, and I wasn’t feeling well. He texted me back, “Can you send me the x document?” 

I knew that document was not due for another two months. I had been slowly working on it but not much. I wasn’t able to perform well. I thought he wanted to see the progress of my work and fire me for low performance. I was so tired of the situation that I sent him the document and my resignation letter in one email. 

I resigned that November feeling ashamed of not being able to get through the stressful time and depression. I was in a dark place not even mentioning my concerns for my financial commitments. I had started my anti-depression medication a couple of months before, but the depth of the sadness needed more help than medication. I needed self-acceptance. A type of self-acceptance that was a product of self-compassion. But all I could hear in my head was criticism for not being good enough, not being strong enough. Although, physically I could do nothing but lay down most of the hours, I felt guilty for not doing anything. 

I didn’t think about my capacity, my emotional arousal, my constant dark mood, my lack of motivation to do my job, the morning gagging, and tears as soon as I woke up, and the weakness in my body, feeling constantly nauseous. My body was telling me to stop but I had no self-acceptance of my capacity. I wanted to be strong, to be grateful of the opportunities of upcoming changes, and to be accepted by the management team. My body finally collapsed.

Despite all the support and hugs I received from my husband, my daughter, my close friends, and my counselor thoughts were ruminating in my head, 

• Am I really this weak or am I being lazy? 

• Am I so sensitive that I wasn’t able to have adult communication with my manager on how I felt? But he never allowed me to talk about anything other than the work projects. 

• What if I can never go back to work, who will pay my bills? 

• I hate corporate culture. It is very limiting. It is all wrong.

• Am I really depressed? Am I exaggerating my feelings?

• I notice shallow breathing all the time, like I can’t fill up my lungs. Am I dying maybe? That’s not a bad thing. It is liberating. Life is so difficult.

• Am I worthy of all this support I am receiving from family and friends? They will get tired of me. 

• I don’t want to talk to anyone, and I don’t need any advice. I want everyone to leave me alone. But without my friend S and my therapist support, I would not start the medication. 

At the same time, I was going through a one-year program to become a certified life coach, my dream job. It started in April of 2021. In December, I had a four-day session with my coaching school. The philosophy of my coaching school, New Ventures West, is to promote self-development for us as coach students in order to be equipped and educated to be able to help others in an authentic way. It was great to be held in that container with my classmates and teachers for four days. I felt loved, calmer, safer, and a little less depressed. I had the opportunity to contemplate on the concept of self-acceptance.

After the session was over, I started listening to Tara Brach’s book, The Radical Acceptance. As weakness took over and I laid down many hours per day, I listened to each chapter of this book over and over. I self-reflected and listened to it again. 

Another couple of weeks needed to pass for me to feel better about my mornings when I woke up. We were approaching the end of the year Holiday time. I felt the urge to contact friends and have zoom calls with a few. The connections felt great and energized me. From once a week, I increased my connections to a couple of even three per week and started to go out with friends who felt comfortable with the pandemic situation.

Week by week I felt better and by March I started a new job. I accepted a part-time job to make sure I have time to rest and focus on my coaching projects and clients. I had cultivated a great sense of self-acceptance including my imperfections and weaknesses. Through self-compassion, I learned I should be careful about triggers and early signs of depression in my daily activities to be able to regulate my emotions before they go crazy. I began daily check ins, practices to ground myself, and studying more on self-compassion. The ruminating thoughts and doubts had lost their power and I was in a fairly stable emotional state, grateful for all the support in my life to getting out of the depression episode I experienced. My thoughts had transformed to

• Oh, how depressed I was. That was too much emotional pain.

• I am grateful to wake up and have the capability to like my life.

• Silence is great.

• Nature is beautiful and calming.

• I need to rest now.

• How do I feel now? How can I bring harmony to my emotions?

• I need a massage.

• I enjoy my conversations with my loved ones.

• Life is much bigger than my problems. I need to look at my challenges objectively. How can I do that?

• How do I solve this hiccup today?

• What can I offer to life?

The last session of coaching training was at the end of April of 2022. The cohort gathered for another four days over the zoom. I was the second one in the line to receive my final words on my development and whether I would be certified or not. I didn’t feel anxious before the class started. I thought I was a good student. I enjoyed my projects and assignments throughout the year. They kept me going despite the depression and work pressure. They were my refuge. I loved my coaching clients and to be a coach. There was no reason for anxiety.

To my surprise, receiving my development feedback for the one year of my hard work, every question from my teacher felt like an attack and I became more and more defensive in explaining, clarifying, and defending my projects. Her serious face (was concentrating only) became scary to me. She noticed I was nervous. I agreed with her. I was panicking. She tried to sooth me. When the half an hour discussion was over, I was confident I wasn’t receiving my certification and I started hysterically crying. 

Well, that was authentically me. The Shabnam who in her head turned a developmental conversation with her teacher to an exam and freaked out. With the first question on a mistake I had made, my empire crashed. In my head I was supposed to be the good student in this class and with one mistake, my thoughts turned catastrophically towards becoming the bad student I always was in my youth. 

The reaction was so fast in my body that I slipped down in trance instantly. I was not able to do anything except reacting dramatically. However, it took me a few minutes to realize that I was trauma-responding. Through talking to my classmates, deep breathing, and applying the awareness of my recent trauma reaction experience at work, I was able to ground myself and become present quickly.  When I went to the faculty breakout room to hear about the results, I explained that I was aware of my trauma-reaction, and I was grateful to realize it quickly. 

Although the panic had already taken away the joy out of me, I felt grateful when they announced that I was certified. They reminded me that their evaluation was from over one year of my work and not about one mistake. They read beautiful feedback from my clients and reminded me of their observations of my deep connections with my clients. 

I accepted myself with my trauma reactions and felt deep self-compassion. I felt grateful to have developed the skill to catch my trauma-response and to accept it. It took another two days to be completely out of the pain of the trauma reaction, but I was able to function and be present during those days. I was aware of the emotional pain and allowed it to be there hanging out with me. It was part of the process of integrating an unaccepted piece of me – the bad student – and accepting my past. And, to realize there is no good and bad. It is all about our perception!

I am positive the more I integrate different versions of myself, the more acceptance and trust I build towards life including myself. It is a life-long process.

On the last day, the faculty’s last advice to us was “Be you and become more you”. 

Let’s practice self-acceptance together!

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Edited by Mike Curtis

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Searching For Wholeness In My Memoir Writing; Giving Voice To The Villains

(1479 words)

Everyone carries emotional pain in their heart, the embodied trauma of our lives and our ancestors’. According to California’s surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris two third of the populations have dealt with Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). I think the rest who didn’t, have been traumatized through cultural pressures and limitations in one way or another. Dr. Gabor Mate in his recent documentary The Wisdom of Trauma states that trauma is a hidden pandemic. All of us need to pay attention to the pain, instead of trying to escape from it.

To process the pain, many people have embraced memoir writing as a form of personal and collective trauma therapy. Those of us who become memoirists have a responsibility to take care of ourselves while writing. We are also responsible for writing trauma-informed stories that show the complex multi-layered human pain and resiliency in all characters in our stories.

Creative writing is going through an era of exploring different parts of our identities and piecing them in a bigger picture. What we read from today’s writers helps us connect to a deeper universal pain of human life. Shared stories that help us deepen our understanding about various Native American tribes and their beliefs; Palestinians and Jews and their long, complicated conflict; the many different reasons for immigration; the personal and collective emotions existing in LGBTQ+ communities; and all other unlimited dimensions of beings, the wholeness of life and all the pain it carries. We read and write not only to know each other, but to learn that villains were human beings, maybe with more pain in their closed hearts, and to find a piece, even a little piece, a nuance of ourselves and our pains in each of these stories; learning about non-conventional possibilities and freeing more of our potential by releasing our pain to live more fully.

Being an Iranian is only part of my identity but there is so much more to who I am. I explored the Iranian part and its traumas in some depth in My Persian Paradox, my first memoir. I am currently writing about the follow-up, American part of the story. But how about other dimensions of me; being a woman, a mother, a writer who gains deep satisfaction from writing but doesn’t write much, a Psychology lover and human behavior observer, a wife, a plant lover, a storyteller, a dog lover, a person with biases and hidden biases, a person who has repressed anger in her, a person who fears community building, a person with deep doubts on structured religions, and so many more that I know and I don’t even know about. All those untested strengths.

As part of the epidemic need for self-discovery and self-development, like many others, I have been an avid learner of self-help subjects. The combination of therapy and studying self-help resources have been helping me to move along that path of development and emotional growth.

Therapy especially has lifted me, and brought awareness of my subconscious.

Reading and intellectually understanding the information made me realize the pain. Getting in touch with the pain, however, didn’t immediately help me get into the healing process. I needed my brain to learn about it, but gradually I felt the need of involvement of my heart and body to feel it, to practice it, to live it. I could see the trauma and repression. I didn’t know how to deal with the depth of it, let alone writing about the healing process . I needed a teacher, a guide, and a community to help me embody what I have been learning, to learn it not just with my brain but sense it through my body and process it through my heart; to integrate different pieces of me, known or forgotten – dark or light. This assimilation needed more integrated practices. Therapy and studying are parts of it, but there is more to it. This type of integration would help me to begin coming out of my denial mode, accept myself and the world as is, in order to see the opportunities for growth, and to realize more of my potential towards wholeness. What I mean by wholeness is to be part of a bigger system of being and to believe that there is always more than one point of view; To give voice to everyone, even the villain of my story. We’ve heard that “the people who are the hardest to love are the ones who need it most.”

I long to write and tell stories that explore different parts of me in relation with the systems I have been living in. And what I mean by that is to delve into myself and other characters in my stories and see each of us as a whole soul, see the dynamic of the system we interacted in, feel the pain we all carried in our hearts. Exploring those back stories that shed light on the hidden pain that caused aggression, jealousy, and selfishness, and all other trauma-caused hurtful behavior, I want to write those tales about the darkness of trauma and its transformation to light. To use storytelling to create empathy and acceptance, to see the pain beyond the hurtful behavior, to process the pain, to forgive, to create change, and to move on with more resiliency.

Stories about a mother’s harsh discipline, father’s hurtful criticism, the uncle with his sharp tongue, the neighbor who always cautioned or actually scared everyone by her stories of burglary two blocks away, about the friend who always compared her situation and expressed her disappointment, the stepmother whose bad words damaged relationships, the little boy in the neighborhood who was always called a trouble-maker, the cousin who reminded us of Eeyore and his gloomy point of view, the other one who disrespected women, the acquaintance who didn’t welcome immigrants. Stories about my deep shame of not being enough every time I expressed an idea, the fear of being disliked by others, and about the judgmental analysis I run on my aunt’s behavior.

Each one of these characters has more than one dimension of being and they carried tremendous pain in their hearts. People dealt with the tension created from their personal experience and intergenerational traumas. We are confused. We hurt each other while we love each other. A lot of time we create stories with no substance to numb ourselves and get away from the pain. And we skip the backstories to escape from the deep heavy pain in our hearts.

I think not discovering the pain and the resiliency that came with it makes one’s writing shallow, showing only the face value. Compromising on the backstories and the underlying pain, the root cause, means we are not telling the whole story. Real stories, true memoirs, and personal essays need to shed light on the undercurrent of tension in the atmosphere. Otherwise, they are only bunch of words about a limited point of view. I should know how to add the hidden gem of the underlying pain to the story – coming from not only my brain but being poured onto the paper through my body and my heart, allowing the reader to see each character inside out.  That’s when I share a true story that helps us attain deeper self-discovery towards wholeness. It is still one point of view but connected compassionately to others. It becomes part of the collectiveness and universality of being a human!

I first learned about this concept when I started writing my first memoir almost six years ago. I’ve continued learning about this never ending transformation. To deepen this practice in my life including my writing life, a couple of years ago, I joined the Integral Life community and have enjoyed the deep practices they offer in integrating different pieces of ourselves and the world into our life.

This is a community that follows the school of thought of the great thinker Ken Wilber who has introduced, enhanced, and popularized the Integral Life Theory. While I participated in integral practices through this community, I felt I needed more coherent practices and deeper learning. I decided to take training to become an Integral life Coach myself. I started my one year certification program with New Venture West (NVW). Learning to process the difficult emotions through tested techniques within a safe community and transforming them to power have become a great tool for a deeper dive in writing my second memoir and has shown me stronger connection to life. It allows me to see myself and others as pure souls covered by layers of darkness and pain. I am hungrier to write about those who I resented or judged, to bring their stories to my story, to think about their pain and to see my pain in it, To explore our entanglements and transforming them to a powerful net of life. Wholeness.

Let’s celebrate life!

Editing credit: Mike Curtis

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Interview With Shabnam Curtis: How Storytelling Could Bring More Empathy

Why did you choose to write memoirs?

When I started questioning everything around me, I was like, Am I in the wrong career? Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing not something right? But then, I started opening my story to my safety circle and I felt better. I decide, You know what, these are the traumas, these are the bitter past, that I have to deal with it, I can’t just put it aside anymore. I have to bring them up, I have to process them. So that’s when I actually started writing stories. And from the beginning, I knew I wanted to share it with everyone. (Shabnam)

To read the rest or listen to the podcast, please click here.


The Power of Telling Your Story – with Shabnam Curtis‬

Lori: What experiences have you gained by sharing your story with others?

Shabnam: I couldn’t believe it. It started even before I started writing my memoir and it actually encouraged me to write my memoir and I was kind of in a midlife crisis. Then I was just talking to my friends at work, especially because we spend a lot of time at work. So I have a lot of American friends who were born here, around me, and we just talked and,  chit chatted and every time I shared one story from my past, I felt better. Then they got to know me better. I got to the point that this past is really bitter, but when I shared it with someone else, in a form of his story, it makes me feel better. Unsurprisingly, it makes the audience feel like oh my god, I have a very similar experience. And who would think a girl in Iran is all grown up in the Midwest in America? We shared experiences, so we just shared stories and that led me to feel like you know what, I want to write this book. Because I wasn’t a writer, I started learning to write, and then I started looking for communities of writers. I published a book and then I read the book for the people. I started having a community of people who shared very similar experiences. It’s just growing in so many different ways and it changed my life.

To listen to the podcast please click here.

Let’s share our stories,


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The Flavor of Ice Cream


Excerpted from the Shabnam Curtis’s memoir, My Persian Paradox.

One June day of my freshman year/ninth grade, in 1985, I needed a break from studying. My mother suggested we go out for ice cream to Tajrish Circle. Tajrish, a shopping area on the skirt of the mountains in the northern part of Tehran, was a favorite place for my mother and me to wander, especially for window shopping and mouthwatering snacks. My father disagreed. “Afternoons are the worst time to go to Tajrish. There will be no parking spots. It’s hot outside. Why don’t we just stay at home and rest?” To my mother, he grumbled, “You take advantage of her, suggesting ice cream to satisfy your own childish desires.”

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How Is It To Be An Indie Author?


(1020 words – almost 8 minutes read)

Yes, there is still a stigma with being an indie author. There are bookstores, contests, and awards that do not accept self-published books. In the writing community, you are better off having a publisher’s name even if your publisher does not support much to promote your book.

Despite the stigma, I decided to walk the indie author path and test its freedom. My story about an Iranian girl who lived under the Iranian dictator regime was timely and needed to be in the world, and the whole process of finding an agent and then a publisher would take more than two years.

I was confident about my decision, and I knew I’d make many mistakes since I was a newbie in the publishing world. I wasn’t unaware of my ignorance, but I was willing to try it.

I published my book on March 20, 2019, with a well-attended launch party and started with good sales. However, I knew the high-rank sale would not last long. So, I started working hard on promoting the book while I was learning the alphabet of the promoting process. At the end of 2019, I was burnt out but had gained enough maturity to put my situation in perspective.

I started appreciating those 5 to 10 people who showed up at my book reading events or Memoir writing workshops. I realized my book as a tool for community building, and I could start with small local communities. The importance of number of sales wasn’t significant anymore. Of course, I like to sell more books, but not selling many isn’t heartbreaking anymore. Why? Because I learned figuring out the monster algorithms such as Amazon and Goodreads is pretty impossible. I also do not have essential connections with journalists and famous authors, so I cannot get a lot of words spread out. And, last but not least, I don’t have money to hire a publicist to build the connections for me. So, in 2020, using what I learned from 2019 efforts, I decided to do what I could do. Be a local author and work with local organizations.

I came to believe the power of the local community. So, I reached out to libraries, non-profit organizations, and college professors in the Washington DC area. I have been having at least one event per month and have a couple of activities set up for the next six months. I enjoy my book talks, memoir writing workshops, and becoming a storyteller. It is a community service that I can offer to give meaning to my life and, hopefully, to others. Being a local author has been a pleasure, and I feel genuinely honored when others reach out and give me feedback or ask my attendance for an event. It took almost one year of hard work to be part of a community that counts on you. It is rolling now!

So, based on my personal experience ( and few others around me), if you feel you like creating real and authentic connections with a few numbers of people, being an indie author will be a fulfilling one deepening the meaning of your life. Now, I’d like to share a few mistakes that I’ve made with you:

  1. I left only 3 months between finalizing the manuscript and publishing date. That was not enough because:
    1. The pre-sale need to start 3 months before your release date.
    2. The final manuscript needs to go to at least 50 beta readers for earning a few reviews in Goodreads before the pre-sale starts.
    3. The final manuscript needs to be sent to possible reviewers such as authors or public figures to gain their review for blurbs on your website, Goodreads, and on the book.
    4. You need many weeks to contact many bookstores and set an event right after the book is published.
    5. And this is if you already have your Goodreads author page and your website up and running.
  2. I spent money on any marketing opportunity came my way because despite my own decision, I subconsciously believed as an indie author, I don’t have many good chances. Wrong! Be careful where you invest in marketing. There are some that worth doing. Spending money on Bookbub (if they accept your book) could be helpful to increase the number of sales in Amazon and make your book more visible. My mistake was that I didn’t plan the timing of reducing the price of the e-book to $0.99 correctly. Bookbub refused to promote my book on full-price, and what I had paid for was non-refundable.
  3. I paid for a booth and, attended a few Book Festivals. Except for Gaithersburg book festival, no other one brought me sales or recognition and booths are expensive. I now work with a team of authors, and we share the booths and expenses.
  4. I signed and paid money for consignment agreements with a few bookstores across the country. It really didn’t work out. If a bookstore orders your book, and puts it on the shelf, it is good. Most bookstores have Ingram account and if you publish and distribute your book through Ingram Spark, they can buy it 55% off. (You need to set it at 55% discount and returnable for bookstores)
  5. I spend $200 on distributing a press release one month before the release date. Press release distribution does not really work for indie books with unknown authors.
  6. Do not take the number of likes on social media personally. It is all business and algorithms. Post regularly. Post about your book, news about your book, and other useful or encouraging contents readers like to see. On Instagram and Twitter take advantage of popular and related hashtags to get more followers. It will build up slowly and organically.
  7. I didn’t try hard enough to publish an excerpt from my memoir or a related article in a literary magazine or a literary forum. Give yourself plenty of time after your manuscript is ready and before you publish.

I will be glad to provide details about my journey. Shoot your questions my way 😊

Let’s share our stories,


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Seeking freedom and belonging under oppression: A Persian Paradox

woman turning around on green fields

Photo by Jackson David on

My Persian Paradox: Memories of an Iranian Girl by Shabnam Curtis is not the first story to be shared, and will not be the last, but there is a need for more stories to show the different pieces of this complex puzzle called humanity. Sharing her story, Shabnam aimed to contribute to and enrich the diversity of voices. When we share stories and know each other on a more profound level, we feel the authentic human connection, we create empathy, we sense a true belonging. True belonging is to be part of something while we keep our identity and accept ourselves and others for who we are. Fitting in is hiding some aspects of our personalities, something emotionally painful. It kills our self-worth and makes us a victim. Belonging creates self-worth and freedom. Belonging and authentic connections are basic human needs.

To read the article please visit this link.

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Through Compassionate Eyes


A Short Story

When I went to pick up Maman so we could food-shop for my book launch party, she climbed into the car wearing her usual beautiful smile. I said Hi, and when she did not reply, I glanced at her. Her lips shivered, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She said she had been up until 2:30 a.m., reading the first half of my book, a memoir. Since the book is in English and her best language is Farsi, it was a chore she had managed with a dictionary. “You made a monster of me,” she said brokenly. “Was I that bad when you were a teenager?”

to continue reading please go to Eat, Darling, Eat

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In the rooftop bar of Eaton DC, skeptical of attending a religious event, I didn’t know what to expect. When Nafisa Isa enthusiastically started introducing the program, people cheered and hollered. Sitting in the second row, I turned back to see the people cheering, and saw more than 100 people mostly with dark hair and olive skin, like me. All the chairs were filled and people were standing by the bar.

to continue reading please go to View & News