Thursday, August 20, 2015


CONTENT WARNING:  #Triggers #Graphic Language #Raw #Graphic Sexual Language #Trigger Warning #Rape

“…we must also remember that we need to leave the darkness in order to find one another.  In the fight against injustice, it helps to hear truths about women’s personal lives.”  (Mona Eltahawy, Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution)


In this fabulous book (go buy it and read it!!), Mona Eltahawy shares about how a group of women in Cairo had set up an open mic for sharing their stories in a garden of an arts gallery.

One young woman took the mic and said to the women present, “I can’t tell you this while facing you so I’m going to turn around and then share my story.” (p. 177) Then the young woman, with her back to the others, shared how she was sexually abused by a cleric at age 11. 

When I wrote the initial draft of She Put Some Makeup On It, the story that follows this introduction, it had been about 35 years since I was brutalized and raped by a Houston businessman.

I didn’t have the courage then to tell the world what happened to me, to come out, to put my name on my own story. But much has happened, and I’m now ready to give my story a home in my personal garden – Shaalom2Salaam. 

One of the factors that made it so difficult for me to stand up and count myself among the survivors of rape was that I internalized guilt for what happened to me.

Why?  Because my rapist didn’t come through my bedroom window in the middle of the night.  My rapist didn’t pop out of the bushes, or grab me while I was walking alone to my vehicle in a parking garage.

My rapist invited me to my nightmare, and I went willingly.

At first.

But, I always knew somewhere deep inside that it isn’t okay for a man to beat up a woman and then fuck her - no matter what the circumstances of his relationship with her.

It wasn’t until decades after my own rape, when I heard feminists discuss terms like “date rape,” “stranger rape,” and “marital rape,” did I begin to understand what happened to me. 

And it took a few more years and some counseling for me to process that I didn’t deserve what happened to me.

Even though I’ve disclosed to a few other women from time to time that I was raped in the past, I never shared the details with anyone.  I stuffed them. 

It’s time to tell exactly what happened to me, to share the details.  I also deserve to tell.

During the writing of She Put Some Makeup On It, “my” voice surfaced in the third-person.  I decided to leave the manuscript just like that.  When I first put it all down to computer screen, it was easier to write as if it all had happened to someone else.

But it happened to me.

So I hope you don’t mind if I share my story with my back to you by not changing my draft to a first-person account. 

She Put Some Makeup On It is my Truth.  My attempt to leave the darkness.  My Hope that Others find me.  That I find Others.

She Put Some Makeup On It
By S. E. Jihad Levine, Copyright 2015 All Rights Reserved

For the most part she forgot about it, refused to think about it, stuffed it, was in “denial” as therapists would claim, mentally put it away somewhere, but every so often it would surface, demand to be noticed, tug at her conscious mind, like now for instance, when night after night, she watches woman after woman appear on her television screen describing how Bill Cosby “allegedly” drugged and raped them, how many of them suffered in silence for decades, and how, when many did break the silence, they were judged and doubted, or outright accused of telling lies.

She remembered that time in Houston, Texas, waaaay back in the day, more than three decades or so actually, when she was a dancer in a gentleman’s club, and this handsome man used to come in every night, accompanied by this equally beautiful woman. 

The couple would watch her dance and tip her nicely.  Made her wonder … didn’t see many couples in clubs like this, usually only saw men - young ones, old ones, in-between ones, businessmen, college students, men on shore leave, tech workers, oil rig workers, undercover cops, guys looking for a trick, guys just fantasizing, all kinds of men, but rarely young couples.  Maybe they were looking for a ménage-trois partner?

One evening the man came into the club without the lady.  He arrived early, bought the dancer drinks all night, and graced her with lots of big tips.

At the end of the evening, he asked to take her home.  Where was the woman he was usually with? she momentarily wondered, and who was she in his life anyhow.  Did they break up, and now he was interested in her? 

No matter.  She decided not to ask.  She was definitely interested in him.

When they got to his place, she was surprised to see there were about 10 guys playing cards around a large round table in a smoky dining room in the middle of a well-furnished townhouse.  He took her hand and swiftly led her upstairs to one of the bedrooms.

They relaxed fully clothed on a king-sized bed, and he, lying on his back, and her propped up on an elbow, exchanged stories of how they had come to arrive in Houston, sharing their dreams for the future.  He described his start-up business and claimed that this would be the year he would finally make a “go” with his idea.   While they were talking, she slipped off her silver spiked heels, and they drank Jack Daniels “Black” whiskey and smoked joints.

Feeling drunk and high, in a haze of sweet marijuana smoke, they began to softly kiss and slowly undress each other.  She, feeling off guard from all the intimate sharing, began to naively think that maybe this could go somewhere, that maybe he actually liked her.

When they started to make love though all her fantasies about him were shattered.

Once her panties were off and he became excited, he grabbed her arms so hard that they hurt.  He rammed himself into her, and fucked her so hard that she thought her skinny hips would fracture.  Squeezed and twisted her tiny tits until she thought they would snap off.  The pain was incredible.  Bit her lips and face until blood trickled down the sides of her mouth.  Blood!  She was bleeding! 

“No, no!  Wait, stop!” she cried out.  But he wouldn’t.

Instead he attempted to go down on her.  More biting, pinching, cracked fingernails …

In the middle of this nightmare, one of the card players barged into the bedroom, went to the small closet, and removed a pillow and blanket.

She struggled to cover herself up, but her “lover,” who didn’t seem to notice they had company, kept trying to force her legs back open. 

Before leaving the room, the card player paused and glanced at the pitiful sight on the bed.  His eyes and hers locked for a second, and she wasn’t sure if he was thinking to join in or to help her, but all he did was throw his head back, let out a weird laugh, and leave the room.

Oh my God!  Was this HIS house?  His room?  What had she gotten herself into?

After the business man finished and rolled off her, he passed out.  While he was snoring loud enough to bring the walls down, she got dressed, and plotted a way to escape.  But she was still a little drunk and disoriented, didn’t know what part of town he’d brought her to, and realized that she’d left her stuff, including her purse and money back at the club.  And this happened in the days before the advent of cell phones or anything like that.

Then there was the matter of the card players downstairs.

He came to and wanted to fuck again.  When she said “no,” that she had to leave and get back to the club, he jumped on her, ripped her dress, and began to “beat her like a man” as the saying goes.  He punched her in the face so hard that she thought she was going to pass out.  Her head was spinning, and her body went numb.

At that moment her mind kicked into survival mode.  She thought about the card players downstairs.  She could hear them making noises.  If she started to scream would one or more of them come upstairs to help her?  Or to join in?

She went limp, surrendered to rape … to stay alive.

Miraculously, he offered to drive her “home” when he was done.

That morning, she went to the free clinic for medical treatment.  She explained to the staff that she wanted help in reporting the rape to the authorities. 

After tending to her injuries, the doctor sat her down for a “talk.”  He advised against reporting the businessman to the authorities.  Why, after everything she had been through, did she also want to put herself through that, he wanted to know?  After all, he is a respected member of society, and she is a dancer in a gentleman’ club.
“No offense, dear, but how would you be able to prove anything?” the doctor offered.  “Surely the card players would be witnesses for his side.”

Yes, she should forget about it.  Forget about it, and learn a lesson from it.  Don’t pick up strangers and go home with them in the future.  She couldn’t believe what he was suggesting:  that she merely had a bad experience with rough sex and even if she could get someone to take her case, it would practically be impossible to get a jury to believe that what happened to her was rape.

“Doctor!” she pleaded with him, “Yes, I did go with him and agree to have sex with him the first time, yes, but the second time?

I told him no.  I said I wanted to leave, and asked him to take me home.  And then he beat me up and took it anyhow.  I’m begging you to help me.”

She began to sob.

The doctor just looked at her with sad eyes.  She was getting nowhere.

What did she do?  What could she do?  She was trash.  She deserved it.  Didn’t she willing go to the apartment with the guy?  And now she was crying foul?  Did she have a right to justice?

She had so many feelings she couldn’t identify them all.  She went home, got real high, put some makeup on her facial injuries, and went to work at the club that night. 

The other dancers and the club manager stared at her, but no one asked what happened.  They knew.  She wasn’t the first.

She never saw her rapist again.  He and his lady never returned to the club.  She blocked out his name and his place of employment.  She blocked it all out.   

To this day, it’s tucked away somewhere deep inside.  Most days it stays there … most days.  Maybe some day she’ll tell someone exactly what happened to her.

Truth is the most beautiful cosmetic!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


by S. E. Jihad Levine (All Rights Reserved)

As the snow gently falls outside,
covering my porch steps and sidewalk,
I put on my hijab, jacket, and gloves,
preparing to go outside to shovel and salt.

Memories flood my vision from
long long ago,
when I was a kid
on a day just like this one,
when the neighborhood would be
crawling with kids.

We raced from house to house,
snow shovels slung over our small shoulders,
younger brothers and sisters trailing behind us,
trying to keep up,
lugging little bags of salt.

We kids knocked on every door in
the neighborhood
trying to get business,
even undercutting the
kids behind us
by as low as a nickel.
Ah, the competition!
What businessmen and
we were learning to be!

Moms, dads, and older folks
were waiting for us.
Adults shoveling their own snow
or snow blowers
or snow tractors
in those days
were unheard of.
Shoveling sidewalks was a kid's job.
Even the big kids would take on the
challenge of clearing driveways.

There were also fringe benefits to
the job of
shoveling snow.
After we were done and our
pay was handed to us, often
we were given hot chocolate or
warm cookies!

Oh ... when I was a kid.

When all we wanted for Hanukkah
or Christmas
was a snow shovel
so we could earn our own
money to buy those
toys and things our parents
wouldn't or couldn't buy or get for us.

Shoveling snow was the way ...

I smile, remembering,
as I go out and start shoveling.
Not a kid outside in the neighborhood
even though there's no school today.
No kids out sled riding,
Making snow men
or snow angels,
no snowball fights ...

Oh wait, there's a kid!
My neighbor's kid,
watching me shovel my walk
through the parted curtains of his
living room window,
the glare of the family's big screen TV
glows behind him.
I wave to him, but
he quickly disappears when he
realizes that he's been seen.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Bridgeway, Inc. - Community Empowerment Center

(All Images Copyright, 2014, S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved -  Exclusive Permission to Use Images Only Given to Bridgeway, Inc. and Clayton (Brother Abdul-Wakeel Shabazz) Morrison)

Also on the corner of 18th and Ontario in North Philadelphia, PA, on Ontario Street, is another mural obituary.  This one belongs to Bridgeway, Inc., which is a community based empowerment center.

Bridgeway has been around since 1975.  It was started by its current executive director, Emily Rollins, who is a native of the Tioga/Nicetown area.  In the 1960s, she witnessed corporations, small businesses, and educational services leave her neighborhood, and they were replaced by violence, drugs, and crime.  Ms. Rollins started Bridgeway out of her home on 1722 West Ontario Street, and since then, Bridgeway has service over 5,000 people a year from her very doorstep.

Bridgeway provides food, transitional housing, educational, and cultural programs to this under-served community.  Ms. Rollins, now in her 80s, still answers her door and answers the call of her community.  she is also helped by a large group of dedicated volunteers that make it possible for Ms. Rollins and her Deputy Director, Yvonne Hughes, to operate Bridgeway.  Ms. Hughes is an ordained minister and President of SCOPE Education Services.  (info taken from Bridgeway's website)

As I was photographing Bridgeway's mural, their Vice President, Clayton (Brother Abdul-Wakeel Shabazz) Morrison stopped by to give me salaams and to chat with me.  It was great spending some time with him and finding out about the mural and the work that Bridgeway does.

The mural is called "The Wall of Wonder," and is dedicated to those "gone but not forgotten" in community service to Bridgeway and the community.

It's a beautiful tribute, and shows how hard people are working to create a better world and opportunities for the neighborhood.

Further details about Bridgeway's wonderful services can be obtained from their website, or you can stop by at the Center at 1722/1800 W. Ontario Street.  Their phone number is 215-226-1983.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tarif Wooden

(Note: All Images Copyright 2014 S. E. Jihad Levine, All Rights Reserved)

According to Philadelphia, PA Police Department records, 350 persons were murdered in the City of Philadelphia in the year of 2003.

A few days before his 22nd birthday, on November 21, 2003, Tarif Wooden became Philadelphia's 315th homicide victim.

Police records state that Tarif died from a gunshot wound, and the official motive for his murder is simply listed as "drugs." 

On the corner of 18th and Ontario in North Philly, there's a beautiful mural dedicated to the memory of Tarif Wooden.  The mural shows a very young African-American man as he looked before somebody's gun brought him down in the prime of his life. 

Who knows what Tarif Wooden could have become or accomplished in this life had he not been murdered, or who he might have turned out to be had he straightened his life out before his lifestyle appears to have taken him out? 

What is clear, for sure, is that Tarif Wooden had a family who loved him.

And friends who loved and cared about him.

Looks like somebody named "Chick," not wanting to be left out, added his/her name later on with some black paint.

As I photograph Tarif's mural, folks walk by, slow down, and reflect on his memory.

The young man stops.  Perhaps to offer his respects?  Maybe he knew Tarif? 

One things is clear: the folks in this neighborhood will never forget Tarif Wooden.

People often forget that although some young men like Tarif (if what they claim about him is true) may have been in the "lifestyle" or that they themselves may have victimized others -- in the end, they are victims.  Victims of violence.

Despite it all, no one deserves to be murdered.

No mother, grandmother, deserves to grieve for a child cut down too soon, before he or she even gets a chance to live life to its fullest potential. 

Everyone deserves a chance to figure it out. 

Tarif Wooden never got a chance to figure it out.  He was robbed.  He was murdered and robbed.

Friday, November 08, 2013


NOVEMBER 8, 2013

Have Kim will travel ...

(Click on image to see better)

Thursday, November 07, 2013


November 7, 2013

No wudu here!!!  Ladies bathroom at Penn State University, Main Campus, State College, PA, Pasquerilla Spiritual Center, Eisenhower Chapel

(Click image to see better)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


NOVEMBER 6, 2013

My plan for these piles of leaves: scoop them up in the wheelbarrow and put them into my garden.  It's fenced in, so they won't blow away.  The little critters will munch them into mulch over the winter to nourish my garden soil :)

(Click on image to see it better)