Management Position Interview

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From the Ptolemaic to Copernican thinking with Nietzsche

* 3 mins
This is a continuation for previous blog “The fault in my stars, they aligned!”

“For the wages of sin is death”, Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sex before marriage is a tax scam”, Ninos April 11:2015

As I was writing my last article about becoming the victim of a tax scam, some long suppressed thoughts and feelings inside me were resurrected. The first curious thought that entered my mind was wondering if this scam I fell for was actually a judgment from God. I am a good person, but I am not perfect, so could God have been punishing me for some bad deed I might have committed?

Although I don’t think about God and religion every day, I was raised in a culture where church was a regular place of hope, family, and refuge. For years, they preached to us that God could and would punish us for wrongdoing. Then, we would suffer for our sins and would have to repent and learn from our mistakes in order to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the Lord. Religious punishment was inculcated in me since childhood and it had still been engrained in the back of my mind.

After I realized I became a victim of tax scam. I managed my anger with a few F$#Ks as my cathartic release. I paused for a moment of Atonement. I was trying to identify where I could have sinned. I reflected on my previous days and weeks, backtracking my steps to visualize everything I had done, everywhere I had been, and everyone whom I had seen.

I couldn’t think of anything I did that may have been frowned up by the Lord, so I shared the story with a friend of mine. Her opinion echoed the common belief that this could be a sign from God. I looked at her and cursed Allah!

“Was God toying with us humans like puppets on strings and controlling our fates? Like ISIS killing all these innocent people who maybe were not so innocent after all? Like victims of rape, or debt, or heart conditions? Like ME who was punished with a tax scam?

I started to get annoyed with this line of thought.

On one hand, it is irrational to draw such bogus conclusions. On the other hand, I can’t help but draw those conclusions because of the years of brainwashing the churches did to me, cementing in my mind that bad events are the result of religious punishments. Some people are able to stitch a few Biblical verses together and claim they understand Allah. It is like they privatized their religious belief and now own a “My Lord Says” or “My Church Says” franchise, and they go around preaching and casting a perceived religious guilt upon us.

Any attempt by me to respond to their religious arguments will only increase my likelihood of being further accused of neglecting God, for which I will have to suffer deeper for being so ignorant and arrogant. And if I don’t respond, but rather seek refuge in silence, lacking the ability to provide an answer to God’s businessmen, who are so skillfully robotic in quoting verses from the Bible, then I will just succumb to witnessing these disciples integrate God’s teachings into a unified marketing and communications campaign for public consumption.

The reality is that I know I am not alone in my thinking. All of these feelings I am having are very commonly held beliefs throughout the Middle East. We Middle Eastern (Christians, Muslims, Jews) have all been taught about punishment from God. It is like we have been diagnosed with a degenerative syndrome by the process of religious colonization and left without any antibiotics to be cured from all in the sake of heavenly seats.

But NO! I will not surrender my liberty of thought. I will scrutinize my brain. I will stand firm against all these critical religious thoughts. I will battle to the death!

So I switched off this paradigm and moved on. As refreshing as an ice cold sparkling water atop a terrace, overlooking a beautiful scene in Italy, I refreshed my mind. An intellectual reset. A mental migration from religious to secular society, from the Ptolemaic to Copernican thinking. It’s an escape. It’s a revolution.

Maybe at the end, Nietzsche was right. You start to smell the ‘bad odors of religion’ the moment you stay a bit far.

…but God damn it! Why did I succumb to this tax scam then? Did God rolled his dice and my number came up?


Related blogs:

The fault in my stars, they aligned! (Part 1)

Karma gets its debt instantly from me!


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The fault in my stars, they aligned!

* 5 min read (true story)

Life isn’t FarmVille game on Facebook. It all matters – every sin, every regret, and every affliction. (Tiny Beautiful Thing and I)

April 11, 2015

I had just arrived back home in the U.S. about a few days ago. I had been working overseas for months at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad without having seen my family and friends. A really long time. After a very long and very lonely flight, I was excited to be home. Finally, I was in the company of my family. I didn’t realize how much I missed America, the land of the free, where I never felt trapped and was always in full control.

It was Saturday and I snoozed like a baby, on vacation now with no rush to be anywhere and absolutely no worries. I finally decided to ease my way out of bed later morning. Normal routine. I washed my face and went downstairs to eat some breakfast. I finished and went back to my desk, picked up my kindle, and started my morning reading habit in peace.

Then unexpectedly, something extremely strange happened to me. Around 12:30pm, someone called my house. There are two cordless phones in my house, one at my desk and one in the living room. My father and I answered the phone at the same time. Keep in mind, my father does not speak any English, so if I had not picked up the phone also, the conversation might have ended right then. But I did answer.

And the caller asked to speak to Mr. Ninos Youkhana. So I responded that I was him. The caller authoritatively identified himself as an agent from the Inspector General (IG) office at the Treasury Department.

Green Dot

For a few minutes, I listened to him scold me for apparent tax violations. Normally, I would hold my ground and question a lot of things, especially with someone whom I had never conversed with before, but this peculiar guy seemed to know about me and my past travel. With every passing second, I couldn’t help but believe him, and even worse, be frightened by him. My world started to collapse in front of my eyes. The thoughts in my head started to follow a seemingly rational maze inside my brain.

“Mr. Youkhana! In a few minutes after I hang up this call, two police officers will serve you with an Arrest Warrant!” the caller declared. “The past two years, IRS had attempted to reach you and couldn’t…You have been accused for wiring money internationally and failed to report properly to IRS. There is a problem in your tax documents.”

The caller continued talking quickly and with an authoritative tone assuring me of all my rights as a U.S. Citizen. He even said I would be offered a lawyer if I didn’t already have one.

After about 20 minutes of installing fear, the caller started to pass a few instructions of what I needed to do. He would be guiding me through the process over the phone. He gave me an ultimatum that if I disconnected the call, he would call the nearest police station and send two officers to with an Arrest Warrant!

However, he told me that I could avoid the arrest if I paid the court fee of $900 over the phone. He said it was the weekend and we only had a few hours left to resolve this situation.

I was scared, frantic, and breathless. Was it a coincidence that I WAS away from the U.S. for three years and I actually did wire money to my non-English speaking parents? How did this guy know that about me? But regardless of if this guy actually did know these things or if I was in violation of IRS policy, his whole story sounded true. I was finally home on vacation and now this guy made it seem like I just came home only to be arrested! In two weeks, I was supposed to be in Malta. But the only image I had in my mind now was that in two weeks I would be behind bars!

The rational wall collapsed in my brain. Fear possessed me completely. My hands shook, my mouth was dry, and my heart raced. So many countless bad events flashed in my mind.

With blinding fear, I agreed. I sat down, followed his instructions, and started to obey him, feeling powerless without any rational. I was like a sheep going to be slaughtered!

My first instruction was to pay the $900 over EFTS: Electronic Federal Tax System, as he called it. In order to do this, I had to drive to the nearest Walmart and ask for a pre-paid Visa and Master card.

Continued to be possessed by fear, I sat in my car and drove to the nearest Walmart while the caller remained on the phone. Yes, I stayed on the phone with him the whole time! Ridiculous, I know.

After I bought two Green Dot Pre-Paid Visa cards, one for $500 and one for $400, the caller told me to go back to the car. Like a sheep, I paced back to my car and sat down. I passed him the first sequence of numbers…my brain recovered a bit of sense as again I started to question what the hell I was doing. But the questioning wasn’t enough. I passed him the second sequence of numbers. And like that, $900 was long gone by now. It seemed like right after I passed him the second sequence of numbers, my reasoning and rationale was restored, but of course, it was too late.

The second step was to pay 8% of the amount owed which was $65K, as the caller claimed. It was an out of court settlement to avoid the arrest and drop the charges against me.

My intuition FINALLY came alive. Something inside me did not feel right.

I arrived in front of my house; I slammed the break, opened the car door, and stormed inside the house. I resorted to calling my tax accountant from my house phone to explain to him the situation. I told him I already paid money to this guy and now I had to pay more to prevent being arrested.

“It is a scammmmmmm!!! Hang the phone in his face!!!” my accountant screamed.

At that moment, I realized what happened to me. By then, it was too late for my brain to recover any logical reasoning. I became a victim of a tax scam.

I was still on my cell phone with this scam artist. And I was furious. I yelled and shouted and screamed and cursed at him.

Then I hung up and sat down on my sofa. I closed my eyes and tried to understand what happened and why?

I was so angry. I felt so stupid. It wasn’t the matter of $900. I felt that my dignity was lost, that my intellect was insultingly compromised. Of all the people in the world, I am the one became a sucker. I was the idiot.

Overtaken by emotions, I couldn’t keep my thoughts in any obedient form. It took about 15 minutes to gain control over my emotions, manage that suppressed anger, and numb the sharp pain in my heart – a few F$#Ks to myself were my cathartic release.

I didn’t want to think of what happened. I just tried to push it out of my memory and move on quickly. So I called my friend and went to the gym. I didn’t even tell anyone else what just happened to me. I was waiting for this dark emotional cloud to pass.

But I couldn’t get it out of my head. A few days later, I started to think long and hard about WHY this happened to me. So many small events had to occur in order to set the stage for this big event to occur and haunt me for days. Maybe it was fate. Maybe I was destined to be scammed. Maybe it was God’s way of punishing me for something or teaching me a lesson. I was trying to find reasons in places where reason does not exist…Maybe?


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Day 3 – on the way to Chicago via Royal Jordanian

3 min

April 3
Up in the Air

It was an early morning when I checked out from the Ibis hotel and the taxi pulled up in front. The hotel concierge put my luggage in the trunk of the taxi, opened the passenger back door and said, “Have a nice trip sir!” Then we drove to Queen Alia International Airport. The words remained echoing in my head while looking through the window at white stone facades of building, homes, shops, reading signs and gazing at mountains, and valleys as they pass fast.

“Amman is nice!” the taxi driver said.

“Indeed”, I nodded.

With that the cabbie started a dialogue. Assessing the Arabic accent from my response, he launched into a series of questions about me.

“Here we go again”, I am thinking – repeat the same lecture.

Every time someone asked me where I am from, I feel I have to give a speech entitled: “Assyrian, Christian, Iraqi, living in America”.

As we engaged in back and forth questions and answers, he pulled up to a small coffee shop on the road and ordered us both some Arabic coffee.

Then before long, the usual happened – the dialogue switched to politics. He was a Palestinian-Jordanian (almost impossible to meet a Jordanian born taxi driver). He started by telling me a story about an Iraqi guy who rode with him one day and had blamed the Palestinians for all the suicide bombings in Iraq. The driver defended that argument and warned the Iraqi guy to never say that again in Jordanian and reminded him that he was a guest in the country. Making such accusations in front of someone else can get him in deep trouble with the security police in Jordan, he had said. I was wondering if the driver was warning me, lecturing me about politics, or correcting me in case I had the same belief.

Then to no surprise, the driver in turn blamed Israel for all the chaos in the Arab nations starting with Iraq. That is where I turned my face to him and said, “No!…Why don’t you say it is the Saudis and their Wahhabism belief?”

With assertive tone I continued, “Saudis have the greatest production line of terrorism from the Wahhabi factory not only in the Arab countries, but in the entire world!” With that, I ended the political conversation.

The Dead Sea road signs broke the silence again as it passed us. Apparently he wanted to start another lesson, by educating me on the benefits of the Dead Sea salt, and, he said, if I liked, he could stop by a shop along the road so I could buy some. It seems he had setup some kickback deal.

We pulled up to the new Queen Alia airport. It was clean and beautiful with natural looking cement color to resemble the environment around. I checked in to my flight and waited with heart filled with excitement to fly to Chicago. In 12 and half hours, I was going to meet my family and celebrate Easter for the first time after three years with them.

I had learned that Royal Jordanian introduced the new 787 Boeing Dreamliner in their fleet. I was looking forward to riding in that plane. I had paid $100 extra at the ticket counter to get an exit seat. As I was walking through the tunnel, I stopped and took a picture of the plane. With a smile and welcome-aboard-sir greeting followed by hand sign to the right then to the left by the flight attendant; I headed to G25 Exit-Aisle seat.

My three-day excitement started to wear off. The seat was tight. The two seats to my right were empty. As we were taxing to the runway, people started to eye the seats and waving their hands indicating their desire to come and sit. I ignored them.

After take off, I pulled out my iPad and started to read. As I continued reading for the next six hours of the flight, a couple of people came and tried to sit but were instructed to go back to their seats. Then the flight attendant brought one person. I complained to the flight attendant and asked to be re-funded $100. The passenger told me that she couldn’t sit there because there was a non-stop crying babe next to her seat and she would not be able to tolerate a crying babe during the entire duration of the flight.

My irritation started to increase as well. I was getting the smell of the nearby bathroom every time someone used it and people were crowding into the area waiting their turns to use the bathroom.

My frustration was amplified to complete aggravation. It was not only from the bad smell, but also by 12 and half hours or non-stop crying babies.

There were many pregnant women on the flight. It looks they were going to deliver their babies in America to grant them U.S. Citizenship, I noticed this trend 20 years ago from my first flight to America.

I spent most of the flight reading with full aggravation and frustration. My past two days of excitement and anticipation of arriving to see my family in Chicago was gone. It was one of the worst 12 and half hours – a disastrous flight.

Royal Jordanian is famous for having a non-stop-crying-babies-flights.

After landing in Chicago and meeting my family, I tweeted Royal Jordanian with: “It was one of the worst flight from Amman to Chicago. Full of 12.5 hours of crying babies. Never use again”

RJ replied back with apology and promised to look into the matter.

I am planning to upgrade to an Exit seat again on the way back and film some of the moments. I am sure; I will relive the same bad experience. But this time I am thinking maybe I share the video.


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Day 2 – On the way to Amman

* 5 min read

April 2, 2015

Next day as I was boarding the flight to Amman, around sunrise, I was excited to be leaving Iraq, especially because I would be meeting my cousin and my aunt’s family for the first time in over 20 years. That filled my heart with joy all through the next two hours of the trip.

After landing in Queen Alia International Airport and clearing customs, I walked through the airport with great anticipation. When I finally got outside I found my cousin Laban waiting for me. We gave each other a good strong hug – it had been so long.

He and his family are from a village of Tesqopa, near Mosul, and along with many other Assyrian Christians, were forced to leave recently because of ISIS. He is my second family member leaving Iraq this year, as part of the Christian Exodus. Barely anything of our extended family is still left here. We are approaching extinction in the region.

Laban and I drove to his two-room place in Alhashmi al-Shamali. It is one of the poor areas in Amman. It’s difficult to use the word home for this place. His rent is about $150 dollars a month. The condition of the house and the quality of his life as a refugee is difficult to witness. And seeing his three kids and wife living like that is heart breaking. Even more so because I know they’ll need to continue this way for the next year or longer, while they are waiting to process through to Australia to join his brother. I know about how this all works, because 20 years ago I was a refugee in Amman too.

I wanted to show him the places and things I had discovered while I was there. We took a taxi to visit the Roman amphi-theater in the downtown area. After recognizing our accents the taxi driver started up a dialogue. He was telling us about the Syrian refugees. He said they’re being labeled as “the Jews of the Arabs” – a term that made me laughs so hard. He was explaining that they had a reputation for being very frugal, and that most of the Jordanians are not renting their homes to Syrians, preferring instead to rent to Iraqi Christians. Syrians keep the houses dirty he told us, even destroy them sometimes, and almost never pay their rent. He claimed many had been taken to prison for it.  

After we had toured the Roman Theater and ate Habiba Knafeh we walked together, and I pointed out some of the restaurants and other places where I had been. Then we took the Serveece, a shared Taxi, to the 2nd Circle, to visit the building where my family had rented an apartment.

Then we continued on to al-Etihad church where I had spent much of my time. Being there, as part of the Christian community, was a great relief against the anxiety of being a refugee. Tuesday nights were always allocated for the Iraqi service. Most of the Assyrians who were there at the time had gathered as part of the post 1991 war Exodus. And now, 20 years later, another wave of Assyrian Christians were fleeing Iraq – ignited by the ISIS crisis. And the church has opened its doors again. 

Laban had invited me to stay with him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I needed to get a hotel. I had told him there wasn’t enough space for all of us there, but that wasn’t the real reason I declined. So after the church, we took a taxi back to my hotel. We had decided that was the best place for all of us to meet and spend the evening together.

This time my aunt and her family would be joining us too, including her daughter, another refugee at 18 years of age, who has succeeded in leaving Iraq, but has yet to claim any place home. Around 7pm, I came down to the lobby and was waiting anxiously. A few minutes passed and I was shaking my leg nervously – playing with my iPhone like someone smoking cigarettes – trying to push the time to go faster.

At about quarter after they arrived and our hugs had the intensity that can only come after long separations. Laban, his wife and children, joined us a few minutes later.

So there we all were, talking and telling each other stories. Sitting there in the lobby and looking at their eyes, I was heart broken for their situation.

I am going to America, and they are staying behind.

I wasn’t sure if I should call this a re-union or another goodbye. I know I will not see them again for a long time – that is, if we see each other again.

It was a short meeting after a long time, too short for another long time before we meet again.



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Day 1- On the way to Chicago through Amman via RJ

2 min

April 1, 2015

It is the last day in my windowless and bathroom-less room – thank God. It has been about six months since the last time I set foot on American soil and saw my family. Those statements were on my mind when I opened my eyes in the morning. I woke up from the bed, got ready and went to work. I was physically present, but mentally in many places. Mostly, my mind was occupied with the journey. I planned to leave work early.

I went around, shook hands and said “goodbye pending” to my friends and co-workers. This might be the last time I see them or see the place. Recently, many people have gone on holiday and never returned. A few were laid off while enjoying holidays with their loved ones.

It was around 6:00pm when an armored black BMW 700 with a diplomatic license plate pulled by the housing building. I placed my luggage in the car and N who is a friend of mine drove. We pulled up to the White gate to scan our badges.

“I am going to miss this place”, I said to N.

We scanned, then drove to the helicopter pad, passing the U.A.E, Egyptian, and the Italian Embassies.

As we drove, I was looking around and absorbing the place. Reminiscing over my life, this job was not part of the plan. I never would have believed that one day there would be a U.S. Diplomatic car giving me a ride to an airport. It is a dream, albeit in mundane form.

After checking-in at the helicopter counter, I went to the waiting area. A few U.S. Army soldiers were sitting watching TV. CNN was reporting on the Iran nuclear deal and Netanyahu’s power to affect U.S. foreign policy in the region. And I found myself wondering, who was the President – Obama or Netanyahu? It is the best nuclear deal in history. As a person who lived in this region, I see it as having great benefits. Many of the problems in the Middle East will be settled, in my opinion, if we make this deal with Iran. I would label it a Nixonian approach to Iran.

I put on a body armor went outside waiting for the helicopters. I was looking to the horizon, and the sun setting over Baghdad, maybe for the last time. The sky was colored with dark orange faded to a light blue followed by a dark sky, stars starting to appear. And the two floating dots in the sky were two helicopters, approaching from the west.

A few minutes later, they landed in front of us and we boarded, heading to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). I sat sideways behind one of the pilots looking over his shoulders at the green dashboard. Riding in a helicopter is one of our perks I really enjoy. It is about seven minutes of a retreat to the sky, over the ancient city of Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.

The side door remained open, the adrenaline rush of the take off, the wind hitting my face, all of it made my heart beat faster. The feeling of being suspended in mid-air is surreal, and made all the more so, by watching the escort helicopter, only a few hundred yards away from mine – like an out of body experience – watching yourself from a distance.

The straight lines of white lights radiating from the houses, and orange lights from the curving highways, gave the city the look of being blanketed with mini-runways. Passing over some of Saddam’s former palaces, it was impossible to believe that car bombs could explode down in one of those streets any minute as we were was flying. I recorded the entire flight in my memory, right up until we landed.

Around 9pm, I joined four of my friends, who work at airport compound, around a small fireplace. We spent the night talking about our contracting life and enjoying smoking Hookah. We shared stories and news about who quit or moved to a different contract, as we fed the fire and discussed future possibilities.

There was one story that made us shake our heads at the irony of our jobs. Two friends of ours moved to a new contract that was responsible for escorting busses for a salary of $180k a year. I had applied for the job. I was smiling and thinking to myself, after investing $85K in education to obtain my B.S. and M.S. in computer science; I was trying to be a bus escort. “How low can I degrade myself for money?!” I said, and we all laughed.

Our friend Bashi resigned after seven years of service to the State Department, in Basra. He was on his way home on the same flight with me. The other guys had been working there for the past two years. As for me, it was my third year.

At one point, Rasool and I climbed the stairs over one of the nearby trailers to look around the airport. We were looking out at the backside of the Baghdad Airport where a few airplanes taxied on to the terminals, and I was reminded of a time 10 years ago, when I landed in the dark in Baghdad, on a C-17 with the U.S. Army.

Shortly after that, we ended the night and each of us went to his room.



 to be continued

Be there…on the Cornice, and here is why…

1 min.

Last week’s dust storm left us with a taste of the desert in our mouth. We ate and drank with a dust flavor. It was a reminder of the nature of the place, and that here near the Tigris for thousands of years, people gathered in tents. It was a transit home for the Bedouins.

And for many of us, the embassy draws that similarity of a transit place in the journey of our lives. It has a feeling of mobility that offers an imaginative power to overcome our irresistible mood of stagnation and confinement at work and room – a paradox that exists in such a liminal place.

Charles Baudelaire

But there is poetry on the Cornice – in the everyday walk. We walk on a street that is a miraculous expression were East meets West in the middle of Baghdad.

On this post, a sense of friendship maybe easier to develop than in the city where we come from, and what we have in common with each other can be larger than what separates us. It is simple. In a different way became our new home for those who left home for a noble reason and remained here for years.

This was an invitation I sent for people to come again to the Cornice and experience that dichotomy. And add a night of music to the One Thousand and One Nights of our life.


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