Jaleh Tavakoli Shireen Qudosi Work Life Balance America Matters
Jaleh and I at dinner the first night we met.

By Shireen Qudosi

When people think of activism, they usually default to images of protests and signs. The reality is much simpler:  real activism is about merging life with purpose.

I suppose you could you say I’m an “activist” in some areas, but I never saw myself that way.  What I do is a natural part of my life.

There are so many times where people close to me will wonder how I “do it all” and how I have been able to make a mark. I have a feeling that even though they have glimpses into my day-to-day life, people still think of activism as this thing that requires immense energy.

It really doesn’t. Activism is just a state of awareness about the world and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and partake where you can.

Female-led activism is particularly fascinating to me. I juggle social media, dozens of inquiries and questions a week, constant reading up on the issues, with work and while living my day-to-day life as a mom. I usually listen to lectures while cooking dinner or cleaning around the house. Sometimes a bedtime story for my six-year-old is an article I wanted to read but couldn’t get to earlier. I merge my life with purpose everyday.

This idea really resonated with me recently when I met with Jaleh Tavakoli. Jaleh is an Iranian activist and a blogger for Jyllandsposten a Danish national newspaper in Denmark. She’s also the spokesperson for Free Iran in Denmark.

A few weeks ago, Jaleh reached out for the first time wanting to interview me along with a few others. She introduced herself and said she’d be on holiday in the states and would love to meet up. I hadn’t heard of Jaleh so I quickly did some background checking and she checked out. I also loved the idea of supporting another woman activist however I could. Creating those networks — and especially taking advantage of rare opportunities to meet in person — is so valuable.

Shortly after, Jaleh and I met up at a nearby park, along with her Turkish husband and her adorable free-spirited six-year-old daughter. It dawned on me that she was not only on a vacation, but on vacation with her family, exquisitely juggling her holiday with her passion for her cause.

The sun was setting and we found a quiet corner to shoot video. Her husband served as camera man, while Jaleh asked the questions and her daughter quickly made a friend to play with in the park. In between the riotous laughter of children running between us, we ran through a series of questions about Islam and the possibility of reform within the faith. An intense conversation of what was going on in Islam and how I viewed the problem was laced with everyday distractions that parents experience when they take their kids to the park.

In that moment, it struck me how profound this really was. Some people will look at the video (to be released later) and judge it for the noisy background, poor lighting, and breaks in dialogue — but this is real. This is what real life looks like. It’s messy, unscripted, and you make the best of it with what you’ve got.

When I talk to real people about what’s going on in the world, there’s always a common theme: frustration. They’re frustrated with the way things are and they think there’s nothing they can do about it. They wonder where they can start and what impact they could possibly have. Yet just as with anything in life, you start somewhere and slowly build forward. It’s always possible to do something, say something — and it can be done anytime, anywhere. Activism doesn’t have to be a grandstanding statement that takes away from your work or life commitments. It starts with being aware of an issue and curious enough to explore it further. Then you do it again the next day, and the next day after that.

That night a purpose-filled life lead to meeting a wonderful new family who is also passionate about building a better world. And at the end of the night, an Atheist Iranian and an Atheist Turk from Europe sat around a dinner table with a spiritual Muslim American talking about life, while intermittently entertaining a six-year-old with Snapchat filters. Even though we may all have different opinions on religion and live in different parts of the world, at the end of the night we still argued about who would pay the bill — an act of hospitality and grace that is a unifying trait among Middle Easterners.