The Hood,  urban life

My Iraqi Makeover

new author shot

My neighbors came over last night and gave me a complete makeover (including threading!). Isn’t that crazy? I didn’t ask for one. They just came over and the young fourteen year-old daughter translated that her mother (who speaks only Arabic) wanted to give me a makeover as a gift. How could I say no to that? I could be offended of course but I know it’s obvious to everyone and anyone that I can’t be bothered with daily makeup and hair fussing routines. I have better things to do like blog and illustrate books and…I don’t know, stand on my head and drink coffee. I’m just not into being pretty. I gave up on that a long time ago.

The mother (with translation via her daughter) asked me why I would not dye my gray hair. How could you do that to Bug when she is so little? she asked like it was some kind of great offense. But of course she softened it by saying it was a shame that I do not play up my great beauty etc etc… It was all a comedy of translation errors and me blushing. It was fun. Maybe I needed a little attention.

Here they are from left to right: The mother (I don’t know her name yet), Lubna, Mohammed and Bug.

Unforgivably, I don’t remember the mother’s name. She told me but it was such an unfamiliar sound that I forgot it already like I forgot all the days of the week that she taught me. I’m going to make it a point to learn it though. I have a feeling she is going to be a really good friend.

I think the mother used to be a make-up artist back in her home country of Iraq. She speaks no English other than the words “thank you.” She is so sweet though. Her kindness transcends any language barrier. She often brings over treats and fresh fruit as a gift but she always hangs back and lets her kids do the talking.

Maybe she is kind to me because I let her kids come and go as they please in my house. It can sometimes be a little crazy because they don’t always knock but they are so polite and adorable otherwise. I couldn’t turn them away. They love doing all the art projects we do. They eat it up. Everything I show the daughter she wants to do more and more and more. She takes home art supplies so she can keep working after we have long turned out our lights and gone to bed. Her brain is a giant sponge. It’s not surprising to me at all that she knows as much English as she does for only being here for nine months or so.

doing what she does

When I asked them why they moved to America, the daughter said, “Because it is more peaceful here and not so much boom boom boom”. My heart sank when I heard that. I can only imagine what they’ve come from. Lots of war, lots of fear…it must have been really terrible because living here is pretty scary! They don’t know anyone. They don’t speak the language or even recognize our characters.

They are living in a tiny apartment here with only one bedroom and a bunch of family members. I don’t think they’ve been further away than our small little neighborhood. They’ve never been to the beach or a mall and both are only ten minutes away. I took them to Trader Joes and out for frozen yogurt the other day and when we got back they all hugged me and thanked me for the good time. It blows my mind. I just want to save up a bunch of money and take them to Disneyland or something. Southern California is so big and I get to help them discover it! What fun!

getting a makeover

So I’ll take a makeover. In fact, I’m going to be filming some footage next week for my books so I think I’m going to kidnap the mother and pay her to be my personal makeup artist. How cool is that? I can’t believe how things work out. They need extra money. I needed some help in the looks department (as we all saw with the ABC filming where I was sweating like a pig under the bright lights, and my hair! Don’t even get me started on my hair!). God has a funny way of working things out.


When the mother was done making me look beautiful, the daughter asked to take my picture in front of my turquoise wall. She told me to pose like this and like that. She was better at directing me to model than I am when I tell people how to pose and I sometimes do that for money. I wonder if she has experience with modeling. She is quite the beauty herself.


A while back she told me her father was looking for work. She wanted to know if I knew of anything that he could do. The first thing that came to mind is that she could make a lot of money modeling. She’s beautiful. But when I showed her the websites of some local agencies, she was worried that they would make her wear swimsuits and since she is a strict Muslim she cannot show her shoulders or any skin above her knee. I agreed that the modeling world would push her to do things that she didn’t feel comfortable with so we dropped it. But she did let me take some photos of her with my polka-dotted parasol.


I did a terrible job photographing her. The sun was too bright and I had my shutter speed set too low for the shade. But I’ll try again. She is so much prettier in real life. Probably because she is smiley and it lights up her eyes.


I’m very lucky to have such amazing neighbors. And not because they are pretty and like to give me free makeovers but because I am learning so much about people. It’s like I’ve been dropped into a new world. I might think my apartment complex is the shabbiest in town and I might be bummed that I can’t afford to travel to Paris to illustrate my book in real time but I don’t suffer from any shortages of experiences. My world is a rich tapestry right at my very door.

pretty is as pretty does

And they are learning that Americans are goofy!



  • bethany

    that is a most awesome story, and you look fabulous! may the friendship get better and better, you’re off to a fab start for sure. and yes the daughter’s gorgeous too. maybe the mom can get more makeup gigs?

  • Kandi

    Beautiful makeover! They seem like very lovely people.
    I had to laugh at the gray hair comment though. I am 31 and have a good deal of grays. I decided back in March to grow it out and stop dying it. I went to get my hair cut the other day and my hair dresser mentioned my gray hair and asked if I had been coloring at home. I told her I was letting it grow out and she seemed shocked and told me I was too young to have gray hair. I actually think it’s pretty so far.

  • SAJ

    Hmmm… That’s an idea. Actually the daughter, Lubna, wants to be Cinderella for Halloween. She’s fixated on it…I don’t know why, maybe it’s an America thing. I was thinking about writing about that and maybe someone could gift her a costume. I might myself. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

  • susie

    What a great story. That daughter is beautiful — but most importantly, she has such a warm look about her. Some people just exude that.

    One of my best friends is from Iraq, and almost all of her family has escaped over the past few years. Once the war destroyed Baghdad, their lives were largely unrecognizable. So so sad.

    One of my favorite things about the town I live in is that it is so diverse. I feel fortunate to be able to raise my kids in a place where they can experience multiple cultures and where they don’t expect everyone to look and sound the same. It sounds like your neighborhood is the same. It makes for such a rich life, doesn’t it?

    In the meantime, you look beautiful! :)

  • Ami

    What a great story. I was thinking that a potential job for the dad (if he speaks English), would be a translator for local hospitals. They do much of it over the phone. He would need a work visa, obviously. Many times, the men get better education than the women, so I’ve he might well speak English.

  • Kimberly

    You look gorgeous. And at least 10 yrs younger – I think it’s tw glow, you look happy and content in these photos. Lovely neighbors!

  • Little Gray Pixel

    “I’m just not into being pretty. I gave up on that a long time ago.”

    Well, tough luck lady. You ARE pretty. And I didn’t see any gray hair when I met you! :-P

    I love this post. It reminds me of when my mother-in-law visited (she’s Moroccan) and we had the biggest language barrier for three whole weeks, but I’ve never smiled or laughed more in my life.

  • Keely

    You have such a natural beauty to you whether you are into it or not. The make up and hair looks great, but know that people see your beauty without it too. I’m glad you have such great neighbors and I’m sure they’re glad they have you and Bug – I’d know I’d be thrilled if you two moved next door! :)

  • KD

    You look pretty in those photos because you ARE pretty. All the time. Even when you don’t brush your hair.

    You were very gracious to agree to the make over, it must be so hard for the mother to want to say thank you and literally not have the words. Get her daughter to write her moms name down, that will help you remember! It looks like you all had such a fun time.

  • lynne

    This so reminds me of my best friend growing up. They came to a small town in Virginia after a bomb fell on their porch in Jerusalem in the 68 war. My growing up would have been so provincial with out them in it. They opened up my world view but at the same time their parents were grateful for our family. She remembers having her first grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup at our house. Went home and told her mother all about this great meal my mother cooked.

    Be grateful what this family brings to Bug. She doesn’t realize it now, but this family could have a lasting impact on her world. I am sure this family is equally grateful for your friendship, what difference you are making. Make them a grilled cheese for me.


  • cath

    You look so beautiful. Such a lovely treat for you, and obviously they could see that under your bushel was a beauty waiting! My daughter married an iraqi refugee and has converted to islam. it can be a very loving religion and quite beautiful.

  • Janna

    I love this story so much! I love how generous and welcoming and sweet you are to all the people around you. You are making a huge difference in this family’s life by just being you (and Bug) and they will never forget you, the art projects, the adventures. Never ever ever. You are a dollcake. The end.

  • Hil

    Ok, I can be blunt. When I saw you on Good Morning America, I thought,”She is so gorgeous!”, and now that I see you made over, you are a work of art. This was a grea story. It is so nice that a family with little money can give you a gift for all that you do. Beautiful!

  • Jody

    I’m in my 50’s. For a long time, I covered my gray with color. But I decided it just wasn’t worth the effort. Now I consider my gray hairs “highlights”. You are beautiful with or without make-up. It really *is* what’s inside that counts, and your care and concern for your neighbors makes your inner beauty show on the outside.

  • Sam

    This is just wonderful. I love how you are SO kind to your neighbors. Isn’t it amazing, what we can learn about people? They are lucky to have you, and vice versa. You look so pretty, by the way – you don’t have to give up on pretty! (Though I totally know the feeling.) For me, pretty means clean hair and a wee bit of makeup. Just a wee bit. :)

  • Amy

    You are always beautiful SAJ :) How generous of the Mom to want to reach out and do what she could to thank you for your hospitality, she did a great job.

    Also wonderful to see you meeting new and interesting people. Yes, the daughter is gorgeous! Must be so very interesting to learn about their culture and am sure the daughter loves spending time at your house crafting.

    This post makes me really smile :)

  • OMSH

    You are a natural beauty, but I like the makeup and the soft light too! I also love how you don’t really view yourself as a social creature, but you are SUCH A SOCIAL CREATURE. And so kind, loving and giving.

    Beauty resonates from within – you’ve always got it.

  • SAJ

    Phooey you guys! If you only knew all my not so beautiful sides. Please believe me, they are many. All this talk of beauty is going to bring out the hatemongers or explode my head. But thank you. You are all too kind.

  • Kuky

    You look lovely. I know almost nothing about makeup. I actually had to google threading TWICE. The first time was when I saw your post in my reader but didn’t have time to read it. The second time because I had already forgotten what threading meant. Ha ha ha!

  • MargieK

    When I saw the photo on Facebook, I thought you’d had a book jacket covershoot! You’re beautiful no matter how much makeup, how full the eyebrows, or “chrome” in your hair. Great that you have such nice neighbors to share adventures, teach and learn new things with!

  • TexasLea

    Brenda you are the best kind of pretty- the pretty that doesn’t know she’s pretty. The pretty that has a pretty exterior and a beautiful heart on the inside. You don’t need to “be bothered with daily makeup and hair fussing routines” because you are comfortable in your skin. You’re teaching Bug to be comfortable in hers because she sees you comfortable in yours. That my friend is beautiful. This whole post is full of pretty! You are a knockout Brenda Ponnay!

  • Rachel

    I don’t know why this story touches me so deeply.

    Regardless, friend, you are so lovely – accept your beauty because you’ve got it, darlin’!