Dalel Khalil is Syrian-American who survived what she calls THE REAL WAR ON TERROR – of living in the cross-fire of the conservative Arab and liberal American cultures. With one foot firmly planted in Syria, and the other grounded in the Steel City of Pittsburgh, Dalel has an equal love of both cultures, embracing their beautiful unique gifts and completely wacky flaws. She grew up being able to twirl both the mesbaha (Arabic dancing beads) and the Terrible Towel, with equal ease. And she wears her battle scars, proudly.
Having been raised precisely in the middle of veil and thong, Dalel has the rare ability to not only understand both worlds, but also to address sensitive issues in a creative, palatable way. Best of all, her fun, engaging and charismatic personality enables her to translate those differences in a fun way! She has lectured about cross cultural understanding nationally, at venues such as Wellesley, and presented at the same ADC Conference where former President Bill Clinton spoke.
A lover of travel, and a former radio personality at three of Pittsburgh's Number One Radio stations, she is now co owner, along with her sister, of her family's legacy restaurant, Khalil's, and the co-author, along with her sister of Sito's 15 Minute Mediterranean Meals. She is factually the only person in the entire world who owns a restaurant and has co-written a cookbook, who can't cook to save her life. But, she is beyond proud to carry on her parent's legacy of sharing the warmth of Syria's hospitality which was so evident in their lives.
She hopes you will journey with her to Syria and experience its richness, while at the same time, agreeing that despite our differences, we truly are the same underneath. And those differences need to be celebrated -- for they are what makes life so beautiful. Dalel is everything at the core of her foundation because of her remarkable parents. Read more about them here.
All about adventure, she bought a one way ticket to Europe for $169 from AIRHITCH, an obscure company which advertised religiously in the back pages of The Pitt News and possibly countless other college newspapers around the country, seeking adventure-starved, broke college kids, looking for new daring challenges. AIRHITCH was great. It guaranteed you a seat across the Atlantic -- but, that was it. You didn't know where you were going, what time you were going, which airline you were going on, where you would land, what country you would land in, what time you would land in that country, and had zero idea of how, when -- or even if -- you'd come back (try catching a flight back home in the height of high season in Europe).
You mailed your check in for $169 bucks, signed up and got a list and voucher mailed to you (in the actual mail, way before internet). The list comprised of possible flight availabilities from 3 international airports closest to your zip code.
So, you'd take a chance, grab your backpack, hop in a car and head to La Guardia, JFK or BWI and dash from counter, to counter, to counter, to counter -- literally -- all up and down the terminal -- to see which airline, still might possibly have an available seat by the time you actually got there, and which one of those left that you could still hitch a ride onto. Spain? Switzerland? Austria? London? Who knows? Who cares.
Dalel has traveled around the world, flew a plane at 15 years old (before she ever drove a car) celebrated Oktoberfest in Palestine, and swam with a shark in Mexico. She even got detained by 3 separate Middle Eastern governments. In 2010, she embarked on a 21 day, 7 country, Monastery/Beer crawl, with nothing but backpack, and this time -- a confirmed round trip plane ticket in her hand -- because she learned her lesson. Well... at least one lesson....buuuut that's another book.
She first went to Syria (reluctantly) in 2004 with her father and family, after her mother passed. Then again in 2008, to Damascus, this time by herself. There, she, along with other Westerners, volunteered with charities assisting Iraqi refugees, before once again, returning in 2010, just 5 months before the war in Syria began.
She also got yelled at by rude taxi drivers who begged her to speak English because they didn’t quite understand her "girl you wished you hadn't started a conversation with" Syrian accent.
Somehow, throughout the years, she managed to escape the family business and enjoy a fabulous radio career in radio -- including working for three of Pittsburgh's Number One Radio stations (WDVE, WAMO, KDKA). She also briefly wrote for the heritage African American Newspaper The New Pittsburgh Courier and was a regular lifestyle columnist for several Arab American magazines.
While promoting her book, she was a regular panelist and lecturer, educating Westerners on the beauty of Syrian culture. In both, 2012 and 2013, she wrote 2 Op-Eds for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The latter came on the eve of The United States Congress contemplating taking military action in Syria. That week, she spent 7 hours on the radio, including 4.5 hours straight on KDKA with Chris Moore advocating for Syria, and spent the rest of the exhausting week doing TV, radio and print interviews.
She did all this before doing the one thing she swore all her life she would never, ever, ever, ever do...
Go back into the family restaurant business.
"Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!"
ABOUT THIS BOOK
A very important note about this book
I wrote this book like 10 yrs ago. It is dated, for sure, so I will advise you to take it in context
It has references like "ghetto-fabulous", which may not be so acceptable now, but it was written when that was completely OK, especially given my inclusion within my own African-American family at WAMO
It also has references to the difference between marches being described as either "protests" or "riots" depending on which color of skin you have. Riots being described when African-Americans, or Arabs march, and protests when White Americans are doing it
This was also written waaaaaay before the Capitol Riot shook our nation to its core, white supremacy could mostly be found only on the fringes, and the Black Lives Matter movement inspired Americans across the country to the streets to protest George Floyd and other Black citizens who were being killed by police officers
And before white supremacists, themselves, killed white police officers
A lot has changed
Our world has changed
But the strangest thing about this book for me, is that in a weird way, it kind of foreshadowed the future
Prior to the past decade, being a Syrian-American was unique, in that we were fighting our liberal selves with our conservative selves -- and "you guys" were totally out of the picture, because it was something most Americans couldn't understand
But now, sadly, that we are all so divided in America, the country is experiencing that very same unique thing -- but, within itself.
It's weird to us to have "you" ... like us.
In a weird way... that was kind "our thing". But it spilled over, which only goes to show how humanly similar we all are, regardless of our backgrounds
I also wrote this before the war
And before ISIS even existed
A lot which was funny at the time, can now be seen differently through the horrific reality of war. Syrians, like 93% of the rest of the world, are / were generally poor. They are humble people, and the poorest kids, like elsewhere in so many non-Western countries, sold whatever they could, on the streets, all the time.
I joke about kids hustling in the souks, downright running the economy, and producing the nation's GDP. They did because they needed to work, which was funny to experience when you had a 10 year old boy showing you sexy lingerie, with absolutely no qualms. Which I get. As a restaurant kid, I was hustlin' spinach pies at 8 years old. These kids are my people
But, its a whole different ball game now -- they do it for their very survival
So I urge you to look at it in the context it was written and enjoy it
Comedy is often born out of pain -- but the pain of war is completely off limits
I wrote this before there was a female Vice President in the United States of America,
let alone an ethnic, African-American one
Which just proves the point about the strenuous difficulty of balancing tradition with progression
It's important to balance both
And just keep the good parts of each
That's Balance... and that's what we so desperately need