Friday, September 22, 2017

Early Moments Matter



Asalamu Alaykom,




This actor, Ahmed Helmy, has become my favorite, family-friendly celebrity in Egypt.  He is always putting himself out there in a positive light.  God bless him and UNICEF.  

This ad reminds parents who use cutesy baby talk around their children are doing them a disservice; that using an intelligent vocabulary gives them a better ability to communicate.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Miracles Happen


Asalamu Alaykom,



"Yes, I am a street cat, but I'm pretty and I sit where the flowers are tall."



When I knew I'd be coming up to Alexandria, I thought of how I should prepare for the move.

One of the things I did was read Little House in the Big Woods---again, because you know I read it as a kid (a couple of times), and then I read it to my older kids.



I told myself that I was reading it to see if it was appropriate for this school year (it probably was too hard for ESL).  Actually, I think I needed to read it for my own good.

It's a pioneer story of survival for sure, but it's also got that message of "Do your best and leave the rest to God."  In each story Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, there's a miracle that unfolds.


  • The trees give sap so the family doesn't need to buy sugar.
  • One night, Ma pushes at the cow to get back into her pen, but it's actually a bear (which doesn't eat them).
  • Laura gets her own pretty doll (but is careful not to let her corncob doll get jealous).


She never calls them miracles, and most readers would never define them as such, but that's what they are:  quiet miracles.

This week, at our new apartment, our freezer stopped freezing.  I could focus on that and talk about how upsetting it was to have our Eid Al Adha meat in danger of rotting.  However, the really beautiful thing is that my husband reached out to the building staff and they arranged for another tenant to store the meat for us until we could get it fixed.  Alhumdulillah.

I am without an assistant at my new school.  While I could grumble, I simply worked and got the job done.  I had gotten some help---and even half-an-hour of help is A LOT to someone in need.  I stayed level-headed (for the most part) and honestly decided that I would have to let go that which couldn't get done.  In the end, I was proud of my room and its Beatrix Potter theme.


     


The children were welcomed in and we began our time together---even without an assistant.  I made it through by the Grace of God.  Important learning took place that was uniting and illuminating.  Alhumdulillah.

Even just now, my older son was back to communicating with me after a month off.  It wasn't good news that he had to share, but it was a blessing to be a part of his world again.  Alhumdulillah.

It's possible to be in a real state of survival and to stop and appreciate how beautiful it is that you are able to cope...and hope.








Monday, September 4, 2017

Send Off Party



Asalamu Alaykom,



Back in Alexandria!

This picture was taken next to the train station.

I was a little worried...

about getting everything packed---we didn't.

about getting to the train on time---we did.

about how awful the trip back might be---it wasn't.

I was also worried that our short five nights back to our home might make us reluctant to leave.

God took care of that!

On our last day, which was the second day of Eid, his sister-in-law who has caused so much trouble in our lives created some more.  DRAMA!  You can't have a family in Egypt without some serious drama, and they don't save their drama for their mama; EVERYONE gets in on the deal.

Shocking announcement.

Yelling.

Phone calls to get every sister back into the family home for a pow wow.

Storming in and yelling.

Being ordered from the house.

Sigh.  I had nothing to do with any of it, Thank God.  I simply kept packing upstairs; hearing it all go down.  As awful as it was, it helped me with my resolve to GET OUT.

Family is great in Egypt

...except when it isn't.  When it isn't, it is just suffocating.

At 11:00, I called my hub downstairs for him to extricate himself from something that wasn't really our problem.  Our motto has become, "Don't care!" but he didn't come.  I waited.  I couldn't sleep listening to the shouting.  One of his sisters has a powerfully strong set of lungs, mashahallah.  It kept going on.  I called again---just another missed call as notification that he still had responsibilities upstairs to pack and get ready.  He didn't come.  I didn't want to take it to the next level, but I had to.  Finally, I yelled to him downstairs that we had to be awake again at 3:30.  He returned.  Alhumdulillah.

Yes, it's interesting to see how life plays out for those who have made our lives miserable.  At the same time, it means that they are STILL occupying our brain cells.  We THINK they have been made  to pay the piper for bad deeds, but WE are the ones who are getting played when we care about what's going on in their lives.  Drama is addictive and fitnah is the only result.  There is NO WAY to get entangled in someone else's drama without engaging in some fitnah.

The beautiful part about last night is that I could see allllll of that better because there was a way out.  We were leaving.  We were catching the first train outta there and back into some sanity.

My happiness upon entering our apartment/cave was real.  It didn't smell musty like I feared it might.  We were able to air it out and burn some incense.  I started to unpack.  How did so much stuff in the suitcases not translate to more stuff in our home?!

That's when my hub got the phone call.  It was a sister to discuss the drama.  Yep.  I had a drama delivery come all the way from Giza to Alex.  I let him deal with it as I carried on building our lives here.  Focus!

He got off the phone and we talked about getting some food.

The phone rang again.

It was ANOTHER sister; he's got four.  It wasn't enough to have one rehash because there needed to be another.  I got ready to go.  El-Kid got ready.  I tapped on the window to the veranda. He gave me the hand gesture for "wait" and I did.

It took too long and I was starting to sink back into the system that I thought we had just escaped.  I made my resolve to leave.  I wrote the name of the supermarket we were going to and held it up to the glass.  My hub gave me another "wait" gesture, but I shook my head "no."

He got off the phone.

Once on the street, I let him know that I had been this really happy person, full of love and peace when we arrived and asked him if he wanted all that to go away.  The phone calls were bringing the family drama to us and I didn't want that because it would change the feel in me and in our new home.

Did he understand?

I hope so.

There haven't been any other phone calls.  We did our 800 LE shopping trip to finally start stocking our new kitchen.  We ate around our big, round table and shared food here once again.

After that, I took a nap.  I awoke to find that the other guys had laid down as well.  We were all so tired and needed a rest.

In shah Allah, this time in Alex will be a rest from the drama that has been so dysfunctional.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Looting Your Life



Asalamu Alaykom,



I am in the process of looting, but don't worry it's from my own home.  It isn't the first time I've done it, and it won't be the last.  It's this weird feeling of an impending move with such urgency that it's easy to imagine the Nazis are at the door or a tidal wave is about ready to engulf you.  It's a grab-quick-and-think-later policy.

For me, this time, it's overwhelming because at the same time that I'm envisioning the one day I've got until I leave, I have to be picturing the first day of school.  It's destruction and creation in one week.

Allah is in charge of both those elements in our lives.

I am ruining our carefully packed home, filled with items I didn't even remember I had, in order to begin a new job in a new city.  It's strange.  Everything was fine here; layered on top of each other.  I have torn it all up looking for what I need to restart.

As I tear it up, I realize that a lot of it has become needless.  It has become superfluous to who I am now and what I'm doing.  Some of it hurts me to see it---especially when I see all the effort I put forth into the Islamic school job that only lasted a month.  The memory of that brought me to tears and I know some of the sadness is actually fear that it could all happen again.  Some of it feels me with joy---like my shopping spree in the US when I could still afford items marked with a dollar sign.

The totality of it is too much.  Load after load, I'm bringing up what I think I'll need and after each load I've forgotten; I've gotten something wrong.  "You can't take it with you," is true.  There's too much to cart around (even on a three-hour train ride).

At the same time as I'm adjusting to the idea of grabbing and going, prioritizing our needs, and visualizing the future, I see the news.  Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to the Bangladeshi border from Burma and Houston residents are staying in emergency shelters as they deal with the flood waters.  These two groups are but a few of my fellow citizens who have had to grab and go; to make quick decisions about what they need and what they want and what they simply can't bring.

It's a painful part of life.

We used to have two goats that would stand on our neighbor's roof and they were funny.  Goats are so funny.  They would watch me typing in the early morning hours when no one else was awake.  STARE at me to the point where I would get startled to see them through the open window.  I really believed they might jump in our home!

This Thursday, they stared at us one last time, as we ate the goat dinner from one of our slaughtered goats.  It was after my day of fasting for Arafat and I needed to eat.  It did make me pause to think of how unsavory the experience was:  goats watching us eat goat.

Now, those goats are gone too.  I miss them.  We don't have pets here; we have animals in our lives that are either strays or food.  Those goats fed a family and helped to feed the poor.  Alhumdulillah.

There's one goat remaining on our roof:  Tigun.  This is the little baby goat I helped keep warm a year and a half a go on a cold January morning.  He's so big now!  I didn't plead for his life, but I put it out there that I didn't want him to die.  Alhumdulillah, he's still alive, although he's been sad and been calling out for the others.  I made sure he got the mango peels from our kitchen this morning.

What can we do?  We create and we destroy too.

The night before the neighbor's goats were to be slaughtered for Eid, I talked to them.  We were so close because they came right to the edge of their roof to be near to us.  I talked nicely to them.  I thanked them for keeping me company all these months.  I told them to enjoy the night; the cool breeze, the sounds and smells.  I watched them one last time frolic around and then I shut the windows.

Now, the windows are open and no one is there.

We do---we absolutely do---surround ourselves with what makes us feel good.  However, there comes a time when we can't hold on to it...not all of it.  Either it has to leave or we have to leave it.

The day after tomorrow, I leave.  I'll be gone from here for months.  I'll take what I can take.  I know that I made it to Egypt with four suitcases.  I can make it back to Alex with less.

In shah Allah.  











Friday, September 1, 2017

Apartment Hunting in Alex



Asalamu Alaykom,




Writing to you from the SAME apartment I wanted out of two weeks ago.  I wanted a different apartment---like an apartment that has windows and natural light...kind of like the apartment in the picture above.

It hasn't happened.

I have now placed posters on the wall:  cacti in the desert, crystal blue lakes, snowy mountains.

"Do you want to stay here?!"  My hub asked upon waking up and seeing my late-night handy work.

"No, I just don't want to go crazy here, " was my reply.

Seriously, an apartment without windows looking out onto the world is a VERY difficult thing for me.

I used to have a book---one of those Little Golden Books for those of you in the U.S.  "Good Little Bad Little Girl".



I'll spill the spoiler:  it's the same girl.  Anyway, there was an Eloise Wilkin's illustration of the little girl's room and I hated it; I was petrified of it.  Why?  I couldn't see a door or window.  It looked like a horrible cell with no way out.

Now?

I'm living in it!

I wanted to get a different place, so I researched through listings on the net.



I took notes, had my hub make calls, and then we went to see some places.

The first place in was just right---too good to be true!  It was in the choicest neighborhood of Kafr Abdo where most of the other ex-pats live.



 It was overlooking a park.  The layout was well designed and the furniture was well chosen.  It was so spotlessly clean that moving in would be a breeze.

Of course there was a glitch.  The building not only housed that great apartment; it also housed a consulate.  It was a high security building with an armed guard in riot gear at the door.  While others might take comfort in a guy with a gun, I don't.  I feel nervous whether he's police, army or security.  Every guy with a gun is one judgement call away from killing someone.  I imagined my husband coming out of the elevator, yelling at my son to hurry up in order to catch the bus and catching bullets instead.  The other aspect there was being a target for terrorism which I don't even want to dwell on.  After a night's sleep, I had to be real that I could never relax in that building.


With that in mind, I started to look in another neighborhood.  My two guys have really liked where we've been staying in Smouha.  Smouha is central and has everything.  It's getting rebuilt and has many new store fronts and restaurants.  We can always find a market or a taxi.

I had my hub call a few real estate offices.  It's amazing how BADLY done real estate is in Egypt.  There's got to be somebody doing it right, but I haven't seen them yet.  Remember:  I spent sixteen months working in the biggest real estate office in my state (before they fired me for wearing hijab), so I know the business.



We arranged to meet a man.  We went to the street he told us to go.  He wasn't there.  He sent a young guy---a kid in shorts---to show us to the garage stall made into an office.  I had to keep walking outside to get some fresh air.  Lord!  It was not what I had been picturing.  Yet, the guy had keys to two apartments within walking distance, so we stayed with the appointment and went out with him.


The first apartment was on the seventh floor.  I'm trying to stay on fifth and below, but seventh is doable.  We walk in.  Sure enough, there's a dark red paint color as soon as you open the door with this large Baroque mirror ala Beauty and the Beast---like the sconces surrounding it were going to turn into hands and reach out to assist us.  The furniture, as always, is HUGE.  In Egypt, families want to show opulence through lots of big furniture sets.  The dining room table is big enough for six or eight.  There isn't just one sofa and chairs:  THERE'S TWO!  There's no floor space.  Two china cupboards (one with broken glass and no shelves).  Everywhere there was this feeling of despair.  This was were you stay when you are desperate; a dumping ground, a home for refugees from some life they are fleeing...all for 4,500 LE.  My housing allowance is only 2,500 LE.

The second apartment was promised to be better, but it was on the tenth floor.  We walked there and the building was better.  The problem is that these elevators are so small.  The young guy, my son, my hub, AND ME are in tight.  Up we go and it's slow and it feels sooooooooooo claustrophobic.  I have to shut my eyes and put my head on my hub's upper arm.  I can barely handle that feeling.

We enter in and there's a better feel with no weird red wall, and actual floor space.  It's still tight in there and still feels like a few too many families have been in and out.  The view from one of the bedrooms is of the square below, but the noise from the roundabout's BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP! would not add to our comfort level.  The other bedroom was so small that there was only room for the bed and the wardrobe.  It was doable if we wanted to really work on it.  HOWEVER, the other place was 4,500 and this was now up over 5,000.  Plus, that elevator ride was really non-negotiable.  I walked down all the flights of stairs instead.

Why look for furnished instead of unfurnished?  In the States, I have never rented furnished, but in Egypt, you kind of have to.  Renting UNfurnished means no water heater, stove, fridge, washing machine, or AC.  I've been writing "wardrobe" because there are no closets in Egypt.  You can't just move in and hang up your clothes unless it's furnished.  Some unfurnished apartments don't even have kitchen cabinets.  Plus, the rent isn't really at a discount.  It's remains very high.

After that experience (a day wasted and energy exhausted), I had to re-think.  What was essential?  We needed safety.  For me, I don't feel safe so high up and I don't feel good in buildings that are highest security or lower levels of society.  I would rather have less furniture than more; better to have space to move.  I wanted a quiet place with less decorating.



All those boxes actually are ticked by the place we first settled into.

Would this be settling for less than what we wanted?  Yes.

Isn't it bad to settle for something?  No, not always.  I think it's realistic to admit that no place is perfect.  It's a home away from home for a year or two.  If something else comes across our radars, we can consider it then, but we need a place NOW.

Also, our money, while I can say we have enough, it isn't a ton.  The school pays for our apartment if it's one they've previously signed a long-term contract for it (at a discount) with the owner.  That's therefore a savings for us.  Otherwise, I'd be paying double AT LEAST without really seeing double the improvements.

If something goes wrong in the apartment rented by the school, it's on them.  They care and they deal with the landlord/landlady.  If it's just us?  Well, you better believe we would not fare so well.

This means we are choosing to stay in an apartment with very little nature light.  We are now dwellers of the cave.  However, we are determined to make this place work even though it has issues.  I've stopped looking for better because where we first dropped our suitcases feels more like home than any other place we've seen.

My hub arranged for a cleaning lady come (which is a whole other story) and we concentrated on a weekend-long cleaning spree.  Gone was the moldy junk (Alex has mold whereas Giza doesn't) and the dirt that used to hold potted plants.  The other unnecessary stuff was organized.  Floors and walls were cleaned.  Rugs?  Scrubbed.  It was intense!

It's taken so long to write this post that as I finish this, we're actually not in our Alexandrian cave.  It's Eid and we've traveled back to Giza for the long holiday.


EID MUBARAK!


We now have two homes.  This one is permanent and it is ours---all the sunlight that floods through our windows, and the two clotheslines are ours.  Our sofas and beds have always been ours and only ours.  It feels good.

When I fasted Arafat yesterday, it didn't feel as good to be here:  no AC!  We have it in Alex, but not in Giza (where it is ten degrees hotter to begin with).  There are differences that have me appreciating both places.  Yesterday, I surely could have used some cooling off and some quiet from the screaming kids.

This situation has become our new normal.  We have two homes with our belongings in two places.  We are living larger than before.  It's taken some real effort to continue with this plan to expand our world.  It has been both stressful and joyful in about equal amounts.

Is it worth it?

I hope so.  I hope that this way of living helps us see more, feel more, and realize more of our world and ourselves.

Next week, I will start teaching first grade in a new school inshahallah.  I'm not ready.  Part of the reason I'm not ready is that I have had to settle down our personal lives first.  Now that is done, my focus going to my professional life...well, and having El-Kid start seventh grade.  It's a lot to start all at once.

This experience has a name.  I've named it "my long-term working vacation".  Maybe that isn't a totally accurate term, but it's a vision of how I want it to be.  It's not forever; it's for a relatively short time and it's an adventure.  It think that framing these coming months that way will help keep a healthy perspective.

Any good energy you want to send our way during this transition, feel free.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Strangers on a Train in Egypt



Asalamu Alaykom,




This is a picture I took from the train window.  Obviously, it was a dirty train window which I kind of like since it gives the photo a kind of impressionistic style.

Traveling by train in Egypt might not seem like a good idea with the recent train collision that killed 43 passengers.  That wreck happened the day after we had passed over the very same tracks leaving Alexandria.  We survived and they did not.  That's mighty sobering.

We already had bought our tickets for a return trip Alex, so there was little chance of us changing our minds and going by Super Jet.  That name "Super Jet" makes it sound like lightning fast air travel, but it's actually a big bus.  I would rather go by train.  A train is more reliable; we've had two buses break down en route (and we don't even use them that much).  A train is steadier, roomier, and safer.

On average, over the last years, there's been twenty-two deaths a year from train.  Now, remember, the train accidents aren't even happening every year:  they've been maybe every three to four years.  I'm saying the yearly average to make a point.  Each year in Egypt, there are 12,000 road fatalities.  The numbers speak for themselves.

We had tickets for the  6 AM train.  We travel second-class.  It's funny how "second class citizen" is a really horrible epithet to call someone in the U.S., but it's an honorable place to be on an Egyptian train.  Our seats were going to be in the first row on the second class car.  It gets air conditioning, so that's a plus.  The seats are well cushioned and mostly clean.  It's all good.

The problem was that second-class is a financially unattainable goal for many passengers.  They wish they could afford it, but they can't.  For me?  If I can't afford it then I don't lament it.  We live within our means.  For them?  They come into second-class and crowd around the seats of those who paid extra for that space.

I told my husband that I would not allow for anyone to grab a hold of our seats during the trip.  I had seen that on the previous trip.  I had seen a group of five men occupy two empty seats and the one who was perched on the edge of the arm rest used an arm rest across the aisle for support.  That seat had been occupied by a hijabi and his hand had been centimeters from her breast.  It was upsetting to see the disregard for her space.  I wasn't going to let that happen to us.


Every time passengers came into our car, I would sit up straight and tall and look a bit tough with a "Don't mess with me expression."  They stayed away from our seats.  If they started to touch my son's seat back, I would tell them in Arabic that it was his seat.  They would let go.

My hub was sitting across the aisle with an older, rotund man doing Suduko puzzles in a little book.  The man was incensed INCENSED when the wishful passengers would come on.  Turns out he was a government employee who thought he could regulate every place he occupied.  You can't really.  All you can do is appeal to their goodness.  He didn't get that.  I think he was really pushing the issue with his strong seatmate, my husband, next to him; he thought he had back up.

It got dangerous when the man got up OUT of his seat to PUSH a young man's arm out of the train car into the passage way so he could shut the door.  Yes, we were losing AC due to their wish to have the door open, but NO TOUCHY the other other passengers!  The young man started to posture in defiance.  I was really worried.  When he sat back down and cooled off, I leaned over and told him nicely that it isn't right to touch anyone.  I understood him, but didn't support him touching and that it could start a fight.  If there was a fight on the train, my husband would definitely be involved and that would be dangerous for all three of us.

Alhumdulillah, the man relaxed.  I saw into his eyes that he really heard me and that he knew he had been wrong.  He didn't do it again.

Why didn't we complain to the supervisor?  We did!  The worker checking tickets actually told the man that he should be nicer about the men going off to work.  Give them some space in the second-class train car!  They could have AC too!

This was a 6 AM train, if you recall, so really no one had to have AC at that time.  If there had been a real need, the situation would have been different.

It wasn't just men.  Women came into the car to stand around us.  I told off two pairs that my husband was sitting there and that it wasn't right for them to have hands on his seat.  The whole car heard her in Arabic trying to explain why she had a hard time that day and heard me answering (again in Arabic) that we ALL have our problems.  I smiled and pointedly asked in Arabic, "Would you like me to put my hands on your husband's seat?"

She laughed and said of course not.

The two younger women in front of my husband's seat laughed and smiled.  They knew.

Later, a soldier got on.  He actually wasn't a second-class passenger, but no one asked him to leave.  Hard to ask someone to leave who's risking his life for you.  The next time that the old man lambasted a passenger, he joined in with his thoughts.

The soldier announced on the train that we are all Egyptians who need to share.

That's when I got up.  Ya, me, the American, I got up and addressed the solider.

My husband right away told me to show respect because HE'S A SOLDIER.

I answered back that I had called the man Erees, or boss.  I went on to ask in my choppy Arabic if he was married.  He smiled and didn't answer, so I asked again.  The whole train is watching this show, by the way.  He answered that he was not.  I joked that all the unmarried ladies were happy about this and the two younger women giggled.

I went on to tell him that when you have a family inshahallah, you feel more protective.  You aren't as OK with letting a group of passengers crowd your seat.  It's not respectful for men to be crowding me and my space or for women to be doing the same to my husband.  A male passenger vocally agreed.

The soldier tried then to school me on the Egyptian way of caring and sharing.

I told him what I know to be true, "How many Egyptians are there on this train?  Can they ALL fit in this car?  Where is the limit?  Because if we let these passengers in, so they can get more space and more air, eventually NONE of us will have either.  If we are all hot and crowded together, when the next group of Egyptians come to the second-class, guess what those people will be told?  Get out!  So either we say it now or later, but not everyone can ride in here."

He sat down.



One of the younger women tried to continue a kind of debate with me, but I told her that I didn't want her to talk to me about it.  I wasn't very nice, but I really had to shut it down.

Soon after, the supervisor, as he walked through, started to get complaints that that AC wasn't working.  He said that it was, but the niqabi women were in a panic.  The babies were getting sweaty.  I took out my Chinese fan.

One of the panicking niqabis was the mom of the young woman I'd been curt with.  Her mom was running back and forth to the passageway door to feel the air.  She was told it was dangerous for her to be there.  It was also weird.  The passageway was filled with men.  Somehow, niqabi sisters often end up being less modest even though they are trying so hard to be the MOST modest.

She started to talk anxiously to the man with the tea trolley for some sugar.  The heat was badly affecting her.  I told her that I had some candy and gave her a caramel.  She took it and took her seat again.

Guess what the supervisor eventually had to do?  He had to kick out the passengers who didn't have a second-class ticket.  He even shut the door on the arm of one of them!  That almost started another fight.  The supervisor recognized that he had to finally do something by the book.  Egypt has a LOT of bending/breaking the rules to help others which actually screws it up worse.

The joke was really how the three of us grown-ups in that first row had policed the issue the whole ride, with many of the other passengers AND even the supervisor thinking we were rude or crazy.  In the end, the whole train car came to realize that we suffer when we act like we can share everything we have with others.  We can't...or rather we can, but it's not going to feel good!

The door was now shut.  The cool air from the AC started to be felt and we all relaxed again.


Shortly there after, we started our approach to Sidi Gabour Station.  That's when I saw another train out the window.  It was bent askew on the other tracks.  I questioningly looked to my husband and saw a train on its side out his window.  Between the wreckage, a group of police men sat drinking tea.  Truly Egyptian moment!

Yes, this was the scene of the train collision.  I looked out my window again and saw how part of the train sat on the tracks with each chair empty.  Each chair represented someone just like me, or like the soldier, or the niqabi, the young women, the babies, the men going off to work...who wanted to get to their destination safely, but didn't.

The train was so quiet in that moment.  It was a walk in the cemetery.  Around us, there had been chaos, injury, and death.  I kept saying "Allah yer hamo" for the victims.  I then decided to use my finger joints like counters to accurately remember the forty-three who died.

The young woman, sensing our imminent arrival, leaned over and told me that she hadn't meant anything bad.  She apologized.  I told her that we just needed to stop talking about and I was sorry that I didn't have all the right Arabic to tell her in a better way.  We accepted each other's wish to end the trip nicely.

The next moment, we had arrived.  I don't know how many people said, "Alhumdulillah" but really we all should remember that not everyone arrives at their destination.  If we are blessed enough to arrive, then it's best to express our gratitude.

We all grabbed our belongings, said our goodbyes and exited the train.  A new day awaited us.

Alhumdulillah.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Luxurious Camping



Asalamu Alaykom,






This internet connection I'm using is temperamental.  I've got to be sitting at an angle, by the door to the veranda with the window open for it to work.  At any moment, the green on my USB could switch to red and the dreaded signing off noise would sound.

However, internet is not the foremost of my concerns two days after returning to Alexandria.  Everything is about survival right now.  We are living in an apartment that we are not agreeing to keep.  It's a kind of cave with no connection to the outside world---and this connection is even MORE important to me than internet!  Outside, it could be sunny and breezy, the BEST weather in the world ---and we'd neither see it or feel it inside this insular space.  I see walls.  I see more apartments.




See the little bit of sky?  It's there between the neighbor's laundry and the top of the building.

I'm getting depressed in only two days!  Can you imagine how I would get in the rainy winter season inside this place?!

We've got to leave it and get a different apartment.  We went looking today with a man from the school that's hired me.  He had shown us a GREAT apartment in a wonderful neighborhood last week.




However, today, he told us today that the owner only wanted a single, foreign woman renter, i.e., no families.  Instead of getting that classy apartment with tons of charming character



and three balconies, we were shown a dreary, mismatched working man's flat.  Yellow!  Pink!  Orange!  Red!  Nothing matched, or as my husband said, "koshary!"  The furniture was old and very clunky Egyptian.  Yes, there were windows with fresh air and sunlight, but looking out, all we could see was a kind of apartment community without any neighborhood feel.  Well, there was a government school where we could be sure to have lots of noise from early morning into the late afternoon.  The place was a standard below what we're used to.

It's fine to be lower middle class, but I don't want to live that way myself.  I'm not a snob.  I can live anywhere if I have to...but I just don't think we have to live lower than what I'm used to.  I left Giza for better (not for worse) and for richer (not for poorer).

Thinking back, the man helping us misjudged who we are.  Yes, my husband is Egyptian, but his taste is for the American/European style.  He married me after all!  I'm not accepting an apartment he wouldn't give to an expat who has arrived from JFK Airport.  I've lived here eight years (exactly  this week), but that doesn't mean that my standards or tastes have altered to such a large degree.

Until we find better, we are camping out in our cave.  Nothing is really unpacked.  We're living from suitcases and I'm unsure how we're going to start cleaning clothes and getting them dry.  I haven't tried cooking in this kitchen that was left dirty.  I've cleaned out the refrigerator that was more petri dish than appliance.  It's been gross.  How do I cope?  I can cope with the belief that it's luxurious camping better than realizing that it's really sub-par apartment living.  If you can't adjust the situation, then at least you can adjust your thinking!

One thing that helps is knowing how much I need to get out of here and explore the neighborhood.  The neighborhood is wonderful and if we could stay around here, for sure we would.

Around the corner was a GREAT Syrian take-away restaurant.  It was much better than the Ravoli restaurant last night which did not actually have any ravioli...or chicken...or lettuce for that salad we ordered.  The Syrian restaurant is always busy and I'm glad.  I watched the workers strive in their new home.  They are making it work.

One of the men was so beautiful---not handsome like I was looking at a man out of some kind of desire.  This man was simply amazing to see.  His eyes were this bluish shade and I don't normally even notice eyes on anyone.  I saw him taking orders and wondered what life he left and what life he has now.  None of this could have been easy on him.

I had been fussy as hell after hearing about the failure to rent the great apartment and being shown the dowdy apartment.  As always, seeing someone else, and thinking of someone else's journey jolted me from my miseries and made me grateful for what we have.

Once back home again.  We prayed and seriously that helped a LOT.  The shwerma was really well done and even better with the garlic sauce.  We watched Kangaroo Jack and laughed.  After dinner, we talked and talked over what's going on with both facts and feelings.  Life isn't bad.  It is what it is.

We're camping out in Alexandria, Egypt and eventually we're going to get an apartment we love.

In shah Allah.






Monday, August 14, 2017

A Moving Time



Asalamu Alaykom,



It's time to move.  

After running around to schools, government offices, the US Embassy, banks, and stores, we are on our way up north.

We've made one trip up to Alexandria already.  This is a picture we took from high on top of the Cecil Hotel.  For me, it shows a new life filled with new possibilities.

This morning, my husband was busy around the house as I sat at my laptop.  He curtly told me to get up because he wanted to clean the floor.  I got up, and as soon as I stood up, he called me over to him and we shared a moment of quiet understanding.  Both of us have our coping mechanisms and neither one is wrong.

This time is going to be stressful and painful just like any good birthing experience.  Transitions are not easy.  We all suck at transitions because we are forced to grow and change; we have to shed our old skin in order to live inside our new selves.  As a couple, and as a family, we are struggling with the move.

Does that mean we should stay put?

No.



I reminded my husband why we are moving.

"Remember:  I prayed istakkarah.  I asked Allah for better.  I felt like I didn't have peace in two different places."

"Here and school," my husband said knowing the story too well.

"Yes," I agreed with him.  "I felt like my blessings were done both places.  I prayed for something better---a break.  I didn't know how and I didn't expect both problems to be solved, but they were.  I didn't want to leave our house.  I tried for a job nearby and for SIX MONTHS I waited.  Then, when this job came around, I went for it and it was so easy.  Subhanallah."

That's when he confided.  "I'm depressed to be leaving our home," my husband said and thank God he said it.  It's important for him to voice this and wonderful for him to get past years of thinking he had to be strong and silent.

It makes sense that this move hurts more for him.  It's his name on the contract for this place, not mine.  It is his father's legacy.  He lived here as a child when it only had a dirt floor and a leaky roof.  He helped raise it up to four floors of high quality living space.  It means history, family, security, and all his efforts to build a life.

He started to work again, but I stopped him with a gentle touch on his arm.

"Uthman, Ruqaya, Abu Bakr Sadek, Ali (radallahanhu) and Rasullulah (peace be upon him) all had to leave on hijrah.  They left for Medina because all their blessings were done in Mecca.  They left because they felt Allah had something better for them.  We're going to leave, but that doesn't mean we aren't coming back.  The Sahabi came back.  We'll come back inshahallah for Eid, and maybe even once a month.  Later, we can come back inshahallah to live here again."

It feels overwhelming to leave---for all of us.  Yet, I believe inshahallah we are doing the right thing.

Last week, while we were staying in Alexandria after bringing up our first load, I prayed istakkarah twice.  Should I take a different grade level that was being offered to me at my new school?  I hesitated because I'd already been planning for first grade.  Should we take the first apartment we'd been given?  It wasn't exactly what I wanted...I mean, it felt like a prison without any way to see the outside world, get some direct sunlight and see the sky.  

Amazingly, that morning, both options resolved themselves.  Someone else was found to take the empty position.  We realized that we weren't receiving phone signals at the possible apartment which was a complete deal breaker.  I felt again the Grace of God after placing my trust in Allah.

We are not moving there without the most important thing to bring along:  our faith.  Our faith is coming with us and therefore we can handle the challenge.  Doesn't mean we'll handle every moment very well!

There was the Quest for Fresh Bread that ended in a fight on the street.  If you saw us squabbling, then I'm sorry.  I've told my hub that he's fired from being our tour guide in Alex.  He really can only hold that position in Giza.  In Alex, we have got to work together T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R to figure things out.  When he stopped walking ahead, being the group leader, and actually listened to me, he was able to get both the information from me and the bread from the supermarket.

"You are lost in Alexandria and so am I.  We are finding our way, but alone you're only about fifty percent and I'm only fifty percent.  It's together that we can figure it out."

He heard me.

I hear him too.  This isn't a one-way street---he's pushing me in ways that make me get off my rump and get in gear.  He's supporting me in my career and in our life together.  It can't be easy to watch your family's life be so changed due to someone's wish for better.  That's a LOT of trust!

As for me, I know it isn't easy to be that person who is making such big decisions and to know that our lives hang in the balance based on how well I perform in my new job.

Deep breath.

I've been deep breathing more!  I had three weeks of stomach problems.  Some of that might have been a case of leftovers that should have been thrown out, but I think a lot of it was stress building up.  I literally am breathing in through my nose for a four second count, holding for four, and then slowly breathing out through my mouth.  I learned about this calming breath technique while getting ready for natural childbirth.

Like I said before, this is a birthing experience.  We are giving our life the chance to come to fruition.

Insha Allah.

It's scary.  I won't lie.  Last week, we made it home from Alex on Thursday, and on Friday there was a horrible train collision in Egypt.  Forty-three people died while on some of the same track we'd traveled.  Subhanallah.

It is a risk to leave your house---your home---and venture out into the unknown.  That means we have to believe that the risk is worth it.  There is no risq or blessing without some risk.  World languages have some clever jokes which you find when you learn more.  When you learn more, you see more AND when you see more, you learn more---both outside of yourself and inside yourself.

I need to see and learn more.

When I see what's happening in the U.S., I'm not exactly surprised.  It was right to leave eight years ago.  It's been EIGHT YEARS this week.  Incredible!  That country wasn't interested in having me remain.  I wasn't meant to stay there after coming to Islam.  I needed hijrah.  Alhumdulillah, I left and took my son to a country, which although it has its problems too, has accepted me. 

Today, marks four years since the Rabaa massacre in Egypt.  That was the closest I came to leaving Egypt because it didn't feel like I knew it any more.  I stayed.  It didn't feel good (especially after me having thought that the Egyptian Revolution's tough time was the worst it was going to be and that it was all done).  Eventually, Egypt has settled down and I have remained.

Staying in one place isn't really my style.  I do like to move, to change, to reinvigorate.  This move to Alexandria is a way to leave the status quo while staying within the boundaries of what's familiar.  It is a blessing and a way which I couldn't have realized without being open to God's Plan.  It hurts to be open and yet the rewards are there.  

"Life is not for the faint of heart" my mother always says.

She got a little weepy on the phone when she told me that she hated to think of me moving farther away.

"Mom!" I laughed.  "I'm actually moving CLOSER to you!"

Closer.  It's still a wide distance, but it's closer.  



If you can spare a moment, then please pray for us during this transition.  It's not us fleeing Mosul, or us in a boat migrating over the Mediterranean; I get that.  It's thankfully easier than that.  Alhumdulillah.  All the same, if you can imagine us being able to stay open to God's Plan and accepting our naseeb, our fate, gracefully, then I'd appreciate that energy.  

I pray for love and light in the coming days and weeks---

for you

for me

for the world.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Giving Water



Asalamu Alaykom,




During the hottest week yet this summer, we had an errand to run.  As a family, we went down our street with the aim to catch an air-conditioned taxi.  My husband and son, being males, focused on the goal ahead.  I, being female, noticed the little boy too short to turn on a faucet.  The water tap, supplied by the mosque, was meant as a form of charity.  They hadn't figured on this small guy being all alone and thirsty.

Despite the fact that I got in trouble the last time I tried to help a boy in my neighborhood, I stopped walking.  I asked my husband to help the boy.  Ahmed went over and filled the cup---probably a germy cup since it's used by ever passerby---and gave it to the boy.  The boy drank without thanking anyone because that's what kids do.

I thanked my husband as he returned to me and we continued on our walk.

"Mom," my own boy began, "how did you even notice him?"

"Didn't you see him?" I asked.

"No, I can't pay attention to everything!"

I thought and then replied, "I can't either, but I do notice the needy.  If I can help, then I do."

Over Ramadan, I found so much solace in helping the mama cat and her kitten.  To give them water and watch them drink has felt so good.  I'm sharing the video at the top of this post because an eco-friendly man found a way to record just who it was drinking out of the pail of water he had been leaving.

Mashahallah.

Later, on the day we were running an errand, I saw that, across the street, the cart with the Eid hats and noisemakers.  It was still being pushed with hopes that someone...anyone...would buy.  I marveled at that and even turned my head to watch him as he went away.  Then, I saw his feet without shoes.  His feet were on city street's burning pavement and he kept walking along without any protection.

I stopped and asked my husband if we could help him.

"You're too soft, Mom," my son complained.

"Mashahallah," my husband corrected, "Your mom is so sweet."

However, he wouldn't join with me in finding a way to get the man shoes.  The man stayed on my mind the rest of the day, the week, and into today.  We had the money; we just didn't have the time.  Astragferallah.

If I see him again...

and then I wonder why I'm the only one who sees him.  Doesn't anyone else see those in need?

If you see him...

or anyone else whom you can safely help today, then please do.

A FEW DAYS LATER

My rescue mission expanded from the animal kingdom to the plant kingdom when I saw a plant in need of help.

Seeing living organisms in need of help isn't hard in Egypt because there is SO MUCH need.  Maybe there is in other places in the world----I certainly saw a lot in the U.S.  Because I'm still a foreigner in Egypt (and always will be), I perhaps see the need that others don't.

It wasn't hard to see this particular plant as it was stationed right outside my window.  It used to be that we had an openness outside our salon window, but building higher and higher became a necessity all over our neighborhood (and all over Egypt).  As the family with the three grown sons increased their levels, our view decreased.  We ended up looking directly at their balcony...and the plant.

The youngest son is still unmarried, so he  hasn't moved in even though three plants are stationed on his balcony railing.  Two of the plants seem to weather the desert conditions pretty well.  Their leaves stay standing at attention.  Then, there is the other plant.  I think it's jasmine.  It wilts.  Not right away!  It tries to be like its buddies and take the heat like a cactus, but it can't.  When it wilted, I felt badly for it.

Could I knock on the door and tell the men's mother about it?

Not really (unless I wanted to be labeled The American Weirdo).

Could I talk to the wife of one of the brothers?  She lived one floor down and sometimes I would see her hanging out the wash.

She doesn't know me and might not understand me in our first meeting if I'm talking about a plant.

Couldn't I just disregard it?

I tried.

I failed.

I couldn't stop thinking that there was this precious little life that had brought me joy in this area where any form of gardening cheers me up.  I couldn't let it die!  I therefore did what any half-crazed American does:   I got my gun!



It's a water gun; a big Super Soaker from the States.  It's not the exact one in the photo, but pretty much like it.  We actually carried it back to Egypt with us when El Kid put up a fuss saying that he couldn't live without it.

It was fajr when I went into his room.  He was sleeping.  I stole borrowed his Super Soaker and filled it with water.  It has a pumping action that you have to repeat in order to build up the pressure.  I started it up and it WAS LOUD.  I could have truly woken up everyone---including my husband who had gone back to bed.  I knew that if I woke him up I would NOT be able to water the plant.

I primed the mechanism only a couple more times and then stuck it out the window.  That must have been a strange sight!  I wonder if anyone saw me in my prayer clothes with an atomic space-age weapon.  I pulled the gun back in when I realized that worshipers were leaving the mosque from fajr prayer.  It probably would be a bad deed to super soak faithful believers.

I waited.  I scanned the street.  No one was there and I didn't hear anyone coming.

I stuck the gun out of the window again and squeezed the trigger.  The water shot from our window to the neighbor's balcony.  It worked!  Now, I had to aim it better to get it into the flower pot.  Some of the dirt splashed out and hit the wall behind.  Oops!  I didn't mean to dirty their home.

I stopped and wondered if I should continue.  Could I get in trouble even if I was doing my best?  Ah, that's the story of my life, isn't it?  I decided that a living thing trumped outweighed a cement wall.  I shot again with better aim and no more splashes.  I gave some water to the other plants as well.  Didn't want them getting jealous.

I stood back and looked.  I don't know what I thought I would see.  It wasn't snapping back into shape like a slinky.  It was still wilted and I wondered if I had been too late.  Nothing left for me to do but go back to bed.

When the sun was up, I got up a second time.  My husband was already awake.  I went into the salon to see him and then I headed to the window.  I couldn't tell him.  I could only look secretly.  There it was:  the balcony with three plants and every one of them looked beautiful.

It had worked!  I had saved a plant.  Alhumdulillah.

Later that week, the neighbor man came to check on his future home and watered his plants.  After that, he forgot again and I shot again.  That time was funny because El Kid was sure that I was going to shoot the noisy children in the street.  Hmm...

I eventually told my husband.  He laughed.  He knows me well enough to know that he can't really stop me if I'm on a righteous kick.

For me, when I look out the window and see the healthy plant I feel a tenderness towards this fragile world.  It needs us to care.  I'm glad I cared---not just about the plant, but about everyone and everything that has mattered to me.  I hope I have done more good than bad in my life.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Eid 2017


Eid Saeed,




There wasn't much of a schedule any more.  Didn't have to rise early and eat suhour!  Freedom.

Woke at 4:00 instead of 2:20.  Prayed...by myself.  No one else was awake.  It felt lonely for sure.  Both of the guys were still asleep.

I woke Ahmed up at 4:30.  I had already looked out the window and seen all the new clothes worn by the young boys and girls ready to show them off at Eid prayers.  Ahmed always goes for prayers on the grassy...sometimes muddy...meridian strip in front of the mosque.  Usually, in the mornings during the year, we see rats running around in this area, or maybe old men or little boys peeing in the bushes.  It is NOT where I like to pray.  Maybe bringing a prayer rug makes it better, as Ahmed did, but I stopped going after the first year.

Instead, I listened to some nasheeds from Maher Zain and Dawud W. Ali and organized those computer files.  I couldn't do much else on the computer since I'd used up my limit (with help from El Kid taking half a giga without asking).

When my hub came back, we ate some Eid cookies from his sister's family and drank coffee.  It's weird to re-start our normal lives again.  It feels odd, like we're doing something wrong.  Ahmed went back to bed.  He was as tired as I'd been the day before.

I would try to make some peach waffles, but they turned out to be more like peach wobbles.  I didn't have a waffle recipe in my book, couldn't look it up online, and so made a facsimile of them from a pancake recipe.  Didn't work.  

El-Kid and I ate them while watching the Bollywood epic Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (known as DDLJ).




I used to own a copy of it and know it by heart.  I got rid of the movie when I thought I needed to get rid of everything that was not Islamic in origin.  DDLJ is a fabulous Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol epic.  Sigh.  How wonderful to be able to watch that.  The subtitles are always in Arabic here, but I knew the story (and it isn't a hard one to figure out).  El Kid needed a little plot input and it was fun to share one of my favorite movies with him.

DHUR

When Ahmed woke up, he got a peach pancake with honey as I'd given up on the waffles...or wobbles.  It still didn't turn out!  Whatever.  He still ate it as he watched the news from Egypt.  Thankfully, it was all about peaceful celebrations, alhumdulillah.  It was fun to see Alexandria and places we knew and would soon see again, inshahallah.

 ASR

The time was speeding through the day.  We didn't have to plan the menu so carefully.  We didn't have to do anything so carefully!  We were carefree, alhumdulillah.

The crazy thing is that Ahmed was thinking to fast again the next day.  No one is allowed to fast the first day of Shawwal, the month after Ramadan.  Remember:  Ramadan is the name for a month in the Hijri or Islamic calendar. It's always misunderstood as the name of a holiday and it's NOT a holi-day or even a holy day; it's a holy month.  Fasting a day in the holy month of Ramadan is the same as fasting ten (for a total of three hundred days).  A year has 365 days, so to get a full year's coverage, fasting six more days in Shawwal is a good idea as each is worth ten.  Only the most observant go for it.  I wasn't planing on it---not yet anyway.

I talked to El Kid about his choices after Ramadan.  He doesn't want to fast additional days at all and it would be unusual if he did.  Additional fasting is optional, not mandatory.  What is mandatory throughout the year is doing his five prayers.  I want him to keep his five prayers now.  He's almost twelve now and it's time.  Yes, he's done so much better than his friends, but we can't live our lives based on being better than our friends; we have to be better today than we ourselves were the day before.

I made a deal with my son.  He did not have to fast additional days UNLESS he does not pray his five prayers each day this month.  If he does not do five prayers, then he fasts.  He needs motivation.  It's hard to be a mom and know how much to push your child and when.  Inshahallah, this is the right thing to do and that it will be an effective transition from boyhood.

Everything started to go badly at this point in our day, or at least in my day.

"Happily ever after" hardly ever happens.

I had watched my Indian movie and now my hub had control of the remote.  He watched an Egyptian movie.  My hub is fond of telling me that old Egyptian movies are so much better than anything currently on the screen. Well, the plot of this "comedy" was how the men were all cheaters behind the backs of their wives.  They were in bed, drinking, dancing, and WHAT THE HELL?  The worst part is that I couldn't really complain because each one of those elements had been in my movie (all be it in a different, more palatable form).

I fell asleep as I often do when I hate a movie (the movie Brazil comes to mind).  When I woke up, it was with a sudden start because my husband had gotten up and made some canned fish into mush in a bowl.  He was now mad as he thumped his dinner down on the table.  He wanted to eat when he wanted to eat and it was NOW!

The time was 5:00 PM and I was surprised that dinner time was happening without me knowing about it.  I looked at the food and couldn't eat it the way it was.  Instead, I went out to the kitchen and boiled some potatoes while I cut tomatoes and onions.  My one-month stay in Spain at sixteen had taught me how to make a delicious fish salad.  I was only missing some olives.

By the time I was done cooking, my husband was done eating.  My son and I sat at the table alone, said our blessing alone, and ate alone.  It was sad.  I was so sad.  It was a definite end to togetherness, routine, and Ramadan.

As if that wasn't enough, when magrib happened, my husband went to the prayer rug alone and prayed alone while I quietly cried.  He turned the TV on to the last episode of Ramez, but I couldn't watch.  I made my wudu and prayed with El-Kid in another room away from my husband.

I'm not sure what exactly snapped in our family that night, but it hurt like hell.  It reminded me of my son's father back in 2006 when I had seen so much good in him during Ramadan only to have him race to the divorce lawyer right after Eid.  Telling that to my son was a mistake.  My boy had stuck by me to cheer me up, and now I had brought him down.

Bad mom.

I had to stop this spiraling down before I crashed----not just myself, but my son.  It was not OK to let anyone else dictate my mood or my mind.  Yes, this had happened before, so I didn't need to freak out.  It did make me wonder what this meant for our family, our relationship, and our future AND THEN I had to STOP.  It was one day---not even one day!  It was one evening.  One evening does not forecast a future.

What to do?

I read Quran. I really did.  Ramadan was done.  My quest to read as much of Quran as possible was over, yet I needed Quran.  I read Surah Hud in the dark on my tablet.  I got really quiet and really alone.  I got centered.

After that, I could spend time with El-Kid without ruining his night.  I could see my husband without crying.  I re-entered my life with some acknowledgement of how tricky the transition is from Ramadan to real life.

The next two days of Eid went better.  We regrouped, ate together, went out together, and prayed together.  On the third day, we went out, bought clothes, ordered pizza, and watched the third mummy movie.

I haven't forgotten how bad that moment on the first day was, but I have forgiven.  None of us stay mindful 24/7 of those we love.  We screw it up.  All of us screw it up.

Being so very alone in the world---without friends or family nearby---means that I have to deal with my issues on my own without them and without their input.  It's a blessing and a curse.  Everything is like that.  Somehow, we have to exist in the middle.

Ramadan places us in the middle.  Eid shakes us a bit to see how much we'll stay centered.  Will we continue to pray?  How much of dunya did we miss?  Is Quran going to remain an active part of our lives, or will it become a dusty decoration?  Who or what will we worship alongside Allah?  Astragferallah for all our missteps in Eid as we try to navigate back into daily life.  

May Allah accept our prayers and fasting.

May Allah forgive us our mistakes during the month.

May all of our bad habits stay broken.

May we live to see another Ramadan.