Wednesday, April 23, 2014

You Could Be Egyptian

Asalamu Alaykom,

Take this simple test to determine if you actually are Egyptian and just didn't know it.

1.  You are a man in the middle of the street in Cairo.  What are
     you doing?

   a.  Crossing the street
   b.  Talking to your friends
   c.  Smoking a cigarette
   d.  Texting
   e.  b, c, and d

The correct answer is:  e.  b, c, and d

You are in the middle of the street talking, smoking a cigarette and texting.

However, if you are a woman in Cairo, it is entirely possible the answer is a. Crossing the street

...while balancing a package on your head.

2.  You are a woman in Egypt and your toddler falls down the marble steps.  What do you do?

   a.  Loudly blame the preschooler playing with him
   b.  Tell the child, "Malish" it's no problem
   c.  Hold the child in your arms and rub the bump
  d.  Put ice on the bump
  e.  All of the above

The correct answer is:  e.  All of the above

After your toddler falls down the marble steps, you loudly blame the preschooler playing with him, then tell the injured child, "Malish," while holding the child in your arms and rubbing the bump, and afterwards put ice on the bump.  To be thoroughly Egyptian, try doing all four within the first minute and then repeat as if on loop.

3.  The lights go out in Egypt.  What do you do?

   a.  Sit where you are motionless.
   b.  Make tea on the gas canister by the light of your mobile phone.
   c.  Use a battery-powered flashlight or lamp
   d.  Blame the former government
   e.  b and d

  The correct answer is e.  b and d

When the lights go out in Egypt, you make tea by the light of your mobile and blame the former government.

4.  You are a woman in Egypt.  Both you and your friend are going to have upcoming weddings.  How do you plan accordingly?

   a.  Discuss calendar dates together.
   b.  Let the fiances discuss calendar dates together.
   c.  Pull calendar dates out of a hat.
   d.  Let the other woman choose.
   e.  Have the wedding together and choreograph a dance routine for the guests.

  The correct answer is e.  Have the wedding together and choreograph a dance routine for the guests.

Do not attempt this in America.  While the dance moves are not difficult, the mere act of putting together two brides at the same celebration has been known to be deadly.

5.  You are a woman giving an interview on the street about Egypt's current state of affairs.  Whom do you blame? 

   a.  Nasser
   b.  Mubarak
   c.  Morsi
   d.  Sisi
   e.  Obama's mouse

The answer is  e.  Obama's mouse.

6.  You are giving a man giving an interview on the street.  How do you end 
your camera time?

   a.  Ask for donations to your favorite charity.
   b. Give a shout out to your family and friends.
   c.  Smile and wave.
   d.  Spit.
   e.  Jump on a bus.

Watch for the correct answer.

Yes, the answer was e.  To end your interview time, you jump on a bus.

This quiz has now ended.  How many letter e.  did you answer?  The more you answered with e. the more chance you have of actually being Egyptian---and just not knowing it.

Let me know if you have other question ideas.  I'm sure there are a few!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Egyptian Rug Shop

Asalamu Alaykom and Jummah Mabrook,

Come with me to the rug shop up the street.

I know that our street in the picture looks more like a beach than a section of asphalt.  It's yet another one of those "malish" moments.  "Malish" means "no problem".  Actually, if you look at the sandy street in positive light it's kind of cool to see all those tire tracks, footprints and pawprints.

This dog is mine.  His name is George.  I named him George because he looks like children's literature's Martha the Dog.  Get it?  George and Martha Washington?  Ya, well, when I am waiting for the schoolbus for 20 minutes it's a way to pass the time.

Sure, George is still a wild dog.  I don't bring him in off the streets; the streets are his home.  When I go out, I keep my eyes open for his return.  He has a slight limp, some sores show through his coat, yet he seems so happy.  Can animals really be happy living on the streets?  I think they can.

Let's keep going.

Jump in the microbus.  If you don't have the half pound, I'll pay for you.

This is one of those times I love Egypt.  No, the bus isn't loaded with a radio BUT it does have a duck puppet!

Here we are!  This is the rug shop.  The long building used to be all rugs but, since there are no tourists, a third of it is now devoted to tires.

The shop used to sell the kind of touristy rugs foreigners buy and bring home.  Now?  It mostly sells rugs that locals need to warm up their cold tile floors.

Look!  It just got a new shipment from the weavers.  The rug weavers are located in the countryside near Fayoum.  They work out there and then pile up a truck and head for the city.  There are still industrious people in Egypt and those willing to do business with them.  Those hard workers didn't give up; they just changed their strategy.

It's smart how they've added floor pillows to their stock.

I grew up walking on rag rugs.  There is something so homespun and beautiful about each line of color.

See what I mean?  Someone crafted that rug.  It is unique.  No where in the world is there another rug exactly like that and it's beautiful.

It would be nice if I were able to buy a rug like that at Target, but since we don't have Targets here, I'll buy from this shop.  Even if we did have one of the big chain stores, I'd rather buy from this shop.   The thing that charms me about a rugs here is that is a real person who lives an hour up the road from me made it and purchasing it very directly helps two families stay afloat financially.

There are other styles and colors.

I love this wall of fringe.

I want it but I worry how much of a dust collector it is.  Dust is a constant enemy in Egypt.  Ahhh...Look at those colors!  Gorgeous!

There are still some tourist rugs hoping to be bought.

I rather like that one.  Would I hang it in my home?  I don't know.

If you saw that rug in an art museum, would you believe it was valuable?  I bet you would.  Well, it hangs on a wall in a little shop in Giza without anyone to admire it.

Okay, this rug is a total tourist scene yet there's still artistry in it.

Just in case you weren't sure where you bought the rug, it's been spelled out for you.

"Did I buy that rug in Amsterdam? Hmmmmm....noooo."

"Milan?  I don't think it was Milan...."

"Wait!  Let me look at the rug!  It says EGYPT.  I must have bought it in Egypt!"

My mom would appreciate the simplicity of beige and cream lines.

For me, I love this patterned arrangement of colors.

I even love the blemishes.  I am soooo blemished and when I see it in life I feel like I've found a kindred spirit.

I really want this row of three hanging compartments.  If only I could figure of what to use it for....and then, of course, there's the dust issue again.  It's beautiful, though, isn't it?

There really is so much beauty in the world.  Going out in search of it means that you still have hope.  You still believe in a good world.  When you find it carefully crafted or artistically arranged, you are connected to someone else who cared and believed.

Let's keep on believing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Someone like You

Asalamu Alaykom,

I bet that a few of you women can relate to this thought I had about X2.

As I was doing dishes, I wondered if I would ever take my ex back.

...if years from now, I was somehow single and he was somehow single...

No, I wasn't feeling like I could even then.

I squeezed out some more soap onto the sponge and decided to increase the stakes.

What if he was the last man on Earth?  Could I take him back if he was the last man on Earth?

I turned on the water and tried to envision that moment where it's just him and me on an unpopulated plain.

That Garden of Eden vibe only lasted a split second because I had a sudden realization.

Sure enough, I laughed to myself, if I was the last woman on Earth, he would still leave me for an alien!

Time to put the last clean plate on the drying rack.

No, I would never take him back.

Even in the warped recesses of my mind, there's no place for a man like him.

I'm not sure why Adele wants to sing of "Someone like you" because honestly if a man becomes your ex you need to find someone new.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Yousra's Other Brother

Asalamu Alaykom,

Since last September, I've been connected to an Egyptian family.  We've never met.  I simply connected to them through the internet.  I wrote about the family's martyred son Khaled Ben El-Walied.  Later, I interviewed his sister Yousra.

What you maybe don't understand is that the interviews I make are done over emails.  There are many emails going back and forth over time and often over many miles.  My wish, with whomever I interview, is to create an understanding.  In the end, if we understand each other, we forge the foundation of peace.  You simply can't have peace without understanding.

I have understood the family's plight.  They wanted to have a normal life in Egypt but the events of this past summer changed everything.  The family's young men, Khaled and his brother Ahmed, protested against what they saw as injustice in Egypt.  They were camped out at Rabaa with other anti-coup and pro-Morsi protestors.  It was during clashes that Khaled died.  

It was through Ahmed, who actually is Dr. Ahmed, that I learned about his brother's death.  I was on Twitter and saw these sad tweets from Dr. Ahmed asking now famous photographer Mosab ElShamy  for just one more picture of his brother.  Did he have just one more?  No, he did not.

That moment was gripping for me because I really felt Ahmed's hope for one more split second of his Khaled while he was alive.  I then went to Facebook and saw how alive Khaled had been.  I saw the love others had for him.  In a way, I felt love for people I didn't know and had never met.  

I do call Yousra "sister".  I do feel that she is one strong sister in Islam.  I admire her great faith, mashahallah.

What do I do with the new knowledge that Dr. Ahmed has been arrested?  I learned of this yesterday.  It hurt my heart.  It did.  It hurts to learn of new suffering for a family that has already suffered so much.

The video shows him confessing to crimes with a table of weapons in front of him.  His family says he has been tortured into confessing.  I don't know.  I wasn't there when the crime was committed.  I wasn't there when he was arrested or jailed.  

God knows all.  I put my trust in Allah.  Whether or not Dr. Ahmed has committed any crime in Egypt, I pray for him and for his family.  I feel very sad that the surviving brother has been taken from them.  No sister should have to go through this ...and no mother either.  

I realize that by continuing to support the family, I run some risk.  I'm not sure if the risk is big or small.  What I do know is that I have a connection to a family in pain and I feel for them.  I can't abandon them as if they were a casual hobby.  Once I love people, I care about them for my entire life.

Should you care?  Of course you should.  You should care that Egypt has jailed so many in such a short amount of time.  Are they all guilty?  Only Allah knows.  Allah knows who is the terrorist.

Please, on Fridays, remember Egypt and those other countries struggling through change.  Pray for positive change using peaceful means.

I want to leave you with one of the greatest forces of goodness who has shared this earth with me.  Listen to him be such a GOOD person.

There's so much bad.  We have a choice to choose the good.  We do!  I haven't been as good as I can be and neither have you (sorry, but you haven't).  So, let's re-commit ourselves to staying good, pure and true.  

Let's acknowledge that this world often has hardships.  If you are in a hardship, thank God and know that staying straight on the Path of Righteousness is the only way out of that problem.  If you are not in a hardship, thank God and know that you can help others who are.

Ya Rab!  Ya Rab.  Ya Rabee.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Gay Word

Asalamu Alaykom,

It has been a long week of correcting Term 2 final essays.  I'm spending many hours pouring over words and deciphering what was meant and what was actually said.  Words are my life.

At the end of my day, I sat next to my third-grader son on the school bus.  I tend to be a little quiet at 3:30.  The rest of the bus, as you can imagine, is not.  There are the kids, the bus matron, and the radio all competing for the highest decibels.

"Mom," said the little voice next to me.  "What's 'gay'?"

My eight-year-old son wants to know what 'gay' is.


That's not something I saw coming.  It's been a long day and he's a little young and---

yet, I can't mess it up because it means the difference between clarity and confusion.

I'm honest with my kids and always have been.  I learned this from my biologist father who always told scientific facts as they were.

"Where did you hear that word?"

"I just did.  I don't know where."

Deep breath as the bus starts up and I begin.  "Gay is when a woman doesn't want to be together with a man as a partner; she wants to be together with another woman.  That's not me.  I wanted to be with a man for my partner so I chose Baba.  Baba chose to be with a woman for his partner (me) and not another man.  Neither one of us is gay.

That doesn't mean that someone who is gay is bad.  Sometimes people use the word, 'gay' like it means, 'stupid.'  I don't want to think like that.  Just because someone is different from me doesn't mean I have to call them names."

My phone was in my hand, and I realized that I had a photo on it that I had loaded, in order to show it to my eighth graders.  It was a picture of my best friend in the Virgin Islands.  I had used her photo in talking about memoirs but also as a segue to our current book about the Civil War (and issues of racism).  Now, I would use it once again.

"Did you ever see this picture?  This is my friend from the islands.  She decided that she didn't want a man.  She is gay.  She was really nice to me that year so I can't be mad at her for being gay.  That would be dumb of me.  She is who she is.

I have another friend, Ben, and he's gay too.  He has been very nice to me for so many years.  Should I hate him because he's gay?  I really can't."

El-Kid has been taking it in and then says, "I don't want to get married.  It's too much work."

I laugh, "Yes, it is a lot of work but it's nice too.  Baba and I are so different.  We're like salt and pepper.  I know it would be easier if we were the same but I like how he's got things that I don't have and I have things that he doesn't have.  It's kind of like having a right arm and a left arm; we work well together.  Wouldn't it be hard to have two right arms?  You'd look weird!"

El-Kid laughs.

"Allah made men and women perfectly for getting along together.  Allah made us differently so we can marry and have families."

"I don't want to marry a woman or a man.  I want to marry the TV."

Ya, he loves the TV.

"They don't have a word for that.  Besides, you're only eight.  It's not like I'm going to marry you off at 10 or something.  You've got time."

Yes, he has time but I didn't.  I was really on the spot today about a tough subject for grown-ups, let alone for kids.  I hope to God that it was what needed to be said.

May God bless all of those struggling as Muslims parents.

May God also bless all those gays and lesbians who have shown kindness to me over the years.

Lastly, may the two groups not see each other as enemies.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Agony Aunt: No Hand-Me-Downs

Asalamu Alaykom,

Some problems seem smaller than others.  This one is not a huge issue but it still has become a big problem for a family.  Take a look.

Salamu Alaikum Yosra,

Wallahi my husband does a very nice job taking care of us.  I don't want to say differently.  He does buy clothes for the two kids we have.  We have one girl and one boy.  The problem is that they grow out of their clothes so quickly.  Or I'll buy something and it won't be good quality and it will rip and look bad.  

My sister can give us some nice clothes from her kids because they're bigger but my husband says no.  He says that it's his job to get the clothes for them and nobody can put clothes on his kids except him.  I don't want to hurt his feelings but the truth is that it's hard to keep them in new clothes all the time.

What can I tell him to make him understand the problem?

Wa Alaykom Asalam wa Rahtmatullahi wa Barakatu,

Sadly, we can't, "make" our men understand anything.  I wish we could!  I wish there was a vitamin supplement we could slip in their food to release their ability to accept different opinions.

Basically, you have to be logical and not emotional when you discuss this privately with him.  Make sure you don't include anyone else in on the conversation.  He has a huge need to save face publicly.  If you involve anyone else, he will dig his feet in and insist on providing for his family since he's the man.

Explain that you will not be accepting your sisters' old clothes and wearing them yourself.  You understand the difference.  You know that you have enough clothes and you're not going to change size inshahallah.

However, the kids change size so rapidly.  It's hard to find high-quality clothes that fit them.  It's difficult for you to go shopping and it's hard on your family financially to keep spending the money.

Money is a blessing from God.  He has to agree to this.  If a person like his boss or one of his customers gives him money, the money is not really from them; it's from Allah.  Allah SWT has issued all the blessings in the world for us to circulate and share.  It's actually mandated for Muslims to share; it's a pillar of Islam.

To throw away those children's clothes would be the same as throwing away money or food.  It would be haram, a sin.  So, those clothes need to be reused.  Someone else needs to get wear out of them.  They have been on your sister's children so he knows that they are clean.  To refuse her offer is like saying your husband doesn't think her kid's clothes are good enough and shames her.

He understands about saving face, as I said before.  Use this understanding to help him feel like he must not shame your sister.  Your sister benefits because she gets rid of unwanted surplus goods and she gets hassanet for donating it to you.  Your children benefit because they get a constant supply of good fitting garments.  You and your husband benefit because that time and money you used to spend on new clothes can be redirected towards other activities like buying a family dinner out sometime.

You have had the right idea.  I do agree with you that you make sense.  However, the trick in a marriage isn't "Who's right," but rather "Who can help the other."  If you help your husband understand, you can help your children get the clothes they need.

Remember:  it might take months to affect this switch in thinking.  Don't push your agenda.  Be persistent not annoying.  Inshahallah, you'll help your family better this way.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Was Only Me

Asalamu Alaykom,

R.I.P. Mohammed Ramadan

It's Friday.

The Cairo Stadium riot is over.

The bodies of the four dead hikers in Sinai have been found.

The South Korean tourists who suffered from the bus bombing are either buried or recuperating.

The government schools remain shut until March 8 due to H1N1.

Do you hear any of these stories about Egypt?

I hear them and they hurt me.

If I were picking a country to live NOW, it would not be Egypt.  However, I picked it in 2009 and I landed here.  Tomorrow, I'm supposed to be getting a kitchen designer coming here to take measurements.  It's a moment of, "Am I really staying here?  Should I really be sinking more money into this apartment?"

This week I've been working so hard and today is my day off.  Jummah Mabrook.  It's as if I didn't have time for the pain, and now that I can relax, some tears flow.

One day this week, riding home on the bus, I caught sight of those plastic bags filled with bright pink cotton candy.  They were, as they always are, held aloft on a stick.  I couldn't see the man carrying it.  The vivid color was this beautiful contrast to brown and beige neighborhood.  I heard the toot of the horn cotton candy sellers always use.  It's joyful; the whole moment is a promise of sweet things.  Then, the seller came into view and it was only a little boy.  I was surprised to see that he couldn't have been much older than my son.  He was dressed in a galabiya and he was working as he walked.  The sight of him trying so hard to live through this moment was melancholy for me.

So many people are trying so hard.  Probably you are too.  My mother loves to say, "Life is not for the faint of heart."  She's right.  At the same time, it's our hearts which enable us to keep us humble and quiet.

I talk A LOT as a teacher.  I have to.  They pay me to lecture and read and guide.  I'm quiet right now.  I'm sitting in a sun-filled salon, typing on this beaten-up laptop with a soppy face.  Somehow the quiet has brought me to this moment of reflection.  You truly can't figure out where you are and who you are with too much noise and news.

I cropped myself out of a photo today and I sent it along with my CV.  I hadn't gone looking for work but an email came and there were some big numbers involved.  I looked for a recent photo which didn't make me look too haggard.  That's not an easy task!  Since the summer, almost all of my photos have been bad; I've looked worn out, old and tired.  I went back to the photos from our Spring trip.

I was smiling and happy next to my husband in Aswan.  I looked vivacious and it's been a while since I've seen that face.  After opening it up in Photo Editor, I pulled the rectangle closer, closer, closer.  I was alone since you couldn't see my husband any more.  You couldn't really tell I was in Egypt either.  I was without person or place.  I was only "me".

Who are you when you are only "you"?

 Do you like what you see?

I like me.

I'm just not sure if I like me living here.

Mohammed Ramadan's last picture he posted on Facebook before he died.

Later today

I got that quick and disappointing response from the recruiting company.  Yes, they had sent the email BUT they weren't going to submit my CV to the school in question.  Whatever.  I replied that it would be good to tell me why I was not considered a good candidate so I didn't waste their time in future.  Regardless of what they say, I don't think I'm going to venture outside of Egypt.

Mohammed Ramadan tweeted from Sinai, "Egypt:  love it or leave it" not knowing that he would soon leave Egypt and the whole earth as well.  The message remains after he's gone, Allah yerhamo.

It sounds, at first, as if you have to submerge any negative feelings to remain living here.  That isn't true.  Pretending to be happy when you're not isn't healthy.  It's good that I applied for a job outside of Egypt.  Alhumdulillah.  It's good that they refused my application.  Alhumdulillah.  It's freeing to know that living and working here is a viable option while other possibility aren't.  It frees me from dreaming stories instead of planning reality.  I need to cool my jets and accept that I'm here; I'm not leaving.

If I am here, then I need to be loving.  I have to find a way----past the bad news.  I don't always like living here; it's true.  I just have to keep from hating it.  Things in motion stay in motion and I don't want to become embittered by events.

Inshahallah, this will remain my home, not because it's the place where I'm forced to live but because I choose to live here.  I explored an option and it didn't work.  I am free to go but I choose to stay.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Agony Aunt: Trouble with My Husband

Asalamu Alaykom,

Maybe it's the winter never seeming to be over, but there are three women asking about their lives today on Agony Aunt.  I'm going to answer as best I can.  Any good is from God working through me.  Any bad is from me and may God forgive me.

Alaikom Salam,

I'm in total emotional turmoil.  I'm not sure if I want to stay married.  I've realized that there's an extremely low likelihood of it working out.  He is overseas and I'm back in the States.  There's too many things against us.  We don't share the same language, culture, education, the list goes on and on.  I'm being realistic now.  The fantasy has worn off.  I love him a lot.  I really do.  I just don't think we're compatible for the rest of our lives.  We don't have kids yet and I don't want a man who hits me or my kids. If I had kids with him, then I could never leave them.  It's better not to take that risk.  I just need to know that I'm right before I tell him.  He has no idea what I'm deciding.

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

I'm very sorry you are in turmoil.  

When we face BIG QUESTIONS in our lives, we tend to focus on the small issues.

The real issues between you and your husband can't be about language.  If you are in Islam, then you love learning and have been learning Arabic.  

Culture is a such an easy commodity to share.  I have dated men in my life who have made me laugh until I cried because they knew the inside jokes and twists of phrase.  Guess what?  They can do that with anybody; it's a party trick to chit-chat on the surface level and it wears thin.

You want to talk about his education?  I'm guessing that he has less than you do.  That's kind of a low blow.  Men living overseas often have less formal education but more street smarts.  You honestly want to tell me that an American man with a B.A. can slaughter an animal?  Break up a fight?  Haggle a price down?  

My husband has as much education as my first-generation Norwegian immigrant grandfather did (and that's not saying much).  Neither went on to college because of their family's need for them to work.  To look down on a man without a diploma for the rest of his life seems unfair, doesn't it?  It's like giving him a life sentence for his parents' misfortunes.  By the way, my grandfather's third try at making money made him very well off and that business is still in existence today.  Subhanallah.

I see my ability to teach my husband is a blessing to him.  He couldn't afford any more lessons so God sent him a teacher--me!  That's funny!  Subhanallah.  I wouldn't have chosen him as a student but it has been very rewarding to help him learn.  He helps me learn too as marriage always works two ways.

God has you in this life for reasons; some of which you know and some you have yet to know.  It is said that we shouldn't wish for anything except what God knows is best.  Start from that really honorable place.  Begin with The Beginner.  Go to God in prayer and ask for direction in your life.

You are going to others with this problem, right?  My guess is that you're discussing it with friends and family (and many whom are not adhering to Islam).  It doesn't sound as if you have talked it over with your husband overseas.  That's not fair.  How would you feel if he were doing the same about you?  No doubt he could have been talked out of marrying you by his friends and family but he went ahead with your halal union.

Being married isn't the same as being boyfriend/girlfriend.  Hey, you can walk away from a bad date or a bad relationship when you aren't REALLY committed.  You have options.  When you are married, some options are limited.  Those limitations themselves can be what we really don't like rather than the person himself.

You are more scared of staying in your marriage than you are scared of leaving.  Western society values those who are go-getters; movers and shakers.  A person who stays in a place or a job too long has something wrong with them, right?  Someone who stayed married 50 years is appreciated as a kind of oddity in their old age but if someone is still young then it's reasonable for them to grow apart and leave their former love.  That's Western belief.  

Yes, in Islam a divorce is allowable but it is the most hated allowable thing in the world.  You are separated by distance and now you are seeing that differences separate you as well.  Islam asks us to have patience with those times and people that are difficult.  The benefits come from working things out ---from both sides.

You are not a perfect specimen of a Muslim wife.  I'm not either.  NO ONE is.  Our faults need understanding and guidance, love and forgiveness.  As I grow older, I realize more and more how much of a blessing a halal marriage is.

Is hitting halal?  No, no one should be hitting.  Parents should not be beating children.  Husbands should not be beating wives or vice versa.  Islam is about compassion yet we all know Muslims who fall short.  If you are married to a man who fears Allah, then even if he errs there is a good chance he can reform.  If he can control himself during the month of Ramadan, it shows that he has a strong resolve.

You don't make it clear if he has hit you.  In America, it's a majority mandate to women that if he hits then you must leave.  Here in Egypt, there isn't that feeling.  It still isn't right that a man would hit his wife but it doesn't mean a woman has to leave.  It's a process of understanding limits and expectations.  A Muslim man has many other ways of expressing his displeasure other than a hit.  Help him through his fitnah as he has helped you through yours.  Everyone has struggles of right and wrong and a marriage needs to be a place where we can count on loving acceptance of our best selves and negation of our worst selves.

Not having children yet is staying outside the threshold of a happy home.  Sure, you can run away easier but is that the best way to make decisions?  Do you actually pray, "Dear God, bring me into only the situations which have good escape routes,"?  I hope not!  Pray for the best life.  Pray for the highest rewards.

Alhumdulillah your fantasy has worn off.  Don't live in half-truths and don't ask others to tell you YOUR truth.  Be quiet and at peace knowing that you have all the answers already.  Go to Al-Haqq and ask for guidance.

I wish you peace.

Salamo Alaykom,

I'm usually a very upbeat person but I'm not now because my best friend from childhood is going through a divorce.  It's really eating me up inside.  She calls me a couple of times a day to tell me what's going on.  I know everything and it's killing me.  I don't tell her not to get divorced.  I mostly listen and I think I cry more than she does.  It's affecting me because I don't know what to tell her.  It has me feeling so sad.  It makes me even wonder what I'm doing in my own life.  I can't advise her with her husband when I hear things from her that are wrong in my own marriage.  How do I deal with my friend's divorce?

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

You use two very graphic ways to describe your feelings with, "eating me up inside," and, "killing me."  Words are powerful.  Although you didn't ACTUALLY mean what you wrote, those figurative expressions are sad statements of how desperate you've become.

Something needs to change.

Can you change your friend and her situation?  No.  You can only change your part in the drama.

Before you started hearing about her problems, it doesn't sound like there was any drama in your life.  Her twice daily updates are upsetting your feelings of safety and calm within your own marriage.  She has become a magnifying mirror which is distorting your own views.  On and on, she explores her problems and you start to wonder about your own life.

Islam tells us NOT to share the secrets of our married life from inside our homes.  You have become a spy of sorts.  Is that who you want to be?  Every time she is guilty in over sharing,  you are also guilty of letting it continue.  You are not her therapist and as a friend you really are helpless to help her.  It doesn't sound as if she wants help exactly; she just wants to dump.

"Ahhhhh," she can say with a smile after your phone calls, "I feel so much better!"

"Ohhhh," you groan as you wipe away a tear, "I feel so much worse."

That's not a healthy relationship.  She is using you as a catharsis to feel emotions she is unable to feel.  You can keep her as a friend but you've got to stop the disturbing information coming in.  Tell her that you need some time to get centered again.

You might think that she won't be able to handle her life without you.  She can.  Actually, you bowing out forces her to deal with the issues rather than endlessly rolling them around.  The other and very real possibility is that she'll find another ear to bitch lament to.

Use your time wisely.  Free yourself from the phone.  Go to your husband at prayer times and have him lead you.  See once again the good, true, and kind man you married.  No, he's not perfect but he's someone you have valued for years.  Keep him; lose your job at the help center.


I know you've been divorced and remarried.  I've been married almost three months and I'm having second thoughts.  I was married for ten years, then single for four.  I know I am independent and I don't need a man to take care of me.  I'm not saying I want another divorce.  It's just not what I thought it would be and it scares me that I was wrong.  What's the right way to look at a second marriage?  I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong to feel this way.

Asalam Alaykom,

I'm wishing you peace.

Subhanallah that anyone makes it through the first year of marriage.  It's tough!  Lots of times we women can feel cheated that we didn't really know the man, or he lied to us about who he was.  It's not that.  None of us really know each other until we live together as husband and wife.

Marriage changes us.  We have to submit (whether men or women) to another person's schedule, preferences and quirks.  People who were perfectly "normal" while courting begin to show limitations.  It happens to EVERYONE.

Take this year and be slow and careful with it.  Don't focus on the problems.  See them as bumps on the road and not complete road blocks.  Be loving.  Be yourself...but aim at being a better version of yourself.  Allow that man to be who he is too...if he crosses boundaries which you can't accept then you can tell him (at a time he can listen).  Also, listen to him and his needs.  Respect needs to go both ways.

Don't be scared that this could end in another divorce.  If your goal is to stay married then work towards that goal.  One man is going to be much like the next; they just don't differ that much.  Imagining that you made the wrong choice will trouble your head.  Realize that you made the right choice when you married and now you need to keep on making the right choices because Mr. Right is a fantasy.

Being single has its perks.  You can let yourself go, watch all your shows, eat whatever and whenever you want, and keep yourself and your desires uppermost in your mind.  I've seen what happens to single women as they grow older.  They  become a little crazy in their attempts to live independently.  We human beings were made to rely on others.  Living alone is...wait...

Are you stuck in the past remembering the fun of dating?  I wonder if that's part of the problem.  Remember that dating is NOT part of Islam.  If your life before marriage was filled with dates and dinners out then you need to re-think.  That's not a life.  That's a diversion from life.  Real life is what you have now and it's a building process which isn't always fun.  Don't confuse a boyfriend and a husband; that's the same as confusing haram and halal.  

I swear to God WALLAHI if you were to get rid of this husband, date another batch of dudes, and marry another man, you'd be right back in this same spot all over again.  You'd still be a woman wondering if you'd made the right decision and why it didn't feel as good as you had hoped.  The first year of marriage is a huge adjustment.  As long as you have love and respect for a man who fears Allah, you can stay together.

Inshahallah, you will stay together and years from now you'll be able to look back at your time as newlyweds.

Love and Light!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Powerful Poetry

Asalamu Alaykom and Jummah Mabrook,

Yesterday, I was teaching poetry.  Truly, it is a blessing to have a job so meaningful to you that you learn and grow as you work for pay.  As I woke this morning, I asked myself if I could actually leave this place to work in America once more because I would have to leave the land of literature as well.  Without a valid teacher's license, I could never teach Sara Teasdale.

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white:

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
if mankind perishes utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

The students liked that poem so I added one of my Teasdale favorite.

The Look
Sara Teasdale

Strephon kissed me in the spring
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.

I also taught Gautier.  It's long, but if you like Egypt, it's a must-read.

Nostalgia of the Obelisks
Theophile Gautier

The Obelisk in Paris

Distant from my native land,
Ever dull with ennui's pain,
Lonely monolith I stand,
In the snow and frost and rain.

And my shaft, once burnt to red
In a flaming heaven's glare,
Taketh on a pallor dead
In this never azure air.

Oh, to stand again before
Luxor's pylons, and the dear,
Grim Colossi!—be once more
My vermilion brother near!

Oh, to pierce the changeless blue,
Where of old my peak upwon,
With my shadow sharp and true
Trace the footsteps of the sun!

Once, O Rameses! my tall mass
Not the ages could destroy.
But it fell cut down like grass.
Paris took it for a toy.

Now my granite form behold:
Sentinel the livelong day
Twixt a spurious temple old,
And the Chambre des Députés!

On the spot where Louis SeizeDied, 
they set me, meaningless,
With my secret which outweighs
Cycles of forgetfulness.

Sparrows lean defile my head,
Where the ibis used to light,
And the fierce gypaetus spread
Talons gold and plumage white.

And the Seine, the drip of street,
Unclean river, crime's abyss,
Now befouls mine ancient feet,
Which the Nile was wont to kiss:

Hoary Nile that, crowned and stern,
To its lotus-laden shores
From its ever bended urn
Crocodiles for gudgeon pours!

Golden chariots gem-belit
Of the Pharaohs' pageanting
Grazed my side the cab-wheels hit,
Bearing out the last poor king.

By my granite shape of yore
Passed the priests, with stately pschent,
And the mystic boat upbore,
Emblemed and magnificent.

But to-day, profane and wan,
Camped between two fountains wide,
I behold the courtesan
In her carriage lounge with pride.

From the first of year to last
I must see the vulgar show—
Solons to the Council passed,
Lovers to the woods that go!

Oh, what skeletons abhorred,
Hence, an hundred years, this race!
Couched, unbandaged, on a board,
In a nailed coffin's place.

Never hypogeum kind,
Safe from foul corruption's fear;
Never hall where century-lined
Generations disappear!

Sacred soil of hieroglyph,
And of sacerdotal laws,
Where the Sphinx is waiting stiff,
Sharpening on the stone its claws,—

Soil of crypt where echoes part,
Where the vulture swoopeth free,
All my being,—all my heart,
O mine Egypt, weeps for thee!

I find it interesting that I only taught the first poem.  Until I searched for it now, I had no idea there even was an accompanying poem.  See how the way we view art is changed by the framing of it?

The photograph below was from our January, 2011 trip to Luxor.


The Obelisk in Luxor

Where the wasted columns brood,
Lonely sentinel stand I,
In eternal solitude
Facing all infinity.

Dumb, with beauty unendowed,
To the horizon limitless
Spreads earth's desert like a shroud
Stained by yellow suns that press.

While above it, blue and clean,
Is another desert cast—
Sky where cloud is never seen,
Pure, implacable, and vast.

And the Nile's great water-course
Glazed with leaden pellicle
Wrinkled by the river-horse
Gleameth dead, unlustreful.

All about the flaming isles,
By a turbid water spanned,
Hot, rapacious crocodiles
Swoon and sob upon the sand.

Perching motionless, alone,
Ibis, bird of classic fame,
From a carven slab of stone
Reads the moon-god's sacred name.

Jackals howl, hyenas grin,
Famished hawks descend and cry.
Down the heavy air they spin,
Commas black against the sky.

These the sounds of solitude,
Where the sphinxes yawn and doze,
Dull and passionless of mood,
Weary of their endless pose.

Child of sand's reflected shine,
And of sun-rays fiercely bent,
Is there ennui like to thine,
Spleen of luminous Orient?

Thou it was cried "Halt!" of yore
To satiety of kings.
Thou hast crushed me more and more
With thine awful weight of wings.

Here no zephyr of the sea
Wipes the tears from skies that fill.
Time himself leans wearily
On the palaces long still.

Naught shall touch the features terse
Of this dull, eternal spot.
In this changing universe,
Only Egypt changeth not!

When the ennui never ends,
And I yearn a friend to hold,
I've the fellahs, mummies, friends,
Of the dynasties of old.

I behold a pillar pale,
Or a chipped Colossus note,
Watch a distant, gleaming sail
Up and down the Nile afloat.

Oh, to seek my brother's side,
In a Paris wondrous, grand,
With his stately form to bide,
In the public place to stand!

For he looks on living men,
And they scan his pictures wrought
By an hieratic pen,
To be read by vision-thought.

Fountains fair as amethyst
On his granite lightly pour
All their irisated mist.
He is growing young once more.

Ah! yet he and I had birth
From Syene's veins of red.
But I keep my spot of earth.
He is living. I am dead.

Lastly, I taught Longfellow while I was subbing for a sick teacher.

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
 The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
 With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
 Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
 His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
 He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face
 For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn to night,
 You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
 With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
 When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
 Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
 And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
 Like chaff from a threshing floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
 And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
 He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
 And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
 How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
 A tear out of his eyes.

 Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
 Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
 Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
 For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
 Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
 Each burning deed and thought. 

What a joy to impart the layers of meaning within poetry to young minds!  How fun for me to enjoy myself at work and have the effect last all the way into the next day.

Today, on my day off, I started reading a story about Mia Farrow.  Her story led once again to poetry since she took the name of her memoir from a poem.  Have a look:

The Waking
Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?  
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?  
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,  
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?  
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do  
To you and me; so take the lively air,  
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.  
What falls away is always. And is near.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

Enjoy more than the status quo.  Read poetry.  Reach out and revel in the deep feelings and thoughts you still have swimming inside you.