Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Janet Jackson Named Her Baby Eissa



Asalamu Alaykom,


Mashallah!  Mashallah!  Mashahallah!

Arabic people often praise God in threes for emphasis.  "Mashahallah" means that I'm acknowledging that something has come from God.  In this case, I'm soooooo happy for Janet Jackson and her husband Wissam Al Mana on the birth of their baby boy Eissa.

Why name him "Eissa"?

First of all, naming a child in the Arabic culture is VERY important.  Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgement believers will be called by their first name and father's name.  There are cases from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when names with negative connotations were changed.  An example from modern times might be a girl named Brandy (an alcohol) would be better to have her name changed as people will always associate something lascivious about her.

Janet has not said that she wants an Arabic name herself and she does not have to change her name ever.  I changed my name because I just felt done with who I had been before as if that time had been used up.  I didn't hate my birth name and it didn't have any bad meaning.

We don't know if Janet Jackson has come to Islam like her older brother Jermaine.  There had been talk of Michael Jackson (May God give him a rest in peace) coming to Islam, but that never was confirmed.  Janet does not have to come to Islam to be married to a Muslim man.  She was raised Christian and can stay Christian.

I see that at least one UK paper has announced that Janet Jackson converted (or "reverted" as I say).   Unless Janet Jackson comes out publicly to state that this has happened, I will not assume that she has.  It is not necessary to come to Islam in order to raise a Muslim child.  If she is accepting enough of her husband and his ways, then she will do just fine as Um Eissa.  This is her new honorary title meaning "Mother of Eissa" and her husband becomes Abu Eissa or "Father of Eissa".

Often times, women who marry Arabic speakers gravitate to a name in Arabic---maybe a translation of their name in English, such as Mary liking the name Maryam.  Maryam is actually the name for Jesus' mother (respect to her) and there is a chapter in the Quran named after her "Surah Maryam".




It is often a surprise to Christians that Isa Ibn Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary) is so revered by Muslims.  No, we don't believe he is son of God.  I never believed that so I wasn't a very good Christian.  However, we all respect him as one of the great messengers along with twenty-four others mentioned in Quran.  These men brought new laws from God to the people.  They are "Rasul" in Arabic.    




  1. Adam
  2. Idris (Enoch)
  3. Nuh (Noah)
  4. Hud (Eber)
  5. Saleh
  6. Ibrahim (Abraham)
  7. Lut (Lot)
  8. Ismail (Ishmael)
  9. Ishaq (Isaac)
  10. Ya'akub (Jacob)
  11. Yusuf (Joseph)
  12. Ayub (Job)
  13. Syu'aib
  14. Musa (Moses)
  15. Harun (Aaron)
  16. Daud (David)
  17. Sulaiman (Solomon)
  18. Ilyas (Elijah)
  19. Ilyasa' (Elisha)
  20. Yunus (Jonah)
  21. Zulkifli (Ezekiel)
  22. Zakaria (Zachariah)
  23. Yahya (John the Baptist)
  24. Isa (Jesus)
  25. Muhammad (mentioned by Jesus as coming after him)

You can read more about the list of messengers (peace be upon them all) here.   Most names in Quran have another pronunciation in the Bible.  Notice that "Adam" does not.  Obviously, these names are very popular with Muslim parents.  They do fall in and out of fashion like anything in this world.  Here in Egypt, I see a LOT of boys named Mohamed and Yussef but I've never met a Yunus.

Many Western moms who are married to Arabic men like to chose a name that still connects them to their world that they knew before.  Popular American names like David, John, and Zack become  Daud, Yahya and Zackaria.

Of course, because the names in English are transliterated from Arabic, it is the sound of the name that is being approximated.  That means that three boys with the same name in Arabic could have it spelled three different ways: Daud, Dawud, Dawood or Yahya, Yahia, Yehya.  

This is true with Janet Jackson's son too.  She chose the spelling Eissa, but it also gets spelled Eesa and Isa.  Which way is best?  I like how she spelled it and I'm pretty sure it was chosen after consultation with someone knowledgeable.  The way his name in Arabic

عيسى  

starts with the Arabic letter "ayn" which a diphthong, or a two-vowel combination that works together.  I can barely say it!  I basically cop out and say a  one-vowel "ah" for names that start with "ayn" like Umar/Omar, or Aisha.  Truly, it is supposed to be more of an "ah-ee" sound.  Therefore, writing the name as "Eissa" is the most correct, although all the news reports still seem to cop out on pronunciation as they have been saying "Isa".  

What I find interesting is that Janet Jackson could have named her baby "Yasu", 

يَسُوعَ  

    
that's the name for Jesus according to the Arabic Christians, but she didn't.  This signals a very real bonding to her Muslim man and a respect for his religion.  Her religion?  I don't know, but in the Muslim faith a child is the religion of the father, so her son is Muslim.  Janet Jackson is now out numbered by two Muslim males---thankfully, she's had lots of practice being outnumbered in her famous family.

The Jacksons had that naming convention of "J" names and in a way her son continues that with being "Jesus".  In America, a son could NEVER be named the English name "Jesus", even though the Spanish name spelled the same way "Jesus" but pronounced "Hay-sus" is given.  She got to be both very different and original, yet traditional at the same time.

Eissa (peace be upon him) brought light to the earth at a time of darkness.  His teachings helped guide the people back to the path they had already be shown by prophets before him.  I am sure that his example has helped both the Jackson family and the Mana family.

Now, Baby Eissa is uniting his mother Janet and father Wissam in a beautiful new relationship as parents that will bond them together as a family.


Please join me as I make du'a (supplication) for this new family.

May Allah protect Janet, Wissam, and Eissa and help them as they learn and grow together.  May Eissa be a healthy and strong child who becomes a leader in the world for better understandings between people and nations.

Ameen.




  



Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2016 Images



Asalamu Alaykom,




2016 was a lot of what you're going to see in this post.




It was me trying to be all zen---but picking the wrong place to do it.



2016 also was spending a lot of time on the bus and being too tired.  This square has a large tower above it with the word TIRING actually written on it.  Yes, it is always tiring to go to Cairo.  I like how the billboard man just laughs at it.  I tried to laugh off a lot of 2016.



Some of the year, I forgot to look around me and catch what was really going on.  When I did stop myself from being mundane, I would realize how blessed I am to be where I am and doing what I'm doing.


One of the things I'm most proud about is that I could envision the 100-Acre Wood in this grove of trees and perform "Winnie-the-Pooh" here for the kindergartners.  Every performance, we were missing an actor.  It was crazy---yet, I continued with my commitment to produce theatre at the school with the motto, "The show must go on!"  

  

No, I didn't become a truck driver.  If you look beyond the rig, there are trees and in the trees are some white things.  Those are birds that flock to this spot on our way to school.  It is in the part of Giza we have named, "Funky Town" because it just reeks of sewer.  Jokes abound!  The two of us sit next to each other every day and that's a blessing because my son is my favorite person on earth. 



 Those birds in their wilderness sit on the other side of a little rivulet. They create a balance between the beautiful and the grotesque as we sit in the middle.  METAPHOR!




Of course, El-Kid isn't the only middle-schooler in my life.  I have so many and I love them all.  This year, I have given more than ever, in part because one of our fifth graders died over the summer.  I will never have another chance with him, so I have felt more of  a need to do more for those who are still here.

Having said that, it's been a very tough year and I declared that I'm not coming back next year.  I've had one job interview so far.  

This decorated wall is from last years's fifth graders.  I hate charts, but these are chart of sorts.  The top one is for a book on Hatchepsut.  The bottom one is for a book on Crazy Horse.

Each tribe's buffalo is for getting the top score; the teepees are for reaching 90 and above; and the horses are for getting 80 and above.  This year, I initiated the same project, but NOTHING has been placed on the paper I taped up on the wall.  With all their apps and instant gratification from them, I wonder if coloring, cutting, and pasting have left from my classrooms.



I am still going to create.  I do define myself as creative, and these projects need to flow out of me or I burst.  This year, I decided that I didn't want clip art on my wall representing the Lakota people.  I researched, and printed out actual photos and then incorporated them into the Black Hills which surround the narrator's cabin.  I'm so happy with the result---or, I was after I changed the one rock on the shore to gray.  The last lines of the book are written in the waves and were my inspiration for this poster.  

This blog is another example of what I create.  My tweets, some of them reaching tens of thousands this year, are another outlet.  



One way my creativity gets re-charged is from seeing incredible sites.  Egypt is good for that!  Here is the Nilometer, the oldest Islamic building in Egypt.  

My son complained today that, "We always go see places from history!"  Maybe he'll thank me later.

On the last day of the year, we went to Mosque Sayeda Zainab (ra).  She was the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).  Egyptians say that she was buried here, but Syrians say she was buried there.  I don't know the truth---God only knows.

It was a bit chaotic at the entrance, 



but once inside it was very welcoming.  Unlike many of the other beautiful mosques, which have a glorious section for the men and a decrepit area for the women, this had a BEAUTIFUL and spacious area for the sisters to pray.



A lot of 2016 has been keeping the faith, finding the ways that my faith can grow, and instilling my son with knowledge of our faith.  That is a full-time job in and of itself.  Being a person of faith is not a side-line hobby.  2017, inshahallah, is going to see more of me building upon my foundation of faith and creating a better life.

Part of really living is not listening to what others say and following what you believe is true for you.

This next picture to represent 2017 was taken when I headed down a driveway.  There were amazing murals on both sides!  I kept shooting pictures as my husband stood on the sidewalk telling me to stop.  I didn't stop.  Why would anyone put up murals if they didn't want them to be admired?!

I'm going to keep on being me and doing what makes sense at the time. 



Having said that I have been independent from my husband's mind, doesn't mean that I don't need him.  I do.  This next picture isn't us, but it represents us pretty well.  We are going down the highway of life together with each one of us holding on for dear life.  In many ways, it's been easier to be married to him this year since he made positive changes in his life.  Yet, it's still a tricky deal to be so close to ANYONE ...let alone an Egyptian man. 

Inshahallah, it will seven years of marriage this month.  Subhanallah for that! 


I also need to include a photo of me on a beach at the Red Sea.  I loved this beach.  I loved floating in utter calmness.  It's my new happy place.


That's not to say that it was all happy.  The whole year wasn't happy.  NOTHING can be all about happiness.  We wish "Happy New Year" but we know that there are going to be problems.  

When we first got married, my husband was shocked that we had problems.  He felt that we always had problems.  We didn't.  He simply misunderstood how life worked.  Now, we both know how to minimize the daily difficulties and move on to what we enjoy more.  Doesn't mean we always do it very well, but we strive towards this more and more.  Alhumdulillah.

Thank God.


For me, it really is all about God.  I took this picture after I stumbled across some tourists who had gotten a little lost looking for the Pizza Hut.  Our family helped them and we ended up eating together.  It was a blessing.  The year has been full of blessings.  Alhumdulillah.

Speaking of blessing, we've been watching "Little House on the Prairie" on DVD and they always say a table blessing.  I decided to re-institute that back into my life.  We now hold onto each other---hands, pinkies, wrists---and create a little circle before saying, "God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank God for our food.  Ameen.  Bismallah."  It's part of my identity as a believer from before I accepted Islam.  It helps me to feel connected to who I was and who I will always be.

I see my signs ---not on Paul Simon's subway walls and tenement halls---but on Arablish T-shirts.




It's a miracle I'm still here.

I truly pray for a better 2017 for everyone.  











Tuesday, December 13, 2016

When a Mouse Is a Rat



Asalamu Alaykom,



When I first came to Egypt, I rented an apartment, even though there were no screens on the windows.

"Don't the animals come inside?"

"No."

"No cats?"  I asked to be sure.  "No mice?"

My landlady laughed off my silly American misgivings.

The windows stayed open and nothing crawled inside.




Seven years later, and a couple of apartments later, I finally had my worry come true.

Sure, there had been noises in that discarded carton---a family of little mice.  They were dealt with.

There had been a couple of big guys crawling up the wall outside the bathroom---that REALLY freaked me out and I'd slammed the window shut with a scream.  They were chased out.

Yet, it took until I flipped on the kitchen light before all hell really broke lose.

There

standing on top

of my water supply

was

a

HUGE

---seriously?

How can Egypt call that thing a mouse?  It was the rattiest looking mouse I've ever seen.  It was there on top of my seven bottles of drinking water (the ones that I laboriously boil water for and then let the chlorine evaporate from).

Gross!

I wanted for that that horrible intruder to get OFF my water!

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, my wish came true!

It jumped off my water bottles and on to the floor.

Quickly, I realized that I might not have really wanted my wish coming true.  I ran out!  I warned my son that we had a mouse---a rat---in our house.  I shut his bedroom door, I yelled downstairs for my husband.  I shut our bedroom door.  I ran back to the salon and jumped on the chair.  Yes, I was very good at fulfilling every stereotype of women vs. vermin.

My husband ran up the stairs and took the counter-part stereotype of protective male searching the house with a stick while yelling that I probably didn't really see what I thought I saw.  He couldn't find anything.

Was it in our bedroom?  I hadn't shut that door first.  Why hadn't I shut that door first?  I was sorry to be so scatterbrained.  As a mom, I simply thought of my son's safety above everything else.

The hunt ended.  The house was declared mouse/rat free.  I wasn't convinced.  I wasn't feeling good about our windows because what I always feared would happen, had indeed happened.  The windows stayed shut day and night with no air circulating in the rear of our home.

For days, I lived in a place that felt dirty and backwards.  I cleaned all the bottles in boiling water.  I used bleach on them and on the counter.  I still couldn't feel good about our home.  Whenever I'd come home, I'd brace myself for potential news that the mouse/rat had come back.

Then, one day, about a week later, I came home to find screens on the windows.  My husband had said it was impossible, but he actually had listened to what I had said.  He had put screens up exactly the way I had described.  He had sandwiched the screens between the wooden window frames and the wooden slates that he nailed up.

It had taken seven years, but I finally had the screens I had wanted.

When I think back to all the worry and upset I lived with all those years, it doesn't make sense that I put up with it for that long.  It really made me wonder how many other problems in my life I suffer through that could be fixed in a day.

Yes, there's an analogy in this.

It is a good reminder that we all live with stupidity that we don't have to.  We deal with what we hate because we don't face up to just how much we hate it.  If we truly faced up to the truth, then we could deal with and possibly eliminate the source of the frustration.  Like a good person of faith or patience or easy-going ways, we persevere daily when we don't have to.  Yes, we could free up our little corner of the world from the irksome issues if we decided that we deserve to have more peace.

Wanting more peace for ourselves isn't selfish; it's self-preserving.  No one can realize their full potential when self-perpetuating craziness takes over.  When we take care of ourselves and our needs, we are able to be more available for helping those who love and need us.

Make your home feel more peaceful.  Make yourself feel the peace.  Make your world less crazy.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Sugar and Sunnah



Asalamu Alaykom,



As Muslims, we spend a lot of time attempting to live closer to the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  It isn't only in our devotional times that we need to emulate his ways.  We were given so much authentic information about his daily habits---more than for any other prophet (peace be upon them all).  Therefore, we observe the way he lived, or the sunnah.

He didn't eat refined sugar.  He just didn't.  The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he lived a much healthier dietary life than we do.  Actually, no one really ate refined sugar until about a thousand years after he passed away.

Does that mean we should not be eating anything he didn't eat?  I'm not going to go that far, but we do have to look at following the sunnah in which the Prophet (pbuh) tasted the sweetness of dates and honey and was satisfied with that.

Is there a chance you could reduce your sugar intake?

That's what I starting asking myself.  I looked into it not as a diet---because "I don't die it, I live it".  I looked into it as a way to be more faithful.

I started researching.

How many teaspoons of sugar is the maximum a woman should consume in a day?

Six.  A woman is only supposed to have six grams in a day.

Each teaspoon is the equivalent of 5 grams, so each day women have 30 grams of sugar as a limit.

Me?  I was putting two and sometimes three teaspoons of sugar in my coffee.  Half of my daily intake was done in the first hour of every day----and you know that I didn't stop there!



Now?  I put only put one teaspoon of sugar in my coffee.  You know how we add a little too much sugar if nobody's looking?  I bought some sugar cubes!  Those sugar cubes are measured to exactly be those 5 grams.  If it's tea, I use honey.  Therefore, I am reducing my sugar intake by at least 5 grams every day.

"A DROP IN THE BUCKET!" shouts the heckler from the nosebleed seats.

He's right, but every good intention for better health has a reward.

Let's do some math...I know, you used to hate math in school...me too!  Somehow, though, it is comforting me in my old middle-age.

If I, in shah allah, give up one teaspoon a day then every six days it's like I've given up a whole extra day of sugar.  That's good!  That's not just a drop; it's the equivalent of giving up a whole day of sugar.

It wasn't just coffee and tea.  Look at this great graphic from Mother Jones:



I started looking into the juice I've been drinking.  Time Magazine looked into the issue as well.  Here in Egypt the sugar content is very high.  The juice is more like a concentrated syrup than a beverage.  I thought that I was buying  "Pure" juice because that's what it said on the label.  I was still bringing 12 to 16 grams of sugar in every juice box I sipped for lunch.

Do the math again!  Ya, so that's 2-3 teaspoons of sugar in every box.  It felt wrong.

The next time I went to the grocery store, I brought my reading glasses and spent some time reading labels in the juice aisle.  Sure enough, I could find a juice that only listed 10-12 grams sugar.  If I was able to eliminate 5 grams, then I stopped me from unwittingly ingesting another teaspoon.

WORD PROBLEM:

If Yosra drinks a juice box a day during the school week, and she is saving herself from drinking 5 milligrams of sugar with every juice box, how much sugar is she eliminating from her diet every month?

ANSWER:

5 x 5 = 25 grams a week or 5 teaspoons a week
5 x 4 weeks = 20 teaspoons
20/6 teaspoons maximum per day = 3 days.

Add that to the amount I'm already giving up in my morning coffee and it's 8 days total.  Could you give up sugar for eight days?  It would be hard, but it's not impossible if you simply view it this way.  You ARE giving the days up, but while only reducing rather than eliminating.

One thing you know that is just horrible is soda pop.  I've asked for my husband to stop buying it.  If we're out at a restaurant (and that's once in a blue moon) then I don't mind if we order it.  However, having it easily accessible every day, means that you simply will drink more of it.  Pop is just too high in sugar content to consume it on a regular basis.

Take a look at Coke and Mountain Dew.  Remember, the maximum is supposed to be SIX sugar cubes.  27??  30???




I tried to explain this in the staff room.  You know how people on a health kick are!  Right away, it was assumed that it was about weight loss.  It isn't!  If I never lose another pound in my life, I'll be fine.  I would like to reduce the strain on my body, however.  I'd like to eliminate thirst that seems unquenchable because I've had too much sugar.

 Sugar really isn't harmless Click to read some easy to understand research.

Am I noticing any effects?  I am more mindful of what I'm buying and eating.  I like that because that's who I strive to be.  I ate a creme-filled cookie last week and it was waaaaaaaay too sweet for me.  I hated it.  That's a good thing!  I'm less thirsty.  My jeans fit a little better this week than last---that's good because even though I'm not doing this to lose weight, I do want to reduce the belly fat that slows down insulin production (and leads to diabetes).

Maybe you didn't think of any of this before.  Now that you have, it's up to you to either look into your own sugar consumption or not.  The problem is that once you realize you could do better, you can't ever claim that you never knew.

No food that has been made lawful to us can be declared "haram" or unlawful by us.  I'm not saying that sugar is haram.  Eat and drink it bismallah (in the name of Allah).  Only, realize that we are supposed to be people who live by moderation in all things. Obviously, we, as a society,  have not been moderate in our sugar intake.

Maybe you have battled and won---good on ya!  Maybe you're like me and you're in the throes of the struggle---keep going!  If you haven't ever given it a thought and now you're thinking about it differently----let me know!  I'd like to know if this post has a positive impact on your life.  I hope it has.

Love and Light!

UPDATE:  While talking to a co-worker, she helped me realize that the sugar content listed is really deceiving the consumer.  For example, the drink in my hand was 250 ml but the nutritional information was only for a 100 ml serving.  Therefore, the 12 grams of sugar listed needed some math.

12 x 2 = 24 (to change sugar grams from 100 ml to 200 ml)

12/2   =   6 (the additional 50 ml)

24 + 6 = 30 grams of sugar

All of a sudden what seemed like a good deal was horrible.  Instead of imbibing 2 teaspoons of sugar, I had been drinking 6 teaspoons of sugar!  Even though I was reading labels, I was misreading---and I'm an educated woman who is really investigating.  Imagine someone with less ability trying to figure it out.  It's almost as if the beverage industry has something to hide...

Therefore, take a second look at those labels!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

May I Not Be of Service?



Asalamu Alaykom,




I sat there waiting my turn while watching everyone else have theirs.  They were all yelling so the employee could help them.  He was wearing his earphones while servicing customers.

Really?

Yes, really.

Once again, Vodafone Egypt was surprising me in a bad way.

This was a couple of weeks after I complained at a different Vodafone over the disgustingly dirty seating area for the customers.  I wasn't too happy about the thug life advertisement either.








Ya, I went so far as to take photos and post them on line.  I'm funny that way.  One follower on Twitter said that it must be hard to be living in the "third world" but I really don't feel Egypt is.  I refuse to treat it as such.  If I allow my standards to go down, then everyone will let theirs go down around me as well.   
                                                                     
 I took a picture of the staff member with the stuffed up ears too, however, I won't post it.  I took it in case he gave me any trouble.  No one else made any stink.

Every single customer put up with this behavior, even though, on some level, everyone must have known it was not polite in any circumstance and probably worth firing in any professional setting.  They put up with it because they felt at the mercy of  someone allowing them to use their phones and computers.

I'm different.  I'll always be different.  Many lifetimes ago, I used to be married to a man who told me (towards the end of our marriage) that he was always afraid I would embarrass him in public.  He was not the man for me.

There I sat between my son and my understanding husband (of six years) and our turn was coming up.  I leaned over to my husband and whispered to him, "Don't be mad at me for what I'm going to do.  I won't do business with him wearing those earphones."

My husband then handed the receipt over to me.  I could do as I pleased but he wasn't along for the ride.  I can respect that!  Although, it would be that much harder for me.

I looked back over to the customer service desk.  The men were done and the music-loving man at the computer looked my way.  I stood up and did the only thing I could.

From across the small waiting room, I mouthed words and gestured to my ears.  No sound came out.  I was putting my years of acting experience to use.  His eyebrows went up since he didn't hear anything.  I mimed again.  He still couldn't hear me (of course) so he took off his headphones and I spoke loudly and clearly with a big, friendly smile.  My act had worked!  Without saying a word of admonition, I had gotten those earphones out.  I walked forward to be serviced like a customer rather than an intruder into his "me" time.

I explained that our wi-fi wasn't working.  He tried to explain something to me in Arabic.  It was then that my husband stood up and made his way to my side.  We smiled at each other, knowing that I had gotten my way without making a scene or embarrassing anyone.

I had to suppress a couple of laughs during the transaction.  Turns out that our wi-fi account needed five more pounds.  We paid and left without me cracking up ----until after I was safely out the door.

Subhanallah!  I've had a couple of chuckles about it even now!  


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Vegetable Seller's Boy


Asalamu Alaykom,





UmAhmed sits like a guardian at the entrance to our street.  Her vegetables are displayed around her and she waits with them all day, hoping that someone buys a kilo or two.  I always greet her as I come and go.

"Asalamu Alaykom!"

"Wa Alaykom Asalam."

While she sells, her husband cleans sewers.  The two of them scrape out an existence in Egypt because they have to.  They have boys to raise and a life that needs money.

One time, I missed seeing UmAhmed.  She was gone for days and then weeks.  When she came back, I was as happy to see her again as if I was seeing a long lost friend.

"Where were you?" I asked in Arabic.

"I was sick, alhumdulillah.  I had a baby," she answered.

"Congratulations!  I didn't even know you were pregnant, " I said cheerfully.

"She died."

I didn't understand what she told me at first so I had to clarify.  Even though I know enough Arabic to get by, I can't follow surprises very well.  The baby had died.  UmAhmed had been gone from my life because of the tragedy in hers.

"Alhumdulillah," I finally replied.

"Alhumdulillah," she repeated.

That's what you do when you're Muslim.  You end every sadness with thanking God.  Maybe it was a blessing, actually, that they didn't have another mouth to feed.  It would just be the four of them and not five.



Imagine my surprise when I saw another young boy hanging around her little table-top store.  He was wearing my son's old cast-off sweatsuit (they call them "trainers" here).  We have been giving  UmAhmed bags of used but wearable clothing for her youngest son Mohammed.  Yet, here in the street was a different boy playing with Mohammed.  I hadn't known that she had another son.

The back of his head showed some scars from some earlier injury.  That is all I glimpsed of him as we greeted UmAhmed and continued on our way home from the school bus.  She looked tired.

When I arrived home, I saw that my husband had bought vegetables that day so I asked if he had gotten any from UmAhmed.  He doesn't like to buy food from her since her husband deals with the sewer.  My husband is worried that food might get contaminated somehow.  No, he told me that he hadn't bought anything from her.

"She looks so tired.  We should give her some money again," I suggested.

"I already did.  I gave her some this week," he told me, but he would never tell anyone else since charity is best kept private between the giver and Allah.

"Ahmed, " I remembered to ask him what I had been wondering, "who is the boy with her?  He has something wrong with the back of his head.  I don't remember seeing him before."

"He's obelisk," which obviously wasn't the right word so he tried again.  "No.  I mean, he's homeless.  Homeless, right?  No home.  He was at the bus station with no mom and no dad; an orphan.  Nobody wanted him.  UmAhmed took him to her home."

I was struck at that the moment by this revelation.  I now realized why she had looked so tired.  Slowly it dawned on me how much she was doing with her life; she wasn't just selling vegetables. With some humility, I saw how little our charity to her was in comparison to how much her charity was to this young boy.

"What's his name?"

"Ibrahim."

"Mashahallah," I said because that's what Muslims say when they are in awe of the Greatness of God at work in the world.

Please say a prayer for this working mom who has very little and has decided to share her home.

If you can do for those who are less fortunate than yourself, then do it.

If you can't do more, then please give to those who can.

May Allah reward everyone doing and giving to the best of their abilities.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Not Someone to Drive By



Asalamu Alaykom,





This week, there was a problem inside one of my classrooms.  Kids!  They don't always do the right thing.  Except, there was one boy who stood there trying to stop the melee.  He was the only one.  For his effort, I gave him the certificate for "Student of the Week" the following day on Thursday.

For all my students, I had them write in their journals for five minutes about how a friend has helped them.  It related to our problem the day before and to the story we were reading that day.

Then,  I told them that since they had gotten to tell a story, that I got to tell them a story too.  I told them this.

It happened way back when my oldest kids were little---my big son was in pre-k and my daughter was only a year old.  It was a cold November morning in the Midwest; the first really chilly morning and there was a mist in the air that was almost turning into a rain.  Everyone had their headlights turned on along one of the main arteries that ran through a residential area.  That's when I saw the boy.

The boy was as old as my youngest son is now.  He was a middle school student, but he wasn't ready for school, or for the weather.  He was standing there, on the sidewalk in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.  I wondered why.

The light changed and I kept on rushing to drop off my boy at the nursery school.  I was a busy mom and had things to do---like everybody.  On the way back, he was still standing there, so I pulled over.

I got out of the car, leaving my baby in her carseat.  "Are you OK?  Do you need some help?"

"My aunt locked me out," he told me.

She wasn't home and he didn't know when she'd be coming back.  He only knew she was mad and he was being punished by being left standing out in the cold without the right clothes.  I then realized that he didn't have any shoes on either.

I offered to take him to our house.  What I didn't say to the kids is that this was me before I took shahaddah.  My beliefs of doing for others---especially for children---have always been a part of me.

I took him home, had him wash his feet in warm water, and gave him some slip-on tennies.  I donated a sweatshirt from my then-husband's closet.  I made some waffles, since he hadn't eaten.  We sat there; me, my baby girl and this boy trying to warm up.

I called his school and notified them of his whereabouts.  They arranged for the aunt to give me a call.  I brought him home.  I didn't tell the kids how I sat with the exasperated aunt and explained that I didn't want any problem to separate the two of them again.  Having worked in an emergency shelter before, I knew that removing children from a family's care happens all too often.

The point of the story is not that I helped.  The point is that so many didn't.  Between the time I saw the boy and the time I came back was twenty minutes.  No one else stopped in that time.  No one.

I asked the class to decide who they want to be:  the one who helps or the one who drives on past?  I once again thanked the boy I'd awarded for being someone who helps.

A hand raised up.  Another boy wanted to know if I had ever seen that boy again.  I was going to answer that I hadn't, but then  a thought occurred to me.

"I don't know!  He would be close to thirty years old now so maybe I have actually seen him, but not even realized it was him.  Maybe he is a dad himself now!  What I hope, when I think of him or anyone else that I've ever helped over the years is that he is OK now.  I can send some good thoughts or a kind of prayer that he's doing well.  If he ever remembers that day that he stood out in the cold, then I'm glad that he can also remember that someone cared and didn't just drive past."


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Groper



Asalamu Alaykom,





In 1984, I was on the school debate team.  On the way home from our first meet, all of us squished into one car, I fought off a groper.

I had known him by name only.  Paul was someone I'd lived near when I was in elementary school.  I moved away and then moved back, but it didn't mean any kind of closeness for us.  I honestly didn't know him---ever.

Suddenly, in my plaid, pleated skirt, I was trying to move away from his hand which was trying to go under that skirt.  He was persistent---again and again.  I didn't say a thing.  I was the only girl in that car---the only girl on the debate team.  I liked the cool team captain.  I didn't want to ruin my chances for either the team or the guy.

I was silent.  He was defeated.  Yet, he won.  He won because I quit the debate team.  I never went to another meeting.  I never went to another debate.  I never had to ride in the backseat with the groper.

Could debate team experience have helped me in life?  Probably.  I'll never know.

Years later, I realized that he was on my university campus.  When I saw him from a distance, I had a kind of panic attack as I froze on the spot.  He had the freedom to walk around without fear and I didn't.  I reverted back to being a scared and confused high school sophomore instead of the college freshman that I was.

It didn't help that I had already gone through sexual abuse as a child.  One out of every six girls in America have experienced some kind of attempted sexual assault.  The experience lays down a kind of framework which makes the next attempt seem almost normal.

It isn't normal.

It isn't a joke.

I have NO idea where Paul is today.  I wonder if he's been a good person---especially in how he treats girls and women.

I do know the whereabouts of another groper---he's running for president.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

You Don't Have to Live like a Refugee



Asalamu Alaykom,






My last post was about my time as a teacher for Somali students---refugees from their war-torn country on the east coast of Africa.  Basically, I said that there are problems, which if you've been following the news you already knew.  The problems were there within their community before they even arrived in the U.S.

One loyal reader, Deanna, followed up with some questions:

You have obviously seen the Somali community up close based on the family dynamics you describe. What would the solution to the discontent be? If you were in a position to make sweeping or subtle changes what would they be? I am flummoxed really. How do you encourage people to do well for themselves and the society they now permanently live in given their cultural or circumstantial underpinnings. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Deep breath.

What has already happened with the Somali population in Minnesota is done.  We can't go back and fix so many wrongs.  The situation could run better, but it was messed up before they even got here.  The same is going to be true for each new group---the Syrians, for example.  

I think the first thing to consider is that a country which takes in refugees is not simply moving people in.  Here's what I mean:  if you were accepting people into your home, you would want to make sure they were comfortable.  Simply put, their level of comfortable translates into a general easiness for everyone within your walls.  Everyone gets along better when needs are met.

Now, guests are different than family.  Who are the refugees?  Are they guests in America?  Is their goal to stay just as long as it takes for their country to find stability?  Then, will they be on the first plane back?  If that's our understanding, they are only guests.  We should leave them to do as they wish; not try to assimilate them into the American culture's melting pot...or tossed salad... and put up with them.  However, I don't think that's a long-term solution. 

The Somalis are staying in America and they are going to be a part of the interwoven fabric of a diverse, but often divisive, country.  Part of the problem is that THEY don't believe it and the other part of the problem is that the REST of America doesn't believe it.  History shows us, through every wave of troubled peoples, that, even after homelands resolve their issues, the vast majority of immigrants stay.  

Position them for success by taking care of their mental health needs.  Check the systems they have in place for rearing children, and for educating them.  Focus on women and children.  Don't push them into the mainstream before they can swim.  Honestly?  Let them decide how much they want to participate in society.  Which first generation has ever been fully assimilated?  My great grandparents from Ireland and Norway surely weren't.  They kept to themselves in their isolated communities.  Understand that it is NORMAL for the process to take a couple of generations.    

OK, so back to envisioning us as homeowners who have people staying with us.  They are going to be living with us FOREVER.  They are not guests.  This is long-term and it is going to be costly unless we help them be productive members of our team.  There can't be two teams---us and them.  That's going to create discord and disruption.  We've got to redesign our agenda.

1.  Redesign the agenda for the long-term

Canada is also getting refugees, of course.  It's not as if the United States is the only country in North America receiving anyone.  Canada has a different system.  At first glance, it seems unfair, as the government doesn't sponsor the incoming asylum seekers.  An organization has to sponsor the families.  This has led to a disproportional amount of Christian Syrians, for example, than Muslim Syrians, as churches have been able to sponsor more.  When the issue actually gets analyzed, it makes sense to only allow those in who have a support system.     

It's a very Islamic idea to have helpers or ansar who guide newcomers through the transition.  I had that when I first came to Egypt----and ended up marrying the man who had done the most for me.  It is not easy AT ALL to navigate a new place.  Anyone who has relocated has felt that odd sensation of loss and of being lost while still trying to go 60 mph through their day.  It is stressful and overwhelming.  Knowing that someone really does have your back; someone is on the other end of the phone day or night, is calming.  Better decisions get made when in a calm state of mind.

Lambasting the newest members of society to step up to the plate, pull themselves up by the bootstraps and so many other unhelpful idioms means the onus is on those LEAST LIKELY to have the resources to do so.  Really?  The onus, the responsibility, needs to be with the citizens who have the ability to assist.  It is kind, caring, and in the long run, it is a necessity.

The way I always think about those who are falling between the cracks is that you WILL have to deal with them.  You either volunteer, tutor, give money, provide a meal, etc. NOW or you will see that same at risk person turn to alternative to get their needs met.  Maybe they turn into the thieves and the murders because no one cared.  

That bully in your kid's class?  Talk to him or her every time you pick your child up.

The woman who can't seem to clothe her family properly for the weather?  "I have some things that we can't fit any more.  Can I bring them over to you?  I bet they'd fit your kids."

As for a family new to your area, "We would like to have you over for dinner."

I invited over a Bosnian family once, in my days as a unhappy homemaker.  They were most worried about that beef roast I was serving.  Although I never thought about it much at the time, they must have been Muslims.  I was not in Islam at the time.  I simply was a church goer who wanted to help the family who needed it.  

Even now, as an immigrant in Egypt myself, I look out for those wandering lost in our neighborhood.  On the first day back to work, I discovered two tourists who were a long way from the Pizza Hut and needed some directions.  I had them stop at our house to get out of the heat and drink some water before we all escorted them to the restaurant.  It was beneficial to them AND it was fun for us.  NO ONE was the loser for this chance encounter.   

2.  Help has to be lined up

Information.  Where is it?  Who is providing it?  Is the news media the correct dispenser?

When I was little in the 70s, the newest wave of immigrants were the Hmong who had aided the U.S. in the Vietnam War.  I didn't know much about them BECAUSE NOBODY PREPARED ME FOR THEM.  Because of who I am, I made friends right away with Pow Kong.  We walked to school together.  

Yet, I was unprepared for her stories of her sister's baby being killed.  I didn't believe her.  She was weird.  She didn't know what I was talking about that my parents were divorced and I only lived with my mom.  Even though her family had showed me kindness as I ate up their offers of spring rolls, I dropped her as a friend.  I couldn't handle the gap between us.

What if I had been TAUGHT about where she was coming from?  What if she had been taught in school assimilation groups about where I was coming from?  It would have been better for the school to educate the young about respecting differences.  Maybe the boys could have gotten over her name and stopped teasing her.  Maybe the girls could have gotten over her height or the length of her hair.  
I don't know.  I'm only guessing, but as a teacher, I feel that the best equipped in society to close that gap are the educators.

Unfortunately, even the teachers are left clueless.  The focus becomes, months down the line, how to address bad behavior.  Ridiculous stuff!  Where was the care when the school year started?  Administrations are responsible for teacher training and no preventative measures seem to happen when a new culture comes in; it is all knee-jerk reactionary measures once teachers start complaining and grades are dropping. 

Instead, what happens is that the differences are hushed up and ignored.  Needs are not addressed as if they will go away.  Somali students have more needs within the school day than others.  For instance, girls might be wearing hijab and long clothing, both boys and girls feel uncomfortable getting too close to each other, parents worry about halal meat and avoiding pork products, students are supposed to wash and pray at mid-day, fast during the month of Ramadan, and learn Arabic.  These are not issues that are going to go away UNLESS their Islam goes away---and even though some wish this would happen for Somalis, it would leave them hollow cores as human beings. 

At the same time, new immigrants need to get a grip.  I can't come into Egypt and change every aspect to their society.  I can't!  "Malish" can drive me crazy, but it is their country-wide motto.  It's worked for them for THOUSANDS of years.  Who am I to say that my home country of only a few hundred years has the solution for the world's ills?  Somali immigrants need to also back down from so many demands of their new home.  No, they shouldn't have to put up egregious xenophobia, on the other hand, some of what they see as worthy of a protest simply isn't.    

3.  Preventative Education

Will my three suggestions cure all?

No.

I do think that effort has to be made from many sides---never underestimating that an evil element will always want those who claim the country as "theirs" not want to share it with those searching for a stability.   

The refugee problem is not happening outside our homes.  Our world is our home and their problem is ours.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Somali Students in Minnesota



Asalamu Alaykom,




I used to teach Somali children and adults in Minnesota.

That Midwestern state has the highest number of Somalis out side of Somali itself. I know that population very well.  We learned together, prayed together, fasted and ate together.  I cried over their hardships and rejoiced in their triumphs.

Yet, I also have to admit that my last job in the state ended due to insurmountable problems I faced in teaching the Somali community.



2003-2004  THE CHARTER SCHOOL

My first job teaching Somalis was at a K-6 charter school in Minnesota.  It was set up for East Africans, BUT it was not meant to be for Muslims.  That's an oxymoron.  You simply can't alienate the Somalis from their religion and keep them intact, however, that's just what the Jewish principal attempted.

One teacher in the staff room was very incensed that the children wouldn't sit nicely and listen to her book about the Holy Family.  They kept interrupting to say that it was wrong.

"Why can't they learn about other cultures?" She asked like a good missionary.

I took a look and saw picture after picture of Jesus/Isa as a baby (peace be upon him) and his mother Mary/Mariam (ra).  I tried to explain that, as Muslims, there are not supposed to look at any pictures of these holy people.  She had never been told.  Why not?!  Why was there not any cultural sensitivity training?  There was lots of talk about classroom management, but not anything about how to reach these young learners on a soul level.

There was one little boy I'll never forget who was very disruptive in his kindergarten class, and he would spend most of his time next to the receptionist.  I asked if I could take him.  We made wudu to wash away his upset and he prayed with me, a tutor, to calm down---against the rules.  Using the coping mechanisms he knew from home was not allowed, but sitting in a kind of solitary confinement away from his class was.

His mom met me once.  She was almost bursting with her latest pregnancy.  She was full of baby and full of the noor al deen.  She was so beautiful with light just shining from her face.  We hugged that day and I truly felt I was her sister doing what I could to help her boy.

Down the hall, in another kindergarten, I discovered that little girls were being kept back a little from their P.E. class with their teacher, an older white woman.  She was pulling off their hijabs to look at their hair and compliment their braids.  She didn't think that demanding to see them without their hijabs was akin to asking little mainstream girls to disrobe; giving compliments at them being uncovered was sending messages of "I'd like you better if you were more like me."  I complained to my supervisor and the ritual was brought to an end.

In an older classroom, students were told by their teacher to pray NOW because there wouldn't be time later.  I walked in while this was going on and informed her that it wasn't duhr prayer yet.  Muslims couldn't pray the mandatory prayers whenever they wished; they had to pray on schedule and not before the time.  She complained to the administration and there was a reprimand---for me.  That was a shock.  I thought of quitting at that time.  I had already been fired from a real estate office for wearing hijab not even a year before, so I wasn't ready for another show down.

Then, came the decision that the school's unifying Friday prayer would NOT be held any more with staff.  It was not allowed.  Once again, the very fabric that held together these kids' lives to a sense of normalcy was ripped from them.

The Arabic classes, which taught the classical Arabic of the Quran, could not actually teach any Quran.  It would be like taking an English Lit. class without any Shakespeare or Dickens.  These Arabic classes were horribly unruly because, in my understanding, there wasn't a deep sense of urgency in learning something so disconnected from their daily lives.

I was promoted from tutor to having a classroom of the lowest-level English speakers.  I was in charge of students who had almost no way to communicate.  Our materials were typical easy-readers about boys and girls with dogs in their homes, who played with friendly pigs, and ate ham.

The helpers at the school were Somali adults who needed work, but who were not really ready for the stress.  One woman was particularly angry---she was literally fuming at every provocation.  After work one day, she confided in me that she had last gone to Somali as a teen.  She had thought that it was going to be a family holiday.  Instead, she discovered that she had been brought back "home" from America to have FGM done to her.  They had lied.  They violated her body and changed her forever.  She was rightfully angry and unable to process what had happened to her.

So many Somali survivors needed counseling and coping skills.  Kids told me of seeing men shot dead in front of their eyes and left lying in the street.  The civil war had scarred many.

The parents were likewise confused over how to cope with new world problems.  The moms of these kids kept having babies while working long and difficult hours.  The job of raising the children was left to the older children.  No one was there to guide the young ones or the teens.  They were home alone---a movie I simply can't watch without thinking of the reality which takes place all over America.  Those huge numbers of young Somalis, who would now be in their early twenties, grew up without support at home AND without understanding at school.

It's worth remembering that the written language of Somalia has only been in existence since 1972.  Education wasn't really a focus in a land with so much strife.  What teaching was done was often with a wooden ruler at the ready.  Free thinking and using your own personal reasoning were not accepted like rote memorization.




2004  THE NIGHT SCHOOL

It was through my work with the children, that another teacher recommended me to work as a teacher at a night school for Somali adults.  I needed the money, so I agreed for an interview.  I couldn't believe what I observed.  A Somali man was using a workbook from the elementary level for a lesson on camping.  What a joke!

These were refugees who had lived in Kenyan camps for years.  They were suffering in outdoor conditions without a home.  Now?  They were supposed to identify with happy families who willing left their homes to sleep outdoors?

His next class had a lesson on transportation in which he taught the antiquated word aeroplane and accepted that donkey and camel were types of transportation---without qualifying that those answers were not typical in the U.S.  He didn't know how to teach American culture which is key to language learning.  His next lesson was going to be on baseball.

I couldn't stand it!  Of course I wanted to take over his position and get some real life learning in place.  I came in and got the students to start TALKING about themselves, about their families, and about their journey.  They introduced each other to the class.  They role played talking to their child's school teacher and going to the pharmacy.  They-----

hated it.

Yep!  Those Somali adults begged me for a return to worksheets and workbooks.  They didn't want to speak emergency English.  They wanted to play school with vocabulary sets that they'd never use: umpire, pitcher, strike.  I stood my ground and told them a story.

I told them how an Egyptian friend of my then husband's had once invited us over to have dinner with him, his wife, and two sons.  The evening had been coming to a close when she started asking about doctors.  I wasn't sure what was going on.  Through my husband, she communicated that she was in severe pain.  She was embarrassed to give details about her period, but knew that she must because I sounded very concerned.  A call to my obgyn's after hours number, got a quick response, and after listening to me, she told me to get that woman to the ER.  Sure enough, she was in the last stages of an ectopic pregnancy.  The emergency room doctor told my then husband that she was ready to burst----she wouldn't have lasted until the morning.

The class calmed down after that story.  The moral of the story, of course, is that while we can learn about any subject, only real life lessons will help us and our families trying to survive in a new and often confusing country.

They had another fight with me when the call to prayer would sound.  Some male student would stand in the hallway and loudly call magrib.  It didn't matter if the classes were in session.  He was going to alert everyone and then everyone expected that it was fine to get up and leave immediately. I told them "no".  They couldn't just leave without permission.

That was tantamount to heresy!  Who was this woman to tell us to go against God?!  Yet, I knew that being so tight with their Islam was going to lose them jobs and stuck to my insistence that they remain until the class was done and they were released.  Years later, Somali meat packers made the same complaint as my former students---they were walking off the line because it was prayer time and they had to go RIGHT AWAY.  Islam seriously isn't that tight---there are windows of opportunity not immediate executions.

I worked almost a year at that school.  I worked through the summer and into the next school year.  We fasted Ramadan together and I broke the fast eating samosas from women who seriously could have kept them to themselves---but shared with their teacher.  I earned their respect through our times together.  Maybe I wasn't the best teacher, since I was still very new to leading a classroom, but I cared.

They cared too.  One time, I got a phone call from the mosque because I had said that I'd be open to talking with women who were interested in coming to Islam.  The assistant from the mosque said there was a woman looking for a group of sisters.  I called her and said that she could meet me at the school.  She came and I had her watch duhr prayer before we headed out for lunch.  My oldest student---a spry and sassy woman in her seventies---had asked me if this woman wanted to become Muslim.  I said, "inshahallah".  Sure enough, as we were leaving, this senior ran after us and pushed into the woman's hand a necklace and earrings.  The woman, probably a government informant, didn't know what to make of the sudden gift.  It was one of the kindest gestures I have ever seen.

I'm especially proud of the school newspaper we put out.  They really did produce articles, cartoons, and reviews.  I wanted them to have ownership over a product they could be proud of.

I only quit after I became pregnant.  I could no longer work teaching in the day and then at night.  I was very dangerously falling asleep at the wheel as I drove home after 9:00 PM.

During the day, I kept my job at the Islamic school.





2004-2005 THE ISLAMIC SCHOOL

My first-grade classroom had

  • six Somali-American children
  • one girl who was half Somali and half African-American
  • three children of Pakistani parents
  • two boys who were of East Indian descent
  • one boy who was a mix of Indian and Spanish
  • one half Afghani and half American boy
  • one boy of Syrian parents
  • one half Syrian and half European American boy
  • three Palestinian-American children
  • one boy who was a mix of Palestinian and Algerian
  • one half Iranian and half American boy

three girls wore hijab...two were rich...one was allergic to peanuts...one had parents divorcing...one had suffered head trauma as a child...a couple of kids had moms expecting a baby...one had a dad who had two wives...one was being pushed to excel a year ahead of his age...one was so troubled that he threatened to jump out the window...one moved away to Canada...one had a family who invited our family to dinner...

What can I say?  I loved this class of six-year-olds very much.  They were with me every day of my pregnancy in 2004 into 2005.  They were very mixed in their background and their experiences.  It was a Mini-United Nations.  We benefited from sharing time together and gained from our diversity.

I want to also acknowledge the religious studies teacher from Somalia who was one of the greatest examples of adab and sabr, good manners and patience, I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  She was glorious and such a big help.  She taught Islam with her every action.

One time, I needed her help to explain pumpkins.  We had gone on a field trip to a farm.  It was a great excursion.  One of the highlights for the kids was picking out their own pumpkin from the farmer's crop.  Each child sat on the hay wagon with their new prized possession.  Sadly, the next day I was told that the Somali moms had thrown the pumpkins away.  They had associated them only as Halloween symbols and, as immigrants often do, avoided any possible conversion of their child to the new culture.  The religious studies teacher explained to all the students that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) actually loved squash so much and that no vegetable from Allah is forbidden for us.  That incident was an indicator that cultural misunderstandings were going to increase with the most recent wave of refugees who practiced an Islam that was much tighter than other sub-groups.  

After I had my son, I did not return to this school for three years.

2008  When I did return there were some big changes.  

Gone was this multi-culturism.  I learned that with additional state funding for schooling options , came more Somali families to this private, religious school.  As the classrooms filled up with Somali students, the other families left.  I tacked this up to racism and shook my head at this un-Islamic behavior.  

Yet, once I came back, I was shocked.  Teachers were quitting left and right.  The religion teacher was gone.  The administrator was no longer the qualified man who had been in charge.  There was now a Somali man who was learned, but not in K-12 education.  He didn't know how to deal with the many discipline issues and the whole school was suffering.

One of the problems is that very old children were being registered as first graders---they were being held back due to lack of skills, but they were not sweet six-year-olds.  They were nine years old!  They were huge and not wanting to buy into the program for much younger kids.  Their learning difficulties weren't being addressed.  They were being pulled from class and being bribed with trinkets to return nicely.  Of course, that made for kids eager to leave to get gifts.  It was crazy.

I had children who had both parents working, who had divorce and separation in their families, and at least a couple had so much dysfunction in their families that they needed counseling.  

Those children faced not only school on the weekdays but over the weekend as well.  At those Quran schools, they were threatened to learn or to be punished.  I was told that they would get hit by the rod used to shutter the window blinds.  I didn't see any proof of this, but I told the children that I would never allow this from anyone.  They were to tell their Quran teachers that I would have to report them to police if ever any of them threatened them with harm again.

Imagine.  

I swear to you that my faith was waning during the time with these very troubled kids.  I couldn't teach the way I wanted.  This wasn't my class from years before where there was respect.  I was seeing hitting and spitting, and hearing yelling and swearing---from first graders!

One big boy, who was almost as tall as me and built line a linebacker, still had a mind like a little kid.  He couldn't use the ruler in math class for anything other than hitting his classmates.  He was warned.  It didn't mean a thing.  When I tried to get the ruler from him, he wouldn't release his tight grip.  I then put my hand on his back as we walked calmly to the door.  There wasn't a fight between us, but the mom came to school upset as all get out:  I had put my hand on her child.  It didn't matter that he had struck his friends, or that he wouldn't comply with the either the work instructions or the directive to stop.  No, she was going to focus on what I did wrong.  Her support was gone (later, I learned that she took her son back to Somalia).

The last straw for me was when a small boy in my class---small but not young---ran around the school like an escaped prisoner, yelling "BITCH!" at every teacher he saw and then pulling down a boy's pants to expose him.  He was suspended and a meeting was called.  

When his mother came for our conference, we learned that he spent his time at home with his older siblings and an older cousin playing video games.  If she came home and got a bad report about his behavior, he was sent to the basement...and then she would turn off the light. She made him stay in the quiet darkness of the basement until she felt better about him.  Haram.  Astragferallah.  I had to tell her that it wasn't helping.  He was hurting and scared and alone.  I begged her to stop or else she would be considered abusing the boy.  

Imagine.

After she left, I asked the principal---the learned man without actual experience guiding young children---if we could arrange for the boy to come back from his home suspension to his office.  At that time, he would be debriefed by the principal before coming back to my room.  He said that sounded like a good idea.  

However, the day that this boy returned, his bus dropped him off and he went straight to our classroom and ran to the art supply cupboard.  He threw it open, ransacked the paint and poured in it onto tables.  His buddy was misspelling BETCH on the chalkboard.  The returning boy then danced on top of tables yelling "BITCH!" until I got help to remove him.

Imagine.

I then started circle time with a calming voice; knowing that I needed to reclaim the classroom for learning.  As we sat together, the boy was returned.  I was expected to continue with him in class.  I started and then stopped.  I excused myself and asked my assistant to carry on.  

The principal told me that the boy would be staying in class, so I told him that I couldn't stay with him.  I literally said that it was him or me.  The principal asked me if I was quitting and I said that I only knew that I wasn't teaching with the situation the way it was.  I walked out.  It is the only time I ever left a teaching job.  I knew that I could give everything I had and it still wouldn't be enough.  Those children and their families needed too much.  

I don't regret it---even meant that I lost my job, my money, and eventually my apartment.

There was something missing in too many of those kids.  They were missing that heart connection.  They were not reachable through my attempts.  Maybe somebody else could have done better.  I couldn't.  If I was given the same challenge today, I'm not sure if I could do better even now.




2011 THE RETURN

I haven't wanted to return to teach the Somali population.  Egyptians are hard enough for me!  However, I could easily see that Somalis had made it easier  in some ways to be Muslim in the Midwest.  There were more mosques and more hijabis.  There were more halal markets and restaurants.  There was more chance to say, "Aslamu Alaykom".

The funny thing is that there wasn't a response.  I actually would greet Muslim brothers and sisters eagerly and not get any reply---which is mandated in Islam.  It was odd.  It was as if there was a divide between the reverts and the "born Muslims".

When I attended the mosque with two revert friends, I saw how the dynamics had changed there as well.  The once sacred space was now for play.  The Somali moms filled the prayer hall in the basement with children.  Two boys were lifting their behinds in the air and having a farting contest.  I kid you not.  Girls were running and laughing.  

As the call to prayer sounded, we lined up.  It wasn't good enough for one lady.  She grabbed at us and forced us into her idea of a straight line.  This was actually robbing us of our prayer, but she persisted.  

After the prayer was done, I was turning my head from right to left only to find her waiting there to tell me off.  I stopped her and told her to say that she hope that my prayer was accepted.  She wouldn't because she had something else to say.  I told her again that it was adab good manners to wish me well.  She finally did and then I listened to her give me advice on how to be a good Muslim.  That kind of "Haram Police" patrolling of the mosques made me stay away from ANY mosque during my last trip to the place I can no longer think of as home.

This to me is what the Muslim Somali community has become in Minnesota.  It is being so sure that it is right without allowing for anyone else to be right.  That is what grows terrorism.  It was always there within the group.  The tightness holding on to the religion without enough actual knowledge (just knowing what's been told to them).  The nonacceptance of  seeing eye dogs or drunks in Somali taxis, or pork buyers at the check-out.  There are too many people intent on memorizing the Quran, but not understanding the meaning of Quran.  The moms and dads trying to ensure a bright future through hard work while neglecting their TRUE future in their children's education and proper bringing up.

Are there exceptions?  OF COURSE!  No group is homogeneous.

We need to keep remembering Ahmed Nur Ahmed Ali, an Augsburg college student and a talented Somali man,  who came back to tutor in a tough neighborhood only to be shot down.  It was such a waste.  That's what is so upsetting.  With so much human potential, there are too many who, like the ISIS wanna-be in St. Cloud, are lost to us.

Back in 2008, when Ahmed was shot, I had hoped that there wouldn't be any more bloodshed among Somali youth.  Eight years later, Somali violence in Minnesota is now on the world stage.  Although I have no way of knowing, I can only guess that some of the hundreds of Somali students I've known have fallen prey to terrorist activity---most likely NOT the senior who gave the necklace and earrings.  Who has?  I don't know.  I can't hate them.  I do pray for them as I pray for all my students---even the terrorists---to find their way back to the right path before it's too late.