Pretty much every time I leave the house and come back I say the same thing, "It was good to get out and it's good to come back." The need to leave is equal to the need to return. That's how it felt this year when I traveled back to the U.S. for six weeks.
I did miss my husband. I took a lot of pictures to include him in on the trip. It's hard to have gone through a rough time and not have his embrace. It's a comfort for me to know that I have him beside me. I wanted him there especially when I was out shopping because he's got some good common sense which I value. I wanted him on the prayer rug leading us as our imaan. I missed him at the suhour and the iftar during Ramadan.
I missed my home. My mother is not living in the house I used to visit. This was a whole new apartment for her and for me. I was not as relaxed in this new place I had to get used to. It's got carpeting throughout and that never has me feeling clean. I hated the bathroom without a proper washing spigot on the toilet, or any window in the bathroom (which made the place feel dank). Turn on the exhaust fan and you feel like the jets of a 747 have just been fired up.
My mom and I had...words...about two un-Islamic items in her home. While it is her home, and I respect that, I couldn't have them daily in my life--and in the life of my son. The nude in the hallway was the first to go. One of the first mornings, I made a T-shirt and shorts for this lady.
I won't say that my mom was delighted but she had already had some idea of it being an issue. Her friend bet her that I would have a problem with it. Yes, I did and I also had a solution.
The other issue was tougher. Before Islam, I had given my mom a Virgin Mary (ra) nightlight. I can't remember where I bought it. She used to keep it in her kitchen. This visit, I found it in the bathroom. I asked her if she had another one. She refused and got very bristly about changing it. I let it go but not for long. I took it down and told her that I really couldn't handle a statute of the Virgin Mary being in the bathroom; it was disrespectful. She put it back. Later, I found a Christmas nightlight she had and put that in instead. My mother accepted how important it was to me and thankfully let it go.
Alcohol was a big issue as well. Originally, the deal was that my mom was not going to have any alcohol while we visited. When I arrived, I found bottles. I asked her if she was going to be drinking and she said she didn't have to. Later, she did. It's her house and her choice but it didn't feel good to be staying where there was drinking.
The lack of television stations was surprising to me, as I've already stated. It was not possible for El-Kid to find any shows other than PBS Kids, which is often showing programs for younger children. We relied a lot on DVDs. I missed our satellite dish and 24/7 of high quality shows from all around the world.
Also, we were having to watch whatever my mom really wanted to watch. As she's older, she has a lot of TV habits which have become rigid (almost like Rainman and Judge Wapner). As I've said before, a few of the shows she watches are not appropriate for us. There were many issues around that as well. Of course, it feels better to have that "window unto the world" be what you want to see.
We ate a LOT but at the same time I worried a lot about what we ate. I was back to checking labels. I actually called Kellogg's to ask about the gelatin in their Cherry Pop Tarts (it's beef). I've written about taking one bite of egg roll and realizing I had pork (!) in my mouth.
I also thought about the meat we were cooking. It had to soak in water to release all the blood. Really, blood in meat makes me sick to look at it. I hate doing it, yet I know I have to (since Muslims don't consume any blood).
I have a theory about American meat: the slaughtering process is not Islamic and the animals release their fear at the time of death and then we eat it. When we eat their meat full of those secretions, we become more fearful ourselves. I always feel more irrational fear in America than I do in Egypt. I ate camel meat tonight and I feel fine---no fear.
I am back in Egypt. I am assessing my place in between these two worlds. I have been trying to define what exactly I have come back to in Egypt. One thing that's helped me is meeting the new teachers in orientation this week. Talking to them has helped me remember what this country is all about.
I told one, "I do want to live in Egypt. I feel more alive here than back in the States. It's located in that place between exciting and scared. There's always something going on and I feel that vibrancy."
There's so much effort that needs to be made to live in Egypt. The first day back, the electricity went out four times. I barely had time to adjust to life without A/C when I had to deal with life without fans. I had to go back to boiling our water, storing it, chilling it, and pouring it into our bottles. I still got an intestional bug somehow. Shopping doesn't always mean finding what you need. Transportation, even using the reliable taxi driver we hire, means bottlenecks and delays.
The streets are still dirty and garbage strewn. El-Kid is boycotting the streets as if he can stay a hermit in the house forever. He's hating on the environment instead of remembering how to laugh it all off. I always make silly jokes about the poop in the streets. "Hey, the animals can't talk so they can't tell us what they ate for breakfast without leaving some evidence here. They're just trying to be polite." He's having none of it now.
The kids yelling in the street (and often downstairs in the family home) are a different kind of pollution. That noise can be very annoying. Thankfully, we haven't had any street weddings so far. Those nights of high decibel BOOM BOOM BOOM really test your patience.
Family drama is another way to go insane. Sure enough, there's already been some here! It's a given. The good thing is that it hasn't been surrounding me. I want to keep it that way.
You have to make a conscious decision to really be here---not just stepping off the plane but every day. The moment you start wishing for an "easy" life, you start hating it here. Sure, there are many moments of relaxation and good times but you have to work to get them.
Talking with my husband's niece also helped put things in perspective for me. I call her my Egyptian daughter. I'm proud of her. She's grown up intelligent, obedient, and modest. She wants to be a teacher and I help her with her English.
She told me that, starting this year, she would take German in addition to English. I asked her if there were any other options and she said the other option was French. She had been swayed from taking French from another cousin who said that it was too hard.
"Sure," I countered, "it is harder but think about how helpful it will be. German is just like English since they are in the same family; French is in the same family as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Once you know French, you understand a little of all of those! And who speaks German? Only Germans--and some Swiss and Belgians. Who speaks French? There are really so many in North Africa alone: Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco. It's the third official language of Egypt (after Arabi and English)."
She was still hesitating so I gave her one of my analogies.
"You have time for a trip. You could go from Giza to Sakara [where the Step Pyramid is]. It's nearby, they speak the same language, eat the same food, dress the same, and act the same as here. On the other hand, you're thinking that you could go to Amsterdam. Everything is different there. Where do you go? It's more effort to go to the Netherlands but the rewards are more, aren't they?"
We'll see what she chooses. For me, I've chosen to come back to a place that puts me through the paces. I'm unable to coast and survive. I have to make an effort. It's a choice that takes me away from so many decisions that Americans take for granted--as if they weren't really decisions at all.
I admire the new teachers coming in who have just made the choice which I made five years ago. It's been five years. Isn't that incredible? These recent transplants have gone against family members, have left jobs, homes and loved ones. God bless them! They came because they felt some pull.
That pull is our connection to our naseeb; our destiny. God knows exactly where we will go; all we need to do is answer, "yes."
In preparing to teach another year, which includes a book on the Lakota leader Crazy Horse, I found this prayer. Sure, it doesn't name "Allah" in the prayer but that doesn't mean it isn't the same Source of Creation---of course it is. I really like it.
I like this idea of entering a place where I can just love---beyond my fear. Remember that the opposite of love is not hate; it is fear. I do want to walk in balance. I have been reiterating that time and again when talking with Ahmed. That's my new visual for the time I'm in now. I've come back, so I can enter into a time and place of loving beyond my fear so I can walk in balance. Inshahallah.
I wishing the best times and places for all of you as well.