Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Not My Circus

Asalamu Alaykom,

from the fabulous Bored Panda

For five years, I have used the word "circus" in describing Egyptian chaos---usually of the familial kind.  If I ever learn the actual Arabic word for chaos, I might retire circ.  I have a strange feeling that there is no word for chaos in Arabic since it is so much a part of the normal routine and thus is not name-worthy.

One of the problems of being an ex-pat here is that it's easy to believe that the country is just waiting for someone to fix the chaos.  That's a trap, Indy!  Somehow, Egypt has made it through the centuries without my intervention.  I continually have to remind myself to keep focused on what actually touches my life.

As an American, I don't mind my own business very well.  Americans tend to think that EVERYTHING is their business.  Saving the world is a 24/7 crusade and not even Vietnam has persuaded us otherwise.  We must save others from themselves!  NOW!

That philosophy of "It's up to me!" makes for very little peace inside your home, let alone inside yourself.  Maybe some women need a kick in the rump to become more involved but I have needed a pull to sit down.  This winter, I found a mantra which is helping me be less involved.

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

It's silly, yet somehow it is stopping me from opening my mouth or getting involved in someone else's life.  This isn't a put-down of the people but rather a ridiculous image of me being at a circus as an audience member, and wrongly thinking to jump down into the ring to run the show.  For me, the crazier the analogy, the better I can wrap my mind around new thinking.

I put my new thinking into practice one freezing day back in January.  Shivering, layered in two shirts over pants, I saw a crying toddler dressed in short-sleeves and shorts and I knew he was cold.  He was fussy, as he was getting passed around from person to person, and no one told the mom that her young boy was cold.  I felt like saying something because I have been programmed to...


Yet, I had my new mantra so I replayed it in my head:

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

I bit my lip and didn't speak to the mom.  I kept focusing on what helped me and my life.  I stayed out of someone else's life because, in the end, it is not going to be appreciated.  Really.  Even if she would have listened to my comment, and even if she would have found him a little jacket, she would have begrudged me pointing it out.

I have come to the conclusion that survival of the fittest isn't limited to animals; it includes the humanity around me.  Stupid people cannot be saved from themselves.  I know this sounds harsh.  It is not the bleeding heart that tried to beat here in our little village next to the Pyramids.  I thought that, if I simply educated a little, they would become enlightened.

For example, when I told a first-time mother that her newborn baby needed sunlight, she didn't respond and didn't get natural vitamin D for her baby.  The niqabi mom's face was never uncovered in the sun (although she could privately do so in within the walls of her home).  She was never taking her baby out into the fresh air and sunlight.  Early signs of rickets were not enough of a push so I would encourage and prompt and prod until I was blue in the face.  It seriously took a ton of my effort and energy!  Alhumdulillah, in the end, I felt like I saved that child from a misshapen skeletal frame.

Then there was the second child.  I was surprised that the mother forgot (or disregarded) everything I'd already said.  Again, there were early signs of rickets.  Again, I told of an easy cure:  simply place the child in direct sunlight for five to ten minutes a day (in sunny Egypt).  No.  It didn't happen.  I didn't push and plead.  I was tired.  Astragferallah, the child's body, at age three, doesn't look right.

The third child...has had to see specialists now.  The skull plates of the six-month-old baby are not melding together properly.  It is...yes...something that could have been prevented by getting enough vitamin D to allow for bone growth---not that any Egyptian doctor is going to pronounce this verdict.  Preventative measures, self-care, and natural cures are not part of this culture.  I'm talking a completely different language which has not been understood, even though it was in Arabic.

Both of my examples were about me trying to save children.

Believe me, there have been so many times I have stepped in and stepped over the line to try to save a child here.  That's what's always been the soft spot for me.  I know how crucial it is to make sound decisions for little minds and bodies; each day for them is a building block for the rest of their lives.  Yet, I can't be the one to save each and every child from the stupidity of their parents.  It is too taxing and alienating when I interfere.  I have had to admit that children might get injured, or even die if I don't intervene, but I simply can't do it all and survive here myself.

I could make each and every one of my thoughts known to "better" the people around me, and in the end they would banish me and my son.  People aren't going to respond well to my efforts.  I would not be able to keep myself safe within a community if my goal was to keep all of them safe from themselves.  After five years, I have realized that there might be problems for others without my intervention, but there definitely will be problems if I try to be some kind of superhero savior.

At the same time, I need to think of the many times I have been wrong.  My act of superiority aside, I'm as stupid as anyone else.  Humbly, I have needed some guidance too.  Have I always welcomed interference from outsiders?  It really depends how it was delivered and by whom.  MYOB (mind your own business) works both ways.  If I want someone to MYOB then I have to adhere to the same principle---even when I think I'm right.

Dr. Phil asked, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" and I'm telling myself that I want to be happy.  I will stop trying to fix the world, save all the children and right all the wrongs.


By practicing my mantra:

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Noise on the Stairs

Asalamu Alaykom,

Last night, I heard a noise on the stairs...


it was midnight and my husband had already gone to bed.  I flipped on the light and bravely opened the door.  This is what I saw.

Apparently, the kid needed some exercise!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Not Muslim

Asalamu Alaykom,

All of us destroy that which we should treasure.

All of us are guilty of being less than we could be.

It's easy to judge that someone else is making bigger mistakes than we are.  It feels good for our ego to know that someone else is making our own wrongs pale by comparison.  Maybe then we don't have to work so hard since others have fallen so wide off the mark.

Yet, when we judge others' level of faith, we are wrong and guilty of shirk.  No one can judge hearts and minds but Allah.  Shirk is saying that God, Al-Hakam "The Maker of Immutable Judgement," needs help doing the job.  That's our ego disregarding the fact that only Allah SWT knows who's a true believer and who isn't.

Saying that someone else isn't Muslim is just wrong.  If a person calls himself or herself Muslim, then it is not for anyone else to say differently.  If anyone's actions seem to go against Islam, that does not mean he or she can be ex-communicated by the ummah.  In Islam, there are no intercessors allowed to sever the relationship between a believer and The Almighty .

Being a believer doesn't mean being perfect.  Muslims, just like all believers, make mistakes.  This week, I was sadly made aware of a brother in faith who made a big mistake.  I had always looked to him as a kindred spirit here in Egypt and to learn the truth was a shock.  He wasn't who I thought he was.  I had judged him favorably for years.

Oh, by the way, we can't judge anyone as being better than others either.  That is also shirk.  We set people up for a fall since no one is perfect; no one is 100% good or 100% bad.  Believing in the white and black of absolutes belongs to another religion.  Islam says that we live in a gray area while always striving for better. 

Sincerely, the ummah has stop anointing some as being "good Muslims" while denouncing others as "not Muslim".  Yes, the world will accept us more, but we will be missing a key aspect of our faith.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Opting Out of World Hijab Day

Asalamu Alaykom,

Today marks another "World Hijab Day" and I am opting out of it.  Oh, make no mistake, I still wore a hijab today.  I got up and put on a hijab before dawn to pray fajr.  After hurrying around making breakfast, making lunch, waking the kid, and getting ready, I got on hijab again.  I wear hijab out of the house because I don't show my hair, neck or chest to any men except my husband.

My Background

I wear hijab as a protection from Allah.  I wear hijab for religious reasons.  I take it very seriously because I felt how life was for me before I wore it; I know that I was unable to be my own person without hijab.  I know that my body was for men's eyes from the time I was very young.  Astragferallah.

I know how I felt when I wore it in Egypt when I first visited in 2002.  I really didn't mind it.  I felt like I finally had permission to stop that social contract of belonging to the masses.  For the first time, I felt like I didn't owe anybody anything.

I will never forget how it felt when I was enroute from Egypt to America and I walked into the Frankfurt Airport bathroom.  I had decided that the hijab was only going to be for Egypt (since it was a Muslim country) and that I could never wear it in America.  I took it off and walked outside.  For the first time in two weeks, I was uncovered in public.  Immediately, I was gripped by a dizzy nausea.  I rushed back to the safety of the bathroom as I wasn't sure what had hit me.  We almost missed our plane!  Now, I believe that my extreme reaction was the result of stripping off my protection.

Back in the States, I started to wear hijab.  I would wear it in Muslim surroundings such as the mosque, halal restaurants or grocery stores.  Then, I began to wear it any time I was out of the house---with the exception of work.  At work, I was wearing a scarf that I would tie in back which was more Rhoda Morgenstern than Muslim.

It wasn't until the last day of 2002, that I was coming back from lunch with my then-husband and I reached under my chin to re-tie the scarf but didn't.  I left it there.  It wasn't so much activism as tiredness.  Rosa Parks got her start that way too.  When I came back to work in the new year, I came back as a Muslimah in hijab.  I was harassed and called names on an hourly basis.  By the end of March, I was fired (a matter which was later settled out of court).

A Covenant with God

Faith journeys are about just doing something because you feel it has to be done.  

My husband has asked me, "Do you love Islam?"

I know he wants me to answer, "OH, HABIBI!  I love Islam with all my heart.  It is my deepest soul and the widest river and the mountains of my being!"

Instead, I answer with another question, "Do I love breathing?"  I have to breathe.  It's not as if I have a true choice other than to die.  I do feel that I would have a spiritual death to be without my Islam and a part of my submission to Allah is the hijab.

Hijab is not just a piece of fabric.  It has had such power that it has completely changed the course of my life.  It has changed the way I interact with others.  It has changed the way I see myself and see my body.  I need to wear hijab---and not just for one day out of the year.

It doesn't mean that every woman has to wear it.  Truly, only a woman who feels the need to wear it should.  I have never lectured a woman not in hijab that she should wear it.  I have only supported a woman who already feels the pull.  I have also supported women who have taken off the hijab to stay true to themselves.

Non-Muslims in Hijab

Sacredness is not going to be understood in a day.  It has taken me many years to get to this level of understanding about my hijab.  I used to think that World Hijab Day served purpose in celebrating this part of my identity but it has become a day for non-Muslims to try it out.

Alhough I won't quote the many writings of these non-Muslims, the gist is basically the same.  They felt empowered somehow and faced discrimination.  I seldom (if ever) read about the hijab in relation to their faith.  I don't think I've ever read about a woman who combined wearing hijab and prayer (an outer and inner combo).  It's all about self knowledge, inter-personal knowledge but not about that amazing spiritual connection with God.  It all seems to be so dunya or "of this world".  

All of that is deep.  Non-Muslims in hijab for a temporary basis will never reach that depth.  It's impossible!  You can't get deep while looking around to see who is scoping you out.  You can't get deep while being out in public as a kind of Islamophobic target without any conviction of "I must wear this or I will suffer dire consequences."

The ability to see an end to the hijab experiment means that it is useless in understanding my life.  I don't take it off when I feel like it.  It isn't always a joy but it is always on me.  Commitment is key.  I am committed to it.  Sure, there has been faltering but in the end I am living my life as a veiled woman. 

Honestly?  If you have a scarf on your head but you haven't committed to Allah that you are wearing it for protection, then you are ONLY WEARING A SCARF and not hijab.  A ring on the left hand isn't a wedding ring unless the wearer has made a promise.  Any woman can place a ring on her finger and pretend she is really married but she knows that, in the right circumstances, she can take it off; play time will be over.

I don't like that the World Hijab Day has been co-opted by non-Muslims.  Let it be.  If you really want to wear hijab, then become educated on the reasons behind it.  Learn about Islam from reputable sources.  Dress more in long and loose clothing to feel the protection of Allah.  Go step-by-step in a process of understanding modesty instead of a showy display for a day which is all about getting attention.  

In Islam, something can be very good but still have more bad against it.  Be careful not to endorse something because you wish it to be positive rather than seeing it for what it truly is.  I am not so sure that the good out weighs the bad for World Hijab Day.  

Allah Subhana Wa Tallah is the Only Judge and will accept any good deeds from what is done with the right intentions.

Friday, January 9, 2015

My Name's Not Charlie

Asalamu Alaykom,

Dangerous mentalities threaten civilization.  That's true.  We saw two -isms clash this week in Paris and I thankfully sit in the middle between the two.  I am a moderate Muslim; I cling neither to extremism or secularism.  Being in the middle, I want to comment on both sides.

There is a huge outcry against extremism when it comes to Islam.  Honestly, no one can be blamed for wanting an end to ISIS/ISL.  That kind of extremist Islam brings about a twisted ideology so far removed from the actual word of God and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Yet, there is a lot happening in the name of Islam which seems extreme to others when it actually isn't.  For instance, the scarf I wear on my head is a religious covering which I believe protects my modesty.  It's worked for me in Egypt but in the United States (Home of the Brave and Land of the Free) I was fired for wearing it---illegally of course (and compensated for it later).  In France, (Land of Liberte') female teachers and students have not been allowed to walk onto school grounds wearing it.

See, that attitude of NO RELIGION ALLOWED is secularism.  That's the belief that we, as a civilized people, can shrug off our life as worshipers when we commune with others.  We should not offend others by identifying ourselves as believers.  We should not ask for allowances to be made; there should not be any accommodating for observers.  If there is one country which embodies secularism more than others it is France where it is called “laïcité.”

One of the fuels for the burning desire of secularism is democracy.  There is a strong belief that a democratic society is an essential human right.  In the West, democracy  is seen as so crucial that wars are fought in other countries that don't even want it.  Yes, freedom of the people must be brought about---even if it means killing them.

There must be, goes the idealized theory, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.  After the killings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, there has been a lot of mix-up on which freedom the satirical magazine was exercising.  I'm not sure why that was so confusing.  It was not freedom of speech.  It was freedom of the press which allowed such memorable moments as:

in  2006, reprinting the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad which had provoked outrage;

in 2011, placing on its cover a Muslim man french kissing a man who had "Charlie Hebdo" written on his shirt;

in 2012, showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad naked and on all fours on the ground;

and 2013, printing the book, "La Vie de Mahomet" as a cartoon book portraying Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a  buffoon.

To be fair, it wasn't only Muslims whose religious leaders were debased and defiled over the years.  There was that one cartoon of the Pope being sodomized by priests.  Isn't that a laugh attack?

Do you find that kind of humor funny or you find all of that kind of gross, rude, juvenile and scatological?  Actually, the head of the Cartoonists Rights International called Charlie Hebdo, "a cross between Mad Magazine, Playboy cartoons, and 'The Daily Show'."  There's another magazine to mention and that's Hara-Kiri.

In 1970, the magazine Hara-Kiri (yes, that's Japanese ceremonial suicide) poked fun at the death of WWII freedom fighter and former President Charles De Gaulle along with 146 victims of a disco fire.  "Poor taste," is putting it mildly but the subtitle of the magazine was, "stupid and vicious" after all.  The Minister of the Interior banned both the sale of the magazine to minors and publicity for it.  France didn't allow freedom of the press in that case, did it?  No.

The staff from that magazine tossed the name "Hara-Kiri" but kept the concept with its new effort Charlie Hebdo.

Freedom of speech was what its editor, Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier exercised when he made his many interviews.  He loved to be public and loved to voice his thoughts even if they didn't exactly coincide with his actions.

He knew that he was inciting rage yet he acted in his interviews like he was unsure why, "...it happens that every time we deal with radical Islam we have a problem and we get indignant, violent reactions..."

Showing the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) in ANY form is against Islam.  I once asked for a children's book on Egypt in the public library to be taken off the shelves because it showed a likeness of the prophet.  By the way, it was respectfully discarded from the collection.  Am I radical for writing to the Library Board?  Was I violent?  In a civilized society, dialogue is key.

Actually, in 2006, prominent Muslims of France brought the magazine to court for insulting their (and my) religion.  Guess who showed up?  All three presidential candidates came to court as they wanted to support the magazine.  Would they have done that if the group asking to be heard were Jewish or Catholic?

Freedom of Religion is also part of a democracy.  Guess where that shows up in the list of important American freedoms.  FIRST!  Those are the very first words in the first amendment on the U.S. Constitution.

Freedom of Religion was considered important in 1776 but like powered wigs and wooden teeth has been discarded along the way.  Is that right or wrong?  Is everything from the past antiquated?  Of course, as a Muslim, I believe that universal truths, such as respecting the sacred, need to be upheld through the centuries.

Blasphemy is the insulting of God, religious people or holy places and things.  What we are taking about is blasphemy and that's not secular.  Remember, the goal of secularism is that laws of the state are devoid of religion.  It is oh-so-modern to say that God, religious people and things don't need to be respected because in this world everything is fair game.

As a teacher, I read books with my students about Pharaoh Hatchepsut and the Ancient Egyptian deities, Abdur-Rahman the founder of Muslim or Moorish Spain,  Peter the Great and the Russian church, and Crazy Horse and his belief in Wakan Tanka or "Great Spirit".  Which one deserves our respect?  All of them are worthy of our respect.  Learning to value others and their beliefs doesn't diminish us and our beliefs.Civilized people understand differences and appreciate diversity.

There is a name for this method of learning and appreciating others:  cultural pluralism.

  1. Cultural pluralism is a term used when smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities, and their values and practices are accepted by the wider culture provided they are consistent with the laws and values of the wider society.

France has NOT accepted the Muslims in their midst "as is" because they keep wanting Muslims to assimilate.  As a country, it has gone out of its way to be hateful not helpful to that 7.5% of its population.

There is documented discrimination in employment as this article confirms and it is a cyclical problem.  The Muslims are treated differently and fear the mistreatment so sabotage themselves in anticipation of that discrimination.

Above, I mentioned the hijab ban.  A personal hero of mine, school girl Cennet Doganay, shaved her head in 2004 bald rather than submit to the hijab ban.  Later, 2011 saw the "Burqa Ban,"  Just last October, the Paris Opera refused to continue until a tourist wearing niqab was booted from her seat.  She was not even refunded the price of her ticket.  None of that behavior is being tolerant and a country that is intolerance is what...civilized or uncivilized?

"Hate speech" is not allowed in Western societies.  You can seemingly make fun of Muslims' way of life but not that of gays, for instance.  In France, it is against the law say that the Holocaust never happened as it's 1.  wrong and 2.  inflammatory.

Those whose rights are not protected and who are not able to voice their anger often take up arms against the powerful.  When one of the powerful are targeted directly, it is not terrorism but an assassination.  Charbonnier flirted with the rage of 1 billion believers and he didn't care as long as he got to publish as he chose.

It's interesting to me that Charbonnier kept bringing up in interviews that Islam was the second biggest religion in France.  It didn't seem as if he was at peace with that growing demographic.  Islamophobia is rampant in the world because we fear that which we don't understand.  For sure, Charbonnier didn't understand Islam.

So, do we hold up pens in Charbonnier's honor?  I don't.  He was not a friend to Islam.  He's dead now and maybe the world will be a better place without him.  Inshahallah.

Does the Muslim world honor the two orphaned Algerian-French brothers?  I don't honor Said and Cherif Kouachi.  They were no friends to Islam either.  They have done just as much to harm the religion as Charbonnier ever did.

Until our deaths, there is always the possibility for change.  Charbonnier could have changed.  At some point, he could have become more introspective and exhibited more decency.  I don't know how much the Muslim intellectuals of France did to help him gain understanding over the years.

The brothers were so young that certainly they could have matured and found the righteous path.  They also needed guidance and support from learned men.  One of the biggest tragedies is that neither of the two extremes ever found a way to co-exist somewhere in the middle.

Did Charbonnier deserve to die?  Islamically, if he were living under Sharia Law, then "yes" he would be tried for his actions and perhaps sentenced to death.  He didn't live in a Muslim country so that is a moot point.

As Muslims, we are not to live or practice Sharia Law in the countries which are not Muslim.  We are to live according to the law of the land.  Judging Non-Muslims by the same criteria goes against Islam.  We are, as a peace-loving people, to understand the differences and be accepting and kind.  The Prophet of Islam faced many tauntings from Non-Muslims but remained calm and forgiving.

Was it right for masked men to enter the offices and execute 12 people?  No.  That is crazy.  It was not, however, terrorism.  Remember, they were there to kill a specific staff of a specific blasphemous publication.  They were assassins and they have died for their beliefs as sure as the Charlie Hebdo staff have died for theirs.

Two Muslims died at the offices of Charlie Hebdo as well.  Mustapha Ourad was a 60-year-old copy editor for the magazine but he was also an Algerian-French Muslim man.  Ironically, he embodied the two warring factions within one person.

The other man you probably have seen but did not know that he was in fact Muslim.  That policeman lying on the ground hoping for a miracle was Ahmed Merabet.  Caught by that amateur video, the 42-year-old was executed by a bullet point-blank to his head.  May Allah accept him as a martyr.  There is no way, as a Muslim, that he would have supported the actions of Charlie Hebdo but he was ready to die in order to guard the staff in their office.

This is a very sad turn of events that it has deep roots---maybe going back as far as 1830 when France conquered Algeria.  Nine years ago, when I first learned who Charbonnier was and what he was intent on doing, I was pretty sure he would be shown violence if not killed.  It wasn't my hope but it was my very logical conclusion.

Regardless how inevitable the ending is, the immense bloodshed is still very sad and shocking.  Please understand that the sadness and the shock today in 2015 were felt in the Muslim world many years ago and those raw emotions have now come home to roost.  Astragferallah for intolerance and hate.

Let's check ourselves.  It's nine days into the new year and we have a chance to be new people.  Whomever you fear needs your understanding.  Whomever you hate needs your forgiveness.  Whomever you hurt needs your help.

No matter how small your bad feelings are, they are poisoning the world.

Let's stop, push pause, then re-start.


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Egyptian Christmas Carol

Asalamu Alaykom,

I have directed a production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol in Egypt with middle school students.

What follows is

My Director's Diary


It's worth stating that I wanted to be an actress from a very early age and my B.A. degree is in theatre.  I have performed in dozens of shows.  I've written many and directed a couple of shows with my KG students at my former school in Egypt.  When I switched to my current school, I was told that two other teachers were involved in theatre.  I waited that first year until I understood the situation more.


Last year was my second year at the school and I had a weekly theatre club which went very well.  Mostly, we did improv but I started to bring in scripted scenes and even an adaptation I had written of a Winnie the Pooh scene.  That scene had gone so well that I started to wonder if a full show could be performed.

Before clubs were finished for the year, I asked my group of girls about the idea of putting together a show.  Would they be interested or not?  Their enthusiasm helped me decide to push forward.

In my head, I began planning how I would pull a show together.
  • start rehearsals in the fall and aim for a December show.
  • make the show's theme connected to Christmas.
  • chose a classic story to portray since our school values classic literature.
  • have many roles with many scenes to facilitate the amount of students.
  • include some music for music-loving Egyptians.
  • keep production levels low-key without purchasing costumes.
  • work on the show alone since few seem to have a process-over-product vision.
Students and teachers kept reminding me that no one had ever pulled off a show.  They were telling me that it couldn't be done.  I countered that I had never been given a chance and I put into practice that, "the show must go on."  If I started the process, then I would finish with a production inshahallah.

Writing the Script

After five weeks of school, we had a week of vacation for Eid Al-Adha.  In those first weeks, I had waffled between being sure that I had to direct a play and feeling that I was setting myself up for ridicule.

I made up my mind that I really could pull this off a production of "A Christmas Carol" in Egypt at a school which has never had a play produced.  A couple teachers had tried and failed.  I adapted the script from the actual story rather than use a free adaptation.  This way, I knew what I was putting in or leaving out.  I did not make up any of my own dialogue; I was faithful to Dickens because (frankly) he's a better writer than I am.

Week One


The first day back after Eid, I prayed that my bus would arrive on time to school---and it arrived early!  I swear to God that this never happens but for some reason it happened that first Sunday back.  I asked permission to go the microphone for morning announcements.  It's funny but no matter how many times I speak in front of an audience there is still an "OH MY GOODNESS!  What am I doing up here?" question in my mind the moment before.

Hearing my voice boom over the campus for the first time ever, I greeted the crowd below and asked students interested in acting to show up for auditions.  I maybe should have sounded more selective but I really wanted to drum up as many people as I could.  That moment when students spontaneously applauded for me felt really good.

After lunch, I held auditions.  There was a large number of very competitive students.  Confidence was not lacking!  That's one great thing about Egyptian kids!  Each wanted to read a scene that I had printed out from the script.  I did a preliminary casting by types and English ability and then grouped students into scenes and had them rehearse.  Then, I sat down the whole group on the floor as I felt like I had to clear something up.

"I'm looking for good actors and actresses but I really have to find people who can work with others because that's what theatre is about.  Actually, that's what life is about too.  You can't tell me "no" that you won't read with the person I give you because that means you don't listen well to me and you don't treat others the way you would like to be treated."

Then I had them read.   I only had 50 minutes total to cast all the parts!  I would listen to their short scenes and jot down the quickest notes you ever saw.  Maybe I'd end their audition there or maybe I'd switch the parts around.  If I saw potential in an actor, I would have them read as a different character.  Of course I was most interested in finding our Scrooge.

Casting Scrooge

I had already hand-picked a boy for Scrooge.  He was perfect.  He looked the part physically with his tall, angular frame.  He was volunteering to read in class whenever he could AND he did a great job.  Also, he was an 8th grader so he brought some maturity to the cast.  I had met with him right before the auditions and had had him read.  He did a great job!  However, he didn't want to make the time commitment.  Meet everyday?  No, he would not.

During auditions, there was one very eager 5th grade boy.  He didn't want to stop reading.  I looked at him with new eyes.  Sure, he was young but he had that old soul look about him.  I started to consider him for Scrooge.  I had him read different scenes again and again.

While he was reading one scene, I was borderline obnoxious with him by giving lots of comments.  I wanted to see his patience level.  Would he lose it if I pushed him?  He didn't!

"How many days can you meet?"  I asked.

"I can give you all the days," he answered with complete conviction.

The next day, my first choice for Scrooge asked me how it had gone.  I told him that a boy had done well trying out for the part and told me that he could, "give me all the days."

His eyes widened in surprise.  "You should give it to him then, " and I did.

Cast List 

When I put the cast list up, I was surprised how the students with big parts weren't happy.  They wanted BIGGER roles.  They were pouting about not being in every scene.  I had to convince them that having a NAME and LINES was a big enough deal and not to ask for more since some cast members didn't have either.

First Meeting

Soon after the cast list went up, it was to be our first meeting.  I gathered them on the floor of our rehearsal space.  I had made-up my mind not to have any chairs involved in our time together since there would never be enough for everyone.  It was better to sit on the floor in a circle and feel more egalitarian.

The older girls, who had begged me for roles, came in late with books to study.  I told them that they couldn't study during the meeting.  One of them tried to challenge my rule.  I was firm.  She wondered if she really had to attend the meeting and of course she did.  While I was talking about costumes, she tried to sneak out.  When I called her back in, she then started to study aloud with another girl.  Unbelievable!  I told her right then that she was out of the show.  It's too bad but showing that kind of disrespect not only for me but for the process had to be addressed directly and severely.

First Three Rehearsals

I jumped right into blocking.  I decided that we really didn't have time for a read through.  Since I had organized rehearsal by act, it was nearly impossible any way to do a full read-through. In a way, blocking the scene gets the actors physical and in the "now" better than sitting with their voice disconnected from the rest of them.

I had a great scene for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (this is the creepy ghost).  The girl I'd cast had been with me in my acting club last year and I knew I could count on her to deliver.  She has zero lines but her stage presence needs to be communicated through her body language.  I'd seen some Japanese Noh actors talk about how the spirits in their very stylized plays are given very long sleeves.  I told her to think of moving about long sleeves; it wasn't in slow motion but in a very weighted down heaviness as if through water.  

Scrooge's reaction to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was priceless.  The Ghost enters up through the aisle and keeps her back to the audience (which I explained is usually a no-no in theatre).  Scrooge's fearful face signals to the viewer that THIS is a terrifying experience more than showing the Ghost's face.  Remember:  the unknown is always more frightening than the known.

I blocked Scrooge backing up, falling over and then being on his hands and knees crawling over to the Ghost.  There's this part where he states that he wants to change so I put him center stage kneeling as if in prayer to a Merciful God but an uncaring ghost.  It was powerful in that moment.

It was that Thursday rehearsal that had me feeling that I was putting together an important experience.  All the week's efforts seemed worth it.  There was a show I was directing and it was going well.

Week Two

Understudy List

The word got out that we were doing something fun.  I couldn't walk anywhere without being accosted in the hall.  Everybody wanted a part in the show!  I decided to have them add their name to a piece of paper I called "The Understudy List".  In an emergency, I could ask them to drop their other clubs and just attend ours.

Attendance List

I also put together an attendance list.  The sheer number of students involved was mind-boggling!  Every time I thought I knew who all was in the show, someone else would show up at rehearsal and remind me that they'd been cast or replaced someone else.  It felt out of control---and as a director that isn't a good thing.

It is however a great way to meet more kids.  I know it's not wise to cast kids you don't know but at the same time I hated when I was new in school and no one gave me a chance.  

Work with What You've Got

Despite the rehearsal schedule, I am not getting kids showing up on their days.  No matter how much organization on my part, I have to bow to the scholastic needs of the kids.  They have tutoring, exam re-takes, and sessions with teachers.  I can't get in the way of all that.  So, I work with whoever we have when we have them.

The other actors get bent out of shape but I can't get that way.  I know that it's better to keep it all rolling along by working around those absent (me or someone else reading lines) than acting as if we can't do a thing.

Week Three

Where is Scrooge?

Our Sunday rehearsal didn't have Scrooge.  He didn't show.  As a director, your pivotal actor missing is a big deal---even if you pretend that it doesn't matter that much to your other actors.

Scrooge Quits

The next day, my actors told me that Scrooge had quit.  I told them that NO ONE can quit because all of us made a commitment to do the show.  I gave my talk about how we all wanted to put on a show and if anyone saw him then they need to remind him of how we are all counting on each other.

The day after, I saw him.  He had a big grin on his face and told me that he had quit.  I sent his friends away and spoke very straight like a coach.

"You told me that you really wanted this part.  You told me that you could give me all the days.  Remember?  If you think that you can just walk away from all of us, it's not that easy.  We expect you to do the right thing and come back to rehearsals so we can do the show."

I wasn't sure if I'd said the right thing.  I worked on contingency plans.  Maybe my stage manager could do it?  Maybe...

Day after day, he didn't show.  The whole week went by and, despite my cast member's efforts to coerce him, it didn't seem like he was coming back.  How can anyone do A Christmas Carol without Scrooge?

Tiny Tim

Even without a Scrooge, we had to keep going.

 At auditions, there had been a girl who REALLY wanted to be Tiny Tim but the problem was that she was just too healthy looking.  Honestly, if Tiny Tim robust, then Scrooge (and the audience) won't feel that extra pull on heartstrings.  I couldn't cast her.

There was another girl who didn't even try out.  She was one of my smallest fifth grade students both in terms of height and width.  I wanted to know if she would be in our show.  She was perfect for the part with her big brown eyes pulling you into her angelic little face.  With a cap pulled down, she would be the perfect little boy.

She agreed but she didn't show up.  Day after day she didn't show and that other girl who REALLY wanted the part was anxious to replace her.  Other cast members questioned when we would ever see her.  I held my ground.  The truth is that, while being a pivotal role, Tiny Tim doesn't have a lot of lines.

The day she showed up was worth the wait.  She learned the song and worked with me to tone down that Arabic hard "r" sound in "Merry".  She sounded great.

It was time to tell her that there's a problem with Tiny Tim's leg.  I asked her if she had a leg that ever hurt and she told me the left.  So I told her that for the show her left left would not work as well.  Her foot would not point out straight but rather point in.  I then told her to walk with her foot pointing in.  She walked slowly watching her foot slid heavily across the floor.  I then had Mrs. Cratchit call to her and told Tiny Tim to walk with that difficult leg quickly to her mom but while looking at her face.  The effect was so amazing.  You saw this huge effort from this sweet child and you yourself wanted to cry.

Time to carve the Christmas goose.  This is the scene that Scrooge watches with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  I filled in for Scrooge and read the line, "Will Tiny Tim die?"

There was an audible gasp from Tiny Tim and those big brown eyes searched for me with wonder.  "Will I die?" she asked in all innocence.

"No, Habibi, " I soothe.  "You'll be OK."

Scrooge Found

By Thursday, I was desperate for a Scrooge.  I had already tried out the stage manager.  He had been too reluctant to even read a scene at the auditions but had readily accepted the responsibility of coming every day.  He knew the scenes so I had him read one.  It was as wooden as can be.

"I'm not a good Scrooge," he told me after his scene reading.

"No, you're not," I had agreed.

"I'm not?!" He said incredulously.

"No," I said sadly about it because he had been my back-up plan.

Maybe I had been wrong for not choosing only based on the audition.  All of a sudden, I realized WHY high school directors have favorites and rarely chose based on talent alone.  Losing our main actor was beyond tough.

When boys I knew walked by our rehearsal space to check out the haunted house, I grabbed them for a try-out.  Neither one was known for good behavior but I knew them both. First one read and I had to admit that he was an impossibility.  The second one read and I saw a real chance to cast him.

This time, I asked him to take home the script, read it and talk to his parents about it.  I wanted their support.  The show couldn't handle another AWOL actor.

Week Four

Scrooge Shortage

Unfortunately, that possible savior came back and declined the role because it was too much of a commitment.  When I told the cast, they felt down but I told them that it's better than him accepting the role and then not being able to handle it.  They agreed.

We brainstormed different ideas.  They liked the idea of a teacher doing the part.  I talked it over with the teacher they named and he nixed the idea immediately.  He told me to postpone the show.  I can't.  I have made a commitment that "the show must go on."

We rehearsed the opening scenes without Scrooge...or his nephew Fred.  Where was he?!

Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig

One of the problems about directing pre-teens in a show is that boys think girls are icky and vice versa.  There are characters who are couples in the show and SOMEHOW I have to convey that they are connected...without any physical touching.

I had to work on this before with Bob Cratchit and his wife.  He comes home from a hard day and his wife greets him at the door with a kiss  a hug a handshake a helpful unwrapping of his scarf and a removal of his boots.  It's funny:  in the U.S., the obvious physical contact between a husband and wife would be played out without question.  Yet, because I'm under constraints here, I have to find other ways of displaying this kind of love.  You know what?  It plays better!

The same thing happened today with Scrooge's boss Mr. Fezziwig and his wife.  I had originally asked them to do a dance together.  They refused.  I had to think how to handle it.  How could I show the festive atmosphere of Fezziwig's Christmas party and their love for each other?

I had Mr. Fezziwig get very physical with Young Scrooge and Young Jacob Marley (I added the actor playing the Ghost of Marley to this scene).  Fezziwig claps them on the back and spins each one around.

Mrs. Fezziwig then enters from the right with two big trays of cookies.  When her husband tries to take one, she swooshes the tray in her left hand through the air away from him.  He then goes for the right hand tray and she backs up with him in hot pursuit.  He is after her cookies and she goes around the back of the two young employees in order to come to offer them cookies.  After standing up, she sees her husband and offers a tray of cookies for him to pick but he takes the whole tray!  He is acting silly and takes a cookie of the tray he is now holding.  What does he do?  He takes that cookie in his hand and gives it to his wife.

This is love without one touch.  I swear to God, on stage is a deeper moment of that true connection a husband and wife have.  I love theatre with constraints because this is when I am more creative and the production is richer.

The Return of Scrooge

He came back.  I convinced him to come back---even if he wasn't going to play the title role.  He had signed up for the show and we could give him a small part and we could give Scrooge to someone else.

I sat the cast down with them in our regular meeting circle and we welcomed him back.  Then, I explained to him that we didn't have anyone else so asked if he could please read Scrooge's line today.  He agreed.

At the end of the rehearsal, we sat together again and I had the cast tell him what a good job he was doing.  In talking together, he admitted that he tried twice to learn the lines and couldn't.  Poor guy!  He actually had thought that he could learn alllllll those lines in two study sessions.  The cast helped me explain how learning lines works.

I told him that I would make note cards for him so that his lines could be held in his hand better and he could learn them easier than in the script.  If he never learns all his lines, we will just have to deal with that in the show.

I cast him.  I still think he's brilliant in the role.  I know another director would have let him go a week ago but I don't want to do that.  I'd rather work with young actors than castigate young actors.

We are building a program.  I need everyone---even if they might need to carry note cards.

God Bless Us Everyone!

We spent more time on scenes from Act II when the Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge around London and into the Cratchit home.  Once again, we faced the problem of boys and girls working together since Tiny Tim is actually a little girl.  No, her "dad" couldn't touch her in any way while stating, "There's a hearty lad!"

I had to think of HOW to show that sense of big love without any physical connection.  Bob had been seated and I had him get up to make more of an entrance for Tiny Tim.  I thought of having him make a grand gesture but then cancelled that.  No, Bob is not a showman.  Instead, I realized that Tiny Tim needs to sit down so dad would offer him his seat and he would stand (even though we saw him almost collapse from tiredness in the chair earlier).

Tiny Tim's next line is "God bless us everyone!"  I didn't want it sitting down.  It's a big moment!  So I had Tiny standing up and praying loudly with hope that everyone would be OK.  Then, because Scrooge needs to be concerned about Tiny Tim's health, I had Tiny Tim put a hand back on the chair and sit carefully down, then put a hand to his chest and breathe a couple of quick breaths (as if that exertion had been too much).

Seeing our Tiny Tim do this moment was God blessing us.  I swear that I have had faith in my cast---when they didn't show, when they weren't sure, and when others wrote them off.  I was right with my casting alhumdulillah.  I didn't base it on grades, or behavior (as some told me I should); I based it solely on talent at the audition.  Whatever else happens, I want to remember those magical moments I've seen in rehearsal.

Week Five

Coming Back to Rehearsals

Our school's policy is that clubs do not meet during the weeks for revision and final exams.  I knew this when I scheduled our show.  In my planning, it seemed absolutely fine to start rehearsals again on December first, and after two weeks, have the production before winter break.

After being gone from rehearsals for those two weeks, the cast came back together again.  Needless to say, their lines weren't all memorized.  Actually, I shouldn't say that was true across the board.  The quiet girl who plays Scrooge's sister Fanny had memorized her little speech and to see her scene was inspiring.

Another moment with this girl had inspired me as well.  I had been passing through the halls during exam week when we saw each other.  Of course I said hello to her.  She stopped me and asked me about seeing the show on youtube.  I recommended The Muppet Christmas Carol because Micheal Caine plays Scrooge so well.  As I walked away, I thought of how this girl, so interested in soccer, was now interested in Dickens.  It's a small victory for an English teacher in Egypt.

Many of the smaller parts didn't have names.  I knew this was a problem.  It's hard for a any actor (let alone a student actor) to embrace a nameless role.  Originally, I told them that I'd find a list of Victorian names and we'd chose some together.  During the two-week break, I had another idea.  I went to wikipedia and looked up all the various character names Dickens ever used.  He was especially clever in naming.  I took names like Lady Jemima Bilberry and Mrs. Flora Finching for the Charity Collectors, Mrs. Bagstock and Polly for the thieves and Betsy and Lucretia for the gossipers in the street.  It feels so much better to have a name and I saw how happy it made the girls.

 I then had new scripts printed out.  This time, I used a much larger 14-point font so they could see their lines easier.  I took those scripts and cut them up into half size in order for them to be held on stage.  I highlighted everyone's lines.  Yes, I made it incredibly easy on the cast.  In the beginning, I had wanted them to take responsibility to a much larger degree but it wasn't working.  They were overwhelmed and failing in their attempts to learn lines.

We started our new rehearsals with a new-found emergency.  You can't really envision how quickly the time flies by when you are in October.  It seems as if December is miles away.  Suddenly, those lines you never managed to learn, become more of an immediate need.  I hit that point home with telling them, "In the end, it will be you on stage, not me.  You will look better knowing your lines.  The play will run quicker and smoother.  If you have to carry that card, then you have to but see if you can push yourself more."

These kids are already pushed in many directions.  They have many other interests.  The salsa class was meeting at the same time on Wednesday and Fred wanted to attend that instead.  He felt that he had done his part in the show and could therefore leave rehearsal for that other club.  I understood that I could give him free choice in the matter but that would mean losing him and perhaps doing him a disservice in the end.  His lengthy speech about Christmas was not yet memorized.  I gave Fred a very straight talk in front of the others that I would cut those lines if he didn't know them by next week.  He stayed and the others got the message too.  Suddenly, seeing actors off stage learning lines while others were acting on stage became the norm.

We didn't lose anyone this week alhumdulillah.  I had been getting reports that Mrs. Cratchit had dropped out (an impossibility) but I found her on the basketball court and got her back on stage.  She has such a great no-nonsense demeanor in the role.  It's funny how we often cast girly girls in mother roles whereas a tomboy, with all that driven energy, is closer to the kind of woman who runs the home and guides the family.

Scrooge.  God bless that boy!  I handed him his script---impossible to only be on hand-held cards.  He is in every scene and has so many lines that the paper is mostly yellow from the highlighting.  Our Scrooge, who thought at one point that he could drop out, is "in it to win it" now.  You should have seen him when he memorized his first scene with Fred!  He was proud.  Yes, his task is more daunting than the others but he is rising to the challenge.  If he fails to memorize all his lines, it will not be his failure but a real success for the attempt.

Another English teacher asked me what is happening with our show.  I explained the basics and then added, "They are all memorizing Charles Dickens.  To hear a room of Egyptian children memorizing and acting out the words of Charles Dickens is a joy."  It is.

I've been too busy this week.  I've forgotten some of the joy of the process.  I even showed one crack of stress.  For weeks, I'd been able to balance my teaching duties and my directing duties but this week I also had to substitute---for not just one but two teachers who were gone.  Suddenly, I was needing to be three places at once!  I'm not joking.

There was even a chance that the administration might pull me from rehearsal to sub instead.  My twenty-minute lunch break was a bit tense while it was decided.  It was a moment of truth.  Would my theatre program be valued?  Sure, I could be giving the show my all but if I didn't have support for my efforts, then maybe...but alhumdulillah it was decided that I should be with my cast and the show carried on.

Next week, we will have five days of rehearsals before we open inshahallah.

Week Six

Cutting the Show in Half

Some weeks speed by and certainly the final week of rehearsals went by in a flash.  We weren't able to get through the whole show in the 50 minutes allotted to our club time.  It was then that I made a major decision:  we would not perform the whole show on the following Monday.  Sunday would be our final rehearsal; Monday would be only ACT I and II (or the first half of the show); Tuesday would be ACT III and IV (or the second half of the show).  We would repeat this performance schedule of first half on Wednesday and second half on Thursday.  The performance for the parents after school on Thursday would be the only time when the whole show would be performed.


Doing a show is stressful.  We were under a big time constraint of 50 minutes.  Sure, I had timed out our show at 40 minutes but...what if there were delays?  Even if we performed the show at  40 minutes, those students had to change out of costumes and make it to their 8th period classes.  That's tough!  I made it easier.  It goes against convention but it made sense.

What's funny is that, if you think about it, Dickens' stories were not originally intended to be taken in a one lump sum.  They were the original cliff hangers given out in drips and drabs to the paying public in magazine formats.  Making the audience come back to see the conclusion is in keeping with the way readers first got to know the story of Scrooge.

Time is So Short

Scrooge.  He has been a challenge for me.  He went AWOL for a week earlier on in the process.  When he came back, there could have been some bad feelings towards him from the cast members who had been coming loyally.  I made the decision then not to do or say anything which would push him away.

It was so nice to see him getting scenes memorized.  He was so happy to know the first scene by heart.  I didn't want to be a downer so I didn't tell him that he was mostly stating either, "Bah Humbug!" or "Good afternoon".  The great thing is that his enthusiasm to learn lines kept going.  Sure, he became overwhelmed and I did have to cut some great lines at the end.  Yet, he found a way to eat the elephant (one bite at a time).  I'm proud of this boy.

As we sat there, the cast all excited about the week ahead, I asked him in front of everyone about that week he didn't come to rehearsals.  "If you could magically go back in time and live that week again, would you still have stayed away from rehearsals?"

"No.  Time is too short."

I patted his back and said most sincerely, "Then I'm happy because you've learned a really important lesson."

Time is too short!

The Land of Long Dresses

One of the crazier problems has been getting the kids to find costumes.  I thought it would be a breeze!  It's true that they're used to highly financed costumes being made-to-order but I knew that they could find their own ready-to-wear outfits in their own closets.  They could look in mom's stuff or their cousins'.  Little by little, the troop would bring in clothes.  One boy was so interested in dressing the part that he brought in five different ideas until he found the right look.

Not everyone could handle this assignment.  I started bringing in clothes that I had.  I figured that something was better than nothing.  What was weird that my clothes on these young girls looked so different.  Subhanallah, it actually worked.  We added some boots and some shawls and piled up their hair.  Voila! Victorian!

One girl drove me nuts telling me that she still couldn't find a long dress.  "What country do you live in?"

"What do you mean?" she asked as the school bus bumped along.

"Don't you live in Egypt?!  That's like the Land of Long Dresses!  Don't tell me you can't find anything."  I chastised.

"There was nothing at City Stars," she explained.

Everyone around us on the bus told her how you don't go to the Westernized mall to find baladi clothes.  We told her to look at places like Khan Khalili.  I had the feeling her inability to find a long dress might have something to do with her favoring pants.

Busted Up Belinda

Unbelievably, the Cratchit family ended up with two lame children  Tiny Tim is the usual one to walk with a limp.  Tiny Tim is supposed to have a lot of brothers and sisters around to care for him.  Our show kept losing the actors in these small parts so I cut them all except Belinda.  Yes, Belinda would be the one to help Tiny Tim.  And then...Belinda broke her leg.  She's been in a cast for weeks.  Really, only Tiny Tim can be the lame one in the Cratchit family or the impact becomes lessened.  What to do?

I hated to tell her that she was out of the show for two reasons.  First of all, it wasn't her fault that she had been injured.  She was already having a hard time and I didn't want to make it worse.  Secondly, we didn't have anyone else!  Waiting for her to stop using crutches has been a drain on my patience.

When I get stressed over things like Belinda in a cast, I have to laugh it off.  A show can become very stressful but it's supposed to be fun.  What are the chances, I tell myself, that out of allll the kids in the show, the broken leg had to be on the one character who has to help Tiny Tim?  Laugh it off and keep it going!

Let it Go

It's what I needed to do when the posters for school walls and the invites to the parents didn't show up on Thursday.  That was something that was out of my hands and out of my control.  I'm working on not freaking out if I literally can't do a thing about it.  That's hard when you're a director!  You've been creating a little world but in the end you have to live in the REAL world with real constraints.  I let it go.

My voice was almost gone.  I had been sick and using my voice in class is a must----I simply can't not talk.  People think that if a teacher loses their voice it's due to shouting at the kids but it isn't.  I am projecting pages and pages of material over seven hours.  How can I not lose my voice after being sick?

I did find a little extra volume for the cheerleaders who are in the show.  I love them and they bring so much to the play.  The problem is that they want to do it all and be in two places at once.  Even though they have permission from their coach to be with me this week, they keep asking to leave rehearsal if their part is done.  No!  Cast members have to stay and support the others.  I've talked with them about giving the show 100% but I think they still are torn between the two clubs.  It makes me wonder if I would cast cheerleaders in the next show.

It's funny.  "A Christmas Carol,"  is not even up yet and I'm already thinking of the next.

Week Seven

The Beginning of the End

Sunday came and it was a big day for us.  It would be the last day in our little world before we opened it up to audiences.  In the past weeks, I had been very protective of rehearsals and had kept them private.  Many students had wandered in and wanted to stay to watch but I had said "no" and kicked them out (hopefully without generating too many ill feelings).

The problem with theatre is that it's not art on the page or even on the stage unless it's shared.  It's glorious when it works and utter sadness when it doesn't.  That day before an opening has a lot of hopes and dreams wrapped up and about to be given to people who may or may not appreciate the efforts.

What I promised myself was that I would not communicate my fears to my students.  Yes, I was full of anxieties and "what ifs" but they needed to remain confident and fun-loving.  If there is anything you can count on from Egyptian students it is that they are fun-loving.  Previously, when I have seen other teacher-directors clamp down on that energy with angry yelling, it just kills it for me.  For good or for bad, I would not resort to losing goodwill with the cast.  As much as I wanted the process to be good for them, I wanted it to be good for me as well.

Dress Rehearsal

I once again brought in my rolling carry-on.  We had a very short time to unzip it, dig through it, and distribute what I had.  Some of the kids had managed to find beautiful outfits:  red velvet, paisley shawls, vests, sweaters, scarfs and boots.  It was funny how a few of the girls expected the magical suitcase to simply open up and deliver them a costume.  I had to remind them that if I hadn't arranged a costume with them, then there wasn't one waiting for them.

It was fun styling the girls and seeing them turn Victorian.  They were most fixated on their hair and I kept telling them to pile it in curls.  One of the problems was the scrunchies and I had to hide a few of their more colorful ones.

For Scrooge, I took a long black sash and wrapped it around his upturned collar.  I took a straight pin with a large pearl-like end and poked it through.  This gave him such a distinguished look.  For being in fifth grade, my actor suddenly had a very aged look about him.

I won't say that everyone even had a full costume.  There were costume pieces which suggested the time and place.  That would have to be enough.  For everything which I was going to go through in our week, I needed to be at peace with what was and not mad over what wasn't.

Our rehearsal had to begin.  I separated the cast into stage right and stage left and lectured both sides about being quiet during the show.  It didn't work!  They were awful!  My stage manager was having a fit.  I literally couldn't hear the show due to all the chatter from my actors.  What would happen during the performance?

I tried to remember that a dress rehearsal is always fraught with high energy.  I didn't want to get down on them too much---afterall, getting into costume was one of the fun parts of doing a show.  At the same time, I felt that we were missing a big opportunity to improve our production before showing it to the school.

Ego.  I had to control my own ego.  I had helped them to put on a show but in the end it was their show.

Morning Announcements

The day of the show had started strangely for me.  Our bus driver had had a medical emergency on the way to school.  I had insisted he pull over to the side of the road since he was in no fit state to drive.  When another of our school buses had pulled over to check on us, we then transfer all the children to it.  The bus driver, by the way, was alright (although needing some doctor's care).  Hard start to a big day!

What I was told, when I arrived to school, is that the principal had announced the performance during line-up.  He hadn't just brought it up but used it to praise the kids and me specifically.  He talked about the long history of attempts to do shows which had later failed.

"He gave you major props," reported my colleague in the staff room.  I thought he must be pulling my leg.

"No, he didn't say all that!  You're joking!" I exclaimed.  It was good that I had already checked my ego the day before because that's a heady experience to receive praise from your boss in front of all your peers and students.  I wonder how I would have reacted if I'd been on time?  I think I would have blushed quite a bit.  Thank God I had not been there.

Last Preparation

Somehow, when I had first planned out our performance schedule I had thought that Monday would be perfect.  I had forgotten, until that Monday, how right that was because my light schedule on Monday allowed me to run around and make those final preparations.

I visited the space we were using and found a stage had been constructed there.  A modern rug lay on top.  I did my best Arabic to ask for a different style.  I went to the storeroom and found exactly what I needed.  All of a sudden, I had a work crew putting everything in place!  Someone had already lined up the chairs.  There was a man hanging a large red fabric in back of the stage (which needed to get trimmed on the side by yours truly).  Another man was hooking up a sound system (just in case) even though I had not requested it.

Another trip to the storeroom and I found the chains for Marley's Ghost.  I had excused my self with the storeroom supervisor and just dug around.  There were three packets of golden metal curtain rings.  I was very happy about those.

I would not have a desk for Scrooge or Bob Cratchit.  Instead, I found some folders and some long handled watercolor brushes: illusion of the moment and not a recreation of the moment.

What surprised me was the big difference one day had made.  On Sunday, I hadn't a THING in the space.  I hadn't had any posters up and no one knew about the performance.  Now, a day later it was coming into place with many worker bees buzzing busily around.  I was so glad that I had not thrown an American fit about things not being ready.  Somehow, in Egypt, everything does get done eventually and the trick is to keep the faith until it does.

The First Show

That morning announcement made for a full audience later on in the day.  They were coming into the building as we were still getting ready.  We only had to perform ACT I and II.  They were our strongest and I hoped that everyone felt confident.  1:00 hit and we had to begin.

The seats were full.  There were  kids sitting down front on the cold, hard marble floor.  There were even kids filling up the aisle (and I had to shoo them away since a number of entrances and exits went through the center).  I was happy to see so many kids and so many teachers.  The principal and my supervisor were there.  It was a great response.

I was asked to addressed to audience and was handed a microphone.  I shouldn't have taken it.  My voice NO DOUBT was loud enough to handle the space.  We get so used to relying on technology when it's unnecessary.  I thanked them for coming and asked them to keep smiling faces to help the actors.  Then came the feedback noise.  BSSSSSSSST!  I tried again to turn it off.  BSSSSSSSSST!  Stupid mic.  I didn't use another mic for the rest of the week.

Now for the moment of truth:  the show would have to begin.  No scripts in hand!  That was a great sight to see.  The problem was that the very first actor on the stage boofed his lines.  BOOF!  BOOF!  BOOF!  It was not going well for him.  He simply couldn't hang it together.  That poor start is really a problem for the others as they have to regain their energy lost.

I fed lines only if the scene was stalled.  I wasn't correcting lines. I stood over to the side (but still in sight) and spoke lines if needed.  The kids couldn't all handle this moment and I wasn't going to let them crash and burn.  They simply weren't mature enough performers to handle themselves without my help.  I will say that most of the actors didn't need any help so that is a small miracle.

What was nice is that the audience clapped after every scene.  They were very sweet!  God bless them for their encouragement.

My actors were thrown off.  They were saying their lines with back turned to the audience.  They were not coming downstage to deliver lines.  They were very, very quiet.  I knew they were scared.  I couldn't do anything about that first performance.  It simply had to happen.

When the dance at Fezziwig's was lined up completely backwards, I couldn't do much to fit it.  I had to keep perspective and let things happen badly if need be.  The show was theirs now.  They needed to take responsibility for themselves.  In Egypt, too many children aren't given the chance to learn responsibility as parents and teachers are over-doing their "help" and therefore disabling the learning process.  In theatre, you simply have to stand back and let them peform.

No, they weren't loud enough.  CRAZY that these are the LOUDEST kids on the planet but if you put them up on stage when they are supposed to be loud they aren't.  That was the big complaint.  They weren't loud enough.  Many people pushed the amplification idea.  I just find that ludicrous.  No, these children were just experiencing stage fright; give them another chance to get used to acting in front of an audience.

Meanwhile, those waiting in the wings were still too loud.  They were nervous about forgetting lines and kept running them even if I told them to stop.  Frankly, you should never be holding a script in the wings; if you don't know your lines exactly then practicing them before you go on isn't going to help.

After the show, I had some time to talk to the cast.  We went over parts that hadn't gone right.  That was one blessing of not putting on the whole show.  With only half the show each day, I had time to re-do the goof-ups and oopsies.

The next day would be the second half of the show.  Would that be any better?

The Second Performance

One thing that I changed about the second performance is that my welcome speech contained more of a synopsis of the show.  A colleague had reminded me how lost the kids can get seeing a play with a complicated plot.  I really took that feedback to heart and put more info into my brief intro.

Remember that I had cut the show into half.  The second half began with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  The actress playing her was one of the bright spots of the show (and not just because of her red costume).  She did begin our second performance with a burst.

The Cratchit family was a bit of a mess.  The girl who was supposed to play Tiny Tim's big sister Belinda hadn't shown.  We had to use the little sister to fill in with her lines.  Mrs. Cratchit let nerves get to her and turned her back to the audience for most of her lines.  Bob was too quiet and rushed.  It's funny but even just having one lynch pin out of a scene (Belinda) throws everyone off.  Doing theatre is such a team effort---maybe even more than sports.

While the whole cast hung it together, I could see once again that we were actually having more of a dress rehearsal with an audience than a true performance.  The actors were once again scared to come down stage and to say those long speeches I had directed as being told to the audience.

One of the dangers is to spend so much time rehearsing the beginning of the show that you have given the second half short shrift.  I felt that I had been part of the problem in not spending enough time on those scenes.  Lesson learned.  The process of putting on a show wasn't only about the students learning but about me learning as well.

The Third Performance

It was enough to do the show once; that's how the third performance felt.  It's that moment where you realize that you are doing it alllll over again and you are tired.  It's when the true professional behavior has to kick in.  Theatre isn't just doing it once for fun; it is literally doing the same show again and again as if it were as fun the first time.

Big problems.  I had the feeling of not wanting to do it all over again but there were two kids who had that feeling and didn't show.  I tried to hunt them down but I couldn't focus on them.  I had a whole cast of kids to ready.  If they didn't show then...the show would still go on.  I let the actors know that those scenes would be cut if they didn't show up.

Another big crowd showed up which included many of my colleagues.  I kept telling myself to separate my ego from the effort.  Whatever happened in the show was not me myself.  It is not easy to be putting yourself out there in such a public way.

Thankfully, the cast pulled together better than the first performance.  They were louder and came downstage more.  I was proud of how they remembered the dance (even if I had to stop Scrooge from going forward in the scene without having done the party scene).  Yes, I was still on script and ready for disaster but I could see more confidence and hear more volume.

I could also hear the salsa dance class on the other side of the wall.  ONE!  TWO! THREE!  The dance step numbers kept getting called out.  I told my stage manager to ask the teacher to move her club but I later found out that he had been too reticent.  Somehow we performed despite the distraction.  I was really upset by that but in hindsight it was actually pretty comical.  It simply means that I have to find a different performing space in future.  Such a busy place means noise---even during a show.

Sadly, both Marley and Belle hadn't come, I had to step in twice then and explain to the audience what they would have seen if those two actors had kept their promise to come.  What else could I do?  It really is too upsetting to have someone else step in to do those lines while holding cards.  I had often thought of understudies but I nixed that idea because I want to foster commitment and not give wiggle room for flaking out.

What is the punishment for such lack of professionalism?  Not much.  I can't punish them and still keep them interested in doing the show.  Sometimes natural consequences (like other cast members being upset), work better than authoritarian clamping down.  Will I forgive them?  Sure.  Will I forget?  No.  I have decided that anyone in my theatre program who makes a major mistake (like missing a performance) will not be cast for the rest of the season.

Our first half was short.  I realized that without those two scenes we were really lacking minutes.  What was great is that I looked into the wings and saw The Ghost of Christmas Present suited up and ready to go on, even though it wasn't her day.  I had told all my actors to get into costume every day.  She had and she was professional enough to head onto the stage with a moment's notice.  One nod from my head and she was out and giving it her all.

The Fourth Performance

I was getting sicker with each busy day.  I had been coughing and popping lozenges like nobody's business.  My voice was almost gone and my energy level was so low.  I was subbing for teachers, doing my own duties and doing the show.  This meant I had no breaks even though I needed them badly.  On that Thursday, I sat in the staff room with my head in my hands wondering how I was going to get through the day.

This would be our last show in front of the kids.  Again, another big crowd showed up.  One teacher actually brought her class of little ones!  Despite my reservations of, they were a great audience.

I had looked up more historical information for my introduction and that really helped.  When I said that this story was written 171 years ago, those little eyes grew as big as saucers.  It helped them understand how, although the play is in English, it is written in an old way of speaking.

The cast gave a good performance.  Belinda showed up---without her leg cast.  It was so nice to see everyone doing their best.  They had really improved.  They were even quite in the wings!  To top it off:  no salsa club counting off their steps.

The problem was that...we weren't done.  In many ways, everything we had done up until now was simply to prepare us for Thursday after school when the parents were coming.

The Last Performance

The school day was coming to a close and I was busy correcting a typo I had made in the programs.  The programs had been printed on colored paper and so I needed to hunt down green and red, then get that ONE MISSPELLED NAME printed on that paper.  I then needed to cut out that one name and glue it into the program.  It seems silly, I know, but being an actor for many years, I know how much it stung to have YOUR name be the one wrong in the program.  No, I would not allow for any mistake like that.

As I glued up my fingers, I thought about the audience coming.  Sadly, my husband had made a stand that morning that he wasn't coming even though I really wanted him there.  Being an average Egyptian Joe Ahmed, he misses the importance of some of my life.  Yes, this was huge for me.  This was as if I were a coach going to the play-offs.  What can you do?  Support from family is important but you can't go through life depending on others (or you'll often be let down).

At 3:15, I got a call from Ahmed saying that he was at school.  Yes, he had pulled through.  Whether or not we understand our spouse's big moments, it is good to support them through those.  He had come to do just that and it did cheer me on to the final performance.

The kids wondered how we would pull it off.  The parents were invited for 3:30 and they weren't out of class until 3:30.  Well, in Egypt we know that you have to write an earlier time in order to get invited guests to show up on time.  At 3:45, we were almost ready.

The families were heading up to the space and enjoying cookies.  I love that the school provided some refreshments for the final performance.  It made it more of a special occasion.

I made my introduction for the last time.  This time I had to thank the parents for all their support.  They really had been the unsung cast members--helping learn lines and find costumes.  My thanks was heartfelt.  At any point in the process, I could have had a parent put their foot down (due to the subject matter of the script or poor grades from their student).  Everyone stayed supportive and for that I will be eternally grateful.

The show started and it was so easy to hear the actors.  I realized that it wasn't because they were that much louder but because for the first time our multi-purpose facility was for only one purpose:  our show.  Yes, all that flack about the actors not being loud enough might have been avoided in a better space.  Note to self:  don't use that space again.

There was so much heart in this performance.  I still had to remind a few lines but it was flowing like never before.  The energy was high.  The singing and dancing were the best they'd done.

Belinda, for some reason, didn't show but she was the only one.  Since we were used to her not being there, it didn't matter as much.  Her lines were said by the younger sister once again.

Quickly, the show flew by and before we knew it, the cast was on stage singing "We wish you a Merry Christmas!"  I joined them and gave thanks for all their hard work.

I then called the stage manager to the front.  He had this amazing smile which said it all.  He had been too nervous to even audition but had given his all every rehearsal.  Aside from me, he had shown up the most; he'd only missed one rehearsal.  I was really proud of him and glad that we clapped for his efforts.  It's not easy being behind the scenes.

Many parents came up to me and asked for photos with their kids.  They thanked me and shook my hand.  It was very nice to be received in such a way.  One mom thanked me for giving her girl more confidence.  It was true that her daughter had come out of her shell.  Another mom thanked me for finally putting on a show because her son hadn't had an outlet before.

My husband came up with a big handshake.  I don't normally shake men's hands so I felt a little bashful at this happening in front of the parents.  I introduced him as my husband.  He was very proud of his wife the director.

I started collecting the costumes back.  It was really over.  We wouldn't be doing another performance.  It was, as it always is, good to be done but a bit of a shock that it's over.

The Cast Party

My goal had been to have a bit of a cast party on the following Sunday.  Our school would have two days of classes and then Winter Break.  My health had deteriorated to such a degree that I had gone to the hospital over the weekend.  Yep.  The show hadn't killed me but it had certainly put in a good effort!

For the first time since I came to work in Egypt, I was missing school.  I actually had the doctor sign off on two days worth of rest.  I would not be back at school until after the Winter Break.  I would not see my cast for three weeks.

Those cards I had meant to give them would have to wait.  I had remembered my directors giving me a little word of thanks and had kept a number of those (despite the decades and the different locations).  I wanted to give them that same memento.

It's always good to be thankful.  I've had a lot to be thankful for in this process of putting on a show.  First of all, it HAPPENED!  To have a dream and make a dream happen is a great reward.  Really, in this age of virtual existence, there are many who do nothing in their actual lives.  That's sad.  Dreams are wonderful but dreams never brought to fruition are burdens on our souls.  I do feel that I've relieved myself of a dream that I felt I could make real...and I did.


I don't want this to be the last show.  My plan is to do three shows a year.  After winter break, there will be auditions for the next show.  This one will be more of a sketch comedy which I will write based on the historical novels we teach at our school.  I'm envisioning a smaller cast of a dozen or so.

In the Spring, I want to put on a story from Winnie the Pooh which I have already into a play format.  It will be an even smaller cast.

Everything is inshahallah.  Alhumdulillah for everything.