Friday, August 22, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Coming Back



Asalamu Alaykom,





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.


Friday, August 15, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Food and Drink


Asalamu Alaykom,



I'm back in Egypt after successfully completing the "Mummy's Curse" diet plan.  Yes, somehow I picked up a bug which kicked in on the fourth day home.  Alhumdulillah.  It's been a marvelous weight loss method for all those extra pounds I picked up in the States.  Now I'm following the BRAT diet and hoping to stay hydrated and energetic.

My mother had asked me several times during Ramadan if I thought I was going to lose any weight and I told her, "NO WAY!"  because I knew that late night eating for iftar did not spell staying in shape.  I also knew that I was sampling more high calorie food than I normally did back home.

What did I enjoy?




1.  Tortilla Chips and Salsa with Guacamole and Sour Cream

I don't get to eat this except when we visit Chili's.  Even when we go there, they never have guacamole so I made quite a lot of avocado dip.  The sour cream?  We kind of have that here but it's salted and runny so I had to buy a tub of that thick sour cream.  As you'll see, I made the most of the dairy aisle.




2.  Cheese

There was NO La Vache Qui Rit on our shopping list.  I love me some tiny triangles of processed cheese spread but I needed some American vacuum-packed rectangles for a change.

Grilled cheese sandwiches were delicious.  Probably the best one was when I made the sandwich with Swiss and rye and then I put in some Budding sliced pastrami with a dab of mustard.  Grilled cheddar on whole wheat or Monterry Jack on sourdough were good too.

To go with the chips and salsa, I made a lot of quesadillas.  I have yet to see flour tortillas in Egypt.  I will miss them!




3.  Root Beer and Ginger Ale

Silly, but those two pops are no where to be found in Egypt and my guess is that they sound like alcohol (but of course they're not).  I had a couple of root beer floats.  I had ginger ale and cranberry juice.



4.  Ice Cream

Yes, I can buy ice cream in Egypt.  Usually, we don't buy it in containers from the grocery store but as the novelty ice creams from the snack stands.  To be able to buy half-gallons of my favorites was just too much of a temptation.  El-Kid and I downed almost three half-gallons over the summer.  I bought my favorites of Peppermint Bon Bon and its cousin Peppermint Krisp (now re-named "Pink Peppermint").  Then, I had to try Raspberry Fudge.  I even made a couple of banana splits for El-Kid.



5.  Blueberries and Raspberries

I was very happy to eat my fill of blueberries.  I came at the right time of the year for those.  We were treated to blueberry muffins and a blueberry tart.  I made blueberry pancakes.  We put blueberries in the fruit salad and into yogurt.  Eventually, I actually ate enough blueberries.

I was disappointed by the raspberries.  I remembered them as being sweeter.  They weren't.  Their tartness was a bummer.  I still put them on top of my Grape Nuts.




6.  Grape Nuts

It's a teenage favorite.  I used to live on Grape Nuts with brown sugar on top.  Whether with milk or with yogurt, I couldn't get enough of it.  I ate it a few times for suhour with fruit.




7.  Macaroni and Cheese

This was another disappointment.  I remembered it tasting better than it did.  I still ate it!  Don't get me wrong.  I just didn't LOVE it like I remembered.  El-Kid still loved it.

I kept trying to find the Annie's Italian pasta and I still have a hankering for that (which will have to go unanswered).




8.  Old-fashioned Donuts

We have the baked donuts in Egypt but not the fried ones.  Or rather, we have something doughy that gets fried but then they place it in heavy syrup.  Egypt always overdoes the sweetness.  I was happy to have these fried cakes again.



9.  Oreos with Mint

Yes, I love mint flavor and these were delicious.  Eat two and you're full.




10.  Caramel Corn

I've made my own caramel corn here and it was really good.  The kind my mom brought home was too sweet but so addictive that we all at it up any way.



11.  Tex-Mex, Chinese and Indian Food




As I've said, we go to Chili's.  We do have Chinese and Indian restaurants here but my husband is reluctant to go to them.  I'm also hesitant to go without an influx of tourists keeping the food fresh.  In the States, it's fun to sample the ethnic diversity.  I really enjoyed each kind of restaurant.

For Tex-Mex, I actually ate in the South, which was a first.  It was a little hotter than I thought it would be.  I had to be careful with the pork/beans issue and thankfully remembered to ask if the complimentary pinto beans were made with pork.  When I was told that they were, I was disappointed but happy I had asked.  The server came back with a different kind of beans which were vegetarian.




Chinese was a take-out order.  We all ordered a different kind of chicken dish.  I had cashew chicken and it was delicious.

Unfortunately, I wasn't clear enough when I was ordering the egg rolls and ended up with pork.  You should have seen me run to the garbage with that first bite in my mouth!  Ahhh, this is why we say, "Bismallah." My intention was good even if my ordering sucked.

The other scary part is how expensive the meal for four was.  I spent close to $50.  Multiply that by 7 and it's 350 LE to me.

I bought a boxes of pot stickers and spring rolls for $1 each at Dollar Tree and those were just as good as anything from the restaurant.  It made for a great iftar over rice.




The Indian restaurant is where we went for Eid.  They have a daily buffet and I felt that would be easy on everyone.  El-Kid loaded up on rice and chicken.  My mom was OK there with her gluten-free, dairy-free diet.  I took a little of everything:  samosas with mint and tamarind sauces, raita (yogurt with cucumber), palak paneer (cooked spinach with cheese), lamb, chicken rogan (oven baked), gobi (cauliflower) and naan (flat bread).

The quality wasn't what I remembered from all of my many visits in the past.  Still, it was a treat and I might even investigate a good Indian restaurant here.  Chicken Tikka doesn't count.




12.  Wild Rice

This is really unknown in Egypt.  I brought back a pound of it.  I grew up eating wild rice and it's so deliciously earthy.  I made wild rice in a mix with white and brown a couple of times for my mom.  She has given me props for knowing how to cook rice better than her now.

I ate some of the cold wild rice over lettuce leaves in a salad topped with grapefruit wedges and balsamic vinegar.



13.  Corn Dogs

Really?  These are delicious.  El-Kid couldn't eat enough of these.  I bought the chicken franks version.  They were a hit with my mom as well and she plans to eat up the ones we left behind.

I wish we could have bought some with us!





14.  Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

This was one of El-Kid's special requests from Grandma.  He remembered how good it is.




15.  Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

This was another request.  They are best right from the oven when the chocolate is gooey.  Mom used Ghirardelli chips for extra yumminess.



One of the things I wanted most from the States was my old recipe book.  Although I had tried to create a new recipe book, it wasn't the same.  While I was staying with my mom, I did a lot of cooking.  El-Kid was so happy with the results.  He enthusiastically shared the news of my culinary skills with Baba during a phone call back home.  Inshahallah, I will continue to explore what I really enjoy to make and eat.

No, food isn't a big focus of my life but it is an aspect I have allowed other people to control too much.  It's been very nice to have sisters-in-law cook our nightly meals.  At the same time, I have lost some of my feeling of what it means to be a homemaker.  I will be looking for how to balance these differences out.

Inshahallah.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Stranger in a Strange Land



Asalamu Alaykom,



Looking back on my trip to the U.S. this summer has me admitting that I look at the place with different eyes.  That line, "You can't go home again," doesn't mean that you can't physically go home; it means that somehow it isn't the same place it once was.  America has changed in the last three years.  Being so very far away for so long makes it easy for me to see the changes.

Gluten-Free  I was shocked to see how many Americans are going gluten-free.  I thought it was only a fad my mom was into but it was everywhere I went.  You can't shop in a supermarket without seeing its sudden impact.



The funny thing is that Americans are as unhealthy as ever.  I helped my dad's lady friend unpack her grocery sacks which were full of gluten-free products.  It was all pre-packaged, overly-processed, and industrially engineered.  When will Americans ever just go for the most natural foods?!  Truly, the more natural a food, the closer to God it is.

Later, I talked with Mi Amiga, who works at a health-food store, and she clued me in.  It's yet another fad and that's all it is.  It's another way Americans can put some control into their out-of-control lives and try to feel good about what they're doing.




There is some validity to the need to go gluten-free, I admit.  Most of what I've found is that the sooner you introduce gluten to a baby, the more likely that child will grow up to have a wheat allergy.  So, you know that cute moment when baby reaches for the cracker?  Resist!  Wait as long as you can.

Pork  Pork is everywhere.  Ya, Americans eat pork.  I know that.  However, for years, pork consumption was down.  People really gave it up in favor of chicken.  Now?  I feel (though my mother can't see this at all) that loving pork has become a way to reclaim America from the Muslims.  No one can come out and openly hate Muslims but they sure can talk about loving pork!

Subway had a pulled pork sandwich.





Papa John's had a pulled pork pizza.




Bacon was EVERYWHERE! Wendy's had a bacon cheeseburger on a pretzel bun.





The weirdest part is that these specialty items were featured during Ramadan.  Not only was there a kind of obsessive love declared for these items,




but it was during the Muslim's Holy Month.  Coincidence?

I've been Muslim (and the object of hate) for too long to think that this is a coincidence.  When I was a frequent commentator on Matt Logelin's blog, I found myself reading strange comments from an otherwise nice person who wanted to bring up bacon as a taunt.  Basically, if the references to pork and bacon seem over-the-top in idolatry, then know that it's a (not-so-clever) backlash against Muslims.

Muslim-Friendly Fashion  Ironically, Muslim-friendly fashion is EVERYWHERE!  I couldn't believe how easy it was to shop this year.  There were loose tops that covered a rump, long-sleeves in summer, maxi-skirts and dresses galore, and lots of long scarves.

One of my theories is that trend-setting Target has its headquarters in Minnesota, which also has the largest Somali population outside of Mogadishu.  That influence on the streets has maybe translated into the design studios.  Obviously, if you can reach a market and earn some money, then you should.

Making Muslim-friendly fashion is a smart move.  It is flattering on a wide range of figures.  It is good for sun protection.  It is preferred by modest women or by women with body image issues.

Perhaps, if you walked into Target or Lane Bryant, you wouldn't even see what I see.  To you, a shirt dress is not Muslim-friendly






but then you're missing how its actually doable as a tunic top.  Any short dress is really a tunic that can go over pants.  Any maxi sundress






can be topped with a jacket or sweater and be fine for a hijabi.  

Unfriendly Muslims  While fashions are becoming friendlier, the same is not true for the Muslims I would meet in the streets.  What's up?!  It used to be that the few Muslims in town were all ready to smile at one another.  Now, there are more Muslims than ever and fewer smiles.  No one replied to my greetings of "Asalamu Alaykom".  It's like they were too scared to be different or too numb to care anymore.

We Muslims are actually MANDATED to greet one another.  We have to greet each other in peace.  It's not a choice.  If you sign up for Islam, get ready for a lot of "Asalamu Alaykom."

I'm sad that I never felt embraced by the sisters now living in my state.  Black, white, brown, born into Islam or reverted to Islam were all foreigners to me.  That's some sad!


Loving Dogs More and Family Less  I didn't think that Americans could actually love their animals more but I was wrong.  Using the term "Pet Parent" has come to mean something;






as if your butt-licking dog who then licks your mouth is akin to your son or daughter.  Sorry to be graphic but YUCK!  Where is the collective unconscious of the Lower Forty-eight?

Let me clue you Dog Lovers in:  if you have three dogs and wall-to-wall carpeting, then your home smells like wall-to-wall dog.  You have allowed your pets to defecate and urinate in your sanctuary.  You are paying a mortgage to the bank every month to live in a dog house.  If someone hasn't told you yet, then let me tell you that your house stinks.  That's nasty.

At the same time, Americans are more and more distant from their relatives.  I see the gulf widening every year.  Some of this has to do with the belief that social media is somehow a social interaction; it isn't.  Friends are chosen over family time and again, but really only family can give you that strong sense of self. To not have that feeling of unshakable foundation has (no doubt) left a lot of people looking for comfort in pets, rigid food regimes, and in religions.

Look, it's fine to have outside interests but it is a shame to throw family completely aside.  It's great to have found friends but I swear to God that most of them will not be around in 30 years; family will.  I only saw two friends while I was in the States.  I wanted it that way.  Last time, I felt my mom was offended by a constant barrage of calls and visits from friends.  This time, it's different.  I didn't care like I once did for friends because I do realize how preciously short my time is with my family.


Disgusting TV  I watch TV.  I love watching TV.  I couldn't watch TV in America without feeling dirty afterwards.  What is going on?  Since when did "penis" become something allowable on a family show?  America's Got Talent had to have been the crudest excuse on the air.



I was on the phone to Egypt one night while my mom had that show on.  Normally, I had to be careful not to overstep my bounds in her home.  I tried not to dictate.  That night, I saw a man drop his pants (though it was blurred out) and act as if something had been pulled from his anus.  I kid you not.  I actually shouted out to her to change the channel--the revulsion was that intense.

So You Think You Can Dance is one of shows which has you hoping it's family-friendly.  There will be an opening number that is so uplifting and then the next will be like a strip-club routine.  Great choreography gets paired with sleazy outfits.  Time again, I wished that I could expose my son to artistic expression without having some young woman expose her crotch.  When the bad outweighs the good, then, as Muslims, we have to leave the whole thing alone.



The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise has never seemed sleazier.  My mom is a big fan.  I started reading Reality Steve to understand what she was watching.  He has a term for the show as "Mommy Porn".  I understand that.  Its insidious sexual teasing flies under the radar of unacceptability but truly it is porn on a low wattage.  To watch it is to open yourself up to that world of troubles.

It was interesting that Nick, the runner-up for the Bachelorette's affections, couldn't understand what he'd been through.  He was dumbfounded how he had been in love and made love only to be dumped.  That is a NORMAL response.  It is not normal to get engaged to a woman after she's been screening 20 other men.  America debated whether or not Nick was right to air that private information publicly on TV.  The country should have debated whether or not the whole show should be aired on TV.




The Ellen Show now has half-naked men on it for some gratuitous reason.  For such a smart woman, she is acting just like a 1950's talk show host throwback who thought some cutie coming out would add fun to the proceedings.  Just because it's a man showing skin instead of a woman doesn't make it right.

The Talk actually had a long discussion on how women could pee standing up.  Doesn't anyone feel shameful?  Did each one of those women get up in the morning, get dressed and have the goal in mind of discussing bathroom habits on TV?  I know Barbara Walters is off the show now, but that doesn't mean all sense of decency has to be lost!  Annette Bening was the first guest so I waited for her (assuming they would smarten up for such a lady) but Whoopie Goldberg continued the crass discussion.

It goes on and on.  The worst was when Wendy Williams started discussing sex toys.  Obviously, I would have like to have sat down with a talk show and enjoyed it.  I couldn't.  I really missed Oprah.

Unbelievably, I missed my television in Egypt.  We have a satellite dish (like everyone) and a myriad of channels possible all the time.  El-Kid has a whole array of kid's programming (not just PBS Kids) which I can trust.  Maybe it would have been a different experience if my mom had more than basic cable.

For me, I'm happy that the Middle-east networks censor what's shown because I did not enjoy policing the programs like I did this summer.  Censoring is always seen like a bad thing with FREEDOM being the ultimate ideal.  Nope.  I experienced what happens when the networks allow more, MORE, MORE!  It means you can't relax because you have to take on the censor role with remote in hand and your finger on the button.

The News  Right.  Can we all realize that the U.S. Media is not focusing on what needs to be said?  It stopped being about the news which should be reported and started to be about what Americans want to hear.  There was so much entertainment, viral and social media information --even at a time when Gaza was getting bombed and planes were being shot out of the air.

The reporting on Gaza was one of the few times when my mother and I fought.  I couldn't believe how balanced the newscast was trying to be about the situation.  Night after night the death toll of Gaza civilians increased and yet they were still trying to make the siege like a fair fight with equal damage on both sides.

I had to go onto Twitter to really understand what was going on.  That's a switch.  This is the first time I felt that American news was not reliable any more.

There were other things going on but the time slot for world coverage was limited.  If the story about some family's triumph over adversity was coming up, then by God we were going to see that no matter what.  Everything was a sound byte of either seriousness or light and they had to be balanced out.  The network didn't want their audience changing the channel when things got too heavy.


Increased Love for Library  Subhanallah.  I have always loved libraries.  We have a great library at our school and it's actually one of the reasons I took the job.  Going to the U.S. meant once again enjoying all the facilities a public library has to offer.

Libraries are becoming more tech friendly.  The new one near my mom had rows of computers and free wi-fi.  It has CDs and DVDs which I amply sampled.  There is no need for spending so much money on media if you are blessed with a library.

I walked out with 20 CDs and 20 DVDs and really felt like I was stealing something.  I don't have this ability in Egypt and it made me so giddy to have the chance to enjoy so much for nothing.  It felt strangely exhilarating.

I'll end on that because it's a positive.  Not everything in America is a negative.  Although, at this point, everything seems to be from the outside looking in.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Highlights



Asalamu Alaykom,


This was the perfect magazine cover for me to see on the way to the States.
See the heading?  
"Remember yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live today."
"Pluk de dag" became my motto.
The Dutch translation just sounded better than, "Seize the day"


I am officially back home and that means Egypt.

Alhumdulillah.

This summer I took El-Kid back to America and it felt strange to have people ask me, "How does it feel to be back home?" because I knew that they didn't understand.  I'm not sure when Egypt really became my home.  In some ways, it transformed into that during the 46 days I was in the  States.

The trip was transformative and I need to get perspective on it so I can really understand it myself.  Of course, the best way for me to figure things out is to write it out, so I'll put some thoughts down here and then piece it all together as I go.

I'm going to write topically, rather than chronologically.  First, I should remember the best moments and be grateful for those.  There were some very good times.



My dad and his dog Darwin. 

Seeing My Father  I did get see my father again after seven years apart and I wrote about that.  It's been many weeks since I wrote my initial thoughts and I'd like to add some more.  It was a time of little moments.  I know him in ways that no one else can---ever.  My mother has often lamented that I didn't have more of a relationship with him but that's her take.  I feel that I have had a real and meaningful connection with a good soul.

I knew all his stories.  I knew parts that he had forgotten.  I listened patiently to stories he re-told.

I was happy to see him hug his grandson goodbye---even though we had one more day left.  My father hugged my son with a lot of love and I will never regret bringing the two of them together.

I remember stumbling upon a photo of my mother's father holding me as a baby.  It was the only photo I ever saw of the two of us together and it was meaningful.  It means that I had a very solid place in the world which began before my mother and father.  I hope my son felt that sureness too.

I asked El-Kid what words he'd use to describe my father and he quickly said, "kind."  That warmed my heart.  My son went on to add, "funny, enthusiastic, and handsome."  What's interesting is that all of those adjectives my son used to describe his grandfather, I could also use to describe my son.  I saw the continuation; my father is not the end and neither am I.  There's a relief that comes about when you see your place in the continuum.




My mom and I always joke about putting on "big girl panties"
which means to stop procrastinating and get the job done. 
The irony is that I did put off buying this sign for her
and the only sign left was, "Wait until tomorrow to procrastinate. 

Helping My Mother  I really did what I could to be a good daughter.  When I was little, I was so helpless and I remember trying to help her and failing time and again.  When I was older, I felt that I would be rebuffed ---actually, I was rebuffed.  Now, as she nears 80, my mother is accepting the help I offer.  I fixed the drawer, organized her pantry, cleaned her burner pans, made her food, carried her plates, cleaned up the spills and so on.  Maybe for the first time in my life, my help was given and accepted.  I had that relationship which I had wanted.  I wanted to be a loving daughter.

It didn't always work but that's going to fall under another topic.  The point is that it worked more than not.  I just realized something:  I was gone for 46 days and I am 46 years old.  It was as if I was gone for each year of my life.




My grandma's Ojibway moccasins she wore as a little girl in Canada


Holding My Children "Having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body."  My big kids were there.  They weren't there very much but that's not what I prayed for so that's OK.  I prayed for a time.  I got time twice with my daughter and three times with my son.  Alhumulillah.  They are readying themselves for the world.  I know that.  I know that they have to break away from me.

It sounds like a joke that they have to break away from the parent who is 6,200 miles away from them but it's true.  Toddlers have an inner rule that they can walk away from you, but you can't walk away from them.  I walked away from these kids, and they have resented what I did so when I came back, they walked away from me.  It hurt to hold them and to let them go but in many ways it was very positive.  Inshahallah, it will clear a way to a better next time.


My Dear Friend had just returned from Pakistan wearing beautifully embroidered clothes.

 Seeing My Dear Friend One of the tougher times I've ever gone through was in February, 2009 when my dear friend suddenly lost her six-year-old daughter.  Last time I saw her, the ripples in the water had not yet subsided.  This year, I got to play with her new son.  He had been born while I was away.  She loves him so much.  She never would have had him without the death of her first child.  God bless her for her ability to bounce back and carry on.

We shared on a level I really can't share with hardly anyone.  She knows me very well and loves me still.  I feel the same about her.  There is a sisterhood between us.

When I left, she gave me a scarf.  It is the third scarf she's given me.  Each one feels like a hug from her.  I wore it on the plane ride home.  I wanted to remember how strong she is and hope that some of it rubs off on me.



This extremely heavy and out-dated tape player was hotly debated 
between El-Kid and me but it ended up at Goodwill.

Getting My Stuff  It's stupid how much my stuff has mattered to me but it has.  Sure, the initial entries on the page have been about people--and that is the way it should be.  We should care more about people than objects.  Yet, I really needed to stop being so fractured.  I would want to read a certain book to El-Kid and know that I couldn't because I hadn't brought it yet.  I would want to make a recipe and know that it was in that three-ring binder at the bottom of a box.  I would think of little trinkets I had gotten along the way; shells I'd collected; photographs I needed.  Alhumdulillah, I got it all except for one stack of papers.

What really amazed me was how all-consuming that stuff was.  I literally spent time every day culling it.  I couldn't take it all with me (as they say).  I didn't want to take it all with me because I couldn't face my hub if I yanked out some tacky junk that I paid $200 to bring to Egypt.  Though that money might not sound like a lot to you, it's 1400 LE to me.

Ya, that money constraint made me really reconsider what was actually still important.  I could re-visit what had been but still decide to stop its journey from continuing with me.  Donations to Goodwill made that easier.  The apartment building's big dumpster also helped free me up.

In the end, I had:  two carry-ons and two suitcases which were free to bring, two suitcases which were a total of $150 to bring, and then three boxes which were $200 EACH to bring.  That caused me a lot of stress.  I was weighing them again and again--can't recommend one of those hand-held luggage scales enough.  I was eliminating and stressing.  It was intense!  I spent my last day believing that I might have screwed up bigger than ever.

Why had I bought all those DVDs?

Did I really need my grandma's china cups?

How heavy was that laminated St. John U.S.V.I. poster?

Imagine:  I was going to bring $750 worth of stuff back to Egypt and then try to convince my husband that the 5,250 LE was all worth it.  I was in too deep to stop.  The bags and boxes were packed.  My mom had made it clear that nothing was staying (though she then allowed for the stack of papers).

Abu El-Kid, thankfully, is a good enough sport to have carted all those heavy boxes and bags down to his delivery van last Monday.  I mean, if you have to have an ex-husband, then it is nice to have one who does heavy lifting and owns a delivery van.

I was doubly scared to go to the airport.  I was not only a veiled Muslimah, I was bringing so much with me.  Would anyone wonder what kind of a wacko I was?

Nope.

Somehow, through the Grace of God, I had the easiest, nicest check-in that I have ever had in my life.  I kid you not.  I was totally myself.  I apologized for the amount I had.  I swore that I had tried my best to keep under the weight limit.  The two airline employees saw how hard I was trying and those ladies were just amazing.  They completely put me at ease.  They were so understanding--no, they were the MOST understanding you could ever hope for.

I was so touched by their kindness.  Maybe, when you're stressed you don't always realize how important it is to have that "kindness of strangers" Tennessee Williams wrote of, but it is absolutely instrumental in keeping me a believer.

One of the ladies spotted my "Bit o' Honey" candy and couldn't believe that I had found it.  Really, it's an obscure candy from 30 years ago.  My mom used to hide it in her top dresser drawer (obviously, not very well).  I had bought it as a "Bit o' Nostalgia" and took out couple of pieces when the one attendant commented on it.  I told them that it wasn't a bribe.

It was then time to settle the tab.  Just how much was my extra luggage going to be?

"The Bit o' Honey covered it".

I kid you not.  Somehow, and I really still don't understand how (except by knowing it was through Allah) I got all my luggage home as freight with no extra charges AND nothing broke.  What had caused me untold stress dissipated as so much dew at day's dawning.

To add to the fullness of the moment, Abu El-Kid had been promising me $300 at the airport and then had not been able to give it.  What if I had really been counting on him?  Alhumdulillah, I didn't have to.  I do believe that I was given some serious ease after the hard time.  Subhanallah.  God bless those ladies.  They have no idea how much good they did for me that day.






Detail from B.J. Cristofferson's Psychedelia in the 1968 traveling exhibit 
which I saw with my dad

Kept Faithful There's so many ways of keeping the faith.  In Ramadan, we are supposed to focus on that inner reality more than the outer realities of people, places and things.  Ironically, this trip had me dealing with so much outer and I had to work hard to balance the two.

El-Kid and I were a good team.  My mom saw that and she came closer to our faith than she has ever before in order to be closer to us.  That doesn't mean she wanted to embrace Islam but she did want to embrace us.  Her increased respect of El-Kid's adherence to faith was something I hadn't been able to savor before.  She sat near us while we would pray; she was quiet and mindful.  She wished us well when we were done.  She said that she was glad the two of us shared a faith.  That's touching.

It's really easy to be a Muslim with a bunch of other Muslims.  It's harder to be a Muslim in a Non-Muslim house in a Non-Muslim country.  It's hard---no lie!  At the end of the month of Ramadan, to be able to look back and know that you did all your prayers and fasting, well, it's a feeling of accomplishment.  For me, encouraging El-Kid to wake for suhour, read Quran and say fajr everyday was exhausting but I am so glad I did.  Good intentions and solid effort will reap rewards inshahallah.  He fasted 12 hours every day and I fasted 16.  I might not have been so intent on it here in Egypt, but I clung tighter to my faith in America to get me through such a tough Ramadan.  May Allah accept our prayers and fasting.

Seriously, every time we push ourselves to summon up our courage, we win another level of bravery.  I feel more able to handle what is going to come.  I don't know what it is, but I know I have handled what I had been dreading.  I survived with style.


Nothing says "love" like two pink flamingo metal statues 

Stayed in Love  It's weird.  I feel more in love with my husband than before I left.  It is true that distance extinguishes a small flame but rather fans a large flame.  I felt him with me in such positive ways this trip.  The last trip, three years ago, I felt like I needed a break from him and everything Egyptian.  Per our agreement in 2011, I had called him every morning but in 2014 we gave each other some space and fewer calls.  Within that space of trust, more love grew.  He trusted me and the cool thing is that I was deserving of his trust.  I trusted him and the cool thing is that he is a man I can trust.



The in-flight magazine had this graphic which I loved.

A New Day  I arrived back in Egypt with a feeling that I must start a new day.  I can't hold onto detrimental ways.  I need to have learned something on the trip and to utilize those lessons.  I am never one to bump mindlessly through life.

This Friday, the whole fam damily came over (as they do) and we all got a chance to reacquaint ourselves.  I was better.  I was a better person.  I felt it.  If no one else felt it, then that's OK because I really need to be better for me.  I want to get along.  I want to fit in--that doesn't mean that I have to ape anyone.  I simply want to be a gracious guest.  I want to be a kind auntie. I want to be an embracer, a helper, a faithful friend, a good mother and a loving wife.

I want to make my home in Egypt.  I have cut my ties with the U.S. in so many ways.  This is a new day and a new chance to get this right inshahallah. We've been building our life here but I always had a life to go back to in America.  I don't feel that now.  I feel fully here.

To be fully present is key to being who you are meant to be.  Now, that I am fully in Egypt, I hope to God to reach more potential and experience less turbulence.  



A good quote can always stop me in my tracks
and make me realize some deeper truth  


Thank you for all your good thoughts and prayers.  I do believe it helped make the time go as well as it did.  I know that I am not alone and that, if you read my words, then you care.  I appreciate you being with me on this journey.

Coming:  More trip topics!




Monday, July 28, 2014

Eid Mubarak 2014



Asalamu Alaykom,







Enjoy your day off from fasting.  It's mandatory fun.  Don't you love when God mandates us to enjoy?!

Love to each and every one of you from the Midwest.  

Soon I'll be heading back to the Mideast...okay...well, actually North Africa (but it sounded better).  I will write more when I can.  

Love and Light!  AND GOOD FOOD!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Difficult Fasting Days


Asalamu Alaykom,

                                                     



I'm writing to you on my Kindle as I continue my stay in America.  Alhumdullilah for both the ability to be here and for the chance to write to all of you.  How is your Ramadan going?

We tend to think of Ramadan as a lump-sum THING but really it's a series of events.  Some days of Ramadan are very easy (don't tell the Non-Muslims) while others are very difficult.  Recently, I had one of those difficult days and it made me reflect:  what have been my hardest days of fasting?


First day of Ramadan, 2001

The First Fast is the Deepest

Actually, one of my hardest days was one of my first.  I was a love sick single mom who missed her Muslim boyfriend (an oxymoron if there ever was one)
  to the point of distraction.  Although that man would be away from me, I decided that I could get clser to him if I fasted.  I reasoned that knowing more about his faith and performing a ritual meaningful to him would help me to understand him (and another one billion people).  I often had embraced cultural rituals and I had fasted before so I made that commitment within myself---the man I would later marry didn't know as we were incommunicado while he was back in Egypt.  I didn' tell anyone except for a Muslim co-orker.

When he corrected my misconception of the fast I was about to start, I was dumb-founded.  I had understood the no food part but...NO WATER?!  With more trepidation than ever, I began my fast for many wrong reasons and with many wrong actions but I attempted it.  Day One and Day Two went by easily as Ramadan was starting  in November and the days werew short.  I envisioned the whole month under my belt and me proudly welcoming home my honey with the news that I had fasted all of Ramadan.

Then that third day came.  I was at work, it was getting dark but I still had work to do.  I looked out the window and saw the new snow falling was starting to clog up rush hour.  I reasoned that I didn't want to get caught up in it so I stayed late.  Sure, I was hungry but I wanted to wait until I got home so I could cook that shrimp and pasta I'd been craving.  I remember walking to the vending machine at one point and dismissing every possibility as nauseatingly over-processed junk food.  If you've ever fasted then you know that your body and mind desire healthy food after a fast.

So I waited.  I waited until rush hour was done.  I drove home in the snow lstening to the radio play Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" I turned it up and began to sing along; then I began to bawl.  I was suffering from low blood sugar but didn't realize it.  I only knew that I was alone REALLY alone and nobody knew where I was and nobody cared.

Through the Grace of God, I made it home.  I began cooking dinner.  I started to not feel too well.  I could feel a headache start to creep over me.  I told myself that I would feel better once I ate.  Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and I couln't eat more than a few bites before the pounding migraine set in.

I crawled into bed.  I was scared at how badly I felt and stupid that I had done it to myself.  I hadn't realized the importance of breaking the fast on time.  I literally cried myself to sleep all the while vowing that I would not fast again until I knew what I was doing.

That was 13 Ramadans ago for me.  Needless to say, I stopped fasting to prove or improve my connection to a man.  I also learned to make the fast the most important part of my day in order to plan around it (not add it in as an after thought).  Now, I do respect that breaking of the fast on time and with a date first before eating anything else.  What's more, I've come to understand that I'm simply not strong enough to fast---without Allah.  Prayer during a fast gives so much strength.  Really?  Giving up food and water alone does not a Ramadan make.

On the plus side, I am proud of my innitiative to start the process.  It was flawed for sure but it was an attempt I made towards understanding.  I embrace that "me" who really strived alone in the Ramadan wilderness.

That glimpse into my  past took longer than expected!  The sun is already up.  I'll have to get some sleep.  I promise to come back and share more of those difficult fasting days.



First day of Ramadan, 2002

Being Alone Had Its Advantages

A day in November, 2004
      
Pregnant

A day in January, 2008

Making up Days

February 17, 2009

The Worst Day

Sixth day of Ramadan, 2009

First Day in Giza

First day of Ramadan, 2010

Family Fasting

A day in Ramadan, 2011

Shrimp Sauce

Several days in Ramadan, 2012

After the Miscarriage

A day in Ramadan, 2014

23 Hours

Like many Ramadan fasting days, the story really begins the night before.  I couldn't get the two of us tired transplants to sleep.  We were staying with my mom; lying there on our air mattresses.  We just couldn't close our eyes and drift off.

I did what I usually do, which is to use my mobile phone to play some Quran or quiet music.  I decided on Quran (afterall, it was Ramadan).  What I didn't realize is that the surahs would keep playing one after the other the whole night.  I hadn't had a lot of batter power to begin with and it zapped what was left.  That meant no alarm (and of course no azan).

I woke up at 5:00 AM which was time enough to pray fajr but well past the time for suhour.  I couldn't believe my situation.  Already, the fast was going to be a challenge but now it was verging on extreme.  I would be fasting---not 16 hours but 23 hours.  Subhanallah.

El-Kid wasn't going to do much better.  Although I had him fasting only 12 hours each day, that was with a full meal in the morning.  This would now be 14 hours for him.

I was worried my Non-Muslim mom would be very upset if she realized how much of a hardship this really was for me so I downplayed it.  I did my stiff upper lip and persevered.  I did what I usually do on really hard fasting days:  I kept busy to keep my mind off of it.

Subhanallah, I believe I got more done that day than on days I'm fully fed.  That's one of the miracles of Ramadan.  You put yourself up to the challenge for Allah and God helps you through.  It's all about intentions.

Physically, I was OK.  I didn't get any severe headaches from this day.  I remember my legs starting to cramp up.  Certainly, I rested mid-day.

At the end of those 23 hours, I ate a lot of healthy food.  Really, each healthy iftars made the next day go well.  Viewing Ramadan by separate days isn't a true vision of the month because each is so connected to the previous day and the following day.  It's part of a continuum.

Thankfully, I never had another long day like that during my visit to the States.  I created a playlist for a medium-length surahs so the phone wouldn't run down my battery.  I also made sure to keep my battery charged.

"Keeping my battery charged" is a good metaphor for Ramadan, isn't it?








Thursday, June 26, 2014

More Special than Mr. Rogers



Asalamu Alaykom,



Mr. Rogers' Tennis Shoes


Writing to you for the first time on an iPad.  I'm borrowing it.  El-Kid is definitely asleep or he'd be wrestling it away from me.  We're in Texas but tonight we'll be heading back up North.

It's been a good trip, alhumdullilah. I needed to see my father after seven years. The last time I was in the States, our scheduled visit was pulled out from under me like the proverbial rug.  That sense of sudden loss of possibilities shocked me as much as if I had learned of his death.  I wondered if I would ever have the chance to see him again.

Subhanallah, I have had the chance. I have shared three days with the man I missed so much.  I never once asked him,with his advanced Alzheimer's, if he knew who I was.  I didn't care.  I knew who he was and he is still my dad.

He's still got so much of his personality.  Although he's less likely to inniate a conversation, he
responds well; his brilliant mind might not remember where we're going, but he knows where he's been.  It's funny to me how he forgets I was with him for some of those times.  I was worried that I might tear up or break down but I've only stayed positive ---which has got to be through the grace of God.

There was a moment in the museum when I was so busy talking to my son about the exhibit on Kennedy's assassination that I didn't realize my father was there too.  I looked over and saw him fighting tears.  He was so touched by that moment and I saw him in this new light. He has always cared deeply and has always loved others.  Maybe he fought back those feelings in his life because...we all have to in order to keep going.  I comforted him and his tears never left him.

Soon, we'll be leaving him and I really couldn't tell you if I see him ever again.  It's OK.  God knows.