Saturday, September 25, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 3 "Returning"

Asalamu Alaykom,



We arrived in Cairo in August, 2009.

It is always a shock to arrive at your overseas destination.  The trip is over---yet there is still so much that yet has to happen!  There is no time for a victory dance.  There's a bus you need to load at the tarmac.  There's a crowd to navigate through once you're in the airport.

I'll never forget my first encounter with a tourist in Cairo.  It happened right inside the door of the airport.  He was a struggling father trying to push an umbrella stroller with his kid.  As a mom, I felt for him.  Yet, at the same time, I had my own small child to protect.  His continued pushiness was endangering my son. 

"Excuse me.  I'm trying to get through," he let me know.

"We all are.  But we have to be patient," I said with a smile and some firmness to my voice.

"If you could just move out of my way," he reasoned, as if he were on a power walk around the lake.

"Ya," I was getting testy, "I can't.  This is Egypt and it's best to learn how to be patient and wait."

He waited.  He said something under his breath but he did stop pushing his kid into my kid.

Even now, I remember that man when I want to keep my own patience in check.  You simply have to relax a bit within the chaotic framework of a gazillion people living along the banks of one long river.  Everyone wants.  Everyone needs.  Yet, Allah provides what is best-- when the best time occurs.

When I gave birth to my son, I wanted to share him with his father's family in Egypt.  I wanted them to feel the connection and to embrace him.  Later, when AbuBoo headed over to Egpyt, he went alone.  My son and I stayed back in America--waiting to hear if Al-Azhar would permit another marriage between the exes (after their three divorces).  Though I desperately wanted my son to be held by his grandfather, Baba Ahmed, this was not to be.

Baba Ahmed died the week after our American divorce.  Six days after AbuBoo landed in Cairo, his father died--without ever seeing the photographs I had sent.  He never saw them because his son, my former husband, didn't make it to his parents' home right away.  He spent the last days of his father's life in Giza with his ex and his kids.  The pain of that really did haunt me. 

Even though I wanted to settle into my new life in the big city, I wanted very much to bring my boy to his grandma on the coast.  Before I had left on our trip, I had arranged it all with AbuBoo.  He was so happy that his mom could see Mr. Boo.  The first and current wife was not happy (probably since Baba Ahmed had barred her from ever setting foot in the house again).  It seemed like everything would go nicely for a short stay.  My former brother-in-law could pick me up from the airport.

Wait.

Um...no, he couldn't.

That change in the plan came the night before I left, in a quick call from AbuBoo, as I was enroute to grab wi-fi. With my cell phone tucked into my hejab (and my hands on the wheel ) I learned that I'd be at the Cairo airport with his son and NO WAY TO GET TO THE COAST. 

OK, he didn't yell at me.  Those caps are in place to show the mind-blowingness of it. 

Of course, so much was going in my life that, in many ways, I was mondo-beyondo.  I just let the scary thought wash over me.  I gave it up to God.  Wallahi.  I reacted very calmly and told my ex not to worry.  I'd find a way. 

He told me that the trip in a taxi would cost about $50.  Although, he couldn't get that money to me but I had that much, right?

Right.

Well, not really.  I mean....somehow.  I didn't worry because I couldn't worry.  I made it to the local falafel restaurant and greeted the Palestinians who had been so gracious that summer.  They had allowed me to use their wi-fi without purchase.  They had even translated for me with the Egyptian Consulate in Chicago (and why Egyptians can't find an English speaker for that job is unfathomable).  Now, I was coming to send one last email and to say goodbye. 

I was given free falafel and fries and--

fifty dollars.

Subhanallah! 

I hadn't told them a thing about my conversation along the way.  I had only shared it with Allah.  But look how amazing and merciful Allah is!  Not only was I receiving a gift of money, but also I was being shown that all my needs would be taken care of.  The crystal clear message was to release worries. 

I carried that money with me in my pocket that early morning at the Cairo airport.  It was the deciding factor on who would be my driver for the next two hours.  The driver had to do the job for $50.

That eliminated a lot of people!  The young drivers with their fancy new cars all refused.  Then, an older man offered a ride in his beat-up Peugot wagon.  He seemed kind and nice.  In the end, he got the job. 

Alhumdulillah, he got us safely to the house where I once honeymooned.


Chapter 4

13 comments:

ellen557 said...

MashaAllah! It really shows that Allah subhana wa ta'ala agreed with your decision to move to Egypt.

Educatinathome said...

Assalamaliki, I was looking for some info on Egypt and expats and ran into your blog. I was wondering how fruitful staying in Egypt is if you consider learning Arabic, being in a Muslim environment as key priorities.
We are from India and I am a homeschooling mom. We have thought often of moving to a Muslim country where my kids can learn to speak Arabic and join a really good Hifdh program. We are totally lost coz my husband is into sotware development and there seem to be no jobs.
I'm sorry this is a really long comment but I didnt know how to mail you....
Jazakillah khayr for reading through and your time :)
p.s. your blog is quite interesting.

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam Educatin,

Good questions! For my son and I, it has been a good choice for us to learn more Arabic, though it's a slow go...of two and a half years to be understood by the vast majority. We have not been concentrating on formal Arabic. The Egyptian street Arabic we know is not seen as proper...but everyone knows it around the world thanks to Cairo's cinema industry.

From what I understand, I think you'd be happier in Pakistan than coming to Egypt. I know of many Pakistani-American youths who get sent overseas for a year to become hafiz (memorizers of the Quran by heart). They seem to do very well there.

I don't think Egypt would be a good choice for you, in my opinion. There is a lot of classism/racism and Indians are not seen as worth as much as Europeans---astragferallah. This works in my favor but against you. And OF COURSE this has NOTHING to do with Islam, which is totally against viewing people by skin color.

The other thing is that you are used to the Indian culture which is simmilar in some ways to Egyptian culture (I know both extremely well). The long tunics I wear are Pakistani and are not as usual here as other clothes. People stare a bit. They aren't very flexible seeing other cultures coming in to the mix. Sure, they will welcome...but they won't welcome into their fold.

There aren't a lot of ordinary food products from overseas within the neighborhoods and I know how Indians like their foods. It would be a struggle for you as mom to provide for your family's eating everyday.

All that aside, Egypt is still having problems daily. You're right that jobs are scarce. But the jobs situation is secondary to the political and security issues. It's not a good time to come here for anyone, in my opinion. There will be better times ahead inshahallah.

Let me know if you have any follow up questions. :)

Educatinathome said...

Jazakillah khayran katheeran for your detailed response. It was very beneficial Alhamdulillah.
You are right,it's sad to see Muslims being racist when it was one of the things Rasool Allah( Prophet Muhammad) may Allah exalt his mention and bless him- stressed against in his Farewell sermon. May Allah guide them.
About pakistan, well, if it were just Hifdz, masha Allah there are quite a few schools in India too that have Hifdz and children memorize the Quran in less than 2 years. We were hoping to move to a place with Arabic as a native tongue, but maybe that is not a good thing either coz it'then the language gets corrupted. Alhamdulillah your response sort of showed me the light and help understand things that I knew already but was confused about- which is- Allah has us here for a reason and when we have what we need and there is no persecution nor are we being oppressd or stopped from practicing our Deen which sadly is not so for many so called Muslim lands- we should be grateful and make the most of it. :)
For us anyway, Quranic arabic is important in order to understand what Allah -glorified and exalted, is saying to us, colloquial would be good on the side but can definitely be given a miss.
Thanks so much again for your reply. :).... I would like to stay in touch with you Insha Allah. May you have a pleasant stay and May Allah facilitate your affairs, Ameen.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Educatin,

Ameen to your du'a. Yes, being Muslim isn't always about following our Prophet's example (peace be upon him).

Alhumdulillah that you and I are able to reach across countries and continents and be in touch through the internet. I'm happy to have been of help. Most of the time we do know the truth but we don't know how to open our eyes to it. I agree that if you have ample support for your religion in India that it's foolish to look for it elsewhere.

I wanted to add a thought: as a teenager (16 years old), I made my first trip to a non-English speaking country. I went to Spain. It really did help my ability to understand not only Spanish but the ways to learn allll languages. I can't say enough what a good experience it was.

Your children, I think, would benefit from being overseas on a trip. Everyone could research together an Arabic-speaking country to go to. It could be a presentation from each! The teacher in me just loves home learning like that. Take a vote based on the info and take a trip. That emergency exposure to Arabic will jump start some parts of learning the language. I believe that it will become more real to the kids.

Even a trip to Egypt might be OK. Not immediately----not this summer. Later. For now, I'd recommend Jordan. I'd love to go there. Lots of religious sites.

I do wish you all the best. Keep reading! Of course you can comment again and I'll be happy to hear from you :)

Yosra said...

Okay.

Here's her question again:

Assalamaliki, I was looking for some info on Egypt and expats and ran into your blog. I was wondering how fruitful staying in Egypt is if you consider learning Arabic, being in a Muslim environment as key priorities.
We are from India and I am a homeschooling mom. We have thought often of moving to a Muslim country where my kids can learn to speak Arabic and join a really good Hifdh program. We are totally lost coz my husband is into sotware development and there seem to be no jobs.
I'm sorry this is a really long comment but I didnt know how to mail you....
Jazakillah khayr for reading through and your time :)
p.s. your blog is quite interesting.


Wa Alaykom Asalam,

Thanks for enjoying the blog. I don't have all the answers in learning Arabic in Egypt because it really what I've been doing here. There are schools all over---including, of course Al-Azhar in Cairo---for learning the Arabic of the Holy Quran. The Arabic spoken in the streets of Egypt is NOT the same. You would feel immersed but in almost two different languages. Would it benefit you and your family? I don't know. There might be a hafiz program at home that has the same benefit, but without so much of the stress.

It is a country with Muslims and not a Muslim country. You might be taken aback to see some of what goes on. If you are ready for biting your tongue a lot, then you'll be OK.

However, there are Muslim moments throughout my day that buoy my spirits. It is where I chose to live and if you are serious about a move for the pleasure of Allah, then pray istakkarah.

There is a place for you and your family to be close to Allah---maybe you're already in it! Wherever you are, may God bless you for your pure intentions.

Love and Light!

Yosra said...

From Mostly Anonymous Halimah:

Interesting. To say the absolute, very least -- my experiences as a black Muslim in Cairo aside -- interesting.

Yosra, this post is quite old, I'll admit, so would you still give the same advice? The same race-based/culturally stereotyped (as pertains to food and dress) nasiha?

I'll include this quick addendum: I was surprised at this nugget of advice and very, very saddened by what it seemed to express to nonwhite readers, such as myself. But, in keeping with my statement to say the very least, I won't get into to exactly what your words seem to scream out to nonwhite, nonarab Muslims :(

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Halimah,

It's a tricky bit to give advice. Many try to sugarcoat the reality of living in Egypt and then it becomes a disservice. I wouldn't want to do that.

If somebody really LOVES the idea of coming to Egypt, then COME ON OVER! However, if somebody is only thinking of a place to learn Arabic, then I'd have to wonder if there's another place.

I have only known a handful of African-Americans living here. I've known some East Asians...but they were not Americans. Generally, the racism hits right away. It is something to combat.

I am sorry that you were saddened. Where exactly is your sadness emanating from? Was it what or how I wrote something? The way Egypt itself is (from my point of view)?

I don't think that being Non-Arab is the issue. It's being dark. Even Egyptians who are darker are teased and made fun of. The Egyptians doing the "jokes" don't see it as racism, so if you asked them, they would deny they have any issues. Remember that the name used for black quite often is "abeed" meaning "slave". I didn't know this word even until I had Nigerian boys in my classes.

So, in Egypt, being non-white is FINE! Being to dark is BAD! Those bleaching cremes are a big business here.

Just by reporting what I see, hear, and feel doesn't mean that I am buying into it.

Please get back to me on what you're understanding from what was said. I don't want to ruin the sympatico thing we've got going on. It's been really good for me to see you commenting on the blog.

Love and Light!

Yosra said...

PS

I'm getting too tired.

It should have been "So, in Egypt, being non-white is FINE! Being TOO dark is BAD! Those bleaching cremes are a big business here.

Yosra said...

From Mostly Anonymous Halimah:

Haha no, no change ... it just was surprising, is all. So, what I gleaned from the original poster is that her desire to relocate seemed rooted in grounding her children islamically through learning fusha -- which you know is only helpful for religious and academic purposes - - and the Quran. My guess was that she wanted them learning Arabic to be able to understand and fully benefit from them working on their hifz.

For religious studies, Cairo IS an amazing place -- still - - to study. Is Al Azhar what it used to be? No, absolutely not. But it's something; university aside, the masjid offers free classes DAILY with amazing teachers on such a wide variety of topics and women are welcome too! And what's more, there is so much MORE outside of Azhar if you want to study. There are majalis ul ilm EVERYWHERE, with so many learned and credible shuyukh. Not only are the circles of knowledge abundant -- albeit they're a bit covert, and will take a connect to get you plugged in more than likely -- there's so much to be gathered spiritually through different zawiyas in the Dirasat area (all of old Cairo actually), and don't even get me started on the great places to learn fusha in medinatu Nasr. This also brings to mind all of the Quran and arabic tutors that will line up at your door -- for kids and adults - - at affordable rates if private study works better for you lifestyle. So much to benefit from, alhamdulillah!

The weird thing about studying arabic in the middle east in hopes of doing the "immersion thing" , is that of course what you hear on the street is so, so, so very far removed from fusha. However, you can still be understood pretty decently in fusha, I think ... better than in morocco, or throughout yemen, in my limited experience and opinion. Now that Syria is really out of the question, Egypt - - with all its dysfunctions and nastiness aside -- is still a prime place IF YOU'RE GOING TO STUDY. Making hijrah, or long term move? That's more of a personal preference thing, and I don't give advice in that regard because it's just too nuanced.

Yosra said...

From Mostly Anonymous Halimah:

So, it wasn't that I was upset because I disagreed with you on her going there, as that's your own opinion; the problem I have is WHY you said she'd be happier elsewhere, given HER REASONS for wanting to relocate. For the sake of brevity, I really have to simply my ideas, lol. I just typed the equivalent of 3 Microsoft Word pages, but am going to try and minimize all that by saying this:

Pointing out that the racist and classist norms in Egypt "work in your favor", but will not in her's, upholds the very racist and classist idea you profess you are against. Why? Because it says, " hey, the system works for me, but you, not so much, so just stay in your place and go to a more racially and ethnically suitable and similar place (pakistan)." It perpetuates the racism which is so pervasive in that society. (Just swap out this example for the example of blacks integrating into white public schools in the 60s for a better education. Sure, you, being white, wouldn't be negatively impacted, but does that mean that blacks shouldn't have even bothered to integrate due to the potential harm they'd face?) I know you have good intentions and are all for diversity so I just wanted to illustrate this matter in hopes that readers find some sort of benefit in reading a contrary view, bi'ithnillah ta'ala.

Your comments regarding the reader's clothing and food choices were also a bit persumptuous and laden with stereotypes. One can no more assume that the reader and her family wear shawar kameez and similarly styled tunics, than thinking that Egyptians all wear the galabiya -- such an erraneous assumption. The food thing falls in line with that same stereotypical thinking , highlighted by commenting on how you know "Indians love their food!" Yes and no. I get where you were going, but by telling her she'd have difficulty feeding her family (which is hard to believe, because there are food carts selling produce and dukkans everywhere, never mind if she moved near a Ragab Sons/Metro Market/Carrefour, etc) is hardly a reason to say someone would be happier living elsewhere. That scarcity of "ordinary overseas" items mentioned is true all throughout the middle east, and maybe beyond (my Africa experience only extends to Kenya, so I can't speak too broadly). Between using substitutions and culinary creativity, one should find feeding their family a pretty simple thing. And who knows! Maybe the reader is like me, and doesn't think cooking a variety of "back home" dishes is all that important while living abroad to study. Maybe she thinks her time could be betterspent studying, or overseeing murajah with her kids and focusing on their tarbiyyah, than caring so much about a variety in food.

In essence, she wanted advice for bettering her family islamically and was told she'd be happier elsewhere for very dunyawi reasons steeped in damaging stereotypes and racial assumptions. We shouldn't limit ourselves to where we think living will be "easiest" or where we THINK we will be treated the best (we experienced no racism in Cairo, and we are black, my husband being quite dark skinned, perhaps in line with your description of, " Being too dark is BAD", and we all know how many Egyptians look down on anyone black -- putting it mildly). If our intentions are in the right place and we are truly making decisions for the sake of Allah alone and for His pleasure, and making use of the duas the Prophet SAW made during the mornings and evenings daily for protection from harm, then we should be good. Allahu musta'an wa alayhi tawakalna!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Halimah,

I asked for it and I got it :) Let me digest what you've written and think before making a mistake with a quick reply.

I appreciate you taking the time to lay it out there. Obviously, I'm a product of American culture and that ain't all good. Eradicating the bad is a life-time of un-learning.

What I'm aiming for with any advice is survival level. Maybe it's Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs playing in my head. Maybe it's my past experience living here and elsewhere.

I wish that I could see the faith journey like you do. I did once. I don't now. I know how DIFFICULT it was for me and I do see that it is even more so for others---for a variety of reasons. Maybe I focused too much on what I perceived to be issues that weren't.

I used to be extremely close with an Indian community back in the States and I think I was using the people I knew as templates for the person who asked the question. Overgeneralizing? Maybe, ya.

If I had to do it again...maybe I would stay away from my perception of her personal needs and focus on answering the bare bones of her question.

Yosra said...

Okay.

Here's her question again:

Assalamaliki, I was looking for some info on Egypt and expats and ran into your blog. I was wondering how fruitful staying in Egypt is if you consider learning Arabic, being in a Muslim environment as key priorities.
We are from India and I am a homeschooling mom. We have thought often of moving to a Muslim country where my kids can learn to speak Arabic and join a really good Hifdh program. We are totally lost coz my husband is into sotware development and there seem to be no jobs.
I'm sorry this is a really long comment but I didnt know how to mail you....
Jazakillah khayr for reading through and your time :)
p.s. your blog is quite interesting.


Wa Alaykom Asalam,

Thanks for enjoying the blog. I don't have all the answers in learning Arabic in Egypt because it really what I've been doing here. There are schools all over---including, of course Al-Azhar in Cairo---for learning the Arabic of the Holy Quran. The Arabic spoken in the streets of Egypt is NOT the same. You would feel immersed but in almost two different languages. Would it benefit you and your family? I don't know. There might be a hafiz program at home that has the same benefit, but without so much of the stress.

It is a country with Muslims and not a Muslim country. You might be taken aback to see some of what goes on. If you are ready for biting your tongue a lot, then you'll be OK.

However, there are Muslim moments throughout my day that buoy my spirits. It is where I chose to live and if you are serious about a move for the pleasure of Allah, then pray istakkarah.

There is a place for you and your family to be close to Allah---maybe you're already in it! Wherever you are, may God bless you for your pure intentions.

Love and Light!