Friday, December 3, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 13 "Keep on Living"

This is where the story could stop.

Close up on Yosra holding her little boy tight. 

Pull back to show the darkened room of her new apartment in Egypt as the car horns honk and indistinguible Arabic dialogue from the street is heard in the background.

Fade out.

Cut to black.

But, this isn't a made-for-TV

This was my real life and I had to keep on living it even after running through the victory tape at the finish line.  There was more to be done.

One of the most troubling unknows for me was also troubling millions around the globe:  H1N1.  This was the Fall of 2009 and the whole world was wondering what exactly would happen.  The Egyptian government had culled all the swine.  Hand sanitizers were selling briskly.  The school had put "5 face masks" on every child's supply list.

I was concerned.  I had traveled so far with such little money.  Was there a chance that all the schools would close?  That's what I was hearing.  I needed school to keep going so I could keep going!  Their money was my money.  I kept my fingers crossed.

At the same time, I was actually a bit relieved that Egypt had postponed all schools until later in September.  The delay was for preparing disease prevention strategies.  For me?  It was additional time to adjust to a different time zone, culture shock, and a new life.

I had already been to Egypt, but this was different.  I was alone this time---well alone with my kid.  I didn't have someone looking out for me and protecting me.

Shopping locally meant not seeing any prices.  It meant bartering.  It meant trusting---if not in the shopkeeper, then in Allah's justice on the Day of Judgement.  Also, buying food for only two people is hard in Egypt where almost all food (from peanuts to tomatoes) is sold by the kilo. 

During Ramadan, the shops and restaurants were open late and closed up early.  Procuring food for Mr. Boo and myself was a daily challenge.

There was one easy way around it:  accepting iftar invitations.  I was pleased that three families began to have us over for the breaking of the fast.  It sure beat running to the kabob restaurant before magrib and then running back.  These other meals were amazingly plentiful and delicious ---and they were free! 

The first family to invite us was the landlady's.  That was a bit formal, where we sat around the table and passed food and got served.

The second family to invite us was the driver's.  That was less formal, where we sat around the TV and watched a show as we ate.

The other family to invite us was that of the teenage girl.  Honestly, that dinner was awkward.  My son and I were served like royalty and no one really relaxed.  I was nervous because my stomach didn't feel good.  The food looked great!  I just couldn't trust that it would stay in my body for very long.  I was reluctant to eat.  The mom, like any Egyptian hostess, wanted me to eat more and more.  I was unable and sorry that I was unable.

After that night, I really had to admit that I was sick.  I didn't know how to get help.  I thought of calling the principal but I didn't want her to think of me as unhealthy---especially in the H1N1 fear frenzy.  I sat lonely and alone in my apartment--- going and going and going to the bathroom; slowly loosing all my energy. 

When the phone rang, I was surprised to see that it the recruiter from the north coast calling.  He was offering me the job teaching English.  Yes, THAT job with the dismissive British headmaster!  They needed me afterall.  I told him that I had signed on the job here and secured an apartment.  I was going to stay put. 

However...since the situation had presented itself, I decided to ask...could he help me?

That kind man called up a doctor and had me speak to him on the spot.  Subhanallah!  That kind of help never happens in America.  The doctor heard my symptoms over the phone and had me write down the names of the miracle medicines.  Amazingly, the pharamacies here are very easy with prescriptions.

The landlady's son offered to get the medicines for us.  I was now utilizing some much needed manpower.  I started to see how having one man in Egypt wasn't necessary if I could get help from so many. 

Alhumdulillah, that medicine, Antinal, did the trick.  I waited until I was done fasting to take it.  I started to feel better by the next day.  Little by little, I regained my strength and started to see how different I was, now that I had my full capacity for thinking, patience and understanding.

We were invited again to each of the houses.

Let's be honest...

At the landlady's house, I realized that I was a single woman and she had a single son.  That made me nervous.  Him talking to me made me nervous.  Him helping me with my internet connection made me nervous.  I wasn't sure what he was thinking but I didn't want any trouble where I lived---even if he spoke fluent English, had a car, a job, a store, and a business on the side.

At the driver's house, I really enjoyed myself ---but again I was a single woman and the driver was still single, though he was engaged.  His mom, who I came to like so much, kept making jokes about him marrying me instead.  That's funny except that I was a single woman and he was still single, though he was engaged.  Oh, and he was very very young, young, young.  I was old enough to be his moth---er's good friend.

At the teenage girl's home, I found myself finally able to eat her mom's delicious food but for some reason two of the uncles came over while I was there.  That made me uncomfortable as well.  I wasn't sure who was married and who was single.  I didn't really want to know.  I didn't like the one brother who thought he knew English from years of working with tourists.  The other brother was the one I had met in the little shop next to their house.  He tried to shake my hand and I had to tell him that I didn't shake hands with men.

After we left the girl's home, my boy and I headed over to the main street to get mango popscicles (this was a favorite treat our first Ramadan here).  Oddly, we bumped into the tourist shop brother whom we had just met.  I was unpleasantly surprised.  He asked me if I needed any help.  I quickly declined.  My mind was suscipious of that chance meeting.  Was something going on?

We got more invites for dinner.  I decided to turn down the landlady.  I didn't need anybody from upstairs falling for me downstairs. 

I decided to keep going to the driver's house but to be more careful about my friendliness.  Being easy going with an Egyptian man can often get misperceived

As for the teenage girl's family, I accepted an invite to go to her grandma's house.  This time the invite didn't come from her or her mom.  The phone call came from one of her uncles.  Which uncle was he?  I was trying to figure it out.

That family was so big:  three brothers and four sisters.  It was like a reunion at every night!  Lots of kids playing together made Mr. Boo's night.  He was so happy to be away from our solitude and be around silliness.  There were lots of women my age and I enjoyed myself.

I was nervous, though, about the unwed tourist shop brother.  I didn't want any problem.  So, on the way back home I stopped and tried my best Arabic with the sister walking me home.  I let her know that I didn't want to get married.  I just wanted to work and take care of my boy.  She seemed to understand--or at least she nodded and smiled. 

My true intention was exactly as I had stated it to her.  Allah knows.  I had not moved to Egypt to marry.  Of course I knew that I might meet someone eventually but I was not actively looking.  Certainly, I wasn't going to make my life complicated within weeks of landing.  It made absolutely no sense!

Be that as it may, six weeks after making hijrah, I realized something surprising.  During my time of traveling to iftar dinners, one of the men I had met and shared food with was someone who drew me in.  This wasn't a lust or a hot and heavy, "Whoa, Baby!" 

What I slowly felt was a quiet wish that I could belong to his family.  I knew that I was too old to be adopted and laughed at myself.  Then, it hit me:  I could belong to their family if I married in. 


Chapter 14

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