Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 5 "Incredible 'Luck'"

Asalamu Alaykom,




On my second day in Egypt, I expected to see some people...or to be more specific, I expected some people to come see Mr. Boo, the nephew they'd never met.

No one.

I felt foolish. 

I was sitting in my husband's family's flat with no family. 

They didn't care.

This wasn't what I expected.

I had thought that my son would be welcomed better than that.  Even his own father, when he called, was shocked. 

Two days.

No

one.

So, I left. 

OK, I couldn't leave the city.  I was stuck there for a while.  But I left the house---despite Mama's many misgivings.  I had to just leave and get out and soak up some experiences of new and different.

Americans are way different than Egyptians.  For one thing, Egyptians don't just take a stroll, or walk, for exercise.  They walk to get somewhere only.  I realized that I had to say where I was going, even if I had no idea.  So I said I was going to the beautiful mosque down the street.

Turns out that it was Baba Ahmed's mosque.  So, perhaps I really was meant to go there.  I headed towards it and then found out that it was being renovated.  No chance to get inside.

Why did I walk towards it?

Why was I pulled in that direction if I wasn't even able to go inside?

I walked on with my small son.  Tried to convince him that the police in Egypt arrest fussy kids.  He was maybe going to buy that until the policeman in white smiled at him lovingly. 

We walked on.  Block after block in the August heat...going nowhere.  Was that a phone store?  Closed.

I had made all that effort to cross the street ---and then the store was closed.  But there was barber shop.  Before we left the States, I had thought about Mr. Boo getting a haircut in Egypt.  So, being both a little brave and a little stupid, I walked in the door.

I stood there...with my small son...and my little Arabic...and then realized that I was in over my head.  I was alone with virtually no way to communicate.  I tried to speak.  I was interupted.

"YOSRA!"

No kidding.

I traveled half way around the world--ambled around a big city led only by my inner compass and entered into a place I knew nothing about.  Only to find that Saleh, an Egyptian man I knew from my hometown, was getting a haircut.

Subhanallah. 

He bought us drinks and heard our story.  Years ago, back in the States, Saleh had been one of AbuBoo's closest friends.  He did not, however, agree with everything that had happened lately.  He knew I'd been a good wife.  Saleh was visibly shaken to learn that we had divorced.  He couldn't believe any man would be stupid enough to try to go back to a ex-wife he'd divorced three times---especially that ex-wife. 

Mr. Boo got a haircut (one of the worst of his life) and Saleh paid for it.  I got his business card and agreed to call him if I needed anything.  I took a picture of Saleh holding Mr. Boo.  Later, I'd look at it with sadness thinking that the wrong man was holding him.

Yet, I had so much happiness at the "chance" meeting with Saleh.  It wasn't about him as a person (though it was nice to talk).  It was about the incredible plan of Allah.  Who could imagine that I would follow an unseen path to lead me to such an amazing encounter? 

When I returned home, Mama had company.  It was my former sister-in-law, who had stayed with us for four months in the States.  She had one of her sons along.  I hadn't seen them since they flew back (mad as wet hens) and told everyone they had not been treated well (leftovers; yardwork; no socializing past 11). 

My former sister-in-law was happy to see her nephew again, as was her son.  They goo-goo'd over my boy appropriately.

For me?

"Yosra, you're fat."

Ahhh yes!  Egyptians know how to say it like it is. 

The next day was going to be the start of Ramadan fasting.


Chapter 6

Saturday, September 25, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 4 "Back Into the Fold"

Asalamu Alaykom,




Through the dark countryside I zoomed. 

Years ago, in 2002, it had been with my son's father at the wheel and me in the passenger seat.  We couldn't stop stealing glances at each other.  It had been four months we'd been a part.  In the interim, I'd taken my shahaddah and he'd gotten his final divorce.  We were on a clear path and we were very much together.

Now, in 2009?  I held the hand of our sleeping son as I placed my trust in a stranger.  I held Mr. Boo's hand not for him but for me.  I needed to know that I was not alone.  Obviously, I felt very, very alone. 

This was real.  I was actually living out my dream.  I had imagined this moment and now it was happening.  That's a powerful kind of birthing processs; the realization of hopes and prayers. 

The last time when I had traveled from Cairo to the coast, I had felt so much relief.  I had made it!  I had my man by my side!  I was going to get married!  I was going to live life as a good Muslim!

This time was different.  Maybe it was my age.  Seven years had come and gone and many harsh truths had come to pass.  I no longer felt the same hope.  I felt instead a kind of stoic determination.  I was making hijrah.  I  was going to carve out a life for me and my boy.

I did think of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). 

Was he happy when he left Mecca?  No. 

Was he feeling comfortable and well supported?  No.

His move from Mecca to Medina was not a joyous time.  It was a time of necessary hardship.  He knew it was the right thing to do and he did it but it was not about liking or loving it. 

In many ways, I didn't like what I was feeling.  I was scared.

I thought too of the movie, "Life is Beautiful."  It's one of my favorites.  The father can't show the horrible truth to his young son that the men who are "playing a game" with them are actually Nazis bent on destroying everyone in their path.  The father feigns happiness at the same time he really feels terrified. 

I looked at my wonderful boy, who felt no fear.  He was riding in a car for the first time without his carseat being buckled in.  I thought how I was putting him at risk in so many ways---and not just about the car either.  I could have cried but instead I prayed.  I asked for Allah's protection. 

Three hours, four flights of stairs and 70 dollars later we were in Mama's apartment.  I had paid the man extra to carry up the bags.  It was worth it.  I couldn't move another muscle. 

Mama was no longer the same woman whom I had hugged goodbye.  Her weight had dropped considerably.  She was no longer robust but rather she was frail.  She no longer scurried about making her husband happy.  There was no husband.  She was alone.

Ahhh but her voice!  Her beautiful voice was the same.  She spoke to Mr. Boo in some English and tried to get him to respond.  He just wouldn't.  The circuits were overloaded for sure.  She offered some food and a bed.  Alhumdulillah.

We slept as if under a spell.  When we woke, there was more food and thankfully a bath.  I could have stayed in bed all day but I needed some things---like a phone and computer access.

The funny thing was that Mama didn't want to let me leave!  She pleaded with me at the door until I started crying.  It was the heat and the exhaustion and the idea that I couldn't get what I needed.  She finally let me go.  Mr. Boo played happily on the floor.

I couldn't find a phone store.  I looked and looked.  Later, I learned that, in Egypt, the stores for one particular item are often grouped together.  It's very different from America where storekeepers want to be away from other simmilar stores.  So, for instance, all the phone stores were a block off the beach and I didn't know that so I couldn't find them. 

The other thing I couldn't find was a sports drink.  I had thought there might be some Gatorade-like beverage in Egypt.  I mean, people sweat!  Surely, Coca-Cola bottling is able to put some electrolytes in plastic.  I kept looking and never found it.  I felt so disorientated.  And I learned too that my Arabic actually sucked. 

I went back to the apartment dejected.  I had accomplished nothing.

After dinner, I took Mr. Boo out with me.  The night air was (and always is) a welcome relief for me.  I couldn't believe how beautiful the evening was!  All the stores were getting ready for Ramadan.  I heard the call to prayer and found a masjid. 

I was excited to pray in an Egyptian masjid for the first time.  I had never been inside any Egyptian masjid.  Mr. Boo's father never thought it necessary.  Later, I would marvel at that decision...or lack of decision.  Certainly, a sad thing to be a new Muslim and not have a Muslim husband who brings you to the prayer service. 

Amazingly, when I walked in, the ladies waiting to pray all turned to me and starting asking me when Ramadan was.  They guessed that I must know.  I could have laughed out loud!  On my first visit to the masjid, I was deemed knoweageble. 

I spoke the Arabic I could and then she asked me another question---like lay off, already!  I handled the first question.  Can't I relax now and just get ready for the prayer?

I did pray with the ladies.  All the prayer halls for the ladies look considerably less spectacular than the men.  That was a surprise to me. 

There are so many surprises in Egypt.  I kept finding new things and exciting things at every turn.


Chapter 5

Al-Asma-ul-Husna (99 Names of Allah God).mp4



This is one of the nicest videos of The 99 Names of Allah. The audio is clear and the video shows the Arabic along with the transliteration (the way the sounds look in English). There's also the meaning of the name.  It's very simple and lovely in its simplicity.

My goal is to learn all the names by heart.  I'm going to put this on my new mp4 player inshahallah.

Should I set a deadline? One year? By the end of the year? By my next birthday? Thinking...

How many of you know all of The 99 Names? Did you have any memory tricks to learning them?

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 2 "Closure"

Asalamu Alaykom,



Before I left the States, I needed to meet someone who had been in my brain for eight years. 

Can you imagine? 

For eight years I was speaking about her;

making plans around her;

pleading with God about her;

arguing over her; 

analyzing her photos and emails;

calling her;

texting her;

trying to make peace with her;

forgiving her; 

pitying her.

and finally...

well, there couldn't be a "finally" because...

I had done so much with her over those years,

yet I had never met the first and curent wife.

But before I could meet her, I would be meeting her children. 

Her children are, of course, also the half-brother and half-sister to my boy.  Though, I never use that term with any of his brothers or sisters.

In many ways, his father's kids are the biggest losers in this drama.  They spent most of their life without him.  AbuBoo was determined to rectify that and spent many months and thousands of dollars to bring them to the U.S. 

Ironically, his family arrived in my hometown just two weeks before I left.  As I was packing for my hijrah, they were settling in as new immigrants.  Remember the show, "Wife Swap"?  Basically, we were swapping lives (once again).  She was becoming the wife and mother in the States and I was becoming the single mom in Egypt.

If I had been simply fleeing the scene of my miserable life, I would have avoided the whole mess.  It is very, very messy to mix up the past and the present.  But, there's a literal clean-up I do before I leave town where I don't leave any trace.  Maybe this meeting was some pyschological house cleaning.  Those people had acheived mythical status and I wanted them to be rescaled to actual size once again.

We met at the playground.  It was the dad with his two older kids meeting up with their brother.  Their mom wasn't there.  And in a way, I wasn't there.  I was never introduced.  They awkwardly met their sibling for the first time.  No kisses or hugs.  Strange---especially for Egyptians. 

I did what I do best.  I hid behind the camera and took photos.  This broke the ice, thank God.  I took many, many photos.  If you look at the pictures, you will see a smiling dad with one charming goofball of a son and two very stiff children.  In picture after picture, I love my little guy for being that lively soul.  Alhumdulillah. 

The older kids didn't really play with their younger brother.  They wanted their dad's attention only.  He gave it to them.  It confirmed another another reason to leave; if we stayed, my son wouldn't be as needy as them for years and years (if ever).  I was not pulling my son away from his father.  His father had pulled away from him years ago.

The time came and went.  Alhumdulillah.  Nothing difficult lasts forever. 

Yet, the hardest meeting was yet to come.

I arranged it so that I could handle it.  I suggested a McDonald's with a playground.  We could have an ice cream together (that's a short visit, right?) and the kids could play.  And they don't have any real silverware at Mickey D.'s (so no sharp objects).

I dressed down.  I dressed so as not NOT to impress.  I don't even think I wore make-up.  I dressed to lay her fears to rest.  YES!  She was prettier!  YES!  She was younger!  YES!  She was the big winner.

I drove to the McDonad's with that pre-audition, clammy-hand, lump-in-your-throat feeling.  I parked and the group descended on us before I barely got out of the car. 

I said, "Asalamu Alaykom".

She offered her hand and I took it.  It was a weak hand connected to a smaller frame than I had imagined.  She was not perfect and was not impeccably dressed.  She was only OK.

She went to kiss my son.

That was not OK.

I tensed up.

She goo-goo'd over him like a doting auntie instead of ...instead of who she is.

We went inside and got our cones--and one Coke.  My son was talkative as usual and his big sister rolled her eyes at his conversation.  Yes, she did.

She was not nice.

Still no kisses and no hugs from his sister and brother.  This might seem like nothing, but I assure you that in Egyptian culture, kids hug and kiss all the time in greeting each other.

The children went out to the playground after that and I realized that it was only a slide---a slide does not a playground make!  Up and down and up and down they went.  Yes, they were together but they actually weren't.

There was some whining for another Coke and I told my former husband that it wasn't good for children to have even one Coke---let alone two.  More whining and then crying from the girl and then whining from the mom.  I couldn't handle it. 

I jumped up and left quickly.

Look, we'd met.  It had been real.  It was time to boogie. 

And it wasn't just time to leave the playground and the parking lot.  It was time to leave all those people behind.

Finally!

They really weren't needed for the next chapter.


Chapter 3

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH I "Why I Left"

Asalamu Alaykom,




There are going to be questions about what I've been doing with my life.  It's been a while. 

Obviously, since all things change, there have been changes.  The biggest change is that I am no longer in the U.S.

I am in Egypt.

I made hijrah.

Making hijrah is different than "living overseas."  I made a conscious choice to leave behind what I was no longer able to keep.  I took four suitcases (packed and re-packed) and my youngest child.

That's it.

I left behind two wonderful older children to be raised solely by their father.

I left behind an elderly mother.

I left behind a father with Alzheimers who continues to think that I'm in Europe.

I left an amazing circle of friends who truly felt like sisters.

I left them because I felt the call to leave.

The Quran is full of examples of prophets (peace be upon all of them) who could not stay where they wanted to stay.  They had to leave in order to find the promised land.  They had to leave behind people they loved. 

I think a lot about Prophet Noah/Nuh who loaded up his ark with everyone and everything yet had to watch as his stubborn son was swallowed up by the sea.  Not everyone can go with you when you follow God's calling.

I felt God calling me to Egypt. 

I had felt God's call two years ago but I resisted.  I stayed in the U.S. for my older kids, for my mom, for Mr. Boo to have his father, and for me to have my friends.  I thought of people instead of thinking of Allah.

Little by little, it was shown to me that I had to leave.

May of 2009, I answered an ad for a teacher at an American school in Egypt.  I wrote, "There is nothing I would like more in the world than to be hired to teach in Egypt."

I stopped and looked at that sentence on the screen.  I added, "Seriously."

I looked at what I had written and centered my soul.  Seeing my intentions written out in front of me kind of surprised me.  Did I really feel that way?  I prayed just then and felt the truth.

I added one more thing, "Wallahi."

It did seem that it was time to move on.

I had tried to remarry in the U.S.  I thought that there might be some match which could be succesful enough to provide a home and stability for me and Mr. Boo.  I was willing to consider all offers but in the end, I chose no one.

I looked for employment in my state and around the U.S.  I even interviewed with a Muslim school in the Virgin Islands!  I was trying my best to stay as close as I could to my family. Nothing else was coming through.

I ran out of money.  I had to leave my apartment and move in with my mother.  After only two weeks, I was ready to pull my hair out.  I realized full well that I could never live with my mother longer than a week.  Blessedly, I was offered a housesitting gig.

So, I flew back to the city where I had tried to find happiness a year and a half earlier.  I thought I could sit out the summer in palatial splendor by the pool.  Though, I had been offered that teaching job in Egypt, I wondered if I was meant to stay in the U.S.  Maybe, in this different city, I could find a job or a man or both.

It didn't work out that way. 

The good moments became overshadowed by some real terrifying times.  The electricity was suddenly turned off in 90 degree heat.  It stayed off for a week and I had to rely on other friends to help us that hot June. 

I was pulled over by the police for a broken tail light and harrassed for wearing hejab.

Most seriously, I was briefly held against my will in the townhouse, which I had once called home, with a man whom I had once loved.  I began to fear everything.

I flew back to my mother and my kids and started to seriously push the paperwork through the governmental offices.  I was now more serious about leaving for Egypt. 

But what about my kids?  That still hurt to think of leaving them.

The night before my son's fifteenth birthday,  I called him to set up a time to get together.  He then informed me that his father wasn't  going to allow it.

What? 

Why?

His father got on the phone and told me that he'd been shown my on-line chat with my daughter.  I had told her that I was most likely going to be in Egypt on her birthday and I wanted to celebrate ahead of time.  It hurt to know that my private chat had been read by someone who could twist it all. 

He proceeded with his line of logic. If I wasn't going to be with my daughter on her birthday, then it wasn't fair to be with my older son on his birthday.  I was written out of the plans. 

It wasn't the first time and I knew it wouldn't be the last.  I didn't continue to fight for my parental rights in that moment.  I was tired out from all the past struggles. 

Alhumdulillah.  In that moment, I knew I could not stay and fight---

not my mother,

not my ex-husbands,

not the schools who wouldn't employ me,

not the police, or the landlord, or the numerous other people who all pointed one way.

They all pointed to Egypt.

Yet, I still had a mountain of paperwork to plow through in order to go.  In desperation, I emailed the principal and let her know that I couldn't figure out how to get it all done.  She emailed me back the phone number of another American teacher who had successfully processed her papers.  The principal thought that this lady might be of some help.

I looked at the phone number in disbelief.  She had my same area code.  She was from my state!  In one simple call, I found the answer to all my paperwork problems.  One week later, I had everything I needed. 

This new sista-friend and I met for lunch and for pre-trip shopping.  Knowing her meant that I was no longer alone.  We could travel together and even arranged to spend some time having fun in Amsterdam.  Knowing her meant that I was guided and aided and I felt God's blessing with my decision.

My tax return (from a year of not earning much) was all the money I needed to start a new life.  I bought the tickets.  Everything was coming together quickly.

Yet, there was one big hurdle to overcome before leaving.


Read Chapter 2

Friday, September 17, 2010

Coming Out

Asalamu Alaykom,

It takes courage to be who we are. 

Bullies like to keep us silent.

Boys bully with their fists.

Girls bully with their words.

I got silenced.  I was drained and going down the drain.

But, I'm back to the blog.

Welcome, once again, to my world. 

It's your world too.

OK, so it's our world. 

What do we want our world to be? 


CREATE IT!

I've been creating a new life.  There have been mind-blowing changes.  I'm happy--alhumdulillah.

And I'm ready to once again be an imperfect Muslim on the web.  Ya, I know.  I could wait until a perfect Muslim starts a blog but that could be a really long wait.  Instead, I'll go ahead and be me ---

and you be you.

I could TRY to be you

but I think I'd suck at that.

So you go ahead and be the best you that you can be.

I'll go ahead and be the best me that I can be.

And let's see who we are together.