Saturday, January 8, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 20 "Meeting the Captain"

Asalamu Alaykom,

Good news: My boy is safe.

Bad news: he ran away from daycare today.

I found out when I came to pick him up and he was GONE. We searched everywhere and he was no where. I asked again and again for them to call the police. They wouldn't! I ended up screaming in the street. Finally, I went for police on the next street and they told me he was found walking blocks away. He had missed me and was trying to make it to school. I hugged him pretty tight. In all my 41 years, I never saw the inside of a police station. I'm here 5 weeks and I meet with the Captain. Alhumdulillah. Not sure what we do tomorrow.

That's all I could write the day it happened.

Why? Because to really relive the shock of the events, I could not continue on that next day with so many concerns.

Now, it has been over a year and I've had the time and space to adjust to to the reality of that Sunday when I really almost lost my son. When I say that, I mean lost forever.

It would have been so easy for one twist in the story to be...

All the "if"s played in my head that night. Even now, I have to stop myself from really thinking of the dangers which surrounded him.

That Sunday was my first day back to work after a long Ramadan and Eid break. We had been together for so many days, yet it wasn't enough for Mr. Boo. He woke that morning so sad that he had to go back to daycare. He kept asking if I could take him with me instead.

All working moms have mornings like this. We can't really be the moms we want to be in that moment. We want to call of work, crawl into bed and cuddle our sweet honeys. Being a working mom robs us of some of our tenderness. We have to harden ourselves to keep going. So I suppressed my desires to cuddle and coddle and pushed on through the routine. Bathroom, getting dressed, quick drink, brush teeth, shoes and out the door.

He didn't want to go and I had to keep going. We were getting late. I picked him up and carried him with all the understanding I could muster. He was about 40 pounds. My big school bag held my books and my laptop. It was heavy. He was heavy. On I walked because I had to.

There was no one but Mr. Boo and me.

We walked several blocks to one of the busiest street in Giza. There are no traffic rules really. The drivers aren't road-rage maniacs or anything like that. They simply are stuck in a bad situation and are doing the best they can to move forward with millions of other people.

For weeks, I'd been emphasizing to Mr. Boo how dangerous the streets are and how he needs to only cross them with me. I waited on the side of the street; watching for the chance to dart out quickly, then stop suddenly if needed; timing my movements carefully so as reach the other side.

Once across, there were all the people waiting to catch buses and taxis to begin their day. The lady who sells cigarettes and tissues was sitting, as usual, on her mat with her small girls. The office workers dressed well were jumping on and off the curb. The modest ladies covered in black (yet decorate their little daughters with frills, curls and beautiful sundresses) were parading about. We were in Egypt with many; many people and many stories.

Arriving at daycare, I had to set my pre-schooler down so that he could feel that he was a big guy; not my baby. Yet, as soon as he was down, he told me that he wanted to go. No, he was not happy. I bribed him with a treat and a video after I picked him up. I kissed him up. Hugged him quickly. The door open and I placed him in the arms of one of the many young girls employed by the daycare. He cried. I took him back for one last hug and then gave him back and left.

I had to leave and it hurt.

I worked my day. I didn't call the daycare. I never had called the daycare, since communication would be so tough over the phone. I always figured they would simply call me if there was any trouble. No call meant no trouble.

At the end of my day, I couldn't leave.

I kept hearing a kitten. I looked up and saw its tiny white face peeking out of the railings on the second floor above me. The mama cat was relaxing down in the courtyard below. The kitten kept mewwing over and over and I couldn't leave knowing it was scared.

Mi amiga can tell you: I am very allergic to cats. I thought about that as I climbed the stairs. What was I going to do with a fluffy kitty? Pick it up? I mean...really?!

The kitten had managed to find itself on the other side of the railing. It was in danger of falling far below. I got near and it got scared and backed up. In my efforts to bring it to safety, I could actually be guilty of causing its death. Another teacher came along and I asked for her help. Together, we got the kitten away from the edge, over the railing, and (strangely enough for me) in my hand. I held this beautiful white kitty by the scruff of the neck and walked quickly and carefully down the steps to the courtyard.

Honestly, as I walked, I thought about my son. I was later than usual in picking him up. I prayed that he would be OK.

The kitten saw its mama and wanted out of my grasp. I set it down only to have the mama run off.
Had I done any good?

I had done my best. I had to leave. My son was more important than a kitten.

I got a ride to the intersection; that busy intersection which we had crossed in the morning. I was anxious to hold Mr. Boo again. Not sure if the kitten's plight made my heart hurt for my boy but I ached for him.

During the day, I've never been one to think of my kids and to miss them (since it serves no purpose). When I am free to leave work, I rush to them.

I rang the bell and waited impatiently. I wanted to see my boy. The door opened and the girls started the process which had happened many times before: she calls for Mr. Boo, another girl gets him ready, and he appears from the play area with his backpack and a smile.

This time? They couldn't find him.

I left my spot in the lobby and went to the children's area as soon as I realized that they were having trouble locating him. I understood enough of the Arabic to understand the confusion.

One girl thought he might have gone on the mini-bus with the children who get delievered home. She went to call. I told the others, in Arabic, that we needed to look room by room for him and I proceeded to go everywhere. I was looking for my son---or his body.

I realized in that moment that the dearest person in the world to me might not be alive. He might have been a 4-year-old who missed his mom and did something stupid and dangerous. I opened every door. At one point, I opened the refrigeration wondering if he could have crawled inside to hide. Once I had searched everywhere, I went to the girl in charge and told her to call the police.

I then went outside to the street. Had he walked outside? I scanned the area with its piles of rubbish, vacant buildings, mulititude of homes, tons of people, and hiding spots beyone imagination.

My mind thought of the timing. It was now asr. Soon it would be magrib and dusk. With the sun setting, we had to work quickly. What if he had gone somewhere to sit or lie down and had fallen asleep? I knew he was so tired. I feared for him. I was not, however, in a panic. To be in a panic would not benefit anyone.
I went to the kids in the street and talked to them in Arabic. I asked if they had seen my small boy who is 4-years-old. I told them his name. I asked the shopkeepers and the construction workers. No one had seen him. The girls were outside looking as well.

I called the driver and  Khalo from the neighborhood and tried to explain what had happened. It was hard for them to understand. Both of them came to the daycare and I asked them to go back to the neighborhood to look for him there. Had he walked back home? Or tried to?

I went back to the lead girl and asked where the police were. She looked guilty. I knew then that she had not called them. I told her firmly in Arabic that my son was not here and she must call the police so I could have him back.

My mouth was without any moisture. I had eaten an orange that day; nothing else. I had planned on eating a nice dinner with my son. I swallowed but couldn't. The whole time my heavy bag was on my shoulder. I grabbed for the water bottle. I hesitated for a second. My son didn't have any water---wherever he was. I felt so guilty for having what he didn't have. I forced myself to drink so I could keep asking for help in finding him. As I drank, I prayed.

Please God, let him be safe.

I went further up the road. This was the way we normally walked to and from daycare. I realized I was the detective now. I had to be; no one else was. He would feel good going this route. That realization was not comforting. This road brought him back to the busy street.

I couldn't keep going without the police. I went to a shopkeeper and asked him to call the police for me. I explained that the daycare didn't have my son and they weren't calling police and I didn't know how.
I literally had no idea how to call police. The moment hit me hard. I was in a foreign country. I had brought my small son to a foreign country and I had never asked how to call for help. Now, I had to rely on others who were scared to bring in the authorities.

I began to plead. The shopkeeper was standing there confused when a group from the school crowded around me telling me, "Malish". They wanted me to relax.  They were surrounding me and gesturing to me that I needed to calm down.

This was not possible.

I broke away from them and went back to the lead girl. I started to yell.


I started up the road away from the crowd who cared more about my vocal volume than about my son. That's when an expensive car pulled up. It was the owner of the daycare and her husband.

Were the police even called? I still don't totally understand what happened.

The owner's husband told me that my home had been checked and my son was not there.

Around the same time, a man was located in the street who said he had seen a boy who didn't look Egyptian walking by ---and he said some name. I had no idea what that was. A shop? A city? I had no idea where it was. I was told it was on further on down the busy street.

What did the boy have on? Yellow shirt, brown short pants. And his hair wasn't black; it was soft brown. 

My son.

I jumped into a car with two women. I was going there.

Like some bad comedy, the woman driving, in all her excitement, backed into the luxury car parked behind her. She really didn't care. She was going to help get my boy back. I admired her for that.

All the cars in the narrow road were coming towards us and that made moving nearly impossible. My frustration rose as I realized that this boy...hopefully my boy...was somewhere along the busiest street in Giza alone and I could not get to him.

Finally, we made it to the main street, and we needed to do a U-turn at the meridian to go in the right direction. Why had he gone that way? It was the opposite direction to home.

Alhamdulillah, he had, though, since if he had tried going the other way it would have meant crossing the street.

A taxi driver behind us yelled at the woman trying to negociate this tricky maneoever. I told the woman I wanted to get out and walk. He yelled again. She backed up so I could get out. She almost hit him. He yelled again. I talked to him in Arabic that there was a big problem and I was sorry. I jumped out and ran across the road.

There was the masjid where my son had wanted to go inside. We had spent time there just days ago. I walked up to it. I talked to the man at the enterance. Had he seen my son?


I walked out and saw the police officer standing guard next to an older police officer drinking tea.

I talked to the tea drinker, since he obviously would be of higher rank. He called on his radio and told me that they had my son. My fears did not subside immediately. No. I suspended all belief and disbelief. I could not feel anything. He told me to sit down and I said no thank you. I could not rest. The police officer told me that my son was in a car coming back to me now.

I stood there searching the road for a police car. The officer gestured at a car and told me my son was in it. In the front seat, I could see the top of a boy's head but not his face. My heart stopped. The door opened and it was my son.

I picked him up and he was so tired. He was alive. He was safe. It was so emtional for me. I held him and finally sat down and cried. I had not cried until that moment. The release of finding him was immense.

Just then the driver and Khalo came. Thank God for friends. Though the Tourist police speak English very well, there are the cutural implications a foreigner can miss. The uncle could walk me through a police interview. I was now on the street being interviewed by police. The uncle held on to my son and those strong, encircling arms made him fall asleep.

The daycare workers passed by and saw the scene. They alerted the owner's husband who arrived to do damage control. Turns out that he was distantly related to the uncle. Did I want to press charges?

Did I?

Many people in America have since told me that I should but they don't live here. I live here---alone. I am the foreign woman in this neighborhood and I don't need to burn bridges. I told them, "no". The daycare's name could be kept out of the report. So, the police report was written as if Mr. Boo had left a STREET (not from a daycare facility) and walked away to another street.

We were then taken to the police station.

In all my 41 years in America, I have never been to a police station. I spent five weeks in Egypt, and ended up at a police station. Incredble! I was very glad not to be on the wrong side of the law.

We were taken from the intake area to the captain's private office. This was a trip. It was air-conditioned and I felt that right away. There were cushy leather chairs and two TVs. One TV played the surveilance video around the station...and maybe even the jail. The other TV played a Discovery Channel program about venomous snakes. I sat there as the handsome hulk of a captain drank his tea.

The daycare owner's husband talked to him and I listened as best I could. I made sure that I was not to be blamed or investigated. I was OK. I realized that the owner's husband tried to make light of the fact that my son was gone about 30 minutes. This was not true. We were looking for him for 30 minutes. He obviously left before that.

The facts were written and I was told to sign. I wouldn't. It was all in Arabic. I asked for the uncle to come in and hear what was written. I knew he couldn't accurately translate for me but at least he could figure out if I was getting a raw deal. The captain read. I tried to listen. My sweetest love was asleep on my lap. The snakes on TV were hissing.

In the end, I signed. I was not allowed to sign in English. I signed in Arabic. They asked me to do this so the police report would not have to show up in American reports. There's a lot of image consciousness among the Tourism Police. I could only sign, "Yosra" since I don't know how to sign my last name.  I guess it's another thing to learn.

By the way, calling Egyptian police is 121 on your phone.

We left in the luxury car of the daycare owner. We were driven back. As we neared the home of the  uncle's sister, I realized that everyone along the street would see a local man, a foreign woman and a child get out of a new car and start talking. I laughed.

Sometimes, you feel like you could never laugh again---but you do. Somehow you laugh again.
My little one stayed sleeping for about three hours.

I prayed. I prayed asr. I prayed two rakhas of thanks. I prayed magrib. Every word and movement was heartfelt.

Then, I was given dinner of koshary (macaroni and lentils with garlic-tomato sauce) and a side of salad. I ate because I was so weak. I was so tired. I held my head up. Seemingly, all my energy for the day had been used up in the commotion. I didn't feel sick; just weak. I ate slowly. I knew I had to.

When my boy awoke, he could play with his little friends. I could come back to reality. I had to be with people and I had to talk. The daycare's owner called and wanted to talk. I accepted her appology. No, I did not want to see her. I needed some serious rest.

Later, I would talk to my son and ask him about his day. There had been a birthday party. Since these are wealthy families, they spare no expensive and both Barney and Spiderman had arrived in big costumes.
"I wanted to take their heads off and see who was inside," Mr. Boo told me.

The following day the photos of the party were delievered to my apartment. The owner sent a card too, saying she missed him. I looked at the photos.

There was a dazed, confused boy being held by huge characters on his first day back at daycare. I had not been told this would happen so I had not been able to prepare him. Picture after picture of Mr. Boo trying to figure out what was going on.

I do believe that the unusual day with Barney and Spiderman made him feel strange and out-of-sorts. I can only imagine that he needed me to normalize his life. He told me that he missed me and when he saw the door open a little that he left to find me. He thought he could walk to my school.

He's stayed with me at school until school started up that October. It wasn't easy doing double-duty. I had to be teacher and mom. Alhumdulillah, my boss was an understanding working mom herself.

I seriously considered if coming to Egypt was a big mistake. I wondered about my desire to provide a good life for us here. Was it possible?

I hope it is possible, inshahallah, to live here in safety and grow him up to the point where I can trust he understands the dangers. All the while, I hope to survive the process.

May Allah continue to protect us.

Chapter 21


Umm Tareq said...

Asalaam alaikum sister,

Alhamdulilah your boy is ok. I have been reading your blog for a long time, MashaAllah. I have made hijrah too, to Algeria, Alhamdulilah. I am irish with 4 kids. May Allah facilitate all your affairs, ameen.

Yosra said...

Wa Alaykom Asalam Umm Tareq,

I love your son's name :)

And I love you for commenting. We are both in this same boat, you and I, of making hijrah with our children.

I wonder how Algeria is different from what I'm writing about here in Egypt. How is it the same? Let me know if you can.

I'm a fourth Irish and I think Irish is akin to North African ;)

Ameen to your dua and may Allah protect you and your family, guide you to the best path, and reward you if not in this life, then the next. Ameen.

Anonymous said...

Asalaam alaikum,

What can I say about Algeria? Sometimes it's madness, sometimes hilarious. Its just so different to the UK. The people are sincere and even if they aren't practising Islam as they should, they feel shy if they see me, an outsider, trying to be a good muslim. Generally they are a generous and welcoming people, but they are funny! There are the "flashy" ones, both male and female, and the humble ones. Alhamdulilah there is less dunya and more deen so inshaAllah we can both benefit ourselves and our kids. Its an adventure sometimes!

Umm Aaminah said...

Salaam sis. Just stopped by your blog off-chance; subhanallah! Wallah I almost cried reading this post; I am a mother of myself and only once ALHAMDULILLAH did I ever think I might have lost one of my children. Alhamdulillah he was a bit older and it was only for 10 minutes but it was terrifying.

May Allah protect and keep you and your son and make things easy on you both, amin!

Shabana said...

OMG. ALHAMDULILLAH, he was safe and sound. If I can panic when my kids leave my line of sight among racks of clothes at Target, I can't imagine what losing him in a city must have been like. Allah was watching over your son that day, subhanAllah. You're going to have a lot of interesting stories to share with your grandchildren one day insha Allah.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom UmmAaminah,

Ameen to your du'a.

I thought it when I first read it! I just didn't post a reply for a reaaaaaaaaaally long time---sorry!

Thanks for commiserating with me. Ya, being a mom is NOT for the faint of heart.

Asalamu Alaykom Shabana,

Welcome back! Thanks for leaving so many comments. You kind of kicked me in the rear to make me respond to comments again (I got lazy). Of course I had to acknowledge your return to the blog :)

LOL @ the Target clothes racks! HE DOES THAT TOO! Drives me nuts. No Targets here but I know I'll have to talk to him upon our return to big American stores.

Ya, what a humdinger of a day that was! It has to go down as one of the worst---no...the worst time since we've been here.

Alhumdulillah he was found by police and SAFE!

If you ask him, he'll tell you, "And they gave me a camel" meaning the little stuffed toy. I really hope he doesn't want another one!

Inshahallah, all the stories I'll have from him will have happy endings :)