Sunday, March 20, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 24 "Connected"

Asalamu Alaykom, 

These past months have been full of such immediacy that I have not been thinking much of the past.  However, I'd like to get back to writing the continuation of "Making Hijrah".

The first time I had been in Egypt, I missed my young children terribly and arranged a call to them.  We hiked it to a net cafe and I placed the call through the computer.  Headphones on, I listened as best I could to a bad connection and tried to make out what sounded like a huge problem.  What was my daughter trying to tell me? Then I lost the connection and I left the net cafe almost in tears.  I had to find out what was going on!  We bought a phone card and I called directly.  Turns out that there was only a sibling rivalry and nothing more.  The moment, however, was very upsetting as I realized how disconnected I would be from my kids were I to move to Egypt.

Fast forward to 2009.  I not only had my own laptop, I had a Magic Jack.  With this USB connection I could make and receive phone calls as if I were still in the States.  There was no more fear about losing touch.  I could interact with my kids, my mom and my friends easily.  This ability to contact freed me up from homesickness.  I knew that I was easy to reach.

On the computer, with my DSL, I could post all my pictures and my reflections of this new country.  Here's something I posted to friends that fall:

We are not alone.

You feel that in Egypt. Of course, you expect to feel that while walking the streets with millions. You know you're going to feel crushed in traffic and smushed inside a bus.

What you don't realize is that you'll feel that way in your own home.

Yes, we have many insect friends: ants, beetles, roaches, spiders, flies; you name it.
In America, I would do my best to eradicate my home from the pests. Here? I'm kinda over it.

Mr. Boo has taken to hitting the easiest target: the ants. He came to me with a handful of them.

"Look Mommy! These are our pets!"

"Honey," I had to break it to him, "you hit them, so now they're dead."

He chirped happily, "They're our dead pets!"

I had to laugh. It's all in the marketing.

And I wrote this:

I have yet to buy fresh meat in Egypt.

Today, I thought I might. I went to Ragab and Sons which is high class AND expensive. I couldn't do it. I couldn't buy it.

I almost bought meat here.

Mr. Boo and I had walked out into the street. I needed to buy an iron and along the way I eyed the butcher shops. One shop looked clean and the meat looked fresh. I stood there. I asked some questions. I walked away. I just couldn't do it.

Further down, I saw the crates of chicken. I had asked my friends before about these. Yes, you personally get to know the chickens before you choose one to die. me. I can barely handle chicken when it's wrapped up in plastic.

There kidding...fluffy bunnies on top of the crates. They were ready to get chosen as well. Egyptians eat rabbit. I never have, even when my former mother-in-law made it for the wedding feast seven years ago.

I stood and watched the scene unfold. I hope I wasn't too obnoxious standing there across the street. The daddy held the little girl on top his shoulders as the grandma picked out a fluffy bunny.

What does daddy say?

Don't know.

I took pictures and laughed nervously at the immense weirdness taking place. It's cultural. It only seems weird to me. All these Egyptians are perfectly fine with killing fluffy bunnies for food.

Grandma held a bunny by the ears and touched it all over; not petting. She was trying to figure out how much meat there was. I guess there was enough because she had it weighed. After weighing, I guess they...

well, we walked on.

I had a thought.

"Dude, maybe we could have a rabbit as a pet in Egypt."

He's been asking for a pet.

"Ya!" he sounded so happy about it.

We walked on and I felt like Mr. Boo and I could indeed rescue one fluffy bunny.

Mr. Boo had one other thought:

"And after it's a pet, we can eat it!"

Writing about these moments to my friends, I could really experience a new country and yet feel the safety of like-minded souls.  They could laugh with me and joke with me.  I could put up notes and status messages and get responses which made me feel like I still had a place in the tribe.  I might be gone but I was not forgotten.  There were people looking on line to see what the next step was in my journey.  There were people who were praying and pulling for me to succeed.

It was good that I had people back home to rely on as the first case of H1N1 had closed down the school.  Two cases were reported by the time we reached school that Sunday.  By that afternoon, there would be a third and that's all it took to be without work for two weeks.  The time off was good but it was also lonely.  I had only become close friends with one other teacher who was also new.  The two of us would update each other but neither one of us felt part of a school community.  I marvel now at the lack of support for foreign teachers; sink or swim.

If I had not had my possible husband and his family in my life I would have had virtually no one.  I relied on them during those weeks off from school.  I began to see clearer how Egyptians are nice people but they do not have friendships which surpass family relations; that is more of an American attitude.  We say in the States, "We are born into our families but we choose our friends," as a kind of tribute to who we have grouped around us.  In Egypt, it's different; family is everything and the days off are for family.

When the oldest brother's wife had her baby, I knew that would be a chance for me to go back into the matriach's home. Remember that she had barred me during Ramadan.  Ahmed and I had talked about it.  His plan was for me to return to the house during the party for the new baby with a gift.  I would be dressed chic and be pleasant, giving and forgiving.  So, together we shopped for little girlie golden hoops and together we entered back into the fold.  The sabuha, or party welcoming the new baby, was in many ways also welcoming me as a part of the family on a new level.

This time, we were a couple and no one was really allowed to disrespect my man bringing me in as his intended.  In the past, the two of us were in limbo over our intentions.  Did we really know each other well enough to consider marriage?  Was it a right decision?  Now, we knew our intention was to marry.

Even having said that, I was scared.  As great as it felt to be this man's intended bride, I wanted everything to be real.  I didn't want words without actions.  I knew that, especially as an American, I had to have the utmost of decorum surrounding our every move.  If a couple breaks up in the States without marrying it's no big deal; if it happens in Egypt it's a black mark against the girl or woman.

So there I was dancing around with the girls in the family and being watched by all the old ladies.  One pulled me aside and tried to fix me up with her son.  I couldn't say what was the real reason for me being at the house.  I had to (once again) protect the truth which didn't feel good.

It wasn't long before I cried to my Ahmed that I didn't like keeping things secretive and it didn't feel like it was real.  I pleaded with him to be real with me.  If he wasn't going to marry me, then it was better to let me go before too many people knew.  I had to remain respectable in the community.  I had never felt so strongly about this need for respectability.  I had not come to Egypt to become a Muslim girlfriend.

The whole time I could share with a few close friends what my life was like in Egypt.  I did not talk to co-workers.  I did not involve my mother very much.  I did not blog.  I kept my cards close to me.  I knew that my life was very different now from before and very few people were going to understand my current needs.

Often if a woman expresses a strong need to marry, it's taken as if she is sex-starved and needing a man's body.  That's really not what it's all about.  Please remember that Sayeda Khadijah (ra) was EXACTLY one of those women who expressed a strong need to marry.  There is so much more to marriage and the Muslimahs who are searching openly for a man know that they have many needs (not just physical).

If you can imagine, being in a country with a limited knowledge of what's being said and done and having no one check in on you on a regular basis.  You need something and you don't know where or how to get it.  It's about getting scared when the lights go out suddenly and  not having any number to call. 

With Ahmed, I had that someone to depend on.  Being protected felt wonderful.  I would give him a missed call when Mr. Boo and I sat down on the school bus and he would ring me back.  We knew where each other was.  I would give him a missed call when I returned or I would stop by the shop.  We were in each others' lives.

Every Saturday night, we would go shopping to stock up my apartment with food for the following week.  He would help with the transactions and carry the shopping bags.  My man made sure I had what I needed.

And "yes" I needed something physical, but not exactly what you think.  This man could look me in the eyes and I could look at him in return.  We could smile at each other, talk to each other and laugh with each other.  This is a Muslim country which appreciates shyness and modesty.  Meeting his gaze was a beautiful thing.  His strong masculine energy could balance my feminine energy.

Yet, we were not yet official.  Would all of this gazing, smiling, protecting, shopping truly lead to marriage? 

And in a time of national fear mongering, was H1N1 capable of killing us before we got that chance?

Chapter 25

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