Monday, August 29, 2011

When It's Best to Be Negative

It's good to stay positive in Egypt.

Actually, that's true anywhere. 

"Things in motion stay in motion," is what I constantly remind myself.  This is an especially good reminder when I'm faced with an unpleasant surprise in Egypt, which is a country full of suprises.  Those startling moments are when God is at work in our lives.  We have to stay positive and welcome those unplanned (at least not planned by us) moments.

So, here is how I sounded last week in the Personnel Office:

"No.  That's too hard.  Can't it wait until after Ramadan?  I'll faint!  I can't handle it!  Please, no.  Really.  There's got to be another way.  I already took the test!  Are you joking?"

Yes.  I forgot all about my positive thinking.  I was in shock that my school needed me to go to Cairo the next day.  I had to take yet another HIV test. 

When I did my original paperwork for my work visa, I went to Cairo and took the test.  Alhumdulillah it was negative.  I thought that was my one and only test for it.  Of course, I was happy not to ever do it again, as getting my blood drawn makes me faint.  Only since Islam, through reciting Quran during the procedure, have I been able to keep myself from losing consciousness. 

This time?  It would be in the heat of August while I was fasting.  OH MY GOD!  This was going to be a trial.  I wouldn't be able to go alone so I would have to ask my tired, fasting husband to travel with me.  Oh, and I might not have mentioned it but we don't have a car so it's public transportation all the way, baby. 

The location?  Three blocks from Tahrir Square.  Wow.  We hadn't been there since The Revolution.  I asked my hub about taking Mr. Boo. 

"It's better if we don't because he can't run if he has to."

He can'  Wow. 

My husband is not an alarmist.  He is pretty rational so that logic he was putting together in his head was a bit upsetting.  Yes, Egypt is really calm right now.  Everyone is too zoned out on the fasting to do much harm.  However, there have been troubles with Israel on the border and protests at the Isreali Embassy (including an Egyptian scaling the building and tearing their flag).  Anything can still happen.

So, we left Mr. Boo with Uncle Mahmoud (score a point for the family house) and headed for Cairo.

Everything is now another "first" for me.  It was my first ride in a microbus since America.  My first ride in a city bus since America.  My first clutching of my husband's leg as the city bus darted rapidly through traffic.  I thought I was going to be sick and he actually told the driver to take care.

Off the bus and on to the Metro.  This is the subway system.  It is a nice change from the streets.  The only problem is the crowded cars.  There are cars for women only but when traveling as a couple you can't really split up to ride seperately.  I have to ride in the car with the men.  My husband stands in back of me.

Rule of Thumb  Always put your man BEHIND you in a crowd.  Don't have him go infront of you because he can't readily protect you.  I know, you think him going first would be the gallant ideal but it doesn't really serve the purpose like watching your back.

Mashahallah, it's such a civil place really.  So many men were reading their pocket-sized Qurans.  Others had their prayer beads.  I was offered a seat at the next stop.  I mean...alhumdulillah it's Egypt at Ramadan.  I get a little scared when we go through the tunnels (and my husband likes to tease me about it) but truly if I were to die amongst believers in such a way I would be blessed.

So, we exit the Metro and head up the stairs to a place I used to know well; Tahrir Square.  It was an important place for me the first year here.  I would come for paperwork to get done.  I would go to the American University of Cairo's Bookstore.  Twice I went to the Cairo Museum.  It was where I cried that my husband and I might not have naseeb in order to get married and later where I walked after we were pronounced, "husband and wife".

Since that time, I lost touch with that former vision of Tahrir.  I saw the place only on TV and in photos.  It was a center of chaos, frenzy, signs of change, anger, group unity, mass prayer, fighting, camping out for social justice, throngs of unheard citizens and of freedom.  It was the place where Anderson Cooper couldn't last, where the horses and camels came parading through and where (astragferallah) a sexual assault took place.  How could one place contain so much?  It was as if it had swelled in those weeks in order to hold it all.

Now, it was back to a kind of normal, though nothing is totally normal in Egypt since the Revolution.  More vendors selling patriot items.  We bought a 3 LE flag for Mr. Boo.  He'd been wanting one and I can't think of a more appropriate place to purchase one. 

It was time for the test, however, so we walked on.  I had to get it done and get out of the sun before it did us in.  I walked past the AUC Bookstore and saw it was locked up.  I saw the tank and the man with the gun watching us all.  There were many men guarding the Minister of the Interior's compound as I walked past.  This was different.  So many men working to keep the peace.  I wondered if just one of them could take a moment to clean the large pile of dirt blocking the sidewalk.

The test itself didn't go badly.  I survived.  I was a total baby.  Didn't watch.  Recited Surah At-Tin into my husband's shoulder.  They weren't going to give me a band-aid LOL until I requested one.  Good thing I wasn't expecting a lollipop.

They told me, "Not until after Eid," but since my work permit expires on the 31 of this month, I had to talk to a supervisor about it.  No one in Egypt wants to push themselves at work during Ramadan.  You have to give them a good reason why they should exert effort.  I politely pleaded my case and was told that they'd have the results by Sunday.  Alhumdulillah and God bless that lady for being so easy.

Off we went into the sunshine.  All of a sudden, it was like we were on a date.  There was no more agenda to check and no child to wrangle.  We were free!  Alhumdulillah, we had not been out alone together since I got back to Egypt.  I hadn't realized it.  Truly, what a blessing.  I thought of how I had protested the trip and thanked Allah for always, always, always knowing better than me.

We walked around to make sense of the place we knew before, the place we had seen on TV and to the place we were in now.  There was the circle of grass rising up on the mound and stationed at regular intervals were army soldiers dressed in black and in full riot gear.  God bless them.  That's some tough job while you're fasting in the hot sun.  Six more trucks full of soldiers were stationed by the Hardees.  It's weird to see the change.  And it's unsettling to think of how all those lives could change in an instant.

We walked on.  We'd never been down that particular street and it took us to a wonderful bookstore:  Shorouk on Harb Square.  My husband is not a big reader (though he's trying to finish the Quran as I write this) but he indulges me and my love for books.  Subhanallah that is so kind of him.

I found this great book for kids:

The Life of Muhammad
(may the blessing and peace of God be upon him)
in Twenty Stories

Okay, the truth is that it's written for kids but also for all of us who want an innocent heart.  It was such a great find.  I've been reading the stories at bedtime and my son has really been enjoying them.  Each story is from the perspective of something (animal, plant or rock) which was there at the time witnessing history.  For instance, the first story is from the elephant from Abyssinia who would not crush The Kabba. 

I also bought six simple story books in Arabic for my husband to read to Mr. Boo in order to increase language ability as he heads into grade one.  Each page has about three lines which is good for early readers.  I don't expect my son to learn to read Arabic right now but to gradually understand its importance in his life.

I resisted getting a book about the signs of Tahrir.  It was 90 LE and we were starting to run low on cash. This website does something to help us remember those signs but the book captured a face and a time.  It wasn't just a sign.  It was a person with a dream for better.  Here's a flikr collection of images from The Revolution.

We had to go.  We walked towards the bus area towards the Ramses Hilton.  A country man with his fruit was too hard to resist.  We bought peaches, plums and pomegranet.  Heavy but heavenly!

In the end, it had been a good day.  Alhumdulillah.

Alhumdulillah, my husband cheerfully picked up the results yesterday.  Him seeing the paper in his hand relieved some doubts.  Maybe me too.  The year before, it had been the lawyer picking it up and only telling us on the phone that everything was fine.  This year we are positive that I am negative...we are both negative and intend on staying that way inshahallah.

One last thing:  while my husband was processing the paperwork, the government office told him that it was time for a new ID card.  He needed one to state that he is married.  Yes, he is.  He is married to me.  My name will be placed on his ID card today.  Plastic.  Plastic lasts longer than paper.  I like that.

Alhumdulillah that Allah gives us what we need...not just what we want.

May Allah accept your fasting and prayers today.  May Allah increase your level of iman.  May Allah soothe your worries and reward you for your patience.  And may all of us go to Mecca and meet again in Jennah. 


Asma Khan said...

Hmmm nice sharing... :)
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Umm Aaminah said...

Salaam sis love reading about your adventures in Misr. :-)

Ma salaama...

Anisah said...

How often do you have to do this? Are you sponsored by your husband? When I was in Amman, I had to do it 2 times I think. I got my residency by my husband there.


Zarina Hassem said...

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Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Asma,

Nice that you keep coming by. Do you really read the posts? I'm going to give you a quiz on the next post to see if you really do. LOL!

Eid Mubarak to you and yours.

Asalamu Alaykom Umm Aminah,

Thanks for letting me know. Often we don't know that there's going to be an adventure here...but at this point I should probably expect it, right?

Asalamu Alaykom Anisah,

Good question about the HIV testing. Every time I leave the country and come back I have to have an HIV test (because you know how risky we Americans are).

I came to Egypt with a tourist visa. I have my son (from a previous marriage) who is half Egyptian so I could have made a case for staying here because of him. I could also have stayed with a work visa. However, I do have a 3-year visa through my husband (1 year down and 2 to go). After 5 years, I can apply to stay permanently (if my understanding is correct).

Asalamu Alaykom Zarina,

Mashallah, what a pretty name and a beautiful intention from you to increase the understanding of Islam and ourselves as Muslimahs.