Friday, November 11, 2011

A Dream Deferred

Langston Hughes asked,

                      "What happens to a dream deferred?
               Does it dry up. Like a raisin in the sun?"

It's hard for me to write about this.  To write about my dream deferred is like writing an obituary of sorts.  The funny thing is that it was really my choice ultimately.  No one got in my way and prevented me.  I stopped myself.  I stopped going after my own dream.

Or maybe I woke up from my dream and decided that it wasn't really what I wanted.


Maybe I'd better go back and explain.  I have been in Egypt for over two years now.  Six months into my stay, a satellite network began to discuss the possibility of me hosting a show.  I didn't go forward on it because I had enough going on (new country, new job, new home and new marriage).

Then, this Spring, I was contacted again and the offer was made again.  Would I be interested in hosting my own show?  If I could build a show what would that include?  How would I like to project Islam to a Western, non-Muslim audience?

Obviously, I was very excited about this possibility.  It was very real.  There were meetings and proposals.  Emails went back and forth.  I met with the head of the network when he flew to Egypt.  That was all going on this Spring and I prayed about it.

Then all was quiet.  I didn't hear from anyone.  I didn't know what was going on so I went ahead with my plans to go to the U.S.  As Allah would have it, the call came after I bought tickets.  They wanted me to film all of July and August. 

I felt that I'd been in this situation once before.  Back in 2008, God had showed me the way to Egypt, but I had gotten a chance to teach in America and jumped at the offer.  That decision had been a miserable, gut-wrenching experience.  I wasn't going to do that again.  I went ahead with my plans to go for six weeks in the U.S.

When I came back, I took my camera test for the station.  It was approved and I was congratulated.  I would be the new host of their talk show.  I found this out two days before school started this fall.  It was a very chaotic time made even more crazy when my new assistant was in a car accident (alhumdulillah she was alright).

All the meetings for this project ended up being cancelled, re-scheduled, and always at times inconvenient to me and my family.  I lost sleep.  I missed meals.  I missed being with my son.  I became tired, cranky, nervous and angry.

Why, God?  Why am I doing this dawah for Islam when it takes me away from the ones I love?  Why try to talk to others about peace when it's lacking from my own life?

I was barely putting my big toe into the pool of the project and it was upsetting me greatly.  At every turn, I was fuming.  No one told me that we'd be filming on the weekend until a few days beforehand.  I didn't get those two scripts until the day before.  Oh, and there was going to be a co-host (whom I'd never met) but surely we'd get along on screen without problem---right?  I'd do my best and it felt awful.

The kicker came the day before filming.  Remember:  I was having all these emotions without even filming one show!  I went in to meet the producer again.  He handed me the two scripts he wrote (and I had to magically memorize by the next day) and he told me that his assistant would take me to the abaya shop.

"The what?"

"Abaya shop."

I tried to explain to him that my explicit understanding with the manager of the network was that I was to appear both modest and modern.  I felt it was very important to show me in clothes which looked like me; a mix of both American and Muslim.  This is the way I dress normally.  My appearance on the show was not incidental but crucial.  If I looked like I had on an Arabian costume, then I could actually repel women from Islam.

I could imagine some lady flipping channels and remarking, "I get what she's saying but just look at her!  That's not me!  If I have to dress up like that, then count me out.  I'm my own person and I have my own style, thank you very much.  I've lost myself to people or causes before.  I know who I am now and I am not changing the way I look for anyone!  I'm an American, baby!"

I told the producer that I couldn't wear an abaya on the show.  Why did they hire an American if they wanted me to dress up like a Saudi?

Look, I have no problem with what women chose to wear in their personal life.  Please don't get me wrong.  For the work of dawah, on an international satellite program, that is something to be careful about.  It was something I had written out and spoken to the station manager about a few times previously.  I thought he had heard me.

I talked with him again over the phone on that day.

"Can't you be flexible?"  He wanted to know.

"Not on this. I can not.  I'm looking at your assistant and she's wearing a modest shirt and skirt.  That is Islamically appropriate and not off-putting like an abaya.  That's what I would normally wear to work.  Why can't I wear something like that?"

"We have an agreement with this shop to use their clothes so we have to use them, " was his explanation. 

That really stuck in my craw. A financial agreement was more important to them than presenting Islam the best they could.

"Besides," he tried to reason, "they have abaya shops in America and the U.K."

I was mad.  "You haven't lived and worked in those countries and I have.  I know what a woman can wear to work and no one wears an abaya to work in mainstream America.  To show that a woman must wear an abaya in order to accept Islam will actually stop someone from coming to Islam.  I explained my reasoning a long time ago and I thought you understood.  If you don't, then I don't want to continue with anything."

I handed the phone to the stunned assistant and walked out.  She followed me out and tried to make me stay.  I didn't.  I walked.  I walked out of a TV station which wanted me to host a show.

It hurt.  It hurt to feel so close to making a dream into a reality.  It hurt to feel betrayed by someone who acted like he listened to me and agreed with me only to go 180 degrees in the other direction at the last minute.  It made me reassess the entire process.  I felt like I had wasted my time, my family's time and my life energy.

On the way home that night, I bought cranberry juice from the only store in the area that sells it.  It's like a special secret.  I bought it because it reminded me of being a little girl in the U.S. and I was desperate to connect again with good feelings.  I bought it but I didn't drink it yet.  I didn't want to drink it when I was mad.

Honestly, I didn't have time to stay mad.  I was a teacher, a mom and a wife.  I had responsibilities.  The night of the filming, I was sad to know that it wasn't me but subhanallah my son had so much homework.  I wondered who could have helped him if I hadn't been there?  No one.  I am irreplacable in his life.  They can find another clothes hanger/mouthpiece but my son needs ME and only ME.  That goes for my husband too.  He missed having his wife who had once enjoyed simple moments together.


Well, I've drunk my cranberry juice. 

The station has gotten word to me that they still want me to work with them somehow.  They still want me.  I don't know if I want them.  I am not missing the crazy chaos that they brought to my life.  I would rather have peace in my mind and my home than to have some kind of pseudo-stardom.

I realize that another woman might read this and think me ungrateful.  I had a chance.  I had an opportunity.  If I was reading this back in the States, I might have said, "Put me on a plane and I'LL DO IT!"  Yet, I have actually lived the moments and I couldn't do it.  I couldn't suck it up and endure; not if I wanted to stay me.

So, my dream dried up and that's OK.

May Allah be pleased with my decision.  If I have made the wrong decision, may Allah forgive me. 


Yosra said...

My buddy Ben placed this comment on the wrong post, so I copied it and placed it here:

As I read this post, I got a knot in my stomach. It brought back for me, vividly, my early experiences at the American TV show EXTRA. In 1994, they hired me as host but soon started to tinker with my appearance, manner of speaking, etc.

You had a lot more conviction in dealing with your TV bosses than I did with mine. I internalized a lot of their "suggestions" (directives) and told myself there was something wrong with me for not already being the guy they were imagining up. I salute you for standing your ground.

Love you.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Ben,

Love you too. Thanks for understanding. Your words mean a lot to me.

You were on your way to stardom and I'm sure those decisions to conform were made when you felt all the pressure of the dream. Besides, you were a young pup! All that hair! You were a wonderful on that show (the Robert Redford interview was choice). They were fools to push you out.

I bet that in today's world you would be working there without issue. You think?

MarieHarmony said...

Sometime we have to give up our dreams to stay true to ourselves. I admire your courage, may Allah bless you and your loved ones Yosra.

egyptchick said...

New show on TLC just started airing called "All American Muslim"...features some Lebanese families that live in Dearborn, Mich and it's a mix of Muslims ( some religious and some not so)...I think it's awesome for dawa if not for understanding or building a bridge...

I agree with your argument that wearing an abaya would seem off putting to non-Muslims considering Islam...

Hang in there!

Jaime Brown said...

salaamo alaikum,

One of my personal favorite quotes is this one:

"I'd rather dive head-first into a sea of my dreams than stand ankle-deep in the shallow end wondering 'what if?...'" --JB

It looks like you took the plunge. The difference is, the dream of yours was actually something different than the mud-puddle they presented you with. Much respect to you for putting the IMPORTANT things first--your son, your husband, and your sanity.

I guess it turns out your sea of dreams is not dried up, it's still there--your life boat is just sailing in a different direction.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

Thank you for your kind words. You're right. It actually does take courage to go forward AND courage to stop. We only think of people being courageous when they are actively persuing something. Maybe that's only in American culture---don't know. Either way, I'm always happy to hear from you. Your words and well wishes for me and my family are always grounding.

Asalamu Alaykom Egypt Chick,

OMG! You have to be my longest reader! I wonder if I should call you Egypt Hen by now. Bad joke LOL.

I read a little about that TLC show. It was mostly bad. Somehow, I think showing any kind of Muslims is better than not showing any at all. Let's show people who struggle with their faith and with their identity. Why not? There are lots of others I'm hearing comments from who think that it will give us a bad image. LOL! I think there's been enough of that to last all our lifetimes. Muslims being very human and slightly normal has got to be a step in the right direction in my opinion.

Having said all that...I haven't seen the show. If I ever do get a chance to watch it, I'll let you know :)

Asalamu Alaykom JB,

You said it well! Funny how both you and I used some water metaphors. Dreams are very watery. They do slip away like the tide. They can be deep or shallow and you can run aground. In the end, I totally agree that being an active participant in my life is better than wondering "what if" years later. I mean..."what if" makes for good stories but makes for a lousey life.

Thanks for being on the journey with me. I feel the comradery.