Sunday, February 27, 2011

Eco-Muslimah


          That's fun! 
          I just learned a new word! 



Eco-Muslimah

You know that God is working with you through the 'net when you look up "hanging plant" and two clicks later you find something spirtually uplifting.

Our family had gone out last week to pick up four plants:  a fern, a jade, an aloe vera and some kind of tree.  My husband knew that I wanted a fern hanging in the breezeway outside the bathroom and kitchen windows.  Previously, I had placed The 99 Names of Allah on the narrow ledge (don't ask how) but I wanted to see GREEN amid so much beige.  My husband (without additional prompting) set to work today to make my dream a reality.  The above photo is the result.  Alhumdulillah, I'm happy.

I wanted to show him some examples of "hanging plants" on the 'net.  Before long, I was engrossed in something else.

I read this interview with a former MTV-Europe presenter, Kristiane Backer about being, "An Eco-Muslimah". I liked where she's coming from.  My favorite idea she brought up was that Rasullulah (pbuh) was sent as a mercy to all of Allah's creation.  That means, he wasn't sent to just us humans, but as a mercy to water, plants, animals and other natural resources.

Speaking of animals, I have a Robbie Rabbit update.



We still have him! 

He's definately NOT one kilo any longer.  That bunny can chow down!  Robbie gets fresh greens delievered daily with frozen bread quarters as his nighttime treat.  He is really a very blessed bunny to live in our home free from the eventual fate of the dinner table. 

He is currently under the clothes basket.  At first, I had him on the floor only, but found out that bunnies don't just poop a lot; they pee a lot too.  In this picture, I hadn't bought the plastic tray yet to be the floor of his cage house.  25 Egyptian pounds later, he is no longer peeing on our lovely tile.

I no longer let him roam independently.  The question, "Where's the rabbit?" drove me nuts in three days flat.  You don't let a baby go freely through the house without a diaper---why let an animal?  I felt awful having a messed up house.  I mean, I didn't go through all the trouble of making a clean and comfortable home to invite in an animal to use it for its pee and poop.  So, he stays in his cage house until I let him out and immediately upon doing so he goes outside our apartment door to his bunny toilet.  Really, his bunny toilet is a corner.  Rabbits like to stand in a corner to do their business.  I'm very proud of my bun-bun!  This has reduced the amount of waste in his cage house and the amount of work I have to do.  I sweep up after him and throw soapy water on the cement steps to keep it tidy.

He does come out supervised and usually heads for the kitchen.  This is where we have his rabbit restaurant.



I've mentioned it here before that I had a very unusual pet as a child.  For years, I kind of pined away for that creature but knew that I could never keep one on my own; without the help of my father.  So, I got dogs...until Islam.  Since then, there hasn't been any pet---well, not counting the livestock on the roof.  With Robbie, I have a re-newed sense of Eco-Muslimah coming into being. 

As I start my fifth week of being a teacher without a classroom, it's good to find other ways of defining myself.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Be There



"Wherever you are, be there totally.

If you find your here and now intolerable

and it makes you unhappy,

you have three options:

remove yourself from the situation,

change it,

or accept it totally."




For many of us teachers in Egypt, tomorrow (inshahallah) is the first day to welcome back students.

I have had a very tough time with my feelings over this because my expectations and my reality didn't match.

The Eckhart Tolle quote is very good.  It's really nothing new or revolutionary.  It's simply a reminder of what we already know.

It echoes the FISH philosophy from years ago.








So, I will "be there" tomorrow.

Where will you be?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Horses of Al Haram




This morning the streets of Al Haram, Giza were filled with riderless horses.  I have never before seen so many empty saddles.  Some were sauntering through.  One herd were being driven by a man on horseback with a whip charging up behind.  "CRACK!" and the big beautiful animals would run at full gallop.

Where were they going?

Nowhere.

They had nowhere to go.

Those muscles simply had to be exercised.  They could no longer stand in their stalls waiting.

Normally, the horses would be working at the pyramids.  They would be weighted down with awestruck visitors who needed strong legs to carry them into The Land of the Dead.

Now?  There is noone.

We turned the corner and headed to the tumaya shop.  It used to be so crowded that only my husband would go in; I would have to stand outside.  To go inside has always meant getting crushed by a waiting area full of hungry men all shouting to the cooks; everyone sure that it's his turn next.

Now?  There is noone.

Streets are full of horses and restaurants are empty.

This is Egypt after the Revolution.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Back to Normal isn't Normal



Wishing backwards isn't nearly as productive as living in the now and moving forwards.

I am getting a lot of wishes from people that "things will go back to normal". 

Which normal are they referring to?

Hosni Mubarak's normal?

The undercover policeman's normal?

Yes, I miss walking out my door at night and feeling free and safe.  I miss that.  But that was my life; it wasn't the life for everyone here in Egypt.  The recent changes in Egypt were made to ensure a better life for everyone.

I pray for a better tomorrow; a new normal.

When I took a birthing class during my first pregnancy, the instructor made a very helpful comment.  "A lot of people wonder when things will return to normal after the baby comes.  Really, it never does.  It becomes a new normal."

I have not yet gone back to school.  Others have been going in to prepare for the children's return.  I've avoided it in all my clever ways.  Thank God for email and phones!  My fear is that I'll be away from home when something suddenly happens which flips the chaos switch in this country.  I'm scared that I'll be unable to get back home.

Real? 

Imagined?

I think it's a realistic fear.

Others think I'm letting fear get the best of me.  They go out, meet friends, do their shopping, enjoy time off like there's no tomorrow.

For me?  I went out yesterday for a neighborhood walk in the sun with my boy but there is a tomorrow that I think about.  I think about a country which counts on tourist dollars, euros and yen.  I think of all the people who live a hand-to-mouth existence.  When the money refuses to come to Egypt, who will pay for the food in those families?  What lengths would those people go to in order to survive?

I think about our family here.  There used to be four of us working outside the home.  Then it went down to three; two of the brothers and myself.  Now it is only Mohammed who leaves the house for his Cairo hotel shop.  Mahmoud no longer has a shop at Arkadia; there is no Arkadia.

I looked for pictures of Arkadia on the 'net yesterday; more for me than for you.  It was such a divine place.



And me?  I'm told this is the last week of staying home.

We have to return to normal.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What the World Needs Now



This is the second time I'm posting this video to my little world here. This man is one of the most peaceful people of the twentieth century. Watch him use his gentle power to dispell hate, distrust and fear. See how he just loves, loves, loves. Subhanallah. May Allah reward him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Don't Blog Angry

     What about Yosra?



This is a moment when I've got a loaded laptop in front of me and I know how to use it.

But I don't want to put bad energy of frustration and anger out onto this blog.  I created it to be a kind of garden oasis for me and others.

At the same time, I am in this strange position of being this honest person and revealing writer when others are trying to find out the truth in Egypt.

In this moment, I am really torn.  I haven't been sleeping well at night.  I stay up on the computer until 2:30 AM.  I'm monitoring the world and trying to figure it all out.  Mostly, I've figured out it's really unhealthy to stay up until 2:30 AM.

I talked last night on the phone with another teacher.  No one talks in person any more.  She recommended that I leave and fly "home" to the U.S., even if it meant showing up on my mom's doorstep with nothing.  She thinks that life is only going to get harder and even more dangerous since the tourist dollars are done.  When the money in hand is all gone, the crime and unrest will make this country unlivable.  She said that those with enough money are making preparations to go abroad.

Another friend took her kids out to the amusement park and the rides were really great because they could just go right in!

Two people I know with two totally different takes on what's happening.

Time for some Nelly Furtado and Lady Gaga.  I need some fierceness if I'm going to survive.

I've got to return back to work.  7 pm tonight I got the call to come tomorrow.  TOMORROW???  I asked for another day and now it won't be until Thursday.  I have to go in order to keep my job.

The person in charge of my job/paycheck is now cold as ice to me.  After a year and a half of being here and being exemplory, she thinks I don't understand Egyptians and don't like them.  She is mad that I said we're in a civil war here.  She refutes every bad vibe and puts on a happy face.

Well, see...I can't do that.  I don't want to get morose and depressed but I also don't want to stray from reality.  And the reality is that I do feel we are in a civil war, I am scared to stay and she has the power to fire me. 

I don't trust anyone in this world---

not her

not my mother

not my kids

not my husband

only Allah. 

It doesn't mean that I hate anyone---I don't!  But I've lived long enough to see how ties can be severed on a whim due to one sharp word.  Sad. 

I don't want to be sad here.  I really am not ready to be a martyr in any regard---not even in my emotions.  I don't do well when told, "YOU MUST," because frankly that's a red flag to me.  I fight that perception that I have to do one damn thing.  I don't.  I have freedom of will.

Having said all that, I also know from living 42 years (thank you, God) that big leaps land you in big trouble.  I like how Dr. Phil says to do the next simple step to get yourself closer to what you want.  

What do I want?  

Peace.

That's all I've wanted for the last 11 years.  I changed my entire life to go on this emotional, spiritual and physical quest for serenity.  I landed

HERE!

I f-ing landed HERE in a country tearing itself apart! 

And people are all high-fiving around the world for this great historical moment Egypt has accomplished but they aren't talking new security plans and new transportation plans and new financial plans.  They are free to switch the channel.

Am I?  Am I free to switch the channel?

I've changed so much in my life---my whole identity basically and everyone and everything around me.  Only

ONLY my sweet son remains.

Tears. 

Yep, all anger is a cover for sadness.

Anybody still reading this?  Hey, it's okay if you gave up a few lines ago.

The catharsis has come about.

May Allah continue to guide and protect my son and I. 

Why Ousting a Dictator is Like Getting a Divorce

      This summer in Cairo I found it:

      The Perfect Break-up Sweater!
      Let the world how miserable you really feel! 
      Don't wear it on your sleeve!  Wear it on your chest!


"Sometimes I tell myself that I'm better off without you
And then I have the emptiness I feel inside without you
and find a way to make it through another day. 
I need a way to find the truth within me
Accept the fact that
I love you."


Wow.

Have no fear.  I am not purchasing the sweater.  Alhumdulillah, I felt loved this Valentine's Day. 

It hasn't always been the case, in fact if you've read this blog you'll figure out I've been through divorce.  Ok, divorces.  Alhumdulillah, they made me stronger.

Infact, one thought that crossed my mind during this Egyptian Revolution is, "HEY! I made it through three divorces.  I can make it through one revolution!"

Which is why I've come up with this list of

Why Ousting a Dictator is Like Getting a Divorce


It's a really exhaustive process which makes the good act better and the bad act worse.

You don't feel like you can leave the house.  The bed feels like the safest place of all.

People who don't know your situation at all suddenly become, "experts" and talk about you ad naseam.

You run through a range of emotions; within minutes of feeling free, you feel scared about the future.

You wonder how much cash you have, if you have enough to get by and if you really should have bought that new furniture.  "How many months of food would that armoire have bought?"

You start looking around to see if there is anyone better comin down the pike---'cause there HAS to be somebody better, right?  I mean...you wouldn't get stuck in another bad situation right afterward...right?  I mean, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice---hey, he's got a Nobel Prize!

When you soften and get sentimental over the good old days, suddenly a stupid stunt (like telling you he has to talk to you at 5 pm and not arriving until almost 11 pm) reminds you why you're all done.

You worry about how it's affecting the kids.  You'd like to comfort them and tell them everything is going to be okay, but you have to convince yourself of that first.

Everybody calls you once it's over and congratulates you like it's a happy thing but you don't feel happy.

You do thank God for whatever you have (family, friends, food, peace) and feel more gratitude for less. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Message to Hosni Mubarak



Deek-ta-tor



What can I tell you?

You want to know how I feel?

Very seldom does anyone feel one emotion only. I feel many things.

Earlier today, I felt very nervous. We had to get in a bus and head to a major street so I could get another USB for this computer. The last one broke. BROKE!

I also felt nervous about the future and we stopped at a bakery to stock up on breadsticks, crackers, pretzels and biscuits. As we were picking things out, the rain began pouring down. I wondered how Tahrir protestors were holding up after getting all cold and wet.

Later, I felt hopeful that this would indeed be a night for positive change. I even got a phone call from my supervisor who happily told me that everything would soon be better; school would start on the 27th for us.

The night was spent waiting for the Deek-ta-tor's announcement. I grew impatient, as I think we all did. It's been a long two weeks. As we waited, I could laugh off some of the stress. I read:

Reasons Hosni Was Late as posted on Twitter

• You think it’s easy packing gold bullion bars into vintage Louis Vuitton luggage?

• Aiming for an Oscar for the Best Suspense Movie

• He keeps getting interrupted by Kanye West telling him that Cleopatra was the best leader of Egypt.

• Uninstalling dictator 99% complete ERROR

• Went to Egypt that was on the Fox News map

• Head got caught in the King Tut Mask.

• He saw his shadow and Egypt gets five more months of dictatorship!

• His GPS kept re-routing him around the angry mob.

• Changing Facebook relationship to “It’s complicated.”

• They have not even started building his pyramid.

And then, I checked my email and got the asked-for present from Ben. My mom, God bless her, took me to task this week for being pushy but only if you put yourself out there do you get cool stuff like this:

MY VERY OWN MOVIE TRAILER!




Okay, this time I think this really is going to work for everyone.  SORRY! if you tried it before and it wouldn't load.

I have now figured out how to post the MP3 in which you hear Hollywood's biggest voice talent pitch my imaginary movie. I wrote it completely tongue in cheek and hope you crack up like I do.

After that, it was the surprise of the evening. Sadly, our Deek-ta-tor is not stepping down. He's not even understanding the scope of the protest/revolution. He keeps calling the people in the street, "shabab" meaning youth. I've been mad at all the moms bringing babies to Tahrir---are those the youths he's talking about? Not sure...

My mom called then. I warned her. I had to be very serious. Tomorrow is another Friday. I have no idea what will happen in Egypt. I don't think it's something good but Allahu alim God knows. I warned my mom that she might not be able to reach me by phone---either because the government cuts the phone lines or because the lines are too busy. I warned her not to worry. IF the news doesn't say something about the pyramids, then we're not affected. IF the news does say something about the pyramid area, still not worry because inshahallah we're going to be holed up inside; keeping safe.

Now? I'm tired. Tired of hoping for peace.

Now? I'm OK with a fight if that's what's needed to bring about an end.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Scared as a Rabbit



Alhumdulillah I fasted yesterday and was able to get in touch with some of my core beliefs and feelings.

I am not here due to allegiance to country, to a man or to a job.  I am here in Egypt on hijrah.  I am staying here because I have allegiance to Allah.  I will stay safe but not blindly obedient to those who tell me I'm safe.  I will follow my instincts. 

Yes, I have been as scared as a rabbit.  Rabbits know how to hide and to be very, very still and infinitely quiet but they also know when to run away.  I've had to question myself about what I want to do.

Yesterday, I argued with my boss.  Usually not a smart thing to do...okay...probably never a smart thing to do.  She had told me to come into work the following day.  I refused.  Yesterday was not a day I could cope with that since I would still have to pass by tanks and soldiers in the Square.  I had not left the house for a week.  She asked if she needed to look for another teacher.  That hurt. 

"I stayed.  I didn't run away.  I've been building a life here for a year and a half," I said.

"Maybe you wanted to go home," she stated.

"This is my home!  I have no other home," I countered.

It's true.  This is my home.

My husband had gone to Cairo for the day.  He had lied and told me that he was only going to be in Giza but he had to return to Arcadia Mall--or what is left at Aracadia (which isn't much after the fire).  He was very upset at seeing the destruction himself.  People died that night.  The people who survived have to ...what do they have to do?

My boss' answer is that we have to push ourselves back to normal life.  I don't agree.  I think we need to keep following our feelings and instincts; using common sense.

"Miss," I pressed her, "two weeks ago, if I had told you that there was shooting a half a mile away from the school, you would have been very concerned.  Now, because of all that's happened you are discounting the danger."

There is still an element of danger.  We all feel like anything could happen.  So, how do you live with that? 

I think you ease back into life; no pushing.  You slowly emerge back into an outer existence.

So, today we went out for the first time as a family since Thursday, January 27.  I know everyone acts like the Revolution started on the Tuesday the 25 but it didn't impact our life until that Thursday night.  I have left the house with my husband twice but we did not feel comfortable taking my son out these past 11 days.  My little bundle of energy has been able to get outside on the roof and only to the the shop on the corner and back.

Today would be the day we'd go out. I said the prayer of protection I always say when leaving the house, "May Allah protect us from hurting anyone.  May Allah protect against anyone hurting us.  Ameen."

There was no need for the big stick. 

It felt strange to trust again.

We walked our usual route to get tumaya for breakfast.  Nothing had really changed.  Less people out.  Less cars.  The Pyramids and the Sphinx and were still closed; so are the tourist shops. 

On the way back, my husband knew I had to see more of our usual places so he took me through to the local market.  There were all the ladies in from the countryside with their produce.  We bought some zucchini.

And there was a basket of RABBITS!  I've been wanting a rabbit for my boy since last year.  I'm allergic to cats (and Islamically dogs in the house are a no-no) so this has always seemed like a good alternative. 

The funny thing is that you don't buy a pet; you buy meat.  So, the big rabbit was two kilos and around 35 LE but the little cute bunny was only 1 kilo and we paid 20 LE for it.  I know...it's silly to spend money on something which has another mouth to feed but it felt so good to buy him...her...let's say it's a him.

Robbie Rabbit!  Mr. Boo picked out the name.  That's Robbie's picture at the top of the post.  He's had a shampoo and nails clipped.  He's sitting on my lap as I type.

After all my petting and cuddling of this new pet, my husband had to ask, "Who is that pet for really?"

In many ways, this pet is for all of us.  It reconfirms that this is our home.  This is a place for love, happiness and peace.

Inshahallah.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fasting and Praying for Peace in Egypt



Asalamu Alaykom. I wish peace for you and peace for Egypt.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would fast on Mondays and Thursdays---this is sunnah. On Monday, please start your day with a fast to be better connected with The Creator and with the many Muslims who will be fasting. For us, we will go without anything to eat or drink from before sunrise to after sunset. You can check http://www.islamfinder.org/ for those times in your city. We will pray five times throughout the day.

However, you can do the fasting and prayer however you are comfortable. And please don't pray for any specific outcome. God knows best. Pray simply for PEACE.'

Oh, Allah, please help me to find peace within myself, peace in my own home,  peace in my neighborhood, peace in my city, peace in my country, peace on my continent, and peace in the world.  Ameen.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Accepting Hardship as the Pathway to Peace



It's morning.  I woke up after not being able to sleep until 1 AM. 

Last night was the first in a week that I removed my clothes and put on pajamas.  I've been sleeping in my clothes so I could be ready.  For what?  For whatever could happen.  That heightened sense of alarm makes you sick.  It depletes your adrenals.  My mom called again last night and recommended fennel tea---which I actually have on hand.

Mom keeps calling.

I called her about this revolution a week ago---when it was still more of a possibility than an actuality.  The time difference makes calling tough.  I called as soon as I could that morning.  I used all the minutes on my phone. 

Later, she would call and leave a message using my Magic Jack number (which still works for people calling in but the actual USB fell apart so I can't use it to talk to anyone).  I'm still able to retrieve those messages on my email---that is...when I'm allowed internet access by the government.  So, there were a few messages from my mom waiting for me.  The first message from her was terse and very "mom" in how she reprimanded me for calling too early and told me not to call that early again.  The second message was her not being able to reach me and worrying for our safety.  The third was very sad.  I've been able to talk to her about those messages.

"Do you understand now why I called when I did?"  I ask.

"Yes!"  She laughs, "I know now that you thought you'd lose your phone line."

"Yes, mom, and I did lose it.  So, are you sorry now you left that message?"

"YES!"

It's funny, you know...she and I weren't able to live together as adults.  After two months, I was forced to move out from her place and take my own apartment even though I wasn't able to really afford it.  When I lost my job in February of 2009, it led to me looking for work in Egypt.  I knew I could no longer live in the U.S.  I had no safety net.

Safety.

I woke to massive rounds of automatic gun fire from somewhere north of here, which is the pyramids area.  It is still going on and I don't know what's happening.  I don't know if people are dying. 

That dawning realization, as I lay in bed this morning, tied my stomach in knots.  I have felt the tension in my gut for a week.  My head can be rational and my heart can be calm but my stomach belongs to an animal who senses danger.

Normally, I ready myself for prayer the first moments I wake.  I couldn't.  I had to call my husband and hear if he and his cell phone were downstairs.  He has not slept beside me in over a week.  When I heard the ringtone, I thanked God and thought I could continue with my routine.  I couldn't.  I had to see him. 

I shed a few tears.  I was held.  I returned upstairs to prayer, Quran, my sleeping boy, and the comfort of this laptop.  I stuffed in earbuds to listen to music instead of shooting.

Soon, there will be breakfast downstairs. 

Yesterday, I had to laugh at the falafel, which they call, "tumaya" here.  My husband had gone out to retrieve the fried hummus bean patties which my son and I love.  My son had refused to eat breakfast when there was no tumaya.  So, yesterday there was tumaya.  It was the smallest tumaya I've ever seen.

I joked with my husband in Arabic "I thought you were getting tumaya not green peas!"

When he set the tumaya next to the hard-boiled egg,  I laughed harder.  It made him laugh too.  I ran and got my camera.




Alhumdulillah for laughter.

Such is the Way of the World



Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how it will grow

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time
Too fast to fold
And suddenly swallowed by signs

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically
Gonna rise up
Throw down my ace in the hole

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Night the Lights Went Out in Giza



Note:  I wondered if I should simply leave the narrative of the revolution with, "I told him my plan was to stay in Egypt.  Inshahallah." 

However, I need an outlet to express myself.  So, I'll continue to blog about what's happening from a personal perspective.  I'll leave the political perspective to others. 

Part 5

February 4, 2011

I had to check the calendar to see what the date was. I've lost complete track of time. I wondered this morning why the alarm on my mobile didn't wake me up in time to eat suhour. It's because I don't have the alarm set for Fridays.  Today would have been a day off from school. A day off? It's been a WEEK off. One week.

Wow.

I've been fasting the last two days. I have days to make up for Ramadan (women can't fast when they are menstruating and must make up those days later). The outer chaos surrounding me told me that it was a good time to find some inner peace. Yes, fasting makes me physically weaker (and less able to wield a stick at an intruder) but it also makes me spiritually stronger (and more able to handle the idea of an intruder).

Now that I have internet again, I was surprised to get not just one but three messages from someone I barely knew from my past. She was pleading for help. No, she wasn't in Egypt. She was in America---with all its freedoms. She has a home, a job, money, a car, food and so on. And yet? She wanted something from me. She felt lost. She was missing a close relationship with God.

I told my husband later, "See? If you have everything but you don't have Allah, you really have nothing and fear for your life more than any of us here. Alhumdulillah, we have our faith."

I've continued cleaning and organizing my home. A shelf in my boy's brand new amoire is being put to use to hold my school folders and teaching tools. I had kept all of that mess lined up against a wall in my salon like a demarcation of where my workstation would eventually be located. Now? I know. There will be no money for a long time and no desk for a long time. I have to make the best with what I have now. Alhumdulillah, I can work around lack and be grateful for what I do have.

Last night, what we didn't have was electricity. That was one of the most upsetting moments here at the house. I've been relying on light at night to help me feel safe. I thanked God many times for the street light which the government lovingly installed (along with pavement) this past Spring. Before then, the streets were darkened once the shops closed.

What was scary for me is that we didn't have the Quran either.  I've been relying on the Quran playing 24/7 on the radio. Whether or not you are Muslim, you have to acknowledge that the extreme breath control of someone reciting Quran does indeed help you find your own calm.

All of a sudden, the lights and Quran went out together and I almost screamed. I grabbed the wind-up flashlight from under a pile. I used it to find the candles in the kitchen. I used a large cake pan to house them all. Mr. Boo and I made it downstairs to be with the others. No one downstairs had any candles! Sometimes it amazes me how ill-prepared Egyptians can be for something that happens all the time.

Being without electricity is so normal here but this was the first time since the protests/revolution started.  My husband was calling the electric company and was being told a half an hour. I visualized attackers on their way and hurried lighting the wicks. By the time I got all the candles lit, the lights were back on.  It had only been about fifteen minutes.

Alhumdulillah.

Oh, Allah!  You alone are our light in the darkness.  Forgive us for fearing anything but your displeasure.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mr. J's "Escape from Cairo"


This was written by my former co-worker, Mr. J about how he left town:

Well, as everyone now knows, things have gone all to hell in Egypt. Before I tell you our heroic tale, let me make the point that the Egyptian people are very nice and kindhearted people who treated us very well while we lived in their country. In dire times, both the best and worst sorts of people rise to prominence, and this story has examples of both.

We had been keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt for a while. After the bombing of a church in Alexandria and the shootings of some Coptic Christians on a train, I had begun to feel nervous about the situation in Egypt. My spidey-sense was tingling. However, we were assured by everyone we knew in Egypt that things were ok and not to worry. Then January 25th came. January 25th is known as Police Day in Egypt, a holiday to celebrate the men in uniform. However, the police had become a symbol of oppression and corruption in Egypt. After the uprising in Tunisia, the Egyptian people felt emboldened enough to try and make a change of their own.

When the protests began, I was a little worried. Jessica and I talked about what would need to happen to signal to us it was time to go. We had watched the news on the Internet rather than on TV, and though things looked sketchy, it didn't seem overly dangerous. Then, on Friday, the Internet was cut off. As we turned on CNN, we saw things escalating before our eyes. We watched, more concerned, but still not feeling that we needed to evacuate soon. However, a headline came that changed it all for us...

"Delta Airlines is canceling flights into and out of Cairo tomorrow."

Oh dear. We knew then it was time to get out. We packed in an incredibly short time, in no small part to my wife's expertise as a packer. I asked a man who lives in our building, a Christian man, who was a taxi driver if he could take us to the airport the next morning. He agreed and I was relieved. My greatest fear about getting out was getting to the airport safely.

I didn't sleep at all that night, and Jess barely slept. It was the first time in my life that I felt really powerless to take care of my family. Luckily, the looting hadn't started by then and we made it through the night without incident.

In the morning, we packed our bags in the cab and went. As we drove, we passed central Cairo to the west and could see smoke rising from the city. Army vehicles were along the road, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic. We got to the airport and I rushed to the ticket counter, leaving Jess and Sammi to wait in the taxi.

I have to admit, I was very aggressive in the ticket office. I had it in my mind that there might be only a few tickets left and that my family's life and well-being might depend on me getting them. I cut in front of slow people and pushed when I had to (which is normal in Egypt, but I was ridiculous) but I got to the front of the line. I made a reservation but learned that you had to pay in cash!! I didn't have enough cash on me to pay for the whole trip to Canada or the States, so I made the reservation and ran downstairs to try and take out the few extra pounds I needed. The bank machine wasn't working. Damn.

I ran back outside and got Jess and Sammi. The cab driver refused to take any money from me. What a guy. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what he did for my family. As we went back inside, Jessica suggested that we just fly anywhere instead of all the way back. In the next city, we could use our credit card to get out. Good idea! I pushed my way back into the ticket office (imagine cutting in front of a mob of about 60 people, good thing I'm big and strong!). When I got inside, the people at the counter told me there are no tickets left! Oh no! However, my Stewart brain kicked in and I knew what I had to do. I passed a guard some money and said, "I need a ticket." He nodded, pocketed the bribe and pointed me to another counter.
The lady at the counter was refusing to help anyone but the guard pulled me to the front and told the lady something in Arabic. She used my old reservation to get me a spot on a flight leaving for London. I had enough to pay for all three of us. I was more than willing to stay behind and send Sammi and Jess on without me if I had to, but thankfully I didn't. I had the tickets!

Next, we checked in and got to our gate. Our plane was supposed to leave at 1:30. We waited. 12;40 came and people started to line up. Next came the announcement that our flight was delayed. Great. After waiting another hour or so, we hear again that the flight is delayed, but no explanation. A group of 5 of us men, myself included, started to make some waves. We wanted to know what was going on. If the flight got canceled, there was a good chance we might not get on a flight the next day either! We came to find out that the reason for the delay was... get this... there wasn't any catering on the plane!?!?! What the hell?? Our group demanded to speak to a manager. By the time he got there, we were about 5 hours delayed. Pilots can only stay on the plane for 10 hours. If we waited much longer, the flight would be canceled. We talked to a manager finally and he said he couldn't do anything, if there is no food, the plane cannot fly. Great. But, again, my Stewart brain kicked in. We took up a little collection and handed the man some money. Within 5 minutes (no kidding) food was going on the plane. We were told to board! Huzzah!!

I can't describe the relief I felt as that plane took off, getting my family and I out of Egypt safely.

The rest of the story consists of mysteriously canceled tickets in London, misplaced baggage in Toronto, and a bag not arriving in Rochester, but, as annoying as those might be, I don't care. My family is safe and there are lots of people right now, stuck in the airport in Cairo or sealed inside their homes, living in fear. I can't complain at all.

Thanks, everyone, for all your thoughts and prayers. I can honestly say that we were never in any real danger since we decided to leave before the really bad stuff started happening. It means a lot to us that you were so concerned. But don't worry, we are moving back to Canada now, so barring an attack from America or Alien Invasion, we ought to be pretty safe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution




Part 1

I had to leave the house.  Our lives depended on it. 

In the past, I've been scared to leave the house---that was in America, where I was often harassed for wearing hejab.  Here, in Egypt, I've felt so safe.  To a person, every single American living here has always said the same thing, "I feel safer walking in the streets here than I feel in America."

I had thought the feeling of safety here was due to the people of faith coming together for the common good.  I mean both Muslims and Copt Christians in that statement.  All were, in my estimation, creating a civil society.

All that changed last week.  What I didn't realize was that some very real sources of evil were waiting for a door to crack open.  The protests of Tuesday began the process. 

The protests  against totalitarianism and classism seemed timely---like Tunis.  School was out for that Police Day holiday but we returned the following day.  I talked with other teachers and none of us were unduly alarmed.  We all agreed that Friday's scheduled protest would be the telling day.  At that time, we all had working cell phones and internet connections.  I could go to Facebook and Blogger and post messages.  I wrote an email to my teenage son in America and told him to call my (technologically challenged) mom.  I needed everyone to know we were fine.

I thought we would be fine.  Thursday was a special day at school:  non-uniform day, January birthdays to celebrate and even a carnival outside in the stadium (organized by the high school students for local orphans).  I look back on Thursday from this new place and I almost cry for a room of innocent, happy children, dancing and laughing and eating cake.  We had famous singers with amplified music blaring through our afternoon.  I made the best out of it--as everyone has to in Egypt.  You do what you can with the constant surprises.

There was a staff meeting at 12:30 which I tried to make but couldn't.  I knew it would be about the protesting.  Already, our field trip for the week had been cancelled.  What was our principal going to announce?  I found another staff member afterwards and asked for the latest.  Turns out that nothing NOTHING at all was said in regards to the upheaval. I was shocked.

I went to the principal.  She was in a curriculum meeting.  I waited patiently.  I felt that what I had to say couldn't wait.  I was summoned over.

"Please,"  I whispered discretely,  "Talk to Mr. J.  I think he might need some reassurance.  He's shaky about staying and I can see on Facebook that all his family and friends are telling him to leave."  She said that she would and she thanked me.

I talked to my friend the art teacher on my way back to class.  Her husband was a police officer.  What did he think? 

"Oh," she tried to calm me, "It's going to get smaller not bigger.  Don't worry."

I wished that our pay envelopes had been handed out that day.  I had spent so much money the past month.  Truly, it was uncharacteristic of me to spend so much in one month.  Usually, I kept some set aside for emergencies.  I had purchased a new bedroom set for my son AND taken a trip to Luxor.  I only had 1,000 LE left.  That was around $200 USD.  It would buy us enough until the next pay---if it was soon.

Thursday night, we stayed in.  We'd gone out shopping earlier in the week.  I made sure to buy peanuts, almonds, breadsticks and crackers, oil, frozen chicken and so on.  My husband couldn't believe how much I was buying but I needed it in the house.  I needed the security of food.  I knew there was food downstairs but that was for everybody---visiting daughters and their children included.  Our food, in our house would be there to sustain us if...

If what?  If there was an unrest which disturbed the natural flow of life.  That was a realistic assessment, I thought, on that Thursday. 

Friday, my husband readied for Jummah prayer, like always.  He was more serious.  We all were.  The protests were set to return to the streets after the prayer got out.  Facebook, Google---actually every internet connection was gone. 

When he left, I tried to carry on as usual but my thoughts were with him.  While sweeping the rug from our luncheon meal, I began taking out all my pent up rage on the broom.  It broke in half!  I stared at the two halves and quickly stashed them under the stairs.  I grabbed another broom's wooden handle and replaced it secretly.

When the prayers ended, I was upstairs.  I listened for the end.  I listened for a riot.  There was none.  I heard my husband's voice downstairs.  I took in a deep breath and exhaled the tension out.  A part of me actually felt sorry for the protesters not getting a big rally as they had wished.  I went downstairs and heard on the TV that only a few hundred had been turned away from Tahir Square

I knew all the places they talked about and showed.  I've been here for a year and a half now so I've been around and made connections to Cairo.  Tahrir Square holds a big bureaucratic nightmare of a building where we went to get visa extensions.  It's across the road from the Cairo Museum on one side and from Cairo University's bookstore on the other side. 

Later, of course, as the day progressed, so did the amount of protesters.  Our concern, here in the family was for my husband's two brothers who worked downtown.  Who would go to downtown Cairo during a protest?  Ordinary working folks had to work.  So, the ones without jobs shouted in the streets while the ones with jobs struggled with protecting theirs.  We didn't want them to go.  They didn't want to go.  The look of dutiful sorrow etched on the face of Mohammed as he said goodbye to his wife and child.  While stoic practicality was on the face of Mahmoud.  Me?  I had the day off.

All of the family came over to eat that Friday.  It was a full house of daughters and grandkids.  However, we ate half-heartedly knowing that the trouble on the TV was very real for the two men.   A collective cheer went out as soon as the two men stepped in the room.  It was the most joyous we've ever been.  Alhumdulillah!  Those two men got a hero's welcome.  They ate.

Later, I'd learn that Arcadia Mall had been looted even while Mohammed had been walking through it to take Mahmoud home.  Remember that Mohammed is the father of a little toddler.  He could have just left by himself easier but he wanted to retrieve his younger brother and make sure he got out safely.  It was then that Mohammed saw the looters and the men killed by the looters.  Mahmoud was being pulled out just in time.  Mohammed told my husband what he saw and I don't know if he's been able to tell Mahmoud yet.

That night, on TV, we saw many sights of disregard, of disrespect and destruction.  For me, seeing the burning of Arcadia Mall was the saddest.  We had gone there often as a family to see Mahmoud.  It was a fun place for us to go and get a high-class, almost American experience.  Walking through the Toys R Us was this transportive experience.  It made me believe that it's a small world.  All the restaurants, all the shops and especially Mahmoud's shop flashed through my memory.  Everything was gone.  The arcade on the top floor was gone. Mr. Boo had always wanted to go to Fun Planet but I'd put it off.  Now?  It was something he could never do.  And all those jobs!  That beautiful mosaic in the atrium!  All that was burned.  For what?  Why?

Yes, the protesters got voices heard.  I'm glad that the people can be powerful shapers of their country.  However, within that group was evil; young Egyptian men who were raised by coddling mothers to feel entitled.  They destroyed what others had built and loved and protected.

The Cairo Museum looting was something which made all of us sick and fearful.  If the country's richest treasures could be stolen what hope was there for us?

I knew that this was news going out worldwide.  I felt for my mother and my teenage children in America.  I prayed that my father's Alzheimers was preventing him from remembering where I was.  The whole time I've lived here he hasn't been able to remember.  Now would be a good time to forget. 

There are various times when I can't stand my husband, but I loved him that night. He stood in front of our house all night with the proverbial big stick. He heard gunfire surrounding our area and he stayed protecting us. The other men kept watch as well. They built barricades at the main road to prevent cars from coming in. Motorcycles were turned back. Strangers were questioned and frightened away. He had no sleep. 

No one got much sleep. I had taken my son into our bedroom and slept with him behind two locked doors. Previously, I had regretted having a cave of a bedroom with no windows onto the street but now I was very happy of this. I heard the noise outside and prayed that none of the 2,000 escaped prisoners found their way to our house. That broom handle which I had broken? I kept that by the side of my bed and I was ready to beat the hell out of anyone who tried to enter. Alhumdulillah, we all made it through---and without cell phones or police. 

The next morning when the sun shone again, I hung the wash out wondering what the day would bring. There, down below was a young man talking on a phone. A PHONE!? I ran to get mine. Vodaphone was reinstated first and the others followed suit. Can you imagine a whole country without cell phones?!

When I got another phone card, the first person I called wasn't in America.  I called Mr. Boo's grandma on the coast.  She was relieved  to hear from me.  Mr. Boo's uncle, a former supply officer in the army, got on the line to ask my assessment of the situation.  Frankly, I knew nothing more than he knew.

I gave a missed call to AbuBoo in the U.S.  Despite the time difference, I thought he'd pick up.  He didn't.  When he did call back, I wanted to know if my mom had called.  She hadn't.  I tried not to get upset at people half a world away.  They didn't understand the fear I was having.  They couldn't put themselves in my place---as I could barely do that myself.

I asked him to send money.  I didn't have my January paycheck.  If I could get that, we'd be OK.  Without it?  I could only last a month---maybe two.  He hemmed and hawed and gave me excuses why he couldn't send money.

"I'm worried about our son.  It isn't right that I'm worried alone.  You need to help him out."

When I did talk to my mom, I used a 25 LE calling card to do so.  That would have lasted through a month of local calls.  I used the time to reassure her.  I was tearful to think of her sadly watching the news events unfold.  I told her that it was all in Cairo.  it was true at the time, but that night the men took to the streets with sticks and knives to guard their homes and families.

Shahd, which means Honey, was sent to our house.  Honestly, I was resentful that her family wasn't taking care of their youngest girl.  Then, I learned that her uncle had died.  It was the uncle who had been burned in a gas stove explosion, along with his wife and little girl.  The beautiful baby girl with her unusual porcelain skin and blue eyes had been so lovely that her eventual death in the hospital affected many.  Her mother had lost her mind at the time.  Understandably, the mother went to screams again.  I felt for the young boy (just a little older than my son) who had lost his baby sister, his father and now his mother to madness.  Of course, Shahd's  mom, as the boy's aunt, needed to step in and care for the two remaining survivors.  The story was a tragedy inside a tragedy.

I heard, for the first time, from my friend and supervisor.  She was in the wealthy part of town in Mohandisen.  All her jewelery, silver, antiques,and electronics made our sparse offerings look laughable.    

She told me to go to school.  No, of course there would be no classes.  It was to pick up our salary for January.  MONEY!  Oh my GOD!  I was beyond happy to hear we'd be getting paid.  I'd have thousands to weather the storm.  The catch was:  I had to leave the house and pick it up by 9 AM.

When I dressed that Saturday morning, I really didn't know if I should try to look Egyptian or American.  Which look would keep me safer?  The police were no longer in charge.  It was all army surrounding us.  Based on my husband's advice, I opted for a more American look with jeans and a long top.  As I adjusted my hejab in the mirror, I thought of the quote, "For those of you who are about to die, we salute you."  I dismissed my gallows humor.  I had to be brave...as brave as my husband.  I had to leave the house.  Our lives depended on it. 

Part 2

I thought of Queen Elizabeth II's mother who had refused to leave London during WWII.  She had said that her place was beside her husband .  Reading it years ago, it had seemed oh-so-royal.  Here, it made common sense.  You don't leave from your protector in a time of war.

Have no doubt.  Whatever you are hearing about a happy, "carnival-like atmosphere" among the protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, it is a civil war.  Even if thousands or tens of thousands gather, they are still a minority.  I knew that I would be putting us both at risk by leaving the house that morning.

Many thoughts came to me on that long walk to the school.  Women were all tucked safely inside in our neighborhood.  Only the little naughty girl with the pigtails was playing outside.  The barricades were up on the church's street.  There were the guards whom we used to pass all the time when we stayed in our first home.  I got nervous and let my husband take the lead as I followed behind.  He started to talk to the guards.

"I'm guarding my home all night and guarding the church here all day," said the big guy in Arabic.

The little guy started to speak, looked me in the eye and said in English, "Sorry,"  and then he called me by my honorary mother's title.  "I didn't recognize you."

That moment of a police officer remembering  and addressing me by name startled me.  He seemed so kind, yet who was anyone anymore?  They both advised routes to take---if we really had to go (which we did).  We said goodbye and I parted with "Allah mak"  God with you because I really did wish that Allah protected them and the church.

The walk was surreal.  Gone were the tourists.  The tourist shops had guards with anxious eyes.  We took a quiet side street.  My husband greeted a man who greeted him back by name.  It startled me again.  As much as people seemed like strangers, we did have many connections.

I saw a streetsweeper.  In Egypt, it's an actual person with a palm branch broom.  I watched her and could have almost cried.  She kept Egypt going in her simple way. 

We turned the corner and  I saw a young boy carrying a tea tray to some men plastering a brick wall.  It was such a slice of everyday life that it made me remark to my husband, "That is so Egyptian----like it used to be."

We passed by our first group of young guys.  These dudes could have been very nice for all I know but I knew who was destroying Egypt and it was young men.  I tensed up and my husband had to pull at my hand to get me to go.

Once at the main street, which we had been avoiding until now, we could see the military presence.  Never before in my life have I see so much military power in one place.  Amazing!  Restaurants closed.  The hotels were open but empty.  The Square belonged to the soldiers.  Only a few cars to trouble our crossing.  We walked right next to the soldiers.

They were so young!  They were the same age as the young guys doing the damage.  We walked hand in hand.  Normally, we don't hold hands as we walk but the only way I could carry on through that walk was with my husband's grip on me. I never asked him. He knew.  The first soldier we passed saw us and touched his gun in the holster.  No joke.  No false move.  Tank after tank of young guys with guns.

My husband said that it all made him feel safe.  For me?  I felt very scared.  I saw the cars getting stopped and searched.  Though it was a long way to walk, it was taking as much time as if we were sitting in a taxi; stopped and waiting.  The only difference is that I was getting extremely close to the men protecting the Square and it was upsetting me.  I knew I had to chill or my nervousness could tip off a solider that I was suspicious.  My U.S. passport was in the bag.

Once past the line of tanks and soldiers I could let go of my husband's hand.  Really, I was embarrassed to be so fearful.  The whole country was fearful.  The only thing that kept me going was knowing that my money was waiting for me.  Except...

When we got to the school, the gatekeepers told us that there would be no money.  The banks had closed.  We had nothing.  Another co-worker had been at the gate with us.  She drove us back past the tanks, past the men with the automatic rifles just standing on the side of the road.  We weren't stopped and searched.  We got out, thanked her profusely and walked the rest of the way home.

My husband had not slept.  Neither of us had eaten.  I was dejected beyond belief.  I had failed.  All that effort for what?  It was time for us to eat before we talked.

I went to the kitchen to help with getting the food out. Mohammed's wife was in charge.  I was going to keep my mouth shut--but (if you know me at all then you know) I couldn't.  She kept the gas burning even after the pot was off and she was planning to peel and mash the boiled potatoes before returning them to the stove. I tried to tell her in Arabic, "That is money!  That gas is costing money!  Please turn it off."

She wouldn't.  She would only turn it down.  I bit my lip and helped her peel the potatoes so she could get the pot back on the stove quicker.

Then she started on the scrambled eggs for the grandma.  We already had boiled eggs on a plate ready for the table but you don't mess with the matriarch of seven kids.  A huge glop of butter was dropped in the fry pan and again I couldn't keep quiet.  When I told my sister-in-law that half a cup of butter was too much, she argued with me.  She told me that she had to cook with that much butter or the grandma would be mad  at her.  Again, I tried to tell her, "That's money!  There's no more money!"  Why didn't she understand that none of us who normally worked were bringing cash in the house?!

Instead, she rushed past me to the room of waiting men and complained to them that I had taken butter out of the pan.  They didn't have one thought to piece together between the three of them.  I was indignant. I had just risked my life to bring home money (and failed) only to have what little money was in the house wasted by carelessness. 

The grandma blew up at me for my attempts to curb eating habits.  My husband then blew up in general.  I blew up at my sister-in-law for not just keeping quiet in the kitchen.  No one enjoyed the food.  My husband didn't even eat.  I ate in anger.  The eggs cooked in butter sat swimming in fat.

Somewhere in the uproar my husband had told me that if I didn't like it here I could go to America.  I pondered why I was in this country anyway.  Why be here if I had no money and no safety and nobody understanding the need to ration and conserve? 

The phone rang and I listened, then fell into tears.

It was my supervisor again.  She apologized for the money not being there and told me that all the Americans were leaving Egypt.

Part 3

"I don't know what I'm going to do," I told her.  I was in shock. 

My husband rushed to my side and tried to find out what had happened.  I couldn't speak.  A million thoughts rushed through my head and none of them made any sense.  I had just been told to leave by my husband.  I now was being told to leave by my government.  My school was telling me there would be no money and that was the same response from AbuBoo previously.  I only had Allah.

I gathered myself together and explained the situation.  My husband tried to comfort me.  I explained without any more hysteria that I needed to pray istakkarah.  I needed to be careful.

Apparently, Mr. J had already made it out of the country with his wife and child.  I knew his emotions.  When you are an adult, you can stay longer and stay living on the edge but not when you have a child. 

I had brought my son to Egypt to give him a better life.  I was dealing with a country in turmoil, crime sprees, food shortages, lack of connection, loss of businesses, friends, and money. 

There was also the curfew to contend with.  Staying put in our house was alright because I kept myself busy.  My feeling was that the outside world was going to hell so I had to make the inside of our apartment as clean and organized as possible.  I began pulling things down from the tops of the armories.

"Why are the suitcases down?" was my husband's worry.  He thought I was leaving.

I wasn't---at least not yet.  If I did leave...could I simply go to the coast?  There was no trouble on the coast.  Maybe I could stay with AbuBoo's family.  It would cause friction...maybe even a divorce here.  I still wouldn't have any money.  Were schools open there?  Round and round I went.

I didn't feel I could go to the U.S.  There was no money to travel.  Even if I begged money from my mother, she would welcome us for a short term but not the long haul.  I couldn't leave everything here and simply be lost in America with nothing.

This wasn't about me and my man.  It wasn't.  Not having my relationship being the main focus of a life decision was a bit of a first.  I was being very practical.  Yes, I felt for him and his family and I knew they were stuck.  Was I?  Was I stuck here---with him and them?

I prayed istakkarah.  I wanted Allah to direct me.

I went back downstairs.  To add to the problems, my son was the naughtiest he'd been in a long time.  He wouldn't stop being a goof.  He wouldn't shut up.  He wouldn't settle down.  All of us wanted to hear the news on the TV and he wouldn't let us.  In hindsight, I know now that it was all too much for him but at the time, I simply couldn't cope.  Shahd, the little niece staying with us, kept staring at my every move.  I tried to reprimand my boy with everything else going on and then the grandma yelled at me.

I couldn't take it.  I yelled back.  And see...the matriarch can yell at you but you're not supposed to yell back.  Once I started yelling, I couldn't stop.  Everyone was telling me to stop and I couldn't.  It was the release of every stress I'd been accumulating.  I had tried to stay calm and trust Allah and it just wasn't working any more.  My husband hit me in my arm.  Everyone had lost their minds.  Really. 

I decided I could leave.  I could pack only our passports and my camera and go.  I got my son dressed and headed for the door.  The family tried to stop me.  I resisted them.  I thought I could go to my friend's house down the street and leave for the coast after that.  I thought that I didn't have to stay in a crazy country with crazy people.

They locked the door and wouldn't let me leave.  The friction was still there but so was the love.  They cared about us and feared for our safety.  It was terrifying to stay and terrifying to leave.  I had to stay.  We had to trust.  It was not an easy decision but it was the only one I could make.

Later, I called my co-worker and learned that she'd had a meltdown too.  It was inevitable.  She had put all the important documents in a bag and talked to her husband about their plan.  They would leave if the violence in the street escalated and if the food ran out. 

Why hadn't our boss called me?  My co-worker told me that the principal was under such stress in the wealthy area of Cairo.  Her house would surely be attacked by looters since it was above posh stores. 

The next day, I did get a call from my boss, who also apologized about the money not being there.  She told me that honestly she'd been in a kind of shock.  She hadn't functioned like a good employer because she simply wasn't functioning.  She had never in a million years believed that her country would fall apart.  She hadn't even stocked her pantry with food.  She had been in complete denial. 

At her house, there had been similar freak-outs among people locked together with the political revolution raging outside.  There had been upset and yelling and she advised me to find some place to be by myself and away from the others.  I valued her advice and knew she was right.  None of us were used to that much time confined together---let alone in a time of stress.

I told her that my husband was keeping the house safe but that it was so hard on him, even if the others helped.  My boss admitted that for her family the guard duty was too strenuous and so they had brought in a big burly village thug to guard her property.

I laughed and said, "Sometimes, it's hard to be married to a tough guy, but right now I sure wouldn't trade him for an intellectual."

It was true.

Little by little my husband and I patched things up.  I washed his clothes, which I had vowed never to wash (since I was working outside the home) because now he was working and I wasn't.  I made good with the family. 

I woke up to the fact that Shahd hadn't asked to come to her grandma's.  In fact, my husband confided that her disabled father might have wanted her to stay with us since he couldn't really protect her.  That was sad. 

I took Shahd up to our apartment.  We looked over a mish-mash of hand-me-down clothes which hadn't yet been on my boy and we picked out an outfit.  Then, I took care of her;  showering, shampooing, getting her dressed, brushing and braiding her hair and brushing her teeth.  I was a bit ashamed that I had not made any effort before then.  I've always loved this little girl.  Mr. Boo fosters hopes of marrying her (and having two kids--and yes, he's picked out names for them already).  I can only say, "astragferallh."  I found myself in survival mode and really fell flat in some areas.  Inshahallah, I've learned some lessons of the importance of keeping quiet, calm and helpful in times of stress.

Part 4

The following morning, I was once again at my apartment window hanging up the morning wash (with more of hubby's clothes) when I saw the grandma in the street.  Yes, she had opened the door and was determined to sweep the rubbish off the street.  The door was wide open!  Where was everybody?

I ran downstairs and had her come inside.  I found out that my husband and his brother Mahmoud had gone to the market.  Mohammed was asleep with his family in their apartment.  It was down to me to convince the grandma to stay inside.  I tried my best and went back upstairs.

Sure enough!  From my window view I saw her exit the house again.  She was going to finish her sweeping job even if it meant that criminals might kill us all.  I ran downstairs again and call for her to come in just as a group of men came walking up.  My husband might know everyone here but I don't---especially the men---so that group scared me.  I got her inside and had her come sit with me in my apartment.

When my husband returned, he brought the smallest bread I've ever seen in Egypt.  Usually, our pita bread is the size of a dinner plate.  The day after the riots, the size shrunk to the size of a salad plate.  Now, I was looking at a pita the size of a teacup saucer. 

"Alhumdulillah," was all you could say because you knew some people didn't have any bread at all. 

The grandma started baking bread later that day.  I was grateful for her work ethic.  She was not going to let her family go without good bread.  Bread is such an important symbol for Egyptians.  If you hear a person begging, they ask for bread not money.  Soon, I thought, there are going to be a lot more people begging.

I realized that I needed to request CNN a couple times a day to keep understanding the fast changes taking place.  Before then, I would listen with the rest of the family to Al Jeezera or local news ---in Arabic and what I didn't understand, I would ask for translation. That was causing stress on all sides.  This was better, although it meant having to read the schizophrenic crawl at the bottom scene go from taking about killing and looting in Cairo to "Charlie Sheen admitted to rehab."

I did have a drop in my stomach when I saw Anderson Cooper arrive in town.  The man who traveled to Indonesia after the tsunami, and Hati after the earthquake was now here.  He said that he always was flying in to the countries when everyone was trying to get out.

The idea, by the way, of the American government, "flying everybody out," is false.  The American government was flying out only the non-essential consulate staff and dependants.  It had nothing to do with us Americans living and working here.  We were on our own. 

My son's father called and I told him the truth:  times were tough.  I was trying to explain it better when the thought occurred to me:  someone else could explain this better so I asked my husband to speak to AbuBoo.  This was something huge; a real first.  Those two talked about the safety of my son.  Inshahallah, we would keep him out of harm's way.  I was proud how patient my husband was with a man he didn't particularly like.

Another night of guarding but with more calmness.  The presence of the army was helping stabilize the community.  Alhumdulillah.  My husband no longer spent every moment outside.  He would come in and get warm.  He would not, however, return to our apartment upstairs.  He kept alert downstairs no mater what.

In the morning, I got another call from my supervisor.  The money would be there.  Really!  So, we dressed quickly.  The slated pick-up time was only 20 minutes from when we got the call.  The men would only be giving out the money for one hour.  After that, there would be no money available for a long time.

My co-worker arranged to pick us up at the main road.  All we had to do was walk six blocks or so.  Those blocks had vigilante justice patrols with sticks, clubs and knives stopping cars and buses.  They were not going to let any bad guys in.  We walked on by without getting stopped whatsoever because my husband and his family are well known in this area.

After our big to-do, this was our first chance to talk.  My husband told me that he didn't like to hit my arm.  I told him I didn't like him to hit my arm either.  And I didn't like to yell and I was sorry for that.

"I'm a good man?"  He asked me in all seriousness.

"Yes," I answered.  "Very good.  I'm walking with you, yes?"  I answered in Arabic.

We crossed the main street with ease and in a way it saddened me.  There weren't enough people!  I missed the hustle and bustle at the intersection.

There was the car.  We jumped in and took off.  Check points were still in effect.  We saw others getting searched but not us, thank God.  We were able to make it to school.  The other cars there told us in advance that people and money were waiting. 

We did get our pay.  I was so relieved.  Money isn't everything but without it you can't buy anything.  Alhumdulillah for getting paid! 

It was also nice to see familiar faces and even to joke and hug with people we missed.  I learned one more American teacher had left but only to Greece and then she'd be back when school reopened.  Good plan.

When we got home, both of us could finally relax.  We would be OK.  We were done traveling to school for a while.  We were financially sound for a while.  My husband hadn't showered in days so he remedied that.  I could just lay on the bed, close my eyes and rest.  It was the first time in days that my husband had been in our apartment for more than a few minutes.  It felt almost normal.

My mom called.  She had gotten a little worried from watching the news.  We talked for an hour.  It was good to spill.  I had my boy watching a movie on the computer with earphones so he wouldn't hear a thing.

The next day, I even got my internet back. 

It almost seems normal now

...until you see on the news that the horses and camels from down the street from us in Giza arrived in the Tahrir Square and protesters tried to beat them up.  The resulting melee looked straight out of "Gone with the Wind."

...and while reading my boy his bedtime story we had to move out of his room at the front of the house and back into my windowless room because of gunfire outside somewhere.

...and my dad called.  I had not spoken with him for over a year.  He had seen the news and did worry for our safety.  He wondered what our escape plan was.

I told him that my plan was to stay in Egypt inshahallah.