Saturday, February 25, 2012

Aboul Fotouh


"For us,

Islam is a way of life

adhered to by one-fifth of the world's population.

Sharia is a means whereby

justice is implemented, life is nurtured,

the common welfare is provided for,

and liberty and property are safeguarded."

This quote is from a paper written by Egyptian Presidental candidate Aboul Fotouh.  He is considered a voice for moderate Islam.  My husband went to hear him speak on Tuesday.  Late on Thursday, his car was hijacked and he was beaten.  He remains hospitalized.  Please learn about him and pray for his full recovery.  I believe we need people like him in the ummah, in Egypt and in the world.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are You Happy Now?


February: 

I wrote the words below back in November when I was sorting through feelings.  I kept it as a draft and didn't post it.  I've re-read it now and I barely remember that moment.  I had forgotten some of the details.  That's a blessing from Allah.  We do have these moments of sorting and filing away the feelings.  It's OK.  We just can't stay there.  We have to stop working through our issues, punch out on the time clock and travel back to the here and now.  We have to do the life-sustaining tasks (like the mountain of dishes) and remember that we organic beings either keep growing or we cease to exist.


Last night, I saw the video for "Closer to the Edge" by the band 30 Seconds to Mars and it really startled me.  Intersperced with the pounding beat of the band were interviews with fans.  One fan said, "Some people believe in God, I believe in music. Some people pray, I turn up the radio."  Another fan said that without music he wouldn't be able to make it through his life.  They looked so incredibly sad and alone.

That's not me.  I don't want it to be me.  I don't want that to be my family or friends.

This post used to have Michelle Branch's video, "Are You Happy Now?" accompanying it.  I've just deleted it.  I know that song is one of the reasons I couldn't find calm the day I was trying to figure things out.  I kept listening to that song and getting into the angst and staying in that upset.  One of the ironies is that the person who led me to that song was someone who is in constant chaos and confusion.  Why didn't I think of that when I put the song on loop? 

I'm not going to start the, "Music is evil," campaign.  To each his or her own.  For me?  I've got to stay away from mainstream music when I'm searching my soul.  Some music is so positive and uplifting---like this new song from our Malaysian sister Yuna.  However, I don't want to make music my God (astragferallah).  I know that I make it through my life without someone else's beat guiding my heart.

Mr. Boo just woke up and asked to watch cartoons.  He's so funny.  His first words of the day are asking to watch cartooons.  No "Good Morning".  His first words used to be, "I have an idea."

I told him it was Friday and no school today.  "I'm amazed," he said in his sleepy voice.

"Amazed?" I questioned.

"I mean I'm happy," he said.

The new sun was shining through our windows.  Baba was reading Quran.  It was quiet.

My husband and I sat together in our salon.  He agreed to learn some more English and I used Maher Zain's, "Alhumdulillah".  It worked so beautifully and felt so good to be together and remember Allah while teaching and learning.


Yes, I'm happy now too.

Enna mal osri yosra.

Today is easy.

Read on for the time when it was hard.

November:
I've been working with my six-year-old son on math. Seems like he's as bad at it as I am.


Today, the day after Thanksgiving, I realized why these milestones in 2011 are so hard.


2011
- 10
______
2001


This August it was 10 years since I met the big love of my life; my son's father. He was the one to teach me that I was special; that I was worth more than what I thought. He was the one to take me on a journey into Islam and to almost destroy my belief in it. He was the one who loved me so completely that I thought I didn't need anyone or anything but him. He gave me the most beautiful child (mashahallah) and I'm still so in awe of this boy that I don't want any more children for fear that no one else could compete.


 2011
-2006
______


This week marks five years since I was abandoned with my 14-month old baby. I kept rewriting that last sentence. Which grammatical article should I use?


"...a...baby"


"...our...baby"


I finally decided on, "...my....baby"


Yesterday was Thanksgiving and my husband really didn't spend any time with us. He didn't. He didn't understand how important it was to me. He didn't because he's never really celebrated that day. It was just another day to him.


To me? I needed someone---no...I needed him to be there for me. I don't have any family here. He's it. He's the man I've asked to stand beside me in this life. He's not the big love of my life. He is the man I do love now and I do want to keep on loving. He's the one I'm asking to love me even if I don't give him any children.


If I believed that a woman could give a man everything and she would be guaranteed respect, love and security then I would give him a baby.


"His baby."


Not, "My baby".


I've had those already.


Not, "Our baby."


I don't feel like I can believe that again.


So, I live my life and do my best find something to hold on to. I hold on to my faith like if I lost it then I would die. I hold on to that little boy like he is my heart. I try to control too much. I cry when I fail.


This week in Egypt has been impossible to control. I went in to work Sunday wishing that I wouldn't have to. I went in to work Monday and we left early. School was cancelled for kindergarten for Tuesday but I still went in to do paperwork. We left at noon. I thought nobody would send their little babies on Wednesday but they did. I had 12 in my room (including the children from the teacher who was too scared to come in). I didn't bring my first grader because he had thrown up at 3 and 5 am.  Just as well,  as we left at noon again. Crazy schedule. Crazy-not-knowing feeling rolling around in your head as you try to be in charge of little, helpless children.


And Wednesday afternoon, I wrote the following status message on Facebook,


"The violence and anger in Egypt is washing over everyone. For the first (and hopefully last) time ever, my cab driver hit me when he didn't like the 6.50 LE I gave him. He hit my arm. Alhumdulillah Mr. Boo wasn't with me."


That drew responses I didn't expect.  I thought my friends would commiserate with me.  I didn't think they'd be telling me to leave Egypt.  They slammed me with it.  My daughter did too.  So, even though I'm not Egypt's biggest fan right now, I've lost that avenue for voicing my reality.  If I speak my mind to friends then I'm given a quick cure:  LEAVE!


That's really an easy statement but in my world it seems so impossible.  I have been building a life here.  I have a new washing machine!  I know that doesn't seem to you like a reason to stay but it's a reason for me.  That washing machine is the cummulation of months of working and saving and careful planning.  I am not a tourist here.  I am a resident.  I am holding on to my life here even though I know I can't control it and it hurts.  It hurts to admit.  But I am holding on to my life here---not the washing machine per se but what it represents.  I have a new life and I've been able to find some success.


"Are you happy now?"


No.  In this moment I'm not.  I'm pouring buckets of tears.  Mr. Boo watches cartoons nearby and brings me tissues. 


"Why are you crying?"  He asks.


"Because I have too much on my mind.  It's OK, " I try to reassure him.  "Just let me cry and get it out."


My mom told me something this week which hurt me.  She didn't mean to.  She told me about the time when we said goodbye at the airport this summer.  She stood there with AbuBoo and watched us walk away through the security checkpoint and beyond. 


"I just love her spirit," is what she reports my former husband saying about me.


Allahu alim.


What do I do with that? 


He almost crushed my spirit to death. 


My current husband is accusing me today of still loving the father of my son.


What do I do with that?


5 years.


10 years.


Are you happy now?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Overweening




This is a day I'll be going in late to school.

It's OK.

I'm OK.

I'm going in late because there will be no kids.  Mr. Boo is still sleeping, whereas normally he'd be up, dressed and waiting with me and Baba on the cold street for our ride.

Yesterday, the middle and high school teens protested that they deserved a day off.  There were run-off elections in Giza and they'd been getting days off for elections.  The National school next to our American school had it off.  They felt it was unfair.  They protested.  They refused to go back to class and instead cluttered our courtyard with shouts and chants and rowdy behavior.  In effect, they were a mob.

Mob rule is a scary thing.  It is anarchy; a topsy-turvy moment when authority doesn't matter any more and feeling powerful is more important than being right.

No, it isn't right to disrespect your teachers and to disrupt the education of the elementary students.  Those loud angry voices could be heard into our classrooms as we tried to keep giving lessons.  Math was impossible for me. 

I felt the need to talk to administration and to check on the whereabouts of Mr. Boo.  It's a rush of adrenaline for sure to feel like you could make a difference in the safety of hundreds of children and especially of your own son. 

What was scary to me is that many were not taking the potential danger seriously.  The grown-ups, who like me saw the same upheavel, didn't view it the same.  Some thought it was funny to see the big kids acting like the adults they've been watching on TV for the last year.

My classroom, for the first time, was locked.  I locked the children in.  That's strange.  It wasn't something the administration told me to do.  We weren't in our official "lock down" procedure.  No, it was my gut telling me that anything could happen.  I couldn't trust the crowd of over-priviledged, over-indulged mini-men and women with big bodies and only a little in life experiences. 

I called my husband to tell him that I might need Mr. Boo picked up.  This faux-Tahrir was escalating and no one was seeming able to stop it.  I was worried that so many young people exposed to the revolution and the destruction in the streets would move their anger from the courtyard to the hallways. 

We have windows and beyond those windows we have precious little children; almost babies.  A teenager is a thoughtless creature really.  They live for the moment of excitement and die from foolishness.  I didn't want any of my children getting hurt if they started vandalizing the school.

Eventually, the regal headmistress appeared on the scene.  She kept her dignity and her composure and addressed her students.  She would speak with them individually regarding their request for a day off.  Smart.  She is very, very smart.

The danger passed.  The notices were sent home that students will have a day off.  Teachers will have an inservice day.  I'll be leaving shortly and Mr. Boo gets yet another day of interrupted learning.  My classroom will miss yet another day I've planned.

It's sad for me that so many children in Egypt  are without.  There are so many children without a decent education---let alone warm clothes and a hot meal.  What saddens me more is that these children would cry tears of joy to have even one day of learning at our school and they can't.  Yet, the ones whose parents can afford it are the same children who didn't want it.

That's the way of the world, isn't it?

Today, let's think of the ways which we ourselves are offered something so wonderful.  Maybe it's a physical thing.  Maybe it's a person; a relationship.  Maybe it's an intangible blessing from Allah.  Think what it is that someone else is living without, and even though, we ourselves are protesting against it.  We are the ones creating trouble for ourselves and others because we are overweening

May Allah protect all the children of Egypt and the parents and teachers who guide them.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Modest Methods of Birth Control


Brides-to-be are on a treadmill of choices: picking out the right dress, inviting the guests, and 

WOW!  LOOK AT THIS AWESOME CAKE!  Some happy Muslim couple got to cut into that one.

Well, those lucky ladies get so busy planing a special day that it takes someone like me to mention one more thing to arrange.

"Unless you want children right away,



you should consider how to not have them right away."

Remember, birth control is allowable in Islam.  You can wait to have children.  We are not in the "Every sperm is sacred" religion.  A husband and wife can get to know each other before starting a family.  The only birth control restrictions are that the delay can't be made permanent (tubal ligation and vasectomy are not allowable) and the delay cannot be due to fear you can't provide (since each child brings their own risq or blessings into this world). 

Recently, as a knowledgable older woman in Islam, I talked to a younger lady who is needing some straight talk to help her decide which method to use.  It will fall to her to make this major decision since we all know that men don't really care that much if a woman gets pregnant---now if it was the MAN to get pregnant and carry that baby for nine months, nurse it for two years and have the motherlode of the work raising the child...but it isn't.  It's going to be her not him to take this very seriously.

So what to tell her?

And how do I tell her the information without embarrassing either one of us?

I used a lot of analogies and some humor.

Natural Family Planning

Ovulation is the best time to conceive.  To figure out ovulation, a woman has to get to know herself better than she maybe wants to.  She has to figure out what kind of liquid she's getting ready for the swimmers.  If it's the consistency of a slippery hand sanitizer gel, then those swimmers can really get to where they're going. 




If you want to avoid having a baby nine months from now, then don't be with your husband when you are producing that gel.

If it changes to sticky, then NOPE too late and you're safe. 

Checking the consistency is only one part of the equation.  Marking the calendar or making a note on your cell phone is also a good idea. Keep track of when you had the first day of your last period  (LMP).  Here is an on-line way to track your LMP.  If you know that, then you can count about 13 to 14 days from that to find when you'll be ovulating.

The problem is that you will actually want to be with him exactly when your body is ovulating.  So you have to resist that urge to be with him.  Fighting a temptation?  And it's halal?  And it's on the other side of the bed?!  Difficult.

Read more about natural family planning here.


Withdrawl

It's totally allowable.  Even the Sahabis asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) about it and it was deemed alright IF the woman agrees beforehand.  However...



it's kind of like a drive to a beautiful garden which you've really been wanting to walk through together.  Except, when you're so close to enjoying that walk together, the man driving stops the car, gets out and goes by himself. 

Sitting in the car by yourself (knowing that you both enjoyed the ride but only he enjoyed the garden walk) isn't that much fun.

Condoms

Imagine the biggest, bulkiest down jacket you've ever worn.  Now think of your man wearing one too. 



Imagine the hug.

Yep, you're hugging! 

You just don't feel it very well.



IUD

This is a  very common method here in Egypt.  It sounds strange because it's wearing a little letter "T" inside your uterus.



 Nobody sees it and nobody feels it.  There's a copper variety (Paraguard is a popular brand name).  There's also a hormone-releasing plastic IUD (Mirena is a popular brand name for that).

My 16-month personal experience with Paraguard was disappointing.  Yes, it was good in that it did the job.  I avoided pregnancy.  I also missed out on life.  There was so much spotting that I felt like a Dalmatian!



Maybe it wouldn't bother a Non-Muslim as much but we have to stop praying and stop intercourse during those spotting incidents.  We then have to take a ghusl a special shower to denote the ending of the period.  Spotting is very confusing on issues of praying (or not), intimacy (or not), and special shower (or not).

I switched to the Mirena and have been pleased with that.  It lasts five years as opposed to Paraguard's ten but there's no spotting issue.


Birth Control Pills

It's a daily pill so it's not good for those who hate taking pills. 



It's not good for forgetful women.  You have to take it the same time every day for it to really work.

Then, there's all these side effects which women worry they are experiencing from the pill including weight gain.

"It's not the buffalo wings and pizza! 


It's the pill that's making me fat!"

For me, I tend to worry about blood clots so that increased risk makes me an insta-hypochondriac. 

That aside, it is a way to keep from getting pregnant which doesn't include something to avoid, stop or put on or put in.  It's not effective the first month so see a doctor in order to get the prescription and start taking it a month ahead.


Planning ahead is always a good thing.  While it's great that young ladies can plan a brilliant wedding day, they need to plan a wonderful life as well.  Very few other decisions will affect and impact them as greatly as becoming a mom.  When brides marry they should know if they are also starting the road to motherhood or delaying.

It's an embarrassing topic in many ways but if the Sahabi could ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) then surely it is sunnah to become knowledgable ourselves.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Not an Easy Day

This day is hard for my dear friend.



I feel her from miles away.

Truth be told, I have my own feelings as well.

On the 17th of February, 2009, her little firecracker of a girl left this world.  From Allah we come and to Allah we return.

I announced Yasmine's passing here.  It's been three years.

There was so much I didn't say.  I didn't write of my deep sadness for a soul who deserved better.  I didn't write of brushing her hair in the mornings or of eating snacks with her in the afternoon.  I didn't write of hugs and smiles and doing my best for a girl who reminded me of ...me when I was little.

She wasn't really little even though she was young.  She was so tall for her age.  People mistook her for older and expected more of her than she was able to do.  She was often reprimanded for misdeeds which a smaller child could have avoided.  She was in kindergarten when I met her and she was in first grade when she died. 

There are so many pretty pictures of this honey.  So many jaw-dropping, tear-inducing photos of her from the moment of her birth until the very week she died.  She never-ever lost that fresh bloom.  Look at her.  She was glowing. 

This is her visiting my apartment right before I moved.  She had finished soccer practice and had come over with mom and her sister to share some hamburgers and fries.  That's my Quran stand in the background. The niney-nine names of Allah are on the wall.  Both of those items moved from Florida to the Midwest and then to the Middle-east.  They survived and she did not.


It's still shocking to me that she's gone.  I've written about her many times on this blog because I'm still finding new ways to come to an understanding about her leaving us when she did and how she did.  I wrote here. 

She had been to the school's Valentine's Day party on the Friday but wasn't feeling well.  The medicine she was taking for an infection wasn't helping like it should.  When I called the next day to chat with her mom, I was alarmed to hear that Yasmine had been admitted to the hospital.  I was driving and her mom's voice was pleading with me, "Please pray for her."

Her mother wasn't Muslim.  She was my co-worker and and then my friend who would ask me about Islam.  She was married to a man from a Muslim country.  She couldn't get the sense of Islam from him.  She trusted me and would ask me.  Now she was asking me to pray for her daughter.

I did pray.  I asked others to pray.  That Sunday I wondered what was going on.  I knew how difficult a hospital stay with a child was and I prayed not just for Yasmine but for her parents to have patience and increased faith.

That Monday I woke up with a start.  It was before fajr.  I woke up with a ripping feeling in my soul.  I prayed, read Quran and decided to fast that day.  I went about sending more prayer requests when I received the news of Yasmine's passing.  She passed at the same time I had woken.

I am not proud of every moment in my life.  I'm not.  But I'll tell you that I'm proud of what I did that day.  I dropped everything and ran to my friend and her family.  Through the Supreme Grace of God, I was able to travel to her even though I had no job and no money.  I had nothing!  Yet, my failed 2008 attempt to move to Egypt included two unused plane tickets (which I used that day).  I stayed in my fast and stayed focused as I did laundry and packed.  We left that night.  I broke my fast on the plane before take-off.  I arrived late and the next day I was able to hold my friend and do what I could.

That time was precious and remains precious.  It changed many things in my life.  Here I wrote what it taught me.  The deepness of those days is so tender. 

I was there.

I was more there then I've been just about any other time in my life.

I was there because I had to be there and I had to serve God by helping others.  I felt needed and useful and faith-driven.  I was so open.  I was so strong.  I wish I could give you one moment of those days so you could understand but I wouldn't know where to start and where to stop.

Eventually, I had to fly back home.  I flew back to the cold winter and to an engagement which had ended from the distrust of me leaving.  I was so shaken by the journey home and by the icy reception that I actually had to listen to Quran through the night for fear of losing my mind.  I was no longer strong.

Later, when everything was falling apart in my life, my friend cheered me by telling me that she'd taken shahaddah.  I had always known she was my sister.  She took the shahaddah because avoiding what was good in life was no longer an option.  Previously, she had worried about giving up this or that and now none of the supposed pulls from the world mattered.  She only wanted to find peace with God because she knew that in salam she could be reunited with her sweet girl.

Months later, my friend asked me to housesit for her while she was away.  It was a chance, I felt, to go back to a place that made sense.  I flew down again that May.  I wanted some piece of what I had in February. 

It was no longer there.  I was lost and kept trying to find some way to stay but I couldn't.  That time was so painful.  I had nothing there.

I wrote of my thoughts here and here.  I wrote of how short life is and knew that I couldn't stay where I was.  I knew I had to move on and that included leaving the U.S. for Egypt. 


This year, when Mr. Boo is the same age Yasmine was, I feel more realization of the anniversary.  I feel how much promise there is in a child and how fragile all of us are.

I'm older.

I hope I'm wiser.

Inshahallah I hope that I'm better.

I'm grateful that my life intertwined with this child and with her family.  Subhanallah, I was meant to be with them for the times we've already had.  Inshahallah there will be more times ahead---both in this life and the next. 

Most sincerely, I'm going to ask once again for prayers.  If you could take a minute to center your mind and heart and send out a sense of peace and well-being into the world.  Please pray because this is a hard day for my dear friend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Stuff about Religions


I didn't write it but I will pass it along:

Taoism: Stuff happens.


Hinduism: This stuff happened before.


Buddhism: It is only the illusion of stuff happening.


Zen: What is the sound of stuff happening?


Islam: If stuff happens, it is the will of Allah.


Jehovah's Witness: Knock, knock, stuff happens.


Atheism: There is no such thing as stuff.


Agnosticism: Maybe stuff happens, maybe it doesn't.


Protestantism: Stuff won't happen if I work harder.


Catholicism: If stuff happens, I deserve it.


Judaism: Why does stuff always happen to me?


Televangelism: Send money or stuff will happen to you.


Rastafarianism: Smoke that stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two Imperfect People



Asalamu Alaykom,


                                                            
“I didn't marry you because you were perfect.

I didn't even marry you because I loved you.

I married you because you gave me a promise.

That promise made up for your faults.

And the promise I gave you made up for mine.

Two imperfect people got married

and it was the promise that made the marriage.

And when our children were growing up,

it wasn't a house that protected them;

and it wasn't our love that protected them

--it was that promise.”


― Thornton Wilder from his play, "The Skin of Our Teeth"

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Making the Cut



Go ahead and thank me.

Right now in your homes, offices, and 'net cafes utter this little phrase, "Thank you, Yosra."

I bet you want to know why.

I'll tell you!

Last night I was so down that I wrote a horribly depressing  blog entry BUT I didn't post it.  I've learned that having a blog is like owning a loaded gun.  You have to be careful if you keep either one in your house.  When you're feeling depressed you might turn to it as a permanent solution for a temporary problem.

My problem was temporary.  Alhumdulillah.  I always need the sun to come out and reassure me that life goes on.  It does.  Really.  Don't do something at night which daylight could easily wash away.  Go to bed and sleep off the upset.  Awake for fajr and pray for a better life and then let the life-giving sun appear once again.

However, in my moment of temporary upset yesterday, I did make some changes in my life.  I made some cuts.  Rather than banging my head against the wall in futility, I was the "do-er" and not the "done to".

I didn't like how I was looking.  Didn't.  I knew I needed to cover gray once again.  I don't show the world my hair but I see it and I don't like looking so old. 

Islamically, it's allowable to color your hair.  The trick for women is that you can't color it while you are menstruating; you have to wait and then make ghusl (the cleansing shower done after finishing menses or sexual activity).  If it's any other time of the month, then only make wudu beforehand.

So, I colored and I thought about getting it cut.  I have one semi-glamorous sister-in-law who goes to a salon down the street.  I keep meaning to try it out but it was Friday morning and no one would be open.  Saturday there is going to be a supposed strike throughout the nation and I really didn't know what that would mean for businesses. 

I've never gotten my hair cut in Egypt by a professional.  I keep seeing the uncovered ladies at work with cute haircuts, and when I ask where they get it done, for some reason it's always from a man. 

A man?!  Yes, for some reason in this Muslim country (or maybe it's this country with Muslims) the best stylists are men.   

Well, one co-worker was too embarrassed to tell me who cuts her hair so she answered, "It's a non-woman."

So once again I found myself trimming my own hair.  Thanks to my previous pets who allowed me to trim them and gain experience in cutting hair.  Later, when money was short, I would cut my then-husband's hair and my kids' hair as well.  Actually, it looked okay, alhumdulillah. 

Yesterday, I cut about three inches off my length and angled the front.  I know that husbands always ALWAYS imagine a wife with long hair; a kind of Rapunsel as their damsel in dis-tress(es).  For them, length matters.  In actuality, all that hair weighs down a woman with unwanted days already done.  Getting a hair cut means eliminating what is dead and no longer serves us. 


As the day wore on, I realized that I would be needing to cut more than my hair. 

First, it was my daughter using Facebook to communicate her lack of desire to communicate.  She and I had been trading messages of fun, laughter and love all week only to have her clobber me at the end.  No, I was not really her mother since I left her.  She would not be taking my phone call on Saturday.

The Bible and the Quran are full of parents who needed to be seperated from their children.  It's a sacrifice for sure.  I'm not saying that I am on par with a mother putting her baby boy in the bullrushes, but I am a mother who did the best she could at a time with nothing else made sense. 

Then, it was a simple message I posted to a co-worker in response to her comments about the changes in Egypt.  Yes, it is a fear for non-observing Muslims that Egypt is going to be more faith-led and less secular.  I wrote that I was OK with the possibility of no alcohol and some limits of decency in TV and movies.

From there, I had her list of friends address me directly about me trying to push my ideals on their country.  I really couldn't believe how quickly a group of adults could turn on someone who was different from themselves.  They let me have it. 

No, I wasn't allowed a voice in their country.  I tried to remind them that I didn't vote the Islamic parties into office.  That was their neighbors not me.

My restriction, they said, were too strict.  I corrected that restrictions on alcohol and nakedness are part of Islam not part of my personal agenda.  As a Muslim in a country which is 90% Muslim, it does make sense to use the tennets of Islam.

They felt I was being discriminatory to the non-Muslims.  On the contrary, I told them.  The Copt Christians are closer to practising Muslims than non-practising Muslims are.  I didn't have any problem with that 10%.  However, in a Democracy, the majority does rule.  If Egyptians are wanting a Democracy, then they have to adhere to that truism.  The minority, while protected, doesn't get to make decisions UNLESS they are voted in.

I thought that we had resolved the whole hot issue since a Christian woman and I had a tete-a-tete.  We were peaceful and helpful and I felt some closure.  "Agree to disagree," is a really good policy.

After dinner, I returned to working on my lesson plans only to find a horrible message attacking me.  No, I could not make remarks about Egypt since it was the country of Tarek.  "Tarek" was previously unknown to me except for his profile picture (drink in hand, arm around a cutie in a tight, short dress).  He let me know that he had the right to be "obnoxious" to me and I didn't have the right to say a thing.

I did something I shouldn't have done.  I opened my heart and poured out a day's worth of frustrations.  Really?  I've been with the Egyptian community for ten years.  I've lived here two and a half years.  My son is half Egyptian.  My husband is Egyptian.  Every day I teach the children who will be Egypt's future.  What was this man doing to contribute to Egypt?  

I told him of my choice to risk everything and move here.  He had told me that if I didn't like it here I could go to Saudi so I mentioned specifically that I chose Egypt.  It was a conscious choice.  It is my hijrah.

As I wrote I cried.  There were tears for my inability to get a professional haircut, for my daughter's refusal to take my call, and for a Facebook wall of Egyptians who refuse to accept me for who I am in their country.  I prayed isha.

When I came back to the computer, there was a second dismissive message from Tarek and then another woman telling him "Bravo!"

Yep.  Bravo for you and your freedom which doesn't allow for any voices except your own.  Bravo for you in your bubble.

Then I cut.  I cut all my comments from that thread.  I didn't want to be offering at the altar of elimination any more.

I cut that co-worker from my list of friends.  She's not my friend; she's my co-worker.

I went on to cut all my co-workers. I was especially happy to cut the co-worker who told me for years that we were friends.  We shared hugs and happiness and hardships yet only once did we manage to get together after work.  I had asked her lately if, "wallahi" we really were going to be getting together or not.  Her answer? 

"I don't mind getting together with co-workers."

Wow.

Cut!

I cut those who used to be my friends. 

I cut acquaintances. 

I cut those I love but whose presence in my life has become a drag on my spirit.  No, it doesn't feel good to have friends who are in perpetual chaos.  I am saddened to find out that their lives are sick to the point where my mind feels sick from knowing their problems.

I cut my father who never used Facebook except once in the last three years.  He used it to thank my cousins for their birthday wishes.  He didn't use it to interact with me.

I cut everyone who no longer felt good to see and I got the list down to two people.

Those two people were not my two teenagers.  It hurts to see my children on Facebook and know that they're pretending they've been raised by wolves.  Yes, I was their stay-at-home mom for six years. I  was their parent who shared custody for the next five years.  We had 11 years of togetherness.  It wasn't a perfect life when I left and it wouldn't have been a perfect life if I'd stayed.  That they don't enjoy me from afar means that we can't find a common ground on Facebook. 

Cut.

I kept only two.

In the end, I might eliminate them too.

My Face-fook experience has come to an end.  The new timelines don't feel good.  The interactions are no longer feeling warm and fuzzy.  My "friends" haven't really been friends.

I needed to cut that out of my life and grow some new experiences which don't hurt.  I realize that every moment of being alive is a bit of a pain but we don't have to return time and again to that which no longer serves us. 

This morning, after praying fajr and reading Quran (and a very appropriate chapter it was), I could spend more time on Wayne Dyer's new book.  Please take seven minutes and 44 seconds to watch what he has to say.

I need focus on what is real. 


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Agony Aunt: Getting Over Heartbreak



In America, we had "Dear Abby" to answer personal and perplexing questions in our daily newspaper.

In England, they call those advice columnists, "Agony Aunts".  Truly it is a kind of agony to have a burning question and not know the answer.  It's often embarrassing to discuss with friends.  It's not enough of a problem to seek professional help.  Who can you turn to for help?

ME!

Okay, so I'm not a pefect fit for the job.  As William Hung so elegantly said during his American Idol audition," I have no professional training."

But I'm here.  I'll listen and I'll offer up what, inshahallah, is good advice.

Here's my first question:


Assalam-o-alaikum Yosra!

I would really appreciate if you could give me a little advice on dealing with heartbreak. 

When one wants answers but cannot get them and the pain gets too overwhelming. I know and understand that whatever Allah wills is the best for us. 

It astonishes me how people can change, not caring for the others. I'm very emotional, I guess, that makes accepting reality more difficult.

JazakAllah!!

Khaki



Wa Alaykom Asalam Khaki,

First I really want to commend you for reaching out when you are not feeling well.  Too many people are silently sad.  I do think it's better to get the upset out---not rant and rave but to speak one's mind and solve the problems of a broken heart.

A broken heart is usually the case when you've given your heart to someone who didn't deserve it in the first place.  You entrusted it to a man who didn't want it actually.  You thought he did but he didn't.  He didn't want all of you.  It's not that he changed, it's that you didn't see the truth in the first place.  If he had wanted all of you then you'd still be together.  He wanted to pick and choose parts of you to enjoy and then when he was done, he stopped.

That doesn't make him a horrible person.  He is who he is.  Find the things in him which you enjoyed and learned from and be thankful for what you had.  It wasn't everything.  If you are not together, then he is not your naseeb.

You are wanting answers and the answer is:  he is not your naseeb.  Alhumdulillah.  Keep remembering Allah at this time.  Make your heart so full of rememberance of Allah that this man actually gets pushed out of your memory.

When you make sujud, that humbling time when your head is lower than your heart, ask Allah to remove this man from your heart.  Ask Him to forgive you when you gave...though you shouldn't have.  Ask Allah to be merciful towards you for being weak with this man.  Ask Allah to make you stronger and less willing to submit to a man (because a man will never love you the way that Allah will).  Pour out your heart and empty it of all the pain and sorrow. 

Alhumdulillah, you are still here.  You are still open to love and still able to be loved.  Inshahallah you will be smarter the next time.  You will see the truth more and give away less.

Until that time, get out of the house and seek Allah in His beautiful creation.  Get close to nature and see how subhanallah amazing the clouds are, how perfect each flower petal is and how industriously the bees gather nectar.  Remember that you are a part of God's creation and He created you perfectly.  He knows each blade of grass and he knows you too.  Be comforted by knowing that, though the relationship didn't end well, you are not a mistake.  You are much loved!  God closed that door for you so another door could open.

May Allah grant our sister better than she wishes for herself.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Guest Blogger


Preparedness Pantry has me as their Guest Blogger. 

To read what I had to say about getting ready for Arab Spring in Egypt click here.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Teaching My Husband English

Before Islam, I didn't have any sisters.  Now I have so many alhumdulillah. This is not just hyperbole but a real truism.  The bond between believers is stronger than even blood relationships.  We are like spokes on the same wheel; united and each making each other stronger.

My sister Jaime, on Memoirs from Morocco, and I will be writing Sister Spoke on the first of every month inshahallah.  There will be one topic which we pick.  This month it is "Teaching My Husband English".  Both she and I will post the topic on the first and then write our own thoughts about it.  You'll be able to read each of our blogs and if you wish you can add comments or even links to your own blog entry.  Make your posting be authentically yours but then entitle it the same as the others.


Previously, I had the opportunity to marry lawyers, doctors, mechanical engineers, professors and business owners who all spoke very good English.  These men were born overseas but they had assimilated to American ways and they were adept at not only my language but the nuances of communication itself. 

I didn't marry any of them.

Instead, I married a man who spoke only a little English which matched perfectly with my little Arabic.  This was not my plan but rather God's plan.  I went along with what seemed to be my naseeb; my destiny and looked forward to acquiring that eventual hindsight.  Why would God put together two halves who were unable to understand each other?

We struggled.

Ahmed would often tell me in Arabic,

"You don't understand me."

I would chime in, "But if I understand you SAYING that I don't understand you then I DO understand you!"

We would have these long conversations which were the polar opposite of succinct.  The long and winding road led through our everday chit-chats.  We didn't often use dictionaries. We simply suffered through.  Sometimes, I would look things up on the computer to just show him a picture.

"Ahhhhhhh!"  He would get the lightbulb moment and we'd be in sync once again.

At first, I tried my teacherly approach to learning with high usage word cards.  I would drill him.  Together we'd make some sentences on the rug.  He would get some sense of English but it wasn't working as well as I had hoped.

Then, I realized that he was this smart guy but a horrible student.  He was easily distracted.  I actually talked to his eldest brother about my problems getting my husband to focus.  It was like a parent-teacher conference about the naughty boy except it was my husband!

After realizing what a troublemaker I was married to, I changed my tact.  I would not be sitting with him for a long period of time. I would do an intense 15-minute session.  I set my cell phone to go off and until that tone signalled us, my husband was committed to paying attention. 

It worked!  For someone who could not handle long stretches of study, this was a good solution.  Every day I grabbed that little bit of time.  We worked for a few weeks this way until he felt overwhelmed.  Learning a new language is overwhelming.

Sure, he had learned English in school.  All Egyptians learn English but they don't learn it conversationally.  They can conjugate and tell you about the past participle in the indefinate form but they can't speak extemporaneously to save their life.  Only the students who go to private international schools can excel on that level.  My husband was not as fortunate to have that education.

There was a moment in his life when his father was sick and unable to afford school for my husband.  It was a small amount of money.  It was probably the amount the rich parents at school spent on the birthday cake today.  Yet, for the lack of that money my husband was unable to keep attending.

God did not forget my husband.  In fact, God knew my husband's intellect was able to be challenged; that he could learn and grow.  So, God sent him an English teacher of his very own.  Me!

Yet, learning a language takes time.  It cannot just be stuffed and stuffed until all the nouns and adjectives are properly in place.  It takes years for the synapses fire correctly.  Really?  It is like building a new bridge in your man's brain.  That is no small feat!

I taught him opposites.   Those are helpful when trying to figure out what in the world each other is trying to say.  Is it big or small?  Knowing the opposites helps define.

I taught him some basic sentences like, "I have to ..."  or  "I need to..." 

I taught him polite phrases like,

"Excuse me, could you please..."

I taught him sweet words like,

"You are the light of my life."

One of the benefits to him not really having advanced English courses is that he never got the Arablish accent. Sure, he still tends to say, "Sank you" instead of "Thank you," and "peans" instead of "beans."

Yes, there was a horrible time when we invited a nice French tourist couple over for dinner and he asked,

"Would you like peans?"

 It didn't sound right.  It sounded very, very wrong.  The look on their faces was priceless and my hub corrected himself right away.  We still laugh about that to this day.

The two of us laugh alot as we learn.  Maybe I should re-emphasize that I'm learning Arabic as he's learning English.  Oh, we're not able to learn at the same time but within our day-to-day lives we are increasing our knowledge of each other's mother tongue.  We both know that it's hard to learn but it's fun.

It's fun to create our own little world.  We have more inside jokes than I think I've ever had with anyone else in my life.  We have these special word associations with people and places and things.  We use everything we've got to figure out what's going on.  I think we've even done mind reading a few times.  And that effort has deepened our connection and deepened our love and respect for each other.

Lately, I've been using a CD-ROM from Transparent English to teach him.  It's not perfect.  I like authentic language better than stilted pre-fab textbook conversations. 

"The bridge is the quickest way."

The intriguing aspect to this is that Ahmed gets to record his voice and see the results on the screen.  Did he or didn't he match his vocal pattern to the native speaker?  I can work with him to help him improve and he is seeing immediate results.  It's also good to have a male voice as his model because frankly men learning from women can get them sounding wussy (and vice versa with women learning from men sounding too butch).



There is a more I'll write later.

To tell you the honest, the news out of Port Said, Egypt is too sad to think clearly any more.  May Allah help us to think clearly in times of chaos and uncertainty.

After a day of being with small children (and a night getting over a headache...maybe those two things are somehow related), I am back.  My mother gave me some sage words of wisdom,

"Each day we have to resurrect ourselves."

So, here I am again.  Glad you're here too.




Teaching YOUR Husband
to Speak English
O     Keep the mood upbeat, quick-paced, positive and relaxed.  We all learn more when we are feeling comfortable.  Do not stress on the amount he isn't learning.  This is a process which takes time and not a product for which you can push a button and receive.

O     Saving face in Non-Western countries is extremely important.  Be careful to find quiet times alone to correct his poor pronunciation, grammar, or word choices.  Be judicious!  You want communication not annihilation.  His allowing of a subservient role (student) to your role of power (teacher) must be dealt with lovingly.  Don't take advantage of this temporary time by figuratively rapping his knuckles with the ruler.

O     Listen to his needs for learning.  Whatever it is that YOU want to teach will not be as important to him as what HE wants to learn.  Maybe he loves Clint Eastwood movies, so help him mimic a few lines.  Maybe he would love to make dawaah so teach him some phrases which can teach others about Islam.  Think of who he is and the interests he has then manipulate the material so he enjoys what he's learning.

O     Think of his actual listening audience.  If he never has much use for English except for you, then tailor your lessons to things that you two need to talk about.  Maybe the two of you have children together.  What does he need tell them?  Or maybe he would like to say a few pleasantries to your mom on the phone.  Tailor his learning to how he can immediately use it and get gratification for it. 

O     We learn best by creating areas in our memory rather than scattering information randomly.  If you are going to teach him a word or phrase, associate it to something else either by category ( like "setting the table") or by rhyme (spoon, moon, honeymoon, etc.). 

O     Don't fill his head up with spelling.  He won't be using it any time soon.  It doesn't matter how English looks.  Focus on the sounds; the phonics. 

O     In Arabic, there is no "p" so they will use "b" as a substitute.  Work with creating a soft sound with more air to acheive "p".

O     In Arabic, there is no "v" so they will substitue "f".  Work on dental placement; the top teeth are placed on the lower lip and it's a harder sound with more air. 

O     In Arabic, "th' gets substituted with "s".  Work on tongue placement.  Show how we almost bite our tongue to produce that airy consonnate cluster.

O     English teachers here confuse the NAME of the letter and the SOUND of the letter.  The name is "es" the sound is "sss".  You'll have to un-teach him saying esss-school, esss-snoopy, essss-summer.  Start with voicing "sssss and then finish the word.  Don't allow the esss-stupid mistake to continue.

O     Arabic does not have emphasis on syllables.  Each syllable gets equal weight.  When speaking in English, we usually hit the first syllable harder:  BIcycle, DOCtor, BEAUtiful.  Actually have him hit his fist in the air (using kinesthetics) as he practices that first syllable emphasis.  In compound words, it is the first word:  LAPtop, BEDspread, SUNset.

O     For English, his mouth needs to be open bigger than for Arabic.  Typically, the vowels will sound the worst unless he lowers his jaw more.  One way to help him understand is to show how we should be able to fit a height of two fingers between our lips when we speak English.  In the beginning, he might only be able to fit one.  Using a mirror a few times might help him visual this as well.

O     The vowels A, E, I, O, U are hardest for everyone to differentiate.  There's long and short; long is the actual name of the letter and short is as in: cat, egg, it/in, on/off, cut up.  Repeat those same words to help clue him in when you are learning new words.   

O     Using kinesthetics as much as possible will help words and meanings stick in his hand.  Encourage hand gestures, miming, pointing to real-life objects, or pictures (not as effective as real-life objects).  This is also helpful later when he needs to use the language as communication is not through our voices alone.

O     Do not unnaturally break down the word into slow motion letter sounds:  bah-ruh-ahhhhh-kuh.  No.  The word is one syllable and sounds like, "break".  Say it the way you normally would while you are teaching. 

O     For words with more syllables, like "family" be careful that you don't teach it as:  fam-i-ly.  It is pronounced as only two syllables:  fam-ly.  A common mistake is the word, "uncomfortable".  Foreign speakers of English tend to say it as they see it:  un-com-fort-able.  The word is actually:  un-comf-table.

O     Those long words can be hard to pronounce!  So build them up backwards:  ment, partment, Apartment.  Go back to the last successful combination if he has trouble and re-build from that moment.

O     Numbers!  They all end in the letters "ty" but do not all sound the same.  Remember to teach actual spoken sounds.  It's twen-ty, thir-dy, for-dy, fif-ty, six-ty, seven-ty, eigh-ty, nine-ty. 30 and 40 have a different second syllable than the others.

O     Past tense of -ed isn't always pronounced the same.  For exmaple, "talked" and "walked" actually take on the sound "t" at the end.

O     Teach modals.  Teach these polite ways of talking right away because it completely changes the perception people will have of your husband.  "Could you please...?"  "Would it be alright...?"  "May I...?" 

Please let me know in the comments if there is anything you think I've neglected to mention.  I can always add more.  This is not a complete list but rather just a starting point. 

Best wishes helping both your husband and your marriage.  Bilingual communication has so many benefits which will increase understanding from both sides.  May Allah reward both husband and wife for your efforts.