Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Defining My Egypt 2013 in Images



Asalamu Alaykom,





Mosa'ab Elshamy has been photographing Egypt through out 2013 and what a year it's been.

Elshamy gave an interview in September with The New Republic which you should read first to get more background information about him and his family.

There's also an interview with the Washington Post from August 20 which was just six days after the massacre.

Time Magazine featured one of his photographs and then chose it as one of the Top 10 Best Pictures of 2013.  

That image was one of those that Elshamy used on his website as 50 of his most moving images from the year to sum up, "A Year of Broken Hopes".

Egypt is broken.  "Misr bois".  It's true and I feel it.  It's been hard to live here this year.  I've thought of leaving.  The problem is that I wouldn't just have to leave Egypt; I would have to leave home.  This is my home...our home...our family home.  So, I stay.

While I stay, I keep piecing together hopes.  Egypt isn't completely broken; it never is completely anything.  It always is a lively mix.  So, I want to offer up other photographs of Egypt---not to dispute Mosa'ab Elshamy.  What he has shown is a real side to life here.  However, there remains more to Egypt than protests and problems.

What follows are my images to sum up, 


"A Year of..."





Coming Together

This picture encapsulates so much for me.  I wrote about that day at my school's party.  It was an incredible "full circle" moment of celebrating a step up in my teaching career; my 10 years in Islam; my mutually beneficial marriage and the fact that I not only lived through my former marriage but that I could co-exist with my son's father sitting across the table from me.  I watched my biggest little love dance his heart out to Maroon 5 and I laughed when Coldplay's Paradise came on.  There was so much happening on that sunny day.  Through the Grace of God, I felt the joy of my life coming together in ways I never could have guessed.  Subhanallah.


   

Finding My Voice

This is me on Al-Nahar giving dawah for Mostafa Hosny's program Ala Tarek Allah.  Here is the whole program.  Here is only the 4-minute interview.  I do believe I have a voice in the world and this was one opportunity to explore what that sounds like.  Alhumdulillah. 




Appreciating

I am so appreciative of what I have been given here in Egypt.  This early morning moment along the Nile was beyond serene.  I never would have seen it without waking for fajr prayer.  Gifts are given to those who respond.  Our Spring vacation to Aswan was an amazing experience I will always treasure.  Alhumdulillah.



Bravery

Ya, I don't like the whole idea of entering into a tomb.  I'm not Laura Croft.  Yet, I womanned up and walked past snakes and found the hieroglyphics.  That's literal and figurative for 2013!  It's not easy to be brave but when you push yourself beyond comfort zones, you experience new levels of yourself and the world.


Quiet Joy

This colt stood next to his mama on the Cornish of Aswan.  I took the picture minutes before we left the city.  I felt this huge pull to the moment and had to take a picture.  There are many moments of quiet joy.  Some are so fleeting that no camera shutter would be fast enough.  The point is to enjoy the moment when you've got it.



Deep Faith

That's my boy and my man on their way to the Friday prayers as viewed through Ramadan decorations.  I love them very much when I see them from my window.  My faith has increased in Egypt as it could not grow anywhere else.  I know that a spirit is inner and the world is outer but my inner spirit needs a conducive connection to the outer world in order to flourish.  This Ramadan was one of the more spiritually uplifting years I've had.


Uncertainty

See how quickly a wedding party become a street fight!  That's so Egypt; we sign up for one thing and get another.  This year I stayed fluid while turmoil rose around me.  I faced the fact that I wanted to stay though I wasn't sure what this country was becoming.  I still don't know but I remain convinced that as long as God keeps us safe here then I'll keep my home here.




Redefining Friends and Family

This is my brother-in-law's apartment which took my husband eight months to prepare.  I decided not to travel alone to the U.S. this summer since my husband couldn't come.  This is the longest I've been from my mother and children but I decided that I needed peace more than family.  As fate would have it, El-Kid and I missed the wedding.

The new bride came to the house and created such problems in my life to the point that I had to bow out.   I really haven't  known how to find peace with her in my daily life. Once again, I decided that I need peace more than family.  I have made a conscious decision not to blog about these difficulties.  In the past, I would have found solace on the 'net but I need some peace in my heart instead.  It's been a huge focus of our lives but seriously we need to move on from that.




Health Improvements

Every time, I'd be on my back, staring up at a blank ceiling, I'd remark to the doctor or dentist, "You should really put something interesting on your ceiling like pictures of clouds."  Well, lo and behold, when I finally get El-Kid to the dentist, his pirate-themed room has clouds AND starfish on the ceiling.  It wasn't only the eight-year-old whose teeth were seen as we spent time and money on all our chompers.  It felt good to get real about our health.




Righteous Anger

El-Kid and I love pizza.  This is a medium pizza from Domino's in Egypt.  Ya, it's NOT the same size as a medium pizza in America.  So, I called and complained and the manager actually came to our house with the pizza pans to prove it to me that he wasn't at fault.  He was a nice guy but isn't only him.  There are some other things that I couldn't put up with this year.  If I were a man, my comments would be appreciated much more than me as a woman.  Yet, I know when I feel righteous anger.  Fair is fair and when something isn't fair then I speak up.  




Staying

There is energy in jumping up and moving on but I'm looking at conserving energy and staying put.  It's not always easy to say, "This is where I want to be," even when you don't feel it 100%.  Truth is that there's never any place on earth where you completely belong.  The task isn't to find the perfect place but to find a way to make the most of the imperfections.



Realizing
This summer's events shocked me.  I even worked on a Plan B in case I had to flee the country.  How is it that I'm still in Egypt?  I came to realize that I've always lived under Fascism here.  After all, I agree to live here under Mubarak.




Mourning the Loss

There have been many losses for me this year.  I have mourned losing the first democratically elected President of Egypt AND he was a devout Muslim.  Argh!  After losing him, I had to admit that I lost the dream of him long before June 30.  I mourned the loss of life on all sides of the barricades.  I mourned the deaths of three of my mother's friends with the last one being the most painful.



Peace

This hopeful sign of peace is something I look forward to seeing every time we ride past.  At this point, I'm OK with peace at any cost.  I'm needing it in my own life, in my home and in my country.  I have sucked it up this year and kept going.  "Keep it going," has long been my motto in Egypt.  What is the "it"?  I've figured out that the "it" is peace.  Keep peace going.




Savoring Differences

These Syrian sweets were on my list of "must tries".  I am not Egyptian.  The name, "SYRIA!" was yelled at me and scared me enough this summer to keep me home for weeks.  Once I got over it, I decided to embrace what else Egypt has to offer.  For me to live in Egypt doesn't mean that I have to only live as my Egyptian husband has lived.  I have always enjoyed differences.





Laughing at the Improbabilities

My first day of school, there wasn't going to be any school bus and the arranged taxi didn't show.  We hailed a taxi and I fumed in the backseat.  Eventually, stuck in traffic, I realized that the little fabric pocket in front of me bore the name "Popeye."  I stared at it and wondered.  It looked like a can.  Could it be his spinach can?  I was as dangerous as you can be in a Cairo taxi and reached into the fabric can.  My hand touched something and I pulled it out.  Sure enough it was spinach!  I took the picture of my find.  I was laughing and smiling at what shouldn't be but was.




Giving My Son a Life

This is from our trip to Kidzania.  For many years, we have barely survived.  Alhumdulillah, we are now in a place in our life where I'm feeling more comfortable.  I've changed my place on Maslov's Hierarchy of Needs.  Though, I always had my son's needs in my mind, I now put more of his wants.  No, we don't have to go there or see this but we do now because he wants to AND I've got the means.  Alhumdulillah.




MYOB

This is also from Kidzania.  This sign in the bathroom was defaced by some Egyptian who was so sure they had better English than the management.  Sigh...they didn't.  There's a lot of second-guessing in Egypt.  I don't need to get bogged down by everyone else's opinions.  They can mind their own business.  I also don't need to get into everybody else's life.  Whatever!  I also need to mind my own business too.


Reconnecting to My Soul

Yes, this is a really expensive avocado.  I have NO IDEA why the trees of Egypt aren't full of these yummy gems.  It's the first one I've bought here.  The new Carrefour store opened this possibility up to me.  I bought taco shells that day and made some facsimile of Mexican food.  Later, on other days of my winter break,  I made lasagna and caramel corn.  These are foods I used to make but stopped once I was here in Egypt.  It isn't about food.  It's about remembering what enlivens me.  I  have been reclaiming who I enjoy being.




Finding Beauty

There is so much beauty in Egypt.  This is a construction site covered by colorful Ramadan tent panels.  I love being surprised.  


Being a Part of the Building Process

This is the scene of two illegal restaurants being torn down.  I am a teacher.  There is a lot of tearing down, burning up, and exploding going on in Egypt but I have made a conscious decision to be part of the building process.  This is a country which needs me.




Caring and Not Caring

There's a lot going on----like this graffiti and the scribbling over of the graffiti.  I'm not needing to add my scribbles.  I'm going to use my spray paint on my old jam jar lids and turn them into the tops for spice jars.




Patience When There's No Where to Go

Look, there's a ton of traffic when I'm on the road.  There are also many days when I have to stay home due to trouble on the street.  I'm living through a vacation right now without a trip.  There's also the bigger picture of needing to stay in Egypt rather than traveling abroad.  It would be easy to feel stuck and get claustrophobic so I put coping mechanisms in place to calm myself.  My smartphone has made a huge improvement on my travel time because I can listen to Quran, music, lectures, stories, look at short videos or photos and play games.  At my place, I've improved my surroundings to the point where I don't mind staying home.  We have gotten very savvy about when to go out and when to stay in.  When we go out, we do it up big and satisfy our needs for new and exciting.  Alhumdulillah, somehow I have found some inner resolve to chill.




Continuing the Hijrah

I was sad to leave IKEA in the U.S. when I made hijrah in 2009 but here it is 2013 and IKEA came to me---with a prayer room!  While you do have to give things up, God knows what you are needing and if it's meant to come back into your life, then it will...but it will be better as recompense for giving it up in the first place.




Living Life Consciously

2013 has gone past me.  Subhanallah, it's done.  I would never want to do over one second of it because somehow it was all meant to be.  I am grateful to have lived through it and to have lived it consciously.

My mom tells me that no one in the States asks about me.  That's OK.  It's not so important to me any more what others are thinking about my life in Egypt as much as it's important what I am thinking about my life in Egypt.  What do I think?  Alhumdulillah.  I think, "Alhumdulillah."


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Yousra's Brother



Asalamu Alaykom,




Take a look at Yousra's brother Khaled.  I wrote about him before.  This is a picture from her wedding party when Khaled was full of life.  This is how their family wish to remember him.  It is his mother's favorite picture of her son.

Background Information

Yousra and I emailed this fall because I wanted to understand what it meant to be Yousra.  Though our names are so similar, she was going through a pain unimaginable to me.  Her brother had been shot dead in the street by his fellow countrymen.

In September, Yousra graciously accepted my request to an interview for this blog.

I will be honest with you and tell you that I dropped the ball.  I stopped working on the interview.  I can quote 6-day weeks during Term One.  I can say I got too busy.  In truth, I put it aside because I could.  I didn't have to face the pain like she did.  I had the luxury of forgetting---or choosing to forget.

Now, the Egyptian government has made it a crime to remember what happened on August 14th.  As 2013 draws to a close, I want to give some time and space to what was a horrible day in Egyptian history. This doesn't mean that I endorse the power grab from President Morsi or the dangerously disruptive sit-in that occurred.  I won't assume that, as a foreign guest in this country, I know what is best for Egypt moving forward into 2014.  What I do know is that many people died needlessly on that summer day and one of them was Yousra's brother Khaled.

The Interview

Yousra:  Salam alikom.   It's nice to have such a thing with you.  Thanks again for your interest with my beloved Khaled.

Yosra:  Wa Alikom Alsalam Sis.  Yousra, I hope that my questions are OK for you.  Wallahi, I don't know if what I'm asking is too much.  Forgive me if it is.  I'm not sure of your age.  If you are still very young, then please get your mom and dad's permission.

Yousra:   I am 27 years old and I have a little boy named Hamza.  I wish that he will grow up to be brave like Khaled.  


Yosra:  Alhumdulillah you are “UmHamza” with a little boy who can emulate his uncle.  Through your son, your beloved brother can live on.  Those pictures on Facebook of little boys at the Kabba with his picture:  is one of those boys your son Hamza?

Yousra:  The boys at Kabba none of them is Hamza. They are sons of a Muslim guy who made Ummrah for Khaled .

This is Hamza's photo saying a message to protesters before the massacre.





Yosra:  Mashahallah for Hamza!  He looks a little unsure of what's going on.  Habibi!  

Yoursa:  My family is okay with your questions.

This is what you asked for and if you want to revise some words it's okay.  Forgive me if my English isn't perfect.

Yosra:  Don’t worry about what you’ve sent as no one’s English is perfect.  What I’m going to do is clean up any grammar and spelling mistakes.  As a teacher, I’m used to editing so it’s no problem.  My slight corrections, inshahallah will make it more readable without losing the intense feeling you’ve put into your words.

Yousra, one thing I really admire about your family is the decision you've made to share your brother's story with as many people as you can.  What does sharing his life and death do to help you?  What does it do to help the situation in Egypt?  What does it do to help the world?

Yousra:  We want to tell everyone in the world about Khaled; tell them his story and how brave he was.  We want to publish his story to express to him and the whole world how much we love him; to show the world that the coup kills anyone against it under the name of “fighting terrorism”!  My brother wasn't a terrorist.  We want to deliver a message to the world that Egyptian media is lying about the terrorism issue.  The only terrorism in Egypt is being carried out by the coup authority against peaceful demonstrators.

Yosra:  Could you tell us who your brother was to you while he was alive?  Now that he has passed, what is it that you still carry with you from him?  Maybe it's something actual that you can hold but maybe it's something intangible.

Yousra:  Khaled was my best friend and my soul mate.  We shared every thing together--our dreams and our interests.  I never will forget his sense of humor; he always had a way to make me laugh and relieve my pain.  He stood by my side and now I carry Khaled in my soul.

Yosra:  When he was younger, did you feel that his life was any different from the others?  Did he have anything remarkable about him which made him stand out?

Yousra:  Khaled was different from the rest of the young people in that he could not bear to see any person subjected to injustice.  Khaled felt it was necessary support the oppressed.  He was saddened by the unjust killing of innocent people in Iraq, Palestine and Syria and also the siege of Gaza.  He was always thinking of his ummah [the Muslim community] and was always talk about supporting them---even with duaa [supplications to God].

Yosra:  Though, I don't want to focus on politics, were you concerned for his safety and well-being when he became more vocal against the ouster of President Morsi?

Yousra:  Sure we were afraid for him, my brothers and all the demonstrators, but did we have any options?  We refuse the kidnapping of our president and we had to demonstrate against the coup.  Abandon freedom and democracy?  No, we will never be afraid because Egypt is more important than our life and souls.

Yosra:  What were some of Khaled’s hopes and dreams---personally and professionally?  What did he hope for his future?  Was he thinking of his future or was he too much in the current situation?  What did he hope for the future of Egypt?

Yousra:  He always dreamed of living in a beautiful place.  He was sure that he deserved a better place.  He was a vet and wished to finish his college and then open his own horse farm. far from the pollution, noise, and injustice.  He wanted Egypt to be an advanced country that respects human rights.

Yosra:  Was your family involved in medicine or animal science?  What made him interested in becoming a vet?

Yousra:   My father is a doctor, as is my brother Ahmed, and I am a pharmacist.  Khaled was interested in horses and animals, but lately he was interested in graphics. Khaled was in his last year of college alhamdolelah.

 Yosra:  How did you learn of his death?

Yousra:  I knew about his martyrdom from his friend who was beside him when he was shot.  For sure we accepted it with tears but we said, “Thank God who honored us with his martyrdom.”  Then we began to think how to bring Khaled's body before they burn him like others!


Yosra:  Where do you believe your brother is now?

Yousra:  I believe that Khaled inshaallah is in Jannah and the highest place in the Paradise.  This is a promise from Allah to martyrs in the cause of Allah.

Yora:  Are you living your life normally once again?  When are the moments that you are hit with sadness over Khaled?  Is there a certain time of the day or a place or an activity?

Yousra:  I miss Khaled in every single moment.  Our life changed upside down.  A piece of us is under the grave!  I miss him when I wake up in the morning and I don't find him around.  I miss him when I see young men protesting; when I see his pictures; when I smell his perfume.  He adored perfumes.

Yosra:  How have your parents coped with losing their son?  Is there a favorite photo of Khaled that your mom holds dear?  What is that?  Is she thinking of him as her baby that she's lost or as the young man that she's lost?

Yousra:  About my mom, for sure she miss her son.  She remembers and misses every moment in his life from his birth till his martyrdom.  I asked her about the picture that she loves most she said the one in my wedding.  I'll send it to you.

Yosra:  Mashallah, that is a good picture of your brother.  I'm going to put it at the top of the posting.  He looks so healthy.  Now that I know he loved cologne/perfume, I can imagine that he had put some on with that suit.

That was a precious time for your family.  All of our times with our families are precious----but sometimes we don't realize it until the people are gone.  I believe you knew it always, Yousra, because you are very sensitive.  People who feel so much (and that's me too), we do appreciate the moments.

Did Khaled have a girl who is mourning him now?  Was he engaged or talking about getting engaged?

Yousra:  Khaled wasn't engaged to any girl yet.  He always says, 'I 'll fall in love only with my future wife." 

Yosra:  Your brother Ahmed tells me that Khaled was celebrated, “like a groom”.  I don't really understand this fully.  Does everyone do this?  Is it unique to your situation?

Yousra:  Khaled is a martyr and we, as Muslims, believe that a martyr isn't dead; he is alive in Jannah. Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him] promised us that a martyr marries Houris after the first drop of his blood.  So we, as believers, made a wedding procession of cars for him.  This concept isn't very common in Egypt but it's very common in Palestine.

Yosra:  Do you mean, "...a martyr marries hours after the first drop of his blood."?

Yousra:  No, I said Khaled will marry 'Houris' not hours.  Houris are the women in Jannah (الحور العين ). 

Yosra:  Many people reading this will have never met your brother.  If they could take away a better understanding of him, what would they need to know?

Yousra:  If you meet Khaled for the first time, you would feel as if you knew him.  He is a brave, free, handsome young man who participated in the January Revolution.  He was never afraid from anyone or anything.  Khaled isn't a terrorist.  Khaled was the best thing in our life and they killed him because he refused to call the coup a revolution!

Yosra:  Though Khaled was martyred, you are still alive.  Do you feel an added weight to your life, knowing that you have something which he does not?

Yousra:  Khaled is the one who has a thing I don't have:  he is in Jannah.  He is a hero.  I wish to be like him .

Yosra:  That is a really powerful statement.  Every time I re-read what you've written I am shaken to the core of my Islamic belief.

What is it from Quran or from Sunnah that gives you strength during this time?  How do you remain strong through this time of grieving?

 Yousra:  From Quran and sunnah in Surat Ali Imran:

Those who said about their brothers while sitting [at home], "If they had obeyed us, they would not have been killed."

 Say, "Then prevent death from yourselves, if you should be truthful."

And never think of those who have been killed in the cause of Allah as dead. Rather, they are alive with their Lord, receiving provision, rejoicing in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty, and they receive good tidings about those [to be martyred] after them who have not yet joined them - that there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve.)

 From Sunnah:  A man asked the Prophet, when he had put his leg in the stirrup, "Which kind of Jihad is best?'" He said, "A word of truth spoken before an unjust rulers."

 Only Allah bless us with patience and feeling proud with Martyr Khaled Ben Elwalied.

 Yosra:  What is your hope and prayer for Egypt?

Yousra:  We believe that Egypt deserves to be a good place to live in.  Everyone has the right to say his or her opinion without being killed or thrown in jail.  So we will complete the road of democracy and never give up---even they kill us all.  Glory to the martyrs.

Yosra:  Is there a prayer readers can make to help the situation---either with your family or with Egypt?

There is a duaa from Quran we always say we ask Allah to bound our hearts like mother of Moses

Surat Al-Qasas

And the heart of Moses' mother became empty [of all else]. She was about to disclose [the matter concerning] him had We not bound fast her heart that she would be of the believers.

Yosra:  If you could give advice to someone who is not feeling motivated to live fully, what would that be?

Yousra:  I say to everyone that you have only one life to live so be thankful to Allah for his blessings.  Be brave; be a good model to your friends; love Allah and worship him with all your heart; help people even if you don't know them; express your good feelings to all your family; and don't judge people since you don't know who is better! Don't be on the wrong side and don't support killing people even if they are against your opinion . Be a good Muslim that prophet Mohammad will be proud with . 

Mashaallah your questions touch my heart deeply.  May Allah bless you for your efforts.  Take care my friend after yourself. 

Yosra:   Alhumdulillah you were able to answer from your heart.  Ameen to your du'a.  

May God bless you and your family, Yousra, and grant you the ease after the hardship.  For those who don't realize it, "ease" is the meaning of our name.  In the Quran's Surah Al-Inshirah there isn't just one yosra; there are two. 

After hardship, there is ease.
Surely, after hardship, there is ease.
  
There are also the two of us.  You are my sister in Islam and I deeply respect the sacrifices your family has made.  I wish better for all of us in 2014.    

Friday, December 27, 2013

Gloria Steinem



Asalamu Alaykom,





"The root of Democracy outside the home is democracy inside the home.  The root of violence elsewhere is the normalization in an intimate way in the home."


~Gloria Steinem

This quote from Gloria Steinem's talk on BBC's HARDtalk really underlines what I feel here in Egypt.  We cannot look outside of ourselves for peace.  It needs to begin within ourselves and then in our home and outward into our small communities before we see it in our country inshahallah.

I have begun to see that many problems Muslim men have in relating have nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with the left-overs of imperialism and the current fascism prevalent in their countries.  They are part of a ranked society in which you push your weight around and oppress someone under you the way you have been oppressed yourself.  The further from Islam these men are then the deeper they have bought into the belief of, "might makes right".  Globally, this shows up as terrorism.  Domestically, it turns into spousal abuse and in domineering over women they were meant to love and protect.

It doesn't have to be this way.  Women can break that cycle of inequality and violence by speaking out in favor of a more egalitarian world.  By this, I don't mean Muslim women only.  All women have to balance out the masculine energy with their feminine.  Think outside of the mainstream box and make small but significant decisions which positively impact your corner of the world.

Gloria Steinem is a trans-formative spirit in the world.  She is a woman who was never complacent with the status quo of patriarchy.  In this interview, she plainly states what is happening with the world.

Some of her points I found enlightening:


  • We are need not accept the hierarchy of ranking.  We are all linked equally and not needing to conquer each other.

  • Ideology of conquering, controlling, oppressing and killing don't have to be part of our political lexicon.

  • The idea that women around the world are needing American intervention to succeed is false.  American women are still not equal though they have come far in the last 50 years.

  • Indian women greatly influenced her during the two years she lived in India.  The women protesters of India were who Ghandi studied in order to start his movement.  He also learned from the British suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst.

  • There has not been an American woman as President because authoritative women remind us (and men especially) of when we were ruled over by our moms.  She believes Hillary Rodham Clinton could win an election now because, as Secretary of State, she redefined what it means to be a woman in power.

  • Reproductive rights protect a woman's right to make choices for her body.  It isn't only the right to abort but the right NOT to abort.  It's the right to bear children.


She is a leader and a voice I can hear and understand.  There aren't many of those!  See if she speaks to you too.

If nothing else, take a look to see what it means to be 79 and glorious.

Love and Light!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Egypt's Tom and Jerry


Asalamu Alaykom,





So, I'm in Egypt riding a school bus home.  Sometimes, this can take 45 minutes and sometimes it can take two hours.  What can make it seem longer is an increase in volume levels.

Oh-oh.  I hear an angry diatribe going on.



"MORSI BLAH BLAH BLAH WAHESH! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH MORSI MISHKWES!"



BLAH BLAH BLAH SISI! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH SISI ASSIN!" 


It's my time to turn around in my seat and get involved.

"No, no.  We don't talk about politics or religion at school."

"We're on the bus."  Some little smart aleck pipes up.

"It's a school bus," I assert.

There's a short pause then the noise starts again.

"BAHEB MORSI?
MORSI WAHESH! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH SISI! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH SISI ASSIN! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH MORSI MISHKWES!"


I turn around again and I'm just about to lecture again when a little boy tells me, "He doesn't speak English."

For the first time, I realize that the bombastic rhetoric is coming out of the mouth of a three-year-old.  Yes, we now begin our political debates at the KG1 level here in Egypt.  I know the other kids are watching to see how I'm going to deal with such a rude little rule breaker.

"La. La. La." I say, "No," three times because then you really mean it.  "Mafish kallam keda.  KHALAS."  I told him that we don't talk this way and enough.

There is a lull.  I feel that the little guy understands he's doing the wrong thing but now that he's on a roll (with a captive audience to boot) he really can't stop himself.  He's going to open his mouth again so I decide to change the subject.

"Baheb meen? Baheb Tom?



O baheb Jerry?"




"TOM ASSIN!
JERRY WAHESH!" 
BLAH BLAH BLAH TOM! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH TOM ASSIN! 
BLAH BLAH BLAH JERRY MISHKWES!"

The Tom or Jerry debate was still raging when I got off the bus.  Basically, the dude just wanted to rant.  I was laughing about the switcheroo as Mr. Formerly-Known-as-Boo and I walked the narrow street to our home.  He started laughing too.

"He didn't care who he was talking about!"  Mr. Formerly-Known-as-Boo realized.

"So, who is Tom and who is Jerry?" I asked my astute son.

"Oh, definitely Tom is Sisi and Jerry is Morsi." 




Yes, he's right.

In a country which still reveres Tom and Jerry as comedic genius, there are two political rivals who are stuck in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game.  Children and grown-ups alike watch it unfold with the strange sensation that it's all happened before and it will all happen again.  Though we can't stop a thing, we can take sides as if us supporting one of them makes us a part of the action.



Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eulogy for a Kind Soul


Asalamu Alaykom,







Wishing you peace and blessings from Allah for you and your family.

I also wish that my words reach you today so that you feel the goodness I have felt.

I had a childhood which left me vulnerable and needy.  Through the Grace of God, kind souls entered my life when I needed them the most.  One of those caregivers has passed away this week.  She was my mother's dear friend and more like an aunt to me than the other two who held the title but never held me.


Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ)

From God we come and to God we return.

May Allah forgive her any of her faults and grant her The Highest Level of Paradise.


She was a welcoming person who never closed the door on me.  Her home was always a safe place for me to stay while my mother was away---and she was away from me a lot as I grew.  That's difficult.  It's difficult to have been a child of divorce, a child of the "Me Decade," and a lonely, only child.  I was given a chance to be part of their family time and again.  I was never made to feel as an odd outsider.  I was included and that means a lot to a lost little girl.

She was simple.  She wasn't someone I could look up to because of the way she styled her hair or her clothes.  Her home wasn't a showplace.  The food from her kitchen wasn't gourmet.  The time I spent there wasn't quality time.  It was simply time being included in a place that felt good with people who cared.

She was beautiful.  If I posted her picture, many would disagree.  She wouldn't look beautiful to you because you have to know her spirit.  Our lives aren't about our shells.  Her body is gone.  It's not even buried; she's been cremated.  Yet, her spirit survives.  I know it does because I can remember how she touched my life.

She was dying when I called her two months ago.  My mother and I had arranged for my call to come during one of their visits together.  My mother had announced who was on the phone using my former name instead of my current name of Yosra.  She had to be told the name I had when I was a little girl.  I wasn't sure if she would completely be aware of who I was.  At first, I don't think it was all clicking.

Then, she asked me, "Are you coming for Christmas?"

Though we talked about other things, that was the moment I will remember the most.  It meant that she knew me.  It meant that she cared and that she wanted to see me.  She had thought she was going to have one last Christmas in her house.  She didn't.

At the time, I really wondered if I should fly back to the States.  She is one of the few people in this world who could have had that pull on my life.  If she had ever wanted anything, I would have done it for her.  What I did is thank her for all the Christmas times together.

Her family would invite my mother and me over for Christmas Eve.  Her father and mother would be there too.  If I ever need proof in this world that a couple can remain in love and stay married then those grandparents are it.  They were very special people and more like my grandparents than my own.

When her father died decades ago, I had sat up in the front pew at his funeral with the family.  I was given his tam o' shanter which he had always worn at a jaunty angle.  I held it to me when I walked out with the family and I know the church congregation wondered who I was.  I knew who I was.  I knew I was a member of their clan.

We somehow started a tradition of making food from another country for each Christmas Eve.  It might have started with Scottish and I think it ended with Greek.  However, it didn't really end.  I continued the tradition with my own family for years.  I kept the feeling alive.

I don't remember one gift they ever gave me.  None!  I remember the large bags of hand-me-downs since I was younger than her son and two daughters.

I still have the note I received with their flowers one opening night.  That's what happens when you do a lot of theatre; you get a lot of notes with flowers.  I didn't save all of them but I saved theirs.  They were so proud of me.  That's what the note said and I knew they were.

It's great to have a cheering section in your life; to have someone in your corner who is rooting for you.  I have been on this earth for 45 years and there are very few people who have been as big a positive influence as this lady.  That's a gift.  She was a gift from God in my life.

I can't say that she was mine alone.  She had her own kids and later grandkids.  She had her kids at the school where she worked.  She also helped with every new wave of refugees who came into our state looking to resettle:  the Hmong, the Bosnians, and the Ethiopians.  She volunteered at the charity thrift store.  She was that church lady who lives to be a humble servant of God.

She accepted me when I came back from Egypt in 2011.  I have this great photo of us.  The light is either radiating on her or from her----it's hard to tell.  She was absolutely indifferent about my hijab.  It didn't phase her.  She invited us over for tea.

She showed me her photo albums she had been putting together.  I admired all the life that she had experienced.She had been to Egypt on a Nile cruise.  She admired me for making a new life.  We shared that moment in time on her couch and it was the last time I will see her in my lifetime.

One of my reoccurring thoughts is that I had never known a world without her but now I do.  It's not as if I had kept in constant touch with her.  I hadn't.  She was my mother's friend and they connected.  I was out of the picture for years.  Yet, I knew where she was and I knew the door was always open.

Knowing that her end has come does affect me.  I had to keep going this past week.  I had essays to grade and tests to proctor.  I couldn't take a break and really mourn.  I couldn't really even explain my grief to co-workers and have them understand because...she wasn't family.  There isn't a way to make anyone understand how crucial this woman was to normalizing my very odd childhood.

The day after she died, I ended up on a school bus listening to a group of Egyptians standing around outside and arguing how they didn't want my son and me on their bus.  Our bus wasn't running, theirs was and it was all about them.  They thought that one more stop on the bus would mean a later arrival time for them.  They didn't know how little sleep I'd gotten, how sad I was inside or how upsetting it was to have co-workers disrespect me after I'd been giving my all for the school.  They wasted 20 minutes doing this.  I didn't cry.

We were allowed to ride the bus.  I listened to Quran and a few tears rolled down.  Later, I realized that I didn't know where we were on the bus; I was lost in Giza and didn't have anyone to really understand my fears.  I cried.  Yes, I cry too much; it's because I feel too much.  It was a horrible afternoon and we didn't get home until 5:30.  We had traveled home for two hours whereas it usually takes 40 minutes.

Since that day, I have not cried but this is the fourth day I've had a twitch in my right eye.  I looked up the cause.  It's fatigue (getting those five hours of sleep each night), stress (her death, finishing those three stacks of papers and then the bus incident) and caffeine (I had been using an extra cup of coffee).  I have not been able to rid myself of that twitch.

I am writing today because I need to release.  I need to release the sadness I have that  a good person is gone.  I need to release my control needs regarding my own mother who refuses to be taken care of.  I need to release my fears of her dying, of me dying and of me living in ways which aren't really meaningful.  Am I living the right life?

I've been turning over thoughts and ideas.  It's a process.  I don't have solid conclusions.  There's so much I could write to you about but I don't think you'd truly understand so I'll keep most of it to myself.

Suffice it to say that I have needed this three-day weekend.  Alhumdulillah for that.  Inshahallah, my twitch will be gone.

Nothing lasts forever.

Alhumdulillah.





Friday, November 15, 2013

12 of the Best Islamic Animated Gifs



Asalamu Alaykom,



I love animated gifs.

The 99 Names of Allah is a great one to have.  I have had an unrealized goal of learning all the names.

This gif has the 99 Names of Allah in English and in the original Arabic---with the addition of pretty flowers.



 I'm going to put them both on my new Nokia Asha 200.  It's a simple smartphone.  I love that too.


Gifs can brighten your day




or get you out of a bad mood.




Gifs can teach you this



or that



or another one like that.




Hey!  How did he get in here?

He must have come in during the rain.




Hold on....there...found the right one.




Some gifs are really mini-lessons.




Others are only to remind you of what you already know




because we all have low moments when we need reminding.





We are not alone.






Alhumdulillah.  We are blessed.




Wishing you a blessed day wherever you are.