It's another morning in Egypt. In Arabic, al-nahar means morning or the day.
Early mornings are beautifully quiet here. Last night there was yet another wedding party in the street with blaring music but the only noise now is tweeting birds and one barking dog somewhere in the distance.
Okay, I'll have to ammend that because now my husband is watching an old black-and-white movie starring Ismail Yassin. In many ways, my husband and his family are throw-backs to a different age who appreciate movies like this more than current movies.
The movie industry in Egypt is still big business. Yesterday, I went to EMPC which stands for Egyptian Movie Production City. A television station, Al-Nahar, sent a car with a driver to pick me up from my school to take me there.
Par for the course in Egypt, it was a comedy of errors. I got the call that the driver was 45-minutes early and waiting at the gate. I grabbed my two bags, collected Mr. Boo with his backpack and headed out. The road outside the school was chockful of drivers and cars. I had no idea which was mine. No one signalled to me. I had to call the production assistant for the show.
"I'm not sure who he is."
"He's waiting outside the school gate."
"It's 3:00. Everyone is waiting outside the gate."
"OK. I'll call him and tell him to call you."
I knew that was going to be difficult. If you are dealing with someone in Egypt who understands your English, never let them pass you onto someone else. Chances are that the next person will not understand.
"Can you just tell him that I'm in a pink dress to the right of the gate?"
So, I waited longer. It was unusally hot yesterday at 35 degrees Celsisus (which is a piping hot 97 degrees). I stood there with my boy hoping that I wasn't scoping out the drivers too much. One of them caught my eye and I turned red but not from sunburn.
Another phone call, "Yosra, this is..." and he said his name but I didn't catch it very well.
So, I started giving him instructions on how to find me at the gate.
"No, I'm not the driver. I'm the producer."
Apparently, the driver was at the wrong gate. By the time I saw the balding man waving to me, the early pick-up was now on time. That's Egypt!
It felt good to roll onto the lot. The driver told me that Mahmoud Saad was in the car in front of us. I didn't know who he was.
"Limby? Mohamed Saad?"
No, this was a Mahmoud Saad.
He's a famous presenter who discusses the problems of Egypt. Frankly, there are so many problems with so many presenters that I don't even bother to learn their names. I'm not easily impressed by celebrities here because I haven't learned who they are.
Getting out of the car, I saw the lot's masjid. Here it is in the background of a photo with presenter Doaa Amer.
It has a pleasing design which made me smile. Seeing masjids everywhere (even on a studio lot) makes me feel so good.
I walked into the building where we'd be shooting. I was ushered to the waiting room. There were three men sitting with their drinks. I hesitated to go in. I knew that my sensibilities and those of my husband meant that I could not enter in to a room with three strange men and take a seat with them. They felt my reluctance and got up to offer us seats. Not everyone in Egypt will follow Muslim adab themselves but even those who don't will respect if you do.
I met the ladies who would be working with me. It was difficult that the production assistant I'd been talking to was not going to be there. I had to connect quickly with the woman who would be asking questions. I asked to see the questions.
The questions were not well written. I had two choices: I could either take out my marking pen and make corrections or I could leave them alone. I chose to keep my mouth shut.
Another woman came in and took a seat. I took a look. She was really cute in her little jacket and jeans.
Mr. Boo needed my attention. I had him eat his lunch's unfinished cheese sandwich and drink his juice. I got out some paper and pens so he could keep entertained. I hadn't wanted to bring him. I'd wanted to work out some other way. However, there wasn't a better alternative. I would have to trust that he'd behave himself while I was locked up in the studio filming.
I looked up to see the waiting room's large TV. It was showing the station's live news broadcast on-air.
Wasn't that the cute woman? I turned my head to where she had been sitting. She was gone. I asked and sure enough that was her. She had this horrible shadow under her chin. This worried me because if she looked gorgeous in person but only OK on TV then how would I fare?
When she was done, I'd be going in. I did a little pray in my head. Really, talking about my reversion to Islam is easy for me. However, this was going to be broadcast. That's different. Person-to-person is different than en masse.
Time was up so in I went. I said goodbye to Mr. Boo and told him not to go with anyone. You can't tell your child in Egypt not to talk to anyone because everyone talks to children. Leaving? Different story.
The studio was dark. It brought back many memories of doing theatre and filming videos before. I tried not to trip over the cables. It's funny how studio sets are built as these little fake worlds of pretend offices, kitchens and living rooms.
Setting up was going to take a while so I went back to get my boy. I wanted him to see all this too. I took his little hand and led him into my world. It's a fascinating place and I've always tried to expose him to new ways of understanding. I led him back because we were going to start.
Yes, I told the cameraman to move the camera just a little to the right.
Yes, I also told the set supervisor to move the lampshade.
Really? I'm a director. I'm not very good at sitting still and shutting up. In the moment, I feel I have to say something. Later, I wonder how I ever thought I could be so bold.
Putting on the microphone is always tricky. It's always a man who has to mic you and pinning the mic has to be around your chest. Awkward! The joke, for me, is that it's never done the first time; kind of like when the nurse tries to draw my blood. Three times the audio man, the female assistant on set and I tried to find a way for the mic to be placed correctly.
It's funny. Really? The whole thing is funny. Last night, when I got home, I felt badly about how things went but in hindsight, in the morning light, it was funny.
The woman with the questions took her place far away from me next to the camera. I wouldn't be looking at her. I'd be looking into the camera as if it were a person. I'm good at that...I think...actually, I won't know until I see the show.
I saw myself on the enormous TV on the set. It had been used during the news segment to show the world. Now it was showing me. Can I tell you something? Nobody should see themselves that large. No matter how nice you can look in a mirror, we all look rather freakish as giant heads.
We began. She wanted me to talk about taking shahaddah. She wanted my answer short. Really? I could speak the full 30 minutes on that alone. It's huge. Try to tell a mother to shorten up her child's birthing story; it's difficult. I paused and she went on to the next question. I wanted to backtrack and add a few things.
I don't feel I did that part of my story justice. I wasn't concise and able to condense. I failed. I'm sad I couldn't communicate better.
It's made me understand better those celebrities who hate doing interviews. It isn't that they don't know what to say. They know but they aren't able to get it all out in sound bytes.
I actually left out all the people in my life. I didn't talk about my Christian minister mother, my children who were raised between two faiths, my son I had to raise alone for many difficult years or the faithful husband I later married in Egypt.
The focus was really about my connection to Allah. I did my best to keep bringing that up. Again, I feel I failed to really make my life's journey understood as an example of God's constancy.
The questions she asked kept shaking me up. I knew what she'd be asking so I tailored my comments accordingly. When I would answer, her questions remained static despite anything I would have said. In other words, she stayed on script. I ended up having to repeat myself and then ignore other aspects I had wanted to discuss. It's not anyone's fault; it's what happens through a language barrier. Listening to nuances spoken quickly, in a foreign language is very difficult. She did her best to follow me but I must not have been easy to follow.
Astragferallah for whatever I could have done better and didn't.
Inshahallah something from what I've said will be useful to someone somewhere.
The program "Tarek Allah" will air here in Egypt at 11:00 pm, on Al-Nahar on Saturday, March 23. Inshahallah. If it gets posted to youtube, I'll post the video...maybe.
The host of the program is Mostafa Hosny. I thought he'd be the one interviewing me. Wrong! Turns out I won't even meet him.
Mr. Boo, by the way, was the superstar. I came out of the taping to find him surrounded by cast and crew. They were chatting him up like a little buddy. He had done fine alhumdulillah.
Time to go back to my little village in the big city. I walked in the door and found my husband sipping his tea with his mother and brother. He didn't really give me the hero's welcome. It was as if I'd walked in from the market. He didn't get up and help me up the stairs. I was not as important as his tea.
This isn't an indictment against him. He was living a very different life than I was on Thursday and he couldn't understand all that I'd been doing. He only understood that I was coming home later than usual and I was tired. In many ways, he only understood that I was deviating from the norm.
This morning, he flipped channels to find whether or not we even had Al-Nahar. He found it and I began explaining more details of the night before. It started to dawn on him. I was going to be on TV. Yes, I was doing something big.
Whether or not I did it well is yet to be seen. My head hurts from rolling it over and over in my mind. What's done is done and I better find a way to leave all of yesterday behind me before it infects today with regrets.
May Allah clear our minds with each new day and give us another opportunity to be better than the day before.
The sun is shining brightly. It's going to be another hot day before it cools down on Saturday. Mr. Boo has finished his breakfast of cornflakes and strawberries. Baraem is playing cartoons.