Sunday, June 30, 2013

Funny Thing About Egypt

Asalamu Alaykom,

Andrew Pochter, an American college student, has been killed in Alexandria during protests there.  He had come to Egypt to teach English over the summer.   I wish that he hadn't let curiosity get the best of him and put himself at risk.  He was stabbed on the street.  From God we come and to God we return.

There might not seem to be anything "funny" in Egypt when you hear such upsetting news.  Somehow, there always is another moment to bring you out of your current state of mind.  That's the deal with Egypt.  There's always so much happening that you can't stay in one thought or one mood for long.  It is the most manic-depressive country I've ever been.

My husband doesn't watch a lot of TV.  However, when there's a news event in Egypt, he's glued to the screen.  I get pulled into the virtual mayhem.  Then, for hours on end, there's rock throwing, shouting, army troops and (more and more) gun firing, blood and ambulances.  Even if that violence was in Alexandria, it ends up in our home in Giza.  We try to shield our boy from it and send him out of the room if the intensity of the images gets to be too much.

On Friday, I was scared to leave the house.  This was before I even knew about the killing!  When I get scared, I get ornery---just ask my husband.  It's hard with work because you really have to make your appearance.  You can't flake out on a graduation ceremony.  I checked my email once more around 4:00 just to make sure that it was still on.  It was.  I went back to getting ready.

Alhumdulillah, my husband kindly escorted me in my taxi.  We went past the tanks in Remaya and the tanks north of Hadayek Al-Haram.  It's eerie.  I've seen tanks roll out in Egypt before and I'm not as apprehensive as I once was.  It doesn't mean that they will actually see combat.

The hard part for me was trusting that, once I was taking part in a ceremony on stage, that Egypt wasn't imploding upon itself.  It's trusting that when there's distance between my husband and I, I'll still be safe.  It's trusting that the family will keep Mr. Boo (and his most treasured IPad) safe at home while my husband and I are en route.  It's trust.  It's all about trust.

In the end, as people of faith, we have to keep going.  I don't mean that we have to take unnecessary risks, but we can't let our fears rule our lives.  If I had cancelled out on Friday night, as other teachers did, then I would have missed out.

I saw my rug-rat 12th graders transformed into elegant ladies and gentlemen.  Even the scruffiest was cleaned up and dressed up.  They were so excited and nervous.  One of the prettiest girls rushed into where I was, in front of the bathroom mirror, and started to cry.  It was about faith over fear for them too.

The other teachers and I tried valiantly to look good in our gargantuan robes and mortar board hats.  The hats actually work better with hijab than with hair.  The only trick is that, if you have your long hair up in a bun, you need to fix the bun low on the nape of your neck.  Otherwise, the hat will not sit down.

The flags were marched out, then administrators, and finally us teachers.  We stood there, on a breezy night, and heard the first bars of the National Anthem begin.  Chills went down my spine.  I had no idea what was happening in the rest of the country at that moment but I knew that the group surrounding me was determined to make Egypt and the world a better place.

I sat in the front row and clapped along.  As the breezy night air turned windy, I began to hate that dangling tassel which kept lashing me on the right side of my face.  Eventually, I figured out how to surreptitiously tuck it into my hijab.  I smiled.  I listened to the speeches.   I laughed.  I realized how I didn't really know the seniors very well.  I had really only been with them for one term.

The three speakers were all girls.  One wore hijab and two didn't.  All were Egyptian.  One had her whole family there, one had almost lost her mom to cancer, and one had lost her brother.  It was that girl's very brave statement that grabbed me the most.  The day after her brother died, she returned to school because she wanted to be around these people.  Though we all want to feel our workplaces are special, I felt that deeply during the ceremony.

I did my best to show encouragement for every senior with their new diploma as they tried to navigate the stage back to their seat.  The courageous girls teetering in high heels needed the most encouragement.  The crowd was very vocal in showing their support for their graduates.  It was a big turning point for them.

Eventually, it was time to leave the stage.  I was hoping we got off before the flames were sent shooting upward.  Our school has gotten into these fire shows; the anniversary party had it also.  You don't want to be standing there in your flowing polyester robe when the flames shoot up!  Alhumdulillah, we all exited quickly enough.  The fire show took place.  The fireworks were set off!

The party could now begin.  There was mingling and congratulations around linen draped, glass-topped tables.  There were two long buffet lines.  Fresh flowers were everywhere.  I found a beautifully perfect purple orchid lying forgotten on the stairs.  I held it.

I only startled once when a man shot a pistol into the air.  What is it with men and guns?  It's an Arab custom to have an honorary firing during celebrations.  I hear it every weekend when the weddings are in full swing.  Still, I didn't want to be around and found a quick way out of his vicinity.  I never heard any more shots.  Alhumdulillah.

Of course the night was memorable.  It was a time to remember how far I've come and how far my son will have to go.  It's a time to be thankful that every class of students eventually graduates.  I love the word, "eventually".  Yes, eventually you realize it's all good.

Yesterday, my husband got an angry call about that IPad pick-up.  He was told that no one NO ONE! should be addressing him as the  "Abu" of my son.  It had been my brother-in-law's mistake but it didn't need an angry call.  It is the same, tired, old complaint from the man who walked away from his son when he was 15 months old.  The baby at the house is that age now and I feel even more how he was so heartless to leave and how I was so strong to stay.

My husband handled the situation brilliantly.  He immediately went into the bedroom and shut the door so that my son wouldn't hear.  He kept his voice moderated, though AbuBoo kept yelling.  He allowed for the man's crazy rant, " just like letting air out of a balloon."  Even when my former husband brought up my failed, short-lived attempt for a re-configured family in Florida, my husband remained in control.  Alhumdulillah.

Only once did my husband cut off the tirade.  It was when the man I once loved more than anything, astragferallah, tried to put me down.  He stopped him cold.  "That's the mother of your son.  She does for him like nobody else.  You don't need to say anything bad about her."

My husband handled it all but he had to leave the house later last night.  It does get to be too much for him.  It's not in an Egyptian man's mental make-up to deal pleasantly with an ex-husband.  Basically, they never want to think of their woman having been with another man, let alone have him yelling his ear off.

Today, it's D-Day for Egypt.  AbuBoo never thought to ask about this.  No one knows what's going to happen. I look at my recent days.  There is hope.  There are those brave girls and that beautiful orchid on the stairs.  There is anger and resentment with illogical finger-pointing.  There is fear.  For me, there is always hope because I have faith.

Without faith, I could never have gotten through the last year, or, in fact, any year of my life.  God has seen me through and has brought me through all the challenges until I am here.  Alhumdulillah.  I am in Egypt and I pray that Egypt keeps the faith.  Please pray for that as well.


Ghadeer said...

This is so beautiful: you've shown how no matter how bad things get, there will always be those precious human moments that nobody can destroy. Hopefully today will be a new beginning for Egypt: a new solution that is better for all of Egypt. Our prayers with you!

(Also, thank you for the hijab + graduation hat tip! It will come in handy at my graduation ceremony)

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Ghadeer,

I'm glad you appreciated this. I wanted to write it out but wasn't sure I was saying it just right. You got where I was wanting to say so alhumdulillah.

Ya Rab for Egypt and the future. There hasn't been as much bloodshed during this time as we feared. I feel that prayers said for peace helped. Thank you for your prayers.

Glad you got some good info about the hat! I should probably add that the single triangle scarf worked better than the multi-layer wraps. The thickness doesn't work.

Congratulations on reaching your goal! Alhumdulillah for our plans which come to fruition. Truly, we can remain lazy with little effort or we can push ourselves to achieve more. YOU DID IT! You put your life into motion and that knowledge you gained is something no one can ever take away from you. Alhumdulillah.

Love and Light!