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. 


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.


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.


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.  


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.

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.


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.


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."


Party of 5 said...

What a year Yosra. Finding your voice...rebuilding, claiming your space mashaAllah.

I have always enjoyed reading your thoughts because of your insight and honesty AND maturity. So many things stand out in this post...your career path...a meaningful relationship with your hubby (love the pic of him and your little one off to prayers). I especially love the fact that (regarding your SIL(?) you don't want to put everything on the internet. Making and eating tacos- it is amazing being able to go back to the simple things...joys.

Happy 2014...may you and yours be blessed.


Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Salma,

Thanks for reading and for adding your take and your good wishes. I do appreciate your kindness.

Alhumdulillah, I'm edging my way towards maturity. I figure, at 45, I might as well. I won't say that every decision I've made in the last year is a good one but I am aiming for better.

Ya, I'm glad you picked up on the SIL decision. It's way too easy to rag on a person behind her back on a blog. I just don't want to. The way I figure it, I don't like spending time with her so why would I spend my time away from her THINKING and WRITING about her.

I'm also glad you loved the pic of my boy and his Baba heading to Jummah prayer. It's got more of a feel than of identifiable shapes.

Best wishes for you and your family.

Love and Light!