Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Summer Vacation: Highlights

Asalamu Alaykom,

This was the perfect magazine cover for me to see on the way to the States.
See the heading?  
"Remember yesterday, dream about tomorrow, but live today."
"Pluk de dag" became my motto.
The Dutch translation just sounded better than, "Seize the day"

I am officially back home and that means Egypt.


This summer I took El-Kid back to America and it felt strange to have people ask me, "How does it feel to be back home?" because I knew that they didn't understand.  I'm not sure when Egypt really became my home.  In some ways, it transformed into that during the 46 days I was in the  States.

The trip was transformative and I need to get perspective on it so I can really understand it myself.  Of course, the best way for me to figure things out is to write it out, so I'll put some thoughts down here and then piece it all together as I go.

I'm going to write topically, rather than chronologically.  First, I should remember the best moments and be grateful for those.  There were some very good times.

My dad and his dog Darwin. 

Seeing My Father  I did get see my father again after seven years apart and I wrote about that.  It's been many weeks since I wrote my initial thoughts and I'd like to add some more.  It was a time of little moments.  I know him in ways that no one else can---ever.  My mother has often lamented that I didn't have more of a relationship with him but that's her take.  I feel that I have had a real and meaningful connection with a good soul.

I knew all his stories.  I knew parts that he had forgotten.  I listened patiently to stories he re-told.

I was happy to see him hug his grandson goodbye---even though we had one more day left.  My father hugged my son with a lot of love and I will never regret bringing the two of them together.

I remember stumbling upon a photo of my mother's father holding me as a baby.  It was the only photo I ever saw of the two of us together and it was meaningful.  It means that I had a very solid place in the world which began before my mother and father.  I hope my son felt that sureness too.

I asked El-Kid what words he'd use to describe my father and he quickly said, "kind."  That warmed my heart.  My son went on to add, "funny, enthusiastic, and handsome."  What's interesting is that all of those adjectives my son used to describe his grandfather, I could also use to describe my son.  I saw the continuation; my father is not the end and neither am I.  There's a relief that comes about when you see your place in the continuum.

My mom and I always joke about putting on "big girl panties"
which means to stop procrastinating and get the job done. 
The irony is that I did put off buying this sign for her
and the only sign left was, "Wait until tomorrow to procrastinate. 

Helping My Mother  I really did what I could to be a good daughter.  When I was little, I was so helpless and I remember trying to help her and failing time and again.  When I was older, I felt that I would be rebuffed ---actually, I was rebuffed.  Now, as she nears 80, my mother is accepting the help I offer.  I fixed the drawer, organized her pantry, cleaned her burner pans, made her food, carried her plates, cleaned up the spills and so on.  Maybe for the first time in my life, my help was given and accepted.  I had that relationship which I had wanted.  I wanted to be a loving daughter.

It didn't always work but that's going to fall under another topic.  The point is that it worked more than not.  I just realized something:  I was gone for 46 days and I am 46 years old.  It was as if I was gone for each year of my life.

My grandma's Ojibway moccasins she wore as a little girl in Canada

Holding My Children "Having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body."  My big kids were there.  They weren't there very much but that's not what I prayed for so that's OK.  I prayed for a time.  I got time twice with my daughter and three times with my son.  Alhumulillah.  They are readying themselves for the world.  I know that.  I know that they have to break away from me.

It sounds like a joke that they have to break away from the parent who is 6,200 miles away from them but it's true.  Toddlers have an inner rule that they can walk away from you, but you can't walk away from them.  I walked away from these kids, and they have resented what I did so when I came back, they walked away from me.  It hurt to hold them and to let them go but in many ways it was very positive.  Inshahallah, it will clear a way to a better next time.

My Dear Friend had just returned from Pakistan wearing beautifully embroidered clothes.

 Seeing My Dear Friend One of the tougher times I've ever gone through was in February, 2009 when my dear friend suddenly lost her six-year-old daughter.  Last time I saw her, the ripples in the water had not yet subsided.  This year, I got to play with her new son.  He had been born while I was away.  She loves him so much.  She never would have had him without the death of her first child.  God bless her for her ability to bounce back and carry on.

We shared on a level I really can't share with hardly anyone.  She knows me very well and loves me still.  I feel the same about her.  There is a sisterhood between us.

When I left, she gave me a scarf.  It is the third scarf she's given me.  Each one feels like a hug from her.  I wore it on the plane ride home.  I wanted to remember how strong she is and hope that some of it rubs off on me.

This extremely heavy and out-dated tape player was hotly debated 
between El-Kid and me but it ended up at Goodwill.

Getting My Stuff  It's stupid how much my stuff has mattered to me but it has.  Sure, the initial entries on the page have been about people--and that is the way it should be.  We should care more about people than objects.  Yet, I really needed to stop being so fractured.  I would want to read a certain book to El-Kid and know that I couldn't because I hadn't brought it yet.  I would want to make a recipe and know that it was in that three-ring binder at the bottom of a box.  I would think of little trinkets I had gotten along the way; shells I'd collected; photographs I needed.  Alhumdulillah, I got it all except for one stack of papers.

What really amazed me was how all-consuming that stuff was.  I literally spent time every day culling it.  I couldn't take it all with me (as they say).  I didn't want to take it all with me because I couldn't face my hub if I yanked out some tacky junk that I paid $200 to bring to Egypt.  Though that money might not sound like a lot to you, it's 1400 LE to me.

Ya, that money constraint made me really reconsider what was actually still important.  I could re-visit what had been but still decide to stop its journey from continuing with me.  Donations to Goodwill made that easier.  The apartment building's big dumpster also helped free me up.

In the end, I had:  two carry-ons and two suitcases which were free to bring, two suitcases which were a total of $150 to bring, and then three boxes which were $200 EACH to bring.  That caused me a lot of stress.  I was weighing them again and again--can't recommend one of those hand-held luggage scales enough.  I was eliminating and stressing.  It was intense!  I spent my last day believing that I might have screwed up bigger than ever.

Why had I bought all those DVDs?

Did I really need my grandma's china cups?

How heavy was that laminated St. John U.S.V.I. poster?

Imagine:  I was going to bring $750 worth of stuff back to Egypt and then try to convince my husband that the 5,250 LE was all worth it.  I was in too deep to stop.  The bags and boxes were packed.  My mom had made it clear that nothing was staying (though she then allowed for the stack of papers).

Abu El-Kid, thankfully, is a good enough sport to have carted all those heavy boxes and bags down to his delivery van last Monday.  I mean, if you have to have an ex-husband, then it is nice to have one who does heavy lifting and owns a delivery van.

I was doubly scared to go to the airport.  I was not only a veiled Muslimah, I was bringing so much with me.  Would anyone wonder what kind of a wacko I was?


Somehow, through the Grace of God, I had the easiest, nicest check-in that I have ever had in my life.  I kid you not.  I was totally myself.  I apologized for the amount I had.  I swore that I had tried my best to keep under the weight limit.  The two airline employees saw how hard I was trying and those ladies were just amazing.  They completely put me at ease.  They were so understanding--no, they were the MOST understanding you could ever hope for.

I was so touched by their kindness.  Maybe, when you're stressed you don't always realize how important it is to have that "kindness of strangers" Tennessee Williams wrote of, but it is absolutely instrumental in keeping me a believer.

One of the ladies spotted my "Bit o' Honey" candy and couldn't believe that I had found it.  Really, it's an obscure candy from 30 years ago.  My mom used to hide it in her top dresser drawer (obviously, not very well).  I had bought it as a "Bit o' Nostalgia" and took out couple of pieces when the one attendant commented on it.  I told them that it wasn't a bribe.

It was then time to settle the tab.  Just how much was my extra luggage going to be?

"The Bit o' Honey covered it".

I kid you not.  Somehow, and I really still don't understand how (except by knowing it was through Allah) I got all my luggage home as freight with no extra charges AND nothing broke.  What had caused me untold stress dissipated as so much dew at day's dawning.

To add to the fullness of the moment, Abu El-Kid had been promising me $300 at the airport and then had not been able to give it.  What if I had really been counting on him?  Alhumdulillah, I didn't have to.  I do believe that I was given some serious ease after the hard time.  Subhanallah.  God bless those ladies.  They have no idea how much good they did for me that day.

Detail from B.J. Cristofferson's Psychedelia in the 1968 traveling exhibit 
which I saw with my dad

Kept Faithful There's so many ways of keeping the faith.  In Ramadan, we are supposed to focus on that inner reality more than the outer realities of people, places and things.  Ironically, this trip had me dealing with so much outer and I had to work hard to balance the two.

El-Kid and I were a good team.  My mom saw that and she came closer to our faith than she has ever before in order to be closer to us.  That doesn't mean she wanted to embrace Islam but she did want to embrace us.  Her increased respect of El-Kid's adherence to faith was something I hadn't been able to savor before.  She sat near us while we would pray; she was quiet and mindful.  She wished us well when we were done.  She said that she was glad the two of us shared a faith.  That's touching.

It's really easy to be a Muslim with a bunch of other Muslims.  It's harder to be a Muslim in a Non-Muslim house in a Non-Muslim country.  It's hard---no lie!  At the end of the month of Ramadan, to be able to look back and know that you did all your prayers and fasting, well, it's a feeling of accomplishment.  For me, encouraging El-Kid to wake for suhour, read Quran and say fajr everyday was exhausting but I am so glad I did.  Good intentions and solid effort will reap rewards inshahallah.  He fasted 12 hours every day and I fasted 16.  I might not have been so intent on it here in Egypt, but I clung tighter to my faith in America to get me through such a tough Ramadan.  May Allah accept our prayers and fasting.

Seriously, every time we push ourselves to summon up our courage, we win another level of bravery.  I feel more able to handle what is going to come.  I don't know what it is, but I know I have handled what I had been dreading.  I survived with style.

Nothing says "love" like two pink flamingo metal statues 

Stayed in Love  It's weird.  I feel more in love with my husband than before I left.  It is true that distance extinguishes a small flame but rather fans a large flame.  I felt him with me in such positive ways this trip.  The last trip, three years ago, I felt like I needed a break from him and everything Egyptian.  Per our agreement in 2011, I had called him every morning but in 2014 we gave each other some space and fewer calls.  Within that space of trust, more love grew.  He trusted me and the cool thing is that I was deserving of his trust.  I trusted him and the cool thing is that he is a man I can trust.

The in-flight magazine had this graphic which I loved.

A New Day  I arrived back in Egypt with a feeling that I must start a new day.  I can't hold onto detrimental ways.  I need to have learned something on the trip and to utilize those lessons.  I am never one to bump mindlessly through life.

This Friday, the whole fam damily came over (as they do) and we all got a chance to reacquaint ourselves.  I was better.  I was a better person.  I felt it.  If no one else felt it, then that's OK because I really need to be better for me.  I want to get along.  I want to fit in--that doesn't mean that I have to ape anyone.  I simply want to be a gracious guest.  I want to be a kind auntie. I want to be an embracer, a helper, a faithful friend, a good mother and a loving wife.

I want to make my home in Egypt.  I have cut my ties with the U.S. in so many ways.  This is a new day and a new chance to get this right inshahallah. We've been building our life here but I always had a life to go back to in America.  I don't feel that now.  I feel fully here.

To be fully present is key to being who you are meant to be.  Now, that I am fully in Egypt, I hope to God to reach more potential and experience less turbulence.  

A good quote can always stop me in my tracks
and make me realize some deeper truth  

Thank you for all your good thoughts and prayers.  I do believe it helped make the time go as well as it did.  I know that I am not alone and that, if you read my words, then you care.  I appreciate you being with me on this journey.

Coming:  More trip topics!


Um Dayo said...

Mashaallah. You're such an inspiration Yosra. I only wish i could find that sense of home in Egypt. And you're right about how hard it is being a Muslim among non muslim, though my family is very supportive of our strange lifestyle. God bless you and your family, ameen.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Um Dayo,

Nice to hear from you. Congratulations on your new baby. I was able to check up on your blog through using my 3G Kindle (but it's not easy). I didn't leave a comment there but I'm happy that you are relieved of such a hard time. Inshahallah, you'll have some smooth sailing for a while.

Don't be too hard on yourself about Egypt not feeling like home to you. Remember: I've got almost five years under my belt and it's had its ups and downs. I didn't have to navigate through the choppy waters of polygyny in a small village. I also didn't have to go through a pregnancy (or two) while living here.

I hope you will be able to see the victories you achieved while in Egypt. There were many. What failed was never meant to be.

Alhumdulillah for Non-Muslim family members who love us and accept Islam as our truth (even if it isn't theirs). Although I don't have to have my family accept me, it sure feels good when they do.

Love and Light to you and yours :)

imenbouyahya said...

Salam Alaykum Yosra,

I am glad you've got so much ease and you're back with such precious positive energy..May Allah give you strength to keep it up..

It's all about renewing/developing new mechanisms of coping to feel lighter..

Alhamdulilah for Allah. He is enough when we fully rely on Him.

Marie said...

It's a pleasure to read you again Yosra and see that all went well for you in the US.
It looks like you ahd a great time and you received even more that what you expected to get maybe.
I am also glad to see that you feel happy to be back to a place you can now call HOME, after all the hard days.
Wishing you all the best. Sending you love and light from Paris.