Seriously, some weeks you don't know if you're coming or going.
I've been living with two YES, TWO! pregnant sisters-in-law both due this month. One got her scheduled c-section appointment for Tuesday and we all planned for that (with an "inshahallah"). In Egypt, there's an awful lot of c-sections and about zero VBACs. So, all of us counted down the days until that sister-in-law's third child would arrive.
Then, the night before her surgery, in rushed my husband's sister in a near hysteria. This is a big, strong lady; she's as tough as they come and she was barely holding it together. Something bad had happened. She told my husband to call one of their cousins. I know enough Arabic to get the basic THERE'S A BIG PROBLEM but I don't know enough Arabic to know exactly what is going on.
Someone had died. I waited to find out who it was. Turns out that their aunt had died. She had lived most of her adult life in Libya (with the last years being especially tough) but came home to Egypt for medical treatment. When my rock of a sister-in-law fell down to the floor crying, I knew that she must have had a special love for her aunt. It turns out that my sister-in-law had been nursed by that aunt and looked on her as another mother (which Islam says is an actual bond after three full feedings)
Game changer! The doctora was immediately called. No, the c-section couldn't be postponed another day but it could wait until later in the morning. This would give the men of the family time to pay their respects down the street. My husband would help his brother bring his wife to the hospital at 11 and then he would go to the funeral at duhr. He hates that feeling of having been in a hospital and he hates that feeling of having been in a cemetery; he would experience a double-whammy of dislike.
Meanwhile, I had to go off to school and teach English. My story about the death of a Native American chief included the line, "Death is a part of life."
A boy blurted out, "That doesn't make sense."
"Raise your hand if you have something to say," I had to admonish.
He did raise his hand to state again, "That doesn't make sense. How is death a part of life?"
Our school's curriculum is often far reaching in its goals. Now was one of those times because I had to get all existential with fifth graders. Our fact-filled lessons don't really allow for a lot of elaboration either so I had to be very succinct.
"When you read a biography, does the story only include the person's life? No! The story has to include when they died; their death is part of the story of their life."
Life and death live so closely together. They aren't really opposites. I mean, if you were calling out opposites in some kind of word association test, you might very well shout out "DEATH!" if you heard "life" but death is actually a continuum of life. It is the last thing you ever do in your life.
I thought of this auntie who lived for so many years in Libya. She had wanted to marry her cousin but he picked someone else so she married a Libyan airline pilot instead. What an adventurous lady! God bless her. Made me think of my own adventure moving here and about my own eventual time to "come home."
In this house, Libya had always been associated with her and prayers said for Libya's peace to ensure her safety. Most Americans don't think of actual people who live in the countries where the U.S. government sends bombs on their behalf. Who do you know in Iraq, Mr. Midwest? Do you know someone in Syria, Ms. West Coast? When we know real people, we really care.
When I came home, I heard that the baby had arrived safely, alhumdulillah. Three is really too many children for the average Egyptian couple to afford but what can you do? Those three children will share that one bedroom for many years to come. I, no doubt, will hear them fight over the limited resources they have but I will also hear them laugh and play.
Around one o'clock in the morning, the other pregnant sister-in-law's water broke. I went off to school not knowing this. No one knew except the expectant parents. When my husband came home from helping us catch the bus, he found his brother in need of help. It was a kind of Groundhog Day deja' vu.
When I came home, I heard that the baby had arrived safely, alhumdulillah. Wait...I already wrote that. Oh, that's OK because it happened twice. Ya, my head was spinning but just imagine my husband: funeral, hospital, hospital, funeral.
Oh, I added one more funeral because sure enough there was another. Yes, an elderly cousin died today. He was a very proper gentleman and the picture I have of him shows me a side of Egyptian man that I wish more would emulate.
In the midst of all of this, my husband and I had a major disagreement. My mother-in-law added her own rant to the proceedings. It was the stress of it all. It wasn't us. In the end, we made up and moved on because that's what life needs.
People are still so connected here---to one another and to both life and death. As much as Egypt drives me crazy, I do value that connection. People are fragile; it's a miracle anyone is ever born and a blessing that anyone ever survives a day, let alone until old age. That realization also connects you to God.
The only guarantee we have is to be born and to die. Again and again it's true. It was true for the four lives that touched my life this week; two entered this world and two left. Subhanallah.
May the time we have in between be used wisely.