Living in Egypt is good for your faith. It tests your patience and makes you pray to God more. Even simple tasks or shopping trips become a myriad of tasks so complex that you feel like you're on The Quest for the Holy Grail.
This week, with coconut halves in hand, we set off to find elusive ink cartridges for my printer. In the States, you head over to Best Buy, CompuServe, Savers, Target or any other big chain store and you pop in and you pop out with purchase in hand. In Egypt it's a different story.
After El-Kid's morning swimming lesson and the Jummah prayer, we went to Mall of Arabia on Friday. It was December 25 (and as the song goes) it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
The mall has seven likely sellers of ink cartridges but none of the stores carried what we needed. We did, however, find two blouses for me
...before eating a late lunch at Chili's. That never-ending basket of chips was what we all needed!
It was getting late and I hadn't prayed duhr yet. The mall has prayer spaces for both men and women. This doesn't mean that everyone takes advantage of this blessing. My Egyptian husband often feels like he'll "pray when we get home." I dutifully remind him that we might never make it home; we certainly were not going to make it home before magrib. He made one last grumble before I laid it on the line.
"Look, if I asked you for one more store, you could say 'no'. If I asked you for one more restaurant, you could say, 'impossible.' On the other hand, if I say I want to pray on time, that's between me and Allah and there's nothing you can say to stop that."
We left the restaurant and started the search for the prayer space. He kept eyeing the door. Then, he saw a free give-away. It was a bottle of Fairy dish washing detergent. Even though we needed to find the prayer hall, we stopped for the sales spiel. Minutes were ticking by but I feigned interest so we could get the bottle. My husband really wanted that teaspoon too and I had to make a request for it before we could grab it and run.
I reminded my husband that it was only because I wanted to pray that we had found the give-away. He laughed. God blesses us in many ways and somehow prayer does open up channels to receive.
Finally, we turned the corner and there the doorway stood. My guys sat on the benches outside with the shopping bags while I went inside. I took off my shoes and was going to tuck them inside my over-sized purse when my husband called to me to let him watch them. I know I should trust praying women NOT to steal my shoes (but I don't).
There is something beautiful about praying with strangers who made an effort to leave their day to worship. The mall has so much dunya and easy ways to forget Allah---especially with all the Christmas paraphernalia. Yet, we stood in that quiet space for a short time as the sun would soon be setting.
I took one last incongruous picture of Santa in a Muslim country surrounded by snow in the desert. The azan for magrib sounded and I felt some kind of bliss of being me.
We walked out in a good mood but I knew we'd probably have a fight. There is something about the stress of getting home which always puts us at odds. I want to take a taxi. He wants to save money and take the bus. The drivers started to fight over which bus would take us home. I then walked away quickly and had another bus driver yelling at me to ride his bus. My husband tried to pull us across the street and I yelled in fear at the approaching traffic. The whole thing was tense.
I've gotten used to it being as such. This is part of living in Egypt. No matter how much fun you have while you're out, the transportation back and forth can be a real torture.
Alhumdulillah, we made it home safely. I had made extra remembrance of Allah as we went (and held on to El-Kid next to me). By the time we walked in the door, we were all over our upset.
That night had us watching A Charlie Brown Christmas (which my husband stayed awake for)
and It's a Wonderful Life (which my husband slept through).
It was a good mix of both worlds and a meaningful way to end a long day.
It was Boxing Day and I had to explain to El-Kid that the holiday had nothing to do with prize fighting. It was another swim lesson and afterwards another attempt to find the ink cartridges. I really wanted to get them so I could print nifty labels for my spice jars.
It is probably haram how much I love my little spice jars. I bought a specific jam for years just to amass the company's glass containers with squared sides. I would soak off the labels before writing my own. I even spray painted the lids green. There they sit on my IKEA white metal spice rack.
They needed professionally printed labels so off we went again.
After another swim lesson, we stood on the road trying to get a ride. My husband once again wanted a bus and I once again wanted a taxi. None of the buses were going our way so a taxi it was! A little further up the road was a frightening reminder of how dangerous Egyptian roads are. One of the buses had crashed and victims were sitting in shock on the curb. Subhanallah but for the Grace of God go I.
We were going deep into 6th of October. I learned how really scummy the backstreets of 6th of October are. Everyone talks of living in the suburbs---as if that is the answer to all of life's problems. Really? Every area in Egypt has high class and low class in close proximity.
The driver didn't actually know where the store was. He dropped us off where it should be----but it wasn't. We headed down the road, but then realized that we weren't where we needed to be so we bought some juice and Cracky snacks to sustain us as we retraced our steps. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant day. It was almost like being a tourist (except we weren't in any place you'd want to be).
We headed up the road and I started to think of the last time we'd been on this stretch. That's when I saw the Syrian sweet shop. YES! We had spent a small fortune the last time we'd been there. It was wonderful to see it again.
Sample after sample welcomed us back.
I felt badly that we had ever spent money on any other sweet...
when we could have gone to Salloura's.
We bought three boxes of sweets and treats.
At the cash register, my husband spent a long time talking to the man in charge. His intention, I know, was to reach out and be kind. He told the man, "We are all Egyptians."
I piped up, "I'm not. You don't have to be Egyptian. Being good here and wanting good for Egypt is enough."
Really? Those Syrians who run the store and I have a lot in common. Ya Rab they find happiness and peace here.
We walked on. Even though we found a stationary store, it wasn't the one we wanted and they didn't have any printer ink. It's a funky store that I was in two years before. They sell all this strange merchandise you never see any where else. I bought a smiley face board eraser (!) and a wooden model of the Cairo Tower to make with El-Kid.
Cleverly, my husband had spent the whole time getting information from the employee of that store on where to go for printer ink. It would mean another bus ride. We were headed far away.
When we reached, I swear that I didn't want to get out of the Suzuki. It didn't look right! It was all industrial equipment: tools, chains, machines. This was the place for computer ink?! In we walked amid the gruff men. My husband learned that we had to go up the stairs. I held on to my son as we climbed. I half suspected we'd find a dead animal on the landing.
At the top of the stairs was a doorway into a narrow passageway. As soon as they saw us, many people began beckoning to us as if they hadn't seen any customers in a long time. It felt a bit like a creepy hashish den from the movies. El-Kid spotted the word, "Cannon" and we headed left. Sure enough! As sure as if it was a shining golden chalice, there hung the box of printer ink. In fact, there were many boxes and I wanted to buy three.
They were 150 LE each. We had spent so much at the Syrian sweet shop, my husband told me that we could only get two boxes. Life is funny, isn't it? I talked with the man about how hard it had been to find him. While Egypt seems to have everything you could ever want, you certainly do have to make some effort to get it!
Once again, we were out on the street, too tired to argue about bus or taxi. When a nice vehicle pulled up, headed for the Pyramids, we took it. When we reached our area, it was one more micro-bus home. He had Bert and a sphinx on his dashboard. He brought us back to our street and it was as if we'd been gone for days and days.
Our quest was over.
If you really think about how simple my needs were and how hard it was to get those needs met, then you'll feel how it is to live here. At the same time, that push to get out and get something gave us two days of excitement. It wasn't all easy but it was all real.
That's a good way to end my posts for 2015.
It wasn't all easy
but it was all real.