UmAhmed sits like a guardian at the entrance to our street. Her vegetables are displayed around her and she waits with them all day, hoping that someone buys a kilo or two. I always greet her as I come and go.
"Wa Alaykom Asalam."
While she sells, her husband cleans sewers. The two of them scrape out an existence in Egypt because they have to. They have boys to raise and a life that needs money.
One time, I missed seeing UmAhmed. She was gone for days and then weeks. When she came back, I was as happy to see her again as if I was seeing a long lost friend.
"Where were you?" I asked in Arabic.
"I was sick, alhumdulillah. I had a baby," she answered.
"Congratulations! I didn't even know you were pregnant, " I said cheerfully.
I didn't understand what she told me at first so I had to clarify. Even though I know enough Arabic to get by, I can't follow surprises very well. The baby had died. UmAhmed had been gone from my life because of the tragedy in hers.
"Alhumdulillah," I finally replied.
"Alhumdulillah," she repeated.
That's what you do when you're Muslim. You end every sadness with thanking God. Maybe it was a blessing, actually, that they didn't have another mouth to feed. It would just be the four of them and not five.
Imagine my surprise when I saw another young boy hanging around her little table-top store. He was wearing my son's old cast-off sweatsuit (they call them "trainers" here). We have been giving UmAhmed bags of used but wearable clothing for her youngest son Mohammed. Yet, here in the street was a different boy playing with Mohammed. I hadn't known that she had another son.
The back of his head showed some scars from some earlier injury. That is all I glimpsed of him as we greeted UmAhmed and continued on our way home from the school bus. She looked tired.
When I arrived home, I saw that my husband had bought vegetables that day so I asked if he had gotten any from UmAhmed. He doesn't like to buy food from her since her husband deals with the sewer. My husband is worried that food might get contaminated somehow. No, he told me that he hadn't bought anything from her.
"She looks so tired. We should give her some money again," I suggested.
"I already did. I gave her some this week," he told me, but he would never tell anyone else since charity is best kept private between the giver and Allah.
"Ahmed, " I remembered to ask him what I had been wondering, "who is the boy with her? He has something wrong with the back of his head. I don't remember seeing him before."
"He's obelisk," which obviously wasn't the right word so he tried again. "No. I mean, he's homeless. Homeless, right? No home. He was at the bus station with no mom and no dad; an orphan. Nobody wanted him. UmAhmed took him to her home."
I was struck at that the moment by this revelation. I now realized why she had looked so tired. Slowly it dawned on me how much she was doing with her life; she wasn't just selling vegetables. With some humility, I saw how little our charity to her was in comparison to how much her charity was to this young boy.
"What's his name?"
"Mashahallah," I said because that's what Muslims say when they are in awe of the Greatness of God at work in the world.
Please say a prayer for this working mom who has very little and has decided to share her home.
If you can do for those who are less fortunate than yourself, then do it.
If you can't do more, then please give to those who can.
May Allah reward everyone doing and giving to the best of their abilities.