Saturday, November 18, 2017

The More Things Change

Asalamu Alaykom,

A month has gone by without any word from me.  That doesn't mean that life stood still; it kept moving.  Some of it seemed to be moving forward, and some of it backward.  In the end, it's true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ever heard a person with a poor sense of mathematics try to explain how much something has changed?  They will goof it up by saying, "It changed 360 degrees!"  This sounds like a BIG number, but it only means that the situation went all the way around and ended up back where you started.

The above is a picture of Lickey.  He was only a kitten during Ramadan.

When I had a week off from school (the British like a vacation at the mid-term), we went back to Giza.  El Kid and I hadn't been there for two months and it felt like a homecoming, i.e., a little bit refreshing to reconnect with our stomping grounds, but awkward in that it isn't exactly "home" any more.  One of the things we really wanted to see was Lickey.  Was he OK?  We haven't tried having a pet since Robbie Rabbit, and Lickey was the closest we've come to animal ownership.

As the picture shows:  he's grown!  He's still in love with my husband's sandals and I find that hilarious.  He doesn't need his mama now.  I didn't even see her.  It's all him.  He comes meowing to our door and I feed him whatever I've got.  He can get food up on the roof with the other animals, but he knows that he's free to panhandle as well.  He's quite good at it since he scored a cream cheese packet from me----I was just so happy to see him.

I was happy too when I looked out our window and saw the neighbor's balcony plants.  Two out of the three had survived the desert and the lack of a constant gardener.  I really thought they might all die.  If you remember, I had been secretly shooting water at them during the hot months this summer.

As for people, I was happiest to see my mother-in-law.  She came up to our apartment, sat next to me, and ate the cookies we gave her.  She knew I didn't look right (even with her one bad eye) and got the truth out of me:  I had been crying the night before from my mother's phone call.  It's funny how much I needed that little, old lady patting my hand and telling me, "Malish.  Kabeera."  It's nothing.  She's old. 

My mom IS old and it's hard for me to continue to be so far from her.  She hadn't been sleeping well for two weeks.  When I expressed my heartfelt concern, she grew upset.

"What are you going to do?  How could you help me?  You're half a world away!  If I can't complain to you, then I guess I can't tell you anything; I'll just smile and play nice."

Maybe we don't need our moms any more, but we want them; we want them to need us.  She let me know that she didn't need to talk to me any more, and then she said good-bye and hung up.

I only call her once a week---every Friday because Friday is the family day in Egypt and she's my family.  I can't call my dad with his Alzheimer's because it's too confusing for him and too upsetting for me.  She's my weekly connection with my life before Egypt...before Yosra...before everything.  I have a couple of minutes or maybe as many as twenty if needed.  Beyond that, there's a lot left unsaid because there isn't time.  I can't explain to her how much it's costing and have her understand.  I can't have her fathom how FRUSTRATING the lack of signal is in this apartment.

There are so many things she's never experienced and I can't get her to understand.  She doesn't wait in line to pay for more minutes on her phone, she isn't accused by the customer disservice of buying her SIM card on the black market, all so she can spend money on minutes AND an added increase in government tax.  I will now be spending about 50 LE to receive 28 minutes of credit on my phone.  To call the U.S., I spend about 4 LE a minute.  The math isn't in my favor.

There isn't time in our lives together, as mother and daughter, for anything except essentials.  I believe this is God's way of weaning me from my mother.  There is a time coming when I will no longer be able to call her---not once a day, like I used to in the States, and not once a week, like I do now.  I will no longer be able to hear her even hang up on me.

This week, we were back in Alex, after our time in Giza.  We had only gone out a few times.  We had done our banking, gone shopping, and seen Ahmed's sister's home improvements.  Most of the time, we had chilled out and I had cleaned and organized my huge piles of crap school materials.  I hadn't wanted to stay a full week.  I had PLEADED to have a day in Alex before going back to work, but it fell on deaf/Egyptian ears.  We left Saturday, I started back to work Sunday, and then Tuesday I got the phone call.

At school, I was busy training in a new assistant (first job ever) and being in charge of 21 first graders who had been off schedule for a week.  I wasn't supposed to answer my phone, but I did.  My hub knows not to call me, so if he does, then it's important.

He was sounding stressed and it was about the package of clothes I was trying to send to my college-age daughter.

It was going to cost 1000 LE to send it.  The clothes themselves cost 956 LE, so my effort to help her Arabic class presentation was putting a dent in our monthly budget.

"One thousand for DHL.  Okay?"  my husband was sounding downright manic.

"Yes, fine.  I have to go," I was hurrying because I could get in trouble.

"Listen to me.  Listen to me!  Nasser is dead."


"This morning.  He hugged Ayah and fell to the floor."

That visual was upsetting.  I could picture sweet Ayah, almost completely blind now, a chubby teenage girl, and the favorite of her father.  I then remembered what I had to say.

"Allah yer hamo."  I had to ask God to accept Nasser; Haj Nasser.

Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, was two or three things for my husband.  Biologically, they were first cousin.  He was, by marriage, his brother-in-law, since Nasser, Allah yer hamo, married Ahmed's eldest sister.  He was also a father figure from the time when Ahmed's own father had died when Ahmed was sixteen.

I didn't like Nasser the first time I met him.  I'm not trying to speak badly of the dead.  That was eight years ago at a family party.  There was an interaction that was surprising to me and it upset me.  I've since figured out that it wasn't him who was to blame, it was the other person.  Hindsight is 20/20.  At the time, I was so put off by him that when it came time to get engaged, I didn't want him to introduce us as a couple, and had someone else do it.  I was so stand-offish with him, that I would leave the room when he came over.  He thought it was due to modesty.

Somehow, Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, kept appreciating what I was doing for Ahmed's life by marrying him.  He kept advocating for the two of us to be together and speaking up for us whenever it was needed.  How?  I honestly don't know how he saw my good, when I only saw his bad.  Yet, year after year, I tore down my preconceived notions about this man because he treated us well, and he took care of his family.  I built up new respect for him.  I prayed for him during all his medical issues.

In addition to heart problems, he was diabetic, which is so common in Egypt that it isn't funny.  His job as a pastry chef made that even more probable.  He would always send us sweets---not to everyone in the family, but just to us.  Maybe he was trying to sweeten me up with all the petite fours, the baklava, the basbosa and konafa, the Eid cookies.

He really appreciated how I had helped his two children with retinitis pigmantosa, a degenerative, genetic blindness common to children born to cousins.  Until I came into the picture, his wife, my husband's sister, was still trying to figure out if they just needed an operation or more powerful glasses.  Subhanallah, I had been teaching a blind girl in my kindergarten (a whole other story) and my connection with her gave me leads into help for the family.  No, those children would become only more blind over time and the glasses would never give them proper vision again.

Ayah and her brother Ali were invited to visit the Cairo center for the blind, so they could adjust to their situation now that they knew there was no hope.  In some ways, finding out there is no hope opens us all up to what hope there actually is.  The woman who ran the center, Madame Do'a, herself has a son who left Egypt, went to university in Canada and lives on his own as a blind man.  She rehabilitates and is really a hard lady with those who underestimate themselves or others.  God bless her.

She even helped Ahmed Harara.  Ayah and Ali sat next to him there.  He was one of the most important protesters during the Egyptian Revolution of 2012.  He lost an eye from being shot with a rubber bullet by police.

Later, during protests against military rule, a.k.a the coup, he was shot in the other eye.  He lost his sight completely.  This former dentist is blind from being too hopeful.  He lost all sight, and the center was trying to help him regain something.  In shah Allah he got what he needed.

My husband was the one bringing the children back and forth from Giza to the center in Cairo.  He is always the go-to guy for that family.  Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo,  wouldn't be around; he'd be at work in the kitchen on the Red Sea oil rig.  Ahmed would be the one to help; he would be the kind uncle I wished I had had when I was little.  He would be the good brother and the good brother-in-law.

When Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, was sick---and this was many, many times---it was Ahmed to get him to the hospital, to the doctor's visits, and later to the lawyer.  It was a very hard meeting that Ahmed took him to when he signed his will.  Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, felt how unwell he was and, God bless him, made provisions for his family.  That day hurt my husband because it was a kind of admission that he was going to lose someone so dear to him.

Yet, Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, kept working.  He had to.  Men in Egypt keep working because they have to.  Very few men retire; they simply drop dead.

In a way, I couldn't believe how much energy he had.  Sure, he'd be at the doctor's one week, but then the next, he'd be back at work and giving orders to remodel the apartment.  Ahmed would be the one to help with all the home contractors too.

I wasn't that happy about Ahmed supervising the renovation of their apartment. It was Ramadan, we were going to be leaving soon and we had a LOT of lose ends to tie up.  He'd be over at their apartment with electricians, plasterers, and painters.  He'd come home tired and a little stressed out.  I held my tongue (at least I think I did).  Who else would do it if he didn't?  His sister?!  Nooooo.  Women don't deal with the male workers here.  Many of the men wouldn't even go into the house if only the sister was at home; Ahmed had to go over.

When we left this August, I was glad to leave.  Part of why I wanted to leave was all this pull that the family has had on Ahmed.  Haj Nasser saw this too and it was him, Allah yer hamo, who was the most vocal with Ahmed to LEAVE!  GO!  GET OUT!  The last time I saw this supporter of ours, Allah yer hamo, was him saying this message---but in Arabic, of course.

When we returned this November, I was glad to come back:  to see our place, our things, our independent contractor pet, and even the people who can drive me crazy.  I really wanted to see the completed apartment and Ahmed's sister invited us----for a big "thank you" dinner of goose, molokhia and mashy.  Haj Nasser, Allah yer hamo, wouldn't be there; he was at work at the Red Sea.

I praised the newly brightened walls and ceiling, the gleaming ceramic and the stylish furniture.  There was more electric light than before, in order to accommodate the two eldest kids.  I took pictures of everyone smiling.  When it was magrib, the three of us prayed and I made du'a for the family.  We talked and laughed over tea, and she never wanted us to leave.  It was a good evening...

and it was six days later that Haj Nasser came home and died.  I think he could finally die because his work for his family was done.  He had ensured their comfort and safety.  He knew that the kids were old enough and strong enough for him to go.  He woke up on Tuesday, hugged Ayah in greeting, and then fell to the floor dead.  He was gone immediately in a quick and painless death after a painful life.

My husband has had to comfort those children---especially Ayah---and to be the man who transfers the power and the money of the father to the son who can see.  That sixteen-year-old boy had to go with my husband to the lawyer and sign the papers.  I can only imagine how difficult a reminder this all is of the time when my husband was the sixteen-year-old whose father had died.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I've been teaching in class with my little six-year-olds, about cycles because one boy really remembers this concept from last year.  "Like a cycle, Miss?" he'll ask and I'll think about what I've been teaching and then realize that he's right:  so much of life is like a cycle.  These are all the same stories, but we just play different parts from time to time.

One time, I was the daughter who wanted something from my mom and then another time I was the mom trying to get my daughter to understand how much I was already giving to her.  Before, I was weaned from my mother's body, later I weaned my daughter from my body, and now, in a whole different concept, I am being weaned again from my mother---but this time from her psychologically.

My husband has been the child grieving, and now he is the man who must comfort the boy without his father.  He grew up too fast himself and is doing all he can to still give what he can to the children.

All of us create images in our minds of who someone is and then realize how much of what we think is just our perception of reality instead of reality itself.  We give up our notions, and free ourselves, so we can then open up to new relationships, but once we come to a peace with having people close to us, we have to let them go.

"Open. Shut them.
Open.  Shut them.
Give a little clap!  clap!  clap!

Open. Shut them.
Open.  Shut them.
Lay them in your lap!  lap!  lap!"

My new assistant didn't come to work on Thursday.  I've been a new assistant.  I've been her.  She looks at me as some old lady; the same as I used to look at the first teacher with whom I was ever paired.  She sees me as someone who can't understand her needs, her wants, her life as a young woman fresh out of university.

I can.

I see the world in a very different way than she sees it----not because I'm smarter, but because I've been in this story 49 1/2 years.  Don't forget the half.  These last six months have been important.

I hope they've been important for you too.

Light and Love to you and to those you love...and even those you can't understand yet.

No comments: