Sujud, that moment of resting my forehead on the prayer rug in total submission to Allah, is the best place I ever go. It is when I wish time could stand still and I could stay in that peace forever. Too soon, I feel that the blood is rushing to my head and I have to rise up and join the rest of the world. I have to continue on with my prayer and my day.
Yesterday, I got to make sujud on the prayer rug after an absence of a week and it felt like a homecoming.
It started with...well, that's the problem with a story. When did it all start? I was going to say that it started with a cold, but it didn't. It started with a field trip on a day when I knew I was getting sick, but I was too committed to my job. I went.
I went all over Cairo with kids and visited mosques and bazaars. I was tired, but content that I saw more of the land I've adopted as my home.
The next week was the stress of final rehearsals for my show about the Chinese calendar legend of the twelve guardian animals.
It had been more fraught than usual. Thirteen students had come and gone from the project.
"I don't like my part. I only have one solo."
"It's taking too long and has too many rehearsals."
"Now that I wear hijab, my parents say I can't be in the show."
"I couldn't find the rehearsals, so I just walked around."
"I really want to be an actress so please let me in the show. I only need the script and then I'll learn all my lines, so I don't need rehearsals."
"I don't want to be the pig. Kids will make fun of me."
That last one caused a major re-write. After a days of wondering what to do, I wrote a play within a play; had all the actors on stage go from being characters to being themselves to deal with the issue of pig-hating Egyptians not wanting to play the part. The actor who didn't want to be the pig would then be changed, with the audience watching the whole (fake) debate, to a poisonous tree frog and then to a panda. It was actually a GREAT re-write and I was so pleased with the effort that everyone made to find a solution.
Then, that boy still quit. We were left without a pig or a panda. That part never got replaced. In the end, I had the same set up for someone wanting to quit the show, but one of the other characters on stage reported the events that were supposedly happening off stage. We got our play-within-a-play without having that actor.
We also didn't have a horse. I slapped some wooden shelves for the horse's entrance. Oh, yes, I did.
The next week was the show and I was sick, sick, sick with the cold. Alhumdulillah, I didn't lose my voice. I sounded bad as I would introduce the show at the start of each performance, but I did what I could. The kids were great; the best thing about them is that they had staying power and commitment to making the show happen. God bless! How we ever limped along from September to February with all those cast members quitting, I'll never know.
Stubbornness. That's what got us through the hard times of quitters telling us that the show wasn't coming together. I did get some Mandarian Chinese to come out of the mouths of Egyptian students. I got an angry rap from the Tiger in a black leather jacket from the most respectful boy you'll ever meet. I got a studious boy to be superhero cool as the Dragon. The boy who gets bullied was a great prince and two of the smartest kids in sixth grade got to be imperial stars as the Emperor and Empress. All together, fourteen students had the chance to be the dreamers of the dream and to create a world that we shared with others. I didn't give up. They didn't give up. Forget any theatrical skills they learned because what they really learned was perseverance.
One of the best moments for me was to look out into the audience and see many of those who used to be in the cast. They wanted to see what they used to be a part of and gave up. They had said it couldn't be done and truly it couldn't---with THEM. The dream was bigger (or weirder) than they were able to envision.
The show for parents, done on a rainy Thursday afternoon, meant the end of the months of stress. Like any end to stress at work, that meant that my body fell apart at home during the weekend. My cold had been with me for two weeks and I was so tired from pushing myself. I didn't see a doctor because it was only a cold.
Another week and I thought I was feeling better that following weekend. I pushed myself those days to really get things done around the house. It had been hard on my husband to do so much around the house in order to pick up my slack. I was going to clean and organize and manage my life again. I was also going to pray istakarah on what I should be doing for next year's employment (since I wanted to switch to an Islamic international school, but it wasn't panning out).
The very next day, I was hit by my second cold. Was that the answer to my prayers? Within a week, I had lost the hearing in my right ear. I had read up on the reasons for blocked Eustachian tubes and the cures and tried all the home remedies---even had a fight with my husband over the necessity of buying a hot water bottle.
"I need it."
"No, it's not what I want. I want that hot water bottle!"
"I don't know where to get it."
"Look! Here's how you say it in Arabic and here's a picture on the 'net."
"I don't need a picture."
"Yes, you do! Come back here! Take a picture of this!"
None of it helped and I headed off to work through days of revision to make sure everything was covered.
That Wednesday was the first day of exams, I didn't have any proctoring, so I took off work for the only time this year. It went horribly wrong. I didn't go to the doctor because I thought I only needed rest. I couldn't rest; couldn't sleep. The kids were screaming downstairs all day. We had another fight. I cried which made my ear hurt worse, but at least I had that hot water bottle! Back to work for Friday, and then there was another weekend. All I needed was rest, right?
No. I had a severe ear infection which was diagnosed when I finally went to the doctor on Tuesday.
One good thing about Egypt, I basically got home from a terrible, pressure-filled bus ride, and got an appointment right away for 4:30 pm. The doctors said that I needed a course of four (rump) shots and two weeks of pills. The pharmacy didn't have any females on staff so it's been visits to the hospital to have a series of young women tell me that my Arabic is good and ask me where I'm from. I say I'm from here on hijrah and I don't remember any country before this one. They jab me with a needle and then I pay them five pounds in thanks, although they all said that I didn't have to.
Still, my ear is closed to sound as if there's frequency on TV. It's a bit of being in a prison within my head; a taste of what deafness feels like. Alhumdulillah for this (inshahallah) short-term situation. I've felt what's it's like to not correctly hear an order from my boss, to smile when I didn't really get what someone said, and to hate big rooms, like the staff room, with lots of voices.
I can be patient while this heals inshahallah.
It didn't feel the same. I couldn't stay down for long. I had to come up quickly. Normally, I stay down so long---especially for fajr---in order to pray for those I love. I pray for my mind, body and soul, and for the same in my husband, my parents, my father's woman friend, my mother-in-law, and my children. I couldn't stay down in sujud for any of this over the last week.
In the middle of all of this feeling of loss, I gained a huge blessing. This was when I was wondering why I had been sick for so long, what I had done wrong, and if this was a sign from God in answer to my istakarah prayer. I had been thinking about changes I needed to make in my life to be healthier mentally and physically; to reduce stress. I was lost in pain and isolation---really. I kept going, but I was needing something and I didn't know what.
That's when my daughter emailed me. It was a couple of weeks after I'd overshared in the staff room about how my relationship with my daughter was strained. We have loved each other from a distance that often was more emotional than physical. My tumultuous life had caused a rift between us that neither time nor two visits to the States had mended. Stupid me for sharing too much; don't give a report if you don't want a report card. No, nothing they could tell me would really be the answer that I didn't ask for. It had me thinking about what I had said and what I had lived through.
It was then that she emailed me that she had a surprise. She had been taking Arabic classes at university. She had a project to do on an Arabic country and she had chosen Egypt. That meant THE WORLD to me. I would've cried except it would've caused more pressure in my head.
All those years ago, the little four-year-old blondie learning Al-Fatiha had matured into a young woman making choices for herself and she had chosen to learn Arabic. She had once done a project in elementary school, in the years when she would wear a hijab every Friday, naming Egypt as a place she wanted to visit and now in a university course she was doing a project on Egypt.
She was reaching out to what I had given her long ago. She was being the girl I knew and loved and letting me know that that girl wasn't lost to me. She was connected to me and to my life and my choices and that there was respect for what I had done---not because it made her life easier (it hadn't) but because it made me into ME and she could see more of that now that she was older, out of her father's house, and making decisions for who SHE wanted to be.
Okay, she didn't say all that. She only emailed that she was in her second semester of learning Arabic, that she wanted to surprise me, and that she was doing a project on Egypt. Like I said, it meant the world to me.
I don't know what everything else in my life means. I don't know why I'm not supposed to hear well these days, or why I can't get hired easily by an Islamic school. I'm not sure why I am still married to the same man who drives me crazy even after seven years. I don't know if this is the country I am destined to live and die in even if I can barely navigate a doctor visit.
I don't know.
What I do know is that seeds that were planted years ago, have grown into something beautiful today. It was something that I did in this life and if I hadn't been the person with the belief that growth was possible, then it never would have happened. Good things are happening in this world because of what I have done.
I lost sight of that.
I lost sight because I was looking down at my own feet wondering where I was going. I forgot that you can't really go forward while looking at the spot beneath your feet. You've got to look ahead and believe that it's all good.
This year, especially with the election and the aftermath of the election, has been super negative. It's been a depressing downer. My illness "coincidentally" coincided with the first month in the White House. It has felt horrible to be a Muslim-American in the world. It's easy to think that the world is what is happening politically, but the world is what we make of it. Our worlds need to be smaller when the big problems weigh us down.
It's been a long time away from the blog---and from readers. I have many thoughts of what to say in the time I'm not writing. I wait. I wait until what I want to say makes more sense. That's been a while for me. Thanks to those of you who hoped I was OK. I wasn't, but I am on the mend now.
After four days of shots, I could go down in sujud onto the prayer rug. It was scary to submit fully again because I didn't know how it would feel. The pain wasn't there, but I didn't risk staying longer than needed. It wasn't the same sujud as before, when I was in the depth of prayer for as long as I could stand it. It was a quicker sujud, but it was more meaningful because I had lost it for that time. Alhumdulillah.
Everything is more meaningful once we've lost it.