Saturday, May 12, 2018

Once, Twice, Three Times

Asalamu Alaykom,

Not writing doesn't mean that I'm not living.

In some ways, I'm living more now than ever.  I'm focused on getting things done and doing things with the people I love.  It feels healthier.

When I want to write, I worry.  My son "El Kid" on the blog, formerly known as "Mr. Boo", is almost a teenager.  Even though our lives intertwine, he has his needs for privacy.  I've said a lot before and maybe too much.  Do I shut it all down for his sake?  Do I tell him that being my son means being...a bit...out there?

Would I be the object of scorn and ridicule if the parents at school started reading me?  Could I potentially lose my job?  I have worry and fears.

With Ramadan coming, I think and rethink if I've betrayed myself or others by sharing too much.  I think about this poem from C.P. Cavafy who wrote this in Alexandria, where I am now.

Yet, big ideas still float around in my head and stay put with no where to go.  I have no friends in Egypt, and, after eight years, I'm disconnected with old friends from the States, so here I come again to this place to be with you.

Let's begin.

I've been married to three and a half husbands.

We won't discuss the half because he is the only one who ever said that he didn't want to be discussed.  In many ways, he is to be forgotten.

Although, having said that, everyone I've ever loved has been a true love---husbands et al.

What made me think about husbands, and true love, and having loved more than just one is that my twenty-seventh wedding anniversary came and went.  It was without celebration, but not without some acknowledgment on my part that I could have been in only one marriage for 27 years and I chose to leave it and move on.

I thought of  "Fools in Love", a song I had picked in 1991 for our reception.  It was originally done by Joe Jackson, but I feel it more now with Inara George.

I was married to my first husband for nine and a half years.  We won't discuss the half because it's really when I was struggling to get free.  In many ways, it is to be forgotten too.

If I had started up a business and encouraged it to grow and worked everyday towards its betterment (except for the final six months), then I would be lauded as having done something good with my life.  I would have been seen as a good person; a self-starter who made something big happen.

However, a marriage that ends after almost ten years---and a total of thirteen years of togetherness---is a failure not a success.  That's a shame.  I mean:  it's not a shame that I divorced a man I no longer wanted as a husband.  That's my right.  It's a shame that there is divorce shaming.

There's on-line shaming, fat shaming, slut shaming, and just a lot of plain ol' shaming of whomever makes us feel uncomfortable.  Divorce makes people uncomfortable because it exposes the truth that not everything we want to last forever actually does.

The way I made peace with myself over the deal is that, while I did promise to love and cherish forever until death, and even though my body was still alive, my soul was dying.  I was no longer feeling free to be me and no amount of walking around the lake, taking dance classes, reading I'm-screwd-up books, or watching Bollywood movies could cure that feeling.  I began to give up everything that no longer served me, and in the end that included the man I had met at age 19.

He had never been the big love of my life.  He and his family were the normalizers of my crazy existence.  For years, I was related to a big Catholic family---Republicans to boot---who celebrated on cue.  God bless them!  It made them happy.

My mother-in-law kept a book which detailed the minutiae of every get together; she knew how many green bean casseroles I had brought to every Thanksgiving.  She wanted to be in charge of the books my newborn would be receiving, but I had to upset that plan when I told her that I already was handling that.  She then wanted a list of every title.  Life went on dysfunctionally like that for me and it was a pendulum swing from my own form of dysfunctionality with my single mom who felt best when life just happened to float down from the sky like a dandelion tuft wafting by.

Don't get me wrong.  I don't hate my outlaws.  They gave me years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars---with every dollar attached to a string which they could pull.  They were the family I thought that I wanted...but actually didn't.

After the seperation, there was a crazy year of dating like a starving woman in the buffet line at Golden Corral.  I would then go on to Marriage Number Two.  This was for the next four years to El Kid's dad, and eventually (skipping over the half marriage), I ended up in Egypt and to marriage number three to Ahmed.  

How's your math?

I've been married to (clearing my throat) three husbands for a total of twenty-one and a half years.  That's a lot of commitment!  I've given my time and effort, my love and devotion to these marriages, and yet I'm the pariah in society. 

Again and again, I keep hearing how President Trump is certainly a low life because he's been married three times.  Look, he's got issues and I'm not a fan, but being married three times hits close to home for me.  It's a legal process sanctioned by the church and the mosque, so let's stop acting as if this makes a person bad.

Divorce does NOT make a person a bad person.

There really aren't any bad people; it's a story we tell ourselves to stop from being impulsive.

I'm not encouraging divorce.  It hurts.  It hurt everyone.  It hurts the adults and it hurts the children no matter their age.  It rips apart a home and it ruins finances.  I wouldn't ever suggest it unless every other avenue has been explored.

For me, I just couldn't stay healthy that fall.  I was the stay-at-home mom of a three-year-old and a six-year-old and I was contantly sick.  It's like I was dying even though nothing was life threatening.  I started to wonder if I was going to get out of the marriage this way and it was a kind of pleasant thought.  

That thought jolted me.  I didn't have to die to leave a marriage.  For the first time ever, I thought that I too might get divorced---just like my parents.  As soon as I thought it, I, being the over sharer, told my husband.  

"I don't know if I can stay married forever."

His response at the time and his only response ever, 

"But you promised me!" 

He's right.  I had.

Some of why I decided to leave that marriage had to do with times that had led up to to my spoken fears about staying married another nine and a half years---words like, "I hate to come home to you."

Some of my decision had to do with the way my fears were treated.  Instead of reassuring me of his love and commitment to keep a firm foundation for our children, I was mistreated, shamed and threatened with ruin if I left.

I still left.

In some ways, I was ruined.  Each time I had extreme failure, he was very kind to me.  Funny how that used to happen.

Eventually, with our first born son now 23 and our daughter 20, we have stopped having to interact.  He remarried and is celebrating a new wedding anniversary.  Good for him.  I wish them well.

It does not mean that he's a better person than me because he married twice instead of thrice.  The world doesn't seem to count that other woman (in between wives) who lived with him.  That's totally accepted in the U.S. and not counted in the least.  

Me?  Mine count because I wanted them to count.  

My name is Yosra.

I've been married legally three times.  I regret none and value all.


Friday, January 12, 2018

Back in Giza and Back to Alex

Asalamu Alaykom,

We have been to Giza and back again.  This is a picture of a tangerine that had been left for someone hungry at the Sidi Bishr train station.  It might not have wanted to go from a lofty branch in the sun to the cavernous dark of a railway platform, but you go where you are needed.

My wish had been to finish up with a very busy month at school and then spend the start of my vacation resting up for a few days.  My husband's wish had been to leave the next morning, so we left the next morning.

There are times when my feminist ire kicks up while married to an Egyptian husband.  However, I would not trade him in for a weak man who caves in to my every desire.  We spar and sometimes he gives in and sometimes I give in.  This, apparently, was my time to acquiesce.

I had thought of not going at all. I was not being selfish, but rather self-preserving.  Being sick, tired and worn out isn't a good recipe for returning home...especially when you feel home already.  We do have two homes at this point and those three hours back and forth are a deterrent.

It's a bit like having a lake cabin.  Many Americans in the northern states have a lake cabin----my grandparents did.  I would see these tiny black and white Kodak shots of an idyllic stone building with a lovely front porch surrounded by trees.  My mom had said that my grandma used to complain about all the work it took to go back and forth and I tacked it up to my grandma being difficult (which is how I remember her).

Actually, I get it now.  It is an adjustment to leave a comfortable place, taking only what you need, and go to a place that needs time and effort before it's comfortable again.  There's always something you forget, and you never feel like you have all your stuff in one place.  It's a hassle to be on the move and to organize everything for a short time.  Having no food is a problem on both sides.

What made me go?

It wasn't my husband because, although he wanted me there, he has gotten used to trusting me and giving me more freedom.  There have been times this fall when we have had to be alone while he went to Giza.  This has become easier now that my son is a young man since Islamically he counts as my guardian when my husband is not with me.

No, what made me go is a sense of family duty and of respect.  My sister-in-law's husband, God bless him, had passed away forty days before, and paying a visit to her and her children was needed.  I needed it.  I needed to validate the tough time she'd been going through.  Yes, maybe my first term at my new school was tough, but it was nothing AT ALL compared to her grief and hardship.

It wasn't only the loss of her only love, my sister-in-law had lots of red tape to cut through and my husband, a.k.a. her baby brother, was now that one who could help her.  It was a payback for all the years she had helped Ahmed like a mini-mom.  The strange thing is that her husband, God bless his soul, had planned for everything.  He had made all the arrangements, visited the bank, and signed the papers, yet STILL the procedures required many trips out, interviews, and confusion.  During one trip, she started to get questioned on the sidewalk by a bank guard and, since my husband was still inside, she got flustered and broke down.  My husband came out, calmed her down, and reassured the guard that she was not a threat, but rather a grieving widow.

Dear God.

Yes.  I wanted to go to Giza for her and her children.  I wanted to go to show respect for a man who tried to leave the people he loved well taken care of, although they wish they could give all the money just to have him back.  As I prepared to leave, I started to see how I was helping my husband keep his wits together.  By supporting him---yes, by giving in to his wishes---I was in turn supporting her and the children.

It's not easy to let go of our own wants and desires for other people.  I was an only child---and an American to boot---so sharing still takes a bit of a nudge.  Sharing my winter break took some soul searching, but, in the end, I made the right decision.

It doesn't mean that every moment felt good.

After three days of not seeing anyone except my hub and my kid, I said that I really did want to go to my sister-in-law's home.  Remember, in Islam, a grieving widow takes a time-out from being social and stays secluded; she wasn't supposed to leave to come see me.  I had to go to her.  We arranged it.  However, I'm learning that a twelve-year-old changes family dynamics as much as a toddler does.  All of a sudden, I was the only one at the door ready to go:  my hub was mad on the couch and my son was mad in his room.  Ah, the joys of being in the middle!

I really thought I could positivity-plus the moment into a better outcome, but I couldn't. I remained standing at the door...alone.

"Can I go by myself?"  I asked.

"Go." My husband was still sulking.

I called to my kid to come with me, but he was not interested in I left.

I walked down the stairs and out the door.  I walked into the night air.  It felt strange even though it's my neighborhood.  Being away had made the place decrepit, even in the moonlight.  It was a bit frightening because I've gotten use to security guards at every high-class apartment along our well-lit street.

I got as far as the vegetable seller, UmAhmed, and stopped to greet her in the cold.  It was well after magrib, and she was still out hoping for someone to buy her food.  She said she needed an operation.  I know that meant I was supposed to give her money, but I had left the house with none.

There still wasn't any phone call telling me to come back.  I'm used to a phone call three minutes later, telling me that he didn't want me to go by myself.  What I'm not used to is leaving the house at night alone...and remaining alone.

What to do?

I kept going.

I got to the busy street and thought how it would be a bad ending to get killed by a speeding micro-bus the moment I finally tried to show how independent and capable I am.  I timed it right and did my quick turkey trot across the road.  As I kept walking down the narrow footpath, I soon realized that crossing the street was probably less dangerous than walking alone at night as a woman in Egypt.

To put an image in your mind, I will mention that I was so layered up that I'm not sure if I resembled a woman as much as a pillow.  My long, baggy, pink sweater hid most everything, but it was breezy, so just in case I had a shawl over that.  I wasn't going to be attracting unwanted attention; on the other hand, I did wonder if my purse would.  I carefully opened my purse to check my phone.

Still no call.

I decided to put the phone in my pants pocket as the nights in Giza can be so noisy with car horns that you can't hear your phone ring no matter what the volume of your ringer is.

Time to cross another street.  This one was less defined than the last one because it was the access road to two one-way streets.  Looking both ways had to happen rapidly and carefully.  I tried to look confident as I made my way across the street and out of our neighborhood.

Men were parked in cars along this street.  I don't know why and I kind of don't want to know why.  It scared me.  I was officially scared---and no one could know this but me.  This would have been a good place to turn back.  I had made it half way and  I had made my point:  I had left the house and been independent.  Khalas!

Then, I thought about my goal.

My intention had been to make it to their house to show solidarity and respect, and I was half way there.  If I gave up now, I would not fulfill my promise to see them that night.  I kept going.

I wasn't used to this part of town in the dark.  It seriously does look so different in Egypt when night hits.  There was the new Chinese restaurant on the corner.  I had noticed it on our way to our apartment.  It was the second new Chinese restaurant near us (and the second one that my husband had refused to eat at).  All I had to do was cross this street and then I'd be in her neighborhood.

That's when the Adam Ant song began to play.  My phone!  My husband was calling me.  Like a surreal bad dream, he was asking where I was and why I had left.

"You told me to go."

"Come home now."

"I'm almost there," I kind of fibbed because I was close but not that close.

"Where are you?"

"I'm at the Chinese restaurant near the football field," I answered.

Oh, this conversation was all in Arabic, so I had to be crossing the street, finding my way, acting coolly confidant, AND speaking in Arabic.  Somehow, I pulled it off and he hung up without trying to divorce me.  Past the football field I went.  Horses munched clover in the median strip.  It was darker here.

I hadn't been to her house that often on foot and it had always been with my husband.  What the hell had I been thinking?  This was alone and at night!  If I ran into trouble or got lost...

There was Zagahloul in the distance.  This main street was a welcome sight because I knew I was close.  I dodged the tuk-tuks (knowing that I would not be hopping into one alone) and started to look to my right.  One of these roads led to her house, but which?

There aren't usually street signs in our area next to the Pyramids.  You look for landmarks and memorize the graffiti on the walls, or the horse carriage parked outside.  That's what I did now.  I walked into the labyrinth of apartment homes and tried my best to remember where they were.  I turned and turned and then stood at the steps of a house that I thought was hers.  Was it?

A little girl was knocking on the door.  I asked her the name of my sister-in-law and she told me that it was.  She called for her.  Still, there was this disbelief that she had understood me and that I was in the right place.

That's when my niece came to the door, saw me, and ran into my arms.  I held her as she cried.

I don't know.

Egypt has been hard at times; hurtful, painful, and cruel, but it has also been that moment many times over when I was connected on such a deep level.  I have made some of the stupidest mistakes in my life, but I think I have made fewer of them here.  I think I have done more to set my life aright.  I have felt compelled to move forward, push ahead into something better and do what's for the best.

I was welcomed in and I stood in the spot that her father had stood as he had greeted his family right before he died.  The location was not lost on me.  My sister-in-law came out of a room where there was a crying baby---whose I wasn't sure yet---and hugged me tightly.  I had been sending messages of love and support through my husband to her, but nothing beats a warm embrace.  She wanted to tell me that her husband had fallen down dead right where we were standing.  I tried not to grimace.  We don't handle death the same way in America---not by a long shot.  It's hard to fathom for me, so I don't know how she can live in that house for the rest of her life with that image in her mind.

Time to call my husband and tell him I had reached my destination.  He wasn't exactly cheering on the other end of the phone.  He also wasn't coming over.  I had really broken with protocol.

I greeted the two eldest children, who are going blind; they move less steadily to the door each time I see them.  Their eyesight is fading.  One of the home improvements was the make the house brighter for them to see better.

I was ushered to sit down on the couch cover that I'd never seen.  I complimented my sis-in-law on her choice of beige stripes.  "He never got to see this," was her reply.  Everything in her world now is in reference to him.

The crying baby in the back bedroom was finally leaving in the arms of a visiting family member.  The back bedroom was where the grand matriarch of the family stayed.  Not only did my sister-in-law lose her husband, she gained a grieving mother-in-law.  The day before, this lady had fallen in the bathroom, so now everyone was coming to visit.

It was my time to visit her too.  This elderly woman was someone who scared me the first time I met her.  She has this strong, strong sense of self that makes way for a grande entrance wherever she goes.  If you told me she was an aging movie queen, I might actually believe you.  She used to wear gold bangles---rows and rows of them---on her arms.  Somehow, with her sitting on the patchwork quilt in the back bedroom, I still saw them, although they are long gone.

She is my husband's paternal aunt.  I never met my father-in-law, however, I can see some strength of character that she has which flows through my man too.  I do believe he inherited that character trait from that side of his family.  She loves me because I have made it a point to love her.

I am loving the old women I meet more as I spend more time away from my own mother.  I can't see her easily, so I see them and see what they need.  I made sure she had socks on her cold feet.  I gave her hugs and held her hand.  I listened to her talk about the three children she has lost to death.  I let her talk about her husband and that made her glow in such an aura of radiant beauty.  She lost years and fears, and became a girl again for a moment who loved a handsome man with a future ahead of her instead of a life behind her.

They all begged me to stay, but I couldn't.  I reasoned with them that my husband was so kind to let me go, but he wouldn't stay understanding for long.  I had to leave or he'd be nervous.  They understood that I spoke the truth and made me promise I'd come back.  I promised.

Thankfully, my teenage nephew came back and could walk me to the busy street.  He wanted to send me home in a tuk-tuk, but I asked him to walk me back instead.  Part of the reason was my safety in the street, and partly it was for my safety once I returned home.  He could buffer upon my re-entering my apartment (and maybe save me from a few angry words).

As we walked, we talked together about his life.  His life had changed so much that day that his father died.  This was as true for him as it was decades ago for my husband.  Both lost their fathers at sixteen.  I warned him that his uncle, my husband, had thought it best to leave school and start working; that had been a bad choice.  I encouraged him to stay in school and dream a big life.  He's good at math, so he'd like to become an engineer.  Whatever he becomes, he will be the only male who can fully take care of the family as his older brother is on his way to becoming completely blind.
He will shoulder the family in the future and this is much harder than my husband had in his life.

We made it back to my neighborhood, then my street, and finally to my apartment.  It felt so good to be home.  It still is home.  There were the little ones I hardly know now sitting on the cold front steps.  Up the stairs we went, and we were welcomed in much easier than if I had been alone.

No fall out happened.

The world didn't end.

Life went on.

Later that week, we all went---the three of us---back to the house in mourning, paid our respects, and said our goodbyes.  The papers had been sorted out, and the money would now be safely in the account.  It had been the right thing to do to spend time in Giza, and God had made it easy on us.

Did I want to stay longer?


I would miss the sunshine that floods our salon in the morning.  I would lament the loss of three places to hang my wet wash.  I would really feel strange to be back among other people's furniture.  All of that was true.

Still, I had an exciting time unfolding in my life on the North Coast, and it felt good to be heading out that morning---even without bus tickets.  Our usual driver picked us up, drove us to downtown Giza,  and miraculously there was our bus to Alex (except it didn't know that yet).  My hub bought tickets as they were calling for the last passengers to load their luggage.  We boarded, sat down amid the smell of kabob-flavored chips, and were off in ten minutes.

It felt good.  It felt blessed.  It felt like going back home.

When I thought of how I have two homes, I thought back to being a child of divorce and having to shift between my mother and father.  It wasn't easy back then, but it did shape me into a person who feels at home wherever I am.  That's a life skill which I'm glad I have.  I love where I'm at and if I go on to a new place, then I love that location too.  Which is the best?  I am really enjoying the mix of the two worlds---just as much as I needed a mother and a father with very different homes.

I see my life as encompassing a bigger area and a better understanding of what is Egypt and who I am.  Alhumdulillah.

May God bless you with bigger and better in 2018.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Breathe Deep

Asalamu Alaykom,

I had my boo-hoo melt down last week and now it's a memory.

Life isn't for the faint of heart, and I don't think it's meant to be lived alone.  Single motherhood is something that I never wanted (as a I experienced my mom living that way).  Having my husband come back after being gone for eight days was finally being able to breathe deep and seek peace.

Dinotopia is a kids' book which I first read before I even had kids.  I was a teaching assistant and this little four-year-old boy LOVED the book.  The way the people and dinosaurs greeted each other was "Breathe deep.  Seek peace."

Sure, I could function without Ahmed.  I'm not disabled by him being gone.  I can go through the motions and make it all work.  I just can't do it endlessly.  I need him.  It's been eight years of being together in Egypt and I do need him to help me navigate this world.

It isn't as pressing a need when I go to the States since it's my country and my culture---or at least it's my former country and my former culture.  Anyway, he couldn't function very well there on his own...or at, I have him beat on this independent foreigner gig.  In the end, being able to live alone isn't the choice I want to make.  God willing, we stay together.

When he came back from helping his sister after her husband's death, he needed me too.  We were very quiet together and he talked.  He isn't a man who talks a lot, but he talked on Wednesday.  He remembered.  He needed me to hear him.  That's special and that's part of what makes a marriage complete.  It isn't all going out and having fun; it's holding and helping through hard times.

I had thought that Haj Nasser died upon waking up in the morning, but I got that wrong.  He had traveled on the company bus from the Red Sea to his newly renovated home that morning.  The bus had broken down and he was late.  When he did reach home, he paid the tuk-tuk driver, asked for his wife for help him up the stairs and then stood at his front door.  His eldest daughter welcomed him home with a hug and after the embrace, he fell on the floor dead.

The spot where he fell is exactly where the three of us, my husband, me, and El Kid, had prayed six days before.  We made du'a for the family on that spot.  Subhanallah, when I heard this news, I was woken up once again to the ways of God which are so much more than we could ever imagine.

Haj Nasser was dead, Allah yer hamo, in that moment, in that place.  He could have died at the Red Sea which would have been SO difficult.  He could have died en route to home which would have been so tragic.  Instead, he died having reached the comfort of home with those he loved so much.  He felt the peace and then left this world.  Subhanallah.

The children saw their father die, but hoped it wasn't death.  They had seen him in a diabetic coma before and hoped that's all it was.  My husband received this news first:  Nasser fell on the floor.  Although no one said that he had died, my husband knew and immediately started out for Giza.  Once my husband reached their home, he is the one who told the children that their father had passed.  Allah yer hamo.

My husband was there and he was fully "there".  Not everyone in this life is fully living.  I credit my man with the ability to be a helper.  He is my ansar like those who lived long ago in Medina who helped the first Muslims from Mecca.

Today, Egypt is reeling from the shock of another act of terrorism.  Some people hurt while other people help.  Astragferallah.

Let's be helpers.

Let's breathe in and seek peace.

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.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Alex vs Giza

Asalamu Alaykom,

I've been living in Alexandria for two months now.  I no longer say "home" and mean Giza.  "Going home" means coming back to this cave apartment.  I've written a lot about my immediate surroundings, but I should really tell more about this city I've adopted.

Is Giza different from Alex?



Giza                                                                             Alex
often confused for greater Cairo                            prides itself on being je ne sais quoi

Known for

Giza                                                                             Alex
"Land of the Dead"                                                  Lighthouse and Library



Giza                                                                             Alex
pharaonic foundings                                                 Macedonian conqueror

Oldest Surviving Architecture


Giza                                                                             Alex
Great Pyramids c. 2580 BCE                                   Roman Amphitheatre c. 117 AD

Biggest Tourist Attraction


Giza                                                                             Alex
Great Pyramids                                                        Citadel of Qaitbey


Giza                                                                             Alex
all nationalities                                                         mostly Egyptians

Grandest Old Hotel


Giza                                                                             Alex
Menna House                                                           Cecil


Giza                                                                           Alex
economy-sized taxis                                               black and yellow LADA taxis
VW bus                                                                      vans

Driving Style

Giza                                                                           Alex
stuck in traffic                                                        drive it like you stole it


Giza                                                                           Alex
hot                                                                             6 degrees cooler
dry                                                                             humid

Air Conditioning

Giza                                                                           Alex
not usually                                                                at least two


Giza                                                                           Alex
half a day to dry                                                     a day and a half to dry

Grocery Store Chains

Giza                                                                            Alex
Carrefour                                                                Carrefour
Spinney's                                                                Fathalla
Ragab                                                                        Metro
Metro                                                                        Sarai



Giza                                                                             Alex
camel meat                                                               fish and seafood
home-cooked                                                            take away

Fried Hummus Bean Patties

Giza                                                                             Alex
a.k.a tumeya                                                             a.k.a. falafel


Giza                                                                             Alex
mild                                                                             hot

Hijabi Style

Giza                                                                             Alex
Slutty or Severe                                                       Moderate Muslim Chic

I'll keep exploring this new city and finding more comparisons.

Is one better than the other?

For me, right now, I'm still enjoying the newness of Alexandria.

My husband keeps warning, "Wait until winter; it's going to be COLD!"


I've now been here an additional month.  Here are a few other comparisons to make.

Pervasive Bad Smell 

Giza                                                                             Alex
Uncollected garbage                                                    Sewer


Giza                                                                             Alex
wild dogs and cats,                                                 cats, cats, and cats, and pet dogs
horses, donkeys, camels
on the street
ducks, geese, chicken, pigeons
sheep, and goats
on the roof

Phone Signal

Giza                                                                             Alex
GREAT!  Towers all over!                                      What?  What?  I can't hear you.

It's a Small World

Giza                                                                             Alex
everyone is family to everyone else                           everyone went to school with everyone else

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fix It

Asalamu Alaykom,

Our freezer is fixed and our Eid Al-Adha meat is back home.  What a strange series of unfortunate events!

Speaking of that book/'s my segue to the actor who played Count Olaf:  Jim Carey!

Please take time to read what Jim Carey said on stage this month.  He's become polarizing---either love him or hate him---but decide to listen to him and see if what he's going through makes sense in a way.  Giving up on happiness isn't all bad.  I've done it and it actually made me much happier as a result.

Am I happier living in Alexandria, as opposed to Giza?

Moving wasn't going to be a panacea for all our issues.  It's been a different set of issues.  I don't mind.  I needed that change.  I got tired of dealing with the same tired ol' cyclical thinking, so we broke free from that and landed here.  I am happier being free from what wasn't working for me---not just things bothering me for a month or a year, but for years.

Sidenote:  the sister-in-law who caused BIG drama the night before we left is STILL causing it, but then, you all knew that, didn't you?  Some people are addicted to drama and maybe I'm still in recovery from that addiction.  I don't need to dabble in it at all.  Weird part is that she's out of the house, and not by her choice.  Subhanallah.

We're not there; we're here.

Being in a new environment has forced us to shift----as individuals, as pairs, and as a group.

Where is there a phone signal in our apartment?
Where do we get our ATM card to work?
Buy chicken?  Get grilled fish?

Which foul and falafel isn't too spicey?

How do we get to the big supermarket from here?
How can El Kid and I go out safely?

When does our school bus come in the morning?
When do I need to give a missed call home so there's still a signal?
When do we get home and when do we eat dinner?

It's tiring!  However, it's a different kind of tired than the drudge of being in a rut.  Our lives seem more productive because we're all forging a new time.  It's not easy to change gears and form new and hopefully healthier habits.  All of us have been going to sleep earlier than ever before.

Last week, we got out on Friday morning, which is something we NEVER do in Giza.  It was nice to simply be out as a family when the streets weren't crowded.  We explored.  I took a look inside a local mosque.

What was fun is that the women's section, sometimes relegated to a shut-off location, was actually the best place to see the surroundings.

I loved the painted walls and arches.

I continue to love all the street cats.  There are more of them in Alexandria than I ever saw in Giza.  Is it because of all the fish scraps?!

I somehow identify with these cats and kitties. They are finding a home and making it work wherever they are.

One new habit is that I can't spend so long on the laptop.  I can only get a signal out on our glassed-in veranda (balcony).  It actually overlooks a courtyard of cats that get fed by my neighbors dropping food to them.

Anyway, it gets too hot sitting here past sunrise and too humid past sundown.  There's a limited time to type, and that's OK.  I almost didn't accept the apartment because of this problem, but I'm glad we stayed.

Sometimes, what we perceive as problems are blessings and a time for us to readjust to a new way which is better for us.

It's Friday again.  I'm going out with my family to explore.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Early Moments Matter

Asalamu Alaykom,

This actor, Ahmed Helmy, has become my favorite, family-friendly celebrity in Egypt.  He is always putting himself out there in a positive light.  God bless him and UNICEF.  

This ad reminds parents who use cutesy baby talk around their children are doing them a disservice; that using an intelligent vocabulary gives them a better ability to communicate.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Miracles Happen

Asalamu Alaykom,

"Yes, I am a street cat, but I'm pretty and I sit where the flowers are tall."

When I knew I'd be coming up to Alexandria, I thought of how I should prepare for the move.

One of the things I did was read Little House in the Big Woods---again, because you know I read it as a kid (a couple of times), and then I read it to my older kids.

I told myself that I was reading it to see if it was appropriate for this school year (it probably was too hard for ESL).  Actually, I think I needed to read it for my own good.

It's a pioneer story of survival for sure, but it's also got that message of "Do your best and leave the rest to God."  In each story Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, there's a miracle that unfolds.

  • The trees give sap so the family doesn't need to buy sugar.
  • One night, Ma pushes at the cow to get back into her pen, but it's actually a bear (which doesn't eat them).
  • Laura gets her own pretty doll (but is careful not to let her corncob doll get jealous).

She never calls them miracles, and most readers would never define them as such, but that's what they are:  quiet miracles.

This week, at our new apartment, our freezer stopped freezing.  I could focus on that and talk about how upsetting it was to have our Eid Al Adha meat in danger of rotting.  However, the really beautiful thing is that my husband reached out to the building staff and they arranged for another tenant to store the meat for us until we could get it fixed.  Alhumdulillah.

I am without an assistant at my new school.  While I could grumble, I simply worked and got the job done.  I had gotten some help---and even half-an-hour of help is A LOT to someone in need.  I stayed level-headed (for the most part) and honestly decided that I would have to let go that which couldn't get done.  In the end, I was proud of my room and its Beatrix Potter theme.


The children were welcomed in and we began our time together---even without an assistant.  I made it through by the Grace of God.  Important learning took place that was uniting and illuminating.  Alhumdulillah.

Even just now, my older son was back to communicating with me after a month off.  It wasn't good news that he had to share, but it was a blessing to be a part of his world again.  Alhumdulillah.

It's possible to be in a real state of survival and to stop and appreciate how beautiful it is that you are able to cope...and hope.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Send Off Party

Asalamu Alaykom,

Back in Alexandria!

This picture was taken next to the train station.

I was a little worried...

about getting everything packed---we didn't.

about getting to the train on time---we did.

about how awful the trip back might be---it wasn't.

I was also worried that our short five nights back to our home might make us reluctant to leave.

God took care of that!

On our last day, which was the second day of Eid, his sister-in-law who has caused so much trouble in our lives created some more.  DRAMA!  You can't have a family in Egypt without some serious drama, and they don't save their drama for their mama; EVERYONE gets in on the deal.

Shocking announcement.


Phone calls to get every sister back into the family home for a pow wow.

Storming in and yelling.

Being ordered from the house.

Sigh.  I had nothing to do with any of it, Thank God.  I simply kept packing upstairs; hearing it all go down.  As awful as it was, it helped me with my resolve to GET OUT.

Family is great in Egypt

...except when it isn't.  When it isn't, it is just suffocating.

At 11:00, I called my hub downstairs for him to extricate himself from something that wasn't really our problem.  Our motto has become, "Don't care!" but he didn't come.  I waited.  I couldn't sleep listening to the shouting.  One of his sisters has a powerfully strong set of lungs, mashahallah.  It kept going on.  I called again---just another missed call as notification that he still had responsibilities upstairs to pack and get ready.  He didn't come.  I didn't want to take it to the next level, but I had to.  Finally, I yelled to him downstairs that we had to be awake again at 3:30.  He returned.  Alhumdulillah.

Yes, it's interesting to see how life plays out for those who have made our lives miserable.  At the same time, it means that they are STILL occupying our brain cells.  We THINK they have been made  to pay the piper for bad deeds, but WE are the ones who are getting played when we care about what's going on in their lives.  Drama is addictive and fitnah is the only result.  There is NO WAY to get entangled in someone else's drama without engaging in some fitnah.

The beautiful part about last night is that I could see allllll of that better because there was a way out.  We were leaving.  We were catching the first train outta there and back into some sanity.

My happiness upon entering our apartment/cave was real.  It didn't smell musty like I feared it might.  We were able to air it out and burn some incense.  I started to unpack.  How did so much stuff in the suitcases not translate to more stuff in our home?!

That's when my hub got the phone call.  It was a sister to discuss the drama.  Yep.  I had a drama delivery come all the way from Giza to Alex.  I let him deal with it as I carried on building our lives here.  Focus!

He got off the phone and we talked about getting some food.

The phone rang again.

It was ANOTHER sister; he's got four.  It wasn't enough to have one rehash because there needed to be another.  I got ready to go.  El-Kid got ready.  I tapped on the window to the veranda. He gave me the hand gesture for "wait" and I did.

It took too long and I was starting to sink back into the system that I thought we had just escaped.  I made my resolve to leave.  I wrote the name of the supermarket we were going to and held it up to the glass.  My hub gave me another "wait" gesture, but I shook my head "no."

He got off the phone.

Once on the street, I let him know that I had been this really happy person, full of love and peace when we arrived and asked him if he wanted all that to go away.  The phone calls were bringing the family drama to us and I didn't want that because it would change the feel in me and in our new home.

Did he understand?

I hope so.

There haven't been any other phone calls.  We did our 800 LE shopping trip to finally start stocking our new kitchen.  We ate around our big, round table and shared food here once again.

After that, I took a nap.  I awoke to find that the other guys had laid down as well.  We were all so tired and needed a rest.

In shah Allah, this time in Alex will be a rest from the drama that has been so dysfunctional.