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."

"When?"

"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?

Sure!


Identity

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


Beginnings



                                      

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


Tourism

Giza                                                                             Alex
all nationalities                                                         mostly Egyptians


Grandest Old Hotel

         



Giza                                                                             Alex
Menna House                                                           Cecil


Transportation

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


Driving Style

Giza                                                                           Alex
stuck in traffic                                                        drive it like you stole it

Weather

Giza                                                                           Alex
hot                                                                             6 degrees cooler
dry                                                                             humid

Air Conditioning

Giza                                                                           Alex
not usually                                                                at least two
                                                                           

Laundry

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


Food

                


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


Spice



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!"

UPDATE:

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

Pervasive Bad Smell 

Giza                                                                             Alex
Uncollected garbage                                                    Sewer


Animals

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/movie...here'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.

Yelling.

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.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Looting Your Life



Asalamu Alaykom,



I am in the process of looting, but don't worry it's from my own home.  It isn't the first time I've done it, and it won't be the last.  It's this weird feeling of an impending move with such urgency that it's easy to imagine the Nazis are at the door or a tidal wave is about ready to engulf you.  It's a grab-quick-and-think-later policy.

For me, this time, it's overwhelming because at the same time that I'm envisioning the one day I've got until I leave, I have to be picturing the first day of school.  It's destruction and creation in one week.

Allah is in charge of both those elements in our lives.

I am ruining our carefully packed home, filled with items I didn't even remember I had, in order to begin a new job in a new city.  It's strange.  Everything was fine here; layered on top of each other.  I have torn it all up looking for what I need to restart.

As I tear it up, I realize that a lot of it has become needless.  It has become superfluous to who I am now and what I'm doing.  Some of it hurts me to see it---especially when I see all the effort I put forth into the Islamic school job that only lasted a month.  The memory of that brought me to tears and I know some of the sadness is actually fear that it could all happen again.  Some of it feels me with joy---like my shopping spree in the US when I could still afford items marked with a dollar sign.

The totality of it is too much.  Load after load, I'm bringing up what I think I'll need and after each load I've forgotten; I've gotten something wrong.  "You can't take it with you," is true.  There's too much to cart around (even on a three-hour train ride).

At the same time as I'm adjusting to the idea of grabbing and going, prioritizing our needs, and visualizing the future, I see the news.  Rohingya Muslims are fleeing to the Bangladeshi border from Burma and Houston residents are staying in emergency shelters as they deal with the flood waters.  These two groups are but a few of my fellow citizens who have had to grab and go; to make quick decisions about what they need and what they want and what they simply can't bring.

It's a painful part of life.

We used to have two goats that would stand on our neighbor's roof and they were funny.  Goats are so funny.  They would watch me typing in the early morning hours when no one else was awake.  STARE at me to the point where I would get startled to see them through the open window.  I really believed they might jump in our home!

This Thursday, they stared at us one last time, as we ate the goat dinner from one of our slaughtered goats.  It was after my day of fasting for Arafat and I needed to eat.  It did make me pause to think of how unsavory the experience was:  goats watching us eat goat.

Now, those goats are gone too.  I miss them.  We don't have pets here; we have animals in our lives that are either strays or food.  Those goats fed a family and helped to feed the poor.  Alhumdulillah.

There's one goat remaining on our roof:  Tigun.  This is the little baby goat I helped keep warm a year and a half a go on a cold January morning.  He's so big now!  I didn't plead for his life, but I put it out there that I didn't want him to die.  Alhumdulillah, he's still alive, although he's been sad and been calling out for the others.  I made sure he got the mango peels from our kitchen this morning.

What can we do?  We create and we destroy too.

The night before the neighbor's goats were to be slaughtered for Eid, I talked to them.  We were so close because they came right to the edge of their roof to be near to us.  I talked nicely to them.  I thanked them for keeping me company all these months.  I told them to enjoy the night; the cool breeze, the sounds and smells.  I watched them one last time frolic around and then I shut the windows.

Now, the windows are open and no one is there.

We do---we absolutely do---surround ourselves with what makes us feel good.  However, there comes a time when we can't hold on to it...not all of it.  Either it has to leave or we have to leave it.

The day after tomorrow, I leave.  I'll be gone from here for months.  I'll take what I can take.  I know that I made it to Egypt with four suitcases.  I can make it back to Alex with less.

In shah Allah.  











Friday, September 1, 2017

Apartment Hunting in Alex



Asalamu Alaykom,




Writing to you from the SAME apartment I wanted out of two weeks ago.  I wanted a different apartment---like an apartment that has windows and natural light...kind of like the apartment in the picture above.

It hasn't happened.

I have now placed posters on the wall:  cacti in the desert, crystal blue lakes, snowy mountains.

"Do you want to stay here?!"  My hub asked upon waking up and seeing my late-night handy work.

"No, I just don't want to go crazy here, " was my reply.

Seriously, an apartment without windows looking out onto the world is a VERY difficult thing for me.

I used to have a book---one of those Little Golden Books for those of you in the U.S.  "Good Little Bad Little Girl".



I'll spill the spoiler:  it's the same girl.  Anyway, there was an Eloise Wilkin's illustration of the little girl's room and I hated it; I was petrified of it.  Why?  I couldn't see a door or window.  It looked like a horrible cell with no way out.

Now?

I'm living in it!

I wanted to get a different place, so I researched through listings on the net.



I took notes, had my hub make calls, and then we went to see some places.

The first place in was just right---too good to be true!  It was in the choicest neighborhood of Kafr Abdo where most of the other ex-pats live.



 It was overlooking a park.  The layout was well designed and the furniture was well chosen.  It was so spotlessly clean that moving in would be a breeze.

Of course there was a glitch.  The building not only housed that great apartment; it also housed a consulate.  It was a high security building with an armed guard in riot gear at the door.  While others might take comfort in a guy with a gun, I don't.  I feel nervous whether he's police, army or security.  Every guy with a gun is one judgement call away from killing someone.  I imagined my husband coming out of the elevator, yelling at my son to hurry up in order to catch the bus and catching bullets instead.  The other aspect there was being a target for terrorism which I don't even want to dwell on.  After a night's sleep, I had to be real that I could never relax in that building.


With that in mind, I started to look in another neighborhood.  My two guys have really liked where we've been staying in Smouha.  Smouha is central and has everything.  It's getting rebuilt and has many new store fronts and restaurants.  We can always find a market or a taxi.

I had my hub call a few real estate offices.  It's amazing how BADLY done real estate is in Egypt.  There's got to be somebody doing it right, but I haven't seen them yet.  Remember:  I spent sixteen months working in the biggest real estate office in my state (before they fired me for wearing hijab), so I know the business.



We arranged to meet a man.  We went to the street he told us to go.  He wasn't there.  He sent a young guy---a kid in shorts---to show us to the garage stall made into an office.  I had to keep walking outside to get some fresh air.  Lord!  It was not what I had been picturing.  Yet, the guy had keys to two apartments within walking distance, so we stayed with the appointment and went out with him.


The first apartment was on the seventh floor.  I'm trying to stay on fifth and below, but seventh is doable.  We walk in.  Sure enough, there's a dark red paint color as soon as you open the door with this large Baroque mirror ala Beauty and the Beast---like the sconces surrounding it were going to turn into hands and reach out to assist us.  The furniture, as always, is HUGE.  In Egypt, families want to show opulence through lots of big furniture sets.  The dining room table is big enough for six or eight.  There isn't just one sofa and chairs:  THERE'S TWO!  There's no floor space.  Two china cupboards (one with broken glass and no shelves).  Everywhere there was this feeling of despair.  This was were you stay when you are desperate; a dumping ground, a home for refugees from some life they are fleeing...all for 4,500 LE.  My housing allowance is only 2,500 LE.

The second apartment was promised to be better, but it was on the tenth floor.  We walked there and the building was better.  The problem is that these elevators are so small.  The young guy, my son, my hub, AND ME are in tight.  Up we go and it's slow and it feels sooooooooooo claustrophobic.  I have to shut my eyes and put my head on my hub's upper arm.  I can barely handle that feeling.

We enter in and there's a better feel with no weird red wall, and actual floor space.  It's still tight in there and still feels like a few too many families have been in and out.  The view from one of the bedrooms is of the square below, but the noise from the roundabout's BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP! would not add to our comfort level.  The other bedroom was so small that there was only room for the bed and the wardrobe.  It was doable if we wanted to really work on it.  HOWEVER, the other place was 4,500 and this was now up over 5,000.  Plus, that elevator ride was really non-negotiable.  I walked down all the flights of stairs instead.

Why look for furnished instead of unfurnished?  In the States, I have never rented furnished, but in Egypt, you kind of have to.  Renting UNfurnished means no water heater, stove, fridge, washing machine, or AC.  I've been writing "wardrobe" because there are no closets in Egypt.  You can't just move in and hang up your clothes unless it's furnished.  Some unfurnished apartments don't even have kitchen cabinets.  Plus, the rent isn't really at a discount.  It's remains very high.

After that experience (a day wasted and energy exhausted), I had to re-think.  What was essential?  We needed safety.  For me, I don't feel safe so high up and I don't feel good in buildings that are highest security or lower levels of society.  I would rather have less furniture than more; better to have space to move.  I wanted a quiet place with less decorating.



All those boxes actually are ticked by the place we first settled into.

Would this be settling for less than what we wanted?  Yes.

Isn't it bad to settle for something?  No, not always.  I think it's realistic to admit that no place is perfect.  It's a home away from home for a year or two.  If something else comes across our radars, we can consider it then, but we need a place NOW.

Also, our money, while I can say we have enough, it isn't a ton.  The school pays for our apartment if it's one they've previously signed a long-term contract for it (at a discount) with the owner.  That's therefore a savings for us.  Otherwise, I'd be paying double AT LEAST without really seeing double the improvements.

If something goes wrong in the apartment rented by the school, it's on them.  They care and they deal with the landlord/landlady.  If it's just us?  Well, you better believe we would not fare so well.

This means we are choosing to stay in an apartment with very little nature light.  We are now dwellers of the cave.  However, we are determined to make this place work even though it has issues.  I've stopped looking for better because where we first dropped our suitcases feels more like home than any other place we've seen.

My hub arranged for a cleaning lady come (which is a whole other story) and we concentrated on a weekend-long cleaning spree.  Gone was the moldy junk (Alex has mold whereas Giza doesn't) and the dirt that used to hold potted plants.  The other unnecessary stuff was organized.  Floors and walls were cleaned.  Rugs?  Scrubbed.  It was intense!

It's taken so long to write this post that as I finish this, we're actually not in our Alexandrian cave.  It's Eid and we've traveled back to Giza for the long holiday.


EID MUBARAK!


We now have two homes.  This one is permanent and it is ours---all the sunlight that floods through our windows, and the two clotheslines are ours.  Our sofas and beds have always been ours and only ours.  It feels good.

When I fasted Arafat yesterday, it didn't feel as good to be here:  no AC!  We have it in Alex, but not in Giza (where it is ten degrees hotter to begin with).  There are differences that have me appreciating both places.  Yesterday, I surely could have used some cooling off and some quiet from the screaming kids.

This situation has become our new normal.  We have two homes with our belongings in two places.  We are living larger than before.  It's taken some real effort to continue with this plan to expand our world.  It has been both stressful and joyful in about equal amounts.

Is it worth it?

I hope so.  I hope that this way of living helps us see more, feel more, and realize more of our world and ourselves.

Next week, I will start teaching first grade in a new school inshahallah.  I'm not ready.  Part of the reason I'm not ready is that I have had to settle down our personal lives first.  Now that is done, my focus going to my professional life...well, and having El-Kid start seventh grade.  It's a lot to start all at once.

This experience has a name.  I've named it "my long-term working vacation".  Maybe that isn't a totally accurate term, but it's a vision of how I want it to be.  It's not forever; it's for a relatively short time and it's an adventure.  It think that framing these coming months that way will help keep a healthy perspective.

Any good energy you want to send our way during this transition, feel free.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Strangers on a Train in Egypt



Asalamu Alaykom,




This is a picture I took from the train window.  Obviously, it was a dirty train window which I kind of like since it gives the photo a kind of impressionistic style.

Traveling by train in Egypt might not seem like a good idea with the recent train collision that killed 43 passengers.  That wreck happened the day after we had passed over the very same tracks leaving Alexandria.  We survived and they did not.  That's mighty sobering.

We already had bought our tickets for a return trip Alex, so there was little chance of us changing our minds and going by Super Jet.  That name "Super Jet" makes it sound like lightning fast air travel, but it's actually a big bus.  I would rather go by train.  A train is more reliable; we've had two buses break down en route (and we don't even use them that much).  A train is steadier, roomier, and safer.

On average, over the last years, there's been twenty-two deaths a year from train.  Now, remember, the train accidents aren't even happening every year:  they've been maybe every three to four years.  I'm saying the yearly average to make a point.  Each year in Egypt, there are 12,000 road fatalities.  The numbers speak for themselves.

We had tickets for the  6 AM train.  We travel second-class.  It's funny how "second class citizen" is a really horrible epithet to call someone in the U.S., but it's an honorable place to be on an Egyptian train.  Our seats were going to be in the first row on the second class car.  It gets air conditioning, so that's a plus.  The seats are well cushioned and mostly clean.  It's all good.

The problem was that second-class is a financially unattainable goal for many passengers.  They wish they could afford it, but they can't.  For me?  If I can't afford it then I don't lament it.  We live within our means.  For them?  They come into second-class and crowd around the seats of those who paid extra for that space.

I told my husband that I would not allow for anyone to grab a hold of our seats during the trip.  I had seen that on the previous trip.  I had seen a group of five men occupy two empty seats and the one who was perched on the edge of the arm rest used an arm rest across the aisle for support.  That seat had been occupied by a hijabi and his hand had been centimeters from her breast.  It was upsetting to see the disregard for her space.  I wasn't going to let that happen to us.


Every time passengers came into our car, I would sit up straight and tall and look a bit tough with a "Don't mess with me expression."  They stayed away from our seats.  If they started to touch my son's seat back, I would tell them in Arabic that it was his seat.  They would let go.

My hub was sitting across the aisle with an older, rotund man doing Suduko puzzles in a little book.  The man was incensed INCENSED when the wishful passengers would come on.  Turns out he was a government employee who thought he could regulate every place he occupied.  You can't really.  All you can do is appeal to their goodness.  He didn't get that.  I think he was really pushing the issue with his strong seatmate, my husband, next to him; he thought he had back up.

It got dangerous when the man got up OUT of his seat to PUSH a young man's arm out of the train car into the passage way so he could shut the door.  Yes, we were losing AC due to their wish to have the door open, but NO TOUCHY the other other passengers!  The young man started to posture in defiance.  I was really worried.  When he sat back down and cooled off, I leaned over and told him nicely that it isn't right to touch anyone.  I understood him, but didn't support him touching and that it could start a fight.  If there was a fight on the train, my husband would definitely be involved and that would be dangerous for all three of us.

Alhumdulillah, the man relaxed.  I saw into his eyes that he really heard me and that he knew he had been wrong.  He didn't do it again.

Why didn't we complain to the supervisor?  We did!  The worker checking tickets actually told the man that he should be nicer about the men going off to work.  Give them some space in the second-class train car!  They could have AC too!

This was a 6 AM train, if you recall, so really no one had to have AC at that time.  If there had been a real need, the situation would have been different.

It wasn't just men.  Women came into the car to stand around us.  I told off two pairs that my husband was sitting there and that it wasn't right for them to have hands on his seat.  The whole car heard her in Arabic trying to explain why she had a hard time that day and heard me answering (again in Arabic) that we ALL have our problems.  I smiled and pointedly asked in Arabic, "Would you like me to put my hands on your husband's seat?"

She laughed and said of course not.

The two younger women in front of my husband's seat laughed and smiled.  They knew.

Later, a soldier got on.  He actually wasn't a second-class passenger, but no one asked him to leave.  Hard to ask someone to leave who's risking his life for you.  The next time that the old man lambasted a passenger, he joined in with his thoughts.

The soldier announced on the train that we are all Egyptians who need to share.

That's when I got up.  Ya, me, the American, I got up and addressed the solider.

My husband right away told me to show respect because HE'S A SOLDIER.

I answered back that I had called the man Erees, or boss.  I went on to ask in my choppy Arabic if he was married.  He smiled and didn't answer, so I asked again.  The whole train is watching this show, by the way.  He answered that he was not.  I joked that all the unmarried ladies were happy about this and the two younger women giggled.

I went on to tell him that when you have a family inshahallah, you feel more protective.  You aren't as OK with letting a group of passengers crowd your seat.  It's not respectful for men to be crowding me and my space or for women to be doing the same to my husband.  A male passenger vocally agreed.

The soldier tried then to school me on the Egyptian way of caring and sharing.

I told him what I know to be true, "How many Egyptians are there on this train?  Can they ALL fit in this car?  Where is the limit?  Because if we let these passengers in, so they can get more space and more air, eventually NONE of us will have either.  If we are all hot and crowded together, when the next group of Egyptians come to the second-class, guess what those people will be told?  Get out!  So either we say it now or later, but not everyone can ride in here."

He sat down.



One of the younger women tried to continue a kind of debate with me, but I told her that I didn't want her to talk to me about it.  I wasn't very nice, but I really had to shut it down.

Soon after, the supervisor, as he walked through, started to get complaints that that AC wasn't working.  He said that it was, but the niqabi women were in a panic.  The babies were getting sweaty.  I took out my Chinese fan.

One of the panicking niqabis was the mom of the young woman I'd been curt with.  Her mom was running back and forth to the passageway door to feel the air.  She was told it was dangerous for her to be there.  It was also weird.  The passageway was filled with men.  Somehow, niqabi sisters often end up being less modest even though they are trying so hard to be the MOST modest.

She started to talk anxiously to the man with the tea trolley for some sugar.  The heat was badly affecting her.  I told her that I had some candy and gave her a caramel.  She took it and took her seat again.

Guess what the supervisor eventually had to do?  He had to kick out the passengers who didn't have a second-class ticket.  He even shut the door on the arm of one of them!  That almost started another fight.  The supervisor recognized that he had to finally do something by the book.  Egypt has a LOT of bending/breaking the rules to help others which actually screws it up worse.

The joke was really how the three of us grown-ups in that first row had policed the issue the whole ride, with many of the other passengers AND even the supervisor thinking we were rude or crazy.  In the end, the whole train car came to realize that we suffer when we act like we can share everything we have with others.  We can't...or rather we can, but it's not going to feel good!

The door was now shut.  The cool air from the AC started to be felt and we all relaxed again.


Shortly there after, we started our approach to Sidi Gabour Station.  That's when I saw another train out the window.  It was bent askew on the other tracks.  I questioningly looked to my husband and saw a train on its side out his window.  Between the wreckage, a group of police men sat drinking tea.  Truly Egyptian moment!

Yes, this was the scene of the train collision.  I looked out my window again and saw how part of the train sat on the tracks with each chair empty.  Each chair represented someone just like me, or like the soldier, or the niqabi, the young women, the babies, the men going off to work...who wanted to get to their destination safely, but didn't.

The train was so quiet in that moment.  It was a walk in the cemetery.  Around us, there had been chaos, injury, and death.  I kept saying "Allah yer hamo" for the victims.  I then decided to use my finger joints like counters to accurately remember the forty-three who died.

The young woman, sensing our imminent arrival, leaned over and told me that she hadn't meant anything bad.  She apologized.  I told her that we just needed to stop talking about and I was sorry that I didn't have all the right Arabic to tell her in a better way.  We accepted each other's wish to end the trip nicely.

The next moment, we had arrived.  I don't know how many people said, "Alhumdulillah" but really we all should remember that not everyone arrives at their destination.  If we are blessed enough to arrive, then it's best to express our gratitude.

We all grabbed our belongings, said our goodbyes and exited the train.  A new day awaited us.

Alhumdulillah.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Luxurious Camping



Asalamu Alaykom,






This internet connection I'm using is temperamental.  I've got to be sitting at an angle, by the door to the veranda with the window open for it to work.  At any moment, the green on my USB could switch to red and the dreaded signing off noise would sound.

However, internet is not the foremost of my concerns two days after returning to Alexandria.  Everything is about survival right now.  We are living in an apartment that we are not agreeing to keep.  It's a kind of cave with no connection to the outside world---and this connection is even MORE important to me than internet!  Outside, it could be sunny and breezy, the BEST weather in the world ---and we'd neither see it or feel it inside this insular space.  I see walls.  I see more apartments.




See the little bit of sky?  It's there between the neighbor's laundry and the top of the building.

I'm getting depressed in only two days!  Can you imagine how I would get in the rainy winter season inside this place?!

We've got to leave it and get a different apartment.  We went looking today with a man from the school that's hired me.  He had shown us a GREAT apartment in a wonderful neighborhood last week.




However, today, he told us today that the owner only wanted a single, foreign woman renter, i.e., no families.  Instead of getting that classy apartment with tons of charming character



and three balconies, we were shown a dreary, mismatched working man's flat.  Yellow!  Pink!  Orange!  Red!  Nothing matched, or as my husband said, "koshary!"  The furniture was old and very clunky Egyptian.  Yes, there were windows with fresh air and sunlight, but looking out, all we could see was a kind of apartment community without any neighborhood feel.  Well, there was a government school where we could be sure to have lots of noise from early morning into the late afternoon.  The place was a standard below what we're used to.

It's fine to be lower middle class, but I don't want to live that way myself.  I'm not a snob.  I can live anywhere if I have to...but I just don't think we have to live lower than what I'm used to.  I left Giza for better (not for worse) and for richer (not for poorer).

Thinking back, the man helping us misjudged who we are.  Yes, my husband is Egyptian, but his taste is for the American/European style.  He married me after all!  I'm not accepting an apartment he wouldn't give to an expat who has arrived from JFK Airport.  I've lived here eight years (exactly  this week), but that doesn't mean that my standards or tastes have altered to such a large degree.

Until we find better, we are camping out in our cave.  Nothing is really unpacked.  We're living from suitcases and I'm unsure how we're going to start cleaning clothes and getting them dry.  I haven't tried cooking in this kitchen that was left dirty.  I've cleaned out the refrigerator that was more petri dish than appliance.  It's been gross.  How do I cope?  I can cope with the belief that it's luxurious camping better than realizing that it's really sub-par apartment living.  If you can't adjust the situation, then at least you can adjust your thinking!

One thing that helps is knowing how much I need to get out of here and explore the neighborhood.  The neighborhood is wonderful and if we could stay around here, for sure we would.

Around the corner was a GREAT Syrian take-away restaurant.  It was much better than the Ravoli restaurant last night which did not actually have any ravioli...or chicken...or lettuce for that salad we ordered.  The Syrian restaurant is always busy and I'm glad.  I watched the workers strive in their new home.  They are making it work.

One of the men was so beautiful---not handsome like I was looking at a man out of some kind of desire.  This man was simply amazing to see.  His eyes were this bluish shade and I don't normally even notice eyes on anyone.  I saw him taking orders and wondered what life he left and what life he has now.  None of this could have been easy on him.

I had been fussy as hell after hearing about the failure to rent the great apartment and being shown the dowdy apartment.  As always, seeing someone else, and thinking of someone else's journey jolted me from my miseries and made me grateful for what we have.

Once back home again.  We prayed and seriously that helped a LOT.  The shwerma was really well done and even better with the garlic sauce.  We watched Kangaroo Jack and laughed.  After dinner, we talked and talked over what's going on with both facts and feelings.  Life isn't bad.  It is what it is.

We're camping out in Alexandria, Egypt and eventually we're going to get an apartment we love.

In shah Allah.