Friday, December 31, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 18 "Doubts"

Asalamu Alaykom,




I really thought about what I was doing. 

Yes, the night out on the town with the Khalo was fun except it hadn't ended well.

I decided that I'd had enough of dates to last a lifetime and that I sincerely didn't need more of those; not in America or Egypt or anywhere in the world (or even the universe for that matter).  Dates were only fun if they resulted in a real solid relationship and they hurt like hell if they led to nowhere---or worse, led to haram.

So, I made up my mind that I didn't need him.

That's when he called me to make sure that I had gotten in safely.  I let him have it (and thank God I didn't know any bad words in Arabic or I probably would have used them).

"If you wanted me to be safe, then why didn't you walk me to the door?"

"Yosra, I don't want people to talk badly about you.  If they see me at your door, then they'll start talking."

Hmmm...plausible. 

Still...I felt too mixed-up from the vast array of feelings that I decided to protect myself and my son.  I told this man that I wanted a few days to think about things.  I told him not to call.

He was stunned and immediately distant.  I felt how I had done something big and irreversible.  I couldn't take my words back.  We hung up and I honestly didn't know if this was the end for us.  It felt like a bad ending to be sure. 

That Sunday, it was back to work and it felt good to be with people again.  Being alone in the apartment had been challenging.  One of the ways I was combating loneliness was being on the internet too much (again).  I needed people.

It was nice to see the other teachers from America.  The one I had traveled with was having a grand time with her Egyptian fiance and his family.  She was going out every night and was half awake back at school. 

There was also an American teacher in hejab who had come over with her husband so he could study to become an iman.  I felt a kinship with her since we both had made a lot of effort to move to an Islamic country.  Though she told me that if it didn't work out in Egypt, she'd be OK heading back.

Me?  I knew that I couldn't head back.  There was no home for me to go back to. And here?  I had no fiance and no husband.  I needed to succeed because failure meant something akin to death for me and my son. 

It was funny to hear how this teacher and her husband would walk long distances to the McDonald's so they could satisfy their hamburger cravings.  They needed that fix.  They also needed a new home which was closer to civilization.  Their low-rent apartment was in a bad area of town.

Afterschool, she and I rode home together and she asked me to call the Khalo's family.  She and her husband wanted to view an apartment which the family had for rent. 

I called. 

He answered.

It felt good that he answered.

I explained the request and he arranged an apartment viewing for that night.

The American teacher and her iman-in-training came to my home that night and I walked them to the shop.  Khalo was gracious and outgoing as usual.  He arranged a car to take them to the apartment.  He and I would walk the route with Mr. Boo. 

Walking with him through his neighborhood meant that everyone was seeing us.  He didn't mind.  I began to believe his story of wanting to protect my dignity.  I felt for a moment how it was to walk with a good man.

At the house, the others were already viewing a lovely home.  I couldn't afford it as it was a thousand over my budget.  Maybe these two could afford it.  I tried not to envy them as they began negotiations.

Next to my chair sat Khalo.  It felt good to sit next to him.  I wished for just a moment that it was us negotiating the rent and that this lovely place could be ours.

The night wasn't over.  Turns out we all had to travel to one of the many tourist shops selling papyrus.  His brother-in-law had to meet the couple and give his approval.  Once again, everyone piled into a car except us.  We walked, then took a micro-bus, then walked some more.  Every step of the way I saw and felt that he respected me and cared for our safety.

At the end of the talking, drinking tea, and eating sweets (a must for any Egyptian business deal), it was time to say goodbye.  I braced myself for walking home solo.  This time it didn't hurt like before.  It felt uncomfortable, sure, but not rude. 

I was feeling good once more about this man.  A few days later, it was time to tell my mom just a little about Khalo.  I do think that we are only as sick as our secrets.  I didn't want him to be a secret.  I called mom on the MagicJack and told her. 

My mother laid into me worse than she ever has.  She thought I was being stupid, naive, immature, insane, reckless, careless, and probably a few adjectives I'm forgetting. 

"Another Egyptian man?!  Like the last one was so great?"

"He's how old?!  What are you thinking?!"

"He does WHAT for a living?  And you really think he isn't after you for your money?"

She asked me to think good and hard what I was doing to my life because it wasn't only my life----I had the care of my son to consider.  I knew that my mother cared but the way she chewed me out was painful.  I hadn't anticipated her being so angry at me.

Was she right?

Maybe I was clinging to a person who was a short-time answer.  Maybe I did need to stand on my own two feet in Egypt and not rely on a man.  She was right that men had let me down in the past.  And his intentions?  My mom is always one to second-guess people's intentions whereas I try to leave it to Allah.

Allah knows best.


Chapter 19

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 17 "Egyptian Date"



Asalamu Alaykom,





The next Thursday, I had my first date...not a date...ok, kind of a date with Khalo.  I was ineligible for Ramdan iftars since his mother's freak-out.  So instead, we would wait until after dinner. 

I had memories of the Khan Khalili from seven years ago. In my mind, it was the bazaar out of Aladdin. It was old narrow streets and treasures hidden away in little shops. I was itching to go there these last weeks.

I was given a chance to take Mr. Boo to Khan Khalili. I hadn't taken him on my own as that seemed too risky.  Being with Khalo meant I suddenly had an all-access pass to Egypt.  Going to the ancient market seemed like the perfect plan on a Thursday night in Ramadan. What I should have thought about was that if it seemed perfect to me, then it seemed perfect to millions of other people.

People.

There are a lot of people in Egypt. There simply are more people. I have felt this in our neighborhood. Obviously, I felt this when we went to Masjid Amr on Layla tul Qadr.

But THAT NIGHT?! I have never in my life felt the crush of so many people. It was like everyone was rushing the stage--except there was no stage. Soon after we arrived, we found ourselves on a narrow street lined with shops. We were psychologically salmon swimming upstream while some other non-salmon like fish were coming the other way. Okay, I mixed my metaphors. Heck, it was so crazy that I think we were actually salmon rushing the stage. Bodies were smooshed together and if anyone person had become socially irresponsible, then the whole group would have perished.

Oh, and then a truck had to come through!

It was the three of us fighting for our lives. Thank God for Khalo. He held my sweet boy in his arms and helped navigate us through that mass. As soon as we could dart into a side street, we did. Eventually, we found the calm again.

Actually, the area was very different than how I remembered.  Seven years ago, I had been shopping for a wedding ring in Khan Khalili.

This time? No wedding ring. There was no reason to be there except just to BE. I could see the masjids lit at night with their beautiful architecture. We actually got to go in one, even though the prayers were all done.

Can you believe that I didn't go in any masjids seven years ago? None.

This time, of course, I've made it a point to enter in BUT in the women's section. Last night, I got to go in the men's section for the first time. I was amazed at the ceiling. There was NO CEILING! I think I saw some screening, but for about half the length of the building there was nothing up there.

Mr. Boo was fearless and walked right up the stairs to stand where the Muzzein does.

We exited the masjid to enjoy our snack of orange juice boxes and Egypt's favorite dessert: The Twinky. I had nothing to do with the purchase of The Twinky. We just needed enough energy to walk from there to Masjid El Hussein.

We were not going to go in to that masjid (especially since visiting the last one cost 5 LE). We were going to get some drinks at one of the many restaurants next to the masjid.

Seven years ago, I had not sat down and enjoyed a thing. It was all rushing around.

This time? We sat, my escort had his tea, I had some red drink (which I guess is popular in Aswan), and my kid half spilled/half drank his guava juice. We could sit and watch the people. We could also wave off all the sellers who came to show us their wares. One man came by with Islamic books.

I actually did buy an Al-Azhar approved Quran in English and Arabic with Tafsir. It seemed like a wise purchase in Ramadan. I had decided against bringing my Quran from home since I could just read it from one of the five versions I have on my computer. However, it just isn't the same feel of immediacy.

Mr. Boo was getting sleepy, so we left and walked some more. Time to go home. We were going to home on the bus, which is how we got there (with one stop to stand on the bridge over the Nile). We got to the place for buses but AGAIN was reminded at how many people were along for the ride. As soon as our bus pulled up, it filled up (get ready for more fish imagery) tight with passengers like sardines in a can.

Can you say clausterphobia?  Going out in Egypt can actually make you want to stay in.  Eventually, we made it back to our neighborhood.

Time for him to walk us home.  Mr. Boo had fallen asleep so Khalo was carrying the small floppy body as I walked along side.  I was walked within a block of my apartment and then told to walk home alone. 

REALLY?!

Yep.  He was serious.  Khalo handed over my sleeping child, apologized and said, "Masalama".  It felt like a walk of shame.  What was up with that?!  I was incensed.  So, he didn't want people to see us together, eh? 

I made it home, put the boy to bed and decided to shut the door on a man who didn't care much about me.


Chapter 18

Saturday, December 25, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 16 "Khalo"

Asalamu Alaykom,



The first time he and I saw each other we were both fasting.  Fasting decreases your libido to like ZERO.  It's a good way to curb desires.  I actually had no interest in him.  He had no interest in me.

In fact, I had no interest in any man.  I was being careful in Egypt.  I was a single mom living alone in Egypt.  I needed to protect myself and my son.  I was in Egypt for hijrah; not for romance.

If I had wanted romance I would have stayed in America.  Before I left America, I had been offered a relationship and possible marriage many times over.  I left America single.  I honestly prayed to God that I would rather stay single than fall into haram.  Astragferallah for the haram which single women fall prey to. 

Here, in Egypt, I needed halal ONLY and for me the best way to stay halal was to stay single.

Except...I was socializing and when there's a single woman in Egypt there's a million people who want to fix her up with a single man---or even as a second wife with a man who's already married.

One thing I didn't care to include in the post about Layla tul Qadr is that my time with the driver's family ended in confusion.  After the incredibly spiritual uplifting prayer en masse on the street, we had returned to the driver's grandpa's house.  From there, we had been invited across the street to the cousin's home.  I accepted.  Within minutes, I was being introduced and interrogated by a male relative who was single and wanted to marry.  I was so disgusted by that moment.  I was in Egypt as my own person and not as someone else's future wife.

So...how did I go from thinking this to thinking marriage?

My thoughts changed during Ramadan iftars---I found myself considering not the man himself, but being a part of his family.  This was a first as before I had always looked at a man as more of an individual.  However, I liked his family.  I liked his four sisters.  I like my boy playing with all the cousins.  I liked him---not anything more than that. 

Khalo or "uncle" is how I thought of him.  He was the teenage girl's uncle.  He was the man in galabiya who worked at the family shop.  It was his hand I had politely refused to shake.  It was his dinner invitation I had accepted.

When I arrived for dinner that night, I couldn't place who everyone was in the family.  Who was older?  Who was younger?  Who was married?  Who had kids?  I couldn't figure out the large family.  I took pictures of them all.

When I downloaded those pictures onto my computer that night, I was taken aback.  There were many shots of Khalo playing with my boy on the roof and all the shots were so nice.  One shot in particular was of Khalo crouching down, encircling my son with his left arm and summoning the sheep with his outstretched right arm.  The streams of sunlight shone down on the two of them in this beautiful aura. 

I stared.

This was the younger brother---not the older brother.  I had only dismissed the idea of the older brother.  I hadn't even thought of the younger brother because...well, he was younger!  I had declined many marriage discussions with men in America simply because they were younger than me.  I didn't want younger. 

I accepted another dinner invitation to the family home.  There was plentiful, healthy food and after tea there was conversation.  The Khalo and I ended up talking together. 

I was the first woman outside of his family to ever sit with him and talk.  He had limited English.  I had limited Arabic.  There were no snappy lines.  He wasn't trying for a thing.  He made no plays.  He didn't ask any leading questions. 

Wow!

This was a switch!  It was refreshing---but also a little nerve wracking.  If so many Egyptian men had put out "feelers" for my availability, why hadn't this one?

I kept watching his day-by-day interactions.  At the shop, he treated everyone fairly.  He never flirted.  He never played music or smoked.  He did his prayers on time at the masjid and had since he was seven years old (hence the mark of prayer of his forehead and the bridge of his nose).  He played with the children.  He helped break up fights in the street.

AND he had seemingly no interest in me.

Yet, I began to have an interest in him.

What to do?

I cried!  I cried because I didn't want him!  I really wanted someone older, more established, with a full vocabulary in English who was CRAZY for me.

I decided to get rid of my thoughts of him by talking to him straight.  I would get him out of my mind by asking him if would consider marriage with me.  Either he would or he wouldn't and I could move on from this place of contemplation. 

I asked to speak to him at his sister's house.  We sat in the salon and I asked what he thought about marriage.  He told me that he wasn't about to get married soon if ever.

If ever?!  Wow again.  He was serious!  And he was dense!  There I was talking to him about marriage and he didn't get me.  He didn't understand me.  I had to spell it out for him. 

"What about marriage with me?"

He was surprised to say the least.  He hadn't viewed me as such.  He had no sweet words and no touches; no haram, in other words.  He now understood me... but he didn't understand what he should do.  He asked to think about it and get back to me.

Three days later, he met me again.  There had been only very short phone calls between us.  Our meetings were in person.  He would like to see me at the family house for dinner every night through Ramadan.  After Ramadan we would consider the possibility.

Yet, when I showed up for dinner later that night, his mother was not amused.  Khalo was still praying magrib at the masjid.  Only the sisters had stayed behind and they had to restrain their mother from physically throwing me out of her house.

She was yelling at me, "BARA!  BARA!"  meaning "OUT!  OUT!"

The sisters hustled my son and I into a room until she could calm down.  They brought me out then so she could apologize to me. 

I accepted her apology--because that's what you do--and then we left.

So, there I was walking home that night:  a woman whom every Egyptian family seemingly wanted EXCEPT for the one family I wanted.  I wondered how I had erred so greatly?  I thought of the many, many times I'd erred before.

That's when Khalo called me.  He apologized for his mother's behavior.  She was old and I had to make excuses for her.  I did.  I understood.  Who would want me--a divorced, single mom from America?

Khalo told me on the phone that he had spent the previous three nights without sleep.  He had been thinking non-stop what to do.  He had prayed istakkarah and asked me to do the same.

Unbeknownest to him, I had prayed it on Layla tul Qadr but the night had been so full of emotions I couldn't see straight.

I decided to pray it again.  After my boy was in bed, I cleared my head and did my two rakhas.  I slowly opened my eyes and saw the Kabba on the calendar as if for the first time.  That's when my silence was broken by my boy laughing in his sleep.

I took that as my sign to continue considering this man.


Chapter 17

Friday, December 17, 2010

Naseeb



We were sent home from school early due to the sandstorm. I exited the microbus and saw the most beautiful gray kitty walking along the curb.  It seemed to elegantly navigate through the freezing wind.  I didn't even worry for him as we passed each other.  I worried for my boy.  I hurried him home and got him inside. 

The next morning, the sun shone so brillantly---as if the miserable day before had never happened!  Except, while walking along the street, I saw the proof.

There was the dead body of the little kitty. 

I gasped. 

It must have died just after we saw it. 

I didn't know it would die.

Even if I had known, there is no way I can save every helpless kitty in Cairo.

I didn't cry.  I couldn't!  I had my son's hand in mine and a taxi to catch.



I ride taxis to and from school.  Sometimes, we catch a ride home with a co-worker.  Sometimes (if I'm feeling brave) we jump on a crowded city bus.  As stressful as it is to find a ride home, it's actually less stressful than riding the school bus.

On that day after the storm, I felt blessed to have a white taxi at the end of the school's drive.  YES!  White taxis are newer, cleaner, and usally have Quran playing on their stereo system.  A white taxi also means a reliable meter which shows the exact money owed.  It makes life easier on me.

However, for the first time ever, this taxi driver didn't have 2.50 pounds on his meter when I jumped in.  He had 3.50.  I sat there explaining to him in Arabic that he was wrong.  I was nice but firm.  No, I tried to tell him over the loud music, I wasn't going to pay an extra pound.  He had to change it or it was, "zolm," unfair.

So, there we were trying to come to an agreement, when a speeding car going the wrong way zoomed past us, went up on two wheels and then crashed into the meridan strip. 

If...

I mean, what if the meter had said the right amount?  We wouldn't have been sitting alongside the road.  We would have been on the road and in the way of the speeding car.  And...

alhumdulillah.

That's what I said to the man next.   I said, "Alhumdulillah".  I told him in Arabic that he was fine and I was fine---thanks be to God so let's get out of here. 

He changed the meter to 2.50 and on we went.

I asked for him to switch the music to Quran.

He did.

He asked me if I was a Muslim.

I said the best answer to give.

"Alhumdulillah."

Ana shaddah la illaha il Allah wa ana shahaddah Muhammadar Rasullulah.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joy



This moment of joy in someone else's life is bringing me so me joy that I wanted to share it with you.  It makes me believe once again in amazing talent, in graciousness, in risk-taking, in pushy moms, and powerful surprises.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 15 "Layla Tul Qadr"



Asalamu Alaykom,





Back in the States, when I was dreaming of Egypt, I would listen to Sheik Mohammed Jebril and think of hearing him in person.  His recitations of the Holy Quran inspired me to think big and to stay hopeful.

Soon after I arrived in Egypt, I began asking around.  Where was Sheik Mohammed Jebril?  Which masjid was his?  How could I find him?

The driver's mom had the answer.  Every Ramadan she would go listen to him on The Night of Power.  In Arabic it is called Layla tul Qadr. That night commemorates the first visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).  This was when the Holy Quran was first shown to the Prophet and he was told "Read!"

She invited me to go with her.

My heart swelled!  Wow!  What a cool deal!  Layl tul Qadr with Sheik Mohammed Jebril!  She told me the name of the masjid.  It was Masjid Al-Amr in Cairo.  I looked it up on the internet and was in awe.  The masjid was not only the oldest masjid in Cairo, but in all of Egypt and in all of AFRICA!  Oh my God!  I was so psyched to get this chance.

However, I was hearing some concern from the other family.  With all the worries about H1N1, I shouldn't go--that's what they thought.  They were warning me to stay away from crowds and possible contagion.  Should I go or shouldn't I?

I thought about my heart's desire.  I certainly didn't come this far and risk so much to sit safely at home.  I had to follow that which kept my soul alive. 

The driver took us.  That trip over the Nile reminds me of the many times I've crossed the Mississippi back home. It is beautiful to see the water again after being so stuck amongst buildings and busy roads.

We reached the driver's grandpa's house and I met up with the driver's mom and his aunt. Mr. Boo had fallen asleep and the driver's teen sister agreed to stay back and watch him.  The driver would go to work.  So, it would be me and the two ladies who spoke no English.

We three had bags of food and two folding chairs to carry through the old streets. Mostly, it seemed like a normal time right before iftar--lots of people getting what they needed before the stores closed. 

We arrived at the area near the masjid and the feeling started to change.  Just standing on the street were people offering dates and juice to those about ready to break their fast. That was so special to me; that someone would make the effort.

We went closer to the masjid and found a place on a large green mat which had been rolled out on the walkways. We parked our stuff on the mat but I really wanted to see inside the masjid. The auntie stayed there while the driver's mom took my hand and led me through the crowd.

This was Islam. This was a huge amount of people all about to break their fast together; truly a sea of people. Imagine the State Fair if everyone sat down (and were not drinking beer).

I had to stop to talk to a large group of Malaysian sisters. They were so cute! I asked them if they came to Egypt for Ramadan and they all answered sweetly in unison, "To study".

The inside was packed and the driver's mom tried to explain how being inside would not feel good. There would be no "hawa". This word in Arabic has become very important to me. It is the breeze. At night, the breeze makes excuses for the heat of the day. Florida can be this way sometimes, but in Egypt it's every night. Beautiful nights. The breeze had just started as the sky was dimming. We went back to our place on the green mat and I was satisfied that being outside was best.

The azan came. We ate some of the dates which had been given out. I had my homemade Tang. I'm loving Tang here. The best flavor is Mango Tang. They should call it Mango Tango...but I don't have any pull in their advertising department. Do they have Mango Tang in America?

Then it was time for magrib prayers. Who would be leading the prayer? We knew that Sheik Jebril was leading Taraweah prayers (with its eight rakhas). Honestly, I think I held my breath as I stood there.

The prayer started and it was his voice. My God! What a voice! From Allah, for real. And after hearing the beautiful Al-Fatiha, it was going to be a surah. Which one?

Ad-Duha. I memorized this. I memorized this at one of the hardest times of my life. Here I was, in Egypt, with 3 million Muslims hearing it.

Beautiful.

Then?

The one surah that I wanted to hear from Sheik Jebril more than any other.

Al-Inshirah.

Yes.

Enna mal ousri yosra
Fa enna mal ousri yosra

He recited it.

"After harship there is ease
Surely, after hardship there is ease."

For me.

Enna mal ousri

yosra


Fa enna mal ousri

yosra

Sure, there were 2,999,999 other people there but I do believe that my prayers---said long ago in America---were answered. I was having the ease after the hardship, which Allah promised all of us.

Next, it was the surah talking about The Night of Power; Layla tul Qadr.

At that time, I had only memorized eight surahs. Three of them were spoken in the magrib prayer by the man who has filled my heart with the beauty of the Quran. Subhanallah. It really didn't have to be this way but it was just like this---and it was for me.

I do feel blessed.

And do you know who prayed magrib with me? It wasn't just the two ladies. After Mr. Boo woke up, the teen sister, had caved in to his wish to see me. They had walked to the masjid and we were reunited.

Now, Mr. Boo had been great doing his prayers at age two. However, he had been more difficult at age three, when we spent a fair amount of time in a non-Muslim household.  I was trying to get him back to the prayer mat now at age four.

There he was all of a sudden. How would he act? Mature? Immature?

He prayed the three rakhas with the maturity I had been wishing for.

Yes, he later lost it during the first four rakhas of Taraweah, but I was happy that he did so well for magrib. Be grateful for little things. That prayer together was what I desperately needed. I needed to feel connected to Allah, to the life here now and also connected to my boy.

It was time to go. Taraweah was done. There would be a du'a (supplication) but staying for that meant being stuck in a human traffic jam. The teen sister and I left with Mr. Boo's hands linking us together.

All those blocks of stores and restaurants were full. In every space stood a praying Muslim. Imagine! Block after block after block. Praying men and women. A whole neighborhood shut down to pray. Millions of people. Amazing. We wove ourselves through the people being careful not to disrupt them. No talking. Just hurrying. It was surreal. They would all soon go back to life. If we weren't quick then we would be unable to move through. At times, a feeling of clausterphobia crept in. I hadn't felt that here in my neighborhood but I felt it for the first time that night.

Finally, we were out; past the army trucks. We could look at each other and laugh and sigh. We had been going and going without end in sight. We had made it at last. I spoke up and told the teen girl in Arabic that this has never happened in America.

"Why?" she wanted to know.

Well, there aren't that many Muslims. I think the whole U.S. has between 3-6 million Muslims total. Supposing that 3 million estimation is correct, then what I witnessed that night would be the scene if every single Muslim-American would come together in prayer.

But if we all did come together in a sea of worshippers, as I saw and felt, then the feeling of those around us wouldn't be as I felt on Layla tul Qadr. In America, there is such fear of Muslims and I was constantly aware in America that if I worshipped (as I wished) that I was scaring others. I hated that. On those Cairo streets, for the first time in my life, I got to worship en masse outside in the cool night breeze AND feel no fear.

There is peace in that moment.

Finding a taxi cab later broke a lot of that calm but even in that hard time, I found strength. There were sisters stranded like me. They were asking the cab driver if he was going to our area. I answered "yes" and had them join our ride. We sat together; four Muslim sisters squished in a little taxi; stuck in traffic.

And?

It wasn't happiness.

Still, I wasn't quite sure if I was happy in Egypt.

But... I was living fully.

Fully living anywhere is better than being "happy" somewhere else being someone else.

I had been told that I shouldn't go out on Layla tul Qadr. There was that fear of "influenza khanzier" spreading.

"Should I stay home?" I had wondered.

I had even been asked out for a iftar dinner at a restaurant by one of the other teachers.

That would have been an easier way to spend the night.

However...

I needed to go.

Alhumdulillah for the opportunity.


Chapter 16

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Hijri 1432



Today marks a remarkable 1432 years since our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) brought believers from Mecca to form a new life in Medina.

Those citizens of Medina who helped the newcomers have become known as the "ansar". 

I've had my own band of ansar here in Egypt.

UmAhmed
This is the little rotund lady who sits on my street selling termos beans.  She greets me in peace with this lovely smile and makes me feel welcomed home.  When she was gone for weeks, I wondered what had happened to her.  When she returned, I learned she had given birth to a baby girl and that the baby had died.  She still smiled.

UmMohamed
She is this a big lady with such a big heart.  I am welcomed into her home any time I wish.  She truly cares for our welfare and would do anything to help us.

Ali
This bus driver used to ring me up when the bus reached our apartment so that I wouldn't miss it.  This year, I'm not taking the bus because the rates went up.  Ali still sneaks us on his bus at the end of the day if I need a ride.

Dada Gamalette
My cleaning lady at school laughs each day with me, offers me food, and prayers.  She sincerely wants to do a good job.  She is the sole breadwinner in her family.  Every Thursday we shout in merriment, "Enaharda Hamez!"  meaning "Today is Thursday!" since on Friday we both have a day off.  She returns to work on Saturday to ensure that everything is fine for my return on Sunday.

UmMawabdu
She used to yell at me from underneath the balcony of my old apartment when my wet clothes drying on the line would drip onto her pavement below.  I made some kind of ammends with her, hugged her and I have stayed in her good graces ever since.  She gives my boy gifts of money, candy and biscuits even though she has little to spare.

GedduFarag
This gaunt, elderly shopkeeper would always throw in an extra candy for my boy.  But more than that, he would talk to me of the beauty of Ramadan or the time he went to Hajj. 

The Chicken Shop Lady
I'm thinking right now if I actually know her name!  I must...or maybe I don't.  I know her smile as I pass by.  I know her greeting.  I know that when her husband died this fall, that I prayed for her and her family. 

My Supervisor
She has supported me and guided me.  She has become as much of a friend as she can; bringing us into the good life she enjoys of posh apartments, celebrity parties and clubs.

My Husband and His Family
I don't think I could have stayed in Egypt without their help---they have been that instrumental in our life.  They have brought us into the fold and allowed us into their hearts.  Where we live, the food we eat, and the company we keep is all about these people.

May Allah bless all the helpers in our life. 

Some we know are helping us and some are unknown to us. 

May we, in turn, become helpers for others who are trying to make their way in the world. 

May all of us journey through our lives for the pleasure of Allah.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sail Away with Me, Honey








Music haunts me in these words

What will be will be

I want to hold you now

but I don't

I wanted to hold you then
not now

You don't hold me
not now

You did once
and that hold was strangling
on my soul
and

How did it ever come so far?

The music came through
and carried me away
to you

made me dream
of you and me in an embrace
difference place

and I went to you

together

Put my heart in your hand
in a different land

Driving through
through years

until

only the whistle in the refrain
almost done
no more to be sung.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 14 "Not Home. Sick"




All my thoughts for securing a future in Egypt had to stop so I could deal with the issue at hand.

I was sick again.

I didn't understand it! 

How could I be sick again?!  I had taken the medicine and wasn't eating or drinking from the street vendors any more.  I had started filtering my water.

I went on-line and did more research.  Turns out that filtering didn't kill one blessed microbe.  I had to rapidly boil the water for a minute.  Then, and only then, would my water be safe to drink. 

I went to the darkened door of my kitchen.  I hadn't actually spent time in it.  The refrigerator was in the entry way--ya, wierd---so I had made that room for food prep.  Between the restaurants and the iftar invitations, I really hadn't made the kitchen "mine".  I didn't want to.  It scared me!  The previous tennant's empties were still cluttering the counters.  There was a greasy rug on the floor and stains on the wall.  The window panes were painted over so no natural light came through.  It was a cave of despair.  "A-failure-pile-in-a-sadness-bowl" kind of room (which needs some swearing...just like the video). 

Ick.

But I tackled the room, boiled the water, and let it stand for eight hours so that the massive amounts of cholorine evaporated.  I decided not to keep filtering the water.  I had to draw the line somewhere.  I did start feeling better once again and really prayed that this would do the trick.

It amazed me how much I had to plan in order to drink water.  I couldn't just turn on the tap.  Nope!  I didn't have the funds to continously purchase bottled water.  I had to do this daily task of boiling water, pouring it into open glass containers and refrigerating it once it was done.

I looked around my recently cleaned kitchen.  I had now placed colorful fruit stickers on the tiles encircling me.  I laughed at myself.  It wasn't garlic warding off the dracula but it came close.  Gone was the rug.  Gone were the ancient grease splatters.  The trove of old plastic bottles had been donated to the two young brothers recycling on their donkey cart.  My Walgreen's melanime party plates were sitting pretty.  It was my kitchen.

Dealing with the here and now of Egypt is constant.  There isn't a lot of time to think about the past (which was good for me) or about the future (which is probably good for everyone).  However, being a working mom in Egypt caught me off guard a bit.

I had assumed that I would simply bring my kid with me to the school when I started back to work.  Imagine my surprise when this didn't go as planned.  There were a ton of meetings during which four-year-old boys tend not to sit quietly.  I couldn't stay in meetings.  I couldn't run around since I had to bring him in tow everywhere I went on the large campus.  I couldn't do enough preparation in my dusty room since I had to constantly be looking out for Mr. Boo. 

Where was he?  What?  He had grabbed the garden hose and gotten all wet?  Are you JOKING me?

Where was he?  What?!  He had gone all the way to the exit gate and was trying to crawl under it? 

Oh my God!

The Assistant Headmistress offered an alternative to chaining him up (tempting though it was).  There was a local nursery she could recommend.  My boy could go there, play with other children, and leave me in peace so I could get ready for school---whenever that would be.

We had now gotten a later start time than before.  Kindergarten would be starting the second week of October.  I would have no student for weeks and weeks.  I would therefore not be able to have my son start as a student in the other kindergarten class for weeks and weeks.

Yes, we could check out the nursery.

Luckily, the money was OK and the location was good.  It seemed good enough.  I signed up for a few weeks.  That's all it would be.  I mean...what's the worst that could happen?


Chapter 15




MAKING HIJRAH 13 "Keep on Living"


This is where the story could stop.

Close up on Yosra holding her little boy tight. 

Pull back to show the darkened room of her new apartment in Egypt as the car horns honk and indistinguible Arabic dialogue from the street is heard in the background.

Fade out.

Cut to black.

But, this isn't a made-for-TV

This was my real life and I had to keep on living it even after running through the victory tape at the finish line.  There was more to be done.

One of the most troubling unknows for me was also troubling millions around the globe:  H1N1.  This was the Fall of 2009 and the whole world was wondering what exactly would happen.  The Egyptian government had culled all the swine.  Hand sanitizers were selling briskly.  The school had put "5 face masks" on every child's supply list.

I was concerned.  I had traveled so far with such little money.  Was there a chance that all the schools would close?  That's what I was hearing.  I needed school to keep going so I could keep going!  Their money was my money.  I kept my fingers crossed.

At the same time, I was actually a bit relieved that Egypt had postponed all schools until later in September.  The delay was for preparing disease prevention strategies.  For me?  It was additional time to adjust to a different time zone, culture shock, and a new life.

I had already been to Egypt, but this was different.  I was alone this time---well alone with my kid.  I didn't have someone looking out for me and protecting me.

Shopping locally meant not seeing any prices.  It meant bartering.  It meant trusting---if not in the shopkeeper, then in Allah's justice on the Day of Judgement.  Also, buying food for only two people is hard in Egypt where almost all food (from peanuts to tomatoes) is sold by the kilo. 

During Ramadan, the shops and restaurants were open late and closed up early.  Procuring food for Mr. Boo and myself was a daily challenge.

There was one easy way around it:  accepting iftar invitations.  I was pleased that three families began to have us over for the breaking of the fast.  It sure beat running to the kabob restaurant before magrib and then running back.  These other meals were amazingly plentiful and delicious ---and they were free! 

The first family to invite us was the landlady's.  That was a bit formal, where we sat around the table and passed food and got served.

The second family to invite us was the driver's.  That was less formal, where we sat around the TV and watched a show as we ate.

The other family to invite us was that of the teenage girl.  Honestly, that dinner was awkward.  My son and I were served like royalty and no one really relaxed.  I was nervous because my stomach didn't feel good.  The food looked great!  I just couldn't trust that it would stay in my body for very long.  I was reluctant to eat.  The mom, like any Egyptian hostess, wanted me to eat more and more.  I was unable and sorry that I was unable.

After that night, I really had to admit that I was sick.  I didn't know how to get help.  I thought of calling the principal but I didn't want her to think of me as unhealthy---especially in the H1N1 fear frenzy.  I sat lonely and alone in my apartment--- going and going and going to the bathroom; slowly loosing all my energy. 

When the phone rang, I was surprised to see that it the recruiter from the north coast calling.  He was offering me the job teaching English.  Yes, THAT job with the dismissive British headmaster!  They needed me afterall.  I told him that I had signed on the job here and secured an apartment.  I was going to stay put. 

However...since the situation had presented itself, I decided to ask...could he help me?

That kind man called up a doctor and had me speak to him on the spot.  Subhanallah!  That kind of help never happens in America.  The doctor heard my symptoms over the phone and had me write down the names of the miracle medicines.  Amazingly, the pharamacies here are very easy with prescriptions.

The landlady's son offered to get the medicines for us.  I was now utilizing some much needed manpower.  I started to see how having one man in Egypt wasn't necessary if I could get help from so many. 

Alhumdulillah, that medicine, Antinal, did the trick.  I waited until I was done fasting to take it.  I started to feel better by the next day.  Little by little, I regained my strength and started to see how different I was, now that I had my full capacity for thinking, patience and understanding.

We were invited again to each of the houses.

Let's be honest...

At the landlady's house, I realized that I was a single woman and she had a single son.  That made me nervous.  Him talking to me made me nervous.  Him helping me with my internet connection made me nervous.  I wasn't sure what he was thinking but I didn't want any trouble where I lived---even if he spoke fluent English, had a car, a job, a store, and a business on the side.

At the driver's house, I really enjoyed myself ---but again I was a single woman and the driver was still single, though he was engaged.  His mom, who I came to like so much, kept making jokes about him marrying me instead.  That's funny except that I was a single woman and he was still single, though he was engaged.  Oh, and he was very very young, young, young.  I was old enough to be his moth---er's good friend.

At the teenage girl's home, I found myself finally able to eat her mom's delicious food but for some reason two of the uncles came over while I was there.  That made me uncomfortable as well.  I wasn't sure who was married and who was single.  I didn't really want to know.  I didn't like the one brother who thought he knew English from years of working with tourists.  The other brother was the one I had met in the little shop next to their house.  He tried to shake my hand and I had to tell him that I didn't shake hands with men.

After we left the girl's home, my boy and I headed over to the main street to get mango popscicles (this was a favorite treat our first Ramadan here).  Oddly, we bumped into the tourist shop brother whom we had just met.  I was unpleasantly surprised.  He asked me if I needed any help.  I quickly declined.  My mind was suscipious of that chance meeting.  Was something going on?

We got more invites for dinner.  I decided to turn down the landlady.  I didn't need anybody from upstairs falling for me downstairs. 

I decided to keep going to the driver's house but to be more careful about my friendliness.  Being easy going with an Egyptian man can often get misperceived

As for the teenage girl's family, I accepted an invite to go to her grandma's house.  This time the invite didn't come from her or her mom.  The phone call came from one of her uncles.  Which uncle was he?  I was trying to figure it out.

That family was so big:  three brothers and four sisters.  It was like a reunion at every night!  Lots of kids playing together made Mr. Boo's night.  He was so happy to be away from our solitude and be around silliness.  There were lots of women my age and I enjoyed myself.

I was nervous, though, about the unwed tourist shop brother.  I didn't want any problem.  So, on the way back home I stopped and tried my best Arabic with the sister walking me home.  I let her know that I didn't want to get married.  I just wanted to work and take care of my boy.  She seemed to understand--or at least she nodded and smiled. 

My true intention was exactly as I had stated it to her.  Allah knows.  I had not moved to Egypt to marry.  Of course I knew that I might meet someone eventually but I was not actively looking.  Certainly, I wasn't going to make my life complicated within weeks of landing.  It made absolutely no sense!

Be that as it may, six weeks after making hijrah, I realized something surprising.  During my time of traveling to iftar dinners, one of the men I had met and shared food with was someone who drew me in.  This wasn't a lust or a hot and heavy, "Whoa, Baby!" 

What I slowly felt was a quiet wish that I could belong to his family.  I knew that I was too old to be adopted and laughed at myself.  Then, it hit me:  I could belong to their family if I married in. 

Marriage?!


Chapter 14

Monday, November 22, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 12 "Finding a Place"



I made my way to the school for my first face-to-face meeting with my new boss.  All possible illusions of me being a tourist just visiting Egypt started to fade.  I was not a tourist.  I was not visiting.  I was on hijrah; a permanent move to an Islamically-based country.  I was here to start building a new life for my son and myself.

The upper middle-class Egyptians strolling in and out of the school gates made me feel underdressed by comparison.  I was not in the same league.  I couldn't be!  My clothes were now a couple years old and not nearly as sharply pressed--ok, they weren't pressed at all. 

Good thing I don't embarrass easily.

Waiting in the reception area for the principal reminded me of so many past on-line relationships made real.  I knew this lady from emailing and one phone call once I landed.  I had no idea what she actually looked like. 

Was it her?  I'd straighten up a bit on the couch.  That lady would walk past.

No.

Did the principal wear hejab?  I had no idea. 

Could she be that one? 

No.

Turns out that my new boss was an elegant lady with this great warmth.  From the moment she came to introduce herself, I knew that I had made the right choice in keeping my commitment with the school.  She would do her best for me.  I felt that.  I felt the comfort of that.

I signed up and walked out of the gates as if I was worth a million bucks.  It had nothing to do with my outsides.  It had to do with all the calm and happiness I felt inside.  Happiness is an inside job, afterall.  My job was going to be OK. 

So, my boy and I headed back to the hotel.  I looked around our four walls with the trepidation of a baby chick crampt inside the eggshell but not ready to peck its way out.  Yes, this was a teeny-tiny room but how could I really leave it after two days?  I couldn't.

I arranged for another day and asked for a driver who knew the area.  I had to search for a new place to live.  The old, experienced driver was over charging so I got the number of a young driver instead.  While I liked the old man's courtesy and decorum, I found myself unexpectedly laughing with the substitute.

The days had been so frought with survival tactics.  I had been tense without even knowing how much.  The visit to the school released so much of that tension and it came out that night as I toured the local neighborhoods.

Somewhere I would find a place to live.  It had to be close to the school.  I knew that other American teachers typically lived in Maadi.  I had no interest ZERO in living in an ex-pat community.  I wanted real Egypt.  I wanted cheap, safe and close to shops, restaurants and sights.  Location, location, location!

None of the recommended local places interested me.  It was very dark, late, and I was both tired and a little loopy.  My driver was standing out of the car making a call.  He came back with a new idea.

The young driver took me to his family's home, not far from the hotel, and we consulted with the local know-it-all perfume shop owner.  Yes, he knew of a place.

This was a furnished two-bedroom with air-conditioning.  And what?  Immediate satelitte and high-speed internet hook-up?!  I thought of agreeing on the spot but I held back.  I actually did want to pray istakarah. 

It wasn't the best...the furniture was old and tired...dirty and junky...but then what wasn't dirty and junky in Egypt? 

That's how I felt then---I have since come to view things differently, as homes in Egypt can be absolutely spotless with the right care.

I left that possible apartment with much uncertainity and headed back to that evening's eventuality.  I had spent three nights in a hotel room, with each night eating up a large chunk of cash.  It was filled with clean, new furniture and

it     

was

not

where

I

could

stay. 

That sunk in.  I would have to give up hotel living (with all of the helpful people I'd come to know).  I would have to get my butt in gear and really hunker down in Egypt.

I would have to accept that apartment as the best I could do. 

Sometimes, we take little steps forward and it feels so bad because we don't want to be in that spot.  We know we aren't meant to be there for long.  I felt that.  I felt that the apartment was wrong for the long haul.  I needed it for now but not forever.  That hurt. 

I didn't want yet another short-term residence.  There had been a long list of emergency shelters.  I wanted somehow to land in Egypt and discover a lovely gem of a place which would become my home for the next 40 years.  I wanted a fantasy.  I couldn't have that.  I had to face the truth.  I would be staying in a temporary place until I knew of somewhere better. 

The next day was Friday.  Still fasting.  Still having a fair amount of culture shock.  I called the landlady and agreed to rent her downstairs apartment.  I called the young driver and he helped us with our carload.  After lots of carrying bags down to his car, we took a short drive, and then carried lots of  bags up to the apartment--my apartment.  I was in.

I was in my new apartment...in Egypt...in my new life. 

That night my son and I curled up together in the big bed and I listened to the sounds of the street.  It was overwhelming; all that I had done

...and all that I had left to do.



Chapter 13

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sheep Slaughtering on Eid



These are the Days of Eid.

Happy Eid.

Eid Mubarak.

Eid Sayed.

For believers, this is the time of remembering the sacrifice we need to make in our lives to serve Allah.

For non-believers, this is the time the sheep are killed.

Well, it's true that sheep are slaughtered.

"Why do you kill the sheep?" asks the mom with the Happy Meals.

OK, good question.  Muslims slaughter the sheep to remember the time when Prophet Abraham/Ibrahim (peace be upon him) thought he had to kill his beloved son.  The prophet obeyed and the moment before the knife was to enter, Issac was spared.  Subhanallah!

"Wait a minute!" calls out the guy grilling the steak, "That's our story!  That's from the Bible!"

Right.  It is from the Bible and from the Torah and also from the Quran.

However, in the Quran,  Ibrahim is NOT asked to slaughter his son.  In a dream, The Prophet sees the sacrifice and upon waking thinks that he must carry out what he has seen.

Haven't you done that?

"Sure," says the kid chewing on a Slim Jim, "once I dreamed there was a dracula in my kitchen and when I woke up I had to go open all the cupboards just to make sure he wasn't in there."

Right, dreams are not reality.

In many ways, Happy Meals, steaks on the grill, and Slim Jims are void of reality too.  Those are meat products which came from an animal; a real, living, breathing animal.  Someone had to slaughter it. 

Yes, Lady munching the chicken Cesar salad, that meat arrived at your house on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic, but it started out as a cute baby.  That baby animal grew and when it was big enough it was killed.  It died.  You ate it.

Why did you eat it without considering the source?  It came from God.  Was it slaughtered in the name of God?  Before you ate it, did you eat it in rememberance of God?

Muslims do all that.  We are far from barbaric in our treatment of animals we slaughter.

OK, I don't personally slaughter animals myself.  I've witnessed one slaughter and that was enough for me.  I'm the chick who stayed---not just once but TWICE---on Scottish sheep farms so I could be close to the fuzzy fellas.  But last year, I witnessed a sheep being slaughtered so I could see and feel the moment of sacrifice.  For most of my life, I wouldn't eat mutton but now, I do.  If I was willing to eat it, then I wanted to be willing to see the process.  The animal's life ends so that we can live. 

The most amazing moment for me was seeing the slaughtering process stop.  The sheep was on the ground and it was scared so the process was brought to an immediate halt.  The animal was raised up and given water and calming words.  When it lay down again, then and only then was the sharp knife quickly brought down with "Bismallah". 

The sheep and the goat in the picture were real.  I really loved visiting them.  I gave them our food scraps.  I named them.  They were slaughtered this Eid.  They are gone.  I may or may not be able to eat their meat.

Next time you eat meat, please take a moment to remember the reality of life and death; of sacrifice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 11 "Finding Iftar"



Asalamu Alaykom,





This was going to be a moment of truth. 

Yes, I had found us a place to stay for the night and arranged for the morning's suhour.  I had managed to find the largest pyramids on the planet.  We had negotiated through the Land of the Dead in a carriage.  I had been able to carry my sleeping son out of the heat and back into the cool of the hotel.

But like some two-parter  "Amazing Race"  episode, I had another challenge.  I had to find iftar. 

Finding food in America is soooooooooo easy.  Want something to eat?  Any place!  Any time! 

In Egypt, during Ramadan, everything closes.  BAM!  the aluminum shutters roll down like so many garage doors and the stores are locked up.  If you want food, you had best find it before sunset. 

So, even though I was dead tired beyond any fathomable level, I had to stop napping, push myself out of the bed and head back downstairs.  I thought to check out the hotel restaurant.  That would be easy!

Sure enough, the hotel manager showed me the menu with a special iftar dinner for only...WHAT?!  50 pounds?!  Are you freakin' joking?  I knew that 50 pounds was a ridiculous amount of cash.  Yes, if I stood there and calculated the amount in U.S. dollars, then it was only $10.  But, I was determined to keep my spending down and to think of the pounds as stand-alone currency; not in reference to a place I no longer lived.

I walked away.  I wasn't going to pay it.

Smart...maybe.

I had felt the inner resolve to walk away.   At the same time, I faced the frightening fact that I didn't know where I was going.  Where should I go?  I had a short time and a big city.  Where was the food?

This tourist location had thousands of real people so where were the real shops?  No, I didn't want papyrus, T-shirts with camels or King Tut statues.  I wanted bananas and grapes.  I wanted chicken and bread.  Where was it?

I walked out of the hotel, crossed the crazy-busy street and started on a mission to feed us.  There was the sweet shop and I thought about loading up on basboosa.  No!  Iftar had to be healthy or I really couldn't get myself to break my fast with it (as I knew from past experiences). 

So, I kept my head looking all around as I walked further.  There was a shop in a little sidestreet.  I could see it was a hole-in-the-wall shop.  I starting walking towards it.  I tried to talk to a man...or was it a woman?  I tried to talk to someone and they gestured towards that shop.  I could see someone working there...a man in galabiya.

We walked up and I did my best Arabic to ask for "moses wa aynab".  Alhumdulillah, it only took four tries to be understood.  The man explained that he didn't have any but he called over a girl and talked to her.  He then explained that the girl would help us find food.

Now, in writing this story for the whole wide world, I can sense how many people might be reading this and feeling fear.  A woman in a foreign country has to trust many people she doesn't know.  Hey, I know how it scary it sounds and it feels even scarier when you are living it!  Sizing up people has to be within seconds and trust has to be established immediately or else the person has to be dismissed immediately. 

For me in that moment?  I decided to trust these people and I let this girl walk with us.  She was tall and lanky with a pony tail that swung as she walked--no hejab and she wore jeans.  To a lot of people, she was dressed like a "bad" Muslim.  However, if you are determined to get help from only the "good" Muslims in the world, then be prepared to spend a lot of time alone and helpless.

We backtracked on the main drag.  This girl helped us cross the street as if she were the mom and I was the kid. She took charge of us as if our lives depended on it---and it probably did!

Like the scenes from, "Aladdin" we entered into a narrow street; really more like an alley.  Finding the hide-away world would have been nearly impossible.  We walked a little further in from the main road and the local's stores began appearing on either side.  Yes!  We were nearing success.

She brought me over to a man with a donkey cart---a far cry from the posh restaurant.  There was the fruit I'd asked for.  I did my first transaction by the kilo.  I didn't want so much piled onto his scale and the girl tried to help mediate. She took the money out of my hand and talked to the man.  I had that hesitation  in my head.  Was she really helping me or was she scamming me?  I decided that it didn't matter as long as I got dinner.

Buses were zooming past us.  People were hurrying by.  It was time for everyone to head home.  Cars clogged up the road with drivers honking.  This was a happen' spot!  There was a juice stand.  There was a snack stand.  There were chickens turning on a spit---jackpot!  We headed over there.

At first glance, the restaurant owner saw an opportunity to do business with a tourist.  You could see that in his eyes.  I tried to explain to the man that it was just my boy and I, so we didn't need so much food.  His eyes softened and he accomodated our needs and put together a dinner fit for a queen:  chicken, bread, tahina, salad and pickled vegetables.  Price?  14 pounds.

Even with the cost of the fruit, our dinner came to under 20 pounds.  I had saved our money and come up with a healthier, tastier evening's meal.  What's more, I proved to myself that I needn't be beholden to the tourist trade.  I could mix with the locals and buy from them.  Truly, that was priceless.

I was going to buy a phone card (since mine had quickly been used up making a call to the school principal).  The girl stopped me.  She told me that I could buy one from her uncle back at the shop.  I agreed.  After all her help, I had not bought a thing from her family.

We walked back and I bought the phone card to recharge my minutes.  As I was getting out my money, Mr. Boo was trying to ask me for a little bag of  "Jelly Cola" candy.  Normally, in America, gelatin-based candy is filled with pork but I knew this was halal---what a change!  I was going add the candy to my bill, but the girl's uncle gave it as a gift instead.

Her father helped me recharge the card.  No, I didn't always know what I was doing but I did know how to ask for help.  Alhumdulillah, I was getting help and it was from Allah.

We went back to our hotel room as the night's sky began to fade.  When the azan sounded, we were safely inside with our meal.  Alhumdulillah.

Later, I would look back on this first day in Giza with so much amazement.  Like a birthing experience, I went through some really trying times but after all was said and done, I was stronger for my courage to enter into a new and unchartered world. 

Little did I know, but one of the men from that first day would become a major figure in my our new life.  It's funny because, since we were both fasting, neither one of us were really attracted each other whatsoever.

Alhumdulillah for all the people we meet; some we help and some help us.  Everyone is exactly right for us at that exact moment because God's plan is amazing.

Subhanallah.  God's plan's is the best.


Chapter 12



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MAKING HIJRAH 10 "Ancient History"



Asalamu Alaykom,





At three in the morning, I was awakened by the front desk.  It was one of those disorientating moments when you know that you are not where you should normally be--but you don't exactly know where you are.

I readied myself for the suhour.  It was on its way!  I was so hungry.  The massive tray came with meats, cheese, breads, foul medamnes and olives along with yogurt.  I ate my half.  The other half was for the sweet boy asleep in the bed.

There had been two twin beds for us but we crammed into one.  Co-sleeping is best at times of stress and I'd say that moving half-way around the world and leaving everything and everyone behind would qualify as stressful.

The azan sounded and I prayed.

I prayed for a good start to our new life.  I prayed for that elusive commodity of peace.  I prayed for protection.  I prayed for the people I had recently left on the coast and for the people I had left in America a week ago.

It had already been a week; a week since I left.  So much had been resolved by my visit to the family.  It was such a blessing to reconcile feelings of guilt and sadness; of wanting my son and me to be accepted and loved.  Ultimately, I realized my need for independence.

I had to start my new life on my own.  I fell back to sleep and planned on a nice long rest---which of course was not at all my son's plan.

"Mommy!  The sun is up!" was the news report he delievered to me.

"I know, Honey, but mommy needs more sleep."  I knew that I had to bribe him.  "When I get up, we'll go see the Pyramids."  And then I rolled over.

"I can see them now."  Mr. Boo calmly told me.  "They're out there!"  He pointed towards the window and sure enough (when I pried open my eyes) there were the Pyramids looking in our hotel window.  Amazing!

That woke me up with a start.  I might have been confused in the dark before the dawn, but this gave me no doubt.  I was definately in Giza.

The last time I had been in Giza was to see the Laser Light Show on the Pyramids with AbuBoo.  He hadn't wanted to do much in the way of sightseeing so I had pleaded.  We went that night and ate our chicken dinner while watching the show.  It had been fabulous---even with Italian narration---but it had seemed too surreal.

On my first day back in Giza, I wanted to remedy the past.  I wanted to walk through the Pyramids.  I needed to touch the hand-hewn rocks and feel history through my skin cells.  I was fasting but I was going to push myself in order to experience life full circle.

We walked out of the hotel without anyone asking where we were going.  Just like a teenager with new found freedom, I felt both the elation and the anxiety  What if something happened to us?  Would anybody know or care?

I walked to the corner and then realized how knowing where the Pyramids were and knowing how to get to them were two different things.  I backtracked to ask the hotel guard for directions.  It seemed close enough.  I just had to cross the street---

Wow!  The streets were so busy!  I was taken aback by the amount of speeding traffic.  It occurred to me that this would be a horrible way to die.

"She was trying to take her young son to see the Pyramids when she miscalculated and was rammed by a garbage truck.  Can you imagine?  It was her first day in Giza.  She was going to start a new life.  Sad..."

Alhumdulillah, no unfortunate accidents happened crossing that street or the next.  The sun beat down on us and I started a new fear of fainting from the exertion. 

Really?  I was going to live a life of fear?  As I walked with my boy, I knew that I had to conquer my fears and quick.  Things in motion stay in motion and allowing myself to be fearful would truly do me in more than any actual danger.

I could now see the gate to the Pyramids and it was uphill.  UPHILL?  I mean...sure it's the last remaining World Wonder but did it have to be so hard to view?

Just then, a young man approached and offered a horse carriage instead of a walk.  I had my money and was ready to pay but not as much as he was asking.  I had to bargain.  The dude was kind of a jerk and wouldn't believe me that I wanted a short ride for little money. 

In stepped an older man who agreed to take us for half the time and half the cost.  We climbed in and we started up the hill.  Oh, this was going to be grand!  Riding in style around the Pyramids!

"Ticket," the man told me in English.  Then he pointed to the office which was selling tickets.  I had to buy a ticket for my boy and me. 

OK, I'm not sure if I can blame this moment on fasting, jet lag or plain stupidity but I had not really realized that I had to buy a ticket in addition to the horse carriage.  I hadn't counted on it!  Suddenly, I had a carriage, very little money and no ticket.  In fact, I didn't have enough to buy the tourist rate tickets of $60.

I approached the windows and listened to all the American couples bicker and I brooded.  Hoovering around the couples were hopeful tour guides ready to be helpful (and paid for their helpfulness).  I was really a different commodity standing there; neither fitting in with the Americans nor the Egyptians.

My turn.  I approached the window.  The following transaction was in Arabic:

"Two."

"Where are you from?"

"I'm from here now.  His father is Egyptian."

"You're not Egyptian.  $60."

"I didn't think it would be so much.  I only brought enough to pay like an Egyptian."

"Where is his father?'

"In America.  I'm here staying at the hotel and I'm fasting.  Please don't make me go back to the hotel for more money.  It's not possible for me to come back."

"Where is your Egyptian passport?"

"Him," I said pointing to my son.  "He's all the truth needed that I married an Egyptian."

One of the tour guides pushed the man at the window to simply take my money and let me in.

The ticket seller asked, "Where is your money?"

I pulled out my few coins and a five pound note.

He took it and let us in.  I now had only a couple of coins left but I had made it in to see the Pyramids.  I truly rejoiced in that rewarding moment of stubborn determination paying off. 

We turned the corner, headed up to security check point for the guards to x-ray our bag and Mr. Boo decided to jump on the conveyor belt.  OH MY GOD!  What kind of crazy child jumps on the security guard's conveyor belt?!  The men completely freaked.  I guess not too many people had tried that!  Maybe we were both of us were uniquely pushing the boundaries of acceptability on that first foray into Giza. 

Our carriage driver was waiting for us.  Once Mr. Boo was done with the conveyor belt, we were allowed in the area.  The driver asked how much we had paid.  I told him and he laughed and laughed.  The sun was so hot.  I knew I had made the right choice to be under the canopy.

It occured to me how this Pyramid area was not meant for human life.  It was meant for the dead.  I felt the life being sucked out of me by all the heat and shadeless landscape. 

We stopped for a camel photo op which was way cool until the camel's owner got my half pound coin.  He hadn't figured how cheap I actually was.  I saw him again when we rounded the corner and made sure that he wasn't angry with me. 

Up and up we went.  As much as I wanted to stay in the cool of the carriage, I knew that my trip would not be complete without touching the stone.  I had to touch the stone. We got out. 

Plodding through the sand, I realized that sandals aren't really good for sand.  It was rocky and unmarked and I marveled how a tourist attraction 4,500 years old could still be so undeveloped. 

Never mind.  I was close enough to touch so I did.  I made Mr. Boo touch the stone too.  So many people dream of going to the Pyramids and here I was.  I hadn't walked amongst them before and felt like I had missed out.  But now?  Now, I had really lived.  I took a picture of our hands on the stone. 

I was offered a trip up stairs.  I declined.  My boy eagerly bounded upward.  I was worried.  What was up there?  A locked door?  GOOD!  Now, I wanted him down. 

Back at the carriage, the driver agreed to take a Pyramid picture of me.  Otherwise, my three-feet-tall  photograher's camera angles deform me into giant with huge nostrils.

We continued all the way to the Sphinx.  It was then that the driver told me that he was not going to wait for us.  If I got out to look around, then I was on my own.  That sucked!  I told him that I was fasting.  He told me that he was too and that he wanted some extra money to wait.  If I didn't want him to wait for me then he expected a tip.  What was my choice?  I got out and gave him the rest of my cash---it was under 5 pounds.  I was not going to feel cheated again by not really exploring.  I needed to feel the moment.

We got out and it was worth it.  The Sphinx is so historical.  How can you not?

The only problem were the souvenier sellers.  They were often pushy.  As we were heading out (both of us hot and tired and only one of us able to drink water), one souvenier seller tried hawking his wares and I declined saying, "Mafish floos".  I didn't have any money.  I really didn't.

He started meanly berating me and I lost it.  I told him, "Wallahi," meaning I was swearing to God and then I teared up.

I don't know why exactly.

It was the build-up of fear; of real dangers and of the unknown.  It was culture shock and adjusting to being on my own in a foreign country.  It was the realization that I'd been here before and I'd been taken care of then (but not now).  It was being Muslim in a Muslim country and having a Muslim treat me badly.

Another souvenier seller appologized for the previous man's behavior.  I didn't stop to say a word beyond, "Shukran" or thanks.  I felt so exhausted that I had to leave for fear that each minute in the noon sun was zapping my strength.

Mr. Boo, in my arms, had now fallen asleep.  I was fasting and carrying my four-year-old in the hot sun.  Not a good plan.  In addition to that, I wasn't totally sure where I had ended up.  Where was I?

Lots of taxi drivers offered to take me to the hotel but I was too scared to get in with no money.  I couldn't be that far away, right?  So, I started walking.  I walked and walked.  I walked until I couldn't walk any more.

I sat down on a step and got myself together.  I had to have a firm conviction.  I could handle this and get us back to the air-conditioned splendor soon enough, inshahallah.

I started off again.  All the shops looked vaguely the same.  I had to keep the Pyramids in view to figure out where I was.  I was heading in the right direction, but where was the hotel?!

It took seemingly forever to make it back to the hotel but we did make it.  Mr. Boo was like cement!  In we went and I was so happy to feel that air conditioner.  Mr. Boo was deposited on the bed and I took a cold shower to revive.  I would be able to get some food for our iftar dinner after I cooled off.

And then I remembered, "inshahallah."


Chapter 11