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