Saturday, November 26, 2011

Egyptian Elections

Elections are scheduled for Monday in Cairo.  All the schools in the metropolis are closed (even in Giza) because of the anticipated disruption. 

This is a political flier for a man running for office in Giza.  I know nothing about him so this is not an endorsement. 

What I find interesting is the political groups.  The bearded man in a galabiya belongs to the Fanoos Lantern group.  This totally connotates Islam because the lanterns are hung here at Ramadan.  This half page of paper is flimsy and the quality is not as important as austerity.

The next flier is really a study in contrast.

This clean-shaven man is dressed in a suit and tie.  This small photo of his flier belies the fact that it's a full glossy page.  It's very professionally done.  That takes some money!  He belongs to the acoustic guitar group.  Which renders us thinking of Folk Music from the '60s or MTV Unplugged.  Stringed instruments are forbidden by the most strict of Muslims so it's kind of a dis on them. 

But please don't think that only men run for political office.  During our really short vacation this fall to the North Coast, I snapped a quick pic of Bill O'Reilly's worst dream.

 Yes, it's a niqabi participating in Democracy! 

What I loved about this poster was that she's "one of the guys".  She's just another person, which is what covered women strive for anyway.  She isn't spending thousands on her hair care and make-up like Michelle Bachman or Sarah Palin.  Hey, I'm not going to be partisan here---she's not spending thousands on pant suits like Hiliary Clinton either!

I'm sorry that the above picture wasn't clearer but it was taken from a hantour a horse carriage ride.  I can't tell which political party they belong to.

Here's a picture I took last year in Cairo. 

This hijabi is part of the Grapes Party.  I'm really so sad that I didn't get a picture of the flier from the man who was part of the Banana Party.  Bananas are funny!  Who in the world was thinking that's a great idea for someone running for political office?

I love this last picture.  This woman is serious and sincere and is facing you with all her humanity.  She is not dolled up or made to look attractive.  She is an Egyptian first and a woman second.  Again, I don't know anything about her politics.  I only know that she is a covered woman who is ready to serve her country.

That's beautiful.

May the elections run as smoothly as possible with the outcome being fair and just.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deja Vue All Over Again

"If you got it today you don't want it tomorrow, man, 'cause you don't need it, 'cause as a matter of fact, as we discovered in the train, tomorrow never happens, man. It's all the same f---ing day, man."

                                                               Janis Joplin

Yes, it's alll the same day...especially in Egypt.

We could sing:

"Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like Revolution everywhere we go."

Or we could sing this round I was trying to teach Mr. Boo:

"Cairo's burning!  Cairo's burning!
Fetch the engines!  Fetch the engines!
Fire, Fire!  Fire, Fire!
Pour on water!  Pour on water!  Pour on waaaater!"

Sing it, say it, blog it out...hey!  Even Twitter it! 

In fact, please Twitter it, because then I get some idea of what's going on in Egypt----at least from one point of view.  Some of what I read is really twisted dreams of what SHOULD happen in a reforming country instead of what history tells us DOES happen in a reforming country. 

This picture at the top is actually from the Twitter feed.  It shows you how Egypt is right now.  Egypt is a mix.  Egypt has an angry mob burning down the city and army soldiers and police fighting them to the death.  It also has a cotton candy man.  It makes me laugh.  Even knowing the huge toll this latest uprising is taking, that picture makes me laugh and it makes me hopeful.

There's a human spirit which drives us to keep going here in Egypt.  It's the dad I see every morning bringing his daughter to school on the handlebars of his bike.  He's not young and she's no longer so small.  It's not a joy ride for him yet it's a ride of joy.  He keeps going because he has hope for the future.  God bless him. 

I didn't want to go to school this Sunday.  I wondered if it would be cancelled.  It wasn't.  Some schools closer to Tahrir were.  Remember that I'm very safe in Giza.  So I went.  When I saw the people, like the dad on the bike, I felt like I was not alone in my fears or my hopes. We are together in a unified mission to keep the country running; to keep our families getting their needs met. 

Why?  Because someone has to. 

Someone has to teach school during a revolution.  Ironically, I am teaching about the Pilgrims and the Native American Indians befriending each other.  These two groups came together to share a place and time.  They gave thanks.  We remember them each year on Thanksgiving.

There is no school for us this Thursday.  I'm thinking of fasting during the day and then eating pizza that night.  It will mark five very full years since my son's father left us and flew to Egypt.  It is hitting me as sad and momentus.  Fasting seems a good way of marking the day.

Friday?  I don't know.

Saturday?  Not sure.

Sunday, once again I'm supposed to return to school.

Monday, inshahallah, is the election.  It was just announced that all the schools will be closed. 

Today, another American teacher asked me, "Do you see yourself here forever?"

I answered, "I have seen myself being forever with marriages, homes, jobs, friends and been wrong.  So, I've stopped thinking of forever.  I don't know what will happen."

I like what Fadel Soliman said.  He said that being a Muslim isn't being happy or sad.  Being Muslim is just accepting.  I'm doing a pretty good job accepting this latest melee.

I thought about my hometown.  It really isn't much safer than here.  There are gang warfares from drug deals gone wrong.  I am no where near those danger zones.  I only hear about the killings on the news.  It doesn't really affect me.

This is how it is here.  Bad things are happening.  Not here.  I'm safe here.  It's happening somewhere and I know about it.  Yet, I need to keep my life in perspective and stay focused on building our life not getting distracted by those who want to tear the world apart.

It's going to happen.  Again and again.

Playwright Bertolt Brecht in "Mother Courage" said a most revolutionary thought.  It struck me so when I was still a teenager.  Most people view the world as peaceful until a war breaks out.  The reality is that the world is warlike and every now and then peace breaks out.

After a hardship there is ease.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Late for Duhr

I was late for my appointment with Duhr.  He had started waiting for me at 11:40, which was not a good time for me to meet.  Sunday through Thursday I'm busy at work and I can't always meet with him.  Sometimes I get washed up to meet him and then have to bail out due to other pressing concerns.

He's really so nice about it.  He waits for me until around 2:30.  He gives me all that time to see him for those six minutes.  That's all he's asking for!  Can you believe it?  Every day he waits patiently even though he knows that I may or may not be making time for him.

Of course I'm sorry when I find myself too busy.  I always ask myself later if I really was too busy or if I could have made more of an effort.  Was there any way that I could have removed myself from the kindergarten room for that short break?  Those of you who are teachers know that it's harder than it sounds!  However, it's not impossible.

Duhr stays until Asr comes.  They are never waiting for me at the same time.  I basically lose the chance to have a good meeting with Duhr if it's actually the time for Asr.  Asr doesn't hold it against me if I haven't met with Duhr.  It's not like I can't meet with Asr if I haven't met with Duhr.  They don't play like that.

However, I feel badly that I missed Duhr's time.  Usually, I feel badly all the way home.  I get home, knowing that I need to be on time for my appointment with Asr.  I'm hardly ever late for Asr.  It's not that I like Asr more.  I like Duhr just as much as Asr!

So, when I get home I want to get back on track.  I used to call up Duhr first and try to do right by him.  I couldn't see him face-to-face any more.  I told Asr to wait while I was calling up Duhr.  I don't think Asr liked that one bit.  I had upset Duhr and now, while I was trying to appease him over the phone, I had to deal with Asr losing patience with me as well.

What to do?!

My husband told me that I should really be good to Asr right away.  Come home, get together first with Asr and really keep that appointment on time.  Afterwards, he instructed, I could go backwards in my day planner and make sure everything was OK with Duhr.  It wouldn't be exactly as good as it could have been but it's necessary to keep in touch with him every day no matter what. 

It was a different approach and I decided to try it.  The next time I stood on the prayer rug ready to meet Duhr first, I stopped.  I closed my eyes and really focused my intentions.  No, I would meet with Asr first since that is who was ready to meet me right now.  No, I would not call Duhr first since that window of opportunity was closed. 

When I connected with Asr first, I really felt an energy shift.  I felt quickness in my movements and a re-vitalization in my soul.  It was an improvement over dragging my limp, lifeless body through the motions.  When I was with Duhr after that, it didn't seem to take so long; it was a breeze.  Somehow, I felt that I'd put my prioritizes in order and that eased the whole experience.

Having said that, not everyone agrees who should get your time first.  Do your own research.  Make your own decisions.  An unexaimed life is not worth living.  So examine your life and specifically your relationship with Duhr and Asr, as well as their friends Fajr (who always comes so early in the day), Magrib, and Isha (the night owl of the group).  These are five friends who really deserve your time and effort.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Dream Deferred

Langston Hughes asked,

                      "What happens to a dream deferred?
               Does it dry up. Like a raisin in the sun?"

It's hard for me to write about this.  To write about my dream deferred is like writing an obituary of sorts.  The funny thing is that it was really my choice ultimately.  No one got in my way and prevented me.  I stopped myself.  I stopped going after my own dream.

Or maybe I woke up from my dream and decided that it wasn't really what I wanted.


Maybe I'd better go back and explain.  I have been in Egypt for over two years now.  Six months into my stay, a satellite network began to discuss the possibility of me hosting a show.  I didn't go forward on it because I had enough going on (new country, new job, new home and new marriage).

Then, this Spring, I was contacted again and the offer was made again.  Would I be interested in hosting my own show?  If I could build a show what would that include?  How would I like to project Islam to a Western, non-Muslim audience?

Obviously, I was very excited about this possibility.  It was very real.  There were meetings and proposals.  Emails went back and forth.  I met with the head of the network when he flew to Egypt.  That was all going on this Spring and I prayed about it.

Then all was quiet.  I didn't hear from anyone.  I didn't know what was going on so I went ahead with my plans to go to the U.S.  As Allah would have it, the call came after I bought tickets.  They wanted me to film all of July and August. 

I felt that I'd been in this situation once before.  Back in 2008, God had showed me the way to Egypt, but I had gotten a chance to teach in America and jumped at the offer.  That decision had been a miserable, gut-wrenching experience.  I wasn't going to do that again.  I went ahead with my plans to go for six weeks in the U.S.

When I came back, I took my camera test for the station.  It was approved and I was congratulated.  I would be the new host of their talk show.  I found this out two days before school started this fall.  It was a very chaotic time made even more crazy when my new assistant was in a car accident (alhumdulillah she was alright).

All the meetings for this project ended up being cancelled, re-scheduled, and always at times inconvenient to me and my family.  I lost sleep.  I missed meals.  I missed being with my son.  I became tired, cranky, nervous and angry.

Why, God?  Why am I doing this dawah for Islam when it takes me away from the ones I love?  Why try to talk to others about peace when it's lacking from my own life?

I was barely putting my big toe into the pool of the project and it was upsetting me greatly.  At every turn, I was fuming.  No one told me that we'd be filming on the weekend until a few days beforehand.  I didn't get those two scripts until the day before.  Oh, and there was going to be a co-host (whom I'd never met) but surely we'd get along on screen without problem---right?  I'd do my best and it felt awful.

The kicker came the day before filming.  Remember:  I was having all these emotions without even filming one show!  I went in to meet the producer again.  He handed me the two scripts he wrote (and I had to magically memorize by the next day) and he told me that his assistant would take me to the abaya shop.

"The what?"

"Abaya shop."

I tried to explain to him that my explicit understanding with the manager of the network was that I was to appear both modest and modern.  I felt it was very important to show me in clothes which looked like me; a mix of both American and Muslim.  This is the way I dress normally.  My appearance on the show was not incidental but crucial.  If I looked like I had on an Arabian costume, then I could actually repel women from Islam.

I could imagine some lady flipping channels and remarking, "I get what she's saying but just look at her!  That's not me!  If I have to dress up like that, then count me out.  I'm my own person and I have my own style, thank you very much.  I've lost myself to people or causes before.  I know who I am now and I am not changing the way I look for anyone!  I'm an American, baby!"

I told the producer that I couldn't wear an abaya on the show.  Why did they hire an American if they wanted me to dress up like a Saudi?

Look, I have no problem with what women chose to wear in their personal life.  Please don't get me wrong.  For the work of dawah, on an international satellite program, that is something to be careful about.  It was something I had written out and spoken to the station manager about a few times previously.  I thought he had heard me.

I talked with him again over the phone on that day.

"Can't you be flexible?"  He wanted to know.

"Not on this. I can not.  I'm looking at your assistant and she's wearing a modest shirt and skirt.  That is Islamically appropriate and not off-putting like an abaya.  That's what I would normally wear to work.  Why can't I wear something like that?"

"We have an agreement with this shop to use their clothes so we have to use them, " was his explanation. 

That really stuck in my craw. A financial agreement was more important to them than presenting Islam the best they could.

"Besides," he tried to reason, "they have abaya shops in America and the U.K."

I was mad.  "You haven't lived and worked in those countries and I have.  I know what a woman can wear to work and no one wears an abaya to work in mainstream America.  To show that a woman must wear an abaya in order to accept Islam will actually stop someone from coming to Islam.  I explained my reasoning a long time ago and I thought you understood.  If you don't, then I don't want to continue with anything."

I handed the phone to the stunned assistant and walked out.  She followed me out and tried to make me stay.  I didn't.  I walked.  I walked out of a TV station which wanted me to host a show.

It hurt.  It hurt to feel so close to making a dream into a reality.  It hurt to feel betrayed by someone who acted like he listened to me and agreed with me only to go 180 degrees in the other direction at the last minute.  It made me reassess the entire process.  I felt like I had wasted my time, my family's time and my life energy.

On the way home that night, I bought cranberry juice from the only store in the area that sells it.  It's like a special secret.  I bought it because it reminded me of being a little girl in the U.S. and I was desperate to connect again with good feelings.  I bought it but I didn't drink it yet.  I didn't want to drink it when I was mad.

Honestly, I didn't have time to stay mad.  I was a teacher, a mom and a wife.  I had responsibilities.  The night of the filming, I was sad to know that it wasn't me but subhanallah my son had so much homework.  I wondered who could have helped him if I hadn't been there?  No one.  I am irreplacable in his life.  They can find another clothes hanger/mouthpiece but my son needs ME and only ME.  That goes for my husband too.  He missed having his wife who had once enjoyed simple moments together.


Well, I've drunk my cranberry juice. 

The station has gotten word to me that they still want me to work with them somehow.  They still want me.  I don't know if I want them.  I am not missing the crazy chaos that they brought to my life.  I would rather have peace in my mind and my home than to have some kind of pseudo-stardom.

I realize that another woman might read this and think me ungrateful.  I had a chance.  I had an opportunity.  If I was reading this back in the States, I might have said, "Put me on a plane and I'LL DO IT!"  Yet, I have actually lived the moments and I couldn't do it.  I couldn't suck it up and endure; not if I wanted to stay me.

So, my dream dried up and that's OK.

May Allah be pleased with my decision.  If I have made the wrong decision, may Allah forgive me. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Day of Arafat

                      Snow White as a little girlie, Spring 2010

I've just come down from the roof.  It was a beautiful sunrise today.  It's so quiet in Egypt in the early mornings before tuk-tuk music and street vendors calling out their wares. 

I had to say "goodbye" to our lovely goat.  After we prayed fajr together, my husband had let me know that she was leaving us today.  Seeing her one last time was to remember the time we've had and to cherish Allah's creation.  She is a beautiful creation!  Yet, only Allah remains; the rest of us perish.  The Pyramids rising up behind her pen reminds us of this as well.  Even if we remember the powerful pharoahs who ordered momuments built, the pharoahs themselves have all left this world.

He is now changing into the clothes he wears to slaughter.

Everyone of us is fasting.  He is.  I am and I'm very happy I am, alhumdulillah.  What makes me even happier is that my 6-year-old wanted me to wake him for suhour.  I hesitated.  He's little!  Yet, I want to respect and value his journey of faith.  I woke him and rousted him from his warm bed to drink some milk and have some oatmeal with dates and almonds.  He did a great job of sitting and eating it all down.  He will not eat or drink again inshahallah until magrib around 5:00.  We all brushed teeth and he fell back to sleep.

I can hear some noise upstairs and I know my husband is preparing for the task. 

I'm happy that I spoke with my mom last night.  She could hear some of what's happening at work and comiserate.  She could also tell me how she collected children's coats from neighborhood garage sales and dropped them off at a school with a lot of impoverished families.  She didn't want them to be cold.  God bless her.  I think it's a great idea which others could follow.  It made me really proud of my mom.

One of the things I'm also happy about is that I deleted an old google account.  It was "me" before I was out of a bad marriage and a really sad situation.  The many emails, attachments, chats and documents were reminders of that life before.  It was a part of me which needing a kind of slaughtering.  It's gone.  I'm less fractured and more whole in my endeavor to be a part of this new day---

The Day of Arafat.

May Allah accept all of our efforts this day.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Feeling a Little Melon Collie

I am feeling down.

A lot of this has to do with not being healthy and having to keep waking up, going in, and working my hardest.  Alhumdulillah I have a week off now.  That's a real blessing in Egypt that we get time off for Muslim holidays.

It is The Day of Arafat tomorrow.  That marks is the last day of Hajj.  Millions of Muslims from all over the world are in Mecca right now pouring out their hearts and praying that God will renew their lives.  Anyone who is blessed with this mercy, gets their slates wiped as clean as when they were a baby

...or when they took shahaddah.  That saddens me a bit.  Because I had that clean moment in my life.  Twice!  It was precious and I wasn't able to hang on to it.  In many ways, I was led astray.

Fasting usually helps me when I'm feeling disconnected to goodness.  However, this sickness has made it impossible to fast.  I had a cold for one week and now this has been another week with a sore throat; it closes up if I don't drink. I found that dates helped me more than Halls cough lozenges, Subhanallah.

I actually lost my voice for a few days---which is the one thing a teacher can't lose!  Thank God that I work on lots of non-verbal commands from the beginning of the year (it made our farm field trip doable).  Maybe my inability to communicate lately is why I want to write today.  I wish, however, that I could have been able to fast this week; maybe I still can on The Day of Arafat because that helps me get in touch with The Source.

And the next days will have the slaughtering inshahallah.  This is a hard thought for me this year.  We've had a little white goat since she was a baby and she will be leaving us inshahallah.  Snow White is this beautiful creature who trusts my hand.  We've been feeding her scraps from our kitchen for the last year and a half.  She is the one who came to visit my kindergartners.  She is a kind of friend for me.  I wish we could keep her as a pet but there's no such idea here.  No, Yosra, you can't keep a goat on the roof as a perpetual pet. slaughtered tomorrow. 

Antd I think of the temporal nature of life.  It's another Hajj and another Eid.  It's another year for me in Egypt.  There is a new feeling settling into me that I'm here.  I'm not new here.  I'm really here.  I'm here even when both my children appeared in plays back in The States.  I missed their plays the way my father missed mine. 

My father.  I am not hearing from my father like I used to.  His Alzheimers must be taking over a new area in his brain.  He is not emailing me and asking me "Where are you?" Now he doesn't think of me.  Soon, there will be the time which he doesn't remember me at all. 

There are so many casual referrences to Alzheimers because people like to joke about forgetting and blaming it on having Alzheimers.  It's funny to them.  It's not funny to me.  My father is slowly shutting down from me in a kind of mental death.  One of our family members had heart surgery yesterday (God bless him, his wife and children during this time) and I reassured others by telling them that my father had that same surgery and was fine.  Except, he really isn't fine.  He's loosing his mind which used to be this really inspiring gift from God.

I think about my gifts from God.  I think of my ability to teach.  The first quarter is done.  I am so tired from that hard start.  Every year is going to be the same challenge because it's the nature of kindergarten.  This year, I faced more drama than I'd bargained for.  My assistant was in a car accident two days before school started.  I had to arrange for alternative help.  The class includes some very time consuming kids and I've really had to tap into my reserves to find the strength, understanding and patience.

Also, I think of the number of assistants I have had over these years.  It's tiring.  It's tiring to be the first or second boss these young ladies have.  They are so inexperienced.  I remember being their age.  Actually, at this point, I'm old enough to be their mom.  Yet, I am their boss and I need to help them find their potential as much as any of the students.  It's also somewhat thankless, because of the nature of the assistant job, our little classroom is only a stepping stone into something bigger and better.  The one assistant who wanted to stay was not asked back.  That was due to the classism in Egypt where school degrees and social standing mean more than commmitment to teamwork. 

Commitment.  I've got one other thing which has me feeling unsettled in my heart.  I made a commitment years ago to Mr. Boo's father's family.  I promised that I would always do my best to keep my son close to them.  This has been very hard after remarriage.  My husband needed almost two years before he trusts my resolve to move forward with my life and not backwards.  I have shed so many tears wishing that my son could make the three hour journey to see his grandma.  Every time he is able to get cuddles with the grandma in this house, of course I think it's great but I feel sad that there's another woman who is missing out.

My plan, this Eid break, is to go to see her.  Islamically, my husband can prevent me.  He can't prevent anything which relates to my son (since my son isn't his son) but my son needs me to facilitate the meeting.  It's hard.  I've presented my plan for next week.  He's thinking about it.  I'm praying about it.

I'm praying about a lot of things. 

I pray that all the Muslims in the world take a moment today to find a kind of renewal.  It's time to do what we can (even without Hajj) to admit the things which we are doing which hurt others and get in touch with the things others are doing which hurt us.  We can ask God to forgive us and to forgive others.  We can find some kind of new day dawn inside us.

We can.