Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mexican Food in Egypt

Asalamu Alaykom,

I love Thursdays!  T.G.I.T.  As a teacher, I can't tell you how much I need to chill out Thursday night.  In fact, I'm now reaching new heights of chill-o-matic by refusing to go downstairs for dinner.  No.  Thursday night dinner is upstairs in my loungewear and eating comfort food.

Last weekend it was pizza.

This weekend it was tostadas.

Here is my recipe for

Disclaimer:  Any resemblance to the above photo will be purely coincidental.  
Following this recipe does not actually mean you will end up with something good to eat.

Have your husband buy the following items at the market:

3  Tomatoes

3  Colorful peppers (being sure to tell him not to buy the spicey peppers)

1  Onion

1  Cucumber

1 Bunch of Parsley

Wash and core vegetables, place in blender because you're too lazy to mince by hand.  Pulse a few times.  Pour out the green slop into a dish and wish that it looked better.  Hope that your homemade "salsa" is edible.


Since there are no refried beans, open up the plastic bag of foul medamnes you asked your husband to buy from the man who comes by with the donkey cart.  Squeeze that into a bowl.  Wonder if it has any seasoning.  Taste test it and confirm beyond a doubt that it has no flavor.


The cumin powder you keep in the old jam jar

The unused package of chili powder from the Indome noodles your kid ate

Some pepper grindings

That old lemon hiding among the oranges


Cut the onion.  Consider cutting the peppers but stop to glorify in their beauty. Rationalize that you must cut it to eat it.  Fry up the onion and the peppers in the saucepan you had to still had to wash out from yesterday.

As that's frying...

Find the sliced olives at the back of the refrigerator and start putting together an attractive plate of toppings.

Slide the fried onions and peppers on to the sectional plate.

Take the chicken shwarma out of the freezer, and dump that into the saucepan.  Fry it up as you continue searching.

In leiu of sour cream...

Take out the plate of "salt milk" your husband bought for your cooking endeavor.  Think to yourself what exactly it is and then decide it doesn't matter because you're going to eat it anyway.  Place that bowl in the center of the sectional platter.

Dump the hot schwarma meat onto the platter as well.

Take the foul medamnes and put it into the pan.

While that's heating...

Search for the orange cheese you asked him to buy.  When you can't find it, grab three little cheese triangles and melt them in the beans.

Have your son bring out:

the big plastic tray

the glasses of half pinneapple and half water

the little bags of Doritos

Fight him on NOT eating the Doritos just yet.


Take the white-flour crispy bread rounds which are layered with broth and then baked at Eid Kabeer.  It's not a tortilla but it's close enough. Somehow your husband found some, even though he had assured you that they are only seasonal.  Thank God for a resourceful and faithful man.  Spread the hot bean and cheese mix on the rounds.

Fight your son again about waiting to eat the Doritos.

It's almost time to eat!

Have your husband ask you once again if you're REALLy eating upstairs (yes, you are) and get a bowl of rice from him.

Pop in a video.

Sit down and enjoy your Mexican meal in Egypt.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Could You Become an Ex-Pat?

Asalamu Alaykom,

You ready for the ex-pat life?

Take this test to find out!

Section One

True or False

T or F          1.  I'm comfortable taking public transportation                

T or F          2.  I know how to light a gas stove                                    

T or F          3.  Hot tea is one of my favorite drinks                              

T or F          4.  I like being, "a fish out of water"                                  

T or F          5.  Learning new languages is fun.                                    

T or F          6.  I can take a joke                                                        

T or F          7.  No matter where I am, God is with me                        

T or F          8.  I have a passport                                                        

T or F          9.  I enjoy foreign films                                                  

T or F         10.  I liked summer camp                                            

Section Two

What would you do?
1.  The waiter brings over a large bottle of water.  What do you do?

a) Tell him to bring it back and get a different one because it's missing the plastic seal.

b) Thank him in English.

c) Thank him in Arabic.

d) Slip him some money in order to get the best service.

2.  You see a nice dress in the window.  What do you do?

a) Ask a local friend to go in and find out how much it costs.

b) Try it on.  Complain about any inadequacies and try to knock the price down.

c)  Buy it with the understanding that you'll try it on at home and bring it back if it doesn't fit.

c) Give them whatever they want because the exchange rate is really good.

d)  Only buy clothes from Western chain stores like HM.

3.  A friend brings over a treat to share with you.  She then heavily compliments a kitchen gadget.  What do you do?

a)  Thank her and then ignore her desire for it.

b)  Joke that if she wants it you'll give it to her.

c)  Joke that if she wants it she can pay you for it.

d)  Give it to her out of gratitude for her kindness.

4.  Your inlaws like to watch the 2-hour video after each cousins' wedding.  What do you do?

a)  Find something ANYTHING better to do with your time.

b)  Sit and make the best of it.

c)  Sit with them and hate every minute of it.
d)  Sit with them and openly criticize their culture.

5.  A local levels with you that you need to wax your eyebrows.  What do you do?

a)  Explain with directness that your face is belongs to you.

b)  Listen and smile but don't wax.

c)  Feel insulted and hurt and stop being friends

d)  Take the advice to heart and get them waxed.    

How to Score

This is the section where you figure out your points.

No peeking!

Are you really done with the five questions?


Section One Scoring

 1 point for every "true"
.5 point for every "false"

Section Two Scoring 

Each set of possible answers was ranked from best choice (a) to worst choice (d).

Give yourself:

4 points for every (a)
3 points for every (b)
2 points for every (c)
1 point for every (d)

Basically, you have to look out for yourself while being an ex-pat.  It isn't the same as being a tourist where you live dangerously, throw caution to the wind and spend like there's no tomorrow.  You have to be open to new people and places as you remain intact.

Want to know more?  Here are the indepth reasons for the correct answers.

1.  The plastic safety seal is all that stands between you and dysentery.  Many "fine" establishments refill their plastic bottles of water with tap water and bring them to your table.

2.  Locals will try to get the most from your money since your streets back home are paved with gold.  It isn't there fault exactly; they just figure you're OK with paying more.  Don't!  If you plan to live where you shop then insist on local prices, otherwise you will come to resent how quickly your money goes.

It is un-Islamic to have two separate prices for different people.  If someone scams you, have a feisty local come back to the store with you to make ammends.  You do NOT want word to get around that it's easy to rip off that newcomer.

3.  "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine," could be the motto of many female friends and family members overseas.  Here, if you compliment something, then the other person attempts to give it to you.  That's fine for them.  It's not going to work well for you over the long haul.  Quality is tough to come by and if you have something special from back home then hang on to it!  Seriously, there's somethings you'll never see in your life time so don't think you can pick up another one the next time you return for a visit.

4.  There's a lot of mindlessness.  You aren't stupid and can't sit idly for hours at a time.  Don't think you have to!  Live and let live.  If other people like an activity you don't, then they are free to do so ---without you.  Be independent enough to excuse yourself from things you don't enjoy or find haram.

5.  "You rights end where my nose begins," is one of the best quotes from an Indian friend of mine.  It's true! There's so much cultural baggage when it comes to beauty.  Don't let anyone dictate to you what you have to do in order to be acceptable.  I'm not advocating that you be offensive.  For instance, there are some outfits you simply shouldn't wear if you want to be respected.  However, most of a person's hygiene and upkeep comes under the heading of MYOB, "Mind Your Own Business!"

Interpreting Your Score

25-30     Pack your bags!  You were meant to live overseas!

20-25     Read some books and blogs.  Consider the options.

15-20     I'm not sure if this is the right life for you.

10-15     Maybe you should just go to an ethnic restaurant.    

Friday, February 8, 2013

Funerals and Fireworks

Asalamu Alaykom,

Ahmed and Yosra

Everything is 'Inshahallah'

I knew that the two weeks would be intense.  I had braced myself since I first heard about my ex-husband's trip back to Egypt.  Once you have a child together, you can divorce yourself from the man but you can't eliminate him from your life.

So, I had to stand my ground that my son wouldn't be going up to Port Said on the anniversary weekend of the Egyptian Revolution.  It was going to be compounded by the verdict being read of last year's Stadium Massacre .  As I wrote before, I didn't cave in to AbuBoo's pressure and name calling.  Alhumdulillah, as the seaside city experienced its worst violence since Israel was attacking it in 1967.

Little girl waves goodbye to casket carrying her father killed by police in Port Said.

All traffic in and out of the city was put to a halt.  If Mr. Boo had been allowed to accompany his father, he would have been trapped.

By the following Wednesday, AbuBoo was back down to Giza.  I hadn't known when he was coming so it was a bit of a surprise.  He really wanted to see his son the next day.  AbuBoo didn't want to wait until our planned time on Friday.  He called right at bedtime and I was tired so I responded with,  "All I can think about it going to sleep.  Let me get back to you tomorrow."

In the morning, I talked it over with my husband, Ahmed, and then with Mr. Boo.  Together, we made a plan.  We could all go to Hardee's on Al-Haram Street and meet AbuBoo there.  My boy was excited about the possibility.  I had to remind him, "Everything is 'inshahallah.'"

Sure enough, after school I didn't get a reply to the text message I sent.  When I called, AbuBoo was busy.  He had something else to do.  He couldn't make it.

I then had to tell my seven-year-old that the plan had fallen through.  His daddy had something important to do.  That's a hard message to tell a child.  Every child should believe that THEY are the most important thing in their parents' lives.  When I prayed magrib that Thursday night, I really felt the hurt.

Truly, I felt the hurt emanating from many places.  I felt the pain from being the child of divorce; of not knowing if I was going to be on my father's list of priorities.  I could also identify better with my own mother who had once delivered such messages to me.  Yet, I could also feel how hard it is to be the parent visiting from overseas who actually does have too many things to do in too short a time.  Divorce is a horribly painful fracturing of souls.


At the same time, my husband was in a very sad time of mourning.  His young cousin, from down the street, had been found dead in his home.  He had committed suicide at the age of 26.

I've had two cousins commit suicide so I can understand some of the feelings he was going through.  There's the grief for a young life which has ended abruptly.  There's also the understanding that, "but for the Grace of God go I."  All of us are capable of horrible evil when we let drugs and alcohol claim our bodies, minds and eventually our souls.  Astragferallah.

At first, I wasn't sure what the Islamic stance was on suicide.  I mean, I knew it was haram but what about body?  What about the burial?  What about those who aid the burial?  I researched the topic because I feared that my husband could be doing something wrong the next day.

After searching on the 'net that night, I felt even prouder of Islam.  Yes, suicide is a major sin but it doesn't stop that person from being considered a Muslim.  They may have died by their own hand but they died a Muslim.  They have the right to a consecrated burial.  Suicide is even in mentioned in the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  The Prophet did not attend the janazah of a man who killed himself but did not prevent others from attending.

So, there we sat in our sadness that Thursday night.  Being married isn't all about making love by moonlight.  A lot of building a life together is handling times of loss and uncertainty.

The next day, my big, strong husband went to the Cairo morgue and collected the body of his cousin.  Ahmed knows about death yet to be amidst so many dead bodies was upsetting.  It smelled.  It felt dirty.

He rode in an ambulance next to the wrapped body.  He rode for an hour wishing that life had gone differently.  He was responsible for bringing back the only thing left of a person.  His cousin had never married; he had no children.

Mr. Boo couldn't go to the masjid that Jummah.  We don't let him attend if there's a janazah; a funeral.  Ahmed has to accompany the men to the cemetery.  If the deceased is a family member, then it's my husband who readies the burial site.  Each grave is communal with layers of the dead.  Once the grave is open, my man moves to the side any remnants that have not turned to dust.  That effort is a small physical act but it's huge psychologically.

When Ahmed came home, he wouldn't let me touch him.  He put all his clothes in the washer and took a shower.  He felt so covered in the dust of death.

Only then, could I go to him and hear how it had gone.  I listened.  I don't listen to him enough.  Astragferallah.  I talk too much but I did listen that day.  I was quiet.  I heard him.  He knows he was heard. Alhumdulillah.

That night, when we went down to dinner, he wasn't sitting at the main table with the others.  He was going to eat over in another room with Mr. Boo and me.  I wasn't happy.  I wanted his family surrounding him!  They didn't understand how hard the day had been on him but I did.  I felt very protective and let my feelings be known after dinner to his sisters.  It's all good and fine to honor guests to the house, but they couldn't forget their brother who had done so much for everyone and needed support.

A whole other experience.

It's amazing how much one day can differ from the next.  That's why I wish those contemplating an early death just kept going until tomorrow.  When the sun came out that Saturday, it really shone for the first time in two days.  I started to see things more clearly.

If Mr. Boo's father had kept his appointment with us that Thursday, it would have been nearly impossible for us to go.  Ahmed couldn't have gone.  I needed to say, "Alhumdulillah," for that not working out.

If the school's celebration had not gotten rained out on Friday, then it would have been nearly impossible for us to go to that either.  I needed to say another, "Alhumdulillah," for that as well.

When it was still on the calendar for Friday, I had arranged for AbuBoo to meet us at the party.  I had felt, at the time, that this was a blessing from God.  How wonderful to have a very clean, safe, secure location where I could keep an eye on them without being obtrusive.

Then, it rained.  When it rained, the party was postponed.  I had been very sad at the time.  How would this work now?  I needn't have worried.  The death in the family with the Friday funeral made Saturday a better day.

"I was thinking of going back to Port Said on Saturday," was the last thing I wanted to hear from AbuBoo.

"It's your choice," I answered back without rancour.

He stayed.  He agreed to go as did Ahmed.  Yes, I would be attending my school's biggest social event of the year with my husband, my kid and my ex.  You really have to admit that not too many women would sign up for that one.

"How post-modern of you!" was the way my young co-worker put it.

It was also very brave of my husband.  The two men had not met since the name-calling on the phone.  Would there be any problems?  I really prayed for a good day for everyone; most of all for my son who deserved some happiness.

Some Happiness

Once in the gate, I saw my former husband.  I try not to think of him as such.  That label is so far in the past by now.  It's been five years since we split.

My boy got a big enveloping hug.  I took a picture of it because that's what I do best when I'm feeling awkward.  My husband took a step back.  I handled logistics quickly with AbuBoo and watched my son walk away.

That left my husband and I to enjoy a day---except he was still in mourning.  It was a tricky deal to ease him out of his sadness without pushing him to his limit.  I knew it was a lot to deal with and it wasn't just the cousin's death.  Afterall, Ahmed had to cope with seeing his boy in the arms of the man who can claim paternity.

Thankfully, Glass Onion, Cairo's Beatles cover band supplied some upbeat tunes.  We sat down on one of the many white leather couches set up for the event.  I sang a few bars in my husband's ear.  I was happy.  I was infectiously happy.

I took a picture of us together.  It appears at the top of this post.  It is the first time you are seeing my husband on this blog.  I'm proud of that picture.  We look good mashahallah.  The light shining upon us was something that pleasantly surprised me.  I didn't realize it until I downloaded the pics later.

"Little Darling, it's been a long, hard lonely winter.  Little Darling, it's been a year since it's been clear.  Here comes the sun.  Here comes the sun.  And I say, 'It's all right.'"

And it was all right!  That's what that picture is to me.  It all worked out.  Before too long the boys (big and little) were walking up to us.  Ahmed was going to head over to the local masjid for duhr and I volunteered that AbuBoo could go too.  I must have been out of my mind with "Come Together" vibes but no one disagreed.  Those two men walked away to go pray together.

Can I tell you how amazing that was for me?

For real, there is something special about being a person of faith.  You worship The One True God and if someone else wants to stand next to you, then they are welcome.  Those Muslim men are living proof of that.

As soon as they were gone, the band made a departure of their own.  They stopped playing Beatles and covered Coldplay.  If you read this blog regularly, you'll know which song would send me into chortles and sure enough there it was.


Yes, I felt so good.  It was the sunny day and the release of fears and sadness.  It was years of not knowing how two men could help co-parent my boy.  It was seeing them get along and be men of faith.  It was being at my new school with all of its excellent planning and fabulous results.  It was having many students happy to see me and introduce me to their parents.  It was watching Mr. Boo dance around so happy with his day and his life.

In the moment when I had to admit I was immensely happy, a little girl walked by.  She had English on her shirt.  "Just follow your dreams."  That was too much!

Eventually, I would wonder what was taking the men so long.  I worried a bit that my darkest fears of them beating up each other might be have been realized on that road outside.  Yet, I enjoyed the music, video tapped Mr. Boo and kept an eye on the gate.  When they strolled in talking, I relaxed.

Yes, there were problems.  I won't say that it was all smooth sailing from there on out.  There was, however, co-existence.  That's what we all needed and worked to achieve.  Alhumdulillah we did.

When night fell, the desert winds kicked up.  I made Mr. Boo put on his new Old Navy fleece jacket (thanks to his father) and we sat down for the fireworks.  It was a strange moment.  Strange isn't always a bad thing. The four of us shared a table and watched the display.

In huge letters, we saw 10 YEARS lit up in the night sky.  I smiled to myself.  It has been 10 years I've been in Islam.  10 years of wearing hijab.  10 years since I first came to Egypt.  It was my milestone too and I shared it with the three people who have meant the most to me in my hijrah journey.

Time to Go

When it was time to go, AbuBoo didn't want the night to end.  It's so typical of that man.  He is all about the fun and never mind the consequences.  We had our one disagreement about another trip to the trampoline.

"It's time to go!" I said in exasperation.

"It's just one more time," he reasoned.

"He's got school tomorrow."

"It's early yet."

"No, it's not.  We've still got to get a taxi and get home."

Oh, ya.  We all had to make it back to the same general area.  My husband had told me earlier that we were not riding to the event together.  He hadn't said anything about riding back.  So, I asked my husband to please allow this (to use my co-worker's phraseology) post-modern car-pooling.

Just to make the whole adventure that much more interesting, I had a co-worker needing a ride join us.  I had let her in on who everyone was.

"Sure.  It will be my husband, my son and my son's father."

"Oh."  She didn't understand quite immediately.

Then it sunk in, "OH!"  You should have seen her eyebrows raise up.

Getting a taxi was tough that night.  Both men were trying to outdo each other on who knew the way to do it.  AbuBoo refused to go the other side of the road.  Ahmed insisted it was the only way.  We ran across.

AbuBoo pulled out his phone and called his wife's cousin to pick us up.  I was not going to agree to that ride.   Thankfully, another car pulled up.

"Come on, you can ride up in front with me," called out my ex to our son.

"No, he can't," I countered.  He's sitting in back with me."

"I'll keep him safe," he insisted.

"He's safer back here," I answered firmly.

We rode back to Giza.  Subhanallah.  What a day!  At the start of our area, my husband told the driver to pull over and we got out.  I hadn't known we weren't going all the way home.  It was confusing.  My husband can forget how much I need information.  I'll agree to things but I have to get a heads up.

So, boy and father said goodbye on the side of the road.  I wasn't sure if that was the last time this visit.

It wasn't.  Last night, we made our trip to Hardee's.  It went well.  We've now got two times of togetherness under our belts.  Again, it wasn't pefect perfect but it was good.

Mostly Good

Subhanallah, life is mostly good.  I'm telling you this from this place because I haven't always been here.  I've been so sad that I wondered how I could keep going but I did.  I trusted that somehow the big picture would make sense.

And you know what?  I think it does!  I think my life in its totality makes sense.  I feel another full circle moment in my life giving me closure.  I feel the embrace of The Almighty.  God is the Greatest!  Truly, it's hard to feel that every moment of your life but when you don't feel it TRUST IT.  Trust that God knows your story; knew your story before you were even born.  You don't have to fear the strangeness.  Embrace your dream and let it be your story with all its twists and turns.

Now, it's just the three of us again in Egypt.  We survived Daddy from America's visit.  It wasn't easy but then we aren't promised an easy life.  We're promised that there will be hardship and there will be ease.

Thank God.