Friday, April 26, 2013


Asalamu Alaykom,

I will be off on a Spring Break vacation.  It's my first vacation in a year and a half.  I need it!  Inshahallah it will be a good time.

From looking at the picture, can you figure out where we're going?

My mucus membranes aren't really cooperating.  I'm sick for the first time in a long time.  Timing!  It's all in the timing.

Inshahallah, I'll see you all again in a week.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Arablish Hits the Toy Aisle

Asalamu Alaykom,

You know those supermarket toys you used to beg mom to buy?  Remember what she said?  "You don't want those!  They're so cheap and will break as soon as we get home."

Well, those toys are exactly what we have in Egypt but in the actual toy stores.  Sure, there are some expensive mall stores with many brand names, but in the small toy shops near us, you'll find just what mom warned against.

Take a look at Mr. Boo's army guy in the picture above.  I didn't buy it!  It came in one of those birthday party gift bags.  He's missing a leg.  Obviously, he went to warfare when he should have gone the other way to try his wits with Alex Trebeck on Jeopardy.

I'm not sure if these blocks are any better.

These blocks were part of a set from AbuBoo's other kids (which he cast off on Mr. Boo).  I sure wasn't looking to give him such a flamboyant cowboy.  Yellow jacket with pink Bermudas?  I'd say that's going a bit far!

What alarms me even more, is that some kind of Rorchach Test being is labeled as a camel.  I've gotten to know camels pretty well in Al-Haram and I have to say that is the strangest looking camel I've ever seen.  How could a mom hold that block up to their child and honestly teach them THAT is a camel?

Actually, none of these blocks are very educational.

That's not a dolphin, it's a seal.

That is a tank but I'm not really wanting it in the toy box.

"Cock," is maybe not what I want my son saying.

"Windbells," is so Arablish as is, "San-ta Claus".  

Strawberry is spelled correctly.  I just laugh to see them striped.

And lastly, we have the cicada.  Can you imagine that conversation at the plastics factory?

"I have 24 blocks designed out and ready to start manufacturing asap.  The problem is we need to figure out one more."

"Excuse me, Sir, but what's that?"

"It's a camel."

"Really? Boss, it doesn't look--"

"Don't worry about the camel!  I'm fine with the camel!  What I can't figure out is the picture for my last block.  I'm stumped for what to put on it."

"Cat?  Kitten?  Like a cute, furry little kitty?"


"Puppy dog?"

"No.  You're thinking too in the box."

"What about...a rhinoceros?"

"Too big. Its picture won't fit.  No, I need something smaller."  

Just then an insect is spotted crawling across the floor.

"I thought we had the exterminator in here last week!  Sorry, Boss!"

He goes to step on it but is pulled back.

"That's it!  Cicada!  The company is saved!"  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hijrah Questions from Readers

Asalamu Alaykom,

Have a question about making hijrah?  Go ahead and raise your hand.

Haleema has contacted me with some questions.  I'm going to list them here and get back to them later, either today or in the coming days.  If you, as a reader with knowledge of life in Egypt, would like to answer them from your perspective that's fine.  I'll publish your responses in the comments section (remembering that all my comments are monitored and won't appear until I've reviewed them).

Wa Alaikum as Salaam Yosra, 

Well, I'll list my questions inshaAllah. 

1.  We are looking to rent an apartment and/or possibly buy land. 

I hear your need to settle down right away but most people need to be immersed in Egypt before really understanding if they want to live here permanently.  It's a very heady place and full of life----almost constantly.  In addition, it's noisy, crowded, and dirty.  It's also, since the Revolution, very unpredictable and, at times, deadly violent.

Does that mean I don't want you to give it a try?  Wallahi, anyone who feels so moved in their spirit to make hijrah should do it.  I would like to ask you why, in particular, you feel like Egypt is the place?  You don't have to tell me, of course, but you should figure it out for yourself.  Have you visited here before?  You should know how committed you are to making this move work.  What if it doesn't feel good?  Are you going to bail?  What if you hit a wall of homesickness or run short on money?  You need to figure out your resolve to making hijrah here.

Okay, you didn't ask me what I thought about the idea in general.  You asked me about housing.  However, I do think that you need to see the reality of this place before you make too many decisions.

What I'm going to strongly recommend is that you decide what your daily life is going to be in Egypt and then  make housing plans after that.  Is someone going to school at Al-Azhar?  Is someone teaching English?  Is there a masjid you love?  Is there a neighborhood where you want to do all your shopping?  Maybe you know people here.  Whatever is the pull to a place, you need to set up your housing close to that.

No, there is not a perfect place---not in Egypt (and not anywhere in this world).  Yet, in Egypt, there are some REALLY horrible places because of transportation logistics.  I have a pregnant co-worker who spends four hours a day in a bus.  Can you imagine that?  She lives in one of these "nice" places in the middle of nowhere and she works across town. You should not live in a place in which you have nothing but an apartment.  You should live in a place which has masjids, shopping, schools, employment, mass transit, and so on.  

Buying land shouldn't even cross your mind at this time.  Unless someone is full Egyptian in your family, you can't buy land in Sinai.  I'm not sure about other restrictions.  Deal with such a huge idea later.

It's interesting you mentioned your co-worker is 

pregnant and what she has to go through, because I 

also am pregnant, and wanted to know the medical 

situation over there. 

I've been very pleased with my medical care here.  I didn't have enough money to see the doctor in America but I do here.  It is easy to get an appointment or walk in.  There can be a long wait (so bring a book) but that's life in Africa's most populated city.

Do you have to have insurance like in the West? 

There is something available through my work, though I haven't joined up.  It's my first workplace with this option.

I am interested in having a natural birth with midwife 

and doula as I did my first child… is this 

possible in Egypt? Hard to find?

I have not had a baby in Egypt.  I had a miscarriage in Egypt and that was enough for me.  I have had friends and co-workers go through the process.  To your advantage, having a baby at home is relatively normal deal in Egypt (unlike the West). 

The problem, as I see it, is the transportation nightmare were you to run into complications.  You simply would not be transported in time to save the life of your baby.  There is no ambulance which speeds through town.  No one really is able to let it through the traffic.  

Another problem is that pre-term babies are not given enough chance for survival.  I don't have the exact weeks that a baby must be for them to try to save the life but it's something like week 28.  If your baby is before that time, and you deliver, the staff will not do all they can.  That baby is actually ineligible for saving.  It happened to a friend of a friend.  

One more problematic issue and it's huge:  women's bodies with babies are not seen as belonging to them.  A pregnant woman is carrying her man's baby and therefore all decisions get made by him.  That is a little scary.  We need to have a say on our lives!  Obviously, a loving husband will look out for you but it's the thought that you're only the carrier of a man's offspring is dangerously discounting.  

Yet, a mother is very respected in Egypt.  Everyone still carries that she gets a seat on the bus, for example.  A breastfeeding mom is honored.  A tired mom is helped by her community of sisters.  Children, even crying and crabby ones, are beloved members of society.  There are benefits to being here.

Back to your home search...

What is the cheapest apartment (1BDRM) we can get and where? 

I want you to realize how Egypt is a big mix of rich and poor and often on the same block.  We have neighbors in mansions and hovels.  Our family is middle-class (or even lower middle-class).  We live comfortably.  

I would not recommend a one-bedroom.  It's better to get a two-bedroom for the three of you.  You'll be retreating to your home more than you imagine.  You cannot be cramped or you'll freak.  

A two-bedroom is around 1,500-3,000 LE a month, depending on the details.  Again, you can't be wanting the cheapest in Egypt because the cheapest is disgusting.  It's not like the cheapest in the West.  Don't go there.  Live respectfully.  Appearances mean a LOT in Egypt and if you live in a crap pile of an apartment building you will not be respected by anyone.

Any area is going to have a mix.  You need to find your area and then talk to the people at the pharmacy, the  masjid, and the shops to find out who is renting.  If you are working, then ask your boss and your co-workers.

I heard you could possibly rent for $100/month, is this true? 

This would be 670 LE and that would be ridiculously low.  Is it possible?  Anything ANYTHING in Egypt is possible.  Would I set foot in a place that cheap?  Not on your life.


Furnished and unfurnished is a different deal in Egypt.  Be careful.  Furnished means some nasty old couches and chairs, questionable mattresses and a grease-splattered stove and fridge.  I never felt clean in my first furnished flat.  Unfurnished means not stick of furniture, no appliances, no hot water heater and no closets (since Egyptians don't have closets but rather wardrobes).  

2.  How are the communities in less wealthy areas with regards to safety?

I want you to really understand Egypt right now:  nowhere is safe.  We are all at the mercy of each other.  We do not have police patrolling.  I have no idea what tomorrow holds.  At any moment, all hell could break loose.  Truly, you have to trust Allah wherever you are but this is very apparent in Egypt since the Revolution. 

In some ways, an ordinary area, like mine, is safer than a wealthy area.  In times of looting, the wealthy areas are hard hit.  The community feeling connects us here in my neighborhood where families all know each other.  In the newly built areas, it's not the same.  I toured a new gated community when I first moved to Egypt and I was literally scared at the thought of being so isolated in an apartment building without full occupancy.  It was, by the way, a thieves' target during the unrest of 2011 to the point that no one stayed there.  My intuition was right and I am a firm believer in trusting your intuition once you are here. 

I would also caution against getting too close to downtown Cairo.  Don't do it.  You don't need to be that close to the action.  

Road travel is a big problem in Egypt.  It is not safe at all.  You feel that.  Keeps you praying!  Alhumdulillah.  You want to figure out what the roads are near you.  

Another hassle are the bridges.  The bridges across the Nile equal traffic jams.  You are trapped like no other claustrophobia you have ever felt.  It's better to pick which side of the Nile you are going to live and not imagine a quick drive over the bridge.  While that easy trip might happen, usually it does not. 

None of this is going to make total sense until you are living here.  You have to get the feel of the place.  It's not all logistics on paper.  For me, anyway, it had to be experienced.   

3.  How easy is it to get around for someone straight off the plane? 

I never think it's easy to step off a plane any where under any circumstances.  It's tough to travel and doubly so with little children.  Arriving in Egypt you are hit with some realities.  It's another culture.  At the airport, you'll have English-speaking workers but it is not always enough for you to be understood.  There are crowds immediately.  The last time I flew back, I told off a guy who cut in line.  At the baggage claim, you have to be very alert.  Then, as you exit with the man pushing your weighted down cart, you have to get a taxi.  It's hard.  Be ready to deal with a lot of people in a short amount of time.

Find an area before you arrive in Egypt where you are going to get a hotel.  There's no need to deal with renting before you get here.  Spend a few nights in a hotel getting situated.  Learn about the best areas for you and your family.  You simply can't realize the truths from a book, another person's experiences or the 'net.  

4.  What is the usual learning curve for new residents?

Let's be truthful:  some people NEVER learn!  Many new residents can't handle the culture shock.  

I spoke to a lady this week who is suffering from it now.  She thought it would be safer here than it is.  It really is not OK for a woman to be walking by herself down a lonely road---in most places in the world, let alone Egypt.  Being foreign makes her more a target whereas she thought it somehow magically protected her.  A taxi driver tried to pick her up, she refused and he exposed himself to her.  She is still shaken up over it.

Will she get over it?  I don't know.  It's all about attitude.  You can take two people and have vastly different experiences.  One of my favorite quotes is, "The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude."  Remember that in the tough times.  

There will be tough times.  What's your resolve?  Are you "trying it out" or "sticking it out"?  For me, I am committed to living in a Muslim country for the rest of my life.  Does it have to be Egypt?  I guess not but I've made a home here, alhumdulillah.  Are you ready to make a home here?  Or is this a temporary move?

I would say that the first two weeks are the hardest.  You're dealing with a LOT and you only realize that once you get here.  No one can truly prepare enough for the move.  Though, I would say you can make it easier by learning Arabic basics (numbers, letters, colors, days of the week, common questions and responses).  You can also make a stand in your life for being in a new time and not try to find your old life here.  For sure there is Betty Crocker Cake Mix to be found but why not live differently since you gave up so much to experience a change?  Buy differently.  Eat differently.  Feel differently.  Enjoy a fresh start.

After about three months, you're going to have a much better grip on the situation.  You will still goof up a LOT (in language mistakes and in sticky situations) but you'll have some hope for correcting them.  

After the first year, I felt proud of myself for lasting it out.  

After two years, I needed a break and took my vacation back in The States.  I missed Egypt!  I really needed to get back to the place.  It wasn't about missing my husband so much as missing parts of this country which can't be duplicated.  Not hearing the azan absolutely saddened me.  I cried one day because of that loss.  Not hearing Quran throughout the day (on the radios and in the stores) was hard.  I missed the food vendors calling out in the street.  I missed the place.

After three years, I was really here and starting to get more organized in my life.  You can't really organize when you are feeling so inundated with newness.  I was understanding the big picture better.  I could look at maps and find places because I'd been there.  I could name political leaders, pop cultural references, and make (somewhat successful) jokes in Arabic.

After four years...well, it's not quite time for me to write this.  I hope that I will keep being open to the changes I need to make.  I still get surprised to see the Pyramids (and I see them every day).  I still feel like there's so much yet to see and do.  I want the chance and inshahallah I'll get it.

5.  With regards to the masajid in Egypt, I heard they can be 'themed' so to speak.. Salafi here, Shiaa there, Sufi here for instance. Is this a big deal? 

I have no idea.  I don't go to the masjid for my deen.  It's not what I need.  Women don't use the masjid here like they need to in the West.    

I don't think I've ever met a Shi'a here.  The Sufis I've met are foreigners.  Really?  Almost everybody is Sunni.  You'll see Salafis more openly now but they're not bothering me.  There's so much freedom here.  Go  check it out and make your assessment.  If you don't feel comfortable, then check out another one.  

We've got eight masjids in our area.  I'm hearing the azan for fajr  now.  The loudest is from the masjid speakers a block away.  My husband doesn't like that masjid.  He walks a few blocks away to attend a different one.  It's OK.  No one else cares.  There is really so much freedom to do as you please with your religion.  

6.  What areas would you recommend for a more moderate Islam (Neither deviant, nor Puritanical). 

It isn't about areas so much.  Every area in Egypt is such a full mix of rich and poor, devout and bereft, observant and decadent.  You can't escape any of it!  

Obviously, the small villages are going to have a tighter grip on their Islam.  I couldn't live in an actual village; as this is close enough.  There are pockets of problems in the city but you'll have to be staying in Egypt before you realize where they are.  I would stay away from any place where there's been fighting with Christians.  We live down the street from a church and there's never been any fighting here alhumdulillah.  

So, these are the few questions I have as of now, inshaAllah. Thank you so much sister!

It's interesting you mentioned your co-worker is 

pregnant and what she has to go through, because I 

also am pregnant, and wanted to know the medical 

situation over there. Do you have to have insurance like 

in the West? I am interested in having a natural birth 

with midwife and doula as I did my first child… is this 

possible in Egypt? Hard to find?

You're so welcome.

I'll answer your additional questions from the comments section another time inshahallah.

Back in April, 2011, Kaighla had three questions:

1. Have you applied for Egyptian citizenship?
No, I have not. I don't think it's a good idea to become an Egyptian citizen. As an American, you have more rights all over the world. I don't think you get an extras as an Egyptian. I understand that after five years of being married (God willing) I can apply. A tourist visa is good for six months and you can get extensions. Once you are married, you can get visas for years at at time--which I have done. I'm set for the next couple of years.

2. How much value is the American Embassy?
I've been in the Embassy a number of times and heard Americans in there complaining of poor treatment---whether by a husband or an employer or whatever. The embassy can't do much to help that. It isn't really helping us live here. We made the choice to live here and have to stand on our own two feet without thinking our government will bail us out. When the Revolution happened, everyone acted like they shipped Americans out. They didn't! They flew home the Embassy workers. They then agreed to fly fearful Americans as far as Europe and at a cost.

3. What about the medical situation there as compared to here?
I like it better here. The pharmacies are run by the most friendly doctors who all speak excellent English. You can get antibodics, shots, and lots of meds there without seeing any other doctor. If you do need to see someone, you can go in at night until around 11. It's best to send someone ahead to get your name on the night's waiting list. Also, all schools have doctors on sight who check the children and school staff for free. The cost is very inexpensive. Seeing a doctor for an appointment is no more than 80 LE. Having a baby is around 2,500 LE. Having a surgery is around 8,000 LE. Inshahallah, you won't need a lot of medical care in Egypt.

I hope my answers were helpful.

Anyone else have questions?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Meeting Amr

Asalamu Alaykom,

Recently, a friend of mine made the hard decision to leave Egypt.  She would be leaving the place she's made into a home for the last three years.  She would also be leaving a man she's come to love.  Basically, she's changed her whole life because she fell in love with an Egyptian.

Men!  They certainly do pull us women.  We love to feel needed by a man.  Our whole view of reality seems to change incrementally as we get closer to that testosterone.

For me, there's a moment I keep in my mind in order to keep my life in perspective.  I was attending my first wedding party in Egypt.  It was a big affair in a rooftop party room.  Every cousin in my husband's family was there and so were two Americans.  Americans?!

Yes, two American women were hanging out at the wedding too.  Of course, with me being who I am, I had to walk over and find out who they were.  Turns out that they were just visiting Egypt when they met cousin Amr.  He bumped into them on the street.

If you know the tourist business at all, then you know that no one bumps into anyone.  It's all carefully planned helpfulness.  They didn't know that.  Those two ladies on break from their medical studies were very  book smart but not very street smart.

We talked over the huge journey they'd been on.  They'd seen so much and done so much.  They had traveled more of Egypt than I had.  So, I wanted to ask, "What was the best part?"

"Meeting Amr!"

That was a shocker.  I found that answer to be very sad.  These two women had planned and scrimped and saved to make this trip.  They'd seen the Pyramids, the Nile, and the King Tut jewels.  They'd ridden a camel, eaten grilled chicken under palm trees and swam in the Red Sea.  Their entire itinerary crossed my mind and I had to double-check so I asked, "Meeting Amr?"

"Yes, it was such an unexpected surprise!" Blurted out the one woman who seemed more interested in Amr than the other.

I stifled the urge to add, "Only to you!  He talks to tourists every day!"

They were blissfully unaware and happy.  So, I warned them not to drink from the bottles of tap water masquerading as bottled water on the center of every table.  They nodded thankfully and I walked away.  I had kept them safe from one danger at least.

I have no idea what the end to their adventure was.  I never asked cousin Amr.  He stopped by the other day and I heard his loud voice float up the stairs.  I'm sure he's a nice guy.  He was an opportunist then, but with very few tourists these days, I wonder who he talks to now.

The story of Amr's tourist women has stayed with me in a sad, cautionary way.  I don't want to be the woman who sees the whole wonderful world but is cheered the most by a rather ordinary man.  I want to be fulfilled by my life adventure and not get so side-tracked by a man that I forget my purpose in being here.  I am enough and my story is enough without a man.

That doesn't mean that I don't like my man; I do like him!  I even love him (when he's lovable).  However, he is not the reason for my being in Egypt---he never was and he never will be.  I came here on hijrah in order to be closer to my faith.  My priority needs to remain my journey and not my man.

It isn't very romantic to love God more than your man.  It's horribly unromantic to love yourself more than your guy.  Yet, it's real and honest.  We need to be mature women standing firmly on the ground instead of being girls getting swept off our feet by crazy love and infatuation.

My friend will be leaving her man in Egypt and I think it's a great decision.  They never married.  They've had their time and it's not going any where beyond this moment.  A moment does not a life make.  She needs to build her life for the very real future.  He's not about the future; he's going to be pulling her down to stay stuck in the "now".

Let's love our times with our men but not above our sensibilities.  We deserve our lives more than they do.  Remembering, of course, that our lives are here for us to serve Allah Subhana Wa Tala.