Monday, February 24, 2014

Agony Aunt: No Hand-Me-Downs

Asalamu Alaykom,

Some problems seem smaller than others.  This one is not a huge issue but it still has become a big problem for a family.  Take a look.

Salamu Alaikum Yosra,

Wallahi my husband does a very nice job taking care of us.  I don't want to say differently.  He does buy clothes for the two kids we have.  We have one girl and one boy.  The problem is that they grow out of their clothes so quickly.  Or I'll buy something and it won't be good quality and it will rip and look bad.  

My sister can give us some nice clothes from her kids because they're bigger but my husband says no.  He says that it's his job to get the clothes for them and nobody can put clothes on his kids except him.  I don't want to hurt his feelings but the truth is that it's hard to keep them in new clothes all the time.

What can I tell him to make him understand the problem?

Wa Alaykom Asalam wa Rahtmatullahi wa Barakatu,

Sadly, we can't, "make" our men understand anything.  I wish we could!  I wish there was a vitamin supplement we could slip in their food to release their ability to accept different opinions.

Basically, you have to be logical and not emotional when you discuss this privately with him.  Make sure you don't include anyone else in on the conversation.  He has a huge need to save face publicly.  If you involve anyone else, he will dig his feet in and insist on providing for his family since he's the man.

Explain that you will not be accepting your sisters' old clothes and wearing them yourself.  You understand the difference.  You know that you have enough clothes and you're not going to change size inshahallah.

However, the kids change size so rapidly.  It's hard to find high-quality clothes that fit them.  It's difficult for you to go shopping and it's hard on your family financially to keep spending the money.

Money is a blessing from God.  He has to agree to this.  If a person like his boss or one of his customers gives him money, the money is not really from them; it's from Allah.  Allah SWT has issued all the blessings in the world for us to circulate and share.  It's actually mandated for Muslims to share; it's a pillar of Islam.

To throw away those children's clothes would be the same as throwing away money or food.  It would be haram, a sin.  So, those clothes need to be reused.  Someone else needs to get wear out of them.  They have been on your sister's children so he knows that they are clean.  To refuse her offer is like saying your husband doesn't think her kid's clothes are good enough and shames her.

He understands about saving face, as I said before.  Use this understanding to help him feel like he must not shame your sister.  Your sister benefits because she gets rid of unwanted surplus goods and she gets hassanet for donating it to you.  Your children benefit because they get a constant supply of good fitting garments.  You and your husband benefit because that time and money you used to spend on new clothes can be redirected towards other activities like buying a family dinner out sometime.

You have had the right idea.  I do agree with you that you make sense.  However, the trick in a marriage isn't "Who's right," but rather "Who can help the other."  If you help your husband understand, you can help your children get the clothes they need.

Remember:  it might take months to affect this switch in thinking.  Don't push your agenda.  Be persistent not annoying.  Inshahallah, you'll help your family better this way.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I Was Only Me

Asalamu Alaykom,

R.I.P. Mohammed Ramadan

It's Friday.

The Cairo Stadium riot is over.

The bodies of the four dead hikers in Sinai have been found.

The South Korean tourists who suffered from the bus bombing are either buried or recuperating.

The government schools remain shut until March 8 due to H1N1.

Do you hear any of these stories about Egypt?

I hear them and they hurt me.

If I were picking a country to live NOW, it would not be Egypt.  However, I picked it in 2009 and I landed here.  Tomorrow, I'm supposed to be getting a kitchen designer coming here to take measurements.  It's a moment of, "Am I really staying here?  Should I really be sinking more money into this apartment?"

This week I've been working so hard and today is my day off.  Jummah Mabrook.  It's as if I didn't have time for the pain, and now that I can relax, some tears flow.

One day this week, riding home on the bus, I caught sight of those plastic bags filled with bright pink cotton candy.  They were, as they always are, held aloft on a stick.  I couldn't see the man carrying it.  The vivid color was this beautiful contrast to brown and beige neighborhood.  I heard the toot of the horn cotton candy sellers always use.  It's joyful; the whole moment is a promise of sweet things.  Then, the seller came into view and it was only a little boy.  I was surprised to see that he couldn't have been much older than my son.  He was dressed in a galabiya and he was working as he walked.  The sight of him trying so hard to live through this moment was melancholy for me.

So many people are trying so hard.  Probably you are too.  My mother loves to say, "Life is not for the faint of heart."  She's right.  At the same time, it's our hearts which enable us to keep us humble and quiet.

I talk A LOT as a teacher.  I have to.  They pay me to lecture and read and guide.  I'm quiet right now.  I'm sitting in a sun-filled salon, typing on this beaten-up laptop with a soppy face.  Somehow the quiet has brought me to this moment of reflection.  You truly can't figure out where you are and who you are with too much noise and news.

I cropped myself out of a photo today and I sent it along with my CV.  I hadn't gone looking for work but an email came and there were some big numbers involved.  I looked for a recent photo which didn't make me look too haggard.  That's not an easy task!  Since the summer, almost all of my photos have been bad; I've looked worn out, old and tired.  I went back to the photos from our Spring trip.

I was smiling and happy next to my husband in Aswan.  I looked vivacious and it's been a while since I've seen that face.  After opening it up in Photo Editor, I pulled the rectangle closer, closer, closer.  I was alone since you couldn't see my husband any more.  You couldn't really tell I was in Egypt either.  I was without person or place.  I was only "me".

Who are you when you are only "you"?

 Do you like what you see?

I like me.

I'm just not sure if I like me living here.

Mohammed Ramadan's last picture he posted on Facebook before he died.

Later today

I got that quick and disappointing response from the recruiting company.  Yes, they had sent the email BUT they weren't going to submit my CV to the school in question.  Whatever.  I replied that it would be good to tell me why I was not considered a good candidate so I didn't waste their time in future.  Regardless of what they say, I don't think I'm going to venture outside of Egypt.

Mohammed Ramadan tweeted from Sinai, "Egypt:  love it or leave it" not knowing that he would soon leave Egypt and the whole earth as well.  The message remains after he's gone, Allah yerhamo.

It sounds, at first, as if you have to submerge any negative feelings to remain living here.  That isn't true.  Pretending to be happy when you're not isn't healthy.  It's good that I applied for a job outside of Egypt.  Alhumdulillah.  It's good that they refused my application.  Alhumdulillah.  It's freeing to know that living and working here is a viable option while other possibility aren't.  It frees me from dreaming stories instead of planning reality.  I need to cool my jets and accept that I'm here; I'm not leaving.

If I am here, then I need to be loving.  I have to find a way----past the bad news.  I don't always like living here; it's true.  I just have to keep from hating it.  Things in motion stay in motion and I don't want to become embittered by events.

Inshahallah, this will remain my home, not because it's the place where I'm forced to live but because I choose to live here.  I explored an option and it didn't work.  I am free to go but I choose to stay.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Agony Aunt: Trouble with My Husband

Asalamu Alaykom,

Maybe it's the winter never seeming to be over, but there are three women asking about their lives today on Agony Aunt.  I'm going to answer as best I can.  Any good is from God working through me.  Any bad is from me and may God forgive me.

Alaikom Salam,

I'm in total emotional turmoil.  I'm not sure if I want to stay married.  I've realized that there's an extremely low likelihood of it working out.  He is overseas and I'm back in the States.  There's too many things against us.  We don't share the same language, culture, education, the list goes on and on.  I'm being realistic now.  The fantasy has worn off.  I love him a lot.  I really do.  I just don't think we're compatible for the rest of our lives.  We don't have kids yet and I don't want a man who hits me or my kids. If I had kids with him, then I could never leave them.  It's better not to take that risk.  I just need to know that I'm right before I tell him.  He has no idea what I'm deciding.

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

I'm very sorry you are in turmoil.  

When we face BIG QUESTIONS in our lives, we tend to focus on the small issues.

The real issues between you and your husband can't be about language.  If you are in Islam, then you love learning and have been learning Arabic.  

Culture is a such an easy commodity to share.  I have dated men in my life who have made me laugh until I cried because they knew the inside jokes and twists of phrase.  Guess what?  They can do that with anybody; it's a party trick to chit-chat on the surface level and it wears thin.

You want to talk about his education?  I'm guessing that he has less than you do.  That's kind of a low blow.  Men living overseas often have less formal education but more street smarts.  You honestly want to tell me that an American man with a B.A. can slaughter an animal?  Break up a fight?  Haggle a price down?  

My husband has as much education as my first-generation Norwegian immigrant grandfather did (and that's not saying much).  Neither went on to college because of their family's need for them to work.  To look down on a man without a diploma for the rest of his life seems unfair, doesn't it?  It's like giving him a life sentence for his parents' misfortunes.  By the way, my grandfather's third try at making money made him very well off and that business is still in existence today.  Subhanallah.

I see my ability to teach my husband is a blessing to him.  He couldn't afford any more lessons so God sent him a teacher--me!  That's funny!  Subhanallah.  I wouldn't have chosen him as a student but it has been very rewarding to help him learn.  He helps me learn too as marriage always works two ways.

God has you in this life for reasons; some of which you know and some you have yet to know.  It is said that we shouldn't wish for anything except what God knows is best.  Start from that really honorable place.  Begin with The Beginner.  Go to God in prayer and ask for direction in your life.

You are going to others with this problem, right?  My guess is that you're discussing it with friends and family (and many whom are not adhering to Islam).  It doesn't sound as if you have talked it over with your husband overseas.  That's not fair.  How would you feel if he were doing the same about you?  No doubt he could have been talked out of marrying you by his friends and family but he went ahead with your halal union.

Being married isn't the same as being boyfriend/girlfriend.  Hey, you can walk away from a bad date or a bad relationship when you aren't REALLY committed.  You have options.  When you are married, some options are limited.  Those limitations themselves can be what we really don't like rather than the person himself.

You are more scared of staying in your marriage than you are scared of leaving.  Western society values those who are go-getters; movers and shakers.  A person who stays in a place or a job too long has something wrong with them, right?  Someone who stayed married 50 years is appreciated as a kind of oddity in their old age but if someone is still young then it's reasonable for them to grow apart and leave their former love.  That's Western belief.  

Yes, in Islam a divorce is allowable but it is the most hated allowable thing in the world.  You are separated by distance and now you are seeing that differences separate you as well.  Islam asks us to have patience with those times and people that are difficult.  The benefits come from working things out ---from both sides.

You are not a perfect specimen of a Muslim wife.  I'm not either.  NO ONE is.  Our faults need understanding and guidance, love and forgiveness.  As I grow older, I realize more and more how much of a blessing a halal marriage is.

Is hitting halal?  No, no one should be hitting.  Parents should not be beating children.  Husbands should not be beating wives or vice versa.  Islam is about compassion yet we all know Muslims who fall short.  If you are married to a man who fears Allah, then even if he errs there is a good chance he can reform.  If he can control himself during the month of Ramadan, it shows that he has a strong resolve.

You don't make it clear if he has hit you.  In America, it's a majority mandate to women that if he hits then you must leave.  Here in Egypt, there isn't that feeling.  It still isn't right that a man would hit his wife but it doesn't mean a woman has to leave.  It's a process of understanding limits and expectations.  A Muslim man has many other ways of expressing his displeasure other than a hit.  Help him through his fitnah as he has helped you through yours.  Everyone has struggles of right and wrong and a marriage needs to be a place where we can count on loving acceptance of our best selves and negation of our worst selves.

Not having children yet is staying outside the threshold of a happy home.  Sure, you can run away easier but is that the best way to make decisions?  Do you actually pray, "Dear God, bring me into only the situations which have good escape routes,"?  I hope not!  Pray for the best life.  Pray for the highest rewards.

Alhumdulillah your fantasy has worn off.  Don't live in half-truths and don't ask others to tell you YOUR truth.  Be quiet and at peace knowing that you have all the answers already.  Go to Al-Haqq and ask for guidance.

I wish you peace.

Salamo Alaykom,

I'm usually a very upbeat person but I'm not now because my best friend from childhood is going through a divorce.  It's really eating me up inside.  She calls me a couple of times a day to tell me what's going on.  I know everything and it's killing me.  I don't tell her not to get divorced.  I mostly listen and I think I cry more than she does.  It's affecting me because I don't know what to tell her.  It has me feeling so sad.  It makes me even wonder what I'm doing in my own life.  I can't advise her with her husband when I hear things from her that are wrong in my own marriage.  How do I deal with my friend's divorce?

Wa Alaykom Asalam,

You use two very graphic ways to describe your feelings with, "eating me up inside," and, "killing me."  Words are powerful.  Although you didn't ACTUALLY mean what you wrote, those figurative expressions are sad statements of how desperate you've become.

Something needs to change.

Can you change your friend and her situation?  No.  You can only change your part in the drama.

Before you started hearing about her problems, it doesn't sound like there was any drama in your life.  Her twice daily updates are upsetting your feelings of safety and calm within your own marriage.  She has become a magnifying mirror which is distorting your own views.  On and on, she explores her problems and you start to wonder about your own life.

Islam tells us NOT to share the secrets of our married life from inside our homes.  You have become a spy of sorts.  Is that who you want to be?  Every time she is guilty in over sharing,  you are also guilty of letting it continue.  You are not her therapist and as a friend you really are helpless to help her.  It doesn't sound as if she wants help exactly; she just wants to dump.

"Ahhhhh," she can say with a smile after your phone calls, "I feel so much better!"

"Ohhhh," you groan as you wipe away a tear, "I feel so much worse."

That's not a healthy relationship.  She is using you as a catharsis to feel emotions she is unable to feel.  You can keep her as a friend but you've got to stop the disturbing information coming in.  Tell her that you need some time to get centered again.

You might think that she won't be able to handle her life without you.  She can.  Actually, you bowing out forces her to deal with the issues rather than endlessly rolling them around.  The other and very real possibility is that she'll find another ear to bitch lament to.

Use your time wisely.  Free yourself from the phone.  Go to your husband at prayer times and have him lead you.  See once again the good, true, and kind man you married.  No, he's not perfect but he's someone you have valued for years.  Keep him; lose your job at the help center.


I know you've been divorced and remarried.  I've been married almost three months and I'm having second thoughts.  I was married for ten years, then single for four.  I know I am independent and I don't need a man to take care of me.  I'm not saying I want another divorce.  It's just not what I thought it would be and it scares me that I was wrong.  What's the right way to look at a second marriage?  I'm pretty sure I'm doing something wrong to feel this way.

Asalam Alaykom,

I'm wishing you peace.

Subhanallah that anyone makes it through the first year of marriage.  It's tough!  Lots of times we women can feel cheated that we didn't really know the man, or he lied to us about who he was.  It's not that.  None of us really know each other until we live together as husband and wife.

Marriage changes us.  We have to submit (whether men or women) to another person's schedule, preferences and quirks.  People who were perfectly "normal" while courting begin to show limitations.  It happens to EVERYONE.

Take this year and be slow and careful with it.  Don't focus on the problems.  See them as bumps on the road and not complete road blocks.  Be loving.  Be yourself...but aim at being a better version of yourself.  Allow that man to be who he is too...if he crosses boundaries which you can't accept then you can tell him (at a time he can listen).  Also, listen to him and his needs.  Respect needs to go both ways.

Don't be scared that this could end in another divorce.  If your goal is to stay married then work towards that goal.  One man is going to be much like the next; they just don't differ that much.  Imagining that you made the wrong choice will trouble your head.  Realize that you made the right choice when you married and now you need to keep on making the right choices because Mr. Right is a fantasy.

Being single has its perks.  You can let yourself go, watch all your shows, eat whatever and whenever you want, and keep yourself and your desires uppermost in your mind.  I've seen what happens to single women as they grow older.  They  become a little crazy in their attempts to live independently.  We human beings were made to rely on others.  Living alone is...wait...

Are you stuck in the past remembering the fun of dating?  I wonder if that's part of the problem.  Remember that dating is NOT part of Islam.  If your life before marriage was filled with dates and dinners out then you need to re-think.  That's not a life.  That's a diversion from life.  Real life is what you have now and it's a building process which isn't always fun.  Don't confuse a boyfriend and a husband; that's the same as confusing haram and halal.  

I swear to God WALLAHI if you were to get rid of this husband, date another batch of dudes, and marry another man, you'd be right back in this same spot all over again.  You'd still be a woman wondering if you'd made the right decision and why it didn't feel as good as you had hoped.  The first year of marriage is a huge adjustment.  As long as you have love and respect for a man who fears Allah, you can stay together.

Inshahallah, you will stay together and years from now you'll be able to look back at your time as newlyweds.

Love and Light!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Powerful Poetry

Asalamu Alaykom and Jummah Mabrook,

Yesterday, I was teaching poetry.  Truly, it is a blessing to have a job so meaningful to you that you learn and grow as you work for pay.  As I woke this morning, I asked myself if I could actually leave this place to work in America once more because I would have to leave the land of literature as well.  Without a valid teacher's license, I could never teach Sara Teasdale.

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white:

Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
if mankind perishes utterly;

And Spring herself when she woke at dawn
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

The students liked that poem so I added one of my Teasdale favorite.

The Look
Sara Teasdale

Strephon kissed me in the spring
Robin in the fall,
But Colin only looked at me
And never kissed at all.

Strephon's kiss was lost in jest,
Robin's lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin's eyes
Haunts me night and day.

I also taught Gautier.  It's long, but if you like Egypt, it's a must-read.

Nostalgia of the Obelisks
Theophile Gautier

The Obelisk in Paris

Distant from my native land,
Ever dull with ennui's pain,
Lonely monolith I stand,
In the snow and frost and rain.

And my shaft, once burnt to red
In a flaming heaven's glare,
Taketh on a pallor dead
In this never azure air.

Oh, to stand again before
Luxor's pylons, and the dear,
Grim Colossi!—be once more
My vermilion brother near!

Oh, to pierce the changeless blue,
Where of old my peak upwon,
With my shadow sharp and true
Trace the footsteps of the sun!

Once, O Rameses! my tall mass
Not the ages could destroy.
But it fell cut down like grass.
Paris took it for a toy.

Now my granite form behold:
Sentinel the livelong day
Twixt a spurious temple old,
And the Chambre des Députés!

On the spot where Louis SeizeDied, 
they set me, meaningless,
With my secret which outweighs
Cycles of forgetfulness.

Sparrows lean defile my head,
Where the ibis used to light,
And the fierce gypaetus spread
Talons gold and plumage white.

And the Seine, the drip of street,
Unclean river, crime's abyss,
Now befouls mine ancient feet,
Which the Nile was wont to kiss:

Hoary Nile that, crowned and stern,
To its lotus-laden shores
From its ever bended urn
Crocodiles for gudgeon pours!

Golden chariots gem-belit
Of the Pharaohs' pageanting
Grazed my side the cab-wheels hit,
Bearing out the last poor king.

By my granite shape of yore
Passed the priests, with stately pschent,
And the mystic boat upbore,
Emblemed and magnificent.

But to-day, profane and wan,
Camped between two fountains wide,
I behold the courtesan
In her carriage lounge with pride.

From the first of year to last
I must see the vulgar show—
Solons to the Council passed,
Lovers to the woods that go!

Oh, what skeletons abhorred,
Hence, an hundred years, this race!
Couched, unbandaged, on a board,
In a nailed coffin's place.

Never hypogeum kind,
Safe from foul corruption's fear;
Never hall where century-lined
Generations disappear!

Sacred soil of hieroglyph,
And of sacerdotal laws,
Where the Sphinx is waiting stiff,
Sharpening on the stone its claws,—

Soil of crypt where echoes part,
Where the vulture swoopeth free,
All my being,—all my heart,
O mine Egypt, weeps for thee!

I find it interesting that I only taught the first poem.  Until I searched for it now, I had no idea there even was an accompanying poem.  See how the way we view art is changed by the framing of it?

The photograph below was from our January, 2011 trip to Luxor.


The Obelisk in Luxor

Where the wasted columns brood,
Lonely sentinel stand I,
In eternal solitude
Facing all infinity.

Dumb, with beauty unendowed,
To the horizon limitless
Spreads earth's desert like a shroud
Stained by yellow suns that press.

While above it, blue and clean,
Is another desert cast—
Sky where cloud is never seen,
Pure, implacable, and vast.

And the Nile's great water-course
Glazed with leaden pellicle
Wrinkled by the river-horse
Gleameth dead, unlustreful.

All about the flaming isles,
By a turbid water spanned,
Hot, rapacious crocodiles
Swoon and sob upon the sand.

Perching motionless, alone,
Ibis, bird of classic fame,
From a carven slab of stone
Reads the moon-god's sacred name.

Jackals howl, hyenas grin,
Famished hawks descend and cry.
Down the heavy air they spin,
Commas black against the sky.

These the sounds of solitude,
Where the sphinxes yawn and doze,
Dull and passionless of mood,
Weary of their endless pose.

Child of sand's reflected shine,
And of sun-rays fiercely bent,
Is there ennui like to thine,
Spleen of luminous Orient?

Thou it was cried "Halt!" of yore
To satiety of kings.
Thou hast crushed me more and more
With thine awful weight of wings.

Here no zephyr of the sea
Wipes the tears from skies that fill.
Time himself leans wearily
On the palaces long still.

Naught shall touch the features terse
Of this dull, eternal spot.
In this changing universe,
Only Egypt changeth not!

When the ennui never ends,
And I yearn a friend to hold,
I've the fellahs, mummies, friends,
Of the dynasties of old.

I behold a pillar pale,
Or a chipped Colossus note,
Watch a distant, gleaming sail
Up and down the Nile afloat.

Oh, to seek my brother's side,
In a Paris wondrous, grand,
With his stately form to bide,
In the public place to stand!

For he looks on living men,
And they scan his pictures wrought
By an hieratic pen,
To be read by vision-thought.

Fountains fair as amethyst
On his granite lightly pour
All their irisated mist.
He is growing young once more.

Ah! yet he and I had birth
From Syene's veins of red.
But I keep my spot of earth.
He is living. I am dead.

Lastly, I taught Longfellow while I was subbing for a sick teacher.

The Village Blacksmith
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
 The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
 With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
 Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
 His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
 He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face
 For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn to night,
 You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
 With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
 When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
 Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge
 And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
 Like chaff from a threshing floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
 And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
 He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
 And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
 How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
 A tear out of his eyes.

 Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
 Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
 Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee my worthy friend,
 For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
 Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
 Each burning deed and thought. 

What a joy to impart the layers of meaning within poetry to young minds!  How fun for me to enjoy myself at work and have the effect last all the way into the next day.

Today, on my day off, I started reading a story about Mia Farrow.  Her story led once again to poetry since she took the name of her memoir from a poem.  Have a look:

The Waking
Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?  
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?  
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,  
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?  
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do  
To you and me; so take the lively air,  
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.  
What falls away is always. And is near.  
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  
I learn by going where I have to go.

Enjoy more than the status quo.  Read poetry.  Reach out and revel in the deep feelings and thoughts you still have swimming inside you.

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Believe Dylan

Asalamu Alaykom,

On this blog, you know me as many things.

I am a Muslimah.

I am American.

I am a teacher.

I am a mom.

I am a wife.

I am an ex-pat living in Egypt.

All those things feel really positive to me (well, most of the time).  I'm going to add another one.

I am a sexual abuse survivor.

I've said it before (many times) on this blog.  I say it in my real life as well.  I say it because it is a facet to who I am now.  It is not the sum and total of who I am; it is only a part.  It's no longer a negative because I have owned it and embraced the truth of it.  I have turned that pain into a reason to advocate for children.  You will find very few people who have advocated so much for children as I have and will continue to do so.  Why?  I advocate for children because I was once a child who tried to speak the truth but I was silenced.

Now, in the news there is another sexual abuse survivor.  You can read her open letter here.  Her name is Dylan Farrow, or at least it used to be; in much the same way that I have changed my name from what it used to be.  We both had someone in our home who was supposed to treat us like a real family member BUT they didn't.  They abused our trust and our bodies.

I know exactly what it feels like to be led into a closet so no one sees.  That feeling, as a child, that you are unprotected stays with you until you find a deeper connection to The Higher Power.  I remember when I finally realized that God saw everything and it really helped me.  I no longer had to hope that a neighbor would see us through a window and tell on him.

I had tried to tell on my step-brother.  I told his mother, who at the time was my father's wife.  I told her when I was a five-year-old.  I remember the two of us sitting in their living room and telling her that her son took me into the closet with him.

The look on her face meant that she knew exactly what was going on.  He was going on 13.  I was half his age.  He was going through puberty.  I was learning how to color inside the line.  She knew.  "You''re just playing?"

I knew that her hair-trigger temper and her control over of my father's life meant that I had to take her cue and agree with her phrasing.  I don't remember if I spoke.  I do remember that I didn't speak to her again.

They moved away when my father got a plum position at a college.  In hindsight, it was a blessing that I lost weekly contact with my father since it also took my abuser away.  I would still see him on visits.  Even after knowing that something was wrong, my stepmother left me alone in his care while they went out.  At least in the beginning, my place to sleep was on the twin bed  next to his.

I remember being half asleep in that twin bed and seeing him leave the room, open the back door, go outside, and look upward towards the grown-ups second floor bathroom.  He wanted to see if they'd gone to bed.  I don't know what he saw, but he came back and stood over my bed.  I haven't an idea what exactly was in his mind---alhumdulillah I don't.  I do remember asking him at breakfast why he had been standing at my bed.  I was moved to the guest room after that.

He remained my step-brother for years.  I remained conflicted about what had really happened.  How sick was I?  Who was I if I had allowed it to happen?  Could I have prevented it?  If he acts OK now and I act OK now, can we just pretend it was two kids playing around?

Yes, I went through counseling.  I got some answers:

I'm only as sick as my secrets.

I was a child between the ages of four and seven years of age when it happened.  I was not to blame.

No, I could not have prevented it.

Acting, "as if it didn't really happen," makes sane people crazy.

I came out as a survivor to those involved.  My abuser wrote back to me letting me know why he didn't consider what he'd done as abuse.  For a time, my father and grandmother stopped talking to me.  Sixteen years ago, they didn't know that I had been pregnant or that I'd had a baby girl.

I understand Dylan Farrow's need to protect someone else.  I knew that the teenage boy who'd become a man was troubled.  I believed very strongly that he'd been abused by his mother's second husband.  My abuser had never gotten help.  I knew that any child in his midst was in danger of becoming a victim.  I didn't want that for his girl or for mine.  I felt like I had to speak.  I felt truly that I was protecting someone like me who needed a caring grown-up.

Yet, often I would revert to a very scared state.  Closets scared me.  I think it's funny how I moved from a country where closets are an essential to a country where there are NO CLOSETS.

I also had a strong aversion to this type of mushroom that would grow in the long grass every summer.  I'm placing a photo of it even though it still has an affect on me.  I remember the smell.  Smell is the strongest of our senses.  I can't forget it.  Of course the sight was phallic and frightening.  It was as if what I disliked so much could come to haunt me no matter where I was (even at my mother's house miles away from him).

Dylan Farrow writes of toy trains.  It's her trigger like mine was this mushroom.  These items unleash memories.  One big difference about our triggers is that I'm 45 and she's only 28.  I've had longer to deal with mine and to find a way to ease out of fearing them.  I truly only want to fear Allah.

Another big difference is that my abuser isn't famous.  He's just an ordinary guy with a job and a family.  He's old and balding with that same goofy grin he always had.  I have seen him on Facebook.  I know where to find his picture and I don't need to see it again so I haven't looked again.

For Dylan Farrow, she can't avoid her famous abuser.  She can't hide from every new movie release or every television mention.  She gets to view her abuser time and again in the public spotlight being lauded as not just a normal guy but as an extraordinary guy.

There was a theatre director in my hometown who abused boys.  He did.  It was proven but he was just so gosh-darn talented that he still found work.  I hated him.  I reported him when I realized that his newest show had an under-aged boy in the cast (which broke his parole).  Nothing was done about it.  He always found work.

What kind of a sick society values a make believe world of pedophile directors more than innocent children?  Don't answer that.  I know.  I know which society.

Egypt might be all kinds of wrong.  There are still sexual abusers of children here.  I get that.  However, it is not accepted that someone not only gets away with the abuse but they retain their artistic position.  I just don't care about art that much.  I left that world to work with children...

and to protect children;

to support the rights of children,

to help them to grow healthy and strong

with ownership over their own bodies.

Please take a minute to become better informed on child abuse.

Please help prevent the harming of children in any way you can.

I believe Dylan and I support her need to speak her truth and get clean from the feeling that she needs to be quiet.  No, she doesn't.  This isn't a family matter.  This is a crime and a cover-up which has gone on for too long.  Her courage gives others courage.

If you are a sexual abuse survivor, don't listen to anyone who tells you to not think about it.  You will still get triggers which FORCE you to think about what took place whether you want to, or not.  Get counseling and get healthy.  Tell whomever supports you.  Find a base of support and move on from there.  Excavate the old wounds and remove whatever isn't your responsibility.  Only when you remove what's infecting you with pain can you heal.

Inshahallah, Dylan Farrow (under her new name) can heal.

Please send her (and all survivors of sexual abuse) some healing energy.