Friday, May 22, 2015

My Neighborhood of Nazlet Samaan

Asalamu Alaykom,

After praying fajr, my husband and I both read until the sun shone brighter, and then he said to me, "Do you want to go for a walk?"

I do like to go for quiet walks in our neighborhood.  Here are pictures of another time we went.

El-Kid was still sleeping off a busy week at school, so I left him a note:  "We went out for a walk.  Be back soon!"

It only took two blocks before I saw this juxtaposition of barbed wire and flowers.  I wished that I'd brought my phone.  I don't even think of bringing my camera any more.  My husband handed me his phone and I snapped away as we ambled through our neighborhood next to the pyramids.

It was so early out on the streets that there were more animals than people.

This is my neighborhood.  Yes, I feel blessed to be here.  Yes, I sometimes forget to feel blessed.

The carriages were parked perfectly for a ready-made photo shoot.

My husband pointed out this door knocker.

I love all the old doors.

I love the colors and textures.

Someone spent time scratching out Morsi's face.

Doors open into possibilities and the symbolism is meaningful to me.

Morsi peering out from the faded past.

All of these doors will disappear some day.  I know that taking pictures of them today means that they will survive in this digital form tomorrow.

This is the wall separating our neighborhood and the historic Giza Plateau.  My husband, as a child, used to be able to clamber up the hill.  Now, there are cameras on the other side.

Love the unexpected patterns.

This is one of my favorite finds from today.  It looks like a fairy house.  

Doesn't this upside-down horseshoe mean that their "luck" is running out?

The colors on this street are reminiscent of an oil pastel.

I know you see the horse, but do you see the passenger?

My husband pointed out the camel that I hadn't seen at first.  Camels always seem to pose.

Gorgeous colors and art noveau make me happy.

It's the aged imperfections that grab me.

This was maybe my favorite door of the day.  It had so much going on with it.  I had my husband take a picture of me in front of it.  I looked too tired, so you won't be seeing that.

Glorious.  I only wish I'd taken a better picture of it---just cock your head to the right a little.

Do you see the cat?  It wondered what I was doing.

This is the end of the road.

Wait.  Maybe this was my favorite door.  Yes, it must have been because I took four photos of it.

To me, this is modern art.  If this was hanging up on a museum wall, you would see that as the truth.  Someone spent time perfecting this and those choices added up to an artifact of human expression

This is on the other side of the door.

Love this.  It is a locked door, but it has all these really unusual openings.

The last house next to the wall is slowly crumbling away.

This is not a great picture.  It's a memory that I wanted to share.  There are so many sights and sounds where I live.  There are constant surprises.  The morning had been so quiet--silent.  Everyone was asleep!  Then, I heard a bird-like squawking in the parking lot for the carriages.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a little puppy.  It was all alone---not a mama dog in sight.  I asked my husband if there was anything we should do for it.  There really wasn't.  You don't really help the wild animals and stay safe or sane.  I took this picture and we moved on.  Life has to be like that here.  This is coming from the same woman who was bitten in America by a stray dog she had tried to help across the busy street.

More animals!  The street named for pigeons was getting some chickens.

My husband started bartering.

Again, I am constantly surprised in Egypt.  I feel so alive and connected at times like this.

I thought this was a rooster because of the comb, but it was a hen.

There was a lot of swearing----to God, of course, that he was being offered the best price.

Our walk without any agenda ended up with purchasing dinner.

Look, I have thought about leaving Egypt.  I won't lie.  I have wondered if there is somewhere better for me...for us.  Even after I signed this year's contract, I applied for a job "back home".  The problem is that the U.S. isn't home any more.  

For one hour, I found so much to love in Egypt.  That's all I needed to find all of this---and it was right out my front door!  It isn't a perfect place but it's's our home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Islamic Mind

Asalamu Alaykom,

Watching "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," from where I sit now, made me wonder about back then.  In my past, is there someone I would be tempted to erase from my memory?  Of course there is.  I would be tempted to erase my son's father.

Every good memory that comes back to me leads to a bad memory that hurts.  Whatever makes me happy is tainted in a split second.  I would love to get rid of each link in the chain of our relationship...


There's this time from before everything went wrong.  It was the summer before 9/11.  I barely knew him.  We arranged to have a day at the amusement park.  I packed a lunch.  He drove.  When we got to the gates, the guard told us that the park was closed for a corporate event.  It was one of those moments when the unimaginative call it quits and go home.

What really charmed me was that he didn't let the day's energy drop.  He drove us to a quiet lake nearby.  We spread out the blanket and I laid out the food.  It was better than I had expected.  It was idyllic.

And then...

and then there was this little microscopic orange spider.  It was sharing the blanket with us.  A lot of men think it's macho to kill all the creatures in their path.  This man...this big boy...was full of wonder as he let the little spider crawl on him.  He marveled at this creation.  I marveled at him.  I fell in love with him as we passed the spider from his arm to mine and laughed.

There used to be a photo of the two of us from that day.  A passerby took the shot for us.  We stood up and posed.  I was wearing a purple shirt over a short, flower-print skirt.  He stood behind me with his arms encircling me and our fingers interlocked.  We were so happy.

Erase that.

Erase that "so happy".

Just keep the spider.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Only Take Pictures When I'm Happy

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a picture my father took of my mother holding me in front our VW camper van.  We were traveling from the East Coast to the Midwest.  He was changing jobs in 1969 and we were resettling before the seventies took hold.

I loved that van.  I remembered it throughout my childhood.  There was something magical about it.  It was from a time when my brain was forming and I was linking together disparate ideas.  That van meant family to me.

When my parents divorced, the van was gone.  Children don't understand where things go.  It doesn't make sense that something so big should disappear.  It took me most of my life to find it again----but more on that later.

My father had pictures of the van.  Actually, my father didn't have pictures exactly; he had slides.  He had this metal briefcase which I could open up and find little rectangles of my life.  I would have to cross check on the underside of the lid for the categories he had carefully penciled out in this tiny cursive. There was my fourth birthday.  There was the trip to the apple orchard.  There was the day at the beach.  I could then decide which part of my fractured life to revisit.  My father had made notations on each slide as well.  One by one, I'd carefully lift out a tiny Kodak frame and hold it up to the lamp to see the brilliant colors inside.

If I was feeling gutsy (and I usually was), I would ask my dad for his annual slideshow.  This wasn't any problem for my dad, as he seemed to enjoy the trips down memory lane.  The issue was with my stepmother.  She wasn't a big fan of his life before she married him (which included me).  She would sit there sullen as my father and I laughed over stories of me being naughty.

There was that time he was recording the wild wolves howling.  No joke.  That was my father's life as a wildlife biologist.  Can you imagine?  He was paid to sit quietly in the thick woods and save moon songs.  I was along that summer.  I remember catching fireflies in a jar, holding a little bird on my finger, and ruining his wolf recording with my version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."  

That summer, when I was three, would would really be the last one for us as a family.  My fourth birthday party was also a goodbye party.  He married his second wife shortly thereafter.  For one year, they lived nearby and then they moved away.  At the age of 7, I would be placed alone on a greyhound bus (right behind the driver) and travel those long two hours, then be picked up by my dad at the station.

There was a kind of ritual to our reuniting.  He'd always pull out a tiny piece of Trident spearmint gum, tear it in half and share it between the two of us (as if it was big enough to share).  He'd take his black, plastic comb and fix my hair.  We'd get in the car and drive.  Before we left the city, we'd stop at Arby's roast beef and he'd be sure to squeeze on some Horsey Sauce.  Occasionally, he'd have to pull over on a country road and let me get rid of my car sickness.  No, we were not as close, but we were something to each other.

When I was 12, I left my mother to visit my father once again.  This time, the trip would be longer because I was flying from the Midwest to the Carribean.  My father had gotten a prime job and a great place to live.  I had pleaded with my mother to let me leave the horrible small town, which was suffocating me, so I could breathe in some tropical mountain air.

I did realize that I would be living with my father and my stepmother.  My stepmother placed my belongings in the guesthouse.  I would not be living in the main house with them.

I would live in the small building alone.  It was only a short walk to the bathroom from there.  It usually wasn't a problem unless it was raining, or night time or I was sick know...I'm sure she meant to make me suffer as much as she could for me moving in on her time with my father well.

One benefit to living in that little building was that it housed their stuff.  I'm a snooper.  I love to dig around.  I've curtailed this habit in real life by simply channeling those tendencies into the internet.  I found the briefcase of my father's Kodak slides and I started to go through them.

I was excited by my find.  My father relented to another slideshow.  The three of us sat together.  I remember some alcohol being poured.  There were many happy hours at their house (but not the kind of happy hours I had been hoping for).  As I was older now, I understood better the silences from his wife.  She had another drink and made a couple of cracks.  She loved to crack on my dad; that's what little minds do to greatness.  They can't imagine improving themselves so they tear down someone else in hopes of moving ahead.

At the end of my stay, at the age of 13, I made a decision.  I was going to take some slides.  First, I took out the slides of my mother and her parents.  My grandmother had just died and I thought my mom would appreciate seeing them.  I didn't ask.  I felt it was my right.  Once that was done, I kept going.  I took out any pictures of my mother.  Why should that young and beautiful version of my mother be packed away?  Then I took out any pictures of myself.  I pilfered every trace of my former happiness. Without telling anyone, I robbed the briefcase of my past.

I wonder if my father ever tried to find them.  The briefcase was there but it was half empty.  Did he notice?  Did he care?  I never asked and never confessed.

I also never asked for another slideshow.  We never laughed together again about who I had been and how life had started for me.  I robbed myself of myself.  I lost a connection while trying to hold onto it.

My life kept going.

Years later, I took those slides of my maternal grandparents in to a developer to get made into photos.  I placed the resulting photos in a cute album and gave them to my mother on her birthday.  She was so happy.  Each photo I had carefully rescued and she was thankful.

Eventually, as a young mom, I would print out the pictures of my early childhood.  With each picture, my milestones were made evident.  I had been observed and remarked upon just like the wildlife animals my father had studied.  And I was loved.  He loved me.  He hadn't stayed in my life much after the age of four, but there was a time when he had wanted to be a big part of my life.

This week, I was thinking of those slideshows.  I was thinking how technology changes.  I thought of how I take digital images now that don't sit in a case and in many ways are very impermanent.  Most of my pictures are impossible to hold.  I'm not sure if that's how memories should be, but that's how they are for me.

I thought of how I only once saw my father with a camera.  Little by little I realized how strange that was.  If he had taken all those pictures when I was a baby, then he must have had a camera back then.  Where had it gone?

The time my father took my picture had been a special request on my part.  I had been saying at my elementary school back in the city that my father had a pet porcupine but no one believed me.  I pleaded with him to take a picture of me with Blondie, the porcupine, as proof.  He did.  That's her eating a banana on the front porch.

It was a black and white photo, so when he mailed the pictures to me at my mother's house, the blob sitting next to me still wasn't enough to convince the naysayers.

Aside from that, he never took another picture of me  This week, I thought about his disinterest.  What had happened?  I wondered about asking him but then I wouldn't be really asking my father; I'd be asking my father with Alzheimer's.  Most of us want to forget the hard times of the past.  He is now able to forget more than most.  I'll have to think whether or not to be gutsy once again to ask him about the slides.

Until then, I think I have an answer which stops my monkey mind from wondering.  I think I know.  I only take pictures when I'm happy.  I simply can't use my camera when I'm sad.  I think my father had been very happy those years he filled up his case with memories.  I think he really had hoped for love and life.  When his marriage to my mother ended, those hopes stopped too.  He married a shrew woman who hurt more than helped (they divorced after she went psychotic decades later).  He started drinking more.  He remembered less.

That knowledge of my father's happiness and sadness is in me today.  Alhumdulillah for the ability to process.  I pray for his last days on this earth to be filled with peace.

As for me, I'll keep smiling in Giza while I hop onto one of many VW vans we use as micro-buses here in Egypt.  It was a wonderful surprise to see them all here!  I'd like to believe that my camper van ended up here to find a new life of happiness, just as I did.