Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Giving Water

Asalamu Alaykom,

During the hottest week yet this summer, we had an errand to run.  As a family, we went down our street with the aim to catch an air-conditioned taxi.  My husband and son, being males, focused on the goal ahead.  I, being female, noticed the little boy too short to turn on a faucet.  The water tap, supplied by the mosque, was meant as a form of charity.  They hadn't figured on this small guy being all alone and thirsty.

Despite the fact that I got in trouble the last time I tried to help a boy in my neighborhood, I stopped walking.  I asked my husband to help the boy.  Ahmed went over and filled the cup---probably a germy cup since it's used by ever passerby---and gave it to the boy.  The boy drank without thanking anyone because that's what kids do.

I thanked my husband as he returned to me and we continued on our walk.

"Mom," my own boy began, "how did you even notice him?"

"Didn't you see him?" I asked.

"No, I can't pay attention to everything!"

I thought and then replied, "I can't either, but I do notice the needy.  If I can help, then I do."

Over Ramadan, I found so much solace in helping the mama cat and her kitten.  To give them water and watch them drink has felt so good.  I'm sharing the video at the top of this post because an eco-friendly man found a way to record just who it was drinking out of the pail of water he had been leaving.


Later, on the day we were running an errand, I saw that, across the street, the cart with the Eid hats and noisemakers.  It was still being pushed with hopes that someone...anyone...would buy.  I marveled at that and even turned my head to watch him as he went away.  Then, I saw his feet without shoes.  His feet were on city street's burning pavement and he kept walking along without any protection.

I stopped and asked my husband if we could help him.

"You're too soft, Mom," my son complained.

"Mashahallah," my husband corrected, "Your mom is so sweet."

However, he wouldn't join with me in finding a way to get the man shoes.  The man stayed on my mind the rest of the day, the week, and into today.  We had the money; we just didn't have the time.  Astragferallah.

If I see him again...

and then I wonder why I'm the only one who sees him.  Doesn't anyone else see those in need?

If you see him...

or anyone else whom you can safely help today, then please do.


My rescue mission expanded from the animal kingdom to the plant kingdom when I saw a plant in need of help.

Seeing living organisms in need of help isn't hard in Egypt because there is SO MUCH need.  Maybe there is in other places in the world----I certainly saw a lot in the U.S.  Because I'm still a foreigner in Egypt (and always will be), I perhaps see the need that others don't.

It wasn't hard to see this particular plant as it was stationed right outside my window.  It used to be that we had an openness outside our salon window, but building higher and higher became a necessity all over our neighborhood (and all over Egypt).  As the family with the three grown sons increased their levels, our view decreased.  We ended up looking directly at their balcony...and the plant.

The youngest son is still unmarried, so he  hasn't moved in even though three plants are stationed on his balcony railing.  Two of the plants seem to weather the desert conditions pretty well.  Their leaves stay standing at attention.  Then, there is the other plant.  I think it's jasmine.  It wilts.  Not right away!  It tries to be like its buddies and take the heat like a cactus, but it can't.  When it wilted, I felt badly for it.

Could I knock on the door and tell the men's mother about it?

Not really (unless I wanted to be labeled The American Weirdo).

Could I talk to the wife of one of the brothers?  She lived one floor down and sometimes I would see her hanging out the wash.

She doesn't know me and might not understand me in our first meeting if I'm talking about a plant.

Couldn't I just disregard it?

I tried.

I failed.

I couldn't stop thinking that there was this precious little life that had brought me joy in this area where any form of gardening cheers me up.  I couldn't let it die!  I therefore did what any half-crazed American does:   I got my gun!

It's a water gun; a big Super Soaker from the States.  It's not the exact one in the photo, but pretty much like it.  We actually carried it back to Egypt with us when El Kid put up a fuss saying that he couldn't live without it.

It was fajr when I went into his room.  He was sleeping.  I stole borrowed his Super Soaker and filled it with water.  It has a pumping action that you have to repeat in order to build up the pressure.  I started it up and it WAS LOUD.  I could have truly woken up everyone---including my husband who had gone back to bed.  I knew that if I woke him up I would NOT be able to water the plant.

I primed the mechanism only a couple more times and then stuck it out the window.  That must have been a strange sight!  I wonder if anyone saw me in my prayer clothes with an atomic space-age weapon.  I pulled the gun back in when I realized that worshipers were leaving the mosque from fajr prayer.  It probably would be a bad deed to super soak faithful believers.

I waited.  I scanned the street.  No one was there and I didn't hear anyone coming.

I stuck the gun out of the window again and squeezed the trigger.  The water shot from our window to the neighbor's balcony.  It worked!  Now, I had to aim it better to get it into the flower pot.  Some of the dirt splashed out and hit the wall behind.  Oops!  I didn't mean to dirty their home.

I stopped and wondered if I should continue.  Could I get in trouble even if I was doing my best?  Ah, that's the story of my life, isn't it?  I decided that a living thing trumped outweighed a cement wall.  I shot again with better aim and no more splashes.  I gave some water to the other plants as well.  Didn't want them getting jealous.

I stood back and looked.  I don't know what I thought I would see.  It wasn't snapping back into shape like a slinky.  It was still wilted and I wondered if I had been too late.  Nothing left for me to do but go back to bed.

When the sun was up, I got up a second time.  My husband was already awake.  I went into the salon to see him and then I headed to the window.  I couldn't tell him.  I could only look secretly.  There it was:  the balcony with three plants and every one of them looked beautiful.

It had worked!  I had saved a plant.  Alhumdulillah.

Later that week, the neighbor man came to check on his future home and watered his plants.  After that, he forgot again and I shot again.  That time was funny because El Kid was sure that I was going to shoot the noisy children in the street.  Hmm...

I eventually told my husband.  He laughed.  He knows me well enough to know that he can't really stop me if I'm on a righteous kick.

For me, when I look out the window and see the healthy plant I feel a tenderness towards this fragile world.  It needs us to care.  I'm glad I cared---not just about the plant, but about everyone and everything that has mattered to me.  I hope I have done more good than bad in my life.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Eid 2017

Eid Saeed,

There wasn't much of a schedule any more.  Didn't have to rise early and eat suhour!  Freedom.

Woke at 4:00 instead of 2:20.  Prayed...by myself.  No one else was awake.  It felt lonely for sure.  Both of the guys were still asleep.

I woke Ahmed up at 4:30.  I had already looked out the window and seen all the new clothes worn by the young boys and girls ready to show them off at Eid prayers.  Ahmed always goes for prayers on the grassy...sometimes muddy...meridian strip in front of the mosque.  Usually, in the mornings during the year, we see rats running around in this area, or maybe old men or little boys peeing in the bushes.  It is NOT where I like to pray.  Maybe bringing a prayer rug makes it better, as Ahmed did, but I stopped going after the first year.

Instead, I listened to some nasheeds from Maher Zain and Dawud W. Ali and organized those computer files.  I couldn't do much else on the computer since I'd used up my limit (with help from El Kid taking half a giga without asking).

When my hub came back, we ate some Eid cookies from his sister's family and drank coffee.  It's weird to re-start our normal lives again.  It feels odd, like we're doing something wrong.  Ahmed went back to bed.  He was as tired as I'd been the day before.

I would try to make some peach waffles, but they turned out to be more like peach wobbles.  I didn't have a waffle recipe in my book, couldn't look it up online, and so made a facsimile of them from a pancake recipe.  Didn't work.  

El-Kid and I ate them while watching the Bollywood epic Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (known as DDLJ).

I used to own a copy of it and know it by heart.  I got rid of the movie when I thought I needed to get rid of everything that was not Islamic in origin.  DDLJ is a fabulous Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol epic.  Sigh.  How wonderful to be able to watch that.  The subtitles are always in Arabic here, but I knew the story (and it isn't a hard one to figure out).  El Kid needed a little plot input and it was fun to share one of my favorite movies with him.


When Ahmed woke up, he got a peach pancake with honey as I'd given up on the waffles...or wobbles.  It still didn't turn out!  Whatever.  He still ate it as he watched the news from Egypt.  Thankfully, it was all about peaceful celebrations, alhumdulillah.  It was fun to see Alexandria and places we knew and would soon see again, inshahallah.


The time was speeding through the day.  We didn't have to plan the menu so carefully.  We didn't have to do anything so carefully!  We were carefree, alhumdulillah.

The crazy thing is that Ahmed was thinking to fast again the next day.  No one is allowed to fast the first day of Shawwal, the month after Ramadan.  Remember:  Ramadan is the name for a month in the Hijri or Islamic calendar. It's always misunderstood as the name of a holiday and it's NOT a holi-day or even a holy day; it's a holy month.  Fasting a day in the holy month of Ramadan is the same as fasting ten (for a total of three hundred days).  A year has 365 days, so to get a full year's coverage, fasting six more days in Shawwal is a good idea as each is worth ten.  Only the most observant go for it.  I wasn't planing on it---not yet anyway.

I talked to El Kid about his choices after Ramadan.  He doesn't want to fast additional days at all and it would be unusual if he did.  Additional fasting is optional, not mandatory.  What is mandatory throughout the year is doing his five prayers.  I want him to keep his five prayers now.  He's almost twelve now and it's time.  Yes, he's done so much better than his friends, but we can't live our lives based on being better than our friends; we have to be better today than we ourselves were the day before.

I made a deal with my son.  He did not have to fast additional days UNLESS he does not pray his five prayers each day this month.  If he does not do five prayers, then he fasts.  He needs motivation.  It's hard to be a mom and know how much to push your child and when.  Inshahallah, this is the right thing to do and that it will be an effective transition from boyhood.

Everything started to go badly at this point in our day, or at least in my day.

"Happily ever after" hardly ever happens.

I had watched my Indian movie and now my hub had control of the remote.  He watched an Egyptian movie.  My hub is fond of telling me that old Egyptian movies are so much better than anything currently on the screen. Well, the plot of this "comedy" was how the men were all cheaters behind the backs of their wives.  They were in bed, drinking, dancing, and WHAT THE HELL?  The worst part is that I couldn't really complain because each one of those elements had been in my movie (all be it in a different, more palatable form).

I fell asleep as I often do when I hate a movie (the movie Brazil comes to mind).  When I woke up, it was with a sudden start because my husband had gotten up and made some canned fish into mush in a bowl.  He was now mad as he thumped his dinner down on the table.  He wanted to eat when he wanted to eat and it was NOW!

The time was 5:00 PM and I was surprised that dinner time was happening without me knowing about it.  I looked at the food and couldn't eat it the way it was.  Instead, I went out to the kitchen and boiled some potatoes while I cut tomatoes and onions.  My one-month stay in Spain at sixteen had taught me how to make a delicious fish salad.  I was only missing some olives.

By the time I was done cooking, my husband was done eating.  My son and I sat at the table alone, said our blessing alone, and ate alone.  It was sad.  I was so sad.  It was a definite end to togetherness, routine, and Ramadan.

As if that wasn't enough, when magrib happened, my husband went to the prayer rug alone and prayed alone while I quietly cried.  He turned the TV on to the last episode of Ramez, but I couldn't watch.  I made my wudu and prayed with El-Kid in another room away from my husband.

I'm not sure what exactly snapped in our family that night, but it hurt like hell.  It reminded me of my son's father back in 2006 when I had seen so much good in him during Ramadan only to have him race to the divorce lawyer right after Eid.  Telling that to my son was a mistake.  My boy had stuck by me to cheer me up, and now I had brought him down.

Bad mom.

I had to stop this spiraling down before I crashed----not just myself, but my son.  It was not OK to let anyone else dictate my mood or my mind.  Yes, this had happened before, so I didn't need to freak out.  It did make me wonder what this meant for our family, our relationship, and our future AND THEN I had to STOP.  It was one day---not even one day!  It was one evening.  One evening does not forecast a future.

What to do?

I read Quran. I really did.  Ramadan was done.  My quest to read as much of Quran as possible was over, yet I needed Quran.  I read Surah Hud in the dark on my tablet.  I got really quiet and really alone.  I got centered.

After that, I could spend time with El-Kid without ruining his night.  I could see my husband without crying.  I re-entered my life with some acknowledgement of how tricky the transition is from Ramadan to real life.

The next two days of Eid went better.  We regrouped, ate together, went out together, and prayed together.  On the third day, we went out, bought clothes, ordered pizza, and watched the third mummy movie.

I haven't forgotten how bad that moment on the first day was, but I have forgiven.  None of us stay mindful 24/7 of those we love.  We screw it up.  All of us screw it up.

Being so very alone in the world---without friends or family nearby---means that I have to deal with my issues on my own without them and without their input.  It's a blessing and a curse.  Everything is like that.  Somehow, we have to exist in the middle.

Ramadan places us in the middle.  Eid shakes us a bit to see how much we'll stay centered.  Will we continue to pray?  How much of dunya did we miss?  Is Quran going to remain an active part of our lives, or will it become a dusty decoration?  Who or what will we worship alongside Allah?  Astragferallah for all our missteps in Eid as we try to navigate back into daily life.  

May Allah accept our prayers and fasting.

May Allah forgive us our mistakes during the month.

May all of our bad habits stay broken.

May we live to see another Ramadan.

Ramadan Day 29 2017

Ramadan Kareem,

This post is coming to you late, thanks to running out of internet.  I did, however, write it off line on the twenty-nineth day of Ramadan in hopes of posting it eventually.  Eventually is now.



Crackers with cream cheese and peace slices.  It's funny how pared down the suhour meals became.

Would this be the last suhour?

We thought it might be, but we'd have no way of knowing until night.  It is one of the stranger parts of Islam for any Westerner used to calendars and planners.  Yes, something MIGHT be happening tomorrow that will alter the next day completely.  Wait until the moon is sighted before knowing your fate.

It's seems slightly annoying on one hand, but on the other, it's glorious.  It's wonderful to admit that you have no control over tomorrow and that you simply have to relax and let it happen.  Anticipation is something we don't enjoy enough in this fast-paced world.  The last day of Eid...or maybe the penultimate day of Eid...gives us that feeling of the awesome unknown.



Prayed together as we have every day.  Normally, during the rest of the year, even though my husband and I always pray fajr, my son, at age eleven, doesn't.  To be together every day like this has been very unifying.

I have to think back to the times at the beginnings of my time in Islam when I didn't pray fajr.  Astragferallah.  I knew it was a duty and I really struggled with it.  The first hurdle to making it happen is the intention and alhumdulillah our family's intention is to do our five prayers on time.

El Kid is new to doing all the five prayers.  I've told him to focus on doing all five from now on---no matter what.  That is how I handled it for myself.  Do the prayers.  Do them all five at the end of the day before bed if you have to, but DO THEM.  Spreading them out, obviously, is easier.  Waking up past fajr?  Still pray two rakhas before starting anything else in your day.  Start structuring life around prayers with them as the focus and everything else falls into place subhanallah.

 After praying fajr, we went back to bed.

I awoke to the doorbell.  This can mean either one of two things:  either someone is at the door at an ungodly hour, or the electricity has gone off and come back on.  It was the latter.  Both require me to jump out of bed (for some reason, men never hear the doorbell or crying babies when they're sleeping).  I have to unplug the refrigerator and make sure nothing is being charged---otherwise, we could lose that electrical item.

Up I went to unplug the fridge and was surprised to see that the plug was out already.  I guess I had been wrong about men---or at least this particular man.  Survival isn't dependent on me this time around.  I went back to bed with the ceiling fan keeping us cool.  Thank God for electricity!

Off the electricity went again and off the fan went.


Time to get up.  The off/on kept continuing.  It felt like the power outages had been holding back all month, but finally they had to be true to their nature.  It's summer, people are using their air conditioners (not us) and their fans (us), staying up late with their lights, TVs and computers on (guilty).

Every time the power went back on, I had to rush around and get done what I wanted.  Our apartment's water pump shuts off with every power cut, so that means NO WATER.   I washed the dishes quickly, hand washed my grimy school bag and lunch bag, and I boiled some drinking water.

Swear to God, water is where it's at!  That's why I always keep six liters of boiled drinking water at all times, as well as six liters stored in the kitchen for washing up, and two large pails of water in the bathroom.  It might sound crazy, but during extreme times, we've nearly used it all up.  Water is a blessing.  It's good to make du'as for the 2.4 billion of our brothers and sisters in the world lack clean water and sanitation. 

I had the goal of cleaning up my stupid school mess before my husband woke up.  I have NO IDEA how he can put up with me making our entry area into a dumping ground at the end of every school year.  He does.  He has patience with me about this.  For weeks, he had let the books, papers, posters, and costumes sit in wait.  There was more mess than usual this time because I wasn't just ending the year, I was ending FIVE YEARS.  On the twenty-nineth of Ramadan, I threw away so much that I should have discarded long ago.  I then dusted and swept.  It looked so much better.

Ramadan is a time of bettering---not just ourselves, but our homes.  I don't think I could have let go of so much except at Ramadan.  That break from dunya makes me get distance from worldly possessions and see them for what they really are:  entrapments.  They weigh us down and drown us.  I thought of allllllllllllllll the times I've spent managing my stuff---sorting, storing, piling up, re-stacking, on and on.  That was a lot of time I could have spent with my son; time that I'll never get back again.  I made things more important than people.

I've been stupidly hoarding AGAIN, even though I tried to convince myself that I wasn't.  Teaching allows us to feed this propensity for gathering and storing.  We fool ourselves that it's all good and useful stuff and we fill up cabinets and drawers until there's no space left inside, so we let it sit in a pile somewhere else.  It's dumb.  It isn't just teachers either, it's the scholars with their books, the crafters with their supplies, the wannabe chefs with their gadgets.  It's all of us to some degree.  I'm owning up to it openly because I see it at systemic in modern life.



The electricity was on!  Having gotten the center of my home clean, I could then get my self cleaned up and pray.  I felt like I had sloughed off my former workplace and it felt good.

My husband woke up and was pleased to see the hard work I'd done.  I got a "good job" comment and then it was now my time to lay down.



I woke up for asr, but I was still tired from the morning's work.  For most of Ramadan, I'd been careful not to get too tired out, but with the feeling that this was the last day, I had pushed myself to do more.  After praying, I lay down again to read more Quran.


I finished Surah 10 Yunus.  Alhumdulillah.  If that's that's all I read in Ramadan, then that's all I read.  It's more than I usually read during the year, and even more than I usually read in Ramadan.  Inshahallah, I will read the rest of the Quran this way (even the thirteen surahs on mp3 that I don't have) before next Ramadan.  It would be great if I could do it before the end of the summer.

I slept.  I hadn't meant to sleep.  When I awoke, I was shocked to learn that it was after 6:00 PM.  How did that happen?!  I must have been very tired.  We aren't machines and fasting is so taxing on our systems.  It isn't supposed to leave us feeling so strong the entire month; we are supposed to feel a bit broken down.

It's a reminder of our time on earth.  We start off life with more energy than we have when we leave.  If we think our life is hard now, then imagine how it's going to be at the end.  We need to get done what we can while we can.



The prayer came so quickly and it felt like such a relief since we were all thinking that it was the last day of fasting.  We wouldn't know for sure until later when the scholars would either confirm or deny.


We had three koftas left over from last night.  I've finally convinced my hub not to eat up all the meat in one night:  save a little for the next night.  It makes a good difference on both days!  He had cooked up some pasta, made a salad, and even fried up the frozen mozzarella sticks I'd bought.  God bless him!  We drank mango Tango (my quirky name for it) and it was beautifully chilled.  Nothing tastes better than a cold drink after fasting.  Subhanallah, we drink every day during the year without much thanks to Allah, but Ramadan MAKES us realize to be truly grateful.

When it was announced that Eid was the next day, we sang our songs of happiness in a mash up of mostly in tune harmonies.  We joked and played some music (a little too loudly in a bit of a payback to a very loud household and neighborhood).  Ahmed didn't have to pray taraweah any more.  He was able to stay and watch whether or not the celebrities would fall off the Lebanese cliff (they never did).



We could go to bed without feeling that our lives would go back to being difficult the next day.  We could finally relax.