Saturday, May 6, 2017

One Ringy Dingy

Asalamu Alaykom,

This personal narrative comes to you courtesy of Ms. Yosra, English teacher, because I felt my students needed a better example than the ones given in their writing book.  The voice I use for it is a bit different than the one I normally use on the blog.  Also, there were some elements I had to use:  dialogue, personification, simile, and metaphor.  Find those for extra credit.

During my Spring break travel plans for Luxor, I had pictured many amazing moments.  My husband, my son, and I would sail serenely down the famous Nile.

Next, we would bravely explore the ancient tombs in Valley of the Kings.

If we were still having enough energy, I was hoping to go north to the mystical temple of Hathor in the small city of Qena.

I imagined all that from my desk chair, but what I couldn't possibly have guessed is that the most memorable moment of our trip was playing hide-and-go-seek with my wedding ring.

It seems crazy to think that I would lose my silver band anywhere because I'm never without it.  yet, if I explain the situation, maybe it will make more sense.  The long trip down had been on the overnight train.  It always seems like a clever idea since for sure we can simply sleep the night away.  However, we never really do rest, and we arrive tired and eager to stretch our tired muscles.  Once the horse-drawn carriage dropped us off at the hotel, it made total sense to go for a quick swim.  That was when everything went wrong.

"Aren't you coming with us?"  I asked my husband who looked like he was ready for a snooze not a swim.

"Where are you going?"  he mumbled with his head on the pillow and his eyes closed.

"The pool!  I told you that we're going for a swim.  It'll feel good, " I tried to convince him.  He replied with some kind of garbled speech, so my son and I headed out just the two of us to the cool of the pool.

Everything was going swimmingly, as they say, until we were done with the swim and back in the hotel room.  While getting ready to go out sightseeing, I suddenly realized that my wedding ring was missing.  I tried to remain calm because my husband would not be very understanding if I couldn't find his gift of unending love.  What would I do if I had actually lost that ring?  The issue wasn't how much money it had cost; we had money to buy another.  It was the sentimental feelings attached to it.  I felt awful.

My attempts at searching  quietly had failed because my husband was waking up.  He knew that something was wrong.  Now, I was really worried.  This was a our first day of the whole trip.  Not just that---it was the first hour!  Had I ruined the whole trip by some stupid forgetfulness?  I was as scared as if I'd lost my own child instead of my ring.  Even though the ring was not there, my husband was, and I had to confess what had happened.  What would he do?

The funny thing is that my hot-blooded Egyptian was understanding.  He reminded me that he himself had lost his wedding ring inside the Movenpick pool in Aswan.  He only chastised me a little for forgetting to take it off before the swim and reasoned that it must be in the pool.  He had been able to get his ring back, so he hoped I would be able to also.

I could have sworn that I had taken it off before swimming, but it wasn't in any of the compartments inside my jewelry bag.  There were the hijab pins, but not ring.  My husband went out to ask the pool maintenance man to look for it.  Our trip was going to be OK, even if the ring was still lost.

After many prayers to  Al-Wajid, The Finder, that I would be reunited with the ring, there it was in my hand again!  A whole day had passed without knowing where it was, when I removed a couple of pins that I had stuck into my jewelry bag.  Subhanallah!

It had been wedged tightly between the two pins and undetectable.  My wedding ring had been there all the time; it had never gone into the pool.  I really had remembered to take it off, which pleased my husband since now he knew I had cared.  All of us were relieved for a happy ending to that story and the chance for us to enjoy an additional three days of a worry-free trip to Luxor.

How's Your Ear?

Asalamu Alaykom,

Since I can't show you a picture of my own ear, I'm letting Hathor be my ear stand-in.  Her right ear, normally the shape of a cow's, is missing, which I find oddly appropriate.  My own right ear had been out of commission since February.

However, I do feel that significant improvement has been made since yesterday.  Alhumdulillah.  I always felt that during the spoken prayers there was a reaction deep in my ear canal, as if the sound waves were activating my Eustachian tube.  I talk A LOT as a teacher, but this tonality of prayer had a different resonance in my head.  For months, I have felt that if a change were going to occur, it would happen during prayer.   Yesterday, it did.  

I won't say that I am 100% and back to the way I was, but there is a clearing out of the blockage and inshahallah this will continue.  Taking allergy medicine has helped and staying free from colds has been instrumental.  Colds!  They seem like a minor inconvenience until you suffer through the after effects like this.  

Thank you for all who have been hoping that I would feel better.  Alhumdulillah, I do and inshahallah I will keep improving.

What has this taught me?  

  • My body is more fragile than I'd like to admit.  
  • I am needing to take care of the small problems so they don't grow into larger problems.
  • All of us with hearing are blessed beyond belief.
  • Those without hearing have some serious patience to live in a world without one of their senses.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Doctor! Doctor!

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a combo of both a health update and reiteration that life in Egypt is often crazy.  If you haven't read the previous post about my problems with my ear, read Without Sujud.

Problems are like a swim out into the open water.  As long as you swam out, is how long you will have to swim back.  Health problems that took weeks, months, or years to accumulate won't be fixed in a day.  My Eustachian tube issues have been a long swim back.

The last time I wrote about what was going on, it was that I had missed a doctor's appointment.  Rather, I had been there, but he had already left.  I hadn't just missed the appointment, I had missed the entire person being there!  It's Egypt and workers on all levels do as they feel.  He had felt like leaving after 15 minutes, so he did.

For our next appointment, after another week on (unprescribed) antibiotics, I showed up plenty early.  We were shown to a dark waiting area and sat listening to the nurse on her mobile talking to her man.  I got to know her home life pretty intimately, and it was a bit embarrassing.  She had thought that if she were crouched behind the receptionist desk, I wouldn't hear her.  It's was a little like how small children cover their own face and say, "You can't see me!"

The doctor came out twice to get help.  First, he needed an examination instrument.  Next, it was a prescription pad.  Each time, Chatty had to get up, tell her beloved to wait a minute, shuffle off to find what he needed and shuffle back.  While the mobile has improved the lives of Egyptians, it hasn't exactly improved productivity.

By the third time the doctor stuck his head out of the door, and she wasn't available, he lost it.  He made a loud declaration that he couldn't work in such a place and stormed out.  I had been watching the whole show and now needed to jump into action if I wanted an ear examination.

"Doctor!  Doctor!"  I was yelling out to him as I ran after him through the small hospitals's corridor.  He either didn't hear me or was completely disregarding me.  I kept after him and now we were in the street.

"Doctor, don't you remember me?"  I was speaking in English and he was ignoring me in defiance.  He had now jumped in his car and I was standing there.

"Please, Doctor.  My ear!  You have to look at my ear!"

If I had stood in front of his car, he would have run me over.  He was that determined to get the hell out of there.  In hindsight, whatever problems the lackadaisical nurse might have been, the doctor had many more problems of his own.

Now his inability to treat his patients, meant that I had no answers on my ear.  I still had too much of a blockage that made it harder to hear than I wanted to admit.  If I didn't have a qualified doctor to diagnose me, then I was back to treating myself without a license.

I slowly walked back from the street scene to the hospital.  Upon returning, my husband, thankfully, was not mad at me, despite the fact that I, as his hijabi wife, had chased after a man.  There was another scene inside the reception area.  The rotund owner of the hospital, a friend of my husband's brother, was now involved.

I laid into him, "Do you want patients to come and pay money at this hospital?"

He answered the only way any health care administrator could ever answer, "Of course."

"Because I have money and I want to pay you money, but I can't if there's no doctor.  It is not professional here."  I looked at the crowd listening to us.  There was Chatty, so I switched to Arabic and took my frustrations out on her.

"It's her fault!  She is the one who didn't help the doctor. She was on her phone talking to her love and it was weird for us in the waiting area.  Unprofessional!  She should be fired to show everyone how to work correctly!"

The nurse was one cool customer and didn't bat an eyelash.

The hospital administrator told me that he could get me another doctor that same day to see me.  I would have to come back in a couple of hours.  Our appointment had been 4:30 and now we would return at 6:30.  There went my time correcting papers!

What was I going to do?  My husband kept laughing over my dash with the doc.  I was less enthused.  Who was this next doctor going to be, and was I ever going to get relief?

At 6:15, again we walked, just the two of us, to our local hospital.  I hate a lot of aspects to living in our neighborhood, but I love much more.  Being able to walk to the hospital is such a blessing.  I'll never forget when we had to run El Kid over to get stitches when he lost a fight with the corner of the wall.

Again, we waited.  I don't wait very well.  I always think of Mr. Roger's song, "Let's think of something to do while we're waiting."  I cleaned out my purse of all the stupid accumulations.

A woman arrived in some state of shock or spasms.  Not sure what was going on, but she looked frozen with apoplexy.  Her family was surrounding her.  If you've never seen a person in need of medical attention in Egypt, then let me tell you:  a crowd of unhelpful people gather and make the situation worse every time.  My husband kept invoking God next to me as we had a view to the whole sad situation.

Some car accident victims walked in, the walking wounded.  They were fixed up and sent back.

In the midst of all these troubles, I saw Chatty, the nurse from before.  She hadn't gotten fired.  Silly me!  We don't fire people in Egypt for incompetency, or no one would be left holding a job.  She was fine, so I sent a loud greeting of "Asalamu Alaykom" her way.  She turned and answered back.  We faced each other in a kind of détente.  Islam helps us through those awkward moments when we really have a lot of things we could say, but there isn't time or there isn't the ability.

The new doctor arrived!  Up until this point, I hadn't been 100% sure that another doctor existed.  There he was.  He was younger and, for a change, he was headed into the hospital not out.  Basically, that was all I needed.

There was more!  He was fluent in English---although all doctors are supposed to be, they are not always keeping conversational since there aren't so many English speakers here now.  He listened to me and my descriptions of a crackling in my ear.  He then showed me his laptop and his camera.  He would be taking a video of my ear.

Say what?!

Yes, I was zooming from the 20th Century with the previous doctor to the 21st Century with this doctor.  I was trading up for sure!  How incredible technology is---and how strange.  To see what's going on inside your own body?!  It's slightly miraculous.  I'm glad that I had cleaned out any wax beforehand as that would have been tantamount to having not cleaned the apartment before guests arrived.

The tricky part, as always, with wearing a hijab and seeing a doctor is that the hijab often has to be removed.  It feels as strange to me as if I were removing all my clothes.  It just does.  The saving grace is that I never am asked to remove it completely.  I simply pull up whichever side or area that needs examination.  I retain as much privacy and modesty as I can.  My husband has no problem with this.

Sure enough, there was the problem.  I could see it on the video he took.  There was water behind my ear drum.  Everything else was fine.  I simply needed to clear that water out.  It sounded simple, but it would be a barrage of medicines and chewing gum.  Chewing gum??  Yep.

"What about the antibiotics?"  I asked.

"You don't need those.  You probably never needed those, "answered the doctor.

I thought of those four rump shots from which I had only now recovered.

After thanking him, and agreeing to return in two weeks, we left the hospital.  This time, at the pharmacy, my husband had more patience.  We returned home together (instead of him walking away) and we were a little more hopeful.  We had gotten a better doctor, a more insightful diagnosis, and inshahallah better medicine.

We are told that when God takes away, we are given better.  It's absolutely true!  It really is.  I was ready to run after a man who couldn't help me.  What if he had acquiesced to my imploring?  I would have been the loser.  It was right---even though it felt wrong at the time---for him to drive off.  He didn't have the ability to help me and the other doctor did.


After two weeks, my ear is better.  It's not completely cured.  I don't know why.  We will return to the hospital another time to try to pinpoint why.  It's a problem that was left without proper treatment for too long, so inshahallah, it will get better over time, as I swim back to shore.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Future You

Asalamu Alaykom,

It's a new term at school and it's the last term of the year.  The third term is very important, yet the students can't visualize how to start it because they are tired.  They're still recovering from Term two exams.  I gave my pep talk.

"Nobody is taking down these notes, but it's going to be really hard to remember all this information in June when you're taking your finals.  You're in March!  June is a long time from now.  The you in March or the "March You" is going to need to help the "June You" now."

What I told my students is of course true for all of us as well.

One of my favorite mottos is "Make hay while the sun shines" however it probably doesn't resonant with as many as it used to.  I actually have been on a farm helping a single mother with hay baling.  That hard work was needed and every time it seemed too hard it was best to remember that the winter without food for the animals would be impossible.

Winter is the hardship and after hardship there is ease.  During times of ease---and most of us have FAR more times of ease than the single-mom farmer---we need to push ourselves to prepare for the times of hardship.  God has promised us that life is full of cycles:  day and night, life and death, hardship and ease.  We shouldn't be surprised that life has times of both.  We should push ourselves in times when we can to get work done that will help keep us going through the future's challenges.

It could be something that needs your mind:

  • finishing a project for work
  • studying for school
  • sending THAT email
  • writing your story
  • applying for next year

It might be actual physical labor:

  • washing the dishes
  • doing laundry
  • cleaning 
  • putting away last season's clothes
  • sorting through clutter

 It could be spiritual work:
  • praying 
  • reading deep wisdom
  • memorizing Quran
  • making amends
  • having a quiet time in nature

All of our actions break through the inactive downfall of procrastination.  When I'm playing a game like Candy Crush, I see how any action is better than inaction.  Moves must be made in order to win.  We all see this, but we hope to somehow avoid making moves in our lives.

Then, the future sneaks up on us and it's not pretty.  

  • the supervisor didn't like the excuse given 
  • dishes that sat in the sink didn't wash themselves  
  • no clean clothes to wear
  • undone prayers added up quickly
  • you're stuck in sameness

It's an ugly realization that we've wasted time and that's the resource we never get back again.  This is going to be especially true as Ramadan approaches.

For me, I know that I do not want another Ramadan without me having finished studying the Quran with my son.  I do not want to leave this world without that effort having come to completion.  On the weekends, I am pushing that agenda with enthusiasm and, if need be, some seriousness.  Wallahi, I can only get it done envisioning the happiness and relief I will feel inshahallah this Ramadan having done what I set out to do almost three years ago.

Maybe there are others of you who can't imagine HOW the Quran gets read in one month.  It's doable because it happens---it's just never happened to me.  I know that if it is done in small chunks, combined as part of the process of five prayers it is easier.  Maybe this year...but if you doubt that you can make it happen, then start NOW in reading Quran and, even if it isn't what everyone does, make it work for YOU.  There are many ways to start now in making the journey for Ramadan easier.

Get Ready for Ramadan

  • make up fasting days
  • give up a nasty habit which is incompatible with Islam
  • cook up and try out new healthy recipes
  • reconnect with family
  • give or ask for forgiveness

There is a "Future You" and a "Future Me".  We need to help them out now.  Even without having ever met them, I am sure they will be thankful for our efforts saying "Alhumdulillah."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Without Sujud

Asalamu Alaykom,

Sujud, that moment of resting my forehead on the prayer rug in total submission to Allah, is the best place I ever go.  It is when I wish time could stand still and I could stay in that peace forever.  Too soon, I feel that the blood is rushing to my head and I have to rise up and join the rest of the world.  I have to continue on with my prayer and my day.

Yesterday, I got to make sujud on the prayer rug after an absence of a week and it felt like a homecoming.

It started with...well, that's the problem with a story.  When did it all start?  I was going to say that it started with a cold, but it didn't.  It started with a field trip on a day when I knew I was getting sick, but I was too committed to my job.  I went.

I went all over Cairo with kids and visited mosques and bazaars.  I was tired, but content that I saw more of the land I've adopted as my home.

The next week was the stress of final rehearsals for my show about the Chinese calendar legend of the twelve guardian animals.

It had been more fraught than usual.  Thirteen students had come and gone from the project.

"I don't like my part.  I only have one solo."

"It's taking too long and has too many rehearsals."

"Now that I wear hijab, my parents say I can't be in the show."

"I couldn't find the rehearsals, so I just walked around."

"I really want to be an actress so please let me in the show.  I only need the script and then I'll learn all my lines, so I don't need rehearsals."

"I don't want to be the pig.  Kids will make fun of me."

That last one caused a major re-write.  After a days of wondering what to do, I wrote a play within a play; had all the actors on stage go from being characters to being themselves to deal with the issue of pig-hating Egyptians not wanting to play the part.  The actor who didn't want to be the pig would then be changed, with the audience watching the whole (fake) debate, to a poisonous tree frog and then to a panda.  It was actually a GREAT re-write and I was so pleased with the effort that everyone made to find a solution.

Then, that boy still quit.  We were left without a pig or a panda.  That part never got replaced.  In the end, I had the same set up for someone wanting to quit the show, but one of the other characters on stage reported the events that were supposedly happening off stage.  We got our play-within-a-play without having that actor.

We also didn't have a horse.  I slapped some wooden shelves for the horse's entrance.  Oh, yes, I did.

The next week was the show and I was sick, sick, sick with the cold.  Alhumdulillah, I didn't lose my voice.  I sounded bad as I would introduce the show at the start of each performance, but I did what I could.  The kids were great; the best thing about them is that they had staying power and commitment to making the show happen.  God bless!  How we ever limped along from September to February with all those cast members quitting, I'll never know.

Stubbornness. That's what got us through the hard times of quitters telling us that the show wasn't coming together.  I did get some Mandarian Chinese to come out of the mouths of Egyptian students.  I got an angry rap from the Tiger in a black leather jacket from the most respectful boy you'll ever meet.  I got a studious boy to be superhero cool as the Dragon.  The boy who gets bullied was a great prince and two of the smartest kids in sixth grade got to be imperial stars as the Emperor and Empress.  All together, fourteen students had the chance to be the dreamers of the dream and to create a world that we shared with others.  I didn't give up.  They didn't give up.  Forget any theatrical skills they learned because what they really learned was perseverance.

One of the best moments for me was to look out into the audience and see many of those who used to be in the cast.  They wanted to see what they used to be a part of and gave up.  They had said it couldn't be done and truly it couldn't---with THEM.  The dream was bigger (or weirder) than they were able to envision. 

The show for parents, done on a rainy Thursday afternoon, meant the end of the months of stress.  Like any end to stress at work, that meant that my body fell apart at home during the weekend.  My cold had been with me for two weeks and I was so tired from pushing myself.  I didn't see a doctor because it was only a cold.

Another week and I thought I was feeling better that following weekend.  I pushed myself those days to really get things done around the house.  It had been hard on my husband to do so much around the house in order to pick up my slack.  I was going to clean and organize and manage my life again.  I was also going to pray istakarah on what I should be doing for next year's employment (since I wanted to switch to an Islamic international school, but it wasn't panning out).

The very next day, I was hit by my second cold.  Was that the answer to my prayers?  Within a week, I had lost the hearing in my right ear.  I had read up on the reasons for blocked Eustachian tubes and the cures and tried all the home remedies---even had a fight with my husband over the necessity of buying a hot water bottle.

"I need it."

"You need a doctor."

"No, it's not what I want.  I want that hot water bottle!"

"I don't know where to get it."

"Look!  Here's how you say it in Arabic and here's a picture on the 'net."

"I don't need a picture."

"Yes, you do!  Come back here!  Take a picture of this!"

 None of it helped and I headed off to work through days of revision to make sure everything was covered.

That Wednesday was the first day of exams, I didn't have any proctoring, so I took off work for the only time this year.  It went horribly wrong.  I didn't go to the doctor because I thought I only needed rest.  I couldn't rest; couldn't sleep.  The kids were screaming downstairs all day.  We had another fight.  I cried which made my ear hurt worse, but at least I had that hot water bottle!  Back to work for Friday, and then there was another weekend.  All I needed was rest, right?

No.  I had a severe ear infection which was diagnosed when I finally went to the doctor on Tuesday.  

One good thing about Egypt, I basically got home from a terrible, pressure-filled bus ride, and got an appointment right away for 4:30 pm.  The doctors said that I needed a course of four (rump) shots and two weeks of pills.  The pharmacy didn't have any females on staff so it's been visits to the hospital to have a series of young women tell me that my Arabic is good and ask me where I'm from.  I say I'm from here on hijrah and I don't remember any country before this one.  They jab me with a needle and then I pay them five pounds in thanks, although they all said that I didn't have to.

Still, my ear is closed to sound as if there's frequency on TV.  It's a bit of being in a prison within my head; a taste of what deafness feels like.  Alhumdulillah for this (inshahallah) short-term situation.  I've felt what's it's like to not correctly hear an order from my boss, to smile when I didn't really get what someone said, and to hate big rooms, like the staff room, with lots of voices.  

I can be patient while this heals inshahallah.

What hurt me more than the pain in my ear, or the lack of hearing, was the fact that I couldn't make sujud down to the floor.  I couldn't make sudden movements up and down or I'd experience a big fluctuation in inner ear pressure.  It was too painful and possibly dangerous. I started praying in a chair and making my sujud going down only to my lap.  It was what I could do.

It didn't feel the same.  I couldn't stay down for long.  I had to come up quickly.  Normally, I stay down so long---especially for fajr---in order to pray for those I love.  I pray for my mind, body and soul, and for the same in my husband, my parents, my father's woman friend, my mother-in-law, and my children.  I couldn't stay down in sujud for any of this over the last week.

In the middle of all of this feeling of loss, I gained a huge blessing.  This was when I was wondering why I had been sick for so long, what I had done wrong, and if this was a sign from God in answer to my istakarah prayer.  I had been thinking about changes I needed to make in my life to be healthier mentally and physically; to reduce stress.  I was lost in pain and isolation---really.  I kept going, but I was needing something and I didn't know what.

That's when my daughter emailed me.  It was a couple of weeks after I'd overshared in the staff room about how my relationship with my daughter was strained.  We have loved each other from a distance that often was more emotional than physical.  My tumultuous life had caused a rift between us that neither time nor two visits to the States had mended.  Stupid me for sharing too much;  don't give a report if you don't want a report card.  No, nothing they could tell me would really be the answer that I didn't ask for.  It had me thinking about what I had said and what I had lived through.

It was then that she emailed me that she had a surprise.  She had been taking Arabic classes at university.  She had a project to do on an Arabic country and she had chosen Egypt.  That meant THE WORLD to me.  I would've cried except it would've caused more pressure in my head.

All those years ago, the little four-year-old blondie learning Al-Fatiha had matured into a young woman making choices for herself and she had chosen to learn Arabic.  She had once done a project in elementary school, in the years when she would wear a hijab every Friday, naming Egypt as a place she wanted to visit and now in a university course she was doing a project on Egypt.

She was reaching out to what I had given her long ago.  She was being the girl I knew and loved and letting me know that that girl wasn't lost to me.  She was connected to me and to my life and my choices and that there was respect for what I had done---not because it made her life easier (it hadn't) but because it made me into ME and she could see more of that now that she was older, out of her father's house, and making decisions for who SHE wanted to be.

Okay, she didn't say all that.  She only emailed that she was in her second semester of learning Arabic, that she wanted to surprise me, and that she was doing a project on Egypt.  Like I said, it meant the world to me.

I don't know what everything else in my life means.  I don't know why I'm not supposed to hear well these days, or why I can't get hired easily by an Islamic school.  I'm not sure why I am still married to the same man who drives me crazy even after seven years.  I don't know if this is the country I am destined to live and die in even if I can barely navigate a doctor visit.

I don't know.

What I do know is that seeds that were planted years ago, have grown into something beautiful today.  It was something that I did in this life and if I hadn't been the person with the belief that growth was possible, then it never would have happened.  Good things are happening in this world because of what I have done.

I lost sight of that.

I lost sight because I was looking down at my own feet wondering where I was going.  I forgot that you can't really go forward while looking at the spot beneath your feet.  You've got to look ahead and believe that it's all good.

This year, especially with the election and the aftermath of the election, has been super negative.  It's been a depressing downer.  My illness "coincidentally" coincided with the first month in the White House.  It has felt horrible to be a Muslim-American in the world.  It's easy to think that the world is what is happening politically, but the world is what we make of it.  Our worlds need to be smaller when the big problems weigh us down.

It's been a long time away from the blog---and from readers.  I have many thoughts of what to say in the time I'm not writing.  I wait.  I wait until what I want to say makes more sense.  That's been a while for me.  Thanks to those of you who hoped I was OK.  I wasn't, but I am on the mend now. 

After four days of shots, I could go down in sujud onto the prayer rug.  It was scary to submit fully again because I didn't know how it would feel.  The pain wasn't there, but I didn't risk staying longer than needed.  It wasn't the same sujud as before, when I was in the depth of prayer for as long as I could stand it.  It was a quicker sujud, but it was more meaningful because I had lost it for that time.  Alhumdulillah.

Everything is more meaningful once we've lost it.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why Janet Jackson Named Her Baby Eissa

Asalamu Alaykom,

Mashallah!  Mashallah!  Mashahallah!

Arabic people often praise God in threes for emphasis.  "Mashahallah" means that I'm acknowledging that something has come from God.  In this case, I'm soooooo happy for Janet Jackson and her husband Wissam Al Mana on the birth of their baby boy Eissa.

Why name him "Eissa"?

First of all, naming a child in the Arabic culture is VERY important.  Muslims believe that on the Day of Judgement believers will be called by their first name and father's name.  There are cases from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when names with negative connotations were changed.  An example from modern times might be a girl named Brandy (an alcohol) would be better to have her name changed as people will always associate something lascivious about her.

Janet has not said that she wants an Arabic name herself and she does not have to change her name ever.  I changed my name because I just felt done with who I had been before as if that time had been used up.  I didn't hate my birth name and it didn't have any bad meaning.

We don't know if Janet Jackson has come to Islam like her older brother Jermaine.  There had been talk of Michael Jackson (May God give him a rest in peace) coming to Islam, but that never was confirmed.  Janet does not have to come to Islam to be married to a Muslim man.  She was raised Christian and can stay Christian.

I see that at least one UK paper has announced that Janet Jackson converted (or "reverted" as I say).   Unless Janet Jackson comes out publicly to state that this has happened, I will not assume that she has.  It is not necessary to come to Islam in order to raise a Muslim child.  If she is accepting enough of her husband and his ways, then she will do just fine as Um Eissa.  This is her new honorary title meaning "Mother of Eissa" and her husband becomes Abu Eissa or "Father of Eissa".

Often times, women who marry Arabic speakers gravitate to a name in Arabic---maybe a translation of their name in English, such as Mary liking the name Maryam.  Maryam is actually the name for Jesus' mother (respect to her) and there is a chapter in the Quran named after her "Surah Maryam".

It is often a surprise to Christians that Isa Ibn Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary) is so revered by Muslims.  No, we don't believe he is son of God.  I never believed that so I wasn't a very good Christian.  However, we all respect him as one of the great messengers along with twenty-four others mentioned in Quran.  These men brought new laws from God to the people.  They are "Rasul" in Arabic.    

  1. Adam
  2. Idris (Enoch)
  3. Nuh (Noah)
  4. Hud (Eber)
  5. Saleh
  6. Ibrahim (Abraham)
  7. Lut (Lot)
  8. Ismail (Ishmael)
  9. Ishaq (Isaac)
  10. Ya'akub (Jacob)
  11. Yusuf (Joseph)
  12. Ayub (Job)
  13. Syu'aib
  14. Musa (Moses)
  15. Harun (Aaron)
  16. Daud (David)
  17. Sulaiman (Solomon)
  18. Ilyas (Elijah)
  19. Ilyasa' (Elisha)
  20. Yunus (Jonah)
  21. Zulkifli (Ezekiel)
  22. Zakaria (Zachariah)
  23. Yahya (John the Baptist)
  24. Isa (Jesus)
  25. Muhammad (mentioned by Jesus as coming after him)

You can read more about the list of messengers (peace be upon them all) here.   Most names in Quran have another pronunciation in the Bible.  Notice that "Adam" does not.  Obviously, these names are very popular with Muslim parents.  They do fall in and out of fashion like anything in this world.  Here in Egypt, I see a LOT of boys named Mohamed and Yussef but I've never met a Yunus.

Many Western moms who are married to Arabic men like to chose a name that still connects them to their world that they knew before.  Popular American names like David, John, and Zack become  Daud, Yahya and Zackaria.

Of course, because the names in English are transliterated from Arabic, it is the sound of the name that is being approximated.  That means that three boys with the same name in Arabic could have it spelled three different ways: Daud, Dawud, Dawood or Yahya, Yahia, Yehya.  

This is true with Janet Jackson's son too.  She chose the spelling Eissa, but it also gets spelled Eesa and Isa.  Which way is best?  I like how she spelled it and I'm pretty sure it was chosen after consultation with someone knowledgeable.  The way his name in Arabic


starts with the Arabic letter "ayn" which a diphthong, or a two-vowel combination that works together.  I can barely say it!  I basically cop out and say a  one-vowel "ah" for names that start with "ayn" like Umar/Omar, or Aisha.  Truly, it is supposed to be more of an "ah-ee" sound.  Therefore, writing the name as "Eissa" is the most correct, although all the news reports still seem to cop out on pronunciation as they have been saying "Isa".  

What I find interesting is that Janet Jackson could have named her baby "Yasu", 


that's the name for Jesus according to the Arabic Christians, but she didn't.  This signals a very real bonding to her Muslim man and a respect for his religion.  Her religion?  I don't know, but in the Muslim faith a child is the religion of the father, so her son is Muslim.  Janet Jackson is now out numbered by two Muslim males---thankfully, she's had lots of practice being outnumbered in her famous family.

The Jacksons had that naming convention of "J" names and in a way her son continues that with being "Jesus".  In America, a son could NEVER be named the English name "Jesus", even though the Spanish name spelled the same way "Jesus" but pronounced "Hay-sus" is given.  She got to be both very different and original, yet traditional at the same time.

Eissa (peace be upon him) brought light to the earth at a time of darkness.  His teachings helped guide the people back to the path they had already be shown by prophets before him.  I am sure that his example has helped both the Jackson family and the Mana family.

Now, Baby Eissa is uniting his mother Janet and father Wissam in a beautiful new relationship as parents that will bond them together as a family.

Please join me as I make du'a (supplication) for this new family.

May Allah protect Janet, Wissam, and Eissa and help them as they learn and grow together.  May Eissa be a healthy and strong child who becomes a leader in the world for better understandings between people and nations.



Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2016 Images

Asalamu Alaykom,

2016 was a lot of what you're going to see in this post.

It was me trying to be all zen---but picking the wrong place to do it.

2016 also was spending a lot of time on the bus and being too tired.  This square has a large tower above it with the word TIRING actually written on it.  Yes, it is always tiring to go to Cairo.  I like how the billboard man just laughs at it.  I tried to laugh off a lot of 2016.

Some of the year, I forgot to look around me and catch what was really going on.  When I did stop myself from being mundane, I would realize how blessed I am to be where I am and doing what I'm doing.

One of the things I'm most proud about is that I could envision the 100-Acre Wood in this grove of trees and perform "Winnie-the-Pooh" here for the kindergartners.  Every performance, we were missing an actor.  It was crazy---yet, I continued with my commitment to produce theatre at the school with the motto, "The show must go on!"  


No, I didn't become a truck driver.  If you look beyond the rig, there are trees and in the trees are some white things.  Those are birds that flock to this spot on our way to school.  It is in the part of Giza we have named, "Funky Town" because it just reeks of sewer.  Jokes abound!  The two of us sit next to each other every day and that's a blessing because my son is my favorite person on earth. 

 Those birds in their wilderness sit on the other side of a little rivulet. They create a balance between the beautiful and the grotesque as we sit in the middle.  METAPHOR!

Of course, El-Kid isn't the only middle-schooler in my life.  I have so many and I love them all.  This year, I have given more than ever, in part because one of our fifth graders died over the summer.  I will never have another chance with him, so I have felt more of  a need to do more for those who are still here.

Having said that, it's been a very tough year and I declared that I'm not coming back next year.  I've had one job interview so far.  

This decorated wall is from last years's fifth graders.  I hate charts, but these are chart of sorts.  The top one is for a book on Hatchepsut.  The bottom one is for a book on Crazy Horse.

Each tribe's buffalo is for getting the top score; the teepees are for reaching 90 and above; and the horses are for getting 80 and above.  This year, I initiated the same project, but NOTHING has been placed on the paper I taped up on the wall.  With all their apps and instant gratification from them, I wonder if coloring, cutting, and pasting have left from my classrooms.

I am still going to create.  I do define myself as creative, and these projects need to flow out of me or I burst.  This year, I decided that I didn't want clip art on my wall representing the Lakota people.  I researched, and printed out actual photos and then incorporated them into the Black Hills which surround the narrator's cabin.  I'm so happy with the result---or, I was after I changed the one rock on the shore to gray.  The last lines of the book are written in the waves and were my inspiration for this poster.  

This blog is another example of what I create.  My tweets, some of them reaching tens of thousands this year, are another outlet.  

One way my creativity gets re-charged is from seeing incredible sites.  Egypt is good for that!  Here is the Nilometer, the oldest Islamic building in Egypt.  

My son complained today that, "We always go see places from history!"  Maybe he'll thank me later.

On the last day of the year, we went to Mosque Sayeda Zainab (ra).  She was the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).  Egyptians say that she was buried here, but Syrians say she was buried there.  I don't know the truth---God only knows.

It was a bit chaotic at the entrance, 

but once inside it was very welcoming.  Unlike many of the other beautiful mosques, which have a glorious section for the men and a decrepit area for the women, this had a BEAUTIFUL and spacious area for the sisters to pray.

A lot of 2016 has been keeping the faith, finding the ways that my faith can grow, and instilling my son with knowledge of our faith.  That is a full-time job in and of itself.  Being a person of faith is not a side-line hobby.  2017, inshahallah, is going to see more of me building upon my foundation of faith and creating a better life.

Part of really living is not listening to what others say and following what you believe is true for you.

This next picture to represent 2017 was taken when I headed down a driveway.  There were amazing murals on both sides!  I kept shooting pictures as my husband stood on the sidewalk telling me to stop.  I didn't stop.  Why would anyone put up murals if they didn't want them to be admired?!

I'm going to keep on being me and doing what makes sense at the time. 

Having said that I have been independent from my husband's mind, doesn't mean that I don't need him.  I do.  This next picture isn't us, but it represents us pretty well.  We are going down the highway of life together with each one of us holding on for dear life.  In many ways, it's been easier to be married to him this year since he made positive changes in his life.  Yet, it's still a tricky deal to be so close to ANYONE ...let alone an Egyptian man. 

Inshahallah, it will seven years of marriage this month.  Subhanallah for that! 

I also need to include a photo of me on a beach at the Red Sea.  I loved this beach.  I loved floating in utter calmness.  It's my new happy place.

That's not to say that it was all happy.  The whole year wasn't happy.  NOTHING can be all about happiness.  We wish "Happy New Year" but we know that there are going to be problems.  

When we first got married, my husband was shocked that we had problems.  He felt that we always had problems.  We didn't.  He simply misunderstood how life worked.  Now, we both know how to minimize the daily difficulties and move on to what we enjoy more.  Doesn't mean we always do it very well, but we strive towards this more and more.  Alhumdulillah.

Thank God.

For me, it really is all about God.  I took this picture after I stumbled across some tourists who had gotten a little lost looking for the Pizza Hut.  Our family helped them and we ended up eating together.  It was a blessing.  The year has been full of blessings.  Alhumdulillah.

Speaking of blessing, we've been watching "Little House on the Prairie" on DVD and they always say a table blessing.  I decided to re-institute that back into my life.  We now hold onto each other---hands, pinkies, wrists---and create a little circle before saying, "God is great.  God is good.  Let us thank God for our food.  Ameen.  Bismallah."  It's part of my identity as a believer from before I accepted Islam.  It helps me to feel connected to who I was and who I will always be.

I see my signs ---not on Paul Simon's subway walls and tenement halls---but on Arablish T-shirts.

It's a miracle I'm still here.

I truly pray for a better 2017 for everyone.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

When a Mouse Is a Rat

Asalamu Alaykom,

When I first came to Egypt, I rented an apartment, even though there were no screens on the windows.

"Don't the animals come inside?"


"No cats?"  I asked to be sure.  "No mice?"

My landlady laughed off my silly American misgivings.

The windows stayed open and nothing crawled inside.

Seven years later, and a couple of apartments later, I finally had my worry come true.

Sure, there had been noises in that discarded carton---a family of little mice.  They were dealt with.

There had been a couple of big guys crawling up the wall outside the bathroom---that REALLY freaked me out and I'd slammed the window shut with a scream.  They were chased out.

Yet, it took until I flipped on the kitchen light before all hell really broke lose.


standing on top

of my water supply





How can Egypt call that thing a mouse?  It was the rattiest looking mouse I've ever seen.  It was there on top of my seven bottles of drinking water (the ones that I laboriously boil water for and then let the chlorine evaporate from).


I wanted for that that horrible intruder to get OFF my water!

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, my wish came true!

It jumped off my water bottles and on to the floor.

Quickly, I realized that I might not have really wanted my wish coming true.  I ran out!  I warned my son that we had a mouse---a rat---in our house.  I shut his bedroom door, I yelled downstairs for my husband.  I shut our bedroom door.  I ran back to the salon and jumped on the chair.  Yes, I was very good at fulfilling every stereotype of women vs. vermin.

My husband ran up the stairs and took the counter-part stereotype of protective male searching the house with a stick while yelling that I probably didn't really see what I thought I saw.  He couldn't find anything.

Was it in our bedroom?  I hadn't shut that door first.  Why hadn't I shut that door first?  I was sorry to be so scatterbrained.  As a mom, I simply thought of my son's safety above everything else.

The hunt ended.  The house was declared mouse/rat free.  I wasn't convinced.  I wasn't feeling good about our windows because what I always feared would happen, had indeed happened.  The windows stayed shut day and night with no air circulating in the rear of our home.

For days, I lived in a place that felt dirty and backwards.  I cleaned all the bottles in boiling water.  I used bleach on them and on the counter.  I still couldn't feel good about our home.  Whenever I'd come home, I'd brace myself for potential news that the mouse/rat had come back.

Then, one day, about a week later, I came home to find screens on the windows.  My husband had said it was impossible, but he actually had listened to what I had said.  He had put screens up exactly the way I had described.  He had sandwiched the screens between the wooden window frames and the wooden slates that he nailed up.

It had taken seven years, but I finally had the screens I had wanted.

When I think back to all the worry and upset I lived with all those years, it doesn't make sense that I put up with it for that long.  It really made me wonder how many other problems in my life I suffer through that could be fixed in a day.

Yes, there's an analogy in this.

It is a good reminder that we all live with stupidity that we don't have to.  We deal with what we hate because we don't face up to just how much we hate it.  If we truly faced up to the truth, then we could deal with and possibly eliminate the source of the frustration.  Like a good person of faith or patience or easy-going ways, we persevere daily when we don't have to.  Yes, we could free up our little corner of the world from the irksome issues if we decided that we deserve to have more peace.

Wanting more peace for ourselves isn't selfish; it's self-preserving.  No one can realize their full potential when self-perpetuating craziness takes over.  When we take care of ourselves and our needs, we are able to be more available for helping those who love and need us.

Make your home feel more peaceful.  Make yourself feel the peace.  Make your world less crazy.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Sugar and Sunnah

Asalamu Alaykom,

As Muslims, we spend a lot of time attempting to live closer to the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  It isn't only in our devotional times that we need to emulate his ways.  We were given so much authentic information about his daily habits---more than for any other prophet (peace be upon them all).  Therefore, we observe the way he lived, or the sunnah.

He didn't eat refined sugar.  He just didn't.  The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), he lived a much healthier dietary life than we do.  Actually, no one really ate refined sugar until about a thousand years after he passed away.

Does that mean we should not be eating anything he didn't eat?  I'm not going to go that far, but we do have to look at following the sunnah in which the Prophet (pbuh) tasted the sweetness of dates and honey and was satisfied with that.

Is there a chance you could reduce your sugar intake?

That's what I starting asking myself.  I looked into it not as a diet---because "I don't die it, I live it".  I looked into it as a way to be more faithful.

I started researching.

How many teaspoons of sugar is the maximum a woman should consume in a day?

Six.  A woman is only supposed to have six teaspoons in a day.

Each teaspoon is the equivalent of 5 grams, so each day women have 30 grams of sugar as a limit.

Me?  I was putting two and sometimes three teaspoons of sugar in my coffee.  Half of my daily intake was done in the first hour of every day----and you know that I didn't stop there!

Now?  I put only put one teaspoon of sugar in my coffee.  You know how we add a little too much sugar if nobody's looking?  I bought some sugar cubes!  Those sugar cubes are measured to exactly be those 5 grams.  If it's tea, I use honey.  Therefore, I am reducing my sugar intake by at least 5 grams every day.

"A DROP IN THE BUCKET!" shouts the heckler from the nosebleed seats.

He's right, but every good intention for better health has a reward.

Let's do some math...I know, you used to hate math in too!  Somehow, though, it is comforting me in my old middle-age.

If I, in shah allah, give up one teaspoon a day then every six days it's like I've given up a whole extra day of sugar.  That's good!  That's not just a drop; it's the equivalent of giving up a whole day of sugar.

It wasn't just coffee and tea.  Look at this great graphic from Mother Jones:

I started looking into the juice I've been drinking.  Time Magazine looked into the issue as well.  Here in Egypt the sugar content is very high.  The juice is more like a concentrated syrup than a beverage.  I thought that I was buying  "Pure" juice because that's what it said on the label.  I was still bringing 12 to 16 grams of sugar in every juice box I sipped for lunch.

Do the math again!  Ya, so that's 2-3 teaspoons of sugar in every box.  It felt wrong.

The next time I went to the grocery store, I brought my reading glasses and spent some time reading labels in the juice aisle.  Sure enough, I could find a juice that only listed 10-12 grams sugar.  If I was able to eliminate 5 grams, then I stopped me from unwittingly ingesting another teaspoon.


If Yosra drinks a juice box a day during the school week, and she is saving herself from drinking 5 milligrams of sugar with every juice box, how much sugar is she eliminating from her diet every month?


5 x 5 = 25 grams a week or 5 teaspoons a week
5 x 4 weeks = 20 teaspoons
20/6 teaspoons maximum per day = 3 days.

Add that to the amount I'm already giving up in my morning coffee and it's 8 days total.  Could you give up sugar for eight days?  It would be hard, but it's not impossible if you simply view it this way.  You ARE giving the days up, but while only reducing rather than eliminating.

One thing you know that is just horrible is soda pop.  I've asked for my husband to stop buying it.  If we're out at a restaurant (and that's once in a blue moon) then I don't mind if we order it.  However, having it easily accessible every day, means that you simply will drink more of it.  Pop is just too high in sugar content to consume it on a regular basis.

Take a look at Coke and Mountain Dew.  Remember, the maximum is supposed to be SIX sugar cubes.  27??  30???

I tried to explain this in the staff room.  You know how people on a health kick are!  Right away, it was assumed that it was about weight loss.  It isn't!  If I never lose another pound in my life, I'll be fine.  I would like to reduce the strain on my body, however.  I'd like to eliminate thirst that seems unquenchable because I've had too much sugar.

 Sugar really isn't harmless Click to read some easy to understand research.

Am I noticing any effects?  I am more mindful of what I'm buying and eating.  I like that because that's who I strive to be.  I ate a creme-filled cookie last week and it was waaaaaaaay too sweet for me.  I hated it.  That's a good thing!  I'm less thirsty.  My jeans fit a little better this week than last---that's good because even though I'm not doing this to lose weight, I do want to reduce the belly fat that slows down insulin production (and leads to diabetes).

Maybe you didn't think of any of this before.  Now that you have, it's up to you to either look into your own sugar consumption or not.  The problem is that once you realize you could do better, you can't ever claim that you never knew.

No food that has been made lawful to us can be declared "haram" or unlawful by us.  I'm not saying that sugar is haram.  Eat and drink it bismallah (in the name of Allah).  Only, realize that we are supposed to be people who live by moderation in all things. Obviously, we, as a society,  have not been moderate in our sugar intake.

Maybe you have battled and won---good on ya!  Maybe you're like me and you're in the throes of the struggle---keep going!  If you haven't ever given it a thought and now you're thinking about it differently----let me know!  I'd like to know if this post has a positive impact on your life.  I hope it has.

Love and Light!

UPDATE:  While talking to a co-worker, she helped me realize that the sugar content listed is really deceiving the consumer.  For example, the drink in my hand was 250 ml but the nutritional information was only for a 100 ml serving.  Therefore, the 12 grams of sugar listed needed some math.

12 x 2 = 24 (to change sugar grams from 100 ml to 200 ml)

12/2   =   6 (the additional 50 ml)

24 + 6 = 30 grams of sugar

All of a sudden what seemed like a good deal was horrible.  Instead of imbibing 2 teaspoons of sugar, I had been drinking 6 teaspoons of sugar!  Even though I was reading labels, I was misreading---and I'm an educated woman who is really investigating.  Imagine someone with less ability trying to figure it out.  It's almost as if the beverage industry has something to hide...

Therefore, take a second look at those labels!