Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MAKING HIJRAH 36 "6 Months"

Asalamu Alaykom,

I wrote this on February 19, 2010:

Today marks---miraculously so---six months since we left the United States to start a new life in Egypt.

Many, many times I’ve been asked, “Are you happy?”

Honestly, the question always smacks me upside the head. Am I happy? Well, I’m on hijrah. I’ve left my home and everything I know for the unknown people, places and things. That would make it seem as if I am unhappy but I’m not. My journey here truly was for the sake of Allah. I really did make a conscious decision over and over again to live a better life in a Muslim country and to raise up my son learning Arabic and Islam among Muslims.

I am happy with many moments I’ve had over the last six months.

I've been so busy " being" that I haven't had much time to write about how I've been busy.

That's good.

For years LITERALLY for years I wrote and wrote about where I was and what I was doing. Half my life was spent living and the other half was spent dwelling on how I was living.

Now, I want to live the way you have to live here in Egypt---live in the moment and then let it go.
Yet, after an accumulation of six YES, SIX months, I want to stop and reflect.

I am more appreciative...of life; the fragility of it. I see here everyday how there is death all around. Animals are being slaughtered. The loudspeaker plays through the neighborhood announcing the latest death. The baker next door dies at work and leaves his wife and three young daughters.

And the link between me and the ones I love back "home" must now been unseen. I cannot hold children who once grew inside me. I have to trust that, as they grow, they are happy and healthy; still feeing the positive influences I tried to impart on them. I pray that any negativity from my leaving be minimal.

I see how drinkable water is more essential than you imagine back in the U.S. I feel it here and felt it very directly when I slowly lost energy during my first three weeks here. I was dehydrating from all the tummy troubles. Mr. Boo was starting to fade. It was sad. Many, many people all over the world experience this without ever recovering. We got the right medicine and figured out the right precautions to take with our water suppply.

I feel how necessary it is to get the right people in your life. Maybe being the "lone wolf" works in the U.S., but it sure doesn't work here. I am dependent and I am enjoying this dependence. The Egyptians are fine with someone relying on them and needing them. They enjoy helping; giving and caring.

I do feel loved. I do see Mr. Boo getting more love. Love is where it's at. Love is not all about the heady romance. It's about the small gesture which means a lot; the present which you wanted but never mentioned. Love based first and foremost with Allah; a halal foundation is really what I've wanted and inshahallah this is what I have now.

I love my job. I am well-rewarded for it. I can pay my bills AND then some. I can build a life again and see a career and a future.

I’m happy in my classroom. My sixteen students started the year with little to no English and they now sing songs and chant rhymes at full voice. They can ask, “Excuse me, could you please open this?” They tell each other “Don’t touch!” and “Please stop!” in addition to “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome”. I hear them naming animals, colors, shapes, letters, and numbers and I know that’s me and my teaching and me making a positive difference in the world.

I have endured months teaching two very scared orphan boys. I made them love school. Before they left our school for another on campus, I had them relaxed, smiling, happy and learning. That was quite a difference from the kids who had to be literally dragged kicking and screaming into my room. Their success is something I am proud of.

I’m proud of the young blind girl in my class whose parents were refused admittance from ten schools. She was accepted at our integrated school. Of course, I was apprehensive and I still wonder how I could serve her better. However, her special teacher at the center for the blind has told me that her vocabulary grew by 50 words in the first months of school. What’s more, her special teacher let me know that it was a deep understanding of the words. Nothing could please me more. When I teach, this is what I am aiming for: for the learner to truly embrace the words and the concepts as their own.

I’ve agreed to come back next year and I’m excited to have more experience with this curriculum next year to enrich the lesson planning that much more. I’m happy to think of putting down roots in a school system where I can really become part of the continued success of the children and watch them grow.

I’m so pleased with Mr. Boo. Really, he is a trooper! He came here with little Arabic and is now conversational with his second language. Sure, during class he doesn’t have to use it, but the kids use it on the playground and we use it with our Egyptian family. He is having fun with it.

He is having lots of fun in Egypt. He is smiling more. There was a time in the U.S. when I realized how very little he was smiling. That scared me. I knew that life had to change. I couldn’t continue to worry so much about being alone with him and not having a safety net. Now, he is surrounded by those who love him.

Yes, we do have a family here. Sometimes, it seems like TOO MUCH family (at least to a woman who grew up as an only child to a single mom) but more often than not it feels warm and welcoming. I do have sisters. I can count on my brothers. I know that we will be housed, fed, clothed, and, if necessary, nursed back to health.

We have been sick and/or injured many times here. It’s getting used to the Egyptian germs here. It’s being careful about the water and boiling it. It’s avoiding those cement corners! But with every illness or problem, I have been surprised how easy it is to see a doctor and get medicine or get treated. I have paid for health care here but nothing at all like the Dracula-like draining of my resources in America. Mr. Boo’s stitches each time cost 75 LE, or $15 USD.

And, yes, one of the most touching moments of the last six months was the first time my boy required stitches. Ahmed was carrying him limp and bleeding through the narrow street on a Friday afternoon. Everyone was out and the people all stopped as we passed by and said a prayer. That will stay with me forever.

As will these memories:

searching for Mr. Boo after he ran away from daycare,

having everyone salute Mr. Boo with greetings as we walk through the streets of Giza,

watching Mr. Boo rise high above the ground on the back of a camel,

stopping the donkey cart and getting my gas changed in my kitchen,

starting and (wisely) ending my (profitable but tedious) tutoring business,

time and again denying the use of halawa on my face and arms to get rid of the blond downy hairs which Egyptians seem to despise as being unfeminine,

buying my first galabiya here for Eid Al-Fitra at 1:00 in the morning,

seeing the sheep being slaughtered on Eid al-Adha,

watching the ladies make coq al Eid by the light of the moon in what would become my new home.

We are really collaberating on buidling that permanent home. Meanwhile, our temporary residence is a lot nicer than my first temporary residence. Yes, the journey to that new home is still on going. This is the first time I have built from (basically) scratch a new existence. In some ways, I can see why Egyptians favor setting up house in a big bold way. All that effort to create togetherness does feel good.

Week by week, I see the progress being made in the apartment. Never before have I employed so many workers! No one does DIY here so hiring out is the only way. It’s a lot of fun for me but a headache for Ahmed.

Ahmed. Yes…I have to mention him here, don’t I?! Ya, so I married him. Alhumdulillah. He needed what I had and I needed what he had. It was a marriage of halves and now we are a whole. Again, people are wont to ask, “Are you happy?

Maybe before, in my former incarnations, I worked very hard at attaining that happiness. Maybe I wanted to be ready to scream out joyfully, “YES! YES, I AM HAPPPPPY!” in answer to that question which seemed to loom over me. So I forced happiness and forced fun. Now? I kind of don’t care if I’m happy.

I am in this marriage for higher reasons than satisfying my nafs; my lower self. I’m building a halal life for me and for Mr. Boo. I hope to even do good for my older kids, my mother and father (if Allah allows). Ahmed helps me achieve this.

Does every moment with him mean bliss? No. I am not always happy but my moments of being down are not for very long. I no longer have to broadcast my foul moods to the entire world to feel justified. Age, energy, and prioritizing have made me move through those times faster and with less emphasis. This too shall pass.

And ya, he helps me cross the street. He takes my hand like my life depends on it (because it does) and guides me.

He barters the price for everything I want on the street. He walks away when the amount is too high (making my mouth hang open) and comes back when the vendor drops the price.

When we’re out, he carries Mr. Boo when he falls asleep

Those are moments I can share with you of my life with him but most of the moments I will not. This is VERY unlike me. I used to share too much and needed to say it all to someone in order to think it through.

Now? Allah has made it impossible for me to call anyone up. I have to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly on my own. I am dealing with it all better than I would have thought possible.

Ahmed is currently at Friday prayer with Mr. Boo. This is the only man who ever took my son to prayers. That is special. Ahmed is the only man with whom my son has learned Quran (we’re working on An-Nas). Ahmed is the only man my son has ever spoken fluent Arabic. He holds a high place in our hearts.

Mr. Boo said before we married, "I looked for a father but I didn't find him so I came to Giza and found him."

We both cried and held him.

We are a family. We are. That’s a huge change in six months. It’s positive. It was necessary too. I don’t think living in Egypt is possible when you live alone. It is a culture of togetherness.

I have not really missed the U.S. Sure, there are times I would love to hear from family or friends but I’m not dying or crying about it. Well, I’ve cried maybe three times about missing people. That’s pretty good! My lack of reliable internet right now is hard. I would love to be back on line and inshahallah that will happen.

I do miss some of my things. I miss our books. I miss our warm clothes, which I foolishly thought I wouldn’t need in toasty Egypt (only to find that it is flippin’ freezin’ here in the winter). I miss my photographs and music (since my computer crashed).

I actually see more top-notch American films here than I did in the States. Every afternoon, I get back from school in time to see a film while I chill: Bamboozled, Solaris, Sideways, Just Married and a lot more. They are censored so that no extra-marital activity is taken too far. No drinking alcohol is shown. Oh, at 5 PM, if the story isn’t done, it doesn’t matter; the news WILL be coming on.

Every program is interrupted to show it's prayer time.

I do pray fajr more often. Funny though, you don’t actually pray all the prayers on time here either. I thought that, if you arrived in a Muslim country, you would simply DO YOUR PRAYERS but you oversleep or get busy same as in the U.S. The difference is that you feel more that you’ve missed something important. You feel the collective here.

I am enjoying the food. It is so fresh and plentiful. It’s all locally grown and eaten in season only.

It’s fun to have the fruit which is growing right now and eat it like there’s no tomorrow. When I first arrived, in August, it was grape and mango season. Then, it was guava and pomegranate season. Now, it’s tangerine and strawberry season.

I do feel healthier here; feel stronger. Am I? Not sure. But that’s what I’d like to believe. I am caring more about my looks, while at the same time, not getting too hung up on them.

I am dressing pretty much the same as in the U.S. I maybe care a little more about dressing to impress. When I came, I thought that you could buy an outfit with a hejab. Now, I realize that you buy the outfit and then look around to find a hejab which matches. It is a search.

It is a search in many ways.

Am I happy in the search?

Alhumdulillah. I guess that's the answer to the question---not "no" and not "yes". It's, "Alhumdulillah."

I hope you are happy as well. But more than that, I hope you are fulfilling your true destiny as a wonderfully unique being in this big, big world. You might not be constantly happy while going through that endeavor, but TRUST ME, you will feel a deep satisfaction.

Chapter 37


Kaighla said...

Mashaallah. Reading your story really makes things seem doable! Thank you so much for really outlining your experience in a very exhaustive way. Any questions I may have had about adjusting to life in Egypt were answered, mashaallah.I hope you are enjoying your time in amreeeeka (ha ha) (or enjoyed it...since who knows when you will read this?)and I look forward to more of your story!

MarieHarmony said...

It is lovely to read more about you and your life in Egypt Yosra.

It speaks to me in many ways, and makes me stronger somehow.
It looks like you found your balance and even if some days are harder, you keep faith and make a new step.

It looks like Mr Boo is a cute little boy and your husband an honest man. Isn't it what matters at the end of the day?

Hope you have a lovely time in the US, and enjoy each minute with friends and family. Thinking of you. Take care

sheriberi said...

Lovely post...I like your blog too :)

That's a really important point about Egypt being based on togetherness. It takes an adjustment at first, but after that it's hard to imagine living any other way, subhanallah.