Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Egypt Update

Asalamu Alaykom,

I realized that the news from Egypt looks (once again) rather dire.  This is is just an update to let you know that we're fine.

School is still in session for us.  I'm hard at work and so is Mr. Boo.

We don't have any violence in our area of Giza.  Alhumdulillah.

And...okay, this part isn't so good...but it's ironic which is always worth some ink.  AbuBoo, Mr. Boo's father, is in Egypt.  It's been four years since he's been here so this is his first visit since we've moved here.

He's already met my husband and shaken hands.  God bless Ahmed for being man enough to retrieve that suitcase full of our stuff.  And God bless AbuBoo for bringing it over from The States.  That was Monday, on day one.

On day three, AbuBoo insisted that his son go with him to visit his family.  I said, "No, it was too dangerous."

When I said that, Ahmed got to hear my ex's anger in a very terse phone call.  Terse?  Make that explosive!  My husband wasn't interested to hear such bad talk from someone who hasn't done the walk---if you know what I mean.  That was Wednesday.

On Friday, it was the anniversary of the revolution and the chaos started again downtown Cairo.  I had to forget the Cairo Bookfair!  It was now an impossibility.  No matter.  Thankfully, we had stocked up on necessities so I could (mostly) relax.  We keeping an eye on the news.

On Saturday, we tuned into the morning broadcast of the Port Said Stadium Massacre verdict.  The judge sentenced the jailed men to death.  On that day, the anger from the verdict spilled out into the streets and I started monitoring Twitter:

  Death toll is 42 in total - 32 on Sat 26 Jan, 8 on Sun 27 Jan, and 2 on Mon 28 Jan

Yes, Port Said would be a dangerous place to be and OF COURSE that's exactly where AbuBoo is stuck.  No roads in and no roads out.  No buses!  No trains!  If I had allowed Mr. Boo to go with his father, I would literally be unable to protect him or retrieve him.  Subhanallah.

What I am happy about, at this really sad time of street violence, is that I stood for what I believe in.  I do know Egypt now and I do know how to keep us safe.  Alhumdulillah.

And of course I called up to Port Said and made sure AbuBoo and his family are all right; they are.  I also wanted to hear the words, "You were right,"  said by the very man who had fought me so vehemently.

Mr. Boo is safe.  He is here.

God is The Greatest!

The Tiger Hunter

Asalamu Alaykom,

I have a special from Lena Khan.  You remember her?  If not, I'll refresh your memory with these two postings:

Maher Zain-For the Rest of My Life

Lena Khan

She has a new project which she talked about in our interview.  Now, she is asking for some financial backing, i.e., money.  Yes, money makes the world go 'round and it makes concepts into movies.  Lena has a really good concept (she always does) but what she needs is some others to help her reach her goal.

If you can't, that's OK.  No guilt.  No "should"ing on you.

However, if you are in the position to add some seed money for The Tiger Hunter, then go for it!  We'll be glad you did.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remembering Rasullulah (pbuh)

Asalamu Alaykom,

What does Mohamed Al Mazem mean with, "For you I would sacrifice my mother and father,"?

That's a strange idea for many of us.  Maybe when I first came to Islam, I would have wrinkled up my nose at such a notion.  I might have even wondered if the singer meant a human sacrifice!

Yet, here I am (10 years later) and I understand him.  We need to come to such a place in our lives that we would rather follow the ways of a blessed man than the ways of our ancestors---even our most immediate family.  Family is not worth following like our spiritual guide.

When we get rid of our need to be so connected to blood and body, we can hold tighter to our spirit and our faith.  Loving the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) is freeing in this regard.  Of course we can still respect our moms and dads!  We simply release them as our ultimate role models.  They can only get us so far down the path; to get all the way to Jannah; Paradise we need The Last Messenger (peace be upon him).

Today is when Prophet Muhammad's birthday is remembered (peace be upon him).  More than anything this day is an affirmation that he lived AND died.  He was a man.  He never claimed he was God (astragferallah) --same as Isa/Jesus (peace be upon him) never claimed divinity.  The prophets were not sent to us to be worshipped but rather to help us worship The One True God.

In honor of this great man, I recommitted myself this fajr to the straight (but not the narrow).  I remembered how to find peace amid chaos.  I made choices for goodness.  I asked myself the very same questions I've been asking the kids at school, "Is it good?  Is it true?  Is it kind?  Is it helpful?"

May all of us... Muslim, Christian, Jewish...and those who are yet undecided...make this day the most we can and make ourselves the best we can be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rocks in My Pocket

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a moment I need to stop collecting my troubles like rocks I've gathered in my pockets.  I need to release them so I'm coming here.  Listen if you want.

Alhumdulillah, I'm fine.  I am.  Alhumdulillah.

There's a naughty boy (but not my little naughty boy).  He's only mine for a few hours a day.  I couldn't believe how he'd forget things he was supposed to bring to school.  He wasn't prepared.  I thought of how his mother could have taken better care of his needs.  I judged.  I made up a story of busy mornings and rushing out the door.  I was wrong.

His mother is dying of cancer.  He doesn't know.  I know...now.  I was wrong.  I was in this wonderful position of helping and I don't know if all these weeks that I truly was helping him.  I don't know if I was hurting him with prodding him and pushing him.  It hurts me to think that I had a chance to be a light in his life and I was dim.


I didn't know.

Now I know.  Now that I know better, I have to do better.


I called my own mother and I heard her concerns for her health from a million miles away.  I'm not there.  I'm not  the person who can hold her together.  No one is there for her.  I tried to be that person before and I failed.  I was hopeful so many times.  I hear her fragility and her clinging to people she barely knows.  I'm her only family yet I'm not able to be with her and she refuses to be with me.

And I think of my dreams of a family which somehow finds it's way to me, to Egypt and to Islam.  I think and pray for a time of unity which I've never had.  I think of my own aging.  Who will be with me?

Ya Rab!

I pray for the life of the one child in my grasp.  I pray for his safety.  I was asleep when I got the phone call from his father.  He is, for the first time since 2002, in Egypt with me---except we're married to different people and we're at odds.

He wants to take my son for a short trip right over the anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution.  I can't reason with him----not half-asleep; not ever.  He will not be reasoned with.  He is relentless.  His son is much the same.

Yet, he's MY son.  He wears size 2 1/2 shoes not size 5.  Those mammoth tennis shoes were sent to Egypt for a child that isn't here.  He is the child many years in the future inshahallah.  Why doesn't his father know the child he is now?  Because that father made the choice to leave us and move backwards.  Now he's gone so far backwards that he's back in Egypt with me.

It's a kind of crazy full circle; a heavy sphere of time, space, love and loss.


My current husband did everything he could to arrange the pick-up of the stuffed suitcase I asked for demanded.  My man took the phone calls, the snide remarks, and the frustrations in stride so that I could have our things from The States.  Here they sit around my feet.  It's a shock to see them here.

How did they get here?  Rationally, I understand but I'm still a bit startled to see them out of place in this new setting.

How did The Bee Man of Orn make it on a plane?  The Wild Things---did they swing over to Al-Haram on a vine?  Could Little Bear have rocketed to Giza in his space helmet?  There are so many books which were my friends and they came to be with me through some magic means.

When I see them...when I see the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer with Disney's Lonesome Ghosts...when I see the wooden bead necklace Mr. Boo made me the summer of 2011...it jumbles up my soul.  It makes me yearn for the past and simple pleasures.  It has me tearing up at this tender childhood I wanted and didn't have.  It has me remembering how dear inantimate objects were to a lonely only.


It's time for me to sleep.  I've cast away what I can tonight.  I don't need to weigh myself down with what isn't mine.  Sadness, worry, and fear could drown me if  I let it.  I won't let it.  I will remain bouyant and find a way to float with the flow.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hijrah on the Way to Paradise

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a video reminds me of my hijrah journey.  In fact, it's EXACTLY like my trip to Egypt...except for this being an elephant on a unicycle.

Coldplay has put out one of the more child-friendly music videos you will ever see.  It sings of Paradise; Jannah.  Let's enjoy some thoughts of freedom and meeting challenges in order to find your rightful home among likeminded souls.

And let's all hope and pray to meet in Paradise inshahallah.

I bet we'll have a lot to laugh about.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Egypt's School Calendar

Asalamu Alaykom,

Welcome to the start of my 3-day weekend.

Alhumdulillah for the life of an Egyptian school teacher!  Sure, the day-to-day grind is wearing but there are plenty of paid days off to over compensate.

The school year begins the second or third week of September.

The first day off is Sixth of October.  This is a national holiday commemorating the 1973 win over Israel.  You can read more about it here.

Eid Al-Adha is the day of slaughtering and feasting at the end of the Hajj season.  It will continue to move backwards 11 days each Christian calendar year (since the Islamic lunar calendar is 11 days shorter).  This is true for every Islamic holiday I list.

There is bound to be a day off for grading or an election somewhere in the fall.

Islamic New Year is another day off.

In Decemeber, those who work at international schools get extra days off.  There is the Christmas break for the foreign Christian teachers who use the Western calendar AND for the local Copt Christians as well.  The Winter break can run from the third week of December past the first week of January.  Language schools and Islamic schools don't get this much time.

There's another day off for the Coptic Epiphany.  This year, we'll have Sunday off from school for the Copts and then Thursday off for the Muslims due to Moulid Al Nabi.  Three days off followed by three days working and then another three days off.  You gotta love multi-culturalism!

Moulid Al Nabi, or it's sometimes written "Mawled Al Nabawy",  is the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  This year it's on Thursday, January 24.  Again, it will move backwards 11 days on the Western calendar every year.

In Egypt, the occassion is marked with boxes full of sugar:  multi-colored jellies, coconut candies, apricot-filled sweeties, and crunchy peanut, sesame and even hummus brittle.

Here's my selection from last year:

I'm not for marking the occassion, since the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) never celebrated his own birthday.  It's considered bida; an innovation for us to ape how the Christians mark the birthday of the Prophet Isa/Jesus (peace be upon him).  In theory, I really agree.  Gastronomically, I still crave those candies.  I've learned to buy them cheaper AFTER the holiday.

January 25th marks the start of the Egyptian Revolution.  Originally, in 2011, it was going to be the start of a new holiday called, "Police Day".  Little did we know then that the police were going to be starting a two-year break from patrolling the streets.  We still have a pronounced reduction of men in uniform.  That the country functions as well as it does is a testament to the good nature of the majority of residents.

This year January 25 is next Friday; the day after Moulid Al-Nabi.  It will be interesting to see how the populous handle the day.  Every Friday is a bit of a nail biter; anything can happen.   We shall see...

If the school doesn't have a Winter break for Christmas, then there is a mid-year break at the end of January or start of February.  The public schools and language schools follow this.

March 21, the first day of Spring, is Mother's Day in Egypt but it's not a day off.

Around the end of March and beginning of April is the Western Easter and the Copt Easter.  The international schools take time off for both.  Then, because we apparently haven't had enough holidays, the Monday after the Copt Easter is the Spring holiday of Sham El Nessim.  It's not Copt or Muslim.  It actually has it's origins in Pharaonic times.  You can read more about it here.  Basically, it's just a good day for a picnic.

April 25 is Sinai Day and shortly thereafter May 1 is Labor Day.  Schools usually give a week to two weeks off to cover all these Spring holidays.  If only we could convince them that Americans really need Memorial Day!  There is not another day off until the end of the school year.  National schools end their year in May but international schools end their year towards the middle or end of June.

Looking ahead, you'll see that Ramadan this year starts inshahallah around July 9 (depending on the moon sighting which signals the new month).  The summer will seem very short with Ramadan happening so soon after school lets out.  Inshahallah, we'll be spending some time in The States in July or August.

Teachers need to return to Egyptian schools the last week of August to prepare for the new school year.  The whole process begins again inshahallah.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Phil and Darius

Asalamu Alaykom,

There is no such thing as "coincidence."  We lose contact with people when we don't need them in our lives and we get them back again when we can benefit from each other.  Case in point:  Phil.

Phil was someone I knew back in 1985 when we both were theatre students performing shows together.  He was the big black guy with starring roles.  I was a white chick acting as a supporting player.  We didn't hang out together.  We didn't even have a strong enough connection to say, "Keep in touch."

Yet, I remembered him because he was a very talented person.  Every now and then I'd wonder what ever happened to the stars of that summer.  When I was searching for videos of Frederick Douglass speeches, I found out what happened to Phil.  There he was!  

Because I am who I am, I emailed him and wished him well.  I also told him what had happened to me (that I was here in Egypt as a Muslim).

From the way Phil responded, I felt the need to ask him if he would be interested in finding out more about Islam.  Turns out that his father is Muslim!  I never knew!  He had a Muslim father and a Christian mother which means I really wanted to ask him some more questions.

He agreed to this interview.  

Yosra:  Asalamu Alaykom.  Peace

Peace to you Sister Yosra

Thank you so much for finding me online. 

Yosra:  Wallahi, I had never tried to find you before.  The funny thing is that you were incredibly easy to find.  You were literally three clicks away.  Of course, to God everything is very easy.  I found you when I was supposed to.

I am Honored to be with your community of readers. I would like to greet your community with Love Truth Peace Freedom and Justice!

Yosra:  That's a really nice greeting!  I have an awesome group of readers who are always interested to widen their understanding.  Ready to begin?

Yes.  In the Name of God The One Worthy of All Praise!

Yosra:  What is your earliest memory of knowing what a Muslim is?

My earliest memory was  in the 1970`s I would wake up to find my father who already had been praying reading the Quran,while the coffee was brewing. My Kung Fu teacher Hamin Rasool would in beautiful Muslim dress come to our home,greet my father with peace,pick me up and take me to the Masjid  and after prayer teach me Wing Chung. After class he would always leave me with words of wisdom from the Quran.I practice Tai Chi to this day exhaling The names of God as I execute each posture.

Yosra:  While you were growing up, which times did you feel the pull between a Muslim dad and a Christian mom?

When I was little my mother would come in to my bed room at night and ask if I wanted to be a Christian. Later in the night my Father would come in and ask if I wanted to be a Muslim. This went on in different ways through the years. I read both Bible and Quran as well as other books.

Yosra:  That's kind of a funny bedtime ritual!  I wonder what kinds of interesting dreams it provoked in you.  It's nice that they agreed enough to have you learn from all the wisdoms.  The Universal Truth can be found as a common thread through all faiths.  

For me, as a Muslim mom who shared parenting with a non-practicing Christian dad (albeit in two different households), I had to come to terms with that interfaith issue.  "What would my two oldest children choose?" was a question that was really bothering me until I found some peace.

I spoke with a local sheik, who advised me to stop teaching a specific dogma and simply give my children the tools which would be helpful in any religion.  Everyone needs to learn those golden rules of cleanliness, mutual respect, tolerance, patience, helping others, charity, and so on.

Yet, I still needed to stick a label on them so I decided they were bridges.  As I've often stated on this blog, the world doesn't need more Muslims and it doesn't need more Christians; it needs more bridges between the two.  In many ways, Phil....Darius, you are also a bridge.

From your experience, it sounds like your mom and dad had a successful marriage.  Is that accurate?

They did indeed. There were the normal marital conflicts as well as religious conflicts from time to time. There is something about the power of love that leaves our differences silently in awe. I saw that power manifest in the most magnificent way when my mother was dying of breast cancer. My father and mother continued there romance and admiration of one another. The night before my mother died her last words to my father was, There is no God but God.

Yosra:  Mashahallah.  That's the moment we all hope for.  One of the posts I've written on this blog was about chosing friends who you could count on as you died to remind you to say this.  If you don't have friends like this, I wrote, then you need to get them.  Alhumdulillah, your mother had your father.   

Your name was "Darius" but you were known as "Phil".  That's how I knew you at Interlochen.  Who made that choice?  At the time that choice was made, what was the rationale?  You're thinking of going back to "Darius".  What would that change signify for you?

I chose Phil because even to this day people miss pronounce my name. Most people put the inflection on DArius. I put it on daRIus. Darius Jariel Ali would mean a spiritual stamp on my life as a performer and poet. We are living in a different age. I sense a need to mirror this new time we live in with my life and art.

Yosra:  You seem really open to Islam.  Which parts call to you?  Which parts are feeling too foreign?

I have always felt open to Islam because of the universal truth it reveals.  

I believe  that  Islam is mathematics and mathematics is Islam. I believe that Allah created the universe in truth. I love all religions and that the word of God is written in nature,the universe and our bodies.

The 99 Names of Allah is something I think about everyday. These principles are truly the pathway to success. The greatest Name However is Allah the All In All. A-arm L-leg L-leg A-arm H-head. We are made in His image and likeness. Dogma is foreign to me because we fight and kill each other for that. We have given dogma the power to create hatred between us and believe lies. The truth in all religion is our best friend. The dogma in all religion is our foreign enemy. Ma- God not dog- ma is the best of Knowledge.

Yosra:  Agreed that most people want spirituality but not organized religion.  I would say that Muslims have a bad habit of practicing Islam as a disorganized religion.  

We were performing Shakespeare's, "Love Labor's Lost" together way back when.  

I'm performing in Hamlet this Spring.  

Yosra:  Really!  Which role?

Hamlet's Father (the Ghost), one player and the gravedigger.

Yosra:  I was in Hamlet back in 1986.  I had planned my highschool credits very carefully and graduated the January of my senior year.  I then had my time free to work a little job in the day and do the show at night.

I was only a lady-in-waiting.  I didn't care what part I had.  Really, if ever someone has the chance to be in a Shakespeare they should jump at the chance.  I learned so much.  It was a great show. 

I'll be teaching Richard III with my 12th graders this term.  I just finished re-reading it.  So we never really got away from Shakespeare!

I see a correlation between The Bard and The Quran:  the heightened language, the layers of meaning, the timelessness of thoughts, and how it is meant to be spoken.  Do you see that too?  

And of course, I'm not suggesting that words created by a man are exactly the same as words from Our Creator.  I only think that those who love Shakespeare would find reading the Quran and hearing it recited a familiar experience.  I've mentioned to you how breath is life and how breath control in both Shakespeare and Quran help calm us.

I do.  The Quran commands us to recite.

Yosra:  "Iqra"

The Quran follows the beat of the human heart and is on the breath which is the life.  Later, Shakespeare wrote his words to be spoken to the beat of  the human heart and it is performed from the heart----also on the breath which is the life.

Yosra:  If you were to explore Islam further, what steps can you imagine taking?  Would you involve your father?  Did your father ever express to you his need for you to accept Islam?

I would love to learn the language so that I can get the original and deeper meaning of the Word. Yes my father is always asking me in different ways to accept Islam.

Yosra:  Just to let readers know, I did ask AbuDarius (Phil's dad) if he'd like to be part of this interview but he declined.

My father is honored that you would take interest in me as well in his thoughts. He told me to tell you all praise is due to Allah. He is not comfortable going through with the interview because he is a very private man. He hopes you understand. 

Yosra:  I do.  He doesn't know me (yet) and I can respect any man wanting to keep his faith private.  My rationale in being "out there" with my faith is that I feel it's dawaah; the spread of Islam----and in particular the spread of moderate Islam.  If your father ever changes his mind, or wants to comment, then he's always welcome. 

You've spent some time performing one-man shows as historical figures.  I liked what you did with the Fredrick Douglass speech.  

Did you know that Frederick Douglass traveled to Egypt and climbed the Pyramids? I'm going to include that event in my new version.

Yosra:  I didn't know that!  How cool is that?!  I've got to remember to tell my 8th graders that.

His son, by the way, was Lewis Douglass, one of the first black soldiers ever to enlist in the Army.  I just learned that.  He fought with the Massachusetts' 54th during the Civil War.  These were the same men featured in the Denzel Washington movie, "Glory".  I'll be teaching about them in a historical fiction book at my new school.  

Are there any Muslims from history who peak your interest?  You know the history of the first Muslim call to prayer, right?  It was Bilal, the freed slave.  Blacker than black and low in status YET he was honored by the Prophet (peace be upon him) to climb above the rest to summon everyone.  May God be pleased with him.  You could truly do that job proud.  Could you envision performing a show about a Muslim historical figure like Bilal? 

I like your idea of Bilal.

Yosra:  Although...come to think of it...we can't portray any of the Sahabi; Companions of the Prophet (blessings on them).  Maybe you could do it as more of a storyteller than an actor

My first show was on the life of Malcolm X(El Hajj Melek El Shabazz). This show covered his childhood as a criminal to his conversion to the Nation of Islam here in America to his conversion to Al-Islam and his revelation of the Religion when he came to Mecca.

Yosra:  I love that you did a show on that!  So many people don't understand the huge transformation which kept happening inside Malcolm X after he came to Nation of Islam.  When we went to Mecca, he sat beside Muslims of all colors and understood what it means to be following God and not a worldly leader.  When he died, he did not really die as Malcolm X.  If he had stayed in that divisive role, he might have lived.  He died as Hajj Melek El Shabazz, a martyr, and may Allah reward him for that.

As an aside, I once tweeted some love from the Pyramids to his daughter @ilyasahShabazz and she replied.  I was over the moon!  I really respect the hardships her family have been through.  God bless her for perservering and becoming a new generations' leader.

We're nearing the end of the interview so here's a tough question:  What is your highest hope with your faith?  What is your deepest fear?

My highest hope for my faith is to be one with my Creator. If we could breathe the name Allah into our hearts, we could exhale the name Allah into the hearts of the world.

My highest fear is to misrepresent The Creator.

Yosra:  Any last words of wisdom for those searching for increased spirituality?

For those searching I will say this, Look into the black starry night and tell yourself what you see. Then close your eyes and tell yourself what you see. When you open your eyes look at the earth beneath your feet and tell yourself what you see. Know this that God is The Author of what is in the heavens, what is in you and what is in the earth. This is the Original Word of God only the mistakes have been ours.

Peace and Inspiration to you, Egypt, and your readers around the world!
God is the Greatest!!!

Yosra:  Allahu Akbar!  May Allah grant you peace and blessings.  Thank you so much for the past and the present.  Inshahallah, we'll be hearing good things of your future.  I know that everyone wishes you the best in your health, family life, career and iman; faith.

Readers, I'm going to open it up to you now.  Are there any questions you wish you could have asked?  You can!  Leave them in the comments section along with any other thoughts.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ex-Pat Movies

Asalamu Alaykom,

I have always been drawn to movies which take us on a journey and show us both how big the world is, and by comparison, how capable we can be (if only we get out of our own way).  I'm not sure if my view of life helped me decide on which movies to watch or if those movies helped me decide on what kind of life to have.

Either way, I'm here in Egypt as an expatriate, or an "ex-pat".  I took a journey outside of my country and culture to live in another country.  I'm living my own adventure movie in a very real way.  I still like to watch movies which explore the lives of others who have stepped out of their comfort zone by flying away and staying abroad.  Here are some of my favorite movies which speak the ex-pat language:

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Who:  British retirees

Where:  Rajasthan, India

Haram Alert:  Slight nudity, talk of compromising situations and homosexuality

This week I discovered this movie with its stellar cast.  I thought I might have to wait to see it until I went back to American this summer .  I started asking my mom to look for it at Target.  Imagine my surprise when I found an actual DVD of it at the Virgin Megastore in Mall of Arabia.  Who knew that Egypt had any real DVDs?!  Sure, I had to convince my husband to release it from his hands.  He kept telling me that it was too expensive but I hoped it was worth 150 LE.

I liked the movie.  I want to watch again the next chance I get in order to catch all the details I missed the first time.  India reminds me a lot of Egypt with the historical sights, the sensory overload, the many economic levels, the family bonds and the tuk-tuks.  I especially like the compare and contrast between different guests of the hotel and how they cope...or don't.

Best Quote:  "Everything will be all right in the end.  If it's not all right then it's not the end."

Eat, Pray, Love

Who:  Julia Roberts as an American divorcee

Where:  Italy, India and Indonesia

Haram Alert:  Bed hopping and some slight nudity

It's a very popular movie.  Sometimes people avoid what every else likes because they want to be different.  Give it up!  Just watch the movie and enjoy the trip.

Liz Gilbert doesn't really stay in any one culture to become a true ex-pat of any one country yet she stays too long to be a tourist.  Her interactions with locals are interesting.  The real relationship, of course, is how she finds herself.

I absolutely ADORE the Eddie Vedder song from the movie.

Best Quote:  "In the end, I've come to believe in something I call, 'The Physics of the Quest.'  A force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity.  The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this:  If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher adn if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you."

Enchanted April

Who: British women of a quaint era

Where:  Portofino, Italy

Haram Alert:  The last time I saw this was before Islam so I can't rely on that memory.

This is more of a vacation of discovery than a life change voyage but it serves the same purpose.  Women leave London so they can get away from it all in Italy.  They learn that you can't escape yourself and the truth.  That's actually a big part of being an ex-pat; you can leave it all behind but your issues still come with you.

The scenery is to die for.

Best Quote:  "If you wish for something hard enough, it happens."

A Good Year

Who:  Russell Crowe as a British banker

Where:  Provence, France

Haram Alert:  There is a lot of drinking but not much debauchery---at least not on my censored version from Saudi TV.

I've watched this movie twice.  It's hard to sit through the evil beginning with all the big money dealings.  When an inherited vineyard becomes the sudden focus then it's a very breath of fresh air.  The chateau tames the monster man into a real gentleman by helping him fall in love again with the place where he used to be a boy.  I liked the slow build and the moments of resistance.  It is more contrived than most (especially the romance) but it is a likable story with such a charming man you'll forgive all its faults.

Best Quote:  "This place does not suit my life."  "No, Max, it's your life that does not suit this place."

In America

Who:  A modern Irish family

Where:  New York City

Haram Alert:  It's New York City

This isn't a fun movie to watch because we end up really caring for a family living so close to the edge.  Irish ex-pats in New York just seem like immigrants who are barely making it.  Truth is that ex-pats are immigrants with a new name.  All the movies are struggles of survival.  New York survival is not as pretty to look at as Portofino or Provence survival.

Best Quote:  "There's some things you should wish for and some things you shouldn't."

Muriel's Wedding

Who:  Toni Collette as an Australian yokel

Where:  Australia

Haram Alert:  Sexual situations

OK, so she only moves around Australia from Porpoise Spit to Sydney.  This doesn't really classify as an ex-pat movie geographically.  However, psychologically it's all about the changes which happen once she relocates.  She re-creates herself and becomes a "somebody".

Best Quote:  "When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs.  But since I met you and moved to Sydney, I haven't listened to one ABBA song.  That's because my life is as good as an ABBA song.  It's as good as 'Dancing Queen.'"

Nowhere in Africa

Who:  Jewish family escaping Europe in WWII

Where:  Kenya

Haram Alert:  Even the trailer has some steaminess and nudity

This is a movie I haven't seen but it won "Best Foreign Language Film" in 2003.  It looks interesting.  Being a refugee isn't actually the same as being an ex-pat.  The difference is that, as a refugee, you are fleeing from something and would accept any other place other than where you've been.  An ex-pat is more or less fleeing to some place in particular; an idyllic location in some way.  Yet, there is a correlation.

It looks like you can view most of the movie on youtube under the name "Nirgendwo en Afrika".

Best Quote:  "I'm proud to be an idealist because it shows that I believe in mankind.  That may sound naive but every other belief will lead to destruction."


Who:  American businessman

Where:  Mumbai (Bombay), India

Haram Alert:  A man and woman being alone together but (at least in my Saudi-censored version) no actual acts.

We're in India again.  This time it's a man coming to the subcontinent to work and yet he finds more to life than just running his call center.  I like some of the grittiness of this movie.  It's not all nice people doing nice things.  It's capitalism taking advantage of the workers.  It's a white man trying to have a brown girlfriend.  I'm not saying those things are ideal but they are real.  It's a funny movie as well.

Best Quote:  "Just a word of advice:  I remember feeling like you do.  I was resisting India.  Once I gave in, I did much better."

Under the Tuscan Sun

Who:  Diane Lane as an American divorcee

Where:  Tuscany, Italy

Haram Alert:  Bed hopping

I haven't seen this one!

Best Quote:  "Life offers you a thousand chances...all you have to do is take one."

The Year of Living Dangerously

Who:  Mel Gibson as an Australian journalist

Where:  Indonesia

Haram Alert:  Mel Gibson is one big handsome fitnah in this movie.  His onscreen romance goes very far.

This is the only movie I can agree on from CNN's Best Expat Movies of All Time.  The Year of Living Dangerously was Director Peter Weir's first big hit.  He loves to do "fish out of water" stories:  "Witness," with Harrison Ford living an Amish life; "Mosquito Coast," with Harrison Ford living in South America; "Dead Poet's Society," with Robin Williams invading a prep school; and "Green Card," with Gerard Depardieu in New York.   

Mel Gibson comes across as strong and sane in a world gone mad.  Yes, this was many years ago.  In the movie, he relies on a cultural informant, Billy Kwan, who was masterfully played by Linda Hunt.  She became a kind of hero of mine for her efforts.  I was so happy for her win of the Academy Award that year.

Peter Weir adroitly captures sights and sounds and shakiness of an emerging world society.  He's one of my favorite directors.  You feel the place.  You feel the uncertainty of being abroad. You feel the sweat---and not only when Signourey Weaver heats up the screen.

Best Quote:  "We must give with love to whoever God has placed in our path."

Is there a movie I left off this list?  Let me know in the comments section.