Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eulogy for a Kind Soul

Asalamu Alaykom,

Wishing you peace and blessings from Allah for you and your family.

I also wish that my words reach you today so that you feel the goodness I have felt.

I had a childhood which left me vulnerable and needy.  Through the Grace of God, kind souls entered my life when I needed them the most.  One of those caregivers has passed away this week.  She was my mother's dear friend and more like an aunt to me than the other two who held the title but never held me.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ)

From God we come and to God we return.

May Allah forgive her any of her faults and grant her The Highest Level of Paradise.

She was a welcoming person who never closed the door on me.  Her home was always a safe place for me to stay while my mother was away---and she was away from me a lot as I grew.  That's difficult.  It's difficult to have been a child of divorce, a child of the "Me Decade," and a lonely, only child.  I was given a chance to be part of their family time and again.  I was never made to feel as an odd outsider.  I was included and that means a lot to a lost little girl.

She was simple.  She wasn't someone I could look up to because of the way she styled her hair or her clothes.  Her home wasn't a showplace.  The food from her kitchen wasn't gourmet.  The time I spent there wasn't quality time.  It was simply time being included in a place that felt good with people who cared.

She was beautiful.  If I posted her picture, many would disagree.  She wouldn't look beautiful to you because you have to know her spirit.  Our lives aren't about our shells.  Her body is gone.  It's not even buried; she's been cremated.  Yet, her spirit survives.  I know it does because I can remember how she touched my life.

She was dying when I called her two months ago.  My mother and I had arranged for my call to come during one of their visits together.  My mother had announced who was on the phone using my former name instead of my current name of Yosra.  She had to be told the name I had when I was a little girl.  I wasn't sure if she would completely be aware of who I was.  At first, I don't think it was all clicking.

Then, she asked me, "Are you coming for Christmas?"

Though we talked about other things, that was the moment I will remember the most.  It meant that she knew me.  It meant that she cared and that she wanted to see me.  She had thought she was going to have one last Christmas in her house.  She didn't.

At the time, I really wondered if I should fly back to the States.  She is one of the few people in this world who could have had that pull on my life.  If she had ever wanted anything, I would have done it for her.  What I did is thank her for all the Christmas times together.

Her family would invite my mother and me over for Christmas Eve.  Her father and mother would be there too.  If I ever need proof in this world that a couple can remain in love and stay married then those grandparents are it.  They were very special people and more like my grandparents than my own.

When her father died decades ago, I had sat up in the front pew at his funeral with the family.  I was given his tam o' shanter which he had always worn at a jaunty angle.  I held it to me when I walked out with the family and I know the church congregation wondered who I was.  I knew who I was.  I knew I was a member of their clan.

We somehow started a tradition of making food from another country for each Christmas Eve.  It might have started with Scottish and I think it ended with Greek.  However, it didn't really end.  I continued the tradition with my own family for years.  I kept the feeling alive.

I don't remember one gift they ever gave me.  None!  I remember the large bags of hand-me-downs since I was younger than her son and two daughters.

I still have the note I received with their flowers one opening night.  That's what happens when you do a lot of theatre; you get a lot of notes with flowers.  I didn't save all of them but I saved theirs.  They were so proud of me.  That's what the note said and I knew they were.

It's great to have a cheering section in your life; to have someone in your corner who is rooting for you.  I have been on this earth for 45 years and there are very few people who have been as big a positive influence as this lady.  That's a gift.  She was a gift from God in my life.

I can't say that she was mine alone.  She had her own kids and later grandkids.  She had her kids at the school where she worked.  She also helped with every new wave of refugees who came into our state looking to resettle:  the Hmong, the Bosnians, and the Ethiopians.  She volunteered at the charity thrift store.  She was that church lady who lives to be a humble servant of God.

She accepted me when I came back from Egypt in 2011.  I have this great photo of us.  The light is either radiating on her or from her----it's hard to tell.  She was absolutely indifferent about my hijab.  It didn't phase her.  She invited us over for tea.

She showed me her photo albums she had been putting together.  I admired all the life that she had experienced.She had been to Egypt on a Nile cruise.  She admired me for making a new life.  We shared that moment in time on her couch and it was the last time I will see her in my lifetime.

One of my reoccurring thoughts is that I had never known a world without her but now I do.  It's not as if I had kept in constant touch with her.  I hadn't.  She was my mother's friend and they connected.  I was out of the picture for years.  Yet, I knew where she was and I knew the door was always open.

Knowing that her end has come does affect me.  I had to keep going this past week.  I had essays to grade and tests to proctor.  I couldn't take a break and really mourn.  I couldn't really even explain my grief to co-workers and have them understand because...she wasn't family.  There isn't a way to make anyone understand how crucial this woman was to normalizing my very odd childhood.

The day after she died, I ended up on a school bus listening to a group of Egyptians standing around outside and arguing how they didn't want my son and me on their bus.  Our bus wasn't running, theirs was and it was all about them.  They thought that one more stop on the bus would mean a later arrival time for them.  They didn't know how little sleep I'd gotten, how sad I was inside or how upsetting it was to have co-workers disrespect me after I'd been giving my all for the school.  They wasted 20 minutes doing this.  I didn't cry.

We were allowed to ride the bus.  I listened to Quran and a few tears rolled down.  Later, I realized that I didn't know where we were on the bus; I was lost in Giza and didn't have anyone to really understand my fears.  I cried.  Yes, I cry too much; it's because I feel too much.  It was a horrible afternoon and we didn't get home until 5:30.  We had traveled home for two hours whereas it usually takes 40 minutes.

Since that day, I have not cried but this is the fourth day I've had a twitch in my right eye.  I looked up the cause.  It's fatigue (getting those five hours of sleep each night), stress (her death, finishing those three stacks of papers and then the bus incident) and caffeine (I had been using an extra cup of coffee).  I have not been able to rid myself of that twitch.

I am writing today because I need to release.  I need to release the sadness I have that  a good person is gone.  I need to release my control needs regarding my own mother who refuses to be taken care of.  I need to release my fears of her dying, of me dying and of me living in ways which aren't really meaningful.  Am I living the right life?

I've been turning over thoughts and ideas.  It's a process.  I don't have solid conclusions.  There's so much I could write to you about but I don't think you'd truly understand so I'll keep most of it to myself.

Suffice it to say that I have needed this three-day weekend.  Alhumdulillah for that.  Inshahallah, my twitch will be gone.

Nothing lasts forever.


Friday, November 15, 2013

12 of the Best Islamic Animated Gifs

Asalamu Alaykom,

I love animated gifs.

The 99 Names of Allah is a great one to have.  I have had an unrealized goal of learning all the names.

This gif has the 99 Names of Allah in English and in the original Arabic---with the addition of pretty flowers.

 I'm going to put them both on my new Nokia Asha 200.  It's a simple smartphone.  I love that too.

Gifs can brighten your day

or get you out of a bad mood.

Gifs can teach you this

or that

or another one like that.

Hey!  How did he get in here?

He must have come in during the rain.

Hold on....there...found the right one.

Some gifs are really mini-lessons.

Others are only to remind you of what you already know

because we all have low moments when we need reminding.

We are not alone.

Alhumdulillah.  We are blessed.

Wishing you a blessed day wherever you are.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Bus Stop

Asalamu Alaykom,

I hurried to the bus stop.  It isn't an actual Bus Stop like in America.  It's an unmarked gathering spot on the side of the street where people wait amid the garbage and feral dogs.

I felt someone staring at me.  I felt it but I didn't know who it was.  I turned slightly to my right and found his eyes then turned back.

For a moment, I didn't know who I had just seen.  I hadn't smiled.  He hadn't smiled.  It wasn't that I acted as if I didn't know him.  Truly, when I saw him, it was like I had seen a stranger.

Yet, as I stood there, it dawned on me who he was; he had helped me so much four years ago.  He was there at the beginning.  He was taking care of us and befriending us.  I have a picture of him giving juice at a Ramadan iftar to a very small version of my big boy.

I couldn't look at the man so I looked at my boy.  I thought of how this might be the first time the man had seen Mr. Boo since...the man got married.

He couldn't have married me.  There literally was no naseeb.  He was already engaged.  He was too young.  He was not mine.  I didn't want him as a husband.  I only wanted him as a man who could help me find a new life in Egypt.

We would joke and laugh together.  This was before I settled down to a much-needed increase in modesty and decorum.  It felt good to let loose and enjoy a kind of friendship.  He and his family became a constant in my life those first weeks.

Then he said, "I wish I had met you first."

It was a crazy thing to say.  He couldn't have meant it.  No one throws away an impending marriage to a cousin in Egypt for the chance to marry an older, divorced American woman with a kid.

I knew that he meant it in the moment.  I knew that we did share a fun together.  We never crossed a line.  We simply enjoyed each other's company.

So, what did I do?  I stopped seeing him.  I didn't stop by his family's house.  Little by little, I faded away from someone who had shown us kindness because I didn't want any more trouble in my life.

The last time I saw him was when we were invited to his wedding.    I was happy for him.  He was getting a beautiful Egyptian bride and a normal life.  In some ways, I wish my husband now could have had that too---however, it was his naseeb to get me.

Years later, standing there on the street, I felt self-conscious.  I looked down to check what I was wearing.  I had on one of my new, perfectly tailored, floor-length skirts.  Everything was modest and matching.  It was a far cry from how I had shown up in 2009.  It was an improvement.  I had changed for the better.

I looked up to my husband.  He was standing there in his galabiya with my school bag full of books and Mr. Boo's heavy backpack.  He walks with us to the bus stop everyday.  God bless him.

I looked to my son.  In many ways, he is now our son.  Half of his life has been spent growing up here in Egypt in the protection of me and my man.  Mr. Boo is, at age eight, all about getting bigger, faster and smarter.  He's not the little boy who hadn't even started kindergarten yet.  He's now a confident pro.  I smiled at his mashahallah beautiful face as I fastened one more button on his school uniform shirt.

That man must have watched us get on the school bus that day.  It wasn't the school where I had worked when he knew me before.  Now, I work at this really impressive school.  I do.  Alhumdulillah, I do.  I got on the bus, greeted the driver and sat down.

My son and I have a morning routine of making dhikr; remembrance of Allah as soon as we take our seats.  You can read more about dhikr here.  One of the big fallacies about making dhikr is that you need prayer beads.  No, you don't.  If you use your fingers, they will testify for you on Judgement Day whereas your prayer beads will long gone.

Allahu Akbar.
La illaha il Allah.

Then, I plugged the earplugs into my phone and we listened to four short surahs.  I've realized that my rewards for reading Quran in English are limited.  To really reap the most, I need to recite Arabic with my lips, mouth and tongue.  To this end, I am memorizing these short surahs (slowly but surely) over time.

The Sun

with all the words ending in "haha," which sounds like laughter to my ears.  My sheik in the States used to have his little son in preschool recite it to me.  I know it was supposed to inspire me but it only had me feeling inadequate.

The Fig

which I had been memorizing in during my last year in the States in the bleak Winter of 2009 only to still be memorizing it now.

The Tribe of Quarish

and I know it's super short and I should have memorized it before.


and again it's short but it isn't sweet as it's about all those who envy you and give you the black eye.  You really need it (along with Al-Iklas and An-Nas) to ward off any evil others attempt to cast on you.

My boy and I recited those four surahs quietly in our seats.  I can't tell you how much I love that moment.  I know I'm being a good mom and a good Muslim.  I know I'm raising my son in that moment and not just letting life happen to him.  Alhumdulillah for that moment.

After that, I do play some music.  I wanted to hear a nasheed from Dawud W. Ali.  Mr. Boo did not.

I sat there, on that bus, with my boy and all my memories.  I played the nasheed, "Silent Sunlight," and I wept silent tears.  I cried but it wasn't for a man.

I cried because so much has happened in those years since I first came to Egypt.  I cried because I'm not the same person.  I can't even wave to that man now.  I can't. I can't be the person I was.  Alhumdulillah that I can't.  I have such a new life.

The nasheed brought me back to before Egypt.  As I traveled forward to my school, I went backwards in time to 2005.  I used to listen to that nasheed as a pregnant mom on my drive to teach at an Islamic school in America.

Yes, I was full of goodness.  I had a great job and the promise of a new baby.  On the other hand, I was already so full with trouble from my son's father.  He had told me that he wanted to re-marry his ex.  He had really ruined what was supposed to be the start of our family life together.  Astragferallah.

I cried.

It wasn't that I was depressed.  I'm not sure why everyone is thinking that tears equal deep upset.  Often they are simply a release from too many feelings.  That's what I had that morning. I was filing away what had been and remembering that Allah is the only constant.

La ilaha il Allah.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Touring Nazlet Samaan

Asalamu Alaykom,

It was a hard day yesterday

(Morsi trial, no morning bus pick-up AND no notice that there would be no pick-up, 21 LE taxi ride, ornery kids who wanted the day off, substitution duty for the teachers too scared to come in, finding out that my kid went to detention for non-stop laughing, missing the afternoon bus, demanding that we be on that bus, stressing at not knowing where the impromptu route was going to drop us off, being in a tuk-tuk and not knowing exactly where I was and not being able to tell my husband that information on the phone and getting yelled at.)

I had to have a better day today.

I grabbed the camera and headed out with my husband to buy tumaya.  We were going on a short walking tour of Nazlet Samaan to help me remember why the hell I love Egypt and want to live here.

Door frame painted in the Egyptian flag colors with bloody hand prints from Eid.

Wall with pictures indicating that the family inside went on Hajj.

Picture indicating that the family inside loves Sisi...


Sleepy cat

Loved the curlicues; hated the stench of the garbage.  You can't see it but I still smell it.  

I love doors in Egypt.

I also love cauliflower.  We bought a small one for 4 LE.  The seller started at 10 LE.

This fancy home was used as a location in the 60's for a popular TV drama about a family who digs up their floor in order to find ancient treasure.

Yes, that is a peacock on the roof.  I want one too.

Same fancy house.  Love it.

This is on the back roads to the Pyramids.

As far as you can go towards the Pyramids from Nazlet Samaan.

Last house in the village.

Love all the curves.

It was morning and there were more cats than people out and about.

Did I mention that I love the doors?

Doors tell us of possibilities; suggest of thresholds we could cross into new worlds.

I adore this verdigris.

There are no tourists, so I was the only one noticing this papyrus of Surah Yassin.

These are papyrus plants growing outside the shop.  I love the blue and gold together in the background.

Islamic tiling designs and pro-military.  This is Egypt!  My hub said that this poster was supporting the military and the police.  I told him that it looked like they were fighting each other.  He couldn't see that.  Can you?

The government subsidized bakery and Sisi.  Lots of Sisi.  There were levels above of more Sisi but I didn't take those pictures.  A man walked over to us and started telling me who Sisi was and then started his military-in-Egypt spiel.  It made me nervous.  Basically, a fight can break out in Egypt at any time.  I'm not joking.

Here's the close-up I took right before we walked away.  I asked my hub if he was scared from the man talking to us and he said he wasn't.

Here's the tumaya shop.  Yes, that's my hub's hand holding our ticket.

Who wouldn't like seeing this as a possible breakfast?  I have loved falafel/tumaya since college.

Then all hell broke loose.  We're going through a cooking gas canister shortage here, so when this massive truck drove through the neighborhood, people stopped and stared.  It wasn't just the one truck.  

There was a smaller truck.  Here's that driver answering a woman's questions.  There was also a parade of vehicles following behind since they wanted to be first in line.  Everyone around us pulled out their mobiles and began calling.  About three minutes later, an elderly man on a bike sped by with a used canister.  His son worked the other tumaya shop and yelled at him to hurry.  We all  laughed.

As we began our walk home, I saw two women in galabiyas carrying empty canisters on their heads.  I wanted to take their picture but I didn't. Imagine how strong and determined they were to run out of their homes and down the road in order to help their families.  God bless them.

Goats and meat

Morsi meets Warhol.  I love this picture.  It actually sings of the presidency of Morsi from shiny and new to broken and shabby.  The inhabitants are either very brave or very forgetful.  I was a little scared to take the picture. 

Another cool door, right?

Colors!  I I love how decorative this cart was.  The most green you will see is on these carts carrying animal feed.


Sadly, turnips aren't the only purple in our village.  This apartment building is hideous kinky.

Carving up a camel.  It's got a strange juxtaposition to it, doesn't it?

Life is beautiful, strange, colorful, exciting, scary, and surprising.  Egypt has always felt more alive than any other country I've been.  It isn't always "nice" and that's when I'm not happy.  I am, however, still able to find the good outweighing the bad.  

May it always be so.