Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Enjoying Time with Hassan's Family

On Saturday, we went to HyperOne a really large superstore in 6th of October City - on the other side of Cairo from where we live. We had a great time. I found more candles that I used to buy at Kohl's and they were only 12 LE a piece. It makes me feel a little better when I find in Egypt what I used to enjoy in the US - namely, candles.

After HyperOne, we took some fresh samak (fish) and went to Uncle Yehia's and Aunt Fatma's to eat. Maya was there with her husband and son, Mohamed, who is adorable. Also, Maya's brother, Ashraf was there, visiting from Sharm where he works, along with his Russian wife, Tanya, and their son Taimor (a type of mango in Egypt). We ate fish and enjoyed our time with them.

I love Aunt Fatma and Uncle Yehia. They are very welcoming and although sometimes there's a communications gap between the Arabic and English, we always manage to understand each other -- personalities communicate more than language sometime.

Ashraf's wife, Tanya, on the other hand, was very quiet. Hardly spoke at all. Tanya met Ashraf in Sharm, and I guess the only way they communicate is through English. Their son, Taimor, is two, and hardly speaks at all. I know he's processing the languages.

Hassan tried to talk to Tanya, saying, "What language to do you speak to Taimor, English? Tanya said "No, Russian of course, why should I teach him English. He has no need for it. He can learn it in school. Besides it's an easy language to speak." Whoaa! I didn't say anything, and caught myself in one of my "Martha" (one of my sisters-in-law) moments, and just ignored the statement. Other than that, Tanya didn't speak; not even to Aunt Fatma.

How could anyone not speak to Aunt Fatma (and Yehia for that matter). This woman welcomes everyone into her home, and even though she is very ill, she still insists on cooking for everyone, waiting on everyone, and shooing me out of the kitchen when I want to wash the dishes. If I were to wash the dishes she would say "I am very angry at you." And then smile at me.

After we ate and we were sitting in the living room, Aunt Fatma sat next to me on the sofa and leaned up against me so she could put her feet up. I hugged her and just relished the moment that we shared. Tanya was just staring at me.

I always got along with Aunt Fatma. I will never forget how she welcomed us when I first met her three years ago on vacation. She said to me, "Hassan is my son, and you are my daughter." How can anyone not love a woman whose heart is as big as the sky?

I enjoy the times we spend together and hold them dear in my heart.



Saturday, June 24, 2006

Fajr Prayer (Dawn Prayer/1st Prayer of the Day)

Mira spent the night at Jasmine's. This was quite an accomplishment for her because last time she was supposed to spend the night she ended up calling me at 11:30 p.m. crying saying she missed me and wanted to come home. We don't live far from Jasmine. We are literally at opposite ends of the sidewalk. So, Alhamdulillah she finally spent the night without us. While she was there, apparently, she woke up at 4 a.m. to do the Fajr prayer. SobhanAllah!

Mira asked me the afternoon before if we are supposed to get up for the Fajr prayer. I said, "Well, you can wait until you wake up." Actually, I was wrong. We are supposed to get up for the prayer then go back to sleep. I need to tell Mira the truth and not put my own spin on things.

Hassan was very pleased to hear Mira got up for the Fajr prayer. Actually, what I think happened was Jasmine and Mira stayed up all night and when Fajr rolled around, she heard the Adhan and wanted to pray. Anyone who is awake for Fajr prayer would want to pray.

There is peace whenever the Adhan is heard, but for some reason, especially at dawn.

The Adhan for Fajr is a voice crying out in the desert reminding us that God is ever present; and it is our duty to remember Him.



Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Vacation

I finished work today around 2:30 and as I was walking out of the school, I asked the vice-principal, "I don't know what I'm going to do during my summer vacation. I'm used to schedules and timetables and now I have free time to do anything." He said, "Do you have a balcony?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Good, sit on your balcony." Then he said "Now go home!"

No alarms. No bells. No getting clothes ready for school. No asking Mira if her homework is finished; and if it is in her backpack. It sounds awfully boring, but quite relieving, to be honest.

From now on it's a pot of hot coffee on the balcony in the morning with Hassan, asking him how his "boys" are doing and what he did the night before. Mira rolling out of bed with her hair all curly and tangled, and listening to her never-ending mantra of "What are we going to do today?" Ahhh, I'm sure by the time August rolls around, I'll be parked outside the school ready to start working all over again.

I never had a job where I had summers off. Sure, when I was a child and we had summers off from school, I thought all parents had summers off too. It wasn't until I was in sixth grade that I realized my Dad worked everyday of the year -- day in and day out -- year after year to provide for his family. What a tremendous accomplishment. Thanks, Dad.

I am very fortunate to work in a school environment where I have time to spend with Hassan and Mira (well, I'm with Mira every day at school). Insha'Allah we will be in Alexandria for a couple of weeks. Actually, if we make it a week we'll be happy.

Our schedules will be changing too. We will be going out at night because it is too hot in the day, and we will be sleeping into the late morning. Since I am a time-oriented person (never was when I was a child), I have to get adjusted to putting my time management skills aside and just go where the wind takes me.



Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Raising Children Muslim

Debbie is a Christian and Hani is a Muslim (Egyptian). They were raising their children Jasmine (8) and Karim (7) as Christians. This was the agreement they came to when they were in the US. Because Hani was not a practicing Muslim at the time, he agreed to let Debbie raise the kids Christian and take them to church with her. Hani even went on a few occasions.

The family moved to Cairo in January of this year and Hani found himself living apart from Debbie for work reasons. Though he was still in Egypt, he did not see his family that often.

Hassan and I never posed the question on what religion the kids were because let's face it -- it's none of our business. Debbie had told me early on that the kids were being raised Christian and I thought that was really strange, because if a Christian woman marries an Egyptian man the children must be raised Muslim -- no two ways about it.

Debbie is a real independent woman. She decided to start taking the kids to a community style church in Maadi where there are a lot of non-Egyptians. Debbie felt an instant bond and even commented on how uplifting it made her feel. I was pleased she felt a sense of belonging in her new church and with her new friends she had made.

Not too long ago, maybe a few weeks, Hani started listening to and corresponding with a sheikh or professor of some kind in Islamic Studies. Hani started talking to Debbie on the phone non-stop about how the children were to be raised Muslim now that they are in Egypt and how Debbie must be convinced to convert to Islam. Debbie had a really difficult time with Hani's behavior. She felt as though she was being beat down by something -- a battle between good and evil of sorts.

She asked me for advice. I told her that after all these years, and no matter what I thought in the past as free-thinking as I may have been, it is very important to raise the children in the same religion as the parents. To have parents of two different faiths confuses children who end up not believing in anything.

After Hani's persistence, Debbie agreed to let the children convert. And she felt she really didn't have a choice in the matter. I believe she did have a choice in the matter, but it is easier to be Muslim in Egypt than Muslim in the US.

Debbie asked for my copy of the Quran. How could I refuse? Someone long ago had been generous to give me their copy. It was now my turn to pass it on to someone else who searching.

Debbie doesn't know if she will ever convert to Islam, I just tell her, "take it slow. Be careful. Study." I told Debbie that Islam teaches tolerance, respecting "people of the book" (Jews and Christians). There is no compulsion in Islam, everything in moderation. As I try to find answers for Debbie, I am finding answers to many of my own questions about Islam.

I told Debbie that Hani's just trying to right a wrong he made in letting the kids be raised Christian in the US. He wants to make things right, and what better time than now? Hani's intention is right -- but perhaps he came on a little too strong for Debbie.

Maybe that's what it's all about. Sharing what one knows with another, and learning and growing along the way.



Tuesday, June 20, 2006

"Alfa Shukran" (thank you, Egyptian Style)

Alfa Shukran! to Mody a friend of Gamal's who was able to get into my html and fix my blog by deleting the Links. I will have to slowly add one link at a time and figure out where the mistake was made. I know the mistake was made when I got too confident in playing with my blog. Some things are best left alone -- you know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I have never met Mody, but Gamal is one of Hassan's best friends and these guys would do anything in the world for anyone; and let us not forget Shabaan and Ehab as well. I count Mody as my new friend who helped me without knowing me, generously taking out of his own time to fix my ever so little and humble blog.

Thank you, Alfa Shukran Mody and Gamal!



Sunday, June 18, 2006


I'm reading a book entitled "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. This book is what one would call a fictional biography.

The story begins in Afghanistan in the 1970's and follows through the Soviet invasion of the country, followed by the Taliban and the factions that were fighting up to June 2001 -- where I currently am in the book.

The story is about a boy whose name is Amir. He talks about his relationship with his father, how he lost his mother in childbirth and how he cannot live up to his father's expectations. Woven throughout the story Amir is reminded of a deep dark secret he holds inside his entire life, and how he wants to make everything right again by confessing his secret.

I borrowed the book from my friend, Debbie, since she just finished it and said that I have to read it -- Yeah, sure I thought. Well, let me tell you it is heart-wrenching.

I never thought this story would fascinate me in the least, nor did I think that I would identify with this story; not so much my relationsihp with my father, but more the secrets we all hold inside each and every one of us -- feeling bad about our past and hoping for redemption -- trying to make things right again with each other and with Allah.

Amir's father is not religious at all -- but raises his son on the right path to follow Allah.

The novel speaks of the horrendous conditions refugees endure on a daily basis and how they put all their hopes and dreams into escaping their countries they have called home their entire lives. Refugees do not become refugees by choice, but rather by force escaping their political, social and religious surroundings.

Pray for the refugees of this world.



Saturday, June 17, 2006

"School's Out for Summer!" (Well for most people)

School finally ended on Thursday, June 15 for staff. Well, most staff. I was asked to work one additional week with the hours of 9-2 instead of the usual 7:30 to 3:45. OK, now how could I pass up this opportunity you ask? I don't like to leave my work unfinished in any way, so of course I agreed. Besides it eases me into summer vacation as well. You might think that it would be difficult to ease into summer vacation, but when I worked all year giving more than 100% of myself to the school, it is difficult to just take the summer off. I enjoy working with the principal, so we hope to get some additional projects completed without the usual interruptions from students saying "Miss, the bus left me." Or how about, "Miss, I want my mobile back."

I have been in somewhat of a retrospective mood over the past week. I have been thinking about those things I accomplished both professionally and personally this year. I enjoyed working full time although it took all my energy. I enjoyed being with Mira at school, and I enjoyed meeting people.

Getting to know my colleagues, both Egyptian and non-Egyptian, broke some stereotypes and made me more comfortable to say "Insha'Allah" instead of "hopefully", "Alhamdulillah" instead of "thank goodness" and "malish" instead of "it's ok." Alright so my Egyptian Arabic has a lot to be desired, I am still making progress. I understand why Egyptians speaking English leave some of the grammar out of their translations into English; they literally translate their Arabic into English; and I know now that I literally translate my English into Arabic, leaving out a lot of Arabic. (I hope this makes sense.)

I have learned how work with a translator, asking questions and patiently waiting for the answer to be translated. I have learned how to simplify my English to someone who speaks Arabic as their first language, using vocabulary that they would understand.

I have also learned how to stand up for myself, creating my own boundaries, admitting when I made mistakes, taking responsibilities, and dealing with parents who seem to think they own me because they pay for their child to be in the school.

With one year down already, I hope to build on the accomplishments I have achieved, and learn from the mistakes I have made.

As for Mira, she's home now and has all the time in the world to do whatever it is she wants -- including sleeping, watching tv and going to the club to swim. But most of all she wants to play with her friend Jasmine all the time.

Hassan's glad to have us home. We look forward to spending some much needed time together. All we need to do now is find a babysitter.



Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mira's Birthday

Before I talk about Mira's birthday, I want to let you know that I am having difficulty fixing my blog. It seems as though I got a little too comfortable playing with the html and managed to screw it up. I am still trying to fix it and hope to do so today.

May 18th was Mira's 8th birthday. We decided to have her party this year -- ahem, she decided to have her party this year, at a small amusement park here in Rehab, called Lily Park. Since we had just moved here a year ago and had a small party for for her at our home, we promised her a larger party this year. Well, it definitely had all the bells and whistles an 8 year-old would want.

Mira invited her friends from school and the neighborhood along with Hassan's entire family, and his bestest friends in the world. It was wonderful. The party started in the evening and there was a lot of dancing with life-size cartoon characters, a magic show (which we still can't figure out), and a puppet show, followed by cake and kofta.

I wish my family could have been there to celebrate Mira's day with her. Maggie's Mom said she had a small cake for Mira and Maggie's 1/2 birthday (her birthday is November 18th -- ok Twilight Zone music plays now).

Happy Birthday, Mira my Sunshine!