Saturday, December 30, 2006

Conversations with Egyptians

Mira and I went to a birthday party for one of Mira's friends on Thursday. I was hesitant to go because for whatever reason I think I don't get along very well with Egyptian women, but I went anyway. (It is my own insecurities coming out.) Mira's friend's mother, Ola, is just as delightful as can be, and of course she is Egyptian, and she sews, which is something we have in common. She is very welcoming.

One of her cousins, Nahla, was there. I looked at her and thought "Oh my goodness, what am I going to talk about with this woman." Actually, we really hit it off. She is Lebanese/Egyptian, her husband is Lebanese, they have a place in Rehab being built, and they are currently living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She made me feel so comfortable, told me about life in Riyadh and how women gather everyday - every morning to have coffee, talk about their lives, problems, successes, etc. She explained that women in Saudia cannot drive - something everyone knows about, so the best thing they do is shop. Whenever they go out, they must be in full niquab, which she doesn't like because she cannot see through the veil, and stumbles everytime.

We were talking about music and the newest Arabic songs. Since I cannot understand many of the songs, I usually like a song by its melody. They asked me my husband's name, and I said "Hassan." They said, "Well, there are a lot of love songs out right now about Hassan. You ought to learn them and have a little romance." I blushed.

Arabic/Muslim women are very conservative on the outside, but get them in a room or a party with only women and all the stereotypes disappear. It was very refreshing and I felt relieved.

I keep explaining to Egyptians that Americans talk about anything and everything, we are not shy when it comes to conversation. There are no "taboos" in American society. Well, if there are any I'm not aware of it.

On another note, Debbie and I went shopping recently and when we were shopping a man asked me where I was from. I said America, and then I told him that my husband is Egyptian. He turned to his friend smiling and said "She's looking for an Egyptian husband." His friend said "No, she said her husband is Egyptian." They both looked at me and smiled. Of course I didn't know what they said (Debbie translated). Debbie said everytime we go out an Egyptian man talks to me, as though he's interested in me. She told me I need to wear niquab or at least an abaya (a long coat). I cannot dress anymore frumpy when I go shopping, believe me.

A few days later I was with a dear friend of mine, and they told me that I don't need to worry; because I am in hijab it is my protection. No one will ever say anything disrespectful to me. I forget I am even wearing hijab; I don't even feel it anymore - it has finally become a part of who I am - a part of my personality. Alhamdulillah.

I am finally comfortable living here - every opportunity and experience brings me to a new level of contentment.



Thursday, December 28, 2006

We are headed to the US for vacation

Wow, what a surprise, huh? It's definitely a surprise for us too. Mira and I are going to the US January 26 flying Egyptair. I never flew Egyptair before so it will be one long flight to New York (JFK) - 10 or 12 hours from Cairo. From JFK we will fly into Dulles. We tried to get a flight to Pittsburgh to visit one of my sisters, but the layover in JFK would be 5 hours. Too long to ask Mira to sit in the US without moving. Our flight leaves Cairo 10 am on January 26 and we will return February 24th. We will miss two weeks of school because we have a mid-winter break in there until February 11th. I don't know who will take us to the airport. I am nervous to fly in the winter, especially January and February. Ok, I'll admit it - I'm afraid to fly in January and February. I think of the icing on the plane and I lose it from there. I watched too many shows on National Geographic. Chalk it up to my wild imagination.

When Hassan left for the US I never expected to visit him in the time he was gone, but it seems as good a time as any to go. He said we can go now or go in June - hmm. I had to think about this and decided to go now because I honestly don't know how long he'll be gone at this point (yes things may change and he may be staying longer, much longer than originally planned) and I want us to spend the summer in Alexandria. I am finding more and more people who spend their summers in Alexandria and it would be great to see them there instead of missing them from Cairo.

While in the US I have a long shopping list of things to buy and bring back to Cairo. Mostly basics such as Theraflu, Tylenol (Panadol is used here in Egypt), Benadryl, thick winter leotards, etc. I want a polarfleece top because mine are way too big and I don't know what size I am right now in the US. Mira has her long list of toys. Obviously, we will not be able to buy everything on her list, but it will be a good chance to pick up some movies she has wanted for awhile. She's really into musicals right now. The first thing Mira needs is a nice winter jacket. We lost two of her jackets last year - we think they were stolen at school.

Yesterday we went to CityStars and had lunch with a friend of mine. I am going to embroider two bathrobes for her to give as gifts. I am really excited because it is "our" first customer. Yes, there is hope for a larger business in terms of embroidery but this will take time of course (meaning, money). Insha'Allah it will work out.

Egypt is a great place to start an embroidery business because everything here is embroidered. Also, I still want to start a quilting business but need to find out where to get the fabric and actually get there to buy the fabric. I bought flannel for quilting thanks to a dear friend of mine, and now I want to move on to get other things - quilting cottons. I see them on TV as there is a quilting show on Nile TV here but it's all in Arabic. It is nice to see, though because the woman uses quality cottons. Her technique is a little outdated, but it works. (I know the shortcuts she doesn't use.)



Sunday, December 24, 2006

There's something going on around here . . .

Hassan has been away three weeks and already wants us to be with him. He suggested that Mira and I travel to the US for our mid-winter break (end of Jan-beginning of Feb). While I want to go to the US and see Hassan and my family, I am afraid to fly in the winter for obvious reasons. So, he is looking into airline tickets to the US around January 25 to February 23. We will see how it goes. Insha'Allah it will all work out.

We got a cat. Yes, you know we love them to death - literally. Poor little Persian or Shirazi as they call them here in Egypt. She likes to talk a lot for a Persian, almost like a Siamese. She's great - especially with Olivia, excuse me, I mean Mira handling her all the time.

Debbie had a "Christmas" party this evening at her place. There was no religious tone to the party, just a get together of women and their children. It was really nice. Since it is her first
"Christmas" with her two children outside of America, she thought it would be a good idea to transition them out of the holiday season. It was a good evening - no men were there so women could take off their hijab. I, of course left it on because I'm always cold.

I managed to figure out how to hook up my digital camera as a webcam and used it with Maggie's Mom the other night. If I can hook up a digital camera as a webcam, anyone can. Maggie's Mom had me laughing hysterically.

Three photos: our new kitten-cat, Mira and Jasmine dancing a ballerina dance they created themselves, and Mira and me.



Tuesday, December 19, 2006

School vacation is coming

Here in Egypt our Eid vacation starts on Friday, December 22 for two weeks. Alhamdulillah. We will return to school on January 8th, and then be at school for three weeks - two weeks of review (or 'revision' as Egyptians call it) and one week of exams. After the exam week we will have our winter vacation break for two weeks, I believe. This ought to take us into the first week in February. At least this is how I understand it as of today.

Mira has been fighting some type of virus so I was out of school Sunday and Monday. I returned today and found my desk exactly as I left it - a complete mess. If you were to see my home it is spotless. But work is a different story. Too much work and not enough time -- oh yes, and only one of me.

While I was home taking care of Mira I was re-thinking my resignation from school. I thought how wonderful it would be to be home all day, not to worry about what to wear (although I like dressing nicely - it makes me feel good), what to complete at school, etc. I also thought about quilting, sewing, and even crocheting at this point. But then I thought about my lack of contact with adults. I can count a few friends I can trust completely, I mean completely at school, and I would miss them dearly. So I returned today ready to pick up where I left off a few days ago, trudging ahead with my hip boots strapped high, trying to avoid all the "road apples" that fall in my path.

I have been able to avoid my problem from last year. He comes around in the morning, and while I see him in the hallways, I always try to avoid him by looking in another direction or by ducking in a safe classroom. I've even been able to learn how to hide from him.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

Out here on my own

We went to Olfat's after school on Thursday. She was very happy to see us and started crying. She asked about Hassan and I said he was fine. Everytime she talked about him she started crying so I would not mention his name too much.

She had her bone scan on Thursday but the results haven't been made known yet since the report hasn't been written. I hope for the best, but expect a decline. It's just the realist in me from past experience.

For dinner at Olfat's we had basilla (yes, peas) and gazar (carrots) with lahme (meat) and rice. Mira had spinach and beef. She loves it. Going there without Hassan reminded me of how I never appreciated my Mom's food until I moved out of the house, got married, and was repsonsible for my own meals. Everytime I went back "home" no matter what Mom made it tasted great. I felt the same way at Aunt Olfat's.

Hassan's cousin Walid and his wife and daughters went to Olfat's and Mira played with the kids for awhile. We stayed for about three hours and eventually made our way home after stopping at the souk (market) for a few things.

Yesterday I made fuul and adddddddttttttttttts (lentil soup). Yummm. I cannot have enough whole grains in Egypt. I know it's not meat, but who cares. I never really cared for red meat anyways, unless it's a nice thick juicy steak from Nick's.

I went to the souk last night again with Mira and Jasmine and met one of Debbie's friends who recognized Jasmine. She is a full niquab and asked me 'Are you Muslim?' WHAT?! Does it matter? I thought I could have done a "Joe" on her, but instead for Debbie's sake I was polite. Sometimes it is better not to say anything at all -- just smile.



Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Catching up . . . .

I called Hassan today. He called me last night and I was sleeping. I sleep so hard at night I don't even hear the phone ring with it right next to my bed.

Hassan seems to be getting settled -- he's moving to his new apartment today and will be right across the street from his office. I worry about his safety - it takes on an entirely different meaning in the US than it does here in Egypt. I never worry about him here in Cairo - just in the US. I also worry about his health for reasons I don't want to explain right now.

When Mira talked to Hassan she spent half the time crying saying she misses him. I know how she feels. She told me that I don't miss him because I don't cry. Well, I don't cry, but I miss him. I told her if I cried and she cried then we would never stop. Kind of like Lainie and I crying and then ending up laughing.

I have one more week of school and then we're off for a week or two - I can't remember right now. It's the Hajj so we have vacation - only now they're beginning to call it "Christmas" vacation. OK, I'll go with it.

The owner of the school is still in the office and will probably be there for another week. It is good to have her there for many reasons, only it is very stressful in a passive kind of sense. I will be glad when the weekend comes.

We are going to Aunt Olfat's tomorrow after school to see how she's feeling. She had a bone scan today so I want to know the results. Also, I am concerned about her taking her medicine on a regular basis because no one will help her remember. If only I could help her . . . memories come rushing back too quickly to re-live Mom's last year - especially this time of year.



Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sobhan'Allah - The Pope's Recent Trip to Turkey

I was thrilled to see the Pope pray inside the mosque in Turkey. When the Pope took off his shoes and stepped inside the mosque to pray, I was so satisifed that he went so far beyond what was expected in order to mend the divide between Muslims and Christians. I found this article on Yahoo this morning and found another positive outcome to the Pope's recent visit to Turkey. Something in Arabic can only be explained by saying "Sobhan'Allah" (something that cannot be explained, except by God).



ISTANBUL, Turkey -
Pope Benedict XVI' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Pope Benedict XVI's successful visit to Turkey was the answer to Turkish tourism operators' prayers. In the tension-filled days before the pontiff's arrival, tour operators confessed Friday, they prayed he wouldn't say anything that could be taken as an offense to Islam, that he wouldn't pray at the Haghia Sophia and that the anti-
Vatican' name=c1> SEARCHNews News Photos Images Web' name=c3> Vatican demonstrations wouldn't be too large or violent.
Most of all, they wished for him to return home safely. "It was a blessing for Turkish tourism that it went so well," said Nurdan Ustman of United Travel Services, a 45-year tourism veteran. "I'm sure in the coming year we will see positive repercussions in the image of the country, and image is everything in tourism."
The trip was a success in part because there was so much that could have gone wrong, said Mert Dagoglu of Istanbul-based International Travel Services. "It was such a successful visit because we were all so afraid of the negative effects," he said by cell phone from a cruise ship near the resort town of Kusadasi. "In Turkey, a Muslim country, the demonstrations could have affected the whole atmosphere. But fortunately nothing but positive things happened, and we're so happy."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Ahhh, the weekend . . .

Last night Debbie and I took the kids to Carrefour to do some grocery shopping. Debbie wanted to get an mp3 player for her son Karim. We couldn't find an mp3 player for less than 400 LE - we got one for Mira for 285 but it was a holiday special - we found out last night. So Debbie didn't buy one and the kids were really upset.

I found coffee - Carrefour French coffee - 12LE a block - so I got two. Excellent coffee - better than American coffee (oops, did I say French coffee is better than American coffee) and much cheaper than the 40 LE Maxwell House. I got Peter Pan peanut butter for 14 LE a jar - I got two. Usually it costs 34 LE a normal size jar.

I didn't buy anything I didn't need - although I looked for clothes but didn't find anything I liked.

This morning we went to the club here in Rehab - Jasmine had piano lessons and Debbie and I sat and talked with a Moroccan woman who is married to an Egyptian - very nice woman. I have always been fascinated with Moroccans probably because their Arabic is mixed with French (twisted into their own language). Mira played on the trampoline.

After the Friday prayer we went to the mall to look for an mp3 player for Karim - none there. The hijab store I like was closed, so we came home.

Mira played with Jasmine all day and I slept off and on. I wasn't feeling very well. Debbie came over and had some coffee then took the kids back to her place for the evening. I was able to take some medicine and rest, and sweat out whatever it was bothering me. I don't know, but Alhamdulillah I feel better right now.

Jasmine's spending the night and the girls are set up in the TV room watching Harry Potter.

Tomorrow's Saturday and I don't know what we'll be doing. I want to buy a crochet hook and some yarn so a teacher at school can show me how to crochet. I think it's time to go to Kolle Shay (the closest thing to a craft store for me).



Thursday, December 07, 2006

Little by Little - Shwayya Shwayya

I spoke with Aunt Olfat yesterday and it seems as though she is very sick. She went to the hospital for blood analysis and glucose testing. She said that she was very sick this week and I think her glucose levels are really worrying her. It was long overdue, but I'm glad she went to get her blood tested. She had been so focused on her chemo that she neglected the glucose levels. Insha'Allah she will be feeling better soon. I think from this point on the goal is to make her as stable as possible and as comfortable as possible.

I went shopping with Debbie on Tuesday. I bought some boots, wore them yesterday, forgetting to break them in and my feet were screaming "Ouch! Let me out!" all day. But I looked good! I need to break them in at home before wearing them out again. They were really reasonable 100LE for real leather. The leather here in Egypt is incredible and the prices are great. I also bought two plain sweaters - no sequins, no lace, no designs. Debbie said it was too "plain Jane" but I like that considering it is next to impossible to find a hijab without sequins or any type of design on it.

Students in G10-12 didn't have school yesterday to prepare for exams today. It was a nice day without the high school students. I will be proctoring an exam today -- fine with me. I like being in a classroom for exams.

Mira has her play today. She's the narrator and has 12 lines. She has anxiety attacks over anything really big at school. So the teacher said she can write the lines on index cards. Good, problem solved there.

I made spaghetti and kobeba (Syrian style meatballs) for dinner last night. The spaghetti was really good but the kobeba is always too salty. I fell asleep shortly after that and slept until 5 this morning. Alhamdulillah I slept well. Mira has been sleeping better too. I can't figure it out. Maybe because I'm trying to keep her occupied.

I got a message from Hassan that was sent on Dec 3 but received at 2 a.m. this morning. He is not happy in the US - I think it's because of the all the game playing and back-biting people do. At least we know that nothing has changed at his company, but what a way to find out.

It has rained - I mean poured here in the desert for the past two evenings and nights in a row. It hasn't rained like this since we moved here. Maybe this is an omen -- God is telling us something.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Life keeps moving forward

I went to school yesterday and tried my best to avoid the person I was working with last year. He still has my mobile number (no big surprise there) but of course I deleted his. He asked me why and I told him that I needed to clean out my phone listings and since we were not working together anymore there was no need for me to keep it. He said "Marian but you're my sister." Sister. Right. No way. When a man in Egypt says to a woman "you're my sister" it means I like you in a friendship sort of way. But in his case it's not that way and I know it. He stays away from me if I am in my office so that's where I stay most of the time.

Mira needed art supplies for art class today so last night we went out to 4 or 5 different stores in Rehab to look for bottled white of white glue for paper mache. We didn't find it but found other glues she needed for art. I told her not to expect 3 months of this - I will get her what she needs but not what she wants.

I heard from Hassan this morning via email and it seems as though he is trying to pick up where he left off at work. He is also trying to find a place to stay for 3 months, however, the prices run approximately $2,000/month. Ouch! He is however on a waiting list for a lower priced apartment.

I told him that I'm learning how to use his mobile phone that he left in Egypt - it's a Motorola Razor. I love it, but it's a flip phone and I don't care for that part of it. It is great. Messaging is easy - using bluetooth is easy - everything about it is easy - except for the French owner's manual. No English. Oh well, I'm relying on Mira's teacher to show me because she has the same phone.

I am off today; took my day off, and Mira is at school. Debbie and I are going to run around Cairo today and try to get some things done. It should be fun and traffic shouldn't be too bad. At least it won't be completely and totally jammed like it is every night of the week. When do Egyptians sleep? It will take me forever to figure out the answer to this question.

I still haven't found any American coffee - it's been at least a week - for now it's instant Nescafe for me. I hope to find some today - Folgers, Maxwell House, aya hagga (anything) with an American label on it. Even the cheap Egyptian made "American" coffee will do at this point. Either the stores aren't stocking enough for demand or they aren't carrying the coffees anymore. I hope it's the first one. I know that instant coffee is lower in caffeine so I don't have the same type of buzz I'm used to having so early in the morning. Oh well. . .



Sunday, December 03, 2006

What in blazes is going on?!

First the good news -- Hassan called me at 6:30 a.m. this morning (Cairo time) to tell me he got a mobile phone (ok cell phone) and he is in Maryland/DC. He starts work tonight with Stoney and will stay with Stoney for the first couple of days. Alhamdulillah.

Now for the rest of the story:

I don't know what is going on - maybe it's the alignment of the stars or something, but it has been absolutely hectic here and crazy for the past couple of weeks.

My friend, the princpal of the school where I work, was out grocery shopping one night and had her purse stolen at the grocery store. It had everything in it -- keys to her home, office, flash memory, money, credit cards, kolla hagga (everything) in it.

There are problems at school amongst students of the various grades and racial/ethnic backgrounds. (I really don't want to elaborate on this right now.)

Then Hassan left. A whirlwind all on its own.

Today I went to school, found out that someone who I thought was gone from the school has returned, and I have done my best to keep away from him. The principal was not in a good mood today and interrupted a friend's class, making him feel uncomfortable. I told him that she was distributing her frustrations equally today and not to take it personally.

Now, after the day is over, with Mira sleeping since 6:30 p.m., I get a call from Debbie. She took Karim and Jasmine down to Dokki Street (downtown Cairo) from Rehab, to get Jasmine's braces adjusted. While Debbie was en route to her home, her purse got stolen. The thief only got a 150 LE, but her passport, keys, credits, yes, once again, kolla hagga (everything) was in there. She called me from the police station and I tried to get her landlord on the phone to tell him to bring the extra key to Debbie's apartment, but the person that I spoke with didn't understand any English and my Arabic is really bad.

The great part about today is it's almost over. The not-so-great part is I get to do it all over again tomorrow.



Saturday, December 02, 2006

So Far So Good

I got an email from Hassan today saying he was in Newark, NJ overnight because of bad weather. Better safe than sorry - really sorry. The airline put him up in a hotel and he even enjoyed a good ol' US steak - a real steak - I think I remember it. He is supposed to fly from Newark to Washington, DC sometime today and begin working Sunday night EST - Monday morning Cairo time.

Mira and I were up early this morning. We were at school at 7 a.m. for the SAT exam (earlier than a regular work day of 7:30). It was the first time our school administered the SAT and I was called in as a back-up. Not knowing I would be utilized, I didn't really study the manual. However, as the walk-ins approached, I had a classroom of 15 students - half of them are some of the most mischievious bunch of students in our school. They are not bad students, just antsy - more antsy than your average 16 or 17 year-old.

The test started about 8:15 and was over at 2:30. I had to keep track of every minute, take mobile phones, account for every exam and answer sheet. I noticed that the majority of students faired better on the math than the English. I cannot imagine taking the SAT in a second language. It is difficult enough.

The goal today was to make our school a difficult testing site -- one I hope to have achieved. Some of the students said I was too tough - good according to the Deputy Principal.

We got home about 3:30 and the afternoon flew from then on.

I spoke with my friend Debbie on the phone and we talked about Islam. She recently converted to Islam from being a Christian and is doing her best to follow the prayers. I told her that if there is anything I can do to help to let me know. I gave her some materials which she said she appreciated -- translated suras from Arabic to English transliteration.

I plan on taking Tuesday off this week as my regular day off. I am hope to get to having Sundays off, but I was off Thursday so I thought to go in tomorrow. Debbie works on Mondays, so I will take Tuesday off so we can spend the day together. I don't know what we'll do or where we'll go, but it ought to be fun.

I'm trying to keep busy with Hassan gone and I don't see any problem with that right now.



Friday, December 01, 2006

"I will kiss your tears away" - Dire Straits

I knew last night was not going to be easy. I knew that it would be emotional for all of us, especially Mira. Whenever she cries I think of the Dire Straits song "I Will Kiss Your Tears Away."

Hassan left last night and is on his way to Washington, DC. I can't believe it. He can't believe it. Most of all, Mira can't believe it.

Shabaan, Gamal and Ehab came over last night about 10:00 to drive Hassan to the airport. They sat for a little bit, had tea, and then it was time to go. Luckily Mira was sleeping since 8 so it was a little easier for Hassan to spend time with his friends.

When it was time to go, Hassan and I went to wake up Mira. I could see that Hassan was really sad. He doesn't cry, at least I've never seen him cry, but he got really close when we went to wake up Mira. She cried and cried. "Oh my little girl loves her Daddy" I thought. All the love in the world is wrapped up in this 8 year-old who doesn't want to let him go.

Hassan was getting ready to leave and Mira was on the back balcony waiting to see Hassan when Hassan and I said our good-bye. After all this, all this big talk, this great idea about him going for a couple of months came down to these last few minutes.

No it's not a long time, it's only a couple of months, but honestly we've never been apart for more than 3 weeks at a time and that was when Hassan would visit Cairo (I know I'm repeating myself). We've never been apart especially with Mira. Alhamdulillah Hassan and I have a great marriage. We don't argue much, we agree on most things, agree to disagree on others, live independent lives but always come home to each other. One does not overpower the other, nor does one manipulate the other. We are an equal balance, a partnership. Most of all we trust each other to the end.

Mira and I were on the back balcony when Hassan left with his friends. She cried and cried, and all I could think of was the Dire Straits song. It was sad but beautiful that this little girl who is trying to be so grown up so early in life loves her Daddy so much. "Daddy, don't go!" she cried, "Daddy, why are you leaving me!" She eventually settled down and fell asleep.

I don't know when she gets all the "drama queen" theatrics from - oh, I forgot - I'm her mother - maybe she gets it from me (smile).