Monday, September 17, 2007

Ramadan in Egypt - I still don't get it

Before I get started let me say that everyone I know who has been to Egypt during Ramadan describes it as a magical time of year. I am experiencing my third Ramadan in Egypt and I can still honestly say -- I just don't get it.

Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohamed (saws). During the month of Ramadan Muslims are required to fast from everything (and I mean everything you can imagine) from just before sunrise to sunset. At sunset, when the Adhan is recited, Muslims break their fast with a meal.

Now, for me personally, I cannot eat a big meal after fasting all day. OK I'll be honest here, I have never actually fasted an entire day without eating or drinking anything. It is just too much for my body to handle; and it has nothing to do with food and eating. I can go without food no problem, but to go without water, I just don't understand how this can be healthy, especially in a desert country where I'm parched all day and can never drink enough water.

Besides fasting during Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to read the entire Quran during the month, give to charity, be kinder to people, pray five times a day especially if they don't pray at other times of the year, and if possible, go to the masjid in the evening for special Ramadan prayers (sorry but I don't remember what this is called).

I have a few points of contention here:

1. Those who fast all day during the month of Ramadan are told that their past sins are forgiven. I think this is wonderful, but I have observed a lot of people fasting who then turn around and sin in some of the most egregious ways.

2. Some who fast do it in such a way that it shouldn't be accepted - they stay up all night and sleep all day - waking up just in time for iftar (breaking of the fast).

3. Those who pray during the night, when prayers are more accepted by God, end up going to work the next day and are lazy in their work responsibilities, making excuses for not being able to work, maybe even calling in sick because they were praying all night.

4. There are legitimate excuses for not fasting: illness, travel, women during their period, etc. While these are legitimate reasons for not fasting, Egyptian society looks at me strangely if I'm drinking a soda or snacking on something. It is not for anyone to judge but God while someone is not fasting, but some people are very judgmental and will be the first to ask "Why aren't you fasting?" Excuse me, but my reasons for not fasting are no one's business but my own. And if you want me to embarass you, I will.

Please don't think I'm a bad person for saying these things. One of the beauties of Islam is that God knows what is in your heart, blessings are based on intention, regardless of the outcome.

If you live in Egypt, please show a little compassion for those who are not fasting because some people don't like to advertise their personal struggles.



Saturday, September 08, 2007

Change can be good even when it's sudden

Growing up I loved change. Actually I couldn't sit still for more than one minute. As I grew up I found out how to be content with complacency. Well, I thought it was time for a change.

I always had some sort of job for as long as I can remember; except when Mira was 2 and I stayed home full-time for one year. I was very content staying at home. After that one year at home I worked part-time until we moved to Egypt. When we arrived in Egypt I started working at Mira's school as the secretary. I really enjoyed the work, the people, and being with Mira, because she was in 2nd grade at the time and living in Egypt was new to both of us. I made a lot of real friends who I somehow manage to keep in touch with -- you know me, I get lazy at emails after awhile.

I quit abrubptly almost two weeks ago now. While I am relieved I am no longer working, I miss the people that I got to know over the past two years. I went in on Thursday afternoon to pick up Mira and I saw my dear, dear friend Reham. She is quite a woman. I swear if I were Egyptian I would want to be her. She has it all - the language, the attitude and the best sense of humor.

I recently watched an episode of Oprah where women debated the stay at home mom vs. the working mom -- ok working outside the home because every mom works in the home. Oprah asked the question: "Can women have it all?" My answer immediately popped into my head: It depends on what 'having it all' means to each woman.

Even though my 20's were quite tumultuous, I have been extremely blessed in my life. I met Hassan when I was 28 and got married 2 weeks before my 30th birthday. We have always attained the goals we set together; as one. No matter what our financial situation was Hassan would always say "If you want to work, then work. If you want to stay home then stay home." It was never and I stress ever an all or nothing deal. None of this Egyptian-minded husband talk of "I permit my wife to work." What the hell kind of thinking is this?

I don't know where I'm going with this post.

Anyways, I'm at home now. I drop Mira off at school at 7:45 and pick her up at 2:20. I come home to an empty flat, nothing special. I catch the US news off of the great satellite system we have now. I get to watch Chris Matthews, ABC, NBC and CBS, along with BBC Prine without being interrupted with "Mommy! Where are you?" I always answer "Where can I be--our flat is only so big?"

But somehow no matter what I do when Mira's in school, I feel so alone, so left out of the real world. For example, Cairo moved their clocks back two nights ago and I didn't find out until last night. You would think I would know this because the Adthan was at a different time already; of course I didn't notice it because all my clocks were set one hour ahead.

I have a lot of time to think. I think about Hassan: how much I love hime and how much I REALLY miss him -- how I took him for granted when he was here and did all the cooking when I would come home from school in a bad mood and talk about all the things happening with the school. I think about how I was always too tired to go visit Aunt Olfat or not having the energy to do anything with him. I think about how Mira has grown up so quickly, how she is into fashion now -- Hannah Montanna and High School Musical 2 being her favorites. I think about my parents, my brothers and sisters, and my friends in the US.

And after all this I can honestly say Alhamdulillah for everything.