Friday, May 22, 2015

My Neighborhood of Nazlet Samaan

Asalamu Alaykom,

After praying fajr, my husband and I both read until the sun shone brighter, and then he said to me, "Do you want to go for a walk?"

I do like to go for quiet walks in our neighborhood.  Here are pictures of another time we went.

El-Kid was still sleeping off a busy week at school, so I left him a note:  "We went out for a walk.  Be back soon!"

It only took two blocks before I saw this juxtaposition of barbed wire and flowers.  I wished that I'd brought my phone.  I don't even think of bringing my camera any more.  My husband handed me his phone and I snapped away as we ambled through our neighborhood next to the pyramids.

It was so early out on the streets that there were more animals than people.

This is my neighborhood.  Yes, I feel blessed to be here.  Yes, I sometimes forget to feel blessed.

The carriages were parked perfectly for a ready-made photo shoot.

My husband pointed out this door knocker.

I love all the old doors.

I love the colors and textures.

Someone spent time scratching out Morsi's face.

Doors open into possibilities and the symbolism is meaningful to me.

Morsi peering out from the faded past.

All of these doors will disappear some day.  I know that taking pictures of them today means that they will survive in this digital form tomorrow.

This is the wall separating our neighborhood and the historic Giza Plateau.  My husband, as a child, used to be able to clamber up the hill.  Now, there are cameras on the other side.

Love the unexpected patterns.

This is one of my favorite finds from today.  It looks like a fairy house.  

Doesn't this upside-down horseshoe mean that their "luck" is running out?

The colors on this street are reminiscent of an oil pastel.

I know you see the horse, but do you see the passenger?

My husband pointed out the camel that I hadn't seen at first.  Camels always seem to pose.

Gorgeous colors and art noveau make me happy.

It's the aged imperfections that grab me.

This was maybe my favorite door of the day.  It had so much going on with it.  I had my husband take a picture of me in front of it.  I looked too tired, so you won't be seeing that.

Glorious.  I only wish I'd taken a better picture of it---just cock your head to the right a little.

Do you see the cat?  It wondered what I was doing.

This is the end of the road.

Wait.  Maybe this was my favorite door.  Yes, it must have been because I took four photos of it.

To me, this is modern art.  If this was hanging up on a museum wall, you would see that as the truth.  Someone spent time perfecting this and those choices added up to an artifact of human expression

This is on the other side of the door.

Love this.  It is a locked door, but it has all these really unusual openings.

The last house next to the wall is slowly crumbling away.

This is not a great picture.  It's a memory that I wanted to share.  There are so many sights and sounds where I live.  There are constant surprises.  The morning had been so quiet--silent.  Everyone was asleep!  Then, I heard a bird-like squawking in the parking lot for the carriages.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a little puppy.  It was all alone---not a mama dog in sight.  I asked my husband if there was anything we should do for it.  There really wasn't.  You don't really help the wild animals and stay safe or sane.  I took this picture and we moved on.  Life has to be like that here.  This is coming from the same woman who was bitten in America by a stray dog she had tried to help across the busy street.

More animals!  The street named for pigeons was getting some chickens.

My husband started bartering.

Again, I am constantly surprised in Egypt.  I feel so alive and connected at times like this.

I thought this was a rooster because of the comb, but it was a hen.

There was a lot of swearing----to God, of course, that he was being offered the best price.

Our walk without any agenda ended up with purchasing dinner.

Look, I have thought about leaving Egypt.  I won't lie.  I have wondered if there is somewhere better for me...for us.  Even after I signed this year's contract, I applied for a job "back home".  The problem is that the U.S. isn't home any more.  

For one hour, I found so much to love in Egypt.  That's all I needed to find all of this---and it was right out my front door!  It isn't a perfect place but it's's our home.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eternal Sunshine of the Islamic Mind

Asalamu Alaykom,

Watching "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," from where I sit now, made me wonder about back then.  In my past, is there someone I would be tempted to erase from my memory?  Of course there is.  I would be tempted to erase my son's father.

Every good memory that comes back to me leads to a bad memory that hurts.  Whatever makes me happy is tainted in a split second.  I would love to get rid of each link in the chain of our relationship...


There's this time from before everything went wrong.  It was the summer before 9/11.  I barely knew him.  We arranged to have a day at the amusement park.  I packed a lunch.  He drove.  When we got to the gates, the guard told us that the park was closed for a corporate event.  It was one of those moments when the unimaginative call it quits and go home.

What really charmed me was that he didn't let the day's energy drop.  He drove us to a quiet lake nearby.  We spread out the blanket and I laid out the food.  It was better than I had expected.  It was idyllic.

And then...

and then there was this little microscopic orange spider.  It was sharing the blanket with us.  A lot of men think it's macho to kill all the creatures in their path.  This man...this big boy...was full of wonder as he let the little spider crawl on him.  He marveled at this creation.  I marveled at him.  I fell in love with him as we passed the spider from his arm to mine and laughed.

There used to be a photo of the two of us from that day.  A passerby took the shot for us.  We stood up and posed.  I was wearing a purple shirt over a short, flower-print skirt.  He stood behind me with his arms encircling me and our fingers interlocked.  We were so happy.

Erase that.

Erase that "so happy".

Just keep the spider.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I Only Take Pictures When I'm Happy

Asalamu Alaykom,

This is a picture my father took of my mother holding me in front our VW camper van.  We were traveling from the East Coast to the Midwest.  He was changing jobs in 1969 and we were resettling before the seventies took hold.

I loved that van.  I remembered it throughout my childhood.  There was something magical about it.  It was from a time when my brain was forming and I was linking together disparate ideas.  That van meant family to me.

When my parents divorced, the van was gone.  Children don't understand where things go.  It doesn't make sense that something so big should disappear.  It took me most of my life to find it again----but more on that later.

My father had pictures of the van.  Actually, my father didn't have pictures exactly; he had slides.  He had this metal briefcase which I could open up and find little rectangles of my life.  I would have to cross check on the underside of the lid for the categories he had carefully penciled out in this tiny cursive. There was my fourth birthday.  There was the trip to the apple orchard.  There was the day at the beach.  I could then decide which part of my fractured life to revisit.  My father had made notations on each slide as well.  One by one, I'd carefully lift out a tiny Kodak frame and hold it up to the lamp to see the brilliant colors inside.

If I was feeling gutsy (and I usually was), I would ask my dad for his annual slideshow.  This wasn't any problem for my dad, as he seemed to enjoy the trips down memory lane.  The issue was with my stepmother.  She wasn't a big fan of his life before she married him (which included me).  She would sit there sullen as my father and I laughed over stories of me being naughty.

There was that time he was recording the wild wolves howling.  No joke.  That was my father's life as a wildlife biologist.  Can you imagine?  He was paid to sit quietly in the thick woods and save moon songs.  I was along that summer.  I remember catching fireflies in a jar, holding a little bird on my finger, and ruining his wolf recording with my version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."  

That summer, when I was three, would would really be the last one for us as a family.  My fourth birthday party was also a goodbye party.  He married his second wife shortly thereafter.  For one year, they lived nearby and then they moved away.  At the age of 7, I would be placed alone on a greyhound bus (right behind the driver) and travel those long two hours, then be picked up by my dad at the station.

There was a kind of ritual to our reuniting.  He'd always pull out a tiny piece of Trident spearmint gum, tear it in half and share it between the two of us (as if it was big enough to share).  He'd take his black, plastic comb and fix my hair.  We'd get in the car and drive.  Before we left the city, we'd stop at Arby's roast beef and he'd be sure to squeeze on some Horsey Sauce.  Occasionally, he'd have to pull over on a country road and let me get rid of my car sickness.  No, we were not as close, but we were something to each other.

When I was 12, I left my mother to visit my father once again.  This time, the trip would be longer because I was flying from the Midwest to the Carribean.  My father had gotten a prime job and a great place to live.  I had pleaded with my mother to let me leave the horrible small town, which was suffocating me, so I could breathe in some tropical mountain air.

I did realize that I would be living with my father and my stepmother.  My stepmother placed my belongings in the guesthouse.  I would not be living in the main house with them.

I would live in the small building alone.  It was only a short walk to the bathroom from there.  It usually wasn't a problem unless it was raining, or night time or I was sick know...I'm sure she meant to make me suffer as much as she could for me moving in on her time with my father well.

One benefit to living in that little building was that it housed their stuff.  I'm a snooper.  I love to dig around.  I've curtailed this habit in real life by simply channeling those tendencies into the internet.  I found the briefcase of my father's Kodak slides and I started to go through them.

I was excited by my find.  My father relented to another slideshow.  The three of us sat together.  I remember some alcohol being poured.  There were many happy hours at their house (but not the kind of happy hours I had been hoping for).  As I was older now, I understood better the silences from his wife.  She had another drink and made a couple of cracks.  She loved to crack on my dad; that's what little minds do to greatness.  They can't imagine improving themselves so they tear down someone else in hopes of moving ahead.

At the end of my stay, at the age of 13, I made a decision.  I was going to take some slides.  First, I took out the slides of my mother and her parents.  My grandmother had just died and I thought my mom would appreciate seeing them.  I didn't ask.  I felt it was my right.  Once that was done, I kept going.  I took out any pictures of my mother.  Why should that young and beautiful version of my mother be packed away?  Then I took out any pictures of myself.  I pilfered every trace of my former happiness. Without telling anyone, I robbed the briefcase of my past.

I wonder if my father ever tried to find them.  The briefcase was there but it was half empty.  Did he notice?  Did he care?  I never asked and never confessed.

I also never asked for another slideshow.  We never laughed together again about who I had been and how life had started for me.  I robbed myself of myself.  I lost a connection while trying to hold onto it.

My life kept going.

Years later, I took those slides of my maternal grandparents in to a developer to get made into photos.  I placed the resulting photos in a cute album and gave them to my mother on her birthday.  She was so happy.  Each photo I had carefully rescued and she was thankful.

Eventually, as a young mom, I would print out the pictures of my early childhood.  With each picture, my milestones were made evident.  I had been observed and remarked upon just like the wildlife animals my father had studied.  And I was loved.  He loved me.  He hadn't stayed in my life much after the age of four, but there was a time when he had wanted to be a big part of my life.

This week, I was thinking of those slideshows.  I was thinking how technology changes.  I thought of how I take digital images now that don't sit in a case and in many ways are very impermanent.  Most of my pictures are impossible to hold.  I'm not sure if that's how memories should be, but that's how they are for me.

I thought of how I only once saw my father with a camera.  Little by little I realized how strange that was.  If he had taken all those pictures when I was a baby, then he must have had a camera back then.  Where had it gone?

The time my father took my picture had been a special request on my part.  I had been saying at my elementary school back in the city that my father had a pet porcupine but no one believed me.  I pleaded with him to take a picture of me with Blondie, the porcupine, as proof.  He did.  That's her eating a banana on the front porch.

It was a black and white photo, so when he mailed the pictures to me at my mother's house, the blob sitting next to me still wasn't enough to convince the naysayers.

Aside from that, he never took another picture of me  This week, I thought about his disinterest.  What had happened?  I wondered about asking him but then I wouldn't be really asking my father; I'd be asking my father with Alzheimer's.  Most of us want to forget the hard times of the past.  He is now able to forget more than most.  I'll have to think whether or not to be gutsy once again to ask him about the slides.

Until then, I think I have an answer which stops my monkey mind from wondering.  I think I know.  I only take pictures when I'm happy.  I simply can't use my camera when I'm sad.  I think my father had been very happy those years he filled up his case with memories.  I think he really had hoped for love and life.  When his marriage to my mother ended, those hopes stopped too.  He married a shrew woman who hurt more than helped (they divorced after she went psychotic decades later).  He started drinking more.  He remembered less.

That knowledge of my father's happiness and sadness is in me today.  Alhumdulillah for the ability to process.  I pray for his last days on this earth to be filled with peace.

As for me, I'll keep smiling in Giza while I hop onto one of many VW vans we use as micro-buses here in Egypt.  It was a wonderful surprise to see them all here!  I'd like to believe that my camper van ended up here to find a new life of happiness, just as I did.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Not My Circus

Asalamu Alaykom,

from the fabulous Bored Panda

For five years, I have used the word "circus" in describing Egyptian chaos---usually of the familial kind.  If I ever learn the actual Arabic word for chaos, I might retire circ.  I have a strange feeling that there is no word for chaos in Arabic since it is so much a part of the normal routine and thus is not name-worthy.

One of the problems of being an ex-pat here is that it's easy to believe that the country is just waiting for someone to fix the chaos.  That's a trap, Indy!  Somehow, Egypt has made it through the centuries without my intervention.  I continually have to remind myself to keep focused on what actually touches my life.

As an American, I don't mind my own business very well.  Americans tend to think that EVERYTHING is their business.  Saving the world is a 24/7 crusade and not even Vietnam has persuaded us otherwise.  We must save others from themselves!  NOW!

That philosophy of "It's up to me!" makes for very little peace inside your home, let alone inside yourself.  Maybe some women need a kick in the rump to become more involved but I have needed a pull to sit down.  This winter, I found a mantra which is helping me be less involved.

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

It's silly, yet somehow it is stopping me from opening my mouth or getting involved in someone else's life.  This isn't a put-down of the people but rather a ridiculous image of me being at a circus as an audience member, and wrongly thinking to jump down into the ring to run the show.  For me, the crazier the analogy, the better I can wrap my mind around new thinking.

I put my new thinking into practice one freezing day back in January.  Shivering, layered in two shirts over pants, I saw a crying toddler dressed in short-sleeves and shorts and I knew he was cold.  He was fussy, as he was getting passed around from person to person, and no one told the mom that her young boy was cold.  I felt like saying something because I have been programmed to...


Yet, I had my new mantra so I replayed it in my head:

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

I bit my lip and didn't speak to the mom.  I kept focusing on what helped me and my life.  I stayed out of someone else's life because, in the end, it is not going to be appreciated.  Really.  Even if she would have listened to my comment, and even if she would have found him a little jacket, she would have begrudged me pointing it out.

I have come to the conclusion that survival of the fittest isn't limited to animals; it includes the humanity around me.  Stupid people cannot be saved from themselves.  I know this sounds harsh.  It is not the bleeding heart that tried to beat here in our little village next to the Pyramids.  I thought that, if I simply educated a little, they would become enlightened.

For example, when I told a first-time mother that her newborn baby needed sunlight, she didn't respond and didn't get natural vitamin D for her baby.  The niqabi mom's face was never uncovered in the sun (although she could privately do so in within the walls of her home).  She was never taking her baby out into the fresh air and sunlight.  Early signs of rickets were not enough of a push so I would encourage and prompt and prod until I was blue in the face.  It seriously took a ton of my effort and energy!  Alhumdulillah, in the end, I felt like I saved that child from a misshapen skeletal frame.

Then there was the second child.  I was surprised that the mother forgot (or disregarded) everything I'd already said.  Again, there were early signs of rickets.  Again, I told of an easy cure:  simply place the child in direct sunlight for five to ten minutes a day (in sunny Egypt).  No.  It didn't happen.  I didn't push and plead.  I was tired.  Astragferallah, the child's body, at age three, doesn't look right.

The third child...has had to see specialists now.  The skull plates of the six-month-old baby are not melding together properly.  It is...yes...something that could have been prevented by getting enough vitamin D to allow for bone growth---not that any Egyptian doctor is going to pronounce this verdict.  Preventative measures, self-care, and natural cures are not part of this culture.  I'm talking a completely different language which has not been understood, even though it was in Arabic.

Both of my examples were about me trying to save children.

Believe me, there have been so many times I have stepped in and stepped over the line to try to save a child here.  That's what's always been the soft spot for me.  I know how crucial it is to make sound decisions for little minds and bodies; each day for them is a building block for the rest of their lives.  Yet, I can't be the one to save each and every child from the stupidity of their parents.  It is too taxing and alienating when I interfere.  I have had to admit that children might get injured, or even die if I don't intervene, but I simply can't do it all and survive here myself.

I could make each and every one of my thoughts known to "better" the people around me, and in the end they would banish me and my son.  People aren't going to respond well to my efforts.  I would not be able to keep myself safe within a community if my goal was to keep all of them safe from themselves.  After five years, I have realized that there might be problems for others without my intervention, but there definitely will be problems if I try to be some kind of superhero savior.

At the same time, I need to think of the many times I have been wrong.  My act of superiority aside, I'm as stupid as anyone else.  Humbly, I have needed some guidance too.  Have I always welcomed interference from outsiders?  It really depends how it was delivered and by whom.  MYOB (mind your own business) works both ways.  If I want someone to MYOB then I have to adhere to the same principle---even when I think I'm right.

Dr. Phil asked, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" and I'm telling myself that I want to be happy.  I will stop trying to fix the world, save all the children and right all the wrongs.


By practicing my mantra:

Not my circus.
Not my monkeys.
Not my problem. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Noise on the Stairs

Asalamu Alaykom,

Last night, I heard a noise on the stairs...


it was midnight and my husband had already gone to bed.  I flipped on the light and bravely opened the door.  This is what I saw.

Apparently, the kid needed some exercise!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Not Muslim

Asalamu Alaykom,

All of us destroy that which we should treasure.

All of us are guilty of being less than we could be.

It's easy to judge that someone else is making bigger mistakes than we are.  It feels good for our ego to know that someone else is making our own wrongs pale by comparison.  Maybe then we don't have to work so hard since others have fallen so wide off the mark.

Yet, when we judge others' level of faith, we are wrong and guilty of shirk.  No one can judge hearts and minds but Allah.  Shirk is saying that God, Al-Hakam "The Maker of Immutable Judgement," needs help doing the job.  That's our ego disregarding the fact that only Allah SWT knows who's a true believer and who isn't.

Saying that someone else isn't Muslim is just wrong.  If a person calls himself or herself Muslim, then it is not for anyone else to say differently.  If anyone's actions seem to go against Islam, that does not mean he or she can be ex-communicated by the ummah.  In Islam, there are no intercessors allowed to sever the relationship between a believer and The Almighty .

Being a believer doesn't mean being perfect.  Muslims, just like all believers, make mistakes.  This week, I was sadly made aware of a brother in faith who made a big mistake.  I had always looked to him as a kindred spirit here in Egypt and to learn the truth was a shock.  He wasn't who I thought he was.  I had judged him favorably for years.

Oh, by the way, we can't judge anyone as being better than others either.  That is also shirk.  We set people up for a fall since no one is perfect; no one is 100% good or 100% bad.  Believing in the white and black of absolutes belongs to another religion.  Islam says that we live in a gray area while always striving for better. 

Sincerely, the ummah has stop anointing some as being "good Muslims" while denouncing others as "not Muslim".  Yes, the world will accept us more, but we will be missing a key aspect of our faith.