Tag Archives: family

An Idea of Home

The more, and further, that I have gone from home the more I’ve realized exactly what home means for me; what being “Minnesotan” means for me, what being “Minnesotan” actually means, and how that has shaped me.

Until I left to finish my studies at Arizona State University I had always lived in the Upper Midwest. I was born in Minnesota, moved to Wisconsin at 10 (but went back to MN every summer), and then moved back to Minnesota at 15. While a rivalry does exist between the states, major differences in culture really do not. Maybe Wisconsin’s a little more Polish Catholic and Minnesota is a little more Norwegian Lutheran, but mostly they are the same mix of stoic Scandahoovians who’d give you the shirt off their backs but never they key to their emotions.

I truly do not think the culture that exists here is that far removed from the culture that exists in today’s Northern Europe, at least not from what I’ve seen both being there or on TV/in movies. We don’t ask questions, we accept the differences between people (at least outwardly- even if it makes us intensely uncomfortable), and we would rather set ourselves on fire than openly tell someone that we think they are a backwards heathen that will surely burn in hell- even if we actually believe it. Even among families negative emotions are not shared except between those who are closest to you. For me it is easier to cry when I am alone than it is to cry even in front of my husband (which is purely my quirk as my husband is the sweetest shoulder to cry on in the history of shoulders to cry on,) and I haven’t had a fight with any member of my family since the last time my cousin and I fought over dolls in elementary school. Dr. Phil could devote an entire year to all of the problems and messed-up dynamics that exist in my extended family but no one talks about any of them. Ever. Maybe it’s not entirely healthy but we love each other and we would rather forget that there was/is a problem than cause a rift or strife.

It is comfortable for me, but not so comfortable for Mr. MM who can never tell whether members of my family are happy, sad, excited, or angry and therefor, conversely, upset with him about anything. He’s not sure how to deal with that as, for him in his culture, there are a million nuances to read from Egyptians based on a million more body-language cues that direct how all social interactions go. Interacting then with my family is like trying to read a book filled with blank pages. Thank God my mother is more effusive, and from her I am as well, compared to the more stoic members of my family.

But, when I was younger I was drawn to the passionate interactions of Hispanic culture; I sought the intense interpersonal relationships and dynamics of immigrant friends. I embraced my Mexican friends, my Desi “adopted family”, and my loud Arab in-laws. Everything was brighter, louder, and more filled with color. I loved it.

But now, as I get older, it kind of exhausts me. I love the quiet, the silence, the lack of drama that I find with my Upper Midwestern friends and family. Of course I still adore my Egyptian family and the vibrant Muslim community, but I find myself craving peace and quiet. And I just CAN’T with drama. Nope.

And as I have embraced that quiet, Scandinavian part of myself I’ve thought back to my childhood and how much a part of me this culture is. And I have come to treasure it.

Especially now, in the fall. Something about the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the gradual approach of winter seems so very Minnesotan to me. I read an article online that said that Denmark has an actual word for the warm, fuzzy, cozy nostalgic feeling that you get and is attached to fall and winter: hygge.

When I was younger I wanted to leave behind the Scandinavian part of me because I was bored by it. Bored by the simplicity and the quiet, the sameness. And so I traveled, I cultured, I explored.

Now I’m older. And I like the quiet again. And I hope that no matter where I ultimately end up in the world, that I can still impart into my children the concept and love of hygge.

Dreams

Last night I dreamt about two of my grandfathers; it was a sweet dream. It was sunny out, the golden kind of sunny where everything glows. They were both hale, healthy and strong and they were carrying heavy things for me. They were joking and laughing and when I ran over to them they both smiled at me. I kissed them each on their cheeks and told them that I loved them and then I ran on.

 

I don’t remember where I was running to or what else was in the dream, but I have the feeling that I will carry this memory forever, cherishing the moment, real though it may not be, because of the perfection of it and the realness of the love, given and taken, between them and myself.

 

They are both still alive, thank God, although not quite as robust as they were in my dream, and I look forward to the next time I get to kiss them and tell them how very much I love them. I may even remember the dream when I do so.

Once Upon the Nile

Ok, so I’ve finally decided to actually post about my super awesome trip with my mom and crew. Seriously ya’ll that was the best trip of my life. It was so good in fact that I have pretty much been in denial until… now, that it was actually over. *sigh*

I’m also stuck at home (still too weak to go out) and super bored.

So my mom and Maria arrived in Egypt on the 2nd of January (holy peanut butter that was a long time ago already) and we had rented a car for the whole two weeks. It was so nice to have a car, but I digress. We went to the airport to pick them up, got promptly and thoroughly lost, ended up having to pick up an aiport worker who moved some barriers so we cross a road divide, had us drive the wrong way up a road and the wrong way through a ticket gate and some police check points before we actually got to the correct arrival gate. I was so terrified that my mom had already arrived and was standing somewhere terrified and unable to call me and that we would somehow lose her.

In fact we had arrived right on time as the flight had been delayed by 20 minutes so I was standing, distraught, when I saw her come through the gate. I’ll admit that I cried when I first saw her because I had missed her so much, but it was only for like 2 minutes. Only.

After this we drove home, dropped off the luggage and walked over to Road Nine for a later dinner. Unforunately the food at the restaurant- which had previously been pretty good- was sub-par and no one really enjoyed it, but it was so nice to be together.

Day Two: Islamic and Coptic Old Cairo

The next morning we started out early (or at least early by Egyptian standards) so that we could spend the whole day exploring the Islamic and Coptic history of Cairo. It was awesome. We visited the Mohamed Ali mosque and a bunch of others I’m forgetting the names of… you know… all of those mosques on the Arabic side of the Egyptian pounds notes. One of them was the Sultan Hassan mosque which was run down but uber-cool because there are four-sections to the mosque- one for each of the maddhabs (Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence) for the students who used to study there during the height of the Islamic civilization. Cairo, believe it or not, was one of the biggest centers of education in the world.

We also set out to explore Khan el Khalili which was its usual jumble of crammed shops and over-eager salesmen. Poor Maria, who is of Korean descent, had “Konnichiwa” yelled at her more times than I could count. Considering that she was adopted as a baby and only speaks English, I cringed every time. But Maria, being the sweet and kind-hearted person that she is never wavered and I actually don’t think she even heard them (not having ever had ‘konichiwa’ yelled in her direction before.) But that was later.

After the Islamic history we explored the Coptic history of Cairo, which is really varied as well. Most people think of Egypt only as a Muslim country, which it technically is a secular government, but its so Muslim-majority that one could assume it was a Muslim country. But there is a very long and rich history of Christianity as well that is often left un-explored.

For people who are sensitive about religion, especially Christianity in Egypt, I would suggest that they skip this section because I’m going to make some generalizations that may offend. I am not setting out to be offensive, but I am going to write about my impressions of the places I visited.

For those of you who know the geography of Cairo, we were in the section that has the Saint Barbara church and the other two or three churches right around there. I never did catch the name of the barrio, so maybe someone could help me out.

Around this little collection of churches was a massive Christian graveyard which looked super cool. I love graveyards- is that morbid? I just think they are the most fascinating collections and examples of local culture, tradition, and history and should be explored. Maybe its my inner anthropologist (I wanted to be a paelo-cultural archaeologist when I was young.) Unfortunately we were not able to explore the graveyard but we did go into the churches. Now, the two main branches of Christianity here are Orthodox and Coptic (sometimes interchangeable) and I have to be honest: Orthodox churches creep me OUT. Even when I was Catholic. I think its the style of painting icons: the big eyes, the tilted heads, the Russian-ness of it. But, they’re creepy. While in the churches I was both fascinated and skeeved out; I wanted to explore and yet I wanted to run like a little girl. Especially when I got to the places where they had the bodies of saints. In Saint Barbara I think Yaseen (our tour guide and Mr. MM’s best friend) said that there were like 25 saints buried/ on display. Yes, on display. Ok not that you could actually see them but there was a place where there were saints bodies buried with effigies on top, and then there was the creepiest section of all: a little alcove with a number of silver cylinders. I asked him what the cylinders were (since they weren’t big enough for whole bodies) and he responded: “oh no, they took the bodies and ground them up.” He also did a little grinding motion with his hands which only further grossed me out. I dunno.

But here’s the thing that floored me ya’ll: I swear to you by all that good and holy if you had removed the crosses and saints the churches could have passed for mosques. All of them. Why do I say that? In every one of them there was the exact same type of mosaic tiling and arabic calligraphy around the doorways and tops of the walls that one would find in a mosque. Also everyone who has been in a original mosque knows the little staircase and podium that the imama climb to give the Friday sermons- well the churches had them! Ok, sure its a novel idea for being above the congregants for talking but they looked the same! Plus while we were in St B’s they were piping in the recording of someone reciting in Arabic. Of course it was most likely the Bible but the guy was reciting with the exact same sing-songy recitation as someone reciting Quran. If I had not been in a church I would have thought it was Quran. It was really freaky.

It was my first chance to be inside any church here in Egypt, but it wasn’t to be our last.

Next to that fortress/monastary/graveyard area was another famous mosque, that of Amr ibn el-‘As that was actually- if I am remembering correctly- the first mosque built in Africa but we didn’t get a chance to go inside; mostly because by this point we were exhausted. I’m so going to go again, inshAllah cuz it looks absolutely awesome. Also I just love the fatimidi mosques because of their style, although this mosque was built long before the Fatimids, it was redone during that time and has the characteristic serated-triangle adornments around the edge. A quick historical note here: you will find that serated triangle motif throughout Spanish art and in all southwestern-American architecture- which is Spanish in roots- because Spain was a Muslim territory for a huge chunk of its history. The mosques kind of remind me of Arizona so I like them, plus they have fabulous inner courtyards which again remind me of Spanish-influenced architecture.

But I digress. BTW, this is going to be a super-long post. Uber-long. I’ve got two whole weeks to post about and we’re only at the end of day number 2. You might want to find a comfortable chair, get some tea, and settle in. Hm, I think I should make chapters. Let me do that. Ok, done. On to day three.

Day Three: I don’t remember…

Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to write this. I think day three was a day of rest because my poor mom and Maria had been travelling and running around for more than 48 hours. We hung out, went to the souk, oh we went shopping for things my mom decided that I greatly needed- like a space heater- because it was so cold. The whole trip she complained about being cold, and I had warned her but no one ever believes me that it gets cold here. Anyways the space heater has made a huge difference in the comfort here (thanks mom!) and we had a true adventure at the downtown Omar Effendi (never again ya’ll.)

Day Four: On the Road

This is where we drove to Hurghada. Man that was a long trip but beautiful, once we hit the red sea, and we really enjoyed it. Halfway there we stumbled across the huge and historic monastary of St. Paul (Deir Mar Boulos) that we entered so mom and Maria could look around. It had real monks and everything. Again there was a ton of the Orthodox iconography that creeps me bleep out so I voted to stay in the car, plus I was being eyed kind of funky by the monks that were wandering around. We made it to Hurghada kind of late, checked into the hotel too late to go swimming in the pool, but slept really well in the comfy beds.

Day Five and Six: Hurghada

Hurghada is beautiful you guys, seriously. The red sea is gorgeous. Mostly we did a lot of laying around the pool, laying around the beach, and relaxing in our hotel rooms which was what all of us needed. But on day six we went on a “safari” which was really a lot of fun but definitely not what I thought a safari would be. Mama Mona hooked us up because her husband is a big guy in that area and because she rocks, thanks honeybunch!

Now the safari was broken up into groups: Russians and everyone else. Now Russia I guess is one of the few countries to have not been hit by the economic depression so Egypt and Hurghada (which has kind of always been a target getaway for Russians anyway) has been playing up to them with special trip deals to promote tourism which has been hit hard by the world money woes. I’d have to say that 85% of the tourists I saw were Russian, and wow are they rude. Wooooooooooow. Anyways.

So the first part of the safari was a dune-buggy and four-wheeler excursion. Basically we climbed into dune-buggies and drove single-file around in circles in a massively huge plateau of nothing but rocks and sand. Then we got out and switched to four-wheelers where we then drove single-file around in circles in the same huge plateau. Once we were covered in sand from head to toe and all the crevices in between and had eaten enough dust to satisfy our guides they herded us into buck-board jeeps and drove us straight back into the mountains. Now this drive actually took like 45 minutes of bouncing, jostling, and hitting bone-crunching rocks and gravel-pits. Plus it was boring because it looked like the surface of the moon. Once we were inside the mountains, which was actually a really cool part because I had wanted to see what it was like inside the mountains, we were taken to a “bedouin village” which really was not an actual village but was staffed with real bedouins. From there we were placed onto camels led by burqa-clad bedouin women and girls who took us on a single turn that lasted maybe three minutes tops and reminded me painfully of the elephant rides offered at the rennaissance festival. Then we went around and saw how the bedouins hand make the goods that they were selling for exorbitant amounts of money (and which were most likely not made by them.) In one section was a bedouin grandmother who was grinding semolina by one hand and holding a cute baby goat by the other. After explaining that this was how bedouins grind their flour the tourists were allowed to each take a turn and get a picture (and give a tip of course) but the most hilarious thing was that the lady handed the goat the every single person as if it were not possible to grind flour unless you were simultaneously holding a baby goat. I took a turn mostly because I wanted to hold the baby goat and because Mr. MM wanted to take a picture, I’m sure to one day use as black-mail. We were then herded into the weirdest part of the safari: the zoo. Yes, a zoo. With ostriches and other animals kept in disgusting conditions and a snake room filled with snakes that are in no way actually native to Egypt. Snakes give me the heebie jeebies but what made me leave the building was the complete and utter absurdity of it: boa constrictors? pythons? I’m not a bleedin’ moron, what does this have to do with bedouins?

I sat and watched the breath-taking sunset and the first stars come into the sky and then Mr. MM and I went to pray in the mosque in the fake bedouin village, possibly the only “real” structure besides the animal pens. While everyone else was getting a chance to buy “real natural herbal remedies made and used by the bedouins” he and I prayed in what I believe to be the only mosque I’ve ever prayed in that is anything like the mosques the Prophet (saaws) prayed in: a single rectibule with white-washed half-walls, a thatched roof, and thin hand-woven carpet over a bed of smooth pebbles. With the first stars beginning to sparkle in the sky, the cool air, and the breath-taking mountains around us I felt as close to God as I ever have in my life. The whole experience was worth it just for that. We were herded back into the torture mobiles and jostled all the way back into the safari base and fed a traditional egyptian meal (which was actually decent food) while were were entertained by, in succesion, a belly dancer (who sucked), a whirling dervish, and then some guy who swallowed swords and could lay on a bed of nails while some skinny-ass Russian girls sat on his chest. We were actually able to volunteer Mr. MM for helping and the guy tried to have him swallow a sword which Mr. MM could not do and who later swore revenge on me when I least expect it. Again I failed to see what the strong-man act had to do with Egyptian culture, but I guess its about the entertainment not actually sticking to culture.

After the safari I went and met Mama Mona, which was awesome! She’s such a gorgeous personality with really great kids and I wish we lived closer to each other. She cooked us some yummy brownies and we had a good chat. Unfortunately I had been dealing with some major allergies and took a benedryl (stupidly) right before going to visit and so about half-way through I began to swim in my own consciousness and had to cut it short before I fell unconscious into the tea I was drinking. I’m so mad at myself because I wanted to stay longer with her.

Day Seven: Driving to Luxor

We said goodbye to beautiful Hurghada and struck out for Luxor and the start of our Upper Egypt Adventure. Driving through the mountains was awesome, they were beautiful and we were actually able to see the bedouin encampments along the highway and see actual bedouins hanging out. When we stopped for a bathroom break at one of the super nice rest areas built for tourists (and populated by guys selling tourist knick knacks and food and beverages at kick-in-the-gut prices) we were surrounded by adorable bedouin kids ironically carrying around cute baby goats (it must be a selling point for tourists?) They were fascinated by me (an American Muslim) and my mom who was a woman and was *gasp* driving. They were so completely fascinated that they forgot to beg. They were absolutely adorable and we gave them some money anyways, yeah yeah I know.

We left the arid desert behind and descended into the verdant green Nile valley and the heart of Upper Egypt near Qina where I was completely bowled over by the lush green, the peace, and the beauty of Egypt. Maybe the people in the villages lack the ammenities of big cities, and are very poor, but they are rich in beauty and peace. We stopped along the road and called a young boy over to ask him for a stalk of sugar cane. He pulled like three huge stalks off of his father’s load and handed them to us with a smile and a refusal to take money. We only took one stalk and made him take the money we offered. I peeled the outer layer off and gnawed on the juicy core and through the rest of the drive we all snacked on fresh sugar cane. At every police checkpoint (of which there are so freaking many) the police officers and the villagers laughed to see me chewing on the end of a huge stalk and spitting out the fibers. I’m sure I looked silly and in fact mom took pictures of me to prove it.

We arrived in Luxor and met with one of my father-in-law’s best friends, a lawyer of similar age and rank as baba. There he took our rental car and kept an eye on it for us while we were on our Nile cruise. Since the cruise began in Aswan and ended in Luxor we needed to leave the car somewhere safe and he gave us a place to do it. He was a sweet man who, oddly enough, reminded me a lot of my fil. From Luxor we caught a train to Aswan where we bedded for the night in a hotel right on the Nile, preparing to catch our Nile cruise the next morning.

Aswan, oh Aswan. It is a jewel of Egypt.

But I will talk more about that in my next installment of “Once Upon the Nile.”

*cheesey theme music*

Me and My Mom

Three days before my mom comes to visit me I think its about time to give her the recognition and shout out she more than deserves. I’ve written previously about my father and his absence in my life, but whats made me who I am today is my mom and her presence.

My mom and I are incredibly alike, and I say that with the utmost pride because I think my mom is an awesome human being. If there is anyone I’d ever want to be like, its her. We look a lot alike, we sound a lot alike, and we think a lot alike.

When my father left us she had to pick up the pieces. Not only did she have to deal with her own emotional fall-out but she did everything she could to shield me from the pain as well. She picked herself up, sent me down to Arizona to be with my grandparent’s,  packed up our house,and moved us into her mom’s house while I was away. After that she moved us from Minnesota to Wisconsin and began studying to be a nurse, her life-long dream. Being so young I never understood exactly what my mom sacrificed to support me; she was a full-time student, a full-time employee (or sometimes only a 3/4 time employee), and a full-time mom. Sure I was a latch-key kid but looking back I don’t think I really missed out on having a mom because she was always there when I needed her.

Every summer she would send me back to Minnesota, and what I never saw but she told me later is that during those summers she would find and work every part-time paying job she could find, even working in a cheese factory on a factory line, in order to save up extra money for the coming school-year. There were many lean years, one Christmas there wasn’t enough money for Christmas gifts and our name was put on a list at our church and one of the families filled the space under our Christmas tree. During these years my father did nothing to help us, didn’t send money, didn’t send gifts, I don’t ever really remember him even calling me; mom took his place and she made a pretty darn good father as well. What we lacked in material things we made up for in love. That sounds sappy and cliche but it really was true.

I hated Wisconsin for a myriad of reasons, and even though she loved the community there and the church we attended she moved us back to Minnesota as soon as she graduated from Nursing school because she knew I wanted to go home. I was a horrible pain in the ass those years, but every kid goes through those. I know she hasn’t found a church that she loves as much as she loved Christ the Rock, and it makes me sad. I can’t really say that I miss Wisconsin though… there’s that selfish kid again I suppose.

We moved back to my home town because I had this silly idea that I wanted to go back to the only place I remember being happy, Forest Lake. My mom commuted into the Twin Cities every night for her night shift at the hospital and she would drive home 45 minutes tired and sleepy, so that I could be back in FL. I know she’s going to say that she did it as well because the rent was cheaper up there, but she did it for me.

So many things that she’s done in life, she done for me. I can only pray that I am as good and selfless as a mother for my own children one day as my mother has been for me.

We’ve had our hard time, our hard years. We’ve had our share of huge fights- what mother-daughter relationship hasn’t? But I can honestly say she is my best friend.

When I converted to Islam the one person I really thought about it impacting, and feeling bad about it, was my mom. I am an only child and so my mom doesn’t have any other chance of grandchildren except through me (and possibly if she marries again to a man with children of his own but that wouldn’t be the same) and it makes me feel sad that all the religiously-tinted things she did for me like Easter baskets won’t be the same if we have them at all.

But she’s the first person I told out of the family, the only one who knew (for certain) for months if not years before anyone else. In fact my mom knew at least a year before I even told Oogie who is one of my best friends. And she knew me so well. When I told her, the morning I was driving her to surgery, before I even told her she said, “don’t tell me… you’re Muslim.”

And after that she’s been my biggest support, sure she was disappointed being a firm born-again Christian herself, and we try to avoid getting too in-depth about religious differences, but despite these things she is my biggest defendant. When family or acquaintances of the family malign my choice in religion she defends me, and she has even defended Islam against pre-conceived misconceptions when she knows what the truth is. And she is my biggest cheerleader as well, when I moved to Arizona she whole-heartedly supported me, and when I moved here to Egypt she again whole-heartedly supported me and she continues to support me in every way she can. About once a month she packs up a care package to send to me from home filled with goodies and gifts, sweets, necessities, shoes for my poor plantar-faciitised feet, and things for my husband and his family. On Eid el Fitr she sent two packages with extra gifts for my husband’s family. One cannot imagine just how much her support and gifts have kept me sane while here. In fact, how much her support has kept me sane in life.

Almost everyone who knows my mom says to me, “wow, you’re mom is really cool.” And I smile and nod because I know that what they saw is only the tip of the iceberg on how wonderful she really is.

My friend Rahma, a convert like me, met my mom the other day and she sent me an email that said, “Your mom is very cool. You’re so lucky to have someone so understanding.”

I am lucky. So, so, so lucky that I got her as a mom. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to have been born to. So when people say that we’re alike, I say thank you.

Cuz my mom is the coolest person in the world.

I love you mom.

Merry Christmas

To all of my family, I miss you all so very, very much.

I have made it through these two days with only being extremely moody and only having had one uncontrollable crying fit brought on by nothing more than Zuzu trying to jump up to sit on my shoulder as I lay on the couch being moody and accidentally scratching my chin when she missed. Its funny the little things that break the camel’s back.

Work has been a little crazy, trying to finish things up before my mom comes so I haven’t had much time to do anything luxurious like write blogs.

Coming back from a meeting I found that my oldest neice (who speaks little English) left a message on my msn:

h says:
Good afternoon ❤
h says:
ilove you very much

Its nice to remember that there are (hold on let me count) 15 good reasons to enjoy living in Egypt close enough that I can go visit all of them.

Sixteen if you count Mr MM but he’s part and parcel anyways. Where he goes I go and vise versa.

Happy Holidays.

funny-pictures-you-got-five-lolcats-for-christmas

Thankful Days

This past Thursday was Thanksgiving in America. Of course there was no celebrating as such on this side of the world, but everyone was gathered at my Grandma’s home back in Minnesota. My mom had set a date with me earlier in the week for Thursday evening to be online so I guessed that she was bringing the webcam so that even if I wasn’t there in body I could be there in mind and soul and digital picture.

So Thursday evening we rounded up the webcam and connected and my husband was able to meet people he had only heard about. It was wonderful to see all of my family, it felt like I was there. I even witnessed my two boy cousins (brothers) get into their daily wrestling match (without which it would not officially be a family holiday.) It was so wonderful and while it made me feel a little sad that I wasn’t there it made me feel that I hadn’t missed out on much. I do still have a fierce craving for pumpkin pie though, and turkey, and mashed potatoes……

Moving on.

Those family members who had not seen my husband in anything more than pictures were able to interact and talk with him and I was delighted. To each side they were no longer faceless names and stories I talked about, and I think some of the nervousness was lifted for them. And a lot was lifted from me as well, I wondered how well my family would interact with Mr MM as not many of them have had extensive contact with foreigners on a family level of familiarity, and I wondered how Mr MM would do with them as he hasn’t had much contact with American family dynamics except that which I brought with me. But everything went off without a hitch and I don’t think there was any nervousness at all. So I’m looking forward to the day when we are both home and on the other side of the camera eating that pumpkin pie. You know how they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder? You never appreciate what you have until you’ve lost it? I know that I, for one, will never again feel bored at family functions as I can honestly say it sucks much worse to not be able to go to them at all.

The next morning we got up early (for a Friday) in order to meet my mother-in-law (I’ll just refer to her as Mama) at al-Azhar mosque in Khan-el-Khalili for Friday prayer after which we began one of the coolest adventures I’ve been on here in Egypt. It began ordinarily enough, except that Friday prayer in al-Azhar is somewhat like the process of canning sardines. For such a warm and fuzzy culture I am sometimes shocked by the rudeness of Egyptian women. My mil is elderly and has a hard time getting up and down so sitting on the floor for the sermon is an impossibility and when asking a young woman to move over so she and I could sit the girl just completely ignored my mil, didn’t look at her, didn’t answer, didn’t move. I couldn’t believe it. We eventually found a better place to sit and settled in for the sermon of which I understood maybe a handful of words. It is really cool to think that we were sitting and praying in a mosque that had been around since 975 AD. But then again Egypt is a fount of history, Misr Om-ad-Dunya (Egypt Mother of the World,) and all that so its sometimes easy to forget just how old the wall you’re leaning against really is.

After the prayer we began to wander the Khan-el-Khalili market which is a must-see for any tourist in Egypt. It’s always amusing to me to be walking by a line of shops and have each salesman, or I guess barker would be a better word as they sit outside the shops and try to lure tourists in to them, yell at me in varying languages: first English, then German, then Spanish, and then maybe in Arabic. You’d be amazed just how much each barker knows of each language. Of course no Egyptians go to Khan el Khalili to buy anything unless they know people there or know a special shop like the religious book store my husband likes to go to. Other than that most natives will buy the same things in other parts of Cairo for much cheaper as prices are jacked up for the tourists. So we were wandering, not really looking for anything, mostly just to waste time as Mr MM wanted to take his mother and I to a famous kabab restaurant in the Sayeda Zainab district which didn’t open until after 5 pm.

We left the main tourist area, of which I am not terribly fond mostly because all of the shops sell the same crap, and its very crowded, and entered into the older part of the Khan area where there are a number of museums. We entered into one which took my breath away. I can’t recall off the top of my head what the name of the house was called but the residence, palace I would say, once belonged to a man who was the Minister of Commerce before there was such a station. Ah, found it, Bayt-ul-Suhaymi (the Suhyami House) its huge and its a jewel of old Arab architecture. Read the link, it talks about how it was built to best handle the heat of the summer before such luxuries as air conditioners were invented. Throughout the house I kept elbowing Mr MM and saying, “did I mention that I want one of these?” and finally we decided to just bring whoever we hire to build our villa to this house and point out the things we want. Problem solved. As soon as I have the time and energy to upload the pics I believe I took about 100 throughout the house. I think I’ll also publish a pass protected post with the pics of Mr MM, Mama, and I throughout the day as well.

We probably spent a good hour and a half wandering, the master bedroom -yes they had one of those- was amazing with a domed ceiling with star-shaped cut outs of colored glass over the bed. Definitely fit for a king. Also, I must mention, that they (the museum not the house) had very clean bathrooms so for any tourists needing to use the loo and planning to go to this museum there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is important information, believe me, when you’re faced with a choice between toilets encrusted with unmentionable substances or a squat loo also encrusted with unmentionable substances.

After using the loo and getting ready to leave we passed a group of foreigners on our way out to meet Mama who was sitting at the entrance. She motioned for me to be very quiet and after we had left she explained to Mr MM in Arabic that they charged the foreigners 30LE for entrance but us “Egyptians” only 3LE. It was the same in all of the museums but as I was tramping around with Egyptians and dressed in an abaya and hijab they just assumed I was Egyptian as well. Lucky for us.

After this we passed the mausoleum and mosque of a Sultan who was a great-great grandfather of Mama and while it is actually forbidden to allow anyone in, as it is in the process of being turned into a museum, money talks and a matter of 5 or 10LE to the maintenance woman we were allowed in and took a bunch of pictures. It was cool to know it was the grave of one of my husband’s antecendents and I’ll post pictures of that as well.

We also explored an old water station that, like everything else, was extensively decorated and tiled. I will post pictures of that as well. Really, I think its funny how they employ maintenance people to sit around, sure they clean, but mostly what they do is ask the people who come to see the sites for money for allowing us to see the sites which are here for us to see. Welcome to Egypt. Honestly though, these people are so poor that they’re one step up from sitting on a street corner begging so you work with what you got.

I could wax poetic on the architecture and the beauty of old Cairo but I will let my pics (once uploaded) speak for themselves. The highlight of the day, however, was the discovery of my spiritual home. While we were sitting and resting out front of a mosque called the Al-Hakim Mosque (after the ruler who built it) I decided to enter and fell in love. Built entirely of white marble and in the style specific to the Fatimids (the rulers who basically built Cairo) it housed a small flock of pigeons that were flying in formation around the huge open-air courtyard. Theres really no way for me to describe exactly how I felt the moment I stepped into it but I fell in love. In fact I miss it as if I were missing a best friend or a lover. It was as if I had stepped into a place that was separate from the rest of the world, a quiet moment in time where you are at your happiest. Sitting on the edge of the courtyard with my back against the pillar, feeling the breeze as it blew across the cool white marble and watching the pigeons as they weaved and bobbed and floated on the same breeze I felt completely at peace with everything.

Mr MM always talked about how he had wanted to enter the mosque when he was younger and visiting his grandmother who lived in this area but that he was afraid of the Indians who were always inside. Apparently a select group of Shi’a Indians are followers of Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah (the one who built the mosque) and have dedicated themselves not only to cleaning and up-keep of the mosque but who also make pilgrimages to it like their own special hajj. Those who know about the Fatimids (and those of you who clicked on the link I provided) know that the Fatimids were Shi’a and that Cairo was a Shi’a caliphate for hundreds of years. It is no longer and in fact it is almost as strongly Sunni as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia but without the crazy that the KSA holds dear. Most Shi’a were drummed out a long time ago and now only a small underground group remains. Oh and the Indians of course, of which a small group came in for maghrib prayer.

Maybe a reader can help me out here, I’ve seen people of this group before in another part of Cairo but the women wear this really wierd matching skirt and khimar set except the khimar has this flap that folds back from the forehead. Its very unique and I’ve only seen them wearing it. I would have taken a picture except I don’t think it would have gone down well. My husband approached a gentleman to say hello and when he asked the man where he was from he answered, in accented English mind you, “England.” To which Mr MM replied, “Ok sure, but where are you from originally?” And again, in accented not British English, the man said, “England.”

Yeah, whatever.

I gave them the benefit of the doubt on being Shi’a but when everyone prayed maghrib the group went over to a small section marked off with a curtain to pray on their own which immediately marked them out as being such. They reminded me of my friend Mer’s husband who is a Shi’a Indian from Hyderabad and part of a community of Niner Shi’a that are different from Twelver Shi’a in some way that I don’t entirely understand. Anyways, they will not pray behind an Imam who is not descended from the line of the Prophet (saaws) and so they went off to their own area and prayed behind their own Imam. I have a strong desire to talk about haraam and all that but I will refrain and leave that for someone else. I’m going to stick to just writing down my observations.

I would assume that this group was possibly part of Mer’s husband’s group except that I’ve never seen any of his family members wearing this particular outfit. Life I said, anyone out there who can help me out?

Edit: Ok I should have fully read my own links; on the link for the Mosque it talks about the interior being redone by the Bohra/Mustaali, a shi’a sect based in India. I believe Mer’s husband’s sect is referred to as the Sulaymanis so they are related if not the same. I heart Wikipedia.

Anyways, the lights on the mosque were gorgeous when the sun went down and when we were leaving the entrance man was nice enough to flip on the colored laser lights they had hooked up outside and which bathed the white walls of the Mosque in beautiful pastel blues and pinks and purples. Delicious.

We left through the huge iron gates that used to be the entrance into Cairo, way back when, and caught a taxi to Sayeda Zainab to eat at al-Rifa’i which is a famous and oh-so-yummy kabab and random grilled meats (even bull penis) restaurant. Its pretty famous, and rightfully so. We stuffed ourselves silly and then paid an exorbitant amount of money. On one side Mama was yelling at Mr MM in Arabic for spending that much money and on the other I was yelling at him in English for spending that much money.

Afterwards we escorted Mama to her ride back to Warraq and we met up with one of Mr MM’s best friends and his new wife and went to a ghetto movie theatre and watched Babylon AD which was better than I thought it would be but which I think was heavily edited at the end because I can’t imagine any movie being that choppy for an ending. Did anyone else see it in the US where its not censored? If you did please email me (mollyannelian[at]gmail) and tell me how the ending was for you.

I have probably like 200 pics to upload, I know it. And I can’t promise when its going to happen as my camera takes high resolution pics and takes forever to upload, but I promise it will be sooner rather than later.

It was such a wonderful day, I wish I could live it again.

Yasoosoo!

Meet Yaseen

Born October 6th in the wee hours of the morning

Ya habib-albi

Yasoosoo!

Yasoosoo!

No he’s not mine, I haven’t been holding out on you guys. He’s my brand-spankin’ new (he even sparkles!) nephew and the apple of both my and Mr. MM’s eyes.

Ya helw, ya gameel, ya ghali, yasoosoo! bahebak!

Those of you who have the pass can see more pictures in the post below.

Rules for having the password:

1. I know you, you have commented on my blog before.

2. You’re female, if I password protect any pictures its because they include photos of me.

If you fit both of the criteria then please email me at mollyannelian [at] gmail [punto] com

Protected: Family Pics

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Eid (Saieed?) al-Fitr

When Mr. MM found out I was going to write a new post about Eid his response was, “Oh no, you’re not going to complain like you did about Ramadan are you?”

Unfortunately, yes. I feel like this blog is becoming a bit of a wet blanket, but I’m telling it as it happens. Its like news from the Middle East, you want to hear about kittens and fluffy white clouds but mostly its bombs, rocket grenades, and crimes against humanity.

This time my complaints have less to do with my personal perception of Eid and more actual physical harm.

In the west Eid prayer is a festive get together in whatever random convention hall/stadium the Muslim community was able to trick the city into renting us. I say trick because most of the locations after one Eid, and experience with the bad manners and worse habits of the community, put us on their “do not rent to” list. With the exception of, I believe, the Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis where, pretty much every Eid, you are guaranteed to be able to find an Eid prayer.

In the unlucky convention hall of the day the women’s section is filled with loud, clashing colors battling loud, clashing voices; little to no cohesion or organization; and a distinct inability to understand the sermon being given, or in fact to even partake in the takbeerat at the beginning. The only time the women, mostly, shut up is during the actual prayer, but this is instead plagued with seemed inability to form straight lines to save their lives, serious battles for territory, and so little space that most of the time you find yourself with your face in the feet of the woman ahead of you during sujood, and during ru’ku your face in a place you’d probably should have taken her out to dinner before accessing. Likewise for yourself and the woman behind you.

During the sermon there are orchestrated attempts to quiet down the women which do not work, a man always comes in to tell the women to shut up because they’re even so loud some of the men in the men’s section can’t hear and that goes completely unnoticed because lets face it, one man versus 250 talking women, when on a good day women on a one to one ratio can talk louder than a man, is equivalent to banging your head on a wall; and mostly I leave each year huffing and puffing and doubting the future of such a rude community.

I had never, at that point, been to a Middle Eastern Eid prayer.

I will preface this with the statement that we were in Mr. MM’s old neighborhood which is basically a poverty-stricken ghetto filled with what society Egyptians refer to as “locals.” I would say equivalent to a city filled to bursting with the Beverly Hillbillies. It is possible, even probable, that a higher class area would not have been so bad, but I have my doubts that it would be that much better either.

Eid prayer here takes place at an unearthly early time in the morning, in the west its usually around nine or ten am, the earliest is maybe at eight… this morning we assembled at the bright and bushy hour of six am. Mr. MM and I migrated with the other herds to one of the bigger congregation areas and I followed the women to their separate area. Had I known that we would be sitting out in the middle of the omg-seriously-not-clean streets I might have considered staying home, but not having been forewarned I found myself faced with the option of setting up shop on a field of broken glass. I’m really not exaggerating here, it looked like someone laid out a fifty foot by fifty foot pane of glass and proceeded to break it up into little pieces. Having none of that I pushed my way forward to stake out my own little space of relatively garbage and glass free pavement. I laid down the prayer rug I was thanking God I thought to bring, many women had only sheets of newspaper to pray on and some of them were so poor that they didn’t even have that, and I settled in for the battle to protect my precious space bubble.

I must say that most of the women did actually partake in the takbeerat song, but I don’t know if it was really that they were that much quieter here or if it was that fact that each mosque in the city (imagine two mosques per street and twenty streets within sight) were broadcasting it over (very)loudspeakers and had been since right after the fajr prayer (did I mention the morning started early?) But even up to the actual prayer women were still trekking through the unevenly spaced lines of praying people to find their own space in what was by that point a very crowded town square. One girl decided my delineated and hard-won area of one foot by two feet looked like a great place to stop and start to pray, but I changed her mind quickly. Even as it was I was more friendly with the woman in front of me, and with the woman behind me, than I ever was in the US.

After the prayer most of the women didn’t even stop to listen to the sermon, which is probably best anyways as it was not broadcast over the (very)loudspeakers of the mosques, but instead over some small portable speakers set up only in the men’s section. Before anyone cries sexism though, please read my above paragraph on how well the sermon goes down even when it IS piped into the women’s section. Many of the women started to try to stop the women who were packing up and leaving with cries of “Salaat ul-junazza!” (which is prayed for someone who has died that day or the day before) but lacking any sort of cohesion and organization the stampede began and even if I wished to, and the women yelling out wished to, the herds wouldn’t let us alone to wait for the junazza prayer.

Faced with either moving or being trampled, I chose life and so began probably the most dangerous part of Eid this year. There were probably three hundred women, if not more, and many of them were carrying/dragging any number of children along with them, and they were all trying to get through a bottle neck that only supported about fifteen women shoulder to shoulder. Unable to move forward I found myself caught in one of those unintentional mosh-pits except this one wasn’t fun and games. The three hundred women behind us attempted to shove themselves through the way, making the space more compact, ripping children from their mother’s hands and getting them lost in the crowd. I was worried any number of small children would be stepped on and killed and almost started to beat the women behind me when one little girl was knocked down and away from her mother but she was quickly picked up and replaced and the crowd moved on. Towards the front of the crush I found it hard to breathe I was being pressed so tightly but I made it out, in fact with a bit of a popping sound, and I hurried to the car where I met Mr. MM who had also wanted to stay for the junazza but was worried about me not knowing what to do if he wasn’t there. Fuming, attempting to catch my breath, I swore to never again go to Eid prayer in Egypt, not even in higher-class areas.

And I won’t.

The rest of the day passed relatively nicely, visiting with all of my in-laws, but I was too tired for most of it to really enjoy. Honestly I miss Eid with my walee and his family, hanging out, chatting with visitors, applying henna, laughing, and eating Pakistani food that I actually like.

When I think back on western Eid prayers, yeah the women are rude and ignorant but I have never once feared for my life or been faced with praying on a field of broken glass. Sure I can’t hear the sermon, and mostly can’t hear the takbeerat, but for all of its issues I prefer it to what I experienced today.

That and its fun to get dressed up in your new Eid clothes and wear it to the prayer, here all the women pretty much dress in abayas and I had absolutely no fun with that.

I knew, coming to Egypt, that I wasn’t going to find a Utopian world of Islam, but I didn’t realize I would miss my American Islam quite this much.

Oh, just because I don’t want all this post to be doom and gloom, the best part of this Eid was having nieces and nephews to cuddle and give presents to. I spent most of the Eid Eve with one or both of the twins on my lap and a lot of “bosee tante mollllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyy boseee!”

That rocked ladies and gentleman.

Alhumdulillah.

I hope your Eids were wonderful and spent in safety surrounded by loved ones. 🙂

kol sana we tayabeen.

Along a Ramadan

Warning: long post ahead, you might want to break it up into chapters or something.

Baby’s First Middle-Eastern Ramadan

I was very excited to be in Egypt for Ramadan, I thought that being in a predominately Muslim country would make Ramadan somehow better and more meaningful. A ‘sea of difference’ one might say. And while in many ways Ramadan here is so much more than Ramadan in the west in some cases it is actually less.

I find that Ramadan here has become in many ways a cultural tradition rather than a sincere test of religious endurance; it is not culturally acceptable to not fast so I find that I see people fasting out of peer pressure and societal expectation. To me thats not Ramadan.

I’m used to Ramadans where I am the only person in my family/office/classroom fasting and that if I drink water or eat anything no one would even notice except God. To me this makes it a much more personal expression of faith, and of course much tougher. I have found, to my chagrin, that Ramadan here has become commercialized not so much unlike Christmas or Lent. It makes the experience empty for me: who am I really fasting for? God? Or society?

Christians and foreigners (most of whom also happen to be Christian) complain about being judged for not fasting, for attempting to order food in the middle of the day, and for not miraculously becoming more modest during this holy month. So, how many people here are fasting because the rest of their family is and to not fast would mean ridicule and ostracism?

This is indicative of Islam as a whole here as well: how many women wear the scarf only because their dad wouldn’t let them out of the house otherwise? When Islam is chosen and embraced outside of and maybe even against societal norms it becomes something more than just the status quo.

So, despite the lights, the canons, the festive nature of breaking the fast, I feel this Ramadan is hollow. Yes, I’ve missed close to no days of fasting (compared to the past Ramadans where I would have missed at least five days before the last ten of the month) and yes, its so much more fun when you are in a group of people or when I celebrate another day of fasting with my husband. But it feels rote, routine, expected not exceptional. In this way less than my lonely Ramadans of the past.

On the first day of Ramadan my true love gave to me…*

* you know you’re going to be singing that song for a least one day *cackle glee snort cackle*

The first day of Ramadan was exciting. In spite of knowing it was coming, the night before it quite literally surprised me when I found that Ramadan would begin the next day. Then again as I get older I find dates kind of sneak up on me anyways. Dear God, is it seriously my birthday? It was just December a minute ago…

Hubby and I did some last minute Ramadan shopping in grocery stores that were almost completely wiped out. Goodness people, do you grow four stomachs in Ramadan? I couldn’t find salt for a week! Lesson learned: stockpile necessities prior to all Ramadans.

When we returned to the building we stopped by Downstairs Uncle to wish him and his three girls (whom I will call Star, Breeze, and Brooke after very rough translations of the meaning of their names) a happy Ramadan. I may or may not have mentioned before that DU is very rich (may God bless him by even more because he deserves every dime) and his three girls are very high society. In Egypt, well ok in pretty much all the world, high society people marry other high society people so Brooke, the middle daughter, is engaged to marry the son of the owner of one of the biggest restaurant chains in Egypt. DU and the girls had been invited to take the first suhoor in the original restaurant location and so we were invited along as well.

It being one in the morning already we just stayed up until it was time to leave and we were all driven to Nasr City. The restaurant was packed to the gills with people of all walks of life. There was an exciting moment of speculation when pretty much all the men in the restaurant, servers and cooks included, all rushed to one corner where, I was told later, a famous player from the biggest soccer team in Egypt, Ahly, was taking his pre-fast meal. The poor guy, he was just trying to get his grub on. Anyways, I felt halfway famous sitting and eating with the family that owned the famous restaurant where famous people ate, six degrees of separation and all that jazz, and the food is really good. We rolled ourselves back towards the car, took our leave of Brooke’s betrothed, who is a very sweet young man, and headed home. With our expanded waist-lines we almost didn’t all fit but we made it eventually just as the call to prayer, and the breaking moment of Ramadan, rang out.

We slept off our food comas, poor Mr MM went to work after a scant three hours of sleep, and afterwards I set about getting ready for the first iftar. Traditionally the first iftar is always taken as a large family group so we packed up and headed out to Warraq to take dinner with Mr MM’s brother.

One of my absolute favorite things about Ramadan is that, especially for the first week, the roads in Cairo right after the maghrib call to prayer and signal to break your fast become eerily empty. Everyone is at home stuffing their faces and much too busy to be wreaking havoc with Cairo traffic. Mr MM and I, having left late that first day, sailed through the streets like ghosts, marveling at the beauty of the roads when no one else was on them. It was probably one of my more favorite moments in Egypt, when the city is at peace.

We ate dinner with his brother’s family and my niece and nephews introduced me to their new baby chickens who were heartbreakingly adorable. As we were getting ready to leave we were told about a party at one of Mr MM’s aunt’s house for the Seventh Day celebrations of their new baby granddaughter. So off went went back to Nasr City again to join in the festivities.

If one has never been to a Seventh Day celebration, its a trip. Its kind of like a baby shower/baptism/riotous party all rolled into one. It was also my first time to meet a lot of Mr MM’s (large) extended family and I was the center of a lot of attention. At one point I was surrounded by fifteen people with at least three if not four of them loudly speaking to me in Arabic all at the same time alternately trying to convince me to not listen to what the other person is saying and to answer random questions. Considering I only understood maybe two out of every twenty words I had absolutely no idea what was going on. My mother in law, God bless her, did her best to brow-beat my admirers into submission, but it really just added to the noise. One aunt convinced me that the flat was hers and took me on a tour with another group of four people in tow along with us, still trying to convince me of mostly untrue information. It turned out later that the flat wasn’t even hers (she was tricking me) and most of the people who claimed rooms as being their own didn’t even live there. It was all done in laughter and fun of course, but I didn’t particularly care what house belonged to who and actually even who was who because I’m terrible with names and to this day still can’t tell most of them apart. Deposited breathlessly back onto the couch from off of which I had been lifted for the tour, I spent a lot of the evening trying to find my husband in the crowd and being chased by random cousins who wanted to tell me some funny story about some one I didn’t really know. It was great fun, and definitely a crash course in the Arabic language.

But the real celebration started when they brought out the baby girl. Everyone was handed ribbon-festooned candles to light and hold onto, even very young children (safety not being on the top of the list in Egypt) and the lights were turned out. The grandmother (I think) of the baby came first with a metal pestle and mortar which she banged on and rang in cacophonous melody while the women zaghrouted and the newborn was carried out in a delightfully overly-decorated monstrosity of a bassinet (sold specifically for Seventh Day celebrations). Everyone stood in circle while the grandmother alternately banged on the mortar with the pestle, right next to the baby’s head, and setting that down picked up the bassinet and shook, rattled, and rolled the baby inside to that she would stay awake. It was a testament to the sleeping ability of newborns that even through the extremely loud racket of the mortar being pounded on right next to her head the baby would actually go back to sleep in between periods of being violently jostled. Once she was shaken to satisfaction she was set on the floor and the new mom was invited to jump over the bassinet a set number of times. A few other over-zealous members of the family also took the leap and then the mom picked up the baby and, lead by the pestle-banging grandmother, we all followed her out of the apartment, down the stairs to the main entryway and then circled the mom and baby, with our candles, singing some sort of traditional song. I mumbled because I had absolutely no idea what was going on let along the words to the song. Once that was over everyone trooped back up the stairs, children young (too young) and old were given fireworks to go play with unsupervised and everyone sat around talking.

After the baby-shaking climax of the evening people began trickling out and we eventually followed suit. Getting back into the car and heading home we found that it was pretty much only a matter of two hours before it was time to eat suhoor so we stayed up again and then slept after fajr.

The Arab Way

I have also found that fasting is so much easier if you do it the traditional Arab way: stay up all night, sleep all day. Fasting is easy when you’re asleep. Of course I feel that this isn’t quite as pure as actually being awake while fasting, staying up all night is more of a necessity for me than a choice. Ever since I came here I haven’t gone to bed much before one in the morning most days, so when it comes down to it, staying up an extra two hours is much more logical then barely falling asleep and having to wake up and prepare the suhoor while in a zombie-like state. This could also be the reason that I haven’t missed as many fasts as I usually did during Ramadan. I certainly can’t break my fast in my sleep, and by the time I wake up theres no use for breaking it so close to sunset anyways.

Yes, I agree that this isn’t the “real” way to fast, so please refrain from telling me off in my comments section. I just haven’t figured out how, short of depriving myself of sleep, I could do it. Believe me when I say I was working hard on trying to get Mr MM’s and my sleep schedule to an eleven o’clock bedtime, but I hadn’t succeeded by the beginning of Ramadan.

So, here we are in the vital last ten days of Ramadan. Its been a mixed one, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but most certainly different from any Ramadan I’ve ever been through before.

I also must say that Ramadan rocks so much more when you have a spouse.

I hope everyone’s Ramadan has been a blessed one and Eid Kareem ya’ll!