Tag Archives: my egyptian in-laws

January 25th

Tehrir

I still don’t feel like I’m in place that I can blog about these past 21 days; my heart is still lodged firmly in my throat.

My friends, my family, acquaintences, people I didn’t know but who I followed on twitter and felt close to in an internet-ty sort of way, were putting their lives, their safety on the line for the good of a nation… their nation.

Other friends and family were taken in by the constant barrage of propaganda on State TV and who spoke against this fight for their freedom; a fight they didn’t understand and couldn’t see in its entirety. I felt constricted by their inability to see, it was like bashing your head against an immovable wall.

I spent those 18 days glued to computers and Al-Jazeera (who did such an outstanding job at reporting from Egypt that I STILL don’t know how they did it.) I barely slept. I barely ate. I cried. I agonized. When I did sleep, I dreamt about the revolution.

I wanted so badly to be in Tehrir. I like to say that I would give anything to have been there, but the truth is that what I would have given up is my job. I’ll carry a little bit of shame inside me forever, no matter how rational and responsible my reasons for staying were.

The fact of the matter is that once the anti-foreigner sentiment took hold I would have been relegated to the side anyway, simply for protection of the Egyptians fighting.

But, whether I physically threw rocks and bandaged wounds or not, the simple fact is that I am a different person post revolution. It may have only been 21 days ago, but to me, and to Egypt, it was a lifetime ago.

I am so proud of my friends and family, of my acquaintances, of those tweeps who I may not know in person…

I am proud of Egypt.

Proud of those people.

And the moment my husband finishes his schooling, I will begin packing our bags to go back to help rebuild this country.

I may not have been able to give my blood, sweat, and tears to freeing the country, but I will dedicate them to building it back up.

Ta7ya Masr.

Mostly Dead Is Slightly Alive

I am, against all odds I’m sure, much better than I was this time last week.

There are few words to describe the agony I was in but being a true blogger at heart I will bore you with the details anyways.

It started Friday night with an asthma attack and during my fit of coughing I noticed a twinge in my throat. A simple twinge. Saturday I noticed that the twinge had become a sore throat but considering the pollution here gives me those all the time I paid no attention to it whatsoever. Saturday night I remarked to Mr. MM that my throat hurt and Sunday morning when I got up for work I remarked to him again that my throat still hurt, and a lot more actually.

I went to work (Sunday being the Monday of the Middle East) and I must have been in quite a bit of pain but in all truth it has been eclipsed in my memory by the searing agony that I dealt with later. I do remembering updating my facebook status from “sore throat” to “increasing amounts of pain” to “giving up the ghost” when I called it quits and headed home at 1 pm after I found that I had lost my voice. I didn’t think too much of it, I ordered two milk shakes from McDs and nursed my rapidly worsening throat with cold ice cream. When Mr. MM got home I was bad enough to actually want to go to the doctor (a painful process here on good days) and that evening we went to an ENT and I was diagnosed with simple tonsillitis and laryngitis, given an antibiotic, some ibuprofin (wtf?) and sent home. To suffer. Seriously, homeboy gave me 400mgs of ibuprofin to counteract the pain of tonsillitis. EVERY 8 HOURS. I was in complete and utter misery.

I’ll skip over the boring parts but it got to the point that I was dangerously dehydrated because I couldn’t get past the pain enough to swallow small sips of water. And beyond swallowing anything and everything I drank, even water, felt like acid melting away the lining of my throat. The antibiotic that Dr #1 gave me did SQUAT and so after two days of wanting to rip my hair out and thinking that death would be a better option than living we went back to another doctor who took one look at my throat, called Mr. MM over to see it, and then gave me what I can only believe was the most sincere look of profound pity that anyone has ever given me.

I actually had acute follicular tonsillitis which is like tonsillitis’ big brother on steroids. The one who terrorizes other little kid tonsillitises and steals their milk money. Anyways my entire throat was white with pus and infection and my tonsils were so swollen by that point that I was having trouble breathing.

Dr. #2, who is, praise God, knowedgable about medicine, wrote me an antibiotic that worked but which was almost worse than the illness itself. I wouldn’t know that until a few hours later.

Lets rewind for a second though. On this second trip to the doctor I got to see one of the upsides of living in Egypt and having awesome Egyptian in-laws: people who will drive across the city to come hold your hand while you wait in line to see the doctor. My youngest sister-in-law, her mother, and her fiance came to the crowded hospital to sit with us and then sis-in-law (who I will hereby refer to as “Hope”) decided to stay behind and ended up both staying that night and cleaning my house and also coming again a few days later to stay for a couple more nights nursing me.

It was wonderful and made me feel very loved, especially as Hope has a really great shoulder for leaning on and did a lot of holding me up. But one of the things about Egyptians is they think that the doctor they know is the best so after seeing Dr. #2 I went for a second opinion at the doctor my in-laws thought would be a better doctor, but oh were they wrong. This doctor is a specialist in pulmonary, not ENT. We got into her office and by this time I’m half-conscious, exhausted, debilitated, and barely able to breathe past my giant inflamed tonsils. Dr. Pulmonary thought that putting me on a therapy of pure oxygen was going to help so there I was, half conscious, with a mask strapped onto my face being instructed to breathe in and out through my mouth. Not only did the air dry out my painful, dehydrated throat but it also made me woozy so that I had to lay down and when I laid down my giant inflamed tonsils blocked my breathing so I became even more woozy. After all of this she doe s a quick look, says I have tonsillitis and blames it on having a cat.

It was midnight by this point, or actually after, and we went down to the biggest pharmacy by us and purchased the meds Dr. #2- by far the most competent of the doctors- perscribed, including the shot he gave me for pain. Another reason I liked him.  But I was administered the first of the most painful shots I have ever gotten in my entire life. He had rx’d an antibiotic called UNAYSIS that, I swear to you wallahi, felt like being injected with flesh-eating acid. First it would burn where it was injected and then it would spread and it hurt so bad the muscles around the injection-site would twitch spasmodically.

I had FIVE of those injections ladies and gentlemen. FIVE. Every twleve hours. The first one hit me like a ton of bricks because I had absolutely no idea it was coming. In the backroom of the pharmacy the pharmacist gave me the antibiotic and the pain medicine when I thought I was only getting one shot. I turned around, bared the bum, and then clutched the shelves for support when I felt it. I don’t know how to put it into words how it is when you’re totally not expecting it. I can take shots. I can even take shots that kind of hurt. But @(#&@$%*%^$!@*^#$$(@$#^&$#*@$#^#(@#%&$@&$#(#$&, not something that hurts that bad, and not when it comes out of left field. The pharmacist could have given me a heads up or something. I got the second shot for the pain killer and then limped out to the car, whimpering, Hope holding me up, and laid on the front seat face down because my bum hurt too much to sit on it.

Imagine how utterly pathetic I felt when I realized I had four more of those hell shots to go. Seriously, my bum STILL HURTS and its 4-5 days since my last shot. Like tender to the touch hurts. I wouldn’t wish those shots on my greatest enemy.

But they did the job and even the next day I was feeling immensely better.

Now, almost two weeks later, I’m finally feeling well enough to go back to work. I’m still exhausted. And I also developed a lung infection that makes me cough all day long for prolonged periods, but I’m on an antibiotic for that and am slowly getting over than one as well.

Honestly I have never been that sick in my life. I don’t ever want to be that sick again, inshAllah. Hopefully when I get back to the states I can get these tonsils out once and for all because two bouts of tonsillitis, as an adult, is too much.

Thank you guys for all your thoughts and prayers. I saw them when I came online and it made me feel better.

And now, I think I’m going to go sleep some more.

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.

Mmm mmm good

Mr MM has just informed me by sms that he is buying camel meat for dinner at his mom’s in the near future.

Mmmmm….

…….

*gag*

If he wouldn’t have told me it would have been allllll good because honestly its hard to taste the difference between Camel and Cow (no kidding). I would never have known.

Alas, the damage is done. Upon my telling him he shouldn’t have told me and I would never have known he responded, “ok khalas, I’ll change the meat.”

Nice try.

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!

B is for Bureaucracy

Today we went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take care of some paperwork given to us by the US Embassy. We entered into a clean, brightly-lit, air conditioned room that was not crowded and were called within five minutes to get the necessary stamps, paid the small fee, and were done in less than ten.

This is in direct opposition to our experience at the Ministry of Justice less than an hour before where we entered into a run-down, dirty, un-lit, and non-air conditioned building filled to the walls with random people waiting around with the patience (and facial expressions) of donkeys expecting to be hitched to a cart. There we waited to be called, got nothing done, and were dismissed summarily with a list of stupid and unnecessary things we “needed” to do before we could get the single stamp we came for.

Why can’t everything run like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs? And if I have to wait around why can’t it be in a clean air-conditioned place like that? The one place that was at least comfortable was the place I stayed the least amount of time for.

Its just not fair.

InshAllah moving into our flat in Maadi tomorrow, I am looking forward to being in my own place and no longer living out of my suitcase (and also having reliable internet). Not that I don’t enjoy my gorgeous twin neices (Nunu and Gameela if you recall) but I’m a bit tired of three-year old fists pounding on the bedroom door at three am because they’re still awake and want to play.

Funny anecdote. My husband loves to play fight with them, and they’re so adorable because they’re so much smaller than him but just as feisty. One night after sparring a bit, something like swatting at gnats, he ran into our bedroom with Gameela hard on his heels shaking her {tiny} fists in the air yelling “Fih haga tani?! Fih haga tani?!” Which could loosely be translated as, “Is that all you got punk?!”

So cute, mashAllah.

I’m going to miss them.

For future reference, I will be collecting a pile of rocks on my balcony for the kerosene sellers who come by at 8:30 am banging on the metal containers with a wrench and calling out at the top of their lungs. Its completely unnecessary, what Egyptians are awake buying gas for their stoves at that time of the morning? What Egyptians are awake at that time period?

I’m only hoping that things are quieter when I get to Maadi and I don’t need to go to jail for beaning a 70 year-old woman selling kerosene.

Edit: And by kerosene I actually meant propane, as UmLayla pointed out.