Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 5- Sentimentality and Dining Out

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This was an interesting day for me. It was my first day back to my husband’s academy, where I spent the duration of my first trip to Egypt back in November. In a sense, it is like a second home to me. I truly never expected to get so attached to such a place, so the emotional pull I felt once I came back was astonishing.

What makes it more suprising is that the academy doesn’t even look the same since I was there last. It’s been renovated and repainted. The decorations are different. But still, it feels like it belongs to me. Really, the visceral experience was so deep, it couldn’t have been any deeper had I grown up there. I’ve stayed lots of places in my lifetime, some I certainly liked very well, but nothing else has this dramatic effect on me except perhaps the house I actually did grow up in (which I haven’t been in for years; it was sold over a decade ago).

My husband and I tried a new cafe for dinner called Lino’s. I like Lino’s because for one, the decor is crisp, modern, and tasteful (except for the Harley Davidson plaque- that really doesn’t blend well with red velvet chairs accented with white rhinestones, modern light fixtures, and austere white walls). It turns out that Lino’s is just an international franchise, and some stores exist in the US even. Nevertheless, there is still an Egyptian spin on the menu, like this ‘cheeseburger’ I ordered on another visit:

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So let’s talk about the dining experience in Egypt. Most restaurants are small cafes or shops crowded into the street level. Coffee and tea is usually a highlighted specialty of the house, if not the sole purpose of the place’s existence.

Sheikh Shwarma is a sandwich shop,  perhaps a distant relative to Colonel Sanders!

Sheikh Shwarma is a sandwich shop, perhaps a distant relative to Colonel Sanders!

I can guess why this place isn't franchising in the US!

I can guess why this place isn’t franchising in the US!

Most cafes serve some variety of mediterranean cuisine such as kofta, Kabob, shwarma, and similar dishes. Most meat dishes come with rice, a cucumber/tomato salad, a basket of bread, and a bowl of tahini. If you are looking for a familiar American dish, it’s better to go to a identified western franchise. I tried burgers at many of the places I visited, but only the the fast food restaurants or western-modeled restaurants made it as I knew it (meaning, with a hamburger bun, with a round patty, etc).

It was hard finding a restaurant that had high chairs for Shukurah. Most places simply don’t have them. Another thing that they don’t have is dish sanitizers. Most cafes wash dishes by hand, or use machines that wash but don’t actually sanitize. I realize that in our modern, western time of everything being so very neat and germ-free, this is unthinkable. But the reality is, every society hand washed dishes without sanitizers until within the last several decades. Even now, many countries function similarly to Egypt, and life goes on just fine. One of the things I love about traveling is that it really makes you think more deeply about how you live your own life, and what is really necessary or not.

Speaking of necessity, I think food delivery is one of the comforts of western living that I most enjoy. There is nothing like ordering a pizza on a busy night for the kids, and I have always wished more restaurants delivered regularly for times we DON’T want pizza. But check this out, Egypt has totally gotten the point! EVERY restaurant delivers in Egypt. It doesn’t matter if it’s a classy sit down affair, or a fast food joint like KFC. Every place has a little motorbike outside with a delivery box on the back, like this one:

Sheikh Shwarma to the rescue :)

Sheikh Shwarma to the rescue :)

But despite all the perks of dining out in Egypt, that only captures one aspect of food availability. In coming entries I will detail more about street food vendors and indiginous flavors that cannot be found easily in the US (much to my devastation).

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 4- Dress in Egypt

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Yes, I know it’s been almost a month since I’ve returned home from Egypt. Nevertheless, I did keep several pictures from my trip, and I also made notes of what happened each day that I’m there. I think part of me wanted to have something to keep the memory alive when I came back here, and that subconsciously fed my procrastination in keeping these entries from being written.

Egypt is a Muslim country, so by western standards dress is pretty conservative. However, there are actually levels of dress that represent how “practicing” someone is when it comes to Islam.

Most women in Egypt wear hijab. Many wear loose, traditional Islamic clothing such as the abaya, and look like this:

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There are some women who are even more conservative than that, and wear a full face veil (called a niqab) and usually all in black. This is not the burqa, which is a shroud that covers the entire face including the eyes. A niqab is a light cloth that covers the nose, forehead and mouth loosely, but allows the eyes to be visible. Women who dress in niqab are often identified as “salafi”, a fundementalist branch of Islam. As such, they will often wear gloves to cover their hands and socks on their feet, as they intepret Islamic doctrine as requiring this extent of covering for a woman.

However, most young women in Egypt dress in a very modern style. Many of the more conservative muslims (including myself) don’t find this style to be modest enough, because it usually is in tight clothing or not fully covering the areas of the chest and rear. Here is an example:

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These women, some may assume, may follow the larger culture of wearing hijab, but religiously may not be as dedicated to all the daily practices.

Lastly, there are women who don’t wear hijab or modest clothing at all. They dress like any westerner, even in clothes that are very revealing even by western standards. One evening I was in a cafe with my husband, and two women came in wearing short, flashy, tight dresses. Since this is something very uncommon, I asked him what might be the occassion they are dressing for, because they looked like they were going clubbing. However, I was not aware of any clubs like that in Banha at all. He said they were most likely coming from a wedding reception. I told him that in the US, that kind of clothing wouldn’t be appropriate for a wedding at all. It would be considered trashy and tasteless.

Interestingly, many of the shops in Egypt sell clothes that are quite form-fitting or even risque. What was most intriguing to me was the amount of lingerie shops there. They are everywhere! Considering the most lingerie I will see is in Victoria’s Secret at the mall, I was actually shocked that it seemed to be so popular there. One would think that such a conservative society would keep things like lingerie out of view, but it is 10 times more available there than here in the US!

As for the men, the same type of distinctions follow. Some men dress in a traditional Islamic manner, and the more modern, younger ones favor trendy clothing. What tickles me is that the ‘trendy’ men’s clothing mostly consists of skinny jeans and tight shirts- a style that my oldest son was obsessed with back in 2010. Here is a photo showing the two extremes:

See the traditionally dressed man in the background, but the foreground shows the more modern men's fashion trends

See the traditionally dressed man in the background, but the foreground shows the more modern men’s fashion trends

Speaking personally, the only time I see men dressing this way en masse is if I happen to be among a community of homosexuals. I think the fact that so many Egyptian men dress like this, coupled with their open physical affection with one another, causes people to wrongly accuse them of being ‘closet gays’. Here are some more pictures showing the prevalence of the style:

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While we are talking about clothing, I want to say that shopping in Egypt is way more affordable for westerners than shopping back home. Even shopping retail at the mall is going to save some money. I bought 3 silk skirts at a popular store in a high-end mall, and it didn’t cost me more than $50 USD. But what I like even more than that, is that Egypt keeps the tradition of tailoring clothes. I’m not talking about just fixing repairs, but buying your own fabric and enlisting someone to make the clothing for you. There are countless fabric stores to use for this purpose, and fabric there is priced ridiculously lower than what you would have to pay in the west. Not only that, but the fee the tailor charges is almost nothing in USD. Before I left, I had two light summer jackets made for me. The cost of the entire endeavor (fabric and labor fees) was about $40 USD. I would’ve paid much more than that if I had to buy something comparable off the rack. And if I tried to have it tailored here in the same way, it would be outrageous!

Long story short, I’ve decided that I’m going to try to secure all my clothing in Egypt from now on! It helps that I can find the Islamic style I normally wear here much easier there, too.

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 3- A typical day in Egypt

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From my first morning here, I have been awakened with the sound of hammering each day. It starts somewhere around 6 am, and continues until midday. I know what it is, it’s the construction men on the roof of the building (I am on the top floor) doing…whatever it is they do. I went up there once at night, but all I could see was a gravelly expanse and some unfinished brickwork. I don’t really know what they are hammering- if I am to imagine it, they are just sitting there with a hammer pounding on the floor ha ha.

So every day I’ve gotten that lovely greeting. Sunrise is sometime during the 5 AM hour, so it’s already light out when it begins. I actually can sleep through it though, because on of the things you quickly learn about Egypt is that it is constantly noisy. For most tourists, this is a huge problem. The noise is considered annoying and disruptive.

Truthfully, I was surprised when I didn’t experience it the same way. Actually, I found it comforting. In fact, I find the silence at home discomfiting. It feels too solemn, like there is no life, or we are all dying. The noise here is a constant reminder of vivid life being lived, and so in that sense I find it reassuring. I think I may even sleep more soundly with it.

Shukurah and I usually wake up around the same time the hammering ceases (noon!). We start our day slowly, and honestly it’s not that unusual here. I’ve been told that matrons here live a ‘fluffy’ life, meaning that they like to stay at home and not tend toward active schedules. I don’t think I’m totally on that level of ‘fluffy’, but I am on vacation so I do enjoy the down time when it’s appropriate.

On the fluffy days (which I try to limit to the hotter ones, which thankfully haven’t been too frequent so far), I stay home with her and read, mentally write this blog, play, nap, cook, etc. One of the things that’s been hindering my progress in these posts is that my phone charger cord has been dying, and since all my photos are on my phone it’s not practical to transfer them all with so little charge. I am still working on getting a replacement.

Which leads me to the next aspect of life here, and I’m not sure how to refer to it. Things here do not run on proper schedules. It’s very tangential. For example, an Egyptian native may endeavor to run certain errands in the day. He or she may start out trying to tackle them one by one, but somewhere along the line it gets derailed. It could be something like they run into a friend who wants to stop them and discuss something important. It’s considered polite to take time to do this, even if it takes an hour of the day. Or maybe someone is working on something online at a cafe, using the internet, and the power goes out and the time it will be finished gets pushed back. Or any number of things. What I’ve noticed is that things never seem to take the time they are expected to, and even more amazingly, most people don’t seem to mind the delay. Even when there is really bad traffic (which is normal in heavily populated areas like Cairo), no one seems to get impatient or on the verge of road rage.

On the days I decide to go out for routine shopping or dining, I am always one of many pedestrians on the roads. Walking is a staple form of transportation here, and I actually can appreciate that since I don’t live in a city that facilitates walking like someplace such as San Francisco or New York City. Here, everything is pretty much within walking distance. If not, there are tons of alternate forms of ‘public’ transportation that I will detail another time.

While walking, the noise continues. Horns are CONSTANTLY beeping. For an American like me, who has learned to associate horns sounding with an angry driver, it’s almost a game to try to determine the basis for all the honking here. Sure, some of it is because of frustration, but some of it is also greeting someone known nearby. Mostly it seems to just be announcing of the presence of the driver, as a collective way to maintain safety on the roads (I will have to detail how people drive here in that other post, too!)

Along with the sound of horns, there is often the sound of arab music or quran recitation wafting from nearby restaurants and businesses on the roadside. Since people are out doing business or congregrating socially, voices in arabic conversation provide another acoustic backdrop to the day’s events. I don’t think I’ve ever been any place in the US except perhaps SF where it felt like everywhere you turned, there was life. Granted, much of life in Egypt is very difficult and people have to do so many more things than what the average US citizen does to create a comfortable existence, but in the end I get a sense that one of the basic purposes for which humanity was created is being manifested here. And so for me, Egypt feels realer than my own existence in America. It feels more authentic, and in a strange way- more carefree.

Shopping trips usually require visiting more than one place. There is no Walmart or Target in Egypt. There are similar stores, but most likely found in Cairo our outside the smaller cities. Where I stay in Banha, the only commmercial franchise I’ve seen is KFC. So when I go grocery shopping, I visit small stores that almost mimic many of the halal markets I visit in Atlanta. I get my produce from one of the many farmers who have come into town from the surrounding farmlands to sell their crops on street corners. I buy my sweets (konafa being my favorite- can’t seem to find any authentic, fresh kind in Atlanta) at a small bakery. Meats are bought directly from a butcher.

I take these several bags of purchases, which hang on the arms of Shukurah’s umbrella stroller while I shop, back up to the apartment. I will make dinner without any pre-packaged or processed ingredients- mostly a staple meal like seasoned meat with rice, bread, and water to drink.

After dinner it’s common to take tea. Actually, taking tea is something Egyptians do throughout the day. I’ve seen vendors with teapots strapped to their backs selling tea to public crowds in Cairo. Many shops I’ve been to have it’s own tea service for the proprietors, and even many outdoor vendors keep one also. Evening tea is often taken at a cafe, where the music (arab love songs, mostly) tends to be louder than necessary.

The night weather gets drastically cooler during the evening. Some nights I’ve even been cold enough to run the room heater just to stay comfortably warm! Because the day starts later, people often stay up late into the night as well; ending the day around midnight or a little after. In fact, it’s entirely common for even places like doctor offices or small businesses to run until later than 10 PM.

This is really the gist of an average day. There are many layers and details I have left out, which can be adequately addressed in subcategories which I will delve into in coming posts. I apologize for the lack of photos in this one, but in shaa Allah I will have plenty to come. I am in the process of trying to transfer them and will write more posts this weekend in shaa Allah.

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 2- My Apartment

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I know I’m a little bit behind in chronology. Life in Egypt is, like I said, unpredictable and often doesn’t follow a set schedule. Plus I’ve been working through the jet lag (more so Shukurah’s than mine) and doing a lot of things to settle in. So I will try to play catch up as quickly as I can.

My apartment is on the 11th floor (which happens to be the top floor) of a building still under construction. It’s not at all uncommon here for buildings to be occupied before they are finished completely, and in some cases that NEVER even happens anyway. Apartments here are generally for sale for ownership, much like a condo in NYC. However, in my case, one was leased for the month I will be here. It was already completely furnished, which increased the rental price of course. However, leases here can be for any length of time- from a week or two up to several years.

My apartment normally rents for $4500 Egyptian pounds per month, but since it is “off season” the final cost was only $3000, which is $400 USD. The utilities are included in the rent. It is actually a very nice apartment when compared to the standard apartment available for the average person. Where I am staying is in the northernmost area of town called “the villas”, which is locally known to be the nicest and most affluent area. I think my apartment reflects this.

elevator

This is the elevator I take to my floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full size elevator in Egypt. They all are just big enough for two people, though 3 will often squeeze in. What I like about my elevator though, is that every time you push the button to call it, Quran recitation starts playing over the speakers and remains playing the entire time it is in use. I tend to believe that one of the reasons I find being in Egypt to be less stressful than the US is because everywhere I go, it seems like Quran is playing. In clothing shops, in cafes, in the cabs, on the streets even at times.

front door

One of the things I was most impressed with when I first saw my apartment was the doors. As you can see, they are much more elaborate than the doors we see on apartments or even houses in the west. This is my front door. I found the blingy gold doorknob a bit amusing. But, it doesn’t turn. It’s just for decoration, I guess. The only way to secure the door- whether from the inside or out- is to lock it with a key.

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This is a door of another apartment down the hall. I thought it was beautiful, and I really wish we had the taste in the US to make our doors so elaborate and of solid quality.

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This dining set is what is immediately on the right when you walk through the door. It’s a pretty decent set, as you can see.

sofas

This entire living area is called a “hall” in Egypt. I loved the colors of the sofas and draperies. One thing I noticed last time I was here, was that window treatments are big deal. The colors and fabrics are rich and the presentation is lavish, so I was really tickled that my apartment had the coordinating draperies to match the other furniture.

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One of the other things I love about Egypt is what a typical westerner might call its “tackiness”. What I mean is, I’ve noticed that the style of Egypt is focused on looking decorative, but at the same time there is not necessarily the same criteria as to what constitutes tastefulness in pursuing that. So as you can see, I have tinsel garlands hanging on my hall walls, and the entertainment center is painted lavender (not quite the match of the red/black color scheme going on everywhere else). Even though my western upbringing registers it as incongruent, there’s something about it that seems innocent and childlike, and so it has become endearing to me.

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This is the main hallway of my apartment.

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Even the ceiling here has amazing details, as do most of the other rooms.

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On the wall are several of these floral stencils, too.

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But I think my favorite part was the doors. Like the front doors outside, each room had gorgeous solid wood doors that were a nice touch.

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Bathrooms here are called water closets, or WC’s for short. This bathroom is the first door on the left. I don’t use it, but it’s still tastefully decorated. One of the things I want to point out here is the shower: see how it just sits in the middle of the room, with no curtain or containment? This is something I noticed last time I was here, and apparently is commonplace. You can take a shower in a small bathroom like this one with nothing to block the spray onto the toilet or sink, and the water will naturally drain to a corner of the room (usually behind the toilet somewhere). Any excess water you can squeegee toward the drain, too.

kitchen

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The kitchen is the next room on the left. You can see it’s not very big at all. Large kitchens don’t seem to be a priority here, and in fact this one is considered large by comparison. The clothes washing machine sits openly next to the sink, but clothes have to be hang dried- either out on a balcony or on an indoor drying rack. From what I’ve seen, the balconies are used most. Dishes must be hand washed.

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This bathroom is the third and last room on the left side of the corridor. It’s the one I use most, and I’m only including it because I continue to be impressed with the details in the tile work. The red and black verticle tiles are on both sides of the wall, and complement the overall color scheme in the kitchen and hall. But I would have to say my favorite thing about the bathrooms here is that they have bidets! I need to look into getting one for my own house.

girlsroom

I call this room the “girl’s bedroom”. My apartment has a total of 3 bedrooms, and this is the second furnished one. It is the one straight at the end of the corridor. Behind the draperies is a small balcony, which has a limited view.

balcony view to the east, and believe it or not that is not even the main part of Banha

balcony view to the east, and believe it or not that is not even the main part of Banha

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West view from the balcony, the river is part of the nile delta

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Indeed, most of the windows open only to other brick walls that are part of this building or the adjoining ones. All of the bedroom furniture in this and the room I use are matched.

wardrobe

One of the main differences between the US and Egypt is that there are no closets here. Instead, clothes are put in old fashioned wardrobes like this one. Although I don’t like what that means in terms of space (there is no way my entire closet could fit into a standard wardrobe!), I like the elegant feel of opening a wood cabinet to get dressed in the morning.

spareroom

This bedroom is the second one on the right hand side of the corridor, and it is vacant. Some miscellaneous things were left in here, such as an iron and ironing board, a generator light for possible power outages, and some other odds and ends. I don’t go in this room, but I wanted to show a picture of it because it shows how clearly the ceiling work looks here. I think it’s a fantastic detail and another I wished we had more of in the US.

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And this is my bedroom. These photos were taken before I took full possession of it. I’ve actually moved a few pieces of furniture around and left my clothes everywhere lol, I don’t need everyone seeing that. But it’s clear this room was as tastefully coordinated as the others.

So really, I am very pleased with what I’ve got here. Indeed, it will be that much harder to return home and leave this nice refuge behind (as if that wasn’t going to be hard enough!).

So to conclude, what happend for me on day 2 was basically waiting for the internet guy to come connect the wifi and a late night shopping trip (the one that didn’t happen the night before). I had to be taken some bit out of town for a decent grocery store, and really it was kind of like a walmart with appliances and household supplies on the top level, and the groceries on the bottom. All the produce had to be weighed before it could be put in the cart. There was a complete bakery, meat deli, and cheese deli. I was overwhelmed trying to familiarize myself with where everything was, find the right product among everything on display, and then choose something that was affordable and not to expensive. After it was all done, the grocery bill was $800 EP, which is about the same amount I would spend on an average shopping trip (roughly $100 USD).

In shaa Allah, my next entry will be coming soon!

Rouhi’s Rehab: Day 1

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egyptplane!

I arrived in Egypt yesterday afternoon. I thought that since the longest leg of the flight (8 hours) into Frankfort was overnight, I would sleep well and be somewhat rested when I got here. But between the time difference and my time of departure, I was only getting sleepy when we were about to arrive there. So no sleep on that flight. I didn’t get any on the flight into Cairo, either.

One of the characteristic things about Egypt is that it is extremely unpredictable. I was reminded of this as soon as I arrived. When I came here in November, I was told to pay in Egyptian Pounds when I requested my entry visa. Of course I didn’t have any EP on me, so I was directed to an ATM machine that dispensed in the local currency. I thought I was smarter this time, and went to the ATM first to get the EP before getting in line for the visa. HOWEVER, when I got there, I was told they do not accept Egyptian Pounds, only US dollars or Euros. The ATM only dispenesed EP, and I had no American cash on me. I went to two different windows and was rejected like this, so I got stern with them and told them this is what I had and asked who I needed to speak with to get my visas. They took me to a third window who was willing to take the currency I had, but nicely added about a $30 EP surcharge (without telling me, of course- I saw this when they gave back the wrong amount of change) to reimburse themselves for going to the trouble. This sort of thing is really not unheard of here- and rather than risk my ability to get through immigration I just took what they gave me with my visas and headed out.

Egypt is truly whimsical. Following standards is not a priority, and you can never know how things will go. When I got to customs I was expecting to have my suitcases searched and answer questions as to what I was bringing with me. Instead, I was passed right through the checkpoint without even being requested to present my passport as everyone else was.

Fortunately, getting out of the airport only took me about 45 minutes this time. Last time it was about 2 hours. I had to find my host outside, as they were not letting anyone in to the lobby to meet arriving travelers. Even though I was ridiculously tired, and it was about 80 degrees out, the day was hardly over. I was taken directly from the airport to a nearby mall. The malls here are much larger than the ones we have in Atlanta. We are talking FIVE levels of shops. There are many similar vendors as what we see in American malls- particularly in the food court. And yes, I took advantage of the opportunity to get a halal Hardee’s burger there! But one thing I wasn’t expecting was a security checkpoint (like the kind you have entering a government building- scanner and baggage check) upon entry into the mall. I was told that the reason for this is because malls are sometimes targets for terrorists attacks (on the infrequent occassions they happen). The irony to me in this is that while Americans are so afraid of what happens in Muslim countries like Egypt, thinking it is overrun with extremists and terrorists, they are just as concerned about it and actually going to greater measures to secure themselves against it than we do (at least when it comes to shopping at a mall lol)!

When we left the mall, I saw a group of about 10 men walking past. Four of them were military police, and I was told that the rest were probably troublemakers and they were probably being taken for questioning. What was interesting about all this was that they were all walking like a group of friends- one officer even put his arm around one of the other guys in an affectionate way. There was no sense of anyone being in trouble, nor any unnecessary show of authority by the officers- in fact the opposite! It’s always amazing to me when I see incidents that totally contradict the American stereotype of Egyptians or Muslim nations in general.

I fell asleep immediately in the car ride back to Banha. That was despite rough roads, blaring horns and frequent sudden stops because of traffic. Driving in Egypt is a story in itself, and in shaa Allah I will go into more details about it tomorrow. I will also have to write a separate blog about the apartment I am staying in- it’s phenomenal! I think I spent the entire evening after we got back in last night checking it out, then finally going to bed early around 9:30 PM local time.

Since the apartment still needs a better internet connection, I am writing right now from the cafe I spent a lot of time at in November when I first came to meet and visit with Ahmad, the man I will be marrying here in Egypt before I return to the US. One of my favorite things about coming to Egypt is just this- sitting in a cafe enjoying some tea and the social atmosphere. Indeed it is a daily ritual here for most everyone, and something I miss a lot when I’m back in the US.

The plans for the rest of the day are to go grocery shopping and fix up the apartment in a way I like a little bit in shaa Allah. Tomorrow I will include a lot of pictures in the blog post!

Soaring…yes, Soaring!

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I’ve written a lot of poetry in the past few years about being real, becoming my true self, Finding my real fitra, etc. I’ve written a lot on this blog about my uncertainties, struggles, weaknesses and pain.

Today I’m writing about something very different.

I no longer feel like a helpless ragdoll being thrust over cliffs. I no longer feel like I’m a flailing girl spinning and falling through the air, victim to whatever fated rocks or sudden gusts await me. I don’t feel like I’m trying to achieve something that’s just always a little out of reach, something that is meant for me but never attained.

No, now I feel like I am above earth and wind. I am fully activated, fully bloomed, fully Amy. I have finally become myself, and I am strong, peaceful, purposed, powerful, free, secure and REAL. I am being congruent on the outside with what I believe and value on the inside. I have self respect, and I am living it in my choices. I have value, and I am showing it in my actions. I have worthiness, and I am accepting what I deserve. I have faith, and I am building on it to become even more beautiful in soul. I have everything I need to live the life Allah wanted me to live.

I see now it was never a matter of finding these things, but of activating them. They were already inside, but I was looking for something outside of myself to unlock them. I was looking for others to validate me and accept me. I was hoping that finding security with the world, or even certain other people, would bring security to my heart.

No one could do that for me. Not good people encouraging me, nor bad people challenging me to better myself. Not one person- no friend, family, spouse or lover- could help me come to the next level of my being. In fact, I couldn’t even do it for myself through will power. Sure, I had the insight. I had the desire. I had the self awareness. But that’s not enough.

Only Allah can bring a person into the one He meant for them to be. And surely, Allah wants that for all of us. It’s not that He’s holding out on us, wanting to make things more difficult than they need to be. No, He is being true to Himself and what He revealed, “Lo! ALLAH changeth not the condition of folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts.” (Sura ar-Ra`d 13:11, Pickthall). Some translations do not use the word “hearts”. Some just say “themselves”. But in reality, it has everything to do with the heart. Why? Because we cannot serve Allah truly, we cannot worship Him properly, unless we make the pure intentions in our hearts to do so.

And in the end, that’s what it boils down to. That’s what makes Allah come running to us, as we begin crawling to Him. When we sincerely intend to submit ourselves to His plan for our life, His ways, and His qadr, we know we have to do something to show that sincerity. So however weakly, we begin to act on it. And true to His words, Allah comes and finishes what we could not possibly finish on our own, and raises us to levels we would’ve never reached in our best attempts.

For me, it was something very simple. Something I had already been doing in many ways, but never as a conscious decision per se. It was just natural, I guess, and it never struck me that putting my full attention to it and making it a more deliberate part of my submission was the key to my needed change. It was simply, observing the proper boundaries with non mahrem.

Like I said, this has never been a big problem for me. I don’t talk to any non mahrem regularly. The friends I have who are non mahrem, I am easily able to maintain propriety with. But like someone blinded, I struggled to maintain the appropriate boundaries with my ex husband, who continually challenges me to change or except them for him.

For a long time I thought I had to fix this problem with him. That I had to figure out a way to set something up for him specifically, and do it in a saavy way so as not to trigger his hurt feelings and cause his wrath and punishment to come back on me. I never could figure out a way to, until I came to a place where I was nearly forced to.

As I was driving to work Monday morning trying to solve this longstanding problem, I realized that I just needed to make my intention to Allah to follow the prescribed Islamic adabs with all non mahrems. Then I could tell him I’m doing it with everyone, and he could find no fault in that. I committed to doing it, and felt at peace. I followed it through, and though it was met with some initial resistance, everything is as it should be now. Everything is in balance.

And so in the past few days where I’ve been watching it all align, I’ve also watched myself transform without any efforts on my part. Everything else unrelated that was out of balance, was also re-aligned back to where it should be. And the satisfaction in the way it all feels and is happening, there is NOTHING I would do to sabotage it. It’s unthinkable! It’s been a truly amazing and humbling experience, and has made me realize so many other things about myself I hope to share here soon in shaa Allah.

But for now, I’m content and delighted to be one woman, instead of a fragmented girl.

So now that I understand better how the economy between our hearts, actions, intentions and Allah’s blessing, raising and support works, I will be striving to explore it more and teach it to my children. I will be doing all I can to gird myself to this new place, as this new person. It’s a phenomenal thing, and it’s something I hope everyone can find a way to experience for themselves.

Allahu Akbar!!!

Oh, Gaza!

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I was standing at a bus stop in downtown Atlanta, waiting for the Marta bus to arrive. I never spent much time downtown, so I was looking around at the cars as they passed by, the roads shaded by the tall skyscrapers’ shadows. There were cracks in the sidewalk where I stood, and a presumably homeless man sat against the tiled wall next to the entrance of a hotel. Next to me stood a businessman, I guessed. He was talking on his cell phone, looking up through his Tom Cruise sunglasses. He was clean shaven and dressed in a suit and nice tie which was a muted shade of yellow. He was waiting for the bus, as well.

Then the sound came, loud like it was happening all over the earth at once. It got louder and the pitch changed in a way I couldn’t readily comprehend. Something was approaching. A bomb? A meteor? A whole entire planet? The Hand of God itself? I don’t think it mattered- the inevitable conclusion was fixed in my heart, that this was my last moment alive.

I looked at the business man, who had since removed his glasses in alarm. He looked back at me, then turned to the homeless man, who gazed back at both of us with eyes which had long ago become familiar with accepting the inevitable. We all realized, at that one final moment, that we were in the same boat together. The businessman, the homeless man, and everyone else now running, screaming their panic in the streets- we were all equal in this, our final destiny. None of us could help each other, none of us could save each other. We could do nothing except live what was to come, our end.

I awoke crying from that dream nearly 8 years ago. It was so real, so gripping. And yet, it’s what people in other parts of the world are living every day FOR REAL.

The other day I was making wudu in my bathroom. As the water flowed from the faucet and dripped down my arms, I looked at the sink counter. It was clean, a little cluttered, and cool. It wasn’t covered in dust from rubble, or streaked with blood…as other sink counters were at that very moment. I finished my wudu and looked out the bathroom window, where the trees were green and the sky was blue. I knew the sky in Gaza was grey with smoke, dust and ash, and the trees leafless outside most of the broken windows.

I prayed on my rug. A rug not tattered, in a room that was cool and comfortable. I thought about the Gazans, about the many praying on just bare cement- their prayer rugs long left behind in a hasty vacating of their homes. There is no electricity, no air conditioning, no barrier between them and peril where they are. How can I think that my life, as I know it, is guaranteed to always be this way? Theirs wasn’t, theirs wasn’t.

Every day the peace and ease I enjoy seems like an illusion. I can’t forget how easily it was snatched away from those in other lands, and how easily it could be snatched away from me, if Allah wills. I am not better than the Gazans, the Syrians, the others around the world living in conflict. I am just someone fortunate to have what I have, as long as I have it.

My heart is not in my vacuumed carpet. It’s not in my cupboards full of food, or the blankets on my bed. It’s not in the fan that spins to my right, or the keys that I press beneath my fingers. It’s not in the phone that charges under my left elbow, or these day old clothes I wear right now. Although I am very, very grateful for what I have- I want these things for my oppressed brothers and sisters and not myself. They’ve earned them, they’ve earned them, Subhanallah.

Ya Allah, every time I make dua for the Gazans, the Syrians, the endlest nations who are being treated in the worst of ways…when I think of all Your beloved creation being demeaned, tortured, killed, and all manner of unimaginable things befalling them, I am speechless. What words can there be for what’s going on? What words will save these horrible things from happening? What words can express what I and so many others want for these martyrs? All I can do is cry, and love, and feel. My words cannot carry what my soul wishes for them. Just, please, Ya Allah. Please. Make it right.