Saturday, November 29, 2008
- “za7mah ya dunya za7mah” is not just a song. Cairo traffic is really as bad as they claim, and rush-hour can be any time of the day. If you want to enjoy living here, you must give-in to the power of traffic, because there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. How? By being prepared at all times, with a book, ipod, chocolate, or breakfast bar just in case you are stuck for hours.
- Egyptians survive through laughter. No matter how life is treating them, people are smiling, laughing, and telling jokes. It is quite remarkable.
- There is no such thing as privacy. The entire neighborhood will know anything and everything about you. But, at the same time, the neighborhood becomes your family. They will know you, ask about you, and will be there for you whenever you need. A sense of community still exists in this large city.
- Crossing the road is as dangerous as it looks. Yesterday I saw a man get hit by a car; and a week ago an acquaintance of mine was hit! The ironic thing is that a week before she was hit, her and I were rejoicing that we have become pro’s at crossing the road! Oops, maybe not.
- Egyptian society, like most Arab countries today is extremely polarized politically and religiously. The middle is shrinking and disappearing from the public sphere. Because of this polarization, people tend to pass enormous amount of judgment against each other.
Here is what I’ve learned about myself:
1. I’m finally comfortable eating alone in public.
2. I can live without a microwave; I didn’t even notice that I didn’t have one.
3. I can’t live without Internet; it’s an addiction.
4. I’m no longer afraid of being alone with my thoughts.
5. I learned that I’m more “emotional” than I portray.
6. As much as I love social gatherings, I learned that I need time to decompress, energize, and be alone once in a while.
7. I learned that I am so blessed to have amazing family and friends.
8. I also learned that I love the “arts” so much. Cairo has given me the opportunity to explore that side of my self.
9. I learned that I need to work on my “indecisive” nature.
10. I learned that I can cook, but I don’t enjoy doing it often J
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Two quick stories:
I had a phone interview with the director of a well-known institute in Yemen (I will not mention the name here). Overall, the interview went well, but there were some odd statements:
Director: “I asked around and they told me you're single. That is very good.”
Me: “umm why?
Director: “Since you're not married you will work hard and probably work overtime since there is nothing for you to do after work!"
WHY WHY WHY, do people assume that just because we are single, it means we have no life?!!
Let me give you another example:
A few young Yemenis on facebook were discussing early marriage in Yemen and the article on Nujood’s woman of the year award (http://www.glamour.com/women-of-the-year/2008/nujood-ali-and-shada-nasser) . A 21 year old man said:
“i guess to marry at an early age is waaaaay better than being single almost all life ,,,"3anes"...and sorry for the word,,, wt do u think u guys ??”
Why is life equated with marriage for some people. I’m not against marriage, I think it can be a beautiful thing. But I also know that just because someone is single does not mean they are unhappy, and just because someone is married does not necessarily guarantee happiness. Our happiness is not necessarily ONLY extracted from a spouse. It can also be felt without one.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Yesterday I had one of those days where I woke up in the morning and stood there staring at the closet and wishing I had a uniform to wear so I wouldn’t have to think so early in the morning.
I tried on the first shirt, but umm na it wasn’t what I was looking for, so I threw it on the bed. I tried the next shirt, but it’s getting cold now and this shirt won’t work, so I also tossed it on the bed. I tried on the third shirt, but it was too tight, (must have been last night’s basboosa), so I also tossed it on the bed. This process went on for about 10 minutes, until I finally selected the FIRST shirt I tried on. Of course this made me think about the importance of trusting one’s instinct.
I look down at my watch, crap it’s late! Of course I couldn’t clean the pile on the bed, which is ok, cause I live alone right?! WRONG I left the apartment in a hurry contemplating the philosophy of trusting one’s instincts, and why humans are afraid to listen to their heart.
I went to work all day, then around 6:00 p.m. I met up with some friends for dinner. Around 8 p.m., I received a frantic phone call from my neighbor, who was wondering if I was home. I said no, why? She says: “because the apartment door is open”, “what?” I say. She says: “don’t worry I’ll go check it out.” Before I could say no, she already hung up.
My neighbor, a 54 year old woman her two sons, and the door man went up to my apartment. They went inside to check if everything is ok. They went into my room, and saw the “hurricane on my bed” and decided that there MUST have been a thief in the apartment who caused such destruction. They called me to tell me to come because the room is a mess, and I should check for what’s missing!
At that moment, I had two choices:
- Tell the truth, and admit that no, that mess was done intentionally, and forever be known as the “very messy single girl!”
- Tell the truth, but also explain that I’m not always that messy!
- Lie and pretend a thief was in the apartment
One thing I’m terrible at is lying, so of course I ended up telling the truth, which is: I admit that I stupidly left the door unlocked, and I am the cause of that mess. (I wanted to insert a message saying, please come tomorrow to see for yourself that the room is not always this messy, but I couldn’t).
The next day, I passed by my neighbors’ house to thank them, and their house keeper opened the door, and kindly said to me “sweetie, if you need help I can come upstairs and help you, I heard about the room!)
How EMBARASSING IS THIS!
My friend Nadiya sent me flowers for my birthday…two days later I stopped by the pharmacy located across my apartment building. The pharmacist told me “so did you receive the flowers?” Confused I say: “what flowers?”, he says: “there were flowers for you two days ago, you’re on the 9th floor right?”
So umm ya, everyone knows EVERYTHING here!
Sunday, November 9, 2008
It seems that 29 may be a good year inshallah. It started off with Obama's victory, followed by a nice poem from my dade. My father usually writes poems for any occasion, and especially for our birthdays instead of buying a gift :) When I was younger, I used to ask him for a "real" gift instead hehe...but now, i truly appreciate it, and i am therefore shamelessly sharing this one here, i must be getting OLD ;)
عيد سعيد يافتاة النبي بمفخر العترة في الأحقب1
بعيد "أطيافٍ" أتى حاملاً مُسْتَقبَلاً يرفُلُ بالطيب
بوركت من رائدةٍ فذةٍ سامية التفكير والمأرب
لاترتضي في جهدها ليِّناً وإنما تسعى إلى الأصعب
لها رسالاتٌ كبار المدى فحققي ماشئت من مطلب
وبارك الله خطى سيرها في مشرق الأرض وفي المغرب
أطياف كفؤ للعلى فاقعدي على الأعالي في ذرى الكوكب
فما حياة السفح جذابة لكاسر الجو العقاب الأبي
لكن مآواها أعالي الذرى مأوى كرام الباشق الأعضب
دعي بغاث الطير في سفحها تلهو عليه في المناخ الوبي
وحلقي في الجو مزهوة فوق ذرى الأجبال والغيهب
أطياف هذي تهنئات المنى وباقة الحب وشوق الأب
من والد يدعو بعمر الهنا وبهجة الدنيا وما تطلبي
حماك ربي من شرور الدنيا وحاطك الله بفضل النبي
I finally regained my faith in the American people. Regardless of whether Obama will deliver on his promises, I am proud that the American people rose from the dead, and decided to change their destiny. It is a big symbol of hope, and symbol that when people want something they will make it happen.
Bush managed to unite the people of the world against him and against the US. Obama’s victory regained a little bit of the lost respect to the American people, so thank you Obama, and thank you America for the great birthday gift.
Friday, October 31, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
About three months ago, during my job interview I asked my colleagues about changing my visa into temporary residency and obtaining a work permit. I was assured that the human resources department at the university will deal with it. Two months later, I realized no one has done anything, and I was therefore technically “illegal” in the country. I couldn’t wait any longer, so I decided to go there myself.
The mugamma is a large building with various ministerial offices that has a terrible reputation for being the most bureaucratic entity in Cairo (imagine that!). The Cairo Practical Guide warns: “This daunting pre-evolutionary monstrosity on the south side of Midan Al-Tahrir strikes terror in the heart of any Kafka fan.”
I left early morning and headed to the mugamma. I arrived there at 9 a.m. and it was already packed. Of course I was given a million different directions of which way to go, but I finally found the right window, window 12. I explained my situation, and I was informed that it’s not a big deal, all I need to do is pay the fine (150LE, about $30), which includes the cost of a 6 months visa extension.
She handed me the form and I proceed to fill it out in Arabic assuming that will make things easier since we are in an Arab country and sine most of the staff do not speak English. I returned to the window and handed her the form. She asked me to please fill it out again but this time in English because I have an American passport so it had to be in English. I did as I’m told.
She then asked for 1 copy of the passport. (Oops didn’t know I needed that!) I asked where I could find a photocopy machine and she directed me to the first floor. I went downstairs and to be on the safe side, I asked for two copies of my passport instead of one! I returned to window 12 and handed her one copy. She then asked for a picture. (Oops I didn’t know I needed that either!) So I asked her half jokingly if I could photocopy my passport picture instead of handing in an actual picture. She said: ya course, anything will do! WOW, I can’t believe that worked! So I handed her my other copy! She then directed me to window 42 to buy some stamps costing 11LE.
I returned to window 12, and delivered the stamps. Then they gave me a ticket and asked me to go back to window 42 to pay my fine. At window 42 they told me this is NOT where I’m supposed to pay my fine, I should return to window 42. Back at window 42, they directed me AGAIN to window 12!!! I then went to a random window and asked them where I’m supposed to pay my fine, and they explained that I should go to window 33, not window 44, or window 12!
I paid my fine at window 33, then went back to window 12. They explained that I needed to get ANOTHER stamp from window 12. I went back to window 12 to buy the 3 LE stamp, but they didn’t have change, so I couldn’t buy it!!! Ahhhhhhhh At this point I wandered the halls asking random strangers if they had change for 50 LE, and in the process made some friends. I finally managed to get change, and returned to window 12 to buy my stamp.
I returned to window 42, and at 10:30 I finally submited my passport.
I was told to return in two hours. So at 12:15 I returned. I went to the window to pick up my passport, but there were MANY MANY people waiting there. I finally got my passport at around 2:20.
Of course since we waited there for two more hours, I ended up meeting a lot of the people that were also just sitting there waiting for their passport, including an Algerian man, a Jordanian woman, two Palestinian men, and an American woman. It felt great to see people from all over the world.
The funny part is that while we were waiting, three different guys asked me out! One was as old as my father, if not older (and my father is 751). The second was as old as my kid (if I had one), I know I always say I don’t care about age, but there are limits! The third was a religious Christian man who was talking to me about how much he loves Cairo because it has a large Christian population and how he wants to get married from here. However, before he left, he wanted my number and wanted to get together for dinner. Confused, I remind him that I’m from Yemen (not from Egypt) and that I’m Muslim!
2:15 I left the mugamma with some funny stories, and an extended visa until February. Alhamdulilah!
Friday, October 24, 2008
Walking to the internet cafe near the apartment I noticed dark clouds. Could it be? Could it rain? It hasn't rained since i got here! I sat at the internet cafe for 10 minutes, then the rain started to pour. Kids that were playing video games left their games and ran to the glass door to watch the rain. The young men that were chatting or on facebook joined the boys. They were all standing in a straight line watching the rain. An older man in the cafe told us all that we should start praying because prayer during the rain is mustajab or "answered."
Rain continued to pour, and the three kids couldn't sit still, they finally opened the door and went out to play in the rain. I really wanted to join them, but people would have thought I was crazy.
The heavy rain reminded me of a summer day in Washington. Except that here it doesn't occur very often, and therefore it is much more appreciated.
After 20 minutes, the rain stopped, but the laughter of the kids continued. This is something they will talk about for the next week.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
October 20th marks my two months anniversary in Cairo. I can now announce that I am officially in love … with Cairo… :) I know it’s not a person, but at least I’m in love right? hehe
I am still on a Cairo high, and I love every second of it. Well not every second, as there are moments when I want to scream and yell!! Whether its when I’m stuck in traffic, or when the guy insists on honking the horn NONSTOP for no reason, or when my NEW water heater tank breaks for the SECOND time. In the past two months, I wake up everyday praying that I have water in the morning. Sometimes there is no water at all; sometimes there is water but no hot water (I’ve learned to take VERY quick cold showers). Sometimes while I’m taking a warm shower, the water shifts between hot and cold, and sometime it just stops (reminds me of Yemen). I miss having reliable hot water anytime I wanted.
There are also days when I am so furious with my job. I work at a research center in one of the “best” universities in the country, the American University of Cairo. Before I arrived here I expected some disorganization, but nothing prepared me for the level of carelessness and disorganization that I found. (I hope no one from work knows about my blog, it would be quite embarrassing!). It took me about two months to get an email account and an AUC ID (which I need to enter the university) and I still don't have a bus pass!
Despite all this, I am greatly enjoying this lovely city, and I believe this is what unconditional love is all about. Accepting the “negative” because there is a greater good. Like any other city, Cairo has a lot of negatives, the pollution, the traffic, and the disorganization. But I will learn to live with that because Cairo is worth it, as it offers much more than that. And maybe this is what relationships should be like.
I love that my neighborhood has become “home” now. The pharmacist next door knows me by name now and insists on calling me “Dr. Atiaf” because I sometimes wear glasses and I work at a university. The man at the grocery store asks why I haven’t been there in 3 days, and the woman at the internet café asks if my father is enjoying his time in Cairo. Humanity is alive here.
I alos love that there is so much to do everyday. If you want to visit historical sites there are plenty to see, if you want to attend academic lectures, there are many everyday. If you want to pray and visit religious sites, you will find a place in every corner, and if you want to enjoy some music or party you can do that as well. If you want to do a little of everything you can certainly do that.
Yesterday the taxi driver said to me, “you’re not from Cairo right?”, and I said yes that’s right. He then asks if I’m from Alexandria? That made me very happy. He assumed I am Egyptian. J
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The worst part is this: All were cleared for release long ago. However, because of the stigma of their detention at Guantánamo and for fear of offending China, no other country had agreed to offer these men safe haven.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Everyone has a good side… some of us have been in touch with it, others have not.
Everyone has a dark side…some of us have been in touch with it, others have not.
There is nothing purely good or purely evil
The good is so because it conquered the evil
The evil is so became it prevailed over the good
What makes one side prevail over the other? Is it circumstance? environment? personality? faith or lack of it? upbringing?
Whatever it is, next time you think of judging someone, just remember that both the good and evil have a place inside all of us.
The Yemeni government had a genius idea of dealing with Yemen’s poverty, high illiteracy rates, starvation, lack of water and health care. Building a very expensive and lavish “Jami’I al-Salih”, or Salih mosque. What a great idea, they must have had some very smart advisers. Now when people demand and seek their rights, the government can just remind them that they built an amazing mosque for them, where they can go and ask God to help in solving their problems.
There is nothing “Saleh” about this mosque. The grandeur of the mosque represents the corruption so apparent in everyday life. It makes me sick.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I was fortunate to attend a night of poetry and recitation of al-seerah alhilaliyah by Sayyid al-Dawy, which was declared one of Mankind's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
For the last two weeks of Ramadan al-Dawy will narrate the story of Abu Zaid al-Hilaly in a well-known Arabic epic that recounts Bani Hilal's journey from the Arabian peninsula, to Egypt, then to Tunisia, through poetry, dhikr, and music. The night starts off with anasheed of remembering God and the Prophet, and then the story begins. Throughout the story music is played. In order to hear the entire story you must attend every night.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Ramadan traditions are alive in Cairo. The city is decorated with colorful lights. The Musaharatee (the man who wakes up people for suhoor) comes daily. Fawanees (lanterns) decorate the balconies of most homes. (I bought a mini one too). The taxi driver is grouchy in the morning and right before iftar time. The traffic is doubled an hour before iftar, and the roads are so clear between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Minutes before the athan, Egyptian families wait in silence at the dinner table. Some have ifar with families, some at work, and some at Ma'idat al-Rahman or charity tables. Ma'idat al-Rahman are seen everywhere during the holy month and they are sponsored by a variety of people, including well-known celebrites. Anyone is welcome to sit and grab something to eat. If you happen to be in an area or a neighborhood where you do not know anyone and you do not have time to get back home, grab a seat at ma'idat al-Rahman.
After iftar many people stay up to enjoy what the city has to offer. Some people spend the night in worship, others do a combination of worship and attending entertainment festivities, and others party the night with shisha and coffee.
The range of Ramadan activities varies. You can attend any of the following: poetry recitals, story telling, folklore music, sufi anasheed, Egyptian jazz, rock group, Palestinian oud players, popular Tanbourah group, etc etc. The great thing about this is that many of these events are free and open to the public, or they require a minimum and symbolic charge. For those not interested in entertainment, they sit and relax in the Ramadan tents, or coffee houses that are scattered around the country. (a latest survey said there are about 80,000 coffee houses).
Cairo is by far the wildest city to celebrate Ramadan, but not everyone is happy about the "commercialization" of this holy month. Many fear that the spirituality and the real essence of ramadan is lost. People here welcome ramadan but not as a month of self reflection and worship, but as a month of socialization, great food, and entertainment. Sounds very similar to the commercialization of Christmas that happened in the West.
I have heard numerous stories about failed relationships in Yemen. The cause: class divide. I was surprised to hear that to this day, many families still object if a non-Hashemite person proposes to their Hashemite daughter!
Some Hashemites think they only “deserve” to marry Hashemites. This feeling of elitism contradicts the egalitarian nature of Islam. What surprised me even more is that it s not only the older generation that still thinks this way, some youth also fiercely hold on to this mode of thinking. How can someone who claims to believe in Islam’s teaching of equality judge others based on their class! People try to justify it and say that this is part of our culture and we should respect it. But when someone is utterly racist, classist, and ridiculous we should not accept it simply because it is part of our culture! Instead we must stand strong against it. This class divide must stop. Learn to judge people for who they are, not for what class their family belongs to!
** Hashemi refers to those descendants from Bani Hashem and claim to being a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
September 20th marks my first month anniversary in this lovely city. It is as I imagined, a city full of culture, life, and humanity.
To give you a picture of what happened in the last three days: first my wallet was stolen, then a bulldozer hit the car (we’re ok alhamdulilah), the next morning the water heater tank broke (all in two/three days)!
Yes it is a crazy place. It is so crowded, loud, full of life, chaotic, and I love every bit of it. Yes it’s loud, but it’s real, and human. The cab driver very naturally asks for water from the passing taxi, the woman on the street offers me tea while I’m walking, and the woman on the bus complains to me about her rent. There are no walls between people.
In my first month, my emotions are heightened, and I am on a Cairo high.
You can now receive many types of SMS messages directly to your phone in Egypt including:
- - Updates on police torture by SMS through ta3zeeb…a web channel dedicated to reporting and informing citizens of torture cases nation wide.
- - Need an alarm clock for morning (fajr) prayer? You can now get an SMS message every morning to wake you up, if an SMS is not enough you can also get a daily phone call through Fajr Caller
On July 20th at 1:30 p.m., I arrived at the “Hariri International Airport.” I was very excited to finally visit Beirut, a small but strategic Middle Eastern city that I imagined to be vibrant, full of life, and bursting with young energetic activists engaged in politics.
Beirut’s narrow roads, historic buildings with intricate architectural details tell stories of bitter memories and a dark past. The waves of the sea and the mountains remind us of the resilience of the Lebanese. In half an hour you can go from tanning on the beach, to enjoying the cool breeze on the top of the mountain. But very quickly you lose focus of the natural beauty as you are sidetracked by the massive amounts of silicon, make-up, expensive cars, and brand names. I visited Miami about a year ago, and this city has more silicone than Miami, Vegas, and LA combined. Ok fine, that is an exaggeration, but you get my point.
I respect the Lebanese for loving life and enjoying every moment of it, but enjoying life should not be equated with living a fake life, a life you can’t afford, and more importantly, a life dedicated to pretentiousness. Beirut reminds me of Hollywood with its materialism, obsession with weight, and plastic surgery.
Of course not all of Beirut is that way. Beirut varies significantly from place to place. What you see in Beirut depends on where you are and who you are with. It almost feels like a city of split personality. There is a clear dichotomy between various parts of the city. Old historic war wreckage buildings stand proud next to a large Haifa Wahbe billboard. Downtown is a reminder of wealth and power mixed with desire for western imitation. Life in the refugee camp is barely life, it is about sorrow and displacement and horrifying memories; and al-dahiya or Southern Beirut is the essence of struggle for freedom.
I searched and searched for the Beirut I imagined, the Beirut of culture, politics, and elegance. But I found a Beirut that has been branded and sold by the corporate world. A Beirut with a lost Arab soul with blind Western immitation.
When I was living in Washington, I was not surprised when people did not know Yemen. But when traveling in the Arab world I EXPECT that my fellow Arab citizens know a little about Yemen.
This is friendly advise for my fellow Arabs. When meeting a Yemeni person please do not do ask them any of the following (and yes I was asked these questions!):
- - Do not ask them if they speak Arabic in Yemen! (it is the ONLY language we speak.)
- - Do not be surprised and then say, “nooo you can’t be Yemeni, because the Yemenis I have seen are not good looking”. (That is NOT a compliment!)
- - Do not confuse Yemenis with khaleejis (people from the Gulf). Yemen is not part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
- - Do not ask the person if they can supply you with “qat”.