On roots, wings and home

My father had an interesting habit, whenever he came home after a day or more away he would open the fridge and just check the contents.  It had nothing to do with being hungry or wanting to eat, it was his way of confirming the fact that he had come home.  I carry on the tradition.

I was born in a country that I was not a citizen of, moved to another country while still a child, lived in 2 different cities there and then finally we moved back to Egypt.  Years later, I got married and moved to the country I was born in.  I have no roots.  I don’t share memories with a lot of people because the memories of my childhood were not shared with the friends I have today.  When I started my own family I was obsessed with the idea of growing roots, settling down in one place and being buried there.  I did not want my child to have to live through the same things I did.  I wanted her to still be friends with her KG friends when she was 20 or 50.  It is a romantic view.  Not suitable for life today.

I sometimes wonder what home is. Is home a place?  Is it the bricks and mortar that make the building? 
It is a place, a time, family, familiar sounds and smells, a meal, opening the fridge. And so much more. It is the things you carry in your heart and yearn to all the time. It is that cup of coffee in the morning before anyone else is awake. It is the sound of the alarm clock. It is the shelf of books that you have already read and the shelf of books still waiting to be read and cherished. It is the box of old photographs. It is the smell of lunch cooking and a sink full of dirty dishes that no one else will wash. It is the place where you belong even if it doesn’t exist.

I don’t want to grow roots anymore, at least not just yet. I want to grow wings. I want to learn how to fly and discover the world. There is so much more homes out there that I still want to experience and enjoy before deciding on one that doesn’t move from place to place.

Are you a sexual harrassment supporter?

Yes, you! And might I also say that it is time we call it what it is, violence against women, which is becoming a norm in Egypt.  Sadly, many people who say they are against sexual harassment are actually supporters without realizing it.

If your first response is, she got attacked because of how she was dressed or where she was, then I am sorry you are a sexual harassment supporter.  No one (regardless of their gender) should be abused or harassed for any reason.  Period.  Why is that so hard to understand?  When people say things like women are like candy and need to be covered up, they really are saying that men can not control themselves and are rapists waiting to happen.  Women are scientists, doctors, engineers, fighter pilots, moms, referees, etc.  They are not candy.  They are not diamonds.  They are human beings who have the right to dress as they choose without having to justify it or be punished for it.

If you think that sexual harassment affects a woman’s honor (شرف ) then you also have a problem.  Her humanity, dignity, soul, heart, psyche, body and more have been violated, but not her honor.  Her honor is only defined by her actions not what someone else does to her.  It is time we stop being dinosaurs and realize that honor has nothing to do with it.

If you are a man and feel that your honor is being violated because a woman was harassed/raped/abused/attacked please take a number, have a seat and wait until hell freezes over.  This has nothing to do with you.  You do not own women.  Your honor is only defined by your actions not by what happens to someone else.  Your job is not to harass women.  Full stop.  If as a decent person (regardless of gender) you choose to stand up against harassment then thank you, that means you have chosen the right thing.

If you feel that videos of attacks make us look bad in the eyes of the rest of the world, then please go drink some arsenic. The fact that you believe that half the population lives in constant fear of being abused or harassed is less important than our collective image means you really need some therapy.  I totally agree that the privacy of victims needs to be protected, they at least deserve that from us. But covering an attack up or pretending that they are not an epidemic is just sick and stupid.

We have a serious problem in Egypt.  It is called misogyny , as defined by wikipedia

Misogyny /mɪˈsɒɪni/ is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.[1][2] Misogyny has been characterised as a prominent feature of the mythologies of the ancient world as well as of various religions.

If you find any way to blame a victim or justify an attacker then you are a misogynistic inhumane creep that needs to find a hole in the ground to bury yourself.

If you think you don’t support violence against women, but see people blaming the victim and don’t say anything that makes you a supporter.  If you lead men to believe that this is about their honor and don’t right their views, then you are supporting more violence against women.  If you want to hide the fact that these attacks happen then you are a supporter.

If you do not take a stand against crimes against women, you are supporting them.  If you belittle efforts that are made to stand against these crimes then maybe you support these crimes.

If the only solution to this problem in your view is violence against men then this is another problem, it is called misandry.  We can not fight violence with violence. We can only start educating everyone on how to stop the current epidemic and to make sure it never happens again. We need strong laws and implementation of these laws.  We need to feel safe by knowing that we are protected, not that we need to walk around carrying weapons to fight back.

A stand, is long overdue.

Airport Brides

Yesterday at the airport there was a bride in her wedding gown flying to meet her groom.  In her full gown and made up to the nines she looked gorgeous, happy and stuffy.  Almost 7 years ago to the day I flew to Kuwait with my husband as a newly wed after my wedding and quick honeymoon.  I spent years feeling sorry for myself that most of my family had never visited me at my new home, that I had never been able to host a family dinner and that they are never near by.

But years have passed, years that have added wisdom and peace.  I never could understand why a woman would do that.  Traveling is stressful enough without having to wear a wedding dress. A white one that will probably pick up dust and dirt.  Make up that will probably smudge and melt in the heat of the plane. Being cramped in those tiny seats that seem to be designed to torture anyone who is taller than a meter and a half while wearing a huge dress.

But a week earlier I had watched a bride arrive at the airport and I heard the claps, the ululations (زغاريط) and the happiness of people who were waiting for her to arrive and I finally understood.  This was a woman who chose to deal with all of these discomforts to be happy, to take what was given to her by life and to accept it and enjoy it.  She still got to wear the dress, she still got the celebrations but most of us, she was still a bride who was happy to be married and join her husband.

We do not choose what happens in life, we only choose to accept it and enjoy it, or to refuse and whine about it.  And we all know that whinging does not work.  It just robs you of happiness.  I spent years doing the latter.  Trying hard to change the unchangeable and challenging a fate I could not control.  I was robbed of happiness.  I robbed myself of it.  I chose to be miserable and sad.  I was so caught up in wallowing in my own misery instead of enjoying all of the things I had been blessed with without any doing of my own.

I say a little prayer for airport brides, may they forever be happy, may they be blessed with happy and full marriages and lives, may they always have the ability, wisdom and grace to walk in their lives with smiles on their faces whatever they may face.  May their husbands understand the sacrifices they have made of leaving family behind and trekking out in the world on their own to meet them half way.  May they always be blessed with the ability to find the silver lining.

“Expect nothing and accept everything.” I read that quote somewhere and it sounds defeatist at first, but it isn’t.  It is finding the strength not to put conditions on happiness.  It is harder than it sounds but it is rewarding.

When a nerd mom goes to a Halloween parade

Today the 5yo had the Halloween parade at school.  It is a simple affair, they dress up and walk around the playground once then go back to classes. The parents were invited too.  I had a problem with two things today.  Which is quite good because I usually have more issues than just two.

First was that the parents were asked not to cross the white lines that marked the area where the kids would be walking.  They were also very clearly asked not to stop the parade to take pictures.  And what did many parents do? They did the exact thing they were asked not to do.  This bothers me for so many reasons (see, I told you I always have more issues) first is that it is unfair to the parents who did the right thing and stayed in the designated area.  They too have kids whom they want to take pictures of to immortalize the moment, but they chose not to stop the parade.  Second it sends out the wrong message to the kids, that rules are not real and that people who break the rules get what they want and that the people who do not break the rules get nothing.  That just deeply irritates me.  If you are a parent and you really NEED to take pictures then do it before school or after school, not during an event that everyone else is involved in.

The other thing was the gender gap in costume choices.  Girls were dressed as fairies, princesses (Disney princesses mainly), a few witches and fewer black cats.  There was a total of maybe 4 girls in super hero costumes.  The boys were slightly more diverse superheros, pirates, explorers, monsters, animals, two Pharaohs, a Riddler, a Charlie Chaplin (which was my favorite costume because it was so detailed and different) and a Harry Potter.  Almost all the costumes were store bought.  I want to see a world where there are more girl superheros.  And more kids who are willing to think out of the box.  Who want to be more than what they are taught they can or should be.  I hate the Disney princesses.  Just think about it, why would I want my daughter to be Ariel, who gave up her voice (the voice is quite symbolic here)? or Snow White, or Rapunzel both of which had to wait to be rescued?  Perhaps Merida is an exception, it is about her own personal bravery and the mother/daughter relationship.  Why would I want my daughter to be a fairy?  I might want my daughter to be a powerful good witch.  Empowered, smart and can help herself.

There wasn’t a single girl wearing a lab coat.  Not one single girls thinks that being a doctor would be a good idea.  Think about that.  I think there might have been about 70 girls.  Give or take some.  There was a Wonder Woman whom I thought was awesome. Even the girls who were wearing witch costumes were almost all identical.

My daughter wanted to be a bat, which evolved into bat girl.  She wanted bat wings and tried to figure out a way to sleep upside down but couldn’t.  She was totally fascinated by the fact that bats are blind and can still fly around and get around.  The process of making the costume fascinated her.  I asked her a couple of times if she wanted to go pick a costume or if she would like to look at ideas on pinterest and we could make it together, and she wanted me to make it.  It took me a couple of weeks to get it all done.  She helped with the process and spent a few days wearing parts of it.

Yes I understand that not a lot of parents have the time that I do, or the skills to sew a costume or craft one.  But it isn’t rocket science and it doesn’t need to take more than a an hour or two.  We can’t teach our kids that everything can be bought like that and devalue creativity and hands on work.  It is taking away from their childhoods as well as their creativity.  Children need to build forts out of blankets and cardboard boxes.  They need to make their own masks using paper and crayons.  Every.day. They need to paint and draw and make up silly languages.  They need to experience this kind of creativity and curiosity.  They need to embrace it.  And parents need it too.  Parents need to be silly and play pretend with their kids.  If we don’t then we are telling them that they can not be who they are or what they want to be.  We are packaging them in little generic labeled boxes for life.

That is just it.  It might be dress up and it happens for most kids on a single day in the year but that is just wrong.  Every child needs to own a crown and a superhero cape.  The crown is for them to pretend to be kings and queens.  Which is a great opportunity to talk about community and how decisions are made and why?  It is about teaching compassion even when we are in power.  It is a fantastic opportunity to open their minds and widen their horizons.  The superhero cape is to make them believe they can be heroes.  Most of the superheros in comics pop culture are just ordinary men and women who became extra ordinary.

And then there are the real heroes in life,  the ones that are extra ordinary because of the hard work they put in.  Every day.  There was one little boy who was a soldier and another who was a fireman.  These are great examples, of people who keep us safe who put themselves at risk to get their job done.

The costumes don’t need to be fancy, a cape can be made of an old towel and a crown can be made of newspaper.  It is not about them being real, it is about them being tools for change, dialogue, imagination and tons of fun.

Finally, it also makes you question, who do our kids see as role models? Who do they want to be?  What do they want to become?  Are they being taught the right values? Are they seeing these values enough in real life so that they grow up believing in them?

Sometimes, I wish I could just go to a Halloween parade, push the other parents, take pictures of my daughter while standing where I shouldn’t be standing and then go home and forget all about it.  It would be so much easier than all of this thinking.

What do you want for your birthday?

Every year after her birthday is over in October, my sister starts asking me what I want for my birthday.  It is in November. And every year she ends up yelling at me, because I almost always won’t tell her what I want or if she suggests something that I feel is too expensive I will make up excuses about why I don’t want it.

Every year.

The fact is, I feel uncomfortable asking for something, it feels impolite or wrong or needy or whatever it is.  I am uncomfortable asking.  It is that simple.  Even though I am certain she doesn’t mind and can afford whatever it is I might want or ask from her.  It is sort of like when someone asks you what  do you want to do or where would you like to go out today and instead of telling them what you want you just say “whatever”.  Whatevers do not make us happy.  They are just a silly way of saying I want something but instead of asking for it I will just say that so i don’t feel like I asked for something.  Maybe I don’t want to want something and then not get it.  I am guilty of that too.  The fear of rejection or failure creeps up in every part of your life when you let it.

I also feel bad about wanting things.  It is like I do not believe I deserve to receive a gift from my loved ones.  I do not feel worthy.  I don’t feel I can afford to reciprocate a more expensive gift so I don’t want to receive one.

I did not see that reason coming.

I do not feel worthy of receiving gifts.

It is a scary sentence.  It is also heartbreaking.

But it is not true, it is a lie.  A lie that my brain has obviously so intricately woven into my thoughts that I was unaware of.  A lie that I am no longer willing to tell myself or believe.

So this year I am going to make a list and send it to her.

 

Vulnerability

I feel compelled to explain the absence but I won’t.  I am not really writing for an audience this time.  I am not sharing this because I seek your approval or acceptance.  I am sharing it because I need to feel vulnerable and be ok with it.  To accept it, embrace it and understand that it is not my enemy, it is an aid to my growth as a person, a wife, a parent, an artist and all the other hats I wear.

Being vulnerable is a scary thing.  I know from experience.  I am so good at climbing into my cocoon and adding layers to it that it was almost impossible to get back out again.

What does vulnerability mean?

vul·ner·a·ble ˈvəln(ə)rəbəl susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
I always thought that the first time I was really vulnerable was when my father died, but after a lot of soul searching and thinking I realized it was before that.  It was when my family moved back to Egypt from Scotland.  It was a move that I originally wanted and hoped for.  I have always yearned for the feeling of belonging and my 11 year old self thought that living in Egypt would make that come true.  Interestingly, I just finished Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and she touches on the difference between fitting in and belonging.
photoI was struck by these two paragraphs.  I used to think fitting in and belonging were the same thing, but according to her they aren’t, and I think I agree with her.  But what does belonging have to do with being vulnerable? Personally, a lot.  It is the root of why I feel what I feel.
After moving to Egypt I never really felt accepted or that I belonged.  I couldn’t connect with friends or the people around me and eventually I stopped trying to belong and started learning how to fit in.  It became so easy and automatic that I don’t think I even realized I was doing it. Honestly, I probably still don’t believe it.
Perhaps the hardest vulnerability is with your self.  To step back and say I will examine my beliefs, I will question them and I will allow them to change and evolve.  Then comes being vulnerable with the people you love.  Accepting that they can see you as you are, flaws, imperfections and all and trusting that they will accept that and cherish it.  It is hard because before you can expect it from others you need to be able to do it yourself.  Am I worthy of love? Is the real me worthy of love and respect?  Questions that we might not really ask but our behavior always exposes.   Because of our ability to hussle for acceptance, we usually go through life without really taking that deep look inside of ourselves.
For me, it is time.  Time to stop and explore.  Take an adventure inside my soul, not my head but my soul.
When my father died in 1999 it was an incredible shock.  It rocked our world almost threatening to demolish everything we ever knew.  I tell this story saying we because it involved three people.  My mother, my sister and I.  And while I do not claim to know exactly what they went through I am pretty confident I can tell the collective story.  My father was not a sick or dying man.  He was a brilliant orthopedic surgeon.  He was 45. But my father was a long time sufferer of diabetes.  It was slowly eating him alive inside out.  But there was nothing on the outside that foretold his death. He went to work that Friday and never came home.  It was his wish that he never have to become an invalid or too sick to work.
To say  that death is terrifying would be robbing death of its true meaning.  Death is a thief.  It takes what we hold most dear and gives nothing back.  Some would say it gives back strength or resilience to adversity.  But that is not death’s work, it is the work of hope and our desire  or need to keep going.  My mother suddenly found herself having to carry a heavy burden, two girls still at university, a home to run, a job to go to, finances to keep straight.  My sister and I were lost.  We had very little support from the outside world.  Yes people might be empathetic in the first few days even sympathetic or compassionate.  There was no grief counseling and no real long term support.
Everything was tough at the beginning.  You have to grow up suddenly.  Without the luxury of time or feeling your way through the process, you are suddenly thrown into life unprepared and definitely not ready.
No one is ever ready or prepared for that kind of thing.  Even people who have lost loved ones after long battles with disease are never really prepared for what comes next.
Instead of reaching out or asking for help we did the exact opposite we clammed up even harder.  I am not blaming anyone or saying that we should have been helped I am just saying that maybe next time if God forbid you have someone close to you dealing with something of this magnitude, remember that they might not ask for help even though they will be needing it the most.
Perhaps one person I will always be grateful for is my grandmother’s cousin, he would drop by every couple of weeks just to ask about it.  For no reason.  No explanation. No justification.  Just an unexpressed offer of support. My mother’s aunt would sometimes drop by with lunch and spend some times with us.  I am pretty sure that they have no idea that what they did is something we valued very much.  Perhaps the simplicity and total honesty of their actions was what we needed the most.
There were many others who did give support in the way they new how.  And to them I will be forever grateful.  Some of them don’t even know that what they did may have saved us or helped us.  My sister has a friend who spent the first couple of days with us.  To her I say, thank you.  My cousins spent the first week with us, to them I say thank you.  And to my best friend who also was there for hugs and support, I am eternally in your debt.
But then life goes one, everyone goes home but the pain and loss don’t.  Suddenly you learn to laugh and smile to mask it and after a while it stops becoming a mask it becomes part of who you are.  It is not an act, it is a natural reflex to pain and hurt and all the horrible things in life that you don’t really know how to deal with.  You stop believing in the future.  You stop trusting the present.  You are not miserable, on the contrary, you lead a good life, but you are never whole and because you never learn to deal with it, it doesn’t go away.
At some point in life we need to stop, tell our story, own it and accept it.  It is what makes us who we are, flaws and all.  These flaws do not make us worse, they are what give us our value.  But for them to do that we need to accept them.  No one in life hasn’t been touched by some kind of adversity and no one is perfect.  Far from that, we are all imperfect.  But we are who we are, and you get what you get.  It is what you do with it that changes everything.
Last year I almost died.  It is a long story that I do not feel like telling today.  But it was another scary moment for me.  It made me go back and forth between I need to be strong and I need to break down. All of this might seem touchy feely or mushy.  Yes true.  But I am not writing this for you.  I am writing this for me, I need to heal.  Because now I know I do not need to be strong on the outside.  I am strong,  I am flexible, I am adaptable and I am a survivor.  But right now I need to be at peace with myself.  True serenity and peace, that stem from the bottom of my being that can carry me into the future,  a future that I so desperately need to believe in.
We carry a lot of baggage with us.  We don’t need to.  We need to travel light.  Take only what you need and keep going.  I am unpacking the bags because it is the only way forward.

Saying no to the Undershirt

An undershirt
is
an article
of underwear worn
underneath a
dress shirt intended
to protect them from
body sweat and odors. It can have short sleeves or be sleeveless. The term most commonly refers to upper-body wear worn by males. It also makes dress shirts less transparent. It can also be worn during winter months as an extra layer of warmth. Wikipedia

The undershirt is an ubiquitous item of clothing for Egyptian children and men. Almost always white and something I hate.  It is another example of one of those things that people just do because everyone has always done it.  I think most Egyptians will tell you that their family has worn an undershirt since the time of Ramses the first.  That is basically the real reason why people wear them “we have always worn them”.  Then they will go on about how important they are in the summer because they soak up sweat (gross) and keep them warm in the winter (redundant).

Basically I think it was more about when people did not have automatic washing machines so it was just easier to wear undershirts and wash them instead of having to wash a shirt.  But we all have the wonderful device called the washing machine in our homes so I don’t find that argument really convincing anymore.  Especially for children, since they usually spill something or roll around in any available dirt, so you will probably need to wash their clothes anyway.

As for staying warm in the winter, SERIOUSLY? When it is cold, I usually dress her in a couple of layers so who cares if it is a purple t shirt instead of a white sleeveless undershirt.  If it is about warmth, the layers are what count not what we call that layer.

My grandmother keeps bringing it up until I finally gave up and bought one, so my daughter can wear it when she visits.  I am not really trying to defy anyone.  I just don’t see why it is such a huge deal and why every Egyptian and their mother needs to tell me that I need to dress my daughter in a certain way.

And this isn’t really about the “undershirt”, it is about all of those little things that we do without questioning because it is how everyone has always done it.  So many cultural practices that make no sense at all.  Questioning things around us is healthy, imperative actually.  Why can’t I start my meal with dessert?  Why do I need a living room when I really need a craft room/family room?  Do I really need to own a TV, when I already watch almost everything online?  Why do couples who get married need to have kids right away? Why do we need to have two children? Why are people who chose to have one child heckled all the time? I have no problem with people making these choices or others, I just wish we put more thought into what we choose.

We have shackled ourselves and our lives needlessly.

I have taken off the undershirt (literally and figuratively).

I invite you to try it.  And if you do want to keep it on, then do it because you like it, not because you should keep it on because someone a hundred years ago thought it was a good idea.

Oh and by the way I googled about the benefits of the undershirt and came up with nothing scientific.

There is a wedding somewhere out there

The sound of jubilant ululating is a familiar sound to Arabs, it means something happy is happening. It is so primitive, yet powerful.  It can also sound like terrifying shrieking when done wrong. A tradition that is synonymous with weddings. We heard them from the building across us last night. Followed by the ma’zoon performing the katb kitab and more ululating and then the happy music followed. Later in the night I wandered into the room that overlooks that building and stood there for a while listening to the music. Every song has a memory. Some of the songs were from my high school years, triggering memories of friends I have not seen for more than a decade. Yes I am that old. Songs that were danced to at weddings, engagements, parties and happy events. Songs that were played in the car with my friends. Every tune, every sound has the incredible ability to reach into my deepest memories. Just like ululating.

I think of the newly weds, I hope they will be happy together, I wish them a life full of wonderful experiences and strength that will carry them through the tough times.  I don’t know who they are and to me, it doesn’t matter, I enjoy praying for people I do not know. Actually I love praying for people I do not know. It is my way of saying thank you to the world. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I am sure it was a few minutes before I realized that there will always be a wedding somewhere out there. And there must be other people who slow down to listen to the ululating and music and think happy thoughts.

لما الريس يحبنا

دار بيني و بين البياع في السوبر ماركت هذا الحديث.
أنا: من فضلك مش عايزه كيس بلاستيك
البياع: ليه؟
أنا: مش محتاجاه. لازم نقلل إستهلاكنا عليان نحافظ على البيئة و البلد علشان تفضل نظيفه
البياع: مش لما الريس يحبنا الأول؟
*حالة ذهول مؤقتة مصحوبة بشلل في الدماغ. إيه دخل الريس في الحفاظ على البيئة؟؟؟؟؟؟؟؟؟*
إبتسمت إبتسامة صفراء مشيت

نحب نفسنا الأول، فنحترم نفسنا، فغيرنا حيحترمنا و مش مهم يحبنا.

Why aren’t there any fat women employed in banks?

I had to visit the bank (well a couple of banks and branches) recently, and noticed that there were almost no fat women employed.  At least none were visible at the time of my visits.  Also most of them (I don’t remember seeing any one) were not hijabis and they were also quite young and pretty.  Strange observation right? It doesn’t matter? Right?  These were all of course private banks and one was a global bank.

My problem isn’t discrimination (if it exists), but with social conditioning.  We mostly associate the banking industry with efficiency, punctuality and professionalism. Government banks (like El Ahly) employ women, who are usually old, fat and veiled.  I am sorry if I am being blunt. The real problem is that government banks are also associated with slowness, stupidity, rudeness and being dowdy.

The problem is that with time, eventually people start associating women who work at government banks with these negative traits and the positive traits from the private banks with young, thin women who do not cover their hair.

Again this is not about discrimination.  This is more about what happens when we associate certain traits with what we see on the surface.  It worries me that this is always more noticeable with women than men. Because there was quite an equal number of fat and ugly men at both types of banks.

After a while, we start believing that all fat women must be lazy and stupid.  They must be lazy and stupid, they can’t get any decent jobs at good banks, they are only accepted at the bad banks.  It all happens on the subconscious level.

It makes you think about all the other things that we also associate with traits without thinking.  Do we think that fair skinned people are richer and more cultured than darker skinned people?  Do we believe that older people are slow and obsolete?  Short haired girls must be really boyish? Do we look at mothers who take care of their looks and always look put together and think, oh they must be neglecting their children?  Some of these judgements are never spoken aloud.  While others just linger in the back of our minds because of being conditioned for so long.

Look around you, what do you see?