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)rəbəlsusceptible 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Posted by jessyz on October 9th, 2012 | Category: Egypt, ya Baheya | Comments are closed
دار بيني و بين البياع في السوبر ماركت هذا الحديث.
أنا: من فضلك مش عايزه كيس بلاستيك
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.
Posted by jessyz on October 3rd, 2012 | Category: Egypt, ya Baheya | Comments are closed
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?
Posted by jessyz on October 2nd, 2012 | Category: General | Comments are closed
I finished reading Quiet by Susan Cain. The book is so aptly subtitled “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. It is an engaging book, that talks about what it means to be an introvert in a world that obviously highly values extroverts. We want our leaders to be bold, brave, gregarious and fearless. We want managers and CEOs who can boldly (and loudly) go where no one else has gone before. We assume that people who can easily communicate their ideas (regardless of how good those ideas are) are better than people who are quieter. Ironically, research shows that some of the best leaders are introverts and with one in three people being an introvert that should not surprise us.
It is commonly thought that introverts are shy, timid or anti social people and that is untrue, introverts like to be stimulated differently that extroverts. Also not all introverts are the same, just the same way that extroverts can not all be lumped into one big group.
Cain herself is an introvert who pretended to be an extrovert, and became a Wall Street Lawyer. It took her a while to realize she just wanted to do and be something else.
Cain explores a plethora of topics. Is introversion built in your DNA or is it nurtured? How do different cultures deal with introversion/extroversion? Can you be yourself in a world that wants you to be something else? Can you be an introvert and still act like an extrovert sometimes?
Finally her last chapter was perhaps the one that struck with me the most on how to parent an introverted child. My daughter is an introvert. I have always know that. I know that half of it is from her DNA and half of it from how we live our lives. She is perfectly content to sit and [pretend] read her books. She shies away from situations where things are too loud or crowded. I once left her at IKEA’s play area after she begged to stay but 30 minutes later they called me and said she wanted to be picked up. When I did, I asked her why she wanted to leave, she said “it was getting very crowded for me”. She will cover her ears when sounds are too loud and has only recently been able to watch movies (and I only let her watch things that are age appropriate) because the overly sad or emotional music is too much for her. I understand because I have been there and I know what it is like. My husband says I should push her to experience more things and I am adamant about it. I will give her the tools and teach her the skills she needs to deal with all of this but I think every child must be given the chance to be who they really are.
It is an interesting read. Chock full of information not just about introverts, how to deal with them and how to be one but also about why we are what we are. This should be required reading for parents, teachers and generally just about everyone.
I leave you with Susan Cain’s March 2012 TEDTalk about the subject.
Posted by jessyz on July 3rd, 2012 | Category: Books | 2 comments - (Comments are closed)
This keeps happening to me and I am not sure if it is just my luck or if this is something common. We go out someplace with a group of people as families and the men sit in one end of the place and the women and children sit in another. I am not talking about Islamic style gender separation, because that I totally understand, even if I might not practice or like it. It is done for religious beliefs and the people who do it are clear about.
If I go out with my family then I don’t want my family divided like that. I also don’t like it when the men enjoy themselves for the entire duration of the outing and the women end up feeding the kids, running after them, making a million bathroom dashes and getting ketchup all over their nice shirts while helping the kid clean his hands. It is not fair that even the family outing becomes another chore for the woman while the man is as free as a bird. In fact I am so sick of it that I almost completely stopped going out in groups. Instead of a nice fun relaxing evening it becomes a nightmare.
This is completely new to me ever since I came to Kuwait. My family in Egypt and family friends and the people I worked with never did that. We have always been a huge mishmash of people, loud voices and heated discussions.
Oh and that is just half of the story. One of my lovely twitter friends Louya_ said this: “Because the ladies won’t / can’t be interested in serious man talk, get with the backward times.”
I had never really thought of it that way. Two hours later I was still thinking about it. How on earth can a man feel comfortable with his wife raising his child if he does not think she is smart/intellectual/worldly enough or whatever it is? Because if she is not interested in serious talk, she is not going to raise a child who is either? And then sometimes they will overtly make fun of women’s discussions because they are silly. It is not fair, many women don’t talk about silly stuff, granted many women do talk about shopping, diapers and make up, but we can also talk about other stuff, just like they talk about football and cars.
But before I go on my rant I have a disclaimer, if you are a housewife and like being called one, good for you, that’s your choice and I respect it, but it is not mine so please respect it too. Another word of warning, this post is really angry and might have a couple of expletives too.
Yes I am serious, you may call me a lot of things but don’t you dare call me a housewife, that lands you in black list forever. Don’t make fun of the things I do, or I will either stop talking to you or will find a way to get back at you.
I am not a housewife, I am not a meek woman with no opinions, I do not enjoy doing housework or keeping the house spotless. Staying at home raising a child was not really what I wanted to do with my life, and if I could go back and change things I probably would. I am not the kind of woman who will dreamily tell you that raising kids is hard and that I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t do crap and I don’t do bullshit. Yes, I knit, I sew, I crochet, I can make pizza from scratch and don’t bake a cake using cake mix. But that is not what defines me. For your information, I can also write code, I can disassemble electronic toys and put them back again. I can fix basic plumbing and wiring problems. I used to be a systems analyst and I used to be a software developer.
I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, but I run my own design business and it is hard work. I have to do work just like everyone else but don’t have the luxury of having protected work time to get it all done. I do it while running errands and taking care of a 4 year old.
Oh and back to that 4 year old. I am not that awesome at getting rid of the stains from her white t shirts or at cooking vegetables and forcing her to eat them. I let her draw on her body with felt tip pens, lick the glue stick and glue paper to the wall. Her room is messy more often than not, with art supplies all over the place. When she needs help I don’t rush to her side and help her every time, I step back and watch while she struggles until she can do it on her own. I don’t do it because I am an evil mother, I do it because I am teaching the basic skill of carrying her own weight, which she will need for the rest of her life. I throw imaginary tea parties to imaginary friends just because I can. I am not raising a sissy. I also throw fits when people call her a 3arussa (Egyptian for doll/bride it is usually meant as a term of endearment) because I don’t want her thinking that marriage is a goal in life, it is just a means of life. I throw fits when people try to tell her she can’t do boy stuff because she is a girl. She can play with cars and build stuff if that is what floats her boat, no one has the right to tell her what to like and what not to like because of her gender.
I get irritated when people don’t get what I do and instead of asking me to elaborate, they just assume I am a lazy woman who doesn’t want to work. So to them I say SCREW YOU. To the people who think I drop my daughter off at school and then go home and watch tv all day or sleep until I have to pick her up again. I get up every day at 5 am, just to get in an hour of work done before she is up. I get back and do some more work, while juggling laundry, lunch and whatever else needs to be done.
Am I perfect at doing it? No I am not, I struggle every step of the way, but no one is every sympathetic with me. Oh no, the sympathies are all reserved to the working mother. I am not bashing the working mother, on the contrary, I just wish people would stop bashing me.
I help my husband with some of his own work, but that’s never really recognized as work either. Because I am just a bloody house wife.
I don’t fit in with the housewives and I don’t fit in with the working women.
The story of my life
I just don’t fit in.
I have my own opinions, ideas, hopes and dreams. I am not an extension of a child or a husband. I am my own person. I don’t understand why that is so hard to understand for some people. I have never made ma7shi and I don’t intend to. I won’t waste time in the kitchen that can be better spent elsewhere.
The assumption that I am stupid because I don’t have a 9 to 5 job is the one that infuriates me the most. When people talk down to me I want to poke their eyes out with a fork. And when people tell me I am lucky I don’t have to wake up early and go to work every day drives me insane. I was at an outing yesterday with people I met for the first time, and when I mentioned that I got up at 5 am, they asked me if I worked and when I said no, they asked why would anyone wake up so early if they didn’t have a job. Well that is just it, I do have a job, I work two jobs actually, a full time parent and running my own business. I would get up at 4 if I could, and I just might end up doing that soon because I can’t find enough time in the day to do all the things I want and need to do. I understand why some people assume that housewives are stupid, I have met many of the stupid ones. Ones that have no identity, opinions or basic knowledge of a lot of stuff. And I usually want to kick them into fixing all that because they are going to raise idiot children who will plague us with their idiocy. I have also met working women who are just as stupid. Who complain all the time that they are exhausted and that they are swamped with work and that they have no life, some of them too have no opinions and if you listened to them you would assume they just came from under a rock.
To be honest, I don’t really care what other women want to do with their lives, that is their decision, and I don’t think I have any right to judge them.
I just don’t think anyone else has the right to judge me.
Posted by jessyz on April 21st, 2012 | Category: General | 15 comments - (Comments are closed)
My daughter loves her books. She drags them around like kids would drag their favorite toy around. She also drags other random stuff around too, yesterday it was an umbrella.
I like getting her Arabic books as well as English books. For her birthday my sister picked out a bunch for her and sent them over. Some of them were total keepers but one made me want to fling it from the window. YES IT WAS THAT BAD. And that coming from a person who loves all books.
It was this book.
I didn’t like the illustrations, but I am a big girl so I let it pass. But the story is depressing. A fisherman talks to a fish and tells her that his children are hungry and he needs to feed them to which she replies that she too has children and can not be his dinner. Her son tries to eat the bait off the hook so she pushes him aside to save him and ends up being lunch.
I hated it because it was a sad, depressing idea. I hated it because it built on the idea that mothers always need to be self sacrificing. I hated it because he was moping and the fish was moping and by the end of this book I was moping too.
This one has the same level of bad illustration but the story isn’t so bad, actually it does have an interesting moral. Long story short, lemon tree was sad that no one liked its sour lemons and everyone loved the sweet grapes until family got sick and needed the lemons. Lemon tree learns that everyone is different and has a purpose. Lemon tree is happy.
Can you see the sad depressed suicidal Lemon tree? This is a children’s book.
Now that I have happily bashed the bad books can I tell you about the books I LOVE.
It is called the Pretty City and it is by Adly Rizq Allah. It is a whimsically illustrated story about an artist who doesn’t like the noisy polluted city and starts drawing a happier version of a city. He eventually goes to a place which he likes better and everyone follows him and doesn’t pollute or make noise.
My daughter loves it as much as I do.
But my favorite book is Hanooma and her grandmother Soona.
The book is written by Samira Shafiq and illustrated by Ihab Shaker and published by Nahdet Masr. It is for slightly older kids, probably kids who can read on their own and it is not really a story book either. Oh and it doesn’t have enough pictures for little non reading kids. But, this book is just AWESOME. Hanooma and her grandmother talk about Egyptian places, people and customs.
Soona tells Hanooma about Khan El Khalili, Nagib Mahfouz, Siwa and lots of other things. Every Egyptian kid needs to read this book.
Posted by jessyz on March 25th, 2012 | Category: Books | Comments are closed