Cycling Europe Day 5: Settling In

We have a saying in Egypt: اللي تخاف منه ما يجيش أحسن منه – That which you fear most will be the best. I’ve decided my subconscious belief in the truth of this saying is the source of much of my anxieties.

Every morning since I started this trip, I’ve had bad morning anxiety. I become restless at 4AM and can’t sleep past 5AM. I worry about getting all my stuff ready. I worry about having breakfast early enough so I can start off as early as possible to avoid the noon heat. I worry about the road: will it be safe? Will I find water and food along the way if mine run out? Will I find a decent spot to pee when I need to? Luckily, the moment I put my foot on the bike pedal all my anxiety goes away and I just naturally leave it all to God. But I’ve noticed that the days I’ve been most anxious about have been the days that went really well. When I wasn’t as worried, the day was extremely difficult. “That which you fear most will be the best!” (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 4: THIS Is Why

Part of the Camino de Santiago

Part of the Camino de Santiago

Let me tell you what it’s like. Maybe you’ll understand:

The Semana Santa in Caceres, Spain.

The Semana Santa in Caceres, Spain.Let me tell you what it’s like and maybe you’ll understand:

You’re cycling along, pedaling slowly uphill in the sweltering Spanish heat. A group of five cool dude Spanish cyclists come up from behind and easily pass you. Each and every one of them gives you a wave, a smile, and a buenos dias. You forget the heat and the hill you’re ascending for just a little bit and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside (not because of the sweltering heat).

A bit later a single cyclist, in his 60s, quickly passes you, looks back at you and says, “Bon camino.” You don’t realize what he said at first and reply, “Buenos dias.” Then it clicks. “What did he say? He didn’t say buenos dias. It sounded like bon camino. I wonder what that means.” Shortly after which you start seeing signs that tell you that you are cycling right next to the famous pilgrimage route called Camino de Santiago and you get all excited, especially when you see an old bridge on the trail and a resting place for pilgrims. It is then that you realize the cyclist was saying something like have a good journey or have a good road and you feel all warm and fuzzy inside again. (more…)

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My European Cycling Adventure: Crossing from Portugal to Spain

There are so many different kinds of travel and as many different reasons to leave everything one knows behind them to venture into the relatively unknown. People travel to see sights, to go shopping, to live with nature, to learn about new cultures, to meet people, to relax, and the list goes on. Most of us engage in each of these kinds of travel at different times in our lives according to our needs and desires.

Four days ago I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal to start a trip of my own. But this trip is not to see the sights. It’s not to go shopping. And it’s definitely not to relax. I’m going on a journey to get to know myself. As long as I’m able and have the time, I’ll definitely do my best to see some of the sights in Europe. But my main goal is really to challenge myself, learn to enjoy the challenge, and to understand myself better in the process.

I arrived in Lisbon on April 13, a bundle of nerves from anticipating the challenges I would be facing ahead – ALONE. My first challenge was reassembling my bike. I had never done this before and I was very worried after I took it apart that I’d never succeed putting it all back together again. I got to my hotel, took everything out of the cardboard box, and gradually set about assembling a bike. I faced some minor difficulties with the fine-tuning, but after watching a couple of youtube videos and speaking with my husband on Skype, it was done! I still worried the bike wouldn’t function once on the road but I’m a big worrier anyways. The bike is functioning as well as can be expected.

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On the morning of April 14, I cycled through Lisbon to catch the ferry to Montijo. The ticket office was still closed and after a short conversation with a security guard to understand my options, he let me through the gates without paying so I could catch the ferry that was just about to leave. Starting my journey with another’s act of kindness was a Godsend.

My first day involved 115km of uphill cycling. It was hard going for the second half of the trip. At one point I had a long conversation with myself:

Those pieces of tire rubber on the side of the road look like snakes. What would happen if a snake jumped out of the grass and bit my ankle? What would I use as a tourniquet? I know! I’ll use one of those bungee cords I brought. Then I’ll flag down a car to take me to a hospital. But I’ll tell them I have to bring my bike too. I am NOT leaving it behind. I wonder if hospitals in Portugal have antivenom? I’ll bet you they don’t! I’ll bet you I’ll end up one of those rare untreatable cases.

I then proceeded to roll my eyes at myself. “I’ll bet you they don’t even HAVE snakes in Portugal, Nadia! THAT’s why the hospitals don’t have antivenom, you idiot!”

So what do I see while cycling the following dead? You got it! A SNAKE! Albeit dead and smushed by the side of the road.

I camped on the first night just outside of the World Heritage town of Evora. After setting up my tent and showering, I cycled into town to find a nice restaurant to have dinner in. I was famished. Did I find one? No. All I could find were little snack bars that would hardly do the required job. Evora was nice but I needed food. So I returned to the campsite and went to the restaurant across the road.

“Do you have a menu?” I asked the woman sitting behind the bar. She looked at her mother and said something in Portuguese that I translated in my head as, “I think she’s asking for a MENU, Ma!” Her mother said something and she set about looking for paper and pen and actually wrote a menu for me. In Portuguese. I had no idea what it meant and she spoke no English. In the end I understood that two of the choices were beef so I put my finger on one of them and told her I’d have that. By then I was seriously worrying about food. I bought some pastries while in Evora for breakfast. I realized I wouldn’t have food for breakfast otherwise. But what if it will always be like this? I need vegetables! I need milk! I can’t eat crap for two months! I am not a pastry-in-the-morning-person and my stomach suffered for it the next day.

I cycled 105km from Evora, Portugal to Badajoz, Spain on April 15. It was very hilly and very hot. I suspect I was on the verge of heat exhaustion that day. I stopped twice at cafes for some food. The second time I was afraid I would throw it all up. I kept going until I saw a green sign that I instantly recognized: El Corte Ingles, my favorite Spanish department store. Civilization was near! I hadn’t passed through many towns that day and I was desperate for some “normal”. I called out, “El Corte Ingles! Ba7ibbbbaaak! (Arabic for I love you)” i cried a little and kept going. When I saw the sign that indicated I had crossed into Spain I bawled like a crybaby I was so happy.

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The plan was to get into Badajoz and look for a hotel. I cycled around town for 45 minutes not finding a thing eventually people helped me and pointed me in the right direction. I stayed in a nice hotel, had a proper shower, washed some clothes, ate a big meal, and slept on a proper bed. It was exactly what I needed after two days of difficult cycling.

The cycle from Badajoz to Merida was only 68km long and was dead flat for most of the way. I really enjoyed it and managed to get to camp just as the sun was starting to get too hot. On the way I saw a shepherd herding about 100 sheep, each with a bell on its neck. They produced the most beautiful music.

I made extra sure to keep well hydrated today after yesterday’s difficulties. And how do we know when Nadia is properly hydrated? She stops to pee by the side of the road every 10km, that’s how.

I was recognized today. A motorcyclist pulled up next to me at a stoplight in Merida and spoke to me in Spanish. I understood after some hand signals and using common sense that he was telling me that he saw me cycling in Portugal. I thought that was pretty darned cool.

Legs are doing all right, my spirits are high, and I’m enjoying this journey so far despite the difficulties.

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And tomorrow is another day. We’ll see what it brings!

Nadia’s Maniacal Plan to Conquer Europe by Bike

Tomorrow is the day I set off for Lisbon, Portugal. I might not get to see much of it, which is quite disappointing every time I

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

A Facebook follower was very generous in helping me design this for a tshirt after my husband and I cycled from London to Paris last year.

think of it.

I’m freaking out. I spent most of the second half of yesterday holding back tears. I’m so scared. And for the gazillionth time I asked myself, “Why I am doing this?”

On the train on my way back home from a short wedding anniversary trip to London, I posted the following on Facebook (feel free to follow me on FB but I will have to apologize for not accepting friend requests) as my mind went round and round and round:

Questions that will soon be answered:

1. Can I enjoy myself when completely on my own? As in COMPLETELY on my own.

2. Can I motivate myself when I’m ready to give up?

3. When faced with a problem I do not know how to solve, is my solution to just break down and cry? (Yes is the answer to this one)

4. Can I be the kind of tourist who does ABSOLUTELY no shopping (except for food) for quite a long time?

5. How long can my back last sleeping on the ground?

6. How long can I last without a shattafa?

7. How much pain can I REALLY handle?

8. How long can I go without soap and clean clothes?

9. How much do I REALLY enjoy nature?

10. How long can I go without getting my eyebrows done without looking like an ape?

I have a very contradictive personality. I’m superstitious. I don’t want to tell people about my plans in case it jinxes it. I fear their collective evil eye. Yet I am, at the same time, a compulsive sharer. I want to be able to write about my plans and my experiences. It helps me process through my thoughts much better than keeping them to myself in my head. And I will not lie: I also need the support and encouragement of my friends.

So I’m just going to get it out there and tell you about this trip I’ve been planning for the past few months. If anything bad happens before, during, or after the trip, I’ll lay it on YOU, the reader, for your evil eye. So before you read any further, cleanse your heart, purify your thoughts, and send me nothing but good vibes. (more…)

Dream Diary: Of Alien Pharaohs and Human Rebels

My dream last night:

A people, who are not of our kind, have arrived to invade Earth. Their origins are unknown to me, but they wear pharaonic garb so I shall refer to them as the Pharaohs. Among the humans, a small revolutionary movement has developed. Their work is made doubly difficult, for in addition to the Pharaohs, Earth is also occupied by undead. The undead eat any creature whose body emits heat. They live in underground tunnels, each inside its own cocoon, emerging from their cocoons at very regular intervals to sense around their general area for body heat. When they sense body heat, they leave the warmth of their cocoon to hunt the nearby creature and eat it. When they do not sense heat, they go back into their cocoon to hibernate until the next food-sensing time arrives; less than an hour away.

Among the human rebels was a female scientist. I partially watched this dream through her eyes. She discovered that the Pharaohs had widely distributed canisters that had the potential to destroy all. She knew that if she could find a way to remove the effect of these canisters that she could possibly spoil their evil plot to take over Earth. (more…)

Ready for a New Adventure: I Ask Myself “Why?”

Every single time I set off on an adventure, I can’t help but ask myself for the millionth time, “Why?” What seemed so logical and simple when the idea initially originated now seems so odd and out-of-the-ordinary.

“Why do I keep doing this sort of thing to myself?” I ask. “What do I get out of it? Why am I doing it?”

It is always at this stage, a few days before the actual trip, that fear, trepidation, and anxiety find their way to settle into my heart and mind. These are not new emotions for me. I feel these when I embark on any sort of change. ANY sort of change. I manage to get myself, like most others, into a daily routine that I am comfortable with. Anything that changes that routine, engaging in a new activity, writing a new article, meeting up with people for coffee, going on an errand I’m unaccustomed to, all these things cause me anxiety and minor trepidations. I have come to learn that if I succumb to these emotions every time I feel them I would do nothing with my life beyond my simple, daily routine.

Yet I am also aware that the anxious emotions I feel before an adventure are well-founded: there are risks involved, I am embarking on a lot of unknowns, and I am leaving my family behind. I have found a way to work with my pre-adventure anxieties. They guide my thoughts to the possible risks involved in my upcoming journey and I make sure to put in an extra effort to organize the trip in a way that makes it as safe as is possible.

None of that removes the nagging question, “Why?”

In no particular order, here are my answers: (more…)

Adventure Travel: When Self-Belief Faces Others’ Doubts

I vividly remember what it was like when I started to tell people that I was planning to try to climb Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. People looked at me as if I wasn’t fully straight in the head. Why would I do something like that? Who did I think I was? Did I really think I was up to that sort of thing? Most people did not ask me those questions in so many words. Those were, in my mind, the meanings behind the looks I got. The manager at the gym I was training at, however, was more blunt. He looked at me from head to toe and then said, “Do you realize how difficult that is? Do you really think a woman of your age can do something like that?” It was almost as if he was disgusted at the thought of me thinking I was up to that sort of a feat.

Climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I can’t say that I was determined to reach the top. I wasn’t. When I got on the plane to travel to Tanzania, I told myself that the purpose of this trip was to be in the company of a mountain. Whether I reached its top was irrelevant. It was the experience that mattered to me. I did reach the top. I believe I reached the top not because of any physical strength I possess. I reached the top because I was surrounded by a very small group of people on that trip, complete strangers, who showed faith in me. That faith, added to my own faith in myself, created a will power that drove me to the top despite the pain, the cold, and the sheer exhaustion.

I’m now in the final preparation phases for another big adventure and I feel like I’m getting the same sort of responses from people around me. (more…)

Hijab and Western Discrimination

Do Muslim women living in non-Muslim countries face discrimination? They certainly do. The fact of the matter is theyIMG_4506 face discrimination in Muslim countries as well. Heck, women face discrimination for the mere fact that they are women in most countries of the world.

I ask you, nevertheless, this: Do Muslim women living in non-Muslim countries face discrimination wherever they go and from most everyone? Absolutely not. Neither do women generally.

The Huffington Post published an article a few days ago written by a young Muslim woman who wears the hijab. Because of the very cold weather in the U.S., she added a knit hat over her head and a scarf around her neck that virtually hid her hijab underneath. In the article, reprinted from her blog, she explains how differently she felt people treated her. The Muslim taxi drivers were “cold and dry”. She was not acknowledged by her fellow hijabis the way she was accustomed to. On the other end, [non-Muslim] women started talking to her as if she’d “known them forever.” And men looked at her as if she was “approachable”.

I had never realized that with my hijab, I am given less respect and love and am not as accepted. I had always thought that the type of treatment I am exposed to is just how the world is. I didn’t know that people could be nicer.

I have no desire to undermine this woman’s experiences or how she analysed them.  Her experiences are her own. My personal experiences, however, and thus my opinions on the matter, are very very different. (more…)

Should You Be My Valentine?

I grew up in a conservative Muslim family in the United States. Except for my early years as a child, we did not celebrate

It is a positive thing, in my view, to have an annual reminder that your spouse, parent, or child deserves that extra bit of special attention.

It is a positive thing, in my view, to have an annual reminder that your spouse, parent, or child deserves that extra bit of special attention.

birthdays. We never celebrated Christmas. We didn’t do anything special for Thanksgiving. New Year’s Eve was never a proper big deal. But we always went all out on Eid. Eid was our special day as Muslims, my father taught us. The house was decorated and we received loads of presents. My mother made special foods and desserts. We had lots of people visiting and the Muslims in our town all gathered for a special Eid celebration.

As I grew older, and later as I became a mother myself, I had no issue with continuing my own family life this way. It was the lifestyle I knew. What one knows is one’s norm. My birthday, for example, would pass and I wouldn’t even remember it. That has always been perfectly fine with me. I feel uncomfortable when too much attention is placed on me. Age, to me, has always been nothing more than a number. It is how I feel about myself inside that counts.

But also, as the years moved on, I began to recognize that I had a need to be acknowledged every now and then by the people I love.

Is it religious or cultural?

Several times a year, the Muslim community worldwide rises in an uproar about the un-Islamic nature of the many special days the mainly Western cultures of the world celebrate: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and the list goes on. Bid`ah (innovation)! many shout. A long rant may follow about the pagan origins of this holiday or the Christian origins of that.

Read the rest of my article where it was originally published on OnIslam.

Memories of an Egyptian Revolutionary

On March 5, 2014 I am due to give a talk in Barcelona to mark International Women’s Day. The talk is titled, “Arab Spring or Desolate Arab Winter?” It continues to be very difficult for me to prepare for this talk, as it involves delving into my experiences of those fateful 18 days and the events of the three years that followed. Finding the ability to sit down and face the demons of Egypt’s recent history – and my own –  has proven to be difficult. Images keep coming back to me of things that happened to me and others while in Tahrir. And it reminded me of a blog post I wrote little over one month following the Revolution. I repost it today as a reminder of memories that can never be erased.

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It’s been very hard for me to even consider writing lately. When I write, I share my soul. And my soul is dark these days.

This man's image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

This man’s image is forever etched into my memory along with many others. It is horrible not knowing whether he and so many others I saw fall survived.

Egypt – and Egyptians with it – has witnessed since the start of 2011 some of its most difficult and its most triumphant days. Within a period of less than three months we have experienced the full range of human emotion in its utmost intensity: curiosity, wonder, hope, fear, desperation, anger, absolute loss of fear, grieving, resolve, steadfastness, and more hope, fear, desperation, anger, loss of fear and grieving. Festiveness, light-headedness. Looking death in the face and accepting it should it come to take us. Hope, indignation, anger. And boom! Triumph! Then exhaustion. The most intense exhaustion one can imagine. Mental and physical. And a return of grieving. Followed by hope. Then confusion. A continuous unrelenting state of confusion. But always, ALWAYS, there is hope.

In my head, images from the past two-and-a-half months go round and round and round. I keep them in this state of constant motion. This way they are only a blur. But every once in awhile, an image will jump away from the blurry mass and bam! A jolt of intense memory electrifies me. (more…)