Egypt

Peeling faces

Several years ago, I was in such a bad place that, for a few moments of time, I considered suicide.

In those moments, I truly thought that death was my only way out.

I am so grateful that someone inside me allowed those moments to pass.

It took me a few years to get myself out of that bad place. Things got worse before they ever got better. But I’m glad I let that moment go.

And in a way, I appreciate that I had that moment. (more…)

Immigration and complicated relationships with “home”

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give img_2541up to immigrate to another country. Sometimes, perhaps always, even immigrants take years before they realize how much they’ve given up.

People immigrate for so many different reasons. Some immigrate for a better education for themselves or for their children. Others immigrate for economic reasons. Others leave their countries as a result of political conflict, insecurity or war. Yet others may just need a new beginning.

Whatever the reason, I’m willing to guess there’s a certain amount of trauma involved in uprooting oneself to try to settle down somewhere that could be significantly different from what one has known.

I know I have been traumatized by the circumstances in Egypt post-revolution and by my decision to leave and try to settle in the UK.

It’s now been five years since I’ve started going back and forth between the two countries and two-and-a-half since I officially started settling in the UK. Only a few weeks ago my husband said something about one day settling down in Egypt again. My response was visceral: “I never ever ever want to live in that country again.”

After spending last month in Egypt, I think my relationship with my country may slowly be on the mend. (more…)

The colliding stories of Egypt and Argentina

As horrible as this may sound, today (and sometimes other days) I blame my father.

I blame my father for what often seems to me an illogical attachment to country and people.

I blame my father for instilling in me (I’m certain it was deliberate) a very strong sense of national identity, long before I ever even visited the country.

I’ve been reading a book about Argentina’s desaparecidos – the thousands who disappeared during the country’s military rule from 1976 to 1983. It’s a heart-wrenching narrative of real events through fictional characters. And it pains me to my very core that I can relate in some ways to the events and the characters in this book.

I don’t know if I’ll ever come to terms with what has happened in Egypt in the past few years. I’m one of the extremely fortunate who have managed to come out of it unscathed, if not for an expected amount of post-traumatic stress disorder. My family is all safe for now. The vast majority of my friends are also safe, although I have a few who are very dear to me who are in jail; one with a death sentence on his head.

So many of my friends have left the country, a few literally fleeing it. I left for many reasons, mainly because of my personal family circumstances. But underneath those obvious reasons I know that part of me just can’t deal with what Egypt has become. And another small part of me fears it.

It pains me to have the luxury of sitting comfortably in a nice little house in northern England, drinking my tea and blogging about my all-so-important feelings, while there are so many people back home in Egypt who want to leave but can’t – either because they don’t have the means or because they are literally incarcerated. But because I’m the center of my own world, what probably pains me even more is that I am this fortunate yet I still have an illogical longing and pain for a country and a people now so far away.  (more…)

Inner musings on identity

I spend a pretty decent amount of time thinking about “identity”. I often have a one-to-one conversation

Me with my contemplative look on.

Me with my contemplative look on. (Not really. In this picture I was just happy to be sitting in the sun).

with myself, trying to establish who I am and who I want to be. I think it’s healthy to do that every once in awhile. It’s too easy to find yourself being what others want you to be, regardless of your own feelings and thoughts. It’s easy even not to have thoughts about who you want to be. It’s easy to just move with the flow of dictates from parents, family, friends, and whatever society you happen to find yourself in.

I find the whole topic of identity a fascinating one. I’ll often ask people that question: What do you identify yourself as? People identify themselves in terms of where they are from, where they feel at home, what religion they follow, what they do for a living, what gender they are, what sexual preferences they have, what social class they feel they belong to, what education they’ve had, and the list goes on and on. Some people identify as being many different things. Others only strongly identify as belonging to one group, tribe even, or another.

I was born in the U.S. to an American mother and an Egyptian father. I grew up in the U.S. until I was 15, then moved to Saudi Arabia for a year, then spent the major portion of my adult life in Egypt. I am now in the U.K. I studied medicine then journalism. I work as a science journalist. I’m a wife and a mother. I’m a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a niece, and a cousin. I’m Muslim. I’ve travelled all over the world and I have a few hobbies.

But if you ask me: What do you identify as? I’d tell you first and foremost I’m a mother. Secondly, no matter how much I sometimes try to avoid it, I identify very strongly as Egyptian even though cognitively I feel like a citizen of the world. (more…)

The Contradictions of What It Is to Be an Arab Living Abroad

We have a single word in Arabic for what it is to reside in a country other than one’s own. In English, expatriation might be the word that is used. I can’t say I’ve ever heard any of my non-Arab friends living abroad using “expatriation” to describe their state of being. We hear people refer to expats all the time. But that’s pretty much it in my experience. In Arabic, the word we use is “ghorbah”. If I were to look for a single word in English to translate it to, it would be “estrangement”. We Arabs use this term ALL THE TIME.

Ghorbah implies a state of being away from one’s roots. It’s a negative term that describes the hole that is left in our very hearts when we live away from our home countries. It means we will forever be strangers wherever we are in the world unless we are where we were born. It’s the antithesis of belonging.

I’m not sure what it is. We complain about our home countries incessantly. Let’s be honest, we have a lot that is worthy of complaining. People in our countries talk about moving abroad ALL THE TIME. They want a better life for themselves and their children. They’re sick of the backwardness. They’re fed up with the corruption. They can no longer tolerate the regime. Yet the second we set foot in that other country, we begin complaining about our “ghorbah” or estrangement from home. We start romanticizing everything we left behind. Well, almost everything. And we nitpick at our new countries of residence and detail everything that’s wrong about them.

It must be in the genes. We all do it. Maybe it’s a sickness we take with us from our home countries. Or perhaps we’ve been conditioned into thinking that our countries are the greatest that ever existed even when we’re running away from the very thought of them. (more…)

That elusive “inner peace”

For a short period of time, I had found my inner peace. It was heaven. I had made peace with the big IMG_1688existential questions of life by deciding it was all right not to have all the answers. I stopped allowing other people’s lives, interferences and reactions affect me. I felt focused. I felt relaxed. I had accepted that life would never be perfect but that I’m very blessed nevertheless.

Heaven on Earth, I tell you.

You know that inner peace? I seem to have misplaced it and no matter how hard I look for it I can’t find it.

I still know somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s all right not to have all the answers.

But some questions are really bugging the heck out of me. Not that I’m doing much to figure them out. The big questions just need so much time and energy. I’m tired of the big questions. I want life to be simple and straightforward. Why isn’t life simple and straightforward?

And then there’s people. What the FUCK, people?? What is wrong with you lot?? (more…)

Nadia: The Self-Appointed Facebook Superhero Unable to Save the World

Nadia: “But I want to save the world!”

Nadia’s best friend Arwa: “Save it! Just don’t let it bother you!”

Nadia: “But I’m not bothered for me. I’m bothered for the sake of all of humanity!”

It was at that point in the conversation that I realized I was properly PMSing.

I’m not aware when exactly it happened or how long it’s been going on, but at some point in time I appointed myself savior of all humanity (in Egypt only really because saviors need to be realistic about their goals) through Facebook.

I could go on joking about this and making fun of myself. That would be easy. But I won’t. Because no matter how silly and superficial it sounds, “it” isn’t silly or superficial at all.

I’m not sure when the messages started rolling in. It’s been at least two years now. Maybe three. Perhaps four? Complete strangers, almost all of them Egyptian, started popping up in my Facebook inbox asking if I would listen to their story. So I listened. At first I was receiving one message every few days. Then, for a long time, a year or two, I was receiving around two messages a day. Recently I posted what I thought was another one of my “normal” statuses but for some reason it went absolutely and crazily viral. That day and for a few days after I was receiving tens of messages from complete strangers. All needing a listening ear. (more…)

Behold the crap-fighting science warriors

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by a reputable science institution to participate in one of their newsletters with a piece on the state of science journalism in the developing world. The piece I wrote is below. It was politely rejected because the science institution was worried it might be seen to be destroying bridges with countries it works with. We can have a separate discussion on bridges worth maintaining and those that are not. As a journalist, however, it is my duty to say things the way they are. Science journalism in the developing world is in danger for so many reasons. Below I explain a couple of them.

In February 2014, the Egyptian armed forces announced in a press conference that their engineering department achieved a “scientific breakthrough” by inventing a device that diagnoses and cures HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C virus, and a variety of other illnesses. The device, they announced, had a 100% success rate. Looking curiously similar to a metal detector, it purportedly worked by using electromagnetic waves.

This happened at a crucial time in Egypt’s post-revolutionary history. Only a few short months earlier, the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown. Shortly afterwards, Egyptian police massacred hundreds of protesters at a sit-in supporting the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to government. Egyptians had been living in instability and insecurity since the 2011 Revolution and the Egyptian army was positioning itself to appear as the country’s knight in shining armor. Media outlets in the country rallied to hail the army’s new breakthrough and a large number of Egyptians celebrated the success through social media.

This crap really happens from well-educated, well-travelled, well-connected people living in the 21st century—the Age of Information.

Voices of reason, fortunately, still do exist, although sometimes seeming as weak, in comparison, as the squeak of a mouse. (more…)

When Egypt imprisons the good guys

Within less than 24 hours of each other, two of my former bosses were forcibly detained by Egyptian

Hisham Gaafar

Hisham Gaafar

security forces. Both of their whereabouts are still unknown.

Hesham Gaafar was working in his office in the city of 6th of October in the suburbs of Cairo when armed Egyptian security forces entered the building. He was detained and questioned, money and documents were removed from the NGO’s safe, and all company computers were confiscated. Although the female employees were allowed to leave, the men were detained in the building for ten hours. They were then released and the offices of Mada Foundation were sealed.

Mada Foundation, founded in 2010, is a civil society nongovernmental organization dedicated to developmental journalism. The organization focuses on developing capacity building projects for the media. It also develops projects to empower women and Egyptian families. Hesham Gaafar is the head of its board of directors.

Hossam El-Sayed was at home when armed Egyptian security forces showed up at dawn, frightening his

Hossam El-Sayed

Hossam El-Sayed

young children and wife. Hossam has a serious heart condition that necessitates regular medication. He was not allowed to take his medication with him. Hossam is the managing director of Kenaya Media Partners, a production company that also provides consultation to media organizations.

I have known both of these men for 15 years from when we worked together at IslamOnline.net. It was at IslamOnline.net, where I worked mainly as its health and science editor, that I learned, through people like Hesham and Hossam, lessons in tolerance, acceptance, inclusion, journalism professionalism, and critical thinking.

Both Hesham and Hossam have dedicated their careers to building an egalitarian society through processes of constructive dialogue.

We have reached a critical phase in Egypt if men such as these are imprisoned with no clear charges made against them and no lawyers given access to them.

I owe so much to these men and to other former colleagues at IslamOnline. I owe my free mind to them. Egyptian authorities are imprisoning the builders of society while criminals, terrorists and corrupt officials run loose.

There is something seriously wrong about this.

The NHS: Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

When you start wondering whether it’s better to be treated in Egypt rather than in the UK, it might be time for the British healthcare system to undergo a revolution.

At the end of last month, a Guardian link appeared in my Facebook feed that immediately touched a nerve. In an article titled “The doctor won’t see you now”, Victoria Coren Mitchell wrote about her difficulties in gaining access to her GP.

As a newcomer to the UK, I have had my own, admittedly different, issues with getting the kind of medical attention I believe I need when I need it. I made a comment to that effect on the Guardian’s Facebook post of Mitchell’s article and was taken aback by some of the responses I received from readers. “You still got time change your mind and go back to where you came from,” was one type of comment. A couple of others told me that GPs knew better than me whether I need a referral to a consultant. My comment was about my complete and utter inability to get a referral from my GPs to see a consultant about a condition I had they were unable to treat.

Although very frustrating for me, the condition I was talking about was a chronic skin condition I have had for years. I had seen several doctors over the years in Egypt, where I’m from, who were also unable to properly diagnose and treat me. My misplaced optimism that I might finally resolve the issue by visiting a British doctor is not the biggest of deals. I’ve had the condition for years. I can continue to live with it if I must. Or the next time I’m in Egypt I can easily schedule an appointment with another top-notch dermatologist and hope I might get somewhere.

I convinced myself that because my condition was not urgent or life threatening, it was all right if it was not treated. I had made three different visits about my condition to three different GPs in my local surgery to no avail. All three refused to refer me to a consultant until I tried their suggested treatment, none of which worked, and I completely gave up going a fourth time. Because of this experience and another, I no longer visit the GP with anything that I think can be delayed or ignored; a dangerous thing for anyone to decide. Despite all this, I still believed that getting access to the right doctors in the UK would not be an issue with more serious conditions.

That is until my British-born-and-bred husband, a Caucasian Scot (according to the comments made to me by some Brits on Facebook, this distinction seems to be important), fell off a horse and broke his collarbone while we were on holiday in Egypt. (more…)