Egypt

Eid and feeling very foreign

I feel Eid is a particularly difficult holiday for me these days.

We have two big religious holidays in Islam. They are both called Eid. One lasts for three days and follows fasting the month of Ramadan. The other lasts for four days and happens towards the end of the annual Pilgrimage. The Eid following Ramadan is a particularly happy one for me because it signifies going back to eating, drinking and sleeping the way I normally do. On the first day of Eid in my family, we’d go to my father’s house first thing in the morning. My sister would have inflated a ridiculous number of balloons and left them all over the house. She’d have lights and decorations everywhere. There would be a corner where she placed presents for everyone, and we’d arrive carrying presents for everyone as well. They’d all be placed in the corner and we’d then spend about half an hour opening them all up and getting excited about what was waiting for us and what we found. My father would always give every single one of us some money. We’d then spend about three hours arguing about which restaurant to go to for lunch. And to solve this annual dilemma, we always ended up going to Chili’s, because it’s the only place that the children ever wanted to go to. In the evening, we’d  visit members of my ex-husband’s extended family. Our children would get money gifts from everyone and would come out of the day very rich. Over the period of the next two days, we’d visit more family and sometimes friends. It’s not all that unlike how many people celebrate Christmas, although things vary from one family to another. Many people, for example, use the days off to spend Eid on Egypt’s north coast.

Since I’ve come to the UK, Eid just seems to be getting more and more difficult. (more…)

Advertisements

The trap that is Egypt

Egypt is a country that has me completely messed up in the head.

77F2FC79-AEA7-4063-BBCE-0D2E2CAF90FE

This is my “office” view as I work from my laptop today.

I have so many conflicting feelings about it.

I was in Egypt less than a month ago visiting family. But only a few days after returning to the UK, I decided to jump on a plane and come back. Ramadan started, my friends were all posting about the accompanying festivities, and I was missing it all. I hadn’t spent Ramadan in Egypt for several years.

When I told my therapist that I’d be missing a session because I wanted to go back to Egypt, she asked me what it was about Ramadan in Egypt that I missed. I had spent most of the session telling her about real-life problems I was facing and I was fine. But the minute I started describing what it was like to stand in the balcony at the time of the sunset call to prayer, when all the craziness of Cairo’s streets suddenly disappears, it all goes quiet, and people are in their homes with their families and friends around tables full of food and love, I broke down in tears.

Even my therapist’s face showed pain on my behalf. “Oooh. You’re homesick,” she said. (more…)

Remembering January 25

I haven’t been able to write much about Egypt’s revolution in the past few years. I have 167242_494564512476_3077619_nbeen too traumatized. But today I find myself in need of acknowledging the day, January 25 of 2011, when it all started. I need to assert that I was there. I was on the tarmac when it all happened. I was part of it from start to finish. And now it is a part of me, for better or for worse.

My husband, a Scot, asked me two days ago whether I regret the revolution happening. Are things better or worse, he asked. They are worse, I said. But the country’s political, economic and security situations can’t be the only measure of our revolution’s success. We failed in all that. We were ready to revolt. But we weren’t prepared to take charge. We simply didn’t have the wherewithal. I vividly remember thinking the day after Mubarak resigned: I’ve done my job. We’ve removed the dictator. Now I need to leave the rest to the politicians who know how to take this forward. But they didn’t. The “good ones” squabbled amongst them, leaving room for the baddies to move in quickly and spread more evil than we had ever seen.

Despite all that, despite everything the country is going through, the revolution was not a total failure and I will never regret taking part in it. (more…)

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…)