Cycling Europe Day 49: The Sharing of It

Experiences are a million times better when shared. Not only do you have someone to share the burden of responsibility, but the joy that comes from having someone else see, hear, feel, and smell the wonders that you see, hear, feel, and smell is almost indescribable.

“Looks like he will follow you anywhere.” That is what one of my cousins said when I announced on Facebook that my husband had arrived in Poland to join me on the last leg of my trip.

Colin got on a flight from the UK to Warsaw, found a bus to Warsaw’s central train station, and then found a train to a small town, the name of which neither of us can pronounce: Piotrow Trybunalski. During that whole ordeal, he was lugging a pannier and a big carton box that had his bike in it. I have no idea how he managed to carry them both.

I had cycled an extra distance to be in Piotrow Trybunalski when he got there. The town I intended to stay in that night did not have a train station. I waited at the station, a train rolled in, and out came the ravishingly handsome Scot that I married. He had travelled to the middle-of-nowhere Poland just to be with me. I am the luckiest woman in the world.

And just in case: cursed be anyone who gives my family the evil eye.

Today was my first day not to cycle solo. It was a whole new experience for me. I felt giddy like a little girl watching Colin get all excited about starting. I loved being able to point at something to make sure Colin also saw it and to talk to him about how pretty it was: See how beautiful this road is? See how the sunlight hits the bark on those trees and makes them light up? See the lake? Look at that lost little doggie! Aren’t Polish villages so nice? And on and on and on. Colin was as excited about it all as I was. Now he could see what I had been describing to him during our evening Skype calls. Now he knew.

It is wonderful to be able to experience things. It is a blessing and a gift to be able to share them with others.

Colin and I cycled beyond our intended destination today. Tomorrow we hope to be in Warsaw and I want to get there a bit early so I have some time to see the city. We decided we would stop at any road-side hotel along the way. But we were on country backroads. Would we find a hotel before we reached the next town, which was still quite far away? We had to try our luck. And as we were cycling along, not exactly sure where we were, we found a sign that said there was food and accommodation 500 meters ahead. We decided we’d check it out. And what do we find? A Polish palace that has rooms at excellent prices! So Colin and I are spending our night in a palace! It’s the perfect ending to our first day of cycling together.

Taming the Intercultural Beast

For years I’ve been telling people that I think intercultural marriages are a huge mistake. Intercultural marriages are doomed, I’d tell them. The differences, especially in the case of an Arab marrying a Western non-Arab, are too large. I’d tell people that no matter how open and liberal we Arabs seem to be in the beginning of a relationship, we always end up reverting to the rural version of ourselves; the farmer in us or the fallah.

I was saying this from experience. I am the product of one of the worst intercultural marriages – and hence one of the ugliest intercultural divorces – of all time. Take my parents’ story and compare it to all others in this world and it will rank at the very top with nightmare. And theirs wasn’t the only one I had witnessed. We were surrounded by intercultural marriages and not a oneI can recall succeeded. So I know what I’m talking about.

And do I take my own valuable advice? No. Life wouldn’t be exciting if I did. I can give out really crappy advice sometimes and if anyone knows that it’s me.

So I recently married a Brit. The real original kind. The kind that’s been British for generations and generations. Not the “I’m British but from Arab origin or I’m British but from Asian origin” kind. No sirree. I am married to a Brit of Scottish origin. The kind that when I stand next to him, my skin appears to be dark brown; me who Egyptians describe as being white and blonde (I’m neither). The kind that speaks like Braveheart. And man oh man, oh man is it sexy! You tell me how I could have resisted a sexy Braveheart accent? Well, I couldn’t! Hot blood runs through my veins just as much as the next woman.

So now, not only am I facing the trials and tribulations of going through marriage numero duo, never an easy task in the best of cases, this second marriage is fraught with the problems that occur when an Arab and a Westerner decide to join forces ’til death do us part. And it certainly may be the death of one or both of us.

Read the rest of this article where it was originally posted at Cairo Scene’s the Scenario.

The Art of Muslim Flirting

How does one find the perfect spouse? Of course here in the Muslim world, most people aren’t looking for a casual boyfriend/girlfriend or a longer term partner. Most of us wake up when we reach somewhere around the age of 20 and just want to get married. To someone. And thus starts the prowl for the suitable spouse.

I won’t get into the pros and cons of this way of thinking. I won’t address the various cultural approaches, whether semi-dating, meeting people in the family circle, or arranged marriages. Forget all that. Most people I know in my circle of friends just want to figure out how they personally can find someone they’d like to spend the rest of their lives with.

I’ve been telling my friends – guys and gals – that they all need to learn the art of flirting. They truly suck at it. For the most part, the girls I know won’t flirt at all because they feel it’s inappropriate. And when girls I know do flirt it’s very cheeky and superficial. It gives off the wrong message completely. The guys I know think flirting means batting their eyelashes at girls (yes…BATTING THEIR EYELASHES), looking at them inappropriately (they don’t realize it’s inappropriate but it is), and acting all manly and controlling with them. It’s a complete turn-off.

So as I’ve promised for quite some time, behold my blog post on the art of flirting in the Muslim world. I’ll only know if this post applies to other parts of the world once I finish writing it. I’m not sure yet what jewels will come out of my typing fingers! (more…)

Taboo Topics 1 and 2: Giving Muslim Women and Children Choice

In Islam, Muslim men are given the choice of marrying either a Muslim woman or a “woman of the book”, which refers to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. However, Muslim women are not given the same choice. They can only marry a Muslim man. Why is this?

Most arguments that support this say that it is for the children; to make sure the children are raised as Muslims. The man, the argument goes, is the head of the household and it is he who determines the faith of his children.

But is this really true? What are the statistics (are there any to begin with?) of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women and ending up with all Muslim children? How much of the non-Muslim woman’s faith is actually instilled in these children?

A more important question is this: why is it that we feel the need to brainwash our children (I apologize in advance for the harsh terminology but if you want to be truthful and sincere this is what we do) into believing in one religion? What is so wrong with having children grow up learning about more than one religion and making their own choice when they come of age? Is religion such a delicate and fragile concept that the only way for a person to believe in it is for that person to have it pounded day after day into his/her head from the day they are born?

So today’s topic is about choice:

Giving Muslim women the CHOICE to marry whomever they want regardless of religion, creed, race, or nationality.

And giving children – all children – the CHOICE to think for themselves and decide what they want to believe based on knowledge and faith and not on what they were groomed to believe is truth.

I will probably be “crucified” by some Muslims for even raising a topic like this. We believe in the word of God and the words of His prophet and we do not necessarily need to understand the wisdom behind them. I wonder when Muslims started making up that phrase. Since the dawn of Islam and until only rather recently, Muslims were allowed to discuss and philosophize about the most sensitive of topics; even about the “whatness” of God Himself. When was there ever only one truth in Islam? When was there ever only one understanding of the script? When did we stop relearning Islam and re-understanding it as times changed?

At the same time, other friends, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will probably see these questions as very backward and long overdue. Many Muslims are way past discussing these “petty” issues and have gone on with their lives. And for non-Muslims, some might relate to a degree because their religions are not very different and others will not because they live with the times and are more in tune with the universality of the world and the intrinsic right to freedom of choice.

These two topics stem out of a discussion I had with a group of female Egyptian friends of mine. These friends and I have basically gone through similar phases as conservative Muslim women and are now going through a similar phase of questioning some of the most essential “truths” we have learned along the way.

So regardless of whether you are going through the same phase, or you are past it, or you never thought this needed to be a phase to begin with, I’m looking forward to hearing all of your input on this topic. And expect more to come!