When my husband first told me that he was thinking of getting a few guys from the office together to cycle from London to Paris, my
Andrew, Colin, and Nadia after three days of cycling from London to Paris. We made it!
first thought was, “Who does crazy stuff like that?” The words that came out of my mouth were, “Can I join?”
I hardly had any experience cycling but that was not going to hold me back. I bought a cheap mountain bike in Egypt just before I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009. I cycled a few times in Cairo as part of my training for the climb. That training consisted of leisurely cycling on flat road for no longer than half an hour at a time. I did not think it was leisurely then, of course. I now know what real training means. (more…)
I find myself – again – in a very difficult and uncomfortable position. I am unable to make the career choices and decisions I would like to make – that I NEED to make even – because I feel I need to wait for other people around me to make their own decisions first.
How many other women live their lives this way?
When I gave birth to my children, I made the decision not to work. This was a very conscious decision on my behalf. It was a very easy decision. My children were my priority. They were babies. They needed a parent to give them fulltime care for a certain period of time. That parent would be me, their mother. Their father would play the other traditional role of providing for us. I was happy with my decision for the first years of our marriage. But then the children started growing older and I realized three things: we needed more money as a family, I needed to be financially independent, and I needed to have something to occupy myself when the children started going to school.
This was when I made the conscious decision to start working. I was very fortunate to find my way into journalism and it became my passion. But I was always “limited” in the choices I could make because of my responsibilities towards my children. (more…)
I spent Eid in the UK before and I HATED it. It was a day like any other day. No one else around me was celebrating. People on the street were just going about their everyday business. There were no cheesy Eid songs on television. It was just a normal day. Eid isn’t supposed to be that way.
I didn’t have it in me to go through another Eid like that.
I haven’t prayed the Eid prayer, as far as I can remember, since my children were babies. I haven’t even been to many communal prayers in mosques since my children were babies. I became fed up with the attitudes people had when they went into a mosque. Suddenly everyone became a grand mufti. Suddenly everybody had a right to butt into your business and tell you how to wear your clothes or where to place your feet or even where you can and cannot store your shoes. The women’s sections in mosques were/are always noisy, cramped and smelly. I can barely hear the imam praying most of the time and I can definitely not see him. If I thought of bringing my children I’d get lectures on how I should be handling them. It was an overall miserable experience that I have been avoiding for years.
Even though I don’t spend much time in the UK, I have been spending more time here than my typical four days. And because I’ve been spending longer and more frequent periods of time here, I’m beginning to feel myself struggle with things I’ve never struggled with before on my short trips out of Egypt.
Eid is an example of this. I found myself feeling indignant that my special religious holiday meant nothing to everyone around me. (more…)
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.
It’s a great time to be stranded out there in the world. It’s almost impossible to be completely on your own in such a situation. Throughout my journey I was able to keep in touch with friends, family, and other stranded people, mainly through connecting to the Internet on my mobile phone. When I needed to make a quick phone call, I was always able to no matter where I was because I had my mobile phone on roaming.
My Twitter feed after arrival in Cairo
Twitter was a God-send to me. Bharat got to calling me “Twitterer”, he saw me using it so often. I used Twitter for a variety of things. Before I decided to take the leap and make my journey back to Cairo over the European continent, I used Twitter to follow the latest updates by Heathrow Airport, Eurocontrol, and fellow Twitterers. By doing this, I kept up-to-date on the latest developments on the volcano eruptions and the reactions of airports and governments to them.
Our flight from Rome to Amman had left almost half an hour late. We arrived in Amman at 7:35pm on Tuesday evening. Bharat’s flight to Delhi was scheduled to leave at 8:15pm. Mine was scheduled to leave at 8:20pm. We both ran – I mean full run type of run – through the airport. We said our goodbyes very quickly and each of us continued to run to our gates. The boards said it was the last call for both our planes. I reached my gate and found it completely empty, save for two airlines’ men. Are you going to Cairo, they asked. I am, I huffed and puffed. Calm down, they told me, smiling. You don’t understand, I explained. You have no idea what I’ve done to get this far. Please do not let the plane leave without me, I begged. They told me not to worry. Where’s your boarding pass, they asked. I didn’t have one. In Rome, I was told I could only get my boarding pass to my Cairo flight in Amman. Two other Egyptians came up behind me. They were also on the flight from Rome and were trying to catch the same flight to Cairo. They also had no boarding passes. Hamdy Qandeel, the well-known Egyptian journalist, also appeared with no boarding pass. He, however, was important enough to let through without a second thought. Me and the other two Egyptians waited as the airlines fellow made a few quick calls. “Don’t allow the plane to leave,” I heard him say probably to the pilot. I still have a few passengers here who need to board, he added. It took only three or four minutes and they let us on the plane without boarding passes. Just sit anywhere, they told us. Everyone was smiling; the two airlines’ men and the flight attendant who greeted us on the plane. It was as if they had seen many people before us in the same situation the past few days. They seemed happy to be able to bring us home.
Bharat and I were lucky to arrive at the train station only 15 minutes before the next fast train to Rome. We bought our tickets and ran to the platform. We had good seats.
On the train to Rome
Both of us recharged our phones on the train’s electrical outlets and fell asleep. We had a long night and a longer day ahead of us. It was finally day time and it was possible to see the Italian landscape. Green rolling hills surrounded us on either side of the tracks. I was too tired to bother, though. I had missed so much already that it didn’t really matter if I missed more. My priority was to get home and in order to get home I needed to preserve my energy. I needed to sleep.
Abdallah arrived on time at 5:45pm. Bharat, the Indian man, was getting edgy. He had a flight to catch from Rome the next morning and he was in a rush to reach the airport on time. He also preferred to drive in daylight as much as possible.
We all rushed to the car rental parking lot and searched for our car.
It was a blue hatchback Fiat. We all luckily had small carry-on suitcases with us (man was I thankful I made the rare decision to travel light for this trip, otherwise I wouldn’t have heard the end of their complaining about women and their traveling). The car was small, however, so only three of our suitcases fit in the trunk. We placed the third, Abdallah’s, on the middle of the back seat. This proved to be a suitable make-shift headrest for sleeping later on.
I checked out of my comfortable hotel in the center of London at 9am Monday morning and embarked on the unknown. I felt excited that I was finally doing something. I made a conscious effort though to keep myself calm. I had a long trip ahead of me and I needed my energy. I did not have the luxury of wasting precious energy on excited emotions.
My train trip to Paris was scheduled for 11:30am. I decided it would be best to reach the train station early. I wasn’t sure my online ticket would actually work. I knew that there were hundreds of thousands of travelers trying to get out of the UK. I did not know what to expect at the train station. I needed some buffer time for unexpected circumstances.
Everything went surprisingly smoothly at the train station.
I’ve always wanted to be on the Amazing Race. You know what’s even more fun, though? Being in a real life Amazing Race as opposed to a reality television one.
I raced the ashes of Eyja (I’m done with trying to pronounce or remember the Icelandic volcano’s real name) and won. As I said on Twitter last night once I had reached my home in Cairo and kissed my children good night, “I pity the volcano that tries to keep me from my children!”