Category Archives: miscellaneous

Community

One of the things I really love about Egypt is the sense of community.  Maybe it is due to the lay out of the city and the close proximity of housing.  Or perhaps its just part of the culture that doesn’t have the same value of individualism that you tend to find in the west.  Whatever it, I am touched by people’s willingness to help one another in ways that I have never really seen before elsewhere.

Life is very different here in Egypt as compared to how things are in Australia. Generally speaking, in Australia you leave your house, hop into your car, and you’re away. However, the process of leaving your home is quite different in Egypt.  Going out usually involves going down several flights of stairs, during which you are likely to bump into somebody. When you leave your block of flats somewhere nearby there will be a corner store, another shop of some kind, all with a store owner and possibly even a group of locals who congregate outside. All people you are likely to see on a daily basis, people you will greet, and people you will form a bond with.

You don’t really notice the bond until something happens. The arrival of gas truck brings to life the group of men who congregate in the street, they help out by passing on the orders of those too far away to be heard. A traffic jam brings out a man from the take away shop across the road, he is still wearing his apron as he directs the traffic and allows it to flow once more. Last but not least,  sending my 6 year old son across the road to help him learn some independence resulted in the man from the local corner store leaving his store unmanned to hold his hand while he crossed the road with him, ensuring his safety. It was nice to see him go to the same store that I had gone to countless times as a child.  The store hasn’t changed a bit, Ummi Gabra has only aged slightly, but now he was serving the new generation.

What is even more inspirational is learning of people’s generosity.  With the lack of any real social security system there is a lot of poverty and hardship in Egypt.  Perhaps personally knowing people in need is both more humbling and more rewarding than donating to people who you will never see or know.  Of those more fortunate, there are some who will give monthy salaries to those in need.  They personally know these families, watch them grow, and are happy to help out when there are extra expenses to be met.  Its a constant reminder that the only thing that prevents us from being in that situation is the blessings that Allah has given us, and we will be questioned as to what we did with them.  Did we let our neighbours go hungry while we filled our stomachs?  Did we force them to lose their dignity and beg in the streets?  Or did we share our blessings and support them, and watch their children grow up until they were able to take over and support themselves?  Its a constant reminder to never forget those less fortunate than ourselves.

The older generation here speak like there is no longer a sense of community.  They speak of a time when neighbours were like family, constantly passing on plates of food to one another, caring for one another’s children, helping one another out in times of need, and most importantly, always being there for one another.  Its sad that today’s community, a community which in their eyes is a pale comparison of its former glory, to me is a community of warmth and generosity that I have never seen the likes of.  It also saddens me that my children, like myself, will probably never know what its like to grow up surrounded by people who will always look out for them.  The harsh reality is that most the people they are surrounded by probably won’t even know their name.

In our search of material thing, the need for yet more money, our busy lifestyles, our bigger houses and our quest for complete independence we have lost something very special, something we can probably never get back.  I wonder how many of our social ills are directly related to this?

Nowadays, there is a new trend moving towards community once again,  but this involves different type of communities – online communities.  Those who have never been part of one will dismiss them a not real, empty, and meaningless.  However, those of us who have been fortunately enough to have been a part of a caring online community have seen the positives – the friendships, the generosity and the sense of belonging.  Like most things online, it will never be exactly the same as those in the real world, it will have some advantages and some disadvantages, but for most of us we don’t get to chose.

The world is changing rapidly, and as I watch my children grow with things around them, thing which at their age I had never even imagined, I wonder how different things will be when they are my age, and what their children will have.  Technology is leading the way to a different world, I only hope that our destination is a better place.

Touching Base

A lot of time has gone by since my last entry, more than I’d realised. A lot has happened during that time, which is why I stayed away for so long.  My husband and I are not spontaneous people, but we did something rather spontaneous.  It was a big move, and due to the lack of time and planning I was extremely nervous about making it.  Not for myself, but when you have three kids aged between six and one, last minute decisions like this can be very nerve racking.  In fact it was so nerve racking that I was very tempted to just dismiss the idea, to play it safe and just continue as we were.  I remember laying in bed thinking about the countless things that could go wrong.  But then I would think about the huge potential for great benefit, and remind myself that very little is acheived through playing it easy.  In order to acheive things in life you have to work hard, you have to get out of your comfort zone, and you have to take risks.  Not that what I am hoping to acheive is something remarkable, on the contrary, I consider it a bare essential, and am quite ashamed of the fact that I never took any concrete moves to remedy the situation.  So in the end I turned to Allah, I prayed istikhara, and put myself in His ‘hands’.

So now I’m sitting here typing this from Egypt.  Due to our circumstances we realised that we had an opportunity to spend a decent amount of time here, an opportunity that may never come again, or at least for a long time – so we took it.  We have hired Arabic tutors and are focusing our time on improving our Arabic.  Alhumdulilah there has been a big improvement, but there is so much more to be done.  The kids have met their relatives that they didn’t know, and their arabic which varied from avoidance to non-existance is getting so much better alhumdulilah.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, I’m getting quite home sick.  I’m feeling quite trapped here and feel like I have lost my independence.  Not because of the culture or society here, but because of my lack of experience within it.  I dont know my way around, I dont know how to buy things, what they’re called, how to describe them, or if they infact exist here.  I wouldn’t even think about attempting to go out on my own with the kids, even though in Australia this is not normally an issue.  My relatives have been great, always ringing up and checking up on us, constantly asking me if I want anything.  The problem is that I’m used to doing everything by myself, I’m used to going out, looking around, deciding what I want, and doing it MYSELF.  Its not easy asking for help when you are accustomed to doing everything yourself.  I never really thought of myself as somebody who was overly independent, but I guess sometimes when you are in a different environment you reliase things about yourself that you never knew.  I am happy to hang in there until we are due to leave, after all I still have a lot of work to do, and its not that much longer.  However it certainly has been a learning experience for me, its made me realise how much people sacrifice who make hijrah, and its made me realise that its not as easy as I may have initially thought.  Alhumdulilah I am so glad we chose to do it though.  My Arabic has improved immensely (not to mention that of my husband), my kids have experienced a different culture, got to meet their extended family, strengthened their arabic, and I have had the opportunity to spend time with my family who mean so much to me.

The place we are staying at is my parents flat.  Its not a horrible place or anything, but its certainly not what I’m accustomed to.  The beds are terribly hard and uncomfortable.  The water pressure is quite appalling, showers seem to involve drops of water falling upon you.  Ok…so there are lots of drops, but its a world away from the showers we have back in Australia.  Then there was the running out of gas while in the shower, the timing was of course perfect, I was sick, frozen, and had shampoo in my hair.  Alhumdulilah we had an spare gas cylinder.

Gas is quite the drama here.  Something that I don’t think twice about in Australia, and here its such an issue, or at least it was yesterday.  Its not like Egypt is in the dark ages, half of Alexandria do have gas coming into through houses through pipes.  But being in Egypt, things dont really run as smoothly as they should.  I dont know if its politics or lack of organisation, probably a bit of both, but for some reason the other half of Alexandria are still to get their gas.  Its been years, not sure how long…five, maybe ten years.

Yesterday we completely ran out of gas.  It was quite scarey….no hot water, no cooking, but then again that part wasnt that bad.  It made me reflect on what our brothers and sisters go through in Gaza.  Not just now but permanently.  Even when they’re not being slaughtered by the hundreds, they often suffer from a shortage of vital resources.  They live lives of constant fear, frustration and uncertainty.  And here I am, some spoilt girl from the west, panicking because I had to put up with no gas for a few hours.  I realised two things from this, firstly, that I’m not as grateful to Allah as I should be about the blessings He has given us, and secondly, that I’m not doing enough to help our brothers and sisters who are not as fortunately as us, both in Gaza and in other parts of the world.

It wasn’t easy for us to get more gas.  We’d been keeping an ear out for the gas men for a good couple of weeks but had gotten nowhere.  Yesterday, due to my panicked state, I decided I would be in and out of the balcony all day till the gas guys came.  Alhumdulilah the first time I went out there, their ute pulled up within about 30 seconds.  Not wanting to scream out from the balcony I ran in to get my husband do the job.  My husband immediately leaves whatever it was that he was doing and runs out to the balcony with me where he yells out “ANBUBA” (I know I should, but I can’t remember the exact translation for this, but its the word for the gas cylinder, or the cylinder itself).  Based on the looks we got from everybody clearly he didn’t say what he was meant to say.  To get their attention he was meant to say “ya bata3 al anabeeb” roughly translated as “gas cylinder man!!”.  So the gas guy looks at us with this perplexed look on his face when my husband clarifies his order.  My cousin who lives in the flat below us, realising our lack of abilities with these things offers to do it for us, but it was ok, we’d already ordered, it was all happening.  I was so excited, we were getting gas!!

Now I don’t know if people realise how heavy these things are, but they weigh a tonne!  Well maybe not literally a tonne, but they’re very heavy.  But these gas guys fling them around like they’re toothpicks.  The man coming up with our order put one on his back, grabbed another one with his free hand, swung it around to gain some momentum before flinging it ontop of the original cylinder on his back, balancing them both there while walking up the three flights of stairs.

Due to an apparent shortage of gas cylinders the poor guys at the ute were now being harassed.  There were about 5 people around them asking for gas, followed by another 5-10 people calling out from various directions from their balconies, some were getting quite frustrated, after all, if you’re out of gas like we were things get quite desperate!  Local men who were hanging out in the street were helping others out by relaying their orders onto the gas men and pointing them out.  It was quite the spectacle.  I’m sure it was just annoying and mundane to the locals, but to us foreigners it was quite entertaining.  One thing for sure is that I’ll never look at gas in the same way again.

Thats one of the important things I really hope to gain from my time here.  How often do you hurt something you normally think of as so insignificant – a pinky finger perhaps – only to help put things into perspective and to help you realise the countless blessings that Allah has bestowed upon you?  I think my time here will help me acheive that.  Last time I was here after hajj, I went back to Australia and felt like I was going back to a five star luxury home.  Now my home is nothing special, alhumdulilah I am happy with it, but its not luxurious by Australian standards.  However, after growing accustomed to ‘harsher’ conditions you learn to really appreciate what you have.  What scares me is that we tend to only really appreciate our blessings once we have them removed.  Then when things are back to normal we take things for granted again.  Insha’allah my experience will insite a life long change in me, a greater appreciation for everything that Allah has blessed me with, and a greater determination to try to make a difference to those who are less fortunate.

Staying focused

Well I’m back, not that I really went anywhere, but I had a bit of a break.  It wasn’t planned or anything, it wasn’t one of those things where people say “i have to stay away to take care of other things”, it was just that I got so caught up with other things that I either forgot, didn’t have time, and yes even couldn’t be bothered.

Its not that I don’t enjoy blogging, I do, thats what has kept me going this long.  Not that I’m a veteran blogger or anything, but I wouldnt have lasted as long as I have had I not gotten anything out of it.  Theres something about it that makes me reflect on my life in ways that I normally wouldn’t, and through doing so I learn things about myself that I wouldn’t normally, or at become more aware of them.

Over the past few days, prompted by a lovely sister who made me realise that somebody out there actually noticed my silence, I have been thinking about coming back.  I have to admit that part of me thought it might be best to stay away for good, it does take a fair bit of my time, time that could be spent better.  But in all honesty, if I ask myself what have I be doing with that time saved, late at night, when the kids are in bed ….Have I been organising things?  Have I been engaging in worship?  Have I been sleeping earlier to ensure my body is well rested?  Unfortunately it is none of the above, at least not on a regular basis.  I have been doing stuff. A little bit here, a little bit there, nothing to show for it.  At least with my blog I have something, a record of my thoughts and views, insight to how I will grow and change.  And insha’allah an avenue through which people can come to understand more about the life of an everyday muslimah.

The past few days have reminded me of something that I am reminded of time and again, my inability to stay focused on things.  When I was young I’d often hear about these teens who’s interests changed like the wind.  They were never focused, kept changing their minds, and wasted a whole heap of time and money through their ever changing pursuits.  Strangely enough I was not one of these teens.  I was quite well grounded as a teen.  I knew what I wanted, and I worked hard to achieve it.  Not that everything went according to plan, it never does, but I was very determined and very focused.

As far as I understand for most people this is a phase that ends around early adulthood.  However, for me, it seems quite the opposite.  I was fine as an adolescent, but over the past few years I have noticed that I lack focus.  Ok maybe I’m a little bit past the category of early adulthood, but you get the idea. My interest drifts from one thing to the other, every time I insist that this will be different and I’ll see it through…but everytime without fail I let myself down.  I’m not entirely sure why.  Have I changed?  Or is it circumstances that make it so difficult for me to see things through?  When I was younger it was easy.  My job was to wake up, eat, drink, and do whatever I wanted to do.  So it was easy to achiive what I wanted to, I mean what else was there for me to do?

But now its different.  I wake up…actually no I don’t even have that luxury anymore.  I am woken up by a baby who is either jumping on me or pulling my hair for about 15 minutes before I finally resign myself to the fact that I am not likely to get anymore sleep.  I then proceed to make the kids breakfast, get us all dressed and ready for wherever we have to go, usually school.  I come home and clean the kitchen, fold the washing, do more washing, clean and tidy, hang the washing out, prepare lunch, get my son from school, do homework, prepare dinner, showers, read to the kids, get them all off to bed.  It is seldom that I have some time to do something for myself.  Even picking up a book to read is a rare luxury when the kids are awake.  And by the time they head off to bed I am so exhausted that I just want to relax and do nothing.

So part of me can understand how I got here, but it doesn’t make it less frustrating.  There is so much I want to do, so much I am interested in, but so little time. But I often wonder, am I the only mother like this.  Often other mothers seem so together and so organised, but I have learnt that looks can be deceiving.  I know I should just cherish this time, my children will only be young once, and they grow up so fast, I should just saviour their childhoods.  And don’t get me wrong, I love it.  Seeing them grow and develop, I can’t begin to explain how beautiful this is, how it fills my heart with more love and joy than I thought possible.  But at the same time I wonder if I was just a little more organised, a little more focused, would I be able to see things through?

I think there are some small steps that I can easily take that I will look to do.  Firstly, I will note a couple of things I will like to acheive before the end of the year.  I will also look into GTD again, I have everything I need now so no excuses, I just have to find the book lol  And last but of course not least I will make dua for allah to bless my time and to help me with my organisation.

Hopefully this blog entry is not a one off, and I’ll be posting regularly again.

Guilty before proven innocent

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful

While shopping today I exited a shop while carrying a shopping bag with a couple of books that I purchased at the bookstore a few doors down.  I noticed the lady standing at the door.  Its funny, I often think of her as having a customer service role – to smile, answer questions and just be lovely.  But shopping with a shopping bag changes everything.  You are no longer just a casual shopper, you are a potential thief.  Actually, no…you are a thief!  Until you can prove otherwise, that is.

As I exited the doors with my bags I was aware of my current status.  I was also aware of the customer service come security lady at the door, but I didn’t want to show her my bag.  Not because I had anything to hide, but because I was tired, I couldn’t be bothered, and I had to walk across the other side of the store to show her, so I did what anybody else would do in that situation, I avoided eye contact.  I could see her from the corner of my eye coming towards me, so I bit the bullet as she asked if she could check my bag.  I smiled politely and obliged, opening my bag for her to see all its contents. She thanked me, and life went on.

I walked away thinking about this, how I smiled and politely showed her the contents of my bag.  How I allowed her to invade my privacy, allowed her to accuse me of stealing, and didn’t so much as raise an eyebrow at her.  Why do we allow ourselves to be treated like this??  If it were in any other situation we would never allow it.  Could you imagine…you visit somebody in their home, and as you leave they smile and say “would you mind if I had a look in your bag before you leave?”.  You’d be fuming!!  But for some reason in this context its ok.  Why? Because its always been like this, we don’t even give it a second thought.

Yes, I know, theres a lot more to it than that.  For the most part people can’t decide who does and doesn’t visit their store.  And people DO steal, probably a lot more than I would like to believe.  But why should that make it ok for me to be treated like a criminal?  Does the actions of a few bad apples justify the assumption of guilty until proven innocent for all of us?

I remember as a teenager being in a shop with some friends, when a staff member waited for me at the front of the store asking to search my bags.  Till this day I have never seen such a thorough search, they were very determined to find something.  It was as if they had decided my guilt when they saw me, and now it was just a matter of confirming it.  And when they didn’t find anything they seemed quite upset about it!

Now I understand that people have to protect their investment, but surely by now we have the ability to do this in a better way.  We have cameras at every corner, unpurchased objects to beep upon exit, and even contraptions attached to garments that can not be removed without damaging them…yet we still feel the need to hold onto this degrading practice.

When will demeaning practice stop and allow us to shop again with our dignity?

My little friends

Bismillahi ir-rahman ir-rahim – In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful

I first noticed it as a child.  I’m not sure exactly how old I was, five…maybe ten years old.  I recall just laying outside and watching them float down in front of me, as if its gliding through the air.  I was mesmorised by the power I had over them, all I had to do was look up, and they would start to glide upwards…then slowly again drifting down as they lost momentum.  I could control them with the movement of an eye.  It was intriguing, not a strong power and not one that was extraordinary, but to a child it was whatever I wanted it to be and I found it fascinating. I often wondered if others possessed it as well, was I ‘special’, or was something wrong with me?  I never did get around to asking anybody, I’m not sure if its because I didn’t think it significant enough, I forgot, or perhaps because I thought I’d just get a funny condescending look like I should probably be institutionalised.  I think the real reason is that because it was unknown –  It was mysterious and enchanting, but had I found out that it was something we all had it would have just been…well, normal.

Unlike most childhood observations this is one that I still clearly remember.  Not because it was remarkable or particularly memorable in any way, in fact quite the contrary, I often forgot about my little friends.  Instead it was because every now and then I would be reminded about them.  I wouldn’t do anything special, all I had to do is lay there and gaze off into the distance with a well lit background and suddenly they would appear.

As I get older I find that my little friends don’t visit as much anymore.  Or rather it is I that don’t extend the invitation.  First there was school, then there was uni, then marriage, and now kids.  Its extremely rare that I get a chance to just lay down and relax and stare into light filled nothing.  Then, on the rare occasions that they do appear,  I think to myself ‘its been so long I almost forgot you even existed’.

I’m not sure if I can really explain what they are.  They are marks of some kind that appear before me.  They seem to be entrenched in the fluid surrounding my eyes, or at least that’s what it seems like.  The best way I can describe their colour is to say that they are a transparent black.  I have always assumed that everybody, or at least a good percentage of people have them.  As I am writing this I just notice them gliding down my monitor, reminding me that they are always with me but it is I who is too busy to pay them any attention, or even notice their existence.  I find it fascinating that they are always there, always right before my very eyes like nothing else is, closer than anything else I can see, yet so close that I no longer even perceive them.  Its like they have become so much a part of me I no longer realise they are there.  I guess its kinda like wearing hijab, before you wear it you wonder how you can have this cloth around your face.  Wouldn’t it feel weird? Be uncomfortable?  However, after a while it becomes so much a part of you, you no longer even notice the fabric up against your cheeks.

So I wonder, does anybody know who my little friends are who have fascinated me for so long?  Are they normal?  Do they have a name?  Or am I just completely insane??  If you are reading this and you know anything about what I’m talking about please let me know, and likewise if you think I’m completely insane feel free to tell me, i think after all these years I need to know the truth 😉

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Edited to add:  Thanks to Fatima and her ingenious google skills I now know what they are!  They are floaters or “benign floaters” or “vitreous floaters“. They’re basically floaty things in your eyes, and others suffer from them, but not everybody…so if you read the post thinking I was absolutely crazy, this proves I’m not!  At least not in regards to this anyhow.