Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nov 10, 2012

Friday, November 9

My husband and I went in to the hospital for me to get an ultrasound, then we had some errands to run afterwards. But once we were done and heading out of the room, the doctor came to us and said "where do you think you're going?" and proceeded to explain to us that I had to be induced due to some concerns with the baby's movements in the womb (or lack thereof).

I remember that moment sitting in the hospital room, my heart dropping, my anxiety crashing through the roof. My husband was calmer, but that was only because he needed to balance me out. I'm pretty sure his blood pressure was also spiking to abnormal levels at the time.

So I filled out some forms, got checked in to the hospital and put into a labour and delivery room. I changed into a hospital gown. I made my husband miss Jummah prayer to be with me, which he did without hesitation.

Lying in that hospital bed, with an IV needle in the vein of my right hand, I felt my mind go blank. I wasn't ready for this, I thought I had at least another 2 weeks before I had to change my whole life for a baby. I was also in a constant state of worry - what if the baby wasn't okay? The doctor had mentioned that there was a 50% chance I would end up having a C-Section if the baby's heart was in distress.

After getting the epidural (which was an excellent decision), they started me on the drugs that would make my contractions begin. For the next several hours, the doctor would come in and check on me, looking at the baby's heart beat and seeming concerned. It seemed like an endless number of hours passed this way, with me not being able to move much, lying in bed with God knows what thoughts running through my mind.

The doctor finally came in as midnight approached and said the baby was not going through the contractions well. His heartbeat was getting low after each contraction, and if that continued for the next 30 minutes, the doctor would have to perform a C-Section. The nurse stopped the IV flow of the induction fluids. Now it was a waiting game.

By some miracle, my own body took over and I started having normal contractions which the nurse and doctor where very happy about (as was I). The baby's heartbeat went back up to normal since natural contractions are much less stressful on baby. And in the next hour or so, after much confusion, pain, and praying, my baby was born.

After 9 months of thinking it was a boy, at 12:42 am, the doctor pronounced "it's a girl." I remember the first thing I thought was "SHE WOULD BE!"...any daughter of mine would have to start off in this world as some kind of trickster. They cleaned her up while I was in a state of shock, my whole body shaking for no apparent reason. They handed her to me, and after all the worry that the doctor had instilled in our minds, there she was, a 6 pound and 5 ounce piece of perfection. We called her Ruqaya.


I now live in a kind of zone where time doesn't exist. Night and day are one. Sleep and wakefulness are not determined by the time on the clock. The whole purpose of my life is to keep this little being alive and fed and clean. And as difficult as it is at times, it's also the most valuable experience I've ever gone through. Your whole life changes permanently. Your perspectives change. Even your personality changes.

As scared as I was (and still am) to be a mother, I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

Alhamdulillah for the miracle that is life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


These days I mostly think about how much I've disappointed myself, and probably lots of other people in my life. A large portion of my time is also spent wondering how I'll ever be a mother even half as good as mine. I don't know that I have it in me. I feel frazzled, I feel like my life is made up of a lot of loose ends that I can't seem to get tied together. My head is a messy bundle of misplaced thoughts, nothing more. I want to close my eyes and disappear to someplace better, less full of pain and stress and worry. I want to not be stuck.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

the only help is God's

I recently came across this quote while reading something online:  

"We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we're not alone."

I supposed I remembered it because I can't help but feel that in all the bustling of life, we are infinitely alone. When I came back to Toronto from Egypt, I hoped and even expected that I would get help from people that I knew and loved with certain things. And over the past month and a half I have come to realize that most people live only for themselves, and have little or no desire to lend a hand to someone else (regardless of his/her affinity towards the other).

I don't claim to be the one person out of one hundred that actually helps people when they are in need, but I always thought of myself as someone who, when given the opportunity and means to help someone, would do so.

The fact that people can feign concern for you and your well-being in such a seemingly genuine way, then discard you when you're in a time of need disturbs me. It makes me question many things that I thought I knew. It makes parts of me that I didn't realize could hurt, hurt.

At the end of everything, it's truly only God that you can lean and rely on. No other person can give you what He does, or plant the seeds of serenity in your heart. But I wish I could see more good in people, too, because the more selfish and uncaring humans that I come to know, the more I fear I may be just like them.

Friday, August 24, 2012

on being late

It has always made me wonder - the fact that your life can be so full of things and people, but still feel lonely and without meaning. I've been building my whole life in the hopes that one day I would be someone, do something. But mostly I feel that I've disappointed myself and the people around me.

I know that the absolute truth should always make us realize that God always has a plan for us beyond our own limited imaginations. Perhaps my life was not meant to have significant meaning in and of itself. Maybe my son or daughter is meant to be someone, to do something. Perhaps the meaning of my life is tied to that of the billions of others who have passed and are passing through this world without really touching the ground with their bare hands to understand truth and pain and life.

The older I grow, the more I come to know that more things inside me are broken than I can fix.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


This may seem like it's coming out of left field, but: I don't believe in a system that involves tips. When I say tips, I mean the petty change we give to the people who serve us food at restaurants, or pump our gas, or deliver pizza to our doors.

Perhaps I've been thinking about this since giving tips in Egypt is a daily occurrence. Everyone expects tips for everything. If someone so much as helps you park your car into a tight space, you tip him. I'm not too fond of the practice - not because I'm cheap (although I probably am), but because the concept of it is somewhat offensive.

I believe in a system where everyone is paid adequately for the work that he or she does, and therefore does not require tips to enhance his/her paycheck. If that means that I automatically get charged an extra 12% service fee at a restaurant, that's fine. If it means that my taxes are a bit higher in order to help small businesses pay their employees a decent wage, that's also fine. I'd rather pay slightly higher prices for goods, than be required to tip people at the end of my experience.

I don't know why I find the practice demeaning to both the giver and receiver of said tips, but it is. Then again, paying higher prices probably just means that the owners of the company will pocket the extra dough. I think that's the essential problem - some people really can't afford life without tips since their employers don't pay them adequately at all. And I don't think "minimum wage" is really upheld here.

Anyway, my point is that the government sucks, and that trickles down onto everything else, making everything else suck as well. Extra points awarded for eloquence.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cultural Ambiguity

If you ask an average Canadian what "Canadian culture" is, chances are he/she may not have an answer. When I think about Canadian culture, I automatically go to a place where I think maple syrup, hockey, dry humour. Not much else comes to mind (besides a history of deeply-entrenched racism - but let's put that aside for now).

Oddly enough, I miss the cultural black hole that is Canada. It gives you room to make your own culture, to establish your own sense of belonging, on your own terms. Sure, there are societal expectations with regards to a general sense of politeness, but besides that, not much else.

Your family is the essential source of cultural upbringing, meaning that each family has its own set of rules and understandings. I miss my family's culture, which as I have learned, is far from that of Egyptian culture. Mostly, I miss just being me without having others judge on the appropriateness of my behaviour based solely on "what is just done" in their culture.

Home, how I long for thee.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cat calls

I was walking down the street yesterday afternoon when I passed a man standing beside his truck. I could tell he was staring at me, but most Egyptians have staring problems, so I didn't give it a second thought. But right as I passed him, and my ear was at the same level as his mouth, he called me "3asal" (i.e. honey). I ignored him and quickly passed, but I was so disgusted that it took me all my willpower to not turn around and say something to him that I would've probably regretted.

Part of me always thought it was only the girls who didn't wear hijab or wore tight, revealing clothes that were harassed by men. I was wrong. I was wearing a long skirt and long loose shirt and my hijab covered everything that it should, not to mention a wedding ring. So logically speaking, according to my appearance I should be safe from cat calls, but obviously this isn't the case.

It has happened a couple of times before (naturally only when I'm alone), and each time I was wearing clothes that were more modest than the last time. This kind of thing makes me dislike going out alone, which is frustrating since I'm used to being an independent person. Needless to say, I now fully understand why some women choose to wear the niqab in Egypt.

It's not really about a woman's beauty, it's about the lack of care and restraint shown by many men in this society. It's about this type of thing being acceptable and not taken seriously by most people. In fact, I've seen many girls giggle to each other when men around them make comments, like it's funny. It's not funny. To me it's a question of power. Those men are exerting their apparently God-given right and power over random women. Women are forced into experiencing disrespect and sexual harassment, while harbouring the fear of violence or being exposed to humiliation if they fight back.

The power struggle between men and women becomes very obvious in these cases. Let's be honest, men do have that power of women - the power to make them feel weak, objectified, one dimensional. To me it seems that the more power men lose, the more they feel the need to exert their power on someone deemed to be weaker.

Naturally this isn't a unique characteristic found solely in Egyptian society - it's almost universal, which is sad.

Monday, April 02, 2012


It is now apparently an Egyptian thing to have your purse snatched off your shoulder by a passing motorcycle/rickshaw driver. Yup, they just speed past you, extend their arm and WOOSH grab that thing and race off. Also, if you're wearing visible jewelry like a necklace, they will grab it off your neck (as they did to my aunt, who now refuses to ever wear jewelry in public).

I suppose your run-of-the-mill muggings wouldn't work that well here since, if he was on foot, average people would run after the thief and beat him up. So I guess this is the next best thing, considering it's hard to catch a thief that has already sped away. And you can think again if you believe the "police" will be of any help.

Alhamdulillah, it has never happened to me - and I hope my high levels of paranoia will ensure that it never does. I never carry an over-the-shoulder purse when I'm alone. Always one that crosses over my chest. Or if I can afford to, I just put my things in my pockets and forgo carrying a purse at all.

Also, the traffic situation (now that cops are nowhere to be found) is just insane. You'll find 2-3 cars trying to fit into a one lane street. Cars are parked in every possible place. Nobody obeys traffic lights or one-way street signs. I suppose driving has always been pretty bad here, but now it's so much worse, if you can possibly imagine.

Basically, I'm living in chaos. Bye.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What is Love?

What is Love? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more. (Okay, I can move on now that those lyrics are out of my head.)

Over the past year, my world view has changed significantly, mostly because I moved half-way across the globe and got married. I've learned more about "love" in the past year than I have in my entire lifetime. Still, I don't presume that I know any more than just the tip of the iceberg. The things I've learned aren't all that commonly expressed in popular culture. Pop songs are all about burning desires and dramatic love gestures. And although that may play a part in our relationships, it's an insignificant molecule on a tiny piece of ice chunk on that big love iceberg.

Here are some of the things I've learned about love:

1. Love is practical. It's setting alarms so you or your spouse can wake up on time. It's hanging clothes out to dry. It's buying bread and yogurt and a new pot.

2. Love is cooking. The most amazing thing happens when I cook or bake and people enjoy my food. It's love, from my stomach to theirs, and that's the only way I can explain it.

3. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds. Shakespeare's sonnet captures it succinctly. Life throws hurdles in your way, and if suddenly makes you fall out of love with someone, were you really in love to begin with?

4. Love is family. Being apart from my family has taught me that a family is the very essence of love. Love in a family can go through stages...I think we've all experienced a certain chunk of hatred for siblings who steal our clothes or parents who we think are making our lives difficult. But you never fall out of love with your family. The bond of blood is unlike any other, and it has taken me so long to come to terms with that reality. My heart is owned by them.

5. Love is imperfect.

6. Love is conversations. You know, real conversations that make you feel like your life has meaning and you can accomplish just about anything. Those conversations over tea or french fries that shape the course of your future, but you don't know it yet.

7. Love is a friend. You know, the friend who is the first person you think of when you say "friend." That person who is part of your life, no matter what stage you're in, or how far apart you are from one another.

8. Love is your babies. Pure, unadulterated love. My sister had a baby boy two weeks ago, and although I have not met him yet, I love him like nothing else I love.

9. Love is sacrifice. The moment you decide you can't sacrifice something for someone, is the moment you realize you do not love him or her.

10. Love is your mother. No matter what.

Monday, March 12, 2012


My rather antisocial personality has led me to despise the overly social Egyptian customs. Okay, maybe despise it too strong of a word...let's just say "have difficulty with." I'm used to entering a grocery store or clothing store and being able to mull over the things I want without being disturbed, and when I'm ready, I take them to the cashier (or even more detached - the automated check-out). And I like it that way.

I hate shopping in Egypt, especially for clothes. I used to enjoy going into a store and browsing, and now it's extremely difficult to do so since a) I don't have my sisters to shop with, and my husband hates shopping (naturally), and more importantly, b) the sales person is on you like a hawk on a mouse in an open field. Right when you enter, they ask if you are looking for something specific, but that part is okay. The problem is this person begins to follow your every move, eying your every facial expression. And if you so much as dare to pick up a shirt, she'll quickly pipe in: "we have your size in this, and it's so pretty, it's totally in style!"

First of all, you don't know what my size is. Second of all, it's ugly and I was just picking it up to get a closer look at its ugliness. Thirdly, it was never "in style" unless you existed in a parallel universe where gold buttons, awkward frills, and incorrect English were in style. This is why I revel in the few stores here that are antisocial - those that are too big and too busy for people to bother you.

I miss the disconnected indifference of North American culture. People here are just in your face all the time, they want to know what you cooked today, and why you don't call them every single day of your life (they get offended if you skip a day of talking to them), they want to know WHY you do the things you do, or say what you say, or wear what you wear. They need to know. And when you don't cooperate, you're seen as a strange and difficult person.

Mostly, I just want people to leave me alone.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nosy Egyptians

Egyptians are nosy (as per the title of this post). It seems that they can't keep their ideas and opinions and intrusive questions to themselves. Don't get me wrong, I think in some sense we are all "nosy" in that we like to know tidbits about others' lives. But Egyptians take it to a new level.

For one, Egyptians are very interested in knowing whether or not a woman is pregnant. If she is, MABROUK, if she isn't, WHY? Just a few weeks after I first got married, the "are you pregnant" questions began. To be honest, I was expecting them since I know many Egyptians are without boundaries. But the questions have become tedious now. Every time we bump into someone we know (or someone my husband knows, since I don't know anyone!), they always ask is there anything yet? And by that they mean IS THERE AN UNBORN FETUS IN YOUR WIFE'S WOMB?

We were shopping for baby gifts a few weeks ago for one of my pregnant family members, and even in the stores, people would look at me, then look at my stomach to see if there was anything. Argh!

Well we came to an unorthodox whenever someone asks if I'm pregnant, I say that my husband and I agreed that he would carry the first child. And that seems to shut them up.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

I was on a microbus yesterday, driving on Alexandria's highway that runs along the sea coast. It was surprisingly cold and windy for Egypt. When I looked to my right and saw the winter sea, it was absolutely wild; waves as far as the eye could see, all eventually crashing violently onto the shore.

It was intense, mesmerizing. But then I noticed that no one else besides me was looking at the sea. I was alone in wonderment, except for an old man wearing a heavy jacket just standing on the rocks, staring into the depth of the sea.

It makes me wonder if I will ever be too busy or sad or lonely or preoccupied to see the sea.

Monday, January 23, 2012

being "religious" in context

I've been in Egypt for a little over 6 months now. The experiences have been strange, enjoyable, lonely, and maddening all at once. Soon after I was married I learned how to use micro-buses - before I figured out their haphazard yet somewhat systematic methods of operation, it seemed it would be really difficult to get a hang of riding them. But now I can flag them down, look for a seat that hopefully doesn't involve a man's body pressed up against mine, bring out a pound to pay the driver, and yell at the top of my lungs when I want to get off.

I know the best places to buy fruits and vegetables in our neighbourhood. I now know the kinds of food that I like - it took a little discovering, but now I know never to let herring (and other icky Egyptian foods) touch my lips again. I've mostly figured out how to cook, and I've generally got a routine going in my life. So I'm slowly getting used to it here, and not to say that I wouldn't jump at the opportunity to leave, but it doesn't seem as hopeless as it once did.

And now, the problem; I haven't yet learned how to be 'religious' in Egypt. Don't get me wrong, I do all the same acts of worship I used to at home. The essentials haven't changed. And yet I don't feel as though I'm at the same level of religiosity as I once was.

Being raised as a Muslim in the western world gave me a certain attitude towards religion. It was something precious that needed to be constantly maintained, and this meant you needed to be a struggling soul swimming against the current. If you didn't hold on to religion with every ounce of energy you had, you could lose it in an instant.

Everyone thinks it's easier to be religious in majority-Muslim countries, and perhaps that is correct in some senses - i.e. close proximity to mosques, more opportunities for learning, being surrounded by people who don't misunderstand you and therefore having more freedom to explore religious issues within your own community, etc. But for me, I feel that it's harder to be religious in a majority-Muslim country because there is less of a drive for me to struggle.

Perhaps I have always been a bit of a rebel ready to swim upstream, always ready to snap back at racist comments made to me, always holding on with my teeth to my identity as a Muslim woman. Many of those things defined my very existence as a Muslim. And now suddenly I don't have to exert the same kind of effort anymore. Most Egyptians are 'religious' at least in a basic way. When I walk down the street, I'm like every other woman - nothing distinguishes me from her.

And so that external struggle has gone. I know in my heart of hearts that the struggle should never end - rather it should be inverted into an internal struggle instead. I do know that just letting yourself swim along with the current makes your muscles weaken. The last thing I'd want is the atrophy of my ability to hold on to my identity as a Muslim. I'm very slowly re-learning how to be religious in a different context. It's hard, but I refuse to give up. After all, what would my sad rebel soul do if it wasn't struggling against something, even if that something is myself?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

did you know that I cook things?

When I first got married, I had very few cooking skills. Everything that I knew about cooking came from vaguely passing through the kitchen while my mom was cooking, and from watching MasterChef and other Food Network shows. I had no desire to cook, but I did love to watch food shows.

In the months prior to getting married, my mom offered several times to teach me how to cook. But me being the clueless and uncooperative person that I am lead me to adamantly refuse while saying things like "my husband can cook for himself" and other nonsensical strings of words. Needless to say, when I was finally faced with the reality of having to cook, I felt like a chicken with its head cut off. Some of the things that happened to me while I was learning:

-Once we bought a freshly slaughtered chicken and it still had the head attached - I refused to cook it until my husband cut the head off while I was not present.
-I once had to clean a chicken that still had its guts intact. I gagged all through the experience, then was unable to eat the cooked chicken due to my squeamishness.
-I made rice that was the consistency of lumpy oatmeal.
-I burned myself (and continue to do so) on a regular basis. And I burned food.
-I didn't think marinating meaty things prior to cooking was that important.


In the months following this, I came to realize that there are just a few general rules to cooking, and then all else is pretty simple. It's kind of interesting to produce edible things. is now my ultimate favourite website. Here are some of the things I've cooked:

Meat and spinach pies, YUM (If I do say so myself)

Home-made pizza

Fried chicken fingers and fries

Spinach Spanakopita

An Egyptian twist on chicken biryani

Chicken goulash

Stuffed peppers

Chicken soup & rice, mom's style
I'm getting hungry now. Awesome.