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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Celebrating Eid in New York
My brother called me ten minutes before iftar last night to wish me a happy Eid. I thought he was messing with me. Yesterday was the 29th day of Ramadan and for the past four years we've always fasted 30 days no matter how much we wished and prayed for 29. Yes, I know...if one has fasted for an entire month one extra day doesn't really make a difference. But it's always nice when Eid sneaks up on you.

Of course it was not going to be easy declaring that Eid was today. New York City and Long Island claimed they had seen the moon while the Islamic Society of North America insisted that Eid was October 1st. This caused problems in my hood with my neighbor maintaining that she was going to fast one more day. It took us a while to convince her otherwise. For the past 20 years we have followed the 96th Street mosque and its sightings. Why, this year, was she going to follow another institution? We finally got her to relent when we told her that we'd wake up early and go pray Eid prayers at the mosque, thus making it Eid officially.

I got lucky this year with Eid coinciding with Rosh Hashana, giving me two glorious days off work in the middle of the week. I woke up early and went home to pick up my mother, my aunt, neighbor, and the kids to go to the 96th Street mosque. It was the kids' first time to go and they were very excited.

It felt like Eid when we drove up to the mosque. You could hear Quran recited through the speakers, Muslims of all shapes and sizes walking in and out, children running across the lawn. Activists were there making sure people were registered to vote and the police were wishing everyone a happy feast. It was lovely.

I've detached myself from the Muslim community for years now because I simply found it too difficult to conform. It was easier (and less aggravating) to practice my faith alone but it's contributed to a growing feeling of isolation that, with time, has left me entirely dissatisfied. I try to do what I can do to form connections and what better way to do this than spend Eid with friends and family.

I was hoping that we all (men and women) would be able to pray Eid prayers together, in one room and was pleasantly surprised when we were allowed to walk in through the front doors. But once inside it was clear that we were to go down the stairs to the ladies' quarters. It was clean and beautiful and they even had TV screens up for us, but the forced segregation was a reminder of why I feel estranged from this community.

We prayed our prayers and went on to eat, play, and laugh for the rest of the day. It was a wonderful Eid.

Happy Eid (and Rosh Hashana) to all who are celebrating!
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 5:54 PM
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Saturday, August 30, 2008
Ten years and a nominal conversion later

Thoughts shared by Carmen at 9:17 PM
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Friday, May 09, 2008
Palestinian Hip Hop Live in NYC!
Back in April I went to see Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary that chronicles the explosion of Palestinian hip hop, at Lincoln Center. I had heard about it from my colleague whose friend worked with several of the volunteers who helped get the documentary ready in time for the Sundance Film Festival and was told that it was a must-see.

I didn't go expecting that this was something that I would enjoy. I've never really been big on hip hop. When we first came to this country it was the Beatles who taught me English and the Oldies that I clung to. It was lovely existing in Motown where most of the problems centered on matters of the heart. I could relate to that. I could never relate to hip hop as I was growing up. Tupac was too raw for me, too confrontational. I couldn't understand his pain and frustration. I may have enjoyed the rhythmic style of Kurtis Blow, but always preferred the lyrics of the Temptations.

I have no doubt in the world that my life would have turned out differently if I had immersed myself in hip hop. I may have ended up less broody and more assertive as a teenager.

Anyway, this post, for once, is not about me :)

It's about the emerging voices of Palestinian youth, how they use hip hop as a new form of resistance. Slingshot Hip Hop chronicles their journeys and if it's showing at a theater next to you, run and grab a seat. I promise you will enjoy the ride.

For those of you in NYC you can (MUST) go and see DAM and Sabreena da Witch live next week. They will be performing in Brooklyn (Park Slope) on Tuesday, May 13th at 8pm at Southpaw. While I myself may not be in love with Arabic hip hop, I have much love for these talented young performers.

Buy yourself a ticket and go support these boys and girls who are giving a new face to resistance.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 11:11 PM
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Thursday, May 08, 2008
A (Very) Long Engagement
R and I just realized the other day that we've got less than a hundred days to our wedding.

A hundred days.

It might as well be a hundred years.

When we first got engaged we both thought it would be a good idea to have a long engagement. I had to deal with my parents, they had to learn to accept us, we had to figure out a way to save enough money (we're paying for financial aid here). A year would be good enough for significant changes to be made and have all parties in question happy.

A year, however, has proven to be more stressful than I had anticipated. I'm not a issues with the wedding have nothing to do with whether the color palettes match or how the invitation is worded. I worry, instead, about whether my mother (who hasn't spoken to me in over two months) is even going to come to my wedding. Shopping for a wedding dress without her was painful. Deciding on a menu for the reception without her made me sad. I kept trying to think of all the food that she would have wanted at a wedding and I hated not having her advice. Registering for household items without her was confusing - Do I need an artisan mixer? How many pots and pans should I actually own? What about place setting?? Who the hell knows about this shit? I don't know what I need in a kitchen! I have one pot, one pan, four forks and spoons, and a handful of cups. That's all I, as a person living by myself, really need. What does a family need??

Planning the wedding by myself has been hard. There is no joy in it. If I do manage to find an inkling of joy, it gets sucked out right away the minute I think of my mother. It's frustrating. Because at 32 I DO NOT want to have momma issues. But here I am, full of them.

A long engagement has only exacerbated the stress of a wedding. I have cold (frozen) feet, doubt, fear, and anxiety. I have panic attacks at least once a month and those are NO JOKE. My chest tightens and I struggle to breathe. It really is a frightening experience. I wake up every day scared because I have no idea when another attack is going to hit. Ugh.

A couple of years ago a close family friend's daughter was getting married. She was nineteen years old and I couldn't believe her parents were going to let her get married. I refused to go to the wedding. Nineteen is too young and I didn't want to be happy for her. Yes, I was being judgmental. And I was probably a little obnoxious when I voiced my disapproval. But the whole thing just felt inappropriate.

My father, in the midst of my very long rant, told me that this was the perfect age for a girl to get married. Any older than this, or say 25, was too old. When you're young love is fresh and you're blind to the bullshit of marriage. You are less likely to miss your independence or worry about compatibility. Women over 25, he said, don't really fall in love. They may grow to become comfortable with someone, but they don't fall in love. They marry out of necessity or a fear of being alone.

My father is also a man who firmly believes that women have no sexual appetites.

I wonder, though, if i would have had the same cold feet if I were getting married at a younger age. Take away the interfaith and the family drama - that's enough to drive anyone crazy, young or old. But at this age I am so comfortable with my independence. I fought tooth and nail for it. I broke away from unquestioned traditions and cut an unhealthy umbilical cord. I've EARNED my independence and I fear that this will diminish once I get married. I won't be able to do everything I want to do. I have to worry about how things will affect my significant other.

I'm so set in my ways, as is R. We're both in our thirties and have been doing things our own way for years. Now we have to learn to compromise and I ABHOR that word. I like things MY way. I now have to worry about how HE likes it?? Please.

A hundred days away. I'm excited, but please pray that I get through these days with my mind intact.


Thoughts shared by Carmen at 5:33 PM
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Cabbie luv
Step into Ahmed Ibrahim's cab on Valentine's Day and you could get a lot more than a ride from A to B ; you could also land a date.

The self-proclaimed cupid cab driver has spent years driving around the city looking for New Yorkers with lonely hearts.

He has swapped numbers between hundreds of couples, helped organize more than 70 real dates and at least 19 of his romances have lasted more than a year.

This Thursday, Ibrahim will be decking his yellow cab with red and white hearts and roses in the hope of matching up yet more Mr. and Mrs. Rights.

"I've organized so many dates, and it really makes me feel good about it. I've not had one complaint," Ibrahim, 53, said.

"It's really fun. Driving a taxi in New York is not an easy job so I just try to create some fun."

Ibrahim, who lives in Borough Park, Brooklyn, only offers his services to a select group of passengers who settle into the back of his cab.

He listens to their conversations, asks them a few questions and then, if he thinks they are suitable, explains his matchmaking services and asks for their number and e-mail.

"I want to know if they're the real deal or just a player," he said. "If you're a player, then forget about it."

Ibrahim knows all about the challenges people have finding love in the city.

He is recently single and says his advice to people is simple - it's all about common sense and being down to earth.

"When I was in high school I was looking for Miss Universe. In college I wanted Miss America. Now, Miss Brooklyn would do," he said.

"There's no perfect 10 but it's very, very difficult.

"Everybody's working so much, the time just passes by so quickly."

Martin Karamon was one of the lucky passengers who found romance thanks to Ibrahim.

He is no longer dating the woman he was set up with, but they were together six months and are still good friends.

"When you live in New York City, nothing is bizarre, but it was a unique experience for sure," Karamon, 37, said.

"He's incredibly friendly and funny, and I have no regrets," Karamon said.

"I met a great guy, made a new friend - but I might have to get in his cab again because I just broke up with my girlfriend."
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 1:08 PM
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Thursday, December 27, 2007
Because we need a smile...
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 10:28 PM
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Benazir Bhutto
I met Benazir Bhutto when I was in grad school. She was a very powerful speaker and it was hard not to want to be part of her entourage. I asked her where she got the strength to deal with fear and she told me that convictions go a long way.

I think she saw that I was asking this question to find answers for myself and so she added, "You have to stand out for the principles you believe in. If you believe in your principles, your strength will come".
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 9:09 AM
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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
My Christmas Day
It was really easy to fall in love with Marji in Persepolis. I loved Satrapi's graphic novel and will buy anything she creates. But if you don't emotionally connect with her in the movie then there's something wrong with you.

My brother, R, and I went to see Persepolis today. Poor R was scared. I told him we were going to watch a French cartoon about the Iranian Revolution that was only playing in two theaters in NY known for showing independent films. His friends mocked him (which is probably why they're all still single) and he made me promise that he'd like it. Which he did. It's hard not to enjoy your time watching this movie.

Listen to a great interview with the fascinating Satrapi here:

The only negative thing? The Americans in the theater with us. People who now think they're experts at the Iranian Revolution and Islam because they watched a movie. Ugh.

R, my brother, and I also spent the day looking at wedding venues and I'm beginning to become truly overwhelmed with all this wedding planning. The costs and the logistics are taking away any pleasure that it supposed to be derived from this special day.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 10:12 AM
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007
My Own Archie Bunkers
Sandmonkey's heart-rendering family tale on this lovely Christmas morning stirred up memories of my own ridiculous family and the values they hold so dear.

My brother and I were raised by incredible and tolerant parents. Actions, not skin color, sex or creed determined an individual's worth. My father was always very fond of reciting the verse in the Quran that he believed preached tolerance:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
We grew up in diverse neighborhoods, went to Catholic school, celebrated Christmas with our Christian friends, Diwali with our Hindu friends. I had white friends, black friends, pink friends, green friends. I didn't differentiate between people because I never saw differences. (I did LOVE "The Beatles" and thought anyone who didn't was an unworthy human being, but was often able to put that aside).

My brother and I learned about bigotry not from our parents or even the community we lived in, but from my extended family. The racist gene that skipped BOTH my parents apparently developed fully in our aunts and uncles.

I have one aunt that's pretty much an equal opportunist. She thinks everyone, save her immediate family, is disgusting. Egyptian men are barbarians, Hispanic women are whores, Pakistanis are dirty, Indians smelly, Africans...well, Africans she avoids. Really avoids. If she's on the subway, she will move as far away as she from anything black. It's embarrassing. You know how in cartoons and sitcoms there's an extremely well-behaved dog that only barks at black people? That's my aunt.

And if you're not Muslim? Forget it, she won't have anything to do with you. And so because God don't like stupid, here's what she's ended up with: Her youngest son is dating a half-Barbadian, half-Hispanic Christian girl who he's gotten pregnant three times. Guess which pious Muslim paid for the abortions.

I have an uncle who is pretty tame, but every once in a while spouts out racist shit. When I moved out last summer he came and visited me. He loved my apartment, thought I was paying too much for it (I had to remind him that it's 2007, not 1977 when he told me rent should never exceed $600) and then asked me if it's a nice neighborhood. It's a great neighborhood, I replied. It really is. I LOVE LOVE LOVE living here. While I'm looking forward to marrying R,
the one think I'm dreading is leaving this neighborhood.

Anyway, I tell him it's a great place and then he looks at me seriously and asks, "ya3ni, mafeesh barabra?" (So there are no niggers?) Now, there's been much debate over whether "barbari" translates into "nigger". In my dictionary it does. It's not a nice term to use when referring to "darkies" and I recoil in horror when someone uses it. My uncle saw my face and told me I was being sensitive. "Barbari" simply means black, he said, and I need to stop being so politically correct. He then proceeded to sing a ditty he claims all the Sudanese sing in the streets of Cairo, "ana barbari, ana barbari". I couldn't get him out of my place quick enough.

His punishment? His 11 year old daughter has a mad crush on the only black student in the WHOLE school.

One aunt who still lives in Egypt made my brother and I get out of a pool once when an African man jumped in. I must have blocked that incident out of my mind because I had completely forgotten about it. In the past six months I've spoken to my brother a great deal about my struggle with R and the racist comments I'd been hearing from my family. He was surprised that I was surprised by these comments and reminded me of that incident.

The funny thing is that my whole family prides itself on being such good Muslims. Islam, they say, is the only religion that is all about tolerance and acceptance because we acknowledge all religions and races. When I told my father about R, he told me that I'd never be accepted by his family because their religion does not even recognize ours.

My Dominican Catholic fiance and his family are a million times more tolerant than any member of my family. They make sure that if I'm invited to dinner there's food for me to eat, going so far as to making a chicken dish available JUST for me even if they spent the whole day roasting their pig. When it's Ramadan, they'll all wait for the sun to set to eat with me. They don't allow anyone push liquor on me and will always have a great non-alcoholic drink for me, not merely give me water or soda.

What does my family think about all that love and acceptance? They're not following their religion properly. If they were I'd be persecuted by them.

You can't win with Egyptians.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 8:38 AM
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Saturday, December 22, 2007
Coming back (hopefully)
The past six months have been the most difficult, stressful, unbearable months of my life. I've been used to living a pretty tough life. Navigating through it has been unpleasant but I think I've managed well for the most part. When things got tough I'd be able to pull myself through by connecting to something pleasurable and so the bad times didn't seem so horrible.

This round of depression, however, has plagued me with a physical sickness that turned me into a walking, talking zombie. I really have no idea how I survived the past six months. How I managed to continue to go to work and perform my job, drive without getting into an accident (I'd blank out A LOT), not blow up into a blimp (I've gained 20 pounds, but it all went straight to my boobs so instead of looking fat I now look seven months pregnant), not lose all my friends. I've had terrifying panic attacks that made breathing difficult. I haven't been able to sleep.

I haven't tasted joy in six months. Not even fleeting joy.

And for what? For wanting to marry a man outside my faith. My mother hasn't spoken to me since June. We've gotten into loud screaming matches a couple of times between then and now, but she refuses to acknowledge me as a daughter anymore. My aunt hasn't cut me out, but I kinda wish she would. She's horrible! If I hear one more bigoted comment come out of her holier-than-thou mouth I swear I'll cut her tongue off.

My father has proven to be much more agreeable, but only after R said he would nominally convert. I explained to my father why I did not want R to convert, why I believed it to be unnecessary and hypocritical. He listened to me but told me that sixty years of indoctrination could not let him believe the way I believed. He didn't tell me I was wrong...he left room for individual interpretation but repeated one of his favorite quotes, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". "Do this for me", he said, "and then live life any way you want". I hate compromising my principles but I've really got to pick and choose my battles right now.

My father, unlike all the other Muslims in my life, did not give me the bullshit that only Muslims will go to heaven. His objection to my impending marriage was not that Christians are infidels. When I mentioned to him the bigoted comments my aunt made about non-Muslims he told me not to listen to her madness. His objection did not even center on what the community or his family will think. His main objection was that he could not find an instance in Islamic history or sunnah where a Muslim woman was allowed to marry outside her faith. He wants to spend his last days on earth in the black-and-white realm, none of that gray area. I may not agree with the way he chooses to follow the majority but he's treated me with nothing but compassion so I have sympathy for his cause.

Poor R. He bore this time with much dignity. How it must have felt knowing your woman is always unhappy and you can't do a single thing about it. How it must feel "changing" your religion when you're so secure in your own.

I got really nasty with him at times and am sure attempted to push him away, but he stuck around valiantly. He gave me the strength I needed when I was just about to fall apart. He let me cry on his shoulder but refused to let me wallow in self-pity. And as corny as it may sound, he showed me that love really does pull us through the bad times.

So here I am now, attempting to start writing on this blog again. There was a time when writing here was pleasurable. Even if it was superficial and self-obsessed. Isn't that what diaries are for anyway? But when things in my life started to get really bad I was unable to take the criticism and bullshit that accompanies the airing of dirty laundry to the world. Now that my cobwebs have cleared (a little) I'm hoping my "I don't give a flying fuck what you think" attitude returns.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 1:01 PM
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Thursday, October 11, 2007
Empire State Eid!
The Empire State Building is going to be illuminated in green for the next three days to commemorate Eid. First time in history. Sweet gesture, really, in a city constantly preaching tolerance but still has people demonizing Arabs and hanging nooses outside black professors' doors.

So yeah...Eid tomorrow!!! Forget the negativities for now - HAPPY EID TO YOU ALL!
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 8:43 PM
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Monday, September 24, 2007
Headaches and Bicycles
I was plagued with a killer headache yesterday. It hit around noon and kept getting worse and worse as the minutes passed. It pounded behind my eyes. I couldn't sit, couldn't sleep, couldn't read, couldn't watch TV. All I did for five hours was lay on my couch waiting for iftar. I couldn't stand myself. The pain was so excruciating and I couldn't do a single thing about it. I considered breaking my fast but was convinced that doing so wasn't really going to help with the headache. It was here and was here to stay.

I broke fast with a veggie burger and some oven-baked fries. I finished half the sandwich before feeling quite sick. I ate a little more only for some nourishment. It made no difference how much I ate because exactly 20 minutes later I ran into the bathroom and threw it all up. I felt horrible. I hadn't felt this way since Barcelona. I sat on the bathroom floor for about ten minutes, throwing up, crying, feeling sorry for myself. It's amazing how much like a kid you feel when you get sick. For a split second I was transformed into the little five year old girl who vomited all over her mother's clothes after her first plane trip and cried for hours.

Damn headache. I wish I could say it went away after I threw up, but it didn't. It kept me up till 3 in the morning. I didn't manage to eat anything afterwards either and so I spent quite some time contemplating whether to fast today or not. Part of me, the stubborn part that thinks it's invincible, insisted on fasting. I've never been sick enough to not fast. What is this? A friggin headache was going to make me break my record? The other half, the rational one, understood that there would be no possible way to fast today without causing some serious damage to my body. After all, I had thrown up everything that I ate. Not only would I be starving, but I was risking getting that headache again.

So I didn't fast. I woke up in the morning with the headache and couldn't go through that pain again. It's still lingering right now as I write this, but I managed to hold it at bay throughout the day.

Lunchtime felt like an inquisition. I had all my colleagues' eyes on me as I was heating up my food. "What's going on? Is Ramadan over?"

"No, I'm sick today."

Ten minutes later. "What happened? Is Ramadan over?"

"No, I'm sick."

Five minutes after that I was asked the same question once again so I decided to go into the schoolyard to eat in peace.

No such thing.

I sat on the bench for about a minute and a half before one of my Pakistani students came running up to me.

"MISS!!!!!!! YOU'RE EATING!!!!!??"

"Uh, huh," I mumbled as I stuffed the Pad Thai into my mouth. (Trader Joe's, Toots...they make a mean Pad Thai!!)

"But Miss, it's Ramadan!!"

"S, are you fasting??"


"Don't 'ummm' me. It's a yes or no question."

"Well, no Miss, but it's because...." He went on and on about some basketball game he likes to play during lunch and when he sweats he gets tired and thirsty and so...blah blah blah. I wasn't really paying attention. I've learned how to selectively ignore my students when they're spouting out bullshit.

"Miss, are you on your bicycle??" he asked sheepishly. Bicycle??? He saw me sitting on the bench. What the hell was this about a bicycle?

"S, what are you going on about? What bicycle? Didn't I tell you to think before you speak?? Do you have any idea the kind of impression you give to people when you do that diarrhea talk??"

"I'm being serious Miss!!! You know, in Islam, when a woman is on her bicycle she doesn't have to fast."

Bicycle? What the hell was this idiot talking about? And what kind of Islam are they teaching him??

He kept going on about the bicycle before I finally shooed him away. We get 40 minutes for lunch and I had a class to teach afterwards. Miss needed her quiet time.

Ten minutes later he comes to me with his science notebook. "LOOK!! IT SAYS CYCLE! A WOMAN GETS HER CYCLE EVERY MONTH! And so when a woman is on her cycle she doesn't have to fast."

My kids provide much entertainment.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 9:57 PM
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Saturday, September 22, 2007
Reaching Out for Familiarity
Ramadan has been really lonely for me this year. Really, really lonely. It's the first time I've been observing it alone. My brother went to San Francisco this past week and so without him acting as a buffer between my mother and I I've simply avoided going home. Poor brother. He's stuck in the middle trying to make sure mother and daughter continue to have some form of communication though being used as the messenger is aggravating him.

He's also now bearing the brunt of religious "advice" from my mother and my aunt, both of whom consistently stuff holiness down his throat since I'm now a heathen. Before he left for San Fran he got trapped into a nearly 45 minute conversation via Skype with my aunt who informed him that his fast would be invalidated if he went to San Francisco since he was going to be staying with a female friend. She spent 30 minutes trying to convince him not to go, or to at least stay at a hotel, 5 minutes telling him that she would ask the sheikh if it would be permissible for him to stay with a woman even if she was just a friend, and 10 minutes chastising him for choosing to become an anesthesiologist rather than a surgeon. Fun times.

Anywho, lonely Ramadan. I come home from work every day, watch whatever Netflix movie has arrived in the mail, killing the two hours till sunset. A couple of minutes before sunset I turn to the Arabic channel so I'd be able to hear the adan, heat up my food, drink my amarredin, eat, drink tea, sit and watch TV for the rest of the night. It's boring. It's lonely. It's so lonely that at times I open my window as I'm sipping my tea just to listen to my next door neighbors. They're an older Egyptian couple, which means their conversation is quite audible to anyone living on planet earth. I like listening to their ART. Everyday she serves him his tea and he's always complaining that it doesn't have enough sugar. I think she does it to fuck with him. They provide really fun entertainment.

Last night I strolled down Steinway Street, aka "Little Egypt", where middle-aged men had comfortably plumped themselves outside the coffee shops. They puffed on their shishas while drinking their tea and engaging in idle talk. One man, as large as a truck, complained that his wife was making him fat as he stuffed basboosa into his mouth. As I walked I passed a man fervently walking to the mosque, eyes fixated heavily to the ground. He was on a mission; the man was going to pray and no beauty was going to distract him. (Steinway is also home to Latino hang-outs and the Latinas can be quite distracting, particularly on a warm Friday night)

I loved walking down the street. Loved seeing the lanterns hung outside all the shops and for a moment wished I were closer (close) to the Egyptian community. To listen to the jokes, to hear the language, be part of the sarcasm. I wish they weren't so judgmental, so hard, so righteous. I don't know how or when I detached myself from the community, but this detachment is beginning to have a strong effect on me. It's throwing me off-balance and perhaps that's why I was drawn to Steinway last night.

Before I headed back home I went into a deli to buy some fuul. I've been feening for it recently, and for some good konafa, and decided it was about time I satisfy my cravings. There were a couple of teenage girls in there, in really cool higab. They couldn't have been more than 14. Let me tell you, they were LOUD. At one point, one turned to her friend to show her the title of a CD. "Yo, take a look at this CD! It's called "Turkeylicious" son! Son, ain't this great son!!!?"

The girls were infectious. I loved how comfortably they existed in both their worlds - the traditional Arab one and the ghetto New York one.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 1:05 PM
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Monday, September 17, 2007
Just wasting time...
It's 6:03pm. I've got another 61 minutes to kill before eating. I finished all my lesson planning at school, I've cleaned my place, I've done some yoga, I've prepared my plate (it's sitting in the microwave), and now I've got nothing to do with myself.

So I moved out last month. After dealing with my mother's nasty, dirty looks (seriously, if looks could kill...) and her passive aggressivness I decided to pick up and leave. I did a lot to try to break the ice before I moved on but the woman wouldn't budge. She wants to stay angry. She doesn't know how else to act. And it became increasingly frustrating to deal with a woman who didn't know how to be an adult.

One afternoon I went to a mosque downtown to attend Friday prayers. It was a Sufi mosque led by an imam who I would constantly "run into" when doing some research online. Somehow all roads led to him and I wanted very much to go to his mosque. Unfortunately, he was in Malaysia on business that day but his mentee led a beautiful prayer. It was a mixed-sex mosque and I have never felt as comfortable around other Muslims in prayer. The men didn't bother the women, didn't pretend like we didn't exist. It was a beautiful moment and even though I feel awkward praying in general, that day I felt connected to something.

I went home that afternoon and found my mother sitting on the porch. I dragged her in the house and told her how much I loved her. I told her I had just come from the mosque and was filled with love for her. I want to fix our relationship, I said, a relationship that has been broken for decades. I told her I'd stop seeing R till we fixed "us", that for me the most important thing right now was us. She was a little resistant at first but then seemed to melt. She said that she wanted that fix us. We stopped talking because guests came in, but I was hopeful, positive, and optimistic. I thought that it was going to be the beginning of a new relationship.

The next day, she ignored me.

The day after that, she ignored me some more. It was as if I hadn't even said anything. I waited for two weeks before finally asking her how long she was going to keep the silent treatment up and she said, "till I know what you're going to do with R".

I exploded. What the fuck was the point of approaching her and asking to fix our relationship? I wanted us to talk about how we could overcome our negative past, but she still just wanted me to "come to my senses" and leave R.

I walked out on her when she said that and immediately starting looking for a place.

I am now the proud resident of Basil's former place. And I'm loving it. I love my neighborhood. I LOVE LOVE LOVE my apartment. It's beautiful. It's cozy. It's intimate. I come home and I feel at peace.

I've felt much better since I've moved out. I haven't spoken to my mother much and I know that's wrong. I shouldn't give up, but the summer killed me. I need some time away from her. It hurts me when I think that we're never going to have a decent relationship again (if ever we had one) but I don't want to worry about that anymore.

6:28. Time moves awfully slow when you're waiting............
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 6:01 PM
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Ramadan 26
I've been spoiled the past couple of years, Ramadan hitting us during the winter months when the sun set at the wonderfully decent time of 5pm (4 for my brother up in Maine). Ramadaning in winter is always a treat. It's too cold to get too dehydrated and it's just a matter of trekking through the afternoon hours before reward hits you. Even teaching didn't seem that tough last year. Sure I spent the whole day talking (drying up my mouth in the process), but I survived.

But now the sun is choosing to set at 7pm. And I know that's not horrible. I mean, my parents, when they first moved to Germany, fasted till nearly 11pm one Ramadan. So I know 7pm is cupcakes. But it's still no fun.

Ramadan is going to be different and difficult for me this year for many reasons. For starters, I eat when I'm stressed. Comfort food allows me to focus on something other than my problems. You know how people drink away their problems? Well, I don't drink so I needed to find another vice. And let's just say I've gained about fifteen pounds over the summer.

I don't just eat. I binge. My father once caught me doing this. He was shocked by the amount of food on my plate one evening. He was thrown over the edge when, after polishing a plate that would have fed at least three people, I went for seconds.

I feel disgusted with myself after I eat like this. Physically and emotionally disgusted. I get so full that I can't even breathe. Emotionally I'm grossed out at my inability to abstain from making myself feel like this. But when I eat, I'm not thinking about my family problems. I'm not worried about future. And so although I feel disgusted, it at least takes my mind off my bigger issues.

I'm hoping Ramadan this year helps me nip this addiction in the bud. Sure there'll be chances to binge at night, but I'm hoping to keep myself occupied enough to keep me from doing this.

My binging isn't the only reason Ramadan will be different for me this year. This will be my 26th year fasting. I've been fasting religiously since I was five. Never once cheated, never swallowed water by "accident", never took a day off when I was sick. This will, however, be the first year I fast as a doubter.

I've become disenchanted with religion. All religions. Religion makes people judgmental and cruel. Instead of bringing people together, it tears them apart. Mine is better than yours, mine is truer than yours. If you don't follow my way then I can't know you. This is what religion does. It makes one self-righteous. It makes people fight over stupid ideologies.

And yes, I know I'm brining my own baggage into this. My mother still doesn't want to talk to me because she thinks I'm a heretic and my aunt has joined the bandwagon. Auntie continues to bully me into believing in her way. It is religion that is making them do this and it disgusts me.

I'm a doubter. I don't doubt that there's a Creator. I'd like to think that there's something out there, but I firmly believe that no one has gotten "it" right. And in the process of insisting that there is only one truth, we all lose out.

I'm not sure how this is going to affect my Ramadan at all. In all honesty I don't think it'll have much of an effect. I never fasted just because I thought it was religiously required. I did do it to please God, but I also did it because it made me a better person. It showed me that I COULD discipline myself if I wanted to. It forced me to refocus my life, if even just for a month. It slowed me down and I liked it. Still like it. I look forward to Ramadan with much fervor and although being without food or water makes me cranky and irritable, it's also uplifting and centering.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 9:29 PM
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Friday, July 20, 2007
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 11:56 AM
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Egypt, Mother of the World
I sulked for weeks when I was sent off (also read as deported) to Egypt. I felt as if I were living through a tragic movie and that at any moment I could just switch the channel or, better yet, turn the TV off. This isn't really happening, I would constantly tell myself. No way would my own flesh and blood mother send me away like this. Shit like this only happened in books or to other crazy families. I thought that if I gave my mother some time (sound familiar??) she would realize how much better off I would be back in New York and that she was slightly overreacting by sending me away. There must be a better way to handle this crisis, I believed.

After all, what had been my crime? I was a good student, I got accepted into both NYU and Columbia, and, for the most part, was a pretty dutiful daughter. So I had a boyfriend. So I got into fights with my mother. What teenage girl hasn't? My crime didn't warrant banishment. I had a great future ahead of me and my mother would never steal it from me.

After a couple of months I finally succumbed to the fact that the woman wasn't going to change her mind and that I was stuck in that god-forsaken country.

I know a lot of people like to think that I'm a self-hating Egyptian. That I hate my people, my culture, my heritage. Because I became so immersed in the Dominican culture, I was accused of trying to abandon mine. But what these people never knew is that I fell in love with the Dominican culture precisely because it reminded me of my own. I severed ties with Egypt not because I hated it, but because it fucked me royally, and not in any pleasurable way. The Dominican Republic merely came in to fill the void and keep me connected to Egypt somehow.

I had always been in love with Egypt. I can still remember the despair I felt when I learned that we were going to leave it for good. I was only four or five, but I can still recall, with accurate clarity, every single moment of my last day there. They tried to assure me that I would return in no time, that this was just a temporary matter, but a single glance at my grandmother's face told me that they were full of shit.

Living in exile wasn't too bad and I adapted to my surroundings quickly. I never stopped missing Egypt though. I missed my grandparents, the blazing heat, the corner store. I would dream of our modest apartment building every night. My street was dirty and dusty and the sewer would ALWAYS back up, flooding the street almost every other day. We had no AC, I shared a room with several geckos, and our TV had three channels. But I loved living there. I can still remember our phone number (285-095) and can walk around that neighborhood with my eyes closed. I cried when my grandmother moved from there, but it had been about time. The neighborhood started to decline in the 1980s and we had to go. To this day, however, if I find out that someone comes from the same place I get a sweet flutter in my heart.

My parents constantly told us stories about growing up Egypt. The way my father played soccer with his friends in the streets. How he would sit under a street lamp and study for exams because they had no electricity in their home. My mother would tell me how much trouble my aunt used to get into in school for talking back to her teachers or how her father would take her to the Capritage for swimming lessons.

I lived the Egypt of my parents and I loved it. Life seemed simple in their stories.

My lived reality was the total opposite. I had to struggle with new languages, had no close friends, and couldn't go out because it was always "dangerous". I longed to move to Egypt. To have the freedom that my mother had. The type of friendship my father developed with his pals. My parents always tried to send my brother and I back for the summers, but sometimes we'd be strapped for cash. Those would always be my most miserable summers.

I tried hard to convince my parents to send me to CAC. Although we had been living in America for quite some time, I never felt like I fit in. My family always made it a priority to remind me that I was not American and that I had to avoid falling into the trap of becoming one. We're here to take the good and leave the bad, my father would say. My aunt always mocked me during my summers in Egypt when I'd mention anything about American culture. "Culture? Homa el Amrikan 3andohom culture aslan?" (Do Americans even have a culture?) Americans ate hot dogs and hamburgers, had no history to speak of, and were fat and stupid.

I remember once going to Sharm with her and my brother, Sharm when it was still a virgin. We had dinner in one of the only hotels on the strip and afterwards they had a pop music trivia game. My brother and I owned that game and won all the prizes. When asked where we came from, we both replied, "New York". My aunt frowned and immediately corrected us, "You're Egyptian!!" As if one couldn't be both an Egyptian and a New Yorker.

Obviously this did much to tear my identity into bits. I was encouraged to be proud of my Egyptian-ness and squash anything American.

And it worked. I never thought of myself as American. I was an Egyptian with a greencard who just so happened to live and go to school in America. I was an extremely proud Egyptian. Which was why I was so confused when people called me "the American girl" everytime I went back to Egypt. In Egypt, I was seen as American. In America, I was seen as Egyptian. I seemed to be able to assert my Egyptian identity much easier when I wasn't in Egypt.

When I was 16, I decided that I wanted to go to the American University in Cairo. Egypt was my home and I'd prove to everyone there that I was just as Egyptian as they were. I was going to finish high school in New York and then go back "home".

Things changed as the years went by and I became more comfortable here. When I got accepted to both NYU and Columbia, I had a vision of a great future. And I wanted to stay. I still loved Egypt and was going to return to her, but I wanted to start my future here.

So it's not as if I've always hated Egypt. I loved Egypt. I longed for Egypt. I loved everything about Her. She was my home, She ran through my blood.

But it all changed when I was forced to go there. When instead of a choice it became a sentence. When it turned into an Azkaban prison. A place to send girls who misbehaved and suck the life out of them. Egypt became a prison when my aunt, who I trusted more than anyone else on earth, intercepted my mail. I once went into her bag to borrow a couple of pounds for a taxi and found seven letters addressed to me, all opened, all hidden from me. I had begun to think that all my friends had forgotten about me because I stopped hearing from them. And it's probably exactly what the women in my family were hoping would happen. That I'd realize that I had no life here and would eventually accept my life there.

Everyone around me was betraying me and I just couldn't deal. Add to that the dirty, dirty comments I'd get from men on the streets, the daily physical assault, the nasty rumors and subsequent drama (to be discussed in a near-future post) and a bizarre culture (AUC) and it's really not surprising why I have such negative feelings towards Egypt.

I've tried to get closure and have never succeeded. My Egypt doesn't exist anymore. It exists in the memories of my youth, the dreams and aspirations I had, and the whipping nostalgia that Dalida always, ALWAYS conjures up.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 12:33 AM
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Monday, July 16, 2007
In order to stave off depression, despair, and violence (I've had really, really strong urges recently to punch my mother in the face...she hasn't done anything, but I just feel like punching her...I'm sure the feeling is mutual), I've taken to reading. I haven't been able to read a book in a little over a year. We had silent reading in my school, but I spent most of that class period peering over my book to make sure my students were doing some kind of reading. Silent reading was the bane of my existence last can you force kids to read?

The benefits of being a teacher is that you've got an entire summer to do whatever you feel like doing. I've spent most of the summer catching up on books. Lahiri's "Interpreter of Maladies" is the best collection of short stories I have ever read and I finally got around to reading "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns".

I was really resistant to reading "Kite Runner". I had actually refused to even buy it because everytime someone learned I was Egyptian and Muslim, they'd ask me if I'd read "Kite Runner". They'd follow up by saying how much they learned about my culture by reading that book and would want to pick my brain. Explaining to them that Egypt and Afghanistan were two distinct countries miles away from each other seemed to upset them. It's as if I were raining on their parade.

It's a great book though and I wish I hadn't waited so long to read it.

Up next is the most highly anticipated book, the one, the only "Harry Potter". I've reserved two copies at my local Border's (a couple of months ago my brother suggested we only get one copy and share it...I laughed at him) and will be first on line Saturday morning to get my copy. Two years ago I was nearly run over while crossing the street in Paris finishing the last couple of pages.

I've got a long summer ahead...any book suggestions?
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 10:55 PM
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Sunday, July 15, 2007
On the 4th of July R and I went a family BBQ. His sister came up to me and gave me a huge hug. She hadn't seen us since we had gotten engaged and she looked like she was on cloud nine. R is the youngest of 12. The baby of the family who's finally getting married. She grabbed my hand and looked at my ring, beaming. "My little brother is getting married!" she squealed. Then she looked at me solemnly, still holding my hand. "I'm so happy for you guys...I really am. You're so special and this was meant to be. I know this is meant to be. I pray for you two all the time. Every Sunday I go to church and pray for your happiness".

The image of her (and all of R's family) praying FOR us and my mother and aunt praying AGAINST us made me laugh. One wonders whose prayers are going to reach God first...

I've been offline for weeks now trying to deal with all this bullshit in my life. I think the most disappointing discovery is learning how deficient my family really is. My mother and my aunt have really, really disappointed me. They refuse to even listen to me, and my aunt last week went on an anti-Latino rant that would have made Newt Gingrich proud.

My mother and I are still not really talking, even though I've tried to break the ice several times. We just have so much history to overcome and I don't either one of us knows where to start. I've stopped fighting with her because the entire battle now seems to be centering on whose Islam is right. And you can never win a battle like that. Both my aunt and my mother also have me believing that if I say anything to my father I will kill him.

Which is why I've been procrastinating in telling him. That and I'm trying to find an apartment to move into before saying anything. While the "right" thing to do would be to stay at home and fight the battle there, I simply can't do it anymore. The prolonged silences and venomous accusations have taken their toll on me.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 4:54 PM
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Thursday, June 21, 2007
Staying in the fight
I hate the nighttime. It's at night that everything hurts so much more. The emotional pain becomes amplified and starts manifesting itself physically; it's when the tears flow harder and the convulsions and shakes start. It's when the self-doubt threatens to creep in. When the fight just seems to be too hard and throwing in the towel becomes incredibly appealing. It's when I have my breakdowns. I can't stand the nighttime.

My mother is proving herself to be very difficult. While I wasn't expecting her to embrace my decision, what I DEFINITELY did not expect was the cruelty that she has been throwing at me. I honestly thought that if I gave her enough space and time to process all this we'd be able to have a fruitful discussion in which we could talk about things as adults. But it seems that the more time I give her, the more time she has to become mean, unreasonable, and unnecessarily cruel. She's fighting dirty and is resorting to tactics that are disappointing me in her.

I'm trying hard to put it all in perspective. She's grasping at straws and is beyond desperate. She's afraid and confused. And everytime I get really angry I have to stop and remind myself that this is not the same woman who raised me. Not the same woman that my friends respect and revere. I have to stop and remember that she really does love me, even though she acts hard and is closing herself up. I make excuses. And excuses. And excuses. But there's going to come a time when I can't do that anymore and all I'm praying for right about now is that we don't get to that point. Because I WILL lose respect for her.

I am doing everything in my power to keep this woman in my life. To keep my parents in my life. I'm not allowing my mother to sever ties with me. I am letting her humiliate and degrade me, drag me through the fucking mud. And why don't I leave? Why don't I just pack my bags and go? I have never allowed anyone to shit on me like this. NEVER.

I stay because I'm trying to show her that it's not ME that's going to do the severing. It's going to be her, them. I stay after all this humiliation because I will do whatever it is that I can to prove to them that I value them, that I love them, that I'm willing to fight for them just as much as I'm willing to fight for R.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 11:40 PM
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Who: Carmen

xx-something egyptia-yorker who's spent over half her life stuck in two worlds not of her own making. unable and unwilling to fully embrace one identity over the other, she created (is trying to create) her own place in the world where people love each other unconditionally, irrespective of artificial boundaries, and where dancing merengue is as necessary to life as breathing air.

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