I was in Egypt one summer during Eid al-Adha. I must have been eight or nine at the time. I had overheard that the sheep that we had just bought was going to be slaughtered. I begged and pleaded to be allowed to see the slaughter, but my grandmother refused. I moped for a while, hoping that she'd feel sorry for me and let me go but it didn't work.
So I went to my grandfather who suggested that this was something that I would probably not want to see, but he left the final decision up to me. And of course I decided that it was something I HAD to do.
Grandfather obliged and two days later I found myself downstairs in the make-shift backyard with some of the other neighborhood kids. The butcher came with his knives and started sharpening them in front of us. The sheep was dragged by its hind legs, held by two men and my eyes were not prepared for what they were about to see.
With one swift swing, the butcher cut the sheep's throat. Blood started spurting. Another swift swing took off its entire head, blood gurgling upwards. I can't really remember what happened afterwards. Between hiding my face in my hands and the fainting soon afterwards, everything just seemed a blur. One of the things I DO remember is the butcher blowing hard into the sheep's neck and I'm 100% convinced that I saw its body blow up like a balloon.
My grandmother was so angry at my grandfather for exposing me to this. Poor man didn't hear the end of it for weeks.
My uncle hates Saddam Hussein. His lips curl up whenever his name is mentioned, "hell" and "bastard" always making an appearance in a subsequent sentence. My uncle was part of the mass exodus that left Kuwait when Iraq marched in in the summer of 1990. I was in Egypt visiting my grandmother at the time and watched her fear grow as the days passed with no word from her son. He managed to call us on the day Kuwait was invaded, but for days afterwards we heard nothing from him.
A week and a half later we were sitting on the balcony and saw an Alpha Romeo drive up our block. No Alpha Romeo ever even entered our city save for my uncle's, so there was no way mistaking that car. If I weren't there to hold my grandmother down I'm convinced that she would've jumped off go run to her son.
My uncle had packed up his family (wife and four-year old son) and left Kuwait City hours after making his first phone call to us. He was terrified and the rumors of soldiers raping and pillaging were more than enough to force him out. He drove from Kuwait to Egypt, stopping only for bathroom breaks for his son.
If there's anyone who would rejoice in Saddam's execution, it would be my uncle. But he hates the way this whole process unfolded and can't understand what would prompt the U.S. to execute this madman on Eid al-Adha. "I don't want to think about Saddam during the Eid. I don't want to talk about him, I don't want to rejoice in his death. That's not what I want my Eid to be about". Poor uncle. I think he feels jipped that justice hasn't been served. This rush and secrecy just doesn't do it for him.
It's really interesting right now, however, sitting here watching my family's reaction to the news. Al Jazeera is on and their faces keep changin from shock, horror, and disgust (coverage of Saddam's pending execution) to joy (coverage of the hajj), followed by excitement (reminders that Ahly and Zamalek are going to play tomorrow).
Devil's spawn and I are the only ones who usually get up early in this house. Which means I'm stuck with her alone for at least two hours before the rest of the pack decides to get out of bed.
We were sitting at the dining table right now, she eating her breakfast, me finishing a piece for a magazine, when her little devil eyes looked up at me and said,"are you hungry?" Simple question really, but I knew why she was asking it. Everyone is fasting today and so little devil spawn was trying to tease me.
"No, not at all," I replied.
She pets her sandwich (who in the world pets a sandwich???) and says, "Even if you were, you can't eat."
"Oh yes I can".
"No, you have to wait for maghrib. If you're a good Muslim, you can't eat before maghrib".
Why the hell do they put these ideas in this girl's head???
"H," I said with a voice a little louder than it should have been, "being a good Muslim has nothing to do with whether you fast today or not. Don't let anyone convince you of that."
My family has never been one to force faith down anyone's throat. We grew up knowing we had to pray, fast during Ramadan, the works. But no one ever tried to force you to do something or intimidate you into doing it. But recently, every single member of my family (save for my father who still believes that people should have a choice in personal matters) has been on a mission. We're all forced to get up and pray at the same time, fast at the same time, read the Koran at the same time. It's one of the reasons I don't enjoy big family gatherings anymore. All they've become are events where everyone waits for the moment to say, "Yalla, let's go pray".
I see it as harassment. The other day my mother and my uncle were practically riding my cousin's back because he didn't get up to pray when they told him to. "Yalla ya H!! OOOM SALI!!!" The kid is 18 years old. He'll get up when he gets up. Or if he wants to get up.
They don't just do it to the young either. They'll do it to each other. My mother will constantly nag my uncle to get up and pray, who'll nag his wife, who'll end up nagging someone else.
Sometimes it even turns into a contest to see who'll pray first. My mom will sneak off to the bedroom and upon returning to the living room will say, "ana salet!" (I prayed!), but in a na-na-na-na sort of way. I swear, as adults get older, their minds regress to kindergarden.
Last night, my uncle asked me if I was going to wake up to have sohour with them. Before I was even able to answer he said, "But you aren't fasting? You have that anemia." Before I was able to utter a word again he said, "But that's nothing. You can fast."
How infuriariting is that? What kind of satisfaction can you ever get from forcing someone to do something?
I've found that this harassment doesn't confine itself to my family or Muslims. The past two holiday gatherings at the boyfriend's house were rampant with this. After dinner, one of his sisters would usually announce that they're about to pray the rosary for his late mother (God rest her soul). No one was given a choice whether they wanted to pray or not. They had to sit and pray. I noticed some people attempt to sneak off, only to be intercepted by someone and brought back to the living room.
I told my uncle that I would not be fasting. He gave me a hard stare and asked why. I replied by saying that I just won't do it. He tried to convince me that I HAVE to and I ended the conversation by telling him that I have my period and watched his face turn beet red. Did I really have to go that route to shut him up? Couldn't he just have accepted the fact that I was not going to fast?
I doubt I would've fasted even if I didn't have my period. Does this make me a bad Muslim? According to the devil's spawn, yes. In the eyes of the rest of my family, I've crossed the line to bad Muslim a long time ago when I declined going on the pilgrimage because I didn't think I was ready. In others' eyes, I'm a bad Muslim for the fact that I'm very close to marrying outside my faith.
How nice would the world be if people just minded their own business and lived their spiritual lives in private.
How happy was I to know that I have arrived at the perfect time in Canada!! Boxing week sales have made this trip absolutely wonderful! I've been shopping non-stop since I've arrived, though had to cut the shopping early yesterday because of severe dizziness. Damn that anemia. (Isn't it great when you have something to blame things on?!)
I'm not a big shopper. It's one of the reasons my friends are convinced that I'm not a girl. I shop once in a blue moon, and only when I'm really desperate for new clothing. Shoes? I haven't bought new shoes in nearly a year.
I've been going nuts here because of the shoes. I don't buy shoes because I can't find any that make me comfortable AND look nice. I don't wear heels and shoes without heels, for some reason, always look like granny shoes. So imagine my delight when I come here and find the most wonderful shoes and boots in the world, all flat! I wonder why these shoes haven't made their way to NY yet...maybe I need to get out to the stores more often.
Anyway, I bought a pair of expensive boots yesterday (expensive in my eyes is anything over $100. What can I say. I'm cheap). They were, however, PERFECT. Perfect boots. I couldn't believe my luck! There were four more pairs of shoes I wanted to buy, but they did not have my size.
Which brings me to another thing...what is it with Canadian sizes??? Are all the women here petite and dainty? I feel like a friggin giant in this country! I usually wear a size medium, sometimes small if I want it form fitting, back home. Here, however, I'd be lucky to fit one arm in a size large. I tried this shirt on yesterday and thought my breasts were going to be squished flat. I couldn't even breathe in it. Upon asking for an extra large the saleswoman, with a look of horror on her face, replied "we don't carry X!" Geez.
I am definitely in trouble when I get back home, though. I hadn't budgeted for any shopping on this trip.
Brother, who's five months away from getting his medical degree, has just diagnosed me with anemia. A quick google search confirmed his assessment. Most of the symptoms are there (fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, **DIFFICULTY CONCENTRATING**) and I've had a very pale complexion for the past month. Whatever. I'm still exotic (see post below).
I'm also convinced that I'm suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, as many commentators mentioned when I wrote about my depression. I've never had problems with winter before. I'm actually a winter baby and I've always loved the snow, the chill, the short days. I wait eagerly each year for the first snowflake to drop. New York City is also a lovely place to spend winter. There's always a lot to do.
I'm not sure why all of a sudden this year winter has taken its toll on me. I've managed to somewhat get out of the depression I slipped into, but I'm not totally there yet. The weakness I've been feeling from the anemia hasn't allowed me to do the things I enjoy doing during winter. I hate going out because it seems like such a struggle and I don't have the energy to do lots of walking. I can't hang out with friends because I can't seem to form coherent sentences. I can't find anything to say and I'm just TIRED to talk. The holiday gatherings have been tough on me because I don't have the physical ability to be social.
The boyfriend is the only one I've been able to hang out with because I don't have to talk with him. We don't have to catch up or make small talk. I can just sit there and ramble on without having to make sense. And the poor guy has had to put up with A LOT of nonsensical conversations.
Toots accused me of being withdrawn from myself not so long ago, but I knew that I wasn't. I knew that there was something wrong and was surprised that he picked up on it even though we hadn't seen each other in a while, but I didn't feel like I was withdrawing. Now I realize that I was just constantly tired.
So yeah...a lot needs to change when I get back to NY.
Thank you to brother, though, who made his diagnosis in front of mother, uncle, and uncle's wife, each of whom has different treatments for anemia ranging from eating brain to taking long, hot baths (don't ask...)
Everytime I fly American Airlines to Canada I'm always left stranded at the airport waiting for a delayed flight. I don't know why I thought today would be any different. My flight was delayed for over an hour this morning. The good news was that I was stuck in the boarding area, not crammed like a sardine on a flight seat. I also had the boyfriend's DVD player which kept me entertained, as well as Lahiri's new book, "The Namesake" which turned out to be an interesting read.
I was hoping that Christmas break to be a week of non-stop sleep. I really need to reenergize before I go back to school or else the kids will drive me insane. My brother is the one who suggested we go to Canada to visit the family, wholeheartedly supported by my mom who spent a week guilting me into going. I'll be here for four days, which isn't a long time when you think about it, but I still would've preferred to lounge around my own home. Let's pray that the family behaves itself.
Anyway, here are snippets of conversations that flew past my ears between NYC and Toronto:
At the gate in La Guardia
Girl 1: "Do they speak English in Canada?" Girl 2: "You're STUPID!! Of course they don't speak English in Canada! Why should they? It's Canada!" Girl 1: "Well, what do they speak?" Girl 2: "Canadian of course. Duh.You're really stupid." (Duh indeed) Girl 1: "You're the stupid one. You didn't even think of getting a travel guide so we could talk to people there. Now we're just going to look like stupid American tourists who can't even speak a word of Canadian."
The food court at La Guardia
Man: "I can't believe how easy it was for us to check-in! That was really fast!" Woman: "It's crazy! All that talk about airport security and we check-in in seconds." (Mind you, this is just check-in where you get your boarding pass. This couple hasn't even gotten to security yet.) Man: "Goes to show you how easy it is for the terrorists to pass through." Woman: "You know what I learned about the other day??? There are Arab CHRISTIANS!! Can you believe that?!!! Why would any Christian want to be an Arab??"
At the American Airlines gate, waiting for the plane to finally arrive (They just announced that instead of flying out at 10:40, we'd fly out at 11:20)
Woman: "I've been sitting here for an hour! I want to go home! I'm tired and you people insist on making us sit here!" Flight attendant: "Ma'am, there's really nothing we can do. The other plane was delayed because of bad weather, but I'm sure the pilot will try to make up for lost time in the air." Woman: "But I have to go the bathroom! And I can't leave my stuff here!" FA: "The bathroom is right around the corner. I'll personally keep an eye on your stuff while you go." Woman: "But my teddy! I can't leave my teddy and I can't take him to that bathroom!" FA: Blank look
She was holding a pink teddy bear that was covered in a baby's blanket. He (as did everyone else in the area) thought she was holding a baby. When we learned that it was a pink teddy bear we didn't know how to react.
On the flight
Man next to me: "First time to Toronto?" Me: "No. I've visited before." Man: "It's a nice city." Me: "Yeah. I've visited before." Man: "I'm staying at the ---- hotel." Me: Silent Man: "If you want, I can take you around the city." Me: "Thanks, but it's ok. I manage well."
Five minutes later...
Man: "You're not American." Me: "What?" Man: "No, I was looking at you filling out your customs card. 'S' is not an American name." Me: "Ok." Man: "So where are you from?" Me: "America." Man: "You're very exotic looking."
How annoying is that??? What the hell, am I an African parrot?
At Canadian customs
I'm standing on line. The woman in front of me is sniffling.
Customs agent: "Are you sick ma'am?" Woman: "Yes, I think I just came down with something." CA: "What do you have?" Woman: "I don't know. Maybe the flu." CA: "What kind of flu?" What???
Woman: "I don't know." CA: "Do you have anything else? Any other sickness?" Woman: "What is this?? Do you work for WHO??"
My brother and my mother went off to Canada last Friday for Christmas break. They wanted me to leave with them, but I really wanted to spend Christmas with the boyfriend this year. Plus, they were driving. Ten hours in a car gets me fidgety, so I'll be joining them tomorrow via plane.
So I thought that today, Christmas, would be spent with the boyfriend. I had all these elaborate plans in my head; breakfast, play in the city, maybe catch a movie. Basically I thought it was going to be an "us" day. But, as per a routine rut we have managed to get ourselves into, it's not going to happen. He called a little while ago to cancel the breakfast we were supposed to have at his sister's because he forgot that yesterday some of the guys agreed to have breakfast together and catch a movie. A boys' morning. He said he'd call me after the movie.
I'm slightly angered right now because I purposely waited until the 26th to travel so I could spend Christmas with him. So we could enjoy the day together. And while I dont want to deny him fun with his friends, I hate that fun had to be today.
I didn't say anything to him because I didn't want to ruin his morning. Because I don't want him to think that I'm trying to drag him away from friends and family or think that I'm being unreasonable.
I'll tell you this though...this is the LAST time I alter travel plans for him.
Whatever. My morning has been shot, but I refuse to wallow. I'm putting on "Love, Actually" to start my Christmas with a nice treat. I'll then be heading into the city to see the tree at Rockefeller, have a carriage ride in Central Park, and sip something nice at Serendipity, the place where bad moods melt. And when the boyfriend calls I'll let him know about all the fun I had and that I'll see him next weekend when I come home from Canada.
I really need to work on my passive aggressiveness.
If you ever want to spend a nice, quiet Christmas toasting marshmallows by the fireplace or sipping some hot chocolate while watching "It's a Wonderful Life", then you have to avoid the boyfriend's house during the holidays. Christmas Eve was packed with action at 6pm on the dot and is actually still continuing till now, nearly 2am. I, however, managed to slip away about an hour ago and am in the nice, toasty comfort of my bed.
This was the first Christmas I've ever spent with the BF. In the beginning of our relationship, we weren't close enough to spend the holidays together. When he finally managed to get his act together (last year), I had already bought tickets to spend Christmas vacation in Egypt with my aunt. I had no idea what to expect tonight, but I surely never expected this level of pandemonium!! I felt really odd for a while till his nephew's girlfriend, who noticed my subtle unease, whispered to me, "Don't worry...I was overwhelmed too when I first spent Christmas with this family!"
There seemed to have been 200 people at the BF's house tonight. I exaggerate, of course, but I think you get the point. Again, the BF is the youngest of twelve and he's got so many nieces and nephews that it's difficult to keep track of everyone (he even forgot to get presents for one of his grand-nephews. They just didn't show up on his radar).
I am not the kind of person who shines in situations like these. When I'm surrounded by too many people, I tend to shut down a little bit. I'm just not used to it. I've got a small family and have always envied the boyfriends' his but I simply don't know how to navigate through them just yet.
Plus, I've been really tired recently. So tired that the very thought of having to socialize makes my stomach curl. I tried hard to be social tonight, but failed miserably I think. I had three people ask me what was wrong and one niece who kept probing, "Are you pregnant? Cuz you know when you're pregnant you get really tired. Is it even a possibility?", and on and on and on. She kept staring at my stomach as well, which has expanded due to the Wendy's large size combo meals I've been eating everyday. "You know, if you're pregnant you can tell me, I won't tell anyone". Yeah. Because if I'm pregnant the BF shouldn't be the first to know. It seemed impossible to end the pregnancy convo till her son hit his head against the wall as he was attempting to reenact a scene from Spiderman. That kinda killed the discussion, but she kept eyeing me for the rest of the evening.
We started part one of the evening at the BF's house and made our way to his brother's house (up the block) around tenish, where the stereo was blaring merengue and the glasses ran full of wine. An hour later, everyone was drunk and I was sitting by the stairs observing them all. It truly was a wonderful sight. The whole family there, not giving a shit about anything, just enjoying each other's company.
I, however, couldn't stay there for too long. After midnight struck and gifts had been exchanged, I had to leave. I mean, how long can one stay if one doesn't drink? Have you ever been the only sober person in a roomful of buzzed/drunk people??? Not pleasant I tell you. I had myself a glass of wine only to try to loosen up a little, but all that did was make my stomach feel bad. What I really wanted to do was go back home with the BF and just spend some quiet time alone. We did go back to his house at one point, but that was only to give his nieces' their presents. I wanted to suggest that we stay a bit, but he implied that he wanted to go back to the party. So I let him go and just came home.
This becomes one of the very frustrating aspects of our relationship at the moment, the fact that we have no home. I hate that I had to leave to come home to a practically empty house. That there was really no other satisfactory alternative; I could either stay at the party or leave. Spending time alone with him was not an option. I wish he and I could form our own family unit. And I'm not talking about kids. I'm talking about "Okay, we've had our fun now it's time for us to go home" or "now it's time for our personal traditions".
It's taking us a while to get to that point.
His brother, however, came up to me before gifts were exhanged and said, "S, I'm going to make it a point to get to know you better this year. R has confirmed that this is the real deal and I promise to get to know you. Welcome to the family."
I feel like I'm about to lose my train of thought and think I'll be going off on tangents if I continue writing for another minute. Blame it on the wine, the hoopla, or the frustration. But to spare you the tangents I will sign off now.
Oh...the BF's niece's boyfriend? He actually DID buy presents...I'm beginning to think that his Egyptian sarcasm is not translating well with the family.
Shopping for Christmas presents can be very frustrating sometimes. I'm sitting here, a day before Christmas Eve, still racking my brain over what to buy for whom. I'm usually pretty good with this. I start Christmas shopping in October. It makes the holidays easier to navigate when you don't have to worry so much about gifts.
This year becomes a bit complicated because I'm spending Christmas with the boyfriend and his family for the first time. His large family. He's the youngest of twelve, so between his brother and sisters and nieces and nephews it becomes difficult to know who to buy presents for. He has the same problem as well each year. It becomes a very political process and often drives him crazy. Last year he bought each of his brothers and sisters board games. This actually turned out to be a great present because it got the families to spend quality time together throughout the year. This year they've all promised each other no presents, which has saved him major headaches.
I, however, feel strange spending Christmas with his family and not having anything for them. I mean, I know I can't buy something for everyone...it would be INSANE to even try. But there are some that I see on a constant basis and would love to get something for. The problem here is that I don't want them to feel obligated to give me something in return. And I don't want them feeling horrible about themselves for not getting me something. (Best Friend apparently had the same problem).
So now I can do one of two things; I can either buy them nice presents or I can run out right now and buy some stocking stuffers. I'm leaning towards the stocking stuffers because I really don't want to overdo it, especially since the present giving is curtailed this Christmastime at their household. Little presents won't make them feel so bad.
On top of all this, some of them really have no idea what to do with me at Christmas. The boyfriend's niece is dating a Muslim and he has informed them all that he in no way celebrates Christmas; he does not want nor will he give presents. They now keep asking me, very shyly, if I'm going to come over for Christmas. Not too long ago he told them that he doesn't eat the meat of sin. I tried to convince the boyfriend that he must have been kidding, that there's no way anyone would say "meat of sin", but I'm beginning to think that the boy was serious. That niece's boyfriend is giving me and mine a really bad name.
BY REX BOWMAN TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER Dec 23, 2006
From e-mails suggesting concentration camps for Muslims to messages bemoaning that all Virginians look like "a bunch of rednecks," the public is weighing in with mixed opinions on U.S. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr.'s letter attacking the migration of Muslims to America.
While Goode's political colleagues have mostly kept silent -- a notable exception being Republican Sen. John W. Warner, who gently chided Goode on Thursday -- readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch have e-mailed reporters; posted voluminous comments on the newspaper's Web site, timesdispatch.com; and phoned in to voice their opinions.
While many expressed shock and horror at Goode's warning that "many more Muslims" could one day hold elected office in the United States unless immigration laws are tightened, others wrote or called to say "Goode for president!" and to express their belief that Islam is not compatible with democracy. The majority were supportive of Goode.
The political firestorm that has burned through the blogosphere and on cable news shows was ignited Tuesday when the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Goode, R-5th District, to apologize. Goode refused.
Goode's defiance prompted one reader to write: "Someone has to protect our nation from being overtaken by immigrants who wish to convert the rest of us to their way of thinking. I say 'Go get them, Virgil, and God bless you for trying to save our country.'"
"My hat is off to Rep. Goode," another wrote. "What character and bravery to say what all Americans feel."
But Jeff Saxman of Richmond countered: "Attitudes such as those recently exhibited by Virginia's Congressional representative Virgil Goode are a good indication as to why we find ourselves in our current world situation. . . . Such vitriol and lack of either respect or empathy for anyone that differs from the traditional white male Christian ideal has put our nation on the defensive, both rhetorically and literally."
Goode has earned a reputation as Virginia's most outspoken advocate in Congress for clamping down on illegal immigration and curtailing legal immigration. He has pushed legislation to build a fence along the border with Mexico and also sought to make English the nation's official language.
At a news conference Thursday, Goode said he wrote the letter in response to hundreds of e-mails he received from constituents upset by Minnesota Rep.-elect Keith Ellison's decision to use the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in his swearing-in ceremony. While writing that he would use the Bible when he is sworn in for his next term, Goode used the letter to condemn U.S. immigration policies and to call Muslim immigrants a threat to American values and resources.
The letter didn't sit well with Steven McKinley of Richmond, a retired Marine colonel. McKinley wrote: "If Congressman Goode is so adamant about his feelings, I say pick up a rifle and volunteer for the reserves. We could certainly give a God-fearing man like him a waiver and let him serve his country in Iraq. Having spent the better part of 2005 in Al Anbar Province, I served with Marines of all religious affiliations. Funny how when you are fighting a war, you never get around to asking the guy next to you where he goes to church."
"It is so sad when someone so openly bigoted as Rep. Goode can be elected to office," wrote a reader who signed his note Jay from Richmond. "One of this country's real strengths is its separation of church and state. Clearly Mr. Goode does not understand the meaning of religious tolerance. He equates Muslims with terrorists. Oh how quickly we forget, that Christians can persecute and terrorize as well as any religion."
"Here we go again . . . another Virginia politician making Virginians as a whole look like a bunch of rednecks," opined another.
Writer James W. Leftwich disagreed, writing: "The Honorable Virgil Goode is on the right track."
"Somebody nominate Virgil Goode for President," another wrote. "And shame on John Warner. It is an abomination that a Muslim refuse to take the oath on the Bible."
I used to celebrate Christmas with a fervor that would put Santa Claus to shame. My house was always the prettiest on the block, my Christmas tree was always decked to the halls, and the gifts I would give people always the most unique.
It drove some of my family crazy.
"We're Muslim!! We don't celebrate this!! What you're doing is blasphemy!"
One of my cousins actually tried to take down my tree when he came over one day. When he realized that I was going to beat him to the ground if he did, he started on about how having a tree nullifies not only my Islam, but the Islam of anyone in the house. "I cannot stay in this house with this tree". I responded by turning on the lights and putting on religious Christmas tunes. When he heard "Christ the Savior is born" he just walked out of the house.
My mother had never been happier! I managed to single handedly get rid of an idiot that she'd been trying to get rid of for years!! "Everyday should be Christmas!"
My father felt bad so he went after my cousin and told him to stop being stupid. "Ya A, eh el moshkela? (What's the problem?) Don't we believe in Jesus? Didn't Jesus have to be born? What's so wrong about celebrating the day he was born? It doesn't mean that we believe in the entire Christian theology. Don't be stupid, come back."
"You're not a Muslim if you think like this! What you're doing is haram!"
My father is not big on people judging him. He wasn't going to continue a conversation with this man, so he turned around and just walked back home. When he came into the house he told me not to be upset (I wasn't) and that I could celebrate Christmas as long as I wanted to (I would).
We left Egypt for Germany when I was around four. Christmas is one of the only holidays that I remember from Germany. Every year my parents got my brother and I a Christmas tree and would fill it with as many presents as they could. We were quite poor, so the presents always consisted of things my mother would make herself which made the whole day so much more special. She would also take my brother and I out on the lantern walk...I can't for the life of me remember what it was called. (Anyone living in Germany, help me with this!!)
When we moved to America we continued our Christmas traditions. My father's sister, who had been living in America for over twenty years, always created lavish meals for Christmas.
These "Muslim" Christmases have always managed to confuse the people around us. When I first met the boyfriend, he had no idea what to make of my Christmas spirit. I had just shattered all his beliefs about Muslims. I was not a veiled woman, I traveled extensively without having a guardian, I wore bathing suits to the beach, and I celebrated Christmas. Just the other day he asked me if it's okay to send a Christmas card to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas.
I've never seen how celebrating Christmas if you're a Muslim is so horrible. And I understand that the way I celebrate Christmas is not the same as a Christian celebrating Christmas. It's not as holy for me as it would be to the boyfriend, for example, but it's just as special. Maybe it's special for me because of that traditions my parents created for my brother and I. Maybe it's special because I like pretty things and cities during Christmas are beautiful. Or maybe it's because I love giving. I love making people happy and Christmas gives me the opportunity to create things for people to put a smile on their face.
Whatever it is, Christmas is beautiful. In the previous post, someone left a comment asking if American Muslims celebrate Christmas and I'd love to know what you guys do. Do American Muslims (or British Muslims, Western Muslims) celebrate Christmas or am I an anomaly?
I was inches away from getting into a car accident on the highway last weekend. It would've been my fault too (though that didn't stop my potty mouth from working overtime). It's just that at the moment said accident was about to occur, I had been mesmerized by the moon. It was floating above this building that was decked out in Christmas lights and for that split second everything else went blank. It was truly a sight for sore eyes.
I've always been fascinated, nay obsessed, by the moon. When I was a kid, I thought that I had a rare, mysterious bond with it. I'd constantly stare out our car window and watch it as it followed me home. How special I felt! Of all the people in the world, the moon decided to follow ME. When we'd get home, I'd go up on the roof and just lay down staring at the illuminated sky. This was before big lights, before we left Cairo and lived in a neighborhood that suffered from frequent blackouts. It made for lovely evenings.
My grandmother used to do volunteer work for the Red Crescent. I used to go with her often. When we left Cairo she was never on my mind as much as when the crescent appeared in the sky.
When I moved out of my house, one of the things I used to LOVE to do every month was sleep with the curtains wide open during the full moon. I loved to moonbathe and my window was optimally placed to catch moon rays.
This is one of my absolute favorite pictures:
I took it during one of my trips to the Dominican Republic. My friends and I had just finished eating dinner and when I looked up at the sky and saw that sight, I spent the next 30 minutes snapping away. I couldn't get enough of it.
My obsession with the moon is surpassed only by my obsession with Christmas in New York. Is there any other city that serves as a perfect backdrop for this season? I hate not being in New York City during Christmas time. When I moved to Cairo for college, my homesickness grew ten-fold once December hit. Yes, I know it gets crowded and it's hell to try to get anywhere in Midtown. Yes, I know that Christmas has become commercial. But I am at my jolliest during Christmas time. Nothing makes me happier than wrapping presents. As a matter of fact, one year I went to Macy's to try to get a job as a wrapper. It would've paid shit wages, but I wasn't doing it for the money. I just wanted to wrap. I decided against it when I saw who would be my fellow wrappers. Talk about a bunch of cranky shitheads. No way was I going to let them kill my Christmas spirit. Instead, I went around my neighborhood and offered my services. Didn't get many presents to wrap though. That's what you get for living in a Jewish neighborhood. Sigh.
My mother bought a new dining table a few weeks ago. It bothered my father a little bit because 1). we're financially constrained since he's practically supporting crazy aunt right now and 2). it would mean that he would have to take apart the original dining table and store it somewhere and while he's always been fond of manual work, the hassle didn't really seem worth it to him. He didn't make a big fuss about it, though, because my mother told him that the table reminded her of the one my grandmother used to own.
I wish I had a video camera the day they were moving that table. Between my father barking directions at my mother and my mother barking directions right back at him it would've made for great comic relief if that nasty depression ever hits me again. I could have helped them, but then I really wouldn't have enjoyed the show.
When I had had enough of laughing I went to try to help them and they yelled at me to leave them alone. It was the only thing they agreed on anything as they were trying to move that table. See what happens when you try to be helpful????!
I let them be and went into the basement to get some work done. At one point I heard the doorbell ring and then my mother telling me to get it. They had ordered pizza and were at that moment in the process of moving the top of the table. I went upstairs, paid for the pizza, swiped a slice, and then heard screaming from their bedroom. My father had somehow wedged his fingers between the table and the headboard of the bed and if one person had moved he would have lost those fingers. I quickly ran to the headboard and pulled it away from the wall, giving him enough time to get his fingers out before he let the table thump to the ground.
He spent the next couple of days thanking me for saving him. He kept telling me that he owed me a big one and he'd always remember how I was there to save him. Now, my father has never been one for the dramatics, so he must've really thought he was going to lose those fingers.
Of course, it wasn't just me who saved him. It was God. God put me at the right place and the right time. Usually when my mother yells at me from upstairs, I never respond. She has a tendency to ask me to do very silly, unimportant things and so if I just ignore her for a little bit she'll forget what she needed. That time when she called me, however, I went upstairs immediately though I'm still not sure why. Had I ignored her the way I usually do, I wouldn't have had enough time to help my father.
My father told this story to every one of his friends on the phone. God was looking out for him and this was proof.
Thanking God has been my father's mantra since he went on the pilgrimage three years ago. He came back a changed man. He seemed much more at peace with himself and the world, became much less judgmental, and seemed to realize that he did a lot of stupid things throughout his life. While he's always been wonderful to my mother, he realized that he did actually put her through hell sometimes and has been making up for that everyday.
Everything that happens now happens because of God. When I got this teaching job last May I had come up after a really bad day at my previous job. I walked in through the door to my father welcoming me home and asking me how life was. I muttered something and he said, "you should be happy!"
"What's there to be happy about?" I grumbled.
"Everything! Didn't God just give you a job you were desiring?!"
My first instinct was to tell him that God didn't give me this job. That I worked really hard for YEARS to get to this point in my life, but I didn't want to have a theological discussion with him.
Yesterday my father thanked God again. I've been sick as a dog for the past week. At first I developed laryngitis, but now I've got a full-fledged cold that's kept me home for the past two days. I REALLY wanted to go into work today, just to spite some of my students who have probably been praying that I call in sick, but figured another day at home would do me good.
So my father last night tells me how he brought home four flu shots over the weekend to give us for the winter season. I've never taken the flu shot and have been doing quite well without it. He didn't give it to us during the weekend because he forgot. He said he was really happy that he didn't give it to me because I probably would've blamed the flu shot for this current illness, therefore putting the blame on him as well. "God was looking out for me".
I can't remember the last time I thanked God for anything or even thought that God had anything to do with the fortunes or misfortunes in my life.
No, that's a lie. Five years ago I went back to Egypt to break off my engagement. It was a horrible time in my life and I felt like I was being torn apart inside. I wanted peace and so one day I prayed for it, just asked God for some peace. I didn't want Him to fix my life, I just wanted to stop feeling so bad. And after I prayed I felt instantly better. That had never happened to me before. When I returned to NY I started looking for a job and within two weeks I had been hired at a reputable non-profit. Everything was falling into place for me and it was the first time in my life that I felt a connection with God.
But for some reason this connection got lost somewhere between then and now. I don't think that I've stopped believing in a greater power, but I know for a fact that I stopped believing in religion. All religions. I admire people who have faith, envy it almost because I wish I had something to believe in. I continue to fast because it's the one thing that still connects me to my faith, I pay alms, I believe in the fundamentals of being good, I still believe in the big picture. But any form of religiousity, be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, makes me cringe nowadays.
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.