free stats Carmen's Web: July 2007
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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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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