Sad news

Um Muhammad was the arabic teacher for my kids for 3 years.  They really grew to love her.  We would spent our Eid al-Adha together.  My husband would go with her husband and brothers to purchase the sheep for slaughter.  The men would all slaughter down in the courtyard, while the women waited upstairs having tea and sweets.  I grew to know Um Muhammad’s family.  About her married daughters, their marriages, problems, husbands, and pregnancies.  I met them, the older one, an English teacher, younger one a college student and hafitha of Quran.  Her son Muhammad, also a college student.  She shared her worries with me and I shared my troubles with her.  She always helped me with finding drivers, household stuff, and cleaning women.  She frequently brought by food; delicious beshamel, mashi, basbousa.   

Her son Muhammad was a 19 yr old engineering student.  She complained about how he drove her car (it frequently needed repair after he was done with it).  She would tell my oldest she’d like the two to marry.  As was typical with boys, especially only sons, he frequently got his way.  I found out in Ramadan that he has died, from complications with diabetes.  I can only imagine what Um Muhammad is feeling (I have tried to call but can’t reach her).  Ina lillah, wa ina ilahi raji’un.


Only in Egypt

This is too funny.  I have personally seen a lot of the things in this video happening in the street.  I had myself a good laugh.  Especially from the traffic and spelling mistakes, classic Egypt.  Just realized there is music ( I usually have my speakers off.)





Here I felt bad for the donkey, but they really do use them like this.


And here’s another one that doesn’t surprise me.  Alhamdulillah, no one was hurt.


The Ugly American?

We took a walk the other day to a new park, one recommended by a sister who lives close-by.  It was just fives minutes away, and we were the only people there, at first.  On our way home, a man watching from the adjoining apartment complex, first stared, then asked, “What, are you guys in a gang or something?”  The question was so ridiculous to me, that I just ignored him.  There was a change in his demeanor at once.  “Well you look damn stupid.  Don’t bring your a** around here again, or I’ll kick your a**.”  Of course I ignored him and concentrated on getting my kids out of there, all the while they are asking questions.  Such as, “Mom, why is that man saying that?”  I tried to explain the best I could, while they insulted the man and said what their dad would do to him if he were there. 

I thought about it later and considered it odd the man never once insulted Islam or muslims directly.  For all I know he had no idea we were muslims.  It could be his question was serious and he really wanted to know why we were dressed as we were.  Perhaps his anger came from feeling foolish that I ignored him.  Allahu alim, maybe I missed a teaching opportunity.   I’ll have to be more careful in the future about dismissing questions I think are stupid.  Dh put the burden on me and said I never should have been walking in this area (slightly rednecky).

I seem to generate more comments than previous years.  While in a restroom in Walmart an older woman came and stood in front of me, just looking.  I thought maybe she wanted something behind me, but then she started speaking; “You know, a person can’t tell if you are a man or a woman under all that.”  Me, looking at her blankly.  She went on, “You could have a bomb or a gun under those clothes.”  At this point, I interjected that anyone could carry a gun, even she.  She might have one in her handbag.  “I don’t have a gun, “she protested.  But you could have one, I argued.  She advised me to think about her comments.  I have, but not in the way she probably meant.

To Give, or Not to Give…

On my way to the grocery store, a young boy, maybe 9 or 10 approached me, wearing torn jeans and dirty clothes.  His hands were held out, making gestures as though he was putting food in his mouth.  Without even thinking about it really I just turned away and kept going to the store.  At the entrance sat an old woman, who regularly sits there to beg.   

As usual, now that it’s gotten warm, there seems to be an increase in people begging, near the malls, supermarkets, major intersections,  etc.  People begging is a fact of life in Egypt.  They can present a quandary for foreigners.  For one thing, many from more properous countries have not seen the kind of poverty that exists in third world countries (believe it or not some Egyptians will dispute with you over whether or not Egypt is a third-world country, but that’s another story).  For another thing, foreigners can be the main target of beggers.  Foreigners seemed to be viewed as ‘rich’, even though we might be people of modest means in our own countries. 

When I first arrived here, I felt moved to give to most people who asked.  I never would have turned away someone like the young boy I saw today.  The first I remember was an old woman at the souk, who kissed the ruba junay I gave her (1/4 of an Egyptian pound), the second a woman crying in front of the masjid, holding onto her son.  As time passed, I became hardened, especially since it seemed that foreigners were special ‘targets.’  In my opinion, if someone is in need, they are not going to beg just when they see that you are not from Egypt.

I’ll recount some experiences.  I have had people actually run towards me.  One woman was hurrying, calling out ya madam, ya madam.  I kept going because I thought it was pretty audacious to chase after someone to ask for money.  Another woman beckoned me at the souk, making a tisk, tisk sound.  Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I stopped, thinking maybe she had a question,  she also was asking for money.

I’ve read travel books encouraging people not to give to beggars because it makes it difficult for other travelers.  Beggars will come to expect a handout.  There is a double dilemma for muslims.  Aren’t we supposed to ‘want for our brother what we want for ourselves?’  Aren’t there ahadith about the Prophet, salallahu aleyhe wassalaam, giving to who asked? 

I don’t turn everyone away.  I almost always give to elderly women.  There is just something very pitiful about an old woman out in the street begging.  Doesn’t she have children to care for her, family?  Maybe I see myself in these old women.  God knows I’d hate to be old and forced to beg. 

The people who I rarely give to are men and children.  I usually feel shy to give to men, even if they are old.  Occasionally if the kids are with me, I’ll hand them the money and let them give it.   I don’t give to children because most of the time it’s an adult putting them up to beg and I can’t agree with that.  I don’t judge the parents.  They were born into what looks to me like crushing poverty and most likely will die in it.  I don’t know what I would do in their situation, but I still don’t like someone pushing their kid to ask me.

The last group, disabled and younger women, it’s a case by case basis.  I’ve grown to be weary and somewhat suspicious because of all the trickters and professional beggars out there.  I’ll write about them later, inshallah.

What a day!

My daughter is getting bigger mashallah, so we went to Ataba to shop for abayas.  Ataba is a shopping district in Cairo.  It’s like the New York shopping district on steriods.  There are sections for clothes, electrical appliances, plastics, fabrics, books, and much more.

I was too intimidated to go there alone.  Alhamdulillah my daughter’s Quran teacher offered to go with us.  She also brought along her two young daughters.  I’d had reservations about going on a Friday, but alhamdulillah it wasn’t too crowded.  We took a taxi there, and got out in an area called Central Opera.  A shoppers delight!  I don’t like shopping, but at the prices you really want to buy stuff.  We got a nice blue abaya for my daughter (they call them izdals) for 28LE (about $5).  I bought an abaya also for 58LE  ($10), the cost had been 65LE, but of course the ustadha being Egyptian, she had to bargain the price down a bit <grin>.  There were cheaper abayas, from about 40LE, but the one I bought was a new design. 

We weren’t finished shopping, but when the idhan was called, every shop begin to close.  We went to pray salat al-jumuah.  I usually don’t go to the masjid on al-jumuah.  First of all, I’m frustrated by my lack of understanding even after more than a year of study.  This is due to a variety of factors.  One, my laziness.  It’s just easier to communicate in English and I haven’t been as active in following up my study as I should.  Another reason is the sound quality in most masajid.  The khatib speakers are usually horribly unclear, to the point that if the khutbah was in English I’d miss some of it.  Plus, as I stated before, I am far from proficient in ammeyah.  But today, mashallah I understood so much!  And it was a good khutbah too.  About the importance of good iklaq.  How Islam is like a tree, and the fruit of the tree is husn al-khuluq, sidq, etc.  So I was happy that I went and was able to benefit (inshallah). 

I purchased a nice bag in addition to the abayas (12LE!), and then we were invited to the teacher’s home in Shubra for a visit.  We traveled via the Metro, the underground subway system.  This is the first time I rode on it and it was surprising clean and fast.  You would think you were in an American city.  One nice difference are the women only cars, which are great so you don’t have to bump into men.  The price was just 1LE.  They don’t yet have this system in Madinat Nasr, but according dd’s teacher, it is coming. 

Shubra is considered to be a ‘sha’by’ area.  Those are the older, poorer areas of Egypt, which have a different character than newer places like Madina Nasr, Mohandessin, and Ma’adi.  The streets are narrower, the buildings older and built with more character.  You almost feel as if you are walking thru a movie set.  It reminds me of the immigrant areas of Chicago, with their close set apartment buildings.   Families live close together, there are small shops, not larger grocery stores.

Shubra is also known for having a large number of Christians.  I did see large numbers of women without hijab, however that is not necesarily an indicator of what faith you are. One indicator I did see however while purchasing rice.  The shop keeper had a small cross tatooed on his hand.  You know the muslim shops because they are playing Quran in the background. 

The teachers mother came by while we were there.  She lived upstairs.  She gave me an example of the typical tajmeel and takreem one can expect when visiting traditional Egyptian homes.  “Ahlan, Ahlan, Ahlan.”  Kissing my cheeks.  “You light up our house, you light up all of Cairo.”  She was small, old and charming and she kept repeating her welcome the whole time she was there.

We went home on the bus, another economical way to travel.  1 LE and 10 piasters (like pennies).  I HAVE to learn the public transportation system here.  I’ve been resistant, because what I see most frequently are there crazy driving ‘microbuses’ (vans).  They go around yelling out the destinations, Ramses, Ramses!, and you jump in, liable to be crushed between male passengers.

I had some interesting conversations with the teacher.  She asked why so many foreigners move to Madinat Nasr, why not go somewhere cheaper?  She told me what I already know, the prices are higher because of the large number of foreigners.  I told her the Arabic language centers are there.  She replied that they are there because of the foreigners, if we go elsewhere they will too.  Another reason for living in Madinat Nasr is the convenience.  You have several malls, lots of grocery stores, hospitals, etc.  But it is worth checking out other areas, instead of continuing to pay these sky-high rents.   

Talk like an Egyptian…

While the official language is Arabic, the actual language of Egypt is a weird mix of colloquial Arabic, English, French, and words left over from Turkish rule.   Due to a variety of factors; high number of language centers, relatively low cost of living, easy entry, Egypt can be a good place to study standard or classical Arabic.  It is not however a good place to speak it.  Even educated people will have a hard time conversing with you in fusha, or classical Arabic.  Dh, who is fluent in Arabic, claims that the people understand English better than they understand fusha.  He does have a point. 

Once while ordering fish, I requested a little less than a kilo.  Or aqal min kilo.  A blank look from a man behind the counter.  I tried a few more times.  Finally someone translated it to Egyptian (ammeyah) for him.  “A’al min kilo.”  “Oh”, and he says to me exasperated, “Well speak Arabic!”  Excuse me, but I was! 

You do need to have some survival Arabic, as most people are far from fluent in English.  I tried to order bottled water last night, something I do weekly, in Arabic, with no problem.  For some reason, this time I was put on hold and given someone who supposedly spoke English.  “What is your order?”  I repeated to him, this time in English that I wanted 4 cartoons of Nestle.  “What?”  I tried again, 4 boxes of Nestle.  Silence.  Third try, I want 4 boxes of Nestle water.  “Oh, Nestla?”  Yeah, that. 

A lot of times you can just use the English word and add a slight accent to it.  I asked for Vaseline at a pharmacy and just got blank looks.  I tried a few more times, before inspiration struck.  I looked at how it was written in Arabic on the bottles behind the counter and pronounced it that way.  “Oh, Vazleen!”, exclaimed the pharmacist in recognition.   There are tons of English words used here in place of the proper Arabic words, delivery, baby, cash, and bye-bye just to name a few. 

The irony is, Egypt can claim a big part in actually preserving the Arabic language thanks to the scholars of language they graduate from Al-Azhar University.  Unfortunately that scholarship in no way extends to the streets and common language of the people.