Things to consider before you move overseas

We planned a lot before moving overseas, mostly money matters.  But we didn’t think of some pretty fundamental issues.  One is health care.  If you are going to a richer area of the muslim world this may not be much of a problem,  but if you are planning on living in Egypt, Yemen, Mauritania, ie, one of the poorer countries, you may have problems finding quality care, or the right medications.  Even the Egyptians I have spoken with have complained about the difficulty of finding good, qualified doctors.  There seems to be very little oversight of doctors. 

We initially moved to Mauritania, but after half a year, it became clear that we could not remain there.  The reason was a combination of health problems and difficulties involving studying there.  My youngest daughter had such frequent vomiting that we ended up taking her to the doctor.  I had almost constant diarrhea and ended up avoiding a lot of the pretty meager food choices we had.  Dear husband ended up with increased complications to his foot problems as well as painful ear infections (both related to the sand, Mauritania is mostly desert). 

We’d thought we’d identified potential health problems and tried to handle them before going.  My oldest has a cataract in her eye, we saw very good doctors and started her on a treatment plan.  Dh had treatment for his plantar fasciitis and arthritis before we left, as well as purchasing meds and shoes to help.  We really didn’t expect his conditions to worsen, and didn’t have any options planned out when they did.

We also had not adequately planned out financial matters.  How to get/receive money from the states.  File taxes for the previous year.  We did sign up for internet banking in order to have access to our accts, but it still didn’t solve all problems, such as having replacement cards sent out.  Egyptian ATM’s are notorious for eating bank cards.  I never even saw an ATM in Mauritania.

Almost any legal issues will be difficult to handle long distance.   You want to be sure to tie up lose ends before traveling or designate someone you trust in the States with power of attorney to act in your behalf.

Culture shock was very real.  It took a lot for me to get used to a ‘different’ way of doing things.  Small things, like stores not having change for larger bills.  It is really common to walk into a neighborhood shop and have them tell you to come back later to get your change, or let you take the item and pay later if they don’t have change.  Traffic, I never really saw cars speed up towards pedestrians till I moved overseas.  It’s like a competition to see who can get there first 🙂


Social and class issues will leave you frustrated or shaking your head sometimes.  It’s pretty common to get depressed at having a diminished support structure.  Unless your spouse is from the country you move to, it may be just you, he and your children for some time dealing with any illnesses, moves, money issues, etc.  None of this is meant to discourage from travel.  I just wish I’d had someone talk to me about them prior to moving.  I’ve seen more than one family move, buy a houseful of appliances for several thousand dollars, and sell it at a lose ’cause they were leaving the country after six months.  We did, when we left Mauritania for Egypt.


Ultraconservative Islam on rise in Mideast

I found this article interesting…, I’ll bet the mall they’re talking about is Technology Mall on Makram Albeid.  It’s true that many places don’t close during prayer times, but I find it hard to see why that is such a threatening occurance in a muslim country, it not like the mall has a lot of non-muslim foreigners visiting.


CAIRO, Egypt – The Muslim call to prayer fills the halls of a Cairo computer shopping center, followed immediately by the click of locking doors as the young, bearded tech salesmen close up shop and line up in rows to pray together.

Business grinding to a halt for daily prayers is not unusual in conservative Saudi Arabia, but until recently it was rare in the Egyptian capital, especially in affluent commercial districts like Mohandiseen, where the mall is located.

But nearly the entire three-story mall is made up of computer stores run by Salafis, an ultraconservative Islamic movement that has grown dramatically across the Middle East in recent years.

“We all pray together,” said Yasser Mandi, a salesman at the Nour el-Hoda computer store. “When we know someone who is good and prays, we invite them to open a shop here in this mall.” Even the name of Mandi’s store is religious, meaning “Light of Guidance.”

The rise of Salafists has critics worried that their beliefs will crowd out the more liberal and tolerant version of Islam long practiced in some Middle East countries, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. They also warn that its doctrine is only a few shades away from that of violent groups like al-Qaida — that it effectively preaches, “Yes to jihad, just not now.”

Extreme end
In the broad spectrum of Islamic thought, Salafism is on the extreme conservative end. Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi interpretation is considered the forerunner of modern Salafism, and Saudi preachers on satellite TV — and more recently the Internet — have been key to the spread of Salafism.

Salafist groups are gaining in numbers and influence across the Middle East. In Jordan, a Salafist was chosen as head of the old-line opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. In Kuwait, Salafists were elected to parliament and are leading the resistance to any change that would threaten traditional Islamic values.

The gains for Salafists are part of a trend of turning back to conservatism and religion after major political movements like Arab nationalism and Democratic reform failed to fulfill promises to improve the lives of average people. Egypt has been at the forefront of change in both directions, toward liberalization in the 1950s and ’60s and back to conservatism more recently.

The growth of Salafism is visible in many parts of Cairo since its adherents set themselves apart with their dress. Women wear the “niqab,” a veil which shows only the eyes — if even that — rather than the “hijab” scarf that merely covers the hair. The men grow their beards long and often shave off mustaches, a style said to imitate the Prophet Muhammad.

‘Ancestor’ emerges
The word “salafi” in Arabic means “ancestor,” hearkening back to a supposedly purer form of Islam said to have been practiced by Muhammad and his companions in the 7th century. Salafism preaches strict segregation of the sexes and resists any innovation in religion or adoption of Western ways seen as immoral.

“When you are filled with stress and uncertainty, black and white is very good, it’s very easy to manage,” said Selma Cook, an Australian convert to Islam who for more than a decade described herself as a Salafi.

“They want to make sure everything is authentic,” said Cook, who has moved away from Salafist thought but still works for a Cairo-based Salafi satellite channel Hoda.

In most of the region, Salafism has been a purely social movement calling for an ultraconservative lifestyle. Most Salafis shun politics — in fact, many argue that Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians’ Hamas are too willing to compromise their religion for political gain.

Its preachers often glorify martyrdom and jihad — or holy war — but always with the caveat that Muslims should not launch jihad until their leaders call for it. The idea is that the decision to overturn the political order is up to God, not the average citizen.

Contrasts with Islam
But critics warn that Salafis could easily slide into more violent, jihadist forms. In North Africa, some already have — the Algerian Salafi Group for Call and Combat has allied itself with al-Qaida and has been blamed for bombings and other attacks. Small pockets of Salafis in northern Lebanon and Gaza have also taken up weapons and formed jihadi-style groups.

“I am afraid that this Salafism may be transferred to be a Jihadi Salafism, especially with the current hard socio-economic conditions in Egypt,” says Khalil El-Anani, a visiting scholar at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

The Salafi way contrasts with Islam as it’s long been practiced in Egypt, where the population is religious but with a relatively liberal slant. Traditionally, Egyptian men and women mix rather freely and Islamic doctrine has been influenced by local, traditional practices and an easygoing attitude to moral foibles.

But Salafism has proved highly adaptable, appealing to Egypt’s wealthy businessmen, the middle class and even the urban poor — cutting across class in an otherwise rigidly hierarchical society.

‘Our identity is Islamic’
In Cairo’s wealthy enclaves of Maadi and Nasr City, upper-class Salafis dressed in traditional robes can be seen driving BMWs to their engineering firms, while their wives stay inside large homes surrounded by servants and children.

Sara Soliman and her businessman husband Ahmed el-Shafei both received the best education Egypt had to offer, first at a German-run school, then at the elite American University in Cairo, but they have now chosen the Salafi path.

“We were losing our identity. Our identity is Islamic,” 27-year-old Soliman said from behind an all-covering black niqab as she sat with her husband in a Maadi restaurant.

“In our (social) class, none of us are brought up to be strongly practicing,” el-Shafei, also 27, added in American-accented English, a legacy of living in the U.S. until he was 8. Now, he and his wife said, they live Islam as “a whole way of life,” rather than just a set of obligations such as daily prayers and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

A dozen satellite TV channels — most Saudi-funded — are perhaps the most effective way Salafism has been spread. They feature conservative preachers, call-in advice shows and discussion programs on proper Islamic behavior.

Numerous Salafist mosques in Cairo are packed on Fridays, the day of weekly communal prayers. Outside downtown Cairo’s Shaeriyah mosque, a bookstall featured dozens of cassettes by Mohammed Hasaan, a prolific conservative preacher who sermonizes on the necessity of jihad and the injustices inflicted on Muslims.

Alongside the cassettes were rows of books espousing Salafi themes about sin and Western decadence. One book, “The Sinful Behaviors of Women,” displayed lipstick, playing cards, perfumes and mobile phones on the cover to make its point. Another was titled “The Excesses of American Hubris.”

Critics of Salafism say it has spread so quickly in part because of encouragement by the Egyptian and Saudi governments, which see it as an apolitical, nonviolent alternative to hard-line jihadi groups.

‘Not a good thing’
Critics warn that the governments are playing with fire, saying Salafism creates an environment that breed extremism. Al-Qaida continues to try to draw Salafists into jihad, and the terror network’s No. 2, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, praised Salafists in an Internet statement in April, urging them to take up arms.

“The Salafi line is not that jihad is not a good thing, it is just not a good thing right now,” said Richard Gauvain, a lecturer in comparative religion at the American University in Cairo.

The Salafis’ talk of eventual jihad focuses on fighting Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, not on overthrowing pro-U.S. Arab governments denounced by al-Qaida. Most Salafi clerics preach loyalty to their countries’ rulers and some sharply denounce al-Qaida.

Egypt, with Saudi help, sought to rehabilitate jailed Islamic militants, in part by providing them with Salafi books. Critics say the regime of President Hosni Mubarak sees the Salafists as a counterbalance to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

‘Battle is not over’
The political quietism of the Salafis and their injunctions to always obey the ruler are too good an opportunity for established Arab rulers to pass up, said novelist Alaa Aswani, one of the most prominent critics of rising conservatism in Egypt.

“That was a kind of Christmas present for the dictators because now they can rule with both the army and the religion,” he said.

The new wave of conservatism is not inevitable, Aswani maintains, noting that his books — including his most popular, “The Yacoubian Building” — have risque themes and condemnations of conservatives, and yet are best-sellers in Egypt.

“The battle is not over, because Egypt is too big to be fitting in this very, very little, very small vision of a religion,” he said.

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.

Did we make the right choice?

I will be honest.  I felt a sort of relief to be coming home.  Living in Egypt (or anywhere overseas, imho) can be stressful.  I missed home a lot.  On the other hand, in Egypt, I did feel a sense of ease that my kids were growing around muslims, and in a more Islamic environment than we could give them in America.  Everytime I would think about leaving Egypt, I would think about the challenges the kids would face here. 

The kids were initially upset with out move.  My daughter cried for one hour after saying goodbye to her Quran teacher.  My son told me he prefers Ramadan in Egypt, and asked if we could return to Egypt then.  Eventually the ease of living in America won them over.  The town we live in is very green and parks are very accessible.  I find it much easier to take them out to different places, like the library.  But the drawbacks are there.  I cringe at some of the stuff they see in outside and in stores.  And we have never been verbally assaulted in Egypt for how we dressed and unfortunately it happened fairly recently here.  I’ve noticed a change in the kids, even in this short time. 

Dh is thinking of how we might find a way to spend part of each year in Egypt.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I really want to settle in one place.  And I don’t like the kids living without their dad for months at a time (most likely he would be working here).  I’ve been thinking of using my time here to try and finish my degree, maybe we can go somewhere besides Egypt and teach.

We plan, and Allah plans…

We’ve made Cairo our home for the past 3.5 yrs, and have lived outside of the States for the past 4yrs.  I’d fully expected to be here for at least another 2yrs, or at least until my two oldest have finished Quran (mashallah, my daughter has 2/3 memorized, and my son 1/2).  However, dh returned to America during Ramadan to work and now he’s calling us to join him!  Subhannallah!  I have to be honest, Cairo is not the easiest city to live in.  It’s overcrowded and dirty.  And prices are raising astronomically.  But mashallah, the opportunities to study Islam are very numerous.  And you can meet many people also striving to learn.  I feel very conflicted right now and hope the kids can continue their hifz in America.  We’re keeping our appliances at the house of my girls Quran teacher in case we are able to return soon.  Inshallah, I still plan to keep blogging, there is so much I want to say about our experiences here (learning arabic at Fajr Center, taxi drivers, etc), and I’d also planned to write about the time we spent in Mauritania before coming to Egypt.  Stay tuned.  I will try to answer the comments asap!    

What would you do?

I’ve had a number of cleaning women come a go, at least five.  Most of the women who clean house in Egypt (they are called shaggala) are not professional housekeepers.  The more well-off Egyptians will often hire women from other African countries to clean, and they are usually more expensive (and so I’ve heard, better at cleaning). 

I’ve had a lot of people warning me about trusting cleaning ladies (or workers in general).  Most people feel you should basically keep a watch on them at all times.  I don’t have the time or inclination to do this.  If I hire someone to clean, I don’t want to have to trail them around the house.  I’ve also been told you must be pretty firm, or else they’ll walk over you.  I’ve found this to be true also.  Most of the women started off cleaning excellently, but slacked off as time went on.  I’m just not a very good task master (or whatever you’d call standing over while they work). 

On two occasions, I’ve had stuff disappear from the house.  The first time, dh, made excuses for the person (suggesting maybe I lost the items in question, I didn’t), although no one else could have possibly taken the things that had gone missing.  For me however, the trust was basically gone, and our relationship changed.  I ceased to offer her food with us, and certainly didn’t feel like any chit-chatting.  We eventually asked her to stop coming. 

This latest time, several items have gone missing from my kitchen.  Minor stuff, two new packages of Dove soap, a full jar of honey, baking chocolate.  I’m in the middle of a move and the shaggala had been helping me to  clear the kitchen.  I noticed the soap gone right away, and the kids said ‘the cleaner must have taken it!’ (they’ve never liked any of the cleaners, but that’s a different story.)  I brushed it off, till I noticed the other items missing.  Finally I called her and asked what had happened.   She suggested that the things had gotten thrown out accidentally, and actually told me to look through the garbage for my things!  Allah knows best, I think it’s much more likely that the stuff found it’s way out of the house in the full bag of stuff she left with.  I did offer her some used clothing, and old toys.  I realize now I should have looked through the bag, but I’m just not that kind of person.  I guess I’d never make a good supervisor :).  I know that we should not accuse a muslim of theft without positive proof, and I didn’t accuse her outright.  But I can’t believe that she ‘accidentally’ threw out new items, and left empty jam jars on the counter.  It just doesn’t make sense.  I’m a pretty easy-going person, but I don’t take  kindly to people trying to walk over me.  She’d requested a few other things and actually wanted to buy some things I’m selling, but the deal is off and I don’t want her back.  It is always possible that she really did throw out a full jar of honey, but if she did, I still don’t want her back.  What would she throw away next!

The kids were complaining to our neighbor about the incident, and he told them to just forget about it and be patient.  That Allah has blessed us with more and them with less.  It’s not the stuff that really bothers me so much, it’s the idea that someone may have felt they had a right to it when it was mine.  Also the feeling of being made a fool of by trusting someone.