Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year...and today in retrospect

Today is Thursday, December 30, 2010.

It is nearly the end of 2010.  It is also Thursday, which means it is the end of the work week here in Egypt.

And so, as usual on Thursdays of late, I come home from work, tired but happy, and have some "me" time.  With a cup of freshly brewed coffee, I sit down at my computer, log into Facebook, and first thing I do is check on my 3 children.  Then I see what my friends are up to.  After checking my email, I start to surf the web a bit, and inevitably end up reading my hometown newspaper online.

And then it begins--that gut-wrenching wave of nostalgia for "home" that tugs so sharply at my heartstrings, I have to take a second or two to catch my breath.  I start missing my birthplace--which happens to be my kids' birthplace as well, and before I know it I am knee-deep in my weekly Thursday evening funk.  It sucks, this weekly ritual.

I should back up a bit and say for the last few months, my husband and I have discussed the possibility of going back to America to live.  He hasnt been so satisfied at work and was seriously contemplating a change.  We discussed this possibility at length.  Forget for a moment the hell I went through to move here to Egypt in the first place--and the many, many possessions I either sold, gave or threw away to make this move.  Ignore the fact that it cost me over $1000 just to bring my dog here!  Minimize in your mind the amount of money we spent making a home here--finding and furnishing our apartment was nearly 3 long years in the making.  We put our blood, sweat and tears into this place--and many's the time we got ripped-off in the process.  But just take all that out of the equation for now and think only of this...he wanted a job with more opportunities and I wanted to be "home" and close to my babies.  That's all we were focusing on.  We really didnt think about the "downside".  At least not at first.  Still, we both prayed the Guidance Prayer and left it in Allah's hands.

And slowly, we came to rethink our decision, for many reasons.  Reasons that came tumbling out of our subconsciences and caused reality to rear its ugly head.  What...Where we crazy???

My husband's work is in Islamic media propagating the deen. My career path has always led me to teaching in Islamic schools.  Our lives--both together and separately--have us working and living in very close connection to Muslim communities.  Communities all of which are now under intense scrutiny.  I dont think there's a mosque or Islamic school in the USA that is not on somebody's watch list.  Is is right, is it fair, is it warranted?  Perhaps yes--perhaps no, but it is what it is.  Is Islam almost Public Enemy Number One in the USA now?  Well, watch Fox News and you tell me.  Did we really want to go back into that hell?  Even though we are both law-abiding, card-carrying, anti-terrorism patriots, did we want to take the chance that some citizen-informant could easily put us--a woman in hijab and an A-rab with a beard--in harm's way if we happened to cut him off in traffic?  I think not.  Geez some people have no sense of humor.  But seriously was more than that.

Egypt may not be the garden spot of the world.  In far too many ways it still is a Third World country.  I hate to use that description, but it is--government services, infrastructure and so many other factors define it as third world, even though there has been much progress of late.  Yet it has its charms to be sure.  One can live here in relative peace and safety--and even freedom.  You can pretty much travel from one end of the country to the next without being stopped for an ID check.  There are at times some roadblocks here but that is primarily used to catch drug traffickers.  I wouldnt call Egypt a police state.  (Some may disagree with me.)

It's pretty rare here that you have to worry about so many things plaguing Americans today--home foreclosures, utility shut-offs, no medical care, etc.  Mostly utility collectors come to your door for payment and give you weeks and even months leeway before they shut off your services.  In any case the temps rarely go below 50 so you wont freeze to death a has happened elsewhere.  I personally dont know and never heard of anyone actually losing their home for getting behind on mortgage payments--most families buy their flats outright with help from extended family.  Medical care is fairly decent here and even the poorest of the poor can get very good care at  mosque medical clinics for less than $2 a visit.  Basic food stuffs are still cheap here--you can actually feed yourself with nourishing things like whole wheat pita bread, falafal, fava beans and koshari (a rice and lentil dish) for less than $2 a day.  Yes, you're not eating fillet mignon but you're not dumpster diving either like happens too often now in the USA.  In the rare case that someone actually becomes homeless here, it's not a shame nor is it unacceptable to sleep under a tree, a bridge, etc.  In fact lots of people of the poorer classes often just lay down and take a nap under a tree during the day and they are not disturbed.  Very poor people here are often fed by individuals, rather than government service organizations--the majority of the populace here is willing to buy food for someone who looks in need of a meal and it's just not given another thought.  In my little corner of this country, charity abounds and for that I am grateful those in need are cared for.

I know the above scenario may not appeal to those who have never lived here and seen how things work, but when you see and understand how horrible living conditions are in places like Haiti and many African countries, Egypt seems downright luxurious in comparison.

We have a decent and nicely furnished home.  We have one car totally paid for and are thinking to buy another just for me.   There are huge grocery and Walmart types of stores here, and amazingly decadent malls.  Western chain restaurants and coffee shops abound.  We can take vacations--to as far away as Europe or America, to as near as Ain Sukhna or the North Coast.  Masha Allah, I have a housekeeper who comes once a week, a gardener on call and a doorman who keeps my building clean.  I take taxis to do my shopping or meet up with some of the most wonderful friends I could ever have asked for.  The drivers carry my bags.  I couldnt begin to live this kind of life back in the USA.  And for all the true peace of mind I have living here--as oppossed to the nerve-wracking pressure of trying to make ends meet back home--this land has become "my land".

We are still not quite sure what the new year will bring, but it's starting to look more and more like we will be staying in Egypt.  He will most likely be continuing in his current job--at least it looks that way now, and I have a job I love.  Amazingly I am make enough money working part-time that if God forbid, worse came to worse, I could support myself with not too much of a crimp in my lifestyle.  Thank God for His blessings.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to try to avoid the "Thursday evening funk".  Because in truth, while I could go back again if I wanted to, after critical analysis, I live a much better life here than I could there.

And so, while I really miss my kids and the change of seasons and snow and rain and holidays and interstate highways and traffic lights and mountains and customer service and American football and my hometown TV channels and New York pizza, for now I must be content to just visit, because at the end of the day, Egypt is pretty much stress-free and it has become "home".


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