Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Usually I answer the comments on a post in the comments section, but I believe there is so much more for me to say about the comments I received on my post about missing Egypt that another separate post is called for.

Some questioned how I could miss a country I was not born to, others questioned what exactly I missed, and some questioned whether I was actually searching for a happiness I may not find there. All are valid curiosities and many are rooted in reality but, as seems to be a running theme in my life, I don't really fit into anything that makes sense.

Missing Egypt even though I'm not Egyptian, what do I miss? I have been to many foreign countries and have seen many cities and cultures, but there is something in Egypt that makes it different from anywhere else. Lets narrow this down to Cairo though, because when I talk about Egypt I am mostly talking about Cairo. What makes it different?

The life.

Cairo lives and breathes on its own as a city, it is the only place that I have been to where there is an active city at all hours of the day and night. I spent a whole day with my husband, and my brother and sister-in-law, and when it came to fajr there were still things for us to do: we sat on a bridge full of early-bird (late-nighter?) fisherman and families still in the street as we were and ate hummous. Prior to that we had been in a cafe on the nile that was filled with people at one in the morning, the streets had still been deadlocked with traffic and the bridge next to it had still been filled with groups leaning over the side. The small boats strung with lights and blaring loud music were still moving up and down the Nile until early in the morning. The city never sleeps.

During the day you hear the traffic, the ubiquitous junk dealer leading his donkey up and down the streets yelling through an ancient amplifier that muddles his words into a garbled mess of noise. No one could really tell me what he was saying but everyone knew that he would buy your useless junk. And the donkeys, oh the donkeys; next to the blare of car horns the second most common sound in Cairo is the braying of all the donkeys. What about the carts of neatly stacked watermelons? Everywhere just waiting even stacked on the sides of the road as we drove between Cairo and Alex.

The million restaurants, the ring of the koshary shops, buying cheese and foul sandwiches at two or three in the morning. The bazaars on every corner selling everything you could imagine. Or the tiny carnival I once spied while with my friend Merhan and her cousin and them taking me to it and paying for us to all drive bumper cars.

The smiles of the bumper car crew who grinned and welcomed me to Egypt. The smiles of everyone in the street, the warmth and passion with which friends argued, gestured, laughed, talked, cried, and watched everything that went on around them. Even though I didn't know them they were connected to me, to eachother, and to others they didn't know. Life, while poorer economically, was lived fuller for its very tenuousness. The food tasted stronger, the colors brighter, the air thicker even if it was with pollution, and I felt a million times more alive. Pain, love, happiness, and sadness were felt more vividly.

Thats what I miss, and moreover it is so different from anything else I have ever felt. When I walk through downtown Minneapolis now I get a wiff of that same feeling. Not as bright, nor vivid, nor passionate as Cairo, but for a split second I feel a bit more alive. And the fact is that despite being surrounded by people I am completely alone. No one is connected here, friendships are not expressed as fully, no one smiles, no one laughs, no one sits and talks just because they can. Here life is about point A and point B, in Egypt life is about the trip between the two. Thats what I miss.

I've been to other ginormous cities. I've walked the midnight streets of Madrid and never found what I found in Cairo. I've walked the midnight streets of Paris and not found what I found in Cairo. I've been to Istanbul and found that people affect the same coldness and individuality of Europe and America, and while in Athens I found the same sense of living life as I found in Egypt, but I could not stand the rudeness; while close to Egyptians in passion the culture was still basically different and offensive in many ways. The Greek were passionate but almost eager in their passion to offend you.

Everyone I have ever met who has been to Egypt returns saying that they had never met a culture so warm and welcoming. Thats what I miss. Smiles, I miss. Laughter, I miss. Being hugged to the bosom, of a matron I had just met, with joyous abandon, I miss. Being handed babies to kiss like a presidential hopeful on campaign, I miss. Listening to the curses and shouts and laughter and arguements of those around me and those in the street, I miss.

Sitting here staring out into an empty street, shuttered houses of people I've lived next to for six years and still never met, knowing that unless I go to the house of friend I will not be greeted with anything but wary aloofness, I feel completely alone. The sense of belonging to a whole, I miss.

And that has nothing to do with not being born in Egypt, and everything to do with finding a home there anyway.

And my pursuit of happyness; sure I am a person who can never be 100% happy in one place and its a curse (?) that I've dealt with for a long time in my life. When I lived in Minnesota I ached to be somewhere else, when I lived in Arizona I love it but missed Minnesota, in Minnesota again I ache for Arizona. When I am in Cairo I am sure I will miss both places at the same time. Do I think I will find some happiness in Cairo? I am certain of it. Do I think I will find the be all and end all of happiness there? I doubt it, but I am open to the possibility. I am a wanderer by nature, I don't know that this will ever change. And I don't find that missing someplace detracts from my enjoyment of being where I am at the moment. In Arizona I found a happiness I could only find in Arizona and I partook of it wholeheartedly, and in Minnesota now I find so much fulfillment in my family and friends and wonderful ummah here even though I miss Cairo and Arizona that my desire to be elsewhere does not keep me from enjoying the beauty I have here.

Everyone is always pursuing happiness but, with the exception of when I first went down to Arizona, I don't believe that a place will ever bring me a peace I can't find where I am. My peace, my home, my happiness exists within me and I carry it wherever I go. And I think I am blessed to have pieces of happiness waiting for me wherever I end up.

That being said Egypt is my home as much as Arizona is my home and Minnesota is my home, and all for very different reasons.

That is, I guess, the nature of my own happyness.


Amanda said...

You're like me. I completely identify with your words when you expressed a longing for whatever place you're not in. The first time I moved back to Cali after high school I missed Arizona to death, I missed the still heat, the miles and miles of grid-like streets, the familiarity, everything! Then in Cali I met my husband and I associated that feeling with California so I came to love this place. I experienced a love like I never had before, I was carefree and I gave thanks for all of that to this place called San Diego. Moving back to Arizona at that time sucked, I hated it but then got back into my "groove" I suppose. When I learned I'd be going back to California I was ecstatic! But after arriving I realized it was not the same (and that might very well be due to my living situations during this past year)...but I've come to realize that my love for California had nothing to do with California at all and everything to do with that very specific moment in time where I fell in love with Yasir.

It's weird...for some reason I really long to be in Portland, yesterday my heart ached to be there. I've never been there in my life yet I feel I just BELONG there right now.

Amanda said...

Oh and by the way, I didnt mean for that to come out as "you only miss Cairo because you met your hubby there" as some people have said to you (how the heck do they know what you feel?). I was just commenting on the whole "missing where you're not" thing. I'm the exact same way :D

Molly said...

Manda- yea so you understand what I'm saying. And I totally didn't even think you were saying that I only miss Egypt for that, it didn't occur to me until you said that so no worries. Thats funny about Portland though, what do you think makes you want to go there? I'm a strong believer that God puts feelings in people's hearts for reasons. InshAllah when you get there you will find what it is you need to find there. :)

Mona said...

MashaAllah, a very well written post. Beautiful. I wish I felt like you do. I'll stop there.

janene said...

Only a few people in this world radiate happiness and have an aura of peacefullness - just by reading your writing, I feel you are such a person.

Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Sis:

I feel that way about Puerto Rico! It is the home of my soul.

Mama Kalila said...

That was absolutely beautiful.. Reminds me of one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog :-D I think anyone who has fallen in love w/ a land other than their own would be moved by it because change a few words here or there & it would be our own experiences. If that makes any sense lol.

BTW - Egypt is on my long (LONG) list of places I want to go someday...

Molly said...

Mona- I'm curious, but I won't press. I think a big difference for me is that I'm not planning to move to Egypt forever and ever, at least not now.

Janene- thank you dear. :)

Safiyyah- Ay Puerto RRRRRRRRRRRrrico, q lindo pais.

Mama Kalila- thank you very much, I know exactly what you mean. And you should definitely see Egypt someday, its so worth it. Where is your hubby from?

Mona said...

Its ok Molly Its my own issues not yours I should be happy for you that you feel this way and I wish I did too. I wish I could appreciate a donkey this way! lol jk..

Molly said...

mona the donkeys gave me the giggles everytime I saw them. In fact one night I was in Mohandesin and watched a family ride down the three lane road through traffic on a donkey. And the even funnier thing is that they were moving faster than the traffic was, only in Cairo...

M. Landers said...

As-salaamu 'alaikom,

My only caution would be that after a month or two of living in Egypt I'd probably still have written much the same, whereas as time went on the sentiment had noticeably dulled. I'm not questioning the validity of your feelings -- I'm only saying that you should also be prepared for the possibility that the feeling won't stick. If one is prepared for that so it eases a transition into a more moderate comfort with a place; if one is unprepared so it's easy to be overtaken by a similar nostalgia for the familiarities of the home country, you know?

A lot of what you describe are the same loves I and others I know who came to Egypt embraced by family but with little of the language describe; as day-to-day life settles in and communication begins to open up, the feeling necessarily has to change. I don't mean that it has to lessen -- but it does change.

Molly said...

Certainly it will, I have no doubt of that. Everything has a honeymoon period, being in love with a country isn't any different. Thank you for the advice. :) I take it you have spent an extended period of time there?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile, its great! I'm going to Egypt in July for 5 weeks insha allah...I wish you all the happiness in the world. Even though this will be my first visit there, I wish to make it my home one day........sooooo, as we say here in Seattle or anywhere in America, shake the haters off!!!! I have been wanting to contact you for awhile now but was kind of worried cuz we dont know eachother!!! Take care,

Vanessa Fatima said...

"Here life is about point A and point B, in Egypt life is about the trip between the two." This line really resonated with me , that's what it's like in Pakistan (: - so I totally know what you mean I'm also totally guilty of doing the former... insh'Allah I'll learn to slow down and enjoy more!

Mama Kalila said...

Actually my husband is from here (Texas) but his family is from Lebanon.. .He's third generation Lebanese American. We may get to go there (Lebanon that is, plus Rome), not this summer but the one after - I'm so excited!

Molly said...

Fatimah- Welcome! Please comment as you wish, I love having you here. Thank you very much for the sweet words. You should be in Egypt the same time I'm there, inshAllah, we should definitely try to meet up :) Allah grant you a safe trip, and I look forward to your comments in the future inshAllah. :)

VF- we're all guilty of it, its part of our nature. I'm trying to change but I can remember being young and speeding to get everywhere because the trip in between was intolerable. Now I want to smell the roses I guess. :D Are you from Pakistan?

Mama Kalila- You know my cousin hooked up with a lebanese-american and moved to austin. I wonder what it is about lebanese and texas :P Hers is christian leb though so its no issue with the family. Except my aunt who is convinced that he abuses her... but she is a bit off her rocker.

Amina said...

I totally know what you are feeling...there are some place you just feel like home, though u weren't born there

regards from poland

Umm Yehiya said...

MashaAllah, Molly, that was beautifully said.

You made me remember all the good things of Cairo - you made me miss it! SubhanAllah, and jazakallahkhairan.

It is good to remember that place love and respect, for it is FILLED TO THE BRIM with so MANY of our muslim brothers and sisters.

You hit the nail on the head: the NUMBER ONE good thing I experience in Egypt is that everyone is kind.

I too have been to many countries, mashaAllah, and I have never experienced people who were so kind, so open, so inviting, so relaxed, so smiley, so passionate, so full of love towards their friends and families.

That is truly beautiful.

Jazakallahkhairan. I pray that your time in Egypt inshaAllah will be great. Ameen.

Matt said...

A lovely post. In one way, the answer is simple-- some places are more magical than others, but all places are more magical when you are in love.

But there is more to it than that. I identify with all of the feelings you describe, the exhillaration, density, and life of a place, the amazing kindness of new people, a thrill of the five senses and also of the heart. Reflecting back on these times for me, what before was sublime now seems more normal. I love to learn, and in those times the joy of discovery and the expansion of new possibilities for my life was truly overwhelming.

After some months or years, you may pause to take a breath, and find that those things you loved most about a place have become a part of you, and the place itself is not as important. But you will still love it.

The Accidental Linguist

saha said...

I'll hazard a guess and say that I think Orientalism has a lot to do with some of the responses you have got. In it's aftermath, westerners have to make excuses for their love of the middle-east and it's so often viewed as suspect. It's patronizing. As if we are superficial and incapable of seeing how things are. Why shouldn't you miss a place that you have only spent a little time in? And why all this talk of the future? You are saying how you feel now, does that have to be fixed, set in stone?

Enjoy it!

Mama Kalila said...

LOL - what it is... is that there is a large Leb population here in Texas. I'm not sure why... possibly because there is in Mexico too, so when they come over from there... end up here. Maybe. Possibly.

Mine is Christian too (Maronite Catholic) so part of my family is cool w/ it & part is not. They don't like that I am either so was a given. Unfortunately there's some that are upset about his being Lebanese period... a whole group of them won't even talk to him. It puts me in an odd spot... Family is important to me... but I don't want my daughter around that. Thankfully she's young right now & maybe things will change... We can hope right?

Vanessa Fatima said...

Molly, yep I'm Pakistani (: I was born in NY and we moved around a bit - finally settled in cali, but Pakistan has my heart ... most of the time erm hard to explain but I feel like you get it w/o much explanation.

أبو سنان said...

I am with you. I am not content to sit in one place too long. With the two kids in the last three years, we havent had much choice.

The way I see it is that there is so much I want to see in the world it is hard for me to sit still. Apart from all of the places I want to see, there are all of the places I want to see again.

Of course I have my favourite places, Arizona, England, Ireland and Morocco are a few of them.

Molly said...

Amina- yes exactly. :)

Umm Yehiya- do you know how hard it was to find your blog? I just found out about it last friday at halaqa. When will you come back? I wanna see the bambinos- oh and you too ;~)

thanks for the dua habibty.

Matt- your words are beautiful, and very true. I think that Egypt will become a part of me eventually and I'll take it along with me. And you sound as if you speak from experience, is there a specific country in your heart?

Saha- exactly! EXACTLY! Thank you.

Mama Kalila- I TOTALLY thought your hub was Muslim, I'm sorry for assuming. I just always saw you on other muslimah's blogs and thought it was because you were married to a muslim! Not saying you have to be in order to read them, I was just an ass and assumed.

I suck lol. :D

So.. I got kind of confused, your family hates that he's maronite or his hates that you are/n't? or.. your family? It would be hard on a kid to deal with that, inshAllah it is fixed before she begins to understand.

Molly said...

VF- I totally understand what you mean.

I remember when my friends would talk about abcd's and cbcd's and bbcd's. That brought back good memories.

Abu Sinan- thats exactly how I am, I'll be in one spot for awhile and get antsy again.

-ok I've lived here, speak the language, now lets go somewhere else.

Unfortunately that nots conducive to financial and emotional stability.


Mama Kalila said...

LOL - It's ok... That prob would be the natural assumption. I made a bunch of friends in college that are Muslim, dated one of them - obviously that didn't work out lol.. and then spent time working w/ some in TZ... so I became very interested in learning about the religion & it ended up working it's way into my classes too. I found Nzinga's blog on accident & was so interested that it spread from there on here lol.

My family.. sigh... Most of them are protestant & have issues w/ me being Catholic period. Transferring from Roman to Maronite didn't really matter to them.. but his being Catholic too means that I'm not leaving the Church. So they aren't happy about that. Plus they're pretty predjudiced period (despite that we're mixed, they claim to just be white) so the Lebanese thing is offensive to a good number of them on top of that. Thankfully not everyone is that bad... but even my mom has moments - like when I mention Kalila looking like her dad, having his eyes or colouring (which I love and wanted her to have) she says "it's ok, she's pretty anyway".

I hope it does change too... I'm not counting on it, because my family is stubborn lol. There's many more issues than that though so I really am worried about how to handle it w/ our kids. But like you said, InshAllah it will...

Molly said...

Omg serious??? I can't even imagine being that prejudiced, at least you and your husband are both the same denom, that helps.

What is your family mixed with that they don't want to admit? I just am blown away that that level of prejudice still exists... Especially in this era of tanning...

Mama Kalila said...

My mom's side (which is the problem side) - her dad was mostly Native American mixed with some German Jew (they try to claim they're German lol). Her mom is part Irish (which my grandfather put down all the time) and part African. Supposedly her mom was part Comanche (the other 2 were her dad) but we don't know if that's true or if they were saying that to "explain" her dark skin. It's the only thing they say about her though. The african part is the main one that everyone tries to hide (that we know).. we don't know how much because it was such a "scandle" type thing back then. My dad's side isn't so bad.. (they do talk behind my dad's back for marrying my stepmom who's Mexican though - but are nice to her at least & to Jason too) but that side is Irish, British, Scottish, French, Native American, & Dutch... and we can trace back to Adam & Eve lol... I have just about everything lol. Something I'm proud of...

I agree that being the same religion helps. I've seen mixed religion marriages, and they can work.. but it's hard. Esp when kids get involved... We could have done a bi-ritual marriage (because both Roman & Maronite are Catholic) but I was already planning to transfer before we even started dating lol. I hear my husband calling for help lol.. gotta run

Matt said...

Molly- More than one country, actually. I speak fluent Spanish and Iraqi Arabic, and travelled and worked in Latin America before volunteering for my current job, so my cultural and national affiliations are naturally a bit jumbled.

Mama K- That's sad about your extended family, and actually a bit surprising as I had become accustomed to thinking that even prejudiced people were more or less reasonable at heart. Actually, I would predict that most of them will come around given time, إن شاء الله


gulnari said...

Molly! I understand you completely. I feel the same way about Mexico City, where I was born. At this point I've spent more time in Canada than in my birth place, but everything I love about it is still safely guarded in my heart. The smells of the air, the mossy and cracked walls, the mystery behind old windows, the warmth, the random street sounds, the belonging, all of it. And it goes without saying that Mexico City is not without its terribly ugly warts, but that still doesn't affect my love for it. That love is special and vivid and very much alive. The memories nourish me.

Why should it be any different for you and Cairo? Why is there this notion in peoples' heads that you watched and lived Cairo from a dream cloud? That one day you will fall flat on your face and wake up to disillusion? Totally inaccurate. Certain things, certain places have a way of getting into your blood and igniting things inside you. Some may not understand, but I do. I know what that feels like. It's very rare, and you are incredibly blessed to have found a place in this world where your soul can rejoice and expand so fully. Doesn't matter if it's not your native country. That does not in any way invalidate your feelings.

I *loved* saha's brilliant comment. Right on.

P.S. Sorry but I'm still giggling about that time when you wrote about poofy haired bimbos and wall humping in Greece. How crass! >:D

Molly said...

Mama Kalila- wow... thats a lot of mixing... I bet you have one good looking family though. Mixed children are the most beautiful I think. And it saddens me that thats how they see things, but often people will passionately hate things that they dont want to recognize in themselves.

Matt- hablas espanol? q lindo. :) en q trabajas q viajas tanto?

Gulnarita- Thank you for that, you don't have any idea how much your words touched me. :) I'm so glad to have people who understand how I feel. :)

Desafortunadamente nunca he ido a la cuidad :( es una verguenza pq quiero mucho pero todavia me ha faltado la oportunidad. Algun dia.. algun dia inshAllah. :)

Pero te voy a llamar la chilanga :P

Mama Kalila said...

Matt - I guess some can be... I'm used to thinking they are not lol. I guess that's just because of how I grew up. But them coming around is what I'm hoping for... if it was just that one issue I'd prob put more stock in that, but you never know right?

Molly - I agree.. Mixed babies are always adorable. We do have a lot of cuties too. What I think is funny is people mistake me for diff things all the time. I've gotten Russian before (I think was the most random) and a lot of people at Church assume that I am Lebanese too... have even been told that I look exactly like someone's niece there lol.

Umm Yehiya said...

I kept the ol' blog "veiled" ;) for awhile on purpose. I like being careful.

aw, that's flattering that I am missed. Shokran!

when am I coming back? from...hiding, you mean? LOL, i'm not really hiding. i guess i'll come back when my ship lands back in the same time dimension as everyone else's.

what halaqa? who-? wha-? do fill me in.

sorry to be off-topic. ;)