I had a lot of things that happened over the weekend, not necessarily bad but that had a lot of impact, and well were just really interesting.
For one this weekend was the Festival of Nations which is a yearly celebration of ethnic and cultural diversity, one that they have been doing for 76 years here in Minnesota. I think thats pretty awesome. I had missed the past two years because I was in Arizona (which definately does not have anything as cool as that) and I anticipate missing next year since I will most likely be in Egypt, so I was keen to go this year. On saturday I called Oogie and dragged her along with me, she of the white is right mentality. Ok, not exactly like that- she actually isn't racist at all, but I have to say I am probably the most "ethnic" of all of her friends and we happen to be of the same blood. Anyways, we had a really good time, I always enjoy hanging out with her, and what I really like is that she was completely game for me to drag her to something she'd never go to on her own, and she was open to having a good time. Sure she didn't try the koshari I got from the Egyptian food stall, but she did give the mango milkshake I got from the Indian food stall a whirl. She watched the ethnic dancing with me, and wandered the bazaar and we had a really good time. She even laughed at the arab guys who were giving us funny looks standing in the line for the shuttle.
After the Festival of Nations and Oogie had dropped me off at home, I headed over to my friend Nadeem's surprise birthday party. His wife Fatima had called me on Thursday to invite me and I was delighted. He turned the big 3-0 this year, so it was a pretty big occasion, however it was at his parents' house, the same parents who are not terribly happy with his choice of religion. Nadeem is a dutch South African convert who was quite instrumental in my own conversion. At the party he was made to stand up and give a speech naming everyone there, how he met them, and how long he has known them. When he got to me he stopped and thought and we both realized that it has been quite a LOT of years that we have known each other. He said 8 or 9 years, but just this morning I was pondering that, and it has not actually been quite that long because frankly I'm just not old enough to have known him that long. Ha. At the party we put the date at Halloween of 2000 but in actuality it was Halloween of 2002; I hadn't even graduated high school let alone moved to Saint Paul in 2000, so it is quite impossible. But I remember meeting him because of the circumstances surrounding us at the moment.
I had worked for almost a year before meeting him with his first wife Linda, a Saudi-American Muslim and the woman who brought him to Islam, so I knew OF Nadeem but had never actually met him. Earlier in the fall of that year they had decided to get married, without her father's permission or knowledge, her father being in Jeddah and not there to oversee her actions. Understandably her father was completely incensed and against the marriage, some may even argue that Islamically she could not marry without his consent, but there it was. Of course we were all on Linda's side while she went through the drama with her family, but we were all against the decision she made to return to Saudia at her father's request to "discuss" the situation. We all told her if she went back they would never let her leave, but she still went and they never let her leave again. Immediately upon her arrival she was brutally beaten by her father and locked in her room, her American passport was confiscated and burned and for thirteen weeks she was terrorized. Nadeem spent two years and thousands of dollars trying to get her home, but in the end her father won, he had a local sheikh dissolve her marriage on the account that she did it without his consent and married her off to one of her cousins.
It was a few weeks after Linda left that I met him, and after that we became really good friends. I remember that he and I would spend hours discussing Islam and why he had decided to become a Muslim, and because he himself had come from my same situation he knew the answers for the questions I was asking as he had asked the same ones himself. We had become close during his darkest times after his marriage ended, and the day I stood up at his wedding to Fatima and said my final "I told you that you would find love again" to him, I felt like he was my family. At the party it made me think and remember the long journey both he and I have been through and how thankful I am for him, for his gorgeous wife Fatima (who is mashAllah a very beautiful Sri Lankan) and for their adorable little girl.
Maybe it wasn't the eight or nine years that we both thought it was, but sure as hell feels like it.
Returning back to what is so significant about the party being at his parents' house is that they are very unhappy with his religious choices, so much so that they have forbidden him to mention it to any of their/his South African friends, and they are also not terribly fond of anyone who reminds them that their son happens to be a Muslim. Like a certain friend of his who wears hijab. But as uncomfortable as I thought it would be I actually spent a lovely time deep in discussion about Islam and culture, and the differences between, with a South African couple. They knew almost nothing about Islam so I got a wonderful chance to right some misconceptions that they had, and explain some confusing things they had learned previously. I always enjoy talking about Islam, but I especially enjoy talking about it with people who are highly educated, it means I can go more in depth into topics than I can with people who don't understand the difference between internal versus public portrayal. I had a wonderful time and went home content.
And then came Sunday, as is the usual sequence of events, and a family dinner for my mother's birthday. I've come to dread public events where my aunt will be, yes that aunt, who still won't even stand next to me in public. I was not feeling well and certainly not in the mood to deal with anything she might say to me so I was tense before I even arrived. Luckily the dinner went off without a hitch (alhumdulillah) and in fact that only religious reference she made was about her satisfaction that my mom is dating a Catholic guy and that she hoped my mom would go back to the Catholic church "where she belonged." Nothing was said to me about where I belong. We also sat at different ends of the table.
However nothing lasts forever, this coming Sunday- Mother's Day- the family will be getting together at my aunt's house.
The last place I want to find myself is on her home turf, and its REALLY unfortunate that I feel that way because I have always loved my aunt and been fairly close with her. She's never been my favorite person because she is so caustic, but I had never been on the receiving end of her wrath. Now I'm faced with the sincere desire to suddenly realize I have some other commitment on Sunday that means I can't go, but alas I cannot, nor would there be anything more important than a final Mother's Day with my mom and grandma before I leave. Instead I am stuck for the rest of this week dreading this coming Sunday and all it entails.
The other thing during the dinner I realized, and it probably is the hardest thing I'll have to deal with once I move to Egypt is my grandfather. He has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and over the past one to two years has been rapidly degenerating to the point that he has a hard time getting up and walking by himself. He also has lost quite a bit of his mental capabilities and I'm worried that when I leave he may get to the point of no longer recognizing me when I come back. When I leave I may be saying goodbye to my grandfather forever and that scares me, and it hurts me.
I watched him slowly eating yesterday and he paused and looked up and caught my eye and smiled.
I don't want to say goodbye.