Amreekia Min Bab Al Sharayah

That was the name of my old blog. Translated, it means an American woman from the old, poor and rundown district of Bab Al Sharayah in Cairo. I was given this nickname because although I was born in the USA, my mentality is more ghetto Egyptian. I'm a curious mixture of east meets west, and dont care if you call me balady!

I'm going to slowly bring some of the old posts from Amreekia over here (see archives), basically to give new readers some background. I hope you'll enjoy the old and the new and join me on this fascinating expat journey!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A visit to my neighbor...the DENTIST!!!!!

I know! Going to the dentist is one of the most hated things, wherever you live. I have been "doctoring" as we used to say, in America with the dentist most of my life. I have a small mouth--I know that sounds funny--when the dentist first told my Mom I had a small mouth she laughed like hell. "You dont know her", she told him. He laughed and explained he meant the physical space in my mouth, not my ability to talk and/or scream! Anyway, it caused me problems all my life...too many teeth and not enough space and to top it all off my teeth are very weak. Which means I've spent a fortune--and experienced great pain--to try and save as many as I could.

So a few years ago, one of my back teeth broke off near the gumline, leaving the root. It didnt bother me so I left it. But for the past few weeks it flared up and caused me a lot of pain, not to mention sending my blood pressure soaring. Constant pain will do that. I live right next door to a fancy dental clinic. I kept promising my husband I would go and have this tooth taken care of, but I didnt have the guts. Although I am sick of pain, I also didnt want to face the pain of the needle and the subsequent pain of the hole left behind. But finally tonight I couldnt take it anymore. And so I screwed up my courage, called my housekeeper to go with me (as the hubster didnt want me to be "alone" with the dentist--hahaha--I know!) and marched dejectedly across the yard like I was going to the gas chamber.

I was scared to death and I think the dentist thought I was pretty funny! After all was said and done, he had a right. Cuz let me tell you, this was the most wonderful experience I ever had with any dentist in my life! After an exam and an x-ray, he said I needed some work done but the first thing was to pull the offending root. So he numbed my gum with a swab first, and truth to tell, even though I was ready to collapse in fear, the needle barely hurt. He pulled out the root in 2 pieces, shoved some cotton up there, and I was done! He gave me the usual speech about nothing hot for 24 hours, take antibiotics and pain meds and I was ready to go! Folks, the whole ordeal didnt take 15 minutes!

Now I have had American friends tell me this before...that dentistry in Egypt is virtually painless and the doctors are great. And now I have to agree 100%! But you want to know the best--the absolute best part of this story??? Every time he picked up a tool, before he began the exam, the xray and the extraction, he said first..."Bismillah ar rahman ar raheem", which means "in the Name of God the Merciful, the Beneficent". You cant imagine how that made me feel! To have him start in the name of God, my heart rested and my soul was at peace. It brought tears to my eyes. Right now, you can believe I am soooo loving this country. I am so greatful to hear the name of God on everyone's lips. I am truly, truly blessed.

And the next best thing??? Guess how much that all cost me??? 150 LE (Egyptian Pounds) which converts to exactly $27!!! When is the last time you had a dental exam, x-ray and extraction for $27??? I think Lincoln was President then! I lovvvvve this country!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friends...and not

I know this will probably sound like a rant, but it really isn't. I think someone rants when they really care about something and need to get it off their chest. But the subject I want to discuss I am happy to say--finally--no longer bothers me at all. In fact I am actually grateful that I no longer give a damn about the kind of people I am addressing. Life is so much better when you know where you stand--better still when you take a stand--and realize, some people just don't matter at all.

My friends have always been so very important to me. They are the light of my life and, among other things, I depend on them. To talk to, have fun with, to seek advice from, to cry on their shoulders--basically my friends are my sisters. I never had a blood sister, but I can imagine it would feel the way I feel about my friends. Always there when you need them, sharing and caring. And I think, judging from the relationships I have, I have been a good friend in return.

In fact, I find it hard not to be nice to people--even those who are not nice to me. I am far too often afraid to speak my mind, and would really have a very difficult time telling someone off. I wish I was tougher in that department. Rather than confronting someone who really needs to hear exactly what I think of them, I just avoid them. I'm not a confrontational person but I wish I was. Because truthfully, some people really need to be told where to get off! Maybe as I get older, I'll develop a thicker skin. Because there are some people I'd really like to rip into.

But before I get into that, let me talk about my real, true friends. My friends in Egypt. No sense discussing the American friends (oh I miss you know who you are!!!) right now because this whole post/situation has to do with Egypt. My dearest friend I will call DR. We've known each other for nearly 30 years. We met in college. As it turns out, I went to grade school with her brother for 8 years and we basically lived in the same neighborhood growing up. During college I became Muslim and she soon followed. When she married and moved out of state, she encouraged me, my late husband, and our kids to follow suit and we did. We spent many happy years together in NJ...a true family. After some years she moved to Egypt and I missed her terribly! It has been absolutely wonderful reconnecting with her again.

We now live on opposite ends of Cairo, and God bless her, because she has a car and I don't, she comes to visit me at least twice a month! It takes her an hour and a half to get here--longer if the traffic is bad, and she always comes bearing sweets from a great bakery! We spend the whole day together, talking and laughing and reminiscing as only sisters can. We talk about our kids, Islam, cooking, the husbands, memories of days gone by...everything under the sun. We have a lonnnng history together and so many wonderful memories we and our families made together. And there's nothing we are afraid to say to each other in the form of advice, opinions, etc. She is simply wonderful. This is true sisterhood!

This week I also reconnected with another friend from back home who came to Egypt this month for a visit--also a Pennsylvania girl who too converted to Islam and moved with her Egyptian husband to NJ. I met her about 25 years ago! Along with DR, AM became a true sister. Our families became 1 family, and both of them stood beside me when I lost my kid's father. She's in Egypt now visiting for a couple of weeks and we've gotten together twice and yakked on the phone a ton. It's so amazing...with sister-friends you can just pick up where you left off the last time you were together. It's like slipping into a well-worn and comfortable pair of old slippers you hadn't worn in awhile. They still fit and feel good--comforting, relaxing.

These are the friends who are worth their weight in gold. They are a gift--a treasure. They, especially DR who is living here, have made all the difference in my life these past months, and even though my visits this week with AM were far too few and short, they brought back such wonderful memories that it seems she has been with me all this time too. How many can say they are so blessed?

But on the flip side, there is the American/Canadian expat community here in Cairo, most of whom I have known online only, but I have known them for a long time--at least 10 years. Virtual relationships aren't too much different than live relationships--at least as far as I can see. Many happy bonds have been formed online. But somewhere between what happens online and what ultimately happens in real life is completely different than what I would every have expected. To the extent it literally sickens me.

In truth I have never met a more selfish and distant group of people. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of them--say 2/3 of them, are young mothers with children, so we don't have too much in common. They tend to stick together in a tightly knit group and shun those unlike themselves. But there are at least a 1/3 of the expat community here who are older, childless (or whose kids have flown the coop) and seemingly free to form relationships with each other. But it doesn't happen. In general I would say they are a clique--more than a clique actually--they are a gang. I don't know what one has to do to become a part of their closed secret society--and frankly I no longer care. If being kind and polite and going out of my way for them isn't enough, well the hell with them. Who needs "acquaintances" like that?

The thing is, we expats have formed many online groups and forums and know each other pretty well. Online we try to help each other and provide information that will make our lives easier here. But close the PC and call one of them on the telephone for something and it's a different world altogether. The flip side is if anyone call me, I am always eager to help, meet, etc. I treat my online friends like I do my real world friends. I wish it was reciprocated. I cant quite figure it out, other than remembering the take DR has on it, which is they are basically social misfits who cant interact in person--even though they do online. My feelings aren't so grounded in psychology. My basic opinion is they are just selfish. They don't know how to be real friends. They aren't up for the give-and-take a true friendship/sisterhood requires. They are only interested if they have something to gain from it. In no way EVER do these women go out of their way to do a favor or be kind unless there is something in it for them. They calculate the benefits and rewards to themselves before they ever think to do the simplest of favors or friendly acts.

I thought things would be different here. I thought as "foreigners" in this big, scary and strange land, we would all reach out to each other. We're all in one boat--I thought we would sail it together. Ha. Ha. Wrong! The thing is here, for the most part, almost--and I say almost cuz there are always exceptions to the rule, these women live on American dollars here and live a life farrrrrr better than they lived in USA. They live a life of privilege and blessings, but don't share anything--even their time. They take, take, take. I have tried hard to fit in. I have reached out, sent invitations, hosted gatherings (where maybe 1/5 of those who promised to come actually showed up), called umpteen times on the phone, shared personal belongings...I mean I really tried to be a good friend.

Of all the women I knew online for many years--and finally met here, only one has become what I would consider a true friend. I will call her MD. She is the opposite of the rest. She doesn't put on a false face, doesn't call only when she needs or wants something, is ready to help if I need it (as I am with her) other words, she is rapidly becoming another sister! She's kind, honest and genuine. Not calculating, cold or hypocritical. She's been a breath of fresh air to be sure.

I am not sure which of these expat groups are worse here--the pseudo-religious hypocrites, the ladies who say they are Muslim yet don't practice or give a damn about Islam, or the non-Muslims who hate all things Islam--which makes me wonder why they married into the religion/culture and came to live here to begin with??? To be sure many of the expats here are a strange lot. DR again waxed psychological when she mentioned that many women here couldn't function in their own societies, with men from their own culture--or for one reason or another were rejected by western men--and so found a place as the wife of an Egyptian and then found a place here where there's slim pickens' for friends. But a misfit is a misfit. Sooner or later the breakdown of being able to function normally as a true participating member of our little society within a society here rears its ugly head. I guess if you're either socially retarded--or just plain selfish--sooner or later it becomes apparent.

Truth to tell I spent mannnnny lonely days here. Many days I cried my eyeballs out, stuck between the four walls, not quite courageous enough to venture out alone--or not having any idea where to go. Days I thought I wouldn't make it here, days when I cried buckets and felt so panicky--like a fish out of water. I tried so hard to gather us all together. It didn't happen. And then I began to feel so used. Sure, call me up when you have nothing better to do. Or you need something from me. But let me call one of them, for something as simple as a phone number, a referral for something I need to buy, even a walk or drive just to get out and change my mood--nope--no can do. Geeeeez. Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Maybe all this sounds so nasty. Frankly I don't care. It's something I want to say and then move on. I have managed to fall into a comfortable routine. Between visits from DR and MD we talk on the phone a lot, and I have a driver to take me where I need to go. I finally found all the places to find what I need here--and if I need help I take my housekeeper. My husband and I spend a lot of happy hours together, and in the evenings if we are not too tired we go out for a fresh juice or a walk or occasionally shopping. Every now and then he takes a day off of work and we do something interesting. The social butterflies that are the expat community here continue to use each other. I'm so glad the day has come when I no longer wish I was part of the secret circle. And I guess it's because I no longer care, that I finally have the guts to say what I wanted to say. One day soon I think, I'll be able to say it directly to those who offended the most. Basically I just wanted to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Apparently many expats here never learned how. I thank Allah for the blessings I have, and for the routine my life has settled into. Happy days, thank God.

Not "Egypt" related but truly urgent


A Muslim family is in dire need and even though it's not related to Egyptians (this time!), how many of us have not heard this same kind of story before??? I know I have.

Please read this woman's blog post at:

It's Over People....the Fat Lady Has Sung. About Freakin' Time

In short she is an American with children who spent nearly 24 long years as a prisoner of her abusive husband in Bahrain. He also sexually abused his own daughters. While I dont know this sister personally, apparently many others in the virtual world do. They are doing everything they can to help her--finally- -get home to the USA. 2 of her children were sent back some time ago to live with relatives, and now she and the remaining children are trying to get out as well. She needs help to buy tickets.

During this holy month of Ramadan, cant we all do what we can to help her??? During this month of taqwa and sacrifice, cant we feel her plight? She has a paypal account set up. Even $5 would help!!! Please dont say you dont have it to give! Please help this family who sacrificed so much for their Islam! And are still hanging on,hoping and praying for the help and release from Allah and us!

May Allah reward you all! Dont forget...what goes around comes around. Never say never...dont think it couldnt happen to you or someone close to you. May Allah protect us all and increase us in kindness, compassion and charity...Ameen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How I'm feeling right now...

This has been a whirlwind of a year! Well almost 16 months in Egypt to be exact. As I have written many times, it's had its ups and downs. But I have been feeling pretty good lately and I'd like to say a big ALHAMDULILAH (praise to Allah) for that! I feel settled, stable, loved and safe here. I've learned how to get around on my own and find everything I need to buy. My husband has made my life wonderful. He's a good man--kind, funny, moderate in his practice of Islam, and stable. He's turned out to be my rock. I cant thank him enough for how happy he's made my life--and I am glad to say he feels the same way about me masha Allah! I think we have completed each other.

Having my daughter visit in February helped a lot. Also, being in touch with the kids constantly online has helped too. We even finally managed to get my mic and headphones working properly so I can talk to them via yahoo chat. Just need to get this goofy cam working and we will be all set.

I have to give a lot of credit to my daughter for easing my mind about my sons. My little angel has taken over the role of "mothering" the boys--the role I verrry reluctantly left behind when I decided to move here. Leaving them in the USA was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. But the youngest was nearly 24 years old when I left, they are all married and stable--there's that word "stable" again--you can see it means a lot to me, and they really didn't need me hanging around anymore. I think they have all grown in a good way since I left, and for that I also thank Allah daily.

I was advised before by dear, well-meaning friends not to think about going back too often. That I needed to stay here at least a year before I visited home, in order to make it stick. But I beg to differ and I'll tell you why. First, if I had gone back every 6 months as I had originally planned, nothing would have kept me from returning here--my dear husband being the biggest factor, and the blood, sweat and tears I put into this move in the first place, the second.

I was totally committed to this move. For a zillion reasons. Life was just out of control in the USA. It was getting to be more than I could afford to maintain a home there, my kids lived far away from me, and I felt so removed from Islam and Muslims. We didn't have much of a religious community in my hometown, and I spent a lot of free time watching Egyptian TV on the DISH. There is an Egyptian expression...One who drinks from the Nile must return, and it certainly was true in my case. I missed Egypt constantly! It was an ache in my heart to come back here permanently. I'm so glad I accomplished that.

So had I gone home twice a year as I had planned, I think it would have made this first year less painful. But Allah is the best of planners, and so it was meant to be that nearly 18 months would pass before I go back to the USA again. In this year+ I have learned patience. LOTS of patience. There were times I was scared out of my wits, wondering if I'd been insane to have left every one and every thing behind to come here. Some days I panicked. At times I seriously thought about going back again for good. But through it all, there was that part of me that knew I wouldn't really go to stay. I have a home, a husband and family here. It took too much effort to build the life I did way could I have given it up for good.

At the end of the day, everything worked out the way Allah wanted it to. The way I dreamed it would. Masha Allah wa alhamdulilah. But all in all, I have to say my husband deserves most of the credit! He has truly put his heart and soul into our marriage and building a life here for us together. He never ceases to make me feel loved, and always reminds me what a difference I made in his life. It doesn't get any better than that! Home is where his heart is, to be sure.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Getting ready for Ramadan

I should have posted this before but I here it is now--even though Ramadan already started!

My husband and I spent Monday in Khan al Khalili, which is a huge--and I mean HUGE--souk in Cairo. Think Moroccan bazaar kinda place. Monday was the day before our wedding anniversary. We had originally intended to spend 3 days--Mon-Wed at Ain Sukhna, a resort on the Red Sea. But with Ramadan beginning last Saturday I thought it was just too rushed, because this holy month requires mega shopping/preparation.

I got some lovely gold earrings for an anniversary present from my sweet husband, a mother of pearl jewelry box--for all my jewels--lol, some incense and burners, a huge Ramadan fanoos, some more Ramadan decorations, other things I cant even remember and best of all...dinner in a restaurant! With a cat as a dining companion--only in Egypt! It was wonderful not to have to worry about cooking!

Here are some pics...enjoy!

My anniversary present!

Mother of Pearl jewelry box

This lantern is nearly 3 feet tall

lantern and crescent lights on my valance

this kitty only wanted shish kabab!

drinking sugar cane juice cooking tonight!

the "Licorice Juice man"

in front of Hussain Mosque in the Khan

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I never imagined...

Ramadan would bring such adventures, especially the first day--but it did!

First thing that happened, I was working in the house and I heard some yelling and shouting coming from out back. As my mother was sitting on the balcony, I hurried to see what the commotion was.

I should preface this by saying we rent an apartment in a very expensive area of Cairo. We could never afford--or think to buy here, but we decided to rent for another year until we really find a place we like. The building next door has some empty apartments in it, in fact the inside is probably still under a bit of construction. In the apartment directly beside us, lives what I am assuming to be a bowab (a doorman or guard, always from either the country or Saiyeed) and his wife and a baby. I am quite sure they dont own the place, but are just staying there while the place is being finished. They are responsible for the safety and upkeep of the whole building. The husband seems quite a bit older than the wife.

This being the first day of Ramadan--with everyone fasting--sometimes tempers are short. But this was way over the top. Apparently they got into a fight and I think he must have hit her. And they were quite loud about it. A few neighbors in the building in back of us, hearing the argument and I guess feeling bad for the wife, starting to scream to the man from their windows. I guess they had just finished yelling at him because by the time I got to the balcony, my Mom said the neighbors had gone back inside, but they had been really upset. I did hear someone threaten to call the police, but not sure who it was.

Anyway, next thing I hear is the woman sobbing horribly. Sobbing and groaning. Egyptian women get very very dramatic when they cry--not that this one didnt have a right of course--she did, but she sounded like she was dying. Sobbing and talking to herself and cusing the man to God. Then I heard glass being thrown from the window--seems the husband was disposing of some kind of glass that got broken during the argument--and the sleeve of his galabya (long gown) was bloody. It really shook my Mom up. I guess I have gotten used to this kind of stuff. I saw a lot more spousal abuse in the USA than I have seen here, but I did feel bad that their child had to witness this crap. But in any case, I guess at my age, not much gets me very worked up anymore...except what happened next! Stay tuned for more...


يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint (2:183)

May your fast be made easy for you and, may you enjoy all the blessings of Ramadan throughout the year.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rerun and a glimpse into my life now...

Zillions of thoughts and ideas for posts running through my mind! So much has happened in the last year. Happy thoughts, sad thoughts, good things, bad things...amazing how much my life has changed! Sometimes I cant believe I am the same person who spent all of 2007 and half of 2008 planning for this move.

Oh my God those were hard days! What were the hardest parts? Realizing I had to give up so many material possessions, trying (and mostly failing) to sell them, so much stuff just ending up in the garbage! Trying to raise the money to make this move. The tragic death of my beloved pit bull Kenya about a month before I left. And worst of all, knowing my kids would no longer be just a few hours away--that I could visit them anytime I wanted. Truth to tell, I spent a lot of my first year here in Egypt trying to recover from all that trauma. I think for a long time I was shell-shocked! But things began to improve after I passed the first year mark and I moved to my new apartment here. I think I've managed to put all that drama in perspective--finally!

I have to stop here and give kudos to my daughter, who in my absence has done a wonderful job of keeping the family together. She is in constant touch with her brothers, travels often to see them, holds family gatherings, cooks them the foods they love that I used to cook for them, and in general just does everything I used to do. Bless her sweet heart...she is truly a treasure and her brothers love her all the more for it. And I think it helps all of them to miss me less, since they are so close. Alhamdulilah for that.

Getting settled here and accepting that Egypt was very unlike the USA was also a test of my commitment to make my life here permanent. I'd be lying if I said I never thought about going back. Oh yes I sure did! Days when I missed my kids so much I thought I would die from the pain. Days when trying to get anything done here took a supreme amount of effort, from shopping in an open air market to getting internet service to trying to express complicated concepts in a language other than my own.

P.A.T.I.E.N.C.E. One can not survive here without it--and lots of it! Nothing comes quick or easy here. Everything becomes an issue. Absolutely every day brought another challenge and to some extent still does. And truth to tell, before, I wasn't always up to it. Somehow I just flew by the seat of my pants and other times honestly I shut down for a bit. But as I slowly found my way in this new world, I started to see light at the end of the tunnel, and life here--most days--became second nature.

So like the phoenix rising, I was able to rise out of what felt like a damaged life, and work towards truly finding myself again.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I started a new blog...

I really loved writing Amreekia Min Bab Al Sharayah. (That link wont work unless you have permission to read it cuz it's private now). I started it back in July 2007, sort of as mental preparation and self-encouragment for my pending move to Egypt. It took me nearly a year to prepare for it, and there were pitfalls, delays and some serious sadness along the way. I basically dont want to remember it all when I go to that page, and towards the end there were things I shared with personal friends that I didnt want the world to read. So I created this new blog to get back in touch with the true spirit of why I began blogging in the first record my adventures as an expat living in a foreign country.....a country I love (and sometimes hate) that despite it's faults, is now, truly, my home.