Sunday, January 30, 2011

The strong women of Egypt

This morning Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, and news announced that the women of Egypt would be taking over the demonstrations for the day to give the men a break. We saw pictures of women taking to the streets and heading the demonstrations - as opposed to mainly men ,which has been the norm since the uprising began earlier last week. “The men had been going at it for days, and they needed to sleep,” the message sounded.

From what I know of Egyptian women after having lived in the country for three years, they are not able to take over the demonstrations because they – as opposed to their husbands, sons, brothers, uncles and fathers – have been resting, because they have not. While their male relatives have been out in the streets fighting for freedom, democracy and life, the Egyptian women have taken care of everything else: their homes, family, children, parents, the mosques, the neighborhoods, food, commerce, gossip, coordination, and everything else that is necessary business, come Mubarak or high water. Between the work and the worry, my guess is they have probably slept if possible even less that their male relatives.

Here is what I think: the Egyptian women are not taking to the streets because they are well rested; they are marking their presence in the history of Egypt because they are strong, many, and because they are the cornerstones of this Ancient country. They are there behind every move the people of Egypt make.

Most likely the majority of the new government will be men, which is something to shift away from, however the women will not be absent. It is not fair or even justifiable that women should have no credit or overt recognition of their power. The fact is though that women play a huge part in the politics of Egypt, and today’s march was a demonstration of this. Even though their individual names are not in the papers, the news, on Twitter or Facebook like those of prominent male political key figures, we should all keep in mind their collective power, and the fact that the women of Egypt are standing strong.

Oh Egypt, stay strong!

Two years ago this week I was sprawled out in a delivery room in Al Nada hospital on Al Manyal island in the Nile, in the middle of Cairo. I gave birth to a boy whom we named Abraham – not only because he was due on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, but because it’s a name important to Christians and Muslims alike. We thought it was a nice symbol, representing the interfaith we experienced in Egypt; the co-existence, acknowledgement, and even encouragement that existed between religious groups, and we wanted to somehow link our life and the birth of our child to this amazing, historical country.

To get our papers in order we had to visit the Mughamma – the Egyptian version of our city hall - shortly after Abraham’s birth. There we acquired - after much ado- a birth certificate, which, among other things we used to get an American passport for our son.

Today on the news I see the Mughamma on fire, and I hope that we will never need to retrieve another copy again, because it is probably lost; the original record of our birth in Cairo is lost. From a safe distance I see pictures of all the places in Cairo I visited, lived, and walked every day for three years, and it’s a different world; the internet is feeding me images of violence, tear gas, and tanks.

We doubted our move last summer to Lebanon from a safety perspective as late as last week, especially in light of the recent developments with the government, and never did we think that this would happen in Egypt. Obviously the political situation of Egypt was untenable in our modern world, however nobody thought things would move so soon or fast – or at least I didn't.

Now our friends are stuck in Cairo, barely believing what is happening to them, and we are just amazed. How is this going to end? What is going to happen in Egypt now, and how long will it take?

Joking, a friend who is a fan of the computer game Civilization said, “Now Egypt has to get through *one turn* of anarchy. If it can survive that, it will turn into a better, stronger country.” One turn. If Mubarak steps down –and really, I don’t see any other outcome here; the Egyptian people have shown that they are not going to give up – that’s when the work will begin. A journalist friend told me "Abbas Abdi, a student leader of the Iranian revolution, told me once that as a young man who helped take over the United States embassy, he knew exactly what he wanted to tear down. It was only later, much later, that he realized he never thought about what he wanted to build up. "

I know that Egypt has potential. I have never felt safer walking the streets of Egypt. I have never met more honest, accepting and religious citizens, and I mean religious as in trustworthy, righteous and full of grace. There are few societies with matching ambition and faith, and most of all, there is no prouder and more historic people than the Egyptians. They will get through this, as they got through everything else over the past 8,000 years, and they will do it well. My hope is that the international community will be right there supporting them, and that it happens soon without more blood spill or pain. And without my friends getting hurt.

This week, as I celebrate my third son’s second birthday, and as the Egyptian people revolt against their hegemonous president, memories of our life in Cairo awaken in my mind, and I hope and pray that this all will end well.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Internet in Lebanon

My dear reader, please accept my apology for being absent these past couple of weeks. It is neither the holiday festivities nor a lack of ideas that have kept me from posting, but internet problems.

You see, when we moved into our apartment this past September, we were told that in order for us to get an ADSL connection we would have to apply to the mayor’s office for a phone number, which in Lebanon - it seems - is rather difficult. It involves several trips to the city hall, paperwork in Arabic only, and most importantly, some hundreds of dollars. Seeing that we don’t really need a phone in our apartment (we use cell phones), and that we’re hoping to move into faculty housing next summer, we decided this was not worth the time, effort or money required – especially in light of the fact that we were able to connect to the university campus wireless network from our apartment. I’m saying “were” here, and I think you might be able to guess where this is going. Granted, it was never a super-strong signal, but consistent and enough to even stream videos and such at times; enough for us, and probably not much worse than we would get with our own ADSL anyways.

This was all fine until a couple of days before Christmas, when suddenly the wireless signal got very weak. We could only access internet on the balcony, and it was extremely slow; Blogger was out of the question, as were posting, sending or viewing pictures, and most important, Skype was impossible. For a while we thought maybe things would improve after the break, but when the signal stayed weak, we ended up buying the only other alternative really, a WISE wireless dongle. Now we have internet anywhere in the house and it’s consistent, although the up-and download amount is very limited and we have to be careful so we don’t run out. The dongle itself cost $250 and every month you want to use it, you buy a refill card, which costs $50. I know; it’s expensive! But what can we do? Sigh.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A sappy post on being a homeschooling parent

As a parent AND my children’s teacher, I am very privileged as I get to witness every moment of progress and success my children make academically. (It is also a curse as I have to struggle through everything that is difficult myself, but that is a post for another day; today I want to focus on the joy.) At the end of the day, I don’t have to wonder what my children did in school or if they learned anything, if there were any problems, and if there were, if my boys overcame the obstacles; I know that they did well, because we never finish a day until both boys have done perfectly. We have a very rigorous curriculum, and sometimes it is hard for the boys to get through everything, but they always succeed, simply because there’s nothing else. Because this is a school just for them, there are no B’s, C’s, or D’s and certainly no F’s for fail; we work until the boys have reached an A-level every day. It is hard but also very rewarding, and I know they appreciate it. To see their faces and hear their, “Yes! Done with school for the day!” at the end of an extensive school day makes up for any struggle, because I know they are satisfied, and so, so proud of themselves. They know they made progress and that they are on top of their game. Of course, sometimes they have trouble learning something or they don’t get all correct at a test (just like any other child), but if they don’t, we’ll work through whatever went wrong, they’ll take another test or complete a worksheet until they know their lesson, and at the end of the day, they know they’re “100%.” They always get a small reward too; sometimes it’s a movie, some gaming time or something else they’ve been desiring, and sometimes it’s a small treat. We call it “after-school,” and everyone in the family enjoys it. Being a homeschooling parent is hard work, but so, so rewarding.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Decadence and sightseeing in Lebanon with friends

A couple of days after Christmas our best friends from Cairo arrived by plane for a two week visit. It was a dear reunion. The children – all the same ages – ran screaming towards each other and piled up in a big hug/bodies rub-together kind of chaos that lasted a good solid five minutes. It was loud and cute, both at the same time. It was great to see how happy they were to be together again. The kids then proceeded to pretty much spend the next fortnight in the same excited state, and I’m still wondering how they all got by on so little sleep for so long.

The adults were happy to see each other too, and we spent most of the holiday doing what we do best together; travel and visit sites, and eat & drink to our hearts’ delight. [I asked Courtney here if he could think of a verb form of ‘decadence’ and he suggested ‘decay,’ but however correct it would be to say that we ‘decayed,’ it doesn’t quite capture the spirit of our festive consumption.] We had fun indulging in everything from oysters with champagne, to caviar, duck, shrimp, bouillabaisse, salmon, wine and various spirits, sushi, octopus, and other delicacies.

On the day we went to visit Byblos we had a wonderful meal at a restaurant by the port; fresh fish that was cooked in an amazing way. The beautiful surrounding did their share to make the experience a truly memorable event. We hired a tourguide for our visit to the castle, well worth its money, and the whole day it didn’t rain but the sky looked dramatic with huge dark and fluffy clouds promising of a storm (a storm that came as we drove back to Beirut), which made the view over the Mediterranean sea fantastic.

Our visit to the Jeita Grottos was amazing as well, but what I think everyone enjoyed the most was our hike at the Cedar reserve up in the Al Shouf mountains. The kids just rolled around in the snow, excited to finally play in snow after all these years in the Egyptian desert, until they were so wet and cold they could do nothing but cry. Abraham kept excitedly exclaiming “No-man! No-man!” [For some reason he thought the word for snow was snowman.] but had trouble getting around in the foot deep snow. The adults enjoyed watching the kids have fun, as well as the beautiful view. Until that day I had not realized how diverse and extensive the country of Lebanon is. It’s not just Lebnah, horrible traffic, and Chestnut-selling men in the street corners; it’s ski-resorts and mountains, and hiking trails through forests.

After this decadent yet rejuvenating break we are now all back to work and school again. Bring on 2011!