So I married a guy

26 June 2011 § 2 Comments

Scenes from a Sunday morning breakfast

Me: Mind if I finish the Rice Krispies?

PG (not looking up from his tablet): Huh? I didn’t even know we had Rice Krispies left over [from when I made RK treats last week].

Me: You mean, when you went to prep the coffee machine every night this week you didn’t notice the gigantic blue box of cereal next to the machine?

PG (looking up, seeing aforementioned giant blue box): Oh. I guess I was vaguely aware of a presence next to the machine but it didn’t click.

GIANT box of Rice Krispies which went unnoticed by PG for a week

Me: So…I guess you don’t mind if I finish them then?

PG (staring at tablet again): <silence>

Someone remind me to come back to this post if ever PG doesn’t notice that I’ve gotten a haircut, lost a tooth, bought a new dress, etc. Also, I’m never leaving him alone with the (possible) kids.


Letter to my 30-year-old self

17 June 2011 § 1 Comment

So, yesterday was my birthday <kazoo!> <confetti>! Yay. Every year as I near my birthday I think, “Meh, no biggie.” And then I’m inundated with so much love and end the day with “My birthday’s awesome!”

Last year, just a few days after my birthday, I happened across this blog and the request by the blog’s author for readers to write a letter to their 20 year-old selves offering insight and wisdom or maybe just a few words to document the passing of time. I liked the idea and so I wrote one to myself and then shared it with the few people mentioned in it – except one. The day I wrote the letter was the last day I spoke to Jing. He left after that to go on the trek from which he’d never return, and I had planned to hold off on sending him the letter until he got back. Now, of course, I wish I’d sent it. Maybe, somehow, he would’ve had time to read it and be reminded of how much he influenced my life even though I’m sure he already knew.

Anyway, if you want to read that letter you can find it here.

And now:

Dear Newgyptian, age 30 –

Though this year will see the rise of the “It gets better campaign“, the motto of your 30th year will in fact seem to be, “No matter how bad it seems now it can always get worse.” The latter days of your 29th year were witness to the death of a beloved uncle, your father’s cousin and childhood best friend and then your eldest auntie who lingered for 40 days in the ICU and then passed away. This will be a hard hard moment because you have spent almost every evening there, by her bedside fervently saying every prayer you know under your breath and watching your father ‘s belief that his eldest sister will get better deteriorate as her condition worsens. You will be the first one to arrive at the hospital after your father, and you will want desperately to be strong for him but you will find that all you can do is clutch him as you both dissolve in tears. 

The next day at the funeral you and your sister will look at each other and say, “Well, hopefully this means things are going to get better because it can’t possibly get any worse.” You think to yourself,”These things come in threes – so there we go. One. Two. Three.” Do not tempt fate in this manner. It is true – these things do come in threes. By the end of July you will have said goodbye to three more people – your uncle, your best friend, and a beloved cousin – the son of the auntie who’s passed away. They will all die unexpectedly and the day after your cousin’s funeral you and your sister will fly to Athens for a long-awaited and much-needed vacation and to spend time with PG and his family, but you will spend most of your week there experiencing symptoms of PTSD. You won’t be able to sleep. As soon as your head hits the pillow you will begin to panic. This will actually continue for several months, abate, and then come back again when you move to England in November. As a result you will purchase and use sleeping pills for the first time in your life.

When you return to Egypt from Greece you will start frantically preparing for your “wedding” which will take place in a little over two months. You will prepare begrudgingly until you realize you’re being a brat and recognize how much everyone in your life NEEDS this – this small moment of joy. You realize how much your friends are pulling for you, how lonely PG has been during your year apart and how desperately your father, especially, needs to have this event to focus on in the time he has away from dealing with lawyers and the complicated inheritances of his sister, brother and nephew. 

You have always considered yourself a hater of weddings, but seeing the smiling, gleaming faces of your relatives and friends in the crowd at your katb kitab will make you a believer. The way your extended family embraces (both literally and figuratively) your khawaga husband  will confirm that all the behind-the-scenes struggling to get to this moment was so worth it. The next day as you sit with your friends at Sangria overlooking the Nile you will both feel such a sense of serenity.

You will arrive in England excited and then quickly be beset by a feeling of panic. You have no real job. The expected freelance work from Cairo will not kick in for a couple of weeks, and you start wondering what you’re going to do with yourself in this small town in eastern England. You set about making the flat habitable for a woman. No, actually, for human beings. Eventually you will settle into a routine of house-tidying, blog-reading and television-watching, with the occasional freelance assignment here and there. You travel and then worry about the amount of money you’ve spent. You marvel at how seamless the transition has been from living with your crazy, always-busy family to living with one person. This is the best part of your year so far. Getting to spend so much time with your man and finding that you never get sick of it. This was your greatest fear about getting married – that your fickle Gemini nature would kick in and you’d get bored quickly. And though it’s early days, you cannot imagine feeling like you’ve had enough time with PG.

On New Year’s Eve, which you spend with a couple of your closest friends and their crazy London companions, you ask that 2011 be a little easier on all of you. But then two days later you get some very bad news, and have to depart suddenly for the US. You spend a month there, and even though it is not under happy circumstances you find you really enjoy spending that time with your parents, uncle, aunt and cousin. The revolution in Egypt begins and you wish desperately that you could be back in Cairo, but know that you are more needed where you are. You all follow events obsessively on TV, on the internet, on the phone. By the time Mubarak steps down you’ve returned to England where PG has threatened to hide your passport so you can’t rush back to Cairo. Your father calls you moments after Mubarak steps down and you are in tears – this time the happy kind. You spend days blubbering over this.

By the spring you’ve accepted your life of mostly-leisure when you realize you will likely never again have the opportunity to live this way. By this point you and PG know you’ll be moving back to Egypt come August – and while Cairo is good for many things, quiet, solitudeness living is not one of them. You join a running club and learn that you do not despise running like you’ve always thought, you just weren’t doing it right. You start volunteering with a local charity and hear many sad stories and admire the resilience of people who live very differently from you. You re-learn the lesson you are always trying to teach yourself – much as you want to, you cannot control everything, and when you let go and accept that sometimes shit’s just gonna happen you actually enjoy yourself. And even though you are loathe to embrace platitudes you find yourself returning to this Quran-itude over and over again over the course of the year: “God does not burden any soul with more than it is able to bear.”  You never get tired of loving that this is your back yard-

Ultimately the lesson of the first year of your third decade on this earth is this: no matter how bad it seems it can always get worse. But, eventually, it will get better.



Guess who’s coming to tea

8 June 2011 § Leave a comment

It was two years ago this week that PG first met my parents “officially”. As I’ve said before, we were friends for many years before any romantic involvement, so my parents had met him once or twice before, but in June 2009 they met him as a suitor (a word which must be said in the voice of Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

In the days before I told my parents about us I started a Twitter account (different to the one I use now) for the sole purpose of updating my friends about the situation. I had absolutely no idea how things would go, and I was on some level genuinely worried that my parents would never let me out of the house again or something drastic like that. If this sounds a little paranoid on my part, there was a precedent. A few years prior, during my last year of college, I had gone to Cairo to see my parents for winter break. At the end of the trip I was so wracked by guilt over the changes that were happening to me in terms of thought and attitude toward life (and love) that I decided to start coming clean with them about it all. I barely got past the first statement before my parents started freaking out and saying that they were going to pull me out of school and make me stay in Cairo so I could get my head straight. I was meant to be meeting Artemis in a few hours at the airport so we could head back stateside together, and there they were barring me from leaving. It took several hours of soothing monologue on my part and many tears before they let me go as planned. My father stopped speaking to me for months afterwards.

Throughout that situation what struck me most was that I had no mobile, no computer other than my parent’s laptop to use and basically no way to notify anyone – Artemis or otherwise – about what was going on. I felt trapped. And maybe it sounds like I’m overstating the situation, but actually I’m understating the argument above.

So in 2009 I had my own mobile and laptop and Twitter had been invented, and I started the Twitter account as a guaranteed way of letting my peeps know I was still of this world. (Easier than sending out a text message to each of those friends who felt invested in our situation and who numbered about 6.)

The point in bringing this up is that I kind of live-tweeted PG’s first meeting with my father. Top tweets from that night/the next day:

A few odd things emerged from that evening. My father was totally composed and my mother was an emotional mess, which is usually not how things work in our family. My mother is usually the one who has a good social face and my father the one who has little control over his feelings about a situation. So the meeting was led by my father, not really because this is the traditional thing to do but more because I don’t think my mother was able to bring herself to really sit with PG until the end of the evening.

Having said that, my father acted like PG was not a suitor. They talked about anything and everything other than our relationship to each other. To the point that afterwards my mother wondered if my father was actually aware of PG’s intentions in visiting our house that night. This situation emerged from the fact that PG’s father and my father are kind of in the same line of work, and PG is a somewhat knowledgeable about the topic. Thus, they were able to safely steer clear of any uncomfortable subject matter by instead discussing – in great detail – the history of multi-national accounting firms.

Meanwhile, I fell asleep.

The other thing that emerged was that apparently people in Egypt are obsessed with undershirts (vests for you Brits) as a sign of good taste. Both my mother and sister energetically pointed out that PG had not been wearing one under his dress shirt and it was obvious. I, naturally, told PG this and he promptly went to JIL in Zamalek and bought undershirts in bulk. At first I think he wore them a bit begrudgingly, but now – judging by the contents that spill out of his undershirt drawer and the trips he makes to JIL practically every time he’s in Cairo – I think he’s become a full on undershirt convert.

So the moral of the story is – when introducing a Farangi suitor to your parents make sure that he 1) has a working knowledge of your father’s line of work and 2) wears appropriate undergarments.

Mothers and daughters

23 May 2011 § Leave a comment

From My Mother’s Last Sari, by Madhulika Sikka

I didn’t really think about the braveness of that, of wearing a sari in 1960s London. Actually, I never thought of my mother as brave. That was an accolade more suited for me and the women of my generation, the immigrants’ children who broke the barriers.

My own journey has been blessed. I had the benefit of a stellar education. I’m successful in my career (I’m the executive producer of NPR’s Morning Edition) by any objective measure. I’ve been married for 22 years. I have two daughters for whom everything is an option. Aren’t I the very epitome of the success that women strived for? I’m so courageous, independent, brave, pioneering—an Indian girl who married a white American and moved to the U.S. from England, far away from my family.

But as we dressed my mother for her last journey, the reality dawned on me. She was the brave, pioneering one.

Unlike the author above, I have always thought of my mother as the brave, pioneering one. The one who left her family and life at the age of 23 to travel to a country with a man she barely knew.  But the piece still resonates.

You know you’re a Middle Easterner when…

20 May 2011 § Leave a comment

I just got an email from a Northern Irish (though he’s the sort, I suppose, who would just call himself Irish) friend of mine who is doing research in Palestine. He’s young. Actually, younger than me by a bit, but as things go in Europe, he had a law degree by the time he was 21, was doing the masters program with me by the time he was 22 and now at 25 is nearly through with his PhD – which is sort of a comparative between Norn Irish and  Palestinian conflict and post-conflict narratives. Now, this friend is old enough to remember the later days of the conflict in NI, but I don’t think he was directly exposed to a lot of confrontation or violence. I genuinely can’t say for sure though. He is a buoyantly upbeat guy and not the sort to disclose a sob story if he has any.

Anyway, every once in a while he sends out an email dispatch about his experiences from the field, and it so happens that he was in the West Bank for the latest commemoration of the Nakba which, by his own accounts was quite aggressive and tense, and by news accounts is one of the most tumultuous commemoration they’ve had in years. So, anyway, my friend is writing about the day in his email and starts describing how he was perplexed when he saw a couple of young Palestinian guys carrying these huge burlap bags filled with…onions. He starts laughing to himself, wondering what these crazy kids are doing coming to a commemoration march with onions?

Now, of course, I think all us good Middle Eastern kids have caught on to what these Palestinian blokes were doing, but my friend is describing how crazy he thinks this is (and no doubt it is perceived as crazy by the mostly Irish recipients of his email as well) and finally comes out with why these dudes were passing out the onions, see? Cause you’re supposed to sniff ’em to counteract the effects of the teargas!

By this point in the email I was just smiling to myself and shaking my head knowingly, and then laughing at myself because of course I knew that, but when someone handed me a cracker at a Christmas dinner PG and I attended this past December I was wary and wondering WHAT CRAZY MANNER OF CONTRAPTION IS THIS? What madness! Why are they handing me this tube of paper instead of letting me eat my turkey? Oh, I get it…are there napkins in this thing? PG eventually caught onto the look of total bewilderment on my face and kindly explained under his breath what I was meant to do.

Bag of onions
Christmas Crackers

What an odd odd world we live in.

On royal and other weddings

12 May 2011 § 1 Comment

Two weeks after the Royal Wedding event of the century (so far, anyway) I find friends abroad still asking me if I went to London to “attend” the wedding. Now, it just so happens that the evening before the wedding I *did* go down to London, but conveniently it was for reasons unrelated to the wedding – to see my university BFF and sister from another mister, Artemis, and to meet up with another uni friend (the same one who dubbed me Knewgyptian, in fact) who was visiting London from Philly.

Now, despite the fairly long-term crush I had on Wills between the ages of say, 18-21, (see: Newgyptian loves tortured white boys with mommy issues) I actually wasn’t that bothered by all the wedding hoopla. I found the paraphernalia amusing and may have purchased an item or two to send to friends outside England, but mostly I was interested in it as part of a cultural-historical experience. One day I’d look back and say, “Why, yes, I was in London the day they got married.”

Of course, this didn’t stop me from “casually” trying to get Artemis and Bill to at least join the crowds in Hyde Park to watch the nuptials together on the big screen. But laziness took over and Artemis and I opted instead to just watch it at her home. Which I kind of regret now as it seems like we missed out on some fun and cupcakes.

I certainly did not expect to be moved by the wedding, but I was, and towards the end of the ceremony I begged Artemis not to judge me if I started tearing up a bit. It’s just that, despite a lifelong dislike of weddings, since participating in my own (which I brattily griped about every step of the way and took all the fun out of for my mother and sister who LOVE weddings) I’ve found myself becoming increasingly sentimental about other people’s weddings, engagements and the like. I just barely managed to stave off the tears, but I will admit it was difficult, especially when Wills would look over at Kate and smile this smile of barely repressed joy and a little relief. Maybe I read too much into these things, but it was a look I recognized as one that passed between PG and myself several times during the course of our own ceremony, all, “Holy crap! We did it! We managed it! Woooooot!”

Prior to the Royal Wedding I didn’t care much either way, but I can say now that I’m definitely rooting for those two crazy kids, hoping that they’ll make a good go of it.

And for anyone out there who’s still feeling the loss of Wills from the eligible bachelor market, this message seen outside a London cafe the day after the wedding is for you:

One year…give or take

8 April 2011 § 1 Comment

Last night as we were falling asleep – or really as PG was falling asleep and I was curled around my laptop watching Friday Night Lights with earphones on – I suddenly jerked around and yelled at the sleepy PG “Happy one year! Sort of!” And he sweetly grabbed my hand, kissed it and then turned over and asked me to turn off the light.

Anniversaries in this relationship are a complicated matter. PG and I started dating under the radar not only because my parents would not be having that shit, but also because our friends were more or less against the idea. Or rather, my Egyptian girlfriends and my art therapist (more on that some other time) were more or less against the idea for various reasons but which basically boiled down to, “We love you. We love PG. We don’t know why you would do this to yourself.” I have a gay friend who once told me that that’s the exact same argument that some family members used with her when she came out to them – why would you put yourself through that kind of suffering and the necessary stigmatization from society?” Anyway, before this dwindles into a post about something completely different, the point is PG and I ignored the concerned pleas of all (who felt like they were) involved and started dating and then proceeded to not tell anyone about that for a few weeks. It helped that about a week after we started dating I went to Philadelphia for a few weeks and was therefore able to avoid most of my friends in Egypt. It also helps that PG is good about just keeping things to himself. When I got to Egypt and slowly started telling friends that we were together, I left the details of when we had started dating vague. So PG and I celebrate that date privately between ourselves (well, ok, along with pretty much everyone around the world as it also happens to fall on an international date of remembrance).

Then one year ago today we had our katb kitab – which we then had to keep under wraps from extended family and most friends for another seven months because PG was only in town for a couple of weeks and we wouldn’t be able to have a proper “event”, and also due to other complicating factors like the recent death of a beloved aunt which would have made it totally inappropriate to have any sort of celebration at that time. And so even though PG and I were technically married, we kept our wedding bands on our “engagement fingers” (right-hand ring finger) and continued to refer to each other as fiance. Even when PG came back to England to complete his studies he did not tell most of his coursemates that he had gotten married while in Egypt. We talked about it back then but never really agreed – would this day be when we celebrated our wedding anniversary or would we save that for the day when we had the public mosque ceremony when we made our union official before our friends and the 300 members of my family (and the 5 of his)?

We’ve never really settled the question though we have visited it a few times over the past year. I think partly this has to do with the fact that neither of us really feels married, but in a good way. We’ve been a couple for a lot longer than anyone knows. We’ve been friends for much longer than that. In some ways it feels completely and utterly natural that we are living together, making a life together. We made it official for everyone else involved, but for us the fact that our relationship would end up “here” long ago stopped being a question for us. Still, people like to know these things. I know that my siblings and I still make a kinda big deal out of my parents’ wedding anniversary. I wonder if our (maybe possibly) kids will want to do the same? In which case, we will have to figure something out.

I know of at least one other couple on the internet who are in a similar situation, albeit for very different reasons and under very different circumstances. (I kind of want to add “getting surprise married at book club” on my list of things to do before I die. Yes, I know it’s not really a possibility anymore, but this blog is really all about doing things that were seemingly impossible so I’m sure I’ll figure something out.)

But for now let’s go ahead and say that one year ago today PG and I most certainly did not get surprise-married at book club. No, one year ago today, PG and I led my parents and siblings and two witnesses down the dusty and dirty halls of the Ministry of Justice. We waited on uncomfortable wooden benches for our turn to be called into the office of the man who would officiate and certify our marriage contract. We tried not to gawk too much at the red-veiled girl on the next bench over who looked to be about 19 waiting with an antipodean-sounding man many years her senior. We fought with the clerk who didn’t like the way we wanted to write PG’s name on the wedding contract (“We must put his father’s name! Not his middle name!” “Can’t you pretend that his middle name *is* his father’s name?” “No!” “So, you really want us to put the Greek word for Christ on a Muslim marriage contract?” “Is it his father’s name? Then, yes!”) We averted our gaze as the lawyer we had brought along to facilitate the process slipped 20 pound notes into this or that hand. We kept our eyes fixed firmly on the worn linoleum floor as the red-veiled girl haggled over her dowry with the woman charged with noting it in the contract. (“Um…one pound!” “No, it has to be a real amount. Can’t be symbolic.” “Oh, fine.” “50,000 pounds?” “Fine.” “Fine.”) And finally, I tried real hard not to slap the officiant when we told him I wanted to write in an equal right to divorce into the marriage contract (as a matter of principle), and he looked up at PG and said, “Do you realize what this means? She can divorce you ANY TIME!! She has the same right as you!” Like this made PG less of a man.

Suffice it to say, it was an interesting experience. And whether or not we ultimately decide it’s the day we want to remember as the day we got married, it was certainly a memorable one and not just because of the strange and funny things that happened, but because in retrospect it ended up being a bright shining spot of a day in what would become a string of very difficult months for my family. And everyone involved in that day – except maybe the asshole officiant – was well and truly happy for us. Afterwards we went to the Conrad Hotel to have a little celebration lunch, and as I rode along the sun-dappled banks of the Nile with my brother and my newly-minted husband I remember having that feeling like it was my last day of high school and the summer was going to be totally awesome.