Tuesday, 13 November 2007

U need a formal permission to volunteer

After trying for 20 days to go on this visit, I finally managed to get myself off bed at 8 in the morning. I drove for about 15 minutes and found a parking behind the school. As I approached the front gate flashes of my childhood memories played in front of my eyes. I saw my mom holding my hand on the first day of school. I was wearing checked shirt and navy blue skirt. I hid behind my tiny blue glasses and, when this didn’t work, I tried to hide behind my mom. I remembered the xylophone and accordion I played every morning, the big bell I always wanted to ring but never got to, and the huge year six boy who once pushed me on the playground. I remembered my trembling voice every time I took part in the live school broadcast.
At the gate, there was a short slim man wearing a thick moustache that seemed to be what kept him balanced. He turned out to be a teacher although he would have passed for a doorkeeper. He showed me to the principal’s office and introduced me to him, to Mr. Esmat.

Me: I used to be a student here more than 20 years ago and I’d like to volunteer.
Mr. Esmat: Sorry, you’d like to what?
Me: I’d like to … volunteer.
Mr. Esmat: Ok. Please have a seat. I’ll be with you in a minute.

The lobby was a three-ring circus: there were at least 5 parents, 10 secretaries and teachers, and 3 maids. In the middle of the principal’s messy office, there were three university interns sitting at a table copying down something, an office boy, a teacher using the telephone, and a secretary stamping documents.

Mr. Esmat: Ahlan wasahlan.
Me: Thank you.

I handed him a copy of my Arabic resume. After reading it carefully, he sat forward and listened to me talk about my plans for the school. He responded well and told me about the type of students I could be working with. Then we reached an expected point of the conversation.

Mr. Esmat: Look, miss. I’d love to have you here I’m sure we need your help. But you know that employing takes place via the ministry not me. And we hire part-timers the same way.
Me: Me. Esmat, I am here to VOLUNTEER. This means I don’t want any money. Not even for resources.
Mr. Esmat: Ok, there is only one thing that you might need to do.
Me: Anything.
Mr. Esmat: You need to go to the office of Heliopolis department of education, ask for Mr. Mohamed Abdel Hady. You need to get a security permission from him.
Me: Sure. Where is that? (“Here we go,” I said to myself)

He gave me the address and some directions. I took the car and headed to Abbaseyya Square, kept running around in circles of people, buses, cabs, cars, and fumes. I miraculously found an underground parking.
Mr. Abdel Hady’s office was a small room located on the second floor of the building. I walked in to see a man drinking his tea,... and two women, one reading the paper and the other on the phone.

Me: Good morning. I’m looking for Mr. Abdel Hady.
Woman 2: He’s not here yet. (it was 10:20 am)
Me: When is he expected to arrive?
Woman 2: (after scanning me) We don’t know. He never says.
Me: I mean do I need to wait for half an hour or two hours?
Woman 2: Either. We don’t know. What do you need him for?
Me: I need a security permission.

After I explained what I needed it for, the man put his cup of tea on his desk and sat up straight.
Man: Do you think you can just walk in and out of the school just like that? Anyway, we can’t issue that for you. Neither can Mr. Mohamed. You need to go to the main department of education on Abdou Basha square.

I drove around crazy packed side streets until I found it. I walked into the office that had a sign reading “Security.” There were three men talking loudly and enthusiastically about the previous evening’s Egyptian football match. The guy I was supposed to talk to was trying to make his point clear: it was the defense’s mistake. The other two totally disagreed. I stood there feeling invisible.

Me: By the way. You are absolutely right. It was the defense’s fault. I saw the match.
Man: Of course it was. Did you see when number 10 stood there doing nothing? Was he paralyzed?
Me: No, sir. It was because those players just care about the money they take and they have no real love of the game.
Man: You’re right. (he angrily banged the desk then smiled broadly) How can I help you?

I explained what I needed and he said that I had to go the Ministry of Education with a letter of request, a copy of my ID, and two photos. He also said that most probably it would get rejected as the security department always wants to avoid any reason for “headache.”

I smiled and didn’t comment. I left the office regretting two things: not using that morning for something better and not watching the football match I lied about... I wanted to know whose fault it was.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Follow Instinct

Place: Egypt, Cairo. Maadi. A quiet apartment on the fourth floor.
A room with a desk. Huge library covering all four walls. Two walls have been added using a partition.

Time: Early Saturday morning

Who: Shiekh Yusuf El-Badry (Independent Islamic Scholar) + a friend doing her master's about Islam and female genital mutilation + "lucky" me doing interpretation.

Duration: Two hours of explaining and giving proof from Quraan and 'authentic!' hadith that female circumcision is allowed, and even recommended, in Islam and not haraam. He supports his views with scientific evidence.

Question from me: If you are that sure about what you're saying and other people are also sure that the opposite is true, who is a simple Muslim with a simple mind going to follow?
Sheikh: They follow what their fitrah tells them to do. (=follow their sound instinct)

Friday, 9 November 2007

insomnia unveiled

How’s your vacation? Are you having a good time? This is of course what I receive from whoever knows I am on vacation for a ‘whole’ month. What they don’t really realize is that I wanted to go back to work 3 days after the vacation started. Since I am out of my usual routine, my mind decided to start and develop its own alternative routine. It started everyday with being insomniac, waking up late (of course), going out, returning home to work until after midnight and then be insomniac again. This time it was different… for a good reason you’ll know in a bit. It’s 7:13 am and I haven't had a wink of sleep. I am at my cousin’s. She’s fast asleep since 10.30 pm last night after complimenting me by talking for half an hour while dozing off. So I started my insomnia early. It was a couple of hours later that this conversation took place.

My condition: flu, sleepy/sleepless eyes, and a fired brain. We were discussing advice regarding graduate programs in the UK (I guess you already got tired of hearing about that)

ME • Thanx 4 the advice … be careful. It's 3 in the morning. U're becoming Egyptian.
HE - lol. I know. After opera, went for dinner, then the party and didn't see time fly... but you still have your evening ahead of you!
(I had decided not to talk with anyone about it until Saturday. I couldn’t)
• I don't think I'll sleep b4 dawn
- Ya, that's what i mean
• Insomniac tonight as well
(waiting for a ‘why?’)
- You're funny. Any particular reason or is it that you just prefer living at night?
(Good/Bad he asked)
• I usually prefer.. but not when I have flu. I decided t discuss Hijab with family tomorrow… don't know where to start, and no idea what to expect.
- Oh, is that why you're delaying sleep?
• I just can't sleep
- Good luck
• keep having image of many people's reactions
- I'd like to be more helpful, but not sure what else to say
• U can't really. It's a hell of music I have to face. I think many people will be happy (donno y), and more will be angry … and some furious
- Do you think it would be more acceptable if, having lived abroad, you came back without it?
• I don't know … really don't know what to expect
- Well, taking it by steps, it's great you went through the process of questioning, whatever the conclusion is; and great too that you have the courage to bring it up with family. The next steps, to an extent, can take care of themselves
• OK 1- I have a conservative family (a bearded brother/a bearded father/a veiled mom)
2- They don't read about religion
3- I live in a Sunni neighborhood full of men wearing beards and women wearing niqaab
4- My extended family is all veiled except 1 (she’s considered a bit of an outcast)
5- My female cousins who are my best friends were raised in Saudi Arabia (!!!)
6- people at work will split … half of them (mainly Christians) will be happy assuming I'm leaving my religion, the other half (Muslims) will be equally angry for the same reason and I HAVE to DEAL with all that while focusing on my work.
(I didn’t know it was that serious, I could even think of 6 more)

- That's a lot
• Thanx 4 reading
- Sorry, it's an understatement
• Hmmm .. understatement. Ok. How comforting !
- Sorry
• By the way ,,, I put it simply
- I guessed
• Hmm .. "good luck " was a good response ,, u see?

- But if i may tease you a moment, this is one more reason why I have always said, however much I love women, and appreciate their company, I am definitely glad to be a man
• I really wish I were a man too. In a world like the one I live in!!! It's definitely a man's world. It's just not what the majority think which makes me wonder sometimes if I'm doing the right thing.
- But the right thing is usually contextual, and no objective standard exists really
• If I think what I am doing is the right thing (at least now) it is pushing me away form my surroundings and that's not an easy thing for someone who cherishes her family a lot.
- I realise, so perhaps the matter comes down to this: would you still wear the veil for social reasons? But I suspect, in part based on past conversations, that your questioning is not limited to the hijab. And therefore the underlying issue is whether you keep your conclusions private, turning your practice into a social behaviour, or whether you want to publicise them, in which case there will be a certain amount of work, discussion, comforting, education, or consensus building with those whom you love
• I'd go for the second option ..with as little publicising as possible, as much comforting as possible.