Friday, 15 February 2008

I can feel the sun, the wind, and more!

White, blue, canary yellow, phosphoric green, red, orange, pink .. plain and patterned. I have scarves of almost all colors and materials. I loved them and I still do. They had always made me feel safe and some people thought they never kept me from looking ‘elegant.’ I had wrapped my scarf around my head every time I had left my apartment, opened the door, or gone out on the balcony. For four thousand one hundred and ninety five days of my life. It never bothered me or kept me from doing what I wanted. Even by the sea. I always kept it on and had my way of enjoying the water and the fresh air.

After six months of intensive reading about several issues in religion, I now have my own personal beliefs regarding many of them. Those beliefs are not the primary reason for my decision. When I honestly think about it, I know I only did this because of a growing feeling within me that what I have in my heart and mind doesn’t go any more with what I put on my head. My decision stemmed from a ‘growing discomfort.’ This is the simplest way I could put it.

I know I’m going against what almost every practicing Muslim believes to be an obligation just like the everyday five prayers. It’s the only visual distinction between us and non-Muslims. So by taking my veil off, I, as a Muslim female, threaten what the authoritarian religious masses are trying to do – resisting change imposed by the west and going back to fundamentalism because it’s the only solution. Feeling weak as a nation in chaos, the best thing to do is to cover up their women because they are the honor of family and society. To them, I am blemishing the image of purity and make men’s life more difficult because I represent temptation. I am that girl who, with the help of Satan, has been deluded by her own sick mind into taking off her veil. I will commit sins with every hair I have on my head every time a man sees it. On the Day of Judgment, I shall be dragged to Hellfire by this hair. This all explains why a colleague’s jaw dropped to the floor when she saw me unveiled and recited a verse in Quran used when disasters happen.

I also know that I’m putting myself and my family through painful social pressure. I live in a neighborhood with a Muslim majority; many of them are bearded, veiled or even face covered. We’ve lived here for over quarter a century and have always had the reputation of a ‘decent family.’ So how come my dad and brother let me do this? Yes, it’s their fault in the first place because they allowed me to travel alone, study a lot and work in too liberal environments. They should have tried to get me a husband earlier before I reached that stage. I’m in my late twenties and being the way I am, chances of getting suitors , religious suitors, are reduced.

In the middle of all this I hear “You’re our only daughter. We want you to be happy and we’re sometimes worried about you. Don’t listen to anyone. I’ll never allow anyone to talk about you or judge you. People should learn to mind their own business. One neighbor saw you this morning and I was on the balcony especially for that. She looked up to our balcony to see if we were there and I just gave her this yes-we-know look.” my mom said when I phoned to tell her how much I loved her and felt blessed to have her and my dad as my parents. I realize how hard they are trying to hide their worries. But I can just feel it there in their hugs. I hear it in their prayers. I sometimes wish I were a typical Egyptian daughter, just for them.

All this headache! I wish I could tell the whole world that it’s much simpler than it may seem to them, that I am not interested in being different, that I still love my religion. It’s just the way I am. This is ME.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Cairo, the veiled Bride of the Nile!

A glittery headscarf, high-heels, a silk blouse, an embroidered shawl and mascara. I was wearing all this as I went from the B5 parking level, through the six G levels, and 40 more floors. I went out of the elevator and walked in a corridor dimly lit and romantically designed.

Chair tucked under me by a perfumed waiter. “Enjoy your evening!” he said softly intending not to disturb the first overwhelming moments. Overwhelming is the word.

Up in the revolving restaurant of the Grand Hayatt hotel, Cairo looked like a shy bride. She, too, was wearing a veil.

“I feel jealous, Cairo... for you look far more elegant.”
Her smile beamed at me as she welcomed me into her bright night.

“I now know how life can get too busy for family to talk. But I have many things to tell you. Do you realize how angry I am? I know I look so peaceful to you, but I do get quite angry sometimes!
I get angry when I know that the cost of these two hours up in this restaurant can feed two families for a whole month… when I know I’ll be spending more than 11% of my life in traffic (although I forget all this on a late night ride)… when I think about my 31-year-old brother who has a job and a house and can’t get married because he still needs $ 5000…when I look at a neighbor who has been engaged for four years because he can’t afford refurbishing and furnishing his apartment with the minimum… when I pass by the Ministry of Health and see people camped outside the building waiting for a merciful look. I even feel guilty for being healthy… when I watch a 40-second clip on u-tube of an officer torturing a suspect and wonder how much time it took him to get that heart of stone… when I feel guilty every time I drive by a crowded bus stop… when I remember how my mom has spent her life "prioritizing" and not buying herself a single thing she loved…and when I remember the pain of sitting on the floor in packed lecture rooms on hot summer’s days. I was always trying to listen to professors talking about Renaissance, literary criticism, Hamlet, George Orwell, Blake and many others who I don’t remember anything about now. I was busy trying to breathe.

One more thing I want to tell you. A secret I have to share with you. As cruel and crazy as you get sometimes, I failed to hate you. I did. I throw myself into the arms of your people on the streets when I'm tired.
I see you in the eyes of my mother when she says she’ll only leave you maybe when she’s dead. I still get tears in my eyes when I hear songs and poems written to you, or when I see a tired smile on the face of a poor man saying ‘alhamdulellah’. Thank God for everything. I let myself get lost in the scented alleys of your old streets and read million stories written on the tired walls of proud buildings.
Looking at you from up above, you look pretty… dressed up to the nines. And even prettier deep in your heart, behind your glittery veil.”