Tuesday, February 20, 2007

First visitor

My first visitor is almost here in the shape of Shukri, she arrives on Wednesday and I am so excited, the first familiar face for almost a month. She lands In Cairo and I have taken Thursday of school so I can have a long weekend in Cairo with her. Inshallah if all goes this is the itinerary I have put together for her and I complete with a hired driver for the 2days and a half.

Pick her up from the airport and check into the hotel.

Thurday :
Salah a-Din’s Citadel followed by Ahmed Ibn Tulun masjid and
Sultan Hasan masjid as it’s around the corner, completing the day with the breathtaking
Azhar park, Pray maghrib and isha here before going back to the hotel.

Pyramids and Sphinx (part way by car then taking a camel or a horse the rest of the way, how nomadic..ahh). Then to Atab market, followed by Khan al-Khalili for a spot of shopping, Azhar masjid then Amr Ibn Aaas Masjid and the Nilometer.

I hear Ahzar university is open to the public on Saturday but if not we will just have to form a rapid friendship with an Ahzari student whom will smuggle us in, what can be more exciting then the highest seat of sunni learning…. Then its on a train to Alexandria. I am so excited i have an incredible burst of energy.

Note: she doesn't read blogger and its a suprise so no telling her ladies :)

Say it with words

I am finally starting to speak Arabic outside of the classroom, but it’s beyond broken, its just a string of words. Such as when am coming back home in a taxi, I will tell him how to get to my house with the following string of words

Name of the road
Coffee shop Abu Hassan
Shimel (left)
Wahid Shari Yamin
Kam? (Give him the money)
Ma’ Asalama
And my other favourite scenario is when I go shopping for food, I am currently having a love a fair with fresh grilled fish.I walk in and I ask for quarter of a kilo of grilled mullet but this is how I do it

Asalamu alaikum
Rubu' (quarter)
Samak (fish)
Boori (mullet)
Meshwi (grilled)
Kam? (give him the money
During the whole interaction I stand there with the broad grin because it’s hilarious, who speaks in words. I find it so entertaining that I can go on for hours in this manner. Before I had a fear of speaking at all, now it’s just with words and soon inshallah it will be in full blown sentences.

Oh and i just got my results for my first written exam and i got 6 out of 40 wrong which is 85% rather pleased with that but the oral...lol words galore

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Love in Egypt

Today as we took a usual walk up the corniche I saw a man sitting on a wall. I made eye contact with him and walahi something twinkled in his eyes although the sea was rough and it was windy and he looked cold. He just sat there looking so serene and content. It was instant, it was powerful and I just wanted to take him home.

He was at least 70, barely had teeth and sells shell jewellery for a living. People get to an age where they should be at home while there family provide for them. I welled up with emotional and brought one of his strange creations and gave him a note. Walahi I just wanted to give him the contents of my purse but he looked too proud. It’s incomprehensible for any Egyptian to reject a present so I told him it was a hadiya.

He then started giving me an array of necklaces back as a hadiya! Subhanallah I have got so used to being continuously ripped of here that his integrity made my throat constrict with emotion even more! I want to know things about him like where are his family, where does he live, how many hours a day does he work? Would he have tea with me!I love him, I really do, it was as instant as it was potent.

In every apartment block there is a family who oversee the running of things, well ours have 3 little children and the little girl makes a visit to every flat at least once a day to collect the rubbish. I find it difficult to give her our rubbish, she looks about 8 and should be at school! I give her and her siblings sweets when I see them but how rotting there teeth is going to improve there situation I don’t know I am just not sure what I can do. I feel imprisoned by my inability to communicate. I love these children and I can’t help but compare the age of my niece with the ages of these children and how they are literally living in different worlds.

I go to the majid for Isha prayer and I pray with this little old woman who can barely stand but without fail is there and she is there before me, she sits on a chair during sujood but the rest o the time she stands feet to feet with me and I want to ask her about her life and any children she might have, how long she has been using this masjid and how she manages to be there every Isha without fail. I want to take her goodies too and show her my album and share my little world with her, but as things stand we share a smile and part ways. Tonight I just wanted to hug her and tell her I love her and that I admire her.

Egptian and their famous charm eh, well so far I have lost my heart to and old teeth less man, a frail woman and 3 beautiful children may Allah love them.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The washing saga

I had almost run out of clothes to wear so washing had become a dire need. The institute has a washing facility so I look a bag of clothes to my class. I had painfully looked through every label to make that I didn’t have any disaster so feeling very worldly I walked to my class.

The first snag is the works began after I loaded the washing machine. I had no idea how to work it, where were the instructions? So when my teacher came I asked her and she got one of the brothers to work it. It did occur to me that maybe I should explain the general content so we would know what type of cycle to use but I wasn’t prepared to have this discussion so I just let him go his merry way.

After my extended class of Arabic and Tajweed (Oh my goodness but is Tajweed Hard, I have been putting my tongue into crevices in my mouth it has never been before and discovering the sheer flexibility of my jaw. I was feeling mentally taxed by the end of the lesson and just wanted to grab my clothes and go home.

When I unloaded my clothes into my bag I realised just how HEAVY damp clothes are! My poor wrists as I was also carrying my text and exercise books too! So there I was struggling down the steps when I remembered I had to go and pay for it! Only to go to the office and discover what looked like the entire male staff of Qortoba in there! Damn!!

So I had to knock, walk in, deposit my great load, give Adil the money, grab my bags and heave them out of the office all the while praying that nothing embarrassing would fall out.
I left and started the walk home when for some known reason the man who’s number I asked for (previous blog of humiliation) was sat outside his shop with a bunch of his male friend! I had to endure the longer then usual walk as I was struggling to carry everything. It didn’t help that they were all looking as I walked past.

Only to then finally make in to the lift, after the door had whacked me, struggled into the flat, that door hit there me too. To finally walk towards the balcony to start hanging my smalls when in the middle of holding one very embarrassing item the man in the opposite building decided to come out and collect his dried clothes.

I was so embarrassed I just kept holding the item, When I was able to function again I practically ran back into the flat! I refuse to hang clothes out EVER during the day light! Oh man I am going to go and bury my head somewhere.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Today i learnt the word for numers (raqam and mobile) then Sara asked me to put it into a sentence so i came up can i have your mobile number in arabic. The phrase stuck in my head for some unknown reason.

I left the lesson went to our corner shop to grab some essentials i though i would put my broken arabic into use, so i asked for milk, chocolate and bread, i wanted to ask who many pieces of bread there where in the pack so i tried to construct a sentence with the word for number in.

He looked at me confused and i looked at him thinking, yeah how many pieces dude till it dawned on me! I just asked for him mobile number TWICE I am sooooo embarrassed I tried to explain but he just kept smiling .

So i am sat here in the internet cafe absolutely red faced i don't now why i just didn't go home, my first reaction was to do a u-turn taking me back to the internet cafe! Now i have to walk past his shop again. Knowing my luck i will probably trip right outside his shop and break an ankle or something


Armed with my Egypt rough guide (courtesy of madcow) I went out with my flat mate to discover all the must sees in Alexandria. In particular the Bibliotheca Alexanderia, its an incredible building the guide describes it as a "A giant discus embedded in the ground at an angle, representing a second sun rising beside the Mediterranean…" Truly it’s a sight to be hold, it is the second biggest library in the world so I am told. If you love books and architecture it certainly is a must see. The only thing that marred the experience was the lack of prayer room, there goes the barka then

We went to Midan Tahrir which is erm…interesting! I did get some wool though and I have started a knitting evening in the flat especially as our TV has decided to take a vacation!

We also went to San Stefano which is basically an indoor mall with a cinema complex so Nads and I thought that as a testament to our new Egyptian way of life we should see a film. All was well until halfway through the film the screen blackened out! We were disgruntled at the disruption and waited patiently for someone to fix the problem. When people started making phone calls, streaming out of the room and the room was light we became really annoyed and on the verge of going to the reception area to ask for our money back when a couple leisurely strolled back in with popcorn.

I looked at them puzzlingly, they looked back puzzled so I was forced to ask what was going on they smiled and said it’s the BREAK! Boy did we laugh at ourselves, I had images of myself complaining in very very broken Arabic and being told to calm down its only a break!
Then around 12 when the film finished we left feeling Hungary and went to Mo’men (Egyptian fast food place).we got home at 2am ( No telling my mum and dad people) I have to say in my defence Egyptians don’t sleep till late so wondering around at 2am is akin to wondering around at 7pm.All in all a truly satisfying Saturday.

Oh and am starting Tajweed tomorrow which is going to be a killer my teacher has wanted to address my british accent since i started and now am giving her the opportunity to! She was rubbing her hand with glee when she was give my updated time table. I can foresee leaving with a headache, a jaw ache and general eye strain at the end of the lesson

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A True Swot

I have just come out of my sixth lesson with a massive smile on my face, a spring in my step and huge dose of utter elation. Why? Well I have self actualised to my true geeky nature (spectacles and mismatched clothes included).

I have been seriously swotting at home, I get enough homework to keep me sat at the desk for hours anyway but I have been making flash cards, yellow for noun, pink for verbs and green for adjective. I have turned them into card games and I have been playing with them. (lol, they have been providing me with hours of joy)

Nads is being sucked into to my word games too but Amel stays elusive as she is too advance.

Anyho today in my lesson, I excelled and I wasn’t shying away from using all i had learnt, Ustadha Sara is a woman who likes to challenge me and I rose to the challenge, I got every single one of my pre-lesson tests right including constructing some sentences which had her in hysterics for half of the lessons all correct too I might add.

Ahhhhhhhh I feel so satisfied alhamdulilah! I am enjoying being reacquainted with this goal driven Naima, the poor love was dormant and searching for a goal for awhile but then something clicked into place and of she went.

(My teacher is fascinated by his fact that I sometime talk about myself in the third person, am sure lots of people does it)

Guest Part 2

Well well! I knew that something was odd about the amount of energy that went into welcoming "a friend and her children" someone forgot to mention that one of her children is a 20 something Egyptian male who is clearly besotted with my youngest flat mate. The glances her way, the sheer number of times he said her name, the way he insisted on talking to her in Arabic so that hers would improve..hmm!

Half away through dinner it dawned on me that our little flat was the setting for something straight out of pride and prejudice Egyptian style. When I finally got her into the kitchen on her own I asked her "so when is the wedding" teasingly. She giggled in the sweetest way and said, You’re so blunt, I will tell you about it all tonight.

His mother is also openly trying to set up the Amel with one of her husband’s friends, once again with an egptian. My goodness, before long I might be the only Somali female in the flat who hasn’t fallen for an Egyptian. I am seriously starting to think there might be something to this infamous Egyptian charm..

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Guest part 1

There have been scenes of frazzled nervous, frenzied cleaning, frantic furniture re-arrangements, furious arguments about which condiments go with which type of meat! This has officially been a very entertaining day in our little shared flat and none of it had a wit to do with me.

My roomies have guest staying over for the weekend (we now have an established unspoken rule in the house that guest are welcome). The poor ladies have been at it since last night, I have of course tried to pitch in and continuously asked if my assistance was required but mainly I have entertained myself by getting lost a few times as I went out on a mini-venture, swept a room and did half the bathroom as well as making a fruit salad.

The Egyptian guests are still nowhere to be seen and as I write this the clock is hitting 11.30pm. There is an immaculately laid out table and enough food in the chicken to keep us going for at least a week. All this has made me reflect upon the way a guest should be treated, when should a person cease being a guest and become a intimate friend you can eat pizza straight out of the box with. Should one ever lose their guest status? Or is it a perpetual right?

For me the places I feel the most comfortable and my true self are the homes in which I can walk into the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea or where I am able to wash my cup and no one has a panic attack, they are the places I return to. I am of course aware that there moment in which the whole ceremonial pomp, finest crystal, delicate china and the clothes that can only be worn once are premed and pressed are necessary (so I here) but the true mark of friendship is when you can truly show yourself, eat that which you normally eat, frequent the places you hold dear, when you can laugh without artifice and share of yourself that which is at your core.

Just so you guys know when you visit I will of course invite you to clean presentable flat, I will even cook for you, I will offer you cups of tea but I will show you how I live and take you to the beach and show you my favourite seat , watch the sunset. I will take you to my favourite restaurants and point out humorous things that might have happened along the way we might even visit my new friend the sweet 60year old and buy food from him, If its possible I will arrange for you to attend one of my lesson and introduce you to the teachers at the school. I will feel joy and excitement at your impending arrival rather then stress and strains.


I have finally made it to the beach (which isn’t much of an achievement for someone who has lived 5minutes walk away from it for almost a week now). The sea is rather rough as its winter ( winter my foot am walking around with a mere two layers compared to the Egyptians daily wear of gloves, hats, scarves must make them think I have a certain fondness for cold related illness.

You have to buy a minimum of a cup of tea to sit on the seats strategically placed around the beach which is no hardship as sipping a cup of tea by the sea with my mp3 is ideal (I have to date brought 6varieties of tea). The sun was causing the water to shimmer and the crashing waters of blue to sooth my slightly home sick soul.

Before I left all I heard was keep safe, not come back married, no catching taxi’s on your own, don’t loose track of time and so forth. So with all that in mind it’s safe to say I have been more cautious then I would normally be, I have chosen to venture out in groups only But as nothing happens here and its incredibly safe I have decided to enjoy my time here and go discover Alexandria.

So I went on a long walk on and around Shari Khalid bin waleed ( nicked named the street that never sleeps) I wondered around looking,taking in the sights and scents, sharing smiles with woman and children, window shopping and now again stopping to make sure I was aware of the way back home. This included several u-turns and talking to myself just to confirm where I had come from when I realised I was headed into some uncharted area (am doing this systematically). I had a lovely conversation with an elderly Egyptian who reminded me of my daddy. He spoke in gestures and I murmured phrases from my phrase book and tried to use what I have learnt so far but there is only so far a few verbs (which am not yet able to conjugate) along with a list of nouns and a variety of sentences involving those nouns and verbs can aid you in a conversation.

I think we charmed each other equally and in the end he made me a chicken sandwich set me of on my travels with a long dua, very sweet mashallah. All is honky dory here and since getting my Egyptian sim I feel rather settled.

4days in Alexandria

I have lived in Alexandria for 5days, have had 3lessons and have completed hours upon hours of homework, I now know words for all sorts of things in Arabic my favourite so far being foot and bucket. I have to learn every new word along with its plural, the dual form hasn’t yet come up and am certainly not asking am already snowed under with words Truly i have never looked forward to doing my homework so much! Having read the chapter on knowledge in imam Nawawi’s the "Gardens of righteous" whilst braving the winter to get to work in Manchester now I find I am treasuring all that am doing.

The flat is literally a 2minutes away from the institute and my room mates are both Somali! What was the likelyhood eh? They are very nice mashallah and have been going out of their way to help me settle in. An example being that Nadifa searched the whole of Iskandariya for a blanket for me as I froze the night before. Oddly enough we had a storm that night and it rained later on, which made me feel very much at home running through the rain. The older of the sisters Amel reminds me of the banker, she has that older sister aura about her and her command of Arabic is fantastic mashallah so she gets us about.

My lack of Arabic shocks people when we go out, they are convinced am Egytian and when ever they ask and I tell them am Somali ( one of my 6 pre-rehearsed (Q&A) they just shake their heads. My teacher who taught MD,Bangles and Liz last summer thought I was from the same origins at Bangles, come on am at least 2foot too tall be Bengali :)An old man who offered me his son’s hand in marriage was convinced I was Egyptian. So the list to date isEgyptian, Bengali or just plan disbelieve that am Somali, I clearly need to tan!

I have discovered am a neat freak I tidy and clean at least twice a day, if I see any dishs in the sink I wash them, the inside of my wardrobe is neat and systematically ordered. I know where everything is and everything has a place. My mother would be so proud. My Diplomatic skills are also being finely honed. I have made 2 suggestions and they have all been taken up as household practice.

We should have a pot were we all contribute a set amount each week so the basic shopping in the kitchen so we don’t have to double shop.

Because we all work really hard during the week that after jummah we should have a girlie pampering afternoon.

I am very close to the sea and as soon as it gets warmer and the sea less rough am going to learn my vocabulary by the sea inshallah. I want to start Tajweed soon but I don’t want to over burden myself maybe in a few weeks time.

My teacher (beautiful Sara) also taught MD and the first thing she said to be was that she really loved MD and bangles and Liz and how much she misses them. Then when explaining something to me she saw me trying to suppress a laugh and asked if I laughed a lot like MD aww…. Me thinkth MD should right to her Ustadha.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

From Cairo to Alex

The journey from Cairo to Alex was spent on a train which took 2 and ½ hours. I passed the time reading my rough guide to Egypt, listening to my mp3 and now and again flicking through “an Egyptian Arabic phrase book” as well as taking pictures randomly from the window seat.

It’s fair to say I looked like a tourist, but I had to use all of these methods to distract myself from the fact that I thought the Atef (the brother who picked me up from the airport) was also going to make the journey to Alex with me!

The brother takes me to my carriage point to the seat number, jumps of the train back to the platform and waves his hand at me. I was hoping to God that waving ones hand in Egypt meant “give me a minute am just exercising my right hand and it would be rude to do it on the train” or something therein. But no the doors closed and I waved back looking shocked and disorientated or so I imagine although I had a massive smile of disbelieve plastered on to my face!

When he was writing name of s trainstation and the number of a brother called Adil on the back of my ticket whilst never producing his own I really should have realised. I dragged my ridiculously heavy 3bags onwards in search of my seat, I say onwards although my luggage wasn’t budging despite all my pushing and attempted drags.

The ticket master spotted me and said a few things to me in Arabic (with several hand gestures and in a rather agitated tone) but in my world I understood it as,

“salam sister, I see your having trouble there let me take this to your seat for you.”

So I pointed to my massive suitcase and my seat number. He must have come to the conclusion that he either had to help or I was going to block the gang way for the rest of the journey.

He took me to my seat and hauled my back onto the rack on top of my seat, I tired to explain that I wanted it to remain at my feet (because lets face it there was no way in heaven I was going to be able to bring it back down) but he just carried on.

So finally I had a seat, but I kept glancing at my overhead luggage trying to hatch a plan to get it down at the end of the journey as well as how I would work out where on earth to GET OFF!

To cut a long story midlength, in the end I had to get another man to get my bag down and to wheel it of , drag it up a massive set of stairs twice! He let me use his phone to call the elusive Adil to find out when he was picking me up. What a God send may Allah bless him and his family.

So am sat at the Qortoba office till Adil comes back to take me to my flat where I will be sharing with my friend Amel so he said .This is what I have learnt from today

Always do your trip research even if you think someone who knows what they are doing is accompanying you, a single ticket is a big sign that you’re travelling on your own.
Genuine human kindness never fails to restore your faith in humanity and confirms Allah’s mercy
I am not living on my own (Alhamdulilah)
If someone has viewed the flat and chosen to live in it it can’t be too bad
I have over packed!
I am truly blessed with my family and friends without whom I wouldn’t be here or I would be here but in a much pitiable situation.