Never a dull day…

… when you live in the Middle East, apparently.  Recently, a very silly film has been posted on the internet.  Said film incited protests, which turned into riots, which resulted in damaged property, deaths, and way too many ignorant Facebook status updates.  Things calmed for a few days, and now some of the least bright and most angry among us are at it again in Pakistan, looting, burning churches, and of course, killing people.  I don’t even feel the need to discuss this further because I believe that most thinking people condemn this senseless violence, as well as the senseless incitement of violence, and most of us realize that many of these protests and expressions of contempt are not really directed at a silly film, but at US policy and involvement in the region as a whole.  Anyway, Alexandria remained peaceful through it all and Egypt in general seems to have returned to it’s usual low simmer.

We’ve recently moved into a new flat, and goodness, is moving a lot of work!  We hired a “jumbo” truck, (which is actually a normal sized flatbed truck), wrapped all of our furniture in foam and plastic, and hired two workers to carry it all down 11 flights of stairs and back up 4 flights of stairs.  Then began the seemingly unending task of unpacking and organizing, and the also seemingly unending task of keeping Nora away from the stairs, with which she is nothing short of obsessed.  So far, so good, on both fronts.

Nora's 1st bdayBaby girl turned one yesterday.  Somehow the last year went by very quickly, but it was wonderful, and I’m looking forward to the next year.  When she was born I could not possibly envision what she would be like at this point, and I feel the same now when I think ahead to year two.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I don’t have any one year stats to share, because we haven’t been to the Pediatrician yet, but I can share that she has met all of her 6-12 month milestones except for one – walking!  She still seems very uninterested in walking, although we’ve caught her standing alone a few times.  She’s quite small (maybe 19 pounds), but I’m not sure how, because she eats like a horse.  Yesterday she ate oatmeal with apples, cinnamon and butter, two cups of yogurt, two bowls of vegetable soup, two fried egg yolks with cheese, a piece of toast, sliced avocado, and half of a plum.  We offered her a birthday cupcake, but she was beyond uninterested in it.  Two bites and she was done and attempting to crawl away.  She has three teeth now and a fourth one coming.  She dances to music, waves to cue words (”hi” and “bye”), loves reading her books alone, and, as of month 11, sleeps 12 hours a night without waking.  I am incredibly thankful for this wonderful little Light in my life!  Especially amid confusion and chaos in the news and around us, Nora is a consistent source of joy and amazement.

Summer Fun

nora's summer collage

Nora’s Eighth Month in Review

Nora turned nine months old yesterday.  How it is possible that I am the mother of a nine month old baby is still beyond me, but as she changes more and more every day, the reality that her first year is nearly over is sinking in.  Soon she’ll be toddling around our flat, which makes her (officially), a toddler.  I just don’t feel ready for that!

Nora, your eighth month was full of so many different changes and milestones that I wanted to share some of the details here on the blog.  They’re written elsewhere as well.

playing piano on the balcony
playing piano on the balcony

Crawling. We arrived in the US on your eight month birthday, and within a few days of practicing on my mom’s lovely carpet, you mastered your cross crawl and were able to move with ease all over the house.  However, you didn’t stick with crawling long, and moved quickly on to your new obsession: climbing. Climbing on mom and dad, climbing on furniture, climbing over your toys.  You seemed to realize quickly after crawling that moving upward is the next big thing.  By week two of your eighth month, you were practicing pulling up on any piece of furniture or leg you could find.  Your favorites in Ohio were the china cabinet (presumably because you could kiss your reflection as you pulled up) and the computer desk chair, which unfortunately, had wheels.  Now that we’re back in Egypt, you love to pull up on the potted plants (and then play with the dirt), the coffee table (and let go with one hand), and the TV stand.  Every time you wake up in the night, you pull yourself up in your crib and then cry for us to come and get you.

On our way back to Egypt, we had a long layover in Paris.  While we were walking laps around the terminal, you made a new sound that got me really excited!  Ma ma ma ma! One week later you added da da da da, although you still don’t seem to associate those sounds with either mama or dada.  Oftentimes when I sing to you you sing along with me, and in general, you are much more interactive.  Now you reach for me and reach for your cup when you want a drink.  You also push my hand away when I offer food you don’t want or try to look at your teeth.

Speaking of teeth, your two lower teeth have erupted in the last three weeks.  One is about half way out, and the other has just broken through the gum.  Maybe we can get some better sleep now?

goatee of prune

goatee of prune

You’ve always been small, but your total lack of interest in solid foods during your seventh month (and subsequent low weight gain) had me a little concerned.  Thankfully, this month you’ve become an excellent, enthusiastic eater. You eat three solid “meals” a day now (with mommy and daddy) and one or two solid snacks.  The foods you love the most are yogurt with apples or mangoes mixed in, steamed broccoli with garlic and olive oil, green beans, roast chicken with carrots, spinach with chicken stock, sweet potatoes, bananas, watermelon and prunes.  You’re not that into beef yet, although if I mix it with your vegetables, you’ll eat it.  I gave you beets with apples, but apparently you’re not supposed to eat beets until you’re one year old (which is a little sad, because you loved them).    We still haven’t given you bread, rice or wheat, and we’re in no hurry to do that.   Since you’ve become interested in these foods, you’ve gained more weight, and you now weigh in at a (still dainty) 7.2 kilos, or 15.87 pounds. You still nurse 4 times a day and two times a night.

Some not-so-wonderful milestones were your first fever and first (beginning – we caught it early) of an ear infection.

Just a few days before you turned nine months, you stunned your dad and I by waving when I said goodbye to him as he was leaving.  It’s the sweetest little wrist-flopping wave I’ve ever seen and you now do it any time anyone is standing by the door and says “bye.”  Yesterday, you and your dad were reading and you turned the pages of the books while he was reading.  You are seriously clever!

You made your mom and dad so happy this month as we reflected on our first Mothers’ and Fathers’ days.  You’re wonderful, little Nora!  We love you so much and can’t wait to see what month number nine holds!

//

There are two occasions when the sacred beauty of nature becomes dazzlingly apparent, and they occur together.  One is when we feel our mortal insufficiency to the world, and the other is when we feel the world’s mortal insufficiency to us.  Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true.  “He will wipe the tears from all faces.”  It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.

Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it.  I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave- that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.  And therefore, this courage allows us, as the old men said, to make ourselves useful.  It allows us to be generous, which is another way of saying exactly the same thing.

Mariylnne Robinson, Gilead

Gloria

May none of God’s works keep silence,
night or morning.
Bright stars, Great River, the depth of the seas,
expanse of the open desert.
May all break into song to Father, Son and Spirit.
May all heaven join in.
Amen.  Amen.  Amen.
Power, grace, honour and glory
to God the giver of life.
Amen.  Amen.  Amen.

The Egyptian Gloria
[source unknown]

Cultural Confusion [revisited]

Even after two and a half years in Egypt, culture shock still hits me in the face periodically.  When this happens, I’m generally out for a few days, on the floor per se, trying to figure out how I’ll go on living here.  But then I get up, and I go on, and I’m happy to be here again, where I’ve believed all along I’m meant to be.  For now, I’m trying to get back to that hopeful, contented place, away from the sadness and deep frustration that is currently weighing on my heart.  That’s what I need.

This Arabic Baby

I was tempted to blame my near-total failure at updating this blog on my sweet little baby girl, but it’s really not her fault her mother’s such a poor blogger.  Doing better at this is one of my New Year’s resolutions, though, and I’m already late for the Islamic and Gregorian calendar’s new year, as well as the Chinese new year now.  Shaking it off.   Starting afresh!

nora1The biggest news in our world was the birth of our daughter, Nora, in September.  Her birth was paradoxically everything that we wanted and everything we did not want.  I had a wonderful natural labor that ended in a c-section with a very difficult recovery.  Not wanted.  However, Nora was perfectly healthy, perfectly adorable, and a marvelous little eater from hour one.  Exactly what we wanted, hoped and prayed for.  Life is a mystery, and bringing a life into the world is one of the greatest privileges, nothing short of miraculous.  Period.

After Nora was born we traveled to the States for 7 weeks to celebrate the holidays and share her with our friends and family.  It was a joy to see so many people we love loving our daughter!  She did great throughout the many transitions of that time, but we were definitely ready to get back to Egypt and implement more of a routine.  Now my days consist of helping Nora take longer naps, cooking nutritious meals (most days, and ordering pizza on the days I don’t), attempting to stay on top of the mountain of dishes from cooking said meals, washing cloth diapers, and studying Arabic with my tutor Eman about 8 hours a week.

Nora, 4 months old

Nora, 4 months old

Gabriel’s days consist of playing with our incredibly active 5 month old, helping her to sit by herself, get in the crawling position, balance standing on his hands and whatever else he can think of.  His company is also now open and he’s working hard to make his dreams of more sustainable agriculture and more available food for Egyptians a reality.  He is, as I expected, an amazing dad and I am so proud of him.

If you follow the news at all, you’ve probably noticed that Egypt is still, a year after the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, going through turbulent times.  I’ve plenty to say about it, and I will share… next time.  Nora and Egypt are both worthy of their own posts.

Parenting and Privilege

I just finished looking at these photographs, and I’ll warn you now- they’re depressing.  It’s not easy being a woman in much of the world, and these pictures show the worst of it.  But even before I saw these images, I had been thinking about privilege, specifically as it relates to having a child.  It might not be normal to think about the incredible rights and opportunities your child will enjoy while pregnant (and conversely, what rights and opportunities many children do NOT enjoy), but for whatever reason, I am.  Gabriel said to me last week that our daughter is already incredibly blessed and fortunate because she has a mother who loves her so much and has worked so hard to prepare for her arrival and to bring her into the world in a healthy way.  I agree with him, and it’s a joy to think about this tiny girl and feel -already- that I would do anything for her.  But baby girl has so much more than our love!  She also has….

-  a clean, comfortable home with her own room (including a window with a breeze) running water, a working fan, and enough clothes and toiletries provided by her family to get her through her first year of life
-  clean water, good food
-  access to the best medical care in the city and the means to travel outside the country for medical care, if needed
-  access to education in her home (her parents are literate and intentional about educating at home) and when she is of the age to attend school
-  an American passport, and therefore, virtually unlimited travel opportunities and diplomatic support
-  many, many people who already care for her little life and express great interest in protecting and supporting her

I could go on, but I think you get the point.  Without going to UNICEF’s webpage, I can guess that most of the world’s children don’t have these opportunities, or at least have to fight very hard for them.  Our daughter probably won’t ever have to, and I thank God for that, but this fact also leads me to wonder how we will parent such a privileged little girl.  How do you model compassion for the poor and the mistreated?  How do you instill a sense of responsibility to give to those who have less, without burdening your child unnecessarily?  Maybe this will all come naturally, but still, I wonder…

We have friends here who take their children (ages 6 and 5) every Christmas to an area of the city that is full of street children, many of whom are forced to work for adults and are addicted to drugs.  Their kids then pick out several Christmas gifts and deliver them to other children of their choosing.  This kind of activity has inspired me to think of my own ideas for how we will teach our daughter not just to be thankful for what she has, but to actively give from our abundance to others.

So, sound off.  Anyone else have ideas or thoughts on this?

Update Edition

From the looks of this, you would think I had taken a sabbatical from blogging.  I guess I did, although it was unintentional.  I’m going to cautiously say that I’m back now, though!  I have not updated in 4 months, and much has happened.  Here is the abridged version…

Post-Revolution Highs and Lows
If what goes up must come down, I would say the soaring emotions and excitement of Egypt’s primarily-peaceful youth led revolution that ousted a dictator of 28 years is no exception.  Within a few weeks of Mubarak’s departure, we were hearing complaints.  ”We just want things to return to normal.”  ”Why do they have to keep protesting? Just go home.”  Then there was the election on a referendum to the constitution.  The youth, the moderates, and truthfully, everyone we know, proudly told us they were voting “no,” but days before the election the Salafists started coming around in trucks with loudspeakers, announcing with confidence that those who would vote “no” were infidels.  Voting happened peacefully, results came in, and the referendum passed.  More disappointment for the people who brought about the revolution in the first place.  Now, several months later, crime is on the rise.  In one week I was pick-pocketed, a friend robbed, another friend’s apartment broken into and ransacked, and a taxi driver shot dead by his passenger just a block from our apartment.  People blame the lack of police presence and the fact that some wish to take advantage of the fragile state of things.  As my friend Asmaa said, “the revolution is not over yet!”  I hope not.

This Arabic Baby
Conveniently, I was enduring the throes of morning sickness and exhaustion during a period of time when the army forbade me from leaving my house except for three hours in the afternoon anyway.  Our baby girl is due to arrive some time at the end of September and we could not be happier.  Right now we are working to give her a nice room, one without peeling paint on the walls and a hideous gold bed.  We also spend a lot of time reading emails and looking at pictures of all the cute clothes that have been purchased for her by mom and sister-in-law.  My pregnancy has been wonderful so far and I have nothing to complain about (although it will be a miracle if I have any esophageal lining left by the time she is born- so much heartburn).  We’ve found a great doctor and feel good about delivering in Egypt and enjoying all of the cultural experiences that will come with that joyous event!

SudanThis Arabic Life: Sudanese Style
I had the interesting opportunity to go to Sudan for 5 days in April.  While this was mostly a working trip for me (I got to speak Arabic a lot, and was actually understood), I was also privileged to be working with one of my favorite women, Kris.  We shared a lovely breakfast together every morning before hitting the 113 degree heat (42C), and I really enjoyed getting to know some Sudanese friends better.  For me, Khartoum was seeing the “real” Africa for the first time, as Egypt just doesn’t feel very “African” at all.  I found Sudanese Arabs to be much more relaxed about rules and orthodoxy than their Egyptian counterparts, but this might be an unfair generalization.  Either way, I enjoyed Sudan (despite missing Gabe a lot), and I think baby girl did too, as I felt her kicking me for the first time there, but how could she NOT like those Sudanese peanuts I was woofing down constantly?

The other big event in our lives was the completion of our studies at the Arabi Center.  We’ve been there for nearly 20 months and completed 400 classroom hours of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic.  We were TIRED at the end of the last unit, and I feel that my brain could not possibly take in any more Arabic, but it will, insha’Allah, after I take a short break.

Those are the highlights.  We continue to enjoy Egypt and look forward to Ramadan (August) and our business opening in just a few short months.  For now, we’re thankful for moderate temperatures, supportive friends, a healthy, growing girl, and kilos and kilos of fresh summer fruit.

Happenings In Egypt

CIMG8241

Egyptians form a human shield around Alexandria's most famous monument, the Alexandria Library.

Most of you are probably aware of the unrest that has gripped Egypt over the last two weeks, but we wanted to share with you a bit about our experience, and what it has been like to live amongst the Egyptian people during this truly monumental time in their history.  We feel that the perspective offered by most news media outlets are rather shallow and don’t offer a true picture of Egyptian society, and may actually present a negative picture, so we thought it would be good to write about our experience, without expressing our opinions on who should be in power, or what party we support, or whether the protests should have happened or not.  It is our belief that this country belongs to the Egyptian people, and that they will decide their own destiny, hopefully without foreign governments putting their hands in the pot.  Whether they elect a president who is more moderate, more liberal, more conservative, or more Islamic is up to them, and I have no right to influence in them in one direction or the other; but more about that later.

Our Personal Experience
Egypt is not America.  It never will be.  I hope it never is.  Egypt has a rich culture and history going further back than almost any other country on the planet.  Egyptians know this, and are a very proud, extremely patriotic people.  They love Egypt and almost everything about it, from the cities to the farms to the desert to the sea.  They have songs singing the glories of their land, and every young person can sing these songs from heart.  But, this does not mean Egypt is perfect.  Egypt has problems.  As outsiders, we do tend to notice more of these than an Egyptian would, but part of living in a different culture is learning to live with many of these inward struggles of the Egyptian culture, and at times these faults are more glaring than others.  However, during these last two weeks, it seems like so many of those things vanished, like a mist on a hot day.  The first thing we noticed was the unity which the Egyptian people had throughout this struggle.  On the news you probably saw the chaos which ensued on Wednesday evening as pro-government protestors started a street battle which went on for days.  But in our quiet little neighborhood, we saw something different.  We saw our neighbors standing guard outside our street, watching out not only for our apartment building, but for the shops and buildings around us.  When I first heard about these street ‘gangs’ (as the Western news was calling them), I thought maybe I would find a few men sitting in chairs talking politics.  But instead, I walked out to find hundreds of men armed with everything from lead pipes and kitchen knives to nun-chucks, playing a role that I don’t know the police in Egypt ever played.  They set up checkpoints and stopped all cars.  They questioned strangers who would walk through.  They basically stopped any looting at all from happening on their ‘turf’.  But the most important thing was that they were doing it together, not as Christian or Muslims or rich or poor, but as Egyptians.  They worked in shifts so those who still had to work could work, and others could protest.  University students directed traffic.  Strangers joined together to pick up trash off the streets, as the trash collection service had stopped as well.  (I will say this amazed us most of all because there is a serious trash problem, and many times we have seen Egyptians throw trash on the ground, but have NEVER seen an Egyptian pick up someone else’s trash without getting paid to do so).  Egypt came together like we had never seen them come together before, and it was one of the most beautiful things we had ever seen.  Any danger we have felt during these last several weeks has been because of the government, and not the Egyptian people.  The Egyptian people are a good hearted people, and most of them would never do anything to hurt us.  The government, however, has a long track record of going out of their way to cause trouble for Egyptians and foreigners alike.  After living with the Egyptian people I can say that I trust them to elect a president that will reflect their values, and therefore do not feel that other governments need to interfere.  They have purchased this freedom with their own blood and sweat and sleepless nights.  They started it and they will finish it, and we will be behind them 100%.CIMG8229

Our Personal Struggle
During this difficult time we were living our lives on a 24-hour basis.  Would we leave?  Would we stay?  If we left, where would we go?  If we stayed, was that decision justifiable to our families and others who care about us?  Were we safe?  Were we in danger?  What was the US Embassy saying?  All of these questions were running around our heads 100 times a day every day.  It was several days into the protests, as we realized that these people weren’t going to go away, and as the situation began to degenerate, that we came to a realization: if we are going to live in the Middle East with all of it’s political turmoil and ambiguity, we were going to need something to keep us stable in the midst of instability.  We found that stability in the writings of the prophets Daniel and David.

David and Daniel both lived in some pretty tumultuous times, and had to struggle with some of the same insecurities and uncertainties as we did.  David was dethroned by his son, fled to the wilderness, and was rejected by his people.  Daniel was a refugee in Babylon, several times facing death at the hands of his captors.  Both of these prophets had an incredible insight for those facing political and personal uncertainty.  In Psalm 115:3 David writes, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.”  In the book of Daniel, the king Nebuchadnezzar is humbled when God strips away his kingdom and basically causes him to go insane for seven years, in order that “the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. (Daniel 4:17)”  I don’t know if you can understand how incredibly freeing and calming it was to hand the reigns of the world over to the Lord.  People in power tend to be prideful and slow to give up their power.  Nations tend to meddle in other nations affairs.  People can be unpredictable and prone to hatred and violence.  But, all of God’s works are righteousness and truth.  Even when we don’t understand why some things are happening, we must remember what Job said, “God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend. (Job 37:5)”

The Poison of Fear
We know some reasons why the Egyptian people began to protest against the government.  Unemployment.  Corruption. Poverty.  Injustice.  Dictatorship.  Oppression.  The list goes on and on.  But it is the questions we don’t have the answers to that cause us the greatest amount of stress and anxiety.  Questions like, “What type of government will replace the current regime?”  ”Will this new government have good relations with the West, or take a harder line?”  ”Will this instability spread to other countries in the Middle East?”  Unfortunately, for many people, when faced with these questions, rather than looking to the Scriptures for their answer, the prefer to meddle.  We like meddling.  We like it because we are scared, and it makes us feel like we have some degree of control.  In all actuality, we don’t.  History is chalk full of examples, so I won’t bother going into any.  But this fear that grips so many of our hearts is a very dangerous thing, and a poison of sorts that will actually turn around and end up killing us if we don’t change.

We fear what we don’t know or understand.  You can see it in children.  If they are approached by a dog they don’t know, you see their immediate reaction of fear.  You see it the first time a child gets on a bike, or is asked by their mother to eat a strange food.  You definitely see it the first time someone gets in an airplane or jumps out of one.  As we become familiar, that fear leaves, and until that fear leaves, it hold us back.  The Apostle John put it like this: “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18).”  The issue of fear is complicated, and every individual will have different fears to overcome, but the great fear which we had to overcome was the fear that God does not have things in His control.  The fear that Egyptians could elect a government that would be opposed to Westerners, or open the door to more militant Islamic groups, or….  The list goes on and on.  If we hold onto this fear, it forces us to try and control things ourselves, rather than trusting the Lord.  Or, it causes us to distance ourselves and protect ourselves from someone or something, which, like John tells us, keeps us from being able to love.  So what are we to do?  We live in the midst of political and social uncertainty, and know as little as anyone concerning the future of this great land.  Our only choice, and I think the only choice that any of us have, is to place our lives and the world completely in the God’s hands, so to speak.  The book of Daniel has these encouraging words for us:

Daniel 2:20-21 – Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.  And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Daniel 2:44 – And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms and it shall stand forever.

Daniel 4:34-35 – And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation.  All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing.  He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.  No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”

Daniel 4:37 – Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, and extol, and honor the King of Heaven, all of Whose works are truth, and His ways justice, and those who walk in pride He is able to put down.

Daniel 6:26 – I make a decree that in every dominion of my kingdom men must tremble and fear before the God of Daniel.  For He is the living God and steadfast forever; His kingdom is the one which shall not be destroyed and His dominion shall endure to the end.

What Now?
Now, we continue to live our lives.  We continue to love our neighbors, whether they be good or bad.  We continue to believe that even when we walk through the most difficult and dangerous times, that God is with us.  We continue to pray for Egypt, for the Middle East, and for the World.  We continue to believe that God is at work in the nations, and that worrying and fear do nothing but hurt me.  So, we invite you to join us in our quest against fear.  Join us in trusting fully in a God who does not stand idly by watching the world hurtle toward destruction, but is actively at work in all places.  Join us in opposing those who seek to spread fear through their irrational and apocalyptic speech.  Join us in opposing those who would use stereotypes and the worst examples of the Muslim community to place a wedge of fear and hatred between Muslims and the West.  Join us in opposing the US Government’s obsession with meddling in the affairs of other nations.  Join us in supporting the Egyptian people as they fight for their freedom, not because it is guaranteed they will be our strongest allies in the Middle East, but because they deserve this freedom.