Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Visiting My “Muslim Brotherhood” Dentist

Most of you should know by now, but just in case you don’t, Egypt’s top general Abdul Fatah al Sisi announced a few hours ago that he was holding a “my d*** is bigger than yours” contest. The event, to be held this Friday (July 26), will serve to get all Egyptians out on the streets to give Sisi and the military the mandate to “stop terrorism” (aka the Muslim Brotherhood). He is clearly trying to show the MB that there are more people against them than with them.

So what happens when you have a dentist appointment after such an announcement is made? Well, you’d probably just have your teeth cleaned unless you’re me. My dentist is a very nice, religious man. His wife wears a niqab and he has one small son, age three. Sometimes he leaves me in the dental chair midway through work to go and pray which is a bit strange because he could just finish up with me and then pray. But hey – that’s a small annoyance and I like my dentist. He’s an honest man, does a good job and has a clean/hygienic office (for those of you thinking that should be a prerequisite, let me just remind you where I am located and that sometimes hygiene isn’t the easiest to find).

My appointment was at 1:30 pm and Sisi’s announcement was made around noon. While I waited for the doctor to come back from midday prayer and another patient, I just watched National Geographic in the lobby. He’s usually playing the Saudi haij network so I thought it was a nice change. Again, pick your battles (besides, he always plays Nat Geo for me when I’m inside the room getting work done). This time when I entered into the room, he sat me down and we chit-chatted about how each other were doing. You know, the usual small talk. He asked me if my embassy had requested I leave and I just veered away from that subject by telling him that I just wanted my teeth cleaned for this visit.

When I initially made the appointment, a friend who also uses this same guy said: “I bet he’s at the Rabaa el Adwaya protesting.” Rabaa el Adwaya mosque is located in Nasr City and where the MB supporters have been meeting. My friend said, “You know he’s Ikhwan.” I screamed, “HE IS NOT IKHWAN, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!” And we both laughed. I seriously didn’t think he was Muslim Brotherhood. Just because you are religious and with a beard (and with a fully veiled wife) does not mean you are MB. It’s like so-called Christians only doing right while in church on Sundays, doesn’t mean they live by God’s word every other day.

So I go to the chair and prepare for the discomfort that comes with visiting a dentist. Instead, the doctor began talking to me about politics and religion. He has NEVER done this before. We have always maintained an understanding that these topics were off-limit. He rambled on for an hour discussing how he had been going daily to Rabaa el Adwaya and how upset he was at the lies being told, especially by the media. I just listened as he repeated his stance on Morsi’s rightful place as leader. He continued by saying that people were getting killed by the military, including women and children. He said this is the reason that he was going daily because he couldn’t sit by and do nothing. I asked him if he went out during Maspero, the demonstrations by Coptic Christians over a church in Upper Egypt being demolished, which resulted with 20-something people dying and over 300 injured. Of course he didn’t participate in those demonstrations because it didn’t concern Islam.

Did I mention I really like my dentist? There is a reason you don’t have these conversations with just anyone because now I’m not so keen on my next visit (which is Monday). Not that I was ever keen on going to the dentist in the first place, but this just throws a whole new wrench in going to get my teeth cleaned. He mentioned how the MB figurehead, Shatar, was arrested while he was in bed with his wife. I responded, “Because the MB never arrested or tortured anyone…” He went on about Sisi’s announcement and how MBs were dying every day when they weren’t terrorists. He insisted that he was not Ikhwan, but didn’t want to see his brothers and sisters killed. And he continued on his rant.

He said he was trying to talk to any foreigner he could to help spread the truth and encouraged me to write to my embassy. I said, “Listen, now I’m angry. Why should I write to my embassy when you just talked about my former president in such a manner? Why should I write to my embassy when this is Egypt and in it being Egypt, it is an Egyptian problem – not an American problem. So now you want help from my embassy and for what – so you can blame the US when it doesn’t go your way? No thanks. Your problem and you deal with it yourself. End of discussion.”

There were many other things that he said all the while my discomfort grew. He used the word “hate” so much in his rhetoric that finally I said, “Doctor, you’re a man of God right? Well, God doesn’t want you to have hate in your heart. He doesn’t want you to have such anger and animosity. He wants you to forgive and He will give the final judgment.” The doctor’s response was that the doctor could find forgiveness for himself which told me he clearly missed my point. I’m going to chalk it up to the language barrier.

At the end he said, “The military actions right now are what breeds terrorism.”

My dentist is a good man despite whatever you feel that you’ve read between the lines of the above conversation. I could care less what religion he falls into as long as he’s honest and respectful, which he has been. He calls to check on me after operations and I’ve been seeing him for over two years now. I feel that he is just an example of being brainwashed. And after all of that, he still didn’t clean my teeth.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Fasting Ain’t Easy

Camels dig going for a nice drive down the Ring Road

And yes, I did use the word “ain’t”.

I always said that I practically fasted many days anyway because when I’m really busy at work, I don’t have time to eat; however, I’m finding that my Ramadan experiment is harder simply because you want what you can’t have.

I have been skipping sa7our (last meal before fasting begins) because quite frankly I just can’t be bothered to wake up again at 2:45 am just to eat. So the last time I eat is around 11 pm, and when you break your fast, you find that you can’t eat that much anyway. It’s like a race to see how much food I can take in, but there’s not enough time with a shrinking stomach.

Then I began facing another dilemma: work productivity. I previously thought it was because everyone stayed up all night, but there’s another side. Not like everyone skips sa7our, but since I am, I’ve been trying to maintain energy while doing without any sort of food/drinks from 11pm-7pm the next day – and that includes going to the gym in the mornings (well, most mornings – don’t want to be too ambitious with my story). By 1:30 pm, I’m D-Y-I-N-G. I can’t concentrate. I’m pretty sure that Sunday, I fell asleep while typing an email at work. Don’t tell my boss ;)

I had to “modify” my fasting for yesterday and today simply to churn out some work with deadlines rapidly approaching. I limited myself to one coffee (which includes three shots of espresso) and cigarettes, but I gave myself the stipulation that it would only be for Monday and Tuesday with the possibility of extending it to Wednesday just so I could complete these tasks. Okay, so it’s not the correct way to do things but I can’t afford for my job to suffer for an experiment. Well, this limitation has certainly pushed me to try to get everything done in these past two days which may indicate more productivity in two days than I’ve had in awhile. PS I also take a small bottle of water in my extreme workout classes.

Everyone is asking how fasting is going. First of all, for those of you who don’t know, let me give you the three reasons why women are allowed to break their fast:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breast feeding
  • Menstruation

If you break for those reasons, you are supposed to make it up at some point after you have completed.

Now that I’ve covered all of that, I will admit that I broke my fast on Friday. While you aren’t supposed to consume alcoholic beverages, I had a going away party on Thursday and well, you just can’t fast with a hangover. I picked right back up on Saturday and found that after I ran all my errands and had absolutely nothing to do, I just laid on my couch and stared at the ceiling waiting for 7 pm to roll around. I know what you’re thinking – why not read or watch a movie?

Well, I’ve come to realize that I just can’t concentrate and it’s pointless for me to even try. I feel so lethargic around that time that even walking my dog seems to be too daunting of a task.

I do want to bring up one point that really irks me. Someone said to me how they were surprised that a Coptic Christian was eating and drinking in the open, that it was just “audacious”. I asked that person why it was “audacious” because I believe that it is anyone’s right to eat and drink openly just as it was your choice to fast. While all of my friends have been extremely supportive of my fasting, I do not mind in the least if someone is smoking, drinking or eating around me. And for any of you believers, you should also know that you gain more points if you are around the temptation and still choose to keep fasting.

Fasting isn’t difficult for everyone. Some people do stay up all night so that they may sleep until iftar the next day. This is unfortunate and I wonder if it is even remotely deemed fasting since you don’t have to suffer at all. Another reason for fasting is endurance, but I’m pretty sure the prophet didn’t mean enduring all night festivities so that you could sleep all day. Besides, if you slept the day away, you are missing out on some great things like a random truck carrying camels down the Ring Road – who wants to miss that?


Total Days of the Month: 13

Fast Completely Broken: 4

Fast Partially Broken: 2


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Letters from Egypt: This Ramadan, I’m Fasting

A friend of mine suggested a year or two ago that I should try fasting during Ramadan to understand the difficulties that others face. This is my sixth one to go through and until now, I had never fasted. I complain profusely during the Holy month wondering why it seems the entire country just shuts down, but my friend was right. I need to do it myself in order to gain a better understanding.

For those of you unaware, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan to understand what it feels like for the under-privileged. However, as soon as many break their fast, they gorge themselves into a food coma. Maybe it’s just me (although we all know it’s not), but I don’t know any poor person that says they can’t eat while the sun is up and then eats their weight and then some as soon as the sun sets. Imagine if we had Christmas for 30 days? Shudder. Just celebrating Christmas Eve and then Christmas is exhausting enough.

This year, fast begins after the morning prayer around 3:15 am and it isn’t over until around 7 pm. During this time, you are not supposed to have anything touch your mouth – so no food, drinks or for those of you that smoke, cigarettes. I’ll be honest, I messed up on the first day. I thought you didn’t have to fast until right before sunrise. So I woke up at 5:30 am and ate a bowl of lettuce, cantaloupe and yoghurt while drinking plenty of water. Random combination right? Well, I ate the lettuce on the advice of a friend. Not wanting to alter my routine significantly, I worried about keeping up at the gym while not taking water (remember, no beverages). The friend told me that lettuce retains water, so on that, I went with it and also picked cantaloupe because not only is it amazing and in season, but it, too, is very watery. And finally, yoghurt helps combat heart burn.

Day 1 was not so difficult. The only thing I remotely missed was my morning coffee. I kept with my normal routine even getting into my office early, skipping out for an hour to go to the gym and since workdays are shortened, I left at 3 pm and began prepping dinner.

I will say that the hours after work seemed to just drag on and I’ve never felt that time could move so slowly. I was invited to a friend’s for iftar at sort of the last minute, and I decided to stop my own dinner prep and spend my first real fast among others. Okay, so I’ll admit I took a nap beforehand simply because I was bored. Got up and in order to pass the last hour before iftar, I decided to walk to my friend’s house instead. I got lost and made it in her door just as the prayer occurred. We had traditional Egyptian food from Abu Sid, chatted a bit and then went for ice cream.

Now I’m not na├»ve to think that there won’t be hard days, but I do think one of the major obstacles is because you’re forcing yourself to avoid certain things. In this sense you end up wanting them more. I have decided that I will take water if I absolutely need it (and in my gym class today, Day 2, I had to take to do just that). I still do not understand being unable to consume water because that is one of the only things that many poor people have access to (there are even various watering stations in my neighborhood available to anyone on the street), and I do not think that it is smart to face dehydration simply because you’re trying to prove a point.

I don’t know if I’ll change my view or only feel more validation in my previous assumptions, but I’m giving it a shot. 

Taken downtown near Tahrir in August 2011 during Ramadan

Monday, July 8, 2013

Letters from Egypt: “US Supports Terrorism”

Dear Egypt,

It was a coup d’etat. I understand that you don’t want to recognize it as such because you think you’re special. In fact, you are special. You are so special that you have seemingly redefined every word known to man and placed your own individual spin on it. Democracy, as defined by many Egyptians, means working shorter hours but with an increase in salary. Coup  means – well, it has yet to be defined in the spin-off Egyptian dictionary, but you know it didn’t happen…

So now many of you are trying to secure your spot on any news program discussing how CNN funds terrorists because, well, damn them for using the word coup. Or even the Facebook group, "Obama supports terrorism in Egypt". It was a popular uprising, or so you say. No, it was a coup. A popular coup, but a coup nonetheless.

I know this is going to come as a shock to you, Egypt, but your situation is actually not so unique. In 2009, the island nation of Madagascar had mass protests erupt against its president at the time, Marc Ravalomanana. Like Morsi, Ravalomanana was also elected by the people (granted Madagascar’s population is not comparable to Egypt, but there is a point to this story). The military ousted the president (cough – sound familiar) and appointed the mayor of the capital city, Andry Rajoelina, as interim president (cough – Egyptian military appointing the head of the constitutional court as interim leader). A year later, the BBC said in an article: “Col Charles Andrianasoavina, who made the announcement, was one of the officers behind a coup that brought Andry Rajoelina to power last year.” The BBC called it a coup, but were not said to fund terrorists as a result. And just like in Egypt, parties erupted in Madagascar after the expulsion of the former president. He was forced out by the military, despite being democratically elected, and it was therefore called a coup (a forcible change in government leadership). A popular uprising would not have needed military intervention.

When the West doesn’t publically pat Egyptians on the back for taking to the streets yet again – failing to recognize the so-called democratic process that millions of you fought for in 2011 – they must support terrorists. I remember the demonstrations that began on January 25, 2011 and all of the many that, while not as large, took place repeatedly thereafter. The US supports a democratic process, and you had one despite whatever debatable transparency issues there may have been. Mubarak was not democratically elected as it is kind of hard to have a complete democratic process when only one party is allowed to participate.

So elections were held, mind you after many of you voiced yet again complaints over the ruling military junta that helped you previously see Mubarak ousted. Offices in Egypt gave employees one full day off from work to cast your ballot while absentee ballots were done via various Egyptian consulates and embassies around the world. Yet only 46.2% of eligible voters went to the polls in the first round of the presidential election. And Morsi edged out his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, with 51.7% of the vote.

Some of you did support Shafiq, but there were many of you that said you didn’t like either candidate so you exercised your right not to vote. You failed to remember that you also gave up the right to complain about results. I’ve also had friends that recently admitted to voting for Morsi, and when I asked them why they were now protesting his rule, they respond in variations of: “The Muslim Brotherhood lied to us. They’re terrorists.”

Excuse me, but what part of the Muslim Brotherhood history lesson did you seem to skip over? The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), or Ikhwan in Arabic, is the start of every major Islamist terrorist group from Algeria’s AQIM to Al Qaeda. Many of its members, including former president Morsi, were jailed for inciting violence. So excuse me if I don’t immediately jump to your defense in the sudden revelation some of you have had concerning the MB. Yeah, what a shock that the MB would retaliate... Do none of you remember the reports throughout local media during election time that quoted MB members as saying that if a victory was not secured, they would “set Egypt on fire”? What rock have you been living under and can I join?

So instead of blaming the US and various western media outlets, why aren’t you asking your brothers and sisters why they voted for Morsi and the MB? Why aren’t you asking yourself why you didn’t vote as chances are greater that you probably didn’t? The fact remains, the majority of Egyptian voters elected Mohamed Morsi while the majority of Egyptians elected not to vote at all. So how is this a US problem? 

When you learn the definition of coup and democracy - and not from your own made up dictionary - get back to me