Thursday, May 2, 2013

Naguib Mahfouz

My birthday was two weeks ago, and on my wishlist was The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. The man was a huge deal--internationally known, Nobel Prize winner, translated works, contemporary writer, etc. I don't remember how I heard of him and his writing but it wasn't much earlier than a few months ago.

I'm sitting here trying to do homework for my middle east history class, and I somehow ended up looking up Naguib Mahfouz's bio. I can't wait to start reading--the book is sitting at home, the size of an encyclopedia, because I knew if I brought it to my apartment I'd be way too distracted to study. I can't wait until it's after finals and summer so I can just get completely lost in the writing. I can't read official formal Arabic well enough yet, so I'll have to stick to the translated English version, but I know it'll still blow me away.

I'm just really excited to feel connected to Egypt again. I'm excited to be able to talk about all of this with my dad--every chapter or quote or scene that evokes something in me, that I know only he will understand. I can't wait til I read something that makes me feel like it's okay that I spent only 3 years out of my now 21-year old life in that country, but that I can't get away from it. I wish my feelings were socially acceptable, even though it really doesn't make a difference to me, because I feel what I feel and I know most people just will never be put into my situation to understand how I feel, let alone evaluate me for it.

I don't know. I'm not as depressed as this post probably makes me sound. I just can't wait to get started. This will probably be the first book I've picked up since I got to college that I can probably get through--double majoring (double degreeing) in humanities will make you lose all desire to read for fun very quickly.

Here's til I get started...

Sunday, April 14, 2013


"In college one day, I'll tell my mother on the phone that I want to go back to Cuba to see, to consider all these questions, and she'll pause, then say, What for? There's nothing there for you, we'll tell you whatever you need to know, don't you trust us?
Over my dead body, my father will say, listening in on the other line.
Years later, when I fly to Washington, D.C., and take a cab straight to the Cuban Interests Section to apply for a visa, a golden-skinned man with the dulled eyes of a bureaucrat will tell me that because I came to the U.S. too young to make the decision to leave for myself--that it was in fact my parents who made it for me--the Cuban government does not recognize my U.S. citizenship.
You need to renew your Cuban passport, he will say. Perhaps your parents have it, or a copy of your birth certificate, or maybe you have a relative or friend who could go through the records in Cuba for you.
I'll remember the passport among my mother's priceless papers, handwritten in blue ink, even the official parts. But when I ask my parents for it, my mother will say nothing, and my father will say, It's not here anymore, but in a bank box, where you'll never see it. Do you think I would let you betray us like that?"

Sub [Cuba under Castro] for [Egypt under Mubarak and Morsi] and you have my life story.

--We Came from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? By Achy Obejas

Friday, March 29, 2013

Las Malvinas

"I remember, I think I was in middle school. It was me and one other boy in my class. Everyone was talking about the war with Britain and how we were going to win and gain the islands. And it was just me and him who said, Are you kidding? We aren't going to win las Malvinas [the Falklands]! There's no way we're going to beat the British! It's all a lie!

And I realized that it was not what people wanted to hear. Everyone else thought we were crazy for speaking up. And so I began to realize. I shut my mouth and began to read and read, everything and anything. And it was many years before I opened my mouth again."

--My Argentine Spanish Literature professor, on growing up during the Falklands War and learning to doubt what is generally accepted.

Monday, March 11, 2013


When I lift up my hand to rest my chin on it, I can't help but notice that my skin smells like tabeekh. Tabeekh is the Arabic word for cooking; this cooking usually involves a variety of spicy and strong smells like that of onions, garlic, tomato sauce, etc.

My skin is stained with my culture. I barely make tabeekh. But I smell like it anyway. When I pick up things from home, I don't notice until I'm back in my apartment that my clothing, the fabric of my backpack, even my suede boots smell like my mother's cooking. It smells like Egypt. It smells like home.

It's a classic example of East meets West. It's like I couldn't escape even if I tried. Egypt won't let me go. The East is relentless. Don't ever underestimate its power.

And I'm forever grateful.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


I've figured out part of the reason why I love dancing so much.

I think we do a lot of things halfway. How much concentration does it take to drive down the highway, or vacuum, or wash your hair? These are all things we do often, and they don't require that much skill, really. We've grown up doing them. We can bake a cake while thinking about a conversation we had with someone. We can go grocery shopping and turn a single thought over and over again in our minds the whole time.

But when I dance, I get to use every bit of every count and every movement. The whole point of dance is to create something bigger than yourself, to expand and push the ceiling as far as it can go. It's all about how believable I can make this movement feel, how deep into my emotions I can go through this expression. I may just look like I'm stretching out my hand, but with that movement I am trying to relay to you just how deep my love is for you, or my heartbreak. I feel so deeply, and I need to express it as deeply as I can as well.

So while everything else in life is about how quickly I can finish this certain thing and move onto the next thing, dance is all about how much I can stretch out this second of time. How much story I can tell with these few movements. I may only have your attention for a few minutes, or I may only have my full attention for a few moments. I have to create the best art I can, and I have to do it as genuinely as possible. That's when time stops and I am engaged on every level. Everything just feels right for a few moments, but those few moments feel like minutes, hours, entire days.

Monday, December 31, 2012

a year in review: 2012

I am big on reflecting, and although I haven't been a good blogger, I know I'll appreciate this in the future. So here we go! A recap of the fantastic 2012:

I try to travel whenever I can (which, sadly, as a poor student with an overprotective mother, doesn't happen very often), so that usually means I jet off somewhere in January of every year. This is because college winter breaks are nice and long. My first college winter break I flew off to visit my cousins in Sydney, Australia, and in January of 2012 I visited my good family friends in Dallas. It was my first time in Texas and I loved it. Kind of crazy since my parents were thinking of moving to TX at about the same time. We just poked around the city and it was nice to see friends I hadn't seen in years. I also started a new job at an Indian restaurant by my house, which was definitely the nicest of all the part time jobs I'd had until that point. That being said, I'm definitely not a part-time-worker kinda gal. I also attended a lot of my sisters' basketball games (one was captain and one was a cheerleader) so it was nice to be able to go to my old school, bond with my sisters, etc.

I started interning with a nonprofit in DC and learned a lot about the inner movements of the city, how grassroots organizing looks like, resistance, speaking out, feminism, all of that. I attended my first congressional hearing on egypt on the hill, attended my second Harvard Model UN conference in Boston (the conference and the city is always a blast), and just kinda poked around doing new things: meeting new people, joined various clubs on campus, etc. Looking back, it seems like February was a slow month but I know it was super busy because I was taking 18 credits (including interning), working on campus, working at the restaurant back home, and part of a million clubs and organizations. 

March was midterm madness (I hate how much of my life/time is dictated by being a student when I  feel like I am also many other things...more on that later) so I didn't get to do much. I met up with the fabulous Julia and Yuriy Manchik, which was one of the highlights of the entire year! They are definitely as cool in person as they are online and I can't help but want them to be my wedding photographers although i'm young and single, haha.

April is my birthday month, so it always is special to me, although I really don't care much for springtime (also another discussion entirely). Since I'm Coptic Orthodox, and the Orthodox follows a different calendar, Palm Sunday/Holy Week/Easter usually take place right in the middle of a busy semester and usually doesn't coincide with spring break (not sure if it coincides with the Catholic church either, actually...). So this month coincided with random poetry readings, salsa dancing, my friends surprising me with dinner at a Mexican restaurant near campus that I always wanted to try, spiritual days for our middle schoolers at church, retreats with my fabulous youth groups, and a gradual change into warmer weather and the end of the year. Oh, and 20 has been fantastic so far.

May marks the end of another semester and the beginning of lots of festivities. There are always graduation parties, and this year my roommate's oldest sister had her wedding, which was absolutely beautiful. I love going to weddings and soaking in the culture (this one was Syrian), good music, good feelings, etc. I always learn something new at weddings. My little sister graduated 8th grade which is just crazy, I began volunteering at an nonprofit for immigration legal services which I loved and definitely taught me a lot about what I want to do with my career, and I wrote an 18-page research paper that I am very proud of and will hopefully be able to do more with in the future. 

June was the beginning of my working at the Latin American Studies Center at school (tweets brought to you courtesy of moi) plus a few birthday celebrations in the family. June is always Dance Recital Weekend, which lately has been more bittersweet than sweet for me, as I haven't been taking classes there since graduating high school and dancing less in general than I have been used to for the majority of my life. But it's still really wonderful to see the studio growing and getting even better at what it does, and reflecting on how much I've grown and knowing that so much of that had to do with dance. The best thing that happened in June was leading a mission trip to Rochester with my fellow servants for our middle schoolers. That was easily the hardest, funnest, most exciting and challenging week of the year. There were hours of traveling, most nights we got only 4 hours of sleep, we had to take one kid to the hospital, and I realized after that ER trip that I was the youngest servant there (20 while all the others were at least 22) and the only one who hadn't graduated college. That was humbling but encouraging, because I realized God had handpicked me for that trip, and I felt honored. Rochester was significant to me for many reasons, and I'm so glad it happened. It was my second time there, this time as a servant rather than a kid, and there is so much truth to this quote by Nelson Mandela:

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."

July was a craaaazy month. My sisters and I returned from Rochester to find our friends from Texas (the ones I visited in January) at our house, who were visiting for two weeks, with their adorable little doggies. While going around everywhere hanging out with them I started to really like my new job, the first one I have ever really enjoyed. A relative died, and I got my cartilage pierced the same day of her funeral (no connection; just saying). My dad's birthday came, and that night at 3 am I left with a group of random but lovely individuals from my church to go on my first international mission trip to Mexico. Mexico was one of the greatest things that has happened to me, and I am so thankful for it. We never realize what will matter to us until after some time when we think back and reflect on what happened. I made some really good friends, opened up my way of thinking, learned more about my abilities, and interacted with God in a very personal way. My favorite nights of the year of the group sitting on the rooftop of the church in the mountains of Mexico, right in the heart of the country but in the middle of nowhere, blasting tasbeha (coptic praises) or jimmy needham, sharing stories, playing games, sliding off the dome of the roof, and wrapping ourselves in massive blankets around each other to warm up against the breeze of the mountains in the summer nights. Mexico was amazing. I really hope to go back. 

In true crazy girl fashion, I flew in from Mexico and within 24 hours was on a cruise with my family for our annual summer vacation. It was our first cruise and we went with another family from church who I love dearly. It was filled with a lot of journaling, a lot of quietly listening to good music and reflecting, asking God questions like who I want to be, and will you help me out? and Him answering, yes, absolutely. It was a very cool experience to be out at sea for a whole week, and I seriously considered becoming a cruise ship dancer after speaking with a few of them. The end of August I volunteered at my church's booth at the county fair, which is does every year as a fundraising event. I made a few very cool, really random friendships and learned a lot about who God is and how I should interact with Him. None of it was easy, and there were some rough days, but His peace transcends all. Had a few major developments in the romance department, whose effects were felt throughout the fall semester, and all I can say is I'm very glad everything happened, that it happened the way it did, and that I wouldn't change a thing. God's foresight is astounding. The summer ended with a good concert with good people, some frank conversations, and our youth group's annual retreat in Ocean City, New Jersey, where we rent a huge beach house, chill, remember why we love each other, and that God is good. 

September was crazy in that I moved to my first apartment, although with my roommate from last year so the change was welcome and very bearable. It is something else to live in an apartment after living in a dorm, and even though my home is only about 30 minutes away (on a good day), it makes you think about big things like where you consider home and what makes a place home for you. I also began two classes I know would be very significant: a spanish literature class (that ROCKED MY WORLD, btw) and a foreign policy class with our very own foreign service officer. I learned so much about life from those classes, and they were more like Life Lessons 101 than literature or policy writing. I'm very glad I took those classes and can see their effects already, like in how I view the world (spanlit: leerlo criticamente!, foreign policy: a B+ doesn't matter so much if you've gotten the skills...) I also attended the sweet 16 for the girl of a family I love from church, and I began to feel the role of being a role model for someone else, of reaching out to younger girls, and the idea of womanhood and growing older (in a very positive sense) stood out to me. Good stuff.

October was unfortunately, also midterm season. I learned more about trusting God, had a high school senior spend the night so she could tour my fabulous school, and weathered bronchitis, my first real illness away from my mother, which also happened to coincide with my very own hurricane, Hurricane Sandy. Yes, i definitely took advantage of all the puns on twitter; a round of applause is in order for all of my followers who stuck around.

The first weekend in November was huge. In the same weekend, I got to meet/hang out with/sell merch for/record a video for the wife of/and make great Egyptian food as a gift for my favorite Christian artist, Jimmy Needham, who I linked to earlier in this post. It was the time of my life, and a huge blessing. I had always wanted to meet him and instead I got to spend a whole weekend with him chatting about anything and everything, plus telling him that I love his wife and family. That same weekend the Coptic Church elected a new pope, and the whole process, after months of prayer, fasting, investigations, etc went flawlessly. By this point in the semester, I started to rock my spanish lit class, and loved every minute of it. I voted in my first presidential election, and wrapped it all up with a great Egyptian-American Thanksgiving.

It's crazy to think that some of the stuff that happened in December was really just this month, but it's true. We had an awesome retreat with all of our middle school girls, which was a ton of fun and made me realize so many things about my own life, even things that happened to me when I was in middle school. That same weekend was my cousin's engagement party, which consisted of lots of family, Middle Eastern politics (of couse), good food (double of course), and a whole ton (3 hours to be exact) of bellydancing with Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, who are all part of the family. That was a great night and a great stress reliever before finals. I learned a lot about love that weekend. On a less positive note, my grandmother was taken to the hospital for heart problems the weekend before finals, and stress was at an all-time high. The holidays weren't quite the same this year. Somehow I finished finals, pulled off pretty great grades, went to a retreat at another church and met a bunch of cool people (man I retreat a lot). I also found out my other cousin was getting engaged (the sister of the guy from the first one) and we helped her celebrate that. A good friend of mine who I call my older brother proposed to his girlfriend in NYC on Christmas Eve, so that made 3 for 3. I guess you could call December the month of love ;)

Although my grandmother is right next to me and home with us all, I am not taking it for granted that we all made it to the new year because honestly, no one knows what might happen in 2013. I'm hoping for many good things, for a positive spirit and mentality above all, with good health and good conversation and lots of quality family time. 

I definitely learned a lot from 2012 and even though it may sound cliché, I feel very different than who I was in January of 2012. I am still fundamentally me, but I feel a bit wiser, a bit more sure of myself, and I feel like I can see a bit more clearly. And that is what life experience is all about.

I can't wait for my next adventure =)

Happy New Year to you and your family and friends,
 with peace and love and blessings for all, 
sincerely from me to you

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


"All good. I'm here."

--What I didn't know I had been needing to hear, for so long.