Texas: The European Tour

Did you know that Texas has a plethora of cities named after European cities?  I have known about Paris, Texas since I was a young girl.  I’ve toured most of Europe since we lived in Germany most of my childhood.  We spent many a holiday visiting the UK, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Italy, and more.  As a young adult, I traveled to Greece.

Now that we’re living in Texas, a lot has changed.  We’ve aged and don’t really feel the urge to travel great distances like we once did.  But on a whim, I took the kids on a road trip to Paris, Texas during Spring break a few years ago.  It was fun.  They have an Eiffel Tower there….but with a gigantic cowboy hat on the top of it.  Next to that, there is a veterans memorial dedicated to all of the veterans from that area as far back as the mid-1800’s.

After that trip, I decided that we’re going to check out every European city within our great state of Texas.  The next place we visited was Dublin, Texas.  It’s hands down our favorite so far.  We got to tour the Ben Hogan Museum there.  It was great.  Ben Hogan was such an amazing contributor to the game of golf.  He deserves his own little museum.  We also toured the Dr. Pepper Museum while we were there.  That place is so cool.  They’ve got DP stuff that goes back over 100 years.  We also had some sandwiches at the little sandwich shop that runs the DP museum and purchased a case of sodas bottled by the Dublin soda factory that still runs today.  I’d like to go back there one day when the antique shops are open.

We had a very sweaty trip to Athens, Texas.  Unfortunately for us, we got a late start on a Sunday, and by the time we arrived almost the whole town was closed.  We did go on a self-guided tour of the Arboretum there and it was extremely pleasant, albeit hotter than a $12 stereo.  The best part was a huge gazebo with a massive fan in the ceiling (it wasn’t on) and a stage.  No one was around, so I stood on that stage and sang my fool head off.  The acoustics were awesome.

This past Spring break, we attempted to see the sites of Rhome.  (No, that’s  not a typo.  It’s just a Texan spelling of Rome, I guess.)  The tiny little veterans memorial there was nice.  But that’s pretty much all it had to offer.  We got a little spooked by the muscle car full of rednecks that kept driving up and down the road while we were at the memorial.  The occupants kept staring at us like we were Martians.  Probably they’d never seen such good-looking people before.  Of course, it may have been the hijabs the girls and I were wearing.  Anyway, we decided 15 minutes was long enough and piled back in the van and went home.

Today, we decided to try a city whose twin used to be behind the Iron Curtain:  WARSAW.  Warsaw’s history is pretty sparse.  It was established back in 1847 and had a post office until 1858.  I think the largest population it had was 65 back in the 1990s, until recently when there was a huge population growth and now the town numbers 300.  They have a community center now.  And. Nothing. Else.  The trip was a 114-mile U-turn in someone’s driveway.  It’s a couple-hundred horse town….but no stop lights.  We didn’t even get out of the car.  We just drove back home and made ice cream sundaes and watched the rain fall for a while.  But that’s okay.  It was one more town checked off our list and family time of sandwiches in the car, one stop at a gas station to pee, and another story of “family togetherness torture” for the kids to complain about to their therapists when they’re older.

 

 

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Welcome Home, Hero. Rest in Peace.

This was not the first military funeral I had attended.  It was the first time I’d been to any funeral that took place 76 years after the deceased had died.  This young man, a kid the same age as my third of five children, has finally made it home to be put to rest with his family in a hero’s ceremony.  Seaman First Class George Anderson Coke, Jr. came home to Arlington today for the first time since he left for boot camp back in 1941.

My friend, Leslie Dorn Barton, is George Coke’s second cousin once or twice removed.  I’m still unclear on all that genealogy stuff.  While I’d like to be able to trace back my family tree, I’m quite unorganized and tend to think circularly rather than in clear straight lines.  Besides, I’ve got aunts and cousins on both sides of my tree who really dig that sort of thing and they actually journal it all. Anyway, Leslie is one of the Special Education teachers who taught my daughter at Sam Houston High School. We became friends over the last couple of years. So naturally, when she mentioned that this funeral was happening today, I told her I’d come.

It’s been hotter than ever all week and I was so relieved when the thunderstorms hit our city last night and it rained until the wee hours this morning.  I donned my black abaya and a gray and black scarf and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church and tried to “blend in” with the Arlington locals.  I know.  I didn’t. The sole Muslim in a sea of mostly older, white, Christian faces.

I listened to the history of George Coke, Jr., son of George Coke, Sr., who was the Chief of Police in Arlington back in the 1920s.  I learned that of the 3,500 American casualties that day in Pearl Harbor, that Arlington lost 48 souls.  My mind wandered, as is the norm during funerals.  Everyone in some way or another is reminded of their own immortality at a funeral.  With military funerals, you are also reminded of all of your family members and friends who also served in the armed forces.  I felt a few tears escape today as I remembered friends who were killed in foreign wars.  I felt a few more tears escape as I offered prayers of thanks and gratitude for those family and friends who returned safely home.

I followed the funeral procession to Parkdale Cemetary. We were escorted by members of the United States Navy and a large number of the Arlington Police Department.  I watched as the sailors, now pallbearers, respectfully carried the remains of their comrade who fell in the line of duty more than half a century before any of them were born.  And the firing of the three volleys, though I knew they were coming, still caught me off guard and those tears of relief that most of my loved ones returned to me fell from my eyes as a silent salute to Seaman Coke and all of the thousands who didn’t.

My heart stirred as I watched the slow and deliberate movements of the sailors folding the flag and the hand off of that folded flag followed by the final salute from Seaman to Non-Commissioned Officer to Officer to Rear Admiral and finally to George Coke, Jr.’s family members.  The spent shell casings from the three volleys, symbolizing duty, honor, and country, were then placed into the hand of the young descendant of Seaman Coke.

A cool breeze gently blew across my face, air-drying the silent tears and leaving my cheeks a little bit sticky.  I hugged Leslie and shook hands with her son, aunt, and mother.  I looked back to see the final resting place of Seaman Coke, under the Live Oak and the Crepe Myrtle trees, beside his mother and father.  Welcome home, hero.  Rest in peace.

 

Ramadan 1438 (2017)

Well, in sticking with my usual Ramadan traditions, breakfast was LATE on the first night this year, too. I had big plans, people. BIG plans. We had the dates soaking in milk for about 13 hours. We had freshly made mango juice. We had hummous and baba ghanouj and I even remembered to have my husband bring bread home with him…because I always forget it. We had the coffee pot set up and ready to brew. I had found a recipe for making spiral-cut parmesan baked potatoes and had them ready to go. I had pulled the ribeyes out of the freezer before noon to thaw and since it was 40 billion degrees outside, I decided we’d grill them in the oven instead of any of that charcoal grill nonsense. And I made Brussels sprouts. I should have gone with the charcoal grill.

The stupid meat would not freaking cook. They’re steaks. I’ve made them at least 4000 times in my life time. WHY? What gives? The physics in my oven just decided to go on strike? AUGH! I don’t know what was going on there….but it was terrible. We had all the sides and juices and salads. But no meat until 9:00 when they finally finished cooking. And they were terrible. I was so sad that, of all the traditions, being late with dinner on the first night of Ramadan was the one that I managed to keep. *sigh* Oh, well.

Today I took the meat out of the freezer at 10 a.m. I’m going to start cooking at 3 p.m. And all I’ll have left 40 minutes or so before the sundown is to make a pot of rice and to turn the coffeepot on. Now if I could just remember this lesson on the first night of Ramadan 1439, I’ll be in good shape.

Ramadan Mubarak.

رمضان مبارك

 

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Labels

I got this flash of genius about Labels around 1 in the morning while laying in bed trying to solve all of the world’s problems instead of sleeping. Damn insomnia! Anyway, with Randa asleep next to me (because it’s HER bed when her father is working overseas) I can’t flip the light on and start rummaging through nightstand drawers searching for pen and paper to write down my brilliant epiphanies. So I grabbed my phone and used the recorder app. God bless technology. I hadn’t even known that thing was on there until my kids, who are not allowed to even touch my phone, found it and began making really bad attempts at gangster rap. *face palm* 

Here are my thoughts:    LABELS.

They’re what people use to define us. Sometimes they’re what we use to define ourselves. And those labels with which we define ourselves are not necessarily the ones that others would use to define us. This is true in any kind of label. It doesn’t have to be a good word or a bad word or whatever. We sometimes find ourselves in a position where others are defining us in a manner with which we do not agree, specifically, when people only see our outward appearances. My family is American. But when we live in the United States we are labeled as “Foreigners” because we are bilingual. We speak Arabic as well as English. We’re Muslim. And because of our appearance (my daughters and I wear the hijab and cover our hair and wear modest, loose-fitting clothes in public) a lot of times in Texas, and other states too, people cannot look beyond our clothing. Immediately, we’re “Foreigners.” We’re “Ragheads.” We’ve been told “Go back to your own country” when we’re in fact, already IN our own country. Every one of my children was born in the United States. My ancestors go back about 200 years of mostly Irish-American roots. My husband was born Egyptian, lived in Greece from 15 years old until he was 28 and after he and I married there, he came to the United States where he was naturalized. So, pretty much, we’re an American family with very long roots that span several different continents and the labels that others have for us are not things by which we define ourselves.

The name of my original blog was “Square Peg in a Round Hole.” And how does that fit me? Perfectly. Where you’re trying to force yourself to fit into a society where you just don’t fit. Being a family, inter-racial, inter-color?, international?….however you want to look at it…..couple with children, we don’t fit anywhere.
In the States, we’re viewed as “the Foreigners,” “the Muslims,” “the Terrorists,” “the Weirdos who are always overdressed” no matter where we go. We have those, not necessarily prejudiced, labels applied to us in the United States.

We’ve lived in Egypt now for 11 years. And here we’re also labeled. We still don’t fit into the package people want to shove us into. We’re “the Americans,” “the Foreigners,” “the Weirdos….how could you leave America to come here?” or the reverse “How can your country bomb all of these innocent people?” It’s all just more labeling. Here, at least, most people understand that Ahmed Q. Public is not writing foreign policy for his government. So in Egypt, people tend to be more forgiving of your countries actions with which they disagree. In the US, people forget that people are separate entities from the governments that represent them sometimes.

But the point is, we don’t fit the labels of any place where we live. I’m very strict with my kids. I’m a lot stricter with my kids than my Egyptian counterparts are with theirs. In the States, I’m stricter in some aspects and laxer in others seemingly. I guess we have different parenting styles. I know my mom thinks that I’m raising my kids wrong. I guess. I don’t know. But the things that we prioritize are different than those she  prioritized while I was growing up. We don’t fit into a particular mold. Where my sarcasm and sharp-tongued wit is acceptable in the States. In Egypt, it’s less acceptable. They think I talk “weirdly.” I mean, they laugh and think I’m generally a funny person. I get comments to that affect all of the time. But self-deprecation is not something that people “get” or appreciate as much and it catches them off guard.
   “How are the kids doing?”
“They’re brats….so I guess they’re just fine.”

That kind of a retort is considered scandalous. But we come from two different types of cultures. And where I am so adaptable in so many cultures, I still stick out like a sore thumb. In the States, I’ve been labeled as “leaving my American heritage” because I’ve chosen to conform to Islam on some points that I’ve come to agree with more than the things I was raised with. Not everything….but some things. The manners here are different than they are in the States. There are so many things culturally different….and so many things that are exactly the same.

I fit well here because of my Southern background. The Southern part of me is very generous. We’re very good hosts to our guests. We offer refreshment immediately to our guests and come to aid those around us and we get to know our neighbors. And that’s very much how it is here in the Arab world. It’s like Southern-hospitality meets Lawrence of Arabia. Respect for elders is a huge part of society here like it was the way I was brought up.

Some of the things that I now find unimportant, things I’ve adapted to in Islamic/Egyptian culture leave some of my American family members at a loss. Like thanking everyone for every damn thing they’ve ever done for you in their entire lives, I don’t think that’s important. I would rather God thank me for those things on Judgement Day. I also don’t want my kids to accept money for helping anybody with anything. Like if they were to babysit their cousins or to look after a neighbor’s pets or plants while the neighbor is away, they’re not to accept money for that unless there was an agreement in place for that ahead of time. Monetary rewards for being a good neighbor seems counterproductive to me. You’re just a hired hand and no longer a good neighbor. You do this and you will be paid by God, in blessings. If you accept the offered cash, you’ve been paid and the blessings offer is no longer on the table. In Islamic culture the same is true of a verbalized thank you. When one thanks you for doing something, the customary reply in Arabic is ” There is no thanks needed for duty.” Because it is one’s duty to assist his neighbors and no thanks should be required.

I want my kids to learn that not everything needs to be paid for. They have learned that. I have witnessed this in action. They’ve noticed their aunt struggling with groceries from the car to the house and without any prompting from me or anyone else, immediately go to her aid. My kids immediately offer to help neighbors or relatives by carrying heavy packages, groceries, or hold doors open because they know that that is what makes them good neighbors; good Muslims. They’re very polite. They see that something needs to be done and do it. Okay, they’re still not helping me with the dishes or whatever, because they’re still teenagers for crying out loud. But if there is broken glass on the steps of our building, they’ll not think twice about getting a broom and dustpan to clean it up before someone gets hurt. My two older boys climbed up on the roof of the bakery next door to us and cleaned up all of the trash and junk that neighbors had tossed on top of it from their windows or balconies over the last few years. It took them and a neighbor boy 4 hours to get the job done. And instead of thanking them, the neighbors all told them, “May God shine His light on you.”

These are their expressions of love; their expressions of respect. And they don’t expect payment. They don’t want payment or tips. They don’t want thank yous. They understand the appreciation is there, just as their appreciation is there for things that we do for them. They know that. And they know that if they’re not thanked in this world, that in the Next World, they will be. That’s the difference in the way that we’re raising our kids. We trying to teach them also to respect each other.

We’re having a hell of a time attempting to get that through to them right now. Respecting one another and respect for me are both pretty much out the window at this point. I’m only missing one in my teenage spectrum right now. Aiman will be 12 in January but because he’s the youngest and prone to early-starts in everything developmental, he’s already begun the “put upon” drama and teenage angst early. This is only because he’s already witnessed it 4 times over in his older brothers and sisters. So, a houseful of five teenagers, I’m losing my marbles. My oldest is only 17 so I have a couple more years of all of them being teenagers at the same time. Oh yeah…back to labels…which, “teenagers” is just another label, isn’t it? But with all of the hormonal crap I have to  put up with on a daily basis, I think it’s appropriate.

So, labels. My son and I had a long discussion about the N-word recently. To him, it’s something that he hears in video games like G.T.A. (the bane of my existence that I’ve deleted from our computer at least 3 times), and in gangster rap. He hears it used by 50-cent, by Ice Cube, by Snoop Dogg and others. To him it is nothing more than a word used by cool guys. I’ve tried my very best to influence him with original hip-hop from the early 80’s, where rap was more about self-promotion and pride and not about keeping others down with the use of the N-word, “bitches,” and “hoes.” He likes that stuff, but still seems to be drawn closer to the  “clippin’ N’s with my 9” kind of lyrics. His response to my continued efforts to break the use of these words is always, “It’s just the song. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Well, YES. It actually DOES mean something. The degradation of words like the n-word, is used to hold people down; to dehumanize. It was a term applied to people who were given a status one step above that of an animal. It indicates stupidity, ignorance, laziness, less than human. And it was meant to make our black brothers and sisters to feel inadequate and powerless. That is the history behind the word. It’s a word that we hear the younger generations use interchangeably with “dawg,” “brother,” “homeboy” now. Maybe they’re too young to remember the insult attached to it. I don’t know. But I don’t like it.

A similar comparison can be made to words like “bitch” and “ho.” The degradation of these words is used to hold women down; to slander them; to make them feel like their sole purpose in life is for the sexual gratification of men. They are terms applied to women, usually by men who do not respect them. Or by other women, who seemingly don’t respect themselves. While I agree that we’ve come to associate the meaning of the word “bitch” to someone who is crabby and complains all the time, this ultimately is NOT what it means. Bitch is a female dog….which means what? Pretty much the same as whore. Since dogs don’t mate for life and tend to mate with anything anatomically opposite when they’re in heat, wouldn’t that be an appropriate definition? And when my son gets mad and calls his sister a bitch, isn’t that true definition of what he’s insulting her with?

I’ve explained to him that according to his religion, what he is saying is 100% haram, wrong. In Islam, we are ALL equal in the eyes of God and no man is better than another save for ANYTHING other than his deen, religion….AND HOW HE PRACTICES IT. Also, in the Quran, women have the same value as men. (Oh, yeah….far different than what many people in the West believe.) Women, just like men, have rights and responsibilities. And there is an entire book of the Quran called “the Women ( النساء ). Throughout the Quran and in the Ahadeeth or sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) the sin of sullying a woman’s name or spreading untrue slander about her is a sin punishable in this life AND in the hereafter:

Al-Noor 24: 23 reads as:
Those who slander against chaste, innocent, believing women shall indeed be cursed in this world as well as the hereafter. For them shall be a grievous punishment.
Al-Noor 24: 4 – 5 reads as:
Those who slander against chaste women and then do not produce four eye witnesses, shall be awarded with eighty lashes and their testimony shall never be accepted after this. These are the [true] transgressors, except those who [sincerely] repent after this and correct themselves, for, then, God is indeed forgiving, merciful. 

(**These texts are from a source I fully respect, Understanding Islam. You can see it here:  http://www.understanding-islam.com/articles/sources-of-islam/can-slander-of-chaste-women-be-forgiven-32 )

Anyway, I didn’t start writing this piece to proselytize. I’m merely pointing out how I explained to my son the wrongness behind the use of these words. I also tried to explain to him by examples he might get since he’s a boy whiter than mayo on Wonder bread. Because he isn’t black or a girl and imagining just leads to all kinds of tangent conversations because that is how ADHD works. (Trust me. I know THAT first hand, too.)

I tried it this way:

     “Ismail, you know how when we lived in Texas those four months and the people across the street would let their kids play with you until they saw Randa and me come outside in our scarves?”

     “Yeah. That was weird the way their grandmother came out and ran them all back into the house and shut the door and they weren’t allowed outside anymore after that. Why’d she do that?”

     “I heard what she was saying. She told the kids to come inside because we were terrorists.”

     “But she was speaking Spanish.”

     “I speak Spanish, too, son.”

     “But why would she say that? We’re not terrorists. We don’t blow up planes.”

    “I know. But a lot of people associate the word terrorist with Arab or Muslim. And so they think we’re bad people because a lot of people want the world to think that about all Arabs and Muslims.”

     “But we’re American.”

     “It doesn’t matter where someone is from, what religion they are, what color they are, whether they are boy or girl, fat or thin, young or old, rich or poor. Labels are not a good thing to put on others and they are definitely not something we should judge others by.”

     “So what does that have to do with gangster rap?”

     “Well, I think that you’re missing the point of some of the lyrics. The underlying meaning of SOME of those raps have more to do with a situation or background that you cannot relate to because whether you were born in downtown Augusta, Georgia or not, you are NOT from the hood and you’ve lived an incredibly sheltered life. I am not certain why some rap artists find it necessary to use degrading words to define themselves and their family or friends and women in their lives. But I do know that the use of those words has done so much more harm than good. And I want you to stop using them. They’re not cool words. They are 1,000 different types of inappropriate. Do you understand?”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

Has it stopped it completely? Well, come on. He’s a teenager. So, no. But he has agreed to work on it and I’m trying to stop dropping F-bombs. No reason to just blame THAT on my Irish label either, right?