Saturday, 11 February 2012

The Wanderer Returns

Bismillah Ar Rahman Ar Raheem,
Assalaamu alaikum wa rahmathullah wa barakatuhu

I am back................................. Amazingly three and a half years have passed since I last posted here. Those years have been the most momentous in my life and only now, escaping the noise and tensions of Cairo and moving south to Asyut, have I found the peace I have been seeking.

For those who don't know what has happened, I should explain that I am now a widow who married the man of my dreams when I was 21 and lost him less than two years later to a sudden illness, may he find peace in Jannah.

What happened after that was almost beyond bearing but I was supported by my deen and by Allah (subhana wa ta'ala) who, in his abundant mercy, granted me the strength to deal with such a tragedy. Yet, again thanks to Allah (swt), a very few years on from those traumas, I seem to have found happiness and stability, something that few young Arab 'femmes seules' seem able to do. Of course I am fortunate; when my beloved father died he left me the family home in Jordan, as my mother was well taken care of already, and my brothers and sisters were in stable marriages where money was not lacking. So, as the family charity case, our lovely home became mine and I now rent it out to a charming American businessman who works in Amman; he and his family enjoying the place where I had spent my own happy childhood.

I moved to Cairo but, when a old school friend invited me to share her home here in Asyut, I jumped at the chance as, thanks to modern technology, I can do my work on the end of a computer connection. Maybe it might be useful if I added something which sums up my life now.

Mashallah everything seems very peaceful today. I am sitting at a desk, my desk, while across the room Amina is working at the large table which she calls her desk. She is a freelance textile designer, a real artist who makes fabrics sing with joy and who can make the most mundane of material come to vibrant life. The quality of her work is even more amazing when you consider that she is 90% self-taught, yet many of the leading fashion houses in this part of the world are lining up in order to beg her to come up with an exclusive fabric design for their next collection. Also she is now getting an international reputation and her agent is talking to designers in Milan and Paris. But to me, she remains the same smiling girl with whom I shared my teenage life at school and during our holidays.

To add to the normality of the scene, her cat, Freak-Out, is asleep on Amina's desk, utterly relaxed in a nest of fabric swatches and a picture of the sort of happiness which only a much loved cat can show. Looking beyond him, the only male in our household, through the broad pictures windows I can see the sun-filled garden that ends on a three meter wall that protects us from the outside world. Our garden is not the sort of verdant paradise you see in France or Germany or England. Instead it is very 'Egyptian'. It is true that, like it's more northerly counterparts, it has flower beds, paths and lawns but these are baked by months of remorseless heat and sunshine and even now in the coolness of winter, any flowers being brown stalks, the lawn and pathways both dominated by grey-brown dust and cracked earth, any grass that has survived the summer months being sun-blackened and stunted, waiting for any rain, a rare commodity here. However they are managing to exist in this near desert that we optimistically called The Garden. In truth it's pleasant now; the daytime temperature still is about 20 - 25C, but that seems miraculously cool in comparison to the 40C we were experiencing regularly last summer.

So it is that Amina and I are spending the late afternoon, post siesta, working together in relaxed silence, each engrossed in what she is doing.

Of course I should be really working; I should be translating and mildly editing some articles sent to me by a Gulf-based journal. But instead, like millions of others round the world, I am writing for my own enjoyment. So I feel mildly guilty as I theoretically earn my bread by translating and editing, and the publishers are waiting for me to email back to him a pristine translation. But I tell myself that I promised it back by the 14th and it is nine-tenths completed, so I can afford to indulge myself in writing for my own enjoyment for once.

Strange how I see the life Amina and I share as being normal. It cannot be too common for a divorcée and a widow, both in their mid twenties, to be sharing a house together as we are. The divorcée is Amina who was married when she was eighteen, left her philandering husband when she was twenty and was divorced by the age of twenty three, while, as you know, I am the widow. Amina's financial security came via the divorce courts where her husband preferred to buy her silence rather than have the litany of his Don Juan conquests made public in court, even if the tabloids revelled in its details. And the house in which we live is also hers, bequeathed to her by her Grandfather, much to the disgust of her brothers and cousins. (I should say that I have Amina's permission to tell about her history, as I tell about mine. As she so rightly says, she has nothing to be ashamed off and has no worries about who knows about her past.)

So that is how we come to be sitting here at our desks this afternoon, Amina working and me enjoying myself in self-indulgent writing. In here, it is cool and tranquil, the only sound being the click of my keyboard and the occasional sound of a sketch being scrunched up and thrown into the waste paper basket by Amina's side. Normally we work to a background of soft-volumed music from Amina's vast library of CD but today, for some unknown reason, the room is a music-free zone, and no worse for it. Probably we will work (or write) for two hours before cramp, ennui or lack of inspiration will make one of us rise from her work place and stroll round the room, pausing at the window to watch the daylight fading from our arid garden. By then my iced water will have long ago been drunk, as will have Amina's Coke, so that one of us will yawn and say, "Coffee time!" and we will stroll down the corridor to the kitchen where we will talk about what we have done in the past two hours while the coffee percolates and fills the room with the mouth watering aroma of freshly made coffee.

Probably, as we sit, steaming mugs in hand, Amina will look at me and shake her head, her familiar grin spread across her lovely face, as for the hundredth time, will remark how sensible I am to wear a light and airy jilbab "in this weather". I, also for the hundredth time, will laugh and say it's only because I am old fashioned and totally lack her dress sense, while I admire the beautifully fabriced, but also cool, shalwar kameez she is wearing. Yes, just two young women discussing clothes, two friends relaxing together in a companionable and non-competitive environment. Two grown-up school friends gently finding their way from daytime to evening.

Yes, I do lead a normal life. Alhamdulillah, I am so lucky to do so.


  1. Welcome back, Aliyah. I've wondered how you've been. My condolences for the loss of your husband, may Allah reward him with the best of what he used to do. I am glad to hear that ease has come after your hardship and will remember you in my dua.

  2. Jazakhallah khair for your sweet words. Time is a great healer, as is said, and Allah (subhana wa ta'ala) has guided my steps and smoothed my path since Ahmed's death.
    Alhamdulillah, GREAT that you are fine and you will be in my duaa too.

    BIG hugs Aliyah