Tag Archives: gifts

On Being A Cruslim

Aside from the aforementioned dreaded birthday, the other time of the year that makes me neurotic (well a lot more than the usual neurotic) is Christmas and the end of the year. While many consider this to be a time of celebration and giving, I consider it one of loss, nostalgia and regret, but also one of gratitude and a sneaky, unshakable hope that I’m going to wake up to a pile of presents under the plastic Made-in-China Christmas tree.

This (like pretty much everything in my life) can be blamed entirely on my parents, who, up until I was ten (or four, depending on which parent you choose to believe) led me to believe that Santa Clause (and the tooth fairy) existed purely to buy me presents.

I remember every Christmas Eve being a festive, happy, gift-filled party, usually thanks to my unofficial godfathers, Uncle Mohi and Uncle Victor buying me excellent choices (for a ten/four/28-year old) such as a yellow tea tray set with beautiful tea cups, a quaint tea pot and even a sugar jar (it baffles me how my usually pea-brain-sized memory can still recollect these obscure little experiences when I fail to remember more important things such as why I left my car keys in the fridge again, most of my friends’ names and my sister’s birthday- thank god for facebook reminders). Singing in the Rain would be playing on TV, my friend Maya and her sisters, my sister and I would huddle in front of the fire and ladle generous spoons of brandy cream into our mouths (which led me to recently observe to my mother: “Have you ever thought that maybe I wasn’t sugar high as a kid, I was just drunk?”) and sing all the Christmas songs that my German kindergarten had hammered into my head.

Several years of jovial brandy cream and tea set gifts later, my dad one day decided to burst my Santa bubble by telling me that Mr. Clause doesn’t exist, and I should no longer get presents; as I’m Muslim and Muslims don’t have Santas. This I found to be extremely offensive, especially since it meant no more presents; but I was happily reminded of not one but two Muslim feasts where I get brand-new clothes and clean-smelling cash from all adults (including unfortunate guests who happened to drop by at the wrong time and couldn’t handle my thug-like ten year old attitude of ‘Yo! I’m Muslim! Gimme money!”

Still, the cash was usually a few pounds at the most and always ran out with one trip to the nearest grocers and a pile of Magic Gum, Bimbo, Rocket and bonbon Sima, or it got confiscated by the same Santa-ruining father who put it all away in a precious bank account “for savings.” Two decades later, we’ve forgotten entirely about those bank accounts, but I’m pretty sure there’s a few valuable twenties locked away somewhere with my name on them.
Today, the cash is no longer forked out, as I am rudely reminded that I am an independent, cash-earning career woman and new clothes are no longer necessary since I need two wardrobes in two different cities to contain my collection (and several suitcases and a few boxes under beds). But I’ve always thought that it’s the thought that counts, especially when it’s a well-thought-out wad of cash on Christmas or either of the eids or a new pair of shoes, but hey, I’m just saying. Not dropping hints or anything, Dad.

The whole why-don’t-I-get-Christmas-too debate recently came into question when my last boss decided to split work holidays according to religions; i.e. if you’re Christian, you get Christmas off, but if you’re Muslim, you have to work, etc. I understand that the man was a workaholic and wanted to keep the company running throughout the year, but I smelled religious discrimination and considered reporting him to some workers’ union until I remembered that, like most of my friends working in Egypt, I didn’t have a contract or any legit workers’ papers, and thus did not have a single (nicely shoed) leg to stand in.
Then I came up with the genius decision that I am a Cruslim. Yes, a Christian Muslim. A person of both faiths that gets both the Christian and the Muslim New Year’s Eves off and expects presents whenever possible. My poor boss blinked at me for a good five minutes, and then huffed off and threatened to throw his Café Greco double espresso at someone else instead.

He then got into trouble when Thanksgiving rolled around and the American colleagues got that off but I had to work, whereupon I pointed out that I should get Egyptian Labor Day, Sinai Liberation Day, National Victory Day, Sham El Neseem, May 15th, 26th of July, Father’s and Mother’s Day off. Suffice it to say that I don’t work there anymore.
Still, my closeted religious righteousness is appeased with every Christmas, as I get invited to many generous dinners, where people feed me for a change and I don’t have to raise a finger except to go for seconds, and sometimes thirds ( I eat for a living. I have the stomach capacity to prove it).

That, however, cannot always shake the sense of foreboding and regret that I feel around this time of year when I remember the people that I have lost and the opportunities that I have missed on this strange path that I have taken.
It’s always around this time of year when I look at what I’ve become and what I was supposed to be, and measure the drastic gap of difference between the two. When I was six (or eight or twelve) I had my life excellently planned out. I was going to be an astronaut. A champion tennis player, the grand dame of a ballet school, a dog breeder, the president of the world; all admirable and realistic aspirations that got lost along the way of growing taller and wider, saner and more responsible.

These are the things that I still regret.
1. I regret listening to my ballet teacher when I was twelve, who told me I was too tall and too heavy to ever become a ballerina. After eight years of loving ballet, I quit cold turkey. I still tear up when I watch ballet, and my feet always twitch whenever I watch So You Think You Can Dance. I could have been something.
2. I regret all the amazing trips and job offers that I passed up on, like the free trips to Cyprus, Sharm El Sheikh, Beirut and Damascus, or the job offer at AP, the exchange program in the US, or the writers’ program in Gouna. All these opportunities I relinquished because I was committed to a person or a job, and time has proven neither to be worthy.
3. I regret the friends that I’m no longer friends with, whether because words were spoken and pride got in the way, or we drifted apart because my life was filled with other (more temporarily interesting) people. I’ve found out the hard way that you don’t choose your best friends; they’re the ones that stay when the smoke clears and the glitter fades.
4. I regret the advice that I never took, the people that I never listened to, and as a result, let myself get hurt by people who didn’t deserve my trust. Since then, I’m borderline anal about taking my friends’ advice on who I should date, what I should eat, and does that haircut really suit me even if the hot Lebanese/Italian/French hair stylist tells me I look fabulous.
5. I regret the people that I’ve hurt, whether through carelessness or not being able to control my car or foresee the future.
6. I regret never telling the people I lost how much I love them. Mohab believed in me more than I did in myself, and wouldn’t stop calling me, no matter how often I ignored his phone calls. Roba insisted on cooing at me down the phone, even when I begged her not to sing Hammaki or Tamer Hosny off-key to me, but she was charming and she loved me.
7. And the biggest regret I will always have is the fact that I never answered Vanessa’s calls. She called me every day for five days when I was mourning Roba, and I was too stuck in my bubble to call her back, or even just text her. The day she stopped calling, I decided to call her back, and it was too late. And that’s something I have to deal with for the rest of my life.
My very wise grandmother once said that you don’t regret the things that you do, you regret the things that you don’t. With all the mistakes that I’ve made in my rather short twenty eight years of life, I rarely have pangs of regret other than the next morning of what-the-hell-did-do-last-night-and-how-did-I-end-up-singing-karaoke-on-the-bar-table-and-why-did-my-stupid-friends-take-photos-and-post-them-on-facebook.

At this time of year, I weigh my list of regrets versus all the little milestones that I’ve achieved, and try and spin something positive out of them. I’m young, I’m loved, I have several talents that should channeled into something more productive than feeding a few friends (sorry, guys) or writing a blog that possibly thirty people (including my mother) know about.
So this year, I resolve to stop whining about nostalgia and regret, and start doing something about it. Starting with presents. You know what I want.

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On Birthdays And Other Scary Things

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I hate my birthdays. Not in the cute Hollywood I-Will-Not-Be-Defined-By-My-Birthdate-I-Am-At-One-With-Nature-In-My-Flowing-White-Dress-And-Flowers-In-My-Hair-Along-The-Beach kind of way.

No, I’m talking the heaving, hyperventilating, curling into fetus position while mentally dictating my obituary under the bed covers type of hate.

Drama queen? A little, I suppose; yet for as long as I can remember I have always been a nervous wreck around the time of my birthday. Why? Perhaps we could trace it all the way back to when I was three and I had a fit about the pink dress my poor mother was trying to make me wear -yes, even then I had a sense of style and didn’t listen to my mother’s advice.

Mother: Put it on.

3-year-old Me: No.

Mother: Go on, it will look pretty on you.

3-year-old Me: No.

Mother: Your friends are all outside waiting for you and this pretty pink dress will look nice. Don’t you want to go out and play?

Me: (stubbornly) No.

Mother: There’s pink cake too. With sugar icing.

Me: (less confident) No.

Mother: Look, just try the thing on.

Me: It’s ITCHY.

Mother: (exasperatedly) How would you know? you haven’t tried it on!

Me: It LOOKS itchy.

Mother: (Losing it) Look, you either try on the dress now or I’ll put you to bed and your friends can have your cake without you.

Me: (sniffling). Ookay. (Put Dress on) Oooh, it’s prittee!

Mother: (rolling eyes) Oh, don’t you look pretty in that!

But no, that couldn’t be it; I cannot blame a lifelong neurosis on a pink dress and a toddler’s attitude problem.

It’s not that I hate birthday parties; on the contrary, I’ve had many wonderful celebrations full of food, music, games and the people  I love.

It’s never been about the gifts either: as much as I love the shiny, superficial things in life; the experiences are even more valuable, which is why one of my all-time favourite birthdays was when I travelled alone to the Red Sea coast for a long weekend. With just three CDs (Pink Floyd, Dave Mathews and a mixed CD) and the third part of Lord Of The Rings, I spent my days sunbathing and reading, and my nights writing and sleeping. It was simple and relaxed. It was awesome.

But back to my annoying dilemma (I say annoying only because I’ve noticed how my friends get increasingly  wary of me as my birthday approaches, and my parents gently inform me that they will call me in a few days once my wave of pre-birthday neurosis has ended and I’ve stopped yelling at the phone that has imbedded itself into the concrete wall after I threw it)-

Perhaps all this fear, panic and self-indulgent whining have something to do with that time when I was twelve and a strange man came up to me at a Christmas bazaar. Without a word, he took my palm, proceeded to readthe lines on my hand, and then told me that I was going to die at the age of twenty four.

I tried to shake his words off, after all; how would he know? But what if he was right and I only had life till I was 24? That gloomy prospect stayed in my mind until that dreaded birthday finally arrived twelve years later.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t die; but I did lose my best friend, a death that was quite difficult to bear and unfortunately not the last one to endure. I didn’t die at 23, nor did I die at 25 or even at 27, but that’s how old my friends were when I lost them. It’s always around my birthday when their deaths strike close to home again, when I remember their faces and wonder at the fact that I will never see them grow past those ages; and only they will remain forever young.

I also look back at my own life and question what exactly I’ve made of myself in all these years. I have yet to climb a mountain, yet to write a bestselling novel, yet to make a name of myself that will be remembered long after I’m gone. And when will I be gone? All these are tough questions to face on a day that should involve cake, balloons and glitter; which is probably why I retreat into my three-year-old skin every year and demand a loud party. Bring on the joy, laughter, and the pink icing cake. And my favourite meal of grilled chicken liver, peas and carrots and mashed potatoes; the same I’ve had every birthday since I was five.

This results in an argument with the same mother every year along the same lines:

Mother: I really don’t want to cook chicken liver this year. Can’t we just have a nice dinner at a civilized restaurant instead?

27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No.

Mother: (Sighing) Look, you’re too old to be this stubborn. Can’t I just take you to Abu El Sid and you order the liver there?

27-Year-Old Me: (Stubbornly) No. It’s my birthday. I want chicken liver. And pink icing cake.

Mother: Does it have to be pink? There’s no pink icing colour available at the supermarket. Can’t I just buy you a cake from Pumpkin?

Me: (lip trembling) Make some. Use rose petals. Or hibiscus flower. Be creative.

Mother: You know you don’t HAVE to have a pink birthday cake every single birthday.

Me: (stubbornly) Yes I do.

Mother: (sighs) I wish I’d had a boy.

Perhaps my fraught nerves stem from a fear of aging, which could probably explain the borderline fanatical obsession with my childhood traditions of pink birthday cakes, chicken liver meals and a big birthday party.

Lately, the aspect of aging has become a lot easier. I’ve begrudgingly come to accept that I will never look twelve again (though I occasionally act it), that cellulite and laugh lines are inevitable (in fact, i’m secretly rather pleased about the laugh lines appearing before the frown lines) and that turning thirty doesn’t necessarily mean the end of life: I have several friends who have survived the big 3-0 and are still cool; so it can’t be that bad.

I’ve also managed to cut back on the fetus-position/howling-at-the-moon-if-I-don’t-get-a-birthday-cake drama.

So, if you catch me scowling on my birthday or failing to smile when you burst into song or wish me a Happy Birthday; please don’t take it personally. I’m probably just fretting over the years of it raining on my birthday and resisting the urge to stamp my foot, have a tantrum and be sent to my room for acting all camp and drama queen-like. But then again, when the lip begins to tremble and the clouds threaten to cover the skies, I am comforted by the memory of that itchy pink dress that turned out to be a lot of fun, just like all of my birthdays and the years that I’ve lived through so far. So far, so good. No?

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