Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adventures in Babysitting

One of my favorite 80s movies.
I've recently picked up a new hobby. It's not knitting or photography...It's not that sort of thing at all. I have become...a...babysitter.Why the drama? Well, I have a reputation for being afraid of babies. Don't judge me. Before my sister had kids, the only baby I ever knew was myself. Needless to say, I am not a natural. I didn't quite get the hang of it until my second nephew, Ali (also known as "Bila"), came along.

This means that these days I not only find myself watching daily Playhouse Disney marathons but I am actually changing diapers. Fortunately, I love cartoons (though Playhouse Disney doesn't exactly meet my standard for stimulating television). As for the diapers, I was determined to save that "honor" until I had my own children. Well, there that goes.

While this may not seem to have anything to do with my move to Egypt, for me, this is just another example of how much your thoughts can influence your behavior. Because I had made up my mind that I simply didn't know how to take care of a baby, I avoided it at all costs, and thus it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. People often ask me why I would come here and "put myself through this." Well, if you see it as "putting yourself through" something, that is exactly how it is going to feel. Rather than taking action to shape your own experience, you've built a cage around yourself with your thoughts. Gretchen Rubin, of The Happiness Project, puts it well: "Although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act." I couldn't agree more.

I think the reason this concept is so hard for us to grasp is that it is easier to say "I can't babysit" than to actually try, make mistakes, and learn. We have learned to use our thoughts and feelings as an excuse not to get out of our comfort zones. How different life would be if we realized that, more often than not, we can choose how we feel and what we think, even when it means changing our perceptions of ourselves.

So, don't let my love of "The Hot Dog Song" (and corresponding dance) fool you. Apparently, I can be responsible for another human being. Who could've seen that one coming?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Expect the Inexplicable

When I go out here, I like to make sure I have a camera with me at all times, because you just never know what you're going to come across. In some ways, it's the odd sights and sounds of Egypt that give it its charm. Unfortunately, this notion doesn't quite apply when it comes to linguistic crimes:

...I believe Henry Higgins would call this "the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue."
Yes, I am a grammar snob. I am judging you as you read this.

On a side note, here's something that gave me a laugh in Lebanon:

So what if he can't fly like Superman, climb walls like Spiderman, or do whatever it is Batman does? Desert Hero Camel is my kind of hero.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ramadan Lite

Unless you live under a rock (or aren't Muslim), you know that Ramadan is fast approaching. Muslims around the world spend all year looking forward to it, which is evident from the almost tangible excitement buzzing in the air these days. This all sounds great so far, right? Well it is, but there's just one thing I can't help but wonder: If we're all so excited about Ramadan, then why are we content with short-changing ourselves by artificially cutting the fasting day short?

In case you aren't familiar with this, here's the gist of it: For the last few years, Egypt has been moving up the date that it ends daylight saving time to coincide with the beginning of Ramadan, in order to decrease the number of hours in the fasting day. Essentially, it's one more hour of eating, one less of fasting. In the past, this was enough to bother me; but when I found out that we'd be changing the clock a total of four times this year, I nearly lost it.

If you ask someone what Ramadan is all about, you're likely to hear about sacrifice, discipline, patience, empathy, and charity, among other things. They'll tell you all about the opportunities for spiritual growth the month has to offer. So, where does this lost hour fit in with these virtues? How can we claim to be making any progress in these areas when we're so blatantly watering down what was originally prescribed for us? Instead of taking advantage of the longer fasting day to earn a greater reward, we opt for "Ramadan Lite." To be clear, it's not so much the missing hour that concerns me, but the principle. I just feel that we take enough shortcuts in life as it is, and this is one I don't want to add to the list.

One might argue that it actually makes sense to end daylight saving time, since it's somewhat of an unnatural practice only conjured up in recent years to preserve energy. Some might point out that religion is meant to be easy and that we shouldn't make things harder than they have to be. Still others might tell me to get over it because, in the grand scheme of things, it's not worth pondering and there are bigger fish to fry. And they'd probably be right...except I don't eat fish.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How Lebanon Schooled Egypt

A couple of days ago, I returned from a lovely trip to Lebanon, to visit my one and only Hanan. Though it was a short trip, her family's hospitality made it feel like home, a kindness I hope I can return someday soon. (On a side note, Hanan specifically requested that I clarify that though Lebanon is her home in the Middle East, she and her family are actually proud Palestinians.)

Now, the last thing I want is to turn this into an overly simplistic debate over which Arab country is superior to the rest. Still, I would like to summarize some of the features in Lebanon with which Egypt just can't compete.*

A few ways Lebanon owns Egypt:

1. The air is fresh and free of smog, dust, and other pollutants. I'd almost forgotten what that was like.
2. There are mountains (they make up pretty much the entire country) completely covered with trees...TREES!
3. Sukleen, a waste management company, has bins placed all over the city, as well as maintenance men working around the clock to keep the country squeaky clean. 3o'bal Masr...
4. Cool army uniforms, especially those berets. It sounds odd, but just trust me.
5. Mana'eesh anyone? Once you've tasted the real stuff, Al Amir just won't do (and neither will Egypt's attempts at reinventing this originally Lebanese specialty).
6. Jeita - It's up for one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Look it up!
7. Just about anywhere you go, you will find one amazing view after another. Hanan and I eventually got tired of taking pictures because everything was postcard-worthy. In Egypt, most of by picture-taking is limited to odd sights rather than scenery.

So, to put it briefly, Lebanon is awesome and everyone should go, but you'd better stop by Egypt and visit me too!

*I know there may be some backlash from a few of you proud Egyptians, so I'm mentally preparing a post with some points arguing the other side, just in case.