Monday, August 29, 2011

Ramadan and Other Misconceptions

Since arriving, people have been asking me how I'm doing. I'm doing pretty well but overall, I would have to say that I am on cultural oveload. It isn't bad enough to make me homesick (it's called the honeymoon period). However, I am exhausted each night from the shear overload of things I am observing and learning. Between Egypt and Islam, it's been a culturally learning experience.

When we arrived in Cairo, we knew that we would be hitting the ground during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. I didn't know anything about it but that was changed quite quickly. All I knew was that it was a month of fasting. Since landing, I've learned that it is the celebration of the month is which it is believed that Mohammad first received the Quran. Each day from sun up to sun down, people fast from food, water, and work. The hours of business change and everything is closed down. Most people stay home to sleep, pray, and read the Quran. As we walked around looking for apartments, setting up life, and learning our way around, we have been hiding in corners and ducking into buildings to drink our water. Only certain places were open to eat. It is a respect issue. Then when the sun goes down and the last call to prayer of sounded, everyone breaks their fast with a meal called Iftar. The streets are EMPTY and quiet. Then once everyone eats, the city comes to life. Businesses open and people play, work, eat, worship, and go about life. It is like the season of Christmas in most Western countries. There are lights and bright lanterns everywhere. Mosques are lit up in blues, greens, and reds. At the end of Ramadan (tomorrow), the feast breaks and brings on a four day holiday called Eid. Everything will shut down and people will go on vacation.

(The mosque on my street. Excuse the spots, its the flash reflecting off of the sand in the air.)

In terms of living with surrounded by those who are Muslim, there are a few misconceptions that I've learned about. The biggest one would be the calls to prayer. I expected that five times a day, the city would stop and everyone would prayer. Wrong. The call is sounded five times a day (and yes, it is loud) but the city keeps going. Taxis keep driving. Businesses that are open keep serving customers. Realitors keep showing spaces. Life keeps going but the reminder is there.

I've also learned something interesting. On Ash Wednesday in the Catholic faith, you get ashes on your forehead. In the Islamic faith, bowing prayer is such a focus that on their foreheads are callouses that look like the ashes. But the callouses does rub off. It's almost easier to tell who is more devout than others.

During our orientation yesterday, we heard the overview of Middle Eastern history from the Middle Eastern point of view. The focus was on World War II and the current string of revolutions. Very interesting to hear the other side of the story that CNN doesn't present. I won't share much here because I don't want to start a debate but if you're interested, let me know.

There's so much more. As I shared earlier, cultural overload of learning new things. Another day I'll share what I've learned about Egypt itself. Until then, ask what you want about what I've shared. I may or may not know the answer. If I don't, I'm in a good place to find out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Well, I've offically been in Egypt for 42 hours and it has been busy! So far we have been on a tour of the part of town we are living in. It isn't that big but seems huge since I'm still adjusting. I keep thinking that this is all of Cairo but I know I am wrong. Mind boggling! I'm starting to get my bearings a bit but I know it isn't a permanent since of stability because.....

We've been apartment searching and we found one! I say we because I have also found a roommate. We were a pretty good match in terms of what we were looking for. She's a sweet girl and we are getting a beautiful place. I'm very happy with it for a couple of reasons. I'll just be honest, it's a nice place. Not only is it nice but I'll be in the same building as my friend Jen who recuited me to come. Super excited about that! We go to negotiate terms and sign papers tonight. Then they will have about a day and a half to clean. We go shopping on Thursday to get what we need for settling in and will move in that night. That is, if all goes well. I'm learning that Egypt moves at its own pace. I'm going to have to adjust to that a bit more. I think that once we are in and are making it more of a home, things will feel a bit more settled.

I'm doing OK with home sickness. It hits a couple of times a day but I don't let myself dwell on it. When I'm overwhelmed or if I see pictures, it seems to hit more. But overall, I'm doing better. I'm crying less. That may change once I get to Skype but for now, email is GREAT! I've met some really nice people that I'm excited about. Some I feel more comfortable with than others. I know it will get there. It's just hard establishing a new social life - especially when you are initially an introvert but open up more as you get to know people. Some here have been very easy to talk to so that's helpful. I'm just hoping that we'll stay in touch once we are spread out to our new homes rather than in our current little bubble.

So there you go. Less than 48 hours in and things are going pretty well.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Timely Words

Last week, my family packed up and spent the week in Ruidoso, NM. When asked what I wanted to do before heading to the dessert, it was a no brainer - beautiful mountains. Don't worry, pictures will follow. There were many things I hoped for and was more blessed by what I got. Because He is God, His ways are always better than mine. Instead of star filled nights, we got a cloudy sky that intensified one of the brightest full moons I've ever seen. Instead of afternoon hikes in the mountains, we got daily showers that made the greens vibrant and the air smelling as clean and thick with pine.

Before getting the Ruidoso, I was praying to hear from God. It's a kind of big season in my life and I wanted to hear from Him. All week I waited for it but it was not His timing. On the last evening, Mom asked what I needed to do this week. I was going over my lists and was internally getting overwhelmed with a touch of panic. So I spent some more time that night on the balcony waiting to hear from the Lord. In fact, it never came in the mountains. It came in the car on the way home. My niece had received a tiny tea set to play with her princess toys. On the way home, she was trying to "pour tea" into the smallest cup ever and then help the closest Disney princess drink it. Needless to say, this isn't the easiest thing to do for a two and a half year old. I tried to help her by showing her that the tea pot could clip to her car seat straps and it wouldn't fall. She did not think this was a great idea. She wanted it off immediately and Aunt D could not get it off quick enough. As I tried to unhook it, she tried to help me get it off quicker. I finally had to explain that it didn't help. Her sweet fingers were getting in the way of what I wanted to grasp. And as much as I love those sweet fingers, I couldn't get it done. I finally had to simply say, "You have to let go so I can help you."

Punch in the gut.

As I we were driving back, my lists and plans for this week were mounting in my mind. My anxiety was beginning to grow - could I get it all done? So much to do with increasingly less time. I very simply felt the Lord say, "Dana, you have to let go so I can help you."


That's what I do. I make plans and lists. I get an idea of how I think things will go and I set my nose to the grindstone. The fact of the matter is, God sees how it works. He sees the timing of things and the best way to do them. If I can remember to get out of His way, He can/will help me. He's ready and willing.

I still made lists for this week. I'm still being responsible with my time. However, I'm not stressing over them. I'm willing to let them go if needed. It will get done with the Lord's help.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

What's in a Name?

As you may or may not notice, the name of the blog has changed. I've been reflecting on a lot of things in the past few weeks and in that reflection have come to realize its time to refocus this place. Authors change their titles time and time again. I'm no Jane Austen and this is no Pride and Prejudice but it's my writing. So why in the world would I choose the title "A Life Well Loved"?

When I look at my life, I am overwhelmed by the amount of love I have experienced. If the only love I had ever known was that of God, it would be more than words could ever say. He has captured every tear that I've cried and shared in every joy I've experienced. He's given me life at no cost to me and at full cost to Him. He has opened doors of opportunity and taken away what could have been the greatest pain in my life. My ashes have been exchanged for beauty. He didn't give me just His love, He gave me more. I've been abundantly blessed with a family that supports me, fights for me and along side me, and embraces me - scars and all. I've been given friends who live life with me for better or for worse and find joy in it along the way. All of these people loving me enough to push me to be more than I am. They challenge me to rise up to be more like my Jesus. I definitely have a life in when I have been loved well.

Yet, a life well loved isn't just about people. It's about the journey we're walking. I've learned what is means to look back on my life and to embrace it. I've learned how to love those moments when my heart was shattered so that only God Himself could mend it. I've learned how to love and appreciate more deeply those moments that felt like perfection. Life is made of both. Looking back, mine is one in which I wouldn't change a moment. Every tear and every laughter have brought me to now. It is a now that I am so thankful for.

So what do we do when we have experienced such great love - that of God, people, and life itself. You give it away. This is where I am - the living gift of love. At the end of it all, I want to look back and know that this life was lived for the fullness of those around me. I want this world to be a better place because Jesus did something beautiful through this ball of flesh that I find myself wrapped in. I want it to be more that a life well lived. I want it to be a life well loved.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Following Up

A couple of posts ago, I asked people if there are any unanswered questions in regards to my upcoming move. I know you've all been waiting on pins and needles but even if you haven't, here you go:

Do you know where you'll live?
- I know the area of town that I will be living in. I'll be in a part of the city that is home to many expats. When I get there, I'll have someone to help me find an apartment. This is very exciting for many reasons: For one thing, I'll be surrounded by others who understand the transition to another country. Also, my friend that I lovingly refer to as my recruiter will live there. Finally, not only will I have the opportunity to interact with the Egyptian culture but hopefully a few others as well.

When do you leave?
-August 20th

What special items are you taking to give you a little comfort from home?
- Mainly photos in frames. I'm taking a few other small knick knacky types of things that have sentimental significance (a cross made by a life long friend, a willow tree angel from my sister, etc). That's mainly it.

Do you have any thoughts, questions, anxieties about your spiritual life in Egypt?
- Jen has been so helpful in regards to everything Egypt - including this. She has not sugar coated this aspect of life at all. I am fully expecting this to be one of the most challenging times of my walk with the Lord. This born and bred Bible Belt girl is literally about to enter a whole new world. I'm a bit nervous about it but as with all things Egypt, more excited. I know that with the challenge comes the growth. Jen has a church community there that she has plugged in with and has "introduced" me to some of the girls at the church. It really helps knowing that I already have someone to call as soon as I get there. I am also hoping to have the opportunity to build relationships with those of the Muslim community that I'll be living in.