I feel such affinity for a share so beautifully written by Hani El-Masri ~ Artist,Concept and show designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and Storyteller at Self ~ I felt compelled to say just a little of what I feel in reciprocation. Perhaps I should rephrase that: my reaction is 'a glimpse' nothing more. His Facebook status, in Arabic, you can find here:
The following is quite naturally a very personal point of view from an angle that relates to little things that count. To be understood by another experiencing life abroad, which is what the status share refers to, it would need to be tailored, quite individually.
At the risk of appearing banal, I would nevertheless feel disingenuous if I didn't start with the following: Egyptian niceties.
Niceties are so over-used in Egyptian circles so that they appear inane and superfluous and one tends to dismiss their value. Yet, without them altogether, our sensibilities feel greatly impoverished.
Leaving them behind could never erase them from spirit. On the contrary, not hearing them all around me made me wish more and more fervently to introduce them into British culture if not language. I had got used to foreigners in Egypt taking to the terminology so easily and willingly that I found the British nationals' distanced reactions whilst appearing somewhat bemused, quite unsettling.
Words such as 'Mabrouk' (blessings with its various nuances) and 'Haneyan' (wholesomeness for food and beverage) and indeed 'InshaAllah' (with the Will of Allah) among so many more, have no one-word equivalent in the English language and phrases used to explain them lose out considerably, sometimes they even risk distorting the inherent meaning since similar phrases, already in use, have very different connotations so that, for example, the hopefulness and assurance carried in the term 'InshaAllah' could contradictorily, when interpreted, convey a pessimistic streak and imply being on a downer.
My need to converse with Egyptian friends of a similar background living in Egypt became ever more pertinent to my spirit and with the 2011 revolution I began to feel an ever-increasing need to highlight that connection. Egypt was awake.
With this I come to my feelings for Islam (which although born into I felt become truly tangible only through phases linked to trials of a very deep and pertinent nature). Well, these feelings come to the fore considerably on becoming distanced from a land where the essence of Islam is a natural and everyday part of everyone’s outlook and vernacular.
A religion with all its grace; words such as‘Hamd', ‘Reda’ and ‘Taqwa’, are mere examples of so many more quite impossible to translate fully with just one word in any other language. However, attempts to do so are many and are all part of the exercise in reaching out and therefore worth pursuing for anyone interested to do so.
Here, I would like to focus upon ‘Tawak’kul’, a reassuring and affirmative stance, an invaluable viewpoint in that it combines responsibility with submission, acceptance and surrender, in perfect ratios. With ‘Tawak’kul, a pursuit through faith, so contrary to its rampant soul-destroying counterpart ‘tawa~kul’ (a mere diphthong away) that shrugs off all responsibility and accountability, leaving only an aftertaste of despair, I could not but feel the former’s priceless value in my heart upon coming face to face with exhibits of overly controlled aspirations. For indeed many a Westerner even those who may well have 'Tawak’kul' in their hearts, having no word to describe it seems to obscure a vital attribute of spiritual ethos where human exploits and planning are concerned.
As for its closely related yet ever so distanced counterpart referred to above, we could perhaps attribute to it much of the inertia or worse still slapdash attitudes, enveloping altogether too many aspects in Egypt.
Perhaps it was due to such realisations that I felt a wholesome perspective could be obtained; one into which zealotry and self-righteousness could not possibly fit and thus, with no struggle whatsoever, I most thankfully never felt confused.
Having a need to dismiss the intolerance of religious zealotry is essential and understandable, however far too often that act of dismissal doesn’t know where to draw the line and sadly, I found, many would tend to 'throw out the baby with the bath water'. When that occurs it regrettably leads to another kind of intolerance, equally distasteful and equally damaging.
Every day in the UK I sense and cherish my Egyptian roots that have intensely shaped my outlook on life, that keep on enriching it over and over again, so that it is always so natural for me to alert others to it whenever I feel it relevant. Having been to a British school in Egypt, integration into the UK was pretty straight forward and quite effortless, however, over time insights come to the fore and take on different hues. For myself, finding harmony in approach, in address and in direction, together with balance within, counts for almost everything.
With inference from the insightful Facebook status that propelled me to jot these thoughts down, with regard to my personal feelings about needing to prove myself over and over again upon being perceived as something of a foreigner I could add a yes to it being quite a struggle at times. However, presenting yourself just as you are, without labels being attached left right and centre to the paraphernalia of existence, can feel so liberating, like pressing the refresh button when too much clutter clouds up a space. Having said that from a very personal viewpoint, it may well be that for people with a heightened professional background it may indeed feel less so and could well present challenges that require immense determination and endurance.
On another note I soon realised that whereas I would perhaps be perceived as discreet and even slightly detached by nature in Egypt, I found that I actually came across as unusually friendly here in the UK just for making an effort and genuinely asking how people were. At the start that felt perplexing to say the least. Gathering up the courage to ask why people in the South East tended to look down on those who did not limit their conversation to the weather and how come it was that I was accepted for so-doing, I remember receiving this reply: 'It's ok for you to do so because you're foreign.'
Albeit that was by someone who was more of a short-term acquaintance than long-standing friend. Dynamics change in our world and true friendships established since are blessings.
Due to a background filled both cognitively and subliminally with diverse cultural influences, I have always regarded myself as a fish swimming in air if not water and always seen it as an asset rather than a hindrance, so to bring this bit of writing to an end: Perhaps, for all of us, the need we feel to reach out~ gifts us with more than just an enhanced grounded outlook… It allows us to breathe.