Thursday, February 24, 2011

Scarlett's LA Adventure

A few weekends ago, I got to have a fabulous LA adventure with my mom. It was an absolute blast. We got to see all of the glamorous sites of Rodeo Drive (helLO opulence), tour stars' homes (well, their neighborhoods anyway... HelLO Harrison Ford), and have some fun in the sun on the Santa Monica Pier.

Here are a few snapshots of our weekend:

Our Favorite Hangout


Scout and I have many things in common. We love fashion, we love books, we love travelling, we love writing, we love double entendres. We love plotting our futures. And more often than not, while we're scheming, talking and kibbitzing, we're drinking coffee. Sometimes together at my mom's kitchen table, or at Scout's kitchen table, or at a booth at the Sutton County Steakhouse.

I'm sure it's no surprise to any of you that we love to hang out at coffee shops. Today, we're going to treat you to a mini-tour of our favorite coffee joints. Mine is 2 blocks from my new apartment in a ritzy suburb of Washington, DC.

It's called the Bayou Bakery. (Yes, that's snow on the awning. Curses.)

I love this place. One the one hand it's funky and upscale because, duh, this is Yuppie Town, so it has to be stylish. On the other hand, it has down-to-earth Southern touches that make the Texan in my soul jump up and scream with glee. Example: the people at the table next to me are eating buttermilk biscuits with honey. There's New Orleans jazz piped through the speakers. There are light fixtures made out of Bell jars. Love.

It's Sunday morning, the perfect time to sit and relax before heading to church. Here's what I treated myself to:

We've got my order of beignets* piled with powdered sugar,** chicory coffee in a French press with lots of half and half and raw sugar, and my Message bible for a little morning inspiration. I love my Message bible because it's a translation that's easier (for me) to follow than some others and really brings the Word alive. A gem from this morning:

My grace is enough, it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Not pictured is my bible bookmark: a picture of Baby Scout from her 1st birthday party invitation. It makes me smile every time I open it.

I've got a little more time left here to finish my coffee and read the Washington Post and New York Times online.  I love lazy Sundays!

*Beignets are Cajun/French donuts made famous by Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans.
**Ask my dad sometime what happens when you inhale a pile of powdered sugar before you take a bite.


{Scout's hangout coming soon!!}

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Egyptian Friends


I'm not here today to give my political views on what's going on in Egypt. Today, I just want to tell you about my Egyptian friends. They are weighing heavily on my mind because I'm so worried about their safety and their future. By telling you about them, I'm hoping that I can show some personality and humanity behind all of the TV images of rioting mobs and unspeakable violence. To me, those people gathered in  squares in Egypt's largest cities aren't just unnamed masses. My friends might be among them, friends who helped me through a hard month in Egypt, friends who I'll never forget.

I went to Alexandria, Egypt, one summer in July a few years ago. I wanted to study Arabic, so I signed up for a program and booked a plane ticket. At this point, I'd already traveled to 20 foreign countries so I thought I was a savvy traveler and that my days of culture shock were long behind me. I was wrong. My first few days in Egypt were terrifying, mainly because everything was SO foreign to me that I didn't know what to do or how to be. I was petrified of leaving the walls of my room by myself because I didn't know what would happen if I walked around on the streets alone. The heat, the unruly bustle of traffic, the unfamiliar language, the unfamiliar way people dressed, the jeers I got from men, and the jarring call to prayer blasted on the loudspeakers 5 times a day freaked me completely out. On my first day, a monk at the convent I stayed in walked me to a McDonalds. That meal was about the only thing I ate for 2 days. I was too scared to venture out to find anything else.

Then I started my Arabic school and met some of the most wonderful people who made me feel welcome, who (slowly, slowly) taught me how to read, write and speak, who took me to mosques, hookah bars, and to a Muslim wedding, who made me laugh with their jokes and made me think with their tough but respectful questions about the US.

First is Afaf.

She was a language teacher who worked with me on vocabulary. She was also an expert on ancient Egyptian history and could even read hieroglyphics. And in the male-dominated culture of the Middle East, she was a rare example of a female entrepreneur. She started her own tourism business and led tours around Cairo and Luxor. She was funny and vivacious, and very open with me about her Muslim faith and was willing to answer any of my questions. One day I asked her, "Afaf, why do you wear that head scarf? Doesn't it make you feel oppressed?" I will never forget her answer.

She said, "No! I wear it because I am precious. God made me so special that only my husband can see me without it. You can put a tomato out on the street, but a woman is precious and she must be covered." If that's the way she feels, who am I to tell her differently? Afaf guided me through a mosque and even taught me all the motions that Muslims go through when they do their prayers. She wasn't trying to convert me, she was just trying to explain.

Next is Sallam.

Talk about personality! He introduced himself by saying, "My name is Sallam. That means peace!" This guy was a huge flirt, and all of my female Italian classmates (and ok, me too) thought he was adorable. He always had that huge smile on his face and was free-spirited and fun-loving. He told me his favorite place in Egypt is Luxor, except for in the summer because it's too hot. One time he saw me typing an email on the school's computer and just marveled at how I held my hands on the keys and how fast I can type. He thought it was amazing and said one day he wanted to learn to type like that.

Last is the one who's closest to my heart. His name is Amr, and, looking back on it, he's the closest I've ever come to having a Muslim sweetheart.

He's from a small town and his dad is a preacher (well, an imam), so we had that in common. (Sidenote: you know how if you say you're from small town Texas, people ask you if you ride horses to school? He said the same thing happened to him except it was camels.) He's a really bright, intellectual guy who speaks impeccable English. He teaches at the best university in Cairo that's one of the most reputable universities in the whole Middle East. He taught at my school for that summer to make extra money.

One evening he invited me to a sidewalk cafe where we had non-alcoholic beer (like all good Muslims, he didn't drink) and talked about life and politics. He invited me to his apartment (which is a HUGE deal in this society and was probably a faux pas to have a member of the opposite sex unchaperoned in your living room) where we ate dinner and talked to his friends and roommates. He had to do most of the interpretation because I don't think they spoke English. Then one night, we were walking along the beach to a concert and he grabbed my hand and held it as we walked along the shore. As an American, this is about as mild a form of physical affection that you can get. But in Egypt, and in public no less, this was a major break with convention. It was sweet.

His dream was to study in London or in the US, but he said he'd prefer England because he'd heard that it was really dangerous for Muslims to live in the US and was worried that he'd get beaten up. He eventually did get to go study or work in London for three months and said it was a wonderful experience.

When I heard about all of the rioting, I emailed him to ask if he was OK. It took him a few days to get back to me, but eventually he was able to write back and say that he appreciated my email, he was OK and would write more soon.  That's the last I heard. I don't know if he's involved in the protests or not.

I get knots in my stomach when I think about what my friends might be going through right now and what their futures might hold. Every time I see pictures of the riots in the paper, I search the crowds for their faces.

I want so badly for them to be safe. I want so badly for their futures to be bright.

I'm sending them all the prayers my heart can hold.~