Divorced, sick and content with Allah’s decree, can you imagine? Neither could I, but that is where I found myself four years ago, with my three children at my side. I got divorced from my first husband in 2007 after a four year span in Yemen and then accepted a teaching contract in Cairo, Egypt the same year. I arrived in Cairo in August of 2007 with a small suitcase, cash from the sale of my gold necklace and a heart pleased with Allah (SWT) as my Lord, Muhammad (SAW) as my prophet and Islam as my religion. I had a heavy heart from a broken marriage, no money and was still carrying the pain of losing a son that I only held once before Allah (SWT) took his soul on the tenth day on his life. My heavy heart was twinned by a strong soul that knew Allah (SWT) does not overburden any of his servants and with each test comes ease.
I was blessed with a great teaching job at a new school with a dedicated administration. The CEO of the school was a religious man who cared for each of the new expat employees and treated us as if we were his guests in his country, not mere workers. The work was great! My furnished apartment in a ritzy compound was to-die-for and my health was slowly returning. I used my furniture allowance to send for my children to come from Yemen. The children were impressed with the greenery of Egypt and our new wealth. They loved the apartment, their new clothes and our new financial freedom.
The months passed and we remained happy but real life started to settle. The phone bill had to be paid. But where? The internet contract had to be activated. But where? The children needed new clothes and shoes. From where? I tried to get things done by myself with the little bit of Egyptian Arabic that I had picked up at work, but it always ended up with me spending way too much money and time getting absolutely nothing accomplished. I shared some of my frustrations with colleagues at work and everyone was more than helpful! Some of my colleagues volunteered their time to go to this office with me and to go and pay that bill for me. Things got a little easier. I found myself actually enjoying my “me time” and the kids were definitely eating up all the exclusivity they were getting with mommy. We had a routine: school, home, a trip to the local supermarket, dinner, a little TV, bath time, and then off to bed – for the kids! I would hang out for another hour or so. I would light the candles in the bathroom, take a long bath, then get dressed and made up. I would escort myself to the living room and watch a late movie by myself – yes, all made up! After my destructive marriage, I had to reconvince myself that I was beautiful. I needed to reorganise my thoughts. I had to think about it all and try to figure out what had happened.
I still hadn’t told anyone I was divorced. Not my parents, not my sister and definitely not friends. I never complained out loud about our marital problems, so no one saw it coming. I didn’t tell them because I didn’t want to be bombarded with the normal marriage proposals for the poor single mother in a strange country. I didn’t dare tell my parents because they would have naturally wanted me to come home. I was not going home, and I felt that me being away from them was enough of a worry for my family. Telling them that I had moved again, got divorced and was all alone would be overkill!
I liked the opportunities that my children had in a Muslim country. My decision about hijrah did not waver after my divorce because I wanted the adhan to be normality for my children. I wanted my two girls to grow up following the new trends of hijab. I wanted my son to always be close enough to a mosque to make praying in the mosque 5 times a day a regular action. I wanted to live my life without having to worry if I would have a job the next day because I made a personal decision to wear a black abayah and black scarf. I was going to endure whatever challenges faced me in Egypt because I knew that whoever leaves something for the sake of Allah (SWT), is recompensed with something even better than what he left. I left everything I knew, everything I loved. I left it willingly because I had committed my life to worship Allah (SWT), as mankind was created to do. I wanted to do it right. Doing it right was going to be a bit easier for me in the land of the Muslims. And every action is based on its intention. My intention was honest and Allah (SWT) started to send His rewards in 2008.
So there we were – me and the kids at the supermarket. All the bags in the cart, each kid within eye sight, and looking for a taxi home. This pale Egyptian man, about my height, approached my son and asked him where we wanted to go. My son answered and shortly we were off to the apartment. It was a normal taxi ride in Egypt – crazy and fast, but there was also something different. He didn’t eye me up and down through the rearview mirror, nor did he open the endless conversation about where we are from and which country is better, blah, blah, blah… We got out of the taxi, my son paid him and I was happy to finally have found a driver that was not a chatterbox. I told my son to ask for his number so that we could call him for our future outings.
After a few more outings the new driver was still an absolute gentleman. He helped coordinate Qur’an classes for the children and was helpful hooking us up with the number for the cable guy, the affordable clothing shops, and even qualified doctors for the children. He owned five taxis and when he was not available, he would send someone else from his group. One day he invited me and the kids to lunch at his house. I instantly asked him who else would be at this lunch. He told me that his wife and children would of course be preparing the lunch at their house. I accepted the invitation. The children and I went and had a lovely time. Having lunch at his house became more regular; the kids finally had friends to play with. One day, he asked me if we were going to travel to America in the summer. I told him no. He proceeded to ask me if my husband would come to Egypt in the summer. I told him no. He then asked, “Is that how you guys live your life?” I answered with a simple shrug and that was that, or so I thought…
Dorothy Salah is an American ESL teacher living in Cairo, Egypt. She is co-editor of SAKYNA magazine and always looking for an opportunity to tell one of the amazing tales from her travels abroad.