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From New York to Egypt Finding Allah From One Cosmopolitan City to the Next

by in Soul on 24th June, 2019

Egypt

A little over a year ago I finally listened to the voice in my head (Allah) that said to leave my job. I had nothing lined up. I had applied to a few different places and nothing had come of the interviews I went on, but my time was up there. When I submitted my notice I had no regret and no fear. When it’s time to go it’s time to go. After I left the job I applied to a few more places all with the intention of relocating. I wanted to get out of New York by any means necessary. When the first job I applied to wanted to hire me I was excited. I thought this will be great a new adventure in a new city. I had applied to a job in New Orleans where I would be helping to rebuild homes that were destroyed after Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, there were no positions available in New Orleans.

The turning point that got this Black beauty living in Egypt was a conversation I had with a good friend of mine. She had moved to Egypt about six months prior and was studying there and loving it. Since she left she kept asking me to come, but I didn’t have enough money or time. I told her about the job I was denied she asked me again to come to Egypt. Not to visit, but to live for a year and study. I, of course, said no. Egypt wasn’t where I thought the next step of my life would be. I was thinking about moving to a city in the United States, not Egypt. But, the more we talked about it the more it made sense. I had no bills that I was married to and I was subletting her apartment for her, so I could leave whenever I wanted. When I left my job, I left with all my sick and vacation pay. Anyone who knows me knows that I almost never took off from work so after eight years that was a pretty penny.  Then she asked me a critical question that changed my mind and gripped my heart. “When else will you have the time and money to study the book of Allah?”. When she asked me that I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak because the tears just swam down my face. This is why it’s important to have friends who are believers. She reminded me to make two rakat and book my ticket, so the shaytan ( the devil) didn’t have time to fill me with any doubt. I booked my ticket the next day and moved to Egypt at the end of that month.

The Journey

I was so excited! I was moving to Africa, T. (Nas- Belly reference). Anyway, I got to the airport gave my bro a goodbye hug and tried to hide my tears cause I’m a thug and I was on my way. Twenty hours later and I was in Egypt. And pretty much as soon as I got off the plane I was re-introduced to Arab Muslim elitism.  When I went to through customs in Egypt I was hit with the Muslim twenty questions, you know the Muslim twenty questions every non Arab – hijabi gets when we get into taxis or corner stores in NY. However, these questions were a bit different and confused me, they were hidden in customs lingo. The customs agent asked me what I thought were basic questions at first plus I was exhausted from my travels so I wasn’t quite understanding all of his many questions:

Custom’s agent: Whats your name?

Me: Laila Nor

Customs Agent: Whats your other name?

Me: Huh?

Customs Agent: What’s your other name that’s not what’s on your passport?

Me: Yes it is? What are you talking about? (with real attitude and confusion – remember I told you I was tired)  Oh, you mean my middle name? Sorry Americans don’t really care about middle names. It’s Sauda.

Customs Agent: Oh we care about that in Egypt. But what’s your other name?

Me: What other name? I only have one name: Laila Sauda Nor????

Customs Agent: You don’t have another name?

Me: No –should I have more than one? (Utterly confused)

Customs Agent: Where are your traveling from?

Me:  New York

Customs Agent: Where were you born?

Me: Connecticut

*Just an FYI, ALL  of this information is on my passport that the customs agent is holding and I’m tired and had been traveling for almost a full day. But the interrogation continued*

Customs Agent: Where is your mother from?

Me: Brooklyn

Customs Agent: Where is your father from?

Me: Brooklyn

Customs Agent: Where are you from?

Me: Brooklyn

Customs Agent: What’s your nationality?

Me: American

Customs Agent: What’s your other nationality?

-Huh?

Me: American

Customs Agent: Your other nationality?

*Well maybe I don’t know what nationality means*

Me: Can you have more than one? I’m from America what are you asking me?

Customs Agent:  You don’t have a different nationality?

Me: Is that possible? I was born in America – I’m American! What are you asking me? ( I didn’t realize I had gotten louder I was giving him full on Black Brooklyn Women “I’m sick and tired of this” face, volume, and tone. Shoot, but listen, dude, move on to the next one.)

Customs Agent: Ok ok ok ok it’s fine Yani.

H proceeded to ask me a few more questions that were actually legit and had to do with my stay in Egypt and he let me go. I would come to have many more conversations like that. Perhaps not with that exact line of questioning but pretty darn close. What I experienced was the gentleman trying to make sense of how I look vs, my name and where I’m from. When I first got to Egypt I had on an abaya, a nose ring, a septum ring, and I also have a tattoo on one of my hands. People from New York see this about 50 times a day. It’s not special or different, but alas, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Let us not forget…I’m Black! So how could “all of that” be born a Muslim and have no Arab ties? That gentleman might’ve lost his natural mind that day trying to figure out how all that was possible. I was finally able to get my passport stamped and retrieve my luggage and left the airport. My friend picked me up and we were off. I was so excited and I thought I would be so amazed at everything I saw. I expected the pyramids to be right there when I left the airport and the sand to be clean and ATV ready like I always imagine and saw in the pictures. Now that I think about it, I think the pictures of the clean sand were of Dubai.

I quickly learned that nothing I thought I knew about Egypt was the reality. Everything is a lot dirtier and slower and yet somehow always more rushed than I thought it would be. This was my first experience being so far away from home and for so long. The last time I was away from home I was in undergrad – it was a lot dirtier than I expected there too but I went home every three months.  While it became evident that there was a lot I didn’t and I don’t like about Egypt there’s also a peace and internal happiness that comes from your work being purely to learn and understand the book of Allah.


Related

3-day guide to visiting Turkey

A guide to traveling to Norway

Need a Break? How About a Ladies Only Retreat to Morocco?


Lesson 1

Lesson number one in Egypt was adjusting to living in what felt like was a downgrade from the projects. No shade to the projects; but living in the projects in America is not like the projects in a third worldish country (maybe not third world but 2 and a quarter world country).

The actual apartment was ok but the building and its outside of was a level of filth I’ve never known. The block I lived on had tall apartment buildings and a plethora of stores, many of them restaurants and very little space between. For the whole block, there was one big dumpster everyone threw their trash in. So it was more like that part of the block and the sidewalks behind it were designated for trash. What comes with large amounts of trash? Rats right? Or so I thought., Egypt has its own checks and balances. I’ve been in Egypt almost a year and Alhumdullilah I’ve yet to see a rat. The stray cats and weasels evidently keep the rats out of commission.

Lesson 2

Lesson number two: learning how to travel. As I’ve said I’m from Brooklyn and anyone from Brooklyn should be familiar with dollar vans. In downtown or Flatbush, Remsen, kings plaza you can always find some Caribbean Papi screaming your needed destination. Good all “Utica –Utica” always comes to mind when I think of dollar vans. So there are dollar vans everywhere apparently there just called different things. The vans that are fairly cheap and the driver screams the destination so you know which van to get into. The driver also often has little to no manners. – Same deal in Egypt, trade in the dollar van you know with sometimes flat screen Tv’s and party lights for mini busses that often have the cushion spilling out of the seat and so much caked on dirt you actively try not to look around. Trade in ” Utica- Utica” for “Seebaaaah – Seebaaaah “. Even though its gross and dirty it was somewhat refreshing to having something that felt familiar in terms of transportation. It has also been fun to see how people pile in. I bet you think it’s important that the door is closed before the driver starts speeding down the street? I bet you think the vehicle is at capacity just because there aren’t any more seats? Ha! There is always standing room – as long as you have a good grip on something you just have to get your feet in the vehicle and hold until your stop.

Once I  learned enough Arabic to say where I was going and how to let the driver know this was my stop, I started travelling alone. At home and in most places I come and go as I please and I really enjoy having that autonomy; so a big struggle was needing to depend on other people during my first few months in the country. I’m sure it weighed heavy on my friends because I really needed them to do a lot with me and for me. Once I  knew enough to say Seebah, or Safarrat, hena (means here), alligum ( I think means this is my stop or let me out, it accomplishes that goal so Alhumdullilah ) I was out.

*Catch part 2 of my Journey & reflections New York to Egypt*

Kiah G

Kiah G

Kiah is a Black West Indian, Latina, and a Muslim Woman who has things to say and has finally decided to say it, on her blog We Been Here. Follow her journey on Instagram @keiyalexis.