Monday, January 03, 2005

Crossing Jordan

CairoTraffic.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I've spent the past few days reading Queen Noor of Jordan's memoirs, "A Leap of Faith". Aside from being simply fascinating as a story, the book really touched parts of my being. I'm a couple of years older than Queen Noor, and I remember being quite aware of King Hussein as I was growing up, if only because he was without any doubt the epitome of what a king should be in my mind. His strength and courage, his presence and the look in his eyes that welcomed even in photographs...all of these combined such that he was indeed the stuff of fantasies, and I remember thinking, "Wow, now that is a lucky young woman!" when I read of their engagement and marriage.

When I married Diaa a few years later, my sister commented that I'd managed to marry one of "those" and I knew that she was referring as well to the qualities that I'd admired in King Hussein and that were also present in my husband. The physical presence was similar although Diaa was taller than King Hussein, but they both had that charm and totally attractive aspect such that they'd light up a room on entrance. It was impossible to know the man without being aware of his dreams and of the fact that his dreams encompassed much more than just his own accomplishment and welfare. Diaa didn't have the responsibility of a nation on his shoulders, for which I am eternally grateful, but his work was not aimed at becoming wealthy and/or powerful, but at creating needed infrastructure for Egypt. He saw himself as the tool for the building of needed activities in his country, and he was a very willing tool indeed. Frankly, if he'd been the kind of person who was only in the game for the money, I doubt that I'd have had the same respect and love for him.

It may be that it seems rather presumptious to compare my late husband to one of the great men of our region, but the similarities between the two in lifestyle and passions were striking to me, although definitely Diaa was on a smaller scale than the King of Jordan. King Hussein was also one of my husband's heroes, as it were, with his work for peace, his accessibility to his people, and his love of flying. It's not so much as a comparison of two men, as I note that there are simply people who live their lives in a larger scale than most of us, and those of us who share those lives have our own difficulties but are nonetheless blessed.

I'm sure that there must have been many times during the years when Noor wondered what in heaven possessed her to join this life of Hussein's. Learning new languages, customs, being thrown into some of the deepest political waters around...not really enticing is it. Plus she was stepmother to his children from previous marriages, not an easy task, especially when you are raising future heads of state. It's hard enough to raise children to be responsible adults, but to raise them to be responsible for an entire nation is on another scale.

I must recommend Queen Noor's book to everyone. It's a fascinating look at the Kingdom of Jordan from the inside, her reflections on the politics, the problems and joys of working with King Hussein and international events. She offers new insight into the life of someone who has chosen to make her life in this region. If I could choose a woman to be able to get to know, she would definitely be right up there at the head of the list. If you don't have access to the book, you can check out her website Well worth the visit.

And what do the sheep in traffic have to do with all of this? Not much really. This is another one of Kareem's wonderful shots of the complexity that is Egypt, a shot that could probably be taken in Jordan as well.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

New Year's Thoughts

BerseemBoy.JPG, originally uploaded by Miloflamingo.
I remember back in the old days when I used to be in attendance at New Year's parties, albeit usually as a member of the staff rather than as a guest, one of the symbols of the New Year was a baby boy. I was looking through my photos on Flickr and this child reminded me of those images. This is one the photos taken by Kareem Shehata

Sunday morning, January 2, 2005. I'm in Sharm el Sheikh again with my friend and neighbour Janie, her daughter, my daughter and a variety of friends. Last year the group included a young man from Idaho who stayed with me for three months, enduring the move to the country and generally having a very nice time. He's written to me since going back and told me that he'd never see his society the same way after living for the three months in Egypt. I think that the main goal I have with my young visitors is the awakening of their senses of observation and questioning.

Janie is now embarking on her second year of widowhood, which is usually better than the first year, as I was also warned and counselled by some other widows that I'd met soon after my husband's death. That first year is so painful, like having to live for a year without skin. Every single day is the first time that you've done something without your partner and the shock of it is palpable. But every pain seems to put into place a little bit of skin, such that after that first year is up, you are now walking around with a new skin, albeit one that is not very tough. Hopefully, this year will be better for Janie.

What am I looking forward to in 2005? The first big thing is the arrangement of the financing to be able to buy my land and begin building a home for myself, my daughter, and my creatures. I have my eye on four feddans (a feddan is about 4 thousand square metres...don't ask me for that in feet. I gave up on the English system the day that they introduced the metric in Canada. I can't keep translating, although for the life of me, I can't remember my height in centimetres) that are far enough off the main road as to be priced reasonably.

I want to build a small house with the ground floor for me and two rooms with kitchen and bath upstairs for my daughter and guests. I have to have a room for my grooms and garden staff (which I don't have yet) to stay in, so they need a bedroom and bath for them. The grooms make sure that there is at least one of them on duty each night in case of emergencies. I want to build an outdoor kitchen with a small bread oven so that Morad and I can get in one of the neighbourhood women (hopefully one known for her good cooking) in to cook for the staff at his place and mine, as well as simple country cooking for us.

The rest of the building will be fencing to keep the rat pack in and the neighbour's dogs out, paddocks for horses, a shed for shade and bad weather, a storage room for equipment, saddles, and the like, and a clinic room where medications can be stored and small animals can be treated by vet friends of mine. It's going to be a busy year ahead of me.

I also want to work out the logistics and try a five-day ride to Fayoum from our area with some people from a neighbouring stable. We would ride our horses across the desert to Fayoum with one night stop on the way and a night in Fayoum. The oasis is lovely and there is a lake with waterfalls at one end of it. Plans are also sort of underway for a ride from Cairo to Sharm, but that one is a couple of weeks to do and will depend a bit on the building program.

I hope to be able to disengage more from my late husband's companies in the new year. In late February there is an airshow planned in Sharm el Sheikh, and right now we have plans to have the new Orca fleet fly in during the airshow for maximum effect. The tourism industry is pushing hard for us to get flying again, and the five Saab 340's and two Saab 2000's that are coming in will be most welcomed and probably booked solid long before their arrival. Just keeping that company alive, if dormant, and seeing it reborn is an achievement of which I am inordinately proud. I can't claim too much credit since I really know nothing of the industry, but maybe at least I was a conduit for good luck. That's enough for me.

This is the first New Year in ages that I've sat down and listed the things that I'm looking forward to. For the last four years, I've been more concerned with surviving than I have been with moving on with my life. I can see now that even though the movements were glacial, I was moving in my own directions during that period. At the time, however, I simply seemed to be mired in the dysfunctions of my late husband's life. I suppose that part of maturity is learning to wait for your life's patterns to decide to make themselves clear. It took me forever, it seems, to learn that sometimes the best thing to do is just to wait and watch the universe unfold a bit.

I hope that the New Year unfolds the universe well for all of us.