I Sound Like a Dork

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Let me be completely honest with you, I have never been fond of the sound of my voice. I feel like it’s screechy and the exact opposite of smooth. But like so many other attributes that are less than flattering, I have grown into it; it is mine, and I accept it as part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be breaking out into song anytime soon, but I won’t be shrinking away from listening to myself either.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself….

Last night, Sarah Rhea Werner, hostess of the Write Now podcast, interviewed me. It was so fun talking about my upcoming book and my writing journey. You know that high you get after a great conversation? That’s what I was feeling. But with it being past one in the morning my time, that didn’t lend for a very restful night. It was such a great experience, though, that I would do it again in a heartbeat!

I lay there, twisting and turning in bed replaying my answers, going through all the ‘Doh! I should’ve said THIS!’ and the ‘Oh my God, how did I not mention THAT!’ moments. We all go through that to some extent after conversations, don’t we? (Please say ‘yes.’) And it all just made me wonder: was I clear enough in my message? Will the audience understand what I meant when I explained why being God-conscious is important and how it ties into our writing? Or will it be something they roll their eyes at and tune out? Will they be able to follow the excerpt that I read? Will it pique their interest enough to have them look up the book?

Once the episode airs, I’ll be posting it here for sure. And you’ll have to tell me whether or not I sound like a dork! For now, here’s the link to Sarah’s podcast. She offers great advice for writers in Write Now and holds lively conversations with various authors on Coffee Break. Check her out!

Beautiful

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She is beautiful.

No wrinkles, no grey hairs.

Satin skin and velvet hair,

Reflections of sun kissed youth.

Her locks frame an ageless face.

There, that reflection in the mirror.

How did I not see her?

How was I focused on the wrinkles,

The blotches, the unruly hair?

How did I not see her softness, her feminine poise?

How did I not see the way her features dovetail,

Fit together perfectly by the Creator.

 

Oh, the lights return.

Now the blatant truth stares back at me.

Grey hairs, just where I’d left them,

Wrinkles, getting deeper by the day,

Puffy eyes, whiskers, pores the size of planets.

Unmanageable, frizzy hair.

There I am again, that’s right.

Huh. Beautiful? Yeah, right.

Sun spots, rolls of skin, flat chest, large behind.

Thighs outlined by unmerciful stretchmarks.

Rough hands,

Cuticle covered nails,

Collar bones piercing the skin,

Sunken cheeks,

Spider-veins webbing my legs,

Misshaped nostrils,

Mismatched eyes.

Head to toe

Saturated with flaws.

 

But with all these imperfections,

With my unbeautiful wrinkles,

My unbeautiful skin spots,

The unbeautiful whiskers and pores.

With my unbeautiful rolls,

The unbeautiful stretchmarks,

I

Am beautiful.

My softness, my feminine poise,

The perfect way my features match,

I

Am a masterpiece.

 

In all we’ve been trained to see as ugly,

I have grown to see my beauty.

Scars adorn adult knees and elbows?

Marks of a happy childhood.

Rounded middle and filled out thighs?

Marks of delicious chocolate indulgences.

Dark spots freckle the skin?

Marks of beach adolescence and innocent heartbreaks.

Wrinkles dancing ‘round my lips?

Marks of happy days filled with laughter.

 

All the beautiful marks of life,

Blessings disguised as blemishes.

I remain

A masterpiece of the Creator.

 

I

Am beautiful.

© Hend Hegazi 2016

 

Search By Voice

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Sometime last year, my brother was in his room when he heard his son say something down the hall. He opened the door and the words became more clear, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” A few seconds of silence followed, then my nephew repeated his request, only louder, “TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.” My brother just chuckled to himself and closed the door. Several minutes later, when my brother came out of his room, there was his son, spread out on the floor, propped up on his elbows watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles right on his tablet. My nephew’s experience was actually my first exposure to Google search by voice. I mean, I had seen the little microphone icon at the end of the search bar, I just never really had any faith it would give reliable results. I am still reluctant to use it. Some people, on the other hand, have complete confidence that voice searches will give them exactly what they want…

Recently, my daughter, who is only five, has gotten into the habit of watching Frozen themed YouTube skits on my laptop. She comes home, pops open the device, scrolls through the tabs or asks me to search for her, and commences to watch her shows. They’re really strange, actually, with Elsa and Spiderman and the wicked witch from some Disney fairytale that I can’t keep straight. Wicked strange really, with no spoken words at all in order to reach a global audience. The only sound any of the characters make is the evil laugh by the witch. “Mwahh… haaa… haaa,” she says. But it’s clean, so I let my daughter watch. Just last week, she started searching them using Google voice search. Sitting on her knees on the chair to position her mouth as close to the mic as possible, she directs her voice at the computer, “Frozen, real.” She thinks that’s what it’s called…because are ‘real’ people playing the parts and not cartoons. But because I myself don’t really know what this type of skit would be called on a google search, I don’t correct her. When the Google lady tells her to try again, she raises her voice a bit, and again, out come her accented words, “Frozen, real.” This goes on and on, with her raising her voice gradually until she’s basically screaming, at which point either miraculously what she wants pops up, or I put myself out of my misery and go help her.

But the other day, she did something unprecedented. She sat down in front of the laptop, and instead of asking Google to locate ‘Frozen, real’ or any of the other children’s programs she watches, she started to say something else. I was unsure of what I’d heard at first, because I was in the kitchen. Could she have really said what I thought she said? I paused my chopping for a minute and listened. And sure enough, she was saying my name! She wasn’t saying ‘Mom.’ No…she was saying ‘Hend Hegazi.’ My daughter was actually googling me using search by voice! I couldn’t stop laughing! Especially since she just kept raising her voice, thinking the problem was that the application couldn’t ‘hear’ her. She kept screaming my name at the computer, until finally, the Google lady said to her, “Kid, no one here knows your mom. She’s in the kitchen; go ask her whatever you want.”

Ok, so maybe that’s not what the Google lady said verbatim, but it’s pretty close. At any rate, I don’t think my daughter will be googling me again any time soon.

Order of Operations to Achieve Happiness

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I sit here trying to organize my thoughts so that I can have a productive day. By productive I don’t mean that the house is maintained, the laundry put away, and dinner taken care of; all these only make for a normal day. To have a productive day, I must write. It would be great to be able to complete a piece, but even a first draft is something.

There’s a digital sticky note on my screen that says ‘To Do.’ All six of the tasks are either directly related to writing (write a blog post, finish character interviews, do writing course) or are marketing related for my upcoming release. I try to get things done before my kids come home because once they get here, no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot work. Is it the fact that they demand too much attention, so I simply can’t concentrate? Is it that even if they aren’t demanding attention, we live in an apartment, so their playing is always too loud and too close for me to concentrate? I think it’s a combination of those factors. But the truth remains – once they get here, I don’t get anything done.

This fact started me to wonder how my life would have been different if I had chosen – like the majority of my high school and college friends – to focus on my career right out of college. If I had had the encouragement and discipline then to begin my writing career, where would I be today? Would my name be known? Would I have more than two books published? Most of my friends focused on their careers directly after college and are now in impressive, advanced positions. Some have married and started families, and their oldest children are in the range of seven to eight years old. I took a different path; my oldest is thirteen.

So, which is better? Which of the two paths leads to the highest level of success? Can someone who has surpassed thirty start at the bottom while their peers are all in managerial positions? At that age, will they have the necessary drive to prove themselves and fight to get ahead? Or will it become too overwhelming? And on the flip side, can a thirty-five year old woman have the same patience and energy to raise a child as a twenty-something year old? Is one path better for the overall happiness of a person?

I’ve come to this conclusion: none of those questions even matter. The truth is that if you want to succeed professionally and have a family life, you’ll find a way to do it. Life is about give and take, and this is a perfect example. Yes, it will be challenging to start raising kids at thirty-five or forty. But you know what? It’s challenging raising kids in your twenties, too. Yes, it will be challenging to realize suitable career opportunities and ambitions. But you know what? That remains true no matter what your age.

We build lives that best suit us. Sometimes we can prioritize and sometimes life has a way of screwing up our plans. Honestly, if I had continued with a career after graduating, it would not have been writing. Although it has been my dream ever since elementary school, I didn’t find the encouragement I needed from my folks to pursue writing as a career. I was enrolled in optometry school when my younger brother passed away suddenly, a tragedy that forced me and my parents to reevaluate the plans for my future. As I was already engaged at the time, we decided starting a family was more important than spending four extra years just to earn the title ‘doctor.’ Although I am sure my father wishes I had earned that title (and it saddens me that I have – at least on some level – disappointed him), I have never regretted that decision. And I’ll bet most of my friends who chose to begin their careers early on never regretted their decisions either.

The keys to achieving success and happiness have nothing to do with age. The keys to achieving success and happiness are accepting where we’ve been, embracing where we are, and acknowledging that goals have no expiration date. As long as we are blessed with life, whether we are twenty years old or one hundred, we must continue to dream new dreams, and strive to fulfill them.

Skipping School

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When we were younger, my brothers and I had no choice but to be studious. We were not allowed to play outside until our homework had been completed. Our homework, though, unlike that of most children, was not simply the exercises assigned to us from school; in addition to our school homework, my father made it a point to have us practice math problems regularly. I remember once, I was in kindergarten or first grade, and my dad said we couldn’t go out until we’d finished the pages he had marked. Mohamed is two years my senior, but in my dad’s mind a two year difference meant nothing; he taught both of us my brother’s curriculum. That day, I couldn’t figure it out and I was on the brink of an outburst, but Mohamed hushed me quickly. He knew that if my dad found out I was having difficulty solving the problems, we could kiss our chances of playing outside goodbye for the rest of the weekend. My brother quietly helped me and we eventually rollicked in the freedom of our front yard.

Back then, if you were lucky enough to be a kid coming to the Hegazi household for a fun visit with your friends, you had better make sure you studied first! My father quizzed all of our friends.

“Kerri!” I’m pretty sure he raised his voice just to scare the crap out of them. “What’s nine times seven?!”

If you were unfortunate enough to answer correctly, the equations gradually progressed until you were faced with something like “What’s the cubed root of seventy-two times eighty-three?” Our childhood friends are all in their late thirties/early forties now…and they remember these quizzes fondly.

Mohamed has always been intelligent. He wasn’t as studious as I was…he didn’t have to be. Here’s a story to prove it:

One day when he was in the eighth or ninth grade, he and his friends agreed to play hooky the following day. There were all still too young to drive, so I guess they were just going to hang around the neighborhood. The next morning came and he ‘left’ for school. My dad was still getting dressed, preparing to leave for work, when he heard a noise come from the bathroom. Was it a sneeze? An unexplained shuffling? A loud thud? I’m not sure, but something made him open the shower door, and there was Genius with his backpack in hand.

Why in the world he hadn’t waited in the back yard – where he would have been completely hidden from view! – until my dad had left, was (and continues to be) beyond me! But even though I thought he was a degenerate [that’s his favorite word…quite fitting, don’t you think?] I felt sorry for him…he was in for the beating of his life.

Funny, though…I don’t remember the beating. My dad had to get to work so he told Genius he’d deal with him later. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what happened that night. It’s possible that, despite my dad’s high regard of education, he remembered his own days of skipping school. It’s possible he let it slide on the premise of ‘boys will be boys.’ Maybe Genius remembers more clearly…but at this point, would you trust his judgement?

* Disclaimer: Despite the clearly unintelligent actions of my brother as a youth, he grew up to be a respected, successful dentist, masha’ Allah. Apparently it pays to have to do calculus mentally.

Rights of a Writer

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I was recently scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and started reading a post that one of my friends had shared. As I read it, I recognized it as an article I had written for a magazine many months ago. The post on Facebook, my writing, had already reached three thousand likes. I should have been ecstatic! I should have been celebrating that my words had not only reached so many people, but had moved them as well. I should have been screaming with joy, but instead I was literally shaking with anger. The tiny detail that made the difference? My name did not appear anywhere on the post.

I felt robbed. I felt like someone had stolen something very valuable from me. It wasn’t just my article that had been taken; it was my rights. As the owner of that piece, it was my right to have it attributed to me, it was my right that readers know I was the mind behind the words. It was my right to be acknowledged. And that right had been violated.

Perhaps, if I weren’t a writer, it would have hurt less. Perhaps, if I weren’t struggling to sell my book, I would have taken it as a compliment that someone liked my piece so much they wanted to share it. Perhaps I would have been more open to the people who tried to comfort me with words like, ‘They didn’t acknowledge you, but God does, and your reward is with Him.’

But those words only infuriated me. Not because I don’t believe them – because I do, wholeheartedly. I believe in living my life for the sake of God, and seeking His pleasure. I believe that it is our duty to do our best at everything, and in so doing, each act is thus done  for the sake of God; because that is what He commanded us to do. I believe in helping where I can because, again, God commands it. I believe in doing everything for the sake of God.

But I also believe in worldly compensation, because this, too, is commanded by God. In the second chapter of the Qur’an, Surat al Baqarah, God clearly explains that each person is to receive due payment for any transaction (2: 282).  We are not required to do business with each other and expect nothing more than a ‘May God reward you’ as payment. We are not!  Here is a perfect example: consider someone who has made posters explaining the ninety-nine names of God. The posters teach people who He is and spread the message of the Oneness, the Greatness of the Creator. This person is obviously in that business for the sake of God. But that does not mean that this person should not make a profit from their work. They deserve to make a profit. And if a thief were to break into their home and steal their posters and pass them out for free, that person has been violated, even though their message is still being spread. Their monetary compensation is their right and no one would ever comfort them by saying ‘Your reward is with God.’ Yes, God willing, He will reward us, but that does not excuse people from according us with our worldly rights. God tells us in the Qur’an never to transgress upon anyone’s rights, and we all deserve that same courtesy. It may be that some of our communities fail to recognize the theft of intellectual property. Maybe they don’t consider it a thing, don’t understand how a non-physical entity, an idea, can belong to someone. But any writer, artist, teacher, or lawyer can assure you that intellectual property indeed has an owner.

Sadly there are some zealots that scoff at us artists for demanding recognition. But a quick search in the traditions, the ahadith, of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) turn up the incident where a man asked the Prophet how he should act if someone tries to take his belongings. The Prophet advised the man not to surrender them. The man then asked what he should do if the offender continued to fight him for them, and the Prophet replied that he should fight back (Sahihmuslim.com, Book of Faith, chapter 64, hadith no. 259). This hadith makes it very clear: despite what some believe, it is not a mark of piety to abandon our rights. To follow Islam properly, we must stand up for them.

When I became aware that my piece was out there, it had already received three thousand likes. I immediately contacted the editor of the magazine in which it had originally appeared, and she took action by emailing the site. Other writers and friends of mine went to the post and made comments demanding that my name be added to it. My name finally appeared on the post… at about eleven thousand likes. My article received eleven thousand likes and over nine thousand shares before the site acknowledged me.

I cannot help but wonder how many new fans I may have gained if my name had been on it from the minute that post had gone live. I cannot help but wonder how many more readers would have read the poems on my website, how many more books I would have sold. I cannot help but wonder how my professional life would have been affected. Yes, I accept everything that comes my way with a resounding ‘Praise God.’ Yes, I feel blessed that my words touched so many people. But it saddens me that I did not receive my due rights. It saddens me that I know it will happen again, to others if not myself. And it saddens me that so many people underestimate the importance of giving credit where it is due. It is such a simple thing – attributing a piece to its rightful creator. It saddens me that many in the Muslim community think so little of it, when in fact, it is theft – a major sin in Islam. It saddens me that so many are either unaware of that fact, or simply do not care.

May your rights – personal and professional – never be violated. And may you never transgress upon the rights of another, even unintentionally.

(If you’re curious about my article that received so many likes, you can find it here, on the website of SISTERS Magazine, where it originally appeared. It is an article about parenting.)

Return of the Egyptian Spirit

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When I moved to Egypt some 14 years ago, there was a palpable spirit that lived on the streets and in the hearts of all Egyptians. It was loud, and passionate, full of love…and even if we were on opposite sides of the field, it united us. That was the spirit that we saw with every football game here. I remember quite vividly about 11 or 12 years ago, Egypt was in the running for some kind of cup. The time was around 8 or 9 pm. I had watched part of the match, but it was my son’s bedtime, so I turned off the TV and took him to his room. A few minutes later the roaring of cheers washed through our apartment. It was exactly as if I were at the stadium and the cheering crowd was live before me! “We just scored another goal,” I laughed. Such a beautiful spirit.

Please don’t misunderstand: I am in no way a sports fanatic. I don’t watch every game, know all the stats, and most of the time I even screw up the players’ names. But I watch once in a while, and if it’s a match with some kind of cup at stake, chances are I’ll be excited about it. And the great thing about Egypt used to be just that: that even people who were not football fans got into the cheering spirit once the matches came around. It was something fun that united us all. Like I said, it was a beautiful spirit.

But that spirit died with the rise of the January 25th revolution. It was as though people became too caught up in politics to care about anything else. It was as though eating, breathing, and dreaming politics was what would cause the change that so desperately had to take place. I wonder if it’s another manifestation of the Egyptian credo, the one I see in so many Egyptian men: we can only accomplish one thing at a time. Can’t concern ourselves with politics AND care about the game, apparently. So that spirit, the one that kept us cheering for victory, the one that urged us to push forward, even through the sweat and the pain, it took the bullet. And even when various foundations tried to revive it by lifting the ban that kept the stadiums free of spectators, there was always some idiot in the crowd, dead set on causing trouble. The local matches haven’t had any spectators for more than a few years now. Honestly, it’s just sad to watch the games and see the empty bleachers. I’ll bet it’s depressing for the players as well. There is no comparison between playing to a crowd of people cheering you on, waving banners with your colors, SHOUTING YOUR NAME, RAISING THE ROOF….and an empty stadium where the only sound is that of your own heart pounding. No comparison at all.

Tonight’s game between the favorite rivals, Ahly and Zamalek, vying for the Super Cup of Egypt, took place in Dubai. The stadium was packed, split between red and white. It was such a sight! You could see the crowd’s energy being passed to the players. Even the sportsmanship was turned up several notches. At one point a physical confrontation was about to ensue when players from both sides stepped in, calming the scene, refusing to let competition override integrity. And for those 90 plus minutes, that beautiful spirit – the one that united Egyptians no matter which jersey they wore, the one that gave them a reason to smile and laugh despite all the hardships of life – peeked its head out and inhaled deeply.

I really wish that spirit would return. The country is in desperate need of unison, and cheer. Giving some attention to the love of the game doesn’t detract from the importance of working toward building a better country. Just the opposite; if we can maintain the same kind of sportsmanship we witnessed tonight, if we can hold open matches and welcome back the crowds without reaping damages, perhaps we’ll find assurance that something better is attainable. Perhaps we’ll regain the will to keep pushing forward, toward a brighter future, and a better country. Perhaps. I vote we revive that Egyptian spirit.