Tag: Christmas

The Photo That Made Me Rethink Christmas

This is the season. I know it in my heart. But it is difficult to feel it without the snow, carols, lights, and family. That magical time that sweeps you in good tidings from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Ahhhh. I crave it. For the second consecutive Christmas season, I am without my family, in a place where Christmas holiday season is hard to come by. And the missing is more this time.

As beautiful as Ramadan and Eid were to experience, and as much as I look forward to discovering more holidays in the world; when certain traditions have filled your heart every year of your life, you struggle when you go without.

The cider, the snow, the family, the lights.

And then, as your longing starts to multiply on itself, it snows in Cairo! First time in 112 years. Lovely and miraculous.


But it sure did make a mess of things.


People went outside and really started to look around them.

Mohamed Radwan took this photograph after the snow in Cairo, and it made me stop.


Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Wow. I stared at it for awhile, breathless.

Yes, Christmastime is the snow and the hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick and the family, but it is also compassion and international kindness. It is beyond religion and competition. It is time to look around, take some deep breaths, and think of others.

I take a deep breath for the man out in the cold. To be homeless in the winter. To be alone with your thoughts, dark or warming. To live without shelter, without family, without pillow, without privacy. I admire his gifts of quiet resilience and humility.

I take a deep breath for the refugees, without refuge. Those young and old without the right or the safety to return to their home and to their traditions. I am starting to feel and understand their story; and I admire their hope.

I take a deep breath for the parents torn by the loss of a child this year, in any country. A child’s life ended by disease, crime, war, accident. A tiny face they see in an empty room. I cannot imagine losing a child and I admire them for their living fully with an open wound.

I take a deep breath for the diplomats, expats, students, and military living in holiday-less areas, feeling honored but feeling like something is missing. For the names under the Christmas tree.

I also take a deep breath in joy.

Make that three deep breaths in joy, sending much gratitude to those who donated costumes and dollars to the dance project at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt. More than 100 costumes have arrived and the big event is set for next month. But in the meantime, seven little dancers with crew cuts in growth, a wig or two, and tumors in retreat took the stage at Cairo Opera House complex in brilliant costumes this week. It was UN International Volunteer Day. The stage was outside. It was 45 degrees and windy with a cold rain. The dancers braved it, more overwhelmed with their excitement to notice how cold they actually were. A few coughs and sniffles. They danced full out to Whitney Houston’s “Step by Step” and a hospital theme song “A Hope in My Heart.” The crowd applauded boisterously and clapped along, all smiles. The dancers skipped offstage in a cloud of joy. Bravo to Gana, Aya, Abdel Rahman, Dina, Khaled, Hleen, Sharouk!

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One little girl was a bit self-conscious about dancing onstage in her crew cut. I showed her a picture of me bald after the St. Baldrick’s even back in Chicago. Her face lit up and she got the boost of confidence she needed.

Click here to see the photo album of the costume fittings, rehearsal and performance. And you can watch a quick video of rehearsal.

So here is what I want for Christmas this year: Hot apple cider with a cinnamon stick. Sugar and ginger cookies shaped as wreaths and trees. Live musicians at the Fulbright Christmas party playing “Let it Snow” and excerpts from “The Nutcracker.” Healthy parents and a working Skype call with the family. A strong and healthy marriage to a good fella. Shelter for those who seek it. More faces like these at all the children’s cancer hospitals and wards in the world.

Tidings of comfort and joy.


A Merry Masr Christmas!

That moment when you’re in Arabic class learning the names for different meats, and you’re vegetarian. And one of your Muslim Egyptian friends is back at your place creating the design of a Christmas tree on the wall with a strand of lights. And you keep thinking of your mother with pneumonia and of the children in the hospitals across the world fighting their cancers this holiday season.

Starting this post in a very different place than the holiday spirit. But the jingle bells are soon approaching. I promise.

Installing a mall Christmas tree in the middle of the night.

Last Friday, I  received a comment on this site…

“Your narcissism has never failed to amaze me throughout the duration of your time in Cairo. Actually, what’s most surprising is none of your other readers seem to notice.”

Ouch. Deep ouch. I want to live an altruistic and artful life. That’s it. Narcissism is a hurtful accusation. Been difficult for me to let it roll off.

In honestly, I am feeling a bit guilty right now because it is not financially possible to go back to my family both for Christmas and for my mom’s surgery in February/March. So I am staying here in Cairo this holiday. First time ever to have Christmas apart from them. Then I am traveling next month to volunteer and see friends doing good works in Palestine, Kenya and Uganda.

I am blessed to be here learning from new friends and amazing experiences. Heading back to my family in February but wishing I could somehow also be there for my mom this entire year as she battles against the breast cancer beast and the current pneumonia. She’s homebound this holiday season, on doctor’s orders. Narcissism may not be the right word, but yes, I feel pangs of selfishness.

My gracious, loving, hilarious parents and I.

My parents are gracious, loving and hilarious. I’m their only kid. We Skype every week. And they encourage me to continue saying yes to life’s opportunities and I will definitely continue to write from my personal perspective, an honest place.

And soon is Christmas! The birth of Jesus. In the Qur’an, he is Prophet Esa. This is a most beautiful religious/cultural holiday. As is Diwali, Eid, and so many other beautiful days in the year.

Christmas for Egyptian Coptics will be on January 7th. But I wish to celebrate on December 25.

On Tuesday morning, I plan to go to 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt in order to dance with the patients and families. I will also be handing out the cards and gifts made by children in Michigan and shipped by my friend Elizabeth. Such heart and generosity.

One of the cards reads… “Hello. It’s winter here. We’ve had snow. I hope you’re feeling better.”

Gifts from children in Michigan, USA to the children at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, Egypt.

And I threw a dinner party Tuesday evening.

Most invitees are Muslim. Some are Non-religious. A few Jewish. A few Christian. Most are Egyptian. A pediatric oncologist. A famous actor. Musicians and artists. My Arabic teacher. Three invitees are the other Fulbrighters staying here without family on Christmas.

I asked the kind Egyptian fella I’ve been seeing to co-host and here is our invitation:

Bring a dish to share. And a beverage of your choice.

Bring a wrapped, white elephant gift (costing no more than 8 LE).

Bring your holiday cheer and be prepared for some Motown carols.

Bring a friend. Bring family. 😉 All friends of any religious or faith background invited.

“Sleighbells ring… Are you listening?”


***We would like to ask that sometime during the evening we hold a short candlelit vigil for the victims of gun crime in Chicago, Connecticut and around the world. Is that cool with everyone? Just a moment of silence with candles. Then we will eat and be merry.

كل واحد يجيب طبق اكل من اي نوع معاه والدرنك بتاعو وماتنسوش هدية ب ١٠ جنيه عشان في لعبة حنعملها


We were allowed the use of an empty apartment on the 14th floor of my building with three great balcony views of the Nile and city. We cooked and ate a bounty of mashed potatoes, kebab, chicken, Egyptian salads, homemade apple pie, and ice cream with pomegranate topping. We listened to Pandora holiday stations.

And as people celebrated, I left my laptop open on the table and asked guests to write their own messages and greetings to the readers of this blog. Here they go:

dans cette ville ou  le moindre mouvement devient  le parcours d’un combatant, tu nous a fait passer un Noel merveilleux. on ne peut que te remercier de ton chaleureux acceuil et de la  vue magnifique de ton balcon.

chaleureusement A. Mounib


(Translation by Google Translate)

In the city where the slightest movement is the story of a fighter, you helped us spend a wonderful Christmas.

we can only thank you for your warm welcome and the beautiful view from your balcony.

Warmly, A. Mounib


Thanks so much Shawn for making Christmas in Cairo not suck! Much appreciated you putting on the party and especially the apple pie!!! View from your apartment is amazing by the way!

Be in touch



Nothing can quite make up for Christmas at home, but this was definitely a spirited attempt. The view, the food, and the people are great. Thanks for putting this on!


Everybody stole my gifts

Which made me open almost all of them … !

Felt like a kid with a tree full of gifts 🙂

And I even got an extra gift in the end abandoned by someone …

If only every theft could lead to this … -0


first time i saw you in the camp with the children, i said to myself this person is different. you showed up like a big smile full of joy and hope to all people around you. i’m really glad that i’ve met you and i wish if you could live with us in Egypt for ever 🙂 thanks for the gathering and thanks for everything

Moatasem (the doctor in the tie and dye shirt;) 


I came with a candle holder. I left with a monkey. I also met some great people! What a wonderful Xmas!! Kul aam wa intum bikhair!!! As a newcomer, I hope it is a sign of more great times for me here in Egypt.


شوون  الحفله كانت حلو ه جدا ووانتي طالبه هايله اتمني تكملي دراسه 

اشوفك علي خير


(Translation by Google Translate)

Shawn. The party was very sweet. You are a great student. I hope you continue with your studies. See you soon. All the best.


tusen takk for invitasjonen til juleselskapet deres! maten var nydelig, og nå kommer vi aldri mer til å mangle isbiter. utsikten fra leiligheten deres er fantastisk, og vi kunne gjerne spist den eplepaien til frokost, brunsh, lunsh, middag, dessert, kveldsmat og nattmat. god jul!

 Ramy & Antonia


thank you for inviting us to the Christmas party! the food was lovely, and now we will never be missing ice. the view from your apartment is amazing, and we could have happily eaten the apple pie for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, dessert, supper and midnight snack. happy holidays!


Yo Shawn! Danke fuer die spitzen Party und die tolle Aussicht! 🙂 Naechstes mal sind wir auf jeden Fall wieder am Start. Viele Gruesse, machet jut!


Yo Shawn! Thanks for the great party and the great view! 🙂 Next time we will definitely be crashing the party again. Many greetings, Enjoy!


Shawn great party <3 Merry Christmas and have a joyful new year


Well I don’t know how to start but let me say that I like that the guys like my food that I made. Thanx to you Shawn for this nice party, for my gift. I am happy that everyone had a good time. Yeah I did have a great time too, cooking and organizing, and yea it was a nice party with a very nice guys.


A Merry Masr Christmas to you all and to your families! I cannot thank you enough for your openness and support. Enjoy time together.

As Egypt braces for the passing of a controversial constitution, please wish the amazing people here much hope.

And if you are reading this, I ask you to please send out prayers and positive thoughts for my momma. She is one wonderful and strong lady. Shukran.

I Wasn’t Going to Blog About Religion and Politics

  1. Christianity: 2.1 billion
  2. Islam: 1.5 billion
  3. Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
  4. Hinduism: 900 million
  5. Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
  6. Buddhism: 376 million
  7. Primal-indigenous: 300 million
  8. African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million
  9. Sikhism: 23 million
  10. Juche: 19 million
  11. Spiritism: 15 million
  12. Judaism: 14 million

These are the twelve major religions/faith categories on this spinning ball in the sky. According to Adherents.com and Wikipedia.

I’m mostly in category 3, participate in the traditions and practices of 1, and have an understanding and love for 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12. The others I will study sometime in my life because I feel it is my responsibility to always learn more.

I write about religion because it is everywhere.

It is Christmastime in some of the world. For Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Christians (who have different calendars than Catholics, Lutherans, etc.), they will fast now and not celebrate Christmas until January 7. But back in the United States, I see my friends immersed in what we call Christmastime. They are decking the halls and roofs, baking a few cookies while mostly eating cookie dough, shopping and wrapping the season’s hottest gifts, drinking beer in ugly sweaters, having a hard time concentrating at work before the winter vacation, singing along to Silent Night on the car radio.

The smell of ginger and the feeling of joy.

Here in Cairo, there are many churches, but not much Christmastime. I have seen only two small shops with any Christmas displays or products. I have not come across any Advent calendars, so I’ve decided just to eat an entire chocolate bar every day until the 25th. Yeah, I kinda miss this season. But don’t worry; there’s no Islamist War on Christmas in Cairo, religion is just not as overwhelmingly commercialized here.

Storefront on Kasr El Ainy.


I also write about religion because I was struck by a recent comment of a student at Minia University. He said, “Egypt has people of all three religions.” While yes, there are three Abrahamic faith traditions (four if you include Baha’i) which share much history and beliefs and prophets, there are at least nine other major world religions that I do not see recognized or respected here in Egypt. This is important. Especially as Egypt works to revise the constitution. Will it provide protection for all religious minorities? Future immigrants from other regions? Will the constitution contain equal rights for Agnostics? For families of mixed faiths?

Sign at the entrance of a mosque here in Cairo. Hoping not to find similar signs in any public places.

I also write about religion because the Muslim Brotherhood are trying to govern this country, and they are a religious group. I do not wish to demonize all their members. Most are loving family-values type of people. In my head, I equate them with right-wing, Fox News, conservative Christians in the U.S. And I don’t want to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood with all Muslims. Islam is just as strong with many of the liberal groups here. A beautiful faith.

This is not a clear battle between religion and revolutionists. This is a different fission: supporters of the moves of Morsi/MB and the direction they are headed with the constitution, the speed in which they are moving with the referendum, etc. VS The Opposition which includes January 25 revolutionists, 21 major liberal groups, feminists, secularists, and the Muslim educated class. I stand with the opposition, whatever their faith. Indeed I do.

Police wall blocking Tahrir Square from Kasr El Ainy. The revolutionists have given it their touch.

As I was writing this post safe in my apartment near Tahrir Square, I got a call from a friend. Turn on the news. There are clashes up in Heliopolis. A battle. An attack by the MB on the protestors’ sit-in at the presidential palace. Petrol bombs. Two died. More than 200 seriously injured. On both sides.


This is a message from the U.S. Embassy Mission Egypt Notification System:

December 5, 2012 10:07:43 PM GMT+02:00


RSO patrols report significant clashes occuring between MB supporters and liberal groups in the area of Ithtadiya Palace in Heliopolis. Police and Security have taken no action to separate the groups. Injuries are reported as reportedly several thousand from each side are engaged in the clashes.

No reports of clashes or security issues at Tahrir or near the Embassy.


I went on Twitter and agreed with Mohamed @ElBaradei Morsi must stop bloodshed, rescind declaration, postpone referendum & enter into immediate dialogue with opposition. Egypt is under siege.”

And I agreed with one of my Facebook friends: “How on earth could I study given what’s going on in Egypt! The Muslim Brotherhood failed at cohabiting with the opposition. They are not used to being in power, they are using the same old techniques they used to use during Mubarak’s regime. I believe that there isn’t a single political force that can rule Egypt alone at this stage and the MB themselves mentioned that before.”

What would Prophet Mohamed PBUH/Moses/Jesus/the Buddha do? I wonder.

To those who died here tonight for their country, I sing, Sleep in heavenly pea-eace. Slee-eep in heavenly peace…

One of my favorite signs in Tahrir Square. Says, “Enough.”


***The views and information presented in my blog are my own and do not represent the U.S. Department of State or the Fulbright Scholar Program.



Secretary Clinton Spoke about Egypt today at NATO Headquarters in Brussels:

We have been watching very closely this process as it is unfolding in Cairo with concern. We’ve expressed that repeatedly over the last weeks. Because almost two years the Egyptian people took to the streets because they wanted real democratic change. And they, therefore – not the Americans, not anyone else but the Egyptian people – deserve a constitution that protects the rights of all Egyptians, men and women, Muslim and Christian, and ensures that Egypt will uphold all of its international obligations. They also want and deserve a constitutional process that is open, transparent, and fair and does not unduly favor one group over any other.

So the upheaval we are seeing now, once again in the streets of Cairo and other cities, indicates that dialogue is urgently needed, and it needs to be a two-way dialogue, not one side talking at another side, but actual, respectful exchanges of views and concerns among Egyptians themselves about the constitutional process and the substance of the constitution. It’s also important that Egypt’s courts be allowed to function during this period.

So we call on all stakeholders in Egypt to settle their differences through democratic dialogue, and we call on Egypt’s leaders to ensure that the outcome protects the democratic promise of the revolution for all of Egypt’s citizens. Ultimately, it is up to the Egyptian people to chart their way forward. But we want to see a process that is inclusive and a dialogue that is truly open to a free exchange of ideas that will further the democratic process in Egypt.

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