22 Hours and 5 minutes. The trip to Egypt was the longest conscious trip I've made in my adult life. Granted there was a 7-hour layover in Turkey, the other 13 hours, floating over the Atlantic, left lots of time to think. This experience was a quiet one…but the silence was filled with sober contemplation and the slow steady thumping of a heart heavy with farewells. Every deep breathe that filled my lungs from exhaustion in the hours that passed only added to the gravity of my decision. I was on my way to Egypt, a place I'd never visited, a place that I could hardly imagine it's condition and that I'd be there, bithniAllah, for the duration of one full year.
As believers, we know that nothing happens but by Allah's will, so with every mile towards LAX, I wondered if the car tire would explode or if I'd be harassed at the airport or if traffic would prevent me from arriving on time. It was very possible that that was written for me instead of my intention. And Alhamdulillah for everything...none of the above occurred. Boarding the plane and arriving on-time was an easy process and the conclusion to my istakhara. Easy.
Walking away from my family in the terminal of LAX...not so easy. It felt something like stabbing myself in the heart. And in that moment, I couldn't imagine why I would ever choose to experience that pain. I left behind my first "big girl" job, my apartment, and my family and friends as I rolled my life into two suitcases. But don't be discouraged, it only gets better from there. That experience was truly cleansing, free from fear and saturated with high hopes. I left feeling content with my decision, parting ways with an early "I miss you" and an embrace that, if were tangible, I'd carry around my neck.
Why would I choose to go through that moment of heartache, see past the thoughtful opinions of a few well-respected people who advised me to stay…or leave a steady job? Well, I 'm happy to say the answer is easy, and I hope to ask myself this throughout my time here, in so that I continuously renew and revisit my intention. Hopefully along the way, anyone considering studying in this program can gain some real insight on what to expect and how to prepare.
By the time I reached down and strategically rolled my two suitcases and carry-on's to the exit of Cairo Airport, I was so relieved. I felt my soul light up the moment I saw that somebody was there waiting for me. Someone was there to receive me. It was as if I completed a journey that emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted me. See, the journey didn't begin at LAX. The journey began with the moment I submitted my application, the moment I made my intention to learn Arabic, and the moment I decided learning the language of the Qur'an was worth more than every convenience or comfort I was leaving behind.
Now, I'm here in Egypt. Upon arrival, I felt the warmth of the woman who embraced me at the airport entrance and the Director who didn't allow for a moment of confusion. Upon receiving me at the airport, my luggage was buckled into the front seat of the car, and a kind woman greeted me with Ahlan wa sahlan before leaning over to the buckled-in suitcase in the front seat and greeted the inanimate object with "Assalamualaikum". In this moment, I knew things would be more than ok, bithniAllah. I was already laughing with a woman who didn't speak my language, nor I hers. This is one insight to the beauty of Egypt: it's people, it's endurance and all it's charm.
In sha Allah, this post will be the first of many as I find chances to share my experiences here in Egypt, as I engage with the people here and, more importantly, as I engage with the Arabic language.
After all, the immersion aspect of the program runs parallel to my surviving here: building friendships, gaining independence, and pursuing the succeeding wealth of knowledge available as my studies progress. But more on this later, in sha Allah.
If you are a sister hoping to travel to Egypt to study, I'd love to address any of your concerns or answer any questions you may have to the best of my ability. Feel free to comment below.
Please make dua for the staff and students of Studio Arabiya, that Allah swt accepts our efforts to learn Arabic and Qur'an as ibadah, solely for His sake, and that He may guide us all in purifying our intentions every step of the way.
- Article on traveling without a mahram: http://sc.icoi.net/2014/10/09/women-traveling-without-a-mahram/