A few weeks ago, I decided to start taking a class in Calligraphy at this little school located near Masjid al-Azhar. I was ecstatic about starting, as I've always wanted to learn Arabic Calligraphy, and this school came highly recommended by a friend of mine. Although I was completely jazzed about embarking on this new educational journey, it wasn't long before I was overcome with fear knowing that I'd had to start traveling alone, i.e. walking and taking the mini buses.
Since coming here, my husband has accompanied me everywhere, except for the occasional very quick trips I take to the neighborhood market. I had become very dependent on his accompaniment and protection. On top of that, we live in the actual building of Studio Arabiya, so for class, I never have to actually leave the building - I just walk downstairs. It's not that it's not safe to travel alone as a woman in Egypt, but there are certainly things to be cautious of, especially as a young female foreigner.
I decided to take this class and attend the school 3 times a week in the early morning, and I needed to follow through. After a couple times of being overly paranoid about leaving the comfort of my home and neighborhood, I had an epiphany. Even though I'm in a foreign country, the people around me are just that – people. I may not speak their language perfectly yet and I may not know their cultural customs, but we are just people, and even more importantly, we are Muslim. What a beautiful thought it was to ease my mind. I started thinking about how much I've grown in my Arabic studies and how I just needed to tap into what I've learned and really start using it.
Immediately I had a boost of confidence and I slowly started to feel more comfortable and at east about going out alone. I became familiar with the driving route, the names of the places and streets, and even the common Arabic phrases used when on the mini bus. I became accustomed to the daunting task of crossing the hectic streets and picked up some tricks from watching others. I finally felt as though I was connecting with Egypt in a whole new way. It was becoming a part me, and more than that, a place that I can honestly say I have home in.
I came to Egypt first and foremost to study Arabic, and now, 7 months in, I truly feel that I am gaining so much more than just the language. I'm learning about a people and a society I've never known, and I'm putting into practice what I learn from my studies on a daily basis. With every class I'm thinking about what words can be used regularly and what words do I hear most often and what words does God choose to use in the Qur'an and so on. Had I not actually moved here to start taking classes with Studio Arabiya, I don't think I would've made as much progress as I have so far and I definitely would not have gained as much experience as I have even only after 7 months. My brain is constantly being put to work and at the same time my heart is being enriched with everything around and it is truly an amazing feeling.