The male role model

 

As I continue to embrace adulthood more & more as an Egyptian woman, who has spent most of her life in the Middle East and continues to internalize the extent of gender adversities women continue to face in this region (& all over the world), I am forever indebted for the male role model I have had growing up – my father. Any seemingly inquisitive, curious, growth mindset I may have developed has been encouraged, and strongly endorsed by him. He always pushed me towards questioning everything, reading more, asking questions on any topic and being ready every weekend for a new debate with him, where I have to examine my assumptions and be willing to continuously deconstruct & rebuild my opinion on any given topic. He always pushed me to voice my opinions and dig deeper into what’s driving these opinions. He always made sure my voice was heard on the table, even from my early teen years & amid gatherings of much older men. He has given me numerous situations to allow me to become independent financially, emotionally and most importantly develop frameworks that can continue to attempt to resist herd mentality thinking.

Being in Europe for my birthday this year was a reminder of some of my most privileged and happiest moments with the family growing up. Europe has been intertwined in my memories with family trips in which I was taught to shop in different supermarkets, learn to take over from my dad and drive us around on our road trips, read maps (years before any form of navigation stemmed), deal with foreign banking transactions & airport issues from a very young age, experience different cultures, start conversations with complete strangers and most importantly deal with the unknowns that come with hitting an open road & leaving oneself to be open for whatever experiences meet you along the way. As my Dad would always say along the road trip especially at times when drive it’s raining or snowing hard and it’s pitch black outside and we’re lost:

“Missing our exit isn’t the end of the world. There is always a plan B so long as we understand the map & know the general direction of where we want to get. If we miss this turn, we will take the next one- it’s a slight detour, but who knows what we may see on that route. And if we’re too tired or it’s too dark on the way we can always pull aside & spend a night in one of the guest houses/ motels/ lodges on the way. It’s never too late- because we can always adapt our plan.”

My experiences on those trips is that there are times to press hard on the gas pedal and get done with most of the distance, but there is equal important to stepping out of the road occasionally to rest & re-energize. Moreover, it’s important to not only get comfortable with detours, but actually fully embrace them. The detours have mostly led to some of our most memorable experiences, best laughs and distinct experiences – at times, they were even more fun than the overly planned times.

This is definitely the mindset I aspire to adhere to in the coming phase of my life. Set a general direction, get comfortable with the uncertainties along the way,& be open to fully adapting to all the little experiences or detours along the way. It’s never too late for a continuously evolving life plan. To more years of adulthood

Milan inspired reflections on the square

In my opinion, one of the quintessential experiences of most European cities that I have gravitated towards for years, (even just as a tourist) is that of the European square / plaza; it’s that central town square or market place that many literary and history books credit for being a main contributor to the development of democracy & representational self-government throughout Europe, a characteristic of European cities for over 2,000 years.

In reading more about the significance of these squares I came across the following passages which particularly resonated with me:

..”The sense of inclusion”, the feeling that one is a member of the neighborhood, or of the city, is subtly reinforced by the square’s visual enclosure. Being “inside” the square, surrounded by continuous building walls, with the sky as a ceiling, makes one feel temporarily “at home”, and nurtures the citizen’s sense of belonging.”

….The European square is a place for dialogue and discussion, meetings and greetings, for shared experiences and forming bonds. What do people talk about in squares? No subject is taboo! Mainly they exchange stories about their lives and experiences; details about family, work, state of health, plans and hopes. This significant conversation and dialogue the ultimate expression of life in the city” (Mumford) creates community. As Wendell Berry observes, “community exists only when people know each others’ stories”.

“The European square fosters sociability, that is, interaction for its own sake, to give pleasure to each other, not to enhance one’s status or position, but to increase each other’s sense of well-being. Sociability may involve gossiping, bantering, storytelling, joking, flirtation, intermixed with seriousness, concern for the other and expressions of support, even love.”

These readings & these experiences remind me of how much I miss spending time in such squares back in the Middle East. I consider how the squares of the old Arab cities have been almost eradicated and destroyed or left to the natural urban decay of centuries. I think of how new cities completely lack these random forums of interaction and creativity and sociability ..& it makes me wonder if this was a random urban planning mishap or an intentional move to quench that evolvement of what the European squares have come to symbolize over hundreds of years.

In Egypt, we had our brief glimpse of attempting to revive this concept. Tahrir Square for my generation at least was meant to symbolize change and maybe some day grow into this. But that didn’t last long. I think of all the other squares in history that have been wiped out of history books with all their potential, especially when juxtaposed against the beauty of those that have survived and are here to stay for future generations.

For the time being, the present takes me to enjoying this particular one, the grandeur of Milan’s dome, passageways, restaurants, hustle and bustle with hundreds of people crossing paths at different stages in their lives – the lovers, the heartbroken, the healthy, the sick, the dying old and the exuberant young from all different ethnicities and walks of life, enjoying a laugh, an exchange of thoughts in different global languages yet all sharing the same fresh air, the possibilities of blue skies and the freedoms of the low flying pigeons who can’t seem to ever step away from the buzz of these places. It seems quite befitting to experience this while listening to one of my favorites, Ed Sheeran’s love ballad, Perfect:

“Well, I found a woman, stronger than anyone I know
She shares my dreams, I hope that someday I’ll share her home
I found a love to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own

We are still kids but we’re so in love
Fighting against all odds
I know we’ll be alright this time…”