Find Your Tribe

As a person I am passionate and I am very highly driven. Most of the time I follow my heart and my emotions, but I am fully aware of the situations where I need to use logic more than emotions. I make my choices consciously and I embrace who I am, because I simply won’t have myself be any other way.

I dream big and I take risks and I refuse to be scared or to back down. I stand up for myself and I stand up for others, I speak my mind. I am vocal, I am assertive and I am comfortable in my own skin.

I know that I am different, simply because we all are. We are all unique and we are all different in our own ways. I understand that one size doesn’t fit all, and I believe that if I was created and came to be then I have a purpose.

I appreciate my talents, and I praise my strengths, I am aware of my flaws and I embrace my imperfections. I know that my flaws make me human, and that in the imperfections lie beauty and balance. I am real, I am true, and I am me.

Along the path I will evolve and I will develop, I will grow and I will change. Along the path of life my desires, my aspirations, my likes, my dislikes, my passions and my tolerances will vary; change is the only constant in this world, so why would I be an exception to the case.

I believe that how others treat me is on them, and that I deserve to be respected, to be loved, to be safe, to be appreciated and to be acknowledged. I have the right to exist within society and no one has the right to violate me. I am a woman, but that is just my gender, it doesn’t rank me in society as superior or inferior. It is simply a trait assigned to me like my hair color, my eyes, or my age. My gender is simply that, a gender.

I am not strong for a woman, or assertive for a woman, or smart for a woman or independent for a woman; I am just strong, assertive, smart and independent, that’s it.

The one thing that I am also fully aware of is that I haven’t always felt that way. This is a process that took three decades of mental and emotional evolution. It is a process that entailed me accepting so much that I should not have accepted, before I grew into my own skin.

Growing up as a female is hard work, I’m not victimizing us, but this is the reality of it all. I used to think that it’s just part of being an Arab female, but let me tell you ladies and gents, no matter where we are; the struggle is real, the fight is real, and the statistics don’t lie.

As women we are taught that our gender plays a much bigger classification role than it should. We are made to apologize for things that men don’t, we are placed in molds and boxes of society norms, cultural expectations and gender appropriations.

Out intelligence is undervalued, and we are taught to expect a different treatment, people constantly believe that they need to simplify things for us, and that there is this weird and rather unrealistic notion that we cannot handle tough situations. We are viewed as irrational and weak; sometimes told we are too “emotional” and that we need to “toughen up” like being in touch with our emotions is weakness, or that our physical appearance structure automatically places us in the weaker gender column.

Yet us women, are the same ones to blame for men’s inability to use their words and process their emotions when they abuse and beat us. The same women are the ones to blame when men feel insecure when their wives/partners make more than them at work or outperform them in sports and life. The same women are the ones to blame when men are incapable of handling their hormones and their emotions and sexually abuse women.

We as women are blamed for other’s insecurities, other’s incapability and other’s inability to express and handle emotions. Yet, we are the weaker sex and the inferior sex.

Somewhere along the journey of life we are told not to be too vocal, not to be too assertive and not to dream big. We are sold the notion that the biggest accomplishment of our lives is to be wives, and to be mothers and that as women on our own, we are not enough, that we need to be associated to someone, as their daughter, as their wife, as their partner or as their mother to be of value. The labeling was so essential to our upbringing at certain stages.

The first time I was violated, I was a child. I was a little girl in a supermarket aisle, this older man, as old as my father kept brushing up against me. First time I thought it was by mistake, but he kept doing it, and he whispered something about how I shouldn’t be wearing shorts. I was seven, I was a child, I was told that the reason this creepy person was violating me was my fault, because I was in shorts. Every time I was groped, violated or inappropriately touched, I didn’t talk about it, because I blamed myself. I would first go through a checklist of what was I wearing, what was it that provoked him, what did I say, how did I act. I always put myself at fault. We all know, that this is one small part of what happens out there in the world, I don’t need to tell you how horrifying the stories are or how painful it is to read about women being forced to marry their rapists, and even bare their children!

I remember when I started my career, my ex was still in university, it really wasn’t his thing and he just wasn’t graduating. Year after year, I started making career advancements, I started making more money, and I started investing more in my career because I loved the self-fulfillment and the growth, and because I was good at what I was doing.

It was during that period that I suffered most of the mental and emotional abuse out of him, it was the constant putting me down at every chance, the constant feeling of guilt because I was “working too hard”. Before I knew it, I was apologizing for my achievements, I was apologizing for my work, I was afraid to be vocal about my promotions and my advancements. I always felt guilty for developing my own career and my own life. The abuse progressed, and along the lines I always justified it, because I always felt that I was in the wrong doing for wanting a career, for wanting success, for outshining him. The height of it all came when I had to choose between him, and my career, two different choices that had nothing in conflict with one another, but to him, I couldn’t have both. If I wanted to be with him, then I needed to be a stay at home wife, I needed to forgo my dreams, my hopes and my aspirations, he said that I shouldn’t want anything more than to be his wife and the mother of his children. He believed that my association to him should be my biggest dream. Years later when we met and we spoke, he still believed that I was in the wrong for choosing my career, he believed that his abuse was justified and that I brought it upon myself.

I am not the first or the last person in the series of women who have been downplayed, degraded, or abused; and I’m also not the first or the last of a series of women who are taking matters in their own hands now and refusing to conform to the boxes and molds we are placed in. We are the women that are fighting to break through the glass ceilings.

To all the women out there that are fighting for their place in society, their rightful place, thank you. Thank you for being part of my tribe, thank you for inspiring women to keep fighting and for changing the current situations so future generations have it better than we do.

Thank you to the single mothers who decided that they can do it on their own, to the mothers who decided to embark on motherhood. Thank you to the ladies that taught us that it is ok to be single, and that it is also ok to be divorced or separated and to stand up for what you want. To all the women out there choosing careers, or motherhood, thank you for making a choice. It’s not what you choose that concerns me, as long as that choice is yours. To the mama’s raising their daughters to take no shit from people, I am happy to have you in my circle. To the female entrepreneurs and teachers, you are inspirations and guides that have touched more lives than you know.

To all the women who walked away from abuse, who put themselves first, and who chose their wellbeing over everyone else, thank you for setting an example, thank you for re-calibrating the bar. To the women who embarked on careers that were deemed “men’s jobs” thank you for breaking the stereo type. To everyone who pursued what is rightfully theirs, and was never afraid to dream big, I admire you.

They say find your tribe and walk with it, and when I reflect on the women in my life, the circle of women I associate myself with, I am proud to walk amongst them. A lot of the women I have worked with, I have trained with or I am friends with have proven day in and day out to be strong, to be independent and to be someone who has shaped me into who I am today. To all these women, thank you, thank you for walking along this path and not giving up, for getting back up and fighting every time you got knocked down. Thank you for all the lives you have touched and all the lives you continue to inspire.

Happy women’s day ladies! Happy everyday to you, and may you continue to grow, to prosper and to be successful till your last breath.

The Greater Freedom-Book Review

Scrolling through social media I saw that Diwan Egypt (one of the most influential and prominent bookstores in Egypt, and a place I proudly worked for) was hosting an event for a book signing of “The Greater Freedom” by Alya Mooro. The title intrigued me and the excerpt they had on the post about how the book discusses the stereotypes facing Middle Eastern Women definitely caught my attention.

So on a Thursday evening, I drove to the iconic Diwan Zamalek, and took a seat amongst the crowd. It was a full house, the place was packed, and the crowd was interesting. So diverse; young females, older ladies, young men and a few older gentlemen were there as well.I went with intrigue, but to be very honest, I didn’t have very high hope that I was going to fall in love with the book. For some reason I went to the book signing thinking it was going to be some “angry feminist book” if that makes any sense. So why did I go? Because curiosity is one of my most prominent character traits ever since I was a child.

Then Alya started reading a small passage from the book and I was instantly hooked. Why? Her writing style, the way she read, it was like hearing my thoughts outloud!! She wrote in the manner I thought. She spoke the same written language as me. I involuntarily smiled as she read, I could tell that I would love the writing style and enjoy it very much, even if I wasn’t so sure about the content (remember this was still the very beginning of the book signing), so I decided, there and then, that I would buy the book.

Alya describes the context of this book as the greater freedom to not be oneself, to step out of the stereotypes and the cultural norms. I’m not gonna get into details about the actual content because I don’t want to ruin the book for you. She believes that this book is relatable to Middle Eastern women living in the western world, or outside what we call “home”. But I disagree with Alya, this book relates to every woman, period.

The struggles, the stereotypes, the realisations the author makes in this short, but irresistible read, are to me universal to all females. It speaks of the truths, the frustrations, the joys, the fears and the journey that is applicable to practically every modern day female.

The book took me by a very pleasant surprise. Mooro discusses the thoughts we are forced to internalise sometimes because of the cultural norms. She discusses all these “norms” we are taught as children, and breaks them down for us, explores them with us, and speaks the reality a lot of us wish to, but are afraid to say it, because we are scared of society judging us.

Females are always taught to be a certain way, since birth, regardless of our ethnicity, social class, education or upbringing. We are taught to be timid, we are taught to be non-sexual (publicly, but a man-pleasing seductive goddess in private), we are taught to be second in drive and ambition to men, we are taught so many “norms” that generations before us believed without thought, accepted with minimal fight and expected us to follow in their footsteps.

Thankfully, our generation is taking a more challenging approach (some of us, that is) to believing these norms. We now learn to question, to fight back, to push back, and we learn, not to settle. Alya in her book, speaks on behalf of most of us that are walking that walk, and it’s universal. She vocalises the thoughts that a lot of females in the Middle East, and other cultures are afraid to speak. She pushes the boundaries for us, covering relationships with partners, with parents, with our home countries, cultures and friends. She explores the consequences of certain thought processes, parenting styles, and personal boxes we confine ourself to because of our thoughts.

I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan environment, I was brought up with what is considered very liberal parents by Egypt’s standards. I was born and raised outside Egypt, and lived a free, independent life as a female. I moved back a few years ago, and I experienced all the things I “should be” according to my culture here. I first hand experienced all the stereotype that other females, thousands of miles away, who have never met me, or met my family or my circle of interaction experience in their parallel worlds. This is why I found this book relatable, this is why I believed that it speaks to more than just the Middle Eastern female mind.

To all the men out there as well, in case you’re wondering if you should read this book, I definitely recommend that you do. This book gives you a small window to see the world through your female friend, girlfriend, sister, wife, partner’s view. It gives you an insight on the world we live in, the struggles we feel, the liberations we’re after, and why some of us won’t settle.

So, thank you Alya for this excellent read, thank you for verbalising a lot of our thoughts to so many masses. Thank you to Diwan for this opportunity and supporting such discussions, authors and progress and bringing it forth to Egypt. Finally, thank you to every female who refused to settle, to fit in a confined mould that she doesn’t feel she belongs in.

I really hope you check out “The Greater Freedom”, and that you enjoy reading it as much as I did. In the meantime, to every person out there: Be inquisitive, be a challenger, be yourself, be free and never settle.

One of my favorite passages from the book

My Real Life Wonder Women

As a woman, I take pride in other women around me. I know our struggles, I know our battles and I know our insecurities, and I have lived them all. On women’s day I want to give a shout out in general to all the wonderful women in my life, thank you for being part of it. However, this tribute is to a very special group of women, women who have inspired me and changed my life in ways, I don’t even think they are aware of, and today I can only feel so much love every time I think of any of them.

When I was struggling with depression a lot of people recommended sports and working out as a distraction, in the begining I found it tedious and a chore, but then each of these magnificent women walked into my life and became part of a healing journey that taught me so much and helped me so much, they played and still play an active role in my battle against mental struggles, so today I share with you the story of each of these beautiful women and how their role in the fitness industry healed me.

The stories are shared in chronological order of when they started being a part of my life.

I cannot mention any of this without talking first and foremost about Sally Salama, my friend that has enough passion and drive to change the whole f**** world if she was given a chance. I met Sally when I was totally uninterested in sports, I went to the gym because I had to, wasnt very educated on proper eating habits and found the whole field, boring. Then this slightly eccentric, insanely passionate woman, who talks about fitness like it’s her oxygen, became my friend. Her passion intrigued me in the begining, and the more she talked about workouts and exercise and how she is pursuing it as a career the more I felt that there has to be more to that field than what I am doing, there is more than the tedious treadmill.

Eventually I started asking her questions about different classes and workouts, she would give me recommendations, ideas, tips and would text and ask me how I felt about the classes. She would invite me to the Zumba events and her Heya Health events and I would go, and after the event she would tease me about the *resting b*tch face I have while in zumba” I would laugh, but I also felt secure that in an event that had over a hundred people, she still managed to look out for me in the crowd and make sure I was ok.

She would talk to me about instructors and trainers, facilities, workouts etc. And when I sent her pictures of what I was doing she would give me tips and feedback and she knew how important it was for me to celebrate even the slightest victories, she paved the way for me, and on one new year’s eve she got on an 8 hour bus ride with me, all the way to Siwa, where I met Aia Faham, the second beautiful lady in this story.

Aia is the founder of The Lalaland and the name alone was enough for me to check out the post for her yoga retreat in Siwa. I packed my bags, decided to experience new years in a different way, and went on an immersive yoga retreat with Aia and the group.

She was so bubbly and so alive that her energy was nothing but contagious, in the class and on the yoga mat I started learning how to listen to my body. How to slow down, breathe, decelerate my thoughts to catch a break and let my body just be and move.

I spent a week on this retreat and I felt my brain slowing down, my breathing was better, I had quit smoking and I was genuinely happy amongst a group of strangers I had never met before ( I always struggled with social interactions growing up, was almost always on the loner side) but slowly on this trip I started talking to people I dont know, socializing, sharing laughs and stories and a couple of years later, I am so happy to still call some of them my friends.

Aia taught me how to slow down in the hectic world, how to take time to breathe, to think slowly and to appreciate my body. Because of her, I fell in love with Yoga, which I can never imagine my life without today, and because of my love of yoga, I met the gentlest soul ever, Ranya Mahmoud, the woman who said one simple sentence and she didn’t realize that she would one day change my life.

Towards the begining of 2018 my life was falling apart, I was distraught, heartbroken, very unhappily employed and grieving the loss of my father. I powered through life and shut down every warning sign that I am not ok, I pushed and pushed and pushed until I broke, and automatically I realized I needed to heal and my mind drifted to how I felt on that Yoga retreat in Siwa, and I wanted to recreate that feeling.

With stiff joints, and an aching soul, I looked up the gentlest yoga practice around me and I found Yin Yoga at Nun Center, with Ranya Mahmoud.

If any of you have met Ranya, you would know that I’m not exaggerating when I call her one of the gentlest souls ever, from the moment I walked into her class, she started speaking, I felt soothed to my core. Ranya brought balance to the hectic world outside.

She brought me so much peace, so much serenity that I wouldnt miss any of her classes no matter what, the serenity became an integral part of my existence .

One of the sentences Ranya said that changed my life and the way I handle myself and other people was when she told me “Be soft, for when you are soft, you can bend, but cannot break.” It seemed like such a simple sentence, but it struck deep with me. I realized I needed to be softer, more flexible and more fluid. That sentence was the inspiration behind this blog.

From Ranya I learned a lot about self love, listening intuitively to my body and appreciating my body and what it can do. Like I said, she bought balance in a very hectic Cairo. The amount of times I’ve smiled on the yoga mat one second, and let tears flow the next are countless. I learned through Yin, that slow and focused is just as good as quick and strong, and that emotions need to be expressed and are not a sign of weakness.

And because when you are soft, you bend, but don’t break, my journey took me to my next encounter, with Julia Alexan. I signed up for a flexibility class with Julia, thinking I just wanted to move a little bit more, and be a little less stiff, but I was apprehensive about the class! Anyone that knows me well, knows I might as well have been born with two left feet. With the first couple of classes, I found that these sessions were something I also looked forward to, I learned that something as small as a one inch improvement was worth celebrating. The class and what I achieved in it was very exciting for me, the chest opening exercises for me released the negative energy, the backbends excited me, and by the end of the 1st round of classes, my confidence grew tremendously. Julia’s class made me a more confident person, and taught me to appreciate what I’m capable of. It taught me that when you dont overthink, you just listen to your self and take small steps, you can achieve more than you thought was possible, you might even surprise yourself.

Finally, last but definitely not least, I cannot mention fitness and the effect it had on my life without mentioning Vibes and the two brilliant, inspiring and beautiful women behind it, Noonie Saleh and Sara Taha!

I’ve known Noonie and Sara for a while, but I got to know them better, and to work out with them more last winter when I joined their 30 day challenge. To say that the experience for me, has been life altering, is not an exaggeration.

These two women believe in the power in each one of us, they know exactly how to push you to bring out the best of you, without hurting you. They brought out the beast in me, and in a good way.

They push you to explore your limits, and if you are afraid to try something out, they will be there to support you and stand by you until you get over your fear. Box jumps for me were absolutely terrifying, I’m generally so afraid of anything above the ground, but Noonie was relentless, she supported, would always say, I’m right here, dont worry, I got you if anything goes wrong, you can do this! And then one day, I did it, and I wanted to dance with joy. It still scares me, but I now take a deep breath, focus and jump. The funny thing is, I now do that with life, the practice carried over, and I think that fear is good, but I’m stronger than I think I am.

Every workout is a confidence boost, and a stress reliever that is enough to cure even the most hectic, stressful, mind-screwing Cairienne day.

The more I stayed at Vibes, and trained with them (the rest of the crew there is quiet awesome, but it is women’s day, haha) the stronger I felt, the better I felt and the less stressed I was.

The other perk I had to working out, are the people I met. I struggle with making friends, but then gradually because I joined the 30 day challenge, and then the 12 week challenge, it became so much easier to make friends.

I found people that share my interests, that root for me, and we work together to empower and improve each other, and that is something I dont usually find in Egypt. Vibes for me has become my happy place in Egypt, my recharge, and the people I met there for me are my tribe.

A lot of people talk about how fitness changed their life on the physical aspect, and so many people work out for getting fitter or thinner, and focus on the physical alone.

While the physical enhancement is important, the mental stimulation, and decluttering of the mind, that workouts bring to your life is one of the most effective tools to fight anxiety, depression, and a multitude of other struggles.

The more you discover your physical strength, or your flexibility, the more you understand your capacities and that you can be both gentle when needed and strong when needed. You can be as soft as water, or as powerful as a beast.

You learn to control your body and feed your mind, and you understand that fitness and working out is more than just a tedious treadmill.

Pick a workout you love, and you will watch your life transform.

To Sally, Aia, Ranya, Julia, Noonie and Sarah, happy women’s day. I look up to all of you, I find you an inspiration and thank you for being part of my journey. All the love.