I was at the dentist yesterday and I heard one of your favorite songs.

I was shopping the other day and on the radio another song was on.

I was singing along with my little one, and one of your rare Arabic songs came up.

Are you haunting me with your playlists??

I was reading a book I know you would have loved.

I was watching a movie, you would have recorded on an old VHS.

I took a picture of my little one, you would have put in the family album.

I see you smiling at her when she giggles.

You know, I even see you sometimes in her when she frowns, though no one sees it except me.

I know you were not the perfect father, and I am sorry for not being a perfect daughter.

I just miss looking at you swaying with the beat of a rhythm.

I just miss you…

continued from الحكاية علامة شفاء الراوي

Chipsobasta in Amman

I have a confession. Though I love traveling, I didn’t visit that many Arab countries, mainly it was a day in Syria (in a  coastal city I don’t recall its name) and a day Beirut, that were part of a Mediterranean cruise I did in 1999 ! So when I made up my mind to take this trip I was particularly excited. First, to meet my family members who lived there, second, to broaden up my traveling list.


This whole trip started with a mere conversation with a friend of mine 5 years ago. We were talking about preserving  knowledge, and how documenting family heritage is crucial to preserve our identity, and we talked about my own family history and its voyage from the Caucasus. This led to prolonged conversations with my father, and we draw some sketches of our family tree, and he helped me with some information on his grandfather who came to egypt in the late 19th century.

Then I dig in my grandfather’s papers, and found among the yellowed paper, some letters, when he used to correspond with his cousin (and closest friend). And through these letters, I was touched with the amount of brotherly bonds between them, and the extent of which they were on the same track of thoughts and general attitude, that it felt like having another grandfather, who grew up in Cairo, but decided to settle down in Amman.

Weeks go by, and this post helped me get in touch with some family members living in Egypt and some living in Jordan.  And a year later, I met one of my relatives in the street of London by mere chance! We were in touch via mail and
phone, but as our schedules didn’t coincide, we didn’t have the chance to meet. But Destiny had another say, and she saw  me on a random street in London and actually recognized me, cause I look like her Aunt!! My heart was pounding so
hard! It was a sign that this family connection is meant to be refurbished.

When I landed in Queen Rania airport, it took me a while to get to acquainted with the new Arab slang I was hearing. A  friend of mine once told me that when he first landed in the US, he was shocked to find himself not understanding English for a couple of hours despite the long years of using it in Egypt! Where is the Babel fish when you need one??

Before leaving the airport, I was greeted with a huge billboard saying: tagawal ma3a shabaka amneya (walk around with  a security network!). Okaaaay! So I was leaving Egypt behind with some instability, only to go to amman where they advertise on body guards companies in the airport! Then, I discovered that it was not “Amneya: security”, but “Omneya: wish”, the name of a mobile operator! So the phrase actually meant: Roam with Omneya’s network! sigh!

Needless to say, I enjoyed every single moment of my visit. it didn’t feel like it was the first time to meet these wonderful people. It felt more like we knew each other all along. I was very grateful for having all these loving aunts. Perhaps I was more so, because of my new motherhood feelings, which prompted me to re-establish “selat el ra7em”. I find the Arabic word much stronger, because at the end there is some common blood between me and them, and it all started with one woman, only 4 generations ago, who gave birth in a noble house somewhere on top of the cherkessk mountains.


The first thing that came to my mind when I was invited for lunch and asked what type of food I want, was -of course-  the sharkasseya. For if I was invited by circassians, I definitely should taste their original version of the famous dish.

El Sharkasseya (or Chipsobasta) consists generally of 3 different parts: rice, chicken and walnut sauce. There are very  few differences between the original and the one we make in Cairo. for instance, they sprinkle some chili sauce on top of it, we don’t. They mix rice with borghol, we use only rice but add a tinsy bit extra water. They use the whole chicken, we use only the breasts. We use bread for the sauce, they use flour.

I also tasted the circassian cheese, which is kinda similar to the low fat “gebna 2arish”, but with a bit more salt.


As a sword enthusiast, I was gladly shown some circassian swords (called Qamah). It is said that every family should  have at least one sword and one dagger, which makes sense looking at the tendency of circassian for learning how to fight.

the circassian sword is straight, and its thickness is average. In the ones I saw, the cover was silver , with some simple drawings. It looked practical, and not too heavy.


Amman is a new capital, it was built in 1920’s, on the ruins of an old city called Philadelphia, which was on the road of commerce between the Arab penninsula and Syria. And bit by bit, it grew bigger and bigger along a number of squares (called دوار ) and several hills. These squares are numbered from 1 to 8, and are used extensively in giving directions. And as a general advice, try to visit both the eastern and the western neighborhoods of Amman to get a feeling of the City’s vibe.

In the Area of Jabbal Amman, off the first dowwar lies in the old parts of Amman, and close to it there is the famous Rainbow street, with a bunch of cafes, crafts shops,,, etc. Also, in the vicinity is the Roman Amphitheater, and the Citadel.

On Fridays, check out Souk Jara, it opens from 10 am to 10 pm, it has lots of booths showing traditional crafts, antiques, textiles,,, plus some food and drinks outlets. It has the same feeling of our El Korba festival, but much quieter.


Amman itself won’t offer you lots of historical sightseeing, but some short excursions will immerse you in ancient monuments.

I had the chance to visit only 2 sites (Madaba and Mount Nebo), and I was back in Amman in less than 4 hours.

Madaba is famous for its 6th century AD mosaic map, which is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem.

Mount Nebo is approximately 817 meters  above sea level. And when you get to the summit, you can have a panoramic view of the Holy Land. It is famous in the Christian and Jewish tradition cause it is considered that this is where Moses (peace be upon him) was buried there.  Needless to say I had to focus every time I mentioned this mount, cause replacing B with an M makes a lot of difference.

Jordan has much more to offer. Next time insha allah, the De

And I’m back from a long vacation in Cairo, interrupted by another vacation in Jordan 🙂 Both were family oriented, one is to introduce Gigo to her family and the second is to be introduced to my Janbek extended family. Both elhamdlelah went great!

Now I’m back to daily life in Tirana and getting reacquainted with the heat wave.  I want to fully invest in my scarce spare time and to exploit my last year in Albania.

My Ancestors

So I’ve talked about Aly Ramzy Janbek before in a post that re-connected me to some of my extended family, then I remembered that I didn’t mention other ancestors I’m proud of. Two men who contributed substantially in our history and I’m very proud to be one of their descendants: Osman Moharram & Aly El Rouby.

Frankly I don’t have lots of inputs yet on their lives, so I’ll share with you what I got to know thanks to the web.

Osman Moharram

(22 January 1881 – November 1958)

The link on Marefa.org says that he was called شيخ المهندسين في مصر, and that he headed the ministry of Public Utilities وزارة الأشغال العامة fourteen times. Then it traces his professional history from the start till he became a minister. The article mentions that he was subject to unjust accusations following the 1952 coup, which put anyone from the old regime on trials, and put several examples of actions he took proving that he didn’t give favors, even to relatives of his party members (Al Wafd).

Then it mentions some of his achievements, such as the establishment of the Union  of Engineers (whereas his membership number was 6), some irrigations projects, raising Aswan water reservoir, building bridges, plus some city planning projects.

This article was based on Lamei El Motaei’s “This Man from Egypt” لمعي المطيعي: موسوعة هذا الرجل من مصر.,  but there is also a book written on him by Mohamed El Gawady, published by Madbouli in 2004, as part of a series on Modern Egypt.

 Aly El Rouby:

Though there is very little info written on this man, as far as I know he is the only one among my ancestors who has his portrait in a museum (it’s the military museum in Cairo Citadel).

I found only a small post saying that he was born in Defna village, Atsa in El Fayoum, and had a modest upbringing (memorizing the Quran, then being sent to El Azhar). Later on he joined the army as a simple soldier, but was promoted bit by bit till he reached a high rank thanks to his performance in a mission sent to Ethiopia.

Then he was transferred to a high rank in the ministry of Interior, then the ministry of Justice, before returning back to the army and joined the Orabi movement. He was promoted to a General in March 1883, though the high ranks in the army was exclusive to Turks and Cherkess. And he was the first to head the Ministry of Sudan. But after the failure of the Orabi movement, he was among those who refused asking the Khedive for pardon, and thus was sent to exile in Sawaken in Sudan, where he passed away.

I know that we have an extended family in Sudan, but unfortunately I haven’t met any of them.

I have to mention that I was glad to find streets named after them in Cairo 🙂

Osman Moharram street, in el Haram. And Aly El Rouby street, in Roxy.


That’s it for now. I hope I’ll be able to add more on these great men, who I’m proud of having some traces of their traits in my DNA.

Mama Nousha

Eleven weeks ago, God sent me the most beauiful gift, my sweet Dija.

I can’t describe how it feels hearing her first cry, touching her cheeks, or nursing her. Truely unbelievable! It took me quite some time to fully comprehend that she’s here, and I’m holding her in my arms, and the huge change in my life that follows, not even the 9 months of pregnancy, of reading, contemplation and imagination prepared me for it.

The first few weeks were extremely intense. With the erratic sleeping patterns and the recovery, along with being glued to the TV following what’s happening in Egypt and worrying about my family and friends. But week after week, things have started getting better. And with the improvement of the weather, I got to take her out more, and enjoy the fresh air, which is something that really raised my spirits.

Taking care of a baby was a total mystery to me. I am the youngest among my brothers and didn’t see closely how to “deal”with newborns. Soon, I discovered that the main tasks revolves around feeding, changing and cooping with the erratic sleep. Feeding her was ok for me, except for some nuisance s at the beginnings. Maybe I am more concerned with the 2 hours intervals as it doesn’t allow me to feel free or to go out with her, but I managed. 

The main thing I still suffer from is sleeping. I am  (or was) the kind of person who can’t function without deep 7 to 8 hours of sleep. So you can imagine how it feels like waking up every 2 hours, and sometimes sleeping only 4 or 5 interrupted hours. But elhamdlelah, things are definitely getting better bit by bit as everyone told me (I was starting losing hope), and now she sleeps 3 to 4 hours per night on average, followed by 1 hour of being half awake, then 1 or 2 hours of sleep. Which is not great, but definitely far better than the zombie episode I was living.

Till now we didn’t have the chance to go back home. Which is a bit painful for me, cause I really want to show her to my family and friends. Having a baby is a great opportunity for gatherings and I miss that tremendously. but on the other hand, being away from home compels me to take as much pictures of her as I can, to keep my family updated on her growth, which pushed me to officially become a mamarazzi, and I truely enjoy it.

الحكاية علامة شفاء الراوي

My father passed away on the 8th of March.

I was at work, just returned from a hiking trip with a group of people I didn’t know, and on that morning I actually discussed with my boss that I will be asking for an extended unpaid leave from work to spend more time with my family. My older brother called me, he was crying and it hit me.

I rushed back home, with the help of a coworker, hugged my mother, went to his room and looked at him for the last time. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji3un. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji3un.

The first few days after that were quite hazy, with all the tasks to be done in these sad occasions, following on the paper work, preparing el na3i, salat el ganaza, el dafna, receiving visitors… etc  I felt that there was something invisible that is pushing me to perform these duties so I don’t stop and think about the significance of what happened. Then at the first time I mentioned him, and followed it with “allah yer7amoh”, it suddenly hit me. My dad passed away.

In the following weeks, when we visited my family’s cemetery on a Thursday morning, I suddenly felt that this is all ok, and this is where I will come one day, to be buried on the adjoining underground chamber, and surprisingly this thought actually brought me some peace.

Now after almost 3 months, and despite all efforts to give the impression that everything is alright, I miss him terribly. I ask God to forgive me for all the times when I could have been a better daughter and showed my father how thankful I was. He was the one who embedded in me the love of books, music and movies. And despite our different tastes and opinions, we always had some common favorites. He was the one who took me numerous times to the French cultural center to borrow from its selection of books and comics, and he was the one to introduce me when I was very young to sour el azbakeya, and showed  me so many interesting novels and movies.

Now, every time someone mentions a movie he liked, or a Spanish tune he used to hum, or even a book he was interested in, I remember him, and an invisible tear falls down.

Allah yer7amak ya pa.

* The title is from ألم خفيف كريشة طائر تنتقل بهدوء من مكان لآخر , I couldn’t stop crying when I read the final chapters talking about the day his father passed away. And when I read this phrase, I decided that when I’m ready, I will talk about him.

The Mother Tongue

عندما انتهي من قراءة كتابا فإنه لا يصبح مجموعة من الورق الملتصقة ببعض الصمغ في الطرف, و عليها قطرات من الحبر مسترسلة على سطور. تغدو تلك النقوش المبهمة عالما سحريا, أو بالأصح ثقب باب اتلصص به على كون خلق لي وحدي. و العجيب أن القصة التي كنت اقرأها للتو ليست أهم و لا أحلى الكتب التي قرأتها في الآونة الأخيرة, ولكنها تركت في نفسي انطباعات شتى, و ألقت الضوء على عدة أبواب أحب أن أطرقها يوما ما.

و الأعجب أني قررت التعليق هذه المرة باللغة العربية! فعندما بدأت أرتب أفكاري, وجدتني أتأمل و أعلق باللغة الانجليزية كالمعتاد, و لكني هذه المرة قررت أن أتوقف للحظة و استخدم العربية بدلا منها. و عندما بدأت أخط مرة أخرى بلغتي الأم جارفني إحساس الطفل الذي يحاول استعادة توازنه في خطواته الغير ثابتة. و وجدت نفسي لا أفكر في القصة التي أنهيتها للتو, بل وجدتني مستمتعة باسترجاع العربية الفصحى التي قاربت نسيان كتابة كلماتها و قواعدها الأساسية التي درستها مرارا في المدرسة.

أعتقد أن جزءا من قراري هذا يرجع لكتاب “بين الجزر و المد” لمي زيادة الذي تحدثت عنه في رسالة سابقة. فقد ناقشت مي “حياة اللغة و موتها” , “اللغة و الحضارة” , ثم اتبعت تلك الآراء بعض الدراسات المبسطة عن اللغة عند اليونان, اللاتين و عند العرب. و أنهت هذا الجزء بمقال عنوانه شدني للغاية: “لماذا تبقى العربية حية؟”. كما أفردت جزء كبير من الكتاب لمناقشة تطوير اللغة و دور المجمع اللغوي. (من الواضح أن هذا الموضوع كان شديد الحساسية في تلك الفترة)

و لكن مي ليست السبب الأساسي لإهتمامي مرة أخرى باللغة. فهناك قصة دارت في عائلتي متعلقة بهذا. حكت لي جدتي أن عمتها كانت تعرف عائلة جدي و رأت فيه الزوج المناسب لابنة أخيها , فحاولت أن تقرب بينهما. كان هذا في عام 1930 تقريبا , فلك أن تتخيل صعوبة الدور التي أرادت أن تلعبه خاصة أن جدي عاش فترة شبابه متنقلا بين عدة دول (سواء خلال دراسته الجامعية أو خلال عمله كدبلوماسي ), لذا لم يكن من محبي فكرة التقدم لخطبة فتاة لا يعرف عنها شئ. و في نفس الوقت كان والد جدتي صارم جدا بخصوص عدم السماح لرجل غريب أن يلتقي بابنته كي يقرر إذا كان يريد الارتباط بها أم لا. فقررت العمة أن تسرق صورة لجدتي كانت موجودة بالبيت كي تسمح لجدي بمعرفة ملامح العروسة المرتقبة. لكن جدي صمم أن تسرق شئ آخر أيضا: كراسة مادة اللغة العربية!!!
و هذا لأن تلك الكراسة كانت تحمل العديد الدلالات, سواء جودة الخط, رونق الكتابة, أسلوب التعبير, المستوى التعليمي و الثقافي… الخ,
لا عجب أن جدي قام بنسخ تلك الصورة كثيرا, و أن جدتي ظلت محتفظة ببعض كراسات المدرسة (لكني للأسف لم أجد كراسة العربي :).

كلما أنظر إلى تلك الصورة, أتذكر هذه القصة. قد لا تكون شديدة الرومانسية في حد ذاتها, لكنها تلعب بالنسبة لي دور المنبه للعودة لللغة العربية, على الأقل حتى يصبح تعودي على الكتابة بها يعادل تعودي على اللغة الأجنبية!!!


The scale

In a scale from 1 to 10, five years ago I was only at step 1 while I should have been on step 3, so I jumped to step 5 in order to pull myself towards the life of my dreams, and this actually made me go to -a very strong- step 2, -a moderate- step 3 and -a shaky- step 4, and by time the latter one crumpled down to a great extent. So I found myself reluctantly in step 5, with a shaky base in step 4. This was why I decided to go to step 3 regardless of the voices of the people saying it is a step backward. Do I make sense?


What comes to your mind when you hear the word Cherkess / Circassian? I guess that most probably you’d say the delicious cherkassia dish of rice, chicken and walnut sauce (yum yum), or the mamluks, or the cherkess society that lived in Egypt for some time.

And because curiosity killed the cat, I decided to look for more info. So far I know that the cherkessian 19th century immigrants came from a city called Cherkessk, currently located in Karachay-Cherkessia (a federal subject of Russia). “The city was founded in 1804 as Batalpashinskaya, it was renamed Batalpashinsk in 1931, then Sulimov in 1934, then Yezhovo-Cherkessk in 1937, and finally Cherkessk in 1939“, here is its coordinates 44°13′N 42°03′E. (But I don’t know if the cherkess mamluks of the 13th century come from the same place or not).


What’s funny is that the Cherkess constitute approximately 11.3% (around 50 thousand) of the total population in Karachay-Cherkessia (around 440 thousand), while the Cherkess population constitute approximately 1% of Jordan’s 5.8 Million. So there are more Cherkess in Jordan than in the republic of Karachay-Cherkessia itself !!

Another thing I am not sure of is: why did they leave their country in this mass exodus? Some say that it was due to pressures from the Ottoman Empire, others say it was due to the mass massacres that followed the Russian-Circassian War, or maybe because they were muslims and the Russians were christians (so they wanted to live in muslim countries), maybe it was simply the more favorable conditions in the middle east (for example, in Egypt,  the Khediv Ismail used to prefer Cherkess officers and gave them land, and slowly they formed an ‘elite’ society)….  Unfortunately I didn’t find an answer in my ancestor’s stuff, I will have to dig more.