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Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.
In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.
Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends. To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.
The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After 1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.
To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.
I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.
As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.
Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)
It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!
I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).
During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.
I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.
My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion. The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)
The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.
In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).
There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.
Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.
August 21st of 2011 was the 40 day memorial service for my sweet departed friend. In this part of the world, 40 days after a person has departed there is a memorial service held in their honor. I hopped on a train and headed down to Cairo especially to attend the service.
Fabienne, Nathalie Atalla’s sister had asked me to read the Irish bereavement poem that I had used at the end of my written tribute to her. No matter how many times I read those few sentences allowed or to myself, I couldn’t help but feel as though that I was choking on held back tears and my lip would disobey direct orders from my brain not to quiver.
When I reached Cairo I busied myself trying to put my closed apartment in order, while thinking about the upcoming service. The reason the service weighed so heavily on my mind was because, when I heard of Nathalie’s untimely departure I had just arrived in London. As much as I wanted to get back on a plane and turn around and go back to Cairo, I couldn’t. So, although I understood that Nathalie would no longer be walking among us in the flesh, my mind hadn’t fully come to terms with it.
As I sat in the church and was a few pews from the alter, where a beautiful picture of her smiling back at all of those who were in attendance, the reality of it all came crashing down. My eyes burned with restrained tears as did my throat, but I knew that she wouldn’t want more tears to be shed and especially not on her birthday. Yes, her memorial service coincided with her 32nd Birthday. A day where we would have all come together to rejoice and having a gay o’l time, but instead we were remembering her life and how she touched each and every one of us.
At the service I saw her two brave adorable girls, standing at the front of the church with their aunt and grandparents, behaving beautifully and comforting their grandmother in the midst of the service. Once the service was over, the two girls greeted the attendees at the entrance of the church with angelic smiles on their face, warm hugs and handed every single person a brioche (it’s like a hot cross bun). As I watched them, I couldn’t help but admire their innocence and how they have bounced back from having their mother tragically taken away from them at such a young age. I could see many of Nato’s qualities and she would have been very proud of them.
In the reception hall on the grounds of the church, friends and family went to pay their respects. A group of friends sat in the hall and sang ballads, two other close friends of Nathalie’s stood up and said a few words about her. Fabienne, gave a very moving speech that brought us all to tears and moved us deeply. I agree with Fabienne, Nathalie wouldn’t want us to continue to cry and be sad, she would want us to celebrate her life, remember her and smile and apply the lessons she taught us to our daily lives.
With the over flow of emotion, my little speech was over looked, but that is fine, what really mattered, was that we were there for her sister, her daughters, her parents and that we were remembering her and what she meant to us.
I finally had closure and came to terms with her passing, but although she in no longer with us in body, Nathalie is still here with us in spirit and she continues to inspire us every day!
Nathalie, you have inspired me to love myself and to take care of my health. I have returned to my favorite sport, swimming. I could barely finish two laps without gasping for air, when I started at the beginning of July but with daily practice and persistence, plus having your voice encouraging and cheering me on, as you have for the past few months. I have now made it to 110 laps. I look better, feel better about myself and I’m beginning to feel more like my old self. Nathalie, thank you for motivating and inspiring me!
As the famous song goes; every breath I take, every move I make, every single day, every time I pray, I’ll be missing you…
http://www.nathalieatalla.com/ to leave your thoughts and comments.
‘Death is always more difficult for the living’- unknown
I have been mulling over wether or not I should write this and if I was able to bring myself to write about Nathalie, would I be able to do her justice? I decided to write it as a means to come to terms with her tragic passing.
Around this time in Alexandria, Agami 14-15 years ago, during one of the Paradise beach summer festivals, was when I first saw Nathalie. She and another dear friend of mine were contestants in the Miss Dove/Bianki competition. I remember that day clearly and I remember cheering both on to the finals. As I watched Nathalie on stage, I can recall thinking what a good-looking girl she was. Her eyes in particular caught my attention, their colour much like her personality were unique and they seemed to twinkle every time she laughed or smiled.
It wasn’t until about 6 years ago I was introduced to her sister by my close-knit group of friends when I moved to Cairo. I became quite familiar with her charming sister Fabienne and would often chat and joke with her all the while not knowing that she was Nato’s sister or the cousin of people I knew in Alexandria. A couple of years ago a mutual friend of ours organized a camping trip to Wadi Hitan in the desert. A small group of us packed our bags and made our way to the pickup point where we were to wait for our desert guides. When Nathalie emerged from the car, I immediately recognized her from that day in Agami all those years ago.
The 24 hours spent together along with her two young daughters, sister and mutual friends camping out in the desert and hiking a trail looking at fossilized whale skeletons will forever be imprinted in my memory, The nervous fits of giggles when the 4X4 broke down at the start of the trip and the laughter around the camp fire as we tried to BBQ wieners and not being able to help but be somewhat disgusted at how they reminded us of a certain part of the human anatomy impaled on a wooden skewer , The impromptu sing along with Nadine and Nicole to the Mama Mia sound track all the way to and from our destination. In those hours I couldn’t help but be drawn to her like a fire fly to lamp light. During our short trip I came to learn what a strong and positive woman Nathalie was. You couldn’t help but notice how she made being a single mom and having a full-time job look manageable. She was also very humble, caring, kind, generous and a genuine person. As well as passionate about life, being a good mother and her job. (The list of her positive qualities is endless)
From that time onwards we were always in touch, via text messages, our groups e-mail thread, what’sapp and twitter. We saw each other frequently at birthdays, get togethers, outings, spontaneous meet ups and weddings.
I along with a great many others, are still trying to come to terms with her tragic death and how she was taken away from us too soon in a car accident on the 9th July 2011. I can’t believe that I won’t see her daily contributions to our groups email thread and she’ll no longer scold the boys for their crude comments or be the one trying to encourage and help find a location for our weekly Tuesday get togethers. I won’t have her reply to my tweets or chat with her on whatsapp where she would scold me for sending her rude jokes and then laugh about how funny it was, she’d also leave me with inspiring words to help motivate me and boost my self-confidence, give me sound advice when it came to matters of the heart, encourage and support me with my mission to get back in to shape, All that aside, I will mostly miss seeing her with her daughters and sister at gathering and outings, Greeting me with her warm smile and hug and face me and say, ‘How are you? I’ve missed you’ and genuinely mean it. I will miss early morning Friday calls to see if I’m awake and interested in grabbing breakfast at TBS. I now wish I had been able to go to more outings that you attended and had more breakfasts with you.
Nathalie has left a big void in many people’s lives and in our group. We all looked up to her and held her in the highest regard. She was a remarkable, loveable, charismatic, intelligent and an inspiring individual. I think she was our equivalent to Princess Diana. She was feminine, beautiful inside and out. She would turn heads where ever she went.
My eyes well up with tears at the thought of the devastating blow this has been to your parents, daughters, sister and other family members. We, your friends are only feeling a fraction of their pain and loss. My prayers and heart goes out to them and I hope that in time the pain subsides and it becomes easier for them to cope.
A little over a week has passed since you departed from this Earth and our lives, the messages on your facebook wall are still being posted as well as memoriams posted to blogs in your memory. You have touched so many people with your spirit and I hope that a part of you will continue to live on in each and every one of us. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure there are others who will try to do the same. I will try to live by your example and embrace every day and opportunity as they come; I will try to be more positive about situations and life, believe in myself and strive towards my goals to achieve excellence, be more courageous, try new things and to love unconditionally.
Dear God, Thank you, for introducing me to her and letting our paths cross. I am grateful for the time we had together. Please look after her and take care of her family and loved ones, they need you now more than ever.
On a final note and in true Irish form, I raise a glass in your honor and I toast your life and your family; Nato this one is for you;
In Memory of Nathalie Atalla
God saw you injured and a cure was not to be. So, He put His arms around you and whispered “come to me.” With tearful eyes we watched you, and saw you pass away. Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay. A golden heart stopped beating, hardworking hands at rest. God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best.
Rest in Peace Nathalie… I will remember you.
below are other blog posts in memory of Nathalie;