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Nathalie Atalla

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.

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A week a go today, in Zamalek, a solidarity concert was being held at the Sakkia El Sawy Cultural Wheel to raise money for the victims of the explosions in Alexandria.
It was organized and put together by the cast members of the newly released Arabic movie, Microphone, directed and written by Ahmad Abdalla.
The MC for the night was the very talented and well spoken Khaled AbulNaga. When he took the stage he spoke of the unfortunate event of New Years Eve in Alexandria and of the ‘Egyptians’ who had unjustly been taken from their families and lost their lives.
He asked all the attendees as a sign of respect to turn off their mobile phones and anything else that had a light and would be of a distraction while we gazed upon the faces that we had lost in a minute of silence, as their photographs appeared and faded off and on to the screen. It was heart wrenching to see the faces looking out in to the audience. When the minute had passed Abul Naga continued to talk to the crowd of supporters and said ‘I hope that we can come together and stop this from happening again. This was a slap in our faces, a wake up call to stop the seeds that have been sown and growing over a long period of time. What happened was not God’s will, it was the terrorists and their interpretation of God’s will.” As the actor spoke out in to the crowd he was greeted by a mix of reactions. Some people hung their heads in sadness; some had tears welling up in their eyes, while others nodded in agreement. “Egyptians have been around long before any religion came to be’ he continued ‘ “I Am Egyptian” was a phrase used not only to identify where you were from, back then it was a feeling, it was a state of being” The brothers and sister’s that we lost were Egyptians, they were one of us”. This statement was received with applause, cheers and with members of the audience repeating the phrase ‘Ana Masri”, (which means, I am Egyptian).
He went on to explain that the money from the tickets and the half the price of the solidarity t-shirts were to go to the victims of the attack, he encouraged everyone to buy a t-shirt before the night was over.
From there the majority of the bands that appeared in the movie Microphone took turns coming on stage to perform in front of the Egyptians who came to stand in solidarity. I stayed to just before the end. I can tell you that the ambiance although relaxed was a roller coaster of emotions for the musicians and the viewers. The performances were well put together, but one song stood out the most. I didn’t catch the singer’s name, but he moved everyone to tears with the song that he sang and the emotion that he put in to it. He himself had tears running down his face as he sang out the words that there is no difference between Muslim’s and Christians. When his song came to and end the audience had fallen silent and were just blown away by the lyrics as well as the performance that no one could speak. When they did come out of their trance like state they not only applauded, whistled and cheered they demanded an encore! The artist, although drained and out of breath, granted their request and sang it again, with even more gusto and emphasis than his first performance. It was, a moment to witness.
Between each band members of the cast or other fellow supporters from the entertainment industry took the mike to say a few words and to encourage everyone to help put an end to sectarianism. I just hope and pray that those attended took their words to heart and truly understood the fight that we are up-against, because if we do not stand as a united front, this will undoubtedly happen again and I fear the devastation will be on a much larger scale.
I would like to extend my gratitude to the cast of Microphone, for being so quick to respond to the aid of my fellow Egyptians and Alexandrians. I would also like to applaud them for taking the initiative and setting an example for their country men and women.

If you would like to see pictures taken at the concert, go to The Irish Alexandrian group on facebook;

http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=217138771946

World wide, people were making plans of celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends or family, either at a party or in the comfort of their homes. Everyone was grateful that they had made it through the year  that will most probably be remembered for H1N1 (swine flu), economic hardships, life’s lessons and other personal turbulent affairs was a relief to everyone. They were ready to say good-bye to 2010 and send it off with a BANG and welcome 2011. Little did the inhabitants of Alexandria know that it would literally go out with not one bang but two fatal ones!

At midnight 2 car bombs exploded outside a church, in the Sidi Bishr area of Alexandria. Worshippers inside the church were attending a New Year’s midnight mass when the explosion took place. In the blast 21 people died and there were several casualties. The Coptic Christians were enraged by the act that they went and attacked a nearby Mosque, which caused a clash between Muslim’s and Christians.

In this past week in Alexandria, there have been protests and demonstrations over the decision taken by the Minister of Education to change 3 schools in to ‘Experimental Schools’ and now, a terrorist attack! As an Alexandrian and a human being, I can’t help but ask, ‘WHY?’ What message or reason could possibly justify the act of rash decision-making, violence and the taking of human lives? Has the world gone completely mad? Have we as a species lost or forgotten the meaning or the acts of philanthropy, compassion and coexistence?  I am not a deeply religious person, but from what I have read and what I have been taught. Religions don’t promote, encourage or condone attacks on other people! Have we become so fanatic that we no longer understand the basic fundamentals of our religion(s) and can no longer comprehend the clear lessons and words of wisdom that we are meant to follow? Is it possible that lessons like ‘thou shall not kill they neighbor’ have been misinterpreted to, KILL?

If the answer is, ‘YES’. then I am not only disgusted, appalled and enraged at the level the human race is sinking to.

This act has hit home with me for many reasons; The first reason is because this was a very close call for my family. My father had been to a church in Cleopatra twice yesterday,before the bombs had gone off. He, (a Muslim man), was there attending a funeral service and paying his condolences to his friend and his family on their families loss. It could have very easily been the church the mourners were at and where people paying their condolences were. When we first heard the news, we were told it was the church my father had been at, which made us wonder, If my father hadn’t come home when he had done, he could have been among the dead or the injured.  As an Alexandrian, this is an attack not just on Christians, but on our city and its people! This doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone in Egypt and abroad.

I come from a mixed ethnic background where both my parents come from different parts of the world and follow different religions. Throughout my childhood, teens and adulthood never once did I feel that either were different or better than the other. If my parents could coexist for over 35 years without killing one another and raised their daughters to be respectful to everyone and not be prejudice towards others, then I don’t see why it can’t be done.

I continue not to choose sides, I stand for humanity, I stand for life, I stand for people’s right to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t harm or offend anyone else. Earth is our home and if we don’t change our ways and re-educated its people to learn to coexist the way we should, then we are going to have some trigger happy S.O.B blow the whole place up! I don’t want that to happen, do you?

Links to the news

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12101748

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/update-suicide-bomber-carried-out-alex-church-attack-says-foreign-ministry

I am one of those lucky individuals that gets to celebrate Ramadan, Eid, Christmas and Easter. Being of mixed ethnicity and having a mother from a different religious faith does have its advantages!

 Christmas like Ramadan is a very special time of year in our house hold. We, spend a lot of quality time together laughing, telling stories, gift giving and preparing for Christmas Day Dinner! It’s the meal I look forward to all year. (I guess its how a lot of American’s feel about Thanksgiving dinner). My Parents are both very good cooks, but my father can’t shine a light next to my mother when it comes to the delicious food that she makes on Christmas Day, it’s made with so much love that it could knock you out! A meal my father GREATLY enjoyed!

 The food isn’t the only thing that I love about Christmas it’s the magic that revolves around it. Watching children opening their advent calendars counting down the days until St. Nicholas comes. The sound of carol singing that fills the air and has the ability to make you tingle with excitement and make you want to burst in to song too. The generosity of people and seeing people smile as they look forward to the up coming holiday and remember past ones too. In Saudi Arabia and in Egypt the expatriate community would have been working all year making crafts to sell at bazaars for the holiday season and seeing their latest creations of patch work and ornaments was something I always looked forward to. The concerts and Christmas parties created a joyous and festive ambiance and got everyone in the mood.

 As a child Christmas Eve was the night I would look forward to most, leaving a plate of cookies and a carrot for the jolly old man and his reindeer, having my mother read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ to us even though we knew it off by heart. I also remember the torture of being so giddy with excitement that it would take me forever to go to sleep and I would try my very best to stay awake in the hopes that I would be able to catch a glimpse of the generous man dressed in red who would leave my sister and I beautifully wrapped gifts under the tree.

Then to wake up on the morning of Christmas and find that the carrot had been taken for Rudolf, Santa’s trusty reindeer and that there were crumbs left on the plate and the glass of milk had been drunk!! ‘He really is real!’ would be the thought that would race through my head! And then be quickly forgotten once the presents were in sight!

 We are older now and Christmas is still as important to us now as it was then, but it has a much deeper meaning. It’s the time I spend with my family that I treasure most about the holiday. It brings out the kid in me and my parents. Taking my mother to midnight mass and listening to the sermon, the organ and the choir sing.  I love being able to buy them gifts and watch their faces light up with appreciation, helping my Mum cook the most delicious meal and serve it to our close friends. Hear my father complain how stuffed he is with a huge satisfied grin on his face. Having friends and relatives sending us holiday cards and call us to wish us a Merry Christmas.

 It’s a holiday that reminds me of what I have and what I am grateful for.

What is it you love about the holidays?