Remembering “Uncle Mak”

10 years ago, the world lost a great man.  To most people, he was Dr. Makram Issa Gobrail, but to me he was my Uncle Mak. There’s not a moment in my (strangely precise and photographic) memory of a period in my life where he wasn’t in it; until of course, when he suddenly left us, after a faithful but difficult battle against liver cancer.  There are many stories and lessons I’ve learned through the duration of his illness that have had a huge impact on my life, some of which I’ve shared with others, and some I’ve chosen to keep for myself. About 7 months before he left us, I had my “Tuesdays With Morrie” adventure with him, as we traveled together across the ocean, to Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent time with our family; it was sort of the farewell tour, if you will.  I look back at this decision to join him on this tour, as a validation that when opportunities come, you must seize and cherish them, because in cases like this, opportunities do not come back around.

On this, the 10 year anniversary of his passing, I remember what was the most joyous but bittersweet family reunion that we had when we all met in Alexandria, and I hope a small glimpse of this reunion, through photos, can help share some of the love we all felt being together in that far away place.

My love and prayers are continually with my Aunt Barbara, his wife and partner, my cousin Jim and his wife Jenny and their beautiful children and all those whose lives he’s touched and transformed through his kindness, service, faithfulness, loyalty and good humor. You didn’t have to be his blood to call him Uncle Mak, as many folks reading this will attest to. As I know is true for my family, I will never, ever, stop missing him.




An Egyptian American’s Thoughts On…

Egyptian protester

A few years ago, my mom and dad were sitting at home, nervous in the light of the #Jan25 Movement. According to them, the Muslim Brotherhood was sure to take over because they’re the most organized. The youth and the liberals were naive to make a change. They put the hands of the country in the hands of fanatics, and paved the way for fascism, in the same way many revolutions of the past have opened the doors to tyranny and oppression. I remember talking about this very large, very real concern with my friend Mira. Having just been to Egypt, and having spent time with the people, and having caught a whiff of the spirit of the revolution just assured me that the people have learned that they can make a change, and they won’t stand to see their country overrun by oppressive forces. They did it once, they can do it again.

There’s already a lot of stuff out there as to why I believe the events of July 3rd 2013, are justified as a legitimate and democratic act by the people. To me it’s a no brainer, when the ruler of a nation dissolves any accountability, restricts freedom of speech, appoints a terrorist to run a city that their terrorist organization once bombed. Such a no brainer, to me, why the people did what they had to do.

But there’s something very personal about this whole thing. And it’s about Egypt. And Egyptians. And about Egyptians being Egyptians in Egypt. Growing up, we are taught to be proud of our culture. Our history, our ancestors. Our achievements and contributions, as a people, to science, math, technology, language, and religion. Egypt had always been a beacon of progress and intellect but things have changed for Egypt and a cloud descended upon the culture. Egypt has a long history of occupiers, from the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, British, French, all the while, the culture diluted, the language obliterated, the sense of identity and history questioned, and its people divided.

But Egyptians still hang on, and have been hanging tough for a very long time. However, the Muslim Brotherhood, The Ikhwan, if their agenda ever becomes realized, we’re talking an even further obliteration of Egypt… FROM Egypt. Just watch history re-written before your eyes.

All of this married with a culture of fear of authority (political and religious, regardless of religion), and fear of change. If things aren’t working, it’s just too bad. This has always been part of the conversation I’ve witnessed around me my whole life. A fear of authority and the treatment of precedent and institutions as if it always was, and always shall be.

But if you are Egyptian or if you know Egyptians, there are things in Egypt that still persist. I don’t even know how to put it into words, but there are things you just know are Egyptian, that have persisted in spite of the proclamations, laws, and bloodshed that has mired our past. In our language, our music, our humor, our affection, our stubbornness, our dance, devotion, and family. It’s there. You can build a road through a forest, but even the smallest blades of grass can cut through cement and grow into something magnificent again.

The events of July 3rd speak to me as just that. It was an unravelling of this culture of fear. The people had enough evidence during one year, to see the course of history being written, and it was time to say, no more. It was a people taking a stand for their own heritage and destiny. It was a united people, being a beacon of light for the entire world. It was the chipping away of complacency and it was a defeat even if momentarily, to cultural division. This was not just the toppling of a regime that had been in power for a year, this was the beginning of the dissolving of a cultural trend that has bound our people for longer than we could remember.

Of course I want the leaders of the USA to be on the right side of history in regards to this matter. I want folks to look deeper at the nuances of the events of the last several years, and not undermine a word like democracy to be defined by a single moment in the democratic process.

That said, we’ll see what happens. I’m proud of what the people are accomplishing.


On faith and doubt

I’ll admit, being part of a mission is really hard.  It’s a difficult thing, especially when my own faith wavers so much. I was speaking with a few friends that I’ve made here in Nairobi, and they assume that just because I am part of this mission, that I am obviously a traditionally-defined Christian with an unwavering faith, when in actuality, that is just not the case—- I’m a man in process. I am a man who lives with unknowns; a man who is aware that myself and everyone else around me likely does not have it all figured out.

I don’t know if this is going to be a life changing experience, in fact, it probably will be no more of a life changing experience than if I had stayed in New York, because everything is life-changing. Every single thing that happens to you, changes your life to some degree. I had sushi once at Tomo Sushi, and that was pretty damn life-changing! When I left, my wallet was in an uncomfortably empty state.

Doubt is ok. Doubt is just fine. I’m learning to be comfortable living in doubt, because doubt leaves room for a world bigger than myself, and what I know. Think about it. If I only use 10% of my already limited brain, then it is only expected that I not know everything. And even more important, it is expected that I lack the capacity, within my lifetime, to eventually know the ins-and-outs of every thing there is to know in the universe. And if it is true that I do not know everything, and that I can’t know everything, as unbelievable as that may sound, then maybe it could be permissible that I could still be involved in something bigger than myself, even if I don’t understand it all, and even contribute to something whole-heartedly, while knowing I haven’t completely figured out.

It’s permissible then, that I could serve God and God’s people, in the midst of unwavering doubt.

I am seeing miracles everyday, only in New York, we don’t call them “miracles”  I’m too ‘educated’ for that sorta thing. I was smoke-free the last two-weeks I was in NY. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

There was a little girl who had her life extended 4 years, and went from a state of certain-death, to one of joy, high-energy and rambunctiousness :) I got an email where someone said of this incident, that it was a miracle from God. I honestly didn’t see it as such, in the literal sense, I just saw it as a result of the love and care of the people around her, in addition to modern medicine, science and a heaping dash of her own will to live. But then i thought about it, and realized that all these things might as well be a “miracle from God”.

Speaking of which, I’ve been off the smokes for maybe 3.5 weeks now…. SWEET. Oh, I’m not over it, whatsoever. I live with a constant desire to light up. I smoked as if it was my job. But it’s nice to have that control to be able to say  an unwavering “nope”.

Dang. This one was kinda deep. I guess I’m in that kinda mood at the moment. Anyhow – I’m off to work. So… how YOU doin?


Just because an ass speaks…

... does not always mean it’s from God. The miracle noted in the books of the Law showed us that God could use the lowliest of creatures to bring a message to humanity. But I learned today, that sometimes an ass… is just an ass.

Pat Robertson has too much religious power and is affecting the minds of millions in this country. We need to stand up against this ignorance.

Can you believe this man is leading America’s Christians? Does anyone have some Metamusil?