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From Dr. Abdo Husseiny's Memory Collections

An Act of Benevolence

A brother of a friend of Zeinab called from Egypt early in the morning almost ten days before going to the hospital. At that day, she was starting to suffer from shortness of breath and overwhelming fatigue. The caller was in a financial bind and he needed help fast and his sister was unable to lend a hand since she did not have such large amount of money at hand so she advised him to call her. Zeinab has never met the caller before and have no idea about her friend’s family. She did not try to find out anything about the situation or ask any questions. On the contrary, she cut him short of telling her about the financial problem he has.

My driving license was suspended because of the knee replacement operation I had until I get a certificate from the surgeon to assure my ability to drive and it was too early for her assistant to be at work. I tried to pursue her to wait until her assistant takes care of sending the money but she insisted on sending him the funds right away. Out of breath, she came back from the Western Union and did not rest until he confirmed receiving the money. He assured her that he will send the money back in a week or so, but she refused and told him to spread the money among the poor or help someone else in financial trouble when his financial crisis is over. The next time her friend’s brother called he did not find her to thank her for her help.

An Act of Friendship

For years we bought fresh vegetables and fruits from a side of the road stand and developed a kinship and friendship with the family that grows their produce and sell it the day it is harvested. The dedication of the family to their profession as farmers made the produce stand unique in selling only the most selective and highest quality products. Their produce was a product of love to the land, the profession and the crops. The dream of the young grandson who participated in the farm by growing grape tomato and cherry tomato on a little part of the farm is to be a good farmer as his grandpa. Whatever he grew was excellent. When I no longer stopped by the Stand as I frequently I used to do, the family inquired and found that I am having a surgery. Since then the wife passes by the house in her way from the farm to the Stand with the new crops to give Zeinab the first pick from what she had. The husband’s health deteriorated very fast although he insisted to the last moment to attend the Stand even when he was no longer able to do much and was compelled to leave the work to his wife, her sister and the grandchildren. Until he passed on he was full of pride of his profession and of the good produce he introduces in a market of artificial and fake products. Practically all the people from the Parish attended the service of his funeral and sadly accepted the fact that he will no longer be seen in his shorts with his cheerful face and kindness. His wife told Zeinab that her car is giving her trouble. Zeinab immediately handed her the keys of one of our cars, insisted to spare her the cost of insurance and registration fees by keeping the car in our name, considering her friend as one of the family.

An Act of Responsibility

While in the hospital bed suffering from back pain, shortness of breath following her transfer from ICU and after a procedure to insert a mesh to prevent any clots from moving up to her lung, her biggest worry was what we will do with the auditor from the department of the defense, if he insisted on come to finish what he started few weeks ago while she is in the hospital. Although she trusted that the books are in order and the auditor was satisfied in the first round, she was worried that something may go wrong without her being there to ease the tension on everyone. She asked how shall we explain her absence if the auditor came while she is still bed-ridden or could not attend for any reason. It seems that she realized whenever the company has an audit her role was not limited to go over every each minor detail to be sure that every penny spent is done by the rules of the government, although other people including the bookkeeper and the CPA have reviewed every item. She had never put herself into any situation without being prepared to answer any question to be raised no matter how trivial or how ridiculous it is. That caused her to be tense before the visit of the auditor; however once the process starts she became a catalyst for any reaction to produce the most desirable outcome. Her elegance, intelligence, calm demeanor and self-confidence gave her the ability to penetrate the most rigid personality and to win the hearts of the most antagonistic individuals.

An Act of Mediation

Couples passing by difficult times and feeling their marriage is on the rock often rush to Zeinab for help on hope for reconciliation. Some were adamant to let go but wished a quiescent amicable separation. She never asked or volunteered to play that role, because she has never liked to be personable or stick her nose in private matters even if they are of concern to her. She always kept herself at bay from the personal affairs of others even those who are her closest friends or relatives. When being drafted to ease tension among people, she refuses neither to be dragged into intimate details nor to act as an ambassador of good will to be a conduit for message exchange among disputed parties.

One late evening a couple got in a heated argument that rapidly escalated into exchange of harsh words and accusations that were about to destroy a ten years of a blissful marriage. Each one separately called Zeinab asking for advice, although both of them have blood relatives and closer friends within reach to help alleviate the deteriorating situation and stop it short from an eminent disaster. Zeinab invited both for coffee, sparing herself and each of them going through the painful details. After a heated argument, they decided to ride together. It was a good one hour drive from their home to ours. In anticipation of meeting Zeinab both parties of the dispute started to calm down and think of how to present their views. The ride seemed to have quenched their extreme temperaments and by the time they arrived to our house the issues of the conflict seem to fade away. At the door their faces were red and their voices were rattling. They were relieved that I did not stick around although they know well that their secret is well protected with Zeinab, if they choose to keep me out of the loop. In reality I did not know much about the problem they had. Zeinab does not tell and I never ask. Zeinab led them to a place where they can feel at liberty to talk. When they stopped by to great me as they were leaving they seemed to be more composed, on the border of being cheerful in spite of the lengthy animated session with Zeinab.

Zeinab’s interest in psychology dates to the early sixties when she was still in high school. Her interest was mainly about human behavior, the workings of the mind and how different people respond differently to a single stimulus. She was not a traditional student of psychology to get distracted by inventories, testing tools, psychometrics and measures or personality disorders. However, her fascination with human behavior was an impetus for her work in the field of engineering psychology, the design of machines and apparatus that are compatible with human usage and tracing human errors to overcome errors of omission and errors of commission.

Zeinab was unique in her way of mediation between conflicting parties especially married couples which defies the rules of marriage counseling and psychological approaches to anger management and conflict resolution. Her modus operandi was based on being in control of emotions and self-discipline in expressing emotions. Her approach was to let every side mention what is right in the other party rather than counting the wrongs and finding how to correct the wrong. After passing a certain age; that is the stage of personality formation and maturity, changing personal traits is not only difficult but could be impossible. If you can just see the good in a person this can be a positive step to reconciliation and most likely to launch a behavior modification course of action. 

An Act of Collaboration

Zeinab had a great talent in forming teams for working on multidisciplinary projects thus overcoming traditional established barriers between academic specialties on one hand and academic and industrial orientations on the other. At Iowa State University she established the Nuclear Safety Research Group that brought together graduate students and faculty from Nuclear Engineering, Industrial, Manufacturing and Production Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Civil Engineering, Physics, Statistics and Physical Education. That group which was formed in spite of resistance from heads and chairmen of departments was successful in having a stream of funded projects from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which supported a selected class of master and doctorate students for the years of her tenure at ISU.

Zeinab was instrumental in forming human factors IEEE standard group and groups for review of safety of nuclear power plants. She headed a group at McDonald Douglas to document the status of the US fusion research and development program. She also was part of a team at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) that provided conceptual design and plans for the EPCOT Theme Park at Disney World in Florida.

Zeinab chaired and arranged meetings with Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), Nuclear Safety Analysis Center (NSAC) operating under EPRI and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and its successor the Department of Energy (DOE).

At TII-VA, Zeinab formed joint teams between the Company and several other large companies General Dynamics Land Systems, General Dynamics Aerospace Systems, FMC as well as various universities. In work meetings of the diverse teams, she was the catalyst that streamlined the interaction among individuals of different experiences and expertise to achieve the goals of collaboration.

An Act of Giving

In extreme pain and hooked to a collection of monitoring machines and intermingling tubes, did not distract her from feeling of gratitude to the eyes attentively watching the monitors, to the hands reaching her with help to ease her pain and provide her with a sense of support, to those who respond to her calls for help and those surround her with care. She used to tell them that they are her guardian angels.

Close to the change of shift around 8 pm, Zeinab felt for the attending nurses who must have been very exhausted, after twelve hours of continuous vigilance, interweaved with stressful moments and interrupted with alerts and alarms, false and genuine. Being an expert in situation awareness, especially in her research work on ICUs, she recognized the fatigue rapidly creeping on every one of the nurses around her from being subject to extreme overload of their sensory system. Unable to award them with more than sweet words of appreciation and praise them for going beyond their duties in what they do for her, she felt an obligation to contribute in some way towards making the rest of their evenings less stressful. After a long day each one of them has to pull together the remaining from her sapping energy to fix dinner for her family or for herself and attend to house chores. Zeinab offered to treat them all for a nice dinner out in a restaurant of their choice. They were adamant in their refusal. She then invited each one of them for a dinner she could not attend or prepare for her, but will pay each one to do it the way she likes.

The head nurse pulled me aside, appealing to me; in a friendly gesture, to take the money away from her because she insists on giving money to any and every one attending to her, indicating that who over provides her with service is performing a duty and is paid for it. I told her the act of giving is her joy whether she is well or sick and can never deprive her from whatever she enjoys the most, in her own way. I assured her that she is not trying to tip anyone for a service rendered and that this is her way of showing appreciation to friends and those who help her in any situation. She commented holding tears in her eyes, but this is too much, I have never seen a kind and considerate woman like her in my life, let alone a patient. We are used to patients who complain all the time no matter what we do for them.

In any case, after a great deal of negotiations back and forth, Zeinab silently slipped the money in the pocket of her attending nurse.  

An Act of Care

A son of a dear friend of mine came for a visit to the USA to establish professional contacts in his field as a physician and to revive relationships his Dad had before passing on with older friends and colleagues who reside in different locations in the USA. His Dad was a notable practicing physician as well as a writer who gained fame as an international novelist specialized in historical novels which were translated from Arabic to different languages. His Dad and I were very close in rough and good times from the late fifties until leaving Egypt for good. Our communication continued occasionally but slowly became more tenuous due to difficulties of getting together.

While visiting a Professor at one of the colleges, he decided to buy a car and drive all over the USA. The car was assigned a temporary dealer plate. The formal car registration plate arrived at the office of his host while he was on the road heading to JFK International Airport, New York, on the last leg of his trip. Unaware that the expired dealer registration of the car could easily attract the attention of the Highway Petrol before reaching his destination he was caught at a distance short of the Airport, detained and his car was taken to the police car bound. Unable to reason with the police, the only recourse of action was to call Zeinab or his Aunt as he preferred to call her. She came to his rescue and was able to settle the matter with the Sheriff’s office.

An Act of Self-Confidence

Not more than two months have passed after Zeinab started her graduate study, when she attended a conference at a National Laboratory with a group of students and faculty member. While in the line for lunch in the cafeteria, a professor was behind her curiously watching her while she is picking up the food and placing it on her tray. Trying to be funny, he made a slight remark about what she was doing and about Egyptians. She did not respond by words but gave him a humiliating look that made him red in the face and all shook-up. The students and the faculty were astonished and some laughed at the professor whose ghastly behavior was improper to say the least. The Professor begged her forgiveness admitting his rudeness and lack of manners in what he did. Since that very moment the professor learned a hard lesson. Many of those who knew her then described what happened as Zeinab paid him a castrating look, which is the response to any man that exceeds his limit with her. Her responsive to aggressive women was not any different.

An Act of Self-Respect

When Zeinab was called upon to help the Waterford III Nuclear Power Station in Taft, Louisiana get the operation license by setting up and implementing a training program for control room operators and maintenance & testing personnel, she took two years leave from the Nuclear Engineering Department at Iowa State University (ISU), Ames, Iowa. Part of the arrangement she made with the ISU is that she will continue to supervise her graduate students until they finalize their MS theses or Ph.D. dissertations and graduate. After she left ISU to assume her responsibilities with Louisiana Power & Light (LP&L); the predecessor of Entergy the administration of ISU decided to split the Department of Nuclear Engineering from the Department of Chemical Engineering as it was the case couple of years earlier. The Departments of Nuclear Engineering at ISU and at North Carolina State University were the first two departments to offer graduate as well as undergraduate nuclear engineering programs, not only in the USA but also in the whole world. A new chairman was hired from outside the ISU system. Other than having a chip in his shoulder from practically being forced out from his tenure position at Oregon State University, he wanted to prove himself and show everyone in the Department and the University administration that he is in control and everyone has to reckon with him. He was able to get away with murder as far as breaking the rules of the University and stepping on academic traditions but was out of luck when he got in confrontation with Zeinab. One of her students successfully presented his Ph.D. dissertation and passed his dissertation defense with flying colors with the blessing of all members of the Ph.D. dissertation committee and Zeinab signed the dissertation as the student advisor and head of the committee. As a matter of courtesy the Chair signs the dissertation as way of confirming the signature of the advisor not as stamp of approval of the content. This act is similar to the signature of the president of the university on thousands of certificates in which case the office of the president uses a stamp of the president’s signature after verifying the authenticity of the certificate and the presence of the proper signatures. Unaware of whom he is dealing with, the chair insisted on holding his signature until he reviews the dissertation. He stepped out of the boundaries of his position and discarded all academic traditions when he called Zeinab’s student to display his muscles and to relay to him that is there is a new sheriff in town. In brief he informed that the approval of the advisor and the committee is irrelevant and he is the only one who can approve the outcome of his research work. Without his approval he may have to restart his research all over and assured him that he is busy with more urgent matters and will not be able to review his Ph.D. dissertation before the graduation date.

Until this day there was no definite explanation to what got over the Chair to lead to his idiotic actions and drive him to dig his grave by his own hands. The student being a Saudi may have led the Chair to believe that he can benefit financially and professionally by giving the student a hard time or make a fast buck by blackmailing the helpless student. The Chair may have thought it is an opportune time to vent his inherent hostility against Arabs especially Egyptians although he had the backup of the ISU Provost, who was born Egyptian, when he was hired and after he assumed his post. In fact and for no obvious reason, he was vocal in attacking Egyptians in social gatherings and scientific meeting. As noted by some of his colleagues and acquaintances the guy was not satisfied by practically hating everybody around so he hated himself the most. He was so bitter towards the world to the extent that only his demise was the only way that could have put him out of his misery. He reminded me of a famous Arab poet who dedicated his poetry to speak ill of anyone who crosses his path and when he ran out of munitions to criticize others and accomplished vilification of everyone he could think of he turned on himself and vilified the way he looks as he was staring in a mirror, saying what an ugly face; I wonder how ugly a person who would carry such a face.

Once Zeinab got a whiff of what took place with her student, she called the Chair expressing her dismay, demanding an explanation and tried to reason with someone who met her sweet mannerism with rudeness and bossiness. That attitude did not go well with Zeinab who wished she could face him face to face and put him in the place he deserves. In short, she calmly told him that his academic career will be over if he refuses to sign. Her threat did not lack substance.

The Senior Vice President of Research at ISU, who served on several Ph.D. committees of Zeinab’s student, did not only admire Zeinab’s professionalism, her dedication and the quality of her research work but he was also aware of the vast amount of Federal funds she brought to the University. Other than that, he and his wife were one of the closet friends to us. One of the most influential people on the Board of Regents that approves the University budget was also a family friend. The President of ISU have been present in meetings and conferences wherein Zeinab made presentations and he was proud of her as a distinguished academician as well as her elegant way and social grace in functions held by the State Governor or the Board of Regents.

Upon contact with the Senior Vice President of Research, he immediately called the Chair and emphasized that if he insisted on his position towards the dissertation, the Graduate Research office will eliminate the need for his signature on any future thesis or dissertation. He assured him that the matter will be forwarded to a disciplinary committee if he failed to apologize to Zeinab, the student and the student’s Ph.D. committee.

An Act of Honor

After a year of being in Louisiana, all Zeinab’s students graduated and she no longer had commitments remaining to make her obligated to return to ISU. In spite of the frequent thunderstorms and heat waves in the Louisiana summers, Zeinab dreaded going back to fiercely cold winters, spending hours with no end to clear the snow from the driveway and clear the ice off the car windshield, wearing snow boats and face masks, sliding on icy roads and breaking bones when walking or skidding across the icy roads and colliding with other cars if one prefers to drive. She recalled an advice from a more seasoned friend when she graduated and was torn between accepting a job with a university or a job in the industry with much higher pay. At that time the friend described working for the industry as cut throat competition for survival wherein small fish swallows big fish. Those who move up the ladder too fast have to watch out from those they left behind because when the higher echelon fall down they will meet the lower echelon midway and no one will rescue them before they hit the ground head first. On the other hand, academia is the quagmire of backstabbing and the theater of nail biting. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is nothing more than a demonstration of how the teachers of the new generation and their spouses destroy themselves.

With enough time at their hands and a tenure that guarantees a job for them, they dedicate their life to trivial persuasions, to plotting and scheming to bid one group against the other. Zeinab recalled wasteful departmental meetings twice or three times a week, wherein the Head of the department exercises his vocal chords reciting his stupid memos that he sent to each faculty member a week before. A more active head used to spend hours daily rearranging the posts on the bulletin board next to his office feeling very proud of his post urging the students not to run on the stairs and not to step with their boots on the edges of the stairs because these actions cost the university a good penny.

Zeinab was torn between a violent summer and a violent winter and between a tenured position in a swamp of rumors, innuendos that led one of her colleagues to commit suicide and an unstable career in a barn filled with tarantulas, scorpions and rattle snakes ready to inject their venom in any being that dozes off even for blink of an eye. As for the hardship of work in the university compared to the industry she felt that there is no difference if she remained sincere and honest in performance of her duties. In the university she had the largest number of graduate students to advise and see them through till the day they graduate. The tremendous research and teaching load required an effort not less than that required for developing training programs and assuring the safety of a nuclear power plant. Dedication to her work and living up to the responsibility trusted to her does not make a difference between one type of job and another. Taking pride in her role in making nuclear power safe, her loyalty to her boss and her care about her subordinates were factors instrumental in making an aggressive decision to stay in Louisiana. The confrontation with the Chair of the department made her decision more palatable.

Zeinab was not the type who seeks security in keeping an option hanging for her to run too in case of difficulties in her job. She was not like many others who take a leave from a tenured position while they plan not to go back. Doing so keeps a position locked out for people desperately searching for a permanent position. To the Chair’s relief she resigned. Whether by sheer coincidence or by plan, neither the Chairman nor his chair survived for very long. The person on the chair was nowhere to be heard of. The chair itself was eliminated and the entire nuclear program diminished to be merely an option in mechanical engineering.

An Act of Loyalty

Upon fulfilling her mission in establishing a sound training program and helping in securing the operation license for the Waterford III Nuclear Power Station, she accepted to remain as the assistant for the Vice President for plant safety. However, the power center shifted towards the plant operation manager who has just recently retired from the US Navy and eventually a former Navy officer came to the company as a Senior Vice President in charge of the plant. In many nuclear power plants a conflict always arises between the civilian managers and the ex-Navy managers due to the cliquish favoritism among ex-Navy personnel and because of difference between the operation philosophies of each group. The Navy people’s philosophy is based on an older motto: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This in addition to the pledge of comradery or the unwritten rules of: don’t point to your fellow officer if an error of omission or commission took place, regardless of the magnitude of the error; furthermore, denial is the safe haven from any blame. In the civilian philosophy this violates the US NRC rules, which require preventive maintenance as well as reporting any potential safety problem.

Falling out of favor, Zeinab’s boss who hired her saw the fastest shift of loyalty ever among his subordinates, superiors and colleagues with only Zeinab not willing to abandon him at any price. Finally, the boss took early retirement. Still to the last day of her life she remained loyal and indebted to that man who respected her talent and put his faith in her and she respected his integrity. That sense of gratitude to those who helped her along her career was deeply seated in her conscience and has colored her feeling towards them and has been reflected in her endearment of the memory of those who passed on from them. Among those are the head of the department who recruited her to work at ISU and the one who recommended her for the leadership position at LP&L.

Working in large corporations you have to be always cognizant of how the wind blows and fly with it and never try to swim against the current. Those rules of operation have never sat well with Zeinab, although she realized the risk of defying these golden rules.

An Act of Modesty

Zeinab’s sense of loyalty to the people she worked with Subordinates

An Act of Ingenuity

One of Zeinab’s foreign students completed his Ph.D. program and officially graduated, three months prior to the official graduation ceremony. Upon his return to his country, he reported to work according to the instruction of the education mission of his country; however, the University where he supposed to work refused to accept the graduation letter from the Graduate School because of lack of official stamps. The official certificate is usually issued several months after the graduation ceremony.

Astounded by the bureaucracy of the student’s employer, the Dean of the Graduate School was at loss of what should be done. Upon Zeinab’s recommendation, the Dean drafted a letter certifying the student’s graduation and stamped the letter with all the stamps available in his office. That resolved the issue.

An Act of Integrity

As a favor for family friends and former colleagues of mine, Zeinab stuck her neck to help a foreign student who was not up to par get admitted to graduate school on probation. Having a full scholarship from his government did not help him gain admission. In fact he had no prayer without Zeinab’s interference and contacts within the University administration and without her pledge to keep a close watch on his progress and provide any need for tutoring. Before being admitted to the University, traditionally foreign students have to attend community college to remedy their weakness in basic sciences and mathematics. However, the University made an exception, upon Zeinab’s recommendation for to admit the student provided he successfully finishes an intensive program for English as a foreign language and have top grades in selective undergraduate courses and then undergo evaluation at the end of the year.

Subsequent to that, Zeinab got stuck with that student to see him all way through. She supervised his master degree program in which his performance was acceptable. Being sure he is going for his doctorate degree, he changed his course of action. In the research stage and during the preparation for his dissertation, he resorted to use the friends and colleagues to apply pressure on Zeinab to help him graduate fast. That did not settle well with her. On hope mutual friends of us and his wife’s family will at the end provide him with enough cover till he gets his degree; he spent most of his time meeting with executives of companies to get some of their proprietary research work to claim it as his work. He was not vigilant to the difference between academic research which requires some level of authenticity and novelty and research carried by the industry which serves the company’s interest. Meanwhile his wife; who was English major, started to rephrase the material from catalogs and unpublished industrial research reports using rhetoric and breath taking phrases, as if she were writing a political sermon. Zeinab asked him several times to change his approach and show the research he did and its outcome in contrast with the work of others. He revised what she reviewed but kept on the same track. Any guidance or advice she offered him was to no avail.

To force her hand, one day he brought her what he claimed to be the final copy of the dissertation demanding to schedule his thesis defense. She assured him that the write-up is not acceptable and he is not ready for facing the Ph.D. committee. Unable to bluff his way around by elaborating on his importance to his country, the dire need for his early return and the great daily pressure applied on him by the higher ups in his government to assume an influential position they have tailored specially for him, he demanded that his defense has to be scheduled ASAP.

Aggressively, the student made the worst mistake of his life by complaining to the graduate school administration. Zeinab got calls from everywhere appealing to her to help their relative or friend graduate. A date was set for the dissertation defense. It took the committee about ten minutes to decide for the first time in the history of the graduate school, that the student has to start from ground zero.

Zeinab did not yield to any pressure from people she respected as well from others who made promises to provide grants and worst yet to boycott the University. However, she did not use that against the student and continued to be his advisor forcing him to take the right course of action.

An Act of Grace

While I was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) after an operation, Zeinab came to visit me. In the room next to me she recognized a neighbor being brought to the hospital to recover from a suicide attempt a week after she lost her husband. Zeinab rushed to her and held her hand until she gained conscious. Opening her eyes to see Zeinab’s graceful face cheered up the neighbor. After being released from the hospital Zeinab made sure to stop by her house and frequently check on her.

An Act of Adoption

Whenever Zeinab likes someone and feel that she can trust them, she practically adopts them. She calls many of her closed associates, students and friends, daughter or son. One of them was at an age very close to hers, but whenever she sees him she surprise him by calling him son. She does not stop at being jovial of their presence and her affection towards them as a mother, but she speaks of their accomplishments in great pride as if they were of her own.

An Act of Cheers

While in graduate school, one of Zeinab’s classmates seemed depressed and sad. He was worried about the outcome of his wife’s visit to her gynecologist that day. To put his mind at ease, she offered to read the tea leaves if he were to join her and other colleagues for a cup of tea. She gave him the impression that reading coffee grounds in a Turkish coffee demitasse after consuming the coffee is an ancient Egyptian art and she can probably see what is hidden for him in the future. Actually, she was not serious but meant to cheer him up and get him away from his nagging worries.

Since the school’s student room did not provide the right utensils for proper fixing of a serving Turkish coffee, she suggested that tea will do. With a smile and among the laughs of her colleagues, she humored him by assuring those present that his wife is pregnant and will have a baby boy. Although she was not serious and meant to merely cheer him up, he was hilarious when he got the news of his wife’s pregnancy. It was early to tell the sex of his expected baby, but he was convinced it will be a boy.

No one believed it, but his wife delivered a healthy boy. His parents called him Zeinab’s good omen. After a few years, the baby grew up and graduated from college. The Dad sent Zeinab his graduation photos thanking her for the tea leaf reading session.

An Act of Charity

We used to have a neighborhood private dollar store, before the national chains of dollar stores took off and monopolized the market. Although we grow up on what was called the dime store like Kresge and Woolworth, wherein all items are sold for a price in the neighborhood of a dime. With the dwindling purchase value of a dollar, it was refreshing to buy something of value at a dollar. The owner was a Palestinian American entrepreneur. Zeinab and her Mom used to stop by once and then especially when they go out for grocery shopping. The private dollar store as its successors seems to buy its inventory by the lot, since every time you visit there is something new and once an item is sold is very hard to find it again.

The store was closed for couple of days, and then reopened without the owner staying foot by the cashier. Upon inquiry, another Palestinian, who used to be very friendly with the customers; explained the owner has some sort of terminal cancer. Zeinab got the owners phone number and address. That was the last day of the store.

A week later Zeinab went to visit the family of the owner, whose health deteriorated fast. He had several young kids, running around the front yard seemingly unaware of the dire situation. His wife’s family was from the same city where her husband came from but she was born in Detroit. Zeinab gave the wife some money to help her get through. Gracefully, Zeinab inquired about the Palestinian who works in the store and what will become of him. Shockingly, the wife arrogantly said that he is nobody; he is just a worker who her husband used to get for odd shores. Those words got Zeinab very upset, especially she knew first hand that the poor fellow was practically carrying the whole burden of the store and he was very saddened by the illness of her husband.

Disgusted by the attitude of the owner’s wife; who amidst her grief she managed to put down someone who stood by her husband till the last breath, Zeinab was determined to look up that no good for nothing man and help him and his family. Able to get hold of him, she invited him with his family and extended to him all the help she planned to provide the family of his boss. To say the least the family of the owner of the store has a support system in the USA and made money selling the store while the worker came out empty handed with no support from his community.

Nothing Zeinab hated more people snubbing each other even at the time of calamity wherein they should be humble.

An Act of Substance

Zeinab was innately a very private person almost to a fault. As a teenage she had never gotten along with girls who spend their time delving in small talk, rumors, innuendos and insinuations. As she grew up, she became more adamant not to participate in any women’s circles formed by those whose main interest is in gossiping and divulging the most intimate secrets of their lives. While in college and after graduation she has intuitive repulsion from wives of colleagues bragging about places they visited, restaurants they dined in or vacations the made together. She has never degraded herself to engage in catty remarks or nibbling on someone’s bride atypical of many women she came across and avoided being engaged with in their games.

She possibly was hard on those who like to interfere in her personal affairs, but also she made it a point not to interfere in somebody’s personal affairs, and expressed distaste and repulsion to indulgence in talking about persons in their absence. That attitude did not deprive her company from enjoying her sense of humor. Given all those limits and constraints people of different cultures and interests cherished visiting with her in person or in groups.

Her presence was engaging to people around her and her warmth enabled her to penetrate the hard shells that surround some people. She can easily start conversation and get the attention of people of different education level, class, interest and age.

An Act of Decency

Being genuine and straightforward in her dealings with people, across a wide spectrum, some take her as a naïve woman with no social cognition. On contrary her rich experience made her street smart without being classy in her behavior.

An Act of Love

While meeting with our financial advisors, we discussed in depth the matter of a will. We even agreed on having the CPA who worked with our company for long time to be the executor. Several scenarios were put across the table, starting with the situation when both of us were to pass on in the same time, like in an accident, for example. When it reached the discussion of what will happen, if I die, the whole process got to a halt. She said “if any harm were to happen to him, I do not think I can survive a day long without him”. Although it was an unpalatable issue, it was a life-necessity to go through it to avoid probate, legal complications and tax consequences. We had several appointments to meet an attorney to draft the will; however, she found an excuse to cancel the meeting dreading that the issue of me dying first will surface once more.

An Act of Mercy

Zeinab believed putting an animal to sleep because it is getting old or to save it from long suffering of pain from a disease or injuries is worse than euthanasia or mercy killing of human beings because animals are not consulted, cannot defend itself and they cannot express their dismay or approval of such an inhumane act. No one can claim for a fact that inducing death in an animal by one way or the other is peaceful death because the animal is incapable of responding. No euthanized human came back to life to tell whether the pain he/she suffered during killing him/her while being drugged or under anesthesia is better or worse than the excruciating pain he/she suffered through persistence crippling ailments. 

Mango got sick by feline leukemia and it was discovered too late that the veterinary doctor who gave it all the shoots he did not vaccinate it against that fetal disease. The cat stopped eating and Zeinab nursed it by feeding it milk through an eye dropper in spite of its resistance. The cat scratched Zeinab’s upper lip leaving a scar.

Mango’s sister Anna got sick couple of years later; Zeinab took her to the vet. First he gave her a shot and some medications that helped some however when her health deteriorated further. The vet advised Zeinab to put her to sleep but Zeinab refused although her recovery seemed hopeless. Two weeks later, we came home to find her dead lying down on a stack of books. Zeinab missed her at night, as she used to sleep on the pillow by her head.

The last of the cats triad which Zeinab got for her birthday, Cookie survived longer than her brother and sister although she was a bit deformed. The arthritis in her joints suddenly crippled her and she started to pull her legs behind as she moved. That was a sad scene, especially Cookie who acted like a hyperactive kid and often gets herself in trouble. One day we were fishing and she wanted to catch the fish on the hook so the hook was caught in her upper lip. Zeinab sat next to her feeding her, brushing her hair and petting her upper half.  

Feeling the end is near, Omar and I got Nana from the animal shelter of St. Charles Parish to soften the blow of Cookie’s departure on Zeinab on her birthday. When we came back Cookie was gone peacefully between Zeinab’s hands. She was almost 15 years old which is about 135 years young in human years considering that cats have nine lives, although in other countries especially in Egypt cats have seven lives. This is maybe because Egyptian cats are more resilient and do not age as fast. We used to call Cookie towards the end the Most Senior Citizen in the house.

Nana was still a little kitten and did not look much but she grew in a hairy beautiful cat the crosses her legs when walking like a model on a stage. Nana stayed in her playpen for a while before she became familiar with the whole house which later she assumed as her territory. The amazing thing, Nana eventually slept around Zeinab’s feet in the same spot as Cookie used to do.

Having a new cat brought a smile to Zeinab’s face as she welcomed it and immediately named it as she usually do, regardless of the given name which is usually recorded on the adoption papers. However, the new arrival did not erase the memory of the other cats. Happy with Nana did not clear her sense of sadness about Cookie’s demise towards the end. That was expected, since it is next to impossible for a new born cat to emotionally erase years of memories with a senior cat; unless one believes in incarnation.

Nevertheless, being the first cat to save from a shelter, gave her a special status. Usually the shelter keeps the animal a short time and if not adopted they put it to sleep. So, whenever Nana acts naughty she was threatened to be taken back to the shelter.

Zeinab’s sense of care of animals was not limited to caring about them while they are having their last breath and being committed not to accelerate their death, but she used to see female cats through labor as well. A white outdoor cat befriended Zeinab as she used to feed it and its kittens. At that time we had an open porch with merely screened windows. One evening the cat came by the door meowing as she went into labor. Zeinab recognized that the meowing is from labor pain so she brought her in, attending to her all night as she delivered her litter, six in all.

An Act of Acuity

Zeinab conducted extensive research and development work on biometrics, such as eye pupil mapping and even olfactory signatures and identification of discriminating features among individuals that can be used in granting access of authorized persons to high security areas. This is in addition to recognition of aberrant human behavior among workers handling critical assignments. Being interested in wildlife and caring for animals and birds whether they are in-house pets or rooming around and moving freely without the confines of a home or a cage, Zeinab believed that; like human beings, each individual animal/bird has unique biometrics as well as distinctive personality traits. Like saying all blacks are the same and all Chinese look alike, many people only recognize the commonality among each species of creatures. Even people having pets seldom recognize the salient differences between pets of the same species.

Mango, Anna and Cookie came from the same litter, but most likely not the same father. They arrived home in a blind box. As the top of the box was opened, they came out one by one after having a cautious peak at the unknown universe awaiting them and the reception committee headed by Zeinab who gave each one a name upon emergence from the box. Strangely an affinity rapidly developed between Zeinab and Anna, Mango aligned himself with me. Heba grabbed Cookie and held her in her lab forcing her to stay thus developed a special bond between them. It was very easy to differentiate between the threesome.

Mango salivates and his jaws crackle on the sight of a little bird. He preferred to share the meal with me and eat directly from my plate, especially shrimp and crawfish. When I ignore him and keep on eating he reminds me by grabbing my hand with his paws. He never trusted any food he does not see humans eat. That excluded all cat food, although out of curiosity he tried dog food once. He walks in the pride of a King of the jungle looking down at other creatures bigger than him, without mere acknowledgement.

Anna shared with him the feel of self-import, but added to her burden a sense of superiority above all creatures larger and smaller. She claimed the whole house to be her own and felt proud showing off her territory as she stands on the steps of the front yard or watching the passer-bys. Squirrels used to challenge her claim, one of them used to tease her by wagging his tail and standing up on his behind staring her in the eyes. While the teasing game was going on, I opened the door and she dashed out the door and chased the squirrel almost four blocks away until I caught up with her and brought her home while she was putting up a great resistance wanting badly to get him. Zeinab instigated in Anna the sense of pride of what she has and instilled in her self-confidence.

Cookie was a charmer; everyone admired her ability to sway a next door neighbor who staunchly hates cats to pet her and response to her playful tricks.

An Act of Humanity

Geese are socially different from other waterfowls, especially ducks in spite of similarities in the general appearance and their habitats. Geese in the wild tend to live as families and are usually monogamous. Losing a mate causes emotion stress to the surviving goose.

That incident was the second of its kind. As the neighbor passes by the house she could not resist urging her dog to go after the ducks who practically reside in Zeinab’s backyard, wherein they are fed at least twice a day. In one situation, the dog grabbed a duck from her wing. Unfortunately, the duck couldn’t be saved in the veterinary hospital.

:: Additional materials about Dr. Zeinab Sabri ::