Moving from one city to another can be quite difficult, but the move from Ottawa, Canada to Cairo, Egypt is on a completely different scale of difficulty. Yes, I am Egyptian. Yes, I have lived in Cairo for many years. And yes, I don’t have trouble speaking Arabic (most of the time). Yet the transition is extremely challenging.
To give you some context, I have done my elementary school in Canada, high school and university were in Egypt. A day after I got my bachelor’s degree, I was on a flight to Ottawa. Ottawa then became my home for the next seven years. Ottawa was where I got my master’s degree, where I started my first job, where I furnished my first apartment, and where I bought my very first car – in other words, where I became an independent adult. It’s a completely different story in Cairo though.
My life in Cairo was that of a student living with family. I am youngest of three daughters raised by my mother. Even though my family never publicly admit it, I am everyone’s favorite. I was spoiled by affection and pampered to death. I never did anything on my own. If I had some government paperwork to do or needed to go to the bank, I always had someone to keep me company and to make sure I get things right.
So to move back to Cairo after seven years…how can I aptly describe it? Cairo being Cairo, there’s no word in the dictionary that can describe it all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. So in the spirit of optimism, positive thoughts, and in trying to encourage tourism, I will start off by writing ten reasons why living in Cairo is AWESOME!!
Living abroad without family makes you truly appreciative of family time. Breakfast, lunch or dinner with family, though difficult to arrange, still remains the highlight of my day. That special hug from my niece and nephew because they just missed me so much. The tea or coffee outing with distant cousins. And as much as I hate to admit it, I have a newfound appreciation of all the bickering that takes place in our home. As an Egyptian, home isn’t home without some heated and intense ‘discussions’ done in a really loud voice.
Almost everything tastes better in Egypt compared to Ottawa. Fruits are, for the most part, grown in Egypt, and usually grown to term, so you don’t get that synthetic taste you get from fruit in Canada. Mangoes. Grapes. Figs. Persimmons. Pommengrate. Oranges.
Red meat here, though expensive, tastes great. I no longer have to worry whether it’s Halal or not Halal. Bacon and pepperoni are always beef and all the gelatin found in food is bovine. And then we have the baladi bread, the feteer meshelet.
You got a taste for Indian, Chinese, or Sushi? Lebanese or Syrian? We got it. Waffles, crepes, and cheesecakes? Cupcakes? Donuts? Backlawa with red velvet and mango filling? We got it. We got it all.
Hired help is affordable for the middle class and above. Most people have a cleaning lady that comes in once a week; a cook or a live in babysitter is also common. And then you have the bawab – the caretaker of an apartment building or a house. Almost every apartment building has one. He lives in the building with his family, and they all take care of the building and its residents. For my family, the bawab washes the car, gets the newspaper, buys the bread and vegetables, and helps us carry groceries to the apartment. Pretty handy to have a bawab around, no?
It’s January. This time in Canada, I usually wear a winter coat, boots, scarf and gloves. Oh and I need winter tires too.
I still wear my summer clothes. If it’s a little chilly, I add a cardigan. And the sun, oh my God, the sun! It’s always shining and it’s beautiful!
We deliver to your doorstep.
We have a pharmacy in the building and a small supermarket two minutes away. They both deliver. Dry cleaning picks up and delivers. Not to mention, all the fast food chains deliver to your house. 24/7.
A fast track to obesity for sure but super convenient when you feel like a bum and want to stay at home.
Feeling of shared history and belonging
Canada is a new country, and its home to people from all over the world. Although I am a proud Canadian, and I love Canada, every now and then I feel like I don’t belong. In Egypt, almost everyone around you is Egyptian and can trace his roots a few generations back. We all speak the same dialect. Religion is a big part of our way of life and our roots. Hearing the athan (call to prayer) a few times a day is heartwarming.
You can do it all in Egypt
One of the advantages of living in a big city is that there are plenty of things you can do. You can go on a yoga and meditation retreat, sandboard in Siwa, go bungee jumping, diving in the Red Sea, …the list goes on. There are a few crossfit gyms here, a gym at every corner, and Cairo Runners (the equivalent of the Running room). One the east side of Egypt there’s the Red Sea, and the Meditterean sea is on it’s north side. And of course there’s the Nile where you can go on a cruise..
The only thing you can’t do here is… well, ski or snowboard. For the obvious reasons of course.
There’s not a day that passes by when I am not grateful for every little and big thing that I have in my life. Why? Because I see the less fortunate every day. I see how people struggle to make ends meet. How they struggle with medical issues. How their life isn’t cushioned by money, or cushioned by a social and just government; yet they are thankful and overall content. In my view, the middleclass whine and complain the most, while those who are borderline poor, are grateful.
See? I am trying to be positive and upbeat about living in Egypt.