After nearly 6.5 years in Egypt, I am now getting ready to say goodbye. It’s strange. When I first arrived, I remember meeting a woman that had lived here for two years. I asked the question we all get asked, “How do you like it?” She responded, “Everyone has an expiration date.”
I’ve always carried that with me, and honestly, I think my expiry date came about a while ago. Being ready to leave is one thing, and naively enough I thought it would make it easier. Prior to Egypt, the longest I’d ever lived somewhere was four years in New York City. I was not ready to leave. I loved everything about NY sans my job and even thought I’d always return to that same neighborhood in Brooklyn. The opportunity to move to Egypt first came about in 2007, but I declined. When it came around for the second time a year later in 2008, I knew that it was meant to be.
I’ve been met with many obstacles in Egypt, but as I’ve repeated several times – including on this blog – that Egypt is a very magical place. It is not an easy place to live and anyone that tells you otherwise is a fool. It can be a very lonely place (among other things) and for a single girl, those difficulties are heightened substantially. Amid the challenges, there have been a lot of good times. I thought that it was hard to leave NY only because I wasn’t ready. I thought leaving Egypt would be so easy because I’ve been ready for over a year to say “Peace out cub scout!” It’s not.
This morning I saw a “New Member Orientation” being held at a local community center in Maadi. I watched as all the new expats shuffled through, bright eyed and excited. I looked at my friend and said, “Give it a month – that glow will disappear and you’ll just see them walking around with their heads down kicking trash mumbling to themselves about how they hate it.” And you know what – it will happen. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t grow to love certain elements.
You end up loving the sense of community that you have by walking down the street. Every morning I go to my favorite coffee shop and on the way, I ring my bike bell at all of the kiosk and flower shop workers. Each morning without fail they all scream out, “Hey hey MADAM!” Walking into the community place that houses my coffee shop you immediately see a group of friends that pull over a chair for you to join. I don’t even have to order my coffee, it’s ready as soon as the employees see my face.
Grocery shopping at my local favorites is always a treat. I pop by the meat and cheese section and it’s like dinner at the deli. I’m trying everything from various sandwich meats/cold cuts to numerous chunks of cheese. Going to my produce stand with Ali pulling out all sorts of new items, opening up a watermelon right there on the spot for me to try to make sure it’s good, packing up the bike for the ride home, etc.
I was at a party this weekend and we were all joking about our “retro” lives. It is like all of the stories that our parents used to tell us about (or grandparents) and we’re able to live in it. I smoke in my office which reminds me of the old TV show Lou Grant (a spin-off from the Mary Tyler Moore Show). The entire newsroom was filled with smoke. Sure it’s not healthy, but it’s hilarious none the less. The cars that we’re sometimes forced to take that are literally from the 60s, and never quite knowing if you’re going to make it to the destination alive and not because of a wreck but because the gasoline fumes are so strong. Or even the wrench used in the place of the actual lever to roll up a car window. Great stories.
Another amazing characteristic of Egypt that I absolutely L-O-V-E is how giving everyone is. One of the biggest things is if you tell someone you like something, they immediately respond: “It’s yours” and will often try to give it to you. I love riding the train to Alexandria and seeing all the farmers working along the Nile with my seat neighbor opening breakfast and immediately offering me some of his/her food. That is genuine kindness. It’s something that I want to carry with me. It’s funny how at home we’re taught to never take food from strangers, but the simple action of a taxi driver offering me some of his chipsy – a man who doesn’t have much – is heartwarming.
If you had asked me back in 2006 where I saw myself in five years, I never would have said anything close to where I am now. When I broke the news the other day about my departure, I was shocked at all of the messages, calls, emails and face-to-face reactions. Obviously I’ve built some very strong friendships here in this time. I mean – we’ve been through it going from the 2011 revolution, the first so-called democratically-held elections, a military coup (it was, by definition, a coup – thanks), more elections all going back to what it was when I first arrived: a military leader. I have officially seen a full circle in Egyptian leadership.
So in my last month, I want to document some of my favorite places and people to give you a better sense of what has kept me going through the frustrations you will undoubtedly meet when faced with a new country and culture. Most importantly, I hope for any of you that are living in Egypt or thinking of moving here to have the same memorable experience I’ve been blessed to be a part of. Thanks for all the support and memories.