Tuesday, October 27, 2015

It's Been a Year Since I left You

One year ago today, I left Egypt.

However, I don’t feel that I left the country behind. With my new job, I’ve been reporting on Egypt possibly even more than when I lived there.

In my new location I’m surrounded by either Egyptians or expats that I once knew in Cairo. “Is anyone even left in Cairo,” said one of my colleagues a few months ago when I mentioned I was having dinner with an old friend. And my Facebook newsfeed reminds me on a regular basis that even more are headed this way.

I remember when other expats left Egypt and shortly after their departure, all they could talk about were the good times. It was as though there were never any negatives at all to living in a country that the word “intense” doesn’t even remotely portray. But it hasn’t been like that for me.

Sure there are some things that I miss such as hanging out at cafes throughout the night during Ramadan, the man sleeping in the drink refrigerator just to cool down and certain people. Am I itching to live there again?

No.

I now live in a country where people complain over everything. On my building’s Facebook page, one woman posted how she couldn’t tolerate the garbage collectors making so much noise at 6 am. All I could think was how lucky we were to actually have people collecting garbage.

In Egypt, street sweepers simply rake trash from one side of the street to the opposite side. Back and forth. Repeat. They depend on regular citizens to give baksheesh (tips) for their livelihood as the government doesn’t pay much. So what is the incentive to ever actually do something with the trash?

Even if there was an incentive - where would the trash go? The large bin? I can count on one hand how many times the large trash bins were emptied on Road 206 in Maadi as well as by Burger Joint near the Grand Mall.

I no longer need to call an electrician every two days because of a faulty hot water heater. When I first moved into my building, I didn’t get much hot water. I talked to the building’s management and immediately someone came up, adjusted the settings (they were initially on an environmentally-friendly setting) and voila! There was no IBM action (insha’Allah - God willing, bokra - tomorrow or ma3lesh - whatever). It was done within 10 minutes.

I have continuous power, but more importantly, I have an internet speed that actually loads a page within seconds rather than TE Data's load time of 20 minutes or longer. Forget about Game of Throne nights that took me all day to download the latest episode - I now binge watch whatever I want whenever I want. It’s a dream come true.

I remember that when I would leave Maadi alone to meet friends in Zamalak. What an ordeal! I remember the nervousness I would have each time, but refusing to allow the change in Egypt to keep me confined to my small area. It was such a production and to have friends that lived in Heliopolis still bring me home if we stayed out too late simply because it wasn’t safe. To go out at night now, I can wear whatever my heart desires. I don’t have to make sure I have a trusted driver lined up. I don’t have to gear up for a fight or negotiation over the fare as it’s all regulated.

I promised myself when I left that I would never forget the little things because I didn’t want to become one of those insufferable, spoiled expats who complain profusely over luxuries..

Egypt has personality and don’t think for one instance that I’ve forgotten. I miss the adventures - which I don’t feel my new home will ever be able to compare. I miss going to downtown to Bulaa’ on a Friday morning sifting through various clothing materials. I miss the opportunity to arrive in a new area within Cairo and finding a surprise at every turn. I miss riding up and down the corniche, crossing the Qasr El Nil bridge and barking at people. Yes - I know it’s strange, but it was awesome how everyone on that bridge would start barking and laughing at the same time. I miss those personalities.

Egypt will always have a special place in my heart and I’m certain that I will go back from time to time. But make no mistake, Egypt isn’t what it used to be and I don’t know if it will ever get back. I do still have hope that it will get better. I have to.

So here’s to the good times, the bad times and the memories. Also know that if you live or have lived in Egypt, you will find someone who shared time in that country everywhere you go in the world. It is like a hub of sorts and you’ll also find that you are drawn to those people. You will complain, but mostly laugh at "all things Egypt".

Egypt grabs hold of you and never really lets go. But it was my time to leave, and I have no regrets.

Although blurry, that is actually Egypt's president El Sisi photobombing my selfie