We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Coming up: an interview with Mr. Four

The very clever Jen (who, like our friends C & R & Q & Z, has now been local friends with us in two parts of the state) suggested an interview with Mr. Four for the blog.

So, submit your questions for Mr. Four. And I’ll try to get him to answer them. And I’ll try to remember to tell him about this before he reads about it here.

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1 October 2007 Posted by | this blog | 3 Comments

Your questions, answered: the expat community

Paige asked

I’d love to know how you’re integrating into the ex-pat community. What’s life like for the tots and Mr. Four? Any real regrets being away from the states?

And lisa seconded that.

First, I should say that my employer makes integrating into the expat community very easy. Many of their employees are Americans, and almost all speak English. And our pre-work orientation introduced me to a lot of the other new folks, including a handful with kids.

Plus, we live in an area of Cairo with lots of expats, near an international school that caters to expat Americans. Many people in this area speak English. So living in our neighborhood and working for my employer has made much of our transition and life here pretty breezy.

And since this is a transitional place (at least for the expats), lots of folks are also new and very friendly. Mr. Four in particular is connecting with other American folks in our neighborhood because he sees folks around town and because he’s a really nice guy. I am not so outgoing but I am connecting with a few folks at work.

We could be trying harder, but that’s not really our style. I would say that it has not been hard at all to find other Americans to hang out with. In fact, I dare say you could live an entire life here and interact, socially, only with other Americans (and perhaps their non-American spouses). That would be a lot less interesting, but certainly easy.

Marc at the Ferenge Addis blog had a great entry about how it can be easy, as an expat, to make acquaitances, but not necessarily deeper friendships. (Marc, please do provide a link if you know the post I mean.) I can vouch for the fact that acquaintanceships are easy to make; I’ll have to get back to you about the rest.

The boys seem to be doing well. The school here that they attend, an English language Montessori-type school, is great and really affordable. We pay $400/month for both of them to attend from 8am to 1pm each day (it’d only be $40 more each for a longer day). They’re making friends there, working on lots of art projects, doing interesting puzzles, singing songs, and learning some Arabic. They are happy to go every day (except for last week on the day we were leaving for the beach: Giggle wanted to stay home and leave right away!), and we’re pleased with how both of them are doing.

Their regular routine involves going to school til 1pm, then home for nap, and then playing at home in the afternoon, and then hanging out with all of us when I get home from work (sometimes as early as 4pm).

Mr. Four’s daily routine centers around getting the boys to and from school, making their lunches, and keeping the household running.

It’s hard to be a trailing spouse, and it’s particularly hard to be a trailing husband. I think this has been Mr. Four’s experience. He’s more adaptable than he gives himself credit for, but he really misses his old life. Especially now that his sports teams are doing so well.

I miss most our yard and ubiquitous public facilities, especially parks. I miss not being able to talk cheaply and regularly to my parents and friends. I wouldn’t call these regrets, though, but part of the deal.

We are a conspicuous family anywhere. But I miss being in the states where people at least get us (if they think about it for two seconds) and aren’t inclined to stare.

Is the real question should you move overseas? Absolutely, positively, definitely yes. This is an incredible experience we’ll carry with us forever. Already my world is so much bigger and my worldview broader. Already I feel richer (and not because of my salary!).

1 October 2007 Posted by | expat scene, our life in egypt | 5 Comments

I’m the tall, aloof blond.

In the US, I’m not particularly tall. But here, on the women’s car of the metro, I can see over the heads of most women (it’s a sea of veils).

And in the US, I’m not particularly blond. Here my hair contrasts dramatically with the average Egyptian’s brunette hair.

And in the US, I certainly don’t feel aloof. I make eye contact with strangers and smile at men and women.

Not here. I smile at women if they make eye contact with me, but I avoid looking directly at Egyptian men. I don’t get close enough to touch them. And I certainly don’t talk to them. Why? Because if I did, it might reinforce the notion that they already have of western women: that we’re all whores. Strong language, but so true! This is a country where a woman can get accused of whoredom because her hair is showing. And people here see American women in the movies all the time, and isn’t that how we all are?

Now, none of this is true at work, where I interact comfortably with men and women, veiled and unveiled, Christian and Muslim, but it’s a western dominated environment, where western norms prevail. And at least some of the Egyptian staff seem to appreciate that environment as well.

But when I’m by myself in public, which is a daily experience as I take the metro to and from work, I act differently than I would in the US. I behave more like an Egyptian woman in that I avoid men I don’t know (which is all but about ten people in the entire city).

On the metro, the front two cars are usually reserved for women, who pack in. But one night last week, the second car also had men, who mostly sat at the back of the car, and women, who were mostly at the front. There were constant negotiations on the bench seats. If a man stood up, a woman might sit down, but only if doing so would mean she wasn’t touching another man. And the men and women all scooched to avoid this contact, meaning men were scrunched together and women were scrunched together. A subtle but important dynamic.

Earlier the same day, I got on a crowded elevator that happened to be filled with women. There was still space for one, but the man who was waiting did not get on, perhaps because then he might have touched a woman. There was a veiled woman waiting, and the other women encouraged her to take the free spot. “It’s all girls here,” one said, meaning, we’re crowded, but you won’t touch any men in here.

That night on the metro, on the mixed sex car, I realized I had hardly seen Egyptian men beyond our bowwab (the doorman) and some men at work. And then (perhaps immersed in observation), I missed my stop. Actually, I missed the next few stops too!

I finally got off the train, crossed over, and waited for the next one. I couldn’t get up to the women’s car at the front, so I walked onto a car with several men and one woman, who was fully covered (meaning only her eyes were showing; she was even wearing gloves). So of course I sat down next to hear. And endured the stares. And hoped my seatmate didn’t get off before me, which she didn’t.

I am very conspicuous here. And I’m okay with that. But the women’s car is much more comfortable than the mixed sex cars.

1 October 2007 Posted by | our life in egypt, transportation | 1 Comment