We Four in Egypt

Now back in the US!

Decisions, decisions

Around about December, as we settled into our new life here in Cairo, I started thinking more and more about whether we want to stay past the end of my two-year contract (summer 2009). It’s not an easy decision.

PROS of staying
Comfortable and simple lifestyle, with domestic help and few hassles because of employer-provided housing; Ethiopian food two to three nights a week; excellent private school education for the boys paid by my employer (though I hasten to add I’m a big believer in American public schooling); the intangibles of living abroad, including opportunities for travel and interacting with a diversity of people, Egyptians as well as other internationals; great work schedule for me, including generous holiday and annual leave time; good professional opportunities for me, at least over the next few years.

CONS of staying
Air pollution (it’s really bad, not like every-city bad, but like Mexico City or Beijing bad, as in, kids get asthma just from living here bad) and garbage everywhere; racism towards the boys (another intangible, though it includes not being around many people of sub-Saharan African descent); being incredibly conspicuous as an American transracial family; missing home, friends, and family; a concern that while Giggle is becoming a citizen of the world, he might not be getting what it means to be an American (is this important? I don’t know); missing outdoor recreation; a general sense of professional isolation and concerns that my professional development stalled the day I arrived in Egypt; mild guilt and feelings of neo-colonialism.

And all of this became more complicated this weekend.

Cairo is a huge, sprawling city. Space is tight downtown, and many large employers are moving out of town, into the desert. This includes my employer, who will be in “New Cairo” starting this fall. So I won’t be able to ride the metro to work anymore but will take a shuttle run by my employer.

(That part is fine.)

What’s very complicated is that my employer is offering up housing near their new location. So we could move to a very nice, very new townhouse or flat in a huge multi-use development in an area that was all desert only a few years ago. My commute to work would take mere minutes. And the development (“compound” comes to mind, but that’s not quite the right idea) has everything we’d want: a huge club with pools, playgrounds, fitness areas, multiple soccer and athletic fields, lounges, a restaurant, etc; two malls; restaurants; sidewalks and quiet streets for walking and biking; a well-stocked grocery store and other services. It’s a bit sterile.

Right now we live in a community that’s considered upscale and international, but it’s still dirty and dingy here (some might call it local color). This new place is clean. And if we could live in a townhouse, which seems to be an option, we’d have a big place with …. wait for it … our own yard! A teeny tiny yard, to be sure, but right now any safe, outside play area would be fantastic.

We need to decide in about two weeks if we want to move to New Cairo (the move would happen this summer). The decision about staying in Egypt is longer term. But they are related issues.

If we’re sure we’re leaving in a year and a half, it doesn’t make sense to uproot ourselves before then. We are settling into our community and we are making some friends, most of whom are probably not moving to New Cairo. Then again, if we move to a lovely new home in a clean, bike-able community, we might be more inclined to stick around Egypt.

So, readers, here’s the question (and please do answer in the comments):

What would you do? Stay in Egypt or leave? Move to New Cairo or stay put? And what do you think we should do?


3 February 2008 - Posted by | our life in egypt


  1. Hmmm. I think you should stay in Cairo!! And move to Zamalek!! Just kidding. (About the Zamalek part anyway).

    I don’t know if you should move or not. I do see the appeal though. It is very tempting. But you would lose a lot of connection to everyday Cairo life. Then again, everyday life can get on your nerves sometimes. If I were in your shoes, I would probably stay in your current neighbourhood, especially since you have such a nice (and diverse) club to go to now. But there is also no doubt that moving would give you a higher quality of life in the comfort and convenience sense. Whatever you decide, we’ll still come to visit!

    Comment by cindy | 3 February 2008

  2. Eek! Mark and I already put off decisions about our own lives until the last minutes. I guess I would ask, are some of the intangibles about living in Egypt closely linked to living in your particular neighborhood? Also, in terms of Mr. Four, he’s being a stay-at-home dad, right? How does he like that? I don’t know what his career was in the US, but does he like the idea of being a stay-at-home expat dad for awhile?

    I guess my initial reaction is–it’s so cool that you are living abroad–stay as long as you can! But I’m such a homebody (in terms of being near family) that that’s kind of hypocritical.

    So, back to my eek! and also, to know that your decisions will end in good things either way! 🙂

    Comment by Libby | 3 February 2008

  3. a yard, short commute, better breathing … still have the ability to go into the city once in awhile??? I’d move to the new place.

    Comment by Stacy | 3 February 2008

  4. I don’t feel like I can comment about the stay in Egypt question or not. I’ve now spent more than 5 years living outside the US and by the time we’re done here in Dubai, it will be nearly 10 years. And I really appreciate the perspectives that this has given me. And I think that after 2 years is when you start to see some of the subtleties of living outside the US (at least for me). So, I do like living abroad, but right now, I’m really feeling like I want to move back home, so I feel like my advice is tainted by that.

    We live in sterile “New Dubai” and I wouldn’t recommend it. We aren’t feeling at home. There’s not enough vibe to the neighborhood. We have a fantastic house (something I honestly can’t believe we are really living in). We love our neighbors and I’m glad we met them. It’s convenient to work, the shops, our health club, etc. But we can’t get to feeling like it’s home. We’re not suburban people. If it were me, we’d stay in the older area.

    Comment by Julie | 4 February 2008

  5. It sounds like basically deciding whether or not to move to suburbia here in the US. Would you lose a lot of what makes it special to be in Egypt? It does sound like it could potentially be isolating, and perhaps you’d lose the unique experience. Or, would it offset what’s making it hard to live in Egypt? A yard would be nice. What’s the rest of the family think?

    How would your decision be different if you were in a different city? Say, Atlanta, or any US city — would you move to the suburbs?

    Obviously, the decision to stay long term is a bigger one — what does your husband think? Or the rest of your family :)?

    Comment by Your sister | 4 February 2008

  6. I’m loving all these comments. Thanks so much for the input.

    Cindy, I hear you on losing some of the vibrancy of everyday life in Cairo… but is that the kind of thing we tell ourselves so we can feel okay about living here? It’s good to know you guys will still come visit. We’d hate to lose our friendship with you.

    Libby, I agree it is cool to be living abroad. And a reason to stay would be so that Bug can actually experience it, as opposed to growing up knowing he lived in Egypt but having only hazy memories of it all. I wonder if we go back to the US, at some point are we going to wonder why we didn’t just stay another year or two, just for the experience?

    Stacy, you make it seem easy! If it weren’t for a longish bus commute for Giggle, you’d be spot on. Or maybe your spot on anyway.

    My sister also raises a great point. I kept thinking this move might seem like moving to the suburbs in the US. But the analogy doesn’t totally work because my employer is moving first. Right now I have a 40 minute commute, usually via metro, to work. If we don’t move, next fall I’ll have a roughly 40 minute commute to work, via private bus provided by my employer. If we move, I’ll have a 5-10 minute bus commute, plus live close enough I could walk to work if I really wanted. Plus the development has so much so close that we’d rarely need to get in a taxi. The development is really a city, projected to have a population of about 200,000 people in a few years. It’d be more like living in a small town, I think, that was really close to a big city, but a small town with a very well developed infrastructure.

    Mr. Four and I are on the same page about this: very unsure! He’s leaning towards the townhouse/villa idea now because we realized the rooftop patio would be a great workshop for him (no rain and no humidity means you can leave tools and materials outside). Plus he loves the idea of biking around on streets safer and smoother than our current neighborhood.

    He also feels like if we moved out to the new place, we might be happier in Cairo for longer than my contract. And he’s also concerned about losing touch with folks we’re getting to know here in our new community.

    Today at work I talked with a few colleagues, Egyptian women, who already live in the development. They love it, and they know us all and think we’d be very comfortable.

    The irony is that in the US, if you move to the burbs, you lose a lot of diversity. For us, moving to the burbs would mean living around fewer expats and more Egyptians. Which for us would be more diverse, if that makes any sense.

    We had dinner tonight with some friends with two little boys; they are mulling the same issues, and they are leaning towards moving.

    As for the boys: Giggle really loved the playground at the new club at the new development. And the boys would love to be able to run outside from our house. But otherwise, they haven’t offered much input.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Keep them coming!

    Comment by Ms. Four | 4 February 2008

  7. Hi J. You’re asking me? What the heck do I know about living in Egypt? But since you’re asking, New Cairo sounds like one of those fake surburban USA towns where everything is done in tan color. Wouldn’t you miss the feel of “Real Egypt”, local color and all? I used to be very envious of you as I would love to live internationally in an exotic local. . . but to have no natural areas where one can lose oneself. . . forget it. 🙂 What about somewhere else, somewhere with some space and wild? Possible?

    Comment by Cinds | 4 February 2008

  8. If it were just you and the hubby, I’d say stick with where you are. But, I think the perks of the new area would be better for the kids. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who lives in a town of 15,000 so I’m not so neutral.


    Also, it might be sterile right now…but wait till the Four Family moves in!! Just kidding.

    For what to do about the future, make a decision to wait 6 more months. Then, start thinking about it again. After you have a year under your belt, things will probably look different to you. (I almost quit my overseas job 3x a week for the first year. The second year I was an old pro and much more relaxed about stuff.)

    Comment by Diane | 4 February 2008

  9. I’m having trouble commenting on the stay or go question. We’ve lived more than 5 years outside the US and when we’re done with Dubai it will be nearly 10 years. So, I do like living overseas – and I think that at about the 2-year mark you really stop feeling like a visitor and start feeling like you belong. So, you’ll probably be right at the point where it all starts to feel less exotic and more like home. But right now, I’m just wanting to go home – so I’m not very objective.

    On the New Cairo question – I think that one of the bigger adjustments we’ve had here in Dubai is that we chose to move to a new area and it is very suburban-like. We are not suburbanites, and this has been a bigger adjustment for us than moving half way round the world. So, again I’m not objective, but I’m not liking my brand new, very spacious, lovely, friendly, sterile home. Yes, Lyra can ride her bike up and down the street. Yes, she can go knock on the neighbors doors to have the kids come out. Yes, we have more space (massive, actually). Yes, we have great neighbors and diversity around us. But honestly, we don’t like it.

    On the other hand, having visited Cairo, I don’t know how you do it. That city is the ultimate in chaos, dirty, and over crowded. I didn’t like the attention we got, I didn’t find that I was comfortable in that din. Faced with that, maybe New Cairo is better.

    Hmmm, how’s that for the ultimate in non-commitment

    Comment by Julie | 5 February 2008

  10. Cinds, you’re right that everything is tan… but that’s all of Egypt! Seriously, no matter what color things start out, they all seem to become beige with dust. Mmm, nice, eh? Also, would you be jealous at all if I told you that we might go desert camping this spring? And diving in Sharm el Sheikh in April? And then to Ethiopia next winter? 🙂

    Diane, I think you’re also right about needing some more time. I also think we’re going to love having six weeks off in the US this summer, which we’d never have if we actually lived there.

    And if folks are still reading… please, opinions are welcome!

    Comment by Ms. Four | 5 February 2008

  11. It sounds like you are leaning (a bit) toward the move to New Cairo. If you think the boys will manage the transition well enough (knowing that you may move back to the states sooner than you envision–another upheaval) I would say make the move, but only you (and the fabulous Mr. Four) know how the boys will handle the move to a new house. A move, even a small cross town move, still involves a lot of change. We’ve moved 6 times since ’99 and I can say with great certainty that the move across Chicago when Elliott was two was as challenging as the other moves to new states.

    Good Luck with your choice!

    Comment by doris day | 6 February 2008

  12. You’ll make the right decision for your family. The reality is that racism is everywhere, and being a good American is no where near as important as being a good person. Your “pros” are pretty darn compelling, but I live in NYC in a closet-sized apartment with a so so school school district.

    Comment by Keith | 9 February 2008

  13. […] by Ms. Four on 29 April 2008 You all were terribly helpful the last time we were considering a move, so I’m taking a break from the Dahab travelogue to get your […]

    Pingback by Another move opportunity « We Four in Egypt | 29 April 2008

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