Why are we here?
An anonymous Canadian asked me a question:
I have 2 ask..why r u in Egypt? I’ve read ur blog occassionally and for the most part, you don’t really enjoy or fit in with the culture or the predominant religion, Islam.
Why would you stay somewhere that you consider somewhat racist? You spend most of the time with expats. It doesn’t make much sense.
Seems like a fair question, though I’m intrigued by this notion that you should only live places you love, and immediately leave places you find you don’t love. Because how would we know how we’d really feel about living in Egypt until we moved here?
Now here’s the long-winded answer.
What brought us to Egypt was Africa, a real passion for learning more about this gigantic continent with the possibility of traveling to sub-Saharan Africa and especially Ethiopia and other parts of East Africa, which are not all that far away. And where both my kids were born. We brought them from Ethiopia to the US, and they inspired us to come back this way.
What brought us here was a desire for our kids to feel at home in the world, to think of the world not from an exclusively American perspective but one informed by life beyond the States.
What brought us here was a sense of adventure, of wanting to live and work outside of the US.
And what brought us here was an interesting career opportunity for me (the boring part).
All these things have worked out great. I’m fully immersed in the Middle East, of course, but also in Africa, and I have more opportunities to learn about and understand this continent than I ever would in the US. On a daily basis, I see and interact with Africans from all over the continent, not just Egypt but also Sudan, Ethiopia, and other countries.
And the boys, I think, have really benefited, young as they are. Their school is incredibly international, and they are learning a lot about the world. Their classmates are Egyptian, Italian, American, Moroccan, Japanese, Ghanaian, and… the list goes on.
And right now we are here because I have a two year contract. And, actually, I really enjoy my job, which I don’t write about because it’s not good blog fodder, and Mr. Four enjoys his lifestyle too. We can afford for him not to work (a luxury in the US for people in our income bracket), and we can afford household help (an even more amazing luxury). My work schedule here is about 35 hours/week, and I have generous holiday time in addition to six weeks of annual leave. I have so much more time with my kids here; it’ll be hard to go back to the US for this reason alone. Life is easy and good.
We have faced some challenges we didn’t expect. I was warned about racism in Egypt, but coming from the US (with its own problems with racism, you might have heard), it was hard to understand how that would play out for our family. It’s been a disappointment. I also didn’t realize how utterly confusing our family would be to many Egyptians (though I hasten to add there are plenty here who do get us).
Despite occasional angst, the problems, we’ve decided, don’t merit breaking my contract, which would likely cost us lots of money in moving expenses back to the US, as well as major professional issues for me. And the longer we’re here, the more we like.
Lots of people live in places they don’t love for very mundane reasons. And, there are many, many Cairenes who don’t love Cairo at all. In fact, many Egyptians here apologize for Cairo! As if some of the problems of living here are their fault individually. My concerns about Cairo are voiced by many others, Egyptians and expats. And there are plenty of expats who are only here for the money (and not just oil families). That’s not us by a long shot.
We do spend a lot of time with expats. As a friend observes, just like Egyptian immigrants to the US spend a lot of time with Egyptians and other Arabic-speakers. This is not an unusual phenomenon, to spend time with people who speak the same language and have the same culture. Our community here is American but also international, and the expat community is great. Despite all this, we have become friendly with some Egyptian families (including some who have invited us over for dinner this weekend), and I have some wonderful Egyptian colleagues at work. Mostly, though, we hang out as a family.
It’s a romantic and misguided notion to think that if you move to a new country, the locals will rush to befriend you. That doesn’t happen so much in places like Cairo, with something like 40,000 Americans and 100,000 expats.
It’s true that I don’t have a particular adoration for Egyptian or Arab culture (though I do find Arabic fascinating and I love Egyptian food). But I didn’t know any of this until I got here. I don’t have a particular interest in Islam, though it’s been great to learn about Islam from my Muslim friends and colleagues. I love, for example, hearing the call for prayer five times a day. I love seeing the Nile River on my afternoon commute, and, on rare clear days like today, the Great Pyramids in the distance.
Our reasons for moving here, and then staying, are complex. What is simple is this: moving here was a great decision, and I’m so glad we’re here.
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