Monday, July 19, 2004

Finding Your Way Home

Actually, trying to prepare to move back to Egypt is a pretty serious matter. We encountered some interesting reactions upon moving the children to Alexandria. Both our daughter (4 yrs) and our son (7 yrs) had been attending a French immersion program in Toronto and were bilingual, but they had not had the chance to learn Arabic. Most of the people they met, including relatives, had a very hard time understanding that very few people spoke Arabic in Toronto. They had never traveled outside of Egypt and assumed that the rest of the world was like that part that they'd seen. Without meaning to, many people in their own ignorance managed to make my kids feel as though somehow they'd failed by not speaking Arabic, although they'd had minimal exposure to it. The repurcussions in their Arabic classes were rather difficult sometimes. They got over it, however, and are now fluent in Arabic. People may find it difficult to believe that you haven't kept up with Egyptian news, for example, as immersed in it as they are here. It isn't so much a criticism as it is the inability to imagine another lifestyle in another culture.

If someone has been away from Egypt for 10 years, he will come back to a country much changed. If you have been away from Egypt for 30 years, it will almost be like visiting Mars. I first visited Egypt in 1976, almost 30 years ago. I came to a city that had only a few stoplights and no one seemed to grasp their purpose. Now we have lots and they are either re-inforced with human guardians for the intersection or they are ignored. But people now know what they are. Medinet Nasr, a suburb near the International Airport was desert. Kattameya, a new suburb, was desert. There were still farms on the way to the Pyramids on Pyramids Road. Faisal Street didn't exist. Most of the big old mosques in the older part of Cairo had families living in them for lack of urban housing. No Metro. Almost no phones, unlike now when EVERYONE has a mobile phone. Not one decent Chinese restaurant in all of Cairo!!! We now must have almost 10 sushi bars in Cairo. I also recall my husband spotting a donkey cart in downtown Cairo at about 1 am and telling me that they were being made illegal in the city.....still see them all the time even if they are illegal. Egypt would come to a screeching halt without its donkeys.

There have been huge changes in mentality. Egypt in the 60's and 70's was much more "western" in dress, down to bikinis and mini skirts, than it is on the whole now with more and more women wearing scarves. But at the same time, international communication through television and internet is making Egyptians much more aware of fashion and ideas from the outside, so it's an interesting juxtaposition.

Probably the best way to approach a move like this is to be a foreigner. Since both you and Egypt have gone through 30 years of change, maybe you should just take your time and get to know her again from scratch. She'll probably have some fascinating surprises for you.

1 comment:

Mo Elnadi said...

You have a very interesting Blog, excellent work. You might be interested to check our discussions at: there are many fruitful discussions about living and adapting to living in Egypt.

Best of luck