Friday, May 27, 2011

Love And Hope Spring Eternal

I've been writing this blog for about eight years now and right from Day One I've been getting emails, mostly from women, about moving to Egypt to pursue a relationship with someone. Many of these inquiries stem from holiday romances, some from people met at univerisity abroad, some from internet romances that someone wants to pursue. Our revolution hasn't changed the incoming traffic one bit, other than my correspondents report even more nervousness from their friends and relatives who worry that a move to Egypt will automatically end in disaster. I finally decided that it was time to put out a list of things to think about before marrying into Egypt.

I spent 25 very interesting years married to an Egyptian man whom I met in Canada while in grad school. We married and had our kids in Canada but we were visiting Egypt very regularly before we moved to Egypt. Some years while the kids were still very young, I spent a month or two staying with my in-laws while my husband would travel back and forth between Cairo, Khartoum and Toronto. When I finally moved to Egypt, I'd been visiting it since 1976 and had spent a fair bit of time exploring and learning my rudimentary Arabic. I had decided that I loved Egypt's chaos, its happy loopiness and randomness, and it was actually my idea to move here against all of my husband's objections. We had a good life, our children had a varied and rich childhood, and while there were some ups and downs, I wouldn't have missed a minute. I did NOT move here cold without having visited quite a bit, nor without knowing some Arabic (enough to do daily tasks fairly independent), and I knew (or at least thought that I did) my husband's family quite well. In other words, I probably made the transition from Canada to Egypt under the best of circumstances. I'm not sure that most other people will be so blessed. So here is my open letter:


Dear Whoever is thinking of moving to Egypt for a partner,

I really should have a sort of form letter for this because I don't know how many emails I've sent to people who are thinking of following a friend to Egypt. First, the reality of life here is not seen anywhere in the western media. Life here is nothing like what they show on the news or in magazines. It is not especially dangerous, but it is not a life for someone who is unaware of his/her surroundings. Tell all your friends and relatives that you are not moving to the moon or to the 2nd circle of hell. That said, there are some serious questions that you need to ask and answer for yourself before making any kind of permanent or even semi-permanent commitments to a life here.

1. Do you like living in Egypt? Is this a country that fits well with your lifestyle and personality?

This must be decided for you and you alone. Life is impermanent and people come and go in it. So if you think about living in Egypt, it's important to know that you would like living here with or without your partner. I suggest coming on a visit to see if you can cope with the life in Egypt, whether it is in the pollution, crowding, and excitement of Cairo or in the much slower life of the villages or smaller cities. Don't just visit the pyramids and museums. Go everywhere. Check out shopping centers and souqs. Talk to other people living here. Go grocery shopping. Try cooking. Look for a job ...if only to see if you would be happy working here.

2. Are you willing to learn Arabic?

It is possible in some places to live in Egypt without knowing Arabic, but to be honest, you will be missing out on most of the life here if you can't simply carry on a conversation with the people around you. Even a simple task like grocery shopping can be much more effective and interesting if you can ask what new foods are and how to prepare them. Getting lost is less of an issue and Surprise! many of the things that people say around you are not cause for concern. Written Arabic and spoken Arabic are almost different languages, but there are many language schools here in Egypt and abroad that will help you to learn the language.

3. Do you know what you are getting into? Relationships are complicated and more so across cultures.

If you are considering an alliance with an Egyptian partner, you need to meet his/her family. You never marry a person, no matter where you live, you always marry his/her family and their history. This is true of marriage within your culture and religion and even more true if you are moving outside of your culture or religion. Your partner's unconscious assumptions about the role of wife and mother or husband and father are determined largely by what existed within his/her family, just as yours have, and it's a very good idea to meet the role models, to say the least. As well, although it is totall unPC to say anything about social class or anything like that, if your family backgrounds are too different, the adjustment can be very difficult. With a new geography, new culture, and new language, why make things harder than necessary? The more you know, the better you are prepared.

4. Do you realise that every country has a different family law? What you are accustomed to is not necessarily what is going to be what you have to deal with here.

Learn about family law in Egypt and get a good lawyer to explain and protect your rights if you choose to marry and live within Egypt. Egyptian family law is currently closely tied to the family's religion and this must be understood and taken into account. As we are currently in the process of reworking the constitution and government (hopefully), much of this is still unclear, but most definitely the family law that you are used to wherever you live now is nothing like the family law in Egypt. Family law is the law that determines marriage, divorce and child custody. For example, a woman's rights to divorce and other things can be specified in her marriage contract...a legal document that is the basis of every Muslim marriage, while divorce is forbidden by the Coptic church. Inheritance is so complex under Islamic law, which will be applied to a Muslim family no matter what anyone might wish otherwise, that it almost is a course of study on its own.

These are the main points. You need to see for yourself. That's the main thing. Egypt is safe to visit, so you should. Think carefully and do what is best for you.

Wishing you all the best,
Maryanne



copyright 2011 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

19 comments:

Charlie from France said...

This is a great post.

As an aside, years and years ago you wrote a post about your housemaid? I think it was, who was getting married. What became of her? - I remember that post clearly because I got married around the same time in an Islamic country & was trawling round the internet for info!

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Sabrine is still happily married. She has two kids now and her husband works as head groom at a riding school across the road from me. They are doing great.

Stacey said...

I came across your blog when I was searching for advice on being in a cross-cultural relationship. Thank you Maryanne for your advice.

I am 26 and have been in a relationship with an Egyptian man (30) since December 2010 (my first visit to Egypt). I am going to visit him in July for one week, but will not have a chance to meet his family while I am there. They do not approve of our relationship because they want him to marry his cousin.

I am hoping that by spending time with him this July I will learn more about him and his culture. We are both Christian, but I am aware that Coptic Christianity is quite different from Protestant. I do worry about his intentions and how honest he is, but I hope to gain perspective on this during my visit.

I am an American but currently living and working in Africa (DRCongo) as a teacher/missionary. I love Africa, and really loved Egypt.

I would appreciate any additional advice you might have for me. Thank you for being so open and willing to share you experiences and wisdom.

Stacey

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Stacey, if you are going to be living in Egypt and his family is against you, that's two strikes right off the top of the game. Egyptian mothers in law are notorious, and rightly so, for interfering and causing problems. If you were going to marry your friend, find out where you'd be living. Would it be upstairs or downstairs from mom and dad? Cousin marriage is old school traditional and so is bringing the bride home to mom to whip into shape. We call it boot camp and it's tough. If you are not going to meet the family, at least see what kind of neighbourhood they live in...or you would live in if you are not living with them.

Again, my advice is to make sure that Egypt and YOU are a match even before you try to make a go of it in a marriage. Moving to Egypt can be tough. Getting married can be tougher. Moving to Egypt and getting married can do you in.

Best of luck.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Stacey, if you are going to be living in Egypt and his family is against you, that's two strikes right off the top of the game. Egyptian mothers in law are notorious, and rightly so, for interfering and causing problems. If you were going to marry your friend, find out where you'd be living. Would it be upstairs or downstairs from mom and dad? Cousin marriage is old school traditional and so is bringing the bride home to mom to whip into shape. We call it boot camp and it's tough. If you are not going to meet the family, at least see what kind of neighbourhood they live in...or you would live in if you are not living with them.

Again, my advice is to make sure that Egypt and YOU are a match even before you try to make a go of it in a marriage. Moving to Egypt can be tough. Getting married can be tougher. Moving to Egypt and getting married can do you in.

Best of luck.

hangover said...

Hello!
My name is Stanislav Natanzon and I'm a journalist of TV-channet 'EXPERT-TV' from Moscow (Russia). I read your blog with a great interest. We are prepareing a TV-story about countries of your region after revolution, and I would like to take an interview with you. Is you don't mind, write me, please: snatanzon@tv.expert.ru
Looking forwart to hearing from you.

marahm said...

Your advice works in reverse, too. I am an American, was married to an Egyptian for eleven years. We lived most of those years happily in Saudi Arabia.

Everything fell apart when we moved to the States. He had never lived in the West, and could not adapt well. We divorced, I am sorry to say.

I'm sure we'd still be married if we had moved to Egypt instead of the States.

marahm said...

Your advice works in reverse, too. I am an American, was married to an Egyptian for eleven years. We lived most of those years happily in Saudi Arabia.

Everything fell apart when we moved to the States. He had never lived in the West, and could not adapt well. We divorced, I am sorry to say.

I'm sure we'd still be married if we had moved to Egypt instead of the States.

Plumbing Supplies said...

Egypt is such a wonderful place. Egypt has one of the world's wonders. And Egypt also is a historical country. If given a chance i want to live here.

Annie said...

I really enjoyed reading this post and also hearing about Stacey's story has reminded me a bit of my own situation.

I also dated an Egyptian man. (For some reason, there is a definite draw there with me! Must be the culture.)We both, however, live in the states. Even though he is so far from home, it does not erase the strong family ties and tradition. You see, we are both Christian, but have very different beliefs. After speaking with his mother, and knowing his family's reaction, he broke it off.

I knew it was for the best, however, I let my emotion get the best of me, and after the fact realized I had fallen in love with him.

So in retrospect (as with all relationships) it is good to really try and understand just how strong those family ties are. I'm a very independant person and come from an abusive family, so it was (and still is, but I'm slowly learning) hard for me to really get and understand where he was coming from.

I would say address the family issue FIRST, before you do anything. You may be able to avoid much heartache.

...

Maryanne, I've really enjoyed reading bits of your blog. I'm still hoping to make it to Egypt soon. :-)

Lady said...

Hello Maryanne,

I came across your blog when I was looking through the "blog archives" I have been blogging for a long time, and have always clicked "next blog" and kept getting spam blogs or blogs that are written all in japanese. I didn't realize there was another way to look at people's blogs! :) Anyways, I enjoyed reading this post of yours. It's really interesting learning about another person's life in a different section of the world, and all the different customs and whatnot! And they you're right that the media don't show the "reality" of it, the life underneath it all. Everywhere there is some kind of chaos/drama, and if we kept ourselves away from such beautiful places because of this, then we wouldn't get anywhere, and just live in a boxed section of the world. I think Egypt looks like such a beautiful place, I loved learning about Egypt when I was in school. :) :) Thank you for sharing your post, and you're a lovely writer! :)

Terrance said...

For me, Egypt is mostly impressive with its mysticism. The historical heritage is only part of the wonderful atmosphere that this place offers. It's the feeling of secretive knowledge, legends and mystery that really gets you!

Terry

Danny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pakistani Lawn Collection said...

egypt is very beautifull country.. good place for everyone..

نادي حواء said...

thanks

Brad Vacation said...

I really love your blog, I always learn new things from it! I had no idea about the amount of people wanting to get in touch with Egyptians. It is very different there but I think is a good place to live in!

Florence Holiday said...

Egypt is an extraordinary place. I believe you can never feel such atmosphere and mysticism anywhere else. I’d love to go back some day!

Anonymous said...

Thanks

Egypt Travel Packages said...

Hi,


That is really great to read about the famous historic place Egypt and Luxor.Thanks for your interest.