Thursday, July 29, 2010

The verdict on Cairo

Enough about Dubai. Our Egypt time is coming to an end, so let's write about that, shall we?

I'm not going to lie: I am more than a little excited to leave Egypt.

It's not all Egypt's fault. I never quite got over being in Cairo instead of Alexandria. I was so sad to have my Mediterranean Summer taken away from me on such short notice. And before we came here, since I thought that we were going to be in Alexandria, I gave myself license to continue to dislike Cairo as I have ever since my first visit here in 2004. Then, to end up in Cairo after all...well, it was hard to take.

Then there were the petty unmet expectations. The apartment we were going to live in in Alexandria had a washer; here in Cairo, we do the laundry in the bathtub. The Alexandria apartment had two bedrooms and AC in all the rooms. Here in Cairo, we have AC in only one room (the bedroom) so we sweat all day and then sleep all together in one room at night. And to think I was stressing about having the girls share one room in Alexandria. Ha.

(And now that I think about it, we've had to share a room with our kid(s) all summer every summer since 2008. This trend is disturbing to me.)

I really try not to be an AC snob but seriously, when it's 113 degrees outside (true story) and you don't have AC, that's HOT. Especially for little girls who want to run and play inside, since they can't outside.

Which brings me to another factor that contributed to my negative opinion of Cairo: there are no public spaces here. I've never seen anything like it anywhere I've ever lived. There is nowhere to go play, unless you pay $4 each way for a taxi to al-Azhar Park, which is literally the only park in the whole city. Of 18 (or however many) million people. Ridiculous! And once you get there, your kids can hardly play for all the pictures being taken of them. We let the girls run around a few times on the patch of grass near Canal Street, and snatched a few games of tag on another patch of grass outside an apartment building down the street. But it was always in fear of an overzealous bowab kicking us out. Everything is about private clubs or schools. We sent Miriam to a summer day camp in our neighborhood for a few weeks in part because it granted us access to their nice playground. That was a lifesaver, while it lasted.

Another thing that started to irritate me about Cairo almost immediately is that it is so IN YOUR FACE. I mean, the entire Middle East is kind of in your face, but Cairo kicks it up a notch. Everything is so aggressive: the poverty, the heat, the smells, the humanity, the amount of unfinished construction everywhere, the garbage, the dishonest taxi drivers, the traffic, the attention you get as a foreigner. Aggressive and in your face. It's exhausting, on an absolutely daily basis. Syria and especially Jordan are positively introverted in comparison. I didn't think it was possible for a Middle Eastern country to be considered introverted to any extent, but there you go.

Then there was the matter of our stroller getting stolen, and having to buy a new one, and a guy stealing 40 bucks from Jeremy under the guise of charity (oh, did I not tell you that story? Perhaps because it made me die a little bit inside), and that one time I put a cough drop in my mouth without looking at it first and when it felt a little fuzzy I took it out and it was covered in ants and so was my mouth, and me getting groped, and how we were constantly sick from how filthy this place is, especially poor little Magdalena, and when she coughs you have to laugh and say, "she coughs like a real Egyptian!" and then realize that is the saddest thing ever and not funny at all. So there was all that, too.

Thank goodness we had friends to help make it better when things got really tough. I would almost be to the point of saying the words, "I hate Egypt!" and then someone would invite us over for dinner, or to watch a world cup game, or to Maadi Club for a swim. And that was usually enough respite to carry us through for a while longer.

It's not like I regret coming here. It's brilliant, really, because now we know for darn sure that we never want to live here ever again unless it is an exceptionally (EXCEPTIONALLY) sweet setup. And even then, it would be a hard sell.

Sorry, Egypt. You took so much and gave not enough back. I think we can both agree that is not a healthy relationship.


Sherwood family said...

Even though you won't miss Egypt, we'll miss you and your girls. Living here permanently isn't as bad, though, when you have the safe haven to retreat to and Maadi House for some fresh air. But it is really rough when you can never get away from it. Especially in the summer.

Liz Johnson said...

You guys really did get the short end of the stick on this one. Alexandria looks like a far more hospitable place to live. But hey, it was an adventure, right? It's sort of comforting to know that other people have places they don't like as much when they travel. It makes me feel like less of a travel snob. :)

breanne said...

Umm, that story of the ants on the cough drop did it for me. I can see why you are ready to leave! I loved Egypt the second time I was there--but I was only there for 2 weeks. :)

Nancy said...

We have sworn not to return to the Middle East unless we have a "sweet setup." Doing Egypt on your own is so totally incredibly rough...but we loved it!

We had a code word to warn each other of when we were hating life. I think I used it more than Andrew, but it was a good indication of when we needed to Otlob (yes, we use it as a verb) or go to McDonald's for ice cream or something. The phrase was "Egypt Day" and it was used like this, "I'm having an Egypt Day today," and it means a day that we felt victimized by the entire country and felt that we deserved a little treat just for surviving and pity the Egyptian who attempted to raise their price by even half a pound that day. :)

But there were those "I love Egypt!" days, too. The ones when you hop in a taxi and drive over the Nile and think "I'm driving...over...the NILE!" or when you look out a window and see the pyramids and think, "I'm actually in Egypt!" or when you hear the call to prayer, which I happen to enjoy (except, perhaps, at 4 in the morning) or when you find the best-tasting mango in the world and pay almost nothing for it, or when you invent some solution to a problem that has been plaguing you for some time or...

Anyway...I'm sorry that you didn't like Egypt. I think with a little more time (and a washing machine and elevator and job that came through 100%) you would have enjoyed it better. :)

Bridget said...

I realize this makes me sound like a total snob but I think that four things could have really turned this summer around: AC, reliable internet at home, an elevator, and a washer. Those last two weren't huge deals, but still. Sometimes it took all the energy I had to just get to our building - and then it was time to climb five flights of stairs while holding children/groceries/stroller so it doesn't get stolen, etc.

Myrna said...

I was only in Cairo for a week last year visiting Nancy and it was the hardest bit of tourism I ever did. I had not been too worried about Nancy and her family before I went, but after...I worried. So I totally understand your POV. But, I am so glad I got to go there, too. It was awesome in many ways! Then again, I only had to last a week.

Jennifer said...

Bridget, you are not a snob!! As I was reading through your post, I just couldn't believe all the things you've put up with!! 5 flights of stairs--with kids in tow?? 113 degrees??? No AC?? Um, I would have been really, really grumpy.

You are amazing for doing it and surviving. I really hope you have a sweet set up to look forward to in Dubai!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Egypt is a real handful to deal with. There were aspects of it I liked when I was there, but I thought Syria was a much easier place to be.

I don't know if this will make you feel any better about not staying in Alexandria this summer, but I went there once by myself and ended up being pursued by packs of preteen boys shooting pellet guns at me. So...I ended up preferring Cairo.


Susanne said...

I think you handle most everything with an amazing attitude. You show a lot of goodness and grace...and humor.


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