What to love about Egypt

When I talk to people outside of Egypt and I tell them I live and work in Egypt, often they ask me questions like ‘What are you doing there?’, ‘Isn’t it hard to live there in these times?’, ‘Isn’t it hard to live there as a woman?’, or even ‘Why? Are you crazy?’. I don’t blame people for having a negative view of Egypt. It has not been in the news for many positive items: the world’s worst country for women, the world’s worst country for expats, high rates of child abuse and female genital mutilation, and of course the continuously changing political situation and the coupled unrest do not make for a nice picture.

However, there are good sides of Egypt. I started thinking about a few, but a whole lot more just kept on coming. Last time I wrote about Love and hate in Egypt (my apologies for the misleading title, there is a lot of love and hate in Egypt too, but that was not the actual topic of the post) and I had mentioned the people, the food (delivery) and the metro. There is a lot more.

When it comes to delivery, it is not only food from restaurants. Supermarkets deliver. Pet shops deliver. Call any kind of store and most of them will have a delivery service. This is incredibly convenient when you organise a party or when you have to buy things that are inconvenient to carry into a taxi (who will then try to overcharge you for the extra ‘load’). You just call Drinkies for the beer and other alcohol, your local supermarket for the soft drinks and bags of ice, and perhaps some fresh ingredients if you plan to cook. I often order from the pet shop. They deliver 12kg dog food bags without a problem. And they will always call before delivery, so in case you are not home, you can schedule a good time, or, like I did last time, ask them to deliver it to my office instead as it is only 10 minutes away from my home. Everything is super convenient and flexible. Love it.

The flexibility extends to other things. While you have to know that most shops are closed on Friday morning during the prayers, shops often stay open until late. Regular shops are open until about 10pm. Big shops like the Carrefour hypermarches and other similar stores and malls can stay open until midnight or 1am. And these times are even extended during the month of Ramadan! Amazing if you compare it to the Northern European closing times of 5-6pm.

Northern Europe also doesn’t have the Red Sea. Calm beautiful beaches, nice and clear waters, and hot spring and summer days. I have not yet travelled as much as I would like to inside Egypt, either due to the security situation (Sinai and the desert) or the weather (diving in winter or Aswan/Luxor in summer is not that comfortable), but I hope to be able to see a lot of Egypt before my time here is over.

Another thing I love is the cost of living. While I pay a lot for my small and modern apartment (I could get a cheaper place, but it would have been huge – for families – and equipped with furniture that could belong in an actual palace), the costs of food and drinks are low. I am addicted to Diet Coke, and a liter bottle costs less than a dollar. Dining out in a fancy restaurant will cost you about 21 dollars. A taxi ride from one side of town to the other will take you about an hour and cost you about 5 dollars. And taking a taxi late at night from the other side of town back to my area of Maadi will often go right by the Corniche, along the Nile. The view is beautiful, the roads are half empty if you go later in the night and the lights make everything look a lot more beautiful. This, coupled with some shabi music that the taxi driver is playing, often brings me into a higher state and I can’t help but smile and think ‘Cairo is beautiful!’.

And during some nights when you decide not to go home, but to go where the night takes you, you end up in some random bar, bumping into people you vaguely know, or you are invited to an after party at someone’s home and smoke some shisha while calmly discussing life events. Cairo is the real city that never sleeps and the randomness of Cairene nights makes it all a lot more fun. On those nights, I try to go home by the time I hear the morning prayer, which sounds a lot more peaceful as the streets are still rather empty.

And speaking of shisha, for someone who hates cigarettes and cigars, shisha are unfortunately very nice and addictive. And the variety that the places offer here are amazing. Each will have a shisha of their own (unless they want to share) for about five dollars. And the shisha guys will come change your coals when it is appropriate to do so. It’s lovely!

The blackouts that happen often (some weeks/months more than others) are rather annoying. However, I find myself smiling when the lights pop back on and I hear people cheering somewhere in the distance. People are loud, sometimes very much in your face, but people also love to celebrate. I think celebrating something in a down-to-earth way would perhaps be considered an insult. It’s beautiful how much effort people put into children’s parties, birthday, engagement parties and weddings.

I started with people and I am going back to people. It is not only that the Egyptians can be very hospitable and helpful. They are a strong people. The country is in constant change and the security situation changes day by day, but it seems to leave them unfazed. With everything that happens, the response is ‘We got used to it, yani.’ And I think I have to. The things that used to bother me, bother me a lot less. And what about what happens in the country? Well, what can you do. What can you do but to try to make the best of everything and enjoy each day. And that’s what I intend to do until I leave this crazy/beautiful country – and I will surely miss it.


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