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Looking Forward

Bank card in hand. Lease In the inbox. School starting Monday. Our Cairo adventure has officially come to an end. We are all better for having had it. 

Signing off.  

 

Limbo

It’s been two weeks since we arrived in Paris, and Tuesday felt like it marked the end of our transitional phase. Up until now our life here has felt somewhat dreamlike, but with the first day of orientation at the boys’ school today, reality has set in.

Aside from a few hours spent on campus, not much has changed in actual fact. We’re still in our temporary housing on what I have come to call Tourist Central. We’re renting a little flat right on the Rue de Rivoli, right next to the Place de la Concorde, and really, the only Parisians here are the ones working in the cafes. Actually, that’s true for pretty much the whole city during the month of August, but one feels it particularly acutely here. There are no real supermarkets and everything costs double what it would in a residential neighborhood. But we knew that coming in.

What was entirely unexpected was the ongoing serenade from the apartment upstairs. At least I think it was upstairs. Over the past two weeks I have become fascinated with the person who plays violin beautifully from morning to night. He (I have decided it’s a he) is incredible. This is no student. He plays amazing piece after amazing piece, with very little repetition. And it is serious, concert-level music he is playing.

At the suggestion of a friend, I decided I would write a note to let him know what peace and respite his playing has given me during this transitional and somewhat tumultuous period of my life, but after traipsing around the building and through the courtyard, I couldn’t figure out what apartment the music is coming from. The mystery just heightens the magic. I hope to someday find out who it is—and pay for the privilege of watching a performance. I have no doubt he (or she) is a professional.

The boys have been troupers, but I know that being unsettled the past couple of weeks has been hard on them. There’s been very little fun. We spent our first day here at the bank, and the next several days looking at apartments. We found one we liked and they seemed relieved once we started the negotiations, but then we found out the lease would be for less than a year and we’d have to do this all over again. I was so keen to give the boys some stability that I was willing to take the place anyway, but while waiting for various hitches with the rental agreement to be ironed out I found another apartment in the same neighborhood that works even better for us—and with a renewable lease. It’s still not finalized but I’m feeling hopeful.

The owner of the apartment very sweetly took me around the neighborhood and showed me all her favorite spots. Having a place of our own will be a big relief. Although I will miss the music. And there are still plenty of logistics to deal with: phones, sports registration, establishing residency, health care…all the fun tasks of starting life in a new city. Oh, and finding a job. Fortunately, the beauty of this city really does take the edge off, and our relocation agent has been a rock for me. I resisted hiring one but she has been a godsend. I will gladly pass her name along to anyone considering a move to Paris.

Going to orientation made the boys miss their Cairo friends even more than they already did. I’m traveling back to Egypt soon and am looking forward to seeing my friends there, so it’s a bit less painful for me. But I’m enjoying being out, too. Today I wore a short skirt (that wasn’t even particularly short) that I wouldn’t have been able to leave the house in in Cairo. It was entirely unremarkable here. There is a certain liberation in that.

Still, life in France has its own worries. Someone I know is planning a trip to Egypt and asked me if I thought it was safe. His message came the same day that the mass shooting on the Thalys train was averted. I couldn’t help thinking that, despite bombings and beheadings, in many ways we had been safer in Egypt than we were here. I’m not sure how long will be the case. There is by all appearances a growing insurgency there in spite of the increasingly repressive environment, but it has yet to become a real threat to ordinary civilians there. The same thing cannot be said for lone-wolf actors in Europe.

Lucky for me I don’t need to think about any of that. The fiddling is so lovely…

Exodus

Okay,

So it wasn’t exactly Biblical, but I’ll never experience a Passover dinner in quite the same way again. Getting out Egypt was an ordeal, to say the least, both logistical and emotional. We had to sell all the furniture in the house (which I didn’t quite manage to do, but thankfully O was there to deal with our aftermath), and cull for the movers. The boys were saying goodbye to their father and I was saying goodbye to the Tunisian. All very painful.

So here we are. In Paris. Setting up a new life yet again. There’s a lot to write about our last couple of months in Egypt and about our settling in here. So watch this space. The adventure continues.

What I Won’t Miss

 

 

After my last posting, quite a few people seemed concerned that I was upset about leaving Cairo. While there are plenty of things I’ll miss, there are quite a few things I won’t. Here are a couple of them:

 

Bugs

 

These are giant, winged ants. We are being overrun by them. The more of them we kill, the stronger they come back. There were hundreds of them outside the other night. I’ve abandoned the barbecue. I won’t be sad to leave these behind.

 

 

spider

This is the gargantuan spider probably still crawling around my house somewhere. I posted a picture of it on Facebook a while back and a friend told me it was very. very. poisonous. I know there are spiders in Paris, but hopefully I won’t be sharing a house with one as big as a quarter.

And speaking of Paris….I’ve been stressed about finding a place to live. Not that I’ve done much about it. I wanted an apartment to fall out of the sky. Today one did, a lovely little place that is, fittingly, near the Place de la Concorde, so we will have an obelisk to remind us of Egypt. And it’s on a direct subway line to the boys’ school. It’s not a permanent solution, but we will spend the first month or so there while we look for long-term digs near the Canal Saint Martin. And if anyone knows of a great apartment for rent near the Canal, I’m all ears.

I had a fascinating day last week visiting Garbage City that I will write about shortly. It’s been a busy time with work, end-of-year school events and going-away parties. The pace doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. And we’re in the middle of a brutal heat wave. But relief is in sight. I’m going to a conference on Russian-Egyptian trade tomorrow, and then the Tunisian and I are escaping to the beach for a few days, More to come from there.

 

 

The More Things Change…

I’m having an I’m not ready to-leave-Cairo moment. I can see what year three would look like here, and I’m disappointed I’m not going to have it. When you move to a foreign country you spend the first year totally clueless, the second year building routines and finding your feet and the third year solidifying friendships and refining. I’m there now, and acutely aware that I’m about to leave.

For example, I’ve joined a book group. I haven’t attended my first meeting yet but I’m really looking forward to meeting the people in the group. It’s a mix of expats and Egyptians. I was hoping we’d choose something Egyptian to read but, alas, we’re reading Achebe. Still, I’m sure it will be an interesting discussion.

What’s more, I’m finally getting out and socializing, both with expats and with Egyptians. I’m going to parties (three last week two this week) and having coffees, drinks and dinners. Last week I got together with a really interesting woman. She’d been the tour guide of a friend who’d come to visit me. She defied stereotypes: she was around 40 but never married–by choice. She was religious and culturally conservative, but strong and independent and knew her own mind and believed in herself as firmly as any woman I’ve met anywhere. I really enjoyed talking to her and hope to see her again soon.

I’ve also managed to travel a bit. The BF and I took a fabulous trip to Alexandria. I’d never been, and what a shame, because I liked it far more than Cairo. It’s got a real Mediterranean vibe to it. The quality of the light is totally different than that in the dusty capital, more luminous. Despite being visibly more religious (even on the hottest day the vast majority of women we saw were covered from wrist to ankle), the city feels more relaxed. And it was great to put my feet in the sand. It had been far too long.

Speaking of the BF…. the trip to Alexandria was our first time traveling together, and I was pleased to see that we seem to have a similar rhythm. Being in love with someone is one thing; being good travel companions is another. Fortunately, it doesn’t look as though that will be an issue with us. We had a great time. The Tunisian and I are in the second half of our first year together. It’s turned into a solid thing that has the feel of permanence.

The boys really like him but other members of my family are not as thrilled. Apparently there’s some concern about our different religions, in that he is Muslim and my family here is Christian. I was shocked when I heard that. Maybe I’m being naïve, but I didn’t expect that to be an issue in this day and age.

I think it says more about my family than anything else. I’ve been here almost two years and I’ve only been asked about religion twice; once by a cab drive and once by a security guard who used to work on our street and had a somewhat creepy obsession with my eldest son. I meet and hang out with a fair number of Egyptians and none of them seems remotely interested in what religion someone is.

I had a fascinating conversation the other day with a woman whose family is half Muslim and half Christian and in which people are free to choose their religion. While they are certainly not the norm here, I’ve found that the Egyptians I’ve met–mostly privileged Muslims–are more open-minded than my lifelong experience with my family would have led me to anticipate.

I suppose that’s to be expected, though; minorities throughout the world are more protectionist and rigid in their ideas, because they have more to fear and preserve. Still, I was disappointed–and surprised. My grandmother had a brother who converted to Islam to marry the woman he loved. He was shunned by the family and the story was kept secret from me and some of my cousins here in Egypt. I’m flabbergasted that nearly a century has passed and the same issues are at play and nothing seems to have changed.

 

Deport me!

moniqueelfaizy:

An insightful take on the state of affairs here.

Originally posted on a paper bird:

gallery_1238284997So they’re going to deport gay foreigners from Egypt. My phone started ringing a few mornings ago, reporters wanting comments: solicitous but always with a subtext of What’s going to happen to you?

I don’t know. The case involves a Libyan student whom police expelled from Egypt in 2008, after a complaint that he was gay. From back in Libya, he sued. This Tuesday, after seven years – the alacrity typifies Egyptian justice — an Adminstrative Court ruled that the Ministry of Interior did the right thing, under its power to”prevent the spread of immorality in society.” In fact, then, this isn’t a new policy. The court reaffirmed authority the state always had. Two years ago, for instance, a Polish citizen was vacationing on the North coast here with his Egyptian partner. The Pole grew seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. The nurses found their relationship suspicious and called the police. After several…

View original 3,926 more words

April in Cairo

We’re in that Spring/Summer transition here and I have some serious cabin fever. At least on the hot days. It hit 100 degrees last week and all I wanted was to be on a beach somewhere. A few days later it was freezing and I had no interest in going out at all.

Not that I haven’t been able to get away. I borrowed a generous friend’s house in Greece recently to get some writing done. The trip was logistically challenging and the weather was awful, but it was really nice to be back in Europe. It reminded me of what I have to look forward to in Paris. Yes, the boys and I will be relocating to Paris over the summer, and we will spend at least the next four years there.

I have mixed feelings about leaving Egypt. There’s still so much I haven’t done here, on the work front and on the tourism front. I’ve spent way more time stuck in Maadi than I would have liked, and not for any good reason. There are still a ton of places I’d like to see and people I’d like to interview and cultural events I’d like to attend. Oh, and Arabic I’d like to learn. Really, I could use another year here.

What I have, though, is four months, give or take, and I am working on making the most of them. I had planned with a friend to go to a lovely outdoor roast chicken restaurant out near the Saqqara pyramids last Saturday, but the weather turned cold and windy and it looked like sandstorms were a distinct possibility, so we bailed.

The BF and I are heading to Alexandria this weekend, and the weather there looks pretty nice. I’m really looking forward to it—I’ve been wanting to get up there for years, but have never been. I’m hoping this will be the first of many trips I manage to sneak in before I move.

Our leaving Egypt isn’t all bad —although I am dreading the apartment hunt in Paris. I’m not sure why. I’ve done it a million times before, but this time feels strangely onerous. I keep hoping that someone out there knows someone with an apartment to sublet in the neighborhood I want to live in and I can forgo the logistical nightmare. I guess two years between apartment hunts isn’t enough respite for me.

On the upside, though, it’ll be nice to live in Europe again. My time in Greece gave me a little reminder, and it was pretty great. There are all these little things you don’t even notice when you live in the West that, after being in Egypt, are such delights: orderly traffic, clean stores with pretty displays, organic food, safe and reliable transportation. Life is just less stressful, or at least the stresses there are have less to do with daily survival.

And yet, I’ll miss that aspect of life in Egypt. Life in the developed world is so, well, ordinary—at least for someone like me who grew up there. I’m sure if you were raised in the developing world and moved to the West it would feel pretty extraordinary. I remember when I lived in the Soviet Union hearing stories of Soviets hyperventilating the first time they saw Western supermarkets because they had never seen such overabundance.

Lack of options isn’t the issue in Egypt. It’s the uncertainty that gets to one here. We are constantly waiting for the next power outage, water outage or other imminent inconvenience. And yet…in the West where those things are so much rarer people find worries with which to fill their minds and time, so insignificant things often take on oversized importance. Living here taught me not to sweat the little stuff. I’m going to try to hold on to that perspective, but I’m not at all sure I’ll be able to in the long term.

On the political front, now feels like as good a time as any to be leaving. There’s certainly not much happening anymore that’s Arab Spring-like. Parliamentary elections have yet to be scheduled, members of the Muslim Brotherhood continue to be sentenced to death in Egyptian courts (and President Sisi just declared that anyone who was caught digging tunnels from Gaza to Sinai would also face the death penalty), and a court just ruled that the police could deport gay foreigners. How they’re going to decide who is gay, I have no idea.

Terrorism doesn’t show any sign of letting up, either. The assaults on security forces in Sinai continue, as do random bombings and shootings in the rest of the country. The Jerusalem Post recently published an article querying Sisi’s ability to tackle the problem, and it’s a fair question. It’s possible that the Brotherhood and related groups just have too much support inside Egypt to be quashed. That remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the regime’s repressive crackdown hasn’t had the desired effect.

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