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Posts tagged ‘Copt’

The Search is On

It’s been an exhausting few days here in Cairo, but, overall, good ones. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday looking at apartments in Maadi. The first few flats I saw were a bit depressing—one was very nice, but too small and too expensive for what it was, and the other two had grungy bathrooms and no outdoor space at all. The next day, though, I went out with a great broker named Monzer, and I liked every place he showed me. He made me feel much more optimistic about being able to find something we would all be happy in. It’s a little too early to be looking, though, as some of the places he thought I would like he can’t show until June 1.

All of the apartments we looked at were within two blocks of the school we applied to for the boys, and a few were right across the street. It would be great to be so close for a few reasons. First of all, the campus is huge and has a ton of places to play, and from what I hear it serves as an informal community center, so I think the kids will spend a lot of time just hanging out there. Also, school starts really early—around 8 am, I think—so being close will make it easier for the boys to get to school on time. T always wants to go to bed later, and balancing a reasonable bed time with his need for sleep is a constant challenge.

I toured the school on Tuesday. It’s an amazing campus, and it seemed like a happy place. It’s so big and spread out that it’s hard to get a sense of it, particularly the lower school. I got a better feel for the middle school, which looked fantastic. The kids are allowed to take electives, and there was one in which they design something on computers for the first part of the trimester and then build it for the second part. I think T will be very happy there.

I’m less clear what X’s experience will be like in the elementary school. I’m sure it will be great, but I am mindful of how upset he is to be leaving UNIS and we have been so happy there that I share some of his sadness on that front. I know the school in Cairo will be a wonderful experience, but UNIS has been a really special place for us. T, on the other hand, will be in heaven at the Cairo school, if only because there are ping pong tables in the recreation area where the kids hang out during their lunch hour.

Monday was a big holiday here called Sham el-Nessim, which marks the beginning of spring and dates back to ancient times. We went to my aunt Noona’s house, where the family gathers every Friday, too. She has a big villa with a swimming pool in a gated community in one of the many irrigated-green developments that have sprung up in the desert outside the Cairo ring road—respite for well-off Cairenes looking for an escape from the pollution and grime of crowded Cairo. I’ve been there a million times with my extended family, but this time her side of the family was there as well. What an eye opener that was. I don’t really know any of them. They were great fun and quite different from my side of the family.

I spent a lot of time talking to S and his wife Y, who I think will become friends once I move here. They were both great. S, it turns out, hung out with my brother when he spent a summer here as a 9 year old. He’s been very involved with organizing the Copts politically and started to tell me a bit about what they’re doing. There’s a great story in there. I didn’t have time to get the details, but will revisit the subject with him when I back in August.

Okay. The driver is here. Time to go back to Maadi with my father and look at some more apartments….

Machinations

The kids’ school applications are finished and I’m headed to Cairo in a couple of weeks to look at houses. I’m going with my father because he is the best bargainer I have ever known and I am well aware that my lack of Arabic will mean I’ll wind up paying double what he would. He’s being kind enough to come with me and help me house hunt, even though he thinks I’m nuts to be taking the kids to Egypt. He called the other day while our Arabic teacher was here and asked the professor to talk me out of going.

He’s not the only one. I’ve been meeting with Copts in the New York area for a story I was reporting for the New York Times Metropolitan section, and the consensus seems to be that I’m out of my mind. The reaction when I tell people I’m moving ranges from utter disbelief to real concern. Which I appreciate. Truly. I just think that Egyptian Christians are—understandably—so fearful about what the rise of the Brotherhood means for them, that perhaps they lose sight of the parts of daily life in Egypt that continue normally. And I get it, believe me. I was terrified the one time I was harassed there and couldn’t wait to leave. As a Times reporter who lived in Cairo for ages said to me: “Do I think you’re okay moving to Cairo? Sure. If I was your Coptic aunt, would I tell you not to come? Absolutely.”

On the upside, the word of my move has been filtering out among our more international friends, many of whom know people working in various jobs in Cairo. Although I already have one or two friends there and a handful of acquaintances, it’s nice to know that there is a pool of people I’ll be able to get in touch with on arrival. I love that part of expat life—many of my closest friends are people I met while living overseas. And, according to our friends here, the people they know in Cairo still seem to be enjoying themselves, despite the instability.

The kids seem to be dealing with the move in different ways. T has a friend who was in Cairo over the break and went to see the school the boys will—hopefully—be going to. Apparently it was so amazing that he’s launched his own campaign to persuade his parents to move to Cairo, which has T feeling gung-ho about the whole thing—provided I find a house where he can put up a basketball hoop. X is still adamant that he doesn’t want to go, and is pretty anxious about it, but we’re learning that underneath that carefree and blustery exterior is a worried kid. So we’ll need to carefully manage him, but it looks as though he needs some extra attention and thought regardless of where we’re living. I’m still convinced that this will be an enriching experience for both of them.

Beginnings

A couple of months ago, I had an epiphany. “I think I need to move to Cairo,” I told my husband, Oliver, while squeezing Colgate onto my toothbrush.

Oliver thought the move makes perfect sense. Pretty much everyone I’ve told since has thought I am insane.

By way of background: I’ve been working on a book about Egypt’s Coptic community, the Orthodox Christian minority there, for nearly two years, visiting Egypt every six months or so. But the situation in Egypt is so fluid, and things are changing so quickly, it’s nearly impossible to report a book remotely. I felt I needed to be there. What’s more, tensions between Christians and Muslims, which have been heating up for years, have reached a boiling point. This is a critical time for Copts in Egypt—not to mention, Christians throughout the Middle East—and their story needs to be told.

I have personal reasons for wanting to go as well, which I’m leaving intentionally vague at this point. Suffice it to say that I’m at that clichéd place in life: mid-40s, a mother, with 20 years of marriage and a lot of sacrifices for my family under my belt. I decided it was time I made a move that would benefit my career, not just my husband’s.

First, though, I had to sell the idea to my two sons, 12 and 8. Egypt wasn’t quite as foreign to them as it might be to other New York City kids, because my father is Egyptian and I’ve taken the boys to visit his mother in Cairo, although our youngest was only two when he was there. Plus, they are space-starved Manhattan kids, so all I had to do was promise them we could live in a house or ground-floor apartment with a back yard where they could erect a basketball hoop. Once a place to play ball was on the table, I could have been suggesting a move to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan for all they cared.

That’s not to say they don’t have their concerns. They’re worried of course, about leaving their friends, and they catch news reports about the various riots and killings that are plaguing Egypt these days. Overall, though, they seem to accept our assurances that we will be living in the safety of the expat bubble and going to a well-secured school.

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