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Posts tagged ‘Relocation’

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…

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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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