As our time in Egypt is coming to an end, I though I would write about some of the best aspects of living here. We’ve lived in Kafr Abdou, Alexandria for almost two years, and although we are very much looking forward to starting a new life in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, there are many things we will miss about Egypt.
1. The People
The people in Egypt are, on the whole, quite friendly. They are quick to laughter and often enjoy interacting with foreigners. Of course, you get the odd looney tune, like anywhere. Wherever we go in Egypt, the common greeting is some variation of, “welcome to Egypt.” Egyptians are often genuinely interested in where we come from, and what we think of their country. Being from Canada, I’ve noticed almost every Egyptian has at least one relative who has moved to the great white north. Many return to Egypt - too cold for them.
Another positive trait is that if you’re ever confounded by something incomprehensible (this happens often) you can be fairly confident that someone will rush to your aid. We were once on the train to Cairo and found our tickets were a week out of date. A family quickly came to our rescue, translated for the ticket collector, found us seats, guided us through the Cairo Station and even booked us a Careem (Egyptian Uber) to our destination. This kind of thing happens a lot. Just act befuddled and help will appear.
Also, Egyptians LOVE children. Unlike the Yukon, where we’ve been kicked out of restaurants at lunchtime because we have our seven-year-old with us, in Egypt children are welcome everywhere. They are also very much fussed over. In a good way. Most of the time. Blond kids are subject to a lot of hair mussing action.
2. The Language
Most Egyptians in the cities speak at least some English, but if you like languages, Arabic is certainly fun to try. I took Arabic lessons, however, even if you only know the odd word, any attempt to speak Arabic will generally garner a positive reaction. Even, my husband, whose Arabic is limited to yimeen (left) and shimaal (right) is generally rewarded with cheery smiles from the taxi driver. **Note: My husband had read this and wants me to amend that he also knows alatool (straight ahead) and he can mispronounce sabah el kheer (good morning). My most humble apologies to you, Richard, you are indeed a linguist.**
It’s a tricky language, but very rewarding to learn. For me, not only is it fun to speak, but the script is super fun to write. Almost any phrase looks elegant in Arabic. It feels great to be able a read a signpost, or a price label in writing that at first glance, looks like nothing more than squiggles (or a doctor’s prescription). Living in Egypt means that you will always have someone to practise with. And you get better prices at the market if you order in Arabic.
Egypt is littered with historical sites and stunning vistas. We’ve seen moray eels, sea turtles and pufferfish the Red Sea, we’ve spent many an afternoon playing in the waves of the Mediterranean, we’ve climbed sandy dunes in a 4X4, floated in salt pools, unwound in hot springs and sailed on the Nile. Then there are the historic sites. We’ve touched pyramids dating from as far back as 2500 BC (they were built when mammoths still walked the earth), we’ve visited temples that are ghostly quiet, and we’ve tread softly in ancient tombs, wondering at the intricate paintings and hieroglyphs. And then there are the times we just chilled by the pool. All without breaking the bank. Our favourite poolside spot only cost 25USD per night to stay.
4. The Weather
I’m always a bit thrown when people refer to the winter here in Egypt. With temperature lows of about 15C, it feels more like Yukon summer (meanwhile Yukon winter temperatures were often in the -30C range). Most of the time I can walk straight out of our apartment - no need for coats, scarves, mittens and all the paraphernalia of a Canadian winter. And then, in the fall and spring, when Egyptians still consider it to be cold (maybe 24C), we go to the beach and have it all to ourselves. Bliss.
Rain is a big event here. The kids at school go wild. Sometimes they need to be picked up from school early, kinda like a snow day. Once I picked my son up from karate in the rain, and his instructor was aghast that I was going to walk five minutes in the rain. Meanwhile, summer here is way to hot for my comfort. That’s when we usually escape to the UK. But hey, three out of four seasons ain’t bad.
5. The Vegetables
You might think this one is a bit weird, but honestly, the veggies here are just better. It might have something to do with how fresh they are. I mean, they get picked, get loaded onto a cart, pulled by horse into town, and you can buy the veggies right from the cart. Can’t get much fresher than that. The UK gets about 12% of it’s vegetables from Egypt, but they have to wait until it gets there. I get it the same day it’s picked. Oh yeah, and they are cheap. Sometimes when I pick up a few kilos of veggies and fruits, I feel weird just paying 20 EGP (about 1 pound). But hey, I’ll take it.
Egypt may sound great to you right about now, but I feel I must warn you, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Okay, well there is quite a lot of sunshine. But many aspects of life here are difficult to get used to. Namely the pollution, litter, crowds, terrible internet, the green water week of 2018, instant summer sweat and the plethora of bad drivers (who constantly feel the need to serenade others with their car horns). But you certainly can’t say it’s not memorable. We will remember our time here with some frustration, but a lot of fondness.