I’ve got to admit a little bit of a “young adult cliche” right now, I’m currently settling down in a Wifi-lacking cafe, using up all my phone data to, no, not do work, but download Pokemon Go. Maybe not the best use of my Vodafone data, but, I mean…how great would it be to say “yeah, I caught Pokemon in Egypt.”
Actually, trying to find the app was a bit difficult at first, had to reach out to a few Egyptian friends to find the right mirror app for the game. What can I say? I’m not very underground-tech savvy. Side note: I just got the app to download. I was going to type up a post about Cairo, but, oh my goodness, I am a Pokemon trainer. My chest is fluttering. This is so exciting. I can live my dreams through an app.
Okay, I’m back. My character is created and I’m officially sucked into the game as soon as I choose a starter. I’m officially one of those people.
Let’s get started on the post.
I arrived in Egypt on May 21st, about two weeks before the start of Ramadan. For most of those two weeks, I either stuck to Downtown and Zamalek before work officially started, or I stuck to the Giza office. For only a few days before Ramadan, did I visit the office in Maadi – which is a farther distance from the metro station than the other office, so I was able to see more places and things through my daily commute.
I didn’t really notice it until after Eid, but Ramadan really did affect the city much more than I previously thought. I thought it was just in the office and in the Downtown streets, but everywhere, the streets had changed.
After Eid, when I walk to the Maadi office, I have noticed there’s significantly more people walking in the morning – walking to work, walking to run errands, walking with friends. In part of my usual route, a cafe sprouted out. In my 15 minute walk, I tend to cut corners and cross the streets and take shortcuts at certain places. A few days ago, I noticed a cafe sitting in the way of one of my paths. It’s easy enough to walk around. But imagine my surprise when I walk a certain path 8 or so times a week, and there’s a sudden change.
There’s more energy around the office, and it feels great to be able to eat and drink again while doing my work. The work hours didn’t change, although I haven’t been working as much, since school work has been incredibly demanding lately. I’ve heard from others that their work gets highly restricted during Ramadan, and one Brit explained to me that his office would be open from around 11 AM – 2 PM, and then 8 PM – 10 PM, or something of the sorts. His coworkers would come in late, leave early, take a nap, and then come back in the evening to finish up work.
Ramadan around Cairo was great, however. At night, the streets were alive and everyone was cheerful, doing their own thing. Eid was hectic, especially downtown. Men filled the streets everywhere, going out to get food was daunting. Families and women were out as well, but that’s the thing about Egypt – you can’t escape the men. Or, perhaps “boys”. They like to hang out around the squares and watch others as they pass by…and I can’t blame them. I’d do the same if I were still a teenager. It’s just a bit awkward.
On the last day of Eid, I went out to meet a friend for a visit to City Stars mall. (By the way, terrible idea. City Stars, on the last night of Eid, was packed. Uber prices surged like crazy too.) I was by myself, checking for Uber, checking for my friend, checking Whatsapp, “where are you?” etc. While sweeping the square looking for my friend, I noticed boys just outright staring me down, whispering to each other, grinning. No subtlety, like the other boys sitting on the fence, glancing my way, or like the boys crossing the street who glanced at me as they passed, hissing “habibi”. No, these guys had moved to stand right next to me to check me out and didn’t look away when I frowned at them. Too obvious. What did they expect?
I crossed the street next to a few older, calmer looking men.
One thing I did not anticipate: Egyptian hospitality in the workplace. My coworkers are very nice, and although I’m not too sure how sincere their offers are, they do offer to grab me coffee, grab me tea, grab food, etc. During Ramadan, they would go out of their way to leave the office and buy me juice and bread (or biscuts or sponge cakes) from the store. I’m not quite used to this, it makes me feel a little bit like…almost as if I’m a burden. But I know this is not what they intend. I’m very grateful for their kindness.
Many offices also have workers, like office boys for small things like cleaning up, maintaining the space, and washing dishes. At first, leaving my coffee cups and any other dishes to sit in the sink made me very uncomfortable. I got used to it.
On this note, I also felt very uncomfortable asking for help at my apartment. It runs like a hostel, so they provide services. However, I felt very guilty asking for the staff to do my laundry, help me order delivery in Arabic, to even borrow a tub for washing my clothes. My roommates would ask the staff to clean their rooms, sweep and take out the trash, and this just apalled me at first. I know it’s a bit of a cultural difference – I’m so used to the idea of doing things yourself.
I’ve noticed that Americans try to be so independent, and this in itself has its own pros and cons. But, unless we’re just feeling outright lazy, we like to clean and take care of things ourselves. While speaking to both a friend from Egypt and a friend from India, this is what they told me:
In this culture [Indian / Egyptian], kids tend to live with their parents until they get married, and their parents take care of them in the meantime. In this sense, a mother might do all of the chores for her son or daughter, like the laundry, the cleaning, changing the sheets. Because of this, sometimes the kids can be very demanding and can’t do as much on their own, or else they go off, start their own family, and then dote on their children in the same manner their parents did on them. Some young adults travel to America with the purpose to learn how to be independent.
Whether or not that’s entirely true, it’s been very interesting to observe the living habits of my roommates and friends. Everyone is different, and although sometimes it can be very, very subtle, culture affects so many parts of how we live and how we interact with others. I have a friend who hates some of the other interns; he said some pretty derogatory, racist things about them and their nationalities. It’s definitely not ok to have that mindset, but I understand he’s a bit frustrated and tense from living so closely with people with different habits and customs.
That’s why it’s so important to be very mindful of yourself when you’re abroad. You represent yourself and you represent your country. It’s so, so critical to be mindful about our actions and interactions with others while we’re travelling.
Depending on how we act around other people, we may represent the best of our country, or the worst.
And this way very easy for others, who have not met anyone else from your country, to assume “oh, is this what all Tunisians are like? What does that mean for Tunisia as a country?”, along those lines.
But, easier said than done. Nobody is perfect. It’s difficult, but patience is everything.
Thanks for reading! I’ll be back with more posts this week about living in Egypt!