Egypt Updates

Egypt Updates

Since August 2000 the city of Cairo, Egypt has been where I’ve called home.  I came with the intention of a one-year adventure.  Now, thirteen years later, I’d have to say that adventure is definitely what I found!  There’s no real easy way to live in this country, but yet there’s been no way that I’ve found to live without it.

Explaining it has been even more challenging.  It seems I’m always trying to dispel myths, clarifying misconceptions, even rationalizing my presence.  Prior to January 25, 2011 my efforts to describe life here were focused on demystifying fantasies of roads filled with camels and neighborhoods made of tents.  The watershed events of the revolutionary movement have shifted the topics of discussion, but have only resulted in more questions than answers. 

Those of us who have been living the experiences, who have been in Egypt long enough to be able to compare the ‘before’ and ‘after’, who have chosen to stay and continue our lives in this incredible place, are eager for those that haven’t to hear our realities.  Newscasts are not reflecting the situation fully or even accurately.  The good, the bad and the ugly all seem to be disproportionally represented. 

My Egypt posts on this site will hopefully redress that situation.  I intend to share the wonders I continue to discover as I live my day-to-day.  And

on this page in particular I’ll be keeping you all informed on current events and my opinions of them.   You’ll find a mix of reflective articles and simple updates.  I welcome questions and encourage discussion, either through the comments or by direct email.

My love for Egypt is not easy for even me to understand sometimes.  But I hope my words reflect the deep appreciation and true admiration I feel for the people who have welcomed me in this amazing country.

A great coffee shop in Khan El Khalili

My Life in Cairo

“But you’re coming back again, right?”  The tone in Mona’s voice reflected the look of sadness in her eyes. “Yes, yes!  Of course I am.  How could I not?”  My efforts at comforting her were genuine, but they only moderately succeeded in changing her demeanor.  Since the revolution began she’d seen so many of her friends, Egyptians and foreigners alike, make the decision to travel outside of Egypt and not return. 

"My rights have not been returned!"  Graffiti on the walls of the presidential palace, Cairo, fall 2012

It’s been almost two years since the infamous date of Jan 25 sparked a momentous shift in Egyptian life. My choice to live and work in this Middle Eastern country had always generated curiosity, not just from loved ones in the US but also from all of the friends and families I have grown so close to over my 12 years in Cairo. Since the revolution began so many residents of this country, Egyptians and expats alike, have made the decision to travel outside of Egypt and not return.  The curiosity about my choices has firmly shifted from the straightforward “Why did you move to Egypt?” into the much more challenging, “Why are you staying?”

Christmas with Mona and her girls, 2012

Admittedly, there’ve been moments when I hesitated in my response, not quite sure of how to explain.  There have also been times in which I questioned my own resolve.  I’ve had the opportunity recently to travel extensively in other countries and so the question is faced frequently.  The near constant eruptions of protests and targeted violence seem to erase the effects of the quieter, return-to-daily life phases in between.  The grounds for relocating are strong.  And yet, I still come back, time and again, to this hotbed of discontent and hominess. 

My favorite class for hugs!  Grade 1A, 2006

I arrived in Cairo with no plan to stay beyond my contracted teaching year.  While my original intent in moving to Egypt was adventure in an exotic land, I kept discovering reasons to stay “just one more year”.  More than a decade on, the life I’ve made here can no longer be described as an accumulation of excuses for not leaving.   Somewhere along the line, I shifted from visitor to resident, and it had nothing to do with the visa in my passport. 

Excavating mummified dogs, Abydos 2009

Why have I stayed?  What has made this swath of sand and stone my home?  How is it, that in spite of all the chaos, the violence, the confusion, the instability….I look to this country with a sense of pride and responsibility?  I have no clear answer for that.  Or rather, I have hundreds of answers that change constantly.  Some days it’s the phenomenal history that I now feel a part of.  Others it might be the fact that the fruit vendor on my street missed me when I skipped a few days of shopping.  I’ve worked as an educator in schools across the major cities so I’m invested in the country’s future.  I’ve been employed as an archeologist at sites that explore Egypt’s ancient past so I’m dedicated to highlighting the details of its history.  I am daily shaken by events connected to the ongoing revolutionary movement. 

Sunrise swimming in Alexandria, Eid Kabir, 2012

I’ve cried at funerals and births, attended many weddings, invited and hosted hundreds of international students, camped at desert destinations, celebrated holidays, found and lost love, purchased my own appliances, gone through many phases and shifts of careers, been treated in hospitals and attempted to bake my first soufflé.   In short, I’ve been living a life.  I happen to be living it in an extraordinary community full of extreme beauties and tribulations, and one that currently is undergoing tremendous upheaval.

My Alexandrian family, growing fast and furiously!

I think most of us have a family member who defies explanation, someone who requires a lot of extra patience and often induces eyeball rolling or knowing glances between the rest of us.  Yet their presence, however quirky, ultimately rounds off the dynamic that defines our community of relatives.  For many expats in Egypt, this is how we love the place.  Even at its best Egypt is a chaotic jumble of inconsistencies, unclear objectives and curmudgeonly charm.  And lately, one could argue that Egypt is not at its best. 

Baking holiday cookies with kids I cradled in my arms as babes.  

My loyalty to the community that I’ve developed in Egypt is fierce and full of mixed emotions, especially these days.  When I’m asked by my Egyptian friends if I’m returning when I travel, I do respond in the affirmative, but cautiously.   When I explain to my American family that I am staying in Cairo, I’m forced to validate my choice.  When I read the abundance of online articles touting the ‘amazing price discounts’ now available on Egypt packages and encouraging travelers to take advantage of the current ‘short lines’, I cringe.  And then I write lengthy replies highlighting the need to be fully aware of the security issues.

Planting pomegranates, definitely thinking long-term.  Imagine Farm, Alexandria

If asked directly about the safety and stability of Egypt today, I have to pause and gather my thoughts before proceeding.  This saddens me.  For years I’ve been one of this country’s most ardent recruiter of travelers.  I have a vested interest in Egypt’s success and I long for a return to the days where I can eagerly and without hesitation encourage journeys to this incredible place.  For now, I take the opportunity to promote caution, beyond-the-surface research, and above all greater awareness of the intricacies.  Short lines and discount packages do have their advantages, but they also have their good reasons.

Safety is still a substantial concern of the day-to-day living in all parts of Egypt.  Tourists and the traditional destinations they seek are still targets of politically motivated extremists.  The media still over and under exaggerates events.  And Egypt is still an amazing place to explore.  My heart is full of it.  My life is full of it.  

(Originally published on Examiner, Dec 18, 2012)

The Surprise of Egypt

Safari in Egypt, the White Desert. Notice the jeep?

"The stars that could be seen were uncountable….so numerous and bright that they more than made up for the lack of a moon as our jeep bounced through and around and over sand dunes of various sizes.  Our driver claimed he could see better without headlights.  As the mushroom-shaped chalk monuments the White Desert is famous for became obvious in the distance, I gave up my fear of accidental cliff diving and surrendered to the thrill of whipping wind....."

The full post can be read at my InTheKnowTraveler page under the title "An Expat in Egypt"

Is Travel in Egypt Safe?

“How big of a risk taker are you?”  When I am asked about the safety of traveling to Egypt these days, I always ask this question back.  A quick scan of current articles on the internet will yield a number of encouraging posts, all stating how important it is to support businesses in Egypt right now, how low prices are at this time, how friendly and welcoming Egyptians are to tourists that are willing to make reservations. 

All of these facts are true.  However, there are many additional facts being left out in these posts that every traveler has the right to consider when making decisions about safety.

Giza Pyramids from the west, Cairo, Egypt

Foreigners are being kidnapped in Egypt:  The majority of these kidnappings have taken place in the Sinai near the popular resorts.  Tourists traveling independently by car as well as a full busload of travelers have been taken.  All were eventually released after the military intervened.

Foreigners are being killed in Egypt: In one incident, a Canadian traveling in Luxor was shot.  In a second, a German in Cairo was stabbed to death.  There are frequent stories of others, however I have personal connections to these incidents and can vouch for their validity.  Violence does occur in every country and tourists are not immune anywhere.

Residents in Egypt are dramatically increasing their security precautions: People who live in this country, Egyptians and foreigners alike, are being extremely safety conscious in the day-to-day living.  Selecting which roads to drive on, and the times of day to be on those roads, carrying weapons in cars, hiring bodyguards to ride on school busses… If concerns of the locals have increased so drastically, this should be a factor considered by visitors as well. 

The violence is ongoing: Articles that discuss the values of visiting a destination after a major upheaval do not take into account that the Egyptian revolution is not over.  In addition to the daily protests, strikes and crimes, recent elections have stirred the pot again and tensions are very high.  Police presence and involvement is still extremely minimal.  Violent incidents occur regularly and general crime has increased considerably.

Tourism has long been the staple of the Egyptian economy.  The radical drop in visitor numbers has cost jobs and closed businesses.  Workers lucky enough to receive a visa leave their families in search of work abroad.  Most simply remain unemployed.  Without a doubt this country desperately needs a return of tourists.  It must also be stated that it is possible to travel throughout Egypt and complete a journey unscathed.  Choosing to travel here again is certainly a legitimate decision and tourists who do so will be rewarded with great appreciation and attention. 

However, to select Egypt as your travel destination without knowing the full picture is a dangerous game.  Articles that deny the security concerns are doing vacationers a tremendous disservice.  When researching how to invest your family’s time and money on a holiday, be aware of all factors that will affect your experience. 

A day will come when the warmth and graciousness of Egypt’s people will again be the main reason tourists select Egypt as a destination.  Those of us who have chosen to make Egypt a home, have a true love for this land and its people.  We are eager to once again speak without hesitation about this country’s security.  Until then, travelers must be aware when making decisions, and be cautious of articles ignoring the safety realities.

 (Originally published on Examiner, June 19, 2012)