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Monday, July 25, 2011

What I will miss most (and least) about Cairo

In two days, we'll be leaving (and yes, on a jet plane), and our time in Cairo will be done.  Everything we've been doing lately has been imbued with the emotional significance of 'the last time we....'

Some of those things I've thought of with regret, and others with a sense of relief.  Just like any place we have lived and will live, there are things I love and things I can live without.  One of the things I love about the Foreign Service is being able to have so many opportunities to find new things to love that I didn't even know existed.  One of the things that drive me crazy is finding new and inventive ways to be tortured by living conditions in foreign countries.

So without further ado:

Ashley's Cairo top (and bottom) 10 
10. The greenery (I'm really not kidding).  Despite Cairo being surrounded by desert, or perhaps because of this, Egyptians love plants.  And plants love Egypt.  Flowers bloom all year round, with some sort of tree blooming at all times.  Trees line some of my favorite streets in Maadi with glimpses into beautiful tropical gardens.

Tipping.  The last time I flew and a flight attendant took my trash, I had the irresistible urge to hand them some change.  Almost everyone here wants a tip, but there is the problem - almost everybody.  If only somebody could compile a comprehensive list of everyone in Cairo, whether or not they should be tipped, and how much the tip should be.

9.  Getting around.  Cairo is a city, and a very dense city at that.  Although we live in a 'suburb' of Cairo, 95% of the people live in apartments.  And so everything in our neighborhood is walkable.  But if we don't feel like walking, there is always a taxi waiting to take us where we want to go.

However, part of the reason there's always that taxi waiting, and honking, and asking if I want a ride is because, with my blonde hair and scandalously naked calves, I stick out like a sore thumb wherever I go.  I love being in the US where nobody gives me a second look.  Who knew anonymity was so precious?

8.  Egyptian food.  I've never heard much praise of Egyptian food, but I think that it's a seriously under-appreciated cuisine.  Especially the aeesh - local pita bread.  I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to replicate its chewy, soft texture and never get it right.

The maintenance.  Or rather, lack of it.  Everything here has chipped corners, water leaks, eighty-six degree right angles, sagging facades, and corroded bases.  I've watched, over my two years here, brand-new buildings decay into patched-over, dirty replicas of their neighbors.  The whole country gives one the impression of constantly sliding into one enormous midden heap.

7.  The produce.  Oh, the produce.  When I read in Exodus about the children of Israel complaining about the leeks and the cucumbers and melons, I truly feel for them now.  Rere and I were talking about jam the other day, and I realized that nobody here makes jam because there is always fresh fruit available any day of the year.  And it's cheap.  And it's local.  And it's absolutely delicious.

Summer weather.  Of course, some of that deliciousness is because of the weather, and I have to pay for my incredibly sweet cherries with incredibly hot weather.  Between the months of April and October, the children and I spend most of our time inside or at the pool.  And that's it.

6.  Winter weather.  The flip-side of summer weather is winter weather - the time of year when I look at all of that snow-fall in the US and feel smug while I drink my freshly squeezed orange juice while the children play in flip-flops at the park.  I just wish I hadn't missed six months of it.

The dust.  And the trash.  The dust is nobody's fault - Cairo is in the middle of the Sahara, and so winds constantly bring in fine, fine dust that coats everything in sight - the trees, the cars, the railings, my children whenever they go outside.  And since we're in a desert, no rain ever comes to wash it off.  The trash, however, is somebody's fault and nobody does anything about it.

5.  Maadi House.  It's our own little slice of heaven, with a pool, a restaurant, and a playground for the children.  I can almost always count on meeting someone I know there, and I don't stick out like any kind of thumb.  It's been our second home while we've been here.

Which is good, as we live in an apartment with no yard.  If it weren't for Maadi house, we'd have gone crazy, especially as there is no other green space to take the children to play in.  Luckily the apartment is large so the children can ride bikes inside instead of out, but in the end, an apartment is still an apartment.

4.  The branch.  It has been our family while we've been here, watching over us and helping us more than we've returned over the past two years.  We'll always remember the wonderful times at church.

Being dependent.  This is really something that comes with living in any foreign culture - you just can't go out and get something done yourself.  There is no phone book, no Home Depot, no library with do-it-yourself books.  Any time I want to get something done, I have to have somebody else do it for me.  Which, as nice as it may sound, gets wearing sometimes.

3.  Rere.  Need I say more?

My children's celebrity.  If I stick out like a sore thumb, my children are movie stars.  We tried a few times to take them out in public to the park or zoo, but quickly gave up when we were stopped every ten feet for pictures.  Everyone was nice, everyone was polite, but when everyone is fifty people, I get a little cranky by the end.

2.  Mangoes.  I think that mangoes are the supreme act of creation.  They could also be called ambrosia.

No car.  My favorite part of being back in the US was having my own car.  It was our choice not to bring a car, but I am never doing that again.  I am too American; I can't stand not being able to go somewhere without the aid of someone else.  I can't wait for home leave when I will have that beloved car back again.

1.  Friends.  Of course this had to be the number one thing I will miss about Cairo.  And it will be the number one thing I'll miss about every single place we live.

So that's our two years, in a nutshell.  We will miss Cairo, but we're also looking forward to the next adventure!


Anonymous said...

Great wrap-up. This could be a Real Post Report!

Camille said...

Wonderful post :)

Unknown said...

That says it all. Though I miss being able to order everything in, too, when I was just to tired (or too hot! Same thing, right?) to go out. Ah, otlob!

dixonfamily said...

I'm so glad you have enjoyed so many aspects of living in Egypt. I'm so excited you are coming back to the US for a while before heading to Baku and the next adventure. We are excited to see you guys. Travel safely!!Love you!!

UnkaDave said...

Thank you for the post, Ashley. What an experience, both the good and the less-good. Have a good flight!

PaulaJean said...

I'm glad I made a short visit, but will always be a bit sad that we missed our long-planned really cool trip because of that pesky revolution. And I agree that the produce is amazing!