You’ve done it, you have taken the plunge and moved to Cairo. Maybe you have been out on a reconnaissance mission or if you are very brave you have arrived blind, and what a time to be here. All of you will have been watching the Arab Spring unfold in your living rooms across the globe, and if like me you have googled Cairo to death you will have formed your own opinion. Well a word of warning….forget it, for any preconceptions you may have will be swept aside within a matter of weeks.
Cairo is a wonderful, crazy, miss match of contradictions, heart wrenching poverty, next door to designer retailers and each of you will need to find your own balance. How you choose to go about it will either enrich your life giving you life long friends and memories, or have you yearning for home. So, take a deep breath, head out with an open mind, and instruct your sense of humor to be on full alert, for the secret to surviving Cairo is to not take it personally.
The people who you meet on a daily basis are not out to wind you up, well not intentionally, not the taxi drivers, nor the microbus drivers nor any of the other drivers, they think how they drive is fine and who are we to say. Look for the positives, you can park anywhere the car fits for a tiny sum, yes 1le is acceptable, there are no traffic wardens, and if you miss your turn off a quick u turn or a bit of reversing usually sorts it. Petrol is sooooo cheap so go explore.
Ladies, cover up, you will save a fortune on sun cream during the day and mosquito repellant at night, you will even save on the botox too for those wrinkles come a calling pretty fast out here, it’s a no brainer. The weather is guaranteed, full on sunshine day in and day out, slip into your bikini at the weekend and oil yourself up, those vest tops when you are out for a walk just give you tan lines and that is never a good look.
If you are heading to the shops don’t bring a list, you are sure to be disappointed, you won’t manage to get all the items, and certainly not in one shop. Just head out with the remit to get something for the dinner for the next couple of nights, see what looks fresh and go for it.
Invest in a small camera and keep it about your person at all times. One with a sports option is ideal as this allows you catch snapshots from moving vehicles, and believe me you will not be able to explain to friends and family the magical sights you will see on a daily basis. I am not talking pyramids here, I’m talking about the five guys on a motorbike, the full house contents on the back of a pickup and the tradesman fitting the air-conditioning unit 11 stories up whilst hanging by a thread.
Everyone in Cairo stares, remember dont take it personally. They are not just staring at you they stare at each other too. If you are in the car and the bunch of guys in the adjacent pick up have decided you are the focus of their attention then smile, wave back. You will be rewarded with the biggest grins, take out your camera, although obviously not if you are driving, they will pose for you and probably get their phones out to capture you taking a photo of them.
Egyptians love kids, it’s their big soft spot. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with a couple of blond cuties you will be the centre of attention. First off explain to the said cuties that Egyptians think they are gorgeous. Tell them they think you look like David Beckham or Cinderella or some other age appropriate hero so they feel special and they will accept the stares and impromptu conversations more readily. You may have a diva in the making but this is beyond the realm of my advice.
If you didn’t manage to bring all the furniture you require then scour the Internet, print out a picture of what you want and jot down the measurements. Ask around, your driver, bowaab, the guy in the local shop or some other longer time served expat, you can have it made for a fraction of the price you would pay at home. Be very clear about what you want as they like to add twiddly bits if they think it looks too plain, if you are into twiddly bits this is great if not well you will grow to love it anyway.
If you are coming from colder climates all this heat and possibly a touch of the pharohs revenge will make you lose weight. Do not despair the tailors here are amazing you can have anything altered for a pittance, again ask around, they are excellent at copying too, not just clothes, witness all those designer handbags on display at very reasonable prices.
Learn the language at least some basics and definatley the numbers. Being able to communicate even in the most simplistic form can lead to some interesting encounters. Cairo is a frustrating, time consuming city where even the most ordinary task can take what feels like a lifetime, but, and this is the big one you will not change it. Don’t fight back against it, they have enough on their plate to be getting on with at the moment, chill out, go with the flow and it will all work out Inshalaah!