Saturday, September 13, 2008

Expat Focus: An Interview on being an expat in Egypt

-Where were you born?

I was born in the USA, in a city in western Pennsylvania.

-In which country and city are you living now?

Cairo, Egypt

-Are you living alone or with your family?

With my mother and my husband.

-How long have you been living there?

This is my third "permanent" move to Egypt, but this one will stick insha Allah (God willing). I have been in Egypt for 4 months now.

-What is your age?

Old enough to know better!

-When did you come up with the idea of living in that country (and what factors helped your decision)?

I have lived here twice before and visited many times. The idea to return permanently has always been in the back of my mind. The first two times I had my children with me. School here is very difficult--mostly rote memorization rather than actual "learning". It was too difficult for them to adjust. Now that they are all happily married and on their own, I decided to return.

The first 2 times I decided to live here, my decision was influenced by wanting my young children to know their father's family, and to speak, read and write Arabic fluently. Alhamdulilah they achieved that. I also wanted them to live in a Muslim-majority country, since we are Muslims.

This move was influenced by other factors. Living in the USA--far from my children--was difficult and lonely. Families are so spread out in the USA and gather infrequently. Life there is also expensive. And as a Muslimah, I felt alone there and cut off from my religion. Kind of like a fish out of water. Deciding to come here was not a difficult decision. I feel am am with my "own kind" here. My daughter, also married to an Egyptian, visits yearly. My two sons are planning to visit next year, insha Allah, and one of them intends to live here--with his wife--for a few years while she does research inti bird flu. Life here is less expensive than in USA--although some grocery items actually cost the same. But $ for $, the money goes much further here, alhamdulilah.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?

A visa for an American can be purchased at the airport for I think less than $10. I am not working so never had to get a work permit, but I hear it's not difficult.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?

I don't have any medical insurance. It is available but verrry expensive. Not sure I ever will bother with it. Medical care here is much cheaper than in the US, and if you find good doctors and hospitals (they are present here) you don't need more than that.

-How do you make your living there? Do you have any type of income generated? (if you have a job there, how did you get it? How long did it take you to get a job there and how hard was it to find one? What tools did you use to land a job -- a website, agency, etc.?)

I live on income from the US. However, as a native English speaker, there are plenty of jobs available here. Mostly teaching, translating and copy-editing. Bilingual persons fluent in both Arabic and English would have an easier time of finding a great job.

-Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language? (please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs)

I speak the local language--the Egyptian form of Arabic. It's called "lowgha amia"--the language of the public. I can understand more formal Arabic as well. It is extremely important to learn the public language to survive--especially so you don't get ripped-off or disrespected. Some folks insist on speaking only English (it is widely understood) and never make an effort to learn the language but that's plain stupid in my opinion. You miss a lot of wonderful conversations, learning experiences, and just plain fun that way. In addition, Egyptians are so grateful and kind to those of us struggling to speak their language. Expats must respect local customs. It's downright rude not to. You wouldn't want to be disrespected in your own country, so why show disrespect for other's customs while abroad. The world has seen enough of the "ugly American"!

-Do you miss home and family sometimes? (and describe your favorite recreational activities there or those that are available)

I do miss my children of course. At times I miss home, especially now that football season is here--haha. Nothing like a game day gathering with lots of yummy ethnic Pennsylvania foods. I am already thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and how I will prepare it here. And will surely miss the snow! But I intend to go back every winter for a visit, so I am sure I will survive well here between times. Truly, Egypt is now home.

I think every activity available in the US is here too. Anything you can imagine can be found here now. In fact, it's actually becoming a bit too westernized for my taste. I have always loved the local color and the simple life but things are getting very hectic here now, and some areas resemble America more than they do the Egypt I fell in love with. But time marches on and nothing stays the same. The important thing for me is I am surrounded by friendly and kind people, Muslims, and can hear the call to prayer and practice my religion on a daily basis. That's really all I need. Alhamdulilah.


Susie of Arabia said...

I enjoyed reading your interview and learning more about you. I know how hard it is to be away from your kids - my daughter is also back in the states. Is your mom living there permanently with you now? Wow!!! My mom would never come to Saudi Arabia!

Queen O'Danile said...

Yes I miss the brats a lot! The only drawback to being here. Mom is here permanently too. Never imagined it possible, but she changed a lot in the last few years since I started to take care of her. She's sooo happy here--and never wants to back to USA--lol.