"Some people cross your path and change your whole direction." When I met my husband in New York City, I never imagined that a few years later I would be living in Cairo, Egypt. I have lived here for a few months now and I can sum up the experience in one word-challenging! However, even though it has been challenging, the experience has also been rewarding thus far. I've learned so much about myself and living in a different culture than I could have ever imagined. Since I left my career to move here, I've had to learn how to find other things to do that truly make me happy and feel fulfilled. I love to cook, travel, and photography, and the time here has allowed me to focus on these things that I may not have had a lot of time to do living in New York City. I've also had to learn to assimilate in a culture that is so different than the United States-the language, the fashion, the food, transportation-all things that are so different than what I'm used to, but I am learning how to adapt.
To sum up my experience, I want to provide the answers to the most asked questions that people have asked me thus far about living in Cairo.
1. Is it safe living in Cairo?
Yes, it is safe living in Cairo. The images shown on t.v. news channels about what is happening in Egypt in general and more specifically in Cairo are focused on only a small area of the city. Cairo is a bustling city of approximately 20 million people and there is security everywhere to keep people safe. For example, if someone goes to a nice hotel in the city or a mall, before entering the building, each person must go through airport like security. All cars entering into a parking garage must be searched by a police dog as well. This was a little bit challenging to get used to at first, but now I'm used to it as it is has become a daily experience.
2. How do you get around?
My husband and I have a car and have hired a driver to get us around the city. This is typical for most expats living in Cairo. Our driver is wonderful and the best part is that he speaks and reads Arabic and speaks fluent English! He has lived in Cairo for a long time and knows the city well as it is quite challenging navigating the streets. The city does have public transportation and taxis, but can be dangerous and unsafe.
3. What do you wear? Do you have to cover your head?
Cairo is a conservative city in terms of fashion. Most women cover their legs and shoulders and even their heads. In the area of the city that I live it is more liberal in terms of how women dress. Most days, I wear a long dress or jeans and shirts that cover my shoulders. I do not wear shorts, skirts (unless they cover my knees) or tank tops outside of my home. I do not have to cover my head. It has been somewhat of a struggle to express myself through fashion, but have found that I can still be fashionable and conservative at the same time.
4. What is the food like? Where do you eat?
The food is different than what I am used to. It is Mediterranean style-lots of chicken and rice dishes and anything with sugar (Egyptians love sweets)! There are a lot of American chain restaurants in Cairo-Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Papa Johns, KFC, Burger King, Chili's, TGI Fridays, Starbucks and even Dairy Queen! I have only been to Papa John's, and the food is similar to the food that can be found at a Papa John's in the U.S., however, you can't get a pizza with pepperoni or pork sausage in Cairo. My husband and I cook a lot from home since we have gotten sick a few times from the food here. If we do go out to eat, we stick to the restaurants in the nice hotels since the food preparation standards are much higher in these types of restaurants than in other places in the city. Our favorite is Ruen Thai located in the Dusit Thani Hotel.
5. Where do you shop in Cairo?
Cairo has many very large shopping malls that I have been to. I especially like going to the Festival City Mall since it is brand new and has a lot of stores that I would go to in the U.S. such as H&M, Zara, Gap, Ikea, and Bath & Body Works. In terms of grocery shopping, I go to a place called Carrefour which is similar to a Super Target in the U.S. There are other smaller grocery stores that I go to if I want to find American brands and food items that I can't find at Carrefour. And yes, there are places to buy alcohol in Cairo and even pork!
6. What are some other observations about Cairo?
The city is quite beautiful, there are so many things to see and do! My favorite area so far is in an area called Garden City, which is located on the Nile River. I especially like going to the Four Seasons at Nile Plaza which is located on the Corniche. The hotel boasts spectacular views of the Cairo Tower, the Nile River and the Cairo Opera House and has many wonderful restaurants. The weather here is quite hot, especially in the summer, but the sun is out everyday and it rarely rains here! Another positive about the city is that a lot of people do speak English, especially in the higher income and expat areas.
One negative aspect about living in Cairo is that ALMOST EVERYONE SMOKES! When you go into most restaurants, they expect that you smoke and look at you funny if you want to be seated in the non smoking area. Women are even allowed to smoke in the hair salons (I have found one that prohibits smoking, but most allow it). This unfortunately has limited the places that my husband and I go. Another negative is the crazy traffic. I have never seen such craziness on the roads, as nobody here abides by the traffic laws. I typically get in the car with the driver and I don't look at the road as it can be quite stressful!
This sums up my experience living in Cairo thus far. It has overall been challenging, but rewarding at the same time. I am excited to get more immersed in the community and learn more about what the city has to offer!
If you have any questions about Cairo , Africa or more generally about living abroad, I would love to hear from you!