Most of my year in Egypt was spent living in Cairo. When people ask me “so, what is it like living in Cairo?”, I don’t know how to sum up my experience in a few short words. The question itself is too general for me to answer. It is so hard to explain the good vs. the bad to someone who never travelled outside of the developed world and thus do not understand. My positives tends to turn into negatives in their eyes.
I recall a casual conversation I had with an acquaintance. He seemed genuinely interested in knowing what my experience was like in Egypt. But by my third sentence, he said “I would never go to a country like that.” In my mind, I haven’t even started talking about the bad part.
It irks me that some people would misunderstand Egypt like that. Egypt (Cairo) is not a place for materialism. Imports are very expensive, especially by local standard. I lived in a very good apartment in Cairo. However, if I show a photo of it, you may disagree. But what are you expecting from a country which is suffering a 40% illiteracy rate? Why ask me “how is Cairo” if you already have an answer?
People often overlook why someone would go to an undeveloped and unknown country like Egypt. Whether it is to step out of the comfort zone, or to learn something new, or to explore this part of the world, one already expect to take the bad with the good. One cannot happen without the other. The dirty roads, the loudness, the overcrowded metro, just to name a few — these were not things I looked forward to, but things I expect (a little research on the web before departing is so helpful) to happen by accepting the chance to get to know this country.
Growing up in China helped me prepare for Egypt in a way. My first impression of Cairo is — this looks like China, but rewind 20~30 years. Instead of making a
boring long list of the good, the bad, and the ugly, I will stay away from the facts that you can easily find online (the crazy driving, the loudness etc).
The main thing that I really wished Cairo would have is more heterogeneity. While I love Egyptian food, it was hard to find food outside of the Arab world. Though a definite side effect of living in cities with much more diverse population, it became hard to satisfy my cravings from time to time. This also extends to entertainment. While It was nice to have shisha with your friends after work sporadically, it isn’t something that I look forward to do everyday. The question is, what else is there to do? I can probably count it with my fingers.
As for the good part, this deserves its own blog post. I will just mention 1 of the biggest takeaway for this post.
The attitude of the people: Everyone can learn from their attitude. With so many political changes happening in the country and many social issues happening, you’d think they’d be sad and worried about the uncertainty in the future. No at all. No matter what happens, at the end of the day, they can make fun of the situation and laugh about it.
In the words of many travellers, it is never about the fancy hotels, the luxurious meals, or even the most magnificent scenery, it is always about the people! To Cairo, with love.