Surviving Cairo

I recently received a message asking about safety in Egypt, how it was settling in as a woman and how I dealt with living in Cairo. The answer requires several blog posts, but I sent the following reply instead. This could be the start of a ‘Surviving Cairo’ series (sounds like it would need its own blog, actually, but let’s scrap that idea for now!).

I understand the concerns of your family regarding Cairo’s safety, as it isn’t in the most stable political position at the moment, and recent happenings are a cause for concern. However, I generally believe Cairo to be safe, and I honestly wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t the case (especially since my employer would have all British nationals evacuated as we were during the revolution!).

Having said that, I have what I believe to be the advantage of being a woman of colour and a wearer of a headscarf, and thus my experiences might be somewhat different from someone who is openly viewed as being foreign. People usually can’t work me out because I dress as a Muslim woman, I’m black (like a Sudanese or even Nubian would be) and thus do not get hassled or bothered… and people make the mistake of speaking Arabic to me as though I would understand! This is all until I open my mouth and English spills forth; I am more of an amalgamation than some can handle, so I stick to the ‘From Nigeria’, response when asked where I’m from – London is not believable!

Let it be known, though: Egyptians really LOVE foreigners, as we are seen as being great spenders and thus a boost to the economy. They also love the opportunity to teach you: whether about religion, history or Arabic – everyone has a treasure to share, in my opinion.

The fact that Cairo isn’t teaming with foreigners post-revolution has led to staring being more in-your-face than usual, and in markets you are roped in left, right and centre! There is nothing harmful about it at all – people just want you to buy from them in order to be able to feed their families.

Living in Cairo isn’t for everyone: it is fast-paced, loud, hot, dirty, dusty, polluted, crowded and a few other not-so-nice adjectives. But I honestly LOVE it and take all of the above as being part of its character, and what makes Cairo unique and special for me. I must say, it can be daunting and even tasking at first, but once you learn to dance along with its rhythm, you become part of the Cairo beat.

Having friends around you is a MUST… really. I had three months of serious homesickness due to language isolation and generally lacking confidence in dealing with people who are more full of life than me – it was one of the lowest points in my life, and I could’ve easily gone back to the UK . But I’m glad I stuck it out – if there’s anywhere to learn about yourself and grow as a person, Cairo is the place.

In short: I think you’ll be fine, and you’ll love the cultural enrichment while here. I’ve learned so much in the 8 (almost 9) months that I’ve been here, and still feel that I’m learning.
– The Londoner

Some ‘blasts from the past’:


Posted on May 21, 2011, in Ruminations about Cairo, Surviving Cairo, Thru The Londoner's eyes and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Salaam aleykum,
    Just wanted to thank you for your timely post. I am married to a wonderful Egyptian man, and we will be moving to Cairo within the next 2 months. I’m an Aussie woman, I have fair skin and red hair, and I’m not Muslim. In trying to prepare myself for Egyptian life by trawling through various Cairo-based blogs, I have heard SO much about the harrassment of women there, and especially when viewed against the backdrop (or foreground) of political instability, I was beginning to freak out about what was in store for me! We’re living in Belfast at the moment, so it’s particularly comforting that you’re from the UK. Anyway, thanks again for your efforts – it’s a great blog! 😀 Take care of yourself.

    • Thank you for commenting, Mel. 🙂 I will definitely be doing more in the Surviving Cairo series… I have a few in mind: Surviving Stares; Surviving Peddlers; Surviving Sleeze… even Surviving the Heat! Seriously tho, the previous comment is very helpful : loose cotton clothes are great (and a Surviving the Heat no-brainer too… I don’t understand the donning of tight clothes in the heat – it only aids heat retention!)

      I am having an overdrive at the moment for Surviving Cairo – thank you for the inspiration! Please do stay in touch – would love to meet you when you arrive.

      – The Londoner

  2. Great informative post. glad to see your settling in again after the revolution:)

    Mel ive lived in Cairo for 1 year now and have never been harassed once, but i guess that has something to do with the fact i look Egyptian and so blend in well! I would suggest wearing long loose cotton clothing (which is better in the intense Cairo heat) and just ignoring any men who try to talk to you, as you are under no obligation to talk to them. Also throw out your western politeness and be a bit hard on people so that they don’t walk over you. Im not saying be rude but know that you can say NO when you want to. Get in touch with me if you need any help settling in when you arrive here. Which part of Cairo will you be moving to?

  3. Teacher, you are always inspiring me as an Egyptian….I am still insisting on having your CAIRO VIA LONDON book out to the Egyptian crowed, and I am ready for help in the graphics and text editing, wish to see it at VIRGEN, DIWAN or SHOROK one day isa
    Carry on ….. Teacher.

  4. Thanks for your encouragement, girls. I will most definitely be wearing loose cotton clothing – it seems a no-brainer indeed, but I live in Belfast at the moment, and you wouldn’t believe what little clothing some women wear, outside, when it’s 6 degrees, so I’ve given up pondering some people’s choices! It’s really lovely to have invitations to meet others before I even arrive, and it goes a long way towards assuring me that I will ultimately love Cairo life. Thanks a million, ladies. I will be keeping in touch 🙂

    I have no definite plans for where in Cairo we’ll live, we’re giving ourselves a couple of weeks to check out various areas once we land. I think Maadi will be out of our price range, but I would certainly like to live central to ex-pat facilities. If you have any suggestions, I would certainly welcome them!

  5. P.S. ‘Cairo’, thanks so much for your tips on throwing out Western politeness, it’s great advice from what I hear: I will certainly bear this in mind and practice my poker face 🙂

  6. Mel-maadi isn’t expensive it just depends which area of maadi you live in. We are paying less than 2000 egyptian pounds for our 2 bed flat per month. you just have to look around, but if you want an area with ex-pat facilities then i would definitely recommend maadi or zamalek (which is more pricey).

  7. its a fully furnished flat in new maadi. you don’t tend to find any ex-pats in our area but its has all the facilities you could need including the usual fast food outlets, supermarkets and cafes.

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