Looking back at my expectations of what Cairo would be like before I moved there makes me chuckle at my own ignorance. Despite the fact that I watched different videos and read books about Egypt, somehow I still had this image of Cairo being just like Vancouver, only a little hotter. I can still remember the picture I had in my mind; I would be sitting in the livingroom of our flat at 3:00 am, jet-lagged, looking at the lights of the city, and feeling the sensation of warm air on my cheeks.
My illusions were first tested when I talked with my father after he arrived in Egypt. My first question I had for him when I picked up the receiver was, "So, how is it?" "It's crappy," he said, with an uneasy chuckle.
This experience alone did not yet change my outlook, but for the first time, I began questioning my expectations of what Egypt would be like. As I found out the first day I landed in Cairo, neither of these images was even close to reality.
My first days in Cairo could only be described as depressing. I never felt so down before or since. Instead of arriving in the land of the Pyramids, I felt like I had arrived in the land of poverty, dirt, and garbage. I can still remember driving from the airport to Ma'adi, and seeing poverty like I never could have imagined before. The street that I lived on was considered to be in a nice, "American" neighborhood, and yet there lay a dead cat and piles of garbage. I felt lonely because Ididn'tt see any North American kids like myself. Later I found out that most of them left Cairo in the summer to visit family in the United States. The weather, along with the jetlag, also took their toll. While I was used to mild summers, and rain at least once every 4 days, the scorching temperatures and loud air conditioners made the adjustment only that much harder. For the first month I couldn't fall asleep without earplugs. Our household was completely different from the one we had in Canada. We left behind all our furniture and half of our belongings and rented a furnished flat. Other changes like having no car and a malfunctioning oven also changed my life around.
If there was hope, it lay outside my bedroom window. There, I could see the school campus, with its grass fields and clean buildings. For the first time in years I was actually looking forward to school, because I saw it as the only way to start a social life in Cairo. The people surprised me with their outgoingness. At all the other schools I went to, there was a deep-rooted division between cliques, and so joining a group usually took months. For the first time, being "the new kid" didn't feel like it at all, because almost a quarter of all students were in the same situation I was. Involvement in the theatre, student government, and various committees also helped me smooth the transition and take my attention off my environment..
Living in a polluted city, my parents felt the need to take trips to other parts of Egypt and discover the country we lived in. Those trips were the highlights that still stand out in my memories. The beauty of the Red Sea, the history of the Pyramids, as well as the experiences in Alexandria made my stay there more memorable.
In many ways, the year I lived in Egypt was the hardest year of my life. For the first month I counted down the number of days until we'd leave.. Living a completely different lifestyle, with only half our belongings, proved to be challenging but not impossible. In fact, there was a lot that the experience taught me. I became more open-minded and accepting of other cultures, I lived in a country that many can only dream of visiting, and I also met a challenge: I proved to myself that I could withstand the isolation from familiar places, people, and family. Finally, when I moved back to Vancouver, I seemed to have acquired a new ability to look at my surroundings through a different light. I learned to appreciate the things that I previously took for granted, such as the beauty of my environment.