We moved to Cairo in Egypt on the 2nd of this month. The monumental decision to shift homes from Europe to Africa was long pending and the move stretched over a few months. I seem to have a thing for hometowns which start with C and from my birth city of Calcutta, Cologne, it had to be Cairo where I will stay put for the next 4 years. Packing up our home in Cologne was an emotional task and the small details seemed to be endless. Redirecting mail, giving away things we did not want to carry, holding a small-scale garage sale, application of Egyptian residency cards, visas, immunization, professional country training from the organization for which we moved, updating medical insurance….the whole process had been a draining, exhausting and a nerve-wracking affair. However, Tarek and I finally managed to get most of the work done without tearing each other‘s hair off and on a cold autumn day in October we, along with our baby son Akash, flew out of Cologne to our new hometown in Africa.
House hunting in Cairo
Cairo was a shock to my senses in good, bad and thankfully not in an ugly way. The night air was balmy like in spring when we landed in the desert city and palm trees bordered the roads. The huge metropolis was a tapestry of lights, noise, chaos, traffic and I fell in love with donkey carts weaving in and out of fancy imported cars. We stayed at a hotel initially for a few days and spent most of our time in an intense house hunt. After 3 days of climbing zillion stairs, checking out the rooms, flushing toilets, poking inside closets, we found our new home in the Egyptian capital city of Cairo. It overlooks a girls school from which little students wave at me whenever I stand on my terrace, has a slice of Nile view and gorgeous old wooden colonial style shutters and bay windows. I have never lived on an island before, let alone a river island and I find life in Zamalek to be easy, cosmopolitan, and relaxed.
Snippets of my expat life in Germany: Cologne Diaries
First impressions of Cairo
As happy I am about our move, it is also true that I am still numb, absorbing, processing, and digesting life in Cairo. Everyday Akash and I spend a huge amount of time staring at Cairo life moving molasses slow from our terrace and the Egyptian capital city reminds me of India. Life is a struggle here for the majority of the population and the local society suffers from a huge disparity in wealth. The dust, noise, and chaos, all seem familiar and raw human emotions are palpable amongst the people. Loud conversations, fistfights, street scuffles, wide-eyed staring, some bits of catcalls and whistles, honking, ringing voices of street vendors peddling their wares from bicycles, carts, and trolleys are daily sights and sounds of Cairo. Delicious food, evening te, and gossip over gurgling water pipes, music pounding from taxis and some wannabe‘s fancy car, groups of men playing dominoes and backgammon…are some of my earliest impressions of the city and I am slowly learning the ropes to adapt to life here.
Recommended Read: My first visit to Egypt
Seems like India, yet with a difference
Though Cairo seems like just another Indian metropolis, there are some stark differences which are so severe that I often get shocked by them. Call them initial jitters or slow adaptation to a totally new culture, my new expat life in Cairo has begun with excitement, familiarity, and discoveries. Follow my brand new Expat Life series called Cairo Chronicles and discover our life as it goes by in this gorgeous, frustrating, and historical city of Misr (Cairo). And, till I get my bearings again, check out my Facebook posts on our new Cairo life.
October 3rd, 2017 – Our first day in Cairo has been all about absorbing, tasting and learning the ropes. Apartment hunt is on. The Nile is on the next street and Cairo does not sleep even under a beautiful full moon like tonight. The verdict on the great North African Arabian city…undecided yet.
I nearly fell off the curb when I saw this street vendor in fantastic clothes in Cairo. He is selling hibiscus juice, which I found to be utterly delicious in the heat. For ages, Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers (also known as Roselle) have been used to make one of the most popular drinks in the entire African continent. In fact, from Dakar in Senegal to Cairo in Egypt, it’s not uncommon to find street vendors selling chilled Hibiscus juice or Hibiscus tea at bus stations, markets, or even stadiums during sports events.
Today, I got my first lesson in eating like an Egyptian. Aish Baladi or the Egyptian bread topped Akash‘s and my favourite local food list. Similar to pita, but made with whole wheat flour, this Egyptian flatbread is traditionally baked in scorching-hot ovens in Cairo’s bustling markets. This is one good bread.
During our apartment hunt in Cairo, we inspected quite a few factors. The location, the building, the flat and most importantly the “boab”. The boab is the person who lives in one room next to the front door and takes care of the building. All apartment buildings in Cairo had boabs and they are Man Fridays of the residents. Need a plumber, nanny, errands to run or even to babysit, simply ask for the boab. A good or bad boab can make or break your Cairo expat experience.
October 4th, 2017 – Our second day at Cairo drove us mad. House hunting continues to be crazy stressful and the only thing that keeps us from tearing each other‘s hair out is the food. The Egyptian food is to die for and it has an incredible range of vegetarian dishes as well. The meat-based ones are succulent and nutritious and here‘s a sneak peek of the mouthwatering Egyptian cuisine. They say that during the Ramadan, the best ones are rolled out and I can‘t wait.
Kushari is an Egyptian dish originally made in the 19th century. Containing rice, macaroni, and lentils mixed together, it is topped with a spiced tomato sauce, and garlic vinegar; garnished with chickpeas and crispy fried onions. A sprinkling of garlic juice, or garlic vinegar, and hot sauce are optional. This one is a soul food and much to everyone‘s surprise Akash had a bowl of kushari all by himself. That little guy is one hogpot!
Molokhia is slimy, green and delicious. Made from the leaves of Corchorus olitorius commonly known as Jew’s Mallow or Jute, it is popular in the Middle East, East African and North African countries. Traditionally molokhia is cooked with chicken and is served with white rice, accompanied with lemon or lime. Coincidentally, in Bengali cuisine, molokhia is very commonly used and is called paat shaak.
Stuffed vine leaves or the warak enab is a thing of beauty and mouthwatering taste. A yummy Middle Eastern recipe, it is a perfectly stuffed Arabian grape leaf and this version can be found throughout the Arab world. After slowly simmering in a bath of olive oil and lemon juice, the leaves are plump, tart and silky rich. Inside is a glory of rice, laced with fresh mint and parsley, and a smattering of tomatoes and green onion.
October 5th, 2017 – We finally found a home in ancient Misr and today is the moving day. Chaos predicted.
October 6th, 2017 – Friday morning was still and quiet on our third day in Cairo. Sunlight fell in broad shafts over the ancient metropolis as we went wandering in Islamic Cairo. Some scenes there seemed straight out of a gorgeous period movie and the day took a better turn when we returned our new home instead of a hotel.
A huge moon stood still over the shimmering Nile that night. This was my view from the bed. Expat life in Cairo can be very rewarding sometimes.
These were a sneak peek of my first impressions of Cairo. Stay tuned for more such exciting snippets of our expat life in the grand old Egyptian capital and discover a whole new world of food, culture, festivals, and nature.
P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will take on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of an expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.
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