Jayson: A Sense of Belonging
The title of our first featured blog for Cairo deals with one of the most fundamental issues of many expats abroad: A Sense of Belonging. Surely, you cannot expect to ever fully make a place in which you spend a (per se limited) number of years your home. However, it is also impossible to live as if in a bubble. In his blog, Jayson covers not only this issue, but also gives detailed insights into the expat life he and his family experience in Cairo.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Egypt, etc.
I am an American writer living in Egypt with my family, having arrived in the summer of 2009. I write primarily with Arab West Report, but also with other outlets on a freelance basis.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
My editor at Arab West Report encouraged me to keep a blog for several reasons. One, it would be a permanent record of our experiences, to draw back upon for all future writings. Two, it would expand awareness for our publication. Third, and most important, it would share our experiences from Egypt in service of increased understanding between cultures.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The first post ever is probably the most useful in describing our hopes in expat living and writing. It explains the title of our blog – A Sense of Belonging.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Cairo differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Life in Cairo is not our first overseas experience, but it did come with significant differences from other Arab nations we have lived in. Due to the great population, it is challenging to deal with pollution, trash, and the pinch on traditional Arab hospitality caused by people already having a wealth of relationships. These are often family, but with other expats as well. Egyptians are extraordinarily friendly, but it has been harder to make friends here than in other nations.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Egypt? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Well, we weren’t prepared for a revolution! Fortunately, we feel our attitude toward belonging equipped us to adapt, sympathize, and celebrate with the people both then and in their continuing difficult situation, amidst so much hope.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The Cairo metro provides women-only cars in the middle of the train. In my early days I was rushing to catch the metro before it left the station and inadvertently boarded the wrong car. Immediately I was hit by a gamut of angry glares. I nodded, touched my head in apology, and switched cars at the next stop.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Egypt?
First, realize there are many amenities for the expat community, so not everything of the old lifestyle must be left behind. Second, open your mind and heart to the new lifestyle, because there will be so many differences it can drive you crazy if you don’t aim to embrace it. Third, especially in the beginning, consciously limit making friends among expats, or else the natural bonds of community will squeeze you from making Egyptian friends and entering Egyptian life. If you aim to speak Arabic, do the same and avoid English speaking relationships as much as possible.
How is the expat community in Cairo? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is wonderful. There are several social groups, service organizations, churches, and clubs to meet every relational need. Our daughter has especially enjoyed the local (mostly) expat soccer league, as it is difficult for girls to otherwise play sports publicly.
How would you summarize your expat life in Egypt in a single, catchy sentence?
We don’t belong, but we aim to – and in the end we somewhat do.