LeAnne: Simply LeAnne
Just as any other culture you are unfamiliar with, life abroad in the Middle East can take some getting used to. This is often particularly true form Western women. LeAnne experienced this herself, and decided to dedicate part of her blog, Simply LeAnne, to informing ladies of what to expect and what to prepare for during their lives in Cairo and other parts of the Middle East.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Egypt, etc.
Originally from south Mississippi, I immediately packed my bags four days after graduating college and headed to Arizona. A year later and I was in NY, nearly four years later on July 8, 2008 I found myself on a flight bound for Cairo for a job.
I’d always had an interest in the MidEast, so when the job was first offered in 2007 I immediately wanted to jump at the chance. However, I had learned not to just take a job simply because I wanted the adventure (part of growing up I suppose). And the job didn’t pan out at that time. I always said if it was meant to be, it would come back around again. Never did I think the same opportunity would come knocking – I just thought that something along the same lines would present itself. Well, almost a year to date without any contact, my employer sent me an email asking me to reconsider. This time, everything lined up.
I was originally assigned to fulfill at least 18 months. And almost four years later, I still find myself in Cairo with the addition of a dog named Brees.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I began blogging almost immediately upon my arrival. Being a journalist, keeping a blog just comes natural. I tell others that my blog is my fun writing. At first it began as a tool for friends and family to keep up with my transition and life, but it turned in to much more. From there, I began receiving emails from other foreigners making the move to Egypt or contemplating the decision. And during the revolution, it turned into even more with various media outlets picking up on certain entries.
But to be honest, my main purpose after receiving questions from random readers was to target females. I’ve had a great time here, and I’ve learned a lot; however, I’ve had some unpleasant encounters myself and I would do anything to try to help someone else avoid those negative experiences. I am very good about responding to all blog queries, and I try to present a different viewpoint while keeping an open mind.
When I made the decision to relocate to Cairo, I researched various blogs in order to gain a better understanding of what to expect from a real person. I remember only being able to find one person’s blog who discussed taking Arabic classes and documenting how often his power went out. Others painted Egypt as a rose garden without thorns, but nothing on real life. None of this helped me prepare or remotely acclimate. I didn’t know anyone upon arriving here. I didn’t speak any Arabic. I didn’t know how to do the basics from where to buy groceries or simply ordering take out, hence why I list the most popular medicines, my favorite eateries, simple Arabic and tips for females.
Things have changed now from when I began blogging. Many more blogs offering true stories of life in Egypt are prevalent throughout the web, and I’m very thankful that people still continue to read mine.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Two blogs instantly come to mind: My Mohamed is Different and Channeling Indiana Jones. The first is because it is one of the most discussed issues among women residing in Egypt, and is something that every non-Egyptian considering marrying into this culture/society should read. I did a great deal of research to be able to provide any reader, upon request, information for reputable lawyers as well as the rights that each woman should be made aware of (which isn’t always the case in these situations).
The second blog entry, Channeling Indian Jones, is special to me because of the most amazing feeling I had that day. Its days like this that makes me so incredibly thankful I’ve been given the opportunity to live in such a place. It was a trip I made alone although I begged other friends to join, but it is one of the best days I’ve ever had.
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?
Culture shock is putting it mildly. As I state on my blog, teachers enter into this lifestyle with other peers facing the same issues at the same time. I had none of that. It took me a few months to meet anyone around my age with the same interests. Previously, my days had been filled going to work and immediately returning home just to chat with friends from the US. It’s hard to meet people under these circumstances because as a female, it isn’t appropriate to just go to a bar alone unless you want to be perceived as a prostitute. I wanted to make sure others didn’t face the same, and luckily for me, I met some of my closest friends via my blog. However, once you start meeting people and although Cairo is such a large city, you begin to know everyone in a short time.
I remember how frightened I was to take my first taxi alone. I remember how frustrating it was trying to convey simple requests for things like take-out. And for the life of me, I can’t even fathom how I made it home many times without being able to speak a word of Arabic. It’s amusing now, but at the time, I had a lot of anxiety and tears.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Egypt? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Even if someone were to read my blog through and through, there is no way you can prepare for such a journey. For materialistic things, I have a blog entry that aptly describes (at least for an American) items that others may want to consider bringing.
For the emotional aspect, I stated above that I hope my blog helps deter people from making some of the same mistakes that I made. But I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure things have not always been wonderful, but without down times, how would we ever truly appreciate the ups?
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Everything is either ma3lesh or insha’Allah, meaning “whatever” and “God-willing.” Get ready to hear it repeatedly. Friends who are pilots told me that when radioing about landing, the Egyptian controllers say, “It’s clear to land, insha’Allah.” I asked my dentist if there would be pain. He said, “No, insha’Allah.” I responded, “That does not make me feel better doctor…” Need work done, employees respond “Insha’Allah.” Need it completed by a specific time and you get “ma3lesh.”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Egypt?
- Know that the first people you meet are not going to be your friends, but they are the gateways to your real friends.
- Always remember that all of the frustrations encountered eventually become funny anecdotes.
- Most people have an ulterior motive. Do not mistake kindness as being genuine; however, when you do find an Egyptian that is genuine, it is the most sincere form of kindness you will ever come in contact with – don’t treat it lightly.
How is the expat community in Cairo? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Cairo varies. Different neighborhoods have their own circle. In Maadi, one of the largest expat communities in Cairo, it is very close-knit, almost like a bubble. Be careful though. As with any really tight circle that happens to be rather large, gossip flows rampantly as though living back in a small town where not only does everyone know your name, but they know where you were at 4:18 pm (and if not, they just might make up a great story over a nice drink at the expat oasis, the Ace Club).
How would you summarize your expat life in Egypt in a single, catchy sentence?
It’s a story for my children one day and some great ones for my niece and nephew now.