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Living in Egypt: The Best Resources and Articles
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Working in Egypt: Carve Out a Place for Yourself in the “Mother of the World” 
Living in Cairo 
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Befriending and Learning from Cairenes in Egypt

Key Resources to Maximize Your Stay in Cairo

Mohammed and Madam

Mohammed was my fakahani, the vendor from whom I bought fruit every day. I say “my” fakahani not to suggest any ownership on my part, but because he and “Madam” (as he called his wife) helped make me feel that I belonged in the neighborhood.

Madam was a no-nonsense woman who stashed the daily income from Mohammed’s business in folds of cloth under her flowered melaya (outer gown). She expressed her acceptance of and affection for me openly—the same way I was received by everyone when I moved into a working-class neighborhood in the Mohandiseen quarter of Cairo on the west bank of the Nile.

I lived in Mohandiseen for six months, and learned some important life lessons from the people who lived there.

One day I bought some bread from a man at the edge of the busy main thoroughfare of Mohandiseen. Not having change for the bill I gave him, he just held it out facing the stream of vehicles passing by until a driver pulled his car over, took the bill, and handed him back the same value in coins. Applying simple, creative solutions to small problems was one of the lessons I tried to absorb.

I found the behavior of Cairenes, and of Egyptians in general, to be advanced in ways in which that of North Americans is not. The inhabitants of Cairo have very good manners. They know how to live together in the stressful conditions of poverty, noise, and overcrowding. They have a strong desire that foreigners understand their part of the world. And (luckily for me, given the occupation of Iraq) they are able to separate their feelings toward visitors as individuals from their feelings about the foreign policy of their governments.

Living in Cairo Resources

Publications

Cairo: The Practical Guide by Claire E. Francy (AUC Press, 2003). A superb guidebook that gives all the inside information you need for a long term stay;
Khul-Khaal by Nayra Atiya (AUC Press, 1982). Five Egyptian women tell their stories. Wonderfully informative;
The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians by E.W. Lane. This classic interpretation of the people and culture of Egypt is still very informative;
Rough Guide to Egypt. Excellent for short-term visitors.

Finding an Apartment: Consult Cairo (listed above). Study up on the different residential areas of Cairo and decide which neighborhood you might like to live in. Abdin (cheapest), Dokki and Mohandiseen (moderately priced) have the fewest foreigners. Then go to that neighborhood with an Arabic-speaking friend to ask the bowwabs (doorkeepers/concierges) of the apartment buildings for one that suits you.

Also check the accommodation notice boards at the AUC (American Univ. in Cairo) and at the British Council. These could turn up more reliable places but for higher rents.

Using Public Transport: You will feel at home in Cairo if you learn the public transit system and resist using taxis. The three commonest forms are buses, minibuses, and microbuses.

Buses are the cheapest (five to 10 cents per trip); starting from various terminals in the city center, travel everywhere throughout the metropolis. Men enter through the rear door, women by the front; all passengers exit from the front. Tickets are bought from the conductor on board.

Minibuses are more expensive and more comfortable than buses because no standing is allowed. They ply fixed routes between their own terminals.

Microbuses are smaller than minibuses but hold as many passengers as possible. They follow prescribed routes and charge around like demented bulls through the heavy traffic, stopping anywhere and everywhere to squeeze passengers in or out. Fares range from five to 20 cents.

Studying Arabic: The options are a private tutor, a language school, self-study, or some combination. Inquire about a private tutor at the schools, at the various Western cultural centers (e.g., British Council, Goethe Institute), or at AUC. After interviewing a few and checking their credentials and teaching style, choose the one you click with best and design an individual study program. The cost of an experienced tutor is $11-$13 per hour.

At a school the class setting is more formal, but the teaching resources are better. An intensive course (three hours per day, four days per week) at a school may cost about $200 per month. Among the formal schools are: ILI and Kalimat (both in Mohandiseen), Fajr Center, or see TransitionsAbroad.com's list of Language Schools in Egypt.

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