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Why Move to Egypt?

A Hearty Welcome Awaits Westerners

What I would like to make clear is the joy of living in Egypt, the amazing energy here, the openness and friendliness of the people, the pulsating life of this country. In addition to the wonderful energy, the streets and neighborhoods are safe at any hour, the cost of living very inexpensive, and work is available if you need it. If you have not already been here, and maybe even if you have but only on a big-hotel-tour-bus sort of trip, try to get past what you think you know about Egypt.

U.S. citizens and other Westerners are well accepted here. In fact as you walk the streets of Cairo, you will hear many voices greeting you with a hearty “Welcome!” All Egyptians, not just the ones selling plastic pyramids and postcards, seem to feel responsible for their role as hosts. They are proud to be Egyptian and pleased to have you in their country. The natural friendliness of the Egyptians is currently being supported by an Egyptian government campaign the slogan for which is, “Tourism Is Good for All of Us.” The campaign includes educating the service industries to some of the peccadilloes of Westerners, such as their desire to look around without being besieged with assistance at all times.

You automatically get a 1-month tourist visa at the Cairo Airport for a few Egyptian pounds’ worth of little stamps that you buy at the currency exchange window before going through passport control. If you plan to stay longer, you go to the Mogamma on Tahrir Square, the heart of Cairo, and plunge into the Kafkaesque corridors that seem to contain most of suffering humanity waiting patiently for something. You simply fill out the application a day or two before your 30-day visa expires, get the required photograph, buy more little stamps, take it to the designated window and turn the application and your passport over to a pleasant lady who advises you to come back in two hours.

Since the Mogamma is only a long block away from the magnificent Egyptian Museum, this would be a good way to spend the two hours (you will want to spend whole long days in the museum anyway). When you return to the window, the pleasant lady will hand you back your passport with a visa good for six months or a year, whichever you requested.

Another immediately apparent positive feature of life in Cairo is that it is completely safe. Well, crossing the streets through the horrendous traffic is not safe, but that is a separate matter. I am referring to the virtually complete absence of crime. In spite of the poverty of many Egyptians, there is no danger on the streets. And no danger of homes and apartments being broken into. Egypt is a police state. The police are everywhere, pleasant and helpful if you need directions or assistance, usually occupied in their own conversations and not paying much attention to anything the rest of the time. They are just there, obviously and visibly everywhere. It seems to have something to do with the policy of employing as many people as possible in as many capacities as possible. Also, having a safe country for foreigners is a practical expedient for a nation whose income is dependent on the tourist industry.

Egypt is an affordable place to live, perfect for people with a small fixed income, or people who wish to work and live abroad, or tourists who wish to stretch their vacation dollars as far as possible. The exchange rate is slightly less than six Egyptian pounds to the U.S. dollar, and one realizes how inexpensive living in Egypt is when the pound starts to seem about equivalent to a dollar—that, is, the buying power is approximately the same. A taxi trip halfway across town costs about 10 pounds ($1.75), riding the metro (crowded but clean and well run) anywhere it goes is one pound (16 cents), having a small pizza delivered from Pizza Hut is about 15 pounds ($2.75).

Apartments are widely available, and Egyptians are eager to rent to foreigners. An English language classified paper, Al Waseet, has many listings. Another good source of information about rentals and housemates wanted is the bulletin board lining the entrance to the American University of Cairo, which is also located near Tahrir Square, just across the street from the Mogamma. This particular street has traffic control, so the police actually stop the cars occasionally to spoil the sport and even novices can cross safely.

There are many clean and friendly little hotels to stay in while you’re apartment hunting. My favorite is the Isis, located on the 15th floor of a building just a few blocks from Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Museum. Their rates start at about LE 60 ($10) per night and they can provide a driver and any services you may require. Don’t let the elevator frighten you—it’s fine, really. The family that runs the Isis speaks English and you can make a reservation (contact: www.isiscairo.com, isishotel2004@yahoo.com).

If you want to work in Egypt, teaching English is of course a likely prospect, at least in Cairo. If you have all your degrees and teaching credentials in order, the American University of Cairo is constantly hiring English teachers for its Customized Programs Department that tailors courses for the businesses or individuals who want them. The regular programs also need teachers. If you don’t have credentials but are a native speaker of English there is also a demand for your services. The classified paper, Al Waseet, has job listings for English speakers.

A charming jovial lady, Naira Butos, is in charge of the English teaching program for the Coptic community in Cairo (Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the population) and has eager students waiting for teachers for their conversation classes. Naira says that she is willing to train native speakers for their English program. Her local home phone number is 735-7887 and her cell phone is 012-311-2997.

Don’t worry if you don’t speak Arabic. There are always helpful bilinguals around if you need assistance with communications. The most important thing about coming to Egypt is to dive right in and not let apprehensions prevent you from experiencing this thriving, vital culture.

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