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Sips From The Nile: Introduction

“Sips From The Nile” is a series of articles, written by Basil El Dabh, that will be featured on Mashareeb. Basil is an American born Egyptian who decided to move to Egypt for a couple of years after graduating from college for a job opportunity. He writes about his experience going back to his roots and living in Egypt after spending his whole life in the United States.


It’s been a month since I’ve moved to Cairo and the recurring question to which I have had to answer is “Why did you move here?” It’s a fair question…I grew up in Ohio and have lived my whole life in the United States. What would bring me to a country that my parents left for more opportunity 25 years ago? The first couple times I fumbled for a reply that would completely capture my thoughts and mindset, but now I retort with another question: “Why not?”
Where else can you more fully appreciate the concept of family and community? Growing up, my frequent visits to Egypt gave me small doses of the true meaning of family and the breadth of its definition. Sure I have my grandparents here, but I also have cousins, and no I’m not just referring to my aunts’ and uncles’ kids. Here, cousins can be your second cousins, your parents’ cousins, cousins of cousins…even friends of cousins. At times, it feels like there are only one or two degrees of separation between any two people here. When people say, “Let me know if you need anything,” they mean it. It’s a commitment to action, concern and a sincere willingness to actually help.

Upon first glance, Cairo can be overwhelming to many. It’s a virtual 24-7 rush hour, but upon further examination the contrasting community dynamic is eye-opening. You are bound to run into people with ulterior motives but when you really get to know people here, they tend to be very welcoming. I’m one of the only foreign-born people in my workplace, which initially made me nervous, but where this would lay the foundation for alienation in many places, coworkers have seen this as an opportunity to lend a helping hand, even with my shaky Arabic.

Where else can you be further removed from the monotony that comes so easily with life in general? Even with a 9-5 job, I am far from living a 9-5 lifestyle in the normal sense. In the City that Truly Never Sleeps, punching out at the end of your workday only marks the day’s halfway point. It marks the beginning of enjoying time with friends and family at bars, cafes, or one of the countless venues for nightlife in Cairo. A relaxed mentality here blurs the line between weekday and weekend evenings. If it’s 10 pm and there is an errand I want to run, I don’t even look at the clock. If I get a call from friends at 11, I get dressed and walk out my apartment door without hesitation, whether it’s a Tuesday or Friday night. Life here teeters between relaxed and fast-paced, but definitely far from routine (similar to Cairo driving).
Where else can you find people that know how to have a good time any more than they do here? It goes beyond the nightlife too. Even taxi drivers who may not lead the most comfortable lives find ways to laugh with their passengers and find ways to smile while maneuvering through the often-frustrating traffic. Those with the means to do so often escape from Cairo during the weekends to enjoy the beautiful beaches on North Coast or Red Sea with friends. At the end of the day here, though, good times are dictated by the company, not the location or activity.
Will I still be living here ten years down the line? I have my doubts, but they have a saying here that roughly translates to “Once you drink from the Nile, you keep coming back for more.” I know that wherever life takes me, the sip I’m currently taking will leave me with a thirst that will repeatedly bring me back here.

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