I considered titling this, How to be happy, but that’s a bit presumptuous. We aren’t happy all the time. We aren’t even content all the time, but our time in Egypt has taught us a lot about it.
Moving is hard. Moving far away is harder. Moving far away to a new country where you don’t speak the language is the hardest.
One of the people I interviewed with this past year explained that living abroad isn’t easy and was more concerned about whether we knew how to make the best of things than about my teaching skills. For those of you not familiar with the international teaching scene, it is quite common that people don’t show up, only last a month, or leave mid-contract for one reason: It’s hard to live far away from everything familiar.
There’s also the fact that Egypt is a developing country. People do weird things and the stuff we want is often not readily available. It is so easy (and we are guilty of this) to get together and have a bitch-fest for hours on end about the people, culture, government, etc. It takes actual work to find good things to keep you sane and focus on being positive. And when you can’t find them, you have to make them!
This is a fairly obvious one, otherwise comfort food wouldn’t be a thing. Specific things in Egypt that we haven’t found and have made ourselves include:
- Butter: The butter in Egypt tastes atrocious, and there is no such thing as salted butter. So I began (and Ronnie has perfected) making butter by hand, and it is a billion times better than anything in the store! I keep telling him to write a blog about it, but he keeps dragging his feet.
- Cocktails: There are a few bars here, and more in Cairo, but they charge hundreds of Egyptian pounds for one cocktail. That’s obviously unacceptable, so we have learned to make do with what we have available at home. We generally keep ourselves well-stocked (our alcohol store is called “Drinkies”). We won’t be hosting any Drinkology events, but we make do with what we have.
- Crusty bread: Bakeries are overly abundant here, but they pretty much just sell muffins and maybe sandwiches. If we want, say, French bread, then we’re on our own, so I’ve begun making that myself. I’ve tried sourdough a couple times, but I haven’t really had any success with that yet.
- Iced tea: Apparently, this is a super American thing. Not only do Egyptians hardly EVER drink iced drinks, this one is weird to our British friends as well. It’s a trillion degrees outside, and Egyptians are still drinking hot drinks. Not us! Ronnie’s taught a coffee shop nearby how to make iced lattes (he’s the only person who’s ever ordered one), and at home, we’re all about iced tea.
- Food of varying ethnicities: Bearing in mind that we don’t live in Cairo, the restaurants here suck. We’ve found one halfway decent Mexican restaurant all the way across town, and one grocery store that sells pretty okay pizza (they’re the only place we’ve found that uses sauce!). Even Egyptians’ idea of “American” food is disgusting. So we’ve started trying to improve our Mexican and Italian food, I found a great pizza crust recipe, and our friend left us a bunch of Indian spices when she moved to Bangkok a couple of months ago. This one’s a work-in-progress, but we’re trying. It’s better than anything we’ll get in restaurants, that’s for sure!
If you’re an emotional exerciser (when I’m angry, it’s time for a run), this is essential because the culture will frustrate you at some point. However, running outside here is not the best idea. It’s possible, just not very convenient or pleasant. So Ronnie goes to the gym frequently, and I’ve become a lot more serious about yoga both at home and by attending weekly air yoga classes at a nearby fitness center. (This also helps when angry).
Technology is wonderful, and a chat with family, friends, or even dogs can brighten our day. It’s good to see friendly (familiar) faces every so often. If you’re reading this we’ve never Skype’d before, let’s do it sometime!
When I worked as a barista, I listened to the latest pop songs on the radio all day. As terrible as some the music was I realized that I missed listening to the radio. Since we don’t drive, I’ll often listen to random playlists on YouTube at home or in the classroom.
On the classical side of things, performing concerts is still enjoyable even though we don’t have close friends in the symphony here. At home, concerts used to involve going out for dinner or drinks afterwards. Now, the night usually ends with a trip to Cinnabon (there’s one conveniently located on the Library of Alexandria campus!) and a couple beers at home (not a lot of places to go for drinks here, and not a lot of musicians willing to join us!)
A week or two after we moved to Egypt we realized that this was the first time either of us been without a pet (college doesn’t count because we still had pets at home). There’s something about having a fur baby in the house that makes it more like home. Unfortunately, Egypt is overcrowded with homeless cats and dogs. We lasted about two months before we just had to take one home with us and our apartment became a home (aww…how cheesy). Seriously, though. This is definitely “home” now that we look forward to getting back to our pets when we’re traveling.
And now we have two! Zoe doesn’t have her own blog post yet, but maybe I’ll get around to it. We have no idea how we’re going to take them with us when we leave, but we will definitely do our best to figure it out before the time comes.
These are just a few things we do be content when it seems like everything sucks. Of course the most important part is that we have each other…as long as we can remember that we’re in it together.