Archives for posts with tag: things expats like

I am writing this on my last day in Benghazi. I was supposed to leave on a flight at 8 am but I am stranded here because my flight has been, ehrm, delayed. So delayed I might end up driving back to Egypt tomorrow instead. The flight operation was managed between Italy, Malta and Egypt – the only way this could get worse is if the flight attendants were French. Of course none could have seen this cock-up coming.

I wish I could blog about my five weeks in Benghazi – but partly because I do not feel that a blog is the best platform to bitch and moan (or boast) about my work and partly because I am drained I do not think I will. Or maybe in the future I will, who knows. So you will not hear me talk about being given a morality check by a petroleum engineer; or sitting through endless coordination meetings that look like this; or having the pleasure to be on the receiving end of some 20 phone calls every day from journalists that cannot take no for an answer or being called a misogynist racist over-paid aid worker by a Spanish journalist that then called me a faggot.

So what I am going to talk about is the reactions I have been getting from people when I tell them that I will be leaving Egypt in August. Reactions from foreigners who just got off the boat but also some well seasoned expats that have been marinating in the region since Anwar El Sadat was in elementary school.

When I say that I will be taking unpaid leave from my job and thus leave Egypt in June, jaws drop and I am usually asked why I would live the region right now when things are getting ‘real exciting’. The same way you would tell someone who is leaving the cinema room in the midst of a gory murder scene to go buy pop corn.

I do not know why but I get slightly offended by these comments, by the superficiality of it. I feel like people are saying: why would you voluntarily give up a front seat as angry Arabs try to fight for their freedom? Maybe you will get to take a snap shot as the tanks roll into Deraa and get to post it on flickr or maybe you will be telling the grand-children that you watched the revolution as it took place on twitter and conversed with the local activists over Turkish coffee and shisha, part Robert Fisk part Lawrence of Arabia.

If you are enjoying watching churches being burnt down on TV in your flat in Zamalek and then blogging about it for the friends back home, than darling please call yourself by your real name: a free rider. Not paying any of the costs yet enjoying the benefits. (Sorry if this offends anyone – maybe I am also an opinionated, holier than thou free rider, but at least I am ok with it).

So here it is my thoughts on why I am not dying of fear of missing out:

  • Things are not just getting interesting. The region (and the world even, shall we say) is an interesting place even when things do not make headlines.
  • In my personal opinion, the real revolution has not even started and probably it will not start until a few months down the line. The symbols of power have been taken down, but the link between power and money has not been severed (let’s think large monopolistic interests linked to strategic industries such as the military). Ahmed Ezz maybe in prison, but I did not see many headlines on how the steel monopoly in Egypt is going to be open up to free and fair competition. Never been a fan of economic liberalism nor I am arguing that it is a cure, but I feel that if things change they will change when resources (especially public ones) are more equally redistributed and this is one of the issues that could be a litmus test – more so than democratic elections that can be used as a way to pacify outsiders and insiders’ anxiety about democratic reform (read: psychosis of a take-over by the Muslim Brothers) without really creating a shift in they way a country is run (again, not saying elections are useless, just they might end up being more of a symbol rather than a real process until they become an established pattern).

So let me get on with my life for a year or two and maybe come back when things will get even more interesting, yet they most probably will not be making the news (also, on a slightly different topic, a screenshot of what’s hot on aljazeera today, bonus material just for kicks).

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So, I am putting off finishing a boring presentation for work and partly playing with this blog idea, since, to be honest, I did not expect to receive such encouraging feedback.

Well, here is where the blog doubles up as ‘gastronomic revolution.’ With a friend who recently came back to Cairo and her roommate we went out to get Chinese in the most awesome Chinese place west of China.

The place is run by Chinese Muslims and caters mostly to Asian student from Al-Azhar University, a few Egyptians from da hood (Abbasseya) and of course the curse that is Cairo’s foreigners.

After reading this article on the Thai restaurant nearby, I decided to go on a little gastronomic discovery trip. On that day the Thai place was shut (and since then I never managed to get there when it is open, the restaurant has now turned into a sort of food unicorn) so we ended up at the Chinese place. And since then it has been love at first sight. I even took a friend visiting from Hong Kong there and the restaurant passed the authenticity test.

The business concept is pretty simple: serving an untapped market and doing it well and cheap. Tofu noodle salad, caramelized chicken and spicy tofu with meat are the recurring themes of my visits there (also featured in the picture below). It usually ends up being a rather unedifying spectacle of me and friends gorging ourselves as if we had never seen food in our lives.

Well, the staff of the restaurant is actually what makes it such a cool place. It’s a family run business, with this guy and his wife. I am always tempted to ask about their lives as I am really curious to know what their lives in Egypt are like (and I don’t mean it in a patronising way,  more like ‘let me stick my nose into your business’ way). For one, they speak mostly classical Arabic (even to each other) and a little Egyptian Arabic and some English. Thank God the menu has got pictures because I don’t think my classical Arabic stretches as far as ‘We will have the cabbage salad and the caramelized chicken with the very nice soup that comes with ravioli like things inside.’

And most of all, I love the kid of the owners. Little Mustapha. Never thought in my life that I would meet a Chinese kid called Mustapha.