Aisha in Aga: "Egyptians are very warm, friendly people"

Expat interviews
  • Aisha in Aga
Published on 2014-02-06 at 00:00 by team
American expat, Aisha left South Carolina to settle in Aga with her Egyptian husband. She blogs about her life in the country to introduce her oasis...

Why did you decide to move to Egypt?

I laugh a lot, and write from the perspective of an American woman who flushed twenty years of marriage to a mean, drunk, 'wasp' in favor of an incredibly interesting and loving Egyptian man I met online. He insisted to me by email that, "Sometimes, reality is more wonderful than any dream," and I was so ripe for the picking, I fell directly into his hand. It's been a joyride ever since! He moved to America with me, and we built a life, a house and a farm together in rural South Carolina, and then we packed as much of it as we could fit into a 20 ft. container and shipped it all to Egypt, where we are now building another life, another home, and, thankfully, our 5-story chicken farm here is already up and running!

How was the moving process?

It was hilarious! The floor level of a shipping container is four feet off the ground, and the truck comes with no magic wand to get your stuff up in there. It does, however, come with a ticking meter way more expensive than any taxi cab, and you must get your stuff up in there within two hours or they start charging by the minute! I had pre-packed everything into a room of our guest house that was roughly similar dimensions as the shipping container, hoping to speed things up. We also had a neighbour with a farm tractor, and he was kind enough to put the fork lift attachments on the tractor, and offered to lift the boxes up to the truck. My son and I stayed in the container to receive boxes, and my daughter and husband stayed in the guest house to load boxes onto the tractor forks, after laying a pallet across the forks to make a platform for setting the boxes on. It was mayhem! Our poor neighbour never actually operated a fork lift before, and didn't have experience keeping a load level. Everything ended up dumped on the ground after sliding off the platform. The sound of breaking china and the sight of our neighbour's mortal embarrassment was horrifying - I couldn't get upset, he couldn't quit, we all just grit our teeth, loaded the boxes again, and kept going till we got it right, and got it all loaded. I wouldn't recommend this idea to anybody, no matter how bad you think you need your stuff!

Being married to an Egyptian man, what were the formalities you had to go through to be able to settle and live in Egypt?

My husband loves the legal system of Egypt, it's one of his hobbies to exercise his right to justice. We skipped all the regular red-tape runaround to marry here, and just did an Islamic marriage with all the paperwork in order. Then he let me sue him in Egypt's "Family Court" to make the court recognize my marriage, and we took that legal decision to the immigration office. It worked! They gave me citizenship after the requisite waiting period, and a passport after that. I've read all the rules on the American Embassy website, and have no clue how long it might have taken by the proper route!

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

Arabic is an incredibly rich language on multiple levels. My biggest challenge has been finding the right learning tools for my specific need. You can't just learn 'Standard Arabic,' there's really no such thing. To speak with my neighbours, I must learn Egyptian dialect, but even this is not enough. Society is quite stratified in Egypt, and speaking to the different classes of people requires a huge variety in vocabulary, as well as idioms and niceties of polite conversation and diplomatic deference. Mostly I just stay inside and keep quiet! But I do recommend's Rocket Arabic as the only tool out there with any hope of helping me succeed. I paid gladly for their lifetime membership!

Did you look for a job in the country? If so, could you please share with us how did you proceed?

Thank God, I don't have to work here. It's enough just to cook in this country! Especially because we live in a very rural area, there are no grocery stores bigger than a hole in a wall, and certainly nothing resembling a restaurant. Everything must be made from scratch, and Egyptian Cuisine can be quite complicated and time consuming. We would never eat if I had to go to work! But if, God Forbid, I did have to look for work, I'd start looking online with as they were helpful for my husband's sons.

What surprised you the most in Egypt?

Fiber optic network cable out to the remotest village, and no strategy for trash collection anywhere. Unbelievable!

Is it easy to meet new people in Egypt?

Egyptians are very warm, friendly people who place high value on hospitality. It is more hard not to meet people here!

Could you please share with us something you like about Egypt and something you don't like?

My biggest pet peeve about Egypt is the total imbecility of the average driver on any road anywhere any time, day or night. Every time I get in a car, I'm praying, because I'm sure I will die. Whatever insanely dangerous idea pops into the head of somebody driving, they just do it. Flipping a U-turn and driving straight into the face of oncoming traffic to go back 3 kilo-meters is totally commonplace. So is careening out of the way of some guy stopped on a crowded highway in the middle of the lane, who left his car door open while he wiped his windshield. That one cured me of wanting an Egyptian driver's license. Turning right at 60 kph from the center lane of the same crowded highway without checking if the two lanes be-side you are clear is not a great way to enter a gas station, I don't care if it did have a shorter line than the last one you saw! That one cured me of sitting in the front seat with my husband driving... I might have figured out why women prefer to sit in the back seat of the car. Ignorance is bliss!
The thing I love best about Egypt has a relationship with the thing I hate most, like the two sides of the same coin. I love the freedom here. You are free to drive your car exactly as you want, and you are free to do so many other interesting things, as well. For example, female fashion is awesome here. You can find it, and you can wear it, I don't care who you are or what you are looking for. It's here, you'll find it, and you are completely free to wear it! I adore the spectrum, and the spectacle, of the daily wear here in Egypt. I hope someday to have the freedom and time to capture this in photos, but I'm afraid it might require a driver's license!

How is the political situation in the country? How did you live the past riots as a foreigner?

After the Mubarak revolution, I was so excited for the changes coming to Egypt. One year beyond it, though, I figured out you could have a total revolution and one year later it wouldn't mean a darn thing. Politics have become a B movie in my book, now. Especially after the June 30 Army coup. Some kids here set up a checkpoint at the intersection between a corn-field and a peach orchard. It was the homely corner of the rural world my window overlooks, and I watched them as they stopped every donkey and tuk tuk to check for ID. I'm serious! They blocked the road with old truck tires and carried metal sticks to threaten suspicious old farmer ladies driving donkey carts. It was hilarious! What do you suppose they were looking for? Politics are absurdly enjoyable. Pass the popcorn, please!

What do you miss the most from the US, your home country?

Peanut butter. I learned how to make mayo and ketchup in my blender, but OMG I really miss peanut butter! My blender totally refuses, and I just can't make my food processor get it right! She can grind up a mean burger out of young water buffalo beef, but peanuts? Not so much. Also I'd love a really awesome big hearty loaf of just baked artisanal italian or french bread. I miss that so much, I'd reconsider the driver's license, if I just knew where to find it!

Why did you create your blog, Aisha's oasis?

I've created this blog as a peaceful place to relax while on my wild joyride to Egypt. I share my favorite therapies here, between bouts of incredibly absurd drama going on around me in a small rural village in the middle of Egypt's Nile Delta Region. The highlight of Aisha's Oasis is the chronicle of my marriage to an Egyptian man after meeting him on the internet, and only 50 days of correspondence. I'm using my binders of printed emails as posts, so readers can watch the story unfold just as I did, and enjoy the whirlwind excitement of an internet romance that turned out more wonderful than any dream!

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live in Egypt?

Living in Egypt, or even just visiting, is interesting, exciting, and different from anywhere else you've ever been. I absolutely adore it here, and insha'Allah I plan to die here (probably in a car!). It's not for everyone, though. Take a tour, first, and see if you'll be happy here before you make any big commitment. Check your expectations at the door, too, they won't be of any use to you here! Whatever you think is going to happen next, it will be different from that. No matter what it is. Keep your sense of humour with you at all times, and you'll be fine. Repeat the sentence: "Insha' Allah." It means, "God Willing." That's really the only arabic you'll need to know!

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