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January 21, 2006 1:26 PM   Subscribe

My little sister is going to Cairo, Egypt. For a year! I'm looking for some tips and information on living there.

A mess of background info: She's going with her school, a study abroad thing. She'll be 20. She's a religious studies major (she's Catholic, very smart and open-minded). Her other choice of destination was Ireland, but is thinking that Cairo would be more challenging and interesting than a typical "I'm an American student in Europe! Let's get drunk!" trip. Our family is Irish, and we all look it. She's really tall and super fair-skinned, so she knows she will not ever be very inconspicuous. She's contacted her school's Islamic student organization and her town's Islamic center and is setting up some Arabic classes and will be talking to people about Islamic culture. She's not too worried about terrorism, as a quick news article/State Department advisory search put most of those fears (mostly of our mother's, of course) to rest.

I'm looking for some good accounts, tips and resources for Americans or other Westerners living in Cairo. Google tends to turn up mostly tourist information, which is helpful but not for a long-term, actually living there situation, as well as pretty shallow in scope. As a fairly good example: Arthur magazine's current series on a journalist and his brother travelling around Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. It's well written and not focused on, say, camel rides around the pyramids, like a lot of the "travelogues" I've found so far.

So... articles, books, movies, blogs, personal experience? I want to flood her with information.
posted by ruby.aftermath to Travel & Transportation around Cairo, Egypt (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I'm so envious! I would love to go to Egypt! Someday I hope to go there and see the pyramids. I'm seeing King Tut in Chicago this spring.

Rick Steves' website recommends guidebooks by LonelyPlanet or RoughGuides. (Although that page is on Luxor, it links to the guidebook sites.)

The U.S. State Dept site has information on terror activities as well as a link to the embassy. It also mentions women travelling alone are subject to harassment and petty theft (e.g. pickpocketing) is common - wear a money belt.

The Egypt Archives is one of my favorite Egypt sites, with lots of pictures of what she might see there.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:02 PM on January 21, 2006

Michael J. Totten's weblog has a lot of info about living in the Middle East. I think he's in Beirut, but he talks about Cairo a bit. Michael J. Totten
posted by jbb7 at 2:32 PM on January 21, 2006

I just spent an evening with a guy (American) who's pursuing his degree at the Am Uni. in Cairo. The uni. apparently is very isolated population wise (lots of rich Egyptians who live in gated communities)... but he lives in a working class neighborhood (on a boat on the nile!!!!).. he said European girls are allowed leeway that Egyptian girls definatly arn't, and are treated like strange idol-like creatures, but still given space, although he said 8 year olds will run up and pull on their thongs if they bent over! uh yeah... should be super fun!!!

She really should read up about the family structures in Egypt, housing shortage, what dating is like (or NOT like) for boys there (barely allowed contact with girls) etc... to get a sense of the life-culture
posted by stratastar at 5:45 PM on January 21, 2006

Before I went to go live in Uganda (for two years!) i spent a lot of time on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree. Its almost ridiculously helpful - like AskMe, but travel-specific, with different boards for different locations and activities. (Your sister, for example, would probably want to delve into the Africa and Middle East boards, as well as the Living Abroad board.)
posted by Kololo at 6:17 PM on January 21, 2006

There will be a lot of Western people in Cairo. Since it is one of the biggest cities in the region, lots of Western companies will have a HQ there which means lots of ex-pats. I was there for a week back in 2000 for work and from what I remember, the ex-pats all live in big walled compounds and everyone has a driver and a maid and so on. While it is nice that there will be some native English speakers around, I think your sister will get more out her experience if she gets in closer with the locals.

Here are some of my other rememberances:

I was traveling with a female coworker and everyone assumed that we were married. The concept that were were just friends or just co-workers was not something that they could quite understand.

Kids and teenagers were universally friendly and wonderful. I lost track of the number of kids who tried out their English . It would go something like this: "Where are you from?" "The United States." "Oh. Welcome to our country!" Also the girls were fascinated by my co-worker who was a very tall woman from the Czech Republic. The young girls were amazed by her. One of my happiest memories is playing soccer with a bunch of kids at the pyramids of Giza.

However, the non-tourism employed adults were definitely not as outgoing as the kids and most were down right gruff. I think the language barrier probably had something to do with it.

Learn to haggle. Almost everything is negiotiable.

Taxis are cheap. You actually pay what you think the ride was worth rather than there being set fees. Also, you will think your life is going to end after riding in the taxi. If not, you will surely be deaf from all the horn blowing.

Be sure to get outside the tourist areas and visit the local's Cairo. The place is just so rich in culture and you will stretch your money further because things are so much more affordable. I remember eating in a little resturant and being stuffed for the equivilent of 75 cents (and keep in mind that included a bottle of Coke).

If you have any other questions, I can certainly try answering them...e-mail is in the profile.
posted by mmascolino at 10:59 PM on January 21, 2006

She is going to learn so much and have such a great time! I, too, am jealous.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:54 AM on January 22, 2006

I'd also second the recommendation for the Lonely Planet's Thorntree.

Another resource worth looking into is HERmail which can put her in touch with women living in Cairo, so they can exchange emails.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:12 PM on January 22, 2006

I worked in Cairo a few years back and loved it! A great book I read was called Culture Shock: Egypt (something like that) that gave me alot of insight. Search on Amazon.

I would also suggest she look up alumni from her school (or yours, or your parents) that may be living in Cairo (many schools have online, searchable alumni DBs for alumni members) and contact them...just for a base and maybe add some local flavor.

A fun expat hang out was Harry's Bar at the Marriott in Zamalek (karaoke on Friday nights were hilarious!) She also must, must spend at least a wknd on the Red Sea-- Dahab is more low key and less touristy than Sharm el Sheik.
posted by psususe at 6:42 PM on January 22, 2006

The Cairo subway system is supposed to be a must-see, which is probably for the best since she should definitely spend some time as a passenger before she tries to drive on her own. The traffic is insane over has the highest accident rate in the world. A ride in a taxi is a real adventure.

She can and should haggle, but she'll have to know that as a Westerner, she is going to be perceived as extremely wealthy. Saudis get the same treatment. The vendors will simply not give her the same deal as an Egyptian would get. For groceries, she should stick to things with marked prices. If she wants to buy any big ticket items, it might be worth getting an Egyptian friend to do the negotiating without her around. Egyptians think that every American is wealthy beyond belief. And that's the starting point for their negotiations. (By the way, the only way she'll get a worse price than going by herself is if she goes with one man. The vendor will think it's her husband and he'll take any price because he won't want to disappoint his wife!)
posted by leapingsheep at 8:35 AM on January 23, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice and links. I sent her the link to this page, but she hasn't said anything to me yet. I'll ask her about "best answer" and all that.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:09 PM on January 23, 2006

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