The Expat Diaries Part II: Feminism in Egypt

Sunset on the Nile

In my last article I talked about how my mother adapted to the intricate hierarchy of the Expat life, and her adjustments to becoming an expat wife. It was a struggle for her to adapt to the social hierarchy of expat wives, and to navigate some of the politics peacefully.


Moving to Egypt seemed to be a step up from that, and there was a lot more of an alcohol culture in Egypt. But I believe that the alcohol culture was just a coping mechanism for many who living there.


Don’t get me wrong, Egypt can be an incredible place to live, but it can wear on you. My mother, being the defiant woman that she is, found her own sneaky ways of maintaining her independence in Egypt, without using alcohol as an escape. My mother has always been in complete control of her mind and she continues to be the anchoring element in my family.


The biggest way that she did this was with sunglasses. Walking around the streets and allowing your eyes to wander is a privilege. Rolling your eyes at men cat calling you is a privilege.


My mother did not want to relinquish these privileges, so she bought pairs and pairs of reflective sunglasses so that she could look wherever she wanted and not be harassed for it. It allowed her to make eye contact and to roll her eyes and to look at anything or anyone without being heckled into buying something or being harassed for her forward nature.


To be quite honest, my mother did not like living in Egypt, she struggled with the local culture; we were no longer living on an isolated camp like in Malaysia. There were more strict apparel guidelines as well as a social limit to the tolerance of women as second-class citizens. It was uncomfortable at best to be a white western woman wearing pants and not covering her hair in public. The most common coping mechanism for expats was drinking.


I remember lots of dinner parties, but mostly I just remember falling asleep on people’s couches during the wee hours until my parents nudged me awake after a wine filled night of laughter and escape.


My mother e-mailed my grandmother about her social frustrations and about her experiences living in the greater city of Cairo. She described that her only sanctuaries were her friend’s homes and the school, as we were not a military or embassy family and couldn’t be members of the American Ma’adi House.


My mother found sanctuary in other ways though, she joined a quilt group,joined a book club or two, and of course, there was always family. No matter how hard it’s been, how far we’ve gone or how foreign we feel, we have always been a family unit. And as our family unit we have always supported one another. The most challenging adventure of all was my mother’s idea; repatriation.


Did you miss the first part to this series? Click here to read part one.


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