I wonder why in some places it is or seems rather easy to become part of that particular place and in others you always seem to remain an outsider no matter how long you live there. My father, who is from the Motherland had been living in the Lowlands for almost 25 years and has always felt an outsider in his host country. My friend Sue who is from the Midlands and so are her parents, and probably her grandparents, has been working, living and travelling in –mainly East –Africa off and on for four years. She speaks fluent Swahili, knows how to cook fufu and showed her sister in law how to carry her baby niece African style. She gets it and East Africa gets her.
While I am still making my mind up if I love Alex or just like it, I don’t think I will ever be a part of the city. Despite Alexandria being a big city it is quite homogenous. There are mainly Arabs and very few (North) European or Sub Saharan looking people and I can count the oriental looking people I have seen on exactly three fingers. Everyone speaks (Egyptian) Arabic and English or -any other language- is not that widely spoken. Now, East Africa is probably less homogenous with all the different ethnic groups and all the different languages that are spoken in the region, but the vast majority of the population is black so white Sue would be very easy to single out from an East African crowd. How come she became part of the region and I doubt I will ever become a part of this corner of the globe? Is it just because it is too early days, because my language skills are not yet that well developed or I just don’t feel the vibe?
I am adapting; I am learning the language, I enjoy the haggling and bargaining at the market and in shops. I love it that I can buy fresh dates everywhere. I like it that our mansion only has doors to the bedrooms and balconies and these are always open to get a pleasant breeze in. I enjoy whining about the heat. I like the sound the mosques make at prayer time including the one next door, even if it’s 5 o’clock in the morning. I like watching Egyptians soaps and the Power Puff Girls in Arabic. I like that people mind your business and seem overly keen to help if you seem in trouble or in need of help.
I do find it a bit of a shame that I have to pay attention to what I wear. No too tight, not too much cleavage, no bare shoulders. I find it a shame that many Egyptian men are not respectful of women especially when they are foreign and unmarried. I miss my hippy shop and my supermarket where I can buy spelt flour, wheat free pasta, rye bread, decent mayonnaise, basil, oregano and other herbs without paying a fortune if they have it in the first place. One thing which I do not necessarily dislike but I really have to get used to is going out and not or barely drinking. This fairy laaaaves her red wine and dark rum. Both these substances are not widely available in Alex. The wine there is, is horrendous and horrible expensive and the only rum I’ve come across is white Bacardi which is too bog standard for my liking. So we drink fruit cocktails, which are fresh and very good and smoke sheesha. That’s how we spend our night out. No such thing as having a boogie either; clubbing in Alex is just as popular as growing a moustache in London. One of the things that came as a (necessary) blessing when moving to Alex was drinking less. It can be difficult not to lead a boozy lifestyle in the UK. I think that many a foreign national residing in the UK would agree on that. Unless you are my Eastern European evil-genius-friend Lou who, is annoyed that not every bar in town sells absinthe. But what can I say. He is from Eastern Europe .