In a couple of days I will have to move again…
And I figured I will brief you guys about it as well. Especially since I have been very quiet in the past month. What did I do? Well, I was on holiday. I enjoyed the company of my friends and family in Estonia, had a horrible wisdom tooth operation, went on a trip to Germany to see Coldplay (it was AMAZING) and generally complained about Estonian summer weather (it’s always about 14 degrees and raining).
The month went by so fast that now in a couple of days I will already be sitting on that plane again, this time to Cairo, Egypt. I’ll fill you in real fast:
WHERE AM I GOING? Cairo, Egypt. The biggest city in Africa, home for more than 20 million people in the Cairo metropolitan area.
HOW LONG? 6 months, July to end of December.
WHY? Part of my MA degree is a compulsory internship period. I was lucky enough to get an offer from the World Health Organization Regional Office in Cairo, overseeing 22 countries and territories in the Middle East, North Africa, Horn of Africa and Central Asia.
WHAT AM I WORKING ON? I will be working in the reproductive and maternal health unit, conducting research on reproductive and maternal health needs in emergency situations in the countries that EMRO serves. This is a perfect fit for me since my concentrations in Sciences Po are both Middle East and Global Health. The latter I am very passionate about. Thus, I am super excited about this opportunity.
SO HOW HAS THE WHOLE PROCESS BEEN SO FAR?
It’s the first time I am moving somewhere outside of Europe. Gosh, got to love the EU, it makes everything so much easier. I had some super complicated visa issues with the Egyptian Embassy in Helsinki, the whole thing cost me quite a lot of money and finding an appropriate living space was even more complicated.
There are so many scammers in Cairo, trying to rip foreigners off. I felt I can’t really trust anyone. Also, I want my boyfriend to visit which was an issue for many landlords, not allowing women to host any kind of men in their apartment, unless you have a marriage certificate to shove in their face.
Another thing is that I was not really sure what areas are good to live in. There are some parts of Cairo that are more international and foreign, making it easier to live in, like Maadi. However, most of these places were 50-60 minute drive away from my work, not the ideal case considering my workday will already start at 7:30AM.
Luckily, as usual, personal connections work the best. I made friends with one employees from WHO and he knew a person leaving her apartment, just 10 minutes from my work. The place is HUGE, 150 sqm just for me. A huge dining room, salon, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. To be honest, I did not even see small apartments in Cairo. That’s because usually many generations choose to live together and bigger places are necessary for that.
Anyways. I will be enjoying my time alone in a big apartment like that. Will be a nice change before I have to go back to my 10 sqm room in Paris.
IS IT SAFE?
Safety is also a relatively big issue for a young woman living and travelling alone. Ever since the revolution, Cairo has seen an even bigger rise of street harassment. The government is trying to address this issue, there are some NGO-s and other grass-root organisations trying to tackle the problem. But it’s deeply rooted and it doesn’t help that the political and economic situation is relatively fragile, making many young men opt to harassing women, to make themselves feel more manly, more in charge.
According to a 2013 United Nations study, virtually all Egyptian women have been victims of sexual harassment. A whopping 99.3% of the women studied report having been sexually harassed. The most common form of harassment is inappropriate touching. 96.5% of the women who’d been harassed said they’d been physically assaulted.
I spoke to some people who have lived in Cairo and some of them said they had to walk their girlfriend to work and back from work every single day so she would be safe. Of course there are areas that are better and areas that are worse, but precautions need to be taken. I will cover myself up, cover my light hair, wear shades to hide my blue eyes and try not to walk around alone in crowded places or in the evening. I even bought a fake wedding ring. Although I read that it doesn’t really help when you do not have a man by my side.
HOW DO I FEEL?
Overall, I definitely feel that my freedom is more restricted than it is in Europe. But it’s just something I need to take into account and learn to live with it. It’s only 6 months after all. There are also concerns about terrorist attacks, but I would not say that it’s any more safe in Europe right now. I simply need to not attend big celebrations and meetings, be more alert and try to live a normal life. I am sure being scared all the time would make my life impossible.
I know I will gain one of the most amazing professional experiences in my life so far and it will definitely open many doors for me. I am sure it will be a super enriching and interesting experience. Cairo is definitely different from all the red sea beaches and resorts that many tourists visit and one needs to respect local traditional customs to have a smooth life. I can’t wait to explore ancient temples, pyramids and Arabic culture and language.