Amreekia Min Bab Al Sharayah

That was the name of my old blog. Translated, it means an American woman from the old, poor and rundown district of Bab Al Sharayah in Cairo. I was given this nickname because although I was born in the USA, my mentality is more ghetto Egyptian. I'm a curious mixture of east meets west, and dont care if you call me balady!

I'm going to slowly bring some of the old posts from Amreekia over here (see archives), basically to give new readers some background. I hope you'll enjoy the old and the new and join me on this fascinating expat journey!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Friends...and not

I know this will probably sound like a rant, but it really isn't. I think someone rants when they really care about something and need to get it off their chest. But the subject I want to discuss I am happy to say--finally--no longer bothers me at all. In fact I am actually grateful that I no longer give a damn about the kind of people I am addressing. Life is so much better when you know where you stand--better still when you take a stand--and realize, some people just don't matter at all.

My friends have always been so very important to me. They are the light of my life and, among other things, I depend on them. To talk to, have fun with, to seek advice from, to cry on their shoulders--basically my friends are my sisters. I never had a blood sister, but I can imagine it would feel the way I feel about my friends. Always there when you need them, sharing and caring. And I think, judging from the relationships I have, I have been a good friend in return.

In fact, I find it hard not to be nice to people--even those who are not nice to me. I am far too often afraid to speak my mind, and would really have a very difficult time telling someone off. I wish I was tougher in that department. Rather than confronting someone who really needs to hear exactly what I think of them, I just avoid them. I'm not a confrontational person but I wish I was. Because truthfully, some people really need to be told where to get off! Maybe as I get older, I'll develop a thicker skin. Because there are some people I'd really like to rip into.

But before I get into that, let me talk about my real, true friends. My friends in Egypt. No sense discussing the American friends (oh I miss you know who you are!!!) right now because this whole post/situation has to do with Egypt. My dearest friend I will call DR. We've known each other for nearly 30 years. We met in college. As it turns out, I went to grade school with her brother for 8 years and we basically lived in the same neighborhood growing up. During college I became Muslim and she soon followed. When she married and moved out of state, she encouraged me, my late husband, and our kids to follow suit and we did. We spent many happy years together in NJ...a true family. After some years she moved to Egypt and I missed her terribly! It has been absolutely wonderful reconnecting with her again.

We now live on opposite ends of Cairo, and God bless her, because she has a car and I don't, she comes to visit me at least twice a month! It takes her an hour and a half to get here--longer if the traffic is bad, and she always comes bearing sweets from a great bakery! We spend the whole day together, talking and laughing and reminiscing as only sisters can. We talk about our kids, Islam, cooking, the husbands, memories of days gone by...everything under the sun. We have a lonnnng history together and so many wonderful memories we and our families made together. And there's nothing we are afraid to say to each other in the form of advice, opinions, etc. She is simply wonderful. This is true sisterhood!

This week I also reconnected with another friend from back home who came to Egypt this month for a visit--also a Pennsylvania girl who too converted to Islam and moved with her Egyptian husband to NJ. I met her about 25 years ago! Along with DR, AM became a true sister. Our families became 1 family, and both of them stood beside me when I lost my kid's father. She's in Egypt now visiting for a couple of weeks and we've gotten together twice and yakked on the phone a ton. It's so amazing...with sister-friends you can just pick up where you left off the last time you were together. It's like slipping into a well-worn and comfortable pair of old slippers you hadn't worn in awhile. They still fit and feel good--comforting, relaxing.

These are the friends who are worth their weight in gold. They are a gift--a treasure. They, especially DR who is living here, have made all the difference in my life these past months, and even though my visits this week with AM were far too few and short, they brought back such wonderful memories that it seems she has been with me all this time too. How many can say they are so blessed?

But on the flip side, there is the American/Canadian expat community here in Cairo, most of whom I have known online only, but I have known them for a long time--at least 10 years. Virtual relationships aren't too much different than live relationships--at least as far as I can see. Many happy bonds have been formed online. But somewhere between what happens online and what ultimately happens in real life is completely different than what I would every have expected. To the extent it literally sickens me.

In truth I have never met a more selfish and distant group of people. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that many of them--say 2/3 of them, are young mothers with children, so we don't have too much in common. They tend to stick together in a tightly knit group and shun those unlike themselves. But there are at least a 1/3 of the expat community here who are older, childless (or whose kids have flown the coop) and seemingly free to form relationships with each other. But it doesn't happen. In general I would say they are a clique--more than a clique actually--they are a gang. I don't know what one has to do to become a part of their closed secret society--and frankly I no longer care. If being kind and polite and going out of my way for them isn't enough, well the hell with them. Who needs "acquaintances" like that?

The thing is, we expats have formed many online groups and forums and know each other pretty well. Online we try to help each other and provide information that will make our lives easier here. But close the PC and call one of them on the telephone for something and it's a different world altogether. The flip side is if anyone call me, I am always eager to help, meet, etc. I treat my online friends like I do my real world friends. I wish it was reciprocated. I cant quite figure it out, other than remembering the take DR has on it, which is they are basically social misfits who cant interact in person--even though they do online. My feelings aren't so grounded in psychology. My basic opinion is they are just selfish. They don't know how to be real friends. They aren't up for the give-and-take a true friendship/sisterhood requires. They are only interested if they have something to gain from it. In no way EVER do these women go out of their way to do a favor or be kind unless there is something in it for them. They calculate the benefits and rewards to themselves before they ever think to do the simplest of favors or friendly acts.

I thought things would be different here. I thought as "foreigners" in this big, scary and strange land, we would all reach out to each other. We're all in one boat--I thought we would sail it together. Ha. Ha. Wrong! The thing is here, for the most part, almost--and I say almost cuz there are always exceptions to the rule, these women live on American dollars here and live a life farrrrrr better than they lived in USA. They live a life of privilege and blessings, but don't share anything--even their time. They take, take, take. I have tried hard to fit in. I have reached out, sent invitations, hosted gatherings (where maybe 1/5 of those who promised to come actually showed up), called umpteen times on the phone, shared personal belongings...I mean I really tried to be a good friend.

Of all the women I knew online for many years--and finally met here, only one has become what I would consider a true friend. I will call her MD. She is the opposite of the rest. She doesn't put on a false face, doesn't call only when she needs or wants something, is ready to help if I need it (as I am with her) other words, she is rapidly becoming another sister! She's kind, honest and genuine. Not calculating, cold or hypocritical. She's been a breath of fresh air to be sure.

I am not sure which of these expat groups are worse here--the pseudo-religious hypocrites, the ladies who say they are Muslim yet don't practice or give a damn about Islam, or the non-Muslims who hate all things Islam--which makes me wonder why they married into the religion/culture and came to live here to begin with??? To be sure many of the expats here are a strange lot. DR again waxed psychological when she mentioned that many women here couldn't function in their own societies, with men from their own culture--or for one reason or another were rejected by western men--and so found a place as the wife of an Egyptian and then found a place here where there's slim pickens' for friends. But a misfit is a misfit. Sooner or later the breakdown of being able to function normally as a true participating member of our little society within a society here rears its ugly head. I guess if you're either socially retarded--or just plain selfish--sooner or later it becomes apparent.

Truth to tell I spent mannnnny lonely days here. Many days I cried my eyeballs out, stuck between the four walls, not quite courageous enough to venture out alone--or not having any idea where to go. Days I thought I wouldn't make it here, days when I cried buckets and felt so panicky--like a fish out of water. I tried so hard to gather us all together. It didn't happen. And then I began to feel so used. Sure, call me up when you have nothing better to do. Or you need something from me. But let me call one of them, for something as simple as a phone number, a referral for something I need to buy, even a walk or drive just to get out and change my mood--nope--no can do. Geeeeez. Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Maybe all this sounds so nasty. Frankly I don't care. It's something I want to say and then move on. I have managed to fall into a comfortable routine. Between visits from DR and MD we talk on the phone a lot, and I have a driver to take me where I need to go. I finally found all the places to find what I need here--and if I need help I take my housekeeper. My husband and I spend a lot of happy hours together, and in the evenings if we are not too tired we go out for a fresh juice or a walk or occasionally shopping. Every now and then he takes a day off of work and we do something interesting. The social butterflies that are the expat community here continue to use each other. I'm so glad the day has come when I no longer wish I was part of the secret circle. And I guess it's because I no longer care, that I finally have the guts to say what I wanted to say. One day soon I think, I'll be able to say it directly to those who offended the most. Basically I just wanted to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Apparently many expats here never learned how. I thank Allah for the blessings I have, and for the routine my life has settled into. Happy days, thank God.