Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 03/26/13

Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt 03/26/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

D.C., 14 hours via Frankfurt

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3. How long have you lived here?

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

The contributor is a diplomat who had lived in Cairo for more than a year, with multiple expat experiences.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Government-owned and local market. Commute times range from 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes depending on location, traffic, and protestors --- who sometimes manage to close roads with their rocks, molotovs, and micro-bus strikes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

We have a commissary and there are reasonable local options, including Carrefour. This meets all of our needs.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

More things to keep the kids busy: board games, more video games, DVDs, pizza-making supplies, ice-cream maker.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are several good restaurants in Maadi (Thai, Lucille's, Korean BBQ, Sushi, etc.) and some high-end establishments in Zamalek (downtown), Sequoia, La Bodega, etc.). And when it's unsafe to go outside, Otlob.com keeps us fed!

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Plenty of insects and critters feasting on the trash left in the streets. We've seen dead animals in the streets, including cats, dogs, horses, and birds.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Post is serviced by APO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available and fairly inexpensive. $120 per month for 2x weekly.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a very nice gym at USAID, and there is another suitable gym at the Embassy. However, most people address their morale issues in less healthy ways. The Embassy med unit is probably quite busy these days and the Maadi clinic recently altered its hours to better address the needs of mission families.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

We use credit cards when dining out and while traveling. There are banks at both USAID and the embassy.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There are several Christian services.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

We subscribe to OSN for television, and there are a good number of English-language programs.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It would be unsafe to come here without Arabic.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This would be nearly impossible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Post policy does not allow for the use of buses or trains due to security concerns. Metro is allowed, although stations also serve as gathering areas for protestors. Travel outside Cairo after dark is prohibited.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Drive a small SUV at your own risk. Due to security concerns, post dictates that USG employees travel in armored vehicles when using GOVs, so you may wish to consider why that policy exists when evaluating whether to bring a vehicle to post.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

2MB for $40 per month (approx.). actual speed closer to 0.8MB.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

All mission members are provided with mobile phones, and we leave them on at all times, day and night, to monitor security notices and see what new surprises Egypt will deliver us.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

We've identified a good vet for our cats.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Shirt and tie in the office, jacket at meetings. We don't get out much these days; our time in public is limited.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Yes. The embassy compound was breached, and there are ongoing concerns about crime, political violence, potential for terrorism due to absence of a capable/willing host country police force.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

London is the medevac point. Bring your own home first-aid kit, complete with medicine, especially for the kids.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Poor. Our daughter now has asthma.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Desert.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

They ain't what they used to be. As a result of the departure of a number of expats, the quality of CAC has diminished in comparison to pre-revolution standards. Our family worries about the safety and security of our children because the school appears to have less security than USAID and the Embassy.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

The school is generally responsive to the needs of students who are part of the mission community.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

There are a number of local preschools and daycares to choose from, although we have no direct experience with them.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Our kids are enrolled in a number of after-school activities, including soccer.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Dwindling.

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2. Morale among expats:

Long gone. People are waiting for the end of their tours. The use of alcohol is increasing, and rumors about the deterioration of Egypt are circulating everywhere, including at school.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

People have become insular; dinner parties and play dates at home are the norm now that so many weekend activities have been disrupted by localized protests.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

This is not a good city for anybody. Egyptians are trying to leave, as demonstrated by the long visa-queues at the embassy, and Americans are either counting the days remaining in their tours or hoping for Authorized Departure.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

No. Women are subject to sexual assault (digital rape) and verbal harassment. We assess our dress on a daily basis, being careful to ensure we're not showing too much (read: any) ski---although this doesn't seem to stop the harassment. Several of our friends have been groped.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Egypt has spent more than 30 years starving its people of education and rights. All forms of ignorance are on display here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Resilient Egyptians and traveling out of Cairo with my family to other cities in the region.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Embrace the cold reality that you'll spend your weekends watching Egypt fall apart live on CNN and Al Jazeera!

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Gas masks for the tear gas!

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Living in the midst of a revolution, wondering if we'll begin receiving danger pay, surviving a real-life Argo scenario.

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11. Can you save money?

In the short term, though you'll spend it on flights out of Cairo or payments to your mental healthcare provider.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes. But we'd like to be recognized for the sacrifices we make. This would be as simple as seeing post management demonstrate that they care about our safety and security and recognize the very real hardships and dangers we face.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Optimism.

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience. This is a good opportunity to build solidarity with other colleagues and families, most of whom are struggling to maintain their sanity and productivity despite serious challenges, both internal and external.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

These days, Cairo reminds us a lot of Black Hawk Down.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

The Yacoubian Building.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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