Cairo, Egypt Report of what it's like to live there - 06/16/13

Personal Experiences from Cairo, Egypt

Cairo, Egypt 06/16/13

Background:

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

No. Lots of other experiences. I have been posted to Tokyo, Chengdu, Mogadishu, Ndjamena, La Paz, Toronto, Beirut, Chisinau, etc.

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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?

Washington, DC. About 12-14 hours, depending on connections through Europe.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Three years.

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

State Department Foreign Service, employed at Embassy Cairo.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We're in a leased apartment, and commute times vary between half an hour and two hours, depending on traffic.

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

Lots of stuff at the commissary at comparable prices.

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

Some knives to wear/carrry on the street.

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

Some of the international standards, but prices are very high.

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

Bad ant infestations in embassy apartments. Some roaches.

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Daily Life:

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

Embassy APO post office.

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

Very available and costs are reasonable.

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

Adequate facilities are available at the embassy and other places. Not great, but at least something.

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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?

There is lots of credit-card fraud here, so I wouldn't recommend it.

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

Pretty much so. There is no Unitarian Universalist, though (our pref), as far as I can tell.

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

Cable/satellite.

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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?

The more the better. Those who don't speak arabic seem to have a harder time adjusting.

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

No accommodations exist for people with even the mildest disabilities. Forget trying to walk anyhwere!

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Transportation:

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

Absolutely not safe. Buses are very dangerous. Trains are poorly maintained and have a lot of accidents. I have personally been mugged by taxi drivers, and I know several other people who have as well. There is one taxi driver who does perverted things near the schools. You are really taking your life in your hands when you go near those guys.

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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?

It's better not to bring one. The embassy makes you park on the street. As gas becomes scarce, expect it to be stolen from cars. And a lot of road confrontations, it's just not worth the risk.

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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?

It's not really high speed, but it works most of the time.

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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?

You can get cheap cell phones and service if you stick with the basics. Buy time as you go, don't get a plan. Those are absolute rip offs.

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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)?

OK.

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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?

None at all.

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

Pretty much over the top.

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Health & Safety:

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

Absolutely. The city is no longer safe by any measure. The police have abdicated their responsibilities. The apartments do not have adequate locks, windows don't lock, balconies are easily accessible from street. Boabs and other building staff are corrupt and are themselves a threat to residents. Embassy security basically provides protection for the ambassador and DCM, and for government housing compounds, but it leaves everyone in leased apartments pretty much on their own.

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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?

The embassy medical staff is great, but if it's anything serious you had better get on a plane. Hospitals here are where people go to die.

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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?

Extremely unhealthy. Lot of car emissions, they are always burning things, and LOTS of second-hand smoke.

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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?

Not too bad, but it can get insufferably hot in the summer time.

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Schools & Children:

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

American, British and Canadian schools, probably others. I don't have any experience with them.

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

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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?

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

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Expat Life:

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

Shrinking rapidly.

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2. Morale among expats:

Most are very unhappy, but it's what you make of it.

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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?

The gay scene is almost non-existent, and it's hard for a gay couple to make friends here outside of the embassy staff.

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

There is a lot of risk for street crime, but it's not like it was in Mogadishu, so I would say that you just have to remain vigilent and realize that it is a fluid situation.

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

From my personal experience, absolutely not. My partner and I are always looking over our shoulders. We both speak fluent Arabic, and we have to force ourselves to ignore the malicious comments. We do constantly fear that we will be the victims of violent hate crimes here. There is just no tolerance of same-sex couples here, and the embassy doesn't really have any programs to help LBGT people adapt.

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

There is severe persecution of Copts, and basically anyone who is not a Muslim will find this a very uncomfortable place to live. That aspect is getting worse by the hour.

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

Getting mugged at the pyramids, having a knife pulled on me by a taxi driver, being on a Felukah that turned over.

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

See the pyramids, of course. Nile cruises, Luxor, beaches.

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

Not much worth buying. What is worth buying can't be taken out of the country. Even the stuff they make: if it looks like it faintly resembles an antique, they won't let it out.

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

Warm weather. Hardship differential (extra money).

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11. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes, I like living dangerously. I guess I have a bit of a death wish.

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

sense of security.

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3. But don't forget your:

small arms.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

"The Pharoah's Curse"

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

I didn't find any of the tourist guide books to be useful.

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