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Life as a 30-Year-Old Single Woman in Egypt

August 18, 2015
Women wait for the metro at a station in Cairo REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

By Rabab Fathy, The Cairo Post

The whole world makes you believe something metaphysical is going to happen right when the clock hits midnight announcing the end of your twenties and the beginning of a new era of adulthood, seriousness and pretty much grimness. But the truth is, when it was 12 a.m. on July 6, I didn’t turn into a different person, it was all me with my very same hopes and fears.

Being a single woman turning 30 in Egypt is not particularly the easiest thing that could happen to you, not with everyone taking the liberty of interfering with your life, either by asking you straightly “how come you’re not married until now?”, or “nothing new?” accompanied by a wink, or by praying that you would get married soon so the fairy tale would begin and everything starts to fall into place, because as far as they’re concerned, I NEED a man for my life to start.

My usual response to them is similar to what I usually say to my beloved grandmother when she says she wants to “afra7 beeky” (be happy for me, by marrying): “be happy for me because I’m happy the way I am.” And I truly mean it.

I consider myself one of the luckiest few, I was granted great parents, they are neither the richest nor the most fortunate, yet they are the best, they know how to make their children feel special. They support all my decisions, and never viewed marriage as a necessity for life to be good. They taught me that being educated, independent and hardworking is the right formula for a successful life. My father’s motto -which he made sure it’s entrenched in us- is “you are free as long as you harm no one”, and my mother is no different. So turning 30 and not being married is not the problem, not in any respect, rather it is in the mentality of Egyptians concerning age.

One of the first questions an Egyptian would ask to a foreigner or a stranger is related to age; they believe acquiring certain qualifications end at a certain age, fun ends in a certain age. They would stop learning for example a second language because “Ba3d ma shab, wadooh el-kuttab,” which is an Egyptian proverb meaning “after he grew old, they sent him to school.” They would stop doing new things because it doesn’t suit their age; sometimes they would not allow themselves to even laugh out loud because it’s “3aib,” wrong for their age!

I find it challenging to turn 30 in an atmosphere like that; the people I’m talking about are not old by any means; some of them are even younger than me. I have friends who got married, and each time I talk to them, they would say something negative about age, about their feelings of getting old and having grey hair. If you ask them to go out for lunch, for example, it would be almost impossible, because, how can they go out if they have children? It’s hard to balance being a parent with having a good and youthful active life. I do understand where they come from, but it’s not a valid reason why someone would waste the best years of their lives complaining about life and missing their shot at actually living it.

A different group of my friends are simply dead batteries; ask them to join you in taking a course or learning a new skill as simple as cooking, and they would just give you a shrug or laugh at your child-like enthusiasm. I might be an optimist, but it’s only because I must be. The rule is, as long as you and your loved ones are OK, you’ve no right to complain, period.

Also it’s challenging to get old in a society that doesn’t get creative with activities, it’s really hard, for example, to go running or ride a bicycle in the suffocating atmosphere of Cairo, let alone find a class on literature (my personal preference) or cooking. If you found one, it’s usually very expensive due to the rarity of their audience. Even if you wanted to volunteer, it’s not easy to find your way around doing this.

I know it is tough getting old and losing all your innocence for wisdom (a path that’s usually tinged with heartache) but it’s tougher not to have a chance at living a full life regardless of your circumstances. It’s a shame to be oblivious of your capabilities and of the great gifts granted to us and the possibilities that can turn into realities.

I feel for Egyptian men and women when it comes to turning 30 and finding less available friends and less activities for available for people our age. Yet the picture is not so grim, for God is kind and He sends to us people who literally change our lives with their ideas. In my case she is Maryan. Three years ago, she included me in her book club, which consists of seven amazing ladies; we read a book together and then meet to discuss it. She is healing us through what she likes to call a “group therapy.” So you should look for your Maryan, she will add a meaning to your life.

If you know me, you’d know that I already have a bucket list with many resolutions all for my own favor, but my mantra that I remind myself each morning that today should add life to my years; it’s not important how many years you live, as long as you actually LIVE them. My grandmother once told me that “those who live shall see, but those who roam, see more!”

As I turn 30, and despite the fact that I live in Egypt, I feel very fortunate because there are millions of things I still do and enjoy, I’ve been able to realize many of my dreams and the quest still goes on and I remind myself since I’m granted a little bit more of life as Gabriel García Márquez puts it, “I would sleep little, I would dream more, because I know that for every minute that we close our eyes, we waste sixty seconds of light. I would walk while others stop; I would awake while others sleep..(for) tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone, young or old”!

Comments (17)

  1. Sally Naguib says:

    I loved your article
    I’m gonna turn to 30 after a few months and am not married yet …I myself don’t feel like I have to get married in a young age, my parents never told me or made me feel that I have to get married now, all they care about is to have a good career but the problem is not them it’s the people that are around or even my friends the ones who r still not married and in their 20’s yet keep whining that they r not young anymore and they have to get married before 30 and not just the young women but also i find young men getting married before turning into 30 and when i find a 28 yrs old young man asks me . ” you are beautiful and sweet how come u didn’t get married yet, seems like there’s nothing wrong with u !!!!”
    So according to some people the women are single in a young age there must be something wrong with her ..

    1. Horus says:

      Young Ladies,
      Having read this impressive article and the four great comments accompanying it, I will take the liberty to offer a male’s perspective.
      I have lived the first third of my life in Egypt and have lived in Canada since. I have been retired for a few years now, and I have a son who is a bit older than Rabab. Although I have not had a daughter, I still consider myself blessed.
      Had I had a daughterI would definitely have wished her to be of the same mind-set and courage of Rabab and the other young ladies. You have my admiration and my full support in the way you are facing life and the future, you are your own person and have to be proud of your accomplishments and of who you are. This is the 21st century and it belongs to you. Best of luck and have a great life! And, in the words of Mr. Spock live long and prosper!

  2. Traci says:

    Fantastic article! I imagine the difficulty in doing things differently in a culture that is very entrenched in tradition. Heck, I am Canadian and lived in Egypt and felt it myself! But times are changing. I have an Egyptian girlfriend that did not marry until near 40. Why? Because her father raised her to be strong, independent and have respect for herself enough not to just marry for the sake of marrying. He wanted her to be happy, and she did not think she would be happy under the control of a man/husband. And she wanted to fall in love if ever she wanted to marry. That she did, and before that, she lived happily single, adventuring and doing activities that filled her soul. 🙂
    Good on ya, Rabab, and thanks for writing about this. I am sure many single 30 year old+ women feel there might be something wrong with themselves (especially from the pressure of family and friends) and you voicing an alternative view will be very empowering for them.

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