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Chasing Dreams on the Desert Road: Moving From Alexandria to Cairo

February 2, 2017
Sunset in Cairo

When I was six-years-old, my parents told me people who like writing (which I loved at the time) would grow up to be journalists. About 10 years later, well, I realized it was not so simple. On the day my high school grades were released, I was ecstatic: I was finally going to journalism school! My dream was coming true! Except for a little teeny tiny hiccup.

I was from Alexandria. Alexandria doesn’t have a school for media and journalism.

As reality crashed like a bucket of ice cold water, it was time to have a little (well not so little) family meeting and discuss my options. After prolonged discussions, lots of unapproving nods and lots of encouraging yeses, I decided I wanted to enroll in the American University in Cairo (AUC). My parents fully supported the decision. We started our journey by going to visit AUC to discuss how to apply. I couldn’t sleep that night nor on the way. Dad drove as fast as he could to get rid of the girl in the backseat who was jumping up and down in excitement. Mom was being mom- so emotional you’d think I got accepted and was going there already.

Then the moment finally came. I came face to face with the gates of AUC. This was the moment I had been waiting for since I was six. This was it, all the studying, the effort, the short stories in my free time, the music scholarship I had worked so hard for had finally paid off! So, of course, you can imagine how I felt… I absolutely hated the place and wanted to go home.

The American University in Cairo (stock image)

I mean, this university was a zillion thousand times the size of my school! Also, everyone looked so intimidatingly cool! I considered myself a nerd at my sorry school back in Alexandria, so all I could think of at a university like this was Ugly Betty’s theme music!

Even more, I had been to Cairo before and it is enormous. Alexandria is essentially comprised of three main streets and a few other connecting streets. If you were to get lost, you could easily head in the direction of the Corniche and be quickly back on track. Evidently, this made entering the buzzing, yet very perplexing streets of Cairo feel like I was Rapunzel stepping out of the tower for the first time.

Still, I survived, and a couple of heart attacks later I was commencing my first semester at AUC. While I had the best time of my life at university (thankfully I discovered the Ugly Betty nonsense was in my head), here are some of the things I struggled (and still struggle) with as an Alexandrian living in the capital.


Sunset in Cairo

Let me just start by saying I have the natural gift of sucking at directions anyway. However, admitting that, I move through Alexandria pretty well and I’ve been to Denmark for a semester and was able to move around without getting so lost. But Cairo: five years, two degrees and two jobs later, I still have no clue where anything is! I mean, I have okay directions in Tagamou where I live (okay being the operative word) but take me out of Tagamou and I am a fish on the sand. A taxi could kidnap me for all I know and I would not have a clue! I’m not proud of this! Whoever is reading this piece, please do not repeat this to your friends.

But seriously! It is such a big, crowded, unorganized and just an utterly confusing city. So yeah, directions are one thing I struggle with as an Alexandrian living in the capital.


I am a tiny person, but I am not above stabbing the first person who will tell me it is “Lebana” not “Mastika” and it is “Astika” and not “Goma”.  I mean seriously people, I have a different accent get over it! You don’t have to tell me to repeat the word a thousand times because I sound different, worse… please, please don’t repeat the words I said yourself using my accent. I am fully aware of what I sound like.


I don’t know where “Ahl Cairo” get their information from, but I do not have access to this source. I mean in Alexandria, when a new restaurant opens it’s usually a huge deal. We huddle like packs to go out and try it and everyone knows where it is, what it serves, what happened to the owner of the previous restaurant and probably the owner of the new restaurant himself/herself. Alexandria is a small community; someone is bound to know someone who knows someone who knows you or your parents, so news travels fast. Cairo is not the same! I don’t get the news. I don’t know why but I don’t. So please, when you want to break something like that for me, be tactful.


A traffic jam in Cairo

Question: why do I have to wake up at least two hours early to arrive anywhere on time? In Alexandria I was used to waking up 15 minutes before an appointment and would arrive on time. But here, the situation is so different and I am not a morning person, so that’s an even further struggle. Another question to Cairenes: do you ever estimate the time or is the “leave two hours beforehand” a set rule?

As for the weather, I actually like it here in the winter because it’s less humid. But in the summer- why? It’s unbearably hot and crowded. I know, you could call me soft but honestly, the heat is surreal in this city.


As Alexandrians, we are not the happiest people in Egypt (or the world for the that matter). We do not go sit by the sea to wash our sorrows. In fact being on the Mediterranean usually makes our lives worse not better. One reason for that is that if Egypt is attacked through the sea we would be the first to fall. The second reason is because you, Cairenes, hijack our sea every summer that we sometimes hope someone would actually invade us.

I once read this post on Facebook: “A message from Alexandrians to Cairenes: we are as miserable as you are but with a better view.” And if that doesn’t describe my life I don’t know what does.

Despite all the difficulties I face as an Alexandrian living in Cairo, it has been an amazing ride. I found the education I was passionate about and I currently work in a field I love. While Cairo isn’t necessarily perfect, it’s definitely a more likely place to achieve your dreams than the smaller community of Alexandria.

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