Seham Saeed is an Egyptian woman from Nuweiba, the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula. She moved to Cairo to study at a private university as part of a scholarship program; she hopes to work, one day, at an international organization like the UN. In this piece, she reflects on the lifestyle shift she experienced coming to the city.
“When I first moved here, I started to wear jeans for the first time in my life. This is something I would never do back home, no one would allow it; it’s not part of our tradition or culture, or something that our ancestors did. We take our traditions very seriously, so I only wear abayas there. My parents allowed me to wear jeans here because they are aware that Cairo is different, but that’s only because they understand my situation.
Over here, you can also ask anyone in the street or passing by about directions or information, but this is not the case in Nuweiba. We are much more closed and withdrawn from society, and we are constantly told not talk to people who are not ‘like’ us or not part of our community.This is because we are very far and detached from the world, it takes me six hours of travelling to get back home, and so there isn’t space for social life to be as common.
Whenever I return back, I feel completely isolated from life – away from technology, from the bustling streets of Cairo, from people, and from all the events happening. Even if I log in to my Facebook account or use the internet, I still feel that I am not as connected. Social media is also not very popular here, you’ll rarely ever find someone using it, but my parents allowed me because they know I am at university and it can help me in my work.
What really shocked me, however, when I came here is the huge gap between classes. I saw people that were extremely rich, driving fancy cars and living in lavish homes, while others completely deprived from the basic needs of life. I never witnessed that in Nuweiba, most of us all come from nearly the same class, with only a small percentage living slightly better or less.
Even when it comes to matters of marriage, I noticed that it is so costly and extravagant here. When I hear stories of my friends in Cairo getting married, I get surprised by how expensive everything is. For us, the man just has to get you a home to reside in and that’s it, you don’t even need to do a wedding or a huge celebration.
The way we live is much simpler. We never plan for the future or even worry about it, we simply live day by day randomly. For example, we would wake up very early, my father would sometimes go fishing to get fresh fish for us to eat, eat lunch at noon sharp and then sleep at 10 pm maximum. We don’t have much in life to occupy us, and so the day is usually very short.
What I really miss about Nuweiba, though, is the feeling of peace. You are away from all of the noise of luxury and consumption, and you are just living in tune with nature. Over there, my family and I would occasionally go and camp at the mountains and sleep until 5 am in the morning, and just watch the stars in the sky all night. From my own house, as well, you can see the moon clearly. I miss sitting in my backyard every night and just observing its beauty, it helped me forget about everything – everything in life.
Everyone is so stressed here, and I think it’s because they don’t look at the sky often. There is so much competition over money and job opportunities, that people have started to adopt feelings of jealousy and envy and all kinds of horrible traits. I didn’t even know what depression meant until I came here. There is too much stress, to the point that some have started to choose their friends just for the benefits they will get out of it. I have met a lot of people like that.
But I’ve learned to adapt, and there are still many lovely people here. I really want to find a good opportunity for myself and to work on my career, and Cairo will help me achieve that. I hope.”