Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Expat Life (Part I)

Expatriate (ex·pa·tri·ate) – one who has taken up residence in a foreign country

Sometimes I get emails asking what expat life is really like, and I’ve been soft on giving my honest opinion. I’ve heard that the more unstable a place, the greater presence of alcohol and substance abuse. I don’t know if I can actually tell an increase in that for Maadi because it was already so prevalent. Each time I return to the country from a business trip or vacation, someone at the local watering hole has died. True story.

Through the years, I’ve covered several topics on this blog; however, one subject that I’ve failed to really discuss is the life of an expat, particularly an expat in one of the wealthier areas within Cairo called Maadi – which runs on a great deal of alcohol, sex and drugs.

Maadi expats are in a world of their own. Sometimes we call the neighborhood “The Colony” because everything you need is here and the thought of leaving… well, would require too much energy (the traffic is discouraging no matter where you are). Instead something is formed that could be a case study found in some psychology book.

The breakdown of the expat circle in Maadi is majorly composed of 20-somethings to 55+-year olds mainly including:

  • Oil and gas professionals
  • Oil and gas professional wives (aka oil wives)
  • Teachers
  • Embassy employees
  • NGOs

Of course you have a few special cases which will fall under a simpler breakdown of expats: those with a purpose (e.g. job) and expats that couldn’t make it in their own countries. The latter includes the type of expat that has lived in Egypt for more than five years (usually onward over 10 years) and makes you question everyday how they are able to afford the cost of living. Egypt is a relatively cheap country even if prices are rising post-revolution. I am personally unable to understand those that don’t work and/or haven’t been able to maintain a job for two months being able to support what appears to be an expensive beer tab each night. Oh wait, I do. They’re called freeloaders.

Inside the circle, everyone knows everyone and everyone has secrets. Although how secret can it really be when the entire community knows, but I digress.

Do you know how many marriages I’ve seen fall apart? How about all the affairs? That’s not even to mention the high rate of prostitution centered around one of Cairo’s so-called best neighborhoods (while I don’t fault a woman for doing what she has to do, if there wasn’t such a demand there definitely wouldn’t be much of a supply).

I said this was Part I because there is really so much to tell about expat life here and yes, there are great things but no one ever talks about the negatives. Instead of giving the standard disclaimer that there are exceptions, life is beautiful, Maadi is great and all the things you can do here, I’m going to leave on this: I love Egypt, but I really dislike my drama-filled, colony of a neighborhood where everyone is incestuous and continuously drunk. Ever have a bad day? Well, look at these *BLEEP* and you count your blessings. I mean seriously, you could have just been stabbed 90 times, robbed, house burnt down and been victim of credit card fraud/identity theft and your life would still be better than 92% of the expats that reside in Maadi.


  1. I dated a maa'dian for a couple of years, one of the first tidbits of advice he gave me on one of my visits was to not befriend the expats or seemingly liberal locals easily, it's not the same scence I was familiar with (Dubai)- I took heed in that advice, but always wondered if he was just being overly paranoid.

    1. Without knowing your situation and just giving it based on my personal experience, I don't think it's fair to say to not befriend. I just think that you have to exercise extreme caution. You will find some gems, but they are rare and not the first ones you will meet. When I moved here, I felt like I was in a stadium playing some game I didn't understand and the stadium seats were sold out with onlookers just waiting for me to mess up. That being said I think that if you've lived here awhile and are a good judge of character, you will start to notice warning signs early on of those that you should only be cordial with and those that you should give a lot of time to. However, this is only if you WANT to see and recognize those signs (I know plenty who choose to ignore those indicators).

  2. Great analogy in regard to the game and so on- totally felt that way many times. I only spend a few months a year in Cairo due to work schedules, so that makes it challanging to meet people. Thanks for taking the time to reply!