When you live in Egypt: the revolutionary years 2011-2014

This is a previously published story (in Estonian) about our life during the four “revolutionary” years in Egypt, which despite what ever happened around us, were actually some of the most exciting and (even) evolutionary years until now, at least for our family.

I wrote it after seeing what my Facebook offered to me as a summary of my most recent year – mostly flowers and flowers, as if I had spent the whole year gardening, only. Which I do a lot, of course, because if you have a roof garden then in this climate it needs care on a daily basis, and in summer – twice daily.

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But this was truly not everything we did….

One of the busiest years was indeed the 2011. In January, to start with, I urgently finished and designed and published into the web the book that describes my re-settler impressions about life in Egypt. I figured that now Egypt was the topic of all news for weeks at a time, it will encourage people to read up on the culture and history of this country that they otherwise only see in hotel and resort context. Did it? Who knows…Egiptusega abielus

Then someone called from our consulate and asked if we were suffering in any way (no, we were not!) and if we needed one of those emergency flights back home (no we did not!).  Only one family left later in that year, and it was mostly due to one more of their kids becoming school age, so they could not afford the school fees any more. So they moved to Spain where goods schools are free and climate is almost the same while the wages are higher and prices are lower (or so they wrote).

I then took my camera with me to a supermarket, to send photo proof back home, that, despite the events in Tahrir in Cairo, there was plenty of food available. B-)

Porgandeid oodates

Piim ja mahlad

Hotel prices crashed and 2011 actually was the year for the most frequent swim&sun breaks in luxury hotels for us. In the order of photos: Swiss Inn Pyramids, Sheraton Dreamland, Sofitel el Gezirah, all in Cairo. All available for peanuts, and kids for free every time.

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IMGP9868 Sheraton main pool

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We still had plenty of Estonian families in the country, who also had kids, and we gathered once every month for kids’ games and songs (and chat and drinks for grownups). That year it was our turn to host a meeting – yes, they all came to our village!

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We organised until now the only Estonian Midsummer party in Ain Sokhna, where a much beloved by Cairennes (for dressing down) Palmera Beach Resort built for us a loveliest bonfire right on the beach, an even laid for us the party tables right out there.

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Jaanijutu aeg...

Kid crafts and fun continued when the temperatures dropped towards the autumn…

Hakkab looma...

We had a true harpsichord player among us who brought to life the only known old harpsichord in Cairo’s German Church and we drove there to listen to a beautiful piece of Haendel. Incidentally, that was the night of the infamous Maspero events, that was just down the street from us. By the time the concert was through we had to leave quite speedily because they were already firing down there. Which was also our being closest to bullets or other fighting ever, in Egypt or in Cairo, ever, and hopefully ever after.

Klavessinist vestlemas tänuliku kuulajaga

The next most important event after Midsummer, for an Estonian, is of course Christmas. This must have been the year of the largest number of Estonian kids in Cairo, ever! They have now mostly left though, because who is willing to pay for schools if you can have them for free elsewhere? (Probably the most serious consideration factor for a parent in Egypt.)

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We moved on with our family, too. For the older one it was time to leave the nursery and continue to the pre-school.

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This was an extremely happy development for her, but the younger sis was heartbroken…

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Before though, the older one delighted us with a top role in her nursery’s annual Mother’s Day performance that this time depicted the story of a Mother Theresa-like saint, who was a Christian saint especially concerned about leprous patients, and very keen on cleanliness!! See the comb? 😉 She was 5 then.

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It was also the year of our first visit to Cairo Opera, to listen to the famous Egyptian composer and jazz pianist – Omar Khairat. To buy tickets to an Omar Khairat concert in the opera, you have to follow the opera news for when the tickets will be sold. On that day you have to go to the booth early, to get your line number, first, and with that line number you will be able to buy your tickets then. Go early, because the cheapest seats sell out within a couple of hours and all seats before the day ends!

Minu elu kõige ilusamad ooperipiletid

I really loved the opera house that manages to be modern but suitably grandiose, while pleasantly cosy, all at the same time. Built with a Japanese grant after the old house burnt down.

Now, that heap we did not pay for the ticket (not yet).

Tähelepanu! Seda pakki siin majas enam ei ole, ja lähiaegadel (nuuks!) ka ei tule!

We bought our first car with it! From bicyclers (the kids invariably falling asleep in the hot afternoon sun on the bike on the way home), to motocyclers, to car-owners, this was quite a mind-blowing development over a couple of years. Sahen is not only a Turkish copy of an old Fiat model, it is a model that is cheapest and easiest to service, when you live where we do, and that basically decided it. Here he comes… 🙂

Ta tuleb! Ta tuleb!

The best about it was that hubby immediately gained much more freedom about where to keep our bees. Now he could discover much better places with much richer food for them, and I went along a couple of times, because I am a naturally curious person. Here is my lazy vantage point while the men are busy working…

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Amazing, very orderly infrastructure out there in the desert – the roads, the irrigation channels, that enables to grow the total fruits and other crops that the Egyptians need.

In the meanwhile, 2012 had arrived… Because we spent perhaps more time in front of TV, following the events elsewhere that kept us home, we also took more chances to go out with kids, whenever an opportunity rose. To smaller fun parks near us…

Piilupart oli rongijuht... või kes

… and to bigger ones elsewhere, like Dream Park near Cairo:

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Spring arrived and I had a visitor on our balcony!

Lind nimega Lind (Asfura)

And it left a present, too. Someone else ate that present over the next night, though. Survival is tough out there!

Väike naerutuvi!

Our older kid graduated from the pre-school. Floodlights all over again… Its great to be a kid in Egypt, to be honest.

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We took our annual trip to Alexandria. If you did not fall in love with Alexandria yet, then perhaps because you never went? We took the kids with us, and therefore for the first time we also visited a beach there – the Maamoura beach, where it is (almost) acceptable for a adult to wear a bikini or a swim suit.

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More hotel pools followed. The summer is hot in Egypt! Hilton Dreamland Golf.

"Titebassein" oli piisavalt suur ja mõnusalt soe

I accompanied hubby to his best friend’s wedding to Upper Egypt near Minya. In the hot month of July! I actually took some time to decide if I dare to drive down there. I do love sauna, do not take me wrong, but there you are done in half an hour maximum, and here…

But the dry heat is so much more tolerable than the humid seaside heat. Roads were also much better than I had expected and it was all-in-all a very enjoyable trip.

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Yes that is a registered pyramid over there, do not ask me for its name right now, though… Meidum! Meidum pyramid it is.

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No, this below is not a pyramid (but you can see from there they might get the inspiration)

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Our Sahen was honoured (for the first and last time) to be the wedding car! and as the sole and only car in that village, spent the night in a neighbour’s courtyard. Closed in with a 3 m wall, and padlocked for the night! An Upper Egyptian firmly believes that better safe than sorry…

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Lovely buildings all around, I felt like in a movie depicting life in last century Egypt. All else was also the best – the bride was beautiful, the groom was gorgeous, the new home lovely and luxurious. Even beer was passed around – Upper Egyptians are not stingy kind of people, ya know. See the groom’s shoes!?

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2012 was the year of a trip back to Estonia, because our younger one had not yet seen it after her birth! It was a best-of-the-best round trip of everything seeworthy.

We visited the nature trails. Sitting at home with nowhere much to go (for a walk) is my pet peeve in Egypt, therefore we tried to compensate as much as we could…

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We also snooped around in our relatives’ gardens and got to see how things grow, and also ate a lot of those things! 😛 😛

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Visited the most beautiful spots on the Estonian islands…

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… and my childhood township of Kuressaare on Saaremaa.

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Visited a street party that our National Opera throws at the beginning of each new season, in September. Bringing out their old dusty costumes for trying or buying, holding ballet classes and of course a mini concert with a taste of the best that is coming.

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Visited lots (and lots, and more) playgrounds, that are all so nice and all are for free… Which must be one of the best parts of growing up in Europe, but never mind… 🙂

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When we were back in Egypt, school started, and this time not only for the older sis…

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…but also for the younger sis.

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Hubby’s last unmarried sis wedded and our girls held the most envious position of candle bearers for her! Such a responsibility! 😉 The younger one briefly slumbered during the super long ceremony, but else than that, all went very well!

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In December, something totally unexpected happened – my mom suffered a heart attack.

meie pere 1975

I traveled back to Estonia, overnight and alone, and spent the whole December in the waiting rooms of various hospitals and care homes.

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When I returned, 2013 had arrived…

Our older one wrote its first book (just like Mommy, remember? but much, much earlier, isn’t that evolutionary?). The book is called “Book of Love” and it has 7 pages, all illustrated by the young author herself. In the 1st chapter, if you read it according to the English logic from left to right then: Mom loves Dad. While if you read it according to the Arabic logic from right to left then: Dad loves Mom. What more is there to say??

There is a page also for each auntie and her husband, and grandma and grandpa.

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I also wrote some more, and among all else wrote for my countrymen an enticing story about how to spend well and fully a holiday in Cairo. The story had been agreed in January but by the time it was published in March, Cairo was ablaze with restlessness that had been incited in the aftermath of the 25th January anniversary. I do not think that anyone who read the story, acted on it.

http://www.ajakirimari.ee/Kultuurne_paikesepuhkus_Kairos_253.htm

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Then May arrived, and we traveled to Alexandria again, with the official purpose of buying Eid clothes for the kids for Sham el Neseem. But we also re-visited a memorable cheap hotel on Corniche where we had spent a long Alex holiday back in our honeymoon year. No 5* hotel in Alex can quite match these 20 sqm terraces right over Corniche, and these views…

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We did complete the shopping, too. There is Carrefour in Alexandria and all the brand shops. And there is the whole Raml area with everything unbranded.

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Towards the summer I practiced making our own limecello. It is really very simple!

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Kids had the very Egyptian 5 month summer holidays, which caused me squeeze my creativity to the max, to keep them entertained. We baked lots of cakes…

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…and of course played endless games. Like played bride and bridegroom quite often…

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…and played traveling… (Makes you see what the impressive events are for a kid!)

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We also did a fair share of various crafts (urrgggh!), trying literally everything I could remember from my own primary school times B-). Sending warm thanks here to all my craft teachers! Honestly! And to Google Search… 🙂

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Towards the autumn, Estonian TV teams visited Hurghada (hope was in the air…) and one of them ventured out all the way to visit us. They were friendly, more discrete than I had ever hoped, and captured what was interesting and beautiful to the eye, almost only. 😉  And they brought some black bread and candy for the kids. Thank you thank you thank you thank you! 🙂

TV3 Eve ja Urmas mei

TV3’s Eve and Urmas

It was actually a most difficult year economically, because I had just given up a job of translating back to Europe, which formed a big part of our then income. I figured that although the money was good, it kept me from stepping on and doing something more worthwhile. We ended the year with a Christmas party as always, anyway, with less kids but a large number of fresh young expats around! A quiz is going on here.

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The Christmas Eve itself we celebrated quietly but very memorably by visiting the traditional “Nutcracker” ballet in the Opera. Both kids were (strictly put) under the allowed age of 7, but we smuggled them in easily thanks to their relatively large size compared to an Egyptian kid. The performance was so entertaining that although the 5 yr old did get sleepy towards the end (we normally sleep around 9pm and it was past 10 by that time), they refused to leave and we watched it till the end.

We spent the night in Semiramis Intercontinental, with a full view of the Opera house from our room, and the next morning went to see the freshly released Frozen in a nearby 3D cinema, and even went for a short swim before leaving home. Yes – you can swim in a Cairo hotel in December, the pools are heated. But it may be a tad windy for sunbathing.

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2014 thus arrived in a much lighter mood, and because we had not been out much during 2013, and we had not visited Sharm el Sheikh for ages really, then the big “project” for 2014, or  much awaited holiday, we took in Sharm. Enjoying the nifty resident discounts again, so we could choose exactly the kind of hotel we wanted. We wanted one with a comfortable family room and lots of fun for kids. Which is then what we got…

Novotel Sharm Palm.

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In our home village at the same time, life also kept evolving all those 4 years! Building, building and building in every direction around us. A thumb rule of economy is that when people are building then the life is developing. Or so they say.

Provincial building is simple but highly effective. A day, and the old house is demolished. A day, and the plot is cleaned like dusted with a broom. The old bricks separated one by one and re-sold, the rubbish spread out to fill the potholes and similar. Then a day more, and the new foundation is drawn to the ground with help of threads and chalk, and also cast on the same day. Good building teams have lots of jobs lined up and there is no time to waste.

Then a day and the ground floor walls are up, a day and the concrete ceiling is cast.. and so on, only briefly pausing to let the concrete properly dry and harden.

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Our older one was in her second year in primary school now, so it was her first time to participate in the annual Mother’s Day’s concert… This is always the 21 March in Egypt.

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2014 was a truly busy year. Hubby took great pain to increase the number of our beehives. We spent the early spring up on our roof, building honey frames for the new houses. A very manual job but there are worse places for working than your own roof garden… 😉

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We harvested indeed the tastiest honey of all our years yet, which we sent foremostly to the expat networks in Cairo who were all badly missing what they were used to having at home. And they loved it!

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Not always but sometimes we hauled the kids along and made a swim stop along the track. Our favourite Swiss Inn here again, and they had even built a playground in the meanwhile.

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I love to drive to Cairo, never mind it is for, errmm…. work. 🙂 You still get to see the sights…

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Estonians visited, always a welcome event! This time, it was a real ballerina, or our own Estonian in Cairo Opera House’s modern dance troupe. Girls received a brief but very professional class.

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Then a tiny group of teachers came and also visited kids’ school.

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We also traveled to Estonia again, this time sans daddy for whom summer is the busiest time really. We went to the beach, took a siesta under an apple tree, slept in a tent at night and did other things you do over there.

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We were seasoned travelers already because (if you remember) we had trained a lot at home! When all mayhem broke out in Frankfurt due to a thunder storm, and there was nowhere to sit, we just sat on the floor, and it was fine because we had anyway spent a night in a 4* hotel for free, thanks to the airline, and ate chanterelles to our heart’s content at the hotels’ buffet. (After a trip to Estonia, we love chanterelles dearly!)

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A new school year was due after a while. The younger one passed from pre-school into primary school, so she now (alhamdulillah!) got to wear exactly the same uniform as the older sister. The “big kids'” uniform… 😉

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We sold more honey towards the autumn – see how our product development flourished, pushed by our demanding customers? 😉

2014 IMGP3944x golden melon

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And this is how the autumn of 2014 passed without us even really noticing, and 2015 arrived.

And here this story ends, because 2015 was already a year of complete normalisation.

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One thought on “When you live in Egypt: the revolutionary years 2011-2014

  1. Nii lahe on ikka lugeda teie tegemistest! Mina sain küll tänu sinu raamatule ja muudele sissekannetele päris palju Egiptusest üldse ja egiptlastest ning nende kommetest sotti. Kuna oleme truud Egiptuses puhkajad – küll ainult Sharmis, siis ikkagi on tore teada sellest kultuuriruumist lähemalt ja nende käitumisest, et ise ka olla meelepärane külaline. Kunagi tahaks võtta ka reisi ette päris Egiptusesse, kus ei ole ainult turistipiirkond ja neile suunatud tegevused. Edu teile selle kummalisel-eksootilisel maal ja ikka jälgin teie tegemisi, kui vaid võimalust annad 🙂

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