I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore

I had never been to Egypt before moving to Cairo about three weeks ago, but I’d heard a lot about both country and city. So I knew that I was into quite a difference from Beirut. However, from what people had told me I did think that Zamalek (a small island in the Nile that I live on and where most embassies are placed) would be a bit like Beirut. It’s not!

I noticed this my first day here, when I stepped out into the street and saw woman after woman wearing a veil. I was wearing a summer dress that in no way would have got any attention in Beirut. It sure did here.

The more time I spend here, the more I discover all the differences between the two places. This in everything from how people dress (there’ll be an entire post on that later), how people drive and how people speak. I’ve gotten used to saying “Ma behky 3rabi, behky lubnani” (I don’t speak Arabic, I speak Lebanese) when people ask. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. But I just find the dialects so different that sometimes they seem like two completely different languages.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about similarities and differences between the two cities and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

This is what I miss about Beirut:

– There’s a hairdresser/beauty salon on EVERY corner. And I almost mean that literally. If one corner is missing one, you can be sure to find to in the middle of the block.

– The many, many places where you can buy all kinds of freshly squeezed juice. So far I’ve only seen one here and they mainly had orange juice.

– The supermarkets that are overflowing with just about everything. Especially the high-end ones in Down Town. I’ve gone to what I’ve been told are two very big supermarkets here, but they don’t come near the big ones in Beirut.

– Being able to sit alone in a cafe. This has something to do with the entire male/female harassment issue, which I’ll probably blog about at a later time.

This is what I like about Cairo:

– It’s actually normal for restaurants and cafes to have websites with directions and menus and everything. In fact, the whole web-scene seems light-years in front of Beirut. Even a slow internet connection here is quicker than most of the fast ones in Lebanon.

– The many trees. I thought Beirut was a green city, but it’s got nothing on Cairo. Alright, I probably shouldn’t say Cairo here. I’ve basically stayed in Zamalek my whole time and everyone keeps reminding me that Zamalek is NOT Cairo. But in Zamalek there are trees everywhere. Many streets are completely covered, which not only gives a very welcome shade from the sun, but also covers the island with the most amazing light! Plus, everyday to and from work, I walk through perhaps the most romantic street I’ve ever seen. Again it’s the trees that do it. But I can’t help feeling like I’m in a Woody Allen movie whenever I walk there. So I do every day, even though it’s a small detour.

– The many and cheap flowers. Where Beirut has its salons all over the place, Zamalek has its flower salesmen. You can buy the most beautiful roses and lily’s for next to nothing. And living in a (slightly unpersonal) furnished apartment, having lots and lots of flowers around makes the place seem a bit more like home.

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Let’s hear it for the boy

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with my girlfriends about men and how confusing they can be and how they’re always sending mixed signals and why does a guy with a girlfriend come on to another girl and why aren’t we smart enough to not fall for a guy with a girlfriend and the list goes on. Generally most of these conversations end up by us agreeing that men are at best hopeless and at worst heartless.

So I was talking to a very sympathetic male friend about a dilemma I was having and my friend was being a very good listener and giving me his thoughts on the subject. Then he began telling me about his situation.

Apparently he had been seeing a girl for about six months, when he suddenly discovered that she was married. She said that the marriage had been dead for the past year and that she only stayed with her husband for different practical reasons. Now, my friend was really in love with this girl, so he stayed with her, hoping that one day she would really end the marriage. She didn’t. And so after some time and some quite dramatic experiences he decided to stop things.

I was shocked. I mean really, truly and utterly SHOCKED!  I couldn’t and still can’t believe that another person could do something like that. And yes –  I’ll admit it. I was a bit more shocked about the fact that it was a woman, who had acted this way.

Once the initial surprise had passed, I started thinking about something else: How amazing it was that this friend has been through all of that and still not only took the time to listen to me without jumping in with his own story, but also took my petty problems seriously. Honestly, I’m not sure how many of my female friends would be that large.

On the contrary, when I spoke to a girlfriend about my dilemma, she immediately replied by cursing the guy and calling him God knows what… 10 minutes later she was telling me about how she accidentally cheated on her boyfriend and how she wasn’t sure if she felt bad because of what she had done or because she risked getting caught.

So I guess this is to say that sometimes there are actually good guys out there and sometimes the women are hopeless and heartless. And it’s good to remind yourself about that every once in a while.

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One year later

So I’m going to start this blog with an awful cliché (and no – I don’t believe all clichés are awful. There’s a reason why they became clichés after all). But sometimes life really does work in mysterious ways. One year ago I was preparing myself mentally for moving to Beirut. It was a trip I had wanted to take for many years. A trip that not only was supposed to teach me Arabic, but also give me the time to find out who I am and who I want to be and to prove to myself that I could actually manage on my own.

Overall the trip was a success I would say. Some things went better than expected, others worse. But I would have never guessed that all those things would come in handy just a few months after returning from Beirut. Come in handy now that I find myself in Cairo – once again on my own, but this time a completely different person than I was one year ago.

When I left for Beirut I had all these expectations of the trip and of myself. This time I’m much more open to what will come. I’m sure I’m in for a hell of a ride though. World history is being written as I write this here in Cairo and I have a chance to witness it first hand. That’s honestly something I never thought would happen.


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So – He’s just not that into me?

For some reason I decided to watch the romantic comedy ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ last night. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of rom-coms. I used to be, when I was younger. I would watch them and spend the following days daydreaming myself into the part of the beautiful lead actress’ role. Or sometimes imagine the boy I had a crush on doing and saying exactly the same things the dashing hero in the movie had done and said.

I’m not sure exactly when all that stopped – sometime during my 10-year-long relationship. At first because I didn’t want to feel the disappointment of realizing that life isn’t a romantic comedy. Later I think it was because I didn’t want my ex to get any romantic ideas (that was probably around the time I should have ended things, but that’s a whole other story).

But once in a while I happen to stumble across a rom-com that’s worth watching like ‘Love Actually’ or ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’. One of the reasons I like the latter so much is because the moral isn’t only “love will come if you just wait”. It’s also “sometimes living without love is better than living with a love that hurts”. And that just seems very right.

So I decided to watch it again last night – the first time since becoming single almost 18 months ago. And I have to admit that my impression this time was a bit different. I still like the film and the moral. But for the first time I really and truly understood all the frustrations and disappointments the women in the movie feel. I understood the desperate longing to analyze and re-analyze every single little message and look that one special guy (at least of that week) sends. And then doing it all over with different girlfriends until enough of them convince you that you’re absolutely right in whatever it is you want to hear.

But it also got me thinking about the whole dating thing from a man’s point of view. As the title suggests, one of the points of the film is that if a guy really likes a girl then he’ll make sure she knows it. The end. So if he doesn’t answer the phone or text you or email you, well… Then he’s just not that into you! But is that really true? Do men have absolutely no problems telling a woman that they like her? Are they never nervous about asking her out? I’m sure they don’t spend hours with their friends going through the significance of the different kinds of smileys the woman sent him. But don’t they ever think about how long time has to pass before answering a text? Because honestly – that just doesn’t seem fair.

Alright, the film does show how crazy men can get if they really like a woman. But it just seems… different. As if a women chasing a man is desperate, but a man chasing a woman is romantic or passionate. And that doesn’t seem fair either. So are the rules different for men and women? I’d really like to know, cause while I have 10-years worth of relationship experience I know absolutely nothing about dating.

By the way, I plan on blogging a lot more in the future. I’ve gotten a job in Cairo and will be moving there in a week, so hopefully there’ll be plenty of new and interesting impressions to share.

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Finding the middle road

In the Danish/Arabic blogging-project ‘Blog-On!’ the participants every week get a common theme that we can choose to write about if we feel inspired. Last weeks theme was “Expectations”. This is my post on the subject:

“The picture of smiling children is the picture of disappointments waiting to happen”. I read those words in a book recently and sadly have to admit that a part of me can’t help but agree.

I’m the type who’s always had high expectations of myself. As a child, I remember thinking that by the time I reached 30 I would have a master’s degree from an American Ivy League university, be married to a kind, handsome and successful man and have two beautiful and intelligent children, who would always be served delicious home cooked meals. Need I mention that I would also have a thriving career in a managing position?

Guess what? I was a disappointment waiting to happen! As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I find it very hard to cope with the fact that with every year that passes and every decision I take it feels like I’m closing the door on thousands of other options. I’ve never been able to focus on the window of opportunity I do open. I know this is something I have to work on.

But how do you find the middle course? Yes, I definitely set myself up to fail from childhood with expectations like those. And of course little by little I realized that my life wasn’t going in that direction. I’m not going to wake up on my (yikes!) 30th birthday and suddenly get a depression (knock on wood) because all those things didn’t happen to me. In fact, I very consciously made decisions throughout my adulthood that took me further away from those high ambitions. But still I can’t help once in a while feeling that somewhere along the road I let myself down.

So is the answer simply to lower my expectations to myself and my life? And if so – how low should I go?

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In the Danish/Arabic blogging-project ‘Blog-On!’ the participants every week get a common theme that we can choose to write about if we feel inspired. Last weeks theme was “My favorite piece of artwork”. This is my post on the subject:

When I was a child I felt that museums and art were a waste of time. My parents tried taking me to different museums, probably hoping I’d at least one day appreciate it. But all I looked forward to was reaching the museum shop (which, I have to admit, is still a favorite part for me).

But all that changed when one day we went to an exhibition with paintings by the American artist Edward Hopper. For some reason his paintings really spoke to me. His most famous paintings depict different scenes and situations in New York in the 1930’s and 40’s – an era which I still like a lot. But I think one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by his work is that he has an incredible way of showing loneliness in a crowd.

It would be impossible for me to point out one painting over the rest. But this one, Nighthawks, combines all the things that I like about Edward Hopper.

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To write or not to write

Its been a while since I wrote anything not blog-on related. Not because I haven’t had anything to write about. On the contrary, big thoughts have been flying through my head constantly this past month, but whenever I try to write about them I always end up sounding like a spoiled 15-year-old, who’s mad at the whole world for not doing exactly like she says.

First of all (and perhaps most importantly for this blogs readers) is whether or not I should continue writing here. The idea behind this blog was to chronicle my thoughts and feelings during my stay in Lebanon. But now that’s over and I need to find a different meaning for the blog. My life in Denmark really isn’t that interesting and I’m not sure anyone would want to follow it.

Which leads me to some of my other thoughts. What can I do to make my life more interesting? Or at least interesting enough for me to be happy living it?

Going into 2010 everything seemed new and exciting. I was given a wonderful opportunity hosting the news programme that I worked for. It was only for three months, but I knew that when that was over I’d be packing my up and moving to Beirut – something I’d been wanting to do for years.

Going into 2011 was completely different. My wonderful adventure in Lebanon was over and I have no idea when or if I’ll ever be able to repeat it. I’m going to start working on a new program that (to be completely honest) is quite far from what I want to do.

With all the things I’ve tried, the places I’ve been, the jobs I’ve had I feel like I should be able to make a list of my qualifications and qualities and from there decide in what direction I want to go. But the only point I can ever get down is “A strong English – by Danish standards”.

A friend of mine suggested that I read the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, because it has many similarities with my situation. It’s about a woman in her 30’s, who leaves a stable marriage and sets out on a journey to find… Well, inner peace I guess. And I can definitely see some things in common. Somehow I don’t think the answer to my problem is spending four months in an Indian ashram meditating and doing yoga.

But I can’t help envying the author a little bit for finding her inner peace. I just hope I will too one day. Preferably sooner than later.

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