Well, we’ve been in Egypt for a little over a week now and I wanted to share some of my early impressions of living in Maadi.
First though, here’s a little info about Maadi (pronounced Maw-dee). Maadi is an affluent suburb located south of Cairo’s city centre and on the east bank of the Nile River. Maadi is the least densely populated neighbourhood in Greater Cairo and seems to consist mostly of low-rise apartment buildings and large villas. The community is largely inhabited by well-to-do Egyptians and expatriates. It is home to many shops, restaurants, international schools, embassies and this really cool building….
Okay, now onto my impressions….
So much green!
Walking the streets of Maadi, you’d never know you’re in the desert. All of the streets are filled with loads of trees and flowers. There are even many properties that have real grass lawns! Definitely not the picture of Cairo I had in my head before moving here.
The traffic here is pretty crazy compared to Canadian standards. So far I’ve yet to see a stop sign or traffic light. Lanes don’t really exist either – if a car or motorbike can fit in a space, they will. And there is A LOT of honking. Egyptian drivers seem to honk at everything they see. It reminds me a little of the taxis in Peru, where drivers would try to get your attention to see if you needed a ride somewhere.
As you might imagine this can all make things a little dicey for pedestrians. If you need to cross the street you just have to wait for an opening and then go. But sometimes it can be so busy there are no openings, so you just have to try to make eye contact with the drivers and go. It took a few days to get used to, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. Usually they’re moving slow enough that they have time to slow down to let you by.
Arabic is the dominant language here. Learning some arabic is one of my top priorities in the coming weeks. We’ve been able to get by as most Egyptians seem to speak at least a little English, but it would be good to learn a few of the basics (ie. numbers & common phrases), so at least I don’t feel quite so much like a jerk when talking to locals.
For the most part, the cost of living here is pretty cheap compared to Canada. Here are a few examples that we’ve experienced so far (converted to Canadian dollars):
- High speed internet – $20/month
- Dinner for two at a nice Italian restaurant (including drinks + appetizer) – $20
- 1 litre of milk – $1
- 1 scoop of gelato in a waffle cone – $1.75
- 1.5L bottle of water – $0.50
Generally speaking, if something is produced in Egypt it is very inexpensive. If the goods are imported (food, clothing, electronics, etc…) they are comparable to prices back home.
Unfortunately we haven’t had much of an opportunity to sample many local Egyptian foods as of yet. It may be because Maadi has a high expat population, but I haven’t noticed many Egyptian restaurants here. In fact, I think I’ve seen more sushi restaurants than Egyptian, which I was definitely not expecting.
Because of the curfew, we’ve been preparing most of our own dinners. We’ve been able to get most of the same types of foods you can back home – so far we’ve prepared ourselves pizza, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken curry and chicken stir fry.
We have 3 small supermarkets within about a 10 min walk from our apartment, plus a couple of produce vendors, which is nice. One thing that is frustrating is that many items in the stores are not priced, so you don’t know how much it is until you check-out.
A few other food-related observations:
- most of the milk is UHT milk (ie. not refrigerated and comes in 1L tetra pack). Yuck! ***Update – I’ve found regular milk at one of the markets – Hooray!
- as expected pork is not available in the supermarkets or in restaurants, although I did hear that there is a butcher in the neighborhood that imports pork from Germany.
- can’t find peanut butter anywhere
- less fresh bread products available than I was expecting
- local cheese is cheap and delicious
- McDonalds serves falafels
I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment about the political situation in Egypt right now. When we arrived last week, tensions in the city were quite high – the army had just forcefully broken up several large sit-in demonstrations leading to hundreds of deaths. In the first couple of days after arriving here we saw several armored military vehicles and tanks stationed in Maadi. We even heard gunshots from our hotel room the first night, which was a little unnerving.
Since then though, we’ve literally seen nothing related to the unsettled political situation that is supposedly gripping the country. It very much seems that things are business as usual in Maadi. I’ve been out every day exploring the neighborhood and/or running errands and there hasn’t been one time where I’ve felt unsafe (except for maybe when dodging the traffic!). To be honest the only reminder of the grim political situation is the curfew, but even that’s beginning to be relaxed (yesterday it was moved from 7pm-6am to 9pm-6am).
Its early yet, but I’m really enjoying my time in Egypt and at least at this point not regretting our decision to move here one bit.