On July 1, 2012 I left Egypt for the UK to spend just over a month with my husband who lives there. I left Egypt only days after our first democratically elected president took the oath.
Since the revolution, leaving Egypt – always for brief visits abroad – had never been easy for me. While I was away I would obsessively follow the news and events happening at home. I’d feel a need to be back in my country. I always had an overwhelming feeling that my country needed me. I needed to be home.
This current visit abroad was different. Leaving Egypt was as difficult as ever. I am always reluctant to leave even when I know I am in need of a break. This time, though, I felt that I had stuck with the process, however ugly it was and however much I hated it. I stuck with it until the country had a president. It was time for me to take a well-deserved break and for the president to take over for awhile.
It was nice to shut off for once. No matter how much I tried shutting off before, I never truly succeeded. I know I succeeded this time because for the first time in many many months I felt relaxed. It was nice to think about normal middle class things: What are we eating tonight? I need to buy a new hard drive for my computer. Can we afford to go on a short holiday this summer? Which movie should we see this weekend? Should I jog this morning or should I make this a rest day?
These are things I’d normally think about when I’m in Egypt as well. But in addition to all that I’d have many other things on my mind: Is it safe to send the kids to school today? Were any of my friends or relatives caught up in the violence downtown? Are they ok? Is anyone hurt? Has anyone gone to jail? Should I work from home today or dare I brave Cairo traffic? What are the politicians discussing today? Are women’s rights going down the drain in my country? Am I free to think for myself or do I feel a need to conform to society’s expectations of me? How can I provide my children with any sort of an education? What if I or one of my family members requires urgent medical attention? Where do we go? Will I ever be able to walk down my street without smelling garbage everywhere? What will my country’s constitution look like? Who will be drafting it?
It was nice walking down clean streets, feeling relatively safe, not getting wound up by crazy traffic, feeling I could be the me I wanted to be and not the me others want me to be, and knowing I had phone numbers I could call in case of emergencies and could expect a response.
I go back to Cairo tomorrow. The only reason I’m looking forward to it is that I’ll be back with my children. For the first time I feel like I want to take my children out of that country and give them a better life somewhere else. Over the past month I’ve seen my friends and family on Facebook complain about frequent electricity and water outages, a president who doesn’t seem to be doing enough, and a new government that isn’t up to their expectations. I’ve watched this from afar with not a care on my mind except the fact that fasting Ramadan in the summer in a northern European country is very difficult due to the exceptionally long days.
I always look forward to going back home. This time I’m not sure I’m looking forward to going back to the Egypt I left behind me.