Going Home. But Do I Want To?

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.



  1. رأيي ماترجعيش مصر طالما متضايقه قوى كده و عندك بديل خليكى بره احسن مصر مش عايزه ناس تقعد فيها تشتكى و تهدد كل شويه انها مش مستحمله و نفسها تنقذ نفسها وولادها خليكى بره و خلى اللى قاعد فى مصر يجاهد و يحارب و يثور و يغضب لحد ماتبقى مصر زى اللى احنا عايزينا

    1. رأيك عجيب يا أم البنات. بتتضايقي من اللي يعبر عن رأيه؟ اللي يقول اللي انت مش عايزة تسمعيه يمشي ويطلع بره أحسن؟ الله يسامحك. هو ده اللي غلط في بلدنا الآن. ندعي حب الديمقراطية بل والجهاد من أجلها بس حسك عينك تقول حاجة مش على مزاجي. الله يسامحك انت واللي زيك. انا نادية العوضي يا أم البنات. أقول دائما بكل صدق ما أفكر فيه وعلى الملأ كما ترين ولا أخاف في الله لومة لائم. عرفينا من انت.

    2. That holier-than-thou tone and your shameless self-righteousness ruins whatever view you’re trying to get across ya Ostaza Om el-Banat. Drop it, if anything the country doesn’t need more people who speak like you, and if I had to pick the brand of Egyptians I want more of, I’d pick the honest open people like Nadia El-Awady over those who think their choices are better than anyone else’s.

      But believe it or not, it’s not up to either of us to decide or even encourage who stays in Egypt or who doesn’t, or what the country needs more of for that matter. Since every Egyptian is free to choose, say and exist in the way they believe is better for both the country and their personal sanity (self-flagellation, compromising too much on behalf of self and suppression of one’s feelings and views never got any nation anywhere … or made anyone more productive, healthier or “better.”).

      So do what you have to do, stay, leave, flog your back 20 times after each meal for your country, or go build a hospital for the needy, whatever you do, do it without throwing stones at others, do it for you, because you love it, not because you hate what others do … and honestly, lose the attitude or the world will teach you the consequences of bearing it.

  2. I think that your feelings towards Egypt are just normal consequences to the great disappointment that we are in, especially after the elections : this is not Egypt we dreamt of for our children to live in, but it was just a dream and we are not powerful enough to achieve it. When it comes to our children, we are more realistic that is why as you said:”for the first time I feel like I want to take my children out of this country and give them a better life somewhere else.” I am sure that this “better” you mean is more moral and ethical than materialistic or physical.

    I used to read the newspapers regularly before the revolution, and this habit increased after the revolution but lately-for the last 3 months- I stopped reading newspapers completely, and I find no need to hear disappointing bad news any more: Getting back our Egypt was a sincere dream, but unfortunately THEY will not give us this chance, it was just a very big dream.

  3. Nadia, I completely relate with the feeling of wanting to take your children out of Egypt and give them a better life elsewhere, except for me, this is how I felt pre-revolution towards my nieces and nephew. I’m still not comfortable with Egypt and am unsure of what its future will look like, but so far I no longer fear them growing up in an oppressive country. God knows whether we are done with oppression for good, and only the coming years will tell.
    When we live in Egypt we usually get used to a lot of crap and forget/don’t realize that there are better ways to live, that clean streets and rule of law are not impossible, that other people are living completely different lives in which traffic lights are respected (and exist!) and garbage isn’t bursting out of bags on the streets.

  4. In many ways, it’s the opposite for me. I feel like I can be myself in Egypt, whereas in the Netherlands I feel constrained by family expectations, social expectations and a hostile environment towards muslims. There’s a certain freedom in being a ‘stranger’. Still, I always miss home.

  5. Asalamu Alaykom,

    I actually chose Egypt over America. I’m not a Pollyanna. I can still there there are problems—except when the electricity goes out because then I can’t see anything! Maybe that’s why they have it fail so often.

    Egypt has a goodness at its core. There’s a faith, a perservance, a connectedness, and there’s love. I feel it and that truly isn’t found all over the world.

    Let me give an analogy: Go to the American Embassy in Cairo. It’s ugly but it’s clean. You walk in as an American and you feel some pride in the surroundings. It’s a little piece of (ugly) U.S. soil. There’s no littering. No one is spitting on the floor. It’s organized.

    Walk into the bathrooms there and you see how CLEAN they are. Shiny! Yet, if you are in a bathroom stall and you look for a washer there’s none. It’s impossible to wash after using the toilet. So, the outer appearance belies the lack of functionality and true cleanliness.

    As you return to Egypt, please remember that facinating fascades wear thin. Fake is flimsy and it crumbles over time. Egypt is a very old country with thousands of layers going all the way through to its solid core. I hope you can be proud of this place and the people which I have adopted.

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