I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give up to immigrate to another country. Sometimes, perhaps always, even immigrants take years before they realize how much they’ve given up.
People immigrate for so many different reasons. Some immigrate for a better education for themselves or for their children. Others immigrate for economic reasons. Others leave their countries as a result of political conflict, insecurity or war. Yet others may just need a new beginning.
Whatever the reason, I’m willing to guess there’s a certain amount of trauma involved in uprooting oneself to try to settle down somewhere that could be significantly different from what one has known.
I know I have been traumatized by the circumstances in Egypt post-revolution and by my decision to leave and try to settle in the UK.
It’s now been five years since I’ve started going back and forth between the two countries and two-and-a-half since I officially started settling in the UK. Only a few weeks ago my husband said something about one day settling down in Egypt again. My response was visceral: “I never ever ever want to live in that country again.”
After spending last month in Egypt, I think my relationship with my country may slowly be on the mend.
I now very clearly see what I’ve given up to move to the UK.
I’ve given up spending time with my family, where in the UK I have none.
I’ve given up tens (if not more) of really good friends, where in the UK, after all this time, I quite literally have none.
I’ve given up having people: people who know me, people who respect me, people who enjoy my company and whose company I also enjoy.
I’ve given up a lively culture and great food.
I’ve given up the sun and warmth, where in the UK I have neither for most of the year.
In return, I have a certain amount of security, although even that seems wishy washy whenever I’ve applied for my visa renewal. That whole process of applying for a visa makes me feel like I’m some undeserving ingrate who has come to beg for British approval.
In return, I also get to live a life where I’m not constantly judged for what I’m wearing, what I believe or how I decide to live my life. As a woman, I can go out for a run, a bike ride or a swim without being sexually harassed. To me, that is a really big deal.
The night I arrived in Egypt in early November, I cried myself to sleep. For several minutes, I seriously considered going straight back to the airport and booking the first flight out of the place. The next morning, I started working on settling back in to old routines. I got my apartment up and running again. I started getting some of my freelance work done on my laptop. I took one of my daughters out to dinner and went to the supermarket. The next day I went to my old club and went for a swim. It had been so long since I had gone swimming in an outdoor swimming pool. The water was warm. The sun was out. It was glorious. I had a few medical issues and was made to recall how easy it was to get a doctor on the phone (because I know people who know people) and get X-rays, an MRI and blood tests done just by going to the centers and lab and telling them what I wanted. I was invited over to the homes of friends and to the homes of friends’ families. So many people wanted to see me that I barely had enough time to schedule meet ups. I was made to feel like I was the long lost queen of Egypt, finally returned home.
I spent the past week, my last in Egypt, in Hurghada with family. I have spent my time diving, swimming in the open water, sunbathing, and watching two of my now grown children enjoy themselves. Hurghada has brought back so many memories of that part of Egypt that I truly love (the part that you see the second you pass Cairo’s outskirts). This is such a beautiful country. It’s such a shame that it has so much turbulence.
I’ve spent the past five years convincing myself that home is where you lay your roots down. It can literally be anywhere in the world. And where you call home can change during different phases of your life. I needed to rid myself of my attachment to Egypt. I often said that Egyptians’ attachment to country is a sick and perverted kind of attachment. Our sense of nationalism can often be extreme.
Even when I thought I was on my way to detaching myself, I still obsessively followed the news of Egypt. I also obsessively check Facebook to always know what my Egyptian friends are up to. It makes me feel connected to something, when, in the UK, I feel I have no connections at all.
Personal circumstances have caused me to need to change my perspective on why I come to Egypt and how I spend my time when I’m here. That change of perspective, the amount of time I spent in the country during this visit, and the things I have done while here have helped me remember why I’ve always been so attached to Egypt. Egypt is family. Egypt is friends who are family. Egypt is a culture that is so alive it’s on fire. Egypt is the sun. Egypt is the beach. Egypt is the diving. Egypt is warmth.
I’m not an idiot. I’m fully cognizant of all the crap that is Egypt as well. I have friends and acquaintances who are political prisoners. That frightens me. Egyptians generally live in a constant state of fear.
I’m in a fortunate position. I can come as a visitor rather than have to deal with Egypt’s crap every single hour of every single day. I also come with foreign currency that currently goes a long way where many of my friends are struggling to make ends meet.
But I’m happy. I’m happy that a relationship I thought had been utterly destroyed might still have some life in it. I’m happy that I now don’t only see Egypt’s dark side and that memories of its bright side are returning.
I don’t know where home is anymore. Maybe one day I’ll figure it out. Maybe I never will. Maybe home will be in a couple or in multiple places.
Life is a complicated thing.