UK

To Drive Is to Learn a Culture: Enter the British Zombies

I will not lie. I thought I knew all there was to know about driving. That is until I started trying to get a British driver’s license.

The dreaded British learners' L-plates.

The dreaded British learners’ L-plates.

I have been driving since the age of 15. That’s 30 years of driving experience. I first learned to drive in the United States. I left the US before I could finally qualify for a driver’s license. But I quickly picked up my driving once I eventually settled in Egypt. At 18, the legal driving age in Egypt, I answered the simple test questions that I was given about signs and I took the 5-minute practical exam, driving around some cones. I passed. Many Egyptians never take that exam. They find someone who knows someone at the police department and get it done automatically; with some money passed under the table, of course.

Since then I have driven in many countries of the world. I have rented cars in the US, Turkey, and many European countries to make transportation easier and more comfortable while on extended holidays. I vividly recall one of the lessons I learned during my driving classes in high school in the US: Follow the speed of other cars on the road. While driving in a foreign country, I have applied this general rule when I am not fully aware of the driving culture in that country. I observe what other drivers do and I imitate them, driving at the general speed of the road and figuring out signs and symbols based on how drivers react to them.

The main part of my 30 years of driving has been in Egypt; Cairo to be more precise. I once explained driving in Cairo to someone by saying, “The main rule of driving in Egypt is knowing that we’re all in this together and we’ll just help each other along the way so that we all eventually arrive at our destination.”

To be honest, that’s not the real main rule. The real main rule is: EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF! Get to your destination using any means possible. There is NO ONE more important than you on that road. Anything you see is simply an obstacle to overcome, go around, or ram into.

The reality is that we have no real rules of driving in Egypt. We have no Egyptian Highway Code that I am aware of. Our driving culture is one of getting onto the road, doing your best to stay on it, and doing your best to get to where you need to get without having too many accidents on the way.

My husband Colin spent a month in Egypt and during that month I tried to teach him the rules of Egyptian driving. (more…)

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The Awkwardness of Christmas

When I was a little Muslim girl growing up in Midwest USA, my Egyptian father did everything in his power to segregate us fromChristmas-Tree Christmas. Christmas, we understood, was a religious holiday; someone else’s religious holiday.

I managed to get away with some things. At school I engaged in the arts & crafts activities of Christmas. Everyone at home appreciated the clove-covered apples wrapped in shiny ribbon that made a room smell nice. My father would not allow me to take part in Christmas plays or even watch them for that matter. But I did find myself humming along to Oh Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy during music class. I couldn’t help it. They were catchy tunes. Those songs were overtly religious and were frowned upon by my father, as opposed to Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein Deer that were both allowed. (more…)

Hello. My Name Is Nadia. And to You I Am a Nobody.

Cairo has a population exceeding 18 million. EIGHTEEN MILLION. Yet every single time I leave the house I manage to bump into someone I know. I mean this in the most literal sense.

My work has taken me all over the world. As a journalist, I always set up interviews before I even set foot out of my country. I have attended conferences in many parts of the world and I have spoken at many. Every time there are people who know me and people whom I know at these events.

When I look back at my life, I realize it has taken me years and years of networking to get to this stage. It started when I was in university. I was part of the Muslim Brotherhood back then; a very large international community. I also had all my fellow students and friends who later went out into the world to work as medical doctors. I eventually started a career in journalism. I had colleagues at work and their families as friends, journalists around the world who wrote for me, and international journalism projects I became involved in. I knew people. Lots of them.

Yesterday I realized how blessed I have been and how much hard work that took. (more…)

London to Paris Cycle 2013

Part I: The Training

When my husband first told me that he was thinking of getting a few guys from the office together to cycle from London to Paris, my

Andrew, Colin, and Nadia after three days of cycling from London to Paris. We made it!

Andrew, Colin, and Nadia after three days of cycling from London to Paris. We made it!

first thought was, “Who does crazy stuff like that?” The words that came out of my mouth were, “Can I join?”

I hardly had any experience cycling but that was not going to hold me back. I bought a cheap mountain bike in Egypt just before I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2009. I cycled a few times in Cairo as part of my training for the climb. That training consisted of leisurely cycling on flat road for no longer than half an hour at a time. I did not think it was leisurely then, of course. I now know what real training means. (more…)

The Career Struggles of a Woman

I find myself – again – in a very difficult and uncomfortable position. I am unable to make the career choices and decisions I would like to make – that I NEED to make even – because I feel I need to wait for other people around me to make their own decisions first.

How many other women live their lives this way?

When I gave birth to my children, I made the decision not to work. This was a very conscious decision on my behalf. It was a very easy decision. My children were my priority. They were babies. They needed a parent to give them fulltime care for a certain period of time. That parent would be me, their mother. Their father would play the other traditional role of providing for us. I was happy with my decision for the first years of our marriage. But then the children started growing older and I realized three things: we needed more money as a family, I needed to be financially independent, and I needed to have something to occupy myself when the children started going to school.

This was when I made the conscious decision to start working. I was very fortunate to find my way into journalism and it became my passion. But I was always “limited” in the choices I could make because of my responsibilities towards my children. (more…)

How My British Eid Taught Me Lessons

I spent Eid in the UK before and I HATED it. It was a day like any other day. No one else around me was celebrating. People on the street were just going about their everyday business. There were no cheesy Eid songs on television. It was just a normal day. Eid isn’t supposed to be that way.

I didn’t have it in me to go through another Eid like that.

I haven’t prayed the Eid prayer, as far as I can remember, since my children were babies. I haven’t even been to many communal prayers in mosques since my children were babies. I became fed up with the attitudes people had when they went into a mosque. Suddenly everyone became a grand mufti. Suddenly everybody had a right to butt into your business and tell you how to wear your clothes or where to place your feet or even where you can and cannot store your shoes. The women’s sections in mosques were/are always noisy, cramped and smelly. I can barely hear the imam praying most of the time and I can definitely not see him. If I thought of bringing my children I’d get lectures on how I should be handling them. It was an overall miserable experience that I have been avoiding for years.

Even though I don’t spend much time in the UK, I have been spending more time here than my typical four days. And because I’ve been spending longer and more frequent periods of time here, I’m beginning to feel myself struggle with things I’ve never struggled with before on my short trips out of Egypt.

Eid is an example of this. I found myself feeling indignant that my special religious holiday meant nothing to everyone around me. (more…)

Taming the Intercultural Beast

For years I’ve been telling people that I think intercultural marriages are a huge mistake. Intercultural marriages are doomed, I’d tell them. The differences, especially in the case of an Arab marrying a Western non-Arab, are too large. I’d tell people that no matter how open and liberal we Arabs seem to be in the beginning of a relationship, we always end up reverting to the rural version of ourselves; the farmer in us or the fallah.

I was saying this from experience. I am the product of one of the worst intercultural marriages – and hence one of the ugliest intercultural divorces – of all time. Take my parents’ story and compare it to all others in this world and it will rank at the very top with nightmare. And theirs wasn’t the only one I had witnessed. We were surrounded by intercultural marriages and not a oneI can recall succeeded. So I know what I’m talking about.

And do I take my own valuable advice? No. Life wouldn’t be exciting if I did. I can give out really crappy advice sometimes and if anyone knows that it’s me.

So I recently married a Brit. The real original kind. The kind that’s been British for generations and generations. Not the “I’m British but from Arab origin or I’m British but from Asian origin” kind. No sirree. I am married to a Brit of Scottish origin. The kind that when I stand next to him, my skin appears to be dark brown; me who Egyptians describe as being white and blonde (I’m neither). The kind that speaks like Braveheart. And man oh man, oh man is it sexy! You tell me how I could have resisted a sexy Braveheart accent? Well, I couldn’t! Hot blood runs through my veins just as much as the next woman.

So now, not only am I facing the trials and tribulations of going through marriage numero duo, never an easy task in the best of cases, this second marriage is fraught with the problems that occur when an Arab and a Westerner decide to join forces ’til death do us part. And it certainly may be the death of one or both of us.

Read the rest of this article where it was originally posted at Cairo Scene’s the Scenario.

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. (more…)