immigration

Eid and feeling very foreign

I feel Eid is a particularly difficult holiday for me these days.

We have two big religious holidays in Islam. They are both called Eid. One lasts for three days and follows fasting the month of Ramadan. The other lasts for four days and happens towards the end of the annual Pilgrimage. The Eid following Ramadan is a particularly happy one for me because it signifies going back to eating, drinking and sleeping the way I normally do. On the first day of Eid in my family, we’d go to my father’s house first thing in the morning. My sister would have inflated a ridiculous number of balloons and left them all over the house. She’d have lights and decorations everywhere. There would be a corner where she placed presents for everyone, and we’d arrive carrying presents for everyone as well. They’d all be placed in the corner and we’d then spend about half an hour opening them all up and getting excited about what was waiting for us and what we found. My father would always give every single one of us some money. We’d then spend about three hours arguing about which restaurant to go to for lunch. And to solve this annual dilemma, we always ended up going to Chili’s, because it’s the only place that the children ever wanted to go to. In the evening, we’d  visit members of my ex-husband’s extended family. Our children would get money gifts from everyone and would come out of the day very rich. Over the period of the next two days, we’d visit more family and sometimes friends. It’s not all that unlike how many people celebrate Christmas, although things vary from one family to another. Many people, for example, use the days off to spend Eid on Egypt’s north coast.

Since I’ve come to the UK, Eid just seems to be getting more and more difficult. (more…)

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Immigration and complicated relationships with “home”

I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been in the same position realizes just how much people give img_2541up 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. (more…)

Are Egypt’s Estranged Revolutionaries Moving Out?

“I’m counting the number of very close friends planning to move away next year and so far the toll is at 5. I really can’t bear it.”

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

Picture taken by Nadia El-Awady on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted

These were the words of one of my friends on a Facebook status a few days ago.

Another wrote just one day earlier, “I am currently witnessing the largest mass emigration of friends and family from Egypt.”

The subject has become a common topic of conversation among family and friends. People leave, others announce they are leaving, yet others talk of their desire to leave.

Egyptians have been emigrating out of Egypt in large numbers since the early 1970s. According to the EU Neighborhood Migration Report 2013 published by the European University Institute, the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, and the Migration Policy Centre, there were 6.5 million Egyptian immigrants living in different parts of the world in 2009, 74 percent of whom were temporary migrants. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar were the highest receiving destination countries of temporary migrants that year while the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, and Canada were the highest receiving countries of permanent Egyptian migrants.

How these demographics are statistically changing after the January 25, 2011 Revolution and then later in 2013 as political upheaval has overtaken the country is yet to be seen. Yet it is clear that a change is indeed happening, if not in sheer numbers then in the reasons that are causing Egypt’s revolutionary youth to leave.

I asked several of my friends who have left or who are actively in the process of leaving Egypt – all active participants in the January 25, 2011 Revolution – to write a couple of paragraphs each, explaining their reasons for wanting to leave. I had originally planned to incorporate some of their words into an article on Egyptian emigration post-Revolution. But after reading their words I have decided to leave them as is (albeit translated from Arabic). You will see why. (more…)