Relocating to NYC

Starting from next week I'll be moving from Cairo to New York City where I'll, hopefully, live for the next five years or so. This of course means that there will be no more posts for at least two months from today. How do I feel about the move? Right now I'm in the middle of a whirl of emotions, however that is not something I'm bothered with, it's just a natural reaction to such a big turning point in my life. What bothers me is people's reaction to the fact that I am traveling on my own. With the exception of my immediate family and some friends and colleagues who have been super supportive, everyone else, from close relatives to my credit card customer service guy whom I barely know, have reacted to the news of me leaving the country to pursue my graduate education with a half-hearted congratulations followed by a big "but": "Mabrouk but are you going alone?" "Mabrouk, but isn't that too long?" "Mabrouk, but are your parents okay with that?" after that follows the comment "well, it's good for your professional life but you'll be neglecting your personal one [which you will regret]" or, as is often the case, there would be this awkward silence with "but when will you get married?!" written all over their faces. This is finally followed with a look of pity as they gaze sadly at this poor future "spinster" (I'm only 23 years old). These comments made me angry and offended at the beginning with all their disgusting innuendos about me being alone in a "morally loose" country and their predictions of a miserably lonely future for yours truly, but now they have left me feeling very sad and very frustrated. One of my professors told me when she heard such a comment that people only say such things because they want to comfort themselves with the idea that while you might have done better than them in one aspect they are still better than you in another. However, while that might be true of some very, very few people I know, it isn't the case with the many people and relatives who were genuinely sad for me. What this is, in my opinion, is just pure social bias against women because if I was a man no one would have thought or cared to ask or worry about when will I get married (unless I was approaching my 40th birthday) because when it comes to men there isn't this crazy urge to get them married and knocked up as soon as possible. If I was a man no one would have expressed fear for my safety amid those non-believers, if I was a man no one would have told me to look for a nice Egyptian guy while I'm there and to avoid foreigners because while it's okay for an Egyptian guy to come back home and show off his pretty white western wife it isn't for Egyptian women. When I get such reactions my responses vary depending on my mood. Sometimes, I just play the sweet, traditional good girl role and answer "Mahadesh 'aref el naseeb fein" (No one knows where or when I'll find Mr. Right), while other times I enjoy shocking people with the comment that I have no intention of getting married before I'm thirty and then sit back and enjoy the look of disbelief and fear on their faces as they try to bring this crazy girl back to her right mind. Other times I just shrug my shoulders, remain silent, allow them to look at me with pity and promise myself, while looking at those sorry excuses of human beings, that I'll always do what I want and that I'll enjoy every single moment of my life and won't let such creatures confine me inside their little boxes with their dos and donts.
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A Visa to Heaven

I went today to get my Schengen visa (EU visa) and was glad to get away from the embassy as quickly as I did. You see, visits to "First World" embassies and consulates here in Egypt always remind me of two things: (1)that I am nothing more than a potential illegal immigrant until proven otherwise and (2)that bureaucracy is a European invention. So if you are a "Third World" citizen planning to apply for a Schengen visa here are my suggestions for you to prepare yourself psychologically, mentally and physically for the mission on hand: 1) Never ever go to any EU embassy with the attitude that it is your birth right to get a visa, because it isn't. You are a Third World citizen, your birth certificate doesn't include that right so play submissive till you get it -that is IF you get it. 2) Read your horoscopes daily and if you know of any fortune teller visit him/her regularly to make sure you know before hand if "travel is in the horizon". You see, waiting lists for EU visa appointments are at best between two to four weeks ahead (plus the two weeks you have to wait as your visa gets processed) and so things like "But I just found out I have to go to Europe at the end of this month for a four day conference" or "but my relative will die any minute and I have to see him as soon as possible" won't do. You have to know that you are going to Europe at least two months before hand and even then you might not make it on time. 3) Before your scheduled date for the visa interview go and check the location of the embassy. If people going for interviews are allowed inside then make sure you get yourself a nice bulky book to read. You see, yes they expect you to be on time or your visa interview is canceled but once you are there you'll be kept waiting for at least one hour (this is known in the US army as "hurry up and wait", which reminds me to tell you to make sure you have the day off from work because once you are there you are not going to walk out that easy.) If the people going there for interviews are kept in a long line outside in the street with a guy from the consulate who looks like an ex-prison guard hovering around them like an angry dog waiting for one of them to make a mistake so he can bark at them, make sure you get one of those chairs that can be folded. You see, you will be kept for quite a looong time outside standing with no where to sit (and leaning on green plate cars is a definite no no). Also make sure you have an umbrella, a water bottle and sun screen lotion with you, you don't know how long you will wait. If you are going there in the winter make sure you have an extra jacket. 4) Make sure you have a bank account and/or credit cards. You see, the EU countries are no countries for poor men. What? You think it doesn't apply to you because the people inviting you over are paying for your stay? I'm sorry but you are mistaken. Whether or not your stay is fully covered you have to have a bank account or credit cards. As one of the employees in one of the consulates I have been to said to me when I asked for a three month visa, "We only give those long term visas to very rich people" (she stressed the words "very rich") 5) If you are applying for a long term schengen visa make sure you own a flat. What? You are under 30 years old and do not have the money to buy a flat yet? Well, don't expect to get the visa then. like I said, Europe is no country for poor men besides not owning a flat means you have no intention of returning back to your home country which means that you are planning to become an illegal immigrant! 6) Some embassies hand out an extra application that you have to fill. If you see questions like "Have you ever been a member in a non-governmental military or religious organization?", "have you ever received military training in a camp funded by foreign military or religious organizations?" or "Have you ever made plans or harbored intentions to harm your country?" try not to burst out laughing. Laughter offends their IQs. 7) If you are traveling as a family be prepared to have the application of one of the children rejected and the other accepted or the application of one of the parents' rejected while the rest of the family is accepted. I never tried that but I have seen three such cases in two different embassies. Above all this be prepared to be inhumanely treated by embassy workers who talk to you through shaded glass windows, give you your papers without looking at you, let alone smile and who talk to you in monosyllabic abrupt orders and send you back and forth from the embassy to the house and vice versa at least two times to get a three day visa! And if you complain all you will get is an "I couldn't care less" shrug from them. As one very frustrated middle aged man said loudly as he left one of the consulates I have been to lately, "what is this treatment?!! Are we applying for a visa to heaven?!" Whether or not Europe is heaven that is open for debate. One thing I know for sure is that its embassies are Purgatory.
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Ashamed of Being Egyptian

One's country is like one's family; you don't choose it, you are just born into it, and even if there are a lot of things wrong with it you have no other choice but to either love it and try and fix it in anyway you could, or just accept it for what it is. I love my country and everytime I went abroad I have been very proud to say that I'm Egyptian. However, there are these moments when it does something that makes me feel a strong sense of shame and complicity, something like the feeling the brother of a murderer must have when looking at the family of the murdered. In such cases "please forgive me for the crime my brother has committed" just won't do, you carry the same family name and in a way you feel responsible. I have gone through this feeling the first time when state security beat up and killed many of the Sudanese in Mohandesin, normally I wouldn't consider anything done by state security "Egyptian" but the fact that there is so much implicit racism in the country and the fact that reactions against that crime have been minimal (here I'm talking about the average Egyptian not journalists or activists) just makes me sick everytime I remember the incident. The second time was when around 1500 poor Egyptians died when the ferry they were on sank on their way from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, and a couple of days later tens of thousands of Egyptians watched and then celebrated winning the African Cup of Nations!!!! Right now I'm once more feeling ashamed, ashamed of Egypt's complicity with the Israelis, ashamed because I know that everytime a human being dies in Gaza, an Egyptian has had a hand in his/her death.
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Why is the world round? Why did the chicken cross the road?

I know the following questions might struck you as dumb but I really do need an answer for them:
  1. Why are so many shops nowadays displaying bikinis? I mean are Egyptians actually buying them?! Apart from the very small minority of Egyptians who spend their whole summer vacation in the north coast I can't think of anyone else who would buy/wear them; yet you go to malls and boutiques nowadays and you are under the impression that everyone in the counry wears them!
  2. Why do people love theme parks? My 14 year old brother has been going to Dream Park quite a few times this summer and he can't stop talking about the "fun" of being there. What is fun about being thrown up and down and turned upside down till you throw up or get a heart attack?
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