Moving to new cities is never easy. Add that to moving to a new country, with the prerequisite of new culture, customs, currency, language, climate, home, routines, making friends, and new work/workload, and it becomes rather overwhelming. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it, even though I’ve been doing this for 14 years or more. I’ve found that two things help me. Finding a favourite cafe that serves food coffee and a favourite dish. I’ve managed to get this art down to such a degree that more often than not the friends I have scattered around the world are restaurant or bar owners.
Another tactic… dating sites. Not just for a romantic distraction but as a way to meet people outside of work. Trying to keep the dating and work two separate sets of people is pretty much a fundamental rule. I’m not sure I’d recommend using dating sites to make friends but it’s certainly kept me in entertaining stories.
It turns out that one of the first people I got chatting to on Tinder was my neighbour, well, essentially so, living only a couple of hundred metres down the road. Useful, given that it’s a nightmare to move around Cairo. Good taxi drivers are hard to come by, and giving directions when one is miserably poor at learning new languages can be somewhat problematic.
So I meet the curly haired Canadian at what is essentially a hipster version of a falafel joint, called Zooba. It’s actually very good food. The restaurant sits on Road 9 that runs parallel to the metro line, and is essentially a concentration of restaurants and night life for the residents of Maadi. Sitting in the warm, dusty, and bustling evening air we hit it off quickly and easily. A fun photographer teaching her skills in an international school. I was being very well behaved, as not a week or so had passed from when I’d promised myself to take it easy and get to know someone before jumping in too quick.
She had a fascinating past, a key interpretation of which would come to change our course quite abruptly in only a couple of short weeks. Although I managed a couple of dates with her on her own, she had a friend visiting and it was just before I headed off to Iraq for 10 days. I joined them for a Halloween party and a visit to the Hanging Coptic Church in the old city. I was really enjoying just hanging out and was keen to spend more time with her alone. The night before I was due to leave was fun, and it was all looking good to be a fun return, when she was on her own again. When you’re looking forward to something 10 days can seem like forever. Oddly enough, and as if my sincere enjoyment of someone new was being picked up on by the universe, the one woman that I thought I’d been in love with and had lived with in Toronto, emailed me after a four year silence. I was confused, as it had taken me a good 3 years to get over it, and really wasn’t interested in knowing anything about her. Why now? In the end I chose to politely decline the opportunity to meet during my forthcoming trip to Canada, and closed that chapter of my life once more.
The work in Erbil was tough, and the people I was dealing with were very difficult. I was distracted and tired. Despite the brief distance, the connection with the Canadian photographer appeared strong, fun, and the days upon my return to be enjoyed. I’d arranged to see her the night I got back for dinner. I was greeted with a stone cold reception and barely any eye contact. The short evening dragged in painfully and she seemed not to be able to get away quickly enough. I let it go for a day or two but called her on it. Sadly, it was an unpleasant past and a recent experience that was painting assumptions as to what the current situation was to become. Of course, who am I to judge. My disappointment doesn’t give me the right to be upset with her or demand delivery of my expectations. I was really sad, but when the dust settled I realised that trying to catch up to someone on the run from their own past isn’t a good idea. Of course knowing in your head when to give up and the time for your heart to catch up with that notion are two quite different things. Distraction is key, but not always available.
I did quite like the woman, and so we hung out at various points, went biking, had some adventures into the the old city, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. In the end it became increasingly distracted, and I couldn’t really shake the interest in her. Needless to say the lack of mutual interest in spending time together resulted in a withering of the friendship. Hearing her crazy stories of some of the rather compromising situations she’d managed to get herself into was less than healthy for me and so I decided to stop saying hi altogether.
Over the next few months I went on a few dates with 3 Egyptian women. One woman was a costume designer and was quite anti-establishment. She talked of days during the uprising and we went to some cool spots in old town Cairo. She lived with her mum in a big (generational) old apartment in Zamalek. That didn’t last long though. She was fairly constantly probing why I would be interested in her. Despite her more non-traditional philosophy on life she was quite conservative, and I’m not sure my honest answers were to her liking. As with every date I’ve been on I do so because I genuinely believe something could come of it, or at least I think the person is interesting enough to hang out with a bit. I didn’t hear from her after the second date… or rather I didn’t try too hard. I also met up with a financial controller for a food and beverage group. A coptic woman with a very strong opinion on everything, with an equally clear understanding of what she wanted. She had wild curly hair and a great big smile. Two dates in and she was clear that it wasn’t meant to be. That much was clear, I really wasn’t head strong enough for her, or perhaps there wasn’t enough drama, I couldn’t tell. She was another woman in her thirties who, on a less then desperate mission, was essentially looking for a way to leave her parents house.
For a woman to leave home required a ring. Even to hang out in a date’s home would mean battling massive social disapproval without being married. With “security guards” / maintenance / cleaner guys hanging out at the doorway of apartment buildings 24/7 it’s generally impossible not to have issues (and I mean quite serious issues) if you have an Egyptian woman over for as much as an innocent dinner or to hang out in a quiet place. It’s also incredibly difficult for an Egyptian woman to live alone in Egypt without serious persecution or the assumption she’s “loose” or a prostitute. As such, dating in Egypt is far from straightforward, and takes on a completely different course compared to most other parts of the world. I did go on one date with a really lovely teacher who was half Egyptian. She seemed a little love struck, which I have to say was a little intense, but again it was nice to meet someone new.
Dating anywhere in the world isn’t easy. Add to that cultural / social constructs and becomes a much more nuanced affair. I didn’t love Cairo. It’s noisy, dusty, dirty “charm” was not to my liking. I struggled with the culture. It’s not to say there’s not much to like about the place, and not to say I didn’t have pleasant interactions with my neighbours. I had some great moments. But I think part of my unsettled feeling was the inability to make meaningful friendships outside of work. Of course meeting new people was always a pleasure, and in the context of dating there’s quite a new set of insights to be learned. What was interesting to hear was some of the experiences of the expat women, with a common theme of infidelity being particularly acute, and despite lots of adoration at the beginning appeared to simply be a means to getting into their pants rather than anything long term and meaningful. Although I understand this happens all over, it seemed to be particularly rife there.
By the time I’d got back from my break in contract that April I’d given up o the dating scene in Cairo, but not an end to more dating adventures. But that’s another story…