Have you ever wondered what life would be like in another country? Meet our next expat in the #ExpatAdventure series, Wasfeeya from Cape Town, South Africa, currently living in Egypt. She is a qualified online Qur’an teacher and hifdh mentor. She is passionate about psychology, marriage, and everything Qur’an-related and blogs regularly about it.
Here she gives us insight into her experience in relocating to a new country as newlyweds, experiencing Ramadan, and the community she now considers her tribe, Masha Allah.
SO, TELL US, WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM – WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
I was born in Johannesburg, but I’m from Cape Town, South Africa.
IN WHICH COUNTRY AND CITY ARE YOU CURRENTLY LIVING IN NOW AND FOR HOW LONG?
I live in Cairo, Egypt, for about two and a half years now, Alhamdulillah.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MOVING AND HOW DID YOU FIND THE EXPERIENCE OF SETTLING IN AND MAKING IT HOME?
After I got married, I moved here a week, so it was my first home as a newlywed, and I settled in relatively quickly. I was excited about it as I’m quite adventurous, and I was looking forward to all the opportunities Cairo has to offer. Read more about her adventures here.
TELL US ABOUT LIFE IN EGYPT – WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE FOR FOREIGNERS?
It can give foreigners a culture shock, especially Westerners. You have to be open-minded and seek to understand; otherwise, you may be dismally disappointed. The standards here are not the same as the West, and it can be frustrating sometimes, for example, their customer service and hygiene standards. Where we stay, the people don’t speak English, and their Arabic dialect is different from modern standard Arabic, so it can be hard to communicate. You have to have lots of patience. Things don’t run on time, and you can’t complain. Shops open up late in the morning but stay open until late at night. The way of life is different from what you may be used to. You just have to embrace it.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED RAMADAN IN EGYPT? IF SO, TELL US ABOUT IT, AND HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO CAPE TOWN?
Yes! It is such a special time for everyone. There’s a very festive atmosphere. Traditional lanterns called “fanoos” are visible during the day, and colorful lights illuminate the streets at night. Around half an hour before Fajr, you hear men loudly banging on pots or drums in the streets to wake everyone up for suhur (the pre-dawn meal). It seemed like they started Eshaa salaah slightly later to accommodate everyone. Tarawih salaah is long and beautiful, and it’s safe enough for me to go out alone for qiyaamul layl in the last third of the night. It is also a very social time, even at suhoor time! Last year we actually had suhoor together with friends at a local street cafe. Cape Town’s Ramadan is very different because South Africa isn’t a Muslim country and doesn’t have the same safety as Cairo, but it has its unique feeling. What I miss the most is the poejies during tarawih and saying the niyyah for fasting together at the masjid.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE EGYPT IN THREE WORDS?
Chaotic, historical and blessed!
WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA YOU LIVING IN; ANYTHING TO RECOMMEND TO FUTURE EXPATS?
A definite must-see is the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, as well as a cruise on the Nile, a visit to the Egyptian museum, the Citadel of Salahuddin, and the major mosques.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ADJUSTMENTS YOU HAD TO MAKE WHEN SETTLING INTO EXPAT LIFE IN EGYPT?
My husband was already living in Egypt for two and a half years, so that made it easy for me to adjust to life here. In the beginning, I missed having my domestic worker; cleaning myself was a significant adjustment. But I soon got one who helps me to spring clean from time to time. I had to adjust to using different brands of products and not having some products available at all. Fortunately, we’ve had people bring us goodies from Cape Town every few months, Alhamdulillah. I missed driving, can you believe it?! Uber and Careem are how we get around – they are safe, reliable, and affordable compared to South Africa.
DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY PARTICULAR ELEMENTS OF CULTURE SHOCK? AND IF SO, WHAT WAS IT.
Egypt is way more modern than I expected, so I was shocked to see billboards with uncovered women and a huge Victoria’s Secret at the mall. I was expecting the pollution, but it was still an eye-sore initially. However, I honestly don’t see it anymore.
WAS IT EASY TO MAKE FRIENDS AND SOCIALIZE?
There has always been a Capetonian community here, so it felt nice and homely to meet up with them. Once I started going to classes, I made more friends and found my tribe. It’s been awesome to make friends from all over the world. I also lost friends because people often come here as students for short periods and then go back to their home countries.
HOW DOES THE COST OF LIVING IN EGYPT COMPARE TO SOUTH AFRICA?
It depends on the exchange rate; at the moment, it’s roughly the same. Certain items are cheaper, while other things are more expensive. Like food products are cost-effective but electronic items and cars are costly. Rent, water, and electricity are way cheaper, though, so that’s a huge bonus! We live in a spacious apartment at a fraction of the cost it would be in Cape Town.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ANYONE WANTING TO MOVE TO EGYPT WITH THEIR FAMILY.
Have a clear vision of what you want to get out of Egypt. My husband and I are here to do Islamic studies. He is studying at Al-Azhar University, and I am currently doing private studies in Arabic, Qira-at, and Islamic studies. Cairo is the most accessible student hub of the world – for students of sacred knowledge wanting to learn Arabic and Islamic sciences in the Arabic language.
DO YOU HAVE ANY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR OTHERS LOOKING FOR WORK IN EGYPT, HOW DO YOU SUGGEST THEY GO ABOUT IT.
We’re not here for work purposes, so I wouldn’t be able to advise on finding work, but if anyone is interested in doing Islamic studies, then you are welcome to contact me.