As I waited for the gates to open and my flight to start boarding, my mind went to a place far away. I was in tears. But I couldn’t decide if they were tears of worry, joy, sorrow, or anxiety. Only one thought lingered in my head:
“Did I make the right decision, or will I regret this in a few months?”
My parents moved from Cairo to Dubai over 20 years ago, when I was only a year old. I always like to highlight that although I was brought up in Dubai, I was still born in Egypt. Every summer, I travelled with my family to Egypt to see my grandparents and relatives, as well as go on beach holidays to Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh, before Sahel and Sokhna were around or were even popular.
Unlike many girls my age, I waited every year for our summer trip to Egypt, like a child waiting for her favorite cartoon to air (which, in case you were wondering, was Timon & Pumba!). Most of my friends disliked their summer trips to Egypt because of the repetitive power cuts at the time, the careless driving, the pointless and incessant honking of cars, the harassment, and just generally the overall chaotic environment.
Life in Egypt was quite different in comparison to Dubai. What I saw as real and authentic, others saw as chaos. I felt like the people on the streets were simpler, more genuine, and more like family. Not that I hated Dubai, I definitely considered it a great city to live in because of how organized and clean everything is, and how easy it is to get stuff done with a multitude of services in different sectors. But with the years passing, I slowly realized it was not the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life in.
Since high school, I knew I wanted to study journalism in Egypt. In my free time at school, I used to write poetry. I loved writing. Whenever I upset my parents, or got terrible grades at school, I wrote them letters. When we had parties at friends’ houses, I took a bottle and used it as a mic to interview my friends and ask them questions about the party. I enjoyed this! I felt like this was what I knew how to do – make conversations. I loved speaking to people, creating meaningful talks, and telling stories. I wanted to combine my two passions in life – Egypt and journalism – and live to pursue them. Journalism is all about uncovering stories worth writing about, and in Egypt, there is always a story to tell.
I also always found Egypt to be extremely rich, despite it not having as many flashy skyscrapers or as many fancy shopping malls as the United Arab Emirates. From the church bells ringing, to the chaos in the “ahwa” (small cafe) next to our house, the loud voices of fuul and robabikia sellers on the street early in the morning, and the people in the neighborhood smiling and saying “good morning” to every passerby, I knew this was where I wanted to live. Egypt was bursting with life which was, and still is, the spirit I wanted to live around.
When I finished high school, I planned to go to university in Cairo. But it didn’t work out since the field of study I chose was accessible in Dubai, so my parents thought there was no need to travel to another city to study. Thus, much to my disappointment, I postponed the decision to move and made up my mind to head there upon graduation.
When I was working on my graduation project, which, unsurprisingly, was about the concept of “home”, I sat and talked with many Egyptians living in the UAE. Out of multiple interviews, only one of them understood what I was talking about. To most of them, the response to my desire was “you never even lived in Egypt, why would you want to live there”. Every time I spoke to someone about wanting to travel to Egypt for good, they would laugh, or assume it’s just a phase, or even tell me that I will be calling them two or three months after I moved, crying and begging to return to the comfort of Dubai.
Deep in my soul, I knew that was never going to happen, but all I could do was fake a smile and a laugh until I could prove it – until I actually made it to Egypt.
As soon as I graduated, I instantly started looking for jobs in Cairo. When I received an email for an internship offer, I was ecstatic! I ran to my parents to tell them about it and then started the journey of convincing them about it. I debated the pros and the cons and I wanted nothing but to convince them that it’s the right decision for me. I immediately booked my ticket, hoping to get a full time job and eventually stay in Cairo for good. However, they were not hiring at the time, and I ended up going back to Dubai to look for a job. From that time onwards, whenever anything came up in Cairo, I immediately booked a ticket and just went. Whether it was a course, training, workshop; any reason that could help me stay there and not go back was worth traveling for.
On my last vacation to Egypt in October 2019, I maximized my efforts to find a desirable job. And I did. A few months later, I was leaving the United Arab Emirates. For good. Determined to follow my passion in journalism and desire to live in Egypt, I booked a one-way ticket from Dubai to Cairo.
Leaving my family, friends, the people I grew up with, and the places I’m familiar with, was hard. My heart was shattering as I made my way to the airport. But this was something I had to make some sacrifices for in order to pursue my dream, even if that meant starting all alone somewhere new.
It was harder than I thought it would be, despite the many summers and trips to Egypt I had previously taken. I was to start a new life, in a new country, months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I did not get the chance to go out, meet people, or even make new friends. Having relatives in Egypt definitely made the move easier, but I constantly doubted myself and my decision: perhaps the Egyptians back in Dubai were right.
When the airports reopened and travel resumed six months after I had booked a one-way ticket to Cairo, I returned to Dubai. However, I was only reminded of why I left. You can rarely enjoy an outing in Dubai unless you spend a fortune, most of the time you have to dress up, otherwise you will feel underdressed even if you’re at a mall or a simple cafe. You have absolutely no relationship with your neighbors, and if someone harasses you on the street or you end up with a flat tyre, bystanders will probably just walk past you with no care in the world.
After that first holiday in Dubai, coming back to Cairo felt like a normal course of action – I was coming back home. So many things had changed from the last time I left from Dubai to Cairo. Although the circumstances were tough when I first began my journey, I became more comfortable with my decision as time passed.
One thing I constantly told people was that, regardless of the fact that I want to work in journalism in Egypt, the country needs its youth to support it and help it prosper. Decades ago, many Egyptian parents left to work abroad to give their children better opportunities; and I do not blame them because part of me completely understands why they had to do so. Other countries offered them better opportunities with better salaries than the ones they would receive if they continued living in Egypt. Growing up in Dubai taught me to accept people the way they were and understand different cultures because I dealt with multiple nationalities on a daily basis; it taught me to be more open-minded towards differences and exposed me to a wealth of diversity.
Yet, I want to succeed in my own country, make my people proud, and help my country flourish.
I never understood why millions of Egyptians want to leave, just like no one will probably ever understand why I wanted to live in Egypt. My reasoning was not based on the usual logic (such as access to better healthcare or better salaries); it was not practical, but it was the right decision for me, it was where my heart felt it belonged.
People travel all over the world to find a place they feel can be their home. I’m lucky to have found my home in Egypt.
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