Adapting to Egypt
SINCE my family and I came to live in Egypt, where my father is a professor, I have realized that the Arabic language is rich in expressions for every occasion. In America, ``Good morning'' and ``How are you?'' are the normal salutations you may hear; but in Cairo, the greetings are more colorful, diverse, and creative. You may be greeted with ``Sabah il khere,'' which means, ``May you have a morning of goodness.'' The polite response to this is ``Sabah il noor,'' which means ``morning of light.'' Another might be ``Sabah il full,'' which means ``morning of jasmine.''
When I first heard that we would be moving to Egypt, I was very excited, but I was also a bit worried. I had lived in Baltimore for eight years. The thought of moving away scared me. Although I had been to Egypt several years before, I didn't know how I would adapt.
In Arabic when you ask someone to do you a favor and they say, ``In sha allah,'' that means ``if God wills.'' Sometimes foreigners misinterpret that and think that it means there is only a 50 percent chance of their favor being granted. But since Egyptians have such strong religious beliefs, this use of God simply means that they will do it unless something unavoidable happens.
Although moving to Cairo was hard at first, and I often wished I were back in my old high school with my old friends, I am enjoying my days here now. I enjoy international life and being with such a variety of people.
The high school I attend, Cairo American College, is about half an hour from downtown Cairo in a suburb called Maadi. Resembling a tiny America, Maadi is where nearly all the foreigners live. But because my family lives in an apartment downtown, we can really see how Egyptians live.
Here we associate with the people of Cairo every day, and this forces us to learn Arabic.
When someone is doing a job for you, such as preparing some food or making some clothes, it is polite to say, ``Tislam idaykey'' which means ``May God bless your hands so that you may do the job well.''
At funerals and weddings there are also appropriate expressions to say. When offering a word of sympathy to someone whose loved one has passed away, one should say, ``Il ba eah fi hiatic,'' ``May the years that would have been his be added to your life.''
In contrast, at a wedding, when one sees a young unmarried girl near marriage age, it is polite to say, ``Au balak'' or, ``May this [a wedding] happen to you.'' It actually happened that a person who didn't know Arabic well mixed the two expressions (for weddings and funerals) and no one around here has ever forgotten it!
My activities as a teen in Cairo are much different from what I used to do in Baltimore. In Egypt there are no shopping malls. Some of the things I do during free time include horseback and camelback riding at the pyramids; bargaining with shopkeepers at the bazaar; taking sailboat rides on the Nile; going to the camel market; seeing the cultural festivals; and visiting my relatives.
For me, one of the nicest expressions is said when someone is leaving. In Egypt, people don't just say good-bye. There is a stronger message in their ``good-bye.'' The expression is, ``Maasalama,'' ``Go in peace.''
Since Egypt is an Islamic country, the people here are very conservative. Some of the women cover themselves from head to toe so that only their hands and faces show. In the unbearable heat of summer, this seems strange to me.
One of the hardest things for me to accept was that I must dress conservatively on the street. My shoulders must be covered, I cannot wear shorts of any kind, and my clothes should not be flamboyant.
The status of women in Egypt is improving. It is, however, a man's world. Women in Egypt are expected to keep their more traditional roles - as wives, mothers, and homemakers - but many women do work outside the home. Just recently, a woman was made director of Cairo's opera house.
The longer I stay here, the more I find that the Arabic language is full of expressions for every occasion. While I can't learn them all, I find that when I do make the effort to respond, people are genuinely pleased to see a foreigner attempting to speak their language.