‘Not From Here’: Egypt through the eyes of foreign residents

Rana Khaled
7 Min Read
Carlos, has been living here for one year (Photo Handout)

Pages publishing personal stories about the average person’s life and sufferings have been trending over the past few years. “Humans of Egypt” and “Humans of Cairo” are the most prominent local pages that post daily stories about Egyptian’s personal experiences and challenges they encounter in life.

However no one has ever thought to give a voice to foreign residents in Egypt, whose lives were influenced significantly by the changes in Egypt in recent years. To overcome this, the page “Not from Here” provides the first open platform for foreigners to express their opinions, sufferings, and experiences in Egypt.

Anna, has been living here for four months (Photo Handout)
Anna, has been living here for four months
(Photo Handout)

“The main aim of this page is to change Egyptian’s mistaken stereotypes about foreign residents here,” said Mostafa Magdy, page admin and owner of the idea. “I have many foreign friends who live downtown Cairo and Zamalek and work for different artistic and cultural institutions; they tell me interesting stories about their everyday lives.”

“We also discuss the current circumstances of the country. Then I asked myself, should I listen to these stories for myself alone or should I share them to others to help people develop a more realistic idea of the lives of foreigners in Egypt?”

Magdy’s best friend, Carlos, a Spanish artist who has been living in Egypt for a year, encouraged him to launch the page and spread the idea in order to create a space for foreigners to express their suffering, success stories, and hopes for the future. Magdy took him to Al-Attaba as he loves the streets there and they conducted an interview and published the first post.

Magdy met some foreigners who find their lives in Egypt better than Europe and others who encounter a great deal of hardships and challenges. “People here think that foreigners come to Egypt from their countries with huge wads of cash and that their salaries reach into the thousands. This is totally untrue!” Magdy said.

Along with two other team members, Magdy usually contacts foreigners via social media and asks them to choose a suitable date for a half an hour face-to-face interview to listen to the whole story of their experience in Egypt.  After asking the interviewee’s permission, he takes some photos and chooses the most important quotes to be posted on the page.

“Our page doesn’t aim to promote any specific image about Egypt and it doesn’t instill any hidden messages. We publish what foreigners say and translate it as it is without taking any sides,” he said. A few weeks ago, the team received an offer to fund the project but was asked to focus more on the negative aspects of what the foreigners say about their lives in Egypt.

“We were asked to shed light on certain stories from particular perspectives and were also asked to focus on certain nationalities but we refused the offer because we want present the truth and not create a biased narrative,” Magdy said.

In addition to describing their lifestyles, daily experiences, and personal relationships with friends and colleagues in Egypt, many foreigners use the page as a channel to criticise some of the current circumstances from their points of view.

Amir, has been living here for 12 years (Photo Handout)
Amir, has been living here for 12 years
(Photo Handout)

“Before coming to Egypt, everyone was telling me that in Cairo you will find a lot of trash everywhere in the streets,” Anna, a German woman who has been living in Egypt for four months, said. “I thought that it couldn’t be that bad or I just couldn’t imagine. But when I arrived here I was wondering what is that smell, and I finally understood what they meant,” she said in a post on the page.

Carlos, who has been living in Egypt for a year, criticised the government for their neglect in preserving downtown Cairo. “Downtown here is like downtown in any country in Europe, but the government doesn’t preserve or look after it. I come here in Al-Attaba to see that, as it is a miniature version of Egypt.”

Amir, a Belgium foreign resident who has been living in Egypt for 12 years, criticised how the governors spend too much money on “trivial” things. “The tram with the café in Alexandria is not vital nor is it necessary; it would have been better if the governor focused on more important matters. If this tram were in Belgium, it would have been closed immediately, as it’s so trivial,” he said.

Azza from Sudan, who has been residing in Egypt for six years, shared an experience that left her with a terrible memory she can’t forget. “Me and my friends were staying at one my friends’ apartment when intruders broke into the flat and physically assaulted us, and they even tried to steal our money and stuff. Actually they were threatening us because of our unusual look that doesn’t fit with the assigned gender roles of the community,” she said.

However, in her post she said that she still believes that Egypt is a place with many positive sides to it, although she misses her country and always longs for her memories there.

“I’m thinking about organising some monthly gatherings with foreign residents in Egypt. We want to allow them to meet and gather to solve their problems together; this is the kind of support we need from others. I also dream of collecting all the stories in one book,’’ Magdy said.

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