Keeping a Pet in Cairo

Pets can make you feel at home, especially in an unfamiliar place.  We ended up leaving our cat, Ruby behind, but if you are traveling to Egypt, you can of course bring your pet.  I’ve heard of people doing it, but unfortunately I don’t have any info about costs, as I never planned to do it myself.  I do know several airlines will let you bring a small cat or dog right in the cabin (Air France is one).

Cairo has numerous pet shops.  You can find a pretty good variety of animals.  Parakeets, parrots, sparrows, kittens, puppies, turtles, fish, mice, and hamsters.  I personally was not impressed with the care taken of the animals.  The puppies weren’t feed pet food, but some mixture of soft cheese and other ‘people’ food.  I saw a dead hamster being pecked at by the other hamsters in the cage.  After my son begged and begged for a mouse, lizard or hamster, we finally compromised  with a sparrow.  Unfortunately, one of our pair of sparrows died within a month of purchasing it.  We also lost two turtles.  I’m not sure if the problem was the store or us.  I read a lot about care for turtles, their food and habitat, one thing they need is a heat lamp, which they did NOT have at the shop.  I did purchase a lamp, but it probably wasn’t adequate.

I’m not sure how easy it is to find a vet.  The way that street and farm animals are treated is often appalling, so I’m not sure how much demand there would be for medical treatment for animals.

A puppy will run you about $50, a kitten as well.  They are pure breeds.  Surprisingly dogs are a pretty common pet.  Surprising for two reasons, many muslims view living with dogs to be haraam, and, given the cramped conditions in Cairo, God knows why would you want a dog to share your space, particularly the large breeds that seemed popular.  I saw a lot of bull dogs!  Another drawback would be commercial food, I don’t remember specifics, but compared to other foods, dog and cat food were not cheap!  We purchased our little turtles for 15 L.E.’s, there were huge ones for over 100 L.E.  Birds go anywhere from about 20 to 150 L.E.’s.  Bird food and cages are pretty cheap as well.

Some people also have rabbits, although you won’t find them at the pet stores.  You can get them at the souk, I think for about 20-30 L.E.’s.  Of course more people prefer to eat them then keep them as pets.

Street dogs and cats abound, but I would NOT recommend taking one off the streets.  They are WILD animals.  The afore mentioned Ruby was a very mild and fat cat.  It was a big deal to see her jump up on the couch.  Cairo cats on the other hand can scale 8 foot walls!  I felt my heart in my throat several times when a cat jumped out of a dumpster right at me, just as I was throwing our trash inside!  Street dogs are the common mutt variety, tail between the legs, usually sleeping underneath cars during the day, avoiding the sun.  At night, they seem to roam in packs.  Some brothers reported being chased by them at the time of fajr.  I know some even took to carrying rocks to throw, just in case.  People from the ‘west’ are often dismayed to see the poor treatment of animals.  It is common to see the children of the poor taunting, teasing, or doing worse to the poor dogs in the streets.  Once we watched from the balcony, a group of ‘bawwab’ kids mistreat a dog that they’d tied up.  We yelled down at them, but most people just ignored them.  Alhamdulillah, one man came out of a building waving a  stick and made them scatter.  I shared an arabic class once with a Ukrainian girl and she came to class very upset about  seeing a group of kids mistreating a cat.  It is very unislamic to mistreat animals, but many of the people live pretty hard lives themselves and are ignorant to the idea of ‘animal rights’.

One thing which surprised us were the sheer number of animals wandering the streets.  Obviously there is no official neutering program in place.  I did hear tales of people poisoning animals to reduce their numbers, but I don’t know if that is true.

There are other non domesticated animals to be found in the streets.  Ferrets are pretty common.  You can occasionally see a hoopee bird in the park.  There are toads as well.  In the spring, the kids and I found toad eggs  in a park puddle.  We took them home and tried raise tadpoles and eventually toads, but unfortunately they didn’t live.  I found a pic of the typical street dogs, below.


Seasons of Cairo

Born and raised in the midwest, I’m used to 4 seasons.  Freezing winters (we’ve been snowed in for a few days!), spring with lots of rain, warm summers, and colorful falls.  There is not as much visible change to mark the seasons in Cairo.  None of the trees lose their leaves or change color, however, some of them do flower becoming quite colorful beginning in March.  The rains usually come in winter (and a lesser amount in the fall as well).  And you can usually guess the time of year from the different fruits and vegetables available in the streets (the opposite of the states, where you can usually find most fruits and veggies, regardless of the season).  Corn on the cob all summer long, roasted over coals.  Many people supplement their income by selling it in the street.  It took some getting used to, people eat it without butter, salt or spice.  Here is a pic (I didn’t take the Egyptian pictures, I searched the internet to give a better visual idea).  I was always tempted to photograph the fire of the woman I bought corn from, but I hated looking like a tourist, lol.

Also in the summer grapes become available, as well as strawberries, which are sold on a platter, the seller using a cup or some type of scoop to measure out as many kilo as you want.  At different times of the year you can get oranges, fresh figs, kiwi, bananas, watermelon, frequently arranged beautifully at a corner stand.  Sometimes they arrange lights as decorations.  A lot of those guys actually sleep next to their fruit stands.  This is a more humble example.

In the winter there are roasted yams.  They smell delicious and very sweet.  You can buy one for half guinea ( I think less than a quarter), the vendor hands it to you wrapped in paper.  Here’s another pic to give you an idea.

Our year in America has been chronicled with pictures taken outside during different seasons.  The kids actually took some of these.  Here in the backyard of the house we rented when we first arrived home during March.  That first winter was really beautiful.

Summer canoe trip

Fall in the park


Tale of two Ramadans

I keep thinking about it, trying to analyze my feelings and figure out why this past Ramadan was literally the best I’ve experienced in 4 years (ie, since we left America).  The only thing I can figure is, the sense of not having any ‘place’ in Egyptian society really effected me more than I realized.  Despite being a minority, in religion as well as race in America, I can’t help but feel that I  belong here.  As much ease as I felt in regard to my kids and their Islamic upbringing, in Egypt thoughts of the future stretched out into a really bleak, lonely horizon.  We did make friends, but for the most part, they kept their ties with their countries, and would travel back and forth. 

Usually in Egypt, dh would go out to the masjid alone.  The closer neighborhood ones were usually small, with no space for women.  The larger masajid did have a space for women, and many Egyptian women do attend the prayers, especially in Ramadan.  But, if we all wanted to go, that usually meant a taxi, or a hike.  Not something I was interested in after fasting all day.  So the kids and I usually stayed home. 

This Ramadan, the masjid is right around the corner, literally walking distance.  I went to tarawih probably about 18-20 nights out of the month.  We didn’t socialize much, probably 3 iftars total (not counting the ones at the masjid), but that was more than in Egypt.  Almost every night I saw someone I knew at the masjid.  At a masjid not far from my house one of the Qaris during taraweeh was a boy man I knew as a preteen, all grown-up, married  and leading the prayer (btw, I’m not that old, I was about 19 when I used to know him).  At the same masjid, there is iftar dinner every night, I remember attending half of the month when I was pregnant with my first kid.  I have a history here.  It’s hard to completely leave that behind. 

Of course it is also a heck of a lot easier shopping, cleaning, even cooking here.  I still remember walking up those 5 flights of stairs, carrying my grocery bags (which I had walked home with).  Contrast that with walking right outside my door, stepping into my car and driving to the store.

We’ve discussed ways in which we might move again overseas, and for the most part I’ve rejected the idea of going back to Egypt.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I’d feel at home in any other country, but the life *might* be easier.  Dh did receive a job offer (for not much money) in another country, but he’s not excited about it.  We’ll just have to wait and see what Allah has planned for us.

Things to consider before you move overseas

We planned a lot before moving overseas, mostly money matters.  But we didn’t think of some pretty fundamental issues.  One is health care.  If you are going to a richer area of the muslim world this may not be much of a problem,  but if you are planning on living in Egypt, Yemen, Mauritania, ie, one of the poorer countries, you may have problems finding quality care, or the right medications.  Even the Egyptians I have spoken with have complained about the difficulty of finding good, qualified doctors.  There seems to be very little oversight of doctors. 

We initially moved to Mauritania, but after half a year, it became clear that we could not remain there.  The reason was a combination of health problems and difficulties involving studying there.  My youngest daughter had such frequent vomiting that we ended up taking her to the doctor.  I had almost constant diarrhea and ended up avoiding a lot of the pretty meager food choices we had.  Dear husband ended up with increased complications to his foot problems as well as painful ear infections (both related to the sand, Mauritania is mostly desert). 

We’d thought we’d identified potential health problems and tried to handle them before going.  My oldest has a cataract in her eye, we saw very good doctors and started her on a treatment plan.  Dh had treatment for his plantar fasciitis and arthritis before we left, as well as purchasing meds and shoes to help.  We really didn’t expect his conditions to worsen, and didn’t have any options planned out when they did.

We also had not adequately planned out financial matters.  How to get/receive money from the states.  File taxes for the previous year.  We did sign up for internet banking in order to have access to our accts, but it still didn’t solve all problems, such as having replacement cards sent out.  Egyptian ATM’s are notorious for eating bank cards.  I never even saw an ATM in Mauritania.

Almost any legal issues will be difficult to handle long distance.   You want to be sure to tie up lose ends before traveling or designate someone you trust in the States with power of attorney to act in your behalf.

Culture shock was very real.  It took a lot for me to get used to a ‘different’ way of doing things.  Small things, like stores not having change for larger bills.  It is really common to walk into a neighborhood shop and have them tell you to come back later to get your change, or let you take the item and pay later if they don’t have change.  Traffic, I never really saw cars speed up towards pedestrians till I moved overseas.  It’s like a competition to see who can get there first 🙂


Social and class issues will leave you frustrated or shaking your head sometimes.  It’s pretty common to get depressed at having a diminished support structure.  Unless your spouse is from the country you move to, it may be just you, he and your children for some time dealing with any illnesses, moves, money issues, etc.  None of this is meant to discourage from travel.  I just wish I’d had someone talk to me about them prior to moving.  I’ve seen more than one family move, buy a houseful of appliances for several thousand dollars, and sell it at a lose ’cause they were leaving the country after six months.  We did, when we left Mauritania for Egypt.

Ultraconservative Islam on rise in Mideast

I found this article interesting…, I’ll bet the mall they’re talking about is Technology Mall on Makram Albeid.  It’s true that many places don’t close during prayer times, but I find it hard to see why that is such a threatening occurance in a muslim country, it not like the mall has a lot of non-muslim foreigners visiting.


CAIRO, Egypt – The Muslim call to prayer fills the halls of a Cairo computer shopping center, followed immediately by the click of locking doors as the young, bearded tech salesmen close up shop and line up in rows to pray together.

Business grinding to a halt for daily prayers is not unusual in conservative Saudi Arabia, but until recently it was rare in the Egyptian capital, especially in affluent commercial districts like Mohandiseen, where the mall is located.

But nearly the entire three-story mall is made up of computer stores run by Salafis, an ultraconservative Islamic movement that has grown dramatically across the Middle East in recent years.

“We all pray together,” said Yasser Mandi, a salesman at the Nour el-Hoda computer store. “When we know someone who is good and prays, we invite them to open a shop here in this mall.” Even the name of Mandi’s store is religious, meaning “Light of Guidance.”

The rise of Salafists has critics worried that their beliefs will crowd out the more liberal and tolerant version of Islam long practiced in some Middle East countries, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. They also warn that its doctrine is only a few shades away from that of violent groups like al-Qaida — that it effectively preaches, “Yes to jihad, just not now.”

Extreme end
In the broad spectrum of Islamic thought, Salafism is on the extreme conservative end. Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi interpretation is considered the forerunner of modern Salafism, and Saudi preachers on satellite TV — and more recently the Internet — have been key to the spread of Salafism.

Salafist groups are gaining in numbers and influence across the Middle East. In Jordan, a Salafist was chosen as head of the old-line opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. In Kuwait, Salafists were elected to parliament and are leading the resistance to any change that would threaten traditional Islamic values.

The gains for Salafists are part of a trend of turning back to conservatism and religion after major political movements like Arab nationalism and Democratic reform failed to fulfill promises to improve the lives of average people. Egypt has been at the forefront of change in both directions, toward liberalization in the 1950s and ’60s and back to conservatism more recently.

The growth of Salafism is visible in many parts of Cairo since its adherents set themselves apart with their dress. Women wear the “niqab,” a veil which shows only the eyes — if even that — rather than the “hijab” scarf that merely covers the hair. The men grow their beards long and often shave off mustaches, a style said to imitate the Prophet Muhammad.

‘Ancestor’ emerges
The word “salafi” in Arabic means “ancestor,” hearkening back to a supposedly purer form of Islam said to have been practiced by Muhammad and his companions in the 7th century. Salafism preaches strict segregation of the sexes and resists any innovation in religion or adoption of Western ways seen as immoral.

“When you are filled with stress and uncertainty, black and white is very good, it’s very easy to manage,” said Selma Cook, an Australian convert to Islam who for more than a decade described herself as a Salafi.

“They want to make sure everything is authentic,” said Cook, who has moved away from Salafist thought but still works for a Cairo-based Salafi satellite channel Hoda.

In most of the region, Salafism has been a purely social movement calling for an ultraconservative lifestyle. Most Salafis shun politics — in fact, many argue that Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians’ Hamas are too willing to compromise their religion for political gain.

Its preachers often glorify martyrdom and jihad — or holy war — but always with the caveat that Muslims should not launch jihad until their leaders call for it. The idea is that the decision to overturn the political order is up to God, not the average citizen.

Contrasts with Islam
But critics warn that Salafis could easily slide into more violent, jihadist forms. In North Africa, some already have — the Algerian Salafi Group for Call and Combat has allied itself with al-Qaida and has been blamed for bombings and other attacks. Small pockets of Salafis in northern Lebanon and Gaza have also taken up weapons and formed jihadi-style groups.

“I am afraid that this Salafism may be transferred to be a Jihadi Salafism, especially with the current hard socio-economic conditions in Egypt,” says Khalil El-Anani, a visiting scholar at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

The Salafi way contrasts with Islam as it’s long been practiced in Egypt, where the population is religious but with a relatively liberal slant. Traditionally, Egyptian men and women mix rather freely and Islamic doctrine has been influenced by local, traditional practices and an easygoing attitude to moral foibles.

But Salafism has proved highly adaptable, appealing to Egypt’s wealthy businessmen, the middle class and even the urban poor — cutting across class in an otherwise rigidly hierarchical society.

‘Our identity is Islamic’
In Cairo’s wealthy enclaves of Maadi and Nasr City, upper-class Salafis dressed in traditional robes can be seen driving BMWs to their engineering firms, while their wives stay inside large homes surrounded by servants and children.

Sara Soliman and her businessman husband Ahmed el-Shafei both received the best education Egypt had to offer, first at a German-run school, then at the elite American University in Cairo, but they have now chosen the Salafi path.

“We were losing our identity. Our identity is Islamic,” 27-year-old Soliman said from behind an all-covering black niqab as she sat with her husband in a Maadi restaurant.

“In our (social) class, none of us are brought up to be strongly practicing,” el-Shafei, also 27, added in American-accented English, a legacy of living in the U.S. until he was 8. Now, he and his wife said, they live Islam as “a whole way of life,” rather than just a set of obligations such as daily prayers and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

A dozen satellite TV channels — most Saudi-funded — are perhaps the most effective way Salafism has been spread. They feature conservative preachers, call-in advice shows and discussion programs on proper Islamic behavior.

Numerous Salafist mosques in Cairo are packed on Fridays, the day of weekly communal prayers. Outside downtown Cairo’s Shaeriyah mosque, a bookstall featured dozens of cassettes by Mohammed Hasaan, a prolific conservative preacher who sermonizes on the necessity of jihad and the injustices inflicted on Muslims.

Alongside the cassettes were rows of books espousing Salafi themes about sin and Western decadence. One book, “The Sinful Behaviors of Women,” displayed lipstick, playing cards, perfumes and mobile phones on the cover to make its point. Another was titled “The Excesses of American Hubris.”

Critics of Salafism say it has spread so quickly in part because of encouragement by the Egyptian and Saudi governments, which see it as an apolitical, nonviolent alternative to hard-line jihadi groups.

‘Not a good thing’
Critics warn that the governments are playing with fire, saying Salafism creates an environment that breed extremism. Al-Qaida continues to try to draw Salafists into jihad, and the terror network’s No. 2, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, praised Salafists in an Internet statement in April, urging them to take up arms.

“The Salafi line is not that jihad is not a good thing, it is just not a good thing right now,” said Richard Gauvain, a lecturer in comparative religion at the American University in Cairo.

The Salafis’ talk of eventual jihad focuses on fighting Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, not on overthrowing pro-U.S. Arab governments denounced by al-Qaida. Most Salafi clerics preach loyalty to their countries’ rulers and some sharply denounce al-Qaida.

Egypt, with Saudi help, sought to rehabilitate jailed Islamic militants, in part by providing them with Salafi books. Critics say the regime of President Hosni Mubarak sees the Salafists as a counterbalance to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

‘Battle is not over’
The political quietism of the Salafis and their injunctions to always obey the ruler are too good an opportunity for established Arab rulers to pass up, said novelist Alaa Aswani, one of the most prominent critics of rising conservatism in Egypt.

“That was a kind of Christmas present for the dictators because now they can rule with both the army and the religion,” he said.

The new wave of conservatism is not inevitable, Aswani maintains, noting that his books — including his most popular, “The Yacoubian Building” — have risque themes and condemnations of conservatives, and yet are best-sellers in Egypt.

“The battle is not over, because Egypt is too big to be fitting in this very, very little, very small vision of a religion,” he said.

Only in Egypt

This is too funny.  I have personally seen a lot of the things in this video happening in the street.  I had myself a good laugh.  Especially from the traffic and spelling mistakes, classic Egypt.  Just realized there is music ( I usually have my speakers off.)





Here I felt bad for the donkey, but they really do use them like this.


And here’s another one that doesn’t surprise me.  Alhamdulillah, no one was hurt.


Did we make the right choice?

I will be honest.  I felt a sort of relief to be coming home.  Living in Egypt (or anywhere overseas, imho) can be stressful.  I missed home a lot.  On the other hand, in Egypt, I did feel a sense of ease that my kids were growing around muslims, and in a more Islamic environment than we could give them in America.  Everytime I would think about leaving Egypt, I would think about the challenges the kids would face here. 

The kids were initially upset with out move.  My daughter cried for one hour after saying goodbye to her Quran teacher.  My son told me he prefers Ramadan in Egypt, and asked if we could return to Egypt then.  Eventually the ease of living in America won them over.  The town we live in is very green and parks are very accessible.  I find it much easier to take them out to different places, like the library.  But the drawbacks are there.  I cringe at some of the stuff they see in outside and in stores.  And we have never been verbally assaulted in Egypt for how we dressed and unfortunately it happened fairly recently here.  I’ve noticed a change in the kids, even in this short time. 

Dh is thinking of how we might find a way to spend part of each year in Egypt.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I really want to settle in one place.  And I don’t like the kids living without their dad for months at a time (most likely he would be working here).  I’ve been thinking of using my time here to try and finish my degree, maybe we can go somewhere besides Egypt and teach.