Multiple perspectives are always a good thing. This interview is the third in a series dedicated to presenting the perspectives of expats who have lived in Egypt for many years. People who choose to establish a life in a country other than their own have a unique view on that community’s culture. While tourists breeze in and out, expats embed themselves. Shopping in local grocery stores, bringing your children to school, paying electric bills, greeting your neighbors….these sorts of day-to-day activities inspire an appreciation for, and often a loyalty to, the people you share them with. The expats being interviewed for these articles have lived in Egypt since well before the recent revolutionary phase and have observed first-hand the changes in every aspect of living, from the philosophical to the mundane. They offer their experiences and opinions with the aim of helping potential visitors to better understand the current environment.
Today’s interview is with Ms. Sherena Cheraki, a professional educator who has lived in Egypt since 1990. Reflecting a truly international background Sherena was born in England of an Irish mother and a Turkish-Syrian father. The family moved to Egypt for job opportunities and Sherena has also made a career for herself here as a teacher at an international school outside of Cairo.
In all the years you’ve lived in Egypt, what were some of the changes that you noticed were taking place, before the Jan 25 revolutionary movement began?
I’ve lived in Maadi, a little suburb in Cairo, since before the Grand Mall was built. The streets were quiet. The town consisted of a few major families, and when we first arrived our family was one of them. The town was very tiny. I noticed a change about 7 years ago with how crowded and dirty the town was becoming. It was never like this. I was capable of playing in the street and riding my bike around the “small” Maadi. Now I wouldn’t dare to do so.
How did you experience the Jan 25 phase of the revolution?
That was a confusing time for me personally. I grew up on the streets of Maadi, and to see road blockages and army tanks rolling down the streets was very hard to swallow. I was held up at home for 2 months with my best friend who moved in with us. At times, we had to put all our money together to buy some food and water. My friend and I grew accustomed to the sound of gunfire. We figured out that 4 shots means danger and 2 means safety.
What were your expectations after Mubarak stepped down?
Mubarak stepping down was a proud moment but also sad, because he was considered a “father” to us. We used to call him “Baba Mubarak” and to see him step down with his tail between his legs was a bit hard for me. But I was very proud of the Egyptians in Tahrir for their peaceful demonstrations. My expectations of Mubarak stepping down were unclear. I was worried about who would come after him and wondered if we had just dug ourselves into a deeper hole. Better the enemy you know than the one you don’t know. I was hoping for a cleaner, safer and traffic controlled Egypt though.
Did you see those expectations achieved? If yes, how? If no, why?
No, none of them were achieved. It is too soon to see those changes. Changes need to happen within the people and the government first.
How did life overall change after the revolution? Do you feel the changes weighed more heavily in the positive or the negative?
Well, one of the changes is that we can actually vote. However, people have become determined that “they” are right. So its hard to have a political conversation with someone as they can easily bite your head off if they don’t agree with what you’re saying.
What do you expect for Egypt in the next few months and years?
I expect and hope that Egypt finds it feet soon. I’m aware that things need to get worse before we see any signs of a better life. But the Egyptian people love their country and expect a change now, so I think that there patience may run low soon if they don't see any changes.
Do you feel safe now?
Safe is a big word. I feel safe knowing that the revolution is past us now. However, I don’t feel safe walking down the streets or getting in a cab alone. Harassment is quite big in Egypt, especially since the revolution. Just a few months ago I was assaulted in Maadi by a group of boys who were laughing while throwing stones at me. I was very shaken up after and suffered many cuts and bruises. Also, a friend of mine is leaving the country after living here for many years because she was also assaulted, but this time by a cab driver who tried to pull her into his car and drive off.
What advice would you offer a foreigner who is considering a vacation in Egypt right now?
Egypt is a beautiful country. The people are very warm and welcoming and can be very helpful at times. However, they should not expect the same services they get in their own country. Traffic is horrible: traffic lights and rules don’t exist. Littering is not against the law and they will find the streets very dirty. Beggars are at every corner, be smart about that. Best advice I can give is to hire a reliable guide and rely on them. As in any other country, there is both good and bad in Egypt.