What I Found In Cairo



This post was contributed by Zayna J.

I felt something different in Cairo. I felt home. I bring home everywhere with me, but I felt extra at home here. I’m not Egyptian; there’s nothing tying me to this nation. Growing up, I’ve been around Egyptian media and music. My grandparents studied in Cairo and many of my friends are Egyptians. I’d listen to endless stories about trips to Alexandria by train and going to the cinema and watching black and white movies. I know Cairo changed from its “golden” age, but I still wanted to see how life is lived here by myself. I hung out with my friends who lived here, took the train, the microbus, and the metro. My father always told me: “when you visit a country, try to live like its people to see what everything is really like.”

I’ve been once when I was young, and I remembered everything vividly. I was excited to go back again. I think Egypt is special because it’s so close to home. I’m from a city called Rafah that is split into an Egyptian side and a Palestinian side. There is a history there, we have something in common. It’s no secret that I’m not Egyptian when I’m here; my accent gives me away directly.  I tried my best, but I don’t think I’ll ever get the accent 100 percent right.

I was excited to come to see family and friends. With them being here, a sense of Gaza, my hometown came rushing to me. The roads have the same feel to me, the desert climate, the friendly ambiance. Cairo is the only place I’ve visited recently that felt like back home.

I visited the old city in Cairo, and it was like walking in the streets of Gaza. Everything was super old and beige. I was having the time of my life.

People are friendly, sometimes it’s a bit too loud. I’ve seen modes of transportation I never knew existed, and it opened my eyes to how big this country is and how gigantic its population is.

It’s amazing to see how Egyptians descended from the ancient civilization and how Egypt has been one of the oldest nations in the world, a place where a big part of African civilization started.

In the beginning, I felt like a tourist but it felt weird to call myself a tourist. I feel like this entire region is home to me. I feel great respect for it.

Although a bustling and super crowded city, everywhere I went, I felt surrounded in Cairo, the capital. It’s the number of people in this city, I’m sure.

I didn’t even know Cairo had so many touristic attractions, and I feel lucky having visited many.

I would laugh every time my friends would tell me to not speak with my “American” accent or even my Levantine accent while trying to bargain in shops.

I would laugh every time my friends would tell me to not speak with my “American” accent or even my Levantine accent while trying to bargain in shops.

On the long rides home from downtown, I would think about how happy I felt here in Cairo. I’d think: “would I be as happy if I lived here?” I live in a very different place than here, maybe one day I’d come back again and figure it out.

On my way to Alexandria, I saw the Nile, the plantations, deserts, villages, cities, beat down buildings, new buildings, and everything. I felt so small. It felt so refreshing. Having felt this way made me realize there is so much to discover, and I don’t need to know everything right now. Trips and journeys like this one will help me shape who I am.

In a taxi in Alexandria, the driver found out I’m Palestinian and talked about his profound respect for me and called me a fighter. It was amazing seeing a man with his wisdom respect me because he knows and empathizes with what I go through with my history. He treated me like his daughter, and I felt kindness all around.

Later on in the day in Alexandria, I rode a double-decker and watched people have fun by the ocean. It reminded me of Gaza and gave me the most heartwarming feeling ever (maybe it was the sun that I missed oh so much?). It reminded me of the time I spent on the beach in Gaza. The music, the umbrellas, and picnics. I painted the picture in my head, and I won’t ever forget it. I live for moments like this, simple, and unforgettable.

Another completely different ride was with a guy that was playing Egyptian folklore music and it was very fun. It made me realize that Egypt really feels like a world on its own.

I’ve always lived in a place with multiple nationalities evident; here it is almost fully just Egyptian. I have never seen a city like Cairo. I live in Montreal and I lived in Kuwait and I’ve been to a handful of countries, but there is nothing like Cairo.

We are fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, and I was supposed to be in Kuwait, but they told me Ramadan is unmissable here in Egypt. So, I’m excited to experience our spiritual month in this place that feels like home. So far, the bright lights and the calls for prayer feel like home. The calls for suhoor (food before fasting time) make me feel serene. The live music from cafes playing football matches is lively. People singing in the streets make me fall in love with this city (even if the weather made me super sick haha).

I found a sense of home in Cairo

I don’t know everything about Egypt, and I’m sure there are things that I wouldn’t be familiar with and would never get used to, but there is no denying that a lot of it looks a lot like where I come from.

There is so much I want to see in Egypt, and I hope I can come back soon. I will, because I found a sense of home in Cairo.


Meet Zayna: Zayna J. is a Palestinian-Canadian writer, poet, activist, and education student in Montreal, Canada. She was raised in Kuwait. She would love to travel everywhere she possibly can to write about it and share her stories. Keep up with her on IG.

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