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Oasis Magazine Articles

The Life of a Diplo Wife in Cairo

By Vibha Das-Singh

September 01, 2016
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I have often felt that as a diplomatic or expat spouse, it is always harder for you to settle down and adapt. A few days after moving and settling down in our new home in Cairo, my husband started work at the embassy, returning to his familiar Australian official surroundings. Whereas I was left all by myself to decide what to do with my day, after the kids had departed to their respective schools.

It is a boon in disguise, as you can do all the things that you have always dreamt of doing. Reading unfinished books, completing unfinished projects, begin writing that novel you have always wanted to write or finally complete that book of poetry. It all sounds wonderful and great, but there are times when you realize you have to re-establish your social network. You are a lone being, you have problems communicating with your domestic staff or local people, and frustrations arise easily. The dilemma occurs when you have to decide whether to use your time wisely and start making some new friendships to last the next three years or so, or whether you would prefer doing more substantial stuff.

People often envy the diplomatic spouse, thinking they are having the time of their lives, but it’s not entirely true. We have to work hard to carve out lives for ourselves as individuals. From my experience so far as an expat and a diplomatic spouse, I have realised you have to make the most of it. It takes around three years, no matter where you decide to go and live in the world, before you start to feel totally comfortable. Unfortunately, you often get that sense of belonging just when it is time to pack up and move again. Regardless, it is a thrilling and exciting journey that gives you the opportunity to get reacquainted with yourself. You meet some interesting characters, run into some weird and funny incidents, and become closer than ever as a family because you don’t have anyone else but each other in this new and strange land. Life becomes an adventure, for you as an individual and as a family unit.

When I reflect on the year and a half since we have moved to Cairo, I must say it has been quite an interesting journey. It was a huge adjustment coming from the quiet, sleepy, orderly and a clean town of Canberra, Australia, where traffic jams and pollution are unheard of to Cairo, the sprawling and dense metropolis. I remember how Christmas was just a week after we had moved into our new apartment and how lonely it was, without our family and friends and living in a very empty house with sparse furniture scattered everywhere. My husband managed to get us a small Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and we somehow managed to convince the kids that Santa knew our new address in Cairo.

The next big step was getting my older son accustomed to his new school. We were a bit apprehensive about the whole process as it was the first time our son had moved countries. It would be a new school, new friends, new teachers, new language, new surroundings and new everything for him. In addition to that, he would be missing the first six months of the new academic year. It was quite a lot to expect from a 6 year old. To our surprise, within a week he was invited to two birthday parties and he quickly made friends. Every day, when he would arrive from school, I would anxiously wait for him and bombard him with a plethora of questions – how was the school, his teacher, his friends? Was he having any other trouble? Any language problems? He would look at me with his big, wide eyes and say, “Mum, it’s all fine. No problems, I had a good day!” Slowly I watched him settle into his school life, easily and quite comfortably. There were some moments of missing his Australian friends and school, but he adjusted and adapted really well into his new life here in Egypt.

We couldn’t have been luckier finding a preschool for our three year old twins, right in front of our apartment building. I was pleasantly surprised how organized it was and how professionally it was run. Every kid had an extra carer assigned to him/her and it was not over crowded. The menu included nutritious and healthy meals. The curriculum was creative and comprehensive. By now, they have picked up many Arabic words, their favorite word is habibi and their favorite food is Koshari. For the twins, Cairo is their home.

We love how most day to day chores that would take up a lot of our time and effort back home are comparatively much easier here. Most people can afford to get some domestic assistance and bowabs (doormen) can provide some handy help and assistance, in addition to security. Almost everything can be delivered to your door at any time of the day, from groceries to medicine to a single carton of milk. Egypt has been particularly good from a travelling point of view as it is an airline travel hub and close to so many popular and famous holiday destinations in Europe. So far, as a family, we have enjoyed travelling within and outside of Egypt, creating some really special and memorable times together.

Regardless of the rough start as a diplomatic spouse in a new country, I like to think when I’m eighty years old, I will look back at my life and find so much to be happy about and be glad that I made all these memories. They say you get only one shot at this life, so why not make the most of it? As the saying goes.. Life is a story, make yours a best seller. I’ll add on: InshaAllah!

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