Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's a Family Affair

Slacker blogger here, full of apologies. I have lots of stories to tell, just not enough time to tell them. I don’t mean this as an excuse or a tease, but perhaps a warning. We are headed to Greece for spring break in a couple of days and I don’t know if I will be able to post again until I return as I am angling for a lo-tech vacation.

Last night, I visited the home of my friend Nagy in Imbaba, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, about an hour from downtown. Nagy is the older brother of Nady, who I posted about a couple of weeks ago. I also met Nagy in 1996 during my first visit to Egypt. One of my fondest memories of that time is a river taxi trip he and I took to Qanater, a park north of Cairo. I remember that Nile boat ride though because it turned into an Amr Diab dance party.

Whereas Nady has been doing pretty well by working in the UAE, his brother has had a much harder go of things. He has a college degree in law, which, though it does not have the same status as in the US, is quite respectable and qualifies one for an office job. He has had a lot of trouble finding work in his field, so he has been employed in a clothing factory in Shubra, a neighborhood north of downtown. It has its benefits because he likes fashion. A few years ago, he had an opportunity to travel to Italy to work but he wasn’t able to do so. He already had a wife and son, and responsibility kept him at home. As a result, his life is much different from his brother’s. Nady was able to save money and buy a flat that will completely transform his quality of life. Plus there are all sorts of harder-to-quantify benefits that come with living abroad—a certain worldliness, facility with English (a commodity), and perspective. Now Nady is trying to save more money to buy (essentially build, since the building, like many here, is incomplete) a second flat in his building where his brother can live with his family. Nagy is helping out though I can’t figure out how much—I suspect both brothers are overstating their contributions.

These kinds of situations are not uncommon. One member of a family has the opportunity to travel abroad and earn the money that comes with it, thereby accepting a role as provider for their family. He pays his sister’s college tuition and helps his brother with a flat. The family is tight but the constant refrain I heard from Nady and their mother was the Nagy is not doing well. As I got to spend some time with him, it was clear that he is having a tough time—life for the vast majority of Egyptians is really hard. He talks about money a lot. But he does see himself as a contributor to the family, which in the end is a collaborative undertaking. For example, when their father passed a way a couple of years ago, it fell on Nagy to handle most of the responsibilities while his brother was away (something Nady himself regrets).

It was really nice to spend time with Nagy after so many years. It was awesome to be in his home, and to meet his wife Mazrit and children Meena and Sara (aka Lala). When we get back from Greece, we will have them over to our flat for dinner. For now I will leave you with these photos.

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