Our son, Benjamin, just hit the 6 month mark a couple of weeks ago, and it prompted me to think, “Maybe the world is curious what life is like raising a baby in Cairo?” So here you go, world! We each took turns to give you a glimpse of Cairo with our new little babe.
Getting Around (Caleb)
Getting around can be pretty tricky for parents with a little in Cairo. First of all, side walks are more of an afterthought here. That is to say, they’re often existent in some fashion, however, they’re commonly covered with a variety of obstacles such as parked cars, piles of trash, and gaping holes that would test the most durable of strollers. Therefore, strollers are often only used in malls or at the airport. Another interesting aspect of getting around is how we transport Ben in a car. We don’t own our own vehicle, so we usually take Ubers.
This means lugging a car seat around – which is certainly the safer route, but not always the most convenient once you get to where you’re going. And pointless anyways, if the car doesn’t have working seat belts. So, (look away mom!) we’ll simply strap Benjamin in our baby carrier and hold on tight while he chews away at the straps to keep occupied. As you probably guessed, there are no car seat laws in Egypt. It’s not uncommon to see a family riding on their motorcycle 4 or 5 deep with the youngest straddling the fuel tank between the dad’s arms.
Thankfully, we have a baby that loves people and will go to anyone (for now, at least!). As long as SOMEONE is feeding him, he is a happy boy. And I’m incredibly grateful for that, as we live in a country that LOVES our child. My mom always told me that having a kid would make me more friends, and now I understand why. Everyday as I walk places with Ben, people are stopping to say hi to him, strangers will give him kisses alllll oovverrr his face, and people that I’ve walked by every day for the last two years who have ignored me, now make silly faces at Ben just trying to get him to crack a smile.
It’s not uncommon that people will ask to hold Ben or want to take him from me. And I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t mind in the least. “Why yes, I’d love a 5-minute break!” I’ve gotten used to being at restaurants and the servers picking Ben up, walking around with him, taking him back in the kitchen, watching them take selfies of the two of them, and then reluctantly hand him back. It’s nice to know that people like your kid.
Just the other day I was sitting having tea with the person who watches over the apartment building I work in. A woman came up, speaking only Arabic, and asked to hold Ben. I handed him to her, and she exchanged a conversation with my friend that I wasn’t following too well. She then looked at me and asked if Ben belonged to me, which I answered with an emphatic, “yes!” Only she wasn’t asking if he belonged to me. She was asking if he could
COME with her. And I had just responded “yes!” So before I knew it, or knew how to stop it, Ben was in the elevator and going up with this woman to her apartment. As I stood in the lobby, now alone, I asked the person I was having tea with, “Where is she going with my baby??” “To her apartment on the 5th floor,” he responded, “I invited you to go have tea with her.” “You did? But I don’t want to have tea with her. I don’t know her!” He looked over and said, “Besma (my Arabic name) – five minutes. Just spend five minutes with her. You will have tea and brighten her day and then you can go back to your work.” So I sat in her living room, chatting in my broken Arabic with her, her two daughters, and her daughter’s children. And all the while they’re so happy to be playing with Ben, and that I had stopped in, and asking that we please come again soon. It was a lovely time.
These Egyptians, I tell you. They can humble you. And make you realize the importance of saying yes to tea with strangers. Egyptians know that. And I am learning from them.
Moms Don’t Matter (Becca)
Now I should say, moms DO matter here, as they do almost ALL of the child-raising, but let me explain myself. The Egyptian culture is a very male-dominant society. Maybe not as much in the big city, but especially in the rural communities, once you have a son, your life as a mom becomes all about that son. You identity changes. When I work out in these rural villages and meet women there, they won’t even identify themselves by their own name anymore. When I ask them what their name is, they’ll literally tell me, “Mother of Mohamed,” or “Mother of Khaled.” They don’t use their own name. One lady I met knew that I had a son, and when she asked me what my name was, I told her my name – but my actual name. “No, no. What’s your son’s name?” she asked. “Oh, my son? Ben-ya-meen (as they pronounce it here).” She then proceeded to call me “Mother of Benjamin,” or “Om Benyameen” for the rest of the day. Because that’s where my identity is now.
Even taking Ben to his first doctor’s appointment, when I went to check in, the man asked for Ben’s name. I told him. He then asked for the father’s name (Caleb wasn’t even present). I told him Caleb. “Okay, go sit down and we’ll call when it’s your turn.” “Yes, but what about me?” I asked. “Don’t you want my name?” “No. We don’t need your name. Just the boy’s name and the father’s name.” Perplexed, I found my seat and spent the next few minutes thinking about how different things are here from the States!
Day to day, I have to keep shifting my mindset from a “Western” one to an “Eastern” one. Because they are so vastly different, and I have so much yet to learn.
Aside from his mom and dad, Benjamin doesn’t have any family, in the traditional sense, living anywhere remotely close to him. Therefore, his family, his caretakers, and friends, are the people that have filled our lives since before Ben was born. Many Egyptians and expats alike know that living in another country away from your original support network is hard. You have to lean hard on the people around you for help. So our landlady, our coworkers, our fellow church members, our security guards, and our friends all have become Ben’s one big family.
Raising a baby in Egypt comes with some concerns, but mostly it comes with a lot of benefits. And with the right attitude and the ability to say “malesh” or “don’t worry about it,” having a baby in Egypt is one of the greatest adventures out there!
Love you all,