We had almost everything sorted out before we arrived, except the slightly important point of where we were going to live. In some ways, looking for an apartment in Cairo is just like looking for one in New York, it is hard to do it in advance, the quality of the apartments will be anywhere between “built 50 years ago and never updated” to “just refurbished with Paris in mind” and there is even a Cairo Craig’s list.
We arrived with the idea that we wanted to live in an area called Garden City, which we heard was green, quiet and within walking distance from our language school and future work places. We even had a very specific idea of what type of apartment we wanted (something like our apartment in the US but with balconies!) and even a price we thought we should pay.
Unfortunately, finding our dream apartment was not as easy as we hoped. Over the course of four days, we looked at twelve different apartments, spoke with five different samasir (brokers) and even resorted to wandering around different neighborhoods asking the bowabs (a person who sits outside of an apartment building and helps its residents with whatever they might need) if there were any open apartments in their building. Nothing quite matched what we were looking for. However, as we had gradually learned more about the different neighborhoods, we became a little bit more open-minded and broadened our search.
We were still living out of a hotel room when we were able to meet with the local Baha’is, one of which we connected with through a friend in Brooklyn before we arrived. We went out for dinner with a group of them who turned out to be the sweetest people we had met so far – incredibly friendly, welcoming and really fun! It came out during our conversation that we were still looking for an apartment and to our surprise, one of the people at the table said that he actually had an apartment not located in one of the neighborhoods we were looking at, but we could stay there while we were continuing our search!
He picked us up the next day and took us to a neighborhood called Ma’adi, which is south of downtown Cairo but still connected by one of the two metro lines that run through the city. It turned out that the apartment was perfect! It has a large kitchen, bedroom and living room as well as an extra room and an incredible balcony where we could sit and eat breakfast. We decided that this would be a wonderful home for the next year. To top it all off, our new friend/landlord is an Arabic professor at the American University of Cairo and said that we should just give him a call if we ever need help with our Arabic work!
As we are settling into our new home and looking back at our first crazy week, it seems that our apartment search was much more a process of letting go of our attachment to exactly what type of apartment we thought we wanted and opening up to the possibility that there was a place that we were supposed to live, one that provides what we need now and in ways we might not yet see. Although we had reservations about the neighborhood beforehand, as we heard that Ma’adi was full of Americans, it turns out the foreign portion is farther south and we are the only non-Egyptians we have seen in our area, but yet still not so far from peanut butter and Heinz ketchup. Best of all, there is a Baha’i community close by that welcomes our participation.
When we work in a direction that is best for us, we receive confirmations that we are on the right path or meet continued resistance if we are not. It is unfortunately my nature that when a door seems closed, I will try and force it open instead of trying another that might open much more easily and lead me to when I should be. As this apartment search showed us, once we let go of our attachments, doors swing open, in this case literally.