Tomorrow marks my fourth month in Cairo. I’ve done surprisingly little and seemingly a lot since I’ve been here. My first month coincided with Ramadan, therefore it was quiet, peaceful, and a good introduction to Cairo. The traffic was lighter and the weather was relatively mild. I primarily spent my first few weeks figuring out my new neighborhood.
I did venture into Cairo’s ancient market: Khan el Khalili. It was such a hot day though and since it was Ramadan, I had to sneak sips of water behind buildings and shops.
During my first month I also checked an item off my bucket list: camel ride at the pyramids. I spent 3 hours with my camel and my guide exploring the desert around the Great Pyramids. Lawrence of Arabia is one of my favorite films and it felt like I was T.E. Lawrence. It was everything I ever wanted in an experience. I went alone and never once felt unsafe. If the tourists and traffic weren’t so bad these days, I’d go every weekend. There’s a very good reason camels and giraffes are my favorite animals, kindred souls – gangly, long necks, and anything but graceful.
July and August were honestly a bit of a blur. I finally got my shipment about 2 months after arriving at post. It was nice to finally make this place feel like a home.
But now my house looks like an African antiquities dealer threw up on the walls. Precisely the look I was going for. Work wise, during July and August, I started becoming more comfortable with consular work. It felt less scary and more natural. I took on a business focused portfolio and I really enjoyed working with accounting statements, business plans, and business-minded folks again. It was also a good reminder for me that the Foreign Service attracts people from different backgrounds for a reason. If everyone graduated from an east coast graduate program and majored in [insert region] studies or international affairs, you would have a very narrow knowledge base. In the past few years, no one has even wanted to take on the business portfolio because no one had any interest or background in business. I believe that I was able to make better, more informed adjudications because I actually understood the difference between owner’s equity and profit. I could also tell when the applicant didn’t understand the difference.
September rolled around and I started to get really excited for my trip to Istanbul with Mike. It did not disappoint.
We were in Istanbul for 6 days and it was wonderful. It was cosmopolitan, friendly, cheap, and a perfect vacation. My favorite part of the entire trip was the Harem of the Topkapi Palace. It was stunningly beautiful with painted tiles that make my Anthropologie-loving heart sing.
September also meant more exploring in Cairo. The government of Egypt lovingly hands out holidays like no other country on Earth, therefore I got in a trip to the Citadel and the Salah el Din Mosque.
Now, as the leaves are changing in the United States, the weather is cooling down slightly to the 80s in Cairo. My windows are currently open, the breeze is blowing in, and the air doesn’t feel like a sand blast. Last weekend, three of my A-100 friends came to Cairo for Columbus Day weekend. We explored Cairo’s Ibn Tulun mosque which was built in the 800s. Then we visited the Gayer-Anderson Museum, a relative unknown in this city, but it is where they filmed part of James Bond The Spy Who Loved Me. It feels very much like a villain’s home. I can’t say how much my colleagues enjoyed it, but I absolutely loved it. It was a rare treat in Cairo; where museums, including the Egyptian Museum, are rarely organized or preserved in a way that makes it easy to enjoy their contents.
We continued on the next day to the pyramids, including the step and bent. Near the Step Pyramid is a set of tombs, hiding in plain sight we found a depiction of a feast. It is still so well preserved and eerily detailed that I still have trouble believing we were looking upon someone’s thanksgiving meal 6000 years ago.
We then crawled down a very long and steep tunnel to enter the Red Pyramid. Inside the pyramid was incredible. The stench was overpowering and smelled of ammonia. It didn’t smell like someone was cleaning, it smelled like a pharaoh’s curse upon those who dare disturb his 6000 year slumber.
My absolute favorite though was the bent pyramid. We had the entire pyramid to ourselves. It was quiet with a breeze. Approaching the pyramid, I felt like an old explorer gazing upon a wonder for the first time. It felt like all of history was lording over us in one giant, architectural oops. The bent pyramid was one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in my entire life. I can’t describe my childlike excitement or my tear-inducing wonder upon seeing this pyramid. The Great Pyramid is awe-inspiring and my camel ride was glorious, but nothing compares to the stillness of being alone with a pyramid.
Afterwards, we explored the main complex of the Great Pyramids and I finally got to see the Sphinx in all her glory.
While seeing historical sites is entertaining, most of my time is spent at work. I am wrapping up my very first cable, which I’ve been working on for quite some time. It is a study of tourist visas issued in Cairo from 2013 to 2014. I was given thousands of data points and given the freedom to analyze away. Data analysis and synthesis is one of my strengths and I am having a great time at work. I am very grateful that the consular managers in Cairo are providing the opportunity for me to combine my passions with my general work.
Soon, I will be moving to a new section within consular and I’ve been given another opportunity to do a TDY in the new year. I enjoy the work I do. I have learned a lot about our immigration system and how the interagency process works. And I’m having a lot of fun. When I walk down the halls wearing my badge, clacking in my heels with my suit on, I feel like I actually belong in this job. I am so grateful that I found my passion and my career early and that I was actually able to achieve my goal of joining the Foreign Service. So far it is living up to my dreams and I couldn’t be happier.
Coming soon, I will be moderating a panel on female leadership in government. An event that I dreamed up one weekend and approached my colleagues with. The Federal Women’s Program coordinator set up the event, coordinated with the panelists, and did most of the legwork. The First and Second Tour (FAST) committee is also sponsoring it and has done the marketing, planning, and helped flush out the concept. Cairo truly has a great, supportive team mentality. I need to send my CDO a thank you card.
In 10 days, I will fly to Morocco for vacation. Mike was selected for a Transatlantic Emerging Leaders forum/dialogue/program in Marrakech. Since we are going to be in the same region, I figured why not meet him. It also coincides with my birthday, so lucky me! Unfortunately, he will be working all day and I’m not allowed to join him for dinner, so I’ll be exploring on my own. Hopefully, I will get to see him in the mornings. I glanced through the bios of his fellow participants and I was incredibly impressed by the caliber of people. There’s even a Ghanaian entrepreneur who works in GIS, wish I would have known him 4 years ago! I’m looking forward to exploring the other side of North Africa.
Christmas is coming sooner than you think, and I’m crossing my fingers that I will be in the U.S. for the holidays. I just need my flights to be booked and settled so I can rest assured.