Finding yourself away from home at Christmas—a time families in most countries traditionally spend together—can be a challenge for expatriates. So how do ex-pats stationed in Egypt make the most of the holidays? Watani asked some how they make Christmas special so far from home.
Suzanne Prevnic, an engineering student at the American University in Cairo, comes from Ireland. She and her friends choose to spend Christmas with marginalised people such as orphans and old people, handing out food, clothes and gifts. Since coming to Egypt three years ago she has formed a group called Love Unites, which collects donations in money and clothes to deliver to the underprivileged on Christmas Eve.
Celebration for Dutch musician David Markus, who is studying the guitar at the High Institution for Music in Egypt, means music. His guitar is with him wherever he celebrates Christmas, just as it was in the Netherlands. When he came to Egypt two years ago Markus thought Egyptians had no idea that “music is the language of all nations”. He has now realised how untrue this is. “Egyptians mostly prefer oriental music, but most young Egyptians have a taste for Western music,” Markus says. “It doesn’t matter who I spend Christmas with as long as I have the company of my guitar.”
Friends at Christmas
To others, however, celebrating Christmas means church. Docube Zanad, a Christian from Zaire, has lived in Egypt for six years and works as a decorator. “From my first year in Egypt I have had a number of Egyptian friends, and I go to church with them at Christmas,” he says. “I believe Egyptians—Christians and Muslims—are pious, and not backward as is sometimes presumed,”
Rajiv Randi, an Indian Muslim working as a translator in Egypt, points out that celebrating Christmas is not restricted to Christians. “This is a false concept,” he says. “Celebrating the New Year is for everyone. Everyone celebrates in his or her own way.” However he prefers to see in the New Year in a place of worship and, with his Indian friends in Egypt, usually goes to a mosque.
Not everyone finds it easy to make friends in new surroundings. Although Tunisian fashion designer Gasser Ben Ayen has been in Egypt for nine years, he claims to have made few friends. He spends Christmas with his computer or watching satellite channels, where he can ring the changes on Christmas Eve with seasonal programmes from all over the world.
Sarah Miller, an American married to an Egyptian, loves her Egyptian husband’s family, whom she met when she came to Egypt to study psychology. “It’s only a month since our wedding, but we spent last Christmas after the engagement on the bank of the Nile. My husband knows how much I love the River Nile,” Miller says.
Canadian Natasha Ascord has been in Egypt for four years and is attached to the Canadian Embassy in Garden City. She spends Christmas Eve with friends and colleagues.
Some take advantage of being in Cairo to pursue a passion. Italian petroleum engineer Baronti Moriano loves opera. “Since I came to Egypt six years ago and saw Aida on the Pyramids plateau I realised the beauty of opera in Egypt,” Moriano said. “Every Christmas I go with friends to the Cairo Opera House. They always schedule an exceptionally beautiful programme for Christmas and the New Year.”
Not where but who
“Have you ever seen a child coming into the world without crying?” said Mikhail Ziedov when Watani asked how he survived Christmas away from his homeland, Russia. Ziedov, who likes to spend Christmas disco dancing with friends in a floating boat or a hotel, says it helps them release their inner anger. “We greet the New Year with anger, fear and screams, but we don’t think about what we might face in the coming year,” he confides.
For many, Christmas means romance. “I have been in Egypt for seven years and now I’m engaged to an Egyptian girl, and I’ll be spending Christmas with her lovely family at a big dinner table with a turkey in the centre,” says Charles-Jean Piemon from France. “It doesn’t matter where you spend Christmas, it is a matter of with whom.”