Cairo, like any other major city, was filled with house parties, hotel parties and New Year’s festivities. There were fireworks, and food and drink, with people staying up to all hours of the night.
I spent the evening listening to the magical performance of the Iraqi oudist Naseer Shamma. He chose a dozen upbeat pieces to ring in the New Year on a positive note. The sold out concert hall bopped to the music of his orchestra, with people applauding loudly as the lights went out and a big sign reading “2010” flashed above the hall.
Leaving the concert a little after midnight, I found the city still wide-awake, with firecrackers exploding in the distance and people milling around with friends getting ready for a party. People got on their mobile phones right away to send New Year’s wishes to friends and family, a popular habit in Egypt at holidays.
But while many people did go out to party, I was surprised at the number of people I knew who chose to stay in and welcome the New Year quietly with family. I know some friends who were happiest to greet 2010 with little pomp, curled up on couches in pyjamas, with popcorn and a bad TV movie, .
When talking to people here, most expressed astonishment at how fast the year went by. “It just flew away!” they exclaimed, sometimes feeling anxious about the loss of one year and worried at what the new one will bring. I am excited to meet 2010, which will mark my fourth year living in Cairo.
For myself, I leave my twenties behind on the other side of the 2000s, and I find myself excited to find out what my thirties will bring. I like to think that I have left behind a decade of noticeable maturing, at least in my mind, that will serve me well.
Much of it is thanks to Egypt. By moving here, I was forced to burst the bubble of safety of my Canadian upbringing. I was thrown from the safe, clean, green suburbs of my city in Canada and the relative comfort of an all-Canadian workforce in to the harshness of Cairo. Even though living a comfortable lifestyle in Egypt with the privileges of being a foreigner, being faced with poverty on the streets every day means I have had to learn how to adapt to a new culture that functions in a very different way. The experience has helped me grow up and forced me to question things I held onto as truths.
Being a foreign correspondent has also allowed me to travel widely. Some people may never in their lives visit half the countries I have been able to see in just the past year. From Guatemala to the Haj to Baghdad, I have learnt to get used to sleeping in airports and how to cure jet lag. The people I met on these travels and the cultures I encountered have left imprints in my head that have helped me think of the world differently. I like to think that they gave me the ability to look at life in a more nuanced way.
For many Egyptians, 2010 does not necessarily indicate radical change. It will only mean another year of trying to find food to put into their children’s mouths. For those who could not afford to spend the thousands of pounds some Egyptians spent on their New Year’s party, 2010 may be another burden. But in the Egyptian way, people will give their thanks to God, and complain as little as possible.
From Cairo, I wish you a year of love, happiness and luck! Happy New Year.
*Published in the UAE's THE NATIONAL on Jan. 2, 2010. Hadeel al Shalchi is a writer for the Associated Press, based in Cairo.