“It takes a village to raise a child,” my husband likes to say.
But what if you live in a mega city like Cairo with more than 20 million inhabitants and you have not just one child, but three instead?
You have to find your way through all the good and bad advice, you must develop a good sense of humor and you must learn to adapt to a challenging environment.
I am white, German, with green eyes. My husband is Egyptian, Muslim, and a dark-skinned Arab man. His roots are in Upper Egypt. This is the place where families are still fighting with knives, guns, and sticks against each other. These facts are giving us creative breeding grounds for endless sarcastic jokes.
Kristin Jankowski’s Work
First Lesson of motherhood
From a retro perspective, there are many reasons to laugh. I still remember when I was pregnant with my first daughter. “Just leave Egypt and go back to Germany. There you will have health insurance. It doesn’t matter if the child is having a father or not,” a German woman told me. It was the first lesson I have learned: Don’t listen to people who are not even having a boyfriend. This is how my journey through motherhood in Egypt began.
The second lesson is a weird one
Through my daughter, I entered the circle of so-called Expats: Foreigners with damn good jobs. I found myself and my baby sitting on their huge sofas in the best neighborhoods of Cairo, witnessing one of the most absurd things I have ever experienced in my life.
In a luxurious five-bedroom, 3 bathrooms apartment in the posh area of Zamalek, I heard two Expats speaking about how difficult it is to find a new flat in Cairo.
“You know, man”, this one guy said “Since days I have been going around, trying to find a new apartment, but I can just find shit.” The other guy started to laugh:” Yes, I know. For around 3.000 US Dollars you can just find shitholes.” Shitholes.
And I still remember one guy saying:” In Cairo you just get bad food for a lot of money.”
The guy was a foreign correspondent for a German newspaper.
A big one.
I cannot count anymore how many times I heard them saying how “lazy” and “stupid” Egyptians are. Not all of them. But definitely more than enough to learn my second lesson:
Don’t waste your precious time with arrogant and racist Foreigners.
Since I am a mother I realise more and more how the “western” perspective on motherhood has shaped me. They taught me, there is nothing more important in life than your career, a child is just standing in your way, you will be just a slave to a man when you get married and if you have a Baby, just put it in a nursery as soon as possible. When I carried my 3 month old child, an English woman asked me, what I am doing for a living. I was confused and told her, I have a Baby now and it keeps me very busy. She couldn’t understand what I was talking about and kept on asking me what I was working on.
And I remember another European woman who was trying to convince me, I am just with my husband because I am so dependent on him. She was the one who told me about the benefits of being a single mom, getting social welfare, and raising my three children without a father.
The third lesson is a hard one
Don’t listen to people who see no value in motherhood and don’t argue with people who don’t understand what it means to keep a family together.
I think the fourth lesson is my favorite
Be selfish! You, as a mom, are the backbone of the family. You are there to support, uplift, organize, and arrange most of the things, you keep the calendar. When you don’t function, nothing is functioning anymore. So be nice to yourself and fight for your time to do what you really love. Maybe you are blessed with a beautiful talent. And why not pursue it when you are pretty damn good at it? Hide yourself in the bathroom to draw, sing while you are ironing clothes, stay awake at night to write, and take all your kids to your sports training.
When you feel good, it reflects on your family. The pleasure that you are taking from your activities is contributing to the stability of your health and your home life.
Lesson number five is a reminder
And when you have bad days then remember lesson number 5. Sometimes everything can be overwhelming, stressful, frustrating, unfair, and very stupid. When you think of taking your backpack and just driving to the airport to escape – alone- then take a deep breath.
And call your real friends. Talk to the ones which are listening to you instead of waiting for their turn to talk. It is okay to hate your children and your husband sometimes. Then meet your friend which is giving you a big power hug and wash away your tears. Talk to the people who are telling you that everything will be alright.
It is okay to hate everyone today. But tomorrow it is your duty to do everything to make peace again.
I think lesson number six will be my last one
When I was pregnant with my third child, I heard that someone was gossiping about me.
It was a childfree female educator in her forties who said:” Just the women who are too lazy to work are having three children.”
And I laughed. Really hard.
People who don’t even know how it is to give birth to a child shouldn’t put you down with their ignorance. Just laugh about it.
I think motherhood is definitely underestimated in the culture where I come from. I even heard a mom of three telling me, she left Germany with her children because she was treated so disrespectfully that she couldn’t stand it anymore.
It is a very eye opening experience to be a mom in Egypt. My husband is the one who loves mother’s day and when I tell him, there are some people who think this day is very discriminatory and should be abolished, he cannot stop laughing and asks me if I am joking. The staff in the supermarket is helpful and they carry my bags, people are calling me “Madame”.
And: No, my husband is not forcing me to wear a veil, he is not locking me inside the house, I don’t need to ask him for permission to leave the apartment, he is not hitting me, he is not oppressing me, I am not his slave, I don’t have to walk behind him and I am not forced to convert to Islam. And when I think I just want to give up everything, he is the one who is keeping us all together.
Hey, wait, this is my last lesson
Rethink your prejudices toward Arab Men! Rethink your prejudices against Men in general. We are not enemies. We must learn how to deal with our differences and embrace our commonalities. We should stop misandry and the anti-male ideology and teach our girls and boys to respect each other – and not to fight against each other. I think this is the only way we can save families. In Egypt. And everywhere else too.
Guest Post by Kristin Jankowski
Kristin is a German expat living in Egypt since 2008. She is a mother of three daughters. Raising her daughters in a mixed-culture family lead her towards challenging her upbringing and cultural perspective on family values. She is a former journalist and a children’s book Author in Egypt. She collaborated with theatre directors Mokhtar Eldenary and Abdelrahman Karim and students of Tawasol Community Center on a children’s play called, “The Mermaid and the Enchanted Lake”.
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