When Margarita from Happy Abroad, a website giving tips on living in a different country, asked me to write about Egypt, I could not decide where to start. After three years in the country and a marriage to an Egyptian, am I the right person to give general advice? Can I still retrieve the feeling when I first came here without any work, study or personal commitments? I must admit the more time passes, the more my eyes and mind get accustomed and it takes effort to remember what impressed or amazed me before. While the first year was the hardest, it was also the most intense experience. I want to focus in this post on internal struggles I had to overcome to fit in a new place, taking into account that each experience is deeply personal. I want to talk about psychological states and social factors I had to consider to live in balance and peace in Egypt. Continue reading
While working for the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, Egypt, one of my main projects was producing the foundation’s 10 years review. It was a complicated and challenging process of gathering and editing information from various units and teams, creating an appealing and simple narrative from excel spreadsheets and programme reports, selecting images that represent best the diversity of citizens and civil society of 43 Mediterranean countries and struggling with routine summer power cuts in an upper class Cairo neighbourhood while exploring full potential of creative young female Egyptian graphic designers in order to meet strict deadlines. I can now smile remembering that, but it was not all roses back then. Continue reading
While working with the Anna Lindh Foundation in Alexandria, one of my challenges was creating an online publication for the Anna Lindh Report 2014. Published every three years, the Report combines a Gallup Public Opinion Poll on a sample of 13 000 people across Europe and Southern Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) region, including a wide range of analysis by a network of intercultural experts. It is a pioneering tool for knowledge on cross-cultural relations. Main topics discussed in the research are social change in the Euro-Med; differences and similarities in value systems; the religious factor in intercultural relations; human mobility; the role of culture in Mediterranean relations; intercultural citizenship; the Union for the Mediterranean and regional cooperation.
Such a variety of data and in depths analysis fits well in a printed publication. But what is the best way to present it online? After 10 key findings were defined by my colleagues working on the content, I opted for data visualisation. My choice was Infogr.am, a platform developed by a Latvian start-up allowing to create and share infographics easily. A snapshot of an infographic with some of the main data on mutual perceptions in the Euro-Med region is available below. Quotes and page numbers are added to point you to the full text of the Report . An interactive version of the infographic on 10 Key Findings of the Anna Lind Report is on the Anna Lindh Foundation’s website.
For several months I was involved in an EU communication project on developing a reader-friendly guide on social security benefits and social security contributions. It was an opportunity to learn in detail about the EU social security systems which still greatly vary in each member state and understand the reasons socially vulnerable people take a decision to leave Latvia. Continue reading
If in my previous post I wrote about difficulties I face as a foreigner in Egypt, now I want to try to express a woman might feel. Even if sexual harassment in public places has been a permanent occurrence, especially in the last three years, a recent event has led to a harsh debate. A 19 years old Egyptian woman was sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir square during mass celebrations marking the inauguration of the new president. A completely naked and bleeding she was caught on video surrounded by dozens of men attacking and a helpless police officer. Continue reading
I am tired of fighting with people around me. I had a childhood dream to escape to a deep forest and live with birds and goats around me. I could have easily become a crazy cat lady and live happily ever after. I have a friend, a Latvian woman who, while witnessing urban expansion of my hometown Ogre, still struggles to make a living owning a small flock of goats. Every time I meet her, she repeats: “I love to talk to my goats more than to people”.
I need silence around me, a deep silence of a Latvian sunrise over the wheat fields. Just in this kind of silence I can hear my thoughts. Probably it is Egyptian constant fear of silence and empty places that makes living here so hard for a newcomer.
I tried to recreate a glimpse of my childhood memories by taking care of a ‘green corner’ on my balcony where I can lay down on the ground, watch plants blossoming and read a book alone. I can stay like that for days without leaving my flat. Continue reading
‘You must be Muslim in your heart to get my blessing for your marriage’, her mother told me. As much as I hoped for her blessing I could not promise my heart to something I didn’t understand, I could only promise what I knew – that I would and do love Mariam with all my heart. I cannot lie to those I care about, not even if it’s what they want to hear. This is the story of James who had no choice except lying to the state in order to get social recognition of his love.
Religion and citizenship
In a country where religion, state institution and legislation are strictly bounded, private choices often are subject to a cautious verification process. When personal attitudes and beliefs are regulated by countless bureaucratic steps can they still serve their initial purpose? Stuck in the crowded corridors, piled up on the dusted desks, handwritten countless times by apathetic employees in the official registry books. This is how personal attitudes become institutionalised truths. In such circumstances rule exceptions may be impossible to obtain. Continue reading