A couple of years back I got a job in Cairo. I am originally from Alex and had to move to Cairo. My mom wasn’t very happy with the move and didn’t want me moving out. To make a very long story short, I eventually moved and thought I was doing the best thing for my career and my life in general. I was in one of the best companies in the industry, making more money than most people my age and general grabbing on to the chance of a lifetime. I stayed for one year and one month. Looking back, I realize that I did learn lots of things during that year.
I realized that sometimes the things you want really bad and fight for the most are not really worth it. During that year I was almost always broke even though I was making more money, my car would break down all the time for no reason, I had to move a couple of times, working hours were extreme and I was always exhausted, not to mention lots of other messed up personal issues. Eventually I went back to Alex, took a pay cut and joined a smaller company. At first I thought I had taken a step back career wise and was unhappy with that too. Today I can look back and realize it doesn’t matter. I am a stay at home mom at the moment but instead of looking at it as a backward move I can now look at it as a temporary pause in my career path.
That was one of the best lessons I learned from that year, is that even though somethings don’t make sense when they happen at the time, they will eventually become decipherable later on in life. Just like Steve Jobs said, you can only connect the dots looking backwards. That year taught me independence, financial smarts, doing the laundry and a little bit of time management. I also learned a very useful skill which has come in very handy after I became a mother, the skill of sleeping on a moving train while standing up. There were so many weeks that I’d catch the train while it was leaving the platform and I’d just hop on and pay for my ticket once on the train and many times I wouldn’t find an empty seat so I’d just stand and from the exhaustion of a very busy week I’d fall asleep standing.
One of the other things I learned was dealing with a roommate, which was a good thing because its a lot like marriage. You assume because you love someone living with them will be great and everything will just fall in place just perfectly. That is not always true, you see, love does not make you 100% compatible in things like messiness vs neatness or how loud you want the TV on or even who has remote control rights. Having a roommate teaches you that good communication skills, the art of compromise and a sense of humor are all vital skills while living with someone.
I learned that instant noodles make a great substitute for a home cooked meal when you are really hungry. Actually if you are really hungry anything tastes good. I learned that you have to do your own laundry and learn how a washing machine works if you want clean socks. I learned that you have to take your clothes out of the washing machine and hang them to dry or they will smell musty and you will have to wash them all over again. I learned that you need to clean the refrigerator and disinfect it every once in a while if you want it smelling nice and fresh. I learned that if you don’t hang your clothes when you get home, they will get crumpled and you will have to iron them (just for a fact I don’t own an iron in my home, just a steam iron and I am keeping it that way). I learned that when you move to a new place you need to find out the number of the nearest home delivering grocery store (because you never know when you will run out of milk), towing service, mechanic, plumber and the building doorman (because you never know when something will go wrong).
It is ironic because I thought I was going to learn so many software development skills, I ended up learning more life skills than anything else. I also learned how to apartment hunt. I needed that when we were looking for our apartment in Egypt. Before I would have just took my gut feeling about a place. But now I know that the size of a kitchen is important, air circulation, windows, lighting, sunlight and so many other things are also very significant in any home. I learned that turning any living space in a home as soon as you set foot in it is not only crucial but it is also very easy. Just placing your favorite scented candle can create a familiar feeling and make you feel that you have come home. Any new space can feel cold or uninviting but putting your personal touches transforms the iciest place into a warm and cozy place. Pictures, books and towels are perfect examples of things that can make you feel at home. When I moved to Kuwait, I remember taking out my stuff and seeing my books lined on the shelves made it feel like a home, like my home.
That year in Cairo mellowed me down. It was not the most life defining year in my life, but it was educating.
Looking back I don’t regret it and I am grateful that I had the chance to learn all of these things but maybe if I had to do it all over again I would have done things differently. Or maybe I wouldn’t have and I would have done the exact same things, because that year is probably why there are so many things I know today that I really needed to know.