Monday, November 01, 2010

How Becoming a Mother Changed My Life as an Expat

Nobody told me how much one little baby would change my life in Egypt. Before our son was born last year, life for me here was good. I was busy. I spoke the language. I understood the culture. I liked living in Cairo. This was home.

But somehow I always felt a little bit like an outsider. I could never quite put my finger on exactly why. I wasn't unwelcome, quite the opposite in fact. It was just this sense that there was a sort of wall there, separating me from really connecting with people.

My problem wasn't that I didn't stand out here. I have blond(ish) hair and blue-green eyes so there's no way I can get by in Egypt without getting noticed at least a little.

But they pretty much left me alone. I dressed appropriately. I acted appropriately. I didn't smile too much. I didn't make too much eye contact. I didn't give out my name.

It was the same when my husband and I went out together. We frequent a lot of the same restaurants and coffee shops. And sometimes people remembered us, and sometimes they didn't.

It didn't matter much to us anyways. We weren't exactly vying for first place in the "look at me" contest. We were perfectly happy being almost invisible.

Quite a few things changed when our son was born last year. Some things I expected and others I did not.

People remembered us. Like I said before some people remembered us, well, sometimes. But now people almost always remember us. Well, at least they remember my son. He has one of those faces.

People were friendlier. I'm talking about strangers here. Taxi drivers, people in front of us in line, people behind us in line, the guy behind the counter, people walking past... Basically people anywhere and everywhere were talking to us. Egyptians just can't get enough of babies.

I had to become friendlier. I was never unfriendly before; I just wasn't very outgoing. Before having a baby, I pretty much kept to myself and usually spoke when spoken to. But my son is friendly. At a young age, he began to smile at strangers. And they in turn smiled back. They oohed and they aahed, and I was left to smile in return. People wanted to know his name and how old he was. What was I to do, ignore them?

Making a personal connection with people was easier. This was true particularly with other expats. When you don't have kids you have to rely on common interests and experiences for that personal connection with people, but after you have kids just having kids was a common interest and a common experience.

It was true too among our Egyptian family and friends. While I had been welcomed and accepted by my husband's family and friends, having a child really opened the door to conversations. I could talk to them all day about my son. They wanted to know what he was eating, how he was sleeping, what he was doing, etc.

Transportation got tricky. I used to be able to hop in a taxi and go just about anywhere I wanted. Now I'm lugging a child around in a stroller with a diaper bag on my shoulder and all of that has to fit somehow into a taxi as well. And then there's the problem if getting across town when my son needs to be in a car seat.

Grocery shopping became an adventure. Ever tried navigating a stroller through a crowded grocery store? In Egypt it can be downright dangerous.

Going home to the States was no longer an option, it was a necessity. Now there were grandparents to consider. There were things we needed for baby that weren't available in Egypt.

Now I knew that becoming a mom would make things different. I knew that life in Egypt would never be the same.

I just never realized how much.

Life in Egypt is still good for me. I love my new life as a mother. It took a little time adjusting. Some things were easy and some were not. That's life in Cairo. Things here can change in a heartbeat.

But after all, isn't a little change good?

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