Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


 Leaving, Learning or Living Egypt?

By Rip Ritchie

    During my trip to Egypt, I was confronted with migration during my first day there.  It was a common theme throughout my trip, and two specific examples illustrate the types of migration that I encountered.  The Egyptian egyptcitizens I met have migrated outwards, mostly towards European cities, in search of work and wages.  Most Egyptians, however, tend to migrate to the Gulf region and the state of Libya.  They often had families still in Egypt that were closely connected with them and that received benefits from their remittances.  On the other hand, I met a student from the Sudan who had traveled to Egypt in order to study.  He was able to access a better education, but it was only because his family had a suitable economic standing back in the Sudan. 
   I wandered into Suez on my first day in Egypt and happened upon a little café in a windy alley.  There were a few older Egyptian men sitting out front smoking hookahs and they hollered at us wondering if we needed help.  They spoke fairly broken English, or so it seemed, and I paused to tell them that I was all right.  They asked if I wanted to smoke with them and have some coffee, so I did.  It ended up that one of the men, Gideon, spoke very good English.  He had migrated to London some 20 years ago to look for work.  He has worked in hotels ever since.  He married an English woman and she was now in Egypt with him.  She came down from the apartment upstairs and chatted with us.  They come to Egypt about three times a year to spend some time with Gideon’s family.  His brother owns the coffee shop and their home is upstairs.  As I talked to Gideon, I made some obvious connections to the article by Petra Weyland, “Inside Third World Cities.”  In Weyland’s discussion of migration from Egypt for better wages, she talks about how proud Egyptians are of their migrants and this was very true in this situation.  His brother kept talking about what a good thing it was that Gideon had migrated.  He still gets to see Gideon as often as he would if Gideon had moved to some other city, and he receives benefits from his brother’s migration.  Gideon has brought some English language to the family and also financial benefits.  He has helped him acquire some large domestic appliances, such as a washing machine, because credit issues make it hard for the Egyptians to purchase these items.  Weyland talks about how migrants often help add on to the houses and living situations of their families in the sending country.  She talks about how access to land is difficult and this family I met characterized this issue.  The land that the coffee shop is situated on also contained the living spaces above.  It not only housed the one brother, but also another brother above that.  It was a huge familial living and economic structure.  I thought it was really neat.  Gideon had migrated to London and made it easier for all these people to live and remain in the city of Suez where they are from. 
   When I was in Luxor I met a student from the Sudan name Arid.  He lives and studies in Cairo at a school of law.  He has migrated to Egypt in order to receive a better education.  I talked to him about how he was financing his studies and he said that his family from the Sudan is supporting him.  They are a family that has more money than most Sudanese and for this reason he has left to receive a good education.  Hopefully, this will enable him to bring benefits, financial and educational, back to his family.  Instead of traveling home during his breaks, he goes to Luxor where a cousin lives.  This cousin runs a taxi service and he works with him to make some extra money.  It is better for him to stay in Egypt and make money then to go home because it is too expensive to travel.  It is not financially feasible.  Arid told me that chances are he will stay in Egypt after his studies because there is a better opportunity for him to receive good wages.  He does not want to go to Europe or some other similar region because it is too far from his home, the Sudan.  Arid can make a better living in Egypt and still be close to his loved ones.  He was very intelligent and seemed to know what he was doing.  I enjoyed his perspective on migration and what he was doing with his life.  It showed me that the Sudan is a migrant sending country in comparison to Egypt, which both sends and receives. 
   These two examples illustrate both sending and receiving aspects of migration; in this case both forces are working in Egypt.  Some people are leaving to look for employment opportunities.  For the most part, they are going to places where they have had previous colonial or cultural ties, in addition to the oil states.  Other people are coming to Egypt from areas in Africa with less opportunity.  Prospects for the best life are key to understand the motives behind the movement of people.  

Return to course home Send me your comments: