Interviewer: Karen Abdelsaid
Location: Mississauga (Virtual Zoom Interview)
Length of Interview: 21:30
Description: A 28-year-old woman who was born in Egypt, raised in Kuwait, and moved to Canada in 2008 speaks about her experience living in several countries and the importance her parents placed on their children’s education.
Interviewee: I am born September 10, 1992 in Cairo, Egypt.
Karen Abdelsaid: My sister was born September 10!
Karen Abdelsaid: Yeah, but just 15 years later. Where did you immigrate to originally and why?
Interviewee: Originally, we moved – I, we, I mean my family – We moved to Kuwait and that was in 1992, just a few months down the line. And why? For work purposes. My dad got a job, so we moved there.
Karen Abdelsaid: Okay and when did you guys immigrate to Canada?
Interviewee: Immigrated to Canada in 2008
Karen Abdelsaid: And do you know why?
Interviewee: Yes, so, at the time I was in grade- I had just finished grade 10 and because there was no public schools in Kuwait for Egyptians, or any foreigner in Kuwait, so it was more what are they going to do with their education once they are done with high school and a better life and a continuation of education, so my parents chose to move to there.
Karen Abdelsaid: So then you moved to Canada for schooling, correct?
Interviewee: Correct yes.
Karen Abdelsaid: And do you have any siblings?
Interviewee: I do, I have a younger brother.
Karen Abdelsaid: And he also went to school here?
Interviewee: Yes, correct.
Karen Abdelsaid: So you guys moved to Toronto, correct?
Karen Abdelsaid: Do you know why Toronto?
Interviewee: Because it has the biggest congregation of Egyptians? [laughing] It’s a combination of things, but that’s a big player.
Karen Abdelsaid: And did you have family there?
Interviewee: This is the bigger part to be honest, its family there and um, my dad’s siblings and mother were all in Toronto, Mississauga. It was more of a convenience- let’s all be close, why not?
Karen Abdelsaid: What kind of challenges did you face while settling in?
Interviewee: So, it was a completely different environment. So I did go to school in Kuwait. Bilingual school, having spoken English there helped, but it was still not the typical dialect spoken in Canada. It was a transition, learning process. Not heard everyday- wasn’t the same. The second one was the social transition, you’re coming into a community, between church-friends already made. Everyone knew each other. Anyone knew that this is not easy. And the third one was schooling. You were Looked at in a completely different perspective in terms of education because it was a completely different system. Okay, well there’s a couple of subjects here that I know better, because I was taught there differently and there is a couple of subjects here, they are ahead of me, so I had to catch up. But it was still the same thing in terms of social, there was little cliques, groups already made. More family based, financially based. My family had to start from scratch. What do I mean by that, the position- the profession that they had in Kuwait had gone on far enough, but when they came here, it was just oh! Not picking up exactly where you left off. It was well, “you need the Canadian experience” and by the “you need the Canadian experience”, it did not necessarily mean in that field- you just needed the Canadian experience. So um, there a good couple years where it was just volunteers and like a co-op position kind of thing with no income. The whole purpose was to gain that experience, just so later down the line they could say,” yes, we have that experience and now we can apply for jobs.” It was a hectic transition all around.
On a smaller spectrum, it was just in Kuwait, it was so common that a grade 10 student would have a phone, a cell phone and just how cell phones worked there, they were prepaid and things like that. But the common thing about Canada is that you’re on a contract, so that was the thing that got completely dropped out of the picture– I don’t recall having a cellphone until first year of University. Just because I’m not getting a contract, we don’t know where you’re gonna end up for university. Let’s wait till university and then we will see what happens.
Karen Abdelsaid: Did you maintain any connections with Egypt? Do you have family there? Do you send money back to Egypt?
Interviewee: Egypt yes. Grandma on my mom’s side was there, up until a few years ago. My mom’s cousins visiting? There has been visiting, but only for emergencies. Towards the end of my grandma’s life- oh well now she needs medical attention. Mom had to fly there, it wasn’t even all of us, the expenses, long flight, having to take off for God knows how long. You can’t justify going to a country for a couple of days when the flight is like twenty hours long. Do we send money? Not the I’m aware of. Do we keep relations? Yes, at an arm’s length. Time difference, language barrier. Like, mind you I came to Canada old enough to be fluent in speaking fully in Arabic-Egyptian dialect. But there is still a barrier in communication, in terms of- I don’t get that joke, I don’t get the layman terms, that are going around. Oh, oh that’s just a new word used around the street. What are you talking about?! That wasn’t used in my days. It’s different, very different.
Karen Abdelsaid: Do you have in family in Kuwait?
Interviewee: No, no family. But it was such a small community, that anyone there was a friend, was family.
Karen Abdelsaid: Where there any institutions that helped your family settle in?
Interviewee: In Canada? There was, I just don’t recall their names right now. Um I know that there was something through the City of Mississauga, they got it through the library. The main library, it was a program they signed up to. It was a mentorship, to know where they should look for that experience, how to tweak their CVs in specific way, to help them transition back into the work force. Just to add, no it wasn’t through church.
Karen Abdelsaid: No?
Interviewee: I do know that St. Mary now has the newcomers program, but it was not as developed as it now is. It was like a tag game, “oh you want to reach the newcomers office? Go to the back, talk to this person, go on x day, go on x day.” “Ohh you’re looking for this uncle? Uncle that? But no, he’s not here today.” There is only so many attempts at a family trying to find it from scratch. So then my parents said, “okay, I’m going to find it my way and get through it.”
Karen Abdelsaid: Do you think Sunday school might have helped you out a little bit? I mean you surely helped me!
Interviewee: No, I don’t think Sunday school helped me. But it definitely helped me to see that it’s hard to adjust. Being humble, know how to adjust to someone that’s coming from outside and trying to fit in, how to incorporate, how to make them feel welcomed, to make them feel like you’re not odd. Made me humble. You’re not, “oh he has an accent, oh he isn’t dressed a specific way. He’s not joking around in this manner because that’s how we do it here.” Um, but, no, I don’t think it did help me personally. It helped me incorporate, not, not me transition, but I had to find my own stuff.
Karen Abdelsaid: What do you keep of Egypt or Kuwait? Do you still speak Arabic? Any special customs, food, mannerisms that you still have from Kuwait?
Interviewee: Oh yeah. Going to church, praying in Arabic, it almost seems like a default in harder times to fall back on prayer, praying in Arabic- yelling, yelling in Arabic, unless you are in a professional setting, word yourself better. But if we are talking between friends or something. Even if its someone that doesn’t speak Arabic, you would have to bust out Arabic sometimes. There is a lot of customs – I’m sure you are aware, between family gatherings, foods, how you fast for lent, fast for Christmas – that are still there. I would say that it’s a combination of culture, tradition, and religion that is intertwined.
Karen Abdelsaid: What’s your favorite food?
Interviewee: Um wara enab? The more I not living at home, the more basic Egyptian food is what I miss. Like I can be living at home all I want and I don’t miss fool. But when I left, I bought a can of fool. It was just a comfort food. Like, not gonna eat, but to know it’s there. Its feels like what is at home. I’m gonna eat it, I’m gonna make it, and its going to smell like home.
Karen Abdelsaid: How is your life now compared to when you first arrived?
Interviewee: A lot more integrated, a lot better. It’s at its ideal now, to what it was like before. I definitely think that being brought up in a different system makes you think differently. And I would even say that one is better than the other, it’s just that I have seen pay off better than the other. And what do I mean? I think the system that I came from is structure. You have to do x ,y, z to get there. And that’s what you have to do, to get there. When I came here, it seemed like okay where is the education? But when you see it down the line, you could see which one pays off differently. I can say that I’m at a point now, where I can say that I’m stronger in one than the other. It takes elasticity to get there in the first place. But, yeah definitely more integrated into the system now.
Karen Abdelsaid: What does Egypt mean to you?
Interviewee: Egypt means my roots. Egypt means where I came from. That said, me visiting Egypt doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how to blend things. It feels like you are blending into one, and have to detach from another. It is my roots and I will proudly say, “this is who I am.”
Karen Abdelsaid: Have your feelings towards Egypt changed over time while living in Canada?
Interviewee: I think living on the other side of the world made me see more negative to it, like even in Kuwait, it still made me see a different lens to it. More negatives to it than anything, especially if you’re going once a year. Like, “oh my god the traffic, oh my god the people, oh my god this.” It makes you see the negatives and less appreciative of it. But then you come to Canada and it’s a melting pot. Everyone loses their identity to pick up Canada’s. Your common answer in Canada is that I’m Canadian. Doesn’t matter where they’re from, they’re Canadian.