Home CommentaryOpinions My journey from west to east

My journey from west to east

by The Concordian September 6, 2011
“No, don’t go to Calgary,” one of my Reuters’ colleagues in Cairo, Egypt said when I told him that I was immigrating to Canada and that I intended on landing in Calgary. “It’ll be very difficult to adapt in Western Canada. You should go to Montreal instead.”
I told him that my French was nonexistent and it was easier to find a job in Calgary. “You can survive with English in Montreal,” he said.
But I went to Calgary anyway and, there, the only job I managed to get was as a part-time cashier. This was not the problem. The oldest building I had seen in Calgary dated back to 1907, which was too recent for me. The architecture had no style; huge concrete skyscrapers and tasteless wooden cottages scattered the arid wilderness. Although Cairo’s streets are noisy, dirty and chaotic, they tell stories. You may sit in a shabby coffee shop in downtown Cairo looking at a balcony in a debilitated building and one of Naguib Mahfouz’s literary characters will pop out of nowhere.
Eventually, after about six months, I made up my mind to go back home and decided to visit Montreal on my way. I arrived here at midnight in 2009.
“Whoa! Now this is a city!” I thought. I was tired, but how could I go to bed while the streets were glowing during a huge festival, one which people were enjoying to the max? I threw my luggage in my hotel room and went out to eat. I wandered downtown until 4:00 a.m. Needless to say, I had an amazing four day visit.
Back in Cairo, I got my old job back as a sub-editor and translator and decided to study in Montreal. I was accepted as a journalism graduate diploma student at Concordia. When I came back to Montreal last May, I faced the tough challenge of studying and writing articles in my second language but the unique style of Montreal’s life and its multiculturalism made it easier for me.
In Montreal, people sit in coffee shops nearly all night, as they do in Cairo, which suggests a kind of intimacy between people and places. Although monstrous, multinational corporations are omnipresent in Montreal, the diminishing middle class is still struggling for more human and socially rich interactions. History plays an important role in the city. In addition to the large Arabic-speaking community, there are a number of people from the Mediterranean, and when I close my eyes I feel like I could be standing on a street in Alexandria.
The francophones have a great passion for Egypt and its ancient history. Our uprising made headlines all over the world this year and I have heard encouraging and welcoming comments from many Montrealers since then. When I went to cover the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Festival as part of a school assignment, I identified myself as Egyptian – I had to justify my accent anyway – but people who were more reluctant to speak to my english classmates were a lot warmer to me and quickly made me forget that I was very far away from home.

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