This post first appeared on Isaac and Wanda's blog Life in Egypt
I clearly recall our first visit to Beni Suef back in May 2011. We had been living in Cairo for a month, and drove down with our country reps to check out our future stomping grounds. While our arrival in Cairo was accompanied by a wave of culture shock, the sense of excited discomfort only increased in Beni Suef. I remember peering out of our apartment window wondering how we were ever going to live here.
By now Beni Suef has come to feel like home. The maze of dusty, narrow streets. The screams and laughter of children and the honking of horns. The warm, weathered faces of fruit and vegetable vendors. People now call us by name throughout the city, and any visit to a café entails greeting acquaintances and students who might also happen to be there.
Egyptians are famous for their sense of humour, and are generally not shy about self-deprecation. The jokes about poor, little Beni Suef can be relentless. From the town's out-of-order-for-10-years cinema to the asymmetrical bridge, Beni Suef can sometimes be the butt-end of the joke.
We live in the neighbourhood of Hommiyat- named for the hospital that sits twenty paces from our apartment. Generally speaking, Egyptians laugh whenever we tell them we live in Beni Suef. And people in Beni Suef laugh when we tell them we live in Hommiyat. We're always happy to entertain! And indeed we do love poor little Hommiyat… though Bridle Path it is not.
Last summer a retired Nile cruise ship was docked in Beni Suef and converted to an upscale hotel and café. We spent many a night sitting high on the upper deck taking in the fresh evening breeze. Traditional Egyptian music was performed with ouds and rebabs, and the ballads of Om Kalsoum rang out into the night. Then one day news got around that there was a fire, and that the fair ship was sleeping with the fishes. Thankfully no one was hurt- aside from Beni Suef's pride.
For Egyptians food is a way of life. Central to the Egyptian diet is the deep-fried grease cake also known as Tameyya (like the Levantine Falafel, but with fava beans- not chickpeas). Initially we got our Tameyya from whatever restaurants were closest. However, once we discovered the savoury goodness of Matam Sunni (Sunni Restaurant) and Matam Shaab (The People's Restaurant), we just couldn't go back.
In Egypt people tend to like one of the two major football clubs. Thus while Spain has Barcelona and Real Madrid, Egypt has Ahly and Zamalek. Students are often keen to know which team I have chosen to support, to which I always answer Telephonat Beni Suef, the local team. Bursts of laughter ensue. But who's laughing now? Telephonat was recently promoted to Egypt's Premier League. Look out Ahly!
Now at the two-year point of our term in Egypt, it has become clearer than ever what a blessing it was to end up in Beni Suef. The city and its wonderful people welcomed us with open arms from day one. We thank God for His grace throughout this wonderful experience. When we prepare to leave Beni Suef next year, it will be with the heavy hearts. We have truly become سويفين (Suefiin)!