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It is strange being an expat. That which was once familiar I can hardly

find a trace of in my new country. Sights, smells, sounds. I did not

think that hearing a different language on a day to day basis would

surprise me so. Everything is very bright here. Certainly Australia has

a similar brightness, the harsh white light shining on bright green

grass and the white trunks of the eucalypts. The light here is different

though. It’s… yellower, if that makes sense. Incandescent. Everything

shimmers in the heat haze – turning the horizon indistinct.

I do not regret coming here. Many would say that apart from

Israel, Egypt is the most Westernised country in the Middle East. I

would disagree. Certainly the planeloads of tourists affirm this; but

they are visitors. They do not live here and I do not think they

influence the local culture. The locals were friendlier to me once I

explained I wasn’t an American, and I have developed a strong

friendship with Haddar, the grocer who lives near my apartment.

He sells delicious produce, his stall packed with bright fruits and

vegetables, some familiar, some not, in every shade from green to

purple to yellow.

I have been here for a year now. I am working at the University of

Cairo until the end of next year when my visa expires. I’m planning

on applying for another so I can complete my fourth year here as

well and then go back to Australia to complete my




. The

organisation I have been communicating with and in the past year

working for is called Women Walking Free. The name alludes to the

goal of the organisation; to further the status of women so that they

can walk through life free from harassment and oppression. A place

where only women are allowed to go, where they can be informed of

their choices regarding education, health, legal rights and have the

support of their fellow women. At the moment my job is to inform

young women of their educational rights and to support them

through secondary and hopefully tertiary study. I have an assistant

named Mari, who is a lawyer and well-versed in the realistic

opportunities women in Egypt have. Initially, I had one to two girls

come and see me in the first four months, none in the first month

itself, as


is very new and different even in Cairo. It’s the

equivalent of a not-for-profit organisation so whilst the government

keeps an eye on us and occasionally gives us ‘suggestions’ on what we

do, mostly we are left alone. The ‘women-only’ policy helps as there

aren’t many women in politics so they can’t come and physically


Sarah Heywood