There are places in North America where children can ride their bikes freely, the scent of freshly-cut grass is omnipresent, birds sing a happy tune, and neighbors send each other baked goods on momentous occasions.
These utopias are called the suburbs. They have taken over the US as the ideal places to live for well-to-do families.
Cairenes are rather more accustomed to hitting bikers going the wrong direction in the streets, cursing the black exhaust emitted from buses, hearing neighbors’ howling arguments, and contacting them only when their plumbing problems leak over.
As traffic, pollution and insecurity become increasingly unbearable however, many are leaving the city for their own little piece of heaven in faraway compounds.
“I’m much more relaxed here, says Maha Ibrahim, who moved into her Shorouk home just a few months ago. She cannot stop telling people how wonderful life out there is.
“You wake up in the morning and open the windows and in front of you there’s a garden and you smell the clean air and hear birds instead of honks. What more could you want?
Marianne Fage, who moved in two years ago, is also much happier outside the city. The straw that broke the camel s back had to do with her crowded Heliopolis neighborhood: One day I came home and I couldn t park and that was it for me.
Now she parks wherever and whenever she pleases.
I really like the people here, she adds. People who have chosen to live here enjoy this lifestyle.
The lifestyle she refers to is one in which she and her husband take nightly walks around compound parks, and swim in the compound pool. A stone’s throw away is the new branch of Heliopolis Club.
Ibrahim and Fage both say they meet people easily in their suburban environment. They meet one another at local meetings, compound functions, and just walking around. New neighbors are visited and welcomed in.
For the kids of the Abou-Shelieb family, the highlight of getting a place in a compound was finally being able to get the large German Sheppard they had been wanting.
Though they do not reside in Shorouk full-time, they ve spent their summers and weekends for the last three years there, treating their dog to the spacious park to toss Frisbees with.
Even the young ones in elementary school, Amira and Yesmine, say they miss the calmness and wide spaces when at home in Heliopolis. Though they admit the first year there was difficult, now they ride their bikes around the neighborhood, come to the park, and have even made friends along the way.
Older brother Hussein explains they will not be able to move out completely until tutoring lessons for Amira and Yesmine are over, which raises one of the great difficulties of living in these isolated compounds: distance and transportation.
Newly married Engy Magdy has for almost two years had to go home to her mother s house in Mohandissin every day after finishing work in Haram, in order for her husband to be able to pick her up after work to take them home to Beverly Hills compound in 6th of October city.
There are major problems with transportation, she says. “The single microbus that leaves the compound once every hour only to Lebanon Square is not practical.
The unlit, dangerous roads and little public transportation going to various compounds are also leaving distance between friends and family. While Cairenes were once accustomed to having family, friends, work, and errands all within a 50-minute range from one end to another, this convenient way of keeping people close is slowly transforming.
Shorouk is approximately 30 minutes outside Heliopolis, and Beverly Hills is approximately 30 minutes outside Mohandissin or Haram. Shorouk and Beverly Hills though, are hours apart.
Magdy and her husband Aly Masry both miss being close to family, friends and outings and admit that people rarely take the dangerous road out to see them, which they admit, often has accidents.
Ibrahim too misses being closer to her siblings and her mother.
Fage is confident she will soon be able to find a nearby Arabic tutor. With Madinety coming and AUC being built in New Cairo, more people will come.
Engy and Aly say their building was empty when they moved in. But in less than two years, they say the building is now completely full. In ten years, it will be like Mohandissin.
And despite their daily inconveniences and lack of visitors, the two would still rather be living in their green, peaceful, well-serviced, and clean 6th of October compound.
We can only hope it stays that way.