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Not From Here: A Refreshingly Raw Take On Expats' Experiences In Egypt

Stunning photography and unfiltered narrations tell the raw stories of non-Egyptians' experiences here in Egypt through new digital media campaign, Not From Here.

If we ever meet on a plane, you should probably avoid sitting next to me. It’s because of a weird habit of mine. Every time I’m on a plane, and as it starts taking off from the ground and I start feeling as if my stomach is being sucked in from the other side, I start laughing uncontrollably. This is because that moment of taking off, of leaving, flying, moving, is, for me an excruciatingly beautiful moment of pure, naked happiness. Sure, I get stared at by unfriendly old men, clutching to their armrests with all their might, shaking from all the scary possibilities, but all I would be feeling at that time is the great satisfaction – the great pleasure – of travelling.

The idea of travelling has always fascinated me beyond comprehension – the idea of waking up in the middle of night, grabbing an old suitcase from under the bed and hurriedly packing some dresses and cardigans, grabbing money and my passport(s) and just rushing out of the room, taking a cab and driving at a crazy speed towards that enamoured temple: the airport.

Of course, sometimes the perfectly brushed pictures of a small café in Rome during sunset, a vast indie-style apartment in New York, or a flamenco street performance in Barcelona don’t really emit the same feeling they do in a photograph when visited in person. Sure, I was dying to return to a bustling Cairo, oozing with all forms of life and movement in every little detail and corner. However, that did not turn out to be the whole truth I experience every day.And even though I had that in my mind and I knew that Cairo – like every other place on earth – is not the realisation of a utopian dream born in my head, I came to Cairo. I faced Cairo face-to-face and, on numerous occasions, she punched me square in the face. But I also have a great love for the city, as, I am sure, do many of the foreigners who, in many cases, left the overt comfort of their own countries to come to this city that is bursting with life every day.

So it is always very interesting to listen to stories of non-Egyptians living in the heart of this welcoming country, and the little things they discover every day and the situations they have to deal with, especially the sometimes vast differences in culture.

A project bearing the essence of this idea was launched in January, called Not From Here, which documents the accounts of foreigners living in the country through photography and the accurate recounting of their personal experiences.

Co-founder of Not From Here, young photographer and contemporary dancer Mostafa Mansour, says that the idea came to him when he noticed there were many social media platforms and outlets for Egyptians in the country but that he didn’t find any that gave a voice to foreigners residing in their country and their diverse experiences. “We don’t have a certain target or a certain thing that we want to deliver to people. All we aim to do is show the true experiences of those people and how they live by documenting their stories accurately, without adding or hiding anything. We just write down exactly what they narrate to us,” Mansour says.

To ensure the accuracy of their experience, Not From Here only translates. “We don’t even rephrase or edit; we narrate their stories in a raw manner to remain true to what they express,” he adds.Not From Here is made up of two others apart from Mansour, who is the photographer of the group; one is an interviewer and the third a translator. “We plan, in the future, to find someone to help us make a compilation of all those accounts in a physical print book so that people can easily leaf through it and enjoy reading the wonderful diverse accounts of non-Egyptian Cairenes,” Mansour says.

Mansour tells me that the goal in the near future is spreading the word about Not From Here through social media to reach more people. “We want people to know more about the way foreigners in Egypt live here, as many have the wrong idea about their lives here," he explains. "Many think foreigners here only spend from money lavished upon them from their respective embassies or even their parents.”However, Mansour warns us that this is not really the case for everyone who comes here. “Some people come here and get discriminated against for whatever reason and end up not finding a job, and so will be forced to go back to their countries," he says. "Some here are facing problems they can’t escape; some have come as refugees or even runaways. We want to project those issues to people so they can have a better idea about how those people, who live among us, live as well.” On the other hand of course, many foreigners are truly in love with Egypt and love staying here. "Many of the people have moved permanently to the country and even brought their families here to live with them! Actually, one of them told me that living in Cairo was better than living in London." 

Coming to Egypt for a couple of weeks and taking a selfie by the pyramids on a camel is not travelling – it’s tourism. Actually living in a country and getting in touch with its glorious aspects, as well as the less glamorous ones, is a genuine experience that many have bravely ventured into, in a true attempt to know life to the bone – that is travelling. Not From Here humanely depicts their experiences as people living elsewhere far from their homes, and does so in raw form – not sugarcoated or adjusted to our (and their own-) comfort.

To read the accounts and enjoy stunning portrait photography, you can visit Not From Here’s Facebook page as well as their Instagram account.