I wrote this unpublished piece way back in 2002. I think it might have been an exercise for a writing course I was doing at the time, but since I am working on a couple of articles on veganism for the English-language press in Egypt, I thought it was pertinent to maybe put this piece out there now:
When I moved to Egypt from Rugby two years ago to take up a teaching post, I knew it was going to be difficult remaining vegan.
Difficult? It was pretty much impossible! Although fresh fruit and vegetables are available in abundance and at little cost, there are no health food shops (except one that seems to sell only dried beans and T-shirts), and therefore very few other vegan products available. Outside of the holy month of Ramadan, it’s not even possible to buy dried fruit and nuts very easily.
I was clearly going to starve! I’d done the fruitarian thing, and failed miserably, so that wasn’t an option. Maybe I could make my own soya milk, burgers, pies etc. In the West, where everything is convenient and to hand perhaps that would be possible, but in Egypt where many things are seasonal, or imported, so are available on a ‘grab it while it’s there’ basis, and having to deal with the vagaries of shop opening times and prayer times etc, forget it.
I don’t think that there is a word in Arabic for vegan, and although ‘ana nab- ati’ means “I’m vegetarian”, there is little understanding of the concept, and the phrase generally elicits looks of incredulity that anyone would be so stupid as to not eat meat! Eating out therefore, is also a nightmare at times, though possible in the specialist (Indian, Chinese) and more tourist orientated restaurants. Though even here dietary compromise is unavoidable.
Faced with all of this, and the fact that I am living in the country rather than just visiting, I had no choice but to go back to being a vegetarian – and even this is no piece of cake!
I remain at heart, however, and in my commitment, a vegan. I try not to lose sight of this. Veganism is in part an attitude of mind and not just a dietary practice. As long as I have this and do as much as I can to minimise my impact on other living beings then I am doing all that is really needed from me. Upon my ultimate return to the UK, I can then resume my vegan diet in full with a clear conscience.
Update 2016: Wow! Things have changed. Not a lot. but change they have. It’s still pretty tough being a vegan here, but vegetarianism is understood conceptually a lot more now, and there are a lot of home-grown, vegetarians sprouting all over the place. I’ll post up the articles as soon as they are published.