A Vegan in Egypt

I wrote this unpublished piece way back in 2002.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.



About Steve Gooch

Steve Gooch was born in March 1962 in Rugby, Warwickshire in England and grew up there with his two brothers and sister. He moved to Corsham in Wiltshire and attended Bath Academy of Art, where he studied sculpture and printmaking, before going on to work on projects for the artists Joe Tilson and Nick Pope. He also helped with the publication of a limited edition folio of Paul Eluard’s poetry. Steve moved to London to study for a postgraduate teaching certificate and then worked as a teacher of art in the UK. He gained his MA in Education with the Open University and also studied the discipline of Reiki with his Reiki teachers in Newcastle upon Tyne. His daughter Marianne was born in 1994. For a period of time, Steve devoted himself to teaching Reiki in his hometown of Rugby, before moving to Egypt, where he resumed his career as an art teacher, becoming the Head of Art in a prestigious British International School in Cairo. He continued to teach Reiki, introducing the discipline for the first time to Egypt. He also wrote extensively on the subject for various Egyptian English-language magazines. Returning to the UK, Steve’s son Sam was born in 2004. Not wanting to go back into the teaching profession, Steve took a job as a chef in a vegetarian restaurant and wrote his first book ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do: The Way of Compassion & Wisdom’. It was the world’s first book on that particular tradition of Reiki and is still considered to be the standard reference work on the subject. Steve them moved to Sudan, where he was again Head of Art at the prestigious Unity High School, and built an online living history for the school, called 'The Unity High School Archive'. It was in the process of building this archive that Steve uncovered a major scandal involving senior members of the Anglican Church, local dignitaries, and members of the faith communities. As a consequence, he got to know the head of the Secret Police in Khartoum quite well and then promptly left the country. Steve moved back to Egypt and took up a post as Head of Art in a school in Alexandria. Very much involved in the Reiki community in the UK, however, he founded the national organisation ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’ and became the editor of ‘Focus: The Journal of Reiki Jin Kei Do UK’, and then set up the global ‘Reiki Jin Kei Do International’. He also set up the global video-arts project '12seconds for Peace'. The concept grabbed the attention of a number of big names in the peace movement, including Nobel Peace Prize nominees, and threatened to go viral. Circumstances (revolutions and social unrest) put it on the back-burner. Likewise, a major peace initiative called the 'Global Concert for Peace', scheduled for the summer of 2013, which would have been the world's biggest musical event, also went on the back-burner. Steve moved to Saudi Arabia for a little over a year in 2014, before returning to Egypt to take up a senior management position in another British International School in Cairo. Finally, after a year of professional purgatory in which he realised that there is no such thing as a good British International School in Egypt, he decided ‘enough is enough’ and quit the teaching profession for good to focus on his writing, art and Reiki classes. He is currently living in Cairo and writing ‘The Temple of the Djinn’, which is loosely based on the events that he uncovered during his time in Sudan. He is also teaching Reiki and working freelance for a variety of Egyptian magazines. He misses the UK and is looking forward to spending more time in his home country with his children. He'd also like to find time to paint and make sculpture.
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