Rock the Casbah! How a Smalltown Girl Became an American Expat in Egypt at Almost Fifty!

I met a friend at the bazaar in Casablanca, in 1996!

When I was 25 years old and finally graduating from college, my dad took me on a tour of Spain, Portugal and Morocco as a gift. Those were the kinds of gifts I usually got…no cars or laptops for me, and no regrets either. (Thanks Dad!) Still, I was young, so I didn’t even know what I didn’t know about what I was seeing at those places. I’ve always wanted a do-over of that trip, especially once I went on to become a history teacher of all things.

I am finally getting my chance.

At the Alhambra, with the scenic Andalusia region in the south of Spain behind me, 1996

The Alhambra was a stop on our tour and I had my picture made there with all kinds of breathtaking backdrops. I remember that we were in Southern Spain, and yet we were constantly lectured on occupants the tour guide called sultans, and other people who lived there called Moors…people who sounded to me like they were from the Middle East.

Then our tour group made the jump across the Strait of Gibraltar and into Morocco. I kept thinking, now I’m in… Africa!? because these people didn’t look like they were supposed to, either. Please remember, I was 25 and dumb.

Once we got out into the middle of nowhere, outside the kitschy cities, I started seeing the beauty of the countryside and meeting the wonderful people who actually lived there. Their black hair, the dark eyes, the bronzed skin. They were so beautiful. I was in awe, in love even. I clearly remember thinking to myself, “I want to travel around the world for the Rest. Of. My. Life.”

Then ‘life’ happened.

I got back home, found a job, met a blonde-haired, blue eyed surfer boy and fell madly in love. Two years after that we had a blonde-haired, green-eyed surfer baby and a mortgage and I figured I’d lost my chance to ever see the world.

Then life really happened.

A decade of marriage, bills, babies, problems and milestones came. Then divorces, illnesses, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and crushing deaths followed. The usual stuff, the regular stuff, the predictable stuff almost everyone gets to experience sooner or later came in due time to me, too. I lived through the things that happen to every one single of us, almost automatically, if we just walk the path that unfurls in front of us.

Getting a henna tattoo in the bazaar in Morocco, 1996

Then, my unfurled path took a hasty exit ramp a few years back. Since then, my milestones have turned out to be a little different from most and sometimes came in a peculiar order. I won’t ever have a silver wedding anniversary and there will be no big retirement party for me when I leave my job this year. I am actually retiring at just 46, but I am certainly not finished working. It’s such a weird and confusing state of mind to be in. So much is changing. My life as I know it is over… but I am getting to finally live out the dreams I once had for myself.

In the middle of August, I am moving to Egypt. I am going back to North Africa once again to finally figure out all that confusing history I didn’t understand from decades ago. I will spend my holidays in Europe and my Easters in Israel. It’s my unfinished business, you could say.

It’s something I never stopped wanting.

I have accepted a job teaching high school in New Cairo City, on the outskirts of ancient Cairo. New Cairo is modern, full of new construction, it has a big mall, an IKEA and a Cinnabon. You need not worry about me there, it is chock full of Americans, Australians and Brits and I will live smack dab in the middle of a community of expatriates, or expats for short. My new school is called The Modern English School and it is a highly esteemed private school. It has an American/British curriculum and I will be teaching history, of course! The teachers I will work with are also expats. The Administration has made me feel special and valued, and they have backed up their praises of my work with very impressive salary and benefits packages (all tax-free). I will be back on the glorious Block Schedule again, the schedule I taught under at the pinnacle of my teaching career, back when I was at my most creative, when I was a new teacher and I actually remember saying I was so happy at my job that I would work for free if I could.  My school calendar is identical to the American school calendar so I will be home for Christmas as well as all summer. Hopefully, if I get my way, Ben and my family will be spending Fall Break with me in the Old World.

If I love it in Egypt, I can choose to stay, but if my travel itch isn’t scratched by that time, I can pursue a new opportunity in a different city at dozens of similar schools all over the world. There’s a whole world out there full of teach-abroad jobs.

For me, it’s a whole new life, a whole new future.

Destination 2018: Cairo!

My future students will be mostly Egyptian, they are from very nice families, and they plan to attend college abroad, many in the United States. Perhaps this explains why their parents want them exposed to American teachers (and British teachers, and others perhaps) and our cultures. I will wear my own clothes (and my shoes!), I will speak English and I will try my hardest to be a much-needed ambassador of goodwill to people in that part of the world who are intrigued by or maybe even skeptical of post 9/11 Americans in the Age of Trump. Most of all, I plan to represent my country with pride and faithfulness, and my hope is that the people who meet me will come to think highly of Floridian-Americans, and of Southern Christians as well. I take this part of my traveling very seriously.

New Cairo is not to be confused with Ancient Cairo.

Ancient Cairo, twenty minutes away, will fill my Instagram. Prepare for the spam. The Holy Land. The places I’ve only heard about in the Bible. Bazaars and mosques, coptic churches and museums. My God, the museums! Alexandria and Jerusalem are just hours away, Greece and Italy just a hop across the pond. Field trips could take me to Islamic Cairo and the ancient mosques and caravanserais along the Silk Road. The stuff seen only in textbooks for a small-town girl from Milton, Florida.

There is a sizable Coptic Christian community there, and it’s comforting to remember that the roots of my Christian faith find their origins in this place, too.

Friends, I can hardly wait to go to church in these churches.

I know you’re wondering about the …other stuff….

Yes, I have a few rules to abide by if I travel to the old city. These rules come from reading internet blogs, and may not even be true. There may be no rules at all… and even if there are, they are not laws that can get me imprisoned, they are simply rules of propriety that will keep me away from scandal and harsh judgment. I’d like to point out that it will be a lot like living in Pace, if you think about it.

Be modest in dress. No showing my shoulders or my knees, no shorts, no tank tops. No going to the grocery store in my bathing suit and a coverup.

No drinking alcohol in public. (But I was told alcohol can be delivered to my apartment. Everything is deliverable in this place. Even pet food.)

No men can stay overnight. A blogger I follow wears a fake wedding ring so she can live with her boyfriend, so there are ways to outmaneuver the rules, and again, I won’t be living in the ancient city.

I cannot ride in the front seat with a taxi driver unless I am accompanied by a man I know and I must travel in groups with girlfriends, but everyone knows that’s my favorite way to travel anyway.


And finally….

No walking around the city by myself without a companion. This is to keep me safe, not to dehumanize me. And trust me, I fully intend to find a male companion to escort me around the city.

The good news is I do not have to cover my hair with a scarf. I am a Christian and an American and all the people who would know better than anybody tell me that I will clearly be recognized as such. And who knows what is true and what isn’t? I am just thankful I will get to find the answers for myself. I welcome the changes and I will embrace this beautiful new culture with all my heart.

Much like a visitor in any country should, I will do my best to fit in and blend.

Revisiting the Alhambra is on my list of things to do when I have some time off. Right now, I sit in bed and spend so many nights asking Siri and Google Maps how long it takes to get from one exotic city to the next because that’s exactly what I plan to do…travel. In this one amazing year that I will get to enjoy Egypt, a day will not pass that I won’t thank God for the opportunities He has given me at this late stage in my life.

Life happens in all the ways it was written for you when you were first born, and you may not always understand why things happen the way they do. It was a long time before I understood my own life and God’s plan for it. But now, I see the chance I am being given. I want that for you, too. As your path unfurls in front of you every single day, remember that all you have do is decide to walk it.

You will only regret the things you didn’t do when you had the chance.

When I first told my parents, my dad called my mom to, well you know, talk about me behind my back. My mom was worried about me, predictably, and scolded my dad for indulging my impulsiveness, saying “I cannot believe you are going to let her to move to Egypt!” My dad laughed, pointing out to her (as they both chuckled) that I was going on 50 years old and he wasn’t likely to be able to tell me what to do. I suppose our parents will always worry about us, no matter how old we get.

Now, they could not be more excited for me. As for Ben, he is being my classic sweet boy…whatever makes me happy makes him happy. I have been the sun and he has been the Earth, orbiting around me his whole life. Our children are so used to knowing where we are at all times…I have always been home, easily reachable, endlessly available to him. He will figure out this new arrangement in small, awkward ways. I am waiting for the first fever or the first debit card emergency for him to finally figure out what not having his mom right there with him anymore will actually be like. I will be leaving Scout behind too, which is almost as painful as leaving my kid. He is going to live with his doggranddad in Texas until I can settle in overseas, then I plan to come get him. In the meantime, thank goodness for FaceTime, for Ben’s village of Pace mothers, for my dear friends Rex and Jena Snow who will live close to Ben in Miami, for Ben’s Uncle Frank and Aunt Sarah, and especially for my parents, who will be on the first plane to Boca Raton to rescue him at a moment’s notice if he needs them to.

I am so proud to show off my new school, I am so excited for the marvelous things I have coming up, and I am so fortunate to have a family and friends who support everything I do. I am Happy, Thankful and Blessed, and I’d like to ask all of my readers to include me in their prayers as I jump off this incredible cliff!

Please visit the Modern English School  and watch what fun they have:

About Dawn Quarles

Dawn Quarles is a high school political science and American history teacher who moonlights as a blogger and writer. She lives on Pensacola Beach, Florida.


7 Responses to “Rock the Casbah! How a Smalltown Girl Became an American Expat in Egypt at Almost Fifty!”

  1. Kelly says:

    Wow what an exciting adventure! Hope Ben knows we are just a phone call away. Safe travels.

  2. Jena Snow says:

    So totally onboard with your pursuit of happiness. I’m anxious over the increase in geographic distance between our pins on the map. However, you’re in my hear always, YaYa!

  3. Jill says:

    Good luck to you Dawn! I will always be here for Ben if he ever needs us!

  4. Sarah says:

    How wonderful! I spent two years teaching in South Korea. You will love your new adventure.

  5. Sera says:

    This sounds amazing! I am proud of you for following your dreams! Safe travels!!

  6. Courtney says:

    So excited for your new adventure and can’t wait to see all the post. I hope I am one of those Pace moms you mention to be there for Ben.

  7. Sentoria smith says:

    Jump in Big with eyes wide open!!! I’m watching!

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