Friday, April 27, 2012


The Middle East is a beautiful place filled with the magic of the ancient world liberally mixed with modern. It’s filled with people good and bad—as with any place you visit in this world. Despite the political structures, scratch the surface of people, regardless of race, and there is a commonality; they want to be happy, have a good life, a secure place to live with plenty to eat, raise their children in safety to thrive and succeed. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible due to political instability. Such is the case with Egypt and in January of 2011, a campaign of non-violent civil resistance which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience, and labor strikes. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime of Egyptian President Mubarak. It wasn’t a particularly safe time for westerners to be there. Various governments started evacuating their people living in Egypt.

My cyber friend, and romance author, Jenyfer Matthews and her family were among those evacuated. I knew she had lived in the Middle east for over ten years. It was home to her children. I was curious about the changes she and her family faced relocating back to the States and the effect on her writing career.

It’s been just over a year since my family evacuated Egypt, days after the first wave of the revolution. After we left, my children and I spent much of the year in limbo, staying with family and friends, waiting to see what would happen next – and whether or not we would be returning to Cairo. Just after summer vacation, days before I would have purchased tickets for us to return to Cairo, my husband was offered a job in Michigan.

About face!

If I had been paralyzed by anxiety and indecision in the first part of last year, suddenly I had too much to do in a very short period of time. My husband had already returned to Cairo after visiting us on his summer vacation and worked out his notice period and organized our personal things for shipping. I came to Michigan to find a rental house and then packed up my car for our move. The children and I arrived on Labor Day, the day before school started. We spent the first week on air mattresses, but they started school on time!

Being anxious and perpetually stressed out didn’t do much for my creativity last year either. I managed to get my backlist formatted for digital and paperback release but wasn’t able to add anything to my unfinished stories. Since returning to the US, I’ve had the opportunity to stretch my creative muscles by stalking garage sales and refinishing furniture that I find – a practical occupation as well since we lived in furnished housing while we were abroad and have very little furniture of our own. A pleasant side effect of that creative outlet was to find my mind wandering while sanding and telling me stories again.

Our transition to living in the US again after a decade abroad hasn’t been without its bumps. I’m a naturally chatty person and when you live abroad, you tend to make friends fast. It probably has something to do with being out of your own element, but I’ve met and bonded with people nearly instantly in my travels and am used to that sort of interaction now. However, I think my instantly familiar manner is a bit off-putting to the classic Midwest reserve if the people I’ve found myself chatting to in the produce section of the grocery store are anything to judge by! (That’s me, the talkative blond by the bananas)

I’ve also had to adjust my shopping habits. Having daily access to a Target is a dangerous thing! I’m used to what I call binge shopping – or trying to buy a year’s supply of “X” at a time because there was nothing that came close to Target in Cairo and I had to stock up on everything in the summers. Having a mall within ten minutes of my house doesn’t mean I need to visit it every day – I can shop at will, when needs arise now. Amazing.

One thing I love love love about Michigan is the number of weekly garage sales. I’ve always loved garage sales but it’s great to be able to use the bargaining skills I honed in the Middle East to get a great deal.

Do I miss Cairo? Of course. Cairo is a tremendously large and polluted city, but Egypt is the kind of place that gets under your skin. Life in Michigan isn’t as exciting or as challenging a place to live on a day-to-day basis as Cairo was – but when “exciting” is punctuated by the sound of gunfire, the constant threat of political instability, and rising crime rates then I’ll take the less exciting option, thanks!

If you want to read more about Jenyfer's thoughts on this and her life back here in the States, check out her blog

Three popular contemporary romance novels by Jenyfer Matthews together for the first time in one volume for one amazing low price. —Here to Stay, One Crazy Summer, and All the Way Home

I am an American recently returned to the US after more than a decade in the Middle East, most recently living in Cairo, Egypt. Aside from writing, I'm a married mom of two, a decent (if reluctant) cook, an encyclopedia of random scientific / medical facts, a wine lover (but not a snob!), and a Capricorn. I love to travel, spend time with good friends, and laugh at life's surprises. View of life - definitely half full. You can find Jenyfer: Facebook and her website.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Jenyfer, welcome back to Over Coffee. I've read your blog entries with interest. Glad all of you made it out safe and sound. :-)

I'm looking forward to read some of your upcoming books.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Great post Sia, also it was good to see Jenny read all about her,


Jenyfer Matthews said...

Thanks for having me as a guest once again, Sia!

It's been an eventful year, that's for sure - so happy to finally be settling down again and working on some new stories.

Glynis said...

Fascinating read and post, Sia and jenyfer.

It must have been a tremendous strain and upheaval. A worry when uprisings take place. I live in Cyprus, and last year we were very nervous of the Turkish threats against our gas finds. Talks of war ships and planes didn't help the indigestion. The British Embassy wanted info of our whereabouts, and that unnerved me a little. We were flying to the UK to meet our new grand-baby, and didn't know if we would be able to fly back to Cyprus. Fortunately it settled down. Living in one half of an occupied country makes one watch with one eye open.

So understand your shopping issues!

Kat Sheridan said...

Welcome home, and glad to hear you're settling in! And yes, we Midwesterners are naturally reserved, but we're like artichokes--it's worth the work to get to our hearts! And I admire anyone who can refinish furniture. I see so many lovely pieces with potential but haven't a clue where to begin!

Johanna Garth said...

What an amazing experience. My theory is it's always harder to get used to living back in the US after you've been living abroad for years because it's home so we shouldn't need a re-entry period.

Hope yours goes smoothly and you connect with lots of midwesterner friends.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Glynis - in some ways I've lived with the worry of evacuation for years because in the Middle East you just never know. I never saw this particular problem coming however and when the internet and all the cell phone service went off at once, it was particularly scary because we were all so cut off!

Kat - I have always loved the Midwest - my mother and father are from the Midwest and I spent most of my summers in MN. I'm worming my way in and starting to make some friends :)

Johanna - It is hard to come back after a long time away because you *look* and *sound* the same that those around you don't realize that you are different. It is always embarrassing when I encounter something unfamiliar and haven't a clue how to work it, like digital credit card pads or self check-out :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

I never would have thought of digital credit card pads or self check out being unfamiliar. That would feel awkward.

My mother's family are from Wisconsin and Minnesota. I love the area--except for the long winters.

Pearl said...

Very interesting -- and welcome back, Jenyfer!

Greetings from Minneapolis!


Jenyfer Matthews said...

Sia - I've got the digital credit card pads and self-checkout down pat now :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Glad Jennifer and her family are safe. What an interesting life! The kids will have s great perspective on life as they grow!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Jemi - funny thing. My daughter's class was studying immigration patterns and she wanted to interview me as an immigrant. I had to explain to her I am NOT and immigrant. Then I had to explain to her that she wasn't one either! LOL

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Thanks, Pearl! I have a special place in my heart for MN - I have spent a lot of time in Grand Marais over the years :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I imagine the words 'culture shock' come into play.

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Alex - I have never felt as much culture shock as I have when I've come back to the US, LOL!

farawayeyes said...

Interesting perspective. I hope NOT tot have to go back to the States.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Jenyfer .. I wondered how they had got on and what happened next - so I'm glad I've caught this post on Jenyfer ...

Interesting times - I'm sure for posterity, but at the end of the day home is home without the gunfire ..

Good luck and great post Sia - thanks Hilary

Jo said...

Living so long abroad I can totally understand culture shock when returning to the States. There is so much going on in the old world as well as so much history and tradition that getting acclimated to the midwest again would be pretty difficult I think.

Jo said...

Meant to say, where do you get all your coffee pix Sia? You find some great ones.

The Golden Eagle said...

That must have been scary, having to evacuate Egypt!

It was interesting to read about your experiences returning to the US afterwards. Really seems to highlight how people in different parts of the world live.

Talli Roland said...

Jenyfer, I hear you on Cairo. My husband is from there, and I've been several times. It does get under your skin!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Jo - I love the Midwest and am looking forward to exploring it more. There are some really beautiful places.

Golden Eagle - yes it was scary to leave as we did. Also very sad not to go back and say a proper goodbye.

Talli - Cairo is just that sort of place! I'll miss sailing on the Nile at sunset. So pretty.