Over a big plate of sushi, some green tea and lots of wasabi, we discussed Kareem's experience of Amsterdam, living in Cairo and feeling like a tourist.
This is your second time in Amsterdam. Is there anything that really stands out for you?
Amsterdam is quite different. It's a combination of a chaotic country and a very European country. In Germany I always felt like an outsider. Here, I kind of blend in. It has something to do with the fluid system, and all the different cultural layers. I remember coming by train from Germany. I fell asleep, and woke up because we had to get out due to a problem with the brakes. The Dutch travelers on the train were cool with the situation. I think that's because the system here is not as straight or square shaped as in most countries. The city's infrastructure, for instance, is quite fluid: look at the architecture and all the different kinds of houses.
Can you tell me something about the differences between Amsterdam and Cairo?
The difference is most striking when you're on the ferry to Noord. On the ferry, Amsterdam is put into perspective, and you get an overview of the city. Cairo is simply too big for this to happen: you will never get more than a fragmented picture. Because of the size of the place, people often feel stressed out, and that shows in the way they move and talk to each other. Cairo is visually very intense, and it is quite difficult to get around. In Amsterdam it's the opposite. Everything is so easy going and calm, and people seem a lot friendlier.
So what's nice about living in Cairo?
People enjoy the intense mental state of the city as well. It’s like going to a rave party. It is hard to explain. Of course, at a certain age everyone wants to move away, and I looked into studying abroad. When that didn’t work out, I found myself putting a stop to everything: I just stayed in the house all day, hiding. When I did eventually come to Europe, I found I hadn't been missing out on a lot: internet and television allowed me to stay up to date with most of what was happening here. European life as depicted by the media really is what life here's like. Cairo doesn’t have a prototype. You have to be there to experience it.
Do you feel there's a difference between the city center and Amsterdam-Noord?
Definitely. In the center, I am perceived as just one of the many foreigners, which is fine. In Noord, I am perceived as one of the many Arabs living there. I am one of the inhabitants.