My grandfather’s sketch of the home he’d found in Cairo in 1956

My grandfather was in the Foreign Service and spent much of his career as a diplomat in the Middle East at a time when European colonial dominion over the region was unwinding and the role of the United States was becoming preeminent.  He was posted to Cairo in 1956, a moment of high tension that required his family — including my mother — to remain temporarily in the Washington, DC area.  In October of that year, Israel, Britain and France invaded Egypt precipitating the Suez Crisis, which was a battlefield success for the aggressors but a diplomatic catastrophe that eventually brought down the British government and effectively ended the long era of British dominance in the region.  During the fighting, my grandfather helped to organize the evacuation of American citizens from the country before being evacuated himself, to Italy, though he returned to Egypt after the war.  That, anyway, was the situation when described at the level of high politics; on the ground, intersecting with that, was the quotidian life and needs, discoveries and difficulties of being an expatriate and one essential element of that was finding a home where his family could live when they joined him after the war.  In a letter to my grandmother, he included a sketch he’d drawn of a villa in the prosperous district of Maadi, south of Cairo, where they would live for the next year.  Cairo was then a city of perhaps two million; today, it has at least 15 million and though Maadi remains fashionable, especially with foreigners, many of its villas have been torn down and replaced with higher density apartment buildings.

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