By Emily Ardell
Through projects, CRS and our partner, St. Andrews Refugee Services, reach beneficiaries throughout the city through targeted outreach in neighborhoods such as this one with high concentrations of refugees. Photo by Emily Ardell / CRS
The air conditioners dripped onto the dusty concrete as I made my way through the short maze of hallways underneath the tall apartment building to the elevator. Arriving on the 13th floor, I stepped out and was greeted with a big smile from Mais, and a giant bear hug. “Thanks for coming,” she said. “We are so happy you’re here.” It was clear by the look in her large, expressive eyes that she meant it.
I stepped into their small apartment and was greeted by Mais’ family: her husband Belal, their 20- year-old daughter Hanan and their 17-year-old son Eunice. Mais and her family are among the estimated 30,000 refugees now living in Egypt after escaping continuing violence in Iraq. As a result of the assistance her family and thousands of other Iraqi refugees in Cairo have received from CRS and its partner organizations, Mais agreed to meet with me, an American, to share the story of how they became refugees.
I sat down and on the sofa and Mais and her family sat around me on wooden chairs. “So tell me your story,” I said to Mais, somewhat unsure of how to start this conversation. There was a long pause while she looked up at the ceiling and I realized just how absurd my request must have seemed. But to my relief, Mais was not the least bit shy. Once she began telling her story, there was no holding her back.
This extraordinary woman started at the beginning, explaining that she and her husband had worked as professionals in Iraq in the fields of transportation and engineering. Their life there, although complicated at times, was one they loved dearly – one that was rich with family and community.