The Stranger in the Elevator! Egyptians don’t recognize their neighbors anymore!

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One day I was going back home from work, all tired and frustrated because it took me hours to get through traffic, and as I got into the elevator I met this old man who was going up the same floor as I was. As he opened the door for me, I smiled and pressed the button. The elevator reached the 4th floor and we both smiled as we went out to our apartments. Same thing happened like 5 times in a row that it started to feel creepy. How come this guy comes to visit our neighbors everyday at the same time?


Weeks later I asked the doorman and he said that this is actually our neighbor and he’s been living in the building for 10 years! I was in shock. My family and I have been living in the same building for as long as I can remember but I can’t really recall seeing him at all before that week. This explains how many of us live in a cocoon, and how we lost touch with people living next doors.

            I remember when I was young; all the kids in our building used to play outside together, hang out in each other’s apartments and even go out with families next door all the time. Being close in age, my sisters and I used to play with our neighbors’ kids and were glad to have some friends who actually live with us in the same building. There were no worries or boundaries whatsoever among the families. Neighbors used to see each other more often and they used to check on each other when someone got sick or needed someone to baby sit their children. I also remember being in touch with our neighbors on special occasions and exchange kahk (holiday cookies) on Christmas or Eid holidays. My mother used to prepare a small plate of cookies and make us send them to the neighbors on the first day of Eid. It felt really special and made everyone feel like family.

 Nowadays, unfortunately, neighbors barely meet, talk on the phone or even run into each other in the elevator or the hallway. What do you think has changed this habit? When you come to think of it, we tend to lose touch with our neighbors because everyone is caught up in their own wheel of life and there seems to be no time to get in touch with our families, let alone our neighbors. The roller coaster we are all riding on day in and day out isolates us from one another and makes no room for socialization with our neighbors as people used to do in the past. We either go to work everyday and come back home exhausted and want nothing but to chill on the couch in front of TV or we have kids that we run around all day and who suck up on all our energies and minds until we drop asleep at night. Even on weekends, we prefer hanging out with friends and get a breather than call our neighbors or just ring their doorbell to say hi. It’s just not part of our agendas anymore.

 If you are one of the few who still has their neighbor’s mobile phone number, you are more likely to text message them for Christmas than to actually do that face to face.  It might be cheaper and faster to go directly to their door, still the phone rules when it comes to holiday greetings. Maybe our parents still got the feeling for face to face greetings since they are mostly technologically challenged when it comes to text messages and emails, yet the phone is taking over people’s relationship in a scary way.


In all religions, especially among Muslims and Christians in Egypt, the relationship between neighbors is strongly encouraged and appreciated. In Islam, there is a famous saying that goes “The Prophet (PBUH) cared for the seventh neighbor”, which means he encourages us to maintain a good relationship with neighbors even those living far away from us. Since religions are ways of life that help people live in harmony and widens their social networks, caring for our neighbors is part of following the principles of our religions. Therefore maintaining a good rapport with our neighbors adds a sense of connection and bonding amongst people, which is something, I personally believe is lacking from the lives of Egyptians these days.


In the past, your neighbors used to be the first person you think of at times of emergency like sickness and fire, or any sort of emergency that comes up at 2:00 am in the morning. They were just “closer” and reachable than our own families. Now, you don’t think it will be appropriate to wake your next door neighbor up in the middle of the night to watch your kid until you run to the hospital with your other kid who seems to have got food poisoning at school. You would not ask them for some flour or sugar to finish off your cooking instead of waiting for the grocery store to send you some. Now, if someone asks you for some flour you would be all cranky and surprised they even asked for your precious flour!


The good but surprising news is that in rural areas, people still hang on to their relationship with their neighbors more than people in higher classes do. Even if people in such areas have more load on their shoulders in today’s strenuous life, they never lost that loving connection with each other. On the other hand, people of the higher society, who are also swamped with the same crisis we are all living in, seem to have dropped this bonding with their neighbor issue off their carts as they go on with their lives. At death situations, many of them offer to have the funerals at their houses as a sign of solidarity and sympathy at such sad situations their neighbors are facing. Did you ever hear about someone in you building offering such passionate and sincere help at sad or happy incidents? I highly doubt it! They might come to your grandfather’s funeral if they heard the news from your doorman but not because they are up to date with what’s going on in your life.

I know things might not be as tragic as I make them sound but when you come to think of it, they are really pleasant either. Egyptians are friendly by nature and they love to feel for each other. They just need a wake up call to remind them with how things used to be in the past. I know some of us have the worst neighbors ever and dream of the day they move out as our neighbors upstairs who used to apparently love to play hide and seek at midnight and we couldn’t sleep all night from all the noise. But I’m sure there are a few good ones we like and can stay in touch with. I am sure we all have a ton of things on our daily, weekly and monthly agenda but we never add “check on The Radwans this weekend”, for instance. Or have their kid’s birthday on our phone calendar so that we can call or buy them a small gift, the same way we remember our family and friends’ birthdays. I am not in a position to give advice since I’m one of the people who just met her neighbor who has been living in the same building for 10 years, I am afraid we will wake up one day to find that we actually do not talk to people anymore. We just text message them! That will be creepy, won’t it?

I would take the opportunity to rethink this relationship and hope someone would read this article and have the courage and love to get up and knock on the family next door and just say “Hi Neighbor, I hope you are doing well!” 


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