It is not easy to imagine Finland as a travel destination that is too common for the sun-loving Egyptians, who are unlikely to have experienced temperatures colder than 15°C. It is probably easier then to picture a Finn tanning or snorkeling under the sun of Egypt at a Red Sea resort. In fact, it seems that the first Egyptian who entered the Finnish sphere was through Finnish Mika Waltari’s 1945 bestseller entitled The Egyptian that is set at the time of the 18th dynasty ruler Akhenaten of ancient Egypt. Since then Egyptians have stepped out of Waltari’s historical novel and set on their own journey to the Finnish lands. What then has inspired around 400 Egyptians to leave the sun for the larger portion of the year behind to come all the way up to the country of the second most northern capital in the world? The answer is simple: love and the hope of a better career.
Around the 1960s the first wave of Egyptians arrived at the ports of Finland to expand their business work to the lands of Scandinavia. A few others turned to the state system and have taken on jobs as bus and tram drivers. In subsequent years, some Egyptians have continued here their careers in medicine, while others have been more interested in bringing the Oriental flavours of the Middle East to Finland by owning and running restaurants in the heart of Helsinki such as Habibi’ All these Egyptians seem to have shared a ‘European dream’ in which Finland is imagined as the safe haven that will provide for a better standard of living.
Not all Egyptians, however, have come to Finland for purely economic reasons, but rather as a result of love. For many who have worked at tourist beach resorts in Egypt, Hurghada and Sharm El Sheikh have become the place where they have met their future Finnish wives, who were either traveling or working there. After living for some time in Egypt, these families packed up their lives in Egypt and set out on their trip to Suomi. The first thing these Egyptians then seek out upon arriving, is to learn the Finnish language to then be able to integrate into Finnish society, get a higher education and ultimately find a job here.
These Egyptians now living far from home seek to keep the feeling of their community alive here in Finland. In Helsinki many Egyptians meet for instance on Fridays for a fun game of football and on other occasions they do not hesitate to organise dish parties. During the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, weekly iftars (dinners) are on the calendar of many Egyptians. The ingredients of such iftars are collected upon a grocery shopping trip to Arab markets such as the Iraqi owned ‘Ararat’ that has produce rarely found in northern Europe like Okra, Molokhia (a kind of leaves that is minced into a soup) or vine leaves. They then collect their meat from the butcher at ‘Halal-lina’ that serves halal meat to many Muslim communities here in Helsinki. All these ingredients are then cooked to make a beautifully Oriental-scented dinner that brings Egyptians together. In case you want to get a closer taste of this food, community and culture, then do not hesitate to take any year round trip to the land of the pharaohs in which the sun never stops shining