From Cairo streets to shared dreams: Vietnamese-Egyptian romance

By Ngoc Ngan   March 15, 2024 | 05:31 am PT
Quynh Anh never would have suspected that the man she accidentally 'bumped' into on the streets of Cairo would become her husband.

"It was fate," said the 25-year-old.

Seven years ago, the girl who grew up in Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City knew nothing about Egypt, the country where Ahmed Brakat, 29, lived.

In 2017, Quynh Anh was a first-year university student majoring in tourism. During her study of religion as part of her curriculum, she took an interest in Islam and ultimately converted.

Anh gave up eating pork, wore a Hijab, and performed rituals every day. The change in their daughter surprised her parents, who are Buddhists following a long family tradition.

In the summer of 2018, Anh’s university offered her the chance to participate in a student exchange program in Egypt. She filled out the application because she wanted to set foot in a Muslim country. She was accepted and then traveled to the foreign land.

During her first week in the North African country, Quynh Anh spent her free time outside group activities wandering the streets of Cairo alone to learn about the local life.

One afternoon, she walked to a mosque near the Khan el-Khalili market and tried asking locals about the building's architecture, but no one could answer.

Ahmed Brakat, a tour guide who could speak French and German, happened to be walking by and stopped to answer Quynh Anh’s question. Faced with an enthusiastic stranger, Quynh Anh felt awkward, but grateful. She took special notice of the young man’s face.

Brakat said he felt his heart skip a beat in front of the petite Vietnamese girl. They exchanged phone numbers and continued the conversation via text message.

Pham Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat in Egypt in January 2023. Photo courtesy of Pham Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat

Pham Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat in Egypt in January 2023. Photo courtesy of Pham Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat

"We talked for hours and felt so compatible," Quynh Anh recalled. "The similarities connect us."

They both dislike noisy places, find joy in simple things, and like walking around.

One time, Quynh Anh said she didn't expect to have a wedding because it was very noisy, she only wished to have a peaceful ceremony. Ahmed Brakat was intrigued by the girl’s every facet and started planning to confess his love.

One evening in Cairo Park, he asked: "We all want to go to heaven, do you want to accompany me on that journey?"

Quynh Anh nodded slightly.

Their happiness lasted until the day Quynh Anh had to return home. That day at the airport, Ahmed Brakat’s mind was all over the place, but Quynh Anh was very calm. She already had a plan in mind – to finish her studies and return to Cairo to work as a tour guide.

"Trust me," Quynh Anh said before saying goodbye to her lover.

But long-distance love is not easy. Quynh Anh's family did not support their only daughter loving a man so far away, while Ahmed Brakat's father did not want him to marry a foreigner.

"Geographical distance, family barriers, and academic pressure made me feel as if I could explode," Quynh Anh said. "I started thinking ‘Is it right for me to leave my country for a strange land?’"

Ahmed Brakat did not give up, he often called to encourage his girlfriend.

During one of their arguments, he said suddenly: "I know no one can make my heart heavy like you." His words made Quynh Anh emotional, so she put aside her ego to continue trying.

A year passed, and Quynh Anh graduated from university.

At the end of 2020, she prepared a confirmation of her marital status before booking a plane ticket to Cairo.

When she arrived at the airport on that fateful day, Quynh Anh's father texted: "You either come back home or leave forever." However, her mother supported Quynh Anh from the sidelines, telling her daughter to choose a good person to love. In the end, Quynh Anh decided to go, while encouraging her family to look at it as if she was studying abroad for a few years.

Quynh Anh and her husband in Siwa City, Egypt in 2023. Photo courtesy of  Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat

Quynh Anh and her husband in Siwa City, Egypt in 2023. Photo courtesy of Quynh Anh and Ahmed Brakat

She went to Egypt to register her marriage in December 2020. Brakat's father finally met and was moved by Quynh Anh, a girl who traveled more than 8,000 km because of her love for his son. He was also impressed by Quynh Anh's gentle demeanor, and her seriousness in dressing and worshiping as a Muslim woman.

Ahmed Brakat prepared for married life by getting an apartment on the outskirts of Cairo. He prepared everything such as the bed, mattress, sheets, window curtains, and a few pots of Quynh Anh's favorite flowers.

She found a job as a tour guide a few months later. Anh thought everything was going smoothly, but it was still a struggle for her to get used to the local culture.

Her husband was quite meticulous about eating, so she had to cook very precisely. For example, she could only use lean chicken meat, no fat, tendons, or bones.

At work, she was also not familiar with Egyptian professional culture. She learned quickly that it is normal for Egyptians to cancel schedules very close to tour departure time due to illness. There were times when she had to manage 40 tourists by herself, causing her to cry out of frustration.

During those times, Ahmed Brakat was always by her side, encouraging his wife and explaining each cultural difference.

"I appreciate his gentleness and patience," Quynh Anh said.

The calls between Quynh Anh and her mother also became more frequent. Mom was now reassured because her daughter had a stable life in Egypt.

Quynh Anh is also the one who helped mend her husband’s family. Ahmed Brakat's parents divorced when he was 8 years old. After decades of living with his father, Ahmed Brakat did not want to see his mother again.

Quynh Anh told her husband that in Vietnam, familial love plays an important role. She advised her husband to open his heart, be forgiving, and accept his mother again. The day they reunited, Ahmed Brakat's mother hugged Quynh Anh to thank her.

At the end of 2023, Ahmed Brakat took his wife on a vacation to Siwa Oasis, 560 km from Cairo. In the "paradise" deep in the desert, Quynh Anh rested her head on her husband’s shoulder, feeling as peaceful as the day they started dating 5 years ago.

"Thank you for coming into my life," Quynh Anh said softly.

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