Meet Ahmed Ismail: A lawyer from Egypt starts anew in the Berkshires
ACCENTS: THE VOICES OF OUR IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORS IN THE BERKSHIRES
PITTSFIELD — Ahmed Ismail’s bride, Michela, had tears in her eyes, but not necessarily because of wedding emotions. Tear gas and worse filled the streets of Cairo when they got married.
Ismail, from Giza, Egypt, and Michela Tagliapietra, from Lenox, met in 2010 when Michela and her mother toured Egypt’s archaeological treasures. Mom and daughter stayed at the hotel where Ismail worked. Ahmed and Michela fell in love and kept the relationship going between the city of the Great Pyramids and the Berkshires.
They set their wedding date. Michela arrived for the event on Jan. 25, 2011, a momentous date that’s now part of Egypt’s more recent history.
“The eve of the Egyptian revolution,” 28-year old Ismail explains in the living room of the house the couple just bought on East Housatonic Street in Pittsfield. “Things started going downhill real quick.
“She stayed in a hotel across the Nile River from Tahrir Square (where a lot of the violence happened); close enough to the point where the tear gas the police were shooting came up to her balcony and her eyes really teared up,” Ismail says. “She had been watching everything.”
They missed their wedding date. Because they are from different religions -- he is Muslim; she is Catholic -- they needed paperwork translated, signed and stamped for the Egyptian equivalent of a civil marriage. But government workers weren’t working, a 4 p.m. curfew made traveling difficult and the police had basically given up, so the streets were dangerous regardless.
“Luckily I have judges in my family, on my mother’s side,” Ismail says. So arrangements were ultimately made, “But it was a nerve-wracking period.”
The day the wedding date finally came held its own somewhat mitigating surprise.
“After all that, we get married on Feb. 14,” Ismail laughs. “The lady who gets us married said, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day.’ We didn’t even know it because we were so consumed by our problems.”
Ahmed Ismail grew up on Haram Street (Pyramid Street) among Giza’s many tourists and tourist bazaars. His dad worked for a car maker, his mom for a bank. His first language is Arabic, but he went to private schools where he was taught English beginning at 3 years old.
After a year of marriage, he and Michela chose to make their life together in the Berkshires.
“It was hard for her in Egypt,” Ismail says. “The people of the country are kind of, I wouldn’t want to say close-minded, but they have different traditions and beliefs. So we decided to give it a shot here.”
Ismail graduated with a law degree from Cairo University and practiced law in his home country before immigrating to the Berkshires. Because of the lawyers and the judges in his family, “That was their plan for me.”
But he also loved working in hotels, which he did while at university.
“I loved the ambiance. I like interacting with folks, knowing the different people, the different cultures and accents and languages,” Ismail says. “Before I met my wife I was planning to go to Switzerland to study to become a hotelier.”
His first job in the Berkshires was in hospitality, at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. His aim, though, is to pass the American bar exam and become a lawyer here. Last year, he graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Law. Ismail does paralegal work for two firms in Pittsfield: immigration cases with Best & Associates, and litigation with DeGregorio & MacVeety.
He is also still involved in the hotel business. He works part-time at Canyon Ranch, the spa resort in Lenox, interacting with guests as a program adviser.
Ismail and Michela have an 8-month-old daughter, Amelie. Together, with two dogs, they’re making the Pittsfield house they recently bought their home.
“In Egypt we don’t have houses; we have flats and apartments made of cement and very new compared to here,” Ismail says. “This house is [from] 1925. It’s new to us; it’s a project.”
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