Monday, August 31, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Harassed? Ma3lesh (Whatever)

For the first time in awhile, I thought I was going to have a positive story to tell about the genuine kindness of strangers. As it turns out, I have exactly the opposite.

I snapped this picture unbeknownst to my friend nor the man helping us because I wanted to illustrate how I might’ve had a couple of bad weeks, but genuine kindness does exist. You see, as Amelia** and I were parked outside a café near my apartment, her water hose burst. Immediately a cab came to the rescue, discussing the problem and assuring her that it was easily fixable. As the cab drove away, a man in a 2009 charcoal Kia Cerato began speaking to us and said he was a mechanical engineer and asked if he could take a look. He concurred that it was a small problem and offered to take us to a nearby mechanic to get the part.

Since my apartment was nearby, I asked if he’d like some water. Amelia realized he might be fasting as it is Ramadan, but then saw he was smoking a cigarette. He said he was Christian as Amelia wears a cross around her neck and then once again, offered to take us to the mechanic. Since we were together and he seemed nice, she said okay.

I was shocked at the kindness and made mention to my friend. She said, “LeAnne, you’ve just had a few bad experiences, but Egyptians are extremely kind.”

I know she wishes she could take back those words or at least the timing of that phrase.

I will narrow down the story just a bit: we get into the car and I see what I thought was a Bible – since he proclaimed to be Christian. I asked if I could see it since I haven’t seen a Bible in Arabic before. He complied, but as Amelia and I looked, it turned out to be the Quran. Why would he lie about his religion? Was it simply because he saw that Amelia was Coptic and noticed her cross around her neck?

Warning sign #1: abort mission.

As we picked up the mechanic, “Good Samaritan” receives a phone call and immediately tells Amelia to be quiet with his hand gesture. Why – this was probably his wife.

Warning sign #2: abort mission.

The mechanic looks at the car and then we take him back to complete his Iftar (first meal of the day at around 6:30 pm). We drive back and wait for the mechanic to call for his return visit. And we wait. And wait. And wait. I begin growing impatient and was starting to feel uncomfortable.

It took this long?

My Arabic is limited and honestly, I stopped listening awhile back. He had already grazed Amelia’s leg.

Warning #5916: ABORT MISSION

Long story even shorter, he begins discussing Amelia’s body, how he can offer her a job plus an apartment and wait – inappropriately grabs her chest. Then as she screams “La2a” (NO), he does it again and just says, “Ma3lesh, ma3lesh” while he gropes her chest. She instantly gets out of the car. Angry, humiliated and upset that she froze and didn’t knock the hell out of him.

Here she was telling me that I’d just run across some bad people, and reminding me about the positive things and then – she had this happen because she thought he was doing a good deed.

It is Ramadan, Muslim Holy month, and while that might not mean much to some – for the majority of Muslims here – whether it is because they believe it or for show – they respect it. However, I have incurred just as much harassment Ramadan or not, but I guess the difference is you expect it to somewhat subside.

Two years ago for the end of Ramadan celebration, Eid, in downtown, Tahrir Square, hundreds of men became frantic after seeing a dancer and rampaged through the streets ripping off women’s clothes – even women wearing the fully covered niqabs. Women began running in a frenzy begging shop owners to open the doors to escape the pandemonium. If you are able to find a news source detailing the event, please leave it as a comment.

Even going to the police stationed on every corner is virtually of no use as most of them also continue the harassment.

And now I’m angry. I’m angry because Cairoenes will tell you that 10 years ago, women were less covered – with old movies showing ladies in mini-skirts. You know what else they say? That harassment was also far less. More women are fully covered these days and the harassment is on the rise. It’s so bad that one of my other friends was grabbed on the street, onlookers just watched as though it was a screenplay, and she started screaming in distress. No one came to help her until she started screaming “Thief” in Arabic – then the onlookers became an angry mob and chased the perpetrator.

How has this been allowed to grow so out of control that now it is seen as the norm? I said before that moving to a foreign country means you must compromise, but there are some things you should never compromise and this is one of them. I feel as though harassment increases daily the longer I stay.

Change has to come from within and I certainly hope the scales tip and women are respected by the majority – not just a few.

And to the man pictured above, I hope you get exactly what you deserve and let me tell you, it’s not 40 virgins waiting for you in Heaven.

**Name given to conceal identity

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Banning the Burqa: Yes or No

News reports are running rampant with many blasting France’s stance to ban the burqa – or fully covered female Muslim apparel. Some say it goes against religious freedom, because we all know very well that those exact countries that enforce this dress code have a great deal of “religious freedom” or really, freedom in general. What I will also recognize is just like with female circumcision in tribal areas mainly in southern Africa is that the burqa or even niqab (cloak showing just the eyes) might also be viewed as a rite of passage into womanhood. It is seen as a positive thing, despite what many of us Westerners may believe. Each female looks forward to menstruation as it is a sign that we are reaching womanhood – and then we realize the cramps, mood swings, pain, etc. are just BS and we grow a hatred for it, but I digress. That being said I will also point out that France is the only country that has strong roots currently still present in each of its former colonies. Something should be said about that. Haiti, Quebec, New Orleans, African countries, etc. all speak a form of French and still have a French presence in many of their festivals and local government (Louisiana and parishes for instance instead of counties). Why? As my friend Maureen put it, “France takes an extremely aggressive stance toward protecting ‘Frenchness.’” I also agree with another friend that said, “…[the burqa/niqab] is a form of subjugation and therefore, against the basic rights of any member of a civilized society.” I'm somewhat torn on the issue of France banning the burqa. I guess what it really comes down to, are these women who are wearing the garb French born or from some MidEast/North African country? And no, I’m not discussing women that have shifted their citizenship to that of France. I’m torn on the rights of natural born citizens. However, that being said, for those that aren’t, I think that if they are unable to adapt to the societal standards around them in a country that isn’t their own, then they should either be forced to get rid of their “ninja apparel” or move back to their home countries. Someone said to me that’s like signing a death warrant. Well, in that case, unveil ladies! And I’m not discussing being unable to wear simply the head scarf and more conservative clothing (hageb). If I had to move to Saudi Arabia, I would be forced to wear the gear. Reason #7928374573839 that I do not have any plans, hopes, aspirations or dreams of moving to that place as I do not believe in it, but would have to respect their country. So what’s the difference with the veiled women in France? So yes, I think France has the right to impose this as it goes against their culture. Then in the US, a woman’s case was dismissed in Detroit because she refused to unveil herself. She sued the judge. In the US, body language is most often what wins and/or loses your court case. Yet in her own country, she probably never would have seen the lights in a courtroom for such a frivolous case simply because she was female. Why is it that the US, UK and EU countries must adhere to Islamic law? Knock knock, here’s a secret – these countries not Islamic Republics. If you don’t like the way the West does things, then go back to your own countries – we all know the success rate there. As a fellow expat living in Egypt, Elaine put it eloquently, “I observe local laws here and would never think of going into a court in a rara skirt and boob tube so what are they thinking?” Disclaimer: This is not a slight against Islam. If you want to debate this issue, for or against, please do so in a mature,respectful manner. I will delete any comments that I feel are derogatory toward any religion: Christianity or Islam.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Fresh Meat

My first experience on the Nile, approx. 2 wks after I moved here

I’ve noticed that there is a fresh batch of arrivals to the Cairo area – many are teachers getting prepared for their first abroad experience, and some are just getting geared for their first Cairo experience. Good luck. I know that the Egyptian men are looking forward to having fresh meat, ones that don’t already know some of their reputations. 5elibelik (be careful in Arabic).

So here are a few pointers for those of you that are new:


*Please read previous blogs, kindness isn’t always genuine. Don’t be naïve, although it will happen, try not to beat yourself up over getting duped a time or two.

*Until you learn to negotiate in Arabic, get into a cab, know where you’re going, ask a friend beforehand how much you should pay, get out of the cab before you pay. If they start demanding more – as they will most of the time when they find you don’t speak Arabic – just keep walking.

*Start learning your Arabic numbers immediately. This will help you with the basic shopping necessities.

*Remember will help with your food delivery until you learn either enough Arabic or have friends who can call for you.

During Ramadan:

*Dress more conservatively. This is a big thing as I noticed many of you last night in the Ace Club. While yes, we are in Maadi (this is for the group I saw last night), it’s still Holy Month and be respectful. Cover your shoulders, avoid cleavage, and do not wear short skirts.

*Going somewhere – get a cab before Iftar and don’t expect to get another one until after – around 8pm. Then expect high volumes of traffic.

I know how difficult it is shopping and not knowing which products you may like since everything is so different. I’m going to post in a later blog certain products I like such as yogurt, milk, laundry detergent, cheese, etc. that might help some of you.

And for all you newbies, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to email me. If I can’t help you, I’ll put you in touch with someone who can.

Good luck to all of you and remember, it’s an adventure – one that very few people have.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Recognition, Clarification & Determination

Is it just me or does this look like a major safety hazard?
With recent blogs like Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Use Caution, and Ulterior Motives, you must think I am having a difficult time in Egypt. The truth of the matter is that I suppose I just didn’t quite clearly know how to explain the way I was/am feeling and had all these realizations that well, were negative.

And you know what, those thoughts still aren’t positive. However, I refuse to remain bogged down in the negativity. What I do feel that I need to explain is why this has occurred.

For those of you that have been an expat for years, this is nothing new to you. Then there are those of us where this whole expat world is, well, different. I always thought I was an excellent judge of character. It was always said in NY that I could tell if I liked someone within three minutes. After those three minutes were up, I didn’t cause a scene, I just simply walked away. I’m under the impression that you can be cordial, but why waste your time on people that you know you’re not going to mesh with? Maybe that works for some of you, but I’d rather use my time more wisely and surround myself with those people that I do care for.

As my friend Harold said, “[Egypt] it’s a whole new game. You never know what you’re going to get.” Before any of you remotely think about emailing me to tell me how this occurs everywhere, let me explain.

At the Red Sea in Hurghada

Moving to a different country with a different culture and society, you’re at a great disadvantage. My problem was that I couldn’t decipher the good from the bad. It’s a learning experience and instead of getting angry with myself for not recognizing it sooner, I would rather use this experience to help guide me toward the good ones. It may take awhile and undoubtedly I’m still going to get burned here and there, but this is just another piece of advice I can give to any of you moving from your home country:

Recognize that you will falter in your judgment, but it isn’t the end of the world. Just use it to be a better judge of character and remember, not everything is as it seems.

There are always ulterior motives, but there are also those that genuinely want to help you and show you the special things that their culture has to offer – something you never would have attained from home.