Tag Archives: gender relations

An Open Letter to the Youth Who Said He Loved Me

Who’s that girl?

Dear Motorbike-Riding Youth:

First of all, I would like to thank you for shouting “I love you” at me while I was minding my own business on the side of a narrow road in the mid afternoon autumnal heat. For a moment I had forgotten that I was a foreign woman, and you, having clearly never seen a foreigner or a woman before, were so overcome with true love that it inspired an immediate reaction from you that thankfully reminded me of my feminine, alien, identity. Moreover, I am no stranger to similar feelings of passion, especially for pedestrians, and so I completely sympathize with your socially inappropriate utterance.

However, if you would allow me to critique one aspect of your harassment strategy, I would simply like to point out that your outburst of passion occurred just seconds before you passed me as we were going the same direction. This means that you had only seen the back of my person at the moment you realized you had fallen for me. I, of course, am no Scrooge, and would be the last person to deny the possibility of love at first sight. That being said, in common usage first sight usually indicates some sort of eye contact or facial recognition, which then (if successful) progresses onto the collar bone and shoulder region or whatever pleases the parties involved. In contrast, you were brave enough to display your ardor heedless of what might have appeared on the other side.

I heard your zealous declaration first and then saw you zoom past me, as you continued on into the great wide world of Cairo. Before you turned out of sight, however, you must have realized your mistake. You doubted whether you could you actually love me without seeing my face, my features remaining unknown for eternity. Worse yet, what if I was wholly different than expected? Suppose I were actually an Egyptian man wearing a wig and Chacos? What if I had one large walrus tusk and a furry lip? A unibrow and scaly skin? Three eyes, a peg leg, and tentacles for a nose?

You realized quickly that you could not live with this uncertainty, and so turned around while continuing to move forward, all at once holding onto the past, plowing into the future, and throwing yourself into danger. Once you looked back, you saw that I was a foreign woman, just as you had hoped. It no longer mattered whether or not my features could be considered attractive, since they were non-Egyptian and female. You were content with knowing your love had been real, even if the interaction was all too brief. My advice to you for next time is to be careful of who you fall for, since you never know what they might look like.

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Leave your thug life at home

avoid looking like this guy

If you’re heading to the Sadat Metro stop and/or planning to enter Tahrir square at all, you best leave your guns at home. While you’re at it, forget about bringing along any knives, clubs, maces, and vegetable peelers you might traditionally carry with you. Now is not the time to practice transporting your archery set or collection of poisonous darts. If you happen to usually don a thug-like appearance, you should consider trying something else for a change, like wearing a floor length tiered jean skirt and a long sleeve turtleneck shirt emblazoned with either sparkly cartoon characters or nonsensical English words. Not sure if you have a thug-like appearance? If you look in the mirror and seem to be male, you are most probably a thug. If you seem to be male AND are over 5’8 and have darker skin, you are a thug and are a persona non grata in the environs of Tahrir square, which is in full blown sit-in mode.

Tahrir square has sprouted white tents, stages, signs, and new graffiti, heralding a new level of the revolution, despite the fact many Egyptians have grown weary of the continual instability. The square is occupied by groups of people demanding their demands be met. Yes, there are specifics for the people in the square but no, they do not actually help clarify the situation. One of the many consequences of the sit in is that the Mogamma, the center of Egyptian bureaucracy, was forcibly closed both yesterday and today, preventing the completion of much government business including the bribery of countless officials. Another consequence is the “tafteesh,” or security checks, now found at every entry point to the square.

The nature of the security check experience varies wildly from one entry point to another as there appears to be no standard procedure. It’s almost like these people didn’t get their tafteesh badge at Sit-In Camp for Budding Revolutionaries. Everyone from teenagers to dentists to adolescent girl helps out with the tafteesh. You could be asked for anything from giving your name, a passport, or an identity card to allowing them to examine your bag and ask you riddles. Sometimes they just let you through so long as your appearance is free of thug-like traces i.e. you are female (see above note).

Today I stupidly forgot to bring any form of ID with me to school, so I was lucky that both times I approached security, the “guards” let me pass through with nothing more than a smile. Other CASA students, however, had their bags checked and/or were prohibited from entering the square at all (one student). Tomorrow there is supposed to be a million man march to/in Tahrir but I haven’t heard anything about our classes being cancelled so apparently some people (our administration) were not entirely convinced it was going to happen. We shall see.

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Two of us get lucky

First off, let me clarify what happened yesterday to the best of my knowledge. After a play commemorating the martyrs of the Revolution, armed thugs arrived and started making mischief. No one knows why the thugs came, who they were, or what they wanted. The police remained involved in the struggle, but the army completely withdrew, allowing it to continue for hours into the  morning. No one really understands what happened or why. My teacher today said that it may have just been a play by the army to make people fear chaos and not advocate too strongly for a faster transition. The thugs could have also been ex-policeman or something like that….but it’s not clear. So the moral of the story is: people are confused.

At any rate, we had classes today (unfortunately/fortunately) but we were urged to leave quickly afterwards in stuff started up again. Tomorrow I think there are supposed to be more protests but I’m not sure who/why…a simple google search didn’t yield answers as fast as I wanted them so I’ll just wait till someone more knowledgeable tells me after the fact.

We were riding in lady’s section of the metro today (I, roomie, and friend) and as usual, the air was hot and stuffy and we were doing our best to speak in Arabic with one another. Just before the train stopped at the Tahrir square metro station, two ladies started talking to us since they were surprised and thrilled we were speaking Arabic. “You have lit up Egypt,” one of the women said, using a common expression in Egypt that I could never remember the response to.  I always think it’s “and light to you” or “God give you light,” but those are both wrong. As I searched for the correct answer, she added, laughing, that she had two sons, meaning she was on the hunt for wives for them. Unfortunately, she got off the train and I didn’t get her info or anything so I’m not sure how the engagement process is going to work. I’ll just be sure to ride that line at that specific time in hopes of finding her again. Lord knows all I’m trying to do is get settled down with a husband and kids here in Egypt ASAP, and she seemed like an honorable woman. It would be nice to go ahead and cross that goal off my list right after “try a different kind of hazelnut spread every week.”

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Transportation Nation!

Since my post yesterday on crossing the street was such a hoot, I decided to do another quick postie-wostie on how I get to school everyday. Just imagine if instead I were writing about how I got to school everyday at  Boston University and you’ll see how banal this is. And yet I continue.

Roomies and I take the Metro to school…it’s about a ten minute walk from our apartment and in the trek, we walk up a street in which 90 percent of our fellow pedestrians are going the other direction, so if feels a bit like we are the proverbial salmon heading up the proverbial stream. We go down the stairs into the metro (Doqqi stop), which is by all accounts incredibly clean and efficient and big and well decorated. After purchasing a ticket, we head through the (hopefully correct) turnstiles and down the stairs. I love the tiling on the side of the walls down in the metro…the designs are big rounded shapes in pastel colors and so the place feels vaguely like a videogame, a nursery, or a knick knack shop.

Here’s where it differs slightly from Amreeka: if I’m with my g-friends, then we seek out the place to stand which will grant us entry to the women’s only car. There’s a sign above the platform that says “Women” and it has a picture of someone wearing a dress, so we go there, obviously. The word for women in Arabic (one of them) is Seyidat, and every time we enter I think to myself, chuckling: “Where’s my seyidat at?” After only a short wait (so efficient! 80 times better than Boston) we push our way onto the car and enter an atmosphere not unlike a sauna. Everyone else is sweating as well, so the smell is particularly lovely and only enhanced by the additional vapor of various perfumes.

We get off 2 stops later right at Tahrir Square. There are about 20 possible ways to exit the metro, but only one of them is the appropriate one for the university. So far we’ve found it one time, and that was yesterday. We might end up in Sudan tomorrow if we’re not careful.

I look forward one day to writing something of meaning, about Egyptian politics, society, religion, culture, etc. Until that day comes, you’ll have to put up with my ramblings: I bought some nuts today—1.5 pounds for about 4 bucks. Electronic music festival tomorrow. I’m speaking only Arabic with fellow fellows and it’s  little strange and a little hard. At least I have my blog.

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No boys allowed part 2

The apartment hunting process was stressful to say the least. Not only was there intense pressure to find somewhere to live, we were also completely thrown to the wolves regarding the entire endeavor. When we (I and my roommates) set out today, we had the names of a few brokers we had gotten from random people and places and only a vague idea of what we were looking for. We took the Metro to Doqqi and met up with our first broker, who marched us through the sun, us huffing and puffing behind him as he glided with disdain through the middle of the streets in the face of oncoming traffic. As soon as we walked into the building and I could see way too many wires in the ceiling, I knew there was going to be a problem. Sure enough, the apartment he showed us appeared to be oozing dust and decay. I set my hand down on the railing in the stairwell and when I picked it up it was covered in soot or something equally difficult to remove. Gross.

We left feeling defeated and option-less since all 47 CASA fellows were using the same sources to get housing. Luckily, after sitting in a neighborhood coffee shop for literally 3 hours, we got a call from another broker we had contacted. He came and met us at the coffee shop and brought us to an apartment he had found, which instantly felt a hundred times better than the previous place. I didn’t feel like coughing would bring down a ton of drywall. I felt a shower there would both be feasible and make me a cleaner person.

We all liked the apartment, but in the end, we went with a very similar place upstairs in the same building since we would be able to do a short term contract. The lady we talked to, our neighbor who is also the niece of the owner of the apartment, was very nice, spoke English well, and had two adorable boys. But she was also a very firm lady, who knew exactly what she wanted. And she did not want any men coming into our apartment. “You will not be able to bring your boyfriends here,” she said. Our romantic state with any gentlemen callers wasn’t the issue…it was the fact they were men.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual in Egypt. People are a little conservative, a little nosey. And this is annoying, but at the same time, we liked the apartment, and we were not willing to have this be a deal breaker. So, the end game is that we will be imposing on the hospitality of our guy friends (which we don’t technically have yet) in order to host any events we might have otherwise had in our apartment.

I also petted a puppy today.

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