Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Egyptian Men Stalk You With the Stealth of Elmer Fudd


I came back from Dahab early after tiring of beach-bumming. I didn't make it to Luxor during this break but I'll go later on in the year. After throwing on a wrinkled pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood, do some window shopping, and get a few groceries. I am always hyper-alert of my surroundings and acutely aware of the people around me in case I need to make a quick exit. Usually I'm a friendly person but in Cairo I've perfected a menacing look that can cause a man's testicle to shrivel before what ever perversion he was prepared to mutter to me leaves his lips. I counted 6 different men at 6 different times unabashedly following me for blocks, waiting outside stores until I was done looking around, walking up behind me panting heavily or slowing their pace to walk beside me, crossing the street when I crossed, etc.
To be fair, Egyptian men aren't the only men who stalk women. I've had Italian men follow me around Rome declaring their undying affection in the way that only Italian men can do upon catching a glimpse of a woman. The difference is that a lot of the Egyptian men do not pick up on social cues and body language nor are the particularly skillful or stealthy at the art of stalking. Because very few Egyptian women go out alone, it's difficult for the young men to grasp that an unaccompanied young woman does not want to be pursued and accompanied. For some, a threatening glare alone or simply ignoring them doesn't do it. Some get to close and breathe down your neck! With 2 of the guys, after several blocks, I had to stop in my tracks, turn and yell, "Stop following me!" before they got the hint, apologized and turned to go in the other direction.

My advice for other women when walking around Cairo alone:

1) Be aware of your surroundings at all times. There is always so much going on at once that it seems easier to just tune it all out or focus all your attention on a few things but try to look around you. If you catch someone looking at you, keep your eye on him as you move.
2) Fake them out. As I've said, Egyptian men aren't particularly stealthy at stalking their prey. Most will follow you unabashedly and even smile at you when you notice that they are there. There are many ways you can lose a stalker: Stop suddenly in your tracks and let him walk by, walk into a store, cross the street, etc
3) Trust your instincts and never  talk to the stalker. You will know whether the person following you is harmless or not. After following you for some time, some guys will try to ask your name or where you're from, anything to strike up a conversation. It may be difficult for you to do but ignore him until he finally leavers you alone. Most will grow bored of you after a while and leave. If you feel uneasy, don't lead him in the direction of your house. Remain on busy streets at all times
4) Public shaming. Egyptian men are very sensitive to public shaming, When all else fails, yell loudly at the stalker in English or Arabic so that others around you  take notice of him. "Igri", meaning go away, works but you can always yell in English.
5) As a last resort, find a street cop or the tourist police. One of the few benefits to a police state is that there are always police everywhere, especially at tourist attractions and busy streets. The Egyptian police  may not understand you but they can create the necessary distraction to scare off the stalker.  If you feel particularly endangered, they can handle the situation.

Egyptian Lover’s “Freak-A-Holic” lol. This video reminds me of the men on the street...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tipping/ Backsheesh


One will soon find that people in Cairo expect a tip, backsheesh, for everything from bagging your groceries to posing for a photo. Even the tourism police will ask for a tip for letting you in snap a photo where no photos are  allowed or letting you in to a secluded location. At first, I was completely confused by the tipping system. Some people outright demand backsheesh and won't leave you alone until you firmly refuse or gice in.  Now, I tip when I felt that I requested a service and was waited on properly (I wont tip you for following me around the grocery stores and pointed at products that I may be interested in). Here is a comment on a post about tipping that I think summarizes it pretty well.

10% is fine for EXCELLENT restaurant service, but sadly, one rarely receives excellent restaurant service in Egypt. I say it's more common to leave small change (<10 LE) unless it's a fancy sit-down restaurant and the service is amazing.
And for "services"... there are many services in Egypt that warrant tipping. Anytime someone offers to show you anything or do anything for you, they usually expect a tip, or "baksheeh." In most cases, 1 to 2 LE is sufficient for these types of services. 10 is too much for just about anything, unless they are really going out of their way.
Many people will approach you at antiquities sites, offering to show you something or latching on to you and trying to become your guide. Only tip these people if they are truly helpful, and don't give them more than about 5 LE. Many of these people are rude and get spoiled by big-tippers. Don't add to the problem by being one of these people who gives 50 LE tips.
Also, there are often people who hang around bathrooms to get tips. They will turn on the water for you, or hand you a tissue to dry your hands. Only accept it if you want to tip the person, and don't give them more than 1 LE.
Many of these bathroom people are overly pushy and I've seen some of them at the pyramids with wads of cash so big that they won't fit in their pocket. Generally, if you've paid admission to any site, then use of the restroom is included and you aren't obligated to tip. At some places, there is a designated bathroom attendant, placed by the management, with a dish for tips. In this case tipping is usually mandatory. But at other places, such as most museums or antiquities sites, bathroom tips are not required and the people who are trying to get them are not authorized employees. In this case, it's not good to support them.
Whatever you decide to give, keep in mind that the average salary for most workers (i.e. policemen and shop/ hotel attendants) is 40 LE per day, so 10 LE is an excellent tip for most people.
Some people try to complain that you didn't give them enough. Never give in to this scam! Anyone should be happy and gracious to receive any tip, even 25 piastres. So if they pester you, saying "Hey, this is only 2 pounds, it's not enough!" Then they are rude and they probably didn't deserve the tip in the first place. Ignore them, or tell them they're lucky they got anything from you.
One useful phrase in Arabic that foreigners can use is "Mafeesh fulus," meaning no money.
Good luck!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Easter Break is here...relaaaax


...Off to Dahab and Luxor!

Expat Lifestyle Might Not Make It!*


I went out last night with a great group of expats- American Fulbrights, Italians, Libyans, Lebanese, Aussies, etc. We started the festivities at L'Aubergine (★ 1/2 based only on the bar experience and not the restaurant) in Zamelak. L'Aubergine is a chic vegetarian restaurant with a bar on the second level, reservations are necessary. It caters to the expat and AUC's wealthy Egyptian-type crowd. Thus, the dress code was fashionably casual. I had a good time hanging out with the other expats. Randomly, I  met the African American basketball player that the Mobinil guy mentioned to me earlier this week! We have mutual friends. He was definitely a cool guy. He's played ball around the world and he's married to an Egyptian member of AKA.When I told him about how I'd heard of him, he was quite amused. I also took the opportunity to ask the Libyans about Khadafi. I'd like to report that they were just as bewildered as the rest of us lol.

After L'Aubergine, we went to the Africana Club in Giza. I must admit that I had some reservations about going here. Africana is known for having the best music in Cairo BUT many of the "working" women frequent this spot. Well, honestly Africana did have the best DJ I've heard in a long time! I'm partial to a good mixer and since moving to DC, where the DJ's at the clubs are lackluster at best, my ears have been yearning for some turntable magic. The DJ at Africana expertly blended a variety of R&B, Reggaeton, Reggae, Zouk, Hip Hop and various African tracks like they melted into one another. It was one hot track after another and I could barely sit down before  the music commanded my body to move to the next beat! 

Unfortunately, it was clear that many "working" women were in the club. Clad in gaudy wigs and dresses that left nothing to the imaginations, the ladies did what they had to do to get by while their Egyptian clients sat around basking in their attention. It was truly sad to see African women, the mothers of all humanity, parading around like that...Because of the  the dynamics, it's a good idea to go to Africana with a group or with some male friends to ward of unwanted offers. All in all, Africana is a BLAST!

I didn't get home until almost 6 am this morning from Africana. When I awoke late in the afternoon, my roommates, house-guest, and I went to Lucille's restaurant (★) for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Like Zamalek, Maadi is a really nice area where foreigners live. Compared to downtown, Maadi is quiet, the dress code is noticeably casual, chic cafes and restaurants line the sidewalks, and NO ONE HARASSES YOU IN THE STREET so it's common to see mothers pushing their babies in strollers:) French, German, Italian, English, and other foreign tongues sprinkled the air as pedestrians strolled by me.

According to Time's, in 2007 Lucille's had the best burgers in the world so I of course had one! The BBQ Bacon (yes, that's says bacon, do not adjust your screen. I finally found bacon in Cairo!) Cheeseburger was too big for me to finish in one sitting but it was very good! I can't confirm if it's the best in the world or not though lol. The restaurant has a nice wood and pain-glass decor and serves American diner food. Again, it's a spot filled with expats and rich Egyptians. The food  is relatively expensive. Its about 45 LE ($9) for a meal excluding drinks whereas a burger at an Egyptian joint is about 12 LE and at McDonald's , a meal is 25 LE. You definitely get what you pay for at Lucille's, however. The wait-staff was punctual, well-trained and polite and the atmosphere was clean and quiet.

After eating, we stopped by Diwa Bookstore nearby. Diwa carries books in various language and Arabic translations of various popular American bestsellers. I bought a childrens book that was written in English and Arabic (I'm working my way up to 'Dreams of My Father' completely in Arabic :)

PS- I met someone that reads my blog today and really enjoys it!! I was quite excited! I love comments, questions, praise, and critiques.

*Wasted- Gucci Mane

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I'll Cut Him!


The men in my neighborhood have adjusted to seeing me around by now. At this point, they harass me usually as an afterthought instead of with the newfound enthusiasm they had the first few weeks I moved here. The store owners and employees can barely contain their amusement as my Arabic vocabulary expands and I practice on them. The ones who speak some English take any opportunity to throw in an English word or phrase in our conversations.

Today was what I've come to accept as a regular day. The technician (I use the term loosely) working on the elevator in our apartment building keeps knocking out the internet somehow. Finally, I go downstairs to ask him to fix it, not realizing until I was well into the conversation that I only know the Arabic word for employee and elevator but not "knocked out my wireless internet access". sigh...Needless to say, he completely took the conversation over while I struggled to keep up. Somehow, he went from the discussing the elevator with me to every Egyptians favorite question: "Where you from?" I've realized a long time ago that no one can ever quite figure out what my ethnicity or nationality is. Sometimes people try to guess but for the most part, they just bluntly demand to know. Depending on how I feel and how quickly I want the conversation to end, I'll either tell them I'm Haitian or American. 

After exhausting my painfully short vocabulary of technical terms, I was hoping to keep this conversation short and sweet so I told him I was American. He stared at me quizzically for a moment, "But you're black." Sigh, oh here we go again. I nod. He looked at me a little closer this time, " Well, you are black... with a little yellow." (I don't know if the "yellow" was a reference to my complexion or to the slanted shape of my eyes but I decided to leave it at that). He decides to follow it up with an ever inviting, "you want to take a ride on my elevator."  I'll pass.

Later on, I go to Mobinil to get credit on my cell phone. As I cross the street into the store, 2 guys follow behind me yelling, "Samara, samara!" sigh. I walk into the store and the male employees give me a friendly nod since I've been frequenting the same store from the first week I arrived in Egypt. The guys like to practice their English with me as they reload my cell phone with credits and I practice my Arabic with them. Today, after complimenting me by telling me my Arabic was getting better each time I came in the store, one guy asked me if I played for the WNBA. 

Me (taking this as a sign that its time to unbraid my hair!): No!! 
Employee 2: haha! She does not play any sports!
Employee 1: Are you from America?
Me: Yes. Do you guys have black Americans playing basketball in Egypt?
Employee 1: Yes!! In the Zamalek club. His name is_____. He's the best! Our team is the best
Employee 2: How do you like Egypt?
Me (fresh from being harrased in the street): 'Shweya Shweya'. Sometimes its good sometimes its not so good
Employee 1: Why not so good?
Me: Ugh, Egyptian men! They always bother me in the street
Employee 2 (chuckles): Yes. One time, I saw you walking and I saw many men follow you and say things to you
Employee 1: ...But this doesn't happen ALL the time!?
Me: Yes it does, almost all the time. It even happened before I walked in here . Some guys followed me yelling "samara"!
Employee 2 (now completely unable to control his laughter): "Samara" doesn't mean bad thing. It's not like... Negro. They just want to be your friend
Me: Well, I don't like it at all. It's not nice
Employee 2: We have Nubians here in Egypt. We call our Nubian friends Samara. It's not a bad thing! One of Egypt's best football players. His name is _____ Samara
Me (looking at him incredulously): Is he black?
Employee 2: Yes, of course!
Me: In the U.S., you can't say such a thing. That's like me following you and yelling, " Hey Arab!"
(After thinking about this for a moment, they are both laughing)
Employee 1: If someone object[ifiies] you again in the street. You just let me know! I'll cut him!!
(He runs his finger along his throat to demonstrate. Now, we are doubled over laughing)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Black Travel Blogger Shows Me Some Love


I love Twitter!! You can find information on anything, discuss any topic, and talk to anyone on Twitter. I've literally read a passage in a book, found the author on Twitter, and discussed the meaning behind the passage for hours via tweets with her! I discovered another black blogger by the name of Fly Brother, also from Florida, on Twitter. Recently, he dedicated a podcast to black female bloggers and gave my blog a shout out! Have a listen below and make sure to check out his blog!

After listening to his podcast and discussing various topics with other black people in Egypt and on Twitter, there are several topics that I really want to blog about after my midterms are completed this week. Here's a heads up on some of them : Afrocentricity in relation to Egypt, the Nubians/ Nubia, looking "Egyptian" or "passing" for Egyptian, the global influence of rap music, long distance relationships, etc...keep an eye out for these post in the upcoming weeks !

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Women Judges in Egypt: The Debate


Egypt has several different types of judges and courts. The Council of States is an an influential court which advises the Egyptian government.  The Supreme Judicial Council  has jurisdiction over criminal and civil courts. The Constitutional Court interprets the law and settles disputes between the judicial and the administrative courts. The most important thing for mainstreaming women in the judiciary is to have them get into the system from the very beginning and then get their career on as judges, not just being appointed.

 The controversy began last February, when a number of males judges called an emergency council session to discuss the issue. They had reservations regarding 300 employment applications by recent female law graduates. On Monday, Febuary 15, 2010, The Council of State's general assembly voted by an overwhelming majority against appointing women as judges in the Council. The court's supervisory body, however, is headed by a moderate and overruled the assembly, saying women should be considered for the job. Following a request for clarification by Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, The Constitutional Court ruled that all citizens were equal under the law and left the final matter to be decided by its administrative committee. The matter is supposed to go up for a final vote on March 22; however, Egyptians everywhere have been abuzz about the issue.

 Up until 2007, Egypt had only one woman serving as a judge, appointed by the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to the Constitutional Court. In 2007, 31 Egyptian women were appointed as judges to the Supreme Judicial Court, selected from a pool of state prosecutors who had passed a test for the positions. The debate between conservative and progressive Muslims in Egypt raged on then and continues to do so today. Here are some highlights of the arguments:

Con: Judging in Egypt makes it necessary for the judges to visit crime scenes and participate in investigations in order to rule on cases. Also, the judge is required to work in districts far away from their hometown, residence, and that of family and spouse in order to garauntee objectivity. Council Adel Farghaly, president of The Administrative Courts of Justice said: "The judicial work in Egypt is not suitable for women, as they cannot pay attention to their family and social duties based on their nature and on the social traditions, unlike men....they can’t send them to regions other than Cairo,” he said. “It’s not a matter of the quality of the work... It’s a matter of suitability.”  One of the new women judges, Doaa Emadeddin, a cairo resident,submitted her resignation when the Ministry of Justice asked her to work in Kafr Al-Sheikh.

Pro: The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights  urged that it is inappropriate to violate women's rights "out of pity for them," said the statement, which added that female medical graduates accept jobs far from where they live, at a time when women are excluded from judicial positions for unclear reasons. 

Con:  Abdel-Fattah El-Sheikh, argued that women should not be criminal prosecutors or judges. "The nature of criminal prosecution, which paves the way to criminal court work, is exhausting and does not suit women because they have to investigate crimes such as murder and rape," El-Sheikh said. "No one can imagine women playing this role. When the culture of the people changes, maybe they'll accept it." El-Sheikh added that women are emotional and very sentimental by nature, thus hindering them from taking competent decisions.

Pro: ECWR sees that pretending women have failed in the judiciary or are not suitable for such positions based on women's role in society is a real step back because they did not evaluate them based on the a criteria that measures their qualifications, experience, and expertise.

Con:  El-Shiekh: "The refusal to appoint women to senior judicial positions has always been based on the fact that Egyptian women don’t perform the military service and pay their blood as a price like men do. And women occupy judicial functions in Western countries because they perform military service, and run all the jobs held by men, including acts of physical labor." All women judges thus far have become judges through special government appointments.  None have worked their way up through the ranks of the judiciary.

Pro: Tahani El Gabali, 1st female judge:  "The most important thing for mainstreaming women in the judiciary is to have them get into the system from the very beginning and then get their career on as judges, not just being appointed. Women getting into the different arenas of life is very important for the concept of equality.  It’s not just enough to have this article in the Constitution, that all Egyptians are equal in front of the Constitution or the law.  It’s not enough to have texts.  We want it  to be practiced."

Con: Council Mohammed Hammed Elgamal, former president of the State Council, criticized all human and women rights organizations for their support for female judges, asking them to pay more attention to the real problems of the poor and rural women, instead of agitating for what is important to only a “few of the intellect women.”

Pro: Eman Hashim, Blogger: "How can a poor, illiterate woman be liberated when a Ph.D. supreme lawyer can’t take her full rights in the fair opportunity of a job promotion? How do we expect a nation to categorize rights? the fact the one segment of the highly educated and fully privileged women are not yet able to gain their full rights is nothing but a serious sign that there’s an even bigger problem with women with less empowerment."

Con: The Hanafi school of jurisprudence approves women judges in civil, personal status and financial courts but disapproves of them in criminal courts.Most schools of Islamic jurisprudence are totally against women judges

Pro: Egypt's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa has said the appointment of women to judicial positions does not contradict Islamic precepts. "The job of a judge is merely to know the law well and to implement it fairly. The inclusion of women is a right owed to society as a whole."

As a non-Egyptians and non-Muslim, my opinion has not been sought nor completely welcomed on this topic. However, it is interesting to view this debate as an outsider while a very similar debate rages in in the U.S. about gays in the military. My female language professor calls herself a liberal but its completely opposed to the idea of female judges. As an educated, professional women, she sites the very same arguments as the men do to argue that women would not make good judges in Egypt. As the debate rages on, stay tuned for the final deciding vote next week! 

Should women in Egypt be judges/ weigh in...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nuweiba, Mt. Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery


This past weekend, I took a much needed break from the busy city of Cairo to travel on a group trip to the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. The tourist town of Nuweiba is about 9 hours from Cairo via the bus. I made sure to bring my passport because there are several checkpoints on the way to Sinai. Many Sudanese refugees have been trying to enter Israel through the Sinai to seek asylum. Under pressure from the U.S. and Israel, Egypt has tried to tighten up security on the border by implementing a 'Shoot to Kill' policy regarding African refugees trying to cross the border. (Human Rights Watch and other articles discussing this: herehere, and here). Thus, I nervously held my breath at each checkpoint and kept my American passport on hand. The African-American man and I sat towards the back of the bus. Armed guards boarded the bus twice to demand I.D. only from the Nigerian man sitting in the front. I guess he didn't get the memo...

After a long bus ride, the beach was calling my name! We stayed at the Regina Hotel (★ 1/2) which had a private beach. Palin enthusiasts would love to know that across the clear blue sea, I had a perfect view of Saudi Arabia! No matter how deep I went, the water never rose above my waist. Schools of little fish swam around, undisturbed by my presence. The beach and hotel were filled with Russian tourists with the reddest tans I've ever seen lol. The sand on the beach was a nice caffe con leche brown.

That night, we drove to Mt. Sinai to climb the mountain and see the sunrise.One of the local guides helped lead our group to the top. I tried my best to keep my feelings  about hiking to myself and be a team player but if I'd known beforehand that it would be a 4 hour climb up a steep rock in the dark, I would've taken myself and my Coach sneakers back to the bus! After reading the Old Testament, I used to wonder why the ancient Hebrews whined as they were led out of Egypt to the Promise Land. God was supplying them with an endless supply of manna and had promised them the best of everything, what could they possibly have to whine about to the point that they even got on God's nerves?! After climbing Sinai for 4 hours, now I understand where they were coming from!  Even for people who do hike, Mt. Sinai is a rigorous climb! Because I have the sickle-cell anemia trait, I found myself painfully gasping for air as we approached the higher altitude peak around 4 am. I had to continuously stop to take deep breaths. I've never climbed before (and I will never do so again!) and I've never been that high up unless I was in an airplane. I was completely unprepared for how my body reacted to the climb. It's now a day later, and my lungs, calve muscles, and thighs still hurt!

Regardless of my breathing problems, I was determined to finish the hike and see the sunrise for myself. When we finally arrived at the top of Mt. Sinai, the view was breathtaking! The stars were so close that they seemed to be in arms reach. As the sun rose, the sky turned beautiful shades of dark blue, pink, and finally orange! Without any provocation, cries of Hallelujah and Amen broke out amongst the dozens of people gathered atop the mountain as the sun finally took its rightful place int he sky. 

Afterwards, tired and hungry, we dashed down the mountain in 2 and 1/2 hours. St. Catherine's Monastery waited quietly at the bottom. The monastery and it's garden were both underwhelming. Although the small church holds countless ancient Christian artwork and treasures, the staff quickly herds visitors through the corridors and back out, giving me little time to admire the treasures inside. Once outside again, I followed the crowd to view what is believed to be Moses' burning bush  (Exodus 3). I don't know what I expected it to look like but the burning bush is like no bush or tree I've ever seen. it looked more like hanging foliage with leaves and branches  floating clear above our heads. Many visitors touched a branch or left a note in the adjacent wall. I, too, stopped and touched a branch so that I can tell my mom I did so and ease any fears that she may have of me becoming a heathen :)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness


Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see...- Mark Twain

Today was a good day (cue Ice Cube). I decided to go to City Stars Mall to buy a hat for my trip to Mt. Sinai this weekend. I took the campus bus to Heliopolis, intending to get off at the Emirates Embassy and walk the rest of the way to the mall. When I got on the bus, a nice older lady moved aside to allow me to sit in the last empty seat beside her. Having adjusted to long, isolated bus rides to and from campus with no one to talk to, I pulled out my homework to get as much of it done as possible before getting off the bus. To my surprise, the lady beside me was very friendly but not intrusive. Initially, this caught me off guard. I've grown used to people not speaking to me or being outright rude in Cairo. We chatted and she asked me why I was studying Arabic and if it would help me get a job in the U.S., etc.

As our stop approached, she pulled out her keys and offered me a ride to the mall so that I wouldn't have to get walk in the hot sun. For a brief moment I recalled my boyfriend adamantly insisting that I avoid being  "sex-trafficked" after he'd watched Taken. I pushed those thoughts out of my head and gratefully accepted her offer. We got off the bus and walked to her car. As we drove to the mall, I recalled that I didn't catch her name so I asked. She introduced herself as Fatma from Accounting. Fatma told me about her son who worked for Microsoft in Seattle after graduating from AUC. I could tell she really missed him. Fatma dropped me off at the mall and gave me her phone number in case I was ever in the area again. She was so sweet!

After I bought a nice floppy hat, the attendant outside the mall helped me hail a cab to the metro since there are none in walking distance. Because of traffic, the cab ride took 20 minutes. At the metro station, I handed the driver 50 LE, the smallest bill I had, and asked for my change. I expected him to try to rip me off so I braced myself for another cabbie-battle... To my pleasant surprise, he handed me back the correct change and even asked if that was okay! Simply relieved, I thanked him for the ride.

I hopped into the metro station and got on the women's cart. The women's cart is always a great place to people watch and observe how people interact w/ each other. As my stopped approached a weary old woman got on the metro. She asked the teenage next to me to allow her to sit down but the girl shook her head. With her worn and tattered clothes and shoes, it was obvious that the older woman was from a lower soicio- economic background than the women beside me. I tapped her and offered her my seat. She refused it several times but I got up and insisted that she sit. Another woman sitting beside me in an expensive niqab even pulled my arm and insisted that I stay seated. Finally, the older woman gladly took my seat and told me in Arabic, "You're very nice". She then asked if I'd like to sit in her lap. I smiled and shook my head, "La, Shukran." No, thank you.

These events made my day! At times we devalue the importance of a smile or a kind gesture but they are the most important form of human contact. Any random act of kindness deserves to be returned. :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

World Vision Report - Week of February 13, 2010 - "Too Poor to Marry"


World Vision Report - Week of February 13, 2010 - Too Poor to Marry cclink link to here report

I came across this WVR discussing how many Egyptians could no longer afford to get married. What I found most interesting about the report is that it interviewed young, single Egyptian men. The streets outside my apartment are always lined with men just hanging around at all hours of the day, watching football matches, smoking hookah, and doing odd jobs for money. In the report, some of these men discuss their frustrations with the economy, sexual constraints, and finances. I imagine a lot of these frustrations combined with the high unemployment lead to the prevalence of sexual harassment in the street. While I do not condone sexual harassment, it was important for me to recognize the perspective of the frustrated young men.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Got my Herrr and Toes Did!!


 I am not natural nor am I a slave to the "creamy crack". (for a brief synopsis of black women's hair care and terminology click here) I usually let my hair grow wild while stretching, and then perm (relax) it after several months. While in Cairo, I brought all my hair care products with me.  
My goal is to stretch until August so I've decided to keep it braided. Thus far, I've had very few issues with my personal hair care regimen or with maintaining length. Today was my second time getting cornrows while in Cairo. It's easy to find a salon to straightened the black out of your hair or buy creamy crack in Cairo but there aren't any salons that I know of here that cater to "African" hair care. Fortunately, amongst the African expats and refugees living here, one can find a girl that braids or relaxes with little problem. A sweet Nigerian med-school student from Pakistan has been braiding my hair. I haven't been able to find weave here either. The Nigerians usually bring it from Nigeria with them and sell it to their clients. I've asked my cousin in Brooklyn to send me a a few packs of kankalon so that I can save money by not having to purchase weave for my cornrows.

For more on my hair care journey and regimen, you can visit my page on Hairlista here

My product haul. I brought all this with me, in multiples lol

I also went to La Villa in Dokki. The spa/salon was a much needed reprieve. It's owned and operated by a nice Frenchmen who employs a multicultural staff. The decor was quirky and chic. The service was excellent!! My friend and I relaxed and flipped through French Vogue while our feel soaked luxuriously in rose petal water. As our feet were being attended to during our pedicures, a waiter brought us the best lemon/mojito drinks I've ever had. The young lady also expertly threaded my eyebrows. My friend got a manicure. It looked really nice. We left feeling pampered and pretty! I can't wait to go back :)

The prices:

Pedicure: 40 LE (about $8)
Manicure: 40 LE 
Threading: 25 LE (about $5)

Update: Tips on keeping your hair healthy while braided:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Playground Politics: Africa


I'm on a Boat!


Last night, I went on a midnight yacht ride down the Nile with a group of AUC students. I  had a blast! Initially, we were supposed to only have a falookah ride but my classmate's uncle rented the yacht for us. Cruising down the Nile, looking up at the night skies with Cairo laid out before you is, as my friend Russ would say, straight money (money=dirty=awesome). I had a great time!

Before everyone else had arrived, I waltzed into the Four Seasons Hotel on the Nile and directed myself to their rooftop swimming pool. The indoor/outdoor pool there is a gorgeous, a cabana style oasis. I ended up inviting myself to relax by the pool for half an hour until everyone else arrived. I'd highly recommend the Four Seasons Hotel just from the looks of their lobby and pool lol. I wonder if I can go swimming there...

Friday, March 5, 2010

Things I've Learned in Egypt Part 2: Necessary Classism


There is a listserv that was created for Americans working and studying in Egypt called Cairo Scholar. Many other Westerners and Western-educated Egyptians have also joined the listserv. The listserv functions as an avenue to share information and, at times, to engage in debates about anything. This week, a man send an email through the listserv asking what activities were their for families at Al-Azhar Park. Almost immediately, it sparked a conversation about social class and racism in Cairo:

 "I don't recommend going to Azhar Park especially on Fridays because it is very crowded and the social standard of the visitors in the weekend is very deteriorated. Unless you will stick to the restaurants area in the park. If you have access to clubs like Wadi Degla or Gezeera [private parks and clubs for foreigners] that will be much better, but unfortunately there aren't many public places that is considered good for family to visit."- Shereen, Egyptian

"I strongly disagree with this advice. I assume that by a "deteriorated" social standard Shereen means that they are not rich enough to go to the Wadi Degla or Gezira Clubs. I can only say that whenever I have been there - on any day of the week - I have not been eaten alive by the marauding proletariat masses..."- Sarah, British

"...In Egypt poverty and social standard is very much related. for example back in the States or Europe you can find a plumber who reads every night before he go to sleep, but in Egypt you can never find such a thing. I am not being biased to people from middle or upper classes, this is not the thing" -Shereen, Egyptian 

" I have definitely seen cases where those not from the upper crust are not only good citizens but contributing to the further development of Egyptian society.One example? The Lead Program at AUC, which gives a scholarship to the top performing public school student from each governorate in Egypt [all the wealthy students go to private, international schools]. These students matriculate to AUC, often engage in research, community service, and organize a conference to tackle a social issue facing Egypt, like pollution or trash"- Henry, American

"You speak about poor people who believe in the importance of personal development and education as a mean of getting out from the cycle of poverty and this segment of people is respectable and act in a civilized way. But people who live under the poverty line who had to drop their children out of school and force them to work to earn their living tend to behave in a very different way."- Shereen, Egyptian

"I feel Shereen is being somewhat attacked when there is some truth sometimes in what she is saying, regardless about our politically correct ideas of whats a generalization or not. Sometimes, yes anywhere in the world, there is truth in the notion of different mentalities based on social standard."- Chereen, Egyptian-American

-At this point, I shared my experience last weekend at Al-Azhar with the listserv.

 "I struggle with how people seem to live in different Cairos.  I do not experience the horrendous harassment I hear about but I am older and perhaps that is why. I have never seen any Egyptian rude to my family.  My daughter is young, blonde and pretty and married to a very black man and they have a young daughter.  We go out as a family and everyone is very nice--in fact they find my son-in-law something of a novelty (I think they think he is a famous rapper)."-Deborah, U.S. Department of State (i.e., she lives in a high walled, heavily secured area)

 "When one references "Cairo", we should be honest with ourselves about what part of Cairo we are referring to and how many average Egyptians we see around those parts... Secondly, while one can not correlate poverty with any specific type of behavior, it is unfair to attack those who have pointed out that foreigners are treated a certain way outside of the Westernized bubbles of Maadi, Zamalek, New Cairo,etc..."-me

"Our kids, on a school fieldtrip [to Al Azhar] from St Andrew's, had many racist remarks being made to them. This happens in public frequently, in many Cairo locations.  Imagine how the African refugees feel about Egypt." -Kathy, American director of a African refugee center in Cairo 

There is no burden on you as a foreigner to alleviate tensions, misunderstandings, racism, classism,etc..."- Deborah

If we're going to be sticklers on prejudice, why should we not discuss the strong bias against the "fellaheen" (peasant farmers) amongst middle-class Egyptians. Why, some fellaheen women are blonde, blue-eyed but would never stand a chance against a middle-class, educated, dark Cairene. "Marry your daughter to a crocodile but not to a fallah." ...Egyptians do not treat each other well.- Ahmed, Egyptian blogger

I've highlighted this debate because it clearly shows the way race and class factor in in Cairo. As a foreigner, or a member of an elite Egyptian family, one can live in Cairo for years and completely seclude yourself from the average Egyptian except your server, driver, or maid. This is made pain-stakingly clear at private parks and clubs, hotels, and even some restaurants, that stop short of displaying signs that say "No Egyptians allowed". Instead, some require passports from certain nations for entry. An Italian mother shared with me her relief to find that the Italian Society kept a private park where she could allow her children to play without worrying about "harassment, broken bottles, trash, or dog poop". These places are often the nicest places in Cairo and cater to the whims of their foreign clientele.  Whereas another interracial couple I know living in the city face frequent verbal attacks and so do the poor African refugees Kathy mentioned, these secure expat communities allow people like Deborah's daughter, her black husband, and their mixed child to live comfortably and avoid any harassment at the hands of the "marauding proletariat masses".

In the  past, I was very critical of expats who live and work abroad but seclude themselves from the local population. However, I now realize how it becomes a means of adapting to an often hostile environment. Although, I do not live in one of the expat suburbs, I find myself forgoing the places around my apartment and frequenting the locale's that cater to foreigners. For example, I now shop at the supermarkets that serves a Western clientele to avoid being harassed at the local grocery store.

Repeatedly, other people who've lived and worked in Egypt carefully advised me to limit my friendships/interactions to other foreigners and the wealthy, Western educated circles of AUC to avoid "awkward situations". Initially, I ignored this advice, finding it to be elitist. I did not want to come to Cairo and live and act like an American. After only a few weeks, however, I found myself doing just that! There is no need to subject myself to the derogatory comments of an illiterate street-kid if I can spend a little more and have an enjoyable time elsewhere. Classicism, yes. Necessary, undeniably so.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

في سلامةاللة


 First, I'd like to thank everyone who has taken a moment to share a kind word or offer me some support via FB, Gchat, Twitter, email, etc. I truly appreciate your concern. Although these past two wees were trying, I am approaching this week with a determined and positive attitude! I fell in love with Arabic all over again this week! I can't forget how much I enjoy meticulously writing each letter or the exhilaration I fell when I can read a sign on the street or overhear parts of a conversation that I understand!

At Arabic Gitmo, our ECA (Egyptian Colloquial Arabic or Ammaya) classes have been picking up in speed and intensity. Initially, we only did oral practice in the class and very little written work. My writing and reading in MSA (Modern Standard Arabic or Foosa) is significantly better that my conversational skills in Ammaya. Thus, I've decided to put more effort into Ammaya. In addition to the structured class time, I will be focusing my time with my language partner on speaking and pronunciation. In addition, Arabic Gitmo is providing me with a tutor twice a week (In order to appease me after the conniption I had last week when they refused to allow me to withdraw and hit the road to Damascus).

I met with my language partner this week and we went over past-tense negations in Ammaya. For example: He entered  the office.     دخل مكتب
 In order to negate this, I have to add  ما the beginning of   دخل and then ش  to the end of it, making مادجلش medekhelsh (He did not enter). LOL, it's a mouthful!

In Foosa, we are gradually moving from idaafa's, to adjectives, and now to pronominal suffixes. We are also doing pronominal suffixes in Ammaya. It is with things like this that speaking more than one language and then learning another gets tricky for me. When learning new words or grammatical rules in Arabic, I often relate it to something in Creole, French, English, or even the little Spanish that I know. At time this can be beneficial for words that have similar sounds or meanings like tifl طفل (child) which sounds similar the Creole word ti fi (little girl). At other times, it can cause confusion with concepts or grammatical rules that do not translate well or Arabic words that sound like another word but mean something totally different: sin سن(tooth) vs. sin

For the pronominal suffixes, I find myself comparing it to conjugating verbs in French. Thus far, the only confusion is the slight changes in spelling and pronunciation between Foosah and Ammaya. In my head, the pronouns look something like this:

Person Arabic Singular  French

1st ʼana (أنا)               Je
2nd masculine ʼanta (أنت)            Tu

feminine ʼanti (أنت)            Tu
3rd masculine huwa (هو)             Il

feminine hiya (هي)              Elle

...And so on and so ,changing the pronoun and then the suffix of the word that follows it...

In the safety of God. في سلامةاللة

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Burqa Barbie


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