One of my house-guests invited my roommates and I to the private resort town of Marina on Egypt's Mediterranean coast last weekend. Her friend had a family beach house there. My roommates and I jumped at the opportunity to escape Cairo for a Mediterranean getaway only 3 hours away!
When we arrived, Marina seemed to me to be a South Florida suburban community that had been planted in the Egyptian desert. Beyond the high gates and the security checkpoint lay manicured lawns, flower beds, and even a man made private beach! We kicked off our street clothes and changed into our bathing suits, women in bikinis and men in swim trunks, immediately. We were looking forward to the feeling of sun on our skin. Once we trotted over to the man made beach, we were surprised to see that the beach was conservative. The owner of the beachhouse had not thought to tell us that the beach was conservative so we were unprepared to change into anything else. Our barely covered bodies were met with hard stares from the women in burkinis (pictured on the left), curious glances from the children, and jeers and propositions from the men still in their street clothes on the sand. The people watched every move we made as we played in the water or walked along the beach.
Late into the afternoon, my roommates and I left the others on the beach and returned to the beach house to shower. I'd taken a dip in the man-made beach to find that the water was murky and had a strange after taste. When I reached down to grab some of the muddy sand at the bottom, I found my hand covered in black soot! I couldn't wait to wash the unfamiliar water off my body! Once we were done showering, we changed into long sundresses befitting the laid-back vibe we'd imagined the beach town would have. Making sure to cover our bare arms with sweaters or shawls, we began to walk into town for dinner. To my surprise, the private resort town was filled with the same uncouth people that plagued Cairo. Having enough money to afford access to Marina clearly didn't mean one had class. Cars full of young men passing by slowed to make lewd comments at us. Having grown accustomed to the ignorance of Egyptian men, my Somali roommate and I barely glanced at them. After a few kilometers, however, my white roommate snapped and began to meet the insults of the men with a fleet of insults of her of her own, making the situation quite amusing to me and quite possibly worse lol!
Unfortunately, matters only got worse when the men joined us for dinner. Our multicultural group seemed to scandalize the other diners and the wait-staff more than our bikinis had earlier. People openly pointed at us and made disapproving comments as we ate. At one point, I looked up from my conversation to notice a hijabi woman staring at me unabashedly for more than 15 minutes. Later on, I found that the blogger at Life with Maya described a similar experience when she took her adoptive Ethiopian daughter to another resort town in Egypt, Ain Sokna. Frustrated, I leaned over to my friend- a blonde hair, blue eyed all American type- sitting next to me and planted a kiss firmly on his cheek. The hijabi woman leaped out of her seat as if it was her cheek that my cold lips had unexpectedly touched! Scandalized, the gossipy woman walked over to her friend at another table and drew her attention to our table. We all doubled over laughing at her reaction!
That night, we went to the newly built Porto Marina, a huge structure filled with expensive shops, condos, restaurants, a boardwalk, and a venetian river that snaked through the center. Gondola's glided through the river with families contently snuggled inside. I was grateful for the fact that fewer people were out that evening than earlier in the day. We were able to explore the boardwalk and go largely unnoticed. We watched the France vs. Uruguay World Cup game on a flat screen in a coffee shop. The futbol game immediately changed the mood in the coffee shop. Suddenly we were arm in arm with Egyptian fans cheering for our team or booing the other! Audible gasps were heard when the opposing team had the ball. When France or Uruguay scored, fans patted each other on the back and high fived. As the game ended with a tie, we left the coffee shop feeling exhilarated by the sportsmanship and comradery!