Monday, September 10, 2012

Returning Home

So I had a big leaving Egypt blog post prepared and I never posted it. I'm thinking I'll still write it at some point but for now I'm just going to talk about being back.

I returned to the US a little over a month ago and I think I'm just starting to feel that I'm not in Egypt anymore. I haven't lived in the US since I graduated college and have never had full time professional experience here.

In the last month, I keep being surprised with everything I've missed. A few weeks ago while going over a case with my learning team (a Darden phenomena where you're paired with other students to help each other learn cases) I, along with the international students in my team, needed to have Groupon explained.

A couple weeks ago while running, I saw a sign that said "Caution: Traffic Pattern Change" and I almost started laughing at the ridiculousness. In Cairo, the traffic pattern changes by whoever decides to drive down a road first and this sign seemed excessive in the face of clearly marked lanes and a traffic light.

When we were discussing a case about an Indian car company that was providing a low cost car, I found it difficult to handle the reactions of surprise from most of the class when a fellow classmate explained how it was common to see an entire family on a scooter. For me, seeing five people piled onto a motorcycle zipping down the highway was commonplace.

Almost every time I get into a friends' car I'm reminded to put on a seat belt - there are even cars that remind you itself!

I really miss baba ganoug and tahina. Oh, and I really miss my mother-in-law's hammam (stuffed pigeon).

Did you know that Amazon has two day shipping? TWO DAYS!

There's a two lane road near the school that most students, including myself, need to cross to get home. There is also construction going on near it and there is a sign that says something along the lines of "DANGER: Do not cross road here please use crosswalk." After spending three years crossing a six lane highway without a crosswalk, stop sign, traffic light or other mechanism for stopping cars other than the traffic flow, it is really difficult for me to respect this well-intentioned sign about a seemingly (for me) trivial danger.

For every thing I miss about Cairo I could list probably ten reasons why I'm really happy to be back in the US, not least of all because I can pick up my phone and call or text my family whenever I want. Unlimited text messaging?!?!

But I guess I'm finally feeling "reverse culture shock." What I'm struggling with the most is simply having people I can relate to about how I have been living. In Egypt, I was able to recount to all my friends, whether Egyptian or foreign, a harassment story or simply converse about the topic without giving an hour of context. Or I talk about Egyptian politics fluidly or have a conversation about the Muslim Brotherhood that I don't feel the need to qualify a thousand times to avoid supporting certain stereotypes about the group. I think I'm becoming mentally and emotionally exhausted trying to recount my experience without coming across as arrogant or superior. Some times I feel I need to just edit Egypt out of my comments altogether.

Perhaps part of the difficulty is the expectation that because I'm American this should be easy. I did spend 20 years of my life in the US. But I guess Egypt affected me in such a way at such a formative time of my life that it's not easy to not be affected. There's a saying in Egypt "if you drink from the Nile you'll always come back." For me, it should be "if you drink from the Nile, you'll never really leave."

Returning home is not nearly as easy as I thought. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why Can't I Walk to the Grocery Store in Peace?

Yesterday, I walked to the grocery store down the street from my house to buy some food for a family get together later that evening. It was about 9:30am and the pollution was doing little to stem the effects of the morning heat.

In my short walk from my apartment to the store, I would need both hands to count how many catcalls I received. These abuses on my freedom to walk peacefully and without harassment came from microbuses, cars, people walking on the street, and the grocery store workers themselves.

This is what happens when I walk outside my door.

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage about the savage mob attack on a young female British journalist in the area of Tahrir. Ahram Online, an Egyptian English news website, reported this story of multiple women who have faced similar attacks in the past year.

While these attacks are brutal and horrific, they are not surprising for most women like me who are harassed on a daily basis. Most of my days the harassment is minor - catcalls, jeers, elevator eyes, the feeling that a man is undressing you with his eyes - but some days it is not.

A couple weeks ago, I walking back from the bus stop down the road from my apartment in the late afternoon. Because of the heat, there were few people walking on the street. I looked up and saw a teenage boy riding his bicycle - in many countries not a cause for alarm. But then, just as he was about to pass me, his reached out his hand to try and touch my breast. Call it reflex or the product of being in similar situations so frequently, but I quickly smacked my bag into his hand before he could touch me. He laughed as he cycled away.

These kinds of incidents are commonplace. It would be difficult to find a woman in Egypt who does not have at least a couple similar stories. One of the bigger problems, is that a lot of women, especially Egyptian women, have stopped even recognizing harassment as harassment.

After watching a movie called 678, an Egyptian film chronicling harassment and issues related to it, I was discussing the ideas with my high school students. I asked the class if any of them had ever been harassed before. More than one girl answered, "well, just catcalls and stares, but that's really it." Now, these girls are only about 15 and for them to think that even something as harmless as catcalls is not harassment because it happens to them so often I think is very telling of the situation.

I really do feel that many of these mass brutal attacks on women in Tahrir are just the next stage in violence against women. There are two ways I think that people can start fighting for a solution. The first is that Egyptian women need to take a stand whenever they are a victim of harassment, because if they don't do that, they will remain victims. And the second, is that the harassment women talk about is not just the horrible and blood-curdling but the mundane daily instances that all of us women living in Egypt are subject to. Harassment in Egypt needs to be exposed for what it is: a systematic and entrenched part of daily culture that maims, shames, and degrades women.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Keep Your Eyes to Yourself

I haven't written in awhile. Mostly this is because I didn't want my students to find new writing, but seeing as they have found my blog anyway (finally), I figured it wouldn't hurt.

Spring has sprung in Cairo. Or rather summer as spring decided not to make an appearance this year. The flowers are blooming, sandstorms blowing, birds chirping, harasser's eyes wandering...Yes, this is the time I dread each year I've lived in Cairo: the weather becoming warm enough that I can no longer wear my loose and figure hiding jackets in the street.

Yesterday was the first day I walked to the bus with my arms uncovered. It must be my mother's Russian blood in me, but I simply cannot tolerate the heat. I sweat when it is barely luke-warm outside. So no, I'm not going to wear a jacket, even a light one, when it is 90 degrees Farenheit.

Perhaps you are asking - but why do you feel uncomfortable walking around without something covering you? In one word (okay, fine two words): sexual harassment.

A few weeks later.

While walking to my bustop down the road, a group of young schoolboys accosted me. As I walked past them, they stopped their conversation and I could feel their eyes looking me up and down. Instead of moving aside to let me pass, two of the boys stood resolutely in front of me, staring. I could feel their words "hot chick," "beautiful," "cream" prick my skin like mosquitos drawing blood. Just as annoying, and leaving marks to make my skin crawl days later.

On the same walk, a man on a motorcyle yelled something that roughly translates to "oh yeaaaaaah" as he zoomed by.

After four years of living in Cairo, I have developed a super power: feeling a man's eyes.

I can walk down the street with my music blasting and intuitively know that someone's eyes are boring into my backside. I can walk past a man and know that his head is turning. I can feel their eyes caressing, feeling, touching.

This may sound narcissistic, but don't imagine that the streets of Cairo are a catwalk or red carpet. Instead, oftentimes it feels like a circus where you're the freak that everyone is staring and pointing at.

So my message to these creeps that line Cairo's streets like sentries? Keep your eyes to yourself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Obama's Stance on Palestine Explained

This is what Obama is really saying between all the lines of BS:

"Fellow hopeful Palestinians, while I understand discrimination being a child of a mix-raced couple and while I do actually believe Palestine should be a state, I also have to think of myself, I mean, my country.

See, I have this big election thing coming up in about a year, and not only do I think I might not get AIPAC's money, the Democratic Party might disown me if I make all other Democratic candidates lose out on this money too. Do you know what it's like to be disowned by those that are your own? Oh right, I guess you do - the whole Arab 'oh yeah we're totally on your side Palestine, except when we're using you for our own personal gain' thing.

So you get it right? I'm just looking out for my re-election and fellow Dems. Plus, you guys have waited what? Like sixty years? What's a few more? Just wait until after I get re-elected and then I can totally be all 'woooo Palestine! Yeah!'

Plus, Israel is like our best friend from kindergarten that is still hanging out with us high school even though they're not quite so cool anymore. It's like, we have these parents that are expecting us to just hang out all the time, but we're really trying to just be friends with the cool new kids named Egypt and Tunisia, but this childhood friend just won't leave us alone! It's sooo irritating.

You'd think they'd get the hint after awhile. Especially after the Cairo speech where I was trying to make it as clear as possible I was soooo over Tel Aviv.

Anywhoo, I know you guys will understand. So no hard feelings right that I'm not going to allow the US to vote to allow you to have a state? I mean, we all know you already are a de facto state anyway, what's the big deal if the UN doesn't recognize you? The UN is going down the tubes anyway, it really ain't no thang to be "recognized" by them anyway.

You will always be Palestine in our hearts. Plus, it's the thought that counts really and I have plenty of those."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Palestine: A State Without a State

What does it really mean to be a country? Other than believing that you are one and having borders, it also means everyone else thinks you are a country too.

This month the Palestinians are planning to go to the UN for recognition of their state-ness. Anyone who knows anything about Palestine, knows that all things considered they basically have been a country for a long time. Unfortunately, Israel has a say in the matter.

Now, in 1948 when Israel declared themselves a state after a UN resolution granting them rights to former British Mandate Palestine, no one said whooooaaa, we need to have bilateral talks first - at the time many people did not consider the people living in British Mandate Palestine to have a say in anything. The rest of the world didn't stop to consider the Palestinians people until they rallied the support of the other Arab countries to attack newly created Israel. That woke Israel and the rest of the world up pretty fast.

For some reason or another (Holocaust guilt), America seems incapable of severing its "special friendship" with Israel even though America's relationship with Israel causes America an undue amount of tension between itself and other Middle Eastern countries. While I am no conspiracy theorist about 9/11, America's relationship with Israel certainly complicated feelings of sympathy from many Middle Easterners over the event.

Just the other day, a pro-Palestinian group launched a campaign in several American cities. They posted advertisements in subways asking Americans to stop sending aid money to Israel's military as the military helps perpetuate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians - not least of all between West Bank Israeli settlers and their Palestinian neighbors.

The reaction? The MTA (New York City's transportation authority) got lambasted by angry New York City residents saying that the ad was offensive - even though the ad displays pictures of families and no profanity.

What makes me personally angry about this situation is that Americans largely one do not realize the extent of support given to Israel and two, do not fully comprehend the history of the Palestinian struggle or the injustices done to them. Not that that stops many from having an opinion on the subject, though.

I wish President Obama would stand up for what is right rather than what is easy. It is understandable that there a lot of things high on his agenda these days (jobs, the economy, re-election, jobs), but if he wants to make good on any of the nice pretty speeches he gave throughout the Arab Spring about the hope for democracy and helping peoples achieving their deep-seated dreams of controlling their own sovereignty, then there is really only one thing he can do: allow the US to vote yes to a Palestinian state.

Because it already exists.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Riots riots everywhere...except in Egypt?

In the two weeks I was in England and Scotland nothing major happened in Egypt - but riots consumed London. My Mom is really tired of calling to make sure I'm alive and well. I don't think that would have ever been a concern while I was in the UK, she probably thought she'd have two weeks off from worrying. Little did she know...

I'm not going to comment on the reasons for the London riots (if there were any) but going to the UK puts life in Egypt in perspective. Or perhaps it's the other way around.

Many of those who rioted came from the bottom of British society. But compared to the members in the bottom of Egyptian society these people are not doing to bad. Free housing, free healthcare, unemployment benefits, free public education. For those of us who have lived in "developed" countries, it is easy to feel sympathy for people who are poor in our country's because this many times the worst case economic scenario we have seen first hand.

It would be difficult to convince many poor Egyptians that these people deserve our sympathy. Living in a country which affords few unemployment or other social benefits, with little opportunity for education or equality, makes poverty infinitely more difficult. There are many Egyptians who do not have housing, or even more that make public housing in the UK seem like five star living.

So who do we feel bad for? Do the poor in developed countries deserve sympathy or support? Or should we scorn them for not realizing that they are far better off than their impoverished counterparts in developing countries?

Personally, I don't think either category should receive just sympathy - I think these people deserve support and acknowledgement. Because if we are people in a place to criticize others, than we probably have been given enough to be able to help. Given in the sense that we were born into families able to provide a quality education and encouragement to persevere or given in the sense that we have talents and brains enough to make our own way.

Poverty is not choice for most and many times is symptomatic of conditions beyond an individuals control.

I'm not advocating that people be relieved of personal responsibility - far from it. I am simply advocating that the poor should not be looked upon with contempt but rather with a level of understanding. I truly believe that most people would leap at a chance to further themselves if given the opportunity before having a chance to become embittered with their situation.

Are there bad people? Yeah. Are there people who are lazy and want to take advantage of what they can? Of course. They are called Wall Street. Just kidding. Sort of.

So why riots in London? I dunno, but if there is one thing I believe after witnessing the Egyptian revolution - people don't generally take to the streets for no reason.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Americans are Wusses

As I write from my office in Cairo, hundreds if not thousands of Egyptians are continuing a sit-in that has lasted almost three weeks. They sit and camp under the blazing sun, they march to heavily gaurded military buildings, and risk their lives protecting the hard fought freedom they believe they won in Feburary.

And what are Americans? We are a bunch of wusses. Our Congress and President are about to destroy America. And by destroy I mean, the collapse of Lehman Brothers is going to look like a puppy on Christmas. Our leaders have become so inneffective at leading that they are like a tugboat pushing us out to sea instead of guiding us into a safe harbor.

Americans should be in the streets. Americans should be protesting in front of government buildings. There should be a sit-in of people in front of the White House and Capitol. American citizens should be lining the streets in DC and state capitols across the country. We should be revolting because our leaders have become revolting!

And the Chinese (and any other country built of oppression of the masses) should be partying in the streets - because their greatest economic competitor is about to throw their influence down a refuse encrusted toilet.


What I wouldn't give right now to be in America - and all 300 million of you are there and not doing a damn thing.

I'm not advocating a certain "deal" on the debt - to be honest who the hell cares about our national debt when the unemployment remains stubbornly high and our schools are actively failing students instead of students failing school? Here's what needs to happen: all options are on the table with the leaders of our great nation sitting down like adults to find a solution.

But you know what, it's not really just Congress and the President's fault. I mean, why should they care to be careful with our country when Americans have so obviously taken our country for granted? I know all you "patriots" have the bumper stickers saying "Freedom Isn't Free" and play awful patriotic country-western songs while looking at the American flag - but you're all a bunch of whining hypocrites unless you petition the American government to actually govern. Not pander. Not force conservative deals down liberals throughts or liberal deals up conservatives a$$es, but actually do your job.

FYI Congress/President, your job is to actively try NOT to destroy America. In fact, it would be great if you actually tried making America BETTER. Just a thought.

So American citizens, if you are in America and not thousands of miles away, please do something. We elected these idiots so lets at least try to force them to do whatever will keep our nation free and great.