Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cultural Ambiguity

If you ask an average Canadian what "Canadian culture" is, chances are he/she may not have an answer. When I think about Canadian culture, I automatically go to a place where I think maple syrup, hockey, dry humour. Not much else comes to mind (besides a history of deeply-entrenched racism - but let's put that aside for now).

Oddly enough, I miss the cultural black hole that is Canada. It gives you room to make your own culture, to establish your own sense of belonging, on your own terms. Sure, there are societal expectations with regards to a general sense of politeness, but besides that, not much else.

Your family is the essential source of cultural upbringing, meaning that each family has its own set of rules and understandings. I miss my family's culture, which as I have learned, is far from that of Egyptian culture. Mostly, I miss just being me without having others judge on the appropriateness of my behaviour based solely on "what is just done" in their culture.

Home, how I long for thee.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Cat calls

I was walking down the street yesterday afternoon when I passed a man standing beside his truck. I could tell he was staring at me, but most Egyptians have staring problems, so I didn't give it a second thought. But right as I passed him, and my ear was at the same level as his mouth, he called me "3asal" (i.e. honey). I ignored him and quickly passed, but I was so disgusted that it took me all my willpower to not turn around and say something to him that I would've probably regretted.

Part of me always thought it was only the girls who didn't wear hijab or wore tight, revealing clothes that were harassed by men. I was wrong. I was wearing a long skirt and long loose shirt and my hijab covered everything that it should, not to mention a wedding ring. So logically speaking, according to my appearance I should be safe from cat calls, but obviously this isn't the case.

It has happened a couple of times before (naturally only when I'm alone), and each time I was wearing clothes that were more modest than the last time. This kind of thing makes me dislike going out alone, which is frustrating since I'm used to being an independent person. Needless to say, I now fully understand why some women choose to wear the niqab in Egypt.

It's not really about a woman's beauty, it's about the lack of care and restraint shown by many men in this society. It's about this type of thing being acceptable and not taken seriously by most people. In fact, I've seen many girls giggle to each other when men around them make comments, like it's funny. It's not funny. To me it's a question of power. Those men are exerting their apparently God-given right and power over random women. Women are forced into experiencing disrespect and sexual harassment, while harbouring the fear of violence or being exposed to humiliation if they fight back.

The power struggle between men and women becomes very obvious in these cases. Let's be honest, men do have that power of women - the power to make them feel weak, objectified, one dimensional. To me it seems that the more power men lose, the more they feel the need to exert their power on someone deemed to be weaker.

Naturally this isn't a unique characteristic found solely in Egyptian society - it's almost universal, which is sad.

Monday, April 02, 2012


It is now apparently an Egyptian thing to have your purse snatched off your shoulder by a passing motorcycle/rickshaw driver. Yup, they just speed past you, extend their arm and WOOSH grab that thing and race off. Also, if you're wearing visible jewelry like a necklace, they will grab it off your neck (as they did to my aunt, who now refuses to ever wear jewelry in public).

I suppose your run-of-the-mill muggings wouldn't work that well here since, if he was on foot, average people would run after the thief and beat him up. So I guess this is the next best thing, considering it's hard to catch a thief that has already sped away. And you can think again if you believe the "police" will be of any help.

Alhamdulillah, it has never happened to me - and I hope my high levels of paranoia will ensure that it never does. I never carry an over-the-shoulder purse when I'm alone. Always one that crosses over my chest. Or if I can afford to, I just put my things in my pockets and forgo carrying a purse at all.

Also, the traffic situation (now that cops are nowhere to be found) is just insane. You'll find 2-3 cars trying to fit into a one lane street. Cars are parked in every possible place. Nobody obeys traffic lights or one-way street signs. I suppose driving has always been pretty bad here, but now it's so much worse, if you can possibly imagine.

Basically, I'm living in chaos. Bye.