Top Questions I Get At Home and the Answers I Would Prefer To Give
- Do you have to cover your face/hair? No. Foreigners get away with a lot here; foreigners are often coddled. We get a free pass. It’s telling that I found it much more difficult to communicate in France than I do in Egypt. However, you have to cultivate a sensibility about how you want to dress and what sort of confidence you have in your clothing choices. In some cases, covering your hair is seen as a matter of respect, as when entering a mosque. I haven’t covered my hair when entering a mosque. I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I’ll think about this choice. I do, however, remove my shoes. It’s all pretty confusing still. I’m in the phase where I have learned about the gender equality espoused in the Qu’ran, something I guess I missed in the Bible. I recommend the book Scheherazade Goes West if you are a Western feminist who hasn’t delved into Islamic feminism. Anyway, we just moved to Maadi, and people walk around in shorts here, and harassment is minimal. Even though Zamalek is a rich neighborhood, shorts were a rarity and leering was not uncommon. Around the corner from our apartment is a gym with TV’s attached to the treadmills and the cleanest showers I have ever seen. Welcome to suburbia. My parameters are changing. I miss Zamalek. I guess I will just have to drown my sorrows in the freshly-made tofu I can get down the street at the Korean restaurant.
- Are Egyptian men hotties? This question is so weird to me, but I get it a lot from strangers. The word "hotties" makes me giggle uncomfortably. I didn’t go to Egypt looking for hotties, but I would say that the ratio of good-looking to bad-looking men is about the same as everywhere.
- Do you feel safe? In a car? No. I’ve learned how to absorb myself in reading while being whipped around in a cab because there just isn’t much I can do about whether or not I get in a crash. I also fear getting hit while I am walking down the street. Yet, walking down most streets in Cairo, beyond the vehicles, I absolutely feel safe. I have been met with nothing but kindness and generosity. I have been lost in back alleys piled in poverty and people have led me out and been offended when I have offered them money. The only conflicts I usually get into are about money, and these arguments are usually with melodramatic cabdrivers.
- Do they like us? Do they hate us? Who knows? I think when you are living in any foreign country you are constantly met with generalizations and are constantly formulating your own. Here’s one: Egyptians constantly tell me what Egyptians are like. After a while, if I’m not careful, I believe it. Sometimes I find myself then talking about how generous and hospitable Egyptians are, for example. And they are. But I’m also constantly told that they are. By them. Egyptians often say they love Americans. To me. The comedians grin and say they love the American dollar. All in all, what I really believe is that many Egyptians are more willing to give foreigners a chance than Americans can be despite America’s foundations in immigration and equality, and they know more about America’s political status and history than Americans know about Egypt. That said, I’ve heard some pretty offensive things from Egyptians about Israelis and Asians that don’t always support the idea of hospitality. What is springing to my mind now is the multiracial diversity of the American athletes I saw in the Olympics. I felt a swell of pride about it, despite my anger at the way the women’s beach volleyball teams wore wedgy-producing bikinis while the men wore comfy tees and shorts as bikini-clad cheerleaders or dancers or something lined up around the men’s volleyball court. Anyway, when you look at these athletes beyond our obvious gender issues, it’s hard to understand why Americans could be hesitant about somebody like Barack Obama becoming our President, if this hesitation has anything to do with race. This diversity should be a source of pride, a symbol of the ideals that Americans should want people to remember about us. I actually read an opinion piece in the Galesburg Register-Mail before I left the U.S. in which some jerk from Arizona targeted Obama’s middle name (yet again) and then proceeded to say that electing Obama would be akin to electing someone with a Japanese name during World War II. I would hope that most readers would immediately catch the idiocy of that analogy on both ends. When people at home ask me about Egyptians, I give canned responses about how nice the people are, etc. I do this because I want people to know there is nothing to be afraid of, that the Middle East is not some cesspool of violence and hatred, that the Middle East is the root of so much of our ideals about democracy and "civilization." I come back here this third year more confused than ever, though. An Egyptian friend told me the other day that Michelle Obama was bringing down Barack's chances because she "isn't pretty" and Sarah Palin is "pretty." This is the same friend who hopes to have blonde, blue-eyed children one day. I don't really know what to do with comments such as this except become defensive and more confused. I hope to articulate part of this confusion in coming entries. --A--