Sunday, December 27, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Tis’ the Relationship Season


One year ago, Christmas found me in a not-so holiday mood. I didn’t even realize it was Christmas time until Dec. 24 – pretty sad eh? This year was much different. I’m unsure if it was because I had my fill of family during Thanksgiving or if it was just because I got that much needed break from Egypt.


Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but my brother had it right when he said how I reminded him of the single life away from home, just relaxing watching Christmas movies and not worrying about the hustle and bustle that family holiday time entails. Let’s be honest here, avoiding a family dispute on Christmas is like the NY Mets winning the World Series – rare.


And in with the holiday spirit, I guess I should hit on the one question I get asked often – what’s the dating scene like (because you all know the holidays make you want to be in a relationship or remain in the unhappy one you’re in just to get through the holidays)? Now, some people might argue with me on this, but I suppose it just depends on how picky (or desperate for that matter) you really are. In fact, I’m not even sure if I can fit this all into one blog post, so there might have to be sequels.




First of all, Egypt provides many females with self-confidence that perhaps they didn’t previously have. Imagine how it feels if you’re from a small town, never really traveled and you arrive in Egypt with a flood of guys staring, telling you how beautiful you are, willing to bend over backwards (for a short time at least), etc. And men, don’t even try to compete with these smooth Egyptian talkers, they certainly know how to feed a few lines of BS (hint hint ladies, it is almost ALWAYS BS).


Here’s where it gets tricky (oh, I have not dated an Egyptian and will take this from my observations in addition to friends’ experiences): Unfortunately, many of the new arrivals (and some old) are so starved for attention that they buy into this. Now of course you have your male anomalies, but those are few and far in between. Let’s just put it out there like it is: if you have blonde hair, you look exotic. If you have blue eyes, beautiful. If you’re pale – great, you’d make perfect kids one day. Oh yeah, and you have a foreign passport, even better. Oh and I almost forgot, you might get paid a foreign salary – cha ching!


Men are men no matter their nationality. That being said, this advice falls in line with the previous posts of how difficult it may be to judge a new culture. I am not here to tell you the do’s and don’ts of dating in Egypt, so take my advice for what it’s worth. I will also tell you alternately that for those of us that had confidence before arriving here; the treatment that we endure actually has an adverse affect. You want to think men are genuinely interested and not just talking to you because of your passport or potential financial stability. And let me tell you ladies, the other expats aren’t that much better. Most of them are married and have numerous girlfriends all over the place and still have their eye on more.


My basic conclusion: men are men no matter where they’re from. And if you think the dating scene in Egypt is much better than your home country, you’re jaded.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Letters from Egypt: What I Learned My 1st Visit Home



Maur, Amy and me at a little place we like to refer to as Salty Balls

I finally went home after 17 months away, and I must admit, I was slightly nervous. I had heard from other expats that your first time back was a culture shock so to speak. Nah, I disagree, but what I will tell you is that it does teach you a valuable lesson. I suppose the lesson is different depending on the person. My lesson was that sometimes I just have to learn to say goodbye.

I’ve always had a hard time saying goodbye. I’m usually the first one to move somewhere, but I’d like to think that I’m better than most about keeping in touch. However, through my many moves and changes in life, goodbye has become inevitable. The difference: I never recognized it. I would just let things fade out without a second thought.




 The new bride Kelly, Jodi and me
 I first arrived in NY, the place that although I wasn’t born, I still call home. Despite the depression based on the economic downturn, I felt as though things were pretty much the same – okay, give or take a wedding, two engagements, and a couple of pregnancies. Then I went down South and had some family time for Thanksgiving and of course, to see my favorite sport (American football) and my favorite team continue their undefeated season (Geaux Saints!!!).


Kelly and me getting geared for the Saints, WHO DAT!

It was then that I realized that sometimes I just need to say goodbye. I have this friend that while I may know her since college in a very different way from most people, it was very evident that she and I are now on different paths. It doesn’t mean that the goodbye is permanent, but there comes a time in your life when you have to sit down and say to yourself, “Perhaps this person’s priorities are lining up on a different road and I need to stop trying to catch up to them via the street that clearly wasn’t meant for me.” It’s never easy to come to the realization that you’ve moved apart, but why linger? But to be fair, I knew this was coming I just didn’t want to say it. Instead I turned a blind eye to her past actions and continued being there even though she wasn’t. The sad part is, she probably doesn’t even realize that I’m gone.

There could’ve been a tear, but not really when I knew it all along. However, something else happened. While I feel like I’ve let one close friend go, I got back one back – our mothers refer to us as ‘partners in crime’ – after almost three years of hardly any communication. Truth be told, I dialed her phone number by mistake and from that point on, we talked all day every day up until I left. It came natural and it felt like no time had lapsed at all. The funniest part was although we hadn’t spoken in so long, we shared very similar stories of where our lives had gone and the relationships we’d run into along the way.

Through it all though, I was reminded of just how many people are supporting me. Egypt is not an easy place to live, but Elaine said, “If things really get so terrible, we as expats always have an out: home. However, when things are really terrible at home, we have no out.” Therefore, life as an expat can’t be that bad because many of us never go home, at least not until we’re good and ready.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Letters from Egypt: To be a Virgin or Not?



As the debate rages on about the new Chinese device, Gigimo, a cheaper version of the surgery that allots for a woman to appear a virgin on her wedding night by secreting a blood-like substance, many in Egypt are in an uproar over the product (that is supposedly sold in Syria for a meager $15).

A few thoughts before I mention Mona Eltahawy’s blog and the actual NPR article I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago.

First of all, we all know it’s hypocritical on all accounts. I have never met a group of people that have more sex than Egyptians, let me rephrase that, Egyptian men. And if you think about arguing, let me try to counter your points before you even go there:

“In lower class Egyptian society, they really are deprived.” Maybe as my Arabic isn’t good enough to associate with that class, but if you take the Dahab Bedouins, Nuweiba residents, etc. – I’m pretty sure you will find VERY sexually active individuals (and don’t blame the influx of foreigners to these places because there are Egyptian women that succumb to the sweet talking that only Egyptians know how to do the best. I don’t think anyone considers most of the aforementioned to be “upper class.”

However, in my own observations, the supposed “upperclass” individuals still want to marry a virgin. I mean ladies, you should be looking at the bright side, at least they should know what exactly they’re doing in bed and of course, should prepare you for when he cheats on you. I mean after all, he only cheats to get better to instruct you. Silly women, how dare you complain?

But you know, it’s the same no matter where you go – just on a different caliber. Women will always be held to a different standard. For the age-old example, the view of a woman that has had multiple partners as opposed to a man. Man = “popular” while a woman = “slut.” However, I’ve met plenty of females in my day that were so-called virgins and let me tell you, nothing was sacred about them! You can still be tainted no matter if your hymen is present or absent.

My main point is what if you fell in love? Does love not exist anymore because if it did, then all you should be concerned with is that you’re the one right now – and of course that your partner doesn’t have any sexually transmitted diseases, but I digress. Culture and religion is one thing, but demanding a woman is a virgin when you’re not held to the same standard is preposterous.

So Egyptians are worried about promiscuity. Dear Muslim Brotherhood – a little too late on that end. Now you have women wearing the higab (head scarf) just as a fashion statement and soon, wearing the gigimo just because you’ve imposed such restrictions. Looks like the pot calling the kettle black to me. You reap what you sew and I say that if a woman wants to have sex before marriage, let her go. Lord knows the rest of you do.

*Disclaimer – protection should be used at all times in order to avoid unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases such as Syphilis and AIDs because you will never know where a man has been and vice versa.*

 
Mona Eltahawy’s blog: Hot and Bothered Over Fake Hymens





Saturday, October 24, 2009

!!WARNING!! New White Taxis in Cairo


This isn’t going to be a usual post, just a brief warning for those of you traveling or living in Cairo. The city has recently introduced new white cabs, a far better upgrade than the black and whites that leave you with a feeling, “Am I going to make it to my destination? Will I live?” And when they first came out, the drivers were amazing. Of course, it was only bound to happen that the bad apples would get their hands on the new automobiles before long.

So here’s a warning to all of you: the white cab meters have two settings. One is the standard 2.50LE per kilometer, another that you wouldn’t notice charges 3LE per kilometer. While it might not seem like that great of an increase, the correct price can increase by as much as three times. This is price gauging and it is illegal and wrong.

One way to notice is to look at the meter and check the little running dog. The correct setting has the dog running at a normal pace, the high setting naturally has the dog running as though in a life/death situation. Say something immediately to the cab driver. Also ask your friends how much the ride is supposed to cost. You can point to the meter and say, “Mane fesh” (not working). Usually, they will turn it off because they know they’re in the wrong. If not, threaten to get out and do not pay whatsoever. If late at night and you don’t feel like getting another cab, feel free to get out and give them the price that you know it really is. Take out your phone and pretend (or actually do it) to call the police – pronounced boleese. They will be more scared because they know they’re in the wrong and would prefer the police to stay out of it.

That being said, for those of you that live in Maadi – I just met a phenomenal black/white cab driver who speaks really good English, attends university and is fair with his prices. If you would like his contact information, just send me an email.

I know that most cab drivers are poor and I don’t mind paying for services, but what I do mind is being tricked into giving more money. If you do a job well done, then you should be rewarded – not just because you think I’m foreign and I owe you a thing or two for absolutely no work (hence why I’m adamantly against most instances that require backsheesh).


Monday, October 19, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Taking a Stand

Taken on my way home from work

I officially have 31 days left until I visit the US, my first time back home since I arrived over 15 months ago! And I am ever so ready. However, I must say I have some anxieties about visiting. I hear that your first time back, you realize just how much you and everyone around you has changed. Sure you expect some change, but I guess there’s always that hope that it will be like you never left at all.

That aside, now back to life in Egypt. Just when you think you’ve had enough of something, someone shows you that there is still hope. I will not sugarcoat the gender issues here, as I know you have already been introduced via my blog and many others. What I will tell you is about one of the sweetest, strongest Egyptian women I know and what she’s doing in her own life.

Iman* was married about five years ago, but it was just something to do as she was nearing 30 and already an anomaly by Egyptian norms. She had one child and while life hasn’t always been easy, it was what it was. Atypical from most Egyptian men, her husband Rafeet* was anything but the bread winner. In fact, he relied on her for almost everything. And while she wasn’t happy, she wasn’t unhappy.

She went to an event one night and what Rafeet is very typical for is how she would need permission to do anything. Long story shorter, he came into the gathering, grabbed her – although she’d gotten permission, because he didn’t want to go he wanted her to be quick – and took her to the parking lot where he continued to verbally assault her in front of everyone. I cannot comment on physical abuse as I am uncertain, so I want to remain as true to the story as possible.

Unlike what I had previously thought (mostly that women just put up with almost anything), Iman has decided to divorce Rafeet. Slight problem: he took the child. Families got involved and once again to my amazement, Iman stood her ground. She informed the soon-to-be ex that it was over. He was no longer permitted in her residence and if he wanted to keep the child, he could but she would have at least two days a week, the child would continue with her schooling and he would pay. She knew he couldn’t comply with these necessities. He returned the child.

Iman is currently filing for divorce and her mother is her strongest ally, but Rafeet refuses to sign the papers. She’s in the process of getting a lawyer, and just so you know, she doesn’t have a great deal of money so these things are not so easily attained.

She said, “I know it won’t be easy, but I’m prepared to continue fighting.”

What you also have to understand is the social stigma that comes with a woman that is divorced with a child. Her chances of ever being with another man is slim to none. I think that’s a risk that she’s willing to take. She says that she doesn’t ever want another man in her life anyway.

This is extremely important because Iman isn’t from the higher Egyptian class, yet she exemplifies women standing up for themselves – which evokes hope in me that one day, things will be slightly different. She continued, “Tonight I will go to a wedding and I will dance the night away. I am finally free and feel a great weight has been lifted.”

So, Iman – here’s to you!

*Names have been changed to protect identities

***CAIRO SHAME***

There has been a website created for women to report incidents of harassment based off an online project in NYC that encourages women to snap pictures of their aggressors with their mobiles to report them online for other women as a method of precaution - please visit Cairo Shame.

If you are able to snap a picture, please feel free to email the site at cairoshame@gmail.com.

***There are some things that you must compromise when moving to a foreign country, but there are some things that you should NEVER compromise***

Take care.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Missing in Action

First of all, I’m going to address this issue – you may not agree with what I write, but note that these are my experiences. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, I’m not here to appease everyone, if I only showed the positive without the negative, how realistic is that? I do not mind counter views, but please remain respectful.

Furthermore, for those men who send me emails and/or post comments pretending to be women – just stop. You’re only validating views that have been expressed regarding harassment.

Finally, I almost always respond to questions and/or comments. However, I make a rule that I do not meet men via my blog unless in a group setting. This is a safety precaution, and one that I highly recommend for anyone in any situation.

As Ramadan has ended and another birthday has come and gone, I wonder where I’ll be next year at this time. Will it still be Egypt, will I be back in the US, or some other unknown location?

I have to be honest, I really miss home. My best friend recently got engaged and told me in an email. While being thrilled, part of me was sad that the news came via an email and not a phone call. Thus is part of the set back in being overseas.

And of course, I’m at the age where many of my friends are getting engaged, married, having children and I wonder – what the hell am I doing? Oh yeah, riding camels by the pyramids (which might I advise, do not ride for longer than 30 mins as you will regret it later…and I do mean REGRET). Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but sometimes I just wonder if I'm missing out on other things. And I can tell you what, I am.

That isn’t to say that life as an expat isn’t exciting and definitely gives you stories for when you’re 85+ years old in a nursing home humoring your nursing attendant. What I’m trying to convey is that while the grass is always greener on the other side, there’s definitely no win-win to life as an expat. You’re seen as adventurous from friends and family at home, and yet, sometimes you just want to return to that time before you were known as this globe trotter (so to speak).

Then I wonder if when you become an expat, if you’re always an expat?

***CREEP ALERT***

Beware all potential travelers venturing on a desert safari. I received word of a group that went on a desert safari with the man pictured. While I will remain brief, he was inappropriate to all the women and also took pictures of them exiting the water for personal use – despite their persistence he stop. I believe he has been reported to the proper authorities, but this is a warning for any of you that thought about booking with this company and/or guide:

Ahmed Mouaref

Siwa Oasis (does tours throughout Egypt)

www.siwasafaritours.com

badwy_mouaref@yahoo.com