Thursday, October 4, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Segregation by Choice

I remember when I first arrived here thinking how horrible it was that women were forced to alienate themselves from the male population. The longer I’ve remained in Egypt, the more I find myself separating from the co-ed population simply because I can’t tolerate the men and their disrespectful behaviors.

You’re probably thinking I’m talking about groping, fondling or any of the other situations that your mind immediately jumps to whether it be subconscious or not. And while all of those situations can occur, what I find extremely daunting is constantly enduring the never-ending attention. Before you begin to think that my head has reached the clouds, read the rest of the post.

My gym offers various branches: regular gym facility, dance and fitness studio and a Ladies Only branch. I began at the regular co-ed gym facility. What always seems to amaze me is veiled women working out at this branch instead of the female only (their veils remain on the entire duration of their workouts – I’m sweating bullets just thinking about it).

Going to the gym in Egypt is like a social experiment.

Annoying Egyptian Gym Experience #1
Egyptians standing on machines where the only workout happening is their mouth…on the phone…the ENTIRE TIME.

Annoying Egyptian Gym Experience #2
People going to find their significant others.

While I don’t understand veiled women working out at the co-ed gym when an all female facility is nearby, I definitely don’t understand such pious women having male Egyptian personal trainers, allowing them to touch them (despite the veil indicator) and failing epically in their attempt to flirt with said personal trainer. Oh, all the while they take two and three mats per person and just sit joking with the trainer. Because there are so many mats (which there aren’t).

Annoying Egyptian Gym Experience #3
Egyptian male personal trainers

And this is where my decision to attend the all women’s branch comes in. It is increasingly difficult for a male, not to mention an Egyptian male, to separate business from pleasure. All male Egyptian trainers have at some point dated a client. And thank you ladies for making MY LIFE more difficult because of it.

I can’t discuss gyms in the US because honestly, I didn’t go to one until Egypt. Sure I used my university’s facilities, but that didn’t really count. Whether I go early in the morning (and I do mean EARLY), in the afternoon or at night, my gym has one constant. Let’s call him Pain-in –my-A** or PIMA.

PIMA began training a friend of mine, and he also started using his opportunistic charm to get her committed to a relationship. Mind you, it didn’t take him long to cross from business to personal. I’d say about three weeks max. Even after my friend thwarted PIMA’s advances – and she even MOVED to another country – he continued to hassle her.

It didn’t stop there. He knew that we were friends, thus PIMA became MY royal pain. In the early mornings he would speak to me because the gym was more or less empty. I don’t mind a “Hey, how are you” but to continue on and try to force me into taking lessons from you despite my repeated “no’s” is a bit much. Then after I refuse lessons, you come up with some other reason to hinder my workout. Let’s not forget about the early-morning Arabic lesson that he insisted I have until I yelled at him. Or the next day when I’m doing crunches coming over to sit next to me, apologizing for the day before and INSISTING again that he teach me Arabic.

How many different languages can I express NO for him to get the point and LEAVE. ME. ALONE?

And I realized that knowing myself, one day he’s going to catch me on the wrong side and I’m going to explode therefore making my gym time awkward. See, I’m not the best looking person at the gym – far from it. I’m not a head-turner but the only reason I turn his head in this situation is that I’m a US passport holder.

I get it, you want a better life. Newsflash, I’m not your ticket out. In fact, the sight of you makes my skin crawl. I don’t hate people, but you’re testing my limit. I’ve tried to handle this situation in a respectful manner, but you don’t seem to take the hint. Much like the business contact I met that continues to call me for dinner despite me telling him I am married. It’s exhausting! I shouldn’t leave the gym angrier than when I arrive. It’s supposed to be ME TIME not a date.

And for all of you ladies out there that hook up with your trainers – think before you act. It’s great if someone pushes your limits and makes you want to feel better about yourself, but at the end of the day, your actions hurt those of us that simply want to be left alone.

Besides ladies – it’s not such a bad thing to be single. You can cook whatever you want without the constant gripes, “Oh I don’t like tomatoes” or “Can you make rice without the vegetables in it?” How about the incessant, “Why didn’t you call me to let me know you made it home?” or “Where were you?” You can wear what you want without someone saying, “No, I don’t like that. It shows too much.” And quite honestly, you can just be free to do whatever you want without having to take care of a grown child.

 Please, if you seek companionship, try to maintain the separation between business and personal. It will do you a world of good and not to mention, help me :)


  1. My name is Caitlin and I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about the culture in Egypt?

  2. Hi Caitlin, please feel free to send me any questions. My email address is listed under the About Me section.

  3. I totally identify with this post. I have tried explaining to women how it is here but they really don't get it!!! I'm married to an Egyptian man, who is actually alright. We've been married for three years and have no children. But there are seriously times when I wish I was single! As much as he is faithful and we do have shared goals, the cultural differences are a pain! The good thing is he is a man who is open to new ideas so he thinks a lot AND he eats what I put in front of him! If he doesn't like it he just doesn't eat it! But these relationships are completely different to what I am used to. His idea of emotional communication is not the same as mine! Although he is at a disadvantage as I am a counsellor and most people don't get it! But when we are outside I still get too much make attention. I'm 52 and no head turner either!! I cover up and don't show anything, as I hate the attention, even when I'm with my husband, They don't do it overtly but will brush past my breast when they are speaking to my husband, making it look like they are just jabbing him on the chest. he doesn't even notice, but when I tell him later he makes sure that we avoid that person again.
    But I can see that he too struggles to deal with men's attention.It makes him uncomfortable and he is afraid to lose face himself when it is one of his friends paying me too much attention. He needs their approval and would rather avoid the issue than confront it.