Monday, May 13, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Walking in Someone’s Shoes

Source: Buzzle
It’s important to try and place yourself in someone else’s shoes, you never know what you may learn.

I’m only a few weeks shy of my fifth year anniversary in the Land O’Sand and in that time, I’ve barely spoken to my landlord. I invited the 50-something woman over for tea on Saturday which turned into a two-hour long conversation. Prior to this, she and I had only seen each other two times for a total of two minutes. Our phone conversations have been limited with this being the longest duration:
Hi, it’s LeAnne from flat XXX. How are you? I’ve been having an issue with my washer for a couple of months and after repeated attempts to repair, it seems unfixable.
Have you called the number on the machine, perhaps there’s a warranty?
Ummm, I’m sorry but it was manufactured in 1975 according to the repairman. I don’t think a warranty is still valid.
Oh, okay well I will come by to have a look.

I know nothing about my landlady, or at least I didn’t. As she cozied up on the couch, I began shuffling around in the kitchen to prepare tea. I had just come back from the North Coast and I had stopped at a popular fateer place and stocked up on some 3ish and gebna b tomatom (balady bread and cheese and tomato spread) in addition to my already stocked basterma. As I offered her this (I had no sweet to offer), she said: “Oh you’re Egyptian with all of this. Tell me, why haven’t you married an Egyptian by now?”


How do you answer that politely while masking your rather harsh feelings on the matter? I sat her tea down and said, “Right now, I’m busy focusing on my career; however, marrying an Egyptian is not something that I feel is right for me. While religion is important to me, I feel that even the large majority of Christians here are very close-minded.” To my surprise, she completely agreed and began telling me about her marriage.

She said, “Something happens to the man once you get pregnant.” She described how anything, albeit small, that they used to do is instantly forgotten and not only are you pregnant, but you’re already taking care of an adult baby. Then once you have the children, it’s even more of a nightmare because they think they now have you (no way you will leave your children behind). She said, “They expect you to do everything and to top it off, still look beautiful. If you don’t, then they start going behind your back seeking other female companions while you are at home trying to keep everything together.” My landlady also discussed how she stayed with her husband for her three children, but once they were at a particular age she said, “I can’t live with you anymore.” She has since taken her husband back, but it took 10 years.

I feel that a big problem with men here is their mothers. True it’s a male society, but as a woman, it is your job in part to help make your children better-rounded. So I asked, “Do you have any sons?” She said, “No, I have three daughters and two are twins, but I understand what you’re hinting.”

And then she discussed how she believed that it was a mother’s job to help teach her children and if she had a son, she would like to think he would be more helpful and respectful like her brother. She talked about how she is researching avenues to begin a program for women, particularly in villages, to help them learn to read and write while also being capable of making a little money so as not to be solely at the helm of a man.

Her idea for the program would also be to teach Islam the way that she learned it. She frequently listens to this Islamic radio program and one of the speakers was discussing how Islam is always supposed to be the center of the universe, but if that circle moves, then Islam must also move. Meaning Islam has to adapt to the changing times.

“LeAnne, you said religion was important to you so does that mean you are religious?”

I immediately felt a little uncomfortable.

“Well, my beliefs are very important to me, but they are my beliefs and my relationship with God is just that, mine.”

She said, “I understand. I have to tell you that I feel so frustrated right now.” And then she began telling me how upset she was to watch actions taking place within this country and so-called Muslims committing such horrible acts all the while seemingly representing her because she is Muslim. My landlady felt like she didn’t know where to start to address the issue or even how to help make it better.

And then I thought about how I would feel if certain situations were occurring in the US. Sure there is outrage against factions like the Westboro Baptist Church; however, how would you feel if you couldn’t even walk two feet outside of your home without facing harassment? How would you feel about other so-called Christians killing others because a movie or cartoon was released depicting Jesus? And how would you feel if the above situations were done by a large number of Americans (or insert Western nationality of your choice)? How would you feel if you tried to stand up to this shift only to suffer severe repercussions from the group with others that believe in your same ideals hiding in the shadow, fearful to come to your defense? Most importantly, how would you feel when you introduced yourself and someone instantly thought negatively about where you were from or the religion you believe? How would you feel if this was seemingly accepted as the norm?

Am I saying my country is perfect? Not by a long-shot, but I can understand the frustration of my landlady, friends and other decent Egyptians. Sometimes I feel hopeless and helpless, but I can always leave. What about those that can’t?

I always say that no problem is bigger, better or worse than your neighbor’s, and how would you know unless you stop thinking about yourself for a moment and listen?