Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anti-terrorism Commercial

This video was taken from Several weeks ago when I was jogging on the treadmill (unbelievable, I know), I saw this commercial, and I had no idea what to think. The commercial is very clear about who suffers from terrorism, but the fact that a commercial discouraging terrorism was broadcast says a lot. Technically, the brand of Islamism that the United States is dealing with today was born in Egypt with Sayyid Qutb, a very influential writer. His ideas have influenced many Islamist groups, including Zawahiri's al-Jihad (aka Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda. These two groups merged in 2001.

My brain must have fallen asleep. All that I have to do is look around me: poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement, and oppression. Also, there is a large group of unmarried men because of the marriage crisis, Of course certain sectors of the population are susceptible to radical ideologies, so it's logical that Egypt is waging a public campaign against terrorism in addition to suppressing Islamists. I wonder what will happen when Mubarak dies.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sexual Harassment

This post is long overdue, and what happened this morning prompted me to finally sit down and write this. It's a five minute walk to Munch & Bagel, a little restaurant owned by a wonderful Egyptian-Polish couple that serves delicious, American-style breakfast food such as homemade bagels, Belgian waffles, muffins, and pancakes in addition to salads and sandwiches for lunch. The food is relatively inexpensive and they don't charge taxes. Also, the staff wears gloves, and let me tell you, this is a big deal because most Egyptians don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom. Overall, I don't think that they realize that harmful bacteria can be transmitted to what they touch if they don't wash their hands. Case in point, there is an ongoing problem with Tabasco, one of the food outlets on campus. Many students have gotten food poisoning from there, and at first, the university released a statement that mentioned implementing certain practices such as hand washing--as if this wasn't the norm before. It gets worse. The food poisoning problem has persisted, so Tabasco's kitchen is being disinfected. Two days ago, I was talking with my professor, an articulate, Egyptian woman, about this, and when I suggsted that the problem was probably as simple as a lack of hand washing, her response was, "Really? That can cause food poisoning?"

Anyway, this post was supposed to be about sexual harassment. On the way to Munch & Bagel, I thought that I was doing pretty well. I was only mildly annoyed by the construction worker who was watching me from a balcony. I just put on an angry face and looked straight ahead. I had almost made it to the restaurant without being bothered when I heard a man say, "Hello!" My skills at ignoring men are so good that I didn't even look. Try to understand, I'm not being rude by ignoring the men because they're not being friendly. They're trying to get my attention--it's harassment, and I hate them all for it. Anyway, I just sighed and kept walking while staring straight ahead. Then he said, "Hey!" I felt my blood begin to boil, and thought, "Why can't they just leave me alone? If he says one more thing, I'm going to scream at him to shut the fuck up." Believe me--I've been dying to freak out and cuss out each and everyone one of the men that bothers me. For a third time, he said more loudly and insistently, "HELLO!" At this point, I was livid, and when I turned to finally give him a piece of my mind, I realized that it was Will, a graduate student at AUC.

We laughed and then talked about how terrible the sexual harassment is here. If the harassment is bad enough for me to try to ignore any and every male voice that I hear, believe me, it's bad. He mentioned that he had spoken with his friend, a hijabi, about why she wears it. She said that it wasn't for religious reasons, it was so that men would bother her less. You, as the reader, should be feeling disgusted right about now.

I never had a huge problem with harassment until Drew went to Oman. Prior to then, I always wandered around Zamalek with him, so I didn't know what it was like to walk around without a guy. Between the men who line the sides of the street, such as pedestrians, parking attendants, bawabs (or doormen), policemen, and guards, and the men in passing cars, an unaccompanied girl can't walk anywhere without being harassed. It goes without saying that she will be intensely ogled in addition to hearing kissing, hissing, psst-ing, and barking noises. Also, it is extremely likely that she will hear comments like Yaa anisa (Hey miss), Yaa muuza (Hey banana), and 'Ishta (Cream, which implies sweet).

Several weeks ago, I was walking back from Grandpa's, a little convenience store, and a guy actually stopped his car in the middle of the road to say, "Hey, what you think about me and you in future somewhere far away together?" I burst out laughing. It was such a pathetic attempt. The taxi drivers have been amusing too. The few times that I've taken one by myself, they ask about my marital status. In fact, I got my first marriage proposal in a taxi. Romantic, huh? It's not all fun and games though. Several girls have been the victims of physical sexual harassment--hair, derrières, and breasts.

I hate being asked for my name more than anything. When I took the train to Alexandria a few weekends ago, one man was extremely obnoxious. I was trying to board the train, and he tried to block my way and demanded, "What is your name?" When I sneered at him and went around him, he was taken aback--how dare I ignore him. I had the same problem with the guards outside the Alexandria National Museum. Over the weekend I was in the Northeastern Cemetery for a field trip. A boy around the age of 10 demanded, "What is your name?" It was shocking and very saddening. I just ignored him. How do I explain to a child that asking a foreign girl for her name comes off as harassment?

In all honesty, many Egyptian men don't harass women. I have to give credit to all of the men who ignore me. I've noticed that some men make an effort to move aside and give me more space to walk past them. When I walk with Drew, men walking in the other direction sometimes change their course so that they pass us on Drew's side instead of on mine. These are the respectful men. There aren't enough of them.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spring Break - Istanbul 3 & 4

I accidentally combined two separate days in an earlier post, so I'm correcting that now. On the third day in Istanbul, I went to the Asian side of the city, not the second day. Each morning in Istanbul, Drew and I ate breakfast while we looked out at the Marmara Sea. The hostel's version of French toast was interesting. It was fried bread with honey, but I liked it. Anyway, on the third morning, I saw a really familiar face that I couldn't quite place. The guy finally came up to me and said hello. It was Frank from the American University in Cairo, and he just happened to be at the same hostel on the same day!

Today I took a ferry to the Asian side of the city. It was clearly less touristy than the rest of Istanbul, and I liked that. I climbed a hill overlooking the water and made my way down the other side of it through a nice park. The park appeared to have little playgrounds, but upon closer inspection, I realized that they were actually little gyms. After returning to the European side of the city, Drew decided to buy some kestane, or roasted chestnuts. The hull turns dark brown, and it looks like it's dipped in chocolate, and that's why Drew ate the hull. It turns out that he didn't like them (even without the hull), but I did.

Afterwards, we went back to the Grand Bazaar, and I finally bought some souvenirs. I got a little something for everyone at the WRC and a beautiful mug and bowl for myself. I really wanted to buy a tunic, but it was too expensive. That evening Drew and I played more drunken chess, and I was still unable to redeem myself, but I certainly did better than before. The next morning we went to the Hagia Sofia, and it was packed. I didn't really enjoy it. It was originally a cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum. The mosaics were beautiful, but I felt that this was a waste of money like Topkapi Palace.