Canadian Girl in Cairo

So far during my time in Egypt, I have had mixed experiences with Egyptian people. My first experience was when I got out of the taxi at my hotel, and a porter practically ripped my luggage from my hands even though I insisted I could wheel it the three feet to the elevator myself. Ignoring my objections, he wheeled it himself and we stood awkwardly in the elevator together to my room’s floor. Once I grabbed my luggage back and wheeled it in my room, I turned around and the man was still there, staring at me intensely. It frightened me. Eventually I clued in he wanted a tip. Having just arrived, I didn’t have any small denominations. Since he wouldn’t leave and he was scaring me with his stare, I gave him the smallest bill I had which was equivalent to $5 Canadian . . .

Soon after, a very, very old woman knocked on my door. She was small and frail and had a thin scarf framing her face. She looked like the beggar turned sorceress in Beauty and the Beast, (the one who cursed the Beast into a beast). She held out her palm full of small change and pointed to it. She didn’t speak a word of English. I made many gestures trying to figure out what she wanted: some bills for all her change, a tip (maybe she cleans my room), does she need more change, etc. I never figured out what she wanted so she eventually left, hobbling down the hallway and up a winding staircase.

While exploring the streets of Cairo, (which are pretty interchangeable with heaps of garbage), the men stare. And I mean stare. I was wearing a hat and big sunglasses, so when I could feel before I could see a man staring at me, I kept my head down and pretended I didn’t notice. I felt as though he was staring through my soul. It made me very uncomfortable. Sometimes the men would try and talk to me. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying in Arabic, it was obvious what kinds of things they were saying based on how they were looking at me. Once I even had my ass squeezed. I even had some women hiss at me, (not a good hiss). Ultimately, the best thing women can do is cover up out of respect to Egyptian culture. But with it being 45 degrees Celsius, I could only cover up so much. I wore long pants and that was the best I could do. I melted.

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A woman giving me an evil look behind me.

 There were times though that I was warmly welcomed by the local men, exclaiming “Welcome to Cairo!” and smiling at me as I walked towards them.

As I roamed throughout the desert landscape with my new friends I made in Cairo, I would be bartered for by Egyptian men. Numerous of the girls were. Sherif told us it would be a good idea for us girls to ensure we were around some of the guys as well, instead of just girls. This was basically just as a safety precaution and to have a higher likelihood of being left alone.

“I give you my camels for her,” they’d say to the guys.

Of course, the natural reaction is to laugh because we all found it pretty funny, and we were pretty sure they weren’t being serious. At least I hope not. They were also laughing and smiling as they said it.

In conclusion, being a woman in Egypt provides many interesting, confusing, and sometimes offensive situations from both men and women’s reactions of me. But all of that is taken with a grain of salt when traveling to another country. I’m the tourist. I’m the outsider. I stood out with my ribbon fedora and colourful tube top against the crowds of women covered head to toe in long black drapes.

I wonder how I would have felt if I made more of an effort to blend in, and hid every clue that I might be a tourist. Would I have had a completely different experience of my time in Egypt? Or would locals see right through my attempts to blend in?

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12 thoughts on “Canadian Girl in Cairo

  1. I had such a similar experience when I was in Egypt: And I’m a chubby unattractive girl who never wears short sleeves, so it’s not even the skin that caused it. It was a general disrespect of women, taught young: even a 7 year old boy made kissey noises at me!
    I’ve no doubt the old woman who came to your door was begging I’m sad to say :(

    • Wow!! It’s crazy isn’t it! Egypt was so awesome to experience as a whole but there were still so many things about it that made me a little uncomfortable. Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. In Malaysia they recommend you dress modestly as it is mainly a Muslim country. I wore a tank top once and caused quite the controversy apparently! It didn’t help that I was also by myself. I recommend a light and big scarf to drape over your hair and shoulders to keep the sun off, and it is a bit cooler than wearing a longer sleeved shirt.

    • I know what you mean! It was so hot though, I could only cover up so much. I did eventually take a scarf to wrap over my hair and it really did help cool me down like you said. Thank you for the comment and for visiting! :)

  3. I used to be a travel leader and they always warned me about the men in Egypt and Turkey being kinda lecherous. Or maybe it’s a very different culture in Singapore, where we mostly enjoy gender equality.

  4. Studied abroad in Egypt! I fit in pretty well with my dark features, but walking around the souq with my blonde haired/blue eyed friends was….an experience lol

      • I studied intercultural communications- differences btwn American media and Middle Eastern media based on culture. One of my most favorite experiences!

  5. I had heard all about the female abuse there and your post reminded me of that. Sorry you had to experience it. Outstanding information . . . Steve

  6. I think if you would have covered your shoulders you wouldn’t have gotten so much attention, especially the evil looks from women. Guys in those countries are always interested in foreign women, because unless they are well-traveled they think they are very easy to get into bed. When my girlfriend and I were in Turkey we sometimes split up. She usually refused to cover her skin too, so when I met up with her once she was surrounded by a bunch of guys, I mean surrounded. When I showed up they left, but she said she was actually scared. This was amazing since she’s so independent and secure in herself. Western Turkey, where most tourists go, is pretty cosmopolitan and they are used to tourists. I would think in Cairo they would be used to it too, but Egypt is not a secular country like Turkey.

    • Hi there,
      Yeah, I’ve thought that too about covering my shoulders. I certainly would have if I wasn’t so hot – wearing pants instead of shorts was difficult enough as it is! The August heat was overwhelming. In Turkey I noticed a smaller amount of reactions from men, as you say, Istanbul and other major Western cities are pretty used to tourists. Thank you very much for visiting and for sharing your thoughts!

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