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.
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?