Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eshufikou 3la Khair...

So the Middlebury semester has officially come to an end, and I have watched as all my American friends have departed Egypt's shores. It has been sad to say good-bye; we undoubtedly got closer over a trying semester, and I hope to see many of them back state-side. Wednesday night, we celebrated with an amusing talent show accompanied by dinner, plus the remaining people went to a movie the other night. I am not ready for this adventure to end, so I'm glad I have more time here to soak up Alex, Cairo, and my lovely Egyptians. Meanwhile, some observations, comments, ventations, lessons:

1.) This is a man's world. Women are unequivocally inferior, not only in the eyes of men, but as proven by their own belief in this. A woman should be a good mother and wife. If a husband hits his wife, she was unquestionably asking for it. Men own the streets, with their hisses and growls, and they own the mosque, they own the workplace in sheer number, and they own the house when return at the end of the day. Women are the source of all evil (a direct quote from my friend Farahat, after which I told him we better stop talking about the topic because I would hit him and then we wouldn't be friends.) It is heartbreaking to hear girls and women telling me this is how it should be, discussing with me only how many kids she wants and what her wedding will be like. Are women here living in ignorant bliss, or is there a way for them to wake up and struggle for equality with men? Ask me more about this topic when you see me, because I confront it every day.

2.) There is order here in that there is no order. I am often baffled as to how society functions, but it does, in its own dysfunctional way. This chaos is best represented by Egyptian drivers and pedestrians. Egyptian drivers have an unfailing grasp of how big there car is, making them capable of fitting in any space, between any two cars, or gaging their speed and lane-swaying just right so they don't hit the pedestrian ahead of them. I have never understood the phrase "dodging traffic" until now, a feat made easy by Egyptian pedestrians. This goes not only for traffic, but any sort of line, business, or institutions. Similarly, problems here only have temporary solutions. For example, if the tram driver would just learn to shut the doors of the tram as his job requires, Austin may not have had his accident, but somehow, arresting him seemed like a better solution to the police. Another example, when my friend Chelsea was having chest pains and vomiting, the doctor diagnosed that she was "allergic to Egypt." Ah yes, Doctor, thank you for your official and accurate diagnosis that has no treatment. This shows how, despite a semi-operational society, things fail because they are not thought-out.

3.) Egyptians love Egypt and have a very hard time criticizing it. This is either a symptom of apathy, or the cause of their apathy, or both, not sure. Apathy grows from fear, fear of the unknown, of change. Let me explain. About a month ago, Algeria beat Egypt in a qualifying match for the 2010 World Cup, and the violent turnout was absurd. Egyptians absolutely refused to believe that they had done any wrong. Even my most liberal Egyptian friends defend the most irritating and conservative aspects of society here. The notion that "dissent is patriotic" does not exist. The source of this disinterest in changing one's country stems from fear that the status quo could be worse. Egyptians could be living under a dictator like Saddam Hussein who hunted his citizens, rather than a dictator masquerading behind democracy like Mubarak. They could be living with civil war and disease, much like their neighbors to the Sub-Saharan south. So relatively speaking, I guess you could say they have it good enough, so they'll vote with their pocketbook rather than hope.

4.) Jews and Gays are not on Egyptians' radar, and that is intentional. When a chit-chatty taxi driver asks me my religion (a normal introductory question here), Judaism is never an option. If an Egyptian doesn't like Obama, it's because "he likes the Jews". For your average uneducated Egyptian, there is no distinction between being Jewish and being an Israeli and/or Zionist. Israel and Palestine is a very sensitive topic that rouses even the most unpolitical Egyptian. I went to an action film that depicted all the Israelis as pure evil, and when I pointed that out to my Egyptian friends, they said that was normal. There may be a delicate alliance between the countries' governments, but there is nothing delicate about the way Egyptians feel about Israelis. Being gay just doesn't exist, it is that sinful. I would be curious to find out more about that community and what it experiences in a culture like this.

5.) Islam is life. Five times a day, rhythmic voices echo over loudspeakers squeezing into alleyways and reminding me of this. TV commercials display Quranic verses, reminding me of this. Seeing another uncovered woman shocks me, and reminds me of this. In fact, the 2nd Amendment of the Egyptian Constitution states that Islam is the religion of the state! There is something beautiful about a deeply devout society, but on the other hand, I wish Egyptian society could look for other sources of knowledge and enlightenment as well.

6.) Americans, or any foreigners living here, need to learn to laugh off the small irritating things. This includes not always having hot water, incessant catcalls and stares in the street, and general craziness and noise at all times. A lot of the students I think were unprepared for this, and maybe expected more. I'm not sure how I was able to let go and not care so easily so often. I was able to adapt and remember "When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable." (Clifton Fadiman, stolen from Abe/Chris's blogs.) I also think my having been raised in a multicultural environment allowed me to adapt culturally and socially as well. I feel at ease with the extreme religiousness of my friends here, people's forwardness and honesty, and also their cuddly warmth and loudness. Egyptians remind me of Puerto Ricans a lot: they are always ready to laugh and celebrate something (preferably with noise, music, and food), they are incredibly welcoming and generous, and they are emotional and religious. Many of the American students complained about the homogenous environment here, claiming to be accustomed to America's melting pot. I feel that that was a liberal façade for their own intolerance; most of the program's students come from financially comfortable families in predominately white areas and go to predominately white private colleges. They have never lived or worked closely among true diversity. There was a lot of negativity from a good chunk of the program's students, but I just felt sorry for them, that they weren't able to benefit intellectually and emotionally from the experience as I was.

I do hope that was somewhat coherent and beneficial (my English has been lacking of late.) I have so much more to share with you upon my return. Until then, I'll be hurrying around Egypt to immerse myself in it as much as possible. The other night, I went to a Christmas carol performance in a stunning Coptic church with my professor. I've been spending lots of time with friends here in Alex, going to all my favorite places and laughing with my Egyptian roomies. Also, I am now bringing home a fish (if she makes it past customs), as my peachy roommate Reham thought this was a good idea for a good-bye present. Egyptians have funny thought processes. I get more emotional by the day about leaving here, but with that grows my determination to return. I am also comforted by the fact that I have such wonderful friends and family waiting for me at home.

Los quiero todo un montón,

Gamila جميلة
Some of my best (American) girlfriends and me at the talent show.

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