Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bloody Nose, Bruised Ego

Wow! Several of you wrote me today and asked why I hadn’t done an update lately and if was I was okay. I have just been busy at work and been doing things in the evening with my fellow volunteers. It’s good to know though that there are folks out there who are really following along and are interested in what I am doing! I had already started an entry but hadn’t posted it until now. So be sure to read the entry from the 19th “Iftar”. Read it before you read this entry.

So now it’s Saturday morning. Yesterday was my second English class with the kids. I came up with a game that we all found to be very fun. First we started off by singing the alphabet song. Then I went down the row of students and had them say the letters one at a time in succession. The first student said “A,” the second one “B” and so on. Then I had them do the same thing but I pointed randomly at students instead of just going down the row. We did this several times and got faster and faster as we went. I also read a book called “The Magic Smell” which was cute, but again, some of the girls had read it. Then something very scary and unexpected happened. The smallest, most quiet girl in the class walked up to me with her hand cupped around her nose. She pointed towards the door as if to ask to go to the restroom. I nodded yes assuming that she had a runny nose. As she turned to leave I saw a red streak just below her hand. She had a bloody nose! I followed her out of the class to make sure she got to the restroom okay, but she breezed right by it. She was trying to find her mother. She got to the end of the hall and panicked when she couldn’t find her. She turned around, dropped her hand from her face, which was now completely covered in blood, and completely freaked out. She opened her mouth and let out a scream that rattled me to the core, and I had no idea what to do. I saw a Copic nun walk by. She smiled at me, oblivious to what was going on. I gave her a panicked face and motioned towards the girl but she apparently didn’t know what to do either. Long about that time the mothers of the children showed up, snatched her up and urgently rushed her into the restroom. They told me to go back to the class and they would take care of the situation. I went back and I was so stunned I just stood there for a few seconds before I snapped back to reality and picked up where I left off. About ten minutes later the girl came back to the class as if nothing had happened. I talked to the girl’s mother after the class. She had a big reassuring smile on her face and told me that the girl just had random nosebleeds from time to time. She said “No problems.” I still apologized profusely. I don’t know what for… I didn’t cause the nosebleed, but I felt awful for the little girl.

Yesterday was Teri’s birthday and we had a little celebration for her. Originally she wanted to cook a Mexican meal for everyone. But Carole found out there is a Mexican restaurant in Maadi and we convinced Teri to go instead of cooking for everyone else on her birthday. The restaurant was in a Western style hotel and was decorated like a pueblo. There were kitschy decorations like “money bags” with big dollar signs. I ordered a Stella beer and the “Jackson Ville Salad.” Hmmm. Teri ordered the vegetable fajitas. It wasn’t quite the Mexican meal I expected. The beer was a local Egyptian beer and was quite good. But my salad had that weird crinkly green lettuce, cubed bits of processed chicken, and was ringed by slices of tomato. It was a bit of a letdown. There was a weird look on Teri’s face. I couldn’t tell what it meant but I took it as one of two things. Either “this isn’t Mexican,” or “this is why I wanted to cook Mexican at home.” Teri is a little bit picky about her food. She will even admit it. Good food is very important to her. You can tell this just by reading her blog at Anyway, I hope she wasn’t terribly disappointed. On the upside, we got to take pictures of her with her birthday sombrero on. Apparently that is a tradition even at Mexican restaurants in Egypt!

On the way back from the restaurant we rode the Metro and I finally got very angry about the way Egyptian men treat Western women. I was well informed before we even got here about how men just completely ogle Western women, say inappropriate things, and will touch and grab them in really inappropriate places. I was even prepared to become very angry about it. It finally happened last night.

Teri and Sarah have been telling me accounts of what men say and do to them over the past two weeks, so I was hyper-aware of anything going on last night. The tricky part is most of the time Egyptian men don’t touch Western women in the presence of Western men. Even if they are brave enough to do it, they touch the women in such a way that it goes unnoticed, even if you are watching them closely. They are very sneaky and seem to have practiced doing it a lot, which in itself is creepy. But they certainly will stare at Western Women intently, even in the presence of Western men.

The ride back from Maadi is a long one, about half an hour to forty minutes. The train arrived just as we got to the station, so the women in our group didn’t have a chance to get to the women’s car. We got on the train, which was packed. We settled into a tight circle so we could talk to one another, and as we did so, men positioned themselves so they could look at Teri, Sarah, Jen, and Jennifer (Jen and Jennifer came to Cairo to celebrate Teri’s birthday and get away from Alexandria for the weekend). I was facing Sarah and Teri, and as we talked I felt the presence of a man just over my left shoulder. I looked over at him and he was staring directly at Teri, VERY intently, looking her up and down. After a few minutes I became very irritated about this. At the next stop I turned to face him, all the while looking outside the train as if to see what station we where at. It barely fazed him. I continued to face him and did various things like scratching my head, which placed my elbow right in his face… still no response, except he leaned a little to his left to get a better view. Then little by little I got closer and closer to him, thinking if I could make him uncomfortable enough, maybe he would look away. It worked for a few seconds, but then I was so close to him he could look directly over my right shoulder at her. So he did. I turned to face him dead on and looked directly over his head. He was shorter than me, so short I could have put my chin on his head. Since he was looking at Teri I hoped the impression he would get was that I was looking him directly in the eye. He would only know I was looking over his head if he looked me directly in the eye. I did this to be just short of confrontational. Out of my peripheral vision I saw his eyes dart around a little, wondering what I was doing, but he never looked at me. Then he just went back to staring at Teri. Our station finally came and we got off the train. Sarah and Jen then told us about the men palmed their behinds and the men that were grinding against them as we squeezed out of the train. This type of harassment has intensified over the past few weeks. It wasn’t always like this. All I can figure is that the men are deprived because of Ramadan. They can’t have any physical contact with their wives, so they take out their frustrations on Western women. All I can say is I will gladly welcome the end of Ramadan. I can’t wait. Ramadan has become very tiresome for many reasons, this just being the worst. As we walked down the sidewalk towards Dawson Hall I noticed that my right fist was clenched and Teri commented that I had my “angry face on.” She said, “It looks like this…” I looked at her, and she tightened her lips, squinted her eys, and furrowed her eyebrows mockingly. It made me laugh, and cut the tension, which is what I’m sure she meant to do. I don’t know how the women here put up with this harassment on a daily basis. I can walk home from work without incident, but when Sarah does the same thing she is hounded, grabbed and even followed sometimes. They won’t ever do anything to harm the women physically, but they do everything they can to assault them emotionally. It’s horrible. Well, that’s my rant for today.


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