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Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I awoke to the tragic news of a terrible , (yet preventable) accident that took place in Assiut, in upper Egypt. A school bus was crossing train tracks to take a group of students to a school located 20+Km  away from where they lived to their school, because there isn’t a school nearer to them. The crossing guard was fast asleep at his post with the television on and supposedly with a sheesha in hand too. He didn’t pull the lever that could have saved many lives. The crossing guard, a government employee failed to do his job, which resulted in the death of fifty young lives, whose blood stained the front of the train. Those at the scene couldn’t find words to describe it, they said it was unlike anything they had ever seen in reality or in any horror movie.

This is not the first accident of its kind in Egypt and it will not be the last either. Why? Simply because, our government is and has always been negligent and does not put money back into the system to help maintain machinery, buildings, roads, trains …etc. (God forbid that people should ever feel safe when they have the opportunity to line the inside of their pockets). I am not surprised that it happened again but I am deeply saddened at the suffering and loss that so many families have to endure due to greed. Two of the many families have lost ALL their children in the accident and to add insult to injury, the government initially offered them 5000 Egyptian Pounds blood money per child, which is approximately 817  U.S Dollars. That is less than the price of an IPhone!!

An Egyptian T.V. Talk Show host, Amr Adeeb, totally lost his temper on his show and was infuriated not only because the accident had happened but because the amount of money was a despicable amount to pay for a life of a child. He called all Egyptians, President and the country a failure and said we should be embarrassed. (I would have to agree, we are great at talking the talk but do very little to improve our situation. we would rather sit back, ezzaz (nibble) on lib (sunflower/pumpkins seeds), watch T.V, smoke sheesha and have someone else do it). Adeeb’s ranting and raving did have an impact though… The blood money was bumped up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds. It’s still not worth the life of a child and it will never take the pain or loss away. I still think they could dig deeper into their pockets and pay a few hundred thousand pounds more per child especially if they are able to spend millions on finding ways to block porn sites.

With bated breath last Thursday I hopped on a train to Alex to see my parents for the Thanksgiving weekend, after the train accident in Assiut,  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would reach my destination intact. Not long after I arrived and was sitting with my mother updating her on what’s been going on in my life the past couple of weeks, I logged into face book and twitter  and saw my news feed full of colorful descriptions of Egypt’s President elect. (eyes rolled in their sockets and ‘What has he done now’ said the voice in my head)

As a storm brewed over head I wasn’t able to watch ‘THE’ mother of all speeches on satellite so I turned to BlackBerry messenger and Facebook Chat and what I was being told by friends was equally worrying and humorous. Our ‘Democratically’ elected President Morsy had declared himself above and beyond the law. He’s so far above the law that any cases against him from the time he had taken office will be dropped. No one but ‘He’ has the right to dissolve the Shuraa part of the Parliament. He has new evidence against the Mubarak family and their constituents, so they will be retried, (just to name a few) . In less than a year he has given himself more power than any president this country has ever had. He declared himself Caesar/Pharaoh! (yeah, Ceasar/Ramsis II has been reincarnated and is alive and well in Morsy). People sat on their couches with their mouths gaping wide open, with eyes buldging out of their sockets in disbelief! He just pulled the Coup D’Etat card on us!

Naturally people went ballistic!!!

This very man gave his acceptance speech just months ago swearing that he would do right by his country, his people, those who lost their lives, preserve the revolution and will do everything legitimately…. IF he’s forgotten, we can play it back for him, it’s been recorded and there were thousands up thousands of people watching him here in Egypt and throughout the world! If I was to pull the Coup D’Etat card on my country men (not that, I would but if that was my plan) I wouldn’t have done it now… I would have done it after I had won the hearts and minds of the people. NOT NOW when you’re still going through the public’s probation period!

Did he honestly think that people would take it lightly? We got rid of a 30 year dictatorship, we didn’t sign up for it to be replaced with another one with MORE POWERS than the previous one. This is like  something out of Greek Mythology, Slayers behead the beast and the people hail their bravery and victory of slaying the beast, only to find out later that the beast wasn’t dead, it had grown another head !

So, now what?

Do we all run out and buy Aabayas (burkaas) and galaabeyas? Do bars, cinemas and night clubs go extinct or underground? Does the age for marriage drop below puberty? Do women find themselves back behind the kitchen counters mastering grandmother’s old recipes and popping out kids every 9 months?

No!!! We make our voices heard and let him and his bearded buddies know that not everyone supports his decree and that he needs to take it back! The following day, Friday November 23, people across Egypt who opposed Morsy’s decree took to the streets in protest! Several Egyptian governorates made their voices heard! They did not and would not accept his ‘temporary’ power at the helm of Egypt! He infuriated people so much that they stormed the Freedom of Justice Party offices in several cities, looted them and in Alexandria they found a bra, which the stormers held out onto the balcony to show the watching public! Then they torched the place.

Last Tuesday another protest was scheduled and the friction between the pro and anti Morsy fractions could be felt on the streets. Many schools decided to not open that day for fear that there might be violence and that students and teachers might not get home in time before the show down.  The MB in Cairo were scheduled to march that day too, but decided to post-pone it to a later date for fear of violent clashes. In Alexandria there was a stand-off between the two parties but I didn’t hear of any major incidents. Mansoura demonstrated their disapproval of the president’s decree and also stormed the FJP headquarters there. Mahalla got the brunt of it, Morsy supporters were out in full force and fired live ammo on the protestors, resulting in many casulaties.

Today is Friday, November 30th and another protest is scheduled to take place today… tensions are running very high especially with the threat of MB and Morsy supporters threatening to lash out on those who do not support Morsy.

Presently Egypt is divided into two unequal fractions. Those who support the president and his decree and those who don’t. If we are going to be honest, we are out numbered by the supporters, which automatically reminds me of Lord of The Rings and the battle for middle earth. I hope that things end as well as they did in the book for Egypt and her people’s sake!

I thought this picture I took in Dublin was best suited for the topic

If I had a Pound, (Euro or Dollar) for every time someone asked me ‘Why Aren’t You Married’, I would have a hefty retirement fund!

It has reached a point where, I wonder if this is all people have to worry about?! I meet people for the first time and naturally they’ll ask if you have a significant other, but they shouldn’t feel the need to lecture me on ‘Why I Should, Have One’. Even some of the doctors I’ve had consultations with seem to be more concerned about my marital status than my ailments. I appreciate the fact that close friends and some family members want to see me settled down and happy. What I don’t like is those whom I hardly know appoint themselves to play match maker with determination. (What do they get out of it? Is there some jackpot or prize you get if your match is a good one?)

Let me clarify, once and for all to those who are adamant to find me a significant other (based on THEIR wrong criteria to find me a ‘PERFECT’ match) and to those who can not get their head around the idea of me flying solo. I have great respect for marriage and all that is stands for. I do think it is a beautiful thing to be able to live ones life with another and share the burdens and happiness that come their way together as a team and to justify their union and love by having children, so their family tree can continue to blossom and grow. HOWEVER, I DO NOT believe that I should marry for the sake of being married. Just so that I can have a wedding band placed upon my ring finger along with a nice big sparkly one, have a big party and not be alone! If I want to wear a ring, I’ll go buy one. If I want a party, by GEORGE I shall throw one! If I’m lonely, I can go out to social events mingle with people, invite people over or go visit family or friends.

Marriage is a commitment that I would take seriously and I would want it to be forever, (not to use as an escape to move out of my parent’s home. Which doesn’t apply to me because I don’t live with them anyway). I do not want to marry the first person that comes knocking at my parent’s door asking for my hand, especially if he knows nothing about me, my family or upbringing.

In the past I have had mothers of sons and men see me walk into a store or driving my car and find out who I am through 6 degrees of separation, get my parent’s home number and call my father up and ask for my hand in marriage without ever having spoken a word to me! The last time someone did that my father took great pleasure in telling the caller that I had recently just been released from a mental institution, (NOT TRUE OF COURSE) and that he was a garbage collector. I found it extremely funny, while the person on the other end of the line was not as amused!

I want to marry someone who understands how my mind works (well, to some degree), who appreciates and understand my mixed ethnicity/cultural heritage (and doesn’t want me to change who I am or make me choose one culture over another),  has similar characteristic traits, shares some of my dreams/interests, is a bit adventurous, likes to play sports and can deal with my loony family and relatives! He must speak ENGLISH quite well, (if he can speak more languages, excellent! but he has to be able to communicate with the Irish Clan), likes to hold intellectual conversations, reads, well-traveled, has a playful side, very good sense of humor and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, because I won’t be the only one doing all the hard labor around the house and changing dirty diapers. Oh an most importantly is financially independent from his family.

Marriage to me is a partnership, where two people promise to look after one another and share everything. I am not the type to marry and be told to stay home, not work, cook/clean all day long, have children and raise them alone. While hubbiness goes to work, comes home, eats, naps, showers, changes and goes out and socialize with his friends.  (If that’s what I wanted, I would go for Don Draker, from MAD MEN). That is a recipe for my misery and driving me to the brink of insanity ! So, those kind of guys need to be taken off your must introduce her to him lists! That is if you really do have my happiness and best interest at heart.

If you’re miserable in your life and want company… then please don’t set me up with anyone.

If a guy comes from a well-known, respectable, rich family it DOES NOT automatically make him a nice guy and my dream man! Money is great to have, but it isn’t a recipe for a successful marriage. The person’s personality, ethics, morals, values, mentality are things that I find more important than the wrist watch he wears, car he drives, his home address and the size of his PARENT’S bank account.

‘Friends’ of mine, (who have now been demoted to mere acquaintances) wanted to introduce me to a guy who was VERY wealthy and was quite liberal. Now, I am not one to judge a book by its cover, but why would anyone want to introduce a 20 something year old girl (my age at the time), to a guy in his mid 40s who is extremely over weight, has lost half of his teeth, from lack of dental hygiene (due to excessive smoking and drinking) and has little social etiquette? Clearly these people didn’t take the time to know me or to choose wisely either.

I have met, socialized and been out with several guys who fall into this category. I have to say a small minority of them have been raised to be gentlemen of great integrity and are very decent men. While others have been toads dressed like princes.

Players and Cheaters… What can I say? I have been played and burned by both. Not the most pleasant of experiences and I have learned from my mistakes and have grown wiser and stronger because of it. These two are like trying to domesticate a tiger!! Woman can not ‘change’ or ‘reform’ them. They have to sincerely want to and they have to be the ones to take the steps. If/when they are ready, I’ll gladly give them consideration, until then, I’ll Pass, Thanks.

Just because a guy lives abroad and holds a foreign passport like I do, doesn’t mean it’s a match made in heaven! The same goes if he’s of mixed ethnicity too.

So, to sum it all up. I would much rather be single and continue to work on improving upon myself and experience what life has to offer than jump into a marriage with someone who is not compatible with me (and vice versa). I don’t want to be put in a situation where I marry someone and find out 2 kids later, that I can’t stand being around him and be forced to make a decision to either stay in the marriage to keep the family together while I am secretly miserable and hide my pain behind my smiles as a sacrifice for their happiness or break up a family and watch the children go through pain I could have had a hand in preventing.

So, That is WHY, I am not rushing to the altar to get married. Let me live and let live!

If you find someone who meets MOST of the criteria I am looking for then we can talk. If not, DON’T even think about it!

The day I decide to tie the knot and take the plunge and say; I DO. I’ll let you know. Until then, no one should lose any sleep over me being happily single!

Isn’t she embarrassed walking down the street with her head uncovered? How immoral!

Since the fall of the former President of Egypt, Sexual Harassment has been rampant like a forest fire throughout the country. Horror story upon horror story of attacks and incidents on women have been surfacing and making headlines. It’s getting worse and worse with each day that passes. Since Egypt’s first Democratically Elected President had been announced another serving of worry has been served up on to our plate.

The President as many are all well aware is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a lot of the élite, liberals and women quaking in their boots worried about Egypt’s future on many fronts and their place in the new Democratic Egypt. There is a vast majority on the other hand who find that our President previous association gives them the carte blanche to do as they please, when it comes to educating the public on what is right or wrong in the name of Islam. Sometimes I feel like things are looking more and more like a Mad Max movie.

Self-appointed groups and individuals feel they now have the right to tell people what to do, how to dress and how to behave. A couple of weeks ago there were two incidents in different places in Egypt that sent a ripple of fear and dread through the country. The phrase we are turning into the next Saudi Arabia or Iran was on the tip of everyone’s lips.

(If things don’t change and social order isn’t put in place, then I will have to agree)

In Suez an engineering student was badgered by 3 bearded men, who demanded to know his relationship with the woman he was walking with. When he told them to mind their own business they stabbed him. The stab wound was fatal. The woman was his fiancée.

Story has it that the men were caught and will be given the death penalty.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/46784/Egypt/Politics-/Suez-knifing-stirs-fears-of-moral-policing-in-Egyp.aspx

Another story was that a young man was playing his guitar during the call for prayer in the governorate of Ismaleya and others found this to be a sign of disrespect and took it upon themselves to teach him a lesson.  The lesson rumor has it resulted in a severe beating which lead to his death. It was also reported that a group of bearded men went into a café in Cairo’s, Madinat Nasr area and told the customers that they should go and pray. Unfortunately I cannot confirm these stories to be 100% accurate, but having lived in Egypt so long, when there is a story there is always some element of truth to it.

I can confirm two others stories from women that I know personally and experienced some very disturbing events that worry me and honestly have me concerned for the future wellbeing of Egyptian women.

The first story is of a woman who works at a hair and beauty salon in Alexandria. She is a single Mom of a 4-year-old girl. She said she was walking in a district of Alexandria holding her daughter when a car drove by. One of the passengers in the car sprayed her with an acid like substance that ate through her clothes. It made huge holes in her dress which caused her undergarments to show. Embarrassed, scared and shaken she got into a taxi to go home. The reason for the passenger spraying her was because part of her leg was showing in the dress that she was wearing.

The second woman I work with and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed me to write this post. Yesterday she posted a warning to all her contacts on her Facebook page, so that we would all be made aware of what may happen if women decide to take a public mode of transportation. My colleague along with her brother, sister and future brother-in-law were boarding the car at Sadat Metro Station (El Tahrir) and just as the doors were closing a guy pulled her by her hair. She said she didn’t hear the full sentence of what he said but it had something to do with her not being veiled. This is NOT the first time she has experienced something like this.

Over the past 20 years since I moved here with my family, I have seen the country grow more and more conservative. It wasn’t very noticeable at first. It was rare to see veiled women, now you are most likely to see veils and niqabs than a woman with her head uncovered in Alexandria. I have no qualms with people becoming devoted in their beliefs and dressing in the way that they think is modest or more appropriate. What I DO have and issue with is other people, particularly strangers who don’t know me and demand or try to dictate to me how I should be more respectful and how I should dress.

I know that one of Morsi’s spokes people came out and condemned the actions of these individuals but I’m sorry that isn’t good enough for me. If the President himself doesn’t come out and say that he will not tolerate and accept these actions of harassment on people’s personal liberties and that people will be held accountable and punished for them, then he might as well have a pom pom in each hand cheering them on. His silence is a sign of condoning of what has happened and what will continue to happen. (That’s how I am interpreting it)

If President Morsi meant what he said in his speeches that we are free to live our lives as we have in the past, then I think he needs to not only say it repeatedly until it gets through people’s heads but to show that he sincerely means what he says. Otherwise these self-appointed groups and individuals will continue to badger, harass and attack innocent people who are minding their business and just going about their day-to-day lives and it isn’t right!

I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, where the Mutawaa’s (religious police) would patrol the streets and make sure that people were abiding by the country’s code of conduct. IF this IS the direction that our new Elected President is going to guide Egypt towards then, I fear all hope is lost for Egypt. If Egypt sccumbs to becoming a country with blinkers on and where people are no longer permitted to be themselves and live freely, then we will be pushed back decades behind the rest of the world and that in all honesty would be DREADFUL. Egypt for centuries has always been a land that made history and has been (and continues to be), studied with fascination, awe and respect. I would hate to see a country with such a rich past and HIGH potential for a bright future be shut away and put down in such a manner.

How do we counter act this? How do we push back the threat of this wave that is hovering over us? I honestly do not know. I think WE are ALL open to suggestions, if anyone has any.

Otherwise the cartoon below might be what lies ahead for Egypt and for us;

The recent story of foreign journalist Natasha J. Smith has been circulating Cyber Space. The reviews of the journalist’s first hand account of what happened to her in Tahrir Square has been received with mostly horror, embarrassment and extreme disappointment. While others are somewhat skeptical and feel like the whole story is a hoax and made up OR exaggerated. Here’s the link to her account, read it yourself if you already haven’t ( http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/please-god-please-make-it-stop/ )

I shared the link on facebook and I have to admit that I was shocked at some of the men’s responses to the blog post. Their inability to understand the trauma of the situation of being attacked by a large group of men and having no one come to your aid. From the perspective of an Egyptian, I can understand where they are coming from. Egyptians are/were known as very generous, helpful and friendly people whom welcome tourists and foreigners to their land, but less and less of a positive image is being seen by my fellow country men and women these days. It seems to be one that has been replaced with contempt, hate and maybe even jealousy.

After my mother had read Natasha’s account, it triggered a memory of an instance that occurred 30 years ago here in Egypt, during one of her visits.

” I was here on holiday from Canada with my two year old, who had never experienced swimming in the sea. My husband’s family owned a villa on the beach in Agami, ( a popular beach resort just outside of Alexandria). My husband had business to attend to in Sidi Kreer and suggested that I go to the villa with our daughter so that I could enjoy the beach and the sea. The villa was situated on the beach, so it’s not as though I had to walk far to get to the water. It was a case of walking directly from the terrace on to the sand. “

“I was ignorant to the culture and the social taboos of the land and I was obviously a foreigner. Blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin and everyone appeared to be extremely friendly. So, I ventured forth with my two year old in my arms wearing my one piece swimsuit, which by western standards was quite modest. I walked the few meters to the shore and entered the water. As I entered the water, my daughter was nervous once the water lapped against her legs and clung to me tightly and I was talking to her calmly and explained to her that there was nothing to fear…etc. As I was continuing to walk into the water reassuring her that she was safe, I was momentarily unaware of what was happening around me. Until I felt something grab at my crutch area. I almost stumbled, but righted myself and began to realise what was happening around me. I was waist deep in sea water, surrounded by about 10-15 men who were systematically diving underwater and groping me. The beach was crowded with men, women and children who were watching the scene with what appeared to be great amusement at the antics of these people. It got so bad, that I was losing my footing and about to submerge underwater still holding my daughter and I was calling for help. Nobody came to my rescue, fortunately I had the key to the villa clutched in my hand, with the point of it facing downwards, I was frantically stabbing their heads as they came up for air. Eventually I was able to fight my way out of the water trembling with shock and disbelief that people who called out friendly remarks and welcomed you to their country could see the horror that was unfolding and not do anything. Not one person came to my aid or my daughter’s aid. There must have been at least a hundred people watching and what shocked me most was that they found it extremely amusing.  How they would have reacted if it had been one of their own, I don’t know, but the feeling I got was, because I was a foreigner then I was seen as ‘fair game’. ” By this time my daughter was screaming and I was trying to fight my way out of the water and to the safety of the villa. It was anger and adrenaline that saved me.”

“My husband although Egyptian had left Egypt when he was seventeen years of age and Agami was a very deserted beach in those days, where you could swim freely without any problem, he was unaware of how much the culture had changed in his absence. “

“It has left a lasting scare and impression on my psyche but I do know that if Egyptians KNOW you and know your husband’s family it’s a totally different story. They do come to your aid as has happened to me in a couple of situations since then. As for this young journalist, I truly believe that what she wrote is genuine and is totally possible and accurate because of my own experience.”

-K.E -IrishAlexandrian’s Mum

This clearly isn’t a ‘NEW’ phenomenon that  has suddenly plagued our land, it has been here for quite some time but there is more and more light being shed on the stories that are surfacing thanks to modern media.

Men do not experience such traumatic experiences, they should be grateful. However, a part of me truly wishes that those who do harass women, have similar experiences so that they can get a taste of their own medicine and think twice before they attempt to invade a woman’s personal space.

PARENTS and TEACHERS, hear our plea, educate your sons on how to treat women ! It is up to us to eradicate this growing cancer that is polluting the minds of many.

President MorsiIf you haven’t been following the news lately and haven’t heard that Egypt has its first elected civilian president, then you need to get with the times!

The past couple of days the population anxiously awaited the election results of the country’s first Democratic elections. The days leading up to the announcement the air was heavy, the conspiracy theories were flying around like moths to a flame. The majority of the nation predicted that Shafik would win since he had rubbed elbows with many of the big guns in the army. The thought of former President Mubarak’s Prime Minister as head of state infuriated so many that it drove hundreds if not thousands of people back to Tahrir square. The idea of having a member of the former regime  as head of state would mean that the Revolution and the death of those who gave their lives to end dictatorship was for nothing.

As Sultan read the reams of papers pertaining to the election process, number of votes from abroad and all the governorates, people were guessing who the next president would be right up until the last second. When he announced Morsi had won by the skin of his teeth the celebratory cheers of jubilation were heard throughout the nation, fireworks were set a light and gunfire rang out too.

I am not one who likes to jump to conclusions or assume I know someone or can guess their plans, so I would prefer to wait and see what our new President will do before I pass judgment on him. I can however pass judgment on some of those who chose him for what I believe to be the WRONG reasons.

Sunday, the day following the announcement a woman on twitter tweeted posted the following; “الوندر ولية المصرية@BerbelNinja

Random stranger to me while I’m walking to work: “aho morsy galkom w haylemik enty w el sharameet el zayik. Ya kafra”. Awesome start.”

( Translation: here, Morsi has come to you and he will teach you and the other whores like you, you none believer)

5 young girls between the ages of 10 and 12 were in Montaza, Alexandria yesterday. They had left the beach dressed in shorts and a t-shirt to go to get some food from McDonald’s, when a group of manaqabeen (fully covered women) said; Tomorrow Morsi will teach you how to dress.

A journalist friend of mine, posted this as her status on facebook;  “Yesterday, while waiting for my friend at the airport, I heard this Egyptian guy, who had just arrived from God knows where, “boasting,” to his family that he said “Fuck you Bitch,” to a tourist who was crying and saying she doesn’t want to visit Egypt again, after she realized that her luggage was lost at the arrivals. Nice! That’s how you treat the tourists! Idiot.”

I concur if we are not going to bring the tourists back to boost our economy and keep the history of our ancestors alive. Does this mean that we will be solely dependent on the investment from Gulf countries.

If this ‘IS’ what THE PEOPLE of Egypt are expecting and want for our country, then I am greatly perturbed and worry for the rights of women and their future in the coming years. I have been in the field of education for 11 years now and I have been fighting against ignorance tooth and nail. I am not one to throw in the towel or declare defeat, but if this is what the country is coming to, I will NOT go down with the ship.  It pains me to say so, but I don’t want to be hidden under a long cloth and be silenced. It isn’t me or how I was raised.

I AM independent, I AM intelligent, I do have a purpose other than being a child barer and slave in the kitchen and I fully intend on staying that way too.

(picture in the post was copied from; http://www.albawaba.com/news/morsi-working-formation-new-government-431356)

As a woman living in Egypt for the past 20+ years I have seen the deterioration of men’s respect for women first hand. I remember when I first moved to Egypt at the age of 12 and going for walks in Alexandria with my mother. You would get the occasional cat calls and you would get one guy who would try an invade your space and try to touch you. For everyone guy who did try to sexually harass a woman you would have 10 others who would come to your defence demonstrating chivalry. Now, it’s the complete opposite!

The greater percent of the men of this nation would stand by and watch a woman being harassed rather than come to her aid. I recently came across a post on facebook about a foreign journalist who has had one of the most harrowing and traumatic experiences that I have ever read or come across here in Egypt. It saddens me that some of the men and women who saw what was happening didn’t try to come to her aid.

This has got to stop before it gets out of control, because if it doesn’t any woman who looks remotely foreign, has her hair showing or isn’t covered from head to toe!

 

PLEASE READ and Pass it on !

http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/?like=1&_wpnonce=a982312bd5&wpl_rand=6ee9fbeb5d

Family

Here I am, a thirty something year old whom for the first time feels like she has gained more independence since having moved out of the safety and comfort of her parent’s house about eight years ago and yet now that I have my very own pair of walking shoes to go on great adventures to travel to far off places, to have experiences of my own and to create my own repertoire of stories to tell the next generation. I find myself hesitant …

In International teaching, you find that there is a lot of vacation time and being where I am, traveling to Europe, Asia and Africa is just one short plane ride away. Unlike my colleagues, I don’t plan my trips in advance. I prefer going home to Alexandria to spend time with my family.

I have found that people are spending less time with their family and losing out on the wisdom, stories and family bonding that was once so important 4-5 generations ago. Living so far away from my maternal relatives has hindered our relationship and I feel that gap between us is so big that we have become strangers, (with the exception of one or two).

There are times where I want to do something different and experience new things in far off lands, go on a safari or something of the sort, where I’ll have the opportunity to meet new people and observe foreign cultures first hand, BUT I also feel that if I do go, that I’ll be losing time that I could be spending with my family. Let’s face it our parents have invested a lot of time in raising and looking after us and once we are set free to earn our own living our lives get so busy and we are so absorbed in the drama that fogs our sight and engulf our every waking moment that we spend less time with them and sometimes lose focus on whom we have in our lives and how precious they are. I love spending time with my parents.I feel like I learn more about myself and traits when I’m with them. It also keeps me grounded and true to my origins. A person should never forget where they came from in order to be able to move forward and become who they are destined to be.

I do know and recognize that I can’t keep doing this and I need to broaden my horizons more, but it’s a double edged sword. Our parent’s aren’t around forever and neither are we if we think about it. The only thing we have is ‘now’, limited time and it’s a gift. We need to use it wisely and not waste it on trivial things. That’s all I can advise and say.

Don't be silenced by shame, Stand Up and Speak Up!

A few weeks ago I was on a walking tour with some my colleagues in Islamic Cairo on a chilly and somewhat gloomy Saturday morning. I was the youngest female in the group and the only one who had lived in the Middle East for 3 decades. Pete, one of the people on the tour approached me and asked me how I cope with living in Egypt and how do I handle ‘the men’ and being harassed on the street. I told him that I had written an article about Sexual Harassment and it had been published in Community times. Interested in my views and article he asked me to send him a copy and if I would consider being a guest speaker and give a talk to High Schoolers, I agreed.

I am always willing to share my work with others and get their feedback, but as the date for the talk loomed closer I wasn’t so sure if I could follow through. The memories and the feelings of the experiences I had and trying to find the words to describe the situations and how it affected me wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. I found myself in a tug of war ‘don’t do it, you don’t need to go through all this again, it’s in the past.’ ‘You have to do this, you have to speak up and let the younger generation know that this isn’t acceptable and that women and men shouldn’t brush this under the carpet any longer! Women have been silenced long enough; you need to speak up and out about it.’ My worry was resurrecting and awakening the emotions that I had worked so hard to tame and keep locked away. Would I be able to handle it even after all the time that had passed?

The voice of reason won the battle and I didn’t bail out. To help me I wrote out key points to help me stay on track as a guide line to the discussion and talk. I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me; it may turn out to be a bawling session and a mockery of something that I feel very deeply about.

The day of the talk, I had butterflies in my stomach and when I saw the young faces of Egypt’s future I became more nervous, my face flushed a bright red and my skin burned, my voice quivered and my hands shook, but I kept going.

After introducing myself to the class, giving my nationalities and making sure that they knew that although I am of mixed ethnicity that I was also ‘ONE OF THEM’, an Egyptian woman. This seemed to wake them up a bit and grab their attention. I discussed the different forms of sexual harassment (Degrading and graphic terms said, the skin crawling looks of being undressed and devoured by the other person and the physical (which on its own comes in many forms))

I told them that most people assume that women or teenage girls must have done something or dressed provocatively to have provoked or asked for the attack to happen. I then told them that my earliest memory was between the ages of 10 or 12 and I was in a shopping mall with my family when I had my first experience and that is when I saw the students get their wake up call! I had reached them; they were seeing it not only from an Egyptian woman’s point of view but from a kid’s point of view. They knew that there was no way at such a young age I could have provoked an attack or had known what sexual harassment was.

Unfortunately children here lead very sheltered lives and do not know what dangers await them outside their apartment doors. They know that there are bad people and that there are thieves but they aren’t made aware of the others that are lurking about. Our girls are clueless and defenseless, I am certain that none of them would know what to do if they were put in a situation like that.

There are many subjects that are taboo in this part of the world and have been locked away in a dark corner of everyone’s mind, simply because they choose not to believe it exists and it will go away on its own. In a perfect world, perhaps it would work, but we do not have that privilege.

Not talking about ‘Sex’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ makes things worse, the predators and prowlers who take advantage of the women walking in the street minding their own business may not have been made aware of what some people will do and how they may violate them. They mightn’t understand or know what their instincts are telling them when they sense an intruder in their personal space. Women being shamed in to guilt and silence just make the offenders more powerful and willing to repeat their acts on other innocent and unsuspecting women?! How can we condone such a thing? We need to arm these women with knowledge of how to recognize a potential offender and how to fight them off. Letting them walk around unarmed with the basic knowledge is just as bad as the person committing the acts themselves.

I know full well what goes through a woman’s mind and the mental torment that follows after an attack. The incident replays itself over and over in your mind, you wonder what you may have done to have provoked the attacker, what you could have done differently. How dirty you feel and no matter how hard or many times you try to wash yourself, the dirt doesn’t seem to go away. It seems to linger on and beneath the skin. You just want to curl up somewhere dark and hide away, BUT if we do that, they win and they strip us of our dignity.

After one of my attacks, I said enough is enough, I will not be silenced! I am not doing anything wrong and I certainly DON’T WANT this to happen! I am going to fight back and I will not let them silence me. This is MY body and they have NO right to touch me!

The examples I gave not only hit home with the girls in the class but it also hit home with the boys. Especially when I told them that on more than one occasion there were men who saw what happened and did nothing. No one came to my aid and I had to fight the sicko off myself!

It isn’t only the women who have to stand up but it’s also the men who have to as well.

I am grateful that the school and the teachers are broaching the subject and are discussing it openly and honestly with the students. I feel that more schools and homes should do the same, If we are ever going to make the streets safer for women to walk down without constantly having to be alert of everyone one around her.

After the talk, four of the staff members who had been present for my talk said that not only were they moved by the talk, but that the students seemed to really relate and were fired up about bringing about change and doing something to make more people aware.

I know I had my doubts about giving the talk, but I am glad that I did. I may have reached someone that day and given them some tips to recognize the warnings and let them know that they are not alone in this.

I have been a victim of Sexual Harassment, I will NOT be silenced and I AM speaking out against it.

NB: My Mom just called me in a panic, because she thought that I had been raped and not told her about it. Sexual Harassment doesn’t have to be an assault to that degree. No, I have not been raped, but I have had men full clothed try to force themselves on me and touch me in places that is in appropriate. That is also sexual harassment and it isn’t right!

Nathalie Atalla

Remembering

                      ‘Death is always more difficult for the living’- unknown

I have been mulling over wether or not I should write this and if I was able to bring myself to write about Nathalie, would I be able to do her justice? I decided to write it as a means to come to terms with her tragic passing.

Around this time in Alexandria, Agami  14-15 years ago, during one of the Paradise beach summer festivals, was when I first saw Nathalie. She and another dear friend of mine were contestants in the Miss Dove/Bianki competition. I remember that day clearly and I remember cheering both on to the finals. As I watched Nathalie on stage, I can recall thinking what a good-looking girl she was. Her eyes in particular caught my attention, their colour much like her personality were unique and they seemed to twinkle every time she laughed or smiled.

It wasn’t until about 6 years ago I was introduced to her sister by my close-knit group of friends when I moved to Cairo. I became quite familiar with her charming sister Fabienne and would often chat and joke with her all the while not knowing that she was Nato’s sister or the cousin of people I knew in Alexandria. A couple of years ago a mutual friend of ours organized a camping trip to Wadi Hitan in the desert. A small group of us packed our bags and made our way to the pickup point where we were to wait for our desert guides. When Nathalie emerged from the car, I immediately recognized her from that day in Agami all those years ago.

The 24 hours spent together along with her two young daughters, sister and mutual friends camping out in the desert and hiking a trail looking at fossilized whale skeletons will forever be imprinted in my memory, The nervous fits of giggles when the 4X4 broke down at the start of the trip and the laughter  around the camp fire as we tried to BBQ wieners and not being able to help but be somewhat disgusted at how they reminded us of a certain part of the human anatomy impaled on a wooden skewer , The impromptu sing along with Nadine and Nicole to the Mama Mia sound track all the way to and from our destination. In those hours I couldn’t help but be drawn to her like a fire fly to lamp light. During our short trip I came to learn what a strong and positive woman Nathalie was. You couldn’t help but notice how she made being a single mom and having a full-time job look manageable. She was also very humble, caring, kind, generous and a genuine person. As well as passionate about life, being a good mother and her job. (The list of her positive qualities is endless)

From that time onwards we were always in touch, via text messages, our groups e-mail thread, what’sapp and twitter. We saw each other frequently at birthdays,  get togethers, outings, spontaneous meet ups and weddings.

I along with a great many others, are still trying to come to terms with her tragic death and how she was taken away from us too soon in a car accident on the 9th July 2011. I can’t believe that I won’t see her daily contributions to our groups email thread and she’ll no longer scold the boys for their crude comments or be the one trying to encourage and help find a location for our weekly Tuesday get togethers. I won’t have her reply to my tweets or chat with her on whatsapp where she would scold me for sending her rude jokes and then laugh about how funny it was, she’d also leave me with inspiring words to help motivate me and boost my self-confidence, give me sound advice when it came to matters of the heart, encourage and support me with my mission to get back in to shape, All that aside, I will mostly miss seeing her with her daughters and sister at gathering and outings, Greeting me with her warm smile and hug and face me and say, ‘How are you? I’ve missed you’ and genuinely mean it. I will miss early morning Friday calls to see if I’m awake and interested in grabbing breakfast at TBS. I now wish I had been able to go to more outings that you attended and had more breakfasts with you.

Nathalie has left a big void in many people’s lives and in our group. We all looked up to her and held her in the highest regard. She was a remarkable, loveable, charismatic, intelligent and an inspiring individual. I think she was our equivalent to Princess Diana. She was feminine, beautiful inside and out. She would turn heads where ever she went.

My eyes well up with tears at the thought of the devastating blow this has been to your parents, daughters, sister and other family members. We, your friends are only feeling a fraction of their pain and loss. My prayers and heart goes out to them and I hope that in time the pain subsides and it becomes easier for them to cope.

A little over a week has passed since you departed from this Earth and our lives, the messages on your facebook wall are still being posted as well as memoriams posted to blogs in your memory. You have touched so many people with your spirit and I hope that a part of you will continue to live on in each and every one of us. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure there are others who will try to do the same. I will try to live by your example and embrace every day and opportunity as they come; I will try to be more positive about situations and life, believe in myself and strive towards my goals to achieve excellence, be more courageous, try new things and to love unconditionally.

Dear God, Thank you, for introducing me to her and letting our paths cross. I am grateful for the time we had together. Please look after her and take care of her family and loved ones, they need you now more than ever.

On a final note and in true Irish form, I raise a glass in your honor and I toast your life and your family; Nato this one is for you;

In Memory of Nathalie Atalla

God saw you injured and a cure was not to be. So, He put His arms around you and whispered “come to me.” With tearful eyes we watched you, and saw you pass away. Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay. A golden heart stopped beating, hardworking hands at rest. God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best.

Rest in Peace Nathalie… I will remember you.

living and loving life

http://www.nathalieatalla.com/

 

below are other blog posts in memory of Nathalie;

http://www.beco-g.com/blog/?p=253

http://gwtoday.gwu.edu/people/inmemoriamnathalieatalla

I have lived in the Middle East (Saudia Arabia and Egypt) for 30 years now. In both countries I have witnessed and been a victim of sexual harassment. One of my earliest memories is of, going to the Mall in Saudi Arabia with my family for an outing and I would be holding either my mother or my father’s hand and Saudi men would try to pinch my behind or try and pinch me in other inappropriate places. At the time I didn’t understand why they would want to do that, I still don’t know what it is about  10 year old girls that would turn on a man. I begged my father to buy me an Abbaya (long black cloak that women wear in KSA to cover themselves up). He fought me tooth and nail and opposed the thought of his daughters having to cover up at such a young age, but when the situation was explained to him, he gave in and willingly bought it. It’s odd how a black cover would act as a protective shield against unwarranted and wanted attention.

When my family and I moved to Egypt in the early 90s, shortly after the first Gulf War, I experienced different kinds of harassment and on different levels. I remember going for walks with my younger sister and mother (who is blond and blue eyed), and constantly being harassed. The men would walk up to her confidently and ask her “how much?” or offer her “1 pound” for her services. The fact that she was married with children didn’t faze them in the least bit! (What high morals they have and great examples of  ‘Good Muslim Men’-NOT). If that wasn’t enough, some men would be a bit sneakier in their approach and try to follow us home to find out where we lived. Luckily we were very observant and would notice their predator tracking behavior and go in to a shop, where we would know the shop keeper and tell him that someone was following us. He, his sons and employees would come to our aid and go out and ‘greet’ the prowler with heavy slaps on the back and rough him up a bit. Other men in the neighborhood would then join in and descend upon the poor guy like a pack of wolves encircling their prey.

As I grew older and matured, the same would happen to me. I would be very conscience of what I would go out wearing in public. I would check and double check that I was conservatively dressed and wouldn’t attract unwanted attention, (Shoulders covered, check! Cleavage covered, Check! Shirt or t-shirt  is below  waist length, Check!) I became paranoid! (I still am to some extent)

The funny thing about that is, it wouldn’t matter how much clothing I wore I would still get harassed by men in the street. I have had cat calls some very flattering but mostly very degrading! I have been groped, grabbed, pinched, rubbed against, followed on foot, followed in cars by men of all ages (including those who are meant to serve and protect us), pushed up against a wall where a guy tried to smother me with his lips and have had someone jump in to my car window and try and put his hands all over me. I have also ( I think everyone has had) the crank callers, the heavy breathers and the ones who are gutsy enough to describe their dirties fantasies on the phone too.  I have so many stories and instances that the list just goes on and  to this day, it still continues to grow…

The instances mentioned above are mine, but I know of many other situations that have happened to people I know. Can you imagine coming out of a building and having a guy push you back in against the iron gates of the elevator and ejaculating on you?! Now tell me that she asked for that, when all she wanted to do was get to her car and go back to the safety of her home.

After an attack like that, you feel dirty and violated. You just want to cry a river and cleanse yourself, but not matter how much soap you use or scrubbing, you can’t get rid of that feeling. It takes a lot of talking, time and support from people who care to get over something like that.

I am tired of having to torture myself by replaying the events back in my mind, action for action wondering and question if I wore something that provoked the attack or if it was my body language, did I look the person in the eye and did they take that as an invitation?  I constantly wonder if I did something to provoke them. Every time, the answer is the same, ‘NO’. If you are going to debate the matter with me and tell me it’s because I’m not veiled then, please stop reading and continue your web browsing elsewhere. Don’t you dare insult my intelligence and say that the reason it happens is because my hair isn’t covered! Don’t! The truth is even women who are veiled are subjected to the same kind of harassment, if not worse!

When are people going to stop being in denial and face the facts?!

We don’t enjoy it and we certainly don’t provoke it! So, if it isn’t us, then hmmm…. I wonder who might be the problem. Whose brain might need to be rewired?

Why is it that (those kind of) men think it’s o.k. to treat women with such disrespect? We aren’t sexual objects or rubbing posts. That isn’t why we were put on the planet. I know that Islam is all about treating women with dignity and respect. So,  can someone please tell me where are they learning this form of behavior? Why have the women been quiet about this for so long?

Last year Community Times dedicated a page every month to sexual harassment and I was one of the contributors. I took the step to come forward because I wanted other women to have courage to speak up and know that they are not alone!

Before the revolution an Egyptian an Arabic movie 678 came out and hit the cinemas across the country. It’s whole purpose was to shed light on sexual harassment in Egypt and how even when you tried to report the incident at a police station women were be belittled or made to feel that they were the reason behind the act. In my opinion it was a powerful movie with a strong message. I hope women here and in the region will answer to the call and stand up for their human rights and take a stand against sexual harassment and bring an end to the tolerance and the acts.

I still think twice about what I’m wearing before walking out the door to go somewhere, but when I am out. I will not allow anyone to touch my body. It is my temple and I will defend it. I will not allow them to turn me in to a defeated or whimpering victim.

I am against sexual harassment and you should be too!

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