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Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.

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!

Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.

In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

Summer home in Agami- Villa Casa Blanca

Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends.  To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.

The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After  1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.

To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.

I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.

As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.

Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)

It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!

Family time or giving new meaning to the term, ‘swimming with the fishes’

I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).

During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.

I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.

                                                       
                        The scene from the brige where my cousin wed his bride. Tintern Abbey-Rosslare

My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion.  The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)

The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.

In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).

There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.

Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.

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 !

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I have come to notice that this year has been one of many changes and these changes leave me grasping at straws for familiar and stable things that were once a constant reassurance in my daily life, but with some of my closest friends having moved far away and having to make new connections with people, I can’t help but wonder, where do I go from here? I find myself at home on most nights sitting thinking about my future direction as well as reflecting on past relationships and life decisions. Have I strayed from my path? Am I supposed to be where I am right now? God, how I wish I had a compass or some sort of gauge to help know if what I have done or am doing is right. (I bet I’m not alone in wishing that) In the past year my sister got married and moved to another country and is starting a new life with a great man as well as a new career. I can sympathies and understand some of her excitement of the new adventures that lie ahead of her, but I can also relate to her trials and tribulations too. In the past couple of years a handful of close friends have uprooted and moved abroad and they were people I could relate to easily, talk to without judgment and comfortably let my guard down without worrying about being stabbed in the back. As more and more people move to different locations I can’t help but wonder, What is to become of me? Where or to whom will my path take me to next? The unknown for some, is exciting and for others terrifying. As for me, I just feel very disorientated right now. For the past week or so, I have been remembering my younger years and how I seemed to have it together, I may have lacked confidence but I certainly seemed to have appeal and direction. I had been told once, that when I entered a room there was something about me that caught people’s attention. I’m not sure; I still have ‘that’. The past few years I have been recovering and mending a shattered heart. During the time of reconstruction I think whilst I tried to numb the pain and self-medicate myself with food, I lost myself and my way. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was I had hoped of making of myself. Recently I was asked what ‘my goal in life was’, naturally I want to live a happy, healthy and full one where I am successful at my job, but in that moment I felt a part of the old me resurface and crawl out from her hiding place. I was able to answer the question, without hesitation… I want to build my own Legacy. I have no idea how I am going to go about it, when my full time job is as an Elementary Teacher, but hey, it’s a start. In the past year and a half I have gone from a size 18/16 to a 14. When I stand in front of the mirror I can almost see the reflection of my former self. The person who used to stare back at me was one who shared the same features but was encaged in issues that kept her from surfacing. As I begin to gain more control and confidence again, I feel as though I am not only ready to continue battling my inner worries and demons but to strive forward and continue along my destined path, where ever it may lead. The unknown is a scary thing, but it can also be an exciting adventure that awaits. I need to have faith and trust in myself as well as the powers that be, that whatever is meant to be, is what is right for me.

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!

Sit or stand and rise to the occasion

Sit or stand and rise to the occasion

We are all faced with situations at some time or other. There are times when we choose not to rise to the occasion and to let things slide or sort themselves out. I believe in my heart of hearts that 2011 has been a wake-up call to many of us. Especially those who have always chosen to be bystanders. This year I believe many of us have not only risen and stood up for our beliefs and rights as a nation but we have done so on an individual level too.

We have had to deal with situations and circumstances that we never thought or dreamed of occurring. The bombing of the Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, was a trigger of a series of events. The explosion blew off the blinds that had been pulled over eyes to the growing conflict of Muslims and Christians in the country. Many people prior to the explosion lived in the past, where at one time religion was regarded as a private and personal topic that should not be discussed or questioned. As a woman who has parents of two different faiths, I still believe that a person’s faith is their business and no-one else’s, but as the ‘Wahhabi’ traditions continue to migrate westward to northern Africa, particularly Egypt, our culture is evolving before our very eyes and is continuing to influence people’s ideas, thoughts and practices. Which I believe is infecting the minds of many especially those who are not as well-educated or are below poverty level.

A couple of weeks after the Egyptian people erupted like a volcano that had lain dormant for decades. After the uprising in Tunisia, they smelt the winds of change and decided that they too should be shed of the shackles that had held them down and the muzzles that had been keeping them silent. The 18 days that followed were very scary and dark days, but the people stood up and showed that even in the face of danger they could rise to the occasion and face what was to come and what was meant to be. The world watched and held its breath as the reign of one of the longest-serving presidents in the region came to an end and then there was Libya, Bahrain, Yemen…and now America

I think the countries that stood out the most in my mind were Japan after the Tsunami and Earthquake hit the country in early March of this year. After a devastating force ripped through the nation and left devastated nation behind, I do not know if I could have found the will to pick myself up and try to rebuild the country after witnessing something of that magnitude. They are to be commended and held in the highest regard. I have never been a fan of ‘Libya’ and I think that my lack of interest in the country and its people was caused by its former leader, but hearing and following the harrowing accounts that came from the people on twitter and their determination to break free from the iron fisted tyrant who ruled its people through fear was not only brave but inspiring.

2011 seems to have been a year of not only a rude awakening but a year of reckoning for some.  In addition to that, I also believe it has been the year where voices have been granted to those who felt they had no voice and a restoration to those who had been muffled or silenced for their ideas and opinions.

In the post Mubarak era a new chapter in Egypt’s long history is beginning. This past November a parliamentary election was held and many of those who ran had probably never thought of a life in politics before. I was not only a witness to the event but a participant too. For the first time in the 20 years I lived here, I stood among my country men and women and cast my vote and voiced my opinion as to whom I would like to represent me. I was amazed at the people’s resilience to stand for hours in the rain awaiting their turn. Old men and women who could barely stand or walk, would be helped in to the poll stations on the arms of strangers or carried in on chairs, just so that they could have a say. It was beyond moving!

Now we are faced with another challenge, which direction will the country go in? Will the adrenaline that the nation was injected with almost a year ago ware off and allow the nation to be run by conservative and closed-minded thinkers? Or will the liberals take a leap of faith and venture beyond the borders of their comfort zone and tear a page out of the Muslim Brotherhoods book, become more organized, proactive and get their hands dirty by going in to the more rural neighborhoods and making themselves known to try to counter act the decades of seeds that were planted years ago in the people’s minds? Will the liberals rise?

I hope they will…

On a personal level, I never thought that I could be pushed or be challenged the way I have been this year. I had the choice to go back to Alexandria and be with my family just hours before the chaos of January 28th began, but I chose to stay in Cairo for a couple of reasons. One was, I had a very close and dear friend of mine who would have been in Heliopolis on her own and I didn’t want to leave her during such a dangerous and unpredictable time in a country that was not hers and where she didn’t speak the language. A small part of me also wanted to believe that things wouldn’t escalate. Thirdly, if I am going to be honest, I subconsciously wanted to know how much I could endure before I would seek the shelter and comfort of my parents’ home, while, a BIG part of me longed to be with them, in their warm embrace where I felt safe. I simply needed to know and discover what I was made of. My father whom I love dearly, has cast a very thick protective cloak over my sister and I and I needed to know my true inner strength.

I rose to the occasion and I did face danger head on but it did take a toll on my mind and my physical wellbeing. I lost days’ worth of rest and sleep worrying, thinking, and recording the events. My main concern was getting my friend home to her family safely and then home to mine. During the days of duress, I learned a great deal about myself and what I am capable of. I am a lot tougher than I look and by God could I stand my ground if I needed to.

Once the uprising had passed and the President stepped down, I had to find a way to push the memories and events behind me to complete my Masters. The mind is an incredible thing; it is our best shield and weapon I believe. It can tune out and tune in on command. I was able to tune out long enough to finish my Masters and graduate.

After graduation, the events of the past few months and my true state of being came over me like a tidal wave… I had a lot of baggage that needed to be sorted through and a lot of releasing and making peace to do to. I am in a much better place than I was in May, but I still have a lot of ‘cleaning house’ to do.

I took a leap of faith and decided to accept a more challenging job in the field of education as well as in a more international environment. I had my doubts about my capabilities and how I would fit in, there are times when I still have my doubts and question whether the move was a worthwhile one or not, but I believe that I have risen to the challenge. It hasn’t been easy sailing, it has taken a great deal of adjusting, patience and learning and there has been a great deal of struggling. A month after starting my new job, my mother had hip replacement surgery and my poor father was left to care for her himself, I couldn’t leave my father to deal with it on his own, so I would travel back and forth every weekend so that he could get 2 nights of uninterrupted sleep, while I took over for the time I was there. It was very draining and tiring but I would not and could not, not be there for my family. In the beginning  I felt as though I was drowning and doubted that I would make it through the three-month probation period for new hires, it’s now December and I am still there and still standing. I think that I have proven to myself once more that I am capable of much more than I like to give myself credit for.

After four years of being a wall flower and maintaining my ‘single status’, I got back in to the dating game. I felt like a fish out of water, but the person whom I was seeing put me at ease and made it seem very natural. Unfortunately the relationship was not destined to last long; it ended before it had really begun. Breakups of any kind are never easy and it can sting especially when the person you were with moves on and has found happiness with someone else and you are left waiting for your turn to come again. Usually I would crawl back in to my hollow and hibernate for months on end until I am numb and can no longer feel the painful disappointment, but I have decided to be more outgoing and social. Why should I choose to mope and wallow in misery and self-pity when I could be out living, being proactive and being positive ?!

We have risen; I have risen, have you? Will you?

women waiting in a long line to cast their vote at a poll station for Nov 28th parliament elections in Egypt

As the day for elections loomed nearer and my decision to go vote fluctuated between to vote or not vote due to the instability and safety of Cairo and Alexandria during the second wave of the revolution. I finally made up my mind and bought my train ticket and made my way up to Alexandria Sunday evening.

You could sense the excitement and anxiousness in the air in both cities. There was a state of confusion and worry among the citizens of this country. Numerous questions echoed everywhere you went; will it be safe to go and vote? Will thugs have been hired to attack polling stations? Will it be rigged like last time? Who do we vote for; we don’t know half the names that will appear on the ballots? There are over 60 -100 names to choose from on the ballot, how am I to know which person I want to represent me? These were just some of the questions that had been asked over the course of the past couple of weeks and on the train ride to Alexandria.

Once I got home a very heated debate and discussion ensued. The house was divided as to what to expect at the polling station and who to vote for in the Attareen area. None of us were familiar with any of the names of the political candidates, their parties or what their beliefs are. In the end I had to call up on a friend who was in the same boat as I was. We are both Alexandrian, from the same area and although we have very similar views of how the country should be run, we both come from different religious backgrounds, but at the end of the day we wanted the same thing, liberal civilian government. We talked about our options, he gave me a summary of the different parties’ beliefs and then when it came to the candidates, we were both stumped… There were far too many to choose from. He said that a friend of his was voting for 2 of 3 guys and that is what he was going to go with too. When I relayed the information I had just learned to my family, it was decided that we would go with the party that Naguib Sawiris backs, ‘El Kotla El Masreya’, whom are (supposedly and hopefully) liberal, they have both revolutionaries, young and old people. As for the candidates, I still know very little about them and found it hard to find any information on them so, I just followed the heard as they say. I had decided that I was going to give my vote for one labor and one professional and luck would have it, both belong to the same political party that I had decided to choose.

My Dad, God bless him had figured out where my Mom, Aunt and I had to go vote, got our registration numbers and which poll booth we belonged to. (A Great Time SAVER!)

Monday morning, when I woke up for a brief moment I had forgotten what day it was. Waking up in my room in Alexandria caused a brief moment of disorientation and confusion, being there usually meant that it was a weekend or a holiday of some kind. Memories of the night before came flooding back and I leapt out of bed and got myself ready for to go vote.

The weather wasn’t the best it could have been, it was over cast with dark gloomy rain clouds, the wind had a cold chilly bite to it but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits or deter them from coming out to vote. I was lucky, I didn’t stand for as long as other people did to cast my vote, other people stood in line for hours in the rain and cold. Their sheer determination to make their voices heard is uplifting as well as inspiring.

The poll station wasn’t too far away from where we lived but we did find it quite odd that we weren’t closer to our house, when there were other polling stations nearby. The school that we went to was the marooseya school, near the Raml area. It is down a very narrow and hard to find passage way, if my dad and I hadn’t done our research ahead of time I doubt we would have found the place. It was literally wedged between a cluster of buildings and a church. If you walked by you wouldn’t know there was a school there. (Thank you Google Maps!)

We got to our designated area fairly early and there was a cue of women waiting patiently in line. There were two lines set up, one for the elderly and those in need of assistance and a line for the younger and more able voters. There was a very noticeable and heavy security presence. Police officers and men in blue uniform, I believe either a sect from the navy or military police, I am not certain.

The poll station didn’t open on time due to the tardy arrivals of those who were in charge of the station or were meant to be working there. As we all waited patiently in line a man shouted out instructions but I couldn’t hear him well to be able to understand or pass on the information, which lead to people getting more and more confused.

Once the officials who were working at the poll station arrived things were slow going. My mother, who is still recovering from hip replacement surgery and is on crutches along with a few other elderly women were the first of a handful of people to enter the premises to begin the voting process that morning. My aunt and I had to wait in line for another hour while we waited for our turn.

I have great admiration for military in general and other security forces, but it is with great regret that I cannot say that my admiration extends to Egypt’s. They have shown their true colors over the past year and it is one that disturbs me greatly, having said that they showed a very polite and softer side of themselves on Monday. They were very helpful and respectful when addressing people when asking them not to take pictures or to stand in line. They were being too nice… which made me very skeptical. (It also made me ponder… if every poll station across the nation had this amount of security, where were they in January when civilians had to defend their neighborhoods and businesses?)

Things got a bit tense twice when I stood in line, a woman from the back of the line walked up to one of the high-ranking officers and yelled at him for not opening the station on time and inadvertently accused him of foul play, by this time it was 8:30. They apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t them who were holding up the process. The second time was when screeching of tires was heard and guards ran to the main street to see what the cause was. thankfully a False Alarm!

As I stood in line tweeting away my eyewitness accounts of what was going on, people in line were talking and communicating with strangers about what they think about the revolution, who they are voting for and why and what the results of this election might mean for the future of Egypt. As I stood listening and tweeting I heard a women confess that she didn’t vote during the referendum last spring and she had now wished she had. She said that this time she was determined to have a say and to vote for what she believed in. At this polling station there were women of all ages and social classes standing in very close proximity of one another and it was in that brief moment that everyone looked equal. There was no division of class, rank or education; we were all just women, who had finally been given a voice.

Although many have mixed feelings of those who are standing their ground in Tahrir Square and in other areas around the country, one thing is for certain, that our presence at voting stations today would not have been possible if they hadn’t stood up to corruption, poverty, injustice and demanded their given right to have their voices heard. Many lost their lives so that we would have that chance today, others bare the wounds of the battle that may heal and then there are those who will have the wounds that serve as a crippling reminder every day of their lives a price they were willing to pay for us to have a chance to make a change and a difference. As I stood in line listening to the women around me conversing, I recalled a conversation I had, had with a former president’s nephew years back. I told him that the day will come when another revolution will happen and the people will rise up either because the poor are getting poorer or the mentality of the people will change and Egypt will become a religious state like Iran. He laughed at me and said he doubted it would happen… I wonder if he’s laughing now?

As I gazed around at the hodge podge of women, it became apparent that there was quite a strong Muslim Brotherhood following at the station I had been assigned to. One I find worrying, but not as worrying as Salafi supporters. I have to give them credit though; they have been the most organized party and have been promoting themselves well, so if they get voted in, they would have earned their places. After all they have been working towards this moment for decades. I do not endorse nor support them in any way, if they do get voted in, then I fear for Egypt’s long term future. If the country turns in to another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan, that I will have to abandon Egypt with a very heavy heart and move elsewhere. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, I do not want to have to watch women’s rights wash away and be forced to cover up again.

After an hour of waiting a desk was brought out and a man sat at it with booklets of photocopied papers, with people’s names and ID numbers, he was trying to speed up the process and tell people which room they should go to, to cast their vote and to ensure they were waiting in line at the right place.

The were two  highlights to my day, the first was seeing my mum emerge from inside the school with a victorious look of satisfaction on her face. Although she is not of Egyptian blood, she got the nationality from being married to my Dad for (well) over a decade and she made it a point to go and vote! The other was the feeling of self accomplishment after having voted.

When, I was finally allowed to make my way in to the school, which was a lot further in than any of us had thought, we had to walk through the school playground (square patch of sand) and up almost 2 flights of stairs. 3 classrooms were designated for voting rooms; luckily mine was empty, so I spent less than 10 minutes waiting, while other people had to wait longer because they would only allow two people in at a time, which slowed down the process. The officials in the room wore vests that indicated that they were overseers of the voting station and checked our IDs, had us sign and gave us our ballots. There was a small cubical for you to go and cast your vote. The ballot boxes were made from glass and had wooden frames encompassing the glass and a big padlock on each one. Things seemed to be in order.

The ballots were 2 different colors and 2 sizes. The ballot to vote for the political party was a light salmon pink and was slightly smaller than A4. The ballot of individual’s names was an A3 paper, with numbers, symbols and names of the political candidates. I checked the back of both my papers to ensure that they had the official stamp on the back to make sure that my vote would be counted, otherwise it would have been void and I would have had to insist that the judge of the polling station sign it.

Knowing who I was going to vote for and what party made things really easy, otherwise, you would have had to read through the entire list of names and that is what took people a long time! By the time I left with my Aunt the line where we had been standing hand quadrupled in numbers and went around the block in 2 directions.

When I got home I continued to follow the elections on twitter across the country and to tweet my accounts. Some of the accounts that were coming in were very hopeful and others were not. A lot of people had to blow the whistle on many polling stations, politicians and parties for not following procedures. There were reports of poll stations not opening on time, ballots not being stamped, judges refusing to sign the ballots to make them valid, polling stations being closed without an explanation, party members trying to buy voters votes are just some of the things that were made. There are still mixed feelings about the elections in general. Some people believe that this is a step towards democracy and change. Others see it as a scam and that it won’t matter what people vote, the decision by security forces has already been made. In all honesty, I am not convinced that this will work, but I had nothing to lose by voting today. If I am wrong and this is legit, then my vote counted for something. If it is all just a smoke screen for what is to come, I didn’t lose anything by trying. I know one thing for sure though, if I hadn’t come to Alexandria, to be here today, I know I would have regretted it for a very long time.

Now all we can do is wait and hope…

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