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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.
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 !
The entry below is hypothetical; it is something I have been mulling over in my mind for quite some time. Being an educator I have found that one of the many joys of teaching is being able to pass on knowledge to the future generations. I have dreams and hopes that one day the Egyptian people will climb back up to the top and impress us with their capabilities once again and achieve great things.
For decades we have been experiencing a brain drain. Families who have had the means have immigrated to foreign countries to seek a better life and education for the children. The education system I regret to say, presently is not nurturing our nation’s future. With classrooms that hold between 30-70 students in a single class, how on earth can the system expect teachers to be able to reach or teach students? It isn’t a wonder that there is an abundance of private tuition that goes on!
If Egypt is to change, the education system and its curriculum has to be one of its focal points.
If I was given the opportunity to be Minister of Education, I would make a lot of changes, which would also probably put a price tag on my head and move me to the top of many people’s HIT LISTS, but somebody has to step up to the plate and take charge.
Egyptians at one point in history were the leaders in Science and Mathematics, the Pharaohs were living proof of that. Over decades our position among the leading educated nations has slipped to the lower end of the spectrum which is very upsetting.
The public school system, (by public I mean government run schools) is lacking in so many areas that it is very difficult to find a starting point. Below are a few areas that I have been thinking about, but before I do that, let me paint a visual picture of what a ‘Government School’ is like; the following paragraph you are about to read is an excerpt from my Masters Comprehensive Exam Essay;
“For me to describe the ‘high quality education’ that I envision for schools in Egypt In the 21st century I need to give a brief description of what public/government run schools are like presently.”
“The land and building on which the schools are built on are not only structurally depressing to look at but to be in. The exterior walls of the school are colorless and lifeless. They look more like prison blocks than they do institutions for learning. The classrooms are small, poorly lit, desks are crammed in tightly next to one another to form as many rows as possible. There is a huge worn out chalkboard at the front of the room where the teacher stands and regurgitates and spoon feeds lessons. Students from as low as 30-70 in a classroom is best described as a can of sardines. The play area is a small patch of land with sand. I won’t even go in to describing the washroom facilities because I will only make you queasy. The sounds that ring out and across the school are mainly the voices of teachers shouting their lessons, banging their desk, children reciting and repeating phrases and scolding. “
This is not learning… this is programming. If the founding Theorists of Education could see the state of these schools, they would probably be turning in their graves. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed or permitted education to be put on a back burner and for our countries future to be taught under these conditions.
For the school system to improve we need to improve not only the conditions of the learning institutions but we need to rectify teaching methods, because they are stuck in a time warp. Teachers need to teach not only for the present time but for the future. Educators need to be re-educated themselves, sending them all back to school probably isn’t going to be feasible and will be very expensive, so an alternate way to go about doing this would be by asking teachers who have gained their Teaching Certificates or Masters in Education to volunteer their time to show teachers different methods and techniques for teaching phonemic awareness, reading, math fundamentals, writing, free thinking as well as how to plan a lesson. These courses would cost the teachers nothing and it would be in the form of ongoing professional development that in addition to asking teaching professionals, we would also extend the invitation to professors to lecture them in theory and practices as well as child psychology.
While the teachers are being re-educated I would have the employees of the Ministry of Education evaluate the current curriculum and together decide what areas need to be amended, changed or dropped all together. Part of the revamping of the curriculum will include hands on learning. Let’s face it, there is so much you can learn from a text-book and not everyone can absorb what the teacher is lecturing about. According to Howard Gardener there multiple Intelligences, (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm ), in summary means there are several ways people learn and we as a nation need to understand and accept that. Knowledge of the world and its people is something students need to be exposed to. We fear what we do not understand, the more we understand, the less fear we have of the outside world. I would also insist that trades men from the rural areas demonstrate and show students their trade and teach them some of the skills. This would be a stepping stone to start building pride in professions as well as a sense of community.
I don’t expect that with the wave of my pointer all shall be fixed and there won’t be any problems. A lot of damage has been done and a lot of rectifying will be met with resistance. I don’t expect everything to be fully implemented for at least 5-10 years, but changes would be underway before the start of the academic year of 2012, if I had my way, that is.
How to put money back in to the schools and the school system?
I have no idea what the government’s budget is for education or if there are any funds for that matter, so I am going to presume that we have NONE. To find funding for this enormous project is far from being easy. One idea that does come to mind would be to re-invest a percentage of the sales of the needed textbooks and uniforms back in to the schools as well as having a percentage of our salaries taxed to be reinvested in to the education system. By this we would be making sure the classrooms would be in a condition that is safe and a comfortable learning environment. We would also be able to reduce the number of students in classrooms and increase teachers’ salaries. Each classroom would have the proper lighting, ventilation and furniture and eventually resources. The bathroom facilities would be sanitary and the playground a place where students can enjoy running around and playing at recess.
I would also look for private and public donations by setting up an account for people to donate money to help improve the education system. I’m sure along the road my team and I would find other ways and means of finding funds.
I know that I am probably going to be shot for having suggested that we pay a tax where the money goes towards the education system, but if we profess to love this country as much as we do, shouldn’t we reinvest in it and by doing so through the education so that the future generations of Egypt, lead this country out of the third world country bracket but towards the 21st century and a better nation?
Education is the weapon to fighting ignorance and I hate to be the one to admit it or to point it out, but there is a lot of it here. For Egypt to make a 180 degree turn in the right direction, we need to educate the people of this nation, re instill the self-worth and pride in who they are. If we accomplish that, trust me their voices will grow strong along with their spirits. We need to start from ground zero, from those who are less fortunate than most and work our way up. Think of it as rebuilding our heritage.
On a final note, from what I have been reading on twitter, there is a movement called #tweetback that is working towards raising money for a slum on development projects, aside from regular donor packages, they are adding a twitter campaign component. The recipients of the donations are Ezbet Kheiralla. I know that they are also working towards improving the conditions of some of the schools in that area, if you would like to contribute;
“#tweetback donations: CIB Bank, Semiramis Branch, acct number 2240000220-SWIFT CIBEEGCX 002, under name Peace and Plenty.
As relayed to me by @TravellerW-Mohamed El Dahshan on twitter.