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I don’t know why this memory has suddenly begun to resurface and has got me thinking about a guy I had met when I was in University. Perhaps the young woman I was back then, at one time had a clearer view of the person she wanted to be, and how she expected to be treated by a guy, but somewhere at some point in time during the relationship, she lost sight of that. The reason for sharing the experience now after so many years, is to let other women of different ages know, that these situations happen to all of us, they are not alone and that they can move on from them when they end.

This is my story;

Some friends from University and I went out one evening and one of the guys suggested that we swing by and pick up a buddy of theirs. I had no idea, who this guy was, I had never met him before and I wasn’t very impressed when I did.
He came across as moody and unfriendly. I tried to engage him in conversation, but he wasn’t interested in contributing and didn’t speak much. I gave up trying to make him feel welcome in the gathering after that.

Months passed and I didn’t see him again until one summer. The night was very warm and my friends and I were out at a popular club on a Friday night. We were busting out moves on the dance floor, when I noticed a face in the crowd, looking at me and smiling. He walked over to me and in Arabic said, “Do you remember me? I’m Z’s friend”. I told him “Yeah. I remember you, you’re the one we picked up and wouldn’t talk all night. I thought you were miserable and unfriendly”. As you can tell, I rarely held back and told people exactly what I thought.
He laughed and apologized for his behavior, he said he has been stressed out studying for mid-term finals.
“Let’s start again, My name is Irish. It’s nice to meet you.”
with a big grin, he took my hand in his to shake it and said “My name is X. It’s nice to meet you. Would you like to dance?”

We danced for some time. He wasn’t very good at it, but he clearly wanted to make a better impression this time round. After a while he asked if we could get off the dance floor and stand under a fan to cool off a bit. We talked for the rest of the night. He was quite a popular guy, many people came up to him to say hello and he introduced me to them. When I was leaving he took my number.

When summer came to an end and everyone closed up their summer residents to move back to reality and their homes in the city and the sand and surf became a distant memory. Mr. X called me up and asked to take me out. I agreed. We went to a cafe first and we talked. Well, in all honesty, I probably interrogated him about his likes, dislikes, his plans for his future and secretly hoping I might possibly be included in it.

* Important note* I think this was probably the first time, I had caught myself fantasizing about being courted by a suitor, which would end in matrimony. I had never, thought about it before… it was… new to me. My focus before that was, finishing University and building a legacy of some kind.

When we left the cafe, there was still some time before I was expected home, so we went for a drive that resulted in us going to a popular beach resort within the city. It was once the former Monarch’s summer retreat, with a grand palace, huge garden to take long strolls in and his own private beach. The place now is open to the public to visit with a small entrance fee to be paid at the gate.

We parked and got out of the car for a walk, being there brought back some memories of the summer of 96, when I had met my first love, but that’s a story for another time.
We walked and saw the shore line twinkling with city lights around the bay and down part of the city coast line. The autumn breeze gently nudged us and the waves hit the rocks and sand as they played their eternal and never-ending song. He held my hand as he led me across the sand in my high-wedge sneakers to prevent me from sinking and then pulled me close to him when we had reached the lifeguard chair and tried to make out with me. Without a second thought, I impulsively put him into a choke hold. (Yes, I am dead serious, I had him in a head lock). He was startled and confused by my reaction as he tried to pry my arm away from his neck.

“You brought me here to make out with me and you thought I would be okay with it” I remember exclaiming at him. “Look, you aren’t the first guy to attempt this with me. I know many guys think that just because my mother is a foreigner that I am easy and that I’m okay with things like this, but I’m not”, I went on to say. “Would you be okay with a guy treating your sister this way?” “No” came a forced reply from the captive. “Then you need to stop thinking of me as a foreigner and treat me with respect, like you would any of the girls here. After all, I am Egyptian too.” I demanded. “If I release you, will you promise not to try anything?” With a nod of agreement and a confirmed “I promise”, I let go. “Take me home please.” I ordered

We left and for most of the drive we were quiet. When we got closer to my house, he asked me if I really wanted to go home. “It’s not a question of, if I want to or not. I have a curfew and ?I need to respect that.” “Rules are made to be broken Irish, why don’t you just come with me to Far n’ Away, I’m meeting up with some friends and we can hang out more. (By this time, I thought the guy had little to no respect for me). I told him that I couldn’t and I wouldn’t, because I didn’t want to have to endure the dread shib-shib (it’s the Arabic word for slipper, a tool that many parents use to beat sense back into their children and other people). “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen to you? They shout at you and send you to your room?”

“The consequences of the action is not what is worrying me, it’s losing my parents trust and disrespecting them. As long as I live with them, I live by their rules. If you don’t like that, then I’m sorry, but that just shows, you have little respect for families.”

Thankfully he listened and dropped me off on time for me to not get in trouble. I thanked him for the evening (out of politeness) and went up to the house. I thought I would never hear from ‘X’ again after putting him in a strong hold and not bending to his ways, but surprisingly he called back and asked me out again. A romance bloomed and we dated for quite some time after that.

* That girl you read about had spunk and knew exactly how she wanted to be treated, with respect. She didn’t ask or assume it would be given, she demanded it and wouldn’t except being seen like an object to be used for recreational use. That’s the kind of girl/woman we should all attempt to be. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be doormats, that are walked over and used, by men or anyone else for that matter.

In the months leading up to the summer, I remember a shift in my inner balance. I had never been religious and began exploring it again after over a decade of pushing it away. A result of something that happened in my childhood. The reason for my new-found curiosity of my faith was Mr. X. He was not an angel, but his family were modest and some what conservative people and ‘I’ wanted to know more about their train of thought, beliefs and be a good candidate for their son, ‘if’ things continued on the path we were on. The more I learned the more consumed I became. I began to pray regularly, fast, stop wearing certain clothes that I felt were not appropriate and became more selective of whom I hung out with. I stopped greeting my guy friends as warmly as I once hand and going to places, that I felt were full of sin.

As I look back now, I can distinctly remember, feeling distanced, self alienated, sad, miserable and negative. It puzzled me how, I could feel such darkness, from something that should be giving me peace and light. I know the answer now, but I didn’t know it then. My reasons for my quest were not pure, they were selfish. I had given up a part of my true self, so that another or others would like me more. I had unknowingly turned myself into the dread doormat.

Like most relationships, there were rough patches. We broke up when he went abroad for a few months to get some experience in his field. I told him, I would wait for him and he asked me not to, so we broke up.

My religious phase continued for a short time afterwards, as I subconsciously held on to the hope, that X would return and come back to me. The spell ended up being broken during the summer, when less and less of my old friends wanted to hang out with me. I no longer wanted to go to the beach to swim, go to pool parties or out at night. I was alone and discontent. My mother, sister and dear friends voiced their concerns and pleaded with me to go out. I was resistant at first. However, something that had been dormant, awakened inside me and eventually persuaded me out of the house and I drove to the location of one of the big summer parties held at the American compound, which was allegedly hosted by MTV The Grind. Up until I stood at the gates of where the party was being hosted, I was still debating with myself as to why I should turn back and how this was wrong, but my feet had a different agenda. I walked across the threshold of the gates, my ears guided my feet by following the sound of music being played. I stood taking in the scene of people laughing, dancing, singing along to the music, splashing around in the pool and swimming. I remember, one of my thoughts, ” I have been missing out on so much! What had I done?” My friends saw me and watched intently, waiting to see what I would do. My arms worked fast, taking off the shorts and t-shirt while my mind was still processing everything it was seeing and dove in to the pool. My friends cheered and hooted “She’s back!”

We later got back together some time after he returned. He pursued me and after numerous attempts, I caved. Not long after getting back together he became distant. I thought I had done something wrong and tried to talk to him, but he never flat-out told me what happened. Until one fateful day,  I found out that he had gotten engaged to another girl.

Needless to say, I was stunned by the news. It takes a lot for me to be speechless and this was one of those moments. I was hurt, I couldn’t believe that he didn’t have the nerve to break up with me face to face or tell me he had found someone-else and that he was getting engaged. I wasn’t as angry with him as I was with myself for forgetting who I was and my self worth.

In time I got over the experience and put it all behind me. I wish I could tell you that I learned the lesson and it never happened again, but that would be a lie. It took a few more experiences until I realized, what I had been doing and put a stop to it. I am not happy with how things ended between us, but I’m glad that I wasn’t the one who married him, I may have been lost forever. The amusing thing is, to this very day, when our paths cross, he still can’t look me in the eye or be in the same vicinity as me for more than a few minutes.

I have learned that every experience has a lesson. This experience taught me something very valuable, never, ever, try to be something I am not for someone else’s approval, because you can very easily lose yourself and forget who you truly are. Never be a chameleon, like the character Julia Roberts played in the film ‘Runaway Bride’. Always be true to yourself and who you are and if someone truly cares about you, they will be honest.

Play the Game.

The best place to start any story is always at the beginning. In my case, I’m not quite sure where the beginning is to be honest. So, how about I get the ball rolling with my earliest memory of when I first moved to Alexandria, from Saudi Arabia. We left my childhood home of Dhahran, the year of the Gulf War in 1991. I wasn’t at all happy to be moving to Egypt. I felt like a prisoner in the confines of our large family apartment. I was used to opening the front door of my house once I had done my homework and would hop on my bike and go for a bike ride around the compound, or play outside in the playground with the neighbors until my parents called me in for dinner time. I had been used to certain freedoms and it was very hard getting used to only going out on weekends. I was not at all pleased about the new school, I had been enrolled in. It wasn’t close to resembling the International Schools, I had been accustomed to. The structure of the Language School was jerry built,the classrooms were small and cramped, poor lighting, windows that didn’t shut well, some windows had missing glass, the room was crammed with poorly built desks that splintered and chairs that had nails that stuck out and tore your tights. The chalkboard was so old that it had grooves in them and the paint was so cheap it would rub off on our uniforms if we lent against it.The greatest irony was, that it was at this school, where some of Alexandria’s high society attended. The lessons in  the classroom, were not the ones I remembered or the ones I took with me when I left. It was the hard lessons of how to ‘play the game’, that I learned from the masters of the game, that have remained with me. They weren’t lying when they said, that some of the greatest lessons a person learns are NOT in the classroom.

I was raised to be honest and to tell the truth, no matter what. However, those were not the set of rules that governed the social circles there. There were two core rules that any newbie would be grateful to know, if they wanted to get by and not fall victim to the flock of popular girl harpies. Rule 1- “Do as I say, not as I do”. For example, if you’re invited to someone’s house for a gathering or a birthday party and they order you not to eat the food, then you don’t eat the food, even if they do. If they decide that someone is ‘Persona Non Grata’ because they aren’t respectable enough, then you don’t speak to them, but if they do, that’s o.k. If they say it isn’t o.k to slow dance with a boy, then you don’t do it, but it’s o.k if they do. In today’s world, it’s called ‘Double Standards”

Rule 2- ‘Being two faced is an art form” You LOVE everyone to their face and introduce everyone as your best friend! When they aren’t in your company, that’s when you can bitch about them to your coven of loyal followers. Never ever, confront someone and tell them what your really think of them to their face. That will just rub people the wrong way, and you will be targeted and become a social outcast, where hardly anyone will talk to you and malicious rumors will start flying around. The silver-lining in this situation is that when you are the target, some other poor soul is being left alone. Over time, the stories will be forgotten and life goes on.

I unfortunately didn’t know those golden rules, and had to learn things the hard way, after the ‘New Girl’ – everyone wanted to be my friend phase came to an end. Which brings me tor Rule 3- “Anything Foreign is Good” Other wise known as the foreigner complex or 3odat el khwaga. I was some what of a rare breed because of my foreign blood, which made me instantly cool. I had lived and been schooled abroad (check), My clothes were all bought abroad (double check), I spoke English fluently (check), I had a foreign passport (check), oh and I had fair skin (with freckles), wavy straight hair, colored eyes, and I didn’t look Egyptian (Triple check). The downside to this upside, is that I was female! Why is that a downer… well thanks to Hollywood and their positive portrayal of women, it meant that I was easy. It apparently goes without saying that any member of the female species with some or non Arab/Middle Easter/ North African blood lines, is game for any kind of ‘sport’. By that I don’t mean the kind of sport you need a coach for! Oh and we are o.k with it. Rule 3 took a little bit longer for me to comprehend and learn to correct guys perception of me.

Rule 4- “Treat them badly”  or ‘Demure, Caring and Alluring” Alexandrian girls and women have the reputation for two things in Egypt. The first is how gorgeous they are ‘A7la Banat, Banat Eskindareya”. The second unfortunately is not as flattering as the first. They are the masters at being the most manipulative, think Scarlet O’Hara from the ‘Gone With The Wind”. Like every rule… there are exceptions. I have been luck enough to meet some very nice, decent and genuine women from my city. I have also had the terrible luck of crossing those who are true to the rule!

When a lad shows interest in a girl, if she is interested in him, then instinctively you reciprocate the feelings, right? WRONG! When a guy likes a girl and let’s his feelings be know, the correct reaction is to ‘Tidilu bil gazma’ treatment (hit/give him the shoe) from the get go. In some odd and twisted way, it is a form of taming. It is a way to get the individual to do your bidding and respect you. The trick is NOT to completely castrate his manhood or humiliate him to the point of breaking him. But, so that he feels like he has won the chase and earned the right to have her on his arm. Knock the guy down, treat him badly, ridicule him and when he’s about to give up be sweet to him in a one to one setting a few times, just to give him hope and not to lose interest. However, when he attempts to interact with you in front of your friends, you go back to the gazma treatment. Many of the girls I know and their mothers before them, have had Egypt’s finest gentry pop the question by this method.

The other skill, is to be a Snow White with a twist. This is perhaps the most deceiving tactic of all. It reminds me of the praying mantis, because the poor chap has no idea, what his fate is, the only difference is he doesn’t get eaten. The girl will act like the sweetest thing ever, gentle, thoughtful, kind, soft spoken, feminine, delicate, sugar and spice and everything nice! :Until she is officially the Mrs. THEN she drops the act and begins to show her true colors.

This skill is either passed down genetically or taught at a very young age. I haven’t quite figured it out yet and I doubt I’ll ever learn how this unspoken skill is acquired. Although, I now know how to crack the gazma whip, it is not something I enjoy practicing. I would never ever like to be on the receiving end of that whip and I know that Karma can be a bitch. As for playing the ‘dream girl’… I have no desire of ever learning or implementing it.

Rule 5- Never put all your eggs in one basket.

Now, this rule is very hard to learn and use and that is why only some of the very skilled and cold hearted are capable of executing the plan without getting caught. If they do get caught, they then play the victim and cut their loses. How? Let me explain; a young man courts a girl for a length of time and she has him under her spell. He thinks the world of her and that she can do no wrong. She likes him, but is aware that there might be better fish in the sea, so when she isn’t with her loyal love, she keeps her keen eyes open for someone who might be better suited for her needs (whatever they maybe, financial, social…etc). If she does find someone, it is best to choose someone, not from the city, someone who lives in a different city or abroad. Alexandria is a small city, and the chances are someone will know either lad or both, which increases the chances of getting caught.

This situation can go three ways;

1- The loyal lover, the knave of Hearts gets dumped for the King of Hearts and she weds him and become the Queen.

2- The Knave of Hearts turns out to be a King after all and keeps him, because no one could trump him.

3- Both knaves find out through a source what is happening and they team up against her. The temptress then plays the victim, the most gullible of the knaves decides to give her a second chance.

I often find myself on the side lines watching and observing people and couples. The more I watch and learn, the more I realize that a majority of people consider dating a game of both mental and emotional skill and NOT an attraction. It’s like a game of cat and mouse or the hunter and the prey.

An important note, is that, the men also play by these rules too. You’ll read more about that in my upcoming posts…So stay tuned!

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;