I have less than three weeks left in Cairo, and it actually feels a bit strange – I don’t wish to leave at all. Sure, Egypt has its problems, but to me, this place feels like home. Something about it makes it feel very comfortable and at ease.
I say this, while the horns are blowing outside my window. Today is the first day of the feast, Eid, following 30 days of Ramadan this year. I had Koshari for the first time since before Ramadan started on June 6th, and it was great. It wasn’t the best I’ve had, just the basic street Koshari, but great considering all I’ve been eating is ful, tammia, and shwarma for the past month.
We went out last night before prayer to celebrate Eid, going to a bar to drink tea (or beer for us foreigners), and chat. When the last of us finished around 3 AM, we grabbed some food, then walked back to our apartments before first prayer at the mosques. I noticed some stares. There were definitely the usual (if not more) Egyptian men passing comments in my direction, and I think some of the other girls might have received worse earlier in the night as some were wearing short shorts and tank tops. But my friends with me were male and I’m glad for that.
I wouldn’t say that Cairo is more dangerous to walk in as a woman (or anyone, really). It feels the same as Phoenix – just stay safe, have street smarts. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t listen to music, keep your purse close to you, avoid dark alleys, try to not walk alone. I’ve had more nervous situations in Phoenix, with cars attempting to follow me to my home, men threatening me at the light rail stations.
Maybe why Egypt doesn’t necessarily scare me much more is because….I don’t speak Arabic. Yes, I know, I know, I should try to learn the language before visiting the country – we were also told our program would have Arabic learning classes, but that didn’t happen…but that’s on me. Do what you can to, learn the culture the best you can.
With street harrassment, however, I don’t really understand what the men are saying aside from “yala habibi” and “ya sukkra,” so it’s easier to play dumb, look down, and quickly walk away. I do get some English comments, although these are usually from shopkeepers attempting to hustle foreigners into their shops. Foreigners typically aren’t good at bargaining against their heavily inflated prices, or else don’t know better, so we’re always targets. Most shopkeepers I’ve interacted with have actually been respectful, friendly, and very hospitable. It’s nice, but for a tip – don’t go into their shop if you’re not planning to buy. Just say no.
Sometimes, I’ll walk and hear shopkeepers and men place their hands together in a praying motion, bow towards me, and loudly say “Ni hao!”
Haha, no, I’m sorry. I’m American. Even then, I’m a very white-washed half-Japanese woman. I don’t speak a lick of Mandarin Chinese, but I understand that my Asiatic features have been a bit hard to grasp for some. And to our Indian interns, the men say “Namaste.” Most other interns don’t get profiled and usually just get hit with a “hello” or Arabic greeting.
I’ll probably be venturing out later today for Shisha and the cafe, however, and I’m not too sure what to expect. I just need to be around my friends and be smart. I’m a bit tired of hibernating in the apartment, however. All day long, all I hear on the streets are the vuvuzela trumpets playing out. Cairo is quite a busy city – full of people, full of noise, and never sleeps. Most Egyptians have left on vacation, many out on the North Coast, but still many are left downtown to roam around.
My classwork and internship work are picking up quite a bit right now, so I’ll be posting more things once everything ends after July 13th. I definitely will include a list of things that helped me survive in Cairo, along with things I desperately wish I had thought to bring and other cultural experiences.
Eid Murbarak and best greetings!