Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"The humiliation of being a woman"

About a week ago, I was walking home from the office and about to cross a busy thoroughfare.  Some kid driving by me leaned out of the car to grab me, yelling, "Fuck you." I snapped. I pulled him halfway out of the car (which was moving slowly because of traffic) and slapped him. He ended up gripping my hand and twisting, squeezing my fingers and dragging me along with the car, only letting me go before I nearly ran into a parked car. One of my fingers was black and blue for days, and I could not move it.

Graffiti on a barrier in Cairo depicting a woman surrounded by men.

A few months ago, some guy was following me in his car in the middle of the day, slowing down every few feet and propositioning me with money. Two hundred dollars, he said. People on the street asked me if there was a problem. Yes. That man is following me. They told me to get into a taxi--as if my presence on the street was the problem. The problem isn't me, it's him. Getting me off the street will not solve anything. And this fucker definitely is not going to intimidate me. I have every right to be here. Once women start staying home out of intimidation, it's over.

In August, a friend was walking me home and a group of kids was following us, saying nasty things, spitting on me, and throwing garbage and open 1.5 liters of water bottles at my head.

These are just a few examples of the situations I have encountered since being here, probably among the worst. For the most part, it's noises, cat calling, whistles, pssts, pet names, and the occasional dirty reference. You think you are ignoring it. You think you're handling it fine. When you are rational you tell yourself it's just a bunch of uneducated, dirty oafs.

You don't even notice it gets to you. But you'll snap. And when you do, you'll be blamed. You shouldn't have been on the street. You should have known it was a joke. You should have worn more clothes.

I was talking to a friend today and she had a similar experience. She had snapped. People do not blame you--men blame you. It's not always uneducated or non-"Western" guys. Even if they do not blame you, they ask seemingly innocous questions, like what were you wearing? Where were you walking? What time was it? As if if you were wearing something short, walking in a certain area, or walking late at night makes it understandable. You should have seen it coming.

They will never understand. My friend put it in a way I never could, but she's right. They'll never understand the humiliation of being a woman here, the daily barrage of comments and whistles, the feeling that your honor--important to any woman--is being dragged through the dirt.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mubarak is like an ex boyfriend

I've spoken to many Egyptians who are nostalgic for the time of Mubarak. To me, this is unbelievable. Things are not perfect now, but there's an increased level of openness in the political sphere. Security has gotten worse, but that's only because before Egypt was suffocated by the overwhelming dragnet of the Interior Ministry.

I had lunch with a friend today, who had a story that perfectly encapsulated this. His friend was sharing the rosy memories some Egyptians were having of the Mubarak era.  "I don't buy it," she said.

Mubarak is like an ex-boyfriend, she said. Right now you're with a boyfriend who's a bit of a douche, who doesn't call, who doesn't give you attention. You start to miss your old boyfriend. You remember the good things he did--he bought you flowers, he cooked you dinner. You block from your mind how he cheated on you, how he stole from you, how he played you for a fool (how he brutally repressed dissent, how he created an unsustainable system of subsidies that bled the country dry, how he sold the your children's future for his short-term gain...)

But you know what? He sucked too and you are lying to yourself to think otherwise.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

I need a vacation

I would say I think I need a vacation, but I most definitely need a vacation. Most days I think about the fact I found a real, paying job in Egypt; made my dream happen; work out on a gym on the Nile; have awesome friends and family around the world; etc, etc, etc and think man, this is all baller. 

Most Egyptians are aghast when I tell them I love it here. "Why?!" they ask incredulously. The people, the food, the energy, the vibe, the lifestyle.  If I wanted an easy, fake life, I would have stayed in DC. 

But lately I've been getting easily frustrated. Frustrated with so many things, but for the sake of this post I'll focus on the purely Egyptian things that make me angry.

Egypt's political scene has devolved into an endless series of pointless protests and statements. The institutional opposition, the National Salvation Front, is led by three out-of-touch failures of politicians. Every time they are mentioned in the news I wish they would go back to their golf courses in 6 October and cushy overseas jobs and disappear from the Egyptian political scene. The opposition on the street is just as bad. All they do is sit and protest. Literally, every weekend they call for protests. How has that worked out every weekend for the past two years? You have no alternatives to the current system yet? They have nothing tangible to offer the Egyptian voters, and worse yet don't seem to care. They are content in Tahrir and on Twitter and on CNN wallowing in their sorrow and smugness. Parliamentary elections are coming up in April-June and all they're doing is bitching. They don't deserve to win elections. I hate them all.

You have all heard horror stories about the sexual harassment here. I would be lying if I said it wasn't a problem. I'm getting frustrated with these fuckers calling out and making noises when I walk on the street. I never supported corporal punishment until I came here. It is usually pretty easy to ignore them. In fact, one of my friends came up to me on the street going, "Psst! Hey!" for about 5 minutes and I barely noticed. He thought I was mad or something, I just honestly tune that stuff out.

But I lost my temper with one of these guys and he nearly broke my finger, to make a long story short.

A huge disclaimer: for every dbag who hollers, 20 walk by me without even a glance. 

And the sexual harassment and discrimination is not only limited to the shabaab on the street. 

Don't even get me started with the wine. What I would do for wine that is honestly delicious. French, Virginian, Californian, Lebanese, I don't care. I don't want to drink Egyptian wine anymore!

I also want to go to a restaurant and drink a cocktail because it tastes like heaven. Mafeesh cocktails that taste like heaven in Cairo.

I hate that this post is so negative, but I don't want to give the perception that everything here is easy. And I don't want to only document the good. I just want to get out for a weekend so I can come back rested, level-headed, ready to rock, and able to appreciate the people and aspects of life here I love so much. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Living a currency crisis

Throughout my SAIS years, I studied different currency crises, runs on the bank, lack of currency in the ATMs. Now I'm living it.

For months I've been reading about Egypt's draining currency reserves: the Egyptian government no longer has dollars to finance itself. It began an auction of US dollars to banks three times a week in order to halt the depletion of its foreign currency reserves. The Egyptian government also put controls on how much people can take out of the bank in hopes of halting currency flights, but all that did was freak people out. Everyone ran to the banks to get their money out and exchange it to dollars as the value of the Egyptian pound (EGP) plummeted.  Speculation--an economists nightmare--is that the value of the pound will continue to depreciate, from 6.7ish right now to 7 to even 8.

The value of the pound has lost nearly 8 percent of its value since December 30, 2012--man, I wish I took out all my money before Christmas--and has lost 13.4 percent of its value since the fall of Mubarak.

Political instability--looting of international chain hotels, riots, protests, stealing Army tanks, political violence--certainly isn't helping the situation.

A few weeks ago my boss went to the bank to try to get USD for her son, who is living abroad. The bank did not have--DID NOT HAVE--dollars (In better times, Egyptian banks give you the option of taking out EGP or USD).  She had to take out Egyptian pounds, take it to the exchange (aka black market), and take that back to the bank to transfer to her son's account.

Another one of my friends who is a teacher here, paid in USD, had her account frozen when the government announced the new currency controls. The bank would not let her have access to her own money.

Today, I had a meeting where one of the participants had a similar experience to my boss. The bank wouldn't let her transfer the value of an EGP account to USD, even within the same bank.

All this has done is freak me out.  I pay my credit card bills in USD! Uff! I will be going to the States soon--what good will EGP be?

Today, went to the bank to try to get USD. There were none.  I took out a bunch of money, brought it to the exchange, and got a rate higher than the official rate but lower than I'm hearing many people are receiving.

The speculation, the fact that everyone is having my reaction, is undoubtedly worsening the situation.

Poor Egypt.

This is why I went to SAIS.