Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy first anniversary, Istanbul!

One year ago, I got on an unmarked Egypt Air plane for my one-way ticket bringing me (back) to Istanbul. Leaving Cairo was a difficult decision--I was leaving my friends, leaving the place that had been home for years. Unlike when I left the year before, this time I knew it would be very unlikely I would return as a resident.

Me and little baby Ziza monster, Istanbul bound!
What changed in that year? While I love Egypt, the move was a long time coming. The rise of Sisi brought a crackdown on dissent and a feeling of morose among those who considered themselves revolutionaries. My friends, both Egyptian and foreign, began to leave. The difficulties of every day life, namely the harassment, were no longer manageable. Or perhaps before I was better able to deal with it because there was hope, the promise that things would get better, a feeling that I was in a place moving forward. But Egypt stopped moving forward. Instead, it went backward. The crackdown on dissent, the disappearances, the extrajudicial killings. It's all worse than under Mubarak.

A few days before I left, leading up to the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution, activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh was killed while trying to lay a flower down, peaceful protest. Police shot her at close range with bird shot. Seeing her image, the sadness in her friend's eyes... I went home and drank a bottle of smuggled wine because I just could not deal with it anymore. I internalized Egypt's politics too much. I asked some of my formerly active friends how they dealt with it--they said they stopped caring. But I kept on getting angry. I kept on getting sad. I began to think only distance would make this feeling go away.

Egypt's infamous sexual harassment also took its toll. I could no longer walk past a male on the street without tensing up, getting quiet being scared, without bracing for physical contact. When I moved to Egypt, I wasn't a violent person. After a year, I started to want to hit the guys on the street. Then I wanted to shoot them. At the end, I didn't want to shoot them. I wanted to make them suffer, to really feel the pain and fear they inflict on women every day. I wanted to kill them slowly and painfully. Not normal.

It got to the point I didn't like any kind of physical contact, any kind of compliments after being sexually degraded on the streets for so long. At the end of my stay in Egypt, I stopped going out completely. Fuck it--not going out to be sexually harassed. I'll just sit at my apartment with my fur ball.

I was once in Vienna, Austria, and a group of Austrian teenage boys were walking behind me. I got so angry--why were they there? What were they saying? My heart was racing. Borderline PTSD.

Now, one year later, I can walk past groups of men--old men, young men, middle aged men--and not think twice. For the most part, people don't even look at me. Sometimes I meet eyes with a male stranger--and nothing. He doesn't take it as a come on. We just look away. Sometimes I notice that I'm passing by a group of shabaab-looking kids--and they don't even look at me. They just continue doing what they're doing.

I love the fact I can walk in the streets here, ride the metro, and be anonymous. I'm just another person, just like everyone else. In Egypt I felt like a peacock.

I no longer get scared. That is probably the most important change, and something I would never give up again.

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