Tag Archives: Cairo

Gyms, Shopping, and Sushi–Settling In

These past few days I’ve gone out in the evenings, for the first time since coming to Cairo. I found a gym online and got lost trying to get there yesterday, ended up walking around Cairo’s shopping area after dark. Unlike in other cities, where walking around at night is dodgy, Cairo actually felt quite safe. Because of the desert climate, most people don’t go outside in the afternoon. The evening is when the streets become alive.

Searching for my gym (which I eventually found and took pilates and zumba classes), I found shops with seasonal sale signs in the windows, a nod to the middle-class consumer culture that was rising in Cairo before the revolution took place.  I bought gladiator sandals and a turquoise sundress, and walked around until I found a sushi cafe that proudly advertised its two locations as Cairo and Sao Paulo. More important than the cuisine, though, was that it was a place where I could sit for a few hours with a notebook by the window, without worrying about being heckled by the servers or the passers-by.

I realized, as I sat watching Cairo’s easy nightlife pass before me, that I’m beginning to settle here. I’m beginning to get to know the city, not as an Egyptian but as a new expat, and I’m beginning to learn my way around and feel comfortable. Though the city is massive, I’m carving out pockets of familiarity.  Slowly  but surely, I’m making Cairo into my home.

A Local Perspective on Indecent Exposure

Today was my first day back at the office since the incident of the masturbating pervert outside my window. My Egyptian supervisor had read about it on Twitter (where I had reported it to #harassmap), so he asked me for details. When I told him all that had occurred he sighed.

“I understand men like this.”

Seeing my surprise, he went on.

“There are two kinds of Egyptians now, modern and traditional. The modern ones are educated, they date and have relationships like in the West, and they’re fine. The traditional ones have their strong traditions and families and culture, get married when they’re about twenty, and they’re fine too. But then there are the ones in the middle.

“The ones in the middle are caught in between. They don’t have the tradition, or the education, and they’re lost.  I think they’re the majority right now.  They see things in the movies—I hate to say, porn—and they get the idea that this is real life. That these kinds of things they see in movies are really what’s normal in the West. So they think it’s okay.”

 

A Classic Sightseeing Day in Cairo

Today I took advantage of the fact that I’m working with a major travel company by tagging along for a group sightseeing day. Today was a classic “visiting Cairo” kind of day. One of my colleagues was taking his group to the Egyptian museum and the Giza pyramids, and so I tagged along, joining the throngs of tourists to look at the wonders of Egypt’s pharaonic past.

The Egyptian museum, I discovered, is much better with a guide. I remember seeing it my first time in Egypt, six years ago, and being overwhelmed by the sheer number of artefacts on display, jumbled together in cases without labels. I tried to look at everything, but it was impossible to absorb it all.

Today, though,  I was part of a tour, and I listened with fascination as my colleague explained the significance of many of the highlights. Particularly interesting was a tiny statue of Kheops, the pharaoh buried in the Great Pyramid. For the ancient Egyptians, statues had the potential to act as vehicles for the soul to return to if the body was damaged, and so statues of individuals were highly valued as a kind of “afterlife insurance.”

During his time as pharaoh, Kheops forbade the creation of statues with any likeness other than his own, dashing the hopes of an afterlife to all his citizens for a generation. Consequently, after the pharaoh died, people destroyed all of his statues in retaliation. The only surviving statue of the pharaoh who built the Great Pyramid is only about three inches high. At least his pyramid survived.

Though learning details about the other pharaohs was interesting, the highlight of the Egyptian Museum is and always has been the treasure of Tutankhamen.  From my trip to Egypt six years ago, Tutankhamen’s death mask is one of the few items that I remember with great clarity.  Though iconic, photos do not do it justice. The sight of it alone, in person, was worth the cost of the entire trip.

This time around, I noticed more details. The finely worked hieroglyphs on the mask’s interior, the intricately inlaid semi-precious stones around the rim. The details of the boy-king’s facial features. The textures of the gold and gems. The other incredible treasures of the tomb, including  fabulous amulets of scarabs and winged goddesses to keep the king safe as he journeyed through the afterlife.

After the Egyptian Museum  we headed for the Giza plateau, to visit the great pyramids. Massive wonders of the ancient world, looking out over the city of Cairo in unexpected proximity. The sprawling suburbs of Giza are only a few minutes away. The pyramids themselves are surrounded by tourist touts barking camels and overpriced souvenirs. I ignored them, and focused on the monuments themselves.

The smallest of the three main Giza pyramids was the one we chose to go inside, and we entered down a long, narrow shaft near the base of the tomb. Though the walls were close and the ceiling low, the space wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic as I expected. At the end of this long tunnel was a central chamber, followed by another tunnel to another chamber, probably the one where the king was buried, thousands of years ago. Standing in that central chamber, I could feel the weight of history, like the weight of the stones pressing in above my head. I was standing inside the one of the only surviving wonders of the ancient world. There’s almost nothing more incredible than that.

 

 

Sexual Harassment in Cairo (#indecent exposure)

This evening I started to write a post about the wonderful day that I had exploring Cairo. I went horseback riding around the pyramids of Abu Sir, visited the peaceful Ibn Tulun mosque, and drank strawberry juice by the lake of Al-Azhar park. That blog entry was rudely interrupted, however, by a disgusting case of indecent exposure.

I was sitting on my balcony with my computer, minding my own business, happily blogging, when a man in the building across the street and a few stories down started gesturing at me. I ignored him. A few minutes later I looked down, and he was pantless and masturbating, lifting his hips and gyrating them in my direction, looking straight at me.

I went inside. I closed the blinds. And then I sat and wondered: what the hell should I do?

To say that I was disgusted is an understatement. I’m fairly used to verbal harassment and catcalls on the street, but this is a whole different ballgame. It’s an overtly sexual exposure of flesh. It needs to be reported. But to whom?

I’m in a foreign country, and I don’t know the rules. In the US I would go to the police, but I don’t know the local number here, my Arabic does not include the vocabulary for an incident report, and I’m not convinced that a sexual harassment charge would be taken seriously by the police. I could report it to my male coworkers, who might take upon themselves to beat the guy up for me, but that seemed rather excessive.

So I got out my camera.

I have a lovely DSLR, with a telescopic lens. And I went back outside and took a closeup of the bastard.

He’d put his pants back on, by this point. But he looked scared when he saw that I was taking pictures, which told me it was the right thing to do. Then I took my camera down to reception, talked to the guys behind the desk, told them what happened, and showed them the photo. They said they’d talk to the police and to the relevant building manager.

Back upstairs, in my now-functionally-windowless room, I filed a report on the  Harass Map, where women in Cairo report instances of sexual harassment.

It’s a few hours later. The reception desk called to tell me they’ve reported the man, and to be careful. My facebook friends have offered to send care packages of tasers and pepper spray. (It is moments like these, a thousand miles from home, that I am truly grateful for the internet).

And now.

It’s 11pm, local time, and I’m back outside. The man’s windows are dark and shut. Maybe because of the report, maybe just because it’s late and he’s gone to bed. I don’t care. Because I have a balcony, with a view of the Nile and an illuminated mosque, and I’m damn well going to use it. And no pervert with a penchant for self-exposure is going to keep me cloistered indoors for long.

Update 9/13/11

The man was at it again the following day, so I took some more pictures and caught one with his hand on his crotch. I took it directly to the hotel manager (who wasn’t on the premises the night before). He then got into a big fight with the manager of the other building, who got into a big fight with the pervert. The pervert’s windows have been shut since then.

I admit, I feel a little thrill of victory now, every time I sit outside.