Tag Archives: sexual harassment

A Long Overdue Update from Luxor

Hello everyone,

It’s been quite a while since I’ve updated this blog. Experiences in Egypt have come thick and fast, and it’s been nearly impossible to find the time to process it all, let alone blog about it. I’m going to make an attempt tonight, and hopefully work backwards over the course of the next month or so to write about everything I’ve been doing lately that’s made me too busy to write.

I’m in Luxor right now, in Upper or Southern Egypt.  Upper Egypt is called so because of its elevation, because it is the area from which the Nile flows, towards the low lands and the Mediterranean to the North.  It is my third day here. I arrived by felucca  (small traditional sailboat) from Aswan, and saw the glories of the Karnak and Luxor temples on my first day. The second day, I got up at crazy o’clock in the morning and went for my first-ever hot air balloon ride, watching the sun rise over the horizon from above the Nile and the many temples down below. After the balloon ride, I went to the valley of the kings, where I saw  the tombs of Ramses I, Ramses III, and Sety II on my regular ticket. Then I paid the extra to see the tombs of Tutankhamen and Ramses VI (it’s worth the extra cost). After the kings, we saw the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman to ever rule Egypt as a Pharaoh, and the Colossi of Memnon (yes, they’re big).  After all that, the group that I had joined briefly to get from Aswan to Luxor departed for Cairo, and I was here on my own.

I’ve had a couple of meetings with people about projects in the area, though I haven’t seen any yet.  The people I’ve met individually through recommendations of other contacts have been lovely. But what I’ve discovered about Luxor is that it lives and breathes by tourism alone, and it’s bleeding its tourists dry. It is impossible to walk alone here without being harassed. In Cairo and Aswan, the harassment is limited to just a few areas—the main tourist areas, if you will. In Luxor, the town has nothing besides tourist areas. Which means no place is safe from harassment, if you’re female and alone.

Take this afternoon. My agenda as I planned it:

  1. Go to the bookstore.
  2. Stop at a jewelry shop.
  3. Take a walk for some fresh air and exercise.
  4. Stop by a café to do some work and relax.

My afternoon as it actually happened?

  1. Start walking to the bookstore.
  2. Refuse the advances of multiple taxi and caleche drivers who alternately ask where I’m going, offer to take me wherever they think I’m going, tell me how beautiful I am, tell me they’re single,  and after about ten iterations of “no, no thank you, no, I’m not interested, no, no, and no,” they leave with a hopeful, “maybe later,” that indicates that they’ll remember me for the next time they see me walking and harass me again.
  3. Go to the bookstore. No hassle here, because they know they have things that foreigners want and will buy without convincing. Spend a very pleasant time and buy a new journal and a pocket phrasebook.
  4. Stop by the jewelry shop next door. Ascertain that I don’t see anything I want in about 2 minutes, stick around for another 5 minutes convincing the shopkeeper that I really are going to leave without buying anything because I really don’t see anything I like.
  5. Start to take a walk.
  6. Feel elated after 3 minutes with only a few minor comments to herald my passage.
  7. Get approached out of nowhere by a guy asking me what I think of Luxor, who does not appreciate the irony with which I say, “It would be a great town without the hassle.” He starts walking beside me down the street (without any invitation on my part).
  8. Face the dilemma: let him follow me down the road and be annoyed by his talk, or lose him with difficulty and risk (almost inevitably) being followed by someone worse? Either way I lose.
  9.  Choose the lesser of two evils—he hasn’t said anything overtly sexual yet, and if he follows me at least he’ll keep the other guys away.
  10. Skip the coffee shop (because then he will want to come in  and keep talking) and go back to the hotel (a good place to ditch someone–now he knows where I live, but at least he can’t get inside).

So.

Afternoons like this one are really pretty mild. No one groped me, proposed marriage to me, made indecent sexual advances to me, or ripped me off. All in all, I can count the afternoon as a relative success, since at least I got what I wanted at the bookstore.

That said, afternoons like this one are indicative of a larger problem. People come to Egypt for the pyramids and temples, for the desert and the Nile and the experience of being someplace exotic and new. But very few people, having been to Egypt once, have any desire to go back, and it’s largely due to the  harassment. The first time I traveled to Egypt, I had no intention of ever returning. The pyramids and the Nile were nice, but I’d been groped, harassed, and propositioned so many times during my 7-day visit that I couldn’t wait to leave.  I like Egypt much better the second time around because I’m not always in the touristy areas where these occurrences are common. But the fact that these things happen often to tourists is an enormous shame.

Egypt has much to offer a traveler.  It’s an amazing, beautiful, and unique country with the potential to do truly great things. But this one unavoidable inconvenience repels repeat business and keeps people away. Egypt needs its tourists–they’re the basis of the entire economy. It needs to treat them well when they arrive.

 

 

 

 

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.”

 

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.