Saturday, May 29, 2010


I try keeping most of my posts light and upbeat but there are some things about Egypt that simply can't be described in that manner. One of the most frustrating, disgusting, and awful things I've had to witness on a daily basis in Egypt is the sexual harassment of women.

First, some statistics. A 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (full disclosure: I intern there) found that:
  • 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women have been harassed by men
  • 46% of Egyptian women and 52% of foreign women are harassed on a daily basis
  • 62% of Egyptian men have admitted to harassing women
  • 52% of Egyptian men believe that it is the woman's fault
  • The majority of women who are harassed are dressed modestly (i.e. veiled)
Transcending age, class, and religion, sexual harassers in Egypt are severe, constant, and pervasive. Harassment is manifested in words and actions that range from ogling and cat-calling to groping, public masturbation, and rape. Most of my female friends, both Egyptian and foreign, have experienced some sort of harassment. I've asked male Egyptians about it--some condemn it while others shrug and say, "We don't have jobs. All we can do is smoke and harass."

As for the cause, there is no easy answer. Egypt is a sexually-repressed, conservative, and impoverished country and the culture of harassment, for most, is simply an accepted fact of life. Only recently have there been public awareness campaigns to combat it as well as legal consequences for harassing.

As a result of all this, there is much distrust between men and women. For example, once in the evening, I was walking down a street and a white woman was walking towards me on the same side of the street. When she saw me, she immediately crossed the street. Another time, I was waiting for an elevator next to an Egyptian woman. When it came down, before I could get in, she ran in, slammed the door, and pressed the button for her floor. In both instances, I wasn't even making my creepy face.*

Egypt is definitely a man's country. Socially, legally, politically, economically, religiously, and any other "-ly" that you can think of, women come out as second-class citizens. I think the only case when the outcome is favorable for women is when they go clubbing. It's usually always free entry for them. Guys have to pay 50 LE. Taking everything into account, I'd say it's not too good of a deal.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Accidentally in Frankfurt

This past week, I was in America to celebrate Alec Baldwin's receiving of an honorary degree from New York University. My sister also happened to graduate from there on the same day. On my way back to Cairo, I had a connection in Frankfurt that I missed. My plane was late coming in and I took extra long going through security. My rolling luggage's handle was broken and the officers thought that the broken piece inside the bag was a weapon. After emptying my bag and doing a chemical test on it, they announced that it was safe. Great.

I was rebooked for a flight that was 12 hours later so Frankfurt was mine for the exploring! Unfortunately, it was raining most of the time there which put a damper on my adventure but I still managed to run from old building to old building and not get too wet.

St Bartholomew's Cathedral was first on my list. There were lots of very old churches in the area but this one is Frankfurt's pride. Several centuries ago, kings and emperors of the Roman empire were elected and crowned here.

The only other thing that really interested me in Frankfurt was this giant mall called My Zeil. I'm not a mall person, but according to the brochure I had, this mall had the longest escalator in the world. A bold claim but entirely possible. I went to check it out. Pretty long, but the longest in the world? I checked online. On Frankfurt's website, they revise their claim to say that is the longest free-standing (meaning support only at the ends) escalator in Europe. However, trusted source and friend of the blog, Wikipedia, says that there are several other free-standing escalators that are longer. It's ok. I still had blast riding up it.

Nice design from the outside.

The start of potentially the longest free-standing elevator in Europe.

Great view.

The end of the elevator.

Pretty. Long.

The reward at the top.

Aside from that, I saw some other old buildings and historic statues of minimal significance to me and just avoided the rain by sitting in cafes and eating. Of course, being in Frankfurt meant I had to try frankfurters. I also decided to have some German beer even though I'm not a beer guy. I figured the mango juice is better in Cairo anyway.
Germany! Is Bitburger good, Owen?

I eventually made it back to the airport and slept on the chairs til my flight. Four hours later, at 3:45 AM, I made it back to Cairo, argued with 5 cab drivers til I got a good price, and passed out at home. Frankfurt--an exhausting but ok to good detour, depending on the weather.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sama' Khan

Last night, a group of us decided to check out a concert from the Spring Festivals which happens every two years in Cairo. Every night for almost two weeks are various plays, concerts, art installations, dance shows, etc... around the city.

Yesterday there were performances by a female violinist from the Czech Republic and an Iraqi oud trio at a music hall called Sama' Khan. The concert started at 8 on but we were very late. We had the address to the venue but had no idea where it was and everyone we asked was giving us different directions. After taking a 20 minute taxi ride and walking around the city for 40 minutes, we finally saw a large gathering of white people mulling around an antique looking building and knew we made it. A great piece of advice that been passed down many generations in my head is whenever trying to find a Czech and Iraqi concert in a Middle Eastern capital, look for the trendy white people.

In any case, our timing worked out for the best. We got there right as Iva Bittova, the Czech lady, was finishing her set. I saw the last thirty seconds and I can say I'm not too bummed out I missed her. She was playing a violin while barking like a dog. Anwar Abudragh, the Iraqi trio (one of them is actually Syrian but don't tell!), on the other hand, were great. Very beautiful, classical Arabic music with great singing.
The Czech lady came out for the Iraqi trio's last song. She mainly made cat and bird noises while the oud player sang.

That white guy is so trendy with his striped t-shirt. And glasses.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Dahab is a small town about 100 km north-east of Sharm el Sheikh, the famous Egyptian resort town on the tip of the Sinai peninsula. Dahab is like Sharm-lite, a resorty-ish area for budget travelers. It's basically one long strip of hotel after restaurant after hotel, each offering plenty of "good deals, my friend."

We spent two days enjoying the gorgeous weather and beaching. On the second afternoon we went to the Blue Hole (or as the Egyptians call it, blole.) which is known as "the world's most dangerous dive site." It has claimed many diver's lives in the past few years because of a hidden underwater tunnel that is difficult to find causing many divers to go down too deep. We stuck to snorkeling.
Mountains of Saudi Arabia

The end of a long day's work

Cairo Tower

I had varying degrees of success passing Anne off as an Egyptian. It was always worth a shot though because the difference in ticket prices for Egyptians and foreigners is huge. The Cairo Tower was a success story--the ticket guy asked no questions and each of us went from a 70 LE ticket to a 20 LE one. The views were nice too. You could get a great sense of the smog.

Friday, May 7, 2010

They're still there / You can leave the country but the country never leaves you

Last Thursday was 3-D triangle day. The last time I went to the pyramids, I got a free blues concert. This time, there wasn't a concert at the site but there was a free one on the other side of Cairo. It seems like I can only see the pyramids if I get something free in return.

Part of the pyramids experience is dealing with the myriad of touts who want you to ride their camel or buy some figurines. One way to deal with them is to confuse them. When one guy approached us, we ran away screaming. Other times, Anne spoke just in Japanese since they usually couldn't understand that. I would follow up in Arabic and explain that I had no idea what she was saying. Only one person actually questioned this, saying, "Wait, wait, something is not right, if you only speak Arabic and you only speak Japanese, then... how do you talk to each other?" And so, it made for a very enjoyable pyramids outing.

Can you tell it's a tourist site?

Anne really got along with the Sphinx.

This camel did not appreciate being pulled around the whole day.

That evening, it was time for some free music. The US State Department was sponsoring a guy named Kareem Salama to tour around the Middle East. He's billed as the first Muslim American country singer. Straight outta Oklahoma. Cairo was his first stop on the tour and we were treated to a good, ol' fashion' country concert, complete with laptop drumbeats and Qu'ran-inspired verses. I definitely don't listen to enough country music to know what's good and bad but I will say that I didn't connect with the music too much despite me and Kareem having so much in common like being Egyptian-American and human. Still, I definitely enjoyed the concert tremedously, especially when he spoke in this weird formal/colloquial Arabic mix. And when he spoke in English. Possibly my biggest complaint in Cairo is that I just never get enough southern accent.

Kareem Salama and the band.


Please don't stop the, please don't stop the movement

The past few weeks have been very busy between traveling to other countries, going to work, and most recently, the visit of the sensei-tional Anne Recinos who is currently teaching English in the Japan. You might remember I visited her way back in September. I got a great impression of Japan and now it was my turn to somehow show off Egypt. Difficult? Yes. But not impossible. Lots of juice mixed in with some sight-seeing makes for a good week.