Posts Tagged ‘ramadan’

harassment It’s about time that I tackled one of the more difficult subjects that invariably every American writes about at some point: harassment. I hesitate to bring it up mainly because I’ve heard so many stories that, by this point, I would simply be laundry-listing incident after incident– each progressively (and regrettably) worse than the last. At the same time, though, I know that one has to discuss it, otherwise one risks becoming a part of (and a perpetuator of) the problem itself. My thanks in advance to Rumi for the informative Eid post, and apologies for shamelessly stealing his links.

For the last three nights, crowds of young Egyptians (shabaab) have roamed the streets, set free by their families after the evening meal to roam. And by roam, I mean overwhelmed and flooded; the streets were completely clogged with young men, teens, and tweenish boys, linked arm-in-arm (a custom of friendship here, not of homosexuality), blasting a million different songs from a million different speakerphones, hollering at each other. Scrawny kids in tight, glittery shirts in pink and purple–complete with rhinestones and senseless tiny hoods– blue jeans with a dozen zippers, acid washes, and huge, AirJordan style patent leather sneakers. Hair cut against the scalp with hair gel poured into it for the “cool” look. And everywhere, clouds of bad imitation designer perfume hung in the air.

Of course, there’s no accounting for fashion. Mahmoud tells me that girls with cropped or boyish hair are not just unattractive– they’re downright ugly. The Western media puts forth an idea of beauty that seems to revolve around figure-skaters and ballerinas; lithe, willowy types that wear clothes on the runway well. Here, such women get told that they need to fatten up or they’ll never have sons — or any children — and I think are held in something like contempt. And getting back to fashion — none of my Egyptian friends understand the recent trends of “boho chic” or grunge fashions; to them, girls get made up (almost clownishly sometimes) when they go out.

Imagine, if you will, armies of these boys wandering the streets. Literally, phalanxes of them, all astride. And as they pass you, they scream out any number of things:

– Hi! What’syourname. (It’s all strung together purposely; imagine it said really quickly with no question inflection)
– Welcome in Egypt? Hello!
– Hi! Howreyou? Howreyou?
– Fook you. Fook you! (Personal favorite)
– You…so stubid. So stubid. (Kid last night on the tram. I grabbed his ear and he ran away)

And once they’ve braved you — they’ve done the ritual tap to the foreigner — they turn back to their friends as if they’d recited the lyrics to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” from beginning to end, and congratulate themselves as if you didn’t exist.

The worst are the hisses.

Imagine a cat hissing. That’s the sound you make to say “Hey! Dude!” but mainly it gets used on the Corniche by idling shabaab to catcall girls; “You so beautiful, ” or “Muzza! Muzza!” (kind of like “babe”).

What continuously shocks me is that older women (who are present) do not intervene. In a culture that has such concerns for female honor, the idea of approaching a Western woman and propositioning her — of pulling out your penis and masturbating in public, of physically assaulting her or pressing against her — begs a number of contradictions that I cannot begin to get into: it makes me so angry. These incidents seem to have just gotten worse over the years, as well. In particular, I’m puzzled by an odd cultural double standard; there seems to be an acceptance of Western sexual mores when it’s convenient (i.e., when an Egyptian teenager is horny) but a rejection when someone else seizes advantage of them (i.e., an American has an American girl spend the night). Protect women, veil them — but only in certain circumstances.

At the risk of conflating religion and society, I’d like to bring up something that Michael Muhammad Knight mentioned in The Taqwacores (read it): if men are so weak as to warrant women praying behind them or secluded away on balconies (in mosques), why aren’t the men the ones that are sequestered off? Why seal the women off from the world if the men themselves are the problem?


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Uncle Abdou lives about forty-five miles to the southwest of Alexandria in the town of King Maryot, on a villa built on land that the Egyptian army is constantly trying to steal in various corrupt and prevaricating ways. Yet he remains: he and his lovely Egyptian wife are both converts to Islam (he from Catholicism, being from Sevilla–his birthname is Javier–and her from Coptic Orthodoxy Christianity), and they’ve built up an oasis in the desert with their children, Noha, Salma, Yassin, and Ali, in a little half-constructed area just shy of all the industrial complexes south of Alex– and as far as I can tell, the only occupied house in the area.

Last night, Tom and I met up with Fadhila and Yumna and made our way down to Abdou’s for an epic iftar which just about killed us outright. Egyptian food is notorious throughout the Middle East for being relatively boring by comparison– the Lebanese are supposed to be the culinary masters– but this is only because, according to guidebooks, tourists never enjoy food in Egyptians’ homes. The best food is in someone’s house, where dishes abound: frankly, I had no idea what I was eating, but it was incredible– especially what Tom later referred to as “salty pancakes” stuffed with ground beef. Fantastic. I even was brave this time and went in for the mulukhiyya, which for me will forever be associated with Umm Markous’ recipe– which was for a horrible, smelly disaster that I was forced to eat. Mulukhiyya is something of an Egyptian national dish: it is a thick, slimy soup composed mainly of diced Jew’s mallow (a green, leafy vegetable related to mint), served over rice or chicken or drunk as a soup, and its consistency puts most foreigners off– myself included. Hana’s looks so good, though: most varieties look…well, dirty. Hers was a bright green color and delicious– I even had seconds.

Deep-fried dumplings and chunks of bitter-seasoned potatoes, a thick sweet almond paste with peanuts and huge chunks of meat stewed in onions and garlic….And then came dessert: the Omm Ali. A hot mixture of diced puff pastry cooked with milk and almonds and raisins…I was singing Hana’s praises all night and wondering exactly why I stayed away so long. Needless to say, by the time tea arrived, all the men were unbuckling our belts.

Yumna’s marriage is in a few weeks (just after eid) and he kept busting out the marriage jokes. Best one:

“What do Syrians call their wives?”
– I don’t know, Abdl Halim.
“The governors. What do Egyptians call their wives?”
– Same ignorance.
“The police. What do the Saudis?”
– No idea, but here comes the punchline…

His wife, who hasn’t been listening, now interjects “Oh my husband, what did you say?”

“Nothing, darling! Absolutely nothing.”

Didn’t get back until 2: having iftar with Yumna’s parents tonight at a fish place in Miami (not Florida).

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You catch a minibus west to Manshaya, and get off at the Nasser Restaurant, just before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, the Corniche narrows to four lanes, and if you wait a few seconds, you can cross to the other side. You duck down a sidestreet, past the Traders’ Room, past shawarma stands lit up with neon lights, past entire avenues of men in rickety cane chairs — the air censed with cigarette and apple tobacco. And just as you find yourself approaching Saad Zaghloul Street, you stop. If you blink walking by, you might miss it; a hole in the wall with a painted airplane over the entrance, which has a frosted glass partitions hiding the interior from the street, which is in turn concealed by a little buttonwood tree. This is the Spitfire Bar– uncontestedly the best bar in Alexandria (and the only one open during Ramadan).

Once occupied by the British when the Allied operations headquarters was based at the Hotel Cecil down the road (more coming soon on Monty’s Bar), Spitfire has seen more history than most. Though Cap d’Or down the street likes to claim otherwise (it has some tres sweet art noveau mirrors), Spitfire reigns supreme. Business cards on the wall, a rather random fishtank, an ever-present Rolling Stones soundtrack, and a risque wet T-shirt poster that tells the visitor, “Order a beer. Light a cigarette. Make fun of the wandering tourists outside searching in vain for this paradise of a watering hole.”

The place is owned by a trio of brothers– all Muslim– who make a business of living and let live; they make an extra emphasis of pointing out that “There are good people and bad people in every nation…but no one like you, Mr. Mike.” I’ve heard that line so many times that I’ve stopped teasing them about it.

Mr. Mike? I get called that at school, too: it’s a little odd– but then, I guess, try throwing “Nevadomski” to them. You can see the knots form in their mouths.

Last Ramadan, I stepped in for a drop and a small sampling of peanuts, only to have Hassan and Osama get extra attentive around Iftar time:

My brothers and I are about to break fast, then go to the mosque to pray. Do you need anything else before we do?

Nope, Hassan. Thanks for everything.

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