Saturday, December 30, 2006

Conversations with Egyptians

Mira and I went to a birthday party for one of Mira's friends on Thursday. I was hesitant to go because for whatever reason I think I don't get along very well with Egyptian women, but I went anyway. (It is my own insecurities coming out.) Mira's friend's mother, Ola, is just as delightful as can be, and of course she is Egyptian, and she sews, which is something we have in common. She is very welcoming.

One of her cousins, Nahla, was there. I looked at her and thought "Oh my goodness, what am I going to talk about with this woman." Actually, we really hit it off. She is Lebanese/Egyptian, her husband is Lebanese, they have a place in Rehab being built, and they are currently living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She made me feel so comfortable, told me about life in Riyadh and how women gather everyday - every morning to have coffee, talk about their lives, problems, successes, etc. She explained that women in Saudia cannot drive - something everyone knows about, so the best thing they do is shop. Whenever they go out, they must be in full niquab, which she doesn't like because she cannot see through the veil, and stumbles everytime.

We were talking about music and the newest Arabic songs. Since I cannot understand many of the songs, I usually like a song by its melody. They asked me my husband's name, and I said "Hassan." They said, "Well, there are a lot of love songs out right now about Hassan. You ought to learn them and have a little romance." I blushed.

Arabic/Muslim women are very conservative on the outside, but get them in a room or a party with only women and all the stereotypes disappear. It was very refreshing and I felt relieved.

I keep explaining to Egyptians that Americans talk about anything and everything, we are not shy when it comes to conversation. There are no "taboos" in American society. Well, if there are any I'm not aware of it.

On another note, Debbie and I went shopping recently and when we were shopping a man asked me where I was from. I said America, and then I told him that my husband is Egyptian. He turned to his friend smiling and said "She's looking for an Egyptian husband." His friend said "No, she said her husband is Egyptian." They both looked at me and smiled. Of course I didn't know what they said (Debbie translated). Debbie said everytime we go out an Egyptian man talks to me, as though he's interested in me. She told me I need to wear niquab or at least an abaya (a long coat). I cannot dress anymore frumpy when I go shopping, believe me.

A few days later I was with a dear friend of mine, and they told me that I don't need to worry; because I am in hijab it is my protection. No one will ever say anything disrespectful to me. I forget I am even wearing hijab; I don't even feel it anymore - it has finally become a part of who I am - a part of my personality. Alhamdulillah.

I am finally comfortable living here - every opportunity and experience brings me to a new level of contentment.




Cairogal said...

Your friend said no one would say anything disrespectful to you because of the hijab? That sounds nice, but I don't know that's the reality in Egypt. You likely heard this story through the grapevine, but it's been on a lot of blogs since last Eid: Several weeks ago, at the end of the first Eid, there was this group of young men outside a cinema downtown (Cairo), and I think the cinema was airing a film featuring one of Egypt's sexy starlettes. Anyway, the crowd got out of hand, and started attacking women who came down the street-veiled and unveiled. Many of them ducked into stores to get help. Some of them had their clothes ripped off of them or were groped. This blogger posted about it first:

I recall this happening in Alex after Eid. Apparently a lot of pent up sexual frustration is blamed for these actions.

I suppose, in addition to the story above, I also think of the veiled women who get grabbed and pinched on the city buses in Cairo when I hear someone say the hijab prevents people from making disrespectful comments or doing disrespectful things.

I don't know that a niqab or abaya makes you less appealing in this case, since many of them men you encounter in the shops are probably quite intrigued by the fact that you're a foreigner and a Muslim wearing a veil. They think they've won the lottery with that combo, Marian!!!

Anyway, that's just my two cents. I'm excited about your trip home!!!

Marian said...

Well, I think the women who were grabbed were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently a dancer/singer/former adult movie star, Dina, was performing and the passersby were just caught up in the wrong area - near Ranses Street, I think, where Dina was performing. It was awful. I am treated better with the veil, and I agree with you, it's more of a fascination than anything else. When I'm with my husband no one even talks to me. It's fine - I don't think that men want to have anything more than a conversation with me. Egyptians love to practice their English, say "Oh you're American, you must love Bush." That kind of thing. I can speak Arabic that I know, and laugh off the Bush comment. You are absolutely right, pent up sexual frustration is a big problem here with men, so I think they watch a lot of Hotbird satellite which shows all the European channels. :)

Layla said...

Marian - I am in the same boat you are in when it comes to talking with Egyptian women. I never really know what to say to them. I am sometimes afraid of what I say because I don't want to offend them. Lucky for me, I only encountered only 1 women who really put her foot in her mouth when I was at her place. She was saying really bad things about Americans but really wanted to go to America. To make a long story short, I told her off (in a polite, but blunt way) and on the way home, I told Mo what she said and that we wont go there again.

I don't think I could ever live in a country (Muslim) that is not Egypt. Especially one as conservative as KSA. I have seen a lot of women in niquab in Egypt stumbling around. I just don't know how they can get around in something with such limited view. But that is their choice and I am not bashing them in any way.

I too felt that I was respected more when I wore hijab there. They saw that I was not the American stereotype (and u know what that is). And I do agree that men will speak to us more freely when we are not with our husbands. I really believe that it is curiousity.

Hugs to you!!

Marian said...

I agree with you on everything especially the curiosity. Also, Egyptians want to practice their English no matter how limited, and seeing us in hijab makes them feel more comfortable; as though we're not soliciting them. But Egyptian women feel threatened by women with fair skin and light eyes. I don't understand it, but it happens. I don't want to make anyone feel threatened by my presence. I want them to know I'm the same as they are.