Tag Archives: Women in Egypt

The Overgrown Tomboy

In retrospect, I think I’ve spent half my life defending being a woman, and the other half wishing I wasn’t. Egypt is a patriarchal society, where men call all the shots and have all the fun – well, except when it comes to traffic police. Meanwhile, us women either attempt to fight the status quo and get labeled whores or feminists, or we’re stuck in a Stepford Wives-like nightmare. Yes, I generalize. But Stepford Wives scared the shit out of me.

I’ve envied men ever since the age of six – until then, I was running, climbing trees and playing hide and seek with the boys in my neighbourhood.  Then one day, my mother informed me that it was time to put on the top half of my two-piece swimsuit instead of running around in shorts (I apparently spent the first 2.5 years of my life running around naked in people’s gardens , which makes for very awkward small talk 20 years later when I run into them).

I remember being absolutely indignant at my mother’s request.

‘Why should I?’ I hollered, ‘The other boys don’t wear tops.’

‘You’re not a boy, dear,’ my mother sighed. ‘You’re a girl.’

‘So what? I climb faster than them, and some of them cry like girls.’

It’s true. I remember a whiner called Sherif who would run blubbering to his nanny every time he got hurt while tree climbing. Yes, I was a tree climber and crying boys were sissies.

‘You’re not the same as boys, dear,’ my long-suffering mother tried again.

‘Why? What do they have that I don’t?’

An anatomy book landed on my bed the next day.

My mother tried to hammer into my stubborn head that my body was going to change and I would have to wear tops like all the other girls. I was horrified, and pursued a valiant two-year campaign of running, jumping and climbing things to outrun this garish nightmare. Eventually, the bastard known as puberty hit me, and I was suddenly expected to play with Barbie dolls, nail polish and wear pink frilly things and not climb trees anymore.

Fast-forward twenty something years later, and I still find myself often wishing I was a man, instead of being a gender that is physically, emotionally, and socially prevented from doing everything I want to.

It’s funny to realize that the possession of boobs holds you back more than it helps you. To my male counterparts and my community, my gender is a liability, one that attracts attention and trouble, both for me and for them.  And as a former tomboy, I’ve come up with a practical list of why it sucks to be a female:

–          Can’t pee standing up

–          Can’t pee standing up in groups by the road side

–          Burping is unladylike

–          The word dainty

–          Etiquette

–          Brazilian wax

–          Threading

–         Sexual harassment

–         People who justify sexual harassment

–         Society’s expectation of you producing kids like guinea pigs before you’re thirty

–          Disappointing your parents by not producing kids like guinea pigs before you’re thirty

–          Disappointing your parents by being female (‘I wish I’d had five boys instead of you. They’d have been much easier to handle.’)

–          Not being allowed to joyride a microbus

–           Or to hitchhike

–          As a journalist, not being able to crack into underground men-only worlds of prostitution and drug dealing

–          Underwire bras and high heels (motherfucker who invented them deserves to be eye-gorged)

–          Ladies’ clubs

–          Egyptian weddings

–          Being cajoled into the bouquet catching ceremony at Egyptian weddings

–          3o2balek

–          having periods

–          Nadia El Guindy

–          Women hanging out in the ladies’ room, or even worse, insisting on coming into the stall to keep talking while you pee

–          Self Help Books

–          Talking about Self Help books

–          Thinking Self Help books will actually explain men

–          Having a cat means you’re one step away from Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

–          The existence of Female Genital Mutilation till today

–          Oprah Winfrey

–          ‘You’re so cute when you’re angry.’

–          Not being able to jog shirtless like Omar Sharif’s grandson

–          Chest bumping is awkward

I could go on but I kind of forgot the point of this list. I like making lists. They make me feel efficient. Sometimes I’ll write things that I’ve already done on the list so that I can cross them off and congratulate myself on being accomplished. [Day One: Get out of bed. Check.]

Honestly, life was so much easier when the measure of my worth was how high I could climb or far I could swim, and not how dignified I behave while politely eating a burger. Note: there is no demure way of eating burgers, watermelon, crabs, mussels, mangoes and spaghetti -my mother once told me: ‘Never eat spaghetti in front of the man you love, dear. The way you eat it, he’ll never love you again.’

And frankly, I do often prefer my male friends’ company to my girlfriends’. Conversations are so much simpler – and often monosyllabic – and do not involve detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of HelookedatmethenIlookedathimthenhesaidtomebutIsaidtohimsohewalkedawaydoeshelovemebutIhatehimletsfacebookstalkhim.

Instead:

Me: Blablablablablablablabla

Male: Uhuh.

Me: Blablablablablablablablablablablabla

Male: Cool.

Me: I’m so glad we talked.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate women nor do I hate being a woman, it’s just that this whole being feminine thing often perplexes me; especially when we spend hours of tweaking, sweating, squeezing and straightening our bodies, faces, clothes and minds to please our other halves who are meanwhile lounging in stained sweats in front of the TV with their feet on the table laughing at Beavis and Butthead.  I mean, I can wear a dress and everything, but I’ve been such a tomboy/klutz my whole life with arms and legs that always get in the way that if you looked at my knees you’d think I was a) a football player b) a mountain climber c) a man.

Let me make another list (yay!) to explain:

–          There’s a photo of me when I was two years old with a black eye. I apparently gave it to myself by punching spoon into face.

–          I have stopped ironing because every time I’d iron, I’d accidentally iron over a finger or into my arm. Hello burn marks.

–          I once dripped burning hot wax onto my leg. I stared at it for a good two minutes (still burning) then reached for a towel. And wiped the floor instead.

–          I can’t slice anything or open a can without cutting into my thumb and bleeding everywhere dramatically

–          I once stuck my hand into a hot toaster to see if it was hot enough, then burnt all the skin off my fingers.

–          I set my fringe on fire after lighting the oven and didn’t notice until the smell of burning hair filled the room minutes later

–          I am the only person I know who was injured by sand after reaching for a Frisbee and scraping all the skin off my leg on the beach. My friends died laughing.

–          My baby toes are permanently disfigured from running into table legs and sharp objects

–          I sat on a glass table. I fell into the glass table.

–          I once bumped into the fridge and apologized. To the fridge.

Once again, I can’t remember the point of this list, but I think what I was trying to write something profound about being a woman, etc. Err. Yeah. I think.

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Filed under Blame The Parents

The Question of Courage

If you know me well enough, then you know that I don’t take risks. I’m not exactly the brave, daredevil, bungee-jumping type of girl. I’m afraid of heights and flying- which is quite unfortunate, considering I love traveling. Thankfully I’ve come a long way since the summer of 2002, when I literally cried all the way from Cairo to London. The fact that I was howling and reading my Koran at the same time didn’t go down too well with the elderly British couple next to me.

I don’t eat exotic foods (if I can squish it with a flyswatter or make a leather handbag out of it, I’m not eating it), and I don’t dabble in recreational drugs, though I do have a worrying weakness for painkillers and cough syrup (ask me about Toplexil later), and several eyewitnesses can probably testify that they have pretty much the same effect on me as mind-altering substances.

I used to fear cockroaches, especially the flying ones, but if you’re in a family where two out of three will climb on a chair and scream at the cockroach below, someone has to step down and kill it with a slipper. That someone is usually me.

Nonetheless, it’s dawned on me lately that I’ve never been the one to shave my head, get a tattoo, jump off a cliff or dive into the deep unknown (I’m claustrophobic under water, so I don’t scuba dive). If anything, I’ve always been the kind of girl that plays it safe in a boring dependable way, which is sad when you look at my family.

In his youth, my father had quite the reputation for meeting confrontations head on. It’s not that he picked fights; it’s just that his large-as-a-cupboard frame, crushing handshake and could-make-DeNiro-cry glare tended to attract fights to him. Friends would call him for help whenever a fight was going on, and usually he would win. I’m sure he must have lost at least once or twice, but I have yet to meet anyone alive who will attest to that…. My dad’s friends love to tell me stories about him, while he sits blushing slightly, like the one about him playing a volleyball match and disagreeing with the referee, whereupon he slapped the referee so hard that the man went deaf in one ear (myth). Or the one where he got into a fight with a driver on Stanly Corniche, so to make a point he picked up the front of the driver’s car and dragged it for a bit (I’m sure this is a myth; I don’t care if two of his friends swear this happened). My dad had guts; he would literally dive into the deep end and save drowning swimmers from the deceptively strong tides of Agami. Sometimes, he would bring them back alive and other times he wouldn’t; but he had the guts to keep going back.

When she graduated from university, my mother took on a teaching job that took her to different parts of the world every year, from Prague to Belize to Egypt, all on her own with her family left behind. Growing up in a society where it’s completely normally to live with your family till you marry, my mother’s spontaneous adventures through Europe (driving to Greece with a friend in a beaten up car) or her Greyhound journey from the Grand Canyon to New York City with only $40 in her pocket is an adventure that most Egyptians will only dream of or watch in a Julia Roberts movie.

With parents like these, you’d expect me to be a tobacco-chewing, sailor-swearing hippy traveler, and yet I literally hide from confrontations and when I travel, I have an itinerary, budget and every meal, sight and expedition planned down to a T; so that absolutely nothing can go wrong. I am, as one friend called it, ‘an obsessively neat traveler.’

But now that I think about, maybe risks can be taken in different ways. Maybe I’ve never done anything reckless, crazy or highly adventurous before; but I do have courage (surviving breakup, moving across the world, independent woman of substance, blablabla.)

So now, I’m about to embark on a little adventure of my own. A trip to Barcelona and Paris, alone, unplanned, unmapped. Buy a camera, take photos, taste their tapas and cavas by the beach. Sit in La Segrada Familia in silence and sunbathe in the Gaudi Park. Finally make it to Paris; a dream I’ve had ever since I was twelve and watched An American in Paris. Tie a scarf around my neck like Syd Cherisse and sip café au lait by the Rive Gauche. Flirt and cuss in four languages. See the Tour Eiffel at night and walk through Montmartre.

It may be your average vacation, and you may have already been and done that several times before. But to be out of my comfort zone, without my friends, family, maps and itineraries to depend on, takes a lot of guts on my behalf. Perhaps adventures don’t happen to you if you sit around and wait all day. You make your adventures; and I am making mine.

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Filed under Itchy Feet Cause Perpetual Travelling