About My Blog

I Spent six weeks in Egypt before spending a year in Germany. This blog covers the best summer of my life. If you are looking for my posts while I was in Germany ask me, and I'll be happy to share them but I have been asked not to share them publicly. Feel free to visit my brothers blog of his year in Germany or my new blog

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 30

I have a lot of thoughts today and typically when I do my writing
becames a jumbled mess but I'll try to avoid that. I've been thinking
alot about Egyptian culture and Egypt in general. Let me start by
saying that I am absolutely in love with this culture, that's not to
say I agree with everything that happens in this culture but I do
think there are many things that American culture and other cultures
could use. Obviously there is a huge wealth divide between the lowest
and richest people in Egypt but the divide is almost bigger between
men and women. To put that in perspective, we are staying in what
would be an American working class neighborhood and the people earn
the equivalent of 50,000 - 150,000 a year. The Egyptian middle class
is typically people with between 4 and 6 million dollars a year, and
the richest of the rich are billionaires and oil tycoons. Our
neighborhood is not poor, there are stores everywhere, some cars (not
quite one per family), and well dressed people, but I still feel like
we ae living in a poorhouse neighboorhood. The reasons for this are
pollution control, garbage collection, and the buildings. We are
staying on a campus with a gate and a wall so we are unaffected by
this in our little oasis, but when you step outside the gates trash
begins to cover the roads and sidewalks. I wish one day the Egyptian
government would call everyone off work and have a massive one day
cleaning initiative just to see what thus city would look like with a
minimum of litter control. It is borderline revolting in some
neighborhoods but if you look closely you can see the beauty of what
is mostly French and European architecture and cute stores that
disappear into the walls of buildings. We haven't been to a "rich"
neighborhood yet and I want to see the difference that we have been
told about. I must say that I forget what I expected the place in
society of women to be so I can't tell if I feel better or worse now
that I'm here and I can see it firsthand. I'm not a European or
American girl ao I may not pick up on the stares and glances as much
as them but it seems that so far glances and looks have been the
extent of the "abuse" that people are warned about. I do not find this
intimidating in the slightest because I k ow we do the same to large
tourist groups from Asia, Africa. Europe or anywhere back in the USA.
On the other hand there are the Egyptian women. Our neighboorhood
seems largely Christian which is almost a shame because they only
represent 20% of the population here but in this neighborhood it is
probably closer to 75%. The women here do not wear headcoceri gs or
have difficulty walking next to or behind their husbands and many walk
around alone (I feel horrible that I have to write it this way as if
that is not the norm). When we leave our neighborhood though many
more women wear the full Muslim headwear if not from head to toe. A
perfect example of the culture divide is taxis, Yalda wasn't feeling
well while on one of our excursions and wanted to go back. She was
about to go alone and she looked back right before leaving with a
slightly worried look so I offered to go with her. She would have
been fine alone but when we talked later she said she did not want to
be looked at like the other women who ride alone in taxis in Egypt. In
Egypt If you are a man and riding alone you sit in the front, if you
are a woman and riding alone you sit in the back opposite the driver
and you attract the attention of everyone in the street. The cab
driver was really sweet but we still have difficulty communicating
more than single words or simple phrases so it would have been a very
quiet, lonely, and embarassing taxi ride for Yalda.

I have two thoughts left bit I'll be brief and then go in depth later
in the week. The first thought continues the idea of pollution, there
is no thought to controlling auto fumes so cars spew black soot from
their exhausts and buildings dump their pollutants right into the
water and air. A thick smog has built up which is only made worse by
the hot still air of Egypt. We have all had constant headaches since
arriving and our only escape is the air conditioned rooms of our
housing. The second thought is how fast I am learning Arabic already.
I'm learning many independent words from our Egyptian friends, pair
this with the basic phrases we have learned in two days of class, and
I can speak almost enough to entertain the Egyptian kids playing
soccer in the courtyard of the school. The class is great, the teacher
is great, the lessons are great, I actually enjoy the homework, but
the americans in our class must go. For the first time in my life
have I been in the presence of individual Americans while abroad and
actually been significantly embarassed. To make things worse, the
embarassing Americans are not from our group of college students aaged
18-22 but rather two older men who have that whale sized American ego.
I would try to put it into words but all that comes to mind is
"aarghhhhhhh" because I am ao grossly disgusted by them, their
actions, and their egos.


Heidi said...

Wow, Jan! I am impressed, not only that you find the time to write so much, but by your ongoing thoughts about life in Egypt.
Your ears will be ringing tomorrow, when Kirsten and Jo/To arrive here. We are sure to be talking about you.

Devin said...

Hi Jan - Great reflections. Your insightfulness and sensitivity will make this experience all the more interesting and worthwhile.

Ugh, I so sound like your high school teacher. I wonder if I'll ever be able to shake that with you...... :-)