Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Violated--worst experience(s) in Egypt

I prayed I would never have to write a blog like this, but it’s time. Well, I guess I don’t HAVE to write about this, but I’ve decided that I created this blog to give an honest account of life in Egypt and I have a responsibility to do just that, even the bad things.
So, here goes.

Yesterday I had one of the worst experiences of my life. I was horribly groped as I was coming home from work. I noticed the shadow of this man before he actually approached me, but I didn’t expect him to do what he did. Right as I was nearing RCG I came to the point where I’m blocked on both sides—RCG’s wall to my left and the start to a bridge to my right. Just then I felt a hand from behind swipe me starting from the crotch on backwards. It was disgustingly deliberate and carefully timed. I was FURIOUS. I quickly turned around and shrieked at this man. He did not expect me to stand my ground. He backed up and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Yeah right. I then started approaching him with more shrieks and yelling (not such nice things) at him. He became frightened and ran off.

It might not have turned out so well. Ha. “So well.” As if feeling like a piece of meat, degraded, demoralized, violated, slimed, and being totally taken advantage of is an okay thing. But, really, it could have been worse. Unfortunately, you usually cannot yell back at these nasty men. Why? Because they turn it right back on you and there is nothing you can do about it. Once you accuse them of being a pig, they (in Arabic) yell that it was YOU (the WOMAN) who tempted him and therefore it’s YOUR fault. And this works, because what else can they expect from a Western woman? This is NOT America, meaning that I have no rights here to speak up against it. If you are American, stop right now and thank God for the laws and rights you have as an American. In America this is sexual harassment, here there isn’t a darn thing I can do about it.

I am appalled at the way men behave in this culture. The experience I had yesterday has happened many times, actually. It happens walking down the street, on the metro, walking up stairs, anywhere. And the men are skilled at making it look like they are doing nothing wrong. They are like pick-pocketers, only woman-violators. I can think of a number of times I’ve grabbed a man’s hand and thrown it as he’s been slightly touching my butt or breast or something to that effect. I am becoming more and more tense as I walk down the street. Although you can sometimes figure out who is going to give you trouble, some of them are so good at it that they don’t reach out for your crouch until the last literal split second. And, being in a city of 22 million people, it’s not easy to avoid the crowds on the street enough to be left alone.

My response to this is getting worse with time. When I first arrived it was easier to just think, “Oh, those crappy men” and try to laugh it off, praying for them, and keeping my cool. But yesterday I came in bawling and trying to find Carole for comfort. I came here as an adventurous, equality-minded woman and I’m slowly but surely having to change my identity to fit this culture. I certainly won’t sacrifice too much of myself, but some parts of me have changed.

In my entire life I’ve always approached people with sincere trusting. I assume “innocent until proven guilty” with people. Now, it’s “guilty until proven innocent.” I’ve hardened. I’ve tensed up. Thing is, I have reason to not trust. I have not made one genuine friendship with a man here. Frankly, it just doesn’t happen for women. This is so hard to accept, because my experience is vastly different than the experience of the male volunteers and I have to work on not resenting that fact. Even the one Egyptian male who we have become friends with and learned to trust over the past couple months has started to cross the line with me.

One of the worst parts of this is that these experiences are affecting my view of the Egyptian culture and I feel so bad about feeling that way. So, it’s a cycle. I get angry, and then I’m angry for being angry. I tell myself I need to think of it from their perspective, I need to be more patient, I need to be x,y,z. But, I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to make excuses anymore. I don’t want to feel like I need to “be” a certain something or accept being treated with such disrespect.

Why do the men behave this way? First of all, it’s men of ALL ages—from 13 years old to over 60—no joke. It makes me ill (literally at times) to have men older than my father treat me like a sexual object. It seems to be “taught” in this culture that it’s okay to be this way. There are probably many reasons for it. For one, the mixture of the religious and social culture has a lot to do with it. Most women are veiled in Egypt, and more and more are taking on the veil all the time. There are at least twice as many women wearing the veil as there was two years ago when I was here. There is an aspect of this that psychologically makes you desire more that which you cannot see or have. Then comes the release, and it happens not just to Westerners (but probably to us more because they think we are all about sex) but also to Egyptian women. Also, men and women grow up so separately. The idea of Western dating does not exist—you cannot “date”, hold hands, meet alone, etc. The only woman you’ll really ever ‘know’ or ‘see’ is your wife, generally an arranged marriage. Sexual tension builds up. Also, men ‘rule’ within the Islamic/Egyptian culture, and therefore woman can be seen as objects to be conquered. There is an aspect of this that is certainly a power struggle deal. There’s more to it too, I’m sure. For instance, the unemployment rate. So many educated (and non-educated) people are without jobs and it robs them of their sense of identity and empowerment. It seems that many people are frustrated with their living situations and this comes out in a variety of ways.

Despite trying to understand the root of these issues, something changes when it suddenly happens to you. Three months ago I could have been sitting at home having a discussion with a good friend and expressing open-mindedness as to why men behave this way. The moment you become a victim it changes everything. Everything. I can’t even imagine the emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual turmoil a rape victim must feel.

So what do I do? I know we are suppose to go out and get to know people. But I'm wondering if it would best for me to just keep the few I do trust close to me and avoid the rest. My experience thus far in "going out and experiencing" has been much more negative than positive for my self-being and my attitude towards this culture. Thank the Lord for having a chance to teach conversation class (with good men) and helping out with Dialogue Forum (with good men). These are the few things that keep me pushing through the rough spots.

I am also so afraid that this will affect me when I return home. Will I feel liberated when I return home, or will I have learned to not trust men? (It’s scary how fast these experiences can add up to really hit you at the core—your soul—and change your perception of people.) I am truly concerned about this and I ask for your prayers about this; not just for me, but all of us dealing with similar issues. We need your support and your love.

18 Comments:

  • At 11/09/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I was punched a guy. And I know someone who literally broke a fellow's hand. We both felt pretty good after that.

    Hang in there.
    -Laura

     
  • At 11/09/2005, Blogger Teri said…

    oh sarah, i'm so sorry. i wish i was there to be angry with you. i'm angry for you. i'm glad you were able to scream at the man! maybe next time some buffy-worthy violence, too? (just kidding, mostly...)
    be strong....can't wait to be back with you!
    peace
    t

     
  • At 11/09/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This can happen at any time in Egypt, the only defense, if there were such a thing is awareness, learn to read the crowd (not always foolproof) and I think you did the right thing. If a person is guilty you can see it in their eyes. watch everyone next to whom you walk on the street. All of them... never ride the men's car and pary for patience, stay alert, and raise hell when it does happen!! I will tell you this too, it happens to Egyptian women as well, just not as much. It sucks, and its enraging.

     
  • At 11/10/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh Sevy, I'm so sorry to hear that! It is hard to not close yourself off from others when you have had so many bad experiences. I think it's really hard for people who haven't been through this type of thing to understand how much it makes you reevalute your trust of men (or others in general). Although a lot of it has to do with cultural norms, I don't think you should just be quiet about it. I think it's awesome that you yelled at him - the only way people are going to start learning that they are doing something wrong is if people confront them about their negative actions. Stay strong and keep looking for the good in people, I know you'll make it through even wiser and stronger than before!
    Love, Camille

     
  • At 11/10/2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sarah!
    I am so glad you're ok! I think that's the worst kind of experience because it effects so much more than just that one day or your view of just that one man. Do you remember the story about my next door neighbor? It makes you so much more suspicious and less inclined to talk to any man. When I was in Italy, I was dealing with unwanted attention too during my walks to and from school. I became so frustrated/tired/intimidated by all the attempted butt slaps, etc. that for 2 weeks I walked around frowning whenever I was in public. After a while I realized that I was depressing myself and having no fun whatsoever. I know how hard it is to take the chance to stop worrying about it every second and enjoy yourself. It sounds like the problem is much worse in Egypt, but the best thing I think you can do for yourself is to try and be as you were before and trust God to take care of you. You'll probably be forever more careful, but if you spend your life permanently suspicious and on guard, you won't have much fun. I think it's wonderful that you were able to have the courage to yell at him! Take care!
    love,
    Jordan

     
  • At 12/07/2005, Anonymous Teresa said…

    Sarah,

    Sorry, about the groping.

    "you're not in Kansas any more..."
    Or, CG MN...
    Remember, Jesus tipped over a few tables and was angry in the temple. Your anger is justifiable.

    God Bless-
    Teresa

     
  • At 1/06/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    why the hell you don't pack up your dirty clothes and filthy bible along with your jeasus the faggot and go back to where you came from, what the fuck keeps you here in this sexually frustrated society ..
    don't you know that the rate of rape crimes is the highest in America, don't you know that you are the biggest producers of Porno films and industery..where the hell the PLAY boy is coming from ha? from Cairo or from America..where the Hell Aids was first discovered in the world, where the hell girls as young as 13 are pregnant..where the hell fathers are raping their own daughters ?
    how many of your girlfreinds in America was not cheated by her husband ? how many of them were not left alone with a cuouple of kids for a prettier younger sexier wife or a girlfireind?
    as much as you hate me now i hate you even worse and as much as you think my words are meaningless i stringly belive that your whole western world a piece of shit
    one last word..America is not a Paradise and Egypt is not the Hell

     
  • At 1/07/2006, Anonymous Alif said…

    Anonymous here is a typical common Egyptian male: hyper-emotional, irrational, and a zealot hypocrite.
    He's one of the reasons why this country is like it is now.
    He probably took his shot at groping -or more- a woman once, and failed, and it caused him all this self-pettiness and dismay.

     
  • At 2/11/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi,
    Pls accept my apology for what happened to you.I assure you that not all men here like that. we are not all pigs. I can see that you don't know the women rights here. You can defend yourself and give such guys a very hard time. have you tried to ask an Egyptian woman or a lawyer? do it and you won't regret it . If you want me to explain to you how you can do that or if you want to know some egyptian men (NOT PIGS) , i would be glad to receive a word from you at (ivodoo@yahoo.com)
    All the respect to you

    Mohammed :-)

     
  • At 3/24/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm sorry for what happened to you in my country , even though I dont feel I belong there anymore. its not religion its ignorance , these people are so ignorant even if they hold PHD's and they are cought with modern tools of living but without knowledge of how to use them . thanks for your efforts to help my country and lets hope these people can get loose from the prison of their own ideas.

     
  • At 4/02/2006, Blogger Sarah said…

    Dear Anonymous--Thank you for your support and understanding about the situation I (and many others) have been dealing with here. THANK YOU!

    Mohammed: I had a similar, but worse experience today, and as I was chasing after this man I passed by THREE officers and asked them for help. ALL THREE turned to look the other way. Unfortunately, I have only ONCE had any Egyptian man or woman come to my rescue; most look the other way or say it's no big deal.

     
  • At 4/21/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sarah,
    I am Egyptian, male, early 30's. btw, I have an american girlfriend, long term. It once happened to her. I went back to the spot 15 min. later and found the guy and I think he still remembers that day till now..
    But
    We have to agree on some points:
    -There s a certian dress code for every place. some forigners -females- wear too sexy, tight or revealing clothes. while others, know how to dress in the streets, and cover up while they are taking a taxi cab or walking down the street, then later once in a bar or a freind's place, you can take off the shawl or coat and feel more comfortable. Some tourists, or forigners are totally unaware of how to dress in Egypt.
    its true that the sexual tension is always building up here for many many men, but i remember once while in eastern europe- and we know how free life is there- and guys where always staring, and even commenting loudly on the slim or curvy girls who pass by, in thier extra tight or scanty clothes. Yes, its us Men, PIGS.. Here in Cairo, rich guys in thier fancy cars and thier free sexual life and his girl friends from the AUC (American Univ. in Cairo) would honk if they spot a sxy girl walking in the street, or driving a car, and try to chase her, and in some occasions pick her up.. Others are more desperate and lack all of the tricks to get laid..or touch a woman.. so they would just grope what they like!! A very raw version of the 'Male Hunter' idea. Its all he can do.. TOUCH! He steals his sexual pleasure and run.. But, and im sorry to quote a stupid ***hole, in the states PIGS run after sexy younger girls when they already have a wife or kids at home, many sexual harrassmanet cases,- I think rape is more of a mental disorder than just pure sexual desire so i wont use it here- allover the globe, women complain of PIGS and how they ruin thier lives...and break thier hearts. and Allover the globe, men would sit in a bar and drink beer while complaining of how women ruined thier lives, broke thier hearts and call them sluts and all the names..
    There are lots of problems in Egypt.. Political mainly, and religious..
    If you can't deal with it.. then just go..
    I think writing here about your groping incident will give a very bad image of the whole country.. and I think your post here about this incident was very shallow, selfish and stupid (sorry!!). I have been robbed in Amsterdam, experienced racism in Paris..but never posted these incidents and kept talking about how ugly these countries were. I love Amsterdam, and would certainly go back to paris again.
    The world is full of shit, and if you cant take more shit.. just leave it!
    Thanks

     
  • At 5/29/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Just as these men violate your physical boundary by meddling with your crotch you violate their spiritual boundary by meddling with their faith.

     
  • At 7/11/2006, Anonymous ahmed salah said…

    DEAR SARAH,
    i'm egyption male , u don't know how much your writting made me sad, ofcourse becouse i got sorry for your bad experience, but also for the bad impression it gives about egypt, islam and arab, i know that egyptions nowadays are suffering alot of defects in their behaviors( crisis behaviours, but not behaviour crisis), but the image is not black as u see, add to that the point discussed befor the dressing code in egypt ,add to that the bad impression about westerens( as being sexually free and minded and can accept any sexual relation with any one at any time)of course this is a wrong impression, but u have also to blam porno westeren films which become available now easly in the internet, satallite t.v. chanels, finally i'm sorry for u , and what realy we need is try to build more bridges between our cultures and civilizations to overcome this misunderstanding
    .

     
  • At 9/01/2006, Blogger Sarah said…

    I appreciate the comments some of you have been making about my blog entry regarding your frustration with my writing. I agree with you in that my own culture has many issues with sexuality as well. And, if you have read my blog, you will find an entry in which I write about modesty and dress. There you will see that I completely agree with you regarding Western ways of dressing and being sexually aggressive in Egypt. I am very bothered by a woman coming to Egypt wearing shorts and a tank top, flirting away. I choose to be modest in dress and manner, as this is what is appropriate.


    What especially bothers me, however, is the judgment being made about my character and my modesty. You do not know me, you do not know how I dress or act. What I wrote about in this blog was (is) a reality for me and for many women I spoke with in Egypt. Although I only wrote about this occurrence once, it literally happened to me on a weekly basis. Now, I will say that it occurred more often in certain places (such as where I lived) and not at all in other places (such as Dokki), yet it happened frequently. What was especially difficult in these times was the lack of help. Women turned the other way, and only if I was hysterical would men come in to help. When a man did help me once, he only then wanted me to give him my number and start to date. 

If my comparison of this treatment to issues in America is what offends you, I apologize. America is not perfect, and I do not pretend that it is. This isn't an issue about one country or another, however. It is an issue about dignity, respect, and honor. The fact of the matter remains that in 10 months of my time living in Ghamra I experienced the worst moments with men in my entire life. These things happened without my consent, without my will, without my desire. That must say something.

    Another issue angering me is where we are putting our blame. Why is it that only women are suppose to take responsibility for sexual modesty? Does a man have no moral responsibility in his actions to another? One of the only things in life we have control over is our actions, regardless of the situation, the stress, the anxieties, the temptations, and the desires surrounding us.

    While I am not a Muslim, I have read this verse: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity: [36] this will be most con­ducive to their purity – [and,] verily, God is aware of all that they do." (24:30))” Surely the faith recognizes the need for one to take responsibility for his own actions and understand the consequences.

     
  • At 10/09/2007, Anonymous Chocalicious said…

    I lived in a US city and I had the same experience. I walked to work and my office moved so I had to walk through a not-so-nice neighborhood. I got to the point where I had a CONSTANT scowl on my face (not my natural self at all) and was jumpy and suspicious. I even yelled some bad words at jerks on the street. After I got married and moved, it took a while for me to get over being that way. Of course nobody touched me, because this is America and I'm sure those pigs didn't want to go (back) to jail. This was in Baltimore. I always dressed modestly, esp. for the US, and that did not stop these guys. Most of them were black, and I thought that because I was also black they thought it was okay to treat me like a whore. Anyway, whatever. That sucked, and it was NOT in Egypt, so that crap happens everywhere. When you have uneducated guy who has no money and no prospects when he sees a pretty woman who he thinks is out of his reach, he wants to humiliate her. I also lived in Mexico for a while and got harassed there, but I was in college and I the guys were so small they seemed pretty harmless. I'm so sorry for you. Men are bigger than us and can do a lot more harm to us than just humiliation. I'm sorry my sister. Get out of Egypt and leave those creeps to themselves.

    Interestingly, I did marry an Egyptian guy and just went to visit his family. My husband and I went every where together and nobody bothered me. I also didn't notice any harassment. My husband also told me repeatedly how safe Egypt was compared to the US. I should have put that to the test by walking to the store by myself!My husband is a big softie even though he is like twice my size. I have a bad temper and he's naturally mellow, so I guess he's not like a typical Egyptian man. No offense to them. Anyway, nobody bothered me, but I went with my husband AT ALL TIMES like I said before, and we did not have as much mobility as we would have somewhere else. I also noticed that my female inlaws did not seem to ever leave the house. Egyptian men also seem to be very big and tall, and liked to hang in packs smoking and stuff. Packs of burly, young men do not smack of safety to me.

    Anyway, my love, my heart goes out to you. You deserve to be free and have fun. I recommend getting the heck out of Egypt. Life is too short. I'm from the caribbean and I think you would like it there. I was actually thinking I would rescue my female inlaws and we could all live there. I think they would think they were in heaven on earth after Egypt.

    At least girls have a little power over the men, who know better than to mess with us. And you can dress freely and not have a schmuck touch you on the street. I don't recommend Jamaica, that's probably like Egypt. But everywhere else is clean (especially compared to Cairo, no offense), civilized and nice.

     
  • At 10/09/2007, Anonymous Chocalicious said…

    * I want to add to my post,I had similar experiences (fear, harassment, loss of trust) but nobody touched me. Again I'm sorry. Maybe you can pay someone to escort you to and from home.

     
  • At 4/13/2008, Blogger A man apart said…

    ok am a 35 yrs old egyptian guy, never thought of harrassing a woman or getting her against her will .. but am the educated type ... and i am not defending here .. foreign women .. can't understand is that they associated in our the minds of the illiterate with sex.. it is all over the meida ..the movies.. so if a man ..stupid man ..sees her down the street ..wearing something provocative or maybe not ..he'd jump her bones .. i am sorry for you and for women like u .. i have a mother, a sister, a wife, and a daughter and i hope they will never face the same thing as u have.. all am saying if we need to change that .. we need to make ppl aware from both sides.. women don't really have to wear thongs and low cut jeans to feel feminish .do they .. or if they do they need to do it in private .. am not against restraining you or restricting you.. all am saying is that it is hard to explain women's right to someone who doesn't have a job or have no chance of getting married .. and suddenly sees a 1/2 naked woman accross the street ... this happens everywhere..this is called harrassment ... pls check rape crimes in the states and u will get an idea that this is not only related to egyptian men in egypt ..

     

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