Friday, July 13, 2007

Rant on Egypt

Hey Shean,
I can't actually say that I want to do any PhD work right now, but I will admit that I still love to learn. There is always something new to see or think about. Unfortunately I have no interest in Arabic language because there's lots of opportunity to learn it here. We've taken to calling it barbarabic actually as it can sound very harsh in it's own way and very hard to pronounce properly. German is also considered harsh but is totally different, sound wise. I've taken to comparing places to each other in strange ways. I like to think I've been around long enough. For example India and Egypt are the most infamous countries for tourist hassle but how do they really compare and are the reasons the same, or comparing India and China as future superpowers and as the massive populations that they are. There is a big difference between India and Egypt, obviously but it takes a while sometimes to really see a lot of the little things that add it all up. We've been here 3 months and in India for 5 so we had plenty of time to get a feel for both. India has more colour and there is a chance that you can actually talk to women. Even if they're working in a shop or something (that isn't all that common though, it seems) it is difficult to just casually talk to one here. I suppose that isn't exactly true but we are talking relative here.
How we compare the people is a very loaded question. While we pride ourselves on trying to tell it like it is (or at least how we see it based on our exposure) it's not really in our nature to just trash people and places outright. On that note I should just stay silent and avoid trouble. Then again, that's not what we're here for. As a general rule, regardless of how we feel at any particular moment, when some local asks us how we feel about their country we say something positive. It's getting harder to do that these days. These people leave little to respect them about. Trying to actually work here, you wonder how anything gets done at all as the concept of scheduling and organization are totally foreign influences and not something that seems to come naturally here. Start banging your head against the wall when you arrive. At the very least you might end up with a prayer spot bruise on your head and get more respect....
I'd have to say that as much as we complained about India (go back and check if you have to but we definitely did), in my opinion it is much better than here. Just as crowded and dirty, but at least you get the impression that certain sectors of industry and education are actually doing something at a high level. Biotech and infotech are very good in India. Here, I have yet to see a local with any reading material other than the Koran. I can't even recall seeing locals with newspapers. There seems to be no culture of self-education and world-awareness at all. That can't be entirely true, but for the majority it is probably true. They aren't the only place like that though so it's not totally fair to pick on them. I also have nothing against Islam personally as I have been through lots of Islamic countries and met lots of Muslims that I've liked, but if Cairo is considered the capital city of Islam and the Arab world (seeing as it is by far the largest in population), then Cairo is doing them a disservice and should be wiped off the map.
Not all Egyptians are bad. I've met lots outside of Egypt that were nice. I hate to say it too, but the best Egyptians I've met IN the country seem to be Coptic Christian. They just seem to be better adjusted and educated. The reasons for that are fairly complex but they do, on average tend to have better opportunities so it is generally true. For example, almost every male that talks to us or approaches our group is a pervert in some sense of the word and his thoughts are very obvious. One night while riding the tram in Alexandria, Rhiis and I were approached by a young guy (mid-teens) that wanted to chat for a while. It was obvious he was very nervous and he never once looked at the girls sitting beside. Nice guy, and we weren't surprised at all to find out he was Christian at the end of the ride.
We complained a lot about Indian males. I could complain more about Egyptian ones. Our hassle factor is directly proportional to the number of females in our group. Indian guys did a lot of staring (even more blatant than here) but I think there is more insult here than in India. In India I got the impression that they were pathetic little boys. In Egypt, thanks to Rhiis who can understand the language, we know that it is much more insulting and the comments from everyone very degrading. They have a completely unjustified superiority complex here that is totally baffling. The worst part is, they don't even grow up. In India, the adults were fine generally, here there is just as much hassle from 40+ year olds as there is from the teens. It must have something to do with the way they are raised. There is no discipline here, kids do whatever they want and it is super common to see families with little children running around at 2am. I don't think they go to school. They also seem completely oblivious to the fact that the girls are accompanied by us guys. There are 3 girls and 4 boys in our group and they will walk right up to one of the girls and start yapping very rude comments like we aren't even there. In fact they are usually surprised to see us a second later. That's just retarded. They don't put up with that type of behaviour amongst each other so we have stopped taking the abuse ourselves. Usually now we walk down the streets in a loose organization (necessary with these crowded sidewalks) with a guy in front and then the girls and the rest of the guys. It's a guarded setup not designed to repel abuse (they'll do what they do anyway and if the sight of the first guy doesn't turn them away then little would) but to punish it. We've witnessed so many blatant and subtle rubs, faces or comments to the girls this way from guys passing the other direction that one of us will then shove or hit the guy when he gets to us as punishment. Usually there are a few words exchanged and they run off guiltily. As I was always the only guy in the group before Egypt and was always in the lead I never noticed how much attention the girls got.
I get my share of comments too. Plenty of people say I am gay or whatever (in Arabic) because of my long hair and earrings (unheard of here). It's kind of funny coming from all these sodomites though. How can they talk? They've all convinced themselves that they aren't actually gay, they are just acting in a manner that everyone else on earth would consider as such. But forget that.
I seem to have figured out part of the problem. They like butts. The fashion here is truly bizarre, because the women wear tight jeans whatever shoes they want and then put on long-sleeve bodysuit type shirts so their arms are covered and then a very short skirt over top the whole thing. This makes it so that they have a non-revealing revealing top with long arms and their butts are just barely covered by the skirt so you can't see the shape through the jeans. I guess that is "Islamicly allowed" and still supposed to be sexy or something. As our girls are just in pants there is more to see. Generally this fashion holds true here. Some towns, like Siwa, are much more conservative, while in others, like Dahab where it is all tourists. you don't see many tourists and think you could be anywhere. About 10% of the population is Coptic so theoretically a little more than that should not be wearing headscarves (not all the muslims do). I haven't really counted but it seems about right.
We just got a few more jobs lined up for some movies so it looks like we'll be in Cairo for a little longer after Grady arrives. We haven't had any for a while so it's kind of annoying to get these ones just as we were about to leave town. Can't refuse though.
Ammon

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