Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A lesson in Cairo fashion

Coptic Church
I spent today first exploring the Egyptian museum and then Coptic Cairo.  Egyptian Christians are almost entirely of the Coptic faith, which split from the Catholic church in the 5th century over a debate whether Christ was human or divine.  I don't want to go into much detail about my day, so as to give away significant plot lines for my book...but suffice to say, Laurie, you would CRY in Coptic Cairo - it is so utterly awesome.

So instead, I'll diverge into a brief opinion piece about the differences between dressing for a good experience and dressing for a miserable experience in Egypt.
Mausoleums in Coptic Cairo

The middle cars of the Metro (fourth and fifth) are reserved for women only.  Other cars are for mixed sexes, but a woman traveling alone is asking for it by stepping into one.  I stick to the cars for women.

I heard and read several reviews that said women in the metros are even worse than men when it comes to harassing foreign women.  As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I haven't had any trouble being harassed by men, so right now my harassment baseline is still set at zero.  That said, I haven't had any trouble with the women either.  The first day, I was in long sleeves and long pants (as I am every day) but no hijab - and I was categorically ignored on the subways.  Today, I scooted around the city a few times wearing a hijab (headscarf) on top of my long sleeves and long pants (and btw, sandles - evidently feet are the only part of your body it's perfectly acceptable to show here).

Two women on the subways acknowledged my existence today.  One moved aside and smiled to offer me the seat next to her. The other was a woman in Full Ninja (this is what Sara's brother in United Arab Emirates calls the niqab ensemble).  Anyway, I stepped aside to allow the woman to leave with her child, and she said, "nice."  I don't know if she was telling me in English that I was nice to move over for her, or if she was insulting me in Arabic with a word I don't know, but I choose to believe the former.
Her name is "Georgia" in Greek, but I got an idea from her

So the point I'm making here is that whoever had issues with either women or men in Cairo must have been wearing a bikini.  I think if you dress conservatively, thus showing respect for the culture (as one should when traveling anywhere, in my humble opinion), you will be treated with respect as well.

Now, I know what you're thinking - but it is SOOOOO HOT!!  You're right.  It is. But to be honest with you, one gets used to it very quickly.  I was in the Egyptian museum today (which is not air conditioned) surrounded by about ten thousand sweaty tourists.  When I stepped outside and felt a breeze on the one part of my face that was exposed, I actually thought, wow, that's so nice and cool!  How lovely!  I could feel it all the way through my clothes, and I had no problem carrying on this way for the rest of the afternoon in Coptic Cairo.  Out of curiosity, I looked at the weather icon on my iPhone.  It was 99 degrees.

Indeed, the hijab seems to have its advantages.  This afternoon in Coptic Cairo I went to a stand to buy
some bottled water.  I approached the counter with two bottles as two women, Spanish speakers, were in a language-impaired debate with the guy behind the counter yelling in Arabic and English how much they needed to pay (he was telling them 10 Egyptian pounds per item for a bottle of water and two Cokes).  They seemed to understand, but were playing dumb as they clearly realized they were being ripped off.  I thought about stepping in to translate to Spanish (and thus hurry the process along) when the other guy behind the counter pointed at my two bottles of water and said, "sitta" - Arabic for six.  I dropped my six pounds (about $1.20), thanked him in Arabic and took off with my bottles of water.  The ladies were still there, mad as hornets.

Speaking of Spanish, I seem to be visiting Cairo with half the country of Spain and three quarters of the country of Mexico.  It's bizarre, but also comforting, as I speak the language.  Today I was in an elevator at McDonalds (yes, I really did say the elevator at McDonalds) with a couple who were staring at me in my hijab.  The man glanced at the woman and said, slightly under his breath, "ojos azules" - blue eyes.  I couldn't resist striking up a quick conversation in Spanish before stepping out of the elevator.

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Great post - I really love your writing Kris, thanks for sharing your experience.