Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lion's Den

Do you ever have those days when you feel like your heart is just beating out of its chest for one reason or another, and it won't stop no matter how many times you envision wrapping it, layer by layer so its fervent drumming falls into silent submission? Today I felt like I was being thrown around in a sea, as the waves beat me mercilessly--I couldn't quite keep my head above water. I was surrounded by 130 children at my church's summer church camp (that's not why I felt like I was suffocating, but it might have had something to do with it) while they were talking about stories regarding the Nile River. Everyone, even the small children, questioned me about living in Egypt or why I would ever want to return there.

My stomach was in knots as more and more questions were asked. Although I am so incredibly glad that I moved to Cairo almost a year ago, especially because fate has aligned things so beautifully for the next glorious year or so. I've become more secure with my surroundings, no matter where I am, and have some of the most wild and hilarious stories to share. A few of you know about the most UNFORGETTABLE and amazing experiences I've had there while several of you also know about the worst occasions there--and there are some that are still kept mostly secret because I'd rather not have to hear, "Don't tell me about it anymore, you're the one living there" or "Egyptian men are all the same, just color your hair and wear a'll be fine!" First of all, don't ask if you don't want to hear about it or plan on cutting me off to argue with me about something you cannot even fully fathom. Secondly, I am NOT going to color my hair (unless you give me a few hundred dollars a month to get it done) and NO, not ALL Egyptian men are the same. Unfortunately, it appears that a majority of them are, which got me to thinking...and reading...and remembering.

I remember a group of boys on the Metro train who stood in front of me and shook long sticks of candy in my face, while they were cleverly arranged quite  precisely where their more than likely nonexistent manhood should grow. I was taunted and disgustingly teased until an ancient Egyptian woman beat them all across the heads with her cane, in one good swipe, until they all jumped off at the next exit.

I remember having my bags thrown out of a taxi because he discovered I was an American and then a woman wearing nikab wouldn't even take me all the way home afterwards because she had a curfew.

I remember having my bag ripped out of my arms and my hair pulled so ferociously that I finally punched a young man, and fled between the rest of the pack with my purse in hand, into the small store where hardly any one one look me in the eye. I was bruised and exhausted, incapable of thinking for the rest of the day.

I remember having my ass and every inch of my genital area grabbed with such force that I hurt for hours after, but didn't want to complain or make matters worse. I didn't want to tell my mother, my boyfriend, or closest secret-keepers any more--what could they do, right?

I remember a man pulling down his pants in front of me and my roommate, cussing us out, and the police doing nothing--even though we were hysterical and in detrimental emotional shock due to everything else that occurred that week.

I remember a police officer that called my roommate continuously and harassed her without apology, even when she explained she had a serious boyfriend.

I remember feeling the pressure of men in Tahrir pushing up against me, aroused and unforgiving...fighting with my friends to free ourselves from the crowd before it was too late.

I remember all of these things and yet I will remain persistent in my fight for women's rights in Egypt and elsewhere. I should be ashamed at the thought and my recent acts of remaining silent, and urge other women...especially those in Western countries, to continue to talk about the injustices they face and to spread the word about things they read, see, and hear.

I suppose I am still young enough to believe that these oppressive cultural differences will change and adapt, although it may take 50 years or more to educate those who cannot even correctly define the definition of RAPE or SEXUAL ASSAULT or GENDER BASED VIOLENCE. After reading this post by Natasha Smith I found myself crying more than I have in months, which was exactly the kind of electroshock that I needed to get my heart racing again. [].

"Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals...They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions...A small minority of men...tried to protect me and guide me to a tent...Men pulled my blonde hair – a beacon of my alien identity."

I was astounded at the bravery and courage of this amazing journalist and am so thankful that nothing this extreme has ever happened to me.

But it could. 

I couldn't help but thinking, "Whitney, what if? What if you didn't stop after that last drink? What if you took a taxi by yourself so late at night? What if you wouldn't have ignored those men, would they have followed you? What if you didn't use every bad word in Arabic you knew to ward off and insult the man following you? What if?"

Never in my adult life have I considered myself weak or helpless. I am always the lion in the den: proud, determined, and ferocious when necessary (although I have at times felt like Daniel in the lion's den). Deep down I am embarrassed that I have bowed my head for so long, even though I've often thought that it wouldn't be worthwhile to bring these issues up since they are all over the news. However, I thought maybe (just maybe) if my more distant friends and family could read about some of these occurrences from someone they know then it would hit closer to home. Educate yourselves (I also remember being FURIOUS when a dear friend asked me, "What is Tahrir Square?" several months after I had been in Egypt) then be thankful, and perhaps thank God *or a powerful deity of sorts*, that you live in a country where you can be educated!

I almost did not post this. I mean really what's the use of one more puny blog post giving commentary on issues that everyone can just watch on television or read in the newspaper? It's because of the fact that I know instances like these don't only happen in the Middle East and that's why no one, WOMAN or MAN, should remain silent. The more stories that are shared, the more hell that is raised, the more the world will pay attention.

Be loud.

Be resilient, and don't you dare be afraid to speak your mind--even when you think no one is listening, because I bet you that someone will. 

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