IN Egypt

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My Access to internet was not so great, so this post was from 9/13/2011.

 

I have been in a Egypt three days and the best way to sum it all up is:  Culture Shock!

I know that it may seem strange for someone with experiences elsewhere in the Arab world to feel this way, but Egypt is “”Haga taniya khaaaaalis” (حاجة تانية خالص)= a completely different thing.

I don’t even know where to start, but I have decided that lack of an internet connection in my apartment (for the time being) will not deter me from sifting through my thoughts.

 

As I wrote above, Egypt has been surprisingly different for me.  When I say culture shock, I don’t mean the fact that Egyptian cultural mores, daily life, food etc. is vastly different from what I experience in America.  I mean, that Egypt is unlike any other Arab country I have visited.

There is a grittiness to being here that I never felt in Qatar, Morocco or even Yemen.  And this, bothers me.  I have trying to put my finger on why and this is what I have concluded thus far.

 

Treatment of me as a black foreigner/foreigner altogether

I know that I complained about Qatar (Gulf) society’s hierarchial/racially based social structure.  But, I think somehow, I got used to it, it seeped into my consciousness.

In both places, the assumption is that I am African— (Sudanese once they find out that I speak Arabic).

But Qatar all I had to do was let people know that I am American and 80-90% of the time that was the end of my problem.  Americans in the Gulf are ranked extremely high on the totem pole.  We are feared. We are revered. We are preferred.  (I don’t make the rules, I just play by them).

Not so in Egypt.  Last night some neighborhood guy greeted me with exaltations of how Sudanese people are the best on the face of the earth… only to later show his disappointment at my being American. (can you say awkward).  I’ve already heard epithets hurled at the USA (usually when I am walking with white people though).  Needless to say, we are not preferred.

 

However, I am not feeling funny/ not adjusting too well to Egypt because I’m not hot stuff anymore.  I think the American distinction points to something bigger, and more important:  I don’t get a free pass here because I’m foreign.  I think there were things in terms of dress and composure that I got away with (and maybe even took advantage of a little) when I was the Gulf that I can’t do here.  This, I think is making me chafe just a smidgeon. In this way, Egypt seems like a much more conservative place (religiously and socially).

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7 thoughts on “IN Egypt

  1. But Qatar all I had to do was let people know that I am American and 80-90% of the time that was the end of my problem.

    I find this statement really intriguing/interesting, I’ve heard variations of it elsewhere. Does this suggest that if you were not American you would have been treated horribly or similarly? Or that you got special treatment because you are not African? (in which case I’m curious to know what qualifies as ‘special treatment’. I can understand the privilege that comes with having an American passport, but I don’t get how this comes into play when the person travelling/living abroad has African ancestry and encounters racism…

    I am not sure I’m being coherent here :S

  2. Yup, that’s what I mean. being an American usually means special (read better) treatment for most of the places I have been. Speacial treatment usually just means people being nicer/more hospitable/more into me and what I think. It can also mean me being able to talk to them in a manner that they would not let a non-American do… (I had quite a few arguments on behalf of female students who were at the mercy of the dorm mothers, because they wouldn’t touch me). If i did something and a non-American (non- ideal nationality) did the same, they would get punished… I would not.

    As far as racism it really depends. I had situations in Qatar where people were rude but once they found out the color of my passport it was a total 180.

    but yeah, for random people in the street, it doesn’t necessarily work as well.

    • …I was afraid you’d say this, but I guess nationality does play a big role in how people react to foreigners in their country. I think you blogged about those arguments on behalf of female students but I don’t recall you mentioning the non-Americans were punished (how so???).

      As far as racism it really depends. I had situations in Qatar where people were rude but once they found out the color of my passport it was a total 180.

      Wow, this is unbelievable. I feel like I’ve been living under a rock of sorts because despite my travels to a few countries as a Nigerian, I haven’t actually witnessed this special treatment (except of course wrt visas and border control). Then again I haven’t really come across, or interacted with, a lot of American tourists while abroad. Or maybe I just tend to meet nice people or people who are good at hiding their prejudices?

      Do you think wealth (or the perception of wealth) changes reactions and special treatments? For example, could the African students in Qatar be more free to challenge inequalities if they came from rich families?

      Btw, this issue has been on my mind for a long time as I have failed to grasp the concept of this ‘special treatment’ reserved for Americans outside visa exemptions. I considered blogging about it but it ended up being a huge rant hence the questions here.

  3. I wrote a long reply, and it got erased somehow….. 😦

    the perception of Americans as rich and strong is definitely a contributing factor… it’s all about stereotypes… Of course there are levels of this.

    Wealth can play role too, I know some super rich Africans and they don’t seem to have had some of the encounters with racism that i have had. I think money definitely talks, but I think even when it comes to money, all things equal the more desirable passports win out. That is sad.

    for e.g. there are consequences for coming back before curfew in the dorms. I just refused to pay any of them… my friends did not have that luxury… although this was also because they were regular students and would be there for more than a year.

    It’s complicated… But after travelling with a green passport for several years, I am very grateful for the privileges that my blue one gives me…

    • Oh 😦 I would have loved to read that long comment.

      I visited two countries in the Middle East during my most recent travels and this was actually the first time I witnessed racism first hand. Before that racism was something I read about, even when I visited countries with supposedly racist, anti-Black, anti-African sentiments. I also saw how Nigerians reacted to racism, and perceived attempts at racism, and they didn’t take it sitting down at all. They’d respond to racists and argue, say things like ‘Nobody can treat me like that when I paid to come here.’ and in a few cases the racists would apologise…This is why I thought of the wealth angle because of the feeling of someone looking down on you even though you paid to visit their lands.

      You’re right there are levels of stereotypes and as mentioned in the book I am reading right now, there are ‘hierarchies of oppression’. I actually never believed the anonymous commenters on blogpost on travelling while Black who would say that people changed their treatment of them once they found out they were not African, it was bizarre to me because as far as I know racists hardly change their stances due to passports.

      Again you’re right when you say it is complicated, but as with such issues may turn out to be not so complicated.

      But after travelling with a green passport for several years, I am very grateful for the privileges that my blue one gives me…

      This is why I thought to pose these questions to you because you’ve been on both sides and, as I consider you an internet friend, I can take you word.

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