Being black in Egypt has been weird. On the one hand, I know that I don’t face the kind of street harassment that my white and Asian classmates have. People either seem to think I am Egyptian/Sudanese or they just are used to black Africans so I’m not the interesting oddity that a blond or Asian woman would be.
In general I can walk by myself outside without much hassle. Of course there is street harassment, but it doesn’t go beyond yelling out cat-calls such as “ya Samara!” or ” ya mooza” (literally means hey bannana, but in Egyptian slang a mooza is a hot chick) or some variation thereof.
However, two days ago I was met with a slightly different kind of street harassment: Young boys and pranks they play on foreigners. I love the modern-style supermarket near my home. It’s just a 5 minute walk and it has most of the products I need in one place and for a fair price. However, there is a group of young boys, my guess is age range 8-14 or so who like to hang out near the market. They have never bothered me before besides the one time they tried to scare me and my Chinese-American room mate after we ascended the store escalators and left the store. Well, two days ago as I waited for my room mate at the upstairs entrance a pair of those little rascals threw a piece of plastic broken off from God knows where at the back of my head! I did not provoke them in any way, as a matter of fact I was oblivious to their presence.
Needless to day I was mad! Say whatever you want, but do not touch me! Physical harm, or the potential for it, is where I draw the line. I came out of the store angry and yelling in Arabic, causing my main attacker to run. The other older boys who saw what had happened and done nothing to stop it tried to smooth things over. They apologized on behalf of their comrades, but I was not satisfied with that. The thing is, it was important that they know that throwing things is dangerous. If they had thrown a rock at my head (which has in fact happened to people in my program) it could have seriously hurt me… Then I would have been really mad, and they could have gotten in a lot of trouble.
This message on the dangers of throwing things was amusing to assailant number two, when I asked him what he was laughing about he said, it was the fact that I speak Arabic! Not that it was stuttered as I do when I am angry, but the fact that I speak Arabic at all. I then told him that I also spoke English and could convey my message that way if he would like.
In the end, I angrily threw the plastic thing, not intending to hit him, nor did I hit him. I just wanted them to know that I am not one to play around.
Surprisingly it worked. I went to the shop this evening, and saw two boys walking. The first descended the escalators with a swiftness that startled his companion, causing him to fall. I was simply trying to tell the little boy that fell that his friend was downstairs in the store, when the three older boys from the day before came in and started saying sorry again. The boy that fell kept saying that he was not the boy that hit me the day before and that his friend was the one who had done it!
To be honest it was dark and I was so mad that I didn’t really remember what those kids looked like. But I am happy that it had an impact on them. The kid who ran down the stairs still had that stupid grin, but the others really needed my reassurance that I was no longer angry.
This experience has made me realize that sometimes the best way to handle harassment in the streets is not to just silently pretend like it doesn’t matter or that I don’t hear it. Rather, harassers need to know that that behavior is unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, this will certainly not work in every situation. But at least I am more confident in the possibility of telling some older man off if he touches me.
My Arabic under pressure wasn’t too bad, the kids could clearly understand me, even if they were taken aback by my ability to speak the language and or my accent. That is also a relief. To be honest the street harassment angle is actually so 3-d that I don’t know that one post is enough to encapsulate it all. There will be more on this later, but suffice it say,
I see how children, young boys in particular start to learn these bad habits so early. Stories like mine happen all the time in Alexandria, many a times in front of adults, and no one chastises the kids!
At any rate, I am happy to have taken my power back! Street harassment? I say NO!!!!!!!!!!!