I was going to blog about Christian Egypt… but Gazelle needs to let off steam. I am a little annoyed right now, with my living situation, well, not really but I have been reflecting on something… cross-cultural interactions that is, especially in the context of living with an Egyptian roommate.
I won’t go into super details about the side-story, but needless to say, another Egyptian roommate was caught/proven to be stealing money from her American roommates and as such was given the boot. Of course, the money was the last straw, but this girl had been going through her roommates personal property and taking things, nothing big but little things from their drawers and closets since we got here. In addition to other things that need not be mentioned.
This girl’s story is not just pertinent because it happened in our program, but because I have experienced something similar, albeit on a much smaaaaaaaaaaaaller scale. My roommate is actually nice, and especially when I compare her to the girl who got the boot, I am grateful. But (and yet there is always a but)
the fact that I too find things missing (well, not really things, food items for the most part) annoys me quite a bit at times. Is there anything more annoying than thinking you have a a piece of pie, or a few slices of pizza or conditioner only to discover that its’ not there at the very moment that you need it? well, this has been a recurring theme in my apartment since I’ve been here.
It started out with oil… I bought a 3 liter bottle which is more than enough for me for a year. I put in my cupboard, not in common space. somehow, within two months the entire bottle was gone! (I had probably used at the most half a liter, and I am being very generous in my estimation of oil use). Then it was my cereal. AT least twice, I would buy cereal, eat it for a few days, and when I would come back to open the box a week or a few days later, there would literally only be like three little cocoa puffs! Once morning in particular I was so mad at the discovery of my disappearing cereal (because I was really hungry and knew that I was in for a long day and had 5 minutes to eat before I caught the tram for class) that I threw the empty box on the floor with a thud and stormed out of the apartment.
I’ve since kept my cereal in my room, but it’s annoying to have to do so. What’s worse is that incidents like these just keep on happening, the straw that broke the camel’s back was my pizza. Egyptian pizza does not have tomato sauce, so when I want pizza that tastes like home, I go to Dominoes, order a bunch and put them in bowls, three or four slices per container and place them in the freezer for those days when I don’t feel like cooking. Well, just as it happened in the case of my cereal, someone ate my pizza and left only one slice in my bowl in the freezer! I was livid…
Not because of a few slices of pizza, but because taking things without asking is just considered rude (to me at least). And this stuff just seemed to keep happening, even before the pizza incident, other things like my hamburgers or chicken burgers, mayonnaise heck probably other stuff I didn’t realize as well, would go missing. But I never said anything to my Egyptian roomate (well I did ask about the pizza, but she flatly denied it).
At this point, I must note that my American roommate is a vegetarian, uses a particular brand of conditioner, uses non-fat mayonnaise and only olive oil. My Egyptian roommate, like many of the Egyptian I know here, survives on a diet of fried things, friend things and things cooked in lots of fat and butter.. and carbs…. so when things like burgers, and meat pizzas, my conditioner and mayonnaise go missing, it’s pretty easy to tell who the culprit is (not surprisingly my veggies never go missing…lol).
What’s bothersome, is that I buy things that are as close to the quality I have at home in the States that I can find here. So, I essentially pay US prices for my food… making it all the more frustrating when it goes missing..
Needless to say the whole thing was driving me mad. I didn’t know how to broach the the subject with her because I wasn’t sure that she considered what she was doing wrong. I didn’t know if she knew that taking things from your roommate without asking (funnily enough she doesn’t do this to the other roommate, at all… why me?) is in effect, stealing. Egyptians are a lot more communal than people in the States are, and I thought, so maybe she takes my things because she feels like I am more than welcome to take any food item of hers (she said so on more than one occasion, but our palettes are different, but, not different enough, though 😦
I wanted to tread softly, because on the one hand I didn’t want to be simplified into the screaming angry black woman (yes, I struggle with that as well here, but that is for another post… needless to say, no matter what I do or say, people try to read so much more into it than it is, if I disagree with someone in class and make my point, then people talk about how I “jumped” on someone or “put them in their place” while imitating me with head shakes and finger movements that I didn’t make… I have started calling people out on this now, but like I said, another posts… I have digressed)… I didn’t want to be made out to be the petty girl who is crying over pizza or a bowl of cereal. I also know that the Egyptians affiliated with the program for the most part, are her best friends. And didn’t want the issue to get any bigger.
As a sort of compromise and out of frustration I have since been putting notes on food items that are important to me (dear friend, I would prefer that you ask me before taking my food, thanks— Gazelle). I figure you won’t read the letter unless you are purposely in a bag/container of food that does not belong to you… The culprit would know that I notice my stuff going missing and would perhaps be shamed into leaving my stuff alone. Too early to tell if it works though.
But the news of this girl who stole money gave me courage to ask an Egyptian if taking people’s food, and other personal items ok in the Egyptian context? I explained to her the weird situation that we hav ebeen placed in, you never know why people do certain things, and you don’t want to offend anyone’s culture. She told me NO, even in my context it’s stealing and a reflection of the perpetrators bad character (her words, not mine…lol) especially since I am not family. So there we have it… Egyptians do not have some sort of disparate definition of stealing or roommate boundaries, not when it comes to personal property…
The yolk has been lifted!
On a side, but very much related note, I think my roommate discovered my note on my pack of burgers (which I had not touched in 2 months and is somehow half-way gone!)… hopefully she will get the message. The funny thing is, I don’t even like that particular brand, noticed that she does, and was thinking of asking her if she wanted them, but hey, she’s already helped herself… and I know if I asked her she would deny it…it’s the principle, for me I suppose.
I think I will continue to write little notes on the food items that I don’t want anyone else using… it’s my right. Although I wish I didn’t have to do so. But there’s just three months to go before I’m outta here. Living here has truly been something else.
I guess weird roommates are indeed an international phenomenon