On Relationships that Die a Natural Death Part I

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Wow!  I am processing so much at one time at this moment.  I felt like I needed to put my thoughts down…

One of the classes that I take this semester is Egyptian Cinema, the instructor is terrible (I think I’ve skipped 2-3 of her classes to date, more than any other… sigh).  But, the films are great, well even when they’re bad, many of them particular the older ones which are considered classic, are not films that I would have known about otherwise, but Egyptian Cinema (which by the way has a history that is longer than American cinema, yes, that’s right Egyptians were making films before Americans did!  —-) is an eyelet into the culture, I think.

The problem is, that many of the big films that are deal with controversial issues about Women’s roles, power and social/religious freedom are the very films that some of the Egyptians I encounter refuse to watch… for them, these films  air Egypt’s dirty laundry, and they want no part in it…

To each his own, but then problem is, when these Egyptians are your instructors and they are leading a speaking/discussion roundtable, and the topic is these films!  One instructor in particular has been getting on my nerves since last semester.  He is someone that styles himself an intellectual, and he’s about as deep as a blow-up kiddie pool.  I have never met someone so willfully ignorant and yet so convinced that he knows what he’s talking about.

I respect him when it comes to Arabic language, because he really is unmatched in his knowledge of grammar and vocab (in comparison with other instructors)  I feel like my writing and vocab has improved so much and much of the reason is because he knows his Arabic extremely well…. social issues however, he DOES NOT! and so of course we butt heads, because I call people out on nonsense, or illogical arguments when I hear them, .. whomever the person may be.

I won’t get into all the ridiculous claims this man has made since I’ve met him, but suffice to say, he is one of those Egyptians that has never seen films like “The Yacoubian building”  because one of the characters is gay and there was some premarital sex in it, or “A girls secret” because it’s about a teenage girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock or “this is chaos” because it’s about a super-corrupt official who assaults an Egyptian woman…or “6, 7, 8” because it’s about street harassment in Egypt….. These films, to me and in many ways the larger public, at least, are important.

They raise questions and talk about issues that many Egyptians are woefully ignorant about, or are reluctant to talk about, but nonetheless are problematic and are only going to get worse if no addressed properly.  Movies that discuss women’s issues in particular, are what have been weighing on my mind. During the discussion, rebutted a flippant remark about street harassment and how it’s a international phenomenon, saying that it’s clear to me that many Egyptians really don’t understand how bad it is,  far too often it goes beyond harassment and enters the realm of almost rape…. women in my program have had men touch them, expose themselves to them, and even clearly try to rape them…. this is not normal… especially for such a small sample size.  What’s worse, what we deal with, is really no different from what the average Egyptian women, veiled or not, deals with… my conversations with Egyptian women point to this, they get touched too, they have dirty things said to them…

But many men I have interacted with, like my instructor, don’t get this.  He told me that harassment is worse in Alexandria because people in Cairo are more used to foreigners so what women go through here is because we are foreign…. He added that one of his students told him that in Cairo a woman can wear whatever she wants….

Needless to say everything he said was pure BS!  Cairo is devastatingly worse a place for street harassment than Alex is (any woman will tell you that) unless you are talking about the ex-pat/high class enclaves like Maadi or Garden City…. Egypt is just not a place where you can wear whatever you want… so I have no idea what he was talking about (and neither did he). I told him, I was making my claims based on personal experiences and those of almost every woman I know, Egyptian and foreign that has been in Egypt…..  He only shut up or toned down his voice when our Egyptian woman instructor, in her quiet, poised, way, agreed with me, and told him he was wrong.

The point of this post is not to tear down his arguments, but to say that this encounter points to something that has been bothering me for a while… a particular aspect of Egyptian culture…

That is, the idea that you don’t talk about “shameful” things…. ever.  It’s the reason why a woman who is being abused (sexually or physically) by a family member will probably never speak out, it’s the reason why a woman who has been raped will never report it (because it’s always her fault or if it’s her husband, then it wasn’t rape at all), it’s the reason why people like my instructor who has 5 sisters is still woefully ignorant about basic things that are all wrong in this society when it comes to how women are treated in public space…. or at least he pretends to be (it has crossed my mind that he just doesn’t want to talk about that stuff in front of foreigners).

I don’t deny that some of these issues happen in the States too, but at the very least there is dialogue about it and more popularly supported efforts to fight them… Something my classmate said still rings true to me, why can’t people just acknowledge the fact that this is a cancer in the society, stop making excuses about sexual repression or unemployment (which is an issue in so many places and we don’t see nearly as terrible cases of harassment)  or the fact that sexual harassment happens all round the world (mainly people who have never set foot outside of Egypt love to use this, sigh…. ) this would make campaigns to stop it, so much more successful.  You can fight these issues if you accept the fact that they exist and acknowledge the role you play in perpetuating it….

Sometimes when I think about these issues I feel like a caged bird, like Masri (Egyptian) society is so stifling that I can’t breath, but at least I have the fact that there are only 2 months left here to look forward to.

The other thing about these encounters is that I think about the Egyptian education system, and how it does not prepare people to think for themselves or to make logical conclusions based upon evidence.  My instructor is currently pursuing his Master’s degree, and yet, he on more than one occasion has made sweeping generalizations based upon one conversation with 1 or 2 people…. (which is why I end up shutting him down, ha, ha….).  He’s not the only one, we take classes at the University of Alexandria and the quality is very hit or miss, mostly miss for certain subjects.  Students just seem to to blindly memorize information (I mean word for word, our academic tutors are always surprised that we don’t right down everything the professor says, just the main idea), I have a classmate who is taking a University class for which the 4th-year university students have to turn in a research paper, their first research paper ever!  They are just learning how to cite source and (hopefully) how to evaluate the trustworthiness of a source….

Yes, this is true, but what kind of future is it in the context of Egypt?

All of these issues don’t make me optimistic about Egypt….Heck, our first unit in modern standard Arabic class was on the innate problems found in the Egyptian Education system and Arab system in particular…. I mean my class this semester seems like an Egyptian version of “lean on me” or “to sir with love”… eerily similar, and these are 3rd year university students…. sigh.

It points to a larger issue, how to do we expand education, and still keep the quality of it very good.  It’s super cheap to go to college here, the American students pay more for one semester here than an Egyptian pay for all four years of college (at a public university of course)… so that I think, affects the quality, the apathy on behalf of some of the professors themselves is so sad, How can your students feel excited about the subject when you are not?

What does all this have to to with my post title?…. I think this post is too long, so I will explain more in the next one…. to be continued…

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