ON Travelling to Other Parts of the Arab World, the limits of the Egyptian Dialect and Surprising Interactions Pt I


So Gazelle has done a little travelling as of late…. I figure I don’t post much about my experiences here, but I might as well let this blog get back to it’s travel blog roots.

This past weekend I went to Beirut, Lebanon. The weekend before that, I went to Muscat Oman. Yup, Yup. Now, I have two more Arab countries to add to the list, and two more sets of experiences to deconstruct, ya know, as a an (African) American woman traveling abroad and all.. ha ha..

But until we get into more detail, I will say that I was super apprehensive about going to either place, because of what I had heard/read/expected my experience to be as a clearly black woman. Both places pleasantly surprised me!

However, a weekend in a place, at the Crowne Plaza (Gazelle is too old to do that hostel stuff anymore…. Hah a) in each city is not exactly the same as say, living in the old Medina of Rabat or Alexandria, Egypt. With that caveat aside, I will say the following:

I went to Oman wearing a scarf, because my Sudanese friend (who by African-American Standards has that “good hair” and looks like a Creole) said that people straight up laughed in her face because her hair got frizzy as she walked around the souk… what??!!!

Ugh. Ignorance is ridiculous. I just didn’t want to deal with that so, like I said, I was hijabi for a weekend. I’ve been mistreated for my color/features enough to know that her experience could very well be my own., and I took her perspective seriously.

I think I looked something like this… then I wore an abaya as well… Apparently that was enough

I do think covering gave me a veil (no pun intended) of respectability that I may not have had otherwise, but whatever. Whatever the reason, people were largely super nice to me. No one acted like I was weird, other-wordly or pointed out that my skin color is a dark brown.  Apparently I can pass for an Omani (yay Afro-Arabs… the head covering probably helped with that)… or at least Arab (no surprise there). People would walk up to me and just start speaking Arabic, without any prompting. I must admit, this made me feel at home. So yes, I enjoyed Oman, even if I got propositioned by a (Saudi?) man. More on that in a future post.

Lebanon. Finally , I made it to the Levant. I was apprehensive about Lebanon, because of personal experiences with Levant Arabs and because of what I have heard as well…. Just google it and you will find a number of websites like this or this BBC article from last month about a photo exhibition on race and racism in Lebanon. Race/colorism is alive and well in Arab communities, but I’ve also realized that speaking with the Egyptian dialect, while it might give me more respect/passage as a someone who can “pass” for Arab, also puts me at a certain socio-economic box in people’s minds (more on this idea later). Add that to my dark skin, and most people come with “Oh, she’s a Sudanese girl who grew up in Egypt.” Le sigh.

Needless to say, the Lebanese have beacoup cache in the Arab World and beyond. And I was worried about seeming like a bumpkin. In the words of a coworker who recently made a trip to Beirut and stayed in the flashier part of town, “Lebanese folk were confused that a black woman could afford to stay in a nice hotel and wasn’t in fact a maid or a babysitter.”

Ugh, who wants to deal with that?

As proof that I’m not making this stuff up, it’s real problem, a real, deal problem in Lebanon

Alhamdullilah, I stayed in the nice part of town, but no one seemed to care. I didn’t receive any stares, no one called me names. In fact, everyone was pretty nice, even when I wasn’t in Beirut. They did note my Egyptian accent though, and the reaction to that was mixed: Honestly, I think I want to work on speaking Darija (Moroccan dialect) to people/using that accent more.

Or perhaps I need to develop a vanilla, devoid of any real regional specificity type Arabic dialect that I can speak when I travel.

As you can see, there are so many ways to say one thing….

Why does it matter? Because appearances matter, like everywhere. And I am tired of people making snap judgments about me based on their assumptions. I prefer to remain an enigma…. Ha ha…