Saturday, June 8, 2013

What Do You Think About Egypt?

I missed the train to Mansoura yesterday. After an amazingly relaxing weekend in Alexandria, the train I was suppose to be on went off at 2.10, five minutes earlier than the scheduled time of departure. The best bit was probably the high intensity chase in a futile attempt to catch up with the fleeting vehicle. It was like a scene from a movie, Luqman leading the way of the chase, while I trailed like the breathless cow that I am, running as fast as my chubby legs could carry me. At one point, he even tried grabbing my arm to coax me to run faster. Yeah, no. So there I was, with my terrible Usain Bolt impression and a stuffed backpack, just watched helplessly as the train chug away in all its rusty glory. And that was followed by a moment of dumbfounded silence as we tried to catch our breath as well as wait for the incoming surge of anger to reach it's boiling point. And then, in pure diva fashion, Luqman lost his shit at the station master's office, arguing in Arabic with the still defiant station master who was insistent that we were late. It was a very touching, Hallmark moment. I could cry just thinking about it now. 

In a last ditch effort, I took a car back to cosmopolitan Mansoura (which was actually a pound more expensive than the train ticket. I had to convert the amount in ringgit to avoid getting pissed again)  when I got to talking with this charmingly nervous officer in the Egyptian army who spoke in broken English, and expressive hand gestures. After I was interviewed with the standardized Egyptian set of questions (What's my name, what I was doing in Mansoura, why am I huge when the other Malaysians are tiny etc) , he brought up the most dreaded one, a question I have given varying answers to;

"What do you think of Egypt?"

Oh, not again. While I just smiled sheepishly,my head was screaming;

 'After being abandoned by my train just and being overcharged by ruthless drivers, this is not the best time to ask me that question'.

But he was nice. And I didn't feel like being a bitch.

Like I mentioned, answers have varied. There was this one time when a taxi driver asked me the same question after I came back from Dahab, drunk from the sun , and I sang praises like I was working for Egyptian Tourist Ministry. And there was a time where I came back from the supermarket, after being verbally harassed by a bunch of teenagers, the driver in the cab I was in (yes, big fan of the cabs alright) asked me the same thing. I hissed a choice of not so very nice words and asked him if the Biblical plague was coming back anytime soon. Mr Cab Driver, if you're reading this, I'm sorry.

Like everything in the world, Egypt is (obviously!) is both blessed with its Middle eastern charm and marred with flaws. In all honesty, when it comes to natural landscapes, I've never been so overwhelmed as I have since I've been here. As much as it pains me to admit it, this ismotherf&*$ing gorgeous country. The first time I saw beaches in Taba, I actually took a step back to just drink it in. I've never seen something so beautiful in my life. I was surrounded by such majesty, and thought how lucky I was to just be able to be there, to be engulfed by such a sight. 

And I know it can get repetitious (cause you know, every Egyptian has probably mentioned it) but seriously, 7000 years of history is pretty god damn impressive. From the Karnak temples to the pyramids of Giza, here lies a civilization that was capable of greatness and did exactly just that. They did nothing short of a miracle, settling down and building up an empire, an empire that pioneered things that were perfected only until recently. So fine, you have your bragging rights. This country has history that surpasses any other. 

And from my own personal book of experience, undoubtedly I have met a few gems that have soothed my less than thrilling horror of an adventure while being here. You might call then friends but I call them people who have stopped me from going on a murder rampage here in this god forsaken town. Semantics, you know. I have always been impressed by how much they care about their country, how much actual physical pain they endured when liberating it from their provincial oppressors. They're proud people, and they know it.

But that's also where the problem stems. Pride. I don't know if you've been living under a rock, but have you not noticed the xenophobic/sexist sentiments going around here? Particularly against us Asians. So being female and of Asian descent, I get the worst of the brunt. I have had people asking me if we still lived in trees in Malaysia. Or caves. And why our people were so unattractive (one boy said we looked like apes, it took all the strength in me not to f*cking chargeat him). And of course, at the end of their highly offensive spiel, they reassured me that Egypt was number-f*cking-one. 

And pride also stokes the fire that brews sexism among the people. You have these chauvinistic men who think that us women are mere objects to toy with, to gawk at, and even physically harass against our will. And good luck trying to say no. It's like, if you're nice to them, they'll badger you, and if you're not, they'll think 'Wait a minute, she doesn't like me enough' and try harder, successfully pissing you off further. And the cycle repeats. Well, until some Asian girl loses her shit and kills everyone. 

But my biggest gripe about Egypt is probably, the difference in social strata and their disgusting attitude towards it. "Looking poor" is a legitimate insult. I had a friend who was told her jacket made her look 'common' and that she should stop wearing it. I've seen my own friends making fun of a man picking up garbage by the sidewalk. There is minimum charge in restaurants because they want to separate those who have money to throw and those who can barely afford it. The poor are criminalized and all compassion is gone, just because they don't dress or act in a decorum these so called richer, luckier people are used to. Of course, it's not an attitude every person exhibits, but it's something I've witnessed too many times to still be hiding the shade of denial.

So if you ask me again Mr Nice-Officer-in-Training-in-the-Car-from-Alexandria what I think about Egypt; Egypt is beautiful, it's boasts a culture so rich, encompassing thousands of years, it has built a nation so old, reminders of its history still stands til this day. I love Egypt.

But I can't wait to get the hell out


Zufar Ismail Zeid said...

Hm, surprisingly accurate considering most people tend to be on either side of the extremes when describing this place.

It's a chore trying to explain to people that I don't hate this place with the force of a thousand dying suns. Alexandria, for example, is an awesome city but fucking hell, the people tend to make one lose sight of that.

+1, this made me question my reclusiveness for a split second.

Nazeera Nasir said...

It's an internal struggle everyday.

One day, you're drinking in the god given beauty that surrounds this place, and then, bam, some idiot reminds you that why you should make a damn run for it.

Ah, I'm glad that you're slowly breaking out of your angsty, angry shell. Slowly, but surely.

mohammed AbdElsalam said...

i find this very accurate as an Egyptian couldn't agree more and sorry for anybad thing you have encountered in here ,

well written :)