Cities Get Out There

Embracing Cairo

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The instant I landed in Cairo and stepped off the plane, the liveliness of the city greeted my lungs; I felt the vibrant energy ricochet off my body and my spirit went wild. Of course I was scared, and culture-shocked but I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
I won’t lie things are hard here.

Traveling to Egypt can be  invigorating . If you’re hoping for a quiet, tranquil place then Egypt is definitely not the country for you. However, if you have a penchant for the unknown, and aspire to test your comfort threshold, as well as broaden your horizons Egypt is exactly where you want to be. Perhaps I’ve developed this proactive scheme of thinking as a coping mechanism in order to survive the tussles of day-to-day living in Cairo.In a city where crossing the street could be considered an extreme sport, it’s important to cultivate the proper mindset.

Finding mental balance has been rather challenging over the past few months, but I am proud to say I have finally arrived at this juncture. I’ve accepted that I will be living here for the next year and half, while pursuing a graduate degree. I’ve come the realization that Egypt is far away from home, and my modus operandi has shifted immensely now that I am living in Cairo, but that’s exactly what I’ve been thirsting for. I left America because I felt life was becoming too stagnant. I was immersed in a safe bubble called ‘suburbia’ and it was suffocating me. The instant I landed in Cairo and stepped off the plane, the liveliness of the city greeted my lungs; I felt the vibrant energy ricochet off my body and my spirit went wild. Of course I was scared, and culture-shocked but I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
I won’t lie things are hard here. Everyday luxuries that most of us in America take for granted – an endless supply of running water and electricity, a trifling two hours of rush-hour traffic, a reliable system to regulate traffic, walking in the street without huge obstacle courses in your way– are all things that Cairo lacks. Living here sometimes can be extremely stressful, but at least it leaves me feeling… something. Whether those feelings are of extreme ecstasy, tremendous rage, or huge bouts of anxiety, I always feel alive when I am in Cairo.

One of the biggest adaptations I have had to make in the past four months has been learning to contend with the never-ending sexual harassment. In the past four months I’ve had my butt grabbed twice by boys between the ages of 12-16. Now I know how to spot the potential “butt grabbers”, a nickname I coined for that 12-16 year old age group, and to avoid big groups of prepubescent teens as a safety precaution. Getting cat called, and hissed at are also very normal occurrences that every woman will experience in her average day, you can minimize the occasions by drawing less attention to yourself. For example leave the shorts, tank tops, and cleavage at home; it’s not socially acceptable for women to wear such revealing clothes in Cairo.  Dressing modestly genuinely makes a huge difference and I would recommend any woman who wants to travel to Cairo, to seriously reconsider her wardrobe before arriving. I am not suggesting you dress in sacks, or cover your faces, its as simple as bringing a cardigan to place over your tank top.
Always be sure to stand your ground; don’t enable anyone to make you feel powerless. If you sense a man is being inappropriate let him know. I am not suggesting you create a huge scene, because sometimes that can backfire and put you in more danger. I am proposing defiance on a smaller scale; like never looking down to the ground. Always walk confidently with your eyes facing straight ahead. When a man keeps staring at me I either ignore them, look straight through them, or I give them an icy cold gaze back. What I find most crucial in all these situations is to consider the source. The nature of repression is deeply rooted, do not let  distorted ideas about women bring you down.

With that being said, I want to emphasize the harassment I mention is not an exaggeration, this is something that every woman who wants to travel to Cairo is going to have to deal with. I am not condoning it, but the simple fact is that this is how things are. If you can’t accept that, Egypt is probably not a country you should travel too, unless you want to spend the entire time with a monotonous tour group.
I also want to highlight that harrasment should never discourage anyone from travelling. As long as you can create a state of mind where people, and their actions won’t be able to disempower you, then there is nothing to fear. After all, if you choose to abandon your life long dream of traveling to Egypt, then you will have let fear win and you lose. Egypt is an amazing vibrant place with a lush inviting culture, and it would be a shame to miss out on an enriching experience out of fear.
Although adjusting has been difficult, I ultimately feel that I am a stronger person than when I first arrived. Grappling with the harassment has made me more assertive than ever. Living in the everyday hustle bustle of Cairo has taught me, and will continue to teach me, to accept situations as they come. It won’t be the end of the world if things don’t go as planned, which they never seem to do in Cairo. Five months ago I would have cringed at the thought of not having reliable access to water and electricity, dealing with rush hour traffic (all day long), and experiencing sexual harassment on a daily basis. Yet, with everyday that passes I am beginning to find peace and harmony amidst all the disarray.

Iman Ali
Iman Ali is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the American University in Cairo, with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies in Middle East and North Africa. She has always had an interest in metaphysics and spirituality. She is planning to travel a lot within the next couple of years to embark on a journey of self-growth, healing, and enlightenment. She plans on using her collective knowledge of psychology, women’s studies, and holistic healing to start her own private NGO and help empower women everywhere.

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