Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Third Trip To Egypt - With Love From Egypt

Hi!

Some of you have asked me if I would write little about my trip to Egypt. I am doing it gladly, but this time with little more serious thoughts than usually.

I am trying to share my thoughts not so much about what did I do there, but more about why I have been affected so much by this country and its people. and about stereotypes.

Before I start, I would like to share a song with you. This song is about revolution in January 2011 and especially about Tahrir Square in Cairo. The Square which you see in English subtitles is Tahrir Square and when they sing about "you", it is also the square they sing about. It's about hope for better life, about loss, about dreams, about one nation who feels lost, but yet united. Notice the video as well, I think sometimes pictures speak more than words, but in this song, both of them are equally important.



I was told about the band -Cairokee and the song during one of the last evenings during this trip and it touched me. It reminded me about my own nation's struggles for freedom. It reminded me about not being able to travel, about living in closed society, not being able to speak your mind, not being able to have all the choices. It reminded me what it means to have no freedom. The song affected me. Still does. I can't even imagine what this song might mean to Egyptians. They tried to explain it to me in so many words, but words were not needed, I could see it in their eyes - the desire for changes and freedom, the hope that their life will change for the better.

First time I visited Egypt was in March 2011. This trip was about exploring the history, the country, the religion, the people. Second trip was in September 2011 and it was about observing, observing the local people, their ways of being and living. This, the third time was about understanding. I know that it does not cover Egypt or even my own experiences with Egypt, but the more I have spent time there, the more I understand them.

I am not going to touch the far history of Egypt, I have not enough knowledge about it, but their history is well known, it is old, very old. And very traditional. What I know, is what I have seen during the last year through my experiences what I have seen and felt while there.

They are hard working people. Yes, I have heard the comments from tourists, that "I don't understand why they have 6 people working in a small shop". I had the same question actually in one of the shops I visited this time - until I visited it again. First time, me and my sister were the only customers and the next evening, when the weather was warmer there were 20-25 tourists in the same shop at the same time. I heard English, French and Russian and all these people wanted to get service at the same time. The people who worked in this shop run around like crazy, offering people clothes, bags, shoes, jewelry trying to find different sizes etc. No impolite words were said to tourists even though some of the comments I heard from the tourists side were not very nice. OK, some of the comments were right out humiliating towards the Egyptians, like "these stupid camel breeders" or other disdainful things which I do not want to repeat. I was thinking - Why, why do you have to say these things? Just because they are trying to help you, still smiling and trying to make their own living? I felt ashamed. These tourists got much better and more polite service than in many other countries in Europe I have visited. Still, they had to make sure that they are better than the locals by making these horrible comments. Egyptians were treated like second rate people by some tourists.


Another example which I have seen more than once. "They (Egyptians) "rob" you for all your money, you have to pay for each movement or thing you want". Of course, I am very familiar with the bargaining and negotiating about the price and probably tourists pay more than the real services or products cost. I personally enjoy the bargaining. It's fun and it is part of their culture. Besides that, when I travel, I am well aware that if you are not willing to spend at least some money while you travel - better stay at home! Don't go anywhere, stay at home and you can be sure that nobody bothers you.

It affected me, because I still remember the stereotypes which I personally met when I lived in Denmark in early 1990s. People from my country/region were considered very often as people who steal and rob and are lazy and have no working culture and want to use all the benefits of the western system. I remember very clearly when the teacher of one of my friends said: OMG, she is from Estonia? Aren't you afraid she will steal all your money? I know that they steal bicycles!!! Why are you friends with her??  They are all lazy and come here only because they want to use our social benefits!!! --- or another time when I have been asked questions like - Do you really have pigs running around on the streets? (I was thinking - What???) Or even more funny questions - Do you have TVs and fridges?!!! Heck yes, we even know what Internet is!  :))

It clearly shows, that people do not know enough. And usually people are very sceptical about things they do not know about or know very little about. Always afraid of the unknown. And then they start generalizing, that they are all the same.

When I travelled to Egypt second time, I was asked by one of my colleagues: Aren't you afraid to go to Egypt, they are all Muslim terrorists and they kill tourists?! The terrorism and religion are the topics which are usually getting people very emotional. I do understand that. I see it as follows. No religion makes people terrorists! Period. No religion makes people bad. Period. People make themselves terrorists and people make themselves bad by making wrong decisions. And you have bad people in all nations and nationalities.

Have I ever felt unsafe in Egypt? No. Not so far. Have I ever felt being threatened in Egypt as a tourist? No, never. Have I ever met unfriendliness in Egypt? No. Never. Have I been approached by men with different kind of proposals? Yes. I have received approximately 6 marriage proposals and they have been one funnier than other. Luckily I do have a sense of humor. :) Have I ever been invited out by men whom I almost do not know? Yes. Several times. Again, sense of humor is very supportive here.

Again, I can give you quite funny example here. I was near by the pool and enjoying the sun, when I realized that me and my sister were closely watched. Suddenly two guys are coming closer and taking the sunbeds next to us. They were both from Cairo. Suddenly on of them asks me: Phone number? I was laughing and saying that - No phone. He of course knew that I do have a phone. His English was very poor and the next thing he said smiling - Disco tonight? The next moment his cellular phone rung and I could understand from their language that it was his wife who called. I laughed out loud! Honestly, I think it was funny.

So yes, there are men who ask you out and coming with sometimes very direct naughty suggestions. There are many reasons behind it too. There are many European/Western woman who enjoy that kind of attention and are going out with different guys each different evening. Have seen it with my own eyes. There is something else which I have realized also. If a man likes you, he says so. Relationships seem so much easier for them in the beginning. They are very direct. Their religion also supports it. It is forbidden to even touch women before marriage, or at least before getting engaged. And since all this is strange to Europeans, then some Egyptian guys are very eager to use the opportunity to date and have relationships with Europeans.

There are so many other things I would love to write about Egypt and Egyptians, but it can't possibly be in one post. There is one more thing what I would like to mention about Egypt. The nature! It is breathtakingly beautiful in my opinion. Mountains, the desert, the Red Sea - I absolutely love the nature around Sharm el-Sheikh's area. I could write books about that!!

I have made good friends in Egypt and learned a lot about their daily life. Egyptians are just making their living and live their lives as nicely as possible. Just like most of the people all around the world.


To sum it up for this time, then my suggestion would be - go and visit Egypt. It's a country of many many differences, very interesting and long history and last, but not least - Egyptians themselves.

Happy reading!

2 comments:

  1. These are like my thoughts. But u know how to describe it much much better. Well done sis :)

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  2. I do not get to travel so I love visiting vicariously through you. I would love to see it all with my own eyes. Its wonderful that you can truly see the people through your shared experiences.

    Thanks for sharing and I really appreciated that you posted since I was one of the people who pestered you to do it. :D

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