Friday, July 16, 2010

Questions, part one

There are a few questions that various people have asked me throughout my trip that I keep meaning to answer. One of my teachers from elementary school (hi Kathleen!) asked several in an email to me, and so I thought I'd do them in a blog post so that everyone's curiosity could be satisfied. I will probably only post them a few at a time, as I get quite verbose at times. More to come soon! If you think of other questions, be sure to leave them in the comments for me!

What is kofta?
Kofta is essentially a Middle Eastern equivalent to meat loaf that is cooked on skewers. I am not overly fond of it, but some people get really excited when we have it with dinner. To each their own.

What are Egyptian female students like? Do you see girls wearing burqas at the university?
Egyptian female students are, as far as I have been able to tell, really sweet and very kind. All of the girls who live in the dorms with us have been nothing but unceasingly patient with our bad Arabic and are always willing to help us with homework or any other problem we may have. They are also kind enough to invite us out for meals, etc. with them from time to time. When one of the girls in our program had a birthday, some of the Egyptian girls bought her a cake and threw her a surprise party. Many of them speak pretty good English and study a wide variety of topics, from law to education to medicine to engineering and beyond.
As for dress, most of the girls at the university do wear hijab, though there are certainly those who don't. There is a wide variety of clothing worn, from girls wearing skinny jeans and matching their headscarves with their tops to girls who prefer to wear an abaya (a long, loose, modest dress). The vast majority of Egyptians believe that wearing hijab is a personal choice, and there is not really much social stigma against women who choose not to. As for the burqa: I have yet to see a woman wearing one here, probably because they are simply not common in this region. However, there is a significant minority of women who choose to wear the niqab (a subtle difference, I realize, but one that matters). I know a few girls at my dorms who wear the niqab. Like the hijab, it is viewed as a very personal choice.

What does it mean when men hiss at you?
It's essentially the most common Egyptian equivalent to a catcall. As a foreign woman, some (emphasis on some) men here feel that I am not entitled to the same respect they would give an Egyptian woman. Some of the other girls in my program have experienced more extreme harassment, ranging from having more specific things yelled at them, to some of them being groped when we were in a crowded shopping district. The weird thing about harassment from men here is that if you are being harassed in any fashion and you call attention to it, other men will appear from everywhere to chase the men bothering you off. I've even seen a few men get slapped for bothering us. So, while there is clearly social pressure against harassing women, it's obviously not enough of an incentive for some men to just not do it in the first place.

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