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Egyptian usages

Nov 19th 2008
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Hotel beach in Dahab

Hotel beach in Dahab

On my second day here in Dahab I was on the beach in front of my « hotel », semi-asleep, trying to read my book under the sun while sipping a fresh lemonade and enjoying the light breeze. On the chairs beyond me a group of three mid-aged Dutchmen — my age, that’s it — was chatting and sun-tanning. Just like you would expect from most Western beaches. On my left two empty chairs.

After a while a very young Arab-looking girl showed up and sat on the farthermost chair on my left. She was fully dressed, with long-sleeves shirt and Capri trousers, but nevertheless pretty much everybody around noticed her. She was indeed the only visible Arab girl in the whole town. And you can easily tell she was feeling uncomfortable, for saying the less.

She then decided to go swimming, and I can assure you that the show was hilarious: reminded me of that Mr. Bean episode with the blind man on the beach — if you have seen it you know what I mean. For removing her shirt and trousers she went all the way behind a small building, walking in the water, and then she crawled crouched in her swimsuit towards the reef trying to keep her body under water as much as possible (we are talking here of a 30 to 50 cm water depth) pretending to look natural at the same time. Notice that everybody else — men and women — was in much less covering outfits.

Back to her chair, wearing shirt and trousers soaking wet from her swimsuit, she eventually spoke to me, asking if I had a spare book for her to read. We chatted a bit: she is a student from Cairo trying to become a Japanese tour-guide — here is when I proudly showed off my gambate kudasai :-)

Then, out of the blue, she asked me if I minded to go to dinner with her! I said yes: after all I was the only guest of the « hotel » not busy diving all of the time.

Dahab by night

Dahab by night

So we went for a salad and a drink. And then I realised why on earth she was asking a perfect stranger to go out: the trip from the hotel to the supper place was exhausting. Every single seller from shops or restaurants was stopping us speaking to her in Arabic, asking if she was Egyptian, what she was doing here and so on. I can only imagine how would have been the same walk if she were alone, instead.

This is what happened after: just out of the restaurant there were three big guys, with a fourth one wearing the police uniform a bit apart. They stopped us and they asked her — in Arabic — if I was her husband. A more appropriate question would have been « Is he your father? », based on the age difference! And we were walking, I was not even holding her arm or something! Separated by at least half a metre, you could barely say we were walking together. They also asked us for the place we were hosted, just in case we were thinking of going somewhere else …

Apparently this is how life is like in an Islamic country. I am travelling since four months, and this is the first time I missed Europe. I probably should stop whining about Catholic fanatics, and be grateful for the freedom I take for granted every day.

I would like to stress the fact that absolutely nothing happened, nobody was arrested nor harmed in any way. Still, when I dropped her at her hotel and walked back to mine, I was feeling very sad.


This article reflects my personal point of view. You can not republish this article or parts of it in any way for any purpose without my written permission.

This post is filed under Africa, Egypt and tagged , , , , .

7 Responses

  1. cam says:

    sometimes we need lack of what we have to appriciate it. i’m waiting you for christmas…i think you need a little bit of your friends to go on with your trip…

  2. Diana Circa says:

    Nice one.
    Though in Europe there’s still plenty of things WE can’t do (from walking home alone in the evening to being paid like our male colleagues).

  3. Matta says:

    It’s strange, you are used to see on TV the differet cultures, but when you feel on your skin what meens is totaly different. I thnik you’re going to grow a lot …

  4. pt says:

    Ciao «Diana».

    I don’t get your point: are you saying that women here are paid the same as their male counterparts? That it is safe for them to go home alone late at night?

    I repeat my point again: I would better stop whining—for a moment—and be grateful for the freedom I take for granted. I do know that things can go a lot better.

    And if you wait a couple of posts, on part 3 of the Israeli Stamp Stigma I will tell you people my opinion over the Italian Embassy in Amman :-)

  5. Diana Circa says:

    I was just pointing out that what you have witnessed there happens here as well, though in a less evident way. The manifestations can be different, but the core problem is the same and has been the same for centuries.
    Sorry for sounding like a proper Germain Greer. :-)

    P.S. I know, I’m really crap at explaining my points.

  6. pt says:

    No. It doesn’t.

    You explained yourself very well. What I’m saying is that everything bad happening in Western World about women condition and the like, happens here as well, PLUS all sort of things like the one I have witnessed.

    I’m sorry, but even taking into account all the different and underground manifestations the balance is nowere near to be even.

    Only my opinion, of course :-)

  7. Ally says:

    Yesterday I was going through the London Heathrow new Terminal 5 and at the customs control at the booth next to me (marked with “All other passports”) there was a woman with the Burca. It was the first time I have seen a woman covered in this kind of dress (Tv aside).
    She was lively arguing with the policeman.
    After a while she eventually got through. The question is: how did the policeman check the looks of the woman? how did he compare her looks to the photo on the passport?
    As a procedure to transit through Terminal 5 they take a digital photo and link it to your bording pass. When you board the plane, when presenting the boarding pass your picture comes up on a display.
    Is this possible when you wear a Burca?

    The world is full of differences. Pi, go on learning and observing around. Then write your posts. We like them.

    PS the new T5 is an architectural masterpiece
    Simple questions that make you think of differences…

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