Canadian Girl in Cairo

Canadian Girl in Cairo

During my time in Egypt, I had mixed experiences with Egyptian people. My first experience was when I got out of the taxi at my hotel, and a porter practically ripped my luggage from my hands even though I insisted I could wheel it to the elevator myself. Ignoring my objections, he wheeled it himself and we stood awkwardly in the elevator together to my room’s floor. Once I took my luggage back and wheeled it in my room, I turned around and the man was still there, staring at me intensely. I knew he was waiting for a tip, and I did give him one.

Soon after, a very, very old woman knocked on my door. She was small and frail and had a thin scarf framing her face. She looked like the beggar turned sorceress in Beauty and the Beast, (the one who cursed the Beast into a beast). She held out her palm full of small change and pointed to it. She didn’t speak a word of English. I made many gestures trying to figure out what she wanted or needed: some bills for all her change, does she need more change, a tip – maybe she cleans my room?  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to figure out what she wanted, so she eventually left, hobbling down the hallway and up a winding staircase.

While exploring the streets of Cairo, I couldn’t help but notice the men stare. Sometimes the men would try to talk to me, and although I couldn’t understand exactly what they were saying, the subject matter was pretty clear based on the way they were looking at me. At one point, I had my butt squeezed, and another, I had a group of women hiss at me. And then by stark contrast, there were times while strolling the streets I was welcomed genuinely by the local men, exclaiming “Welcome to Cairo!” and smiling warmly at me as I walked by.

Ultimately, the best thing women can do is simply cover up out of respect for Egyptian culture. With it being over 45 degrees Celsius at the time, I didn’t cover up as much as I should have. It seems like a simple concept, but in such heat, it is easy to fall back on the comfortable habits from back home. On my second day in Cairo, I made much more of an effort to cover my skin. I purchased a long dress/tunic that covered my legs, shoulders, and arms and wore one of my scarves around my face.

Being a woman traveling in Egypt provides many interesting, confusing, and sometimes offensive situations from both men’s and women’s reactions. But all of that needs to be taken with a grain of salt when traveling to another country. I’m the tourist. I’m the outsider. I stood out on my first day with my ribbon fedora and colourful strapless top against the crowds of women covered head to toe in long black clothing.

I know I would have had a much different experience on my first day in Cairo if I made more of an effort to blend in. From then on, I did my best to honour the culture by covering up, and I very much enjoyed blending in and feeling part of the culture.

Author

My passion for capturing memories through the lens of my camera, my love for food and the joy I find in reflecting on my travel memories using a pen and paper results in a series of blog entries filled with warmth, pure happiness and inspiration. I hope to share a little bit of myself and my adventure of life with you.

18 comments

  • I had such a similar experience when I was in Egypt: And I’m a chubby unattractive girl who never wears short sleeves, so it’s not even the skin that caused it. It was a general disrespect of women, taught young: even a 7 year old boy made kissey noises at me!
    I’ve no doubt the old woman who came to your door was begging I’m sad to say :(

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  • In Malaysia they recommend you dress modestly as it is mainly a Muslim country. I wore a tank top once and caused quite the controversy apparently! It didn’t help that I was also by myself. I recommend a light and big scarf to drape over your hair and shoulders to keep the sun off, and it is a bit cooler than wearing a longer sleeved shirt.

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  • I used to be a travel leader and they always warned me about the men in Egypt and Turkey being kinda lecherous. Or maybe it’s a very different culture in Singapore, where we mostly enjoy gender equality.

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  • I had heard all about the female abuse there and your post reminded me of that. Sorry you had to experience it. Outstanding information . . . Steve

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  • I think if you would have covered your shoulders you wouldn’t have gotten so much attention, especially the evil looks from women. Guys in those countries are always interested in foreign women, because unless they are well-traveled they think they are very easy to get into bed. When my girlfriend and I were in Turkey we sometimes split up. She usually refused to cover her skin too, so when I met up with her once she was surrounded by a bunch of guys, I mean surrounded. When I showed up they left, but she said she was actually scared. This was amazing since she’s so independent and secure in herself. Western Turkey, where most tourists go, is pretty cosmopolitan and they are used to tourists. I would think in Cairo they would be used to it too, but Egypt is not a secular country like Turkey.

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    • In Turkey I noticed a smaller amount of reactions from men, as you say, Istanbul and other major Western cities are pretty used to tourists. Thank you very much for visiting and for sharing your thoughts!

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  • This is what puts me off going to Egypt!! I would get so angry! And literally if someone pinched my bum I would full on wack them (I have a black belt, I can’t help myself)!

    It’s sad because I really really want to see the pyramids, but I don’t want to be stared at or hissed at or anything, it’s why I haven’t gone yet :(

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    • I think you should still visit! I didn’t cover up enough. I thought wearing pants would suffice (it did not). Even though it was so hot out I should have covered my shoulders and even my head from the beginning. I think that would have helped tremendously!

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  • When I first came across this post, saw that photo, and started reading how you mingled in the bazaar, I thought to myself – please let it not be the classic Egyptian disaster, where men thought you were advertising your ‘availability’ and the like. I was very happy to read that you survived, and still managed to enjoy yourself, their sales-pitches are very tough.

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