Thursday, March 15, 2007

Walking to Zamalek

I'd been chatting with our New York office at five and missed my window of opportunity on the metro, so I thought I'd walk home. I have a system for getting to work--I go in late, catch a taxi to the metro, then go two stops to the office. Coming home isn't so easy. I don't have the liberty of hanging around work late, because the "office-boy" locks up at five sharp. And the Cairo metro in rush hour is an incredible experience that is best not-experienced. Yesterday, four beefy women in veils had to block for me as I barrelled left and right, squishing babies and small children, until I landed outside of the car.

"Shukran! Ma salaama!" I waved to my new friends from the metro platform. Their eyes said good-bye. Their hands could not, incapacitated as they were against twenty other women.

"It's a little far," worried Muneer, the Omani designer, when he left me at the corner in Mohandiseen. His walk home was only two blocks.

"If the walk is too long, I'll take a taxi." But I just said that to make him feel better. A taxi in Cairo's rush hour is excruciating. You travel about 1 mile an hour on the bridge over the Nile. I really can walk faster.

But walking in Cairo isn't real fun either. The sidewalks--when they exist--are usually broken and pitted. Every ten feet of so there is a driveway so you step off a steep curb into the driveway, then step back up onto the sidewalk on the other side. So most people walk in the streets with the traffic.

I walked to the 6th of October bridge that connects Dokki to Gezira Island, where Zamalek is. As I started up the stairs, a young man fell into step beside me. He was in his mid-20s, wearing jeans and a long-sleeved maroon shirt.

"Hello. Where are you from?"

Something about the guy gave me the creeps. And I didn't feel like going along with whatever his game was.

"No, thank you," I replied.

"No, c'mon. What's your name?"

"No, thank you."

"How are you? Let's talk."

"I'm not interested, whatever it is." I pulled my sunglasses over my eyes and walked on.

He fell back. I thought for a minute. What if he was just friendly? But no, something about the guy...

At the other end of the bridge, a Nubian man walked by headed the other direction. He smiled, a big, friendly, open smile.

"Welcome to Egypt." He walked on.

"Thank you," I called after him, wondering why some people set off my spider-sense and others did not.

Then, I was on Gezira. There was actually a sidewalk, set a little back from the oncoming traffic. It was kind of peaceful and private, for Cairo, anyway. I walked over. Maybe I could avoid risking my life in traffic for once.

Then, there he was, the guy in the maroon shirt. He'd cut over through traffic and headed directly to the path in front of me. He stood there, and boy was my spider-sense tingling now. I veered back towards the traffic.

He unzipped his pants.

I didn't change my expression, just veered steadily back towards public view.

He, um... well, you know what he did. He started flopping something around.

You're not supposed to react, but what was I supposed to do? Let him walk right up to me with his flopping and stupid grin?


He smiled and walked closer, continuing his flopping.


Screech. That stopped him. The magic word. Police.

"So sorry, so sorry." He backed away, as I continued to the traffic.

I didn't go back to the sidewalk after that, nor did I look back in case he was following me. I stayed with the cars. Part of me just thought "How ridiculous" while a tiny part of me was a little worried. He wouldn't follow me... would he?

When I got to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, I went in for a cappuccino and regroup.

"Tell me," said one of the staff, obviously performing for the other two waiters who stood next to him. "Why are all American women so pretty?"

After Mr. Maroon, this seemed so harmless that I just laughed.

"Big Macs," I said. "It's all the Big Macs we eat."

The guys howled with laughter.


Anonymous said...

I, too, am a Westerner in Egypt. Unforunately Mr. Maroon shirt's actions are all too common. For some reason, Eyptian (and Arab) men are under the impression that this sort of action will entice a Western woman. Trust your spider-sense.

Marie Javins said...

Maybe there is some kind of myth that western women dig aggressive harassment.

I do have to say, however, that my Arabic and Egyptian male colleagues are horrified by the stories I tell them. The women are not so surprised.

Marie Javins said...

So horrified in fact, that today Muneer wouldn't go home until he saw me properly seated and safely on my way in a decent taxi!

Marie Javins said...

Last night, my pal D told me that she was jogging years ago in the Gezira Club, when a man dropped his pants and threw himself down in front of her. She didn't go jogging anymore after that.