Thursday, August 02, 2007

Jealousy without Borders

I manage 15 people in the Cairo office. Somewhat ineptly. I'm not a manager. I'm a writer. And sometimes I fake that I'm an editor. But really I specialize in being Marie. That doesn't pay very well, so here I am, pretending I can be some kind of general manager in a country not my own, managing people I barely understand.

But I understood them yesterday.

The secretary brought her cousin to work. A few weeks ago, she brought her nephew. I am a bit baffled by this as where I live it is not appropriate to bring family and friends to work, unless it is cleared in advance.

The secretary's cousin lives in Italy. She pranced in, wearing heels and tight jeans and T-shirt, with her hair and makeup flowing.

A little later, one of the women came in to my office, face creased with disapproval. (We only have three women out of 15 employees. Two of the three voluntarily wear the hijab. All are young and all have insatiable appetites for attention from the men in the office.)

"This creature is horrible. Have you seen the way she is dressed? It is not appropriate. You should always dress with respect to the culture you visit."

I glanced at my own jeans and short-sleeved shirt. And my hair was down today. The difference was the shoes, the make-up, and the age.

I made a non-committal noise and changed the subject. "Do people often bring their friends to work in Egypt?"

Later, the young employee fled the office she shares with four men. The "creature" was in there. The employee was outraged.

"I cannot stand the way they are talking! She says she wants to download a song and then they all jump up to help her! It is like, like..." Her voice streamed off. She lacked the English.

"Dogs in heat?" I finished brightly.

"Yes. I couldn't stand it any longer. I had to run away."

To the safe haven of the only other woman in a T-shirt. But me, I'm no threat. I might as well be seventy years old and retired to these young people. We laughed conspiratorily. Her with jealousy, me over universal behavior of us mammals.


vagabondblogger said...

I'm just totally baffled by the way women dress here. I've seen a lot of hijabs and I've seen the European styles, but it's when they're combined (hijab plus skin tight clothing and gobs of make-up) that I get that WTF look on my face.

Marie Javins said...

I'm probably talking out of my @ss again, but it seems to me that the hijab is fashion here, not exactly modest at all. And the skintight outfits look uncomfortable in the heat, not to mention the makeup. I wonder what the older Egyptian women make of the younger set.

Though I guess when they were young, miniskirts were not altogether uncommon in Cairo.