The day I turned in my application I was nervous.
My hands were shaking; my eyes were frenzied. I tried to shake it off. “Would they want someone this nervous to travel alone?” I asked myself stubbornly. Still, other voices in my head prevailed.
Nights before I had been sitting on the couch, repeatedly re-reading my essay to my roommates.
One of them had received a call, I couldn’t hear what the person on the other line was saying, but I did hear her say:
“Well one of the m is sleeping and the other is nitpicking every detail of an essay.”
She spoke the truth, but in my defense every detail matters when you have 2,000 words to spread across three essays meant to tell a committee full of strangers who you were and why the Fellowship mattered to you; why you deserved something you had been dreaming about for years.
How could I know that I had chosen those countries for many more reasons than the ones I had listed? Were those reasons clear enough? Were they good enough? How do they know that I walked into protests not because I sought to be hurt but because they were unavoidable, because they were part of history? How did they know that, even then, I stayed only where small children were present and went with an Egyptian friend? How did they know I did not participate because I understood it was not my place?
A week beforehand I had created an essay full of other’s voices. It was that night, after I stripped down everything else and wrote again I found my own. I’m proud to say that I genuinely believe my proposal was mostly good. I’m hesitant to say it was my best, because even then I recognize the hazy fog of nerves affected my writing.
For a moment, after turning it in I felt elated and light. For a moment I believed I stood a chance. That feeling lasted one precious hour before I broke my rule. I looked back at my application, immediately recognizing numerous mistakes.
The capital letters made me look arrogant. This essay made me look irresponsible. That one didn’t clearly explain why I chose those particular countries. Worst of all, my costs were somehow left out of my itinerary (despite my checking it three times before submission). I e-mailed the committee one week late with my costs, the deep seated dread resurfacing.
How could I be so forgetful? I know how important this was. I should have checked it again. I should have steadied myself. A litany of admonishments went through my head.
How could they choose me? It was 20,000 dollars, you don’t mess up for something like that. I wallowed in my grief for some hours. I called my mom. I wallowed some more, then I decided to re-evaluate.
I would have done much better had I only trusted myself. I had spent the entire month doing research. I knew every little detail. If you told me I was setting off next week, I would be prepared.
So what, they probably won’t choose me for the many reasons I’ve thought of in my head– at least I learned something. I learned a whole lot about the countries I had chosen to go to. Things I wouldn’t have learned without the application. I learned to trust myself– a lesson I will likely re-learn because, let’s face it, self-confidence needs a lot of reinforcement. Finally, after those hours of pity, those hours of reading a “book for fun”, I remembered where I had left my drive.
So, life, while I may not be awarded this fellowship I know there will be other opportunities, other challenges and I am ready for them.
If you’re a liberal arts student you’ve probably heard of the Vagina Monologues at some point.
Over the years, the Monologues have become a symbol of mainstream feminism and the subject of many jokes. While the proponents of the monologues and its critics have problems with the Monologues’ message and methodology, I’m going to wager if you ask a number of them to name those issues, intersectionality wouldn’t be a focus.
I was sitting in section for one of my classes, when an acquaintance of mine asked me if was going to Yoni Ki Baat.
“Sorry?” I asked.
“Yoni Ki Baat. It’s sort of like Vagina Monologues. People are performing tonight. Are you coming?”
“Sure,” I said, intrigued and quickly typing the name into Google. Thankfully Google, the omnipresent entity was able to provide me with the information I needed to not completely embarrass myself. Yoni Ki Baat or, loosely in English, Talks of the Vagina would be performed that night in Angell Hall. The theme would be “We Kiss and Tell” and the funds would go to support
“My race is white but my ethnicity is Indian,” one girl said during
Yoni Ki Baat, a performance started in 2003 by South Asian Sisters, focuses precisely on addressing this issues.
**Several days ago, heard progressive women politicians
Many of my fellow college students view Bourbon street as the ultimate New Orleans experience.
Beads, parades, clubs– you name it, Bourbon street seemed to have unfettered access.
To me, it was overly claustrophobic and as the people I traveled down with decided once again to return to the same place on Bourbon street, I realized I needed to start branching off more frequently than I had originally planned (despite my poor mother’s advice not to).
So there I was, walking down Bourbon street alone– no plan, no idea where I’d end up.
While I walked, I comforted my racing heart by listening to the conversations around me. I was perfectly aware of the safety concerns.
I listened to the conversations of the three men across the street for me for a good ten minutes before assessing they would be safe and approaching them.
That night I followed those three around from free concert venue to free concert venue.
We were sitting on four stool in the dim light of the Spotted Cat, a quite hum thrumming under the band; a slow, tempered rendition of Rosetta cut through the humid, foggy air.
“I miss my home sometimes,” my new friend was saying nostalgically. “You have to visit sometime, you have to visit Sri Lanka.” He continued.
“Oh?” I said by way of inquiry.
“Yes, Sri Lanka has a bad reputation but it is beautiful. Beautiful,” he waved his hand in front of his face, his eyes gaining a dream like quality.
“Why does it have a bad reputation?” I asked. Then, realizing it may be a sensitive question added “You don’t have to tell me if it makes you feel uncomfortable, I’m merely curious.”
“No, no, absolutely not. There’s a myth in India called Ramayana. Ravana, from Sri Lanka, is called a demon. In it the Northern Indians say Ravana stole Sr Rama’s wife Sita. The Northern Indians call Ravana a demon, but he is not a demon.”
What was particularly interesting to me, was that he classified himself as Indian rather than Sri Lankan, and I wondered why he made that distinction as he continued his story.
“He is a god like Ravana, a demi-God actually. All that happened was he lost the battle, so they call him a demon. He is not. So people look down upon Sri Lanka, they think it is dirty. Sri Lanka is beautiful. The people are not dirty.”
He finished quickly, his eyes searching mine.
“So, the winners write the history, even though it’s not necessarily true?” I responded in the form of a question, understanding that there was no possible way I could fully understand the full impacts of the story he told in a few short minutes. He nodded.
“So you must go, you must. If you go to India, you must go to Sri Lanka.”
I smiled and said “If I ever get the opportunity, you can be sure I will. Thank you for sharing that with me.” He clapped a hand on my back and smiled too.
It seems every time I travel, I realize even more how little I know about the world and I’m so thankful that I decided to branch further out of my comfort zone that night. Thankful to be reminded how much more I have to learn about the myriad of people in the world.
1. Need to expand on international outrage after Daniel Zamudio’s death. Including headline titles would be useful here, perhaps. (Use googlenews).
2. Also need to go more in depth explaining instances of hate crime after 2012, how it was addressed and how the bill functions.
3. Finally, need to do further research and exposition of cultural responses to the bill and assess possible increases in openness of topic discussion.
After Michele Bachelet’s election in 2006, LGBT groups hoped the more liberal president would usher in better conditions for members of the LGBT community. The year before, an anti-discrimination bill had been introduced in Chile’s Chamber of Deputies.That bill, which passed shortly after the outrage of Daniel Zamudio’s death, did not pass until seven years later. In fact, it was hardly even discussed. 
Daniel Zamudio’s death had become a source of international outrage that lead to what many consider a pivotal moment in the achievement of LGBT rights in Chile.
Yet, history has shown that the passage of a bill does not always change societies’ view and cannot act to totally prevent discrimination. So, what were the results of this bill? How has Chilean society changed or moved towards change?
How are things changing:
Since that time, Chile’s first openly gay politician was elected (in 2012): Jaime Parada. This year, the Santiago Times interviewed him on his opinions of the state of LGBTQ issues and other political matters of Chile. Parada’s assessment of the potential progress in the acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Chile was largely hopeful. Unfortunately, however, the prompt for this interview was not the result of progress [interview found here].A short time before the 2014 interview, a young man named Esteban Parada (it is unclear if Jaime and Esteban were related) was murdered in the Bellavista area. Fortunately, however, his murderers were captured by the homicide unit– though it is unclear if they have been tried yet .
At the same time, in 2013 an openly gay author received a literary award for his criticism of Chilean pop culture and his depiction of the complexities Chilean life including issues of gender and social class.  A Photographer, Paz Errazuriz depicted an image of a transwoman simply called Evelyn on the cover of her newest book on photography in an effort to display more nuanced narratives of those who claim the identity of woman in Chile .
Fetlife is one of many kink websites on the internet and has gained the reputation of being one of the more community focused BDSM websites on the internet.
It may be interesting to learn if other kink websites are censored in Egypt– holaunblocker, an extension intended to help circumvent internet blocks (and something I used to access my netflix account while abroad–shhhh) claims that the website “collarme”, a popular personal ad and BDSM community website is blocked in Egypt. Does this affect membership? How reliable is the number from fetlife? These kink websites are also entirely in English, how might language barriers prevent accessibility to information about safe, sane and consensual BDSM practices for those interested? Is there an equivalent term in Arabic? How do societal gender and sexual identity norms affect the way Egyptians view BDSM culture?
Recently I spoke with several of my American friends who indicated an interest in BDSM and the BDSM community– many of them were unaware of local resources or of websites like fetlife which helps promote BDSM & Kink relationships. In a previous post, I talked briefly about the documentary ‘Libido’ which asserted that many adolescents, without proper education, turn to the internet. How many of that population are able to access good educational materials on BDSM in Arabic?
It would be interesting to interview Egyptians on their thoughts on this.
“Uh, look I guess it’s fine as long as they don’t hit on me,” those were the closing remarks of the high school student sitting next to me at lunch. For some reason, I can’t remember why, we had decided to discuss our feelings on LGBT issues. Often times, in my small town that conversation was restricted to “Is it ok or not?”. The student who closed with those words had shifted uncomfortably when it was his turn to speak had opened with a long, sustained bout of silence and ended with ” I don’t like them. I mean, I guess they’re ok. I just don’t want them hitting on me all the time, y’know?”
Four years later, as I walked through an unfamiliar street in Cairo, lead by a new friend I found myself suffering from a bout of Deja vu. “Oh, so you go to Saudi Arabia for work?” I had asked.
“Yeah,” he had responded. Then, after a pause, “There are a lot of gays in Saudi Arabia.”
“Uh, ok?” I looked toward him, perplexed. “How do you feel about that?”
My friend launched himself into a long speech detailing how they all hit on him all the time, how they shouldn’t because it made him uncomfortable and how they were all perverts.
Quietly I had responded “Why should you think they should know that you aren’t gay? How is this so different from you asking out girls? Why do you assume that all gay men are attracted to you anyway?”
There it was. The same uncomfortable shift and look away. The same struggle and the same finish “Look, it’s fine as long as they don’t hit on me.”
Earlier that week I had been speaking with another friend who considered himself a devout Muslim. “It’s unnatural,” he had said to me, “being gay”.
No matter how many counterpoints I brought up, he deeply believed that being gay, being lesbian, being trans was against God. He didn’t indicate hatred toward them, he felt they could be saved. While the country was unfamiliar, the conversation was all too familiar. Several of my Christian friends at home had uttered similar sentiments during similar conversations at home.
There’s this notion that Arabs are wholly different in their feeling toward LGBT rights and issues; that their dislike is somehow different from the dislike found in Western countries. Yet, when I spoke with my friends in Egypt I found their responses to be quite similar to those I found in conservative and liberal cities at home.
To be clear, I am not belittling in any way the challenges that an individual who identifies as LGBT faces in the Middle East. Being an LGBT individual is a criminal offense and often comes with great stigma. Those arrested are
subjected to humiliation, beatings and sexual assault. One journalist, while interviewing police officers after an arrest of fourteen men, found the police officers took great pride in what they considered to be “protecting the moralities of the state”.
In 2012, Egypt’s first “gay” magazine released it’s first, and only, issue: Ehna (or “Us”). Up until May 24th 2012, the magazine creators had posted near daily on facebook which featured supportive quotes and posters. May 24th featured one statement: “We must close down for security reasons”. Since then, the page has fallen silent and no more has been released.
Still, it is faulty to assume that the LGBT, or more specifically gay community, can or should be defined by one magazine. The web is littered with stories of gay men struggling with their identity, in the same way gay men of any other nation do. There are stories of those trying to reconcile their religion and their sexuality and their are stories of young men accepting their identity and realizing they “aren’t alone”.
I recently read an article, written in 2012 that asserted Egypt’s LGBT movement was fading. Frankly, I think it is a mistake to write off LGBT activists in Egypt. Ehna, the magazine, may have been shut down but LGBT_Egypt opened an account on twitter and, with the internet, Egyptians were able to discover other LGBT magazines like Morocco based publication Aswat Magazine.
In some ways, I wonder if Egyptians have grown more comfortable speaking about LGBT issues. Personally, I’m not sure having spoken only with two people on the issue. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to further speak with police officers, with civilians and with activists alike to see how attitudes toward gay men are changing in Egypt, as they are changing in the world.
**As a note, I do realize that while I have used the term “LGBT”, I have spent the entire blog speaking on the gay community exclusively. I do realize that this community may receive a large amount of the attention when speaking about the LGBT community and do intend to write a blog on the lesbian, bi and trans community as well (provided I am able to find enough information).
I was sitting in a hip smoothie shop on the 26th of July street in Zamalek. Artists like Ingrid Michaelson and the Arctic Monkeys, bands even Americans would consider ‘hipster’ played softly over the speakers set up near the iPad tablets customers used to order their personalized smoothies. The place was decidedly geared toward the younger demographic and always attracted a younger, “cool” crowd. It had become a haunt for the study abroad students who, unaccustomed to the heat, took refuge in smoothies and air-conditioning.
At one point, as I sat preoccupied with my latest smoothie creation a young Egyptian approached me. We struck up a conversation and at one point he asked me “So, what do you hope to do?”
“Well, I want to work with women’s rights,” I replied. He laughed and said “Women already have rights. What else are you going to do?” Now, perhaps this comment was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I was shocked at derisive he was with the notion of women’s rights work. As I continued the conversation I realized his comment wasn’t due to lack of awareness, but to his understanding of the worthiness of prestige of the work. Whether he thought it wasn’t worthy because he was cynical of society’s ability to change or for other reasons I will never know.
Only the night before I had finished a conversation with an Egyptian friend who had worked to found an organization specifically aimed at preventing the most violent forms of sexual abuse. Unlike the man in the smoothie shop, my friend felt that work to prevent sexual violence (in addition to other women’s rights issues) was not only worthy but wholly necessary for Egypt. Later that night, as we sat in lounge chairs surrounded by other friends debating the likelihood that the 30th of June would result in any sort of progress for Egypt, I struck up a conversation with him about his earlier comments. There he informed me that he was a member of one of several networks aimed at preventing sexual violence during protests: Imprint. In an interview Imprint one imprint founder claimed that these attacks, though sexual ones were not based in sexual desires. He said harassment had come to be viewed as a badge of honor. That it was based primarily in violence and that the solution was not to react with violence but with reason. “Men are quite open to being talked to by other men,” the founder said. “We come up against a lot who argue back of course, saying ‘she was wearing this or that’, but around eight out of the ten men we speak to ultimately get persuaded.”
My friend often spoke of the frustrations of his work. There were times that the throngs of people, tightly woven together, prevented him from reaching the young woman being harassed. When I asked him to speak to cases, he explained how he and his fellow patrollers formed what he called a ‘protective wall’ around the woman whom he helped to escape as the other men attempted to engage the perpetrators.
When I later asked him about women patrolling he responded “There are some. None in our group. There have been times in others that the woman who was part of the patrol was also harassed,” I nodded, absorbing his descriptions of the chaos of the protests. When patrolling, each member needed to be considered part of a whole organism. “It would be difficult to protect others if you are spending more energy on protecting yourself or others in your groups,” I said in response to his statement. He nodded. “Every order has to be followed immediately otherwise we won’t be able to do our job.”
Last year HarassMap*, an organization dedicated to ending “social acceptability” of sexual harassment launched a social media campaign aimed at “dispelling myths” surrounding sexual harassment. The quote above was one of the many questions and myths HarassMap’s social media followers submitted.
According to an article in the guardian, the Egyptian government under Mubarak removed sex education from secondary school curriculum in 2010. While this may seem shocking, the article goes on to say that the curriculum schools did have often barely covered the basics of reproductive health and hygiene and only 4% of adolescents felt they learned adequate information about sex from their parents.
In many ways, these statistics bring to mind the experiences mentioned by the students featured in “Libido” and it begs the question: How important in sex education? How does silence affect sexual culture in Egypt?
Next up: healthy forms of sexual education in Egyptian culture.
To be clear none of this should indicate that people in Egypt deserve to be thought as “other” than anyone else. Sexual abuse is not exclusive to Egypt and Egyptians are perfectly capable of addressing this topic themselves. In fact many are through organizations like Harass Map, Tahrir Bodyguards, Imprint, the Nazra Center for Feminist Studies and so much more.
* English site found here
Some of you may recall the famous 90’s song by the rap group Salt N’ Peppa. While Salt N’ Peppa’s song did a wonderful job conveying their desire to talk about sex they didn’t really convey why it would be important to discuss such a topic (that might have gone slightly over the three minutes pop songs are limited too).
So, this post will attempt to explore briefly why talking about sex matters.
Recently Youssef Alimam, a film student, decided to make a short documentary on the topic of sex.The documentary (found here) interviews several young Egyptians about their experiences with sex and sex communication. While some say their parents talked about it indirectly or confirm they gained something from a teacher or friends; others say that their parents or sex education teacher refused to talk about the subject.
Libido also follows the progress of a fictitious Egyptian meant to represent Egyptian youth, Mazen. Mazen, like many youth in Egypt, is unable to educate himself on sex and sexuality through the means of his parents or educators. Instead, the video says, he learns in more “unconventional” ways. That is to say: porn.
While Mazen learned about sex through porn, I do have to wonder how and if internet access is changing youth’s understanding of sex. There are truly some great educational resources on the internet that can help young people lead healthy sexual relationships; however, that’s a topic for another post.
So why is Libido so important…
According to a UN report, around 99% of women in Egypt have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Those are some pretty heady statistics. A recent study revealed Egypt to be the “worst Arab country for women”. The study, which interviewed 330 gender experts from 22 countries a series of questions related to women’s rights and women’s advancement and highlighted Egypt’s high rates of sexual violence against women.
Is this a result of the taboo of sex in Egypt? Are certain sexual acts and not others? One friend scoffingly replied “No, I don’t care about that.”, another’s face became quite red when describing the word “a7hi”. A third looked visibly uncomfortable with the notion of a homosexual relationship. Furthermore, many women of Egypt criticized the survey which assessed their country to be the worst. Still, many of my friends and women’s rights activists in Egypt acknowledge the importance of preventing this violence– and, I would argue, Mr. Alimam’s video on how the taboo of sex negatively impacts Egyptian youth is part of that prevention. Though Mr. Alimam’s documentary could best be described as a case study, the reactions to the video on the internet and via recognition through awards suggests that this is an important topic to Egyptian youth and one worth exploring.
As it happens, it seems those who posted about the film agree. Though at times I had trouble connecting with the humor behind Adham’s character (much preferring the real life interviews), others laughed and responded with phrases like “so true”.
Next post: We will delve a bit more into sexual violence in Egypt and continue the talk on problems in sex education.
Author’s Note: Being that this blog is aimed primarily at Egypt, I would like to remind the audience that my lack of content on other nations’ sexual culture is not because I think they lack such problems.
I do need to do better in coming “full circle” so to speak. I don’t think I did a very good job of conveying the concept that a word that can be used so irreverently does not allow for talk about it’s origin myth. A word that is used to anger governments, that is spray painted on walls contains a more powerful meaning.
It would have been interesting to connect it better with the graffiti art and the era of defiance that seems to surround it in that context. AT the same time, the word is very versatile: someone uses it when they stub their toe, or when they’re surprised, etc. so the urbandictionary translation may be limiting.
It also could very much change from city to city. I remember my professor mentioning the differences in slang between cities, so it is possible that A7a is more local than I realize.
Finally, I wonder if they would like some comparison between U.S. culture, sexuality and swear words to the last post. Too many time I feel there is a juxtaposition when we could also highlight similarities in the disconnect between words used in a sexual context or otherwise– some swear words can be used in both context and there is an unspoken acceptance of the division between the two.