There are some interesting new things I’ve learned since being here in Egypt (of course every time I come it is a learning experience!).
One time I heard my father in law calling my husband’s name. Except, my husband wasn’t here at the time. Instead, my mother in law answered. This happened a few times. I found out that there is a thing here where men can be so sensitive about drawing attention to their women, that they get in the habit of calling them by one of their son’s names when strangers are around. I suppose this is a way to keep unwanted attention from non mahrem away from a beloved wife. That’s kind of cool, I thought.
Last night we were in a car coming back home from an errand. Another car passed by us going the opposite direction, and a huge cloud of smoke followed him. The smoke was so thick it was like driving through literal fog! I thought, man, that is a terrible exhaust problem- truly the worst I had ever seen.
But it wasn’t exhaust. It was insecticide of some sort. Apparently when it gets to be this time of year, these trucks drive around town releasing it to keep the mosquitos and other pests down. My immediate thought was, isn’t that a bit unhealthy to be blowing it all over people who are coming and going on the street? I realized that was a silly question because when it comes to pollution, Egypt is terrible. Just terrible. Don’t even try to live healthily here because it’s pretty much impossible. Yet, Egypt’s cancer rates are lower than many developed countries. Hep C rates, on the other hand….well I think we are coming in at the worst for that.
One of the more personal lessons I’ve gotten is about looking around in public too much. To be honest, I never really noticed that I look around so much. It is really a mindless habit that developed easily over my years growing up in America. As long as I never stared, I was never urged not to look around at my surroundings.
And especially while here, while I am taking in what is still a relatively new culture, I tend to look around maybe a bit more than usual (being the curious sort I am sure that’s quite frequent already). What I learned, however, is that a woman constantly looking around in public tends to be interpreted as a woman looking for attention- particularly from men. Certainly that is not the impression I want to give.
So I have been working on disciplining myself in this manner, but it isn’t easy. I find myself doing it thoughtlessly, often. I guess it is one of many things that I have grown up with no practice of self control over, and that in itself is a bit of a frightening thought. How little self control over my innocuous actions might I really have? It’s been something I have been reflecting on a lot lately…but that’s what exposure to another culture will do. It puts a mirror in front of the way you’ve gotten used to doing things, and puts it under a light of examination and re-evaluation.
One of the nice things about being in Egypt at this time is that the economy is so bad, that my US dollars are exchanging at a rate over 10 times higher on the black market. The economic state is causing some stirs around here, because it’s only gotten worse quickly in the past several months. The government recently devalued the pound before my arrival, but I don’t suppose they can do that repeatedly. We don’t hear a lot about Egyptian goings-on in America but when I am here I hear about things that are truly significant, like that whole scandal with the murdered Italian. Between that and the economy, Egypt’s international standing has gotten a lot more shaky (not that it was most secure before). So it will be interesting to see how things progress.