Infedels

Trip Start May 22, 2009
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189
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Trip End Feb 16, 2010


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Flag of Egypt  , Alexandria,
Friday, February 5, 2010

Visiting in a highly Islamic society, you’re not only segregated as foreigner, but you have the added discrimination of not being Muslim.  Now normally, one’s religious convictions are a fairly private affair, but here you can tell simply by the way you look.  One of the most obvious of differences is that I don’t wear a head scarf and Brian doesn’t wear a galabaya, but there are many other differences as well.  Even in large crowds of people, we are easily spotted.

Such a very busy and community, shopping can be a challenge at the best of times.  Streets and shops are crowded to the point where you don’t even want to bother.  Yet, the people here thrive on it, surrounding themselves with those they love.  Buses are full to the overflowing; restaurant tables regularly seat 8-10; swings at the playground seat brothers and sisters, mothers and grandfathers all at the same time; and grocery isles are barely navigable. 

Because if this, foreigners have found the perfect time to do their grocery shopping:  Friday mornings.  Friday is the holy day where many things are closed and families go to the mosque.  Consequently, the stores are not quite as crowded.  So our little group of infidels set off to do our equivalent of ‘Sunday shopping’.  Nice open isles and short lines as many foreigners filled their shopping lists.  Outside the store, were 100’s of men praying to the Radio Shack.  Well, I’m sure they Warren’t praying to the Radio Shack, it’s just that Radio Shack happened to be in the way of Mecca at that time.  Almost in protest to those infidels who were inside shopping, there is little shame in this outward display.  Perhaps there’s the hope that it might change out beliefs.  Unsuccessful, the infidels continued their shopping. 

When traveling, I really like doing everyday tasks like grocery shopping, and getting off the main paths into the daily life of the city.  One day we took a little walk down some tiny market streets where white feet rarely tread.  More bustling streets filled with food stands to push yourself through, and smaller alleyways yielding even more products - and people!

We went into one tiny shop to look for some traditional Galabayas and I was met with a black ghost.  A woman wearing a burca floated around the store.  Gloves, long sleeves, draped shawl, face mask and veil over it all, and everything in black, black, black.  It was the strangest thing to hear a voice coming from the mound of fabric.  I didn’t realize how much I use facial expression as indicators of meaning when conversing with someone.  Maybe it was the fact that I couldn’t understand the language that I gravitate towards this a bit more.  But I couldn’t even see her eyes…I didn’t quite know where to look when speaking.  But it didn’t seem to phase her.  Confused by the idea of a non-Muslim wanting to buy traditional clothing, she ceased the opportunity to convert us to Islam.  My friend, knowing just enough Arabic to catch the drift of what was happening, but lacked the words to express our views, made for some awkward silences.  The store keeper didn’t get the conversion she wanted, but she did make the sale; although she didn’t seem to care at all about the sale - only the conversion.  So the infidels went on their way. 

On the tram through town, I noticed something in my peripheral.  It was a man waving to us for some seats that had some available.  I thought this was great as the tram hardly moves faster than a walking pace, with frequent shops and it would be really nice to sit down for part of it. 

My friend seemed hesitant to take this offer, and I soon found out why.  Upon sitting, he tried to engage us in some conversation.  Apparently, this is a big no-no and culturally wrong for a man to speak to a woman he doesn’t know.  Silly Sharilyn said hello back.  I should have learned my lesson back in Syria when it comes to men.  I should have eyes down and not respond to any gesture or words, no matter how kind.  Calling Brian close so that the man would know that we were married, and turning away to ignore him for the rest of the ride to avoid any escalation. 

No wonder there are women’s only tram and train cars.  I feel as though I need to be made invisible.  Perhaps it would be easier if I draped myself in yards of fabric and covered my eyes so no one could see me.  It would be better to appear Muslim as these men would never do such a thing to their own women - just the foreign infidels!  Us women who are loose (ha!)

To end this exhausting day we sought out some relaxation in a local coffee shop to have a cuppa and smoke a sheesha.  However, finding one that will take women is a little bit of a challenge.  But we succeeded, and had an enjoyable evening in a man’s world. 
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