I learned tonight (at a long overdue floor meeting) that there's a sign in front of our hotel that explicitly states: No Foreigners in addition to the ever present No Photo.

Perhaps this should have been an indication that housing two hundred American, Canadian, and extremely wealthy, mostly westernized Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian girls there would lead to huge problems.

Since we moved to Heliopolis we've been dealing with an incredible amount of sexual harassment. Keep in mind that the entire time we've been living in the hotel so far has been during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims and the time in which all Muslims make extra effort to worship God and live in a pure and holy way.

As such, all sexual thoughts and acts during the fasting hours are technically forbidden. However, we cannot walk down the street in Heliopolis (in daylight or after sundown) without catcalls, honking cars, constant hissing, and what i'm sure are likely extremely lewd expressions in colloquial Egyptian being tossed our way. I was warned to expect the harassment, I can take the verbal abuse.

What I have difficulty accepting, however, is the physical component of the problem. Two weeks ago this sequence of events happened:

On Monday I walked a few blocks to get food from a small restaurant called Tito's. There were three of us, we were followed the whole way there by a single man who repeated "you are so beautiful" over and over again. We saw boys who we recognized as international students but didn't actually know walking across the street and hurriedly joined them. The man faded away after that.

On Tuesday I walked 15 minutes into the very beginnings of the Roxy Square neighborhood to get dinner at a chicken restaurant. To get there we had to walk down a poorly lit street that runs through two walled off, guarded compounds. We were walking four abreast on the sidewalk. My friend closest to the edge was groped by a passing man and no one realized what had happened until she screamed at him in Arabic.

On Wednesday I walked to the closest grocery store with another friend after Iftar, again through mostly deserted streets. We were three doors from the grocery store when a younger man came walking towards us. Hemmed in by parked cars we couldn't dodge him, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him reach toward me as he passed by, but he was prevented from grabbing me because of my low-slung bag.

Twenty minutes later while I was browsing the peanut butter section my friend's chest was groped by a grocery store employee while he handed her a sample in the bakery area.

Since then we've been taking the shuttle to CityStars (a massive mall) to grocery shop, and going to the small food stand directly across the street or ordering food in. We no longer walk very far after sundown. I never go anywhere alone (except to the food stand). Quite simply, I'm afraid and I do not feel safe in this neighborhood.

The fact that we're foreigners has no bearing on the level of harassment we're receiving--our Egyptian and Arab dorm-mates are harassed at an equal level. Surveys conducted of Egyptian women indicate that veiled women experience only 10% less harassment than unveiled women.
My Palestinian suitemate told me that it will get even worse once Ramadan ends.

The only strategies we were given of combating sexual harassment are based on the theory that if you start yelling, loudly, other people in the area will come to your rescue and shame the groper for his actions. In our case, the only other people around are soldiers guarding the compounds (all of whom are armed with pistols or machine guns) and they participate fully in verbally harassing us.

By deciding to house us in a completely isolated area full of military compounds that is hostile to outsiders in general, AUC put their female students in a terrible situation where there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop men from touching us inappropriately. And that makes me angry.


J and S said...

Katelyn, you have me seriously concerned! BE CAREFUL! Oh and always go for the knees, genitals or eyes with your feet, elbows or fingers as hard as you can while yelling as loud as you can if that groping turns into something worse! My self defense teacher also mentioned that it is far more effective to scream "Fire!" rather than "no" or "help". Many more people will pay attention. I am worried for you- please be safe.

Cheryl said...

This is Tommy's mom. I've been enjoying your female perspective of Egypt until I read today's entry. This makes me very angry. Would you mind if I sent a copy of this to the president of AU. You should not have to endure this kind of treatment.

J and S said...

I agree with Tommy's mom! AU should know what's going on. It's irresponsible and unforgivable. Your safety should be their primary concern. I'll hand deliver a copy of this to the AU pres if you want me to! Let me know if there is anything I can do.

John A. Ellis said...

Agreed. I'm worried about you, cousin. AU should definitely know about this. I cannot even begin to imagine that they anticipated this as a University. Surely they would realize the monumental proportions of their need to handle this situation quickly and decisively.

Anonymous said...

hey katelyn,
good to find this and read about what you´ve been up to, but ...
best of luck with everything; this is very sad. put on your best (as my sister calls it) ¨I´ll-rip-your-face-off¨ face, keep at it, and I hope au abroad can / will help you all.
- alison amy

Marwa Rakha said...

Thank you:)