I am writing this from the beach on the Med Sea, a few feet from my hotel room in what used to be a palace. Yeah. It’s amazing, and I could also not possibly get more out of touch with real Egyptian society. The Arab Women’s Organization (AWO) is paying for it, which means the first ladies of the Arab League are paying for it. All expenses are paid, although the food is not always great. Tonight an entire fish watched me as I tried to eat it. I should’ve told them I’m vegetarian.
We’re here to dialogue with students from around the Arab world about women’s issues. We are in groups based on topic, mine being Social issues, and within that we break the topic down even more, working with Arab counterparts as well as our entire group on the topic of Social as a whole.
There is definietly an interesting exchage of ideas. I had to bite my tongue while it was explained to me that “according to science,” a woman has enough hormones in one strand of hair to attract a man (it’s beyond his control). Therefore, to go with hair uncovered would be immodest and an invitation for sexual attention. Any woman who got any of that attention would deserve whatever she got. Yeah.
Dating was another interesting topic. Apparently, women shouldn’t be with more than one man because if their husband doesn’t measure up, they will actually want to be satisfied and might cheat or divorce him. We then discussed this great plague of the United States: single mothers. The Arab youth at this conference were foaming at the mouth to talk about it, so I can only assume they recieved some sort of lecture or all read the same article. They were baffled and saddened by this horror, and couldnt not comprehend what a woman in the US with a child (but no husband) does. In their culture, if your husband dies or there’s a divorce, there’s a clear chain of command for guardianship, with the male guardian dealing with the woman’s fiscal responsibilities. The idea that the woman simply works, raises her child and relies on friends and family to help when they can (they referred to this as charity) was thoroughly foreign.
At this point in my annoyed rant, I must explain something. These people were not chosen by accident. By and large, they are all very wealthy and have a personal connection to the government that sent them here. Googling their last names is outrageous. The level of honesty is not great, but they also live different lives than many of their countrymen. That being said, we were able to have interesting discussion on many controversial issues. This was simply my first real encounter with people who so thoroughly disagree with things that I consider a given.
Tomorrow we continue the conference with the stating of opinions and what we’ve learned, followed by q&a. That means we will either moderate ourselves or face the firing squad, which is why I’m procrastinating about my paper right now.
Our hotel is essentially a compound. There is an on-site mosque, a giant beach, a pier or two, a swimming pool, several discotheques, a restaurant or two, a bank, a barbershop, a jewelry store and enough room for a wedding. We take the bus everywhere, even if it’s only a few km away. We are scheduled every day from 9am to 10pm, with dialogues, tours and food food food! It’s delicious, and we’re all gaining back the weight we lost in Cairo. Unfortunately, though, I don’t feel that I’m getting to know Alex. Sadly, most of our group has fallen in love with the place, the least Egyptian (and most European) city we’ve visited thus far. Alexander the great (hence the name) made it into a Greek heliopolis, and in the early- to mid-1900s a mass of ex-pats ensured that the architecture, art and culture of the city was thoroughly European. While the regume change may have caused a mass exodus, the influence remains (as far as I can see.) I hope to get out and explore the place a bit, especially since we keep driving past amazing murals, sculptures and installation art.
I don’t understand the purpose of bringing us to this city and this hotel if we can’t fully experience either. Even within the conference, the aims of the AWO seem scattered. The AWO seeks to…further women? without obligation, of course, as it is a subsidiary of the Arab League. It’s too bad the dialogue isn’t honest and personal relationships aren’t encouraged, or else some real cultural exchange might take place.