Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cultural differences, studying and a day off in he Theban Mountains

One day during the teabreak I fix myself a cuppa and somehow manage to bang my head against the bookshelf in the corner. It isn't too bad. When the lesson ends and I leave the classroom the lovely Eugenia sits at the manager's desk holding a cold waterbottle against her face, cooling her eye. It turns out, she banged her head against the same bookshelf. While I only have a small lump on my forehead for a few days, Eugenia's eye turns dark purple and blank. We walk to the cash point together and the moment we leave school, a young Egyptian man materializes and starts: 'Hello. How arrrrrre you. What happened to your face?' 'I hit somebody who hussled me in the street', Eugenia answers, but sadly he doesn't believe us.
A few days later I lose my temper and raise my voice, telling a man in the street not to call me Sweety or Honey, that I am not his darling. He thinks I need to relax. I explain to him that he is being rude, but I leave it there, because they just don't get it and I'm just wasting my time.
The food at Affaf's is as good as it was at her sister's. The one thing I don't understand is that in the bathroom, there is neither any loo paper nor a suspicious looking tube. Yet I hear the family use the bathroom. I decide not to ponder too long on this. Since I have paid a lot of money to stay with a family I think they should provide loo paper, but I'm tired of asking for things. So I nick a role of loo paper from the school. I have my own loo paper now, and I'm not going to share it. The family can … do whatever they do in the bathroom.
Affaf has two very lovely daughters. The older one, Abla, speaks English very well. The younger one, Abia doesn't, but we still get by with smiles and single english and arabic words. She also wears a pyjama all day, and Affaf puts a nightgown on, when she gets in, even if she has to go out again a few hours later. Abia doesn't even get changed when she goes out to get some bread. Now I notice that all the little girls in the streets run around in their pyjamas all day. I ask Affaf, why they bother with long hair at all if they wrap themselves up all day. She explains to me that the women want to be beautiful for their husbands. „The most important person to like your hair is your husband“, she says. I disagree. I think the most important person to like her hair is she herself. But I realise I have given up on exchanging opinions.

Affaf and Abia

Sallam asks me, at what age women in Germany get pregnant, and why they don't have babies immediately after their wedding. I tell him women want to work. He doesn't understand that. He tells me so.'Why?', he asks. 'Because they enjoy it', I answer, 'they can chose what they want to work, who they want to marry, when they want to marry and when they want to have babies. They have choices.' He is convinced that women in Germany don't want to get married and don't want a family. 'That's not what I said', I answer, 'they do. Only they want other things as well. They want more.' 'That is very bad', Sallam says, 'I hope women here never think like that'. Of course you do, I think, but like so many times I stay silent. I wonder if he considers me a potential hazard now, who could wonder off and start putting dangerous ideas into their women's minds any time. I allow myself an evil smile by myself, but I know that I wouldn't achieve anything, even if I did want to put ideas into women's minds here. They think along the same lines like the men.

Many times I get annoyed. In this blog I don't write about the attitude of the Egyptian men and about how rude they are towards European women anymore, about the many run-ins I have with Sallam or about how it upsets me how Europeans are systematically being being ripped off, because I fear that this would turn into a very negative blog. My Arabic lessons become more and more demanding. I feel like a vessel that Sallam piles loads and loads of stuff into and even though I feel I'm full to the brim and can't take on any more, he still keeps pushing in more. I spend the afternoons with the Italian girls studying. We take the ferry to the westbank to sit in a garden café or we sit on the roof. It is very noisy up there and the smell of the Shisha that everybody around us seems to be smoking is not great. But the food and drinks are lovely and the view is so worth it, especially when the sunset paints the sky above the Theban Mountains pink. I love those mountains. The next Friday I take the Italian students onto a walk along the Western Mountains to help them make a connection to the land. We take the path up from Deir el-Medina and then along the ridge above the the tombs of the Nobles, take a peep into the Valley of the Kings and then come down around Hatshepsut's temple in Deir el-Bahari. It's good to spend a day in the sun, feeling the warmth and the dust on my skin and link in with Hatshepsut. I feel a strange connection to Hatshepsut, in a sort of female line/ancestorial way, and always have. I love her for her strength and her uniqueness, for her divineness, the daughter of Amun, who ruled as Pharao, and for her humanity, the woman who loved her country and her consort, Senmut. I love her temple and am very touched everytime I pass it.
I draw the attention of my friends to the beauty of the Theban Mountains, to all the tombs and to the fossilized shells from such a very long time ago, back when desert was an ocean. The immensity of the planet we live on, of life and of time makes me feel very much alive and connected to the whole world.

Paolo, Eugenia, I and Elisabeta

I at Deir el-Bahari, Hatshepsut's temple at the back

Moni and I at the restaurant after our landscape walk