Dealing With Harassment

A Comparative Study of Trainings

Cairo, Egypt

We had a speaker today, a professor who has lived in Egypt pretty much all of my life, since she was a CASA Fellow back in 1982 and married an Egyptian. She gave us some interesting vocabulary for the moments when you just can’t keep your mouth shut, like “Act like a man!” and “You’ve been brought up in the gutter!” She also gave some interesting background to why tourists and other Westerners are such frequent targets of scams and overpriced goods. The average Egyptian teacher makes LE300, which is about $60 a month; the average government work, LE400. Our rent alone is twice that, our stipend 4x as much, so by Egyptian standards we’re very, very rich. The economic disparity is far, far greater than Jordan, and the competition for what jobs exist is far tougher.

She told some really interesting stories about various students and friends of hers over the years, but it was still a lecture. I found myself comparing it to the lesson on harassment that we did way back in Peace Corps Pre-Service Training in Ma’in, and found myself almost laughing out loud in the middle of the lecture at a memory of Jesse.

Our main objective in Peace Corps was to learn the language, so after drilling the terms for a bit, Jenn had us roleplay harassment scenarios. Jeremy and Jesse, as the only guys, were naturally chosen to play the role of the creepy Arab man. Jeremy is too sweet of a guy to do a convincing creep, but Jesse…. Even after Jesse went back to his fiancee in America, we were still talking about how well he played his part. It quickly ceased to feel like a roleplay and started to feel like you really were being stalked…!

In any case, I’ve determined that I learned a valuable lesson in Jordan. When my roommate and I walk down the street in Cairo, she’s constantly bristling at the hissing and whistling of the men we pass … but I don’t even hear it! And the last 18 months in Jordan, when I was making 8x what most Jordanians could make at the same job, I became quite comfortable with what this professor termed “noblesse oblige,” the idea that the few guinea that we’re scammed of on a regular basis here doesn’t make much difference to us … but can mean a rare opportunity for protein for dinner that night for an Egyptian.

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