Friday, October 24, 2008

Going Out With A Bang

Although they are illegal and quite dangerous, Egypt has a thriving fireworks industry at a cottage level. Small factories make what we used to call cherry bombs (wads of paper with explosive powder and a bit of grit in them that explode when thrown against something), rockets and firecrackers, all of which are part of traditional festivities on the feasts and at weddings in the rural areas. The people who work in these industries suffer injuries fairly constantly and the users of the noisemakers also are injured with great regularity. So when the police get the chance to impound fireworks they do...but one could truly wish that they'd do a better job.

A couple of days ago one or two truckloads (depending on to whom one is speaking) were seized by the police in the area near Shubramant. Concerned that they might be explosive...I would imagine that they would be...the police rather haphazardly hosed down the cargo with water and then dumped it. Where was it disposed of? In the desert, most likely near the Giza Municipal Dump just up the road from us. Day before yesterday, innumerable grain bags of illegal fireworks were appearing all over the area between Abu Sir and Zawia/Shubramant to the delight of the children of the area. After all, most of the garbage in the dump is checked over for recycling, so why not recycle it, right? From about 4 pm on Wednesday to the present the air has crackled with explosions fairly constantly. The first night it went on all night, with a lot of very crabby adults wandering around the next day.

Of my ridiculously high dog population, probably 90% are terrified of the noise of fireworks, so I have about a dozen dogs running in circles all day barking at the unseen threat or running for shelter under my legs, in my bedroom, in the shower, in the kitchen...wherever. After two days of this nonsense, they are no longer barking at explosions more than about 300 metres away, thank heaven, but a neighbour estimates the supplies at sufficient for about two more days of this lunacy. Who knows, maybe this will get them so overloaded with fear that they will stop being frightened? I'd rather not be using the technique however.

Of even more concern with the vast quantities of these fireworks being used is the fact that children are being injured by them in the villages. I saw one boy not more than about seven years old clutching a round cluster of rockets in his fist and showing them to friends with delight. Heart-stopping. My housekeeper confirmed that there had been injuries to children in the Abu Sir area and the local omda did try, although unsuccessfully, to stop the spread of the illegal bounty at the beginning of the siege. But there were simply too many to collect and they were already too widespread. One would truly wish that when the police do something for the public good, it really would be for the public good. Frankly, it would have been better to send those trucks on their way than to spread these things around the villages the way they did. Unfortunately, until a child is injured, the fireworks are seen as being relatively harmless by most parents who grew up with their use.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We Are Indeed All Laila

There is a wonderful website that unfortunately is largely in Arabic, Kolena Laila...we are all Laila..a site for women in the Middle East that I wish had more English in it. Perhaps soon. Recently they had a Day for Laila and sent out a questionaire to women throughout Egypt, including me. Two of my assistants here at the farm (men, of course) had the fun of reading the questions to me and putting them into words that I was familiar with and making sure that my answers actually correctly indicated my beliefs. They found it most interesting and quite entertaining.

It has always been my belief that we are more alike than we are different, and I believe that this is especially true of women...maybe this is because that's what I am. I will admit to some confusion when I'm trying to fathom the thoughts of men, but women usually make sense to me though sometimes I have to work a bit at it. I think that women work more at understanding each other and that this is one of our great gifts. This is why when I get emails from women who want to visit Egypt and have what I feel are rather dismal and strange reasons for not coming, it makes me very sad. Not long ago I had one woman tell me that she didn't want to come because she didn't want to be harassed on the streets and treated badly. Where would she get this idea from anyway?

The answer to that is from the net and the media. Recently there have been a spate of stories about how women have a problem being sexually harassed in Egypt. I'm not going to say that it doesn't happen because it does and it is a problem. But the fact that it is being publicised is actually a huge step in the right direction. The harassment varies in intensity from the annoying "psss, psss, psss" so commonly heard by women from bored policemen ("psss, psss" being the same sound used to communicate with babies and cats, ironically) to actually being groped to the roaming gangs who were problems in Mohendessin over the feast as noted in the Al Ahram article. In the past it's been argued that somehow the women were at fault, but when the men attack veiled women too as they did over Eid el Fitr, this argument stops holding any water.

Does EVERY woman walking down the road have to beat off men trying to abuse her? No, of course not. To be honest, in twenty years I've only had to deal with a few instances myself, but as one of my daughter's friends noted on a trip to a Friday market with me, I don't exactly invite nonsense having a rather "fierce" aura. I had to laugh but there's probably something to it. I don't tolerate bad behaviour around me, I am polite and I expect politeness from others and I suspect that this shines through because that's what I usually get. But there is more to the problem and my suggestion in this regard may not be very welcome in some circles.

When I first began traveling to Egypt my constant companion was my young son who learned very early that "no" meant exactly that, that whining or crying wasn't going to change things, that politeness mattered a lot, and that the reasons why these things were true would be discussed, but that the balance of power in decisions rested firmly in adult hands. I caught a lot of flak from my mother in law who felt that I was entirely too tough on a little boy...such harshness would "break his spirit"! Ha! Not too likely. When my son was about seventeen, my mother in law shocked me to my toes when she quietly admitted that although she had thought my child-rearing methods were crazy when the children were young, she'd decided that maybe I actually knew something. Frankly most young boys in Egypt are spoiled rotten and never taught to be responsible members of society. They are usually given most that they want when they want it and are not taught any delay of gratification. In my mind, delay of gratification is one of the most important lessons of childhood. You might get what you want, but it may not be now and you may actually have to work for it.

I remember sitting having coffee one morning with a group of women, Egyptians and foreign, who were married to Egyptian men. As is the habit of women everywhere, we were laughing and crying over the foibles of our husbands and sons, commiserating and complaining and supporting each other's frustrations and worries. One of the women, however, said one of the most profound things that I believe I have ever heard. She suggested that until each one of us could honestly say that we had raised a son that we felt was qualified to really be a good husband to a good woman, we frankly had nothing to complain about. The behaviour of the men of Egypt is in the hands of the mothers of Egypt and it's time for them to insist that boys learn to obey, that they treat women with respect and kindness. This isn't something that one can insist on once the child is a teenager. It is something that you must build into his character from the very beginning as he is learning to walk and talk.

There is a corollary to this as well and a story for it. When I was about thirteen I recall standing in my mother's kitchen listening to the chat of the women who had gathered there to cook a communal lunch for about five families who had gathered in our home. Each of these women had been raped or molested, usually by a male relative such as an uncle or cousin, when they were young and each of them had taught their daughters that while good little girls were polite and considerate, they did not have to be polite or considerate when certain boundaries were crossed. Not one of their daughters had ever been raped or molested. I was astonished to hear such a thing and it obviously made a huge impression on me. When my children were young they learned that they had the right to expect appropriate behaviour from adults and the right to complain forcefully if this was not forthcoming. This was another sore point with my Egyptian family because my daughter was not as quiet and docile as Egyptian girls have been traditionally taught to be...but it's more than time to change that pattern. One needn't be docile to be polite and most fathers would want their daughters to be safe as well as polite. The fact that women are now beginning to demand their day in court to prosecute criminally rude men is a sign that the tide is turning as well it should. We are, indeed, all Laila, and when Laila is safe and respected her brothers will be happier as well.

copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani