Disclaimer: Please note these are my very first impressions of Egypt when I visited the country in 2010. Since then I have gained more knowledge and experience of Egyptian social, political and cultural issues. Still I want to keep this post as it might describe well a Westerners first glimpse on Egypt’s everyday life.
The first comes the feeling of inability to do anything on your own, like all the previously known signs have become chaotic and not interpretable. This absence of so common for me European (“Western”) rules for the first moment paralyses my independency and any individual action in Egypt, part of so called “Arab world”. My first instinct is to compare the different approaches and trying to find a common way out.
“We’ve lost what you still have,” I am expressing my inner doubts to each Egyptian I meet. The sense of unpredictability is so attracting here, that I am beginning to wonder if European rationalism and a cause-effect approach is really the unique way of reading the cultures. Can I really apply my background and experience dealing with so different origins?
Network instead of single point
“I will ask my friend if he can give you a ride with his car,” I hear from a guy I’ve met for a couple of hours. And the same night before leaving Cairo at 1am I am woken up by a call from “a friend of a friend” who’s trying to convince me get over my last worries whether I can trust an Egyptian being on time and really comes at the next at 8am to pick me up and drives to the airport for free. “I know it seems strange for you,” Hesham, who likes discussions with foreigners, tries to explain the different conception of helping people and responsibility. “There are always surprises in Cairo,” my Latvian friend Agnija, living in Egypt for several months, starts her stories, both positive and negative.
For me, a European, Latvian individualist, it is considerably hard to accept “real (as an opposite to our virtual ones) social network system” leading relationships between the people. “I’ll ask my friends about finding a flat, if you want to live in Cairo,” another helper is demonstrating his networks.
I don’t listen to friendly advices: “Don’t go home alone in the night. Call me and I’ll pick you up,” but being in the lack of individualism, I try to do any explorations on my own risk though quarrelling after with people for non accepting offered help. I get so satisfied after getting response on a special waving of my hand, trying to pronounce the right direction “Tahrir, tahrir,” and being able to stop the bus with the sign language I’ve seen from others.
But is the individualism (individual cultures vs. collective cultures) is the only way of development or it only leads to alienation? Each culture must go through this period to become aware of it?
“In Europe everything is so much easier!” I keep repeating. Everything is reasonable and clear. But can we really apply rational schemes to each issue? Haven’t we lost this unpredictability in Europe, putting everything under the same measures? Here even the traffic isn’t simply rational, though somehow Egyptians have their own understanding and a lot of flexibility.
Resistance for a common future model
I found a lot of Egyptians very sincere, like having partial immunity of socially accepted false behaviours. If somebody helps you, he really means it. If somebody calls you a friend – you are his friend. I’ve received very warm welcoming in the family home I visited, even though people weren’t speaking English. However, if you meet somebody considering foreigner only “a western money pot”, he’ll get out of you everything possible.
“They are still in 13th century.” “We are still living and bothering about the problems you’ve been treating long ago.” The phrases of experienced western and non-western journalists are being repeated. “Developing country” what does it mean? Can we really predict the future models? Is there is only one possible way – the “westernisation” of all spheres? Religion, rights, political system – are we with our present and past mistakes are allowed to teach somebody?
Our teenage girls and even younger ones can wear mini skirts, décolleté and bikini and create Facebook galleries with a title “I’m sexy”. We are respecting women’s rights, treating them worse at the work. We are selling products of high consume with women’s body. We are sexualizing each field of everyday life and in the same time have more sexual dysfunction problems. We appreciate only youthfulness and our communicators are creating even younger ideal of self perfection and artificial beauty. Though our religion still affects policies and people’s behaviours.
They are using religious ideals for regulating and explaining social behaviours, though in reality they often aren’t working. They are telling that a husband, who makes his wife wear “burka”, is respecting and protecting here from other men. They are choosing to treat in this way power of woman’s body and of temptation instead of self-control and rational thinking.
It’s simply unfair and discriminating that I can go almost wherever I want. I am often treated as a high class specialist in your country. You in the best case must spend hours in embassies and in the worse – should cross the desert, the fence and the see for getting your luck or disappointment in “marvellous Europe”. You are consuming and appreciating Western media represented models, products and goods. But what can we learn, improve and share? What is the way to a common contact point and preservation of the beauty of unpredictability?