“We have a saying here in Egypt. There is a man behind every woman. Don’t worry.”
Ahmed’s words did not reassure me. He had been trying to bolster me after I had made a hesitant complaint – egged on by the other two women in the truck – about the police escort who had spend the previous night in the desert with us and our Bedouin guides. He had tried to take my hand and lead me down into a valley, further out of sight from the rest of the group. It wasn’t much but, coupled with knowledge of the well-documented rate of sexual harassment in Egypt, it made me something a little more than uncomfortable.
I have otherwise found myself almost relaxed among crowds and as the object of the stares, yells and catcalls of the men. I have shifted the hard-faced stare-straight-ahead stance of my first day or two to include an occasional smile at the occasional call that is just too ridiculous to be offensive: Hello, spicy girl! Egyptian husband for free! And in the market: Buy one get me free!
But I am shielded. I stick to the sides of the other two women, using them as a buffer. It is disturbing me and undermining my confidence in myself as an unshakeable independent woman. The few times I venture out alone I feel uncomfortable and forge straight ahead, (the same way I cross Egyptian roads) hurrying to get to where I am going, or back home, not pausing for two seconds even to catch my surroundings or let myself relax.