What hometown?

Posted on May 27, 2007


I don’t miss Cairo at all – probably because it’ll take a few more days until the insidious dirt of that city is fully washed out of my epidermis. But apart from the remnants of exhaust fumes and eau de taxi about my person, Egypt seems a very distantly removed concept to Dubai. This, I now realize, was exemplified by my flight here.

I will not trouble you with the numerous incidents of incompetence which, needless to say, accompanied the exercise of checking in and going through passport control at the “revamped” Cairo International Airport. In fairness, however, it is in fact illegal to leave Egypt with an Egyptian passport that will remain valid for less than three months – perhaps to spare embassies abroad the hassle of performing their consular duties? – and so the debates over this constituted a legitimate hold up, as well as an excuse for airport officers to practice their flirting skills. I cheered at the sight of the new food court, which proved, naturally, to be gravely disappointing. After a pitched dispute with staff over the propriety of heating a sandwich already containing lettuce and tomatoes (why can nothing in Egypt be done right, my God!) – I took recourse to the salad bar, which was good, despite the overripe cherry tomatoes and lack of croutons. Moving to the gate, I sat down with my book only to note that a middle-aged man in a galabeyya to my right was staring fixedly at me with a slight smile on his face, one that I have come to associate with the almost certain prospect of genital self-fondling. Every time I looked up, he was leering at me. Worried, I attributed this steady regard to recent weight gain, known to find favour with most members of the Egyptian populace. E’s hairdresser once regaled her with a tale of how his mother, recommending a bride to him, praised her saying that her arms were “this big!”, indicating a circumference the size of a barrel.

My concern increased when I found that, in accordance with the law of Murphy, this gentleman was seated across the aisle from me on the almost empty plane, his view completely unobstructed. Looking up once again to check if he was still staring, I found him indeed still doing so. I attempted to stare him down in disgust, but experience has showed that in Egypt this is deemed encouragement; accordingly the man actually said to me, in English, “Smile!” as if we were engaging in some kind of courtship ritual. Raising my voice, I asked him to stop staring at me. However, the man did not hear me and I was forced to repeat myself twice more, which somewhat dissipated the impact of the statement, although presumably it attracted the attention of other passengers. Nevertheless, it did work and he nodded and resolutely avoided looking my way for the rest of the trip, perhaps facilitated by the fact that he snored stentoriously throughout.

I mention this incident, not because it was in any way remarkable, but to contrast it with one of Dubai’s most delightful aspects: absolute freedom from unwanted attention of any sort. I had ample time to test this on arrival: as ever, E was extremely late. Two hours late, in fact, leaving me circling the crowded arrivals terminal until 1 am. Her excuse was that she gave a friend a ride on the way to the airport and then got lost – crap, you’ll agree. She also managed, as ever, to cast the blame on me because I had not texted her as requested before my plane took off to confirm that it was on time. I contend that texting should only take place if the plane isn’t on time. But getting back to the topic at hand: such circling of arrivals terminals has, in Cairo, exposed me to numerous annoyances from men (people are always late to pick me up), but excited nary a glance here. None of the dozens of nationalities that made up the crowd bothered me in any way, and such continued to be the case from then on in E and I’s sojourns about the emirate, no matter how we were dressed. It rocks to be able to stand next to one’s car and chat without being deemed to be trolling for clients (although this could be because the many working girls of this city are known to perform their duties at clubs and in brothels, not in the streets). Safety’s pretty nice – Cairo men have driven even the Twiglet, normally Egypt’s biggest fan and someone who is generally oblivious to the concept of gender inequality, to railing about how she would love to walk around without engendering comments regarding her body parts.

I’ve got to go to sleep now. I often speculate on how cool it would be if my preferred activities of sleeping and tanning could cause weight loss. I definitely pursue these activities with the same dedication and regularity as gym goers pursue theirs. Sadly, I believe more is required for eradicating a jiggling tummy then mere enthusiasm for that prospect. Initially I thought I could sweat it off while tanning in what must surely be the waiting room of hell, but since I replace any lost calories immediately in alcoholic form, I fear no shrinkage will be occurring. Besides, the food in Dubai is so amazing that even E has become almost normal sized, although I can still span her thigh with my hand. Hey! It wasn’t that kind of thing! Relax your visuals!

More Dubaings later, funner probably.

Posted in: gender, travel