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Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Athens vs Cairo



I had a student not too long ago who hailed from Athens. He was my toughest student. I had just changed careers and was just starting to develop my teaching craft. His Greek sarcasm and abrupt speech made it difficult to manage the classroom and there were times that I would begin to wonder whether teaching was even for me. It took a while to be able to control him and I believe that the only reason I was able to tolerate his smart ass was solely due to the Mediterranean blood we shared.

During and after class we would always argue. About everything. I insisted the Greeks stole everything from the Egyptians, he claimed the Egyptians were nothing but a bunch of camel riders. One of our most fervent disagreements always centered on Cairo and Athens -- which city was better? Neither one of us had ever visited each other's respective cities, but we managed to shit on them regardless. I always considered Athens to be nothing but a run-down Cairo and I let it be known.

So now that I've actually visited Athens, albeit for only three days, I've come to the conclusion that if I were to have to choose between the two cities, I would choose to live in Athens.

Before the Cairenes start petitioning to strip me of my citizenship, let me explain why I would find life in Athens much more appealing (for me).

1. I love to walk. I love to walk everywhere. I get lazy sometimes and tend to rely on my car more often than I'd care to, but I enjoy strolling in the street. I could never do that in Cairo, which was one of the main reasons I left it. Don't give me the "of course you can walk in the streets of Cairo" because I know and you know that for a female that's pure bullshit. I can't tell you the amount of times I came home at the end of my wits because of the shit I had to endure in the streets. In AUC, the worst part of my day was when I had to switch campuses for my classes. Cairo does not allow you to be a free woman and I hate that. You can have your freedom but you have to manipulate your situation in order to get it, and I'm a woman who doesn't like playing games.

2. I hate having to worry about what I can wear out in public. Is this shirt too tight, the sleeves too short? Should I wear a longer dress shirt to cover my ass? Will I be harassed for wearing this skirt? I hated that shit. And please don't tell me I can wear whatever I want as long as I have a car to get around. That just bring us back to reason number one.

When I was in AUC I worked at an exhibit for something or the other and on the very last evening they threw a HUGE banquet at the Citadel. It was GORGEOUS and was actually one of my favorite nights in Cairo. I wore a dress, 1/2 a centimeter above my knees. My aunt couldn't drive me there, so she arranged for a taxi with a driver she trusted.

When we got near the Citadel a couple of wannabe cops didn't want to let us through. No cars allowed, they said. My driver got out of the car and explained to them, "Heya 3ayana" (she's sick), pointing to his knees, indicating that I was wearing something short. I got so pissed off that I got out and walked to the banquet, enduring the nasty and crude comments till I was out of sight.

3. Sexual repression. I hate it. It creates a breed of judgmental human beings that should simply not be allowed to exist on this planet. I get the whole religious aspect of this, I do. I know the difficulties of wanting to remain true to your religious precepts while wishing to act on your desires. I know why free love and free sex will never gain ground in Egypt. I respect that people want to pay lip service to religion, but this lip service brings nothing but misery.

Yeah, yeah, I know Cairenes have sex. But only when it stops being shameful and only when women stop having to pretend that they're "innocent" and are actually able to have HAPPY sex without the stigma surrounding it will Cairo be a place worth living for me.

So between Cairo and Athens, I would choose to live in Athens, hands-down. There's no competition. I'm even thinking of going to teach there next summer. I value the freedom it would give me and appreciate the enigmatic and hidden warmth of the people. Athenians may appear to be snotty and somewhat arrogant, but once you break through that they're just so much fun!

I love Cairo. I do. It's got a special place in my heart. And I think that's why I'd want to live in Athens. It's nearly the same as Cairo, but without all the bullshit.
Thoughts shared by Carmen at 6:25 AM
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Who: Carmen

Mini-Bio:
xx-something egyptia-yorker who's spent over half her life stuck in two worlds not of her own making. unable and unwilling to fully embrace one identity over the other, she created (is trying to create) her own place in the world where people love each other unconditionally, irrespective of artificial boundaries, and where dancing merengue is as necessary to life as breathing air.

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