Monday, March 30, 2009


My attachment to Zambia will always be part of me, even though it’s been years since I’ve lived there. Whenever I’m preparing for a holiday there I feel excitement and longing build up, happy that once again I’ll be “home”. This all inevitably leads to be being disappointed when I arrive in Zambia and realize that it isn’t really “home” anymore. Yes, it’s familiar: the long winding roads, the green everywhere, the houses with large backyards, thatched fences and towering trees. My dad’s hospital, the house he lives in. I know it all. But it isn’t mine anymore. Zambia doesn’t belong to me the way it did when I grew up there, when I didn’t know any other city other than Lusaka, and when I didn’t think about where I was from or what it meant. Zambia was home and it was just that simple. Why is it so complicated now? Could I ever go back and live in Zambia again? Yes, of course, and I would like to one day. But it will never feel the way it felt when I was little. It would be a different Zambia, since I inevitably would be a different me.
Someone once said that what makes you miss a place is not the physicality of the place, but the memories. To an extent that is true: I miss the gardens we always had, I miss Manda Hill, I miss the rainy season and the green everywhere. But do I miss the memories I had in these places or the places themselves? If I had all these places again, would they mean the same thing?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

good muslim, bad muslim

I just finished reading one of the most amazing books I've ever read: "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" by Mahmood Mamdani. Mamdani is a professor of government and director of the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, and i first came across him when i read his book "When Victims Become Killers", about the genocide in Rwanda.

Good Muslim Bad Muslim looks at the rise of political Islam and how this led to 9/11. He points out several times that America itself is responsible for Bin Laden and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, since it was the CIA that set up the "madrassahs" (training camps) in Pakistan that trained most of the bombers, hijackers, etc that we have today. Had the US not enabled them (with weapons, training, etc), they would not have had a venue to come together, and they would not have had the knowledge or expertise to carry out terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11.

Another interesting argument Mamdani makes is that America, now fighting a "war on terror", actually began using terror as a weapon during the cold war, partcularly in Third World countries. Mamdani makes an interesting and chilling point when he says: "The American bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda bombing of embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and of the Twin Towers on 9/11: both testify that, when it comes to the contest for power, the rest of the world exists only as collateral."

Arundhati Roy once said: "Bin Laden has the special distinction of having been created by the CIA and wanted by the FBI." It is common knowledge that the US trained and supplied Bin Laden, and yet post-9/11, few Americans have re-thought their country's policies and stance. Rather, many Americans have chosen to ignore America's less-than-rosy political resume, and instead focus on the evil terrorists out there. As Mamdani says: "...President Bush moved to distinguish between "good Muslims" and "bad Muslims". From this point of view, "bad Muslims" were clearly responsible for terrorism. At the same time, the president seemed to assure Americans that "good Muslims" were anxious to clear their names and consciences of this horrible crime (9/11) and would undoubtedly support "us" in a war against "them". But this could not hide the central message of such a discourse: unless porved to be "good", every Muslim was presumed to be "bad." All Muslims were now under obligation to prove their credentials by joining in a war against "bad Muslims".

I definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in politics.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

sexual harassment

I mentioned before that sexual harassment is one of the worst aspects of living in Cairo. While some women can live here for years and not get harassed, more than 80% (iIm sure) do get harassed at some point or another. It's gotten so bad that it's affecting tourism, as a survey done by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights (ECWR) found that 98% of tourists get harassed.

Now, what does harassment mean? I don't mean a guy on the street winking, or whistling, or asking you for a number. I mean he stops whatever he's doing (including driving), to give you an "I want to kill you" glare. Don't ask me why women are supposed to respond positively to that. Then if you ever respond, they start cussing you out like there's no tomorrow. It's pretty scary.

Now most men will limit their harassment to just looking at you, which is pretty uncomfortable. Then there are those that will follow you, as has happened to me twice. One of these times was 2 nights ago when I was driving home and this guy started slowing down beside me and waving and laughing manically. As I was about to turn into my street, I took a u-turn and kept driving till I lost him, since I didn't want him to see where I live.

A more extreme story of harassment is the following, reported by the Egyptian Foundation for Refugee Rights:

Last week, a Sudanese refugee girl was sexually harassed in the street, while waiting for a taxi in the Al Haram district.

A taxi driver pulled up and verbally and physically harassed her. When she accused him of verbally and physically harassing her, he drove his car towards and hit her with the car repeatedly. She attempted to desperately defend herself, but did not have time to do so. The taxi driver then grabbed her arm and hand and began moving the taxi. She could not release herself from his grasp and was dragged through the street. She fainted.

After regaining consciousness, she discovered bystanders were able to write the number of the taxi.

I was absolutely shocked when I heard this, and I really hope they find this guy.

Sexual harassment happens all over the world, but I guess what makes Egypt different is how widespread it is: in a day I probably get harassed by 90% of the men I see, and I've heard the same from most of my friends. Why is it like this? Especially since it's an Islamic country, you'd expect the conservatism to curb this behaviour. I put it down to the way men are brought up here: parents still tend to treat their sons better than their daughters, and there is still a lot of sexism in Egypt. So these boys grow up thinking they are better than women and so why should we expect them to respect women on the street? Combine this with unemployment, frustration, general bad manners due this frustration, and I think we can arrive at some kind of explanation as to why sexual harassment is so pervasive.

As a concluding note, I want to also mention that it is usually the woman who gets blamed for being harassed. "What were you wearing/doing/saying?" is usually asked of her when she says she's been harassed. However, the ECWR survey found that 70% of women who get harassed are veiled; and 6% are munaqabat. Hmm!

Friday, March 27, 2009

pakistan mosque bombing

It's a sad day when a bomb goes off inside a mosque. During Friday prayers.

Read the story here.

R.I.P. to all of those who were in the mosque praying, who probably thought it was the last place they'd get killed.


while growing up in zambia, my family and i would visit cairo every year for a week or 2, and then move on to holland. i never really liked cairo that much, but i never really thought about it much either, since it was only a holiday. when we moved here, however, i formed an instant distaste for the pollution, traffic, driving, manners (or lack thereof), and sexual harassment. i have spent much of the past 5 years complaining about these things, and fantasizing about the day i leave cairo and never come back.

0n the other hand, i'm in love with cairo. i love how the city has 18 million people crowded into it, i love the nile, the pyramids, the mosques. i love the ottoman architecture, zamalek, heliopolis, and the fact that cairo has so much history to it you can almost feel it in the air. it really is a beautiful city, but unfortunately it's difficult to see that sometimes when you've been stuck in traffic for an hour, breathing in heavy pollution and being subjected to lewd comments and glares from passing men (and women).

this weird love-hate relationship is pretty common, i've found, among cairene residents. a lot of my friends complain about the city, but can't wait to get back once they leave. as i get ready to leave cairo sometime this year (inshallah), i wonder how much i'll miss it (because i know deep down that i will, no matter how strongly i deny this). i know for sure i'll miss the call to prayer, the beautiful mosques, and just the atmosphere of a city so steeped in history.

i was in heliopolis about a week ago, and as i drove past the old palaces with green gardens and overhanging trees, i realized how beautiful cairo must have been in the 1800s and early 1900s. this thought made me very emotional, and i wished i had been able to experience the cairo of then. back when the population of egypt was 20 million, not 80 million; when the idea of a modern nation-state hadn't turned the middle east upside down; when people worried less about surviving in the global capitalist economy, since it didn't yet have the far-reaching influence it has today; when the british hadn't yet taken over cairo; when life in general was easier. egypt today is struggling with an identity crisis, an economic crisis, a population crises, to cite a few, and it's a miracle that people are still moving from day to day. it's a miracle that the infrastructure of cairo that was built by muhammad ali for 2 million people still works in a city of 18 million. that although almost 50% of egytians live on less than $2 a day, mortality rates are much lower than other developing countries. that although not classified as developed, there are so many BMWs and Mercedes' on the street it's impossible to keep count. it really is a country of contradictions.

of course every country has negatives, and i think maybe in the end it comes down to memories - a lot of good memories in a country can tie you to it for a lifetime, whereas a few bad memories in a country can make you never want to go back. i have a lot of beautiful memories of cairo, and hopefully that'll make me eventually realize that the pollution, traffic, lack of organization, and sexual harassment in no way make cairo less amazing than lusaka, amsterdam, or anywhere else i might end up in the future.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

a rant

so one big reason i started this blog was to share some of my frustrations re. religion. my dad is muslim and so i am too technically, but i never really thought of myself as religious growing up in zambia (it was such a multicultural environment). anyway, when i moved to cairo i have to say i was completely turned off Islam. completely. what i saw shocked me: men sexually harassing women as they walk to the mosque to pray; sheikhs talking about things i (till now) have not found in the qur'an or hadith; people yelling and shouting at each other constantly; sexism; racism; driving like convicts on death row; and the list goes on. now, there are negative things to be found in every country. but what shocked me was how religious everyone proclaimed to be, and how negative they acted towards someone who wasn't "religious" enough. the point is i felt really negatively towards Islam and muslims and could never see myself being a muslim, or praying, or any of that.

fast forward to early 2008, when i suddenly got the urge to pray one morning. so i asked someone to teach me, and since then i've been praying, fasting, reading the qur'an...basically i've become a muslim.

but i still don't call myself that; and i still get pissed off at the majority of muslims that i meet here. one thing i've been thinking about lately is the growing rise in fundamentalism/extremisn here in egypt. we've gone from being one of the most liberal middle eastern countries (the 50s-70s) to one of the most fundamentalist (today). i wonder why? is it the masses of egyptians who returned from saudi arabia in the 90s full of wahhabi ideas? is it the identity crisis? is it a reaction against westernization, western imperialism (esp. post9/11) and the imagined loss of "our true culture"?

i really see it as a negative; as first of all i believe religion is PERSONAL - it doesn't matter what i wear, who i see, what i do - my religion is between me and God and has nothing to do with you. if you think i'm wrong, then rest assured God will punish me for it, no? apparently people here don't think like that, and think it's safer for them to judge me first.

i will be talking about islam and my own religious experience a lot on this blog, and would love to hear from other people.

my first post

after reading hundreds of blogs over the past 2 years, i finally decided to start my own. i guess i was always worried that no one would read my blog and that since i already spend a large part of each day talking to myself, i didn't really need to start doing that online too. but then i decided that it didn't really matter, and so here i am. the name of the blog is basically a description of where i'm from: holland and egypt (biologically) and zambia (everything else). i grew up in lusaka zambia, and although i left it 5 years ago, still miss and crave it constantly. i've lived in cairo for the past 4 years, finishing my BA, and this year i am planning on moving to holland. my relationship with cairo is pretty dynamic and can be described as a love-hate relationship, but more on that later. as to whether i feel more dutch, egyptian or zambian, i still don't know, and probably will never have an answer to that question. however, if i had to describe myself as from somewhere, i would say africa without hesitation.

anyway, that's all for now

much love