Sabah al-khair! Izzaykom il-yom? Ana zai hasan.
“Good morning! How are you all today? I am like a horse.” Arabic is a language of infinite greetings and then infinite responses to each greeting. Sometimes I feel like I’m still learning how to say hello to someone because I will suddenly be greeted in a way I’ve never heard. My favorite one so far is to say “I am like a horse” when someone asks “how are you?”
Speaking of horses, here is another video! It is about Cairo’s metro/subway system, but you can see the stable that is underneath my apartment and the sandy alley outside my front door. Easter egg: can you spot the ferris wheel?
The Cairo metro is interesting for a couple of reasons. It is one of the cheapest in the world, with a ticket costing one Egyptian pound (about 15 US cents, compared to a New York subway ticket costing $2.25). There is only one other subway on the African continent, and none other in the Middle East. But perhaps most intriguing is that every train has two cars reserved only for women. Women are free to use any car, but men are not allowed to enter these two cars. A few other countries also have women-only passenger cars.
According to the New York Times, the women-only cars were created a couple years after the subway opened in order to deal with “sexual harassment of women by men on overcrowded public transport.” Cairo has an international reputation for sexual harassment and a great deal of our student orientation talked about sexual harassment on the streets. Female students at my college are advised to never walk alone or take taxis alone, especially at night. It is definitely a big issue in Cairo and the university wants all of its students to be safe.
Since I am not a woman, I can’t pretend to really know what walking in Cairo is like for a woman. I experience different forms of ‘harassment’, such as people repeatedly stopping the taxi I am in to try and sell me a horse or camel ride, or a shop trying to sell me water for much more than the actual price. But when I do walk with girls downtown, I can see that we are looked at more, that men say things or make a hissing sound as we walk by. My female friends tell me the amount of comments and stares they receive are much less when they walk with men rather than alone or with other women.
But of course no one wants to stay home when they are in a foreign country! My female friends (both Egyptian and foreign) explore Cairo all the time and they do take taxis alone. Like most scary things you hear about a foreign country, it is good to take a step back and think about your own country. Do people steal things in the US? Get into car accidents? Is Cairo the only city with street harassment? The women-only subway cars make it a bit easier for women to get around Cairo, but the goal should always be a city which is free of sexual harassment completely, everywhere. Cairo has had women-only passenger cars for a little over 20 years, and perhaps they won’t be necessary in twenty more years.
Thanks again for reading! I hope you enjoyed the video and I look forward to your new questions.