People are curious about me pretty much where ever I go. It's a strange feeling. I'm not used to the attention, and when I am working, there's no such thing as fading into the background.
Sometimes though, I am thankful for being different. And I am thankful that I am a woman. These two qualities make it possible for me to see a whole different side of life than men get to see.
For instance, a couple weeks ago I was at Al Azhar Park, where I was approached by a small group of 12-year-old girls who wanted to know everything about me. I saw a chance to practice Arabic, plus I am always curious about what life is like for women and girls here.
Al Azhar Park is in the middle of Old Cairo. It's a huge green space on a hilltop full of flowers, trees, fountains, walking paths and young couples sitting on benches. It's peaceful. When the call to prayer starts, the voices surround the park in the most beautiful melody. I've taken to hanging out there when I need to get away from the chaos of Cairo.
My new 12-year-old friends learned the basics of who I was and what I was doing in Egypt all by myself. ("You're here alone? Where is your family? Where are your friends?") The girls were on a school trip from Helwan (Arabic for "beautiful") at Cairo's southern-most fringes. After these formalities, they grabbed my hands and whisked me away to the top of the hill to play...
...spin the bottle! Only it was the sweet Egyptian Muslim version: no boys, and the person who spins gets to ask the person the bottle points to a question like, "Who is your best friend in the whole world?" or "What do you wish for?" When the bottle was pointed at me, they asked me if I have a boyfriend and then proceeded to ask a million questions about my love life. (From left to right in the photo: Nesma, Minna, Mai, Mai and Nurmeen.)
My new friends made me feel really welcome--they tried to include me in their games, introduced me to their other friends and even carried my camera bag for me. It was very sweet.
They also frequently asked me if I was too tired to hang out with them. I've been told that I look young, but maybe these girls weren't fooled.
Yep. I'm glad to be a girl.